03 December 2017

Rommel: Operation Brevity

I got my first game of Rommel in last Thursday and I have to say that i enjoyed it, as I believe did my friend Adam. I had solo playtested some of the rules last week to get a feeling of the ruleset and by the time game day came along I was feeling relatively comfortable with the rules. I believe Adam had glanced at the scenario but was unacquainted with the ruleset (although I have to say he is always a quick study) so it was really up to me.
For our first go, I took a early Desert War scenario from the Honour Forum, it is available here as a free download. By April 1941 Rommel had driven the British forces in Libya back across the border into Egypt. Unfortunately for Rommel his forward supply lines to his frontline position in the coastal village of Sollum were threatened by the fact that the Allied forces still held Tobruk a major fortified port to the west. The siege of Tobruk left few DAK forces available to advance into Egypt although Kampfgruppe Herff was able to take the Halfaya Pass and take Sollum.

Operation Brevity was an attempt by the British Commander General Wavell to retake the Halfaya pass and Sollum as a part of the a larger operation to relieve the siege at Tobruk. Three small British mobile columns under Brigadier Gott were ordered to advance. To the south were elements of the 7th Armoured Brigade with Cruiser tanks and motorized infantry, in the centre were elements of the 22nd Armoured Brigade with Matildas from 4RTR and motorized infantry and finally on the coast a battalion of infantry as well as towed artillery advanced towards Sollum itself.

Defending was KG Herff with elements from 15Pz, including PzII's and III's, with motorized infantry as well as attached Italian Bersaglieri. Also defending were Italian infantry and artillery. Supporting was KG Esebeck with PzIII's and motorized infantry from 5. Leichte-Division (21Pz)
Rommel uses a gridded terrain system. The triangles represent mountains, the blue tiles are the sea. The town marker of course represents Sollum. The national insignia are objectives and the red and green colour filled grids are the supply centres for each force. Set up and victory conditions below.
The scenario requires the Germans to set up first. KG Herff can be placed anywhere in row A, while the Italian forces can be placed anywhere in rows A to E. The British then set up anywhere in row H. The game is 16 turns and KG Esebeck arrives at the end of turn 8. To win the Allies have to hold their own objective as well as two German objectives at the end of turn 16, anything else is an Axis victory.
Game Summary
History did repeat itself, as in May 1941 the Axis forces were able to throw back the British, but the British held the Halfaya Pass. I tried to play the game using the same tactics as the British keeping my forces in 3 jock columns, although I did send the Matildas across the ridge to as a forward defense of Sollum. The Axis forces were maybe a little late to defend their right flank, although they also had to defend the centre objective. The British did lose more armour than the Axis, and were clearly outclassed by the Panzers. 

Rules Summary
It was nice to focus on the grand tactical aspect of the games and I felt the ruleset does a great job of supporting this. The mechanics of the game are very simple and we seldom referred to the rulebook itself except to elaborate on some of the Tactics and Events. The Ops mechanism is a lot of fun and as we both play a lot of SAGA, the process was familiar to both of us. I was originally somewhat tentative about using a ruleset that has a gridded terrain but to be honest it really made things much easier. We finished the game in around 2 hours (we did play 13 turns out of 16 but at that point an Allied win was obvious), which is really excellent for a first outing with a ruleset.

We did screw up a couple of things, I missed that defending units can chose to withdraw rather then take a second attrition hit on a specific unit. I also think at times we may have missed that an attacking unit has to withdraw after a failed combat to the grid from whence they came. I am pretty sure that we also may of missed that at times some units were isolated. I also wondered at times about the number of units in an enemy ZOC after combat but I can still see no prohibition of this in the rulebook.

A few questions came up during the game but I was able to find answers to all but one on a second read through the rulebook. I still have a question about tactical movement through terrain which I ask on the Honour Forum. All in all though this game is a lot of fun and the work that I put into planning for the game in respect to terrain and units was well worth it. I am really looking forward to my next game.

28 November 2017

Terrain for 6mm Wargaming: North African Seacoast

The Rommel Operation Brevity scenario required some sea tiles. These are impassible to troops and vehicles but artillery can fire over them. I decided to go with the 13cm square tiles from the BigRedBat's Shop again, no concerns here about placing bases on the tiles as noted above. I have used up my original order, so a second order was placed. This should cover my needs for 10 further mountain tiles and some wadi tiles. Should be then good.

Again I used Elmer's Wood Filler as the base; this really is excellent stuff, it is quite cheap and workable. I tried to put a double pattern in with straight horizontal lines to represent the beach and curved lines to represent the water. I used both Citadel and VMC paints. It was pretty simple and I like how it came out.
Stegadon Scale Green base highlighted with Sotek Green
Highlighted with Citadel Temple Guard Blue
Highlighted with VMC Sky Blue
Highlighted with VMC Pale Grey Blue
Final highlight of Citadel Scar White. A border of very fine sand was then added , had to remember that this was 1/285 scale. Once I get the polyurethane out to do the bases, I will apply some to the water.
I enjoyed doing these and they look good on the table. I will be getting my first game of Rommel in this Thursday with my friend Adam. I am looking quite forward to it. I am hoping to post a playtest of the rules before then.

22 November 2017

Rommel: An Exciting New Project

I have been interested in gaming the North African theatre of WWII for several years. A previous attempt was unsuccessful and I ended up selling the 15mm DAK and 8th Army forces I had assembled. I felt that anything but a grand tactical game just did not duplicate the battles fought in the desert as I had imagined.

Then along came Rommel a ruleset by Sam Mustafa that was solely aimed at this level of wargaming.   I have been gaming WWII at the skirmish level using Chain of Command and enjoying it greatly but felt the WWII North African battles just did not lend themselves to skirmish gaming. I have played several games by Sam and enjoyed them including Lasalle and Longstreet. I assembled an army for Blucher but just could not get interested and sold them. Coming from the Sharpe tradition of Napoleonics, grand-tactical wargaming just did not attract me.

Anyway I was excited and by this time I had 10 years of wargaming under my belt and this experience had provided me with better tools on how to plan things. As my wargaming armies have expanded, storage and transport have become critical. It was interesting to watch other gamers plan their armies for Rommel. I could, of course, use my 20mm figures of which I have an extensive collection (but of course not in desert livery), but that was just unattractive to me.

After having a look I decided it had to be microscale, either 2, 3 or 6 mm. I wanted to be able to recognize things so I decided to go with 6mm or 1/285 scale. GHQ and CinC are the main manufacturers in the 1/285 scale. The other 6mm manufacturers are a little smaller at 1/300 scale, but I understood although GHQ are quite expensive at $2.40 per unit, they had the best selection. I could ameliorate this by using CinC models which are priced at $1.40 per unit. Their range is much less but they have the basics especially trucks of which I require a great number.

Next up was basing. I use a 6x4' table and this appears to be the standard for Rommel with 6" squares (Rommel uses a grid system of movement). I could of gone with 4" squares but I felt with 6mm models this would limit the base size significantly and thus the number of models with which I could populate each base. After a lot of thought and discussion on the Honour Forum, I decided to go with 70x45mm bases as three (the limit in the ruleset) could fit in a 6" grid. For transport and aesthetic reasons I am now going with metal bases for all my armies. I am just not attracted to basing with a high profile, they just look to me like playing pieces rather then actual troops and vehicles.

I had to decide how to populate each base. This was limited mostly by what could fit and the cost of the vehicles. I also had to represent the 5 basic types of unit that can be represented in the game. There is armour, armoured infantry, motorised infantry, legged infantry as well as artillery. The big plus for me is that in WWII North Africa aside from the Italians most infantry was motorised so I did not have to worry about painting many 6mm infantry which for me would be a real drag.

Each base in Rommel is the equivalent of a company and in most cases aside from artillery each battalion has 3 bases. I decided to go with was the following scheme of basing:

  • Tank/Armoured AT Vehicles-3 vehicles
  • Armour/Motorised Infantry-2 to 3 trucks or AFV's with 3 to 4 infantry figures
  • Legged Infantry-16 to 20 infantry figures per base
  • Artillery: 2 to 4 guns per base with transports if towed
This makes it very easy to identify what each base represents at a distance. As mentioned in my previous post, I have gone with a wood filler to terrain the base. I felt that sand was wrong at this scale, and the bases were painted successively with Burnt Sienna, Yellow Oxide and White tinged with a Yellow Oxide drybrush. The vehicles were fixed to the base using a gel superglue. It is expensive, but I like the control I get.

I had to decide if and how I was going to label each base with it's stats. I am by nature a non labeler, but I really could not see how to get away without labels. I really did not want dice or markers on a grand tactical battle field. I decided to go with a 60 weight card and use earth colours. I felt this was much less jarring than white. I use different colours for different armies. I felt that it was important to include the Kampfgruppe, the attrition track as well as the armour rating if any. Artillery were a little different as noted below. The labels are attached with tiny dabs of superglue gel so are very easily removed in order to change KGr or armour rating. I decided the type of tank was unnecessary to include, as this whole process has educated me in tank recognition immensely!

Unit Symbols: 21Pz and 15Pz, with Attrition Track and Armour Rating
Bersaglieri Company attached to 15Pz-the presence of trucks indicates that it is a motorized infantry unit.
Italian Infantry, a nightmare to paint and base! Unfortunately for North Africa you need a lot.
105mm Howitzer: 21Pz; range 12km, barrage value 3, 0 attack 1 defense.
The final step was how to mark the attrition track. Attrition in Rommel can move up and down, troops can recover, so I had to find something that was temporary. Here I had an Eureka moment, the bases were metal............I could use magnets that can easily move in any direction.

I might paint the magnets, I just have to decide with what.
I believe I have done 85 bases so far. I decided to start with getting the troops together so I could playtest the rules. A scenario was provided on the Honour website for Operation Brevity, but I have already gone well beyond that. More about that in my next post.

Finally, I should say that this has been one of the most exciting projects I have started. It has kept me completely engaged for the last 3 months. It has been enormous fun.

21 November 2017

Terrain for 6mm Wargaming: North African Mountains Part 2

There are lots of photos of the mountains in North Africa, I found this one the most useful as we see the mountains rising out of the desert which for wargaming WWII is the most useful. The important thing for me when painting the terrain is that mountains are pretty close to the colours of the desert plain. From looking at this photo they are quite variable in height. The first ten I made are very similar in height, but I need at least 10 more for gaming so I will keep that in mind.
The first thing to do is to fill in the bases around the cracks. I like to use wood filler, it is much more resilient than spackle or drywall compound, this one is need as it goes on pink and turns beige as it drys.  You can see it dries quickly, but is quite workable. Just wet your spatula and it immediately turns pink again and is soft. I use a brush if I want to smooth the rough edges. It was paintable in 3-4 hours.
I use this cheap acrylic that I get from an Art Shop in large bottles. I start with  Burnt Sienna followed by a very heavy wetbrush of yellow oxide. This is what I have done for the whole project all the bases have been done the same way.
The last step is a light drybrush of white with a small amount of the yellow oxide mixed in.
Here we have the first 10 pieces on a Cigar Box 6" grid desert mat. As you ca see using smaller bases allows one to place curved mountain ranges on a gridded mat. I spread them out here but you could just of easily place them abutting each other. You need about 5 bases for every four 6" grid if you do this. I find this really takes away the board game aspect of using a gridded playing mat.
As you can see the bases for the tanks are quite similar to the mountains. I suppose I could have made the mountains a little higher (they are mountains after all), but there is a point where they become difficult to store. This works for me.
The Cigar Box mat is really quite brilliant, you can barely see the lines. As you can see I have easily fit two 70x45mm bases in the 6" grid with the mountain terrain piece.
Getting very close to getting to try out those rules!

Next up is some towns, which presented a particular challenge but I will save that until my next post.

16 November 2017

An Introduction to Général d'Armée

I got a chance to introduce the Général d"Armée ruleset to my friend Iannick last night in Montreal. Iannick has been looking for the grail in respect to Napoleonic rulesets for even longer than myself and he is particular! I spent the day going through the rules as I had not played for 3-4 months, and I wanted it to be a good introduction.

I picked a Vitoria scenario that I had written when the rules came out. There is 5 brigades aside with artillery and cavalry involvement. It is a nice balance as I believe you need this many brigades to get a good idea of how the C&C function works.

The game was a first in some respects as it was the first game that I have got to host in my apartement  here, we usually play at Iannick's. I also finally got to use the portable gaming table that I purchased a year or so ago from the Czech Republic. It is 6x4' but folds down to 3x4' for transport. I was able to wrestle it into my car and transport it to Montreal where it will now stay. 

I went out and purchased  some beer and and found a pizza place that delivers (imagine that it has been almost 15 years that I have been going to Montreal and have had an apartment there for at least 5 years and I have never got a take away!).

I will not bother to write an AR, I think we got 4-5 turns in, but I did take some photos. It was a good night and I believe that Iannick enjoyed the rules. Enough so that he is planning to acquire an 18mm Napoleonic army himself. Stay tuned as I think he will be selling his 28mm Austrian and French forces and he is a great painter.

We had no really plan to finish the game but it did go back and forth. As usual we spent a lot of time talking and nourishing ourselves with food and drink. It was a good evening. I really had little cause to refer to the rulebook as the 4 page QRS is all you really need. It is a great ruleset.

Digging out the troops
The French right flank
The French left flank
4 battalion brigade
The Portuguese on the allied right flank
French Artillery
The KGL on the British left
The Guards with some 95th Rifles in the centre
The big picture
A particularly challenging cavalry duel, the cavalry rules are a lot of fun. The charge-countercharge aspect of the rules works well and  was quite realistic
Some French ligne retreating across the bridge