Monday, 17 September 2018

One Hour Skirmish Wargames

In the chaos of combat

I have always like the idea of skirmish games because (i) one can experiment with a small unusual army that one has no intention of turning into a 2000 point force, (ii) one can have a great game in a small area, and (iii) a game can be played theoretically in a limited time.

But many skirmish systems have only allowed points (i) and (ii) but not (iii). The logic has been that because a skirmish involves a limited number of models then each one has to have lots of complicated special rules. The trouble is that these slow the game right down until a thirty second encounter in game time takes an hour to play out in real time. Burned into my brain is a game of Foxbat & Phantom where a single pass by two Tornadoes on a Soviet formation took all day to play.

I wanted a skirmish game that had all the feel of the shootouts in Where Eagles Dare: I wanted to have heroes like Clint Eastwood jumping form cover and mowing down the bad guys with a schmeisser fired from the hip.

The problem is that one can’t just simplify the rules or one ends up with something completely bland that has no feel for the period.

So that was my first task: to speed up the game without simplifying the rules.

I started to experiment back in 2006 with my long suffering regular opponent, Shaun.

Much of the tedium in skirmish games concerns the dice-based randomiser system. This inevitably involves lots of tables with lots of modifiers. Clint Eastwood jumps out from cover and checks the hit number of his ballistic skill, modified by the weapon, range, target and concealing terrain and carries out a deal of mental arithmetic before...being gunned down by a stormtrooper firing his schmeisser from the hip on full auto.

It is a fact the skill in mental arithmetic is age-linked. The advent of cheap, powerful, easy to use, portable digital machines means that mental arithmetic skills are going the way of calligraphy as a universal skill.

I solved this by switching to a playing card based system. Playing cards offer a wide range of various probabilities from 1:2 to 1:52. Randomisers become simply a matter of drawing additional or fewer cards against the opponent, highest card wins. This system is mechanically fast and simple but very complex wrt the range of probabilities

This means that all the unit-data needed to play a game can be summarised in a few lines on a
card that the player keeps in front of them. The player spends 99% of his time considering what to move, where to move it and what to shoot at.

In playtesting, we found the act of turning over cards against each other competitively was fun in itself….kinda like pontoon.

The game is not bland, because the wide range of modifiers easily available using a single mechanism means that it is no hassle at all to give individual figures special skills.

For example, an ace sniper might draw two extra cards when shooting; a scout with concealment skills might draw an extra card over and above the terrain normal; and a skilled technician might draw three cards when trying to start a machine compared to a normal bod against a fixed number depending on the scenario rules).

The second major point after speed of play that I wanted to address was chaos. Large ‘things’ with multiple sub units, like one division versus another, are easy to predict because all the chaotic interactions cancel out. Tiny subunits, like one person against another, are controlled by chaotic processes and so are unpredictable. That’s one reason why one needs a wide range of probabilities for a skirmish game.

This game rewards player who can handle chaos and exploit changing circumstances: it is poker rather than bridge.

I introduce this chaos by the way the game turn is structured. A turn is divided into phases. The player who wins the phase initiative draws a card to get command points that are spent moving and firing figures one at a time. A single figure can make up to three moves before firing (or doing something technical) but each extra move cost exponentially increasing command points. The extremes are moving lots of things once and not shooting or moving a few things a long way. Command points can vary between 1 and 13 depending on the card drawn.

When a player has used all their points, initiative switches to their opponent. This continues until a Joker is drawn by either player whereupon the turn end immediately. Players go to the end of turn phase.

Army moral is tested to see if one (or both) armies have had enough and retreat. This is based on a card test on the actual number of soldiers that have been killed. Using an absolute measure rather than a percentage makes the game self balancing and introduces the ‘heroic’ Hollywood-feel that I wanted to simulate. Having lots of indifferent troops lurking in the middle distance will not stop your army from withdrawing but leadership is critical because they add extra cards when testing morale.

Assuming both armies survive, models knocked down by shooting are tested to see if they are
permanently out of action (doesn’t necessarily imply killed - they could have gone to ground) by drawing a card for each: Red is Dead.

There is no bureaucracy in the game to slow things down. Models defeated in close combat are removed, shot models are knocked down. A good tactic is for one of your figures to make the knock down and the another to close combat the down figure whereupon a kill is automatic.

The book is structured into eras, with each era introducing special rules for the period and an historical scenario with army lists based on a real event. The scenarios get more complicated as appropriate new rules are added, eg automatic weapons, armoured vehicles, guided weapons and, er, rayguns and psychic powers.

The eras are (i) Early Days - Age of the Musket, The Rifle Era, (ii) The Twentieth Century - Wars Within Peace, World War II, The Cold War, (iii) Extending The Game - Pulp Action.

There are rules for campaigns, including a WWII example. A points system is included, although the system is forgiving for asymmetric warfare, and ideas for modifying scenarios to refresh them.

The book is to a large degree a skirmish tool-kit. Because skirmish games are so dependent on scenarios, I wanted very much to provide an open ended system so buyers got the maximum value for their hard-earned dosh.

What made me turn what was intended just to be an experimental system to test new ideas into a commercial product was a constant reaction from each new playtester:

“This,” they said, “is fun!”

Thursday, 9 August 2018

'Nam: The Air War

F4 Phantom

The next air campaign that I intend to cover for my new game is the air war over North Vietnam.

F105 'Thud'

Accordingly, I have bought a few suitable 1:300 models from Scotia-Grendal's Collectair range. These are old fashioned metal models (lead alloy?) and some of the moulds are slightly ragged BUT they are excellent value for money. This whole collection cost less than £30 including postage.

Mig 17

The Soviet fighters are really small compared to American planes. These obsolete 17s gave the USAF and USN some real headaches.

Mig 19

The Mig 19 was not exactly a roaring success after the 17 and 15, and was not used much by North Vietnam.

Mig 21

The 21, armed with two reverse-engineered Sidewinder missiles, was a formidable opponent. The fighter/interceptor is the same generation as the Lightning and Starfighter.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Tamiya Clear Red vs Citadel Touchstone Blue

I recently acquired some Tamiya Clear acrylic paints and was well impressed so, as I have Malign Sorcery bits and pieces to paint, I decided to put Tamiya head to head with Citadel.

First off, I sprayed the pieces Humbrol Metallic Silver as both an under coat and a base coat. This is an excellent paint which covers well in one go straight onto the plastic.

The Tamiya paint is much thinner and runnier than the gloopier Citadel and is much easier to paint onto the model. Unlike the Citadel, the Tamiya is often used by modellers through an airbrush to freshen up the colours on a model.

The Citadel paint was a pain. I put on two coats and it tended to form thick globules in recesses while running completely off raised areas. Even after two coats I had to do two extended touch ups and it still didn't look quite right.

In contrast, the Tamiya went on in one coat and only needed a couple of touch ups in raised areas.

Army Painter gloss varnish, painted on completed the build.

And after all that the Tamiya still looks better!

Tamiya make a complete range of these paints in all the main colours - I shall definitely be buying.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Model Aircraft Scales For Wargaming

 From left to right - Scotia-Grendel, Warlord Games, Revell, Airfix.

Warlord Games introduction of their innovative Blood Red Sky has kickstarted WWII fighter games; a genre that has been in the doldrums for some years.

However, aeroplane miniatures are based on traditional model scales rather than wargame miniature sizes so I have pulled some planes out of my collection to demonstrate what's available. These are all ME bf 109 models.

The most popular aircraft scale with a vast selection of aircraft on offer. There is ferocious competition between manufacturers keeping prices down. You can expect to pay about £7.50 per fighter.
Pros: Large, detailed, look great, good value, many prepainted.
Antis: Large, take up space, expensive per model.
Equivalent: Usually reckoned to be 20mm to 25mm wargame scale, but they take up much the same table space as a 28mm vehicle model - planes are big.

This scale has languished in recent years but it has taken an upswing in recent years as Far Eastern manufacturers and diecast model makers have adopted the scale. You can expect to pay about £5 per fighter.
Pros: Large enough for reasonable detail, small enough to have a small footfall on the table, many prepainted, good value.
Antis: Restricted range in west, expensive per model.
Equivalent: Usually reckoned to be 8-10 mm but they take up as much room as a 15mm vehicle model.

This was the scale chosen by Wings of War/Glory and has been adopted by Warlord Games. Very few other models available. Expect to pay about £15 for a prepainted WoG model or £20 per six planes unpainted from Warlord Games
Pros: As 1/144 but prepainted are expensive, unpainted good value.
Antis: Very restricted choice of manufacturers and models.
Equivalent: Similar to 1/144

These are the classic metal wargame models. Expect to pay about £1.50 per plane.
Pros: Small so don't take up much room, cheap to buy, metal so tough.
Antis:Limited range of planes and manufacturers, small so undetailed, metal so heavy.
Equivalent: 6mm

Other scales

1/48: Are you mad? The classic model makers scale. These are big so good for play across a tennis court floor for demo games. Great range, all levels of detail and price.

1/100: The classic 15mm, these are rather rare.

1/285: Can be used more or less interchangeably with 1:300.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Miniature Wargames Free Figures, Wild West Exodus

This months issue of Miniature Wargames has free figures from the Wild West Exodus game, now owned by Weyland Games.

I don't know much about the game but it seems to be steampunk using 30 mm (?) plastic models. These two retail for £17 the pair.

The models do not immediately impress. The plastic is one of those semi-resin types but does stick together easily with standard plastic glue. The models are fairly adjustable and lend themselves to a degree of customisation.

And the finished model is actually pretty decent - much better than the bits would suggest.

As these were free, I decided to lay around a bit with a different painting technique.

I undercoated them in Humbrol aluminium spray, which gives a metallic light grey and rather grainy appearance, and then coasted them with Tamiya Clear Red.

I was very pleased with the result: see above.

Adding a little Tamiya Clear Yellow overpaint gave some pleasing  highlights. All I did to finish off was to paint in a few details in Vallejo brass.

I will use this technique again. Next time I might try Humbrol silver or gold as the undercoat.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Review Gangs of Rome: Blood on the Aventine

Blood on the Aventine, Boxed Game

I had been hearing good things about the new Gangs of Rome rules for a while and took the opportunity to pick up a Blood on the Aventine boxed starter set at Salute. I clearly wasn't the only one as the game was selling faster than indulgences to politicians.

Box Reverse Showing Contents

Blood on the Aventine is a complete game in a box, in that there is everything one needs from miniatures to rules without needing an additional purchase. The rear of the box shows the contents.


Inside the box are six good quality gang fighters plus some rather nifty lasercut woodchip bases with a rather unique design feature. I have not yet painted my own set, so here are the photos from the rulebook.

The five 'civilians' on the group base are a 'Roman mob'. More about these later but, for now, I should say that these are not included and must be bought separately.

The Rules

As well as a scrumptious full colour rule book, one gets an exclusive Blood on the Aventine scenario complete with special model and terrain.

Talavus the Gaul

The special model in the set is Talavus, who is the caretaker of the half-built temple. He will attack any ganger who gets too close to his charge.

Sarissa Roman Temple

The exclusive half-constructed Roman Temple from Sarissa Precision is an absolute gem: a highly detailed kit as can be seen from the number of layers needed to make it.

Who're You Looking At, Sunshine?

Neighbourly Discussion Over The Garden Wall

I can't resist showing you some more of the photos in the rulebook: gorgeous or what?

Inside The Rules

The basic game mechanics are simple enough with figures being activated in turn until all have made their double action. However the rules have been carefully thought through with oodles of detail.

For example, page 16 solely discusses how to climb up a ladder or rope to get on a roof - without climbing and risking an agility test.
Awareness: concerns whether anyone on the roof already spots the climber and kicks the ladder away/cuts the rope.
Nasty Surprise: for anyone already on the roof who doesn't detect the climber.
Sabotage: the climber cuts the rope/kicks away the ladder after getting to the top to prevent anyone following him - PROVIDED the climber has an alternative way down.

Look, I can't go through all the detail in this short review but you can download the rules for free (and other goodies) and read them for yourself.

The Ganger, Livilla

Each ganger has a card detailing:-
Alignment: bonuses if all gangers come from the same 'hood
Favourite God: gives special 'blessing'.
Back Story: Livilla was found naked under a statue of Venus [could happen to anybody].
Fighter Special Abilities
Stats from top to bottom: Flesh (wounds & movement), Attack, Defence, Agility, Points Cost).

The base has two cut-outs for markers. One is the gang number so players can relate the gang model to a specific stats card. You need this as the system is flexible. The red marker shows the current wounds left, which is also the movement. This is a brilliantly simple idea to avoid clutter and confusion on the tabletop. You move the model and the markers go to. The markers slot out to be changed as the ganger takes wounds.


Another ganger. he is number 3 in the 'greens' and has taken a few knocks. His wounds/move marker is down to 3: note the blood spatters.

Weapon/Object Cards

The model doesn't conform exactly to the card because one can provide a model with special weapons/objects. And these can be changed during the game. So a model can whip out a spear, throw it, and then revert back to a standard attack.

Player Aids

The game comes with a full set of aids that are well though up to smooth out and speed up play. The gladius is marked in 'gradus' - it's a ruler. Fortunately by some strange coincidence, one gradus = one inch so you can also use a more standard measure.

The 'stones' are put in a bag and drawn 'Bolt Action' style to give play order. The large diecut counters are Denarii and are used to mark which model has which special weapon or object.

Note the dice, marked in Roman numerals. I think this is a great touch to add atmosphere but they are basically D6s so can be easily substituted for people who prefer more standard fare.

Da Roman Mob

Multi-model bases are non-player controlled 'mobs' of civilians. They react to whatever gang actions they see in various ways governed by die rolls and add a fun level of unpredictably.

Streets Of Rome

Sarissa Precision have produced a whole new range of laser-cut buildings, ships and engines to support the game. Find them here. Do take a look as they are fabulous.


The Villa Of Iohannes Agna

I set up a simple scenario with my regular opponent and playtester, the Saxon warrior called Shaun.

Iohannes Agna has built a posh villa in a small town just outside Rome on the Via Appia. His business methods, although lucrative, have made him enemies so the villa is walled and guarded by a gang under contract, the Samnian Sausage Eaters.

I hadn't finished my official models so we used some of my Roman skirmish models from my Foundry and Warlord collections. Shaun supplied the Roman town.

Gang Cards

These are the stats for my gangers. Note that the 'flesh' markers are on the cards as my old models are on standard bases. The turned over cards are the weapons etc.

Hey You In The Villa

The Sausage Eaters are lounging around the courtyard as usual when a challenge announces the arrival of the local Crossroads Brotherhood - who want to discuss certain market charges with Iohannes.

My gang move out to persuade the Brotherhood that the boss is otherwise engaged.

First Moves

The Brotherhood cluster around the entrance to the Villa courtyard. Samnian Aemillia (in the green dress) is an acrobat so she somersaults over the wall to catch the Brotherhood from behind as her colleagues block the gate.


Aemellia produces a spear but hesitates to throw it which is a big error. Two of the brotherhood, well one brother and a sister, rush over and 'gang up' on her.

General Brawl

The Sausage Eaters try to come to Aemillia's aid but are stopped by the third Brother blocking the exit.

Sausage Eater Down

Aemillia suffers a nasty wound and goes down. The Brotherhood now gang up 3 to 2 on her friends as they force their way out into the alley (brawl combat rather than wound hits).

End Game

Another Eater bites the dust. My remaining ganger decided that maybe the boss is 'at home' after all and steps aside.

The Brotherhood swagger in without a backward look.

The game too about an hour to play - half of that was used looking up rules as it was our first game.

It was great fun and really allowed us to play out the narrative.

Highly recommended.

Gangs of Rome is super fun but if you buy Blood on the Aventine and don't like the game then the components alone are easily worth £35. Hell, the Sarissa model must be worth 25 knicker of anyone's dosh and you get seven great minis to caligula.

Now, I bet Iohannes has a few brawny lads inside the villa to look after his interests. I sense a sequel coming on......

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Review: Warlord's Blood Red Skies

New boxed game

Some time ago I pitched an idea for a new airgame to Warlord. My theme was that it was time for a new approach to airgames. Warlord politely replied that they agreed.....and, in fact, they had already given a contract to some bloke called Andy Chambers to do just that!

From this you can draw two conclusions: (i) freelancers such as myself have to be always on the make and (ii) timing is everything.

I am a great fan of Andy's work so I was pleased to buy an advanced copy at Salute: here are my initial thoughts.

Let's start with what you get in the box for £40.

Bf 109E

There are twelve soft plastiky-resin 1:200 Battle of Britain models in the box. Detailing is good for soft plastic. The tails on the 109s are slightly bent. I tried the old trick of dipping them in a really hot cup of tea (makes for interesting weathering) and the plastic softened and could be reposed. The material did seem to have a memory and gradually change back overnight to some degree but this is really pretty trivial.

The models are supplied unpainted. I washed them thoroughly as I would any soft plastic or resin model, and the acrylic paint went on without any problem at all.

Close up of detailing

The upper camoflague rather hides the detailing but this shot of a spitfire miniature underside in light grey with black wash shows how good it is.

Achtung Spitfeur

The above photo shows the six Spitfire 1/II models included.

The stands slot in and out of the models to allow the card markers at the base of the stands to be interchangable, X-Wing style. The stands have three position click-hinges - that have nothing to do with banking or climb/dive. More about this later.

Markings on the stands show the aircraft 'front', and four quarters. The colour and number indicate pilot skill, varying from 2-5.


There are three rule booklets, standard, expanded and scenarios.

The rules are written in a minimalist style so bear careful reading. A single sentence can have a vast impact on play.

Expanded rules are mostly about the various doctrine, theatre and plane ability cards with are played to give special impacts.

'Cheat sheets'

Included are two double-sided summary sheets with all relevant information commonly needed during pay.


Flat terrain works well with airgames and the half-doz thick card double sided terrain markers with clouds on one side and balloons on the other are welcome.

Light bombers

Three double sided thick cards represent Do17s and Blenheims.


And the box is stuffed with markers, player aids, cards and D6 dice inscribed as victory bars - a nice touch.

Luftwaffe over Kent

I played a basic game using just the standard rules with no cards.

Have a look at the planes. The left four are horizontal - No Advantage.

The two right planes are tilted nose up - Advantaged.

The whole game hings on Advantage.

You can only shoot at a plane that has  a lower Advantage level than the shooter. And only a nose down, Disadvantaged plane, can be shot down. So the whole game hinges on forcing a plane into a disadvantaged nose down position and then shooting at it and getting a hit.

You can push a plane down an Advantage level by (i) scoring a hit on it - this doesn't damage the target - or (ii) by making an enemy plane within 9 inches take an agility test. Getting on a planes tail forces it right down.

The nose-up-level-down looks a bit odd but you get used to it. Advantage actually represents height, position and energy abstracted into a three position index.

Der Englander pig-dogs

Aces are best used to close within nine inches of a lower pilot-skill opponent - who can be at any o'clock - and automatically forcing it down a level - so follow up planes can kill it.

I made a bad error by using clouds as cover, forgetting that they would force me into Normal. I then discovered that the Spitfire had a speed advantage over the 109 - they move the same number of inches. This meant that my opponent always went first, so he could keep me down by shooting at me and forcing agility tests.

This game is all about forcing your opponent's aircraft into Disadvantage.


It was a bad day for the Luftwaffe. they lost three to the jubilant Spitfire pilots.

The game took about two hours to play.


This game works.
It has very good physical components with everything you need to play 'in the box'.
It looks simple but it is actually highly intricate and requires a great deal of skill.
It is imaginative, novel and beautifully crafted.
It is highly abstracted, noticeably in its handling of height/position/energy.
It felt chess-like in that subtle positioning of your aircraft in a team on an opponent is the key to victory rather than heroics or cut and slash.

So should you buy it?
Well, that depends on whether you are a committed airgamer. Air-tekkies probably won't like the abstraction but people looking for a fun game based on the Battle of Britain should seriously take a look. They might prefer this to Wings of Glory.

One point: If you buy and don't like the game then the wargaming components - the models and the clouds etc. - are easily worth £40 so you haven't lost anything if you throw the game away. WoG fighters now cost about £15 each! There are plenty of air rulebooks out there, including some free on the web.

So: Recommended both for airgamers and casual players.