Friday, September 27, 2013

Worst Case Scenario #8: 'The Brothers Kalashnikov' - A 'Chain of Command' AAR

This scenario is based on a short passage I came across while reading the post-apocalyptic novel 'Metro 2033' (a book I had posted on a few months ago). To recap, the premise of 'Metro 2033' is that in 2013 a nuclear/biological war devastates most of the world - twenty years later, the survivors of Moscow exist in the city's subway system, struggling to survive within a new dark age. 

In the book, the hero, Artyom, visits with an 'old timer' who, as a young man, served as a Russian army radio operator before 'the vodka hit the candle'. Over a campfire, the old vet tells Artyom about a T-90 tank crew, who having survived the initial nuclear strikes, decides to take their tank and slowly (and with many adventures) make their way east, into the less damaged interior of Russia. Here, along with other survivors, the tank crew digs-in their T-90 to serve as a defensive pillbox and begins a small community. The old timer says he lost contact with the group years ago but hopes that they've fared well.

This little side-story really captured my imagination and I thought it would provide a great setting for a small scenario. 

For rules I decided to use the new(ish) 'Chain of Command' with the addition of a couple modifications for a bit of post-apoc colour (more on that below).

The scenario's premise is that a few weeks prior to the events of the game, a local band of nasty 'Zone Raiders', commanded by four brothers ('The Brothers Kalashnikov'), overran a group of survivors from which they found a cache of priceless diesel fuel and a few crates of 125mm tank ammunition. The leader of the raiders knows of the dug-in T-90 (in fact he's obsessed with it) and schemes that if they can seize the tank from the settlers, refuel and rearm it, his band of mutated reprobates will be able to dominate the entire region.

I ran this game twice. Once for the lads from the Fawcett Ave Conscripts and again for our group here at home. For this AAR I describe what happened to the players in Regina, though the final outcome was very similar to that experienced by the lads in Winnipeg.

Below is an 'aerial' photo of the battlefield. The edge of the settlers' village is at the bottom of the image with their T-90 tank dug in, hull down, facing out from the hillside.   They also have a series of entrenchments arrayed in front of the hill with a bit of dead ground to their front (though this has been encroached upon by trees and crops as time has gone by). There is a small graveyard above and to the left of the entrenchments. There is also a burned-out village near the center of the table which includes a ruined church and coal tower. The rest of the table is made up of an assortment of trees and garden plots. 

The next image shows where both the Raiders and the Settlers have established their 'jump-off' points from which they will be able to deploy their troops. As you can see the Raiders have established jump-off points near and in the destroyed village and along the left-hand treeline, close to the graveyard. The Settlers have set the majority of their jump-off positions along the forward entrenchments, with one being held back near to the T-90.

For forces, the Raiders have three squads, each squad composed of a eight man rifle team along with a LMG team of four men. Two of the squads are rated green while the third is composed of veteran picked-men. The Raiders are led by 'The Brothers Kalashnikov' with each squad being led by one of the brothers (Junior Leaders in CoC terms) while the eldest brother commands the entire raiding force.

The Settlers are led by Boris, the original commander of the T-90, along with his son Yuri. Together they have fourteen men and women, ten riflemen and four in a LMG team. The Settlers are classed as regulars.  

Boris and son Yuri (both mounted on hex-shaped bases) command their fellow settlers in the defence of their village.
In addition, just before the Raider assault began, Boris managed to signal a plea for help to a nearby encampment composed of old hard-as-nails ex-Spetsnaz troopers. These guys are in heavy body armour and are classed as veterans. Due to their age (old wounds, too much vodka and bad joints) they move at a -1. Boris' Spetsnaz neighbours will arrive at the beginning of the 3rd turn.

Spetsnaz trooperx (gone-to-seed but still dangerous) rolling out as 'possible' reinforcements
After everyone had established their jump-off points I allowed the the Raiders to deploy a sniper who was secretly positioned in a second floor window in the ruined village. From there he had a commanding view of most of the battlefield (becoming a sporadic but very annoying thorn in the Settlers' side).

For a bit of post-apoc seasoning I added a few special rules into the mix. One was that even though EVERYONE carried an AK47, and there was a relative abundance of LMGs and HMGs on the table, the quality of the ammunition was very bad (being either over 20 years old or, worse yet, home made). So when a group fires its AKs and rolls more 1s than 6s then they will not be able to fire at full auto for the next turn (reduced to 1 die for each rifle) - this replicates the jamming and furious magazine swaps from bad ammo. Similarly for the LMGs and HMGs a die is rolled separately for each shot, if it is a 1 then the gun suffers a stoppage, and for any following 'shots' it will take a 5-6 to clear the stoppage in which case the gun can continue firing at its remaining rate of fire (but still looking out for 1s). I gave each team one turn of worry-free shooting, saying that each man had hoarded one clip/drum of military grade ammunition which would not be in danger of jamming. This turned out to be pretty fun in the game as each side bit their nails to see if their automatic weapons would work as they should and just when they should use their military grade ammo. For the heavy body armour of the Spetsnaz troopers I ruled that they would always be treated as being in Light Cover (upgraded to Heavy Cover if they were in terrain that provided some protection).

The game began with the Raiders jumping off with a squad (reinforced with a LMG) in the woods on the Settler's left flank and another within a field near the central wood. As the Raiders had no targets (the Settlers being hunkered down offboard) they ended their phase. 

Raiders moving forward under fire through a wood - figures from Pig Iron, painted by Greg
The Settlers' first phase started with a bang as they emerged ('jumped off' in CoC parlance) at their entrenchments and rattled off a 7.62mm 'greeting' towards the Raiders in the woods. This caused a point of shock but not much else. Next, one of the Settlers emerged from the tank cupola and began to rock-and-roll with the HMG causing a couple casualties and more shock on the same Raider squad in the woods.  To add insult to injury the Settlers rolled well enough to sustain their actions for another phase and continued to hammer away at the poor hapless Raiders causing more mayhem. These bad ladz were not having a good run of it!

Nonetheless, when the Raiders began their next phase their sniper cracked off a shot at the HMG gunner (who was isolated on the tank) and shocked him so badly that he broke and ran, leaving the HMG unmanned.

The Raider sniper lining up his shot on the HMG, getting fire direction from a nearby leader - figures from Pig Iron, painted by Greg
The Raiders then moved their squad up to the wood edge in order to get their LMG into close range, while their other squad began to move towards the edge of the central wood.

I'll telescope time here a bit and briefly describe the ensuing action which occurred over the next 20 or so phases:

While they managed to cause a few casualties on the entrenched Settlers, the Raider squad in the wood on the left flank ultimately broke and fell back under the punishing fire. 

Boris, the Settler leader, sent another runner back to the tank to re-man the HMG. 

A Settler clambering onto the T90 to man the HMG...
The lad made it to the T-90 but only lived long enough to fire off a single burst before he was killed by a single shot from the sniper. During this game the sniper also managed to wound both Boris and his son Yuri (reducing their command abilities).

...only to be ruthlessly sniped by the marksman back in the burnt-out village.
The Raiders who had moved into the central wood suffered much the same fate as their compatriots but they did manage to pull a few teeth before having to withdraw, carrying back as many wounded as they could.  

By this time the Raiders had deployed their last ace-in-the-hole: their veteran rifle team which was supported by a LMG unit. They advanced deftly under fire and began to press the Settlers heavily, breaking their LMG team which severely reduced the villagers' firepower.

Raider LMG - figures from some obscure outfit, painting by Greg.
By the beginning of Turn 3 the game was winding down to a nail-biting conclusion. The Raiders' veteran squad, led by the elder brother, moved through the central wood toward their final assault positions. Meanwhile, the remnants of Boris' force (down to four riflemen and his wounded son) looked over their shoulders for any sign of reinforcement from their Spetsnaz neighbours.

The Raider assault goes in...
Just as the Raiders began their assault (they used a Chain of Command Dice to initiate their run-in), a well-worn APC rolled up next to the T-90 and disgorged a somewhat creaky team of hard-bitten warriors in heavy body armour. Nonetheless, while the Spetsnaz had finally arrived, they decided to hold back to see what would happen in the aftermath of the assault before they would commit one way or the other.

...the Spetsnaz de-bus next to their BTR to see what happens...
Even though the Raiders had the advantage in quality and a marginal edge in numbers the fact that the Settlers were in entrenchments made the fight virtually equal. So both sides rolled their dice... and in a total collapse of fortune the Raiders were wiped out to a man. From the smoking entrenchments Boris, Yuri and two Settlers emerged to squint back at the approaching Spetsnaz...

...and the game hangs in the balance with the final dice roll.
It was a great game which came right down to the wire. The Raiders had a looong streak of appalling luck (Brett? Stacy? How did you insult the Dice Gods so?) which probably cost them the game in the end, but they did a great job in pushing the Settlers to their limits. It was always going to be tough proposition for the Raiders to assault dug-in positions, and they almost pulled it off, but fortune favoured Boris and Yuri. 

I really have to thank the guys from both groups for being such good natured guinea pigs with this scenario. I had a wonderful time running it and look forward to the next outing.  Special thanks go to Greg for providing the superb Russian vehicles and the Raider force - I couldn't have pulled off the scenario without his help. I hope those who've read this AAR liked it as well.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Resin Entrenchments from Architects of War

For an upcoming game I wanted to give the players the option of deploying their troops in some forward entrenchments and so I needed to come up with something to fit the bill.

I knew I could've made something from foam-core insulation, MDF, etc., but notice I did not say 'simply make'.  I know many hobbyists (yes, I'm thinking specifically of you: Scott, Sidney and Andrew) who would see this a simple matter of going to the DIY store, purchasing an assortment of items and then happily spend the weekend making some amazingly artful holes in the ground. Yes, yes, but to me this is not simple. In fact I believe this path leads to madness - to an activity which would take me away from reading, painting figures and following my prurient pursuits on the interweb.

So, being unrepentantly lazy, I decided instead to bolster the economy and purchase an off-the-shelf product, namely these great resin entrenchments from Architects of War.

These entrenchments come either as a four-piece set or can be purchased individually.

They are very robust and quite detailed, with lots of texture to grab hold of a drybrush (I particularly like the footprints at the bottom of the foxholes). They only needed a warm wash to remove the release agent and then it was a simple matter of tarting them up with some cheap craft paint. I think I did all four of these in about 2 hours, from unboxing to finish.

A sneak peak from an upcoming AAR.
My only quibble is that I found the entrenchments to be a little snug for my individually based 28mm models. If your guys and gals are based on anything larger than 25mm bases then these won't work. 

Nonetheless, while I was fiddling around, trying them out with different figures, I discovered that the entrenchments work very nicely with 20mm models, perhaps even better than the 28s. 

In these last photos I've put in some venerable SHQ 20mm WWII models in order to show them in comparison to the terrain. 

Note, these 20mm models are in the midst of being re-based so they would actually be about 2mm taller in the foxholes when standing astride their bases - pretty good fit, I think.

Granted, these resin entrenchments are not necessarily cheap, but they provide a quick, sturdy and attractive solution. A fine product that I'm happy to recommend. Now, back to reading, painting and, well, other things...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Neo-Soviet Partisans, Group II

A small update on what I've managed to move off my hobby desk lately. Here is another batch of infantry to help bolster my existing post-apoc collection. Similar to the previous group these boys are Neo-Soviet Partisans in 28mm from Copplestone Castings' excellent Future Wars range. 

Again, like my last batch these guys are kitted out in a dog's breakfast of civilian and military garb. I find working on this stuff to be pretty relaxing as there are really no rules to how to do them up.

I kept the bases in the same theme as those I've previously done, mimicking Sidney Roundwood's excellent work with his Great War collection. The bricks are made from a piece of square balsa rod cut into small segments and then pressed into the texture gel groundwork while it's still setting up. Pretty easy effect. The brick and brick dust effect is GW Dark Flesh which is then drybrushed up with layers of GW Red Gore, Foundry British Uniform Red (C), and Sky Grey from FolkArt.  The result is over-saturated, but I'm happy with the overall impression it gives.

These lads have already been blooded in a rousing game where we used a mildly adapted version of the 'Chain of Command' rules. I'll report on that soon...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Jean Casson & Citrine - Characters from Alan Furst's WWII Spy Thriller 'The World at Night'

Earlier this summer my lovely wife introduced me to the work of author Alan Furst with the result being that over the past few weeks I've been like a man possessed, voraciously reading any titles that I can get my hands on. For those who don't know Furst's writing, over the past twenty-five years (and sixteen novels) he has essentially re-defined the WWII espionage genre. Written in the same vein as Eric Ambler and Graham Greene the protagonists of Furst's books are often good-but-flawed men who are elevated (or destroyed) by the extraordinary events that defined the 1930s and 40s.

The first book of his that I picked up was 'The World at Night' which is about a Parisian film producer, Jean Casson, who is caught up in the 1940 German invasion of France and the subsequent occupation of Paris. Casson is a compelling character - urbane, somewhat vain, a bit of a cynic, but he has a good heart, is very loyal to his friends and to France.

After the fall of France Casson, who served as a reservist at the front, tries to continue with his life as it was, but the creeping Nazi oppression steadily wears him down and he feels he has to do something rather than acquiesce or turn away.
'It has become fashionable for Parisians to avert their eyes when seated across from Germans in the Metro.  "Yes," Casson thinks sarcastically, "That would do it - - 'the French won't look at us, we're going home.'" 
So while Casson is drawn into the shadowy world of the French Resistance we cringe at his amateur's attempts of espionage, and in this Furst at times strains the reader's credulity. How Casson manages to keep his head amongst the bewildering tangled webs set before him is amazing. Several of his clandestine missions seem ill-conceived and rather disjointed, with the reader having little real idea of what purpose they serve. Nonetheless, it is Casson's character, his Parisian sangfroid and basic humanity that make him sympathetic and enjoyable to follow.

Near the middle of the the book Casson falls in love with a long-time acquaintance, a film actress named Citrine, who represents to him all that is good and fine in life but more importantly she reminds him of France itself. She serves as both his anchor and a constant source of anxiety. 

'The World at Night' moves at a very measured pace and it would seem that not much happens. This is definitely not a action-adventure novel, instead Furst's strength is being able to convey the mood within occupied Paris and describing the evolving French reaction to their conquerors - from resignation, to shame, to indignation and then to action.  While it may have its flaws 'The World at Night' is a great read, especially for any who enjoy the period and love the streets of Paris.

I suspected that I had a figure somewhere in the 'lead reserve' that would work nicely for Casson and, as luck would have it, I discovered this great sculpt from Copplestone Castings.

In Furst's book, Casson is never far from one of his beloved Parisian newspapers so I decided to give the figure a simple mod using a bit of folded cork foil in order to provide him with a copy of Le Figaro tucked under his right arm. 

I'm not a big fan of 'slotta' style basing so I ordered some alternate slot bases in 2mm MDF from Warbases which (to me anyway) provides a cleaner profile. I then painted on a cobblestones motif in shades of grey and tinted the entire base with GW Gryphonne Sepia wash.

Casson with a Gauloises clenched between his teeth and a copy of 'Le Figaro' under his arm.

For Casson's lover, Citrine, I chose another figure from Copplestone Castings, this time from the 'Swell Dolls' pack. In order to get an idea of appropriate clothing colours I had a bit of fun looking at some 1940s fashion books Sarah had squirrelled away, finally coming away with a red autumnal theme which seems fitting to the mood of the book.

Since virtually all of Furst's books feature a different character I think I may be composing a few more of these groupings in the months to come. It's all good - they'll serve very nicely for partizan skirmish games or a bit of 'Allo 'Allo! silliness. 

The World at Night: A Novel
Alan Furst
Random House 
January 2002
ISBN: 0375758585

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Initial Impressions of 'Chain of Command: Rules for WWII Combat at Platoon Level' (used for Spanish Civil War)

Last night I hosted an introductory game of 'Chain of Command', the new, toast-of-the-town, WWII skirmish rules from Too Fat Lardies. As I hadn't had the SCW collection out for awhile I thought I'd let them stretch their legs and take in the Segovian air. This won't be a detailed review of the rules, as there are many fine examples already available, but more outlining our initial impressions of the system and an invitation to others to comment with their experiences.

Sylvain's Carlist Requetes in their distinctive red tams, giving fire from behind a stone wall.
The scenario I cooked up was a meeting engagement on the outskirts of Madrid during the early autumn of 1936. Artillery spotters, both Republican and Nationalist, want control of a ruined stone farmhouse situated on a small hill being that it provides a good vantage point of the surrounding area, and so two opposing platoons have been tasked to secure this valuable piece of real estate.

Members of the International Brigade moving through a field under covering fire of their LMG team.
I kept things relatively simple by limiting the scenario to a pure infantry engagement. Both sides had three sections, including a couple LMG support teams and two teams of light mortars (so around 30-odd figures for each side). Peter and Sylvain commanded the Nationalists while Stacy and myself raised our fists, pledging 'No Pasaran!' for the Republican cause.

Guardia Civil with a light mortar and Moroccan LMG in the background. The disc faced with the Spanish Nationalist colours is a 'jump-off' marker where their forces can be introduced into the game.
(Note: Throughout this post you will see a dog's breakfast of photos of the game. These shots are from the morning after as I usually hate breaking up play with paparazzi nonsense and frankly I'm complete crap with night photography). 

Some Anarchists moving through a small crop of corn. A Republican 'jump-off' marker in the background.

It took a short bit of time to bring the guys up to speed with the basic rules concepts. As they had all played 'Through the Mud and The Blood', which has many similar mechanics to 'Chain of Command', we were pretty confident we'd have no problem bodging our way through the evening.

We quite enjoyed the Patrol Phase, which is virtually a game within a game itself. In this very clever pre-game segment both sides maneuver patrol markers (usually four to a side) to establish the rough battlelines for the engagement. Once one of your patrol markers comes within 12" of an opposing patrol marker they are both 'locked down' and can no longer move. It can be quite cagey as both sides try to edge up to advantageous terrain, all the while desperately avoiding getting 'locked down' in a poor position. We were quite amused at our final result which basically pivoted our positions 90 degrees and had us fighting down the length of the board instead of the width where we had initially started.

Republicans in a tight spot, under fire from rifles, mortars and a LMG. 
Once the Patrol Phase was completed the 'main event' rattled along at a fairly rapid pace. I think all of us liked the command dice mechanic for activations/rewards/special events. It's somewhat similar to 'Bolt Action' but I find it has much more depth and tension. We were also struck by the variable length of the turns. The first couple of turns wound down quite quickly, but the rest of the game was consumed in the final two turns which probably lasted for 12 or so phases in of themselves. This can provide a bit of nail-biting fun as the longer a turn lasts there is more chance of things happening, both good and bad. Sometimes you want the turn to linger so you can patch-up a flank or press an advantage, while other times you wish for it to end so it seals the fate of a breaking enemy unit, lifts an artillery barrage, allows a wounded leader to regain consciousness, etc. 

The bloodied Moroccans take the objective and hang on.
While the beginning of the game saw some good fortune for the Republicans, in the end Sylvain and Peter took possession of the hilltop ruin with their Moroccan Regulares who used it as a base of fire to dominate, and ultimately pick apart, the Republican line. In the end they managed reinforce their position with a flanking section of Guardia Civi and so Stacy and I conceded, the Republicans melted back into the countryside and we all shook hands over a good evening's entrainment.

Guardia Civil advancing cautiously on the Republican right flank.
A poor Republican LMG team suffering under withering Carlists rifle fire.

Our impressions? A very good and innovative set of rules. The very nature of a 'first play' means that you end up blundering through some mechanics not knowing the full implications until later. We found this particularly the case with the Patrol Phase as it has a significant effect on how the game plays out (as Stacy and I discovered). The rules, while simple, are quite nuanced and reward good tactical thinking, but introduce a healthy dose of 'friction' through the command dice mechanic. If you already play a platoon-level set of rules like 'Bolt Action' I strongly suggest you try 'Chain of Command' as an alternate change-of-pace. 

'Chain of Command' worked very well in our Spanish Civil War setting. Frankly, this should come as no real surprise as the war in Spain concluded only months before Germany entered Poland, so the weapons, vehicles and tactical organizations are very similar. I think CoC could easily be modified to reflect the wide variety of troop qualities, vehicles and weapon types that operated in the Spanish Civil War. For example, I'm thinking of grafting in the rules for ammunition 'stoppages' from 'Through the Mud and the Blood' to reflect the execrable ammunition quality suffered by the Republicans during the conflict.

Perhaps my only concern with the rules is that they give the impression that both sides need to be similar is size (i.e. platoon vs platoon) in order for the system to work to its strengths. I'm curious to how well the rules will adapt to asymmetrical scenarios such as a small elite unit contending with a much larger force. I'm sure they've been tested in this manner but I'm keen to see how they fair. In light of this I have another CoC scenario in mind which I will post on soon.

Again, highly recommended.