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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Age of Marlborough: When men wore lace, wigs and high heels - and were proud of it!

The forces are mustering: The French and Bavarians on one side and the English, Scottish, Dutch, Austrian, Danes and various Germans states on the other. Where else can our Irish fight their Irish? Yep, it's the War of Spanish Succession (1702 - 1713). The next Dining Room battle report will have John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough (who never lost a battle or a siege), Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Elector Max II Emanuel of Bavaria, Camille d'Hostun the Comte de Tallard and Marshal of France plus a supporting cast of English, Dutch, French, Danish and Bavarian Generals.
This is going to be a big game using the rules Volley and Bayonet: 52 Infantry units, 32 Cavalry units plus artillery. This should be a great game in the finest traditions of linear warfare. Now a few teaser photos as the French and Bavarians start to muster their forces:

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Lord of the Rings: Raid along The Old Forest Road

During the War of the Ring, there were many battles and skirmishes that have not been as widely researched or detailed as the famous battles chronicled in the Lord of the Rings. One such small battle took place at the village of Cale Running along the Old Forest Road between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood Forest. During the War of the Ring, the small settlement of men are attacked by forces of Evil including orcs, Uruk-hai and a fearsome troll. Not all was lost however; the elves of Mirkwood Forest came to the rescue. Would history repeat itself.

In this battle report, using the First Edition of The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, the Forces of Evil ("Bwah Hah Hah!") will be led by myself and Honorable Son #4 will lead the men and elves.

First, the Forces of Evil ("Bwah Hah Hah!"):

Leading the starting line-up for the Dark Lord's Legion of Doom are the triumverant of Shagrat, Uruk-hai captain leading the Uruk-hai from the Tower of Cirith Ungol; Gorbag, Orc captain who hates Shagrat's guts; and the infamous Knack, newly promoted captain in the Dark Lord's forces.

In a frame shot from DLNN (Dark Lord News Network) The Orc Captains pose before the big battle, from left to right, Gorbag, Shagrat and Knack.

The Uruk-hai have 2 Uruks with two-handed weapons, 4 Uruks with hand weapons and shields and one Uruk with a banner. In hand-to-hand combat, two-handed weapons have a -1 to hit; but, if you hit, allows you a +1 to wound. If a combat is within 3 inches of a friendly banner, you can re-roll one die from the combat.

Looking stylish in their bad boy black on black uniforms, the Uruk-hai get ready to enter the field of competition.
The regular Orcs (see cannon fodder in the dictionary) consist of 10 spearmen, 10 orcs with hand weapons and shields, 4 orcs with two-handed weapons and 4 orcs with bows.
Knack with banner bearer lead the orcs out from the visiting locker room.

As the leader of the Forces of Evil ("Bwah Hah Hah!"), I would be remiss in not bringing along my favorite figure, Tom the Troll. The Forces of Good do not like Tom the Troll.
Tom the Troll in the backfield.

Honorable Son #4 (age 12) will lead the Forces of Good. Most of the Elves were painted by him and I think he did a great job!

First the Men:

Leading the men defending the village of Cale Running is . . . uh, well, they don't have a captain. The men all have hand weapons, shields and throwing spears.

As the home team, the men of Cale Running quickly barricade the main road into the village to keep the nasty uglies out.

Co-Captains for the Elves will be Delrond in heavy armor and armed with an Elvish blade and Legoflamb, captain of the archery team. Elvish blades can be used as two-handed weapons or as a regular weapon.

Legoflamb, Captain of the Archery team is on the left with Delrond on the right.
Individually for man-sized creatures in the game, the Elves are the best warriors one-on-one. The elves in heavy armor will have 11 with bows and elvish blades, 8 with elvish blades, 3 with spears and shields and one banner.

The Elves: Tough Hombres to go against.

In addition, there are 6 Wood Elves with bows, elvish blades and a banner.
The wood elves at the edge of Mirkwood Forest. Yes, there are palm trees in Mirkwood Forest.

The Village of Cale Running is represented by one farm house and various walls and hedges surronding the house. In the rear is a plowed field which is rough ground and beyond that the edge of Mirkwood Forest. The men have placed various barricades around the village to help with the defense. In addition, there is a small hill to the north of the village. The orcs will attack from the east and the men or elves must hold on to the village by the end of Turn 10.

In the rules, usually the Good forces move first and this game will not be an exception. In subsequent turns, the opponents will roll one die for "priority" to see who gets to move first, shoot and fight. Heroes have the option of changing the order through heroic actions.
Combat happens when figures are in base to base contact; whoever rules the highest die wins. If a tie, the figure with the highest fighting skill wins; if both have the same skill roll another die: 1, 2, 3 the evil wins or a 4, 5, or 6 the good guys win. The loser of the combat moves back one inch and then there is a another die roll to see if the loser takes a wound. The score needed is based on the strength of the winner vs. the defense rating of the loser. If the loser gets trapped, i.e., can't move back, then the winner gets double hits. Most figures can only take one wound and are removed once "dead". Heroes and larger creatures usually have two or more wounds.
Spearman in the second rank can also give you an extra attack. And now to battle!

Turn 1: The majority of the elves on their left flank emerge from Mirk wood forest while the elves without armor emerge from on the right flank led by both captains! Hmmmm, the Evil player thinks, could this be some trick?

Meanwhile, the men prepare for the inevitable assault and look nervously over their shoulders as they wonder when the elves will show up. Barricades, walls, etc. give defenders an advantage. If they lose a combat, they do not have to retreat.

The orcs and the troll are pointed in the right direction and the leaders yell "GO!" The elves, though out of normal bow range, decide to use mass volley fire scoring a lucky hit on Tom the Troll and wounding him. Tom says ouch. Meanwhile, in the village, one of the orcs cuts down a man with his two-handed axe and leaps over the barrier. Here is where the banner helped: I was able to re-roll the combat roll which allowed my orc to the win the combat. With the +1 to wound, he easily eliminated the unlucky warrior.
Gorbag leads his forces from the rear as the giant orc with the two-handed axe smashes through the barrier.
Turn 2: The evil forces move first and the Uruks move to the left of the village with archer support and Tom the Troll. As the junior captain, Knack "volunteers" to lead his "volunteers" agains the large elf force on their right. The elves continue their volley fire and wound Tom the Troll again (yikes, he hasn't fought yet and only has one wound left!). Another man is killed by the orc with the big axe. So far so good for the evil team.
Turn 3: Evil moves first again as the leader of the Forces of Good starts to look nervous. Tom the Troll decides he is tired of being an arrow magnet and moves closer to the village to block the arrows. He doesn't quite move fast enough and is hit by 7, count them 8, arrows. Fortunately for Tom, none of the arrows penetrate Tom's armor. (To quote Honorable Son #4, " I have never seen so many ones and twos on dice before in my life.") However, the other orcs start taking casualties from archery as two of them fall and one orc is killed by the men in combat. However, another valiant man is dispatched.

Tom starts running as fast as he can toward the village.

Turn 4: Evil moves first again as the Elvish commander has a look of despair on his face. Knack's orcs are protected perfectly behind strong hedges which protect them from the arrows and Shagrat's Uruk's get ready to charge.

Note: With bow fire, since the orcs are protected by the hedges, any hits on the orcs also have to be checked to see if they hit the orcs or the hedges - love that cover.

The hedges do the trick, protecting the orcs. Tom the Troll, also protected by the walls and building decides it's time to "get some back." He leisurely leans over, picks up a rock, and throws it at the elves. Scratch one elf.

The men launch a counterattack and kill two orcs. Some turn, waiting for the inevitable assault from Tom the Troll.
Turn 5: The Forces of Evil win the priority again! Not a whole lotta action this turn. The elves start positioning themselves to assualt Gorbag's orcs while Shagrat orders the charge on the left. One valiant Uruk is killed by an arrow while one of Gorbag's boys also is felled by an arrow. Tom the Troll smacks a man out of the way.

Tom swats one of the men out of the way . . .

. . .while Orc bow fire is totally useless.
Turn 6: The Forces of Good win the priority . . . however, Shagrat declares a heroic movement and moves into contact with the Elf Archery team led by the Delrond and Legolamb. As a result, the elves can't shoot!

Time for fun boys!
The Elves on the Evil right flank get ready to move when suddenly, Gorbag yells "Follow Me!" and they charge the surprised elves (another heroic move). Yep, looking good for the legions of doom . . .

Gorbag's boys catch the elves by surprise.
. . . and then those no good elves killed by troll. Yes, the valiant Tom got hit by another arrow and was out of the fight. The Uruks take out 1 elf and Shagrat is wounded fighting Delrond; however, he uses his Fate point to escape injury as it was "only a flesh wound." Gorbag and the other elves exchange blows with no casualties.
Turn 7 (also know as grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory): The Forces of Good win the priority and Delrond takes no chances and counteracts any heroic moves on Shagrat's part and yells "Follow Me!" and surronds the Uruks.

The Uruk's get surrounded . . .

. . . big time!

With the Uruks surrounded, they lose their nerve and lose all of the combats. Since they are surrounded, they can't move back and the elves get double hits. To make a long story short, only Shagrat survives. Meanwhile, Gorbag loses 4 orcs amongst the hedges and Knack's forces get pushed back by the men.

Turn 8: Evil wins the priority. The evil forces are now below half strength and ever orc has to test their courage. Shagrat and Gorbag, seeing which way the wind was blowing, decide to skedaddle to the rear along with all of the orcs except the brave (or foolish) Kanck and 4 other orcs. As my jaws drops in disbelief, I decide to concide the village to the men and elves.

Run Away!!!

A good game! The evil side seem to be winning the game thought the tide slowly shifted as the elvish archers got into good firing positions to take advantage of the open fields of fire. I knew the orcs were going to lose when I goofed and had two open flanks which Honorable Son #4 took advantage of with a heroic move. Having two heroes to fight the Uruks didn't hurt either.

In hindsight, I should have kept my orcs as one force and stormed the village and then hopefully fight off any counterattacks. Honorable Son #4, though frustrated initially with the lack of progress and the dwindling force of men, held tough and eventually forced the minions of evil to run away screaming like little girls.

Again - a good game!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Games and Scales I play: Middle Earth. Part 2.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the land of Mordor, where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,

In the land of Mordor, where the Shadows lie.

I was in the 7th grade when I was introduced to the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and I have never looked back. Other fantasy works have come and gone, but Tolkien's tales have never gotten old and I have cheerfully re-read them through the years.

Cinematically, the tales haven't fared too well. When I first saw the animated made for TV version of The Hobbit as a teenager, I thought to myself, "this is great!" The music, the dwarves, the giant frog people that lived in Mirkwood forest - WHAAATTT? Who the heck came up with the artwork for those wood elves? They looked like some sort crazed versions of hunchbacked giant Yoda creatures that spoke with German accents. What the - ?

Then in college, Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings came out. Probably the less said the better. How many weird, cheap animation tricks can you put in one movie? Especially as it looks like he ran out of money?

Rankin Bass comes back (they did The Hobbit) with the made for TV, The Return of the King, which takes up where Bakshi's movie ended. If you didn't see Bakshi's movie or aren't familiar with the story . . . well . . . Anyway, the music was good - who could forget the Orcs singing, "Where there's a whip, there's a way!"

Then I heard a new movie was coming out - live action. I was horrified; what cinematic disaster was approaching. To my great relief, Peter Jackson did it right! Games Workshop also made a sharp move for getting the rights to use the movies as the basis for several games. Which brings me to their The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game.

Don't be fooled by the title, it is not a strategy game. On the other hand, it is a very good and enjoyable (and not complicated - great for the kids) skirmish game that lets heroes and evil villains be heroes and evil villains! Figures are mounted individually (hey, it's a GW game!) and can fight in groups, move around, shoot, jump, cast spells, etc. Rules cover shooting and ranged attacks, hand-to-hand fighting, different sorts of weapons, banners, monsters, and how to use heroes: the guys that are stern, mighty and dangerous. In fact, if you are playing the forces of good, you better know how to use your heroes as odds are you will be outnumbered (just like in the books).

Heroes are on both sides, both the good (Aragorn, Gandalf and Legolas for example) and the bad (Nazguls, Saruman and Uruk-hai Captains). The game has a novel way of representing the hero's characteristics: Might, Will and Fate. Heros will have points in the categories depending on which character they are. Might represents a hero's ability to do . . . well . . . hero stuff. A hero can spend a point of "Might" to adjust a die roll. If he or she needs to hit that Troll now and misses with the die roll, a might point could save the day. In the rules Might can influence the characters shooting, fighting, causing wounds, courage, skill tests, etc.
Will represents the hero's ability to employ or resist magical powers. Remember how long the Ring takes to affect a hobbit? Fate deals with destiny. Fate points can be used to recover wounds - even though I just fell 30 feet off that tower it was only a flesh wound!

All of the figures for the range are based on the imagery of movies. Most of the figures were designed by the Perry Twins and they are "true" 25mm figures - and great figures they are. As usual, GW has painting guides, terrain making guides, etc., that are a hallmark of their rules.

GW has recently published their War of the Ring rules for large battles. This is GW's game to play larger battles of the War of the Ring. GW made a good call by having the rules compatable with their current range of figures. They are selling unit bases that the figures can fit on top. If you don't want to use their bases, just cut out your own out of cardboard or balsa wood. I hear the rules are fun to play; at the current price retail price of $57.75, I'll need to wait a while to try them out!

Coming up soon will be a battle report that takes place near the Old Forest Road between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood Forest. During the War of the Ring, a small settlement of men are attacked by forces of Evil including orcs, Uruk-hai and a fearsome troll. Not all will be lost however; the elves of Mirkwood Forest are coming to the rescue. I of course will be leading the Forces of Evil ("Bwah Hah Hah!") and Honorable Son #4 will lead the men and elves.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK): The Africa Korps

"Rommel! Rommel! Rommel! What else matters but beating him!"
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Cairo Conference, August 8th, 1942.
I'm a retired Infantry officer that has served in both light and heavy units. (Side note, according to an acquaintance who is a C5 pilot in the Air Force: "The Army does not have light divisions; they have heavy divisions and heavier divisions") When I first saw the Flames of War rules I thought to myself, "Self, this looks really cool." Being an army combat kind of guy and militarian historian, it had appeal - lots of appeal.
As a longtime fan of Avalon Hill's classic boardgame Panzer Blitz, I have always wanted to recreate warfare on the Eastern Front in miniature. I had visions of T-34's and Panther tanks blasting away at each other at Kursk. So when I approached my geeks in training (my 5 sons) about World War II gaming they said:
"Great Dad!"
I said, "Cool! What armies do you want to do?"
They said, "Austrailians and British!"
"Hmmmmm. . .", I said.
After careful research, I could find not references to the British Expeditionary Force that assisted the Soviets, nor any mention of the heroics of the ANZAC Corps during Operation Bagration in June of 1944. As a result, my first Flames of War Army: The Africa Corps. (Side note: Honorable Son #3 went to the top of my will when he decided to do a Soviet Force - bless you Comrade!)
Fighting in an area with little terrain is like fighting in an area with little terrain. Talk about your challenges! Do the terms manuever, manuever and manuever mean anything? No? Well plan on having your butt handed to you in North Africa. And by the way, the Austrailian infantry is tough. In North Africa, the great killer of tanks were anti-tank guns, and this game accurately reflects that; I have my 88's and Honorable Son #2 has his 17lb AT guns. But tanks are tanks and you can unhinge an open flank if you move fast; but if you want to hold that objective, you better have your infantry along for the ride.
The two Lions of the Desert: I command the DAK and Honorable Son #2 commanding the Austrailians. Yes, you do play better if you wear a hat.

Here is the reason I have to wear my DAK field cap to win, the Austrailians are just plain tough!

Panzer III's and IV's of the 2. Kompanie 1/5th Panzerregiment, 21st Panzer Division advance.

Hauptmann (Captain) Josef-Willhelm Rettemeier leads 2.Kompanie. After the war, Rettemeier commanded a Panzergrenadier Brigade in the new West German Army.

The rear two tanks are Panzer IV's.

You get the feeling I like tanks?

Generalfieldmarschal Erwin Rommel, "The Desert Fox". Rommel is mounted in a Sd Kfz 250/5 half-track named Greif. Grief has a double meaning in the German language meaning both "Griffin" and "Attack".

"Herr Generalfieldmarschal, the Austrailian criminals stole our beer right here!"

This is the stand that represents me: The mighty Hauptmann (note the commanding pose) of 4.Kompanie, 2nd Bn, 104th Panzergrenadiers, 21st Panzer Division. That's my snazzy car behind me, a Kfz field car.

Panzergrenadier platoon with Kfz 70 trucks for transportation. I currently have 2 Panzergrenadier platoons plus a machine gun platoon in my Kompanie.

Here are some captured British trucks being used. Note the oversized cross and flags for recognition to avoid friendly fire.

The 2nd Panzergrenadier platoon.

The German Heavy Machinegun Platoon.

PaK36 3.7 cm light anti-tank gun platoon.

This is what made British and other allied tankers wet their pants, the dreaded 8.8cm Flak 36 gun. The "88" was designed for an anti-aircraft role, but the Germans figured out that it was an excellent anti-armor gun. It could penetrate the armor of any tank.

Crew working the guns.

This is the Sd Kfz 7 (8t) half-track used to carry the crew and tow the guns.

The back of a Kfz 70 truck. The D with the horizontal bar was the division symbol of the 21st Panzer Division.