Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Author of the Month: Galadrielle Allman

The recent death of Gregg Allman prompted me to go back and read Galadrielle Allman's brilliant and moving Please be with Me, about her father, Gregg's brother, Duane Allman.

(Image snaffled from same Amazon link as above)

It's a beautiful book, and one of the most wonderful, saddest things I've read. I don't know if you've ever fallen into a great book or a great movie so much that you start to live it, and find that at some point in that world you join something awful happens, and that that awful thing affects you deeply, and when you come back to that book or movie at some later point and go through the experience again you dread that moment, and sort of hope that this time, maybe, that thing won't happen, that the cup will pass, but it doesn't, and it damages you all over again, and yet in some way the whole experience is life-affirming.

Well, that's what this book is like.

I'll leave the second last word to Gregg Allman:

The last word I'll leave to Duane himself. He's on guitar here accompanying Wilson Pickett.

Anyway, next post will - I promise - be wargame related!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Facebook Fracas

The other day while browsing a facebook group devoted to boardgaming I came across a fellow relating an anecdote about a game he'd designed on 1st Alamein. He'd called it a classic of its kind, so I looked it up and had a quick read of the designer notes.

Being a New Zealander, and having had a grandfather who served in North Africa, I take an interest in the desert war. I don't game it myself, but have read a few books on it, and am proud of the reputation for gallantry won by the New Zealand Division and by the 8th Army as a whole. I was therefore a little surprised in this instance to read in the notes insinuations made about the New Zealand troops.

What started this designer off was that during the historical fighting on Ruweisat Ridge the New Zealand infantry advanced to their objectives overnight on 14th/15th July 1942. For various reasons the promised armour support never moved forward, the Kiwis were attacked from the rear by tanks from 8th Panzer Regiment, suffered heavy losses in killed, wounded and captured, and 4th Brigade was entirely destroyed.

Six days later, the same thing happened again: the New Zealand infantry advanced to the El Mreir depression, the armour failed to come up in support, and the infantry was again overrun by tanks against which they could do nothing, and the division took a further 900 casualties.

Ruwiesat Ridge from the NZ Archives.

On this, the designer wrote in his notes that:
An attack combining the New Zealand division with brigades of the 1st Armoured Division resulted in the overrunning and obliteration of 4th New Zealand (infantry) Brigade ... and accusations that the tanks had deserted the infantry on the battlefield.

I'm not sure where he got the 'accusations' reference from, but from my own reading I was aware that there had been some bitterness among the New Zealanders - particularly Kippenburger, who turned back to find the armour and urge them to get a move on - that the tanks had not come up in support.

But then, incredibly, instead of leaving the unfortunate incident there, the game designer wrote this:
(It might be remembered . . . that the "premature withdrawal" by a New Zealand battalion from its key position overlooking Maleme Airfield in 1941 . . . had been decisive to the loss of the island of Crete. Not only did Commonwealth forces then take grievous losses in ships and men in the evacuation attempt: the proud and brave people of Crete would suffer terribly under Nazi subjugation.)

I couldn't quite be sure of the intention, but in word he seemed to be saying that:

a) cowardice had been an issue for the New Zealanders on Crete;
b) that the subsequent losses from the Crete disaster were a direct result of this cowardice;
c) that the armour not coming up in support on Ruweisat Ridge was some kind of karmic payback!

I wondered if I was reading too much into it, but decided to reply to his post and query him to see if he had intended to imply what I thought he was implying.

In doing this I politely mentioned that while the Maleme airfield debacle was a terrible blunder, the New Zealanders were certainly not cowards, and that it would be nice if he would remove that implication from his notes.

Well, he wrote back.

HAH! The New Zealand troops may not have been cowards ... as we saw in the desert afterwards ... but 2 of their officers have been publicly criticised even in New Zealand for the bug-out, Aaron. The loss of the potentially decisive Allied airbase of Crete was extremely damaging. But nationalities do tend to get held responsible ... if only for deterring future wavering. Look at the South Africans' collapse at Tobruk in 1942. For your edification: link
 So the "implication" STAYS. The German paratroopers were almost out of ammunition, and they thought their last attack would be futile and suicidal ... only to find the New Zealand 5th Brigade had withdrawn. Your opposition to historical truth ... and justice ... however long after the fact ... is duly noted.

Again, I was slightly surprised by his approach, especially the final suggestion that I, someone he had no knowledge of, was opposed to historical truth and justice and that this had been duly noted!

I replied that he had misread the article he used as evidence: in it the accusation leveled at the officers in charge of the Maleme debacle was not cowardice; it was that they had misread the situation on the ground and, having been peacetime appointments, that they were out of their depth in the field. Personal bravery was not the issue (an MC and DSO with 2 bars for one of them; a VC for the other), and the article did not imply it was.

In the article, Major General Sandy Thomas brought out that the two NZ commanders made crucial mistakes, missed the chance to hold the airfield and throw back the German attack, and that the blunder was decisive in the failure of the campaign:

"The problem was the commanding officers responsible for the defence of Maleme – Andrew and Hargest – did not recognise what was happening on the ground," Mr Thomas said.

"In our first major battle [of World War II] our commanders were fighting a war which they did not understand."

This is a quite damning enough indictment from a fellow serviceman without a game designer needing to add in cowardice to spice up the narrative.

Anyway, the designer replied again, and decided to extend the accusations!

  I'm sure your official history put the best front on things it could ... or was told to ... but those officers nonetheless lost their nerve. Trying to rationalize that by claiming they just "misread" their tactical situation is a disservice to truth ... and future New Zealander battlefield performance, Aaron.
And regarding the discussion of contemporary games on another thread, we could further consider New Zealand now bugging out on Asian-Pacific nuclear deterrent (of China) solidarity, by proclaiming itself a "nuclear-free zone."
But back to World War 2, isn't it true that you "grateful" New Zealanders refused to load our transports, making our U.S. Marines do it themselves ... before they shipped out to Guadalcanal to SAVE you (and Australia)?? 😡
I did not want to get into an unseemly discussion on the topic of NZ-US relations on Facebook (or anywhere else for that matter), so I told him that he seemed to have a chip on his shoulder and that I would bid him good day.

And then with a classic little dig, he said: "Feel free to withdraw, Aaron"; implying that it's all one could expect New Zealanders to do!

Anyway, this little storm in a teacup has left me wondering how is it that an experienced and insofar as I can tell sober and respected game designer who clearly has a thing for historical truth and justice would include something so pointedly unjust and unnecessary in his designer notes, and then, when asked about it, turn it into an opportunity to cast aspersions on the character of someone he has never met and on the character of an entire country.

I know what to expect on Facebook and accept that there are people with whom one will never agree, who look at things from such entirely different viewpoints and accept such wildly different versions of the facts that it is impossible to find common ground with them on some issues.

But it was disappointing for me to find that a game designer would not be more reasonable in his responses. If in his considered opinion the New Zealanders had acted in a cowardly way on Crete, then that is his view and he has his right to it - though it would help if he would support it with relevant evidence - but to imply that the disaster elements of the NZ Division faced on Ruweisat Ridge was rough justice seemed to me to be far beyond reasonable.

Facebook is clearly not the forum to bring this kind of issue up (especially with a person who will respond in the fashion he did), but I am considering whether it's worth preparing a little essay and posting it on the game's page at boardgamegeek and consimworld. But then again, it might have the effect of giving him added oxygen, so I'll have to think about it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Phil Sabin talk online

Phil Sabin recently posted on the Lost Battles yahoo group that one of his wargaming talks - "Wargaming as an Academic Instrument" - had been put online. I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet, but for anyone who may be interested, here is the link.

Phil is one of the great thinkers in our area of interest and I'm sure the talk it will be essential listening.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Legoland Discovery Centre, Osaka

Yesterday we took the kids off on a mission to the Legoland Discovery Centre in Osaka. It was a good day out for them, and although busy, it was a much nicer place to visit (as far as I was concerned, anyway!) than either of the Disney or the Universal Studio parks.

They had a couple of kid-friendly rides, lots of themed play areas (where you could, of course, build your own Lego creations) a dining area, and a model city.

As you'd expect, the city was particularly impressive. Here are a few shots from the day.

Idyllic scenes - until you see a kaiju  arising behind the building!

A model of the Osaka Aquarium.

More Osaka landmarks.

The modelling was spectacular, and there were various interactive activities, too.

For this Sumo bout, two players would push buttons as fast as they could until their man won (or lost). 

Osaka Castle.

More scenes.
The entry fee was fairly reasonably priced and the attractions were great for our kids at the ages they are now. Twelve year olds might find it a little boring, but for younger ones, it hit the spot.

There was also a shop with plenty of Lego sets to buy, but these were not cheap (the Death Star for US$700, anyone?!) and the style does not appeal to me as much as those glorious castle sets from my own youth ( but which we were never rich enough to own, sadly!).

So, a good day out, but if I'm honest, I was not that much of a Lego kid: my heart belonged to those Playmobil cowboys and Indians.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Roman Civil War armies review

I decided tonight for kicks to set up my Roman Civil War armies and see how they look on the new(ish) terrain tiles I've been working on now and again.

Worth a game, I reckon!

Friday, May 26, 2017

A little something in the mail...

Just had this beauty arrive in the post today and am looking forward to getting into it on the train tomorrow. His first book was very good, and this looks to be possibly even better.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alexander: a grand tussle

And so we turn to the second game in our Lost Battles Alexander campaign. This time, Issus.

Alexander debouched onto the plain as the Persians awaited him behind the Pinarus...

... and we switch to our easy-to-see troop outlines. As before, Macedonians in red, Persians in blue.

Turn 2: the Persians advanced into their key zone so as not to take a morale hit, but left an enticing gap for Alexander himself to advance into if he was game.

It turned out he was.

Turn 3: fighting in the foothills goes the way of the Persians. Elsewhere also the fighting is fierce, with hits scored on both sides. The Greek mercenary hoplites give a particularly good account of themselves, and there is tension as the 'Favour of the Gods' marker changes hands several times during the clash.

Turn 4: Alexander's Hypaspists and Companions put the enemy in the centre left to flight, and these carry off the light infantry with them, much to the relief of the Prodromoi (who were looking decidedly shaky up in the foothills). The rest of the Persian line holds, and Parmenion is rather disappointed with his Thessalian cavalry - they have not performed as vigorously as their fame would have suggested.

Turn 5: the Persian cavalry now shatters a unit of aforementioned Thessalians, but on the Persian left the camp falls, and with Alexander around the flank and bearing down upon him, Darius - he's not rated timid for nothing - gathers his bodyguard and flees.

With the king gone no one else feels much like sticking around either, and Alexander claims the victory.

It has been a hard-fought battle. Although the Persians have lost the field they have done just enough damage to the Macedonian army to win on points, 102 to 97.

A very close game, and whoever the guy who soloed it is, he's ruing the fact that he forgot to use Alexander's ability to steal turn initiative (but we won't talk about that!).

So, after two battles, it's one win apiece. Gaugamela is calling....

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The tottering giant

Ever since I've been a proper wargamer, the miniatures page forum (TMP) has bestrode the virtual wargaming world like a colossus. It's been the place to go to for news, general info, chat, and good advice; the spot to meet like-minded enthusiasts, to share a recent thrill, post a link to a latest game report, or hear the things in wargameville that are exciting people.

Being myself physically distant from any other miniatures gamers, TMP and TMPers taught me most of what I needed to know about collecting, prepping, painting, researching and so on when I first got into the hobby. Of course, there were other good places too (and good people - thanks Luke and Pat), but if you needed to know something right now, or if you were facing a conundrum and wanted to see how others with more experience had handled that same issue in the past, or if you wanted interesting discussions, TMP was indispensable. In fact, I would not be a wargamer without TMP, and I owe it and its denizens a huge debt (in more ways than one, says my wife. Ha!).

So the fact that things have not been right there for quite some time, that periods of calm followed by bitter and seemingly unnecessary blow ups over peripheral things that have nothing really to do with the primary aspects of our hobby contrive to drive more and more people away, is a great shame.

I finished up my membership there in January or February of this year, for reasons which I won't go into, but I still drop by as a casual viewer.

All things go in cycles, and as I've said here before, there seems to be a trend in the hobby towards fracturing, but it's a shame to see such a formerly (and, for me, formatively) influential place in such a bad way. Maybe the editor at TMP has just been doing it too long and has had enough. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm and keep perspective on one thing for as long as he has; perhaps he's just worn out and hasn't quite seen it yet.

I think there was a tremendous amount of goodwill around TMP for a long time, but it seems to be running on empty at the moment. Some people with a bone to pick are glad about that, but I am not glad about it at all. It was a huge help to me and I don't enjoy iconoclasm for its own sake.

In the end though, it's only wargaming; it's no great matter. Still, for a time, it was about as good as a wargaming warren gets, and, being the place that nurtured me as a fledgling gamer, worth remembering with fondness and gratitude.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Alexander: a great diversion

To keep myself sane between bouts of work and assignments due I've decided to run through a little Alexander campaign using the boardgame version of Lost Battles. Oddly enough, in all my years of playing Lost Battles, I haven't actually played through the Alexander scenarios. I did a couple of turns of the Granicus for a video tutorial, but as far as I can recall, that's all.

I had been waiting to finish painting up my Persians to do the Alexander battles, but as the big guy in the sky alone knows when that project may ever be completed, what's wrong with cheating a little and using the boardgame for its intended purpose?

Anyway, I played through the Granicus scenario last night, so here's an account of the affair.

Deployment turn, with the Persians in the foreground. They have a line of horse defending behind the river with mercenary hoplites off table ready to march into prominence. Alexander commands his right, with the Macedonian cavalry and the hypaspists as his main strike force. The phalanx is in the centre, and Parmenion holds the left.

Here it is transposed to our representation. Blue represents the Persians, red the Macedonians.

On turn two the Persians engage the Macedonian right and the hoplites come onto the field. Alexander attacks; Companion cavalry advances to engage the Persian left; Parmenion advances.

Turn three has the Persians outflanking Parmenion and reinforcing the centre with the Greek mercenaries. A lack of commands limits the effectiveness of the Persian attacks, but the phalanx is under pressure crossing the river.

Alexander is forced to pull back the Agrianians and the Prodromoi after heavy fighting. The hypaspists advance to bear the brunt of the Persian resistance while Alexander himself probes for a weak point.

On turn four a powerful Persian attack supported by the Greek hoplites sees the central phalanx waver, but it holds due to a timely intervention of the Gods (the 'Favour of the Gods' counter was played by Alexander to force a re-roll of a spectacularly successful Persian attack; an attack which could not be repeated so effectively the second time).

The Companions are victorious on the far right of the Macedonian line.

On turn five the Persian line continues to crumble. The left gives way as Alexander commits himself to the forefront of the fight.

On turn six the Persians rout entirely.

After victory points are tallied, the Macedonians and their young king have won a clear - bordering on major - victory, and Darius III has a fight on his hands.

So, a good start for Alexander. He was fortunate indeed to have the Gods on his side!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

All's quiet

There is little to report here of late. My internet buddy Andrea and I have an age of fighting sail game going on over VASSAL at a (thankfully!) leisurely pace, but apart from that and the odd bit of online chess, there is not much going on as far as gaming as concerned.

Normandy '44 has been removed from the hobby table to make way for coursework which is, boringly enough, going to take up my hobby time until the end of July; all primed or partly-painted figures are in boxes awaiting time and motivation; rulebooks are in their accustomed places on shelves; and the only thing that I'm doing of any real interest is reading at nights and on trains the decidedly unwargamerly but nevertheless very fine Anna Karenina.

There are a few plans afoot however, and the coursework taking up time now is hopefully going to prove useful later in keeping the wolf from the door.

Until next time...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Normandy '44, first turn

One board game in my collection I purchased with high hopes but haven't properly sat down with is Mark Simonitch's Normandy '44. I decided therefore to lay it out and play through at least a couple of turns.

The rules are fairly straightforward, but there are some interesting additions to your bog standard hex and counter rules. Firstly, there is a special kind of zone of control called a hex bond which allows very tight defence lines to be established through which enemy units may not advance, retreat, or trace supply. Secondly, attacking units must nominate a 'main attacking formation' which fights at full strength and that can be supplemented by other units which attack at half strength. Thirdly, there is a 'determined defence' rule, which allows defending units that receive retreat results in combat to roll on a table which may permit them to stand fast, possibly at a cost to themselves.

Anyway here are a few shots of my progress. As usual, the game is being played solo.

Bad jumps for the 82nd and 101st Airborne. High casualties, and the troops are badly scattered.

The British jumps don't have a lot of joy either.

The invasion forces: American.

The invasion forces: Canadian and British.

Sword Beach.

The landings at Utah are very successful.

Those at Omaha less so, but they are there.

The forces landing at Gold and Juno take a lot of step damage, but all units survive.

So too at Sword.

The overall view is of success. The troops have got ashore. Most of the armour is spent, but there is quantity and quality to resist the German counter-attacks.

German and then Allied turns follow the landings. At close of June 6th the positions look like this.

The US sector has seen German units converge on the bridgehead. The 82nd Airborne is isolated and in all kinds of trouble, but if they can last the morning of the 7th they will be rescued.

The Canadians and British have done well in their sectors. The have avenues of advance and Caen looks inviting.

And the overall position at close of day.

There are 22 turns to the game, so I'm not sure that I'll get through them all. It does look already to be a game worth learning properly with a view to playing face to face or over VASSAL.

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