Sunday, May 26, 2013

Playing Breakout Normandy: The Curse of Dieppe Revisits Juno Beach

Earlier this year, Mad Padre's Man in Madrid managed to find me a copy of the old Avalon Hill classic boardgame Breakout Normandy, which I had become interested in after hearing an interview with its designer, Don Greenwood, on the Guns, Dice, Butter podcast. I've had some time to set it up and start playing with it, and it gives every promise of being a terrific extension of the mechanic first introduced in Storm Over Arnhem and a good simulation of the the first weeks of the Normandy campaign.
In the game I'm playing solitaire at the moment, I have finished the D-Day landing phases and all has gone fairly well for the Allies -- except at Juno Beach, where a strategic disaster has just been avoided. Initially all was looking good. Air and sea bombardments had suppressed the German coastal artillery (CA), preventing it from keeping any of the attacking units at Juno from participating in the assault. I chose to make the assault with all three infantry brigades of 3rd Canadian Division, while leaving the attached armoured brigade to land as a reinforcement later. Seeing as units involved in successful beach assaults go to Spent status afterwards, and can only be made effective again by allocating precious resource points during the Refit Phase, I thought it would be a good idea to have some fresh units in reserve.

Along the same line of thought, since the only defending unit at Juno is the Courselles coastal artillery, which has been flipped to Spent status during the naval bombardment phase, I decide to attack with only two of 3CanDiv's brigades and leave the third as a reserve. That decision will mean forfeiting the +1 modifier for divisional integrity in the attack, but I figure I have enough advantages that I don't need that modifier.

Disaster. The Germans roll a 5, plus 2 for the coastal defences, plus 1 for the local terrain modifier, plus 3 for the Courselles CA defence value, for a total of 11. The Allies roll a 1 plus 3 for the lead brigade's combat value plus 1 for the supporting brigade plus 1 for air support in clear weather for a total of 6. Not nearly enough. Even had I chosen to attack with all 3 brigades, the div integrity bonus wouldn't have helped. Now my decision is weather to invoke the rule giving up the strategic initiative to the Germans in return for a re-roll of the combat result. It's a tempting option, but I still have to resolve the assault on Omaha Beach, where the Germans have more unspent units in defence and two CA that can fire on the incoming US units, potentially taking them out of the fight and imperilling Allied chances of taking Omaha. The idea of losing that beach assault is, as Eisenhower said of postponing the invasion, too bitter to contemplate, so I elect to keep the Initiative in case I need it. With two of the three British sector beaches captured, I can take my chances.
Since the Canadian assault failed, all three 3CanDiv brigades are flipped to Spent status and each takes a Disruption 1 marker, reducing their defence value by one and making them more costly to refit. Apparently the disaster of the Dieppe Raid in 1942 has revisited Overlord. From Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, the June 7 newspapers back home will make for grim reading. Not only are my Canadian units vulnerable to counterattack, but the beach defences have not been cleared, so any future attack from the sea will have to face the +2 German defence modifier for the beach defences.

With the Omaha and Juno landings successful, the four unique D-Day phases are concluded and it is now the first German impulse of the June 6 turn. With the Allied vulnerability at Juno, the first German move seems obvious. Attacking with the 192nd regt. of panzer grenadiers of 21Pz only involves a move of one area, so there is no threat from Allied air interdiction as there would be from a longer move. It's an opportunity to crush one of the Allied beachheads and wreck one of the attacking divisions.

The German die roll is a good one: 5 plus 5 for the German unit's attack value versus the Allied roll of 1 plus 1 for the defence value of the lead Canadian brigade (2 - 1 for Disrupt 1) plus 1 for the area terrain modifier plus 1 for Allied air superiority for a total of 4 and a difference of 6 which would eliminate all three Canadian brigades, a disastrous result.

If there was ever a good time to cede the Advantage, now is a good time. With the re-roll (Allied 5 + 4 = 9 vs German 3 + 5 = 8) the new result defeqts the German attack and leaves the 192nd PGr spent. So disaster is averted, but the Germans have the Advantage now and there are still German day moves to be made. Will the Curse of Dieppe prove fatal to the D-Day landings? Stay tuned.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Handsome Hans And The Nasty Nazis

Christmas last Madame Padre gave me a bunch of two-fisted figures from Bob Murch's Pulp Figures range for my Weird War Two project. I liked the somewhat cartoonish quality of Bob's Nazis and I thought they would be the perfect minions for my occult Nazi leaders and monsters, and useful cannon fodder for battles with "S Commando". Here's my first test figure from this lot, "Handsome Hans".

There are a few things about my paint job for this guy that I would be grateful, dear reader, for your feedback. First, because I fear I don't fully understand the art of painting black clothes, I gave him a base of black but then dry brushed him using a colour called "Midnight" (basically an indigo) from a craft paint line called Folkart. I rather think the net result looks too blue, rather like a Union blue from the ACW period rather than SS black. Do you think the uniform is too blue?

Secondly, you will note that Bob has sculpted a swastika armband on the figure's arm, and that I have painted it red but have not added the white circle with the swastika in the centre. The reasons for this are twofold. The first reason is that I fear a swastika is too fiddly to paint well. Second, and more important, I'm not sure I really want to paint one. I am mindful of some forums, such as Lead Adventurers, that don't allow Nazi symbology since they hosted in Germany and abide by German law, not that I post a lot of my work on that forum but I might want to. More to the point, and this goes back to an earlier post I did on Weird War Two and ethics, I think it's plain that my bad guys are intended to be minions of the Third Reich without having to paint a symbol I find repugnant.

I've been giving some more thought as to the kind of alternate reality I wanted to create with Weird War Two. At first I think I envisioned it as "Hammer Studios Meets Allo! Allo!". The charm of the Hammer films, which terrified my dreams when I was a young teenager was that they were campy, low-budget, set "somewhere in Europe somewhere in the past" and didn't take themselves overly seriously.

Allo! Allo! never took itself seriously. If you could accept Nazis as harmless clowns, you got the joke. If you couldn't accept that premise, you probably didn't watch it.

I'm just not sure that I want my Weird War Nazis to be that silly. Recently Madame Padre and I recently discovered the 1970s era ITV series, "Enemy At the Door", about the German occupation of the Channel Islands. In this show the Nazis are definitely not clowns. In fact, they can be downright scary, in part because the decent German types, like the Commandant, are decent men trapped in an evil system. If you have a moment, watch the contrast in this episode between the Commandant, Major Richter (played by Alfred Burke) and the SS Haupsturmfuhrer Rienicke (Simon Cadell), who would pull Cafe Rene apart in a few days.

So for now I'm thinking no swastikas, but scary Nazis - just, hopefully, not too blue Nazis. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Resurrected Armies Project Third and Last: Turkish Redelight

Sunday last was the Sunday of Pentecost and the end of the Easter season for this year, so it brings to an end my resurrected armies project. I was able to get three armies out of mothballs and made some plans for repairs and additions in the time remaining before everything goes into boxes for our move sometime in July. The third and last army I am showcasing for this project is my 28mm Seven Years War Ottoman/Turkish army. Here it is together for a recently finished battle with their Russian nemesis, an excuse to test drive Sam Mustafa's Maurice rules.

As I mentioned when introducing my SYW Russians, I got into SYW gaming with my club in the mid 1990s, and after deciding that I needed a second army for solitaire gaming, I opted for the Turks on the theory that, A) no one else wanted to do them, and B) they were more colourful and more interesting than any other of the European armies of the period. The interesting fact about this army is that almost none of these figures have been painted or based by me. Some were gifts from kind gaming friends I've made over the years, and some were bought used from friends who bought them used. An example of the latter are these fellows, who I showed here a few months back when they appeared in a colonial game using Ross MacFarlane's MacDuff rules. Yes, it's those lovable rogues with the big axes, the Turkish Love Slaves, though as I recall we decided that they were actually some flavour of Cossacks, though we never figured out whose sculpts they are. Most of these have been repainted by me, and they work as irregular massed infantry with melee weapons. If they survive the hails of grape and musketry usually directed at them, they are fearsome enemies.

I have three units of scruffy archers who look like they would be more at home in a Crusades game fighting Richard the Lionheart. They were part of a job lot of figures purchased by a friend at some kind of boot sale, and he kindly sold me the lot. Lord knows who made them. They function as the equivalents to Russian pandours, since mobs of irregular skirmishing infantry are always helpful.

The pride of the army, are of course my elite armoured cavalry, the Sipahis. I gather that sipahi can be a generic word meaning cavalry of any kind, and that the heavies were called Sipahis of the Porte. I have twelve of these latter chaps from The Assault Group waiting for a turn on my painting bench and they are lovely figures. THese fellows here came in that job lot I mentioned and were extensively repainted and rebased by my younger self. Again, they look rather medieval to my eye. With another twelve figures done once I get to the TAG sipahis, I'll have an impressive shock arm for those key moments in the battle. My limited reading of Maurice doesn't seem to give any distinctions to light or heavy cavalry, but I am only reading the free "Lite" rules, so there may be something in the full rules if I decide to buy them.

The heart of my Turkish army is a small brigade of three small regiments of Janissaries. These figures in blue are Esex (I think) and were never really finished. That blue banner needs doing and they are rather expressionless. I am also not sure if the red fez chaps should be mixed in with the more elaborate headdress. This unit needs some revisiting to be sure.

I also have two units of these handsome chaps in red - Minifigs, I think. I didn't paint them, they were the gift of a friend who started collecting Ottomans and then gave up. A very handsome and decidedly old school bunch, and the only units I have who have any chance of standing and slugging it out with the Russian line infantry.

My Turks don't have the same weight of artillery that their Russian foes possess, but they aren't helpless. Besides this based gun, they have this monster, never got more than half painted and still needs basing. The crew are Minifigs.

Finally, we have more fellows who look like they have ridden out of a Crusades or El Cid game, these magnificent horse archers in their colourful robes, all drawing the bow at the same time. Such choreography! Some of these fellows I've repainted.

And another unit of light horse, none of whom have received a lick of paint during their time with me. From my limited knowledge of Turkish tactics, they would pack their wings with light horse and try to win the battle on the flanks. My Russian hussars will be busy fending off the Turks while the line infantry and artillery tries to decide the battle.

I neglected to take a photo of the big cheese, the army's CinC, but he's busy in a refight with the Russians using the Maurice rules, so I will include him in my AAR of that battle, or I'm told some burly eunuchs will drag me off and apply the thumbscrews in a dark dungeon. Hmmm, I hope he wins that battle, for my sake.

A couple of to-dos here to be sure. 1) Finish painting the blue jannisaries; 2) Base that big cannon, assemble a third gun, a piece from Minifig's ECW range, and finish four artillerists somewhere on my painting table; 3) get cracking on those TAG sipahis of the porte. The first two I think I can manage before the move. The final task should take me into the fall.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fiat Lux! - Solving The Lighting Problem

Several weeks ago Madame Padre and I went to the big city of Calgary for a night of culture and then on to Banff and the Rockies. While in Calgary we visited her favourite camera store, where she found a macro lens for her signature flower photographs. I suspect her camera is smarter than I am and that I will never be allowed to touch her macro lens (my iPhone works well enough, I find) but I did grab something I had been wanting since my last visit just before Christmas.


I have often read and heard that 90% of the problems encountered when trying to photograph miniatures have to do with insufficient lighting. I have tried all sorts of jerry rigged solutions, usually involving me holding a lamp with one hand while trying to manipulate my camera phone with another, with sometimes sketchy results. I had mixed feelings about dropping $95 to solve this problem, but this piece of kit, a light tent by Optex, seemed promising.

Here's the kit unfolded from its box and set up. It's a clever design of folding vinyl screens, with lighting on either side and diffuser panels, and a choice of four colours for background in two double sided fabric panels.

For a test run, I couldn't resist cramming in all twelve 28mm figures from my current project, an SYW Russian hussar unit that has been featured here several times in past, and which is now 98% finished. As you can see, the inside area is small enough that twelve large based figures spill over the background fabric and so the aesthetic effect is somewhat marred. Still, I think the lighting looks pretty good - very clean, doing justic to the colours, and no annoying shadows! How does it look to you?

With half the number of figures, and by cropping the image slghtly, only the bckground fabric is visible, giving a pleasing (to me, anyway) impression. I didn't notice the bits of stray flocking on the blue background until I'd put everything away.

First thoughts: Pros, this kit produces good light that illuminates all sides of the model fairly equally, and gives an attractive result. It would be good for photographing individual models or small groups for purposes such as entries in contests, showing off special projects and additions to collections. The folding box takes only a few minutes to set up and take down. Cons: the area of the light box may not large enough to photograph large units all together, or to include backgrops or diorama elements. All that being said, my intial opinions of this kit has me thinking it was money well spent.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Big Step Forward

Hello all! There's been precious little blogging this month, and very little gaming, but a lot of painting. Alas, the painting was all house-related - walls, baseboards, steps, fences, etc. As readers may remember, the army is posting me this summer, and since Madame Padre and I opted to buy our own house rather than rent a PMQ when we were first posted here, we now have to sell our house. Several weeks ago I received the posting message which allowed me to engage the relocation people and get our house listed to sell. That meant a flurry of work trying to get the final jobs done - new carpets, study baseboards, various painting projects -- and there is still a list of jobs that need to be done. But, on Monday, we got to this point, with a For Sale sign on the lawn.

The market here is a little slow at present, and older, character homes like ours require the right buyer, so we are hoping that the right buyer comes along soon. In the meantime, we are trying to keep the place clean and tidy for showing, but there are some things I'm not putting away, like the wargames table. Who knows, maybe the right buyer is a wargamer, and the sight of a wargames room will be the final touch that convinces them to buy our house?

Our goal is to be packed and moved in late July, and the house sold by 1 August, so I have a little time to enjoy my toys. I am trying not to think about having to pack them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Resurrected Armies Project Two: Rediscovered SYW Russians

This coming Sunday is the Seventh Sunday of Easter and after that is Pentecost Sunday, so I only have a few more weeks before my self-appointed deadline to talk about my Resurrected Armies project. To recap, the purpose of this project was to use the season of Easter to "resurrect" some long-neglected armies in my collection. I showcased my 20mm Soviet WW2 collection some weeks back, so today here are more Russians, from my 28mm Seven Years War collection. I started building this army around 1990 when my club at the time went through a Seven Years War craze, inspired by the (then newly published) Age of Reason rules set.

Here on parade is the mighty Russian Army of Emperor Mikhail The Good (none to his courtiers as "Mikhail The So So"). All the base sizes are as per WRG basing and troop type specifications. At one point there were some 20mm Revell Prussian infantry painted in Russian green, and some Esci Napoleonic Polish Lancers in paper caftans posing as Cossacks, as well as a box of Esci Crimean War British Hussars posing as, well, Russian Hussars. The plastic figures were all released from service in the Emperor's first Force Reduction Plan, following a report from the Nevsky Institute of Strategic Studies saying that they were icky.

The army's Commander in Chief, the gout-ridden General Ivan Blottski, a Front Rank figure. I have a blister of Foundry Russian officers currently deploying on my painting table to give him some subordinate commanders, and possibly some rivals for command if things go samovar-shaped.

My light infantry, the dangerous Serbian Pandours, of whom Blottski once quipped that "they would steal the family silver of the blessed Mother of God and then ask for her blessing in battle". These are Minifigs kindly gifted to me from the collection of an old gaming friend, Mark Chappel.

Here is the senior of my line infantry regiments. The command figures and the firing musketeers in the front are I think from Falcon Miniatures, but I wouldn't swear to it. The flags are hand painted and I'm still quite proud of them.

I placed several orders for Front Rank infantry to the Emperor's Headquarters of Chicago when it was in business. Here is my next unit of Russian line. Hopefully one notices a slight improvement in my painting skills over time. At this stage I was giving exaggerated red cheeks to my soldiers, giving them a slightly Nutcracker look.

Once I started doing some research, I realized that I had to paint the famed Apcheronski Regiment, which wore red gaiters in honour of their performance fighting the Prussians at Kunersdorf, when they were said to have stood and fought knee deep in their own blood. I am sure the reality was less impressive, but a splash of red on the gaming table is irresisitble. I recently discovered that GMB make Russian flags for this period, so there will soon be a service where the Apcheronskis are issued new colours.

Wanting more variety, I then added two regiments of the Observation Corps, which as far as I remember meant "under observation" for their new uniforms, including these rather stylish knee high boots, which I'm sure were proper bastards to march in.

One of my Observation Corps regiments intermixes Front Rank figures with these chaps, which some kind soul gifted me. Not sure who makes them ... possibly Falcon as well?

When we weren't using the Age of Reason rules, my crowd often got out the WRG rules for black powder, on the theory that was good in the 1970s was just as good in the 1990s. A rather quaint and charming notion in this era of trendy and expensive glossy rules. I always liked the morale modifier that gave Russians in line a -3 just for being Russians in line. That rule made all the Russians pretty tough on the defence, but for the offense one has to have some Grenadiers. Here's my unit of Front Rank grenadiers. Note the coats of pale green. I'm not sure what the thinking was there when I painted them that shade, I think I just wanted them to stand out from the dark green ofg the rest of my army and I thought the paler green gave them a tough weathered veteran look. At any rate, they're a pretty tough bunch, of whom General Blottski once said that they would storm the gates of hell or Berlin for a cannikin of vodka and a potato.

The only unit of cavalry currently in service is this unit of mystery manufacturer hussars, a gift from some kind friend and painted ... ummm, err, orange? Not sure what I was thinking there. They are colourful, and will soon be joined by a second unit of hussars, which are demanding to be finished and released from the painting table. I would dearly love some dragoons and cuirassers to fight the armoured Turks lurking out there.

This chap, another mystery manufacturer figure, illustrates my painting style ca. 1990, when I was just discovering drybrushing. I call him "Captain Kronsky" and he may one day serve in a game of Too Fat Lardies' Sharpe Practice, adapted to Russia's Ottoman frontier.

Finally, what Russian army would be complete without a shedload of artillery? The guns here, all painted glossy fireengine red because I thought it looked cool at the time, are either Minifigs or Front Rank, and the crew are either Minifigs Prussians painted in Russian colours or Front Rank figures.

In my thinking, to be a properly resurrected army, it isn't enough for the figures to be dug out of boxes and refurbished, but they have to fight in a tabletop action. My Russians recently took the field against their Turkish nemesis, in an attempt to master the demo rules for Sam Mustafa's Maurice, and the tale of that battle, and of my thoughts on Maurice, remains to be told.

Monday, May 6, 2013

What Was Britain's Greatest Battle? The Answer Will Surprise You

US journalist Tom Ricks put me on to this piece in last week's The Telegraph on a question asked by Britain's National Army Museum. One hundred paid guests heard five historians make their case for Britain's Greatest Battle. Over half of the attendees then voted in favour of the argument made by Dr Robert Lyman, an author and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, that Britain's greatest battle was actually two, the twin fights of Imphal and Kohima, fought in Burma in 1944.

Lyman had this reaction: "I had thought that one of the bigger names like D-Day or Waterloo would win so I am delighted that Imphal-Kohima has won. You have got to judge the greatness of a battle by its politcal, cultural and social impact, as much as its military impact. Imphal and Kohima were really significant for a number of reasons, not least that they showed that the Japanese were not invincible and that that they could be beaten, and beaten well. The victories demonstrate this more than the US in the Pacific, where they were taking them on garrison by garrison.”

I freely admit that I know next to nothing about these battles, and only a little bit about General Slim and the campaign in Burma. I need to fix that gap in my military knowledge this summer. Hammock reading suggestions, anyone? Any good paper wargames of these fights or of this campaign?

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