Sheppard's Crook

The occasional blog of a closet would -be wargamer and modeller

Memoir 44 – Pointe-du-Hoc

I played my third game of Memoir 44 for the Six-by-Six Challenge, this one being a simulation of the assault by the US Rangers on the cliff top positions at Pointe-du-Hoc.  The deployment map below shows the cliffs overlooking the beach up which the elite Rangers would attack the various German emplacements and positions.

In this one either side had to gain 4 medals for victory, for which the Allies had the additional opportunities of capturing the wood hexes at the top of the board. 

I played this one solo (both my possible opponents were at work while ironically I was on holiday – you can tell they are getting older and now both have university studies to fund) and therefore for once I could not lose.  As with the previous games this did seem to be all about playing against the cards.  The Allies had a whole series of right flank cards when everything they had was on the left or in the centre.  Eventually this told when for a turn or two the Allies could do little but exchange cards while the Germans were able to rush up to them and shoot them to pieces, although even here the German battle dice were remarkably poor.  In the end it was a clear German victory although it had hung in the balance for a few turns.

I remain to be convinced by Memoir 44.  It may be quick and have a sumptuous looking board but there seems to be little opportunity to come up with a strategy for each scenario that cannot fall foul of the capriciousness of the cards.  I get the fact that the gamer should not have “god-like powers” of control but there really ought to be a bit more reward for more carefully thought out play.  I think I will play out my 6 games and then think seriously about returning Memoir 44 to eBay.

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Memoir 44 – Sword Beach

I played my second game of Memoir 44 for the Six by Six Challenge.  This time it was the Sword Beach scenario, which saw the British trying to storm up and off the beach in the face of stiff German defences of “hedgehogs”, barbed wire and concrete bunkers.  The starting positons are shown below:

Sword Beach  – starting positions taken from the rulebook

Once again I faced my oldest across the battlefield, taking charge of the plucky (or Imperialist?) British forces complete with elite commandos in an effort to displace my determined (or tyrannical?) German forces.

It was, like the last game, pretty quick, pretty bloody and pretty balanced.  If the British had not taken down my fifth unit, thereby earning the required 5 medals, I would have taken down theirs.  It was very much a game of the flanks, with the vagaries of the command cards meaning that much of the effort took place away from the centre – which was a bit of shame as I had a very powerful artillery unit ensconced in the central bunker that only got the chance to shoot twice!

I’m still not sure what to make of Memoir 44. It plays quickly and is finely balanced and the map boards look great but there does not seem to be much in the way of tactical or strategic thought due to the chance cards.  Armour seems particularly brittle although I suspect engaging infantry at point blank range is not the best tactic.  I will give it to the end of 6 plays and then I will see whether it stays or not.

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Plastic Modelling & Wargaming Show

I went to the Plastic Modelling and Wargaming Show organised by the IPMS Avon Group with the Lincombe Barn Wargames Society (of Alien Squad Leader fame) at the Thornbury Leisure Centre on Sunday. It has been run for a few years now but this was the first time I had had the chance to visit.

It was huge, with two of the sports halls and the indoor bowls green all packed with a combination IPMS display stands put on by the many modelling clubs in the region (and from further afield) as well as around a dozen wargames put on by various groups.  There was a large number of traders mainly of modelling supplies but with a leavening of wargames traders, in particular Great Escape Games (who nearly persuaded me to by the latest version of Death on a Dark Continent), the Dice Bag Lady  (aka Bad Squidoo Games) and Helion the military publishers (from whom I bought their Spanish Armada paper ships book).

Overall I think I was a little non-plussed by the event.  Secondhand plastic kits are clearly a big thing, judging by the vast numbers of over-stuffed and rather tatty cardboard boxes that adorned many of the stalls.  The models on show were of an excellent quality (and fully justified the many signs advising “do not touch”!) but there didn’t seem much opportunity for interactivity – there didn’t seem to be many demonstrations, for example, and the competition displays seemed tucked away and unadvertised.  The wargames provided some much needed movement to the proceedings (plastic models are rather static) but even here the gamers seemed rather absorbed by the games, which is fine if they had been able to provide some sort of printed explanation as to what was going on.

I am probably judging the event a little unfairly.  I got to it rather late in the day when the energy was starting to drain away and I am also comparing it with the Bristol Model Railway Exhibition that takes place at the same venue which benefits from having more action on the rail exhibits and probably more money to invest in the hobby  both through the paying public and the supporting traders.  It has also been run for nearly 50 years.  I will probably go again some time in the future but I am more likely to go to the Lincombe Barn wargames show Reveille II at the end of November.  

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Bring on the Adventurers

For a second go at AD&D 1e I got my players to roll up their characters.  As I had posted previously  I had rolled a character of my own to test the system and remind me of the mechanics.  However, I had forgotten how spread out character generation was between the two main books and all the other extraneous facts the players would need to know (eg weapons stats, character class and race limitations) which I found I had not committed to memory.  Referring to the OSRIC rule book helped sort out some of my confusion, not least the simplification of some of the over-complicated weapons rules in the original.

However, with a bit perseverance we ended up with a half-orc fighter, an elven magic user and a human druid who had purchased a pair of guard dogs as back up,  Where the characters are going to go, they will probably need that and more!

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Memoir 44 – Ste Mere-Eglise

You can tell I am on holiday as I am playing games! I managed to play the Ste Mere-Eglise scenario from Memoir 44 against my oldest.  Without giving a blow-by-blow account of the game itself, suffice to say it was a close run thing with both sides having a chance of victory but in the end my Germans were defeated by the US paratroopers.

I quite enjoyed the game it played pretty quickly and the use of the Command cards certainly gave pause for thought in both sides.  I can’t say it is a military simulation but it is a diverting strategy game with a military theme. 

This was also my first game of Memoir 44 for the 6 by 6 Challenge.

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Back to the Dungeon

So I have been away for rather longer than I had expected.  A combination of my mother-in-law’s extended stay in hospital, an upsurge at work and, frankly, losing the habit of game-playing has meant I am a long way behind the curve.

However, every cloud has a silver lining.  My oldest returned from university enthused by role playing games in general and D&D 5e in particular. This has been something of a surprise as she had studiously ignored them – the virtues of education I suppose.  This has rekindled my own interest in dungeon-delving that has lain dormant for more years than I can count (any more!) and has led to a lot of trips down memory lane in the name of research and some modest investment in historical tomes. 5e was no good for me, I need to go all the way back to AD&D 1e.

I had originally planned to use one of the retro-clones as it appeared to be a free and easy way to re-visit my youth – my AD&D books had long since been consigned to the charity shops.  OSRIC looks to be an excellent re-birth of AD&D 1e and very much a labour of love.  However, in the end I decided I “needed” the originals and so a quick foray onto eBay resulted in a quick and reasonably priced purchase of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide – a pleasant surprise as some of the prices appeared ridiculously high especially as you can purchase PDF or even hard copies of the originals at Dungeon Masters Guild.  I picked up a PDF version of the Monster Manual in this way as well as one of the “classic” adventure modules, the “Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh”.  Delving into the two books reminded me of the excitement of the early days, coupled with the inevitable confusion resulting from the rather disorganised approach of the originals.  Also, thanks to a Google search I was able to pick up some of the classic White Dwarf adventures from the 80s which will provide a simple introduction to my players aka as my children (two of whom are decidedly adult).

In preparation for the game I felt I had to create one of my own characters to remind myself of the rules.  To this I decided I would add some characterisation using one of the role playing aids I have downloaded from the excellent RPGNow.  BOLD or the Book of Legends and Deeds from Conjecture Games provided a really helpful framework for setting out a believable history for my trial character, a cleric who had temporarily joined an heretical sect who later found it to be a cover for an evil power and had returned to the faith, albeit still an outcast.  It was not a background I would  necessarily have made up, at least not so quickly, and it might provide further hooks in the future.

I also took a look at the adventure I intend to run, “The Lichway” from way back when White Dwarf was a gaming magazine.  It was very much a product of its time and I am sure I would not have batted an eye-lid at its idiosyncrasies of monster placement and background.  Now I felt I had to add a little characterisation to some of the NPC to make it a little more interesting.  It was also an excuse to use UNE, Conjecture Games Universal NPC Emulator.  This again proved to be a pretty quick and easy way to add some depth to the NPC, which hopefully the players will leave alive long enough to interact with.

So that brings me to the end of this report.  I think I will make AD&D one of my Six-by-Six Challenge games and I will update my choices accordingly.  And because of the gaming effort expended so far, I think this will count as my first session.

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The Hedghog of Piepsk

I did actually manage to get a game in during May although only just.  My mother-in-law has been very poorly and has been in hospital for the past 3 or 4 weeks, necessitating daily visits to keep up her spirits and also those of my father-in-law too.  Fingers crossed she is on the mend now although I suspect there will be more twists and turns before she gets home.

The game I did manage on the penultimate day of May was my third game of Squad Leader.  This time I chose Scenario 4, entitled “The Hedgehog of Piepsk”, which was all about a weak company of German infantry holding onto an isolated village strongpoint in 1941 Central Russia against a Russian force four times their size.  I could have chosen Scenario 3 which was a combination of the first two scenarios but I could not face it. There was going to be rather too many counters on the table for it to be solo-playable and I had found the original scenarios to be rather claustrophobic.  I am sure the original combatants in Stalingrad might have agreed although for rather more personal reasons!

Scenario 4 used boards 2 to 4, which I had never used before.  And in the way in which Squad Leader builds up the rules used a scenario at a time, this one brought in the use of off table artillery for the first time.

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Squad Leader with wide open spaces – I quite like the mapboards

It also brought in the rules for hidden placement which could have been rather challenging for solo play.  Instead of following the rules of noting down the grid references of the hidden German forces, I simply allowed the Russians to move first and then place the Germans on the table, reasoning that my lack of experience of the rules would be unlikely to unbalance the scenario too much.  I also decided that once I had placed a unit I would not move it again, thereby limiting my ability to continually fiddle with the deployment.

The game seemed to progress pretty well.  It demonstrated (again!) that moving infantry in the open would quickly lead to heavy losses.  It also showed for the first time how potent machine guns could be in their ability to engage several hexes at once in their line of sight – the crowded streets of Stalingrad had result in engagements at close range and there had been little opportunity to see the “penetration” of machine gun fire.  This scenario also showed how important leadership is in Squad Leader, in particular to get broken infantry back up and moving or at least under cover.  In the game, the Russians quickly lost two of their three leaders which meant their assault on the village in the middle of the right hand board (see the photo) quickly ground to a halt as units were broken and could not be rallied.

The game ended in a clear German victory, although if some of the Russian dice rolls had been a little kinder things would have been a bit closer.  I quite enjoyed the game and I am looking forward to getting to the rules for armour in the near future.  Using more of the mapboards was a welcome change of Squad Leader scenery.

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The Tractor Works

I played my second game of Squad Leader on Monday. It was the scenario of The Tractor Works in which a crack unit of German assault engineers had to capture and hold the said works amidst the ruin of Stalingrad before the Russian counterattack could sweep them away. This scenario introduced explosive charges and flamethrowers. It also added concealment, which was a bit tricky to play solo.

The game was a bit of a slugfest which saw the German assault defeated thanks to a series of quite awful dice rolls. I finished it early when it was pretty clear the Russians were going to win. The game was OK but it would be nice to get to the armoured rules where things may become more expansive than claustrophobic street fighting.

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Squad Leader Revisited

I had said that I would look again at original Squad Leader as one of my 6 by 6 Challenge games.  This is very much a classic game of World War II infantry combat, according to Boardgame Geek it was first published in 1977.  I have the final 4th edition of 1980.

It is very much a tactical combat game that I am sure traces back to miniatures games rather than a more conventional boardgame reliant on rolling odds on a combat results table (CRT) or at least as I remember from the early to mid 1980s.  Indeed a quick search on the internet shows that there are Squad Leader in Miniature to enable the game to be taken from the board to the table using miniatures. As the blurb on the box says, this is a board wargame system rather than a set game and this makes it quite attractive from a replayability standpoint.

I had decided to play the first 6 scenarios from Squad Leader but then I came across a fan site which referred to a “Tactical Training Series” (TTS) which is a series of 6 scenarios to help newcomers learn how to manoeuvre and fight – apparently the game as written does not quite do this.  This looked attractive but then I decided to stick to my original plan.  I had played the first scenario “The Guards Counterattack” about three times over the years, played the second scenario about once and had managed to go no further.  This time I had to get to at least scenario 3!

The game set up for the first scenario – I was surprised at how small it was

I will not give a blow by blow account of the battle.  Suffice to say it was a bit of an infantry slog in the ruins of Stalingrad.  The Russians had the better of it overall and scored a narrow victory.  It certainly showed the benefit of hard cover and the dangers of running in the open across lines of fire.  I quite enjoyed it even though there was an inevitably large amount of rules referrals and some mistakes – I did not quite use the leadership modifiers right in firing for example. And here’s to playing the second scenario!

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The Scots Campaign in England – the last battle

So what was happening to the north while Lord Cottar was successfully extricating his army from the grip of the Parliamentary forces?  As mentioned before, in a dastardly English trick the Commonwealth Navy had transported the New Model Army for a direct attack north of the border.  All that could face them was a scratch Scottish force that was deployed in three lines in blocking positions at the river, between the impenetrable forests and finally on top of the hill.  If the Scots could hold the English here long enough, Cottar’s army could return in time to throw the English back.

That was the narrative behind the 6th and final scenario in this leg of the 6 by 6 Challenge.  Scenario 26 – Triple Line had been previously randomly selected from One Hour Wargames and the game was again set up on the chessboard with minimum paper terrain.  In this scenario, the winner was whoever held the hill on the northern edge of the battlefield on the 15th and final turn of the game.  The twist here was that the Scots could not move (but they could fire) unless an English unit came within 2 inches (half an infantry move) of a Scottish unit.

The battlefield at the start of the 1st turn. The English to the south are deployed just off the playing surface which is the 6 by 6 grid.

With the Scots handicapped by an inability to move it looked like a foregone conclusion for the English to win.  The English set up to maximise their firepower from the infantry in order to clear the bridge without letting the Scots move.  To begin with things worked well, especially as the English appeared to have been practicing firing hard.  However, the effect of the bridge and the lack of manoeuvring space between the river and the 2nd Scottish line without triggering a move caused a hold up in the English crossing the river in force.  And the Scots themselves were also well equipped with shot and powder to the extent they threatened to put a serious dent in the English progress, further hampered by the charge of the Scots lancers.

However, numbers told, especially in the numbers of 5s and 6s thrown by the English to eventually destroy their opponents.  And so it was the English occupied the hill on the 14th turn to win the game.

The good thing about OHW are the finely balanced scenarios and the approach to quickly and randomly setting up forces to give a different tactical challenge each time.   The rules themselves are “crude but effective” and calling them crude is rather unfair – simple might be a better word.

I have enjoyed the narrative story-telling side of the linked scenarios and will no doubt return to this again in the future.  But now I must turn my attention to the 3rd leg of my 6 by 6 Challenge – will it be the venerable Squad Leader or the rather more recent Memoir 44?

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