Thursday 29 November 2012

Dazed and Confused

Rules. One of the main driving forces of the hobby. The rules serve to animate your lovingly prepared figures: using a good set of rules which play easily and have an authentic feel is one of the great pleasures of miniatures wargaming.

I've been looking out for some new rules recently. Now, I'm proud to say I'm definitely not a wargames butterfly. I have my 2 periods, which I intend to stick with, and for me the pleasure is in knowing those 2 periods thoroughly, as well as bringing together a collection of figures and vehicles over time to which I have become quite attached. But that doesn't stop me looking out for new rules which might enhance my wargaming.

However, these days I'm finding the new rules thing a bit problematic. Not that there's any problem with choice. Indeed, I have seen some comments that the number of new rule sets is a bit bewildering, but this isn't my problem. Nor is there a problem with the rules themselves: it seems rules writers are brimming with ideas, and reviews of the new sets seem to indicate that plenty of fresh concepts are out there. My problem is finding a set of rules that are just that - a set of rules.

For example, I Ain't Been Shot Mum! version 3 has recently been released. Being a well known cheapskate I took the opportunity to pick up an old copy of version 2 (2005), for a couple of quid at my local show (Reveille II in Bristol). The book featured interesting and original ideas from those Lardie boys, although overall they were maybe not for me. But I find that, to use the rules, I need (yes, actually need) to buy a period specific supplement for important stuff like stats and card deck composition. So the IABSM rulebook isn't a set of rules, it's part of a set of rules. It's volume 1. I presume v.3 is the same.

I have also been looking at the new Battlegroup Kursk set. For an outstanding review, see here. As you'll see, it's 237 pages long, it's a modelling and painting guide, it's a 25 page history of the Kursk campaign, but... the rules only cover one year of one theatre of WW2. Want to play Poland 1939? You'll have to wait for (and pay for) the supplement. Might be out in a year or two.

Yes, I am a bit bewildered. We all know that more playable and generally simpler rules have been a notable development in wargaming for quite a while. 'Fast Play' is all over the cover of most recent sets. But paradoxically the rule books containing these simpler, fast play rules just keep getting bigger and bigger. A4 size, full colour, quite likely over 200 pages, but somehow incomplete. There's apparently just not enough room to include all you need for your period in these grand books. You'll just have to buy the supplement(s). Not to mention that using that encyclopedia-like tome at the wargames table might be bit inconvenient as well, especially if you're juggling the rulebook and the supplement whilst referring between them.

So there you are. Rules that are too much and yet not enough, at the same time. Marketing concepts seem to be getting in the way of a satisfactory product - getting in the way of utility, if you will. Maybe there are customers out there for someone who just wants to produce a rule set: minimum size, minimum fluff, maximum coverage. Customers for a rules author or a wargames company that can spell concise. But perhaps the profit margin just wouldn't be high enough. In fairness, I should add that my trawls around the interweb would indicate I'm in a minority on this. Most wargamers seem very happy with these recent rulebooks and intend to snap them up.

Funnily enough, if I ever did a third gaming period it would pobably be DBA, with a view to progressing to the 'Big Battle' variant. Ah, DBA... probably counts as Old School by now. A5 format, 52 closely typed pages covering 3500 years of history including army lists... Hmm. Perhaps that's going too far in the other direction. But make that an A4 format, a few more examples of play, and you're there. Fortunately for my bank account, I don't think I have the time to support 3 wargames periods.

And whilst I'm on the subject...
Battlegames continues to be the magazine for the thinking wargamer. On the subject of rules, columnist Neil Shuck suggested in issue 30 that maybe the way into a new period was to choose a set of rules that attracted you, and go from there. Let the rules decide. An interesting idea, I thought, but I wasn't sure I agreed. In issue 32, Mike Siggins helped me clarify my doubts by writing that he thought Saga was a good rule set, and the figures available were excellent, but having played a few games he had decided the Dark Ages was tactically a bit boring. Yes - to avoid disapointment, it's surely best to put the period first.

I believe that the way into a new period is by research - investigate the new period, get to know and understand it. That should be a pleasure in itself. Then check out the rules and figures afterwards.

Even if you're a butterfly, it's better to be an informed butterfly.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

A New Project...

... but definitely not a new period. I don't have the time, money or motivation for a new period. But I have settled on a small, do-able project that will involve a modest number of purchases and a bit of scratch building.

Some years ago I had an idea about putting on a demo game at one of the shows, based on the German air assaults on the Dutch airfields around the Hague during the 1940 blitzkrieg. I never went ahead with it - just another idea shelved. But I recently came across some great information on these attacks, and once again I was thinking they would make a great game. But I had no desire to create battalions of Dutch infantry, plus heavy weapons and vehicles, to oppose the Germans - this would put far too much strain on my limited financial resources and (more importantly) my very slow rate of painting. I wanted to have this project finished promptly, and ready to play soon after Christmas.

The solution was straightforward enough - do the scenario, but transpose it to the Polish campaign. The most interesting aspects of each of the 3 airfield attacks could be amalgamated into one scenario, with the Poles standing in for the Dutch. It wasn't too fanciful to imagine similar attacks taking place against Polish airfields during 1939. And I mean really... Poles, Dutch, how many wargamers can tell the difference?...

For the Dutch M36...
...substitute the Polish Wz.29. Simples!
The Scenario
Those interested in the details of the real actions should visit the link already given above. Briefly, I would need an airfield to attack, but also sufficient surrounding area to allow for some off-airfield manoeuvre. This latter area would accomodate the arrival of reinforcements, parachute drop zones and maybe one or two secondary objectives. I settled on a 6' x 6' table formed of nine 2' TSS tiles, with the airfield located roughly in the middle.

I also needed to work out a rough sequence of events for the scenario, based on what actually took place. So we start with a lightly defended Dutch/Polish airfield. Around dawn, the Germans commence their attack with a bombing raid and the dropping of parachute troops at DZs just off the airfield. Very shortly after, units from an airlanding division arrive in Ju-52s, in 2 or 3 waves. At some point, Polish/Dutch reinforcements should also start to arrive, including artillery support as well as a bombing raid against the German aircraft now littering the area. These various forces would then fight it out for possession of the airfield plus (as in the real attacks) at least one secondary objective, probably a bridge over a river or canal.

Burning Ju-52s at Ypenburg. German aircraft losses were heavy.
Ju-52 hit by Dutch AA fire.

Balance of forces would be decided by the real battles, tweaked to give as fair an action as possible, and also guided by the parameters of the 'airborne assault' scenario in the BKC rulebook. Most of the figures used I would already have (Polish and German infantry). Vehicles and heavy weapons needed would be limited - the former would only be fielded by the Dutch/Polish. So what would I need to acquire over and above what I already had?

The actual airfields were all grass. Whether they had marked runways I don't know - airfields in those days tended to be just big grass areas. However, a couple of grass runways would give a nice impression of an aerodrome. Therefore I would purchase some sort of terrain mat from which I would cut out the runways, and these would then contrast nicely with the normal table surface. A runway length of 50cm would fit the intended space nicely and would scale to real runways 1000yards long - a reasonable length. I settled on the Woodland Scenics Small Summer Grass Mat.
Destroyed Ju-52s at Valkenburg, showing the type of grass airfields involved.
The airfield boundary could easily be suggested by roads, fences, hedges and tree lines formed from terrain I already had. The available field defences were also no problem. Some airfield buildings would, however, definitely be needed and these would have to be acquired. In the end I settled on making a scratch built hangar, which would stand alongside a suitable building bought from Timecast. These would form a very basic 'airfield built up area', which I could enhance with a model of a Polish Karas light bomber which was sitting unmade in my 'bits' drawer. The rest of the terrain outside the airfield could easily be created from my normal stock.

Figures and Vehicles
As for figures, I had enough German infantry for a couple of airlanding battalions, and plenty of Poles. The only problem was the Fallschirmjager. Step forward the very lovely Craig of Tiny Terrain, a wargames buddy who has offered to lend me his collection of German paras. Late war, but let's not be fussy! Much more importantly, if they're Craig's, I know they'll be beautifully painted. So that's sorted.

That's Craig, third from left.

I intend to put together a couple of AA mgs for the defenders, to fight alongside an existing Bofors 40mm - once again, I can cobble something together from the bits and bobs tray.

Vehicles: not many needed. A company of Dutch armoured cars were involved at Ypenburg, so I decided to add a Polish Wz.34 and Wz.29 to my list of purchases, to join a Wz.34 I already have.

Most importantly, how about those Ju-52s? 1/100th scale models would be too big and expensive (I wanted at least 4, preferably 6). 1/144th scale models might be ideal, and are available to purchase, but they're still around £15 each including p+p, making £90 for 6. No way. This time it was the Russians to the rescue, when I discovered that Zvezda do a 1/200th Ju-52 kit which you can get for about £2.50. Wingspan is 6", which will do the job. What the hell, maybe I'll buy 8.


With a bit of luck, I hope to keep my purchases within about £50, including modelling materials and the terrain mat.

The Story So Far
I have the terrain mat and materials for the hangar, bought from my (fairly) local model store, Antics in Bristol. The building from Timecast has arrived and is undercoated. The 2 armoured cars have also been purchased from Old Glory UK, who are UK stockists for True North Miniatures. I'll get all these sorted out before allowing myself the luxury of purchasing the Junkers. It's always tempting to buy everything at once, but a little discipline is called for when your budget is tight. And impulse buying is likely to grow one's lead mountain, which none of us needs.

To close, here's the Wz.29 model completed and undercoated.

The commander and turret hatches had to be added, as well as the 2 machine guns,
 the unusual arrangement of which is a distinct part of the vehicle's character.
But not a bad model for its age, and the only one available in 15mm size.

Updates to follow!