Friday, November 28, 2014

Napoleonic Sailing Ships - French

One component of my collection that hasn't gotten any time on the blog as yet is my 1:1200 Napoleonic sailing ships. James and Mark in Australia have been posting their adventures at sea, trying out rules for the Age of Sail, and my opponent at Ellis Con, Andy, was talking about the Close Action rules.  That made me haul out my ships and decide that I need to use them for a game some time in 2015!I am going to start with my French fleet today. For the way they got gobbled up by their British opposition, they might perhaps be termed the Fruits de Mer!

First up are 2 small ships - sloops/Brigs or what have you. The designs for the flags ensigns, and pennons come from a great article in the old Courier more than 20 years ago.

The 20 gun Senarmont is in the lead, with the 16 gun Sabre following behind.

Next up is a pair of  French frigates - "the eyes of the Fleet"

.Here the 38 gun Saphire is first,

 followed by the smaller 32 gun Xanthus.

Now we come to the Ships of the Line. For my French fleet, I have used yellow for the hull stripes that form the checkerboard pattern when the gun ports are opened. Different colors will be used for these in my other fleets to help differentiate them better. Not entirely historical, but a useful device, and I'm the Admiral so what I say goes!

This time the 74 gun Imperial leads off, while the smaller 64 gun Trident follows in her wake. 

The 64;s were really an outmoded design by the Napoleonic Wars, and were weak for participation in the Line of Battle, but still saw use regardless.  The British especially later converted some of their 64's to 44 gun frigates by cutting of the top decks, called Razees, in part in an effort to counter the large, excellent American frigates. It was an experiment that was less than entirely successful!

Next are a pair of 74 gun Ships of the Line. I made the ratlines (pronounced "rattlin's, which is probably what they did a lot of when they were climbed to access the masts and rigging) out of the nylon grid like material used for wool hooking craft projects, spay painted black. Not the most elegant, but quick, easy, and sturdy. I think it enhances the look of the ships considerably.

The 74 gun Aquilon is to the fore

and her sister ship, the 74 gun Mercure, is aft.

Another pair of French SOL. I did the minimum rigging on my ships, using my trusty spool of black thread and some Duco cement. Even that was a pain in the butt to do, honestly, so no way am I ever going to try to replicate the complex rigging of a tall ship in any more detail. 
 Still, even this little bit enhances the look, I think.

In the lead this time we have the 80 gun Couronne. The 80 gun ships were a French design, and one much admired by the British - they were always happy to capture one! Ironically, on average French ship designs were probably better than the British ones. It was in the experience of the men and officers at handling their complex ships and their guns where the French generally fell short. The broad pennant flying from the main mast indicates that a Commodore is aboard her. 

The second ship of this duo is the 74 gun Orion. I have long been a fan of the constellation Orion, probably the easiest constellation by far to pick out in Northern skies on cold winter nights - note the famous "under the heel of Orion" reference in the Thanksgiving proclamation of Gov. Wilbur Cross in my previous post! Orion is the great Hunter of Greek mythology so a fitting name for a ship. For many years, we had an (excellent) oncologist on our Medical staff with the first name of Orion - very cool name!

Here are my last two French SOL. The bases are artist's matting board. After the ships are glued down, I then uses plaster of Paris, which is applied to the bases, and shaped using a popsicle stick. Once the plaster dries, it is painted with a diluted aqua color, with deeper blues in the stiller areas. The "wave crests" are then dry  brushed with a slightly off white color. The whole ship and base is then sprayed pretty heavily with varnish.

The lead ship is the massive 112 gun triple decker, the Pierre. Needless to say, this is a bit of petty egotism on my part, there having been no first rate of that name in the French navy! The French ensign flying from the mizzen mast of the Pierre indicates that she is the Flagship.

The following ship is another 74-gun ship, the Etoile ("star"). 

I'll conclude this post on my version of la marine Francais with some group photos. First this one from the starboard.

An albatross eye's view of the Fleet. (I know the pennons wouldn't generally stream to towards the bow due to the wind directions need for the ship to make way, so call some of them artistic license!)

The French fleet as seen from the fore!

A final view of the 12 ships of my French fleet from aft.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Conneticut tradition - Happy Thanksgiving!

Wilbur Lucius Cross was born on a rural Connecticut farm in 1862,  but went on to get first a bachelor's degree and then a Ph. D. at Yale University. He later became a professor of English Literature there, and a renowned literary critic and an expert on Shakespeare's works. He became the first Dean of the Yale Graduate school in 1916. Following a long career in academia, he ran for Governor of Connecticut, and served four 2 year terms, before being narrowly defeated in 1938. He actively supported the transition of the Connecticut Agricultural College to become first Connecticut State College (1933), and then The University of Connecticut (1938). The University is my alma matter twice over, and I am an Assistant Clinical Professor there myself -  mostly a technicality, I just teach medical students one on one in my office.  The University's library was named after him, as was the Wllbur Cross Parkway. He is especially remembered for his eloquent proclamations, most famously this one, often read in schools and churches right before our national day of Thanksgiving:

    Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year. In observance of this custom, I appoint Thursday, the twenty-sixth of November, as a day of Public Thanksgiving for the blessings that have been our common lot and have placed our beloved State with the favored regions of earth – for all the creature comforts: the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives – and for all those things, as dear as breath to the body, that quicken man’s faith in his manhood, that nourish and strengthen his spirit to do the great work still before him: for the brotherly word and act; for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long, long search after truth; for liberty and for justice freely granted by each to his fellow and so as freely enjoyed; and for the crowning glory and mercy of peace upon our land; – that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our Harvest Home.

I wish all my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving; our Canadian neighbors already celebrated theirs last month. To my friends overseas, you might perhaps take a moment to be thankful for the many blessings you have as well!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Going Ballistic...

The last time I ran my Ancient armies on a gridded board with the Charlie Sweet Ancients Rules back circa 2013, it called to my attention the need for a few more War engine units to allow me to field as many of my ancient Ancient armies simultaneously as I might want. Around that time, Mega miniatures was having a going out of business sale. Along with a supply of new "chickens" of  many kinds, I also bought 4 of their  28mm Ballistas for only about $1.50 each. Such a deal!

They sat on the lead pile until this month when I needed them for my Ellis Con Ancient games with Legio Quaternarius. 

While more of a giant crossbow than an Ancient Ballista, they still serve the purpose.

I don't think I'd want a line of these things pointed in my direction!

I added the "bowstrings" with the same spool of black thread I've used for ships rigging, bows etc for at least 30 years. Anyone know where I can find some suitable crew figures?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Without a Trace?

As part of the refurbishment of my ancient Indian army, I wanted to add some traces to the chariots. I had done this for my Assyrians decades ago using some paper tape. That came supplied with a bag of Historex 54mm plastic French Imperial Guard Grenadier Bandsmen figures (to make cross belts). I had previously used the figures to scratch build a model of my freind and fellow college bandsmen Tom, with his trombone (and beer) close at hand. However, decades later, there was no ready source of this material available.

Two Minifiigs 25mm Indian Four Horse Chariots - after the addition of Traces.

It seemed to me that tape like Dental Floss might work - so a trip to the pharmacy was made to acquire a sample for experimentation.  If it works, 100 yards should make all the traces I could ever want!

Nice minty fragrance... not sure if the waxing of the tape will cause issues, though.  Oh well, good for dental hygiene at least if it proves to be a bust!

To make it easier to color, I tied one end of the dental tape to a cotton tipped applicator (plenty of these on hand in my office!).  I used a big brush to liberally "paint" the tape with acrylic craft paint in a suitable color. Some skip areas due to the tape twisting, but not bad!

Happy with the dark green, I did some dark red, blue , and yellow tapes also.  I then cut the tapes to the approximate lengths needed - that's 8 traces per chariot for these Heavy units, almost an entire length of tape as shown in the above picture! I found the best way to cut the tape was with a sharp Xacto knife cutting down onto the tape on a hard surface (wood). Avoid excessive sawing motions which can make it fray

I then glued the ends of all 8 traces to the appropriate locations on the horses, using Duco cement (chiefly Nitrocellulose in Acetone), which dries and sets very quickly. Once that had hardened, I glued  the driver's ends of the tapes t his hands, one at a time using the same glue. A little touch up of remaining white areas was needed, end results as seen above. Now, about those 15 recently painted New Kingdom Egyptian chariots I have...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Die Fighting, 2nd Edition by Bob Jones - Pre-publication Discount

    Die Fighting II is the latest set of innovative wargames rules to be released under the author ship of Bob Jones. In a way, my association with Bob goes back over 40 years, when he first started writing articles in the old NEWA Courier. Three of those articles stand out off the top of my head:
1) "Deci, rather than Sexy", about the use of dodecahedral (20 sided) dice to generate random number, % style. IIRC, at that time, a set of 3 cost about $5 from a specialty firm - equivalent to over $25 now.  This was before Dungeons and Dragons made polyhedral dice familiar to us all!
2) "Delaying Terrain Effects: The Forgotten Variable", in which Mr. Jones argued that the conventional practice of fixed terrain effects was greatly at odds with real life.  Difficult terrain might take far more or even far less time to traverse than anticipated, due to troop, weather, map and reconnaissance variables, and indeed this unpredictability increased the friction factor imposed by terrain upon nthe plans of military leaders.
3) "Gad Robineau, what where you thinking?" about the impact that good (and poor) leaders had upon the execution of military operations. This was very much an argument against the all powerful, all seeing "100 foot tall general" of conventional miniatures rules, this time focusing on the human factors as they effect leadership at all levels of command, and, of course, how to model them in our games.

    I think I own a copy of virtually all of the wargames rules that Bob has written over the years - Le Jeu de la Guerre (Napoleonic), Rebel Yell (ACW), Piquet and most of its period supplements, Zouave, and most recently, "Die Fighting". Each of these designs is innovative, and each shows the influence of the issues Bob was grappling with in his articles of 40 years ago. Each design explores new and different ways to adequately model effects of chance, each places significant constraints upon the commander's ability to direct the action of his troops with certainty, and each design highlights the key role that leadership plays in warfare. Bob has also been an innovator in tools to be used with his rules, including the use of chits and a logarithmic, circular slide rule melee calculator in Le Jeu, Card decks and the infamous Combat Caliper in Piquet, and the Rondel in Zouave 2. In Die Fighting, Bob returned to the the time honored tool of our hobby, six sided die. But of course, being a Bob Jones design, this was no tired, uninspired,Warhammer style "Buckets of Dice" D6 game!  It was six sided dice on steroids!!!  The key concept in the original Die Fighting was that the army had a certain amount of "energy" that it could expend in the course of combat, and that once that energy was expended, the army's ability to carry on was so compromised that withdrawal was the only feasible option. Unlike Piquet, where this energy was to some degree represented by Morale Chips, it was represented by actual dice! Each army started with a set number of (red) resource dice. Every time a unit was to move, shoot, or fight, it would involve throwing one or two of these Red Dice per unit. The twist was that once the dice were thrown, they were discarded and lost for the rest of the game!  Red dice were also lost when your units suffered adverse effects from combat; the worse the result, the more Red dice you had to discard! Command Group leaders contributed their own stock of Officer Dice (Yellow) each turn, which could be added to the Red dice of units under their command, provided they were sufficiently close to the Leader who was passing the dice. Finally, "Free Dice" (Green) were used for tactical advantages in combat where other sets might have used die roll modifiers, such as the effects of heavy cavalry charging. The "Rule of Six" was applied in many situations where a certain score was needed, as was re rolling of certain numbers or multiples based upon the quality of the particular unit. I did a detailed review and walk through of the original Die Fighting here on the blog (use the Die Fighting label). Bob had plans to add a really fascinating campaign concept to all of this, a set of rules tentatively titled "Die Marching"!

    In the process of developing the initial concepts for Die Marching, which Bob regaled Tim Couper and I with over breakfast at Historicon 2011, Bob gradually concluded that the base rules themselves needed further refinement and evolution before he could proceed much further with a campaign set. Much of that evolution in chronicled on the "Repique Blog" on his Repique Rules website; recommended reading if you want to know more about what DF2 is about! While I am eagerly awaiting my own copy of Die Fighting II, I can tell you that one of the key changes is that the starting allotment of Resource Dice is much lower, is command specific (with some  modification by the C-in-C), and rather than being generated by a process based upon the number and quality of units in the command, it is now driven primarily by the quality of the group's commander. The Red Dice are (usually) replenished to a degree each turn, the amount being most heavily influenced again by the commander's ability. Bob has also experimented further with a very short (6-8 cards) sequence deck used in Die Fighting, used to randomize and limit the actions of each side independently. This means that there is no guarantee that this replenishment will in fact take place on a given turn, or when, though!

    The Leadership (Yellow) Dice and Free (Green) Dice are handled similarly to the original, although doubtless there will be some tweaks and refinements. The other key new element is the Black Dice!  Black dice SUBTRACT their pips from a unit's score (rather than add to them like all the other types). Black dice are given to units that were very poor historically (or in previous games), thus acting as a drag to their movement, fire, melee and morale! Black Dice may also be "awarded" to a unit as a penalty after a particularly bad combat result. Bob also has expanded upon his ideas about Leader quality and quirks, and includes new ways of generating and assigning generals to their commands... just hope you don't draw a Robineau for *your* leader!

    Perhaps the biggest innovation in Die Fighting, however, II is it's format - there are NO printed rules in the ordinary sense!  The rules are presented on a CD, playable in any computer or video disc player. In just under an hour of running time, the video walks you through the entire rules set, step by step, and illustrates the execution of the each of the rules. The presentation is indexed, to allow you to access the segment that you need, should you have questions. There is also a video slideshow summary presentation of the rules. Period Specific printed/pdf "Free Dice Tables" (essentially, a type of QRS) are the only semi conventional aspect of the rules, and are expected to be all that most players will need to refer to after a game or two. Mr. Jones was a Television producer for many years, and the video is professionally done and edited. Piquet (circa 1977) had an embryonic version of this concept in the form of an optional short, inexpensive video cassette demonstration of a few new, key concepts, but never even approached trying to present the entire rules in video format.

   Die Fighting II is available directly from Repique Rules for $26 plus postage (which is expected to be low, as it is much less bulky than a printed book, especially for overseas customers). Until Friday, November 21st, there is a $4 pre-publication discount. My copy is already on order, and I can't wait to watch my first set of wargames rules on video!  Needless to say, a further review here will be forthcoming before too long.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ellis Con 2014

    The 26th running of Ellis Con took lace at the Ellis Technical School in Danielson, CT. yesterday. I had to miss it last year, and 2 years ago the old Aircraft Hangar where it had been held for 24 years was being refurbished into a brand new gymnasium, the convention taking place in the old Gym on it's last day of existence before it too was slated for re-purposing. However, the new gym was off limits to us - unconfirmed rumor has it the the powers in charge have declared that the Gym is only to be used for league sanctioned athletic events. In any event, much of the rest of the school has also undergone major revisions, doubtless at the costs of many millions of dollars. the end result is certainly very nice, especially compared to the mid 1960's style previously evident. Ellis Con is and has always been a multi genre convention - miniatures, board and card games, including Historical, Science Fiction, and Fantasy genres. Computer games were also included this year. As a result of the gym being off limits, the Miniature games,some board games, and dealers were in the very modern, airy and well lit cafeteria, some other games were in the ? media center, and others in the atrium. For the most part this worked OK, with a few growing pains as are to be expected from any change in a venue. Still, I must admit the Gym thing was an unpleasant reminder of one of the least attractive aspects of High School - the exaggerated status given to athletics and athletes. Fortunately, on average we geek types win out in later life (most doctors are on the geeky side to some degree - and thank goodness!). That introduction aside, as they say - on with the show!

    I left my home shortly after 8 AM, and arrived at the school shortly after 10 AM. it is a solid 2 hour drive from my home on the far Western side of the state to Danielson (in the Town of Killingly), on the far North Eastern side (nearly in Rhode Island). Thus it is closer to much of Massachusetts and RI than Western Connecticut. As a result, I decided to start my game at 1PM instead of 10AM. It was actually a bit confusing finding the  Convention entrance, which had changed notably from past years, but a brief search was all it took to determine it was now the front door!.

 The time cushion arrival gave m,e a chance to check out some of the other games. The next few shots are from a great looking game set in "Darkest Africa" Zululand type enthronement, run by good friends and fellow HAHGS members Greg Hanson and Joe Fish. 

They created a fantastic looking game on a roughly 5 foot square table, including some Step Pyramids, Elephant grass, rivers and streams..

 native villages, boats, wild animals...

Zulus and even a kraal. The rules used were "In Her Majesty's Name", which I have a copy of. I'd have liked to have gotten in on this one!

Vic Gregiore of Battle Group Boston used his impressive damaged city terrain for a game titled "Rumors of Cat and Mouse". 

Jim Smith ran this nice looking 15mm ACW tutorial game. 

It also happened to be on the table labeled as the table I was to use for my 1PM game. It was obvious that they would be lucky to be done by 1 PM, to make no mention of taking their game down, and then setting mine up. There were no other open tables visible, so a mild sense of panic began to set in. Fortunately, I spotted another table nearby of the right size piled with coats and surplus gaming supplies, and unlabeled as to any game to be run thereupon. I therefore decided to Carpe Mensam and commenced to clear of one end of the table like I was in charge. I set up one of the two match ups, and by the time I was done with that, the nearby gamers had taken the hint and vacated the other half as well. Once the tables were set up, I headed to the food line for the traditional Ellis Con lunch of a large hot meatball grinder; once again thjis year they were both excellent and a superb value.

    Ellis Con doesn't do event registration, so it is a walk up system. This has advantages and disadvantages. In my case this year, shortly after 1 PM,. I wound up corralling one interested onlooker, a fellow HAHGS member that I don't recall meeting previously, and we started to play Legio Quarternarius. This was in part my fault - I had planned to self promote a bit on the Ellis Con FB page, but professional and personal challenges the past 3 months have been darn near overwhelming, so that just didn't happen. 

We chose to play the Macedonian/Indian match up. He chose the Macedonians. Based upon past experience, I had given the Indians , who have excellent missile power but only fair melee troops, and advantage by placing a stream across the center of the table and towards their deployment side. While this mimicked the historical encounter between Porus and Alexander, it was probably a bit too much of an edge!  Seen here are the Indian positions at the end of Turn 1. The poor morale of their infantry is already evident, 2 MI Archer units having already failed morale!

The Macedonian left flank and center - note the 5 units of HI pikemen in the center, which are incredibly powerful in Melee - as long as they are not outflanked!

The Macedonian player prepares to shoot one of his Catapults (onangers) at the start of urn 3. 

I thin this may have been one of the shots where he hit his own troops. He actually did quite well using the somewhat finicky contraptions for the first time!

At the start of Turn 3, the Macedonians launched their attack - seen here, the Companions attempt to whup up on some archers - although they have 2 handed swords, so they aren't quite as wimpy as they look, The Indian chariot will support them as well. the result was a destroyed archer unit, but also loss of the Companions.  On my 3rd turn I adjusted my positions but mostly stayed out of melee, hoping to use more of my bow fire and catapult shots to whittle down his powerful Melee troops. I was fairly successful in that. 

On the Macedonian 4th move, he attacked all out, as well he needed to - here Thracian Peltasts, Hypaspists, and some more Heavy cavalry can be seen entering melees. 

In the center, the Macedonians manage to get 4 of their 5 heavy pikes into action. My Indian Infantry have already taken considerable losses (MI archers make great targets!). This is gonna hurt!

And indeed it did; I managed to eliminate the Thracian Peltasts, but aside from that he won all but one of the remaining melees, and that one  left my MI javelin unit with but one more hit before it too was eliminated.   Center... what center?!

I forgot to take more pictures, but on my part of the 4th turn, I did my best shooting of the day with my catapults and missile troops, and then was able to take advantage of the vulnerable flanks of the Pikemen, as well as getting my extra powerful Pachyderms into the fray. That evened things out quite a bit, and then I was lucky to win the choice of Move for the next turn, and took the First move - that pretty much eliminated the rest of his heavy troops, and on his part of the Turn he wisely called it a day. We wrote and played Legio Quaternarius well before DBA came out; I think a modified pip system (or alternating movement by Commands (Right Flank, Left Flank, and Center) might take away the tremendous sting of the Double Move, especially when it happens at the critical moment. Something to think about!  In any event we both had fun playing the game, which is what matters most!

Not content to run just one great game, Greg put on a second one at 1:30 PM on the same smallish  table, this time "Red Beach One", the US Marine assault on Tarawa, using Bolt Action rules. The Japanese defensive positions are seen here. 

The US Marines launch a costly assault!

Japanese are well entrenched!

Marines in the surf, both living and dead.

    My game finished on time, about 4:30 and I started packing it up, and hauling it all out to the car. The annual auction and door prize give away was commencing as I was clearing my game away. I had it all packed up by about 5:30, and made the long drive home, arriving about 7:30 PM. Having been up late the night before packing the car, I was pretty bushed when I got home, and went to bed by 10PM - extraordinarily early for me!

  My opponent for the game, whose name has sadly slipped my aging mind, was interested in playing some Close Action, an Age of Sail game based upon "Wooden Ships, Iron Men", and it's associated Miniature set, Ship of the Line, which I am familiar with (I own a copy of SoL). I have about 30 1:1200 Napoleonic Sailing ships, so perhaps another time, my friend, with "real" ships!

    In the process of setting up my game, Steve, who is the owner of the excellent Time Machine hobby store in Manchester, CT, and the associated and totally awesome, huge gaming space across the street, The Portal. introduced himself to me. We had a nice conversation about the hobby, the TM, how to make The Portal at least self supporting financially, and other topics. He is planning on having the first Portal Con there this January 17th (Saturday) and 18th (Sunday). Unfortunately, this isn't a great weekend for me, as my wife's Birthday is the 19th, but we'll see if it might be possible to run a morning game there one day or another. 

    Perhaps due to the new set up and dispersed nature of the convention, one thing I missed from past conventions was the extreme helpfulness of the Simulations Club members. The new Miniatures location in the cafeteria has 2 sets of doors to the outside, but they were both locked. It was much shorter to enter the cafeteria area directly from the outside, and it was a COLD day for November, but... these doors were, once again, *locked*. Despite the excellent visibility to the outside through the glass front of the cafeteria, only Carl noticed my plight and assisted me with the door; thereafter, I carried everything else up to the Cafeteria doors, left it all outside, and then went around the long way through the front doors, and then brought it in all inside in trips, with some fancy foot work to keep the Cafeteria door open sufficiently long to make it inside with another load before it closed again.  I could have asked for help of course, but I'm a pretty self reliant fellow!  

    They could use a few more tables (see above), but the available space will only fit so much. Some additional chairs in the gaming area would definitely have been useful as well - I didn't get one until about 2:30 PM! The convention was certainly fun and a success overall, though, and hopefully they broke their old attendance record. It is the main fundraiser for the Simulations Club, and helps defray the cost of their annual trip to Point Con, held at the US Military Academy in West Point, NY.  Maybe some year I'll make that one, too!