Thursday, April 16, 2015

Batons for the Marshalls - Getting Ready to Play Blucher

Slowly I’m getting ready to put my 6mm Naptoleonics figures on the table for the first time.   I’ve got enough figures - Austrians and French - rebased and ready to go.  I’ve got some scenery ready, with more ready soon.  I’ve got several sets of rules, including Sam Mustafa’s Blucher, which I’m going to try first.

 But how to move the troops around the table, given that Blucher, like other Sam Mustafa games, uses Base Widths rather than conventional measurements.  Well, Napoleon said that every soldier carries a Marshall’s baton in his knapsack, and I found four.

I decided to reuse an idea I had for Longstreet, and prepare several measuring sticks in different national colours, so two for the Austrians and two for the French.  My standard Napoleonics Base Widths are 30mm, so these dowels are measured and painted in 30mm increments.  They are currently two feet long, which seems like a good length, though I may cut them in half.

I think atmospheric touches like silly hats make a game, and these splashes of colour will hopefully make the game more entertaining, especially if I host a Blucher game at a convention.

Hopefully I’ll show these measuring sticks in use this weekend.

Blessings to your die rolls and brushes!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Night Boardgame: Imperial Stars II

When I was a teenager, I was given a game called Imperium (1977) by Game Designer’s Workshop which became a classic in the genre of mighty starships being launched and tearing into each other in mighty fleets to capture planets and gain resources to build yet more warships  to control a vast galaxy- that sort of thing.  I wish I still had that game, it gave me hours of pleasure.   It’s been long OOP, and while I haven’t found another copy, I think I’ve found a game that’s almost as good.  

Imperial Stars II is a clever little game from one of my favourite clever little gaming companies, Victory Point Games.  The designer is Chris Taylor, who has done a whack of SF-themed games.  It’s a game about, well, starships being launched and tearing into each other in mighty fleets to capture planets and gain resources to build yet more warships  to control a vast galaxy

One of the admirable things about this game is that it includes two double-sided maps (11” by 17’) , giving you four possible maps to play on for a variety of gaming experiences.  This map in the photo below is a fairly cluttered one, with asteroids, nebulae, singularities and dust clouds.   Each special terrain hex slows down movement and poses a different headache in combat.  Maps vary in their degree of clutter.

Each game begins with a small fleet in being for either side, shown below in their starting positions on Turn 1.  Additional ships can be purchased from the groups in the boxes at the top and bottom of  the map. Ships are two kinds, escorts and capital ships.  Capital ships can survive one hit, and can be repaired.  Ships can also be turned into colony bases, which gives you a base of territory but reduces the size of your navy, so that’s a fine balance to maintain in the early stages of the game.  The light blue round tiles on the map are planets, which can be claimed by either player and turned into colonies.

The game is driven by these “Op Chits”.  They are turned face down and mixed up, and drawn randomly by players in turn. They determine how many things or Ops a player gets to do in each phase.  Besides the number on the chit, players get an Op for each colony they posses, which is an incentive to get as many colonies as you can early on.  After a “Galactic Cycle” when each player uses their five Ops Chits, the lowest number is taken out of play, which means that each full turn (or Galactic Cycle) is shorter than the last turn.  Essentially this mechanic builds a clock into the game and keeps the game fairly short.

You also have to like a game where all the charts and tables fit on a single half sheet of paper.

Another clever aspect to the game is that the planet hexes are assigned random qualities which basically act as power ups or wild cards.  Some have attributes that can only be used once, like advantages in a space battle, and others have ongoing benefits.  Here two ships from Red Fleet, a light carrier and light cruiser, close in on an unclaimed planet.

Having taken the planetary system, Red spends Op Points to convert the DD ship into a Colony Base, and gets the bonus, “Energy, Add Two Operations” which adds two op points to Red at the start of each subsequent phase for as long as Red controls the planet - one of the nicer benefits of the planet chits.



The situation at the end of the first of five Galactic Cycles in the game.  Red and Yellow both control five planets besides their home planets.  There have been no battles yet but I expect some will come soon.  Space combat is quite brutal and simple.  Ships fight each other using missiles if they have that capability in the first round of combat.  One hit destroys an escort and damages a capital ship.  Two hits destroy a capital ship.  Damaged capital ships can be repaired using ops points.  After the first round of missile combat, surviving ships fight a round of combat using beams, the number on the bottom left corner of the ship counters in the above photo.  Any ships surviving that round then fight another round of missile combat.  This sequence continues until one side is destroyed or runs.  Destroyed ships can be brought back into play as salvage, but that takes time and Ops Points.  A useful tactic is to build up fleets (up to six ship counters of the same side can stack in a hex) and try to intercept your opponent’s ships during his or her turn.  The forces of the two sides are symmetrical - same types of ships and same weapons capabilities.

Imperial Stars II is a simple and clever game, well suited to solitaire play because of the Ops Chits system.  It could be explained to another person in ten minutes and played to a conclusion in 2-3 hours tops.   At a fairly inexpensive price ($26.99 US) and with its four maps to give high replay ability, I recommend it to SF fans.  It could also be used as a scenario generator for miniature SF gamers who want some context for their space battles.

Blessings to your die rolls!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Some Napoleonic Real Estate

OK, this picture has nothing to do with the subject, but the day before my MA thesis defence last Wednesday, a friend sent me a simple message:  “Le mot de Cambronne”.    I didn’t know that expression in French, but I know it now.

While I didn’t say anything rude during my defence, my friend’s message was inspirational, and fortunately the outcome was a lot happier for me than it was for the Old Guard.  Now I have a few days to relax before I get my military posting message and can start worrying about packing and moving.  Thanks to all of you who made encouraging comments on my blog during this last year while I was writing the thesis.  Those comments were always helpful.  At some point soon I’ll revise the manuscript and see if an academic publisher is interested, as my committee was quite encouraging.

The next day I celebrated in part by stopping by a craft chain store, Michaels, that was having a sale on these scrapbooking boxes.  Normally they sell for $9.00 Cdn each.  I bought six for about $12, quite a happy deal.  That same day also met a nice chap in an outlet mall who wanted to give me 70% off an $1800 Armani suit.  That too sounded like a good deal, but I decided the boxes were a more affordable luxury.  


And now I have a storage solution for my 6mm Napoleonics collection!  The Austrians have settled in quite happily.

I’ve used some of my time as a gentleman of leisure these past few days getting ready to try these figures out with the Blucher rules.   I needed some scenery, so I finished this lovely church model from Timecast, based on the 18th century German church new Leipzig.   A lovely model, though I found the pieces needed a bit of smoothing with a light sandpaper and the steeple is slightly askew, which I am sure will make this  famous tourist attraction in the years to come.  

It’s pretty much de riguer that all of my gaming tables have to have a model church.  I used a piece of MDF board as the base, and some balsa strips to suggest a walled church grounds with a bit of a garden path.


The paint scheme is pretty much stolen from the TImecast website.  I briefly thought about painting the dome of the steeple in bronze, but ended up thinking it would look odd.  I am going to southern Germany this summer, and will be taking lots of photos of Napoleonic era  buildings for my own reference.

Trees are also from a pack ordered off the Timecase website, just for a bit of show.



And a walled farm.  The buildings are metal, from GHQ, picked up at the 2013 Hot Lead convention thanks to my eagle-eyed friend James.


Again, base is MDF.  Walls are 10mm high pieces of balsa.   The texturing in the farmyard is DIY store plastic wood, dry brushed.


I scored an outline for a small gate in the back wall, forgot to paint it.  Better fix that.


I made each base large enough that it could hold one of my standard infantry bases, so these terrain pieces can serve as objective markers.




Also finished a set of three Timecast bridges.


I just got some rubber river sections in the post from Baccus that should be more or less compatible with these bridges.   

Thanks for looking!  Blessings to your bushes and die rolls!

These figures bring my 2015 totals to:

28mm:  Foot Figures: 19; Mounted Figures: 10


15mm: Armour/Vehicles: 5

6mm:  Scenic pieces:  5

Kilometres Run: 160

Monday, April 6, 2015

Six-Squared Studios - My Hot Lead 2015 Discovery

They say that good wargames are made by bases, faces, and flags, which is a motto I try to live by.  But how to get the bases?   Folks in the UK can order from companies like Warbases or but their product at all those amazing shows you folks have in your tiny little country.  Not saying I’m jealous … well,  not much.

 Lacking ready access to Warbases, here’s the sub-optimal solution. Here’s how I’ve made bases for years and years.  Buy a sheet of MDF, use a ruler to make moderately exact squares or rectangles with a pencil, and then cut them out with a craft knife.   I try to do this without incurring carpal tunnel syndrome or without amputating a finger tip.  As you can see from the top image, the results are a little ragged looking.


A better way.  Here’s one of Six-Squared products, a laser-cut 2” by 2” piece of MDF.  Nice, huh?

Here’s how I make circular bases.  A drill, a circular drill bit, a jagged piece of MDF that needs lots of trimming, and lots of sawdust all over the place.

Better.  Six-Squared laser cut circular bases.  

Six-Squared are a Canadian company based in St. Catherines, Ontario.  The products in the photos above were purchased (this blog does not review free samples, since, well, no one’s asked me too)  at Hot Lead this year and I quite like them.   They make a ton of products besides bases, including resin haystacks, craters, and river tiles.  They will make custom bases to your specifications. Their website is found here.   Check them out, and save your fingertips!





Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunday Painting Bench and Weekend Roundup

A very happy Easter to all.  I hope this weekend was restful and pleasant to you all, and holy for those who needed it to be so.

Here’s the state of the Padre’s painting desk this weekend.   I’ve been cracking on with my 6mm Napoleonics project lately, and finally have enough French and Austrians based that this coming week I can dive into the Sam Mustafa Blucher rules and give them a test drive.   However, I am woefully short of scenery, and I’ve pushed this project to the front of the queue.  The church is a Timecast model, and quite a lovely one too.  The other buildings are GHQ, purchased at the Hot Lead bring and buy a year ago.   My plan is to get them onto some scenic bases that can also accommodate a stand of infantry figures to represent a village being held by one side or the other.  Hopefully I’ll have them finished and pictures up later this week.


 Speaking of Sam Mustafa, Friday I had James M over for Indian takeout and a Civli War bash using the Longstreet rules.  Poor fellow needed a rest after organizing another triumphant Hot Lead, and I figured that in his fatigued state I might get a win in. We were going to try Blucher but James noted my look of perplexity when reading the unfamiliar second half of the rules book, about army lists and so forth, and so we decided that we would try Longstreet instead, which I know fairly well now.

The Battle of Bloody Creek centred on this little ford.  Two symmetrical brigades, each of three seven base infantry regiments, three bases of artillery (2 six pounders and 1 howitzer) and a seven base cavalry regiment, met to determine ownership of the ford, and the resulting struggle gave the name Bloody Ford, by which locals still remember the action.  We rolled randomly for the year, and got a battle in 1861, so all units were classed as Eager Recruit.  My Texans and Mississippi boys under Colonel Eusebius (Seb) M. Letchworth were looking forward to their first battle of the war, having never seen the elephant.

Here James’ Wisconsin volunteers charge across the ford and put my Texans to flight.  Fortunately I had a regiment of Mississippians ready to counter-charge.   Two lessons from this episode.  One, in Longstreet, Eager units always have an advantage in melee combat so charge with them when you can, even when they’re recruits, and two, reserves are always useful.

My suspicions of Longstreet were well founded, it is more fun than a camp full of drunken Zouaves when played with a real live opponent.  The cards provide quite a few tense moments and a few enjoyable opportunities to play dirty tricks on your opponent, like the time I rashly pushed my infantry forward into canister range and James played a card giving his three base battery an extra die each, making for a nerve racking nine dice in the roll to hit.  Very exciting stuff, and yet the cards, while they seem gimmicky, do a good job of simulating the vagaries of ACW combat. 

Here James’ commander points in alarm as my third regiment rushes forward in column, trying to get on his flank.  This was a risky move, as James was about to hit my column with his two uncommitted units, a cavalry and infantry regiment, but I had the satisfaction of shutting him down with the dreaded Pinkerton Intelligence interrupt card, which basically casts a hesitate spell on the Union when they declare a Combat (charge as opposed to movement) round.  Now some will say that this is overly gimmicky, the equivalent of magic, and that’s fine, but in Sam M’s defence the card is only given to the Rebel player in 1861 and 1862 scenarios, and if he is lucky enough to draw it he can only play it once per game, so you could say that this is a little bit of friction which models the indecisiveness and inexperience of many early war Union armies.  In later scenarios the cards available to the Union player become more plentiful and more effective than those given to the Rebel player, so it is an effective way of modelling the shifting qualities of the armies during the course of the war.

One of the things some people might not like about Longstreet is that command figures are essentially immortal and quite irrelevant to the battle.   All the command and control aspects are modelled in the cards.   Some commanders have personality attributes which can influence play (allowing re-rolls on to hit dice, for example) and there is a risk in using these attributes, in that it can lead to “wounds” which reduce the number of cards a player can hold in his hand during the game.   Having your hand reduced by even one card to a maximum of only three cards in the hand for multiple wounds when your opponent has six cards in his hand would be quite disastrous and quickly lead to a defeat.

James put up a cracking good bat rep here, complete with a photo of yours truly gloating.  He says it was gloating, I say it’s proof that these rules are cracking good fun.  The Union side was forced to retreat, leaving the Confederates in control of the now renamed Bloody Creek.   We both went through the post-game steps of the Longstreet Campaign Rules, figuring out how many troops came back to the colours after the battle, how many died of flux in camp later on, and what reinforcements we acquired.  Both of us did well in different ways.  Both of us got an Epic Point for showing up, I got one for winning, and we awarded me a third for two successive successful charges by my Mississipians.  Seb Letchworth got promoted after the battle, which is really only useful for bragging rights.   In the reinforcement stage, James got a fourth regiment, I got a fourth artillery base, and we now have a variety of unit sizes and experience levels in our commands, so you may see a re-match at some point.

Wishing you all a good week, with blessings to your brushes and die rolls!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tuesday Night Boardgame on Wednesday: Still Taking Berlin

Picking up from last week, here’s the board on the dawn of the second day of WW3 and the Soviet assault on West Berlin.   In the bottom left, the East Germans have overrun Wansee and the Americans are falling back slowly.  In the south, 14th Guards have taken wicked casualties in exchanges with US and West German police and have had their teeth pulled.   In the North the French have stabilized their sector but the main weight of the Soviet attack now appears to be falling on the British.

 Here’s a thorn in the Soviet side.  That little green unit between the T and B in West Berlin is a single US battery, but it’s done nothing for the first three NATO turns except execute fire missions on the vital railroad line (see the flame marker at the bottom of the photo) feeding reinforcements and supplies to the main front.  Each fire mission is worth 5VPs to NATO, more than offsetting losses in casualties and objective hexes thus far.  It is totally untouchable for now, the Russians don’t have the troops to touch it.  Most of the red units towards the bottom of the photo are 34GDs Army artillery, not assault units.

Here’s another cool NATO move.  That little brown unit is B Squadron of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the most mobile unit in the NATO garrison.  It’s exploiting some gaps in the line to try and get onto one of those rail hexes.  If it can do it, that will be 10VPs per turn it stays there and will divert some Pact combat units to find it and kill it.

 The butcher's bill so far.   Combat in this game is quite bloody.  

Much as the Pact commander will hate to do it, he may have to ask for release of the airborne division to make the headway he needs.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I Broke the Guard: And Other Hot Lead Experiences

I’m back from a very pleasant Friday night and Saturday at Hot Lead, Ontario's premiere gaming convention.  For all I know it may be among the biggest miniatures conventions in Canada, but I’m not qualified to speak on that.  From what my friend and HotLead kingpin James Manto told me on Saturday, the numbers in attendance were high and the vendors all seemed to be satisfied.  Games from north and east of Toronto, and from as far south as Michigan make the trek to Stratford for this early spring event. The Bring and Buy, always a favourite at Hot Lead, was a swirling mass of greed and pillaging when it opened on Saturday at 09:30.  The Bring and Buy tables were crowded three deep and I didn’t get close to them until they were picked fairly clean.  

It was hard to see a theme or a trend in the games on display this year.  Fantasy SF games seemed very popular, from skirmishes featuring Colonial Marines vs Aliens (from the movie series) to Battletech to Star Trek and Star Wars themed games.   Ancients were well represented, as were Napoleonics, both on land and age of sail.   World War One games were fairly plentiful as well, perhaps because of the centennial.   Vietnam seemed more popular than WW2 - I saw a Bolt Action game but Flames of War was conspicuously absent.  In fact, I noticed a LOT of Battlefront FOW kits and figures remaining in the Bring and Buy hours after it had been combed through, suggesting that FOW’s day may have come and gone.    I didn’t see a single American Civil War land game, though there were several ACW naval games.  That’s my take on wargaming trends as I see them, for what it’s worth.  You can get a great overview of the games from this blog post by James Rabbitman Manto, who deserves an OBE and stiff drink for putting this all together.

Friday night I got a seat in a pickup game of In Her Majesty’s Name run by my friend Barry.  Five different factions (Turks, Brits,French, and two Arab trades) converged on a village where a sheik was hoping to sell a prisoner, a European lady (of course), to the highest bidder, in story vaguely reminiscent of The Wind and the Lion.   Here the different factions converge on the village.  The sheik and his men held the lady on the roof of the mosque, the long building on the right.  The only way to get her was to go up the stairs and take on the sheik and his men.

My Arab cavalry head towards the mosque.  Their holy man had some spells that proved useful, but weren’t enough to get up the stairs.   My experience of this kind of all vs all games is that the side which hangs back and lets the blood flow is generally the winner.  Despite my offer to make to invite the Sheikh to my wedding as my honorary father in law and to give him a handsome dowry for the European lady, we could not strike a deal.  I thought I could force the mosque, get the girl, and escape on my horses before the others stopped killing each other.  I was close, but not close enough.  It got quite funny when the Turks and Europeans intruded on an Arab family quarrel.  The Arab players all agreed to ally and fire on the others, though there was still some fraternal treachery going on.

This is the second time I’ve played In Her Majesty’s Name.   I have to say I find it too granular, there are too many dice rolls to achieve limited results, and I find it moves rather slowly.  But it was a fun game.

Behind us on Frida this Marines vs Aliens bug hunt was going down and looked rather exciting.  I found the fellow in the uniform a little disconcerting - he had commercially purchased fatigues and a USMC style cap in Canadian pattern camouflage with some space marine badges on it, which was the closest Hot Lead came to cosplay.

On Saturday my goal was to get into two Napoleonics games.  This is the battle of Bar Sur Aube, which occurred in 1814 as Oudinot’s French tried to halt a large Austrian force invading La Patrie.   I got a brigade of Wurrtemburg infantry, seen at the bottom.  Two other players at my end also got Wurts - the fellow in the blue checked shirt on the left has the other infantry brigade, and there was a cavalry brigade as well.  Our job was to capture the two villages represented by the houses in the centre, and then move up the road and link with the Austrians who were trying to bull their way through at the faaaaaarrrr end of the table.  The figures were well painted 28mm metal, quite lovely, and the rules were Shako 2, which I’d never played before.

Here elements of the two Wurrtemburg brigades try to assault the villages.   I quickly learned that attacking a village with a weakened unit was suicide. In fact, I found Shako quite bloody.   Units were quite fragile and vaporized quite quickly.


After five hours of play, here’s the end state at my end of the table.  My two co-commanders had given up.  Blue shirt guy had been savaged by long range French artillery and a French light cavalry unit that was luckier than it had any right to be.   That plus several bloody repulses on the villages led to 50% casualties for our infantry.  Finally close range cannister on the villages weakened the defenders and allowed the Germans in, but at the top of the photo you can see three French batteries, two of them heavy, that commanded a lethal field of fire.  The Wurrtemburg cavalry had swung around to the right, a movement that cost much time, and it would have been suicide for it to advance further.   I heard vague rumours of my Austrian allies winning at their end of the table, but I was too tired to really care.  Big games at conventions, with lots of ambient noise, can be a hard slog on the game masters and players, and  while the idea for the game was epic, it may have been unfeasibly large.  

I remain undecided about Shako 2.   There didn’t seem to be a any command and control rules, so our leaders appeared to be purely decorative, and as I said, very very bloody.


Some other games going on Saturday.  This steampunk skirmish game, hosted by miniatures company RAFM using their figures, had a monstrous airship thingy in the middle of the table.

Players had to carefully get at the chaps beneath the gasbag.


A 28mm Belgium 1914 game going on beside my big Napoleonics game.  


British guns and MG team hold firm beside a church, making it a target- a hard day for the anxious priest, no doubt!

Beautifully painted German infantry advance.


The indefatigable Brian Hall, one of the many talented game masters from the Kent Essex club, ran this lovely looking 6mm Franco-Prussian War game.


More of Brian’s FPW goodness.

Another Kent Essex impresario, Keith Burnett, ran this lovely WW2 air game featuring the Greek air force taking on the Italians.

This Star Trek themed game was one of the many SF games there.  


My second Napoleonic game of the day.  Dan Thompson and Kurt Hummitsch ran a Borodino game using their collections of 28mm figures, mostly plastic but no less impressive for that.  Two interesting and contrasting painting styles, Dan’s dark and “grungy” (his word) French, with extensive use of dip and washes, vs Kurt’s bright and light Russians.  Hard to tell which style I liked better.  The rules were the Osprey-pubished Fields of Glory Napoleonics, which I found very different than Shako.   The command and control system seemed similar to Black Powder, with units being allowed extra and complex moves if they rolled certain numbers.  Unlike what I saw of Shako, the placement of generals in FOGN was important.  In another difference, units in FOGN do not take individual hits or figure/stand losses.  Rather, their moral can go from Good to Disordered to Wavering to Broken and back, so the units effectiveness and cohesion as a whole are important.


French  press the attack.  One of the cool things about this game was that the three French players were all named Mike, so we became Left Mike, Centre Mike and Right Mike.  As Right Mike I commanded the Guard, and pushed them far to the right, effectively pinning the Russian cavalry to their start line, while Centre Mike pushed hard with his divisions.   We broke several Russian infantry divisions, but my Young Guard (visible in the forested area below centre right) were Wavering and stubbornly would not rally.

Napoleon goes to the right wing to steady the Guard light cavalry for a key countercharge.


One of the two Russian Dragoon units was wavering with its flank to the Old Guard.   Even though they were Disordered, infantry in these rules can charge wavering cavalry.  Breaking the Dragoons might have unravelled the remaining Russian Left Wing, but the Guard rolled poorly and only pushed the dragoons back.  The other Russian Dragoon division charged the blown Guard in the flank and broke them, routing them back under the eyes of Napoleon himself.  It was bad news for the French Right wing, but the Russians were too battered to resist in the centre, and Left Mike had been heroically making bricks with straw the whole game and had blunted the stronger Russian right wing.  Victory, though I fear Marshall Right Mike will get a convict battalion of refractaires in Sardinia as his next assignment.

So the takeaway for me is as follows.

It’s good after a gaming con to say “I broke the Imperial Guard."

It’s bad to say in the next sentence, “I commanded the Imperial Guard."

So ended Hotlead 2015, more geeks, dice and glory than you can shake a D6 at.   I did pick up some loot, and more on that in another post.

Blessings to your die rolls!

Blog Archive