Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Looking Back and Forward

Toys for the Boys

Another year almost done, and with the next fast approaching I'm reflecting on all that has happened both on the gaming table and off. Both boys are doing well, and the other day I bought them a couple of packs of Airfix British and German paras.  They've been pushing them around on the living room floor, making same sorts of moves, noises, and strategies that I recall doing forty or more years ago.  Despite the invention of video games and many other puerile entertainments in the intervening decades, I get the impression that deep down small boys have not changed all that much.




Bite and Hold (Through the Mud and the Blood) Battle Report

A belated battle report dating from about fifteen weeks ago.  The evening I ran the game I unexpectedly got a call asking me to fill in as an emergency lecturer at a local college.  I'd taught the subject five years ago: World History to 1500.  The result was a litte more money in the bank, but also the end of my gaming for three months while we raced through a few million years of history.  Anyway, just before all that started I ran a Late War scenario using Through the Mud and the Blood.  British forces had penetrated the German front line and were regrouping, awaiting an expected German counter-attack.  British units were allowed to set up anywhere within the German line, including a pillbox.  British reinforcements would come on by dice roll in later turns.  This was to simulate the arrival of units that had become lost or disoriented in the attack.  They could come along any one of three sides of the playing area, except in the vicinity of the German communications trenches. 
The results were less than glorious for the British side with a lack of coordinated defense perhaps best summing up the reasons for their defeat.  Rather than using the abandoned pill box as a strong point, the British commanders decided to place a lone sniper there.  The Germans had the advantage of being able to pick their entry point, again on any one of three sides except no-mans-land. 
As a game it was something of an uphill battle for me as umpire, with eight players, most of whom had never used the rules before.  The lessons learnt?  Keep it simple, especially for beginners, keep it small (probably four players max) and try to know the rules like the back of your hand.
The good thing was I got to employ some recently painted figures, including light and heavy flame throwers.  I'd used Sidney Roundwood's tutorial on how to make jets of flame.  These turned out rather nicely and looked spectacular on the table.  The German flame throwers were absolutely devastating, particularly when firing down the length of trenches crowded with cowering and demoralized British infantry.  The Hun side delighted in the resulting carnage.  The Brits were less than enthusiastic.  Anyway, below you'll find some of the images of the game, generously provided for me by fellow-gamer Rene (gleeful German combat engineer behind the flame thrower).

British rifle grenadiers approach the German trench

British infantry inch their way towards the lurking Bosch

Agents of death: A German heavy flame thrower

No chance to escape

2013 Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge

I'm lucky enough to have been included among the few, the brave, etc. for the annual Analogue Hobbies painting challenge.  I didn't quite make the cut last year - but this year Curt kindly recalled my interest and invited me in.

My goal?  I've still got more figs to paint up for the Great War scenario I hope to run here in San Diego at Kingdom Con.  It will be a Late War action involving a combined arms attack by the British - tanks and infantry - against a German-held fortified village.  We may also try second game to recreate a variant on the first recorded tank battle in history, which took place at Villers-Bretonneaux in 1918.  My other big project stems from my reading of Jean-Paul Pallud's Osprey Elite Ardennes 1944: Peiper and Skorzeny. I'd bought some Bolt Action Fallschirmjager and Waffen SS on impulse a few months ago. Initially I'd thought of using the FJ for scenarios from the campaign in Italy. Then it occured to me I had some of the raw figures necessary for recreating the Ardennes battles of late 1944. Part of this will involve crafting a suitabe terrain mat and also some other terrain features. It should be a busy few months

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Battle of San Pasqual


Last Sunday, December 2nd, we headed north from San Diego for a pleasant 40 minute drive to the valley of San Pasqual.  It was my first foray, as an observer, into the world of historical reenactment.  Each year on the anniversary of this relatively minor engagement in the 1846 Mexican-American War, the battlefield is once again contested by the Californios and the forces of the United States. 

I'll not repeat the Wikipedia article on the event.  You can read it for yourself.  When it arrived in the San Pasqual Valley, the American column was exhausted after months of travel.  In contrast their foes, the Californios, were well rested and determined to defend their homes and territory from the invading gringos.  Both sides claimed victory, and historians continue to discuss the outcome, but it seems to me that the Californios pretty much won what amounted to a skirmish.  At the same time they were ultimately unable to prevent the colum reaching other American forces that had already occupied San Diego from the Sea.

The reenactment takes place on the site of the battle.  California State Parks has a small but modern museum adjacent.  On the anniversary day there is also a campsite you can visit to see living history interpreters convey what it was like to live in this part of California in the mid-nineteenth century. 
The biggest downside is probably the fact that the viewing public must stay on one side of Highway 78 while the engagement takes place on the other side.  The view is somewhat marred by passing motorcycles, RVs, trucks, and whatever else happens along during the few few minutes when the forces are engaged.  The lead up to the battle is announced in English and Spanish and this actually takes longer than the fight itself.  The day were were there, there was a false start, as one of the charging US dragoons fell of his horse and proceedings were halted while the escaping horse was rounded up and the bruised dragoon escorted to the sidelines.  The charge of the Californio lancers was dramatic, and unlike the real engagement when the US artillery remained limbered, during the reenactment they fired off a shot - a real crowd pleaser.  Hostilities concluded with the opposing forces saluting each other before exiting the field for lunch.

 All this made me think about the possibility of wargaming this period.  One possibility would be to adapt something like Liberators from Grenadier Productions.  Certainly I think there's some potential here for historical skirmish games with a local flavor, as well as a few "what if" scenarios.  We'll see what 2013 brings.
Liberators! Volume 1: The War in the South - Click Image to Close

Friday, October 12, 2012

Size Matters: Building the Mark IV

 A while back I acquired a couple of Wargames Foundry Mark IV tank kits.  These "old" style 25mm scale miniatures were cast entirely in metal.  As such they stand in contrast to the "modern" trend among manufactures to produce hybrid models, cast primarily in resin, supplemented by metal detailing.  The Foundry Mark IVs were sturdy and compact, relatively simple to construct, producing a very presentable model for the tabletop.  Friends commented on just how heavy they were.

I ended up with the Foundry Mark IVs largely by trading other unwanted portions of my collection.  In past years I've collected over 200 Foundry First World World miniatures.  The're slightly smaller than the more recent products produced by manufactures and generally favored by many wargamers, which tend towards 28mm scale.  I'm thinking here of the superbly detailed figures produced by Great War Miniatures and Brigade Games.  The Foundry figures are smaller and subtler, more generic in their poses, but nevertheless attractive when massed on the battlefield.  I've found that despite differences in scale, Great War and Foundry can mix acceptably on a nicely detailed wargames table

Having purchased the Old Glory membership, I thought I'd take advantage of their discount by buying up a few more Mark IVs.  I'd already bought some OG Trench Wars figures and found them compatible in size with WF, if a little more animated in their poses.  I was therefore expecting the tanks to fit in nicely together as well.  Hence my surprise when I opened the box to find models significantly larger than those produced by Foundry.

L-R above: Great War German sniper: Wargames Foundry British infantry ; Old Glory British mortar

So my question is this.  Where do I go from here?  A mixed unit of Foundry and Old Glory Mark IVs just doesn't seem appropriate.  While ostensibly made according to the same scale, they just seem too different to work together as a unit.  I could make the OG tanks into captured British tanks, now in the service of the Kaiser.  Or I could simply return them to the vendor, bite the bullet and fork out the cash for the more expensive Foundry Mark IVs.  Comments as always are welcome.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


So I'm almost one week into vacation here in beautiful South Haven, Michigan.  Its a sleepy little holiday town on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan.  Despite the "drought" everything looks very green and lush, in stark comparison to either our current home in Southern California or my more distant place of origin in the southwestern corner of Western Australia.

The beaches are pristine white sand, and despite the fact that is is the height of summer, there's hardly a soul on them.  As a transplanted Aussie, I never fail to be amazed by this vast expanse of fresh water stretching all the way to the western horizon.  The town is quaint, with the expected assortment of souvenir stores, cafes and restaurants.  I also find it hard to believe that in just a few months, the whole place will be blanketed by many feet of snow.
Before leaving hot and dry San Diego, I'd done my homework to see if there were any gaming stores or hobby shops in the vicinity, without much luck I'm afraid.  I'd meant to pack some recently purchased and primed Great War support figures, including mortars, snipers, and flame throwers.  However time got away from me, and I didn't get the chance to pack them together with the necessary paints and brushes.  I'm wishing I had, but their lack at least gives me the chance to reflect on other things, and to make some resolutions for what remains of the painting and gaming year.

The heavily wooded central park situated on the north side of the river that meanders through the town and empties into the lake is the site of a memorial that I find all too rare here in the United States - a statue dedicated "To our Heroes Veterans of the World War 1917-1918"

I can't recall ever seeing another memorial to the Great War here in the United States.  I'm sure they exist, but I dare to say they must be relatively rare, particularly in comparison to the glorification of the veterans of the Second World War that one finds with relative frequency.  As an Australian, a few things struck me as unfamiliar.  Firstly, most of our memorials to the Great War are to the fallen - "The Glorious Dead" - rather than the heroic victors.  Secondly, in place of the figure of the lone Digger, frequently portrayed with a subdued stance, reflecting soberly on the sacrifices of four years of bloody conflict, the Dough boy charges forward with a fist raised defiantly.  Finally there are the dates - 1917-1918 - reminding me that war came relatively late to the young men of these parts who went "over there."

The memorial in my home town of Mundaring, Western Australia, is a little less animated.  I'm guessing the civic leaders of this very small country town couldn't afford a Digger in bronze and settled instead for an obelisk hewn in granite no doubt procured from one of the quarries that dot the nearby hills.

There's hardly a town or city in Australia that doesn't have a similar monument, great or small, to the sacrifice made by a young nation.
More imposing is the King's Park War Memorial that stands sentinel above the modern city of Perth.
The nearby semi-circular wall etched with place names of battles is also know to locals as "the whispering wall."  Its acoustic qualities can carry a small voice along its curved stone surface to the ears of a listener at the farther end.

The memory I want convey at the end of this post is a privileged one.  The original Anzacs are now gone.  I'm fortunate to have at least seen and known some of them.  Back in the 1970s I can remember going to the annual Anzac Day parade in downtown Perth.  Some old Diggers could still march, while the more frail Great War veterans where transported along the route in cars.  I can recall a few ancient members of the 10th Light Horse, resplendent in their uniforms, with the Emu feathers fixed to their slouch hats quivering in the breeze, proudly riding their mounts down St. George's Terrace.  That's a memory my boys will never have, but when we go at least I'll make sure they sit next to Gallipoli, whisper and listen.
Lest we Forget.