Saturday, September 10, 2016

Book Review – The Conquering Tide

The Conquering Tide is the second book in Ian Toll’s Pacific War Trilogy. In this book covers the World War II in the Pacific from mid-1942 through mid-1944.

The first half of the book covers the Guadalcanal campaign and the American offensive up the Solomon Islands. While a lot of this is information you have probably seen or read before, Toll does introduce some new material that covers things from the Japanese point of view.

After the Solomon Islands, Toll takes a break from the island hopping campaign to cover the submarine war. This is primarily done by focusing on the patrols of USS Wahoo (SS-238) to illustrate what was happening in that part of the war. But there are a few other submarine stories there too.

The book then moves to the American attacks into the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in 1943 and 1944. These chapters show the evolution of American technology, tactics, and firepower from the battles around the Solomon Islands. Toll makes it pretty clear that the Americans were coming up with new ways of fighting, while the Japanese were stuck in pre-war ideas and spending too much time in inter-service rivalries. The book does point out similar inter-service problems on the American side, but it also shows how the Americans were able to work through those problems. The book continues with the campaign through the central Pacific with air attacks on Truk and the invasions in the Marianas Islands. The dominance of American carrier airpower is plainly shown in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (AKA the Marinas Turkey Shoot).

Throughout the book Toll interweaves stories from Australia, the United States, and Japan to show what was happening on and how the war was seen from the home front. This provides a nice balance with all the battles and gives a good idea of struggles the Japanese people faced during this time.

While most of the book covers what the admirals and generals were saying and doing, it still has lots of good operational and tactical stories too. As with the first book in the series, there are lots of first-hand accounts of the different actions.

Toll has become one of my favorite authors for naval history. His Six Frigates book was great and I enjoyed Pacific Crucible, the first book of the Pacific War Trilogy. The Conquering Tide bites off a big chunk of World War II in the Pacific and I found the first half (on Guadalcanal) to be a little slow. However, the rest of the book is good and brings out some new material. Overall, I would recommend reading The Conquering Tide and I think it is a good addition to books on the Pacific War. The one flaw I see in the book is that it really focuses on the drive through the central Pacific and says very little about the fight in the New Guinea area.

From a gamers point of view, this book provides lots of gaming fodder for naval, air, and land games. After reading the book I could see a number of interesting situations that don’t usually show up as wargames. The raid on Truk alone provides new air and naval actions, and there are a number of land gaming ideas around the different island invasions.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Silent Victory - Summer Solo Game

For my summer solo game for this year, I decided to try out the boardgame Silent Victory from Comsim Press. Silent Victory is a solitaire tactical level game placing you in command of an American submarine during World War II in the Pacific. The game system is based on The Hunters, where you command a German U-boat from 1940 - 43. To make set up and storage a little easier, I decided to use the VASSAL module for the game.

Silent Victory is played out in a series of patrols where you check for encounters, attack ships, and try to make it back to base. When you get back to base, you go through a refit where you can earn medals, along with getting upgrades for your sub and crew. Your job is to make it through World War II without getting sunk or relieved. The game has some role-playing aspects and does a good job of building a narrative of the action.

The game includes charts for the major classes of U.S. submarines used during WWII, except for the older S-class boats.For my game, I decided to start off in December 1941 in the Tambor class submarine USS Thresher (SS-200). I went with Thresher because she was one of the submarines that made it all the way through the war and I hoped that would help out my die rolling. Historically, Thresher went on 14 patrols, sank 17 ships totaling 66,172 tons. On 4 April 1945 she arrived in Pearl Harbor and become a training boat and was performing those duties when World War II ended.
USS Thresher in 1940 (from NavSource.org)
For my first patrol, I was assigned to head to the Empire waters off the coast of Japan. I loaded up my boat and headed off. The possible patrol areas are different depending on if you are based in Pearl Harbor or Australia. All the patrol routes have two outbound transit encounter checks, five on patrol encounter checks (on of which is a double check), and two return transit encounter checks.
Pearl Harbor Patrol Areas
An example of narrative the game can build, on my first outbound transit check from Pearl Harbor I rolled an aircraft encounter. I could just imagine jumpy pilots attacking any submarine without checking to see if it was friend or foe. In this case I was able to dive away and avoid the plane. As the patrol continued, I encountered a several small convoys and was able to sink a small tanker and two other ships. It sounds like a pretty easy patrol, but the historical problems with American torpedoes are featured in the game and you have to check for duds on each hit. During the patrol I fired 16 torpedoes for 12 hits, but 9 of the hits were duds. A whopping 75% dud rate. I actually had some really lucky rolls for torpedo damage and able to sink each ship with only one torpedo. I did take some minor damage during the patrol, but also earned a Bronze Star medal.
Thresher ready to head out on patrol #2
Patrol #2 was to the China Sea. I added four more ships to my total, earning a Silver Star medal. The torpedo dud rate remained high (10 duds on 16 hits), but I was able to sink a couple ships with my 3 inch deck gun too. 
One of my night surface attacks against two escorted freighters
On Patrol #3 I was sent to the Marshall Islands and also got orders to transfer to Australia (this happened through a random event roll). I only got two ships on this patrol and took some heavy damage that kept me in refit for a couple extra months. I took advantage of the extra refit time to add the SJ surface search radar and upgrade my deck guns to a 5 inch gun and 20mm AA gun. Additionally, since I had three successful patrols, I rolled for crew improvements and the crew moved up to Veteran status.
Australia (Fremantle) patrol map
Patrol #4 was to Indochina waters, where I sank the heavy cruiser Maya and four other ships. The sinking of five ships earned me a Navy Cross and while in refit I got word I had been promoted to Commander.
Upgraded Thresher with my new Commander stripes
Patrol #5 was to the Java Sea. This patrol I was feeling pretty good about things and decided to be much more aggressive in my attacks. It paid off with the sinking of six ships, but it also resulted in heavy damage to my sub. It was the first time I had really taken a beating and was worried I was going to lose the boat. I ended up having to go into refit for four months and I received orders back to Pearl Harbor. The rules say if your sub goes into refit for five months you are transferred to another boat. I just missed out on this, but I was okay, because I wanted to try to ride out the war on the same boat.

Patrol #6 was my least productive patrol. I was sent to the Marshall Islands and assigned lifeguard duty to pick up any downed aviators from carrier raids in the area. I successfully completed the lifeguard duty, picking up five downed aviators, but ship traffic was pretty slim. I only saw (and sank) two ships on the patrol. During refit I did get a new expert XO.

Patrol #7 was back to the Marshall Islands with a recon mission. The recon went well and I was able to add three more ships to my tally. The recon mission earned me a Navy Commendation, but I was passed over for promotion.

Patrol #8 was to the Marianna Islands for more lifeguard duty. I picked up six aviators and went on to sink five more ships. But it was another patrol where heavy damage forced me into a four month refit.  The extra time in refit takes away from being able to get out on patrols, but it does eat up time so that the dud rate for the Mark 14 torpedoes goes down and new torpedoes (the electric Mark 18) are introduced.

Patrol #9 was to the China Sea with a minelaying mission. The mission reduced the number of torpedoes carried on the patrol, but the improved and new torpedoes proved their value. I had no dud torpedoes and ended up sinking six more ships. This earned a Navy Unit Commendation for the boat and my crew improved to Elite status.

Patrol #10 was back to Empire waters and I was assigned to a wolfpack. Being part of the wolfpack didn't help out much, as I only was able to sink three more ships. But by this time in the war there weren't a lot of ships left to go after. This turned out to be the last patrol of the war for Thresher as the war came to an end.
Thresher at the end of the war
Upon review, I had a very successful war-time career, sinking 39 ships for 170,500 tons. This beat all the historical American submarines and was a decisive victory for me. There were a number of times I thought I wasn't going to escape the escorts after a successful attack, but in the end I turned out to have some very good luck. During the game I fired 128 torpedoes, had 87 hits, 37 duds (a 43% dud rate) and took 18 "shots" with my deck gun.
My VASSAL Patrol Log
Thresher's crew with her battle flag (from NavSource.org)
Overall it was a fun game. Each patrol took 10 - 30 minutes, depending on the number of encounters. Using VASSAL made it easy to put away and quickly pick up the game, along with providing some nice pictures for the blog. I will probably take another boat out for patrols before the end of summer and might even pull out The Hunters to get the German point of view.



Monday, July 4, 2016

July Update

With July here, I am making some plans for what to do with the rest of the summer. I will have my usual slow-down for summer yardwork, but I have a few gaming project I want to work on.

My first priority is to work on Japanese figures for Bolt Action. I have a box of Warlord Imperial Japanese Infantry, along with an 81mm mortar, Medium Machine Gun team. Hopefully that will provide enough figures to provide a good opponent for my Australians.
I have one semi-work editing/revision project on tap for this summer, but I really want to get my modern submarine rules done enough to ask for some outside looks/reviews. The main issue with these rules has been trying to come up with a way to use miniatures on the table, while maintaining the hidden aspect of submarine warfare. I think I’ve come up with a way to make it work, but now I have to organize all my notes and make it so that others can understand my ideas.

I’m planning some more solitaire gaming this summer. Although unlike last summer’s solo game, this year I’m going to try out the solitaire boardgame Silent Victory.
I picked up a copy when it first came out and I’m going to set aside some time to play. I don’t expect to have many (any?) photos from the game; but who knows, maybe I will take a few (or some screenshots of the Vassal version).

For extra-credit this summer, if I get the Japanese figures done as quickly as hoped, then I’m thinking about painting up some figures for Osprey’s En Garde rules. I have some old Swordplay! Figures from Task Force Games (back when they were trying to do something besides Star Fleet Battles miniatures). I’ve got about a dozen figures, which I’m hoping will give a couple small forces to skirmish around with.

Finally, to add a few more photos to the blog entry, I thought I’d post some photos of the Imperial Assault figures I’ve painted up. A while ago I picked up a used copy of the Imperial Assault game. I haven’t had much of a chance to play it, but I decided to go ahead and paint up the figures. I just used block painting followed by an application of stain (essentially the dip method, although I use brushes instead of the dip). This was a nice little diversion project done while I was painting up other stuff for Enfilade. The figures turned out pretty well (although I left a little too much stain on Luke, so he turned out a little dark, but not Dark Side).
First up, the Rebel side heroes and allies
The villains side
The Empire forces
I think it will be a little more fun to play with the painted figures (even with just a basic paint job).

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Book Review - War at the End of the World

War at the End of the World covers the often overlooked World War II campaign in New Guinea. There aren’t a lot of books (at least in the U.S.) on the New Guinea campaign, which always seemed a bit strange to me since it was a hard fought campaign that involved Americans and it could arguably be said that it was as important as the actions in the Solomon Islands.

The book starts out with the Japanese invasion of New Britain in 1942, then moves to Japanese and Allied operations on New Guinea in 1943, and ends with the last major operations on the western end of New Guinea in August 1944. The author, James Duffy, covers a lot of strategic and tactical aspects of the campaign and includes Japanese and Australian perspectives. The book has a good chapter on the fighting along the Kokoda Trail, but it still tends to concentrate on American involvement and especially on General Douglas MacArthur’s role. The subtitle “Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight for New Guinea” gives you an idea of how important Duffy thinks MacArthur’s leadership is in the campaign’s overall success. The book does do a good job of talking about the Allied strategy for outflanking and isolating groups of Japanese troops across the island to cut off their supplies; forcing them to either surrender, starve, or die of disease.

Overall, the book provides a really good overview of the campaign and battles. But it does not go too deep into any of the battles or get too detailed about the units involved in the battles. It does have a pretty extensive bibliography that can point the way for those that want more details. It is a good book and I would recommend War at the End of the World to anyone with an interest in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

From a gamer’s point of view, the book gives lots of ideas for land battles (I originally got it to get some ideas for my 28mm Australians shown here). It doesn’t have as much for the naval and air gamers, but you can still pick up some ideas.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Enfilade 2016 Recap Part 2 - My Games

We ran two game for Enfilade 2016, both based on the Channel Dash (AKA Operation Cerberus) where the German battleships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed from Brest to German ports through the English Channel in February 1942. The first game covered the air attack by British aircraft and the second covered the Royal Navy’s daylight MTB/MGB attack.

Note, you can see more pictures from the other events at this blog post.

Channel Dash - Air Attack 
Our first game was run on Saturday morning. The game was full, but we added a couple other players to help with all the British planes.
Initial set up for the German capital ships with the aircraft and escorts standing by
Both sides had some minor choices for the game (Germans had to pick their escort ships and set Flak orders, while the British had to try to coordinate their aircraft entry). The British had Swordfish torpedo planes, Beaufort bombers (two armed with torpedoes), some Whirlwinds armed with light bombs, and some Spitfire Vs as escort. The Germans had a mix of Me-109s and FW-190s. Things started out a little slowly as everyone picked up the rules and tried to get moving.
British planes approaching with the Germans intercepting and flak starting to appear
Due to navigation issues, the British force ended up split into 3 different groups. The northern group had a pair of Swordfish and the Whirlwinds.The center group had two Swordfish, four Beauforts, and six Spitfires (although all the planes did not enter at the same time). The southern group had a pair of Swordfish and a pair of Beauforts. The Germans initially concentrated on the northern two groups (the ones closest to the battleships). But German reinforcements were able to join the battle after the start and go after the southern group.

German fighters and flak took their toll, while the Whirlwinds tried to use their light bombs to suppressed the Flak. Two Swordfish and a Beaufort were able to get into position to launch the torpedoes and a couple other Beauforts were able to drop their bombs.
Swordfish making their way through the flak (these planes ended having to jettison their torpedoes before getting into position to attack)
Beauforts making their way through the flak
A Swordfish launches a torpedo at Scharnhorst
German fighters trying to catch the southern attack group
Beauforts dropping their bombs
Torpedoes launched and a hit on Prinz Eugen
As the battle ended, we added up the hits to the German capital ships. Gneisenau was hit by heavy bombs from the Beaufort bombers, which would keep her in the yards for a few months but didn't slow her down. The torpedo launched at Scharnhorst missed, but the battleship took some minor damage from light bombs from the Whirlwinds. However, the trailing Prinz Eugen was hit by a torpedo from a Swordfish. It was not enough damage to sink the cruiser, but it would keep her out of action for a long time.

Overall I was pretty happy with how this game turned out.Things did start a little slow, but they picked up and I think just about everyone had a good time with the game. It looked pretty nice with all the planes and ships on the board.

Channel Dash - Surface Attack
Next up was the daylight attack by the British MTBs and MGBs. In this game both sides had several options for their forces. The Germans could select their escorts (with the option of taking some fighter) and the British had choices about which ships to take, with the option of getting an old destroyer. This was going to be a tough game for the British and I tried to impress on them that it would be an uphill battle for them, however I didn't expect it to be quite as bad as it turned out to be.

Both sides took a couple fighters for air cover. The Germans took a destroyer, torpedo boat, and pair of S-boats. The British took five MTBs as their main force. The German battleships were planned to enter the board after a few turns, so the German players (who had to set up first) formed a line all along the board to try to cover all the British approaches. The British decided to enter as close to the entry point for the battleships as possible (after the game I realized I should have emphasized that the battleships moved faster than most of the MTBs).
British MTBs moving toward the battleship entry point
The entry point selected by the British put them into contact with the German S-boats, while the destroyer and torpedo boat turned back to help support from a distance.
S-boats (right) turn to bring their guns to bear while the German destroyer takes long-range shots
Without any MTB guns that could reach the German S-boats, the British sent their fighters to strafe the Germans. But the Germans countered with their own fighters.
One Spitfire dives in on the S-boats while the other tries to keep the German fighters away
As soon as the shooting started, I knew things were not going to turn out well for the British. The German destroyer got multiple hits with its 5 inch guns, easily sinking one MTB. The S-boats used their 20mm and 40mm guns to cause heavy damage to two more. The British Spitfires couldn't get any hits, while the Me-109s damaged both Spitfires and forced one to abort.

The next few turns the British did a little better. They shot down one Me-109 and got closer to where the battleships would enter. But the hot German dice continued; three more MTBs were sunk and the remaining boat was damaged.
The S-boats run interference while the German fighters keep the Spitfire busy as the Scharnhorst passes by.
At this point I decided to give the British the optional destroyer that could have been selected at the start of the game (I probably should have allowed them to have it at the start of the game). The last MTB couldn't get into a good position to fire its torpedoes and ended up being sunk by combined fire from the S-boats and fighter.
The British MTB surrounded and in trouble
The British destroyer was able to damage the German destroyer and tried to get into position to fire torpedoes at the oncoming battleship. But a rudder special hit spoiled the torpedo run, forcing the British destroyer to take a desperation launch at the battleship.
British torpedoes moving toward the German ships
One torpedo spread caught the German destroyer (which was trying to run interference for the torpedoes) in the stern causing heavy damage. But the battleships were able to escape without any damage.

At this point we ended the game, but it didn't feel like the British players had much fun with it. I went with historic forces, but knowing how weak the British boats are, I probably should have beefed up the British forces by letting them keep their MGBs (instead of swapping them for the fighters) and giving them the destroyer from the start.

I think the air attack game turned out pretty close to as expected and the players had a good time. The MTB attack did not go very well and I will have to re-evaluate the forces if I pull it out again in the future.

Enfilade 2016 Recap Part 1 - Other People's Games

Another successful Enfilade wrapped up on Sunday. Enfilade 2016 was another well run and attended convention. Reports said that there were a record number of games presented and attendance was close to a record. I saw new younger faces this year, which is a good sign for future conventions. The hotel was finishing up some remodeling this year and the complaints/comments I heard were primarily over issues with that. Overall I would say it was another good year for Enfilade and the staff should be congratulated on great convention.

The theme for 2016 was Against All Odds and there were a good number of games that focused on the theme.

As per my usual Enfilade recap, I’m doing two Enfilade posts; one on the general convention and other people's games and a second covering the games I ran. This post will cover the general convention stuff and games I played in. Note this is a long post with lots of photos.

Friday Games
It seems like people are taking Friday off and showing up earlier to Enfilade. The Friday afternoon was busy and had lots of gamers. I helped out with the Thunderboats game in the afternoon and in the evening played in a Russo-Japanese War naval game. Here are some photos from the first two gaming periods.
A Bridge too Short (big Chain of Command game)
Big Fleets, Small Galaxy
Boudica vs. Romans
First Battle of St. Albans
Irish vs. Constabulary
P-38s and B-25s up against Ju-52 and escorts (CY6! game)
Plan Alpha (Command at Sea) - this was originally being done double-blind, but the blind was removed when I took the photo.
Star Wars Armada
Thunderboats! with a boat on fire
The annual Viking Run raid game
Alligator Creek Bolt Action game using 15mm troops
Kaibokan - Japanese convoy game
Khalkyn Gol - Japanese vs. Russians
Cold War gone hot - Soviets advancing into West Germany
Pancho Villa vs Federales
Prehistoric hunting game
Sharpe Practice in Spain
Thunderboats! pickle-fork hydroplane racers
The Sword and the Flame on the Nile
Attack on Port Arthur pre-Dreadnought battle
My protected cruiser (but not very protected) squadron from the Port Arthur game

Saturday Morning and Afternoon
Saturday morning I was running the Channel Dash – Air Attack game and the afternoon was the Channel Dash – MTB Attack game (which you can read about in this post). I only got a handful of photos from these game periods.
Break the Blockade - ACW naval game
For Parliament or King English Civil War
Games for Kids - Fetterman Massacre
Gaugamela 331 BC
Killing Custer - Cavalry vs. Indians
Lutzen 1632
Battle of Trafalgar using Sails of Glory
Battle of Alesia 52 BC

Saturday Evening
After finishing up my Channel Dash games, my voice was starting to go. So I sat out the evening game period, but helped judge events and got some game photos.
All Quiet on the Martian Front
AWI game using the Sharpe Practice rules
Battle of Borodino
Battle of Hoth using X-Wing Fighter rules
Battlecruisers at Jutland
Doctor Evil's Lair using Black Ops rules
Dragon Rampant
Galactic Knights using Starguard ships
Gutshot western gunfight game
Carrier attack in the Med - 1973 using the Harpoon rules
Martian airship boarding actions
Pride, Zombies & Dr. Who (note the Tardis in the left board edge)
World War 1 gas attack

Sunday Morning
The game I was going to play in on Sunday morning was cancelled, so I spent the morning watching and helping out with the Ironclads attack on Fort Pickens game.
Russians vs. Boxers in Manchuria
Battle of Britain airfield attack (CY6!)
A Frostgrave game
Ironclads - attack on Pensacola
Ironclads - Union monitors take on Confederate ironclads
Viking Raid using Lion Rampant rules
Medieval siege game
Pulp Alley Lost Island game
Greek triremes on a quest
Wings of War night bombing raid over England

That is all the pictures for this year. Enfilade 2016 was a really good convention with lots of interesting and visually appealing games.