Sunday, 23 April 2017

CoC Game Aids and more for Jhamjar

As part of getting ready for my first attempt at playing Too Fat Lardies' Chain of Command, I have prepared a few game aids.  Apologies for the poor quality photos, I had to wait until late at night to set up an impromptu photo shoot!

CoC requires markers to track 'shock' on a unit.  I'd prefer not to have plastic or paper chits scattered around my tabletop battlefields, so I am going to use a substitution.  Years ago, when I played Contemptible Little Armies, I used bases of rats to represent pinned units (which at the time seemed quite fitting for trench warfare on the Western Front).  I'd roll out the rats again but since there likely won't be enough bases to meet game needs, I'll start instead with sheep and goats.  Shocked units will be followed around by small herds of ungulates that will gradually increase as their fighting ability diminishes!  A single animal will represent a single point of shock, and bases with multiple animals will represent multiple shock points. I'm looking forward to innuendo about the affinity of certain units to large numbers of livestock.

CoC provides a sheet to be printed out for tracking 'Force Morale' and 'Chain of Command' points.  The problem with putting markers on a sheet is that it can easily be bumped during play, leading to discussions about whether that marker was on 10 or 5.  Based on an idea from another blog, I've cobbled together these boards from foamcore and cork.  Force morale can be tracked by push pins, which (in theory at least) won't be accidentally moved.  Chain of Command points will accumulate on the top track, with a CoC die or token being earned each time the points reach the magic number (6).

Another CoC marker is needed to show when a unit is on overwatch.  I'd considered using figures like these to show that the unit has been instructed to keep watch over a particular arc, but I think they'd be too easily confused with squaddies.  

So instead I've made these ones.  They look like game tokens, they'll certainly do the job (at least for the first game), but I hope that eventually I'll be able to substitute something else.  I also considered using something like a pair of binoculars or a rifle, but that all seemed too fussy compared to the end result.

Tactical markers show units that are taking full use of terrain to provide any possible cover.  I have an idea that these units are carrying around little bushes and hiding behind them (a bit like Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane).  Anyway, each unit that is 'tactical' will carry around one of these little bits of bush with them.

TFL encourages the use of creative modelling for 'jump off points', or JOP.  For my first game, the Brits will get to use the truck and the Jhamjars will use Jumbo.  I've also got a donkey cart for the Jhamjars and a stack of supplies for the Brits.  If a third JOP is needed I'll come up with something.

Another status to display is pinned.  I had a couple of ideas but they were too fussy, so I've gone with relatively simple smoke clouds.  Any unit that is broked will simply have two pinned markers.  If I run out of these markers, I'll use more balls of cotton.

And now the actual forces!  First up, the Jhamjar Rifles.  Here is the command group:  subedar (equivalent to lieutenant), havildar (sergeant) plus a medic and the subedar's batman (with bugle).

And here is the whole platoon.  Two sections of sikhs, and two of musselmen.  Each section is led by a naik (corporal).

The platoon can count on a Vickers medium machine gun for support.

Just one shot of 'Ockerforce' for now.  Two sections have a Lewis gun (plus support), and two sections exclusively of riflemen.  The sections are sorted by headgear (sun helmets, slouch hats or peaked caps) and the two sections with slouch hats are distinguished by either shorts or trousers.

I'm going to play around a bit with force composition before the game.  Both platoons are inspired by the lists for Chain of Command Abyssinia - the Brits follow the British list (natch!) while the Jhamjars are based on the Askari list.  Tactical choices will be interesting, as the Brits get two LMGs and the Jhamjars only get rifles, with a possible MMG.  Nominal sections are 8 strong for Ockerforce and 10 strong for Jhamjar, but I'm considering reducing these as no army ever takes to the field at paper strength.  Units will be reduced by a deliberate Left out of Battle choice, as well as sick parade (malingering ne'er-do-wells!), casualties and other detachments.  But the basics are now covered!

Plan is to play the game on May 5th.  Inshallah!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Preparing for gaming Jhamjar

As described in my previous post, I'm getting ready to attempt TFL's Chain of Command using my British Empire in the Great War armies to represent an interwar conflict between the British Raj and the Princely State of Jhamjar.  I've counted up the forces available and come up with the following numbers.

British soldiers in sun helmets (pith helmets):  16 riflemen, 1 Lewis gunner, 4 officers
ANZACs:  23 riflemen in slouch hat, 14 riflemen in peaked cap with improvised Havelock style neck covers (37 total riflemen), 1 Lewis gunner, 3 officers, plus 12 mounted riflemen (including officer)
Gurkhas: 33 riflemen
Sikhs:  21 riflemen, 2 officers, 1 medic, 1 Vickers MMG and crew
Mussulmen: 27 riflemen, 1 Vickers MMG and crew (Copplestone Castings, painted in Khaki uniforms) plus an additional 16 riflemen and 1 fieldgun (Battle Honours, painted in brown uniforms)
Indian Lancers:  21 mounted lancers and 1 officer
King's African Rifles:  34 riflemen, 1 standard bearer, 2 Lewis gunners, 3 officers
And 1 Vickers Medium Mk II tank.

Now for CoC, I need two platoon-sized forces.  A platoon is theoretically around 36-40 men, although in reality it would never have its full paper strength. But I don't want to cut things back too far, so I'd like to get at least 80% strength.  This means that some of the forces don't cut it as is.  In fact, and somewhat surprisingly, pretty much only the KAR can field a full strength platoon.  An even greater surprise is that only the KAR have the two Lewis guns that an interwar platoon is supposed to have on strength!

So, looking at the numbers, I figure the Djelli of Jhamjar will have a composite platoon made up of half Mussulmen and half Sikhs.  Support options will include a medic and a Vickers MMG.  

I might choose different opposition than British riflemen, though.  Possibilities include:
1. King's African Rifles, as they can field a full-strength platoon.  Need to work on the backstory as to why the KAR are deployed to suppress a rebellion in NW India, though!
2. OckerForce, made up of a mob of displaced Ozzies who are somehow still wandering around India years after the end of the Great War.  Alternatively, just make a platoon of half sun helmets and half slouch hats, as slouch hats were popular enough in the British Army.  ANZACs didn't invent the bloody things, no matter what they'd have you believe!
3. Gurkhas.  Somewhat lacking in support options, as they only have rifles and kukris!

I'll probably go with option 2, but will keep the KAR option if I ever make this into a campaign.  The cavalry and tank will stay off the table for now but could enter into future games.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Princely State of Jhamjar

The Princely State of Jhamjar is a Salute State under the British Raj, located between Rajputana and Balochistan near Afghanistan and the North West Frontier.

In actuality, Jhamjar is my new little Imagi-Nation!  Many months ago, I picked up a copy of Too Fat Lardies Chain of Command (CoC), and I've been looking for an opportunity to fit in a test game ever since.  CoC is a World War II miniatures game, and I have no WWII miniatures.  TFL was working on a modern variant on the game for Afghanistan, but it seems to have been placed on the back burner at Lard Island.  In the meantime, I'm hoping to get a chance to see if the system feels right for me.

As I mentioned, I have no WWII miniatures. I do, however, have a surprising number of WWI or Interwar-era British Empire forces, including British troops in sun helmets, Gurkhas, Indian (Muslim) infantry, Sikhs, King's African Rifles, NZ Mounted Rifles, Indian Lancers and a small horde of ANZACs.  I don't have any suitable opponents for them.  So, enter the Jhelli of Jhamjar.

Theoretically, the Princely States never had need for any armed forces more elaborate than a ceremonial guard for their prince.  But then along came the Great War, and a call for all subjects of the Empire to contribute to the war effort.  The Martial Races of Jhamjar enthusiastically answered the call, and at the end of hostilities, the Jhelli of Jhamjar found himself with a core of veterans of France, East Africa, Gallipoli, the Levant and Mesopotamia.  A wise man, he also could see the way the wind was blowing as nations began to seek true independence from the rule of the colonial empires.  After a secret visit from M.N. Roy, the Jhelli began his plans to foment a revolution to drive the British out of India, or at least out of Jhamjar!

I'm going to try to get a small scenario set up for Trumpeter's next Bonsor night.  No guarantees, but we'll see how it goes.  I'll be able to use my Afghanistan terrain.  The troops will be somewhat vanilla, as almost all of the available forces will be infantry armed with bolt-action rifles.  I do have a couple of Vickers guns and a few Lewis guns to throw into the mix.  If the first game goes well, I can consider finding room for the cavalry and/or my Vickers Medium Mark II* in a future scenario!

In the meantime, I may see if I can develop the history, culture and geography of Jhamjar!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wargamer logic

So.  Arthur is interested in toy soldiers, especially after being introduced to the Nutcracker at Christmas.  He is particularly interested in hussars, as the Nutcracker wears a hussar uniform (according to the book we read for him).

I spent a great deal of time doing research, also known as surfing the interwebs looking at toy soldier websites.  I particularly wanted to find traditional wooden toy soldiers (as in March of the Toy Soldier style toys), but it gradually became clear to me that I'd need to make them myself if I was to go down that path.  I hemmed and hawed over the Skull n Crown wooden flats for quite a while before finally deciding that they weren't what I wanted.

Then I had my Eureka moment:  I had a box of Perry plastic French infantry, patiently waiting for me to find time to give them the attention they deserve.  I got them out, plopped them in front of Arthur and we had a golden moment as he started organising them into different formations.  I had to explain that they are NOT hussars, they are infantry, and hussars all are cavalry.  He's starting to get that message, despite eyerolls from my lovely wife.  I've even started to splash a bit of paint on them in the evening after Arthur has gone to bed.  (Painting progress is very slow - par for the course for me these days).  Arthur wants them to be England soldiers, so they must have red coats.  Accordingly, I'm painting them as Swiss.

Meanwhile, Arthur still wants hussars, and I want to oblige.  This is where wargamer logic comes in. 

I can buy a box of Perry plastics from my local store for about CDN$50, plus GST and PST.  However, by ordering direct from Perry Miniatures website, I can get a cavalry division deal, which is 4 boxes of plastic cavalry, plus two horse artillery sets, plus mounted command, for £85.  I need to add S&H, but the Perrys deduct VAT so it's pretty close to a wash.  And since I'm making an order, I might as well add one or two other things I need (i.e., things I REALLY REALLY want) to round out the order.  So in the end, instead of $50 to my local B&M shop, I send CDN$177 direct to the Perrys and get 4 boxes of plastic cavalry, four metal guns, and one pack of heavy cavalry generals.  That's a win, right?

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Thoughts on wargame scenarios for modern (2001-2011) Afghanistan

Now that I have enough terrain and figures to run games inspired by current and recent events in Afghanistan, I'm now giving some thought as to what sorts of scenarios I want to put on.  Looking at various wargame scenarios posted on the web or otherwise published, I get the takeaway that almost every battle is between Taliban and/or Al Qaeda forces versus western forces (US/UK/Australians or other OEF/ISAF forces).  More specifically, there is a tendency to present a very large number of fanatical insurgents (who operate with little concern for their own casualties) taking on a very small number of western soldiers.  I don't think I've found any scenarios where local Afghan forces take the lead.  For example, I've got a copy of the Force on Force Enduring Freedom source book, and while it looks like a detailed and comprehensive set of scenarios, I think there is maybe one scenario where US special forces work in conjunction with local Afghan forces.

However when I look at the conflict, I see much more complexity, and a lot of factions that fall out of this simple NATO versus Islamist equation.  I'd like to come up with a scenario or maybe a small campaign that includes at least these factions:
  • Taliban
    • Need to distinguish between hardcore/fulltime Talibs and short-term local recruits (experienced, highly motivated versus inexperienced, in the fight for some quick cash).  Both types are in their native land and can expect to shelter in the local population
  • Al Qaeda and other foreigners (Arabs, Chechens etc) fighting to re-establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan:  highly motivated, to the point of fanaticism, experience/skill level varies, may be unpopular with locals (so cannot hide as easily among local populace)
  • Afghan National Army (ANA):  decent but variable skill level, tend to be popular with local populace, morale decent but local factors may bring it down (being subordinated to foreign forces may be a bonus or penalty depending on circumstances)
  • Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Border Police (ANBP).
    • ANP tend to be low morale, low skill level, corrupt, poorly paid and unpopular with local populace.  This is due to a number of factors (conscripts from various parts of the country, often illiterates who are sent to serve in a part of the country where they may not even speak the language, pay is often months in arrears, so they shake down the locals just to get food)
    • ANBP tend to be tribally based and serve or close to their own communities, so cohesion and morale is better
  • Western forces (US/UK etc) operating as part of ISAF or OEF.
    • Depending on the country of origin, may have restrictions on rules of engagement or terms of service. 
    • Wherever they are from, they tend to have top-notch equipment and good training/skills, good morale. 
    • Access to air support, artillery and other off-board assets (eg drones)
  • Private security forces, which could range from the low-grade rentacops through the most expensive Blackwater types
  • Criminal organisations, running protection rackets, construction rackets or involved in the drug trade or other smuggling (and who are likely to be in competition with other criminals...).  May be allied to or opposed to Taliban and/or local government officials
  • Local government officials who may be working for self-advancement in a way that does not conform to the plans of the central government (diverting taxes for their own purposes, may or may not be allied to one or more criminal groups or with Taliban depending on the way the wind is blowing)
  • Local militias, who might be pro-government or they might not - as with local government officials!
Each group has their own motivations, goals and ambitions, which will likely be in conflict with those of other groups.  Criminals will use the conflict to hide or mask their activities, blaming murders on the Taliban or the government.  Taliban may take credit for criminal actions if it suits their purpose.  ANP are corrupt and generally despised, so no one likes them.  And as their pay is often stolen or in arrears, they will shake down local civilians for money or food, adding to the general dislike they experience.

There's a great opportunity here to create a multi-party conflict.  Most players will not know for sure who is on their side and who is not.  Western forces won't know if that armed civilian is a local government militia member or a Talib, so will need some means to confirm identity before engaging.  Killing an ally will likely have greater (negative) impact on victory conditions than allowing a Talib or AQ to escape.

So I'm considering setting up a multi-faction scenario, give each player a different set of goals and seeing what happens.  I'm sure a mini-campaign would be even better but there's no way I think I could pull that off (I don't have time for multiple games).  I'll probably go with Osprey Games Black Ops, create custom card deck that allows activation cards for each player.  And no player will be told who the other player is, they'll have to figure that out based on the actions of the figures (although anyone uniformed should be pretty obvious).

I'll need different rules for civilian reactions for each faction - the civvies will know everything but won't share that info with anyone they don't like!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

TMWWBK AAR the sequel!

On Friday I had my second go at The Men Who Would Be Kings.  Once again, I tried for a three-way battle.  It went a bit better this time, but that was mostly due to Doug Hamm's enthusiasm for playing the Afghans as they were squeezed between two Imperial powers.  My biggest lesson learned was that I should probably try some two-way battles before playing any more three-ways!

The scenario this time was Scenario A from the book, Just Passing By.  The British and the Russians were each required to cross the table in opposite directions.  As a spoiler to this, I added some Afghans to slow down the Imperials.  The Imperial forces were almost the same as in the last game, except that I took away the field guns as this scenario requires near constant movement for the Imperials, so the guns would only slow them down.  The Afghans, on the other hand, ended up more powerful than before, as I added one unit of Afghan regular infantry to the force.

First thing we did was roll for leader attributes.  The three British units were pretty much textbook, stiff upper lip chaps.  The Highlanders were led by a sportsman, the Sikhs by the General's favourite nephew and the Gurkhas by an expert marksman.  The Russians were less fortunate, with a couple of solid, dependable infantry units but the Cossacks found themselves with a bulletproof bumbler (resulting in the comment, "you mean my leadership will actually improve if my officer gets killed?").

However the real fun came when we rolled for the Afghans.  Of the two units of Ghazis (primarily equipped for hand to hand), one was led by a cad who would retreat faster than he attacked, the other (even better!) by a coward who would never close into melee.  The jezail men (irregular infantry) included a hapless leader (10+), a drunk (which we reinterpreted as an opium addict) whose leadership needed to be tested every turn and one more who was simply inept.  The regulars were led by an idiot, requiring a test every turn to see if his opponent could move his men (we made a bit of an exception for this unit:  the test would only be required if he attempted to issue an order, so he could avoid the test by not doing anything).  Once Doug saw these results, he insisted on playing the Afghans.

Here are a couple of shots of initial deployment.  Afghans set themselves up in various bits of cover around the battlefield as the Imperials form up at each end of the table.

Russians check to see if they can be hit by long range fire.  Only the Highlanders have modern rifles (Martinis); everyone else has obsolete rifles or worse (carbines for the Cossacks, various sticks and blunt instruments for the Ghazis).  This went poorly for the Cossacks.  They took one hit from the Afghan jezailmen, failed their pinned roll, failed to rally and retreated off the board in the first turn.

Tribal infantry are shot to pieces by the Sikhs.

Russian infantry climb the hill.  This went on a bit through the game:  Russians could barely pass a test for orders, so spent the game fidgeting around their end of the board either standing around or just barely peeking past the rocks.  Peter was a good sport but I think ended up somewhat bored at the lack of movement from his troops.

Here you can see the Afghans holding the middle of the table.  Regulars are still drinking chai in their barracks while the tribesmen are watching as the Russians remain out of sight.

More action was happening in the south.  The Afghan horse were moving around, maintaining a threatening appearance to keep the Sikhs in place.  Meanwhile, the Gurkhas advanced to threaten the Ghazis (not knowing that the Ghazis were never going to fight anyway).

Still drinking chai...

Ghazis reposition as the Gurkhas advance.  Highlanders are ready to support either the Sikhs or the Gurkhas as needed, and the Sikhs form close order to repel cavalry.

More Chai.

Ghazis have pulled back, but look!  Sikhs are pinned by jezail fire from the pomegranate grove, then charged and wiped out by the Afghan horse!

Alas, the follow on charge into the Highlanders is repulsed.

Elsewhere, Russian infantry chase off another charge.

Finally, the Regulars emerge from their barracks, and promptly walk out into the open...

Where they are shot down by the Russians.

I didn't take photos from the last few turns of the game.  The Russians ended up basically pinned in place by jezail fire, but the Gurkhas and Highlanders ended up dashing along the side of the table, ignoring what little jezail fire that the Afghans were able to send their way.  The Regulars were reduced to almost nothing (I think they had two figures left at the end of the game).  We called the game for time before the Gurkhas reached the Russian end of the board, but there were almost no troops left to stop them at that point - just the remnants of a Russian infantry unit.  The Afghans did brilliantly to keep the Imperials at bay, fighting a war on two fronts and holding both sides close to their start lines for most of the game.  Especially impressive as the leadership was mostly incompetent!