Thursday, 17 August 2017

NUTS! Border Skirmish - IJA-IJN Joint Scouting Mission

The foliage cover was so good that I lost track of the chap on the right for half the game.
Last weekend we tested another set of squad level rules, NUTS! by Two Hour Wargames (now rebranded as TWH). I don't have a set of the rules, they were explained to me verbally, so apologies for any errors below.

It has a somewhat similar feel to Five Men at Kursk though with the welcome additional of a fog of war device that lends tension to the opening turns. Before units are placed on the table each side instead moves around blips that Possible Enemy Forces (PEFs). The players mark which PEFs represent actual units, the others are bluffs. Do I engage one PEF only to be outflanked by another?

The PEF only spawns once its player decides to reveal it or it enters the line of sight of an enemy unit.

The IJN. There's a PEF chip in the background.
In our test game of Imperial Japanese Army/Imperial Japanese Navy v US Marine Corp on a recon mission I managed to use two PEFs to keep the Marines player guessing as to whether he was charging headlong into a combined bloc of two IJA and IJN squads, or a lone IJN squad with the IJA potentially flanking him (it was the latter).

Once a unit steps into the line of sight of an enemy an In Sight test is triggered to see who shoots first. Fire and counter-fire is resolved until someone is dropped or the exchange broken. Thus, there's quite a large role for 'interrupt' reactions before squad actions get resolved.

We also learned that we shouldn't let our NCOs or LMGs be the first to enter the enemy line of sight. Sometimes you can't avoid it as the NCO spawns on the PEF token when it is revealed.

My IJA squad spawns from its PEF as it enters the line of sight of some Marines. My NCO is promptly shot down by reaction fire...

Marines spawn from a revealed PEF

Firing ranges were very long on the 6' by 4' board and we really learned to fear the BAR.

Marines huddle in a crevasse before launching an assault on the IJN
Otherwise, the game was quite intuitive in the manner of Five Men with very simple definitions of obscurement and cover (soft and hard terrain basically).

Our mission objective was to have at least one man scout out the three sectors of the enemy table edge and make it back off a friendly edge

"Where are we now, guys?" The spirit of Captain Sobel lives on.
Oh wait, that's a friendly up ahead.
With two squads per side our IJN squad was wiped out but for their sergeant. Luckily he used fast move to scout out the enemy sectors and managed to escape off the table with cover provided by the flanking IJA force.

Heading back to camp to put in a request for some aerial bombardment.
That's it for the NUTS! playtest. Next weekend: Disposable Heroes.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Band of Banzais

I wasn't happy with how the photos of my IJA LMG squad looked with a white backdrop under a daylight bulb so I reshot them on my Deep Cut Studios terrain mat. I think the green really brings out their banzai.




While I abhor the faces on the Warlord sculpts (reminiscent of the caricatured features found on anti-Japanese propaganda posters), the last picture really highlights how dynamic the poses are. There is a real sense of forward motion and commitment.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Five Men at Kursk playtest


Over the weekend my mate Damon organised a learn-while-you-play session of World War II skirmish ruleset Five Men at Kursk. We made a few mistakes in the rules, as one always does, but the overall feel of the game - scurrying to cover, getting spooked by suppressing fire, and the tension of avoiding enemy reactions - made me think often of the drama in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

So, as far as thematic enjoyment goes, Five Men at Kursk gets a thumbs up. 

Also in its favour is that it has no mucky muck points system that could get bogged down in list-building. Squad size and support sections are randomly generated. If you don't happen to have the figures you can work your way down the support table until you hit upon a bonus that you can field, or take a stat bonus.

Anyway, enjoy the pics. Several are from Damon's post on the Bolt Action Facebook group. Terrain is all his. Rather eclectic at present but we are working towards more realistic and thematically appropriate terrain. Right now its a process of finding the right plastic plants.

My IJA squad before rolling for force size. Result: seven troops only!

However, seven men were more than enough to keep the US Marines pinned, thanks largely to my LMG team who were rolling between four and six shock dice in reaction fire
My chaps charge forward to establish themselves in cover with the LMG team providing suppressing fire to allow the NCO and his picked men to advance



Cowering Marines getting used to this rock


Bolt Action: Imperial Japanese Army Painting Guide

My IJA LMG section had their first day out last weekend with a try out of Five Men at Kursk

I'm building my Imperial Japanese Army initially for the Malaya campaign, with an eye towards later use in the South Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War. It'll be a rather long project, so this post is to remind myself what paints I used for the first lot. Hopefully others may find it helpful, too.

Nakanishi's Japanese Infantry Arms In World War II
I wanted my Japanese to have the green-hued uniforms that one can see in Osprey Warrior 95 Japanese Infantryman 1937-45 and Ritta Nakanishi's excellent, but hard to find, books on Japanese uniforms and arms.

Vallejo's Model Colour 923 Japanese Uniform WWII is rather yellow and didn't bear much resemblance to those reference pictures. There's plenty of debate on forums on whether it's useful or not, with the 'I don't care' camp largely favouring its usage. I've seen a few people mention that it's closer in colour to the uniforms used in the invasion of China in the late 1930s. It happens to be similar to the khaki worn by Chinese troops of that period, too.

Since there's a consensus that Japanese uniform colours varied over the course of the war due to supply issues and wear and tear, I think I have a pretty free hand within the khaki to green spectrum. I'll probably do at least one unit in Vallejo 923 for the China theatre, but the bulk will be in English Uniform green.

Yup, you read it right. After a week of research on the forums and half an hour eyeballing a full Vallejo paints rack at Wira Hobbies, it seems that Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform comes closest. There's probably another hue, but my eyes gave out after a while and, as expected, the Army Painter Strong Tone would deepen the hue substantially.

Here's the paints that I used:

  • Basecoat, belt, shoes, ammo pouches, rifle stock: Army Painter Leather Brown Spray, edging highlights in 50/50 Vallejo Beasty Brown (a match for the base spray) and Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Uniform: Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform, third highlights in 75/25 English Uniform and Pale Sand
  • Puttees, bread bags, webbing: German Camo Ochre Orange, third highlights in 75/25 German Camo Ochre Orange and Pale Sand
  • Rifle metal, bayonet scabbard: Black with highlights in Gunmetal Grey
  • NCO's shin gunto: based in black then Gunmetal Grey and highlights in Silver
  • Skin: Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Helmet, water flask: olive drab (VMC 921 English Uniform with a touch of black)


Colours are Vallejo unless otherwise stated.

Here's how they looked after the base colours were blocked in:


The uniform looks too bright, but here is where the Army Painter Strong Tone wash comes in. A good coating was applied all over the figure, with particular attention to guide the wash to settle in the appropriate creases.


After the wash dried for over 24 hours the figures had a nice rich olive tone, and a tad glossy. I was just using the wash, mind you, not the dip.

Even like this they looked pretty good, if you consider grubby to be good. I recently watched Oba: The Last Samurai, a biopic of IJA troops on Saipan who refused to surrender after the war was over. The actors looked really grubby with their clothes and skin darker than what I achieved above. At a certain point in the story they clean up and wash their kit and they resemble a light khaki. For my purposes, grubby is good, so this scheme seems promising.

I decided to press on with highlights to order to make the details pop out better. I went over the raised areas with the original base colour - English Uniform - for much of it, then touched up the very highest points with a 75/25 mix of English Uniform and Pale Sand. Some guides recommended 50/50, but that looked too bright.

I initially felt the highlights were too strong (under my daylight bulb), but they looked balanced on the games table. Here's the full Type B squad of 13 men with an LMG section.



Here's another shot of them out on their first foray in a learn-by-playing session of Five Men at Kursk.


I have to say that at the block colour stage I was getting bored out of my mind painting the figures in their dull, muted schemes. How I longed for the brightness of ancients! But after the wash and final touches I feel enthused to finish my platoon project.

Still remaining:
2 x IJA LMG sections
1 x IJA grenedier section
1 x MMG section
headquarters
Type 97 Chi-Ha

I'll ordering a few more top ups to round out the forces for a variety of theatres and historical battles, but it does feel achievable. It's also got me motivated to make progress with my 28mm ancients. While the WW2 project is a collective endeavour, 28mm ancients doesn't appeal to most local players and it's largely a labour of love on my part.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Bolt Action: IJA Platoon Organisation




Warlord's Build An Army deal offers a very good start on building a 1,000-point Japanese Bolt Action force that follows historical dispositions. I picked an HQ, two boxes of IJA plastic infantry, an MMG section, and a Type 97 Chi-Ha tank (free!). The Kurogane 'jeep' is mandatory. It's not terribly useful for my preferred theatres, but it's a cute model and I'm happy to have it.

In retrospect a better deal would have been to pick two boxes of SNLF marines for the same price because the sprues are the same as the IJA, except that they come with alternate metal heads and two metal figures. Still, I've no plans right now for any SNLF action.

With the two boxes of 30 plastic infantry and the metal HQ pack one can build up a standard 'Type B' single rifle platoon comprised of a HQ, three rifle sections and a grenadier section with about eight infantry left to be used as a bugler, banner bearer, and a sniper or command followers.

Following historical practice I'm stumping up the 20 points for an LMG in each of the three rifle sections. In addition, I'm following the proportions for one grenadier section to every three rifle sections. Models are plastic unless otherwise noted.

Platoon Headquarters: 2nd Lieutenant, Regular (metal) + liaison sergeant [60 pts]
1st light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
2nd light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
3rd light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
4th grenadier section (13 men): NCO, 3 grenadiers, 9 riflemen [205 pts]

The rest of the units are assorted to taste depending on the scenario. Here's an initial loadout:

Medic: Medic, Regular (metal) + follower [33 pts]
Medium Machine Gun Team (metal) [65 pts]
Sniper section: sniper + spotter [50 pts]
Tank: Type 97 Chi-Ha [135 pts]

Comes to 998 points.

I kicked off my project first with a 13-man LMG section as the group is using Operation Squad as a transitional step to Bolt Action games.

Here they are, all assembled, ready for painting.


I put a bit of extra effort to sculpt a dug-out base for the LMG gunner. It's based on an illustration in Ritta Nakanishi's Japanese Infantry Arms in World War II.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Expanding to 20th-Century Wargaming: Bolt Action

My first World War II miniature, a Warlord Games Imperial Japanese Army NCO, assembled whilst watching The Bridge Over the River Kwai for inspiration.

This blog began as an effort to chart progress in my ancient warfare projects, of which there are two main thrusts:

1. The Punic Wars (which is really an excuse for armies from the whole Western Mediterranean)
2. Greeks (which dovetails with the first - I kid myself that somehow that's efficient!)

As if that weren't enough, a friend has lured me into World War II wargaming by offering to help paint some of my figures if I agree to field an Imperial Japanese Army force so he can fight the Pacific War.

Everyone else in our area seems interested in the war in Europe despite the fact that we're based in Malaysia (I know, who am I to talk? Look at my Ancients project).

Damon's invite was timely, since to tell the truth of late I've started to look at figure ranges for the Malayan Emergency and Warlord inter-regnum China, Mark Copplestone's wacky Back of Beyond range in particular, with its 'Dare to Die' units; what's not to love about half-naked brutes swinging big swords and blasting with a Mauser?

No rule set has caught my eye but local players are using Bolt Action. It's not the most historical approach given the emphasis on equal point games, but it's a gateway to period gaming that other rulesets can serve better at a later date.

I ordered one of Warlord's Starter Deals that comes with a free tank. With two boxes of 30 Imperial Japanese Army infantry, a command HQ, scout car, medium machine gun section and a 97 Chi-Ha Tank, that's well over 1,000 points and will serve me for a good long while.

In retrospect, I should have ordered the Special Navy Landing Force boxes as they are the same sprues but with extra metal heads and two metal command figures for the same price under the deal. I could have then mixed and matched. No big loss though.

Though I don't care for the politics the Japanese Army is an apt choice for me since in my martial arts practice I have studied or tried three weapons associated with their armed forces of the period. I study the Toyama school of swordsmanship used by the officers, the short staff art of jodo (though it wasn't used in the field), as well as an exposure class to jukendo, the bayonet form derived from French methods.

Naturally, the first figure I assembled was of an NCO charging with his shin gunto. I've had a go at cutting target mats with one of these. It was much shorter than I expected, but kept a good edge despite much written about their substandard quality.

The NCO plus my experiment with coloured wood filler on the base. Looks good despite some tendency to crack when drying.

I'm assembling my force for the Malaya and Singapore campaign of 1941-42, with an eye towards Guadalcanal for Damon's US Marines to pepper.

Two Fat Lardies have a doorstopper of a campaign book on the Japanese invasion of 1941-42. Their Fall of the Lion Gate has 21 scenarios for their I Ain't Been Shot Mum company-level rules. It should be easy enough to shave off some platoon-level action from these guidelines.

There are some Perry Brothers' Desert Rats on their way to serve as Indian Army and 1st Malayan Regiment troops for Malaya and Singapore. A check with a local WWII enthusiast suggests that their helmets and gear can be used as is for the Indian and Malay troops. If I pitched the flesh tone right I may be able to paint them up for dual use.

At one point I was worrying about whether I would need to order some separate metal heads from Woodbine wearing the khulla and turban. I may do so at a later date but for now, let's go the cheap and cheerful route.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Iberian Painting Experiments

I've just realised that I've not updated this blog in nearly six months. How time flies with parenthood and a hectic job. All has not been quiet on the hobby front, however.

After settling the baby for the night I forced myself to start painting my Victrix Iberians. I needed to settle upon a painting method that was visually pleasing but fuss free and fast. As a working wargaming parent time is now a highly precious commodity. Time when my eyes are rested enough to squint at a 28mm mini is even more scarce!

Below are the initial results of three different approaches. From left to right: (left) white base coat, shade with wash, then highlight in white blended with the wash to produce a softer off-white; (centre) block paint, washed all over with Army Painter soft tone, no highlights; (right) grey base coat working up to white highlights, the Kevin Dallimore approach.


 Whilst the Dallimore approach gives the sharpest contrast between recesses and raised detail the brightness of the white on both the right and left is probably unrealistic. I have some doubt whether the ancients could achieve shiny bleached whites. That said, historical considerations aside, the bright white does make the figures stand out. I will try some quick highlights on the tunic of the middle figure to see if a sharper impression results.

That said, this pseudo-Army Painter approach (I can't bring myself to use the nasty floor wax dip) produces acceptable results fast.


Armas De La Antigua Iberia

Also aiding the Iberian endeavour is my recent acquisition of Fernando Quesada-Sanz's Armas De La Antigua Iberia (Arms of Ancient Iberia) which is one of the best illustrated resources in print of ancient Iberian weaponry, armour and way of war. It is the Peter Connolly of ancient Iberia.



The English translation from Pen and Sword keeps getting pushed back, and I needed an excuse to practise my Spanish, so I asked my parents to lug back the weighty tome from their recent Spanish holiday.

There are still a few nagging questions about Celtiberian arms and armour that I've not been able to resolve from the book. Archaeological evidence indicates that - contrary to wagaming conventions - the Celtiberians used the round caetra shield rather than the oblong scutum. The latter was likely a Carthaginian import following the First Punic War and it took off mainly in the Iberian levant that was subject to heavy Phoenician influence.

Grave contents in Celtiberia also seem to show a lack of armour, with the exception of a single round-disc pectoral from the c. 5th-century BCE. (See this extremely enlightening paper by Quesada-Sanz that illustrates arms and armour by period).

It may be that rather than the mishmash of typical Celtic and typical Iberian armour styles one finds in say, the Crusader range, the Celtiberians may have been unarmoured for the most part (no mail or pectoral plate).



Alas, I have 20 of these mis-clad buggers from Crusader, though I can handwave their dress away as the accumulated arms of veteran Celtiberian mercenaries.

Helmets also appear to be conical rather than the reversed jockey cap Montefortino, which only really takes off after the conclusion of Hannibal's War.


This is a fantastic example of an actual Celtiberian helmet unearthed near Zaragoza.


Similar helms with a peaked brow. The only 28mm figure I've seen which features these is from Relic, but only one. The other Celtiberians come with Montefortinos.

Through careful selection of straight-edged swords and indigenous helmets it may be possible to construct a more accurate Celtiberian out of the Victrix kit. The options therein are mainly representative of Iberians under Phoenician influence (many Montefortino helms and scuta), but they come with an equal amount of caetra. It is probably Victrix's most customisable ancient set thus far. More on that once I get the chance to put some together.

Warhammer Ancients Battles supplements are great resources for any system

I lost my eBay virginity last month with a haul of out-of-print Warhammer Ancient Battles supplements.


WAB was the first ancients ruleset I ever encountered. I picked it up in my heyday of playing Warhammer Fantasy Battles (5th edition, if I recall correctly) in the late 1990s. I never played it and can't remember exactly why I bought it. I wasn't much into history at that time, perhaps it was mere curiosity and the Warhammer brand. I bought Rogue Trader for pretty similar reasons. Fortunately, now that I've become far more interested in ancient history than the fantasy derived from it, I was rather glad I had picked up the rules.

I don't plan on playing WAB anytime soon. Whilst the broad Warhammer rules approach is very familiar to me I can't warm to figure removal and unsightly movement trays, nor, as a parent and busy bee, do I have time for games that take many hours.

Where WAB might see some use for me is as a warband ruleset. It is granular enough to give small games a sense of depth, whilst a lower number of models will speed playtime up. Really, WFB, the parent ruleset, with its implicit 1:1 representation ratio always felt more like a warband system rather than a big battles ruleset.

So why drop some cash on WAB now, years after Warhammer Historicals folded up?

Their period supplements are superb. Despite using other rulesets the wargaming material and potted histories in the WAB supplements far exceed much of what is available on the market today. Today's Hail Caesar scenario books from Warlord are rather thin on both details and text by comparison. In addition to the historical backgrounds, the WAB supplements were chock full of army lists, scenarios, modelling and collecting tips. They were community-produced sourcebooks, written by veteran hobbyists and, for the most part, that translated into a quality that went beyond the ruleset.


Some were a little thinner on detail than others, such as the Spartacus supplement, but they are still full of useful gaming details that can be readily adapted. I couldn't resist getting it after re-watching Kubrick's Spartacus recently, as well as my recent acquisition of some Marian Romans for a Sertorius campaign. Surely I could expand them into a Servile War campaign? Really, it's just another case of wargamers magpie disorder. Shiny shiny buy buy.


I am particularly fond of the Hannibal & the Punic Wars supplement by the late Allen Curtis who was a fountain of knowledge on TMP on all things Punic. That book really reads like a labour of love and includes details I've not seen elsewhere, such as an in-depth Ligurian list and a number of lesser scenarios from Hannibal's War.


Jeff Jonas' Alexander the Great is, like the Hannibal supplement, an excellent compilation of a veteran wargamer's knowledge on playing and collecting the army of a great general. Jeff's website is a great resource for wargamers interested in Hellenistic armies.


I picked up supplements covering other periods and armies that I have enormous ambition but no time for. Byzantium: Beyond the Golden Gate fed my appetite for a Sassanian army and helped fill in my ignorance of their Byzantine opponents. Thematic Byzantine, Tagmatic Byzantine... oh I'm so lost.


The Art of War offered a convenient way to wrap my head around ancient Chinese armies, though my wife knows plenty about this period. I find myself rather more sympathetic to the nomadic Xiong Nu than the sedentary Chinese. This is probably due to the fact that I've been listening to a long audio series on steppe empires throughout the ages. A nomadic horde sounds great, and I've been eyeing Foundry's Skythians, but no no no. There's no time, and I'm not convinced that the typical wargame can adequately simulate the drawn out manner in which nomads wore down and evaded their opponents over days and weeks of skirmishes.


The Siege & Conquest supplement offers a detailed look into the opposite pole of warfare, namely sieges. It's a thick solid rules expansion that could readily be adapted to other systems. It also boasts a number of scenarios in the Conquest section of the book that are also good fodder. Given my lack of experience building terrain it's likely that this will sit on the shelf for a time.


Fall of the West was an impulse buy. I presently have zero interest in this period, but I might warm up to the downfall of Rome in its dotage some day.


I also picked up the revised version of the first WAB, version 1.5 as it's known. I discovered that I could have gotten by without it as it is exactly the same text and pagination (down to uncorrected errors) with a 32-page colour rules clarification and errata tacked on the end. The latter is publicly available as a download and in many of the supplements. The WAB 1.5 Facebook Group is pretty active and has the necessary files on its page.


Though it wasn't really necessary, I indulged my inner completist and picked up a copy of Armies of Antiquity. It actually is a good example of economical army list drafting. Based on the model of the core rulebook a particular list - Romans, Barbarians, Nomads - stands in for several similar nations or a single nation over time (with appropriate options included or excluded).

I had ordered a copy of Chariot Wars as the period remains rather mysterious to me, but a packing error led to me being mailed another copy of Armies of Antiquity. Luckily I was refunded, but I'm still on the hunt for a copy of Chariot Wars. It would be nice to explore the warfare of the Iliad.

So there we have it, plenty to read. I love reading rules supplements. Call it a D&D holdover. I must say that the paper quality is very good and the books still look fresh after years out of print. It is a shame Warhammer Historicals got shut down, but ancients gaming lives on. They gave a tremendous boost to 28mm wargaming, my chosen scale, and helped me make a shift from fantasy to history gaming that has been without regrets.

The Warhammer mythos owed so much to ancient and medieval armies and I find it more fascinating to play the actual sources of inspiration, though I do hanker for my High Elves and Empire army now and again.