Thursday, January 30, 2014

Game Night: War of the Spanish Succession

Fun night with the Ambler Gamers last night. We did an ahistorical battle from the War of Spanish Succession: French vs. Austrians and British.  There's a big gap in my wargaming experience. I don't think I've played a serious historical wargame in any period between the mid 15th century and the American War of Independence (pace, pirates. I said "serious" historical wargame).  Pikes and shots and tricorns do not capture my imagination the way that other periods do.  But Joe's collection of colorful Front Rank figures arrayed on the tabletop, standards flying, made a good case for the age of Louis XIV.  I teamed up with Scott  to play the French, facing off against the other Mark and the Steves (Turn and Pilch).

Mark and Steve Turn respond to our opening moves. As you can see, the center of the French line barely moved. That would become a theme of the evening.

Steve Pilch has a flashback to our last Napoleonics battle, where my cavalry vaulted forward on the first turn to overwhelm him.  This time he played it perfectly, denying me any easy targets and hitting back hard when the opportunity presented itself. The woods offered him protection against my cavalry wind, and he kept back half of his cavalry for insurance.

Lord, these guys are pretty.  This photo is in better focus than the others because, as mentioned, the French center barely moved over the course of the game.

While my cavalry was engaged on the French right, Scott's colorful cavalry crashed into the Austrian horse.  The two sides came close to wiping each other out, but in the end Steve's horsemen held the field and would threaten Scott's flank for the rest of the game.

Steve Pilch pulls off a well-organized withdrawal in the face of my cavalry horde while Joe looks for some creative ways to apply our house rules.

Bereft of his cavalry, Scott ponders the oncoming Austrian foot.

On our flank, both Steve and I were trying to keep lanes of artillery fire open while we maneuvered our infantry. This led to a surprisongly cramped fight int he center of the table as we each tried to bring as much infantry to bear as possible.  In addition to luring me into unfavorable ground, Steve's British infantry was shooting holes in me as I tried to charge with my cavalry and maneuver around the church with my infantry.

My cavalry finally makes contact and delivers a devastating charge. However, it is too little, too late as the spent horsemen are easy pickings for Steve's reserve.

The Allies on the march.

My infantry finally starts to creep forward, but the battle has been decided before they even enter musket range.

The scene at the end.  The miniatures in the foreground are our dead pile.

Steve does a victory dance, apparently crediting the Longhorns for his win.

Tough loss. Not a total rout, but the outcome was rarely in question.  Nice minis though!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Battle of Iuka, the Opening Moves

Meet Alex and Tyler.  They are the participants in my Simulation Games mini-course. Both are new to miniatures game, though both are bright young men with a solid interest in history.  In our first session, I laid out the basics of the Black Powder rules in about ten minutes and described the scenario to them.  Then they were off and running.  

The first turn went quickly, mainly because the Alex, the Union commander, botched the command roll for his reserve brigade.  He tried to move his right around the Confederate flank, but his troops moved at a creep.  Worried about being enveloped himself, he pulled his remaining two regiments back to where they could be better covered by the reserve.  Above, we see Tyler making one of his many excellent command rolls.  Apparently, the Confederates were issued with Segways in 1862, allowing them to motor around the Iuka battlefield.  Tyler wanted to cover a larger front, so he ordered two of his front-line regiments into skirmish, while he tried an envelopment move on his own right flank.

Above is a shot of the battlefield after a turn and a half.  The Union reserve on the far left remains stuck in the mud.  However, the retreating Union artillery (the Ohio battery, if you're being historical) was able to unlimber and deliver a devastating volley into the Confederate center.  Confederate return fire was weak.  All move and no shoot, one might say. 

This is the scene after two and a half turns. We have only forty-five minutes in a class period, so it is amazing what smart young novices can do with the Black Powder rules in a short period of time. I have very little tactical advice, and both were willing to accept the consequences of their tactical blunders.

Here, we see the reserve brigades finally responding to the sound of the guns. Most are bolstering the center, but Alex still has plans of making a strong push on his right, detaching a regiment to support his earlier flanking attempt.  Tyler's flank march moved quickly, but the regiment found itself with nothing to fight.  His ring of skirmishers seems to be holding, but the regiment in the center has already been shaken by artillery fire.  We will pick up next week with the third Confederate turn.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Fortifications at Fort Washington

My mother is helping my nonagenarian grandmother move into a smaller space, and she sent me a bunch of photos that Grandmom had saved. Among them was this photo of my grandfather at Fort Washington. Based on his age, I'm guessing this was probably taken in the late '30's or early '40's. It shows my Italian-American Grandpop with a full head of hair standing in front of a redoubt at Fort Washington, built by Washington in summer and fall of 1777 to protect his encampment at Whitemarsh.  He's standing on Camp Hill, looking southwest. The hill in the background is home to St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, which is as close as Howe's troops got to this part of the lines.  Behind my grandfather's head is Hope Lodge, an 18th century house that served as a hospital for Washington's troops. Grandpop worked for the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930's,m and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did some restoration work on this site as part of his service.  He seemed to know a ton of local history because of his experiences with the CCC.

The earthworks which you can see no longer exist.  They were bulldozed in the mid 1940's. The official story was that they were accidentally cleared to prepare for an Independence Day celebration. However, the following year, the owner of the land sold to the Pennsylvania Turnpike commission.  Thus, in the spot where Grandpop is standing, cars and trucks currently whiz by at 70 MPH.  Shots like this are all that remain of an important chapter in America's Revolutionary War.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Battle of Iuka (1862): A Classroom Project

My school gave me permission to offer a no-credit mini-course on "simulation games." Given that this was an additional time commitment to already over-scheduled prep school students, I was pleasantly surprised to see that two students were able to fit it into their schedules. Neither has any experience with wargames, so I wanted to start them out simply.

I chose as our first game the ACW Battle of Iuka, which took place in 1862 between two armies blundering around in northern Mississippi, trying to outmaneuver each other.  Rosencrans thought he had Price trapped, since ord was moving up his own division to support him. However, Ord never responded to the sound of the guns (citing an acoustic shadow), and Rosencrans ended up facing a force about the side of his own commanded by the Confederate general Price, who was in turn waiting for support from Van Dorn which never arrived.  The confederates had just over 3000 men on the field, the Union had 4,500.

I'm surprised that Iuka doesn't get more love for wargamers.  It is small--I scaled it down to eight regiments on a side, but even with that I have more than 50% of the historical forces deployed on the table.  It is basically a meeting engagement, with two deployed brigades facing each other and reserve brigades moving up to support them.  Terrain is simple--an area of woods blocking the Union advance and the town of Iuka itself in the Confederate rear.    Lots of room for maneuver and plenty of opportunities for commanding generals to make meaningful decisions that would effect the outcome.

For rules, I chose Black Powder.  Despite its flaws, Black Powder is a great entry into wargaming, offering a fast simple way to resolve combats. In my experience with other students, novices can pick up the rules in two class periods and adjudicate most situations as they arise on their own. With some rule sets, i would hesitate to unload a full division on a novice player

So, each side starts with the same basic forces at their disposal: Two brigades of four infantry regiments each (there was some cavalry at Iuka but they appear to have fought dismounted), with three sections of 12lb Napoleons to support them.

The Rebs prepare to receive what the Union dishes out.

The Yanks prepare to advance.  These are my 10mm ACW figs that I painted two years ago, mostly from Pendraken.

The view from Iuka looking towards Federal lines.

So, we were all set up...and one of the two students missed the first class!  So now we await our first official session next Tuesday.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Worst Children's Book Ever

So, recently, I saw an article on about the worst children's books ever. To be sure, these are all terrible books, ranging from antisemitic to incoherent.  But all of them pale compared to this doozy by Thomas Matthiesen.  It is still available on, this proving that existing child abuse laws are inadequate to shield the world's youth from this horror.  And, by horror, I'm not just talking about showing kids terrible things like death or pain. We're talking full-on, gaze-into-the-void, life-is-meaningless existential horror one doesn't normally encounter until one reads Nietzsche  in a philosophy survey in college.

Oh, you think I'm exaggerating?  Take a look for yourself...

As always, click to enlarge. But I must warn you, you will suffer an immediate Sanity Check at -20 to your die roll if you do.

It begins innocuously enough. What could be threatening about an alphabet book for kids. "A is for Apple", right?  Standard stuff.  The cover also informs us that the book is in color, because when it was published in 1966, people used to throw any old monochrome crap at their kids and expect them to learn to read.

This book was a gift from my parents to me shortly after my second birthday. I should take a second to point out, though I was doubtlessly scarred by the contents, I hold my Mom and Dad in no way responsible for the horrors within.  How were they to know?

You will note that my two-year-old self took pains to write a warning to any future readers of the book. If you take time to decipher the scribble, you will note that it spells out: "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CLOSE THIS BOOK AND WALK AWAY IF YOU VALUE ANYTHING THAT IS HOLY!!!" 

So, if you read this, you're thinking "Hey, Rabuck, what's the big deal? Color photo of a clock. Clear association with the letter C.  Short explanatory text defining the concept of 'clock'.  So what?"

Oh, my friend, you are just at the lip of the rabbit hole... 

"J is for Jar.. Jars hold lots of different things--jam and flour, sugar and cereal. Why is there a marble in this one?'

Why....?  I DON'T FREAKING KNOW! To represent the ultimate futility of existence? Because bears stole all of the others? Because you're messing with me? FOR GOD'S SAKE, I'M ONLY TWO!!!

I was clearly angry when I got the the "P is for Paint" page. You can see some the "Q for Quilt" below.  Perhaps the question "How do you suppose it works?" made me angry I was not being asked age-appropriate questions.

OK, now we've gone from bizarre to creepy.  "Has anyone ever looked in your house and seen you?"  Screw you, book.  Why don't you just tell me that my toys come alive at night and try to kill me?  Seriously, this dude must have hated children...

...I mean really hated kids.  "No matter how hard you hit a xylophone, it will never cry."  Unlike you, you little brat! Stop whining about the hollowness you feel inside and finish your goddam alphabet!

"Yarn starts out as long strings, but when it is made into a sweater, it ends up as little knots. Don't you think that's strange?"

Book, you've taken me to so many places to which that no two-year-old should ever have to go. I've been to strange and back, book, and nothing you can throw at me will ever seem unusual again. Now let's get to "Z is for Zipper" and I'll go sit quietly in the corner for ten years, curled up in the fetal position.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy 50,000!

My sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to my readers for helping me pass the 50,000 pageview milestone.  It has been my pleasure to share thoughts and images of a life in gaming, and I hope this site has been worth your visit.  Thank you for your support.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Attack on Pirate Island

Our mini-assembly took place between 9:00 and 10:00 today.  Some sections watched movies, some did karaoke.  One group learned how to tie bowties, because bowties are cool.  But me...well, was there any question that I would do a miniatures game?  Since I had only an hour and most of my players had never done anything more challenging than Risk, the rules had to be super-fast and super simple.  I created nine teams, each with their own goals, then let the fun begin.

Here are my pirates: Katie, Shira, Arjun, Colin, and Abay.  

And the townies: Darian (playing the zombies), RJ, Gordon, and Carter.

Here are the rules I projected onto my Smartboard. I was on hand to referee actions not covered.  Since I wanted to keep it simple, I disallowed moving ships or firing cannon at structures.  The kids were sad. Apparently they like making things blow up.

Turn One: Colin decides to fire on his fellow pirates.  "Um, Colin, you realize that you don't get any victory points for that?"  "Yeah, I know." 

The first pirate band tries to sneak into town by skirting the perimeter. An angry mob and a donkey await them

The Royal Marines were well-armed and did very well despite being surrounded by four bands of pirates.  hence the sneaky move-around-the-town maneuver by Abay.

Oh, noes! The Zombie maroons appear on the edge of town. It's a three way bloodbath!

Some players, like RJ, negotiated with enemies, giving them the opportunity to turn their attention to a single foe.  Here, RJ attacks Darian's zombies, allowing Arjun's pirate to sneak in and plunder the town treasure. (Sadly, the lone pirate burglar was blown to bits by artillery from the fort as he tried to return to his ship.

Darian's zombies hunt for brains.  They ultimately cornered the governor's daughter, ate her delicious brains, and caused a huge point deduction for the marines and the angry mob, who had been leading up to that point.  A win for the Zombies!

The final points tally.  Students had fun, and I enjoyed sharing my hobby with them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Attack on Pirate Island: Before the Party

Every year, my school allows teacher and students to offer hour-long mini-assemblies.  Naturally, I use the opportunity to introduce the fun and spectacle of miniature gaming to a new generation. I usually choose a fast-playing skirmish game to give kids a taste without slamming them with simulation rules.  Last year, I ran a Wild West shootout that was well received.  This year, I chose to do a Pirate game, inspired in no small part by the excellent and gorgeous game run at Historicon by the Prairie Pirates. While my game is but a pale shadow of the spectacle Scott Christian and his crew produced, I'm pretty happy with how it looks.  I decided to take and share a few photos before the students get their grubby little hands on the minis.

The fort on Pirate Island with its small garrison. The fort offers good protection, but it is a primary target for two pirate bands, intent on liberating the fort of its treasure and its prisoner: Captain Jack Pigeon.  

The Alice, the largest of the Pirate vessels.  The crew of the Alice are intent on capturing the Governor of Pirate Island and the lovely Governor's daughter.  Since half the crew is female, they won't have to share that way.

The smaller pirate vessels.  These crews are set on plunder, looking for treasure chests and the Awesome Gem of Awesomeness held by the Zombie Maroons.

The final pirate crew, aboard the Gato Gordo.  Their objective is to fight their way through the town, storm the fort, and rescue Captain Jack Pigeon.  Good luck, boys.

The Royal Marines, stationed at the edge of the town plaza and close to all four pirate ships. Though well armed, I don' think these boys will last long.

The governor and his retinue

Some naval crewmen detached to protect the (riches of) the town. Their main asset: a honkin' huge cannon.

The governor's daughter, her manservant, and her associate, the notorious Femme de Nuit.

A view of the village. Angry Mob in the background.  Nonplussed mule in the foreground.

The Zombie Maroons. Once slaves who escaped from the village, they have been zombified by the Awesome Gem of Awesomeness.  Now they are hungry for revenge.  And brains.
Finally, four big overview shots of the island.  The whole setup is about eight by four feet.

Until tomorrow!