Friday, 13 January 2017

Tabletop game report - 'Pegasus Bridge'

Last night, I attended a session of the Scarborough Game Society and was lucky enough to be invited to join an amazing 'Bolt Action' skirmish based on the events which took place at Pegasus Bridge in 1944.

"...a major objective of the British airborne troops during Operation Deadstick, part of Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 during the Second World War. A unit of Glider infantry of the 2nd Battalion, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major John Howard, was to land, take the bridges intact and hold them until relieved. The successful taking of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the days and weeks following the Normandy invasion." Source: Wikipedia
I was assigned to the British side and together with my team-mate, we were to assault the bridge defences and try and take control of the bridge itself. However, before that could begin, there was the little matter of landing our gliders and deploying our units from them...

This we managed to accomplish, and with the German defenders taken completely by surprise I tried to rush the Paras into action as soon as possible to take advantage of the enemy's confusion (to simulate surprise the German side starts the game with all it's units 'pinned').

The 'Germans' (boo-hiss) - Chris & Dave - organise their initial deployment.

The Plan: My plan, such as it was, was to try and rush an enemy anti-tank emplacement on my side of the canal, adjacent to the bridge itself. I would use this as a defensive jumping-off point from which I could assault the bridge itself AND also - by capturing the AT gun - defend against any armoured reinforcements trying to get over the bridge.

The German A-T gun emplacement, my first goal in taking the bridge.

However, what is it they say about plans not surviving first contact with the enemy? Right away, things started going wrong for the Paras. There were two problems, first of which was that the approach to the bridge was a narrow bottleneck of a road (with barbed wire on either side) and also, the game's Action Dice were not in our favour!

To begin with, the enemy team's luck was annoyingly good...Very good. They picked out their Action Dice from the bag repeatedly and consistently for the first half of the turn. The Paras didn't even get more than three units out of the gliders before the Germans started throwing fire our way...

CHARGE! Perhaps, not the most thought-through plan!
While trying to deploy the Paras as quick as possible I started to take some
withering fire from the German defenders! I was in trouble already!

Not only did the Germans have the dice god smiling on them, but their positions were quite formidable. The bridge on our side featured the A-T pit, the bridge-house with an MG mounted on the roof, a section of troops and an MG armed jeep guarding the bridge and a blockhouse with a section of infantry in it...

My plan looked to be in tatters - as I just could not seem to deploy from the gliders quick enough - I took the suggestion of my more experienced teammate and started to move the rest of my units into nearby cover. At best, all I could seem to do was keep the Germans ducking for cover.

To paraphrase (excuse the pun) a later historic action, it was starting to look
like this was a bridge too far for our Paras.

Things were starting to look very glum as we ended the first turn, not helped by some dreadful dice rolls on my part (my poor partner remained stoic, but inside must have been spitting feathers at my lack-luster '2s' and '3s' when I needed a good hit. BUT THEN...

Finally, a bit of good fortune. I managed to move my PIAT A-T team into a close enough position to take a shot at the German's MG brandishing Kubelwagen jeep, which was blocking our advance up the main road to the bridge...

He shoots...
He scores! KA-BAM! Scratch one Kubelwagen.

This was swiftly followed by some good artillery support for The Paras, which helped to thin out some of the German infantry guarding the bridge.

Halfway through the game, and things are starting to look a little less of a disaster (thank goodness, I was dreading my maiden game would be a rout) and with LOTS of advice from my teammate, I tried again to move our infantry forward down the approach road...Under a hail of bullets.

The little white cross markers are a testament to the British losses as we doggedly
pushed our way down the main road. Ominously, an armoured Hanomag
Sd.Kfz. 251 appeared on the bridge.

Still pursuing my erstwhile idea of taking the German A-T emplacement (on the bridge's left), we made use of our flamethrower and incinerated the infantry which was keeping us back on that side of the table. Their grisly work done, the Para's flame-team went down to heavy MG fire from the bridge house roof (on the right)...But their sacrifice had given us some hope.

The lead Paras now started to storm forward, lead by the redoubtable Major Howard - this despite the fact that our supporting fire remained pathetically impotent because of my poor dice rolls - and it looked like we might just make it to our goal...BUT THEN...

The Germans - spotting our slight advantage - emptied their block house of its troops and made a mad-dash charge against the Para's spearhead unit...

Brutal close-quarters combat ensued and for a moment things hung in the balance. But this piece of desperation on the part of the Germans was doomed to fail, as the elite Paras finally overwhelmed the German conscripts (but not without suffering heavy losses).

The writing was on the wall now, but not without some controversy as a debate broke out on the interpretation of the rules governing the effectiveness of the German's armoured Hanomag Sd.Kfz. 251, which still could have caused the Para's advance to falter. At this point, as a complete novice, I had to leave the more experienced players to flog out the meaning of the Bolt Action rules, but the upshot of it was that the armoured vehicle had to retreat back off the bridge...This was a crucial event.

The Para's MG support started to take effect on the bridge house defenders.
With the half-track reversing, post-haste, back along the bridge, there was little to stop the Paras from reaching the bridge itself - the winning condition of the game - and it was Major Howard himself that led the charge forward...

The defenders killed or routed, the Paras sprint forward...
Leading by example, Major Howard takes the bridge!

Victory to the British and debrief:
I hope you enjoyed this recount of the battle for Pegasus Bridge as much as I enjoyed participating in it. Although, I have to say my actual effectiveness is debatable, and I really have to thank my partner, Craig, for putting up with my simplistic novice tactics and my horrendous dice-throwing! To be honest, it was Craig's gentle advice in the later game (when it perhaps became obvious that I was leading us to disaster) that turned our fortunes.

The end of Turn One and I have to wonder whether Craig is thinking that his
teammate is a complete mad man...Charge the bridge? What an idiot! :)

That said, it was a brilliant night and a marvellous initiation to a complex set-piece Bolt Action senario. And I have to thank the members of the Scarborough Games Society for being so patient with a complete 'noob' like myself.

In the end, the game took us over five turns to complete (roughly four hours of playing). But, it speaks volumes that, for me at least, the time flew. Actually, the game needn't have ended there as a second phase could have been fought as the Germans brought in reinforcements to counter-attack and it would have been nice to have seen if Major Howard could have held on to his prize from his perch on the gantry of the bridge!

One of the good natured 'enemy', early in the game. You
can tell that as he's still smiling! LOL

I'd like to thank our very sporting 'enemy', as they had to put up with my very ponderous decision-making process and I suspect went a little easy on me as this was my first game with them. I am very sure, however, that they will be seeking revenge and next time will not be so flexible in their gaming.

And, finally, much kudos and appreciation goes to Craig, whose miniatures and gaming pieces - including the amazing Pegasus Bridge model - we were using on the night. I hope my involvement was too frustrating!

The Scarborough Games Society meeting each Monday and Thursday at the Rosco Rooms, Scarborough from 6 to 9(ish)pm - though we were still playing well after that! And you should note that they play all sorts of board and tabletop games, not just war games.

You can contact them or check out what sort of things that they do play over on their Facebook page:
Scarborough Games Society @scarboroughgames

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New gaming keyboard for 2017

Yep, bust another keyboard! Not another rage casualty - LOL - but a simple failure of components. Some of the backlit keys on my old keyboard just gave up the ghost, which was a bit annoying as I like to play games with the light out so I depend on the illuminated keys.

Anyway, had a good search around and managed to find a reasonably priced keyboard (for a mechanical gaming board that is). Some of the gaming keyboards are getting stupidly expensive these days, the board of choice for my friends is the Corsair STRAFE Mechanical Gaming Keyboard which comes in about £97.

By contrast, I picked up the Koolertron Compact RGB Mechanical Keyboard for just £47.99.

The keyboard comes with a complimentary mouse pad and set of alternative high-viz keys for you WASD, Escape and arrow keys (plus a neat little tool for removing keys)...

As I said, I like to play in low light, so the actual usefulness of high-viz keys is somewhat negated. But, they are quite attractive so I installed them anyway.

What is very useful, and central to my purchase of this particular keyboard is the RGB backlighting features of the Koolertron. You have the choice 10 different kinds of LED effects and colours, great for me as I can coordinate the colour of my keyboard with that of my Raser Orb Weaver Game Controller (green)...

The other main feature of this board is its mechanical keys and, in this case, the keys are Blue Mechanical Keys. These are very 'clicky', far more so that Cherry Red or Brown mechanical keys. They may not be to everyone's' taste are they are quite loud and the current gaming trend seems to be moving towards 'silent' mechanical keys, for Lan party events (where a lot of noisy clicky keyboards might be distracting)...

Finally, this is a compact keyboard. It foregoes the numerical keypad making it ideal if - like me - you are hard pressed for desk space. As I use the Orb Weaver as my primary key controller, I do not need a full sized keyboard as I only occasionally need access to a full QWERTY set (for surfing the web, etc).

I far prefer the reduced amount of space between my Orb Weaver (and my left hand) and my mouse (in my right hand). However, when I have to use the keyboard I find the blue mechanical keys very pleasant to use.

Altogether, I am very pleased with this purchase, it complements my gaming controller set-up very well. The backlighting, in particular, is exceptionally well done - not too bright - and allows me quick access to any extra keys or the function keys should I need them. I highly recommend this keyboard.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

World of Tanks - ISU or SU TD?

World of Tanks has - like it or not - become an entrenched 'go to' game for the BIG clan. Quite simply, as we have observed many times, it's a game you can still play (to some degree) while drinking alcohol!

To be honest, BIG Clan will never be a serious WoT competition team, we like our food, drink and arsing about too much to take the game all that seriously. We just like the fact that we can get together online and shoot stuff without having to think too much about it.

So, here I am still playing this darn game...

The one thing that keeps me interested in this game is my obsession with WW2 Soviet Tank Destroyers. I just love them, they suit my play style and I love it when I one-shot or ammo-rack an opponent and see his hit-points dwindle to nothing in the blink of an eye. I'm evil like that!

For the Festive season, has dropped the price of several of the tanks or announced a virtual 'advent calendar' of special offers on certain tank types. So I have picked up a couple of premium TDs at bargain prices (I like to tell myself)...

The SU 122 44 versus the ISU 122S
I bought two Tier VII Soviet tank destroyers, which might seem over the top but these two TDs play in very different ways. The SU 122 44 is a bit of a derp gun on a T54 chassis, so its fast(ish) and allows you to hit and run. While the ISU 122S has good armour and a gun with a high rate of fire so you can hedge-camp and pick off oncoming enemy with a flurry of hot lead!

I've had my eye on the SU 122 44 for some time as I fancied trying out a bit more of a mobile way of playing tank destroyers. My teammates have the German E25 - which is a very nippy little TD - and I like the look of the way they scooted about the battlefield, snapping off a couple of shots here and there and harassing the enemy. The SU isn't as fast as the E25, but it's faster then my usual lumps of iron.

The downside - there always is one - is that the SU's armour is a wee bit on the tinfoil side. It's not so bad on the front and I have regularly bounced incoming shots, but if your enemy catch you side-on your a wee bit screwed! Short story, use the mobility and don't let them catch you!

The ISU, on the other hand, is more of your traditional long-range sniper. It has comparatively good armour, but loses mobility as a consequence. The highlight of this beast it the high rate of fire from its gun, which spits out 122mm shells every 7.10 seconds...Nice.

This is great, particularly in the situation where you track a vehicle - literally stopping it dead in its tracks - because you can reload quick enough to take full advantage of the stationary enemy. And even if he repairs quickly, you'll still have impeded his progress to cover and so will still get in a cheeky follow-up shot (or two if you are lucky)...

Which is best?
It's fun to compare two totally different styles of tank destroyer, you really have to play these tanks in very different ways. Trying to play the SU 122 44 like a traditional TD will almost certainly end in tears, as it neither has the long-range accuracy or survivability to simply sit in one place and slog it out.

But, hit and run tactics don't really suit my temperament and the random nature of the accuracy of the SU's gun is hugely frustrating at times. Annoyingly, I have managed the occasional lucky long-range snapshot (much to my surprise), but then - bizarrely - I have completely missed (or had shots bounce) on point-blank targets!

The ISU is much more my type of tank destroyer, with the added bonus of the nice rate of fire. And if I had to choose between the two I'd have to go with the ISU 122S.

Added bonus of Premium Tanks
The added advantage of buying Premium tanks for your garage is that they come with a special XP/crew training bonus. A Premium tank will add an extra 50% more crew experience per battle and it allows you to Accelerate crew training. Additionally, you can transfer crew between vehicles of the same type and nation without penalty or retraining.

My Soviet Tank Destroyer collection. Three Premium TDs which support the
training of my two Elite TD crews (the 704 and 268).
This is all excellent stuff if you want to fast-track your crew training. So, for example, I now have three Premium Soviet Tank Destroyers and what I do each game session is that I transfer my Object 704's crew into each of these TDs for the first x2 (or whatever it is) game. By doing this, the 704 crew get the benefit of all that extra crew experience and accelerated training four times!

My Object 704 (Soviet TD) crew. I've used my additional Premium Soviet TDs
to fast-track their training and have nearly completed their final skill perk.
The Elite status of your Premium tank also earns you additional credits per battle and allows you to convert Combat Experience earned to Free Experience. This is a nice little credit earner, which can help fund improvements or your supply of Gold ammo (which can be bought with Silver credits).

This last part is something that players - particularly those that suffer at the hands of your 'Gold ammo' - completely overlook (probably deliberately). As these people still insist on calling you a 'Gold noob' as if you have paid to win, when all you have really done is bought Gold ammo with Silver credits that you have earned by killing tanks. It's the gift that keeps on giving! (I never pay real money (Gold credits) for Gold ammo...It's all 'bought' with Silver.)

....Postscript: The SU-122-44 can't snipe...
While not the best game I've ever played, it does illustrate that the SU can pull off a traditional TD play style if it has too. In this game, I managed to fire off a few nice long range shots (and actually hit a few things)...

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Sniper Elite 4 off to a bad start

I was very surprised when I found that I thoroughly enjoyed playing Sniper Elite 3 on the PC. Being a First Person Shooter fan I had always perceived Third Person games as something of an inferior graphical compromise for console players. But, despite my scepticism, I found this format a completely delightful and perfectly suited to the sneaky stealth theme of the game.

Anyway, I was looking forward to the next irritation of the franchise so when the first 'teaser' trailer was released I eagerly settled down to watch it....

However, what would a game teaser be without some sort of controversy? Bearly 25 seconds into the trailer I had to hit the pause button as I couldn't believe my eyes...

In case you can't spot the glaring error, here's a not so subtle clue - look at the German flag. Yes, some pathetic PC marketing numb skull has substituted the Nazi flag for a modern German flag!

Now, there are good reasons not to display the Nazi flag, the principal reason being why should we perpetuate its mystique. But, more practically, also the use of the Nazi flag is actually forbidden in some countries, so it's quite normal to replace its use with an alternative symbol (scale modellers will be very familiar with this issue).

However, what Rebellion Games have opted to do in this case - instead of replacing the swastika with an 'iron cross', which is the usual tactic - is to replace the hated Nazi flag with one that is clearly (despite being in monochrome) the modern German flag, or Bundes tricolour.

The flag of modern - post-Nazi - Germany, since 1949
To me, this is not only historically incorrect but deeply offensive to modern Germans who have worked so hard - for several generations now - to separate their national identity from that of the Nazi ideology. The use of the modern German flag is not only deeply insulting but shows a breathtaking level of ignorance and sensitivity on the game developers part.

This has really spoilt my enthusiasm for the game, and I really hope Rebellion make some sort apology as it's the least they could do. While America and Europe seems intent on moving back to far-right politics there are people - like my father's generation and mine - who still abhor the Nazis and think that there is no justification whatsoever to glorify them or otherwise excuse ideas that are blatantly Neo-Nazi in sentiment.

The pre-WW2 German Marine Jack (Kriegsschiffgösch). While
not historically accurate is an often used acceptable alternative
representation of a German military flag to the hated swastika.
As far as I am concerned Germany is forgiven for its past, and while we mustn't forget we must also recognise how humiliating it is for the German people to be so closely equated to their wartime regime, as if the two were completely indistinct.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Back, with an old moan!

It's been a long time since I posted here, this was due to a long illness and slow recovery. But I'm getting back to my old self again and have a backlog of news and items to get through. But I thought I would restart with a bit of an old moan...

The OV-10 Bronco light attack aircraft of the US Army.
'Low-tech' air support for counter-insurgency
Yes, this is a bit of a bug-bear with me, that the Royal Air Force (and US Air Force for that matter) has consistently ignored the potential of turbo-prop driven ground-support aircraft for asymmetrical warfare. It's another one of those military 'lessons learned' that has been forgotten again, as during the Vietnam War the US rediscovered the advantages of turbo-prop attack aircraft like the OV-10 Bronco.

Today's airforces much prefer hugely expensive, high-tech fast jets for the role of ground attack, even though it was pretty obvious in the case of Afghanistan that this approach was like using a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut. But it's not just a question of expense, slower turboprop aircraft have a real advantage as steady weapon platforms and also have good endurance for long loitering times.

Now, I won't dwell on the lengthy pros and cons and why I think it is that NATO air forces consistently ignore the validity of light attack aircraft - this is all very well documented elsewhere. Rather, the essence of this rant is the hypocrisy of the air force chiefs who have dismissed the idea that 'slow movers' have a place in a modern air force...

Just this week I discovered a wonderful YouTube video showing the first additions to the fledgling Afghani Air Force...

Now, what annoys me about this is that the new Afghan Air Force is a product of US military foreign policy in combination with US Air Force advice and training. So, to cut to the chase - while the US and UK air forces deemed turboprop attack aircraft - like the A-29 Super Tucano - inappropriate during their stint at running air support in Afghanistan the US Defence Department now sees this type completely adequate now that the Afghan's are responsible for their own defense!

A contemporary of the A-26 Super Tucano is the Swiss-made Pilatus PC-9.
Like the Tucano, it's primarily an advanced trainer but has been designed to
fulfil the role of light attack. It can be armed with a variety of weapons 'pods'.
Picture source: Wikipedia

I hope to monitor the performance of the A-26 and read some of the actual mission reports as it comes into actual service with the Afghans. Hopefully, I can bring you more videos of this wonderful aircraft in action.

Postscript: I use the term 'low-tech' to describe this sort of aircraft, but - of course - I use this as a relative term when comparing them to, say, a Eurofighter Typhoon or an F-35. The A-26 is actually a pretty high-tech piece of kit as far as it's systems go and is far more effective than something like a WWII Hawker Typhoon or Republic Thunderbolt in its accurate delivery of munitions. 

Below: Here's another example of a 'low-tech' turboprop attack aircraft in action, this time with the Slovenian Air Force. This time it's the Pilatus PC-9 (a commercial competitor to the A-26, made in Switzerland). Just listen to those gun pods rattle!

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Division - My role

My role in the game is primarily dictated by my preference to play as part of my friends' team.  To be honest, I'm not a role/loadout nerd so concentrate on getting my team role and it's loadout organised and just run with that when I'm doing solo. Basically, I'm a bit lazy.

Broadly speaking, I am a marksman. I like playing a support role in my team, giving covering fire from the back and overwatching my fellows then jumping in close when they need some medi help. For close-up occasions I am currently running the AUG Para SMG, for close protection or when I am in danger of being over-run.

Support  Marksman
Unlike a sniper, I like the ability to be closer to my teammates (literally, just behind their backs) and I have picked an accurized assault rifle so I can 'mix it' when needs be. My teammates are quite aggressive players, so this means I can't afford to get too detached from the group and have to be ready to jump in if I have to medi or revive.

For this reason, I have settled on the High-End Tenebrae - which, in reality, is just a fancy SCAR 'H' - which I crafted from blueprints that are available from the vendor back at the Post Office base. The Tenebrae suits my preference for the FAL type rifle, as the SCAR 'H' (H is for 'Heavy') is the spiritual offspring of FN's FAL (The SCAR rifle also being manufactured by FN). In the real world both the FN FAL and the FN SCAR H are chambered for the 7.62 x 51mm NATO round.

My Tenabrae Set-Up
Being a marksman rifle I think stability, accuracy and damage are pretty important, but being able to critical hit is also a very potent facet of a set-up for this type of rifle. So my gun mode collection is currently as thus...

Scope - CQBSS scope (8x), Headshot Damage: 19.50% ~ Accuracy: 21%
- The CQBSS scope is - in my opinion - a great hybrid marksman scope. Some try to stick a high-zoom telescopic sight on their marksman rifle (indeed, the Tenebrae comes with a 12x zoom scope by default) but as I work closer in I like a lower zoom and a more open reticle.

Magazine - High Velocity: 7.59% Critical Hit ~ Magazine Size: 87%
- By default, the Tenabrae comes with a 20 round mag and if you use the rifle as I do, as a part-time assault rifle, you will soon find this very limiting. Getting your mag size up should be a priority, with critical hit as another high priority.

Vertical Grip - Initial Bullet Stability: 37.50% ~ Accuracy: 20%
- Stability in a high-recoil rifle like the SCAR H is important, without it your gun will be jumping all over the place as you maintain a steady follow-up shot stream. A bit of accuracy never goes amiss either, so keep crafting your favoured grip for better stats!

Compensator - Horizontal Stability: 36% ~ Stability: 36%
- Stability again! I haven't bothered with a suppressor (however cool it looks on a marksman rifle). This gun is loud and proud!

So, as you see I have concentrated on stability to offset the recoil of this heavy gun, plus some damage/critical and finally, I have added a bit of an extended magazine (this really makes a difference if you want to use your marksman rifle as a semi-assault rifle as the basic mag only holds 20 rounds).

But, I am constantly trying to refine these mods by re-crafting to see if I can improve the stats on them. For example, I am re-rolling my magazine frequently to try and up the size of teh mag closer to 100% and also to see if I can get the critical hit up.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Division - Done!

Well, not really done but, rather, I have completed the basic 'story mode' element of the game. This is the solo and co-op AI-adversarial part of the gameplay and lead you through a plot which uncovers the who and why of the bio-terrorist attack that is at the heart of this game.

All investigations into the plot of The Division are completed. I found 100% of
all the clues which build up who was responsible and why the bio-attack on
New York happened. You don't have to do this, you can progress without doing
absolutely every part of this 'paper chase'.
Simply put (no spoilers here), the story mode is a sort of training event which leads you to what Ubisoft was perhaps hoping would be the icing on the cake of their blockbusting game - your Dark Zone incursion! The initial part of The Division has you - aside from investigating and revealing the plot - upgrading your weapons and abilities and honing your skills to a point where you can confidently cope with the challenges of the game's PvP arena.

I chose to do every element of the investigative paper-chase in the game - which had me scouring Ubisoft's virtual New York for 'clues' - but this game of 'hide and seek' is optional. My BIG clan friends chose to skip this, only completing a proportion of the story-driven tasks as a bi-product of completing the main and sub missions. I am, however, a bit anal about such things!

My player character as he was when I completed the story mode of the game.
To me, Ubisoft did not make the completion of the investigative part of the game as integral to game progression as it perhaps should have been. The fact that you can 'skip past' the whole plot-line if you want detracts from its relevancy and questions why you have a plot at all if it has no bearing on your progression to the finale. But, apparently, some players don't like stories and just want to shoot!

Anyway, by the time you reach level 30 you should be a fairly adept user of the game's mechanics and ready to face other players directly in the gladiatorial area of The Dark Zone. The flaw in this is that this zone is inhabited by some very (very) high-level players (who have no lives) and you will have your butt handed to you when you encounter them...A bit of a flaw i Ubisoft's plan!

Role on the DLC is what I (and many others) are saying.