Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Thursday 31 December 2015

Review of Martin England's Threat Generation System from Miniature Wargames 373

I have recently been using Martin England's Threat Generation System, published in Miniature Wargames 373, for WW2 solitaire gaming.  I have previously really struggled to create satisfiying WW2 solo games, because it isn't a "troops on the table" period.  The distortions caused by the "helicopter general" effect, although present in all battles in all periods, seem to create the greatest dissonace in WW2 games.  To me, to feel like a WW2 game, surprise and concealment simply has to be in there and simply turning the tables and playing both sides won't work when these are key tactical concerns.  The author, Martin England, seems to have felt something similar, bemoaning the fact that his solo miniature wargames couldn't compete with the tension of playing computer games in this period.  Even his face-to-face games weren't comparable: one can use dummy units and suchlike, but even they give far too much information about enemy locations and intentions .He (unlike me!) managed to turn his dissatisfaction into a suitable system for overcoming these problems.

In essence, the system is simplicity itself:

First, create an order of battle for the enemy.  Each enemy unit will have a card and an equal number of blank cards are added.  These cards are shuffled and a third discarded.  I have adapted this system so that the enemy may have 'core' units which are added to the pack after this, so if "intelligence" knows that a platoon of Tigers is spearheading the attack, then there will be at least one Tiger card.  You get the idea.  This was very useful for the recent Op Martlet mini-campaign as a "core" British platoon takes on a "core" German platoon through the campaign.

Then generate the "threat" by drawing one of these cards every time a unit moves.  I adapted this to be one card every turn to give a slightly slower game.  To my mind, choosing this is a good way of controlling how the scenarios will play out: defending against an all-out assault will probably require a card for every player action.

A direction is then generated for the threat by a weighted dice roll (i.e. there is much more chance that the enemy will appear to the front, but a significant chance that some enemy will annoyingly appear on the flank), then a distance and then an activity (moving/static/dug-in etc.).  The author also generates a simple "character" for the commander of the enemy unit to help him decide between actions when in doubt.  I must admit I didn't use this, preferring a simple odds-evens die roll to decide between options when doubt arose.  

There is more detail in the article and I would throroughly recommend that any solo gamer wanting to play in periods after 1900 should purchase the magazine and at least have a look.  Science Fiction gamers might also be able to use the system.  And the system itself is singularly adaptable, by making changes in the ratio of real cards to "empty threats", the rate of drawing the cards, the variation in the distances that the threats are generates, the "activity" of the generated unit, and so on.  I'd like to thank the author and publisher for presenting such a useful and adapatable system.  Highly recommended for the solo gamer!

And some examples of the system in action on my blog here

Review of WRG's 1925-1950 Wargames Rules

I have been playing the venerable old WRG 1925-1950 rules recently, using them for my recent solo Op Martlet mini-campaign.

The rules were written by Phil Barker and published in the early 1970s but still hold together reasonably well.   The rules are meant to cover the span from reinforced platoon to company-level actions.  Each turn represents about 30 seconds of activity.  1 model represents 1 real vehicle, an infantry base represent a c.4-man rifle team or a heavy weapons team.  Two ground scales are suggested: 1":100m for big tank battles using 1:300 scale vehicles, 1mm:1m for other games, or those using 1:72 scale vehicles.

Command is done by very basic written orders given to each platoon element. The game uses an IGOUGO turn sequence but firing comes before movement - this neatly precludes the need for any 'overwatch' rules (the firing player can move any opposing elements to anywhere they could be seen in the preceding player's movement).
The rules for spotting, movement and firing are all relatively simple.  Direct fire weapons test to hit - which effectively suppresses the target - and then test to destroy the target.  It is a simple D6 roll with very few modifiers (easily committed to memory). Area fire weapons work in a similar area but use beaten zones and a broadbrush "hit anything in the open with a 5+, anything in cover on a 6" type rule.  Spotting is done entirely by range (no dice rolls); it is difficult to spot concealed infantry and anti-tank weapons and so on!  Combined with the fire-first turn sequence, this obviates some of the difficulties caused by the all-seeing general syndrome and restores some of the effectiveness of these troop types in comparison to tanks (which are often easier to spot). 
Infantry is very hard to kill except at extremely short ranges.  This seems more-or-less in line with historical reality.  Machineguns are a lot more useful than rifles except at very close quarters and infantry attacks - even with superior numbers - are quite hard to sustain in the face of fire.  They will normally degenerate into a sporadic exchange of fire (again, all quite realistic).
The system uses very simple armour classes but they all seem sensible.  It doesn't give extensive equipment details and no orders of battle at all, so gamers have to do a tiny bit of homework to make sure they know what the weapons, armour class and speed of their vehicles will be (it takes five minutes, maximum).  The rules only allow suppression and knock-out results, there are no intermediate stages of damage, which some gamers may find too simplistic.
Morale is considered by means of a reaction test.  There are a number of situations where reaction tests must be taken and the chances of troops being halted and/or forced to retire to the nearest cover are reasonably high.  There are a rather larger number of morale modifiers than firing modifiers, although I became reasonably familiar with them after the first couple of games.
The rules cover the use of smoke, field engineering, air support and weather.  As befits a 1970s publication, there are no pictures of miniatures or even explanatory diagrams however the rules are tight enough to not require them.
Issues?  Smoke provision is very generous (I suggest using the rules as given but halving the distance screened, seems to work okay; since I play solitaire I may not have stumbled on the most game-y uses of smoke.  I like the infantry rules, although if playing using the 1":100m ground scale infantry movement will be very slow!   Some gamers might find the lack of differentiation between a rifle team, an SMG team and an StG44 team problematic, or the lack of differentiation between a Bren and an MG34. My own collection is for Normandy 1944, but I suppose that having deployed infantry mainly defend static positions in the midst of armour battles might not be a too bad fit for the Western Desert, say.  Again, I like the armour rules which I consider helpfully concentrate on the most fundamental details bit those looking for more tactical chrome may baulk at the simplifications, especially in the way damage is dealt with.  Some gamers may be pleased with the here are the rules, you work out the equipment and the organisation whilst others may prefer the "handbook" approach of Flames of War/Games Workshop's Codex system.  There are no special rules for specific equipment, tactics or "national characteristics" (with some marginal exceptions to the latter) which gamers may find very refreshing or a bit annoying.  A search online will yield details of the "bazooka backblast" exploit...
But I highly recommend these rules to gamers who want a fundamentally sound set of WW2 rules, which are now available free and play smoothly and quickly.  There are some examples of me using these rules here.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Peninsular War Campaign - end of January 1809

My goodness, has it really been a year?  In my youthful innocence, reading the Lord of the Rings, I couldn't believe that he had left the story at the tomb of Balin for over a year.  What were these other interests and duties which could have possibly stopped this writer at such an exciting moment?  Well, I am in my late 30s now and I totally understand what he meant...

Anyway, I am back in the saddle now!

The month began with Catalan somatenes seizing Rosas in a surprise attack on the Neapolitan garrison.  Cuesta's Army of the Centre advanced northwest of Barcelona and defeated Chabran's division around Hostalrich.  Chabran the withdrew towards Gerona whilst Cuesta reinforced the garrison (of Hostalrich) and then withdrew back towards Barcelona, which he then blockaded.  Luckily for the French however, the obstinate garrison of Gerona finally succumbed to hunger and sickness and surrendered at the end of the month.

In the main theatre,  the ImperialI, III, V, VI and Army HQ pursued Wellington towards Salamanca then southwards towards the border crossing.  Wellington and Castanos inflicted a serious reverse on three of the pursuing corps at the Battle of Bejar and the French pursued at a more respectful distance thereafter.

But the most brilliant operation of the month was carried out by General Junot, who rapidly marched towards Tudela and Saragossa then carried out a force march to surprise Palacio's Army of Catalonia around Belchite.  Many casualties were suffered on the way but Junot's boldness was rewarded with a crushing victory and the SpanishArmy of Catalonia has retired on Caspe, with barely a division's worth of troops remaining.

To the Northwest, Soult brought up Caffarelli's Division to reinforce his efforts in the continuing siege of Astorga.  Mahy has withdrawn completely from the vicinity of Leon and Castile and has instead withdrawn towards Vigo to recruit and train.  Only divine intervention can save the garrison of Astorga from succumbing...

It was interesting to re-read my notes so I could construct this.  I think that I remember where the campaign was and my notes look accurate...we shall see!  I'm looking forward to driving this project forward a little over the holidays.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Op Martlet Battle 06: The Last Ditch At Ruaray

The final battle is for the village of Rauray, the final objective for the unit's part in Objective Martlet.  Both sides have relatively little support for this one but after the severe casualties in the last battles, both sides chose to bring in their replacement platoons.  For the British, I supplemented my platoon with a Sherman tank and a FOO with a 3" mortar battery,  My plan was to form a support section from all the platoon's Brens, with the 2" mortar and the FOO, to get the riflemen across the open ground.  From there, the troops would advance by supported sections and aim to defeat any Germans encountered in detail.

Usual game details: WRG 1925-1950 rules; GHQ, Heroics and Ros and Adler troops and vehicles; Total Battle Miniatures and Baccus scenery; Too Fat Lardies Op Martlet Campaign for the scenario and Miniature Wargames 373 for the solo Threat Generation System)

The Terrain:

The terrain.  The British will advance from the left.

The view from behind the German lines
 The Battle:

A few missing photos unfortunately, but basically the British managed to get across the field after neutralizing a German sniper.  The tommies then caught the German platoon commander in the open and he became a casualty.

Unfortunately for the Germans, their armour was activated next.  It did make the open ground at the top of the village a no-go area though.

The British take the house on the left by classic fire-and-movement, eliminating a group of German grenadiers inside.  The rest of the British are hugging the cover, slowly clearing the village.

Ambush!! A concealed German section opens fire on the rear section of the British.  The Mortar FOO and his team are killed in the buzzsaw of the MG42s.

Blimey!  The second German section turns up on the opposite flank; less well-concealed though, British infantry now inside the village are able to shoot at them...

and miss totally!  The Germans try to bring the Hanomag to bear on the trapped British rear section, but it is destroyed by the Sherman.  The 2" mortar fires smoke upon the British troops to try and give them the opportunity to extract

The British slowly advance through the village, whilst the survivors from the rear section have managed to get out of the crossfire and into cover

Another fire-and-movement attack - this time supported by tank gun fire - eliminates the Germans at the bottom of the village
Another small group of German infantry arrive (concealted top-left) and a small group of British infantry in the building at the top-centre are eliminated by concentated German fire.  Desultory fire continues with neither side willing to advance further

German morale collapses first and the surviving elements retreat.  Victory to the British!
Game Notes: A very interesting battle, initially the British seemed to be having a relatively easy time of it...and then the ambush was sprung!  The fighting which followed was extremely intense and it required a lot of concentration to figure out how to escape that ambush.  Both sides fought very hard, but the initial German losses told and they failed their reaction test first.  Literally neither side could have advanced, but the odds were slightly against the Germans holding on...and they didn't.

This has been a really enjoyable campaign.  The Threat Generation System genuinely gives a tense and interesting solitaire game which I had really struggled to find before now.  They have compared with the intensity I used to find playing the Ambush! series of games.  Although the Germans never quite won a game, a lot of that was luck and on another day...

I want to review the ruleset and the TGS to see if there are any minor modifications I want to make and then look to replay this campaign before too long or have a go at the next one: The Scottish Corridor

Op Martlet Campaign Battle 05: Winning Your Spurs

Rather than fight a separate German counter-attack battle ("The Punch from Wunch") I included the extra German units as optional cards into this scenario instead.  For the British, they aim to clear this spur before reaching their final objective, the village of Ratray.  For support options for the British platoon, I picked:

17-pdr AT gun
6-pdr AT gun
PIAT team

I hoped to fight a mainly defensive battle, with hopefully the better concealment of the anti-tank guns being more useful than the mobility and armour of the Shermans.

(Game details as for previous battles: WRG 1925-1950 rules; GHQ, Heroics and Ros and Adler troops and vehicles; Total Battle Miniatures and Baccus scenery; Too Fat Lardies Op Martlet Campaign for the scenario and Miniature Wargames 373 for the solo Threat Generation System)

The Terrain:

Mainly flat and open terrain, with a ditch by the road, some bits of hedgerow and some rough ground.

 The Battle:

British infantry advance, hugging the scraps of cover; the anti-tank guns use a little cover too, observing the most likely arcs of fire

An SdKfz 250 enters stage right

Just as the British forces were preparing to ambush the German AFV, a wander German officer and a couple of soldiers enter behind the British flank!  The British are forced to give away their position by firing early, luckily the 17-pdr hit the SdKfz 250 and destroyed it

Just  as the British infantry eliminates the wanderers, a German section ambushes the British platoon commander and his mortar team!

After a potracted firefight, the platoon commander falls in battle...

The platoon's lead section has reached the hedgerow, whilst everyone else concentrates against the German ambushers

And this time it is the Germans who walk into the ambush!  And they are far more exposed...

Rifle and machine gun fire crackles over the whole battlefield.  The ambushing section has been almost eliminated, as has half the section which walked into the British ambush.  More German infantry open up from a hidden position (bottom-centre)

A Panther arrives!  But unfortunately just after the remaining Germans became casualties...

The Panther decides that it isn't in a position to advance now that most of the infantry support is hors de combat!  It withdraws (failed reaction check) and the battle ends

Game Notes: A very interesting encounter as it turned out nothing like I was expecting!  I was expecting a fluid armour vs anti-tank encounter and what I got was a grinding infantry battle.  The card deck was nearly exhausted by the end, as some of the firefights went on for a long time.  The rules are pretty realistic: the infantry battle only gets deadly at very close ranges or if large groups try to advance under fire.  However, this battle did turn up a problem with the way I have played the rules.  I have included all the support elements within the platoon for all purposes, including morale.  This encounter has persuaded me that tanks and artillery should be in separate platoons for morale purposes and any new campaigns I do will incorporate this.

British losses: 9 infantrymen
German losses: 20 infantrymen (2 unwounded prisoners); 1 SdKfz 250

Op Martlet Campaign Battle 4: Striking at St.Nicholas

The next battle in the series is the British attempt to break-out from Fontenay by taking a strong farm position at Saint Nicholas.  I took the following support options to stuffen the British infantry platoon.

1 x Rifle section
1 x Sherman
1 x 17 pdr (this was in error, I shouldn't have been able to take this in this mission, it should have been a second Sherman.  I don't think that it made a major difference, in the end)
1 x FOO + 3" Mortar battery

The plan was to have a section probe cautiously into the open ground and try to get the Germans to expose their positions whilst being supported from the rear and the flank, while the main infantry assaulted through the woods.

All the game details as for previous battles: WRG 1925-1950 rules; GHQ, Heroics and Ros and Adler troops and vehicles; Total Battle Miniatures and Baccus scenery; Too Fat Lardies Op Martlet Campaign for the scenario and Miniature Wargames 373 for the solo Threat Generation System

The Battlefield:

The farm complex towards the top-right, the woods centre and left, the ploughed fields towards the bottom

The view from the German side

The view from the British lines
The Battle:

The British infantry, supported by a tank and an AT gun, advance through the woods (and the attached section advances through the ploughed fields)

Closer-in to the British advance in the woods

The flanking section encounters a stray German who is eliminated in short order

The flanking section comes under fire from a German position at the edge of the fields

Just as the advancing British infantry suppresses the German infantry squad and moves up to assault the position, up pops a hull-down Panzer IV! Gulp...the leading British tommies fall to its fire.

View from the German tank towards the farm and wood...what are those indistinct shapes...?

That got him!  The concealed British anti-tank gun gets it, first shot,,,the force was with the crew on that shot, did the gunner use to bullseye rats with his shotgun back home?!?

The concealed AT gun

Jerry isn't daft! Another Panver IV pops up!! Blimey....

Luckily his shooting doesn't match his ground appreciation, he misses and the sweating AT gun crew sigh in relief....

Wider shot of the battle

The British gunners knock out the second panzer....maybe the British tank can stop skulking at the back now!

The British infantry moved up to assault the farmhouse but immediately four men fell to the German riflemen concealed in the top building

The British tough it out though and in the exchange of fire, the German defenders are killed

More German infantry pop-up and pin down the flanking British section

Same position

And another German section engages.  However, the cumulative German losses up to this point have told upon their morale

and both sections retreat off the board, leaving the British in possession of the farm complex
Game Notes: The Threat Generation System continues to provide an exciting and tense game: I literally never know what to expect!!  I think my plan was good but it worked better than I had a right to expect because of some really good British shooting and because the larger German infantry sections were activated later in the game rather than earlier. 

British casualties: 10 infantrymen
German casualties: 9 infantrymen, 2 Panzer IVs

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Op Martlet Bonus Game

I replayed the first scenario from the TFL Op Martlet campaign just to test out the new basing scheme of my 6mm troops.  The basing system worked well, as opposed to my tactics...

The advancing British infantry neatly eliminate a German FOO hiding in the trees; they would destroy a Hanomag moments after as it came to investigate
The advancing British infantry hit from 3 positions (Pz IV in the yard, grenadier section by the wall, command team in the open)

The British advance and are then hit by a sniper and some supporting troops from the building...

A PIAT team gets a lucky shot to knock out the PZIVH after losing a couple of men to its machinegun fire; note that the British infantry at the bottom of the picture have about-faced as they are engaged by a German machinegunner (just out of shot to the bottom, by the side of the road)

But more German infantry ambush the lead British infantry and six troops fall in seconds...

These British troops surrender as they have no possibility of escaping to re-join the retreating British force...
 As hopefully the pictures show, the TGS can - and does - generate situations that can be extremely difficult to combat unless your tactics are spot on.  But they also punish tardiness and over-elaboration (because more threat cards are drawn)