Thursday 31 May 2012

Henschel HS-123

Reading through one of my books on the Ju-87, I came across mention of the Stuka's predecessor, the HS-123, and the fact that it had seen service in Poland. A quick bit of internet research showed that although the aircraft had not been entirely successful as a dive bomber (due to a lack of precision in the dive), it had been switched to the ground attack role in which it had been quite successful. What particularly stirred my interest was the information that in Poland, with the Stuka being used in the tactical bombing role (i.e. working behind enemy lines), it was the HS-123 that was more likely to be encountered providing air support on the battlefield. It could use improvised airstrips even more readily than the Stuka, thus operating from close behind the advancing troops. This, combined with the aircraft's rugged simplicity and reliability, resulted in a high sortie rate that the Germans found very useful. The aircraft is also described as being able to deliver its modest bombload with considerable accuracy.

HS-123 artwork showing the aircraft on the Russian front.

This made the aircraft an attractive prospect for use in Blitzkrieg Commander games. I began to feel the need for a little retail therapy. What swung the balance was the information that the aircraft went through the Polish campaign painted in the old thirties-style three colour camouflage. Repainting the aircraft in the latest scheme wasn't considered worthwhile as they were classed as obsolescent and were due for retirement after the campaign (in the end, they were still serving on the Russian Front in 1944). Whatever the reason, here was a funky new paint scheme to enliven my table.

The Model
My first port of call for a 1/100th scale model was Armaments In Miniature, who had supplied my Stuka and Karas models. The quality of the AIM products is unsurpassed, but their HS-123 was listed as a future release, which probably meant it was ages away. However, help was at hand on the Old Glory website. Under their "Lil' Flyin' Fokkers" range was just the model I wanted, at a fairly reasonable price.

I was pleasantly surprised when the model arrived. Although not up to the standard of refinement (bordering on perfection) achieved by AIM models, this was a fine piece of work. Nicely formed parts in resin and metal with no air bubbles or flash, which went together pretty well. Alright, putting the top wing on is a bit tricky, but a glue that allows some fiddle time and a reasonable dose of swearing did the trick. The photos below show the model mostly complete.

There are plenty of internet sources to give details of colour schemes and markings. Appropriate decals are also available from Old Glory, though you have to find your own serial numbers. Mine are entirely spurious and derive only from what I had left over from old kits. The finished model is shown below. The flight stand is home made.

As you can see I like a stand that gives the aircraft a reasonable height over the table - about 12" being my preferred altitude. I don't like those short stands some gamers use, with the aircraft skimming 2 or 3 inches above the playing surface.

The HS-123 in Blitzkrieg Commander
So now I have 3 aircraft units to deploy for my 1939 battles. The BKC stats for them from the rulebook are:

Ju-87B-1:  AT/AP 4; Hits 3; Points 60
HS-123A: AT/AP 4; Hits 4; Points 70
   Karas:   AT/AP 5; Hits 3; Points 80

Pete Jones bases his attack values for aircraft like these on the weight of bombload (he told me so), so you can see where he's coming from - the Karas carried a maximum load of 750kg, the Ju-87B-1 (not the B-2) 500kg, the HS-123 450kg. But wait a minute. The Karas a better ground attack/tactical bomber than the Stuka? Nay, nay and thrice nay! The point of the latter was accuracy, which I reckon made it significantly more effective than the rather indifferent Polish product. And it seems, from all the sources I can find, that the HS-123 rarely carried 450kg of bombs. The centreline hardpoint was usually (if not invariably) reserved for a drop tank to offset the aircraft's poor range. So bombload becomes 200kg (4 x 50kg bombs carried under the wings). Finally, the HS-123 had reputation for taking a lot of punishment, which I assume is the basis for the 4 hits. But the Stuka had much the same reputation. The smaller size of the Henschel aircraft would also count against it here - at least that's how it seems to work with tanks in BKC. 

Not wishing to depart too far from the rules, I'll say the greater accuracy of the Stuka compensates for its smaller bombload. The HS-123 is also usually described as an accurate ground attack aircraft, but this can't entirely offset the small bombload. I'm also unconvinced about the extra hit for the HS-123. Hence the stats I will be using (until someone convinces me otherwise) are:

JU-87B-1: AT/AP 5; Hits 3; Points 80
HS-123A:  AT/AP 4; Hits 3; Points 60
   Karas:   AT/AP 5; Hits 3; Points 80

One might conceivably give the Stuka and Karas attack values of 4 and the HS-123 3, but I like my air support to be effective when it arrives, so I've gone for the higher values.

Bedtime Reading
I always like an excuse for some background reading, so I treated myself to the book by Robert Panek. Except that I now find out it's not released until 15th July, although Amazon said it was available from 28th May and would be delivered on the 30th. This is not the first time I have heard about spurious and optimistic publishing dates on Amazon - something to look out for. If you're pre-ordering, check the expected publication date with the publisher.

Anyway, this certainly looks like the book to get: MMP have an excellent track record with their books on some of the less well known aircraft of WW2. I'll just have to be patient.

Overall then, a nice bit of fun getting the Henschel into my collection. I look forward to using it in action!

Added on 30th November 2012: this book has been put back twice, and is now scheduled to be published in January 2013. Becoming fed up with this process, I cancelled my order.

Monday 21 May 2012

Maurice - First Impressions

Crikey O'Riley - another set of rules for the 18th century. Here I am with my own set to use as well as Black Powder, which I still enjoy playing and am perfectly happy with. But Maurice has a secret weapon - a free to download 'Lite' version.

I love Sam Mustafa
As you will probably know, this is the chap who gave us Lasalle and Might and Reason. Sam is to be heartily congratulated for going along the path of bringing out a Lite version of the rules which those interested can download for free (along with the necessary cards and a fast-play sheet).

This has the unusual virtue of being good for both seller and buyer. The same thing helped Blitzkrieg Commander become popular a few years back, and provides an excellent chance of creating a good vibe for a set of rules. And with rule sets being £20 or £30 a pop these days, and there being so many of them, you can't just buy a set on the off-chance that you'll love them. So, nice one Sam. A pity more authors and publishers are not so enlightened.

I hate Sam Mustafa
I nearly didn't bother looking into the rules at all when I saw the sub-title. 'War in an Age of Gentleman and Philosophes'. Hmm. One thing that irritates me occasionally about SYW gaming is the idea that this was some sort of 'Golden Age of Warfare' - in fact I think the phrase is actually used in the intro to the original Koenig Krieg rules. Charles Grant senior has much to answer for here. The quaint and whimsical world he created in The War Game seems to have led some gamers to believe that war in the eighteenth century was all about gentlemen on opposing sides inviting each other's regiments to fire first, following which everyone would march off to the nearest town for lunch. I'm confident Mr Grant knew better, and I surely don't need to belabour the fact that this was not the case. The battles and campaigns featured the most appalling slaughter and suffering (to men and animals), and the civilian population had their share as well - Frederick's occupation of Saxony being a case in point. It is generally argued that things were better than during the horrors of the Thirty Years War. Quite true, but this doesn't mean that the wars of the eighteenth century were either particularly civilised or honourable.

Even ignoring the warfare entirely, the period could just as easily (and probably more accurately) be called 'The Age of Injustice and Inequality', or some such. I have a great interest in, and admiration for, the Enlightenment and all it encompassed, but one has to be realistic about what life in the era could mean for ordinary people. As you can see, this is definitely a soap box issue for me.

Anyway, setting subtitles to one side, there is also the issue of pricing. Black Powder was expensive, but when you had the book in your hand you had to admit that £30 was probably reasonable for the physical object itself. Now the introductory deals are over, the Maurice rulebook is £25. Encountering a friend's copy, I was struck by its relatively slim nature, flimsy card covers and thin paper. These are all good attributes if they result in a book costing £15, maybe £18. But Maurice just doesn't have the heft or quality for a £25 rulebook, in my personal opinion. The cards are an additional £12, which is also not cheap, although the cards themselves are of good quality. The two together can be had for £35. Definitely not convinced here.

The Rules
Ah yes, to get to the point. Most reviews of the rules have been positive. On the basis of one game with the Lite version and another with the full rules, I would generally agree. I have no experience of card games, so the gameplay made a refreshing change. Good fun was generally had. Things move along quite smartly and the rules for the basics are simple and easy to grasp. The advanced rules look worthwhile and the inclusion of a campaign system is also to be applauded. 

The main problem so far has been the tendency to have games where half your troops don't do anything at all for the whole game. Being used to Warmaster style rules, I have no objection to some of my troops being able to do little or nothing for some of the time. But Maurice can take this to another level. However, I can see that with more experience with the rules and how to use them to best advantage, this may well change. At the very least, it seems to me that historical deployments and tactics are encouraged - indeed, they seem to be vital.

I am fortunate in having some opponents who have the rules, but no figures. Having the figures, I can provide these and get away with having no rules for the time being. Should the games improve, and I get the knack of bringing all or most of my forces to bear, I may well swallow my pride and invest in a set. Maybe they'll appear on Amazon at a discount.

For a good overview of the rules as our little group has encountered them so far, see my old mate Steve's blog here. If you want a change from the various complimentary reviews, Angus Konstam is far from impressed on his Edinburgh Wargames site (see the fourth battle report down), although I think his comments are misguided.

Definitely one to watch.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Memory Lane (2) - WW2 20mm

I recently stumbled upon some photos of 20mm WW2 games I played in the 1990s, so I thought it would make a 'part 2' post for my earlier trip down memory lane. There are shots of 3 games below, using my good old TSS tiles as the basis for the scenery, tiles which have lasted me now for nearly 20 years.

Game 1
Game 1

At the time these 3 games were played I was using Peter Pig's Abteilung rules, which are surprisingly still on sale. I can't imagine they sell many - even when I was using them I got the impression that I was the only wargamer in the country so inclined. But that was in the days before the interweb when it was much harder to get information about what people were doing. I liked Abteilung a lot, although their production values were low and the proof reading left something to be desired. I was waiting for a second edition which never happened, and then along came Blitzkrieg Commander...

Game 1 again - good old Airfix Shermans.
Game 2
Game 2
Game 2

All this lot got sold off for about £1000 (nice!), which paved the way for buying my Polish collection painted. The North West Europe campaign had got a bit stale after pursuing it for around 20 years. To be honest, I've never really missed the stuff, though I had owned some of it for a long time. I certainly couldn't face painting all the infantry for my new period, so the 20mm had to go if I was to afford professional painting for my new project. I did the vehicles myself though.

Game 3 - my old buddy Paul advancing the Germans
Game 3

The trees (home made) and hedges are still going, as are the village bases cut out from model railway scenic material. Some of those home made trees must be 25 years old now, maybe more. The Bellona bridges you can see in game 2 are also still going - see here (about halfway down the post).

Hope this may stir some nostalgia amongst readers. Funnily enough, Paul has recently gathered a couple of 20mm WW2 Eastern Front armies, so once again the Airfix Tigers and Panthers are back in my life!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

A Couple Of Thoughts...

...prompted by the new issue of Battlegames magazine.

First Thought

Salute 2012 saw a terrific 'game' put on by a pair called The Essex Gamesters. It was called Corunna 1809, and it won a prize, as it well deserved to. See the photos here

But why do I put 'game' in quotation marks? Well, according to Battlegames, this was something called a Diorama Game. I was struck by the phrase as I had never heard it before, but I immediately knew what it meant. Playing a demo game at Colours a couple of years ago I found myself next to such a game. This is where a purpose-built model railway style terrain is set up, then painstakingly festooned with beautifully painted figures, ships, vehicles etc. In addition there may be one or more information boards to erect as well. This will probably take at least a couple of hours. Following which sturdy effort, the 'gamers' collapse with exhaustion into their chairs and stare at their creation for a few more hours, before proceeding with the equally taxing task of packing it up. 

That's right - a Diorama Game is a game where nothing happens. I wasn't at Salute, and didn't see what went on in 'Corunna 1809', but the description by Battlegames strongly implies that this was what was going on in this particular presentation. If I'm wrong in this case, I apologise - but the concept is clearly firmly with us. Now, bottom line, what hobbyists do with their toy soldiers is up to them. And I would agree that such displays can be very inspiring, refreshing one's outlook on the hobby. I can indeed feel a bland conclusion coming on, something along the lines of the usual 'each to his own' cliche. But  I have a nagging feeling in my head that the hobby is actually called war gaming. There's supposed to be a game going on. It's not, after all, called war diorama making. 

I guess this all seems rather mean spirited, not to say inspired by envy. I'll admit mean spirited, but I don't have any envy. I want to wargame. My inspiration is intellectual - animate those toy soldiers by giving them a purpose, by developing a story (or 'scenario' as it is generally called). Then see how things work out when players with different ideas play the story out. See how the story is influenced by the rules, for good or bad. And see how table top events relate to the historical picture.

Dah! I don't know. What do you think?

Second Thought

One of the areas in which Battlegames really scores is the review section. A wide range of sensible and balanced thoughts on a goodly number of new products. In the latest issue, however, one comment did rather set me back on my heels. Neil Shuck was reviewing a supplement to the Saga rules, called Northern Fury. Early in the piece he had this to say,

"Gripping Beast are committed to supporting this new game, and Northern Fury is the first of two supplements that are planned for this year."

I was so happy. Oh those wonderful, selfless boys at Gripping Beast. Despite all the odds, they're committed to supporting Saga. Bless their hearts... Come on Neil, they're a commercial company. Saga isn't a charity expedition to the Himalayas in support of disabled people, it's a wargames product. Gripping Beast's 'commitment'  is to making some more money out of this product. That in itself is fair enough. But the style of the comment seems to me to be an example of the disconcerting idea that companies are doing us gamers a favour by selling us their stuff, and we should therefore be suitably grateful. Wargamers in general seem to be happy with an increasingly commercial wargames industry, and this is also fair enough. But at least see things as they are. 

Now, (for example), one could quite rightly say that Pete Jones was 'committed' to supporting Blitzkrieg Commander (he is, BTW, the author). He set up a well designed and well tended website where users could communicate via a forum (one of the best on the web IMHO), where battle reports can be viewed in their multitudes, where he is usually available to rapidly answer rule queries (a definite rarity amongst rule writers), and where he encourages players to become involved in new ideas for rule amendments. And there's a gallery and a free battlegroup creator (providing you bought the rules). OK, you could say this is just promotion for his product, but all this is done on his own, for free and in a spirit of participation and open comment. And all that is for sale is the rules. 

Or look at the boys who produce Warning Order. A great, high quality online magazine produced entirely for the love of it and available to anyone to download for free. It's been going for 32 issues now. Yes, that's commitment

Readers of this blog may be aware that I am grimly opposed to supplements simply for being what they are, i.e. a bare faced con to stretch the profitability of a set of rules. But others are welcome to disagree. Neil evidently thought (in an otherwise well written and informative review) that this supplement was a good offering. But I'm afraid that phrase just grated. Another, more appropriate, choice of words was required. Something between sinking to your knees in gratitude and unconditionally reviling the whole concept. Something a bit more detached and neutral, perhaps. But then, perhaps, I'm just over reacting. 

Something with pictures for my next post, I think!