Friday, 22 March 2019

'Mainforcing' Target for Tonight

At the end of 2017 at the request of a few friends at the DWG, I dug out an old game system I had dabbled with over the years called 'Target for Tonight' (TfT) which at the time was out of publication and, following the games we played at club, generated a lot of interest and requests about how to get copies ending with me finding and contacting the author to see if that would be possible.

Our series of games can be found on the link belowto the Devon Wargames Group blog.

Interestingly at the same time John Curry stepped forward to announce he would be publishing an updated version of the rules which I subsequently picked up and now have alongside my original staple and photocopied set I picked up 'donkey's years ago'.

My original copy of TfT

The new version reflects the modern trends and demands of today's wargamer in being a much more presentable format but actually being fundamentally the same set of rules.

John Curry's glossy paperback version of TfT

On revisiting the game in 2017 I was immediately reminded of the high risk factors of intercept and shoot downs the games bomber crews risk in TfT, something the author was looking to model to get across the sheer terror the crews endured as they went out night after night appreciating that there was indeed a very high chance that this night was the night their luck ran out.

That is one of the great aspects of TfT, in the drama created by a night-fighter intercept or the steady approach on the bomb run amid flak and wild boar loan German fighters hoping to swoop in at the most unexpected moment.

However if, as I wanted to do, you were looking to create a series of linked games in an attempt to 'bathtub' some of the concentrated campaigns of city attacks made by Bomber Command in the Rhur and Berlin Battles of 1943 the high combat attrition prevented a plausible simulation of the wider battle and there are several significant gaps in the simulation that needed addressing for the rules to accommodate the conflict as a whole.

My new target planning map with Nachtjagd zones and the UK that enable the weather to be pre-planned over the target and for landing.

During our first series of games we soon found a workable tweak to overcome the higher risk aspect without losing the drama induced in the original game and to this I started to look at layering other factors that a bomber crew and the raid planners had to cope with, namely fuel loads vs bomb loads, and the weather effects which became critical the further into Europe that Bomber Command pressed its attacks.

One interesting comparison in Martin Middlebrook's 'The Berlin Raids' is his look at the comparison between the Groups and how they loaded up their bombers for deep raids to Berlin and the struggle to keep the bomb load as high as possible whilst keeping fuel levels with a safe margin for emergencies.

The comparison looked at 5 Group and 1 Group with the former having the longest experience of operating Lancasters compared with the latter that had only just converted from other types into a group solely operating the powerful four engine bomber just before the opening of the campaign.

My new Cyberboard module to allow me to campaign TfT painlessly, but backed up with a mark one paper system as well

The statistics showed that 1 Group constantly overloaded their bombers, testing the maximum load on one aircraft that caused the wheel struts to bow under the strain of bombs and fuel. Despite this they failed to deliver more tonnage over the target than 5 Group which always flew with a much reduced load, allowing their aircraft a much better chance to gain altitude and to evade should an intercept occur and was reflected in their fewer losses that allowed more of their aircraft to bomb.

Thus I had got to a point where we could play, easily recording fuel consumption with mini dice, taking into account extra usage with events in flight that might cause a few nervous moments on the return flight and a wary eye on the fuel gauge.

The Bomber Groups by type for the Battle of Berlin when operating on Maximum Effort. This simple screen will allow me to record which types and how many were on a mission and losses, plus plan the bomb lift according to the types involved

However I needed to take some time to read more and better understand the bomb load, fuel load equation without the players having to use my pilots calculator and I eventually came up with a system to offer the same sort of choices facing the commanders of 1 and 5 Groups and the effects it would put on their aircrew based on those choices.

So now I have bomb loads for individual aircraft contributing to the bomb lift of the whole raid. The bombs are also delineated into HE, Incendiary and Blockbuster HE, allowing the players to design bomb loads designed to deal with different targets, by simply selecting counters representing the different loads and placed into a lift that is reduced through casualties and pilots dumping cookies.

One of my new TfT city maps

When the 'bombs gone' moment comes, the drop is marked with the planes identifying photo-flash and two counters representing the bomb drop are blindly drawn and placed face down in that area with different combinations able to start fires on different targets within the city being bombed but not revealed until all the aircraft have completed their bomb run.

The new TfT kit is just about complete and comes together in one 9ltr RUB 

The blind placing of bombs should give the players an indication of where they are hitting,without telling them exactly what they are hitting and with what ordnance - just like the real thing!

This links to the other aspect that I felt needed a tweak which was the bomb run itself which is always a highlight of the game as the players attempt to get a good grouping with their attacks and then see the results of their efforts in the debrief at game end.

The mighty but vulnerable Sterling. I now have the beginnings of my own Sterling group

The basic rules don't really offer enough detail to allow a good simulation of this process which when boiled down to its basics was about getting enough of a mix of HE and incendiaries on to a target built up area to cause multiple large fires that multiplied the damage and casualties whilst overwhelming the civil defence services.

To complicate this method of attack, Bomber Command relied on a selection of various ground positioning navigational instruments together with aerial target indicators that made the whole process subject to the vagaries of weather, the radar profile or position in relation to the UK of the target city and the skill of the crews to interpret all that data to help them deliver their bombs.

My purpose built tray to hold the larger scale models at the bottom of the box with trays to hold the game components and the smaller models

Thus the game allows the players to direct their attacks against a simple grid that rather assumes all the other factors are in their favour, whereas my changes now mean that what looks like a good grouping of bombs on where the players thought the target was may or may not be the case, either leaving bombs to explode in open countryside or end up causing multiple fires or potentially a firestorm in the right conditions, all this to be revealed at the debrief.

This process will even allow for the well known effect of creep-back modelling the bombing concentration dropping back from a well bombed aiming point with bombs dropped moved back a square if a major fire is created in the square ahead.

The fighter intercept board has had a lick of paint

Bomber Command in the period when it reached its zenith in potential, namely 1943, was a force in perpetual change moving from the four types it started with at the beginning of the year, Wellingtons Sterlings, Halifax's and Lancasters, to one based around the three four engine types at the end of it and gradually reforming more of the squadrons around the Lancaster through the following year as supply of aircraft allowed replacements and reequips.

TfT is all about the Lancaster but to model Bomber Command's campaign it needs to include the other types into the core system with differences in the capabilities between the different aircraft.

My main force bomber fleet is ready to do the Berlin campaign and with the addition of six Wellington's and four Sterling's will be ready for the Rhur.

Thus I have modelled the principle differences in the bomb carrying capability and risk profile of being intercepted at lower altitude slightly different between each type but all generally inferior to the Lancaster.

However if the bomber force is to achieve its objective it needs all its bomber types to contribute and to tailor its force according to the particular mission and the players will have to plan their raids in such a way that gets the best out of all the aircraft involved.

The night-fighter force has also been beefed up with other options including the odd Uhu and Dornier 

Which leads me to the final part of the rules refit, namely to build in a way of measuring each raid mission in terms of victory points that allows an assessment of how well Bomber Command is performing at any given time.

For this aspect I have turned to a board game, 'Bomber Command' written by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and published by GMT Games, which gives an excellent model of factors for scoring and measuring against the historical result.

The Berlin Campaign is presented in his game as either the full five month battle comprising forty raids or a shorter option of one particular month and eight raids with both presenting a perfect model to run TfT scenarios against and a ready made victory point system that I hope will transfer relatively seamlessly across, something our games will reveal.

I have added the Sterling to complete my four engine trio complete with nice new decals, here representing
75 (New Zealand) Squadron

To make it easy to plan and record raid results I have put together a Cyberboard module that has the maps and orders of battle I have created alongside this tools to allow a quick set up of target selection, aircraft participating, bomb loads and bomb plotting against target maps, all of which makes it simple to pull together when posting blog posts about games completed.

My new Uhu, rare but deadly

Alongside Cyberboard I have also put together simple tokens that allow the same process to be completed without the computer, but I think the former method will prove to be better.

The Whimpey will feature in the Rhur battles, this one from 156 Squadron, 3 Group, later converting to Lancasters in August 1942 and joining 8 Group Pathfinders

My 'Hallibag' has had a new paint job and decals and represents an aircraft from 76 Squadron, 4 Group and led by the famous Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire

The work to pull this together has been a project going on in the background to other ones, with little bursts of work now and then, but brought to this stage of completion after several of the chaps at club requested to have another go with TfT, that required me to get the proverbial finger out and finish the paint jobs on my model aircraft.

One of my two Lancasters has had a new paint job and decals representing 106 Squadron, 5 Group and lead at one time by a certain Wing Commander Guy Gibson

So this weekend I will be taking the new 'Mainforce Target for Tonight' out on its first road test or should I say mission and hope to have created a different game, whilst retaining the best of the original.

In addition, I have ordered up the last bombers I needed to complete my orders of battle for 1943 and will be picking up the last few Wellingtons and Sterlings at Salute this year.

With the planes mustered and the rules refitted, Bomber Command are ready to start the whirlwind

I am really looking forward to putting the new game into effect and will post some AAR's as we play, here and on the DWG blog.

Once this system has proved a playable alternative to the basic rules, I can then possibly think about adding in British and German intruders alongside the last gap in the system that I would like to change which would be having 8 Group Pathfinders leading the raids and attempting to get an accurate target marking, but that stuff is for later.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Chain of Command - The Devil is in the Detail

As an 'Historical Wargamer', I have always been a fan of the Too Fat Lardies and their ethos of 'playing the period, not the rules' which very much ties into my own way of thinking about wargaming and the history I am attempting to get a little closer to understanding, whilst having some fun in the process.

In addition Rich Clarke and Nick Skinner have produced rule sets that very much chime with historical themes I am very interested in, most notably World War II and the Late European Campaigns in France, The Low Countries and Germany in particular.

My wargaming habits tend to operate on themes, as I very much enjoy immersing myself thoroughly for a few years in a given period to gain that understanding I mentioned and hence I have not tended to be the fashionable 'butterfly' type of wargamer constantly flitting between projects and forever distracted by the latest 'new thing' to hit the wargames press.

Thus prior to starting this blog way back in 2012 I had spent a good few years playing a lot of WWII in 15mm using mainly Battlefront 'Flames of War' figures and models but of course using the Lardies, 'I Aint Been Shot Mum' for which my rather large collection of Normandy companies, British, German and American are built around, not to mention quite a bit of terrain.

The blog's start date coincided with a shift of themes as I yearned to return to another 'true love' Peninsular War Napoleonics and the result of that recent reacquaintance is documented here on JJ's. That and the most recent theme shift, where I have not only moved my focus to the Roman Principate, but also into a totally different scale, 28mm, with all the terrain building implications that has required.

Unfortunately, during this theme shifting, a very significant, award winning, set of WWII rules was published by the Lardies looking at Platoon level combat, 'Chain of Command' that clashed horribly with my focused work on gaining a clear understanding of modelling British Reverse Slope tactics.

Thus although I purchased the rules and all the 'gubbins' that went with them on day one, and have played them, sort of, since, I have not really had the focus to sit down and explore what was immediately obvious to me; that Chain of Command are a very clever well thought though set of rules that reward a closer study to really appreciate the detail and insights they can offer when looking at this level of WWII combat.

The D-Day Landing Beaches with Omaha indicated and where the campaign game is focused after the US landings

Fortunately I was not alone in having this glaring gap in my wargaming education and other regular wargame friends with a similar interest also felt the need to get better acquainted with this set of rules; not to mention having the offer from another of our regular circuit, Jason, who was closely involved in their development and who knows them from cover to cover, offering to run one of the campaigns at his place to enable that closer look at how they play, one on one and with the context of thinking about the next game and the consequences of the choices made in the one being played.

The '29 Lets Go' Game Campaign Map detailing the various tables our actions would take place on
Game Two Bloody US Victory
So with Steve M and I taking the US command and Ian taking command of the Germans we arranged to meet over at Jason's on a Tuesday night for the next few weeks to play through the Chain of Command Campaign supplement '29 Lets Go' that recreates the 29th US Division fight to clear the coast road from Omaha beach to Isigny and eventually Carentan thus linking the two bridgeheads and US forces operating from Utah beach.

We played the first game last week which, as I suspected, was a steep learning curve for all of us as we grappled with the mechanics and consequences of the decisions we made, that certainly changed our approach to this the second game in the campaign ladder; after the US forces successfully broke through at Cambe and progressed to Arthenay where we were tasked with tackling a German delaying force hastily assembled to prevent any further US advance.

The map below gives a view of the US plan to establish three mutually supporting Jump Off Points (JOP's) and this pre-game set up and planning phase is for me and I think a lot of other regular CoC players a fascinating part of the whole game and can really make or break a successful outcome in how you stake out the ground before the bullets start to fly.

US JOP plan for Game 2

Following the first game we were all a little more cagey in our deployment on to table, perhaps too much so from a US perspective, and both sides were looking to try out new support options, an aspect it seems that every regular CoC player has a strong opinion about as to what they always look to take.

US Recce team advances tactically 

In addition to support their are the force specific tactical options to consider and so in this second game the US squads were throwing forward their recce teams to do the 'Find' bit of  'Find, Fix, Flank and Finish'.

Sherman tanks on overwatch

With all the extra thinking going on in this second game, we didn't complete the action in one night and with 'yours truly' not able to make the second part of this scenario it was left to Steve to grab what turned out to be a very bloody US win with both US tanks knocked out and over half the platoon dead or wounded, but as they say a win is a win and a bloody win is better than a bloody loss.

Game Three - Bloody Draw
Yesterday we played game three that sees US forces forced to divert attention to German forces harassing their left flank advance along the Carentan road from a village just off it, St Germain du Pert.

The map above was the US planned JOPs which sees the US able to flank attack this German held hamlet securely ensconced in thick stoned Norman buildings.

The game didn't really go to either sides plan with both of us rolling poorly on the 'Force Morale' table and thus giving ourselves little breathing space to absorb casualties and other force upsetting issues.

Guess whose keeping an eye on things!

Both sides employed armour and an early US flanking attack was repulsed with heavy losses but leaving the Germans badly depleted from the bombardment delivered by the US tanks supporting the infantry attack.

US recce team approaches the first set of buildings, feeling out the German defence

The Germans tried to break the US force by taking out a tank with Panzerschreck fire from the church, but at long range the Sherman survived the fire and quickly drove off the team, killing one member and delivering a couple of shock to boot.

Now that was a nasty surprise

With both forces teetering on breaking with just one morale point left the US force tried to force the initiative by charging the churchyard wall to finish off a battered and pinned German section that had been brassed up by the US tanks only to see the German section dispatched but loosing a US squad leader that tipped them into a force morale break at the same time.

The US flanking attack takes heavy casualties from the Marders and the farmhouse to their front

So a bloody draw that sees us replaying this scenario next week hoping to learn the lessons learnt from this game.

The firefight left both sides battered but with the US getting the worst of it

I have to say that CoC is living up to all our expectations and as a group we are all enjoying progressing up the learning curve and with aspects of this rule set making it very obvious why they have become the go-to set for a lot of WWII wargamers.

The other aspect that really adds to the games we are playing is that we can finish them in a reasonable amount of time and with all the continuity that a linked campaign like this has to offer.

Needless to say I now have some plastic WWII figures on order so I can build some CoC specific platoons in 15mm on single bases rather than use my IABSM ones.

The good news is that I already have the tanks and heavy weapons not to mention a lot of NW Europe terrain and am planning to add this great game to my regular repertoire.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Romano-Dacian Battle Casualties

If the number of games I look at in the hobby is anything to go by, the depiction of battle casualties is not a high priority with most gamers when constructing their collections, and this would probably be borne out by the sales of sculpts from the various manufacturers.

The fighting has moved on and all that is left is the human debris of battle

I think this is a shame because as we play our games and happily remove figures from the table or, more commonly these days, turn the casualty/disorder die to total up the loss inflicted on a particular unit we miss an opportunity to have our table tell the story of the drama that is unfolding.

Battle casualties are a simple but effective way to enliven any tabletop game

Of course we live in a fast moving twenty-four-seven world where it seems that not many have time for such niceties and I suppose our hobby reflects that fast moving life-style trend with the growth of fast play 'snappy' rule sets that get the game over and done with in a couple of hours or less and give us time to get back to more important things!

I try to have each cameo suggest a story of the battle that has happened

In such a world where gamers are encouraged to just get the toys out on the table as quickly and as cheaply as possible and with collections reduced to the size of a skirmish trying to look like a battle, there is certainly no time for wasting on painting up the unfortunate souls in a force who have fallen in the fight.

Once the figures are positioned, weapons and shields placed carefully among them can add extra effect

Well as you can probably guess I take a completely opposite view point and have always felt something missing in those games in which I have played where a major clash has occurred and the only hint of that on the table is one or two units perhaps routing away from the area of combat and with all the units involved either looking slightly smaller than they did or with a little, or not so little, casualty die in tow, or heaven forbid a curtain ring or two draped around a few figures!

WWII gamers, a group I include myself in, have always seen the need to plonk some flames and smoke on a tank that takes a catastrophic hit causing it to smoke and burn, but even then the human debris of battle is often, in my opinion, sadly lacking.

I like my games to tell the story of the battle they portray in the pictures I create and there is something really pleasing to the eye when a combat situation can be described with all the drama implied with words and pictures that seemingly captures the images we can read about and sometimes see in historical accounts of the real life battles.

The book publishers understand the importance of this aspect of our hobby and Osprey are a classic example of this way of appealing to our senses through the medium of print and the hobby can imitate that through the medium of three dimensional art, namely tabletop wargaming.

Our hobby is, I would argue,  if nothing else, all about aesthetics, because if not, we might just as well focus on board gaming and Kriegsspiel.

Reflecting the drama that is battle is what our games do, combining rules to govern the activities of our tabletop warriors with the aesthetics of a visual portrayal of them and the terrain they would operate in, and the debris of battle, human or otherwise is part of that portrayal.

In fact, creating little dioramas like these could be looked as as just another bit of terrain that is added to the table as and when required.

Needless to say the carnage reported by the ancient authors and the nature of the combat involving sharp pointy weapons used at close range, particularly with the Roman tactics of stabbing to the midriff of their opponents would suggest that the wake of these combats would have been littered with the dead and those about to die, in an age of primitive casualty recovery methods

These bases take the same time to produce as painting a large warband with a similar number of figures and by combining them with those left over weapons and shields you can easily produce really simple but evocative pieces to be placed on the table during those moments of drama in battle.

The next time you see these chaps, they will mixed in with a few of my units to create yet more visual appeal

The figures are a mixture of Wargames Foundry and Black Tree and at the moment just include infantry types, but I will add in a few dead horses, just acquired on Ebay, to litter my cavalry combats and I have held back a few of the infantry sculpts for inclusion among one or two of my units as well.

Lots of stuff happening this month to cover with trips to South Wales looking at more medieval and Roman history, a visit to London to hear Ian Knight talking about the Zulu War, and a visit to see the casts of Trajan's Column in the Victoria & Albert Museum and thoughts about my coaching lessons in getting to grips with Chain of Command plus more work to do on the Romano-Dacians.

Shameless Plug for Parkinson's UK and Will's Three Peak Challenge

Finally, a shameless plug for my youngest son Will, who is doing an amazing expedition, this May, in support of Parkinson's UK, a charity for support and research into Parkinson's Disease by planning to climb the three highest mountains in the UK, Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mount Snowdon in Wales and Scafell Pike in England, in twenty-four hours.

Will is three years into his Medical School training with a first class degree under his belt and as well as developing a keen interest in expeditionary medicine is also into a bit of wargaming when time permits.

If you would be interested in supporting him in this project with a contribution to his fund raising page that would be very much appreciated and you would be supporting research into this terrible disease and care and support for those currently suffering from it.

Thank you in anticipation