Thursday, 28 January 2010

2009: A Wargaming Review

For me, from a wargaming point of view, 2009 was the year of Flames Of War. Up to the start of spring Games Workshop systems had dominated my modelling, painting and gaming for nigh on 14 years, with 40K standing particularly tall with my Imperial Guard. My Bretonnian’s and undead were relatively successful in Warhammer, and Necromunda, Bloodbowl and Lord Of The Rings also received portions of my time, and FOW had just started hammering on the door in a quiet but insistent kind of way.

Warhammer Campaign: Isle of Chelonis
The year started in traditional style with a Warhammer campaign seeing my Bretonnian’s take a boat trip to the “Isle of Chelonis”, where their nobility were promptly decimated by some dark elves. After this humiliation the peasantry managed to embarrassed some high elves, and defeated a green wave of orcs. A final death match punch-up between Lords turned out to be slightly one-sided when everyone else brought a dragon or a Shaggroth and my Lord brought a horse, and the tired peasants headed for snail land as the Isle turned out be a Kraken which had come up for some air and vanished.

Follow the campaign here:

Quote of the campaign from the master Mr ‘Shaggoth-Production-Line’ Fazey, on the subject of swords in stones, or this case an altar: “Nurse! The Elves have taken the wrong pills again! Hmm, I like the sound of the altar- but there's a sword in it. So I won't pay full price- 'cause it's damaged.”

The FOW Evolution (also known as “The Story of The Growth of FOW and my Amazing Garage”)
At the start of 2009 my FOW German forces were quite small. Lead by the excellent platoon of 3 StuG’s, it included three platoons of infantry, some 88mm guns, a platoon of Marder III’s and a lost group of half-tracks which I couldn‘t legally use, hardly world beating and barely a 2,000pt force. However, they saw a massive expansion this year, including artillery, numerous platoons of infantry, Panzer III’s, Tiger tanks and many, many trucks. From having a Grenadier Kompanie, I expanded to an oversized infantry company, and a large Panzer grenadier Kompanie which had the option of riding in trucks or half-tracks.

The two main reasons for this expansion was firstly that I was inundated with opponents at the RGMB. Previously the enemy had consisted of a British Guards Infantry Company (Aidan), and a small Russian continent (Red). However by the middle of ‘09 the Guards had gained an Italian arm, and the Russians had turned into a behemoth of staggering proportions, as well as having a sideline in the form of a Desert Rats Motor Company. Even the Finnish (Nathan) turned up to cheer on proceedings, and further support for both the British (Ian), and the Germans (Peter B) was not long in coming.
The second main reason my enthusiasm for FOW was came when I moved house and acquired (sadly only for seven months) an amazing huge garage. By the end of April the first FOW campaign at the RGMB was afoot, and my gaming now took up both Tuesday nights in Chester, and Thursday nights in a garage on the edge of Wrexham. The Russians established themselves as the main protagonist, and an arms race began.

Flames of War Campaign: Liberating Leningrad
This was a ’fantasy’ campaign that was fought over two Axis of Attacks surrounding the besieged city of Leningrad in 1943, it represented the series of attacks that had replaced Operation Citadel after the 6th Army had been successfully withdrawn from Stalingrad (told you it was fantasy). It turned into a slogging match, mostly between Russians and Germans for the town of Novgorod, and the Allies managed to claim a minor victory at the end of everything. Interestingly the Italians were at the centre of each major turn of the tide, and I include their entertaining take on the campaign:

“The sides: Allies: Brits, Russians, Italians
Axis: Germans, Fins, Italians

The objective: The Allies are pushing west to take some random town nobodys ever heard of, whilst the Axis are pushing east for exactly the same reason.

The kick off: After a bit of scrabbling for the ball in the centre circle the flow of play took the two teams west to the German goal line, and came close to a soviet victory. Luckily the Italians turned the tide for the Axis forces, and both teams set off east (in a big unsightly scrum with lots of kickin and punchin) . The German forwards proved almost unstoppable as they ploughed through the allied defences. However just as they entered the penalty box they met the Italians coming the other way(who thought they'd heard the whistle for half time and had swapped ends) and the tide was turned to cries of "Go Lazio!" and "Avanti Savoia!". As the Axis forces were pushed back the campaign turned into an ugly punch up more or less on the centre. When the final whistle blew the Axis had kept the game in the Allied half of the pitch, but had had more players sent off (tho not for lack of tryin on the part of the Italians) . That sound about right?”

Follow it all here:

Other uses of the Amazing Garage
Included a huge day-long Warhammer battle of good vs. evil, as the Empire and High Elf troops, of Aidan and Red respectively, took on the Undead and Skaven (my lot), allied to the Goblins (Chris Fry) and some Chaos Warriors (Chris Fazey). It all produced a highly entertaining battle which sadly the forces of Evil lost, although not by much. And this being despite a truly spectacular High Elf collapse and the Empire general abandoning his ally!

Read about it all and see the pictures here:

To 40k or not 40k….
This was not the year of 40k, despite the appearance of the new, long-awaited, Imperial Guard Codex. I was reliably informed that this codex would right all the wrongs, and put the Guard on a par with their greatest enemies (I might even stand a chance vs. the Necrons!). I rushed down the shop to pick up my copy, and there the excitement ended. The book was excellent, and the rules indeed appeared to do what was promised, but other campaigns and games snatched away the limelight and few games were played.

Months later, and following much playing of FOW, I tried turning back to 40k, but found the experience quite disappointing. Even a huge battle in which I got to use all 8,000pts of my Imperial Guard army was only exciting until I had to start moving the troops, my defeat left me so despondent that not even a battle report was forthcoming! However the imagery remains a strong draw, so despite plans to sell several parts of the army I will probably return to it in 2010.

Tuesday Nights and the end of the year
The RGMB meet on a Tuesday, but in 2009 so did virtually everything else! From birthdays and anniversaries, to holidays, and in particular works meetings. From going to the RGMB every Tuesday my attendance became erratic at times. When even the snow and illness chipped in at the end of 2009 I finished the year with missing five Tuesdays in a row, and this, combined with moving house for the second time in the year and losing my amazing garage ended my gaming season early.

In fact after the end of the FOW campaign gaming in general became quite disjointed because I was missing so many Tuesdays and no campaigns were happening. Late in the year a late-war FOW battle for Caen began, but ended soon after due to the participants work commitments (and possibly because the Germans were winning!). Hopefully this will began again sometime in 2010.

The Prospects of the New Year
2010 looks to have the same disrupted pattern as the end of 2009. I will be travelling to York to take part in the Vapnartak FOW mid-war tournament on the 7th of February, and there is a 40k campaign beginning at the RGMB in late January, but I am due to be a dad for the first time in April, and I’m sure this will combine with work to make it a very quiet year on the gaming front. At least I might get some more painting done!

Preparation for Vapnartak: Day 2

German Grenadier Kompanie 2,000pts 'Hasty assault' Vs. Finnish Tank Company (Nath)

With the Finns once more my enemy we ran through the ‘Hasty Assault’ scenario for the first time to try and avoid nasty shocks at Vapratnak. Both sides used the same lists as the previous week, the Finns because they justifiably felt it worked after their complete victory, and I used the same Grenadier list because I believed it should have done better, and it was my own poor tactics that had helped defeat it. Plus both armies are now registered for the tournament and unchangeable so will have to work or lose!

Scenario rules:

The had one platoon of five T-26 light tanks, one of four T-28 multi-turreted tanks, one of two KV1’s, one of two Landsverks anti-aircraft vehicles, one of four howitzers, one of anti-tank guns and a pioneer platoon. My own force consisted of 3 platoons of infantry (1 pioneer), 1 of Marder III’s, 1 of StuG F/8’s, 1 of HMG’s and 1 of mortars, topped off by a platoon of two PaK40’s and one of four 10.5cm howitzers.

The Battle:
With the battle being fought lengthways on the table, and the night fighting rules in operation, the Finns reverted to massing their tanks on their right side, and with my superior number of platoons I was able to place the Marders and StuG’s to oppose them. The enemy armour had just reached the StuG’s long range when the sun came up, while the Marders and a unit of Grenadier pioneers had worked their way into a wood flanking the armoured wedge. Elsewhere on the battlefield the Finns pioneers had made it into the buildings in the centre to defend their objective, and my remaining two grenadier platoons were massing on my right in preparation for an assault across open group which would only happen if the enemy tanks were eliminated.

In the dust-up on the German left which followed the rise of the sun I lost my pioneer platoon and all but one of the Marders in exchange for all of the T-26’s and T-28’s. My luck well and truly held as both of the KV1e’s where destroyed by lucky artillery shots, while the Landsverks were destroyed by the StuG’s, who also claimed three T-26’s, a T-28, and several (undamaging) hits on the KV1e’s, while surviving numerous artillery bombardments.

With the enemy armour eliminated my Grenadiers on the right swept from their positions in the woods and assaulted the Finns pioneers, who were already depleted by mortar fire. They cleared the numerically inferior enemy from the buildings for few losses and the opposition conceded.

In a reverse from the previous weeks battle the Finns were genuinely unlucky, while the Germans could do little wrong, and credit to the opposition for sticking it out to the bitter end! Three 152mm gun hits on the roof of a StuG should have put it out of commission, but somehow the assault gun shrugged them off each time, while the Marders survived a hail of low velocity shells which should have easily destroyed them.

The Germans luck extended to the artillery taking out the KV1e heavy tanks, the Grenadier pioneers wiping out the T-28’s, and the StuG’s exceptional shooting. It is also worth noting that if the darkness had lasted another turn the Finns would have been amongst the Germans and I would have been in serious trouble.

From a scenario point of view I had been hoping to race my truck-mounted infantry forwards to take and hold the objectives early, but the darkness prevents doubling so I waited for the enemy to attack and be depleted before I counter attacked, hopefully the opposition in York will do the same! I liked the scenario overall as being a bit different and I think I’ll leave a copy in my rulebook as another option.

German Grenadier Kompanie 800pts 'Take The Hill' Vs. Finnish Tank Company (Nath)

Having finished inside two hours we decided to try out the 800pt scenario too, and set up a hill in the middle with the objective on top. The Finns ran with a list of 1 platoon of five T-26’s, 1 platoon of four T-28’s and their platoon of pioneers. On the German side my troops consisted of my captured KV1e (liking the irony of both sides using captured Russian tanks!), my PaK40’s, two platoons of Grenadiers in trucks and an 8.8cm Luftwaffe FlaK36 gun.

After last weeks experiment of driving the KV1e directly onto the hill so I couldn’t lose I decided to be less boring and sent it off to the right to go through a wood and flank any enemy attack towards the hill. The infantry set off for the hill in their trucks, covered by the 8.8cm gun on the left, and the PaK40’s on the right. Unfortunately the Finns chose daring over caution and it paid off for them. The T-26’s raced through the gap between the KV1e and the hill and destroyed the PaK40's for the loss of one tank, and then joined the T-28’s in assaulting and driving back both of my infantry platoons, despite losing two T-28's tanks to the 8.8cm gun, and a further one to the KV1e. The German heavy tank drove into the melee of troops and tanks surrounding the German side of the hill but was too late to save my CO who was gunned down by the T-26’s and with three platoons gone out of five my troops quit the field.

In hindsight I think it was the poor lines of sight for my anti-tank guns that undid me, and my own sense of sportsmanship! I did rely too much on the PaK40’s gun shields protecting them long enough for their guns to take out the T-26’s. It appears that daring either wins this scenario (which we played out in around 40 minutes), or goes horribly wrong.

Preparation for Vapnartak: Day 1

German Grenadier Kompanie 2,000pts ‘Free For All’ vs. Finnish Tank Armada (Nathan)

My first game for six weeks, and following my efforts to paint everything I’m hoping to take to York I was quietly confident. The enemy was bringing a tank company whose idea of armour made the Marder’s look like hard cases, and the only problem case looked to be the two KV1’s that were certain to appear. I put my faith in a spattering of 7.5cm guns that should be enough to remove them from the equation.

I went with the 2,000pt army I had made up for the first game at Vapratrak; 3 platoons of infantry (1 pioneer), 1 of (3) Marder III’s, 1 of (3) StuG F/8’s, 1 of HMG’s and 1 of mortars, topped off by a platoon of two PaK40’s and one of four 10.5cm howitzers. The Finns had one of five T-26 light tanks, one of four T-28 multi-turreted tanks, one of two KV1’s, one of two Landsverks anti-aircraft vehicles, one of four howitzers, one of anti-tank guns and a pioneer platoon. We had both forgotten to bring the scenario rules along, so a random roll in the rulebook brought a ‘Free for All’ mission, with the Finns technically attacking.

The Battle:
I could almost feel the rust on the cogs grinding as I tried to remember how to play and what the best setup was. My optimism that the Marder’s would get the best of the T-26’s on the left was clearly misplaced as the Finns tanks advanced and used their pop-guns to cut through the tank-hunters with ease. I was forced to bring the StuG’s across from the centre to restore order and shield my two grenadier platoons and artillery from the tanks and pioneers now advancing. My right flank looked shaky with the removal of the StuG’s, their sole AT defence against the KV1’s on the Finns far left being the PaK40’s, and clever manoeuvring by the Finnish tanks ensured they rarely had a shot.

The punch-up on the left cost me the Marder’s, a platoon of grenadiers and, eventually, the StuG’s, although not before the latter had put pay to the T-28‘s advance down the centre. These losses were due in no small measure to the Finns heavy artillery which was a mighty thorn in my side all evening. The enemy tanks and pioneers suffered severe losses, but not enough to stop them reaching the objective and my artillery. On my right the KV1’s had machine-gunned the mortars, but were stalled by the prospect of advancing in front of the PaK40’s, and leaving my third grenadier platoon behind them. Nether the less the German situation was grim.

A sudden ray of sunshine appeared with the surprise revival of my pioneer grenadiers on the far left. Despite suffering 60% casualties they launched back into the fray, clearly catching the T-26’s on the hop and wiping out the last two before moving onto, and finishing off, the last Landsverk. The Finns pioneers had reached, and chased away my artillery, only for the PaK40’s to swing round and reduce them to a single base, effectively destroying the Finns right flank and centre, although for the loss of a huge part of my own army.

The opposition took this turn of events to mean that the KV1’s must finally be risked, and ploughed them into the woods containing my third grenadier platoon. One bogged down, but the grenadiers were unable to take advantage and fled the field. With this I was reduced to below half strength, and in keeping with proud tradition my CO scarpered with the sorry remains of my troops. The battle against the Finns was lost. Again.

So what did we learn:
Marders are fragile! Their weak armour had no chance of saving them in the exposed position I left them in, and I would have been better off hiding them on the edge of a wood and risking the bogging checks. Their loss early on meant the StuG’s were drawn into an area which the Finnish artillery clearly had zeroed! My one platoon of pioneers, although they came good towards the end, were stuck out on one (far left) flank, and lacked impact. The trucks that two of the grenadier platoons, and the PaK40’s, were issued with were unused as I hoped to draw the enemy into my own killing grounds and use the Marder’s, StuG’s and PaK40’s to destroy them before counter attacking with the infantry. As it was I was on the defensive all the time and in the end they were sent to the rear to prevent unnecessary losses.

The enemy had also learnt from their last encounter; the objectives were far apart and difficult for me to cover with my AT guns. The Finns tank platoons split up and went down both flanks, again causing me to divert my assault guns to one side to fend them off. Their artillery was a real shock, having upgraded from the normal two 10.5cm guns, they were now used 15cm heavy howitzers which annihilated everything they touched, and given the excellence of their spotter it seemed to destroy much of my army, from StuG’s to infantry and even my own spotters!

On a final note I’ve spend much spare time over the last 5-6 weeks painting and revamping my Germans, and I was gratified to find they looked as good on the table top as I had hoped, even if I was the only one admiring them as I removed the bases one by one…..

Grenadier Kompanie 800pts ‘Capture the Hill‘ vs. British Light Tank Squadron (Red)

So with the Finns victorious and gone, and an hour of club-time remaining (like Ferguson extra time, but shorter), another FOW opponent stepped forward for a smaller, shorter game. We decided to play the 800pt scenario for Vapnartak - a form of capture the hill, where victory could be gained from turn three onwards, but failure to win by turn 6 equalled a draw automatically.

My Germans took to the field with two grenadier platoons in trucks, a Marder III platoon (2 guns), a PaK40 platoon (2 guns), and my secret weapon; a captured KV1e heavy tank. The enemy (my old adversary, the British commanded by Red) fielded a light tank company from Africa, with three platoons of Crusader II tanks, one of 2 6pdr portees and one platoon of truck mounted infantry.

Sadly my battle plan turned out quite uninventive. The KV1e trundled forwards onto the hill, machine-gunning the portees as it did so, neatly removing the only British unit that could damage it, and sat on the objective. The remainder of the battle saw the Marder’s be shot up by the massed Crusaders, a grenadier unit pop-out of a wood to massacre the majority of the British infantry before being shot to pieces themselves, and finally the British tanks falling over each other to avoid being in sight of the lethal PaK40’s. When time ran out (past turn 6 as it happened) the KV1e was still on the objective slowly shooting up the Crusaders parked around it, while the PaK40’s and second platoon of grenadiers were being gallant and hiding! A draw it was.

Ignoring the fact that I fielded a tank the enemy couldn’t destroy, my tactics were quite boring even for me! My troops spent the whole game hiding in buildings or woods so they wouldn’t get destroyed and cause the KV1e to retreat automatically. If I was playing for a draw it was a success, but an entertaining spectacle it was not. The Marder III’s were once again easily taken out by pop-guns as my attempts at an aggressive deployment failed. The 800pt list will have to be rethought, especially based on the fact that I discovered I was 60pts over the 800, sorry Red!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Can a leopard change its spots?

1999: the year the Euro came into circulation, the world population reached the magic 6 billion mark, Oliver Reed passes into immortality, and SpongeBob SquarePants made its TV debut. It is also approximately the time when I last attempted to paint something which wasn’t based around dark grey, dark green or dark brown.

Ok, I may have had a couple of unsuccessful shots, but look at the evidence - my Imperial Guard copied the early German camouflage of grey, my FOW Germans copied the even earlier German camouflage of grey, and my Bretonnian’s were re-splendour in their dull silver armour and dark green horses (what was I thinking!), while my Skaven followed their roots. Even my Royalists have gone for conservative colouring, no bright feathers anywhere! This stemmed from my inability to paint any lighter colours - reds, yellows and whites never seemed to work and left the model looking drab and extremely messy.

However, with my German army needing to look a bit more the part in mid-late war, and a surge of in interest in Frenchmen (that came out wrong….) I have picked up a brush and some colours and given it another shot. Pictures below of said interesting Frenchman and his German half-track.

Opinions? Derision? Complaints about the lack of Leopards in the article? Make a comment.