Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sad news

My good friend, fellow wargamer and all-around fine fellow Mark Perry has died of a massive heart attack while on a business trip in Hawaii.

I've known Mark so long that i can't quite recall when I met him.

Mark was a fine person. He was, first and foremost, a devoted dad and loving husband. No one can miss him more than his wife and friend Cindy and their three children. The photo above shows Mark with his son Ian, who is serving with in the Army in Iraq.

Mark was a serious and thoughtful man, with a strong sense of duty and ethics. He was an active leader in his church and he served a full and honorable career in the Navy Reserve. He was the first person I personally knew who was recalled to active duty after 9/11. Mark served in the Washington area on port security planning. I don't know any details about what he did, and I'm sure it was classified anyway, but I have no doubt that he made a contribution to our nation's security. Mark's career involved training ship captains and other maritime personnel.

Mark's full life of family, church, career and naval service meant that I didn't have as much opportunity as I would have liked to enjoy his company across the wargame table. And while Mark was a life-long wargamer and a quality opponent, he was always gracious and sportsmanlike. He never let competitiveness get in the way of an enjoyable game. In fact, I think we probably spent more time during our game sessions talking about history and current affairs than actually playing.

Mark had wide-ranging interests as a gamer, but I think his first love was the American Civil War. He's the only person I know who owns a complete set of the Official Records (which is a compilation over scores of books of the official reports from the generals on both sides of the conflict). Mark was a published writer on historical topics, with his work appearing in Strategy & Tactics, among other periodicals.

It's a cruel blow to lose him so soon. I joked with him once that we'd only get to play This Hallowed Ground (the massive regimental-scale Gettysburg battle game) once we were both retired. I guess that will remain an unrealized project now.

My understanding is that there will be a memorial service for Mark in Rhode Island on Oct. 10.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little revenge

Just to demonstrate the advantages of knowing the enemy OB, I solitaired three iterations of the following 100-point British fleet against the 99-point German force that beat up on the 98-point Soviets.

It comprised the Warspite, three Truculents and three Martlets.

One time the Germans were able to pull out a narrow win by sinking the Warspite while still having the crippled Scharnhorst afloat. The British had awful luck with initiative.

But the other two battles were decisive British wins, with all three German ships going down with no British losses at all (not surprising of course, as the Germans have nothing that can shoot down the Martlets and have a low chance of success in ASW and are vulnerable to being picked off by the Martlets. The Warspite took damage in both battles, but that was it.

Generally the Germans could get two objectives but that was the extent of their scoring.

This does not suggest that the Warspite/Martlet/Truculent build is a good one. It has obvious vulnerabilities, but it has a very good chance of beating that particular German build.

98-point Soviet Fleet rematch

So the Soviet fleet and the Scharnhorst/Scheer squadron had a rematch.

This time I had the Soviets concentrate on trying to eliminate Germans ships, on the theory that this was their only hope of avoiding eventual destruction by air units.

This worked somewhat better for the Soviets, although they were still no where close to winning.

The Soviets charged ahead at maximum speed to close on the German fleet as quickly as possible. This time around the air strike luck was pretty normal. There were few aborts and the German bombs generally fell true. Despite that the Soviets were able to grab one objective and sink a Scheer before being wiped out, so the final score was 198 for the Germans (One objective for 50, surviving for 50 and 98 points for sunk Soviets) and the Soviets got 70 (20 for a sunk pocket battleship and 50 for an objective). The third objective was unclaimed.

I am not sure whether this result says that the Soviet fleet is too weak or it just points out that it's always possible to build a fleet that can kill another fleet if you have the luxury of knowing its order of battle beforehand.

The main problems for the Soviets were two-fold.

First, they have no real counter for the German airpower. The Soviet AA can't hope to do more than occasionally abort the German bombers, which means they will eventually lose if the game goes on long enough.

Secondly, the Scharnhorst is a tough nut for the Soviets to crack. If they could get in to torpedo it they might stand a chance, but the German air units will usually kill off enough torpedo armed ships to prevent an effective swarm. The only ship with sufficient gunnery power to get through the Scharnhorst armor of the Okt. Rev., but it can't win a gunnery duel against the German ship.

The mine special ability isn't easy to use in a Standard Scenario Fleet action, although it might be an interesting tool for a convoy raiding fleet.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More adventures for the 98-point Soviet fleet

A commenter over at the FuroMini site suggested a German fleet to defeat the 98-point Soviet Fleet. To recap, the Soviet Fleet comprises one Okt. Rev. Battleship, two Kirov cruisers and nine Gromkiy destroyers. This happens to be all the Soviets I have, but it's also happens to be a reasonable build for a 100-point Soviet Standard Scenario fleet.

With only 100 points it's hard to build anything resembling a balanced fleet, but knowing the composition of the Soviet fleet is an advantage. Actually, simply knowing that they are Soviets is a big advantage because the Communists don't have a lot of options. They have no aircraft or subs yet.

So the German fleet comprised one Scharnhosrt, two Adn. Scheer, two Kondors and one JU-88. The commenter suggested that the aircraft would savage the Soviet DDs while the surface units dealt with the larger Soviet ships and objectives.

And so it played out, although it was a stiff fight. The Soviets attempted a control-the-objectives strategy, but the Germans were aggressive to at least deny objective control, if nothing else. As it turned out the air units were very effective at decimating the Soviet DD forces, even with some fortuitous die rolling by the Soviets which aborted an unexpectedly high number of German attackers and poor rolls by the Germans which left some destroyers crippled instead of sunk outright.

Because of this enough Soviet forces survived to get close enough to eventually take out both German pocket battleships, although at the cost of almost all of the rest of their number. The Scharnhorst, on the other hand, was virtually untouchable and ended the battle with just a single hit. A few mines were sown in the late game as last ditch attempts to do something but no mine hits were scored, even has the Scharnhorst deliberately risked one to claim the last objective on the same turn the aircraft finished off the last of the Soviet surface fleet.

The final German score was 298 points (98 for sunk Soviets, 150 for three objectives and 50 for last surviving surface fleet) The Soviets managed just 40 points for the two sunk pocket battleships.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Operation Market-Garden came to close this day in 1944

The survivors of the British 1st Airborne Division were rescued on this day (Sept. 26, 1944) 65 years ago.

This operation is generally considerd to mark the end of the end of the battle.

Operation Market-Garden is one of the most controversial battles of World War II. The stakes were high, the valor unmatched and the sides evenly matched. It was really a battle that could have gone either way and is one of the classic situations in wargaming.

It's not one of my personally focused topics. One has to draw the line somewhere and my main battles/campaigns that I follow are Midway, Gettysburg, D-Day, Bulge and Waterloo.

That said I do have quite a few games that touch on the battle. Most tactical WW2 wargame systems have a scenario or two on it like Memoir '44 or Tide of Iron. The TCS game Screaming Eagles in Holland is about one aspect of the battle.

Arnhem on

Cvering the whole battle is the free introductory wargame Target Arnhem, but by far my most played game on the battle is the old SPI quad game Arnhem which is on Hexwar. It turns out it's one of the most popular games on that subscription PBeM service and it works surprisingly well, especially when played with the optional Fog of War rules. That option provides hidden movement, which aids the Germans considerably. The Hexwar stats don't differentiate between games played with Fog of War and those played without. but I think the majority of Arnhem plays probably use FOW. The Germans have won (as of Sept. 26, 2009) 4,513, the Allies 3,517 and there have been a mere 13 drawn games.

My experience with the game suggests that playing without fog favors the Allies, while adding Fog of War makes it an even contest between experienced players. I think the Hexwar results are skewed considerably because the Allied side has a very steep learning curve. One error and you lose, so many of those losses are part of the learning process. Once a player learns what he must do as the Allied player, then it becomes a very tight and even contest.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tough Soviets in Flank Speed

So I tried a little solitaire matchup today to see how my 98-point Soviet Fleet (all I got) might match up against an Axis 100-point fleet. To reduce any possible bias I grabbed a 100-point German build off the ForuMini site.

With small fleet builds I suspect that general purpose builds may be at a disadvantage against all-or-nothing fleets.

In this case the matchup was as follows:

Admiral Hipper (16) U66 x 2 (24) U510 x 2 (22) Graf Zeppelin (18) BF109 (7) Ju-87 (7) Fw 200 Kondor (6) (100) The actual ForuMini build had two Bf109s but I subbed a Ju-87 for a better balanced fleet.

Okt. R. (24) Kirov x 2 (20) Gromkiy x 9 (54) (98)

This seemed right off the bat to be a tough situation for the Germans to me. It seemed liked there was little prospect of challenging the Soviets over objectives and the sub-heavy German fleet was facing a lot of ASW.

And so it proved. A lucky shot from a DD took out the Stuka early, but the Bf 109 did OK strafing DDs, crippling two by game end. The Kondor's glide bomb attack missed the Soviet BB.

The Germans subs were simply overwhelmed by the Soviet DD swarm. The submarines' wolfpack and Kondor pinpointer benefits were no match for all the ASW penalties from the destroyers and most of their torpedo shots were reduced to one die. One DD ended up being sunk by a sub while three f the four U-Boats went down and the fourth was left crippled.

So the Soviets swept up all three objectives and closed in on the Graf Zeppelin and its escort, the Admiral Hipper. The rush by six DDs, the two Kirovs and the battleship was Zulu Dawn-like. The two German ships managed to take out three destroyers and cripple a fourth before going down in a blizzard of torpedoes and shells.

The final score was 223 for the Soviets and 24 for the Germans. One crippled U-boat and two German aircraft survived. Two of the three surviving Soviets DDs were crippled and one of the Kirovs had a hit.

Special abilities used in the battle:
German: Anti-Ship Missile (missed), Pinpointer, Land-based, Wolfpack, Extended Range 4
Soviet: High-speed Run, Slow 2.

I'm going to try one more FuruMini build against the Soviet fleet and see what happens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Looks like there will be a Set V for War at Sea

According to Baker's blog he's reviewing the sculpts for Set IV (Condition Zebra) and now taking suggestions for a name for Set V!

So we now have the following confurmed expansions for War at Sea

New Starter

Condition Zebra (Set IV)

Set V (name TBD)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Solitaire Santiago

Today I did something I haven't done in a bit, play a complete solitaire game of a new S&T magazine title. I figured I didn't have any likely opponent for The Santiago Campaign of 1898 on the horizon, so it was up to me alone.

Fortunately this isn't that hard a game to play solitaire. It has a straightforward IGO-HUGO turn sequence and while the Spanish units have hidden combat values it wasn't that hard to "fudge" past that, as the rules suggested.

I decided to try an all-or-nothing Spanish strategy with the goal of doing better than the historical commanders. I was going to assign the Spanish troops blindly to the different sectors, but I pulled out the artillery units first. It seemed like committing them to the jungle fighting would be unfair to the Spanish and simply result in them being thrown away in overruns. So the three Spanish artillery batteries went to hang out in Santiago for later use and where they would be safe from marauding Cubans.

I placed four Spanish units near Daiquiri because it was the most likely US landing site (33% chance in the first wave, 1/6 chance in the second wave.) All the other beaches got two units, which seemed enough to cover the roads leading from the beaches and at least delay the Americans.

The Cuban roll was a 6, which was good for the US because it put a large number of Cubans near the Daiquiri action and around Santiago.

I went ahead and sent the US Marine to Guantanamo, as it seemed the prudent course of action.

So the first US Landing went to El Sardinero. In order to satisfy my own sensibilities and make it a little harder for the US, I played with a mild form of "divisional integrity" where I endeavoured to keep the historical OB more or less intact, although there's no requirement or benefit in game terms. Given the random landings, the US initial attack wasn't as efficient as it could have been. The 3rd US Cavalry destroyed a troop of Spanish cavalry in hex 2821 but was also reduced in the "Bloodbath" result. Meanwhile a couple of regiments from the 2d US division "stalled" in their attack against a stronger than average Spanish battalion in 3319.

The Second US landing went to Daiquiri, which presented an interesting situation, because it suggested the Spanish might be able to defeat the US in detail. Only five units land at the second landing site, so the US didn't have a numerical edge. Making it worse, one of the five US units was the cavalry troop and another one was an artillery battery, both of minimal defensive use at the jungle surrounded beach. The US attempt to fight its way past the Spanish stalled.

The Spanish response was to send the Juraga beach defenders over to help the Daiquiri force while the rest of the Spanish troops delayed the US main body. The Daiquiri Spanish pressed the US landing force hard.

The next several turns saw the Daiquiri beach head embattled while the Cubans tried their best to harass the Spanish attackers. Eventually the Spanish managed to eliminate one US battalion for its inability to retreat, which meant that the US could win no more than a marginal victory.

On the main front the initial Spanish delaying action cramped up the beachhead so not all 15 US units could land on Turn 2, but soon the superior US numbers told. There simply were not enough Spanish units to cover all the possible routes, especially after a couple more were lost. They did inflict some step losses in blood baths and a DE result from the elite 20-factor 65th Spanish Infantry. Here's where the Guantanamo Marine move paid off, because the Spanish Guantanamo roll resulted in no reinforcement from that sector.

While the three US divisions drove on Santiago, the two independent brigades went to relieve the Daiquiri force.

With too few units to cover all the trenches the US was able to enter Santiago just as the Manzanillo reinforcements arrived. The Cubans were able to block the roads enough so that the US forces won the race to the city walls, keeping the large Spanish force out. A truce turn delayed the inevitable slightly, preventing the American from finishing off the last city garrison. There was some indecisive fighting between the Manzanillo relief force and US units just north of Santiago while the independent brigades relief force surrounded the Spanish Daiquiri force in the east.

The die roll ended the truce the next turn (Turn 7) and the US troops mopped up the last Spanish troops in Santiago, ending the game.

In one sense the Spanish strategy did work, because the Spanish kept the US to a marginal victory, which was better than the historical result. Being able to concentrate six units against five US (and five Cubans) provided a chance to actually eliminate a US unit. But on the other hand, the Spanish were not really close to actually winning with this approach. The total US losses were just 6 steps and Santiago was captured on Turn 7. The sparse Spanish force left after committing so much to the Daiquiri front was inadequate to slow the US down much. The US force actually beat the Manzanillo relief column to Santiago and the outer Spanish defense positions such as El Caney and San Juan Hill played a minimal role.
It would be interesting to try this again. Because of the random US landings it appears there could be a lot of replay value. The biggest question in my mind is what options the Spanish have.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interesting contrast

I received my S&T Issue 258 game package today -- The Santiago Campaign of 1898.

It appears to be standard S&T fare, with 11 pages of game rules, a standard-sized map and 98 counters, mostly units. It does look like it has some interesting twists. More on that later.

The game also includes a bunch of variant counters for Red Dragon Rising, which appears to be one of the most popular S&T games in years. I wouldn't be surprised to see it juiced up for a boxed release someday. A could of the counters are errata for the original game but most represent order of Battle variants. There are also a couple of pages of variant rules that add some new operations for the base game and there are counters and rules for a "Hyperwar" variant that adds some more what-if options.

It struck me that there's quite a contrast between the US forces represented by the two games.

The 1898 US Army was an anachronistic force, not all that different in character from American troops of a century before. Sure, there were some hints of modernity. The rifles were modern bolt-action types, there were Gatling guns and even an observation balloon. But in organization, training and general level of professionalism it was an early Nineteenth Century army, with battalion-sized regiments, ad hoc brigade and division organizations, politically connected officers, volunteer militia, spotty supply services and minimal staffs. It's only because the Spanish in Cuba were even more backward and ill-led that the Americans found success. The Navy, of course, was well along in its transformation into a modern fighting force, but it doesn't appear in the game except on its margins.

On the other hand, the US Army and all its sister services in Red Dragon Rising is the epitome of high tech warfare. While the 1898 US Army would have been a recognizable force to Anthony Wayne's 1796 Legionaires. I doubt that an 1898 veteran would recognize much about his 2009 descendent, particularly at the higher levels. The 1898 Army and Navy barely talked to each other to the extent that the game doesn't allow the player any control over where to land or who gets landed. Warfare in the 21st Century is all about jointness and there's little evidence of interservice rivalry now. Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force assets are used completely interchangeably -- and also integrated with Allied forces.

It's just coincidence that these two games shared a counter sheet in this issue of S&T, but it does illustarte how much has changed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Never say die -- Poland in World War II

One of the more interesting aspects of the Second World War was the refusal of the defeated anti-Axis powers to stay defeated.

This was evident from the very beginning of the crisis, when the Czechs set up a government in exile, but the Czechs were a small country and I'm not sure that their resistance made a big difference.

But Poland was a different story. While outnumbered and outclassed by the German war machine, the Poles were still a major European country and their refusal to accept that their 1939 defeat was final was an important factor in later events. Indeed, large formations of Polish troops in corps and army size were on the front lines on the last day of the war, just as they were on the first. Their example may very well have inspired other countries to do the same. As their homelands fell, ships, pilots and troops from Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Yugoslavia and Greece fought on. This testifies to how odious these people found the Nazi regime.

In game terms it manifests itself in the variety of units and nationalities depicted. I think my first real exposure to this was in the game Afrika Korps. The famous cover of that game highlights all the different nation's that fought against the Germans -- Jews, French, Poles, Indians, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders. Driving the point home even more was Anzio, which had most of the above and added Canadians, Americans and Brazilians!

The Axis had their helpers, too, which I saw in the old Stalingrad game, but the Finns, Romanians, Hungarians and Italians somehow didn't seem as important or integrated into that war effort. They were weaker units and in the case of the Finns off in their own corner.

In contrast the non-British Allied units in Afrika Korps and Anzio were every bit as good as the Brits and in Anzio, actually outnumbered the British units. As a teen-ager who didn't know a lot yet about World War II this was an eye-opening revelation. That the situation could also be complicated was illustrated by the Italian units in Anzio, who fell into three groups -- the original Fascist army which mostly surrenders when the Allies land at Salerno, Mussolini's reorganized Fascist troops and the Italian troops that join the Allies. This prompted a lot more and deeper reading by the teen me back then as I was curious what brought about this state of affairs.

Which brings us back to the Poles. Before I was a wargamer I had read a little bit about World War II. I especially remember a series of books that was called How and Why that was popular back then. These were color illustrated books on all sort of topics from science to arts. But I enjoyed the history ones the most. But there was one on World War II that had a striking illustration showing some Polish troops on horseback and wagons being strafed by Stukas. They really seemed hapless.

But a few years later, as I started playing wargames I found out that they were not so hapless after all. Polish troops showed up early and often in World War II wargames and I started to develop an appreciation for their stalwartness in the face of defeat. By high school I knew enough to appreciate that my French teacher, a gentleman named Kozacko, had a hell of a story to tell ,even though he never told it. But I heard from other teachers that he was a World War II veteran and like many, he was unable to return home after the war because of the Soviets. Some of the other kids thought Mr. K was rather odd and he wasn't all that popular. Frankly, I don't think he was the best teacher. But I knew that he'd seen a lot and he always had my respect.

History is a neglected subject these days. The pressures of school testing mean that teachers spend most of their time on English and math, so I don't think today's kids are getting a firm grounding in history. They will have to find out about it themselves. That's one reason why I have been thrilled by the whole Axis & Allies line of games -- despite their limitations as history. Because of A&A some people will be exposed to enough history to whet their appetite for more. The Axis & Allies miniatures lines don't just include troops and tanks from the big powers like the US, UK, USSR, Germany and Japan. There are Dutch warships, Azad Hind collaborators, Hungarian tanks, American Buffalo soldiers and yes, Polish cavalrymen. With luck wondering what the story is behind that piece will provoke a new generation to discover the fascination of history.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Axis & Allies miniatures Crusader tanks

I will be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

As with most early war British tank designs, the Crusader only managed to be good in one of the three defining characteristics of a tank -- mobility, firepower and protection. It's forte was speed, but it was badly underarmed and ill-protected. This stemmed from the British tank doctrine which divided armor into two roles heavily armored but slow "Infantry" tanks for breakthroughs and infantry support and speedy, lightly armored "cruiser" tanks for exploitation. This might have worked better if the British had been able to provide their tanks with a good gun, but the 2-pounder gun used on nearly all early war British tanks was simply too small to reliably penetrate the armor of medium tanks and it lacked a high-explosive round making it nearly useless against infantry.

Later versions of the Crusader had the 6-pounder gun, which was an improvement over the 2-pounder but compared poorly with the 75mm/76mm guns being used on equivalent foreign tanks.

The Crusader had a substantial production run, with more than 5,000 of all versions made. In Axis & Allies Miniatures the Crusader is identified as the Crusader II, although the model in the Base Set actually appears to be a Crusader I because it has the small machine gun turrets of that mark. The North Africa set version does appear to be a Crusader II.

Base Set Crusader II


Rarity: Rare

Speed: 4

Defense: 4/3

Cost: 11

Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges:


Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges:


Special abilities

Vanguard — After both armies are deployed, this unit can move at speed 4 before the first turn begins.

Prone to Breakdown — This unit can’t move while damaged.

North Africa Set Crusader II

Historical text:

Thanks to their speed, many Crusaders fought in the North African Campaign despite being mechanically unreliable.

The unit in history: The Crusader was meant to be an improvement on earlier British cruiser tanks as a "heavy" cruiser tank. compared to earlier cruiser tanks it had more armor, although it was still vulnerable to the most common German antitank weapons. Unfortunately the new tank proved to be unreliable under desert conditions with problems with the air filters and fans. Overall it was an interim design in the continuing British search for a fast tank that still had reasonable combat power.

The unit in the game: The Vanguard special ability allows the player to get a positional jump on the enemy, but the combat power of the Crusader is really too marginal to make optimal use of the ability. It's defense is too weak to hold any objective it might seize and it's firepower inadequate to deal with either tanks or infantry. About the best thing that can be said about the Crusader is that it's an inexpensive unit and the player can afford several. Overall though, the Vanguard ability is put to much better use by the Cromwell tank. Unfortunately that's not available until 1944 and the Crusader has to do until then.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm sure it was a coincidence

Sept. 1 was the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II AND it was the release date for the Flank Speed expansion for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures.

One of the interesting ships in Flank speed is the German pre-dreadnought battleship Schleswig-Holstein. This ancient warship fired some of the very first rounds of the war when it opened fire on the Polish garrison of Danzig on Sept. 1. One wonders if there was some symbolism in this, because the Versailles Treaty had stripped Germany of all its more modern ships.

In the game it's given the interesting special ability of Early Deployment. Obviously inspired by its role in the opneing hours of World War II it's also an interesting game effect. The other special ability of Shore Support also is clearly related to its historical role.
While some mistakes have crept in, overall I really think the Axis & Allies naval miniatures have done a credible job of popularizing World War II history.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HeroClix lives

Well, it took a long time, but apparentlythe Heroclix game will live on.

Something called NECA is buying most of the Wizkids intellectual property from Topps.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More ladies for Small World

Some have complained that females are a bit under represented in Small World, with just the Amazons so far. Well, there are five new races coming in two more expansions for Small World according to Boardgame News and three of the five are female-oriented (or at least illustrated) races.

The Priestesses certainly look promising ...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Warhammer is obnoxious

This bugs me everytime I see it. I really don't understand why they take this position. I'm 100% certain that you're allowed to take a photo of a physical item you own (whether it's a car, a Mickey Mouse movie cell, a book or a Warhammer playing piece) in order to sell it on the secondary market. Have you ever seen GM tell people they can't use a picture of a GM car in a used car ad?

But it's also just plain obnoxious.

Breaking new ground with 1805: Sea of Glory

When you think about it, there's not a lot of fresh ground to trod in wargaming.

Just about every war anybody heard of -- and many that no one heard of -- has been done. Every level of command from private to field marshal is covered. Every era from the neolithic to interstellar is depicted.

So 1805: Sea of Glory is quite a remarkable design achievement. I won't say that strategic warfare in the age of sail is entirely untouched, but I think 1805: Sea of Glory is the first real serious wargame to attempt the topic. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays in practice, but if it works as well as it appears it may this may open up a whole new genre of wargames. Evidently the next campaign that will be covered in 1798, but one can easily imagine games covering Suffren in the Indian Ocean and operations off the American Coast from the Revolution.

And one rich area for exploration would be the Anglo-Dutch Wars, which have been barely covered at all, largely because they don't have a lot of tactical interest and tactical games were the only age of sail games until now.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good fortune with Flank Speed continues

Just on a whim I picked up a Flank Speed booster at the local store. The best possible result would be to pull a second Intrepid. I wanted a second won in order to be able to field a historical 1944-45 USN carrier task group (which generally had two Essex-class CV and two Independence-class CVL). But it looks likely that Intrepids will be highly sought-after in the secondary market and I really didn't want to pay $30 for one ship.

And amazingly a second Intrepid is what I pulled! I think my Flank Speed collection is just about complete.

Monday, September 7, 2009

War at Sea -- Settling on a happy medium?

It's not unusual for the cards associated with collectible miniatures games to undergo format changes. Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, Heroclix and the land version of Axis & Allies Miniatures have each see significant format redesigns.

The Axis & Allies War at Sea naval miniatures system has been very consistent for the data side of the cards, as shown by the three different Fletcher-class destroyers that have appeared so far across the base set and two expansions:

The only ship class that has appeared in all three sets is the American Fletcher class destroyer, although it's not the only sculpt that has appeared in all three sets. Each set so far has also included a version of the Japanese Zero fighter.

On the other hand, the decorative side of the card has swung like a pendulum from nice to awful to acceptable.

In the initial War at Sea set we were treated to nicely done line drawings of the ships and planes, along with historical notes. Here's the Fletcher from the War at Sea base set:

It appears that Hasbro/Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast decided to cut back on the creative cost of making the next set, however, because instead of original line art the ships and planes were represented with pseudo-line art obviously derived from photographs of the models. While the models are pretty good for wargame purposes they are nowhere near good enough to serve as the source for line art illustrations, as the card art for the Destroyer Hoel from the Task Force expansion demonstrates:

Fortunately Hasbro/AH/WOTC does appear to listen to the fans, at least sometimes, and the Flank Speed expansion has returned to actual line art, in this case profile views of the ships. The profile views do not have artists' credits, so I assume they are derived from official drawings or other technical and/or public domain sources. This is a very traditional form of illustration for warships. often found in books, reference works and wargame rules, so it seems like an acceptable compromise to me. It's not quite as nice as the line illustrations done by Langdon Foss in the first set but it's a huge improvement over the butt-ugly pictures of models from Task Force. The USS Kidd from Flank Speed illustrates the latest version:

I hope that Hasbro sticks with this approach for the promised Set IV and any subsequent sets. Ideally it would be nice to see Foss re-employed of course, but failing that the profile views are attractive enough.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Flank Speed session report

I prepared a small 100-point game for use at The Citadel today in case I could persuade anyone to play. The one other gamer who showed up was game, so we played a match.

The idea was to keep it simple, so I cast it as a War Plan Orange fight with no subs or planes. The US force was made up of two Arizona-class Battleships, one Richmond-class light cruiser and, in order to fill out the 100 points, a Liberty ship. The Liberty ship played no role in the fighting, to no one's surprise. The Japanese force was the battleship Yamashiro, the battlecruiser Haruna and the light cruiser Jinstu. It was a 100-point standard scenario using the straits map.

I drew the US first. The Richmond headed for the northernmost objective, as did the Jintsu. Meanwhile all four battleships converged on the area between the central and southern objectives. The Richmond won its duel with the Jintsu, largely because of a lucky torpedo hit, which resulted in Richmond claiming that objective and sinking the Japanese CL, although the American ship was crippled.

The battleship duel also went the US way. The Haruna was overwhelmed and blew up, as battlecruisers often do, and the Yamashiro has little chance under the combined fire of the two Arizonas.

The final score was US 200 to Japan 0. (The US score was 100 points for ships, 50 points for one objective and 50 points for having the last surviving ships.)

We switched sides and this was a much closer fight. The US once again sent the Richmond north, but then backed off as bit as the combined Japanese force charged up the middle to meet the US battleships. Both cruisers ended up going down in a hail of secondary and tertiary battery fire from the battleships. Torpedoes were launched but none struck home. Once again the Haruna was quickly downed by battleship fire, but some failed speed rolls meant the US battleships couldn't prevent the Japanese from claiming the central objective. The Yamashiro then turned away and made a dash for the southern objective, with the slower US battleships following. The Yamashiro claimed that objective as well, and then in its dying breath was able to sink one of the Arizonas as she went down herself. Final score Japan 153 to US 150. (Japan got 100 points for objectives and 53 for sunk ships -- a BB and a CL; US got 100 points for sunk ships and 50 points for having the last surviving ships).

Overall the Arizona seems to be a cost-effective ship and I'd be tempted to pick it again. The Yamashiro is comparable, but I don't think the Haruna is worth its points. The Jintsu also seems pricey, but it's Long Lance torpedoes could have been game-changers if they hit.

Overall it was an entertaining match and it went quickly, with both battles being concluded in a little over an hour.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Two cases of Flank Speed

Here's what I got:

From two cases:

HMCS Sackville Common 4
Milan Common 5
Suffren Rare 2
HMNZS Leander Uncommon 3
HMS Belfast Uncommon 2
HMS Prince of Wales Rare 2
HMS Repulse Rare 2
HMS Saumarez Common 4
Martlet Mark II Common 4
SB2C Helldiver Common 4
USS Alaska Rare 2
USS Arizona Rare 2
USS Gunston Hall Uncommon 3
USS Intrepid Rare 1
USS Kidd Common 4
USS North Carolina Rare 1
USS Phelps Common 4
USS Richmond Uncommon 3
USS San Diego Uncommon 4
Gromkiy Common 7
October Revolution Rare 1
Kirov Rare 2
Ju 88A-4 Uncommon 3
Prinz Eugen Rare 2
Schleswig-Holstein Rare 1
T27 Common 4
U-47 Common 3
Aquila Rare 1
Gorizia Rare 1
Guiseppe Garibaldi Uncommon 2
Pegaso Common 5
Re. 2001 CB Common 4
A6M5 Zeke Common 4
Aoba Rare 1
B6N2 Jill Common 5
Nagato Rare 1
Oi Uncommon 3
Shigure Common 4
Soryu Rare 2
T1 Landing Ship Common 6

I got my last missing rare in the very last box I opened, so there was even some drama. The distribution was very even, with only the TI and the Russian DD over represented. I'm not sure how useful the T1 will be but having so many Russian DDs means I'm just 1 DD away from being able to field a 100-point Russian fleet (unbalanced to be sure, but not bad for a minor naval power.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Link to Flank Speed's Opening Salvos

I've received word that my two cases of Flank Speed boosters have arrived at home -- but sadly I'm at work right now. I'm looking forward to seeing what the collectible fairy left me.

In the meantime I managed to come across War at Sea designer Rich Baker's Opening Salvos for Flank Speed, which Hasbro/AH/WOTC/whoever never actually managed to get published on the company Web site -- way to market there. Instead they are published at Baker's blog. The models previewed are the Helldiver, the new Zero, The Soviet cruiser Kirov, U-47, the Repulse, and the carriers Aquila, Soryu and Intrepid.

Anyway, they are worth a quick read.

With luck the official gallery will appear soon.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Out of the Box: Caesar's Gallic War

Julius Caesar famously started his history of the Gallic War by observing that Gaul was divided into three parts, so it was gratifying to see this new Worthington Games product dutifully divide Gaul into three regions with slightly different characteristics.

Worthington Games has vacillitated in its presentaion over the years, without settlinga s of yet into a specific style. It's first few games resembled Columbia Games products, with card stock maps, stickered blocks, glossy but sparsely illustrated rulebooks and sleeved bookcase boxes.

Then a couple of years ago Worthington went euro, with German-made game boxes, mounted maps, lavishly illustrated rules and sometimes thick cardboard counters.

Gallic Wars represents a retreat from pure euro, but still nicer quality than Worthington's earlier efforts.

The map is onec again cardstock, functional and attractive, if a bit plain. The blocks and stickers are similar to what Worthington has done before and comparable to Columbia or GMT products. The game includes a set of order cards, functional if not beautiful, and a straightforward rule book. The box is nice, but not deluxe. Overall, the presentation is no advance over last year's Worthington products, although still within the mainstream of block wargames.

I haven't played yet, but the game appears to resemble Hammer of the Scots, with the number of moves controlled by card activations, with the loyalty of many blocks changeable and the usual block-style combat system. Some influence from card-driven games is also evident, as the cards can play several different roles, activating movement, triggering special events or political actions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Being a boomer is hard

We're just not that good at delaying gratification.

Troll and Toad sent an email today that my two cases of Flank Speed are on the way, which was all well and good, but I knew that today was "Release Day" so I stopped the The Citadel and bought one booster of Flank Speed just to break the ice ...