Thursday, 18 September 2014

HOTT On Mars

I played a couple of Barsoomian HOTT games at the club tonight, so I could get a feel for the armies I might be using at MOAB. My opponent was the ever willing Geoff (not pictured, for once).

In the first game Geoff defended with the Green Martians against an attack by the low-tech Red Martians of Manator (no aerials, basically). The Manatorians bottled up the Green Martian attack between two areas of bad going, pushing their infantry to the fore and keeping their thoat-riders as a reserve to block or exploit breakthroughs.

The first Green Martian charge was repelled with casualties, but they regrouped and came in again, punching through the Manatorian line. Tars Tarkas, their hero general, engaged the Manatorian Jeddak in single combat, and killed him to win the battle.

In the second game the forces of John Carter's Helium faced the Red Martian city of Gathol. Both sides had an aerial navy, and the Gathlians a force of thoat cavalry as well. Helium had John Carter.

The aerial navies approached ....

... fought ...

... and fought some more ...

... until the last Heliumitic vessels were swept from the skies.

Meanwhile the rest of Gathol's army was in trouble; John Carter trouble. He had pretty much destroyed their cavalry single-handed, and was now supporting the Heliumitic infantry in wiping out the Gatholian foes.

The first elements of Gathol's navy moved up to support the surviving infantry, and were destroyed by John Carter to give Helium the victory.

Both games were closer than they appeared, especially the second, which hinged on my being unable to get Gathol's navy into the main fight after giving myself a victory point advantage taking out the enemy air vessels.

I think that two of these aries will see use at MOAB. But I'm still not sure which, yet. The mostly aerial Black Pirates are also a possibility.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Return Of The Brown Water Submarines

Despite the frustrations, I enjoyed my ACW submarine games yesterday. However I do like to tinker with games, and I felt that one or two aspects could either be streamlined, or turned into their own subsections. At lunchtime today I jotted down some notes on these changes, and gave them a try when I got home from work this evening.

I have incorporated all states and events that make the submarine easier to spot into an end of turn spotting roll. This could cause the target to flee, but the sub gets a chance to find a new one. In addition I have got rid of the idea of events causing a delay of so many fixed turns, as for most of them the accumulated fatigue over that time will pretty much end the mission. Instead I have added the concept of the sub being immobilised, but being allowed to roll to move off again. This makes things risky, but shouldn't delay it for so long. I have also worked out some proper rules for getting the submarine home, as the original game glosses over this a bit. I thought that since so many missions end with the crew aborting, it would be worth seeing if they make it back after that.

My first run of the tweaked game saw the CSS Hunley attacking a target out in a bay. With hindsight the distance to the target was so great that the sub was onto a loser from the start, but ...

From the off the mission went badly, with the Hunley's crank jamming. The crew managed to repair it, but after a short distance it jammed again. Whilst repairing it for a second time they realised that they had drifted off course, and had to steer the vessel back on line with the target. As they got nearer, the decided to dive, which caused the pumps to break down. By the tie they were repaired, the Hunley's crew had lost sight of the target again, and were now too exhausted to continue, so turned for home. Deciding that being on the surface would be quicker, the sub rose again, and once again the pump broke down. The Hunley wended its way back to port through increasingly choppy water, and the exhausted crew just about reached safety. There would be a lot of inspection of the vessel to determine why things kept breaking down before it would be sent out again.

A second mission saw the Hunley on a river, with not only a shorter distance to the target, but a decent current to help it get there. Unfortunately the current took the Hunley off course, costing it time, then the target spotted its lit candle, upped anchor and sailed off. With no other target available the Hunley turned for home - now going against the current. And with a crank that jammed. Again. As the crew worked to repair it, a freak wave sent the submarine to the bottom of the river. Game over.

I felt my tinkering held up well, despite adding two more failures to my list. I did realise that I'd played the earlier games incorrectly, though, having the freak storm automatically sink the submarine, when it should have been based on a die roll. I can't believe I missed that.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Brown Water Submarines

I was browsing Wargames Downloads again last night and came across a game called 'Brown Water Submarines'. It looked too good to pass up, and for $2 seemed to be a bargain.

I downloaded it, gave it a read through this morning, and set it up to play this evening.

What do you get? Well, it's billed as a boardgame, but the only board is really just a 'dashboard' for your submarine. In this game you take command of one of the pioneering submarines of the American Civil War, on a daring mission to destroy an enemy warship. Each turn you make a couple of simple decisions about the state of your submarines - stay on the surface, light a candle, or close the hatch, for example - then roll on a series of event table to see what happens. Your submarine has to cover a certain (random) distance to the target in order to attack it and obviously has to avoid being sunk by various dangers, or having the crew become so exhausted that the mission is abandoned. Generally anything that makes it easier to get to the target also makes it more likely that you will fail to make it. This is a game for the very lucky and, to be honest, your decisions won't make much of a difference. It's one of those solo games where the narrative you generate is the 'victory'. Actually sinking - even reaching - an enemy ship could be considered a bonus.

Although all you need to play is the dashboard, some markers and a couple of dice, I decided to set up some models for visual reference, and blog photos. They are from my 1/1200th ACW collection.

Good luck getting this close!
The large vessel is the USS Hampton, whilst the submarine is a US spar-torpedo boat.

I decided to try the CSS Hunley first, armed with a spar-torpedo. Its target was out in a bay (which adds to the distance the sub has to travel), on a pleasant August evening.

I started my approach on the surface, with a candle lit as I was far enough away from the target for this not to be a danger.

A freak wave hit the Hunley, and it sank. Game over.

I reset the dashboard, and decided to use the same setup for another go. This time I had the Hunley being towed by a tug, which makes the initial approach quicker, albeit more visible and therefore more dangerous.

The speed of approach was offset by the crew of the tug losing sight of the target. This meant that we'd have to spend a few turns trying to find it again, with the crew getting more exhausted. However this became irrelevant, as a passing boat hit the sub, damaging it, and another freak wave then sank it, leaving the tug towing an empty cable.

A third run saw the Hunley towed into action again. It was hit and damaged by a passing patrol boat, but otherwise kept going. The tug released the towline, and the Hunley dived. And was never seen again.

A fourth try? Well, if you insist. This time I abandoned the tug, and decided to risk the dangers of being underwater from the start, diving from the off. As it happened I dived too rapidly, hit the bottom, wedged there and damaged the sub's crankshaft. Eventually we worked free, but were then - and I kid you not - attacked by sharks. This caused enough damage to the sub that the crew called it a night and headed for home.

I'm not sure about the shark attack, but the effect could equally be 'Sub hits obstacle'. That's it. We hit an obstacle, and were too damaged to continue. No sharks at all.

I decided to have one last go with the Hunley. Again I dived early, remembering to keep the candle lit after realising that it's only really a liability if you're close to the target. As we dived water leaked in from the buoyancy tanks, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time on the bottom of the bay pumping it out. Moving off, the Hunley jammed on the bottom, and was delayed some more. Finally the crew gave up after not being attacked by sharks again.

I decided that this mission was futile, and gave up on the Hunley as well. For my next adventure I selected a David. This is also armed with a spar-torpedo, and is very fast, but it can't dive.

An attack on an enemy ship in a harbour was more to my liking; I had a fast vessel and little ground to cover. What could go wrong? Well, initially, nothing. Then I was hit by a freak wave. And sunk.

I called it a night at that point.

I actually enjoyed these frustrating missions, given that the results were not unlike what happened in real life.. As for the game, I felt it was worth the $2 sale price, but certainly not the $7.50 original price, for which I can get a downloadable boardgame with as much in the way of rules, plus counters and a map. The rules themselves are OK, but one or two bits aren't entirely clear - it's possible to accrue 0 fatigue, for example, but the table implies that you can't. It also has two modifiers which seem to be the same thing, but which I suspect aren't; I think there's a condition missing from one of them. I would certainly apply a couple of house-rules the next time I play this.

If you like ACW naval, and have always wanted to simulate the submarine missions of that war, then for the money this game is a great place to start. And if you haven't read up on submarine warfare of ACW then you should - 'Union and Confederate Submarine Warfare in the Civil War' by Mark K. Ragan is a great, and comprehensive read, covering just about every shred of information there is to be found on the subject.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Goulburn War-Memorial

Catherine and I went on an outing today and travelled down to Goulburn. Goulburn is Australia's first inland city, and it our normal stop on the drive down to Canberra. So we've been there a fair bit, but never really visited it; we just stop at The Big Merino for coffee, fuel and a driver change.

So today we visited. Well, the first place we visited was nearby Marulan, a small township which sits on the 150E meridian, and is therefore the only place in Australia which actually truly operates on AEST. It's kind of Greenwich for New South Wales and Victoria. There's even a Meridian monument:

Of course, being tourists we posed in it:

There's a geocache there. We found it. But it was pretty easy.

Then on to Goulburn itself, where we went to the War Memorial. This is located on a hill on the outskirts of the city, and the memorial itself is a tower, with spectacular views from the top. Of which I failed to take any pictures. I did get some of the tower.

In the base are eternal flames, and a wall with the names of every soldier from Goulburn who served in WW1. The stairs up to the top are lined with photos showing Australia's involvement in WW1. At the top is the view. Which is great. and unphotographed.

Next to the tower is a cottage, which was where the caretaker lived, but is now a small museum. Continuing the theme of the tower, I failed to take any pictures of the artefacts in it, but I can tell you that there's a display on Singapore's Changi Jail, including an original cell door, retro-fitted into one of the cottage doorways, plus collections of things from soldiers who served in WW1, WW2 and Vietnam. There's a few nice uniforms, if you;re into that kind of thing, and an original German WW1 anti-tank rifle, which is an impressively chunky bit of kit. Did I say that I didn't take any photos?

So, if you're down Goulburn way, give the war memorial a look. It's worth an hour or so of anyone's time.

There is a memoria in the ctiy itself, which is now where the ANZAC Day and similar services are held (because the are around the tower isn't suited to crowds). It's interesting for not being buit to commemorate soldier that fought in WW1 - it was built after the Boer War:

So - Goulburn. It's more than just a 15m concrete sheep just off the Hume Highway.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Age of Reason

Last night we had a Maurice Evening at the club, with three games running side by side and a few new players taking part. In a way we covered the whole of the Maurice period. On the first table Caesar and John played an ImagiNations game, but with one of the armies based on Revolutionary French tactics. In the middle we had a refight of the Kolin scenario from the rules, with Prussians and Austrians from the middle of the period. And Dave and I went right back to the start of the Maurice era, using my Great Northern War Swedes and Russians.

This report will focus on the latter game, because obviously that's the one I was concentrating on. We used the setup straight out of the rules, and 100 point armies.

The Swedes were as follows - 7 Trained Infantry, 4 Trained Cavalry, 2 Artillery, A La Bayonette, Cavaliers, Great Captain.

The Russians had - 2 Guard Infantry, 7 Trained Infantry, 4 Trained Cavalry, 3 Artillery, Maison Du Roi.

This gives the Russians a slight edge in numbers, plus some high quality infantry. The Swedes are geared up for an aggressive attack. Both armies also had Pikes, which reduces the shooting effectiveness of their infantry, but increases their close combat capability - if they attack.

Dave took the Swedes, and ended up attacking the Russians on the plains. We both opted for minimal terrain, so had an exceptionally open field. A small village in the Russian deployment zone was the objective. As the attackers the Swedes gained an additional Trained infantry unit.

Here's the setup. We pretty much matched up unit types - cavalry facing cavalry and infantry facing infantry.

The Russian cavalry, with the artillery and infantry beyond it.

The Swedes, ready for the attack.

Russian infantry.

I garrisoned the village, but with hindsight this was an error; one of the armies was likely to break long before it could effectively be attacked.

Dave moved his whole army forward, whilst I bombarded with my artillery. I was collecting useful cards, and wanted to see where he would make his main attack before using one of the cunning plans I had settled upon.

It looked like a cavalry attack was his main thrust, but they found their line of advance was boggier than they'd originally been told it was.

As his cavalry emerged from the marsh I counter-attacked, using Stirrups In cards to offset his Cavaliers advantage

The melee went back and forth, and he was soon two units down. But my cards ran out, and the two surviving Swedish units attacked, and kept attacking.

I switched to the other flank, and pushed the Guards forward, engaging a pair of Swedish infantry units.

The Guards prevailed; one Swedish unit was pretty much destroyed by musketry, which takes some doing when you consider the units have reduced factors through being pike-armed.

Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry, having finished off their Russian opposite numbers, destroyed the Russian artillery as well.

With their right flank threatened, now was a good time to advance the main Russian infantry force.

A volley of muskets at close range, then charge!

The Swedes suffered casualties from the Russian attack, but then so did the Russians, as the Swedish counter-attack was very effective indeed. Russian morale collapsed at this point, although the Swedes were only a couple of units away from breaking as well.

It was an interesting game. The fact that the Swedes have an advantage in attacking in close combat means that there's an incentive for the Russians to attack them first in order to try and negate it. The pikes help with this, giving a +1 to a unit that's charging. The pikes also reduce the effectiveness of the Maurice firefight; close combat really is your best tactic with these armies.

Dave used his Great Captain advantage well, moving his general around to shift the focus of the battle, or keep him in a position where he could easily control two or more sections of the army.

We did play one bit wrong, in that we didn't give units which destroyed their opponent in close combat a disruption marker. This was what enabled Dave's cavalry to ride over everything in its path at one point. In fact it should have been slowly disintegrating, and having to rally before each attack, which would have bought my final infantry attack more time.

On the centre table Peter and Mark played the Kolin scenario from the book, umpired by Ralph. I think Pete's Austrians saw off the Prussians.

Finally on the third table Caesar and John's ImagiNations fought it out. Caesar advanced in columns with a screen of skirmishers, whilst John relied on Clerics and superior firepower. I think John's cavalry won the day, knocking out Caesar's flank and pushing his morale to the shaky stage where a few infantry casualties routed the army.

Caesar's artillery, next to one of my paper villages.

Everyone seemed to enjoy their games, and it sounds like they were keen to give it another go. I certainly want to try out my Great Northern War armies again, and having seen Caesar's in action I'd love to try some Irregular troops as well.
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