Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yeah...they're teaching tools.

This is my annual Napoleonic diorama that I use to teach about warfare in the early 19th century. My freshmen are all suitably impressed, especially when they learned that I painted every miniature on the tabletop in under three months time.

I discuss tactics, Napoleon's generalship (and the extent to which he can be considere
d an innovator), and the role played by new concepts like nationalism and total war in the conflicts of the period.
In case you're wondering, they're Austrians in the foreground and French/Allied in the background. Let's call this the Battle of Demonstrationberg, a small and obscure battle in the 1809 Danube campaign.

Yeah...they're teaching tools.

This is my annual Napoleonic diorama that I use to teach about warfare in the early 19th century. My freshmen are all suitably impressed, especially when they learned that I painted every miniature on the tabletop in under three months time.

I discuss tactics, Napoleon's generalship (and the extent to which he can be considered an innovator), and the role played by new concepts like nationalism and total war in the conflicts of the period.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Walking the Philadelphia Campaign

After reading about the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 and playing out a simulation of the Battle of Germantown in class, my Military History class took a battlefield walk of important Revolutionary War sites int he area. We started in Germantown, visiting both the Chew House (second photo below. Some battle damage is still visible on the wall) and the locaiton of the main British lines. The original site of our school was used as a hospital by the British during teh Battle, so we got to view the old schoolhouse, too.

We took a trip to the former paper mill of Rittenhousetown, where the Pennsylvania Militia unsuccessfully tried to pin the British left with an attack across the Wissahickon Gorge. There are few more vivid examples of how terrain can shape tactical decisions.
The, after a stop at a Revolutionary-era food court, we went to Valley Forge, site of teh winter encampment of 1777-8. The students checked out the huts and gained an appreciation for the living condition, even on a gorgeous fall day.

After checking out the outer defenses, we visited the artillery park and discussed the importance of a reserve.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Battle of Germantown: A class exercise, pt. 4

We break for the long weekend with some serious shooting but no units lost so far. The Americans have been aggressive but the British have countered every move so far. The students have been getting into the game, with cheers for amazing rolls and jokes about runs of bad luck: scenes that would be familiar to many veteran gamers. I created a very simple set of wargaming rules, and several students have already asked for more complexity. For instance, I freely allow friendly units to pass through each other. Someone asked me "But shouldn't that make their lines disorganized?" Smart kid.

The American right is a mess. Swarms of militia and riflemen try to take out a small command of Hessians. But those are some tough little Germans. They had to roll a 10+ on two dice to stand up to a dragoon charge after having been shot up real good. They're still there...

The Brits hold a strong position in the center, which the Americans are attempting to flank by advancing through the woods. The Americans opened an artillery duel in the center but quickly took the worst of it.

Some Tory militia try to hold off a strong push against the British right. Crappy rolling by the Continental commander is making the Yanks rethink their offensive.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Battle of Germantown: A school project, pt. 3

After our second day of gaming, the armies are close enough to start shooting. Washington's army bypassed the Chew House and advanced across the rough terrain in the center. A violent fight for the woods in the center appears to be in the works. The Pennsylvania riflemen on the left bank of the Wissahickon (close to my house!) got the first volley in, but a return volley by the British drew the first blood. Will they have the numbers needed to follow up? What will happen when the American left crashes into the outnumbered British defenders? We have one more class before the long weekend...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Battle of Germantown, A Class Project, pt. 2

The game is underway, with the students being given roles, deploying troops, and playing through their first turn. Some shelling of the Chew House, but overall the guns have been silent.

Below, the British Generals plan their strategy.

And the American generals put on their angry faces as they prepare their attack.
Below is the battlefield after one turn. The Americans have chosen not to put pressure on the British left by advancing down Ridge Pike. Instead, they are putting most of their forces on the British right. By and large Washing is choosing to bypass the Chew House, a move which will slow his attack but will probably give him a larger punch when he hits British defenses.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Battle of Germantown: A Class Project, pt. 1

I teach a Military History elective to high school seniors. Because of my school's history, we examine the Battle of Germantown (1777) as a case study. This year, there are twelve students in my class. One student on each side takes the role of Washington or Howe, and the other students play the roles of divisional commanders. Below is the game board I made for the game, just plywood with paint and flocking. We are looking north. Germantown Pike is the road that runs from south to north. And the Wissahickon Creek (which cuts through my school's current campus) runs up the left side of the board. Fortunately, I have a big Harkness table in my classroom which gives us ample room for the simulation.

The figures are 6mm AWI Baccus. They're a little tricky to see, but they fit nicely in a small space so we can get a whole class around the gaming table. Here is some Continental line infantry.
Below is the entire American command. Each division was assigned a card that the Commanders in Chief used for unit placement. We had read both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, so I wanted to simulate the 'fog of war' as much as possible. Especially because the fog of war at Germantown was said to be a real pea-souper.
And here is the British Command.
I've done this simulation before, but this year I have simplified the rules, since my gamers are absolute novices. Changing formation takes a full turn, and players choose between a line and march column. Shooting forces a morale check. One failed check results in disorder. A disordered unit which fails a check is eliminated.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another year begins for the GAmes Club

The GA Games club is about to get up and running, and what better way to ring in the new school year than an old-school shootout? The small size of the playing surface made it perfect for my new classroom, and the simple 'Fistful of Lead' rules are a perfect intro for new gamers.

Yee-haw. Yee-haw indeed.

From De nerdibus

From De nerdibus

Even cowgirls get the urge to shoot-em-up!
From De nerdibus

Smile when you say that, pardner.
From De nerdibus

Badgers? We got no badgers! We doan need no stinkin' badgers!
From De nerdibus

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fistful of Lead, a playtest

Well, I ran my first game of Fistful of lead. The scenario was pretty simple: two gangs shooting it out. Clint and the Airedale Gang going up against Duke and the Scruffy Bunch. It was not intended as an equal fight. Clint's boys numbered five against the Scruffy four, and they also had an advantage in long arms: a shotgun and a rifle against a shotgun. To cap it off, on the first turn, they drew really well with their movement cards, enabling them to take up defensive positions. Clint himself stayed in a building as insurance. Turned out to the be most decisive move of the battle.

one of Clint's gangs went up to the rooftops, but he was rapidly gunned down when he exposed himself to the fire of pretty much all of the Scruffy Bunch. First shot of the game resulted in a kill. Dang, I said to myself. These rules are lethal.

I did not use my house rule for overwatch. I wanted to test the system as written. That pretty much meant that once the Airedales had moved, the Scruffy bunch could move into the street and start blasting away. Some lucky shots had the Airedales diving for cover. Could they pull off an upset?

Not bloody likely. Clint and his buddy with the rifle both had full cover for most of the game as a result of their initial moves. That enabled them to blaze away without fear of reprisal. Insurance pays, apparently, and it would have been even more deadly with overwatch rules in place, as the the Airedales who ran into the street would have been sitting ducks. Anyhow, the Scruffy Bunch's advantage did not last long, as the Airedales who hit the dirt all popped up on the same turn and, with some lucky shots, took out two Scruffy boys. Another was wounded, and from that point on, the weight of numbers took their toll. Duke himself took four wounds before being dropped, and a valiant last shot wined one of his enemies. His story ended, though, face down in a dusty Western town.
From De nerdibus

From De nerdibus

This set of rules was as fun as I thought they would be. I played out this scenario in under 40 minutes from start to finish. The playing chard movement mechanism presented some interesting choices. There are enough special cards that the order in which one activates units makes a difference. Do you move units for maximum combat advantage, or do you use that Queen to remove a wounded condition on one of your fallen gunslingers? The simplicity of the rules might deter some. I have seen Gutshot, and I think it is an excellent simulation, but if what you're looking for is some fast furious action, FoL is a blast. Simple and elegant mean that rules lawyers might actually have to shut up and enjoy themselves.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yippee Ki Yi Yay!

Well, I've been dropping hints for some months now that I'm working on an Old Western project. I've been wanting to do a 19th century skirmish wargame for a long time now. I considered the British colonial wars, especially the Zulu War, having fond memories of playing the Sword and the Flame a few decades ago. I thought maybe the American Civil War, the Boxer Rebellion, and even the Napoleonic era (there's a well-reviewed set of rules called Sharp Practice). But, shoot, I'm an American, and though I'm East Coast elite through and through, the Old West still looms large in my cultural imagination. I grew up watching The Magnificent Seven, High Noon, and Rio Bravo on UHF. So Old West it was going to be.

I looked at about a half dozen rules sets. "Gutshot" and "Cowboy Wars" both had a lot to recommend it. But I was looking for simple, fast, and bloody. Fortunately, I picked up a copy of "Fistful of Lead" at Historicon. The rules cover about four pages, they use a deck of playing cards, and they look like fun. Boom. All three of my criteria met. I'm thinking about some house rules (like holding an action and giving gunfighters different ratings for Shootin', Fightin' and Guts), but I don't want to lose too much of the elegant simplicity.

I found a sheet of insulating foam about 8'x2' in the trash of a construction site. Using a foam cutter I sculpted some hills, painted everything light brown, then scattered sand into the wet paint. Total cost so far, about $1 for craft store acrylic paint. The sand I got from my daughter's shoes. She brings home a fistful of sand after school every day. I've been saving it.

I picked up three resin buildings from the Old Glory booth at Historicon. With my 40% discount, all three wound up being $42. I then sculpted two more houses out of balsa wood, foam core, and Starbucks coffee stirrers. I also made some adobe huts out of foamcore ($1 a sheet at the Dollar Store) and bamboo skewers. Then, some cacti from Pegasus models and I'm ready to go. Total cost, under $50.

The figures are all Old Glory. The Mexicans are Zapataistas, but they can double for banditos when they're in a less revolutionary mood. The gunfighters are also from the Old Glory "American Experience" line. It took a little practice to get back into painting 28mm figures after doing 10mm for so long. I'm working on my techniques for painting eyes, shading, and sculpting bases. I've even begun adding tufts of tall grass to some bases.

As always, click to enlarge the photos.

First, two long shots of the table.

Here is El Gato Gordo and his band of ruffians in the adobe village. One shot used the flash, the other didn't.

Here's a wide shot of the town.

Here's Clint and the Airedale Gang. If you've ever met an Airedale Terrier, you just know they're tough.

The building in the right foreground and the grey one with blue trim are my scratch-built houses.

My kids think the outhouse is funny.

Finally, we have Duke and the Scruffy Bunch. If one gang was going to be named after a former dog, then the other would have to be named after a former cat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Old West houses

The Old West skirmish games at Historicon were inspiring, so I got off my duff and started painting up my Old Glory gunfighters and banditos. While I was at Historicon, I picked up some great resin southwestern buildings. However, to have a proper town, I decided to scratch-build some houses out of balsa. Here are the results of my first efforts. The house on the left is actually painted a weathered grey, but the digital photo rendered it light blue. I'm pretty happy with the results, though I will never use craft acrylics for anything other than a kid's poster. It took five coats to paint these guys, and some serious bracing efforts to prevent to wood from warping (you can see the roof on the left house has taken on a barn-like shape). The total cost of materials was less than $5 per house, and total time was about two and a half hours each from planning to the final touches of paint.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Miniature Wargames: Free!

So, if you're a wargamer like me, you're particularly fond of two things: free stuff (I'm off to Starbucks today to pick up some coffee stirrers for use as 28mm planking), and sources of inspiration. The folks at Miniature Wargames magazine, in an effort to get you to look at their pages, have asked bloggers like me to offer a link to a free sample issue. It's worth supporting publications like these, either through patronizing their advertisers or through a direct subscription, because they help those of us in the hobby connect with each other and with the manufacturers and merchandisers we depend on.

So give them a click. The free issue is on the left.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

10mm Medievals assemble!

Historicon inspired me to pick up the pace of painting once again. I completed my third batch of 10mm medievals, enough for a good-sized rumble in Impetus. I still have two more batches to go before I make it a club game. But since I'm taking a detour to the Old West, I thought I would post pictures of what I have at the moment.

As always, click to enlarge.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Historicon: Borodino

This is my last installment from Historicon. My final game a Borodino scenario was run by Tod Kershner. I was drawn by the idea of a (nearly) all-cavalry engagement in the Napoleonic Wars. This particular engagement was a moment at Borodino where several Russian cavalry divisions tried to retake the fleches captured by the French.

Below is my command. The Russian Dragoons on the right flank. Imagine my surprise and horror when I saw the French player maneuver two divisions to counter me. Fortunately, he ran into traffic problems, and my position became something of a trap for the French as I brought my artillery to bear.

Here are the lovely lancers who were the first into the meat grinder. By the time they regrouped, we were at the fleches.

And some French heavies from the other side of the battlefield. Over there, it was less about maneuvering and more about a massive and bloody scrum.