Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deus Vult! First Thoughts Part 1

Around the time Fireforge Games released their Templar Knights, I decided that resistance was futile and bought a box each of the Teutonic Knights, Templars and then the Mounted Sergeants. I’ve always loved 13th century knights, and had a great time painting some in 1/72 scale. The lure of being able to put together a sizeable force in 28mm, made up of affordable figures in a coherent style proved too strong. God truly did will it.

Although my main intention is to put together an army for Impetus, I also preordered a copy of Deus Vult, the set of wargames rules from Fireforge, written by Dylan Owen, Alessio Cavatore and Fabio Spieza, and have been gradually reading my way through the rules. Paul of the Man Cave asked for a review, so here are some initial thoughts, bearing in mind that I haven’t actually played a game.

1. Presentation and Layout

The Deus Vult rule book is really quite superb. It is hardback, 192 pages, and sumptuously illustrated with photographs of beautifully painted figures, Fireforge’s magnificent box artwork and a number of diagrams to help explain the rules. It is nice to see that Fireforge haven’t just taken the opportunity to advertise their own miniatures, with the book also featuring photos of figures from Gripping Beast, Conquest Games, the Perrys and many other manufacturers. The book has been extremely well edited and proofread. Despite being a pedantic bugger I have yet to discover any errors.

The layout of the book is very clear and accessible, with clear and numerous subheadings. One feature I quite like is the use of margins to pick up on points made in the text. Sometimes the margins just contain some inspiring ‘fluff’, such as quotes from various chronicles, but often the authors have used the margins to give tactical advice or to justify some point of game design. There are also suggestions aimed at assisting game play, such as the salutary advice about how to resolve rules disputes without resorting to bloodshed on p. 8, or a guide to making an instant protractor on page 9.

2. What's In the Book?

The subtitle of Deus Vult is ‘Wargaming in the Time of the Crusades’. The rules and army lists focus particularly on the first three crusades in the Holy Land, up to the end of the 12th century, although the authors make it clear that the Deus Vult game will be developed into different Medieval contexts with the release of future supplements.

The first chapter of the book deals with ‘General Conventions’, explaining fundamental concepts in the rules such as morale and so on. This section also sets out to pin down various points that can cause disputes in games, such as exactly how to measure distance or resolve line of sight. I get the strong impression that the authors are aiming this game partly at tournament play, and are seeking to make the rules as clear and unambiguous as possible.

Chapter 2 (‘Anatomy of an Army’) explains how forces are organised in Deus Vult I particularly like the fact that army organisation closely mirrors the historical reality, with armies made up of Main Force and Rear Guard Divisions, with a possible Vanguard Division, usually of skirmishers, leading the army. An army could consist of a single division, with up to one Rearguard Division added for each in the Main Force. One Rearguard Division can also be designated as an Outflanking Force, which is left off the table when the army deploys. Divisions are made up of a number of Units, which can fight in Line or Deep formations.

Each Division is led by a Battle Leader, and the first task for a player is to determine each Battle Leader’s profile. This involves rolling dice to determine the Leader’s Discipline and Courage, Command ability, their prowess in Duels, and the possible Virtues or Flaws and Strategies they may possess that will influence the game.

Chapters 3-6 cover the actual rules for fighting tabletop battles, so I’ll come back to those shortly.

In Chapter 7, we have seven different scenarios, which all look well thought out and enjoyable, and certainly fire my imagination. Generally they present fairly familiar situations as are found n different rule sets, which is natural enough as they reflect typical situations in Medieval warfare. For example, we have scenarios such as Seize the Baggage (pretty self-explanatory), or others involving river crossings, holding objectives, fighting while encircled and so forth.

Chapters 8-10 explain how to go about recruiting your army, providing army lists for Early Crusader States 1100-1128 and Arab Dynasties 945-1150. A fairly cursory perusal suggests that these are detailed and well thought out, and although based on a points system are constrained by various limitations that avoid power gaming by forcing the player to field an army that reflects its historical composition. The cut-off dates on the lists is a little surprising given the focus of the rules on the first three Crusades, but this is explained somewhat by Chapter 11, which provides a list of ‘Sample Units’ allowing the player to raise forces for Deus Vult! outside the main focus of this book. For Example, statistics are provided for ‘Generic Western European Troops’ as well as for Templars, Hospitallers, Seljuk Turks, Teutonics, Russians and Baltic Pagans. These would certainly allow the formation of later Crusading armies in the Holy Land, but only provide a skeleton of units for those, for example, interested in the Northern Crusades. As the authors point out, we can expect to see the later crusades, the Northern Crusades and other conflicts such as those involving the Mongols covered in future supplements.

Chapter 12 ‘Fighting for God’ gives an overview narrative of the history of the 1st-3rd Crusades, running to 16 pages. This is well written and gives a good overview of the period, and I am very impressed that Fireforge went to the effort of including such a good section on the historical background to the game. Nice one.

This is followed in Chapter 13 by an after battle report of a game of Deus Vult, involving none other than Alessio Cavatore, one of the authors, and perennial swords for hire Rick Priestley and the Perrys. This is quite a good read, and does help to explain the flow of a game.

Chapter 14 is great, giving some good suggestions about how to customise Deus Vult to different situations such as tournaments, or how to use figures with different basing conventions or in different scales, how to play multi-player games and how to design new scenarios. Perhaps surprisingly there is nothing here about campaigns, but perhaps we can expect that in a later supplement. There is some nice advice on p. 159 about how to organise a tournament, including suggestions about how to avoid the problem of plyers with hangovers or pushy girlfriends (!)

Finally, Chapters 15 and 16 provide a number of Gaming Aids, such as cards to keep track of the attributes of different Battle Leaders and tokens and cards for use in the game. An overview reference section completes the book, which makes good use of the margins by providing page references to different rules. At first glance this looks well designed, but you would have to use it in the heat of battle to really assess this.

Right, well that pretty much gives my initial thoughts on most aspects of Deus Vult! except for the rules themselves, which I will cover in my next post. Overall impression so far? This book is clearly a labour of love, presenting an ambitious new gaming system with a clear strategy for expansion lying behind it. I can’t fault the presentation, and frankly think it would be worth the price just for the army lists, historical section and inspiring eye candy. The introduction does refer to a painting guide in the book, but I couldn’t find any trace of one, but that minor quibble aside, this is an impressive piece of work.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 10 Hobby Highlights of 2012

So what have your top ten hobby highlights of the year been? This could include anything - an event, a game, a new range of figures, whatever. The list need not be in any order of importance. If your name is Fran or Ray it will probably include many happy memories in each other's company.

Here's my top 10, in no particular order.

1. Blogging. I've really enjoyed how connected I've felt with gamers around the world as a result of the blogosphere. I was touched by the kindness of you folk out there when my dad died, and the blogosphere has also brought me a group of beautifully painted British Paras courtesy of Tamsin in the UK. Closer to home, I've made a new buddy in the hirsute form of Man Cave Paul after 'meeting' each other via our blogs.

2. Meeples and Miniatures. I eagerly await each new episode of Neil Shuck's podcast to listen to while painting. I love the arcane and sometimes grumpy arguments about point systems, 'heft' and whether boxed games need to come in boxes, and enjoy listening to Neil interview games designers and figure manufacturers to get an idea of what's going on in the hobby world.

3. The School Wargaming Cub. 2012 saw the club developing some momentum, and it has been a real privilege seeing the boys getting into it. You should see some of the figures that boys who were entirely new to the hobby a year ago are now painting. One of the main reasons for success this year has been...

4. SAGA! 2012 has been the year of Saga in the Duchy. I've played more games with more different people thanks to it than ever before. What a tops game!

5. Taking part in a Saga tournament. I entered my first ever tournament this year at Hall of Heroes, and even won it! The victory was sweet, but even sweeter was just having a full day of gaming with some great blokes in a fantastic venue. Seriously, if Hall of Heroes had a bowl of oranges lying around as an anti scorbutic there would be no reason to ever leave.

6. Battle Group Kursk. Terrific looking set of rules that has made me excited about WWII gaming again.

7. Fireforge miniatures. Boxes of affordable 13th century knights? What's not to like?

8. Two little Dux. Dux Britanniarum and Dux Bellorum joined Saga this year, making gaming the early medieval/dark ages arguably more interesting than it ever has been before. I'm really looking forward to starting a Dux Brit campaign.

9. Cabot's Acrylic Stain and Varnish. What I use instead of Army Painter Dip. Great stuff that helps me get figures on the table without making me feel ashamed of them looking goopy or too dark.

10. War and Peace Games. Great local online business run by people who know the hobby, know how to look after their customers, and who are happy to help support local clubs.

It has been a good year. Add to all that the fact that I painted 348 28mm figures along with a few in other scales, and a feel a curious glow of contentment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 In Review: Resolutions SITREP

I'm away staying with the in-laws at the moment, so not too much will be happening on the hobby front until after the New Year. This makes it a pretty good opportunity to pause and look back at the year that was in Homunculorum Towers.

To start with, here's the SITREP on my resolutions for the year:

1. Play more games. Specifically, make it a priority to get to club every 2-3 weeks.
SITREP: Total failure at getting to the club more often, but I certainly played more games thanks to making some new friends and the school club. Accomplished.

2. Continue to develop the school wargames club. Hell yes - mission accomplished. Despite one of my afternoons now being taken up by helping to run Cadets, the club is going from strength to strength, with some big plans for the year ahead.

3. Expand my Anglo-Danish, Welsh and Viking Saga warbands to 6 points each. Accomplished for the Welsh and Vikings

4. Make another couple of Saga warbands. Yup - Bretons and Scots

5. Build more Viking age terrain. Specifically, scratchbuild a great hall and at least one longship (probably the Revell one).Well, I made the Viking ship...

6. Make a set of terrain boards. Done! Haven't used them yet though.

7. Re-base my 1/72 ECW figures for Baroque To be honest, I just haven't been able to face the rebasing.

8. Paint more 1/72 ECW, particularly for Montrose's army.Not really - I painted 20 Scots lancers back at the start of the year.

9. Paint some 28mm figures for Pulp adventures, using the Song of Blades and Heroes series of games.A bit.

10. Paint some more 1/1200 Langton ships for Kiss Me Hardy.FAIL
11. Start painting some of the 28mm ECW figures I own.FAIL
12. Find a Napoleonic grand tactical set of rules that will inspire me to get back into 1/72 Napoleonics. Perhaps Lasalle?FAIL. Napoleonics haven't featured at all this year.

13. Continue building up some 1/72 Impetus armies for the Italian Wars.FAIL!

14. Paint a 15mm Antrim Scots force for Irregular Wars.FAIL - but mainly because Harry Hotspur upped and moved to Ireland.

14. Blog more often! Big success!

...and no doubt other things that catch my eye during the year! . Great success on this one!

Naturally of course I haven't come close to living up to all my hobby resolutions, but have generally had much more success than I usually do with non-hobby ones (like drinking less, exercising more etc). I rate 2012 as being one of my best hobby years ever, and in my next wrap up of the year post I'll give my top 10 highlights of the year. Now I'm off to stuff some zucchini flowers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mission Accomplished!

I set myself the task of clearing my painting tray before Christmas, and 'tis done.

First up, I've had these markers sitting around half finished for over a year - they are for use in Basic Impetus (to show the current VBU of a unit) and for showing Fatigue in SAGA.

I've also had a few figures waiting to complete my British Bolt Action force. Firstly, a 6pdr from Warlord Games...

...and a Sergeant, Lieutenant and stretcher bearer. The Officer came with a peaked cap, but in the interests of not giving every Jerry sniper in Normandy an inviting target I replaced it with a helmeted head from the Warlord set of plastic Tommies. I had run out of decals for the shoulder insignia of all these figures, so the divisional patch for the Tyne and Tees is painted on.

Look at this! Empty, virginal... just waiting for more figures to be assembled and undercoated. And I have two projects in particular in mind. One is Project Kursk, and the other something new...

Note the bloke on the left in awe at the empty tray.

Merry Christmas to you all. It has been a great hobby year, made even greater by all your feedback and encouragement, and by seeing all the inspiring games and models being played and made around the globe. This is my 201st post, which seems a fitting milestone of sorts. Hooray for the hobby, stay safe and enjoy the week coming up with those you love.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anglo-Saxons (and a blue unicorn)

I'm on a mission at the moment to finish everything I have on my painting tray before Christmas, and I'm nearly there. These six Anglo-Saxons have been sitting in a semi-painted state since around June, so it wasn't a big job to get them finished. One job for the new year will be to do up the rest of an Anglo-Saxon warband for Saga.

The three figures on the left are from Miniature Design Studios, the three on the right from Black Tree Design. As you can see, they are very compatible in size. I like the BTD faces. The MDS figures don't have as much character as other ranges, in my opinion, but they look good as rank and file, and are very cheap when MDS has its warband deal on, costing 25 pounds for 50 figures.

Oh, and the massive blue unicorn is there because the Mini Duchess thought it ought to be.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Project Kursk Part 5: Panzergrenadiers

Ahhhhh holidays.

The Duchess and I are enjoying two golden days during which the twins are at day care and the Mini Duchess is still at school, while I'm on holidays and the Duchess has finished her studies for the year (she got another High Distinction in her Latin exam - brains AND beauty). We vaguely kicked around the idea of going somewhere today before deciding that all we wanted to do was slob around the house for a few hours.

The upshot for me was some good hobby progress. I have finished my box of Plastic Soldier Company Hanomags, and finished two squads of Panzergrenadiers to travel in them.

I'm pretty pleased with the Hanomags. Following Thomas' suggestion I tried to make these dustier looking than my Panzer IVs, adding a drybrush of Vallejo US Field Drab mixed with Buff. What do you reckon? Sugguestions gratefully received. Oh, and as mentioned in the Kursk Project Part 4, I know the Stummel is wrong, which is a shame as it looks quite mean, I think.

German infantry Squads in Battlegroup Kursk are made up of 8 men - a three man LMG group and a five man rifle group. These teams are activated separately, so I have put them on separate bases. The rules require individual figure removal as casualties, but I will keep track of this with counters as they just look too tiny to base as individuals. I have decided to put them on irregular shaped bases, which I'm thinking will be the standard for Project Kursk. What do you reckon?

These are the first WWII figures I've ever painted in 15mm, and I have some doubts about whether there is enough colour contrast. Any suggestions about how I can paint them better (but still quickly!) appreciated. In particular, what do you 15mm grognards do when you are painting the Zeltbahn tent quarter in this scale? Also, what do you think of the base colour? I've used Tamiya Flat Earth with some Dark Yellow added to lighten it a little.

The PSC German infantry were quite nice to paint, but some of the detail is so fine that I only really figured out what I was painting as I went along. In particular, I realised that the bloke walking along holding on to his shoulder straps is actually a medic, as he is carrying a large medical kit with red cross on his back. However, by the time I realised this I had already given him a slung rifle. Some of the soldiers' kit looks a bit dodgy, with water bottles and entrenching tools generally on the non-regulation side and gas mask cylinders in all sorts of odd positions. The proportions and anatomy however are terrific.

A few more infantry and I'll have enough of a basic force to switch to the Soviets.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Project Kursk Part 4: Review of PSC Halftracks

I've always quite fancied the German Sdkfz 251 halftrack (aka 'Hanomag'). I remember about 20 years ago cutting my thumb to shreds trying to cut open the vision ports on an Esci Hanomag, and buying the Squadron/Signal book 'Sdkfz 251 In Action' with the aim of making a model of every variant. I think I actually made about four. Then about ten years ago when I got back into wargaming I bought a couple of Hasegawa 251 ausf. Ds, and very nice they are indeed.

It was therefore with a certain nostalgia that I opened up a box of 15mm Plastic Soldier Company Sdkfz 251 ausf. Cs. For my own battlegroup I bought one of PSC's Kursk starter deals, which gave me a couple of boxes of halftracks as well as two sprues from their conversion kit, which allows you to make the Sdkfz 251/2 (mortar carrier), 251/9 ('Stummel', with 75mm gun), 251/10 (platoon commander's vehicle with 37mm Pak 36) and the 251/16 (flamethrower). Although War and Peace Games don't actually list this deal on their website, Ian was kind enough to put the package together for me, and it is good value.

I'll come back to the conversion kit in a moment, but first, here are some thoughts on the basic 251 C kit.

I was certainly very impressed with the PSC models of the Panzer IV, but I'm completely gobsmacked by the 251s. These are terrific little kits that fit together simply and perfectly. There are some particularly clever design features that allow the complex shape of the 251 to be modelled accurately, with the bottom of the crew compartment modelled separately from the chassis and fitting snugly into it. This image might show what I mean, as well as showing the instructions that come with the kit.

The 15mm box contains five vehicles, with seven crew for each - a driver and co-driver, a gunner on the forward MG34 and four other seated Panzergrenadiers. In a nice touch, the forward MG is moulded as part of the gunner figure, but a separate weapon is also included if you do not intend to model the vehicle in action. A good amount of stowage is also included, with spare track links, infantry packs, a tarpaulin, jerrycans and a spare tire to festoon each halftrack with.

I really can't recommend these highly enough. The only minor quibble I have is that there are a few sink marks from the mould on the floor of the crew compartment.

The conversion kit from PSC is designed to fit their ausf. D halftracks. Ian from War and Peace Games warned me before I bought it that some pieces would need some trimming to fit the ausf. C, and he was right. In particular, the interior detail for the 251/9 'Stummel' didn't quite fit the more complex shape of the C version of the halftrack, so be prepared to deploy a sharp knife. However, there is a more fundamental problem. As far as I know, the 251/9s built on the C chassis of the Hanomag always had the gun mounting countersunk into the front of the vehicle like this:

It was only on the later D chassis (and only partly through the production run) that the simpler mounting as featured in the kit was produced:

I only remembered this after I had assembled my 251/9, so I am going to have to turn a blind eye to the fact that my battlegroup will contain a vehicle that never actually existed. Be aware therefore that although PSC include these conversion parts in their Kursk deals, some compromises are necessary if you want to use them. Only 251 Cs were used at Kursk, but some of the conversion parts are only accurate for the 251 D. To be fair, PSC only suggest you make the /2, /10 and /16 in their description of the Battlegroup Kursk Panzer starter deal, but it is up to your own nerdy knowledge to realise that you can't use the conversion kit to make a 251/9 ausf. C. Damn.

I also have a couple of other quibbles about the conversion kit. The barrel of the Pak 36 is over scale, appearing to be at least the same calibre as the 75mm gun. It is also a shame that there are only single figures provided for operating the guns on the 251/9 and /10, when each would need at least a couple of crew. For my 251/10 I used a MG gunner from the standard kit, trimming away the machine gun so that he appears to be operating the Pak gun.

Finally, here are the five halftracks primed and ready for painting. I'll be painting the interiors before assembly. Buy some, they are great!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Project Kursk Part 3: Plastic Soldier Company Panzer IVs

I've completed my first five Panzer IVs from Plastic Soldier Company. As I said in a previous Kursk post, I'm very taken with these little kits. They go together beautifully, and I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out. After undercoating in white and then spraying with Tamiya TS-46 Light Sand, I added the camo with some Gunze H-303 Green that I happened to have lying around. In the absence of an airbrush, I painted on the swirls with heavily thinned paint, then went over parts of the pattern with paint straight out of the jar to give the effect of sprayed-on camo. The shade of green seems pretty right to me, although the paint is a horrifying semi-gloss that only looks ok after spraying it with matt varnish.

Before adding the varnish I painted over the tanks with my acrylic wood stain Ersatz Army Painter to darken the yellow, add shadow and the suggestion of dust, then just did a bit of highlighting to finish off. The shading was an experiment, but I think it worked prety well. I'm aiming for simple with these, partly because I don't adore painting tanks and partly to come up with some good shortcuts for the boys at school.

I finished them off with decals from Plastic Soldier Company for the 11th Panzer Division at Kursk. The decals were lovely, by the way. At school we will mainly focus on the Gross Deutschland Division, but my personal force will be from the 11th Panzer. One thing I did do was trim the three digit turret number to two digit. This is where my obsessive compulsiveness comes out - I read somewhere that the 11th Panzer used 2 digit numbers, the first indicating the platoon, the second the vehicle within the platoon, but dispensing with the usual first digit that indicated the company. So all my tanks are from the 1st platoon, except for the one with Schuerzen marked 01, which is supposed to be the company commander's vehicle. I tried to check this on the net, but was amazed to find that Google let me down. Surely if the internet is good for anything it is good for people to share their exhaustive research into German vehicle numbering. I did find some photos of tanks from the division from 1940-41 with double digits, and so I'll assume they still used this system at the time of Kursk. If anyone knows definitively whether this was the case, please let me know! And yes, I'm aware I am a sad, sad man...

Arthurian Supernumeraries

What with holidays and all I'm on a mission to clear the painting tray. These seven are some Arthurians who have been sitting around for a while looking peeved at only being half painted, so I thought I had better make them happy.

The priests and monks will be useful for Dux Britanniarum and Dux Bellorum, as will the bard. Then we have a couple of random nobles and a musician for the Romano-Brits and my Late Romans. Some of the figures are Gripping Beast, some Westwind, and it is a nice reflection on how compatible they are that I can't completely remember which is which.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Project Kursk Part 2: Assembling PSC Panzer IVs

Well, I'm back from Cadet camp and the term has ended, so am now on holidays. As usual, I hit the wall, and have spent the last couple of days being exhausted and foul tempered with everyone.

The holidays mean that not much will happen with the school Kursk project until February, but I'm hoping to start the year with a couple of small battle groups of my own to use helping learn the rules with the boys at school (and anybody else who wants to play with me (Paul!)

First up, I've whacked together a box of 15mm Panzer IVs from the Plastic Soldier Company. I'm really impressed with the kits. The engineering on them is brilliant - all the pieces fit together very well, and there was practically no flash (just a tiny bit on a couple of the tracks). The tracks can be a bit fiddly. I recommend attaching the running gear to the hull, then sticking on the top track section, then the bottom, without worrying too much about the perfect placement. Then, when the glue is still setting, add the top halves of the drive and idler wheels. This fixes the track into place.

One small criticism of these kits that I do have concerns the instructions. For a beginner, I think the single exploded image of the kit would be quite confusing, and there is no guidance given for the location of some small parts such as the storage bin for spare wheels, even though this was standardised on the tanks. Similarly, the instructions give the impression that Schurzen were only carried by the Ausf. H version of the Panzer IV, although the Ausf. G also often wore them. For such lovely kits it is a shame that they are not made a little more accessible to newbies, with some clearer assembly and painting instructions. It is also the case that there are some small inaccuracies resulting from the attempt to fit all versions of the Panzer IV from Ausf. B-H in one box. In particular, the commander's hatch is wrong for the Ausf. H (it should be one piece).

After assembly I sprayed the kits with Citadel Skull White, then Tamiya Light Yellow. I usually would have used XF60 Dark Yellow, but I'm working on the theory that the slightly lighter shade might work better when I put a coat of shading over it. We shall see.

Anyway, these are the first WWII kits I've started in about 8 years, so I'm having fun.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Project Kursk Part 1: A Huge Thankyou to PSC

Right, here's the plan.

As already discussed here, I am very impressed with Battle Group Kursk, the new WWII rules from Plastic Soldier Company and Iron Fist Publishing.

Next year is the 70th anniversary of Kursk, and we happen to teach an elective topic on the War on the Eastern Front to our boys in Year 10. So the plan is to build on our success with SAGA at the school wargames club by introducing BGK as a second main club game. The plan is to paint up models and figures as a club, build some ace terrain and start playing the game asap, all in preparation for some major display games to coincide with the anniversary in July-August next year. The boys are keen, and already putting together some 15mm T-34s.

I'm planning to keep track of our progress on the blog, although with holidays starting in a week we won't really be getting underway until the start of next year. However, I wanted to give a huge shout out to Will Townshend from the Plastic Soldier Company. A couple of weeks ago I wrote to Will to tell him our plans and ask if he had any posters etc we could use at school to publicise what we're doing. He wrote back straight away to say that he was very keen to support school clubs, and that he would send me a hamper!

This is what arrived yesterday. Enough tanks, artillery and infantry for both sides to make a great start on the project, along with decals for the Gross Deutschland Division. Some of the boys will work on these during the break, but next year I'm envisaging a bunch of boys sitting around the table after school learning painting and modelling techniques, then being able to use the troops they've put together as we start playing scenarios from BGK.

Whenever I've heard Will interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures, he's struck me as a very smart bloke who understands how to run a business and who is doing really good things for the hobby. It is so great to see his support for getting kids interested - thanks Will!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Westwind Saxons

It has been a very busy couple of weeks, but I managed to get a bunch of unarmoured Saxons from Westwind finished last night. This means that I have now finished British and Saxon starter forces for Dux Britanniarum, as well as making a reasonable start on a couple of armies for Dux Bellorum. I am particularly keen to try out Dux Brit, so will try twisting some arms to get someone to give me a game.

What next? Well, I have a few random dark ages figures still on the painting table, along with a Bolt Action 6pdr. I should finish these, but I'm also keen to start churning out some 15mm WWII to give Battle Group Kursk a go. And then there is my project in waiting to make a 13th century German army for impetus from Fireforge figures....and the Irish for Saga look great....and I've done nothing all year on the ECW..... I really need to retire and paint full time.

While I think of it, is it just me or is this chap strangely familiar?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rematch at the Man Cave

On Wednesday last I headed over to Paul's Man Cave Away From Man Cave for a SAGA rematch. This was only Paul's second game, but we changed things around a bit by having a 6 point game of Sacred Ground. I had Welsh, Paul opting for Anglo-Danish.

Desperate for victory, Paul started softening me up from the outset with his homebrew, the fiend. He certainly makes a damn fine ale, with my favourite being the Thor's Thirst, with a punch like Mjollnir. Naturally Paul chose to drink his from a horn, which certainly added to the intimidation value.

I was travelling light, walking down to Paul's after school, so had the pleasure of using his figures. He has some great conversions, and I was particularly taken by the Welsh cavalry he had made using Wargames Factory Vikings and Celtic Cavalry. Nice. We MacGyvered together some terrain, then realised that neither of us had any dice. Consternation. Fortunately the smart phone came to the rescue, and I found an Ap that allowed me to roll up to 5 dice at a time. Pushing a button didn't quite give the same thrill as actually rolling a handful of dice, but good enough.

Once we got started, I won the roll to go first and raced my mounted hearthguard onto the hill in the centre. As often in Sacred Ground the central hill became the focus of the battle as Paul moved several units of hearthguard and warriors up to assault it. I was able to draw some of them out of position using the Taunting ability, and benefited from the extra mobility one unit of mounted hearthguard gave me. Paul caught on quickly (which he does) and used Intimidation to stop my hearthguard retreating, then killed half of them.
In the end I got lucky and was able to isolate and kill his warlord, at which point we called it a night. Another great night playing a great game with a great opponent, even if the Thor's Thirst means my recall of all the details is a little hazy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saga and the Man Cave

Paul of the Man Cave came over to the castle this week, and after graciously reading some Harry Potter to the mini Duchess we were able to get in a game of Saga.

Paul played Welsh and I had Vikings. This was Paul's first experience of the game, but he picked it up straight away. After spending a couple of turns trying to use his Welsh too aggressively (and thus suffering), he rapidly changed his tactics to hugging the rough ground and chucking javelins. Anyway, much fun was had by all and Paul has spent the rest of the week sorting out how he can use his dark ages figures for Saga warbands.
My Vikings skirt a swamp, trying to get stuck into the pesky Welsh
Our warlords trade blows, the Welsh sensibly skulking in the woods

In other news this week, I spent a happy couple of hours underground on Monday when I was invited along on a tour of some of the tunnels under Sydney. Basically, there are a number of railway tunnels that were built in the 1920s for lines that were never completed. During WWII a number of these were converted into air raid shelters by being divided up by concrete blast walls. I've wanted to have a look at these tunnels for years, but they have been inaccessible since about 2000, when the tours that used to take place were stopped due to security fears.

Dux in a Dark Place

On Friday, Paul was kind enough to visit my school to talk to the boys about his career in the Navy. He was brilliant at relating to the boys and answered the great questions they asked very openly. Yet again I'm reminded how excellent this hobby community is that the blogosphere makes possible.

New Insights into the Russian Revolution

This is brilliant.

Like most teachers, I normally experience the statutory authorities who set exams and curricula as sources of great exasperation and rage. Rarely do I find them hilarious.

However, this week the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) reached new dizzying heights of incompetence by managing to include a source for the Russian Revolution in an exam paper that included the image of a giant killer robot.

Yes really.

The exam, sat by about 5700 school leavers in Victoria was intended to include this illustration of the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917.
However, in an inspired move, whoever set the exam managed to copy a digitally altered version of the image from the net that featured a giant mecha robot thingy joining in the assaault:
Genius. I shall be using this as a great example of the need to check one's sources.

What particularly amused me were the attempts by the VCAA to argue that the mix-up was really no big deal, and wouldn't really influence the ability of students to answer the question in the exam.


I'm no expert on the October Revolution, but I can't help thinking that most questions asking people to make use of a source featuring a gigantic robot might in some way be influenced by its presence. Sadly, media reports don't mention the specific question asked, but if it was something along the lines of 'Using Source A, explain the success of the October Revolution' I fondly imagine students weighing up whether to talk about the failures of the Provisional Government, or the fact that the Bolsheviks had the assistance of a GIANT KILLER ROBOT!

You can read more about this act of brilliance here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Impressions of Battle Group Kursk

After listening to the author of the new Battle Group Kursk (BGK) rules interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures I went ahead last week and bought a copy of the rules from War and Peace Games. From the interview it sounded as though these might be a good set of rules for the school club. I’ve been looking around for some WWII rules that might suit our club, and was thinking they might be Bolt Action, but BGK is another distinct possibility.

Here are some of my initial impressions, based on a quick read through. First up, the rulebook is a beautifully produced hardcover of 240 pages. Consequently it is not cheap, but I have no complaints about the value. The book is divided up into sections covering the rules, a decent historical overview of Kursk, army lists for the battle, scenarios, a modeling guide giving some nice tips about painting armoured vehicles and making battle boards, and rules for a large campaign or mega-battle covering the battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943. There are a few typos here and there, but the text is generally clearly written, and I have found the rules to be very easy to follow. The book is very well illustrated with contemporary photos (some of which I’ve not seen before), model photos and line drawings. This immediately brings me to something I like about the rules. Although they are put out by Plastic Soldier Company, and obviously they are seeking to use them as a vehicle for selling lots of figures, the rulebook does not look like an illustrated catalogue of their stuff. Indeed, the photographs feature models from a bunch of other companies (SHQ, Foundry, Britannia etc). The modeling section also does not read like an attempt to flog their stuff. With any discussion of BGK the Elefant in the room (geddit?) is of course Flames of War, and the way that BGK does not aggressively market a particular brand of models is one of the immediate contrasts with FOW.

The rules cover 43 pages (broken up with lots of illustrations and tables), and are laid out logically and clearly with lots of examples. One of the things that appeals to me about the game is that it is designed to be scaleable from squad to battalion level, so theoretically it might be suitable for 1½ hour games after school as well as big games in the holidays. The figure scale is 1:1, and most games are played on the standard 6X4 table. The rules are designed for 15mm or 1/72 figures, with no change to ranges or movement etc. No indication is given of how long different games might take, and this is one of the questions I’m keen to have answered.

The basic turn structure is IGOYOUGO, with a nice exception. At the beginning of each player’s turn they roll for the number of Orders they are able to give that turn. For example, if playing a platoon level game I would roll 2D6 and add an additional order for each officer in my battlegroup. Each order I end up with allows me to perform one action with a single unit (eg single vehicle or infantry squad), choosing from a menu of various types of moving, firing, embarking etc actions. However, I could use any number of my available orders to issue Reaction Orders, effectively allowing my units to intervene at any point in my opponent’s turn to move or fire. So immediately a nice challenge is posed as the commander tries to work out the best balance of offensive and defensive actions in their turn. This all looks very straightforward, and will mean players stay engaged with the game during their opponent’s turn.

Combat is divided essentially into area fire or aimed fire, with rules also for infantry assaults, close assaults on tanks etc. The emphasis on area fire is particularly good, as the game rewards realistic tactics of pinning the enemy with suppressing fire (delivered by artillery, machine guns etc) to pin them and remove their initiative, rather than simply encouraging the attempt to destroy units with direct fire. The resolution of combat differs depending on the type of fire. Just to give a sense of how it works, if my tank was firing aimed fire with HE shells at an enemy infantry target, I would first roll to see whether I successfully observed the target. If so, I would roll a single D6 to determine whether I hit the target. If I do, I would then roll a number of D6s to determine damage, depending on the type of weapon. The target would then roll a cover save D6 for each of my successful damage rolls, and each one he fails to cancel would result in a casualty, which may then trigger morale effects. The rules for different types of fire follow a similar sort of process, but also have some significant differences. There are also all the rules one would expect for air attacks, engineering etc etc.

Morale in BGK is two-fold. Firstly, each unit suffers moral consequences when it takes losses, which may result in the unit breaking and running. More interesting is the Battle Rating system. Basically, any unit you add to your force costs a number of points, but also has a battle rating. The two are not necessarily related. For example, a Panzer V costs 85 points and has a Battle Rating of 3, while a German Forward Aid Post costs 20 points but has a Battle Rating of 5. At the start of the game each player adds up the total Battle Rating of their force, this number representing the point at which the overall morale of the battlegroup breaks. After certain events, such as losing a unit, a player takes a token at random marked from 1-5, and subtracts this number from their force’s Battle Rating. This looks like a great system – your opponent will know how many tokens you have taken, but not know with any precision how close your force is to breaking.

Which brings us to the army lists. The book contains 4 detailed army lists for Russian and German infantry and armoured units. These follow a points system, but are organized so that it is impossible to try to assembly an unrealistic super army, cherry picking all the strongest types of units (cough, Flames of War, cough). So for example, certain options of supporting units only become available after particular core units are bought, with the result that forces fielded in BGK will approximate the sort of unit composition that was historically the case. There appears to be a lot to like about BGK, and it may well become the WWII game to develop at school in 2013. The fact that next year is the 70th anniversary of Kursk makes this possibility even more attractive. Here is a quick summary of my initial positive and negative impressions:


• The game is set up to avoid power gaming, gamey ‘super units’ and unhistorical tactics.
• Logistics are an integral part of the game. Tanks etc will run out of ammo and need to be resupplied, which means that all those trucks become important and must be protected, especially since losing them will adversely impact on your force’s Battle Rating.
• The rulebook is clearly laid out and easy to read.
• The Battle Rating system.
• There are many little tweaks built into the game to differentiate German from Soviet tactics. For example, German infantry squads are divided into a gun group and a MG group, each requiring separate orders, while the Soviet infantry squad treats its LMG as integral to the squad as a single tactical element.
• Some people will not like the fact that the rules are focused on Kursk alone. Personally I like the level of detail that comes from this.


• The hobby section doesn’t include any suggestions for painting figures, only vehicles, which may have been helpful for new players.
• I’m not overly bothered by this, but unit sizes in the army lists don’t always match their historical counterparts. For example, German tank platoons only contain three vehicles in BGK.

Umm, well that’s about all so far. I’m slightly dreading the possibility that I will soon feel obliged to paint a lot of 15mm models.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#5)

Well done Rodger for spotting that figure #4 was the bazooka loader from the British Paras set (Row 4 Figure 1 on Plastic Soldier Review.

What about this one? I never owned this set...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#4)

Here's a bod from what I think was the second set of figures I ever owned. I have vague but happy memories of having battles with this lot against some plastic dinosaurs. Who is he?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Westwind Saxons...Intent on Plunder

With the Romano-Brits finished, it's time for the Saxons. I bought a few warband packs from Westwind when they has their 30% off sale a couple of months back, so this is a complete pack of 20 armoured spearmen painted, with one extra noble from the 'Mordred' pack.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#3)

As Paul spotted, Figure #2 was supposed to be the bloke with the spanner from the Luftwaffe Personnel set (row 2, figure 2), although I didn't get his legs right, so sorry about that.

Here's an easy one:

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#2)

I can see I'm in the presence of masters... The first Airfix figure was indeed the DAK grenade thrower. A great figure from a great set.

This one is a little more obscure...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#1)

In homage to the 1/72 Airfix figures that most of us over a certain age grew up with, I'm starting a new series of posts that tests your skill in identifying the classic poses. And also tests my ability to contort an artist's figure into the sometimes improbable poses Airfix came up with.

To start with, here is one of my favourite Airfix figures of all time. Which is it?
If you want to play, probably the easiest way to identify the figure is to refer to the relevant page on Plastic Soldier Review. For example, 'WWI British, second row (from the top), third figure (from the left).'

Happy memories!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some More Romano-Brits

This week I just finished off a few more Roman Brits that were in the painting queue - a couple of warriors, a couple of standard bearers, a priest and the limited edition 'Arthur' figure that came with the pre-order of Dux Britanniarum. The other figures are Gripping Beast, with the exception of the bannerman with the smaller flag, who is from Westwind. The banners are from Little Big Men, the bigger one causing me some problems as for some reason it wouldn't stick to the paper backing properly. I ended up having to glue it down with diluted PVA, which made the whole thing a bit stiff and hard to get folds into.
So what's on the painting tray now...I try to discipline myself to never exceed what can fit on this board when deciding what's in the painting queue. You'll see there are a few random Romano-Brits, some later Saxons from Miniature Design Studios, and 21 early Saxons from Westwind. And a whole lot of empty space...mwahhahhah!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bloggers Meet for High-Level Talks

It's only taken us about 8 months, but last night I was finally able to meet up with Paul of the Man Cave. Our diaries finally meshed, and Paul was able to drag himself away from his heavily-armed floating man cave for a few hours. Had a brilliant night - he is a great bloke, as anyone who follows his blog or read his article in Wargames Illustrated would know, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening drinking beer, chatting about gaming, planning the games we'll play and talking about Fran the Lurker. I'm going to teach him SAGA, and I'm hoping for a lesson on Incursion in return.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Hard Men of Post-Roman Britain

I've finished my Nobles for Dux Britanniarum, which means I've completed the basic starter army for a campaign. Here is the army of Cynwidion in all its glory.

One of the things I like about Dux Britanniarum is the emphasis on giving your leading characters some characteristics and back story that might not always influence the game (although it certainly does sometimes!), but helps you care more than usual about your little chaps on the table. The rulebook contains a number of tables to use while creating your characters, and there is a name generator on the Too Fat Lardies site, so I'm going to roll dice as I write this post and find out who I have painted. I promise not to cheat if I roll a negative result.

Here we go.

First up we have the Lord, Decurion Conomor ap Bledric of Cynwidion. He is 23 years old, of average build, and is known as 'The Quiet'. He has an Iron Liver (yes!) allowing him to ignore the negative effects of overuse of mead prior to battle. Less happily, he is an Exile, his father having been a noble in a kingdom that no longer exists. As a result he will suffer a -2 modifier when I roll for his wealth. Disastrously, I rolled a 2 for his wealth, so Conomor begins the campaign with only a Beggar's Bowl in wealth.

Conomor's Champion is Gwerthefyr. He is 24 years old, of average build and enjoys trips to the cinema (OK, I made that up). He is Lustful (coveting the women of others), so will suffer -1 on any loyalty roll (although I'm not sure if that has any effect on a Champion).

Two Nobles attend Conomor. The first is named Gwallawc ap Brydw. He is 33 years old, Tall and Strong, and is known as 'The Devil' (which can't be good). He also is Lustful, and is the Son of a Warlord previously allied to Rome.

By a strange coincidence, I rolled the same patronymic for the second Noble, so his name is Gwalchafed ap Brydw, and therefore I surmise that he and Gwallawc are brothers. He is 28 years old, of Average Build, and is clearly a pious man, already having earned the soubriquet 'The Confessor'. Fittingly, he is Honourable, incapable of commiting regicide and gaining +2 on any loyalty roll. As for his background I rolled that he was the son of a Decurion, but since it makes no difference to the game I will treat him as also the son of a Warlord, like his brother Gwallawc.

These are the men who hold the fate of Cynwidion in their hands. From their un-Romanised names I think they have come to Cynwidion from further North, and the king of Cynwidion (who is 64 years old, past his prime) has entrusted them with his kngdom's defence thanks to their reputation as great war leaders. They find themselves The King of Cynwidion is 64 years old. Along with Conomor's elite Blackshield hearthguard they command a disparate army of still largely Romanised troops from the militia of Verulamium and some surviving units who maintain the traditions of the Roman Comitatenses. The three nobles form a surprising alliance - Conomor prone to brood over the ruin of his family's position and Gwalchafed the opposite in temperament to his older, handsome but wicked brother.

Can these men hold the Saxon darkness at bay? Can they preserve the light of true religion and civilisation against the pagan hordes? Come, Sea Wolves, and feel the strength of British steel!