Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Visit to the Australian War Memorial

A belated Happy New Year to you!    I hope you all had a pleasant holidays.  For my part, getting back from a month in Australia just before Christmas, and catching up with church and family, meant that I was a bit pooped for a while, but I've had some time to sort through my travel photos and thought that those of you who have never been there would appreciate these images from my trip to the Australian War Memorial.  There are far better pictures on the website, but here are a few.

My partner Joy and I spent December 7, our last day in Canberra, touring the Memorial, which is both a monument and a museum.    I was warned that a day would not be enough time to see it all, and they were right, but we saw enough of it to be deeply moved and impressed.

We arrived early enough in the day that we had the Commemorative Courtyard almost to ourselves.   It is both somber and peaceful, as this photo of the Pool of Reflection under a flawless summer sky suggests.  The domed structure is the Hall of Memory.

The gallery of names, mostly from the Great War, lines one long wall.  A second gallery takes up from the Second World War to the present.  People have placed crepe poppies beside the names of relatives.  Over 102,000 names from all of Australia's wars are preserved here on the bronze walls.

The view from inside the Hall of Memory looking across the courtyard.

From the front steps, looking down the length of Anzac Parade with the Australian Parliament buildings (old and new) visible in the far centre.   One of my enduring memories of Canberra will be its elegant design and these long, sweeping views.

I loved this statue depicting one of the iconic figures of the Gallipoli, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who landed with a Field Ambulance unit at Anzac Cove and spent the last four weeks of his life evacuating the wounded until he was killed in May 1915.   He was widely known at Anzac as "The Man With the Donkey".

This statue, honouring Australia's war dogs and their handlers, was incredibly moving and reduced Joy, a dog lover with a huge heart, to quiet sobs.

The star of Anzac Hall is this Lancaster bomber, surrounded by large multimedia panels that tell the story of the Australian contribution to Bomber Command.  

Of course I patted the Lanc as I walked underneath it.

There are some lovely Great War aircraft preserved here, including this German Albatross.  Like Canada, Australia's aviation industry has its roots in the aircrew who returned from the Great War, including the founders of Quantas Airlines.

There are some skillful dioramas, including his portrayal of the fighting above and below ground at Lone Pine at Gallipoli.

Australians on the Western Front.  Note the tank in the centre background.

If I am ever fortunate enough to go back to Australia, I will make another pilgrimage here.  There were many exhibits that I barely had time to see, such as the moving account of the Diggers in the Pacific War in places like the Kokoda Trail, which is as much an Australian Iliad as is Gallipoli.  

We ended our day observing the closing ceremony, when the Memorial honours one Australian service member who died in action.  The wreaths laid by the photo of this young lad are from family members, given a place of honour in the brief ceremony, and by members of the diplomatic staffs from the many embassies in Canberra.  Each day's event can be viewed online here.

Standing in the galleries, as a brilliant sun began to set, and listening to the unfamiliar but lovely words of Australia's national anthem, will be an abiding memory.  

"Advance Australia Fair".


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bloggers Down Under - A Meetup in Canberra

Just finishing a lovely month in sunny Australia and starting to digitally dust off some of the photos I took while down here.   Expect more in the not so distant future, once I get back to snowy Canada.

While in Canberra (I was fortunate to be sent on a fact-finding trip to the Australian Defence Force Chaplain College), I had the good fortune to meet up with Alan Saunders, aka Kaptain Kobold, proprietor of the quirky The Stronghold Rebuilt blog (Alan is also on Twitter - @KaptainKobold).  Besides being one of my wargaming heroes, Alan endeared himself to me with his fearless Frocktober campaign to raise money for research into ovarian cancer, which claimed Madame Padre.

My partner Joy and I (left) met up with Alan and his wife Catherine (right)at the National Museum in Canberra, to see an exhibit on Ancient Rome.  

Alan and Catherine were great company, and as transplanted English (no they didn't come over as convicts) who have lived in Australia for some years, it was interesting to compare our impressions of the place against their experience.  We found them engaging company and I wished we could have found time to game together.  Hopefully one day.

The Rome exhibit was a curated selection of holdings from the British Museum.  I suppose my favourite piece was this stone burial vessel, which depicts scenes from an imagined and happy afterlife, rather like what a religion created by Too Fat Lardies might depict.

"OK, mate, you're too drunk to ride that donkey.  Get off."
"Sod off.  Doncha know who I am?   I'm fecking Bachus!"

Finally, the obligatory Rome Gift Shop (TM) astonished me with a vast collection of Playmobil figures, including Roman legionaries, ballistae, and a giant trireme!  

Behold the glory of the fully assembled Playmobil Trireme.   

Row well and live!

I realize that Playmobil gets a bad rap from some quarters - it's not as exciting as Lego, many playsets have the same boring bourgeois European vibe that you get from a house full of Ikea furniture, etc.  However, there is a whole world of Playmobil historical sets, including ancient Egyptians, and some interesting Viking/Dragon crossovers.

It all has possibilities, especially as my partner Joy has three lovely grandchildren who are still quite young but could be gently introduced to wargaming via Playmobil.   I had better start collecting sets now, so we could do this when they get older:

Blessings from Down Under!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

First Look at A Wing And A Prayer (Lock and Load Games)

“OK, fellas, I’m Luigi, and I’m hear to give you a rousing welcome as we get ready to take off and go bomb the Krauts, so listen up, because Uncle Sam put a lot of dough into training you apes, and if you want to ever want to see Tonawanda again, you better fly a tight formation and stay alert.  It’s a good game, and the box is fun to sit in. OK, let’s go."

Thanks, Luigi, I’ll take it from here.   Readers of this blog will know that I have a fondness for the air war over Germany in World War Two, so A Wing and A Prayer: Bombing The Reich by Lock and Load Games isa  2016 release.   It’s a solitaire game, though it can be played with a second player as the German defenders, and is simple enough to play.    The US/solo player is given a squadron B17 bombers, and has to make it through a series of missions in campaigns of various lengths.    There is also an option to play a squadron of B24s.

As you can see from the map, movement is point to point, with Occupied Europe divided into boxes containing various targets and flak hazards.   Each campaign has a variety of targets, each represented by one of the cards seen below.   The early war campaign features targets mostly in France and the Low Countries, and the later campaigns get much more hairy.   Each target is rated for its flak defence, difficulty to bomb, and the amount of bomb damage it requires to reduce and/or eliminate.   You get Victory Points by successfully bombing targets and shooting down enemy fighters while avoiding bomber losses.

Once you get your target, then it’s time to get after it.   For the very first mission of the short 1942 campaign, I drew Lille as a target, which seemed quite easy, only three squares away from England.   I could employ all twelve of my B17Fs, and laid them out in the standard box formation of Lead, High, Low and Tail elements.  Unfortunately, I rolled badly for cloud cover, so my bomb aimers would have to squint through the clouds to see the target.  Luckily for me, I rolled well for escorts.  As you can see at the bottom of the formation card below, I have an escort of 6 P47 Thunderbolts, which have the range to accompany me all the way to the target.  


One of the features which gives the game its quality is varying bomber crew quality.   You start off by getting one crack crew, two good crews, and nine green crews, all rated for flying, air combat, and bomb accuracy.   I employed my crack crew, “Hells Angels”, to fly the lead plane in the formation.  If they make it to the target, the formation benefits from their accuracy bonus when bombing.

Once your squadron is in the air, there is an events table to check, possibly leading to enemy fighters, a mechanical malfunction in one of your bombers, or something positive such as a visit from Lady Luck.  The chances of an event increase the further out you are from your home base in England.  In my case, my lead bomber had to check for a mechanical problem just before the bombing run at Lille, but the crew of Hell’s Angels were fortunate.   Once over the target, there was flak to check for, using a combat results table which distributes the attack factors (in this case the flak) over the number of bombers.   Since my squadron was at its full strength of 12, the distribution was very favourable, so that each bomber had to roll “12” on two D6 for something bad to happen.   Everyone got through the flak in and out with no damage to any aircraft.

A similar process happens for the bombing.  Each plane has a bombing, which is multiplied on the same Combat Results Table with possible column shifts for the difficulty of the target, skill of the lead crew, etc.   With the bad clouds over Lille, I got nine chances to roll a 6 on 1D6, with each hit counting for so many damage factors against the target.   I only got 1 hit, which was not nearly enough to significantly damage the target.   Lille will have to wait for another day.

Once your squadron gets home, you can automatically land them, or using an optional rule, check to see who makes it carefully.  Damaged planes, and/or planes with green crews, have a worse chance of landing.  Using the advanced rule, one of my B17s suffered light damage on landing, and had to be placed in the Not Ready box.   For the squadron’s next mission, I will have to check to see of the plane can be repaired in time to go again.    Fewer bombers will increase the risk to the remainder if its not read


If there is a flaw with A Wing and A Prayer, I suppose it is repeated die rolling for all these steps.   To complete the raid on Lille, with flak going in and out, and the bombing, I had to roll a total of 1D6 X 57 which, along with checking multiple charts over three separate sheets, seems like a lot of work.   Also, the game is abstract enough that there doesn’t feel like there is much emotional investment in the fate of individual crews.   Perhaps that will change as I run multiple missions, but for now these boys seem rather expendable.   Perhaps that was how the bombers’ commanders really viewed them.

So, an agreeable enough game, which took me about an hour to play.     Hopefully we will revisit Generic Squadron soon for its next mission.

Blessings to your die rolls!



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Game Too Far?

My son John was visiting me from BC this summer, and expressed a great interest in my board games collection.   John is a miniatures gamer, and knows W40K like the back of his hand, but he was intrigued by old school hex and counter games.    His birthday was coming up, so I gave him three websites, GMT Games, Compass Games, and Vassal, and told him to pick whatever game he liked that was still in print and had a Vassal module so we could play i by email.   More to follow on that.

I am not sure exactly how many Market Garden games a chap needs in my collection, and to be honest, my collection has a bit of a mind of its own and hasn’t been effectively curated over the years.  

I have four MG games by my count.   One is an Avalon Hill classic, and is a sort of operational/tactical hybrid, focusing on the British defence of Arnham.   Designed by Courtney F. Allen and published in 1981, it featured an ingenious area impulse movement system for its day and spawned several other AH games using the same engine, one on Stalingrad and the other on Monte Cassino.  Breakout Normandy used the same basic engine but at a larger, more truly operational scale. SOA is the only Market Garden game I own that I’ve actually played head to head, and it is a much better played H2H than solitaire.

Hell’s Highway (published 1983) is a strategic level game by John Butterfield, who was one of the stable of SPI designers who went to Victory Games.  John is coming to a gaming convention in March 2019 in Toronto, which is kind of exciting.   Maybe by then I will have actually played this game, or at least peaked inside the box.

I bought It Never Snows shortly after MMP published it in 2012, partly from what I’d heard about it and partly on the strength of its designer, Dean Essig, who has won a hockey sack of awards and has a long and distinguished design resume.    Alas, it is still in the shrink wrap.    Hopefully when I retire I can get to grips with it.

So, going back to my son John - what did he choose, but a Market Garden game?    Holland 44 is a 2017 GMT title, designed by Mark Simonitch, and is an operational, battalion-level game, starting with the airborne landings and ending on 23 September.  As with the other big titles (Hells Highway and It Never Snows), the game is a race to relieve or reduce the airborne bridgeheads before the Allied ground forces can get there.

Notice how GMT recycled some of Rodger MacGowan’s SoA artwork for the back of the box!

Well, that’s all I have to tell you for now.   I am waiting for John to tell me that he’s digested the rules (he is a demon for memorizing complex rule books) and then deciding what scenario and which side to play.   If you are interested in playing Holland 44 with me via Vassal, by all means let me know, I could use the practice.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Manoeuvre, Psychology, and the War-game

On Twitter today, Nick (@Dozibugger)of the Too Fat Lardies crew flagged this short piece on a British Army professional development website by Dermot Rooney.

The gist of the article is that the pendulum in debates about infantry doctrine swings between Attrition and Manoeuvre.   Attrition is relatively easy to model in simulations because it can be matched to the known lethality effects of weapons systems (eg blast radius) whereas manoeuvre is harder to model because it depends on psychological factors (surrendering when you know you are outflanked and beaten). In other words, you can defeat the enemy at the tactical level through Attrition, as summarized in the saying “close with and destroy”, or by “manoeuvre and cleverness”.

  Attrition can seem more understandable because you can use numbers and models to analyze and predict the expected results of weapons systems, whereas Manoeuvre is a subtle art and hard to quantify.   Also, Attrition may seem more attractive to planners and accountants because the cost of a weapons system can be justified by its predicted effectiveness, whereas Manoeuvre is an expensive proposition that requires extensive combined arms training in the field, and its expected results are hard to model, because at its core Manoeuvre is about psychology:

“Manoeuvrism hinges on two psychological tricks: 1. Give the enemy more things to think about than he can handle; 2. Make it obvious that he’s going to lose."

Rooney notes that Manoeuvre on the battlefield is typically a low-level activity.  At the operational level, there may not be advantages of terrain or surprise that allow a general and his staff to be very clever.  Rooney quotes the British general Horrocks, who said of Operation Veritable (1945) that “There was no room for manoeuvre and no scope for cleverness”, but once the operation was under way, there were opportunities for his tactical leaders to get into positions where they could persuade enemy soldiers that they were beaten.

Surely this is true of the wargames table.    It seems to me that the more units we put on the table, the more we move the pendulum towards Attrition.   I am thinking of an AAR I saw recently for a Team Yankee game, where the table was packed with models and there was little opportunity for the attacker to do anything but trust in firepower to plow through.   Likewise the big battles so beloved of us gamers, whether Waterloo or a 2500 point per side W40K game, surely are resolved by Attrition.    
In such games, a player will not be willing to concede defeat until the math works remorselessly in the opponent’s favour.   We can model psychology in rules such as “Army Break Points” but those rules are only triggered by a sufficient amount of Attrition.   

So what would a game look like if it was set up more at the Manoeuvre end of the pendulum?   It would presumably have fewer units, and a table that allowed more movement and less sheer brute force frontal battering.  It would also model the effects of combined fires, including the loss of initiative, command and control, and morale under the effects of those fires.

Of course, there are all sorts of mechanisms out there already which try to include these factors, including rules for troop quality types, the cumulative effects of shock, and the gradual loss of command and control as leaders are lost.  None of this is new.   Rules systems like WRG have modelled the effects of being flanked on morale checks forever.

In his article, Rooney says that “Sometimes there’s a cellar of scared men waiting to put their hands up; sometimes there’s a fight right up until the last few metres and then a Mexican wave of surrendering happens”.  I guess that’s really the challenge for tactical wargamers - at what point does that seemingly impregnable unit, dug in with hard cover, suddenly become those scared men waiting to put their hands up?   And, more mysteriously, at what point does my opponent across the table start to lose heart as the battle turns against him/her?

Surrendered British paras at Anhem.  What makes the best troops decide that they’re done?

I don’t have all the answers to this, but for years now I have used this quote at the end of my work email signature block, from B.H. Liddell Hart: “Loss of hope, rather than loss of life, is the factor that really decides was, battles, and even the smallest combats”.
Blessings to your die rolls.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Work In Progress: Space Cats Are Coming!

Sometimes the best cure for the hobby doldrums is a new project.   My friend James deserves the credit and the blame here.    We are both fans of the TV SF series The Expanse, based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, and that got James into an impressive 15mm SF gaming project.    I have long admired James’ determination to bring a project to fruition - his contemporary Afghanistan project went from scratch to some very impressive, convention level games in a few years, and his SF efforts are similarly impressive.  There is an example here, including some nicely written fluff.

Some of James’ UN (Earth) Marines in power armour, figures by Ground Zero Games.  James’ project encompasses the Expanse universe, and I decided that I wanted a piece of that acton, but he seemed to have the various factions well represented.   That led me to start thinking about an alien race, of which there are plenty in the various 15mm SF anger out there.   But which one?

Kitties, of course!

Errr, no, not those kitties.    My partner Joy introduced me to the Larry Niven Ringworld series this winter, and I loved the Kzinti character Speaker to Animals, so a race of martial cats seemed like a good choice, especially as James has (unkindly but aptly) accused me of being a Crazy Cat Chaplain.  It seems a natural choice for trash-talking and chirping - I am sure there will be lots of jokes about distracting my force with laser pointers, catnip, and guided tuna missiles.    I’m there for that.

Khurasan Miniatures does a nice line of 15mm SF felines, which they call Tigrids, so that was my Kzinti infantry sorted.   I got several packs of these light infantry, who unlike James’ troops apparently don’t need or have vac suits, and then several packs of heavier infantry who I will call equivalent to James’ guys in power armour.

 The paint scheme is pretty simple.   Citadel flat back primer (my usual choice for 15mm figures) and the armour in GW Khorne Red, which seemed an appropriately bloodthirsty colour for Kzin.  The red echoes the base colour that James chose for his Martians, so I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and besides, the Kzinti don’t care about your copyright protocols.    The blue shoulder plates allow me to identify the various sections.    I was quite pleased to see the figures come alive when I started to add the white whiskers and ruffs to the figures.    They just need green eyes and adorable little pink noses and they’ll be ready to go.  I think orange tigers for the rank and file, and white tigers for the leaders would make a nice contrast.

At first I thought about some sort of disruptive pattern, or even something drab like black or olive grey, but then I recalled a recent conversation with a former boss of mine, an infantry battalion CO, who said that he wondered why armies even bother now with camo and disruptive clothing.   There are so many kinds of sensor packages out there, he said, why don’t we just put soldiers in “pink tutus or Napoleonic hussar uniforms and just have fun with colours?”  Perhaps he has a point, though I am secretly glad that he’s not working in procurement!    Also,  I suppose one could argue that a proud martial race of fighting felines would consider camo and concealment to be dishonourable.


 Khurasan offers a trio of jet-bike riders, so that was irresistible.   The idea of fast attack cats seemed very Kzinti, so I ordered three sets, which will give me a respectable recon and fast attack element to my force.   I would imagine that the youngest and most aggressive warriors would be selected for this hazardous and dangerous job.  These chaps aren’t quite finished but are getting there.  


Space Kitty Bike Leader looks like the sort of type who would happily buzz the tower.  He has some very aggressive looking missile pods that should prove helpful.


Finally, there is a an armoured component to my force, because who is going to drive across the galaxy to invade a bunch of high-tech monkeys without some decent AFV support?   I also ordered a few vehicles from Ground Zero Games from their line of Kra’vak alien vehicles.  This is one of three anti-gravy APCs which will carry a section each of my light infantry.   Again, a red base coat, but I have a pattern for it which should make it look more menacing.    The little blue swatch on the side is to remind me which section it belongs to.  There is also a tank, a SPG, a pair of drones, a pair of skimmer light attack craft, and a smallish spaceship to debut down the road.  The base is from a GW W40K set of Ork Deffkoptas that I have since gotten rid of.  This project is much more serious!


I will show more of my progress soon, I hope.   For those of you who are wondering, the rules we are using are mostly a bodge of James’ devising, very simple.   We hope to get our forces in action sometime by late winter or spring.

Blessings to your brushes!


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Office War-game Thursday: Red Vengeance

I’m a fortunate chap in that I have my own office at work, with space to layout a small game to noodle away at during my lunch hour.   Somedays I’m too busy, but some days I get to push some cardboard and roll some dice.
Currently I’m playing an OOP Avalanche Press title, Red Vengeance, which is a little gem I found in an estate sale purchase I made this spring.
Red Vengeance is a simple, high-level (armies and corps) operational game focusing on the Eastern Front 1944-45, a “Bagration to Berlin” approach .  The designer is William Sariego, not exactly a household name in wargaming circles but he has a respectable CV posted at Boardgame Geek.  Sariego designed a Barbarossa game, Defiant Russia, using the same system, which is still in print.
Turn 1: June 1944.  Here’s the opening setup, with the Germans opposing the Russians on a solid line running from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  This is a mandatory setup, with the German infantry deploying first along an indicated line of hexes, then the Russians, then finally the German armour.    Armour units have a higher combat value and movement, and also get to move and attack again during an Exploitation Phase, along with certain other types of units such as Soviet Guards.  The logical setup for both sides is to mass the armour in the centre, either north of south of the Pripet Marshes.
The game mechanics require Soviet units to attack Axis units in adjacent ZOCs.  German units do not have to attack units in adjacent ZOCs in their turn.   This rule means that on Turn 1, all hell breaks loose as the Soviets attack every single hex on the German front line, guaranteeing a huge bloodletting for both sides. One Turn 1, the German defensive rolls were generally poorer than the attackers, so the Wehrmacht was roughly handled and it has been going badly ever since.  When my son and I tried the game, we found that the first turn went slowly as it was a LOT of die rolling, but the game picks up speed thereafter.
Three months later, here’s the situation at the end of Turn 3, August 1944.   Not good for the Germans.   Warsaw is threatened, and the Germans are practically broken into northern and southern pockets with little linking the two.
Army Group North is in falling back and is in serious trouble if Warsaw gets taken.   The Panzer reserve was thrown against the two Soviet Shock Armies at 0708 but that fight ended with no casualties on either side.  A reduced SS Corps grimly hangs on to Riga as a distraction, Combat in this game is very simple.  Each unit throws a number of device equal to its combat victory and each 6 causes a step loss on the opponent.  It’s that simple.   The number of dice can be slightly modified by terrain, or goosed upwards if leaders, air or naval support are present.   Provided that a stack takes as many hits as it has steps, it can lose one step and retreat a number of hexes equal to the remaining number of hits.  If the hits are one or more above the number of steps, the stack is eliminated.   Attackers and defenders shoot simultaneously.   

Meanwhile Army Group South is falling back on Bucharest, leaving that one poor Hungarian unit at 2313 to hold the mountains against the Red Horde.  On the southern flank there are two hexes with oil wells which are quite strategic.   For each one that the Axis hold, they get one additional armour step replacement.   It is possible to build up and even reconstitute lost units in this game, but there are never enough step replacements, generally just 4-6 per turn, and the armour step replacements dry up in 1945.  There are some reinforcement units that arrive, so the German strategy as I can see it is to counterattack where possible, fall back, trade land for time and hope that the reduced movement in the winter turns slows the Soviet juggernaut.  
Red Vengeance is a small game that is well suited for solitaire play.   There are a few chrome and optional rules to experiment with, but the joy of the game is how simply it plays.     It certainly keeps my mind diverted on those rare days when I have a free lunch hour.
I’ll check in again next Thursday and see whose flag is flying over Berlin.
Blessings to your die rolls!

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