Sunday 10 September 2017

More Modern Spearhead

We played 3 more games of Modern Spearhead, all based in the mid-70s, meaning ATGWs were much less prevalent than RCLs. First up was half a Polish Division attacking a British Brigade.  The Poles were an Infantry Regiment in OT-64s, organised as three battalions (the regimental tank battalion's 3 companies having been attached out to the infantry battalions), plus a tank regiment.  The Polish tank regiment organisation at this period was highly unusual, since it consisted of 5 largish tank companies, plus various supporting elements, with no battalion-level structures. In MSH it counts as a single very large "Battalion": in this case, it was some 30 elements strong once attached assets had been factored in.

The Poles hastily attacked with 800 points against 600 of British, who were organised in 3 battalions IIRC: I not only forgot to take photos (although Rhys has some here) but also notes as well. I do remember the Wombats performing credibly, and the Chieftains being, as usual, incredibly hard to shift. But the game was something of a draw, with Polish numbers making their presence felt in several close assaults.

The second game was another where we forgot to take photos... For  change, I took command of some of Rhys' American figures, while he ran Czechoslovakians at me. I defended, and not being used to such a tiny force, added an "A" option to bring myself up to 650 points.  This still left me with only 2 battalions; neither of which was full-strength. One was however reinforced with an ACAV troop in Sheridans. These performed quite well, as they were placed behind M60A1s that drew enemy fire, meaning their weak armour was seldom tested. Rhys had the standard 2 regiments that MSH "WarPac2" nations can field on attack under Keith's scenario system: an infantry regiment organised as 3 battalions (with attached out tanks), plus a 3-battalion tank regiment. All 6 moved on-table in the first bound, as Rhys didn't like the odds of flank marching (a 6 being required). How did the battle go? Let's suffice to say that Rhys scored 1 point (a single contested objective), while I scored 15 (even after subtracting the 1-point penalty for the A option), which was commuted to 10...

Set-up for the last game. The 5 objectives are the red dots. Germans defending. Dotted paths represent reserve commitments.
For the 3rd, I finally managed to take a few pictures. I took Czechoslovakians, while Rhys took a West German force with Leopard1A3s and Marders. This amounted to 3 small battalions totalling a paltry 29 elements (28 plus an observer). Accordingly Rhys chose to sit back, covering only the 3 objectives nearest his baseline: two summit points, plus a bridge. He had no effective way to contest the summit point in front of my centre (being on a forested road), but the one to my near left (a town sector spanning a stream) was at least covered by his tanks, being in a relatively terrain-free valley.

Of my 3 tank battalions, I flank-marched one (path B on the map), while I initially kept the other two in reserve. As it turned out, they both got fired upon quite early, and had to commit themselves a bit sooner than I had planned.  My infantry regiment was tasked with the initial advance; as usual, its tank battalion was attached out to the three infantry battalions. Being a 1970s game, this attached-out tank battalion was smaller than the equivalent 1980s formation; each company being 2 MSH stands, and not 3. The central battalion had to make its way through dense forest, and thus was slowed down considerably (path "1" in the deployment map). This did mean, however, that it almost no casualties in getting into a position where it could start to assault the German centre.

The photo to the left shows one stand of mine that I had brought out with me from Japan (the OT-810D), with the others being Rhys' own. Rhys cuts the corners off his HQ stands to make them more easily recognisable. I think I'll do this with mine too, because HQs don't shoot, and thus don't really need full-length straight edges for all base sides. I might keep the front corners, as this makes it easier to see if an armoured element is being flanked or not.  The OT-810D is a conversion from an H&R Sd.Kfz.251. It's not a very useful vehicle in an attack game, alas, since it can't do a half-move and fire like a tank can.

The battalion on my right (path "3" in the deployment map) advanced steadily, and some awkward fire angles from Rhys' perspective kept my casualties down. In contrast, the battalion on my left (path "2" in the deployment map), faced with the most open terrain, got hammered. I was hoping to catch Rhys in a pincer with my flank-marching tank battalion, but it never turned up. The "A" tank battalion was able to support it on its right, but it took too many casualties on the left, and broke. Tank battalion "A" was itself eventually broken as Rhys' battalion in the area, not seeing any flank marchers turn up, was able to move towards the centre.

The climax of the game.
Unfortunately for Rhys, elsewhere on the field, he had not been able to whittle down my forces enough to stop them moving up into positions where he could be close assaulted (although some LARS rocket fire didn't mean it was all plain-sailing for the Czeschovakians...)  In the centre, Battalion "1" was able to over-run the infantry defending the village just beyond their first objective, and a combination of artillery fire and supporting tank fire was enough keep the rearward German elements from interfering. And on the right, a dearth of German tank support meant opportunities to pick off my advancing elements couldn't be capitalised on: those Marders may be very tough for the period, but they do cost a lot of points...

Outnumbered Germans attempt to hold the line...
On my centre-right, a wooded hill was stoutly defended by a combination of armour and Panzer Grenadiers. This was attacked head-on by my "C" tank battalion; you can spot attached some OT-62 infantry platoons in support in the photo to the right. The battle was relatively even, with my greater numbers about making up for their poorer equipment. Eventually this defending force was faced with encirclement as my "1" and "3" battalions started killing the defending elements in front of them, allowing them to manoeuvre more freely.

Although Rhys had broken two of my battalions ("2, and "A"), and left a 3rd in bad state ("C"), he was not in a good position. I had claimed more objectives than he had held, had two decent battalions left on-table compared to his one, and had another one off-table that - at some point - would eventually take his one decent from directly from behind. A clear - albeit far from bloodless - victory to the Czechoslovakians.

Wednesday 6 September 2017


For a change of focus, we pulled out Rhys' 15th-century figures to give them an outing using DBA, version 2; I'm not sure if either of us own a copy of version 3. We played  BBDBA to be more precise: vanilla DBA never satisfies my desire for "a battle", what with just 12 elements a side, but "Big Battle DBA", by trebling the element count on a double-width board, gives a more substantial game.

First up, Rhys took an early French Ordonnance army with a Swiss ally, while I commanded an Italian Condotta force. As befitting the plain of the Po, terrain was fairly minimal, but did feature a wood on my centre-right that I threw my 3 elements of light infantry into. Both sides had considerable artillery that partly traded shots on my centre left. My centre consisted of a mixture of pikes and crossbows, flanked by the aforesaid artillery on the left and light infantry on the right. My mounted elmeti were on the wings, with some supporting light horse in the case of those on the far left, as the elmeti were less numerous on that side.

Later I found a bombard element as well...
A closer inspection revealed two of the light horse elements were actually my own late 13th-century figures; they'd presumably been hiding in Rhys' figure box for the last 17+ years! 

Rhys' Swiss were massed on my right. He had a mix of crossbows, longbows, and mounted ordonnance men-at-arms in the centre, while his forces on my left were more crossbowmen and men-at-arms, plus artillery. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos of the battle, and we can't even remember who won! Presumably it was a closely-contested affair...

I remedied that for second battle, at least. This time I took the French (with no ally), while Rhys took Burgundians; a classic match up.  I had a centre composed of archers and crossbowmen in the front line backed up by voulgiers and dismounted men-at-arms; my right was a mixture of artillery, archers, and mounted men-at-arms; while my left had some more mounted men-at-arms, and some light crossbowmen to seize the wood to their front.

The Burgundian left wing

Rhys' mounted men-at-arms waiting prior to the advance
The Burgundians massed mounted men-at-arms in their centre, along with some archers and dismounted men-at-arms to their left; further to their left were various artillery pieces, some crossbowmen, and also some detached coustilliers (counting as Cv).  Rhys' right was rather odd, consisting of archers plus a small contingent of Low Countries pikemen (4 elements); I had no idea what role Rhys envisaged for the Pk in that position...

I fancied my chances in the centre, since in DBA, archers are rather deadly against mounted knights; nonetheless, my centre received my lowest PiP die, since it required no manoeuvring at all; just a simple dadvance straight up the board. My right didn't have very favourable match-ups. I was the defender, and thus deployed first, and although I got to swap two pairs of elements, this merely made my right wing have a slightly less favourable poistion than before. This wing got my middle PiP die, as moving the artillery would be PiP intensive.

The two forces approach the end of the second turn

On my right, my artillery came off second best against Rhys', but the archers immediately to their left were able to inflict some casualties on the Burgundians in reply. My left quickly advanced (benefited by getting the highest PiP die every turn) and seized the wood as planned.  Rhys troops opposite them didn't really do much in response; he was more intent on boldly advancing his mass of men-at-arms towards my centre, clearly aiming to decide the affair in a manner befitting Charles le Téméraire. Naturally, some casualties were to be expected on the way in, but Rhys had massed them in depth in anticipation...

After the initial charge...
Alas, for the Burgundians, the French line was well-prepared, and the Burgundian charge was largely ineffectual. Just a single company of men-at-arms managed to break through the front line of archers, and it was immediately routed by the dismounted French men-at-arms to their rear... This essentially meant battle over, as it demoralized the Burgundian main command, but, just for completeness, when the Burgundian left wing commander lead his men into the French artillery, he was ridden down by the French Constable's own knights waiting in reserve, adding insult to injury.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Cossacks ahoy

Next up was a WW2 stoush. Rhys wanted to take his Soviet Guards Cavalry Division for an outing, it not yet having seen action of the tabletop.  I opposed it with a late '44 Wehrmacht Infantry Division  which amounted to 4 battalions, each of 13 or 14 stands, organized as two regiments. No armour of any sort was included.  His force was 4 cavalry regiments (counting as large battalions, each over 20 stands strong) plus a tank battalion, 7 stands strong: the entire division.  I was again in a Hasty Defence posture, and the boards were arranged this time so that there were some definite valleys to be seen, trending mostly up and and down. Three of the objectives were on his side; the central sector on my side was the only sector without an objective. 

Given the superior nature of the German command & control abilities under the Spearhead rules, I deployed all 4 battalions on board: 2 up, and on the flanks; 2 back, one somewhat more centrally located, and the other on my right. Rhys massed his forces on my right, with nothing at all opposing my left: 1 regiment in the centre; one centre-right; one right; and the tank battalion on the extreme right (from my vantage point).  One unit was held off table in reserve, and I had no idea if it was waiting to move on to my left once I had redeployed, or if it was waiting on my right as reinforcements for the assault there.

Cavalry essentially ignore terrain under the rules, which means they barrel through woods at 9" a turn - very scary.  They were right in my face in no time at all.  As in close-assaulting me on the second turn in some places...  It's true that they are easier to hit than leg infantry (defence factor 4 instead of 5) but charging through a wood evens that penalty out, since woods count as cover. Further, since they are SMG-armed they can move while counting as firing "stationary". This means they can charge up to you from out of rifle range (6") and shoot at you without getting an unanswered shot off first on the way in.  Very nasty indeed.

The battle turned out to be a blood bath. Rhys has some photos here.  Rhys' tank battalion commander was clearly a hothead, as the unit charged straight up the flank, past one battalion, and right into the one behind it without pausing to do much on the way, other than uncover a PaK40 platoon in ambush, and a bunch of lurking infantry who used their panzerfausts to great effect. Scratch one T-34-76 unit.  Meanwhile, my front right battalion was chewed up by endless waves of cavalry, although it also inflicted quite a few casualties in the process. It soon broke, and eventually so did my central one. However, this broke one of his regiments, and forced another to take a moral check and left it unable to resume offensive actions.  This left me in possession of two objectives, and him two while we were both contesting the fifth. I had an undamaged battalion that was moving across from my left, and my while my rear right one was only moderately damaged, it wasn't in that good a position to do much offensively. Rhys also had 1 unit almost untouched (his reserve one had moved on in the centre right), and the rest too battered to do anything offensively. So essentially we were down to one decent unit each - facing off each other across a valley that nobody wanted to advance across!  Clearly this battle had fought itself out to a bloody stalemate. Totally up the victory points, it was 9 to 8 that could easily move to 8 to 10 due to the contested nature of one objective, reinforcing the impression of a bloody draw.

Lessons learned? The cavalry are very scary, but will need some further testing: when to dismount is a critical issue, for example. At what point does minimizing casualties become more important than having an extra 3" movement factor? I think only experience will resolve that one.  Another one is deployment.  I reckon wide but shallow unit deployments, en echelon, might be the way to go, with one regiment sweeping through another as it halts.  But it will need to be tested...

Back to gaming!

Having arrived at Rhys', the first item on the agenda (after ascertaining the state of his latest batch of stout) was to flock and affix the final woods to a couple of his terrain boards for use in (M)SH while he was finishing up at work. 

6 terrain boards assembled for action
We then made up some lists for the first game: Soviets against Americans, 1974.  I suggested this date so as to have a game with minimal ATGWs for once. Soviets are more expensive than Czechoslovakians, and I also turned out to be in a Hasty Defence posture, meaning my force was quite a bit smaller than I am accustomed to.  I had "just" a single Motorized Rifle Regiment, organized as just 3 battalions (the tank battalion was attached out to the rifle battalions). The terrain was reasonably well distributed across the board, with no particularly obvious concentrations nor open spaces.

With so few manoeuvre elements, I decided I had to deploy all 3 on board; arranged 2 up, and 1 back in the centre. Of the six boards, that on my left flank was missing an objective. I suspected Rhys might flank march, and the question was would he march on my right, to aim for the extra terrain objective there, or go on my left, because that would be sneaky?  I figured him moving to my left wouldn't be so serious, as I would have more time to react to it, while to the right would be a bigger problem.  So I put my 3 towed T-12 anti-tank guns in ambush positions on my right to cover the most logical entry points.  As it turned out, he did flank march, but on my left..

To cut a long story short, despite me failing to get any artillery into action for ages (first four roles were 1s....) Rhys managed to immolate himself on my defensive positions while his flank march stubbornly refused to turn up.  And when it finally did arrive, it had nobody to fight, and no objective to take.  He threw in the towel, and was rather surprised to learn he had managed to kill just 4 (count 'em!) of my stands, while having lost two battalions in the process, and having secured just 2 objectives (and one of those none too securely...). Lessons learned?  Hmm, Soviets are much harder to confuse with electronic warfare missions than Czechs are?   Nah, that one's obvious.  Rhys' boards are working out well? Yes!  Just the right amount of terrain density to get that 1000-metre West German average sight line...

Friday 24 March 2017

Ingress for wargamers: an introduction

I've not been doing much gaming recently. Or to be exact, I've not been doing much wargaming.  But I haven't been bereft of my share of strategy and tactics, because I've been doing a lot of "gaming" by way of Ingress. Ingress is an "augmented-reality location-based game".  In other words, it's a video game that is played through a smart phone, and to play it you have to travel around various locations. Not virtual locations, but real-life ones. As such, it is the only thing I have encountered that will entice me to get some physical exercise, something normally so mind-numbing I forgo it entirely. As such, I've lost 10 kg in the year I've been playing...

So, what's it all about, and why would a (war)gamer be interested?

First off, it has two sides, like every standard war, that are battling for territory. Or to be more exact, they are battling for "mind units" (MUs) that map to the real-world population densities of the areas concerned. The basic objective is to capture as many MUs for your team as possible, and hold onto them as long as possible. It is fair to say that many players, probably even the vast majority, don't actually care much about the MU-capturing objectives that form the official basis of scoring in the game, but I'm assuming any other wargamer coming to Ingress is likely to care somewhat, because that's just the sort of objective they can relate to easily (for why they might not want to care, see below...).

In-game view from my current apartment.
You capture MUs by connecting three "portals" together to make a triangle; your score in MUs is, roughly speaking, 2/3 of whatever the number of people there are living under the triangle. To make a connection, you have to physically stand within 40 m of a portal (a virtual reality construct mapped on to, typically, a real-world cultural landmark such as a religious edifice, a sculpture, or a park entrance) and expend a token (called a "key" in-game) to connect to another portal; the key to which you can only get by having previously visited that other portal. You have to repeat this to make all three sides of the triangle. On the right you can see a heavy concentration of triangles connecting portals made by the green team in the vicinity of my apartment (the opposition team is coloured blue). The orange circle is the 40 m portal interaction radius centered on my position. I currently live by Osaka University's Suita campus - a very portal-rich environment.

You can't just link to just any old portal however, even if you do have its key in your possession; it has to be one your team properly controls. Which means sometimes you have to fight to seize (and/or maintain) control of the portal. So there are such things in-game as items to help establish control of a portal, items to attack portals, and items to aid in their defence (you don't actually attack players of the other team in game - only the portals that they are attempting to control themselves).

Like most other video games, Ingress takes a leaf from RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, and awards experience points to players for carrying out in-game activities. More "experienced" players are consequently granted access to higher "level" equipment: they can attack portals with weapons that are significantly more powerful than low-level players, for example. Some tactical decisions involve what you do with a portal once its yours.  Do you put shields on it, to make it more resistant to enemy attacks? Do you install weapons on it that will instead actively counter-attack an enemy attacker rather than rely on the more passive, but more consistent, defence of shields? Or do you instead install non-combat modifications on it that will enable you, and your teammates, to resupply your always diminishing in-game resources more quickly?  Or do you not put any modifications on it at all, because you've run out of gear, and hope (or plan for!) your team-mates to reinforce it before the next enemy player comes along?

What about strategy? At the simplest level, this concerns making - and planning - portal connections (called "links" in-game). Because a link isn't allowed to cross another link, it is often the case you have to destroy one or more other links to make your own.  The bigger your planned triangle ("control field", in-game), the more links you will likely need to destroy, and the harder it gets. Further, the more links you destroy, the more likely it is the other side will cotton on to what you are up to, and try to actively stop you by either making their own links to block yours, or simply destroying one or more of the portals you are trying to link...

A control field I made earlier this week, about 6 km long.
I think it's the link-planning part that I like best about the game. To make a decent-sized control field, especially a multiply-nested control field for optimal MU-scoring, like the one shown on the left, takes a lot of planning. You have to plan around not only what the current situation "on the ground" is, but also anticipate what the enemy might do between now and whenever you carry out your plan. And because friendly links are much harder to destroy than enemy ones, you may have to worry even more about what your team "mates" might be up to! One operation I planned, involving a dozen people working together to cut blocking links and establish our own, failed spectacularly when another bunch of players from our side, unbeknownst to us, happened to decide to use the same area we were to make some fields of their own at the very same time. Neither group scored any MUs that night...

Earlier I mentioned that many players aren't interested in the MU-scoring aspect of the game.  One reason is geography. There is a global score, but a single player typically has almost no effect on that: there are so many people playing all over the world that any one player's actions are almost inconsequential. There are also regional sub-scores, however, and these are what most people who play the MU game seek to influence. However, since each region ("cell") is approximately 150 km across, to make a serious impact on the cell's score, you will probably have to make a fairly large control field to do so. Probably, because a lot will depend on the geography of your cell.  If you live in a rural cell, with a single modestly-sized town in it, you might be able to capture the great majority of the MUs available in the cell with just a single appropriately-sized field over the town; something that could be erected by a single person on a bike in an hour or two.  But if you live in the centre of a major metropolis, erecting a field with sides just 1 km in size is a mammoth task because of the huge number of links that are likely in the way.

My cell, which is is centered on Osaka, has well over 20 million people in it, encompassing as it does the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, etc., and is thus one of the densest in the world. And at any one point, there are typically 10 to 12 million MU under the control of one side or the other.  To seriously influence the score, I am going to have to make fields that capture not thousands of MUs, but hundreds of thousands. Fortunately, I live out in the suburbs, and this is possible, with good planing, that is. To be sure, doing it with a bike is very hard work, and a car certainly makes it easier, but that also deprives me of the exercise that is one of the prime benefits of playing!

If I lived in the centre of Osaka, I could never make fields big enough (and often enough) to score enough points. And if I lived out in the styx, I just couldn't capture areas with enough population density to score many MU, even if I made quite large fields. Being at the edge of town, I can get a decent enough population density while not having to worry about having to cut too many blocking links, and yet still having enough portals around to implement the advanced strategy of making multiply-nested control field for optimal MU-scoring. My biggest (car-assisted) fields can score over 80,000 MUs per layer, and nesting them properly can take the total MUs earned up to a million.  On a bike, my biggest layers tend to max out at 40,000 each, but these are only possible because two of the corners are out in the countryside, cutting down on the number of blocking links to worry about. Of course, a lot of pre-planning is required too!