Sunday, February 28, 2010

40K - Some days I just wonder, why?...

Having not played Warhammer 40k since last summer, and wanting to get a little practice in for a tourney (I committed myself rather rashly to) in April. I’ve arranged a couple of games of it in the last two week.

Increasingly I find 40k a frustrating experience.

I like the way the core of the rules work now, yes they are cartoony, and simplistic compared to other games, but they function reasonably well at a basic level; there is nothing wrong with the core rules. The problem is the armies.

And it is a problem that GW doesn’t seem to be able to resist making worse. Every army in the game has to have a vast set of special rules to make it distinctive. To be fair it is a problem common to Warhammer Fantasy too, and most fantasy wargames in general; but 40k seems to take it to extremes.

This is bad enough when the rules are army wide, as most of my Ork army rules are, a player knows that they operate differently to most other armies, but at least in a consistent way. The situation is even worse when it is different for every unit in the game, and different from one very similar army to the next.

My two recent games for example were against a vanilla Space Marine army and a Space Wolf themed SM army. Ostensibly the same troops, and in the first game I knew what to expect. The game was a tough slog to a draw against an enemy that has been written to always have the upper hand.

But in the second smaller game against Space Wolves, nothing was familiar, every time I did anything my opponent was having to refer to some or other special rule buried in his army list. This slowed the game down no end, and so a 1000 point match only reached turn four in three hours. In fact based on the scenario conditions I won, but it was without any pleasure, being less of a case of moving things around and rolling dice and more of referring to rulebooks and arguing the toss of definitions.

It’s this that puts me off the game. If the armies were less ridiculously tuned I’d find it easier to trot through game or two on a regular basis, but it is like I have to re learn the entire game every time I play it.

I know that any amount of learning the core rules will make little difference, if I play in this tournament I’m going to face super tuned and beardy armies, that I probably don’t know at all; and spend half my time asking what the other guy is doing and the other half being stuffed by what the other guy is doing!

To be honest, that is one of the reasons I prefer simpler games, and historical games. They don’t depend on having the latest release to out play the enemy, or the smartest selection of special kit or characters. They depend on tactics and a bit of luck.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More Rescued Rubbish

Whenever I have a need to break from painting figures, I have a rummage through the club terrain boxes, find some discarded piece of junk and turn it back in to great terrain. Going in to the darkest recesses of the club stores, I found a bunch of cardboard and balsa models that I was assured were over thirty years old. Most of them looked it but at least one was salvageable.

In its original form it was simply a flocked model with a square of balsa walls. Of course thirty years of daylight had left the flock faded out and balsa form was simplistic. With a handful of terrain scraps and a new base I was able to modify the model enough to give it a more believable shape. I then sanded the new base and painted the lot, flock and all.

With a unit of Parliamentarian foot for scale one can see that the building itself, which needed no real work, is a little small, but the impression is nonetheless right. A 12-15mm scale farm, suitable for battlefields from about 1600 to 1900.

About the same time, one of the members brought in a stockpile of old 20mm Airfix tanks and model railway buildings. After I sent him home with the rare polystyrene tanks that were worth enough to sell on, I rummaged through the box for some useful bits. The result was, with a little rescaling and a lot of repainting, a German munitions factory, suitable for games of Flames of War, or any other 15mm modern setting.

Notably, I used the texture of the hardboard wooden base to my advantage, to give the effect of cobblestones. Rather a small area of the base was textured as grass, and some areas of paving were added. The doors were recalled to suit 15mm models a little more. The German sign is not ‘true’ German, though apparently the language bit of my brain remembered enough to cobble together something that broadly means something factory related!

At nearly a foot square, it makes for a grand little centrepiece to a game, I hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

First New Jersey

There was always a fear that I would start expanding my tidy little American Civil War army in to a larger project. I’ve said already on the blog that it wasn’t the plan, but being a wargamer these things tend to happen, and lo, not long after I declared the project concluded, I was traded some union troops for painting services.

The figures as a result will form the start of a second brigade, one I can pick at as and when I get tired of Napoleonics or WW2.

These models are part of the Foundry range so I understand, you can tell from the style of the castings and the fact that only the heads are different on the poses. The models provided were eight each of three poses plus a drummer and a spare rifleman in a different pose. Fiddling around with them I found that this set up looked most plausible – a unit at the ready in two ranks.

Another oddity is the headgear, The troops wear what was known as a ‘Havelock’; in essence a Kepi with a neck cover, styled after British uniform worn in India – doubtless a practical piece of headgear in the hot summers of Virginia, but how common they really were in the field is another matter. Still they help make the unit distinctive.

I have a handful more models which will make some skirmishers, but now feel that another artillery piece would be useful. Sigh…

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yorkshire Open Warhammer Tournament

I’m not a big player of tourneys, though I am committed to one later in the spring. Still I do like the fact that they generally insist on painted miniatures, and this is often the only way to see well painted Games Workshop armies facing off against one another.

A couple of weekends ago it was the Warhammer leg of the Yorkshire open in Leeds, one of several regional qualifiers for the finals. I rolled up in time for the army displays and snapped the pretty armies. Apologies to those that didn’t make the cut, but the standard was as can be seen high.

First up is one of our own, Steve, with a classic Dwarf army. Not in the same league as the other work on show, but still well finished and made of some of the best figures GW ever manufactured. Their classic 80’s and early 90’s dwarves are still the ones to beat in my opinion.

Next up is Dan’s filthy Lizardmen, with four Stegadons no less. Dan is a true artist and a real specialist at conversions. He is also a master of the beardy list and won the cheese award as a result!

Adam Turner, not one of our club players brought a spectacular Daemon army, with many fantastic conversions. The painting was great too. But alas the decision to display them on a garish box top detracts from the pictures. I understand this army won the comp on the battlefield.

Another Adam, this time Adam Padley, another ‘outsider’ presented an impressive mass of Skaven. The new plastic Skaven warmachines are mighty impressive, and look all of the thirty quid they cost to buy when finished this well.

But lastly we come to the winner of the best painted army; Justin Read’s Brettonians. Ok not as heavily converted as Dan’s Lizards or Adam’s Chaos, but the sheer labour involved in doing all the heraldry, and the vibrancy of the results won people over.

As for the gaming, well who knows, I went shopping instead. But some inspiring models made for a pleasant hour or so of just looking…

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dogs of Mobile War

Finished these a few days ago, In fact back in January, but then I forgot I had a decent photo of them, as you do.

The Wargames Factory German Cavalry, combined with spare Numidian bows produces two units of Horse Archers for my Dogs of war army:

I'm thinking of naming them The Kholodets tribe, as this is a Jellied Pork dish from Russia, which seems to fit the theme of my DOW army.

The models were nicely if unspectacularly made, with historically realistic sized horses, which look like steppe ponies next to my Games Workshop cavalry. I had some fun adding patterned tunics and fancy hand painted shield designs.

Lastly for today, I notice I've broke through the 40,000 hits mark. Hooray for me; and a big thank you to all you readers out there. Very charitable of you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crossing Le Petit Marne 1944

Neil, my most regular Napoleonics opponent has been reading a lot of Sven Hassel books of late, and so was keen to try a WW2 game for a change. As I'm currently enjoying the Battlefield Evolution rules I duly obliged him with a 1500 point game of my Americans and Germans facing up against one another across a heavily agricultural river valley.

My American Armoured infantry moved through the twisted bocage, towards a shallow river with a single bridge which had some how avoided destruction in the German withdrawal.

The Germans themselves were advancing from a dense pocket of fields in an attempt to stall the rapid American reconnaissance.

The Americans advanced their reconnaissance elements along the road only for the rushing forward Hetzer to make short work of them. However thus alerted to the armour threat the Americans sent their infantry to the left, and the tanks bore right, aiming to eliminate the German armour.

As it transpired the Sherman crews were green, and although brave, proved to be terrible shots (three of their first four shots rolled one's - thus missing - and the tank which survived the battle hit NOTHING all game!) Nevertheless, the Hetzer eventually was eliminated for no further loss, and the Infantry deployed in wood on the Left bank to counter Germans deploying in dense masses behind the bocage.

American artillery competed with German machine guns and 20mm fire for ascendancy. One German section was put to rout, but the others held firm and began a suicidal advance on the Americans.

Like something from a Sven Hassel book itself, Neil's Germans broke cover and rushed the lead Sherman half of them were cut down in the field by raking machine guns, but the survivors slapped anti tank mines and grenades on the Sherman and saw it burst into flames. But at a heavy cost, only two of them made it away to safety.

The Americans had at the same time been trying to develop infantry support for the tanks, but the belated intervention of a German observer in the Schwimwagen brought artillery down on them and their vehicle, effectively destroying both. The pounding covering fire of the German AA gun assured that the Americans were no longer prepared to advance.

Game over!

So another cracking game, and one of the prettiest put on at the club in a long time. Not to blow my own trumpet, but my models looked great together, and we managed as ever to bag the best of the scenery and make a plausible looking battlefield that looked attractive too.

Sad thing is I now find myself seriously considering getting some reinforcements, another Sherman, a few more German Infantry, Fighter planes....

The wargamer mindset never goes away, does it?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Torres Madres 1810

Being our second large game of 'Napoleon' I think we got a little greedy, and stretched what could be achieved in five hours to the very limit.

The armies of Britain and France again met across a verdant battleground. This time two full Brigades of British infantry were supported by an Spanish and Portuguese brigade, two regiments of cavalry and two batteries of artillery.

Facing them the French put forward two large Brigades of infantry, a Heavy Cavalry Brigade, a regiment of Lancers and two of their own artillery batteries.

The attacks were of course led in most places by the french, who came on in 'Order Mixte' to some effect. The most notable maneuver of theirs however was catching the highlanders unprepared with their heavy Dragoons. The only place the British were aggressive was on the right flank where a ridge line hid each force from the other. Both sides raced to the high ground, but the British and Portuguese got there first.

Not that doing so really helped their cause. In the centre British artillery caused severe losses, but the French still came on, and their cavalry ruled the battlefield, tying up most of the British lines. On the hill the French columns began to prove ascendant, pushing the British back. Although the Portuguese and Spanish developed a flank attack they were to weak willed to press home when the opportunity presented itself.

Ultimately the British had to conduct nine tenths of the fighting, which left them outnumbered and ultimately outfought. Torres Madras would go down in the books as a hard fought French victory in which four British regiments were broken.

Another rip roaring game, but a little too big for the day, 400 points a side left little time to play out the whole action, though not helped by taking an hour and a half to get troops sorted and the battle started! Next time a little smaller I think, but still, pushing 600 little men around the table looked good and was plenty of fun for a Sunday afternoon...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Units - How big are yours?

Well the observant amongst you will have noticed the poll up the top right of the blog for unit sizes in 28mm games. Now it’s only my instinct but I’m guessing a fair few old school Napoleonic gamers voted on the poll, as the 30-36 figure unit size was so popular. For Warhammer players 20 may be seen as optimum, with 24 as allowing a safety margin for losses.

These of course are game dictated sizes; but beyond these one is certainly drawn to wargames in part by the visual appeal of the models themselves. If not we’d be happy with using paper or blocks of wood to represent units.

But for most of you reading this it is the little men that form the core of the spectacle. So when does a unit look right?

For some it is key to match a notional unit scale – 1:20 men, 1:60, a stand of 3 figures for 250 men, and so on. I can see the logic of these, and they do allow for flexibility in terms of unit sizes, but it often makes the rules a little more complex, and adds aspects to on table tactics that only the wargames general could really expect. Others prefer rules or conventions that a set number of figures represents a unit, and that any variations in quality or size are reflected by game mechanics. I’m more a fan of this for simplicities sake, but there are exceptions, but when it comes to assembling an army this is the no-brainer option.

For example my Napoleonic Anglo Portuguese army will include 10 units of 24 infantry, regardless of field strength or quality. At 1:20 scale each represents a field strength battalion on campaign of about 480-500 men, but the size of the units is dictated by the rule set firstly.

In other rules, notably Warhammer, and most World War Two sets, the figure scale is 1:1 or at least intended as a ratio of less than 1:10. A unit of 20 pikemen is 20 figures, a section of 10 riflemen is, you get the idea.

Economy in several terms is another issue. Do you want to have to spend a fortune to play the game, or are you prepared to invest in a visual spectacle? Some rules use deliberately small units to allow for large battles to be played on small tables, Shako for example using units of 12 models to represent a Regiment, or even Brigade. It also keeps the buying and painting investment down.

Personally I’m at the spectacle end of gaming, and have always preferred the smaller battles to the Austerlitz’s and Cannae’s. Personally I like my block of 24 or so models to represent a single unit – a Company or a Battalion of men. To me putting 8 figures on the table and saying it’s a whole brigade of 2-3000 men is cheating! Go for 6 or 10mm and at least get 60 or so models to do the same job!

At the end of the day, every gamer who paints models makes his decisions about units on more grounds than he or she may first consider. To my mind a unit of 15-28mm figures of less than 16 models looks a bit small unless they are actually meant to be skirmishing or some such. A unit of 24 is my default optimum, and if I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment I may paint up a unit of 32 if it is worth while.

An army on the table should look believable, and that requires formations of that sort of size (skirmish games excepted); personally I don’t feel I’ve even got enough models to represent an ‘army’ unless I have around 200 of them.

What are your standards? Different?

Revenge is a dish best served a week later...

Another Battlefield Evolution: World at War game. Bob got his rematch against my Germans, and learning at least something from his mistakes last time, deployed a Tetrarch light tank and fought defensively. I'd elected to use what I considered a more balanced army with a strong anti personnel element in the form of the armoured AA half track (it counted as a Wirbelwind, as I didn't have access to the full armour lists on Agis' own website, which support the game), and decided on a probing attack.

The Germans advanced early on using covering fire from the hill to support three thrusts. Bob's six pounder proved a easy target again, but the last crewman got off one shot and destroyed the half track. The Tetrarch, then busy evading my Hetzer popped up and destroyed my SDKFZ 232.

Boo, hiss! Still the German artillery, sniper in the house and the Hetzer in concert with a section of infantry made some progress. However the Para's are far better suited to holding an objective seized, than assaulting one heavily defended. As German infantry occupied the Farmhouse, a Paratroop flamethrower team ambushed them to deadly effect.

Everywhere the German attack was breaking down as the Para's laid down sustained fire and my attempts to attack met with little or no luck. In fact at the end of the game I was reliant on the Hetzer and a Pak 40 firing over open sights to cover the withdrawal of my shattered troops.

The infantry losses were more even this time with I think around 20 Para casualties, to my 25 or so. However with the loss of my AA, mortar, most of the HQ and the armoured car; it was a clear cut win for the British.

I'm really liking these rules, and at present can't recommend them highly enough; played historically they give good results and reward historical tactics.

Try them!