“Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” - Napoleon
The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm
Our League of Gentlemen Wargamers games are always large-scale affairs, but this one put most of them in the shade. Effectively, we spent the weekend fighting all across Italy – or rather most of it – from the Alps in the north to Naples in the south. The whole thing was the brainchild of James Roach (Olicalalad on his wargaming blog), and his plan was to portray a “bathtub Italy”, split over five tables. These were from 12 to 20 feet long, and 6 feet wide, each covering a cross-section of the Italian peninsula.So, Venice (above) and Milan were on the northern table, Bologna and Modena on the next one, Florence on the one beyond that, while further south lay a table with Rome on it, and another with Naples and its hinterland. Italy was pretty stylised, with the Adriatic forming one side, and the Tryrrhenian Sea the other. In between these major cities were smaller ones, as well as rivers, mountain ranges and other tabletop clutter. The aim of the game was to raise revenue from cities you controlled, and to thrash your opponents.I was paired up with Kieron to play Venice, while other individuals or pairs took control of Milan, Ferrara, Bologna (above), Parma, Mantua, Florence and the Papal States. There were also two interventionist forces – the French divided between the French border and Naples, and the Spanish appearing in the far south. As umpire, James also threatened the possible appearance of the Turks … just to keep us on our toes!The whole thing was played over a weekend – we set up on Friday night, then played for all of Saturday and much of Sunday, until mid – afternoon. The way James organisations used it, the game was divided into “sessions” of indeterminate length, but usually lasting a couple of hours of gaming time, or about 4-5 turns. At the start of each session players got to raise revenue from the cities they controlled, recruit more troops, and rally those they had back to winter quarters in a friendly city.We started with a land grab, expanding the Venetian Tierra Firma west towards the Adige River. Unfortunately Charles as the Duke of Ferrara grabbed Padua – a city we saw as in our “sphere”, while Milan grabbed Mantua and Verona. I saw the Adige River as being our natural border, and so set about manouvering the Milanese vipers out of Verona. We did this pretty niftily with a double-switchback of troops, outnumbering him three to one, and forcing the Duke – Steve – to give up the city.After that though, he turned all aggressive, bought four Swiss pike blocks and tried to claim it back. We did the same with Landsknechts and guns, and after a failed assault the Milanese pulled back, encouraged by a bribe. So, Verona stayed in Venetian hands, and the Adigi became our frontier, apart from the Milanese enclave at Mantua.Charles’ possession of Vicenza was also dealt with by another coup-de-main, this time a sudden massed bombardment and assault. We made peace with Charles the next turn, and despite our treachery Ferrara remained closely allied with Venice for the rest of the weekend.So, we began raking in the profits from our territories, while Kieran sparred with Bologna to the south. Meanwhile, down to the south, the French and Milanese made no headway towards Parma, Modena and points south, while in the centre Charlie – playing Cesare Borgia and Perter – Pope Alexander – spent the day expanding the borders of the Papal State. The real losers at the end of day 1 were the French in the south, who lost pretty much all their possessions, and the Spanish (played by Colin and Chris), who seemed to be trounced by everybody. By the end of the day they were barely holding on to Naples, and in now position to make any headway against the now all-powerful Papacy.In the middle Dale as the Medicis in Florence sided with the French, and didn’t switch sides all day. He’s not one for Machiavellian intrigue, and his soul-crushing slowness at playing guaranteed that his potential opponents kept their distance. So, by Saturday evening it was still all to play for, with Venice and the Papacy emerging as the most powerful Italian factions, and the Spanish rather reduced. We all trooped off for a splendid meal and a night on the pub, and resumed play the next day.This time we did things differently. Up in the north, the Venetians, Ferrarans, Milanese and French factions all agreed to a demilitarisation of the northern Italian plains, and so we all left garrisons behind, and headed south, for fresh adventures. Frankly the first day had been rather dull for Venice, and so Kieron and I hatched a plan.We decided to march south, with no real plan, other than to cause trouble, and to pick fights with whoever we could – preferably the Papacy. There was also a rather strange desire to fight on all five tables – a prospect heightened when James allowed us a small amphibious capability. So, we headed south, passing through Ferrara, and bypassing Bologna as we marched down the Adriatic coast.The French and their clingy Milanese allies were on the march too, heading past Parma, and sparring ineffectually with the Florentines. In fact the whole French military mission rather came to nothing on the Sunday, but at least it kept Bill and Steve entertained. Down in the south the Spanish actually re-invented themselves by rather amazingly allying with the Turks, and they pushed north towards the Papal state. Meanwhile Kieron’s Venetian amphibious landing near Termoli was spearheaded by our “wonder weapon” – a Da Vinci tank! Actually, it proved rather useless -it was rated as two heavy guns – but it looked great!Then, in the next session – in other words just at the wrong time – Bologna, Modena and the Papacy changed sides. So did Parma, and while they held up the French for the rest of the game, Kieron and I almost got our wish, and landed up fighting on four of the five tables. ironically there still wasn’t any fighting up north, as we and the French and Milanese were theoretically all allies.Inevitably, our over-extended army suffered – badly. First, the amphibious force got wiped out – together with the tank – and Termoli remained a Papal fiefdom. In the nexyt table up we never made it closer to Rome, as the Venetians and Cesare Borgia ended up locked in a straggling battle, with them picking off our guns and baggage, and then us rallying and counter-attacking, with the help of the Duke of Ferrara.This led to two things. First, as seen above, was Cesare (Charlie) – the son of the Pope – slaughtering the priests accompanying the Venetian carrocio. Then came Charles and Charlie – father and son – fighting each other in a succession of swirling cavalry clashes.Meanwhile I was fighting the same rearguard action against the treacherous Bolognese. They got a “Pearl Harbor” moment when they attacked first, but all they managed was to drive back a pike block, and eventually to wipe it out. We rallied quickly though, and slaughtered the Bolognese troops in Ravenna, thereby securing a useful hold on the middle table. We spent the rest of the game working our way north to Bologna, while fending off Bolognese and Modenan attacks on our strong garrison at Argenta.When the game ended at 3pm on Sunday we counted our revenue, and surprisingly Venice came out on top. This was largely due to some nifty book-keeping – troops coming from Kieron’s “military” budget, while the other budget just piled up with city revenues. I actually thought the Papal States would have done better, but it seems they blew too much on troops. So ended a memorable weekend of gaming. It was certainly a spectacle, with lovely-looking troops, interesting terrain and a great “bathtub” Italy to fight over. Thanks, James, for making it happen, and to my other Leaguers for providing such an entertaining weekend.
The Great War at Sea, Fleet Action Imminent, 1/2400 scale
Earlier this week, when I asked people what kind of ships they wanted to play with, some said big ones, and other small ones. So, I laid on a game that had both. We’ve wargamed this before – it’s something of a classic action – the opening shots of the Battle of Jutland, when the two battlecruiser fleets opened fire at each other. In the history books – including my own Jutland 1916 – this part of the battle is known as “The Run to the South”. the German battlecruisers were trying to lure their British counterparts onto the guns of the approaching German High Seas Fleet. Meanwhile, behind them the 5th Battle Squadron – four powerful fast battleships – were playing catch-up, trying to join in the action. We started the game shortly before 4pm, on 31st May 1916. We played the game on an 8 x 6 foot table, reserving the right to move everything if we started sailing off the edge. Both battlecruiser squadrons were about 7 miles apart, in parallel lines. The British battlecruisers – Princess Royal, Tiger, Queen Mary, New Zealand and Indomitable were led by a sixth one – Vice-Admiral Beatty’s flagship Lion. Vice-Admiral Hipper also led the German line, in his flagship Lutzow, followed by Derfflinger, Seydlits, Moltke and Von der Tann. Tucked away behind each line of battlecruisers was a four ship light cruiser squadron, and a destroyer flotilla. For now though, they stayed clear of the action as the big ships began lobbing huge shells at each other. When the firing began the two British players – Peter playing Beatty and “German Michael” playing Rear Admiral Pakenham fired first, and while everything else missed, a 12-inch shell from New Zealand struck Moltke, and knocked out her Bertha turret. The Germans – Bart playing Hipper and “MDF Michael” playing Capt. von Egidy – also began scoring hits from the very start. Princess Royal had “Q” turret knocked out, while Lion lost “B” turret. That of course was just the start – soon both sides were blazing away, and the Germans especially began scoring some telling hits.By now the two British players realised they were labouring under a major disadvantage. At that range – about 14,000 yards (or 140 cm. on the tabletop) most ships needed to score a “1” or a “10” to score a hit. Even then, the British 12-inch guns were unlikely to penetrate their opponent’s armour. The trouble was, the Germans were rolling D12s, but the British were using D20s. This was to reflect the lousy gunnery of Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet, but it didn’t make the two British players feel very confident in their chances!The two lines were gradually edging closer – by Turn 4 the range between the two flagships had dropped to 12,000 yards (120 cm.) – or 6 sea miles. That was when things really started happening. The Germans now got to hit the enemy on a “1,2,3 or 10”, with “2” or “3” causing multiple hits. First, Lion lost “A” turret, then “Q” turret. Princess Royal lost two turrets as well, leaving her with just “Y” turret still in the game. Tiger remained largely unscathed, but behind her the Queen Mary lost a turret, while Indefatigable at the end lost two. Princess Royal also had her steering gear hit, and she started pulling out of the line, heading in a curve to port – and so closer to the German battlecruisers. In two of these cases where turrets were knocked out the British actually suffered critical hits, which turned into “Ammunition” events. this meant they had to flood a magazine or blow up. Both times they made the saving roll, and the ship was spared – at the expense of a gun turret, and the men in the magazine. The best shooting came from Derfflinger, which prompted Bart to launch into song, singing the theme from the first Bond film, only substituting the name of the ship instead. Very irritating – and geekily catchy…The Germans weren’t having it all their own way though. Derfflinger lost two turrets – which finally shut Bart up – and Moltke had her director tower wrecked, forcing Michael to revert to less effective “local fire control”. Still, it was pretty much a one-way exchange. Things were starting to look up for the British though. First a zeppelin appeared, radioing to the Germans that more enemy ships were coming. Then, the next turn, the 5th Battle Squadron appeared on the northern table edge.These British reinforcements – Barham, Valiant, Malaya and Warspite – were deployed in line of bearing (or in echelon if you prefer), their powerful 15-inch guns ranging in on the Von der Tann – the rearmost German ship. Barham scored a telling hit on the first turn, knocking out the German ship’s Caesar turret. timing was everything. If these fast battleships had appeared a couple of turns earlier, they would have made all the difference. By now though, Beatty’s battlecruisers were in deep doo-doo. After another couple of salvos both Beatty’s flagship Lion at the front of the line and Indefatigable at the back had all their turrets knocked out. Peter had to do yet another flood magazine test, and he passed again, sparing Beatty the ignominy of being blown to atoms. Both ships now pulled out of the line, turning towards the west and heading for home. As Princess Royal was still turning to port, that left Tiger, Queen Mary and New Zealand still in the battle line. Tiger and New Zealand was still OK, but Queen Mary was down to just two turrets. then there was poor Princess Royal, which by now had sorted out her rudder, but was heading due north, on a reciprocal course to the enemy, and just 6,000 yards away from the German battle line.She had one turret left at the back, and her speed was reduced after multiple hull hits. Still, she was still in the fight. Then, Derfflinger struck again. One of her shells struck the Princess Royal, scoring a direct hit to “X” turret’s magazine. the battlecruiser’s stern blew apart, followed a split-second later by the rest of her, as her other magazines erupted.She sank within minutes. Meanwhile, the GErman destroyers had steamed in and launched a close-range torpedo attack. How can you miss with 30 torpedoes, in two massive spreads? Somehow, I managed it. Not a single darned hit! Meanwhile, Rear-Admiral Boedicker’s light cruisers found themselves between the German battlecruisers and the approaching British fast battleships. Showing suitable initiative, Boedicker laid smoke, which screened Hipper’s ships from the enemy behind them. This stoped their shooting, and by now the remaining British battlecruisers had decided to call it a day, and break off the engagement. As they pulled off to the west they covered their move by their own massed destroyer attack. this though, never came to pass. As the 9th & 10th Flotilla’s boats headed towards the Germans, they met the 4th Half Flotilla of their GErman counterparts, who promptly charged into the middle of the British formation. Everyone was shooting at point-blank range, and the upshot was the destroyers never got to launch their torpedoes. Instead the free-for-all melee swirled about for a few minutes, then two sides drew apart, battered and bloody. The only casualty was one German destroyer, the V-69, blown out of the water by the British guns. So, what proved a particularly vicious little battle came to an end. The British had lost a battlecruiser, and the Germans a destroyer. However, most of the British battlecruiser fleet was unable to fight, and the Germans still remained in charge of the table. So, the game was rightly declared a minor German victory.All in all it was a great little game, and as fast-paced as it was entertaining – apart from Bart’s singing of course, which was truly dreadful!
Misc., Wargame Shows, Kirriemuir
This Saturday I jumped into the car and headed up to Kirriemuir, for the annual Targe show. “Kirrie” is a place dear to my heart – my grandparents lived there, and much of my childhood was spent playing in the woods there, or exploring the little town. It’s also in the county of Angus, and every time I drive up the road and pass the sign saying “Welcome to Angus” I always say Thank you Very Much. A few hundred times and the joke still hasn’t worn thin… Anyway, the show is run by the Kirriemuir Wargames Club, and is always a fun event to go to. This year was extra special, as the club awarded me a trophy for Services to Wargaming. I’m not sure what that means, or why I deserved it, but it was nice to receive nonetheless. So, thanks to Dale Smith and the Kirrie gang, both for the award and for the show. I scurried around buying things – scenery from Andy at Last Valley, a mule train from Graham at Crann Tara, grass tufts from Martin at Warbases, and cork chippings from the Dave Thomas emporium. Then it was time to wander around and look at some of the cool games on show. Best demo game went to Dave Imrie and the League of Complete Bastards, a name I always imagine is what the Augsburg crowd should be called. That’s it at the top – a skirmish set in Spain during the Carlist Wars. Best participation went to my own South-east Scotland Club, and Colin Jack’s madcap Nazi Moonbase (above). The other games are ones that caught my eye.A really top notch one was this Back of Beyond offering from Kevin Calder of the Iron Brigade. It even had Tin Tin in it, and a rocket base inside a mountain somewhere in Outer Mongolia. How cool is that?! Here’s a battle of Barra (or Inverurie), in 1308, with some lovely figures, including a nice Robert the Brice command stand. Another one next to it I meant to photo was a 15mm Battle of Falkirk game, by the Falkirk Wargames Club. Every time though, it had so many people around it I swore I’d come back for a proper photo, but in the end I forgot. Sorry guys. Next up was a game set in Iraq in 1941, with the British taking on local insurgents. Next up is a colonial game, set in the North-West Frontier using 20mm figures. it was laid on by Glasgow Phoenix Club, and it proved so fast moving they played it through twice, with one side winning a game apiece. Here’s a 28mm game set in the Ruhr in 1945. I’m not sure who staged it, but it looked fairly interesting. There were other games – quite a lot of them – but I didn’t take pictures of the pure fantasy ones (apart from our own club’s one), or ones where I didn’t stop to chat to the guys staging it. All in all though, it was a great little show, and well worth the 90 minute each way drive. Finally, here’s another picture of Dave Imrie’s Carlist Wars game – probably the prettiest game of the show.
The Seven Years War, Die Kriegskunst, 28mm
Having tinkered extensively with the draft set of Die Kreigskunst 2 (DKK2) we thought it was time to try out the rules again. So, in this battle, my Reichsarmee were pitted against the forces of Hesse-Kassel. The game was very loosely based on a Charles Grant scenario – “The Rearguard (2)” from Scenarios for Wargames (1980), which in turn was based on the Battle of Corunna (1809). We changed the sea to the Rhine, and mucked around with the size of the table (we just used a 6×4 footer) and the forces involved, but the tactical problem of holding on until dark stayed the same. In our game, the Reichsarmee forces of the Upper and Lower Rhine Circles had their backs to the Rhine, and were waiting for night- and the arrival of boats to ferry them to the safety of the west bank. Until dusk then, they had to hold on to the riverside town of Königswinter. We were outnumbered, but at least we had a reasonable defensive position. We needed every unit though, so our only reserve was our cavalry. Michael supplied the Hessians, and the Reichsarmee was mine. Peter and I had four Reichsarmee battalions under our command – two from Koln, one from Mainz and the last from Pfalz-Zweibrucken, holding the hill on our far right flank. Behind them were our cavalry – a single mixed regiment, while the village defences were propped up by a battery of Palatinate guns. In charge was Prince Friedrich of Pfalz-Zweibrucken. Opposing us, Bart and Michael commanded six battalions of Hessian troops, including one of veteran grenadiers, a regiment of British light dragoons, a battalion of veteran jaegers, and two batteries of guns. They were led by the Landgraf Friedrich II von Hessen-Kassel (Bart’s command base). His aim was to take the town before nightfall – or in our case 10pm – packing up time. The battle began with an artillery bombardment – two turns of it. I was a little surprised by this, as the Hessians were up against the clock, but our opponents were being cunning. In DKK2 (working title!), the orders system is largely based on General d’Armee. In it, you need ADCs to give units orders, and can concentrate these ADCs for special tasks. One of them in boosting your artillery. in our rules, this means you get to fire twice in a turn, rather than once. So, that meant that for those two turns our units defending the town – a Koln battalion and our guns – were pounded hard. Then someone sounded a bugle, and the Hessians began rolling forward. We tried pour best to rally off some of our hits before they arrived, while over on our right the Pfalz-Zweibrucken battalion on the hill began to take accurate fire from the Hessian jaegers, lurking in a nearby wood. Things were starting to look grim. Probably what saved us from simply being rolled over was alcohol. Most of us were drinking as we played, and Michael produced beers with vodka chasers. I reciprocated in my turn with gin, and Peter bought bourbon. The result was a very clear slowing of the game’s pace! Still, we were under pressure. In front of Königswinter the leading Hessian unit – fusiliers by the look of them – took a lot of hits, but managed to rally therm off thanks to some nifty staff-work. this though, delayed their advance for a couple of turns. On the Hessian left, Michael’s brigade was slow into action too, as he kept rolling badly to activate them, and they kept becoming “Hesitant”. Eventually though, the Hessian line closed to within musket range. In the exchange of musketry that followed we managed to push back the Hessian fusiliers, and they moved back to rally behind their reserves. these though, were the veteran grenadiers, and after this brief delay to redress their ranks they began the advance again. Over on the Hessian left Peter was all for abandoning the hill, as he had no antidote to the jaeger’s rifle fire, but in the end we decided to hold on, as to lose the hill was to lose the flank, and the game. So, we held on. In the centre, Michael launched an all-out attack with two battalions of Hessians, supported by a third one, and by his guns. The attack stalled thanks to some nifty shooting by the Koln Wildenstein battalion, and once again the Reichasrmee line held. Time was pressing now – we only had to hold out for another 40 minutes, and dusk would have fallen, and ended the game.Hold on we did – somehow. Again, Bart’s brigade went Hesitant twice in a row, and all he could do was to shoot at us – and get shot at back. On the last tun though, the Hessians launched a charge – this time directed at our guns. Closing fire though, led to the attackers being disordered and shot up a bit – and they failed to charge home. Over on our left the white-coated Mainz battalion shot steadily, and never managed to hit a single thing! It wasn’t helped of course, that by this stage, Bart was the only sober player left. Michael had more luck on the Hessian left though. He charged the Koln Wildenstein battalion, and after a sharp melee the Rhinelanders broke and ran. they couldn’t exploit though, as the Reicharmee’s sole cavalry unit stood firm, threatening to charge anyone who came close. As usual, the attackers claimed they could have rolled us up – they just needed another couple of turns to do it. they were probably right, but in our game were were saved by the arrival of nightfall. So, the beleaguered Rhinelanders could slip across the river under cover of darkness, and life to fight another day. The real aim of the game was to playtest out our changes to the orders system, and to firing – both by regular units and by skirmishers. It all worked well enough to keep these changes. We also came up with a few other things to change, like removing the ability of firing units to “self-harm” by rolling a double “1”. The more straightforward shooting systems also seemed to reflect the firepower of Seven Years War units, so we think we’re on the right track there. However, only more playtesting will really show whether we’re on the right track or not. The plan is to have a fully workable draft version of DKK2 by the end of the year
The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
By popular consent we returned to The Back of Beyond again. Actually, that’s not quite accurate – while we used our Back of Beyond toys, for once the game wasn’t set in Central Asia, but rather in the Ukraine. Essentially it was an excuse for Bart to field his Polish army in its entirety, and for Peter to do the same with his Red Army. The game was loosely set in the Russo-Polish War (1919-20), during the Polish drive on Kiev in early 1920. In our game, the Poles had to break through a strong Russian rearguard force near Malyn, about 60 miles north-east of Kiev. Actually, it was rather too strong, but that’s down to the brief – both players got to put “all their toys on the table”. As you probably know, that’s usually a recipe for disaster – or a turkey shoot! So, in this game both sides had three “brigades” – two infantry-based ones and a mobile one. For the Poles, this meant two groups of 4×10 infantry, although one had three and a unit of 10 ulhans. The mobile column consisted of two funky armoured cars and a couple of FT17 tanks. Bart and I took charge of the Poles. The Russians, played by Peter and Bill, had two commands of 4×10 infantry, although one in each command was of poor quality. their mobile column was made up of 2×10 cavalry, and a pair of armoured cars. What the Reds excelled in though, was support weapons – two field guns, two machine guns and two tchankas. All the Poles got to counter that was one solitary machine gun. Just to spice things up a bit, and because this would be the first outing for my Red Air Force Spad VII, both sides got to field a plane. The game was played out on an 8×6 foot table, with a railway and rather ugly rubber road running up its centre, and the largely open terrain interspersed with small woods, a few low hills, and a couple of villages. The Reds got to deploy halfway (4″) up the table (we were fighting up the long sides of the table), while the Poles deployed one foot in, on their side. The only exception was the Red mobile column, and units entered from their friendly table edge when their appropriately-coloured dice were drawn. Let me explain…The way we activate units differs from the rules. We’ve tried a lot of systems over the years, but the latest one steals an idea from Bolt Action, and another from Too Fat Lardy rules. Each brigade-sized command gets its own colour of dice, corresponding to the number of units it has. Another dice for each plane goes into the bag, and when drawn the players can save their air support for when they want it. Finally, we throw in two “vodka break” cards. the first one is just a warning. When the second appears, the turn ends, and all the dice go back in the bag, ready for the next turn. We find it a tad quicker than the official system, and you have that added uncertainty of not knowing when the turn is going to end. The game began with some long-range artillery and machine gun fire from the Red Army. This was only marginally effective, and by the end of Turn 1 the Poles had started their advance, with my command heading left towards a wood and small hill, while Bart’s guys moved into the nearest village. In reply the Reds brought on their armoured cars, leading the way with their Garford-Putilov – a ridiculously over-burdened affair with a field gun in a turret on its back. The game soon livened up though. First, a charge by Bart’s ulhans came to an abrupt end when they were shot from their saddles by the Garford-Putilov. The Polish armour made a fairly slow advance thanks to half the kit bogging down – but eventually they passed the village and began dueling with their Red counterparts. The trouble was, the Polish AFVs lacked the firepower of their opponents, and soon an armoured car was knocked out, and a tank “suppressed” and forced to retire. Things weren’t going much better for the Polish infantry. One of my units was machine gunned repeatedly at long range, and only saved from oblivion by the Red field guns turning on the Polish armoured units. I managed to get into action though, wiping out half a unit of Red infantry in fur hats, holding the Red’s right flank. that though, was my high water mark. By that time both Peter and Bart had brought on their planes, although both declined to fight a duel – instead they went for the enemy infantry below them.Peter’s plane (my new Spad) made a successful strafing run, and then went on tow drop a couple of light bombs, which missed spectacularly. Over on the far side of the railway Bart’s Polish plane did pretty much the same, even though his pilot was rated highly, being an “ace” after a previous string of Back of Beyond “kills”. Anti-aircraft fire consisted of rather ineffective LMG and rifle fire , and nobody hit either plane before they buzzed off the table. Actually, they never did leave – we kept them flying around ’cause they looked pretty…!By then though, it was clear that the Polish advance had stalled. Every time Bart’s infantry tried to leave the village it was met by a storm of fire from the Red armoured cars, machine guns and field guns. The same happened with me – a tchanka pretty much stalled my advance, after wiping out half a Polish unit. SO, the game fizzled out as the Poles gradually began to retire. With hindsight we should have let Peter take off a lot of his support weapons, and give both sides no “get off the far table edge to win” objectives. Still, despite being a bit one-sided the game was great fun to play, and it was nice to see Bart and Peter’s armies in their entirety.