Friday, 31 July 2020

Black Seas

I had my first go at 'Black Seas' last night. It seems an OK set of rules - more at the 'Galleys & Galleons' end of realism than, say 'Form Line of Battle', and maybe dependent on rather too much game-specific/proprietary paraphernalia than necessary. But we had fun, even if our scenario setup was basically a mater of lobbing down all the ships caesar and Daniel had, on a board that was probably too small and thus creating what at times appeared to be Gaslands with wood and canvas.

The setup. We had a mix of ships from teeny-tiny gunboats to a 1st rate SOL. This contributed to the chaotic nature of the game.

For example I was running a 3rd rate (a 74 I guess), a 5th rate frigate (36, maybe) and a brig (maybe a 20). Not an easy combination to coordinate. 

I didn't keep track of the battle details. We spent a lot of the time looking up rules and dealing with chaos. Caesar managed to set one of Daniel's ships on fire with his first shot.

Everything kicks off. Sorry about the light reflections from the paper board.

One fire begat another.

Everyone tried to avoid the first rate (top left).

Lots of firing from a 74.

Caesar got his 74 raked by the first rate. It wasn't pleasant.

Anyway, I think we got the knack of sailing and shooting. Mostly. Not pictured is me piling my frigate into a rock towards the end of the game. I blame Caesar.

For future games we will be trying (i) more sensible combinations of ships - all SOL or all frigates/brigs, for example and (ii) a larger playing area, or fewer ships.

So, it was fun, and the models are beautiful (if tricky to handle without bases), but at this point I didn't feel the rules offered anything I can't get elsewhere.

Anyway, thanks to casar and Daniel for putting on an entertaining, if chaotic evening's gaming.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Louis Strange's Lash-Up

I am currently rereading my favourite book on WW1 air-combat, Alexander McKee's 'The Friendless Sky'. It's a slim volume, but covers a wide range of stories from across the whole war. The early chapters feature a few accounts of the service of then-Lt Louis Strange, and his attempts to mount guns on his planes right back in 1914. This action is covered in the book (text nicked from Wikipedia):

"He also designed and fitted a machine gun mounting to the (Avro) 504, consisting of a crossbar between the central struts over which was slung a rope, allowing the Lewis to be pulled up into a position from which the observer, seating in the front cockpit, could fire backwards over Strange's head. On 22 November 1914 it was with this arrangement that Strange claimed his first victory; with Lieutenant F. Small as gunner, he attacked an Aviatik two-seater and forced it down from over Armentières to make a bumpy landing in a ploughed field just behind the British lines."

Apparently the first burst of machine-gun fire shattered the control panel of the German plane, causing the pilot to panic and eventually give up, landing his aircraft. When Strange and Small landed, they had to rescue the pilot from his infuriated observer.

Anyway, whilst I know most WW1 air gamers like their Camels and Triplanes, I have a soft-spot for these early actions, and trying to game them. With a tricky afternoon meeting/training session in the offing, I decided to distract myself in my lunch-break with a quick game of 'Spandau and Lewis' based on Strange's first 'kill'.

Strange and Small were flying an Avro 504, which is a surprisingly nifty aircraft for this early in the war (and one which was still in service in 1918). It was armed with a single machine-gun firing into the rear-arc only.

The Germans had a Aviatik two-seater, probably a B1. This was unarmed, but I gave the observer a rifle.

The Germans had to fly to a village at the other end of the table, overfly it and observe it for one turn, then exit from their starting edge. Strange and Small had to shoot down the German plane. I know in the real action they forced it down; I am assuming that in this case an effect which shoots down a plane could simply be that it had taken enough damage for the pilot to land it. 

Strange chased the Aviatik, needing to overtake it in order to bring his observer's gun to bear. Meanwhile the German observer took pot-shots with his rifle.

The Germans scouted the village. Could they get home?

Turning tightly they started their escape, whilst Strange struggled to line up a shot. To make matters worse, he was wounded by a shot from the German observer.

The German plane turned tightly, losing speed, and the greater speed of the Avro 504 allowed Strange to pull ahead and give Small a shot. It had no effect on the German.

The Aviatik banked right, and sped away from the Avro. Strange chased after it, trying to get in front again.

A sharp turn saw Strange's speed drop, but allowed Small to take another shot - two hits!

But it wasn't enough to down the German plane, which made its escape.

After that it was back to work, but this evening I had another go.

In this second game Strange got into a good position ahead of the German, pretty much ensuring a shot at  it wherever it went.

Two shots, in fact, inflicting some light damage only. The return rifle-fire was ineffective, but did put a hole in the fuselage.

The German overflew the target, as Strange slowly brought the Avro around for another attack.

As the German pilot plotted a course for home, Strange flew the Avro in front of him.

The German pilot sped up to avoid falling behind the Avro, giving his observer a perfect close-range shot. The observer failed to make anything of this advantage.

As the two planes sped east, Strange swung the Avro in front of the Aviatik.

Small empted a couple of drums at the German, and was rewarded with a sputtering sound from their engine, as well as some obvious structural damage..

Slowed, the German plane had to endure more shots from the Avro, but managed to make it to safety, with a damaged engine and only one hit left.

So the second game was more successful for the British crew; they came close to downing the German plane with only the fact that the critical hit they scored was one of the less deadly ones saved their opponent.

This is a fun scenario, and quite difficult for the British. The Avro 504 is a superior plane to the Aviatik, but neither has the power to perform tight maneuvers in a dogfight and still maintain speed. The German's rifle has a great field of fire, but is a relatively ineffective weapon, but the British machine gun is positioned such that Strange has to constantly try and keep the German in  his own rear-arc, which is not a great angle from which to attack an enemy.

As I say, I love these early war actions.

Pups and Albatros

I played another game of Spandau and Lewis last night, using the same scenario as the previous ones, but setting it a few years earlier. So this time the mission was being undertaken by a trio of BE2s - I added one extra two-seater, because BE2s are very poor indeed.

(You can see the complex aircraft stat sheet in that picture - that's all the info I need for the eight planes in play.)

The Germans flew a trio of Albatros DIIs

And the RFC were protecting the two-seaters with a couple of Sopwith Pups

Early moves. The Germans misjudged their approach, and only got i a couple of shots, taking return fire from the BE2s as they did. The two-seaters can only fire to their rear, which is a pretty risky strategy.

The Albatri turned for another pass as the BE2s approached the target. The Pups also maneuvered badly and flew through the dogfight, only getting off a couple of shots before having to turn back into the action.

They did get in a long-range shot on one of the DIIs, and scored some significant damage.

The BE2s photographed the target. But the DIIs were on them as they did so.

A Pup continued to chase the damaged DII, as a BE2 turned away from the target and made its bid for home.

A BE2 was chased by a DII ...

... and brought it down. 

Actually another BE2 was shot down on the other side of the target, but the war-artist missed getting a picture.

The last remaining BE2 came under fire ...

... but managed to dodge the worst of the German attack as the plane struggled to turn after it.

A Pup shot down a DII.

The lucky BE2 didn't stay lucky for long.


Now all the RFC could do was avenge the two-seaters by shooting down the Germans before they could run for home.

They chased them, and even got in a couple of shots, but eventually the Germans made their escape. One of their planes was on its last hit, though.

The BE2s are really easy to shoot down, thanks to a modifier I put in making certain classes of aircraft easier to hit. I may need to rethink it, as it's probably excessive given the granularity of the game. Otherwise the Germans did well because the Pups maneuvered really badly; they have a high agility, but if the dice are against you there's not much you can do about it.

I used dice-based initiative again, and it worked well. In addition I tried variable ammo - a plane can fire five shots OK. When it fires the sixth it tests to see if it is crossed off or not (4+ to 'keep' the last shot). So every plane can be sure of firing six times, but may get to fire more. I'm still looking at how much ammo to give to planes; having them shoot every turn regardless of range seems to make things too easy, so a limit would help, but I don't want to make it hard to shoot enemy aircraft down.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

More Spandau And Lewis

I played a couple of small games of 'Spandau and Lewis' during the week in order to try out my new initiative system, and started to feel that, whilst it doesn't have the clutter of dice next to the aircraft reminding me which one is to move next, it doesn't quite cut it as a system.

So today I decided to play last week's scenario with the old system, just to see how I felt about it. And, to be honest, I felt OK with it.

As you will recall the setup is a couple of RE8s heading off on a photographic mission, and three Fokker DVIIs attacking them. The RE8s are supported by a couple of SE5s.

I rolled for pilot quality in this one. The British didn't do well, with a rookie crew in one of the RE8s, and a rookie pilot in one of the SE5s. The Germans got an ace.

Opening approached, with the initiative dice in place.

Obviously everything piled into the centre for the first pass. Every plane got a shot at something, but surprisingly little damage was inflicted.

The German ace got in a shot at an RE8, but his guns jammed.

The RE8s approached the target, but a DVII followed them, and they took hits as they got their photos.

One Se5 had misjudged its approach and was turning back into the fight. But the novice SE5 pilot got on the tail of a DVII and scored some damage.

The lead RE8 was now under pressure from the tailing DVII.

Unable to turn tight enough, it flew off the table, forcing me to write some rules for what happens when aircraft fly off the table. I'll put them at the end. Spoiler: They get to come back. Possibly.

The other RE8 also looked certain to leave the board. Both of them were now seriously shot up.

The novice SE5 pilot had done a great job in staying locked onto the lead DVII, and fired a burst which ;eft it close to disintegrating. But another DVII got in behind the unfortunate British pilot and shot him down.

With both RE8s currently out of the action, a lone SE5 now faced all three DVIIs. The ace was, in fact, badly out of position after clearing his guns, but the other two quickly turned on the British plane. It survived their attack, damaging one of the Germans ...

... and got onto the tail of the other, as one of the RE8s returned, making a run for home. The damaged DVII turned sharply out of the fight to avoid the SE5 ...

... and flew straight into the sights of the tail-gun on the RE8. He went down in flames.

The German ace cut in from the other side, and put some bullets through the RE8, but his guns jammed again.

It was left to the other DVII to shoot down the RE8, but not before the observer scored massive damages on his plane.

The SE5 came under attack from the ace, who once again had cleared his guns, but escaped serious damage.

The second RE8 was now heading for home, and with the escorting SE5 temporarily chased away from the fight was an easy target for the German ace. Or would have been had the pilot not misjudged a couple of turns and couldn't line up a shot.

But the second DVII came in for a shot. The observer on the RE8 fired at the same time as the German, and both planes fell apart in the sky.

This left just one DVII and one SE5, at opposite ends of the board, so I assumed that both planes simply turned for home.

The Germans had shot down both two-seaters, but at the cost of two DVIIs, so whilst it was a win for them, it was a costly one.

The initiative worked much better in this game, with the novice pilots sometimes able to outwit their more experienced foes. The British rolled quite badly, even allowing for the slight edge the Germans had with their more nimble machines. It should be noted that both German casualties were caused by the two-seaters, and the bulk if the damage on the Germans was inflicted by the two novice crews.

As for flying off the table, I ruled that having done so, the plane had to stay off for the whole of the next turn. On the turn after that I rolled a D6 before initiative was determined:

0 or less - Plane is lost
1-2 - The plane does not return this turn. Roll again next turn.
3-5 - The plane re-enters the table 1D3" to the left (1-3) or right (4-6) of where it left.
6+ - The plane reenters the table up to 3" away from the point where it left the table (player's choice)

+1 - Ace pilot
-1 - Novice pilot
-1 - Plane has take at least half hits
+1 - Left own home edge
-1 - Left opponent's home edge

Note that each side will have a 'home' edge, normally the one they should exit before the end of the scenario. I normally run each scenario to a turn limit, and at least some of the planes are required to exit their home edge before the end of the game. So being delayed by being off-table can be a real problem.

I have also started to think about modifying the critical hits table slightly. At the moment this is set up such that a critical will pretty much down most planes if it happens, but I thought maybe a little more nuance was possible, without bogging the game down in too much bookkeeping.

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