Tuesday 24 January 2017

A Punitive Expedition to the Pushna Valley, 1936

Those lucky wargamers who own a copy of Featherstone's War Game Campaigns (1970) may recognise the title of this post. The 'expedition' as described in the book consists of a single operation, and lends itself to a stand-alone wargame rather than a campaign. Stuart has had his eye on reconstructing the game for some time, particularly as it gives him an excuse to collect some period (or roughly period) lorries and armoured vehicles from local toy shops and second hand toy fairs. Happily, there is one of the latter in Cirencester around 5 times a year.

Apart from said collection of vehicles, the figures to be used were in 15mm, with 2 'brigades' of British organised in a total of 5 units, each of 10 figures (2 units in one brigade and 3 in the other). There were also 3 units of cavalry with 4 figures in each. These all came from the Minifigs 'North-West Frontier' range, apart from a few Gallia figures. I took charge of the British forces.

The defending tribesmen were controlled by Stuart. None were deployed on table at the start of the game, but their location had been written down on a sketch map, and would appear when they decided to open fire or British forces moved into their location. These were also organised into units of 10, and the figures were from the same Minifigs range. They had a gun of doubtful provenance with which to take on the British tank and armoured cars, and a secret weapon of which I would learn towards the end of the game.

The Game in Pictures
The scenario was based around a fictional expedition against a rebel fort on the North-West Frontier during the late 1930s. The British force was tasked with taking and blowing up the fort before retiring back to their base. They were entirely motorised, but the wheeled vehicles would be restricted to the road, posing a frustrating problem to the British commander. Shades of the advance of 30 Corps during Market Garden! The rules were assembled from ideas in the original book and some other Featherstonian colonial rules.

Overview of the table with the game well under way. The infantry moves were conservative in distance,
 so dismounting from the vehicles really slowed the advance down. Terrain items from Javis.
The tribesmen allow the armoured car to pass before mounting their horses and charging
into the flank of the advancing British cavalry. They were seen off after a stiff fight.
Nearer the British start point, a second armoured car leads 2 British battalions
against a village held by tribesmen. Mk.IV tank in the background.
The Mk.IV fired its 6pdr into the enclosure ahead of it, clearing out the tribesmen, but a stray round
destroyed one of the British softskins on the road. Oops!
The tank had to save the day by bulldozing the lorry off the road. In the background British units attack
another rebel-held village, whilst motorised units approach the main pass.
The support of the armoured cars was essential in clearing the villages. In fact, I reckon
the rules gave their machine guns a little too much firepower. Here you can see that the scouting cavalry
have stirred up another hornet's nest.
Suddenly the slopes of the pass are alive with tribesmen. The British unit climbing the
valley side was thrown back in a desperate melee. The gun from the fort opened fire and
immobilised the leading armoured car for a total of 4 moves.
The tribesmen in the fort are revealed. The fort was purchased ready-made by Stuart
many years ago at a wargames show.
The armoured car is once again operational. The pass is still alive with tribesmen, but the British decide they will be
no match for the armoured might of the Empire. Time to push on to the fort!
And so the secret anti-tank weapons of the tribesmen are revealed. Boulders hurtle down the slopes and immobilise both the armoured car and tank.  With these out of action,  the fort suddenly seems a long way away.
The British decide to retire, to return another day.

Oh, The Disgrace!
Despite all their advantages in firepower and mobility, the Brits had been turned back. A distinct victory for the tribesmen, although they had suffered severe losses in men. This turned out to be a most interesting scenario, despite being completely un-playtested in advance (and that includes the rules). The latter will need some tweaks, but the game cracked along and was completed in about an hour and a half. 

Another complete change from my usual wargaming fare. These games at Stuart's definitely get the brain working, despite their seeming simplicity. They have certainly demonstrated to me the ability of basic rules to produce absorbing games. As long as the balance is right (for example between attack and defence, or fire and movement), they can be just as satisfying as more complex published rules. Which is not to say I will be abandoning the latter - they have their own interest and pleasures.

'Til next time!

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Trimsos - The Obsession Takes Hold

The Lure Of Escapism
My wife recently told me I was spending rather too much time in my 'hidey hole', which is her name for my small but well-stocked study. Maybe she was right. Perhaps if I was a better adjusted human being I would find escaping from 'real life' into a hobby less alluring. This is both the attraction and danger of hobbies - at their best they offer a zen-like focus that takes us away from our everyday worries and allows us to re-charge our batteries and find relaxation. At the same time there lurks the danger of obsession and cutting oneself off from rather more pressing and practical occupations. Even worse is the possibility of cutting oneself off from interaction with people who don't share one's interests. If those people are friends and family you may well have a problem.

Well, I don't think things have quite got that bad, but my wife clearly had an inkling that maybe they were getting that way. I have to admit that I was basically unrepentant, because I find escapism particularly attractive at the moment. I find I really do need to hide away from life sometimes, both for the simple pleasure of doing so, and as a way to reset and unwind prior to the next bout of 'real life'. Sometimes you just have to give in.

But this discussion should really be dragged back to wargaming before it strays too far into an exploration of my personal issues. And so we turn to the catalyst for my increased time in the study - what I have been calling the Trimsos Project.

The Trimsos Project
There's no doubt about it - this little project has captured my imagination more than I expected. Starting to put the rules together has been fascinating, but creating the armies I need has been just as involving, and rather more time consuming - hence the increased time spent in the study sticking Victrix figures together and then painting them.

The work bench in the lead-up to Christmas. My light infantry are made up,
and a couple of Zvezda war engines are nearing completion.

As regular readers of this blog will know, painting figures is not my favourite part of the hobby. Nevertheless, I really like these Victrix plastic figures and painting them has so far been no real problem. Despite this, I am always on the lookout for ploys to maintain enthusiasm. My latest idea was that I could construct and base up the figures, then use them unpainted in a small solo test game which would help in developing the rules. 

Yes, I agree - clear signs of obsession here. Not only have I started a new period when I always prided myself on being happy with the SYW and Poland 1939, I've started painting units when I swore I would never do so again, and furthermore I'm now wargaming with unpainted figures, a practice I have quite rightly pilloried in the past. At least I can claim my raw figures were only employed in private - no other wargamer witnessed my shame.

The photos below give an idea of how many figures I now have. The gaming board is 3' x 3'. This little game was actually very useful in checking how well the rules work, and pointed up many issues which needed resolving. Still a long way to go.

I still haven't finally decided on names for the 2 fictional countries which will command my small armies.
Using Hyperboria and Hyrkania is tempting, but maybe I need to put my own stamp on this project.
The defenders of the hill are losing. It would seem aggressive tactics can work with the rules as they are.
A couple of SYW generals act as command figures pro tem.

Since the above photos were taken, I have managed to get some more painting done, with the results seen below.

Three units of heavy infantry now completed (rear), with Victrix archers and slingers in front.
Each unit has 2 officers and a musician, which are important to the rules.
Victrix slingers. A very easy painting job.
Zvezda catapult, crewed by lightly converted Victrix light infantry.

The Victrix light cavalry and javelinmen are still looking rather grey, but they are next on my painting list. Then it will be time for another order. I think the next tranche will have to be metal figures, probably from Warlord Games, in order to get some heavy cavalry, mounted archers and command figures into the collection.

Unsurprisingly, I have also added some books to my shelves to add more old school ancients inspiration, notably Mr Featherstone's Wargaming: Ancient and Medieval Periods and Wargames Through The Ages Volume 1: A Wargaming Guide 3000BC to 1500AD. Both will definitely come in handy. I also now have the Kindle edition of Tony Bath's Ancient Wargaming, one of the reprints put out by John Curry. Excellent as this series is, I reckoned that the rather low production standards common to these books would mean I wasn't missing much by getting it on my Kindle. In this I think I was right, but the text itself will be indispensable in my quest to get the right feel for this project.

And now, if it's not too late - Happy New Year!