Thursday, April 25, 2013

On The Shoulders Of Giants 2: Jim Dunnigan On SPI And Wargaming

A few months back I posted here on an interview with Don Greenwood, formerly of Avalon Hill, as run by David Dockter on his excellent Guns Dice And Butter blog. While on David's site I noticed that he had also recorded an interviewwith wargaming legend Jim Dunnigan, the founder of Simulations Publications, Inc (SPI), and resolved to go back and listen to that interview when time permitted. I've now done so, and the interview unleashed a horde of gaming memories and thoughts which I'd like to share with you. Hopefully I'll say something interesting.
A small(ish) preamble is necessary here. When I was a kid in a small town in Western Canada in the mid 1970s, my older brother Alex introduced me to a copy of The Courier, a small mimeographed newsletter in a construction paper cover that introduced me to the world of toy soldiers. God alone knows how The Courier found its way to our little town in the Rockies. I saw photos of grown men playing battles with stiff toy soldiers of Scruby/early Minifigs vintage on tables adorned with wooden hills and model trees, and I wanted so much to do that. But I was a kid and my allowance and paper route money wouldn't go allow for armies of toy soldiers, so that dream got deferred for the day when I would one day be a grown up.
That kid grew up and now owns more toy soldiers than he could possibly imagine back then, so the story ends happily, but it wasn't so sad in the middle, either, because that little kid discovered paper wargames thanks to two people: David Lewis and Jim Dunnigan. David Lewis was the son of friends of my parents, and he was living at home while pursuing a summer job. David became my hero. He had just finished a degree in history down island at the University of Victoria. He was worldly and listened to Boz Scaggs and Fleetwood Mac, which opened my ears to adult music, and he introduced me to paper wargames, starting with a great SPI Waterloo monster game called Wellington's Victory, a Frank Davis design that had just been published (1976). With the abundant patience of a surrogate big brother, David introduced me to the world of adult wargaming that Jim Dunnigan had opened up to us with SPI. I still have a treasured copy of this game that David gave me as a gift.
That year, 1977, I persuaded my parents to get me a copy of the SPI house magazine, Strategy and Tactics, which came with a game in every issue, and a lot of the S&T games I got were Dunnigan titles - Berlin '85 was a special favourite of mine because it was scary cool at the time to think about World War Three and it had some innovative mechanics, including unknown unit strengths, so that when you moved a unit into contact you flipped it to the revealed strength side to find out how good it was. That same mechanic featued in a bonus game that came with my S&T subscription, Panzergruppe Guderiananother Dunnigan title.
While the artwork in the SPI maps and counters of that era was primitive compared to those published today by the likes of GMT and Victory Point, there was a cool modernist vibe about SPI that appealed to me. The sleek plastic boxes with their build in counter trays had a space age aesthetic that the Avalon Hill bookcase games didn't have (almost everything about AH was stodgy and slightly dull), while the SPI cover art and counters were minimalist but appealing.
When I was a high school senior I lost touch with David but remained connected to SPI. My proudest possession in those years was their monster game Atlantic Wall, a divisional level treatment of Normandy where the smallest unit was the company(!). Through most of Grade 12 I had all five maps spread out on my bedroom floor and tiptoed around them to and from bed. My parents were bemused. I had the sense that I was somehow touching history in a real sense, and even if I didn't really understand all the nuances of the Normandy campaign I felt I was doing something very important and grown up.
When I went to college in 1980 I fell in with role players who mostly played Dungeons and Dragons, and there never seemed to be the room or time to spread out a big game for any period of time. In the mid 80s came graduate school and a turn to miniatures gaming, so that decade wasn't very kind to my boardgaming, and in the 90s I alternated between computer games and miniatures. One of the computer games that consumed a lot of my time was an early MUD, a multiplayer online game, Hundred Years War, hosted on the GEnie network (anyone remember GEnie?) that was a Dunnigan design. Little did I realize then that the evolution of my gaming life in the 70s, 80s and 90s pretty much matched the rise and fall of SPI and paper gaming.
In the GDB interview, Dunnigan doesn't talk a lot about his own designs, but he does describe with broad strokes how SPI came on the scene in the 70s and took wargaming in a direction that the more conservative Avalon Hill wouldn't go in. You get a sense of how clever this guy was in seeing opportunities, such as the appetite for contemporary/Cold War games, particularly from US military gamers, that led to titles such as Red Star/White Star. My own personal favourite was Dunnigan's World War Three (1975), a grand strategic game based on his WW2 engine, where players had a limited number of nukes which could obliterate whole hexes and all the fleets and armies therein, but each time at the risk of triggering a global nuclear exchange which ended the game. My younger brother and I blew up the world quite a few times playing that game. An interesting moment in the GDB interview is hearing JD describe how interest in contemporary gaming declined precipitously ("it fell of a cliff" is JD's phrase) after the Cold War ended.
Another takeway from the interview is what a tech-savvy businessman JD was. SPI was brilliant at capturing user feedback and figuring out what gamers wanted. In a pre-Kickstarter era, each issue of S&T would float several design ideas and make production decisions accordingly. I remember poring over the stats and rankings at the back of each issue of S&T, numbers that Dunnigan himself crunched using the programmable computers of the day. The interview also shows that JD had a pretty shrewd idea of what games would sell, and of how SPI's SF and fantasy titles would merit larger print runs (maybe 10 to 12 thousand) than the historical titles did. Several non-Dunnigan titles of that era, War of the Ring (1977) and their thinly-disguised Star Wars ripoff, Freedom in the Galaxy (1979) were friends of mine in high school, as was their terrific little Creature That Ate Sheboygan a homage to the old Godzilla-type movies of the 1950s and 60s. I regret that I have parted with these titles over the years. I suspect that every kid like me who bought Freedom in the Galaxy subsidized SPI's clunky monster games like their legendary Campaign For North Africa.
The trajectory which led to SPI's demise in 1982 pretty much describes the evolution of my own gaming life in those years, which wandered away from paper wargames into roleplaying, computer gaming, and miniatures. AS JD describes it, paper wargaming flourished in the 1960s and 70s because a well educated generation came up that was ripe for the kind of mental and imaginative challenges that wargaming offered. The first crop of AH games offered the appeal of chess, two players locked in an intellectual battle, but SPI exploited the idea that any conflict or historical period in time could be presented as a simulation, which added an extra dimension to the basic appeal of the game. By the late 70s, however, a number of factors, including the rise of TSR and D&D, and the coming microcomputer revolution, spelled the doom of big wargaming companies that were built on the publishing business model. SPI lost customers like me because we had more hobby options in the 1980s.
In the middle part of the interview JD makes a few interesting comments about how miniatures gaming survived and grew as a hobby despite the decline of the paper wargame. He rightly notes that miniatures gaming was always a niche in the hobby, with a high cost of entry in terms of time and money to paint the "figurines" (sic) and to master what he calls the "arcane" rules, but the people who got into the hobby (as I wanted to do when I was a kid lookng at those Courier magazines) were always loyal and enthusiastic. In JD's opinion the limitation of miniatures gaming is that it only allows for tactical games, rather than the grand strategic games that make up so many of his 100+ published designs. While this comment may be true of many club and convention games, a quick survey of wargaming blogs shows many examples of tabletop games that are driven by rich and complex strategic designs.
Another advantage of tabletop gaming that JD doesn't necessarily realize is that his own comments in the interview about how good designs should allow for players tweaking and customizing games (variant and what if scenarios, for example) is eminently true of miniatures gaming. The only limits to how we as gamers can modify history, explore what-ifs, etc are our imaginations and the number and type of figures/models available to us.
At the end of the interview, JD makes some comments on the barriers to entry to wargaming that apply to all parts of our hobby. The idea that wargames are difficult to learn and play, the "I'm not smart enough to do that", certainly applied to an SPI monster game in its day, and applies equally to many tabletop games, though we've come a long way from the scary, brain-busting rules books of the WRG era. JD is a great believer in turnkey solutions, giving the new player everything he or she needs to get started and making entry to the hobby as painless as possible. Those of us who mock companies like Battlefront or Games Workshop might do well to remember that they understand how to get new people/customers into the hobby. The strategic alliances developing between Warlord Games and Osprey, or the Battlegroup rules affiliated with PSC, or moves that JD would approve of.
Hearing David and JD talk for almost ninety minutes is a great treat. Love him or hate him, Dunnigan was a key player in our hobby. He had a great, even modernist, belief that with enough data and a spreadsheet you could model pretty much anything. His best games had a few brilliant mechanics, and his strategic level games often included clever political and economic subsystems. Empires of the Middle Ages (1980), another SPI game I have sadly let go of over the years, is a brilliant example. Dunnigan also had a belief technology should be explored and exploited, and he knew that much of what the monster paper game tried to do could eventually be done better by a computer. Today companies like Matrix Games show his foresight. For miniatures gamers who still keep a foot in the paper gaming tradition (or are returning to it, as I am), he's someone we all owe much to. If you want a trip down memory lane, or want to see an annotated list of Dunnigan's 100+ designs, Dockter has one here.
Now, where's my copy of PG Guderian?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Weird War Two: An Ethical Cop Out?

Definition: A cop-out (phrase): "A failure ... to face a difficulty squarely".

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I have been mildly obssessed for the last six months with a gaming project along the lines of something popularly called "Weird War Two". This subgenre admits a number of possibilities (occult, pulp, late war mecha) and in a later post I'll address how I understand these taxonomies. For now, though, I need to work through the ethics of a game concept which takes a dark premise (Nazis and the Third Reich) and then amps it up by adding additional badness to the bad guys (eg, my SS Vampire character, whose skin these days is somewhat less green).

For the last few weeks I've been thinking about the moral implications of this project, and of the "Weird War" subgenre in general. Perhaps it will seem to you as if I am overthinking this, but humour me for a moment. My questions began thanks to a number of gamers I greatly respect, who have issues with playing the bad guys, and who make convincing arguments that playing the Nazis in a WW2 game is problematic for anyone concerned with being virtuous. If you are interested in exploring this argument, an excellent place to start is the post "Virtue And Wargaming" (see by Polemarch, one of the smartest and most provactive wargaming bloggers I know of.

In this post, Polemarch asks why it is that we don't usually hear debates about the ethics of playing the Ancient Romans, whose empire was founded on highly organized and brutal repression conducted at a geopolitical level, whereas we sometimes hear arguments about the ethics of representing the SS on the gaming table. Polemarch argues that because the Romans are safely removed in the lost world of the distant past, we don't feel many moral qualms in thinking about Rome. With the Nazis, Polemarch argues, it is quite different:

"The difficulty, then, in terms of wargaming Nazi Germany, is that we too live in a system which is not wildly dissimilar. While I am sure that no western style democracy is headed in that direction, Nazi Germany is close enough to us to permit us to imagine that it could. In short, we can much more easily identify with the people on the ground, receiving orders that they either execute or get executed themselves. This places the moral question directly before us: what would you have done?"

So as I understand his argument, because the society and the people represented in our WW2 games are much more similar to us than, say, the Ancient Romans, our games become models of moral choices that should, at the least, discomfort us as gamers. I suppose one could say the same thing about representing modern societies other than Nazi Germany on the gaming table. Are there moral challenges in representing NKVD units, or western forces engaged in Operation Phoenix (see in a Vietnam game? Surely the problem is much broader than just a few SS figures on a tabletop, since modern wargaming allows the representation of many evil regimes and armies? But perhaps I digress.

So here's my point. Any game which adds "Weird" to "World War Two" will inevitably make the Nazis ever nastier, albeit in a highly fictive form of narrative. An example I saw recently is a Kickstarter RPG project that adds Cthonic elements from the Lovecraft sub genre to Nazi Germany. One might ask why anyone would want to add yet more horror and evil to a conflict that set the modern standard for horror and evil. Conrad Kinch posed this question quite well in the gaming ezine The Gazebo, when he asked, in effect, how could we possibly make World War Two even more horrific by adding mythic/pulp elements such as, say, zombies? Isn't the real horror of that war enough for anyone?

On a related line of thought, assuming, pace Kinch, that one decides to add mythic or pulp horror elements to World War Two, does that not trivialize the scope of the evil committed by actual human beings? How could an SS vampire be even more horrfying, any more evil, than an actual figure such as SS General Reinhard Heydrich, seen in this link as portrayed in the HBO film Conspiracy by Kenneth Branagh? I like Conspiracy, and the German film it emulates, The Wannsee Conference, because they capture what Hannah Arendt famously called "the banality of evil". If a monumental evil such as the Final Solution could be set into motion by bureaucrats calmly sitting around a conference table, then do we really need Nazi vampires? If we transpose evil into the realm of the mythic, do we run the risk of forgetting and ignoring the evil that ordinary people can achieve in the real world?

Setting aside these objections, it seems to me that the Weird War Two genre, if we are to pursue it, offsets the amped up evil of the villains (Nazi vampires and the like) by adding superheroic, juiced up good guys (see my blog header for an example). In my own Weird War Two world, I have deliberately set it in the early days of World War Two, just after the Fall of France, when only a few people in Britain realize that occult forces are stirring within the Reich. By creating an atmosphere where "Project Alice" and its characters are mobilizing as a small army of light to fight the darkness, I am trying to pay tribute to that pivotal moment of existential danger in 1940 when Britain and her colonies stood alone against Hitler and the fate of the world hung in the balance. My good guys thus complement the mythic nature of the storytelling by adding caricatures of good (saintly padres, lantern-jawed soldiers, brave and resourceful women resistance fighters vs the forces of darkness in Nazi uniforms). That's the idea behind my Weird War Two setting, but does that approach of mythic good versus mythic evil not deepen the cop-out by substituting fictitious good guys for flawed, human, banal guys who may or may not have been good, but who were on the winning side?

As the Polemarch has said, it all depends on how postmodernist your view of history is. Seeing the summer of 1940 as an historical hinge moment, an existential crisis of good versus evil, is one interpretation of history, but it is a modernist view that buys into one narrative for World War Two. The actual narrative of World War Two was far more complex. Britain went to war for Poland and then sold Poland out at Yalta. For reasons that seemed to make perfect strategic sense, the Allies escalated the bombing of military targets into the bombing of whole cities, while refusing to commit bombers to attacking the infrastructure of the Holocaust. Churchill may have stood for defiance and freedom in 1940, but he also fought to preserve the Empire, something his American allies never supported. The reality is complicated, messy, and considerably less mythic than the stories we would tell of it. Turning World War Two into Weird War Two could be seen as an ethical cop-out, in that it overlays a messy and difficult conflict with a mythic narrative that allows us to avoid the moral nuance of history.

I would agree that a postmodernist caution of single narratives is helpful, but I also think (and here I nail my colours to the mast, finally!) that it is still possible to speak with moral clarity about a subject like World War Two. For all the awful or ambiguous things that the Allies did or did not do, it was a fight for the survival of a vision of humanity that transcended race or ideology. British historian Michael Burleigh makes this point with great clarity in his 2011 book, Moral Combat: Good and Evil In World War Two (New York: Harper Collins, 2011).As Burleigh describes it, the central narrative of the war is of millions of responsible adults who were confronted with difficult decisions and an often “overpowering” temptation to immorality. In such a context, Burleigh says, it is remarkable that the number of those people who made good decisions was such that “a vestigial regard for decent or lawful conduct survived at all”.

To summarize, after thinking this through, I don't believe that Weird War Two has to be an ethical cop out. Going ahead, I will try to let the following principles guide me. One, Weird War Two is a way of telling the story of some aspects of the actual war in a mythic way. Two, my villains will point to the reality of evil in World War Two, without trying to replace or trivilaize that reality with caricatures. Three, my heroes will honour the moral heroism of real men and women in that war, without trying to minimize the complexity of the choices faced by them and the courage it required to make those choices. Four, the project will try to tell its own story, using creativity, humour, and broad strokes, rather in the way that the old films of the 1940s and 1950s did, while remaining respectful of the historical stories as we understand them. Fith and last, the project will be guided by Burleigh's these that World War Two was indeed Moral Combat, a struggle between good and evil at a fundamental level, and needs to be remembered as such. I hope I can succeed at these goals, and hope that you will tell me what you think as I go along, for that is the fun and the goal of a blog.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kinch Lights Have Arrived

In my last post I described several delightful packages that have come to my door recently from various corners of the world, and thought I would save mention of one so brilliant I need sunglasses to describe it. From Dublin last week arrived a package of surpassing wonder, bearing the carte de visite of one Conrad Kinch. What was it, I wondered? Could it be the memoirs of General de Gourmand, written above a New Orleans brothel following the Napoleonic Wars, and embellished with some fairly risque woodcuts, that Kinch had charged me good money for? Could it be Tootsie Royale's haberdashery catalogue for Napoleonic gamers?

Even better! The contents included a magnificent picture book of Dublin for Madame Padre (I read it over her shoulder while making suggestions about how our next vacation really should be Ireland East, since we did Ireland West (aka Newfoundland) last summer. She replied that she would not be impressed to be a camp follower on what turned out to be a thinly disguised gaming holiday. Duly noted, my darling.

Also in the package were several marvels of technology which I have decided to refer to from now on as "Kinch Lights".

I did briefly consider naming them "Fairy Lamps" after the famous 1937 illumination of the Fleet as described, disastrously and live, on the BBC by announcer and alcoholic, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Woodroofe (transcript and audio here, and if you have never heard this, you owe it to yourself). But Kinch Lights seems as a name more winsome, somehow.

I am still marvelling at the reason for this largesse, which I attribute to Kinch being a chap of excellent character, but I suspect he may secretly be teasing me for a post I did here a while back, gently mocking the Warlord Games Volley Lights product, which seemed to me at the time to be Warlord looking for a return on investment based on gamer's "oooh shiny!" tendencies and love for novelties of all types. For taking that view, I confess and most heartily repent, and now declare myself a fan of these wonderful things.

Now by itself, a Kinch Light is a plain piece of plastic circuitboard, not very exciting.

But, add some cotton pillow stuffing and magic! To show them off, I dug out some SYW Russians and Janissaries, and created my second ever YouTube video. That heavy breathing you hear at the start is an index of my excitement.

There was a second type of Kinch Light in the package, a Chinese-made product called an Alectra Light which is a bigger, blinky type of thing. < < Here. It is adorning a model T34-85 which has met a sad end.

To use a phrase that young Kinch himself has coined, this is a fine example of the Freemasonry of the Hobby. Thanks awfully, old chap. Expect to see Kimch Lights adorning a battle rep here soon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cool Stuff From All Over (And Down Under)

It was another quiet weekend at the Mad Padre's painting chapel, on the edge of the still mostly frozen Canadian prairie. After teasing Curt C about how Regina might not see summer until mid July, my own part of Alberta got a dump of snow this weekend, though Madame Padre did log the first robin sighting on the back lawn this Saturday, so we live in hope.

Since I last posted here I received a message from the Canadian Forces confirming my selection for the Advanced Training List, meaning that I will be going back to school this fall on the taxpayer's dime. Thank you, kind taxpayers. The last time I was in graduate school, I lived on ramen noodles and washed my dishes with my underwear, so this will be a pleasant change. I still await the elusive posting message that authorizes me to move, put my house on the market, etc. In the meantime, work continues. OP LIVING ROOM is now at D+14, with the carpets ripped out, the walls painted, and, after this weekend, the baseboards sanded. Since I ran away to play little soldiers with my friends the weekend previous, I owed Domestic Niner a weekend at the chores.

I should say that sanding baseboards is one of the nastiest jobs known to humanity. My back is still not talking to me, and despite the masks I am sure I inhaled enough dust to take a few years off my life. However, the wood is original, solid, lovely stuff, dating from the house's construction in 1912, and I felt I owed it to the old girl to do it right. I hope to have them stained by this weekend, and the room ready for the carpet layers when they choose to show up. Work has also progressed on some minor side projects, such as OP KITCHEN SINK and OP BANNISTER PAINTING. OP STOVETOP and OP ELECTRICAL are scheduled for this Friday.

Some good things came through my mailbox in the last few weeks that deserve comment. I was thrilled to get my prize from Dux Homunculorum's recent contest, a set of Iron Ivan's WW2 rules, Disposable Heroes.

I've glanced at them quickly and they look intriguing, so possibly they will get on the gaming table this weekend. Thank you so much, Dux. Stanley the Cat says hello, by the way. He keeps sitting by the door, waiting for the postman. I am starting to wonder if he got bribed to pick the winners in my own contest. I could be wrong, but it's suspicious how often he's asked wbat Australian rodents taste like. Why would he think about that, I wonder.

Also in the last few weeks, I was delighted to get a package from Spain, from Benito, the owner of the Gaming With Too Fat Lardies blog. Benito had noticed that in a post a few month's ago, I had expressed a desire to get a copy of Don Greenwood's famous Avalon Hill game, Breakout Normandy. He kindly offerred to trade me his copy, in excellent condiiton, in return for postage and some trades. This was terribly kind of him, and is a fine example of what young Kinch has called The Freemasonry Of The Hobby. Gracias, amigo! I look forward to playing this game this week, once I get the carpet pulled up from my study (the last room to be readied for OP CARPET).

Besides these two exciting arrivals, a third package showed up here recently, and it deserves a post of it's own, because it is so brilliant I need sunglasses to describe it. I hope you're excited, and that you'll come back here soon to find out what it is!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Battles In Regina: My Excellent Gaming Adventure At Schloss Campbell-Hanks

Now it can be told, the tale of how I battled through the frozen wastes of mind numbing emptiness that are the Canadian prairie to the Analogue Hobbies HQ in Regina, Saskatchewan, pausing on the way to draw inspiration from some of the great wonders and shrines that dot the bleak Canadian landscape. Here, for example, is the Great Moose Butt, an object of great veneration whose origins are lost in antiquity.

Once comfortably settled into Curt's home, fortified with a giant Meat and Wheat pizza and several cold ones, we settled down to a World War One game featuring kit I have long admired on Curt's blog, his Great War In Grayscale figures. I confess I didn't get these figures at first, but seeing them together with Curt's signature gray and black landscape evokes the period as we know it through period photographs and newsreels, back before the world was in colour (see We used the Too Fat Lardies Great War rules, Through the Mud and Blood, and they worked well, providing for a tense and uncertain game.

In this scenario, a meeting engagement set at the time of the Belgian's flooding of the Yser region in 1914, the German objective was to reach a key bridge across a canal, while the Allied goal was to reach a lock station and open up the sluice gates to start the flooding. Since the German objective was on the Allied start line and vice versa, it made for a tense game where both sides would have to move swiftly and decisively, while overcoming that great foe of mobility, the machine gun. Here the Belgians use their deadliest asset, an MG-equipped armoured car, to check Gernan scouts occupying a church and churchyard in the centre of the table. Desite its fierce appearance, the armoured car was a bit of a bullet magnet, and wasn't all that effective.

Reinforcements kept arriving and being fed into the fight. Here Curt's dog-drawn Belgian MG and team moves up beside a lovely piece of terrain, made by Kobblestone Castings, very nice kit. The dog gunners were commanded by y Allied counterpart, Sylvain, while our German opponent was Curt's friend Stacy. Now Sylvain's habituary caution is legendary among his gaming friends, and this block of townhouses was irresitible to him. Leaving the dogs to frolic in the adjacent leash free park, Sylvain sent his machine gunners to the top floor to smash windows, set up a field of fire. A squad of tough Highlanders, also under Sylvain's command, later vanished into the same buildings, apparently in search of liquor, and were never seen again.

Stacy's troops hunkered down in the churchyard and engaged in a duel with the Belgian machine gunners. While they took some stick they repeatedly got the better of things and drove the Belgians away from the window in showers of flying lead and broken glass. Stacy's main effort was in the center, allowing me to gradually slip a squad of raw but enthusiastic Belgian infantry around and into position, had we time for a few more turns, to make a run for the lock and open the sluice gates. It was a near run thing and the battle gave a good feel of how the early fighting of 1914 quickly ended in bloody stalemates. A great treat of a game.

On Saturday afternoon Curt's friend John Bertolini drove down from Saskatoon to host our second game. John was described by Curt's wife Sarah as a true renaissance man, and I agree. A carpenter, scholar, raconteur, as Sarah said, he could make you a house, talk to you in French, and make you a model soldier. In fact, John could make you a house and then FILL it with toy soldiers. The gob-smacking thing about this game was that every one of the hundreds of figures on this table was sculpted, cast, and painted by John.

John explains the rules to myself and to Curt's colleague, Jeremy. The rules were a fairly simple set of generic 19th century rules, from a hardback book of newish publication date, but I'm blessed if I can recall who wrote them. This was Jeremy's first foray into miniatures gaming and he showed himself to be a talented and aggressive commander. We made a good team, unlike, say, Curt and John, who's command was riven with rivalry, recriminations and backbiting, rather like most 19th century generals, come to think of it.

Curt concentrated both of the Russian cavalry regiments on his flank and came in hard against me, his left hand regiment braving hails of grape and musket fire.

One full and one depleted Russian regiment charge into the steadfast and brave Austrians. Curt's sexy Litko markers are on display here. This charge began a running fight that would last for practically the entire game, with charges being made, countered and repulsed, until eventually a handful of Russians were seen off by a slightly larger handful of Austrians.

Meanwhile, Jeremy resolutely took the fight to John in the centre, lowering his head and wading in through a flurry of blows like a boxer. The Austrians closed to musket range, shook into line, and slowly won a brusing firefight that left most regiments on both sides sadly depleted. However, at the end of the day, we decided that it was an Austrian victory. It was a truly enjoyable fight, the kind where both sides sense victory drawing near and then slipping away repeatedly, and with the outcome hanging in the balance for much of the game. For me, it was one of those rare moments, maybe a once in a lifetime event (unless I go back to Nova Scotia and visit Ross McFarlane) where every figure on the table is, from start to finish, the work of one fellow. Truly inspirational.

Following a rest and an excellent salmon dinner from Sarah, Curt and I welcomed his friend Peter Douglas. Readers who followed this year's Analogue Hobbies painting challenge will recall seeing many of Peter's great WW2 ship models on display. My experience of painting naval models is limited to a handful of larger (1/600) scale ships, but Peter makes the painting and basing look easy. Peter's scenario was based on Savo Island at Guadalcanal, transposing the Italians for Americans and the British for Japanese. In our game a Royal Navy task force of cruisers and destroyers was using the cover of darkness to attack an Italian landing force somewhere in the Med. The Regio Marina Italia was defending the troopships with a similar but slightly smaller force of CAs, CLs and DDs, and since I was the least experienced player, I was given the Italians while Curt took the helm of the RN. Peter umpired and interpreted the rules (General Quarters III as I recall.

Here I am muddling my way through the initial plotting of moves, trying hard not to do anything wrong such as run aground, shoot my own ships, collide in the dark, etc. I quickly discovered that the Italians were hindered by a lack of radar and much less accurate gunnery.

However, as it turned out, the dark was a two-edged knife. While one of my DD pickets, the Frescia (or Foccaccia as she was rudely rechristened), was hammered into scrap by opponents seen only by their gunflashes, my other picket, Ascari, detected the British at close range while herself remaining unseen. Her captain bravely turned towards the British line, flushed his torpedoes, and then steamed away at flank speed. The results were gratifying, with multiple hits causing fires, flooding and damage to the DD Nubian and CL Euryalus.

Getting caught in the narrows was bad luck on Curt's part, and on the sound theory that all wargaming is essentially role playing, he opted as the RN commander to turn away and not risk further damaged ships that the Luftwaffe might pick off come the dawn. Before he turned away his division fired all their torps, which had the effect of blowing the stern off the exultant Ascari, sinking her outright. The Italian commander, flushed with success, turned away from the fish and put on speed, saving further damage to Il Duce's ships and effectively ending the engagement.

Result, a minor Italian victory, as the two damaged RN ships would have been Stuka bait come the dawn. I greatly enjoyed the GQ3 rules, which Peter explained masterfully. It was a treat to push his lovely ship models around. 20th century naval gaming is something I would love to get into, but have to firmly forbid myself from indulging in. There are too many fun periods, and one must specialize in something. So all told, a wonderful weekend of gaming and good company. Thank you Curt and Sarah, John and Peter for the excellent adventure.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Happy Blog Birthday Loki!

Fellow blogger and Analogue Hobbies brush ronin Loki (aka Andrew Saunders) is celebrating the second birthday of his very fine blog with a cracking good contest.

You have until the end of April to get in your entry, and be sure to give Loki your congratulations. Well done, Andrew!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gone To The Dogs

As mentioned here, I made the pilgrimage to Regina, Saskatchewan this weekend for a very pleasant weekend of gaming. For my non-Canadian readers, the distance between my home in Medicine Hat, in the SE corner of Alberta, and Regina, in the south centre of Saskatchewan, the capital of the next province to the east, is about 500kms, roughly a five hour drive. It's a large enough distance that I travelled from spring back into winter. Med Hat was about 15C on Friday, with not a trace of snow in sight, and Regina is still being buffetted by winter storms. The only people who seemed happy about that were the cross-country skiers I saw in the parks while there. It was a shock to go from a dry, clear road to a 60km winds blowing snow from the flat prairies onto the highway and choking it from two lanes to half a lane, making the last hour of the drive there a white-knuckle affair. The drive back was kinder to me today. Oh Canada, how I love you.

Curt and his radiant wife Sarah could not have been kinder hosts, and made me welcome in Schloss Campbell-Hanks, their lovely home. We got three games in, ranging from Curt's patented Great War In Grayscale to a terrific Old School game with Curt's pal John's own sculpts and castings, all gorgrous figures, to a 1940-41 Med naval game run by Peter Douglas, the admiral of the prairies. Curt will be sending some pictures once he fights clear of announcing the results of his painting challenge, and I'll get some batreps posted here in due course.

Followers of Curt's blog will recall his announcing two new additions to his family. Here I am with Felix, a demure and patient soul who was happy to pose for my iPhone.

And with Oscar, who doesn't respect the formal portrait but who is lavish with his affection. Dog germs, blech!

Too charming lads to be sure. If I wasn't married to a hardcore cat fancier who lacks the canine appreciation gene, I'd have some of my own.

After the final game, Curt (left) and me (right) model our Posties Rejects shirts on either side of Peter, the Single Handed Admiral. Yu can see what winter in Regina looks like from Peter's blog.

More to follow.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Resurrected Armies Project 1: Salvaging Soviets

April is the cruelest month, said the poet, and so far it has been cruel to my painting intentions. Easter Monday, the first day of the month, was continuing to ready our old house to go on the market. OP LIVING ROOM commenced Monday at 09:00hrs with sanding the crown moulding:

Plans were changed on the fly when Madame Padre decided that the ceiling needed to be painted. I hate painting stucco anhd I hate painting ceilings, but it got done. Adapt and overcome.

Tuesday night however I had a chance to start thinking about something I mentioned here back in February, my Resurrected Armies project, which will run for the sixty days of Easter. The goal of the project is to find figures from my collection that have suffed the slings and arrows of time and multiple moves, to dig them out of their storage boxes, give them some TLC and play a game or two with each of them. I decided to start with all my 20mm Soviet kit, which has never all been on the table at the same time, so I thought a parade of the Red Army would be in order.

I had forgotten what a lot of tanks I have, all mostly late war. Originally, not knowing any better, they were all painted in Tamiya Flat Earth (chosen from a limited selection at my local hobby store), but some years back I discovered the Vallejo line and switched to their Russian Green. At the time I was blissfully ignorant of washes, weathering, drybrushing, pigments, airbrushes and such, so the paint schemes are quite basic. In the foreground are two Fujimi SU85s in their Russian Green, and to the right are two HO scale trucks (Rocco or Minitanks, can't recall which) posing as Lendlease US trucks in their original Flat Earth.

More tanks. A Fujimi KV2 at the back beside an ESCI KV1, while to the right two Matchbox T34/85s in my first brown paint scheme (you can see an early attempt at green camo) sit in front of two more T34/85s that someone gifted me - I think they are also Matchbox kits? A couple of T34s are visible and to the right there is a Ukranian kit of some sort, a Zil truck whose wheels keep coming off and which needs some repair.

Here's the original cadre of my Soviet infantry. Most of these figures are either the ESCI hard plastic Soviet Guards troops or else the soft plastic set by ESCI. a few of them are metal figures from the RAFM Platoon 20 range. I bought and painted these chaps sometime around 1990. I was thinking last night about the difference between then and now as far as painting guides and resources. 1990 was pre-world wide web, so there were no blogs, painting guides, hobby websites, or forums, and no google to reach them with. There were Osprey books, if one could find them, and I think I painted these fellows in Tamiya Flat Earth because it seemed the closest thing to what I thought at the time Russian uniforms looked like. How quaint. The basing is quite rudimentary as well, just thin sheets of carboard with green paint and some basic flocking. They were organized into fireteams as per a friend's homebrew rules. The standard for basing was lower in those days. Note the standard-issue Soviet army officer pose, with pistol pointing heroically but uselessly skyward.

At some point in the 1990s I decided that my little Russian army needed some anti-tank guns, so I bought two by mail order from, I think, Skytrex. I discovered Skytrex in an issue of Miniature Wargames that I somehow got my hands on - old school mail order where one went to the bank or post office, got an international money order, sent it off, and a month later started watching for the postman. Ordering stuff online via paypal and getting it days later seems quaint now. I got two ZIS 57mm AT guns, of which one was assembled and lost over the years. The one here needs to be assembled and painted. The crew show my painting style in transition, with some having a lighter uniform shade and green (rather than the original Flat Earth brown) helmets. I love the officer - I think he is supposed to be looking through binos, but the sculpt looks like he is sucking on a vodka bottle.

Here's the real deal, a recently ( 3 years ago?) purchased box of Italieri AT guns, with what the box translation whimsically calls "servants". Really good kit. I assembled the guns and started painting the "servants" for the Analogue Painting Challenge but never got them finished. They have a Fall of Berlin look about them.

A smaller group (maybe a dozen) of what I think of as my second generation Russian infantry. These chaps were based indivually for a skirmish level set of rules called The Face Of Battle. It was well intentioned and I tried hard to make it work. FoB required that one keep track of individual soldiers, and whether they were standing, kneeling, or prone, and so I tried hard to assemble three poses for soldier A1, A2,etc before I eventually said sod this for a game of soldiers. The lighter uniform colours show that by the mid 1990s I had armed myself with the Osprey Book on the Red Army of the Great Patriotic War, a very fine reference. However, my knowledge of and access to paints was still sketchy. I think the odd colour on these chaps Folkart acryllic English Mustard, which looked somewhat close to the Osprey plates. There is some rudimentary attempts at shading visible, and proper green helmets. The two kneeling figures in the foreground are actually painted in Vallejo Russian uniform, and date from the middle of the last decade, when I finally had access to a decent hobby store.

The internet and hobby forums wised me up to other options for this period, and about five years ago I shelled out for some lead Brittania figures, after hearing good things about them on the Guild forum. They were pretty good, and I started painting some before a posting, but didn't like the results of a GW/Citadel flesh wash I tried at the time, so at the very least I need to repaint the flesh on these Ivans, and possibly the uniform tunic as well. I think when I base them I will follow my now standard pattern of putting them on circular bases by the half-section.

As part of the same order, my Russian army got a command group. Britannia makes a nice collection of Russian officers getting a briefing, which no doubt includes a warning that the last one to the Reichstag gets an interview with the NKVD. Primed and ready to go. That's the Britannia command truck behind them, waiting to recover from the Great Pigment Pickle.

And some Britannia tank riders, who have rather a few tanks to choose from once they're ready. Behind them are a mittful of Britannia figures waiting their turn in the paint queue.

It wouldn't be fun without air support. I assembled and painted this Matchbox Sturmovik about ten years ago and it's never been in a single game. It's lost a few bits over the years but it's still in fairly good shape, flying high on its home made dowel stand that I'm rather proud of.

Top view of the Sturmie as it flies over the battlefield. I found an unopened box of Esci figures in a box of plastic kits that Madame Padre scowls at every time we move, and I should paint them up and try some customisations, including a flag for one of the open handed figures rather than a weapon.

And finally, it wouldn't be a wargames army without cool troops like these Black Sea sailors. I have almost a platoon of these fellows, each a fine example of my painting and basing style ca 2000. These are from the old FAA range of WW2 figures - FAA as I recall were pretty cutting edge for their day, or so it seemed to me. I was in Chicago on business in a previous life, and have fond memories of driving across town to The Emperor's Headquarters, a now defunct wargames store that was big in its heyday. I found six packs of these figures on a spinner rack and bought them all, then spent an extra hour trying to navigate my way out of town (pre iPhone GPS days). I still have a support weapons pack to paint, including an ATR team and two DP LMG gunners.

So what would resurrection look like for this army? Here are some goals that are, I hope, attainable before Pentecost Sunday, May 19, the end of the sixty days of Easter.

1) Paint and base the Britannia figures as quickly and cleanly as possible, with a little more attention to the command group.

2) Finish the Italieri AT guns and get the Skytrex one assembled, painted and based.

3) Get the T34s into shape for a game of Battlegroup Kursk.

4) Paint and base my support weapons Black Sea sailors.

5) Fix the damn truck.

6) Play a game of Battlegroup Kursk with some of these troops.

7) Do a quick upgrade of the older ESCI infantry, using some of the speed painting techniques at the Guild forum - - now if only I can find some FOW German Yello Spray - maybe just use some Vallejo German Yellow w my airbrush as a start?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First Annual Meeting, Posties Rejects Canuck Chapter To Occur This Weekend

The First Meeting of Postie's Rejects, Canuck Chapter, is set to meet at Curt (Analogue Hobbies) Campbell's place in Regina, Saskatchewan, this weekend. Reject Curt announces the following agenda:

Mike has asked for me to put on a Great War scenario which I'll do for Friday night. In addition, John Bertolini from Saskatoon has offered to set up a Old School Toy Soldier battle for Saturday afternoon (using his super cool personally sculpted, home-cast and painted models) AND Saturday evening Peter will be laying out a 1:2400 WWII naval action set in the Med. All this gaming mayhem will be occurring at Curt & Sarah's. (God bless her long-suffering soul!) Friday's Great War game will start at 7:30pm. John's game on Saturday around 2pm and Peter's around 7:30 that night. Look forward to seeing you around the table! Best,Curt

Also on the agenda is the ceremonial presentation of Curt's ronin from the Painting Challenge and a presentation to Pete Douglas for a fabulous prize he won recently on this very blog.

The Canadian Chapter was founded last year when Reject Curt visited Reject HQ in England just under a year ago.

Further cementing the tradition, last summer was also when Reject Fran and I did a shirt exchange, in which Fran got some old Canadian Army rag and meself came out the better, I thought. I shall be wearing my fabulous Reject shirt this weekend.

Now, we being but simple colonials, who look to Mother England for direction, inspiration, and inebriation, have the following questions for Fran, Ray, Big Lee and all.

1) Are there any rituals that we need to observe, such as not rolling "1"s, taking the piss out of each other, and having a fry up?

2) Do we address each other as "Gits" or are there other appropriate salutations such as "Right Honourable Reject", "Sod Off", etc?

3) Any other advice?

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