Saturday, January 31, 2015

Avanti Savoia! My Italians in all their Glory...

So, some might ask... "Dude, why Italians??"  

Yeah, they have a bad rep on the street, or erhm, perhaps "in the sand"?  Between race/ethnic bias, WWII propaganda, the political collapse of the nation in '43, and mixed performance as a nation despite solid - and consistent - performance from certain units, the Italians are mocked quite a bit.

Good example... long after I chose to play Italians as my first Flames of War army, I did a tournament at a big venue not too far away.  There were 20-30 players there.  I played three rounds, once against an experienced US Army player, once against a newbie Soviet, and once against a pretty experienced soviet player who was fielding an infantry company backed up by KV1's.  What interested me about the KV1 player was that he basically felt entitled to win since he was playing against Italians - he cheerfully informed me of this at the start of the game.  You'd think that since my stuff was well painted, he'd at least give me _some_ respect, eh?  But no, filled with Allied propaganda, he dismissed any chance I had at winning.

Well, things didn't turn out that way.  At one point I dropped about 48 MG dice on his infantry in a town, and the law of averages coming into play I tore up a Sov infantry platoon [company] while his other infantry platoons [company] wandered into the sights of a zillion other dice, albeit with is KV1 help.  My rickety light tanks zipped around the mangled Soviets holding the town to take the objective, while my Bersaglieri light infantry kept his KV1 busy.long enough for them to contest that objective.  Meanwhile, my armor drove about 15 feet for the win.

So why play Italians?  Well, it's a points game, and given equal points and competent playing, any force should win, right?  Plus I'm half Italian, and I enjoy the odd mix of lame light armor and dodgy infantry, altho the elite forces play just fine, of course.  The best being the Paracadutisti, but paras aren't my thing, so I've fielded armor with light infantry, mostly.  I dunno, aside from the fun of painting them up and researching them, it is fun to be the underdog.  After all, if you lose with Italians...isn't that what people expect?  And if you win, you get some quiet laughs!

Anyway, here's some pics of my Italians, may have to do a few posts:
 Company Staff: Captain on left in peaked cap, hero [with medal on base, surrounded by dead and dying], 2iC then a spotter.  Behind are a Fiat staff car and a "borrowed" German light truck, the Horch Kfz 15 [resin with cast base].  The Hero and vehicles are Battlefront while the rest of the figures are Old Glory Command Decision:

 Blurry Hero in the front, with the Capitano in the back.

2iC and spotter with Horch in the back.

First platoon I painted.  The figures are all OGCD and are painted up as the Motorized Infantry Division "Trieste", with national badges on the sun helmets and green collar badges.  I chose this unit b/c they were both well equipped and well trained, considered the equal of the Bersaglieri light infantry.  I felt this gave me the flexibility to field them as either a Fucilieri company or Bersaglieri company.  Then again, I probably over think these things! 

Closeup of two squads.  The sangars are made of kitty litter.  The sand is real playbox sand.

You can just see the badge on the sun helmets, and some are wearing black garrison caps. I used the Osprey Italian books to paint the figs, found them easy to work with and reasonably accurate.  The British ones are a bit of a nightmare, but these were all fine.

Other two squads.  The extra base is in there by mistake - it's from the next platoon down. Have to correct this disorganization later!

I found these figs a pleasure to paint and work with, and the end results superior to the Battlefront ones.  There are new ones from Eureka of Australia, but they're pricey so I'd probably just use them to fill in the occasional gaps.  You can buy them in small batches.  My other favorite is the Peter Pig range.  The figs are very solid and have a number of good poses, as well as being clean sculpts.  Highly recommended.

But if you want a large amount of cheap and decent figs, you really can't beat the Old Glory Command Decision line with the Old Glory Army discount [40% off].  It puts a bag at 19 cents a figure, making up for any figures you don't like.  Of course, with buy bags of 50, you end up with lots of extra LMGs for example, but I've found they make great vehicle crews with AA LMG.

Anyway, some more pics:
Second platoon I painted - these guys are from a Blackshirt Battalion, or CCNN.  They were full of enthusiasm but not with a lot of weapons and training!  So no LMGs for these dudes.

Closeup of the platoon commander and the short squad.  

The last couple of squads close up.  Note that some of the figures are wearing scarves to protect themselves from the gritty sand.  Apparently this was a must-have item in the desert. What did they look like?  I don't know, but as many were local copying turban patterns would be a good start, any with color.  As it is 15mm, it should be a bright pattern or it won't be noticed at all.  And if it won't be noticed at all, why bother to paint it?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Neil Thomas: "One - Hour Wargames" WWII Rules - Review and thoughts

Well, perhaps I have something of a "Neil Thomas Problem" [which is definitely a "first world problem"! :)] but his books and rules have had a big _positive_ impact on my approach to gaming, the rules I want to use and what is "historical" in a game.  Hopefully, NT is satisfied with being a thought-provoking window into the past of game design, which is a good place to be.  I'm still revisiting my gaming past, present and future with WWII.  I found my old Squad Leader boardgame rules, scenarios and boards.  Lest I be overwhelmed with nostalgia, I've boxed them and have them handy for a rainy day.  If I start reading "the Guards Counterattack" I don't know if I'll be able to stop!  Lord help me.

I read the NT rules for 1HW:WWII a while back soon after getting the book.  I have to admit I thought they were woefully inadequate at first - they're so minimal as to be sparse.  But lately I've been reading Fistful of Tows 3, asking lots of questions of other players, and rethinking some of my biases.  The main questions for me now are:
  • What scale are the NT1HW:WWII rules on the ground? and closely related,
  • What do the Units effectively represent - squads, platoons, companies?
A fast-play set can be both streamlined and realistic as long as it doesn't go into all possibilities, permutations, variations and situations - that's where lots of the rules and special rules come from with so many rulesets.  And these add substantially to the amount of rules a player needs to understand if they want to play at all, much less be competitive on the table.  

However, if we say we're gaming the battles and situations that typify the combat of the time, location and belligerents in our chosen period, then we can both simplify and streamline the rules without a loss of historicity.  It's just that instead of recreating the small percent of oddities that real life brought the way of the combatants, we're leaving them up to the dice.  This is actually more realistic since the unforeseen circumstance is usually left to the decision makers below the level of command that the player is supposed to represent. 

With all this in mind, I've tried to approach the rules seeking some understanding before criticizing and changing them. 

The rules like all the rules in the book are only three pages, and hey, there's a half page at the end - so only 2.5 pages!!  Wow.  WOW!  NT differentiates btw four types of Units in these as in all the 1HW rules, here they are: Infantry, Anti-tank Guns, Tanks and Mortars. The rules require Observation / Line of Sight and have a combat matrix that cross-references the four types effectiveness against each other.  As in the other rules, NT only awards substantial advantages of +2 or -2 on a d6, or 33%.  The accepted norms of the types are followed, with for example tanks and ATGs being +2 v. Tanks while Infantry and Mortars are -2 against tanks, Mortars are +2 v. Infantry, and of course the majority are '0' as they ought.  

Regarding these modifiers and relationships, I've concluded that Infantry are all blooded regulars, ATGs are medium guns of the 57mm/6pdr size, all tanks are medium [MkIV, Shermans, T34] and the mortars are 82mm or perhaps even 75iG or other light field pieces in the 65-82mm range.  As there is no differentiation between direct/indirect fire from Mortars, it is safe to say that the "mortar" in game terms is either a medium caliber indirect-fire fieldpiece or has no ammunition that is effective against tanks. I think all of us could quibble with the fine-tuning of the above modifiers, but as written they are arguably correct per the representations I've figured.

EDIT: The Unit scale is given on pps 58-59 as about 40 infantry with LAW [bazookas, small ATG], about three mortars and crew [81mm mortars, 75mm light field pieces], about three ATG with crew and towing vehicles, about three tanks.  

The ground scale is not stated.  Infantry, ATGs and Tanks are all 12" max range with mortars shooting 48".  I looked up the ranges for 82mm mortars in WWII [the typical battalion mortar] and found it's around 2400 meters. So with game range being 48", that leaves us at precisely 600m to 12", which is short for ATG and Tank guns IMHO.  I'd say that 1200m is the effective range, so 24" for long range, but there's no LR in the game.  So I feel that there's a discrepancy between the relative ranges within the game itself.  While I understand he strives for simplicity, I think NT could have added a rule that guns can fire out to 24" with a -2 to the dice or something.  Aside from the clash of scale / range, the rules seem to make plenty of sense upon closer examination.  

EDIT: Bases are 4-6" for infantry, 2-3" [or none] for guns, and a single un-based tank model. This seems like it should be streamlined a bit, altho it does give 200-300m frontage for an infantry platoon, 100-150m for three guns and with a 1/72 tank about 100m for three tanks. No depth is specified.

There's no close attack / assault range or mechanics.  That seems a lapse on NT since he has the mechanic in most other sets of the 1HW book.  And it is quite accepted that infantry routinely assaulted positions at the 25m range or less using pistol, SMG, grenades, etc and tanks closed with guns and MGs, crushing foxholes by grinding them under their treads.  Can't prove it perhaps, but certainly common enough!  So with 600m/12", then it would be 1/2" or base contact for assault, same as his other rules.

Therefore, all Units in the game fight with shooting and there's no advantage for being closer.  I find that a bit startling.  There's a "hail Mary" distance, an effective aimed distance, and a "so close can't miss" distance to any ranged weapon.  At the least NT should allow Hand-to-Hand attacks by Infantry and Tanks and make them deadly for both sides, perhaps a +2 on the d6.  That should handle it according to his own game mechanics.  

So thus far, what would I change [without even playing them...I'm a bad person - perhaps I will try them RAW just to sooth my conscience]? I'd give an additional +2 to all attacks at base contact, and a -2 at all long ranges.  Or perhaps +1/-1, would have to try it out.

For movement, ATGs move faster than infantry which I challenge on the basis that the game is only covering the combat environment, and I doubt there's any transport within these limits - they'd be in the rear with the gear.  I'd say they are immobile, or at best being "prolonged" by mounting, moving and dismounting at a rate which is less than the 6" of infantry, not 8".  Also, only infantry may enter woods or remain in towns, and I think ATGs should be able to start the game placed in both or move into the edge of both.  Guns generally dug in whenever there was time especially when they'd no gunshield, like mortars.

In shooting, infantry halve Hits if they are within a woods or town, and tanks get halved Hits if they are on a hilltop [hull down].  Neither ATG nor mortars have any terrain advantages.  Again, seems to me that especially mortars should as they're indirect fire weapons, small and easy to conceal in a deep foxhole.

Casualties are as usual 15 Hits on a Unit before it is destroyed.  There's no decrease in effectiveness along the way, and therefore no pinning or suppression effects.  This contributes to the scale feel that a Unit is a platoon of 30-40 infantry and about 3-5 tanks.

While these rules are not as limited as I thought they were initially, with just a little more effort I believe they could be a better representation of WWII combat.  It was a complex and interesting time period, and there's more _basic_ elements available than NT has chosen to show.  I will give these a go sometime soon, but mainly to plumb their limitations before I change them as a design exercise.  So thus far my changes would be:

  1. ATGs and Mortars move < Infantry, can enter edge of terrain if not move thru.
  2. Long range for Infantry, ATGs, Tanks = 24" with a -2 Hit modifier.
  3. Infantry and Tanks in base contact with any other Unit, +2 Hit bonus.
  4. I think there should be some declining effectiveness with Hits taken, and
  5. opportunity to rally them off somehow.
  6. Smoke!  A useful and fairly basic tactic, also simulating the dust and debris clouds of a barrage.  There are Barrage rules in the WWI 1HW rules...
I will say that I'm 100% in favor of fast-play streamlined rules that put the player in a specific role and limit them to that role.  NT has done a lot to help me rethink such things.   But these rules I think could've used an extra 1.5 pages and clocked in at a full 4 pages with little encumbrance but some critical mechanics and details that would be 100% more authentic. 

There is such a thing as TOO simple, in my Humble Opinion.

Clearly a playtest and batrep is in order!