Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Project Kursk Part 1: A Huge Thankyou to PSC

Right, here's the plan.

As already discussed here, I am very impressed with Battle Group Kursk, the new WWII rules from Plastic Soldier Company and Iron Fist Publishing.

Next year is the 70th anniversary of Kursk, and we happen to teach an elective topic on the War on the Eastern Front to our boys in Year 10. So the plan is to build on our success with SAGA at the school wargames club by introducing BGK as a second main club game. The plan is to paint up models and figures as a club, build some ace terrain and start playing the game asap, all in preparation for some major display games to coincide with the anniversary in July-August next year. The boys are keen, and already putting together some 15mm T-34s.

I'm planning to keep track of our progress on the blog, although with holidays starting in a week we won't really be getting underway until the start of next year. However, I wanted to give a huge shout out to Will Townshend from the Plastic Soldier Company. A couple of weeks ago I wrote to Will to tell him our plans and ask if he had any posters etc we could use at school to publicise what we're doing. He wrote back straight away to say that he was very keen to support school clubs, and that he would send me a hamper!

This is what arrived yesterday. Enough tanks, artillery and infantry for both sides to make a great start on the project, along with decals for the Gross Deutschland Division. Some of the boys will work on these during the break, but next year I'm envisaging a bunch of boys sitting around the table after school learning painting and modelling techniques, then being able to use the troops they've put together as we start playing scenarios from BGK.

Whenever I've heard Will interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures, he's struck me as a very smart bloke who understands how to run a business and who is doing really good things for the hobby. It is so great to see his support for getting kids interested - thanks Will!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Westwind Saxons

It has been a very busy couple of weeks, but I managed to get a bunch of unarmoured Saxons from Westwind finished last night. This means that I have now finished British and Saxon starter forces for Dux Britanniarum, as well as making a reasonable start on a couple of armies for Dux Bellorum. I am particularly keen to try out Dux Brit, so will try twisting some arms to get someone to give me a game.

What next? Well, I have a few random dark ages figures still on the painting table, along with a Bolt Action 6pdr. I should finish these, but I'm also keen to start churning out some 15mm WWII to give Battle Group Kursk a go. And then there is my project in waiting to make a 13th century German army for impetus from Fireforge figures....and the Irish for Saga look great....and I've done nothing all year on the ECW..... I really need to retire and paint full time.

While I think of it, is it just me or is this chap strangely familiar?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rematch at the Man Cave

On Wednesday last I headed over to Paul's Man Cave Away From Man Cave for a SAGA rematch. This was only Paul's second game, but we changed things around a bit by having a 6 point game of Sacred Ground. I had Welsh, Paul opting for Anglo-Danish.

Desperate for victory, Paul started softening me up from the outset with his homebrew, the fiend. He certainly makes a damn fine ale, with my favourite being the Thor's Thirst, with a punch like Mjollnir. Naturally Paul chose to drink his from a horn, which certainly added to the intimidation value.

I was travelling light, walking down to Paul's after school, so had the pleasure of using his figures. He has some great conversions, and I was particularly taken by the Welsh cavalry he had made using Wargames Factory Vikings and Celtic Cavalry. Nice. We MacGyvered together some terrain, then realised that neither of us had any dice. Consternation. Fortunately the smart phone came to the rescue, and I found an Ap that allowed me to roll up to 5 dice at a time. Pushing a button didn't quite give the same thrill as actually rolling a handful of dice, but good enough.

Once we got started, I won the roll to go first and raced my mounted hearthguard onto the hill in the centre. As often in Sacred Ground the central hill became the focus of the battle as Paul moved several units of hearthguard and warriors up to assault it. I was able to draw some of them out of position using the Taunting ability, and benefited from the extra mobility one unit of mounted hearthguard gave me. Paul caught on quickly (which he does) and used Intimidation to stop my hearthguard retreating, then killed half of them.
In the end I got lucky and was able to isolate and kill his warlord, at which point we called it a night. Another great night playing a great game with a great opponent, even if the Thor's Thirst means my recall of all the details is a little hazy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saga and the Man Cave

Paul of the Man Cave came over to the castle this week, and after graciously reading some Harry Potter to the mini Duchess we were able to get in a game of Saga.

Paul played Welsh and I had Vikings. This was Paul's first experience of the game, but he picked it up straight away. After spending a couple of turns trying to use his Welsh too aggressively (and thus suffering), he rapidly changed his tactics to hugging the rough ground and chucking javelins. Anyway, much fun was had by all and Paul has spent the rest of the week sorting out how he can use his dark ages figures for Saga warbands.
My Vikings skirt a swamp, trying to get stuck into the pesky Welsh
Our warlords trade blows, the Welsh sensibly skulking in the woods

In other news this week, I spent a happy couple of hours underground on Monday when I was invited along on a tour of some of the tunnels under Sydney. Basically, there are a number of railway tunnels that were built in the 1920s for lines that were never completed. During WWII a number of these were converted into air raid shelters by being divided up by concrete blast walls. I've wanted to have a look at these tunnels for years, but they have been inaccessible since about 2000, when the tours that used to take place were stopped due to security fears.

Dux in a Dark Place

On Friday, Paul was kind enough to visit my school to talk to the boys about his career in the Navy. He was brilliant at relating to the boys and answered the great questions they asked very openly. Yet again I'm reminded how excellent this hobby community is that the blogosphere makes possible.

New Insights into the Russian Revolution

This is brilliant.

Like most teachers, I normally experience the statutory authorities who set exams and curricula as sources of great exasperation and rage. Rarely do I find them hilarious.

However, this week the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) reached new dizzying heights of incompetence by managing to include a source for the Russian Revolution in an exam paper that included the image of a giant killer robot.

Yes really.

The exam, sat by about 5700 school leavers in Victoria was intended to include this illustration of the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917.
However, in an inspired move, whoever set the exam managed to copy a digitally altered version of the image from the net that featured a giant mecha robot thingy joining in the assaault:
Genius. I shall be using this as a great example of the need to check one's sources.

What particularly amused me were the attempts by the VCAA to argue that the mix-up was really no big deal, and wouldn't really influence the ability of students to answer the question in the exam.


I'm no expert on the October Revolution, but I can't help thinking that most questions asking people to make use of a source featuring a gigantic robot might in some way be influenced by its presence. Sadly, media reports don't mention the specific question asked, but if it was something along the lines of 'Using Source A, explain the success of the October Revolution' I fondly imagine students weighing up whether to talk about the failures of the Provisional Government, or the fact that the Bolsheviks had the assistance of a GIANT KILLER ROBOT!

You can read more about this act of brilliance here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Impressions of Battle Group Kursk

After listening to the author of the new Battle Group Kursk (BGK) rules interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures I went ahead last week and bought a copy of the rules from War and Peace Games. From the interview it sounded as though these might be a good set of rules for the school club. I’ve been looking around for some WWII rules that might suit our club, and was thinking they might be Bolt Action, but BGK is another distinct possibility.

Here are some of my initial impressions, based on a quick read through. First up, the rulebook is a beautifully produced hardcover of 240 pages. Consequently it is not cheap, but I have no complaints about the value. The book is divided up into sections covering the rules, a decent historical overview of Kursk, army lists for the battle, scenarios, a modeling guide giving some nice tips about painting armoured vehicles and making battle boards, and rules for a large campaign or mega-battle covering the battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943. There are a few typos here and there, but the text is generally clearly written, and I have found the rules to be very easy to follow. The book is very well illustrated with contemporary photos (some of which I’ve not seen before), model photos and line drawings. This immediately brings me to something I like about the rules. Although they are put out by Plastic Soldier Company, and obviously they are seeking to use them as a vehicle for selling lots of figures, the rulebook does not look like an illustrated catalogue of their stuff. Indeed, the photographs feature models from a bunch of other companies (SHQ, Foundry, Britannia etc). The modeling section also does not read like an attempt to flog their stuff. With any discussion of BGK the Elefant in the room (geddit?) is of course Flames of War, and the way that BGK does not aggressively market a particular brand of models is one of the immediate contrasts with FOW.

The rules cover 43 pages (broken up with lots of illustrations and tables), and are laid out logically and clearly with lots of examples. One of the things that appeals to me about the game is that it is designed to be scaleable from squad to battalion level, so theoretically it might be suitable for 1½ hour games after school as well as big games in the holidays. The figure scale is 1:1, and most games are played on the standard 6X4 table. The rules are designed for 15mm or 1/72 figures, with no change to ranges or movement etc. No indication is given of how long different games might take, and this is one of the questions I’m keen to have answered.

The basic turn structure is IGOYOUGO, with a nice exception. At the beginning of each player’s turn they roll for the number of Orders they are able to give that turn. For example, if playing a platoon level game I would roll 2D6 and add an additional order for each officer in my battlegroup. Each order I end up with allows me to perform one action with a single unit (eg single vehicle or infantry squad), choosing from a menu of various types of moving, firing, embarking etc actions. However, I could use any number of my available orders to issue Reaction Orders, effectively allowing my units to intervene at any point in my opponent’s turn to move or fire. So immediately a nice challenge is posed as the commander tries to work out the best balance of offensive and defensive actions in their turn. This all looks very straightforward, and will mean players stay engaged with the game during their opponent’s turn.

Combat is divided essentially into area fire or aimed fire, with rules also for infantry assaults, close assaults on tanks etc. The emphasis on area fire is particularly good, as the game rewards realistic tactics of pinning the enemy with suppressing fire (delivered by artillery, machine guns etc) to pin them and remove their initiative, rather than simply encouraging the attempt to destroy units with direct fire. The resolution of combat differs depending on the type of fire. Just to give a sense of how it works, if my tank was firing aimed fire with HE shells at an enemy infantry target, I would first roll to see whether I successfully observed the target. If so, I would roll a single D6 to determine whether I hit the target. If I do, I would then roll a number of D6s to determine damage, depending on the type of weapon. The target would then roll a cover save D6 for each of my successful damage rolls, and each one he fails to cancel would result in a casualty, which may then trigger morale effects. The rules for different types of fire follow a similar sort of process, but also have some significant differences. There are also all the rules one would expect for air attacks, engineering etc etc.

Morale in BGK is two-fold. Firstly, each unit suffers moral consequences when it takes losses, which may result in the unit breaking and running. More interesting is the Battle Rating system. Basically, any unit you add to your force costs a number of points, but also has a battle rating. The two are not necessarily related. For example, a Panzer V costs 85 points and has a Battle Rating of 3, while a German Forward Aid Post costs 20 points but has a Battle Rating of 5. At the start of the game each player adds up the total Battle Rating of their force, this number representing the point at which the overall morale of the battlegroup breaks. After certain events, such as losing a unit, a player takes a token at random marked from 1-5, and subtracts this number from their force’s Battle Rating. This looks like a great system – your opponent will know how many tokens you have taken, but not know with any precision how close your force is to breaking.

Which brings us to the army lists. The book contains 4 detailed army lists for Russian and German infantry and armoured units. These follow a points system, but are organized so that it is impossible to try to assembly an unrealistic super army, cherry picking all the strongest types of units (cough, Flames of War, cough). So for example, certain options of supporting units only become available after particular core units are bought, with the result that forces fielded in BGK will approximate the sort of unit composition that was historically the case. There appears to be a lot to like about BGK, and it may well become the WWII game to develop at school in 2013. The fact that next year is the 70th anniversary of Kursk makes this possibility even more attractive. Here is a quick summary of my initial positive and negative impressions:


• The game is set up to avoid power gaming, gamey ‘super units’ and unhistorical tactics.
• Logistics are an integral part of the game. Tanks etc will run out of ammo and need to be resupplied, which means that all those trucks become important and must be protected, especially since losing them will adversely impact on your force’s Battle Rating.
• The rulebook is clearly laid out and easy to read.
• The Battle Rating system.
• There are many little tweaks built into the game to differentiate German from Soviet tactics. For example, German infantry squads are divided into a gun group and a MG group, each requiring separate orders, while the Soviet infantry squad treats its LMG as integral to the squad as a single tactical element.
• Some people will not like the fact that the rules are focused on Kursk alone. Personally I like the level of detail that comes from this.


• The hobby section doesn’t include any suggestions for painting figures, only vehicles, which may have been helpful for new players.
• I’m not overly bothered by this, but unit sizes in the army lists don’t always match their historical counterparts. For example, German tank platoons only contain three vehicles in BGK.

Umm, well that’s about all so far. I’m slightly dreading the possibility that I will soon feel obliged to paint a lot of 15mm models.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#5)

Well done Rodger for spotting that figure #4 was the bazooka loader from the British Paras set (Row 4 Figure 1 on Plastic Soldier Review.

What about this one? I never owned this set...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#4)

Here's a bod from what I think was the second set of figures I ever owned. I have vague but happy memories of having battles with this lot against some plastic dinosaurs. Who is he?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Westwind Saxons...Intent on Plunder

With the Romano-Brits finished, it's time for the Saxons. I bought a few warband packs from Westwind when they has their 30% off sale a couple of months back, so this is a complete pack of 20 armoured spearmen painted, with one extra noble from the 'Mordred' pack.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#3)

As Paul spotted, Figure #2 was supposed to be the bloke with the spanner from the Luftwaffe Personnel set (row 2, figure 2), although I didn't get his legs right, so sorry about that.

Here's an easy one:

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#2)

I can see I'm in the presence of masters... The first Airfix figure was indeed the DAK grenade thrower. A great figure from a great set.

This one is a little more obscure...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Which Airfix Figure Am I? (#1)

In homage to the 1/72 Airfix figures that most of us over a certain age grew up with, I'm starting a new series of posts that tests your skill in identifying the classic poses. And also tests my ability to contort an artist's figure into the sometimes improbable poses Airfix came up with.

To start with, here is one of my favourite Airfix figures of all time. Which is it?
If you want to play, probably the easiest way to identify the figure is to refer to the relevant page on Plastic Soldier Review. For example, 'WWI British, second row (from the top), third figure (from the left).'

Happy memories!