Thursday, June 20, 2024

Thunder in the Valleys - A Very British Civil War game

Ponty Pandy in happier times 

The Welsh Wizard and I have been chatting about a Welsh based Very British Civil War game for a while. We'd messed about with a couple of ideas, but settled on doing something set around Wales because I'd been on holiday there recently and he's from there. 

The main spur the project was the discovery that I had a platoons worth of Spanish nationalists in bare lead.  I had no desire to wargame the Spanish Civil War and passed them onto the Welsh Wizard.  He suggested that he could paint them up as Spanish Nationalists, but that he could use them as a Welsh Communist militia for a Very British Civil War game. 

If you're not familiar with A Very British Civil War - The conceit is that Edward VIII does not abdicate and manages to get his chum Oswald Mosley into government. This radicalises the populace and before you know it, fascist jackboots are kicking in doors and there are militias sprouting up all over the country. The Reds are turning on the government, Liverpool has declared independence, the Scots are looking distinctly shifty and Mosley is attempting to restore order by shooting anyone who disagrees with him.

We decided that our games would pit WW's Welsh separatists against my British Union of Fascists. 

Xenos Rampant - proving to be quite a solid ruleset

The other advantage of trying AVBCW would be that we could give Xenos Rampant a go.  I've had tremendous fun with Dan Mersey's games, mostly The Men who would be Kings, but also Lion Rampant and Rebels & Patriots. 

Xenos Rampant is a generic ruleset, but one that can be easily adapted for different science fiction settings.  But something that stuck out to me was that there was a Weird War Two setting with some army lists.  These were quickly used as the basis of our Very British Civil War forces. 

Aneurin Bevan with the Newport Worker Militia 

Newport Workers Militia are the WW's force made up a three sections of well armed militia each with additional light machine gun. An additional command section by firebrand union organiser Aneurin Bevan and a chap with a large flag (WW loves a flag) gives them a moral boost.  We were discussing how to reflect the poor training and ill discipline of the militia and eventually settled on using the Mercenary special rule from the rulebook.  This makes each unit slightly cheaper, but also means that they can be a bit unreliable. 

The Newport Workers Militia are supported by a small unit of Anarchist cavalry and an imported Dutch Pantser light tank. WW played a lot of early war Rapid Fire games when we were teenagers and he still had his Dutch, so they lent the NWW some armour. 

The dastardly JFC Fuller 

I was contemplating what to include in my British Union of Fascists force.  In the end I assembled what I had and released that I just about had a 24 point force. 

I went with two units of BUF militia, these were aggressive, but poorly trained and likely charge in regardless of casualties.  These I leavened with a section of Regular Infantry and Forward Observer for some three inch mortars.  The force was rounded out by the additional of two Vickers Six Ton Tanks. These were the A variant which had twin machine gun turrets. 

These seemed like the perfect weapons for the leader of the BUF column. JFC Fuller was Great War era army officer and exponent of tank warfare.  He was also involved with Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and Alistair Crowley.  A fascist who dabbles in Satanism, the perfect baddie for a 1930s game, like something out of a Dennis Wheatley novel. 

Force Leader Fuller could look forward to putting his ideas on armoured warfare to the test. 

WW setting up his troops. 

We selected our forces and then diced for a scenario.  I'd set up the board as the main street of the tiny welsh town of Pontypandy, famous for Fireman Sam.  After talking it over, we reckoned the BUF assault column was advancing into Wales, with Bevin's Boys trying to stem the tide. The Workers & Anarchists being somewhat lax on organisation arrived late to the scene and therefore the battle was a meeting engagement rather than a defensive battle.  This retrospectively made sense of the scenario that we'd rolled up - which was a straight up fight. 

BUF militia advancing through the trees

"Did anyone just hear Men of Harlech?"

These fellas are Irish War of Independence Black & Tans from RHModels.  I got them in a trade and had desire to wargame that conflict, so a quick paint job later and they were part of the BUF. 

"Euan that Commissar is a bit fierce inne?"

WW's militia section moved forward into the workers cottages behind the police station.  WW had rolled the Mercenary trait for each of his units (reflecting their poor discipline) with the result that two of them had wavering morale, one didn't show up at all and the last was chock full of Revolutionary zeal.  We marked the two waverers by adding a refugee figure to each unit - while the enthusiasts got a particularly fierce looking Chetnik figure from Irregular miniatures armed with a revolver and a petrol bomb. 

Dafydd the Commissar quickly checks the pub for his missing militia section. 

The Workers Militia seize the Pontypandy Police station presumably after subduing the previous incumbents. 

WW deploys his armour on the road, while keeping his cavalry as a mobile reserve. 

BUF Vickers tanks nudging around the corner 
"FORWARD" screams JFC Fuller

The roads here are from an old Games Workshop game called Dark Future. I really must run up something more suitable, but they did for this game.  With the wealth of free and cheap model railway material available, it shouldn't prove too tricky. 

It was at this point that I remembered that I had forgotten to put out the special War Memorial figure that I had unpacked specially.  This was quickly put right. 

As Militia men conduct a tactical recce of the pub, the Dutch Pantser (I think I'm identifying this correctly) trundles past.  We rated this as a Fighting Vehicle with Light Armour and an Anti-Personnel Specialty. 

One of the little joys of setting up a board like this is adding flourishes like this Celtic Cross at the junction of the lane and road.  I'm hoping to pick up some red phone boxes and post boxes which would really create a sense of place. 

My Vickers Tanks were rated as Fighting Vehicles with Light Armour and Green Crews. This reduced their firepower somewhat and made them less reliable. 

The Anarchists cavalry start to move off on left, hoping to outflank the BUF with their superior mobility.  Meanwhile the Pantser trades MG fire with the Vickers.  The interesting about this was the while the tanks were quite dangerous to infantry, they had a fairly limited ability to damage each other. 

Welsh militia take to the roof of the local police station.

The militia are actually relatively well supplied with modern rifles and a mix of LMGs - mostly Lewis guns and imported Fiats. 

Sheltering in the loo

After a sharp exchange of fire between the Pantzer and the two Vickers tanks which left the Pantser slightly damaged, the militia crew retreated behind the safety of the gentlemen's convenience behind the pub. 

"He's got us out numbered four turrets to one, that's deadly on a 1930s battlefield" declared WW. 

Force Commander Fuller was jubilant and ordered his driver forward.  "We have them!" he cried. 

Meanwhile the BUF militia probed the workers cottages on the outskirts of town, trying to find the edge of the Welsh position. 

Both units advanced, skirmishing through the kitchen gardens.  I had classified these as Berserk infantry - infantry whose excelled in close combat, but were difficult to control.  This became important later. 

Something I hadn't quite grasped (we are still finding our way with these rules) was that Berserk infantry are not only quite good in close assault, but also have to roll for Wild Charges.  Essentially if a unit can charge, they must pass a morale roll not to charge.  This meant that the ill trained, but zealous BUF men ended up charging a Welsh unit that had just taken up positions in one of the Workers cottages.  The result was a brutal close quarters battle, but the Welsh, despite casualties were able to hold their own and sent the Blackshirts fleeing from the field. 

With a view to keeping on the pressure, I sent my Regular Infantry section who were my best troops forward to support the BUF by fire.  My plan was to suppress the defenders and then send in the Blackshirts.  In the end, I messed up the timing, not realising that Wild Charges were rolled for first, and the BUF men charged in regardless, got shot up and then retired. 

Meanwhile Force Commander Fuller learned an object lesson in pushing unsupported armour into an urban area. As Vickers trundled forward to engage the Pantser more closely, a fusillade of well aimed rifle and Lewis gun fire rang out shredding the lightly armoured engine deck. 

This was the result of an hugely unlikely series of 6s from WW's lads on the roof.  I was actually strangely pleased by the whole thing as it felt right within the fiction of the game. 

It also helped that the lads in the Police Station were immediately stonked to bejesus by my off board my mortar teams directed by the Forward Observer. 

"There's something wrong with our bloody tanks today" opined Force Commander JFC Fuller

"You're not singing, you're not're not singing ANYMORE" came the chorus of a male voice from the pub led by Aneurin Bevin. 

Force Commander Fuller decided to flank the police station, considering discretion the better part of valour, and sent his armoured steed crashing through the kitchen gardens at the rear of the Workers cottages. 

Meanwhile on the left of the picture you can see the Welsh envelopment starting to develop.  The militia infantry have seized the pub and the filling station, while the Anarchist cavalry move down to dislocate the entire BUF position. 

The third Welsh section which was flanking the BUF advance by seizing the Filling Station, brought the Regular Infantry under fire.  This caused a casualty, but provoked a storm of well aimed fire from the regulars.  The Fire-fight rule which allows unsuppressed units which have been fired upon to immediately return fire is interesting and it means you have to be careful about how you structure your attacks.  I don't think we've quite worked out how to do this yet, as we're still learning the rules, but in a way that's quite appropriate as our forces were pretty much doing the same thing. 

This hail of fire of fire decimated the ill trained Welshmen and sent them scurrying to the rear trying to keep their heads down.  They hadn't routed, but they wouldn't be a threat for a little while.  In the mean time, assisted by suppressing fire from Force Leader Fuller's tank, the BUF stormed the last remaining Workers cottage held by the militia.  They took heavy casualties doing so, but they wiped out their opposition. 

A stonk from the mortars caused casualties amongst the lads in the Police station and Comrade Bevin pulled his men back to straighten his line. 

At this point, it was getting late in the day.  We were dicing each turn to see if the game would end and the Anarchist cavalry were prepared to launch a full throated charge, jumping the hedges to wipe out the Forward Observers who had been punishing the Welsh line all game. 

The Anarchist cavalry - more Aled Jones than Isaac Babel

This unit was made up of some German or possibly Russian Second World War cavalry figures from Irregular Miniatures.  Irregulars cavalry have a habit of being rather small and these didn't fit with the plastics and Britannia figures that I already had, so I passed them on to WW.  He immediately drafted them in the Welsh forces. 

This was a tight moment in the game.  Realising that this was likely going to be the last turn, we totted up the victory points and I realised that despite suppressing and causing casualties on a lot of WWs, I had only wiped out one. Given the fairly basic scenario, victory points were only going for units that had been routed. WW had done a cracking job knocking out one of my tanks, while he'd also knocked out one of my BUF units, though to be fair that had helped that process along by their own recklessness.  This put him 2-1 ahead and poised to make it 3-1, if he managed to pull of the charge. 


Now Dan Mersey's games have a mechanic, which some people love and others hate, which requires the player to make a command activation roll for units to make to take certain actions.  If they fail, the turn passes to the other player. 

With the cavalry very close, I had no option but to risk a rather chancy plan.  I couldn't get any other my other units into position to tackle the cavalry in time, mainly because I had miscalculated how fast they were.  The Forward Observers got on the wireless and told the Mortar Platoon to drop a stonk directly on the cavalry.  This was a high risk strategy because if I failed to get an 8+ on 2d6 to call in the barrage, my turn would be over and I'd be wide open.  Also if I fluffed the roll there was every chance that the barrage would hit the next nearest unit, which was the Forward Observers themselves. 

I managed to roll....exactly 8 and then followed up that up with a rain of sixes, which broke the cavalry completely. Bombs crashed in to the cavalry and the air was rent with shrapnel and the screams of dying men and horses.  The survivors broke and galloped for the rear. 

Yells of "Stitch that you leek eatin' mine monkey!" echoed through the hedgerows. 

This earned me the one victory point needed to manage a draw. With the cavalry retreating and the rest of his infantry either suppressed or going firm, there wasn't much WW could do to claw things back and the game ended.  

Refugees fleeing Pontypandy 

Reflecting on our first proper game of Xenos Rampant - I enjoyed it.  The gameplay is simple, but thoughtful, and the order mechanic forces you to think carefully about what you're going to do.  Choosing poorly can cost you your turn.  The plus one for leaders to your activation number means that you need to think carefully about where you're going to place your leader to get the most from that bonus.  The fire combat varied from the attritional, inflicting suppression, to the occasionally deadly and that felt right.  The vehicles weren't overpowering. 

I think if I was going to be playing a lot of Second World War games I would probably learn Chain of Command or dig out my old copy of Crossfire.  But Xenos Rampant gave an engaging game that played in ninety minutes.  It also allowed us to use a lot of different troop types, which felt different on the battlefield, from unpredictable militia to hardened professionals, rickety interwar armour and flamboyant cavalry.  Might have to fine tune some of the troops classifications a bit, but ultimately it played well and felt right. 

And so as night falls and the din of battle fades in Pontypandy and both sides withdraw after what was a bloody, but inclusive engagement, a few shell shocked refugees flee the bullet pocked town.  Clutching their few possessions they made for the nearest place of safety - but where would the cruel hand of war strike next in this once peaceful valley? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Stalingrad - Red Barricades Factory

I've been wanting to wargame Stalingrad the last twenty five years or so.  The thing you always run up against is the sheer amount of gear required.  I've played plenty of Stalingrad games in 6mm, never in 1/72 which is my preferred scale. I managed to get the Red Barricades Factory scenario to the table towards the end of 2023.  

My pals Sydney and KT came over and we gave it a run through.  As a first draft of a table, it wasn't bad. 

There are some things I'd like to fix before I go much further, but it's getting there.  

The table setup 

The scenario briefing; 

"By mid October the fighting amidst the rubble of the Red Barricades Factory Complex in the northern section of Stalingrad had drawn in more and more of the German 6th Army’s forces. On the 22nd the 79th Infantry division, supported by engineers, tanks and artillery, launched an intense attack over the Railroad embankment toward the Barricades Factory.

Under heavy fire from dug-in tanks and Russian snipers, the German troops slowly made ground toward the Factory. The Soviet line finally broke, but by day’s end only a corner of the factory had been taken.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history."

KT regarding Sydney with perplexity as he advances

I need to do some more work on the table.  Having the buildings sit on the white table without some attempt to blend the two together doesn't look right. 

German infantry probes making their way forward.  

Sydney was very careful to use his armour to destroy barbed wire to clear the way for the infantry.

Soviet infantry contesting the bombed out buildings as the German's advanced. 

The building in the foreground is a 3d print that was very kindly supplied by KT and painted by Capability Savage.  I had a shortage of suitable buildings for the board, so I subbed in some European buildings that I build for our Bastogne game. These were taken from the European Buildings book by Peter Dennis published by Helion.  These are scaled for 28mm, but they worked just fine for 1/72.  The paper buildings went together very quickly and needed no painting strictly speaking.  To make them work for the winter board, I gave them a quick dusting with a white spray paint and then added snow effect flock to the rooves. 

Soviet infantry (foreground) being outflanked and surrounded by German infantry (background)

A strong push on the German left by infantry forced the Soviets out of their initial positions.  The Germans then began to put the Soviet second line under pressure.  German engineers are clearing land mines, but they were taking casualties from the Soviet snipers.  The snipers were deadly, but they didn't cause enough casualties quickly enough to stop the German advance. 

Once the infantry had cleared the way, the Panzers started to roll. The barbed wire marks barbed wire (obviously enough), but the shell holes actually mark minefields.  I use these because the minefields have a concealed effectiveness, being rated as 0, 2 or 4 depending on how thickly the mines are spread.  The 0 minefields are dummies and using the shell holes allows me to put a slip of paper underneath to show how effective they are.  The German player only finds this out when they either enter the minefield or probe it with engineers, while the Soviets can check at any time. 

Soviet infantry fleeing encirclement. 

You can see that the forward German armour unit has taken one hit, which I've marked with a blast marker. 

The scenario actually uses  Beach Obstactles to represent rubble that is impassable to tanks, but which infantry can shelter behind.  As I didn't have anything suitable, I used the Beach Obstactles I built for our last D-Day game. I had a look for photos of Stalingrad and I know that the Soviets made extensive use of tank traps, so I'll substitute those.  KT very kindly 3d printed some for me. 

After developing the German attack on his left, Sydney begins pushing on his right. KT's Soviet artillery managed to find the range after several turns of lack lustre shooting and rains shells down on the advancing German armour. 

The final move

Having pummeled and out outmanoeuvred his opponent, Sydney unleashed the panzers. The Soviets just weren't able to withstand the pressure and that ended the game. 

I think Sydney definitely had the upper hand throughout the game as KT found it hard to co-ordinate a response because of the Soviet command rules.  Sydney was also more methodical in his approach, carefully bringing infantry, armour and artillery to bear to crumble the Soviet defences.  He was also better at evacuating badly mauled units from the front line which prevented KT finishing them off and scoring badly needed victory points. 

A fine game with two good friends.  I hope to do it more often, but this year keeps getting away from me. 

Lastly, I've actually got back into shooting recently, something I really enjoyed as a youngster and that I would like to go back to again.  Heading out to the range with a rented .22 was a lot of fun. There is something very satisfying about poking small holes in bits of paper far away.  I'm not sure if I'd take the plunge of getting my own kit, but there was a lot of entertainment in knocking about with rented stuff.  Perhaps I make a habit of it. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Sikh War Project - A project long in the making?

The 16th lancers charging Sikh troops

I've been thinking about wargaming the Sikh wars since I first read about them in Ian Hernon's book "Britain's Forgotten Wars".  There's something tremendously compelling about the situation of a kingdom so divided against itself that it's court conspire against their own army. 

It reminds me about reading about the later years of the New Model Army or the Roman Army during the Crisis of the Third Century.  An organisation that became so mad with power that it became ungovernable and ended up either being bought off or destroyed.  That coupled with the fact that the Sikhs are a fascinating people combining asceticism, excess, warrior glamour with an exotic locale - I'd be a fool not to give it a try. 

Files boxes, notes and bags and bags of figures. 

The plan is to wargame the four main battles of the First Sikh War using the Colonial Campaigns ruleset against my old foe the Welsh Wizard.  We've already played Naushera and Jumrud from the Sikh-Afghan wars. 

I had been picking up figures from the excellent Newline Designs range of figures and have most of what is required for the First Sikh War. Now, I made the listen of reading John French's excellent book on the British in India from Foundry which includes a raft of details on different units, some of whom were wearing shakos rather than the more usual peaked cap. 

At the moment the challenge will be finding figures for the Ghurkas both in Sikh and HEIC employ and for those British infantry units that wore shakos rather than peaked chaps. Irregular do some Sikh war British infantry in shakos, but they are bell topped rather than covered. 

I'm still debating how punctilious I want to be about this, as I mainly just want to get the game on the table, but then again - I will know if I get it wrong and sometimes that's enough. 

Figures for painting, sorted into bags and marked with a label. 

There was a lot of gathering and sorting and lining up with the various orders of battle I want to cover.  Realistically, if I want to get this project to the table in a decent amount of time I am going to have to subcontract the painting for a fair amount of it. But having thought about this seriously, my time for painting is very limited with a young family and a demanding job, so needs must where the Devil drives. 

More Storage

I've been building up a collection of jungle trees, palms, exotic vegetation, elephant grass and so on for a while now.  But up until recently, it all lived in a number of different boxes scattered around the War Room.  I picked this box up in Woodies (a local DIY shop) for a tenner.  It's robust, clear plastic (which means that I don't need to worry about labels) and will stack with others.  I'm beginning to think that I may start using these for the majority of my terrain collection as using smaller boxes is just not working very well. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Battlemasters with Kinchlets

"Pay attention Sir Harry, the Hun is here, here and here." - LadyBaby

Finished up a practice game of the old MB Games/Citadel miniatures game Battlemasters with the Kinchlets (with feline auxiliary). They successfully defended the tower from the baddies. We’re playing a Dads v Kids game on Saturday with their cousins and I'm looking forward to it. 

“Imma gonna punch that goblin inna snoot” - Bear

I had planned on giving the kids special characters, but they asked if they could have “gifts” like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

One quick rewrite later and we are sorted.  The mechanical affect was exactly the same, but the kids enjoyed being able to pick one over the other.  The LadyBaby picked a diamond bottle filled with a healing elixir distilled from flowers grown in the mountains of the Sun (she has always loved Lucy in the Narnia stories) while Bear plumped for a sword and shield like Peter.  

The mechanic effect was that Bear added a die to a units dice when attacking while the LadyBaby could heal a point of damage from a unit each time the Mighty Cannon card was turned. 

“We should get him, he’s a meanie” - LadyBaby

Thus the band of Chaos Warriors were doomed. 

The LadyBaby used her diamond bottle of healing potion successfully.  Bears magic sword was less successful - he spent the game with the artillery - but he’ll remember for next time.

The LadyBaby showing Colonel Sir Harry Flashman VC the next card. 

The card mechanic where turn order and unit activation is randomised definitely keeps the kids engaged.  The LadyBaby in particular enjoyed turning over the next card to find out what would happen next. 

The LadyBaby took charge of the cavalry at an early juncture.  She approves of knights it seems. 

Slowly tipping one die at a time into the Dice Tower is apparently the secret to Bear's success. 

The game ended with a resounding Kinchlet victory as they managed to hold off the hordes of Chaos for long enough that a relief force arrived and the tower was saved!

Thoroughly enjoyable game.  What interested me most about this one was that the Kinchlets took more ownership of what was going on.  They talked between themselves to try to formulate a plan and considered different options.  The simple mechanics made it possible for them to grasp all of them and not just engage with the rules, but also with what they were actually trying to do. 

It was wonderful to watch.