Sunday, 24 February 2019

A Return to Squad Leader

One day a long, long, long time ago in a wee flat many miles away from Kingsleypark Manor, (Dundee's Hilltown to be exact) I should have been up to my ears with law books studying for my degree exams. But instead, I had been invited by Robert an on/off member of the Dundee University Wargames and Role Playing society to play a game that I had read about many times but had never yet seen in real life - "Squad Leader - The Game of Infantry Combat in WW2"

Robert brought out of his cupboard the orange and black box, with the sinister looking SS officer on the cover and on opening the box there were dozens of plastic baggies filled with 100's of counters, a fairly meaty looking rule book and 4 geomorphic hex boards.

One of the real innovations of Squad Leader was the "programmed instructions" layout of the rulebook. You only needed to read a certain number of rules to play the first scenario and once you were familiar with those you would read the next rules section in order to play the second scenario and so on. 

The base game was subsequently expanded with the release of the Cross of Iron, Crescendo of Doom and G.I. Anvil of Victory modules and as it happened Robert had all those modules too.
No, this is not a picture of the inside of Robert's cupboard but a picture of the Squad Leader shelf in the Cabin.

So we set to it and played through the first few scenarios and being the impatient gamers that we were, we were soon jumping through the scenarios introducing tanks, flame-throwers, cavalry and even a scenario where German motor-cycle side car riders were trying to capture the Dutch Royal Family (scenario 26 "Assault on a Queen" from the Crescendo of Doom module, if you are interested). Needless to say, I didn't get any studying done that day and so I was hooked and set about getting my own copies (which as you can see above, I managed to do).

Problem was, after finishing Uni the availability of opponents dried up and so for a few years the boxes stayed in the bottom of my cupboard. A move back to Brechin (my original home town) and I did get some games in against my bro but even those games stopped after a while so it must be over 25 years since I last played. 

G.I. Anvil of Victory was the last of the Squad Leader modules to be released. The fabled Pacific War supplement never appeared (although The Wargamer magazine (issue 30) did publish "Blood & Sand" which provided maps and scenarios for some Pacific Battles). Instead, Avalon Hill released "Up Front - The Squad Leader Card Game", a game that I had, played once and sold it and the Banzai expansion module a few years back for much gold. 

And then Avalon Hill released "Advanced Squad Leader". ASL, as it's known, effectively ended any further Squad Leader modules being released and has gone to become a hugely popular, game though with very detailed, micro managed rules. It is now a game series which according to Boardgamegeek now has 428 expansions! I have played a couple of scenarios from the ASL Starter Kit 1 but I found the whole thing too intimidating to invest in.

No. 2 son, Roo (not his birth name but that's what he likes to call himself) had been looking at my games shelf during the holidays last year and was making noises about trying some of those "hex and counter" games. We managed to get a game of Arnhem played (my very first hex and counter game as told about here (which lead me to buy another copy of the game for Roo to keep for himself) but between one thing and another we didn't get another hex and counter game played. Until last week.....

Having looked at the Squad Leader rule book and being unencumbered with rehearsals and the like, Roo announced that he would really like to give the game a go. So it was, that we set up the pieces for the first scenario - "The Guards Counterattack".

The objective of the scenario was for the Soviets (Roo) to capture 2 or more of the stone buildings initially occupied by the Germans (me) OR have a favourable 3:1 ratio of unbroken squads at the end of the scenario, which was to last 5 turns.

Roo wasted no time in opening fire with the 3 stacks of squads situated in the building in the top left corner of the board -

Whilst primarily an "IGO-UGO" system there is opportunity for defensive fire to take place during the opponent's turn. It is also pretty devastating being caught out in the open so when Roo attempted to move Colonel Berki and his 3 squads into hex E5 with the intention of forcing the Germans to retreat out of that building he hadn't realised he was in the line of fire of the German stack located in the large stone building in the middle of the board and with admittedly a very good roll on my part, the inevitable happened -
The late Colonel Berki 

The German turn saw the broken squads rally and in their "Prep Fire" phase cause more casualties to the Soviets so that at the end of the first turn the board looked like this -
The red counter are Soviet Squads which have gone "Berserk" as a result of rolling a "2" when testing morale. This means that they ignore all further morale checks but have to move towards the nearest enemy unit to engage them in close combat.

The casualty count at the start of turn 2

The Soviets pushed on to try and take the German held building on the left hand side of the board. Moving in to an adjacent hex to enemy units is always risky even with the benefit of cover but it didn't help the German cause when this happened -
The dreaded "box cars" result meaning that the 2 light machine guns in Sergeant Kelso's stack suffered a breakdown - not helpful when facing a possible close combat

Scene at the end of Turn 2 -

Turn 3 saw the Soviets assault Sergeant Kelso's hex but the combat was inconclusive and saw the two sides locked in combat. In the defensive fire phase the Germans saw matters swing to their advantage when the 2 stacks in the bottom right of the board opened fire on the Soviet squads in the building before them -
"Snake Eyes!" A welcome sight when you are the firing player.

The close combat in Sergeant Kelso's hex saw the 2 sides annihilating each other (close combat is very bloody if the rolls come off) so at the end of turn 3 the board looked like this -
Sergeant Kelso has fallen but now the Germans have advanced and are occupying one of the Soviet buildings, not good news for the Soviets!

The Casualty tally at the end of German turn 3

As the name of the game implies, Squad Leaders are key. If a squad breaks as a result of a failed morale check then only a Squad Leader can bring them back. At the start of turn 4, the Soviets only had one squad leader left and with a number of broken squads on the board, Roo felt he had to get that leader, Lieutenant Dubovich, to help those squads but again having to move into the open had predictable results and Lieutenant Dubovich, fell in a hail of bullets. With no way of bringing their broken squads back, victory was slipping away from the Soviets.

End of German Turn 4. The Soviets are running out of unbroken squads although they did have some success in capturing a German Heavy Machine Gun.

Casualty list at the start of Turn 5

With no hope of being able to achieve the victory condition, Roo took some comfort in trying to inflict some more casualties on the Germans and another German squad was KIA'd but it was too little, too late.

The board at the end of the game.

The casualty list.

Combat in Squad Leader can be extremely brutal. Cover is key and you have to protect your squad leaders otherwise your force will be eroded away too quickly as your squads fail their morale tests and can't recover. That may be one of the weaknesses of the game in that so much depends on the squad leader. I don't know if the rules in the later modules do anything about that - we'll have to keep playing to find out!!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Char B1 BIS by Warlord Games

Sometime ago, in a moment of impulse, I picked up a sizeable Early World War 2 German force in 28mm. Now in fairness to me, it wasn't quite an impulse buy as I knew TOOFAT Lardies were releasing their Blitzkreig 1940 supplement for their Chain of Command rules so to me it made sense to pick the Jerries up.

Until it then dawned on me that I didn't have any opposition for them.

So the Jerries have stayed in their carry case since their arrival, waiting for a worthy foe. However, hope was on the horizon as Christmas was coming up and a good selection of wargaming goodies can usually be expected to be delivered, so no better time than to decide on what army to ask Santa to bring.

Now those of you have read any of my previous ramblings will have surmised that my preferred go to army are the Brits, having forces, in 10mm, 20mm and 28mm, so you may have thought that I would have gone for a BEF force. Certainly that was my initial thought but, as usual, fate intervened and it was about this time that Warlord Games released their Battle of France for campaign supplement for Bolt Action and also released some new figures for their French forces along with a couple of army deals

So a quick note to Santa up the chimney (you all do that don't you?) and on the big day a whiff of garlic could be perceived coming from under the Christmas Tree...

So where to start? Well with the tank of course!

The Char B1-Bis had entered service with the French Army around 1936, replacing the Char B1, of which only a handful had been built. The newer model had increased armour and a more powerful engine. The hull of the tank was formed of cast sections, bolted together. The driver sat in the left of the hull and to his right was the fixed traverse 75mm cannon, which the driver operated. The turret was armed with a 47mm cannon and a 7.5mm machine gun. Another 7.5mm machine gun was located in the hull. The tank had a crew of 4 with a loader, wireless operator and commander in addition to the driver. The design, however, did suffer from a common flaw in French Tank design of the time in that it had a one man turret meaning the commander had to not only command the tank but load and fire the turret weaponry as well. 

The B1-Bis was heavily armoured and when the invasion of France began, the tank could withstand  fire from most of the German anti-tank weaponry of the time, with the exception of the 88mm flak gun, which the Germans also used in the anti-tank role. However, the tank was slow and the German Blitzkrieg tactics did expose this lack of manoeuvrability. It did impress the Germans enough, however, that after the surrender of the French forces the Germans made use of an number of the remaining B1-Bis, with some being converted into flamethrowers, the B1-Bis (Flamm). But I wasn't interested in such turncoat conversions, I needed the tank to support the brave infanterie resist the Boche.

So what's in the box?

An instruction booklet, two plastic frames of parts, a decal sheet, some data cards for Bolt Action rules and some damage markers (are they trying to tell me something?).

Some helpful advice

First up, the track assembly. Now I'm a lazy model maker but I'm also an impatient model maker as well and unless I take time to check the parts over and do a dry run then disaster has been known to happen when I find out I've stuck the wrong bits together. So it was helpful to see little helpful things like -
The hole in the sprocket wheel is shaped so that the inserted peg can only fit one way.

Helpful inserts for the track pieces to connect in to.

Track piece with the corresponding connector pegs

The completed track assemblies.

On to the next page!

As I was building the French version, there were only a couple of drill holes I need to make on the hull. The main gun assembly went together pretty easily.

Now to join the track assemblies to the hull. Again some helpful little connectors to make it obvious where the pieces are supposed to fit together -

Now starting to look like a tank

The next section - a number of options here depending on the model you are making - the French version is on the top of the page. Note for the German options the part numbered "56".

Now the turret and the commander!

The French Commander showing you need hands

The turret hatch door shown open or closed. However, there is a wee typo - the opened version should be numbered "58". Also note the parts numbered "4" - these are little hooks (grab handles?). Anyway they are tiny and the first one typically pinged off in to the ether when attempting to glue it on.

The finished model!

A fairly straightforward kit. Warlord used to make the kit in resin and I'm not a great fan of resin models so it was certainly much better in my mind being a plastic kit. Just a couple of fiddly bits during the build - making sure the top and bottom parts of the hull joined together without leaving a gap, the chain hanging off the back of the tank - make sure you give the hooks that it hangs from plenty of time to glue in to place and, those damned fiddly hooks on the turret.

I've also picked a model of the Somua S-35. It's a resin model though so I think I will try painting up some of the infantry first before I try tackling that.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

The Battle of Hel-Me Boab

Well it's been a long time in the waiting but finally the kingsleypark Desert Rats arrived at the sleepy wadi known as Hel-Me Boab, somewhere in the Western Desert. 

Their long R & R was about to come to an abrupt end, however, when the Dastardly Afrika Korps decided to break their duck and challenge the gallant Brits for the right to be top dog in the Cabin.

Except we weren't in the Cabin. 

Neil, Gary and I had decided to sally forth and set up battle in the home of the Angus Wargames Club, Forfar. Stevo should have been there as well but he was ill (apparently) so whilst Gary was left to fight a surreal German Civil War with his late War Germans against Lindsay's Early War Germans, Neil and I set the scene for a more historical match up. Except Neil's D.A.K aren't painted yet (well not his infantry) so I had to bring my D.A.K along to bolster Neil's vehicular contribution of his Panzer IV G, 2 trucks and a turretless Puma which he had to masquerade as a truck as his truck pusher (Kev) had failed to supply him with a third truck in time.

The once tranquil wadi of Hel-Me Boab, soon to become a Hell on Earth as British and German warriors clash for supremacy.

No, Stevo, it's not the German version of a Ram Kangaroo.

The brave British soldiers, ready to defend their cups of tea from the Hun.

We decided to randomly decide the scenario to fight so a quick roll of the dice revealed that the scenario was to be "Demolition" - each side to protect their base and try and get into contact with the enemy base. The important key word there is "contact".....

A sensible base guardian.

Hang on? Is that a medic with a gun??? Filthy Boche - no doubt more Hun tricks to come.

The Boche sniper trying to blend in with the scenery.
Game on!!

As usual, the first die out of the bag wasn't mine. Neil, with a decisive, tactical decision decided to shoot my Lee tank, with his Panzer IV G with predictable results -

Actually - it could have been worse - at least it hadn't blown up but for the rest of the game the two tanks traded shots with each other. At one point the Panzer having 8 pins on it until a jammy  fortuitous rally roll saved it's bacon.

The red marker of doom as the British Artillery Observer calls in the Arty strike.

Gunner Tommy Atkins turns away in disgust as another AT shot at the Panzer goes wide.....

In fairness to Neil, he did at least come forward, but of course, that was all part of my battle plan - to draw the Boche in, contain them, and then make a dash for his base for the win.

Wait a minute - there are supposed to be 5 guys in there? And where Moe is, is anyone's guess.....

The Brits start to take casualties but maintain their stiff upper lip.

Hurrah!! One dead truck!

The other German truck - which was the turretless Puma - but we swapped it when the first German truck got destroyed - so the turretless Puma became the wreck and the truck became the turretless Puma - makes a dash towards the British base. The brave British commander, Reginald Fforbes-Smithers and his trusty batman, Bert, lead an assault on the truck and stop it in it's tracks, I mean wheels. The German commander Von Plop bails out with his henchman Gustav and falls in a hail of British bullets. However, before Reginald could receive his DSO and bar for his bravery, he was cut down by the dastardly Hun appearing out of the rough ground.

Across on the right flank, the other German truck disposes of it's load in the middle of nowhere. The German mortar, however, continued to whittle away at the Tommies. However, the Tommies kept up their withering fire on the advancing Jerry squad.

And on the hill the British Machine gun and sniper team keep the Jerry head's down

Wait a minute.. Who is that running up from the rear? It's the gun toting medic. A whole series of failed activation rolls due to pins and the damned "Tiger fear" and the Brits were unable to stop the bounder running up and on the very last turn reaching the British base. Game over and a very dubious way for the Germans to win - but did we expect anything less??? (In fact it was such an underhand way to win that we forgot to take a picture of the medic's moment of glory).

And before you all start saying that under Bolt Action rules medic's can't control objectives the scenario win condition simply said get a unit in contact with the enemy base, so I couldn't even call foul for that either.

But well played Neil. We both found that we are still very, very rusty on the rules (first turn forgot all about tiger fear) and other gaffes along the way so we need to get more practice in to get back up to speed with the game. And i think it's important to emphasise the word game here. I don't think anyone would hold out Bolt Action as an accurate representation of infantry and armour tactics in WW2 and provided you approach the rules with that in mind it does provide a good enjoyable game. 

At least I could enjoy the moment when one German squad, when checking morale for activation, rolled FUBAR (that is, double 1) and then had to open fire on the nearest friendly unit which just happened to be the aforementioned Boche Sniper and destroyed it in the most effective German shooting of the night........ 
The Desert Rats will return.