Archive for July, 2010

We’ve had a bit of a break from PBI since my ‘what if’ series of games set in Vichy North Africa.

So – with COW priorities done for this year – it was time to visit some other favourite games and PBI got the vote.   Having had a few less than satisfactory ‘jungle’ games with PBI we decided it would be good to give Graham’s PP 14th Army a run and try out some rule tweaks.

The basic scenario was a Japanese attack on a British base (so a sort of ‘hold the perimeter’ game, for the Brits) ..

As a general health warning, when I imply that we play PBI, I mean we use the PBI game mechanisms: we don’t use any of the set up or scoring systems … but play to a scenario with objectives and win/lose criteria fixed in the scenario.   Likewise, usually, issues like reinforcements etc. are specified/controlled by the umpire or guided by the scenario.   The version of PBI we play might candidly be described as PBI ‘two-and-a-half’ … the 2006 game, but with things like ‘return fire’ removed because we found it slowed the pace of the game.

For multi-player games, we use an enhanced motivation variant: you roll 2 dice, motivation and APs, together and then decide which was which.   This increases the likelihood of motivation, and results in more APs.  This suits a multi-player games where a player might only get a single platoon, and again, speeds up the game (for us).   We also allow commanders to count their position at the start of the turn as the position for further motivations if preferable (to limit the amount of ‘gamey’ running around they do in the basic game).

The effect of the extra motivation can be to make the game very bloody, as the pictures from the southern attack perhaps indicate.   Even so, we had quite a few stalls on the night (nothing you can do will stop a player rolling ‘ones’).

Our house rules already allow spotting for mortars (L mortars can assess LOS from anyone in their platoon, M mortars – or L Mortars in a dedicated mortar platoon – can assess LOS from any officer within their company … so no actual ‘spotters’ but a mechanism for L mortars to be platoon support weapons and bigger tubes to be ‘one level up’) …  Mortars can, of course, fire through jungle (because they did) …

The spotting rule is essential for this game – jungle means there is very rarely any significant LOS, but mortars are an important component in the jungle arsenal.    These rules have worked well in other games, but Burma would obviously be a proper test.

reserves on the parade ground

The new ‘jungle warfare’ rule we introduced for this game was to make motivations possible.  What has ‘killed’ PBI jungle games when we have tried them before is the ‘closed square’ modifier on the motivation roll (it means a Jap platoon on a normal frontage will frequently require 6 on a die roll for some of its sections to motivate, even where they are all in a continuous front with others that do motivate …) … The modifier might work well enough in Europe, when platoons get broken up into little groups, say, pinned-down in different buildings … but we don’t believe it works well in jungle where platoons seem to emerge from the undergrowth ‘en masse’ into the attack, not in dribs and drabs.

So our jungle rule is simple: if it is the same piece of jungle (no streams or clearings breaking it up) and the motivation path is entirely through occupied squares of the same platoon (i.e. contiguous), ‘word of mouth’ means you can ignore the closed square modifier other than for the commander’s square.

counter attack

There is no implicit criticism of PBI, here … if you look at the table we proposed to use, it should be obvious that there are far more closed and partial squares than the rulebook recommends (actually, there is almost no ‘open’) … and so it would be normal to expect to make an adjustment.

Game One

This scenario will run more than one game.  In the first, we had two almost coordinated platoon attacks on the southern and northern corners.  The northern attack (supported by the company commander’s detachment) was very much a frontal massed assault, which after a succession of unlikely motivation fails eventually forced into the first line of military buildings.  It suffered a terrible toll from spotted mortar fire.

The southern attack used a more subtle ‘traditional PBI’ approach of trying to work fire teams around the enemy squares to shoot the assaults in from several directions.   This was also successful – apparently with less pain … however the defenders had cleverly stationed welcoming SMG squads in adjacent squares, and cut down the successful assault parties with close range fire.  This southern platoon failed its consequent break test, so the toe hold may prove impossible to retain, depending on how rapidly the reinforcements can deploy (and the umpire is keeping his cards close to his chest) …

On the northern corner, the XIVth called up their solitary Stuart into the fray, mostly for the extra machine gun fire, and are poised for a mixed counter attack – to throw the enemy out of the position physically.  There are still plenty of Japs around, of course, but lots of bodies from both sides, too … so morale and break tests will play an important part.

clinging on - but about to break

A diverting and worthy evening.  We are looking forward to Game Two.  The game was more playable than previous jungle games, but felt ‘right’.   We didn’t use the ‘Banzai’ rule, but might have to look at it again (4 down on a big ‘average’ platoon is an issue: it leaves you vulnerable to break tests as you take losses, or more concerned with ‘housekeeping’ – clearing casualties – than feels right for a Japanese attack) …   The motivation tweak solved the jungle problem, and I think the players liked the differential where, amongst the buildings, the Brit motivations were fragmented in the usual PBI way.

The mortar spotting rules brought out their true value as man-handleable support weapons … but we are likely to add in an AP cost for spotting (just to tone them down a bit) … actually, I’m not sure it is a spotting issue, it is just the way mortars work in PBI … because each hit is (up to two hits, of course) a hit on everyone in the square, and any save is a fail on a one (at best), it does come down to the dice.

Either way, one thing is very apparent: SMGs are very good.  With a lot of jungle around, you seldom fire at three squares or more … at two squares, the SMG is as good as a rifle.  At one square it is as good as a LMG.  In an assault it is as good as a flamethrower.

And the Japanese don’t have any … (Oh? .. did I neglect to mention that I was on the Japanese side?  OK, the southern attack – the one which broke after successfully making its initial breakthrough?) …

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This year’s Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire ….

Sdkfz 222

Yes there were table top games (Flames of War, I think) .. but the real attraction for WW2 enthusiasts has to be the enormous collection of restored (and working) vehicles

WW2 Wargames at Festival of History

… and the opportunity to photograph them.  So here’s a selection …

Some British

Universal Carrier

Daimler Dingo

25 pounder

Oh – go on then, these are classics (let’s have another view) ..

25 pounder

Some Americans

Jeep with 50 cal.

M3 Half Track

M8 Armoured Car

There were some excellent motorcycles

Including one of the coolest 2 wheelers ever conceived …

The Harley with Tommy gun holster on the forks.

And, not least

The Chris Kemp (or is that Kempf?) Late War Armoured Division …

Plenty of weapons on display .. of which I photographed this time …


I was also quite impressed by the Soviet Guards Rifle Division (well a section of them anyway) …

Red Army camp fire

DP light machine gun

82mm Mortar

… not to mention the essential transport components

Great stuff.

Lots of period detail for modellers and enthusiasts.   No French equipment, though – which would have been useful for my Vichy contingents

Ground attack?

How about this picture by Chris Ager?

Chris also caught these Boer irregulars celebrating a successful mission …

A rare item from the very start of the 20th Century – with which I tagged theses not quite modern wargame pages.

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COW 2010

COW 2010 was dominated by one event, of course … the sad loss of WD‘s founder and inspiration, Paddy Griffith.   It is hard to imagine wargaming and military interests being anything like they are today without his immense influence.

PADDY GRIFFITH 1947 – 2010

(my thanks to Bob Cordery)

2010 was the 30th anniversary COW, and Paddy was a big part of the programme.   The show had to go on, and in a fitting way, the weather allowed regular use of the lawns, and a willing suspension of disbelief.   After a retrospective session on Dr Griffith’s importance, both on a structural and personal level, the more festive activities began with a chaotic but expectation breaking outdoor version of WWI in Three Turns.

WWI in 3 turns (briefing)

It is perhaps because the Great War is thought by many to be ‘un-gamable’ that it is of such interest at COW … certainly it was a theme this year.   I won’t pretend to give a full review of COW 2010, but here are some photos of some of the twentieth century games that were presented.  There were too many to be able to attend or photograph all of them (but follow the various links around these pages and you will get most.  Join WD, read the Nugget, and you will get the lot).

RFCM's Square Bashing in development

Martin Goddard was warming up his WWI ideas by bringing out ‘Square Bashing’ and collecting feed back

Martin Rapier's Trench Attack

Martin Rapier had a great-looking Corps level game attacking the trenches.  I would have loved to play a full part in this had I not been RCW-ing  the River Don at the same time.

Biggles flies again

Still with WWI, one of the hits of the weekend was Chris Hanley’s ‘Biggles’ game … some excellent rules for aerial combat (some clever honing of familiar mechanisms which I won’t give away here … I’m sure Chris will make them available in due course) which were recycled into an additional session by popular demand.

The toys and equipment in this game were of a very smart quality which was an additional bonus.  I think people could hardly resist getting control of these planes even if it were only in wargames terms, over a trenchscape of hexes.

A scene from Graham's RCW game

Moving on a little, Graham Evans’s RCW project made its public debut in Return to the River Don.  Excellent little game, this, and very well received … looking splendid in 15mm, mostly Peter Pig stuff, but also featuring the first public appearance of a Garford-Putilov heavy armoured car which I scratch built for the project (no-one makes one in 15mm but I rashly said I could fix that) …

Scratch built hardware

I will cover the scratch build in an article on the modelling page.

I believe Graham is supplying the rules for publication in a future issue of the Nugget.   The joyful feature of the game is the Nyet!/Da! test, in which the player attempts to use the troops with their consent … and the coercion mechanism by which he then opts to use them without.   Eventually, they may mutiny, but mostly the sound of revolvers being loaded is enough to get them moving.

I cannot emphasise that that was just an early 20th century fragment of COW 2010.  Perhaps it was fitting that what turned out to be a memorial COW featured so many approaches to a period which a few decades back might have been one wargamers would rather have avoided.   Indeed, much has been rethought in the 30 years since the first Conference of Wargamers.   I hope the future will be equally challenging.

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