Sunday, 24 September 2017

The 2017 U-Boat Railway Station Board

Starting to play test the board
We have been planning a new board for this season's public participation games fr some time. The core idea was to have a board which provided the following features:

  1. A certain "Wow!" factor which would attract visitors to investigate the game further.
  2. Lots of tactical options
  3. An excuse to show off some of our newer buildings and scenery
  4. A fun board with plenty of tense moments.
This is in line with our article on How to Run A Public Participation Game.

Here is the link to a couple of short videos we put up about this board as it was too large to capture in one or two photos:
U-Boat Railway Station Board Overview

U-Boat Railway Station - a look inside


Our first play-test had the road down the middle with the Railway Station and Stone Hotel opposite each other along the long edge. While this worked in the game it had one major failing.
The Russians have the Cafe. The Germans really want their coffee.

It's a long way to reach over the Railway Station
No-one actually fought in the buildings other than the cafe. Now that is a waste of good playing real-estate!
So the board has been reconfigured.
Now the Railway Station bisects the board and there are reasons to go into lots of buildings. Now that should make for suitably deadly encounters all over the board!
The other innovation we are experimenting with this time around is to have differing size paired enemy forces with non-synchronised game turns. This means that we will have 8 dice armies (about 900 points) for those that can play longer (about 2 to 2.5 hrs) and smaller starter armies of 5 dice (500 pts) for those that can only play 1 to 1.5 hours.
The forces can still fire at the enemies and work with their allies, but they will find that one pair f players may be at turn 5 and another at turn 2. Other than a most enjoyable chaos and interesting situations, players pairs joining in on an already active board are treated as "reinforcements". We expect to see a longer game in progress and in the middle a shorter player pair starts and finishes before they have completed their game! We'll see how this all works in the real world, but it looks interesting enough to try.
The reason we want to attempt this is so that more people can experience the fun that is Bolt Action wargaming.
The Australians are rushing through the Station gardens
Often visitors to conventions or events only have a limited time to play. "Just give us an hour and you'll get a good taste of how this works," we'll say and once they are in we are sure they will get a taste for more.
As always we provide all the armies and everything required to play.
You will note we haven't added any of the free stuff like Artillery observers or free armies. This is because the games are for new players and the game results in this style of game can be really badly impacted by the apparent imbalances of the free stuff on smaller armies. When they play a proper 1,000 point or greater game then these are all put back into play.

Here are some of the armies we will be using:
Finally not afraid of the pseudo-Tiger, the Allies attack

1 Hour (5 Dice) Armies

500 point 1 Hour Germans

85 First Lieutenant and Buddy
123 Heer Grenadiers (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Heer Grenadiers (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
125 Heer Veterans (SMG, LMG, 6 Rifles)
50 MMG Team
508 Total: 5 Dice

500 Point 1 Hour British

85 First Lieutenant and Buddy
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
125 Veteran Infantry (SMG, LMG, 6 Rifles)
50 MMG Team
508 Total: 5 Dice

500 point 1 Hour French

85 First Lieutenant and Buddy
120 Regular Infantry (LMG, 9 Rifles)
120 Regular Infantry (LMG, 9 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
42 Veteran Renault FT tank
507 Total: 6 Dice
Reworking of the board

A Dalek bringing Tea to the Railway Station

500 point 1 Hour French

85 First Lieutenant and Buddy
120 Regular Infantry (LMG, 9 Rifles)
120 Regular Infantry (LMG, 9 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
42 Veteran Renault FT tank
507 Total: 6 Dice
Pz IV and Cromwell facing it off down the road
An Aerial shot of the board

The FT17 "Tank of Fear" fits in the doors of the Railway Station.

500 point 1 Hour Russian

95 First Lieutenant and 2 Buddies
143 LMG Squad (SMG, 2 LMG, 7 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
70 Inexperienced Infantry (10 Rifles)
55 MMG Team with Gun Shield
503 Total: 6 Dice
The view from the U-Boat tower.

2 Hour (8 Dice) Armies

900 Point 2 Hour German

85 First Lieutenant and Buddy
123 Heer Grenadiers (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Heer Grenadiers (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
119 Volks Grenadier (5 AssR, LMG, 2 Rifles, 2 PzFst)
119 Volks Grenadier (5 AssR, LMG, 2 Rifles, 2 PzFst)
50 MMG Team
50 Sniper Team
235 Panzer IV H
904 Total: 8 Dice

900 Point 2 Hour Australian

95 First Lieutenant and 2 Buddies
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
123 Regular Infantry (SMG,LMG, 8 Rifles)
50 MMG Team
60 Medium Mortar Team with Spotter
205 Cromwell Tank
902 Total: 8 Dice


900 Point 2 Hour USA

85 First Lieutenant and 2 Buddies
120 Regular Infantry (2 BAR, 9 Rifles)
120 Regular Infantry (2 BAR, 9 Rifles)
120 Regular Infantry (2 BAR, 9 Rifles)
120 Regular Infantry (2 BAR, 9 Rifles)
50 MMG Team
50 MMG Team
230 Sherman M4A1
905 Total: 8 Dice

Overall we are looking at having a very busy time!

The conventions we will be attending are:
MOAB - Mother Of All Battles 30 Sep and 1 Oct 2017
Little Wars Canberra 12 November 2017
Goulburn Library 4 November 2017
CanCon 2018 Australia Day 2018


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Now That is What I Call a Railway Station

We have just completed a marvellous MDF building kit from Things from the Basement "20th Century Railway Station".
This is a wargamer's building - tough, transportable, multi level with stairs and lots of places to place your models. It comes as unpainted laser cut MDF with instructions you can download from their web site.
45 inches - Infantry take four turns to traverse this station
This is definitely an advanced kit, part of the "Master Builder Series". It is not too difficult, but there is a lot to do. One suggestion I have already made to the very helpful guys from Things From The Basement is to number the pieces and match the part numbers to the instructions.
We started on the left hand tower and once we mastered that the concepts all flowed through to the rest of the building.
I'm about to start my game long charge!

I can see you but you're out of range.
This is actually five buildings in one. The left and right towers, the two connecting halls and then the main hall.
For this building we decided to approach it different to our normal impatient method. Rather than just building then try painting it afterwards, we did most of the painting and other effects before we glued it all together.
Instead of painting the floors I made some "tiles" by using Pages and creating a multi coloured grid of main tiles, with the alternate darker tiles having a train wheel in the centre.
Then we made some smaller light and dark green "tiles" for the edges and some black and white squares for the entrances, stair landings and ticket booths.
Just add trains.

Multi Level with stairs, hand rails and balcony
We thought a logo would look grand so I found a stylistic rose, duplicated and mirrored it and added the initials "TDG" - The Demo Gamers.
The effect worked.
We used a variety of colours from sample paint pots you can obtain from the paint or hardware stores. These are inexpensive and can be whatever colour you request.
The hardest decision was what colour to paint the train station. This led to a search on the Internet for train stations.
By accident we stumbled across the Dunedin train station in New Zealand. Click the link. It's an amazing station. Now we had the concept and just had to put it in place.
Lots of windows and doors to fire from.

The Main Hall with ticket booths, telephone booth and clock.
Initially we were just going to paint the stone parts a dark grey, but my son said we should make it look more like stone. So back to computer I went. I found a sample stone picture, duplicated and meshed it all together so I had a full page of stonework.
Then we painted all the interior walls a beige colour and applied the stonework to the outside. The floors were all prepared with our tile-work, painted with a satin varnish to both make it look better, but more importantly, protect it from dust and marks.
Then the walls went up and already we had a great start.
My wife and daughters helped in painting all the white facings and trim and the red roofs.
As each part was completed we put it all together. Although there was a delay in getting the building constructed as we had to paint the parts first, the result was a much cleaner production. The white trim could be painted without worrying about marking adjoining walls and the results are really crisp. It also meant that younger hands and older eyes could easily paint the parts.
As you can see there are A LOT of windows and trim!
The final stage were the main hall ticket booths, telephone box and signs.
The telephone booth had to be blue of course and the ticket booths were green as that is the sample pot colour we had at hand. Once more it was all painted and prepared before we glued each part in place. Then we just touched up the edges. The door handles and clock hands are separate pieces which meant we could paint them gold/brass and glue them in place making it all very neat.
I didn't bother using the laser cut writing on the signs as I would never be able to get this straight or neat enough. So back to the computer to create the lettering.
I also found a clock face with no hands and roman numerals which I scaled appropriately and glued in place.
After each of the signs and clock were in place we also varnished them for safety and then glued in place.
The longest search was for a suitable looking train timetable. I found one which we used but even scaled down to 28mm scale it is still readable (with good eyes or my favourite tool, a photo and then zoom on the screen). It's a pity the French train station has trains departing for Salisbury, but I suspect all trains are delayed by the war.
Overall this is a great model and am very glad that the early draft version had been used in game and shared on the Bolt Action Facebook page. This led me to track down the production model, make a very reasonable deal with the guys to send it all the way to Australia and then plan our construction.
I think your train may be late.
This Railway Station will be taking a key role in the upcoming public participation games we will be running over the rest of this year. Stay tuned for more details.
We will also be updating our Bolt Action building considerations. This is definitely not a standard size building in normal game terms!
(Note these building considerations will be updated to take into account the fine changes to buildings in Bolt Action v2 very shortly)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Updated Black Powder Index, Huzzah!

We can now find the rules quickly, Huzzah!
We have updated our Index for the Black Powder Rulebook.
A couple of alternate lookup terms have been added, and the page numbers of rules contained the the Albion Triumphant Supplements 1 and 2 are included.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Black Powder - the next Boot Camp from the Demo Gamers

British Riflemen shoot at French Skirmishers
Yesterday I was treated to a most enjoyable game of Black Powder by a fellow gamer and his son. They both got into wargaming after one of our early Bolt Action Boot Camps and play World War II wargames as well as Napoleonic.
My vision of Napoleonic gaming has always been of grand majestic battles spanning large tables and taking a ponderous time to complete.
Not so with Black Powder from Warlord Games.
In this battle, my main army comprised four battalions of British Line infantry, a Rifle Battalion, an Artillery battery with the Brigade commander and General. I had additional reinforcements of similar size that would come on in turn six.
My excellent opponent commanded similar French forces with four line battalions, skirmishers and an artillery battery with Brigade commander and General, plus he had reinforcements of similar size.
My riflemen were hidden on the board and his skirmishers were at the crossroads. Soon enough I revealed my position by shooting at him - as one does. And then the action came thick and fast!

My always smiling, yet challenging, French Opponent
His French line raced up to the river's edge and then my forces started to arrive. Shortly afterwards the rest of my forces arrived and I defended my little area behind the fordable river.
His General then commanded two of his battalions to advance on my right flank but he rolled a 12 - a blunder. His two battalions did a quick charge right into my thin red line! I was stunned at how quick the game moved.
My Red Jackets defended well, forcing the first battalion back. The second battalion was unable to contact in his turn, so when it came my turn I charged him. I did not have enough options to change formation so I just charged in Line formation, hitting both his front and side.
It worked, so I'm not complaining and with a little help from the riflemen the two very brave (or foolish) French units were destroyed.
Suddenly my opponent was faced with the imminent collapse of his French forces.

Two British Lines charge the exposed French column

Luckily his reinforcements arrived and rather than contest my right flank he reinforced the crumbling main attack. Boom! Suddenly there they were on my flank getting all these enfilade fire bonuses. Aargh.
Somehow I was able to fail just enough to force a falling back which is just what I wanted for the exposed two battalions. And then with some very handy moves and dice rolls I forced the French over the edge and they ran, forcing the reinforcements to fall back as well.
The English had held their positions and jeered at their retreating foes.
But more importantly we both won. The game was enjoyable and could have gone either way at many points. My pre-conceptions regarding Musket Era wargaming was shaken and I now had the perfect game with which we can use to train new players.


Aargh! The French rush up and attack my flank.
We are now working with my fellow gamers so that at future Demo Gamers Boot Camps we will have Bolt Action AND Black Powder games for the public to try.
Why do we reckon Black Powder is the perfect set of rules to use for demo games?
My Napoleonic guys are coming out of the closet.

  1. The rules are simple and easy to learn
  2. A game can successfully be completed in 2.5 hours
  3. A force of 4 line battalions, Skirmishers, Artillery, Brigade Commander and General is enough troops to learn the rules and have various tactical challenges.
  4. Action happens quickly and your choices impact the results. It is not just a game of rolling dice.
  5. The game teaches you about history and demonstrates historical tactics and strategy without excess complications
Naturally, the first thing we have done is create an Index for the rules. You can download a copy from here. Just print it at 100% and it fits beautifully in the inside back or front covers.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bolt Action 2 is an excellent upgrade - Except for one thing

Tanks are about - the buildings are a trap!

See - even BB8 isn't smiling
The 2nd edition of the Bolt Action WWII rules is an excellent improvement.
Of course, you really need to get the index to find all the rules when you need them (from right here).
We have just completed our second Bolt Action Boot Camp at Cancon 2017 and helped 24 players learn Bolt Action. It was great fun and the changes made in the 2nd edition have really helped iron out many areas which were under or over powered. Since the 2nd edition was released we have run three boot camps (MOAB 2016, Little Wars 2016 and Cancon 2017) plus many practice games at our club and at home.

Some of the improvements (in no particular order) are:

HE vs Buildings - Buildings are great defence against infantry fire, but less of a bunker with a -1 to the kill chance. However when and HE is around it is better to not be in buildings. This changes strategy for the better as men are in and out of buildings depending on the situation, providing for a bigger variety of tactical choices.
DOWN order - now a -2 to hit and if you keep the DOWN order at the end of the turn you remove D3 pins, makes DOWN a valid option. If you do find yourself trapped in a building with a HE weapon against you, going down can reduce casualties in half so you can see them just hunkering down and trying to withstand the storm.
RALLY order - Now very worthwhile. You still use a turn to refresh and get back on track, but one turn in a 6 turn game is a big deal. The unit that is easily pinned  still can't do what it wants and the RALLY allows it to attempt some sort of comeback.
AMBUSH order - IF nothing moves in your cleverly placed Ambush, you can still try and give it a shot at the end of the turn.
RECCE changes - made it a more realistic option and reduced the old "whack-a-mole" method of fighting a Recce vehicle.
YOU MAN, Snap to Action - A verbose named rule which we shorten to "Come with Me" or something similar, this totally changes how we use HQ units. It is now well worth paying for a Level 2 Lieutenant. +2 to morale and can activate 2 other units (Germans get 3). We really like how this played out in our games.
LMG/MMG dice - The extra dice for LMGs and MMGs make them better value and more feared.
ASSAULT Rifle - dropping the range to 18" was a good move. Often in an Advance situation, the riflemen had a -1 for moving and the Assault rifles a -1 for long range.
PINTLE Weapons - making the tank Open Topped if they fire their pintle mounted weapons was another good change which made those American HMGs think twice before blasting away.
All these and more are great and worthwhile changes which affect the game in positive ways.

However there is one change that we have decided is a problem.

TEMPLATES

In every other area of Bolt Action placement of individual figures is not critical. If one guy is in range or touches something it is assumed they all are. To determine hits, just roll dice and the game moves on quickly. But now, using templates the game stops, you hold the template over the figures, place it several times to see the maximum number of figures you touch, negotiate with the opponent and then roll to kill.
Consider the photo examples on pages 69 and 70 in the rule book. I reckon that careful placing of the template in Diagram 9A could result in 4 hits if the template is moved a little upwards, touching 4 bases. Diagram 9B now shows that modelling a gun and crew has to consider templates rather than aesthetic concerns which degrades from the game. In Diagram 10, moving the double template upwards should touch 4 models too.
So even from the 3 examples in the book we have 3 problems. How much longer does it take to manipulate a template over the figures with issues of placement of your eye on figures in difficult to reach places on the well terrained board? Roll dice - seconds. Place and re-place template, negotiate with opponent, leave sour taste if you win the argument - minutes.
If the board uses scenery well, the figures are placed where they can and we should assume they are placed in various positions around the cover. But the Template insists they are where they are. If you just pile them into a small space because the bases are too big, a nasty template user can say he touches 8 guys using his 1" circle because that is how they are placed.
Our experience using templates over the last thirty or so public and other private games, with over 50 different players, have resulted in our following experiences:
1. Templates break from the simplicity of the game in determining number of hits.
2. They break from the ease of play by stressing exact placement of figures in this one single area.
3. They are a point of contention and potential disagreement which a simple dice roll avoided in the past
4. It's another bit of equipment you need beyond the dice and tape measure
5. It slows down the combat resolution
6. Have you tried looking straight down on figures in the middle of the board?
So, in future Bolt Action Boot Camps we will NOT be using templates. Instead we will use the casualty calculation of HE vs men in buildings. (HE Chart Page 70) This means combat resolution will be streamlined and potential contentions removed.
Roll to hit, roll to determine number of hits, roll to kill, roll for Pins. Resolution over in under a minute. Contention points reduced to zero.


Friday, 13 January 2017

Maginot Line December 1944

A little probe from the first Germans
It's that time of year and we are getting ready for a new Bolt Action Boot Camp at Cancon 2017 over the Australia Day weekend Fri 27 and Sat 28 January.
This year we are trying a few new ideas.
Firstly the key to a good game with enough variety in the time available is not just the points, but more the dice count.
Secondly in the past we have kept the multiple player matches aligned so that each pair of players share a dice bag but wait for the other player's to finish before the next turn starts. We are trying some flexibility by having 2 games on the same 8 x 4 board which is really two 4 x 4 boards joined together. This way we can start a game as soon as we rest after the previous one.
A little counter probe from the US
This side
And that side

Background:

In December 1944 the Maginot Line near the border of France and Germany was basically a shell of it's former "glory". Having been bypassed in 1940 and forced to surrender when race surrendered it had never been tested. By 1944 it had been stripped of most of it's guns but still formed a formidable fortress.
The Germans did not like a static defence and so used the fortress as storage rather than a place to hold and preferred the areas around the fortress so they could stage their favourite tactic of counter attacking and fluid defence.
(More information can be found at Military History Online - a fascinating read.)
We also first heard about this series of battles in the amazing book Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck.

The Game:

We have two armies for each of the Germans and the US. One a lighter force of 750 points and the other tougher with some armour of 1,100 points. To simplify the game each half of the board has two objectives and both sides start from the edges.

Germany - 750 points:

85 - First Lt + Minion (Regular)
2 x 127 - Volks Grenadier (9 men: NCO Assault Rifle, 1 LMG, 4 Assault Rifles, 3 Rifles, 2 PzFaust)
30 - Medic (Veteran)
2 x 120 - Heer Regular (10 Men: NCO Rifle, 1 LMG, 8 Rifles)
50 - MMG Team (Regular)
95 - Sdkfz 222 (Regular)
754 Points - 8 Dice

US - 750 Points:

85 - First Lt + Minion (Regular)
4 x 120 - US Regular (11 Men: NCO Rifle, 2 x BAR, 8 x Rifle)
50 - MMG Team (Regular)
135 - M8 Armoured Car (Regular - With Pintle HMG)
750 Points - 7 Dice

Germany - 1,100 points:

95 - First Lt + 2 Minions (Regular)
2 x 185 - Heer Veterans (10 men: NCO Assault Rifle, 2 x LMG, 7 x Rifle, 2 x PzFaust)
30 - Medic (Veteran)
2 x 135 - Heer Grenadier (Regular) (10 Men: NCO Assault Rifle, 1 LMG, 8 Rifle, 2 x zFaust)
245 - PzIVH with Schurzen (Regular)
89 - Sdkfz 251 Hanomag (Regular)
1099 points - 8 Dice

US - 1,100 points

85 - First Lt + Minion (Regular)
2 x 208 - Paratrooper Veteran (12 men: NCO Rifle, 2 x LMG, 9 x Rifle)
2 x 110 - Regular Infantry (10 Men: NCO Rifle, 2 x BAR, 7 x Rifle)
60 - Bazooka Team (Regular)
230 - M4A1 Sherman with Pintle HMG (Regular)
99 - M3 Half Track with Pintle HMG (Regular)
1,110 points - 8 Dice

Now for the play-testing tomorrow!

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