Sunday, February 11, 2018

Air Battle over Malta

Kevin came up with some unexpected free time yesterday, so we decided to try a walk-though of the rules we are going to use for the Illustrious project. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but we are planning on using David Manley’s unpublished Air War 1940 rules for the game. Since Illustrious is still in the paint shop at the yards, but Kevin had received a game mat of Valletta and Malta’ Grand Harbor for Christmas and it seemed like a good opportunity to break it in. So, we decided to try out the rules with an air raid on Malta’s Grand Harbor. The mat is from Tiny Wargame Mats and really looks nice. We even added a few ships from Topside Miniatures to provide some targets for the bombers.

We’ve played several games using Air War C21, so we are familiar with concepts behind the rules. But, there are some differences in the rules too, so we decided to go with intercepting an unescorted bomber raid. We pulled out 12 Italian bombers (9 SM.79s and 3 CANT Z.1007s) for the attacking force and some Hurricane Is and Fulmars. along with a little flak, on the intercepting side.
Hurricanes heading for the bombers
The bombers basically moved straight, with some minor turns to line up on their targets, at max speed. The interceptors started out in front of the bombers and needed to do a little maneuvering to get in good firing position. The Hurricanes were easier to manage than the Fulmars, being faster and more maneuverable.
Hurricanes spreading out their shots
British attack rolls during the game weren’t great. The Hurricanes did manage to cut through the Italian formation, getting hits on several bombers. But due to their light caliber weapons and less-than-average die rolls, they were only able to down one bomber. The Fulmars had similar results but crippled a bomber instead of knocking it down. The heavy flak also had mixed results, getting one hit early on that crippled a bomber, but missing all chances after that.

The Hurricanes eventually ran out of ammo and the Fulmars fell too far behind after missing rolls for special maneuvers, so we ran the remaining bombers through their attack.
Hurricanes and Fulmars taking their shots as the bombers approach the flak
Much like the British shooting, Italian bombing rolls were less than spectacular with no hits recorded.
Bombs Away! (but no real hits)
Overall the test game was successful, even though the rolling was poor. The Malta mat looks great and will provide us with a good mat for playing the “Illustrious Blitz” some time in the future.
A view of the Valletta mat without aircraft, but with some Topside Miniatures and flak

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Illustrious Project

One of my joint-projects for Enfilade 2018 covers the air attack on HMS Illustrious on January 10, 1941 during Operation Excess convoy to Malta. Illustrious was a thorn in the side of the Axis, having participated in several operations including the attack on Italian battleships at Taranto. Operation Excess was well planned, but so was the German and Italian response, including plans to sink Illustrious. The Germans had recently deployed X Fliegerkorps with over 40 Stuka dive bombers. The basic plan was to use Italian SM.79 torpedo bombers to draw off the Royal Navy fighters and then let the Stukas go after the carrier and other ships. Historically, that plan almost worked. The Italians drew off a number of Illustrious' Fulmar fighters and the Stukas got six direct hits on the carrier.
Stuka attacks on HMS Illustrious on Jan 10, 1041 (from
While Illustrious was severely damaged, her armored flight deck held up and she was able to limp into Malta. The website Armored Aircraft Carriers of WWII has a good article on the overall action.

After getting to Malta, the carrier (and island) were subjected to numerous raids, which are often referred to at "The Illustrious Blitz."

As part of the joint project, my friend Kevin will be painting up Stukas, SM.79s, and Fulmars, while I take care of the ships for the game. We decided to limit the ships to the carrier and one escorting destroyer. I already have the kit for Illustrious and the kit for the selected destroyer is on the way.

I always like to get the paint schemes as close as possible and my research on the camouflage scheme for Illustrious turned up the following, from Mal Wright's British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers
Approximate HMS Illustrious paint scheme on January 10, 1941, from British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, via the
The colors are basically a light grey hull, with a medium grey disruptive pattern, and a dark grey deck. But it seems that the dotted yellow stripe had been replaced by a solid one by January 10.

I've assembled my Aoshima version of the carrier, adding some extra 20mm guns to round out the anti-aircraft gun fit for the time. I also put the large radio antennas in the down position (the assembly instructions for British carriers often tell you to assemble these in the up position, but my understanding is that they were lowered during flight operations. So, my version has them down as the crew rushes to get a few more Fulmars airborne).
Primed and ready for painting
Hopefully, my paint job will turn out like the pictures.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Rules/Book Review: Wargaming the Spanish Armada

I’ve been intrigued with the Spanish Armada for some time. There are a number of interesting books and games available on the subject and I have some Armada boardgames, but I’ve always been little reluctant to get into gaming the era with miniatures. I decided to spend a little Christmas gift certificates to get a copy of the Spanish Armada book in the Battle of Britain series of book-games.
The Spanish Armada book cover
Each book in the Battle for Britain series, there are seven all-together (and they are launching a Fleets in Profile series this year), covers a different war in British history. Each include profile illustrations of soldiers and weapons to cut out, along with easy to play wargame rules. The Spanish Armada book has all the major ships you need to recreate the navies that clashed in the English Channel in 1588 and has instructions on how to cut out and assemble them. It also includes a coastline, islands, and a sea surface with squares for playing the game. The rules are quick and easy to play, but still show the differences between Spanish and English ships and tactics. The book also includes short descriptions of the overall campaign and the different ships on each side, along with tactical suggestions for ship captains when playing the game. There are six scenarios in the rules (four historical, one hypothetical, and one generic) and a campaign game. So, there is really a lot packed into book.
Spanish Fleet description from the book
To start a game, you need to have your play area and ships, along with some six-sided dice for combat and a deck of cards for determining the wind information. The turn sequence for the game is Spanish move and shoot, then the English take their turn and can move and shoot or shoot and move. Movement is pretty basic with most Spanish ships only able to move one square, while most English ships can move two. If you are playing with the Orders rule, you roll a die at the start of the turn to determine how many ships you can move. There are also movement limitations based on the wind speed and direction (determined before the start of play). One interesting rule is that the Spanish transports don’t normally move during the game; they only move if they are hit by English gunnery. This does make games more fun that just doing the typical stern chase.
A page of English ships (click on the image for a closer look)
The movement information, damage and gunnery information for each ship type is summarized on a card.
Ship summary cards
For gunnery combat you roll a number of six-sided dice based on the firing ship type and range, with sixes being hits. When ships take enough hits, they become crippled and no longer move and can be forced to surrender. The English automatically reload their guns when they move, while the Spanish roll to see if they reload their guns. So, the Spanish have to think about when to fire their guns. There is also a rule for Spanish boarding (the English cannot initiate boarding). But a Spanish ship has to be in the same square as an English ship to try this and that isn’t very likely.

The campaign plays through a series of scenarios as the Armada moves through the Channel giving each side options for attacking the enemy (including a chance for the Spanish to attack ports or invade from Flanders). There are chances to resupply and repair your forces between battles too.

I haven’t cut out any ships yet, but I did play a couple battles with some stand-ins and the game played quickly and smoothly. There is a rules summary sheet, which I referred to when first getting started, to help with any basic questions.

The Spanish Armada book gives you ships, easy-play rules, and a basic history all a comprehensive little package. The author also gives you permission to copy the pages, so that you don’t have to cut up the book. Overall, I was pretty happy with the game and think this is a worthwhile purchase.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Review - 2018 Preview

With the run of the calendar to a new year, it is time to take a quick look back at 2017 and forward to 2018. Before I start that, I again want to thank all of you that read my blog on a regular (or not so regular) basis. I really appreciate the views and comments about what I'm doing. So, thanks for reading.

Reviewing 2017

I had limited goals for 2017 and only really finished a portion of those. The early part of 2017 was take up with work for Enfilade and I knocked out two planned projects:

The Cuban Missile Crisis goes hot joint project with my friend Kevin.

The Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap Harpoon Captain’s Edition game with 1/6000 scale miniatures.

I felt like both Enfilade projects were successful. The games went well and it seemed like the players had a good time.

For non-Enfilade projects I planned to:
Finish my Chinese Navy Type 054A frigate and some Japanese missile boats.
Almost completed ships
I really procrastinated on these, starting and stopping them throughout the year. The kits are basically done, except for some touch-up paintwork, putting decals on the frigate, and basing the missile boats. So, I feel like this rates an 80% completion.

Work my modern submarine rules. This was pretty much a failure for the year. I tinkered around the edges, but I had a hard time getting into the final work on the rules. Hopefully, I can change that in 2018.

What else did I do? I did my usual summer solo project, which I combined with International Naval Wargaming Day, but that didn’t require any modelling or painting. I pulled out my Falklands models and painted up some Sea Harriers for the NHMGS Game Day at the Museum of Flight.

I also spent more time playing around with some computer games in 2017, with Cold Waters and Twilight Struggle being the main culprits of sucking up free time.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad year. Although I didn’t get in as much miniature and face-to-face gaming as I would have liked, but it wasn’t bad.

Previewing to 2018

Looking ahead to 2018, I’ll be working with Kevin on a couple joint Enfilade projects for the Falklands (this will be an improved and polished version of what we did at the Museum of Flight) and the attack on HMS Illustrious in January 1941. I've got an old Aoshima version of the carrier ready to put together and I'm looking at what paint job she had in early 1941.
Ready for the slipway
I’m also going to look for an Enfilade game to run by myself, but I will probably just recycle an old project for the game.

Based on discussions with some other gamers and other things I’ve got on the back burner, it seems like 2018 will be more air oriented for gaming and side projects. But there are a couple other things that are on my list.

I would like to get back to my modern submarine rules and let a few people look at/comment on the rules and ideas. I just need to figure out something to get me motivated again.
Waiting for orders
I also decided to get some figures for some Crusades era Lion Rampant armies. I’m going to start with the Muslim/Turkish army. I picked up some boxes of Gripping Beast plastic figures and, using the sample retinues from Lion Rampant, I figure I can cover the Seljuk Turks, Spanish Muslim, and Egyptian armies. I’m a pretty slow figure painter, so we’ll see how it goes.
Arab figures for Lion Rampant
Other Odds and Ends: I’m hoping to get in more face-to-face gaming this year, so that might take priority over some of the non-Enfilade projects. I’m also sure there will be some other new, bright, and shiny game/object that will take my attention. Looking far into 2018, I expect DANG will take up the last couple months of the year and since I let the gamers vote on the project, it is hard to know what it will be.

Finally, I want to wish all of you a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

DANG 2017 - Seastrike!

This year’s DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) was Seastrike. The game covered a hypothetical war in the 1980s between two countries armed with weapons from the Western Powers. The opposing navies are basically a mirror image, with each having the same class of ships, except for their missile boats. Each side also had a squadron of attack aircraft and multi-role aircraft. The tactical game would use the Seastrike advanced rules, with some modifications for ranges and the addition of a CIWS weapon, which is carried on a couple of the ships in the game.
A nice photo of a Harpoon missile launch to get everyone in the missile mood
The campaign consisted of three scenario areas where the battles would be fought and a reserve area where ships could wait to be called as reinforcements for a battle. Each side had a “home” scenario area with a land-based command center, while the third scenario area was an international strait that separated the two countries. In honor to the old Avalon Hill generic wargames (and because I didn’t want to take the time to write up full histories for each side), I named the two sides Big Blue and Great Red, and the third scenario area was dubbed Avalon Strait. The basic victory conditions for the mini-campaign were to win two out of three battles. Although I set up a points system so that players needed to ensure that they still had a decent size navy after the battles for the post-battle positioning.

Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:00 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning, and munching on some breakfast snacks.

After a short review of all the rules (probably too short), the teams moved to their own areas to talk over how they would allocate their discretionary spending money to upgrade their fleets. The upgrades list included modifications for their ships, special armaments, and even spying on the enemy. Both sides picked some obvious upgrades, such as buying some air-launched surface to surface missiles for their strike planes, to some less obvious ones like improving the silencing on some submarines to make them harder to detect.

With the pre-game spending done, each side created task groups with ships and assigned them to the scenario and reserve areas. This is where the players did something that I didn’t really expect. During the setup, they asked if they needed to allocate a task group to each scenario area, I said no (I should have said yes). So, instead of planning to fight three battles, each side allocated a token force to their home scenario area and piled all their other ships into Avalon Strait. This meant that the Battle of Avalon Strait would decide the whole campaign. For the Battle of Avalon Strait, Big Blue brought their cruiser and all their frigates to the battle, splitting the ships into two task groups. Great Red brought their modern frigates and missile boats, split into two task groups, and their two extra quiet submarines. Both sides also put up four planes on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the strait. The surface task groups started on the edges of the strait, while the submarines set up in the middle of the board.
Blue frigate task group
Blue cruiser task group
One of the Red mixed frigate-missile boat groups
After moving and launching some helicopters on turn 1, both sides called for airstrikes.
Red players moving their ships
Blue groups done moving
Great Red couldn’t get any planes off the ground and even had some crash (a problem that would plague the Red air force all day). Big Blue’s airstrike made it into the area and Red’s CAP intercepted and shot down a couple planes. The other planes moved to fire missiles and drop bombs. There was some minor damage from one of the missiles, but all the bombs missed their targets (which would become an issue for both sides).
Blue airstrikes not hitting much
The ships continued to move closer. The Blue cruiser group closed in on the reported position of the submarines and sent out a few helicopters to search area. But the extra quieting on the subs helped keep them undetected.
Red helicopters lead the formation
Blue helicopters start their sub hunt
On the next turn, one of the Red submarines had closed into torpedo range and started firing. The sub was only able to get fire control solutions on a couple smaller ships, sinking one and damaging the other.
Torpedoes loose!
On the next turn, the surface force from both sides continued to close. Meanwhile, the Red subs continued their attack on the Blue cruiser group, sinking the cruiser (the group’s flagship) and one other ship. At the end of the turn, the cruiser group failed a morale check and was ordered to exit the area.
Opposing forces continue to close (sorry for the fuzzy photo)
Blue's cruiser sinking after torpedo hits
The other Red sub sinks a frigate
During the withdrawal, a Red sub got in one last shot, sinking another Blue ship. The group started out with seven ships, but only three were able to withdraw and one of those was damaged.
One more Blue frigate takes torpedo hits (with the failed morale die in the background)
Knowing that winning this sector would decide the war, the remaining Blue task group continued its charge toward the enemy. Their attacks sank a Red missile boat and frigate, but return fire sank two Blue ships.
The Commander of the Blue frigate group orders "All ahead, flank speed."
A Red missile boat goes down (the first ship loss for Red)
A Red frigate take missile hits
Return fire sinks two Blue frigates
Over the next couple of turns the Blue and Red forces started to intermingle, making it hard to pick out the different sides. Meanwhile, the second Red task group began getting into missile range of the remaining Blue ships.
Both sides move into pistol range
A couple more Blue ships were sunk, which pretty much sealed the fate of the Blue group and it failed its morale check. They had beat up the Red group they were facing, which also failed its morale check, but the remaining Red group had not taken any hits and controlled Avalon Strait.
More Red ships close for attack
More Blue ships take hits, while more Red missile boats move in from the right
With the battle, and war, over, we talked over what had happened. The Red subs proved to be decisive to the game, sinking four ships, damaging another, and forcing the Blue cruiser group to withdraw for no losses. None of the players expected the subs to be that effective. On the other hand, the airstrikes turned out to be a bust, which really surprised everyone. Both sides expected air power to play a major role in the game. While helicopters turned out to be useful for anti-surface work, they didn’t make up for the ineffectiveness of the airstrikes. A lot of that was the luck of the card draw, but we also had to remember that in the 1980s bomb attacks on ships were still not that effective.

Both sides agreed that there were things they would have done differently if they had known more about how the game would play out, so maybe there will be some interest in using the Seastrike system again for a rematch. The system is pretty easy to understand and provides clear results.
The 2017 DANG crew
It seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves and lots of food and drink was consumed. I was hoping for a couple smaller battles instead of one large one, but the large battle was fun too. With DANG XVI in the books, it’s time to start looking at some other projects and (maybe) think about a Seastrike rematch. On a side note, I did back the Kickstarter for the Naval Battle in Archipelago game, which is the spiritual successor to Seastrike, so that might get some time on the table too.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

DANG 2017 - Aircraft

With DANG 2017 just a few days away, I wanted to get up some photos of the aircraft that I'll be using for the game. The timeframe for the game is the 1980s/90s and, as with the ships, I wanted to use Western powers aircraft. I decided to look through the 1/600 scale aircraft from Tumbling Dice and Picoarmor (really Oddzial Ozmy) for my choices. Since it is a little harder to get Tumbling Dice aircraft, I went with the moderns from Picoarmor. In addition to helicopters for the ships, I wanted each side to have a group of strike aircraft and multi-role aircraft and settled on getting some French and American planes.

For the side with the American planes, I selected A-4 Skyhawks, an old favorite, and F-16As.
F-16 multi-role fighters
A-4 attack planes
For the side with French planes, I chose the SEPECAT Jaguar (a plane that doesn't get into many battles) and the Mirage F.1 (which seemed to be exported everywhere in the 80s - 90s).
Mirage F.1 multi-role fighters
Jaguar strike planes
On the helicopter side, as with the aircraft, I wanted widely used and exported versions. So I went with the Lynx (although the Picoarmor version is the land-based Army version and not the navalized version) for the majority of shipboard helicopters.
Lynx side-view
And overhead view showing the rotors
The helicopters from Picoarmor included a set of thin plastic rotors to cut out and place on the helicopters. The plastic is sticky backed, which I found a little hard to work with since I kept leaving fingerprints on the sticky part. But it does provide a nice effect. I used a red and blue tail flash as national identifiers for the game (borrowing from the old Avalon Hill Tactics II game where the opposing nations are Great Red and Big Blue).

I also wanted some heavier helicopters for use on the cruiser. I originally wanted to get some Sea Kings helicopters, but they were out of stock. Instead I went with the land-based version of the UH-60. My thought was that the Army would buy the helicopters and let the Navy use them as troop transports on the cruisers. So, in the game, these helicopters can't be used for anti-submarine work and only have a limited attack capability.
UH-60s with their printed rotors
Overall, I think the aircraft turned out okay. Sometimes I have a tough time getting the details on the small aircraft to come out exactly as I would like. But they will work for gaming, especially for gaming where they are any real national markings.

I'm not sure what metal Oddzial Ozmy uses for there figures, but I found it a little hard to work with when cleaning some of the flashing and drilling holes for the flight rods. But the quality of the casting is generally good and they have a pretty good variety of WWII and modern aircraft.

My next post will have the after-action report from DANG. It should be an interesting game.