Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Wrap Up

Well, it's time to wrap up another year here a my Big Picture blog. Like I do every year, I posted up my focus for 2013 back in January. I never look back at these posts except for the last day of the year, where I see how closely I stuck to those ideas. A lot of bloggers do these year-end wrap ups and I enjoy reading them. So here's my contribution to this theme.

2013: The Year With No Focus Whatsoever

Well, I suppose my goals for 2013 were pretty much a free-for-all. I promised myself I wouldn't get hung up on having unpainted models. I sure took that to heart. I now have tons of stuff that I've not painted and probably never will get painted. I can't exactly call that an achievement. This time around I better get more specific with goals for next year!

Things I Planned for 2013

Let's review what I thought I was going to do.

Bolt Action: I completed a 1,000 pt painting challenge and got my Russians completed. I played a few games with these guys and liked them well enough. I let this game sit for the middle part of the year then resurrected it for 15mm games.  I'd call this a major success, and I see myself playing it long into 2014.

Fantasy Skirmish / Sci-Fi Games: This was partially successful for the fantasy games at least. I discovered Savage Worlds makes a great tabletop game. It will probably work for Sci Fi as well. However my goals was to replace a 40K sized game, and I failed in that aspect. I didn't even look into it. I'll call this a draw.

Card Games & Board Games: This is where I spent most of my game time this year. I have developed a serious liking of board games with a miniatures theme. I've also invested heavily in the Living Card Games (LCG) formats from Fantasy Flight Games and played lots of these games this year.

For card games, I've ended up with quite a collection: Warhammer: Invasion, Call of Cthulhu, Star Wars, Netrunner, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings. Whew! I didn't play much LotR this year, and Cthulhu didn't see table time either, though it's a great game. Also deck builders were huge on my list, with both the LotR and DC deck building games getting lots of play time.

For board games, I played a lot with friends this year and bought copies for myself. My most played board games this year were Combat Commander Pacific & Europe, Relic, Sergeants Miniatures Game, Descent 2 (almost done playing the campaign), Super Dungeon Explore, Phantom Leader, and Battle of Westros. There are probably a dozen other board games I've played as well, but these are the main games.

Dreadball & Blood Bowl: Bust on Blood Bowl, and will not likely ever do anything with the team I painted for it. Dreadball has some hope, but I only played one game. So, I'm calling this a bust for 2013 plans.

Malifaux: This one squeaked in at the last minute. I've painted my force and playea few games. This game rocks, and I'm hoping to play more of it.

Relic Knights:  This is why I'm wary of Kickstarters. They've been very good about communicating and the game is coming out soon, so I'm not too worried. But they've had my money for over a year and I'd like to see the actual game soon.  Bust for 2013.

Other Things for 2013

Campaign Projects: By mid year I had latched onto the idea of developing my WW2 collection of both terrain and armies by focusing on campaigns. By using historical re-creation campaigns from Britton Publishers and Skirmish Elite I had a focus for the types of models to buy. So now I can fill a 4x6 table with nice looking 15mm terrain along with sizable forces for WW2.

I actually completed one of these campaigns as a solo endeavor and am in the middle of another. When it comes  to historical campaigns, I've actually preferred playing them as a solo effort. Originally I was trying to get my son into it, but gave up. In the end, I've enjoyed them as an alternative to PC / Console games. (My World of Warcraft subscription lapsed for the first time in many years!)

If only I could find something similar for fantasy or sci-fi themed games!

New Discoveries: Several new games for me in 2013 that I liked but just haven't got back to: Infinity, Dark Ages, Wings of Glory, and Blitzkrieg Commander. I enjoyed all four, but just don't know what I can invest toward these going forward.

A few total busts for the year:
Dropzone Commander: I'm going to sell this stuff. I don't like the rules.
Armored Clash: Still in the box, not sure I'm as keen on this as when I bought it. Probably will sell it.

What I Wrote Off in 2013

I actually sold a lot of armies and models this year:
Flames of War: Sold all of it but kept some of the vehicles for myself
Hordes: Ditched my Everblight
Battlefleet Gothic: When you don't play a game for nearly a decade, it's time to sell
LotR: Sold my elves and plan to sell three other armies to completely divest

So that's the whole of 2013 in a nutshell.Wishing everyone a happy and safe 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

PaK Nests

Here's one of my Christmas gifts this year. I wanted the terrain that comes with this set, but also needed the guns for future scenarios. These are German PaK nests from Battlefront Miniatures. The set actually comes with two Pak 38 and two PaK 40 guns, which makes it an excellent deal. You are only provided enough crew for two guns, but extra crewmen are cheap and easy enough to find.

I decided to do one of each gun, since I'm not using these for Flames of War but for Bolt Action in 15mm. I can also use the nests for other things like mortar or rifle pits. The bases fit in without any trouble, as you can see in the pictures.

I didn't flock the pits, since it's supposed to represent overturned earth, and also because flock makes a mess after constant handing. I'm expecting to get a lot of use out of those nests.

 Again no great shakes, but since this was in keeping with the season thought I'd cram one last entry in before the year-end wrap-up post. I'm not going to get anything else done before the end of the year, so this is it.  Particularly the last third of 2013, it has been a year for 15mm WW2!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Filling in Mortar Holes

.... Holes in my collection, that is. I made a glaring omission in my 15mm Imperial Japanese Army collection, namely a medium mortar team. I had assumed a lot of the scenarios I'd be playing for Operation Stalemate II had the medium mortars off-board. On closer reading, many scenarios have these mortars on the table, and I have no models to represent these teams.

So, Peter Pig and Brookhurst Hobbies came to my rescue. I really like the Peter Pig range, even if they're a little on the expensive side for 15mm. Brookhurst has been great to deal with, and they seem to have all Peter Pig in stock whenever I need it. I can order on a Monday and the models will generally be at my door by Friday.

I also discovered that I left off medium mortars for both my US and German forces, so I ordered those at the same time.  Now I'm covered.  Here are pictures of the completed teams: Japanese, German, and US.

Each pack comes with two complete teams, as you might've guessed. While I don't think I'll ever need two on the table at once it's really no big deal to paint both teams. This is one of the great benefits of 15mm: speed of painting. The models have as much detail as 28mm, except in the faces, but a lot less surface area.

This is sort of random, and I'm only posting because I painted it at the same time as these teams. Here's a Battlefront US Greyhound armored car. I wanted one for use in my Platoon Forward campaign, but didn't have a specific need for it like the mortars. Anyway, I'm sure this will get used eventually.

That's it for this update. I've got plenty of stuff on the table yet to do. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reaper Bones Heroes

The nice thing about having a giant pile of Reaper Bones from the first Kickstarter is that I always have models to paint when I just want to work on something different. The bad thing is that no matter how many I paint, the pile still looks unchanged. Of course, so far I've only painted 37 of the Kickstarter Bones, so I guess I shouldn't be too quick to complain.

I've been on a WW2 jag recently, and I don't think that's going to change. So to break up all the military colors I pulled out a handful of models from my pile of heroes and painted them.  Here's what I've done this week. Click for a larger picture.

So this is a bit of a mish-mash in terms of theme. From left to right, I've got two casters, then an elven pirate, a female warrior, and finally an Elf ranger.  The ranger I have actually already done in metal before, which you can see here.  I like both, but am partial to the way this one came out and I prefer the round base.

As with most of my Bones, I didn't prime these but just went straight to paint. I've never had much problems doing this, but this time the female elf pirate (in the center) was hard to paint. This one resisted the paint, even after washing all the models. I scrubbed her again, and it made no difference.  Also, her sword had a lot of flash and just poor casting.  I considered replacing the sword blade, but then I don't know if this model will ever see the light of day after this. So it wasn't worth the effort to me. Well, no big deal, but I was a bit surprised at the difficulty of this particular model. The others were fine.

So, I've got some miscellaneous WW2 on the painting table, and I'll be building my Samurai Battles models. I won't be painting the Samurai Battles figures, since I have so much else I can do, but I'll post up the finished game when it's done. If it was not 20mm scale, I might have been tempted to paint them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Random Thoughts on Random Events

I've been using Bolt Action rules to work through a Pacific war campaign, which I've covered previously.  Since this is primarily a solo endeavor I've been having some fun with tweaking the rules to my liking. After all, my opponent doesn't really care. For the most part, these are minor things to make up for my lack of models or certain terrain.  However, one thing I've done is added random events to the game.

Adding random events is obviously not my original idea. It's easy to add a different die to the dice cup, and add an event when it comes up.You can read about one of the best applications of this idea at this link. In fact, I've stolen from these guys!

So for my games, I place a yellow die in the cup and when it is pulled I roll a D6 and on a 6 there's a random event. I've been using the random events table from Platoon Forward in the past. However, these are rather generic.  Since I'm playing a specific campaign in an historical location, I thought I could customize my random events table.

Here's what I've done. I've tried to incorporate things I know about the operation and the conditions of the battle. I thought I'd share it as inspiration for others, much the way the original post I referred to above inspired this table.

 This is obviously a screen capture, and you'll have to click on it to see the detail.

I've used the layout of reinforcements versus "story events". Both serve to add spice to the game being played and help create a less predictable experience. I also altered table odds by using a D8 versus a D6. I roll one d8 for the row and another for the column and, presto, I've got my event.

I've given a slightly better chance of the Japanese getting reinforcements, but their reinforcements are more likely to be Inexperienced or Regulars at best. The US reinforcements are less likely to occur but when they do, they will be better trained. The First Marine division at this stage of the war had been through quite a bit of the Pacific war. I figured they'd have better overall experience levels.

As for story events, these were a lot of fun to create. I tried to mimic real events I've either read about or figured would be likely. Again, not every idea was totally original. I set these up to run the gamut of bad, neutral, and positive events for the unit subjected to the event.

Some of my thoughts on these "story" ideas:
  • Battlefield confusion is that scene from every war movie where soldiers argue with their officers on what to do in the heat of battle, inevitably with someone getting shot. I left out the "getting shot" part.
  • Heat exhaustion was a real threat on Peleliu and this is how I modeled it in game terms
  • Storms seemed a likely thing to complicate fighting in the tropics. While I didn't have any examples from the 1st Marines, I do know the 81st Infantry Division experienced storms.
  • Renewed inspiration is another movie moment. I figured once the unit fails an order test, they've lost their nerve and become normal again. 
  • Stray mortar rounds make sense to me. My battle isn't the only fight in the area, as the rest of the company would be attacking alongside me.
  • Suicide surrender was hard to model in game terms. I think this does it. Basically, the Japanese used surrender as a means to kills themselves and as many enemy as possible. Amazingly the Allies seemed to fall for it over and over. The d2 hits pushes this event to be a potentially more favorable trade for the Japanese side.
  • Non combat casualties occur in every battlefield, and the rush of combat combined with weapons and a dangerous environment makes this scenario likely.
  • Time table decreased. Sorry, I just can't call it Tea Break. I'm playing Americans!
 So what has my experience been with this? Well, in the first game I got no random events. In my second game I got a useless event at game end, where the last die pulled was the random event die and I rolled for Time Table Dencrease at game end! I've decided that if I get a random event at game end I will ignore it if it has no impact. Otherwise, if I roll an event that doesn't have an effect, I'll just roll again (eg, I have only veteran units and no pinned units, then "renewed inspiration" is a waste).

Additionally, random events are seasoning and not the meal. So no more than two per game, otherwise I risk ruining the intent of the scenario. In certain scenarios, I'll plan some restrictions, like no reinforcements being available, etc.

Well, this is a whole lot of "no pictures" and lots of words. I hoped you enjoyed this and can borrow or steal some of this for your own games.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

WW2 Pacific Theater Buildings

Quick update this week. I have painted two buildings for the Pacific war. None of my planned scenarios need buildings, but I'm thinking ahead to after this is done. I also have a Saipan campaign book (30 scenarios!) that needs buildings, and I may play some of that one day.

So here are two buildings from Peter Pig. One is a standard "Burmese jungle" style building. The other is the "Poor Samurai" building. I did not order the samurai building, and it was shipped to me in place of the other jungle building. However, I thought I could use this in Okinawa scenarios and so held on to it.  I'll probably continue to paint the samurai building, finishing the exterior framing.

I put some of my Battlefront US leaders next to them for size. (I also painted those three models this week.)  You can see that even with the large size of the Battlefront models they scale nicely. The buildings themselves are nicely done, with removable roofs. However, you can't put anything inside of them.

The jungle building is on metal pylons. You can either glue them on or not, and I elected to leave mine unattached. The two stairs are metal and I also left them unglued. The building has some neat details. After I stared painting it, I noticed coils of rope and a line of fish hung out to dry. It looks better in life than it does in these pictures.

So now I have the start of a small village. I'll get the other samurai building and jungle building from Peter Pig, then look to expand from there.

After completing my big project to get all my IJA and US Marines painted, I was left feeling flat. I wanted to keep going and didn't know what to do next. It's the law of inertia at work: I just wanted to keep painting WW2 models.

I had a blister of 37mm US Anti Tank guns hanging around, and so got to work on them. Since I play only platoon sized skirmishes, I don't really need two AT guns. So I committed a "mini sacrilege" and painted one gun team as US Marines. Not exactly the same uniforms but hunkered behind their gun you can't really tell.

So there you have it. I think I'm now over that inertia and ready to start painting something else. I have a heap of Reaper Bones to work on, and they're up next.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Operation Stalemate II, Mission One Battle Report

With all my US Marines and IJA forces complete, I am now ready to play the scenarios in Britton Publishing's Operation Stalemate II campaign book. There are 11 scenarios based upon the 1st Marine Division's actions on Peleliu. I will be skipping one of the scenarios (set in the jungle and with a recon dog.... just don't want to bother with it), to play out 10 over the course of several months.

I've gone back and forth on what rules to use for these games. Savage Worlds is awesome for squad level, character based games, but these scenarios jump around in time and don't follow any fixed group of soldiers. Also Savage Worlds requires a ton of prep work and the scenarios here can be big. I was leaning on Disposable Heroes, which has a lot of crunch but gets fiddly with vehicle rules. Also, I don't know these rules so well, and don't want to learn as I go. So at last I settled on Bolt Action.

Bolt Action is almost ideal for these scenarios, as it covers 90% of what I need and is not too complex that I have a lot of weird rules to remember. I like the randomness of the order dice, too. What Bolt Action doesn't do is work at the squad level (there are a few scenarios at the squad level that I want to play), and it doesn't have rules for most of the Japanese defenses like minefields and barbed wire.  So I'll have to house-rule a few things. I'll probably use Savage Worlds for the couple of squad-level scenarios.

The biggest adjustment for Bolt Action is that I'm playing 15mm. I've tried a number of things to fix the scale and none have been satisfactory. (I've been playing Normandy scenarios with Platoon Forward in 15mm Bolt Action.) First I tried cutting all ranges in half, but leaving movement the same.  That doesn't work because once you are in rifle range (12") you are also in assault range and the game becomes broken. Scratch that.  So I did the next logical thing, which is to halve movement. So moving at 3" a turn means you've got to compress the board size or you'll be there all day. OK, next idea. I tried replacing all inches measurements to centimeters (e.g. 12" becomes 12cm). Dear God, just kill me.  That's even shorter than halving all the distances. It is like playing the game in a slow-motion nightmare that never, ever ends.

At the end of the day, I'm playing in 15mm using all the normal 28mm ranges. You know what, it works fine. I know there are those of you out there who just read that sentence and fell the to floor. You're now thrashing beneath your desk, palms pressed into your eyes, and you're screaming, "It burns! It burns! Those ranges are not realistic. The ground scale is wrong. Arrgh! No!!!!!" Well, it's a only a game and if we wanted to go looking for unrealistic shit in our games we'd never get around to playing them.  I combed message boards looking for better "conversion" advice and I heard the ground scale argument a lot. I just am not worried.

OK, onto the game. The first scenario is called H-Hour, where the Marines hit the beach.  My objective is to start at the water edge and get 20 Marines off the opposite table edge, which I've placed 24" away. Here's my force list as given in the scenario book.
  • 1 x LVT (A) 1
  • 1 LVT (A) 4
  • 2 x LVT-4
  • 1x 7 man Platoon HQ (2LT, medic, 5 riflemen) all Regular
  • 3 x 13 Marine Rifle Squads each with 3 BAR & 1 SMG (regular)
  • 2 x .30cal LMG teams (regular & veteran)
  • 2  x 60mm Mortar teams (regular)
  • 1 x Flamethrower team (veteran)
Now that's some firepower! Should be a ROLFStomp for the USA!

Blocking the beach are the following Japanese forces:
  • 2 x Anti personnel mine fields (2x6") -- oh my, no rules for these!
  • Off Board Forward Observer -- crap, nothing about FO teams being off-board in the rules!
  • 2 x Type 92 MMG teams (regular)
  • 1 x 4 man Platoon HQ (1LT and 3 Veteran riflemen)
  • 2 x 6 man fire teams with LMG / Rifles (regular)
  • Fortifications to include coconut log bunkers and rifle pits
So you'll notice that these lists don't necessarily conform to the Bolt Action force organization rules. I don't know how many points this represents on either side. Since these are semi-historical encounters, the lists will reflect history more than game rules.

The minefields are tricky. So I made markers for 4 of them, and put a star on the reverse sides of two of them. Any troops that enter the minefield will take hits like a flamethrower, but not be subjected to the morale test destruction (that just seems over-powered for a minefield).  Once movement is over, I can flip the minefield to see if it was real or not. The off-board FO just added a die to the cup each turn, but couldn't be eliminated. Easy as that.

I also added an extra die to the cup for random events. When I pulled that die, I rolled it and on a 6 I'd have a random event. No random events happened in this game.

OK, turn one you see the layout of the board. All troops are aboard one of the two LVT-4s (with the open backs). The Japanese are all in hidden status and set to ambush, per their special rule.  The US has the unimaginative layout you see here. The Japanese MMGs are in the log bunkers that bracket each side of the table. I'm playing a 48"x24" table.

Here's another shot of the Japanese lines.  Set up for them was easy, as it's provided in the book. Honestly, as a two player game this would suck to be Japanese. All you do is try to block the beach exit and then roll dice whenever the US moves. Otherwise, not much to do for them except die.

The Japanese have a prelim bombardment that is actually fairly effective. It puts two pin markers on most vehicles and very nearly destroyed the LVT A-4. I got lucky on the damage roll or it would've been blown before the game started.

To make a very long turn one much shorter, my guys disembarked and advanced across the beach. The beach is rough ground, so no running. I threw tons of fire at the Japanese and hit a few to reveal them from hidden status.  I used a little exclamation marker to indicate who was NOT hidden after taking a hit. Once everyone was revealed, I dumped that marker.  I just wanted to use those markers!

By the end of the first turn, I guessed I'd have the game won by turn three. My guys were looking good.  I chanced moving one of my units into a minefield, as the beach was crowded otherwise. Would I make it?

Ha ha! Lucky bastards! Nope, this was not one of the two minefields, so I pulled it out and these guys were good to go. I felt so confident that I tried it again on the right flank. Oops. That was real. And it was right in front of the MMG in the bunker and the Rifle and HQ squads of the Japanese. And it killed a lot of my guys. Crap.

Here's the disposition of  my guys at the end of turn one. The LVT A 4 and LVT A 1 are hanging back to provide fire. The 60mm mortars would try all game to lay smoke in front of the MG bunkers, but would miss and the smoke would dissipate the next turn. Smoke was a real let down.  Also, you'll notice the ominous aiming token for the IJA's artillery strike in the center of the board. Turn two could be interesting.

Well, turn two was interesting. The artillery strike flat-out destroyed the flamethrower team... poof they're dead. All other teams within 8" of that aiming point took 2-3 pin markers each. The HQ team was not in the right place, and so when it came time to rally, no one did. All I managed was to get shot up by MG fire. The only saving grace was the Japanese on the left flank kept their heads down too.

I didn't even bother taking pictures of turns 2 - 4, as my guys failed rally test after rally test. The two squads were frozen at the edge of the beach on the left, and on the right that squad evaporated to concentrated fire. The medic didn't save anyone.  My two armored support units were both pinned from the prelim bombardment, and the LVT A 1 on the far left didn't rally until the final turn! However, over the course of this horrifying time, the MG teams and mortars wore down the IJA fire team and HQ on the right. Sadly, my 2LT was killed (due to excessive damage from the MMG on the right). I could not answer the bunkers, because I couldn't blind them and couldn't hit them. Firing into a bunker is impossible!

Here are my guys just before the end of turn four when the LT died (he's to the right of the squad, wearing the soft cap with hand up). If they don't start to rally, I will lose the scenario. With the LT dead, my chances are even lower!

By turn five my LVT A 4 howitzer was back in action and blew up the remaining IJA fire team. I only had the MG teams at either side of the board. I started running units off the table, and jumped for joy with one of my two remaining rifle squads rallied. The last one never did and the MGs chewed them up until I realized I could move the LVT-4s to block the MG LOS!  DOH!  Anyway, once they started to pass tests, it got easier. I literally needed turn 7 (based on a random die roll at the end of turn 6 to continue), so that my medic could run off board and complete the needed 20 soldiers. I won but just barely!

Here's my line at the end of the game.

It was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to the next scenario. That one will basically be the same thing only with Sherman tanks coming ashore and facing AT guns.

15mm Pacific War Complete

I probably could have got a few blog posts out of this batch of models, but I just got lazy. Plus, I don't believe people want or need an update from me every time I paint something. However, this last batch represents a milestone for me. It completes both my US Marines and Imperial Japanese Army forces!

Here's what I've got done. We'll start with the US Marines.

These are the various landing craft for my Marines. The top picture shows  all five LVTs. Leading the way (from the left) are two LVT 4 Buffalo, which are basically big troop transports with guns. Behind is an LVT (A) 4, which has the howitzer mounted in the open turret. The close up shots show two LVT (A) 1, Alligators, which have AT guns and MGs. 

The Alligators and Buffaloes were from Old Glory, and are solid resin pieces except for MGs and the turrets. The LVT (A) 4 is from Quality Casting. It's a solid hunk of metal, and was easy to assemble. My only complaint is that the deck and hull did not join and had huge gaps that required a lot of putty to fill.

You'll notice I slipped in some palm trees from Pegasus Hobbies. While I don't have a lot of jungle terrain, most of Peleliu was a coral wasteland of shell craters. Sure there was jungle, but most of my scenarios won't take place in them. So, the palm trees will do the trick for now.

Peter Pig 60mm mortar teams for the Marines. Nothing to write home about.  These guys round out the Marines.  I had forgotten to order them a while ago, and had to do a little catch up.

Moving on to the Japanese, we start with the armor.

The top picture shows two platoons of Type 95 Ha-Go tanks. These are the Battlefront models and as such they're on the bulky side. Assembly was easy, except gluing on  the MGs. These ended up getting glued to my fingers.

The second picture shows a comparison with Battlefront and Quality Casting. The QC tank is significantly smaller. It is also more detailed but a little bit more work to assemble than Battlefront. Still Battlefront leaves you no choice if you want two platoons, as they don't sell single blisters of the tanks.

Finally, here's the Japanese gun teams I needed. These are all Quality Casting models. I'll just say right away that these models suck.  They must be true 15mm, as they are tiny next to everything else I have, including Peter Pig.  The proportions are screwed up, too. If you look carefully, you'll find kneeling models that are as tall as standing models.  Really?

So besides looking like ass, they get the job done. The top models are Type 1 47mm anti tank guns and crew.  Beneath that is a 75mm mountain howitzer with extra crew. I did extra crew because some scenarios I plan to play call for larger than usual gun teams. Otherwise I added gun crews based on what their "normal" crew should be.

So that wraps it all up! I've been working on and off getting these painted over the last few weeks. Next, I'll play my first scenario with these forces. I'm excited to get them to the table.

I was going to take out all the models and do a nice group shot, but then realized what a pain that would be. So instead feast your eyes on a fuzzy, dark picture of both armies in their storage containers!