Friday, April 20, 2012

Kingdom Con 2012

Using "Through the Mud and the Blood" by Too Fat Lardies, I got a chance to debut the Great War terrain project last weekend at Kingdom Con, held in San Diego, April 13-15, 2012. We played two games, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. The Sunday game was slightly modified, as a result of lessons learned the previous day. The scenario was loosely based on the Battle of Epehy, September 18, 1918, in which Anglo-Australian forces successfully breached the outlying defences of the Hindenburg Line. It was in effect the beginning of the end for the Germans on the Western Front. I modified elements of Scenario Four (infantry attack with tank support), from Stout Hearts and Iron Men, p. 21, to produce what I hoped would be a balanced scenario.

Allied forces consisted of four sections of Austalian infantry (rifles, bombers, Lewis gun, and rife grenades) supported by two Mark V tanks (Male and Female). Reserves - three more sections of infantry - were scheduled to come on at the beginning of turn three. The Allied player deployed in blinds along the table edge facing the German wire, trenches, and strong point. The going was slow for the Australians, hampered by some low dice rolls. The Allies were further handicapped by having opted to attach their overall commander (Level III) to one of the reserve sections.
The Australians were able to make effective use of the light cover provided by the shell holes forward of the German positions, and the tanks easily forced a breach through the German wire, thanks in part to the ineffectual fire from the German anti-tank gun position.

The German forces were made up of three sections of infantry which were obliged to deploy in the front line. These were supported by a sharpshooter HMG sheltered in a concrete bunker, and a sustained fire HMG depoloyed in the center of the table. The Germans also had an anti-tank gun and two LMG sections, one of which took up position in the bunker. Finally two reserve sections of infantry were confined to deep reserve bunkers and could only be deployed after turn three.

The combined effect of Australian rifle and rifle grenade fire on the German front line positions, with the support of LMGs in the two tanks eventually took a heavy toll. If the Allies had had the benefit of a more focused use of Big Men and commmand initiative cards, the German front line might well have been completely over run. As it was, after of few hours of play (which also included a fairly steep rule-learning curve for all players), the German player (yours truly) received an urgent telephone call from the High Command, wishing to know why it was taking so long to throw back the enemy, and when would he be likely to return for home leave. This forced an almost immediate cessation of hostilites. Overall it was an enjoyable game for both sides. Perhaps the fundamental lesson learned was the need to use Big Men effectively, as a way of rapidly pushing troops forward and gaining the initiative. This method is, as I see it, at the heart and soul of "Through the Mud and the Blood."

Day two of the offensive saw a modified battlefield and a more experienced generalship. The concrete bunker was now placed beyond the front line trenches, in much the same way as it would have been historically, in order to break up any attack. The Anglo-Australian forces were allowed to deploy six inches in, and up to a line drawn from the rear of the bunker. German reserves would only become available at the end of turn two. The Allies elected to deploy all their forces without blinds. Activated German units in the front line successfully held back the initial Australian attempts to reach the wire on the Allied right flank. The Allied players had elected to place both tanks on their left flank, in support of a concerted infantry assault on the concrete bunker which was key to gaining control of the battlfield. The tanks, while slowed by the large craters which had resulted from the preliminary bombardment, nevertheless suppressed fire from German forces in the front line trenches facing them, forcing one unit to Bottle. German anti-tank fire again proved ineffectual.

The real drama unfolded, much as it did historically, in attempts to dislodge the Germans in the central concrete pillbox. The isolated garrison consisted of a sharpshooter HMG, a LMG section, and the second-in-command German officer (Level III) with a runner. The pill box was constructed with a rear entrance that led to a shallow trench, and firing slits on three sides. The arc of fire for heavy and light weapons in the bunker was determined to be 90 degrees, which left narrow but nevertheless crucial blind spots on each flank. Learning from the lessons of the previous day, the Allies charged forward making use of their overall commander's initiative (Level III) together with an "Up and at 'em" card. Despite devastating fire from the LMG in the bunker, the Australians succeeded in reaching its right flank, and began their assualt with grenades. Initial German casualties were relatively light, however, incensed by the loss of some of their comrades, the remainder of the garrison refused to surrender, choosing instead to counter-attack in hand-to-hand combat. This resulted in considerable losses for the Germans, with their commander and runner only narrowly escaping and seeking refuge in a nearby shell hole. The commander's luck was relatively short lived, as he would later be killed by a sniper's bullet.

After three-hour's play, we called the game. The Australians had by this stage broken through the wire on their right flank, and secured the concrete bunker. German reserves, funneling up through the communication trenches, were about to face a combined attack by tanks and infantry on their right flank. The overall result was a win for the Allies.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pill Box Bunker

You might be excused for thinking that nothing much has been happening here at Digger's Home over the past few months. I've actually been intensely busy preparing terrain, figs and a scenario for the forthcoming Kingdom Con to be held here in San Diego, 13-15 April. I'll be doing a late-War scenario involving Anglo-Australian attack on outlying positions of the Hindenberg Line. I've probably painted more miniatures in the last two months than I have in the past five years. So for anyone wondering how to get back in the saddle, I'd say a combination of going public with your plans through something like a Blog, and the prospect of having to deliver at a club game or convention, can really produce palpable results. My painting table is littered with over 100 figures, now almost completed and ready for basing.

To take a break from the painting and also to maximize the playing area for the forthcoming game, I decided to create three more terrain squares. That would give me a playing area of 6ft x 8ft all together. I also wanted to construct a pill-box bunker insert for one of the pieces of terrain I'd made earlier this year.
The three new terrain squares were a breeze after working on the trenches. I designed them to be very simple, with few features apart from craters.

The pill box was designed to fit into a "blank" square I'd already cut in one of the terrain squares I'd made earlier on. I used a combination of expanded and extruded styrofoam and plastic card. The card was cut to shape to be inserted inside the excavated base of the bunker. The walls were made with white styrofoam I'd saved up from collected packaging. I wanted to be able to place both 25mm and 28mm figs inside so I made the bunker unnaturally deep to accomodate miniatures holding rifles upright and the like. The roof was made of blue styrofoam, carved to simulate bomb damage. I did a dry run first to make sure all the pices fitted snugly, and then used a styrofoam-friendly glue to fit them in place.

I did all this outside this time as I didn't want the debris from the terrain making to get on my already completed terrain squares not to mention the masses of figures on my painting table.

Using a similar method to that which I'd employed for the terrain squares, I coated the piece with elastomeric roof coating to seal it, then while this was still wet, I applied a texture with sand and gravel. Once that had dried, I painted and detailed the concrete, surrounding earth, and access trench. I also inclded some sandbags and a small section of barbed wire. All in all I was pretty pleased with the result. We'll see how it goes on the table during the con.