Monday, December 23, 2013

A Few Book Reviews

It is one week away from DANG and I’m currently recovering from my planned shoulder surgery (I needed to have a tendon repaired and part of a bone shaved off), so this post was done by one-handed typing. The recovery time has given me the opportunity to read and re-read many books and I thought I’d share them here. The first two are naval books, while the last doesn’t really have anything to do with ships or wargaming, but was a good read.

Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James Hornfischer 
Hornfischer has done some really great work in his previous books of creating personal narratives about sailors at war and Neptune’s Inferno continues that habit. Unlike land combat, where the object is to kill/wound/demoralize enemy troops, naval combat is all about the ships. That is where most books concentrate their story, on the ships as objects of war while the men that crew those ships (except for the admirals and captains) often sit in the background, out of sight. While Hornfischer does talk about the ships in battles and what the admirals/captains were doing and thinking, he also takes you into the turrets and below deck to see what the other officers and sailor were doing.

The book also covers higher levels with accounts of Nimitz, Ghormley, Halsey, and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Hornfischer also touches on the Marines denouncement of the Navy for abandoning them, while also pointing out the Navy suffered three times the casualties as the Marines and adding several stories about positive Marine-Navy interactions.

Overall, Neptune’s Inferno is an engaging book with lots of good stories. While I would have liked to have seen more about the Japanese sailors too, that is a minor quibble and certainly doesn’t make this book any less worthwhile.

For gamers this book will make you want to pull out a naval game and play it. There isn’t a lot of new information here, but it vividly illustrates the chaos and command/control issues inherent in battles. It might even give you some ideas about throwing some chaos into your games.

Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun by John Prados 
John Prados starts out this book saying that he is out to show that the Solomons Campaign, not the Battle of Midway, was the real turning point during World War II in the Pacific. Prados goes through the list of Japanese forces available after the battle to show that while Midway was bad, it wasn’t devastating and that the Japanese forces were still on par with (or even slightly better than) American forces. The book goes on to cover the actions in the Solomons and the decisions behind the actions from both the American and Japanese point of view.

There isn’t much new information about the battles themselves, but there is a lot of new and really interesting stuff on the intelligence efforts on both sides. This information does a great job of explaining how the battles were shaped and why they happened when they did. There is a lot of new information from American and Japanese sources and Prados writing makes it a thought-provoking read.

As far as his argument about Midway not being the turning point of the war, it is solid but I’m not convinced. I see his point, but (in my opinion) without Midway the battles around the Solomons don’t happen and the American turn to offense probably doesn’t happen until 1943. That said, I still enjoyed the book and highly recommend it, especially now that it is out in a paperback edition.

From a gamer’s point of view, the information on intelligence resources for the Americans and Japanese should prove valuable for setting up your own mini-campaigns/scenarios and knowing how much information to give the players. I know it already influenced what I’m doing for the upcoming DANG game.

The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball's Golden Age by Robert Weintraub 
The Victory Season is ostensibly about the 1946 baseball season, but there is really so much more to this book. Yes, it has a description of the season and exciting seven-game World Series, but it also has stories about what was happening in the United States in the year after World War II ended. It includes stories about labor unrest and the general shortages as the country shifted from a war-time to peace-time economy. It also has the account of Jackie Robinson’s year with the Dodger’s minor league team in Montreal.

There are stories about player experiences during World War II. Not just the experiences of the stars, but of the minor leaguers and players that would become famous. There is a story about an ETO ‘World Series’ played after the war ended in a converted Hitler Youth Stadium. The Victory Season also mentions Japanese ballplayers, many which served and died during the war. There aren’t too many books that talk about Japanese players and even though it is a short mention (around a page), it was nice to see.

The main things I liked about this book was the way it interwove the story of the baseball season into what was happening in the United States in 1946 and the wartime experience, not leaving each as a separate tale. The book skips back and forth a lot, making it seem a little disjointed at times, but overall it works. I picked this book as an e-book from the library and was really happy with it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Preparing for DANG - Tiny Little Ships

I was really happy to see the Figurehead 1/6000 scale ships when they came out many years ago. Figurehead had a lot of ships from different eras, the ships were very affordable, they were easy to paint, and it would let you do battles in something close to real scale. The line has a good number of American and Soviet Cold War ships (more than any manufacturer except NavWar) and the World War I and II lines were pretty close to complete. I ended up buying a bunch of these ships and they have been my ships of choice when doing larger scale actions.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I needed to get a few more ships and paint them up for this year's DANG. The main ships I was missing were some older Japanese battleships and some of the refitted American battleships and escort carriers (no one was sending the really new stuff to the Aleutians).

Here you can see the painted up Japanese and American battlelines, along with some other ships I've had for a while. I am still amazed at the level of detail on most of the ships (you can click on the images for a little closer look).
The older Japanese battleships and a light carrier
Japanese cruisers and destroyers
American battleships and escort carrier
An American light cruiser and destroyers
The new thing this year is mounting the ships on wooden bases to give players something to grab onto and to give me a place to put ship identification.

The biggest problem (or maybe it is the smallest) with the Figurehead ships is that they are pretty small. Even the big World War II battleships and carriers are less than 2 inches in length in this scale. While the small size does allow for bigger battles and a better representational scale, even the most knowledgeable sea dog would have trouble distinguishing a Japanese Fubuki class destroyer from a Kagero class destroyer, much less keeping track of individual destroyers. That is why I needed to have a way to identify the ships.

One of the first games I played with the 1/6000 scale ships was World War I in the Adriatic. While the game worked well with the battleships and cruisers, the tiny destroyers and torpedo boats were hard to maneuver and see, much less identify. I'm hoping that adding the bases will make it easier for players to move and keep track of their ships, while letting them know what the enemy has available.

I still like the 1/6000 scale for the larger actions, but there are times I wish I had all these ships in a larger scale too. If (when?) I do games where the largest ships are cruisers (and there aren't many of them), I will probably invest in some 1/2400 scale ships. But for now, the tiny little ships will do the job.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Planning for DANG 2013

With a busy November coming to an end, I am starting to prepare for my yearly naval game: DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game). We ran through the voting in October and this year's voting ended in a tie (for those of you keeping track, this is the third year in a row that the voting ended in a tie) and the winner was decided with a coin toss.

This year’s game is “Operation Landcrab – The American Invasion of Attu” and here is an overview of the game situation:

It has only been a month since Admiral Koga took over the Combined Fleet due to Admiral Yamamoto's untimely death and now word has come that the Americans are invading Attu. With (unhistorical) decisiveness, Admiral Koga activates Operation K-Go saying “The Navy will take action to apprehend and destroy the enemy’s surface forces.”
Japanese battleships preparing to get underway
Japanese troops occupy Attu and Kiska, but US air strikes over the past several months have battered installations and eliminated the few Japanese planes stationed there. Reinforcements and relief must come from naval forces and airbases at Paramushiro, 700 miles west of Attu.
The U.S. Navy's Task Force 51 ready to support the Attu landing
The US has built up a substantial invasion force and there are US air bases at Adak, Amchitka, and Umnak, but the variable Alaskan weather will limit the effect of airpower and it will be up to the U.S. Navy to protect and support the invasion of Attu.

The game will use the General Quarters 3 scenario (with a few twists) and cover operations from 15 May 1943, just after the U.S. Invasion of Attu, until around 20 May 1943. Both sides will have a number of older battleships, along with cruisers, destroyers and transports to complete their missions. Aircraft will also be available (each side has land-based air and a light carrier) to help with searches and attacks, but you can expect the weather will have a major impact on air operations.

We will be using the General Quarters 3 rules (with the latest updates) and 1/6000 scale ships. The game will happen on December 30 and, as always, it should be a lot of fun. I have a few new ships to paint up (I hope to post pictures) and the various forms and background information to create. I also have to go in for shoulder surgery, which will take me out of action for a little while, but (hopefully) won't impact DANG.

This is DANG’s twelfth year and here are links to recaps of games from before 2010, the Lepanto game from 2010, and the American Civil War river game from 2011, and last year's 1812 Lake Ontario game

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Recap NHMGS Game Day at the Flying Heritage Collection

Last Saturday (November 16), NHMGS held a game day at the Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field in Everett, WA. It was a great chance to interact with the public, but it was also a little bit of a challenge to put this on since we just had the event at the Museum of Flight a couple weeks ago. NHMGS is hoping to have more of the events at the Flying Heritage Collection, but also hoping to shift the date so it isn’t quite so close to another event.

The Collection has some really nice aircraft, such as this P-40C done up in Flying Tiger colors (the description plaque said this plane was actually in Soviet service, but I can understand them going with the more well-known AVG markings). 

We were set up in the Flying Heritage Collection’s second hanger, the one with the tanks guns, and split into a couple areas.
A photo of the main game area with a Sherman tank overseeing the action
Setting up the Kursk game table with a Hetzer and Flak 88 in the background
And with the T-34 on the on the other side
It was interesting to see games being put on with some actual World War 2 vehicles looking on.

Kevin and I put together a couple small coastal force actions, one in the Pacific and one in the Mediterranean, for the event. So I was pretty busy throughout the day. But I did manage to grab a few photos of the games and items around the Flying Heritage collection.
A game of Fire and Maneuver getting ready to start
A Check Your 6 game getting set up
A photo of the dogfight
The afternoon Check Your 6 game featured Gladiators (shown above) against CR-42s
A Bolt Action Pacific battle featuring Marines against the Japanese
It seemed like it didn't go too well for the Japanese
The Kursk game had several walk-up players(including the young fellow in the blue-striped shirt)
The afternoon session also had another Flames of War game
Along with an Axis and Allies Air game
The morning Action Stations game was an attack on a Japanese barge convoy
The game started out well for the Americans as they were able to knock a bunch of weapons on the escorting subchaser, but the dice turned against them in the later part of the game  
In the afternoon we switched to the Mediterranean, with a Italian/German convoy being attacked by a mixed British/American force
Running the larger vessels turned out to be a little different than smaller Pacific barges, here an Italian sloop dodges some British torpedoes
The German barges were sluggish, but hard to hit with torpedoes
Overall, it was a fun day and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 NHMGS Game Day at the Museum of Flight Recap

Sorry I haven't been posting more, work and home internet issues have been limiting my time and ability to get new posts up. However, I was able to sneak this one in.

Last Saturday (November 2) NHMGS had its annual Game Day at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. This year we were in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery (there was a scheduling conflict with our usual spot under the Blackbird). The Space Gallery is across the street from the main museum area and houses the full-size Space Shuttle flight trainer.
Here is a view of the gaming area with the Shuttle trainer in the background
We set up our information table and five gaming tables near the trainer and around 25 NHMGS members and guest show up for the games. I spent the morning at the information table, but to a little time to grab some photos of the games.
The gaming area from a different angle.
Setting up the information table.
The morning session had a Wings of War WWI game, our home-brew Golden Age Air Racing game, an X-Wing Fighters game, a Check Your 6 Jets Korean War game and some DBA games with winged Polish Hussars.
Early war Wings of War game with a burning Eindecker.
Air racers begin their race (these are 1/144 scale planes from Shapeways).
Imperial forces in the X-Wing Fighter game.
F-84s and Meteors defend the B-29s from MiG-15s over Korea.
DBA with the winged Hussars.
In the afternoon there was more Wings of War, an Axis and Allies War at Sea game, a Galactic Knights space battle, more DBA (and some Hordes of Things), and Kevin and I ran the “Hunting the Beast” Fleet Air Arm attack on the Tirpitz game (the same one we ran at Enfilade earlier this year). I got the most photos of the Tirpitz game, but I did get a few others.
Axis and Allies War at Sea game.
A small Galactic Knights game.
Some interesting troops for a Hordes of Things game.
The Fleet Air Arm strike force moves to attack the German battleship.
A wider view of the attack.
A Martlet and Corsair strafe Tirpitz.
The bombers attack, but only come away with one major hit.
We had fewer people walk by the games and stop to talk, but it was still fun to see the other gamers and talk with the museum visitors. The game day is always a good opportunity to show off the hobby to the general public and the museum is a really great forum for it. We always get questions from people that have never heard of the hobby. Everyone seemed to have a good time and we expect to be back next year.

This event also gets us primed for another game day at the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett. More on that soon.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prepping for the Flying Heritage Collection Game Day

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, NHMGS has been invited to run a game day at the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett WA on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

The Flying Heritage Collection primarily focuses on World War II combat aircraft, but it also has some armored vehicles, guns, and V-2 rocket. Be sure to check out the list of items in the collection. There is some interesting stuff there. We will be set up in the Collection’s Hanger 2 and, because of the Collection’s focus on WWII, all the games will be WW II games. Here is a brief list of the planned games (I don’t have information on specific scenarios, but that will give you a reason to show up):

 Morning Session 
- Air battle using the Check Your 6 rules
- Skirmish game using the Fire and Movement rules
- Skirmish game using the Bolt Action rules (I think this will be a Pacific action)
- Coastal forces battle using the Action Stations rules (probably barge busting in the Pacific)

Afternoon Session 
- Air battle using the Check Your 6 rules
- Flames of War battle
- Air battle using Axis and Allies Air rules and pre-painted planes

Additionally, I think that Chris Ewick will be there with his Flames of War Kursk game during both sessions.

Kevin and I will be running the coastal forces battle and I’m getting everything together for that, but no new ships are in the works. 

I’ve also been working on some troops for use with the Bolt Action rules (I might even try to get them in this weekend’s game). Just to be a little different, I decided to do a force of Australian for the Pacific. I currently have around 2 squads, some support weapons, and a tank. The figures are from Brigade Games “Diggers in the Pacific” range and the tank is Company B’s Aussie M3 Stuart. I really like the figures; I think they provide some interesting poses and they have a lot of character.

Some of you might know that I have a real problem painting troops. I’m fine with ships and planes (and even tanks), but painting people just seems to petrify me (as could be noted by all the half-finished figures for my 15mm Age of Sail games). So, painting up a bunch of 28mm figures was a big step forward for me. I did take several photos of the painting progress, but in the end I decided to just post photos of the finished product (I still need to add some flocking or grass to the figure bases).
Here come the Aussies (you can click on the image for a little larger view)
I looked around for some suggestions on how to best paint up the figures and I settled on using the ‘dip method’. I followed the instructions posted by a number of bloggers on the best way to do this and now you can see the end results.
A closer view of the Stuart tank
First squad
Second squad
A supporting Vickers MMG (you can also see the Platoon Commander figure in the front and part of the Characters A pack in back)
The supporting 3" mortar
I’ll eventually have to get some Japanese figures to go up against the Aussies, but for now I’m just happy to have completed the figures.

I will post a recap and photos from the game day sometime next week.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Looking at Rules: Sailpower 2.0

In my search for a good set of rules of rules for my 15mm Age of Sail ships, I go in on the Sailpower 2.0 Kickstarter (you can read my impressions of the Kickstarter items in a previous blog post). I'm finally getting around to posting my thoughts on the rules (note that this review is based only on a couple solitaire games).
The Sailpower 2.0 rules comes as a 138 page printed book. However, don't be put off by the size of the book, it has lot of examples along with tables and optional rules. The basic rules aren't really that heavy and don't take up a lot of the rulebook. The rules are designed for use with 15mm (approx. 1/100) scale ships, but there is a page covering scale conversions if you want to use a larger or smaller scale. Ranges in the game are measured in inches and the game uses a D20 for all rolls (you will need a lot of them if your ship has a lot of guns). The rules are meant to cover sailing actions from the Golden Age of Piracy all the way through the Napoleonic Wars.

Before starting a game players need to fill out a log sheet for their ships. The log sheet has information about the ship's sailing speed for different wind directions, information about the ship (hull points, masts, etc.) guns, and crew. The rules provide this information for a wide variety of ships, from small gunboats all the way up to 1st Rate ships such as HMS Victory and the French Ocean class.

Turn Sequence: Each game turn has four phases: 1) Ship Movement, 2)Combat (ship-to-ship and ship-to shore), 3) Crew Actions, and 4) Record Keeping.

Ship Movement: During this phase the players check for a change in the wind direction, then plot their movement on the log sheets, and finally move their ships.

The distance ships move is determined by their initial relation to the wind at the start of the turn, but can change if the ship changes course during movement. If during movement a ship turns so that the movement rate would be lower than the starting movement rate, some movement is lost and vice-versa if the movement rate increases. The rules have a good example of this, so it shouldn't be too confusing, even for new players. Ships can make a turn (up to 45 degrees) at the start of movement, at the end of movement, and after traveling a certain distance, referred to as the Turn Delay, based on the ship stats. Ship must have a minimum number of crew allocated to sailing the ship (or rowing) and if the crew number falls below this value, the ship simply drifts.

One thing I don't think the rules cover very well is tacking (turning through the wind). The rules basically simplify this task and don't really have rules for getting stuck in irons (heading directly into the wind) other than the ship doesn't move. There also isn't any real difference in crew quality when it comes to sailing.

Combat: After movement, players can fire their guns at other ships and shore targets. First you roll a die for each gun that fires to see if it hits (this value is modified but if you roll a 10 or higher on a D20 you hit). Then, for each gun that hits, you roll for damage and mark that off on the target.

The game has 13 different gun types from rail-mounted swivel guns all the way up to fortress guns. There are also rules for mortars. Each gun type is rated for point blank range, an optimal range, and a drop distance. You get a To Hit bonus if you are within point blank range. If you are over optimal range, you get a negative To Hit modifier for each additional drop distance to the target. The drop modifier is an interesting way of handling maximum ranges, since you can always fire your gun, it just has a lower chance to hit the farther the target. There are some other modifiers too, but they are all fairly common (like ship size).

Each gun type also has a number of crew needed to man it. If the gun has half the needed crew, it can only fire every other turn. If you have less than half crew, you can't fire. Guns can be aimed at the rigging, hull, or deck (where the crew hangs out) and there are different kinds of ammunition, including bar and grapeshot.

Overall, I like the gunnery rules. There are enough different gun types and crew is an important component in firing. The only problem I can see is if you are fighting with larger ships, then you will have to roll a lot of dice.

Crew Actions: After combat, crews can fire small arms, grapple/board enemy ships, and repair their own ship. These are all fairly easy to understand actions, but the players must allocate crew to do them.

One thing I expected to see here was some sort of morale check for a ship, but the rules don't really have rules for checking morale or striking.

Record Keeping: During this phase players check on ship damages (fires, explosions, sinking ships, etc.). Then the turn starts all over again.

That covers the basic rules for the game, but in addition to those rules there are Faction Rules that add special characteristics for ships based on the crew. This is a nice addition, since I like rules that show the difference in naval crews.

There are also optional rules that cover ports (including visiting taverns and recruiting crew), forts, and treasure hunting. All of these are nice add-ons and probably will be a good selling point for gamers that want to play some pirate actions.

Overall it seems like the rules play pretty fast and should work well for a good number of ships and players. It seems like they were created for convention pirate games, so I would expect that to be the case. Although I could see things dragging a bit if there are too many large ships in a game. The sailing rules aren't the strong point for the game, but that isn't too surprising if the main focus was on convention pirate games.

The Sailpower rules are available on or through the Sailpower retail partner, The Soldiery, in Columbus, Ohio. You can also purchase ships and other game accessories through The Soldiery. There is a link to products on the Sailpower blog/website, which has photos of the different ship types available and information for contacting The Soldiery. The blog/website also has optional rules, FAQs, and downloads.

Pros: It should play fast, as long as there aren't too many big ships. I like the different gun types and focus on crew allocation for actions. Should be good for convention games.

Cons: I think the sailing rules could be better (it wouldn't take much to improve them) and there should be a crew morale system.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

End of Summer Wrap-Up

With summer coming to an end, it seemed like a good time to catch up on my blogging. It has been a couple months since my last post, mainly because I didn't have a lot of free time during this past summer. My wife usually keeps me busy outside with yardwork during the summer and this year was no exception, but I was also kept really busy at work. So, my hobby time was really limited this summer.

That said, I did do a few hobby related things this summer and I'll be adding posts about them over the next week. Here is a quick rundown of what to expect; I obtained three 1/700 scale Chinese Navy Type 022 missile boats, I went through the Sailpower rules, I picked up some troops for the Bolt Action rules, and read through a couple hobby-related books.

I thought I start out by posting some photos and information about the Chinese missile boats.

The Type 022 missile boat (NATO designation Houbei class) is a small (around 140 ft) catamaran armed with 8 surface-to-surface missile and a 6-barrel 30mm gun. The boats first appeared in 2004, designed as replacements for the Chinese Osa class missile boats. Original estimates were that the Chinese would build around 100 of these ships, but only 60 have been completed. This is probably due to a change in focus for the Chinese Navy to multi-role ships.

The models I've got are the 1/700 scale versions created as part of the Takara Ships of the World, series 5. There were two versions of the missile boat in the series; a standard navy grey version and a camouflaged version. When the series first came out in 2006 I wanted to get several of the boats, but I procrastinated on purchasing them. I just figured they would always be easily available. That was a mistake on my part and as time went on, the boats became more scarce on eBay and the price increased. Luckily I was able to find (and win) three boats and get them for a reasonable price (although not all at one time).
My Takara 1/700 scale Type 022 Chinese missile boats
As you can see from the photo, the ship models are pretty nice and the paint job isn't too bad. I need to mount the ships and weather them a bit, but otherwise they should work pretty well. I do need to see about changing the number on one of the camouflaged boats, just in case anyone looks real close.
A low-angle view, where you can see the numbers for the camo boats are the same
The scale seems to be pretty good and the models should fit in pretty nicely with my other ships. You can see how they look next to a Skytrex Osa missile boat.
A Skytrex Osa with the Type 022 boats

An Osa (left) and Type 022 (right) in profile