Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old Warhorses

The "Soldier Room" as my daughter calls our bonus room has been in dire need of cleaning. After my mother-in-law went back to China, it became the dumping ground for various items. I am as much to blame as everyone else, A lot of gaming and hobby items have not been put away.  I thought since I was on spring break, I would make a stab at cleaning and organizing. Of course, I had to begin with the gaming stuff! I was organizing one of my book shelves that was bordering on chaos. I came upon some of the first rule books that I owned. This gave me a even longer trip down memory lane.

Originally, remainder of this post continued as some wargamer's version of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. After writing for about an hour, I was starting to bore myself. Who wants to read some mopy recollections of someone's gaming exploits from ages past? So, I thought I'd give a quick review of these various rules with only a little bit of moments of times past to put things in perspective. The advantage I have to reviewing these rules is that I used them A LOT! In fact, I used them almost exclusively until about the early-mid 90s. I don't pretend to be a wargame-rules historian. There are plenty of folks out there that can give a more complete and probably more accurate overview of the history of wargaming and the rules that were developed. My comments are as how I see them or saw them at the time.


Chainmail was the first rule book I bought. Not only that but it was one of the very first gaming items I bought along with some 25mm knights and very early Ral Partha goblins at a store in Chicago called Sutler's Wagon. This was the third edition. I used these rules quite a bit, even up until the 80s where I switched to WRG Ancient rules.

There are three parts to the rules, plus lots of appendices.  The first part is for mass battles. Troops separate out unit types into light (LI), heavy (HI), and armored infantry (AI). They do the same with cavalry. Missile fire is based on general differences in armor. Melee outcomes is based on who is fighting whom. It is easier to kill off troops lower than you but harder to kill off types higher than you. For example, it takes one LI trooper to try to take out another LI trooper, but it takes two LI troopers to take out one HI and has to roll a 6. On the other hand, the HI trooper gets to kill the LI on a 5 or 6. There is also a section on artillery both cannons and catapults. There are rules to cover sieges, and a section on national differences, but these are not all that detailed. An important part of the rules is morale. I found it complicated, or at least time consuming. Troop types are worth different points. First, you have to figure out the number of losses on each side and who inflicted more casualties, etc., etc. and then roll a D6 for a random effect, etc., and then multiply and add various numbers, etc. then you look at the differences between the two sides. The one with the higher points wins the morale test. The amount of difference determines what happens to the loser. Whew! As I recall this is what really slowed the game down, especially when you have an epic-sized game going.

The second part covers man-to-main combat. These are very similar to D&D with types of armor and different weapons causing differences in how well they do against the armor. The difference is that you use a D6. I used them several times for some skirmish battles and they seem to work well.

The third part is a section on jousting. A shield is divided up into several regions. Each jouster aims for a particular point. Depending on where you hit on the shield, you can knock your opponent of his horse. It was a lot of fun and you don't need miniatures to play.

Of the various appendices, there included a fantasy supplement. It contained a bunch of fantasy races and monsters and their stats for the mass combat rules. There were also some magic spells thrown in for good measure.


Shortly after getting started in medieval and fantasy figures, I thought I'd give Napoleonics at try. I found that I really enjoyed painting figures and was reasonably good at it. Napoleonics lured me with all those colorful uniforms. I started off with 25mm, but soon realized that this scale was economically unfeasible. I then turned to 15mm as a reasonable alternative. What I found was that I didn't have anyone to game with. My gaming buddy Mark, was totally into microarmor and had even less interest in playing Napoleonics than fantasy mass battles. Something about not having a whole lot of expendable funds back in high school didn't help either, which I will go into at the end of this discussion.

It is a D6 game. There is usual information on basing, scale, movement, and terrain. Ranges for musket and cannon fire are very important. Small arms fire is resolved using tables that compared number of troops firing with the range of their target. Better troop types got bonuses when firing. Artillery was a relationship between range and caliber of gun. For melee you compared melee factors for both sides. The melee factors  for each was the number of men involved time their Melee Power, which was how effective they were. Militia has low Power, Guards had high Power. The melee resolution chart not only determined the casualties but also the morale results. They had a very large section on differences among national armies. This included overall national characteristics, tables of organization and characteristics in terms of morale and combat effectiveness. About half the book was on these subjects.

The big problem that I with the game was so much the mechanics, but with the number of figures you needed. Once you learned them and played a few times, they were not that difficult to use. These rules were before the time of one-figure-equals-100-men sorts of rules. The rules state that a figure equals twenty men. So, for a French line battalion, one company requires 6 figures, and you need 6 companies to equal a battalion. They then state that you need three battalions to equal a regiment. Nations like Russia and Austria, had even larger regiments. For a high school student, this really added up financially! Also, since I really didn't have anyone to play against, that meant that I had to provide both sides. Yes, I could have used Airfix figures, however, I felt that I would be able to use an entire set due to all the less than desirable poses that you got. I did have a few solo games, dragooning Airfix figures to fill out the ranks of 15mm. I also had one rather epic battle where I used pin heads as infantry and individual staples for cavalry stuck in cardboard bases. That was the swan song of my Napoleonic efforts.

Angriff! and Unit Organizations of WWII

As I said, my friend Mark was really into WW2 microarmor...and in a big way. He sold his N-scale train and converted his layout into a gaming table. I found it harder and harder to get him to play anything but microarmor. He finally gave me the few medieval figurines that he bought but never painted. He astutely pointed out that unlike my fantasy and Napoleonic figures, he could pit five American tanks against five German tanks and have a decent little battle. We started off using an old xeroxed copy of Angriff! that someone at school gave him. It looked like a xerox of a xerox of a xerox. This game turned me into a tread-head.

The thing about these rules is that some things are really simplistic, whereas others are pretty detailed. You probably can guess which is which. For small arms fire, different stands equal different points. A stand of infantry = 1 point. If you have a HMG stand, it equals 3 points. Range is the only only modification. You then throw two dice and you get a number that is then multiplies by your total points. That is how many casualties you inflicted. Firing HE shells is even simpler. If you score a hit you automatically kill a certain number of guys based on the caliber of your gun. Melee is similar but even simpler than Tricolor. Barrages, which are not part of the basic rules, is based off of a template that you lay over the area you want to shell. You roll die to see where the shells land, and then consult a table regarding casualties. What is detailed, and to a nerdy teenager the most important aspect of the game, is armored combat. Guns have different percentages to hit based on ranges, and how much penetration they do in millimeters at that range. Tanks and other armored vehicles have all the armor values for every spot on the vehicle, in millimeters. Front, side, top: you name it, its covered. Some kids memorized baseball stats, we memorized armor values and gun penetrations. I'm sure Freud would have had something to say about all this, but we won't go there. You would think that this would really bog the game down, but it didn't. If your armies have the same tanks and weapons game after game, eventually most of the stats get committed to memory.

We had many an epic battle using these rules, but around the early 80s, Mark and I had drifted off onto different pathways of life and I had found new people to game with. I switched over to a set of rules called Jagdpanzer that took a more abstract approach to armored combat. I didn't know it, but the days of using actual armor and penetration values was about over.

Mark and I finally bought our own copies of Angriff! and we found that they had TO&Es a the back of the book (missing from our xerox copies). At the same time,  I started buying a magazine called Wargamer's Digest. The editor, Gene McCoy was a WW2 vet. It was a great magazine for its time. He covered everything and anything. He did a number of issues on WW2 units of organization as well as tactics. We realized that the TO&Es found in Angriff! did not square with those of Wargamer's Digest. In turn, the Avalon Hill games Panzer Blitz and Panzer Leader also had TO & E data. Who was right? I then found Unit Organizations of World War II. That pushed us over the edge. We then went from rivet counters to TO&E wonks. Our games were always at 1:1 scale, but now we were at the point of being obsessive about it. Each of our squares of infantry became squads. We even marked who had the submachine guns, pistols, etc. We constantly discussed, argued, debated unit organizations and equipment. All of armies were fully manned and properly equipped down to the last rifle team. It covered all of the major combatants and how they changed over time.

This book is a precursor to to the various books that Flames of War now put out. It is not nearly as detailed as what we see today. There is also very little discussion of the organizations. No discussion meant that we took the charts literally. If the book said a platoon had 5 tanks of a certain type, that is what we used. If each US armored infantry squad had only one bazooka, than that's all it had. This is despite the narrative of Mr. McCoy. At the time, this book really helped us to at least feel like we were gaming reality rather than throwing together a bunch of weapons and battling it out. Our platoons maneuvered and operated as units; we didn't intermingle different weapons. There were no panzer divisions made up of King Tigers. We really stuck by the organizations.

I tried to come up with some sort of thoughtful conclusion, but couldn't really think of one. As I re-read them, I found that they were still pretty good rules. Granted, I can't comment on the evolution of Napoleonic rules, but I've used or read enough modern rules for both Ancients and WW2 and I think these old guys still hold up. If nothing else, gone are the days of when you bought a set of rules, all you got were the rules and not a lot of pretty, colored pictures, 3D graphical diagrams, and fancy type all bundled in a hard bound book. You can't beat a $5 rule book even at 70s prices.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sci-Fi Building from Paper Mache Packaging

I started this project back in November, and now finally I am finally finished. I was going to do a series of work-in-progress posts, but then decided to post it all at once. I thought I had took some pictures of my progress from the very beginning, but I can't to find their files, or maybe I thought I had took them, but didn't.

We seem to keep a lot of those paper mache packing containers. I am not sure why we do. I blame my wife, who can't seem to throw anything out. I don't really know what they are officially called, but those are the things that a lot of electronic devices are stuck into to keep them from banging around and getting damaged. The one I picked jumped out at me as a good candidate. It looked like a dwelling or research station made of some sort of earthen structure such as adobe. Maybe its a homestead on a backwater planet.

Prepping the Container
I sealed the container, both the exterior (the side that will be seen) and the interior, with Mod Podge. I suppose I could have used watered down PVC glue but I wanted to bring out my Inner Hippie. Plus, its fairly cheap and is consistent in viscosity. It never warped the paper mache, made it stronger, and sealed it up nicely for later painting.

Making a Base
I bought some cheap, thin, acrylic sheets at Lowes and cut a base. I cut it to size so it just fit the container. I then sanded it so that glue would take to it. The container was strong enough that I didn't need to fill it with water putty like I had done with the previous sci-fi dwelling I made. I glued the container to the base with some superglue gel.

Adding the Windows, Doors and Decorative Do-Dads
I used the mold for my previous sci-fi building to make more doors. The windows were made from piece of plastic embroidery mesh. This time, I used square styrene strips to frame the windows. They looked a lot nicer.

Front of building before painting
 I really wanted a skylight, but didn't want to just put another flat, framed window on the roof.  Embroidery mesh is a pretty soft plastic--a lot like 1/72 scale plastic miniatures. I cut out a piece and kept bending it to a point were it would not flex back all the way into its original flattened state. I built a frame out of styrene and fit the mesh into the frame. The natural tendency of wanting to go back to a more flat shape make it lock into the frame and was held there by adding superglue. The sides were kind of tricky. They don't look that nice, but they will do.

Close up of skylight
I then added a bunch of do-dads. I added some vents from The Source, some soda bottle caps for air conditioning units, and one or two other items to decrease the empty spaces around the structure.

Back of building
Due to the folds and crenulations on the surface of the container, some of the doors and windows had really obvious gaps between them and the walls. I filled them in using glue-soaked tissue paper.The last thing I did before painting it was to put some acrylic pumice texture gel on the small part of the base that was exposed. I thought about leaving it as is, but it was already frosted.

I primed it with gesso. I don't like using gesso on figures, but I figured it would work well on a building like this. Plus I have a huge bottle of the stuff and I don't want to waste it.

 Thinking about it, I could have left the structure unpainted in is natural color, which was a light brown, but I was not sure what color I wanted it to be. Well, I ended up painted it a light brown that pretty much matched its original color! I then washed the whole thing in my patented wash of Future floor wax (or whatever its now called) and black india ink. To reduce the shine, I then finished it with a clear flat.

 The last step was to add a little extra touch to the skylight: glass. I made the glass of the skylight using this stuff from Testors that is for gluing canopies to aircraft models.

Applying Testors glass making glue to the skylight with brush

Finished Building
Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. The front door and two of the windows look a little wonky, but its fine for gaming purposes. After I had put in a number of windows, it seemed to need two more. Being lazy, I made another mold using one of the windows that was already glued to the building. It turned out OK, but didn't have the depth that the actual embroidery mesh had. 


Right side

Left side and rear

A Grey Alien pays a call