Monday, March 10, 2008

Mail Call!

And it looks good! I've only had time for a cursory look over the rules, but there is a LOT of material here! I particularly like the illustrated examples of game play- the kind of useful eye candy I like to see in set of rules.

Full report later. Now it's time to curl up with a bottle or two of vodka, listen to Katyusha on the radio, and digest the "field regulations" while the engine of my T-34 warms up outside...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Everyone loves a Parade...

...Unless you're from west of the River Oder.

I found this clip on YouTube- highlights of the The Russian Victory Parade in 1945. I find it particularly good for shots of the tractors and artillery. 

And of course, at 3:07 it features everybody's fave of fave's, that mighty (if somewhat Freudian) symbol of the Soviet armoured fist, the ISU-152!

Oh, and I'm still waiting for my copy of Blitzkrieg Commander- it should be here by the end of next week.  Can't wait!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Rules of Engagement...

"No mercy to cowards, traitors, rule-lawyers and tread-heads!"

Continuing on my last discussion on rules for Eastern Front games. Not in-depth reviews, just a general guide to my thinking.

As time went by, I realized that I wanted to fight over a larger area than just a few buildings in a village, as had been the case in most of my WW2 gaming in previous years. Basically, I wanted the following:

Speed of Play: clean and quick combat resolution was important. No 1970's style games where more time was spent on calculating hit penetration factors on sloped armour than on determining combat outcomes. Of course I wanted tanks, but I wanted a game where infantry played a central role and where I was making combat decisions, not working out physics algorithms. I have always hated math anyway.

Lots of Pretty Toys: This is why I like wargaming! I know that ranges are huge, and artillery- even mortars- should probably be off-board given ground scale of most rules, but this gamer WANTS to field artillery! Likewise, this is why 6mm and 10mm don't really appeal to me. at that size olive drab is olive drab is olive drab.

(15mm is as low as I'll go, and I confess that I am thinking of going 15mm for my 1942 games as getting a whole force- including infantry- may well work out cheaper than getting 20mm resin or metal BA-7's T-28's and T-26's in the numbers I need! But I digress.)

Company Level Games (or higher): Ideally a basing system that would give me some flexibility here. Subjective call, but I want to be able to have enough manoeuvre units to attack, change direction, retreat and regroup if necessary, and to give a "feel" for the ebb-and-flow of battle.


1) Frank Chadwick's Command Decision 1; I had picked up this game back in the lat 1980's (1st edition with what looks like a picture of Robert Culp on the cover), and it seemed to be a real departure from previous "rivet-counter" rules like Tractics (yechh...). I liked the level of play, and Barbarossa 25, the campaign supplement on opening campaign of the Eastern Front, really caught my imagination. I found the representation of the number of infantry too low for my liking, though, (give me HORDES!) and when GDW went out of business I realized that I would have to look elsewhere to find a rule set that would be supported adequately.

Since that time I believe CD II is available again, but the window of opportunity was lost. Anyway, I never really liked CDII.

2) Grey Storm- Red Steel by Barry Lovell (Firebase Games) was another choice. Now this is one impressive set of rules! It was designed so that 1 miniature = 1 vehicle or man, so that it would require a LOT of miniatures! Unfortunately, I felt that the rules weren't laid out all that well and trying to find relevant rule sections quickly was not easy. Nevertheless, being specifically for the Eastern Front this is one of the most well-researched rules out there, and makes fascinating and required reading for anyone interested in the period. Loads of useful information which explains the doctrines, differences, strengths and weaknesses of both the German and Soviet army- covering factors such as communications, weather, and even ergonomics of differing tank designs.

Unfortunately it is now long out of production, but if you ever come across a copy, pick it up for the reference value alone. I'll never part with my copy!

3) Spearhead by Arty Conliffe is an interesting set that meets many of my requirements, with good organization charts, and some interesting rules mechanisms. I may try it from time to time. My main objection- quibble, really- is just with the rulebook itself. Unpainted tanks! Unacceptable to a lover of eye-candy such as myself.

It's odd, but for some reason, Spearhead just doesn't seem to get the juices flowing, despite my liking the "Shako" Napoleonic rules by the same author.
There is a kind of "factor X" in what makes me want to try a rule set; this one doesn't have it. Perhaps it's not just me- Spearhead certainly doesn't seem to have made much of a splash in the gaming community. I may give them a go from time to time, though, as they are pretty free and loose on basing sizes, and the set is not without merit.

4)If you call yourself a wargamer, you must have been living in a cave not to have heard of Flames of War. This set of rules from New Zealand must have made one of the biggest impacts on the whole wargaming scene in the past five years or so, and Battlefront have set the bar so much higher as far as production values, marketing and professionalism. The rules- and indeed the whole concept- has its detractors, but what other company has done so much for raising the profile not just of WW2 gaming, but historical wargaming as a whole? It is a well-supported set of rules, with a great website support and you are more likely to be able to find someone who knows the rules and has a force to play with using FoW than for any other WW2 rules out there.

I'll say right now I basically like these rules. Tournament mentality doesn't worry me as I am simply not interested in playing tournaments, so there. My love of history comes from organizing and painting forces for the wargames table. I am willing to take liberties with history on the gaming table as I am not a soldier
and fall happily somewhere around the middle of the simulation/ game continuum.

But, the rules are spread out over a number of books that I am not about to buy, and I am not so crazy about some of the mechanisms, but I can live with them and there are always house rules! The problem is the level of representation- like Grey Storm-Red Steel 1 miniature seems to equal 1 vehicle or man (and woman in the case of one Soviet tank commander!), so a Russian force can cost a fair whack.

I can't help but feel that a steady diet of FoW- and FoW- alone for my WW2 fix will bore me. But it is a game that I will be happy to return to from time to time, so it gets a green light from me.

So, that leaves my latest choice for rules, but more on that later- Blitzkrieg Commander is winging its way to me here in Japan as I type!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rules and Regulations...

One of the nice things about WW2 gaming is that -basically- bases don't matter all that much! A lot of rules sets seem to be pretty flexible on basing, which means lots of choices!

One thing I didn't want was individually based figures. For years, I had based my WW2 miniatures this way along with the other gamers in my area, and that meant...skirmishes. Even larger games played the same way, and there were no command and control rules to speak of.

When I left for Japan, I was leaving a very active gaming group behind me that had played a LOT of platoon-level WW2 games (I wonder what Dave Drummond and Phil Carpenter are up to these days?). But, it did mean that I would now have the freedom to base figures and play games that represented a higher level of command than had been the case. So, what was out there?

Over the last decade or so the following rule sets have attracted my attention:
  1. Command Decision (w/Barbarossa 25 Campaign Supplement)
  2. Red Storm- Grey Steel
  3. Spearhead
  4. Flames of War
  5. Blitzkrieg Commander

to be continued...

Some Sundry SU's...

Somewhere in Romania, 1944.
A Soviet SU-76m and SU-122 prowl around a ruined castle.

My photography skills are right up there with my knowledge of bee-keeping in 13th Century Aquitainian monasteries, and my ancient cellphone camera is one step up from the Brownie box-camera, so apologies for the washed-out picture.

There is just something so appealing to me about Soviet assault guns. The SU-122 is one of my favourite vehicles in the Soviet arsenal, topped only by the wonderful, not-so-lean, but oh-so-mean ISU-152 and ISU-122 series. The SU-76m "Suka", based on the T-70 chassis, was the standard SP support gun for the front-line Motorized Infantry divisions.

These are white metal Skytrex models- they took a lot of filing and fitting to make them look good, perhaps too much to be really cost efficient. I like the look of the SHQ versions, but with the exchange rate being what it is these days they are not a priority. White metal is heavy, though- I should really check out resin kits to cut down on weight.

I should mention here that while I like the vehicles, I am primary an infantry guy- I tend to get more excited about new ranges of Russki figures and transport- especially the horse-drawn variety- than I do about the armour.

Having said that, when I started the Soviets there was absolutely no early war stuff available- the T-35's, T-28's, BT-7's and T-26's
et al. This is no longer the case, and I have begun to look at doing a winter 1942 battle group. Well, early spring anyway as I am not confident about covering all my tanks and bases in snow...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Let Us All Rise Up and Protect the Motherland!"

"All hail the glorious Soviet Union, and join in the Crusade against the Fascist Hitlerite horde, blah blah blah..."

I have always had a fascination for the Soviet army in WWII (or the Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia) ever since watching the "Stalingrad" episode on the old 1960's
World At War TV series when I was a kid. Not only that, but one of the first wargames I remember seeing was an Eastern Front WWII game at a cousin's house in Vancouver, where he had a huge collection of what I now realize would have been Roco Minitanks. I was no more than nine at the time, and it must have made an impression- I've been hooked on wargaming & military history ever since.

Back in the 1970's when I started collecting, the only scale then available for gaming WWII was 1/76 or HO/OO scale. Plastic figures and models by
Airfix and Fujimi.

Back then the Soviets were a real challenge to collect, though. Over the years just about every German vehicle that ever saw the light of day- or so much as a blueprint- seemed to get the attention of the model kit producers. From uber-tank prototypes, all the way down to the lowliest field kitchen and bicycles, just about every German machine on wheels was reproduced in just about every scale out there.

Who DID win the war anyway?

With the Soviets it was "make do with what you could get". Some
Airfix and Esci infantry, a few models of T-34's, a KV-1 and KV-2 by Fujimi, and that was about it. No trucks, guns or any other tanks available.
The western allies did somewhat better- at least they had trucks.

If I am good at plastic modelling and converting, it is because I had to be! Airfix Magazine used to have some good articles on scratch building and converting- projects that my teenage hands really didn't have the skill or patience for.

I could never understand why the lack of interest in a nation that had taken part- successfully- in such a titanic struggle, but I suppose Cold War sensibilities, along with the over-secretiveness on the part of the (then) Soviet Union itself, both played their part.

Anyway, things have changed for the better. In the last ten years or so there has been an explosion in the number of models available in all scales for the
RKKA- or the People's Red Army. Recently, the success of the Flames of War miniature and rules has led to a lot of interest in 15mm scale gaming, but with having so much over the years invested in 1/76 and 20mm scale miniatures, I am not about to change course now!

My collection is eclectic, with a mix of figures from a number of manufacturers, in metal, resin and plastic. Infantry are
SHQ, Platoon 20, Britannia, FAA, and Dixon. More recently I have been picking up some stuff by Fantassin. While there are some differences in style and sculpting, 20mm is pretty forgiving when it comes to mixing manufacturers, and they look good together- a consistent paint job ties them all together quite nicely.

are from Fujimi, Skytrex, and SHQ. Being in Japan has it's benefits- I was able to get access at a reasonable price to all those Fujimi kits, and could negotiate for an entire brigade of T-35-85's for less than 500 yen a kit at a hobby shop here, and later was able to special-order a regiment of IS-2m's!

So over the years, my Red Army collection has been able to grow in strength- and lethality!- as did the original in those brutal years from 1941 to 1945.