Thursday, September 24, 2020

15mm Stalingrad Mock Layout

Starting to layout the table for my 15mm Stalingrad game.  On the table now is the far left hand side of the table (if you were standing in the Volga River) and covers the Jan 9th square and Grundinins Mill.

The Pavlov's House model (painted white) is a set of MDG buildings from "Things for the Basement" - it's a great kit and I really like how TFTB lays out their MDF kits.  It's also "true 15mm scale" and some of the ruins I've been experimenting with are a little sub-scale, so they'll need to be revised
An example of a size revision is my Grundinin's Mill scratch build (next to the chimney).  It's way to small when compared to Pavlov's house.  i'll need to redo the Mill so it's a good bit bigger.  The existing version will be repurposed for another ruin so no big loss.

This section of 6x18 hexes represents about 20% of the table so there is a lot of work to do.  As I'm building this for Historicon, I will feel a little silly if the convention isn't held!

I also need to paint up some 15mm Russians - at least I know what I'll be working on for this year's Painting Challenge!


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Monday Night Gaming at the Club


Last night Ed and I got to playtest a new set of rules Greg has been working on.  These were Napoleonic campaign rules where the a stand is an entire division  and 1 inch is 2 miles.  It was like playing a hex and counter game on the tabletop but better.

The campaign we fought was Marengo - I was the French and Ed was the Austrians.  We're looking down at the map from switzerland

The game is leader focused - your corps commanders have lots of special abilities but once you exhaust them you may not get them back the next turn - its a die roll.

Terrain is pretty basic  - the tan strips are roads and those are very critical to movement.   The green "hedges" are rivers which can only be crossed at bridges or you can use a general action to build a pontoon bridge.

Defending a river or town halves the number of dice your attacker is throwing at you.

I managed to force a river crossing by building a pontoon bridge but that exhausted Napoleon and he wasn't involved in the ensuing attack, which while successful could not dela a crushing blow to those dastardly Austrians
In the end Ed won a well deserved victory but I am intrigued by these news rules and will gladly play them again anytime.

This ruleset has a lot of promise for doing tabletop campaigns from the AWI through the ACW.  I am always impressed by Greg's level of creativity.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

NOLA Campaign: Third Battle of the Tenesaw Gap


Last monday we fought the third and likely final battle of the Tenesaw Gap from the NOLA Campaign.  There are two turns left in the campaign and the French and the outcome is still to be determined.  The NOLA campaign is my silly Napoleonic game that simulates a French invasion of America, which is defended by a combine US and British force.  The battle was fairly even with 5 US and British divisions (4 Inf, 1 Cav) up against 5 French divisions (all infantry) plus the artillery reserve.  We played the game using the ESR ruleset.  The scenario had the pursuing French army catching up to the retreating US/British force.  The French would enter on the left side of the map and all of the US/British forces are deployed.

Lannes enters with his single division on the far side of south western corner of the map 

Ed begins shaking out his  two British infantry divisions into line formation.  I took command of the US Corp in the center of the picture.  We placed the cavalry division in the center and planned to use it to support whichever flank had the most pressure.

My forces getting prepared to meet the french attack.  Lannes continues to move against my flank as Davout's 2 divisions and the French artillery reserve enter the board and eye my positions menacingly.

Ed elects to defend a forward position as he hopes to switch to the attack if the opportunity presents itself.

Josh (Napoleon) deploys his artillery forward he is attempting to form a grand battery and if he can do within range of our forces it will be devastating.  Artillery range is only nine inches in ESR (using 1" = 100M) but a grand battery can erase whole divisions at a time.

Seeing an opportunity the British cavalry charge forward trying to catch the artillery unprepared.  They can not form the grand battery but the six batteries do get off individual fire and its enough to force the cavalry to break off the charge  and retreat to lick their wounds- a golden opportunity lost

Lannes (Greg) forms into line for the attack as Davout (Dave) moves toward the hill

My 2nd division moved to occupy the woods (we removed the canopy) while the 1st division prepares to meet its French hosts on the reverse slope of the hill.
While the calvary recovers - Ed sees a gap in the line between Soults(Dave) corps and Davouts and elects to attack.

Lannes and Davouts attacks charge home - there will be seesaw fighting for 4 turns in the woods and on the hill
Josh can not bring his artillery reserve to bear and decides to move forward - the calvary see their chance and charge again - this time the french can only unlimber a few guns and the charge goes in devastating the limbered guns
Ed continues his attack.  By the way it's a general rule of thumb in the club whenever Ed consults the rules during a turn it usually means something really bad is about to happen to your army.

Just as the cavalry charges the guns for a second time the fight in the woods is over as both divisions break at the same time.
With artillery dispatched, the British cavalry wheel and charge Davout's attacking division in the rear - caught between the cavalry and an American infantry division they are overwhelmed.

We called the game at this point as time was running out.  It was declared a US/British victory and will have a major impact on the campaign.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Stalingrad Game Table Planning

One of the more rewarding aspects of putting on a historical participation game is doing the research.  In the case of Stalingrad there is a wealth of information available in books and online.  Perhaps the single best source of information is David Glantz's three volume series on the titanic battle.  These books are not light reads but are extremely well researched.  Volume 1, To the Gates of Stalingrad covers the initial phase of the German 1942 Offensive (April to August 1942),  Volume 2, Armageddon in Stalingrad (pictured) covers the initial German Assaults from Sep to November 1942.  Volume 3, Endgame in Stalingrad covers Russian counter offensive and the ultimate surrender of the 6th army in Feb 1943.  You can find his books on Amazon at this link

Col Glantz resides in the region and you'll see him interviewed by two of my club members in an upcoming Little Wars TV video.

Since I want to do a tactical level game, it's impossible to depict the entire battle so I need to pick a specific action and are of the city.  That proved to be especially difficult as this titanic struggle had many unique areas of operation but I've decided on depicting operations in Central Stalingrad during the latter half of September 1942 - specifically the area of operations involving the Soviet 13th Guards division.

Why this slice of the battle vs others?  Several reasons.  

I find the story of the 13th Guards particularly compelling and this is a project that will take 10+ months to finish.  I have found (the hard way) that one needs to pick storylines that are personally compelling when embarking on large, crazy projects like this or they turn into drudgery about halfway through and sometimes never get completed or get done in a half assed way.

Another reason is this was a see-saw battle with the Germans reaching the banks of the Volga several times only to be thrown back by desperate Soviet counterattacks.  Good participation games involve both sides having both defensive and offensive roles - that makes for better "gaming theater"

Lastly the central area of Stalingrad has lots of iconic terrain aspects which will be fun to build BUT it is not dominated by any one giant feature.  The tractor works was a huge facility and would take up 1/2 of a table just like the Mamayev Kurgan or grain mill would).  Having a single terrain piece dominate a table draws players to it and essentially dictates the flow of battle.  That may be accurate from a historical perspective but a s a GM who will run the game 6+ times that gets boring.  Seeing players come up with ways to solve a problem that I never conceived of is one of the more rewarding aspects of being a GM.

My goal is the field a 10x5 foot table that is as close to an accurate model of the central Stalingrad area as I can achieve.  The first step is to define the boundaries

Using powerpoint, I placed a box that matches the table dimensions where the length is twice the width and then started to move it around to see if I could cover all the "main sites".  Specifically I wanted to include:

- the Univermag Department store (left center)
- Train Station #1 (upper center)
- Pavlov's House (right center)
- Grudinin Mill (lower right)

The major drawback from this configuration is I don't have the Volga river which would be visually nice and add a little drama to the game as the soviets defend with their backs to the river.  There are three options to solve this issue:
- Add another foot or so to the table width (make it 8x6)
- Make the buildings at a 10-12mm scale.
- compress the map and remove some terrain  

It will likely be the latter as a 6 foot wide table in a game where players need to move unit stands over rubble terrain and building interiors is just asking for the dreaded "belly smash" along the table edge as players with ample "stored provisions" lean across the table crushing everything in their path.  It is not a pretty sight and the cries of minis as they are about to be suffocated is something that will haunt you forever.

I think some creative terra-forming is in order but I need to think on it a bit to figure out exactly what to do.

Building wise the plan is to build as accurately as I can 15 or so "landmark buildings" - pretty much all of the ones identified on the map images above  and then have a bunch of standardized rubble hexes for the smaller building that were mostly demolished and make up the majority of the terrain.  We'll see how that plan progresses over the next few weeks of test building.  Luckily there are a lot of 3D model of the iconic stalingrad buildings which will make doing some of them accurately a lot easier.

One last point.  When doing a very specific historical game at a convention filled with wargamers one needs to go into it with a rather thick skin.  No matter how much research goes into a game, you'll get some detail wrong and given the nature of the audience there will be someone there who will both notice and feel compelled to point it out, often in less than graceful ways.  For the most part these fault finders are trying to be helpful in their own special way but they just don't understand they may be the 8th person to remark that the brick coloring for the Grudinin Mill is 2 shades too dark or just don't have the communication skills to not come across as an ass.  My advice is to just assume positive intent and move on.  Remember one thing - while they may be criticizing an aspect of the game presentation, they didn't actually put the game on so who really cares what they think.   One of my business maxims is that any idiot can point out problems and reasons not to do something but there are precious few who actually try and do.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Stalingrad: Another Ruin Test and more Hexes

In my quest for "ruin perfection", I also tested out making ruins out of EPS foam (rigid insulation foam).  I broke out my trusty Proxxon Hot Wire cutter and cut some 3x8x1/8 inch sheets from a scrap piece of foam and went about trying to make a ruin.

There are some pluses and minus's to using EPS over matte board

+'s Include:

- Very easy to cut and shape

-Easy to score in battle damage

- Very light weight - which is important for terrain that needs to be transported

-'s include

- Very fragile - even with a coat of primer mixed with glue these pieces will be delicate and participation game terrain needs to be durable to withstand transport and over eager gamers

- Hard to mark out cut point without marring the texture

- Hard to cut against the grain precisely - windows are a bit on the uneven side

There will be a use for both materials but if I was forced to pick one it would be matte board

Given the planed table size will be 10x5 feet, I'll need a lot of hexes - in fact I'll need exactly 450.  With the blank hex inventory running low it was time to make some more.

Making hexes is really easy with the jig - cut a 4.75" x 4" wide block, make 4 passes on the jig and presto a hex is borne

It took about an hour to cut out all these which should keep me in business for a few days

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Stalingrad: Scratch Built Ruins and Roads

 The planed Stalingrad table will be 10x5 feet and will depict Central Stalingrad from Red Square (Univermag Department Store), the Train Station to 9th January Square (Pavlov's House) and then down to the Volga.  Because I'm an idiot, I'm trying to make this as accurate as possible.  The table will require a lot of ruined buildings (100 or more).  Buying them becomes cost prohibitive so certain landmark buildings will be purchased or 3D printed (the Department Store. Pavlov's House, Trainstation #1 etc) but others will need to bee scratch built.  SInce these buildings will all be damaged that makes this project a whole lot easier!

The building material of choice is 1/8 inch thick matt board.  Matt board is cheap, light and easy to work with, plus it's what I had on hand.  1/4 inch foam board would be too thick for 15mm scale.  The test ruins were a 3" by 12" wide strip where I marked windows every half inch and used one inch for my floor height.  Each window is 1/2 inch x 1/4 inch.

Cutting out all these windows is REALLY tedious but I like the result as you can see in the first picture.  The faces of the buildings were dressed up with some styrene strips and they actually look pretty good.  The sharp eyed amongst you might notice there are no doors - I forgot to draw them in - sue me, it's just a test.

I like how the tests came out but need to figure out an easier way to punch out the windows - maybe a square mortising bit

In addition to buildings, I needed to figure out how to make streets that can have 90 degree intersection using hexes.  Here's a test shot using some of the buildings I got from Gamecraft Miniatures with some street hexes.  More on this topic in a later post.  I do realize the building on the left is too high for Stalingrad.  I'll cut it down on my band saw and use the cutoffs to form two "L" shaped ruins.  I highly recommend Gamecraft.

Why am I using hexes?  Well several reasons - one of which is the aforementioned idiocy.  One of the most important factors in running a large participation game is keeping up the pace - speed is your friend and keeps all the players occupied.  After moving figures one of the more time consuming aspects is players measuring distances for either movement or shooting.  You're also guaranteed to have at least one player in each game who is determined to measure down to 1/32's of an inch because he can.  Using hexes allows me to dispense with tape measures and use the hexes themselves.  For example if the rules say a rifle armed squad can move 8 inches and shoot 24, that becomes 2 hexes for movement and 6 for shooting.  I've also found building and the scenicing the hexes to be oddly relaxing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

More Urban Test Buildings: 15mm scale

 I've ordered some MDF buildings from Allen at Gamecraft Miniatures in both 15mm and 6mm scale to do some more test builds for my planed Stalingrad table.  The 15mm buildings arrived and I threw them together in about an hour.  These are really nice kits and I highly recommend Gamecraft as a terrain provider.

One of the buildings is made out of matboard rather than MDF and I really liked the detail the kit allows via layering.  This one I gave a quick paint job.  No weathering yet - that will wait until the rubble stage.
A quick mock up using the hexes.  Some of the ruins are a little high for the building in Stalingrad but that's a very easy fix with a pass or two through the band saw.

Right now I'm leaning to 15mm but will wait to the 6mm stuff shows up before making a final decision.