Sunday, 28 May 2017

On Forums, Meltdowns, and Myopia

Change, as we all know, is a constant.  Things come and go in wargaming and on the Internet as in all other areas of life.

In general, it seems commonly acknowledged that the virtual hobby community has been splintering as new social media platforms appear, each catering to more specialized interest- Facebook, new rule-specific fora, blogs- what have you. 

I don't see that in itself as being a bad thing, but it has been making me take a look at La Bricole, and for a long time now I had been wondering if the time has come to close it down.  

Traffic had been slow to non-existent in recent months, and I'm responsible in large part for the slide.  I have to admit to myself that I haven't done nearly as much as I could have done- if at all- to reverse the trend.  Partly this has been due to the law of diminishing returns- the fewer the posts, the less people visit, so that then fewer people could be bothered to post- me included.

This was not helped by the dreadful- and poorly handled- migration to Yuku, who have almost killed the site for me in terms of trying to administer it. It resurfaced with a clunky interface, is unattractive, and has been horribly unreliable.  I found myself "locked out" of my own forum on many occasions, faced with disappearing avatars, and almost nonexistent communication- or piss-poor people skills with Yuku staff when it did occur.  Before the migration, we had a lively and active forum for its size.  

So what with traffic decreasing alarmingly I found myself getting my Napoleonic fix on other fora out there, primarily TMP, and was on the verge of closing down La Bricole for good.

But these days there has been no joy at TMP either.  That is another forum in decline, but for very different reasons.

I had been a member there since the turn of the century, and at one point was even a subscriber.  But no longer.  Over the years TMP has inexorably been getting further away from what it originally did best, serve as a place people could get together to discuss gaming.

Somewhere along the line I feel the site has lost its way. For a long time I just held my nose, and tried to ignore the antics and nastiness that went on, but it has reached a point where just sticking my head in the sand, turning off the more poisonous boards, and hoping the noise would go away is no longer an option.  No use me pretending that its just a harmless hobby site.  It's not. 

Some of the stuff being posted there now is plain toxic.  I know I'm not alone in thinking the moderation (sic) has become increasingly capricious and erratic, alternating between the heavy handed or alternately the non-existent.  TMP's FAQ has more rules than you would find in an old SPI mega-game, but it doesn't appear to help- there are still more dramas and meltdowns than all other hobby sites combined.  

Ultimately it's just not a healthy pool any more for me to want to swim in.   

There are a lot of decent posters there for sure; talented and enthusiastic people I like, and for whom I have a lot of time- you know who you are! 

A number of boards seem in danger of becoming no more than echo chambers, safe-spaces where those of a certain political slant can spout off drivel to their hearts content- especially given the purges that have been taking place of late.  I really don't want to know what the politics of other gamers might be.  Gaming for me is a hobby, a place to put all the real-world crap aside for a bit.

Weird scenes inside the Gold Mine, and I no longer want any part of it.  It's been very frustrating watching the decline, but hey- Bill's house, Bill's rules.  It is his right to run the site the way he wants it- and it's my choice as to whose company I wish to keep.  Thank you for your service, TMP- but I have better uses for my time.  

Fortunately, there are some much more professionally administered alternatives out there, such as the LAFTWW or The Guild.

So as that door closes, I need to keep others ajar. Bottom line- I have decided to keep La Bricole going.  

I will keep it as if for now, and will endeavor to try and post there regularly (when it lets me!).  Perhaps traffic will pick up, who knows.  But by August it will get a reboot, and I will start it up again using a different forum platform- probably PhP-BB, but I'm open to alternatives.  

It will take a very long time to build up an active membership again- should it ever do.  But now that I'm through with TMP- and I know for sure that I am not the only one-,  I still believe there is room for a wargaming forum with a focus on Napoleonic Wargaming- without the sandbox spats!  I'll give it a shot anyway and see what happens.  

And the most active wargaming forum of which I'm a member happens also to be the smallest, so it is not just a matter of numbers.

Finally, confessions of an aging grognard: I've been finding the eyestrain creeping up on my during painting- a result of spending a lot of time at computers, and the consequences of having well over a half-century's worth of birthdays behind me.

So I ordered an Optivisor from Front Rank.

Definitely an improvement for making out the detail, and well worth the money. And it creeps out the cats. 

Somehow a regiment of French Chasseurs à Cheval had- fortuitously- found its way into the box, evidently for ballast (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it...).

And that's probably the last unit of French I "need". I do hanker after Mirliton's mounted bandsmen, though.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Good Beans, Wellington! or: The Assault on "les Haricots", 1815

'It was the General himself who broke the tense silence.
"The attack will proceed."
Addressing the assembled officers of his staff, he had looked wearily up from a rain-sodden sheet of paper, the contents of which was to have fateful consequences for many of them.
They were all huddled under the inadequate shelter of an elderly oak tree, its saturated leaves and branches almost touching the ground under the weight of accumulated water. All around them was the incessant beating of the downpour, punctuated by sudden thunderclaps, and the clamour of seemingly endless columns of men and horses marching wearily past them along the almost impassable lanes.
Everyone was prodigiously covered with clinging clods of liquid mud. The much-cursed rain had been beating down on the bleak fields of Belgium since the previous morning, and far from showing signs of easing up, it appeared only to be increasing both in volume and ferocity.
Greatcoats and hats had long since lost their warmth and any pretense of shape, and wet uniforms chafed the procession of chilled bodies who now, like the rain, flooded this corner of the Belgian countryside. The General's black-clad warriors now resembled more a flock of bedraggled and dejected crows than an army.
But for the General's staff beneath the dubious shelter of their solitary oak, their present discomfort was far from their minds. They had more pressing concerns as they now gazed apprehensively at their commander, a look of annoyed determination coming over his rain-streaked face.
The General had just read a last terse order from none other than His Excellency himself, brought by an exhausted and evidently ill courier. 
Blucher's Prussians were at this time reported to be marching in an attempt to link up with the Anglo-Allied army, despite only recently having been defeated in a bloody battle by Napoleon's himself.
News had come of a well-fortified French garrison at the farming settlement of Les Haricots, situated directly between the approaching Prussians and Wellington, and which dominated the road along which the Prussians were to have to pass.   
An experienced and capable soldier, it was the General and his small and weary division which had been tasked with reducing this threat- and he had serious misgivings.
His scouts had indicated that the French were there in brigade strength, and had quickly rebuilt and improved upon two 18th C. earthworks, creating two formidable and mutually-supporting positions.  And it now appeared that these would likely have to be attacked without the benefit of any artillery of his own. 
The General had been pressing hard for a delay in the attack until the guns could be brought up to support it; for the past seven hours there had been an exchange of riders passing increasingly heated messages as to the feasibility of carrying out an assault at this time, and under these dreadful conditions.  
But the die had been cast. In his hand was a dispatch stating categorically that the French in Les Haricots must be destroyed, and that any delay in evicting them would most certainly be disastrous for the Allied cause.
So preparations now needed to be made at once for the bloody assault that was now certain to take place.  And succeed it must, regardless of the price to be paid.
The General stood tall; "The attack will proceed!", he declared again, the tone of his voice leaving no room for any doubt as to his intentions.  "And we, gentlemen, are going to carry out our orders whatever the cost. I will not see the honour of the Duchy compromised."
"Have all battalion commanders assemble here at once..."'
Thankfully for those of you who appreciate good writing, that's as far as any literary aspirations I may have for Napoleonic fiction goes. 

This post sees Serrez les Rangs once again return to the True Faith- Napoleonics. And about bloody time, I hear some of you say.

What follows is an AAR (with loads 'o pictures) from a game we played last year, and I only just recently came across the photos and some notes I had taken- they had been lost deep in the labyrinth of embedded folders on my computer. 

I do remember that at this time the planets lined up so that Matt, Sada and I were able to schedule in a game of Napoleonics- it was the first one we had in almost a year,  the first on my 4' by 8' table, and the first one where we actually had a proper scenario!

We were of course using Black Powder, but with 28mm figures on a relatively small table it was clear that coming up with a workable and entertaining game would require some (uncharacteristic) forethought: but help was at hand.

The previous week I had received my copy of Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames rules. I had been reading a lot of positive things about it on various fora and blogs out there, and it intrigued me. So I had decided to order a copy. I'm glad I did.
Just as reading material alone, I enjoyed this book a lot. I like his writing style and found his rationale behind his game design clearly explained. For some reason I was reminded of the wargaming books I read in my teens by Don Featherstone; Neil's enthusiasm for the hobby is infectious, and I found myself itching to give the rules- and especially the scenarios- a try before I even finished reading it.

The rules in the book as written seem very simple, but are in fact quite well thought out. Having had tried them "as is" for some Dark Ages games, they are fine for when I want something light and fun, or for just dabbling in unfamiliar wargaming periods. Although should I want to tinker around with them as wargamers do, the system looks robust enough to stand tweaking.

But the real winner for me are the thirty scenarios, campaign ideas, and the suggestions for solo gaming. In the book Neil writes:
"There is a paradox at the heart of wargaming, in that many players are absolutely and rightly fascinated by finding the right set of rules, but pay far less attention to the type of battle (or scenario) they play"
Don't I know it, as this has been true of many of our own games. Too many "scenarios" have been half-assed, "set 'em up, plonk down some hills and buildings, and kill more of them than they do of us!" affairs. 

All too often, the time spent leading up to games has been taken up more by panicky last-minute painting, or trying to get a grip on/ brushing up on the rules, rather than thinking overmuch about scenario design.

But not this time. We had the figures and the terrain, so no last-minute painting frenzy. For this game, I selected one of the scenarios from the book: Scenario #15, Fortified Defence (p.94).

The object of the game was for Blue to seize two fortified villages, while Red had to prevent this from happening.

This scenario was inspired by the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745- a battle in a war that has always held a big fascination for me, so I was anxious to give it a go.

It is a tough scenario for an attacker, seeing as the scenarios in OHWG generally involves opposing forces of equal strength. So for this scenario there is a unique twist; at any point in the game, Blue can announce a "reset"- all his forces are removed from play, and appear again at full strength along his start line. These in effect represent a second assault wave entering the fray. 

No such joy for the Red player, who has to make do with what he's got. But of course Red has the advantage of defending from two, strongly-fortified positions.

With a bit of tweaking to suit our circumstances, our table ended up looking like this:
The roads were purely for aesthetics, they were considered to be in poor condition due to days of torrential rain, and would give no advantage to movement.

We had to make some adjustments to the Black Powder rules in order for the scenario to be workable. We were using 4' by 6' of my available table space, and the scenarios in Neil's book assume a 3' by 3' playing board. Additionally, the rules in OHWG assumes unit frontages between 4" to 6", with musket range equaling frontage at 6".

Our own battalions are usually organized on about a 1:20 ratio, so have a frontage of around 10" or so. Ranges as written in Black Powder are 18 inches for muskets.

Given the size of our table and the layout, that would have resulted in the villages enjoying interlocking fields of fire, and it would have been more like assaulting Omaha beach than Fontenoy. 

In an effort to give both sides a fighting chance, not only did I move the villages farther apart, but in the end we decided to reduce all move and firing distance by 50%.  We had also decided to allow a maximum of two actions a turn rather than the three allowed in the rules (when lucky enough to roll for it).

This put the unit frontages out of whack with move rates and firing ranges, but we put it down to heavy rain having churned the Belgian countryside and dirt roads to a quagmire, and having gotten into the powder so that both sides were having to resort to reduced charges in their cartridges.

At the beginning of the game, we rolled to see which side would be attacking, and which would be the defender, highest dice roll taking the role of the Blue player.

Once that was done, then we rolled for force composition.  In all of the scenarios in the book, each player fields up to six units from a maximum of ten units per side (although in some scenarios games with as few as four units a side are possible). 

So in the horse and musket period, any given force is randomly selected from a total of ten possible units, as follows:
4 infantry battalions
2 artillery batteries
2 light infantry units
2 cavalry (heavy or light- it doesn't matter)
Accordingly, for each side we again rolled a dice (1D6), and the result was checked against a table that determines which six of the ten units available would be used in the game.

For this game, the Red defenders (the valiant, dashing French) rolled a three. The Blue attackers (a motley and reactionary collection of Brunswickers, Glaswegians, and other sweepings of Empire), a six.

A roll of three meant the French had the following force; four infantry battalions, one skirmishing battalion of light infantry, and a unit of cavalry (my chasseurs à cheval). Two of the infantry would be garrisoning the towns, and the scenario stipulated that they would stay there for the duration of the game, or until wiped out. The rest could be deployed anywhere within the zone as seen in the map above.

By rolling a six, the Allies found themselves with three battalions of infantry, one unit of Jägers, and two of cavalry- KGL hussars and some light dragoons. Not the best combination for assaulting buildings! If necessary, this same force would resurrect itself to form the second attack wave.

Both sides had in fact rolled for the only possible selections that did not include any artillery- and this for a scenario involving an assault on fortifications! Obviously the same heavy rain that had turned the battlefield into an early 19th C. version of Passchendale had also left both sides' artillery bogged down and immobile in the mud, thus unable to take part in the days engagement. 

As always, we can just blame it on the weather.

I dispensed with the special rule in the scenario giving the defenders an additional bonus when firing from the villages. We've played many games of BP that involved attacking BUA's, and they had proven to be tough nuts to crack indeed without needing any additional help from scenario conditions, and this proved to be the case once again this game.

All brigade and overall commanders had a CV of 8. The garrison in Le Petit Haricot was given its own brigadier, to mitigate the distance from the C-in-C.   I suppose we could have given it a Marauder rule instead, but as the unit could not leave the safety of the village it really was moot.

The scenario states that the game should last 15 turns. I ignored this, and didn't even bother mentioning it to the others as I thought that there was no way we would get close to this many turns in.

I was wrong. The turns played very quickly, and if I had adhered to this condition of the scenario, the game may have had quite a different outcome.

First we had to gently shoo-off the lads.  Cat ownership pretty much rules out any thoughts of building a sandtable, God forbid.
"We've been kicked out of better places than THIS!"
Here's the layout at the opening of the game, just before the first wave of the Allied assault steps out onto the mud-soaked approaches to Les Haricots. 
It's clear to see that using normal Black Powder musket ranges would have result in a bloodbath for any attacking troops.  As it was, the Allies had to move very carefully to try to avoid flanking fire, and they weren't always successful.

The French line awaits...
...while the garrison at Le Grand Haricot steel themselves for the onslaught, the regimental Eagle glittering gloriously against the leaden sky...
First move, and the French cavalry cautiously advance. Don't want the Allies getting any ideas... 
On the Allied side, the Brunswicker skirmishers advanced through the woods on the right, intent on flanking or even getting behind the French at Le Grand Haricot; there to do as much mischief as they can.  Meanwhile the main force, with the Allied cavalry on their left flank, advanced on the hamlet,

Advance to contact!

Scratch one unit of Allied cavalry...

The Allies had been bleeding profusely, and with most of his force either broken or close to their break points, Matt decided to call off the attack and press the reset button for a second assault.

The first game saw the French hold off the attackers- just- but they had taken lots of casualties themselves. And unlike the Allies, they were not to get reinforcements for the follow-up game.

After having stood off to lick their wounds, the bugles sounded, drums were beaten, and on again the Allies came. 

Round II...
If at first you don't succeed...
Last stand...
Time to say "Goodbye"...
The day was a bad one for French horseflesh.

Allied combined arms savage an unlucky battalion of line infantry.

The Brunswickers  take Le Petit Haricot in a  frontal assault.
 Despite being practically ignored in the first game, the defenders lost their collective bottle, and fled disgracefully.
In this second game, the Allied skirmishers had it all their own way.
"Sauve qui peut!"
The French had held off the first attack, but at a high price; the second wave of fresh troops proved too much as a black tide (with a few shades of red & blue) inundated French hopes.  The second game was a clear victory for the attacking Allies, largely due to French errors in deployment, and from the French having barely any un-battered units left to deploy.  

Although the battalion defending le Petit Haricot had choked and fled as a result of abysmal dice throws, over the course of the game the Dice Gods were fair and consistent, alternately blessing- and cursing- both sides alike. 

But all in all, I remember it as being a very enjoyable game.  Since then we have frequently used Neil's scenarios (and rules) for a number of games set in different periods, and the book has proved to be worth way more that what I paid for it.  


Sunday, 21 May 2017

IJA Reinforcements

Recent swag.  

Here are the latest additions to my ever-growing collection of Imperial Japanese for Bolt Action:

A squad of starving and desperate spear fighters is a pretty dark subject for gaming it has to be said; but there were a number of situations where the Japanese were fighting an end game, while suffering from a lack of all kinds of supplies (not to mention from malnutrition and a host of untreated nasty jungle fevers and infections). 

For any clever and ambitious young officer in the IJA, going into the logistics branch was a dead-end as a career path, as it was neither glorious nor held in any esteem, being well down there in the pecking order. A hangover from the samurai days, where a warrior was supposed to be just that; a warrior, not a clerk. 

Unsurprisingly, when push came to shove the lowly bean counters were told by their superiors to "knock it off with them negative waves", and trust in Japanese martial spirit overcoming mere material needs. 

Yeah, right.

Of course the soldiers in the field paid the price for the ensuing neglect, especially if they found themselves marooned on some island or other blockaded by the USN, or if their over-extended supply lines were under constant interdiction by Commonwealth Hurricanes and Beaufighters.
Field Marshal Neglect and his subordinates, Brigadier-Generals Disease and Hunger- probably the most dangerous opponents the Japanese soldier faced.
The sculpts actually capture this quite well, being ragged, lean, but mean. And they are a doddle to paint.

In game terms, the Bolt Action rules allow for squads of these last-ditch desperadoes. A lot of players will want to have a few units of them because they are very cheap in terms of point costs, they count as fanatics, and can still be deadly if enough get into close quarters. Good for soaking up incoming fire as they assault the enemy head-on, while your squad of rifles works its way around the flanks. 

Brigade Games do a good selection of near-naked and emaciated ragged infantry with rifles. I'll be mixing these in with the Warlord spearmen for more variety, and because I doubt very much that you would have found squads armed wholly with spear-armed troops alone.  

Fielding a whole squad consisting of half-starved & filthy fanatics with bamboo spears seems pretty "gamey" to me (in every sense of the word). Which is fine if that's the way people want to play it, but I feel it probably makes more sense historically to use them to beef up the usual rifle squads, rather than have them in separate units. And calorie/protein deficiency coupled with a near-constant case of the runs would probably mitigate against giving them any fanatic bonus. 

I will probably play it both ways, and often end up somewhere in the middle depending on situation and inclination. If it's a scenario I'm playing at my place, I'll most often want to play it more historically and distribute them equally among my rifle squads. If it's for a comp at one of our pub events, the emphasis is very much on the game, on rolling dice and socializing over a few beers, so I'd go with the flow. 

I'm quite comfortable wearing either hat on different occasions. Sometimes I'll look to contemporary accounts and my copy of the US War Department's FM72-20 Field Manual for Jungle Warfare as inspiration for wargaming WW2 in the Far East. Other times, it's an unrepentant homage to the action-filled romps of Commando Comics, no matter how improbable.

To be honest, I'm sometimes happier with the latter as when reading about the reality, I find it can be overwhelmingly grim.

Bolt Action can work for both approaches; it's just a matter of how I organize my force, and which of the rules I want to include/ tweak and which I want to leave out. For example, I never use any special character rules as I find them- well, silly, most being characters who would command well above the level that is being represented in the game. And all my squads have LMG's regardless of how effective they may or may not be for their point cost.  

The Warlord tanks look good, and allow me to build either the original version with the 57mm gun/howitzer or the later 47mm Shinhoto Chi-Ha. They will be far easier to assemble than the resin vehicles, which with flash and mould bubbles can be a right old pain in the derrière to clean up.   Not to mention that the plastic ones come with decals, data cards (good idea), and even explosion markers- very necessary for the Japanese tracked sardine tins.

I might even do a kit-bash to make one of them a command tank, with the older turret carrying another MMG in place of the 57mm, and a 47mm ATG mounted in the hull. There are enough extra pieces in the box to do this.

I've also found the time for working on more grunt-sans, these ones much better fed.

Fiddling about with plastics & putty
More infantry prepped and ready for priming.  These are mostly heavily-modified Warlord and Westwind figures.  ATG and crew Brigade Games.  Lots of Warlord head swops.