Saturday, August 27, 2011

Terrain proof-of-concept

I did a small 30 cm * 30 cm terrain tile as an excecise for the Port republic table, have a look:

I just quickly took the picture outside without optimization or anything, but I hope you get the idea. The basic structure is cardboard elevation levels glued on top of a wooden base. The cardboard levels were cut and then glued on the base on a hot glue gun. The river was cut into the cardboard afterwards. The whole surface was then covered in two layers of acrylic caulk to hide any cardboard. It gives the surface a nice, soft, rubbery texture, so it won't crack in use.

Then, I glued some sand to select places. You don't need sand in places where you put down flock later on, so there's no need to put sand all over the model. In 6mm, coarse playground sand can be used to represent areas of rocks. After the sand, the whole piece was spraypainted brown. I then heavily drybrushed the brown areas with light brown and then with mustard yellow. Again, the areas which will be completely covered in flock can be ignored.

Now for the flocking. I have some different colors of flock by Woodland scenics and noch. First I glued a "basecoat" of neutral green flock over the piece, leaving some areas with a bit of gorund showing. Then I used a glue spray to attach two other types of flock here and there on top of the base level. This seems to work well with the glue spray. Finally, I glued a piece of that spongy brush stuff here and there to represent undergrowth. The areas of coarse sand were given a khaki and cream white drybrush. The fence is made of plasticard and the "crops" inside the fence are regular static grass on top of this stuff which is a bit like sawdust. The road is just unpainted sand I have glued on the base (without flock underneath).

The water areas are made first by painting a few successively darker brown colors building to almost black where the water is deep. It is then covered with "realistic water" in the lake and "water effects" in the river.

Now, lessons learned:

1: The cardboard levels are otherwise ok, but they are a bit on the thick side. This is most evident with the river, which looks like it is in a very deep groove in the ground.

2: When doing water, first put all "realistic water" and after it has dried, do the water effect areas. You can see a bit of cloudy color in the middle of the lake. That is water effects which was trapped under a layer of realistic water and hasn't become all clear yet. Also, be careful not to make any flock or static grass come into contact with the realistic water, as it will become sucked in and soak your grass. I tried to do an area of reeds or something on the shore and the realistic water just enveloped the static grass immediately.

Ok, I have already cut the base for the port republic table and am tracing the elevation levels to it. I suppose with these techniques it'll turn out just fine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Victory Denied

Me and Timo played a 6 hour game of Multi-Man Publishing's A Victory Denied last night. It's a hex&counter game for the Smolensk area of the eastern front in the early stages of Barbarossa. The Germans have to push through the hasty line of Soviet defenders, Moscow in sight. The Soviets have to stall the German advance the best they can while reinforcements trickle in. It's the classic contest of whether the Germans can exploit their early success in the war or become bogged down.

The Germans have better troop quality, air superiority, better maneuverability and stellar panzers. The Soviets have the benefit of defence and a fast reinforcement speed, but their troops are no good at offence at all. Victory points are awarded from captured/liberated towns and cities for both sides and for each destroyed panzer division for the Soviets. The endgame can vary depending on Hitler's mood: Whether he decides to push for Moscow or get distracted send the German panzer elite to the Kiev encirclement is decided by a die roll. This varies the amount of points awarded and the length of the game.

In our game, the Germans got off to a good start aided by the first turn benefits they get. The very fast, very powerful panzers slammed into the soviets, punching through the line of defence. The soviets scampered to form something resembling a defensive line at the eastern side of the Dnepr river, and succeeded surprisingly well, thanks to the busy Soviet reinforcement schedule (Soviet reinforcements spawn near HQ units instead of having to literally march from the map edges) and lucky rolls of 10, which allow the Soviet player to spawn additional elite units directly into the fight.

It looked like the German player, even though being able to punch through the Soviet defenders with panzers and motorized infantry, was in danger of having said units cut off from the rest of the army because the regular army units were stuck with the defenders at the Dnepr. The Soviet reinforcements started swamping the isolated motorized groups at select places.The Germans proved hard to defeat through, due to the big gap in troop quality. A motorized infantry group could be surrounded by all sides, but still the Soviets found it hard to mount an effective attack against them. The panzers were easier to defeat as their defence value is very low (oddly so.Would a panzer division with an attack value of 10 strength points really be worth just 2 points in defence, historically?).

In the end, it was the isolation of the panzer forces which lost the game for the Germans. Even though the Soviets were really bad at attacking them, failing over and over again, each time a german unit was forced to retreat, it seemed it would have to retreat through enemy ZOC's and to take damage. Also, the Soviet artillery (abstracted to dice rolls once every turn) proved useful, as it doesn't factor in the strength of the target. The one-shot rocket barrage proved exceptional as it wiped out two whole motorized units unable to rout because of being encircled. In the main line of battle, things were going bad for the Soviets but the late arriving 9th Army was not able to capitalize on the success of the panzers. At one point it looked like the motorized forces could threaten Moscow (a single German unit there regardless of the situation and it's game over) but the Soviet reinforcements materialized to block the way at the last minute. The game ended with 66 vs. 20 victory points in favor of the Soviets, 34 of which the Soviets gained from destroyed German motorized forces. Hitler got distracted, ending the game early (luckily, it was already past 11). The Germans never took Smolensk.

This was the first session either of us played with this system, and it was a learning process. The core mechanics of A Victory Denied are really easy to learn for someone who has played some wargames before. Core concepts like Zone of Control, CRT column shifts and chit activations are kept with a minimum of special rules and gameplay mechanics are very fast once you practice them for a couple of turns. No lengthy die roll modifier tables or obscure rule wordings. The HQ activation system rewards careful placement. It is a well done game. The map is really good looking, too, and the counter density is low.

The simple mechanics give the battles a "gamey" feel at some points. A unit surrounded at all sides can break out by simply knocking back one of the defenders and without suffering from all the other units around it, unless it has been declared as isolated earlier in a supply chit phase. Supply itself works funnily as you can trace supply through vast swathes of enemy controlled territory. The German supply trucks can drive to the gates of Moscow if need be, to then trace back to Minsk via the forests and swamps at the extreme edge of the map. All you have to do is trace a route with no enemy ZOC's to the friendly map edge without crossing major rivers without bridges. This made it really had to make units out of supply. These are both sacrifices made to keep the game flowing smoothly so I suppose it's worth it.

Even though the game mechanics are easy to learn, I think it takes a couple of plays to learn how to play it "properly", especially with the Germans. The Soviets recover losses quickly and can spawn forces out of nowhere, making them easy to handle for a beginner, but each mechanized unit lost by the Germans is worth a captured town alone in VP. I think it takes some real strategic cunning for the Germans to be able to use their Blitzkrieg forces fully while still keeping them safe from being surrounded.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Port Republic project

My summer holiday is over, so it's high time to start the next project also. I'm doing a small demo game of fire & fury for a wargames con in Helsinki held mid-September. I looked through some of the smaller ACW engagements which would still be playable using the brigade level F&F rules, and settled on the battle of Port Republic. The battle was part of Jackson's valley campaign in 1862 and features the confederates and union forces clashing on a narrow-ish lane between a swollen river and mountains. The terrain is also quite flat, so I decided to do it as a non-modular board. That is, build some elevation changes out of cardboard, texture and flock the field and so on. The table will be a very manageable 100 cm * 120 cm.

Since I have more than enough figures already painted up, I can concentrate on the terrain and the scenario a bit more. I'll try out the historical OOB and entry times of the forces involved, but I will give myself some licence to play around with the forces and entry times to create an enjoyable and even game for the miniature wargame newbies. Also, It has to be fast to play and to teach so I may be using a limited set of rules for this game, although the small, even battlefield might do this for me automatically.

Anyways, here's some images of the battlefield I've found to base the terrain on, I'm sure you are smart enough to find more infor on the battle itself in the 'net if you want :)

The most interesting map of the battlefield is the Hotchkiss topo map from 1866. It even shows where the fences were so designing a historical map layout isn't a problem. In my demo I'll use the 1"=45yds scale so the 100*120 cm table will give me roughly a 1 mile * 1.2 mile slice of the field.

Measuring some distances between points in Google Earth, I found out that the measure of a mile in the Hotchkiss map is closer to 1.3 miles on a modern map. This means I'll be able to put a bit more of the field on the table than by keeping to the scale in the historical map. This is what I came up with, and it gives a nice basis to work with. I have blown up this picture, printed it out and traced out the terrain features I want on a transparent paper to make the plan for the table.

Here's a google terrain view of the area. As you see, it's quite flat and the terrain rises on the right side of the road. The small streams have disappeared and flattened out for agriculture it seems, so I have to take that into account.

And finally, here is the satellite view of the area today. Just to give me an idea of what the colors might look like, how to divide the fields etc, even though the palette and layout will have changed in 150 years :)

Also, I'll see if I have time to photograph my ACW collection in "parade order" this weekend. I might have some resources from the Bull Run game to share too.