Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sometimes History Gets the Better of Me

 When I began miniature wargaming forty years ago I played WWII armor.  I think everybody starts there.  We played with Roco minitanks because they were cheap back then, and later we played with GHQ micro armor.  What was everyone's favorite tank?  The German King Tiger of course.  They were big, nasty, had a wicked 88mm gun and could easily slay T-34's or Shermans.  That there were only 200 plus of them made while thousands of Panzer IV's, Panthers, or the previously mentioned Russian and American vehicles were manufactured in the tens of thousands made little difference.  King Tigers were cool.

Yesterday when I got home from our game, I began to have that nagging King Tiger feeling. In our Wilmington game I'd try to apportion the Confederate guns reasonably, so that there were about 50% rifled guns and 50% smoothbores.  In Fort Anderson there were five total guns.  Of those, one was a 7" double banded Brooke rifle and another was a 6.4"  double banded Brooke Rifle.  Battery Johnston, near the board entry for the Union, also had a 6.4" double banded Brooke Rifle.  The Martello tower had a British 100 pdr Blakely rifle, and Battery Trimble near the opposite entry point for the Yankees had a 30 pdr Parrott rifle.  The Confederate ships also had some rifled artillery.  The rebel ironclad, modeled on the Raleigh, a Richmond inspired ram mounted four 6.4" Brooke Rifles.  The Morgan, according to the Ironclads board game mounted a pair of 7" Brooke double banded rifles.  Silverstone's Warships of the Civil War Navies disagrees and gives the Morgan 7 inch rifle and a 6.4 inch gun.

So, in yesterday's game there were nine Brooke rifles.  Why is this important and what does this have to do with King Tigers?  More than you might think.  Brooke rifles were considered the finest rifled guns of the American Civil War.  They were more accurate and had longer ranges than the Federal Parrotts, and were also less prone to bursting than the numerous Parrotts.  We know the first Brooke rifles were mounted in the Virginia when it fought the Monitor in 1862, and they appeared in the James River flotilla when they fought the Federal fleet on the James River at Trent's Reach in February 1865.  The CSS Atlanta was armed with them (we know because the captured guns are on display the Washington Navy Yard), the Tenessee II was armed with them at Mobile Bay (we know because they are on display in Alabama.)

The problem is, Brooke naval and seacoast guns were scarce as hen's teeth.  The number of Brooke rifled guns was something under 150 tubes.  Brooke rifles were cast and bored at the Tredegar ironworks just outside Richmond, and at the Selma foundry in Alabama.  Though Tredegar cast more than a thousand cannon, less than a hundred were Brooke rifles.  Spencer Tucker in his excellent Arming the Fleet states the Tredegar works cast less than 83 rifles and 16 smoothbores.  Tucker goes on to claim the Selma foundry cast 53 rifles and 18 smoothbores.  Edwin Olmstead in his book Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Artillery, breaks the quantities down even further:
 6.4" Brooke Rifle

Only four 8-inch rifles were cast at the Tredegar works.
Tredegar produced 26 single banded 7-inch guns, 36 double banded 7 inchers, and three triple banded guns.  Selma produced 54 7-inch tubes, but shipped only 39 due to casting flaws.
Tredegar also produced 35 single and double banded 6.4" rifles, while Selma managed 15 usable 6.4" guns.
Some flawed 6.4" and 7" castings were rebored as 8" smoothbores.

This is a problem for me as a scenario designer.  So many of the vessels in the Ironclads rules call for Brooke rifles, and that just can't be, there weren't enough to go around to all the ships and coastal fortifications that often find their way into our wargames.

Tucker reminds us the Confederates captured the Gosport Naval Yard at Norfolk in 1861.  In addition to the hull of the USS Merrimack and the magnificent drydock needed to convert her to a massive ironclad, rebel forces also captured nearly 1,200 heavy naval guns.  Though some were modern shell guns, including 52 IX- inch Dahlgrens, not one was a rifled gun.  Additional guns and naval stores fell into Confederate hands when they captured Pensacola.  So there was a passel of guns out there, many of them quite modern, but rifles would have to be imported from Great Britain (Blakely's, Whitworths, or Armstrongs) or they'd have to be made.  Tucker relates the Confederates favorite conversion was to bore out a 32pdr and band the breach.  Voila, instant rifle, that is covered and rated in Ironclads.

I've done a bit of a search to determine the gun types present at Fort Sumter during the unsuccessful sea assault in April of 1863.  At that time the fort mounted some forty pieces of artillery.  They can be seen here. Not one Brooke rifle is listed.  The only rifles appearing are rebored 32 pdr and  42 pdr smoothbores, or "James" rifles that fired 64 and 84 pound rifled projectiles.  These appear in the Ironclads rules as the Army rifle. The 42pdr was a standard seacoast weapon which appeared after the War of 1812.
Collection of James Rifles.  32 pdr on field carriage, and 42 pdr on fortress carriage in the background
In any case, it seems to me I'll need to give some thought to redesigning the fortress armament for the Wilmington defenses.  I don't want anyone to leave the game feeling like they'd been King Tigered.

Closing Wilmington Revisited

Today was the last of our Truants wargaming days I'll be able to attend. I'm back in the classroom on Monday with students arriving on Thursday.  There's little question I'll try to organize another Truant session next summer all things being equal.

I tweaked the ACW naval game from July and ran it out on the table.  Fellow truants expressed their interest, and the game was successful enough that I wanted to try it again.  Two changes were suggested for the scenario.  One was forcing the Union ships to the middle of the table.  The other was changing the already simple infantry rules to forego the roll for command pips.

I addressed both those issues in the scenario redesign.  First I added a partial across river shoreline and stuck a two gun battery on it.  I believed it would force the Union vessels more toward the middle of the table and give them more to think about.  It would also give the Confederate gunners better opportunities to engage Union ships at more effective ranges. I also did something daring and near the far end of the table put an island surmounted by a Martello tower mounting a Blakely rifle.  I know Martello towers were not common to the United States, but there was one on Tybee Island guarding the approaches to Savannah, so it would not be out of the question to have one guarding Wilmington.  Besides, I had one, it looked cool, and it is just a game. The tower could fire into the center of the table, and once again give something else for the Yankees to think about.

I made two additional changes.  First I simplified the command for the infantry rules.  Each brigade commander had a four inch command radius rather than rolling for pips a la DBA.  I also wanted to make the Confederate naval presence a bit more formidable.  In the previous game the Richmond class ironclad was accompanied by two small Maury gunboats and a torpedo launch. Though the ironclad gave as good as it got the escorts were easily dispatched at a considerable distance.  I replaced the three small vessels with the gunboat Morgan from Mobile Bay.  I figured it would be a bit more of a challenge, and rightfully so as it turned out.

There was one complication to the game and that was the light attendance. Mark Waddington, Al Rivers, Tom Bieker and Darin Howard made their truant excuses and escaped to play.  It happens, it's nobody's fault.  The game is designed for 7-8 and we only had four.  I figured I could fairly play a Confederate gunner, so I let Tom Bieker run the Confederate squadron and most of the guns. Al, Mark and Darin ran the Union vessels.

I actually love this scenario because it puts the Union players in such a tizzy.  The decision making is all on them.  The Confederates have few choices to make.  The timetable decides for them. With all decisions made and the table set up, the Yankees moved their vessels on to the table.

With two batteries facing the entries, the Union fleet decided to capture one with their naval landing party, and pound the other to rubble.  In this they were pretty successful.  By turn six of the game, the two batteries were either silent or nearly so.  The naval landing party was on its way to capture the western battery, and the Union fleet was headed for the middle of the table. Most of the rebel fire targeted the leading Union vessel, the double-ender Miami.  Though the gunboat suffered some light pecks and pokes, nothing serious seemed to slow her down. The two rebel ships, however, were also moving downstream to engage the leading Union vessels, and that's where things got interesting.

First, Darin, commanding the three 90 day gunboats in the squadron, made a boo-boo and stepped into the clearly marked minefield with USS Huron.  He made a couple of die rolls, and struck a mine which was, happily, a dud.  Unfortunately, his movement didn't take him safely out of the field.  A second turn of moving through the danger zone didn't turn out so well and turn seven saw the Huron engulfed in a bright flash and disappearing rapidly to the bottom of the Cape Fear River.

Turn seven also saw the loss of USS Miami's good luck charm.  Two telling shots from the Martello tower and the Brooke rifle in Fort Anderson did significant damage.  However these were followed by a shot from the Morgan that exploded in Miami's magazine, resulting in the instant sinking of the vessel.  Not an easy shot by any means, and one we rarely see in the game. We played through turn eight, as the luck decisively turned in the Confederates' favor.  The monitor Montauk had a waterline seam opened up and suffered flotation damage, and the Union fire could not seem to shake loose the last gun crew from Battery Trimble at the mouth of river.  Despite hitting the battery ten or twelve times, the fire would scatter off the remaining gun (only a 33% chance of it doing so.)

It was agreed that with the loss of two ships and accumulating damage to others the Union would pull safely back and concede a Confederate victory. The game actually started out very much like the first game.  The Union fleet seemed completely capable of dispatching the Confederate batteries, then their die rolling went cold.  Though the Confederates occasionally hit the Union vessels, they seemed incapable of turning the hits into something decisive against the wooden vessels.  About   turn six the Yankees went south and the Confederates got lucky.

This is a game I'd like to run at Enfilade, but I'd like to play test it some more.  I started out with the idea it could be a twenty turn game.  However, it's more likely to be something on the order of twelve turns, so I'll need to rethink the objectives and victory points a bit.  Maybe allow the Union to set up on the table rather than move on, which might require some change in battery placement.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Work in Progress: Greene's Virginia Regiments.

Sometimes I get captured by a period and put everything else down to work on it.  June it was Spanish Civil War, July and August it is the American Revolution.  As I've stated previously, I'm very interested in Greene's Southern campaign.  That's after the disaster at Camden, but includes Cowpens, the race to the Dan, Weitzel's Mill, Cowan's Ford, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk's Hill, Eutaw Springs and maybe throw in the Siege of Ninety-Six.

So how does this play into my painting projects?  To do these actions there are four Continental units I have to have:  1st and 2nd Maryland, and 4th and 5th Virginia.  In their first actions these units are good sized 300-400 men.  But as the campaign winds down both get much smaller. In my 1:10 scale, those are some BIG units.  The two Maryland battalions weigh in at 36 figures, the two Virginia units at 40 figures each.  My 1st Maryland are all Front Rank figures, and one of my favorite battalions.  I painted it in the early 90's for an early Enfilade project, and they've held up well.  I painted my 2nd Maryland during the school year last year.  They're Perry figures.  I like them, but I'm a bit less wild about the paint job.  Somehow my effort at combining washes of lighter areas, such as trousers and shirts, and highlighting the brown coats didn't work out so well. Just didn't get the contrast right.The 1st Maryland were studs, veterans of the units destroyed at Camden.  The 2nd Maryland not so much.  They were trained but green at Guilford, and when they broke, it forced Greene's decision to retire from the battlefield.

I just finished the 4th Virginia.  It's a big unit and took me most of the month to complete it.  I used a combination of Old Glory Continentals in firing line and Continentals in hunting shirts firing.  Neither of these packs of figures are top of the line in terms of posing or accuracy.  The hunting shirt figures even have cuffs with buttons.  Nevertheless, I am too cheap to just not do them, and too lazy to do 16 or so figure conversions.  The 4th Virginia was one of three large trained, but unblooded undits in Greene's main (third) line at Guilford Courthouse. On the table, that's ten stands, fifteen inches frontage.  This unit also fought at Hobkirk's Hill and Eutaw Springs, though in much smaller versions in the subsequent actions.  I gave them the Trumbull standard with the rectangular array of stars and one in the middle.  They are six-pointed stars and I'm not sure I did such a good job with that.

I'm currently working on the 5th Virginia Regiment, brigaded with the 4th and commanded by Isaac Huger. It's another massive paint job, with 40 figures at 1:10.  These are Perry figures.  I love painting them because of the potential varieties in figures.  When I ordered them last Christmas, I decided on the shoulder arms pose.  Not one I usually choose.  I love the firing line figures, and the advancing poses, but, at least with the Perrys I've discovered a disadvantage in this.  They're busy enough that cramming them all on stand with muskets pointing hither and yon can lead to problems with adjacent bases, so I just kept it simple.  There is a combination of four different figure styles here-southern Continentals in regimentals, Southern continentals in single breasted coats, southern Continentals in shirt sleeve order, and black troops.  All of them are very nice and fairly easy to paint.   Lots of animation and variations. I've begun work on the twelve figures in regimentals.

Got some birthday cash and earned a little extra pay working at J-Camp a couple of weeks ago, so I've invested in enough Perry British infantry in Southern dress to paint the two Guards battalions at Guilford.  Ahh, another endless project.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer Skirmish-Retreat to Bilbao

Last Saturday we held a NHMGS summer gig at the Metro Seattle Gamers clubhouse in the Interbay district.  Chuck Monson arranged the get together for us and we began planning around July 1st.  There was space for four games in morning session and four more in an afternoon session, with all the sessions spoken for.

I immediately volunteered to run a Spanish Civil War game.  It's a period and rules set that everyone seems to enjoy, and I certainly like to have an excuse to pull the figures out.  I chose a rearguard scenario in the retreat through the Basque territory in early 1937.  I read Dave Boling's excellent novel Guernica in June, really enjoyed it and thought there was the nut of a game there. 

The set up allowed for a brigade of entrenched Basque militia with a brigade of Republicans retreating on to the board.  Both would be attacked by Fascist forces in larger numbers.  There was also the likelihood the Republicans would be under air attack throughout most of the day. 

A couple of things went sideways quickly.  I planned for a 5-6 player game and instead had 9.  Not the end of the world, but crowded.  I also planned for a six food wide table, and instead had more than eight feet.  Nothing to fuss about, but I stretched out the distance the Republicans had to travel by two feet and that caused major problems for them.  They were immediately attacked by advancing Fascists-part of the plan-but it also kept them much farther from their Basque support, which was bad.  I'm always making little mistakes like this and it makes me crazy.

The first action came from the Italian brigade run jointly by Mike Snively and Arthur Brooking.  The supporting CV-33 company was picked apart by artillery fire and the accompanying infantry advanced across the open into the teeth of fire by Basques in entrenchments and the town. The Republicans sprinted up the road toward the town, but not fast enough to avoid Falangist militia advancing on their heels or a Carlist brigade coming on in reinforcement of the Italians.

The Italians eventually made their way into the town to contest the Basques, grimly holding on, but the Republican brigade, just short of surrounded by Falangists and Carlists, thought  better of things, were broken and forced from the field.

An interesting game despite my several game master errors.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My trip to Surrey

Doug Hamm lives in Surrey, B.C. and is my friend.  That's a long way from beautiful Puyallup.  Perhaps not as far as Virginia where Mike Pierce and Toby Barrett live, but Doug and I have been known to collaborate on projects and we genuinely enjoy one another's company.  I used to see Doug twice a year; once at Enfilade and another at Salute in Burnaby in March.  When I took my high school job I lost the opportunity to visit the guys at Salute because it's always the same weekend as the state student journalism convention.  Last summer Doug and his wife Susan bought a house in Surrey, just across the border, complete with a large game room.  He suggested that I come up for a visit.  I didn't have a vacation planned, or any classes I was taking so I took him up on his offer. I went up last Tuesday and came back on Thursday and had a thoroughly good time.

I went up to game, and that's pretty much what I did. That and scope out Doug's game space in the basement.  The Hamms have a full basement and it's all Dougland.  He's meticulous about almost everything he does.  His painted figures and unpainted stash are neatly organized.  He has carefully clipped magazine articles directly relating to his projects and organized them in file boxes.  His painting space is perfect with no space wasted, and indeed space available for expansion. He has a great gaming space that is comfortably suited for his 12' X 6' game table.  Doug's been very smart about his hobby.  I used to say the only aspect of my life that was organized was my game life.  Hah! Not close.  I've been organizing my stuff ever since I got home.

When I arrived and unloaded on Tuesday we began playing a series of four DBA games.  Doug had a Tuareg army he hadn't played with before.  Neither of us had a historical match so I threw out my Later Hebrews.  I may as well have thrown out an ant army.  He crushed me.  I often thought I was getting decent match-ups, trying to stay away from his camels with my chariots and using supported blades or aux to get the pluses.  No such luck.  I generally rolled poorly off and on throughout the time I was there.  Things have a habit of coming around, but I'm on about a three week jag of generally crappy die rolls. Twice the Tuaregs kicked the Hebrews all over the board. The Tuaregs are an all camelry  army, if you can imagine such a thing.  Doug was short a stand of figures so he substituted a cloud of dust for his missing nomads. In the photo he's getting ready to put paid to King Saul. Figures.  I did get my licks in later with a Welsh vs Woodland Indians match up.  First we mucked up the rules and the fact that spears are quick killed by warbands. (That's what happens when I don't engage in Barkerese for a couple of years.)  Anyway we started over and I managed to A) stick all the terrain in the corners, and B) have a much better set of die rolls to give me the win.

Wednesday was huge fun.  We played with Doug's adaptation of the Humberside DBX Rules  to the French and Indian War.  It worked very well.  Odd period to make happen with lots of Indians and irregular troops, but I really enjoyed it--even though I look a little bemused and befuddled in the picture below.

After a round or two of that we were off to navigate the Delta traffic and make our way to Imperial Hobbies.  It's a great shop.  Lots of off the shelf figures to look at.  I picked up a couple packs of GFI WWI figures that will some day go with my Peter Pig figures for Square Bashing.  Yes, it's probably down the road apiece for that project, but I liked the figures anyway.  Francis Munroe is the worthy proprietor of Imperial Hobbies in Richmond, B.C. He's a supporter of Enfilade, and his shop is a rarity these days as he tackles all aspects of gaming-role playing, board gaming, miniatures, keeps complete racks of magazines, nice selection of terrain as well as a great selection of plastic models.  We don't have anything that compares in the Puget Sound area.

After our return to Chez Hamm, Dennis Chin and Andrew Mah came over for a huge Hundred Years War game.  Loosely based on Poitiers, it was an ad hoc opportunity for Doug and I to drag out all our singly mounted figures.  It was one of those games in which the sky darkened with arrows but the French just kept on coming.  Eventually they washed over the English run by Doug and myself, and that was the name of that tune. We used my Arrowstorm rules which probably need more fiddling so that the French always lose ; ) Much fun. Great picture of Crusader miniature of King Jean II (the good) leading on his men-at-arms.  On this night he was John the Very Good.

Next morning we worked some more on the French and Indian War DBX games.  I learned to enjoy them even more.  good stuff.  By two o' clock I was on the road headed south for home.  No border crossing horror shows to tell about, though it seemed that all non-US returning cars were being sent to customs or immigration.

I would be remiss if I didn't thank Doug and his wife Susan for having me up.  It was fun, the dinner conversation was great.  It was a perfectly wonderful way to spend a few summer days.

Pics are all by Doug.