Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spotsylvania, Early 1864

1864 has dawned, and it is time for the Confederacy to be finally conquered!  Hardtack's division is with Grant's Army of the Potomac, and taking part in the Overland Campaign.  This game sees our man somewhere close to Spotsylvania, where he has been ordered to take up position on some tributary to the Po river, and deny the rebels a chance to cross.

Very wooded ground, of course - and with streams breaking up the Federal side
Hardtack splits his force into four, putting one on each of the three fords he can find, and keeping the fourth back in reserve (the large and untested 70th New York.)

"First order of business: dig in everywhere!"
It soon becomes apparent that the left-most ford is actually far larger than previously thought, with many more crossing-places.  It also sits rather forward of the rest of the line, and this inevitably becomes the region targeted by the Confederate advance.

The crossing is watched by a group of veteran regiments: the 122NY, the 27PA, and the 1/11MA.

The Rebs come charging ahead, before all units have even managed to dig in.
The Federals dig in while just inside the woods, to save themselves casualties from the enemy artillery.  Hardtack also doesn't much about, and orders all the reserves he can to rush to the scene.

Firing begins across the rebel ranks
Things soon become desperate - the tiny 122NY is routed by the throngs of rebels, and while the 27PA keeps solid, the 1/11MA goes charging out under the leadership of it's glory-hunting "hero" Colonel!  

"Back into the river with them, boys!"
Elsewhere, a second rebel force tries to approach the central ford, btu swiftly gives it up: artillery crouched in the woodland, and the crossing practically encircled by the zig-zag trenches of two Colored regiments, just playing something is unwise enough to try a crossing.

"Washington this way!"
Over on the critical left, the 1/11MA was facing a disaster from rebel fire, but thankfully the steely Hardtack's 'Drillmaster' tendencies pay off, and they are able to fall back swiftly and in good order, back into the trees.  Rebel casualties keep on steadily mounting from the draining Federal fire, while reinforcements are getting close.

The Confederates just can't break through the wood

A panorama of the entire field
A desperate rebel charge with cold steel is met with a stone wall-like defence: rebels fall back in confusion, and the blue line holds!  Just as the Reb attacks peter out, the 70NY & 31VT arrive on the scene to relieve the battered 1/11MA.  

Charging back into the rebel bridge-head, the fresh troops sweep through the thick smoke of the rebel defensive fire and charge home.  The Confederate attack has collapsed, and been routed back over the river!

"A Victory!"

The field at the close of day.
For the first time in a while, Hardtack has a victory to boast of - and quite a good one too, featuring successful defences and also charges back from his own side.  The Confederate forces do seem weakened now, what with their deck-sizes being plagues by shortages, and also a judicious bit of sabotage from cavalry raiders where appropriate!  The victory gives Hardtack his full promotion to the top of his military tree, a 4-Eagle commander.  

His division has to say goodbye to the disbanded 122NY, but at least the 70NY have seen the elephant and proved themselves capable troops.  One thing that all his victory produces is evidence that everybody loves a winner - he gains a 'Friend in the Statehouse' when his state's Senator decides that associating with Hardtack might not be such a bad thing, and begins pulling strings for him.  A fresh infantry and cavalry regiment are added to the division, to boost it up, plus Hardtack finally gets some further artillery reinforcements in the shape of two new Light Rifle sections.  Ah, friends in high places!

Monday, April 28, 2014

eBay & Campaign Indecision

Following on from last week, I was pondering my notion for a campaign in a more 'narrative' style.  As I wrote, I had considered putting together an ACW campaign to use my 1/72 figures in a more 'old-school' style of game.  Problem is that the notion is just as applicable to the other campaign I am progressing, the Wars of the Roses.

I spent about a week pondering the two options, weighing up the pros and cons of each.  The end result: both options have lots of 'pros' and very few 'cons'.  Nice, but not helpful about making a decision anytime before the sun burns out.  

Things came to a head when I was browsing on eBay.  I know that for wargamers, the phrase "I was browsing on eBay" ranks alongside "I set off alone to explore the haunted house": a danger signal that no good is on the way!  I found a sale, for a mountain of plastic 1/72 ACW figures.  I put in a bid, sensing it could well be a bargain.  The rest of the week was spent in a state of constant mood-swings.  

What was I buying them for?  What would I do with them?  I already had hundreds - what would hundreds more do?  I couldn't even fit them all on a table!  But imagine having them.  They'd be great!  I'd never need to buy any more ever again!  I could do Charles Grant-style massive units - think of the visual effect!  

Of course, the other question was "What about all my Wars of the Roses plans?"  I really wanted to do that too, but which one would get the first go?  Fate would have to decide.  

In the end, by the time the eBay sale ran out I had reached such a state of indecision that I had hidden my mobile phone from myself, so last-minute emails wouldn't tempt me into upping my offer!  I was outbid right in the closing minutes, and then experienced the usual mix of relief & regret that accompanies every eBay bid I ever make.  So, the ACW plans have instantly receded into the background.  Wars of the Roses have taken pole-position, and I have sent off for some new figures for them instead.  What a way to run a (miniature model) war...  :-)

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Big 'To Do' List...

I've been quite busy in different wargaming areas recently, but not managed to post too much about it all.  So, it seems sensible to get a bit of organisation on the go, and list things I'm planning on doing.  In no particular order, these are:

Longstreet Campaign
There's no doubt that the FDWC wargames club has had a big success with the Longstreet campaign - fourteen-odd participants, and we're now more than two-thirds of the way through it: quite a success!  I am, however, a bit less successful myself in terms of winning battles!  (Two wins out of seven games, to the time of writing!)  My Union force has been posting game-results, and there are only 3 more to go, so I will 

Wars of the Roses Campaign
I made a vast post about the decisive battle of Baunton as my last contribution, but I need to move things on - for one thing, there are quite a lot of ramifications from the battle, who lived and died, etc.  So I need to resolve all of that and put my notes in order.  

Another big thing to ponder is  how I'm going to move the campaign on.  So far I've been using the Columbia Games board-game 'Richard III' to control the campaign, and this has worked alarmingly well.  However we are now entering into the period of the wars 1461-1469, when the ruling dynasty is basically putting down rebellions in the north.  This means local lords fighting out family feuds, plots and intrigues, plus a few sieges to winkle out the old regime die-hards.  All new territory for my campaign, and trying to do it with 'Richard III' doesn't seem to appropriate.  So, I'm pondering a kind of 'mini' campaign within the larger campaign, to reflect this.  Still at the brain-storming stage, however.

ACW Old-School/Narrative Game
Speaking of brain-storming, I've been forced recently (due to some DIY) to hold off playing games on the table and thinking about what I want to do.  From reading online blogs, I went back to some classic ones such as the popular 'Campaigns of General William Augustus Pettygree'.  ( - Sorry, but my tech-skills don't seem to be up to providing a quick-link, however I strongly recommend that you go see it!)  What caught my imagination most was the way in which the posts work so hard to produce a complete miniature world - it's not just miniatures on a table for units in a battle, but rather a narrative to produce games with various fictional characters, plus a huge quantity of figures & scenery to completely 'fill out' a mini-world of camps, towns, etc.  Most of all, the title-characters' army is a full-formed force with an HQ staff, engineers, signallers, supply-troops, etc.  

It would be a strange wargamer indeed that didn't find such stuff an inspiration for daydreaming!  I was pondering where I could do that as a gaming idea, when I happened across the blog 'old school acw' (  The blog sadly appears to have gone dead (last post: May 2013) but it suddenly made me think: "What about all my old 1/72 plastic ACW figures?"  They were collected & painted and have largely been sitting gathering dust, since my initial plan to base them and use them for a DBA-style game fell apart.  I have still been clinging to the old basing system however, so I had a sudden epiphany that I should completely rebase them - individually, if need be - to revitalise them, and create full armies.  I also suddenly realised from online searching that I could also obtain vast amounts of other things for use in 1/72 scale: wagons, camp supplies, etc.  Suddenly the idea of a fully-detailed ACW world in 1/72 seems plausible!  I shall post more on how my notions evolve, to see if I really can do a game with them, possibly in the style of Charles Grant's 'The War Game' or something similar. 

War & Empire Kickstarter
Here's a bit of a random, out-of-nowhere new thing!  Back in December last year, there was a 'Kickstarter' project called 'War & Empire' which I decided to back, for 15mm ancients.  They are currently modelling up the figures and sometime over the next few months I should be able to order two big armies to rival each other in the ancient world.  Good job they are taking their time over preparing it, as I am still pondering what to do with it!  

So, that's it then.  Nothing trivial on the go, obviously...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shelton Railway Cutting, 1863

After being denied a victory at Hackett's Farm, then mauled at Gettysburg, Hardtack is feeling a bit dejected.  Enough of all this defending and getting buffeted about - next time he's going to attack!  

Unfortunate, then, that the next game would be the railway cutting...
In late 1863, Hardtack brings his division up and discovers a Rebel force defending the line of a railway embankment - a formidable position, and one he intends to assault immediately, with extreme violence.  Victory or defeat is an irrelevance by now: he wants prestige, glory - epic renown!

Dodging a wood near his setup zone, Hardtack moves up in column.

The waiting Rebels
The Confederates have a veritable grand-battery of artillery present!  Hardtack has virtually nothing, so there's no chance of sitting back for a fight - it's a straight-out rush to close the distance as soon as possible.  

The terrain in front is painfully open - only a small hillock for cover
As the columns move up at the quickstep, the Rebels reveal they have heavy rifles and start banging away at the columns - Hardtack is a distant, but dense, target.  

Much like the man himself.
The plan is to march in column across the enemy front, get behind the cover of the hill, left-turn into line, and then move forward in one compact mass to strike the enemy line with repeated charges.  
However, long-range fire was not part of the plan.
Things go quite painfully slowly, with a constant drain on Union units as casualties slowly mount - and they're not even in position yet!

"I knew I should've done their parades under live fire..."
Finally, the Union line is ready and begins moving forward - largely side-stepping the guns now, but the Rebel infantry are ready and waiting.

Oh, it's all going wrong - but at least, hopefully, in an epic manner!
Almost there - regiments are losing bases every turn to this ridiculous artillery fire - shame that Hardtack is learning all the problems of attacking (concentrating your force, using covering terrain to stop line-of-sight) in 1863, rather than 1861 when everybody had far less artillery to point out mistakes with!

Critical musket range - almost in charge range!
At the crucial moment: disaster strikes!  Some slack-jawed yokel with Secessionist sympathies has tipped off the Confederates to all the good advantages of the ground, and the Federals run straight into a killing-zone.  [Or, to put it in games-terms, I held two cards which would allow me to make a move-and-a-half, plus fire and charge.  Enough to give me a crucial edge over the last few yards - or would've been, if the Confederates hadn't played 'Southern Sympathizers' and removed them from my hand, right before contact!]

Shelter, at long last!  Some welcome defilade behind the embankment.
Musketry fire breaks out, with each side shooting over the railway-line. Finally, some Rebels are dying! 

To make things even worse, the insufferably smug Col. Mottram leaps up onto the tracks for all manner of heroic posturing - and somehow doesn't get shot down.  Hardtack can't catch a break, today.
Violent work - the old 122nd NY is wiped out altogether, the survivors pelting off to the rear.  The heroic Col. Ganderpoke is among those dead on the field.  

Oh, it's all just too horrible!

The subject of many a Lithograph, no doubt (Symbolism, anyone?)
Robbed of his chance to charge, Hardtack can only watch as the Confederates duly pile on the misery by doing so themselves!

"Don't you know playing on railway lines can be dangerous?"
The chance of repulsing the attack briefly flickers up, but although the 1/11th Massachusetts veterans do their bit, and so do the 13th Delaware cavalry, the colored recruits of the 154th New York have clearly been put through too much for one day - they are pushed back by the Confederates after a close fight.  

Still, they do gain a hero in their Colonel, so at least that's something.
It's over, and the result is a terrible, terrible defeat.  Hardtack's division has been mauled, and undeniably given a first-rate whipping on the battlefield.  

Hardtack never thought he'd look back on the Gettysburg wheat-field nostalgically...
Back, then, to camp for the winter.  Although he took a lot of losses, he actually doesn't lose any regiments wholesale - although the survivors are largely a more sober, circumspect bunch, unsurprisingly.  Two new large regiments, the 70th New York and the 57th Pennsylvania, are attached to his division to help bolster it.  Also, at long last, he gets two sections of Parrotts which give him a (solitary) full-strength battery of guns.  Hardtack is also moved enough by the experience of covering open ground to hire a Scouting expert, to try and give him some more information on future battlefields.  Following in the footsteps of Colonel Mottram, another glory-hunting Hero colonel gets himself transferred into Hardtack's division, to head up a regiment.  At least Hardtack's command has a reputation as a fighting force, to be attracting all these fire-eaters.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Barbarossa Campaign - a Win, and a Loss

I once posted before about 'The Barbarossa Campaign' solo game, by Victory Point Games.  Marvelous stuff, so I've been giving it a bit of an airing recently and made some loose notes about two games with it.  One saw my invasion of the USSR crash down to defeat in the smoking ruins of Berlin; while the second game turned out in an Axis triumph all the way to the hinterland beyond the Volga.  So, with these two different outcomes, how did it come about?

I decided each time to try and pursue - for the sake of curiosity - the alternate strategic mode of exploitation, which would have meant Germany making a much more concerted effort to utilise (i.e. plunder) the economic resources of occupied Russia, as opposed to the lawless chaos they actually took place.


The Axis invasion ploughed through the western Soviet Union, although a-historically slowly when compared to the real thing - Moscow is safely deep in the Soviet rear by Winter of the year, and there is even a minor disaster when Armour losses have climbed so steeply I'm forced to temporarily abandon my 'exploitation' economic focus in favour of rebuilding panzers to get my offensive force back up to scratch.  Even so, I've had a good broad-front advance, and all portions of the line are well advanced for further thrusts next year.

This year curiously goes far better than the previous.  Soviet losses mount with yet more encirclements, and I'm even able to switch back to 'exploitation' by the Autumn - having restored my Armour strength to a decent level.  Leningrad is under siege, Ukraine is occupied, and then the big achievement comes in the winter - Moscow itself is captured, a full year after the historical German assault on it failed.  The initiative is flowing strongly my way!  Another war-shaping occurrence takes place when the 'Grozny Event' randomly pops up - German high command has prioritized the capture of the Caucasus oilfields, which means I could get a victory-clinching bonanza of initiative-points.  Next year must clearly be focused on holding Moscow while I attack in the South.

In the springtime mud, I can't do any big blitzes so I knock off a few front-line targets at each end of the line.  Sevastopol is taken, and - by freak chance - so is Leningrad.  I'm even pressing on towards Archangel, and it begins to feel like I'm overseeing a Soviet collapse!  However, a surge in the Allied industrial production snuffs out all this optimistic feeling pretty swiftly: before I know it my lead has slipped away and suddenly we've got 'contested initiative' - the Soviets will be increasingly active with their counter-attacks, from now on.   This proves to be a disaster for me, as my attempts to expand into the Caucasus are repeatedly frustrated.  Every time I begin to advance south-east out of the Don bend, Soviet counter-attacks threaten to cut off masses of troops gathered there.  I spend the year fighting see-saw battles around the Don and Donets rivers, cutting my way out of encirclements and similarly failing to keep Russians 'in the bag'.  By the end of the year I've even lost Rostov, the gateway to the Caucasus.  Even up in the (relatively) quiet northern sector, although I'm still holding Moscow it's now at the tip of an increasingly precarious salient.  Suddenly, things aren't looking too good at all!

 With Soviet armour now reaching top-class quality, I'm soon in serious trouble.  I counter-attack in the south, retaking Rostov and the Crimea.  In response, a Red Army offensive explodes in the north; I'm forced to finally concede Moscow is untenable, and relinquish my year-long occupation.  I finally stabilize the front from Leningrad to Smolensk, but the initiative has now sunk down to 'Soviet Initiative' - no more 'blitz' attacks possible from me.  Seeing the writing on the wall, I switch my economic focus to 'Defenses', hoping to buy time and cling on to what I've got.  

The war seems lost, but clearly nobody told my allies: with truly abysmal timing, the random event 'Axis Allies Fully Commit' turns up.  Rumania, Hungary etc. all now decide to abandon sanity and lash themselves to the sinking ship - smart move, guys!  With hard battling in the south, I manage to hold both Kharkov & Rostov through the summer.  Things begin to disintegrate in the north, as Smolensk falls and then even Minsk is lost.  I take advantage of a hare-brained 'Propaganda Offensive' event to counter-attack at Minsk with the Gross Deutschland unit, retaking it to boost notional morale (clearly the symbolism of Minsk being captured really meant a lot back on the home front, somehow!)  Problem is however, that the Soviets are growing ludicrously powerful.  By shifting my weight north, both Kharkov and Rostov are lost, followed by Sevastopol in the winter.  I try to put together a line on the Dnepr river, only for a Soviet Guards Tank unit to blast right through it.  I fortify Minsk and Kiev as my two anchor-points for the front line which now runs Leningrad-Minsk-Odessa.  Initiative sinks down to 'Axis Collapse', which sounds about right historically speaking, although we are still inside Russia rather than in Poland - I'm doing better in terms of occupied territory, at least.

With pretty much nothing left to lose, Hitler busies himself with 'OKH Purges' - clearly the chance to settle scores with internal enemies is a greater priority than the Red Army.  The logic of this swiftly becomes obvious as the Spring offensives batter away all the remains of the line.  Both the fortresses of Kiev and Minsk are taken, Odessa is lost, and Leningrad is isolated up with the Finns as the Soviets plow west to take Riga.  The extended front-line is clearly too much to hold at this stage in the game, and Soviet advances accelerate all the time.  Summer sees Poland change hands with Konigsberg stormed, Warsaw encircled, my last Panzer force trapped in Eastern Poland, and Rumania's oil-fields cut off.  At this stage the game comes to an end, with me clinging on around Berlin and Vienna.  It is totaled up as a 'Soviet Minor Victory'.


1941 Summer
Things leap of to a flying start as I begin with the 'Lebensraum' event card - a bonus Panzer unit to add to my reserves, right from the off!  Clearly a bit more serious pre-invasion planning has taken place, which suits me.  I launch my big invasion, encircling enemy armies and taking cities.  Brest-Litovsk, Kiev & Riga all fall, and Minsk only holds out by pure chance.  Frustratingly, despite all the advantages, I don't get enough initiative-points to bag myself a valuable victory point.

1941 Autumn
Another stroke of luck - I get to upgrade a Panzer unit to an SS Panzer, which gives me much greater attacking power.  It promptly tears off, single-handedly taking Eastern Ukraine by blazing all the way from Kiev to Kharkov.  Such a precarious salient looks certain to be cut off, but incredibly the Soviet counterattacks fail - far luckier than I deserve!  Soviet attacks in the north prove more difficult to handle however, as I encircle a pocket around Minsk only for the Red Army to cut a way back to them, and they even isolate a Panzer unit in the woods south of Leningrad.  Things look precarious, and the imminent winter is likely to see Soviet attacks prove even more dangerous.

1941 Winter
Proof that there is no advantage like being up against a fool: the 'Soviet Purges' random event turns up - Stalin paralyses his high-command through the winter, sacking and arresting commanders he doesn't like the look of, which buys me a critical break from counter-attacks.  I manage to rescue my isolated Panzer corps, complete the encirclement around Minsk to belatedly take the city, and generally shore up my front line.  This has bee a far luckier turn of events than I've got any right to!

1942 Spring
A lucky 1941 has been a big help, but let's not fool around: Soviet industrial power will simply grow and grow, so I'll ultimately lose unless I win it this year by knockout - taking Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.  The spring mud means no dramatic moves at first, so I expand slightly in the south to take Rostov and the fortress at Sevastopol.  The front-line has a strange 'bulge' shape, as many cities on the flanks still hold out while in the centre I'm deep into the Soviet Union.  

1942 Summer
More beneficial events - SS Infantry become available, increasing my city-taking potential.  I also get the 'Ukrainian Separatists' event, which just goes totally wrong - they are eliminated in their first attack, completely wasting the potential bonus.  I push on to take Smolensk on the way to Moscow, and Tallinn falls on the northern Baltic flank to tighten the screw on Leningrad.  My southern advance now occupies the bend of the Don river, just shy of Stalingrad.  All this impressive advance stuff does come at the cost of ignoring various other sites - the majority of the Black Sea coast is made up of Soviet enclaves, particularly Odessa, which the Romanians seem completely unable to reduce.  

1942 Autumn
The Soviets can't catch a break - their 'Soviet Workmanship' event slows down their Industrial development, but their first ever Guards unit does appear in Moscow.  Odessa finally falls, Moscow is assaulted, along with Voronezh.  All the major objectives are in range of being attacked next turn.

1942 Winter
The 'Operational Pause' event brings in the Gross Deutschland unit, so I now have a wealth of special units to attack the cities.  Leningrad falls, then Moscow, along with Voronezh and finally Stalingrad itself!  I build fortified hedgehogs on them, which hold out against the Soviet counterattacks, and then that's it.  Soviet defeat, and a collapse of organised resistance.

I was, as you'll see, quite ridiculously lucky in my card draws and random events.  The Soviets never got good attacks that let them begin building up Guards and Tank units; my own invasion got a streak of bonus attacking units to drive it, and I managed to succeed in all my crucial attacks.  I don't think the 'exploitation' economic strategy made much of a difference in Game 2, as it was victory by lucky knockout.  Game 1 seems to indicate that it could at least have led to a war fought for longer, far deeper in Russia.  One other interesting point to note is that I couldn't get any victory points saved up in either game, which means that if I hadn't taken all the key cities, I would likely have come unglued and collapsed pretty swiftly.  

Interesting reminder that despite all the talk you often get in the history books that the Nazi invasion of the USSR was ultimately doomed to fail, 'should have' and 'probably' don't translate into 'certainly'.  With a lot more good fortune for the Axis side, and a far less active defence from the Soviets, and things could have been very much worse for the world.