Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ukraine '44 game wrapped up


Over the last couple of months, Kevin over at the Zhodani Commando blog and I have had a game of MMP's Ukraine '44 on the go. We played using the VASSAL engine and the Ukraine '44 module (which Kevin performed a bit of magic on to make more user-friendly), taking turns recording our respective moves in a VASSAL logfile and then sending them to the other fellow to roll dice, take casualties, etc. It's a brilliant way to play over distance, and the way the turns are broken up means that you don't need too large a chunk of time to do your moves. The most time-consuming thing is working out how you want to approach the board situation.

The game is based on Hube's pocket, in which the surrounded German 1st Panzer Army managed to break out of the encirclement and rejoin their comrades. I deliberately didn't read up on the historical action because I wanted to work out things for myself, so apologies for going light on that aspect!

One interesting thing about the game is that all unit strengths are hidden and strength is only revealed during combat. Consequently, there is a fair bit of guesswork going on early in the game as one gets a feel for where the enemy has concentrated his strength.

The objective for the German player is to break out of the pocket or, failing that, to prevent the Soviets from taking three victory cities while also destroying more Soviet strength points than he loses himself.

The Germans have a number of advantages, including that they get better movement rates than the Soviets, and that their mechanised units get to move again after combat, allowing these to attack from an exposed position and then retreat back to the relative safety of the main lines. They also have force multipliers in the form of two units of tiger tanks which can be attached to any armoured unit and give a very useful 1-3 modifier to the combat die roll on both attack and defence. The Germans also have 'combat superiority', meaning that should they convincingly destroy an enemy formation in any attack, the German force involved is able to ignore the combat attrition that it would normally have suffered.

The Soviets can win by preventing a breakout and by killing off German strength points, with any German strength points out of supply at the end of the game also counting as eliminated. The Russian player can also claim an auto victory if at any time he controls three of the game's four victory cities.

In their favour the Soviets have three things: the number of units, the strength of their tank divisions, and the +2 artillery combat modifier that applies if they elect to do their attacks before they do any movement. But most of the Soviet infantry units are relatively weak in defence, and are therefore susceptible to being monstered by determined German attacks, provided that the German attacks the right units (which, given hidden unit strengths, is not always certain!).

Each side must therefore play quite differently.

Anyway, I took the Germans, Kevin took the Soviets, and we were at it.

The action

This is how things started off after Kevin's first move.

Opening moves
(note that my units' strengths can be seen because the module is showing the game from my perspective)

You can see that Soviet armour (red units) has already seized the key road junctions between the German forces and safety to the west.

Over the next few turns Kevin attempted to complete the encirclement, squeeze the Germans back towards the river, and reduce the German garrison in the victory city of Ternopol in the North.

Turn 3

The Germans tried to kill as many front-line Soviet units as possible, first by giving the armoured units a bloody nose and then, once they were cautious and wary, by directing attacks against the weaker infantry units. Meanwhile, the Soviets attacked a second victory city in the north and threatened a third in the south.

Turn 5

It was only now that I saw Kevin's plan - suck up losses elsewhere, and aim to take the victory cities for the auto win. I did not have enough troops to do much about this; I had not seriously considered this strategy on his part. The cunning blighter had me!

Turn 6

By now the troops in the pocket were relying on supply from the air and were operating at reduced effectiveness. When combined with the advance against my victory cities, the situation looked hopeless. I was ready to call the game at this point, but Kevin encouraged me to continue, and he was right - I had misread the reinforcement entry hexes, and with a bit of luck a counterattack was launched using said reinforcements, keeping the Soviet advance units isolated and out of supply and enabling the recapture of the second of the northern victory cities

Turn 7
With Berezheny recaptured but Chernovtzy in the south about to fall, all depended on whether we could hold Berezheny long enough for the next round of German reinforcements to arrive. In the centre, 1st Panzer Army was on the verge of breaking out, but we needed to hold in the north for two more turns to save the day.


But it was not to be. Although almost at the limits of their strength in the north the Soviets retook Berezheny, and with Chernovtzy in the south falling in the same turn, Kevin had the three victory cities he needed to triumph. A mighty success - well done sir!


The game was, for me, a lot of fun, even though I badly misread Soviet intentions. From the German player's perspective, the actions needed to try to weaken the encircling cordon were great fun to play out, but I don't think Kevin enjoyed the Soviet infantry units being so weak! Nevertheless, despite the desperate efforts of 1st Panzer Army, clever planning and nerves of Red Steel saw Kevin through to his thoroughly deserved win.

I would certainly play this again, but my German strategy needs a bit more work, I think!

Aside from being a strong player, Kevin was an excellent sport and a lot of fun to play against. VASSAL is a great tool, and if any readers like boardgames but lack for local players, I would encourage you to look into it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Rise of Alortigis

And so it starts... Alortigis, chief of the ______i, has fallen upon his enemies, the ______i, and defeated them in a mighty battle.

Alortigis's band at bottom of the picture.

Forces advance.

Contact is made.

Alortigis's men claim their first victory.

The battle is even on the left...

...or is until the caetrati commit at the right time to swing the fight.

Victory! Of the enemy, only the cavalry and the skirmishers escape.
It remains to be seen how the vanquished will react to this defeat, but if they refuse to accept Alortigis as overlord they will likely see their homes dismantled, their crops burnt, and their wives and children sold into slavery.

We may be hearing more of this fellow...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

List of formative books

I was idly thinking the other day about how I used to have an excellent memory for books read, but that years of teaching ESL, getting older, enjoying the odd beer and not sleeping enough seem to have whittled much of that memory away.

I have no doubt that the books I read as a child (I was one of those geeks who would sneakily read during boring lessons at school...) have had a significant influence on my interests, my ideas of right and wrong, my character, and my later interest in literature and history. They were, in short, formative.

Anyway, as an exercise, I decided I'd try to remember some of the books that were influences on me as a kid.  Of course, on this blog, when I say kid, I really mean kid-as-future-wargamer!

So this is what I came up with (I've left out Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit on the grounds that they are a given). I would be interested to hear if readers also enjoyed any of these, and if not, which books were formative for you.

The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall

I remember thinking up stories and games of my own after reading this. It was a haunting book for me. I don't recall details, but seeing the cover online after all these years brought some of that back.

The Windswept City - Henry Treece

This was one that someone gave to me. I would read it every so often when there was nothing else on the shelf that appealed. I remember the illustrations being particularly depressing, and as a realistic rather than romantic treatment of the Troy legend, it burst a few bubbles.

The Gauntlet - Ronald Welch

I remember finding it quite thrilling. Aside from that, I don't recall much else.

Sun of York - Ronald Welch

This one I loved. The description of Warwick's death I found particularly vivid at the time and it was easy to imagine oneself a squire caught up in the fog of Wars of the Roses battle.

The Lantern Bearers - Rosemary Sutcliffe

I don't recall much about the story but Rosemary Sutcliffe novels were a library book staple for me.

Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

Read this many times, and I loved how it combined so many interesting characters, including getting Robin of Locksley in there as well!

The Wallace - Nigel Tranter

I really enjoyed this one, getting it out of the public library and reading it through several times. I was always upset at the ending.

The Eagle and the Raven - Pauline Gedge

Another one I had on the shelf and would read over and over again. Caractacus made quite an impression, so much so that I named a character in an online game 'Arviragus'!

Here be Dragons - Sharon Penman

I read this when I was a little older. It started an interest in Wales and things Welsh, and led me to Penman's Sunne in Splendour, which was a brilliant novel

Men of Iron and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - Howard Pyle

I enjoyed both of these, but the Robin Hood book was my bible for a few years. It also piqued my interest in studying English, introducing me to thee, thy and thou!

Gifts from the Past in the Colliers Encyclopedia Junior Classics set

I devoured this book. It had it all, but the story of Roland and Oliver was my favourite.

Morte d'Arthur and Ulysses - poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

These poems were very cool. I actually memorized whole sections of them, such was their appeal!

The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat

This book was given to me by Laurie, friend of the family and very gracious fellow. He was a bookseller, writer and ex-merchant navy man, with an anchor tattoo on his forearm and a strong Christian faith. The Cruel Sea is a gripping story, but I was especially touched that Laurie would care enough to remember a conversation we'd had about books and then ferret through his collection to find the one he thought would be perfect for a boy of my age and interests.

Among the books lost in the fog of time were many Arthurian tales that a friend lent me. There were so many that I can't remember which ones we read and which ones we didn't, but my favourite was quite a dark, unromantic take on the Arthurian legend. I wish I knew the title.

So there we are; these are the ones I could remember. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment and add formative books of your your own if you should so desire.

One-Hour Wargames project 2 - the painting

I've started the painting phase of the OHW terrain project. I must admit though that I succumbed to expansionist urges and bought a second board, so that I can do 82x164 battles...

I'm not very happy with how it's gone, to be honest. The paint has not adhered very well to the fabric.

The hills, which use carpet, look OK:

But the boards themselves look very lightly dusted by comparison.

When I see the amount of spraypaint used (and I think I'll need at least two more cans to darken up the boards a bit more)...

it would probably have been more economical to buy a professionally made mat!

It might look better with figures on it; we'll see.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

One-Hour Wargames project commences

I've recently been hit by the realisation that my usual hobby area has become so cluttered with family odds and ends - boxes of seasonal fruit, boxes of gifts for our students, leftover treats from Christmas that I am not allowed to throw away until at least a couple more months have passed, my wife's sewing materials, the kids' drawings and school creations, my guitar gear - that trying to maintain it as a dedicated wargaming space is almost a lost cause.

While this is on one level a little frustrating, on another it gives me a good reason to get cracking on my Neil Thomas "One Hour Wargames" project.  OHW is a book of rules and scenarios for wargamers who are short of space and time, and at the moment that sounds just about me!

Therefore, I today went down to the DIY store and picked up an 82x82 tatami-mat variant (there are some advantages to living in Japan. Who knew?!) and a couple of bits of carpet.

After hacking away at the carpet with the scissors I've got something that looks like this:

I also conducted a scientifically rigorous experiment with white glue and flock...

...which has sufficed to convince me that for colour application purposes spray paint will be a better way to go!

OHW uses 6 units per side, so I think 82x82 will work well with my 15mm armies.


Next step will be to get the spray painting done and then look at creating a few other terrain items.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review of free game "Second World War"

Being at a bit of a loose end last night I decided to try out Phil Sabin's free print and play Second World War grand-strategic sim [see the bottom of this page for the download].

With only twelve pages to print out - 4 of rules, 1 for the example of play, 6 of designer notes and a bibliography - it's easy on the ink. Counters and a map are also included, but I drew up my own board  on a bit of spare cardboard and scrounged the wooden bits box for pieces to use as the armies, production centres and strategic unit counters needed for play.

The map is pretty straightforward, so there is no need for great artistic talent to make a copy of your own. Germany is in the centre, with four territory 'strings' emanating from her. String one goes France-Britain; string two Alps-Italy-North Africa-Middle-East; string three goes Balkans-Ukraine-Caucasus; and string four Belorussia-Russia.

There are also boxes for generic strategic warfare units - representing bombing campaigns, submarine warfare and so on - mobilisation, and America.

The map below shows the board as envisaged by the game designer.

Each six month turn has four phases: movement, combat, strategic warfare, and production. Movement is from one front line space to another, and is subject to strict limitations.

Combat is by d6. Units which attack become automatically spent and have to get a modified 3+ to score a hit. There are limits to how many units can attack from one space to another and further limits when attacking across a strait.

Strategic warfare attacks allow players to put pressure on enemy production. Phil Sabin showcases his experience and skill here in devising a simple and effective way to include the war in the air and at sea in such an abstract game.

Production points are produced by fresh production units and are used to flip spent units (armies, production or strategic) to their fresh sides, or bring on new forces from the mobilisation boxes.

As is usual with Phil Sabin's games, there are a few exceptions to the normal rules, and these turn a simple system into a simulation. Be warned: players need to note down and remember these rules or else risk botching the whole thing!

Game play was quick (about an hour, including learning the rules and topping up the gin glass) but was surprisingly engaging, and I think I will be playing it again tonight. You can deduce from this that I feel it is a game worth printing out and giving a crack.

Summary - quick but interesting game filled with typical Phil Sabin touches: a broad-brush approach incorporating spent/fresh units, simple rules 'simulationified' through exceptions and combat modifiers, and all held together with a d6. Eminently soloable, it almost runs itself. The player's job is mainly to watch events unfold, but there is the occasional crucial decision to make.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gifts from a Big Red Bat

Last week I had a lovely surprise arrive in the mail - goodies from none other than Simon Miller, the Bigredbat himself.

For those of you who may not know, Simon has recently released an innovative set of Ancient/Medieval rules called To the Strongest!  The rules use multiple decks of playing cards, but Simon has organised some custom chits to use in their stead, and very kindly sent a set my way.

The photo below shows the missile markers on the left, court card chits in the centre, and pip card chits on the right. The light in the photo does not do them justice, I'm afraid; seen with the naked eye they look very fine indeed.

These are of course custom made for To the Strongest! but I already see ways that they can be used with other games as well.

Many thanks, Simon!

But as generous as this gift was, Simon did not stop there. He also included a whack of 15mm figures!

I think I will be able to find a place for these in the collection, provided that I can find a suitable reliquary!

What a top man! In my experience there are lots of good people in this hobby, but Simon must be one of the best.

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