Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kursk? Since when?

 Hell's Bridgehead: Clash along the Psel River. July 1943 

It had to happen, after years of avoiding Kursk as a subject to bother with (overrun as it is with the SS fanboys), I've finally bitten the bullet and grabbed Critical Hit's Hell's Bridgehead module and volume 6/4 that focuses on it. I think I may well have just put the game on the shelf as a conversation piece and not even thought about playing it until I actually read the designer's notes and most importantly Kurt Martin's irreverent and amusing piece on the playtest. Sure it was written back in 2002 but it's the type of off the wall commentary style that works for me, and I love the reference to the "Kursk Blues Cafe". 

I can see why HB has garnered so much praise and positive feedback and I'm glad I made the decision to buy it and the relevant issue. The best thing is that what map and rules errata has been corrected in the 2nd Edition and the new map style is ver' pretty indeed:

Hell's Bridgehead by CH
The scenarios are a good mix, not too small, not too big with at least three proper CGs.  Plus there are the scenarios in the magazine that use the K2 map which is almost as pretty (no pic of K2 sorry). There's so much material here for great ASL games (especially once I look at playing some of the Schelling mini-CGs from the ASL journal on different aspects of Kursk. Thankfully I doubt I'll be spending gratuitous amounts on supplementary reading (mostly the KOSAVE , Glantz and Zetterling books)

Lots of reading in 6/4 to take note of and some interesting additional scenarios outside the focus on Kursk - including a look at the Japanese airborne assault on Palembang airfield. Now to sort through all the existing errata and check 7/3 for additional material using the Kursk maps or even Tigers to the Front. The K2 mapsheet could well be used as the basis for some more non-HASL designs.

I'm glad in a way I took such a long time to look at CH stuff again - I'd lost the most severe of the negative pre-conceptions and so I've been very pleased with the advances in presentation and general feel.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I blame Balkoski!

The bocage rules in ASL never held as much fear for me as they have for others. It's notable how my interest in the American actions behind the beaches on D-Day and afterwards has gradually increased. I can point to the series replay of an old SL-COI tourney scenario in the General magazine that first made me look at the airborne ops behind Utah and gradually I've developped more of an interest in the US sector of D-Day, although I still struggle to throw off the negativity of the Longest Day and SPR in terms of association with the worst kind of jingoistic pap.

Thankfully Balkoski and admittedly BoB have helped a lot, but rather than focus on the beaches (particularly Omaha) it's the actions on D+1 to about D+8 that really hold my eye. Hence the easy decision to acquire the latest issue of Critical Hit magazine as it includes Busting the Bocage, a look at the fighting inland from Pointe du Hoc post the cliff assault. Now while the smaller ASL scenarios don't really appeal, there's a lot to be said for BtB as an accessible series of games particularly as the mapsheet is so much better in terms of rendering the Normandy countryside than any geomorphic collection of generic boards.

Here's a pic of the map (sorry it's not the best picture):

Busting the Bocage by CH

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sometimes they get it right! (includes pics for once)

Between the return to work and real life issues, I've just not had the chance to do anything other than play a little PBeM ASL and look at the pretty modules that have all arrived. Oh my, there's some really nice stuff out there from Critical Hit and I'm still only catching up with stuff from 2002-2006!

The first lot to arrive was Tigers To the Front - a look at Soviet attacks on the "Panther" Line in Army Group North just as Bagration destroyed Army Group Centre (June 44) to the south. Talk about serious eye candy and potential for some excellent Face to Face play once I get to the Paddington Bears meetings. The cool thing is that there are enough scenarios that I can play via PBeM on small suibset maps while I get my head around the new map which is very very nice.

I'm not usually a real fan of Late War Eastern Front Heavy Metal but this has sold me on the idea - and it's rural terrain - so much more a fan of that than urban terrain (after a diet of urban/ruined city terrain I definitely needed a change).

So here's the Tigers to the Front map:

Tigers to the Front

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Time, Gentlemen, please.

John's last day before he headed off back to Taiwan and we managed to get two scenarios done in the day, a nice way to round out John's visit. Helps that I won a game or two towards the end which brought my win loss record for the week to 4 and 5. I can live with that, John's still a very good player, so anything better than a 33% win ratio is good as far as I'm concerned.

The games:
  • The Yelnya Bridge J102: Russian - Lost
  • Marders Not Martyrs J106: Russian - Won
  • Lenin's Sons J103: German - Lost
  • Flanking Flamethrowers J104: Russian - Lost
  • The Prelude to Spring J110: Russian - Won
  • Borodino Train Station J105: Russian - Lost
  • Jungle Fighters J012: British - Won
  • Monty's Mess OA10: British - Lost
  • On to Florence J099: New Zealand - Won

Friday, February 23, 2007

Some ASL was played...

The end of the working week and things are just percolating along nicely...I'll probably start planning a much more focused attempt at getting some painting done in the evenings for the next few weeks as I get ready to end my current contract. I bought an el cheapo table for gaming with John which is pretty well perfect to use as a painting table in the evenings and is basically low maintenance. Played another scenario tonight with John: Monty's Mess from the Out of The Attic set. It must be just my familiarity with the subject matter and terrain that makes me view everyday type ASL scenarios set in Arnhem - Oosterbeek on geomorphic boards with a degree of scepticism and even a bit of a yawn.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

John's last day before he headed off back to Taiwan and we managed to get two scenarios done in the day, a nice way to round out John's visit. Helps that I won a game or two towards the end which brought my win loss record for the week to 4 and 5. I can live with that, John's still a very good player, so anything better than a 33% win ratio is good as far as I'm concerned.

The Games:
  • The Yelnya Bridge J102: Russian - Lost
  • Marders Not Martyrs J106: Russian - Won
  • Lenin's Sons J103: German - Lost
  • Flanking Flamethrowers J104: Russian - Lost
  • The Prelude to Spring J110: Russian - Won
  • Borodino Train Station J105: Russian - Lost
  • Jungle Fighters J012: British - Won
  • Monty's Mess OA10: British - Lost
  • On to Florence J099: New Zealand - Won

Mmm ASL.

Came home from work today to find my copy of the Critical Hit 1997 Special Edition had arrived from Canada. I bought this purely for the Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works content and I'm happy enough with the price I paid, given the issue is long out of print. It was interesting to see that there was some extra material for Platoon Leader 2.1 which I can easily retrofit into PL2.5a if needed.My next order of business is to get hold of the actual module for the Tractor Works so I can go ahead and look at correcting the issues of play balance and clarifications that personified this particular era of Critical Hit. Now all I'm looking forward to is the arrival of Issue 7.3 and Stalin's Fury over the next few days - My copy of CH's Hell's Bridgehead is waiting on confirmation of the availability of Issue 6/4.

I'm pretty sure I'll be purchasing a few more products over the next few months, probably just to catch up with things again, but I may go nuts and get hold of the Berlin module because I'm such a nut these days about Historical map sheets.

You'd think that a small module with only four scenarios would not be amongst my must buys, but Action at Carentan is definitely on my must buy to play list. That and Journal number 7 which has a lot of very enjoyable, smaller yet intriguing scenarios are probably going to feature a lot in any face to face games I get to play over the next few years, with the latter being probably the dominant series of scenario choices for VASL.

Return to the gaming table

I've not had any time to spend on figure gaming of late, all my energy has been devoted to boardgaming and work. The resurgent interest in boardgaming arises out of the visit by my longtime ASL buddy/opponent and good friend John Knowles. These yearly visits are my sole source of ASL face to face play these days and they tend to regenerate my enthusiasm for the game.Whereas in past years, John and I have looked to play scenarios we've not played before just for the sake of playing something new, this year (as pretty much we did last year) we decided to pick and choose the scenarios with an eye to not overextending ourselves. One of the reasons we were a bit more circumspect is that this year I was working during the day while John was visiting and I switched from afternoon to morning shift which meant late night gaming and full immersive ASL was out of the question.

This year we selected the majority of our scenarios with an eye to timing, size and situational perspective. The days of scenario choice determined by nationality are gone , these days we're far more interested in how the scenario is crafted and how the interaction of VCs and Board choice works. Journal 7 is new to both of us, so I didn't take much persuading to look at playing a few scenarios from it, especially with Board Y available.

John and I are of the same mind with regard to scenario parameters, not having much interest in the ultra-mini scenarios nor in all armour scenarios. As far as we've worked out, anything less than 5.5 turns, with less than 10 squads per side (counting vehicles as 2 squads) is just heading outside our comfort level of interfacing skill and chaos/friction.

We've found the tiny scenarios so beloved of Schwerpunkt and other TPP to be not that enjoyable, particularly as they're usually far too dependent on the vagaries of the dice, usually one dice roll having an out-sized influence on the outcome. This is particularly so when dealing with scenarios that feature single vehicles with special capabilities or ordnance.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More ASL on the way...

Okay so my ordering hasn't quite finished yet...the consequences of having to spend  a day at home sick or rather unable to leave the house for extended periods of time.So here's what I'm looking to buy this month including stuff that is on its way already:

Critical Hit:
  • 1997 Special Edition Critical Hit "Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works" issue (Includes "Grain Elevator" Map and Campaign game [Currently shipping]
  • Volume 6 Number 4  Critical Hit "Kursk" issue (Includes serious extras for Hell's Bridgehead Kursk module including extra map)
  • Volume 7 Number 3  Critical Hit "Normandy" issue (Includes complete 3rd edition of Busting the Bocage) [Currently shipping]
  • Action at Carentan Scenario pack (4 scenarios plus a custom mapsheet)
  • Hell's Bridgehead 1st Edition (Kursk map + 8 scenarios)
  • Hell's Bridgehead Upgrade (Extra two scenarios plus larger map)
Possible additional stuff coming:
  • Tigers to the Front (Operation Bagration in ASL terms)
  • Beyond the Beachhead (more ASL Normandy)
  • The Killing Ground (Operational treatment of the post D-Day Normandy battles) - really like the core system used in this
I've pretty much decided on the three webshops I'll be using: Sentry Box in Calgary, Canada; Gamer's Armory in the US and Warchest in Australia as they've all been really responsive to orders and requests and they're gamers as well as being smart businessmen (read Professional).

Nothing like someone who understands that you are shopping around for the fastest delivery rather than best price - I hate stuff being on back order, preferrring to order something that I know is in stock. Unfortunately as I'm currently looking at OOP items in the main, this means I'm subject to a much more limited selection. The key here is minimising the shipping as much as possible by ordering multiple items from each. However I've also got to take into account that each retailer has different products in stock. :(

Oh well. At least I'm going to get a lot of VASL time out of this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Bells of Hell Go Ting a Ling Ling

So work's been busy as all getout lately. That hasn't stopped the deliveries of goodies from parts elsewhere thankfully, I'm now at the point where I've got 95% of my boardgame collection stable with very few more purchases needed. I finally got hold of the Stalingrad maps I referenced a while ago, and sure enough there's a significant difference in area covered betweren the large hex and the smaller hex versions, the latter actually reaching to the Volga.How did I pick these up? Through the auspices of Warchest in Melbourne, Australia. Must say I'm every impressed with the service from him. Fair prices to boot.

I bought the second edition of Critical Hit's Valor of the 37th Guards, which included not only the large hex map of the Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works but the original map from the 1997 DTW module and the original Grain Elevator minimap from the 1997 Critical Hit Special Edition. So I've almost completed the necessary accumulation of product.

I'm going to end up with some duplication of mapsheets but that's no hardship as I'm sure I can find a use for them. So basically all I'm after now is the original DTW module with its 2 Campaign games  and four scenarios and the 97SE with the Grain Elevator scenarios/CG. The latter is on order already from The Sentry Box in Canada, and I may have scoped out a copy of DTW although I'm paying the OOP premium :(

I also picked up one of the lesser items on my want list - a copy of the old Area-Impulse ACW game, They Met at Gettysburg which has a poor reputation but surely can be salvaged.

I even started playing some ASL again, Stalingrad natürlich, with my old adversary Jay White. We're now on Turn 3 of our game that was interrupted by me getting sidetracked by real life, and so far it's been one crazy rollercoaster ride once again, with the highlight for me being the critical hit I scored with a Molotov-Projector on one of the two StuIG33Bs Jay is fielding. One flank is almost completely secure through the blazes that have started up.

Anyway I really need to take some pics again (I've been slack - no change there) and posting again

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Once more into the rubble...

In Australia, Jason Marks has a small limited edition publishing house that specialises in books on Stalingrad. The range of titles is very small, but the books are some of the few available that deal with the small unit operations within the city, given the destruction of many of the records and the very few survivors from the Kessel.

I'd been after his Death of the Leaping Horseman book ever since I heard about it, but for a while there it was only available on the second hand market for around $200 USD which was just too much for my blood. However the other day, while looking to spend money on research materials, I found he'd reprinted it and I could pick it up for AUSD$80. Oh yeah that was very much in my range again. I also picked up An Infantryman in Stalingrad, a detailed and very interesting reminiscence of the combat experiences of a leutnant in the 94. Infanterie division who took part in the battles for the Barrikady factory as well.

Given I've been on a Stalingrad kick for a while (with varying levels of active work) it was an easy decision to make. I'm still to pick up the latest book, which is another $80 AUSD on the barrikady fighting, but it will come. Anyway this interest in oparticularly the factory fighting arose out of the ASL historical module Red Barricades, which focuses naturally on the Barrikady complex and the period in October November 42 when the factories were progressively assaulted. I'd steered clear of the Stalingrad stuff for a while in ASL, purely because I doubted I'd ever get to do another Campaign game through lack of time and opponents. However while working on the Flames of War Stalingrad book, I found myself looking again at gaming small parts of the fighting using FoW and ASL.

To cut a long story short, the books arrived on Friday, and I've been picking my way through them occasionally as it suited. There's so much detail there at the tactical level, one sees the composition of a particular German assault group down to individual weapon loads for the soldiers. The best thing about the books is that they're based on the actual extant primary source war diaries and corroborating evidence wherever possible, and in the case of the memoir, egregious errors have been corrected but the original errors are footnoted and explained. The only quibble I have is that the maps are just a tad too small and could have been redrawn to give more clarity, but some of the private collection photographs are outstanding, particularly the ones shot while on the approaches to to the actual factories.

I'm now impatiently awaiting the release of Valor of The Guards and the Red October modules from MMP, just to see what the scenario listing is like and how they match up with the descriptions in these books. I don't think you'lll see me trying to build terrain for them anytime soon, at least not until I'm in Aussie myself and have a decent amount of room to store and build the modules, but there's some real incentive to get it right.