Sunday, 17 December 2017

Unit cards for The Men Who Would Be Kings

While playing the Samurai skirmish game, Test of Honour, I was struck by how discrete unit cards are much better than rosters for reading and absorbing unit data.

I had also seen the excellent unit cards for The Men Who Would Be Kings on the Shed Wars blog. After struggling with Excel and Word, I once again decided to create an Access database. The cards (a 'labels' report) were much easier to configure and I can quickly add new unit types to the underlying table.

The cards aren't as nice as the Shed Wars ones, but I could improve on them later by adding images. I'm indebted to Shed Wars for showing me the way.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Rebasing 28mm figures for The Men Who Would Be Kings

Based and ready to go
So here I am with a growing collection of second-hand Zulu War figures from different sources, all based individually but not in the same way. Rebasing is a priority, mainly so they can be safely stored, transported and used, but also to give the figures a more common look (once textured and grassed).

First step is to remove the existing bases. Card bases are easily weakened by standing them in water, but other bases have been an absolute pain to get off.

The new bases are simply 2p coins. These cost, well, 2p, and are cheaper than steel discs or even MDF. 'Copper' coins were originally bronze but since 1992 they have been copper-coated steel and are attracted to the magnetic plastic sheets which I use to line my storage containers - A4 Really Useful Boxes. 

At some point, of course, I will be adding filler, sand and foliage, but the figures are ready to use. All I need now is more of them.

Friday, 17 November 2017

28mm Zulu War figures for TMWWBK

Playing  the Colonial skirmish game The Men Who Would Be Kings has been on my wish list since the beginning of the year. Other members of my wargames club have tried it out and liked it, so I am encouraged that it will see some play.

I had originally favoured doing the Boxer Rebellion or the North-West Frontier, but I recently accumulated some Zulu War figures when a friend was sadly obliged to retire from wargaming. These have since been supplemented with a couple of eBay purchases.

British Regulars and dismounted Natal Mounted Police
Some of the British figures could also be used for the Second Afghan War or the Urabi Revolt. I don't have enough for a game but it's a good start. The figures are 28mm. I'd be very interested to know the manufacturer(s) and will update this post accordingly.

More Zulus
The picture immediately above shows the figures from eBay. These will need to be rebased and could benefit from a stain.

The figures have been identified as Redoubt Enterprises and very nice they are too. Redoubt is another company which Is underselling itself because of lack of photos in its online shop. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Rommel: the Brevity scenario

British left, Axis right. Italians are forward on the
objectives. On-table Germans are in the back row.
The third Italian objective is just out of the picture
at the top. Scenery was highly improvised!
I got my first chance to set up a game of Rommel on the tabletop. It was the  scenario for Operation Brevity, a limited British offensive against Axis forces in North Africa in May 1941. 

Actually, it wasn't so much of a competitive game as a collaborative exploration of the rules, at least to start with. We worked together on the initial Axis deployment. My collaborator, Chris, then set up the British based on their historical deployment. 

Although it wasn't my original intention for us to adopt sides, Chris effectively assumed control of the British while I started making decisions for the Axis.

The British close in on the vulnerable
central objective. It is quickly overrun.
In  the scenario, as in historical reality, the British make a strong showing at the beginning before German reinforcements arrive.

Some German forces are deployed on the back row while others arrive in a later turn (but we didn't get that far). The Italians can be deployed forward to  hold the objectives.

Deployment is very straightforward, but it all feels a little different if you're not used to playing many grid games.

Stalemate on the Axis right.
In our very short game the British soon captured the central Italian-held objective and seriously depleted the Italian forces guarding the town. The struggle for the other Axis objective was a stalemate. 

A counterattack by the German forces already on-table was only partially successful. Had the game continued I think it would have swirled around with both sides threatened by isolation. We completed three moves but didn't have time to pursue the game further. At this point the Axis line seemed very thin indeed. Although this is an introductory scenario, it's an interesting one and should repay playing with different strategies. 

The counter-attack by the on-table German units.
Reading rules is one thing: actually playing a game on the tabletop is another. I hadn't really absorbed the rules properly and we relied on the QRS, whatever I could recollect  and whatever we had to time to look up properly. We didn't get everything right (crucially we neglected to tip retreating attackers) but it was a good start. By the end I felt there probably wasn't a lot more to learn for the basic game and that when everything is learnt, the turns will be playable very quickly, leaving maximum time and energy for play rather than rule referral.

Steven Thomas' Balagan blog recently reviewed a range of Operational-level games that predated Rommel. By  his definition Rommel would not count as an Operational game because the basic unit is a company. 

The town (Sollum) was a hot spot. The defenders
  are critically worn down and destined to shatter.
However, the game is very highly abstracted and certainly  feels Operational. You have to second-guess your opponent with the selection of events and tactics which are pieces of narrative on cards rather than emanating from the position of lead castings, companies are concentrated to apply pressure and combat is attritional. Fights certainly grind to a conclusion over several turns but there are no knockout blows.

My collaborator judged the game to be complicated in comparison with Sam Mustafa's Bluecher and although he considered it realistic he didn't warm to its attritional nature which he found unexciting. Each to his own.

Now for some of the physical practicalities. 

 Deep-Cut Studio gridded meadow mat from
1. My tabletop consisted of 1 ft square cork tiles with little Go counters at their centres to remind players this was a 6" grid. It was OK but still required a degree of mental adjustment. I really felt it would be better to have clearly defined 6" squares with edge lines and I've since ordered the Deep-Cut Studio gridded meadow mat from BigRedBat for use with my 10mm armies.

2. The unit cards don't provide the immediate visual clue given by models and can be awkward to pick up without long nails. If used as game counters they need to be based on MDF.

3. Command Post cards are, I believe, a big improvement on the Command Post sheets but can again be fiddly. This isn't just a question of size but more importantly a result of being printed on ordinary card stock. Proper playing cards are coated and glossy and slide off each other easily.

4. Tipping didn't actually lead to any ambiguity in the game but I think it might. Players naturally want to point attacking units towards their targets. Keeping them perpendicular, unless tipped, feels too much like a boardgame. In future I think I will use markers to indicate tipped.

5. In addition to the D6s used for Ops, I must remember to pack two D6 of another type for combat resolution.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Rommel: Command Post Cards

Customised French Command Post
cards for Hannut scenario.
Rommel uses a 'Command Post' somewhat reminiscent of the planning board in Saga. It gradually fills up with dice to mark the events and tactics used until the whole board is optionally reset.

This is (a) an accident waiting to happen, and (b) difficult for secret selection of tactics, so some players are planning to substitute cards.

As I'd already started a database to generate unit cards, I was in the mood to develop functionality for managing CP cards as well.

This approach is also very convenient for dropping CP items you don't want or adding custom items for specific scenarios.

Database screenshot. Rough and ready but
functionally adequate.
In each CP 'pack' I've also included blank cards so the opposing player doesn't know if you're actually selecting a tactic or not. The cards are discarded when used, unique events for the rest of the game, and others until the CP is reset.

There are, of course, other ways of generating unit and CP cards. Databases require some 'professional' knowledge and more upfront investment but soon pay off on reuse.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hannut scenario for Rommel

I haven't even played a game of Rommel yet but I have helped to draft an historical scenario, a demonstration of chutzpah that even I find a little embarrassing! It's based on the Battle of Hannut in May 1940.

It all started with the need to decide what to buy and paint in the model area, but with the encouragement and substantial input from RobH this curiosity grew into a draft scenario.

It's a work in progress. You can download all the current files here and follow discussion on the Rommel board of the Honour forum here.

It basically reflects our best attempt to create an historically based map, historical OOBs (mostly the work of Rob) and the historical circumstances. The scenario is completely untested for game balance but we have some ideas in reserve.

Given a map, OOBs and some understanding of a battle, designing a Rommel scenario is straightforward if a little fiddly. Using generic OOBs would have been a lot more straightforward but I have absolutely no regrets about going historical in the detail.

Besides the historical research and game-creation  aspects, this project has also involved resuscitation of graphic and database skills, the latter being utilised to create a set of unit cards. I don't have much free time during the day but insomnia is a great aid to productivity.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hotz mat for Rommel

Hotz felt mat straight out of the bag. The creases will settle.
I recently received delivery of a Hotz ArtWorks 'Enhanced European Fields' game mat for Rommel. It arrived in the UK from the USA only eight days after ordering - the usual great service and great quality.

It measures 72" x 46" and has 4" hexes arranged 18 x 12. It will serve as a less heavy, less bulky alternative to Hexon for club games. I could have gone for squares but consistency will make it easier to get used to the game and I will be able to use Hexon hills and my planned hex BUAs and hex woods etc.

The 4" hexes are principally for my forthcoming 3mm armies, but my 10mm armies on 30mm wide bases will also fit.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Rommel: Maximum base sizes for 4" hexes?

I thought I'd better test my 40mm square basing idea more rigorously in order to ensure there is enough wiggle room when the surrounding hexes are occupied.

These are actually 40mm x 25mm bases which were surplus from another project. I'm not intending to use these as they don't have enough depth. When more than one Company occupies a hex and they attack a neighbouring hex they can easily be placed in column and pushed across the hex edge to distinguish them from non-attacking companies. There is plenty of room.

40mm x 30mm bases. Still enough room IMO.

40mm x 40mm. These are too crowded.
That conclusively establishes that if using Hexon I need to aim for 40mm x 30mm bases for optimum effect. Now the bases...

40mm x 30mm steel, 40mm x 25mm MDF. The exposed steel area on the back is for mounting a removable magnetic plastic or other label. The MDF is the old mechanically-cut variety. I would now of course use laser-cut MDF.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

3mm hex terrain for Rommel

My epic indecision about what base sizes and grids to use for Rommel has come down to a trade-off between the attraction of multiple vehicles on big bases with a 6" square grid versus the attraction of using Hexon with necessarily smaller model bases possibly featuring only one or two vehicles.

Other than the Hexon itself, the game requires BUAs, woods, bocage, soft ground and rivers. In this post I am looking at BUAs and woods.

The heading picture (top right) shows a mock-up of a 4" hex BUA using a Hexon forest template and some Brigade Models 2mm buildings from the English Village and Terrace sets. I think these are fine for Belgium but Northern France and Low Countries sets are planned and those will be even better. The buildings are roughly the same height and the bases will sit on top of them when the hex is occupied. If I add taller buildings like churches and factory chimneys, these will have to go at the centre or close to the edges. The 4" hex is economical on buildings and looks 'neat' IMO.

For contrast, the next picture shows a 6" square with a very Roman street pattern. It requires quite a few more buildings and doesn't look very organic. Perhaps I could have arranged the buildings more imaginatively, but there is an inevitable tendency for squareness to beget squareness. Put a few of these on the table and it begins to look like a chess board. Of course, you don't have to make the towns square just because they fit into a square, but given that I will be placing the units on top I need to have the areas filled to give even support.

Finally, we have a mock-up of a hex wood using Woodland Scenics Underbrush of various different colours.

I think the combination of these pieces with Hexon flocked tiles will begin to look quite realistic in a hexed sort of way.

Although using smaller model bases is disappointing, I think the game will look good overall. It also provides a very fitting purpose for all that Hexon I've accumulated...