Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Greek G's and the H Class Destroyer

I mentioned in my previous post that I would be using the Axis and Allies: War at Sea model of the V.Olga - the Greek G class destroyer as the G class contingent for the Royal Navy. Whilst looking into this class of British destroyers I then discovered that the H class was a direct follow on and so the model could easily be used for that class as well. There was a sub group of Hs that were built for Brazil (and looked slightly different) but the main bulk of the class can be happily replicated by using the Greek G class model - along the same lines as the J/K/N class model already present in the range. This is good news for the Royal Navy gamer as it adds a further selection of pre war destroyers to the range available. For my own purposes I will need to add a further 6 of the models to be used as the H class.

The Greek model is painted in a dazzle scheme so I suspect I will repaint them to an overall light grey - as I did with the Canadian Tribal class destroyers (before the plan grey HMS Cossack was released!).

Monday, 28 June 2010

Axis & Allies: War at Sea - Condition Zebra Update

After the recent ‘horse trading’ surrounding the latest expansion set for Axis & Allies: War at Sea – Condition Zebra had been completed I was finally able to get my list together for the purchases I shall be making in order to finish off the collection thus far.

The list looks something like this:

3 x Z32 (Narvik Class Destroyers)
7 x Greek V.Olga (this is the same as the British G class Destroyer so I shall use 1 for the Greeks and 6 for the RN)
8 x Ascari (Soldati class Destroyers)
2 x Royal Oak (R class battleships)
2 x Caio Duilio (Battleships)
1 x Italian Seaplane/patrol bomber – Z506.B
1 x Trento (Heavy Cruiser)

There is now little point in me buying further booster packs so the singles route will be the way forward. Once this lot is in place all the fleets will look more ‘historical’ in make up and I am particularly pleased that the Mediterranean theatre has had some major reinforcements – not just in terms of capital ships but also some more of the essential smaller vessels.

It also means that my modelling activities for the next few weeks will focused on basing, basing, labels, flags and basing!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Paddy Griffith R.I.P.

It was with much regret that I heard of the passing of Paddy Griffith - the renowned military historian and wargamer. I never met him; nor did I engage in any correspondence with him but I suddenly realised with his passing just how much he had contributed to my own somewhat 'left field' take on military history. I own three of his titles and they have been constant sources of inspiration and have provoked much thought about the subjects in question - the ACW, Revolutionary France and Vikings.

I remember reading Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun and not fully appreciating it at the time but have now realised just what a revolutionary approach to the subject it was with its diverse range of gaming experiences - in many ways years ahead of its time.

Challenging the mainstream and encouraging the thought process are for me personally his two major legacies but I am sure others can add many more to that.

My thoughts are with his family at this time and to PG himself - many thanks and rest in peace.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Write Stuff........................

It is no secret that I enjoy writing and that through the medium of this blog I have been able to indulge myself. I have also penned a couple of articles published in the SFSFW journal – Ragnarok and have also contributed to both a rules set and a scenario pack – Land Ironclads and Aeronef over the Aegean; both of which are available from Wessex Games. I have also posted a number of pieces on my old mate Tas’s outstanding blog: Yours in a White Wine Sauce under the heading of Arabian Campaign. Away from wargaming I have also been engaged in writing a novel which is probably around the two thirds complete stage. This has been ongoing for a couple of years now and will be finished at some point although it is a very personal work and I am under no pressure to complete it to a timetable.

A number of years ago I revealed an intention to write a VSF based novel, in part inspired by Aeronef, Space 1889 etc and my own liking for the works of Messrs. Verne, Wells and Conan Doyle. I have a number of ideas and several pads of notes for this project and have decided upon the form the story should take. Several clues have been dropped about some of the content over the last couple of years – mainly due to my ongoing interest in the life and exploits of Lawrence of Arabia – and I am now in the position of being able to start work in earnest, and therein lies the problem. I am not a full time author and so life, work and family has to be the priority before I am able to indulge in this particular flight of fancy.

My attention span can be short lived and I tend to work better with either deadlines or encouragement providing the spur. One of the biggest benefits I have thus far accrued from writing this blog is the support and encouragement from kindred spirits and this has been a massive help in my completing a number of projects over the last year.

With all this in mind I have taken the decision to set up another blog which will in fact be my VSF ‘novel’ with the posts being the chapters. I have opted to do this as I believe I will have more chance of completing the project with a degree of audience participation rather than as a solo endeavour. The blog will be moderated – if only so that I can respond to comments as and when they appear. The posts will follow a logical order and will be presented as they are ready to go to press. This will be on an irregular regular basis (i.e. they will arrive but I cannot say they will every week!).

I have the story bedded down and know how it will go from the start to the end. I have the characters designed and the all important hardware has also been addressed. The one thing I have not tackled is to turn any of this into a gaming scenario so stats for various rule systems will be missing.

I am planning on making the first entry over the weekend and so would appreciate any comments and observations etc in the usual fashion.

The blog will go under the title of: The Sword in the Sand.

No clues there then………………….;-)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Airships - The Aerial Leviathans

One of the books I have in my collection is a large format illustrated history of the German airship – the Hindenburg. I picked this up as a boot sale a couple of years ago for the princely sum of 20p and it is an absolute goldmine of information for the budding airship commander. The book is chock full of photographs and technical stuff about this massive airship and also features a very good history of the vessel type in general – from the first Zeppelin up to some of the modern airships in use today. There are lots of wonderful pictures of many of the early powered airships – even tracing their history back to the Montgolfier brothers hot air balloons. Within the world of Aeronef I have always preferred the use of dirigibles and so this book is a welcome reference to the nuts and bolts of how these flying leviathans ‘did their stuff’. Some of the earlier vessels depicted have a wonderful ‘Heath Robinson-ish’ quality and are crying out to be modelled and gamed with. I am thinking particularly of Henri Giffards airship of 1852 – this is a wonderful looking device and it would not take too much of an imaginative leap to expand it into a war machine of some kind.

The book also contains a number of photos of airships from other nations and so there is much inspiration contained in here for the modeller.

Revel produce a lovely plastic clip together ‘mini kit’ of the Hindenburg that comes up at about 3” long and so is ideal for use with Aeronef – indeed, I have used the model as the basis for a number of vessels in my first Ottoman Turkish and Greek air fleets (currently in the collection of Steve Blease). Currently this model is available for around the £1.99 level which is disappointing as only two years ago you could pick them up for 99p! The hull is split in two halves along the latitude of the model with the north and south tail fins separate from the hull and the east and west cast on the top half. The four engine pods are also separate; as are the nose and tail cones. Being a plastic kit it can easily be chopped about and even if you did not want to bother with this it is easy to bore a hole into the underside to mount it on a flying base and give it a paint job for use as a merchant ship.

In the past I have cut a section out of the upper half of the hull and then decked the resultant gap over. On to this newly decked area funnels, gun turrets, masts and even aircraft launching rails can all be added – very easily and very cheaply. I picked up one of these kits at a boot sale on Saturday just gone for 50p and it has certainly got the creative juices flowing again – especially as I had in mind some dirigible based scratch builds for the aforementioned Ottoman Turks.

Of course, this does not address the subject of lateen-rigged Barbary Corsair aerial Xebecs and how best I can make them……………………………..;-)

Barbary Corsairs in Aeronef - A Clarification

Further to my previous post concerning wind powered Barbary Corsairs (now there is an image to conjure with!) I should perhaps clarify my position in respect of how I see VSF. My rules of choice for VSF aerial games are, of course, Aeronef. These rules provide a degree of alternative history ‘background’ within which the gamer is able to set their action. The descriptions contained therein also provide details of how Aeronef and Aerostat are powered and what materials are used for providing the all important ‘lift’. This is perfectly acceptable within the game system and adds the all important ‘flavour’ to the game.

For the wooden hulled vessels of the Barbary Corsairs I suggested that perhaps ‘Martian Liftwood’ (as described in the universe of Frank Chadwick’s outstanding Space 1889 VSF arena) would be a ‘the obvious choice’ for a lifting agent. This has caused a little stir in that this idea is strictly speaking the invention of the said 20th century rules writer (and all round rules genius!) rather than being a VSF period concept. At the time of writing I had not thought this idea through logically as, if memory serves me correctly, within the ‘Space 1889’ universe Liftwood only grows very sparingly on Mars and so finding it for use as a source of lift on Earth would be nigh on impossible and so the Barbary Corsairs would need to use other means to get their vessels off the ground. If using a purely Aeronef driven background then naturally I would not import ideas from another rule set without due consideration.

However, I mentioned Liftwood as within in my own VSF world I happily borrow and tweak ideas and rules from the appropriate genre wherever they may come from in order to drop them into the background where I am able. This is a personal thing as I am a self confessed inveterate rule/background tweaker! I am not in any way challenging anybodies copyright, intellectual property or ideas – I am just a gamer with a fertile imagination that is extremely grateful for all those rule writing denizens and authors that have given me a wonderful universe to play with!

Barbary Corsairs in Aeronef

My recent reading about the Barbary Corsairs has reacquainted me with an idea I was toying with some time ago along the lines of having them as an auxiliary force for use with the Ottoman Turks - a position they occupied historically during the 16th century. They were raiders par excellence and often came together in sizable numbers for larger expeditions. My only reservation about using these is that I am unconvinced about them having access to much in the way of industrial capacity - even basic steam power.
With this in mind I am considering the use of wind power for propulsion. The vessels would be traditional wooden hulled types with much use made of some form of anti-gravity coating (Martian 'liftwood' would be the obvious choice although I am assuming that something 'earthly' would be used instead) to provide the flight aspect and traditional sails for movement.
I envisage that these vessels would be quite fast in the right wind conditions, relatively lightly armed and probably quite light in respect of build. As sailing ships were still in use during the early days of steam this seems to be a viable idea.

These vessels would be great at running down dirigibles but would struggle against pure Aeronef when on equal terms and so are ideal for use as raiders.
The models would need to be scratchbuilt although I seem to recall that the Barbary Corsairs featured in the Wizkids collectible pirate card game some years ago so I shall investigate this avenue further and see what I can find.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Father's Day, War at Sea and Barbary Corsairs

It has been a weekend of domesticity and the celebration of father’s day – both for my son and I and so Sunday was spent with his family at our place for dinner. A very nice Indian takeaway and a couple of unexpected presents later I introduced my grandson to my new man cave and he was very impressed with the Axis and Allies: War at Sea models – especially the R class battleship I have. He is obviously destined for a wargaming career and I am looking forward to our tussles over the table top. Of course, given that he is not yet 3 months old I may have to wait awhile!

On the subject of matters Axis and Allies: War at Sea related, I did spend a little time over the weekend considering the projected tweak to the rules and how best to tackle this. I mentioned in my previous post about expanding the damage rules to incorporate the US Navy D1 to D4 system – incidentally this system is used in the rules Battle Stations! Battle Stations! produced by Decision Games. In terms of record keeping I intend to uses black and white markers or shell splashes to indicate damage. The white shell splashes will indicate ordinary hits and the black will be used to record the ‘D’ level threshold.

This will mean that a heavily engaged ship will potentially be surrounded by a forest of black and white markers. Obviously when the white hits equal the number of hull points then these are removed and a black marker is substituted. As each black threshold marker is reached then the ship will have its capabilities reduced further. I am considering ordering some shell splash markers from LITKO in the USA: http://www.litkoaero.com/ – they have a really good selection of plastic markers for a whole host of board games and rule sets.

Readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed my fondness for matters Ottoman, Islamic and Barbary related. There are a number of very good titles around covering the exploits (if that is the right word – depredations may be more accurate!!) of the Barbary Corsairs and I am currently reading ‘Barbary Pirate’ by Greg Bak which is the story of an Englishman, John Ward: a veteran of the war against Spain (ended by James 1st) who became an Ottoman subject – even embracing Islam – in order to continue his ‘privateering’ activities. As the war with Spain had ended many of the privateering licenses were duly revoked and so those men that had made a living indulging in the same (purely for profit) were suddenly cut off from their main (often only) source of income. John Ward was pragmatic, to say the least, and so when chance or design led him to North Africa he was able to ‘sign on’ with the local potentate thereby giving him the status of privateer rather than pirate.

I have yet to finish the book but it is a cracking read and I note that there is another title covering the 17th century Barbary Corsairs that is most certainly on my ‘to get’ list.

Another project? Maybe, but not any time soon methinks!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Tinker, Sailor, Oh but why..................

After much soul searching and careful deliberation I have decided that I shall attempt to translate the playing rules from Axis and Allies: War at Sea into something a little more traditionally rules based in its approach. I am most emphatically not rewriting these rules; rather I am attempting to make them into something a little more recognisable as a naval set. I think that the additions to the core set will be actually be very low key but will make an enormous difference to the all important ‘feel’ of the rules. At this planning stage I intend to tackle the following:

Ship facing and the effect of this on combat
Combat modifiers
Strategic movement – especially in respect of aircraft
Surface and Air search
‘Hidden’ movement.

These are the probably the easiest areas to tackle and certainly the first two points have been looked at by a number of gamers with varying degrees of success. The most significant challenges though are in respect of:

Special effects

I am not looking to replace the damage system but I would like to expand on it a little – primarily because I feel it is too easy to sink ships. Primarily I would like to introduce the D1, 2, 3 or 4 system, as used by the US Navy. Each level of damage correlates to a reduction in capability of the vessel in question and I will make use of the existing hull points used to measure damage. Basically, if a ship has three hull points then when it has lost all three it starts off at D1. The next three hits will take it to D2 and so on. As most destroyers currently have 1 or 2 hull hits you can see that this will serve to give them a hopefully a longer life. In effect it means that ships can sustain four times the number of existing hull hits. The existing effect of instant destruction when scoring successes equal to a target’s vital armour would be replaced with perhaps a critical damage roll of some kind. I think that this extended damage regime will serve to ensure that players are mindful of damage and its effects – especially in a campaign setting. At the moment, ships fight at full effect until crippled which is hardly realistic although I dare say hardcore naval enthusiasts will let me know of the umpteen occasions when this did happen!

Obviously this is an approach I need to experiment with and so this will provide much food for thought over the next few weeks.

The whole issue of model specific special effects is valid as a game mechanic but does skew the results somewhat. My own feeling is that it would be best to cherry pick the most ‘sensible’ special effects and apply them to the models by type e.g. the ‘sub hunter’ special effect should be for all destroyer types, not just the selected few. This will need a little research but should not be too onerous.

I hope………………………………………;-)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Naval Campaigns and the associated problems

One of the tasks I have set myself to undertake is to prepare some generic plot maps for use with my various fleets. You may recall that some time ago I acquired a copy of the Great War at Sea board game covering the Mediterranean and Black Sea for WW1 from Gibraltar to the Suez and I fully intend using this as the basis for any plot maps I devise. Similarly, I will at some point acquire the WW2 version for the Mediterranean called Bomb Alley and use that for my WW2 activities.

The maps for both of these games use an offset square grid which is handy for Axis and Allies: War at Sea as the tactical game also uses a similar grid. I already have a generic War at Sea plot map set up on the PC for use in setting up initial deployments etc and this is the same size as the tactical playing area used at the club i.e. my legendary blue cloth. The advantages of using a grid for various aspects of naval gaming activity (minefields and submarines being the more obvious ones) are well known as is my enjoyment of such systems. My original idea was to use the tactical plot map as one complete strategic map square; in effect ‘telescoping’ the two map scales. For club night mini campaigns I would adopt a grid of 3 x 3 tabletop plot maps and ship movement could be plotted directly onto this and the action subsequently transferred to the table when ships are close enough to engage. Ideally this will involve an umpire – a duty of which I have no problem with. The only issue with this is the question of aircraft. In a normal tactical battle they are assumed to be able to cover a complete playing area at no movement – in fact you merely deploy them against the targets they are attacking. This is fine given that the relative speeds of ships and aircraft are very different. I need to consider aircraft map moves and the whole issue of aerial reconnaissance as this will be of significant importance. It will also mean that cruisers will have a proper search function and this in turn brings into the equation the effect of communications.

At the time of writing Axis and Allies: War at Sea does not cover any of these areas within its rules so the WW2 naval enthusiast is forced to make use of so called ‘house rules’ to address the shortfall. I am reluctant to get involved with this as I have tried it in the past and you end up ‘grabbing the tiger by its tail’ so to speak. I am tempted to continue to use the air rules as they are in respect of movement but to introduce some visibility rules to allow for the ‘fog of war’. These will not be new – I envisage they will merely utilise the existing weather/squall rules only on a much larger scale.

This will be fine for this scale of ‘mini campaign’ type of operation but for a full campaign something far more radical will be called for – especially in dealing with aircraft ranges, speed and endurance.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Beware of Greeks bearing 9.2" guns........

Contrary to my earlier post in which I announced that I would not be buying any further booster packs for Axis and Allies: War at Sea – Condition Zebra; I succumbed to the lure of the new toy syndrome and purchased a further 3 boxes. As ever, the selection was pretty eclectic and only 4 models from the 15 were of immediate use with the others heading to various club members and ebay. The four models I am keeping are a Narvik class destroyer, an Italian submarine, a Greek ‘G’ class destroyer and the biggest prize of all: The Greek Armoured Cruiser: Georgios Averoff. I was so pleased to get this venerable ship (still preserved) and she will form the flagship of my Greek fleet in exile. Historically the Greek navy suffered very badly during the German invasion in 1941 losing some 25 ships. The Averoff, some destroyers and submarines managed to get to Alexandria to continue the war from there. The cruiser was used as a convoy escort in the Indian Ocean for much of the war although the destroyers and submarines served with the RN in the Mediterranean. The model is really nice although the paint job leaves a lot to be desired which is not unusual for these ships.

Four models for £36 can by no means be described as a bargain but the onward sale or swap of the surplus kit will redress the expenditure to a degree. As long as I keep telling myself this then inevitably I may even begin to believe it………………..;-)

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Impact of Little Wars

Readers of this blog will have no doubt seen mention on various occasions of my fondness for car boot sales. Furthermore, astute observers will have noted that little mention has been made of these for a number of weeks. This does not mean I have been idle in this respect; rather I have not acquired much of interest outside of the wargaming universe. A couple of gems were picked up though – a copy of Risk: Star Wars – The Clone Wars to begin with. This was in unplayed condition and is now listed on ebay – it looks OK but is of limited potential for me. There was also another game I acquired for the princely sum of £1 and subsequently featured in a most entertaining game at the club on last Wednesday evening.

This game is called Impact and is published Drummond Park Games or something similar (I am not sure if this is still available) and it features two forces – one human and one of armed dinosaurs – battling it out over a desert type terrain game board complete with some very nice assorted size rocky outcrops for the 3d aspect. Included in the game there are eight 28mm figures per side, moulded in a rubber/plastic material and painted (rather garishly, it must be said!). Each side also has three artillery pieces (2 mobile and 1 static) and these fire small plastic projectiles.

My visit to the club on Wednesday was originally to take part a pre-dreadnought naval game with Mr.Fox and others but due to a combination of War at Sea ship trading and general banter this idea was rapidly shelved – especially when I produced my copy of the game Impact. All thoughts of anything approaching a sensible game went by the board as we decided to have a little fun with this game – despite the fact I had left he rules at home!

The game board comprises 6 squares and is geomorphic with a number of indented circles in which the figures are placed. Each of these circles is connected by a pathway to any one of a number of other circles so movement has to be considered carefully in the light of the ‘lie of the land’. The plastic rocky outcrops (moulded in hard plastic) are in three sizes and fit onto the playing surface by use of some locating lugs that slot into the pre-punched holes in the boards. These outcrops also have, depending on the size, 1, 2 or 3 ‘steps’ upon which the figures can stand. These steps are slightly larger than a 1p piece so anyone with a 15mm set up with figures based individually could use these with ease. I would probably paint them and remove the locating lugs and they would be perfectly usable.

I set the game up with the boards positioned on a 3 x 2 basis and each side deployed at either end. From the start everyone positioned their artillery on the high ground with the dinosaurs choosing to have 2 guns deployed adjacent to one another and the remaining piece further away whilst the humans opted to have theirs spread across the front of their force.
I was able to remember sufficient of the rules to play the game – each side had ten command points which could be used to move their figures (I figure moving 10 or 2 moving 5 – or any combination in between), figures ‘captured’ enemy figures by surrounding them; or rather by covering any potential move points and any firing was from the artillery pieces only.

The game commenced with both sides cautiously advancing and making maximum use of the rocky outcrops. The firing was tremendous fun. Aiming these spring-loaded artillery pieces became a skill all of its own and the initial volleys were woefully inaccurate. The figures continued their advance but perhaps mindful of the possible impact of a well placed plastic projectile appeared to become a little more cautious and certainly took a much closer interest in the local topography! First blood went to the dinosaurs as a well placed shot managed to knock out (or, more accurately, over) one of the human artillery pieces. The furious barrage continued the next turn with the humans losing a man and a piece of terrain as a wayward shot from yours truly blasted a small rocky outcrop into dust. Both sides were limbering up for a large scale melee in the centre when, in quick succession, the humans lost another gun and a trooper and the dinosaurs suffered their first casualty. I should point out that previously a dinosaur trooper had taken a direct hit but this had miraculously bounced off the reptiles armour plated hide.

At this point and with their artillery reduced to a single gun the humans decided that discretion would be the better part of valour and conceded the game.

It was enormous fun to play and I was struck almost immediately by the fact that aside from the sci-fi setting of this game it could have almost have stepped out of H.G.Wells ‘Little Wars’. To my eternal shame I have never read this book and as a result of this quite unexpected introduction into the world of firing model guns this is a deficiency I intend to rectify as soon as I am able. The thing that struck me above all else is how using proper tactics on the tabletop and making the best use of the terrain etc becomes hugely important when faced with real projectiles being fired at you. The morale effect also comes into play as when having suffered casualties one’s aim can quite easily be put off under the pressure. Whilst I am certainly not considering embarking on a Wellsian style fantasy it has certainly made me realise that perhaps he was on the right lines with his games, certainly in respect of sheer entertainment value rather than our more usual cerebral approach to rules.

Of course, 54mm soft plastic figures and firing cannon are not impossible to come by (just look at what Armies in Plastic have available for a start) and I seem to recall seeing such a game at one of the shows in London many years ago so people obviously still play in this fashion.

Tremendous fun and a great time was had by all and at the end of the day, that is what it should be all about!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Axis and Allies: War at Sea - Condition Zebra

I finally managed to acquire my 6 and only booster sets for the above expansion - any further needs will now be met via the ebay route or from other enthusiasts - and the results were a little disappointing. For my own collection I managed to source an R class battleship - Royal Sovereign in her Russian guise (that is of little difference as she will be serving in the RN fleet), the Italian cruiser Trento, the German cruiser Nurnburg, a Narvik class destroyer, a pair of Italian submarines, a Greek submarine, a Sunderland flying boat, two Witt de Withe Dutch destroyers, a German Fi 167 torpedo bomber and the Finnish coast defence battleship Vainamoinen.

There was a lot of Pacific stuff now happily residing in the collection of Mr.Fox who was very pleased to see both the Lexington and the Junyo; together with a brace of Corsairs and assorted other Pacific miscellany. HMS Victorious and the pair of Tribal class destroyers went to Pat and so her collection continues to grow as well. Mr Kightly also acquired a pair of Dewoitine D520 fighters for his French fleet.

The disposal of all the excess 'kit' has thus trimmed the overall expenditure to less than half the shop price and thus compares very favourably to having dealt on an individual basis for the models. Both Mr.Fox and Pat are acquiring some booster packs of their own and so I expect further wheeling and dealing in due course.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Axis and Allies: War at Sea - Flights of (French) Fancy

In the frenzy of activity leading up to the recent Battle of Cape Odamonte using Axis and Allies: War at Sea, I had completely forgotten to mention the fact that I had recently acquired a copy of the new two player starter set. This version differs from the original release as it has two preset forces in the box rather than the usual random selection. Sadly the two sides, as you may expect from an American game, are firmly set in the Pacific, although the colonies are represented in the allied force by the destroyer HMAS Nizam – one of the J/K and N class of this type of vessel. Needless to say, I have no use for these models and as there were no takers at the club they are currently listed on ebay – as are the set from our French Admiral in waiting, Monsieur Kightly. I say in waiting because he is currently building up a French squadron (or rather I am on his behalf!) and a substantial chunk of the material for this is currently en route from the US! As an aside, I often acquire my War at Sea singles from the US as they tend to be cheaper than from dealers the UK – even allowing for the shipping. This is understandable given that this is an American game after all. As mentioned previously, the French navy gains some very nice models in the current expansion set - Condition Zebra, cheif of ahich is the aircraft carrier Bearn.

The rulebook contained therein is a vast improvement on the original as it is clearer in its layout and also includes the various rule amendments that have been introduced since the game was first released. It is certainly an advantage having everything in one place rather than relying on printed downloads, photocopies and similar to keep up to date. There exists a Yahoo! group devoted to War at Sea which is quite useful although certainly not as much as one would like. These groups tend to be variable in quality; no doubt depending on the enthusiasm of the contributors as much as anything else.

From a personal perspective (and seemingly contrary to my earlier post!), I enjoy the core rule mechanisms of this game and have often wondered how an ‘advanced’ version would fare. There have been a number of attempts to add additional complexity to the rules which have met with varying success. For my own part the only things I should prefer to see incorporated would really be limited to the following:

Ship facing – firing arcs defined by this
Manoeuvre considerations
Gunfire tactical factors
More reflective damage effects
Better treatment of small ships
Greater detail in the treatment of air operations
A campaign system

I realise that looks like a fairly large list but to be honest it is my opinion that all of these points could be very sympathetically addressed within the spirit of the rules as they are. The mention of Yahoo! reminds me of the very good ‘BattleCry2000’ group which contained some very good and carefully considered advanced rules and variants for the Avalon Hill/Hasbro game Battle Cry – the ACW game devised by Richard Borg as part of his Command and Colours card driven rule system. If War at Sea could attract a similarly committed band of enthusiasts then the self penned wish list above may yet see fruition. It merely needs someone to attempt the undertaking……………………..;-)

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Battle of Cape Odamonte - A Postscript

The official report into the action off Cape Odamonte ran into several volumes and whilst complete in many respects – certainly to the satisfaction of the admiralty – it could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as an easy read. With this in mind, prompted no doubt by the PM with whom such lengthy reports are something of an anathema, a heavily summarised version was prepared for more general consumption. The salient points have been extracted and are detailed below.

On the loss of HMS Gloucester….

“The loss of the light cruiser HMS Gloucester can be attributed to the continued lack of sufficient 8” armed vessels deployed to the Mediterranean theatre. Until this shortcoming is addressed our cruiser forces will continue to be outgunned by the enemy having a clear local superiority in this class of ship. Despite successfully destroying two of their number it is believed that the enemy still has five other such vessels currently in commission. It is the considered opinion of the court that immediate steps should be taken to rectify this deficiency; subject to any other ongoing operational commitments.”

On the use of refurbished battleships….

“The use of modernised battleships capable of little more than 24 knots in a mixed squadron with faster vessels is less than desirable as attempting to engage an enemy of a higher speed, especially when withdrawing, is all but impossible. The decision to maintain the squadron integrity when the condenser problem arose on HMS Valiant was the correct one albeit hugely frustrating for the commander on the spot. It is the considered opinion of the court that as soon as they are available, a battleship or two from the KGV class should be deployed to Gibraltar for service in the Mediterranean subject to any other ongoing operational commitments.”

On the destroyer action and its results….

“Our destroyer forces are resolute, determined and daring in the execution of their duties. Unfortunately on this occasion these traits were ably demonstrated to their ultimate detriment as any tactical advantage enjoyed by having the support of the secondary armament from HMS Renown and HMS Valiant was lost by engaging in what can only be described as a ‘pell-mell’ melee at point blank range with the enemy destroyers. That they were ultimately successful in this action there can be no doubt but the price paid of HMS Kandahar being sunk and the remaining three suffering extensive damage was a high one and could probably have been avoided by standing off and relying on longer range gunnery and the support of the heavy units. It is the considered opinion of the court that the instructions governing the tactical employment of destroyers when engaged with their opposite numbers should be reviewed and amended at the earliest opportunity with any such revisions being passed to the fleet as a matter of priority whilst subject to any other ongoing operational commitments. ”

On the effectiveness of our carrier borne aircraft….

“The two air attacks carried out by our Swordfish squadrons were both ineffective but sustained no loss. The Swordfish is an effective aircraft when used in ideal conditions (seldom found in time of war) but is sadly deficient when faced with an alert and active air defence. This is no reflection on the gallantry of the aircrew assigned to these machines; rather it is criticism of the continued use of these aircraft. Similarly, the use of the Sea Hurricane as an air defence fighter should be reviewed as whilst these aircraft are capable in their designated role the available firepower i.e. 8 machine guns is rapidly becoming obsolete and an upgrade should be made a priority. It is the considered opinion of the court that until a suitable replacement aircraft is available to replace both the Swordfish and the Sea Hurricane on carrier operations our strike and air defence capability will be considerably impaired.”

On the overall command of the operation….

“After exhaustive deliberations it has been concluded that overall command of this operation has been less than satisfactory but that various mitigating factors have served to emphasise this rather than any major failings by the commander in question. The cruiser forces reacted admirably to the surprise appearance of their opposite numbers and despite engaging at both a tactical and qualitative disadvantage and losing HMS Gloucester early on in the action were able to secure an unexpected victory, in part aided by the decision of the enemy commander to split his forces. The decision of the commander to attempt to intercept the enemy cruisers was undoubtedly the correct one under the circumstances should the enemy squadron have retained its cohesion. Regrettably this manoeuvre had the effect of delaying the engagement of the enemy heavy units and so this phase of the action was conducted under less than ideal circumstances. Our cruisers were more than able to engage the enemy cruisers after their formation had split and the qualitative differential had swung back into their favour as a result. At this stage HMS Renown and HMS Valiant should have headed at full speed towards the Vittorio Veneto and the Guilio Cesare rather than maintaining a watching brief over a tactical situation that was no longer relevant i.e. our cruisers being outnumbered and outgunned. It transpired that HMS Renown was not immediately aware of the fate of the enemy cruisers and so vital minutes were lost which served to compromise the possibility of a telling action with the enemy battleships. To the credit of the commander in question immediate steps were taken to rectify this error but with the failings of the condensers on HMS Valiant restricting the maximum tactical speed of the formations to 22 knots any attempt to engage a withdrawing enemy formation travelling at 30 knots would be doomed to failure. Had the final air attack of the day launched by the Swordfish squadrons from the Ark Royal been successful in even slowing the enemy down a little then a very different outcome could have been expected. It is the considered opinion of the court that whilst overall command of this operation has been conducted in a less than satisfactory manner this should in no way be seen as a reflection on the decisions taken by the commander. It is acknowledged that in the heat of battle decisions have to be taken and acted upon often with incomplete or inaccurate information and whilst the material outcome of this particular action can best be described as disappointing as a result of the said deciosions; the intentions of the commander and of the ships under his command to engage the enemy regardless of cost maintained the highest standards and traditions of the Royal Navy and thus no adverse comment can be applied to the said commander or his command.”

The PM has seen this summary and whilst he is naturally as disappointed as the admiralty at the outcome is fully aware of the circumstances prevailing and is to address the Commons accordingly. In the meantime the points raised will be discussed further and the appropriate remedial action undertaken in order to rectify the deficiencies exposed where applicable.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Battle of Cape Odamonte - November 1940

The following report has been released by the admiralty of an action fought between elements of the Gibraltar based Force H and that of the Italian Navy. For reasons of national security certain details pertaining to this action are currently subject to official censoring and so only the main details are currently available to the public in order not to compromise any future naval activity in the region.

At 1100 hours, November 4th 1940, cruising elements of Force H - HMS Gloucester, Southampton, Neptune and Kent (F) were heading due north in line abreast with the ships ordered as per the list i.e. HMS Gloucester on the port side of the line and HMS Kent on the starboard. The ships were in standard cruising formation and speed. Directly to the rear of this formation, some five miles distant and also heading due north was HMS Renown (FF) in company with HMS Valiant and four destroyers - HMS Janus, Jervis, Kandahar and Kingston. The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal with the destroyers HMS Nubian and HMS Kimberley providing the escort.

At 1107 HMS Gloucester reported smoke clouds closing from the north west and immediately the entire formation went to battle stations. The smoke clouds originated from four enemy cruisers escorted by by four smaller vessels - these were determined to be the destroyer escort. The enemy formation was heading south east and the lead ship was observed to be dead ahead of HMS Gloucester when the enemy battle line opened a heavy fire. the enemy formation initially had the advantage of not only being more heavily armed (it was later discovered that the four cruisers were all of the heavy variety - RM Bolzano (F), Zara, Pola and Fiume - sailing in this order in line ahead) with 8" guns opposed to the 6" guns carried by all except the 8" armed county class cruiser HMS Kent. The enemy cruisers opened a heavy and accurate fire and within minutes of the action commencing HMS Gloucester was repeatedly and heavily hit with the range being down to some 10,000 yards. The enemy cruisers chose to concentrate their fire on the hapless HMS Gloucester and after a severe battering, having lost all power and with uncontrollable fires raging from stem to stern, the order was given to abandon ship as she settled by the bow.

The remaining three cruisers engaged the enemy force most gallantly and was rewarded with inflicting minor damage on the Pola and succeeding in crippling the Fiume - as well as sinking two of the four destroyers forming their escort.

In the twenty minutes or so since the outset of the action HMS Renown and Valiant had closed on the hotly engaged cruiser squadron and had headed north west in order to head off the enemy cruisers and provide much needed additional fire support. Unexpectedly, this served to reveal the location of the hitherto unknown enemy battle squadron that had been operating some ten miles off the enemy cruiser squadrons port side forward. At 1135 the signal was made by the fleet flagship (FF) HMS Renown "Enemy battleships in sight". Simultaneously, the enemy battleships were seen to swing due south, no doubt with the intention of providing fire support to their own cruisers and to engage our own heavy units.

The situation at 1145 was certainly not to the advantage of our own forces as the fight between the opposing cruiser squadrons was thus far in favour of the enemy (three heavy cruisers - discounting the crippled Fiume opposed to two light cruisers and a single heavy type) and, assuming that the advantage in this respect was duly pressed home, then the outlook for embattled squadron was not encouraging. Fate however, was about to intervene in the most bizarre manner imaginable and most certainly not in accord with the traditions of our own senior service.

The rearmost division of the enemy cruiser squadron - the Pola and the Fiume - that had thus far received minor damage in the case of the latter and crippling damage the former; proceeded to execute an about turn to head to the north west, thereby disengaging from the action with our forces. No doubt this decision was taken with the most understandable of reasons - both the need to preserve lives and also to ensure that the respective ships would return to serve again after repairs. Unfortunately, this had the short term effect of splitting the squadron as the two lead enemy cruisers then pressed on ahead to continue the engagement with our forces but now having two heavy cruisers against two light and one heavy. There is little doubt that had the squadron remained as a cohesive unit then the course of the action would have been very different as inevitably the weight of enemy fire would have told.

The relief at this turn of events was palpable and almost immediately the tables were turned to telling effect as both the enemy cruisers (Bolzano and Zara) were subjected to a withering fire from our own ships and within some twenty minutes were overwhelmed by both shells and torpedoes and were duly sunk.

Simultaneously the opposing battle lines of capital ships had squared up to one another at a range of around 20,000 yards with the enemy opening fire first. HMS Renown sustained damage from the Guilio Cesare but failed to score any hits with her return salvos. It was left to HMS Valiant to even the score and she duly obliged with an opening broadside that caused many of the bridge to believe that the enemy battleship had blown up. An enormous orange coloured flash was observed from the superstructure of the enemy vessel but she emerged from the smoke moments later, seemingly none the worse for her experience. The enemy flagship - the Vittorio Veneto - failed to score with her own guns.

Mention should be made at this point of the various air attacks undertaken - both by HMS Ark Royal and the enemy land based air force. Aside from the combat air patrol undertaken by the Sea Hurricanes (more of which later) the Swordfish torpedo bombers had a very active day - undertaking two air strikes, both of which were unsuccessful but without sustaining any loss. The first of these was against the two retiring enemy cruisers - despite the damage both vessels had sustained their anti aircraft fire was very effective and our aircraft were driven off with no hits being scored. The final attack came late in the action when the two retiring enemy battleships were unsuccessfully engaged.

The enemy launched a major airstrike against HMS Ark Royal with two squadrons of SM79 torpedo bombers escorted by an equal number of Folgore fighters. The carriers defending fighters quickly had their hands full with the enemy opposite numbers but neither side was able to gain a telling advantage. HMS Ark Royal was strafed by enemy fighters, suffering minor damage in the process but the defending anti-aircraft fire from the carrier and the two escorting destroyers was woefully ineffective and so both enemy torpedo bomber squadrons were able to press home what should have been a very telling attack. Fortunately, by dint of much frantic manoeuvring the task force was able to avoid all of the enemy torpedoes although the inefficiency of the gunnery is cause for much concern.

With the loss of the two cruisers the enemy decided that any further offensive action would be less than prudent and so commenced withdrawing from the engagement. The enemy battleships retraced their steps leaving the escorting destroyers to attempt to delay the expected pursuit. Fate took a further hand in the proceedings as the overstressed engines of HMS Valiant were no longer able to keep pace with HMS Renown (the difference in speed being some 10 knots) and in order to maintain the integrity of the squadron the two ships withdrew behind their destroyer screen as the enemy destroyers bore down on them.

The final act of the drama was the fight between the opposing destroyer flotillas. In a maelstrom of crossing wakes, curling bow waves and frantic turns the two sides engaged at ranges of less than 5,000 yards. The biggest difference though was that out forces were supported by two capital ships so the result was never in doubt. All four enemy ships were sunk for the loss of one of our own: HMS Kandahar, although the remaining ships had all sustained heavy damage.

By 1415 the two forces had disengaged and the action was over.

A further report will be available in due course after the court of enquiry has had sufficient time to deliberate the action after having interviewed the appropriate officers.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Naval Rule Writer

Readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with my ongoing trials and tribulations in my attempts to either devise from scratch or tweak existing versions of any number of 20th century naval wargames rules. I have spent a lot of very enjoyable time researching, reading and constantly experimenting in my search to find what will be the ideal set of wargame rules for the period 1890 to 1945 at sea and have thus far met with limited success. I have looked at grid based systems, zone based systems and conventional table top systems. I have considered using counters for damage recording as well as the more usual ship record chart and am now in all honesty probably little closer to achieving my aim than I was at the start. This has by no means been a failure though as the whole rule writing experience has been a very informative one and I have certainly learned a lot from it.

I believe that most wargamers are inveterate rules tinkerers and so I have been merely following one of our hobby’s most popular traits and long may that continue! However, this eternal tinkering has come at a cost in terms of the effort expended and has quite often been to the detriment of pure gaming time. With this in mind then, I have decided that I am going to stick with the commercially available rules I own and use the most applicable set depending on the circumstances of the game and players in question. I want to focus more on scenario and campaign design rather than the seemingly endless rule tweaks and designs as my available gaming time is limited and so this is the path I would prefer to pursue.

In a sense, this decision sits firmly in the ‘rationalisation’ compartment of my hobby as recently demonstrated in my ‘Mediterraneanisation’ of the collection. At the present time then, aside from Axis and Allies: War at Sea I also have General Quarters parts 1, 2 (covering WW1 and 2) and 3 (although not the new WW1 version) and a set called Battle Stations! Battlestations! as the naval rules ‘in the ready locker’ so to speak. The latter rules are devoted to WW2 and have some very interesting ideas contained therein – not least of which is the use of counters for damage rather than ship charts. They also include, rather unusually for a naval set, fleet morale rules.

My naval challenge then is to concentrate on scenario and campaign design and to translate these ideas into a tabletop reality via which ever set is deemed appropriate.

No pressure then…………….;-)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

First Thoughts on the Battle of Cape Odamonte and the Germ of a Dilemma

The battle was fought and happily everyone enjoyed the action although I must confess that as the scenario designer I had a number of reservations. The forces used were a good match up but I think I had the initial deployment of the respective cruiser formations was too close to one another. I will post a fuller report as soon as the BT engineer has fixed my home broadband connection but suffice it to say, the carnage was widespread, neither side achieved a major victory although the RN had caused rather more damage than the Italians. Airpower was largely ineffective although how the Ark Royal survived the tender mercies of two squadrons of swarming SM79 torpedo bombers with nary a scratch was one of the highlights of a vastly entertaining game – along with the potentially devastating opening salvo from HMS Valiant that was one pip of the dice away from sinking the Guilio Cesare outright. Mention should also be made of the glorious demise of the light cruiser HMS Gloucester as she faced the full weight of two Italian heavy cruisers and destroyers – her end was both short and spectacular.

The action served to raise a number of issues for me which I need to address in respect of how I enjoy my naval wargaming. Axis and Allies: War at Sea is a great game and is one that I always enjoy within the context of it being a game rather than, dare I say, a simulation and because it is ideal for a club night as it is both simple to play and fast in its resolution. The problem is for me is that more and more games using this system feel like the after effects of a Chinese takeaway. You feel completely sated after a frenzy of activity but after a short while (in my case the time it takes to drive home) cannot but help thinking that something is missing. As long as you are happy with the game system as it is and not what you think it should be then that is fine and so WaS succeeds admirably as such; although much less so as a pure ‘wargame’. I suppose in a sense I have changed my thinking as to how best enjoy WW2 naval wargames as previously using fast play and zero record keeping systems seemed ideal but now I am not so sure. It is a no brainer that actions with few ships ideally need rules that are more complex than those designed for fleet actions. With my interest being confined to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic – a world away from the vastness of the Pacific and the larger fleets in use – and the actions being relatively small affairs I need a set of rules for tactical games that have a little more ‘meat’ in their contents. I am by no means looking at going down the road of using systems like Seekreig or any of the Command at Sea series as these rules, whilst being super detailed in terms of technical approach and accuracy are far beyond what I would like to tackle in terms of complexity. I have a couple of sets to explore and so my search for what seems to be the naval wargaming Holy Grail continues!

As ever, much to ponder methinks!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Portugal and Paraguay

The reason for this post is merely to mention the two teams I have drawn in the World Cup sweepstake at work. I had no idea that Portugal are rated number 3 in the world according to FIFA although thay have a very tough 'group of death' with the main threat coming from Brazil. Throw in the Ivory Coast and one of the two Korean teams and you have an interesting group for sure.

Portugal and Brazil - the historical irony has not been lost on me - this is almost a local derby!

The Battle of Cape Odamonte - Further, further thoughts

I spent yesterday evening refining the Battle of Cape Odamonte scenario details for the game this evening including some minor changes to the orbats and finalising of the victory conditions. The biggest difficulty I experienced was in the initial deployment on the tabletop as the action will be underway almost from the first turn. This is critical for the success of the scenario as if the ships are deployed too closely then the fight will be short, but desperate. If too far apart then the forces will be able to concentrate and form up at a distance which will skew the overall effect I am trying to achieve. In a nutshell, the Italian heavy cruisers will be engaged with their RN opposite numbers almost from the start – 4 Italian heavy cruisers versus 1 RN heavy and 3 lights – but will have their heavy support further away than is the case with the RN. Hard on the heels of the RN cruisers is both Renown and Valiant so the expectation is that the Italians will probably take some damage early on before either extracting themselves from the fray or being reinforced by their battle squadron. The key issue with this scenario is how the players interpret their individual victory conditions – the Italians need to avoid too much damage whilst sinking at least one RN capital ship (including the carrier) whilst the RN need to sink both Italian battleships.

Air power will be used as per the rules rather than the modified version as I have had a rethink on its effects within the game and am now leaning more towards it being about right in terms of impact.

I will post the full scenario details together with the after action report over the next couple of days. I am really excited about this action and hope that it leads to further interest from the club and perhaps even some more players will take the plunge and start acquiring some fleets.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Battle of Cape Odamonte - Further Thoughts

I spent yesterday evening finalising the scenario details for the Battle of Cape Odamonte to be fought tomorrow evening at the club. As mentioned, I am basing the action loosely on the historical Battle of Cape Spartivento. The forces for this action will consist of the following:


Vittorio Veneto (BB)
Guilio Cesare (BB)
Bolzano, Zara, Pola and Fiume (CA)
8 x Navigatori (DD)

Air support will consist of 2 bases of SM 79 torpedo bombers and a base of Folgore fighters – all of which are of course, land based.

Royal Navy

Ark Royal (CV)
Renown (BC)
Valiant (BB)
Kent (CA)
Southampton and Gloucester (CL)
2 x Tribal (DD)
6 x J/K Class (DD)

The Ark Royal’s air group consists of a base of Sea Hurricanes and two bases of Swordfish.

The 'house' modified air rules will be in use i.e. a base equals two squadrons as this serves to give the aircraft a little more ‘bite’ and longevity. I will also have a selection of victory conditions as well, other than the usual points based version as the plan is to try and get players to think about the overall big picture rather than just the usual close range knife fight.

The irony of this particular action is that both the Italian and the Royal Navy will have a better selection of ships available once the next Axis and Allies: War at Sea – Condition Zebra expansion is released. The Italians will benefit from the addition of the Conte de Cavour class battleship and a Soldati class destroyer whilst the RN gain an R Class battleship (at last!) and, via the Greek navy, a G class destroyer. All of these will help to represent the respective navies in theatre far better than at present.