Thursday 31 December 2009

Sheffield Wargames Day 30th December 2009 - Part 2

Our second game was a Modern Naval game using rules I found on the internet years ago. The protagonists were two of the three fictional South American banana republics I invented some years ago. These three countries were invented for a plenary game at COW in the late 1990s. The game took as it's subject a naval arms race in the 1930s and the countries were resurrected for further service as a scenario generator for my Iron Ships and Wooden Heads game published in Wargames Illustrated in 2001. This was a DBA based game which I'll dig out and post if there's any demand.

Anyway, back to South America. Still smarting from a recent reverse over the hotly disputed Islas Peurilas (at the hands of the Castillian Fleet), the Basque Peoples Maritime Defence Force obtained new equipment from their Russian sponsors. This new kit included a Moskva class helicopter carrier and two Kynda class cruisers, together with a squadron of Backfire bombers. The Basques had been hard at work extending the runway on the small island of Isla St.Clair. On account of the quota-based command economy the new runway was actually slightly longer then the island - so much so that the end was submerged at high tide! At the time of the game the development of the island had only proceeded as far as the installation of AA gun batteries and the runway was not yet ready for fast jets. A Basque task force comprising the three new ships (Bolero, Bedknobs, Broomsticks) and three destroyers (Bing, Bong, Bang) was about to set sail for home escorting two landing ships (25 De Mayo, 26 De Mayo) full of marines.

It ws beleived that the Alicante Navy was completing the sea trials of their newly acquired carrier (the Audiquattro, formerly HMS Victorious) escorted by two destroyers (Asta and Aste - US Coontz class). The Audiquattro had in fact finished trials two weeks previously (although like a number of ships in this action it smelled of fresh varnish...) and was cleared for action. The Alicanteans had ordered their task force to intercept the Basque force and had no fewer than 4 submarines in support. These latter had been placed secretly near the islands.

The Basques split their force and while Bolero and Bedknobs escorted the landing ships, the destroyers led by Broomsticks set out to form a screen against any appearance by the Alicantean Navy.

Bolero leads the way with one of her helicopter flights scouting for subs. The flight on deck has another two turns before it will be ready to launch again.

A surprise appearance by a pair of subs did little to delay the Basques' progress and the Kamonov 'Hormone' helis proved their worth by driving off one and sinking the other. Bedknobs suffered a quickly repaired torpedo hit. After the other Basque force was sighted by the Audiquattro's Gannets a Buccaneer strike was swiftly launched. This survived the local AA fire but inflicted only light damage on Broomsticks. As can be seen from the photos, the Alicanteans had not had time to paint over the Fleet Air Arm Roundels on the Audiquattro's air wing... A missile exchange between the Broomsticks' division and the Alicantean destroyers resulted in the loss of a destroyer each and the temporary crippling of Broomsticks.
The Basques then managed to call in Backfire strikes on the carrier, finally hitting it with a full squadron while it's deck was crammed with refuelling Sea Vixens and Buccaneers (again the small dice on the aircraft bases indicate the number of turns until another mission may be ordered). This crippled the carrier and brought a halt to air operations for long enough for the main Basque fleet to make good it's escape.

Sheffield Wargames Day 30th December 2009

As is traditional, a special meeting of Sheffield Wargames Society was held yesterday. Rather than gathering at our usual time of 7pm, the club premises (The Polish Catholic Centre on Eccleshall Road) were available from noon. Soon several games were in full swing including a sci-fi game with a staggering number of spaceships and two 15mm Napoleonic games. One was a re-fight of Waterloo where the Prussians showing up quite quickly didn't prevent the French capture of both Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte and a dangerous looking French thrust round the Allied right flank. Sadly I'm not sure how the game ended - can anyone enlighten me?

The other Napoleonic game occupied 8 players along a 24 foot long table. Again I'm not sure how it ended but when I last looked the French centre was being drawn into a threatening bulge.

Nick Mitchell, Martin Rapier and I played no fewer than 3 games before we departed at around 7pm. The first was a re-fight of Magenta (1859) using rules adapted from those of Richard Brooks. Nick and I were the French while Martin (who had organised the game and provided all the kit) commanded the Austrians. In other words he sat around eating chocolate biscuits.

Above: The heroic General MacMahon (me) leads his corps into action.

The attack of the French left wing under the inspired and heroic leadership of Gen MacMahon initially proceeded well and resulted in the capture of the Austrian General Clam-Gallas. In retrospect this probably did the Austrians a favour... After the rest of the French Army made contact the battle slowed to become a slogging match with both sides losing men in vast numbers. After some sticky moments caused by dodgy dice rolls (my fault more than Nick's) the Austrian defence finally crumbled and Magenta was ours.

Above: The French left advances hot on the heels of some fleeing Austrians.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

NATO Brigade Commander - Design notes

Although NATO Brigade Commander (NBC hereafter) was unveiled publicly as recently as 2006, I have notes going back to the mid-1990s. It appears from these that I came up with the NBC name in 1997 so with such a snappy title a game inevitably followed.

Design Objectives

In designing any game I tend to start off with deciding on the ‘experience’ I want the player to enjoy. My objective with NBC was for the player to command a NATO-style brigade or a pair of Warpact-style regiments. I wanted a game pitched at this level for the following reasons:
 I wanted something which allowed a detailed examination of the issues faced by brigade and regimental commanders.
 Larger-scale (operational) engagements were already catered for by Megablitz.
 There are many games around which allow players to successfully handle battalion sized formations.
 The game had to be capable of incorporating air and sea landing actions.

The other design parameters were that the game had to be playable using 6mm toys on my games table (5x3 ft) in a couple of hours.

Troop Representation

It is perhaps worth noting at this point that many of my 6mm toys were already based on my standard-size Megablitz stands as follows. Bear in mind that most stands in Megablitz represent battalions.
Most stands are 3cm wide by 4cm deep. Leg infantry 3x3cm. Recce companies 2x4cm. Large artillery pieces etc may require deeper stands.

Using the ‘two down’ rule, the smallest unit I wanted to represent in NBC was the company/squadron/battery. Of course, NATO companies tend to be much larger then WP companies, so I settled on the NATO style company as the basic stand. Such a company tends to consist of 14-17 tanks, or infantry in around 14 APC or IFV. Some smaller units (typically recce) could be represented by the thinner stands mentioned above. To illustrate, here is a US tank Battalion from the 1980s. As can be seen it consists of (left to right) 3 tank companies (M-60) plus a scout platoon (M-113) together with an attached AT company of M-901.
As a further example of a NATO unit, here is a British TA Battalion in Saxon APCs. There are (again, left to right) 3 Infantry companies, a mortar battery and an AT company with Milan. As mentioned above, however, Warpact units tend to be considerably smaller and with many fewer ‘tail’ elements. It is reasonable that they take up much less space on the table and are rather more brittle. The photo below shows a 1980s Soviet T-64 Tank Battalion (31 tanks in real life) on the right and a Motor Rifle Battalion with BTR-70 on the left. Each of these units is represented by 2 company (actually half-battalion) stands.
The NBC game system does not (perhaps surprisingly for those of you familiar with my other games) make use of strength points. Instead, each company-size stand can take 2 hits before it ‘dies’. The platoon sized stands (eg the US Scout Platoon above) are destroyed by a single hit.

I reached my conclusions about representation ages ago but it was only thinking about a gridded system and, following experiments with squares, succumbing to the convenience and expense of Kallistra’s Hexon system that finally galvanised me into action.

So far the game has been tested with a number of scenarios from the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 through the 1990/1 Gulf War to fictional WW3 engagements set anywhere from Norway to Japan by way of North Africa. Additionally, Martin Rapier has adapted NBC for WW2 games under the title of ‘RKKA Brigade Commander.’

More WW1 pics

In response to overwhelming demand (from Bob Cordery) here are a couple more photos from the WW1 game reported on earlier.
This shows the corps ready to assault.

The French division heads for the German second line.

Preparations are currently underway for a further ‘Big Push’, this time set in 1916.

Monday 21 December 2009

WW1 in three turns (or thereabouts)

This was not the WD participation game from a few years ago but a Corps-level game presented by Martin Rapier. In this 1915 attack, Corps Commander Nick Mitchell led our three divisions into the assault. My division was in the centre and had a frontage 50% wider than my neighbours'. Even the additional artillery I had in support failed to offset the deeper objectives I had to achieve. In the event my chaps managed to capture most of the enemy front line before the attack bogged down in front of the (hastily reinforced) German second line. On my left, dashing cavalryman Jerry Elsmore took some of the front line before stopping for a rest. To my right John Armatys' French division made gains second only to my own. Despite my efforts, however, I was sacked from my command - no justice!

The first photo above shows my division heading for the German second line. The next shows it assembling under the watchful gaze of an Re-8 (or 'Harry Tate') recce aircraft.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The Battle of Vodsfjord, 1989

This was the first of what will become a series of games based on 'The War that Never Was' by Michael Palmer. This book is basically a history of a novel about a fictional wargame based on a global war in the late 1980s played by the original protagonists after the end of the cold war. Still with me? Good. When I read this a few years ago I recognised it as a source of suitable WW3 scenarios for toy soldier games. Applying suitable artistic licence I put together the Vodsfjord scenario. Don’t dig out your map of Norway – I made it up.

My scenario assumed that the Soviets (remember them?) had crossed the Norwegian border the previous day and were moving south (from the left on the map) along the E-6 highway. The locale of Vodsfjord (the town is bottom right on the map) is significant as nearby the E-6 crosses the River Vods by bridge (top centre). Clearly securing this crossing would be essential to the speed of the Soviet advance. Also nearby is a small civilian airport (lower left) which was on the Soviet commander’s wish list.

Local Norwegian forces (commanded by John Armatys) consisted of a lorry-mounted battalion of reservists deployed north of the river to protect the crossing. The nearest regular troops were located a couple of hours to the south. The river crossing was also defended by a battery of 40mm AA guns. The Norwegian Air Force was fully occupied further south so the chances of air support looked slim.

Soviet forces consisted of a Motor Rifle Regiment (MRR). It’s Rifle battalions were equipped with MT-LB carriers in place of the wheeled BTR-60 or BTR-70 APCs used in Central Europe. The Tank Battalion had T-62 tanks and the weak Artillery Battalion towed D-30 122mm guns. The Soviet Colonel (Martin Rapier) was also told he had the support of a squadron of SU-24 ‘Fencer’ attack aircraft and the Divisional Tank Battalion (T-80s).

The Army-level Air Assault Brigade had landed a company by parachute the previous evening (this had been tasked with seizing the minor river crossing on the outskirts of Vodsfjord). Two further Para battalions were available to be landed by helicopter (Mi-8 escorted by Mi-28) and Col Rapier had ordered that they secure the southern end of the E-6 bridge while the MRR attacked from the north.

During the game the MRR probed the village north of the river while the engineer company began clearing obstacles from the runway at the airport. Following a succession of morale failures the MRR finally deployed for an assault on the river crossing, aided by the regimental artillery and airstrikes by the Fencers. The Air Assault on the crossing wasn’t helped by the presence of the previously undetected Norwegian AA battery, into the fire of which the surviving Paras leapt from their perforated helicopters.

A further spanner was hurled into the Soviet works by an unexpected strike on the MRR concentration by RAF Buccaneers which had flown all the way from Scotland.

Shortly before the MRR assault went in the second wave of Heli-borne Paras arrived – just in time to meet a column of Norwegian regulars (Infantry in M-113s led my a company of elderly but useful M-24 tanks). So ended the Paras.
When we finally ran out of time we concluded that the MRR would not have been able to force a crossing that day but that a fresh regiment together with divisional engineer assets would probably succeed the following day.