Sunday 31 January 2010

Zen and the Art of Wargaming

As I have said on this blog before, painting is not my favourite bit of the hobby. But when I'm in the right mood it can be quite therapeutic. I didn't realise the full significance of this until a recent trivial incident.

There I was, painting away in the dining room, some favourite music playing, the kids in their rooms and the wife watching TV next door. Alone and at peace. Then a couple of the kids come thundering in, raiding the fridge, asking questions about something, etc... and I found I was getting quite cross. Why was my peace being disturbed! Of course, I was being unreasonable, but the level of my irritation surprised me, and it brought home to me that doing this bit of painting was more than trying to work up a new SYW unit: it really was a kind of therapy.

In fact, it was like meditation. I had got into what I believe might be called a 'zen moment'. For my purposes I'll define that as a point where I was focused only on the now, on the task in hand, and everything else had faded into the background. Something like the sort of mental state people try to achieve via meditation. I realised then what a useful tool for winding down and achieving a sense of well being our hobby can be. Perhaps I should be surprised it took me so long to realise that fact.

Another positive view of the hobby came from reading a bit of Donald Featherstone recently (in Featherstone's Lost Tales). Talking of reading H.G. Wells Little Wars, he described the book as a 'classic contribution to the art of remaining young despite one's years'. That is a great description of the beneficial influence of a hobby like wargaming: a contribution to the effort of remaining young. If wargaming seems childish to some people, that's part of the point. It is perhaps more than just escapism, more than just putting the cares of everyday adult life aside. One is keeping in touch with the playful, light hearted, youthful part of one's character.

So there we are. Two good reasons to feel good about wargaming. I'll be back in the not too distant future with a SYW battle report. And I have a set of the Black Powder rules on order (at a great price from Amazon: I doubt I would have bothered at the full price). That should be worth a post or two, but I'll hold fire until I've had a game with them.

To conclude, a picture of some wargame's buddies (and my son, 13 at the time) who took part in a Poland 1939 demo game with me at Warfare 2005. I'm not sure if they're sharing a Zen moment or getting in touch with their playful natures. Maybe neither, but a good moment captured on camera. Something about too many cooks getting ready to spoil the broth springs to mind.

'Til next time!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Race to the Vistula

So. My latest game was interesting to me in two ways. First, I had developed my own scenario which I thought could produce a fun game, and second I was going to try out BKC II for the first time.

The idea was to re-create the conditions arising as the German 1st and 4th Panzer Divisions broke through Polish lines and raced towards Warsaw and the Vistula, around the 8th of September 1939. I designed a 6' x 4' terrain, which the Germans would have to traverse along its long axis against Polish opposition, with the objective of exiting worthwhile armoured forces off the far end of the table. The map was as below, with the Germans entering at the bottom (A) headed east. The interesting bit of the scenario was a set of randomly generated arrivals (both Polish and German) designed to represent the confused nature of the German advance and the Polish withdrawal. Zelazna is a Polish village name from the rough area of the fighting, but is used only to provide a little local flavour: the action is entirely fictional.

Initial Forces: Polish
(deploy first)
Deploy anywhere in or east of Zelazna. All except tanks may be dug in.
Infantry detachment: HQ (CV7), 4 infantry units, 1 mg unit, 1 mortar unit, 1 37mm ATG with tow
Infantry detachment: HQ (CV7), 4 infantry units, 1 mg unit, 1 40mm Bofors AA with tow
Tank Detachment: HQ (CV8), 2 Vickers E (47mm), 1 Vickers E (mg)

Initial Forces: German (move first)
Arrive in column along road from A. First movement on table must be along road.
Panzer Bn: 2 PzI, 2 PzII, 1 PzIV, 1 Sdkfz 231 (recce)
Panzer Bn: 2 PzI, 2 PzII, 1 PzIV, 1 SP88mm
Stuka Staffel: 1 Stuka unit
Artillery Bn: 3 105mm units. No assets. Counted as out of range of targets east of the river.

Random Arrivals
From move 2, at the start of each move roll a D12 on the arrivals table. Arriving forces deploy in column along their route for their 1st movement action, up to their maximum move.
Once a formation has arrived at a particular point, cross through any enemy forces with the same arrival point. If a force has already arrived or has been crossed off, re-roll until an eligible force is thrown for.

Arrivals table:
1 - Polish air raid; 2 Karas units arrive and may attack any aiming point not within 30cm of friends, or in woods.
2 - German motorised infantry arrive at A; HQ, 4 infantry units in 2 trucks, 2 m/c units, 1 mg in truck, 1 37mm ATG with tow.
3 - Polish infantry detachment arrives at B; HQ, 4 infantry units in 2 trucks, 1 mg in jeep, 1 37mm ATG with tow.
4 - Lost German lorried infantry arrive at C; HQ, 4 infantry units in 2 trucks, 1 mg unit in truck.
5 - Retreating Polish tank detachment arrives at C; HQ, 3 7TP (37mm).
6 - Flanking German Panzer platoon arrives at D; HQ, 1 PzI, 1 PzII.
7 - Lost Polish recce detachment arrives at D; HQ, 1 Wz34 (mg), 2 TKS (mg), 2 m/c units.
8 - German recce detachment arrives at E; HQ, 1 Sdkfz 221, 1 Sdkfz 222, 3 m/c units, 1 mg unit with truck.
9 - Polish cavalry arrives at E; HQ, 6 cavalry units, 1 mg in taszanka, 1 75mm artillery unit with horse tow.
10 - German Panzer platoon arrives at F; HQ, 1 PzIII, 1 Sdkfz 10/4.
11 - Polish armoured train retreating south arrives at F; Armoured train, 1 T-18 drasine (recce)
12 - German cavalry detachment arrives at G; HQ, 4 cavalry units, 1 mg unit with truck.

Victory Conditions.
The Germans must exit at least 5 AFV units (tracked or wheeled) off the table via point B to win. If not, they lose and the Poles win. Game will last as many moves as time permits.

The Game.

Table set up as per map.

The bridge is well defended: Polish infantry on the east bank, tanks blocking the road.

The other Polish infantry formation holds Zelazna.

The German panzers arrive. The first battalion moves off the road to bypass Zelazna to the south.

The Polish tanks move forward to engage. The MkIV on the hill gave the first result attributable to the new rules: the Polish player rolled 4 sixes in 2 firing actions with his mortar (called in by infantry units in the village), and with no successful saves the tank was KO'd.
First arrivals were the German infantry reinforcements from A who joined the queue on the road behind the tanks.

Next to arrive: Polish cavalry east of the railway and river move to join in the defence of the bridge.

Stuka strike! The new rules again take effect as the Stukas pick off 2 Polish tanks in 2 separate moves, using the 'concentration' rule and the new effect rolls.

The second panzer battalion bypasses Zelazna to the north. The Polish 7TPs arrive, but they merely provide target practice for the well drilled German tanks and the deadly SP 88mm. In 2 moves they are all KO'd. The PzIs move ahead quickly to bypass the flaming wrecks.

More German panzers arrive at D. The Polish light tanks are being overwhelmed but manage to delay the German advance.

The Polish cavalry dismount and consolidate at the bridge. The defence here is looking very strong.

More arrivals: German cavalry are moving along the railway line from G. They are headed for trouble.

As the game reaches its climax, Zelazna is bypassed to the north and south by German panzers and supporting motorised infantry.

Polish infantry retreats from Zelazna. The mortar and the remaining Vickers tank fire off a few last rounds to delay the Germans.

The Stukas appear again and attack the bridge area. But with 3 Polish Command units in the vicinity they encounter a storm of AA fire and are knocked out of the game without affecting their targets. (CO plus 2 HQs plus the Bofors = 9 attacks. 4 hits achieved with no saves possible).They will be unable to return. Note the severely reduced German cavalry. They encountered heavy fire from the Polish dismounted cavalry who were in cover, and eventually lost 3 of their 5 units.

Final positions. The Germans have done reasonably well, but the defence of the bridge area is far too strong. Note further arrivals: more German armour has arrived at F (lower left), and more Polish infantry arrives from B (left). As the Germans advance precipitously against the Polish second line, they lose a PzI to AT rifles, and the Sdkfz 10/4 to the Bofors. The PzIII is suppressed by the 75mm and 2 infantry units and 1 mg unit are lost from the dismounted motorised infantry, all in the final move. There is obviously no way through at the moment. The Poles have won.

8 game turns were completed in a little under 3 hours. The new rules worked perfectly, and I had no problems with any of the changes. The new cover saves made the Polish infantry in Zelazna difficult targets for the German artillery: despite having 9 attacks very little was achieved, but this is probably realistic. Overall, this is definitely an improved set.
As for the scenario, it was hard to judge the balance as the random arrivals provide a great deal of chance and variety. Nevertheless, perhaps the defence was a little too strong. If we refight the battle, I will reduce the Vickers tanks to 2, and attach 1 to each infantry formation, so that the Poles only have 2 formations initially. This actually fits in with the 'penny packets' rule added to the Polish army list. I should have listened to Pete! A little tweaking of the Polish arrivals should make the German task a little easier as well. I would also remove the range restrictions east of the river for the German artillery.

Thanks for visiting. Comments welcomed as usual!

PIBWL Military Site

A brief post to sing the praises of this website (run by Michal Derela) devoted to Polish armoured formations 1918-1939, including armoured trains. For those interested in wargaming the 1939 Polish campaign the information contained on the site is invaluable. It is written entirely in English which makes it (as far as I can tell) a unique source.
Michal is willing to take email enquiries about most Polish military subjects of this era. As an example, he emailed me the following photos of Polish self-propelled AA guns, on French De Dion-Bouton cars and then on PF621 truck chassis. My enquiry followed a discussion on the BKC forum regarding the Polish equivalent of the 88mm on 12 ton halftrack fielded by the Germans and featured in my recent post.
The first pair of images show the de Dion-Bouton cars (above) and the PF621s (below)
The upper picture in this pair gives a good idea of how the De Dion-Boutons looked.

Here rear views of the French cars (lower) and Polish truck mounts (upper) can be compared.

Stephen Zaloga and Victor Madej's book on the Polish campaign (The Polish Campaign 1939 - not the Osprey written by Zaloga alone) indicates that 12 of the 75mm AA guns mounted on the cars were re-mounted on PF621 trucks. Michal tells me the number of conversions was 4. It seems both SP mounts were involved in combat in 1939. They were employed primarily against aircraft but did engage tanks on a few occasions, and with some success apparently.

Anyone interested in Polish military history of the 20th Century should check out this site. A link is posted (under 'Polish Military Site') to the left of this post.

Friday 8 January 2010

A Miscellany...

...Which is a posh way of saying Odds and Sods. Over the last few months I have acquired a number of wargames products that might be of interest to readers of this blog, so I thought I would bring them together in one post. This gives me an excuse to show you some photos and make some comments.

88mm Flak 18 on 12 ton half track.
Having found out about this vehicle on the net about 2 years ago, and reading that it was deployed in Poland in 1939, I have hankered after one ever since. I thought about doing a conversion of some sort, but had shelved the project when Battlefront Miniatures came up with the model as part of their 'Mid-War Monsters' range. Brilliant!
In 15mm it towers over my Panzer Is and IIs, and is a very impressive model when made up. The hull is resin, the rest of the parts metal. The tracks and wheels fit easily and solidly onto the well-cast resin hull, but there are a couple of problems with the gun. First, it is supposed to be a Flak 18, but Battlefront provide what is obviously a Flak 36, with the prominent 'barrel nut' half way down the gun tube. This needs filing off. The parts of the gun fit together awkwardly, and if fitted as cast create a slightly lop-sided weapon, due to rather poorly cast trunnions. The shield is also not quite the right shape, having rather too much of a backward slope. Nevertheless, for wargaming the model is fine and produces an excellent result. As with all Battlefront kits of this type, it benefits from being provided with a full gun crew, an example which other manufacturers would do well to follow.

The two shots above show the model posed on another of my purchases, a Faller 'Minimat' bought via Timecast. This is the cornfield colour one, 29cm x 40cms for £4. It formed the wheatfield in my 'Plattstadt' post. The mat has a paper backing but is proving to be perfectly robust and a good way of adding variety to my layouts. One thing that I have never liked is the common use of what look like bits of doormat for cornfields, where your Prussian Grenadiers or Tiger tanks can be seen delicately balancing on the tips of 4 foot corn stalks. This Faller mat is a much more acceptable alternative.
The haystacks are another new item, bought from The Square ( These resin casts are inexpensive and easy to paint up.

Cart and Wagon - Parkfield Miniatures.
If you have read my brief post about the excellent service I received from Parkfield, well, these are the wagons in question. Nicely cast, easy to put together metal models that have a very solid feel, and are perfectly compatible with 28-30mm figures. The models don't include the figures: these have to be purchased separately. The barrels are also an addition. The models are shown on another Faller Minimat, this time the 'light green' one.

SYW Heavy Gun.

Having decided I'd like to field a heavy gun battery or two in my SYW games, I finally settled on the guns made by Elite Miniatures. The models I bought are actually from their French SYW range, but I'm not particularly fussy about these things so the Prussians and Austrians will get one each. The model shown is of a Valliere 8 pounder cannon, but compared to my RSM 'medium' guns it is pretty big, so I'm counting it as a 12 pounder. In fact, I shortened the barrel by a few millimetres to give the gun a more stocky look. The limber is a quick conversion of the standard RSM 2 horse limber to have a centre pole and cross-piece, with 4 RSM horses.

The gun is loose and can be hooked up to the limber for travelling across the table. When deployed, it is placed on the base as shown, the crew being permanently fixed to the base as normal. This saves on buying 2 guns, and also allows the crew to 'run away' and abandon their piece, which can occur under the Rank and File rules that I use.

RSM Spanish figures.
RSM have recently acquired the rights to the SYW Spanish range previously cast and marketed by The London War Room. I bought a few of these to see how they look. As Rich at RSM says, they can be used to provide a bit of variety for other nations as well as being used to create Spanish armies. The pictures show how they compare to the normal RSM figures. As you can see, they are bit chunkier, the heads in particular being a fair bit larger, but in general I think they fit in quite well. The unpainted figures in the centre are an officer and standard bearer (sans standard). The painted officer on the extreme right is also a Spanish figure which has taken service with the Prussian Grenadiers. Also potentially useful are a couple of seated figures, an officer and a fusilier. The latter is seen in the background of the first photo and more prominently in the lower photo. Very handy to have in the odds and sods box.
I should perhaps apologise for the clumsily painted Prussian eagles on the mitres of the right hand base of grenadiers. All I can say is I did my best, and from a couple of feet away you can hardly notice!

War Bases.

I wanted to give this company a mention as I now use them to obtain all my 2mm MDF bases. They provide very accurately and neatly cut bases (the best I have encountered) at competitive rates, with a prompt turnaround. They provide standard sizes or a custom service. Recommended. (

Blitzkrieg Commander 2nd Edition.

Last, but very much not least, the new edition of Blitzkrieg Commander. There is no need for me to give these rules an extended review: the BKC website is full of appreciative comments, and there is also a summary of what has changed somewhere on the site. In brief, the best set of WW2 rules currently available have just got better. FoW gamers can use the 'one stand to a squad' scale and take part in a much superior game at the organisational level they are used to, or one can use the 'one stand to a platoon' scale and have multi-battalion games in an evening.
The 140 page book retails for £20 plus £3 postage in the UK. This gives you all you need: no supplements required, as a very comprehensive set of army lists for most nations and periods is included. The basic rules only take up about 20 or so pages, a tribute to their simplicity. The rest of the book consists of examples (with colour pictures), details of various suggested scenarios , a few optional or specialist rules and the army lists. One feature I particularly like is that the photos are there to illustrate well chosen examples of play, rather than being eye-candy. Recommended? You bet. These rules are quite outstanding.

A battle report with the new edition of BKC is pending, so watch this space.

A slightly belated Happy New Year to everyone!