Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wednesday Wargame: Putin Strikes

That rascal Vladimir, always stirring the pot.  Back in 2016, when we worried more about Russia invading and annexing and less about Russia meddling in democracy, One Small Step Games published Putin’s War, a relatively small, operational-scale game about a conventional war in Eastern Europe.  I bought it, because of a weakness for “next war war-games”, which used to be a big thing in my youthful gaming days; in the last decade of the Cold War, publishers like SPI and GDW made a lot of money off games imagining WW3, though that subject dried up in the optimistic years after the Berlin Wall fell.   Interestingly, OSS’ website suggests that the bloom may be back on the next war rose, and big competitors like GMT Games have published a lot in this era as well, imagining future wars in Poland, Taiwan, and Korea.  Perhaps, alas, a new war Iran game may not be too far off.

Putin Strikes is a Ty Bomba design - he has a long resume and an interest in hypothetical and alt-history designs.    He’s also one of those designers that seem to inspire strong feelings in people.  One writer on BGG called him “the reigning haiku poet of the wargaming world” and wrote that “Simple, fast, fun, elegant and reasonably historical war-games are Ty’s trademark”.  Well, Putin Strikes is certainly simple and I played the full 8-game turns solitaire in one day, so it was reasonably fast.  The rules are a quick read, though as I subsequently learned, the online errata would make for a different game.  

You get a fairly simple, bland map showing E. Europe from the Baltics down to the Black Sea.   Starting forces are Russian, the three Baltic countries, Ukraine, Moldavia, Rumania, and Belarus.   The NATO countries come on as random reinforcements.  The Russians start with 12 cities in Russia, plus Kaliningrad, each worth 2 VPs, and have to capture 12 more cities to get a total of 36 VPs at the end of 8 tuns.   They can just go for cities, as I did, or focus all their efforts on just capturing the Baltics and securing the rail line from Kaliningrad to the east, while holding all their initial cities.

Some things I immediately noticed and didn’t like.  The game turn sequence is like Go - one side activates a unit stack, then the other can move or pass, and so on until all are done.   Units can either Move or Attack, but NOT do both.    This restriction makes little sense to me, given that many of the units in the game are air assault units which presumably specialize in rapid, surprise attacks.  It also seems odd that no commanders in the game know how to execute a hasty attack.   Also, there are no Zones of Control, so units can move past enemy units effortlessly, but there is no armoured or mechanized exploitation after combat, so presumably WW3 will go much slower than WW2 did.

As many reviewers have noted, the game is all about cities.   Each city has an inherent garrison of 6 strength points, and then can hold either six brigades or two divisions worth of steps.   The garrison is always the last step to be removed.  Defenders in cities get a 2 column shift in their favour on the Combat Results Table, which is simple and quite unforgiving to the attacker on low-odds attacks.  Thus the game resolves into a series of sieges, like this one mounted against poor Kiev.   The best choice for the defender is to mass as many units in cities as possible, since the allied units, like the blue Rumanian division below, are too weak (3 SP attack) to counterattack a Russian stack.

 In the rules as printed, there is no restriction in bringing replacements into a siege, so if I had two Ukranian brigades come back to me as replacements, I could pop them into Kiev here and force the Russian to keep banging away at the siege.  Since a lower odds attack is unlikely to kill more than 1 or 2 defending steps at the most, and since the identify maker/garrison with 6 SPs defence is always the last step to die, cities can hold out for a long time.  In the game I player, the Russians did not capture Riga and Tallinin until turn 6, and never got the required 12 cities to win.  Vilnius, for example, was proudly holding out at game’s end with the help of a  German division.  I understand that the online errata now forbid replacements to appear in hexes that are being attacked, so I guess that has been fixed, but the game feels far more like siege warfare than mobile warfare.

The other big problem with the game, I felt, was with the random NATO reinforcements.   NATO has a variable strength unit, depending on the roll of 2d6, which could either be a 2-2 brigade or a mighty, awesome 12-12 division.   However, due to the random die roll to determine reinforcements, the NATO High-Readiness force never appeared, while the two weak Slovakian brigades shown here in olive, plus the Swedes, Germans, Hungarians, and Czechs all appeared to lend a hand before NATO got its act together.  Perhaps the US President kept questioning the value of NATO, who knows, but it felt wonky.

In general, the allied reinforcements do not have the power to do more than make a very few counterattacks against weak Russian stacks.  Better to use them, especially the brigades, to hold cities, which accentuates the siege warfare feel of the game.

Airpower is very abstract, and depends on the differential between both sides rolling 2d6 as to how many air units one side or the other receives each turn.   Each airpower counter can shift the CRT one column in the player’s favour, but they can also be used to interdict movement, or deny mobility to air assault units.  Again, because of the random reinforcement roll, the NATO air reinforcements never arrived in the game.   Perhaps all the F-35s were grounded for maintenance.

Other features about the game are quite simple.  There are no supply rules, as the design assumes that in the first month of the war, the game’s timescale, all units would be prepared and well-supplied.   Likewise all units, no matter their type, move 6 MPs per turn, with the usual costs for forest, swamp, rivers, etc.

There are some fixed ideas of the designer in the game - divisions are far more robust than brigades and can ignore CRT results of 1 or 2 steps lost, on the theory that western armies are wrong to get rid of divisions.   That seems odd to me, as a big Russian Grad missile strike will kill you whether you are in a division or brigade, but anyway.  There is also some nice chrome, such as the Russian Vostok unit, which has a variable strength in each attack. depending on how well Russian propaganda does with ethnic Russian minorities in certain regions.  Curiously however the vaunted Russian Anti Access/Aerial Denial (A2/AD) missile defences in the north are not modelled, and there is no naval game or ability to assault from the sea.

In playing the game, I immediately ditched the sequence of play, instead allowing one side or the other to move all of its counters and attack in one turn, then the other, in the classic style.  I allowed unengaged air assault units to add the SPs to the battle if they were within 6 MPs of the defender.

While some reviews were fairly positive, I confess that I was unimpressed, and would agree with the review entitled Putin Strikes Out.  This was a disappointing game, and if I was going to return to this subject, it would be a via a game like this.
Blessings to your die-rolling defence of the free peoples!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Sometimes You Paint, Sometimes You Build, Sometimes You Salvage, Sometimes You Re-base

I love starting new projects, and always have too many on the go, but sometimes it’s good to revisit some older figures that just need some love.  This weekend, while Joy was in the states visiting her daughter and granddaughter, I had the place to myself and found that what I got done wasn’t at all what I had thought I would do.

Here are some GW LOTR plastic orcs that a friend gave me - he found a bag of about 30 figures, very roughly painted, jumbled in a zip-lock bag.   I had my doubts about remediating the paintwork, but I pulled out a handful and decided to see what I could do with them.   I’d say I repainted about half of each figure and tried to give them scary-face shields, though I think my surrogate granddaughter could have done scarier faces.

I also gave them my usual bad-guy base treatment - scrubby, mostly barren ground, evocative of Mordor, Dead Marshes, etc.

I liked how these fellows turned out - they fit nicely into my growing evil LOTR models.  I will probably salvage handful in the near future.

Also underway is a significant basing project for my Isengard collection.   About ten years ago, when my son was a teen and living with me, we played a LOT of the original GW LOTR Strategy Battle Game.   To get some figures on the table quickly I cut a lot of corners, such as leaving the bases still in their original black undercoat and nothing more.  Currently I have about 30 of these figures in the basing shop, and a few of them marched out ready for action this weekend, including this Uruk-Hai captain.

These 6 Uruk-Hai crossbowmen were only 60% painted, and required a fair bit of brushwork to get them ready.   Repainted and with some proper basing, they look ok.   I would like to get a full unit of 12, but they were pricey buggers ten years ago back when GW sold LOTR metal models in blisters of 3.  Perhaps I can find some more on Ebay or the like.  In Dragon Rampant terms, I would rate these as heavy missiles.

Between the stray basing material and my cat deciding that the light box makes a good place for a nap, these pictures are rather messy.

I did also finish painting some new figures and got them based.  These are 8 orc arches from Vendel miniatures.   My friend James and I are very fond of the Vendel fantasy range, and there are some great examples on his blog.  They’re fairly simple figures but they have a pleasing, old-school look and feel to them with tons of facial expression.

The Vendel moulds got sold recently so all this range is sadly OOP at the moment.  When I was at Hot Lead this March, I was talking to an American fellow who knew the chap who bought the moulds, so I have hopes that they will be back in production soon. 

I only have 8 of these archers, so I decided when I was ordering some bits from North Star recently, that I would splash out on a box of their Oathmark goblins, to see if I could build this unit up a bit.

Each sprue comes with five torsos that can be built out in several ways.  I decided to build four of them as archers.   They have a hunched, furtive look, making them look sneaky and fierce, but they look suitably Mordor-ish.   It took me about ten minutes to assemble five figures, with a minimum of hacking and cutting.

Side by side comparison with the Vendel figures.   I think they’ll work together.

‘So a mixed bag of thoroughly bad hats, with a variety of worthwhile ways to use spare time - painting, salvaging, basing, cutting and gluing.   I’m pleased with the results, though I had better get some reinforcements for Rohan and Gondor into the field soon.   And speaking of the field … I should use these figures in a game - what a crazy thought!   

Blessings to your brushes!


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Meanwhile, In Rohan - 6

Revisiting my never-ending Lord of the Rings interest here and a brief return to Rohan, where housing starts are up.

This is the 4Ground Viking Trader’s Shop which will make a splendid addition to the Rohan village I have been working on for the last few years.  I suspect it will attract some Uruk-Has raiders in search of plunder, and will need to be stoutly defended.  And I know just the chaps for the job.

Also on the painting bench are some aspiring Riders of Rohan.   These are Goth Heavy Cavalry from Footsore Miniatures.  

Pros:  The figures are metal, and so are the horses, so I won’t have the problem I have with the blasted Games Workshop plastic horses breaking off at the legs when clumsily handled on the table.  Also, they look suitably Rohanish with their long hair, beards and moustaches, and generally simple accoutrements.   They don’t match perfectly with the GW Riders figures, but I have long since decided to build LOTR forces with figures from whatever range I please, so nyah boo to you, GW.

Cons:  These figures came with a  considerable amount of flash, which involved laborious scraping and filing of men and horses.  Also, while they came with round shields (not shown), I forgot to order weapons, so I ordered a pack of javelins from Northstar.   Also their gripping hands were solid, so I had to carefully drill them out so the javelins will fit.  Finally, they don’t have capes or bows, as the GW Rider models all do, and while I could model them with green stuff, I’m not currently so inclined, so they will serve the Riddermark as they are.

Bottom line:  while I was quite excited to order some Footsore minis, and will no doubt order more, I give these figures between a B+ and an A- at best.


I have a quiet weekend ahead, so I am hoping to get a push on and ride these fellows off the table soon.   

Blessings to your brushes!


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