Monday, October 24, 2016

Reviewing 'The Men who would be Kings' - A NWF game

Having finished my twelve men of the 66th Regiment of Foot I was eagerly waiting to give them their first appearance on the battlefield. Finally last Friday their time came when my wargaming fellow Michael and me gathered for a test match of 'The Men who would be Kings' the new colonial ruleset by Daniel Mersey who is well known for his '[...] Rampant' series. To get into the rules we decided to play a simple scenario with two of the recommended field forces from the appendix of the rulebook. Thus we fieled the following 24 pts.:
The battlefield showing Michael's wonderful terrain pieces.
British attackers (yours truly):
3x 12 Men regular infantry @ 6 pts. each
8 Men refular cavalry @ 6pts.

Afghan defenders (Michael):
2x 16 Men tribal infantry @ 3 pts. each
1x 12 Men irregular infantry @ 4 pts. each
1x 12 Men irregular infantry upgraded as sharpshooters @ 6 pts.
1x 10 Men irregular cavalry @  3 pts.
1x Poorly trained gun @ 4 pts.

To keep things simple for our first game we decided not to roll for the units' leadership values as suggested in the rulebook. Instead we assigned to all regular and tribal units a leadership of 6 and to all irregular units a leadership of 7.

As scenario we chose a simple attack mission. The British were ordered to drive some rebellious Afghans out of there village. The chapas however seemed prepared and entrenched themselves in a cottages and in the hills to lie in wait for the British.
The compound.
So the Brits advanced through the valley of death. Firtly I tried to bring the Bengal lancers along the left flank but discovered very soon that there wasn't enough room between the rocks and the table edge to avoid close range fire. So they turned and made there way in the very centre of the valley. Meanwhile the 66th started laid first fire on the rocks at the right flank and killed two Afghans. Unfortunately the unit didn't become pinned. The other infantry units were slightly slower. The Scots trying to storm the rocks on the left and side and the Indian infantry marching on in the centre.
First exchange of fire.
The Afghans on the other hand rushed forward to the rocks (difficult terrain providing soft cover) and tried to secure the centre from the compound and the rocky gun position. For the moment Michael held his mounted unit in reserve nearby. After taking the first casualties the Afghans took revenge upon the 66th. With a crushing fusillade. Seven brave Redcoats fell and the unit became pinned.
One of Michael's Pathans aiming at my 66th.
Luckily they were rallied in the next turn and the British were close enough to return fire from all barrels. First the Indian took aim and pinned the Afghans who reaped such bloody harvest among there English brothers in arms. Then the Scots fired from the foot into the rocks on the left flank and pinned the Afghan unit there as well. The cavalry took their chance to advance at the double and reached a promising position for the next turn.
Brave Scotsmen taking aim as well.
The Afghans had an unlucky turn then. Although Michael rallied the one of the units on the hills the other routed abandoning the right flank. Afterwards he tried unsuccessfully to lay fire upon my other units. Most were out of range of the old fashioned rifles and the cannon refused to fire.
The Pathans employed an old-fashioned gun.
Now the British increased pressure. The Scots laid fire on the Afghans in the hills again and caused enough havok to pin them again. Now I thought it should be the moment of the Bengal lancers. With pennands flying they charged into Michael's tribal infantry and... killed a few if them after a slightly substandard roll. Anyway it was at least good enough to pin and to repress them. Of course my noble horsemen followed up and... received a bloody nose in the second round of melee. Having lost two men they didn't have more the six attacks while the equalled that having 12 men left but only fighting with half of them because of their pinned status. The combat was a draw but having lost another two soldiers the Bengal lancers became uncomfortably weak. More precisely weak enough to get shattered by the next fusillade. 
From now on the game was bottoming out. The Afghans lost their second irregular unit (those in the hills) and the battered tribal units due to failed rallying but tried to bring the cavalry reserve forth. The Brits on the other hand utilized the long range of their modern rifles and laid fire on the Afghans from outsite their range. The only weapon able to return fire was the - now firing - gun.
More or less the final position although some more Pathan cavalrymen fell later.
After a couple of turns the Afghan cavalry was nearly erased and the Brits started to turn their attention to the entrenched tribals. But against those fire was nearly useless needing three hits to score a single casualty (usually 1 hit + 1 for long range + 1 for cover though). On the other hand the Afghan gun continued firing but didn't score too many casualties as well. Finally we decided to call the game a draw since we were pretty sure that neither side would seek initiative again. In reality the Brits would have called for artillery support to get the Afghans out of the compound or to take the gun out. No need for them to advance over open terrain. The Afghans on the other hand would stay in cover until they're wiped out or until the British would turn and leave.
The remainders of my 66th and Michael's Indians in the background.
However after all we had a really pleasant game and some great time at the gaming table. Concerning 'The Men who would be Kings' I have to admit that it's a really nice ruleset by tradition of the '[...] Rampant' rules. Unfortunately this time the rulebook itself seems a bit in confusion. While the 'Lion Rampant' followed a clear guiding thread 'The Men who would be Kings' seems to mix things up a bit. Additionally some of the important data are located at different parts of the book and we didn't find a place where they appeared all together. Not a big deal since you get into the rules rather quickly but a bit cumbersome for the new player. The rule mechanics work pretty well as known from 'Lion Rampant'. A couple of things changed - e.g. you don't end the turn when failing an activation - but the parallels are quite obvious. From my very personal point of view it's a pity that the author sticks at the D6. It doesn't offer too much variability and thus the characteristics of most units are pretty close to each other. To be honest I would have prefered to find a more detailed D10 system here.

Concerning the feel of the age I'm not sure whether 'The Men who would be Kings' really provides it. E.g. far balancing reasons 'Close Order' and 'Volley Fire' have only very limited effect. After my first game I have to admit that it seems only useful in very special situations and I don't think that I'd risk to spend an action to close the ranks to maybe release a volley in a subsequent turn. I'd rather continue to fire uncontrolled and get as much lead towards my foes as possible. Furthermore cavarly seems to have rather limited effect. In case that we didn't miss an exception in the rules they fight with one D6 per model as usual. Given that cavalry units are rather small they have a significant disadvantage against larger infantry units. Although it need two hits to kill a cavalry model each casualty takes a precious attack die. A 16 men tribal unit on the other hand doesn't care about two dice more or less.

Anyway after all 'The Men who would be Kings' appears to be a good ruleset for casual beer-and-pretzel-games. It's easy to learn, not too difficult to handle and even new players should become used to it quickly. Thus it's almost perfect for occasional gamers or for presentation games at shows. On the other hand I'd have prefered to have a somehow deeper system transporting more of the colonial feel. The narrow possibilities of the D6 based system and the - actually good - idea to keep things simple restrict the diversity of the different troop and unit types too much in my humble opinion.

But nevertheless we had a lot of fun with our first game of TMwwbK and we'll definitely get another couple of games to explore the rule mechanics we left out during our first test.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

66th Rgt. of Foot finished... For now.

A while ago I presented a review of the British infantry plastics for 1877-1885 by Perry Miniatures and my first painted figures from the set (here). As some of you might remember I wanted to have a unit of those splendid figures painted as members of the 66th Regiment of Foot that fought a heroic battle near Maiwand on 27th July 1880. So here we go:
As usual I took the pictures before varnishing them so there'll be some pieces of static grass and of course the colours added later. For now they are a smallish twelve men unit which will see first fire on Friday when we play 'The Men who would be Kings' by Daniel Mercy at the club.

Actually I wanted to make a larger unit from the plastic box but meanwhile Michael Perry sculpted some wonderful kneeling British which I simply have to add. And of course Bobby the dog will not be forgotten!
A sergeant, Lt.-Col. James Galbraith and one of his buglers / drummers
In my review I described the quality of the sculpts rather detailed. Anyway let me repeat how pleased I was by these figures. They are really pure joy to paint and bear all the remarkable details for the uniform and gear during the NWF campaign in 1879 / 1880.
The same figures from another angle.
My only worry is that the box contains only two ensigns. Since during the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War the colours were still taken onto the battlefield it becomes a problem for small unit fans like me to find enough ensigns to give two of them to each unit. Luckily in the past the Perrys made command sprues from there plastic boxes available individually. I hope they'll take that step with this box as well.
A private and 2nd Lieutenants Arthur Honeywood (Rgt. Colours) and Walter R. Olivey (Queen's Colours)
Luckily I was able to lay my hands on one the 28mm incarnation of 2nd Lieutenant Walter Rice Olivey. He was one of the ensigns bearing the colours of the 66th during the battle of Maywand - namely the Queen's Colours - and died with the Colours in his hands. Let me quote Col. Mike Snooke's from 'Into the Jaws of Death' narrative of the situation:

By now 2nd Lieutenant Walter Olivey had also been hit and seriously wounded. 
He was observed with a handkerchief wrapped around a nasty head wound, 
but when somebody tried to relieve him of the Queen’s Colour so that he could go 
to the rear he refused point-blank to leave his post.
'Into the Jaws of Death' by Col. Mike Snooke

The author refers to a contemporary account given by Lieutenant Manus L. O'Donel which is available on the excellent homepage of the 'Maiwand Journal' a homepage or project dedicated to the name giving battle. Well-known experts and authors about this topic are presenting parts of their research there.
Some privates.
By the way Col. Snooke's book is a piece of literature that I cannot recommend enough. He covers a couple of British military blunders of the high Victorian Age from 1879 - 1900. His presentation of well researched facts and his casual narrative style are as informative as captivating.
More privates,
As described in the initial review the uniform colours are based on Vallejo Game Color 'Khaki'. For the puttees I used Vallejo Model Color 'Dark Prussian Blue' and 'Prussian Blue' since there is some evidence that the 66th wore them in this colour and I found it a nice touch to indentify them on the battlefield easily.
The complete unit on trays by Warbases.
Well then... That's it - for now - with my interpreration of the 66th in 1880. After all I'm more then satisfied with how they turned out. Many thanks to those fellows who granted their kind assistance during the tender beginnings of my NWF project: My friend Michael Awdry who dragged me into Victorian warfare with his temendous blog, Mark Hargreaves one of the experts for any chap wearing khaki, Michael Davis (whose blog's URL I humiliatingly lost) as well as Ethan 'Mad Guru' who both covered NWF and the battle of Maiwand in a most excellent way on their blogs and last but not least Michael Perry who was kind enough to give me some priceless advice and my friends Bernhard and Michael who lured me into a new project somehow...

However let me know what you think about those figures and don't hesitate to give me hints to improve the next unit. Momentarily this result is the peak of my humble skills but I'm always trying to improve something.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sharp Practise AWI - Our first introduction game...

As you know the musket era is one of the main hobby theme on my humble workbench. Starting from the Seven Years War the conflicts of British Redcoats during the 18th and 19th century have been keeping my interest since I started wargaming about three decades ago. My very first figures during those happy days at primary school were a couple of boxes of Italeri plastics for the battle of Waterloo and the idea of highly disciplined scarlet coated soldiers never fell off of me.

Unfortunately as you know I'm a lousily slow painter and there's no chance for me to gather larger armies for all those interesting theatres of war. Nevertheless those marvellous shiny figures from those well known companies are a constant seduction.

Thus I had been looking for a blackpowder skirmish system for a while when I stumpled over 'Sharp Practice 2' when I was published earlier this year. There was a very interesting review in Wargames Illustrated #XXX and the TooFatLardies aired a couple of interesting introduction videos on the Youtube channel.

So I gathered a few club fellows of mine and we decided to give the rules a go. A couple of weeks ago our first AWI battle took place in which we decided to use the most basic rules only to find an easy way into the unusual command mechanics of the game.

We took the rather simple first scenario of the rulebook: A kind of meating engagement. 

Really a simple game with two more or less equally rated forces to try out the basic rules. So we fielded two basic lists from the rulebook.

British Army on the one side, rebellous continentals on the other:

To make things easier I prepared a couple of unit cards. Basically they have a picture of the unit and its game stats. On the back of the card I printed the explainations of the special skills to make things easier for us newbies:

Prepared this way we finally gathered around one of our gaming tables in the club HQ and two players on either side clashed while I tried to act as an umpire as good as my limited knowledge of the rules allowed me to. Here are some impressions from the game:

More or less the initial deployment. British from the left, rebels from the right.
First exchange of fire.
The British trying to establish a line formation beyond the fence.
Part of Washington's army ready to meet their fate.
Some continentals trying to outflank the Brits.
But the Scots seem to smell the rat...
... and prepare to make an end to this daring move. Present !
Fire !
For sure we didn't manage to adopt all the rules correctly. That's a common problem with new rulesets in general and 'Sharp Practice' is no exception. Actually it's even more complicatied at the beginning because it has a wonderfully deep ruleset and enables player to have his troops do whatever he wants. It bears a lot of stuff to recreate cinematic events and great stories on the tabeltop but on the other hand of course that requires a lot of rules. Although most of them are kept quiet clear and simple it's a lot to remember when playning the game for the first couple of times. Especially when not all of the player have read the rules at all.

Nevertheless it's a really entertaining and challenging game in the true sense of the word. You need between 50 and 100 figures per side making it achievable for most of us. Even for a slowchoach like me.

Depite the rather low figure count and the low tactical level - you're commanding companies or battalions rather than brigades or divisions - the rules deliver a good feeling for warfare in the age of the musket.

The stats of the different units give a good impression of highly drilled Redcoats against rather amateurish continentals by their characteristics, traits and by their option to perform special commands.

Although the period the basic rules cover ends with the American Civil War I'm tempted to try Sharp Practice for my NWF project as well.

Actually all the weapons including breech loading rifle are already present but I'd have to check whether the development of British infantry drill makes some adjustments necessary. Anyway I'm looking forward to see Rich and the lardies at Crisis in Antwerp and as far as I know they're working on a colonial supplement. I dearly hope to get a chance to chat with the lads and maybe get an idea of the new book.

Until then we'll keep playing Sharp Practice with AWI, Napoleonics or ACW and we'll see how far it goes. There'll without any doubt some further games to report of...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Back again...

My honest apologies for such a long time of absence. Unfortunately during the last couple of weeks hobby time was rare and precious. Some 'real life distractions' caught my attention. Our elder one, Viktoria, had her first weeks at school and developed a new sporting passion:
Actually really good thing but they needed pretty much organizational work. Besides Anna started autumn season with a couple of days of flu and fever. Rather unpleasant...

Due to this I tried to keep things on the workbench running but didn't find or take the time to prepare things for the blog. Please excuse leaving you alone for these weeks. Most probably the lack of contributions is bearable but I'm sorry to have missed the excellent content you provided.

Anyway during the last days I wrote some lines about two games of Sharp Practice 2 and a SAGA match I had lately and finally my preparations for the 300K raffle are coming to a close. Besides I'm working on a Napoleonic vignette for a dear friend of mine, some NWF figures for The Men who would be Kings, stuff for our Aboukir game and a top secret 15mm distraction... So actually enough stuff to fill a lot of posts. I hope to be able to fulfill my and especially your expectations...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gunboat for Aboukir - Preparing our 2017 Tactica game...

Since our bloggosphere fellow Miles presented some lasercut kits from Laserdreamworks during the last painting challenge, I've been strolling around the 28mm ships Matthew Green and his team are offering. Lately my friend Bernhard and me were pondering about our Tactica 2017 game and I got roped into preparing some more boats too easily. Our game will address the British landing at Aboukir in 1801 and of course we'd like to have more than the two rowing boats we brought to Hamburg last year. However that brought me back to Laserdreamworks and made their kits even more seducing. Well... 'Landing at Aboukir' implies that we'll not likely present whole Neptun's ocean but a piece of the shallow Aboukir bay and a piece of its sandy coastline of course. So the larger ships dropped out and I went for one of those rather small gunboats.

The kit is based on an improved design by Commisioner Hamilton from 1806 or 1808 but it's well reported that the British employed larger ships than rowing boats at Aboukir before. Unfortunately I'm not au fait enough with naval history to explain the different types of tenders Royal Navy ships carried along during the Age of Sail but as far as I know from different pictures a launch of this gunboats size seems plausible.
The kit itself comes with a couple of laser cut plywood sheets, metal cast guns, wooden mastes and a small booklet with instructions. After all the pieces are cleanly and precisely cut. The wood looks very solid and durable and it's really easy to find the correct parts and to follow the assembly instructions. Nevertheless it becomes obvious rather quickly that this kit will produce a gaming pieces rather than a scale model. Don't get me wrong I'm absolutely fine with that since I didn't expect nothing more. The size of the models by Laserdreamworks which seems to be somewhere between 1/50 and 1/60 makes them stand out. They appear to by really big enough to represent accurate boats or ships and compared to those smallish 1/72 or even 1/100 ships we often see on 28mm tables they are in my humble opinion an excellent choice. Additionally they are rather robust which is likewise important for us gamers. Anyway the production process and the price don't allow to deliver serious model kits.

Firstly I discovered that at the ship's deck. I know I wanted to paint it by a simple drybrushing technique but was afraid that the planks might not by engraved deep enough for that so I took a steele ruler and a kind of graver tool to deepen the joints. Afterwards I assembled the hull wich is composed of six layers of wood.

After having the hull dry for about 24 hours I started to paint it. To begin with I gave it a thin undercoat of Armypainter spray paint. Remembering that wood tends to soak paint like crazy I thought that might get most pores closed. And luckily it worked. Then I employed my trusty collection of Vallejo Model Colors and painted the boat in a white / beige / black colour sheme.
To be honest I'm not sure whether or not the Royal Navy used this colour sheme at Aboukir but at least for a amatuer like me it looks credible. And it was used on boats of the 1808 type since I found an example of it in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The hull clearly bears the typical stepped structur of laser cut kits. I don't mind that since it's a feature determined by its design but undoubtlesly it doesn't look realistic at all.

The smaller rowing boat is one by Britannia Miniatures. It's able to take a crew of ten rowing sailors, five seated marines, four men gun crew and two men for the rear bench seat. In comparison the gun boat would be able to harbour no less than 22 oarsmen and several further members of the crew. However I'll most probably leave it at eight rowers and a couple of crewmen for the guns and other duties. We'll see...

That's it for now with the hull. Although the rowing benches need to be added I'll turn my attention to the superstructure of the boat. Actually it's only a small cabin with a door and a shutter. To give the model more detail I'll add some new planks to the walls and make new doors and shutters from thin balsa wood. Maybe I'll add small hinges from ship modelmaking if I find some suitable pieces. Not working of course but for a nice detailed look.
By the way I stumpled over some pictures of signal boats used at Aboukir to guide the boats coming towards the coast. They seem to be average rowing boats with coloured flags on short masts. If anyone of you is able to provide more detailed information or - most desirable - better pictures please let me know. I'd really appreciate to get a better idea of those boats to ponder whether I could extemporise one for our presentation game...