Tuesday 30 May 2023

Spearhead - Could it be the one? - WWII Rule Sets.

Could Spearhead, in its unadulterated form (shock horror), be the one? As in the "playable" WW2 set of rules I was after for all these years? (see below, if you are old like me you will probably remember this baby):

Intuitively it may seem to be a step back, as I remember all those wargamers I knew who had played Spearhead (and there are a lot from pre-2000, as it is an old rule set and was very popular in its time), who had enjoyed it but bemoaned the simplicity of the d6, so guess what - they introduced their own rule modifications (using d10s and some form of variation of morale break rules to allow remnants [as opposed to battalions break and disappear] like DBM to survive, but dwindle away giving token resistance). In fact I know hybrid Spearhead and Command Decision rule-sets were devised for 20-30 player Mega Games, as I have good friends who participated in them during the early 2000's. For one reason or another I too seemed to have discounted it, but in my greying years I see complexity  for the sake of it, over simplicity to be generally a bad thing now (increasing dice rolls and playing time for no real gain) and I am tending to go the other way, more focusing on decision making. I remember James Sterrett's quote, "All models are wrong, but some models are useful"). The above struck me as I was watching online some Nimitz games by Jom Owczarski and noticed he also did some Spearhead videos too (see below, the appealing bit being they are "double blind" with an umpire, which seems to be the magic ingredient and the secret sauce of success - let the players play):
I am intrigued to give it another go, in its basic form with an umpire (although sadly without the mechanical assistance of the Table Top Simulator magic). I also think it is best played below a divisional level, certainly with no more than two battalions per player. Watch this space ;) 

Sunday 28 May 2023

WWII Western Desert SAS Book - Speed, Aggression Surprise

Even though I now seem to be a hardened Audible book listener these days, I do still gain pleasure from reading books in the traditional way (see below, ["Speed, Aggression, Surprise"] SAS related - LRDP North African Campaign, but more interestingly informing on miscellanea such as the1941 Levant campaign against the Vichy French and what can be best described as an early form of "strategic Psy-Ops" in the Mediterranean theatre of operations):  

Entertaining, illuminating and therefore "hand on heart", the book can be highly recommended as a good read. The genius behind much of the subterfuge being a little known British officer called Dudley Clarke, with the creation of phantom armies and Axis misdirection being his speciality. If I tried to list all the schemes devised, I would be doing them and him an injustice - instead I can recommend the book. It is sobering to read about the formation of the SAS in the context of this maelstrom of intrigue. Certain unconventional officers having a desire to put their hard earned Commando special training, learnt from the Scottish Highlands to good use, matched equally with the need to avoid standard "military bull". To think of the SAS as one of the many quirky "special forces" units and ideas floating around at the time. The LRDP by contrast being fathered in a more specialised pre-war incubation of foresight, fostered by Wavell, Hobart and Ralph Bagnold. Indeed the success of 1941 Commando Operations was highly debatable with a strong anti-special operations meme from the established military in general. Auchinleck gave the SAS an "in", being named as a parachute unit by accident brought in Clarke's distanced "approval" or "help" (despite a disastrous first parachute operation that nearly killed all the SAS participants) and really saved by the LRDP professionalism. Post North Africa, the SAS seemed to be a solution looking for a problem - "helping" French partisans in guerrilla warfare, almost fitting the bill?  

Saturday 20 May 2023

Flash Back: Memories of Binni (2016) .. A War that Never Was [Updated with Paxsims reference]

Excerpt from the "Interview with Bollangda Corrosaw" the leader of the Binni Official Opposition Party during the Great Binni Crisis of 2016 ... played at Connections UK 2016, apologies to all those who were not there as this post may not make much sense at all.  It was my character's interpretation of game events as nominal leader of The Official (but only one of the many) Opposition Parties in Binni. The place in question of course was, the troubled land of Binni, where game designer Jim Wallman's vivid imagination was let to run free unfettered (see below, a land waiting to fulfil its true potential, but being continually thwarted by the actions of its leaders):

[Narrator's Footnote: The old gentleman was lead in by his young grandson. Physically infirmed and partially sighted he nevertheless displayed a quickness of mind unbecoming of his physical appearance. He became animated upon his recollections and we sat for several hours by the light of a kerosene light talking. He gave me a frank and candid account of his actions during September 2016, his eyes glowing with an inner fire that seemed far more than the light reflected from the smoky lantern. Still on the run and technically in hiding the interview was prematurely terminated by his nervous security guards but Bollangda still managed to shed valuable light on the hitherto unknown actions of the Official Opposition Party and their motivations. In my subsequent hurried escape from Binni the bulk of the precious interview transcript was lost, apart from this tantalising fragment.]

[Bollangda] You have to understand that for some time the situation was getting progressively worse and worse in Binni. For those of us who had managed to benefit from the enlightened times of education and prosperity this backward slide into tribalism and superstition was dismaying. The soul of the country was being sucked into a mire. Foreign powers were active in manipulating this turn of events. With my own very eyes I had seen the 'white ghosts' [Ed: Mercenaries] of the Foreign Interventionists initiate horrendous, callous actions. For that I cannot forgive, yet I had to work with their White Masters as if they were not there, ignoring the sound of gunfire in the street. Using the low technical means available to my followers, we still managed a effective campaign of civil disobedience that hurt the vital infrastructure of the country and reduced the power and reach of the man who called himself President. While the man we considered our true leader languished in jail.  

[Ed:] A prison that as it turns out had very loose bars in the summer of 2016? 

[Bollangda, chuckled to himself] Yes, they underestimated us. Although the means at our disposal was primitive we were cunning like the fox. We sprung the old lion out, grabbing the attention of the nation and spreading fear into the hearts of our enemies. [Ed: The smile soon faded] Only to find that in prison he had lost his way and had turned into a bleating goat, putting himself above the people, indignant, as if the people had not suffered greatly for him. No sooner was he safe, he distanced himself from us and started acquiring wealth by working for those who had been his jailors. This was a treachery we could not stand. We cut ties with the old fool. I would not have his blood on my hands but I no longer offered him my protection and he moved back to the capitol. He soon was a mere laughing stock and fool of a clown, wearing a feathered hat and a string of medals on his chest. At that point I talked to the devil himself.    

[Ed:] Do you specifically mean the Paris Peace Conference where you met your Arch-Enemy the President?

[Bollangda] That was one of many indignities I endured during the strife. While publicly recognising me on the one hand the godless imperialists were working behind my back with my enemies sowing disunity and corruption with all their foreign money. Wealth unimaginable was spent on weapons of destruction, if it had been used in peaceful ways it could have created a utopia that would have been the envy of the world. I shook the hand of my worst enemy in front of the world's media to cement the promise of a fair election in Binni, but little did I know how much control he had already lost and what gerrymandering he had instore for us. I managed to force his hand to an exact date while I danced briefly on that world stage, that is my second most valuable contribution and achievement in defence of the land I love, Binni.

[Ed:] Second? It is widely recognised that it was you who put in motion the wheels of the first (allegedly) free election in Binni. The first election for over thirty years, much to the chagrin of the then President whose face fell when he realised what he had inadvertently accepted. Despite the election's flaws the democratic momentum was now nevertheless unstoppable. The nation was and still is grateful to you Bollangda, you started the end of the downfall. What achievement do consider was greater than that?

[Bollangda, smiled whimsically] The election was a sham, the President proclaimed himself a clear winner by mathematics that a child at elementary school would laugh at. More people voted in his small region than could fit in the whole country. The United Nations would not even dare to contemplate verifying such a result. That was his undoing as he unleashed suppressed anger. Anger that was easily focused on him and all that was wrong with his regime, as you know his external supporters - the White Mercenaries, his very bodyguards turned on him inside his own Presidential Palace, at the news of the armed Christian faction entering the capitol. The President ran from room to room, but they gunned him down in cold blood. [Bollangda sighed] Young man, the road to the capitol had been blocked to the Christian faction, it was corked as a bottle by my forces. I met with the Christian leader and although our faith differed we were united in what we thought best for our country, our beloved Binni. I shook his hand and stepped aside, he had the might that was needed, I told him it was time to act, I would not oppose him and so the capitol fell. That my so was my greatest achievement, the one I am proud of, even as I fell front my own position of relative power. At least it enabled another to do what was right and so I stepped aside. 

[Ed: There were so many other questions I would have liked to ask the old man. As the history books will tell you Binni did not rest at ease for very long. Unexpected events, this time external to the country saw to that, but I was grateful for the opportunity of meeting with a living part of history. Bollangda, rest well in your 'long peace' in the stars, as your time has now passed, Binni thanks you as a true son for your service, faithful to the end.]

Note: Many thanks to the organisers of the Connections UK Mega Game of 2016, it was a very good educational experience and a truly fun (but in no means trivia) game which nicely set the scene for the following days fantastic Professional Wargaming conference! 

External Links: 

'Just' [seven years after the event!] rediscovered this Paxsims resource: 

As the umpires saw it (or rather Rex Bryan, from McGill University, a very experience Mega Game organiser, umpire and observer). See my comments below on his PowerPoint presentation, relating to the points I can remember and participated in.

Wonderful wording [as in spin on the truth] on slide three:

Footnotes: "President of Binni addresses UNSC" [in retrospect I should of taken a trip to the UN to woo them, but it was a very long physical walk and I would have lost a lot of playing time to little perceived gain so I delegated to my second in command to speak on teh Official Opposition's behalf, and we also feared a kidnap attempt] – "proclaims an inclusive vision of the country – points to release of leader of opposition" [as opposed to the actual jail break we performed], "willingness to consider coalition government" [that's when our NPC who was part played by a person from the Umpire's Team went "rogue" and as a result lost our protection]

Footnotes: "SAS providing personal protection to opposition leader – has weakened opposition, painted as tool of foreign powers" [Argh, this in retrospect was an EPIC home goal that slipped in via a side-door. As the Official Opposition Party was sorely overlooked by "imperialists" for resources and money, despite asking for assistance and the only help came in the form of a couple of 'heavily armed SAS chaps' was better than nothing (someone else had a detachment of the French Foreign Legion bumming around in a hotel drinking wine and doing nothing) - a turn later we politely kicked them out when our Great Leader "BoB" literally became a "Beast of Burden" working with the President. From a game perspective a small military unit, too small to be on the map became a poison chalice - opportunely used by other players or decreed by the umpire team]

Footnotes: "opposition disputing GoB election laws" [yes, we certainly did]

Footnotes: "– opposition leader joins cabinet" [to be clear this is "Bad BoB" not myself or any of the other (many) opposition leaders, now without his SAS bodyguard and disowned by his previous party] and "– Christian secure political loyalties of key leaders in capital" [see transcript above and the secret meeting when I urged the Christian to - "Do it" - "Really?" he asked "Yes, you have my support. Otherwise the Secret Police player, she's too sharp, will control the streets next turn" - and then we 'shook hands' on it]

Footnotes: "President freed by unknown group, later killed" [Oh dear, how sad, never mind. Not my doing I hasten to add, we were only saddened to here that our (in the past tense) BoB had not gone down with him. I don't know the full details of teh sorry, but freed and then killed in the escape was the 'Russian line' (allegedly)]

Friday 19 May 2023

Audible Book: The Stasi Poetry Circle

I asked for an Audible book recommendation for a car long journey and a friend came back with the most curious titled book I ever had heard of (see below, was this a send up .. a later day "Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy"? So I downloaded it .. and was not disappointed by any means): 

I was transported into the dystopian East German communist/socialist state and a mindset that Orwell himself would have been proud of creating. What followed was a exercise in "reducto ad absurdum" - where a country decided to control every aspect of the language its citizens spoke, only to become frightened of the poets and dissidents who used the language far better than they. So naturally they had to counterattack and understand this dangerous phenomena, study it and control it. By their very nature the jailors informed on themselves with tragic comical effect. A dog has a better chance of catching its own tail!   

Thursday 18 May 2023

Nimitz - Operation Freya (1/3000 Ships)

At last a use for my 1/3000 WWII Navwar naval collection (huzzah), the Nimitz rule set and its hypothetical introductory scenario, Norway 1940 - Operation Freya a RN v KM battlecruiser clash, let the dice roll and decide history (see below, slowly collected over many decades part of my 1/3000 collection which I consider as an ongoing proect): 

I guess the intention in the scenario (from Sam Mustafa's website download section) is to be a WW2 version of a Dogger Bank 'fast and furious' battlecruiser clash, with one side (RN) having destroyers and one side (KM) having a light cruiser, both sides having something capable of firing torpedoes (see below, the ships were fast out of their starting blocks with the KM hurling caution to the wind and sending in their light cruiser [Nurnberg] for a torpedo attack on the RN Hood and Repulse): 

Nurnberg was crippled and sunk, but her sacrifice was not entirely in vain (as the RN battlecruisers paid her some main armament attention) as she allowed the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to deliver painful blows to the Mighty Hood, taking structural points away (see below, one crippled RN destroyer stays attending to the British main force [aka hiding], while the two healthy attack the German battle cruisers [gulp]): 

With HMS Hood suffering yet again (and the British return shells bouncing off Krupp armour) t'was "the better part of valour" this time for the British as they retired off table under cover of a threatened or rather attempted torpedo attack (see below, the rules showed the nice premise of a running battle - jumping between tactical and operation game boards was possible - something previously hinted at but not really supported by other tactical rules sets): 

I liked the scenario (and the way Nimitz was playing [without cheese]) so much I decided to play it again, this time over at a friend's house who had a much better "sea mat" than me! In a short summary, the British need to get lucky early or the German armour works in the KM's favour over the course of a long range gunnery dual. Note, players don't seem to be the classic missing smoke-screens, not just yet at any rate (see below, in the first run through we forgot about rolling the "dice for advantage" [I like this little tweak] - nothing is equal so KM rolled well enough to "have the advantage2, so they can watch the RN set-up in a limited "floor space" and choose their angle of attack from anywhere in their half of the board (see below, the RN force opt to make a high speed run [hence the yellow counters on their ships]):  

The RN strategy is "run fast, shoot with a full broadside and then get lucky" whereas the KM felt an uncontrollable urge to charge at the enemy with the Nurnberg - two separate [unrelated so I don't think it's genetics] German players did this (see below, in the exchange the Scharnhorst suffered light damage [structural] and the KM player learned it pays to "move fast when you can" because you are harder to hit - even if it makes your shooting slightly worse): 

The Nurnberg meets a watery grave from a bucket load of torpedoes from the leading RN destroyer (which was crippled in the process - a medal for someone) - Nurnberg's back was broken and  she went straight down (see below, he RN's strategy was working for two thirds of their battle plan - keep going fast, shooting away with full broadsides but alas missing with their shooting - whereas the KM just "got lucky" and HMS Hood (that fateful old girl) suffered accordingly, losing lots of structure points and a nice 15" turret to boot):     

A RN admiral discussion concluded that whereas the German armour was saving them from serious damage and the Admiralty would like to get HMS Hood back to Scapa to be repaired (see below, the two fresh RN destroyers were able to chase the German battlecruisers away as the RN battlecruisers disengaged):  

After seeing what torpedoes can do to KM ships the German admiral was satisfied to claim honours and retire just after the British had retired from the map (see below, the game worked really well, credit to the Germans in both games with sound tactical victories - note in the Halsey campaign this would be set up for a nice running battle over several encounters and other Task Forces trying to intercept [or hide if you were a convoy], all good stuff): 

This all bodes well for this rule system methinks and future battles. Nimitz is easy to pick up, fun to play and gives more or less, plausible historical results in a much quicker time than the likes of GQ II (my previous preferred WW2 naval rule set). I can recommend watching the SaturdayNightFights of the Armchair Dragoons fame, playthrough of Operation Freya:

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Command Decision IV - Test of Battle (To Be or Not To Be the ONE? That is the question!). First looking back at CD1.

For some thirty years I have been searching the hobby game stores for THE WWII "land war rule set" that will be the saviour, or rather my excuse for, buying my 20mm (and 1/200) wargaming collections (now 15mm, 10mm and 6mm need also to be included). Like a little lost soul seeking love and attention I yearn for the "perfect enough" set of rules to make me happy. In this quest "Command Decision I, II, III and finally IV (Test of Battle)" have been acquired - as has been the likes of Spearhead and Crossfire. Alas the bonfire does not burn as well as I expected - although I always thought Command Decision was almost right and crossing the Rubicon (its morale and its orders for command decisions, hence the name). Nevertheless the 20mm collection grows steadily bigger with each passing year, but few games have really been played on the sacred table top (see below, what the collective from Board Game Geek thought of CD1):  

Piquing my interest in WW2 land war recently were these posts: 

Has Sgt Steiner succeeded where I have failed for all these years? In fairness teh games get rated better with each edition (see below, V2, V3 and V4 ratings - so Frank Chadwick must have been onto something I think): 

For my own consumption I revisited the large stack of Command Decision boxes I have, containing therein the sacred rules and decided to do a play-test, actually going back to CD 1 (fondly remembering the day I discovered it lurking on the shelves of the Aberdeen Virgin Store, in the Games Section alongside boxes of Computer Games, thinking "now this looks interesting", as I thought then and still think so now).  

So I took CD1 out for a stroll, to show two of my wargaming allies some 1941 Barbarossa action near Kiev. I chose a 3:1 odds battle of a Veteran German Motorised Battalion from a Panzer Division versus a Green Soviet Infantry Battalion defending a couple of hills in front of a town, a real slap in the face job, but "only" using the organic German and Russian battalion weaponry. A full strength German Panzer Grenadier Battalion is easy 3:1 in advantage over a weakened Soviet Infantry Battalion. I thought he morale extremes should make it a relatively quick battle, just to learn the rules again (I expected the Russian force to melt, as it did). Rather than player versus player, as it was a very static Russian defence (one command order) and an active German (our command orders) there was much more discussion about what the Germans could and could not do.

Most of the issues on the day really stemmed from the difference between reading the rules and getting the gist, then playing a game and finding the reference to the right rule quickly when simultaneously explaining it to two other wargamers (there were too many pauses but my friends were patient). The game (IMHO) played well though, the order system was very representative of the capabilities of WWII forces although it played slower than the accepted 1:1 timeline [game time v real battlefield time] in the Designers Notes (something which I always though should be quicker in CD .. later versions simplified mechanics and tried to streamline .. maybe just a case of familiarity). I think I still need to convince my compatriots though, one a die-hard convicted "Avalon Hill Panzer Blitz rules in miniatures is the way forward", the other likes to see a few examples before making his mind up. Which is all fair enough.

I smile though as I thought it worked and I will tell you why, because the German plan was worked through the CD1 Order System, not as an after thought. No such thing exists in Panzer Blitz and many other rule sets. Two dismounted (that is from trucks) German infantry companies went forward supported by their own "company organic but dropped off" MG Platoons and the well-sited MGs/Mtr of the Weapons Company which punished the Russian defenders. The armoured half-track company was kept in reserve. For simplicity I had the defender's positions already spotted (assuming the Panzer Recon and Veteran Infantry Patrol had doe their job well the night before). A quick full advance and a cautious cautious advance allowed the Germans to fire in the General Phase. This melted away the Russian defenders on the two hills, causing as expected an adverse morale effect for the third Russian company, in the town with battalion commander and a infantry weapon stand (they hunkered down - pinned). One German company however stalled with a bad morale roll (in fairness it took the brunt of the Russian fire). The German reserve was released by their battalion commander while the battered German company regrouped. With over whelming effective fire power the Germans reduced the defenders and their morale broke on turn four, the only survivor - the Russian indirect mortar platoon - decided discretion was the better part of valour and legged it. To me it had an authentic feel to it. Like anything after playing the rules once (especially after so many years) re-reading the rules again ironed out a few queries. Introducing spotting is the next key, as bumping into stuff you have not spotted and dropping indirect on stuff you have spotted is another tactical feature of the CD system I liked! 

PS1: Apologies for forgetting to take pictures of the battle!

PS2: Most significant features I had forgotten about was extreme range for infantry was double normal effective range - which makes life  little more dangerous.