Saturday, June 23, 2007

More at Sea

Well now, aside from Armati, I managed to squeeze another game of Axis and Allies: War at Sea in last weekend.

Prior to the game I'd found several British based companies selling the ships as singles on the Internet. Of course this means that the very best boats have higher prices than the cost of a booster pack, but it means a certainty about getting hold of what you want; and common or low value units are very cheap indeed.

I ended up using a peculiar little business called, and paid £11 with postage for 7 models. Now this meant I didn't get a rare vessel, but I could set up two 100 point fleets from what I had.

The other thing I did, was take a set of the paper maps and glue them to sheets of MDF; £4 of 3mm MDF and some wallpaper paste from the cupboard made for a very nice, and portable playing surface.

The game itself saw a mixed allied fleet of the Ark Royal, supported by American and French ships, take on an all parties mix of Axis power.

It was a pretty close game too, with both fleets having enough vessels to contest all three objectives. In the end, both aircraft carries were sunk, and the battle boiled down to cruiser duels, which the allies won!

I'm looking forward to getting a few more models, and tinkering with some tabletop adaptions. Lastly I recommend a browse of the Avalon Hill forum dedicated to the game, probably a good place for news and ideas: Avalon Hill Forums

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The battle of Via Cassia - 391bc

Sunday afternoon; ideal for a game.

In an effort to have time for other things, but get maximum numbers of men on the table I set a game of Armati with Chris. Republican Romans versus Gauls; a grand total of about 450 figures.

Opening deployments - conducted by drawing maps, Chris managed to deploy his elephants wisely to face my cavalry, and thanks to some very decent advice from me (it was only his second game with these rules) formed a conventional but very handy centre. Being Celtic I had no alternative but to form big long lines...

Those Gallic masses:
Tight bodies of Romans:

Opening moves; the Celts rushed forwards, whilst the Romans addressed their flanks.

Turn two and Gallic skirmishers gave the Roman velites a bloody nose in the woods.

Turn three; the Celtic hordes smash on the wall of Roman shields. The had no success. But time was being bought to exploit the huge gap in his defenses that Chris had left...

Several units of Celts are lost, but a crucial Roman unit is lost on the flank, is it too late that Chris has realised he is being enveloped?

Arrrgh! the second line, including slaves, old men and women, goes in.

The Elephants charge into the cavalry. unfortunately for them their approach was badly harried by Celtic skirmishers. They then got flanked by the same. They lasted only seconds in battle.
Celtic cavalry tried to exploit the loss of the Elephants, and an Allied Latin unit fell on the far left, but the centre held firm in a massive melee.

And ultimately it was a comfortable win for Rome.

This was a big game, core armies plus 40 points of bonus troops. Nevertheless, because of the swift and reasonably believable game engine of Armati, it was all over within 2 hours. One of the reasons I like this set of rules. Their great for moving lots of models around, and yet getting a result (or two) within the sort of length a club night allows.

On the downside, Armati don't cater for anything other than stand up fights. But if you are not aiming to run a campaign, or small scale actions, they are just the job!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Art of War - in Space!

Aside from the Warhammer Ancients; the competition last week had a 40k event going on too. I managed to take a few snaps. Apart from a 'sick yellow' Space Marine army they all looked to be very nice...

I believe that to be a heavily converted Chaos Defiler; very large and extremely impressive, must be a bugger to pack though!

A pretty Eldar Falcon, I liked the purple and blue camouflage.

A similarly high standard on the same players' jet bikes.

Lastly some Tau armour suits. The paint jobs were tidy but basic, however the bases were impressive, and show how a good basing scheme can improve the look of an unspectacular model.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Melee - Art of War: 10 June 2007

Oh dear.

Another tournament; to be honest I have to wonder why I put myself through them. It seems at times I'll go a long way to get a game.

Be that as it may, a tournament was organised, relatively speaking, on my doorstep; well, Sheffields' Wargames Emporium gaming centre, which is about 40 miles away. Not having been there before, and apparently having forgotten my last experience of a tourney, I signed up. Three games of Warhammer, lunch and a chance of some prizes, or at the very least a shopping trip - why not I thought?

Anyway, the place itself is pretty handy, I'm not so sure it'd be all that pleasant in the middle of winter, but on a rare warm summers day, the adapted factory unit made for a pleasant and airy event space.

I'd elected to take my Flemish, a solid army, which I hoped would give me a balanced base to face all comers. It would soon become apparent that it lacked the spark to achieve very much, to my great frustration. Nonetheless I had hopes that with Three pike blocks I could stand any infantry out there, and with knights for punch and mounted sergeants to cover my flanks I hoped I could hold my own in the cavalry battle.

My first game would throw an enormous spanner in the works of that Idea.

Samurai were an army I knew well enough from the supplements to know they'd be a huge problem. However they shouldn't have been insurmountable. In the event my deployment was poor and my troops hung back far too long, letting them take more or less all the initiative. An army full of high skilled skirmishers with high attacks and saves was soon cutting through me like butter. Only my knights made any impact down one flank, and the two cannon were next to useless. I lost 28-4.

Meanwhile two other games were going on, one was ancient Chinese versus Ostrogoth; two pretty armies, and a chaotic battlefield.

It appeared though that the Chinese had the worst of it, despite light horse harrying the enemies' flanks.
Elsewhere two Viking armies faced one another.

After lunch it was my turn to face the Chinese, and naturally I hoped to do better. Despite the unknown quantity of chariots, and another large number of skirmishers, I felt I had the measure of this lot. At first I looked to be dead wrong as the light horse immediately turned my flank; but learning from my first battle I pressed forward as aggressively as possible and got the knights and pikes stuck in.

This time at least one cannon did sterling work too, and it proved that his chariots were no match for my knights.

The Chinese were lovely figures, but as an army they were perhaps the only force there I could categorically say my army was going to beat easily. I came out of it 20-12 up.

Lastly I faced one of the Viking armies. They deployed dense on one flank and thin on the other. I knew they would be a tough enemy man to man, Vikings are an army I too field; but this time I thought their deployment played into my hands.

Alas my cannon didn't tear through his serried ranks as well as I hoped, missing, or misfiring on I think 5 out of 6 shots when his units were packed into a narrow defile (where a good hit would have surely killed 6-8 men each time I ultimately killed 3 with 6 shots). The shot below is the Flemish high water mark in the game; the point at which it all turned.

My knights and pike just beat the Hesir, but they passed their morale. My cavalry failed to break the bowmen, and so his flank remained secure. Although with a little more luck I could have made this at least close, on the result of this turn it was all downhill for me; next turn the knights routed, taking the general with them, and slowly but surely my army crumbled.

It ended up as a massive 32-0 defeat.

So that was that, two losses and a win. I can console myself in it not being a whitewash at least, and getting respectable sportsmanship scores; but it was nonetheless last place for me.

What I've realised is that you can't bring a nice fair, historically reasonable army to these things and expect to make much headway.

My force was too weak; the knights were too feeble (they were the cheapest in the book and only their charge and high saves redeemed them), aside from my stubborn pike blocks my troops were apt to run at the slightest provocation. My firepower was too weak.

But most of all it would seem I was suffering for a lack of 'uber troops' The Samurai were lethal against me, the Vikings individually too tough and aided by Beserkir who operated like suicide bombs.

Despite the humiliating thrashing I got it was a better experience than my last tourney, this was a much less 'anally retentive' type of competition, nobody felt the need to re-roll every dice that was 0.1 degrees off level, or use machined metal rods to determine precise measuring or spacing.

I just feel I got my ass handed to me on a plate twice.

Oh well, maybe next time I'll take my murderous HYW English, or shiny new Spartans; I'll make sure they are someone who's some use at least!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is Sparta!

Well, after, getting trounced today at a tournament in Sheffield (more on it later in the week), I came home and consoled myself with the finishing touches to my first unit for a new (shamelessly cheesy) army. Spartans!

Starting my first 28mm ancients army, Having made many 20mm ones in the past. I'm aiming to produce fast work (it'd be nice to take the army to a tourney in September-ish - perhaps get some revenge!) but of a high quality. Here they are; see what you think; they took about six hours work, spread over a week all told.

The unit en-masse; twenty figures.

Up close on the commander and musician (orator) - no standard makes this a Warhammer Ancients unit.

It doesn't show so well in the photos but the flesh is of five layers; done as follows:

  • Over a white undercoat base coat Vallejo Medium Flesh (70860)
  • overbrush a layer of 80% Medium Flesh + 20%Basic Skintone (70815). Overbrushing is a technique akin to drybrushing, but is applied so more or less all but the nooks and crannies are covered.
  • heavy drybrush of 60% MF + 40% BS
  • Light drybrush of 50% MF + 50% BS
  • pick out details like bridge of nose, knuckles, etc with mix of 40% MF + 60% BS

I don't like lining techniques and radical step changes in shade that look like burns victims, as you can perhaps tell. But I do think I need to darken up the base shade by about 10-15% to make the highlights pop just a little more on the flesh.

Spartan cloth was dyed a uniform red, but is generally likely to have been a less vivid colour than is associated with Rome; I went for a dullish, deep red with a simple three-part process:

  • basecoat of 50% Cavalry Brown (70982) + 50% 'Rojo' Red (70926)
  • Overbrush 'Rojo' Red
  • Drybrush 'Bermellon' Red (70947)

Most of the rest is straight forward and along similar lines; the white is based on Ivory and white mixes, the Bronze is a brass base with gold highlights.

Lastly a word on the bases. I've moved away from using sand on these, as recent textured bases I've made for sale have really appealed to me. The brown base is an custom mixed brown emulsion, then overbrushed with a sand brown acrylic, and drybrushed with a 50/50 mix of sand and ivory. The grass is Noch summer grass, and the leaves are real miniature ivy leaves in natural brown, bought at a show; I'm afraid I can't remember from who.

Next on the bill for these chaps is either the Oracle or Cretan mercenary archers.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Axis & Allies - War at Sea; Darn!

I used to be a sucker for collectible card games.

At the time, I had the advantage of working in a games shop and getting them at a 'knock down' price helped. But none the less they were a draining addiction. Not least because, whatever you spent, there was always someone who'd spend more to be able to cream you in any game. Especially with stuff you knew to be super rare, and that they'd clearly paid well over the odds for.

I stopped with the card games a while ago, when I decided to stick to miniatures gaming. It was for me a good choice.

But those sneaky companies have ways of winning you over.

First there was 'Pirates', of which I've bought a bunch without getting to actually use them as yet. They look very nice made up, if a little fake, and the rules seem reasonable enough. But there is a clear stress on collectibility over game play I think.

However I encountered a new version of Axis & Allies (once merely a massive board game, then adapted to a collectible miniatures game) the other week, and based on positive recommendation decided to give it a try. It deals solely with naval combat, and is presumably designed as an accessible game with a balanced and competitive angle to it. Most CCG's stand or fall on their suitability for competitive play and collectible miniatures games seem to operate the same way.

The game itself has only just been released, well March this year anyway.

So like a damned fool I spent my £20 on the last copy of the game in my local roleplay/CCG/comic shop. When I got it home, I have to say the contents were pleasing:

For your money you get a quick start and full (40 page) rule book, counters, dice, two large map sheets, cardstock islands and 9 unit cards. Of course the main selling point is the prepainted miniatures of which there are 9 also, matching the unit cards.

These are randomised, with varying degrees of frequency (rare, uncommon and common). Obviously 'rares' represent better ships; my rare being the Ark Royal - nice! All the ships are produced to 1:1800th scale and really look remarkably good. The aircraft are 1:900th scale according to the box, though I suspect they could be larger. This is not a problem though, as they nicely appear to be flying above their targets.

So I read the rules, and was keen to see how it would play; not having anything better to do, and figuring it couldn't take long, I set up a game as per the rules:

The rules suggest fleets of 100 points each, or the closest even match of available models, naturally it was the latter I had to opt for; which saw forces of around 40 points assembled. The Ark Royal is 22 points, Swordfish bombers 10 points; and the French Terrible destroyer 9 points. The Axis forces mustered an Italian cruiser and submarine, with a German escort destroyer and fleet support ship.

Each ship has movement, fire and damage stats along with some special rules, which modify the basic rules. This latter feature is a classic feature of CCG's which allows subtlety and complexity in the rules. To be fair the modifiers on the cards here mainly tinker only with the fringes of gameplay; for example the German destroyer is allowed to be in the same sector of the map as two other ships, when normally the limit is strictly two ships per sector.

A close up of the Axis fleet, one of these ships is the wrong way round, can you tell which?

Turns begin with an initiative test and the winner always goes second - a clear advantage; as they can react to the opposing fleets movements. The moves are therefore Igo-Ugo, but firing is simultaneous, beginning with air attacks, then gunnery, then torpedoes. If any vessel is eliminated in a stage of firing it cannot act in subsequent stages. Hence a submarine sunk by Anti submarine fire, cannot reply as torpedoes fire in the last phase.

The moves in my test game saw each side chase objectives, In a full fleet game, these are worth 50 points each. Although the rules don't state it, I would say that you should reduce their value proportionately in a game of less than 100 points. The objective of a normal game is to score 150 points by either securing objectives or destroying enemy vessels.

The Axis captured two objective to the Allies one; in principle, they had already won, but no one had done much yet, so play continued.

The fleets began to approach one another. The Swordfishes harassed the Italian sub; several turns of fruitless attacks.

Then success! Attacks are based on a number of D6 rolled, based on the range and type of attack. it is easy to score hits, but different targets have higher and lower damage values that must be matched or beaten to cause any real damage. Finally after four sorties the bombers struck home on the sub with bombs.

Meanwhile the destroyers managed to sink each other; small ships it seems are frail. The swordfish turned to attacking the main Axis vessels, but fire aborted their attacks several times. Eventually the cruiser's anti aircraft fire destroyed the squadron.

This left the Ark Royal at the mercy of the Axis ships. It put up a stubborn fight for a couple of turns, but it was out gunned around three to one. Firstly the Axis closed to within one sector (normally two ships of each side are allowed in one sector at a time), and managed to cripple the great ship. A crippled vessel loses speed, armour, firepower, the works. Shortly after that the captain had to issue orders the evacuate.

Game over and a clear Axis victory.

So, any good? Well, it isn't what you would call a simulation, naval geeks with rulebooks a hundred pages long will doubtless find it over simplified. But I think a lot of its point would be missed by ending there. This is a game for simple competitive play, but with the potential for doing a lot more. The cards allow for a game with no record keeping that clearly can give a sense of naval combat. The rules themselves make efforts to stick to historical principles, they offer several alternate scenarios, as well as advice on recreating historical battles and fleets. These rules serve as a great introduction to the period.

Furthermore the production values are great. Everything is in full colour, everything is painted and based, nothing else but the box is need to immediately play a colourful and attractive game.

It is also quite obvious that if this takes off there will be more supplements and new ships in the future. The basic set contains a random selection from 64 models, there is lots of room for more.

I also think it would be really easy to adapt the rules to standard tabletop play. Convert the sectors to a scale of centimetres or inches to fit your tastes and you'll be on your way.

I hate to say it, but I really like the look of this, so much so I bought a second starter pack online yesterday! It's the slippery slope, I know, but suddenly I can play naval wargames with out so much as lifting a paintbrush. How nice is that!