Monday, 7 May 2018

What a Dashboard

Now the smoke of our VBCW has cleared, we have been enjoying playing the latest offering from the TooFatLardies; namely 'What a Tanker'.

This is meant to be, and I quote,  'A Challenging and Fun Game of WWII Tank Combat'. I'm happy to report that this is definitely the case and we have been having tremendous fun with the rules so far. Up until now we have been playing games set in Normandy, using my 1/50th scale Corgi diecasts but we are soon due to begin  a campaign set in the Western Desert. The latter will be in 20 mm scale and there has been something of a frenzy to purchase more tanks than we will ever need. In addition several players have purchased commercially produced MDF dashboards for the game. These are entirely unnecessary but what gamer can resist a nice gadget?
The game requires little bookkeeping beyond recording whether your tank is aimed,loaded, buttoned up etc. TFL produce some nice acrylic tokens that can be used in conjunction with the dashboards that can be downloaded from the TFL site. 

Downloaded Dashboard with TFL produced tokens 
Now the commercial versions are very nice but they are simply MDF versions of the above. They do have the advantage that they prevent you knocking or otherwise displacing your counters, and I must confess that I almost bought one myself, but on reflection I wanted something with a bit more character. No doubt I was subconsciously influenced by Young Mr Farthingdale's  submarine control panels from his Christmas Dardanelles game.......... Oh OK so I nicked the idea!
Looking at the original design I decided several aspects of the dashboard were unnecessary; as we would only be fielding one tank each the tank name is superfluous. Also my observation, over several games, was that the command dice area was never used; gamers being happy to leave the dice on the table. So really the required information boils down to that recorded by the 4 tokens plus any damage received.
My first thought was to have a small commander's hatch that could be opened and closed to denote buttoned / unbuttoned status. This did make it through to the final design but was now part of the complete top deck of a tank, including turret.

The foot print of the whole contraption is the same as the commercial MDF versions, although this one has a bit more height!
The 4 tokens denoting buttoned, acquired, aimed and loaded are now replaced by small hatches, on the front of the tank, that can be opened or closed as required.The turret and rear deck record critical damage; each rung of the damage ladder corresponding to a removable panel. Temporary loss of command dice is recorded by placing the dice in the stowage bins.
The dashboard in action

The above dashboard shows that the tank has acquired a target, is aimed and loaded but is unbuttoned (hatch open). It also has 2 levels of turret damage and 3 levels of hull damage, in addition to the temporary loss of 3 command dice. (Not that this is for illustration purposes only - it is not actually possible to take that much damage in the game.) On the plus side this tank has made one kill; denoted by the kill ring (metal washer) around the aerial.
So now that I have my dashboard and a couple of starter tanks I'm rearing to go with our campaign. So to finish off here is a snap of my level one tanks: Lt. Winston Strangely-Brown in his A13 and his arch nemesis Erwin Rimmer in his Panzer II.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Battle of Durham 1938

Although, in some senses, this was the grand finale of the first season of our VBCW campaign, it does in fact stand apart as separate game in itself. The game was actually designed as a participation game in the club's annual celebration of all things TFL related - 'WorLard'.
As a consequence, the forces used were slightly modified from those used in the campaign so far. In essence all troops were rated Green and we removed as many automatic weapons and other items of a more 'military' nature as we could. Rifles, pistols and shotguns are the order of the day here.

The Market Place

Paradise Gardens

Paradise Lane

The table layout represents our best guess at how the city centre looked in 1938. The marketplace itself is little changed but the adjacent area of Paradise Lane and Paradise Gardens no longer exists, having been replaced by the Bishopgate shopping centre plus the A690 road junction and slip road.

In our fictitious alternative history, the local area is dominated by Communist inspired mining communities but the city itself is the scene of a power struggle between rival Albertine and Fascist factions. The University has raised a force in support of Prince Albert (the future King George VI) and is supported by local landowner Lord Farthingdale.

The Mosely government backed forces are represented by a force based upon HM Prison Durham supported by local BUF supporters. The Mayor, Teflon Blair, has so far succeeded in playing these factions off against each other.
The overall aim of the Fascist force is to carry out a rally in Durham marketplace; local shop owner Eddie Tattsyrup believes that he can persuade some of his fellow shopkeepers to join the Fascist cause. Eddie espouses traditional values of IGUGO and 6 inch moves for all, believing that this will sway the locals.
However, it is rumoured that the renowned anarchist ‘Big Rich the Rabble Rouser’ is hiding in the area of the Paradise gardens. Big Rich could be used by the Albertines to disrupt the rally with his talk of Free kriegsspiel and friction.
The fascists have also received intelligence that Mayor Teflon Blair is behind a secret leafleting campaign to undermine the Mosely government. They have been informed that the latest batch of leaflets is held in a strong box on the top floor of Proctors the Printers. They intend to seize these as proof of the Mayor’s duplicity. They also plan to use the rally as cover for a plot to snatch the Mayor himself.

The Rally Begins

 For their part, the Albertines also plan to seize the mayor and use Big Rich to disrupt the rally. Furthermore, in their efforts to eradicate the blight of fascism from the city they plan to firebomb the BUF office currently situated above Hepworth’s Menswear in the marketplace.
Although the University troops currently control access to Elvet Bridge and the route to the prison, the HMP Auxiliaries are still able to infiltrate the city via Baths Bridge. The Albertines also plan to close down access to this route by seizing the HMP Deployment Point in Paradise Gardens.

Major May in Tilly
The BUF opened the proceedings with Eddie Tattsyrup attracting half a dozen shopkeepers to the rally. Using this as diversion, Major May and a section of BUF made a dash for the Town Hall in a ‘Tilly’, narrowly missing Ma Whitmore as they sped by. Once there, they stormed into the Town Hall where they were lucky enough to find the Mayor in his chambers.

The Dons Disrupt the Rally
Whilst the fascist efforts were focussed on the Town Hall, a part of Dons in full academic dress had muscled in on the rally and were threatening Eddie and the Shopkeepers.
The Sacriston Hunt Joins in

In this the Dons were supported by the Estate Militia, led by Lady Penelope in her Pink Rolls Royce armoured car. At the wheel, Parker the chauffeur sped towards the Town Hall closely followed by the Sacriston Hunt, fully mounted and brandishing shotguns. Much to the surprise and consternation of ‘Unlucky Alf’ the toilet attendant.
Big Rich Apprehended

Whilst tension mounted in the market place, the Cathedral Bedesmen had been meticulously searching the town backsides. Here their patience paid off as they discovered Big Rich in his lair, despite the HMP Auxiliaries also combing the area with dog teams.
Lady Penelope Opens up

Meanwhile, the BUF had been quietly infiltrating the market place. One section had slipped into the Angel Inn where they spent the rest of the day drinking whilst another became inexplicably lost in the lingerie department of Doggarts. When a third section entered the marketplace, this was too much for Lady Penelope who opened up with the armoured car’s machine gun. Although no one was killed, this precipitated a general outbreak of hostilities. The huntsman tied their horses to the railings of the Gent’s lavatories and charged towards the Town Hall, where they discovered that the BUF had barricaded themselves in. However, the driver was dragged from the Tilly and taken prisoner. During the ensuing chaos, Eddie Tattsyrup inexplicably ‘fell’ down the stairs to the Gents, before the Dons ran for cover.
Moments Before the Explosion

Earlier in the day, Dr Pea’s Stinks and Bangs team, supported by the University Police, had slipped unnoticed into Hepworth’s menswear. Here they deftly avoided the attentions of Mr Humphreys who apparently was actually free. Making for the stairs they headed towards the BUF office. Outside a firefight had developed with a BUF section, ensconced in St Nicholas’ Church taking pot shots at the Chester Moor football team who had taken cover behind the brewery wagon. The Huntsmen, caught in the cross fire made a dash down the side of the church into Walkergate. Here they ran into a previously unseen section of BUF and a general melee ensued. With all seven Huntsmen armed with shotguns, the outcome was never in doubt. The BUF were wiped out to a man but predictably the Huntmaster Fitch-ffoukes bit the dust.
At this point, when the BUF morale was teetering, there was the sound of a huge explosion from the direction of Hepworths and smoke billowed from the windows of the BUF office. As the day came to a close, the BUF had retired leaving only a small section besieged in the Town Hall where they held the Mayor hostage.

The Rabble Rouser himself. Rich Clarke of TooFatLardies at WorLard 2018.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Battle of Gilesgate Station

After the Communist attack upon Durham market place, and their scandalous attempt to destroy the Londonderry statue, Sir Godber decided to widen the city’s defences by relocating Professor Quilp’s platoon of the Dunelm rifles to a new headquarters at the bottom of Gilesgate. The Territorial Army Drill Hall proved an ideal location and being situated close to Gilesgate Station meant that the Town and Gown Platoon were on hand to counter the Communists next incursion. Due to faulty intelligence, the Communists wrongly believed that there was a shipment of rifles about to arrive at the station. Consequently, Arthur Wedgewood Benn hatched a plot to seize the locomotive and its supposed cargo.

Area around Gilesgate Station circa 1939

This was our second attempt at a new way of deploying that seems to make a big difference to the feel of the game making it less WW2 in feel. Essentially, both sides have a single deployment point - usually at a road entry point and there is no patrol phase. Troops then enter the table on Blinds from that deployment point. Each unit is assigned its own Blind. We have some simple spotting rules that allow you to move around hidden if the terrain is suitable. Once spotted or voluntarily deploying the troops treat the Blind as a jump off point but the JOP is removed after deployment. If a CoC die is spent a Blind may be converted into a static, permanent JOP.

View north from Station Lane
(The buildings came out a bit bright under the lights at the club
– they’ve since been toned down.)

View South from the oil tanks

View towards the station from the allotments

The scenario required the Communists to capture the train; to do this they had to spend a Chain of Command die to begin getting up steam and then it would be a cumulative task until the engine was ready to go.
The Dunelm Rifles had their deployment point on one table corner - essentially Station Lane which is now the entrance road to the Travel Lodge. The Communists came in from the opposite corner - i.e. down the rail track. As the Communists were attacking we used the support levels for the ‘Attack on an Objective’ scenario. This gave the Communists 10 points of support, including 3 points for the difference in Force Ratings. By contrast the Dunelm Rifles had a mere 3 points. On reflection, this was perhaps a mistake; as both sides were entering the table from a deployment point we were actually playing an encounter battle so the support should have been more equal. An alternative would have been to allow the Dunelm deployment point to be placed further on table to reflect a defended zone. Oh well lesson learnt.
The Cathedral Bedesmen spot the Communists
infiltrating the station from the ruins of the Magdalene Chapel
From the outset things went bad for the Rifles; the initial Force Morale roll furnished the Communists the maximum of 11 and the Rifles the minimum of 8, giving the Commies the first go. During the battle the Communists rolled up a scary amount of double and even triple phases, whilst the Rifles failed to throw a decent command roll at all. By pub o'clock the Communists had reached the locomotive, had at least 6 sections on the table and had virtually surrounded the Rifles. At this point, the latter only had 3 sections on the table and two of them had only advanced about 8 inches all game!
Wor Cheryl plies her trade at the back of the Volunteer Arms,
whilst Verger Yeatman is in pursuit of the elusive Holly Blue.

Still with that amount of double sixes we had lots of civilians appear on the table. Verger Yeatman, the lepidopterist, appeared in the gardens near the Rifles’ deployment point and spent all game chasing butterflies in the gardens. This severely hindered their movement as their Blinds had to stay out of the way to avoid attention been drawn to them because of the nutter with the net. To make matters worse, Wor Cheryl appeared, plying her trade, at the back of the Volunteer Arms. This was uncomfortably close to the Rifles’ deployment point and preventing free movement had they actually managed to roll the necessary command roll to deploy.
Fast Ernie delivers milk to the Station Tea Room, whilst Sykes and Cooper
window cleaners (suspiciously dressed as cricketers) block the Communist line of fire.

Fast Ernie delivered milk to all the properties in Station Lane and had reached the Station by the end of the game. Here he was met by Sykes and Cooper, window cleaners, heading in the other direction intent on cleaning the station windows. If we had continued, this would have created a bit of a conundrum as they were all in the line of fire of the impending fire fight.
We also had a couple of random events. The first was early on and only affected the Communists. The Swift Half random event saw half of Scargill's section running for the Britannia Inn, where they stayed drinking until rousted out by Scargill in a later phase.
However, the classic must be the Random Event that I rolled. A command roll of 3 sixes, a four and a one meant that I had nothing that could be activated that phase. Oh well, at least I had the next phase. However, rolling for the Random Event, I rolled 'Last Orders' which meant that all movement stopped in the next phase whilst my lads argued over the next round.
Scargill’s section make a break for the Britannia Inn

That pretty much sums up my luck for the whole game. That said I can't claim that my firing dice were bad - simply because we managed the whole game without any firing! A small part of this may be due to the Rules of Engagement; my morale started so low that I didn't want to have to roll for being the first to fire. However, I suspect the real reason was that I simply never had enough decent command rolls to do much!
Endgame. The Communists have control of the shed at the rear of the station,
have troops on the train and have enfiladed the University Officer Training Corps
 in the Gardens to the rear of Gilesgate

The area of lower Gilesgate is much changed since the building of the by-pass in the 1960s. Gilesgate Station finally closed in 1966, becoming successively Archibalds hardware store and then a Travelodge.
The actual line, for the most part, defined the route of the current A690. The 8th Battalion DLI drill hall, the Volunteer arms and lower Gilesgate, plus much of Station Lane were all lost in the building of the bypass and current A690 roundabout.
Gilesgate Station 1966

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Mr McKay swings the lead.


 Meanwhile in Durham market place there was a little friction between units of HMP and elements of the University.

Seeking refreshment a group of BUF militia head towards the Market Tavern and come under fire from buildings beyond St. Nicholas' church.

Much to their chagrin they find the door locked, but worse is to come.

A group of University policemen are armed and equally as thirsty.

They assemble on the north wall of the church and observe the BUF around the corner.

No sooner were they spotted than a particularly bloody fight ensued whereby all of the BUF were felled and only three policemen where left standing. Just another incident in the current "troubles" of this fair city.
Mr McKay was noticeable by his absence.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Battle of the Plough Inn

Opened in late the 1800s Pelton Station represents a significant line of communication East West across County Durham.  The station is actually situated in Pelton Fell, and if I seem a bit of an expert its because I grew up in the Station Master's Cottage there.

For our VBCW campaign it was time for the Chester Le Street Old Pals to follow up their toffee factory victory and make an attack on my Communist Miners, along the road from Pelaw bank.  Given that the Railway station has the alternate name of South Pelaw Station, and the the road passes the Plough Inn at this point, it seems a natural place to set a Chain of Command game. 

The terrain in this area has some interesting features.  What appear to be hedge rows and field boundaries on the map are, on closer inspection, parallel to chest deep drainage and irrigation ditches.  They are extremely muddy and difficult to climb out of, something I know well, having fallen into one on a trip back from the Plough Inn during the 1970s. 

Historians will appreciate the fact that the Plough Inn was the place that, as schoolboys, the Committee members of the Marshal Petain Gentlemen's club learned to drink...

The ditches were also polluted with by-products from the coke works... The ground itself is soft, even during a dry summer, and in terms of crops these are generally either potato fields or fallow.

The branch line runs along a very steep embankment that divides this rural countryside from the Stella Gill Coke works and leads to Pelton Railway Station just off the western side of the map.  The ground ascends to the 200ft level towards the north eastern side of the map, and the embankment is at 30 feet towards the western edge rising across the table as it approaches the station.
The coke works can be seen in the background in the lower picture

The battlefield was been tweaked slightly and looks like this:

So the Communists have once again faced off against their old foes, the Chester Le Street Old Pals Platoon.  At stake was the Plough Inn, a location used as an arms cache for the Communists, as well as the Committee dominos and darts tournament venue.

The Communists used four patrol markers and jump Off points, slowing their deployment, the Pals three. 

For support the Communists used seven points to recruit the armoured bulldozer of Elder Miliband, and an additional section, and anticipating the Pals tanks they also recruited a satchel charge armed demolition team.  The Pals would field additional sections, and a Lewis gun...

Having grown up less than a hundred yards from this battlefield I was all too well aware of some of its pitfalls.  The hedge rows were counted as light cover, since they were as much a problem for defenders as attackers

The Communists deployment from their jump off points was aggressive, but then again these are aggressive troops.  I wanted to show the enemy a defensive line, to see which way he would flank me.  Not wise perhaps but that`s just me. 
It always seemed likely that the flank attack would come through the farm buildings, straight at the Plough inn, which was the objective.  To that end I deployed Arthur, my Senior Leader with a team into the orchard, and brought on the Armoured Bulldozer onto the road behind that.  To my surprise the attack came from the railway embankment on the other flank...
I had been expecting a very messy fight through the farm, but the aggressive Communists would have been be at an advantage there.  It looked like I would be in a shooting war...
The Bulldozer turns up

Scargill and Blaire line the hedgerows

Arthur Wedgewood Benn in the orchard

The Pals roll a Royal Catchpole, the perfect dice score.

The Pals make good use of terrain.  These guys stare out Arthur's section for the entire game

And here they come, on the right, along the railway embankment

Mayor Blaire and the Pelton Shopkeepers Sunday morning team, in football kit, seek cover in the hedgerows

With the footballers taking casualties I divert the Bulldozer into the open fields in a mad charge.  Elder Miliband as it's commander doesn't even pause to fire...

And on they come down the right

End of turn and an event.  One of Arthur's miners knocks out his pipe onto the straw.  The barn begins to burn.  Fried chicken anyone?

My Gran makes her appearance.  She leads her ladies in a shooting match.  The advancing pals Junior Leader is immediately hit

Farmer Johnson appears, and does some shouting about his chickens

Gran shoots again.  Eight hits.  The Junior leader is hit again.  The Pals begin to lose men.

I deploy the Commuist Committee as my second Senior leader.  They inspire Gordon Brown's section to advance at the double for... all of three inches...

On my next phase I bit the bullet, and spent one of my Chain of command dice on two extra dice for that roll.  My reasoning was that this was the vital part of the game.  With the luck of Vectron I rolled two sixes to retain the turn, giving me a chance to get my fire and movement going.

Miliband the Elder charges the enemy. It is a terrifying moment for that poor wounded Junior leader.
In future games using "the Bulldozing Beast" I may argue that it gives off a cloud of smoke from its engine cowling when moving, just for the look of it...

The Committee finally come to grips with the reinforcing team, but go tactical rather than charging into contact.

Pretty much game over as it's Pub o`clock and the objective is out of reach.  The Communists hold the ground, with their leader not moving 8 inches from the door of the pub for the entire game.

Looking at the game in retrospect my best performing team was once again Gran and the Factory girls.  They put down a withering fire, and laid the ground for Miliband and the bulldozer to close.  In point of fact it was she who saved Mayor Blaire and allowed the Committee to sort themselves out...  

What a great game.  So close, and in campaign terms I simply held out. After the defeat at the toffee factory the score is even between the Miners and the Pals Platoon.  Doesn't get better than this one!