Friday, 17 March 2017

Goodbye BIG clan!

A bit of a sad day today. BIG clan - that little group of computer gaming friends of mine - formally disbanded!

After several years of anarchic, drunken dumasery, the consensus among the group was that we wanted to do something 'a bit more serious'! And so we looked around to find a bigger gaming clan so we could get some competition matches going in World of Tanks.

Well, we found a clan, H5VOC...I'm meeting them online tonight for my first session (other members of BIG having already joined)...

While - for me at least - this is a little bittersweet, as I have enjoyed our 'we just don't try' (amid raucous drunken laughter), attitude I have to admit that it will be nice to have a bigger pool of players available so there's always someone to team up with (one of the downsides of our tiny clan was that - as we all have different jobs and activities - there wasn't always someone around when you wanted to play).

Still, I will miss the old 'just fecking about' days. Goodbye 'BIG'...

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tabletop Game Report #3 - A Trench Too Far

After last week's session as a spectator, I was very excited to be offered a playing part in these week's Scarborough Games Society Bolt Action game. My host - Craig - really pulled out all the stops with his scenario and terrain design by putting together a very impressive looking trench system...

Apparently, Craig had only just finished painting this modular trench system on
the very afternoon of our game. Kudos to him for some terrific modelling!
Overview of the game table - Brits attacking for the bottom...Oh-er, Matron!

The scenario - The Germans Dig In
Tonight's mission was for the Germans to defend their HQ, which was protected by a very intimidating trench system. But, the challenge didn't end there, as on top of this the attackers would have to negotiate a line of tank traps AND two secret minefields!

The German lines, at the back of which you can just make out the primary
objective - the Jerry HQ.
To balance out this -frankly - formidable set of defences, the British contingent was a very experienced and highly trained and motivated veteran Airborne force.

The Opening Assault - "Utrinque Paratus"
Without knowing the exact composition of the attacking force I - playing the German defenders - had supposed that the British force would include some sort of armoured support in order to break through the entrenched defences. A Centaur IV CS (Close Support) or Churchill Mk V CS - armed with a 95mm Howitzer - seemed the logical tools to crack my entrenchments...

The MK. IV Close Support version of the Churchill tank, specifically designed
to break down fortifications and allow infantry to advance. Source: Wikipedia.
But, the motto of the Parachute Regiment is 'Ready for Anything' ('Utrinque Paratus') and while I had arranged my defensive forces in anticipation of an armoured assault on my left flank - thus avoiding the centrally placed tank traps - I was in for a very big surprise...

'CHARGE!' - The Para's 'Welbike' scooters zip through my tank traps!
'[The Welbike]...has the distinction of being the smallest motorcycle ever used by
the British Armed Forces...some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne
Divisions and some were used at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden.'
Source: Wikipedia
The Paras played their ace in the hole, and made a direct assault on my foremost trench right through my tank traps with a squadron of scooters! The Welbike riders rushed my positions, dismounting and getting stuck into my forward infantry positions, gambling that their veteran status would overwhelm my troops...

However, luck was not with the Brits (and neither were the dice gods) and after reeling from the initial shock of the Para's audacity, the Germans recovered and came off best in the desperate close quarter's action. I was helped along with a string of 6's, thus incurring the 'exceptional damage' rule, which allowed me to dispose of the Para's LMG team. After that, it was curtains for the sneaky Red Devils...

Round One to the Germans.

ROUND TWO - A change of strategy
With the Brits opening gambit in tatters (phew, it so nearly paid off) The Paras changed tack slightly. They had already set up some support in the woods to their right, with a medium mortar and a sniper team...

The Paras support teams hiding in the woods harassing my lines on the left.
But now, they decided to switch this presence from a harassing force to something a bit more aggressive by adding their Recce Jeep unit and the withering fire of its twin Vickers 'K' guns...

But the Germans were in luck, partly due to ineffectual incoming mortar fire (in truth, the effectiveness of the artillery of both sides turned out to be abysmal all night) and the failure of their sniper team to make a hit on my MMG team. But the biggest piece of luck for the Germans was that the Paras Jeep ran straight into the first of the 'secret' minefields!

This was hugely significant, from the German point of view, as blocking a potential breakthrough at this point effectively closed off a route straight down to the main objective. Had the Paras managed to negotiate my forward-left trench there was a clear run for them to pour in additional units and rush towards the German HQ. But the mines put paid to this avenue of attack!

The Willys jeep was referred to in documents of the 6th British Airborne Division
as the "Blitz Buggy". Armed with a bevvy of Vickers .303 'K' gun, which had a
high rate of fire, these were powerful, highly mobile, jeeps packed a real punch!
With the rug pulled out from under them, the Recce Jeep had no other choice but to pick its way - quickly - back out of the minefield. Which, much to the German's annoyance, they managed to do unscathed! But, still, during this melee the Germans managed to score a direct hit with their MMG on the British snipers in the woods (I figured that this was an important unit to take out, as snipers have the ability to target specific individuals and so could have taken out my MMG post with - in theory - with a single lucky dice roll).

ROUND THREE - Back to Plan 'A'

Their cheeky flanking attack rebuffed, the Brits switched back - again - to tackling the German centre trench. It was a case of 'if at first, you don't succeed...' as my opponent unleashed a second wave at my front lines!

This time the weight and sheer persistence of the Paras attack paid off as they closed in on my trenches. With the German defenses spread so thinly over a wide front they couldn't bring all their firepower to bear on a focused assault, and so - finally - the Paras breached my lines!

In and at 'em - The Paras break through!

ROUND FOUR - A Second Front
Things were starting to look a bit shaky for the Germans as the Paras breached their forward lines. But the trenches were still loaded with enough defenders to make it a very hard fight for the Brits, and so my opponent took advantage of some favourable order dice draws to push his more positive position and open a second front...

The most disappointing German unit, from my point of view, was my mortar team.
They failed to make a single critical hit all evening. The British mortar team didn't
fair that much better but did manage to - finally - decimate my left front line
With a parcel of Paras keeping my front line defenders busy, the British Commander (Craig) diverted some of the units - including his Command Jeep - to a possible weak point in my Right flank. With the Germans having to move troops to try and plug the hole in its centre - with the loss of its forward defenders - they had to leave the right side of their trenches virtually unguarded!

Luckily, it was time to bring up some reinforcements, as the Germans had been assigned a small mobile reserve for just such a breakthrough...

The Germans had - initially - an MMG-armed Kubelwagen, which was rushed into the fray on the right. But this was in real danger of being brushed aside as the Paras countered with a PIAT anti-tank team, which was pushed into the advance...

The Kubelwagon's intervention was timely, and its MMG blunted the Paras push and - crucially - held them at bay until further, more potent reinforcements could be brought to bear. The Germans dodged a bullet - literally - as a PIAT round whizzed past the Kubelwagon ineffectually, and then took revenge with a hail of MG-42 fire which dispatched the British AT team.

Help arrived in the form of a Sd.Kfz. 251 Halftrack, with its dual MG-42 machineguns. In one last desperate effort to nip around the German's outer defences, the Paras managed to get their damaged Command Jeep back into service, destroyed the German jeep and attempted to run their last remaining vehicle past the half-track into the German rear!

Sprayed full of MG-42 fire, the Para's Command Jeep is destroyed.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches...
Simultaneously, while the British flanking attack was going on, there was a desperate struggle going on in the trenches as the Paras aggressiveness had threatened to see them actually break through all the way to my mortar pit...

Pulled over from the right flank, German infantry
eject the Paras from the trenches...
The Paras slowly whittled the German defenders
down, and could still break through to the HQ!

Conclusion...Nothing left to give...
It was so near and yet so far for the Paras. The arrival of German reinforcements - the half-track on the right and a fresh squad of infantry to the centre - put paid to any hopes of a breakthrough to the main objective.

The main objective - the German HQ.
And so, despite a very brave effort on the part of the British, they had nothing left with which to press what small advantages they had. Ironically, despite their mobile flanking moves seeming to represent the Brits most likely means to circumvent the German lines, in the end, it was vicious close quarters infantry action in the centre that got them closest to a breakthrough.

With no more reserves to call upon, however, the British advance was doomed (I had one more unit of regular infantry still in reserve, just in case). So, at this point, my opponent graciously conceded defeat...

Kudos to Craig for such a valiant effort.

The Debrief
Once again, I must congratulate Craig of the Scarborough Games Society for putting on such a terrific game for me. The scenario was exciting and a real tactical puzzle as I had no idea from which direction the British would commit their forces, which forced me to spread my defenders equally across all my front.

I really have to commiserate with my opponent, though, as - despite the ingenious introduction of the Welbike squadrons (which took me completely by surprise and very nearly broke my lines) - the British were foiled, in the end, by some very uncharacteristically lucky dice rolls on my part!

Furthermore, with the absence of any armoured close support, the Paras were very reliant on artillery to help make the breakthrough which just didn't materialise for them. In fact, effective artillery support was conspicuously absent on both sides throughout the game, as either side's off-board artillery and on-table mortar support couldn't seem to hit a barn door!

Just not enough supporting fire, or rather, not enough
effective supporting fire on the night!
I feel that the next time this scenario is played the Paras could use either additional artillery support - perhaps in the form of an airmobile 75mm Howitzer - or some additional armed jeeps to make or capitalise on a breakthrough.

1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery fire their 75mm Howitzer.
Source: Wikipedia
It was a very enjoyable evening, though I feel - as the beginner - I was given the easier job to do. Even so, I was pleased I pulled off an effective defence and pleasantly surprised that I actually managed to roll some crucial 6s at the right time. But, the highlight of the evening must have been Craig's ingenious Welbike attack, which caught me completely by surprise and nearly turned the course of the game, but in the end, it was a trench too far...

Friday, 3 February 2017

Tabletop Game Report - Cold Steel on the Russian Front

Another very enjoyable visit to The Scarborough Game Society saw a very exciting Bolt Action WW2 'Eastern Front' themed game. This time a bit of an urban defence/assault format, with the Germans holding a town centre against hoards of oncoming Ruskies...Would this be another Stalingrad, I wondered?

Opening action, as the German's lead makes a dash for the town centre. These
very near misses were a sign of the oncoming Soviet ferocity!
I was a spectator this evening, which suited me fine as it gave me an opportunity to follow the Bolt Action rules at my leisure (without the pressures of trying to think up tactics at the same time). I think I am going to have to buy the rule book next, so I can 'follow along' with the rule decisions. But it was nice to see that even experienced players had to refer to the rulebook regularly throughout the game.

The first stage of the game was the German occupation of the town centre, though this was done under fire, as the Soviet force (which was an ominously sizable one, with lots of armour) moved in from the south. So, the first order of the day was for the German commander to get his troops into the cover of the buildings as soon as possible...

The Germans took cover as soon as possible.

As the Germans dug in, considerable amounts of fire began to come in from the advancing Ruskies. And with the clatter of very formidable looking armour, an early bombardment from the pride of the Red Army - a monstrous IS-1 - scored a devastating blow to the south-most German defence point...

KA-BOOM! Scratch one house, care of a well placed HE shell from the IS-1!
A German spotter sees the culprit and calls for revenge!
While the Soviets celebrate this devastating early success (with copious amounts of 'vodka' and rowdy singing) an eagle-eyed German spotter in the town reports the engagement to his HQ and a counter attack is hastily planned...

The German armoured element comes into play and a desperate tank duel ensues, the trusty - but ageing - PzKpfw IV Ausf. H versus the latest Soviet technology, the fearsome Iosif Stalin I (IS-1)!

The mighty Soviet IS-1 rumbles forward, can nothing stop it?
The German Panzer IV advances cautiously from cover, but immediately starts
taking fire from the Soviet advanced units...Can it's 7.5cm gun stop the Ruskies?

Against all odds, the Panzer IV scores a direct hit and knocks out the Russian
monster...We can only assume it was a freak hit on the ammo rack!
While the first round of the tank on tank action goes decisively to the Germans - and the Soviet commander weeps floods of tears into his potato soup - the Red Army's greatest strength is its overwhelming numerical superiority. When one tank falls, another is quick to take its place and soon a formidable T-34/85  - aided by a diminutive light T-70 (played here by a T-34) joins the fray...

'Half-time' and while the Germans have given the Red Army a bloody nose,
things are still looking a little bleak.

The Soviet commander - still reeling from his loss - ponders
his next move...
Ivan decides a change of course is in order and his light tank probes the town's
eastern approaches, taking out the German's Kubelwagen in the process.
His brash frontal assault blunted, the Soviet commander now decides to take a more cautious advance towards the town centre. With his light T-70 leading the way, his armoured column moves up to engage the German armour.

As the net closes in on the beleaguered defenders the T-34/85 its exacts revenge and decimates the German armoured force...

BOOM, BOOM! Like a knife through butter, the
Soviet tanks brush aside Fritz's armour!
Things are starting to look very bad for the Germans, and sensing a devastating bombardment of their town-centre stronghold by the Russians there seems only one course of action to take...

The Germans launch a close-up Panzerfaust attack on the T-34/85. It's an almost suicidal attack but if they can just get one of their anti-tank rockets on target before being mowed down by the tank's coaxial machine gun, they may yet save the day!

Into the jaws of death!
Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat! The tanks MG finds it's prey!
It was a forlorn hope, and the German infantry crumple under a cruel hail of bullets. There is now very little left to stop the Red Army from taking the town, just the entrenched German remnants to mop up.

With nothing to stop them now, the Soviet infantry launch a direct assault on the town's main stronghold from the ruins of a nearby building...

Literally knocking on the door now, it's all over, the fat lady is singing!
Sadly, I had to leave at this point, which probably spared me from witnessing the final agonies of the German rout. It was a very tense and exciting game, the outcome of which was probably inevitable (as it was historically by this stage on the Eastern Front).

The Red Army could pour an almost bottomless amount of men and armour against a dwindling German rearguard action and the writing was on the wall for the Third Reich. Next stop Berlin!

Conclusion, Summing Up the Evening
While this engrossing game took up almost all of my attention, I must emphasise that there were a plethora of different types of board and tabletop games going on at the same time. I only got a close look at the tables immediately adjacent to the Bolt Action game I was engrossed in, but there looked to be some very exciting stuff going on...

Right next to our game was a wonderful Egypt themed Bolt Action game.
Come on, how cool is this?
Sometimes it was really hard to keep your eyes on your table as there was just so much going on that looked so interesting. I'm not a big Sci-Fi gamer but these models from another nearby table caught my eye...

I'm not sure, is that Warhammer 40,000?

This is one of the really cool things about the Scarborough Games Society, you get the chance to spot new and exciting games and get the chance to see them 'in action' and ask about them. Everyone is exceedingly friendly and keen to talk about their favourite game.

There were another dozen or so games going on that were just beyond my reach, but it was great to see traditional board games being played, a VR computer game and some I think there was even some figure painting going on! Amazing.

A big thank you to everyone at the club, particularly those whom I kept getting in the way with while I took my snapshots. Another really good Thursday night! Wow!

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