Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truants 3: Closing Wilmington-ACW combined arms

In June I read Under the Blue Pennant by Grattan Schneller.  It' a memoir by a young man who served with the Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War.  He was a lieutenant in volunteer service with the Union navy and served on the USS Malvern, a converted blockade runner that also happened to be the Union flagship for the actions against Fort Fisher in 1864-65.  After the fall of that fort, the Malvern was also involved in actions to clear Confederate batteries and minefields on the Cape Fear River and ultimately capture the city of Wilmington. Grattan's account inspired me to try my own game on the topic and that was our third Truants activity.

The Union fleet had eight ships-the monitor Montauk, two double-end gunboats, three 90-day gunboats, the gunboat Pequot, and the flagship Malvern. They had many tasks they could undertake, from clearing minefields to salvaging a wrecked blockade runner.  But chief among their goals was capturing or silencing the forts that controlled the river.  In addition to the ships, the Yankees had a division of infantry marching west toward the city. The Confederates had less to work with.  Nine guns in fortifications, half of them Brooke rifles, were the chief defense.  They also had fewer and less effective infantry.  Later arrivals were the Cape Fear Defense Force, including, a Richmond class ironclad, two Maury gunboats, and a torpedo armed steam launch. The Confederate mission was simply to inflict as much damage as possible on the Union fleet and hold as many of the forts as possible.

Most of the ships were  Toby Barrett's excellent 1/600 Thoroughbred models.  I've had them for years and still love to drag them out. One of the 90-day gunboats came in a scratch-built haul I made from Larry Enoch some time ago and had never seen battle, so I was glad to pull it out of the box.  I run all my ACW naval games with the old Yaquinto Ironclad rules.  David Sullivan and I adapted these for tabletop years ago and I still like them compared to other rules sets that are out there.  Only David Manley's Iron and Fire has made a positive impression on me, but only for large fleet actions.  Toby Barrett owns the copyright to Ironclads and I sent him my annual bitch note (as he calls it) to beg for something new and updated.  He hedged as usual. Still a nice guy.

There are no rules for infantry in Ironclads.  Of course not, it was a board game.  However the Civil War is replete with examples of combined arms actions, from Fort Donelson to Wilmington.  I painted up some of my 20 year old passle of 6mm ROS figures and wrote up some simple DBAish rules.  I didn't have a copy of the Humberside extensions to DBA so I sort of made it up myself.  Kept it as simple as possible. 

Anyway, the Union entered the board sneakily to avoid the first Confederate battery.  This would be their strategy for most of the game.  Five of the Confederates nine guns were large smoothbores, so the Yankees would obligingly stay out of their range.  The other guns, however were three 6.4" and one 7" Brooke rifles designed to reach out and touch the Union vessels wherever they could. However, while the big rifles hit, none did any catastrophic damage to force Union vessels to drop out of the game-a chief factor in the scenario rules.  No telling hits from the first battery, and the fleet trashed Battery Johnston pretty rapidly, while the Union land forces quickly advanced up the road toward Fort Smith.

The Confederates didn't have much luck with their naval arm either.  On turn four the ironclad Wilmington entered the game with its tiny consorts.  The ram quickly duelled with the Montauk only to take a crushing blast to its front casemate that cost its forward firing Brooke rifle.  Things went even less well for the tiny Maury gunboats that received loving attention from Sassacus, Maratanza, and Pequot. It did not turn out well.  The end came quickly for the Confederates.  The forts were clearly outclassed by the Union vessels, and could not offer sufficient support to the tiny flotilla.  Though Wilmington did provide a bit of redemption when it inflicted a nasty critical flotation hit to Montauk and forced the monitor from the game, it was the only bright spot.  Even on the land side the Confederates were clearly thumped.

I enjoyed the game.  With the addition of land forces, it was clear, to me at least that it was possible to do a combined arms game.  I am looking forward to running the game again on August 20th with some additions to the Confederate side to balance things out.  Can you say Martello tower?

Photos once again by Adrian Nelson.  The first picture is a Richmond class ironclad by Thoroughbred miniatures.  Wilmington is a fictional vessel based on the Richmond.  The port of Wilmington was defended by two Richmond class ironclads, North Carolina and Raleigh.  Both met untimely ends: North Carolina sank at her berth, her hull eaten by worms, Raleigh ran aground and broke her back. The second photo shows the Yankee infantry preparing to engage the Confederates.  The Union had thousands of infantry available at Fort Fisher after its fall in January 1865.  Their advance was delayed more by the swampy conditions than Confederate resistance. The next photo shows Scott Murphy's 90-day gunboat observing the earthworks of Fort Smith.  This is my only large piece of terrain that I seem to drag out every five or six years.  Battery Johnson is burning in the foreground.  Finally, a view of most of the Union fleet maneuvering in the river.  A beached blockade runner is on the left, and two Confederate minefields are on the right.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Truants 2: The Great War in Africa

Back up and running again.  If only I'd seen the tab that said Compose and realized I was in the HTML editor.

Our second Truant game was hosted by Mark Waddington.  Mark has a wonderful collection of WWI in Africa miniatures that not only covers the war in Tanganyika, but also the Middle East.  He decided to thrill us with the exploits of Von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Adrian Nelson and I ran the British troops while Joe Waddington and Dean Motoyama pushed the Germans.  The Germans had to move their supply troops, a bunch of porters on foot across the table.  Adrian and I were to set up an ambush that could interdict that supply.  The difficulty for us was determining where the ambush was best sited to deal with the numerous exit sites possible for the Germans.

We Brits had six infantry units ranging from pretty good to pretty awful, as well as two medium machine guns and a pair of light Lewis guns. We also knew we'd receive a Rolls Royce armored car which meant another medium machine gun on wheels.

The busy terrain meant this was a line of sight game.  We set up our mgs as effectively as possible and then spread our troops around the board.  We also had counters to mark our position along with some dummy counters to dilute our possible set up.  The Germans weren't so lucky, most set up in our line of sight, so they had to reveal their positions.

I held our left flank with a medium machine gun and a poor quality Indian unit that immediately were revealed and came under attack by three German units and a medium machine gun.  The gun survived but the infantry were beaten to a pulp and both were forced off the ridge they were holding. On the right Adrian duked it out with superior forces, giving better than he got with some support from the Lewis gun and Indian troops in my center.
Just as things seemed to falling apart for the Brits on the Left and the Germans on the right, the Rolls Royce arrived to shore things up a bit.  As the game ended the question to be answered was: could the porters wander around the British right as reinforcements began to move to the center.  That was unclear and Mark declared the game a draw.

Photos are all courtesy of Adrian Nelson, who has become the official Truants photographer.  Thanks.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blog issues

As some of you may have noticed, I've been having trouble with posting pictures. It went sideways a couple of months ago and I haven't done much about it, but it's been a frustration. I decided to make a quick fix and uploaded the new posting editor which promises a bit more ease posting images. It was quick 'n dirty, but when I saved it and tried to post this morning the image tool was gone altogether. So I'm kind of in blog no man's land at the moment trying to get the problem fixed.

Too bad, I was hoping to have the last two Truant entries done today as well an entry about my trip to Surrey, B.C. to visit Doug Hamm.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Truants Week 1: SCW

So all that painting and blather had to result in a Spanish Civil War game, right?

I hauled out a whole pile of figures. Many were freshly painted. I also made some new goodies. Instead of using poker chips or something else as order chits, I made up little cards and laminated them so players could place their orders without giving anything away.

I devised a scenario with a strong Republican force attacking a smaller entrenched fascist brigade. The Republicans outnumbered the defenders almost three to one and had air and artillery support for the first couple of turns. The Nationalists had reinforcements rolling on to the table in a fairly steady stream after turn three. My thinking was the Republicans would be able to occupy and hold the Nationalist entrenchments and defend against the massive counterattack coming in their direction.

I was wrong. The Republicans had a hard time getting anything to work very well. The Nationalists clung to their entrenchments pretty stubbornly and dang the rolled well, just chopping up some units. Adrian Nelson managed to get into one trench, and Mark Waddington eliminated a heavy machine gun battalion, but that's about as far as things got. The Nationalists funneled a brigade of Carlist infantry through one of the two towns, and they were mauled pretty badly by Al Rivers' militia brigade, but the ownership of the town was at best uncertain. Further Nationalist reinforcements could be sent freely through the the big city. It was all complicated by great die rolls by the Nationalists. Joe Waddington could not miss and he took it out on his dad. All the Repbublican armor was pretty shot up. Not a happy business, the attack was a failure.

I also learned about some minor changes to make to the rules. We play with Dick Larsen's home grown Non Pasaran that I've freely modified for my 15mm figures and in order to include more figures. Lots of positive comments, and we'll play again on July 31st at the summer meeting day at Metro Seattle gamers.

Pictures clockwise from the top left:
1. Mark Waddington advanced his T-26's to confront his son's Pz.1's. They will be slaughtered by heavy mg fire. 2. Adrian Nelson's International Brigade infantry prepare to assault the Fascist center while Al Rivers attacks the town of Ariadna on the left. 3. Turn 1 finds the advanced Fascist positions covered by bombardment chits. Not a happy time.
4. Adrian is ready to assault the center with his I.B. troops and Assault Guards. He's taken fire already and some of stands are pinned (white markers.) The flags are the order chits given to each unit.


I've really enjoyed my friendship with Mark Waddington. He's also a teacher so we share some common experiences. Mark's given me such great perspective on some of my own rules and scenarios over the years and that's such a huge bonus to me. I often get stuck on details and Mark helps me out with that.

Being an educator too, Mark also has significant time off during the summer. We've talked about a summer gaming group, but haven't quite acted on the impulse. This summer I contacted everyone I knew who might have some free days and suggested some Friday afternoon gaming at the Game Matrix. I was surprised and very pleased at the response. Al Rivers, Dean Motoyama, Adrian Nelson, Mark and Joe Waddington, Scott Murphy, Tom Bieker and I have all made one or more games.

We've given ourselves a name: The League of Extraordinary Truants.

The games have varied, and yesterday was our third week in a row. Adrian is our official staff photographer, and I'll share out some of his pics. We're going on hiatus for a couple of weeks as we deal with commitments elsewhere.

Just an overall review of the gaming, the first thing I'm struck by is how much we seem to enjoy each other. There's no lawyering or hard feelings. There's usually a lot of laughter and smiles. That's saying a lot because each week the period has been different and generally the rules have been new. Yesterday we played Ironclads, not an easy set to pick up and run with, but generally everyone got it and by midway through the game most of the players were working the charts themselves.

I'm hoping we can pick this up again in August because I've had a blast.