Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tales from the Front (Part 2)

As this was the first game that any of us had played using Blitzkrieg Commander, I expected that the going would be slow, and that we (mainly "I") could be expected to make many a mistake, misunderstanding, and just wallow in cheerful confusion as we got to grips with the rules.

The rules were a radical departure in concept from those that I was used to using for WW2.  So I knew it was going to be a bit of a slog, and that most likely it would end in tears of frustration.  I was pleasantly surprised that by the end of the game things were moving quite quickly, even if we had been making mistakes along the way.
There were four of us playing the game; Daniel took command of the Soviets (his first WW2 game in fact), while Andrew and Giovanni ran the Japanese.  (Giovanni was also playing in the Renaissance naval game at the same time, so was flitting like a drunken moth between the two tables!).  I decided to umpire the game, as while each player had a copy of the quick reference sheets, I was the only one with a copy of the rule book.  As multi-tasking and wading through instruction books are not amongst my strong points, I knew I would have enough on my plate just trying to look up relevant rule sections.

This was not a scenario designed to test the tactical skills of a budding Zhukov or a Yamashita, so the players weren't expecting  any opportunity to dazzle with a display of tactical brilliance.  

It was to be a simple advance by the Soviets against a Japanese force entrenched in a low hill.  Forces were dictated by what we had painted, and we didn't worry about points at this stage.  We just wanted to test out the rule mechanics rather than worry about how balanced a game it was.  

It certainly helped that all involved proved to be really understanding and patient, and all approached the game in the most gentlemanly and cooperative spirit.  I really appreciated everybody's attitude on this, and it made for a fun game.  As it turned out, it was a  pretty close one, too.

This would be based on "assault" scenario as specified by the rules.  But again, we were going more with what we had than by what was prescribed.  The Soviets being the attackers should have had a 2:1 points advantage, but that would have meant me making up the difference with tanks, and as I didn't want to "out-armour" the Japanese, I went with the lists below.  I really do need to paint more Soviet infantry!

The two sides were organized as follows:

  • 7 infantry stands 
  • 3 SMG stands (desantniki)
  • 2 MMG stands
  • 1 flamethrower stand
  • 1  mortar
  • 4 T-34/85's
  • 1 CO
  • 1 HQ
  • 10 infantry stands
  • 1 MMG stand
  • 1 mortar
  • 1 CO
  • 2 Ha-Go light tanks
  • 1 Hi-No SPG
  • 1 Shinhota Type 97 tank
  • 2 MMG's in fixed pillboxes
They were deployed on the table according to this map. Pretty much a WW1-style frontal assault against prepared positions.  (Ouch!)
Click on map to enlarge

Daniel had the option of a flank attack, and he opted to have a detached force of two T-34's and their tank riders, along with a HQ command, come in from his left on Turn 3.  These were to be directed against the right flank of the Japanese defences.  The Japanese team knew these were coming on, but not of course when and from what direction.

The Japanese decided to keep a reserve of two light tanks behind the earthworks, and opted to have their more powerful brethren- the Shinhoto Type 97 and the Ho-Ni SPG- "dug in" as part of the trench works themselves. 

This struck me as a little odd,  given that their mobility could have caused some tactical headaches for the Ivans.  But in the event, this was to prove largely an infantry and artillery duel as even the Russians weren't overly aggressive with their armour.

 The Japanese in their trenches.  
Eagerly awaiting the onslaught of the Red Horde!   

We opted not to go for off-table artillery bombardment, and it was probably just as well for a scenario like this.

The third instalment will see how this all played out, what we learned/ screwed up about the rules, as well as those things we liked and those we were not so sure about.  Stay tuned.

Tales from the Front (Part 1)

Weeks spent making  the terrain,  basing figures, and  working into the wee hours in an effort to assemble and paint the vehicles in time for the game.  In fact just generally making an unholy mess both of my sleep patterns and my hobby room.  And all this, just for the sake of one afternoon's worth of gaming.  Was it worth it? 


Saturday marked the first time the West Tokyo Wargamers were able to hold a meeting at our new home in the local community centre; a great facility and conveniently located next to the train station and a major shopping area.  The room we used was big enough to set up two large tables, and we had two games going; a very pretty Renaissance naval game pitting Genoese and Spanish galleys against one another, and of course our WW2 Manchurian game using the first edition of Blitzkrieg Commander.

I was able to get almost everything done that I set out to do in preparation for the game.  This included:
1)  Finishing the trench works, although in the end I decided to make the pillboxes detachable until I decide if I really want to have them permanently fixed on the board.
2)  Finishing the Japanese armour.  I quite like the models- a lot in fact. But in the end I settled for just spraying on a couple of coats of Gunze-Sangyo Dark Armour Yellow without bothering to add any camouflage. 
This was in part due to time (and sanity!) constraints, but the biggest factor was that I am still unsure of the paint scheme used on late-war Japanese armour in the Manchurian campaign- and on how to apply it. 
Most schemes I've come across in my books and online seemed to cover only the Pacific theatre or Burma rather than the Manchurian front.   More research needed, and I might use my airbrush for these rather than go mad trying to paint camo on road wheels!
Here they are; the Ha-Go light tanks are rather cute- although basically "road kill" for the T-34's.  As it transpires, they didn't end up doing much in the game.

3) Basing up a mortar stand and SMG company for my Soviet tank brigade.  I didn't do much on these beyond just sticking them on bases.  They still need work, but they met the minimum requirements for the tabletop, i.e. they weren't unpainted!
If I don't say so myself, the terrain and figures looked really good on the table.  I had actually been harbouring some doubts concerning whether or not I had overdone the shading and the intensity of the colour palette on my Soviets, especially when seen close up or on top of my painting desk.  What with the bold brown shading in the uniforms and faces, and the contrasting colours for the equipment and webbing, were the figures looking too "fussy" for WW2 miniatures?

Come gaming day however, and when seen from a proper distance on the large "canvas" that was the gaming table, I realized they looked just fine.  If I had gone for  more subtle shading and kept everything khaki, they would not have been "swallowed up" visually by the terrain.  No doubt that is what the original uniform colours were meant to do, but wargaming is a visual hobby, so for me some artistic license is desirable to make the figures stand out.

And they just looked right, especially with the occasional red flag!

Giovanni provided the Japanese infantry; Plastic figures from Esci for the most part, with a few old Atlantic figures thrown in.  I just contributed the armour and a mortar team from SHQ.  He did a great job on the painting, and the basing he used really set them off well.  All in all, a very attractive game for WW2, although we could have used more terrain pieces as we shall see! 

In my next post I'll be talking about the game itself.  Hopefully someone (Daniel?) will send me some better pictures of the game than the ones I was able to take using my cellphone camera.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"D" Minus 5...

...and are we panicking yet?

A little!  A lot of loose ends to tie up, not to mention working on the trench piece.  This weekend I was able to get some work done, but not as much as I had hoped as there was a lot of "real life" things I had to get done as well.

However,  last week I was pleasantly surprised to have received my last-minute order of Japanese guns and vehicles from SHQ Miniatures.  Really fast turnaround time- less than a week since placing the order in fact.  

Included were the two Ha-Go light tanks, a field gun, and a mortar which the Japanese should find really handy in the game next week.   Very nice models they are, too.

Today I cleaned off the flash and assembled the tanks and gun.  The tanks just need to have the gun barrels added and they are done. 
I wanted to work on the plastic models too, but time- and energy- conspired against me, so I'll work on them tomorrow evening.  If I can get them finished Monday night, I'll give them all a spray undercoat.  

From what I've been able to ascertain so far, vehicles for Manchuria will be painted a dark yellow (very similar to German dunkelgelb), painted over with khaki green swaths.

And I still need to touch up some Russians and get the trench works done- I can see Friday night may see the burning of considerable midnight oil.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"D" Minus 13...

Take a a couple of sheets of newspaper torn into strips, soak them overnight, and in the morning boil them into a mash after adding a pinch of salt -yum.  (serious about the salt- it is to get rid of any bacteria that could cause mold).

Add some PVA and wall filler and voila- goop. Bon appetit.

The next step was spreading the gunk liberally around the base of the trench pieces and the rocky outcrops, and to smooth out any joins. 

And here it is- looking as if someone has thrown up their porridge over it.  Maybe a Scottish rugby fan after watching France hand them their butts in the Six Nations tournament (Gloat? Moi?!?).

This is a large but relatively thin model which will be prone to flexing.  There is no way to completely avoid some kind of warping on a piece this size, and in this climate (hot, extremely humid summers).  So it seems more realistic to aim at reducing warping rather than worrying about trying to eliminate it altogether.

The white patches are pieces of an old dish cloth soaked in PVA and added to those joins that might be vulnerable to cracking over time as the trenches get moved about a lot.  The PVA-soaked towel will give and stretch a bit as it flexes, rather than just cracking under the strain as would a more brittle putty.    

I learned through bitter experience that one way to reduce warping is to carve out as much of the main contours as possible directly out of foam board. The papier maché is then used only just to texture the surface, rather than being applied in any great depth. In the photo most of the grey gunk you see is over the plastic trench itself or on carved foam. 

Where is comes into contact with the base it is only a few millimetres thick- and it is already drying out nicely. But at some point I need to add glue--soaked towelling to the base, and warping well may be an issue.  When I do, I'll weight down the model again to see if that helps to keep warping to a minimum.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"D" Minus 14...

And a three-day weekend for me means I'm able to work on an number of different tasks for my BKC game on the 27th.  

Giovanni has painted the Japanese infantry, and is just awaiting the bases- I need to get them up to him this weekend.

On my end, I hope to finish assembling the Japanese AFV's this weekend.  The weather is the pits for spray painting as it is spitting rain, but if the dry weather comes back I'll be giving them a black undercoat prior to an overspray of khaki green.  

If all goes to plan (hah!) I hope to achieve the following in the next few days;
  • finish the lists for the opposing forces and post them here.
  • work on the SMG company for the Soviet tank brigade.  Three stands, very "do-able" as they are already undercoated and just need the details added.  
  • ditto with a stand of combat engineers.
  • work on the Japanese defences.
The latter is going according to plan.  Earlier this week I glued the Kallistra trench sections to a baseboard,  and left it a few days to thoroughly dry.  Then I added some trench ends and outcrops from pieces of leftover foam from my Collina della Formica project (these trenches will be duel-purpose!) and used bits of the same to fill in the gaps where the trench sections meet.

This will have to wait to dry out again, but on Sunday I will fair in the gaps with acrylic wood putty, and then add my own home-brew  papier-mâché "gunk" to the baseboard to texture the whole thing.  That should all be done by Monday- I took the day off from work just to do this as it can take a while, and is best done without others looking on and freaking out at the mess it creates!

Then it is a matter of adding the wood to the trench sides, some sandbags to the parapet, and adding a detachable observation post using a plastic kit I have lying around.  

I picked up this kit for a pittance at a hobby shop years ago.  I'll use it for the observation post and pillbox.  Simple to construct, and they should look good. 


The kit comes with two rather Germanic-looking pillboxes.  I've glued them together and cut out an embrasure on the end of the trench- one will be covering the approach to the front of the trenches, the other will cover the flank.  

Later the pillboxes will be blended into the works with putty and rubble, so they should look much more menacing- as well as hiding their rather "Teutonic" heritage so that they will appear more generic, and not look out of place when I use 28mm minis with it.  

Although designed for 28mm, the Kallistra trenches certainly work with my based 20mm figures, as this photo shows.


If I can get the texturing out of the way by Monday, I can then work on the details a bit at a time on weeknights.  This hopefully means  being able to paint the whole thing next weekend- well ahead of schedule for the game.

Having worked on the anthill last year means I have a pretty good idea how much work in involved, and this is a comparatively much simpler project.

If time allows, I'll also work on some barbed wire belts, but I don't want to bite off more than I can chew.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Manchuria, 1945

A bit of background for our upcoming game...

There are 10 episodes in all.  Worth watching, as generally there has been very little coverage of this brief- but breathtakingly successful- campaign.

Given the numbers involved, and  the nature of the operations, the butcher's bill on the Soviet side was remarkably low.   The distances covered were vast, and the campaign was fought over a surprisingly varied terrain; from desert and mountains to inhospitable marshland.  It involved sweeping tank manoeuvres, resupply from the air, urban fighting, attacks on fortifications, and amphibious landings.

In fact it seems to have a lot more wargames potential than would at first be apparent.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Countdown and Progress: "D" Minus 19

Rolling up the shirtsleeves and getting to work for our game on Feb. 27th.  Managed to work on three things over the weekend:

1)  Chose scenario from BKC rules, and made up a preliminary force composition list for both sides.  Will type it up tonight. 

2)  Assembled the chassis of the Fujimi Shinhoto and Ho-ni models. 

3)  Began work on "tarting up" the Kallistra trenches; chopped various offcuts of thin wooden strips to 30mm lengths and started gluing them to the trench sides.  Somewhat monotonous work, and lots of these to do, but a little every day should see them done by the end of the week.  Then I can then work on building up the parapets  and adding sandbags using putty.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Amboshan Hill

    The clock is ticking down to February 27th; on that day the West Tokyo Wargamers have their first games day at the local community centre, and one of the games slated for that day is our first try at Blitzkrieg Commander in an August 1945 scenario set in Manchuria.

    The scenario is basically a simple one to try out the rules (the old edition rather than the new revised set, which I don't yet have).  

    A battalion of Japanese infantry is dug in along a trench line on the Amboshan hills surrounding the city of Hailar, which is a strategic objective of the Soviet forces in the region.  

    The Forward Detachment of the 36th Army has been sent to reconnoitre the area, to disrupt the Japanese defences and to make sure that the initiative is siezed and held by the RKKA.  A battalion of the 220th Independent Tank Brigade, with supporting infantry and other assets, has been tasked with trying to winkle them out.

    The Japanese force is basically infantry.  They can count on on-board support in the way of a section (1 model) of Shinhota Type 97 tanks and one of Ho-Ni SPG's.  

    Additional support may consist of two sections of Ha-Go tankettes and some guns and mortars.  But this will be subject to the fog of war (and the post office- I just ordered these today from SHQ Miniatures in the UK). If not,  then we will just use off-table artillery.

    Giovanni and I sat down yesterday and commenced work on painting the Japanese.  Plastic figures from Esci and Atlantic which, while they will not be contenders for any painting awards, will do the job.

    The more fortunate Russians will have an overwhelming advantage in armour in both numbers and quality,  not to mention support weapons, but the Japanese will be entrenched and will benefit from hidden deployment.   I've no idea how this will play out in terms of balance of forces, but that is not really the purpose of the game; we want to see how the rules work!

    So what needs to be done before the day of battle?  A fair amount still!  

    1)  The 1st Battalion of the 220th Tank Brigade is ready to roll, as is most of its infantry.  I still need to paint the SMG stands and a 76.2mm ATG, but essentially they are chomping on the bit and ready for action at last.

    2)  Trenches and terrain- I will be using Kallistra trenches which I bought for some WW1 Italian theatre games intended for 28mm figures, but 20mm miniature stands will fit nicely.  I need to add some wooden parapets and sandbags, texture the trench tops and paint them all.  Straightforward, if somewhat monotonous (and messy!) work.  

    Other terrain will be a bunker or two and maybe a building, but as the game is set on a mountain side there is not so much need for buildings, as there is for rocky outcrops.

    3) Japanese tanks- I need to build and paint these this coming week.  Not difficult models, and they will simply get a coat of khaki drab rather than the more intricate camouflage schemes used in the Pacific.  

    But whatever colour I paint them, they will look sadly inadequate when placed next to the T-34/85's.  The Russian tanks are not only qualitatively light-years ahead of the Japanese vehicles, but operate to a doctrine developed by an army which had  just a few months earlier whipped the German Wehrmacht- the previous masters of armoured warfare- and which had learned to beat the Germans at their own game.

    I was hoping to field more tanks for the Japanese, but Fujimi has- rather treacherously!- taken them both out of production, so a single Shinhoto and one Ho-Ni is all the Japanese are going to get unless SHQ come through with the tankettes in time for the game!  

    Not that they will have the Soviet tankers trembling in their boots, mind...

    If anyone out there has any of these two kits surplus to requirements, I'd be glad to take them off your hands!

    Tanks, a lot!

    My friend Dave Morgan sent me some pictures from a Kursk game he had recently in Sumas, Washington state.  15mm Flames of War figures.  

    I just love the sight of those massed Russian artillery batteries!  Warms the cockles of any oh-so-politically correct, socialist heart...
    It looks like it must have been a great game, Dave, and I'd have loved to have been there kicking Major Bundt's pasty white posterior across the steppes.  

    Ah well, there in spirit!