Monday, 23 February 2015

Of John Hill and Boardgames

I was skimming through the latest edition of Miniature Wargames (March 2015) when I saw a photo of a set of boxed games on one of the pages. Squad Leader no less ! I then read the article that announced that John Hill noted Boardgsame designer and in particular the designer of Squad Leader had died earlier this year. Why this post you may ask.

As a spotty adolescent I had already been introduced to RPG gaming through Dungeons and Dragons that was released in around 1977. At that time although we had unpainted Citadel and Ral Partha figures representing characters we used chess pieces for the baddies. Goblins were pawns Werebears were knights and a Rubiks cube doubled as one of the gelatinous variety. Lots of imagination and most importantly good honest fun.

At the same time a friend who was a boarder at my school started talking about a board game  game called Squad Leader that he played in the evenings with one of the older boys. I was intrigued and after I had stayed behind one evening entranced.

Pocket money was saved and a postal order was despatched. Soon after I had my very own copy. This was my very first true wargame.  Gareth and myself learnt tactics through playing the game and trial and error rather than reading books. The first series of scenarios surrounding The Tractor Works were simple elegant and infinitely replayable. One winning tactic immediately invited a counter. I remember him basing his chances of winning one scenario on making his Russians go ' beserk'!

The names on the counters of Cpl Uhl, Cpl Jones and Cpl Rosenberger (the infamous 6 +1 leader), remain ingrained in my memory. We played numerous campaign games trying to get a 7-0 leader to the almost mythical 10-3 status. One evening saw four geomorphic boards stretched end to end along a corridor as we played the final SL scenario. God knows how normal people ever managed to play this on a table as it must have been 8 -10 feet long. Along came Cross of Iron with its bright orange Russians followed by the unglamorous Brits in Crescendo of Doom. Panzerblitz,  Arab Israeli Wars (I always played the Arabs) Festung Europa, Road to the Rhine and Caesar at Alesia  followed.

As started Sixth form 4 of us played lengthy sessions of Kingmaker whilst under the influence of Heinekin Lager and Double Diamond Bitter. For some reason Lord Scrope always seemed to be the sacrificial lamb in battles......

Finally a mutual friend invited me to his house where I saw hordes of 15mm French and British Minifigs facing each other across a large table for the very first time. Rules were by Bruce Quarrie. The rest is history.

My point is that all of us had a catalyst that started our engagement with the hobby and John Hills Squad Leader was mine.

Thanks John, you have no idea how many happy memories you were responsible for

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hidden Movement -The Beauty of Whatsapp and the start of the Thule Game

Most people now have access to Smartphones, even if we don't always know how to use all their functionality. Whenever I have been involved in games involving off table of map movement it has involved copious use of paper and pens which is not always what you want in a game.

For this game we decided to use the Whatsapp 'app' as a way of sending instant messages on troop movements to the umpire rather than pen and paper. Not only are the messages timed and dated but it is then easy to keep a log of who moved where and when for the post game debrief.

At 99p for a years use for the app and using normal Wifi connection it was well worth the  small investment. The Allies created one talk group and the Axis another. The Umpire obviously had access to both. It also meant there was no inadvertent spying on the opposition..

It seemed to go really well and more importantly it was quite quick. I think we ran through ten map turns as well as some on table encounters in the evening.

The Background to the Game is

Ice Station Thule is located at the northern end of Spitzbergan Island. It is partially buried in the ice face of the Vulkan Glacier. It has been developed from the pre existing Norwegian scientific research station Vulkan.

The Norwegians were exploring the now extinct volcano and were experimenting with geo thermal energy. There is a large magnetic anomaly at this site which often disrupts radio communication. It is believed that this anomaly also generates the unusual and intense Northern lights which appear randomly at this location.

The Axis are conducting experiments at the location, presumably the Allies will try to impede them.

Both sides were given the map below


The crevasses are marked in blue. The two part Hungsforden Massive is impassable but other crevasses can be crossed assuming you have the right equipment............ and pass the appropriate tests.

The solid blocks are ice walls, these are impassable.

Each unit, tracked, animal or on foot can move one square per turn. Visibility is affected by the wind direction so you may be able to see downwind but not up.

Each side messages the Umpire with the callsign for the unit and the map reference they are moving to and from. The Umpire has a master map on which he plots movement and additionally he has already marked squares where there may be 'encounters' These include wolves, dire wolves large polar bears, zombie penguins ( yes, there are rules for these) and a potential for a Yeti.

The Ice station is in row 20 at the top of the map, I think around row J and K but the map will not quite show this.

The game starts with the Axis moving their resupply vehicle 'Thor' towards the  Ice Station from any point on Row 1. As far as I know the Allies have a 3 turn advance onto the table also from Row 1.

Tests are made for breakdowns, events, soft snow and breakdowns (which impedes vehicles but not animals or troops on foot) and cold weather (which affects those exposed to the elements but not in vehicles).

Just got to update Picasea and I will be able to provide a Day 1 report

Thule scenery

Here are a series of photos of the scenery. the first few are 'finished' whilst the later photos were taken as it was built. A bit special really. Lots of polystyrene and use of cathode ray tube tv packaging. it shows how long the polystyrene had been in the 'useful' box as CRT TV's went out of service ages ago. 

Ted also muted the lighting in the games shed. There was white everywhere

This is a game night view of the base from the far end of the table. The lights flash red and when the magnetic field is in flux the backdrop has a green hue to it

This shows the VRIL tanks behind the 'saucer' pad. The turbojet is to the left, you can just see the nose

The main entrance to the underground complex. The lights flash on top of the buildings

The Polish labourers hut, sentry post and guard house

This is a pre game view showing the other side of the table.
Close up of the main entrance to the compound

Thursday, 5 February 2015

More pre game photos

Here is Thor the 18 Tonne Armoured Supply Delivery Vehicle. My immediate thoughts included ' I hope that has wide tracks' and 'Does it come with Crevasse Extraction Equipment' Something like an Anti Grav Device might be useful. The decal on the side indicates that the driver has a side line making deliveries for Ocado.

 Some photos of The SAS Mountain Warfare Cadre. Plastic Commandos with Infantry side pouches added to the backpacks so they look like Bergans. Brilliant work from The MaestroGame update to follow tomorrow