Sunday 30 April 2017

Blitzkreig Commander III - a first game AAR with thoughts and comments.

As planned, I managed to get in a follow up game today, based upon yesterdays scenario and forces, but this time using BKCIII. Initially I had thought to use the army lists from BKCII, but I decided to go with those in BKCIII, as there didn't appear to be any glaring errors with the troops at my disposal. The same was true of the scenario, as the Assault one in BKCIII is quite different from that of BKCII.

Some points to note that are different enough in BKCIII to warrant a mention in advance of the AAR:
  • The Italian L3/35 tankettes have the Vulnerable rule, which means they can be affected by small arms fire when within 30cm of the enemy. They also have a longer range with their MGs, now shooting out to 60cm.
  • At least 25% of the Italian troops must have the Veteran special ability, which broadly makes them more durable on the battlefield, but easier to suppress when shot at with opportunity fire.
  • The Russians are all Green, which is the closest I could get to make them similar to Conscript. They are harder to suppress with opportunity fire, but cannot dig-in as per other troops.
  • Mortars and Infantry Guns can now fire smoke.
So onto the game. To keep things consistent, I continued to use my house rules of hits stay on and mortars and infantry guns using indirect fire automatically cause suppression when they hit a unit.

The Russians had to set up 20% of their forces within 30cm of an objective which is placed centrally in the table. I chose to use the bridge over the river as this was close enough to the centre as made no difference. The rest of the Russians deployed in a similar position to yesterday, but with a more all round defensive posture due to way the Italians could deploy. The Italians had to use a mix of static, mobile and flank deployment, which was quite a change and certainly made for a different game from the off.

Both sides arrayed for battle.

The Veteran Italian cavalry and supporting L3/35 tankettes.

The rest of the Italians, with the centre using static deployment and the CO mobile deployment.

The Russians deployed by the objective...

... with the rest in the orchard and pig pen.

Turn 1
As the Italian right flank moved onto the table using flank deployment, they came under fire from the Russian infantry gun, which missed. As the tankettes closed, they came under small arms fire and, being vulnerable,received hits and were suppressed. The centre got off to a flyer, rolling a double 1, which allowed them to advance to the fence line by the cornfield. The CO managed to move his units onto the table as well.
In response, the Russian infantry gun on the left flank penend up once again, but was destroyed as a result of opportunity fire. Not a great start, one which was compounded by the other command units all failing their command rolls.

The Italians advance on all fronts.

The vulnerable Italian tankettes narrowly avoid being destroyed.

The centre has pushed forward, whilst their armoured support lags behind.

Turn 2
On the Italian right flank, the L3/35s destroy two infantry units and suppress another due to increased range and firepower in BKCIII (3 base, +1 for half range, +1 AFVsfor shooting at infantry within 20cms). At the same time, the Russian troops by the bridge are caught in the flank, seeing the loss of an MG unit and the suppression of an infantry unit. In the centre, the Italians shoot at the units along the fence line, but only manage to hit the 45mm ATG. The FAO then manages to call down an artillery strike on the same gun, destroying it. The Italian CO moved his tankettes forward and deployed the infantry gun, which was suppressed by mortar fire. In response the tankettes opened up on the mortar, destroying it.
The Russians had a bad Turn, with their right flank failing, their centre blundering after some desultory shooting and the CO failing his command roll.

The Italians in a good position with the Russians under pressure right across their front.

The Italian veteran infantry and their supporting tankettes have managed to gain the upper hand on their flank due to their combined fire.

The Italians have reduced the Russian along the fence line that are either suppressed or in retreat.

Suppressed by the Italians, the only active Russian unit has to retreat as the result of a command blunder.

Not quite pigs in sh*t, but the Russians aren't in a good place.

Turn 3
This Turn it was the Italians who didn't get any good command rolls, with their right flank, FAO and CO failing. At least the centre managed to get some shooting off, resulting in the loss of another Russian infantry unit. 

At this point I called a halt to the proceedings, as the Russians were in a pretty poor position, once again having lost the heavy support weapons and being close to their break point.

The Italians in all but complete control of the game.

Not much stands in the way of the Italian centre and left flank.

The view from the beleagured Russian positions.

Post Game Thoughts
Even though the game was over pretty quickly, I learnt a lot about BKCIII. So first I'll go into some specifics about this game, and then the new rules in general. 
  •  As with any new ruleset, it will take time to get used to the nuances within the rules. This is certainly true of all of the units and any abilities that they may have. As an example, the L3/35s are much more effective in their shooting, but are rather vulnerable if they get too close to any infantry units. I'm used to having to get them rather close to the enemy to be able to shoot or to be in a positon to pose a threat.
  • The new scenarios are quite, quite different and will take getting used to in terms of set up, the terrain used etc. They also need some clarification in certain areas.
  • I liked the 'Vulnerable' rule, but feel that it should only apply to MG units and not general infantry.
  • Broadly the rules worked well and certainly have a feel like BKCII, which is good.
So now onto the rules in general. Firstly I should point out that I helped with the playtesting and development of these rules, but hopefully I will be able to give an unbiased view.
  • To begin with, I must talk about the elephant in the room. There are certainly some issues with the army lists, but these are being addressed and the guys at Pendraken will sort things in due course, have no fear. 
  • With that out of the way, there are some nice additions in the lists for the Italians, with the L3/35 cc AT variant appearing as well as the L5/21 (Fiat 3000). These were not in BKCII, so I'm happy that they've made an appearance as they allow me more options in terms of scenarios, such as the L5/21s in action in Sicily 1943.
  • The rulebook is beautifully produced and well layed out. There are page references in the text where relevant, making it very easy to find things during the game
  • It comes with a nice card QRS, which is not always the case with rulesets.
  • I really like the Special Abilities that some units have. These will take time to digest, but they hold a lot of promise.
  • Command units no longer have an inherent AA ability.
  • Shooting at aircraft has changed, but I haven't studied this in detail as I've been concentrating on the basics.
  • The Recce actions have been clarified and are certainly easier to understand.
  • The Assault section has been tidied up and is easier to understand, but personally I never had a problem with that in BKCII.
  • There are areas that require clarification, some more than others, but then that happened with BKCII when it was first released.
  • As with BKCII, there are optional rules, which you can take or leave as you see fit.
  • So overall I think BKCIII are a good set of rules. The issues are really to do with the army lists and scenarios, rather than the core rules themselves. 

So there you have it. Will I use BKCIII rather than BKCII? For the moment I will stick with BKCII and import some of the good ideas from BKCIII, such as the special abilities. As I read BKCIII more and get used to the nuances within the rules as I play more games, then I may move over to them lock, stock and barrel. I am glad that I've got a copy of these rules. However this old dog finds it hard to learn new tricks!

Saturday 29 April 2017

The Battle for Checkov's Cherry Orchard - the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia 1941

I've been meaning to get a game of BKCII in for a long, long time now. So with post Salute inspiration and having received a copy of the newly released BKCIII, I thought it high time I got my act together. But what Battlegroups to use? I've had plans for an AVBCW scenario for a few years now, coupled with something in North West europe 1944 with my newish Fallschirmjager. Both of these were discounted as for some reason my thoughts turned to my Italian Battlegroup and their great L3/35 tankettes.

So what theatre? I discounted Sicily 1943 and also Greece, as I had gamed this before. But this didn't stop me ordering the following books as reference material for some future games: Hollow Legions and War in the Balkans , both of which look rather good. I also ordered some 're-inforcements' from Pendraken to flesh out my early war Italians.

I eventually settled on the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia in 1941 and chose to base my scenario on Scenario 38: Rural Encounter from Scenarios for Wargames. This was tweaked slightly to broadly fit in with the Assault scenario from BKCII.

My bplan is to play the scenario twice, firstly with BKCII and then with BKCIII, so that i compare each version of the rules. As a result each force may be slightly different as dictated by each version of the rules, but broadly speaking I will have:

1 x CO
2 x HQ
1 x FAO
1 x Recce
9 x Infantry
2 x MG
1 ATG plus tow
1 x Mortar plus tow
1 x IG plus tow
6 x L3/35
3 x 75mm Artillery (off table)

1 x CO
2 x HQ
9 x Infantry
3 x MG
1 x 45mm ATG
1 x Mortar
1 x IG

So with the Battlegroups sorted, the terrain was layed out as best I could as per the scenario book, and the Battlegroups deployed as below:

The Italians enter the table via the left hand edge, using mobile deployment, whilst the russians are already deployed on the right hand third of the table.

The Russian positions, with the Cherry orchard as the objective by the main building.

The view from the Russian infantry gun on the hill.

The view from the Russian mortar position.

Turn 1
The Italians got off to a bit of a flyer, with their right flank advancing along the road, but stopping just short of the range of the Russian infantry gun, which was more by luck than judgement. In the centre the Italians pushed through the cornfield, surving a mortar barrage that failed to hit anything. On the left, the italian CO pushed his tankettes forward and deployed his infantry gun.
In response, the Russian left flank had no visible targets or ones that were in range, so just sat put. The centre failed their command roll and the CO moved up his reserve company into the orchard.

The Italians begin their advance.

A tempting target but just out of range of the Russian gun.

The Italian centre and left flank advance through the cornfield.

Turn 2
As the Italian right flank advanced, it was hit my fire from the Russian infantry gun, leading to all of the units dismounting. Return fire by the Italian mortar saw the gun suppressed. The newly arrived Italian FAO called in a successfull artillery strike on the Russian mortar position, which suppressed it. In the centre the Italians pushed forward once again, but the CO failed his command roll.
There was little that the Russians could do in response, with both of their long range weapons suppressed, so they basically sat there and waited for the Italians to come into small arms range.

The Italians continue their steady advance.

The Italian right flank having dismounted as a result of Russian fire.

The centre nears the edge of the cornfield.

Turn 3
Despite a successful communication with the FAO by the Recce unit, the Italian FAO failed his command roll. On the right flank, the Italian mortar once again suppressed the Russian infantry gun. As they moved forward however, their commander blundered, resulting in the lead infantry unit nearly coming a cropper as a result of hits incurred as a result of the blunder. In the centre, the ATG moved forward and deployed, only to then become supressed as a result of opportunity fire. As the infantry emerged from the cornfield, they came under fire from the Russians, with both sides trading hits in the ensuing exchange. Once again the Italian CO failed his command roll.
The Russian left flank still had no targets, but in the centre, the commander rolled a double 1, resulting in the demise of an Italian MG unit and the ATG unit that had just deployed.

The Italians edge closer to their objective and come under small arms fire from the orchard.

The Italian tankettes line the roadside, ready to open up on any Russians they can see.

Russian troops have pushed forward to try and gain the fence line before the Italians, but fail in their mission.

Turn 4
The turn got off to a fine start for the Italians, as their FAO called in a concentrated artillery strike right on top of the Russians in the orchard. All but one unit was suppressed, including the commander and they lost their MG unit. Not a good thing for the Russians as many of their units had 4 hits. On the right flank the Italians finally managed to destroy the infantry gun on the hill and suppressed an infantry unit in the wood. In the centre the commander failed to motivate his troops, but the CO managed to get through to his infantry gun which led to the Russian mortar once agan becoming suppressed.
With their units in the orchard all but suppressed, there was little that they could do. However they did manage to finish off an Italian infantry unit.

The Italian advance is slow, but steady.

The Italians continue to deploy along the hedgeline and exchange fire with the Russians.

The result of the devastating Italian artillery strike. Ouch!

The Italian infantry are slow to advance, but they have their tankettes in support on their left flank.

Turn 5
Fortunately for the Russians, the Italian FAO fails his command roll, as does the commander on the right flank. In the centre, the Italians push forward and both sides see units supressed as a result of the firefight. The CO manages to deliver what turns out to be the killer punch, as the infantry gun finishes off the mortar and the tankettes the ATG. So with most of their support weapons gone, especially the ones that can harm the tankettes, the Russians wisely decided to call it a day and left the remnants of the cherry orchard to the Italians.

The Italian line at close of play.

With their support units gone, the Russians have nothing to stop the might of the Italian tankettes.

With their hits accumulating and their right flnak threatened by the tankettes, the Russians wisely choose to slip away.

The view from the cherry orchard.

The view from the pig pen or Russian left flank.

Post Game Thoughts
Well in the end a convincing Italian victory and achieved more quickly than I thought possible. It was great to be playing BKCII again and it is certainly one of my all time wargames, if not the favourite. So as always a few thoughts on the game:

  • The game felt historically accurate. Early on the Italians did perform well and not facing any Russian armour certainly helped. A BT-7 or T-26 could have made quite a difference to the Russians ability to put up a more determined fight. Also the Russians not having AT Rifles at this time also hindered their ability to fight off the Italian tankettes. It's not often that tankettes have such an impact on a game!
  • I gave the Italian commands a CV of 8 across the board, with the exception of the FAO that stayed at 6. This was to help reflect that the CSIR did fight well in 1941. Even with a modest CV of 8, they did manage to make quite a few commands per Turn, which certainly helped their cause.
  • In contrast, the Russian HQs had a CV of 7, to reflect the general poor Russian performance and the fact that they were second line troops. Althought the Infantry really didn't get a chance to fight, I classed them as conscripts, again to reflect their second line status.
  • I could have dug in some or all of the Russian troops, but from past experience, this would have led to a rather dull and attritional battle. Having the ooportunity to 'dig-in' during the game for a 5+ save, is probably a better option and one that I will try in the future.
  • The Italians having off board artillery made a big difference, mainly with the one strike in Turn 4. In other games artillery has had little effect, especially with a CV of only 6. 
The plan now is to replay the game, but using the new BKCIII version. I will be using the BKCII lists, mainly as there are some issues with the ones in BKCIII that are currently being looked at. It will be interesting to compare the old with the new.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Salute 2017 - musings on a show

Once again Michael Leck and chums from Sweden decided to put on a demo game at Salute 2017 and kindly invited me along to help out with the game, an invitation which I was only too happy to accept. All the details for the game can be found on Michael's excellent Blog and I also belive there will be an article in a forthcoming issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine.

All too quickly the day of the show arrived and some of my planned preperation fell by the wayside due to a rather hectic couple of weeks on the work front. Rising at an unGodly 4.00am soon saw myself and SWMBO on the road for London bang on 5.00am. Thankfully the traffic was trouble free and having dropped my wife off en route, I somewhat blearily strolled into the show just before 9.00am. 

It was great to meet up with Michael, Jesper, Jan and Colin from previous years, as well as meeting Andy, a Brit living in Sweden and member of the same club. As always the Swedish chaps had a great table on show, thanks to Jan's superb modelmaking skills, as well as Michael and Jesper's wonderfully painted miniatures. Set up was well underway when I arrived and by 9.30am we were pretty much done and dusted, ready for the visitors to be let in at 10.00am. 

The day flew by with plenty of interest in the game right from the off, which was great. Michael does a grand job in providing plenty of information on the game, so that visitors can take away a leaflet if they so wish, or those of us on 'info' duty can elaborate further if so required. Helping out left me little time to walk the show, but I did manage a quick dash round (more of which later) and took some pics of the games that looked of interest to me.

The view from the main Dutch force as it prepares to try and take Fort Mosquito.
A view towards the Fort from a Native American village in the woods.
The Dutch prepare a seaborne assault on the Swedish positions.
Jan's wonderful scratch built ship.
The imposing Swedish fort, again scratch built by Jan.
The Swedish harbour by the fort.
The Dutch massed for attack.
Of no interest to me but certainly to my son.
No idea how the game plays but it looks interesting.
Sword beach on D-Day.
A Great Northern War game IIRC. Plenty of info on display.
Definitely linear warfare.
Some nice touches on the sides of the table.
These little details help bring a game to life IMHO.
A nice looking (18thC?) game.
I love this turreted building.
A lovely detail of a chateau in its gardens. Very nice.
No action at all in evidence on this table as i think it was to advertise a range of lovely Samurai buildings.
The castle is certainly impressive. Not sure where I could store it through.
Yet more wonderful buildings.
I liked the junks arriving with the Samurai rusing ashore.
A nice looking game...
... with a great walled town on display.
Battlegroup Tobruk table. As far as I could see no game was being played.
Lots of detail and wonderfully painted miniatures as you would expect from Piers.
A Russo-Japanese War game I think...
Whatever it was it looked nice.
A lovely ACW game using Pendraken Miniatures range of figures, fences and buildings. This is the sort of game I can relate too.
A great Cold War game that really shows the benefits of 6mm figures.
Another game using Pendraken Minitures figures.
Once again a game I can relate to.
Completely blank on this game but looked good.
18thC game?
Whatever it was it had another lovely walled town on display.

So another Salute done and gone, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts on the show. These are based upon my experiences as a demo gamer, rather than a visitor, so may not hold true with the latter. Well in no particular order:

  • It is a long, long day out from Bristol, with us being on the road for around 8 hours. This may not seem a lot to some, but to us it is. Is it worth it? In purely financial terms of course not. It cost around £50 there and back, but if I paid to get in the show, that would have risen to around £65. That would buy me an awful lot of lead from Pendraken Miniatures, or books or a combination of the two. But then it is not all about the cost. It is nice to meet up with the Swedish chaps and to have a look at what is going on in the hobby, as well as talking to other gamers and traders. Would I attend if not invited to a demo game? Probably not to be honest, or only ever few years. I much prefer Colours as a show on many levels.
  • Once again one cannot fault the organisation of the show. It is superb. Enough said.
  • Is the venue nice? Not really but where else could you get so many gamers into one space? The show certainly felt more open this year as they had reduced the floor space for the traders. This was a good thing IMHO as it felt more open and you didn't have to push past rucksack attired gamers to get to stands or games.
  • This is a show where 28mm simply dominates (which probaly reflects the hobby as a whole). So if you are into 28mm, which many, many gamers are, you are simply in heaven. For me there is little on offer now as I pretty much have all the scenery I need, talk less of my lead mountain. 
  • The range of stuff on offer is staggering. So if a relative newbie to the hobby, it must be overwhelming. The hobby is certanly in rude helath.
  • On the games front there seemed to be an awful lot of sci-fi and fantasy skirmish games on show, being played on 4' x 4' tables or smaller. This is no bad thing but certainly not my bag. The trend to smaller games was a theme talking with visitors to our game throughout the day. Not all of us have the space or a dedicated games room to be able to store the classic 6' x 4' table and accompanying scenery and minatures. Then there is the cost to consider.
  • Not many of the games on display really grabbed me. Now this is most likely to my having to whizz round the show and the lack of time to have a good look at what's on offer. Normally I make a list of games I want to see, but the rush on the work from put the caibosh on this. Looking at other Blog posts, I somehow managed to miss quite a few games, some of which I wished I had seen. If I go agan next year I must be better prepared. Simples.
  • The numbers attending the show appeared to be up this year. Certainly after the initial rush, there was a steady stream of new arrivals throughout the day which was nice to see. Hopefully this translated to good sales for the traders. What was noticeable this year was that there were a greater number of younger visitors (by that I mean under 30) as well as more women and a greater ethnic mix, all of which bodes well for the future of our hobby.
  • Once again a lot of the demo games simpy didn't seem to have anything actually happening. Now this may have had to do with my tour at lunchtime, but personally I like to see a game being played. This was a view shared by other gamers I talked to, who do not see Salute purely as a shopping trip with some eye candy games thrown in. Now not all games may be able to have enough people to keep the table constantly staffed, but it would be nice to see for future shows.

So there we have it. Another Salute finished, which despite the long day I broadly enjoyed. It certainly has stirred my wargaming juices, which is no bad thing, so hopefully I will be able to get some games in again sometime soon.