Saturday, 18 July 2015

COW 2015 - Saturday

Saturday at COW was a pretty busy day (as it always is). I was helping run two games, and there were also a load of sessions to go to. As usual, it was a glorious sunny day. The sun often seems to shine on Knuston.

Little Cold Wars

This was another outing for Tims Cold Wars era lawn game rules, played with a mixture of 54mm figures, 1/48th scale vehicles and 1/72nd scale aircraft. The rules have been much refined and playtested since last summer (we've done a fair few games at the Sheffield club to try things out). They owe much to H.G. Wells originals, and contain a number of physical mechanisms (firing matchsticks, throwing balls of rolled up paper etc), but some things do use a more traditional D6.

LCW had actually already been to Knuston back in June with a gigantic tank battle on the lawn featuring two full Motor Rifle Regiments in a game lasting all day. The outing at COW last year had also featured something of a conventional Warpac Regiment vs NATO Battlegroup type thing, so for COW this year it was time to try something different - Air Assault! We'd run a few smaller games at the Sheffield Club, including a helicopter assault on a defended bridge, but Tim had since acquired some more toys so we could put on something a bit more grandiose for COW.

The main objective was an airfield (which I believe had featured in the June game too), the target of a Forbodian helicopter Air Assault battalion, reinforced with a company of airborne assault guns and supported by attack helicopters, long range artillery and fast air. Somewhere in the vicinity lurked NATO defenders, but even if the defences weren't very obvious, the huge Bloodhound missiles parked on the airfield were. Meanwhile in the distance suspicious Soviet and NATO flags marked relief forces racing to the rescue (and marking the passage of time and game end). The wooded areas were indicated with bits of old Christmas tree stuck in the ground.

Tim and Anthony had assembled piles of kit for the game. One of the downsides of using larger scale toys is they sheer volume of stuff to move around. It was a glorious, sunny afternoon, just what you need for a lawn game although it proved a little too warm for some of the participants.

A fair number of participants turned up. Silly hats were available for those without headgear, although some kept the sun off better than others.

Forbodian choppers inbound.  We took them off the flight stands as it was a  bit windy.
The Forbodian team was under the command of Russell King, while a smaller NATO contingent distributed their brave defenders. The Forbodians main problem was figuring out a loading and arrival schedule for their paras. The support platoons and equipment consumed lots of lift capacity and there wasn't enough lift available to bring in the entire battalion with all its attachments. The planes carrying the assault guns had somewhat different movement characteristics to the helicopters, something which seemed to get forgotten in the rush.

NATO eyes up the approaching hordes.

Helicopters touch down under AA fire.

The Forbodians adopted a somewhat direct approach to capturing the airfield,simply assigning the runway as their LZ. The also conducted a flak suppression airstrike against the Bloodhounds, which unfortunately missed the missiles, but fortunately missed all the runways they were supposed to capture intact. The transport waves than went in, the aircraft outpacing the helicopters by a huge margin and for a moment it looked like the the planes were gong to conduct an assault landing on the airfield all on their own. Luckily for them a French AA gun opened fire from the village and forced them to abort the mission.

The helicopters duly landed on the airfield under AA fire from the village, losing one of their number to the dug in airfield defence Scorpion. The surviving VDV then set about clearing up the immediate defenders (a platoon of RAF Regiment troops) and knocking out the Scorpions.  The supporting attack helicopters engaged the AA gun over successive turns but it eventually succeeded in shooting both of them down as well as an artillery observer helo.

Airpower clashes over the a battlefield. The French are on the ground to the right of the Phantom.
The AA gun proved to be a constant thorn in the Forbodian side, but rather than push out to destroy it, the VDV contented themselves with sitting on the airfield and contenting themselves with trading shots with the French from the village. The latter had pushed out in company strength to make sure the AA wasn't attacked, but when they realised the Forbodians weren't advancing, they fell back again leaving a couple of burning Panhards behind - victims of the last attack chopper before it was shot down.

The transport aircraft eventually appeared, but went down in a blazing catastrophe as they crashed onto the runway under AA fire and into the wrecks of helicopters littering the airfield. The whole company of assault guns went up in flames with them. The game ended as NATO and Forbodian armoured columns closed in on the area from opposite sides. The Forbodians were certainly on the airfield, but it wasn't exactly secure as it was under fire, nor was it useable as it was littered with destroyed aircraft.

Mini Jutland
John and I are both fans of Neil Thomas's 'One Hour Wargames' rules. These are very simple one brain cell land warfare rules, and they really do give a game (including setup)  in under an hour. On the Neil Thomas rules yahoo group (the AMW group) somone had posted a WW2 naval variant, which was an interesting idea for a land set, but similar in many ways to what Colin Standish did for pre-dreadnoughts with DBA. John worked this up into a WW1 set and I took John mods and retrofitted them to the Russo-Japanese War, and between us we ended up with the set here.

A couple of things I was keen to get in were:

1. long lines of ship slugging away at each other
2. encouraging players to distribute their fire evenly along the enemy line (as opposed to 'ganging up' on single targets)

The former was achieved by allowing ships to manouvre as groups in line astern formation (the move/turn sequence makes it hard to manouvre individual ships sensibly), and the second by simply halving the effect of fire against targets already shot at. Otherwise it was a fairly conventional attritional damage model similar to Fletcher Pratt, GQ etc with some modelling of the significant differences between the five ship classes represented.

One decision we made early on was to keep the total damage capability of all ships the same (it varied in the WW2 version), so in effect the smaller ship models represent ever large numbers of ships, so one battleship might represent two or four real ships, but a destroyer model 10 or 20 or 30 real ones. This fitted in with the basic rules philosophy, and kept the ship count down as we found it started to creak for very big battles with lots of ships on the table. The rules have been playtested with Jutland (twice), Coronel, the Falklands and Tsushima with ship; ratios ranging from 1:1 to 1:very many indeed.

A few ideas were tried an discarded (like ramming) and we struggled a bit with the treatment of light ships, but in the end simplicity won. It is always easy to add more rules.

A moment of hilarity, whose precise nature has escaped me now.

For the game at COW we had a pretty good turnout, four players took Beatty, Jellicoe, Scheer and Hipper, supported by a crowd of onlookers. The action opened with the respective battlecruiser squadrons entering, followed a few turns later by the rest of the battlewagons and their attendant escorts. The game victory conditions were essentially to sink more capital ships than the enemy, although the British could claim a moral victory if they held the battle area at the end of the game. More on that later.

Something wrong with our ships today. Beatty goes down.

The game resolved itself as a duel between the battle cruisers, although by dint of clever manouvering the Germans managed to get the Hochseeflotte into a support position, while the Grand Fleet bumbled a bit. With the extra firepower (and by dint of good dice rolling) the Germans managed to sink Beatty's squadron, and then scuttled for home claiming victory.

The RN steers to glory as the Germans run away like a bunch of sissies.

This of course left the RN in possession of the North Sea, so both sides won. The Germans declared that it would have been mad to stand and fight, and in fact this was borne out by our earlier playtests when the High Seas Fleet was blown out of the water by the British on both occasions when it fought it out to the end.

This session went pretty well , and we had plenty of time for a discussion afterwards. In particular we had a chat about light forces and the influence that the (imagined) threat of torpedoes had on fleet tactics. John D Salt made the eminently sensible suggestion that one way to represent this might be for destroyers within, say, 3" or a capital ship to force it to turn away. This would encourage players to use their light forces for screening, without over-powering destroyers (a real issue with e.g. Fletcher Pratt where the 'destoyer charge' is a game winning weapon). I'd be a bit hesitant to make this automatic, but making it dependant on the destroyers scoring a hit in some way might be the way to go.

Thanks to all the players for taking part and entering into the spirit of the thing. The game isn't exactly Harpoon for WW2,  but it does what it says on the tin and produces a reasonable game in a relatively short period of time for a limited investment in toys. And frankly, these days that is all we are looking for in a club night game.

The Slim River

Tom put this session on for first thing on Saturday. It covered the historical Japanese tank attack across the Slim river in the middle of the Malayan jungle in 1941. Perhaps not ideal tank country, but hey, what do I know? The game used a control panel approach with each tank in the company commanded individually by a player. The tank crews had varying levels of skill (driver skill proved to be important, mine was a klutz) and we could select the ammo loadout from a selection of coloured dice. The company also had a bunch of equipment (spare fuel, ammo, track links, tools etc) to allocate, so I chose to load up on track repair stuff and axes and saws to cut down trees. Finally each crew was given some 'Chi' to expend in difficult situations to modify dice throws.

The company was led by Russell King, and we all tore off helter skelter down the jungle track. We fairly rapidly discovered that driver skill made a big difference, and my tank with big L plates on the back soon fell back to the rear. Very wisely as it turned out.

Tom outlines the campaign.

Tank control sheet. Piles of ammo, equipment and crew cards.

The first obstruction the column came to was a road block across the road with a gap in the middle. Major King drove his tank in the gap, only to discover it was mined. Well that was fairly obvious. Behind the mines, some groups of British infantry opened fore from trenches either side of the road.

The battle for the first roadblock.
This was an excuse for the leading tanks to light the jungle up, and having suppressed the defenders, figure out a way to traverse the roadblock and extricate our brave Major from his predicament. A combination of shooting at the roadblock, tanks bulling their way through or bypassing via the jungle eventually managed to get some tanks moving (and cleared some of the blocked hexes too).  It also left a tangle of disabled tanks, which we all got back into working order eventually. Meanwhile Chris Ager had set off at high speed charging down the road on his own.

The battle for the bridge.

The next significant obstacle proved to a bridge, with a ditch dug on the reverse side. Chris's tank was going so fast it literally flew over the ditch and he disappeared into the distance. The next gaggle of tanks discovered that the obstruction was covered by dug in infantry, Vickers guns and a couple of Bren carriers sporting very unsporting Boys anti-tank rifles.

The leading tank group brassed the positions up, while the carriers claimed a couple of victims - damaging the gun on one tank and disabling Major Kings tank (taking his head off in the process). This group of tanks then set off after Chris Ager, leaving us tail end charlies or deal with the carriers, who were duly despatched with AP shot, and mop up the infantry (carried out with glee by Maxine).

Chris Ager drives to glory.
Chris had meanwhile overrun an entire Indian battalion in march column on the road and they fled into the jungle. Finally he came across the Argylls halted for breakfast in a jungle clearing with the CO shaving by the road. The Colonel fired off a few shots with his Webley, but more usefully one of the battalion carriers immobilised Chris's tank. Chris then dismounted and charged the Colonel with his sword, killing him in a melee. With that the Argylls surrendered as more Japanese tanks arrived on the scene. 

This really was an excellent game. Tom said we'd done much  better than any other group and had actually achieved much nearer to the historical result. One thing I noted was that the bulk of the killing was done by a couple of crews, whilst a sizeable group made a marginal contribution, and another contributed nothing much at all. Proportions which chime with e.g. David Rowlands operations research on tank battles.

The tank management was very simple but worked well, the game accommodated a large number of players, and we were all productively employed and had lots of fun. Brilliant!

Year of the Hangman

This was Ian Drurys campaign game of Burgoynes campaign in America in 1777, which historically ended in disaster for the British. It was run as a multiplayer game using area movement with the move boxes superimposed on modern maps of Canada and the USA. Silly hats were issued and the players given individual briefings. The move and combat systems were extremely simple, but most critically, you never know what size forces the enemy had, only a vague indication after a battle. This is based on Jim Wallmans mechanisms for the 1814 campaign in Europe, and induces a good degree of historical caution about taking on the enemy in a scrap. Very simple, very effective.

Modern maps with movement box overlays.

I got the role of Colonel St Leger leading a piratical column down the Lawrence River to raise the Mohawk Valley so as to distract the rebels from Burgoynes main attack via Fort Ticonderoga towards Albany. General Howe decided he wasn't going to support us at all and marched overland to Philadelphia, while Clinton bided his time in New Hampshire.

The fighting for Albany (view from the north). Burgoyne is the big pile of counters on the left,my MOhawk army on the right.
Burgoyne struggled in his advance, and although I did manage to raise a (huge) force of Mohawks, and we broke through the valley towards Albany, we never did distract large rebel forces to our front. Having defeated them in the single large attack they mounted, they were content to fall back before our advance, and the snow was already falling as the game ended.

The game system worked very well indeed. We got through several months of campaign time in an hour and half with seven players participating, a real tribute to the robustness of the game mechanisms. Although most of the game mechanisms were very open, the sheer size of the maps, coupled with the hidden combat resolution and pace of the turns actually meant players very soon got tunnel vision. I'm looking forward to seeing the published rules, as the basic mechanisms would obviously translate well into other theatres and campaigns.

Sink the Bismarck

I called in briefly to observe this session after Mini-Jutland. Phil had developed a naval wargame with some pretty innovative mechanisms. It was clearly more detailed than our game, with individual ship damage etc.

Phil explains things to the multitudes.

The little red cards are the critical systems cards.

Hood and Prince of Wales close in on Prinz Eugen and Bismarck.

The main innovations were the use of relative range rather than a more conventional move system (the sort of thing seen in AHGCs Pattons Best or Richard Brooks game of Tsushima) and a novel combat system. The combat system resolved around the play and elimination of 'critical systems' cards, rather than the more tedious and traditional Flecter Pratt/GQ 'cross off hit boxes' approach. A frequent criticism of FP is lack of critical hits etc,  but this game system was centered entirely around them. The critical systems cards were used to do stuff (like shoot, or see things), but it was also those which were removed when damage was incurred. It reminded me a little of the old boardgame Starfire (although that also had a lot of tedious box ticking).

It was also, as always with Phils games, beautifully presented, with banks of 'fog' drifting across the ocean.

Waterloo Revisited

Jim Roche had themed his now regular Staurday night sing song around Waterloo. It started with a belting version of Abba's 'Waterloo', which proved surprisingly hard to sing, as well as a number of period songs such as 'The Wild Rover' and old favourites like 'Tis to Glory We Steer. One shocking dirge was the Imperial French National Anthem, goodness me, absolutely awful. I'm not surprised they brought back the Marseillese.

Great fun, if a little tuneless, but what do you expect from a bunch of (mainly) middle aged blokes.


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  2. Martin
    Looks like a good day's gaming and silliness. LCW looks great and silly hats make any event better.
    Cheers, PD