Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Virtual Gaming Attempt 2: Some Conclusions are Emerging

 Last Monday, I put on my second attempt with virtual gaming for the club.  Overall it went better than the first attempt but that was more due to the smaller scale in terms of units and the rules.

I re-ran the same battle as last time (Tashinchiao from the Russo-Japanese War) but used Greg's Alter of Freedom rules, which move the scale up from Battalions to Regiments.  That cut the number of unit bases in half and reduced the table top from 6x4 to 4x4 in  size. 

I made some changes to Alter of Freedom to include indirect artillery fire and machine guns but tried to keep the tinkering to a minimum.  I may have failed but I did try...

The Japanese were able to stage an effective attack and the outcome of the game was still in doubt after we called a stop.  I had four players (2 for each side) and we managed to get in 5 turns of a planned 12 during a 3 hour game session.  Had we all been playing in person, I am convinced we would have gotten all the turns in.  As for the outcome I think it was a toss up.  One Japanese division was chewed up at the cost of 2.5 for the Russian formations.  The game could have gone either way.

To me this is the biggest issue with staging a miniature game with lots of bases - it's just inefficient as one person me has to move all the pieces, roll the dice.  It's also frustrating for players as they try to communicate where to position units for maximum effect and I often misunderstood their instructions and needed to constantly tinker with placement.  There were some comical moments with exasperate players constantly telling me to move unit "over-there" or "where I'm pointing" only for me to remind them I cant see them.

 Because I was so busy running the game, I couldn't take any pictures during play so have posted some end of gaming session pictures.

The Japanese (Greg and Josh) elected to attack the center- left flank of the Russians where they saw a gap in the defensive setup.
The attack pushed the Russians off the hill but reinforcements moved in to stem the Japanese tide.  Both sides launched attacks and counterattacks - its was a swirling battle and was really fun to watch.
The Japanese left flank saw no action during the game but that may have changed had we gotten more than five turns in
Indirect artillery was an important factor in the game but it wasn't over-powering.  I still need to tweak the rules to make it more streamlined its use in the game.

While Zoom is a good platform, we still experienced some issues with players have a hard time keeping the map camera they wanted pined (visible on the main screen).  This could have been my fault as the host, Im just not sure.  Given my general level of technical ineptitude, it probably was but there will always be issues with people using different types of bandwidth and devices.

So what have learned after putting on 2 "virtual games" and playing in two others.

1) Game Type Matters
Games with lots of bases and free form movement are very difficult to stage.  It's exhausting for the GM and frustrating for the players as they just don't have the same control over unit placement.  Games that have movement grids (squares or hexes) will be a lot easier to put on as unit placement options are limited.  I'm hoping we can try "Rommel" or something like "Too the Strongest" in a future game to see if the gridded movement speeds things up.

Naval games where a player commands one or two ships also should work well - again you need rules that have gridded movement like "Fire as She Bears" (octagons) or "Hammering Iron" - ACW ironclads (hexes).

The next game I try to put on will likely be a Napoleonic naval game using Fire as She Bears.

2) Games with lots of Bases / and lots of different unit types/capabilities are hard to stage.
Camera resolution and your players bandwidth can limit the visibility of units and often results in players mistaking unit x of superior infantry for unit y of conscripts.  I tried to manage this by color coding unit labels and keeping all the units of a formation the same quality but there still were points of confusion.

3) Multiple Cameras are a must and you need at least one "mobile" camera to zoom in on key spots.  I had two cameras up and running - a mid-level logitech webcam and my I-phone on a tripod.  The I-phone provided far superior image quality and about halfway through the game I started placing it on the table to zoom in and that worked well.  One I-phone tip I learned is the camera on the back of the phone is superior to the one on the front.

4) Is it worth the trouble - Hell Yes.  Despite all of the technical and gameplay issues being able to spend time with my gaming club is more than worth the effort to stage a game.  Trying to keep some semblance of out Monday night traditions is important and something I'll continue to be working towards.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Test Marsh and/or Swamp Terrain

 On glaring gap in my terrain inventory is marshes / swamps.  I've always found the concept of building decent "marshy" terrain a bit daunting.  But with a little time on my hands in between conference calls (and sometimes during...) I decided to give it a try and made two test pieces.  The first one had a small tree and the other did not.

Here's a close up of the first one.  I think it came out "OK". I've set several goals for this project:

- These need to be usable for scales ranging from 6mm to 28mm
- I can only use materials on hand (that's not as limiting as it sounds
- it's easy to store so vertical feature (like trees) need to be removable and I'll need to make different sized trees for the different scales

I grew up in the bayous of southern Alabama, so have some pretty direct experience with swampy terrain.  Thats a plus and a minus as I'll also have a certain level of bias.

 My second test piece has no vertical aspect.  It kind of looks like a pond with bad landscape management.

Please ignore the 6mm Russian troops - I'm running another Russo-Japanese war game over Zoom tonight.  The are useful as a scale reference.  The bases of 40mm squares.

I know, I know, the paper tracks are crap - I need to get something better.  My apologies for those of you who are offended by these lame tracks
Here's another picture of the first test on the table.  I would appreciate any comment, especially suggestions on what might be improved.

The bases are 1/8 inch (3mm) thick black PVC sheet.  PVC has become my terrain material of choice.  It's cheap, durable, easy to cut and DOES NOT WARP.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Terrain Making - Entrenchment & Barbed Wire Markers

This weekend I made some hasty entrenchment and barbed wire markers.  The goal was to make something that was a bit scale agnostic and could work for 6 to 15mm gaming.  Their first use will be a re-running of the Battle of Tashihchiao from the Russo-Japanese War tomorrow night.  That game will be another "Zoom-Tabletop Game" but more on that in another post.

The design idea for the entrenchments comes from the 6mm-terrain tips website, which is run by a fellow club member, Greg.  The Bard wire concept came from another club member, Ed, who used it to scenic some 6mm WW1 bases he painted up.  I rarely have unique ideas of my own and am happy to steal from others.

The tutorial on the 6mm website recommends using paintable window caulking as the material to paint.  I had some laying around and cut bases from strathmore board (picture frame backing) to 10 x 60mm in dimension.  Why strathmore board ?- I had it lying around and it's easy to cut.  Why 60mm widths? - because thats the width of my 6mm civil war bases and these stands need to work across both multiple scales (6 to 15mm) and periods (Naps to WW2).  OK maybe no barbed wire until the R-J War.
When working with caulk, it's important to put down a sheet of wax paper or you'll have a really sticky mess.  Also have some water close by to wet your fingers while shaping the material.

I did a quick paint up of the entrenchments and then realized that these just wouldn't work.   There is no ground texture to the caulk so they appear way to smooth.  I don't want to add ground foam as these need to work in different climates / seasons.

Sometimes projects don't work the first few times you try - especially with terrain projects.  Don't get mad - it's a learning opportunity and figure out a different way. 

It turned to an old friend in this terrain making time of need....

 Mr pre-mixed, flexible and tinted tile grout (Mr T-G, for short).  Good old Mr. T-G has bailed me out of innumerable terrain making quandaries and, I'm happy to say, he didn't let me down this time.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Oh Tile Grout, is there nothing you cant do?"  Bonus points if you can mention the item Homer is speaking of in the original line below in the comments.  No googling 'cause that's cheating

I cut out some 20x40mm bases for the barbed wire and covered them with a very thin layer of the tile grout.  There a huge difference between the texture of the caulked bases vs the ones with tile-grout.
I made some new entrenchment bases.  When working with tile grout the drying time seems to lengthen exponentially based on layer thickness - try to keep it as thin as possible.  I used some 2 inch long wooden sticks as a substrate and then covered them with the grout

It took me about 30 minutes to redo the bases and apply the grout.  I then left them to dry over night and

painted and washed them with a black ink wash.  I'm very happy with how they came out.

With the entrenchments done, it wash time to make some barbed wire.  I cut a 9 inch section of 18 gauge copper wire, and stripped the insulation covering.  Once the wire was exposed I unwound individual strands to make "barbed wire"

After extensive research into the history and provenance of barbed wire, I determine the exact scale diameter to make the loops.  As all of you know by now, historical precision is the hallmark of all my work and gameplay.  Using my workshop calipers, I found the exact diameter brush I need and then wound the wire around it to create loops.  Yes that's exactly what I did.  Well, either that or I just grabbed a random brush to make the loops.  I'll let you decide.

 With the wire loops made - I turned to a product I used during the dark days of my sojorn into  model railroading - it's called "Blacken-It" and it does what it says to metals.  I cut the looped wire into 35mm lengths (+/-) and dropped them in the solution and a few minutes later I've got black barbed wire.

Please be careful with this stuff as it is highly toxic if ingested.  Also, as a precaution against our idiot President making future pronouncements, Blacken-It has no effect on COVID-19 either when appleid externally or ingested.  Like other household disinfectant, such as bleach or Lysol, one should not ingest these items.  Of course, if you need to be convinced not to listen to the Orange Moron, then well I'm not sure you can read so these warnings may go over your head. 

My apologies for the slight rant, but as the spouse of a medical professional who is treating patients during this time, I have developed nothing but contempt and disdain for the current idiot in the Whitehouse and his duped supporters.

Let's get back to miniatures, shall we?

Once blackened, the wire is attached to the base with a few drops of super glue.

 and - boom - I've got 28 bases of barbed wire
I'm very happy with how this project turned out.

Hopefully, you'll see these markers used on all sorts of games in the near future.

Stay safe and healthy

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Battle of Tashihchiao: July, 1904 - A Remote Gaming Experiment - The Outcome

I hosted my first ever tabletop "remote" (or virtual) gaming event last night.  All in all, I thought it went very well.  Still there are aspects that can be improved.  The game itself was a battle from the Russo Japanese War and it ended in a Russian victory after a few rounds are very accurate artillery fire and then a spoiling attack which evaporated the Japanese left flank.  The game was closer than it looks.  Running a game as the host with 4 remote players was an all consuming task so I didn't take any pictures in game.  The three pictures show the Japanese left,
center, and

right flanks at the end of the game.

Historically,, aside from the counter attack the game played out to the same outcome - the Japanese attacks on July 24th were rebuffed with heavy losses.  The Russians were later dislodged via a night attack on the early morning hours of the 25th.
The casualty for both sides (Russians on the left and Japanese on the right).  Most of the Japanese casualties came in the last 2 turns.

I'm going to separate my comments into 3 sections 1) technology, 2) gameplay and 3) things to improve

We used the video conferencing service ZOOM as the platform and, overall it worked very well.  There are other platforms available that may be better but I've learned how to use ZOOM over the past few weeks so went with what I was comfortable with.   Video of the game table was provided by two cameras set up at each far end of the table.  One camera was linked to my laptop which I used to dial into the Zoom service on my account which allowed me to control the meeting.  The second camera was just my i-Phone which I mounted on a tripod and dialed in as a general user for the call (not using my zoom account).  The cameras didn't have the best resolution but worked "good enough".  Several times I had to take one of the cameras in hand and zoom into a spot so a player could give me some specific movement instructions.   The zoom service worked great for player communication and chit chat.  I set up different message streams in Facebook messenger for each side to communicate amongst themselves or to send me order changes.  That worked "OK" (see the areas for improvement below).  I tried color coding the unit labels to make them easier to pick out.  That didn't work as the labels were too small to see

Gameplay: The rules we used were Great War Spearhead II, which have a fairly rigid order structure and order of shooting (closest first) and those aspects made them suitable for remote gaming as there isn't a lot of nuanced movement or figure placing and formations need to act as a cohesive group.  GWS2 is a ruleset that favors defense (the author indicates attackers should have 3:1 local force superiority).  It's been the club experience that defenders almost always win and that's how last night played out.  I hindsight, the attacking Japanese probably should have used some form of pre attack bombardment rather than just jumping off in the first turn.  I also used the suggested stats for the Russo-Japanese war  from GWS2 but in hindsight may have made the Russians a bit too strong/flexible.    There will need to be some tweaking but hopefully not so much nerfing as it makes the Russians no fun to play.  I'm not ready to give up on GWS2 but need to really think about some revisions before running it again.  If any reader has some thoughts about a grand tactical set of WW1 rules, I'm all ears.

Things to Improve
1) Better Cameras - the visual aspect of gaming is probably the most important one people enjoy and seeing it over the internet degrades that experience.  Internet video cameras are fairly cheap so investing in a couple better ones is well worth the effort.

2) Syncing pregaming prep materials with the camera angles used to broadcast.  In my pregame prep materials, I took pictures for each side from different angles than the ones broadcasting cameras displayed.  That proved very confusing to some players.  In a "real" game it'san easy to fix as one can walk around the table to reorient oneself but in a remote game thats not possible.  Making sure there are some pictures that match the broadcast camera angles in the prep materials will greatly improve player comprehension,

3) Overhead camera - finding a way to have a came directly overhead would be very useful and might eliminate the need for multiple camera angles.  To be honest, I think a single camera isn't the best as I do like trying to simulate the players view from the side of the table they are on.  Player perspective is an important aspect in tabletop gaming

4) Unit Labeling - my labels would have worked great for an in person game but were just too small to be useful on a video stream.  The unit bases were 40 x 40mm with the labels being roughly 5x40mm along the rear.  Next game I'll make the labels 20x40mm and the colors more vibrant.

5) Player GM "Secret" Communication:  Our club does most of its internal communications on Facebook and the its messenger app for projects and gaming planning  It works fine for what we need and has the benefit that the interface is easy to use and its free (well, free except for the cost of our privacy....).  Using different platforms (Zoom and messenger) during a remote gaming session proved to be hard on the poor GM and I often ignored the messenger channel as I was running around moving units and rolling dice.  I'm sure there is a better way to do this and need to think about it.

While there was a lot that can be improved on, I was still very pleased with how the gaming session went and am looking forward to staging another game in a few weeks.  I am also very grateful to all the players and video participants who agreed to be my test subjects.

It felt great to get a little of our Monday night club meetings back.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Battle of Tashihchiao: July, 1904 - A Virtual Gaming Experiment

I will be hosting a tabletop game tonight - re-staging the battle of Tashihchiao from the Russo-Japanese war.  Now before any of you have a fit, I'll be alone in my basement but playing the game over the internet via the zoom conference calling package.

This will be the first outing on the table for my 6mm Russo-Japanese armies.  The battle was a prelude to Liaoyang and was smallish in size with roughly 65K men per side.  The Japanese 2nd Army, which consisted of 4 divisions plus some support units attacked through the hills with the objective of seizing the rail junction located at battles namesake town.  Opposing them are two Siberian Infantry corps.  Historically, the Russians gave a good account of themselves during this battle and withdrew in good order.

 The battle will be played on a 6x4 table.  It could have been bigger but I was worried about the camera being able to "see" the total field.  The Russians are in the upper left half of the board and are defending the ling ridge in the middle.

Units are individual battalions.

A view from the Russian side of the table. The Russians have an advantage in cavalry and the Japanese have advantages in heavier artillery brigades.

The Japanese corner.  The terrain's a bit suspect - I made the railway and villages on powerpoint and then used whatever hills I had to simulate the rough ground.

I'll be using the WW1 ruleset "Great War Spearhead II" - why?  I've played them a few times during Josh's epic Gallipoli games and like them.  The employ an order concept for formations such as  "Attack point X", "Move to Y", Defend Z".  Once an order is set the details of how a unit moves or who it can target are pretty specific.  Both of those concepts should lend themselves to remote play where players can give orders but cant really manipulate the bases in a precise manner.

All of the unit formations are color coded to make them easier for players to see.  Video resolution will be an issue but that's also a form of fog of war - at least that's my current story.

To be honest, I am a little nervous about pulling this off.  On the other hand, I really miss the Monday night game sessions at the club and just don't want to give into the negative side effects of enforced isolation without trying different options.  Don't get me wrong - I fully support the concept of social distancing and know that we all are savings lives by complying.  That said, if I can figure out a way to make them a little less dreary then that's a good thing too.

Lastly, I have checked the odds in 'Vegas and the overwhelming favorite for the outcome of tonight's game is:

Well, tonights game may be a disaster, but at least I know it can't be as bad as the slow US response to this Virus - thanks Donny for being my Mississippi.

(here in the US, Mississippi almost always ranks 50th in any measure of a positive aspect, so the other states that also rank lower are very appreciative that Mississippi always prevents them from being last.)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Terrain Workshop Re-Organization

My terrain work shop is a disaster, so I spent a good bit of Friday cleaning and reorganizing the mess.  Good progress was made but more needs to be done.  One funny thing is. I always put off these types of tasks until they can no longer be delayed yet really enjoy performing the task when it actually gets underway.
 The result - a workbench that can be used.  As a bonus I discovered these two unfinished hill sections under the rubbish I made more than a year ago.  Each is 20 inches long and can be placed next to each other to form a long ridge.

Finishing those hills will be today's project.  There's a little damage to repair as I apparently stepped on them while stumbling around the workshop.  I have never been accused of a surplus of grace.
 The floor space is almost all cleared out.  Still some more work to do but at least it's no longer a hazard area to move around in.
The new cabinet is in use storing Jungle terrain and terrain supplies.  To the left of the cabinet are my terrain panels (some of which were store on the floor.  The collection currently stands at 18, 2x2 ft panels.  I've got storage room to add 12 more and will be doing some special terrain (trenches, rivers, urban area foot prints etc.  I really like these panels as they look very nice but are easy to store and move for convention games.

About half of the Jungle terrain on the top two shelfs and the cabinet top will be making their way to Canada as they's Curts from the Analogue Hobbies blog.  Once I get off my ass and package them up, the freed-up space will be used to store 15 and 6mm buildings/terrain.

Only one of the drawers on the right side of the cabinet is currently in use as a barracks for minis.  It's the bottom one which has the bulk of the 15mm Arab Conquest Army cavalry I painted up for this years painting challenge.  The other seven drawers are empty for the moment but will likely get filled very quickly as my Russo-Japanese War project is moving along nicely.  I may have even received a shipment from War Times Journal of 3D resin printed models for every ship involved in the conflict.  Every ship.......

Friday, April 10, 2020

Quarantine Woodworking Project 2: Storage Cabinet: Done

Let's move another gaming related woodworking project into the finished column as the storage cabinet is done and installed in my "terrain workshop".

What? You are unfamiliar with the now standard residential housing feature of a terrain workshop?  Well then sit back and I'll tell you the tale.......
In the basement of our house are these 2 doors which open up into a 8ft x 8ft bump out space that is directly below the breakfast nook of our kitchen.  For reasons that I can not remember, it never got finished like the rest of the basement and has always been a bit of a hobby space for me.

My lovely, yet fierce wife approves of me using this space as she can close the doors and not be reminded of the mess.  At least I hope it's the mess and not me.
 Upon opening the doors, you are greeted on the right side with the new cabinet.  The blue backgrounds and leftover scenery on the shelfs are evidence that this room once held a small HO-Scale train layout.

 On the left side of the room is my trusty terrain making workbench and scenic supplies.  It's a mess.

By the way, that workbench was my very first woodworking project and was built when we first bought the house way back in 1997!  It has served in many different hobby campaigns over the years.
Speaking of messes, we now move on the  disaster of the middle space - it's not normally this bad as I had to move some things to make room for the cabinet.  OK, that was a lie - it's always this bad and I desperately need to reorganize this space - hence the need for a storage cabinet.

The schedule for the next few days are a few board calls and a lot of cleaning up / re-organization of this space.

I wonder how many "missing" figures I'll find as I clear away the debris on the floor of the shop?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Quarantine Woodworking Project 2: Storage Cabinet - Sanding Done

Not as much progress as I would like today on the cabinet given a bunch of work related calls.  I did manage to sand all the surfaces on both the cabinet and drawers.  Sanding is tedious but important

One of the reasons why I have a standard size for drawers is that I've built several jigs that really speed up the construction.  In the center of the first picture (under the small hammer) is my form jig.  I can pop the drawer parts into the jig to confirm they are the right sizes and then glue / nail everything in place.  With my brad nailer and air compressor all fired up. a drawer can be assembled in under 30 seconds and I don't feel like the job was rushed.

The second picture shows the hardware mounting jig - I align it to the left side of the front drawer face and it shows where I need to drill the two holes for the file cabinet drawer pulls.  Drill two holes at those spots and screw in the drawer pulls.  Perfect alinement every time.

Drawer pulls are now all mounted.  I use a very inexpensive style of library index card drawer pulls.  They'er just stamped metal but has a slot for a label and don't take up a lot of space.  I got them on Amazon.  They cost $0.32 per pull when bought in packs of 50.  The eight drawers for this cabinet are the 25th - 32nd versions of these drawers I have built, so I still can make 18 more before needing to buy new hardware.

You can also see that small back panel has been added across the bottom.  I don't need a full panel as the cabinet will be pushed up against a wall in my hobby area but I did want to add something to increase the stability of the cabinet.

All that's left to do is cut two shelf panels which need to be 35.5 inches wide and 18 deep and this project is done.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Quarantine Wargamer Woodworking, Project 2: Storage Cabinet

With the prototype stool done, it's time for another for another project (that I have been putting off) - a storage cabinet.  The overall dimensions are 24 inches high, 48 wide and 18 deep.

The first photo so the framing of the cabinet carcass.  I was doing the design pretty much on the fly.

In the end, I decided to put in a stack of drawers on the right side so put in a divider and started adding drawer runners up each side.  I'm using my "standard" miniature storage drawer size of 10 inches wide, 16.5 deep and 2.5 high so all the drawers are interchangeable with the other ones I've built.  I've also got a jig built that makes building the drawers really easy and didn't want to design another one.

After a few hours work time all the drawers were built and the cleats for the shelves added.  I plan on adding a back once I get some 1/8 inch plywood, but that will be awhile

The next step will be the worst part of any project involving wood - sanding.  Once that's down I'll cit the shelf panels and install this bad boy in the basement.

Stay safe & healthy everyone.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Qurantine Wargmaing Wood Working: Barstool is Done

 And here it is in all it's utilitarian glory.  Yes, that's right. 30 inches of pure bar stool excitement.
 Once the lower leg aprons where glued in place I added the top ones, which will also support the seat.
 The seat (underside) with the placement layout marked.
 I still need to dial in the lap joint cutting as you can see by the gap in the lower apron.  By the 4 th leg I had this nailed down.
 Glueing the top.  As stated in an earlier post, one can never have too many clamps.

I did round off the corners of the seat as sharp right angles and peoples seating apparatus often don't mix well.  In fact, they never mix well.

And the big test - It didn't collapse under the weight of yours truly.  No creaking, no wobbling - I consider this a success.

With the prototype done, I'll set to the task of building 5 for the club.  It took about eight hours to build but a lot of that time was me measuring and re-measuring and then correcting measurement mistakes.  In "production mode" it should take about 1.5 hours to build each stool.

This project was a lot of fun and hopefully will lead to some nice new stools to use at the club.  Here's hoping that the day we can all return to the club is not too far off into the future.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.