Red Flags and Iron Crosses

Yesterday I happened to be looking back at the first few blog entries that I wrote. They were about the set of World War II rules that I was then developing … RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES: TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED.

Re-reading about my various play-tests, I realised that they were a better set of rules than I remembered them being. Perhaps I ought to give them another try sometime soon? In the meantime, here are some of the photographs I used to illustrate those early blog entries.

For those of you who like to know a bit more about the models etc. that I used, they were:

  • Terrain: Hexon II
  • Trees: Cheap model railways trees that I based after adding additional flock to the foliage
  • Buildings: N-gauge Hornby model railway buildings
  • Walls/Entrenchments: Hovels
  • Aircraft: Pre-painted models issued with a magazine part-work
  • Tanks: Corgi pre-painted models
  • Vehicle: Matchbox plastic kit
  • Artillery: Skytrex
  • Figures: Various manufacturers including Raventhorpe, Tumbling Dice, Skytrex, and Britannia

Painting figures: Another experiment … and some related thoughts

Since returning from our recent cruise I have been experimenting with the use of cheap acrylic craft paints to paint figures … and I am very pleased with the results.

Other than the primer, the following figure was painted using nothing but acrylic craft paint.

I decided not to use Nut Brown India Ink to ‘shade’ the figure … and I don’t think the figure looks any the worse for it … as the following comparison shows.

I am now thinking about using this simple technique to paint some more 20mm-scale figures.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about my Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War campaign project … and I began to come to the following conclusions.

  • I was going to have to ‘bath-tub’ the whole thing if I was ever going to be able to stop it becoming a monster … and that was a compromise that I was unsure about making.
  • In order to stop the cost of the project from escalating to a level I could not justify, I was going to use as much of what I already had in terms of figures and vehicles rather than start from scratch.

In the end I decided that realistically I was unlikely to ever fulfil my dreams of a full-blown Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War campaign, and that I had to rethink the whole thing.

At this point in my thinking I was reading through some of my old blog entries, particularly the play-test battles that I fought between Morschauserland and Eastland … and it made me wonder if I should consider rejigging the whole thing along similar imagi-nation lines. The pluses in favour of this are:

  • I already have an imagi-world with suitable imagi-nations. (This would enable me to avoid the ethical conundrum I would otherwise have to face regarding whether or not to wargame the politically/racially-motivated excesses committed by both sides during the real war.)
  • I would not be restricted to using specific model vehicles, aircraft, ships, figures, and even uniforms for my imagi-world version of the Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War. (I recently ‘found’ a large number of Spanish Civil War figures that I could use for smaller allied contingents and/or militia.)
  • I could use one or more of the sets of wargame rules that I already have to hand including:

The negatives are:

  • That I doubt that I could find a regular opponent to control one of the two sides … but as most of my wargaming is done solo, this is not a major consideration.
  • That it might not be seen as ‘proper’ wargaming by some people within the hobby … but I have been around long enough not to worry too much about what those sort of people think any more.

I am not fully committed to this course of action as yet … but the more I think about it, the more attractive it becomes.

The Battle of Novagrad (My Featherstone Memorial Wargame)

The following is a battle report of my Featherstone Memorial Wargame. It was fought using the latest version of RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED, a set of wargames rules that were inspired by the early rules written by Lionel Tarr and Donald Featherstone.

I designed the battlefield using Cyberboard

… and set it up using my Hexon II terrain.

The opposing forces were the Germans (who are advancing) …

… and the Russians (who are defending).

The Russians have been tasked with holding Novagrad ‘to the last man and the last bullet!’ and are heeding Comrade Stalin’s order ‘Not one step back!’, knowing that to do so will probably mean death to those that retreat … and to their families as well.

The battle began when the Germans began their advance through the village of Mayalova …

and on towards Novagrad.

At this point the Russian anti-tank unit fired at the leading German tank unit … and missed!

The Russian field gun unit (whose fire was being directed by the troops in the forward defences) also opened fire on the leading tank …

… and destroyed it!

The Germans reacted by turning off the road and attacking the nearby Russian defences …

.. with quite devastating results.

The Russian anti-tank unit could not engage the leading German tank as it was outside its arc-of-fire, but the Russian field gun unit did fire at it … and missed!

The Germans then split their attack in two. Whilst the tanks and half the infantry moved forward on the left, the rest began to advance on the left of the road.

The leading German tank unit moved into close range and engaged the Russian infantry …

… and caused further casualties.

On the right the German heavy machine gun unit (which had not moved) fired at the Russian troops who were manning the nearby defences …

… and despite the fact that it was firing at long range, it wiped them out!

The Russian response was to move two of its infantry units forward.

The Germans maintained their advance and on the left …

… they overran the Russian defences, killing the remaining defenders in the process.

The Russians response was to open fire on the leading German tank unit with both their anti-tank gun and field gun … and missed!

The German advance continued inexorably …

… and the sound of the tank engines was soon joined by that of a Ju87 Stuka!

The leading German tank unit engaged the Russian field gun unit …

… and killed half of the unit’s personnel.

At the same time the German heavy machine gun unit that was to the left of the road engaged the Russian anti-tank gun unit at long range …

… and wiped out the unit’s soldiers.

On the right a firefight took place between the advancing German infantry and the Russian infantry occupying the defences.

Both sides suffered casualties as a result of this firefight …

… and when the right-hand German heavy machine gun joined in the fighting …

… the Russian defenders were wiped out.

The Stuka flew straight towards Novagrad, diving down as it did …

… and wiping out the remaining personnel of the Russian field gun unit.

The remaining Russian troops charged forward to engage the Germans …

… but they were wiped out in the subsequent fighting. Novagrad was in German hands … but their victory had come at a price.

Tweaking Tarred and Featherstoned

It is quite a few years since I last took a detailed look at my RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED wargames rules … and on re-reading them I was pleasantly surprised to see how they ‘stood up’ in comparison to my more recent efforts.

I could not, however, resist the temptation to make some changes. Some were to insert clarifications that were otherwise missing, some were grammatical or typographical errors that needed to be corrected, and one was to change the turn sequence so that it used playing card tiles rather than small playing cards.

If I get a chance I would also like to re-format the rules in line with the current style that I use. At present the rules look very wordy, and it is not always easy to find various rule mechanisms and any relevant data that might be needed to use them. In addition the first section of the current rules has information about units that should be in an appendix rather than in the main body of the rules. Likewise the examples of each weapon and aircraft type should be in an appendix to the rules and not cluttering up the Movement section of the main rules. This may appear to be an exercise in cosmetics, but I have found that the easier it is to find and use rules mechanisms, the less likely players are to make mistakes.

Tarred and Featherstoned

I wrote the second entry for this blog on 19th September 2008, and its topic was the recent re-publication of Donald Featherstone’s WAR GAMES by John Curry. It spurred me to write a set of wargame rules entitled RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED, and most of the blog entries I wrote during that September were about the rules and the play-tests that I ran to test them.

Donald Featherstone’s death has made me look back at those rules … and doing that has helped me to realise how much I enjoyed using them. I know that quite a few wargamers are planning to fight battles using Don’s rules as a tribute to him. I have decided that my tribute will be to fight a battle using my RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED wargames rules.

It may be some days before I can set up my battle, so in the meantime here are some of the photographs I used to illustrate the blog entries I wrote about the RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED play-tests.

Play-test 1

Play-test 2

Play-test 3

Play-test 4

Play-test 5

Looking at these photographs has reminded me of how much fun I had play-testing the rules … and I hope that my tribute wargame will be just as good. If it is, it will serve as a great personal memorial to everything Donald Featherstone did for my development as a wargamer.

SALUTE 2006: Red Flags & Iron Crosses

During 2006 I worked on a set of World War II rules that were designed so that it was possible to fight small World War II Ostfront battles between Axis and Soviet forces. The title of the rules was RED FLAGS & IRON CROSSES.

The duration of the sort of action they were supposed to portray was about an hour or so, and that was roughly how long the games took to play. They were designed to be used with 20mm scale figures and vehicles, and made use of my (then) newly-acquired Hexon II terrain. I demonstrated the draft version of the rules at SALUTE 2006, and a more polished and complete version at COW2006.

The following photographs were taken at SALUTE 2006.

Soviet infantry and armour move forward. 

The Soviets have already run into trouble. The Commander has been ‘disrupted’ and this will affect his ability to move and fight.

The Soviet attackers have overwhelming firepower but are having problems dislodging their German opponents.

The Soviet troops attempted to outflank the German defences.

The Soviets lost one of their T-34/85s during the fighting.

The Germans have been pushed back and both their tanks have been ‘disrupted’.

In the end sheer weight of numbers prevailed … but the Soviet victory was not achieved without losses.

Even more rules added to the Free Downloadable Wargames Rules page

During the ongoing search of my archive of home-grown wargame rules I have found the version of RED FLAGS & IRON CROSSES that I demonstrated at SALUTE 2006 and the subsequent COW2006.

I have added the full text and the playsheet to the Free Downloadable Wargames Rules page on this blog, and I hope that readers will find them interesting.

Nugget 130 … A particularly good issue

In preparation for yesterday’s blog entry, I read through NUGGET No.130 … and realised that it contained an article that had important ramifications for my subsequent wargame designs. The article was written by Ian Drury and was a report about a session he had run at the previous COW (Conference of Wargamers). The report – which was entitled ‘Return to New Stanhall’ – described his game about an opposed landing in the South Pacific during the Second World War, and included a complete set of rules.

During the following year I developed Ian’s rules into a set of Colonial wargames rules called SCWaRes (Simple Colonial Wargames Rules) that used a gridded playing surface. I demonstrated SCWaRes at a subsequent COW, and I began to be convinced that this was they way forward for my future wargame designs.

A photograph of my very first play-test of the rules that eventually became SCWaRes.

A photograph of one of the battles fought as part of the Mirkat Campaign. The rules used were the final version of SCWaRes.

Over the next few years I continued to develop my ideas, influenced by Ian Drury and Richard Brook’s RED SQUARES rules (e.g. REDCOATS AND DERVISHES) and by Mike & Joyce Smith’s TABLE TOP BATTLES: TABLE TOP WARGAMING WITH MINIATURES. The end result of this process was WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!

The next major ‘leap forward’ was my re-discovery of Joseph Morschauser’s book, HOW TO PLAY WAR GAMES IN MINIATURE. The illustrations of Morschauser’s battles fought on a gridded battlefield spurred me on to research further into his wargame designs … and these researches were incorporated into John Curry’s re-print of Morschauser’s book and subsequently to my latest opus THE PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

And to think that all this began thirteen years ago!

Operational-level Wargame Design 11: Some thoughts about the play-test

Although the play-test went well, and none of the mechanisms used in the rules failed to work, there were some aspects of the play-testing that I was unhappy with. These are:

  • Prepared defences were not strong enough. The results of artillery fire seemed to be much more effective than I had expected. Admittedly the Russians were fielding considerably more artillery than the German (a ratio of 6:1) but I would have expected that troops in prepared defences would have suffered fewer casualties than they did. I am therefore considering increasing the transient effect of a unit being in defence works from – 2 to – 4. This change would not have altered the results obtained during the play-test but would have made the results much closer than they were.
  • The length of the battle was very short. The play-test lasted one turn*, although I could have played out at least one more turn to obtain a definite result had I needed to. At present the battle should last 12 turns; I think that this could easily be reduced to 6 without any serious impact on the overall game.
  • The number of activation cards does not give tactical flexibility. There are two ways that I could go with this. I could either have activation cards for each regiment – which might have made the battle somewhat more disjointed than it was – or I could follow the example set by SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES and have several activation cards for each formation in the pack. Once the pack was used up, the game would be at an end. The latter would make for a more interesting and less predictable game but might not be to everyone’s taste.

Other things that struck me were:

  • It would have looked better if the bases had a larger number of smaller figures and vehicles on them. Possibly I could have used 15mm or 10mm models and figures on the bases to make them more aesthetically pleasing to look at. I don’t have either but it is worth thinking about for the long-term if I decide to fight lots of operational-level games.
  • The use of both a D12 and D10 for the different nationalities worked without any problems but did not have too significant an impact on the results.
  • The game was enjoyable … but it lacked the Old School ‘fun’ element of RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES – TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED. It is usable for re-fighting historical operations but may be too serious for everyday wargames.

*After finishing the play-test proper I did play the battle to a conclusion before packing everything away. In fact the Germans managed a fighting retreat off the tabletop although it was a close run thing. This was possible because their activation card came out first during the second and third turns, which allowed them to move away from the attacking Russians. In addition, the Russian threw some appallingly bad dice scores for the rest of the game.

Operational-level Wargame Design 4: Why activation cards?

Other than in a real-time computer simulation, it is almost impossible to design a wargame without having to make compromises as to who can do what and when they can do it.

Basically it comes down to a choice between two alternatives:

  • ‘I go; you go’;
  • Simultaneous movement.

Over many years I have played – and designed – wargames using both of these alternatives, but I have never felt satisfied with the results.

If the ‘I go; you go’ method is used, it can lead to one side standing around waiting for their turn whilst the other side moves it forces and initiates combat; this is both boring and not conducive to ‘fun’ wargaming. If the ‘simultaneous movement’ method is used, it is crucial that players are very specific in what they intend to happen when they write down their orders, otherwise games seem to dissolve into series of acrimonious arguments. In addition, neither system works if – like me – a lot of your wargaming is done solo.

The first alternative method to these two mainstays of wargames design that I ever incorporated into one of my own designs was copied from an idea in John Sandars’ AN INTRODUCTION TO WARGAMING (1975). He used a numbered counter system to determine the order in which units were activated during each turn. At the beginning of each turn the players picked the same number of numbered counters out of a bag as units they commanded. They then allocated a numbered counter to each unit in the order that they wanted that unit to be activated during the turn. When the turn began, the unit with number ‘1’ was activated, then ‘2’, and so on until each unit had been activated. The counters were then collected back in and put back into the bag for the next turn.

This modified version of ‘I go; you go’ seemed to overcome some of the problems generated by the conventional ‘I go; you go’ system, although lovers of ‘simultaneous movement’ still objected to it. Furthermore, unless the numbered counters were picked out of the bag ‘blind’ and allocated to units unseen, it did not work well in solo games.

The next method I used was developed from ideas that I first read in Larry Brom’s THE SWORD AND THE FLAME. This method used a pack of playing cards where one side was allocated ‘red’ and the other ‘black’. The playing cards were shuffled, and when a ‘red’ card was turned over, the ‘red’ side could activate a unit, and when a ‘black’ card was turned over, the ‘black’ side could activate a unit. This continued until all the playing cards had been turned over, at which point they were reshuffled and play continued.

This ‘continuous movement’ system did seem to work well with both face-to-face and solo wargames, and I used it in BUNDOCK AND BAYONETS and RESTLESS NATIVES. However some players objected to the idea that one unit could – if the turn of cards allowed it – be activated several times one after another.

Richard Brooks and Ian Drury (both of whom are fellow members of Wargame Developments) then introduced me to a different method of using playing cards to determine the order in which units were activated. They used the smallest playing cards that are generally available (they are specially produced for the card game ‘Solitaire’). The cards were shuffled and then dealt face down to each unit on the table, and once dealt, they were turned over. The unit that had been dealt the playing card with the lowest value was activated first, then the unit with the next lowest value playing card, and so on until all the units that could be activated had been activated. This system worked extremely well, and gave the feeling of ‘continuous movement’ without allowing a unit to be activated time and time again before their opponents could respond. I was so impressed with what became a standard element of all the RED SQUARE wargame designs that I have used it in almost all my wargame designs of recent years, including RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES and REDCOATS AND NATIVES.

My only objection to this system is an aesthetic one; I don’t like having the playing cards on the tabletop. I therefore looked around for an alternative that would do the same job but would not require me to deal playing cards onto the tabletop. After a couple of false starts I came up with the concept of activation cards.

Each unit has an activation card that bears its name. These are printed onto business cards using an inkjet printer, and are then laminated. When a unit is deployed onto the tabletop, its activation card is added to the pack of activation cards that will be used for this wargame. The pack is shuffled, and when a unit’s activation card is turned over, that unit is activated.

It is worth noting that a variation of this system was used for SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES, the main difference being that instead of unit activation cards, there were commander activation cards.

This system has worked well in play-tests, and it is the system that I will be using in my operational-level wargame design.