Monday, 31 May 2021

B-17 - The Bombers

 In my previous post I talked about how I'd played 'B-17: Queen of the Skies' back in the 80s, and how we'd run a large game involving five players and ten bombers. Sorting through the papers in the box I found a lot of the mission logs for that game and, it appears, many others. And they don't all have my handwriting on, suggesting that we may have run a number of two- or three-player games as well. Anyway, a commenter on the previous post waxed lyrical about the names they'd given their bombers, so I noted down every bomber name I could find in the records in my box. And here they are - a small glimpse into the gaming past of myself and my friends, many of whom I've lost touch with now and one of whom is no longer with us.

Lady In Red
Lady Fantasy
Blonde Bombshell
Miss Fortune
Brief Encounter
Green Goddess
Mrs Robinson
Miss Mash
Glory B
Miss Take
Sue Anne
Roving Redhead
Friday The Thirteenth
Heart Of Lothian
The Omen
The Flying Latrine
Miss Conception
Miss Tree
Feet First
Out Of The Frying Pan
Lady Killer
Down In Flames
This End Up
The Creeping Terror
Lady Macbeth

And finally, my 25 mission bomber:

The Last Tango

I found that two crew of The Last Tango survived all 25 missions - the co-pilot and the bombardier. The co-pilot was actually seriously wounded on the 25 mission, so was invalided out of the war. The surviving engineer, who flew 12 missions on the plane, Master Sergeant Jock McMahon, score the most kills, with 12, five of which were achieved on one mission. 

B-17: Queen of the Skies

Yesterday I felt the desire to pull 'B-17: Queen of the Skies' out of my games cupboard. Opening it up I realised that it's probably been close to 35 years since I last opened up the box, but I guess I was feeling nostalgic.

It's a solitaire game in which you play the crew of a B-17 bomber on a series of missions over Europe. It was popular in its day, but you quickly realise that it's less of a game and more of a simulation. Player choice is very limited; the only decisions you make generally are which attacking enemy fighters to lose through air-cover (if you have it) and how to assign your bomber's guns to those fighters which do attack you. As you take damage there may be a few decisions to make regarding moving crew around, or swapping ammo, but they're not that common.

And yet it does have a certain something, despite that. The attacks and damage are quite detailed, so as they happen, turn after turn, you see your bomber progressively degrade and there's a narrative built up and some genuine tension as you wonder if this is the mission where you don't make it back.

The aim of the game is to take a bomber and/or its crew through 25 missions. Missions 1-5 are fairly straightforward, 6-10 a little harder and then 11-25 downright dangerous (you lose fighter cover for half of the time, for starters).

I did find a log in the box showing that I had taken one bomber through 25 missions, although it shows that only two of the original crew flew with it all of the way; the rest were either killed or invalided out.

Anyway, I flew the first nine missions of a run of 25 yesterday. I started with 'Golden Girl', who got to the objective on her first mission only to have her bombardier wounded by flak. This meant the bomber completely missed the target.

Her second mission was to the same objective, with a new bombardier. She also reached the target, but a lone Me109 shot her up and detonated the bombs, destroying the plane and killing all of the crew.

I set up a new bomber for the third mission - 'Lucky Seven'. She was a lot more successful, actually reaching objectives and, for five missions in a row, getting a reasonable percentage of her bombs on target. She had a few moments. On one mission the top turret and tail-guns were both disabled, leaving the plane without her best weapons, but fighter cover made up for this deficiency. On another mission the pilot compartment oxygen caught fire. The crew put out the fire, but with no oxygen for two of its crew the plane was forced to drop out of formation and fly home alone. Fighter cover saved it a couple of times, but there were a few scary moments with enemy planes that just wouldn't give up. However the crew also picked up six kills over six missions, half of which were down to the bombardier and his trusty nose-gun.

'Lucky Seven's seventh mission wasn't. Like her predecessor she reached the target only for an attacking Me110 to hit the undropped bombs. Another B-17 detonated in the air.

So I need a new crew and a new bomber. In seven missions I have lost two planes, two crew invalided out through wounds and twenty killed in action.

In the box I found the sheets we'd done for a multi-player game we played back in the 80s. We photocopied enough bits to run ten bombers - two for each of five players - and ran a single mission over the course of a very long evening. Only five bombers made it to the target - some were shot down and a couple aborted the mission and had to turn for home - and of those only one dropped any bombs near the objective. I think fewer than five bombers made it back home. 

Any way, it was a fun way to spend the day and I was surprised at how quickly I picked up the game again after all this time. To be fair it's mostly a matter of following a series of obvious processes, but there are little modifiers and extras here and there which can catch you out. 

So not the greatest solo game in the world, but still a tense and surprisingly exciting experience after all this time.

(I do have 'Raid on St. Nazaire' somewhere, which I also haven't played in a couple of decades. Now that is a good solo game, with just the right balance of helplessly watching your force get destroyed by forces you can't control or evade, and decision-making about how to best use what Lady Luck leaves you with.)

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Return To Dino Park

We had another session playtesting our friend's cooperative Dinosaur Theme-park game on Saturday. To be honest there's not a lot to report. Some of the mechanisms have been simplified, and the graphics greatly improved as well. Gameplay is much the same. 

Once more I mined amber and extracted DNA from it ...

... and we made some dinosaurs. Some of them came close to escaping into the park.

Despite that we won the game, satisfying enough paying customers to make out lenders and shareholders happy. And we fed back some ideas for changes to the game. A lot of those centred around the initial setup, which can bog down with analysis paralysis since getting it right is so critical, but there is also the fact that one of the player roles doesn't have a lot to do, so we came up with some new ways they can interact more directly with the game.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Picts and Brits - Rematch

I set the same armies as in the previous game up again yesterday. This time the Picts defended, and the field was more open, with a couple of fields and some hills only. Great for cavalry; less good for the three Pictish psiloi.

Both sides deployed their cavalry on their left. The Picts favoured their left, hoping to use the psiloi to delay on their right whilst they did a concentrated attack with the infantry.

The British covered their right with the peasant hordes.

Early moves. The Picts advanced rapidly on their left and in the centre, whilst the British were slower. You can see their horse approaching the Pictish  psiloi in the distance. In the centre some Pictish spearmen had moved to delay the British cavalry but were themselves blocked by British light infantry.

The Picts charged home.

One element of hordes was swept away by the Pict infantry, whilst the other managed to hold off the horse.

But the Pictish line had a vulnerable open flank, and the British infantry quickly exploited it, destroying some Picts.

The peasant hordes collapsed, and the Pictish cavalry made a dash for the British camp.

However the British cavalry had now contacted the Pictish psiloi.

They put up a great fight, destroying an element of British cavalry, but losing one themselves.

However the British foot continued their advance in the centre and destroyed the remaining Pictish foot there to give the British a decisive victory.

The British won 5-1 (Destroyed four pike and a psiloi, for the loss of one cavalry and a couple of hordes)

The Picts are at a heavy disadvantage if they can't react to the enemy deployment and if the terrain is very open. They did choose some bad going to place, but it ended up being discarded.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Picts vs Brits

I threw together a game of DBA this morning, as the last time we played we found that the Picts were a surprisingly fun army to play. I used list 68b. Their opponents were Sub-Roman British (81c), with a Cv general and some Hd.

The British (right) defended.

The Pics massed their army on their right - their mounted on the wing and a block of fast spearmen inside them. The centre was covered by their skirmishing archers.

The British had their mounted opposite that of the Picts, and their spearmen in the centre. Their right flank was covered by the hordes and their skirmishers, but a hamlet in the way prevented them from effectively deploying for most of the battle.

The battle consisted of a rush for the hill in the centre of the one flank; both armies reorganised their lines slightly then pushed forward with all speed to get the high-ground.

The armies met across the crest-line.

The Pictish mounted was slightly outclassed and they lost some light horse, but their spearmen, in their deep formations, pushed their British counterparts down the back-slope, destroying one.

The British had a chance to end the battle by killing the Pictish general, since they had cavalry ready to deploy onto his vulnerable flank, but that was the turn they roll a 1 for PIPs.

They had to simply content themselves with a charge.

Meanwhile the British spears were crumbling before the Pictish attack. And the lighter Pictish spearmen quickly turned onto exposed flanks in order to exploit their advantages. In the centre Pictish archers pinned some of the other British spears, preventing them from reinforcing the centre.

And it was an exposed flank that did for the British general to give the Picts the win.

The Picts actually got off to a bad start, losing the mounted battle early on. But the poor British PIP roll when they needed more than a one, followed up by a couple of excellent Pictish combat rolls to destroy the British spear-line, secured them a resounding 5-1 win.

Friday, 21 May 2021

The Return Of W1815

A few years ago I took my precious copy of W1815 on holiday, and not longer after I got back I realised that I had no idea where it was. I searched and searched and couldn't find it and realised that I'd left it behind on one of the campsites we'd stayed on.

Or so I thought. The other day I was rummaging around looking for a game to take away with us on our weekend break, and I found it hidden between two boxed games. So as you can imagine I was rather pleased, as I'd assumed the game was out of print and irreplaceable*.

Anyway, I had an afternoon off today, since I was getting m first dose of COVID vaccine, so I decided to use it wisely by playing some games of W1815, trying out a set of solo rules for running the Allies that can be found on BoardgameGeek.

I didn't keep details of the twelve of more games I played (it's a quick game), but I did note some highlights. The French won more often than the Allies, as I suspect they will against a 'bot whose responses you can, in part, predict. However as 'bots go its not a pushover; you still need to make some careful choices and have a bit of luck. For example in the first game d'Erlon's Corps rolled two sixes in their first two attacks, smashing the Allies corps under Orange. Uxbridge's cavalry swept the Grand Battery away, but a counter-attack by the French cavalry destroyed Uxbridge, and a poor Allied morale roll saw their army break. The game hinged on a lot of sixes being rolled. And, indeed, in the second game the same tactics saw d'Erlon stalled against Orange, the Grand Battery destroyed by Uxbridge, Reille fail roll make an impression on Hill and a final push by Wellington break the French morale. Again the final morale roll hinged on rolling a six.

My favourite game was a French win achieved almost entirely by the cavalry, with the Grand Battery (under Napoleon's direct supervision) administering the coup de grace. Ney's cavalry stayed under control and slowly ground down the Allied morale, then they and the artillery inflicted just enough casualties to force a morale check that the Allies were hard-pressed to pass.

Here's a shot of the final game I played, which was very close indeed; both armies were a smidge away from breaking when Napoleon committed the Guard. The Allies just held on (you can see how few divisions they had left), and a Prussian attack on Plancenoit forced a French morale check which they weren't so lucky with. The Allies won. Just.

 A damn close-run thing, in fact.

*As it turns out it was reprinted in a new edition last year. I'm glad I didn't find out until after I found my copy, as I would have certainly bought a replacement, and apparently the new edition doesn't look as nice as the old one and even has errors on the cards.

Observer Mission

I didn't end up with a club game last night, but I did go along to watch and socialise. We had a good turnout and four games on the go. I managed not to get any detailed pictures of toys, though.

Ralph and Theo played Black Powder (Theo's first game I think).

Caesar and Ian were playing Bolt Action - Russians vs Germans.

Bryan was running a game of Flames of War.

And finally Peter and Geoff were playing a game of Big Battle DBA, with ahistorical armies. It featured this delightful elephant sandwich.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

HOTT - Mound Builders vs Maya

It's been a while since I simply got some HOTT out at home, so I set up a game last night with the first two armies which came to hand - in the same box in fact.

On the left are the mighty Mound Builders (2 x Behemoth, 2 x Hordes, 1 x Blade, 6 x Shooters) and on the right are the magnificent Maya (1 x Hero, 2 x Blade, 2 x Shooters, 6 x Warband).

Technically the Maya were attacking but the terrain gave them a great big hill to defend and there seemed little point in coming off it.

The Mound Builders, with archers massed on their left, and their behemoths (including the general) on their right.

The Maya. Their hero and blades (one of  which was the general) faced the enemy behemoths, whilst warband defended the hill against the remainder of the Mound Builder army. 

The Mound Builders' attack was rather obvious - advance to bow range and shoot. However the Maya were able to defend high enough up the hill that the Mound Builders would have to advance on to its lower slopes in order to do so, putting them at a disadvantage when the Maya counter-attacked.

PIP rolls on both sides were pretty abysmal, leaving both armies unable to make the strikes on the flanks that they'd planned. The Maya managed some success on their left with some archery, but couldn't press home a warband attack on their right to clear enemy bowmen from the woods there.

The initial volley of arrows from the Mound Builders saw a warband element destroyed.

The Maya charged.

Despite their advantage they were thrown back.

A fierce melee developed. The Mound Builders lost an element of shooters, but mostly ended up giving ground before the Maya attack. Except on their right, where their giant and the Great Sun in his litter slowly pushed back the Maya hero and general.

And that was where the battle was decided, as some judicious juggling of combat orders to create favourable overlaps saw the Mound Builder general destroy his Maya counterpart. Losses had actually been light on both sides, but it was still enough to break the Maya army.

The final position shows the fierce Maya attack on their right pushing off the hill and towards the woods, whilst in the foreground the giant and the litter had driven their opponents back.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Wargaming For The Illawarra Plastic Modeller's Association

Our club spent Saturday and Sunday at the Illawarra Plastic Modellers' Association show running demo games to introduce wargaming to a wider and intersectional audience. I just did the Saturday (I had a prior arrangement on the Sunday), so that's what this report will cover.

We set up three displays. In the background is the beginnings of a game of Lasalle 2, using 28mm figures. I forget which battle they were refighting , but I think it was an 1809 French vs Austrian encounter. In the foreground are the bits that Catherine and I were responsible for - some Black Seas ships on the right, arranged in a pretty display, and some gladiators, using 'Blood, Sweat & Cheers' on the left.

Here's the Lasalle game in glorious NotVeryWellFocusedVision.

And the ships. The idea was that later in the day we would clear the gladiators away and run a game of 'Galleys and Galleons' (I don't get on with Black Seas), with people possibly joining in. As it turned out we were happy just running the gladiators all day, so the ships were simply a static display. They attracted much interest, though, as you'd expect from a society dedicated to plastic models.

The hall was quite chilly - or at least Catherine thought so.

Anyway, we got on with playing some games in order to attract people's attention.

We started of with a simple fight; the murmillo Hermes against the secutor Margareites.

Enough people came past to chat to us that this first bout took an hour to play. We had a wander around the hall afterwards.

I could have spent all day taking pictures of models to show you. But I didn't. Here's a table of various aircraft categories though.

This was spectacular. It's a 1/6th scale Tornado and in entirely 3D-printed. The guy who made it isn't really a modeller in the traditional sense. He works as a designer and did virtual aircraft models as a hobby. A friend convinced him to look at printing some of them, which he'd never thought of doing, so he broke his models down into components, and you can see the result here. 

He also did this Concorde. I can't remember what scale it is, but the nose-tilt mechanism actually works.

That Tornado again.

Meanwhile the French and Austrians were getting stuck into each other, and also attracting a lot of  attention. And rightly so.

Another model - Gipsy Danger with an improvised weapon.

Back to the gladiators - in the next game Mordax the scissor lost to Titan the retiarius.

Then Astinax the hoplomachus lost to Toxaris the sagittarius.

The final game of the day - Sabrata the veles against Scylax the armoured scissor.

I think there were a couple of games I didn't photograph; I know that Catherine and I ended the day with three games apiece.

It was a fun event, and we got to talk about wargaming to a lot of people, some of whom knew a bit about it and others who were complete novices. Other members of our group took a Bolt Action game along on the Sunday and said that it attracted a lot of interest.

Hopefully we'll get to go back next year.

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