Thursday 28 February 2013

I'm on iTunes!

Apple have approved my podcast (evidently I wasn't controversial enough :D), and it now has its very own page on iTunes. To celebrate, it also has its own page and link in the menu bar above.

Next episode, probably mid to late March.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Pre WABGT update: basing

Well, it's 11pm again, and I'm just done with this evening's painting. The Parthian cataphracts are done (if I was less tired I'd grab some decent photos of them for Curt's blog), and the horse archers have had all their headgear done, leaving me with leggings, leather, touch-up, ink wash, repainting faces and base decoration.

A few useful discoveries: as you may have noticed on the one shot from Monday's game, I ran out of Renedra cavalry bases (they're my go-to guys for basing - basically my first batch of Warlord Romans came with a sprue or two of them, and I've stuck with them since), And then you discover you raided your Victrix base sprues AND all your Wargames Factory WSS cavalry for every cavalry base to make your El Cid army...

... and Warbases are on holiday (they're back now, relax)....

... and it's Saturday night when you realise the box of cavalry bases only contains doubles...

... and you need ninety-five 50x25mm cavalry bases, most of which are for individually based skirmish cavalry...

Only one thing for it. I had bought two GW modular movement tray packs from Hobbycraft (who I note have stopped stocking GW at all) in my last ever GW purchase, and the bottom pieces are neatly gridded on one side in 8x8 25mm squares. Out with the cutting board and ruler then: it's actually quite nice plastic - it'll snap rather like a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk if you score it with a scalpel :D

The cataphracts have been based with Tamiya textured sand paint, which scores for being like a light filler with sticky PVA type properties, but is really NOT the colour I wanted (it's a very sickly yellow). However, dunking them in a Javis desert sand mix (essentially treating the textured paint as glue!) and then adding Army Painter dark grass seems to have done the job.

That's me done for tonight: I may yet get to not spend ALL of Friday evening painting.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Recognition for Bomber Command veterans

I'd have missed this if it wasn't for sneaking 5 minutes to catch up on my blog list at lunchtime today - work has been mental, and my spare time is still pretty much dedicated to painting those damn Parthians in between bouts of being Dad's Taxi Service.

Suffice it to say, Big Lee drew my attention to the fact that the MoD has finally announced the creation of awards to recognise the services both of Bomber Command veterans and those who served on Arctic convoys in World War 2. Specifically, the Bomber Command Clasp is to be worn on the ribbon of the 1939 to 1945 Star, and follows the design of the Battle of Britain Clasp.

And I quote (from the Defence Minister, Mark Francois):
"All those who served our country in Bomber Command and on the Arctic Convoys deserve nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from us.
"That's why I am delighted that these special individuals will in the next few weeks begin to receive the Bomber Command clasp and Arctic Star that they have so long deserved.
"I am also pleased to announce that the families of those no longer alive will also be able to apply for these awards in recognition of their loved one's bravery."
I am and always have been an awestruck admirer of the exploits of the men of Bomber Command. I was given a copy of Paul Brickhill's "Dam Busters" by my grandfather (a Civil Service inspector on ... let's just say a number of wartime projects that he wasn't allowed to talk about) when I can't have been much more than 8, and I've pretty much devoured every single book and documentary I've been able to lay my hands on since. If you're reading this, and any of your family served in Bomber Command during WW2, know that they have my utmost respect and admiration.

Monday 25 February 2013

Battle Report - 25 Feb 2013 - WAB2

Shhh. Don't tell Curt you've seen
this. They aren't painted. Honest.
Tonight I got to test out my mostly painted Parthians against Grahame's Syracusan (is that a word?) army down the club. Most educational :D

The WABGT tournament rules are 3000 points on a 6'x4' table - the 'typical' WAB2/Armies of Antiquity force is usually 2100, so as a startup that's a bit crowded. 72 skirmish order horse archers basically make playing a Parthian army an exercise in traffic management. On top of that, 2 out of the 5 rounds use scouting points: having lots of skirmish cavalry gives you deployment advantages, and boy do I have lots :D The trick is going to be using them properly.

One of my early battle reports included some very painful lessons learned about WAB2 and Early Imperial Roman armies: I'd like to think I've improved since then, but there's always more to learn. This time out:

  • Cataphract armour save is really... really... really good. Make the most of it, because...
  • ...You only get your rank bonus in round 1.
  • Cataphracts are like ocean-going tankers. Slow, heavy, turning circle of several football fields. Make sure you put them in the right place first up!
  • Charging a phalanx from the front isn't a good idea.
  • Like I said, playing Parthians, or other 'nomad hordes' armies, really is an exercise in traffic management. 
  • All the Feigned Flight in the world won't stop Ld 6 troops running away uncontrollably when charged by formed troops.
As an aside - I've been listening to more of the Historical Wargames podcasts in the car to and from work and club: a combination of that and the above, and thinking some more about context, means I think I have a pretty good idea what I'll be talking about in episode 2 of The Miller's Tale.

Sunday 24 February 2013

The Historical Wargames podcast

Definitely in need of a sanity break from painting Parthians. I'm probably going to break a personal rule tomorrow and play a practice game (I know, I know - 'which ruins the fun') with figures that aren't completely painted. Mostly just got horse markings, headgear, leggings, leatherwork, ink/dip and basing to do, which should be easily achievable by Friday. (Of course, since they're past the undercoat stage, you don't get any photos with tomorrow's battle report, as by the terms of the Analogue Hobbies painting contest, Curt gets first dibs on photos of my handiwork. :) )

Painting has been greatly accelerated and made less brain-numbing by the application of three or four episodes of the excellent Historical Wargames podcast. If anyone hasn't managed to find this yet, it's a definite case of 'does what it says on the tin' - a podcast about historical wargaming. Recent episodes include interviews with Mike Hobbs (of SAGA fame), Alessio Calvatore (Bolt Action author) and Keith Branagh from Aventine Miniatures: each episode's well over an hour, and generally informative and entertaining, covering many of the recent newer games in the historical field. (Although, no Flames of War (yay!) and no TFL (boo!) yet.) Recommended listening, anyway.

Pleased to say I'll get to meet Pat (who had nice things to say about my first go at podcasting) and Dean at the WABGT, although I suspect the NW Historical guys will still be in the UK by the time work takes me to Seattle for a week on March 9th!

Saturday 23 February 2013

Kickstarter Watch - War Stories

Just had this drawn to my attention by a friend backing it.

It looks interesting - kind of like a cross between a more complex Memoir '44/Command and Colours and Sergeants. The core game uses wooden blocks for units, but they appear to be aiming to produce 12mm (1/144) figures and vehicles as part of the Kickstarter. Strange choice of scale, perhaps, that suggests a lack of awareness of what else is out there, but then, that's been said of Napoleon at War.

Will I back it? Probably not - I think I probably have enough WW2-related games (including Memoir '44 Online) to keep me amused - but it's something I'd certainly have a go at if it was waved under my nose.

Ah well. Back to drilling cataphract hands for spears. :D

Friday 22 February 2013

The Miller's Tale - update

Well, that seemed to go OK *mops brow*.

Thanks to folks who left positive comments, both here and elsewhere! You should be able to find the podcast via the iTunes Store just as soon as the Apple staff have satisfied themselves it's not immoral, indecent or fattening: I'll post a link up on the menu bar when that happens.

There will be an episode 2 - look for it sometime in March, with luck: I expect to have an evening or two in a Seattle hotel room with nothing to do in the middle of the month, and I certainly have ideas. For now though, I have a very large stack of Parthians to paint, and a mostly free weekend to do them in, so please excuse me that today's blog is a bit of a lightweight (but has kept my unbroken daily posting streak at 64 and counting!).

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Miller's Tale - Episode 1

Episode 1: In which Mike introduces himself, and discusses Kickstarters, magazines, and the concept of context (and related things) in wargaming.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Miller's Tale

If you recall, on the two year anniversary of the blog, I promised an exciting announcement. Well, it took a little longer than I expected, at least in part because I wasn't satisfied with the quality of the first attempt, but I'm rather pleased to announce the first episode of The Miller's Tale, the Trouble at the Mill podcast!

My aim, if there's sufficient reception to make it worthwhile, is to produce a 20-30 minute episode every month or so, which will have a couple of regular features plus a longer piece, which may be me thinking aloud about something, a review, a chat with someone else, or who knows.

The podcast episodes themselves will be labelled 'podcast-feed', so that the iTunes feed on Feedburner can pick them up: in addition, they and any posts about the podcast will be labelled "the miller's tale". Assuming I've configured it right, the podcast should be available in iTunes pretty soon.

A few questions pre-answered:

  • Why?
    • Why not? :D There are a number of wargames-related podcasts I enjoy, and I wanted to add to the mix
  • Why "The Miller's Tale"?
    • You might as well ask why "Trouble at t'Mill".
  • Ok then. Why "Trouble at t'Mill"?
    • That would be because we live in what used to be the miller's house in Werrington, Peterborough, and the disused windmill (which sadly we don't own!) in the picture above is at the bottom of our garden.
  • What are you using to record this?
    • Currently, a MacBook Pro, Apple's Garageband, Audacity, and a USB podcast mike from Behringer. I'm aware the podcast isn't perfect, soundwise, but I'm working on learning my craft.
  • What's the music?
    • The various incidental stings are Garageband library jingles; the main theme is something I put together using some Garageband loops and a bit of MIDI programming.

Battle Report - 18 Feb 2013 - Black Powder

For once, a night down the club where I didn't have to bring anything (bar the usual pint of milk for the tea drinkers!). Gary ran (and supplied all the 28mm figures for) a Napoleonic Black Powder scenario (an encounter from the Albion Triumphant book), which pitted AndyH and my French against his and Dewi's Anglo-Portuguese.

We did fairly well at the start - my left flank got laid into the British (who'd adopted their customary spot atop a hill), while Andy's right advanced to face off against Dewi's cavalry... unfortunately (for him) Dewi's Portuguese decided their nice spot in the back of the British lines was right where they wanted to stay, thank you very much.

As I've said before, my one problem with Black Powder and its relatives is that it is possible to wind up not doing anything with a unit for several turns if your dice suck. (Before you ask, I love the rest of the system!) The counter-argument, of course, that gets trotted out is that with the Lardies' 'Tea Break' mechanic, it's equally possible not to move. But:

  1. It happens on a neutral draw of a card, not your own dice roll. To me, this makes it better (and yes, some people I know disagree). Part of it is that it feels less your fault, and part of it is that activation in IABSM and similar games is a positive act: you draw a card to see who activates, rather than rolling a dice for every commander to see if they fail to activate;
  2. Messing up a command roll in BP basically kills any more actions from that command, or (if you louse up with your general) the whole army;
  3. The density of Big Men in games like IABSM is considerably greater, so the odds on getting someone to give key orders is higher.
Anyway. By the time Dewi's Portuguese eventually got off their duffs and activated, it was all looking a bit close: and then, as they say, it wasn't. One British turn saw Andy and I lose about five battalions to failed morale checks (for entirely good reasons), and that was pretty much all she wrote. We even managed to rout one of Dewi's cavalry, get stuck in with a follow through charge and get routed.... Gary says he's never actually seen one succeed. Pity he didn't mention that beforehand! 

My views on the activation aside, though? I love Black Powder, just for the sheer scale and feel of it, and the fact that we got through a complete and fun battle in 4 turns on an 8'x'6' table with about 15 units a side in 2 1/2 hours (a fair bit of which was us being rusty with the rules). 

Thanks (as ever) to Andy, Dewi and Gary for the game, especially the latter for his awesome collection of figures. Next month? An all day refight of Quatre Bras.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

OId School Wargaming

And no, it's not all about imaginary 18th century armies.
So this picture of Byter-Legge's Jaegers from my
Duchy of Elland army is entirely inappropriate :D
Partly thrown up by the Battlegames/Miniature Wargames merger, Steve the Wargamer has an excellent post on what it means to be old school (or not). A little tongue in cheek, but it did get me thinking, and I commend it (and his blog generally) to you as a good, thought-provoking read.


On reflection, yes, I probably am Old School at heart. As I said on Steve's blog, the fact that I own a stack of books on the evolution of the English Landscape purely to research into better terrain setup rules for Dux Britanniarum is is a bit of a giveaway :D

Monday 18 February 2013

Which rule would you change?

A interesting question raised by PaulD on our club forum (c'mon, Paul, start a blog!), which I think merits a wider audience.
You can change one rule
But which would it be, and why?
By 'rule' I mean a mechanic or law for either a tabletop game or a campaign system, rather than unit statlines or points costs which is a whole 'nother can of worms. Perhaps I'm overly critical by nature, but I can't think of many games I've played even semi-regularly that don't have something questionable in them. Haven't found anything with Judge Dredd yet but it's probably only a matter of time...
So what one rule above all others would you re-write given the chance - or alternatively what ruleset is, as far as you're concerned, absolutely bulletproof?
As you can probably guess from a prior post, one of my answers would be 'the morale roll in Principles of War'. I think on reflection, 2d10 rather than 3d6 is where I'm leaning, and I might post the maths of that sometime soon.

Rob on our forum suggests the mortar rules in Op: Squad, which I have to confess to agreeing with - they are just a bit too accurate.

However, the all-time least favourite rule I (and I think several other folks) would get rid of is the one in WAB2 which says that if a character is part of a fleeing unit, the unit may not use that character's Ld for a rally check, 'cause, after all, there's no way a strong leader type shouldn't be able to persuade a bunch of nervous types to rally. I really like the WAB2 rules, but... sorry, Martin. That one has to go.

There you go. Food for a blog post, maybe?

Sunday 17 February 2013

Wargaming survey

Via Rich Clarke on the Lardies' list:

I met up with a very pleasant young chap the other day from the War Studies Department at KCL who interviewed me as part of his thesis (presumably entitled "What do fat old blokes know about studying war?"). Anyway, he has sent me a questionaire which he would like as wide a sample of wargamers as possible to answer. So, in the interest of helping a pleasant young fellow I thought I'd invite the boys and girls here to have their say. So here it is:
An interesting questionnaire - certainly made me think, and worth a few minutes of your time.

Saturday 16 February 2013

The production line

Today, I'm assembling Wargames Factory horses. 72 of the little <deleted>s, (Ok, fair enough, 48, since I did the first two dozen a couple of weeks ago.)

By about the third box, I'd got the process sorted.
And that's just the sprues for
12 horses!

  • Unpack box, remove 2 sets of 6 horse sprues, 6 sets of harness (2 x saddle blanket, 2 x girth, 2 x chest strap) sprue. Ignore sprues with 3 heads with reins unless you want your horses with reins.
  • Stack horse sprues in order, There are 4 different sets of halves, but half of them have the pins on the left hand side base, half on the right, so you can only mix and match a bit.
  • Open EMA Plastic Weld, find brush. Put bottle somewhere where it's in easy reach and you can't knock it over even though it's superglued to a beer mat.
  • Grab a horse sprue, clip out head, tail, two halves, clean up if needed.
  • Hold entire assembly together (tail and head both have locating pins that are held in place by the body).
  • Run a line of Plastic Weld around the neck joint, then down the back, round the tail. Squeeze together. (Capillary action is wonderful - the glue will work its way into the join.)
  • Run a second line between the two halves of the base, squeeze. Set aside.
  • Repeat with the other 11 horses, doing a bit of mix and match of horse halves where you can.
  • Grab one saddle sprue, clip out the bits, clean up. Drop grey plastic chest strap on grey carpet. Swear. Spend five minutes finding it (there are NO spares for the harness (or for that matter the bows), and I need all 72 horses).
  • Grab two horses (I find this bit easiest working on pairs),
  • Take one horse, run a spot of Plastic Weld on its underside, use to attach girth.
  • Dab Plastic Weld on neck under mane, rump, top ends of girth. Slot front end of saddle blanket under mane, over ends of girth.
  • Brush Plastic Weld on horse's front, affix chest strap.
  • Bluetak horse to length of 2"x1" for undercoating.
  • Repeat with next horse of pair.
  • Repeat with other 5 saddle sprues.
That's 72 Wargames Factory Persians,
20 Old Glory cataphracts (a mix of
Parthian and Palmyran, 'cause, heck,
 they're damn close), and 3
A&A Palmyran command
And there you go. 95 undercoated horses. I have to say, the set of Army Painter clippers I picked up from Warlord at Hammerhead are a real boon for making close cuts to remove parts from sprues that then need minimal cleanup.

Tomorrow, the rest of the riders!

Friday 15 February 2013

Gluing plastics

Meet Rogue.
Rogue is 'helpful'.
Rogue is also a certifiable headcase.
I've embarked on a massive bout of batch-assembly of plastic figures - specifically, six boxes of 28mm Wargames Factory Persian cavalry to stand in for Parthian horse archers. (That distant rumbling sound you can hear? Yes, that's a deadline approaching. For once, it's a whole two weeks further off than my usual!)

As it's <deleted> perishing out in the workshop, I've temporarily appropriated the dining room, which is great for being warm, but needs the door shut in order to both keep the smell of glue and paint out of the kitchen, and keep the cats from 'helping'.

On the left, EMA Plastic Weld.
On the right, Humbrol Precision.
This is the first batch job I've done in a while (since the El Cid army, I guess), and it's I think a slightly different plastic (Wargames Factory) to the one Conquest Games and Fireforge (and I assume, therefore, Renedra) use. Interestingly, this seems to mean I need to change glues.

Normally, I use Humbrol Precision, which comes in a nice yellow plastic bottle with a metal needle applicator. On the upside, it's very easy to apply precisely where you want it, and for the Renedra plastics it seems to just work. The downside is I /believe/ its base ingredient is methyl ethyl ketone, and in a closed enviromment like the dining room the fumes are enough I can only work on about a dozen figures before needing to take a break. Also, it doesn't appear to stick the WF plastics as well: this is fine for the horses, which have some pin/socket locator thingies to hold them, but is tricky when you're trying to attach arms,  heads and things like quivers that rely on the joint to hold them against the weight of the piece.

You may have seen me mention EMA Plastic Weld before - it's a different glue in that it comes in a bottle, and is applied with a brush. For some reason, it seems to work much better on the WF plastics than the Renedra-manufactured ones, providing an almost instant bond (10 seconds of holding the joint rather than a minute+). The Hunbrol is a bit slower to bond even on the Renedra/Warlord/Fireforge/Conquest plastics, but the ease of use tradeoff means I tend to use the Humbrol for those.

The Plastic Weld fumes also aren't quite as noxious in terms of light-headedness, but it is dichloromethane, which is supposed to be slightly worse for you (category 3 rather than 2 safety risk) with prolonged exposure. You also can't apply it quite as precisely, as it needs a brush. Its other downside is that it's very easy to knock over if you're a klutz like me! The short fix? Superglue (using the new Army Painter superglue I picked up at Hammerhead (thanks, guys from Warlord!), which is just awesome in terms of speed of bond) a beermat to the bottom of the bottle.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Kickstarter Watch - Beyond the Gates of Antares

Wow. Ok.

That's quite a biggie. And I quote:
After much consideration we have decided to withdraw our project from Kickstarter.
We’d like to thank you all for believing in us and backing us, GoA will still become a reality but through different means.
We will take the next month to reassess our plans, during this time you will still see us on the forums and we will continue to post updates to our website.
I have to say, a couple of folks at the club had commented they thought it was going to wind up not meeting its goal, and I was... unsure. I've seen things pull 60% of their funding in the last few days, but those have generally been much lower targets. I wonder... is £300,000 a bit of an bold target for a Kickstarter - it doesn't, somehow, feel like what KS was intended for. It also... I dunno, it kind of felt generally 'meh'. Sure it raised £100K, but I never really picked up any excitement about it.

Having said that? I was tempted, though I really don't need another ruleset: I hadn't actually started delving into the setting yet. Part of that's because I'm toying with writing a setting for the Lardies' Quadrant 13 rules!

It will be interesting to see both what happens to BtGoA now AND, more interestingly, what backlash there is.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

A new era for Miniature Wargames

Miniature Wargames has been a magazine I've picked up on a 'when I see it in the shops' basis. As I have digital subscriptions to both Battlegames and WSS, I've sort of toyed with adding it to the list, and decided that on the whole, two's kind of enough. Or maybe not.

Atlantic Publishing (who publish both Miniature Wargames and Battlegames) have very kindly taken the dilemma out of my hands, by asking Henry Hyde, editor of the latter and one-half of my favourite podcasting team, to take the editorial reins at MW. This means that Battlegames as a brand will cease to exist (except for specials and their Combat Stress appeal) but (according to Henry) his brief is to add a healthy dose of the Battlegames 'Spirit of Wargaming' to the MW editorial mix (as well as a good few more pages).

What do I think? Personally, I can't wait. Battlegames has always been my favourite mag of the Big Four (before you ask, Wargames Illustrated (aka the Battlefront House Mag) runs a distant fourth), and I've always liked the fact that as a magazine it makes me think at least as often as it makes me go 'oo, lookit da shiny figurez!'.

So... congratulations to Henry, who is an all around nice bloke, polymath and Renaissance Man! I'm hoping and assuming the remains of my digital subscription will transfer, and I'm only left to decide whether I want paper or digital for the new mag. Tough one.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Another set of eBay listings

I've just listed another bunch of stuff on eBay. For anyone whose interested, it includes a fair quantity of assorted late 80s/early 90s fantasy stuff, both Citadel./GW and other, a couple of early-era Tyranid/Genestealer metals, and a bunch of 15mm Minifig Napoleonics and a bulk lot of some unknown make 15mm fantasy stuff.

Slide show for the latter (and despite the title I know they're NOT Minifigs!) is below.

Monday 11 February 2013

Probability for wargamers 9 - d20 vs 3d6

While driving in this morning, I was listening to the latest View From The Veranda podcast with Neil Shuck and Henry Hyde (yes, yes, pedants - by which I mean they were on the podcast, not in the car - not that it wouldn't enliven my commute!). One of the topics that came up was the Beyond The Gates Of Antares Kickstarter, and the fact that it uses d10, not d6, from which the discussing drifted (as VFTV often does) into designers' choice of dice for such things as Phil Hendry's Augustus to Aurelian.

Somewhere about then it started to click that this series of posts is as much, if not more, about understanding probabilities for game design as to allow you the wargamer to understand (and, heaven forbid, mini-max) the odds. And I got to thinking afresh about the issue I mentioned in my Principles of War battle report the other day, namely the d20 morale roll.

Essentially (and I may have this slightly wrong since I'm working from memory, but the core concept is about right), in PoW units have a strength, which is typically a number around 10-12. Combat casualties reduce this strength, and a morale test is basically taken by rolling strength + modifiers vs a d20, as follows:

always succeed
<= Str
<= 2 x Str
<= 3 x Str
retire shaken
> 3 x Str
always fail, one row worse than what the roll would be otherwise

My issue with this is that because it's on a d20, it's more prone to extreme results compared to a 3d6 roll. Go back and read up on the odds with 3d6, and then let me demonstrate with a graph.
The chart represents the odds (up the side) of rolling greater than or equal to a target number (along the bottom) on both 3d6 (the green curve) and d20 (the blue line). Key things to note: 
  • the 50% point is the same for both rolls;
  • the 3d6 is a fairly smooth curve that makes the extremes harder.
Take a look at the graph a different way, and you'll see the latter more clearly.
For the stats and math heads amongst you, the green curve (the 3d6) is what's called a normal distribution, Gaussian distribution or bell curve. For games designers, it has the useful feature that extremes are rarer, compared to a linear distribution (the blue curve for the d20). Note that the lines cross at about 6 and 15.  Particularly, note there's a 1 in 20 chance, or 5% of an automatic fail, which seems to me to be a bit vicious on a strong unit.

So, what would happen if we swapped the morale roll for PoW to be 3d6, rather than d20, and for the sake of completeness made 3 an automatic pass and 18 an automatic fail?

Well. The key thing is that auto pass and auto fail become much harder - 0.45% rather than 5%. I think this might be a bit too hard. So - what if we make that 3 and 4 always pass, 17 and 18 always fail. The odds are then a hair under 2% (4 chances in 216) of automatic failure, which feels about right as a compromise, and if we were feeling vicious we could make an 18 two column shifts from the actual result.

The other thing that happens (and I'll leave you to work out the numbers if you're interested) is that weaker units become a bit more likely to be shaken, and stronger ones less so. For example, if you look at the first graph, a unit of strength 5 is more likely to roll over 5 on 3d6 than d20. Interestingly, it's less likely to roll more than 10 (and thus retire) and considerably less likely to roll more than 15 and rout. It does make it a bit harder to rout units, in other words. 

I'm not convinced this is perfect by any means, as it seems to make routing a bit harder for units that probably should rout. But it does remove that nasty 5% chance of a perfectly sound full strength unit retiring shaken, which I think is a bit unrealistically excessive. Students of the Napoleonic era may disagree. Perhaps one approach to this would be to also change the table so that instead of the steps being at x2, x3, they're at +4, +8??


Sunday 10 February 2013

Back from Hammerhead

...and in a comfy chair with a mug of tea and a laptop.

That staunch defender of freedom,
Corporal Andy Miller.
So now it can be revealed (for those of you who weren't there): the Tunnels of Terror. In short? It's 1953. Under the Nevada desert, the various atom bomb tests have caused certain creatures to mutate, and a series of tunnels beneath the sands lead to a cave in which a giant winged ant queen is about to hatch a large quantity of winged horrors which will spell doom to Las Vegas, Nevada, Truth, Justice and the American Way. Cue that mainstay of civilisation, the 508th Infantry Regiment of the US Army.

You'll find the poster we had stuck around Kelham Hall here. It seems that the Vegas Herald and Post is a bit slow to put two and two together regarding the various items on its front page :D

The Tunnels of Terror
Just to be different, though? Grahame built the tunnels by cutting them into 2" grey foamboard on four sides of a cube. It's basically held together by some cunning carpentry (courtesy of Andy M), and perches on a pair of tables with enough space between to allow someone to stand up.

Dan doing a stint as cube jockey.
You'll notice the holes at various points - these open into the centre, and figures can be dropped through (to be caught in foil trays taped to the back), and then moved to emerge from a different tunnel. This is necessary, as its the only way to get from the three sides that squads start from to the fourth side, which is where the queen winged ant is.

Figures were 54mm (ish) toy soldiers, and a collection of assorted giant ants, spiders and rats from various sources. There's a strip of velcro on each tunnel floor and matching on the bases of the GIs to stop them falling off (an issue we noticed in playtest).

We let this young lad wear Andy's
helmet: he so clearly had a ball.
(photo with permission of his dad)
Basically this needed about five people to run it - one for each squad, the 'cube jockey' inside, and someone (usually me, as it turned out) working the bits of the cube everyone else couldn't see/cover to answer questions, explain the scenario, etc.

Games typically took about half an hour, the rules fit on one sheet of A4. It's been our philosophy that keeping the games short and fun, and easy to pick up, is by far and away the best approach to keeping people's interest for a participation game.

Of course, it doesn't hurt if your game is a 4 foot grey cube visible from the far side of the hall, and causing people to variously double-take or come up and ask (in a slightly boggled way!) 'just... what? why?' or variants thereon :)

Huge kudos, as ever, to the folks from GCN/COGS for the show, to our game design team (Grahame and Chris), to AndyM for both the woodwork and looking the part (even if his accent slipped), to Carl and Rob for umpiring outside the cube and Dan and Adrian for cube jockeying. I got to do the latter for the final run of the day - it's quite odd: very quiet compared to the babble of the hall, but oddly disorienting. I got confused by a quarter turn for a few moments, despite the inside faces being marked. But it's great fun.

And finally.... I'll let this last photo speak for itself.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Space Marines: Update

It appears that common sense has prevailed, at least at Amazon. From MCA Hogarth:
Last night many of you alerted me to the reappearance of the e-book edition of Spots the Space Marine on Amazon. I hope you’ll join me in applauding Amazon’s decision to reinstate the book. Amazon and other major retailers have given me wonderful opportunities as an independent author, not just in e-books but in print and audiobooks. The stories I’ve sold to magazines launched my writing career but it’s the sales I make from these outlets that allow me to buy food for my family. 
I cannot say enough good things about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have been enthusiastic, supportive and productive. They pursued my case with passion and principle and are standing by should any more developments necessitate their aid. Many of you have asked if you can help me pay my legal costs; I would encourage you to donate to the EFF to help support their good work. 
At this point my defense is done unless legal action develops in response to the reinstatement of Spots. But this is one small battle in a long war, and we must continue to protect common terms by refusing to reshape our creations to placate over-zealous legal teams. If you’ve run afoul of this sort of behavior, you are not alone, and help is out there. My experience proves it.
Also. an amusing link that was unearthed on Facebook by Erwin Blonk (one of my regular readers), being a White Dwarf (back in the days when it wasn't just a GW house rag) editorial by Ian Livingstone on the subject of copyright.  

How times have changed.

Friday 8 February 2013

Battle Report - 6 Feb 2013 - Principles of War

We had our first battle in Gav's second computer-moderated Penninsular War campaign this week. An entire French Corps under Maréchal Victor ran into a rather disorganised but larger force under Wellington just outside Palencia.

Battle lines drawn up, the French along the ridge line.
Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it) the bunch of players for this one are dotted round the world (quite literally: one's in Australia and more than one in the US), so after a bit of negotiation it eventually fell to me and Gavin (it would have been Richard as well, but he had to cancel.)

We used Gavin's 6mm forces, and the Principles of War ruleset, which I've played a couple of times before, but am rather rusty with, so I was profoundly grateful that as rulesets go, they're pretty good at encouraging you to play period tactics.
Deploying short of the village pays off, as the British
advance gets rather logjammed round it.

As the British were (eventually) going to outnumber the French, I adopted a defensive position along a ridge line and the front edge of a relatively open forest. Basically I had one brigade in reserve from each division, plus a full division in reserve. There was a small village just in front of that line, but after a little consideration I left it as an obstacle for the British, rather than bend my line.

The British turned up somewhat piecemeal, rather hampered by a) Gavin's awful dice rolling for command points for the commanders that mattered and b) Wellington having to command a massive group of several otherwise leaderless stragglers, which meant he was never going to have enough command points.

Villatte's Division engages the British.
My deployment seemed to work quite well: on the right, the British got rather snarled up round the village, taking odd retreat results from speculative artillery fire, and generally being short on command points.

On the left, I advanced some of Victor's cavalry to force the British division (with no cavalry to support it) into square, and had Victor change that flank's orders to engage, in the hope I could shift them before the considerable column of reinforcements (nearly two divisions worth) arrived. It nearly worked. Had my dice rolls not decided to desert me at the crucial moment, I'd have driven off at least one if not two brigades.

The British make a renewed attempt to force an attack
through the village onto Ruffin and Lapisse's Divisions.
On the right, a couple of British units got within canister range, and veered off pretty sharply, which did nothing at all to help the snarl up in the village.

In the centre, Crawfurd and the Light Division (or at least, elements thereof) were doing better than the rest (helped by Crawfurd not having much to command). However, they did get on the receiving end of several turns of artillery fire from Victor's horse and foot artillery, and were starting to look pretty shaky, not helped by Crawfurd himself getting hit.

The British, having fallen back from the French
counterattack. Crawfurd's brigade is on the extreme right.
By now I'd lost a couple of units on both flanks, and was quietly very glad I'd kept brigades in reserve to plug holes. Villatte on the left had managed to force the British back, but not as successfully as I'd like, despite Beaumont's Hussar's charging in on a British regiment.

And there, or thereabouts, is where we left it, with about a turn and a half to go before nightfall (it was gone 11:15pm). As the remaining turns don't need much strategic input from me, Gavin will run them over the weekend. It's still a bit touch and go, IMO, although I get the impression a fair few of the British units are low on morale. The main worry is Spencer's entire division of infantry heading for the French centre, but I think nightfall may beat them.

The one problem I have with Principles of War, once I've got used to the odd turn sequence (effectively Morale, Firing, Melée, Move), is that I find the morale roll (d20 vs unit strength + mods) slightly more prone to extreme results than I'd like. I wonder if 3d6 would be a better roll? Maybe that's one for the Probability For Wargamers series? :D

Thursday 7 February 2013

The Linnius Campaign

To satisfy my inner detail-obsessed pedant, I've added a page to this blog with a timeline of the current Dux Britanniarum campaign that Andy and I are running, which I hope to keep up to date as we go.

Not 100% sure I have Andy's side of the campaign finances quite straight, but I'm pretty sure mine are. Aelfric actually has enough on hand to fight a battle and even hire some mercenaries to help out, so this coming Monday has the potential to be fun!

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Another reason to love Games Workshop

They've hit a small self-published author with a takedown notice for use of the term "space marine" in e-books.

I'll quote a bit from her blog:
In mid-December, Games Workshop told Amazon that I’d infringed on the trademark they’ve claimed for the term “space marine” by titling my original fiction novel Spots the Space Marine. In response, Amazon blocked the e-book from sale [original post and update]. Since then, I’ve been in discussion with Games Workshop, and following their responses, with several lawyers. 
To engage a lawyer to defend me from this spurious claim would cost more money than I have, certainly more than the book has ever earned me. Rather than earning money for my family, I’d be taking money from them, when previously my writing income paid for my daughter’s schooling. And I’d have to use the little time I have to write novels to fight a protracted legal battle instead.
In their last email to me, Games Workshop stated that they believe that their recent entrée into the e-book market gives them the common law trademark for the term “space marine” in all formats. If they choose to proceed on that belief, science fiction will lose a term that’s been a part of its canon since its inception. Space marines were around long before Games Workshop. But if GW has their way, in the future, no one will be able to use the term “space marine” without it referring to the space marines of the Warhammer 40K universe.
I am (as I've previously said) not a fan of Games Workshop. This, however, takes the cake: I note with ironic amusement one of their upcoming titles is 'The Death of Integrity". No comment needed.

I find it, like the original author, very difficult to believe that GW invented the term 'Space Marine' any more than Lucasfilm/TSR had a right to the term 'Nazi': in fact, I've set some of my friends who are deeply steeped in Science Fiction lore and history to see just how far back they can go in a search for uses of the term.

Spread the signal.

[Note: John Scalzi has picked up on this, as has Patrick Nielsen Hayden.]

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Heraldry 101, part 8 - strictly for the birds

If you remember, back in part 6 we covered the basic postures for quadrupeds, with specific reference to that favourite of heralds, the lion.

I did comment at the time that birds and fishes are a whole different kettle of... erm... birds and fish, and that I'd dedicate another post to them, or at least the commonly-used ones. Unfortunately, it turns out that birds are nearly as complicated as quadrupeds, so we'll just do birds this time out, OK? Note, I'm also going to start blazoning my examples, just to keep you on your toes.
Sable, an eagle
displayed or.

There are a few special cases which I'll cover at the end, but birds' postures are one of a few general variants, along with assorted changes in wing position. First up is displayed, which is wings and legs splayed. This is pretty much reserved for the heraldic eagle, and seen on lots of imperial German arms.

Azure, six martlets close
in pile or.
The next most common is close, which is the classic sideways on, wings furled pose that most non-raptors are drawn in. The English cricket fans among you may recognise the arms on the left as those of Sussex, and you might also note that the bird has no feet! This is the rather odd heraldic bird, the martlet, which for reasons lost in the mists of time has... no feet.

Owls are almost always depicted as close guardant (sometimes close affronté), in which guardant has exactly the same meaning as with quadrupeds: looking at the viewer.
Argent, an eagle rising
gules, armed or.

The other common posture is rising, often of falcons and other lesser raptors, sometimes of eagles. This is the one that tends to have the range of variant wing positions, such as:

  • addorsed - wings back to back
  • displayed - one wing either side of body
  • elevated - wingtips up, usually used with one of the above
  • inverted - wingtips down, usually used with one of the above
Ermine, a martlet
volant vert
Lastly among the ones common to multiple birds is volant, which means (for those of you whose French isn't equal to the task) flying.

Then we get on to the oddities:
  • A peacock is almost invariably blazoned as in its pride, which is the obvious peacock pose with tail feathers displayed, close guardant.
  • A crane is usually blazoned in its vigilance, which for some long-lost mythical reason means, wait for it, close, standing on one leg holding a rock in its upraised claw. 
  • Best of all, a pelican is legendarily supposed to feed its chicks on its own blood, and is blazoned either vulning itself or more often in its piety, both of which mean tearing at its breast with its beak. 
As you've probably figured by now, birds in heraldry are plain strange!

Next up, fish. And heads. Roly poly fish heads!

Monday 4 February 2013

Hammerhead 2013 final play test

As I mentioned in a previous post, the club are taking another of our warped, fun, cheap-as-chips participation games to Hammerhead this coming Sunday.

Without further ado, then, here are some teaser photos. :)

Sunday 3 February 2013

Terrain part 3 - Man and the landscape

Over the weekend I've been travelling a fair few times between Peterborough and Grantham, over what is part of the countryside that Andy and my Dux Britanniarum campaign is set in. Basically we've been driving up from Durobrivae to a point just south and west of Cavsennae (if you have the map from page 79 of the rules). Now obviously, it's 2013, and the landscape shows a lot of signs of the hand of man, but even if you take away the glaringly obvious ones, the railway, the motorway, the telegraph poles, the electricity pylons, you're still left with a lot. And remember, when you do that, you also have to take away a fair number of the land level changes that things like railway embankments and road grading create.

If you can let your inner mental editor do that, and maybe remove anything that looks like it was built this or last century, then maybe, just maybe, you're kind of close to a Napoleonic era England, or a landscape for a War of the Worlds campaign (hey… there's an idea!). But there's still so much of what you're seeing that looks quintessentially English and somehow 'natural', but that plain isn't.

Take a look at the image on the right, which is a Google Street View from just south of what's now Ancaster but was probably Cavsennae in Saxon times. 
Ok, so we can easily mentally edit out that big radio tower and the few structures. But there's also those awfully English-looking hedge lines. Those didn't happen by accident. Not only that, some of them are old enough to be interesting.

The lovely Chantelle is a friend of mine who (as well as being part of the fabulous Talis Kimberley's band - check her out!), very usefully both happens to be a professional archaeologist and someone who was at the con I was at this weekend, so I picked her brain a little, and probably will do so more before I'm done (she's promised to go trawl through some of her lecture notes for me). To broadly summarise, a lot of the field patterns we see are quite late in nature, but it would be naive to assume that what we'd be fighting over for a Dark Ages game was devoid of field boundaries and similar man-made intrusions on the landscape.

I suspect this is going to turn into another series of posts, and I probably ought to state here and now that anyone who thinks wargaming is just playing with toy soldiers has clearly not been reading my blog lately! I now find myself doing research into Dark Ages and Romano-British farming techniques purely so I can build scenery and craft more detailed terrain rules to satisfy my inner pedant.

Google Earth view of lynchets at Kirmond Le Mire
in Lincolnshire. [This is actually in prime country for
Andy and my campaign.]
My tame expert mentioned lynchets as a not-unusual feature, so of course I had to look them up. It turns out a lynchet, or set of lynchets, is what you get if you repeatedly plough a slope. Essentially what happens over time is that the ploughed material falls downslope - there's a debate afoot as to whether the terraced effect you get is encouraged by the farmer building a wall or such, or just happens, but they're pretty distinctive, and you get them many places in the UK where there are slopes to be farmed.

And I have to say? I'd love to see someone plonk a lynchetted hill tile on a wargames table!

More soon, I suspect. But to close? Today I learned a new word. No day on which you learn a new word is entirely wasted :D Thanks, Chantelle!

[Edited to add: Ashley in comments recommends Making of the English Landscape. Duly ordered, along with Francis Pryor's book of very nearly the same title (he does admit it's a rewrite/update!)]

Saturday 2 February 2013

Probability for wargamers 8 - +1 vs reroll

It's one of the rule-writers' common ways of making weapons in Warhammer-like d6 systems different. Some weapons get +1 to hit, some get a reroll. Which is better though?

Interesting question, and with the amount of stuff we've worked out in previous posts, not that hard.

With a target number of four, for example:

  • Your normal odds are 3 in 6, or 50%.
  • With a +1, obviously, they become 4 in 6, or 66.7%.
  • For the reroll, you have a 50% chance of succeeding on the first attempt, plus odds of (chance to miss * chance to hit a second time), i.e. 50% + (50% of 50%). Which makes 75%. Clearly the reroll's the better bet. 

I won't work out the details for other target numbers: here's the table:

+1 to hit
Re-roll misses

OK, so it looks like the re-roll's a better bet unless your target is hard to hit.

Another favourite of designers is the '+1 strength' modifier on the wound roll. Let's look at that: typically, for WAB, equal STR means wounding on a 4. 

Hit+Wound (normal)
Hit+Wound (norm/+1STR)
Hit+Wound (reroll)

Again, interesting, The re-roll's still better, but less so. 

Moral of the story? Given the choice? Take the weapon that gives the re-roll!

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