Saturday 29 January 2022

Heading for a Court Martial: Thunderbolt/Apache Leader (Dan Verssen Games) AAR

I decided to dig out Thunderbolt/Apache Leader (TAL) from Dan Verssen Games recently. It's another game I bought since moving to Norway, and, like Gloomhaven, it has the significant advantage that you can play a mission in half an hour, meaning that a campaign can be fitted easily into and around a busy week, provided that you have somewhere to leave it set up.

I've wanted this game since it first came out in 1991. Unfortunately, those were the days when I had more time than money, and little enough of either really. I played the original Hornet Leader that also came out in 1991 until the fateful day that my mother's dog ate my copy of that game, so I was aware of the system and knew that I got on with it. Still, it took thirty years before I found myself looking for more boardgames and jumped on TAL as one of my choices to fill my time.

I love what DVG has done with the game. The components are good quality and it comes with a mounted mapboard. I also like the new model hex tiles over the original game's cards. It's much more aesthetically pleasing. The only down side is the that the rulebook's structure and lack of an index makes looking things up quickly hard work. It's structured to fit with the game turn sequence, which is great, but that also means that information and rules can be scattered throughout the rules. It's not a dealbreaker for me, but it's a pain when coming back to the game after a break. It's a good job the rules are available as a free pdf, which makes looking things up much easier, although I play boardgames to get away from my electronic gizmos so it partially defeats the object. Still, it's helpful, and I don't need to check my tablet too often.

One of the other attractions of TAL is that it is not too serious, although you might not believe that from some of the posters on the BGG forum! The game reminds me of watching Airwolf or playing one of the various arcade machines where you fly around strafing the baddies. It's very Hollywood/videogame, and I love that. I mean, even the hex tiles for the terrain remind me of every canyon Airwolf ever flew down, while the ability to 'fly' A-10 Warthogs reminds me of the planes that used to fly over our house on the way to the bombing range so low they nearly took the chimney off every time. I guess this game has a fair bit of nostalgia going on too!

The game itself is a mix of management and tactics. You need to manage your pilots, planes and resource points (SO points), and you need to plot the best route through the enemy to maximise death and destruction. Getting the balance right to achieve victory is proving problematic for me so far, and the best rating I have achieved is 'Adequate', which feels more like damning with faint praise than a real success.

Pakistan 2013: Rapid Deployment

So, how does it play? I picked the theatre and the mission at random and wound up with what looks like a rather difficult mission, even though it is rated as standard. The problem here is that I don't get a lot of resources unless I pick old tech and the enemy forces get a lot of bonuses for movement, so they are likely to be right up in my face from the get go.

For my squadron, I pick:

  • 1 AH64 Apache (aka Airwolf!)
  • 2 A10 Thunderbolts

This does not feel like enough planes to take on the rapidly advancing enemy, but I hope the A10s pack enough punch to blunt their advance from day 1. Anything the Apache ... umm, sorry ... Airwolf does will be a bonus. I also buy a Scout which can increase my time over the battlefield if I am lucky.

All set up to play. Damage chits and Random enemy chits in the cups at the top

The planes are accompanied by a stable of pilots equal to the number of each type of plane plus one. I select pilots and choose not to downgrade or upgrade any of them.

I draw the special condition for the day. Turns out the enemy is particularly mobile and get yet another bonus for advancing on my airbase. That means that all the assault forces are guaranteed to advance and the support forces will advance most of the time with the command forces probably advancing. This is going to be a problem.

Enemy starting locations. Each range band they move closer to my Air Base, the harder things get

Then it is time to allocate planes and pilots to missions. I decide to attack the Fast Assault force, the Scout force and the Air Defence force. The Fast Assault force needs to go because it gets extra bonuses to move towards my lines and I cannot afford to have lots of enemies up in my face. If they get there, it increases the Stress my pilots suffer, which in turn increases their likelihood of becoming unavailable to fly. There are already enough modifiers that will lead to the enemy closing in on my, so they need to go. The other two are more vulnerable forces so I am focusing on them in the hope that I can destroy them more easily. That will reduce the number of targets I need to attack on Day 2. Ideally, some of the forces that give all those horrible bonuses will advance at the end of Day 1 and become more vulnerable to attack.

Day 1

So, time to arm my planes and enter the fray. I'm going to allocate 1 SO point to each plane which will buy me 10 points of weapons. That permits me a good number of Hellfire missiles and other better quality bombs and missiles, making Day 1 a bit easier.

First up is Gumby in an A10 versus the Air Defence force. The terrain is laid out and I dice for the locations of the baddies and it looks good. Looking at the (randomly determined) terrain layout and enemy deployment, combined with the 'Low Approach' Mission Event which means that the bad guys don't get to fire on turn 1, a clear tactic is evident. Gumby will use the ridge lines for cover and fly a low figure eight through the enemy. With a few decent dice rolls, he has a chance of taking out the whole force. We'll start by getting up close and personal with a SAM unit before it has a chance to fire. Those SAMs are quite lethal if I am not careful.

The flight goes substantially as expected. The enemy is caught by surprise and the Hellfires are on target, leaving a trail of carnage in Gumby's wake. The only problem is the SAM unit and an APC that take cover, meaning that Gumby will not be able to use Hellfire missiles on them. Instead, he has to get in and use his cannon. Unfortunately, he is not as good with cannon as he is at standing off and firing missiles, so it is a chancier attack. He flies in and misses the APC, leaving him vulnerable to attack by both it and the SAM unit. The choice of an ECM pod suddenly comes into its own. I roll unfeasibly high and both units find their attacks jammed and unable to lock. With his fuel low, Gumby gets up close and personal with the SAM unit and destroys it, before dodging some enemy fighters on his return to base.

Target destroyed, sir!

Next up is Pirate in an A10 versus the Scout force. Upon reflection, I think this was a mistake. Pirate should have attacked the Fast Assault force. Again, the terrain is laid out and the enemy deployed. The route through the enemy is less clear this time, but I plan a similar flight path to last time. In no time at all, the Scout force is scattered and Pirate is flying home.

Enemy destroyed, Sir!

The third mission for the day sees Judge flying an Apache in an attack on the Fast Assault force. I had thought he could hover and fire off the Hellfire missiles in a bid to take out half the force, which would then be ripe for picking off the next day. Unfortunately, he could not hit the broad side of a barn door and the enemy remained largely unscathed.

The enemy advance rapidly

The day ended with the enemy battalions advancing. Not unexpectedly, given all the modifiers, the assault battalions moved quickly towards my baseline and the support and command battalions seemed mostly keen to keep up.

Day 2

Day 2 dawned and my pilots were ready for their next mission. They even got an Email from Home (special condition for the day) that reduced their stress from the day before.

I needed to take out the Fast Assault force because it was closing in on my airbase. With the support battalions moving up, they had become better targets too and I could think about taking them out to slow down the advance by removing some of those modifiers that made it easier for the enemy to close on me.

So, I sent in Gumby to take on the Fast Assault force. He was having a bit of an off day though and only reduced it to half strength. Worse yet, the enemy got their eye in and punched all kinds of holes in his plane, but he still got it home.

Partial success. If you look at the sector map (top right) you can see that Battalion 9A has advanced  at the start of the day thanks to the special ability of the enemy Engineering unit

Flash got sent after the enemy Engineering Unit, because that one gave the enemy assault forces a free advance at the start of each day. Standing off in his Apache, he sent missile after missile at them and destroyed the battalion, although he took some damage that would soon be repaired.

Flash gives the enemy what for!

Pirate pitched up in his A10 with orders to take out the enemy Infantry Battalion. The initial approach went well, but he soon found himself outnumbered and outgunned. A lucky enemy shot saw him killed in his cockpit! Nothing you can do when you draw the 'Killed' chit from the damage pot.

Pirate's name is added to the squadron Roll of Honour

This was a bad day for mission events with my pilots encountering enemy fighters and enemy SAMs both on the way in and on the way home. I'm low on SO points with all the enemy on the doorstep of my base, so I'm going to have to focus on clearing up there before I can try anything fancy.

Day 3

As Day 3 dawns, I realise I am in trouble and see that I should have concentrated my forces better in the early stages. Better to kill units properly than spread my fire around. Worse yet, the special condition for the day is Enemy Advance. I choose to advance a command unit that was close to the rear, but it is still a less-than-ideal situation. I've not had the best random event draws so far with most going against me. Maybe today things will pick up.

So, Time to send Halo out to attack the Fast Assault force in an A10. It's at half strength so he should be ok. The mission goes as anticipated and Halo is able to finish off the force. Horray!

Flash heads out in an Apache to take on a Mixed Force. He should be less vulnerable to this force than to the Infantry Force (I thought!). My goal is to try to reduce it to half strength. I think destroying it is an unrealistic goal Unfortunately, things do not go to plan. It was not possible to position his Apache where it could avoid being shot at. The first shot wounds Flash and leaves him unable to fire on the first turn. Never mind. Try again. Bang! He is wounded again, killing him and his Apache crashes. He never even got a shot off.

Two pilots down, and two planes down. This is bad. I'm just lucky to have enough SO points to not suffer immediate defeat. I spend a tonne of victory points replacing the two destroyed aircraft and a tonne of SO points repairing damage. Meanwhile, the enemy is right outside my airbase and all up in my face.

Day 4

Day 4 was a mad scramble to keep things under control.

I sent Gumby out to take on one of the command forces. I figured it would be a reasonable chance of getting at least half victory points. As it turned out, Gumby was able to annihilate the whole force, although his plane came home with a tonne of bullet holes in it. I'm going to have to claim this one on insurance, I think.

I send out  an Apache and a Thunderbolt (piloted by my new pilot, Thor) against the infantry force that had killed Pirate. They piled into the combat area and started laying around them with Hellfire missiles, cannon rounds and anything else they could drop. The enemy battalion was destroyed but both pilots returned home with planes that looked like lace hankies more than they did combat aircraft. Thor was definitely going to need a week off after this. Good job they build those Thunderbolts solidly but I see another insurance claim in the offing.

Game end

With two battalions destroyed on the last day, I totted up the points. My score of 10 points gave me a Dismal rating, but at least I did not lose. In retrospect, I should not have bothered buying an extra Thunderbolt pilot to replace Pirate. Not spending that point would have raised my rating from Dismal to merely Poor.

Final Thoughts

Well, wasn't that a fine mess I made? Hardly my finest hour, but I had fun and I can safely blame the mission event cards and the damage chits for my worst failures. It felt like every flight was either sent bad coordinates or encountered enemy anti-aircraft fire heading to or from the target. Similarly, the damage chits were all quite serious, and my ECM barely functioned after the first day. I'm definitely taking the ECM back to Toys R Us and demanding a refund. The special conditions were more balanced and helped keep me in the game though.

This is a game I can pick up whenever I feel like without worrying that I need to completely relearn the rules. The tactics, on the other hand, are something I need to work on. It can be hard balancing needing to damage as many enemy battalions as possible with needing to concentrate my firepower to fully destroy them.

I do need to try using more different aircraft, but, honestly, I only got the game because I wanted to fly Thunderbolts, and to a lesser extent Apaches.

There is little to differentiate the different theatres other than the technology at the date the campaign is set, so Libya is the same as Pakistan is the same as the North Atlantic WW3. That means that the scene setting has to happen in your head. Fortunately, the different missions do feel different. The Rapid Deployment mission feels different from the Surge mission, for example. Despite the lack of differentiation in the theatres, the mix of aircraft and missions is sufficient to provide enough variety straight out of the box without buying any of the expansions. Overall, this is a great fun game. It's cinematic, arcade action on the tabletop and just what the doctor ordered. Now, do I set up for a different campaign or try something different next?

4 Yarthmonth - What Lies Beneath

Broneslav dropped quickly through the trapdoor and found himself in a small empty room with stone walls and floor. There were no exits, so Broneslav immediately began to search. Soon he found a secret door that opened into a larger room beyond. This new room had clearly been inhabited and was as its owner had last left it. But it was dusty too, and looked like the owner had not returned in some time. A white hooded cloak lay cast over a wooden chair. A bed, a wooden chest and a table completed the ensemble. On the table was a wooden carving of two intertwined snakes.

It was a bit weird that the secret door would open into someone's bedroom. Broneslav could not fathom why this might be unless those in the pyramid above were denied entry to this section, or were only permitted entry by the gatekeeper in this room. He decided he could go round in circles trying to work out all the possible options and that the best approach would be just to accept that this was the way and continue his explorations.

Broneslav opened the chest. It contained clothes for a slighter man than he was. The cloak on the chair looked good though. That was the advantage of cloaks; one size pretty much fits all. Picking it up, he staggered as a psychic force hit him.

Saturday 22 January 2022

4 Yarthmont - A Fresh Start

The Magi healed Broneslav, and let him rest fully before returning to the lower tier. They even identified the potion he had found as a Potion of Invisibility, all in the name of helping him to help them defeat their rivals and the evil Zargon.

Broneslav returned quickly to the corridor near the embalming room and continued onwards. The next room he came to had a two foot wide hole chewed through the door. Teeth marks were clearly evident. He decided to leave well enough alone and continue down the corridor. Suddenly three giant shrews leapt out of the hole in the door and assaulted Broneslav. The frenzied assault left Broneslav with a bite on his leg (1 DAM), but he slew a shrew in return despite the welling fear that left an iron taste in his mouth. He then fended off further assaults from the two remaining shrews, managing to kill both of them quite quickly.

Figuring that this meant the room was now safe, he entered and found scenes of a man giving advice to kings and queens painted on the walls. The coffin in the centre of the room had been gnawed to pieces and nothing remained of the body within. He left. He had only one more corridor to search, based on his map, and this was where the X was.

The X proved to be the site of a trapdoor. Seeing nothing else to take his interest and now route to the centre of the pyramid, he opened the trapdoor and began to climb down.

Despite his tracking skill and sharp eyes, Broneslav has managed to fail to spot the two secret doors to the centre of the pyramid where the big treasure lies. This area was not detailed on his map, so he is unaware of what he is missing out on. Ah well, such is the life of the murder hobo.

Saturday 15 January 2022

3 Yarthmont - Lurking in the shadows

 With the zombies dead, Broneslav only had one direction to head in, and all the corridors on his map pointed there now. 

The first room he checked contained a white ivory coffin. The walls were painted with scenes from court life, focusing on the life of the ladies-in-waiting at the queen's court. The coffin was empty and the room contained nothing else.

From there he headed towards the centre of the pyramid where he found a preparation room for corpses. Suddenly, a black presence loomed out of the edge of the torchlight. Broneslav ducked back, but not quite fast enough as one of the creatures grazed him (1 DAM, -1 STR) and an Arctic chill coursed through his body. He swung his sword in return and grazed it with the first stroke then sliced it in two with the second. It dissolved as if it had never existed. Furiously fending off the others, he still took another cut to the arm and the chill in his body increased (1 DAM, -1 STR). With the adrenalin boost brought on by this latest cut, he sliced furiously at the remaining shadows and two more dissolved under his onslaught. Even with only two left, he was hit again (1 DAM, -1 STR), but now the odds were more in his favour and he more easily dissolved one more. One on one, Broneslav more easily defended himself and was quickly able to bring the fight to a close with a quick slash and stab that saw the last of the shadows dissolve as if it had never existed. Breathing hard and feeling weak, he shut the door behind him and rested against it so that nothing more could come in and surprise him.

After a little while, he had recovered his breath, although he still felt weak from the shadows' attacks. He searched the room, finding a sack of silver coins and a glass vial containing a silvery potion.

Feeling battered and bruised, even Broneslav's optimism and teenage self-confidence could not fail to conclude that he needed to rest up before continuing. He made his way back to the Magi, ducking into an empty room when a small party of baboons appeared in the corridor. Once they had gone, he reached the Magi without trouble.

Thursday 13 January 2022

Swanning About in the Desert - A Command Decision: Test of Battle AAR

 I love the Command Decision rules by Frank Chadwick but rarely play them because they don't suit the time I normally have with my poor, long-suffering friend Steve. However, this week I have become enthusiastic to try a scenario from the Benghazi Handicap sourcebook solo. I picked 'Scenario 7: The Battle for Hafid Ridge', which is set in 1941. This is the first one for which I painted all the figures and made the terrain, although I realised when I decided to set it up that I have no 6mm sangar or entrenchment markers, so I used ASL counters instead. I am also using ASL counters to mark unspotted units, and it occurs to me that I could use them for a variety of other purposes in the game, such as ghost markers and the like.

I played at half scale because it suits the space I have. I also used the Fog of War cards, including the ones for the Western Desert that are downloadable from the Test of Battle website. The plan with the cards was to draw them as normally and to use them to the best advantage of the drawer. Cards that could not be used at all in the context of the game were discarded as they were drawn. As it turned out, there were few opportunities to use the cards I drew, but they don't normally have a massive effect anyway. It's more about a little colour and unpredictability in the game.

The scenario sees a tiny Axis force dug in and attempting to hold off an Allied tank regiment until reinforcements can arrive. The Allied force must capture one of two 'pimples' in the desert while keeping their line of communication secure. They can also expect some reinforcements to help them hold whatever terrain they can. The biggest problem for the Allies is that they have no infantry to take and hold ground until the reinforcements arrive. The other biggest problem is that one of the Axis units is an 88. That has the potential to cause problems. This scenario lends itself quite well to solo play because the initial set-up leaves the Axis few options and thus makes them easier to manage. I did not have the patience to work out how to adjudicate phantom stands, so I am ignoring those for now. This changes the scenario slightly, because there is less recce required to work out which Germans are where, but I want to keep the game simple because I am playing alone and have to manage everything.

I used Charles Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios as the basis for the solo engine. The first scenario in the book 'Hill Line Defence' is pretty much the situation for this game so I used the tables in that scenario to decide set-up and how both sides responded to the changing situation on the tabletop.

  • Rules: Command Decision: Test of Battle
  • Sourcebook: Benghazi Handicap
  • Figures: Heroics and Ros 6mm
  • Terrain: XPS hexes made using Hex Terrain Toolkit. XPS from Panel Systems. Not sure who made the building.

Set up

Dicing for the defenders, I find that their orders are to occupy the two objectives and not to move. This means that they will get Hold orders until they have to respond to the Allied attack. I diced to see which command would set up on which 'pimple'. The anti-aircraft platoon set up on the German right flank (Point 208). The anti-tank platoon and motorcycle troops set up on the German left flank (Point 204). All the guns were in trenches and the remaining troops were in sangars.

2nd Royal Tank Regiment diced for set up and it was decided that they would attack in strength on their right flank with a smaller force in the centre to scout and mop up routing troops! This means that the Allies will be attempting to capture the objective held by the anti-tank platoon first and then to sweep left against the anti-aircraft platoon.

The forces at set-up. Germans are to the top of the picture occupying the two objectives. British forces are deployed center and right towards the centre of the picture

All troops start the game unspotted, so the first job is to find them. The Allied tanks will quickly be spotted and the Germans have probably been watching the dust clouds for ages. The tanks are poor at spotting, so the Germans could well remain unspotted even after they fire, and the tanks will need to close the range quickly if they are to stand a chance of finding targets.

I am gobsmacked by how empty the battlefield is at this point! So, to the game. It's been a while since I played so it is probably good that there are few troops on the table

Turn 1

The Axis forces get Hold orders. All the Allied troops get Cautious Advance orders with a view to moving into range and finding the enemy quickly while still having a chance to shoot well if they do spot the enemy.

The tanks advance quickly and are spotted by the Germans. B Squadron spots two infantry units in sangars along the front of Point 204. As B squadron advances on Point 204, the German 37mm ATG opens fire first, followed by the anti-tank rifles of the motorcycle battalion. One of the A13s is forced back and retreats out of range. In the centre, the A10s of C Squadron come under heavy but ineffective fire from the 88 and the 20mm Flak, but cannot see where the fire originated from.

The British advance (left) versus the German stutzpunkt (right)

Despite concentrating their fire on Point 208, the British tanks failed to score any hits.

Even with the volume of fire, all troops' morale remained high. The Germans reloaded and prepared to shoot these sitting ducks once more. The British armour resolved to close with the Germans and engage more effectively.

Turn 2

At this point, confusion struck in A Squadron's A9 cruisers. The Germans played a Fog of War card that permitted them to change the tanks' orders form Hasty Movement to Hold. They would be sitting ducks on the rise where they were. Whatever movement caused the confusion also caused the German AA platoon to be revealed (British Fog of War card).

Despite this fortuitous confusion, the German flak units failed to score a hit on the British tanks who milled around, wondering which gear they should be in.

Confusing and carnage (British on the left, Germans on the right of the picture)

On the other flank, the Allied armour laid down heavy machine-gun fire on the German positions and eliminated a platoon of the motorcyclists. B Squadron suffered too, as another of its troops was driven back.

Both B Squadron and the Motorcycle company were unhappy with the treatment they were being given and were pinned by the fire.

Turn 3

British reinforcements are evident by the dust cloud they make racing up the track to support 2 RTR. 6 RTR deploys two squadrons to protect the line of communications initially. The other two advance to support 2 RTR. Infantry and artillery race forward to take up firing positions. Meanwhile, much ammunition is expended and B Squadron falls back in its entirety to regroup. Point 208 seems ridiculously unassaultable at this stage, and high command has clearly goofed in sending a tank unit in first. Maybe with the reinforcing infantry units, the British will make more progress.

British reinforcements arrive from the left of the picture

Turn 4

The British commander saw a dust cloud on the horizon. German reinforcements were on their way. He chose to hold in defensive positions before committing his reserves where the Germans attacked. The battlefield was covered in smoke from all the shells being fired and an A9 of A Squadron 2RTR was now ablaze near Point 208. No German troops were hurt, although they were still keeping their heads down as best possible. The British unlimbered their 25lbers and prepared to clear Point 208 once and for all.

An uneventful turn

Turn 5

The German commander deployed his new Motorcycle troops and anti-tank battery to shore up the defence of Point 208. In the process of deploying, two of the light trucks were destroyed but his troops were made of stern stuff and shrugged off the loss. They had no intention of retreating from the objective anyway! He advanced his armour in the centre where it could aim to flank the enemy troops and roll over their guns before driving for the exit point on the British baseline. Heavy fire from the British drove one tank back, but morale was high and the troops were veterans so they were unphased.

German reinforcements arrive from the right of the picture

The British forward troops withdrew with cover from their armour, while the infantry dismounted and prepared for a charge on the enemy positions under cover of their guns. Things were not looking good for the British troops, but they were stout yeoman all and were determined not to lose.

Turn 6

The 25lbers laid down suppressive fire on two of the enemy anti-tank guns. The German armour advanced. The British armour advanced. In the firefight as the enemy combatants closed on each other, an A13 and a PzII were brewed up and several tanks on both sides were forced back to regroup before carrying on. The plucky British infantry raced towards the enemy sangars, only for half their number to be driven back by the weight of fire.

Armoured chariots clash!

The tank gunners prepared their guns in their racing tanks, awaiting their moment. It arrived with a crash of thunder as dozens of armoured chariots on both sides opened up. Shells rained down on every target on the battlefield. At the end of it, German shot weighed heavier than British. Four British tank units were brewed up to two German. The infantry were also cut down by the Motorcycle Battalion. British pluck was not enough to defeat German steel yet, but the British armour vowed to carry on.

Turn 7

Things looked very bad for the British but there was still time to carry the day if only they could push forward fast enough. Laying down suppressive fire on Point 208 again, the British armour advanced towards the Germans, closing the range as fast as they could to counter the German advantage of armour. The ensuing clash saw half the armour on both sides destroyed or fleeing.

A bad turn for British morale

The Germans had Fog of War cards that benefitted their own morale checks this turn, and just as well given some of their rolls, and one that forced additional penalties on British morale checks, which resulted in an entire tank squadron routing from the battlefield. On the positive side, the British were able to fix one of their A10s thanks to a Fog of War card and were able to automatically fix a Shaken unit.

Turn 8

The sun is heading for the horizon. The battlefield is littered with brewed up tanks. Those that remained moved towards the fray once more, determined not to let the enemy win and many more now lay as shattered hulks on the desert sand. The 25lbers finally got the range on the enemy positions on Point 208 and drove an enemy unit out of their sangars. In return, enemy fire drove them from their guns and they had to fall back to cover.

Nearly nightfall

Turn 9

Once more the tanks charged and the guns opened up. The 25lber crews recrewed their guns. One of the 25lbers was hastily manhandled up the rise to get a better line of fire (Fog of War card) and promptly demolished the German 50mm anti-tank gun. As the tanks clashed, the British gunners suddenly found the weak points on the German armour. None was left by the time the firing paused. In contrast, the German guns barely found their mark at all.

The British finally start to have an effect
Turn 10

The British armour surged forward once more, only for an A15 to be knocked out by the 88. It's gunners had finally found their sights. The 20mm AA drove back another A15. The unit was pinned down now. Meanwhile, on Point 208 the Germans stubbornly held on. One Motorcycle Rifle platoon was destroyed but the rest of the force there were solid, even if they were pinned down by weight of fire. They gritted their teeth and prepared to weather the onslaught a while longer.

The Germans hold on

Turn 11

Heavy fire continued to rain on Point 208 as night fell and a series of desperate charges were made by both sides seeking to break the stalemate here. However, as night fell the Germans still held the objective. The tattered British force withdrew to laager away from the battlefield while the ragged remnants of the German force held the field and victory.

As night falls, the British find their efforts were too late and the Germans hold the objectives

Final Thoughts

That was an extremely bloody battle. It could have ended on turn 8 but the dice declared that it would end on turn 11. It could have gone on one more turn, but I do not think that would have been enough, even with the late successes of the British.

Mistakes were made both with the rules and the tactics, but at least I can put the latter down to Programmed Wargames Scenarios and the dice. I feel that once the scouting was done, the British should probably have focused on the anti-aircraft platoon, as the weaker defensive position. It would have cost them a few tanks, but the 25lbers could have neutralised that position more quickly while remaining out of range of the infantry on Point 208. However, the battle plan was decided by the AI from Programmed Wargames Scenarios, and I chose to follow that rather than use my 200' general's knowledge of the table. It made for a good game just the same.

It will be a while before I can play another game of it, so I imagine that the same rules mistakes will be made once more because I will be equally rusty with the rules then, if not more so in fact. I don't really care about the rules mistakes. I try to stick to the spirit of the rules anyway, and my opponent in these solo games does likewise. It was good to dig out my 6mm WW2 armies after so long, and it was great to use the terrain I spent ages building. I have enough terrain for the next scenario, but I still need more. The one I plan to play after that has a chunk of the escarpment on it, and I need to figure out the best way of modelling that using hex tiles.

Saturday 8 January 2022

3 Yarthmont - Dead Enders

 Broneslav returned to the junction he had passed earlier. Turning down it, he soon found himself at a dead end. The map showed a room on the other side of this wall, so maybe there was a hidden door here. He started checking the wall carefully. After carefully going over the walls to either side of the end, and the end itself, he found signs of a hidden door in the end. He had soon found a loose stone that opened the door when pushed, and entered this new room. As he did so, his feet crunched on something.

The entire room was filled with bones. If looked like a dozen or more people had died in here. Other than the bodies, there was a no sign of anything untoward here. The young hero was now faced with a choice. The room had two exits other than the way he had come in. The first would take him back towards the boulder. The other would take him onwards. He chose to backtrack.

Taking a route towards the boulder, he soon found the corridor that ended at the boulder and followed it to another door. He pushed this door open to find a room whose wall paintings showed signs of a man signing documents and organising tax collection. The wooden coffin in this room had been smashed open and six shambling humanoids were standing around. As the door opened, they turned towards it and shambled towards Broneslav, who backed slightly into the corridor. This way, they could only attack him one at a time. As they approached, Broneslav used his superior speed to cut the head from one zombie and smash the brain of another before retreating back into the doorway. Despite the hindrance of all the other zombies trying to get at him simultaneously, one zombie clawed him hard across the body (2 DAM). Broneslav returned the favour by laying it to rest permanently, but the other zombies were unrelenting and it took all his efforts to hold them at bay until he had an opportunity to cut another one down with two quick strokes of his sword. His efforts to defend himself while doing this were not enough and he took another nasty gash (1 DAM) before cleaving the remaining two zombies in two.

With the zombies dead, Broneslav checked the room quickly, but found nothing. It had already been looted and destroyed.

Thursday 6 January 2022

Fantasy Fistful of Lead - The Glorious Deed of Vicumion of the Ostentations

  I received Fantasy Fistful of Lead for Christmas and was much enthused by it. The layout is easy to read. The cover is teeming with nostalgia in the way it reflects the cover of my old Basic D&D rules from 40 years ago. And, I know that it will provide a nicely Hollywood-esque game, if my experience of Fistful of Lead: Starfighters is anything to go by. So, I suggested to Steve, my formerly regular opponent before life intervened and got in the way, that we play FFoL when he announced that he was able to pop by for a game. This would be our first game in a bazillion years and I was excited to play against someone else. Time to design a quick warband and set things up.

Steve said he only had his 15mm figures available, so I dug mine out too and chose a group of 5 Elves, whose figures I liked the look of. I decided to play at 2/3 scale because the move distances make it look like all 15mm figures are The Flash when playing at full scale, so I printed out the templates at 66%. I printed a couple of reduced scale rulers so that we did not have to convert any of the measurements while playing. All set, so time to meet the gang.

The gang

Vicumion of the Ostentations, a veteran of many skirmishes and a legend in his own lunchtime, was the leader of this group. He was born to warfare and moved as easily in harness as out of it. Nothing phased him. He carried his own banner so that all would know where he was and where the great deeds were being done.

Indusium the Fundamental was second-in-command. A journeyman wizard of the wild, his favourite spell was the lightning bolt.

Aelfgar the Younger was a somewhat rash young man and a good defensive fighter.

Qwillim o' the Wilds was the gang's scout, moving quickly through the cover to find the enemy so the others could neutralise them.

Fengal Sharpeye provided the gang with good missile support; an indifferent swordsman but able to split an arrow in two at the butts from 100 paces.

The situation

Human interlopers had been spotted heading into the borders of Brambly Edge Forest, Vicumion's home. Vicumion knew that he must take his Elves and kick them out or the place would soon be full of lumberjacks working all day to remove the trees and keeping everyone awake all night with their singing. Plotting a course towards the interlopers, Vicumion and his gang crested a hill and spotted the humans on the other side of Windy Beck, near the ruined Temple of Whillowisp.

"Follow me," he yelled to his gang and charged forwards at full speed. Inspired by the bravery with which Vicumion ostentatiously waved his banner and drew attention to himself, the gang rushed forward eagerly too. The humans were more circumspect and cautious in their movements. Clearly they were intimidated from the outset! Their archer even hid behind a tree ... as if that would save him!

As the gangs neared each other, arrows flew to no effect, but Indusium blasted the enemy leader with a lightning bolt. The leader fell, stunned, but the enemy mage healed him and he was back on his feet all too quickly. Aelfgarr charged forward to engage an enemy swordsmen but found himself standing in the beck and on the back foot as the swordsman proved to have a keen edge.

Vicumion soon joined him. Overconfidence led to Vicumion being laid flat, but, fortunately, Indusium was able to heal him quickly and Vicumion was soon laying about him with his blade once more to the swordsman's detriment.

As the fight ebbed and flowed, the two leaders soon found themselves in combat. It was a hard fight. Vicumion's experience barely helped him against the human's youth and speed, but it did tell in the end and the human was knocked flat and wounded once more, even when one of the human retinue ganged up on Vicumion with the leader.

Meanwhile, Qwillim had engaged the enemy archer and knocked him out. The enemy mage heated Aelfgar's armour to the heat of the forge and Aelfgar collapsed unconscious as a result. Qwillim retaliated and knocked the mage flat. Unfortunately, the enemy mage got a lucky blow in from the ground and knocked Qwillim out.

In revenge, Fengal pierced the mage and laid him out in turn. With spells flying and blades blurring soon only two of the human warband were conscious, but both were wounded and scuttled away as fast as they could, using the oncoming night to make good their escape. The Elves held the field.

"Well," announced Vicumion, "they fought well, but I fought better! We'll not see them again in a hurry."


Vicumion's gang gained 3 renown.

Steve's gang gained 2 renown.

Aelfgar's and Qwillim's injuries were just flesh wounds. They will be back next scenario at full strength. No other figures in my warband need to roll because they were not wounded or out of the fight.

Steve has not rolled for his warband yet.

Thoughts and musings

Our game was characterised by a number of things. I failed every single armour save that I tried to make. Fortunately, the wound rolls generally only left my boys shaken, but, still, it was a tad frustrating. Steve made most of his armour saves, but suffered from high wound rolls.

Steve's leader had a trait that let him roll two dice and pick the better one. This seemed very useful, even against my veteran leader who rolled a d12 instead of the standard d10. My takeaway from this is that I need better d12s. I rolled low all too often.

My troops kept fumbling and throwing away their weapons! sigh!! Steve's never fumbled. On the other hand, I did manage to catch Steve's archer in melee with his bow in hand instead of a sword. We need a slightly better system for tracking who has which weapon in hand, because it makes a difference. I'm thinking weapon counters on the roster.

Speaking of rosters, several mistakes were made along the way with forgetting to apply traits. We need better rosters for tracking bonuses and penalties, so that we do not forget them. It is far too easy in the heat of the moment to forget these things. I shall work on this for my next game.

We made other mistakes with the rules, and I shall read them again to try to get it right. For our first game, I don't think we did badly. We got things mostly right or muddled through by agreeing a temporary solution until we can look it up. The rules were not hard to learn, and they are well laid out, but there are always details you forget. There were a couple of unclear areas, especially relating to magic. Hopefully, the reread will clear those up. I'm not sure if they were unclear purely because of our expectations. That is also a possibility.

The game was great fun. So much so, in fact, that I nearly completely forgot to take photos. The Fistful of Lead system works well, providing a nicely cinematic game with a lot going on. The card draw mechanism for activating figures is fun and nervewracking in equal measure, leaving you desperately hoping that you get the next activation or that your opponent does not get a special card that negates whatever you have just done. Combat was simple enough to adjudicate, even with multiple figures on one side being involved. With a game under my belt and a reread of the rules, the next game should go a lot better and more quickly. All in all, I look forward to playing FFoL again.

Sunday 2 January 2022

A retrospective on 2021

 It's been a while since I felt it worthwhile writing a retrospective on my gaming year. The last time I wrote one was in 2017 and I . This year has been different though. I've managed to play a fair bit, although all of it was solo. The reason for this is that I moved to Norway to work in the middle of 2020 and have spent a large part of the last 18 months working from home thanks to the pandemic. The pandemic has meant that I have not sought out other gamers, and have focused largely on games that are designed for solo play or that have a solo mode. This has largely meant boardgames, because the pandemic has also meant that moving all my lead and paints to Norway has not been a practical option yet. We'll have to see what happens with my contract at the end of the current project to see if it is worth making the effort, assuming that travel becomes easier again in the future.


So, on to the games. I've copied and pasted the table below from BoardGameGeek. The numbers are the number of sessions of each game I played.

Beneath the Med: Regia Marina at Sea 1940-194311
Thunderbolt Apache Leader11
RAF: The Battle of Britain 19409
Field Commander: Rommel7
Heroes of Telemark: Commando Raids in Norway, 1942-436
BattleTech: Beginner Box3
Vikings: Scourge of the North3
Rangers of Shadow Deep2
Fistful of Lead: Starfighters!1
Five Parsecs From Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming1
Space Empires: 4X1
Terraforming Mars1

As you can see, Gloomhaven has occupied a massive amount of my time with 122 sessions this year and I wrote about it earlier this year. Each session is one scenario or one attempt at a scenario in the cases where I lost miserably. I have loved this game despite carrying it home from the games shop almost killing me. I have plans to use the components from it for other games, and I may well return and try the campaign again following the paths I did not take this time around.

The Gloomhaven board

Beneath the Med and Thunderbolt/Apache Leader each occupied 11 sessions. In the former case, I played through one campaign to the point where my sub was sunk and my captain died. I pushed my luck too far! I need to try this one again and be a bit more careful. It's an interesting game, fairly repetitive and much of the action happens in your head, but I think that the stories it encourages you to tell yourself are a large part of the fun. Thunderbolt/Apache Leader saw me play two short campaigns. It's a lightweight game with interesting decision making that feels a lot like watching Airwolf. Well, to me it does anyway and the theme tune plays in my head each time I play. I need to write more on each of these games later, so will try to write up each as I play the next campaign.

I finally bought the update of RAF this year. As you would expect, it is a game about the Battle of Britain. You manage fighter command and must allocate resources to the defence of England in 1940 to prevent the Axis forces from bombing the country into submission. I successfully completed this mission. One interesting aspect of the update is that there are options for taking charge of the Luftwaffe and also for playing this as a two-player game. I wrote up my thoughts on RAF earlier in the year.

The board for the boardgame RAF showing the south of England

Field Commander: Rommel saw me fighting my way to victory as Rommel in France in 1940 and in the Western Desert. For some reason I have never written this game up, but I really should. It's an interesting game, but perhaps not my top choice for pulling off the shelf. I think I need to be in the right mood for it.

I wrote about my experience with Heroes of Telemark earlier in the year so I shall not repeat myself on that.

Heroes of Telemark

I had a sudden urge to play big stompy mechs, for no earthly reason that I can fathom, so I bought the Battletech: Beginner Box and Battletech boxed sets this year. I've played all the scenarios in the beginner box, but not the full fat versions yet. My thinking was that I could use the mechs in the boxed sets and the standees as figures for games of Horizon Wars and 5150 No Quarter - Mecha Combat, as well as actually playing Battletech. I hope to organise myself properly to do that in 2022. We shall see ...

Finally, for the boardgames, I played a session each of Space Empires: 4X and Terraforming Mars. Both are fun, and I want to play them more in 2022.

Miniatures gaming has been much thinner on the ground this year. My miniatures remain in the UK, as I noted before, so I have only played miniatures games while in the UK. With travel being difficult, I only got back last Christmas and in the middle of the summer. And, when in the UK, my time is limited, so games tend not to get played. I played the first two missions from Rangers of Shadow Deep, flew a test space fighter mission in Fistful of Lead: Starfighters, and played one mission of Five Parsecs from Home. These are all games I would like to see on my table more, but I really need to sort my living  and work arrangements out properly so I have my stuff in the right place to take advantage of them.

Five Parsecs from Home

One thing that does not show on BGG because it is not listed there is the Scarlet Heroes RPG. I've returned to my solo campaign after a significant break and have continued from where I left off. Running it and writing it up is a fun way to fill the odd half hour. I also enjoy creating the maps in CC3+, although one of the reasons the campaign foundered previously was precisely because I found the map-making burdensome. I'm not sure what has changed, but it just seems to go together more easily now. I'm scheduling weekly posts for it, so that I can take a short break if I need to without the flow of the game being interrupted. This campaign is a massive hit of nostalgia, being set in the Basic D&D world of Mystara.

Scarlet Heroes

All in all, this has been a good year for gaming. I am very pleased that I have played each of my new games at least once, and have had good use out of several of them. That is a novelty!


For 2022, I would like to try to fit in more miniatures games but know that will be difficult unless I can arrange to move figures and terrain to Norway. I fear this will be more complicated with the rules that will apply to UK/EU/Norway goods transport from 2022, and I am wary of getting hit for import duties for moving my own stuff across borders. Also, the cost of postage puts me off sending some figures by mail and my luggage for the return is already too heavy, so that is not a realistic option. Yes, I am a cheapskate! What do you expect from someone brought up in Scotland and Yorkshire? This would all be a lot easier if the Newcastle-Stavanger ferry were still running. Despite it being cancelled in 2008, long before my move to Norway was on the horizon, I still feel this as a personal affront! We'll have to see what I can organise.

A simpler miniatures option at this stage is to use the Battletech stuff for a selection of mecha games, so there is a good chance that will happen. Hurlbat's reprint of Micro Ancients offers another option for miniatures style games, possibly using the rules that come with them, or perhaps Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames.

Having received the Fantasy Fistful of Lead hardback for Christmas, I shall aim to use the Gloomhaven miniatures and tiles for some FFoL dungeon bashing. I have a bunch of other skirmish games that they might be useful for too. I'll have to see how I fare with FFoL first.

Fantasy Fistful of Lead Collected Edition

Related to these miniatures games, I am going to have to be less fussy about terrain and table. The Battletech maps will do nicely for mecha games, so it might be worth getting a few more of those, but I am going to have to be less fussy about terrain, table and miniatures. I should try printing out 2D terrain to make a readily portable terrain set that can be stored easily. Printable standees are also an option worth exploring, especially for the disposable baddies in my games. I am also tempted to create battle mats in CC3+ and print those out. I have long thought that it would be fun to create 18th-century style maps to play Seven Years War games on, and that idea could be extended to other periods and genres. 

On the boardgame front, I want to get The Dark Valley and War Without Mercy onto the table. Both deal with the Russian front in WW2. The Dark Valley has a chit draw mechanism that should make solo play easier. War Without Mercy is a fairly standard game so I shall just have to play it two-handed and try to be impartial or use dice rolls to determine how high command prioritises its attacks for each side. I am tempted to draw on Charles Stewart Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios for ideas on how to deal with this. Nothing too complicated, but at least it should inject some chaos into the proceedings.

Beyond these, I shall aim to play the various games I have more, rather than looking to buy new games. And I plan to continue the solo RPG. I've bought the D&D Rules Cyclopedia hardback and GAZ 1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos softback from WargameVault to use with the RPG, having previously only had digital versions of both. It's just a shame I cannot get the Karameikos poster map easily.

So, that is the plan for 2022. It is fairly open with just a few specific games I would like to play, and as much of a moratorium as possible on buying new stuff. Hopefully, I shall be enthused enough to write a retrospective next year and see how well I have achieved my aims.

Saturday 1 January 2022

3 Yarthmont - Rolling stones

 Broneslav weighed up his choices. Mentally flipping a coin, it came up ships and so he turned left. The corridor turned right after a short while, and then right again after about eighty feet. It continued for another eighty or ninety feet and ended in a door. Warily, he pushed the door open to reveal a sarcophagus in the centre of the room. Pillars surrounded it, arching inwards towards the centre to form a cover over the top of it. At each end of the sarcophagus, brass jars had been placed. Flames burned in them to light the room.

Broneslav searched the room and found a brass tube containing a parchment map. It appeared to be showing something, but he was not sure what. There was no key to tell what the X marked. However, it did show him the layout of this tier and he could make more informed choices about his direction. Obviously, heading towards the large, ominous X on the map would have to be his goal.

Broneslav headed over to the other door in the room and opened it. Thanks to the map, he knew there would be a corridor on the other side of it. Suddenly the ground began to shake. There was a rumbling noise and crunching of stone on stone. Broneslav looked desperately around, trying to work out what was going on. Suddenly he realised. The massive boulder rolling down the corridor at high speed was a significant clue. He dived back into the room just before the boulder rolled past.

With the help of the map, Broneslav knew that the door over the corridor opened into a room and that the corridor he was now standing near led back to the area he had previously explored. He opened the door to the room over the way and closed it again quickly without going in. The room was full of junk and stunk. There was a big pile of junk in one corner. Rustling and squeaking noises came from the pile. That sounded more like a chance to get hurt than a chance to get rich. He turned around and followed the track the boulder had taken.

This was a long corridor with just one corridor leading off it and its end was blocked by the boulder just past a door on Broneslav's left. He knew from his map that the corridor continued on to the right after the boulder but had no way past, so he decided to check what was behind the door.

Within lay an elaborately jewelled coffin. A worm-like creature nearly ten feet long with may legs and a mouth surrounded by tentacles was curled up around the coffin. It looked up as Broneslav entered. He leapt forward swinging his sword as he did so, and brought its edge down just behind the creature's head. With just one blow he had cleaved the monster in two. Yellowish ichor sprayed from the cut ends.

Pausing, he considered the jewelled coffin and decided to leave it alone. He was already carrying significant treasure and had no idea if the coffin's occupant might take exception to removing the jewels, which might well just be paste for all Broneslav knew. Time to head back to the junction and try a different route.