Sunday, 28 March 2010

Scattering To The Four Winds

I needed at least eight combinations of flocked base designs to differentiate between otherwise identical foot elements from differing platoons.

I finally decided that the standard base combination for the first platoon of each nation (British, Belgian, French, German) and on all other support, heavy weapon, high command & pioneer foot elements would be Humbrol 150 (a fairly bright olive green) sprinkled with a 50-50 mix (see left) of Javis Countryside Scenic Light Meadow Green and Hornby Scale Scenic Fine Grass Green (referred to henceforward as 'grass' and 'moss'). The 'grass' is very light and comprises quite coarse sawdust (see photo in 'Basal Cleavage' where Humbrol 150 plus the Javis scatter material only has been used experimentally) but does vary in shade nicely and the 'moss' is a somewhat yukky and samey shade of blue-green finely ground sponge-like substance. Each scatter material dilutes the unpleasant qualities of the other although when applied to certain base coats each type of scatter was occasionally usable on its own. Subsequent infantry platoons use a range of Humbrol base coats (83 'yellow clay', 98 'peat', 119 'earth') in conjunction with 'grass', 'moss' or '50-50 mix'.


Figure bases are smoothed over with model filler so that the moulding plinths disappear and foot elements look like they are perched atop a grassed-over chocolate drop mound. Owing to their diminutive size, motorcycles and motorcycle combinations are also mounted on tiddlywinks. Some of the bases have voids awaiting reinforcements from Heroics & Ros to boost them up to four-man groups for combat purposes.

Parent unit identification will be inscribed underneath for clarification and as stated in earlier posts, there will be the odd random log, rock or shrub for prettiness. (Again I must tug my forelock in Lloyd's direction for the tip with regard to 6mm scale rocks, spillages of which are obtainable from your local supermarket cat litter shelf)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Basal Cleavage

I have more or less caught up on my backlog of figure painting.

This included:
recent purchases of Heroics & Ros officer strips and PzB38 & Boyes team purchases (which may actually be used as MG34 or Bren teams once I sit down & have a look at what I have got);
much needed 25mm & 47mm allied AT guns & crews;
platoons of B.E.F. & French/Belgian infantry I never got round to painting from my previous wargaming existence back in the early 80's, which had been languishing in the loft in tobacco tins in their original packaging;
repainting of gun crews painted up as Afrika Korps & 8th Army.

(I had always been quite happy to use heavy weapons sans crews irrespective of the ground footprint of said hardware. Perils of solo wargaming, I suppose. Also I did (& probably still do) have way too many AFVs for the amount of infantry I can field. Standard proceedure on both counts for most wargamers, I suspect).

There was also a smorgasbord of sundry vehicles that had tickled my fancy which I could not resist from Heroics, Scotia & Ian Armstrong.

In order to visualise the overall effect of my painting standard it was neccesary to flock some bases. I found it a bit too distracting having unpainted plasticard or tiddlywinks from the ankles down, so I gave some of the groups a coat of Humbrol 150 on the bases & dunked them in Javis Light Meadow Green.

Taking my cue from Lloydian Aspects, I will be customizing the bases somewhat so that the appearance of the base will tell the gamer which platoon each foot group belongs to. Simplified, the appearance of the base will denote the parent unit, as opposed to having any coloured markings or symbology on the base. Aside from unit identification purposes I expect I will be installing the odd random sprig of lichen or budget permitting, a rock.
As regards AFVs, these will display markings in keeping with, but not totally authentic to, the real thing.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Stiff Neck & Brain Giving Way

Every couple of days I have a painting blitz that lasts about four to six hours.


On this occasion, I got a whole load of flesh tones done, this time just gun crews, support weapons and other oddments like German cart drivers & Bofors crews that are integral with the gun castings. There is, however, a pile of BEF & Belgian infantry waiting for me for which the flesh tones are also the next step.

When that is done along with other details like helmets & webbing I can base the infantry & support onto 15mm diameter tiddlywinks (to standardise their 'footprints') which arrived within 24 hours from Patriot Games of Sheffield & Huddersfield and I can finally have a game! I may end up tidying up the base edges, building up to the level of the figure bases & painting the whole a middle green but adding flock might have to wait. Some of the gun crews were for artillery I will now never use, for example, German 170mm or Nebelwerferen and are being repainted in situ and fit around guns I have only recently bought.
http://www.patriotgames.ltd.uk/store/
I am painting every crew strip I possess, either for making up gun team shortfalls (in the past, a pretty low priority for me) or for customizations, like tank commanders standing up in turret hatches. (Belgian T13s from Scotia and H&R 150mm auf Pz 1 have crews ready-moulded but the Heroics Panzerjager 1 do not, so they have been added (see picture)). They will all be used somewhere eventually.

So although there is no reason to delay posting yet another £30 order to Heroics & Ros that I have been mulling over for a few weeks my excuses for not setting up my oft-promised game are looking a bit thin...

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Number Crunching

Retrospective: August to December 2009

As a teenager in the 1980's, my researches such as they were, were limited to a couple of tank books that I could afford pretty much straight off the shelves at WH Smiths. Now we've got the internet it's unusual not to be able to find the information you need.
I decided to double-check the AP data in use in my current set of rules. For instance, the 2 pounder, French 47mm & German 50mm L42 were all lumped in together with identical penetration performance.

I found some great websites for raw data, my main sources being:
http://gva.freeweb.hu/index.html [which no longer exists]

Standard test conditions varied between nationalities including angle & type of metal armour used, however, AP data was eventually arrived at, listing the armour thickness penetrated 50% of the time at a given range. This gave me the median point with a better quality hit receiving a penetration bonus and a poorer hit being penalised. Use of HE (including barrages on armoured targets) was extrapolated somewhat from the WRG dice rolls as no information on this was found on the web.

So finally with a set of rules specifcally for the period, battle could commence...

Breaking All The Rules

Retrospective: April to July 2009
Sadly, nothing to do with the fantastic Ozzy Osborne song but a metaphor for dissassembling rule sets and brain racking new game mechanics.

My customizing of rules began by simply extracting the data relevant to the period of WW2 I had now become obsessed with, after all I would never need to look up the armour class of a Tiger again! Hurrah! I still used the main text of the WRG Rules but had separate charts drawn up which only referred to guns used in the Invasion of France and AFV armour data only listed those AFVs in use at the time. Much more Zen, I thought.

Another aspect of the rules which was not very satisfactory was the probability ranges that threw up statistical anomalies, for example, Gun A penetrates Armour Class X on a roll of 4 on a D6 at ranges of 0-250m, but what if the range was 25m or 249m? Having the same chance of penetration right across the range bracket was too simple, so I began to draw up new charts based on the WRG probability data which had around ten probability brackets from point blank to extreme ranges. Admittedly, within each bracket the probabilities were still flat & linear but the brackets themselves were now a lot smaller, allowing for more detail in my opinion.

Having realised that the fall-off of hit probabilities is similar for, say, high velocity AT guns and similar across a selection of howitzers I then began designing a graphical representation of the 'to hit' chart which simply showed how the chance of hitting the target 'tended towards zero as the range got closer to the maximum range for that firing weapon. All you needed to know was which range bracket the target fell into for the particular firing weapon because at 'extreme range' the chance to hit is the same for a 2 pounder as it is for a 75mm L24. The only difference is that the extreme range bracket for the 2 pounder is, let's say, 1250-1500m but for the 75mm it may be 1500-1800m.
Attempting to come up with user-friendly graphics in 2D did my brain in for a few months until I realised that the problem lay in that you still had to refer to other charts or graphs when it came to armour penetration or destruction of unarmoured targets, unless you had some kind of curvaceous Henry Moore 3D probability model after factoring in the extra variable of target destruction.

The dice-rolling method for recreating probablilities of taking out a target did work, it just seemed a bit pedantic to me. Roll to hit; roll to destroy. You hit the truck but you didn't destroy it. Roll dice; roll some more dice.
Was there a way of using how good a hit you got to determine target destruction? I thought there was, after looking at my childrens' Cuisinaire Maths Rods.
If there was a 60% chance of hitting & a 30% chance of destroying the target, aside from neutralisation, pinning or immobilisation effects, we are really only interested in the overall 20% chance of total destruction.

So that was the major Game Mechanic I finally invented, now all that was left was to somehow convert the WRG data into my single dice-roll system...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Period Warfare

Retrospective: March 2009

I have no recollection why I switched from late to early WW2 wargaming. Certainly it could not have been the abundance of gamers of this period which attracted me, or the plethora of miniatures available at that time (only Heroics & Ros made any French tanks and those were restricted to the Char B and S35). Perhaps I felt an initial frisson of exclusivity after making my contrary decision to embrace the world of anti-tank rifles, trench-crossing skids and multi-turretted tanks.

At the age of 15 I became the proud owner of squadrons of Char Bs, S35s, A9s, A13s, Panzer 3s & 4Ds and when they came out, H39s. Bafflingly I had Panzer 4F1s and Valentine 1s, neither of which took part in the campaign but paradoxically only had a tiny number of Panzer 1s & 2s (odd, since they made up the greater proprtion of the German tank strength, I would make amends for this crime in spades later).

But then rigorous accuracy was not within my remit at that time: most of the Panzer 3s had 50mm guns for no reason other than I misread the description in my tank book and anyway, the Allies had 2pdrs & 47mm guns in many of their tanks so it seemed to be more balanced that way. I did file down the barrels to resemble the 37mm on some Panzer 3s in a cursory nod to customization but in another ill-conceived moment I painted my French infantry using a rather fetchingly innaccurate dull blue and my British infantry in a kind of 'plastic toy soldier green'.

I became essentially a solo wargamer at this point, using unmodified Wargames Research Group 1925-1952 rules. I also made terrain boards similar to those I had seen used at the wargames club which seemed to have many dells & hollows where troops in ambush positions could lurk. All roads and rivers enter & leave at the middle of a board edge to facilitate arranging the boards in a multitude of combinations.

After I took a place at Leicester University to do Geology my father moved house and the wargaming stuff was put in the loft with my Action Men. Life happened to me for the next twenty years and no wargaming was done, although at some point it was relocated from his attic in Cornwall to mine in Essex.

Thus was my initial foray into wargaming the Invasion of France...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Followers in the Attic

Retrospective: February 2009
I had been volunteered to tackle the realms beyond the loft hatch. It had been a volcano of carboot stuff piling up around said orifice ever since we moved in 10 years ago.

Amongst the 'Battling Tops', 'Steer'n'Go', original 'Haunted House' games & 1:24th scale Airfix kits were my old wargaming terrain boards & 1:300th WW2 Heroics & Ros miniatures (referred to, these days, apparrently as 6mm or "6 mil".

I could hardly remember what treasures I had secreted in the Johnny Walkers cardboard box, Tuf SlipOns shoebox & plastic Elastoplast first aid boxes but deep down felt a visceral adolescent stirring of some sort or other. At some point in fairly recent history (by geological standards, anyway) I seemed to recall thoroughly enjoying-& being absorbed by-this hobby but initially the erstwhile intensity escaped me.

In the Johnny Walker box, about nine 12" square terrain boards of sculpted landforms of varying practicalities, wargaming, for the use of, were vertically stacked. Somewhat otherworldly ironstone outcrops reared up alongside oddly vertiginous escarpment slash quarry slash Fantasia mountains. Pleasingly forgotten, there were four half-normal-board-width 'coastline sections', made when D-Day reconstructions were still of interest to me. One coastline board was a sort of scaled-down version of Charlestown on the south coast of Cornwall where I had spent a couple of years not misspending my youth whilst on the dole and which could be mistaken for a film set out of 'Where Eagles Dare' or 'Battle of Britain'.

Vague recollections of inexorably symmetrical German armour formations, rather dissatisfying infantry pitched-battles and fizzled-out solo campaigns came back. A twelve-year-old attempting to grasp the difference between simply 'making dioramas' and 'Wargaming', whatever Bruce Quarrie was trying to say it was in his Airfix Guide. It always had to be explained to every Aunt & Uncle at each social visit. One hobby was static and collected dust unless you bought flimsy little domed vaccuum-formed covers from Military Modelling Magazine or kept your efforts at the back of the bedroom book shelves; the other hobby you were allowed to move the tanks & things around but somehow had to remember how far they could go and what the guns on them could do. There were charts & tables that, in theory, scaled down the real thing to what you had on your formica wood-effect worktop, except that at that young age and without another player, there were so many grey areas in the rules and so many situations not catered for it felt at times as though you were juggling sand.

Some school pals and I at Fowey Comprehensive would use Mr Nicholls' chemistry lab if it was a 'wet dinnertime' and I don't think there were flatter desert battles fought between my 1/72nd scale Airfix Tiger, Panther, 88mm & Matilda II, Shermans & 'Bren Carrier with 6 pounder', all painted in a Kelly's ice-creamy Airfix M14 yellow!

Wargaming did not hold my peers' attention for too long when compared to tearing chunks off the groundskeeper's shed or secretly disembowelling vehicles allocated to the Motor Tech class and thus at some point I appear to have purchased a quantity of original release Heroics & Ros late war armour, you know the sort of thing I am referring to: Panthers. Tigers. King Tigers. Some Panzer IVH's for balance. And some Nashorns for variation. Numerically, the allies attempted to keep pace with their more glamourous opponents but as we know, it is a near impossible task when faced with almost perfect hardware without the balancing symptoms of a military empire on the verge of collapse.

Thoroughly kitted out thus (except for a dearth of infantry obviously, which, lets face it, was just hundreds and thousands on the icing of the tank battle cake) and brandishing a set of WRG 1925-1952 rules, I attended a wargaming club in Truro for a year or two. Many tank pitched battles ensued. Some were pitched encounter tank battles; others were tank encounter pitched battles. Most involved the casual destruction of herds of allied armour sweeping majestically yet ineffectually across 'Billiard-Table Mountain' by omnipotent teenage Nazi generals. Sausage forays to the chip shop for lunch and eavesdropping on Sealed Knot anecdotes aside, that was about as good as it got. Little wonder that teen angst, looming despatch to University and mind bending drugs obliterated The Hobby from the author's brain for some 30 years...