Sunday, 18 February 2018

Underway at last: Clearing the Harbour

It has been a busy weekend on the domestic front but I was able to get some quality hobby time in today. In line with many other noted members of the blogging fraternity I have been tidying up the man cave, organising ‘stuff’ for disposal and looking at my project list with renewed vim and vigour. To begin with I decided to get some WW2 ships from the Axis and Allies board game onto the paint tray. In truth that was as far as I got but every journey starts with a single step.

Axis and Allies British and German ships - the cutting mat gives a good idea of the size of each type with the destroyers being rather large!

At this stage the Royal Navy have four R class battleships, 3 Illustrious class carriers, 4 County class cruisers and 6 S class destroyers. They will be receiving half a dozen Tribal class destroyers, 4 Queen Elizabeth class battleships, HMS Hood and possibly 4 KGV class battleships. GHQ they are not but I am rather taken with the basic level of detail - they are gaming pieces after all and not scale models.

The Germans start off with 2 Bismarck class battleships, the carrier Graf Zeppelin, 3 Hipper class cruisers and 8 Type 34a class destroyers. The only thing I envisage adding to the fleet will be some Graf Spee class - the ‘pocket battleships’.

For both sides I will also be adding submarines and air elements in due course. I have plenty of merchantmen that can be used to furnish a convoy or two (no oil tankers though which is a shame) and can also be used as AMCs or commerce raiders. I could also see them be used as supply ships, in any event there are quite a few of them so I will not be struggling for choice!

In addition to the above I have also made some progress with the rules I am working on for the period. It is early days with these as yet but the signed are encouraging. The difficulty this far has been in keeping in simple as most naval wargames can become fiendishly complex if one is not careful.

The early steps will feature in a blog post shortly, once I have tidied my notes and more importantly, my thoughts.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Dickens, Fleming, Roddenberry and a mini Grand Tour

"To the last, I will grapple with thee... from Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!" Khan Noonien Singh, commander of the Botany Bay and first seen in the Star Trek (original series) episode Space Seed and of course the film, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

The other Botany Bay near Broadstairs in Kent - our destination to celebrate Laurel's birthday and our first wedding anniversary. We stood by the chalk cliffs you can see - luckily the tide was out....
A trip to Broadstairs can only mean one thing - Dickens and the original Bleak House. The weather was overcast, windy, cold and drizzle-laden so Bleak seemed an apt name....

The Isle of Thanet was of course the setting for Ian Fleming's James Bond novel of Moonraker as well as the early stages of Goldfinger . I chuckled inwardly as I remembered Fleming's description of the 'Bungaloid world' of Herne Bay, Whitstable and of course Reculver where Goldfinger had his smelting facility. We drove along that wonderful stretch of the A28 (again mentioned by Fleming) from Canterbury via Chilham up through Molash and Charing and on to Maidstone.
The 13th February was not only Laurel's birthday it was also our first wedding anniversary so we decided to have short break away. I made all the arrangements and so we spent the night at a small hotel overlooking Botany Bay. The hotel was fine and the food was outstanding. The only problem we experienced was the weather in that it was cold, windy and drizzling all day. The second day was much better and so we were able to take a short walk along the beach before departing.
I should mention that we took a rather circuitous route going on our outward journey - via Manston and the Spitfire Museum (sadly not this visit but earmarked for the future) and through Broadstairs - but the return home was through Margate, Birchington and then swinging south at Canterbury
 via Chilham, Molash, Charing and Maidstone.
Charity shop find (there was no shortage of these in Maidstone - we visited 5!). This is the hardback version of Tom Holland's acclaimed account of the last century of the Roman Republic. This is a favourite period of history for me as the Romans took on a wide variety of opponents as they drifted towards the Empire.


I was a little disappointed with Maidstone as it seemed quite ragged around the edges compared to when I lived there some years back. Perhaps I need to polish my rose-tinted spectacles a little! The book above is one I have been after for time as my paperback version has all but disintegrated. I must confess to enjoying the wars of the later republic rather than the more usual Imperial phase. I have a small section of the library devoted to this era and will certainly game something from it at some point.
The book was really a bonus on our whirlwind tour of Thanet and despite the weather we had a really good time. Laurel was happy and we have resolved to visit the area again at some point - preferably when the weather is around twenty degrees higher....
(I also want to go to the Spitfire Museum...)


Monday, 12 February 2018

WW2 Naval Rules - Portable Wargame Style

A curious set of rules for WW2 naval wargames. They have a number of rather nifty mechanics that can be readily used elsewhere....

I have settled on using the Portable Wargame for my WW2 gaming needs. The scale of action that I am planning means that a simpler set of rules will work better and besides, I am very familiar with them and can tweak them without breaking them! I shall be using a square grid rather than a hexed version - I already have a suitable playing area ready to use in this regard. It will also mean that I can use Sam Mustapha's Rommel readily enough.

The one thing I do not have though is a suitable set of naval rules (I can almost hear the groans of 'Oh no, not again!') for the war afloat. Actually, let me rephrase that, I have many sets of rules I could use but none of them tick the box as far as being Portable Wargame-like. This is an important consideration for me as ultimately I want a seamless set of rules that cover land, sea and air operations with a common origin. Bob Cordery has developed both ironclad and pre dreadnought Portable Wargame rules so there is a precedent for what I want to do.

I have a number of ideas as to how I can realise this set of rules and needless to say, there are several sets that will contribute ideas into the pot. These will be simple but not simplistic and significant differences between types will have a part to play. Ideally I want to do away with damage record cards and will instead use a system of shell splash/hit markers for combat results. The rules will also be gridded - to keep in with the PW 'flavour'.

Ships will be defined by type and rated as being superior or inferior to the norm based on their historical data. This will allow for a degree of personalisation to the ships within a players fleets - as a long standing naval wargamer this is an important consideration....I intend rating ships in three categories - protection, firepower and speed - and these will essentially drive the game mechanics.

There are a couple of sets of naval rules that have been at the forefront of my thoughts around this project - one of which is pictured above. I rather like the damage system from this set as it will fit in well with what I am trying to achieve. At this stage I will not go into details but suffice it to say there is certainly value in how the rules work this key element of naval wargaming.

The second set of rules that I am harvesting for ideas is Axis and Allies: War at sea, the collectible miniatures game. The rules for this are very straightforward and crucially there is an awful lot of additional material available from around the web that adds to them.

The main thing though is that the final set stay true to the Portable Wargame philosophy and I shall be delighted if I can achieve this.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Axis and Allies: The Cruisers and a Surprise

As part of my ongoing recovery from the current dose of the screaming awfuls (and many thanks for all the good wishes) I spent some time today sorting out the next batch of models from my 1942 edition of Axis and Allies. The big ‘addition’ in this version is of course the provision of cruisers for each of the major powers. The models are of heavy cruisers - the 8” (or 7.1” if you are Soviet) armed vessels. It would have been nice to have some light cruisers but one cannot have everything I suppose.

From left to right you the Japanese Takao (4), the US Portland (2), the German Hipper (3), the RN County class (13) and the Russian Kirov (6). Note the rather unexpected Russian battleship in the background - something for the Stukas to aim at!

The Russian battleship was unexpected but a welcome addition to the Soviet navy. The Royal Navy also gained an S class destroyer so the Fletchers can go back to their rightful owners.

These models are very basic but with a quick paint job will look presentable enough for my needs. It also means that I can plan some more actions as the variety of models available will give me more choice. Oddly enough one avenue I am thinking about is the Indian Ocean and the great Japanese sweep. In order to make this work though I will need to get the 1941 version of the game as this will deliver some Kongo class ships for the IJNS, not to mention an Akagi class carrier.

There will be ships left over and so the possibility of some conversions is something else to think about. One thing I am not short of though, are merchantmen and submarines - and therein lies a whole new range of possibilities.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

WW2 at Sea in the Pacific....Part 1

One has to look at this and think how on earth did it all go so horribly wrong for the Japanese? 

As part of my WW2 project naturally I have needed to revisit the Pacific theatre. When one thinks of the Pacific during WW2 the first thing that comes to mind is the naval dimension. This is interesting in its own right and I have over the years fought many actions using the board game Flat Top that cover the 1942 carrier actions (excluding Midway). I have not fought anything using models though although I did at one point have forces for both sides using the Axis and Allies 1/1800th models.

I am now in the position though to rectify this after a fashion as the pieces contained in the Axis and Allies board game obviously in crude a small range of ships for the Pacific. Unfortunately at this stage I only have what can best be described as the 'top of the shop' types which for the Japanese is of course the Yamato whilst the US have the Iowa. The destroyers in each case are the Fubuki and Fletcher classes.

As far as I have been able to determine the Iowa was heading in pretty much the opposite direction on the only occasion she could have traded shots with the Yamato (and to any Pacific naval buffs reading this please feel free to correct me) but, with a little artistic licence I can cheerfully work around that minor historical detail. For a fuller account of what actually happened read the following: Battle off Samar. Of course this was just one of the much larger Battle of Leyte Gulf.

I have assumed that the Iowa has been assigned to support 'Taffy 3' and so will be going into action in support of the destroyers trying desperately to keep the Japanese away from the vulnerable escort carriers.

I shall be allowing the US the Iowa and three Fletcher class destroyers whilst the the Japanese will get the Yamato and a pair of Fubuki class destroyers. To allow for the effect of the hugely aggressive and desperate defence of the US in this situation I shall limit the number of game turns to be fought so if the Japanese want to punch through to to the carriers they will have get a move on.

For the rules I am thinking about using GQ1 and 2 although I have a couple of other sets to think about.

Now for the depressing part.

The models are not yet painted so I suspect that the AAR will be text only - this will be a challenge but I hope will serve to give my purple prose muscles a good work out....

Thursday, 1 February 2018

"Woe, woe and thrice woe!...."

A great TV series but one would suspect the PC brigade may well be saying something along the lines of "Ooooer Missus...."

The Prologue

"....And it came to pass...." The usual opening dialogue from the late and great Frankie Howerd at the start of the TV show Up Pompeii.

So why start with an opening like that?

Those of you that know me well know that I am slave to chesty, throaty coughs and general nastiness, particularly at this time of year (along with the rest of the country but please indulge me). Well this year I had thought that I had managed to swerve it although the rest of the family were afflicted at one point or another over the festive period. Well, I have a relatively minor bout at present and it is largely confining itself to an irritating ticklish cough that seems reluctant to shift (but it is not getting any worse which is small comfort).

Fast forward to yesterday and I was on my way to the office - in fact I had virtually arrived - when disaster struck. It had been drizzling so the very smooth paving stones had a top coat of water. I was quite pleased to have arrived to get into the warm and dry but the fates had decreed otherwise. Essentially my right foot failed to gain any purchase on the said paving stone with the result that my ankle rolled in an unnatural direction one way whilst the rest of my bulk went the other. I hit the ground with all the grace and poise of a sack of potatoes.

My right ankle is badly swollen (although this has abated somewhat after the various gels and industrial strength painkillers) and my left wrist - the one that tried unsuccessfully to break my fall with - has taken on some interesting and psychedic hues. The best bit though, was the small matter of the crack in one of my ribs on my left hand side as I straddled the kerb. So, two bad bruisings and a crack were the net result and yes, my choice of vocabulary at the time would have shamed a Levantine Stevedore agitator (you can have ten points if you tell me what book that expression came from).

To be honest they are all painful but not life threatening and I should be back to passes for normality in a couple of days or so. I even went into the office for the day straight after although I am at home now.

Of the three injuries I sustained the rib is the most wearing one - especially with an irritating cough. It does present a few challenges when you are sleeping as well....

In the meantime though....

My short break (no pun intended)  has given me the opportunity to give some thought to my 'grand design' and how this will take shape. A throwaway comment from one of my blog followers, david in suffolk  has set a train thought in motion - the results of which will appear in a later post.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Bathtub WW2 or Global Domination by any other name....

An earlier version of Command Decision and the Barbarossa 25 campaign supplement.

As part of the 'Airfix generation' I have always been interested in WW2. I have fought many games of the years with land, sea and air featuring; from skirmishes up to full blown campaigns. The period is rich in gaming potential and lets be honest, there is a ton of material available to support the wargaming enthusiast from figures, models and books, not to mention a myriad of rule sets.

So why try something different?

What I want to do is not so much revolutionary as more evolutionary in concept. I want to fight a wide variety of table top wargames encompassing land, sea and air elements against the backdrop of WW2. This will mean games set in desert, the steppes of Russia, western Europe, the far East and the Pacific - on the ground, in the skies and at sea. I want to do this in a meaningful way so that the action relates to the map and how the war unfolds. In short the strategic situation will drive the tactical game - which is the essence of a campaign in any event.

I am merely looking at the bigger picture.

The forces I intend raising and using will be fairly modest as the main rules of choice will probably be the Portable Wargame as I believe these capture the spirit of what I am undertaking.

Many years ago Frank Chadwick of GDW published a supplement to his Command Decision WW2 rules called Barbarossa 25. The idea behind this was that the armies and geography for the campaign in question were divided by 25 (as I recall, again, I stand to be corrected) so that realistic forces could be raised to refight the entire war on the Eastern Front. I believe he also did something similar for the Battle of the Bulge but I stand to be corrected should any readers have a copy of this. His follow up WW1 version of Command Decision called Over the Top also featured a similar approach to the opening moves on the Western front in 1914 called ‘Home before the leaves fall’. 

A wargames campaign is always a compromise in terms of scale as the size of a collection usually determines the forces available. I always work on the basis that a campaign is a scaled down wargame which is in itself a scaled downed from reality. This ‘telescoping’ is fine and is probably the only way to field representational forces in a meaningful way. 

Using Axis and Allies as the basis for a campaign raises a number of challenges. The Infantry figures generally represent whole armies which of course are made up of various troop and equipment types. The area of TOEs for formations in WW2 is a veritable minefield as ‘paper’ and ‘actual’ strengths were usually very different, especially when a force had suffered a number of defeats or was short of supplies. This means that mapping across a map unit into a table top force is fraught with difficulty. I am thinking about using a force that is made up of a core of units with some options to add a little variety.
The naval and aerial dimension are something else to consider and as yet I have no thoughts about how I will tackle this. The games resulting from the map movement will be tactical but it is the challenge of mapping these forces back to the strategic picture that is where the fun starts.
In terms of the additional models I will need above and beyond the contents of the game the list is actually pretty modest. Trucks and halftracks are the main requirement for the land forces and a few extra aircraft types will be thrown into the mix. the naval side probably needs the most amount of material and, if I am honest, it is only because my old fleet building habits have not been totally erased....