EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Sunday, February 26, 2017

End of an Era

Having a converted Boer in hand, as well as a paint stripped head from a broken antique Gordon Highlander and having restrained myself from ordering replacement heads, I reluctantly proceeded with making a mold to allow the 54mm Zulu and First Boer War project to proceed.
The first recruits for the 58th Foot.
After much hemming and hawing I went all toy soldiery and painted white, unstained, helmet and belts. The figure on the viewer's left is the original conversion, the other is the copy.

 As the Boer disappeared into the RTV I had one of those forehead slapping moments. Yesterday I had looked through numerous illustrations and confirmed that ammunition bandoliers were almost always worn over the left shoulder. (Presumably to avoid interfering with the rifle butt when aiming.)  What I had just noticed was that I had accidentally (or absent mindedly) reversed this when adding the putty.

Never mind, that could be fixed, or lived with, it was really the pith helmet that I had slipped in that was important. With a bit of work, I eventually managed to coax a slightly lumpy helmet and even more heavily flashed Boer from the mould. Lumpy and flash ridden enough that I could make use of them after much tedious work but not encouraging. The rifle is a lump of flash and there is a big wedge on the brim of the Boer's hat not to mention various smaller faults.  Doing fresh conversions for each figure would be easier than rescuing these though I will do one or two 'just because'. When I finally got a helmet to form it was in slightly better shape, usable but not great.

There was enough putty left over for one more full sized mould so I decided to try again but not with the Boer. This time I used an unconverted, antique, guardsman with his head chopped off and replaced by a pith helmet. If it worked it would give me what I needed to get the game on the table. I already have an ample supply of slouch hats to use for conversions of other figures to Boers to speed their recruitment.

It was with great relief that the result was, not exactly a clean casting, but a usable one. Usable enough to save the day with a bit of tedious work any way. 
Best not let the Sergeant Major catch you with your shirt tail hanging out over your arse Soldier! and Grandpa, what the hell are you pointing at me? I was confused at first by what appeared to be a bandage under the British helmet but it turns out that it was a fault on the antique that I hadn't noticed.
It was around 1999 that I first tried my hand at making my own molds. The initial reason was simply that I couldn't buy what I wanted! If I'd gotten into 54mm a bit earlier and hadn't gotten distracted by the explosion of new and recast 54mm plastic sets, Soldierpac had everything I wanted and while expensive for my budget, within reach if I went slowly. But they closed and the very reasonable prices of the remaining suppliers were beyond my reach for wargaming purposes. Having just gotten into casting Prince August semi-flats, and having bought some moulds for copies of old Britain's from Miniature Moulds who also sell mould making supplies, the next step was obvious. Make my own masters and cast them!

I'll never go down in the list of top miniature sculptors but I like several of my masters more than many commercial figures. Making moulds seemed  like it should be the easy part. It probably is for someone with not just patience and technical knowledge but who is careful and precise and patient.  Like the song says, "it ain't me Babe". I'm not sure how many moulds I've made now. Let's say 50 at least. Maybe 10 of those reliably produce acceptable copies of the original with a minimum of flash, maybe another 10 were completely unusable and the rest were were usable on a good day with a great deal  of recovery work required to produce a poor shadow of the original.

One reason I persevered was that I dreamt back then of having my own one man toy soldier company. From original sculpt to mould to castings, raw or painted.  With hindsight, by 2005 I had enough evidence that my mould making skills had stalled somewhere between mediocre to poor that I should have started investigating having some one else make the moulds. It was a tumultuous time in my life though and there was too much ego involved for rational business decisions. Anyway, I no longer have the desire to work that hard so its sheer cussedness crossed  with a desire for cheap volume that has kept me going at the mould making.

For this project I had actually looked at the price of buying heads from 3 sources and had almost stopped myself from reaching for the RTV but, it was there, bought and paid for, and it had an expiry date. I decided to give it one more go.

Once I was done and looked at the results I went looking at price and availability of RTV and revisited the price of parts.   I needed about 18 pith helmets for this project assuming I cannibalised and repaired more of the antique guards and used my commercial guards mould for bodies.  The result suggests that the cost of those heads would be about equal to what one of the 2 moulds would have cost and I could have grabbed some extras at the same time. Hmmm. Less money, less work, less frustration and I can feel good for supporting the industry.  

The figure on the left is the refurbished antique, the one on the right is the recast after 15-20 minutes of cutting and filing. After all the years of doing British and Canadians in tunics with lace trim, it was realllly hard not to paint any on the front and on the rear vent of the service frocks.  
So I am announcing the end of an era. I do not intend to replace my RTV. I'm quite happy to continue buying moulds for massed armies, like the new Prince August ones and I'm happy to keep converting figures, but I'm trying to downsize my armies and focus on what I enjoy, which does not include mould-making!

If I ever get another mad, insatiable, desire to make a lot of copies of some new originals, I'll start checking the price of hiring someone to do it for me.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Becoming a Bigger Boer

It all seemed so simple. Take a 20mm Boer War Portable Wargame to Huzzah for a relaxed Sunday morning event. I had enough Boers and a couple of Brits painted up. Could even throw together opposing Russian Civil War armies as an option.

Then I thought that it might be nice to take some non-European enemies. I had just about enough Zulus but almost all their shields were gone so I broke out my old, beloved 54mm Nku Khu (aka Zulus) and some even older beloved Britain's British. Which of course led to....."This would look good at a con and be a good example of how 54mm games don't HAVE to be big". After all, I had the Zulus and just needed to do up some proper Brits to opposes them. Of course the only ones I have in Pith Helmets are the Gordon Highlanders. They didn't fight the Zulus but they did fight the Boers two years later..... Oh.....Oh dear.....

One unpainted guards casting, one headswap, one little ball of Milliput....
OK, part of me has been wanting to do this for quite a while, nearly 20 years actually, but when I down-sized everything I talked myself into getting out of 54's, sort of. Obviously my favourite bits stayed around. Now that I'm several years into games with fewer figures  I can enjoy 54mm wargaming with traditional toy soldiers again !

His own Drill Sergeant wouldn't recognise him now!
I've always paid less attention to the first Boer War but it is the one with scarlet tunics and one of the periods where  Boer, Zulu and British wargame armies can each fight the other. If that's not versatile enough it can also share some figures with my North West campaign.

Since the rules are pretty generic, I need a "thing" to make the Boers different but I want to do it without adding rules. They were mounted infantry but during the first war don't seem to have ever fought on horseback though they occasionally did in small numbers earlier or later when the situation called for it. They were expert shots and good at concealment but occasionally shy at close combat and reluctant to take casualties.

Using the roster system I intend to treat the Boers like Native Rifles with 3 SP's  (ie like cavalry) but will give them a special rule that they always count as "in cover" when not adjacent due to their skills at concealment. This means they will typically out shoot the British in the open but will have a reason to stay away from close combat in the open. Being "native" they will get the 50% chance of a double move, in this case representing a commando jumping on their horses to get to a better position. Lastly, having only 3 rather than 4 strength points will make them reluctant to trade hits equally.

Now to test these ideas out on the table. Just got to clean up the master once the putty is dry, make a mold, cast and paint about 20 figures and also convert about 12 more from different poses for variety........ Not going to be ready this weekend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Review: Last Post (sic)

Having played 3 games in 2 periods using both Sudden Death  and Roster options, I decided to test the rules robustness when tinkered with, after all, tinkering is what I do, even with my own rules!

The Mid-20th Century version seemed like the best starting point, not only because the table was still set but this version covers the widest time frame thus offering a good scope for fine tuning. It is also a period for which I don't currently have a set of rules, just various half tested ideas.

My starting point was to decide how many units I wanted to field and how long I wanted the game to last, then I thought about what aspects of the first game that I thought might be honed to suit what I wanted my game to feel like.

1955 2nd game. The Naryatrians decided to send the light armoured forces and truck mounted infantry on a sweeping left hook leaving the Naryatrian blocking force to the infantry and tanks of the main column. The tank duels continued for much of the game with tanks recoiling and manoeuvring to try and find an advantage or escape from disadvantage. 
For this last game I wanted the majority of my available forces on the table for a game that would last for two or more hours. Before getting more specific I sat down with some spare bases and started reorganising the rabble. Once done I played about a bit and decided that I could live with a pair of heavy tanks being a bit cramped in a square. The result was a similar number of units on table with fewer figures being left in their boxes.

In the previous games Sudden Death had felt a bit too sudden at times but my experience using the strength point system for the Zulu Wargame suggested that the planned game would take too long and that going from possibly sudden death to never sudden death would reduce some of the adrenaline factor. I decided to settle in the middle by giving all units 2 hits and counting lost units for exhaustion. This left the possibility that a unit could be eliminated in a single turn if it was fired at by two units.

I had meant to try giving some Elite units 3 hits while reducing some Poor units to 1 hit but once the game was underway I forgot! In the end I upped the Home Defence units to average and just gave the Elite units their usual willingness to retreat rather than die.

The Shermans were continually forced to retire to avoid being outflanked. The Naryatrian infantry soon ran into problems with too many men in too cramped a space. They didn't expect the local village defences to hold them up so long and ended up sending in human waves without having preplanned it. It wasn't pretty when support Roscian infantry and then the MG's in the Palm Grove opened up from a flank. 

The obsolete vs modern tank question still nagged at me so I tried a new angle. Already infantry, mg's etc cannot knock out armoured units by shooting though such units can do so in close combat. I just extended this so that armoured cars can only knock out other light armour by shooting and obsolete/medium tanks cannot knock out modern/heavy tanks using shooting. They have to get close. I also penalised light armour when fighting tanks in close combat. Special exceptions could be just that.

Lastly I decided to experiment with a Pin result to stop units that are pushed back from simply reoccupying their position as if nothing had happened. After much thought I decided to try having all units become pinned if they take a hit. They would then take a -1 on shooting and combat dice and be prohibited from moving adjacent to an enemy or initiating close combat. A unit which wasn't adjacent could remove the pin by not moving or shooting. Pinned units were marked with red bingo markers, casualty markers will look better.

No retreat! The Naryatrians are stacked up against the wall, held up by a stubborn stand of the Local Defence Force. Unseen here is a unit of Roscian paratroops flanking the village on the far side and an impassible oasis and water tank behind the upper left hand attacking unit.  

The forces for this replay were:
Roscia. 11 units + Commander

  • On table: 2 Infantry.
  • Reinforcements: 1 Elite Infantry with armoured carriers, 2 infantry, 1 MG, 1 Mortar, 1 Engineer, 1 Heavy Tank (Centurion), 1 Medium Tank (Sherman 76mm), Commander.

Naryatria. 16 units + Commander

  • 1 Armoured car, 1 Patrol car (as  Armoured car but not armoured), 1 Heavy tank (T##wannabe), 1 medium tank (T34/85), 1 Heavy artillery, 8 infantry (inc 2 Elite), mortar, 2 trucks, Commander,

Just before the last push. The Naryatrians finally took half the village only to be driven out by a counter attack. Their light armour and truck mounted infantry have driven back the Roscian Elite armoured infantry and are about to make a push for the pass.
 In the end the game lasted about 2 1/2 hours (not that I had noticed, I had thought it closer to one hour until the hounds started hooting for their dinners and I checked the time ). The advantage swung back and forth with Roscia just missing a decisive win but managing to hang on for a technical victory, being exhausted but clinging to their positions with the Naryatrians having too little left to force the pass before the game was over. Most of their units had lost 1 stand already so the next hit would have brought them to exhaustion. Presumably Roscian reinforcements were now at hand or something but in any case turn 15 was next and even if the Roscians retreated at full speed and hadn't planted a minefield across the road, the Naryatrians had been pushed back far enough that even unopposed they couldn't reach the pass.

This balance and the fact that tactical errors caused as many or more losses than unusual runs of dice both contributed to my enjoyment of the game. Of course with a 4'x6' table and double the stands per square its not as portable as it could be but then it really has no where it needs to go. Of course the game would play the same with 1 stand units on my portable board.

End game. Once again the Naryatrian artillery has been deadly but this time their mortars also kicked in, finally clearing the town. Under pressure from an all arms assault the Roscian Centurions were forced back and finally destroyed along with their MG, Mortars and HQ bringing them to their exhaustion point. The Naryatrians hovered just above their exhaustion point but had the luck and space to allow units to fall back rather than being destroyed. However, early in the game I remembered that the engineers I had thrown in to make up Roscian numbers had the ability to plant a minefield. Leaving  the hard pressed infantry to hold back the enemy the Sappers hoofed it across the field wishing the government would build some of the truck kits that are in storage. The minefield was finished just in time to stop a mad dash for through the pass before darkness and Roscian reinforcements arrived. (ie Turn 15)

And so ended the long series of border wars between Roscia and Nariatria. The Naryatrian President was faced with unrest following heavy casualties in defeat after defeat and applied to the UN for arbitration. With the growing threat from the Republic of Lital, Roscia was only too glad to agree  so that they could focus on the real enemy.  Undisclosed sources report that Lital is buying up surplus equipment from the Naryatrian army and even recruiting their discharged soldiers to swell their ranks. There are real fears that some serious Portable Wargaming between Lital and Roscia could break out as early as this summer.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4b: The Fight for the Junction

As seen in previous post's pictures, the game began with Naryatrian recce forces driving hard up the road until they bumped into local Defence Forces.

Ignoring the threat posed by the arrival of Roscian reinforcements the Naryatrian light forces rush forward to try to seize the objective which is the pass at the end of the table. The lead vehicle spotted the defenders of the town and opened up with its HMG. (repeat picture from the previous post)

Initially I had planned to use 12 units attacking 8 using the standard roster system but my infantry units were in disarray after some fever crazed person cut up many of the bases last spring and while I wanted to get as many of my meagre force of 10 tanks as possible onto the table, the planned 2  model tank units looked rather cramped in practice. In the end I decided to up the number of units to 16 units + transports attacking 12 units. I had a feeling that using that many units with the roster system was going to make for a longer game than I was in the mood for so decided to try the Sudden Death option again.

The Roscians react. I'm not keen on the Roscian camouflage pattern but the Centurion hiding amongst the palm trees on the far right suggests it could be effective in the right circumstances.

The first shot of the game was fired by the truck mounted HMG as it rolled up the road and, despite needing a 6 to hit troops in cover while roaring up the road it destroyed the defenders of the first block of buildings.  (Queue the Rat Patrol theme!)

The invaders won the initiative on the first couple of turns and were first up to the low ridge across the road near the middle of the table. The Roscians had two obvious choices. Deploy all mechanised units to the right and race the enemy to the pass hoping that the town would hold up the enemy and that the following infantry could hit the main column in the flank or counter attack the head of the main column vigorously. A roll of the die selected the latter, aggressive plan.

While one Centurion platoon rushed ahead to the crossroads, the other deployed into cover to provide fire support from the flank. The armoured car and mechanised infantry were sent to relieve or retake the town and drive off the opposing light troops.

The town is secure. Clouds of swirling black Angora rabbit hair mark destroyed vehicles. Red dots mark the demise of Roscian infantry, casualty figures mark lost Naryatrian ones. 
A flip in initiative then offered the Roscians a chance to deal a heavy blow but the tank crew's faith in their  20 pounder guns was misplaced. Behind them though the town's defenders who had earlier been driven out of the town by heavy fire, managed to counter attack and take out the enemy armoured car using their obsolete WWII bazookas at point blank range.  (It felt a bit odd that they could rally and come back so quickly and easily. It was partly due to the initiative flip but I didn't want to stop and think about it.)    With the arrival of the elite Paratroopers in their Saracen backed up by a Saladin armoured car, the town now seemed secure while infantry support for the tanks was up.

Nothing daunted the Shermans shot up the Centurion tank at the cross road and pressed forward sending the truck borne infantry and mortars off road to the left to avoid the Roscian infantry and remaining armour. Behind the infantry, unseen by the camera, a pair of T34's has driven right to flush the remaining Centurion out of the woods and away from the road in case it should hit something at last. (Unfortunately for Roscia the dice heavily favoured Naryatria all game. It got to the point where I made them roll the same dice but even that didn't help! ) The Roscian infantry moved into the grove and spread out across the open and prepared to hold against what was coming.

Hordes of Naryatrian infantry race forward firing as they come.
For a turn or two the situation seemed to be stabilising. The T34's had flanked the last Centurion but it had withdrawn and then shot one to pieces. Then the Naryatrians  deployed their secret weapon: Indirect fire from Mortars and Heavy Artillery!  Turn after turn they dealt out indirect death with the blow of a single die! 6 then 1, 6 then 1. Suddenly the Roscian forces were decimated and Exhausted. All the survivors could do was hang on and hope while the infantry returned fire and the mortar opened up, hitting the last company of T34's badly enough to cause the crews to abandon their tanks.

As luck would have it, the last aggressive Roscian move had been to slip their armoured car through a gap in the line towards the deadly artillery. As the gunners hastily lowered their sights and gun barrels, firing wide in panic, the armoured car let loose with HE and machine gun fire.  Suddenly the Naryatrians had had enough!

 The pass was in sight but the Roscians were still blocking the way. Of their 7 AFV units only 2 were still operational and in addition to the loss of their artillery, several infantry companies had been shot apart including the elite Red Berets of the Lion Brigade. (Oddly enough every one of the 4 Elite units (Centurions, Paratroopers and Lion Brigade)  was killed by the first shot that hit it! I was left wishing on their behalf that I had used the roster system!)

Despite the cessation of hostilities due to exhaustion, the Roscian mission had been accomplished. The Pass had been held.

Instead of working on this blog post yesterday as intended, I found myself reorganising  and basing the infantry of both sides into 2 stand units. Further hopeful experiments with putting 2 vehicles in a square were unsuccessful though. Still, it was enough that a new game is on the table with some house rules to try out. That report by Monday!  

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4a: The Set Up.

The mid20th Century portion of the Portable Wargame takes a stab at the nearly impossible task of creating a simple wargame covering a period of wide technological and tactical change. Inevitably there are compromises that must be made and just as inevitable that different wargamers will have different opinions on what is essential to capture the flavour of any given sub-period. Luckily the rules are quite responsive to  tweaks that do not run too counter to the spirit.

I wanted to do something that involved tanks but no longer have my old WWII armies. Micro-armour, 10mm, 1/72nd and 54mm forces, all gone, but I do have my 1/72nd fictional 1950's troops. I wanted something a bit bigger and more complex than the last test game so I decided to base a scenario loosely on CS Grant's Hasty Blocking Position scenario from Programmed Scenarios.
The main Naryatrian column rolls onto the table, 76mm Shermans and the motorised Rhino Brigade leading the way as Roscian reinforcements rush to cut them off at the crossroad.
There is one issue with the mid 20th Century rules that I have trouble getting over and that is Bob's decision to have  just two classes of tank: light and everyone else and only a difference in range between light tank guns and tanks. There are campaigns during WWII when the  opposing sides' armoured and anti-tank forces were well matched and fit easily into the given categories but there were also some campaigns where the opposing armour was very mismatched or where there was a great range in capabilities of antitank and tank weapons. One need only think of the panic in 1940 when an attack by Matilda  tanks could not be stopped by 37mm antitank guns and 88mm antiaircraft guns had to be pressed into service, or of the adage in Normandy that it took three Shermans to take out a Tiger.

I'm not a rivet counter and I'm not interested in minute differences in armour and armament but I want to include that tactical challenge of how to deal with a serious imbalance of capabilities.

The Roscian forces are equipped primarily with British and American tanks, Centurions, Pershings and Shermans (though apparently, based on photographic evidence,  the Naryatrians are now operating Shermans as well). The Naryatrians usually field a mix of T34/85's and T55's.  It goes against the grain to consider Shermans and Centurions as equal but my only options were to call the Shermans and T34's "light" tanks or bring in a house rule. I was initially going to use the roster system so thought about making the heavier tanks Elite with an extra hit point but that would just mean that other modern tanks would have just as much trouble taking out an opposing modern tank as would an obsolete WW2 tank. I eventually decided to arm the obsolete tanks with the same range 3 gun as used by light tanks. This meant that the modern tanks had a 1 area range superiority but once in range of each other, equal combat ability. Any other house rule would have to wait for a future game.

Roscian Centurions roll on. The tan vehicles ahead of them belong to a Naryatrian recce squadron.
 The scenario is "inspired by" rather than an accurate translation of Grant's scenario. In this case there is a road running towards a pass in some rocky hills with a T junction, a village and some scattered groves of trees. A Naryatrian surprise attack has broken through and a column of light armour and infantry is rushing to secure the pass. The village is held by local defence troops while  a column of regular army troops rush to establish a defensive position in the pass before the Naryatrians arrive.

The table grid was 10x14 squares.

The Roscian forces were composed of :
Local Defence: 2 units infantry
Column: 1 Armoured Car
1 Saladin armoured transports with MG carrying a unit of Elite infantry
2 tanks
1 mortar
3 infantry
1 HQ

The Naryatrian force was comprised of

1 armoured car
2 non-armoured cars (a portee recoilless rifle and truck mounted HMG. These aren't in the rules so I treated them like armoured cars except that they are vulnerable to infantry and MG fire and the HMG  can not kill tanks when shooting.)
4 obsolete (light) tanks
4 trucks
6 infantry
1 mortar
1 heavy artillery.
1 HQ

The last of the Roscian local defence troops try to get close enough to use their bazooka on the armoured car.
That's it for tonight. More tomorrow.