torstai 24. marraskuuta 2016

Over the Hills playtest

I haven't been completely happy with how Black Powder plays out especially in larger battles with the frontlines defaulting to a static grind for turns on end and little national differences in units. With that in mind I've been eyeing new rulesets whenever they have come out. Over the Hills is a new set from Adrian McWalter and Quinton Dalton that seems to have created quite a stir around the blogosphere with plenty of praise from all sides. The fact that it had a larger emphasis on morale and quicker playing style with a mixed activation order instead of the traditional I go, you go style seemed like it could be exactly the thing I was looking for.

With the ruleset arriving in my mail box a few weeks back we scheduled a test game for last weekend. To keep things simple we went for a bit smaller engagement with few different unit types. Teugen-Hausen from the 1809 campaign between Austria and France seemed a suitable setting with roughly a Corps on both sides facing each other and only about an enlarged Division taking part in the fight on both sides. I created an OOB adding a bit of variety on the commanders especially on the Austrian side where they seemed to exhibit surprising amounts of courage leading their troops from the front in successive counter-attacks trying to drive the French back. So bonuses to inspiration values were definitely in place for a few select commanders.

I won't cover the game itself in too much detail, but rather focus on the rules. Suffice to say the battle went rather like the historical battle with units arriving piecemeal on the battlefield and committing themselves when ready. The battle slowly escalated with a division on both sides in combat and the small Austrian hussar regiment proving to be a nuisance to the French threatening their flanks as in the real deal. The battle ground down to a halt with no clear winner and both sides suffering similar casualties. The French hadn't pushed through, but neither had the Austrians been able to push them back. Indecisive, but a small Austrian victory.

The rules themselves proved fast playing and easy to learn. I was the only one who had read the rules beforehand and acted as the Umpire with two clubmates assuming command of the opposing forces. With the mixed activation order things came a little at a time at first and also everyone was constantly occupied with things to do. The turn system also eliminated one of the things that annoys me about Black Powder, which is units moving at breakneck speed getting three turns and then unloading on the enemy at close distance which just seemed silly.

Morale and casualties are put into a single value of Fatigue that varies by unit depending on the morale and training levels. I was at first slightly hesitant with the system which seemed overly simplified, but during the game I grew to like it as it kept the game flowing fast and gave real choices to commanders about whether to burn Fatigue to move faster towards the battle or conserve it to have better staying power. The system does require a bit of book keeping with every single point of fatigue taken will be removed from the units total even if it's later rallied on the gaming table. Track needs to be kept of the overall amount of fatigue hits taken as well as the current fatigue of the unit on the table, which can be different if officers rally the unit. So effectively a regular unit will be destroyed after taking 7 fatigue hits even if it's rallied to remove some of them on the table. It gives a nice effect of officers sorting lines out and inspiring their men forward, but at some point the unit has taken too many casualties and will just retreat from the area despite the efforts of their commanders.

We played with both Brigade and Divisional morale in use requiring the whole formation to start retreating after suffering more than 50% Fatigue hits from it's total. The system really requires efficient uses of reserves as units can rarely stay in the fight for multiple consecutive turns. We did find that having divisions with brigades of different sizes could lead to basically the whole division breaking quite fast after a large brigades morale broke down. We had one occasion where a smaller brigade with nearly no damage taken was only a few fatigue hits from breaking off as well when a large brigade in the same division broke down after leading the attack. This is easily remedied though with a slightly different distribution of units. Another way would be to just track Brigade morale and not Divisional morale on top of that as well.

Another thing that I liked was that fighting was quick and fairly decisive. When one side moves into close combat a maximum of three rounds are immediately fought and if one unit is not victorious then both sides retreat. This really kept things rolling with the frontlines not bogging down and more often than not units quickly retreating from an assault. In Black powder you can easily have fights going on for turn after turn with no clear result in sight. What Over the Hills offers is much closer to first hand accounts I've read in wartime diaries etc. that usually saw a short exchange of fire with one side assaulting with bayonets and the other retreating without any combat having necessarily been fought. Units also tend to take quite a few Fatigue hits in every combat so you rarely see a unit fighting more than two combats before it is fully spent.

National variety comes from national characteristics, use of 'French' or 'Linear' combat systems and differences in unit's Fatigue and Skirmish values. I felt they gave a nice and simple way to differentiate the varying forces fighting around the period. In the end of the book there's a selection of unit characteristics for all the different periods of fighting during the Napoleonic wars, which proved very handy when putting together the scenario.

One thing that I did find a bit lacking was the movement speed of units. With the muskets maximum firing range of 12" being roughly 200 meters in real life terms, infantry normally moves 6" in line formation without gaining fatigue and 12" when taking a fatigue point. Likewise at maximum movement rate in marching column they would move 18" or 24" while taking a Fatigue hits. That yields to infantry moving between 100 and 400 meters in a turn which at times seems a little slow at times. As we are playing with 15mm miniatures we changed inches to centimeters which saw units moving at a snails pace over the battlefield. Of course the scope of the turn in Over the Hills is a much shorter period than in other systems so more turns would be needed overall, but movement still felt a bit sluggish. This is probably more of a matter of taste as we tend to play large battles on bigger tables and being used to the longer movements in Black Powder I think our table was maybe a bit too spread out for these rules.

The biggest issue with the rules is editing. With all rules being set inside explanatory text you really have to read carefully to pick things out. Something to bring out the main points like using bolded text or italics would really have helped. The book does have bit of a garage project vibe as well and does look a bit like it was done on Microsoft Word. However when you get the hang of the rules they are really straight forward and can be taught to others easily just by playing. Professional editing would really have benefited the rules. Still can't complain too much, they weren't too expensive and you can't expect too much from wargames rules with smallish print quantities.

Overall I really liked the rules. They fix everything that I didn't like about Black Powder while still keeping the game simple and actually making it flow even faster the BP. With my interest in warfare being quite heavily on the psychological side of fighting the fact that the rules put more emphasis on the morale side of fighting with the Fatigue score I really liked how things played out. My clubmates were also pretty thrilled with the rules and it would seem we will switch to these for our next Napoleonic campaign starting sometime early next year.

That's quite a wall of text, but I definitely recommend giving these rules a try. They are very fast paced, but still provide a good period feel and are easy to learn. Some book keeping is required but nothing too much for roughly a Corps sized game. It would be interesting to see how it works when you play some larger battle like Waterloo. Keeping track of things could prove harder then.

lauantai 12. marraskuuta 2016

Starting with Dropfleet Commander

The wait is finally starting to be over with Dropfleet! With a wildly successful Kickstarter roughly a year ago Hawk launched their new game in the Dropzone universe. With over 600 thousand pounds pledged and multiple new designs added as stretch goals I wasn't too surprised when they didn't make the original June/July goal. And with deliveries starting in October it was still quite well on time by Kickstarter standards. (I'm still waiting for nearly all of my Winter War Kickstarter minis from 2013...)

I actually haven't gotten my pledge yet, and none have been hitting Finland as far as I know. But I couldn't resist when I saw some starter fleets on sale in hobby stores in the UK. Coupled with free shipping offers it didn't take long for me to order two boxes to get started with PHR. When filling the pledge manager I had planned to do UCM and PHR fleets and start with UCM and only taking one PHR fleet. But with time passing and seeing plenty of painted PHR fleets around the web I decided that I want to make that my main fleet. With one starter box not being enough for a full game I ordered two more which should give me a good start and after the pledge arrives with the final third box and freebies I should have enough for larger 2000 point games as well.

The first thing that struck me when I got the boxes was how big the ships were. I'd seen them live at Salute, but in a display cabinet without anything to compare the sizes to I just hadn't realized that these things are huge. The heavier cruisers coming at around 13 centimeters long and even the small frigates being double the size of your regular Space Marine. They did take quite a while to put together, but after a few evenings and today morning I'm now a happy owner of a sizable fleet.

Alongside building them I've used a couple of ships as test beds for paint schemes. I'd originally planned to do them with a digital camo or hex camo scheme, but after some tests I'm not that sure anymore. The ships have large nice flat surfaces and I'm really starting to think that maybe just a flat shade with some slight modulation towards the ends of the ship is the way to go. I'm starting to settle on a blue shade, but still not completely sold on it. It's probably going to need one or more tests still to settle on something that I'm happy with, but I think I'm getting pretty close.

On another note Blood Bowl seems to be on preorder! It seems like Christmas is coming early with Dropfleet coming in and now Blood Bowl. It's bit of a shame that they are not selling the rulebook and orc teams separately as I'm not that interested in the human team as it's a bit dull in my opinion. I'm trying to resist the urge to buy the starter box and wait for a separate rulebook and then just buy the Skaven and Orc team separately when they come out, but I'm fearing that I might budge with promo images popping up around my Facebook and blogger feeds.

torstai 10. marraskuuta 2016

Dear Santa

Another year with another Christmas. And with Christmas it's time for the funny bearded man to come again courtesy of Ian of The Blog With No Name fame and his wife Catherine. Secret Santa is at it again with everyone having been given their target and instructions to come up with ideas for them to help with picking gifts.

With Dropfleet Commander coming out I've got tons of stuff coming from their Kickstarter, but more ships never hurt anyone and I'm definitely thankful for any UCM or PHR ships.

Flames of War is always high on my list and there's always room for one more tank or another platoon of infantry. Bigger German Cats can always find a good home at my house. My King Tigers and Jagdtigers can always have more friends to keep them company.

I can always use more fantasy monsters. The only things I'm really more or less fully stocked with for games are skeletons, zombies and small crawly critters. Trolls, ogres, goblins and what not can always find their way onto the table.

And even though my Saxon project has slightly been on hold now I'm starting to kick it off again with the start of our campaign looming ahead early next year. I've been using AB Saxons and I'm still missing a lot of Grenadiers and Light Infantry. Line Infantry is more or less all either painted or already bought as is cavalry.

Finally I've been meaning to get in some games of Konflikt '47 so any Weird War British or German troops or some suitable occult paraphernalia will definitely come in handy

lauantai 5. marraskuuta 2016

Detroit's Finest are ready

Back home from a short retraining. It was nice to have a break from the normal everyday routine by training in new tasks even if it was quite exhausting with multiple sleepless nights and all the action. It's also been quite a few years since I last wore an uniform so it was fun to be back attempting to be soldierly for a moment again.

10 years, quite a few kilos and another rose on my chest hasn't exactly changed my look into a more soldierly one. Funny enough these pictures are actually taken nearly exactly ten years apart and within 10 meters of each other.

With me back home it was time to finalize the tank company that I'd been working on. A quick coat of gloss varnish followed by matte varnish to reduce the glare was all that was needed to get these bad boys ready for gaming. 12 tanks altogether with two platoons of 4 tanks and a further 4 to provide different HQ options. Being a cheesy competitive gamer in Flames of War I've put together platoons of 2 E8's, a Jumbo and a basic M4A1. Depending on points my HQ will be an E8 and a Jumbo, with a M4A3 in the 75 and 76mm variants and a 105mm M4 available as well. The plastic M4A1's are from Plastic Soldier Company while everything else is from Battlefront. In the future I might paint up some Battlefront A1's as well, because the PSC ones are quite a bit smaller and definitely stand out from the rest. But alas that's what I had available so I went with them. To distinguish the platoons from each other one is laden with equipment with the other one running with empty decks. I prefer vehicles looking worn and filled with equipment, but to make gaming easier you have to make sacrifices.

I've painted quite a few US vehicles in the last few years and the process really does go forward quite routinely now. A base coat of Brown Violet has colour modulation added with dark yellow to enhance the edges. Decals and chipping with a sponge is followed by Ammo of Mig washes to create streaking and shade the vehicles, before a liberal application of mud effects. I've been thinking about going with a more pronounced colour modulation effect on them as after the washes most of it disappears. But as I have tens of vehicles in this scheme already I think a different painting style would stand out too much from the crowd.

As I said in the previous post I tried some new mud effects from Mig. I'm still not completely sold on them as they are more of a wash consistency and don't really have much of a "body" to them. I've read that they could be used with some fine sand or chalk mixed into them to give an illusion of clumps of mud, but with nothing suitable at hand I'll have to try that as a later time. I tried blowing small droplets from a brush by blasting it with air from the airbrush and applying it by hand with a brush and a sponge. Using an airbrush as assistance is the recommended way, but I found it too tricky for such a small scale. The instructional videos are for 1:35 scale AFV models so it probably works there much better. Sponge and brush seemed the way to go on these, but I did apply them too thick on a few tanks with almost a solid paint like look on them. Still from a distance they look good so I'm not going to attempt to remedy that.

With these out of the way it's 40k time while I wait for my Dropfleet Commander Kickstarter pledge to arrive. I'm really starting to find my painting mojo again as these tanks were actually really fun to paint. US tanks are quite simple to paint so things advanced swiftly with only the decaling stage being a bit dreary with over 100 decals applied altogether.

And finally a couple of pics from the barracks. Welcoming you inside there's a duo of T-34's that Finland used quite extensively in WW2 against their former owners. And quite a nice looking little AA vehicle from Sweden (Lufvärnskanonvagn L-62) with the older insignia that has nowadays been abandoned for quite obvious reasons due to it being very similar to the swastika.