Thursday, August 22, 2019

Worst Case Scenario #19: SCW Rearguard during 'la Retirada' ('The Retreat') - Northern Spain, February 1939

This past spring we spent a few wonderful weeks vacationing in the south of France in the Roussillon area.  

This region is ruggedly beautiful and steeped in history extending back to the ancient period. Roman ruins, medieval castles, an excellent privately run Napoleonic museum, you name it - it's all there to take in and enjoy. In addition to all this, I managed to find the gravesite and pay my respects to one of my favourite authors, Patrick O'Brian (creator of the superb Aubrey-Maturin series of novels). He rests with his wife Mary outside the beautiful seaside village of Collioure, where they lived in their later life.

One of the other border towns we stayed in was Cerbere, which is situated along the Mediterranean, right alongside the Spanish frontier. Interestingly enough, Cerbere was one of the major crossing points for Spanish refugees who fled from Franco's final offensive in early 1939. 

A bit of background. The Spanish call this period 'la Retirada', The Retreat. At the time it was one of the largest refugee crisis in Europe, with almost a half million people fleeing into France during January and February, 1939. It quickly became a humanitarian crisis as the harsh weather along with the poor conditions of the refugee camps caused many to die of undernourishment, disease and exposure.

Some of the refugees, spurred by the terrible camp conditions, accepted deportation back to Spain. Unfortunately, they suffered oppression, discrimination and often execution by Franco's vitriolic fascists. Others were lucky enough to be accepted as exiles in the Americas and other parts of the world, but many chose to remain in France. Those who stayed had to endure a new war against fascism, some tragically being transferred to German concentration camps, while others fought with French Resistance cells and the Free French Army under de Gaulle. 

Over time, the Spanish refugees that remained in France were assimilated into local Occitanie communities, adding to the rich and diverse culture found in that region today.

The site commemorating 'la Retirada'  at the border crossing between France and Spain near Cerbere .

Me at the la Retirada memorial.


This visit (and subsequent research) prompted me to put together a small 'Chain of Command: Espana' scenario for the guys. 

The Scenario

The scenario is a simple affair,  depicting a cobbled together Republican rearguard attempting to buy precious time for their refugees to make it to the frontier unmolested. 

Peter commanded the Republicans, which were composed of a platoon-strength smattering of anarchists and militia, salted with a few regulars and assault guards from the shattered Republican army. Not surprisingly, they have no heavy equipment, with only a couple light machine guns to bolster their firepower. Nonetheless, one huge benefit they do have is that they are all fanatical volunteers, making them damnably hard to break. 

Stacy and Jeremy ran the Spanish Nationalists. This force is mostly comprised of ardent-though-brittle Falagists, stiffened with a squad of Morroccan Regulares and a some Carlists. Perhaps more importantly, they have access to an armoured car along with artillery support from their navy posted just off-shore. Yes, an overwhelming force, but it needs to be brought to bear in a very short period of time.

This leads us to the victory conditions: The Republicans have to hold back the Nationalists for six turns, by which time they have purchased enough breathing space for the retreating refugee columns to reach the frontier. 

In order to mimic the steep terrain of the region, I propped up the play surface on a row of stacked books. This is a nod to Simon over at BigRedBat who used this to great effect for his Battle of Mancetter, 61 CE game at Salute this past spring. Thanks for the inspiration, Simon for this simple but effective hobby hack.

The Planning

The Nationalist players, knowing that they had a distinct superiority in firepower, planned to set up several firing positions hoping to simply destroy the Republicans under sheer weight of firepower. 

Peter in turn, felt it would be unwise to risk any close assaults over open ground and instead decided to keep his forces' heads down, exploit any Nationalist mistakes and play for time.

Looking left down the hillside from the Republican held crest.
...and looking down from the right.

The scenario essentially played-out along these lines. The Nationalists kept up a constant tempo of fire, whittling down the Republicans every turn, whereas the Republicans kept close to their cover and returned fire when they could. It was all very attritional for both sides, with many fingernails being chewed as the casualties mounted and the clock worked its way to the game's conclusion. 

Above, units from the Nationalist left wing attempt to move forward into assault range. They are ultimately pinned down from accurate Republican rifle and LMG fire.

Republicans taking shelter in a shellhole while trying to hold their right flank.
The fearsome Moroccan Regulares advancing under fire to establish future assault position.
Carlists move alongside the Moroccans trying to try to press the Republicans.

A fascist armoured car slowly makes its way up the treacherous switch-back road to add its fire upon the Republican positions.

The Nationalist HQ finally got their field phone set up and, after a few turns, started to bring down artillery fire from their naval assets positioned off shore.

The Nationalist navy guns find their range and begin to pound the Republican positions - ouch!

A remnant of a shattered Republican squad taking shelter in a stream bed.
In the end the Republicans managed to weather the Nationalist firepower and hold on until nightfall, forcing the Nationalists to call off their attack for the day. This allowed the refugees a few more hours to seek safety at the French frontier. A pyrrhic Republican victory, for sure, but somehow fitting for the period.

And here is Earnest and George, giving a cameo appearance for the close of the scenario (Thanks Phil!)

Next up: A few of the projects I've been (slowly) working on over this summer.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Worst Case Scenario #18: 'Time Machines, Cultists and Samurai - Oh My!'

Its been a while since we revisited our rollicking Strange Aeons campaign of manly, two-fisted adventure and cliff-hanging derring-do, so I dug up the character sheets and dusted off the pulp figures so we could play another chapter in our story.

To recap: It is 1937, and our team of stalwart adventurers, following a tenuous lead, are  in the midst of investigating a secret cave complex along the Basque coast of war-torn Spain. They have just vanquished a combined group of The Cult of the Yellow Hand and the Nazi Special Action Unit: ‘Dark Ocean’. At the end of that pitched melee, the heroes captured a Dark Ocean senior officer whom they questioned (using a touch of harsh language, it must be admitted). 

The Dark Ocean Officer, plotting his evil plan. (figure painted by Nick)
From that miserable cretin they gained intelligence that the tunnel complex continues much deeper, ultimately leading to a super-secret laboratory of vile, eldritch design.  With this knowledge they set off to find this strange lab.

Upon entering the final cavern, the heroes discover a large foreboding device with a group of Yellow Hand cultists and a Dark Ocean officer arrayed on its platform. The evil commander points towards the interlopers and barks out an order. Before the adventurers can respond, the alien engine glows bright and their enemies disappear in a flash of yellow-green light.

The cultists give the heroes the finger before whisking away.
So , something BIG is being planned by the forces of EVIL and our heroes will need to act with cleft-chin determination if they wish to foil the nefarious plans of The Yellow Hand and Dark Ocean!
How will this end? What unspeakable things are the villains planning? Well, let's find out.

The investigators examine the machine and after some poking around deduce that it is some sort of ethereal transporter! 

On the upper command platform they find the command instrumentation is set as follows:

Ein: 32/3/50.2303 x 131/2/55.5714 + 1447
Zwei: 27/34/25.3416 x 34/30/1.9686 - 1992
Drei: 35/54/7.041 x 14/31/4.821 + 1565
Vier: 19/52/1.8624 x -99/3/35.676 +1262
Fünf: 42/43/39.2046 x -81/2/34.3608 +1602

After puzzling it out, the heroes deduced that the machine has been calibrated to five locations around the world, vis-a-vis longitude and latitude coordinates. The four numbers at the end of each sequence eluded them (but it eventually became clear as we discover below).

Knowing that there was no time to waste, our adventurers, plus two faithful henchmen, calibrated the machine to the first set of coordinates, positioned themselves on the platform, and... they went.

This is the point where I had a bit of fun messing with the players.

The guys thought they would simply be travelling to another setting, playing as their normal, regular 1930s era characters. But instead what happened when I revealed the second play surface was that not only were they in another hemisphere and different time (15th century Japan), but they were also of a different race and the opposite sex! 

Here are the heroes when they left through the Ethereal Transporter

...and how they arrived on the other end(!). Yup, trippy.

So, what happened is that the Dark Ocean ethereal transporter zapped the player characters' bodies to The Dreamlands (one of the Outer Planes described in HP Lovecraft's mythos), while their souls continued onwards to their final destination, possessing bodies in that realm. Sheesh, simple really. 

And here are the Villains which were waiting for them on the other side.

The new body of the Dark Ocean officer. (figure painted by Sidney)

The villains were guarding a Japanese temple, with their leader chanting and chiming the gong. Yep, bad news. 

Undeterred, the heroes advance to make every effort to stop the ritual. Jeremy's character went up the left flank, Sylvain and the parties retainers on the right, and the rest drove up the center towards the temple.

Jeremy's female samurai quickly got stuck in with a mob of enemy ashigaru. While the first few rounds went well, with her killing several with her bow at close range, things turned for the ill and she was overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Meanwhile on the opposing right flank, Sylvain cut a swath through the enemy minions with his character's naganata. The rest of the players also got caught up fighting the evil minions and time was slipping away...

At the temple the Villain had completed his dark ritual and turned to deal with the approaching heroes. A smile crossed his face as he knew what he had summoned. 

The Villain's body hideously contorted, inexplicably expanded, and finally exploded in a sheet of viscera (love that word, 'viscera' - a wonderful synonym for 'icky') to reveal that a nasty Japanese demon, Jorõgumo, had used his body as a gateway to emerge into this world. Ewww!

The heroes were initially horrified, but quickly recovered and put their heads down to attack the foul creature. In the pitched melee, the Jorõgumo tried to cast webs to ensnare the characters but they deftly dodged them (i.e. succeeded in a series of saving throws that defied belief). In the end it was getting a little tense as all the players were severely wounded by the demon. Nonetheless, Peter's female archer notched an enchanted arrow and managed to find a gap in the demon's defences to take down the foul beast. 

It was a fun night out, with the Daisho rules giving a great game. 

As to the characters and their unfolding adventure? It looks like their next destination will be ancient Egypt. 

Have a great week and stay tuned for the next chapter!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jorõgumo from 'Rising Sun' and Ashigaru from Perry Miniatures

We recently returned from a nice, long vacation and so I thought I'd catch up with some figures I had done since the last time I had posted.

First up is this rather creepy-crawly lass, Jorõgumo, from the CMON game 'Rising Sun'. 

The kickstarter for this game was a few years ago and I quickly jumped in after enjoying its viking-themed predecessor 'Blood Rage'. 

Another thing that attracted me to the game was its fabulous miniatures. They are very unique -  elegantly grotesque and wonderfully chilling. Also, as I'm a big fan of the 'Daisho' miniature rules, I thought these figures would also serve as excellent stand-ins as mythological opponents for our players to face (more on that in an upcoming post).

The figures are molded in a relatively hard plastic, so they can both survive a bit of a tumble while still taking (and holding) paint. Like all plastic figures, you have to be careful when cleaning them with your hobby knife so as to not accidentally take away any of the fine detail.

Next are a batch of ashigaru spearmen and archers from Perry Miniatures.

These thirteen chaps are from the Perry's extensive metal range. After the requisite cleaning, bending,  annoyed muttering, etc., the figures were a joy to paint. I find that samurai figures can be daunting, so I kept it simple, working around a bold red and cream motif.

I cheated a bit for the heraldic mon on their sashimonos, using wee scorpion decals I had left over from an Adeptus Titanicus knights boxed set (so I guess this is heretical on several levels).

Next post will be an after action of a recent scenario we played featuring these figures, so stay tuned and have a great week!


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Syrian White Helmet Rescue Workers

This was my closing post for the ninth annual Painting Challenge. I wanted to return to our overarching theme of 'Fellowship' and decided to do a small vignette honouring a group of people whose selfless efforts I've admired for several years now: the Syrian White Helmets.

As many of you know the White Helmets are a group of Syrian volunteers whose mandate is to provide medical assistance, urban search and rescue, civilian evacuation, and essential service delivery to areas caught within their nation's civil war. It is reported that since they were formed more than 5 years ago the White Helmets have saved over 100,000 lives, while losing over 200 of their own people in the process. In 2016 the group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and have subsequently been awarded numerous international accolades for their humanitarian work.

Sadly, in this politically charged region of the world, there is an active smear campaign levelled at the White Helmets, trying to besmirch and belittle what they have done for their people. Personally I think this is reprehensible, but these are the times we live in and we all have to do our bit to rise above it and fight these injustices when and where we can. 

I'm proud to say that this past summer the Canadian government was instrumental in organising the evacuation of over 400 White Helmets and their families from Syria before forces loyal to the present regime could arrest them for supposed crimes against the state. Many of those evacuated have been resettled here in Canada, along with other participating countries. For many of them it has been a heart-wrenching experience, having to flee their homeland and loved ones to live in a far away, alien place. I am happy to have them here in a safe haven, but I hope there comes a day when these brave people can freely and safely choose to either return to Syria, or remain with us as new Canadians.

As you can imagine, there are no White Helmet figures on the market, so I took a shot of bodging my own. 

As they wear a distinctive cropped helmet, which looks vaguely similar to a German fallshirmjaeger helmet, I used that as a basis to work from. 

With this in mind, I found a trio of 20mm German paratrooper command figures tucked away in my collection, repositioned their arms and heads and carefully cut and filed away their equipment to look more like the rescue garb the White Helmets wore. 

I then carved a disc of high density blue insulation, affixed it to a base, added rubble and wreckage, and then arranged the figures to depict them having just found some survivors buried in the rubble. Admittedly, it's not perfect, but the overall silhouette seems to work to my eyes. I hope it does to yours as well.


Thanks for dropping in for a visit. I hope you all have a great upcoming week!