Long time since my last posting ... blame it on the heatwave ..
I have been happily relaxing in the afterglow from the Conference of Wargamers 2019, in particular I am enjoying reading the impressions and escapades from other bloggers (see this link) and reminiscing with a fellow wargamer I introduced to CoW this year. We took the road trip together and the experience simply blew his mind. It was only my own second CoW so I was hoping that CoW 2018 was not a one-off lucky strike but a repeating treasure. I was not disappointed, in fact I found it a much deeper and richer experience (partly because I put a game on and partly because I did different things this year). It recharged and refuelled the wargaming batteries. In addition it fixed me with a bucket list of new "must-do" activities (particularly with getting together with the Wargames Development (WD) North - Sheffield contingent on a road trip or two). Reading through everybody else's accounts, it is apparent that everybody managed to create their own unique experience for themselves! Mine was as follows:
The Plenary Game: This was my first plenary as for some unspecified reason CoW 2018 was just a welcome and into some games. Anyhow I found myself in the middle of a 1973 Middle East Crisis, where I was acting as an Egyptian General, given some tanks and infantry (including allegedly including the Palestinian Infantry Brigade which never turned up as a counter - lost down the back of sofa methinks) which was good player result, as it was all action no talking (other people had plenty of talking to do). The game itself was an ambitious multi-level game Pol-Mil affair involving some 40 players, epic in scope and tremendous fun and I think it worked. Together with the Egyptian Air-Force Commander and two other (much more capable) Egyptian Army Generals we were tasked with capturing the Suez Canal. So ... we went "one hex" over the canal, hunkered down behind a phalanx of Soviet made Sagger AT and SAM assets with the intention of bleeding any Israeli counterattacks dry. Luckily the other Generals persuaded me "not to go pointlessly rampaging across the Sinai pointlessly" (it looked so tempting, but good call gents). Our contribution to the strategic 'end of game' situation was "international control" of the Suez Canal in the post-war settlement (see below, we took 90% of the canal, our complete success was barred by a heroic last turn counter-attack by the Israeli Army [doing brilliantly with limited resources, as in no air support on the last turn ... the face of the Israeli commander was precious when he was told "that's your lot" as evrything was over the Golan as priority] who took one hex end of the canal despite enduring horrendous losses - Note: PS still no sign of Palestinian Infantry Brigade at game end, was Arafat sat on it?):
I then retired to the bar to engage in frivolous conversation with fellow wargamers over a pint (or two) until I was plucked from obscurity and thrown into the maelstrom of the "CAN: Card Driven Dungeon Crawl" game as they were one player short by an unruly gent, no sorry it was Trebian doing me a great favour, much obliged. No pictures ... but here's Trebian's (the masterful CAN DM) report. All I can add is that my female fighter's (a half-orc looking toughie) abilities were called into a question as the party endured continuously watching her getting beaten up in fight - the blooming party thief had a better kill ratio than me. Anyway the game was a success with many moments of hilarity as the players got into character. One beaten up (down to the last hit point) Cleric emerged victorious from the quest cltching an ancient artefact to his chest; a 75% character kill rate but quest success, this was a far better than average in my old teenage RPG days.
A Bridge Too Far (WD North Demonstration Game): I have no higher praise for this game than to say that in my eyes, this was the best game of CoW 2019. Pure and simple it ticked all the wargaming boxes, played in 10 minutes but simply fantastic as it gave the player (British 30 XXX) enough dilemmas to make it highly entertaining (see below, my 30 XXX tanks crossing Arnhem bridge to link up with the British Paratroop First Airborne Division, after a celebratory victory pint I retired to my tent as it was now in the very early hours of Saturday):
Fortified by the legendary Knuston "full English breakfast" I circulated between three large miniature games (this was my dead spot of the weekend failing to have signed up in time, but knew by experience that you can often gain as much fun by coming along and watching - therefore I flitted as a butterfly between these three games):
Over The Hills and Far Away (15mm Napoleonic Peninsular Game, nicely painted metals - good old fashioned wargaming stuff): It showed off a new rule set that emphasised the role of skirmishers and a command and control system - commands to individual the formations seems to have a certain inertia (see below, Wayne Thomas explaining his rules):
Movement involved a grid, therefore no measuring and commanders had specific roles to play "when ordered in the appropriate manner" (see below, the French advancing with those pesky skirmishers, damn their meritocracy):
Looking down the French lines as they advance to occupy a significant piece of terrain "La Casa" that overlooked an important bridge leading off table - the right as it were of the British battle line (see below, the Portuguese fight off the French hoping to be reinforced [soon] by the British):
Later in the game the French contest the strategic ridge with the British Infantry. For purposes of rules simplification and in keeping with the trait in many a Peninsular battle there was no cavalry to be seen (can anybody spot a command figure that looks like Wellington?):
I am looking forward to reading these rules when they come out in the Nugget for closer inspection and a trial or teo myself with my local wargamers.
Vat'en Ecosse (20mm Culloden): For Trebian's epic Scottish battle see his battle report. Warning: Anybody with a "wargaming wig allergy" be warned the British C-in-C was wearing a stunning in-period headpiece. I had slipped Trebian a few Airfix old school plastic miniatures the night before when he was setting up, to help him expand armies of this period (tri-corned AWI Washington's Men and Redcoats) to appear in future distant battles that are at present mere twinkle in his mischievous eye. It looked stunning and engaging! I also got minor brownie points from the wife for discarding a pebble from my wargaminng mountain of unpainted stuff ;)
Mission Command: Normandy (1/300 WWII specifically Normandy, British advancing). I was drawn again to these set of rules, wishing to myself I had an opportunity to play I hung around seeing what the players were doing. The scenario set a passive German defence to an aggressive British probe. The game was shown at CoW 2018 in 15mm, shrunk down to 1/300 seemed to suit it much better, less of a "tank park". I "hummed and hared" and on Sunday I finally caved in and bought them from his stall as I think there is some good stuff in them and I could not justifying hanging on the fence anymore. The British pushed through a thin German infantry defence but were halted by coming across a couple of Stug III's that messed up the "British Tank Park".
I managed to play in two intriguing twinned games that followed lunch: Brexit The Wargame (using Confrontation Analysis) and Confrontation Analysis the Card Game which make reference to (surprise, surprise) Confrontation Analysis (and for the theory behind this approach please see reference, the academic research and pedigree behind this is very good, available from the History of Wargaming Project Confrontational Analysis book by Michael Young). Both of the games featured a lot of dialogue and discussion, the former game in the political context of Brexit (and boy did emotions run high, surprise - surprise) and the latter game was situated in the disputed waters of South East Asia, where China is running into American supported regional powers such as the Philippines. IMHO the immortal quote of CoW 2019 that I will always remember came about, a Philippines player explaining to the Chinese and American teams why he was open to consider the biggest offer from both sides "Because I am a whore." to the stunned expressions of the seasoned diplomats and more conventional negotiators. Confrontational Analysis is more formalised approach to that of Matrix Games, but in many respects shares the common feature of dialogue and story-telling. What I like about the Confrontation Analysis it that it tries to build a probabilistic or symbolic framework around a problem without falling into "the talking over each other" aspect of some Matrix Games. You have to remember quite closely what has been previously said up to that point. The Card Game variant wandered around the topics, being a research tool for thinking about issue as opposed to a pure game. Michael on the other hand managed to honourably complete his game (no mean feat given the contentious topic at hand) as the clock of time ticked on to what was viewed as "a horrible ending" to some and "an unhappy state of affairs" to others. No further spoilers here, more details in the Nugget write-up.
After the evening meal the day was finished off in fine style with Carry On Up The Nile, a Matrix game set as a 'follow-on' from last years successful mission to rescue Gordon courtesy of Bob Cordery- or should I say partially successful mission as the land based element of the relief force was now trapped inside Khartoum awaiting the armed paddle steamers to force passage. As you can see by following the above link Bob had pulled out all the stops with terrain and armoured paddle steamers and a spectacular tactical terrain set-up! This year I was in charge of Khartoum's defences although Gordon thought he was (the obligatory internal Colonial bickering, as to be expected), which didn't help with the defensive troop placement. A sorry saga unfolded of Imperial poor paddle steamer navigation, poor Imperial shooting and an over enthusiastic urge to tiff-in whenever and wherever possible. The seeds of destruction were therefore sown by the cultural habitual excesses British Empire troops long before the first Mahdist shot was even fired (see below, the brave defenders of Khartoum; Note: The rules Bob was using were Politics by Other Means by Chris Engle, which is a more tactical flavour of the Matrix Games genre - for better or worse we descended into a more traditional narrative plat [understandable because Bob offered +1 DRM for "good quotes from Carry In films" - apart from "Ohhh Matron" which suffered a -1 DRM] - I suffered badly on this count failing to recall any from my childhood memories [lame excuse I know]):
Early doors and already the British Army Paddle Steamer ("The Pug") gets embroiled in a cunningly placed ambush (see below, maybe the narrow channel was too narrow a channel to use, as elite Mahdist Burphas board the cannon wielding "Pug" and put the crew to flight apart from an officer caught engaging in a bit of afternoon tiff-in!):
Worse was to follow as Mahdist artillery gunners opened fire and holed the "Pug" below the waterline and she started to settle (see below, where did they get the cannon, answer from the British off the previous game's relief column!):
Not to fear the Royal Egyptian Artillery Corp opened fire with a devastating salvo, slightly tongue in cheek and we expected little or nought (see below, the lads are perfectly positioned for an enfilade shot):
Even more surprising to the British and their Egyptian Allies it worked and the enemy gunners fled from the sound of the cannons and splashes of near misses in the water):
The paddle steamer looks to be foundering badly, afternoon tiff-in interrupted and the call to abandon ship and every man for himself goes out - a standard bit of British Colonial troop routing followed (see below, Sir Henry is about to find out how cold the water of the Nile is):
Meanwhile in Khartoum there is trouble at the gates (see below, a thin Khaki line awaits any who dare enter, backed up with an artillery piece commanded by an imperious looking officer and a nasty looking Gatling Gun manned by trigger happy Egyptians [which seemed a bit of a theme for me at this years CoW]):
It is a more than a little bit 'Carry On' as the Burpas climb aboard a sinking paddle steamer and the British in their Red Coats de-bus from a perfectly good one onto a sandbar in the middle of nowhere looking for the said Burpas (see below, again I am lead to believe by minds much greater than mine that this is the standard practice in the official British Colonial tactical guide to dealing with 'men armed with guns', that you are to "be in the wrong place at the wrong time in an unhelpful way"):
Meanwhile the thin Khaki line is sorely tested with several hundred screaming Mahdist warriors hell bend on death and destruction or martyrdom (see below, a very ugly sight followed as they were slaughtered to a man, 18 on three d6 beat my lowly 7, something I would rather not dwell on too much as it causes flash-backs of a disturbing kind):
The same fate sordid seemed to await for my leader too. He had pensively watched all game the Royal Artillery cannon belch forth fire only to miss every time - my call for "10 rounds rapid" was met with astonished glance from the gunners manning this antiquated Napoleonic era piece, "How about we try for two sir?" cane the sergeant's reply. I called upon my stoic heroism (as per my character card) and stayed while the gunners ran away. Taking aim with my faithful pistol I downed the local mob leader and to my amusement without his fanatical chanting the mob ran away - perhaps distracted by another bigger angry mob departing with Gordon's body. I then heard the last forlorn steam-pipe whistle sounding the retreat from the river force and knew all was lost (see below, safe for today but what are my long-term prospects .. are grim):
And so my glorious Egyptian career meets an inglorious end. The disillusioned Egyptians morning the loss of their beloved Gordon and the mutinous looks form the surviving British troopers urge me to resurrect the "Nile crocodile costume disguise" (please see CoW 2018, much disparaged by me at the time) and quietly float away downstream at night, to further enjoy Kipling style adventures yet untold. A really enjoyable game, if only my knowledge of lines from "Carry On" films was greater! Perhaps I should consider exploring the "Dark Heart of Africa" where many a man's fortune is made or his life lost! Another great game Bob many thanks for putting it on.
I then retired to the bar to discuss matters of great import and David Crook found out why I named myself "Geordie the Exiled FoG". Obviously not in any way influenced by the consumption of said alcohol I ended up somehow wearing a large Medieval helmet - thankfully I could not remember any of my school Shakespeare so all were saved from that cruelty (see below, I don't think I'll get one no matter how many times I ask at birthdays, Xmas or Father's Day - despite it being a perfect dust catcher on a large mantelpiece [which my wife informs me we don't have]):
Note: I did remember to take it off and put it back in its rightful place before I went to sleep!
Not Just Pike and Elephants (Discussion and wargame workshop): This was an absolute gem of a find as John Bassett described three Hellenistic examples of urban combat that map to present day operations in those same parts of the world. His knowledge was fascinating but then to break us up into small groups to devise a wargame inspired by these operations was an act of genius and fun too. In the real spirit of WD "innovation and novelty to the fore" and CoW "unexpected can do attitude even if we are laughed at" the results were ingenuously varied; from a Card Board Elephant Simulator (the elephant in ancient history got stuck in a gateway and caused great mischief to all), to a poetic verse construction algorithm based on the outcomes of tabletop melee combat, to Trebian's rather sophisticated effort below which was a simulation of rousing enough support to overthrow a Greek City State - based on a failed attempt by a Spartan king (see below, Trebian's ideas refused to boxed in his head and with pen and paper sprung to life - I will be sorely disappointed if this is not a game at CoW 2020):
For my own part I had the afterthought of using one of my favourite children's games called Labyrinth that could be used to simulate "storming a city at night" as the terrain can mysteriously move as well as the troops - the intention is to develop something and bring it along to CoW 2020! The output from this session was phenomenal.
AK Minus 47 (a 15mm Polar version of the popular AK-47 game): The first ting to say is that the 15mm figures were brilliant, parker-clad snow camouflage with great scenery and vehicles. It looked great. I was tasked along with other fellow NATO players to investigate a failed "film pick-up" from a spy satellite (ring any bells anyone?). We ran into an ambush pretty much from the start losing the lead "technical" [AK-47 term] lead snow car (see below, the Arctic Ice Station "Zee" as we called it):
Ever wondered what to do with those left over bathroom tiles .. think no more "go snow" (see below, the NATO relief column can be seen top middle - what we didn't realise was that there were lots of pesky Soviets kicking about ready to shoot at us):
A close up of the NATO column (see below, the two sets of specialised snow tracks behind the car are lovely 1970/80 British Army style kit purchased on line from a 3D printer on-line, beautiful - tempting me to do something silly and "go for another genre" - but I haven't [yet]):
One final panoramic view of the NATO column before the action start (see below, a perfectly peaceful deserted base, just find the spy with film and get out of here before anybody notices, easy):
Oopps - there goes the lead Scout Car! Bang! (see below, the good news (?) is we now know we are in a shooting match, so we can start shooting back - if we can see the enemy, look they are by the tents with an artillery piece):
The NATO troopers de-bus with military precision - it's as if they had been practising this for a long time. In fact they have been really waiting for a chance to try out that sexy looking automatic mortar thing they were towing around and find out what it actually does):
NATO also go for the dramatic "deploy straight onto the Victory Hex position" from a helicopter and effectively dislocate the Soviet defence and win the game in one fell swoop (see below, beautiful use of improvisation with the wine glass for "a hovering helicopter holder"):
A fierce fire-fight develops around the Ice Station "Zee" base pulling in some quite expected vehicles from random quarters of the board (this is classic AK-47) ensuring death and destruction all round (see below, elite US Special Forces go int hand-to-hand melee, coming out convincing winners - or so NATO thought):
But who would have expected a "Russian missile carrying sub" (going slightly off-script to book and film) to have the nerve to show up; again have they not read the book? (see below, a nice mixture of scales, it worked really well, at this point NATO decided to bug out and maybe, just maybe also called in a Harpoon strike on that cheeky sub blaming everything on a unfortunate accident with a lost WWII mine locked in the ice):
A nice little game, with beautiful toys that almost gave me the urge to so something similar so very well done!
USN Inter-War Naval Wargame Rules (John Curry, History of Wargame project): It always happens at CoW is that sessions you are interested in conflict with others, but when a session ends earlier than expected you can nip around and see the tail end of another game. So I got to see the ending position of a WWI era combined British[Red]/German[Black] dreadnought squadron attacking an American dreadnought battle line. The Americans always seem to devise interesting what-if PolMil scenarios to test out. The "to hit and damage process" was very deterministic and away from the Fletcher Pratt I was half expecting to see. I had picked them up at John's 'History of Wargaming Project" stall and was tempted (see Bob Cordery's fuller description) as I gave them a "thumb browse" - but my feeling was that they would not replace my beloved GQI/II rules but could provide a more scholarly insight to how the American fleet was built leading up to WWII, and how they expected to use it (though what they actually did have to do was really quite different post Pearl Harbour). Something not for this year but maybe next.
Sweeping Satellites (my Board Game - in Development): Now this is the game I took with my friend to CoW to stress test a few components to see if the general idea hung together and see where any areas of improvement lay. The idea was a game of "hide and seek" [think of the traditional game of battleships - find the enemy's before he finds yours] , the assets were on a global scale using space satellites to guide detection and glean information. The novelty was the satellite ground-tracking choices you have to make, the notion of disinformation and anti-satellite options you can use against the other side and could be used against you - then trying to figure out what is going on. The brilliant thing about CoW is that you are surrounded by very bright people who will make stunning contributions, sometimes of the blindingly obvious you had missed and sometimes bringing in fresh ideas on how to do stuff better.
The players were split into a Red Team and a Blue Team and they chose to deploy in secret set of national assets around a world map. Next they undertook to devise a searching strategy to find the oppositions "assets" - the list of which they were "not given" but had to figure out as they were going along. Search results [plus noise from random world events] were reported back and assessed so eventually the teams had to come up with an intelligence assessment of what the other side were doing (see below for a sample shot of the Blue game board - Blue has deployed a decoy operation in Australia and another decoy operation in North America but placed a huge secret project in Europe):
Whereas Blue kept to its "home country regions", Red was exporting its influence around the world and projecting a much more aggressive stance (see below, a dummy in Indonesia and a dummy in South America, but a significant naval new asset in the South Pacific and another new significant land project in Central Africa):
The American search pattern is more based on a sine was about the equator (see below, I had lots of fun working this out with pieces of string, poker chits are representing world regions):
The Soviets had a different ground track for their satellites operating in a polar orbit (see below, it is more "U-shaped" that a sine wave - though similar coverage can be achieved that have different chances of spotting things):
The first pass of a satellite can detect something, a second determine if it is a decoy, third and fourth passes can pass on potentially even more information. However in its essence it is a resource management game so if you spend too much focus in one area other places get left relatively untouched which seemed to show up as an issue in the Blue teams final assessment.
Sweeping Satellite - Results:
Red detected the Blue decoy in Australia but thought it was something more [over estimating], they also detected the Blue decoy in North America and again thought it was something more [over estimating, again] and then when it picked up the strategic stack in Europe thought it was only an operational asset [under estimating], so as a result Red compromised their European intelligence position. Red thought Blue had three operational stacks when in fact it had two decoys and a huge strategic development.
Blue detected the Indonesian decoy and recognised it as such [correct assessment], Blue picked up the Red operational stack in the South Pacific and recognised it as such [correct assessment] but failed (resource management) to look at the South American and African areas and spot the Red assets located there. They then somehow extrapolated that the Russians must be doing something big in Greenland as an abductive "hunch". This left Blue blind to the Red African operation and chasing shadows in Greenland.
If we could have played more rounds it would have been interesting to see if these assessments changed but as it stood Blue had clearly won in Europe (Red was in for a big surprise) but scored a awkward own goal in Greenland, while at the same time and were oblivious to a growing Red African threat. I don't see a winner as such but I see two different sets of problems in the intelligence reports. A question I want to ask next time is - "Where do you feel you are compromised?" With that we adjourned for the final tea and coffee break before the AGM.
And so Cow 2019 ended a whirlwind of emotion and a bucket full of lead to to take and paint from the "bring and buy". I have already sown my deposit for 2020 but feel I may need a new camping tent as the old one is showing signs of campaign wear and tear! My only regret was not having as much time to speak to a few old favourites like Bob Cordery more, but everybody was busy doing stuff and that if anything is a very good thing! A final note, in that it was a great privilege to finally meet up with David Crook (north finally meets south) and acquire some unpainted lead from the Eric Knowles collection. It is my intention to paint them up in the colours Eric originally intended, though that said, it may take me a while to do, but the Brexit winter is approaching!
Blogging Notice: To all the regular bloggers I read (you know who you are) thanks to the nimble keyboard work of my daughter I have temporarily lost the ability to comment on your blog postings (don't ask but it is something about two or more Google accounts on the same PC). Fear not Bob, David, Tim, Trebian, Martin, et al. I am enthusiastically still reading you all. Best Wishes!!