Well, we said goodbye to 2020 happy to put a wild year behind us, little did we know 2021 was going to deliver more of the same. Just when Australia was lulled into a false sense of security the Delta variant reared its ugly head and 2021 was another year disrupted by a lengthy lockdown. Despite all that, looking back it's been a fairly busy and productive period.
I’m not someone who makes detailed plans or who keeps a record of figures acquired and figures painted, I tend to go where the mood takes me. That said, I’m not a typical wargaming butterfly, but every now and then I’ll be inspired and find myself wandering into a rabbit hole. This is all of way of saying that until I put this review of the year together I didn’t really have a good idea of what the year had produced.
The lockdown meant a three month interruption to face-to-face gaming but looking back I still managed to squeeze in quite a few games. Chain of Command was always going to play a big part in the gaming year and we started in February with the Bloody Bucket campaign. That turned into a ten game epic, the longest campaign we've played.
While it is set during the winter of 1944, no snow was present at the time, which saved me contemplating creating snow terrain. However I did think it would be useful to build new terrain that would work for the colder months without snow. With that in mind I made up leafless hedges and deciduous trees.
It's surprising how effective something as simple as this can be at changing the look and feel of the table.
I also added groups of conifers. Aside from their use in the Ardennes these should also come in useful for settings like East Prussia and parts of Russia.
The plan had always been that after the Bloody Bucket campaign we would take a break from Chain of Command and play a few other rules and periods. The intention being that we would return to CoC later in the year to play the campaign 'There are Many Rivers to Cross'. Taking place during the German blitzkrieg of May 1940 this can be set anywhere in the Low Countries and we had chosen Holland so that Dave could use the Dutch platoon he had recently painted. While events meant we ran out of time to get that one started I did make use of the lockdown to make a few preparations.
Nothing says Holland quite like a windmill and I made up the Dapol HO/OO post windmill that was once an old Airfix mould. The kit stands up remarkably well considering its age.
The Dutch kazemat pillboxes are also a feature of the campaign and something missing from my collection. The closest things I could find were MDF versions from Blotz that are based on various British designs. Research showed the Dutch designs were often very similar. These kits are fairly basic and so I made a number of embellishments which I cover in this post.
Originally I had planned to do these in plain concrete but part of my research showed that many were painted and from what I could gather there was no proscriptive painting style, that being left to the individual garrison units. So I painted one set as unadorned concrete and one camouflaged.Sharp Practice AWI page.
Given our interest in the American War of Independence we also tried Muskets & Tomahawks (2nd Edition). I have mixed feeling about Studio Tomahawk's rules. On the plus side, they have a number of interesting and often innovative mechanics and there's no doubt the rules are extremely well written and presented. However I'm not sold on how well they reflect their historical period, they always strike me as more game than wargame. I had two particular issues with this set.
Firstly the card activation, while innovative, didn't seem to bear any relation to a real world situation. Why exactly do all the 'Regulars' activate at the same time when the 'Regulars' card is played? What does that actually represent given it doesn't require a commander to coordinate the activity and assumes units on different parts of the table can suddenly all act in unison?
Secondly, I was at a complete loss to understand their interpretation of British Light Infantry, who are treated purely as skirmishers rather than a fast, elite unit. The worst case being their 'Aggression' rating (which is used to determine their effectiveness in hand to hand combat) - it's the same as American militia, which leaves me mystified and means you cannot use the light bobs as they would have been used historically. I can't help feeling that's a serious flaw and makes me wonder how well the authors understand the period they are writing about.
On a more positive note, they have tried to do something interesting with volley fire, where its primary effect is on morale rather than causing casualties. I thought this was at its most effective when reflecting the way irregulars or militia might react in the face of a volley. There is certainly a good idea buried in there but I'm just not certain they have it right in the final execution. So, all up, a very playable set of rules that make for a decent enough game, but not great history.
Dave and I joined a new club in the middle of last year. They meet on Wednesday evenings and going there has become part of a regular gaming routine. While Dave and I have many gaming interests in common we each have a few rules or periods where our enthusiasm is not equally shared. This is where the club has been great, as it's given us outlets to pursue these other interests without trying to inflict them on each other. It's also been something of a gaming laboratory, where we can try out different rules and systems. The benefit of doing this weekly is that if a game or rule set doesn't work for you it's no great loss, you can try something else the next week. This is a marked contrast to our old club, which only meets monthly, and if a game doesn't work out you really feel like it has been a wasted opportunity.
Ironically, given Dave and I enjoy many of the Lardy's rule sets, there are some at the club with a real dislike for them. They are fairly vocal about it too, however it's good natured and we are invariably on the receiving end of a bit of banter.
Looking back over this year the club has enabled me to have the opportunity to try a number of different games. Including:
Sam Mustafa's Rommel, a divisional level Second World War set, where we played a western desert scenario in 15mm. There's much to like about the system but as someone quite comfortable playing board games I'm not sure this needs to be played with miniatures, in fact I suspect it might make for a much better experience as a board game. Where as I can handle any level of abstraction in a board game to me something breaks the immersive experience when a game of miniatures strays too far from a one-to-one visual representation. Perhaps it would feel different in a much smaller scale?
I've never really gamed anything earlier than the medieval period and so ancients is foreign territory for me. One benefit of the club is that it has allowed me to dip my toe into the water. Playing at a skirmish level I tried Clash of Spears. It has several interesting mechanics that allow for a lot of interplay between players and makes for a good dynamic interaction. That said, their downfall is that they require a fair degree of on-table record keeping, to the point that at one stage we had more tokens and markers on the table than we had miniatures. To be honest I think that could be addressed by a few creative approaches to how those event are marked.
Jumping from 28mm to 15mm and from skirmish to mass battle I then tired Sword and Spear, a set of rules very popular with a few of the club members. It's a fairly straightforward set but it demands careful decision making on your use of resources. To some degree it's an abstraction of command and control difficulties although I'm not totally sure what exactly it's abstracting. Nonetheless the rules allow for a mass battle to be played out in a couple of hours, so ideal for a midweek evening game on a club night.
While my own First World War project has come together very slowly, there are a couple of members of the club who have a large collection. Ironically one of their preferred rulesets is Through the Mud and Blood from Too Fat Lardies. They have a large, modular trench system and it was good to get a feel about what might be possible once I have my own project completed.
I've been working on creating forces in 12mm for O Group, the battalion level Second World War rules by Dave Brown. Using those I ran two games at the club that were very well received. Unfortunately for the blog I was so engaged in running and playing the games that I didn't take any pictures. Enthusiasm for the rules ran high and we managed to squeeze in the first scenario from the recently released France 1940 supplement before the end of the year. The latter we played in 15mm as I don't have an early war force in 12mm. It was interesting to make a comparison in how the rules play out in a slightly larger scale. Despite a relatively small difference we felt 10/12mm had a much better feel than the larger 15mm. I think it's highly likely O Group will become a regular set used at the club and so I expect to post more on the blog (and pictures!) in 2022.
Given the lockdown it was no surprise I managed to get a fair amount of figure painting completed.
The slow burning First World War project came nearer to completion thanks to the inspiration garnered from playing Through the Mud and Blood at the club. I have a four section British platoon finished and I've made progress with the German platoon.
Our American War of Independence campaign was inspiration to add more to the collection. This included a reworking of my British deployment point and a new movable deployment point for the Americans.
Finally getting around to figures I had bought several years ago for a Sudan project became something I tackled during lockdown. In a productive period I managed to paint 80 plastic Beja Mahdists from Perry and a box of 36 British infantry.
As 20mm Second World War is never far from my mind it was no surprise I found time to add more to the collection. A Plastic Soldier Company Panther in a late war ambush camouflage scheme.
So, despite the disruptions that Covid continue to bring to our lives overall it's been quite a busy and productive year. In many ways it's been very fortunate to have a hobby that can continue in one form or another despite those disruptions. It's helped to keep me sane, that's for sure. That just leaves it for me to wish all of you and your families a very happy new year and all the best for 2022. I’ve enjoyed sharing my little part of the hobby with you, thanks for posting comments or just following along.