Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, April 6, 2018

An X-Wing Affair

Local mate Ben P came over the other night for a couple of games of X-Wing, which he has fallen for quite hard. Ben was running a youtube channel for a while on things related to learning English in Japan, and once our kids got wind of it (they are big 'youtuber' fans) he became something of a celebrity in our household; thus, when they heard he was coming over, they got a bit excited and found all sorts of excuses to pop into the room to say hello.

Ben is also an extremely nice guy. Our boy therefore found the combination of youtuber Ben and Star Wars miniatures too much to resist, and joined in.

He had to disappear for a bath, but it was the quickest bath he's ever had in his life, and he was back in no time to continue on. It was quite lovely to see. Eventually he had to push off to bed, but not before he'd got to move models around the table and roll a few dice (and score quite a few hits!).

Ben very kindly put up with it all and treated the boy throughout as a young adult, patiently explaining how to do the movement, how to read the stat cards and so on. Next day the boy said to me "Daddy, wargame please!" so Ben was clearly doing it right!

Anyway, here are a few shots from the games.

Game 1. I only snapped a couple of shots of this game, but it involved two small, high quality forces - my and the boy's three Imperial ships up against four Rebel vessels.

The boy rolls four hits to take out one of the Rebel ships just like that!

...and Ben returns the courtesy and takes out one of mine!

Thanks to the boy's imperious dice rolling before he took off to bed we managed to get enough of an advantage to secure an Imperial win.

Second game was a swarm of TIE fighters taking on Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and a pair of Rebel support vessels. 

And we're off!

The Imperials landed a lot of hits on the Millennium Falcon early, but none of them were critical, and once the TIEs started getting in one another's way, the Falcon's 360 degree firing along with the annoying support acts began to wear the swarm down.

All of Chewie's roars were needed to fight off the enemy here!
The TIE fighters can't combine their fire effectively and are picked off one by one.

The superiority of the Rebel pilots tells, and eventually the TIE fighters are forced to run for home.

The games were fun, were filled with action, and had more twists and turns than the report or photos show. It's a little bit like Commands & Colors: Ancients in that there is a nice mixture of skill and luck involved, and so you never quite feel comfortable when you are in the better position, nor totally out of it when you are not.

I'm tempted to use the boy's enthusiasm as an excuse to get a couple of sets for ourselves, and our girls might even like it too. Something to consider, anyway. 

So many thanks to Ben for coming over with his models, for putting on a couple of games for us, and for lighting a bit of a fuse under the boy.

What the boy got up to the next day (I knew those WHFB figures would come in handy!).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cricketing bits and bobs

When there's test cricket on, any hobby action underway at house Prufrock tends to shudder to a halt, and these past few weeks have been no exception. I follow all test cricket - it doesn't matter who is involved - but I get particularly frothy about series featuring the current top teams or New Zealand, and even more so when it's one of the top teams actually playing New Zealand (which doesn't happen very often, and when it does is only for two matches rather than the four or five they routinely play between themselves).

The twists and turns in the test match game are something else. The skills involved, the mental application required to succeed, the need to adapt to the immediate situation - while also considering the overall state of the match, of the series, and perhaps also of the sport itself - always generate interest. To translate it into wargaming terms it's akin to an ongoing, ever-expanding campaign in your favourite period using your favourite armies against your toughest wargaming mates (and their mates, as they get invited in) that actually works, and works for years.

The author of Ecclesiastes would have appreciated test cricket, I think: there is a time for everything, and another for its opposite.

Sadly, with test cricket being a five day game, it is out of phase with the modern world. Marketeers, TV people and administrators want to make money from it where they can, marginalise it, change it, gut it of its significance and replace it with shorter, cheaper, more money-spinning versions where they cannot. Test cricket between, say, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, or New Zealand and the West Indies, has no context, we are told. It's too expensive. No one watches it. No one cares about it. We should play something shorter and more financially rewarding. Leave the test series to the big boys. And so the boards of the smaller test nations are pressured to slowly ease the test form out of the calendar.

Well, that's just rubbish.

Test cricket has no context, they say. Who are they trying to fool? Test cricket always has context, and that is why it has been and always will be the pinnacle of the sport, and to my mind of all sport.

So in the last couple of weeks, for instance, we have seen a batting-fragile South African side destroyed by Australia in the first test of four. In the second test South Africa fought back to win on the strength of a stupendous performance by their young fast bowler, Kangiso Rabada.  In the third test, with the series in the balance, historical records under threat, and Australia's talisman, captain and batting maestro Steve Smith not performing to his usual standards, the team is under so much pressure to claw itself back into the series that certain team-members resort to underhanded methods. The South African camera people however have been told to watch out, and so they catch the guilty in the act, and all hell breaks loose. Elsewhere it's a bit of a joke, but not in Australia. The Prime Minister steps in. Those involved are sent home in disgrace. The best batsman since Bradman is banned for a year. There is no hesitation. The game means that much to them.

The rest of the cricketing world thinks of how they would have acted had it been their boys. They look at their shoes.

In New Zealand meanwhile, after a summer of short form games, the cricket loving public gets to see a major team, England, there for two test matches. England wanted to play three, but New Zealand's administrators have so bought into the "test cricket is dead" mantra that, against the wishes of the players, they reduced the series to two games, and those to be played at the very tail end of the cricketly-seasonable weather.

England is put in to bat, and the New Zealand pacers reduce them to 27/9, which is unheard of. Last wicket heroics see England through to 58, but with a usual first innings score being about 350, New Zealand is in the dominant position. New Zealand bats. Their young captain and batting genius Kane Williamson scores a hundred, and then the rain comes. And it comes for two days. When skies finally clear, there are only two days left in the match. New Zealand bats on, gains a big lead, and then asks England to bat again. Can they survive? They have 140 overs - 840 balls - to negotiate. They bat with dogged determination. The overs are whittled down. New Zealand periodically winkle a man out, but it is hard work. On the final day England must last 90 overs, and they have 7 wickets in hand.

There is engrossing cricket. There are potentially decisive moments (catches not being taken; fine bowling stoically withstood), and actual decisive moments. The English batsmen show grit and determination. The first innings bowlers are blunted, but the New Zealanders have a weapon: Neil Wagner. He is a test-specialist bowler who will never give up. He bowls a fiery spell for close to two hours, whacking the ball in with pace and fortitude, and along with his bowling partner, Todd Astle, brings New Zealand the win.

Wonderful cricket. A wonderful contest. England almost survived that first innings catastrophe, but not quite. And what do we take away from this? England are fighters. They were blown away in the first innings. Did they give up? No chance. They fought all they way, and they almost made it.

And for New Zealand? They now have a chance to win a home series against England for only the second time in seventy years of test cricket history. That's right. If they win or draw the second test, they will prove themselves to be one of New Zealand's greatest ever teams.

And they say test cricket has no context.

Away with ye.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rules & music

As I expect most of us are, I am a bit of a music fan. I vividly recall the thrill of going into town on a Saturday morning after a week of uni to check out the secondhand record stores and see what I could find. You'd have ten or twenty bucks to spend, you'd pick up an album, head home, put it on, and really listen to it. You'd play it again. Then again. You'd play it over a couple of riggers with your flatmates. Then you'd play it again when you went to bed.

You'd get news that a new album was coming out, you'd get the date, and you'd go and line up outside the record store to make sure you got a copy. There was camaraderie. There were conversations. You could make friends based on a person's taste in music.

There were milestones. The first time that you heard something on a really decent stereo (INXS: The Swing). The first time you heard something on good headphones (Genesis: Genesis). The first time you bought an album (INXS: Kick). The first time you realised that you could say you liked certain albums and that would not be cool, whereas if you said you liked others it would be (Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms; Def Leppard: Hysteria).

Then there was the musical awakening, when you found something that made you go 'yeah!' (Deep Purple: Machine Head). Then you found something that made you want to tell everyone you knew about it, and lend it to them (Deep Purple: Made in Japan). Then you found something that made you realise music could lift you onto an entirely different plane, even if you didn't quite understand it (Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy). Then you find something that made you want to become a musician (Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here).

And then you discover parties, booze, smokes, new mates, girlfriends, pubs, student flats, car stereos. You find something that you'd learned to play, and discover other people who'd learned to play that too.

Of course, when you buy, you buy vinyl.

And it's really good.

And then you get older. You look for a job. Hopefully you get one. You get married or settle down. You have kids or pets, and slowly music stops being the priority in your life. You still buy, but you listen in the car. You play a bit, but you're rusty, and you don't like the way you sound. You buy CDs. You use the skip button, which you never did before. You couldn't recite the track list of the last album you bought. In fact, you may not even remember where you got it, how much it cost, what else it was in competition with that day, where you'd heard of it, which of your mates would also like it, or its title.

It all gets a bit sad. Music is important, but it's those older albums you remember. You get a bit funny about some songs now. They make you think of people gone. You revisit scenes from your past. You muse over old times and old actions. You wonder if you were really the person you thought you were. Then you find there's some music you can't listen to in company. My uncle? Yeah, you met him at my wedding. Yep, he did love Pink Floyd. Saw them in London, you know. Yeah. He did. It was unexpected. Yeah, thanks. It was just one of those shitty things.  And now you can't listen to Comfortably Numb or Shine On You Crazy Diamond or Sorrow around other people anymore, and there's no way you could get all the way through Wish You Were Here on acoustic guitar for your kids.

And you know, wargaming gets to be a little bit the same. Not quite at the same intense level - there's no passion like teenage passion for music, after all! - but  the same general trend is recognisable. There is an introduction, a fumbling around, then growing certainty. There are significant books, rules, armies, games, people. You buy, read, play. You buy, you read, you might play. You buy, you intend to read, you don't. You buy. You stop buying.

But man, that game. I can't be sure what year that was now. Remember when that happened though? Remember, man? Remember that? That's what wargaming is all about.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

And now for something completely different

Regular readers may wish to avert their eyes at this point.

Yes, Warhammer Orcs. Although this revelation is not going to cause any Katie Perry level 'I Kissed a Girl' excitement, I did kind of like it!

These will have proper painters appalled by the rubbish paintjob, but after doing a big bunch of black undercoated 1/72 Confederates recently I thought I'd try the same approach with some fantasy figs I picked up ages ago and see how they came out. 

Not flash, but dip can hopefully hide a multitude of painting sins, and Dragon Rampant games become a little closer to reality...

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dux Bellorum battle

I was lucky enough to have Luke U-S venture down to these parts today for a spot of miniatures gaming. He'd recently taken (re)possession of a shipment of 15mm Late Romans from the homeland. As he hadn't played with them for 18 years, it would've been rude not to get them to the table.

As fate would have it, the task given to me was to defend a community of poor innocent Romano-British whose rights were being trampled upon by a rogue would-be emperor out for plunder.

As to those who spread rumours that a bit of cattle raiding may in fact have been somewhat instrumental in bringing this retribution down upon our own heads, they are not to be believed. There were no cattle, and besides, it wasn't us.

Grand schemes afoot.

The plan was for our centre - shieldwall, three units of ordinary, one of nobles - to claim the central area of the battlefield, leaning upon the hill as needed. Our right -  two units of ordinary horse and a unit of bow-armed skirmishers - were to drive off the enemy horse and thence to harass the open flank of the Roman infantry. Our left - two units of noble horse, one being companions, and some javelinmen -  were to see off the Roman horse and then fall upon the the Roman infantry from this side.

This plan did not in fact commence all that auspiciously. My right refused to move at all, and a petulant unit of foot refused to go up the hill. My javelinmen were eager to advance, but after running into fire from Roman slingers concealed in the wood, it did not seem such a good idea to send them forward after all.

Fortunately, the Romans didn't all do exactly what they were told to either.

It's all a bit hit-and-miss early.

Over the next few turns the situation crystalised: my left would be staying out of range of the enemy slingers until an opportunity presented itself to charge home; my centre would try to engage on the best possible terms; my right would continue with the original plan.

First actions. Circular markers indicate hits; any cubes left indicate leadership points (LPs) we forgot to remove prior to the 
taking photos phase...

It quickly became clear that we were in a precarious position in the centre. We would need to shore up the exposed right flank of our infantry line as best we could while we waited for our still tardy hill-huggers to advance far enough to give us a corresponding advantage against the enemy infantry line.

Fortunately, Dux Bellorum (for those are the rules we were playing) allows a person to do just that: a fellow can load up a unit with leadership points and use these points to cancel hits made upon it [actually, cancelling the hit is not quite true for our game: I feel an auto-cancel is too strong, so we used our defensive LPs to force the enemy to re-roll the successful attack]. Both sides made much use of LPs.

Over the next few turns there were various exciting and potentially battle-defining events. For one, my javelinmen on their hill were massacred from a distance by those infernal slingers in their infernal wood (okay, so I should have kept them out of missile range after all. Shoot me!). For another, the horsemen of my right proved singularly inept at ganging up upon one measly unit of enemy horse. For a third, the use of LPs in the centre kept cohesion losses on both sides to a minimum, which certainly favoured our heroes, given the advantage in numbers and position that the Roman line had.

Wherefore art thou, Romano-British javelinmen?

Come on horsemen, you're supposed to win here! 

Good job, gentlemen and cattle robbers. Hold that centre!

* Soon after this we stopped for lunch. During the break, a look at the rulebook showed that I'd missed a fairly essential rule: we should have been retreating units when they lost a combat. We resolved therefore to put this rule into practice from lunchtime onward.

It was now apparent that our left had to get involved or else we were going to lose horribly. Our noble horsemen therefore charged, and a miraculous result meant that the enemy were eliminated on first contact.

How did that happen??!

Triumph here however was tempered by the fact that we had also lost a unit of horse on our other flank.

You win some you lose some...

With leadership points now at a premium due to unit losses, our ability to influence the outcome in the centre was greatly reduced. Nevertheless, our right finally had success against the horse there.

It's still anyone's game, but our cohesion hits are mounting fast.
Over the next few turns there were more moments of triumph and disaster - but mostly disaster. We lost our leader and his companions; we lost more foot; we killed their skirmishers.

The tide turns against us!

Finally, when all looked grim, we had a 'there's no situation that double sixes can't remedy' moment.  Romans lose their outflanking unit to missile fire. Then, in melee, both central units destroy each other.

A most fortunate result - and the LP re-roll also succeeds!

Both armies have now taken 50% casualties and need to take rout tests. All units rout except for two on each side: it comes down to who has most cohesion points left on table.

It's pretty even!

In the end, I concede. The Roman still has his commander on table and his foot unit is of higher quality than our poor innocent Romano-Brits. We hand over the remaining head of cattle and both sides go home.

It was quite a game, and well done Luke. It was only luck right at the end that kept us Romano-Brits in it, but what luck it was!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The more things change the more they stay the same

I realised today that it's been a touch over eight years since I started this blog. That means I've been doing this for longer than I was at university, and I was at university for what seemed like a very long time.

The blog's been going for twice as long as I was together with my first steady girlfriend, and it seemed then as if we were growing into middle age together.

And this place is now as old as my second daughter, who is such a delight that I wish she could stay as she now is forever.

It's been an interesting period of time.

I was amused though to see that at the end of January 2010 I'd posted here about a Lost Battles play-by-email duel with long-distance wargaming mate John A (he keeps a very fine blog here) in which we were playing the Asculum scenario from both sides. At the end of January 2018 I also by accident found myself playing a play-by-email duel, using the same rules system, with long-distance wargaming mate Andrea T. Again, funnily enough, the scenario has been Asculum, from both sides.

Quite a neat little piece of symmetry, I think.

One final thing: as part of my first job in Japan I was lucky enough to teach a doctor who had served in the Pacific War. He was a lovely man with a keen sense of humour and many stories to tell. We talked a lot about the war when we could, and he used to joke with the other teachers about how he and my grandfather had been enemies.

Now, thirteen years later, I have been engaged to teach him again.

His circumstances are not now so good as they were. He is just months shy of reaching his century and has recently been moved to a rest home. While still fairly mentally sharp, he does not remember me at all, and I suspect that we will be getting reacquainted from week to week. It is a little sad, but again a nice piece of symmetry. I go to see him in the morning for our first lesson. I think my grandfather would have approved.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Hobby shop excursion

Today the wife and kidlings were keen to make the trip to Osaka to attend a sale, so I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Shinsaibashi to go check out the new Warhammer store and another similar one nearby.

As it was the first time I'd visited miniature-wargaming stores in Japan, I was thinking that to be neighbourly I'd pick up a few pots of paint (or even some minis, if I could get away with it...), but the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment. The prices were triple what I'd pay for my usual paints, more yen per pot than I'd pay to order in Coat d'Arms from the UK, and the service worse than you'd get when asking about the contents of a riceball at the convenience store.

I wonder if I've underestimated how spoiled I am being a collector of 15mm, a predominantly solo hobbiest (meaning I can play what takes my fancy without needing to follow trends), *and* resident in Japan.

Even when including 20-40% shipping costs, 15mm gives good value for money in terms of spectacle (though the pound's fall is probably changing that now), and the low cost of locally produced hobby materials (paint, primers, brushes, washes, clear-coats, etc.) means that miniature wargaming has been, as a hobby, relatively inexpensive.

I've also been very lucky in that the local hobby connections I have have been with genuine hobbyists, interested in the pursuit itself and in the passing on of knowledge and techniques, with the money to be made from it a side issue (though of course as an appreciative customer one wants to direct as much of one's hobby money as possible to those people!).

If I were the kind of person to work these things out, it would probably have cost me more per year to be a keen gym-goer or snowboarder here than it has to be a lead-importing wargamer.

So, all in all, today's visit was an educational if not greatly edifying experience. I wish them well, but I probably won't go back.

(As an FYI, I did notice that introductory game sets were quite reasonably priced; it was the follow up ones and the paints that weren't...)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Impending flock crisis

I was hoping that other avenues would open up, but in the last month I've had to face up to an uncomfortable truth: my usual 'colour powder' flock has been discontinued by the company which made it and replaced instead by a new line of static grasses.

No joy online, no joy in stores, no joy posting on local FB groups; stocks are, in a word, extinct.

Now, I'm actually a bit of a stickler when it comes to basing. I'm not much of a painter and my basing style is very - ahem - 'basic' but with that comes consistency, so I know that when I line the armies up on the table they are going to be compatible, and that you aren't going to see heavy cavalry in idyllic meadows, heavy infantry on wintry farmland, slingers in bogs, light cavalry in stony hill country, elephants in desert wastes and so on all in within a couple of square feet of table.

But now I know that at some point in the future I'm going to run out of flock mix.

It's a little glimpse of Armageddon, and I don't like it!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Project screw up and rhetorical questions.

I've just come back to a long dormant project after seeing some spectacularly inspirational blogosphere action and have spent the last few days keenly prepping and organising in order to paint the untouched, touch up the already painted, base them all, and be ready to play.

Except that tonight, having taken out the partly painted and seen them close up, I've realised why I put them way way way back up in the cupboard in the first place: I did a rotten job on them first time around and, really, the effort required to bring them up to a standard I can accept is going to be draining and time consuming. Wrong scale and medium (1/72 plastic); wrong priming colour for me (black); and consequently lots of work to educate myself on how to do over and make them look good.

Again, I'm now not at all sure that it's worth it.

So I'm left wondering whether to push on through anyway or just give up. I'm not really a give up kind of person (more a put aside, think, and come back to it type, which can end up being the same thing, of course!), but the complicating factor is that we are going to be doing a big move quite soon, and so these borderline projects do require a decision.

It's a period I'm interested in and completed armies would be a great thing, but is this the form I want them in, and am I prepared to put in the work required?


Monday, January 22, 2018

Waterloo in 20 minutes.

One of the most interesting small-footprint games in my collection is the innovative Waterloo simulation W1815 by Hannu Uusitalo. It was brought out by U and P Games in time for the hundredth anniversary of the battle, and while it's out of print, it's always worth a revisit.

Unlike most board wargames, the pieces in W1815 do not move. They can be removed as casualties - and there are a few of markers which indicate the arrival of Blucher's force and possession of Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Plancenoit - but other than that the board is static. In effect you are playing an interactive map game, not a usual hex and counter or area control style board wargame.

If you were ever the type of kid who would get books out of the library and pore over maps illustrating the different stages of Waterloo, Gettysburg, Blenheim, Hastings, the fall of France and so on, you'll have a sense of what a game board of this kind is like.

Board at start.

The game itself is played by referring to commander cards. The British have Hill, Orange, Uxbridge, the reserve, Wellington, and Blucher; The French have Reille, Kellerman, the Guard, Lobau, d'Erlon, Milhaud, the Grand Battery, and Napoleon. Each card shows the enemy the command can attack, the range of results (xC denotes casualty; xM denotes morale loss) and whether the enemy has a counter attack option.

Sample cards.

Cards can also be turned over if certain events occur (Hougoumont is captured, Hill's corps goes into square, Ney charges, etc.), and the reverse side gives a different range of options for attack or counter attack, or, for some cards, no options at all.

Play proceeds with the French player moving first to activate a command, consult the relevant card and roll the die. The 7th Coalition player then gets to react with a counter attack, use the reserve to cancel the French action, or else roll on a card of his or her own.

Play continues, with both sides accumulating casualties and morale hits, until one side fails a morale check and routs.

The initial dynamic is one of French attack and Allied defence. The Coalition player must react to French moves to prevent the French gaining a significant advantage, while also trying to activate Blucher as often as practicable in the hope that he will quickly make his presence felt on the field. As the French wear themselves out, the dynamic changes: the French search for the opening they need to activate Napoleon and push for victory; the Coalition player waits for the right moment to use Wellington's one-time general advance card and drive forward, hoping that this will be enough to win the day.

A Sample Game. 

In my most recent play through I decided to use the unofficial 7th Coalition bot (see boardgamegeek), which offers a programmed response for solitaire play. The bot is not necessary for enjoyable solo play, but it seemed like a good excuse to get the game to table again, so why not?

Turn 1) The first move of yours truly as the French is to attack Hill with Reille. Both sides take a casualty. The bot activates Blucher, who rolls a miserable 1 and no Prussians arrive.

Turn 2) The French attack Hill again, now with the cavalry under Kellerman. Kellerman takes a casualty, but with Hill's corps now in square any further attacks by Reille's infantry on Hougoumont are more likely to succeed. The bot activates Blucher again, who rolls a 2 and once more no Prussians arrive.

Turn 3) Reille attacks again to get the benefit of the +1 to his die roll for Hill being in square. Hougoumont falls, and the Allied reserve must be used to cancel the result. A second Allied casualty results.

Turns 4,5,6,7) Reille continues to press the attack against Hill/Hougoumont. Hougoumont is hit and relieved three times in four turns. There are 3 French casualties and 6 Allied casualties, but now the Allied reserve is expended. When not pulling the reserve in to hold Hougoumont, the Allies activate Blucher - this time with some success.

Constant attacks from the French left stretch Hill and use up the Allied reserve.

Turn 8) Reille attacks again: Hougoumont falls once more; this time for good.

Hougoumont has fallen. The French look now to press forward on their right.

Turn 9) Kellerman attempts to exploit, but both sides take a morale loss. The French have taken 4 casualties and a morale loss; the Allies have taken 6 casualties and a morale loss. It is now afternoon. The French must work to reduce Allied morale while continuing to preserve the relative loss advantage that they have established.

Turns 10,11,12) The Grand Battery fires to wear morale down. The Coalition responds by activating Blucher. He arrives in increasing force but the French maintain their advantage in casualties and morale losses inflicted. The exchange is even enough that it benefits the French to keep on with a low-risk, low-but-almost-sure-reward approach.

13) The Allies are now within an unlucky morale roll of capitulating. Millhaud attacks to cause another Allied morale loss. Blucher is now on the field in force, and the French take a casualty.

14) The moment of crisis is almost upon the French. They are within reach of victory, but it is not yet assured. Before activating Napoleon for what is presumed to be the decisive push with the Guard, D'Erlon is ordered to attack Orange and soften up the enemy one more time. He drives in with considerable elan and rolls very high. The Allies take a casualty and a morale loss, then roll badly, fail the morale test, and rout.

The moment of victory.


The 'attack Hill' tactic worked again, and the bot, by failing to bring Hill out of square and back into line, helped render the Reille infantry attacks more effective. If the bot had brought Hill out of square earlier the cards tell us that his corps would have been open to a Kellerman counter attack rolling at +1, but at least Hougoumont would have had better odds of holding out, the reserve would have been maintained for longer, and with a Kellerman attack there was a higher risk of a French blow-out.

W1815 is a game of margins established by increments, and the ramifications of certain actions mean that player tactics in terms of which card to activate when become, over the course of a game, steadily more important. In this refight the initial high risk approach opened up a gap which the French only needed to maintain to force the win, but worse early dice and cannier bot play could have kept the Allies in touch and forced the French to either take more risks elsewhere or play conservatively and hope to time their final attack just right.

There is a lovely balance, and it takes time to see it.

So far, when playing as Napoleon, I swear by attacking Hill / Hougoumont, but it requires a run of good dice like the ones here to succeed.

The Grand Battery option (shown here), while seemingly safe, does not do enough

damage fast enough, and needs to be complemented by more aggressive play elsewhere. Nor does the Grand Battery attack force an Allied response: this then leaves Wellington free to concentrate on bringing those battle-winning Prussians onto the field, or to look at wresting the initiative in other ways.

I hope that this has shone a little light on what is a most enjoyable game. Most of my play has been solo, but I have a feeling that the more you play it with an opponent, the more other approaches will begin to suggest themselves.

It's a very fine game. It's beautiful to look at and the pieces feel good in the hand. It is enjoyable to study the cards and work out which combination of activations might work best given the board situation. If you have it, don't forget to play it; if you don't, perhaps consider pestering U and P for a reprint until you do!

Game end.

The better angels of our nature.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit quiet in house Prufrock due to a bug I picked up somewhere. I tend not to get sick very often, but when I do, I do it properly.

The evenings therefore have found me either sleeping or doing some kind of non-thinking activity, such as watching the TV. Actually, being in Japan, I don't watch the TV (it's almost as bad as New Zealand TV), but instead watch a DVD or look at YouTube. Recently, Ken Burns's Civil War series has been my poison.

My first introduction to the series was about ten or twelve years ago. A friend who uses the internet 'creatively' had downloaded the series from somewhere free of charge, burnt the episodes onto disk and loaned them to me.

"What's that?" someone asked him as he handed them over one night at soccer.

"Oh," he said, "it's about the American Civil War."

"Why would YOU want to watch that?"

"Well, it was you Americans fighting each other. Why shouldn't we like it?"

And he was right on both counts. It was Americans fighting each other, and it was a series that even people who have no particular reason for interest in the war could find value in.

The Ken Burns documentary style, mixing period photographs, voice overs, actors reading quotes from historical figures, footage of places. and interviews with authorities, is compelling viewing. The themed structure and the variety of voices from both sides gives a sense of fairness in the telling. I may be wrong about the fairness, but it's how it seems to me when I watch it.

You are shown the movement of the war, you follow the characters chosen, hear their voices, and invest in them emotionally. It is by turns humorous, sad, uplifting and harrowing. It is always informative, humane and respectful.

Anyway, last night I was watching the ninth and last episode of the series and had been drawn into it again. You know it is coming, and you have been prepared for it with artful foreshadowing during the past few episodes, but goodness, the death of Abraham Lincoln is always hard to take.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the series is that in watching it you become a bit American too. You see the grandeur of the country and its people. You see the capacity for suffering and sacrifice. You see that we all, no matter who we are or where we are from, are invested in that last best hope and willing it still to come into the fullness of its promise.

And with that written, if you can forgive me, I must excuse myself...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A bit of Old School Tactical

I don't know about other people but I had a relatively wargame-free New Year break this year. Our annual local game didn't eventuate, but my boardgame mate Pat did come down one Sunday to introduce me to his new WWII game, Old School Tactical.

He taught me the main points of the rules in about five minutes and then we got into it. I was commanding a bunch of Germans trying to escape the Falaise pocket towards Argentan. We had something like eight squads and two leaders with a couple of LMGs and another couple of Panzerfausts to share amongst them. On turn three or four a Tiger would arrive in support, and my objective was to get three squads off the opposite board edge.

Pat was coming in perpendicularly to cut off our retreat / breakout. He had three or four squads in halftracks and a small army of Shermans and M10s to interpose between the Germans and their hopes of (temporary) escape. It would be an interesting fight.

(Apologies: my photos have been ruined by glare from the window, but in person the board was very impressive.)

First squads enter.

More follow up.

Field of play: lots of open ground to cross, and some good fire positions for both sides.

I won't go into too much detail, but our Tiger and a particularly reckless Panzerfaust team did a scarcely believable amount of damage to the Allied armour.  Terrified Sherman crews preferred to take shots on offer at infantry rather than the Tiger because the chances of doing any damage were so slim. There were close-assaults a-plenty, and lots of momentum swings. Things turned our way after a brilliantly executed ambush of the Tiger leading to shots from point blank range from both the flank and front failed to do any damage to the great beast. Once those two ambushers were smoking wrecks, the poor old Allies didn't have a lot left. Still, it would have been touch and go whether the Germans could get to their exit area before time ran out, so we called it a draw.

All those wrecks were caused by that (unscathed) Tiger and a single suicidal Panzerfaust team!

I thought the game itself was good fun. The board was a delight to play on, and there was enough there to convince me that it would be a system worth investing time into. I suppose you'd call it 'cinematic' WWII, with lots of swings of fortune and plenty of moments of high drama as you decide whether to take on the odds or not, and then, decision made, see what happens.

One quibble I did have was that the activation mechanism relies upon command points to do anything (even opportunity fire), and uses a low base rate + high variable system (I was on 4-14 CPs per turn; the US on 3-18). I would prefer a higher base rate and lower variables so that a good planner could avoid the situation where a low roll leaves one helpless. Perhaps a good planner can already, but I couldn't see how, except by hoping the enemy rolled badly with attacks. I generally want a positional advantage (good cover, clear firing lanes, etc.) to count, but at times a low CP roll meant that it effectively wouldn't: if one side had no CPs left the other could advance across open ground into a 50/50 close combat situation without fear of being shot up before getting there.

It's probably however just a beginner's reaction, and I'd certainly like more opportunities to enhance my understanding of the system!


Not only did Pat introduce me to Old School Tactical, but he also very kindly went to the considerable trouble of making up a board and set of figures for a jousting game for our kids. Our boy is already enjoying the game, and he wants to play it with his mum next. I'm not sure how lucky he'll be on that score, but we'll see!

The two protagonists square off...

Thanks, Pat!

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