Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Battle of Mollwitz, 1741 - For King or Empress

The Battle of Mollwitz, 1741, with Steve's 10mm Austrian infantry
 Steve V decided to use his Seven Years War big-battle, fast-play rules set, For King or Empress, to refight the opening engagement of the War of Austrian Succession. Although a Prussian victory, the Battle of Mollwitz, 1741, is infamous for Frederick the (not yet) Great fleeing the field when he thought the battle was lost. His mentor, Von Schwerin, urged him to do so, and then went on to win the battle, much to his king's chagrin. In our refight, there was one brief, shining moment when we thought our left wing Austrian cavalry would sweep the day, but otherwise, it was a historical reenactment all the way (and a Prussian victory).
The setup of Steve's refight of the Battle of Mollwitz, with teh Prussians at top and Austrians at bottom
 Steve wanted to playtest this scenario for the conventions he will be running it at this coming year. He set out the troops for us, cautioning us that the Prussian left wing cavalry across the river may not ever get into the battle. That proved to be true, as their commander, Mike S, wisely decided not to advance one unit wide across the bridge to face Joel's deployed battle line of Austrian cavalry. I was in the middle, matched up against the feared Prussian musketeers. According to the rules, they would have an average 2/3's chance of causing a hit in musketry fire against my lines, while I had only half the chance against him. The drum beats sounded our advance, "Doom! Doom! Doom!"
The flank battle that never was, as the Prussian cavalry wisely did not cross the bridge to fight the deployed Austrians
The numbers and statistics represent this being an engagement between Frederick's well-drilled troops against a newly-raised Austrian force countering his advance to snatch Silesia from Empress Maria-Theresa. In hindsight, Steve said we should not have advance our infantry to meet the Prussians, and instead made them come across to meet us. That may have given us more time to press through on our surprise flank attack on our left.
My brave Austrian fusiliers advance to their doom against the Prussian musketeers
The back half of Allen's cavalry force had the option of suddenly appearing on the right flank of the Prussian battleline. Allen -- true to his Hungarian roots -- seized on the chance and slammed into the side of Keith's mixed cavalry and infantry brigade. His troops were driven backwards, but Mike W quickly came to his rescue. Allen's sudden attack saw success, but he was essentially matched up against two commands. He fought the good fight, garnering what little success the Austrians had that day. However, he soon began to have troops fall back, as well.
Our one hope -- Allen's left wing could bring troops on board onto the right flank of the Prussian army
Meanwhile, Joel and my decision to march to engage the Prussians proved to be a disaster. We stood firm on the first round of engagement, giving as good as we received. However, after that, it went downhill quickly. Battalion after battalion suffered hits and began to flee towards the rear. My troops were the first to go, followed soon after by Joel's. It wasn't long before our center had more holes than line.
Meanwhile, the Austrian and Prussian lines advance to close with one another
Late in the battle, Joel finally brought in his massive cavalry command onto the left of the Prussian line. However, the impassable river guarded their flank, and we were hitting them frontally. Here and there Joel scored some successes, but the historical handwriting was on the wall, and we saw Mollwitz would once again end in Austrian defeat.
The Prussian commanders, from left, Keith, Mike W, and Brett, ponder what to do about Allen's flank attack
The game played quickly, and Steve took notes and made plans to change what he saw as tweaks to make it a more smooth flowing game. Of course, I argued for beefing up the Austrian's chances, but we shall see what the tweaked version of the battle looks like. As always, For King or Empress provides a fast-playing, easy-to-figure-out game. In many horse and musket rules sets, new players are reliant on the GM or more experienced players to help with fire and melee. With his rules, our newbies were able to roll and adjudicate their own engagements without his help after the first couple turns. Steve's 10mm troops are gorgeous, and always look good on the tabletop. I had forgotten that Mollwitz was a "snow" battle, so it was good to learn a bit more about this engagement.
Here comes the cavalry...or not! Joel's Austrian cavalry wing never really got into the battle until it was basically lost

Monday, January 22, 2018

Clash of the Kaiju Clobbers Cleveland

Cleveland, the Ohio National Guard, and some B Movie monsters were the scene for some monster-stomping action
I have always been a big fan of Godzilla movies. Years back, I played in Doug Johnson's light-hearted "Clash of the Kaiju" games at Drums at the Rapids. Each player takes on the role of a monster stomping buildings into rubble, swatting aside ineffectual human armed forces tanks and vehicles, and then battling it out for control of the city. After getting the rules, and years of working on the necessary monsters and buildings, Keith was finally ready to host a game for our Sunday night gaming group.
My monster (or "kaiju"), Kur Slug, at left, is eyeballed by Allen's monster, Atomic Squid
A table full of cardstock buildings stood in for Cleveland, Ohio, and Keith's supply of movie monsters and random creatures stood ready for the battle. Keith insisted we draw randomly for our Kaiju -- as people call those Japanese movie monsters, nowadays. This meant none of the big names like Godzilla, Rodan, or Gamera made it onto the table. I drew Kur Slug -- a nasty looking, pinkish centipede looking creature with 12 limbs. Joel drew Sluggo, whose bulging eye stalks looking hilariously nonchalant as it slid along the city streets. Allen had Atomic Squid, which could not leave the water, so was limited to how much he would encounter the other monsters. Mike S had some plant thing with a name like N'gock, or something like that! Keith would control the Ohio National Guard, which was augmented for the emergency with experimental mech walkers with advanced weaponry.
Kur Slug dispatches an experimental mech walkers of the Ohio National Guard
I had played the game before, and learned you need to focus early on smashing buildings, and only going after the human military when they got in your way. In Doug's Clash of Kaiju rules, you get bonus cards when you stomp a building into rubble. These bonus cards can help you with augmented attacks, additional actions, movement, and defense. Experience had taught that you will need those cards when you start fighting your rival monsters. So, I quickly began racking up buildings, avoiding the other monsters and the military.
Sluggo takes a leisurely....stroll? Slime? Though the deserted streets of Cleveland
A hilarious continuing story developed as Joel's Sluggo led a group of tanks on a merry chase through the city streets. You may not know this, but a giant slug is faster than a tank. So, Joel kept squeezing between buildings, turning corners, and generally frustrating the tanks as they sought to get a shot at him. In general, the human military pieces -- helicopters, tanks, jets, etc. -- are ineffective against monsters. Joel tried to take down a few buildings along the way, but was having horrible luck with his die rolls. Most monsters need a 5-6 on 1d6 to smash a building, "6" on the largest or strongest ones. Monsters have three health levels, and at their peak, usually roll 4d6 per attack, which I calculate being about an 80% chance of taking down a building. While Joel defied the odds in a negative way, my Kur Slug was balancing it out in a positive way. I failed to take down only one building all evening -- meaning I was racking up more cards than the other players.
Sluggo sneaks over and "poaches" the plant-thing's kill of a mech unit -- earning the bonus cards despite Mike doing most the damage!
My clever plan was to build up such a hand of bonus cards that I could suddenly attack another monster by surprise and knock him out with a couple overwhelming blows. My job got a bit easier as Sluggo started to take damage from the Ohio National Guard. Even better, the plant-thing ended up fighting two of the mechs back to back. They wore him down and eventually knocked him out. Unexpectedly, he was given another Kaiju, so I knew I had to spring my attack a bit earlier than I wanted.
Sluggo tries to get at an annoying jump jet, which had been pestering all evening
I used a "move to any square on the board" card to appear next to the weakened Sluggo. I rattled off a bunch of cards -- one to freeze his actions so I suffered no counterattack, and others to double or augment my damage. It ended up taking two turns (during both of which I froze his actions), and most of my cards, but Kur Slug eventually pounded the hard-luck Sluggo to the pavement.
Kur Slug launches a flurry of attacks with his 12 limbs, taking two turns to knock Sluggo out
I didn't have to worry about the Atomic Squid, as Allen had withdrawn back to the water after destroying all buildings within his reach of his Lake Erie home. Allen truly turned the city's waterfront into "The Flats"...ha, ha! Mike S had a flying reptilian (Gayos, or something like that) that was the sole other surviving monster to dispute Kur Slug's control of Cleveland. He had been steadily building up cards since arriving on board, while I had been steadily depleting mine. Plus, I had used all of my special attack (each monster has a limited number of more deadly, special attacks -- such as Godzilla's breath attack or Kur Slug's poison spit). Gayos flew in and attacked, breathing his flame on Kur Slug till he had expended all of them. I struck back with everything I had, also whittling him down.
Keith's cardstock Cleveland Ohio, eerily deserted just before the monsters arrive
Mike S should probably have won the match based on damage remaining and attack dice. However, Kur Slug's dice remained hot. With only 3 hits of health left, he took out Gayos, and triumphed. I had rolled exceptionally well on Defense Dice (need sixes to be successful), while Mike seldom blocked any of my attacks. Kur Slug ended up being the new King of Cleveland -- at least until the next monster smackdown occurs.

It was a fun evening, with lots of dice rolling and a little bit of tactics to make for a good game. Keith's cardstock city looked great. Now he just has to make some rubble pieces for the destroyed buildings!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Frostgrave Warband: Weasels

Weasel warband using Splintered Light Miniatures
I had to put painting more Frostgrave warbands on hold while I finished up some terrain and miniatures for my Wars of Insurgency (modern skirmish) scenario that I was playtesting this past weekend. Once those were out of the way, though, I primed up four unpainted Splintered Light Miniatures weasels. A couple of the figures required modification, which I will discuss below. This brings me up to six painted warbands. Considering one of my players has painted up his own mice warband, I am just about ready to begin play.
A heavily-armored weasel will be this warband's Heritor, most likely
First up is the leader of the warband, the Heritor. He was the most heavily armored and impressive looking of the five, so I chose him. Of course, if whichever of my players decides for the Heritor to be one of the other figures, that's their call, too. I was going for a somewhat pastel theme to this warband. So, I decided a rose or pink color would be interesting and different. I thought copper colored armor would make the color palette even more striking, so I added highlights and plate in that color. I really like this figure, although the "sniffing armpit" post isn't the most unique or impressive in their line, he painted up really cool looking, I feel.
The warband's Warden, or spellcaster -- a figure I modified to give a cool-looking wizard's staff
This figure began as an axeman. He held a small axe in both hands, which I thought I could convert into a staff. I am pretty happy with how it turned out. I snipped off the axe at the blade and flattened out the surface. I glued a tiny golden bead to the top. I added a piece of appropriate width spear shaft to the bottom of the axe, and voila! It was done -- axeman to wizard! I gave each of the figures besides the Heritor a fancy, scrolled "W" (for Weasel, naturally!). I like this one's design the best, as I tried to make it look like arcane writing, too. I'm very happy with how this figure turned out.
The Weasel crew -- all from Splintered Light Miniatures (archer's bow added on)
And here is the crew for the Weasel warband. I decided to give front and back pictures so you could see the scroll "W's" on them. I added the bow to the archer on the right. I simply took a length of lead spear, bent it appropriately, and epoxied it to his back. From there, it was all paint. I like how it looks slung across his back. The one on the left was actually painted previously. I did at a tuft of grass to make him match the other four better, but otherwise he was untouched from before. I really liked the scroll W on the back of the swordsman in the middle. I was able to give it a lighter touch, which I think looks better than the thicker designs on the other figures.

What's next? I have six Satyr figures on my desk, primed and with their flesh base-coated. Once this batch is done, I think I will go ahead and let players choose their races, outfit their warbands, and we'll play our first game. I'm looking forward to trying out a Ghost Archipelago campaign, and hope the players enjoy it! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Smokin' Some Cubans: Scenario playtest

The Angolans and Cubans have blunted the attack on their supply depot, and now are following up, scenting blood
It was a 3-day weekend with Martin Luther King Day, so why not schedule a playtest of my Wars of Insurgency scenario for this convention year? And while I'm' at, why not make it two playtests? On Saturday, I took my 6-player hypothetical engagement between an attacking South African and UNITA group with a Cuban/Angolan rearguard force. The skirmish takes place during the Cuito 1987-88 Cuanavale campaign after the SADF/UNITA have repulsed the initial Angolan onslaught, but before the grand finale at Cuito. The South Africans have intervened on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebels to preserve the buffer their territory has created, protecting South West Africa from attacks by SWAPO.
The Angolan and Cuban high command in the Dayton playtest, (from left) Phil Hayes, Cuban player Tom Miller, Barry Greene, and Randy Miller
The first playtest was at the January meeting of the Central Ohio Gamers Association (COGA) at Ravenstone game store. I sat in to make it an even six players -- what the scenario was designed for. To see pictures and read captions giving an account of that battle, check out my Facebook post on the COGA page. This blog post will focus on the Dayton game. We ended up with 7 players, so I took the two Angolan militia commands of three squads each and converted them into three commands of two squads. The extra command was no real advantage, but I did reshuffle some deployment. I moved Cuban force from the right flank to the village garrison, along with one of the Angolan commands.
Cubans garrison the supply depot located in an Angolan village -- the objective of the South African raid
Both commands took up covered firing positions, manning either the fenceline or the crates and barrels that were the supplies they were guarding. These were the South African objective, hoping to either destroy these or capture them and arm UNITA with them. The fence was light cover, most of the huts and crates and supplies medium cover, and the sandbag positions guarding each entrance were heavy cover. In the COGA playtest, the sole Angolan command guarding the village got shot up badly by the South African Ratel armored personnel carriers and the light machine guns of the infantry squads. In Dayton, the firefight would take a decidedly different turn!
More Cubans take cover in the center of the village, while a goat ponders the edibility of the Cuban order marker
Although the SADF/UNITA force used the same basic plan of attack as the COGA playtest two days before, the garrison was receiving fewer casualties. Doubtless, this was partially because the Cubans are Regular class soldiers, who have better survivability than the Militia class Angolan FAPLA soldiers. In my Wars of Insurgency rules, each figure has a base number of defense dice depending on their troop quality, which is augmented by the cover they receive. 
The attackers -- (from left) South African player Greg Horner, UNITA Matt Lawsom, and SADF Jim Casey
 There are a number of approaches the attacking South Africans and UNITA troops can take, from wildly aggressive to cautious. In the COGA playtest, they were very deliberate and fairly cautious. In Dayton, they had a somewhat similar approach, though the UNITA militia pushed forward more aggressively into the open ground between the patches of bush. The SADF hugged the bush a bit more, excepting the Ratels, which stuck to the roads.
On the left, a SADF Ratel provides covering fire for the UNITA advance.
While the South Africans were advancing on the flanks, and UNITA was pushing towards the center, the two flanking Angolan commands were likewise in motion. Phil's troops, proud in their red berets were more bold, dashing across open ground. They suffered occasional losses for their aggression, but in general, did a good job using the cover to avoid fire. On the left, Randy sent one squad to bolster the village defenses (and take the sandbagged position at the gate), while the other cautiously tried to outflank the South Africans attacking on their wing.
Phil's FAPLA troops pushed forward on the Angolan right aggressively, boldly sprinting across open ground from time to time
In the center, the firefight raged. The Cubans were doing a much better job of using cover to avoid casualties from the incoming attacking fire. They even eschewed the medium cover that the defenders stuck to in the COGA playtest to line up along the light fenceline. At times, they were jockeying for position to be able to get in shots. Patches of bush obscured their view of the attackers, but they put out a hail of lead nevertheless, which began to cause casualties among the UNITA militia that advanced through the open ground.
Angolan troops line up along the village fenceline, supported by the Cubans on their right, and pour fire into the attackers
And then suddenly, the key blow of the battle was struck. A Cuban RPG gunner fired a rocket at the South African Ratel on the right. It was a long range shot, with only about a 25% chance of hitting. It struck home, though. The roll for damage maxed out, while the defense roll of the South African failed utterly. Boom! A Ratel erupted in flame -- unfortunately for the attackers -- incinerating two thirds of the infantry squad riding inside. In one blow, one of the South African commands had lost more than half of his effective fighting force. A key mechanic of the rules is that dice thrown by the attacker hit on a 4-6 on 1d6, while defensive dice to avoid the hits inflicted save on a 5-6. So, no matter how solid your defensive position, no matter how well trained the soldier taking cover, there is always a chance the target will get hit. I base this probability on well-documented modern warfare engagements, such as "Black Hawk Down," when elite U.S. rangers were struck and killed by bullets fired by Somali militiamen.
BOOM! A South African Ratel (here, a stand-in Tonka toy until my resin 20mm Ratels arrive form Europe!) erupts in flames
The Angolans cheered the blow, and were energized by the success. First a Cuban squad, then an Angolan one, clambered over the fence to close with the stunned attackers. Perhaps they sensed a slackening of pressure from the cowed UNITA militia. Or likely the disappearance of one of the feared 20mm automatic cannons of the Ratels gave them courage. I class the automatic cannon on the Ratel as a heavy machine gun in this scenario, as it is a more deadly weapon in this type of mostly-infantry engagement. The Ratel autocannon was a mutlipurpose weapon which dealt out punishment to Angolan forces of all types in the Cuito Cuanavale campaign.  In the COGA game, the Angolan/Cuban players never really had an answer to this weapons. While in Dayton, they obviously did!
An Angola squad belonging to FAPLA -- the armed wing of the communist MPLA faction, which had seized control of Angola -- clambers over the village fence to close with their attackers
To compound the South African woes, the other Ratel was having poor luck with its firing. Poor Jim rolled subpar dice when trying to chew up Phil's flanking Angolan force he was opposite. What's more, when Jim did finally have success with the dice, Phil's troops made their save rolls -- showing that they had learned under the Cubans' patient instruction. My Wars of Insurgency rules are meant to be simply and easy to learn, but intended to take full advantage of the granularity of rolling multiple d6's. They allow for things such as differentiating training of troops, but also tactics such as spreading automatic weapon fire among multiple opponent's -- spraying them, so to speak. How much to spread, who to target, whether to advance slowly and hug cover or sprint forward...all of these things are player decisions which are just as key to the outcome as their dice rolling.
Emboldened Angolan troops cross their crop fields, closing the range with the enemy
Despite the loss of the Ratel, the South Africans kept up the attack. They were well-armed and well-trained, and knew that a couple good shots could shatter a militia squad. I classed the South Africans in this scenario as Regular class rather than Professional. Some may be surprised, but many South African regular forces were composed of reservists rotating their service time through. There was even a key phase in the Cuito Cuanavale campaign when the South Africans decided to pause their follow up of the beaten Angolans to re-train a fresh group of reservists that had replaced the combat-experienced ones that had just beaten the enemy at the Lomba River, but whose service terms had now ended. An excellent source for this campaign is "The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale," from the Africa @ War series by Helion Publishing.
A South African infantry squad pushes forward on the right flank
The battle could still be won by the South Africans, especially if their infantry drove off the Angolan FAPLA troops advancing to stop their flanking attacks. I classed the FAPLA troops of the ruling MPLA coalition as Militia rather than Regular because they were mauled by the South Africans in the actual battle. Despite Cuban training and leadership, they would often through their break and run if under too devastating of firepower. However, both Phil's troops on the right and Randy's troops on the left gave almost as good as they received. This served to blunt the final chance the South Africans had at taking the village.
Randy's militia squad on the far left stop the South African flanking attack, while their Cuban officer looks on approvingly
Once it became obvious that neither Jim's nor Greg's SADF infantry or Ratel were would make any more headway, they conceded, and called off the assault. Victory went to the Angolan and Cuban rearguard force, who had saved the supply depot. This victory would raise the hopes of the beaten Angolans and Cubans, and lead to their later repulse of the South Africans at Cuito Cuanavale, itself.

I was very appreciative to Randy Miller for inviting me to Dayton to playtest my scenario. All of the guys were great sports, and it was a pleasure to sit down at a gaming table with them. They said they enjoyed the rules, and were contemplating uses for them with troops they already have. To me, that is one of my favorite comments I hear from players after one of my scenarios: "Hey, these rules would work for (fill in the blank)!" Thanks again, Randy and crew, for having me!

Monday, January 8, 2018

More Cubans & African Village

I continue to work in high gear towards being ready for this Saturday's first playtest of "Smokin' Some Cubans" at the monthly meeting of the Central Ohio Gamers Association (COGA). I have actually had these two batches completed a few days ago. Extreme cold temperatures forced me to hold off clearcoating them until it warmed up a bit.
Cuban Officer, along with the RPGs and LMGs for my Cuban continengent
The first group is of the RPGs and LMGs for the Cubans. There is also an officer figure present, which will finish out my force of Cubans for the scenario.  To come up with the needed figures armed with these weapons, I had to do a bit of improvising. First, all three RPG gunners are figure modifications. None of these was carrying an RPG, although the bottom right figure had a rocket of some sort in his hands. I pulled out some of my already-painted Liberation Miniatures figs armed with RPGs and stared at them, hoping for inspiration.

Finally, an idea came. The rocket on an RPG looks an awful lot like a spearhead. I pulled out my unpainted pack of weapons for my Ancients figures and pulled out a few different varieties of spears. I eventually settled on 28mm spears, trimming the shaft down to the appropriate length. I took the length I'd cut off and trimmed it further to create the handles. It was a very fiddly operation epoxying these two handles to the spear, but it worked. I then epoxied the weapons themselves on to the figures and I had the three RPG gunners I needed. The LMG-armed figures all came from another source of 20mm figures (FAA, I think). For the officer, I am pretty sure these are WWII Germans in soft cap, but I would not swear to it. With appropriate painting and mustache, they become stand-in Cubans. I really like the officer with his arm raised -- I think he's my favorite of the bunch!
More resin buildings for the Angolan village
Next up are some more buildings for the Angolan village that will be fought over in "Smokin' Some Cubans." All but the large hut in the back are inexpensive resin pieces from Michaels hobby store here in the U.S. I did my usual black base coat, sprayed and second coat brushed on, with 2-3 dry brush coats over the top. Both had a Camo Brown second layer over the black. However, the hut walls and the wood gazebo were followed up by Khaki, while the thatch roofs were a Dun yellow. I toned this down with light gray over it, and a final black wash. My usual method for resin buildings, it seems.

The larger "Chieftain's Hut" in the back is actually from Acheson Creations Celtic line. The similarity of architectural styles and materials makes it a good stand-in for a hut belonging to a village bigwig.

The next post will be of the village's fences, which I have been working on for awhile, now. Once they are done, the village is ready for the tabletop -- at least for the first playtest!