24 May 2021

Battle of the Denmark Strait 80th Anniversary

I had finished basing my first War at Sea 1/1800 ships (see here) and it was time to use them in a game. A few months ago I realised it would be the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Denmark Strait that occurred on 24 May 1941 (during the Second World War) between ships of the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine. The British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood fought the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were attempting to break out into the North Atlantic to attack Allied merchant shipping (codenamed Operation Rheinübung).

Ara, Jack, Liam, Mike and Nic all were keen for some naval wargaming and I set about in organising the game. The rules were Mongoose Publishing's Victory at Sea, which Warlord Games has recently updated and re-released. They're a simple set of rules, but I like them as they're easy to pick up, have some historical flavour and are able to deal with large fleet actions (Ara, Liam and I have played the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay without issue).

To make things interesting, I also designed a set of 'Captain Cards', for each captain and fleet commander. They would award additional victory point if certain actions were performed during the battle (detailed blog post pending). They are based on historical commanders, and how they behaved during battle or orders they were given. Based on what happened during this battle, e.g. the victory conditions for Lütjens and Lindemann are not compatible.

 The cards were allocated randomly and the players commands were:

  • Admiral Lütjens (Bismarck) - Nic
  • Kapitän zur See Lindemann (Bismarck) - Mike
  • Kapitän zur See Brinkmann (Prinz Eugen) - Jack
  • Vice Admiral Holland (HMS Hood) - Ara
  • Captain Kerr (HMS Hood) - Ara
  • Captain Leach (HMS Prince of Wales) - myself, but later Liam

The ships were set up per the scenario in the rulebook, with the German commander having the option to choose the order the ships were deployed, Mike (Lütjens had deferred decisions to his subordinates at this stage still) electing to keep the faster Prinz Eugen in the front of the line.

I included the optional rules for the guns on the Prince of Wales (i.e. the guns not being fully operational and in part being manned by non-navy technicians), mainly as it added historical flavour. To get into the theme, I also drank an English beer (something I rarely do!).

Opening move had the British ships split to try and envelop the Germans to stop them escaping, while the Prinz Eugen went as fast as she could down the gap that had been created (torpedoes anyone?). After a few rounds of firing (and missing - Victory at Sea doesn't allow pre-measuring), the Prince of Wales already had one barrel out of action.

At this point the battle was paused as all commanders got together for blue cake (it had recently been Ara's birthday), I just love that maniacal look on Liam's face.

After a belly full of the raspberry cake it was back to the sea. Things started getting serious with the Hood receiving a few critical hits, one on her engine slowing her down and a fire breaking out.

Mike, as Captain Lindemann, confidently declared the Bismarck still had a fair bit of armour in response to the Hood's situation. The Prinz Eugen was one hit away from being crippled, while the Prince of Wales was almost undamaged.

Moments later all this changed, Ara scored a critical hit (4+ on a D6), vital systems (12 on 2D6) and a catastrophic explosion (6 on a D6); sinking the Bismarck in spectacular fashion in much the same way the Hood was historically sunk.

If that isn’t a belated birthday present I don’t know what is. Victory points wise it was a clear British victory (the Germans also had very weak overall command with Lindemann shooting before it was optimal for Lütjens' victory conditions to do so. It also made the follow on battle, recreating the last battle of the Bismarck on 26-27 May 1941, redundant. However, I plan on basing these additional ships, as the two battles are a good scenario to introduce people to WWII naval wargaming.

Finally I also picked up a few sets of Irregular Miniatures' 'GWV14 Two explosions and two shell craters' sets, that I will paint as water explosions (so mainly white). They are definitely a candidate for obscure miniature of the week.

23 May 2021

Basing War at Sea Ships

So I have over 100 (probably closer to 200) of Wizards of the Coast's 1/1800 Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures: War At Sea ships that I've wanted to base for years but I've been daunted by the size of the task.

I had purchased the 3mm thick basing material (45mm wide MDF for battleships and aircraft carriers and 25mm wide masonite hardboard packer for cruisers and destroyers) during 2020. Now is was just a matter of actually settling on a method that was cheap, easy to replicate and looked good. Not easy.

The first step was cutting the bases into the right lengths, adding an extra 10mm on the front and 20mm to the back, which would accommodate a 10mm long label with ship name, class and nationality, etc. As i was planning to host the Battle of the Denmark Strait in a few weeks I tested the basing solution on the HMS Hood, HMS Prince of Wales, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen miniatures in my collection.

After gluing the ships down with PVA (so if I change my mind in the future they're easily removable) I proceeded to cover the base in pre-mixed plaster (Uni-Pro's multi-purpose interior filler) and move it around while still quite wet with a smooth flat needle file to create waves, bow and propeller wakes.

Once this was completely dry (i.e. leaving it overnight), I painted the whole base (leaving about a 1mm unpainted next to the ship) in Kaisercraft's navy blue craft paint. I did two coats to ensure an even coverage.

This was followed by a heavy dry brush of 3 parts navy blue to 1 part cool grey (a mid grey tone) and then followed by a slightly lighter dry brush of 1 part navy blue to 1 part cool grey.

I was following Yarkshire Gamer's YouTube guide on basing, and so I painted the tips of the wakes in a 1 part white to 1 part cool grey mix to take the brightness down a little. Problem was it looked too fake.

So I dappled a 1 part navy blue to 1 part white to try to blend them in with the rest of the base. That looked even worse in my opinion.

After searching for images of battleships during WWII online, and noting that ships aren't usually moving at their full speed (even during a battle), I went back a few steps (leaving the light grey on the propeller wakes). Much better.

The final step involved sealing the bases with a gloss varnish (also from Kaisercraft) and designing labels for every ship. The ones on the rear of the base were mounted on card and had their edge painted in grey. They're kept in place with Blutac so I can swap out for other ships in the same class. The label underneath is the ship that War at Sea states the ship is and was glued in place with PVA.

I am happy with the outcome - cheap, will be easy to replicate and looks good. In the first instance I will do the other historical battle sets I have all the ships for, namely the Battle of the River Plate and the Battle of the Java Sea. I still imagine it will take years to complete the whole collection.

22 March 2021

American Civil War Union Skirmishers and Walking Dead Zombies

A quick painting session as I had recently placed a large order with Perry Miniatures, including a box of their plastic Confederate infantry and I hadn't finished their first box set I had bought years ago. In addition to them I also had some of Sash & Sabre's Federal Infantry Skirmish or Firing Line (also bought around 2010) that I started painting a few years ago and then put on the back burner.

The photos below show my typical undercoat technique of raw umber craft paint (over a black spray painted undercoat followed by a ~5/1 highlight dry brush of raw umber/white. Then paint as normal (also with highlights, etc).

A simple job, but I wanted these done. There will be a whole lot of Confederates that they will face (an army for Rebels and Patriots) and some of them can be seen in the background of that photo above.

While I finished painting these, I also completed the Walking Dead zombies I had got from Jack at Christmas.

These will be used for a Flag of Our Zombies game I plan to have in the near future.

16 March 2021

Another Season of The Football Game

Another boardgame night last night with Ara, Jack, Liam, Mike and Nic giving The Football Game another run. I think the game works better now with having learnt to have a diverse colour (ideally two of each) and positional (again at least two, though your midfielders can cover shortfalls) squad with plenty in reserve (2-3 players). When its your turn also thinking about a B squad playing to ensure your star players don't get injured (that last lesson I didn't learn as last time we played injuries were almost non-existent).

I think there's a still a high degree of luck so you can’t take it too seriously (Liam nearly won when he took over Nic's team half way through the night so maybe that’s not true). Well done Jack on holding him off and winning the season.

We were discussing how this game could be made into a fun wargame, and by having it set in Nazi-occupied Europe with each player recruiting / managing a cell of resistance fighters competing against each other to fight ze Germans. A bit like ‘Allo ‘Allo. Trading fighters amongst cells and drawing missions with a set colour combinations (instead of the dice) would add some randomness. This would also eliminate the double black dice twice in a row situation that we had in last night's game. Event and injury cards effect the person who’s turn it is.

In addition I also worked out the probability on the dice as it was annoying me that I knew each combination wasn't equally possible. The first die is yellow, yellow, red, red, blue, black and the second die is yellow, red, blue, blue, black, black (I'm not 100% sure on the pairings here, but the spread is right).

While getting a certain colour on at least one of the dice (44.44%) and a double (5.56%) is the same for all four colours, it’s the pairs of colours that aren’t the same. And getting any same colour pair (e.g. black and black) is higher than I thought at 22.22%.

If you’re looking for yellow AND red (or blue AND black) there’s a 11.11% probability, but looking for a pair that aren’t dominate on the same die (e.g. yellow AND blue) gives 13.89% odds. Very slight advantage but with 20 rolls in a 5 player game it could make the difference.

Still love the subtlety in this game and the stress of not peaking too early, but not peaking too late in case you have injuries!

28 February 2021

15mm WWII German 12cm Mortars, PaK 43/41 AT Guns and Command Stand

A small 15mm WWII German painting commission of four 8.8cm PaK 43/41 AT guns (GE530), four 12cm mortars (GE799) and a command stand. All Battlefront miniatures and painted over 10 days.

While the PaKs and command stand were metal and what most of my Flames of War collection is produced in, the mortar stands are in Battlefront’s bendy ABS plastic (introduced after I stopped playing the game seriously), and it's the first time I’ve worked with it. In short it's terrible, mainly as it was hard to clean up and some of the detail was rough.

All and all I’m happy how this turned out - it’s been a while since I painted 15mm WWII and I tried splinter camo on the mortar teams (one smock and every helmet cover on each base), which I think came out pretty well (using Battlefront's painting guide in the back on one of the Late War army books). This was because that particular mortar pack is for SS, but I wanted them to be Heer. An easy soltution as nearly everyone in the German army in World War Two used splinter camo:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splittertarnmuster


The unicorn, dolphin and rainbow flag is (obviously) not historical and was requested by the client (Andrew O). Apparently Flames of War version 4 doesn’t have command teams (as version 3 did), but you still need a marker or similar to indicate which gun team, etc is the platoon commander. Makes no sense to me either.

22 February 2021

Practice Game of Brittania

A quiet night with Ara, Mike P, Nic and myself for boardgaming. Nic was keen to introduce to us the Avalon Hill "classic" Brittania (this version by PSC Games):

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/280106/britannia-classic-and-duel-edition

Britannia broadly depicts the millennia-long struggle for control of England, Scotland, and Wales. The game started with the Nic's Romans invading in 43 A.D., continues through the struggles between Angles, Saxons, Picts, Norsemen, Scots, Irish, and other tribes, and would end with the Norman invasion of 1066.

We played about 1/3 of the way through (to when the lands are invaded by raiders from the sea) to get a feel for the game. It is interesting as through the time period shifts (that are subtle) over 16 turns, each player gets the role of major invader. As the blue player I would've had the Normans - Nic (purple) had the Romans - and he still ended up acting as a landlord (as in Lords of Waterdeep) with his forts that slowly expanded northwards.

01 February 2021

First Game of Lords of Waterdeep

Or as Jack called it - "Monopoly for nerds".

Monday night board gaming with Ara, Jack, Mike P and Nic with a game not many of us had played - Lords of Waterdeep. Essentially a Dungeons & Dragons eurogame . This was a game Ara was keen to introduce us to.

I was given the City Guard (with no in game abilities, but for flavour) with Piergeiron the Paladinson as my Lord (gaining bonus for each Piety and Warfare Quest I completed). Again my inability to quickly learning which tasks I should be multitasking on saw me fall behind in scoring points, while Nic the Landlord was slowly buying up the real estate and the others completed more lucrative Quests.

I still had fun though, and like Scythe I didn't feel you were left out while other players had their turn. I definitely should look up some hints and tricks before playing these games to make sure i focus on the right things (at the right time).

26 January 2021

Australia Day Flames of War Game - Battle of Hannut

With group games becoming a thing again, I put my hand up to take part in Django and Nigel's 'A Thousand Tank' participation game recreating the Battle of Hannut. I played the first day of the game in October 2014 and it was a lot of fun seeing that many 15mm tanks on a table.

The game would use Battlefront's Flames of War (version 3) Total War rules, breaking the wargaming day up into two sessions, representing the first and second days of the battle. Each day will comprise six turns and would be played on a 6x8 foot table with the same terrain layout.

While you may never have heard of it, it was one of the largest tank battles in history, involving about a thousand tanks (and hence the title of the game).

Briefing
13 May 1940 - Following successful attacks on Denmark and Norway, Germany launched its forces against the combined armies of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.

Eastern France is secure behind the Maginot Line, a series of powerful forts from the Swiss border as far north as Sedan. Here the Meuse River turns north, marking the western boundary of the Ardennes, a hilly, forested area with narrow roads, presumed impenetrable by tanks. Further north there is a gap between the forest and the Belgian fortifications around Liege, notably Fort Eben-Emael (10-11 May 1940), which fell to the Germans (with heavy casualties) after Fallschirmjäger landed on top of the fortress with gliders and using explosives and flamethrowers to disable the outer defences of the fortress.

Implementing their pre-war plan, the Allies moved into Belgium to defend the river Dyle, east of Brussels. The French and British need at least three days to complete the move and dig in. To cover this, the French High Command ordered General René Prioux’s Corps de Cavalerie to hold the area around Hannut and Gembloux for this time.

German General Erich Hoepner was given the task of the matador, demonstrating with sufficient enthusiasm in the Gembloux Gap to hold the French light mechanised divisions (Division Légère Mécanique (DLM)) in place, far from the breaching of the Meuse at Sedan and elsewhere along the wide river.

The forces were drawn from Prioux’s corps with the elite 2nd DLM and the recently formed and under-trained 3rd DLM for the French and for the Germans the XVI Armee Korps consisting of the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions.

The challenge for Andreas and I (as the Germans) to pin the best French armoured troops in Belgium (under Phil and Wal) and prevent them interfering with the crucial crossing of the Meuse, while at the some time ensure we weren't delayed to allow the First Army to dig in.

Andreas and I split our forces roughly in half, with Andreas taking the right flank and myself spearheading the centre left side of the field. The German side is on the right in the first photo. As actual Germans, Andreas communicated in German with each other. And just like the Germans with the Enigma machine we thought it was a secure form of communication...

Day 1

Day 2

Debrief
It's a long day, and coordinating that may platoons (even amongst two players) is exhausting. Andreas and I failed to push hard enough (if not towards the town in the centre then the villages on the right flank) on the first day which made the launching off points on day two that much further back than would be optimal. On the second day I failed to hold the left flank (instead making a piecemeal attack and leaving the Pakfront exposed to Wal's French tank assaults). When Andreas left early I took over his forces, and was able to break Phil's division... but he held on by his fingernails as Wal had granted him control of Somua tanks (all that was left on the right flank). We failed to create a clear line along the roads from our base edge to the opposite table edge. What didn't help was some open terrain for our truck born infantry to traverse and being terrible (extremely terrible) at being unable to unpin a lot of our units. The six-turn time limit for each day doesn't leave much room for early setbacks.

Well done to Phil and Wal (who also understood a lot of what we were saying - which was the biggest mistake we made!) on blunting this attack, obtaining a major strategic and tactical victory.

Thanks too to Django and Nigel for organising, umpiring, and letting us use your miniatures (and apologies to the ones that got a knock).

Playing on a 6’ x 8’ table really gives a good game as armour has a chance to manoeuvre and artillery needs to be deployed with care.

25 January 2021

Battletech Repainted Demi-Company of Mechs

Back around 2006-2009 I played a little bit of Battletech. At that time (around May 2006) I got my first Battletech miniatures: an Assassin, Panther, Unseen Longbow and a few Locusts.

I painted them to an average standard as at the time Phil was running a tournament with an extremely fun auction element (run via group email). There was fierce bidding, as some players were keen to get their favourite mechs, and pay a premium for that. There was little time between the auction and the tournament (run over several weeks) games (hence the quick paint jobs). I don't remember these games, but I imagine I fared averagely with the Assassin, Panther, Locust and Spider (borrowed). I don't care, as it did get me hooked on the game and background. (Technically my first Battletech miniature was a stumpy little Atlas a family friend gave me in the early 90s, and I have just worked out it's from FASA's PlasTech range: https://www.sarna.net/wiki/PlasTech.)

After this tournament, in late 2008, I purchased Catalyst Games' Classic Battletech introductory box set (https://www.sarna.net/wiki/Classic_BattleTech_Introductory_Box_Set). The box set gave me some miniatures and maps. Even at the standard of the day, the miniatures were quiet average. I've painted a few, but I'm really not happy with them. Follow up acquisitions include a Marauder (2008), Blackjack and Vulcan (both 2009).

Which brings us up to the present.

I didn't get onboard with the recent Kickstarter, but it has renewed interest in the game in several of my wargaming circles. So I thought it was time to paint what I had, and bight the bullet and repaint the ones I wasn't happy with. This batch would include the unpainted Marauder, Blackjack and Vulcan, along with the painted Panther, Assassin and Longbow.

Blackjack:

Vulcan:

Unseen Longbow:

My original paint schemes were loosely based on Bundeswehr Cold War-era winter camo, plain grey and German late WWII assault camo schemes. And all with winter bases (yeah, I haven't played on any appropriate maps either). The Blackjack, Vulcan and Marauder were already undercoated black, the other three were painted in the winter camo.

They don't look coherent and so my plan to try and fix this I'll start on a grey base (some mechs left in their original "looted" colour) and either over paint everything in green and sand (similar to American WWII North Africa camo) or other camo schemes on the grey using these colours (e.g. assault or American Desert Battle Dress Uniform). My mechs would also be part of a mercenary unit, and so to tie all of the mechs together I will give the mechs red left shoulders and red right hands. Haven't thought of a name yet, but probably something with "Panzer" in the title.

First attempt at this camo:

I'm happy with the Vulcan's camo, but the Blackjack needs something more to make it looks less like he's wearing pyjamas or something. Probably by adding grey, bronze and gunmetal panels to break up the mechs that need it. I added larger khaki splotches on the Blackjack to help with this too.

Progress:

Finished demi-company of mechs; having varnished, added decals and static grass (that is versatile in its neutrality).

BJ-1 Blackjack (Iron Wind Metals): 

VL-2T Vulcan (Iron Wind Metals):

Unseen MAD-3R Marauder (Ral Partha):

Unseen LGB-0W Longbow (Ral Partha):


ASN-21 Assassin (Iron Wind Metals):

PNT-9R Panther (Iron Wind Metals):

About another 25 mechs to paint, but I'm in no rush to get them done as most of those are the plastic ones.