Sunday, May 31, 2015

Alas, Poor Hobby Store!

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

It's been a tough time for hobby stores around here, and I've felt a bit like the Melancholy Dane, wandering around examining their remains.

Last week, during our House Hunting Trip to Barrie, I revisited some I knew.   One was called The Dragoon, in a small village called Cookstown.  A friend took me there in 2010.  It was a in a small cottage, run by an older fellow, and it was full of nice stuff, a lot of larger scale pre-painted models from companies like King and Country and Forces of Valour.  He had some nice dioramas, and a lot of model kits, ESCI and the like.  It was a brilliant little place.  Drove around Cookstown for ten minutes, couldn't see it.  Finally found the building I thought it was in, and it was a business for people who want to learn to really  communicate with their pets.  The Dragoon still has a ghostly presence on Facebook, but it seems to have gone under around 2014.  Here is the only tangible sign of it I have left, a fridge magnet.

Alas, poor Dragoon!

Mme. Padre was very kind about letting me search for The Dragoon, and allowed me to look for another store I remembered.   Gamers' Lair was in a storefront in a small retail plaza at the south end of Barrie.   I recalled it well because the last time I was there, also around 2010, I bought a few items and before I started my car to drive off, I realized that the owner had undercharged me.  Went back in, paid the difference, and he very kindly gave me a box of micro dice as a sign of thanks.   I always think of him as I use those dice.  It was a pretty mainstream store, stocking GW, Flames of War, and the like, with a gaming space in the back of the shop.   I wasn't expecting much, but I thought it would be a useful place to buy paint and such.  Gone.  Empty.  Sign still there, but darkness and emptiness in the windows.   Alas, poor Gamers Lair!

The next one isn't quite a skull scene, but it's close.  My chum James announced last week that he was  getting out of the miniatures business as well.   J&M Miniatures was a joint venture between James and his friend Martin, and I've plugged it several times here in the past.   J&M was a webstore and a mail-order business, but in a way it was also a storefront.  James maintained the business' stock in his house, and it was not unknown for his friends to drop over and "fondle the toys".  I have gone over to his place for a game several times with some money in my pocket, knowing that I would come home with something.   James and Martin wanted to take the business in different directions, and so James graciously bowed out and let Martin, who had made the initial capital investment, take over.  I wish Martin luck and will no doubt be a customer in future.

James and I have talked many times about the frustrations of running a wargaming hobby business.  In North America the hobby market is dominated by one major distributor, and so there wasn't a lot of room or margin to make a go of things, even without a bricks and mortar and payroll costs to maintain.  It was difficult to anticipate demand for new product launches, or to anticipate the trends that rapidly blow through the hobby.  Would the WW2 market be sufficient to stock a lot of Plastic Soldier Co and Warlord stock?  Would he have enough Perry Brothers product, and the right mix of that product, to satisfy the Napoleonics gamers?  And what about stocking enough product to catch the latest trends?  Pirates?  Zombies?  Wild West?  Samurai?  Laser cut MDF buildings? What happens when those trends have done and people have moved on to the next one?  I didn't envy James and Martin having their money tied up in products that weren't moving as quickly as they needed it to move.  James also remarked on the difficult customers, people who would demand discounts or home delivery of product since James lived a few towns over.

Perhaps the day of the bricks and mortar hobby store is done, like the video store.   In nearby London, Ontario, a family-run model store is closing after decades in the business.   McCormick's Hobbies stocked a wide variety of paints, particularly Vallejo, and mostly catered to larger scale modellers rather than wargames, but for years it was my paint shop of choice.   I'm hoping that the one gaming store still operating in Barrie will carry paints, otherwise I'll have to order them online.  Which, I suppose, is the reason that the hobby store seems to be dying, because of online ordering.

When I think about it, other than buying consumables like paint, flock, and the like, very few of my hobby purchases (other than the stuff I bought from James when visiting his house) have been from physically located stores.   Almost all of my miniatures purchases (figures, rules, model buildings) have been made via online purchases direct from manufacturers.  Very few of my miniatures purchases are spontaneous.  I know what I want, I know who makes it, and the manufacturers all accept orders over the internet.  Shipping prices to Canada are seldom cheap. since most of the manufacturers are in the UK, but I accept that as the cost of a hobby.  Disposable income is disposable income, and I'm usually willing to pay the shipping to get what I want.

I can think of a few stores that will likely survive.  When I lived in Alberta, Sentry Box West in Calgary was always worth a visit while in the big city.  I recall the owner telling me that he owned the building free and clear, and that the bulk of the business from teen gamers (RPG, GW, and the like) underwrote a fine selection of historical miniatures and boardgames for people like me.   Sentry Box was also in a large metropolitan market, and augments that market with sales over the internet.   Even so, it's a small market, and being in an urban centre (Chicago) didn't save Emperor's Headquarters, which I recall fondly from one visit in the late 1990s. Alas, poor Emperor's Headquarters!

I am sure it is different in smaller geographies, like the UK.   A lot of the blog posts I see from visits to Salute, Triples, and the like seem to mention the shopping as much as the gaming.   In a larger country, like Canada or the US, there are fewer shows and smaller customer bases.  I don't attend many shows, but the one I attend regularly in my region, Hot Lead in Stratford, isn't really a shopping destination for me.   For the last few years I've gone, the number of vendors seems to be shrinking and what's offered is very trendy, so if one isn't into Steampunk, for example ....

Perhaps the owner of The Dragoon didn't go out of business.  He may have gotten sick, or decided he was too old and wanted to go on cruises instead of minding the store, but the fact that his Facebook feed ends abruptly doesn't sound like a planned exit.   I once wanted to do something similar in retirement.  I had a daydream of going to a tourist town somewhere, one popular with older couples, and set up a wargames/militaria store with a license to serve alcohol.   Chaps could drop in for a pint and a look at the toy soldiers, even learn to war-game while their wives looked at antiques and yearn stores.  However, that was just a fantasy.   In real life, I couldn't think of anything more dangerous to do with my retirement nest egg.  Betting it all on the horses would seem sane by comparison.   I hope it's not premature to sound the death knell for the wargaming hobby store, but these days, it sure seems like it.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Found - A Wargaming Room (And a House)

The Canadian military offers its members a ritual known as the HHT, our House Hunting Trip.  Once upon a time the HHT wasn’t necessary.   You simply reported to Base Housing, and if married they found you a suitable PMQ (Permanent Married Quarter) depending on your entitlement by rank.   The Housing Sergeant walked you in for an inspection, and the movers arrived thereafter.   When you left, the Sergeant showed up for a white glove inspection to find dust (he always did, it was a game).   I have this from the old timers, this era was long before my time.   Today most of the PMQs are gone, and the remaining ones are administered by a civilian agency charged with showing a profit, so they rent at market rate.   Most military members, if they can afford it, buy their accommodations on the local economy, and each receives a package of benefits (a paid trip with so many days to find a house, assistance with realty costs, home inspections, and the like).   Some HHTs are arduous slogs, walking through an endless sequence of houses and hoping the missus can find one she likes before the time allowed for the trip runs out).  This trip was easy by comparison.

It took us a day to find a new house.  Madame Padre and I arrived in Barrie on Monday night and spent all of Tuesday with Hugh, our realtor (I believe he would be called an Estates Agent on the other side of the ocean).  Hugh was a splendid chap with 25 years of local knowledge.  Some realtors can be pushy, self-interested, and lazy, but we didn’t get that from Hugh.   We looked at ten houses on Tuesday and settled on this one, a lovely bungalow near the freeway and easy commuting distance to the base.

We both like to cook and bake, and the kitchen was quite seductive.

The backyard offers a lot of gardening prospects for Madame P, and a large garage/shed which has possibilities for painting and gaming in the warm months.  But what about the interior wargaming room?  This middle room in the basement offered some interesting possibilities.

I liked these shelves, but the lighting was a bit weak and as it was in the centre of the house, there was no natural light.

But what about this room at the back?

Hmmm.  Exterior light through a window on to the driveway, and three sets of fluorescent lights in the ceiling.  Room for two tables, if a bit cramped, and space for some shelving at the back.  There's additional storage in an adjoining workroom for boxes of figures and scenery.

I won't say this was the deciding factor, but it helped.  Possession date is 6 July, and move in date may be a bit later, depending on when a mover is available.  Now, a month left to finish packing, sorting, downsizing, and of course, embarking the little men.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Embarking the Troops

For the last few months I’ve been haunting thrift stores, looking for empty biscuit tins among other things (a $1 Armani Collezione tie was a nice bonus).   The biscuit tins are to start loading my figures for the upcoming move in July.   Thanks to a kind friend I have a goodly supply of adhesive magnetic sheets that I can use either to line the pans for those figures based on metal washers (below left), or to put on the bottoms of figures based on rounds of wood cut with a circular saw (my previous practice before I discovered laser-cut MDF bases).   Here are all my individually based American Civil War figures in one biscuit tin.

Once the tins are filled, I’ll fill them with packing peanuts, generously supplied by another friend, and load them into boxes for the trip.  We’re close enough to our new posting that I can load the most sensitive of my toys and drive them in my car, which will be far better than entrusting them to the packers and movers for a long trip across Canada.  When we moved to Alberta from Nova Scotia (almost clear across Canada), I had all my figures packed in boxes with This Side Up marked on them.  I gave strict instructions to the packers to make sure they were properly loaded.  The young lads nodded and smiled.  When I unpacked the shipping boxes, the little boxes with my toys had been crammed in any which way.  I am sure I cried for a bit that day.

I have to say that this method of loading troops is probably much easier and more orderly than what it must have been like in the ACW, if this period photo (Baldy Smith's IX Corps loading for transport to Fortress Monroe) is anything to go on.

In a few minutes Kay and I will meet up with our realtor and we are off to look at houses in the area of Barrie, Ontario, which is about an hour north of Toronto.   We have certain things will be looking for.  Price, foremost, since we are close enough to Toronto to feel the effects of its insanely priced housing market.  Gardening potential, for Madame Padre.  Commuting distance to the base for me, and somewhere down the list of priorities, a suitable gaming room with (one hopes) natural light.

Wish us luck.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Another Longstreet Game: Holding the High Ground

On Saturday last, my chum James invited me over to an afternoon of ACW gaming and a delicious dinner of pulled pork courtesy of his lovely wife, Elizabeth.   A very pleasant day.  We revisited the brigades we had fought with in our previous game.   All figures are 28mm from my own collection.

James had two regiments of Seasoned Veteran infantry (4 and 6 stands strength), a regiment of Eager Recruits (5 stands) from his first fight, and a new regiment of Seasoned Veterans (6 stands) that he had gained between battles.   He also had 6 stands of Eager Recruit cavalry and two light (6pdr) cannon (he had lost a light howitzer in our previous fight).  You can read his account of the battle here, but I assure you that my account is more truthful.

My command, under Archibald Eustace Glossop, a renowned cavalry commander from the Mexican War, had two regiments of Eager Veteran infantry: the 21st Mississippi (6 stands), the 9th Texas (5 stands), and one of Eager Recruit infantry (14th Mississippi, 7 stands),  I also had 7 bases of Eager Recruit cavalry (the 9th Kentucky). I was well set with artillery.  Besides my three bases of light artillery from my first battle (2 cannon and 1 howitzer), I had also picked up another base after my first battle, a section of Napoleons.  One thing we had both forgotten to do after our first battle was to “top up” our brigades with green replacements to get us to the minimum strengths for brigades in the campaign game, so we could have had more figures on the table.  

We rolled a random scenario, in which one side has to defend two hills separated by some nasty terrain.  Each hill was an objective marker.   Since James’ commanding persona is some kind of crafty Indian fighter, I was badly out scouted, and had to place my units in defence.  I had a few terrain choices, so I opted for a wall on the right hand hill, and a ford in the stream between the two hills, so I would have some sort of interior lines.

I placed all my light artillery on the left hand hill, with the 21st MS.  The 9th TX was in support, but also near enough to the ford that they could move to the right if James put his weight there.  On the right I gave my eager but still green boys from the 14th MS behind the stone wall, with the Napoleon, and assigned the 9th KY horse to support that flank. 

The 14th Mississippi and their supporting Napoleon watches the Yankee brigade massing in front of them.  James leaves his cavalry to threaten my left flank, and he’s evidently determined to mass his force to take my right.  

Trickiness!   James acquired this card in the post-battle stage of our last game, and plays it on me know.  I lose the top four cards from my action deck for all of this game, reducing my deck and potentially depriving me of some nasty tricks of my own.


I immediately start to move my Texans to the ford to bolster the right flank, and have one my light guns on the left hill limber up to follow.   James plays a card which has the effect of halting the Texans for a turn, which was quite clever as it blocked up the ford and delayed the transfer of my artillery as well.

Fortunately the Kentucky cavalry aren’t likewise delayed, and they gallop behind the hill to take up position on the right of my line.  They will prove useful in the fight to come.

Artillery plays its part.   My Napoleon crew pours canister fire into the advancing bluecoats, while James bombards the Mississipians behind their stone well.  The cover advantage helps them enormously (James could only hit the on a 6 on a d6) and while they would lose two stands, the Mississippians hold firm.

Cannister fire from the Napoleon tears gaps in the Irish line, but they still advance.

The reinforcement of my Texans on the right was further delayed when James played a Confusion card on them and they got mired in the swamp between the two hills.  My light artillery section did arrive and took up position on the left of the 14th MS, and frantically began to unlimber.  Meanwhile the 9th KY formed line and dismounted.  I had considered leaving them mounted, until realizing that Longstreet penalizes mounted cavalry in melee with formed infantry facing to their front, on the grounds that such engagements were rare in the ACW and usually ended badly for the cavalry.  Better to have the KY boys in a firing line, I thought, and their weight of fire would prove valuable.

James had a very sound plan of attack, which was to assault my position with as much strength as he could muster.  Alas for him, I played the Pinkerton Intelligence card, which invokes hesitation and prevents one unit from charging or attacking in a given turn.  I don’t think I get to play that card in scenarios after 1862, but it is helpful until then, and this meant that half of James’ brigade did not charge.  He had some success, capturing my light artillery before it could unlimber, but the 14th MS held firm and threw the Yanks back from the wall in confusion.

My boys pour it into the Yanks while the Texans finally emerge from the swamp and threaten the Yanks’ flanks.

In a scene very reminiscent of Fredericksburg, the Yanks fall back from the deadly wall, leaving the field strewn with their dead and wounded.  James has had two of his four infantry regiments wrecked, and lost his chance to storm the objective.   He preserves his force for another day.

In the post-battle phase, I get my second victory of the campaign, (2 for 2) but neither James or I get promoted (nothing really but a Longstreet mechanism for bragging rights).  He picked up an Epic Point for capturing my gun, but I got two Eps for holding both the objectives.   In the after battle reckoning, none of my regiments lost any Elan for tacking casualties, so all four are still rated as Eager.  However, sadly, both my Eager Veteran infantry, both untouched during the battle, lost two stands each from disease.  Poor camp discipline, I fear.  On the positive side, I was able to raise the 14th MS to Veteran status and did receive a second Napleon to bring my artillery to four bases.  I also received two green units to bring me up to full strength for a CSA brigade in 1862 (less than the Union max strength).

Glossop’s Brigade now consists of:

Infantry:  21st Miss (Eager Veteran) 4 stands,  9th Texas (Eager Veteran) 4 stands, 14th Mississippi (Eager Veteran) 5 stands, 31 Tennessee (Eager Recruit) 7 stands, 25th Mississippi (Eager Recruit) 7 stands.

Cavalry: 9th Kentuck (Eager Recruit) 5 stands.

Artillery: 1 6pr smoothbore, 1 6pd Howitzer, 2 Napoleon smoothbores.

Our impressions of Longstreet continue to be positive.  We like the card system as a way of simulating friction and command and control, and enjoy the fun of putting a stick in the other’s spokes at a key moment in the fight.  We also like the way Longstreet plays to a fairly quick conclusion once we have the basics mastered.   The campaign game calls for two battles in 1862, so we look forward to another 1862 punch up with our regrouped and reinforced commands.

Blessings to your die rolls,


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Catching Up: A Miscellaneous Sort of Post


It’s been a good week since my last post and I don’t really have a reason for that, just a reflection of a somewhat unsettled state on the home front as we get ready to move in a month or so.  Time for a bit of a catchup.

A week ago I had the chance to play with our friend MikeyB’s (aka Weirdy Beardy) 15mm Western Desert toys.   Mikey’s been collecting WD stuff for some years and we persuaded him to haul it all outout.   James and I took the Italians (I’m a noted Italophile) and Barry and Mikey played the Brits.   We used I Ain’t Been Shot Mum v. 3 as the rules.

Here my fearless Italians advance on the British left flank, after taking out an unfortunate pair of 2pdr ATGs with a barrage of HE tank fire.   Everyone’s had their double espresso and almond biscotti and are feeling molto avanti.

Doesn’t he have some nice kit?

Autoblinda armoured cars race at the village, but are driven off by a platoon of Vickers guns.   Driving an up-engined tin can into a hail of .303 lead proves too much for the heroes of Italy.

James sends his force at the British centre, unlimbering his AT guns to hold the flank against the British armour we suspect is lurking in the sand dunes.

Surprise!   There’s a battery of 25pdrs in the British centre.   Having uncloaked this Death Star, the British proceeded to smash two of my poor little tanks and drive off the third in a somewhat less than functional state of repair.

Another surprise!  Barry’s infantry come charging out of the village to rip into my advancing platoon.   The melee goes for badly for my latter day legionaires and the survivors are sent packing.  Nice offensive spirit by Barry.

Andiamo!  Let’s get out of here!

In other gaming, I’ve been enjoying a chance courtesy of tireless painter and blogger Jonathan Freitag to play in a Play by Blog version of the Battle of Raab, an epic Austrian-French punch up in Italy.   I’m playing the part of Prince Eugene.   I give my orders to my divisional commanders via emails to Jonathan who compares my orders with those of my Austrian counterpart and then plays out the tactical consequences on his tabletop.   If you have some time, it’s worth checking out the ebb and flow of the battle here.   Feel free to give me some advice.   I’m trying very hard to punch a way through the Austrian lines on the far side of the Raab, but it’s proving a tough go.

Mayhem along the Pancza courtesy of Jonathan F.

This is the second such game I’ve played lately.   Conrad Kinch ran a very exciting game along similar lines, emailed orders from myself and the other player which he worked out on his tabletop, a very interesting combination of kriegspiel and roleplaying set in the Peninsula War, in which my gallant redcoats fought off a dastardly column of Frenchers to secure a vital bridge and village.   CK’s emailed updates and quick videos of the tab;e, with the terse “Your orders, sir?" came once every few weeks and kept me sane while I was ploughing away on my thesis this winter.   Both these experiences have given me much food for thought on how I might improve on an ACW game, the Bluffsburg campaign, which I ran here several years ago.

Speaking of young Kinch, I was also pleased in the last week to have played a small role in inspiring his “Victorian Volunteer Regimental Name Generator”, a useful sort of tool for naming fictitious units in Her Majesty’s far flung dominions.

The Kars Light Industrial Volunteers, useful chaps for skirmishing or for making decorative biscuit tins, as required. 

Finally I’ve been slogging away on getting more 6mm Napoleonic scenery finished.  Here are the finished bases for the Timecast bridges I showed in progress in my last post.

A quiet stream flows under a rustic bridge somewhere in central Europe.

Goes well with my Baccus rubber river sections, I think.

I’ve also been working on some 6mm buildings suitable for Italy from Paper Terrain, including a rather spiffing monastery on top of a small hill, which will be a useful terrain piece as an objective maker (seize the wine cellars!), an army HQ, or just a decorative bit on the side of the table.  It’s almost done so I’ll save that for another post.  Likewise, James and I had another go at Longstreet last night, and I’ll save that for another post as well.

Hope you’ve all had a good week and that I can catch up with your blogs in the week to come.

Blessings to your brushes and die rolls!


Monday, May 11, 2015

Over the Bridge and Through the Woods: Some 6mm Scenery

It’s been a good week.  Madame Padre has been home since Thursday last and is getting stronger every day.   I finally spoke to my military career manager today and the posting message, without which nothing happens, arrives tomorrow, so we can finally begin the relocation process and finding the right new home with the right wargaming space.

There’s been precious little figure painting accomplished of late.    Since my last forays into Blucher and 6mm Napoleonics, I’ve resolved that I want my battles to look good, which means I need more scenery and terrain finished.

To that end I’ve finished several small projects, including painting two river sets from Baccus, their GSC2 River Straight Sections and GSC3 River Curved Sections.  These sets are composed of rubber components, the longer ones of which are about 4” long.   Here’s what they look like on the table, with some of my infantry bases for scale.

I washed them in soap and water, primed them in flat back spray paint, then dry brushed the edges.  The water is a Vallejo 70.979 German Camo Dark Green from their Panzer Series, treated with Vallejo 76.512 Green Wash.  Once it dried, I brushed on Woodland Scenics C1211 Realistic Water to get a glossy look.

Here are the contents of the two Baccus sets.   I didn’t measure the total length but the two packs provide a satisfying amount of stream for a reasonably sized gaming table.


Of course, one needs bridges.   I had already painted three Timecast resin bridge models, but decided I needed to base them so they would integrate with these river sections.  Here’s that work currently in progress.  For the first two bridge models, I decided I would build up the river banks using strips of rubber (from a kitchen shelf liner product) covered with plastic wood.  

Then I wondered if I was overthinking the problem, and if I simply needed to represent the banks using model railroad ballast.  I think it looks just as good.

Once everything dries I need to paint and flock.  I’ll use the same colours for the water that I did for the river sections, and I think it should all go together well, as follows.


Finally, my friend James is of the opinion that one can never have enough tries.  I’ve already made several small stands of woods.  I wanted a larger one and had the idea of road running through it.  The base is MDF, painted and flocked, and the road is textured from plastic wood.  I left convenient gaps in the trees to allow a stand of infantry to be placed on either side of the road to show possession of the wood.

Austrian grenzers stalk their foe.

One of the things I’m enjoying about 6mm is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of money or time to create good looking terrain features.   I can feel the larger scales calling me back to them, but for now I want to bear down and get some more scenery finished for my next Napoleonics battle.  

Blessings to your brushes and die rolls!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Hospital Tradition

Twice now in our twenty years together, Madame Padre has had to spend a few nights in hospital.

The first time, early on in our time together, she was working in a garden centre and was required to wear steel-toed workbooks.   Her hastily purchased pair pinched her toes, a problem she solved by wrapping her blistered toes in tape and gauze and soldiering on, without complaining.  She’s a trooper, that girl.   However, I was increasingly concerned and on day four, noticed first that she was acting erratically, and second that her feet smelled brutal.   I rushed her to hospital and the verdict was compression gangrene.   Miraculously, she met a doctor who was willing to throw a broadband of antibiotics at her rather than consider amputation, which was a very real possibility given that she is a Type 1 Diabetic.   After a few days, things got under control, but for the next six weeks she took the drugs through an intravenous line, or PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) that ran through her arm and up into her chest cavity.

Despite this impediment she sneaked out of hospital to sit an exam at the local college for her Landscape Design diploma, and afterwards, basically ignored her doctor’s warning not to do any lifting because the line in her chest could be disturbed and damage her heart.  One day I came home from work and found her moving 20 pound rocks to relay a garden bed.   Perhaps those sorts of antics are why I love her.

The first time she was in hospital, I would bring the Scrabble game and we would while away the evenings.  Scrabble is our favourite game, though neither of us is very good at it.   We have siblings who memorize ten words a day and play competitively.  We’re not like that.  We muddle through at between 200-300 points each per game.  I won all those hospital games, though she claimed the medicine made her lightheaded and she was at a disadvantage. I say I won, fair and square.

This week we had the chance to play Scrabble again in hospital.   Madame Padre had been experiencing cramps and pains in her nether regions form some time, and an ultrasound led her doctor to believe that the culprit was an ovarian cyst.   Best have the lady bits out, he told her, since you’re not really using them anymore.  It was a longer and more complicated operation than we had been led to believe, which meant an incarceration of three days and nights.   She felt up to a scrabble game on the second night.

Madame Padre’s game is not off to a good start.  Here she adopts the post of Rodin’s “Thinker” to intimidate me.

Here’s the reason for that furrowed brow.   What a terrible set of tiles to draw!   I almost felt sorry for her.

Madame Padre is home now and getting stronger and peskier by the day.  The surgery discovered a few more problems than we had been led to expect, and the way ahead will be arduous, but I have no doubt that my girl will push through in her own stubborn way.    I would be grateful if you would keep us in your thoughts.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I won that scrabble game, but in the words of the Duke, it was a damned near thing.

Blessings to us all.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday Night Boardgame: Berlin '85 Update, CCN Napoleonics Wertingen, And A New ACW Game

Hello all!

It’s Tuesday and that means, in my fitful, irregular sort of way, a board game update.   First, an update on the SPI Berlin ’85 game I mentioned here a month ago.  Sorry to those who were awaiting more updates.  That game ended on Day 3 of World War Three as a NATO marginal victory.   Most of the US and British units had been eliminated and the survivors, along with a handful of remaining WG police and militia, were pushed back to the city centre.  The British suffered badly when the American flank collapsed and the East German division got behind them, cutting off their retreat routes.  The lavish amounts of Soviet artillery in the south make it very hard the for Yanks to hold their ground, but they did it long enough for a tiny US battery to shell the key rail line at the south end of the map.  As long as that unit is protected by NATO Zones of Control, it can rack up an impressive score of victory points by interdicting the Soviet supply line to the main front, so it did its job beautifully until finally hunted down and eliminated.  The Soviets never committed their Airborne division, since that comes with a steep cost in VPs.   Berlin ’85 has some interesting optional rules, including the use of Soviet chemical weapons, which would make it much harder for NATO.  The design notes admit that this is a pretty dire advantage for the Soviets, but speculates that the USSR would likely not use chemical weapons in an urban context, given the terrible toll on civilians and resulting propaganda costs.  Fortunately this was never tested.  I’ll put Berlin 85 back on the shelf,as it was one of the better games to appear in Strategy and Tactics in the late 1970s (and there were some bad ones - remember Armada?), and it would be fun to use the unknown strength counter sides of the units in a two player game.

 Last week I had Command and Colors Napoleonics set up on the games table.  I chose the first official scenario from the Austrian Army expansion,  Wertingen.  This battle (8 Oct 1805) came in the opening phase of the Ulm campaign, and saw Murat’s cavalry and Oudinot’s grenadiers crush an isolated Austrian force.  I played it solo and the French won it easily, 5-2.   

Starting positions (sorry for those of you bored by photos of blocks.  Not very sexy, I know).  The Austrians outnumber the French, but the French have 2.5 times as many cavalry units, and a big chunk of the Austrian army is sitting on the right wing, whereas the French are massed against the weaker Austrian left.  

While the Austrians did well early, knocking off a heavy French cavalry unit and killing its leader (sorry, Murat fans), the  French cavalry ground away at the Austrian left, while a timely Flank March card allowed the French to get the grenadiers forward early on.   While bloody for both sides, the end was not long in doubt.  Here’s the view at the end.  The Austrian Left has been entirely eliminated.

I want to go through the Austrian scenarios and see which ones lend themselves to interesting miniatures games.   I have enough 6mm figures to do Wertingen, but I’m not convinced it would be an interesting battle.   The consensus on is that this is almost an impossible scenario for the Austrians to win.

I can say though that the Austrian army in CCNaps is interesting.  The big 5 block Austrian line infantry units can put out some fearsome firepower, and the Battalion Mass rule allows Austrian line to go into Square without giving up a card, which seems very handy.   I’m looking forward to dipping into more of the scenarios in this Expansion.  Speaking of CCN Expansions, is anyone else excited about #5, Generals, Marshals and Tactics?  

In a future Tuesday Boardgame, I’ll talk about a game that just arrived in the mail, Huzzah!: Grand Tactical Battles of the American Civil War, from One Small Step.

 The designer, Richard A. Dengel, has done at least one other ACW game, Rebel Yell, which I don’t know.  However, the fact that the four battles depicted in this game (Belmot, Newbern, Iuka and Stephenson’s Depot) are fairly obscure, and the small tactical focus of this game, promised to scratch a number of my itches.  There’s a review by Paul Comben here, and a spirited response from Dengel.

Here some quick impressions from my unboxing.  My heart sank as I picked up the shrink wrapped box and heard individual pieces of cardboard rattling around inside.   That didn’t inspire confidence.   Here’s the reason why I was hearing that sound.  Almost half of the counters had detached from the two counter sheets and were rattling around.  Some had infiltrated the folded maps, others had made their way into the rules and scenario booklets.  I tried to be careful not to lose any, but I think sorting the counters out is going to be a bit of a chore.

Speaking of counters, it would have been nice of the publisher, OSS, to have at least included a handful of ziplock plastic bags to store the counters once punched and sorted.  GMT does that, and while it’s a small thing, I think it goes some way to making up for the lost golden days of plastic counter trays that SPI and Avalon Hill once routinely included in their boxed games.

Huzzah! comes with four separate, quite small maps.  Here’s the map for Belmont, which I’m going to try first.  Belmont was US Grant’s first battle, and not his best by a long shot.    The map seems a little dark but it is rich on geographical features and has a pleasing number of charts printed on it, which may make up for the absence of a graphic player aid card (the one reference chart in the box is all text based).

So watch for news of the Battle of Belmont in a future Tuesday Boardgame report.

Before I sign off, I note that today is the anniversary of  the Wilderness, another US Grant battle, and a much bigger one.   I recently read Gordon C. Rhea’s book, The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864.   I know SPI did this battle years ago, perhaps in one of their quad packs, but I’m not aware of anyone who has done a board game treatment since.  It’s a battle that would lend itself well to partial treatment on the tabletop, and I’ve given that some thought, but I’d need a lot of trees.  Lots and lots of trees.  I don’t think one could do the whole battle unless it was in 6mm, as it was a huge, sprawling, confused engagement.  Whatever one thinks of Grant as a commander, and he didn’t exactly shine at the Wilderness, at the end of May 6 he turned his army south, and that was the beginning of the end for Lee and his army.  Not every general would have made that commitment after two days of bruising and mauling battle.  Good fellow, Grant.

Well chaps, it’s past my bedtime, so that’s all for now.  Blessings to your die rolls!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Back to Blucher: Trouble Along The Pukenbruch

-0Last night I tried my second game of Blucher, only this time, instead of playing it solo, I took it to the lads in our group.  Marshall Patrick took the French, while James and Mike spilt the Austrians and I helped everyone through it, though sadly, as noted below, made some mistakes.

We used the random terrain setup from the basic rules, with each side having a dozen terrain choices.    For some reason the chaps decided to put a stream in the middle of the table, forcing us to play from end to end.   I chose the armies since we didn’t want to waste time explaining the army builder rules.  I rolled a random spread of numbers, giving the Austrians a small advantage, 300 points to the French 260, or 22 Austrian units to the French 19.  The Austrians had three corps of infantry (one grenadier, one line, one mostly conscript), a corps of heavy cavalry, and four unattached units of hussars.  The French had two corps of infantry (elite and line mixed), a corps of heavy cavalry, and a corps of light cavalry.    

All corps entered the game on blinds.   I adapted the recon rules from the Scharnhorst campaign rules at the back of the Blucher book, allowing both sides to choose how many light cavalry brigades they will allot to pre game recon.  The Austrians put 4 to the French 2, for which I allowed them to spot two French blinds.  One was the infantry corps at the top left of this photo, the other was a dummy.  In retrospect it would have been more interesting if I had allowed the Austrians to use this advantage to try and bring one or two corps onto another table edge to represent a grand flanking manoeuvre.Austrian objectives are the two hills shown on the left side of the river, which was christened the Pukenbruch.  The towns on either side of the river were Fahrtompuken (right) and Neuefahrtompuken (left) and the key hills behind were the Klompenbergen.  Yes, we are easily amused in our little gaming circle. 

We took units off blinds when they came within 8 Base Widths of enemy.  Here the French heavy cavalry (three brigades of dragoons, two of cuirassier, with horse artillery) face off against the Austrian grenadier corps (four brigades of grenadiers and heavy artillery).   The river was fordable but difficult terrain, and would prove a hard barrier for the Austrians to cross in the face of opposition.  I chose to put the artillery into units rather than parcelling it out among the brigades, to give the players a sense of how artillery works.

Opposing infantry corps square off in the centre, each putting one brigade into respective halves of the town as garrisons.   Not much happened on this front.   One of the French brigades got chewed on by artillery but both sides made their main efforts on the flank.  At the top you can see Patrick’s hussars and infantry crossing the stream to fight the Austrian conscripts, who would give a surprisingly good account of themselves.

A furball at the bottom of the table, as Patrick’s heavy cavalry kept pushing the grenadiers back across the river.   Since they were crossing the stream they were unable to go into square (Prepared in Blucher terms) and would be at a significant disadvantage in combat with the French horse.

The final battle.   The Austrian heavy cavalry corps push across the stream, and the French heavy horse are too depleted to oppose them as the Grenadiers continue to batter them.   By this point it was after midnight and we were on the last Austrian turn.  Hey, look at those sexy measuring sticks!

We declared the game a French victory, but that may have been an injustice to the Austrians.  After checking the rules and the Blucher rules section of the Honour Forum, which is an excellent resource, I found five rules that we were not using properly.

1) All infantry units can employ skirmish fire.  Units with the skirmish trait just do it better (getting the count one 5 as a 6 bonus).  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowing the Austrian line and grenadier units to use skirmish fire.   Only two units in the Austrian list, Veteran Grenz and Avant-Garde Brigade (a mix of light artillery, infantry, grenz and cavalry) have the Skirmish trait, but all Austrian infantry units can use skirmish fire (dice = 1/2 of élan rounded up) at 2 BWs.
2) Any attacking unit that loses a melee combat to a defending unit that does not break loses 2 fatigues (meaning it drops 2 élan levels).  We were playing it last night that attackers which lose a melee and have to retreat only lost 1 fatigue.   This would have been true in the event of a tie, but not if the attacker loses.   Both players actually benefitted from this misunderstanding, though it may have worked to the French advantage in that their heavy cavalry were pushed back several times by the Austrian grenadiers but took fewer fatigues than they should have.  
3) Infantry in combat with cavalry NEVER retreat, provided the infantry does not break.  Sam’s rationale for this is as follows: “Infantry either holds, or it dies.  But it doesn’t retreat or fall back in good order after being charged by cavalry, because that would be an invitation to be slaughtered.”  This misunderstanding probably worked more against the Austrians last night.
4) In the comments on my last Blucher post here, I got some terrific advice on how to handle the MO dice when playing solo.  I confess though I hadn’t really thought it through when we were playing face to face.  What developed during our game was a dynamic where the Active players were asking the Passive player if they still had MOs left to move certain units.  That was wrong.  I hadn’t realized that it is permissible to move more units than you have unit MOs left, but that ends your turn.  So, say the Active player activates a Corps with 6 MOs.  After this move, he only has 2 MOs left.   The Active player then wants to activate another Corps with 5 MOs. He CAN do this, but that’s it. The Passive player would note that he only has two MOs left, and allow the Active player to move his corps with 5 MOs, but then he would lift the cup and say, “you’re done”.  This means that the Passive player NEVER tells the Active player how many MOs are left.   Provided that the Active player has even 1 MO left, he can activate a Corps of any size or activate an individual unit, but upon finishing either of those Moves, he is told by the Passive player that he is done.   I was wondering why this process was proving so difficult, resulting in several partial Corps activations, and this explains why.  This error no doubt hurt the Austrians more since they were the attacker.  I apologize to those who tried to explain this to me in comments to a previous post here.  I’m a bit of a thick sometimes.
5) Finally, here’s a use for the CinC that didn’t occur to me to tell the players.  The CinC can move ANY friendly units within 2BWs of his stand REGARDLESS of how many MOs the active player as left.  However, once the CinC moves these units, the Active Player’s turn ends, EVEN IF the active player still has MOs left.  So, using the CinC figure is a bit of an insurance policy if you think that you might not have enough MOs left to accomplish your goals.  
Even with these errors we had a good game played to a conclusion, and I think everyone felt that Blucher has a lot of promise.  My chum James has already posted his thoughts on last night here.  With two games under my belt, I think I understand the basics pretty well, and see tons of potential.   Hopefully soon we can try the Scharnhorst campaign system, on one of the campaign maps available here, and then graduating to a larger project I am just starting to pencil out.
That’s all for now.  Blessings to your die rolls, mes braves!

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