Archive for March, 2011

Well – the title isn’t quite right … it is was a PBI game with an amphibious landing.

I am not sure whether PBI would be the right game to use to do ‘D Day’ and similar … but there are a number of interesting features of smaller landings that are appropriate for tactical games.

The Crimean campaign featured many landing operations, from grandiose set pieces to low-level infiltrations, and these latter were usual supported by Armoured Cutters and even submarines.

Toy submarine (background) and scratchbuilt Cutter (foreground)

Conveniently, I recently acquired a toy submarine from Poundland (as part of a sackful of cheap ships that will appear sometime) … inevitably, the sub is a different scale to the capital ships in the series (it is probably about 10mm scale, but useful as a ‘scale down’ component with my 15s).

I was looking at an experimental scenario in which a small flotilla would drop off a platoon of Soviet Naval Infantry as part of a combined ops game (so getting the Cutter and the recently finished sailors into the game, of course)..

Soviet Naval Infantry (mostly Peter Pig)

It would also give an opportunity to work through some of the issues of incorporating landings and naval approaches etc. into the basic game.

As a general health warning, the game was played using our standard local PBI variations (easier motivations, platoon organised by sections, reduced interference in the enemy turn etc.).

The table was defended by a platoon of Germans (with some light support weapons on table) who could call upon an armoured platoon, some tanks, and maybe even an airstrike as back up … (which I intended to feed in to keep the game balanced) …

In setting up, the Germans were aware that the enemy might come ashore or might roll in as a tank force (most probably both) … so set up with good fields of fire, but well back from the beaches …

the PBI table, viewed from the sea edge

(the blue at the far end is beyond the table edge and has some of the German reserves and assets)

I put a couple of ‘impassable’ squares that would block all fire and visibility in the way, and specified (rather like rivers) that the beach squares would count as Partial Cover.  This designation is debatable, of course: a beach that is ‘cover’ is seems counter-intuitive – then again, the landing troops (the targets) might be up to their waists in water, the beach might be rocky, not smooth etc. More than anything, I didn’t want the experimental game to see the landing parties just mown down without getting into play.

I had added a couple of rows of squares on the sea edge, and defined, as a starting point, that the Cutter and row-boats would count as ‘carriers’ under the rules … (restricting the sub to the ‘off table’ squares, so the beaching leg would be by row-boat, but allowing the Cutter to go in, treating the beach square as ‘Closed‘, the ‘Beach -1’ as ‘Partial‘, so it would have to pick its way in).  It would, of course, be able to carry out its proper role and give supporting fire to the Naval troops.

German machine gun nest

Hopefully, the landings would be given a chance if the Germans could be distracted by the imminent arrival of the tank force (last time I set one of these up, the were no landing forces, but the defenders bought the bluff to some extent).

At dawn, and with the first move, the flotilla arrived …

Dawn on the Black Sea

Immediately, MG42s opened up, raining fire down on the beaches, and support weapons began ranging shots against the Cutter.  Although they were some way off, I had left some clear avenues of fire down the table which were to give the landing parties a difficult time.

German Infantry section

That said, some of the defenders had been deployed to counter the landward threat (and needed to reposition), and the much feared sniper (who can pin a square when first shooting) was diced for unsuccessfully.  The troops got ashore, but took a lot of incoming …

Getting ashore under fire

(Naval Troops, mostly Peter Pig, supported by an armoured Cutter)

Firing its BT/T26 turret gun, the Cutter was able to do a ‘severe damage’ hit on a (thinly armoured) Marder SP gun – biggest gun threat on the table.  Unfortunately this did not prevent the crew getting the weapon sorted out and the disabled vehicle came back into action supported by an Infantry Gun and a Squeezebore AT weapon.  The battered Cutter was constantly taking hits, and was unable to give further support to the landing troops.

The troops delivered by row-boat fared better, picking a less exposed bit of beach.  However, my idea that the boats could ‘shuttle’ the platoon ashore by relays didn’t really work under the basic game’s carrier rules (as each part ‘trip’ is at least a turn … the easiest solution will be to provide more boats and/or not model the return to ‘mother’).

By this stage, the mechanised elements were arriving further up the table, and the pressure was reduced on the beach head.

A BT tank takes a direct hit from German defences

The close range firefight that developed engaging vehicles of both sides undoubtedly saved the Soviet sailors from being wiped out, and restored some balance to the game …German light tanks(German tanks turn back from the beach into the path of Soviet armour)

It is worth noting that the landing parties had spent some time pinned on the beaches, had survived a Break Test, and had done a fair bit of casualty removal to avoid further tests.  Only about 25% survived, and they had found it technically difficult to get up the table (PBI enables them to get pinned, it also has a modifier which benefits ‘not moving’ – it assumes they are prone/taking cover – both of which, in practice, really slow the troops down) …

PBI: German Armoured (Aufkalrungs) platoon

(Peter Pig figures, with vehicles from a variety of manufacturers – the pile of rubble is actually one of my ‘sniper’ markers)

When the German armoured platoon turned up, they chose to consolidate the area currently held, rather than to counter-attack immediately.  As both the game clock and the real one were running down, we chose to end at that point and chew over what had happened.


1/. The game worked quite nicely at a basic level, and treating the boats as a sort of carrier is fine. However, PBI’s carrier rules do leave troops exposed on the beach … and only further trials will tell if that can be sustained*.

2/. We managed to avoid morale tests by judicious casualty removals and the PC’s presence – however, it was obvious to me as we played that even if the standard test would have been appropriate, the outcomes (moving backwards into the sea) would not.  I was also unhappy about the casualty removal (but it was necessary to indulge it in our test game, as without it, the landing parties would have been continually under test, and doubtless pushed back into the sea).  That would have seemed even less plausible than letting them remove the casualties.

3/. Likewise, it probably saved the game that in the turn where they had too many casualties, the platoon passed the Break Test.  I suspect the answer will be to suspend the morale mechanisms until the landing troops are off the beach (i.e. Morale and Break Tests do not apply in a beach square unless the troops have moved into it from and inland square).

4/. The beach square should count as Partial for cover, but not for (land) movement.

5/. If using boats on a ‘shuttle service’, I would allow them a ‘free’ return to the parent vessel during the enemy turn (again, this compensates for the restriction the carrier rules impose on continuous movement).  Ideally, of course, we will be able to make all this work without rewriting large chunks of the current movement rules and Turn Sequence.

6/. I really need to adapt the veicle damage chart to incorporate ships and boats: ‘driven off’ seems to be a common outcome when these support boats come under fire.  More on this after another game, perhaps.

Of course, it was a joy to see the Armoured Cutter (so-called floating tank) successfully engaging armour in support of Naval Troops.  Like all good things, it makes you appreciate why you need more of them …

Thanks to Ian for playing the Germans.

* Troops are not allowed to make ‘foot’ and ‘carrier’ moves in the same turn.  Although this seems to work fine for men in vehicles (once players get the hang of it), for the landing it means ending a turn on the beach (technically choosing ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the craft), being sat there through the next enemy turn, then starting the new active turn from that position.  If the enemy is defending from an adjacent square (NB. in this game they were not), that means Op Fire as you arrive, then an enemy turn’s worth of incoming, then more Op Fire in the new turn.  With vehicles, that isn’t so bad, as you have the choice to debus at a safe distance – or even to drive through the position without debussing at all (i.e. where you are dropped is variable and optional).  The beach is fixed, and (structurally) not being able to move through it or off it immediately may be hard to justify.  Even worse, of course, if you use the standard rules for Motivation and APs (with a greater chance of failing to motivate, and being stuck there longer) ...

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The 2011 shows season is well underway already …

(Vapnartak was one)

And, as usual, I have been touring the country with my Society of Ancients cap on (well, lapel badge anyway) ….   James Roach has been out and about with his Western Desert game … most recently seen at Vapnartak

15mm Recce

… although I would say Vapnartak wasn’t the best of shows for game quality (or captioning/explaining/joining in etc. … see my general report on the show on Ancients on the Move) …  For a master of the spectacular like James, the desert in 15mm is an interesting choice as there is often very little landscaping … Nevertheless, in an overwhelmingly 28mm environment (overwhelming being an appropriate term), the Ilkley game stood out well.

Hammerhead at Kelham Hall (intriguingly enough, the Chesterfield club’s annual show) has a reputation as something of a fantasy/sci-fi event, though they do encourage historical exhibitors to attend (and help rescue those wayward souls from the gothic fringes …).. A much better array of games than Vapnartak – true diversity of scales, styles and periods, and a reasonable effort by most to explain what was going on …  Mostly non-historical really, but with the odd tank lurking down the side streets

I was much more impressed by the games at Cavalier.  A good range of topics across a number of periods … some spectacular looking kit and some innovative looking mechanisms (though I must confess I seldom get the time to stop and play) …

For looks, I really like the Budapest 1945 game (Loughton Strike Force) … here are some details …

Tanks in the City

The ubiquitous Polikarpov Po-2

Something for the 20mm enthusiasts, I think …

An obsolete string bag flying over the battlefield too.  There were quite a few of them in action nearby, in the Mediterranean.

I really liked the neat look of this raid on Taranto game (I like shiny perspex as a game illusion for water …)

The (Staines Wargamers) game was, of course, based on the successful raid on the Italian fleet in November 1940.

Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers

Swordfish bi-planes from HMS Illustrious were able to thread their way through flak and barrage balloons to drop a mix of torpedoes and bombs on the Italian fleet ‘safely’ at anchor in Taranto Harbour.    The attack was  a sufficient success to blunt the Italian navy’s threat in the med. (and proved an inspiration to the Japanese as they planned how to take on the naval strength of the U.S. in the Pacific.

Taranto game makes a splash!

In this game, the top down asymmetry had the ships a much smaller scale than the planes (the reverse of how I show air units over land battles, but it worked very well)..  I couldn’t stop for long enough to report on how well the game worked, but it certainly had plenty of takers.   Another interesting topic for wargaming.

Full marks to Cavalier for the best selection of games so far.  But how about we all try a bit harder to put up some signs and captions … possibly (if you can’t do captions?), speak to us so we know what the game is about …

James Roach’s Olincanalad blog

Related show reports from the Society of Ancients blog




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