Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Prusa Progress: Done!

 Whew - the printer is now fully assembled.  Despite an insufficient supply of gummy bears, this was a really fun little project.  I made a few mistakes and had to backtrack a bit but I enjoyed building this sucker.

Now it's time for my first test print:

 Well, that didn't seem to go all that well.  I'm pretty sure the Prusa logo isn't an abstract piece of art.  The troubleshooting guide on the Prusa website is very well done and I quickly diagnosed there were two problems - one of the drive belts (the one that moves the platform) was too loose and the print head was too close to the base.

A little repair work and let try again.

The printer does comes with a first layer calibration routine which I ran about 20 times tweaking the settings.  It prints a single line in a zig zag pattern and a small flat piece.  Useful for diagnosing, boring to blog about.  SO you only get to see the test results of full items.
Boom printing like a champ.

If you are considering getting into 3D printing, remember there are a lot of setting s you need to tweak to get the unit set up.  Also, since there are a lot of mechanical parts, you periodically need to readjust the printed as it's used.

I've got some new projects to get started on.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Et Sans Resultant! (ESR): First Test Game at the Club

Russian initial deployment
Last night I ran my first game of Et Sans Resultant! (ESR) at the club.  We refought the Battle of Vitebsk from the Master of the World campaign book (Invasion of Russia).  The battle was fought in July of 1812 and involved a Russia rear guard action outside of Smolensk.  The Russian forces consisted of two infantry and one calvary corps were attempting to delay Murat who had the IV Corps and Nansouty's reserve calvary division.  The French had a slightly advantage in numbers and commander quality.

I choose this scenario because of the wide range of unit types and command structures and lots of calvary.  The French Objective is simple - get off the far end of the board.

The Attack  of the French Cav Corps
The French elected to delay their entry by two turns but march on the board fully deployed.  They also wasted no time in launching a furious calvary charge lead by the 1st Heavy Calvary Division again the Russian calvary corps (upper center of the picture.  IV Corps two large infantry divisions split their efforts.

I wonder if the water's cold?
 Simon's French division prepares to cross a stream.
The calvary action was very bloody - the Russians managed to repulse the 1st Heavy Cav and effectively take it out of the game but were two weakened to hold off the following French light Calvary division.  Calvary is both very powerful but also brittle in this game system.

at the bottom, Simon's French Division is now ready to launch it's attack on the Russian right flank

Simon's attack goes in but the Russians counter the attack and throw in one of their reserve division.  There were several turns of fighting but eventually Simon was outflanked and his division broken.
The situation at the end of the game.  Both sides left flanks have been broken but the French can exit the map and the 1st heavy Cav has been rallied and is moving up so the game was called a marginal French Victory.

So what do I think of ESR?  I liked it, I liked it a lot.  This is a large scale game where command is the central component - trying to sequence your order issuance is both difficult and fun.  Calvary is very flexible and enemy calvary can be most troublesome when you're trying to orchestrate the movement of thousands of men.  I really liked how the game played and we will definitely play this again.  I think we got 60-70% of the rules right.  There are a lot of nuances that need to be discovered with how order types and formations combine so this is a game that take 2-3 plays to really get a feel for.  Players take the role of army / corp commanders so a lot of the tactical detail common in most Napoleonic games (forming squares, attack columns etc is ignored.  Formations are either deployed (ready for combat) or ployed (in march column).  The tactical details are left up to your tabletop subordinates.

These rules are published by The Wargaming Company and both the rule book and campaign guides are stunningly presented.  Everything is printed on high quality glossy paper and then spiral bound (a big plus for laying flat on a table.  The rules are extremely well laid out and provide all the information you need to field armies from just about every Napoleonic combatant.  The campaign guides present 8-10 historical scenarios from a specific campaign and detail the map layouts, briefing's for both sides and forces involved.  They also have superb uniform painting guides for all the units involved in the depicted campaign.  I highly recommend the campaign guides for anyone interested in Napoleonic gaming with or with out using ESR.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Prusa Progress: Extruder Complete and LED attached

The extruder/print head is finally done.  The instructions indicated this was the most complicate step and I can attest to the veracity of that statement.  Each individual step made sense but there were a lot of them!  I will say the instruction manual is superb.  I also recommend using the online version which has a few more pictures and toy can zoom in on them.

Next step is the assembling the heated bed and then hooking up the power unit with the electronics.

There is one GREAT LIE with Prusa 3D printer assembly.  The company includes a nice package of gummy bears that you are supposed to eat as rewards for completing certain steps.  There just aren't enough gummy bears relative to the work.  Somehow my gummy bear stash has been depleted before the uni is done.  Perhaps I should substitute beer for the remaining steps.

What could go wrong?

Friday, July 26, 2019

New 3D Printer

I picked up a new 3D printer - a Prusa Mk3S.  It's gotten good reviews and my next secret project will require a lot of 3D printing so a second one is "justified".

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

The Prusa requires assembly.  A lot of assembly

Ok the basic frame is done.

I was texting back and forth with my son and had a very funny auto spell correct episode.  I had meant to send

"I've started on the Prusa today"

But Siri, in her infinite glory, actually sent

"I've started on the Prussians today"

My son responded with

"Napoleonic or Franco-Prussian War?"

Only in this hobby can that happen

Nor the Y axis (front to back) and Z axis (up and down) are assembled.  I think there are another 10,000 steps to go.  While building a 3D printer can be tedious, it does teach you how the thing works (hopefully it will work)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Skirmish Sanguin at the club

 Tom ran a beautifully staged Skirmish Sanguin game at the club last night.  This as my first time with the rules and lets just say it showed!
The scenario was a British Patrol, along with a squad of Afghan Police trying to sweep a Village.  Ed and I each took a four man British section with the Keith taking the Afghan Police.  Ed and I weren't too sure about the loyalties of the Police so had them take point.
The high point of the game for my squad - landing a grenade close enough to do a little damage.  The rest of the scenario was pretty much a disaster.  Ed's squad found an IED the hard way, The afghan police got shot up but did have the best showing of our group.  I had one medium wound and decided that retreating was a much better option.
My squad retreating.  I liked the rules, but this is a game that requires you to both really know the rules and likely takes 2-3 play through before you're proficient.  I would like to play again - especially on Tom's wonderful terrain and minis.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Lessons from Running a Large Napoleonic Participation Game

Running a large convention (aka participation) game can be a daunting task.  However, if a dolt like me can do it, so can you.

Over the years I have learned, and in some cases relearned, several lessons that I will now bore you with.  You'd better go get a coffee as the caffeine jolt may be needed to get through this meandering discourse.

First a word on scale - when I say big, I mean BIG - this year's game, To Catch a King, was played on a 6 foot by 19 foot table and had 2,417 figures in play.  The game was designed for 8 players but I mostly played with 10.

1) KNOW The Rules (and when you don't, fake it)
Nothing detracts from a good game like a rules dispute.  All of us have a hidden rules lawyer just waiting to get off the chain and it's your role as Game Master to ensure it doesn't happen.  I put a lot of effort in knowing the rules but state clearly at the start of the game that I will make mistakes but my decisions are final.  After running a few games, you'll also be able to develop the skills to spot budding table top Clarence Darrows and a quiet word prior to the game start goes a long way in heading things off.  The worst thing a GM can do is loose control of a rules debate.  Even if you're unsure. make a call quickly and move on.  It's OK to be wrong but be wrong decisively.  At least I hope being wrong is OK, because I'm wrong a lot.

2) Get Players into the Action Fast
I try to design scenarios where all the players are into the fight no later than turn 2 - a bored player either becomes disengaged or contemplates rules questions.  An engaged player has fun.  In other words, the devil does find work for idle hands.  All of my players have units the are on the tabletop.  Where there are off table reinforcements - they are additions to existing player rosters not a player waiting in the wings.

3) Limit Upfront Rules Lectures
Don't spend 30 minutes explaining all the rules in detail and then start playing - no-one will remember your rambling and likely boring diatribe.  Just hit the high points and use the first turn or two to walk through the rules.  For To Catch a King, one end of the table (the Austrians and French I Corps) whas set up close to one another so there was some contact on turn one, while the rest of the table required at least a turn of movement before contact.  Having actual on table top examples while blathering on about the rules is very helpful.

4) Allow some do overs (at the start)
No one likes to like dumb and players can hold back out of fear from appearing so.  One way to alleviate that is be generous allowing for do-overs if players make a really dumb move.  One just needs to be even handed for each side.  I typically have a count of three per side and always mention something dumb I've done in a past game when the player needs a break

5) Speed is your friend
Find ways to speed up play, especially if there are lots of miniatures to move.  A few easily learned tips
- Minimize on table top status markers that need to be moved along with the units - for TCaK, I created laminated players cards to track unit status with a grease pencil - easy to use and quick to reset for the next game.  Wow this French Corps really got chewed up.
- Movement Trays - where ever possible put mutli-stand units in movement trays.  It moves the game along a lot faster and saves wear and tear on you minis as players grab the stands and not the minis.  I made 40 or so for column formation stands out of Polystyrene plastic and they worked great.

The stands were a 1/16 inch thick sheet of ploystyrene with a some edging glued around three edges.  I left the back open so the unit labels wouldn't be obstructed.

 The friction between the sides and the troop stands was pretty good.  I'll do a post on making these in a few days.

- Bellow out the turn order and essentially act like a carnival barker - gotta keep the game moving.  One really can not be shy and be a good GM.
- Every player should have there own QRF (Quick Reference Sheet) for the rules.  Don't go cheap on the printing.  I give each player a clipboard to organize all of the player aids.  Gamers LOVE clipboards.
- If a players wanders away from the table, (it happens) step in, as the GM, and play for them until they get back.  DO NOT hold up play for absent players.  The one caveat, if a player has some medical issue or disability you do need to accommodate them and I will hold up play for that type of issue.  That's just common courtesy.  Make sure you announce that you will step in for absent players at the start of the game.
- Have 3x the number of dice you need.  Dice love to hide on the table top BUT dice hide and seek shouldn't be a recurring feature of your game.  Dice are cheap, go buy a lot more.

6) Kids Win Always (but maybe not the game).
This is a bit of an alteration of my past rule that Kids Win, Always.  I've learned that forcing a game outcome to favor the side that a child plays on can be off-putting and doesn't really teach sportsmanship.  So I no longer overly tilt gameplay in favor of a kid (see item 4 above).  I still try to make the experience memorable and positive by awarding a medal of valor to any child players at the conclusion. I found a source of inexpensive replica WW2 British medals and now always have some on hand.  I gave out two this year and it seemed to go over really well, as young master Andy demonstrates.  Andy's side lost the game and he had to put up a stiff defense with his one British division against THREE French ones but it still looks like he enjoyed the game.

Napoleon was right about medals.

7) Stuff Breaks - Don't Whine About it.
If you choose to go down the path of participation games, you must bear in mind that your toys will get used and some will be broken.  It happens.  Don't get mad, don't look hurt, don't act like a diva.  Just laugh it off and fix it.  I always bring a hobby emergency kit - paints, brushes, hobby knife and super glue with accelerant and can repair just about any mishap.  I also bring a terrain repair kit with loose flock, matte medium for glue, terrain paint and the all important hot glue gun w/ lots of glue sticks.  Also an extension cord.  I probably could pay for my convention travel expenses by just renting out the hot glue gun to other GM's.  I'll repeat the main point again STUFF WILL GET BROKEN - not a lot but don't act like an ass when it does.  If this point rubs you the wrong way then maybe being a convention GM isn't the right path for you.

8) Don't Go Solo 
Putting on convention games is really a lot of work - find some friends or a club to help.  I've joined Army Group York (yes the guys who put out the LittleWarsTV channel) and being part of a club at a convention makes doing all this stuff both easier and a lot more fun.  I'm still surprised the club lowered it's standards to let me in.

9) Have Fun
Being a GM is a combination of two roles I've always aspired to be - a Big Top Circus Ringmaster and a Carnival Barker.  You can't be shy and you need to be able to read people to gauge their personality types.  These are good life skills and ones that pay double as a convention GM.  You do have to be comfortable being the center of attention and getting the odd quizzical / judgmental look from passer by's.  Ignore them, they're just jealous they can't get into you game or they think you're an idiot.  I can live with either as I'm having a blast and they look like they're not.  As the great philosopher and social commentator C Sheen once said, "WINNING".

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Historicon 2019: To Catch a King - A Retrospective

 I was more than a little nervous with my game "To Catch A King" at Historicon this year for a number of reasons, one of which which was the scale - there are over 2,400 mini's on the table.  The following photo's show the initial setup.  I did tinker with it a little bit over the course of the con, but no material changes where made.  The objective of the game was for the British to get the King's carriage across the map and onto a waiting ship.  The French wanted to prevent that.  In the end, the French won 4 out of 5 games but it was a lot closer than that tally appears.
 The French Left flank consisted of Soult's single division on the shore and Lannes corps of two divisions (in the center of the picture plus a reserve force of a Guard infantry and heavy calvary divisions under Napoleon.  Soult's smaller division had a chance of maritime reinforcements over the course of the game.
In the center was Davout and his III Corps of two divisions.

Finally, on the French right flank is Bernadotte and his I Corps of (yet again) 2 divisions.  Opposing I corps is a similar sized Austrian Corps.  Austrians?  During Napoleon's invasion of Britain?  Well the given reason is that they're British Allies.  The real reason is that I ran out of time painting British and had to augment the force with some Austrians!
The British center is held by II Corps which has two divisions deployed between the bridge and around the central village.
On the right flank the British I corps is deployed along a hill and into the port city.  One of the divisions, commanded by the upstart Wellesely has deployed on the reverse slope of the hill awaiting the French.  To the rear of the formation is the British reserve - a heavy cavalary division of three brigades and a horse artillery battery.
Finally the British right flank is anchored by a single division but they have mixed up their orders and deployed to far forward,  Oops....

The sides are fairly balanced with the French having a slight advantage in numbers 32 infantry, and 11 cavalry brigades plus 9 artillery batteries opposed to 28 infantry and 10 cavalry brigades plus 8 artillery batteries.  There were 2,417 figures on the table.

The setup was intended to allow some initial skirmishing on the flanks to help teach rule mechanics and then have everyone in some form of contact by turn 2.

 "To Catch a King" was played 5 times over the course of the con, with the first game being Thursday afternoon.  Both the French and British CiC's were experienced General d'Armee players and from the same gaming group.  That fact was really helpful in managing the game.

 The decisive point of the game came when the Austrians launched a spoiling attach against the French as they were trying to move part of I Corps across a ford to reinforce the main attach in the center.  The attack was more costly to the Austrians in losses but threw off the main French attack as reinforcements were rushed to fill the gap and away from the key objective.  Game 1 was a resounding British victory.
The players from Game1

 The Friday morning game resulted in a French victory and they were able to capture the King at the bridge crossing.  Davout's reputation has been further enhanced.  The French did have an unfair advantage as they had a Priest on their side.
 Furious fighting on the shoreline - lots of casualties on each side but no breakthroughs.
 Davout's main column breaks through and captures the King!
 There just weren't enough British in the areas to mount a counter attack
Lesson from Game 2 - always have a priest on your side of the table.

 Game three was perhaps my favorite on the con so, of course I forgot to take pictures.  I had fantastic players including a full family, the Green Viking and Josh from the club.

The fighting was furious and this was the only game the French heavy cav really was decisive as it charged over the hill and cut the road.  Victory to France!
The game three crew!

Young Andy commanded the extreme British right flank and managed to hold off elements of three French divisions with his single and batters British one.  For his bravery and coolness under fire he was awarded a Victoria's Cross much to the exclaim of his gaming participants, especially the French.  It was a good day.

That's correct, Master Andy is the recipient of a genuine replica Victoria's Cross.

 Game Four (Sat am) was a really hard fought affair with fighting all across the front.  This game played out as close to what I had imagined the game to do

 It was another French Victory, but just by the king of their teeth

 The last game on Saturday was also fun but I was really tired - running big games can be a bit taxing.
 Good friend Mike P commanded the Austrians.  His turn 1 dice rolling was red hot - two box cars in a row.  His turn 2+ dice rolling was not red hot.  Mike is a great guy and a pleasure to have at the gaming table win or loose.

 This was the first game where the king was caught before crossing the bridge!

The Game 5 crew.  Another French Victory.

I was really pleased with how the game played but there was a lot I can do to make the game better.

As I indicated at the beginning of this post, I was more than a little nervous putting this game on as I was using a somewhat detailed set of rules (General d'Armee) and its scope was pretty big.

General d'Armee - the rules actually worked well and players picked up the key concepts by turn 2.  I do think the 4 pages of QRF sheets are hard to process for a new player and I need to make some custom ones that reduce some of the complexity.  These remain, by far, my favorite Napoleonic rules but do need a "lite" version for convention play.

Naval Aspect - My original game concept had a naval aspect with frigates and house rules.  After seeing how big the game really is and the noise in the convention area, I decided to just focus on the land battle which was still a bit of a bear to GM.  For future games where I want a naval aspect I think I'll go with the format I used for "Decision in Delmarva" in 2015 where a morning naval battle sets up the afternoons land battle.  The ship's did serve as nice eye candy!

Napoleonics - I'm hooked - I think this game looked great and was playable so one can do Napoleonic in a convention setting.  I'm pretty sure you'll see another Nappy themed game at Historicon in 2020.  What's the scenario?  I'm still trying to figure that out.....

I do want thank my club mates who were really helpful over the course of the con.  I find myself very fortunate to count them as friends.  Also thanks a lot to Chris Hecht who drove up Saturday to help - maybe one day we can lure him back to the dark side of Historical gaming.  Maybe.....