Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The more things change the more they stay the same

I realised today that it's been a touch over eight years since I started this blog. That means I've been doing this for longer than I was at university, and I was at university for what seemed like a very long time.

The blog's been going for twice as long as I was together with my first steady girlfriend, and it seemed then as if we were growing into middle age together.

And this place is now as old as my second daughter, who is such a delight that I wish she could stay as she now is forever.

It's been an interesting period of time.

I was amused though to see that at the end of January 2010 I'd posted here about a Lost Battles play-by-email duel with long-distance wargaming mate John A (he keeps a very fine blog here) in which we were playing the Asculum scenario from both sides. At the end of January 2018 I also by accident found myself playing a play-by-email duel, using the same rules system, with long-distance wargaming mate Andrea T. Again, funnily enough, the scenario has been Asculum, from both sides.

Quite a neat little piece of symmetry, I think.

One final thing: as part of my first job in Japan I was lucky enough to teach a doctor who had served in the Pacific War. He was a lovely man with a keen sense of humour and many stories to tell. We talked a lot about the war when we could, and he used to joke with the other teachers about how he and my grandfather had been enemies.

Now, thirteen years later, I have been engaged to teach him again.

His circumstances are not now so good as they were. He is just months shy of reaching his century and has recently been moved to a rest home. While still fairly mentally sharp, he does not remember me at all, and I suspect that we will be getting reacquainted from week to week. It is a little sad, but again a nice piece of symmetry. I go to see him in the morning for our first lesson. I think my grandfather would have approved.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Hobby shop excursion

Today the wife and kidlings were keen to make the trip to Osaka to attend a sale, so I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Shinsaibashi to go check out the new Warhammer store and another similar one nearby.

As it was the first time I'd visited miniature-wargaming stores in Japan, I was thinking that to be neighbourly I'd pick up a few pots of paint (or even some minis, if I could get away with it...), but the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment. The prices were triple what I'd pay for my usual paints, more yen per pot than I'd pay to order in Coat d'Arms from the UK, and the service worse than you'd get when asking about the contents of a riceball at the convenience store.

I wonder if I've underestimated how spoiled I am being a collector of 15mm, a predominantly solo hobbiest (meaning I can play what takes my fancy without needing to follow trends), *and* resident in Japan.

Even when including 20-40% shipping costs, 15mm gives good value for money in terms of spectacle (though the pound's fall is probably changing that now), and the low cost of locally produced hobby materials (paint, primers, brushes, washes, clear-coats, etc.) means that miniature wargaming has been, as a hobby, relatively inexpensive.

I've also been very lucky in that the local hobby connections I have have been with genuine hobbyists, interested in the pursuit itself and in the passing on of knowledge and techniques, with the money to be made from it a side issue (though of course as an appreciative customer one wants to direct as much of one's hobby money as possible to those people!).

If I were the kind of person to work these things out, it would probably have cost me more per year to be a keen gym-goer or snowboarder here than it has to be a lead-importing wargamer.

So, all in all, today's visit was an educational if not greatly edifying experience. I wish them well, but I probably won't go back.

(As an FYI, I did notice that introductory game sets were quite reasonably priced; it was the follow up ones and the paints that weren't...)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Impending flock crisis

I was hoping that other avenues would open up, but in the last month I've had to face up to an uncomfortable truth: my usual 'colour powder' flock has been discontinued by the company which made it and replaced instead by a new line of static grasses.

No joy online, no joy in stores, no joy posting on local FB groups; stocks are, in a word, extinct.

Now, I'm actually a bit of a stickler when it comes to basing. I'm not much of a painter and my basing style is very - ahem - 'basic' but with that comes consistency, so I know that when I line the armies up on the table they are going to be compatible, and that you aren't going to see heavy cavalry in idyllic meadows, heavy infantry on wintry farmland, slingers in bogs, light cavalry in stony hill country, elephants in desert wastes and so on all in within a couple of square feet of table.

But now I know that at some point in the future I'm going to run out of flock mix.

It's a little glimpse of Armageddon, and I don't like it!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Project screw up and rhetorical questions.

I've just come back to a long dormant project after seeing some spectacularly inspirational blogosphere action and have spent the last few days keenly prepping and organising in order to paint the untouched, touch up the already painted, base them all, and be ready to play.

Except that tonight, having taken out the partly painted and seen them close up, I've realised why I put them way way way back up in the cupboard in the first place: I did a rotten job on them first time around and, really, the effort required to bring them up to a standard I can accept is going to be draining and time consuming. Wrong scale and medium (1/72 plastic); wrong priming colour for me (black); and consequently lots of work to educate myself on how to do over and make them look good.

Again, I'm now not at all sure that it's worth it.

So I'm left wondering whether to push on through anyway or just give up. I'm not really a give up kind of person (more a put aside, think, and come back to it type, which can end up being the same thing, of course!), but the complicating factor is that we are going to be doing a big move quite soon, and so these borderline projects do require a decision.

It's a period I'm interested in and completed armies would be a great thing, but is this the form I want them in, and am I prepared to put in the work required?


Monday, January 22, 2018

Waterloo in 20 minutes.

One of the most interesting small-footprint games in my collection is the innovative Waterloo simulation W1815 by Hannu Uusitalo. It was brought out by U and P Games in time for the hundredth anniversary of the battle, and while it's out of print, it's always worth a revisit.

Unlike most board wargames, the pieces in W1815 do not move. They can be removed as casualties - and there are a few of markers which indicate the arrival of Blucher's force and possession of Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Plancenoit - but other than that the board is static. In effect you are playing an interactive map game, not a usual hex and counter or area control style board wargame.

If you were ever the type of kid who would get books out of the library and pore over maps illustrating the different stages of Waterloo, Gettysburg, Blenheim, Hastings, the fall of France and so on, you'll have a sense of what a game board of this kind is like.

Board at start.

The game itself is played by referring to commander cards. The British have Hill, Orange, Uxbridge, the reserve, Wellington, and Blucher; The French have Reille, Kellerman, the Guard, Lobau, d'Erlon, Milhaud, the Grand Battery, and Napoleon. Each card shows the enemy the command can attack, the range of results (xC denotes casualty; xM denotes morale loss) and whether the enemy has a counter attack option.

Sample cards.

Cards can also be turned over if certain events occur (Hougoumont is captured, Hill's corps goes into square, Ney charges, etc.), and the reverse side gives a different range of options for attack or counter attack, or, for some cards, no options at all.

Play proceeds with the French player moving first to activate a command, consult the relevant card and roll the die. The 7th Coalition player then gets to react with a counter attack, use the reserve to cancel the French action, or else roll on a card of his or her own.

Play continues, with both sides accumulating casualties and morale hits, until one side fails a morale check and routs.

The initial dynamic is one of French attack and Allied defence. The Coalition player must react to French moves to prevent the French gaining a significant advantage, while also trying to activate Blucher as often as practicable in the hope that he will quickly make his presence felt on the field. As the French wear themselves out, the dynamic changes: the French search for the opening they need to activate Napoleon and push for victory; the Coalition player waits for the right moment to use Wellington's one-time general advance card and drive forward, hoping that this will be enough to win the day.

A Sample Game. 

In my most recent play through I decided to use the unofficial 7th Coalition bot (see boardgamegeek), which offers a programmed response for solitaire play. The bot is not necessary for enjoyable solo play, but it seemed like a good excuse to get the game to table again, so why not?

Turn 1) The first move of yours truly as the French is to attack Hill with Reille. Both sides take a casualty. The bot activates Blucher, who rolls a miserable 1 and no Prussians arrive.

Turn 2) The French attack Hill again, now with the cavalry under Kellerman. Kellerman takes a casualty, but with Hill's corps now in square any further attacks by Reille's infantry on Hougoumont are more likely to succeed. The bot activates Blucher again, who rolls a 2 and once more no Prussians arrive.

Turn 3) Reille attacks again to get the benefit of the +1 to his die roll for Hill being in square. Hougoumont falls, and the Allied reserve must be used to cancel the result. A second Allied casualty results.

Turns 4,5,6,7) Reille continues to press the attack against Hill/Hougoumont. Hougoumont is hit and relieved three times in four turns. There are 3 French casualties and 6 Allied casualties, but now the Allied reserve is expended. When not pulling the reserve in to hold Hougoumont, the Allies activate Blucher - this time with some success.

Constant attacks from the French left stretch Hill and use up the Allied reserve.

Turn 8) Reille attacks again: Hougoumont falls once more; this time for good.

Hougoumont has fallen. The French look now to press forward on their right.

Turn 9) Kellerman attempts to exploit, but both sides take a morale loss. The French have taken 4 casualties and a morale loss; the Allies have taken 6 casualties and a morale loss. It is now afternoon. The French must work to reduce Allied morale while continuing to preserve the relative loss advantage that they have established.

Turns 10,11,12) The Grand Battery fires to wear morale down. The Coalition responds by activating Blucher. He arrives in increasing force but the French maintain their advantage in casualties and morale losses inflicted. The exchange is even enough that it benefits the French to keep on with a low-risk, low-but-almost-sure-reward approach.

13) The Allies are now within an unlucky morale roll of capitulating. Millhaud attacks to cause another Allied morale loss. Blucher is now on the field in force, and the French take a casualty.

14) The moment of crisis is almost upon the French. They are within reach of victory, but it is not yet assured. Before activating Napoleon for what is presumed to be the decisive push with the Guard, D'Erlon is ordered to attack Orange and soften up the enemy one more time. He drives in with considerable elan and rolls very high. The Allies take a casualty and a morale loss, then roll badly, fail the morale test, and rout.

The moment of victory.


The 'attack Hill' tactic worked again, and the bot, by failing to bring Hill out of square and back into line, helped render the Reille infantry attacks more effective. If the bot had brought Hill out of square earlier the cards tell us that his corps would have been open to a Kellerman counter attack rolling at +1, but at least Hougoumont would have had better odds of holding out, the reserve would have been maintained for longer, and with a Kellerman attack there was a higher risk of a French blow-out.

W1815 is a game of margins established by increments, and the ramifications of certain actions mean that player tactics in terms of which card to activate when become, over the course of a game, steadily more important. In this refight the initial high risk approach opened up a gap which the French only needed to maintain to force the win, but worse early dice and cannier bot play could have kept the Allies in touch and forced the French to either take more risks elsewhere or play conservatively and hope to time their final attack just right.

There is a lovely balance, and it takes time to see it.

So far, when playing as Napoleon, I swear by attacking Hill / Hougoumont, but it requires a run of good dice like the ones here to succeed.

The Grand Battery option (shown here), while seemingly safe, does not do enough

damage fast enough, and needs to be complemented by more aggressive play elsewhere. Nor does the Grand Battery attack force an Allied response: this then leaves Wellington free to concentrate on bringing those battle-winning Prussians onto the field, or to look at wresting the initiative in other ways.

I hope that this has shone a little light on what is a most enjoyable game. Most of my play has been solo, but I have a feeling that the more you play it with an opponent, the more other approaches will begin to suggest themselves.

It's a very fine game. It's beautiful to look at and the pieces feel good in the hand. It is enjoyable to study the cards and work out which combination of activations might work best given the board situation. If you have it, don't forget to play it; if you don't, perhaps consider pestering U and P for a reprint until you do!

Game end.

The better angels of our nature.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit quiet in house Prufrock due to a bug I picked up somewhere. I tend not to get sick very often, but when I do, I do it properly.

The evenings therefore have found me either sleeping or doing some kind of non-thinking activity, such as watching the TV. Actually, being in Japan, I don't watch the TV (it's almost as bad as New Zealand TV), but instead watch a DVD or look at YouTube. Recently, Ken Burns's Civil War series has been my poison.

My first introduction to the series was about ten or twelve years ago. A friend who uses the internet 'creatively' had downloaded the series from somewhere free of charge, burnt the episodes onto disk and loaned them to me.

"What's that?" someone asked him as he handed them over one night at soccer.

"Oh," he said, "it's about the American Civil War."

"Why would YOU want to watch that?"

"Well, it was you Americans fighting each other. Why shouldn't we like it?"

And he was right on both counts. It was Americans fighting each other, and it was a series that even people who have no particular reason for interest in the war could find value in.

The Ken Burns documentary style, mixing period photographs, voice overs, actors reading quotes from historical figures, footage of places. and interviews with authorities, is compelling viewing. The themed structure and the variety of voices from both sides gives a sense of fairness in the telling. I may be wrong about the fairness, but it's how it seems to me when I watch it.

You are shown the movement of the war, you follow the characters chosen, hear their voices, and invest in them emotionally. It is by turns humorous, sad, uplifting and harrowing. It is always informative, humane and respectful.

Anyway, last night I was watching the ninth and last episode of the series and had been drawn into it again. You know it is coming, and you have been prepared for it with artful foreshadowing during the past few episodes, but goodness, the death of Abraham Lincoln is always hard to take.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the series is that in watching it you become a bit American too. You see the grandeur of the country and its people. You see the capacity for suffering and sacrifice. You see that we all, no matter who we are or where we are from, are invested in that last best hope and willing it still to come into the fullness of its promise.

And with that written, if you can forgive me, I must excuse myself...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A bit of Old School Tactical

I don't know about other people but I had a relatively wargame-free New Year break this year. Our annual local game didn't eventuate, but my boardgame mate Pat did come down one Sunday to introduce me to his new WWII game, Old School Tactical.

He taught me the main points of the rules in about five minutes and then we got into it. I was commanding a bunch of Germans trying to escape the Falaise pocket towards Argentan. We had something like eight squads and two leaders with a couple of LMGs and another couple of Panzerfausts to share amongst them. On turn three or four a Tiger would arrive in support, and my objective was to get three squads off the opposite board edge.

Pat was coming in perpendicularly to cut off our retreat / breakout. He had three or four squads in halftracks and a small army of Shermans and M10s to interpose between the Germans and their hopes of (temporary) escape. It would be an interesting fight.

(Apologies: my photos have been ruined by glare from the window, but in person the board was very impressive.)

First squads enter.

More follow up.

Field of play: lots of open ground to cross, and some good fire positions for both sides.

I won't go into too much detail, but our Tiger and a particularly reckless Panzerfaust team did a scarcely believable amount of damage to the Allied armour.  Terrified Sherman crews preferred to take shots on offer at infantry rather than the Tiger because the chances of doing any damage were so slim. There were close-assaults a-plenty, and lots of momentum swings. Things turned our way after a brilliantly executed ambush of the Tiger leading to shots from point blank range from both the flank and front failed to do any damage to the great beast. Once those two ambushers were smoking wrecks, the poor old Allies didn't have a lot left. Still, it would have been touch and go whether the Germans could get to their exit area before time ran out, so we called it a draw.

All those wrecks were caused by that (unscathed) Tiger and a single suicidal Panzerfaust team!

I thought the game itself was good fun. The board was a delight to play on, and there was enough there to convince me that it would be a system worth investing time into. I suppose you'd call it 'cinematic' WWII, with lots of swings of fortune and plenty of moments of high drama as you decide whether to take on the odds or not, and then, decision made, see what happens.

One quibble I did have was that the activation mechanism relies upon command points to do anything (even opportunity fire), and uses a low base rate + high variable system (I was on 4-14 CPs per turn; the US on 3-18). I would prefer a higher base rate and lower variables so that a good planner could avoid the situation where a low roll leaves one helpless. Perhaps a good planner can already, but I couldn't see how, except by hoping the enemy rolled badly with attacks. I generally want a positional advantage (good cover, clear firing lanes, etc.) to count, but at times a low CP roll meant that it effectively wouldn't: if one side had no CPs left the other could advance across open ground into a 50/50 close combat situation without fear of being shot up before getting there.

It's probably however just a beginner's reaction, and I'd certainly like more opportunities to enhance my understanding of the system!


Not only did Pat introduce me to Old School Tactical, but he also very kindly went to the considerable trouble of making up a board and set of figures for a jousting game for our kids. Our boy is already enjoying the game, and he wants to play it with his mum next. I'm not sure how lucky he'll be on that score, but we'll see!

The two protagonists square off...

Thanks, Pat!

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