Thursday, April 30, 2015

Red Baron, Great War Air Fights.

Oh my god.
    I have been pretty busy this week, been falling behind on my PBEM games but with a great excuse! Last night I played an incredible Great War aviation Combat game, The Red Baron. The red Baron is a 3 dimensional wargame, something I never really thought possible outside of a virtual simulation, but I now stand educated and amazed.

The German Planes
The Entente Planes
    Somewhere over France, I played as the Germans while my comrade James played as the French Entente planes. The scenario he designed was such that one of his two planes were equipped with a camera, and he was ordered to take reconnaissance photos of the German trenches. He had to get within 6 inches of the border of my base (marked with blue tape on the table,) get low enough to take the shot, and roll a hidden die to see if he gets a usable photo or not. My goal is to stop them in the name of Kaiser Wilhelm the II and shoot them down. I was given command of 2 fighter planes each with 2 guns, while the Allies had one big bomber equipped with a camera, a front and rear gun, and another fighter plane with 2 front guns. While I ended up with more power, his planes had some differences but his fighter notably had more maneuverability.
Here is where we plan our turn.

    The game is played in turns, where you plot out your flight path, speed, and altitude for each turn. It is tricky at first to figure out the scale of your movements, unless you can readily estimate an inch in your head, which I can't. The orders were such that one had to predict what your opponent would do, and then test your own spatial ability by plotting out each part of your flight.
The basic maneuvers your plane can make.
Combat is declared by the player when you think your opponent is in firing range after the... completion of both of your moves. If you check for combat but you are not within 15 inches of your opponent, the shots are lost, not to mention at 15 inches you barely have any chance of hitting your target. If you are attempting to damage another plane, the trick is to get your plane as close as possible to the other one with your gun (or guns) facing the target. 

James is checking if he can make this shot, he can.
    It bears repeating that this game does take a lot of brainpower, trying to plan out your moves in a 3 dimensional realm is fairly hard to do when you are bad at math and kind of stoned, but after fumbling for the first hour or so I quickly picked up on it. It does seem like it would be perfect for a really big game, 8-10 players or more that each command a plane or 2. James, who put together all these beautiful miniatures, told me about a game of Red Baron that took place with 20 something players and every plane was on the floor. I think this game would make a pretty cool aerial supplement to a mini's campaign, something I eventually hope to do in this club. 

The two fighters disengage from each other. 
    The game starts to get really fun when you start plotting advanced maneuvers like climbing or diving half-turns that leave you upside down but heading in the opposite direction. These more complex maneuvers can even be perfected by having your plane in various positions when you attempt the half turns. The planes can also be over worked, making turns they aren't cut out for, going faster than they are built for, but at the expense of usually permanent damage to the plane; more of an endgame thing I think. The game forces you to think like a pilot as you have to plot banking left or right before you turn, or speed up before you attempt a half loop.

My German fighter trying to get a handle on this fatty french bomber.
LOOK AT ALL THE FUCKING PLANES (The red baron is on the top right)
    So I'm saving the action for last because in terms of the time it took while I fumbled around to when we started breezing by turns, it took around 3 hours to finish the game & in scale, I believe this exchange only lasted a matter of minutes or seconds. My planes took off at a high altitude with each of my fighters trying to attack each of their planes. My red plane came into contact with the enemy first while making a descending half loop to get behind the Entente plane. I wasn't aware that the Entente plane had a rear gun and just like that I became the prey and he the predator. The gun fire tore into my plane killing a crew member, damaging my wing, and my engine. That red plane was never the same after that.
Took a shot at the Entente plane, missed, figures.
     Ultimately the Entente bomber flies down low and James makes his secret roll. I don't know if he ends up making it or not till the end of the game. My red plane ended up getting completely destroyed trying to maneuver around the yellow plane, failing the Kaiser and probably getting court marshaled. The green fighter I had scrambled to shake off the fighter on his tail successfully, and started charging toward the yellow plane. At one point I wanted to bank right 3 times so I would be perpendicular and could turn tighter to catch up with the bomber.
    By banking 3 times I put my plane at risk of going into a spin, I had to roll a die (I forget which) to avoid it and I did. This was unfortunately the most success I saw all the game. While I caught up with the bomber, every shot I made missed and he escaped. To add insult to injury, my green plane got shot down with a roll of 100 on a 100 sided die. If losing all my planes wasn't bad enough James also succeeded in getting 2 clear pictures of the German trenches, achieving a flawless victory. Nevertheless, I love this game, I would play it again in a heartbeat, and I hope I get to again soon. It has totally expanded my thinking on the physical space of games, and I hope I run into more games in 4 dimensions (or is it 3?)

The final roll of the game.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Force on Force And Miniatures Wargaming in Brooklyn

Oh man, you know this is going to be a good post.

    So, I'm in the process of joining a wargaming club in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's going to be a long trial period of three months, but it seems worth the effort.  This place is completely amazing. Pretty much every game you can imagine is here. I can smoke cigarettes while I plan out my grand strategy and drink Napoleon Brandy.  So yeah, wow. Let's  see a few poorly taken pictures of this incredible place.


Napoleonic miniatures, borrowed the general d' brigade rules to learn.

1775, a fantastic war/euro game centered around the American Revolution. It really is an amazing game.

The result of an artillery attack I ordered in Force On Force
    I thought I would be all gamed out yesterday after work, but near the end of the day I received a text message from a great guy I met at the club asking me if I wanted to sit in on a Modern Warfare miniatures game. I know very little about modern warfare and figured I wasn't interested. However, I wanted to hang out with other club members and get to know them better so I decided to go. The game was called Force On Force and the scenario was taking play in North Germany as if the the Russians had invaded in the 80s and started World War Three. Once I arrived, I was invited to join the game on whichever side I preferred. The situation was such that the Russians were holding up in a walled section of the town while the American NATO forces were taking casualties advancing on the Russian position. I decided to go with the Americans since it appeared that they were the underdogs in the situation. I was given command of two infantry groups with an officer who was capable of calling in artillery fire (something I did constantly.)  

My two comrades, my teammate Shane on the left, and James for the Russians on the right.
Shane surveying the battlefield.
    My first turn did not start off so well. I had one group of infantry on foot and another inside of a transport vehicle. I wanted to unload them and get them into cover behind some bushes, but the Russians reacted before I got a chance to unload my troops. They were able to hit and destroy my troop transport with one of their tanks. As a result of this, most of my men in that vehicle were able to get out safely. However, one man died and another was seriously wounded rending him useless. Not to mention, these men were my only machine gunners so it was a huge loss. I was essentially left with a group of riflemen, one squad commander, and one officer, split into 2 groups.
My infantry executing an assault on a Russian position. 
An important bridge we were tasked with controlling. My officer has a clear LOS on the Russian infantry ahead.
    Soon after this initial debacle, things began to pick up in speed. First, Shane my teammate, laid down some smoke with one of his tanks on the opposite side of the bridge in order to move one of his tanks and my infantry across. Once his tank was on the other side, he positioned it near the wall with LOS on the Russians out in their fortifications. I reorganized my infantry into 3 companies (a skill allowed by the presence of my officer,) seperating the remaining riflemen into 2 groups leaving the wounded from their ranks in a third group with the commanding officer. The reasoning for this being the wounded troops slow down my infantry units, and I want the CO to hang back anyway. I send the 2 units over the bridge and have my CO on an elevated position on the bridge (see above.)

A snapshot of the Russian forces in their encampment.
Near the end of the game, My infantry advancing on the remaining company of Russians. 
    After moving up my troops, I continued to fire down artillery with my CO on the bridge. I was able to disrupt a bunch of their armor along with infantry and with that in mind, I went forward with my infantry to follow up on the artillery. The first assault was relatively successful, killing a whole Russian division. All of the subsequent ones, however, were failures, killing off all my troops with the exception of the CO and the wounded with him. In spite of this tragedy, their sacrifice made it possible for my team to win. With their infantry focused on my infantry, our armor was able to completely destroy all of their armor and the Russians were ultimately left with nothing but infantry. We held the bridge along with several important parts of the terrain on top of wiping out their armor, so we ended up winning the game! I had a blast and would play this game again in a heartbeat. I had no idea I even liked minis or modern warfare, but now I know better.

Sneak preview from the game I'm playing tonight!
The light at the end of the wargaming tunnel. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Napoleonics, Modern Warfare, and Gallipoli part deux

    Today I've been playing play-by-email war games since 4AM. My head has turned into a total wasteland, but there might end up being some nuggets of insight while I'm not in control of all my faculties. Although I feel fatigued now, I made some good decisions in several of my current games and some clearly horrible ones in others. In addition I just started hosting a Napoleonic Waterloo tournament for the Wargamers Club For Gentlemen. Also I ended up joining a wargaming club in Brooklyn that is pretty incredible, but more on all that in the next installment. Now, lets go to the games.

Holding off Bulcher's Prussians northeast of Placenoit with stacked cavalry.
    I was pretty happy with how this turned out. This was how my game looked at the end of my turn and this was the first end result of contact between Bulow and Bulcher. As of right now, The Prussians have taken loads of casualties, and I've taken out 2 of their commanders. I'm pretty sure I can't maintain this for much longer, but as long as I can hold them off to get my infantry into square formation further north, I can neutralize their cavalry and hold them off for a while longer. I know that this player is far more experienced then I am, but if I can manage to screen and harass their advance I hopefully will have a chance.

The Allies (in red) attempting to hold this ridge from Napoleons troops. 
    The above game is from the Napoleonic tournament I am running for the Wargamers Club for Gentlemen. The scenario is a snapshot of the fight at Waterloo that focused on Napoleon's attack on Wellington at a ridge in Waterloo. While Wellington was considered a tactical genius and was often praised for his ability to conceal artillery from the enemy, this battle is by no means easy. Without having to rely on the Prussians to put pressure on the French right flank, the French were well poised to do some serious damage to the British. Luckily, my opponent is new to the game so I'm hoping my experience will work in my favor. Already I can see one spot where his infantry are stacked together in great numbers. Not only will those units be unable to fire because they are stacked in lines, they make a great target for my artillery as I inflict heavy losses on them. My goal here is to make them bleed as much as possible while giving up ground when needed to keep my troops alive.

Korea 85', NK is brown, SK is blue, US is green.
    I am doing considerably worse in a multiplayer game of Korea 85. Most of the North Korean units have way more firepower and men than I do. I am getting pressed pretty hard from every direction. Strangely enough, my more uniformly stronger units are engineers so I need to figure out how to use them to prevent the North Korean Advance. I'm just now thinking that I can use them to lay down mines and blow up bridges. In a later turn, which I neglected to take a picture of, my guys are even more decimated, losing some of the victory locations to the west. Things are not looking very good here.

Moving along, brightening things up.

    My Gallipoli scenario is going better than expected. With some flares and the assistance of officers, I was able to to start picking away at the Ottomans I could locate. I still continued to take losses as I moved up the embankment, but with my superior numbers this wasn't too bad of a loss. My plan is to keep moving ahead taking cover against elevations in the terrain when possible. I check the line of sight of my visible enemies in order to advance giving them as little opportunities as possible to hit me.

Liking the look of this!
    This has now turned into a race to the victory points for me. I have eliminated and demoralized most of the enemy's units (at least I think,) and have started moving my troops eastward. The terrain is clearly my biggest enemy now, with 3 or 4 turns left I don't know if its possible to get enough victory locations to secure a victory, but we shall find out!

    In the next installment, I'll be talking about a great modern combat minis game I played tonight (and of course the conclusion of the landing on the beaches of the Dardanelles!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

4/25/1915: The Invasion of Gallipoli

Suleiman The Great
    If it weren't for the disgraceful genocide of Armenians, today would be remembered for one of the most iconic and interesting engagements in The Great War 100 years ago. The invasion of Gallipoli was the last valiant stand of the decaying and grotesque government of the Ottoman Empire. The history of the Ottoman Empire after Suleiman The Great is one fraught with brutality, strangeness, and overwhelming decadence. At one point, the Ottomans had constructed a giant windowless tower called "The Cage" where they would raise future heirs either to rule the empire having no knowledge of the outside world or just end up killing them. It should be clear even to the dumbest historian that the Ottoman Empire was in an unbelievably weak position at the outset of the great war.

French Soldiers landing in the Dardanelles (look at those silly bayonets!)
    This is what makes the Gallipoli campaign so fascinating. The Gallipoli campaign is considered the most tantamount victory of the Ottoman Empire during the Great War. Today Turkey and other former Entante powers are commemorating the centennial, but back then the Allies certainly had nothing to celebrate. The Entante fielded a fearsome force to take Constantinople (before Russia could) that consisted of mostly battle hardened colonial veterans from the British and French empires. The Ottomans at that point had not seen any military successes in years, and their soldiers were fairly inexperienced. The Central Powers at that point fielded a much smaller force (about 300,000 men less) with limited German and Austro-Hungarian assistance.

Albert d' Amade, Commander of the Oriental Expeditionary Corps.
    At this early point in the war, the lessons of the complete drudgery of the western front had not sunken in yet, and one can clearly see that the Allies failed to grasp the realities of modern warfare. At the outset of the war a year before in 1914, the french were still conducting Napoleonic bayonet charges in spite of getting completely torn apart by German machine gunners and snipers. While the topography of the marshes of France eventually came to thwart the Schlieffen plan, the mountainous and difficult terrain of the Dardanelles combined with the efficient and well built entrenchments did the same to the French & British, and led to their eventual decimation and evacuation of Gallipoli.

The Entante has landed! This happened 100 years ago today.
     To commemorate the centennial of the campaign, I have started to play through the Gallipoli campaign in John Tiller's First World War, part of the squad battles series with a friend from the Wargamers Club For Gentlemen (see link to the top right.) I have decided to take the Allies as I want to try to see how the Allies could have went about things differently achieving strategic victory, if not the conquest of Constantinople. On the first turn in the picture above, my forces landed on the shore but were unable to do anything else, going prone wasn't even an option given the depth of the water. As one could expect, this led to some initial brutal casualties. It at once becomes clear that land invasions were indefinitely more difficult before World War 2 and the advent of powerful airborne bombers and fighters. All I could do for the very first turn was stand there and wait to get shot down by machine gun fire. A foreboding opening to my own Gallipoli campaign.

Getting on the beach was not any easier with the Ottoman machine gunners in elevated entrenchments.
    The second round I tried to get as many of my men as far up on the shore as I can while taking some shots at the Ottomans that are within sight. I got lucky on my right flank and managed to pin down one of the machine gunners (notice the "P" furthest to the southwest,) and succeeded in killing a few of them while I was at it. In addition, I was able to move some infantry into one victory location in a section of barbed wire. While moving into that location immediately pinned the squad that took the position, I was able to move in several leaders to rally my men for the next turn.

Slow but steady forward progress.
    On this third turn I continued to make very slow progress up from the coast. The increased elevation is so that I can only move one hex per turn, luckily it seems that my opponent has started to make his forces fall back, I might be eating those words later when I advance in the open and he proceeds to mow me down. It becomes clear that before the invention of tanks, a great deal of responsibility was placed upon the average infantryman. It must have taken a great deal of courage and bravery to expose yourself in the face of relentless gun and artillery fire in order to advance. I took only a few casualties this turn and managed to pin the unit on the north east. Looks for the next post for an update on this campaign.

Dedicated to all who perished and served 100 years ago.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Introduction

   A year ago, I had no interest in war. While I graduated with a history major several years ago, I was more focused on political intrigue and American history. This all changed after I decided to dig into World War One a bit after trying a great game called, "To End All Wars" for the PC. The game allowed you to create Corps and Armies with ease and does a great job of showcasing the grand strategic tribulations that made the war so deadly. With this game grew an interest in military conflict in general, and for the past year or two I have dedicated myself to the study of military engagements through war gaming and reading.

    Why war games? How can a game teach us anything about conflicts that took place decades, if not centuries ago? Can we gain any insight into how battles could have been won or lost? The answer to most of these questions is yes, but why war games? War games, in the purest sense of the term, allow you to recreate historical scenarios through mathematical probabilities tethered to reality. I can think of no other way to "watch" a war in progress, and see how things operate from a command point of view.

    Lets take the example of Waterloo, which was the fateful end of Napoleon's reign. What brought Napoleon to his knees was the unexpected interjection of Bulcher's Prussians on the weaker French right flank, before Napoleon had a chance to disorder and overwhelm Wellingtons British troops on the opposite end of the front line. War games afford us the unique opportunity to see how things could have gone differently, and also provide the assurance of proof given that the rules are tailored to reality.

The battle of Waterloo.
   The map above shows how Napoleon was completely unprepared for the Prussian onslaught, having to move Lobau's troops to intercept the Prussians at Placenoit. As we all know, it was too late for the French to recover. Being unable to counter attack, Napoleon's reign came to an end after being sufficiently routed by the Allies. Unlike Napoleon, we have the benefit of history, and we know that Bulcher's Prussians are coming. What if Napoleon had advance notice of the incoming Prussians and shored up his right flank? The implications of simple military maneuvers, such as I've described, have far reaching consequences. The course of history would have been completely changed had Napoleon took better steps to reconnoitre the battlefield.

   This is why I find military history so fascinating. No other kind of crisis, only war, can produce earth shattering changes to the course of history. Small things have big consequences, and it speaks highly of generals who are able to take note of this and shift their plans on the go to fit the situation. If any of us are to truly understand the world around us and how it came to be, one must study the literal maneuvers of humanity's single largest tribulation, war.