Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leaked! Canada's New Secret Weapon: Rocket Dogs

Two Rocket Dogs and their handler. Note the grim determination of this trio...
Forget hunter/killer drones, satellite lasers and Sarah Palin with a coherent thought, these weapons of mass destruction will strike fear into the hearts of Canada's mortal foes (well, at least those we're slightly piqued with - we're much too mild-mannered to have real enemies). 

I unveil to you: Rocket Dogs. 

Yes, yes, Rocket Dogs are the latest in short range K9 munitions. Once launched, these little babies will home-in on their target, lick faces, pee on carpets and dig up gardens. Nonetheless, be forewarned, the deployment and use of Rocket Dogs may violate many articles within the Geneva Convention BUT if you want the job done, these are the tools to do it.

'Rocket Dogs: When you really need somebody licked.'

I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween!

Felix checking Oscar's payload before launch.
Fuses lit, two Rocket Dogs begin to lock onto their target (i.e. the neighbourhood cat).

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Nancy Wake and Three Femme Fatales of the Free French - 28mm WWII Female Partisans

Nancy Wake is perhaps one of the most famous partisans who served in occupied France during the Second World War. Not French herself, Wake was in fact a New Zealander, raised in Australia, who became an agent of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) after running her own operations in Marseilles earlier in the war. 

Nancy Wake - the 'White Mouse' of Auvergne
By 1943 the Gestapo considered Wake (whom they called the 'White Mouse') to be their most wanted person and had a 5-million franc bounty on her head. She ran a Maquis unit in the Auvergne, which she helped raise to an amazing 7,500 under arms. From April 1944 to the final liberation of France her force tied down approximately 22,000 SS personnel, inflicting over 1,400 casualties while only taking around 100 themselves. For her service Wake was awarded: the Croix de Guerre, Officer de la Legion d'Honneur, the Medal of Freedom (USA), the George Medal (UK), the RSA Badge in Gold (NZ) and the Companion of the Order of Australia. She died in the UK in 2011, aged 98. At her request, her ashes were spread in the same area of France where she had fought with the resistance.

Ms. Wake later in life.
Inspired by Wake's story I decided to paint a series of female partizans for my 28mm collection. Two of the castings, the gal with the shotgun and the other sporting the Browning automatic, are from Copplestone's 'Gangsters' range. While technically designed for Prohibition era America I found their clothing close enough to 1940s fashion to fit the bill. The other two women, armed with the Sten SMGs, are from Artizan miniatures' fine WWII range. 

Of the group, I quite like the pose of the girl with the Browning automatic - a lot of pent-up rage there. 

A counterpoint to her is the lass with the pump shotgun - she's a bit more restrained and matter-of-fact, I think. 

For the blonde waitress I wanted her base to look as if she were in a French cafe so I made a rug with a bit of milliput and painted-in a black-and-white chequer tile floor.

The final figure seems to capture the proud, war-weary Nancy Wake. She is slightly stooped and weatherbeaten, but holds her Sten with a certain grim confidence. 

I had a lot of fun working on this group. Not sure what I'll do with them yet. Perhaps use them in some kind of 'Top Secret RPG' scenario set in Vichy France.

Next for this project will be some corresponding beret-wearing lads, with smouldering gauloises, striped t-shirts and vicious looking accordions. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's Cold Out Comrade - 15mm WW2 Russians in Winter by Greg

For the motherland!!
Greetings once again to the good folks at Analogue Hobbies, Greg here.  In his recent post, Curt unveiled his Germans for our latest little project - late WW2 in winter on the eastern front in 15mm.  He asked me to share some progress photos on the Russian side of the project, so here is a Russian rifle platoon and tank platoon decked out in winter gear and basing.

You will see in these photos that a) I do not have a light box (one of these days maybe, but anyway) so sorry about the photos and b) that I have not yet cottoned on to Curt's very sensible basing scheme using different shapes to denote different functions in skirmish gaming (hex for officers etc).

Part of my hobby nuttiness is an undue rigidity in my preferences on basing i.e. if the infantry are round then they are all round dammit! This works well enough for skirmishing with 15mm sci-fi figures, where the function/role of an individual figure can stand out against the ambient table background a little better because of crazy painting, large weapons among other factors.

But for skirmishing at 15mm WW2, it's tricky to see the different weapons sometimes (or maybe all the time for some players).  So I have ordered some new bases! But in the interim, labels will have to do for my fellows until I get them sorted on to new bases....anyway, on to the figures!

Russian infantry advance through the snow
A sniper waits in ambush - the snipers were pretty scary when we tried Chain of Command, so I thought it would be fun to include one
The infantry in this post are from Peter Pig (in my opinion the very best WW2 15mm figures out there, if you can figure out their bloody web site).  The only exception is the sniper - a spare from a Battlefront pack.  The infantry contingent includes three nine-man squads, two officers and a sniper.  Enough for a Bolt Action of Chain of Command-type skirmish game.

Another view of the charging Russian troops - beautiful sculpts from Peter Pig
After experimenting with different sorts of snow-flake type groundwork products, I opted instead for gel.  I used a mix of different gel mediums on the bases, painting the snow a light blue-grey, and then dry-brushing various shades of white, before tossing in some dirt and adding some grass.  The photos make the grass look really yellow but that is a reflection of the lighting issues on the photos - the grass looks much less lively in person.

The officers are front and centre in this shot
I have been wanting to do winter WW2 gaming for years, and talking about doing it for years, but I always hung up on the details before getting started.  I didn't really know how to do snowy terrain.  It seemed pointless to duplicate my existing 15mm stuff. I didn't want to get another set of table terrain.  Lots of reasons (read: excuses) which, oddly, never popped into my head when I thought of doing, say, desert terrain.  So I'm glad Curt finally kicked me into gear on this one.

There are so many compelling campaigns from winters on the Eastern Front - the counter-offensive at Moscow, the counter-offensive around Stalingrad, fighting around Kharkov, the liberation of the Ukraine, Korsun and Cherkassy pockets.  There is something about the winter of the Eastern Front that is extremely mournful...I can't wait to play some winter games.

The NCO is a blurry with the SMG, but you can see the LMG on the right
The tanks are all from the Plastic Soldier Company. Close inspection will reveal I likely put the wheel assemblies on backwards on one of the tanks.  I don't what it is about model tanks, but that is just something I'm prone to doing. Even the relatively straightforward PSC model tanks are a cluster f*ck in my modelling hands...oh well.  I will never turn heads at the IPMS.

T-34/76 from Plastic Soldier Company
A great thing about the PSC tanks is the spare turret - you can upgrade your drive on Kharkov to a drive to the Oder with the quick switch of a turret!

Quick turret switch and you upgrade to a late-war Guards tank regiment with T-34/85s in no time
Many winter vehicle models I have seen online have a very pristine white paint jobs on them. But that never makes sense to me.  I imagine the life of tankers on the Eastern Front. Who had time to take the tanks for a nice, proper paint job at the depot?  The tanks were needed at the front! The pressure was on to continue the advance! Particularly on the Eastern Front, where the Russian army typically launched shattering counter-offensives and offensives in the winter.  The tanks were driven through all manner of rough terrain, in incredibly tough elements, in combat conditions that to my mind would wear away a rapidly applied field paint job.

Ready to roll toward the Baltic and the Oder river
And winter is seldom pristine on vehicles of any colour.  Snow looks pretty and white in post cards (and at Christmas), but I know from growing up here in Winnipeg, snow gets dirty, mushy, and messy in no time at all.  So I tried to reflect that on these tanks - hard-living and hard-fighting T-34s of the Motherland!  Lots of paint chipping, weathering, soot and mud from the hard work of driving the fascist vipers from Mother Russia.

Soot. Exhaust. Mud. Fun!
I'm really glad to have made a start on the winter 15mm stuff.  I look froward to getting these on the table against Curt's fine late-war winter Germans next month.  I am also going to start on some winter 15mm Germans of my own so we can do some winter games here with the group in Winnipeg.  And the neat thing about winter is that once you have winter Germans, then maybe I can go to some winter Americans...and Battle of the Bulge?  One thing at a time...

Monday, October 21, 2013

15mm WWII Late War Germans in Winter Gear

Being a complete muppet, I collect WWII in a variety of scales (five at last count <cringe>). There's really is no rhyme or reason to it. Like some caffeine-addled 4-year old with a credit card, if I come across a great model or an interesting figure I often pick it up without any sensible concern to its compatibly, theme, etc. It's really quite pathetic.

Anyway, Greg and I have been wanting to put together something for winter-themed WWII skirmish games for years, but I didn't want to commit to a larger scale for what would basically be a niche 'period'. While I usually prefer 20/28mm scale for infantry-based games, the cost in vehicles and terrain can quickly skyrocket out of control. So with this in mind I suggested that we go with 15mm as I think it's a good compromise between figure detail, table scale and cost.  I also liked the idea as it gave me reason to dig out some of my old Battlefront stuff that I've been sitting on for years. I'm not a huge fan of the FoW rules so this was a great excuse for me to repurpose their figures for something that I might actually get some use out of.

One thing I knew when deciding to go with 15mm is that while the vehicles and terrain are relatively easy to identify, many players find the infantry too small to clearly make out what they are carrying for weapons and equipment. With this in mind I drew upon what I've been doing with my greyscale WWI project, where I've been mounting the officers and NCOs on relatively easy-to-spot hexagonal bases (an idea I shamelessly nicked from the very talented Sidney Roundwood). So, for 15mm I decided to expand on this concept using a variety of base-shapes to denote various equipment and roles.

Hexagonal bases for Senior NCOs / Officers,

Square bases for Junior NCOs,

Round bases for Riflemen (I have about 36 of these fellows),

...and Oblong bases for Weapons Teams and Specialists,

I'm also using an octagonal base (not shown) for unique weapons that could be carried within a standard rifle unit. For example, late-war German Volkssturm could quite conceivably have a mix of rifles, assault rifles and SMGs within a squad. This dog's breakfast of equipment can cause a bit of a muddle when trying to figure out various weapon capabilities in the middle of a game. So I figure the assault rifles, SMGs, etc. would be mounted on octagonal bases for quick identification. I'm also using a larger round base for heavy weapons and spotters.

So with these different shapes of bases I'm hoping that our players will have an easier time identifying what's on the tabletop.

I also 'wintered-up' an early model Marder III to give the infantry platoon a little more punch against the mass of armour that they'll be facing. 

Marders abandoned outside Stalingrad, 1943.
I've always liked the topheavy silhouette of the Marder - it looks so ungainly yet still very lethal. Greg and I were chatting about the Marder's armour stats that we find in many rules systems and determined that any successful hit would require another roll to see if it struck the upper superstructure of the Marder. 

We reason that since the Marder's upper structure was nothing more than a glorified gun shield any strikes there should have a much better chance of penetrating than those hitting the better-armoured hull. This, we think, would better model the Marder: a formidable fighter but with a glass jaw.

Well, there you have it. A sample of my winter themed German force. I'm going to ask Greg to post up some of his Soviets in a few days, so you can see what he's come up with for this little side project of ours.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Worst Case Scenario #9 - "Sleepwalking in Kurland"

In Kurland, baby....
Hello again to the followers of Curt's Analogue Hobbies blog.  Readers familiar with this space will have noted Curt's ongoing series of "Worst Case Scenarios".  When I was fortunate enough to get to know Curt and the Fawcett Ave gaming crew (way back in DATE REDACTED AS PER IMPERIAL INQUISITION FILE 405.303.2201. SUSPECTED HERETIC) one thing that always impressed me was the depth of thought he would put into a scenario.  From a grand Napoleonic engagement to a skirmish encounter between WW2 platoons, there was always a back story, and an inspiration for that back story, in the game-du-jour (or soiree) that he would share. I think you would agree those games where the players connect, even in a small way, with those story elements behind a scenario tend to be a lot of fun - much more fun than the current, rather sterile, standard of seizing table quarters or whatever. Reading Curt's "Worst Case Scenario" posts always take me back to those times and games.

Of course it is fun to just throw some stuff on to the table and start shooting it, and most of my scenarios I set up tend to be like that.  But I like to aim for some depth now and then.  I recently finished an interesting book about WW2 called "Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front", a collection of anecdotes and abbreviated memoirs translated into English from a group of German veterans who served in Panzer divisions in that theater.  

I recommend this book!  It is the source of this "Worst Case Scenario".
I won't go into the details of the book here other than to say I highly recommend it.  These kinds of books always inspire different gaming scenarios in my head, and Curt kindly allowed me to share one of these that really grabbed my imagination here on his blog.  And so I present Worst Case Scenario #9 - "Sleepwalking in Kurland", inspired by an account from this book.

A map of Soviet advances in the latter period of the war on the Eastern Front. The Kurland/Courland pocket is created up near the Baltic at the top of the map.

It is December 1944 on the Eastern Front. The Soviets' successful summer offensive has obliterated Army Group Centre, and trapped Army Group North elements in the area of the Kurland/Courland peninsula.  These trapped units rely heavily on the few Panzer divisions in their midst to hold back the tides of Soviet armour trying to sweep them into the Baltic.

In the midst of confused and chaotic fighting, the commander of Panzer Regiment 35 is trying to figure out what is happening...

NOTE - I would play this in 15mm, and I have included a few staged photos with models from my 15mm WW2 collection to give a rough idea of how it might look.  In terms of rules you could try this with anything from Flames of War to Force on Force to Chain of Command, but I would probably opt for rules on the more involved, reaction-type rule sets where a nuanced and detailed game can occupy the players with a small number of models involved. 


A Panther command vehicle - battalion commander in this photo

"I pressed the binoculars to my tired eyes and observed the foreground. In the approaching darkness, I recognized a group of houses off to the left of us, which were being approached by individual armoured vehicles.  Exhausted as I was, I didn't think about it too long. "Crank it up...direction of march is the farmstead off to the left! 
- Leutnant Hans Schaufler, regimental signals officer of Panzer Regiment 35, 4th Panzer division, December 1944 in the Kurland/Courland area of the Eastern Front.

The panzer division has been fighting continuously for four days and three nights.  The Soviet penetrations are everywhere, and confusion reigns.  The regimental commander has hopped out of his Panther, RN 1, to catch a ride in a half-track back to what he understand to be divisional command post, where a conference of the regimental commanders has been called to try and sort out what is happening.

The Russians think they have parked for the night...
His crew stays behind in RN 1, under the informal command of the regimental signals officer. This is a regimental command tank, crammed with extra radios and, more importantly, code books and other sensitive goodies which, under no circumstances, should fall into enemy hands.  Exhausted from days of fighting, they try not to nod off in the tank. They fail, and are snapped awake by a whistling in the radio headphones.  It is the regimental commander. "Meet to discuss operations at XYZ farmstead!"

One of these things is not like the other....
The crew of RN 1 is still tired, and it is dusk. The signals officer searches quickly and spots a farmstead where the silhouettes of large armoured vehicles are gathering.  The signals officer directs the tank to this farmstead.  They pull up, park the tank, and still tired, fall asleep, assuming the Oberst will be along at any moment to get them moving and brief them as to what is happening.

"Scooby - it's a bunch of Josef Stalins, man!"
The RN 1 crew naps for an hour, still inside the tank (when do you ever leave it at times like these?).  The signals officer suddenly wakes up, and is worried that so much time has passed and there has been no word from the Regimental commander.  The sun is setting now.  Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he hops out of RN 1 and wanders over to the next tank he can see.  It is getting dark and he can only make out the silhouette of a very large tank.  The signals officer hops on to the tank, feeling strange - there are no handles to grab where he is sure they should be...

"So, what company is this?"
 "What company is this?" I yelled into the turret.  A completely foreign face looked up at me. On top of that, the face was framed by a Russian tanker's cap.  I felt a massive turret with coarsely welded seams under my groping hands. A gun as big as a tree jutted out of the turret.  
- Leutnant Hans Schaufler.

The signals officer is horrified to see he has parked RN 1 right in the middle of a company of Josef Stalin tanks! He dives head first into the darkness, off the Russian turret, already yelling to his crew "Crank it up!"  Will the command tank escape? Or will the crew and code books fall into Russian hands? A confused dusk engagement beckons, with a group of grizzled panzer veterans trying to save themselves and their Panther from the claws of a Soviet heavy tank regiment!

"Crank it up!" the Panther crew reverses like he!! to get out of that terrible parking spot...

In Schauffler's memoir, RN 1 is a command tank with a dummy main gun. There are ultimately 20 or so tanks involved from the Soviet side, while an unknown number of Panthers from Regiment 35 arrive to help.  Trying something with that many tanks would make this more of a Flames-of-War type game designed to roll a lot of armour in one game (and to be clear, I love games with lots of tanks), but for this I would prefer to keep it smaller and focused on the fate of the crew in RN 1, as opposed to two armoured forces blowing each other away.

The game would start like this - the German player would select on IS-2, and replace it with Panther RN 1
In the game, the German forces would be comprised of RN 1, and a platoon of three late-model Panthers which can arrive as a rescue/reserve force.  RN 1 would be armed with a real gun, but only have a small load of ammo (because of all the radios on board) and this would be even further depleted because the tank has been fighting for days. The crew quality of the Germans would be high, with the crew in the RN 1 being total rock stars. The adrenaline of the situation wipes out their fatigue for the timeframe of the game.

The German objective is for RN 1 to escape.  The crew and code books absolutely cannot fall into enemy hands! 

The crew of RN 1
The Soviets would have a company of IS-2s - five models would do it. The crew quality is mixed - they are gung-ho, ready to stomp the German vipers, but still raw compared to the German Panzer vets.  It is dusk, they are confused and surprised and this will hinder their effectiveness. They have one objective - knock out the fascist interloper!

A Panther platoon would arrive in reserve to try and help the Regimental command tank
The table would be large, even with a small number of tanks.  The ground would be rough - lots of bog checks - should be a lot rougher than it looks in these photos (I need to improve my terrain collection).  The game would start with the IS-2s clustered in one corner around a farmstead.  The German player would then "switch" out one of the models, replacing it with Panther RN 1, and the race would be on! 

This table is nine feet long and five feet wide - comfy for 15mm armoured fighting.  RN 1 would have to cover about six feet of table to escape.
The Panther platoon would come on a later turn as a reserve.  Night fighting rules of some sort would be in effect, and both sides would have the chance to use parachute flares, or fires, to silhouette targets. Inspired by some great suggestions from Curt, I am working on some rules bodges where RN 1 and the German players would have to keep track of their ammo load - it would be somewhat random, to better reflect the role of tank commander (the gunner fires until the target is gone - might take one round, might take four...).

It would be even cooler to try a version of this game where the players each take a role within RN 1, and the Russians and supporting German elements are run game master style.  How far can you drive? In the dark? In the mud? In reverse? Will you stop to fire? How many rounds will you use up? Can you see the target? Can the Russians see you?  Did you raise the battalion on the radio? I would love to run a game where the players have to connect with those sorts of critical issues facing tank crews that rules must often gloss over or abstract in order to preserve the flow of the game.  This is more possible in a smaller, more detailed game.

And of course, to be truly loyal to the memoir in question, this should all be in winter terrain and painting.  It's December near the Baltic sea - the ground is a mix of snow, of mud, of clay - it sucks, no matter any "wide tracks" rules...but I don't want to give anything away on, shall we say, "a related project" Curt and I are working on. Let's just say "stay tuned".

So that's my "Worst Case Scenario".  I hope you enjoy it - I'm looking forward to trying this game on the table very soon!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New Terrain for the Table from 'Architects of War'

I had a bizarrely uncharacteristic, freakishly blazing desire to get some terrain pieces done - so I ran with the urge before I came to my senses.

I'm a big fan of the products from Architects of War. Their stuff is durable, characterful and very robust. I realize the cost of their kits are often at a premium, but I reason that good quality terrain is like 'a gift that keeps on giving' - once it's done it's always a treat to put on the table. So here are five items from their stock-list that I've managed to bash out over the past few weeks: 

a tobacco field,
'Wait, dude, is that, like, cannabis?' Now, talk about a terrain objective...
the water well,

I really wanted to put a tiny teddy bear laying on the lip of the well but Sarah said that was too dark, even for me.

a Dark Age stone hut,

'Don't get put off by the whole 'hut' thing. Rather, think of it as a minimalist starter home...'

two pink pigs in their poke,

Orville and Wilbur daydreaming of a world that hates bacon. 

and finally, a machine-gun emplacement.

From the pages of 'Better Holes & Trenches': the self composting MG nest.
This piece will come in handy for WWII skirmish games like 'Bolt Action', 'Chain of Command', etc.
Remove the top of the emplacement and you get a rather grisly knocked-out version. Yeesh!

To be frank I'm not completely cured of the terrain-making bug (well, it's more just assembling/painting), so I may have a few more items rolling off the table over the next little while.