Talking Tactics Part Three

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Observation is paramount in offence; concealment is paramount in defence. – This is a war of concealed posts, of camouflage. You cannot kill the enemy unless you can find him. You cannot even start to attack him if you do not know where he is.

The above quote, taken from a platoon leaders manual from 1944 best sums up the tactical problem both players are faced with at the start of each game. The Patrol Phase has told them where the enemy have recently been identified, but not what their strength is, nor precisely what their position is. As the game begins it is important to remember the following quote:

“Your determination to attack and kill the enemy can never be put into effect unless you learn to find him first.”

Not a line which always appeals to the gamer, but one which is core to game design principles in Chain of Command. If your historical counterpart faced this situation, and he did, then we should be modelling it in our game.

A starting point here is to consider the way that a platoon advances into action. This varies slightly from nation to nation, depending on their tactical doctrines, but in all cases a sub-unit will be sent forward to scout out the ground ahead. For some nations this involved specially trained scouts, for the British it was a lead section. In fact, a look at how the British platoon advanced will illustrate precisely the situation the attacking player in Chain of Command is in.

Advance

As we can see, the lead section, No.1 Section in this case, has its rifle team advancing forward with its Bren team ready to provide covering fire. The manual suggests that the gap between the two is around 25 yards, so on the tabletop the Bren is about 6” behind the rifles. Behind that lead, or scout, section is the ‘O’ Group, or Orders Group, with the Platoon commander, his runner, the section leaders from No.2 and No. 3 sections, a runner from No.1 section and the radio operator. This is one tactical bound behind the scouts (we’ll look at tactical bounds in a moment) but close enough to be in visual contact and able to provide support rapidly. This group is well names, as it allows the officer to rapidly issue orders to the two section leaders and deploy them into action once the enemy is located.

Behind the ‘O’ Group the platoon HQ, with the Platoon Sergeant and the 2” mortar is ready to provide supporting fire or smoke. No.2 and No.3 sections are 25 yards behind that, waiting to be deployed into action.

This mirrors exactly, or should do, the situation in the first phase of the game. The following image illustrates that, with No.1 Section probing onto the table; the Bren team on Overwatch and the rifle team moving forward. Just off-table is the platoon commander, ready to deploy his men onto the table, but only when the scout section has advanced the first tactical bound and secured that objective.

On Off Table

Tactical Bounds?
Just what is a tactical bound? This is a term which essentially means the distance between one point of cover and the next. There is no set distance, as can be seen on the diagram below, with the amount of time the unit is exposed being determined by the density of terrain. However, routes which present more abundant cover, and therefore involve more tactical bounds, will be the safer option.

Tactical Bound

Once the lead section reaches cover, the supporting units should move up to that position before the advance continues. In game terms this allows the second unit to cover the first as they advance through the next tactical bound.

Keeping a Reserve
In all warfare, the side who is able to commit their reserves to battle last holds a major advantage. With all of the enemy’s cards played, they may then intervene at the point where their effect is greatest. This is also a key part of game play in Chain of Command. Our platoon leader’s manual tells us (in VERY LARGE LETTERS):

A danger that must be guarded against…is the desire for speed in getting the sub-unit into action. This must not be allowed to develop in such haste that all sound military principles are discarded. FOR EXAMPLE, THE PLATOON COMMANDER MUST ALLOW TIME TO FIND OUT WHERE THE ENEMY IS, TO APPRECIATE THE PROBLEM AND THE GROUND, AND THEN TO ISSUE CLEAR ORDERS.

Let us look at an example of that on our terrain.

Game 11

Here we see that the Allies, shown in blue, have deployed Squad A advancing forward covered by the hedgerow whilst Squad B covers them. Red here counters by deploying a Squad 1 to put down fire. By not committing Squad C they are keeping their options open. Below we can see that with Squad A having completed its tactical bound, we could bring forward a jump-off point (using a Chain of Command dice), with that being used to then deploy Squad C and advance that the next tactical bound into the far orchards. Similarly we can bring up Squad B in the centre.

Map 12

However, if Squad A’s advance was me with a violent reaction from the enemy, Squad B could be rapidly move up to support. This then leaves the uncommitted Squad C to exploit the situation by driving in areas of undefended perimeter and moving to flank the German defenders.

Game 13

The example here used full squad (or section) sized units. If smaller scouting teams are deployed the opportunity to ascertain the enemy’s positions whilst still retaining an even greater part of your force off the table multiplies the effectiveness of this approach. If the Allied player sent out two man scouting teams towards the Germans’ most exposed Jump-off Points he will oblige his opponent to either deploy two units or lose the positions. With two thirds of his opponent’s core force deployed he may then decide where to attack with the bulk of his force.

Game 14

The Lesson
By retaining a reserve and not simply deploying our force onto the table, we allow ourselves a greater degree of tactical flexibility and the opportunity to strike at the enemy’s weak spots once we have ascertained his full deployment.

In the next piece we will look at deploying onto the table as the defender.

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Talking Tactics. Part Two

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The Patrol Phase in Chain of Command is just one of the unique aspects of the game which, we think, makes play more fun as well as accelerating the game through the early phases, so that play tends to begin at first point of contact, or thereabout. On a club evening that in itself is a great reason to use the Patrol Phase but, equally importantly, this phase of the game provides the player with a thorough introduction to the ground they are about to fight over, and gives them the same decisions to make which a platoon leader would be making during the reconnaissance of his objective or when constructing his defence of a position.

What is particularly challenging and dynamic about the Patrol Phase is that both players need to balance the desire to gain the best possible position for their force with the imperative of denying the enemy the ground favourable to them. In many cases this will present a conflict where the player needs to decide which is his higher priority. Moving a few tokens around the table is simple enough, what is important is for the player to focus on what he wants to have achieved by the end of this short but vital phase of the game.

The Role of Reconnaissance
We must assume that each game will feature at least one, if not both players looking to advance. For the attacker, with a fixed objective his patrols are looking to secure what the 1944 tactical manual refers to as “The ideal line of advance”. This will provide him with “concealment and cover throughout its length and offers good cover from fire”. Above that, he is also seeking to misdirect his enemy, creating a false picture about what he intends to do. It is absolutely key to remember that all of your Patrol Markers will not generate jump off points and that even then you do not need to use all of your jump-off points in the course of a game. To imply a threat to one flank may allow you to draw troops into that area, thereby removing them from the key zone where the decsive action will occur.

The defender will be seeking to secure positions which allow him to form a defensive line with as few chinks in its armour as possible. Ideally these positions will be able to mutually support each other with direct line of sight and good fields of fire. Beyond that, the defender needs to send out his patrols in order to keep the enemy at arm’s length and make any approach they have as long and problematic as possible. Again, not all Patrol Markers will generate a jump-off point, so using at least one as a “spoiler”, to hold back the enemy advance is a wise tactic.

Let us look at an example. The following table is set up with the Germans defending to the left, the Allies attacking from the right as we look at the map. The table is shown with a 24” grid to give an idea of scale.
Map 1

Let us now consider the table from the opposing perspectives; firstly, the Allies. On the map below are marked three potentially very good jump-off points, marked in white, which the player should be looking to achieve. 1 is key as it allows the player to deploy troops into three key sections of the battlefield, as can be seen by the arrows. The orchard will allow a covered advance, while the upper arrow will allow fast and easy access to the house. It is worth rushing Patrol Markes forward to seize this first.

Number 2 is the simplest to achieve, but it is also the least likely to be interfered with by the enemy Patrol Markers. It allows deployment into two sections of the table. Number 3 is a better version of 2, with a covered approach to the central house, a good position near 2 from which to support and advance and a clear route up the hedgerow towards the German positions. What is noteworthy is that all three Positions can see, and therefore, support, each other to some degree.

Also shown, in red, are three potentially poor jump-off points. Position 4, in the small outhouse, is close to the house, but it is an isolated position which offers no cover for troops deploying from it. Number 5 is the worst option as it cannot do anything which Number 1 can’t do, and it isolates troops on an extreme table edge, especially if, as seems highly likely, the Germans will have troops in the orchard facing it. Number 6 is more contentious as seizing a building does give you hard cover. However, leaving this untouched will encourage the German player to advance into it – wargamers love to put men in buildings – at which point they are easy prey for any troops you have deploying from points 1 and 3. We will look more at troops in buildings later in this series, suffice to say here that they have limited fields of fire, and if the enemy can deploy anywhere close by they are very susceptible to attack by men armed with grenades.

Map 1 Allies

From German perspective, there are three key positions, all of which can be reached with ease. Position 1 should be seized first as it dominates an entire avenue of approach. If it has any failings it is that it cannot be supported by fire from Position 2 or 3, but it is such a key position it is important to at least have the option of deploying there. Position 2 is an excellent central position which also has a covered and protected route to the small hedgerow covering the upper flank if the enemy come that way. Position 3 is an excellent central reserve from which troops can deploy to support Positions 1 and 2. As stated, all of these can be reached very rapidly, allowing the player to begin his patrol phase by advancing one Patrol Marker directly forward and holding the enemy at arm’s length at whatever point he chooses.

As with the Allies, we have three red positions which are less favourable. Position 4 is much too far advanced. It will always prove easy pickings for the Allies, especially as it cannot be effectively supported from Positions 1 to 3. Position 5 is equally to far forward and a great risk. It is tempting to advance rapidly in order to hold back the enemy across a broad front, but in doing so you must still consider which positions are at the heart of the defence. If the defender did wish to push forward more aggressively, then he needs to decide which of his ideal defensive positions he will risk not holding, or at least be conscious of how his forward Patrol Markers are placed when it comes to placing jump-off points. Position 6 is poor for the reasons already stated, it is too far forward and there are very limited fields of fire from buildings.

Map 1 German

The Lesson
Having said all of the above, and here’s the conundrum at the heart of this, were the German player to get jump-off points at all of points 4, 5 and 6 it would constitute and excellent position. This is where making a decision about what is desirable as compared to what is achievable comes in. The fact is that the Germans could possibly achieve two of the three jump-off points, but the absence of any one would make the other two untenable and at risk at best. It is important at the outset of any game to practically consider what your enemy is going to want to achieve as well as what you can reasonably expect to do.

In the next piece we will look at deployment onto the table and commanding your platoon in action.

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Talking Tactics, Part One

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Since Chain of Command was published last Summer, we have seen a constant stream of newcomers to the rules who have been enjoying the World War II tactical flavour that the rules produce. When creating Chain of Command we knew that we wanted to end up with a game which didn’t just allow us to play a game with WWII figures and models, but also gave us the opportunity to use real tactics and fight battles in the way that the actual protagonists did. The difference is that we are doing it in the comfort of our homes, local clubs or gaming conventions!

Of course the men who fought in the Second World War were well trained, not just in how to use their weapons, but also in tactics. When under pressure they could fall back on the “skills and drills” they had been taught. Their officers and NCOs had been prepared for most tactical situations and, when faced with the enemy in battle, they could draw on that training to out-fight their opponent. We, as wargamers, do not have that benefit. So, we thought that providing a tactical primer for Chain of Command, showing how real life tactical solutions can be applied to our tabletop games, would be a great idea.

Of course WWII infantry tactics is a big subject, consequently we will be producing this as a series of short pieces on Lard Island News which, together, will combine to provide you with your very own tactical manual, rather like this ones above. One of these, a British Army Infantry training manual covering battle drill, section and platoon tactics, tells us:

“it is easy to teach the tactics of cricket, football and boxing, because the men’s interest in these sports has been stimulated; if training is made interesting the teaching of war tactics can be equally successful.”

With that in mind, I shall try to avoid dry theory but instead concentrate on illustrated examples which will be easily recognised by any wargamer.

Setting Objectives
Before we start looking at specific tactics on the tabletop, let us consider what is needed to achieve victory in a game of Chain of Command. Like real warfare, defeating your enemy is not about killing every last man opposing you, but rather about reducing your opponents resolve to resist to the point where he retires, surrendering the battlefield. How do we achieve this?

In Chain of Command both forces will to fight is represented by their Force Morale. This has a numerical value, between 8 and 11, which is reduced by what we describe as “bad things happening”. In truth this is rather more polite than what we call it in private, but the system is there to recognise that troops will tend to put up with minor set-backs, but will be affected by major negative events, in other words, when “S**t happens”!

The way the rules reflect that is not through testing the morale of individual units whenever they take a casualty or lose a melee, but by testing the morale of the whole force when a major event occurs. These do, obviously, include events brought about by exchanging fire with the enemy. The loss of leaders has a major effect on the player’s ability to control his force and keep it motivated. However, what is often a more effective way of hitting your opponent’s morale hard is by taking ground from him. Nothing tells a soldier that his opponents have the upper hand then them seizing key points within his position and, consequently, the loss of ground, as represented by the capturing of your opponent’s jump-off points, is a sure way to lower his morale significantly. As such, Chain of command is not just a game about firepower, it puts much emphasis on the combination of fire and manoeuvre which has been a key component to warfare since the introduction of the magazine rifle. The player who best embraces the tactics of fire and movement will be in a stronger position that the player who relies on a static deployment and firepower alone.

The Lesson
At the end of each piece we will attempt to distill the core lessons down into one pithy paragraph, or maybe two. In this introductory piece there is not much to say other than, when devising your plan of action, do consider how you can best unsettle your opponent by damaging his morale. Seek out “low hanging fruit” where you can win easy victories and establish an early psychological and moral advantage. More often than not this will be by seizing ground where he has over-extended himself or where he has positions which, due to the terrain, cannot be supported from elsewhere. As the manual says:

It is not necessary to kill or wound a man to defeat him. You can beat him equally well by destroying his morale, be removing his desire to go on fighting, by making him think he has been beaten.”

In the next piece we will look at the pre-battle reconnaissance, the Patrol Phase in Chain of Command, and how to manage that phase of the game.

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29, Let’s Go! A Campaign Game

Platoon Sergeant Bouldermeir lit what remained of his cigar, exhaled and spat a stream of tobacco juice across the road. Just 24 hours since they landed on that crazy beach and marched past the dead and mangled bodies before heading up a valley towards a small and somewhat damaged French village. A lot had happened in that day.

The march inland had been noteworthy for the constant interruptions by seemingly random small arms fire. Sometimes it could have been the Germans, but most of the time the Sergeant suspected it was nervous troops jumping at shadows. Crazy Goddam bastards!

Bouldermeir’s Platoon had been far to the rear of the column when the attack went in on the small village of La Cambe. He’d seen the mangled remains of the Sherman which, he presumed, had led the attack. He’d also seen the four German 88m guns in their dug-outs which had been cleared as the advance through the village progressed. What had been worse was the wreckage of four tanks and the pile of corpses left by an attack by Allied aircraft. His Lieutenant had thrown orange smoke grenades to show that the column of men on the road was friendly, but the planes with the broad black and white stripes on their wings had not ceased their attacks. In the end the Sergeant had leapt onto the back of a Sherman and fired its AAMG until the barrel glowed with heat and, at last, the friendly planes soared away. Goddam bastards. They’d killed more men that the Germans at La Cambe!

The next place the enemy had been contacted was so small that it wasn’t marked on the 1:50,000 map which sergeant Bouldermeir carried. Lieutenant Taylor, whose map was more detailed, told him it was called Arthenay. What was certain was that the first attack had been driven back, a Sherman exploding and burning to the South of the road, hit by some mobile 88’s off to the South. A concerted barrage followed up by a rapid advance saw the men of the 2nd battalion punch hard, only to find that the enemy has slipped away after causing a few casualties. Goddam bastards. Why would nobody fight fair?

Now the Sergeant led his platoon forward into a small orchard to the South of the main road. With the mobile 88’s on their flank the 29th couldn’t push forward until they had cleared the threat. The village of St Germain du Pert was marked on Bouldermeir’s map, but he hardly needed it. He could see the imposing shape of the church dominating the cluster of buildings around it. Now he was going to show the Goddam bastard Germans who was boss. Nobody messed with Bart Bouldermeir!
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The Sergeant looked across to the right. He could see the church dominating the horizon. Here the hedge ended and any further penetration around the enemy’s flank would take him into open fields. It was a risk. If he kept pushing he could pull the enemy into directions, attacking both from the North and the East, but in doing so he would risk being spotted in the open and simply shot down…
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..it was a risk. What kind of men were the Germans he was facing? Pretty shook up Goddam bastards he guessed. Maybe men appearing off on their flank would persuade them to withdraw. The Sergeant pushed on.
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There was movement up ahead. Bouldermeir was certain of it.

“Kowalski, Shultz, scout up ahead, see if we can locate those SOBs!”

The two scouts slipped through the hedge.
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No sooner were the two men through the hedge than a hail of bullets met them. Kowalski went down, Shultz turned and ran.
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“Sergeant Collins, get your squad on that hedgeline! Amis, take your men round onto the flank. We’ll give these Goddam bastard Krauts something to remember us by!”
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Moments later his first squad were on the hedgeline and putting down fire. Bouldermeir was glad of the additional BARs he had picked up on Omaha. They gave the squad a real punch. A minute or so later fire could be heard across on the left; it was Sergeant Amis and his squad. The Krauts were caught in a crossfire! Moments later the Germans could be seen pulling back into the churchyard and Amis could be heard ordering his men forward. So far, so good.

The crunch of a difficult gear change heralded the arrival of German armour. They’d known it was there. The Colonel had said it was mobile 88′s, whatever the Sam Hill they were. Now one was coming towards them.
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“Sure glad to see you boys” Sergeant Bouldermeir called to the lead tank commander.

“No problem Sergeant. We’ll give you some support. If you can flush out the Germans so we can see their fire, we can take them out!”
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“Sergeant Amis is down!” the cry came from somewhere. Through his field glasses Sergeant Bouldermeir could see his squad leader being dragged to the relative safety of a hedgeline.
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At that moment, a second German squad appeared in the next field, clearly intent on cutting off the retreating party.
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But deploying under the guns of two Shermans was a disaster. Amis’ men fell back from their hedge and the tankers pumped shell after shell into the newly exposed German position.
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The crash of a heavy gun firing echoed from the trees and Norman buildings, followed a split second later by the sound of its ricocheting of the turret of the nearest Sherman.

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“Get that Goddam bastard bazooka up there! And I mean NOW!!!”
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As he walked down the main street in St Germain du Pert, Sergeant Bart Bouldermeir could see that the Germans had been hit hard. Twenty men lay dead or wounded, the latter now prisoners and being treated by US medics. The Marder was still burning, whilst the StuG had been abandoned. What was left of the force had been observed crossing a causeway through the inundated area to the South. He had won his first battle.

POSTSCRIPT
This was the fourth battle in our 29 Let’s Go! campaign, and what an interesting game it was. Quite how the Americans won it is beyond me as they, frankly, pushed way too deep in the patrol phase and were left with all of their flanking jump-off points exposed and completely in the open. They did succeed in pushing two of the German jump-off points out into no-mans-land, but that still left the enemy two in the village itself; more than adequate in such a small village. As it was, the squad that did deploy there, under Sergeant Amis, suffered significant casualties (7 men out of 12) as it attempted to get to cover.

The Germans made a couple of key decisions which, I felt, contributed to their downfall. Firstly, opening fire against an enemy two man patrol at long range may well result in those two men being killed or driven off, but in doing that you show your position and allow the enemy to manoeuvre against you. In this instance it resulted in the single German squad facing two US squads, one of which was enfilading it from the flank. It is FAR more effective to leave your troops off table until you at least have an enemy at close range.

Secondly, and more critically, the failure of the Germans to close down the jump-off points on their extreme right was a match loser. The US jump-off points there were not just in the open, they were also out of the line of sight of their jump-off points on the northern edge and, as a result, entirely unsupportable. Had the following plan been implemented from the outset, I cannot envisage a situation in which the US player could have not withdrawn and been obliged to fight this action twice. Bear in mind the only German objective is to delay the US player by slowing him down, forcing him to fight certain actions twice, that would seem a more appropriate option.
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With one squad and the panzerschreck on the church covering the Northern table entry points, the Germans could have allocated both AFVs and two squads of infantry to seizing the three jump-off points on their flank. Placing one of those squads on overwatch in the garden, as shown, would have placed the US player in an impossible position. He’d have either been obliged to defend the jump off points by deploying into the open (and be gunned down), or surrendered them in order to conserve his force and seen his force morale plummet. To intervene from the North, the US player would have to cross the open ground to a position on the hedgeline marked “A”, and that appears to be a tall task when compared with taking out three such closely deployed jump-off points almost behind your own lines. Thee jump-off points lost is a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6 force morale points lost. No force can realistically lose 4 or 5 points and still push on. Especially as the US force began the game with a Force Morale of 8.

Such a course of action would accurately reflect the Germans counter attacking locally to drive off a potential counter attack and securing their own perimeter. In reality, having the positions you have chosen as the jump off points for your attack so comprehensively retaken would oblige any attacker to withdraw and rethink his plan. And that is what could have happened here. As it is, the US player won a very simple victory and is ready to continue the push on to Isigny. Quite how this will affect the morale of the main German force, currently falling back to Osmanville where the hoped to have some time to dig in, we will have to find out. Unfortunately for them “Pop” Goode, the US commander, is almost feeling vaguely positive, so there will be no delays there either.

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Crisis. Chain of Command Does the Double!

Is it really over so quickly?! Every year the only disappointment we experience with Crisis is the flat feeling of coming home back to normality after two days in wargaming Heaven. Not only do we get the greatest show in Europe, but we also get to enjoy one of the understated gems of the continent, the truly buzzing and eternally welcoming city of Antwerp.

This year we packed the two Lardy cars on Thursday night and set off early on Friday morning. Arriving at our hotel in mid-afternoon we had time for a quick wash and brush up before having a few pre-dinner drinks next to the harbour and then into town for dinner in a fabulous 12th century vaulted wine cellar lit only by a myriad of candles. As wander around the various squares, sampling a few more beers before heading back to the hotel made for a most enjoyable evening.
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Saturday morning saw us arrive at the show venue at around 0830 where we quickly set up the small village of Lardville with its associated manoir and Chateau.
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For me the rest of the day was one great blur, as we played three games of Chain of Command. Two with the BIG Chain of Command rules, one with the vanilla rules for a couple of newcomers who wanted to see the game in its original format. As always it was great to game with our old friends from Europe and to make new ones. It was particularly nice to chat with a number of German wargamers who had made the lengthy trip. I fear that my ability to tweet from the show as very limited, but Nick and Sid kept up a good running commentary on the events of the day.

I must note here the hard work put in by the Tin Soldiers of Antwerp. They had taken even more space this year whilst keeping the number of traders and games the same as before. This really gave the show a feeling of space and allowed one to manoeuvre around the show with ease. Their efforts in keeping everyone fed and watered were much appreciated. The food smelt fantastic; sadly I was too busy to eat anything!

The high point of the day for us was that Chain of Command won two awards. We won the Best Participation Game and next door James and Scrivs had traveled across with their spectacular Keren game which they also ran with our Chain of Command rules, winning the most Innovative Game of the Show. Nobody who has seen the amazing East African hillside over which they fought could be anything other than amazed at its beauty and originality. A truly worth winner! Here we see Scrivs, James and Rich wielding said awards.
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Of course Crisis doesn’t end when the doors shut. We headed into town for a slap up feed of horse Fillet Rossini and a few few bottles of vino collapso, before joining James and Scrivs for a very merry evening around Antwerp’s historic Inns. Here we see, from left to right, Elton, Scrivs, Noddy, Sidney, Clarkie, James, Biffo and Nick raising their glasses to toast the joys of the day. Cheers!
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So, another fantastic Crisis came to an end. The long drive home gave us time to contemplate on the fun we’d had and chat a bit for a forthcoming Lardy podcast. More on that later. For now, here’s a gratuitous photo of the Best Participation Game trophy which now graces the Lard Island Trophy cabinet.
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A Bit of Pre-Crisis Gardening

Well, more yards than gardens if I am honest. I laid out the table yesterday in order to see what was required and immediately spotted a major blunder. I had completely forgotten the build and paint the village garage which would create a bit of off-high-street interest. In fact, not only had I forgotten to build and paint it, I’d forgotten to but the damned thing too! A quick phone call to Martin at Warbases was made, “Can you send me a kit post haste?” was the plea. Being a true gent, Martin came to the rescue in style. He has such a model already painted and would be happy to bring it to Antwerp for me to use. Superstar. He gave me the measurements and I plotted it on the table. Phew!

Next I looked for green spaces. By which I mean green spaces where it shouldn’t be green. So that’s back yards and the garage “forecourt”. What I had decided on was to knock up some flat areas with a few eye catching bits on them which would break the monotony of the perpetual green which one can find on wargames tables. I planned to bring along all sorts of bits of scatted with which to “dress” the table, but these areas of heavy footfall would improve the overall visual feel.

I used 3mm MDF for the bases. I cut these out with a saw and then clip the corners to round them off, after which I sand them down to get a clean finish. One base was to be two small rear gardens divided by a fence and with washing line in one. While doing this I also made a fence out of coffee stirrers and a couple of short bits of balsa in my bits box.
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The other was the rear yard to Le Flammant Rose, so I thought a simple dog kennel and I could then add some barrels or other bits as desired on the day. I ran up a quick kennel out of artists mounting board like so:
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This I then stuck together with a hot glue gun and shoved it on the base.
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My old mate Sidney has created some beautiful small structures like this by applying green stuff to the outside and then carving wood grain onto the model. I truly couldn’t be bothered, so any detail will be painted on.

Next was the garage forecourt. The garage is set back, so this are will meet the high street, so I really wanted to give the feel of a provincial establishment. I fancied some petrol pumps so I used a couple of old batteries, topped them with two spare plastic figure bases and then created the hose with paper clips. There was a bucket in the Tamiya 1:48th set which I had purchased for pimping up the Panzer IVs, so one pump is clearly leaking and its delivery end kept in that. I found a couple of spare wheels in my bits box and a large sign, more of which later.
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So, with the basic designs done, I added my basing material.
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Several people have contacted me and asked what I use for basing and how I paint them. The basis of my basing material is Sharp Sand. I like it as it contains all sorts of different size small stones. To that I add a spoonful of the various model railway rocks and grit that I have picked up over the years. What I do not want is something which looks like the Giants Causeway, but I do want some texture to add visual variety. This mix I apply using PVA glue, thus:
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It is absolutely vital here to remember that thus applied them sand will simply fall off at the earliest opportunity. When that is dry I apply a second wash of PVA, this time thinned to about 50% consistency with water. When this dries the base is almost rock solid and the stuff is well and truly stuck.

When that is dry I spray the whole thing black with matt car paint. You can see here that I have then added a sign I painted with a hot glue gun and then added more basing material to hide the joins.
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With that dry (it takes a while) my standard base painting process occurs. I paint the base with Acrylic Raw Umber from Daler Rowney (code 247).
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I let that dry, again a slow process which can be accelerated in the over, but DO NOT EVER PUT BATTERIES IN THE OVEN if using them for such daft purposes. They will explode and kill you and 90% of people in the neighbourhood. Try explaining that to the wife.

Once that is dry, I dry-brush on Vallejo Khaki…
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…then a lesser dry-brush of Vallejo Stone Grey…
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…then a final light dry-brush of white over areas with heavy traffic, or where there are some nice large stones which will look better picked out. Voila.
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After that, and it is a process of minutes, I add the static grass. I mix my own with all sorts of odds and ends in there. I base it on an autumn or winter meadow grass as that has a nice mix of colours in there, but I add some other colours until I get the feel I am looking for. I then add in a few small rocks (VERY small) leaves and small bits of floral material, but in such small quantities that it’s a bit like the sixpence in the pudding: it’s a novelty to get one.

To apply this is use PVA, tapping small dots on the area I want covered. If you put a dot the size of a pea you’ll get a clump twice as big, so I go small at this stage. I then shake the box full of grass up (I keep mine in an old ice cream tub) and then dip the base in and give it a gentle shake.
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With that done I can add some more detail. Sid suggested to me that making some of the bases potential objectives would be a good idea. “You know” he said “the type of things that people would want to capture”. Well, looking at the recent transcripts from St Albans Magistrates Court, it seemed clear that for Sidney a washing line full of “unmentionables” would be perfect!
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Finally the garage forecourt was done. I painted the petrol pumps with PVA glue to give the paint something to key onto, so the black undercoat was firmly in place. I robbed some typres from some of the random unused models I had kicking around and stuck these in piles with PVA glue. After the gig I can soak that off and put them back in place. 2014-10-28 13.15.57

A couple of cart wheels from the spares box completed the ensemble.

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And that is that. The build is complete, so today is going to be dedicated to sorting out stock and generally packing up all of the toys. We’ll report on the show after the weekend.

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Crisis, A LARDY Guide to Having Fun in Antwerp

Antwerp Guide
Every year member of the Lardy community will sense a ripple of excitement sweep across Lard Island. As October leaves fall and the nights draw in, our thoughts turn to our last, and the best, gig of the year, Crisis in Antwerp.

We’ve been nipping across the channel for nearly ten years now. In the early days the plan was to make the trip every couple of years, but we got bitten by the bug and now it is an unmissable annual pilgrimage. But what makes Crisis so unique as a wargaming show? We thought we’d give a a few tips to those possibly making the trip across for the first time so that you can get the best of your visit. So, here’s the Lardy List of Do’s and Don’t for attending Crisis.

1. Plan Ahead
This one is obvious, we thought we’d ease you in gradually. DO plan your purchases in advance. Crisis gets bigger each year and it now ranks as one of the largest shows we attend. It’s easy to miss out on a trader you’d like to hand your cash to, so check out the on-line floor plan in advance. It’s something to do on the ferry or on Eurostar.

2. A Smorgasbord to Choose From
DO keep an open mind to new traders. Used, as we are, to the usual round of UK traders, you’ll find some new faces here and some very different products. Take some time to check these out. you’ll find that French language books in particular are very high quality and often with an accompanying, if abbreviated, English text.

3. Have Fun with a Game
DO try to take in a game at the show. Crisis is more relaxed than most UK shows and there are lots of games you can participate in, not least the fantastic and often very unique games run by the Tin Soldiers of Antwerp. It’s a great chance to check out a rule set you’ve been hearing about.

4. Don’t Fail to Plan
DO plan your route, especially if sailing into Calais, Dunkirk or crossing on Eurostar. This area isn’t called “the cockpit of Europe” for nothing. Battles have been fought here since time began, and you will never be far from somewhere interesting. Plan a visit into your schedule, read a couple of books, then turn off for a quick diversion and see the battlefield. By taking a crossing home a couple of hours later, you cna really add to your visit.

5. Love Is…
DO it with friends, or even a loved one! My wife is about as likely to attend a wargames show as she is to do five rounds with Joe Frazier, but I would certainly take her to Antwerp with me if I didn’t have a car full of fat blokes. Antwerp has sufficient culture, couture and confecture to keep her busy while I play with toy soldier on Saturday. The you have a couple of days to enjoy the city together. Wargaming and Brownie Points combined. What’s not to like?

6. An Holistic Experience
DO NOT think of Crisis as just a wargame show. It’s also a great opportunity to visit a really vibrant European city. Antwerp is, to me, Brugge without the tourists. You will find a beautiful historic city centre with architecturally stunning squares and a plethora of bars and restaurants to sample. DO NOT sit in your anodyne multi-national chain hotel; get out and see the city.

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Sampling the local culture. A 14th century Inn in the city centre.

7. Beer, Naturally
Yes, we have got to point 7 without mentioning the B-word. DO sample the beer. Leffe is a fine brew and you’ll find it in your hotel, BUT you can buy that in your local Sainsbury’s or Tesco at home. Antwerp’s De Koninck brewery produces some excellent pale Ales and you should always sample at least one “bolleck”, the local name for a glass of their favourite tipple, when in town. You’ll find De Koninck where you see the sign of the Red Hand.

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Sidney, about to sample a couple of “bollecks”.

8. A Very British Problem
DO NOT try to speak the local lingo. The locals ALL speak English, many do so better than me. Taxi drivers, bars, restaurants will all welcome you and assist with any translation. Indeed, most food outlets will have their menus in English.

9. A Leisurely Itinerary
DO NOT rush. As can be seen, there is LOADS to do in Antwerp and en route. As you are paying for the crossing, why not extend your visit by a day to make the most of your trip. We usually travel across early on Friday so as to miss the rush hour on the Antwerp Ring Road and then get a later crossing on Sunday in order to visit a battlefield. If you’re taking the other half, an additional day would allow you to give Antwerp the attention it richly deserves.

10. The Final Word.
DO avoid an excess of sobriety. Antwerp is a a great city in which to eat, drink, be merry and talk wargaming. Crisis is a great chance to let your hair down. Even if, like Sid, you no longer have any.

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Crisis, What Crisis? We’re on Target!

The big day looms and today is the big set-up day where we lay out the table to check for all the small detail we have forgotten. That will be keeping me busy from now up to Thursday night when we load up Lard Mobile 2 and prepare for launch.

Yesterday saw me focused on completing Le Flammand Rose for my Norman village high street. Readers will recall that this piece was an MDF model by Charlie Foxtrot Models, but I decided to do my usual job and personalise it a bit in order to make a really nice off-the-peg model into something unique. Please excuse me for recapping slightly here, but a lot of blogging water has passed under the bridge since we last looked at these. More on that in a moment.

Here is our “naked” model of La Brasserie as it comes straight from the pack (after simple assembly).
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And here is how I tarted it up with some additional shutter and a tiled roof.
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I decided that in order to add further texture to the model, I’d paint it with a mix of oil and acrylic paint. This potentially led too a major distaster as the oil paint took AGES to dry. I baked it in the oven for seven hours, but it emerged just as tacky as when it went in. Then, fortunately, we had two dry and very sunny but windy days where I just left the building outside and, at last it reached the point where I could at kleast describe it as “nearly dry”. And that’s as good as I think it’s going to get…

Here you can see that the building was painted a grotty blue colour. I undercoated the shutters with grey and then painted them white. I never try to paint stuff like this perfectly, I take the view that one is attempting to give an impression from a distance as opposed to rendering a perfect likeness. Life is a lot quicker and easier if one takes that view.
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I wanted to add a little local colour, so I copied an advert which I found on the web. Naturally the spelling error is entirely intentional and merely there to provide an ice-breaking talking point for those awkward wargaming moments. Ahem. I used the structure of the advert to try to disguise the breaks in the model where you can remove roof/first floor to put toys inside. The worst bit of doing this was that once I had painted it, I distressed it with sandpaper. It was a bit of a heart-in-mouth moment, but again it does give the tired and worn with age look which typifies old French buildings.

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I added a new frontage from card as my old chum Sidney asked me to name the place after one of his old stomping grounds in Hull during the torrid years of his youth. I translated the name to French and superglued that over the original frontage. I can just see Sidney standing in the doorway, possibly shedding a tear in inclement weather.
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If course a real winner with this model is the fact that it fits in so nicely with my other French buildings:
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So, to celebrate the new venture on the high street, I painted up some odds and sods to add to the ambience of a Norman summer. Bounteous natural products laid out on the cobbles for the French housewife to make her selection.
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I picked these up on eBay, but I honestly cannot recall what I searched for. I THINK I simply searched for “!:48″ to see what came up. Whoever makes these resin models also has the equivalent for North Africa with all sorts of smashing bits which would grace any 8th Army or Afrika Korps game. Not exactly cheap, this lot came to about fifteen quid. However, I thing that small detail like this adds a lot to a game. They will be ideal from Roman times to the present day, so I reckon it was money well spent.

Oh, I nearly forgot. I also added another completed Corgi Sherman to my collection. Here it is, among friends and enemies.
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I thought maybe I could crew them with middle-aged men and make a film about them!

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Crisis Panzers Update

I must admit that the clocks changing and the additional hour gave me a head start today. While the wife and daughters lazed in bed, I got up early and cracked on with the tanks. With domestic duties today I couldn’t see me making much headway, but anything achieved would be a Brucie bonus.
I had sprayed the undercoat on yesterday, black car paint. Contrary to some fears, spraying up under the skirts was dead easy. So now I wanted to get a base coat on top of that.. A rummage through my paint collections revealed that my supplies of Middlestone were dangerously low, so I used Vallejo Yellow Green, code 70881, as opposed to the Middlestone 70882. It’s slightly more green, but as a base coat is absolutely fine.

The first coat went on quite wet, as seen below, after which I gave the bottle a better shake and put on a better second coat.
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Once that base coat had dried I washed the tanks with magic wash made up of black ink, brown paint, water and a few drops of washing up liquid. That collects in the recesses and gives a fair representation of built up grime. It was a blowy day; fortunate as the plastic card means I cannot dry these in the oven.
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With the magic wash dry I was able to dry brush on the Middlestone. A coat of pure paint then two more with increasing amounts of white added ended up likt this:
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That dried while I set up a spray paint booth using some old carboard boxes and set up my air brush. It’s a rubbish old single action airbrush and I am not very good with it; however, it is well worth using as the spray effect just cannot be replicated with a brush on models of this size. I get a bit bored with the ubiquitous “ambush pattern” that I normally use for Normandy so I gave the matter some thought. In the end I decided on a single colour camo job, green on top of the middlestone. I settled on a mix of Russian Green and Reflective Green thinned with windscreen wash. I buggered this up a bit, making the mix too thin, but much of that can be covered up as the process continues.
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After that it was a case of doing the detail. A flat coat for most stuff, then a wash of Army Painter Quickshade, and a single highlight. I take a bit of time where there are areas of rust and oil or smoke, washing with the relevant colour and they using Tamiya Weathering Master pigments. The light is now going , both for panting and, sadly, for photography. But here’s a few snaps of where the have got to today.

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I’m afraid that the colour is buggered up by the poor light. Tomorrow I will be adding some scratches and the decals to finish these off. That should be done in daylight, so we should have some good snaps for you.

All in all, another long day of work, but good results.

MONDAY MORNING POSTSCRIPT
Well, a night of well-timed insomnia allowed me to finish off the Panzers. I used a pan scourer to add paint chipping in heavy traffic areas, then added Panzer Lehr insignia, and decals. A final touch up with some pigments and we are done. We have slightly better light this morning, so here’s a few snaps.
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I’m pretty chuffed with these, they certainly have the lived-in look that I like for tanks in general, but particularly German tanks of the late war period. They really have presence on the tabletop as well. It wasn’t a difficult project, just time consuming and requiring of patience, something I am not well-equipped with. Overall I think they will look quite respectable, especially when I look back at the original:
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Today is going to be dedicated too finishing off an additional Sherman and working on the Brasserie along with some bits and pieces for the table. Hopefully I’ll also get to set out the game so we can see what else is required.

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Crisis, the Build Continues

Thus far I have got my Panzer IVs half finished and my Brasserie just started. I’ve been waiting on some bits from Tamiya to arrive so that I can complete the panzers; the Brasserie, Le Flamant Rose, has actually had its base coat applied, but I used some oil bases paint to get a nice texture, so that is still drying. With both of these I have made some progress, but not enough to warrant a report. But fear not, I’ve not been idle. In fact, thanks to the wife who thought she heard a mouse at 0300, I’ve just managed to put in a 15 hour shift and get quite a bit done on what is probably best described as the “odds and sods” front.

Firstly, as well as the Brasserie building, I got some of the small out-buildings which Charlie Foxtrot produce and sell, very reasonably, via eBay. One sentry box, two outside lavatories and three sheds, one of them in a somewhat distressed state, were glued together the other day and finally I got a chance to do some work on these. Once again, I did not use the models straight from the pack. The roofs on these were planked and I was keen to get a more waterproof look, so I added some roofing felt in the form of some ordinary plain paper with I stuck on with PVA. What I SHOULD have done was take pictures before I did this. However, it was 0300 and my brain wasn’t working. So, here’s a snap of them after the paper was applied.

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As you can see, they are rather swish. I distressed the roof felt on the more dilapidated shed so one can see where the water leeks in. My next phase was to add an MDF base. I don’t base all of my buildings, but for bits and pieces like these I think a small base adds a bit of heft to them and just looks nice.

I slapped some paint on them using my usual technique. A base coat of a appropriate colour and then successive dry-brushes up to the look I wanted. The sentry box is brilliant as the zig-zag lines are etched into the wood, so acting as a guise for paint application, always handy when the painter is as ham-fisted as me! Anyway, enough of that, you know how to paint a bit of wood. Here they are painted:

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And here they are based and finished:

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At this point, I breathed a sigh of relief that something was at least getting completed. Then on to the next, unanticipated, part of the build.

Yesterday I nipped up the A1M to see our chum Paul from Early War Miniatures on his country estate just outside the chocolate box village of St Evenage. It was my intention to relieve him of some of his rather smashing French roads which, some reads may recall, I used for Roman roads for Dux Britanniarum. These latex wonders are truly brilliant, but I had never got around to having and junctions or bendy bits as my Dux Roman roads are all straight. When I arrived Paul thrust some vacuum formed bits of plastic into my hand. These, he told me, were as just unreleased bits from a new pack of entrenchments and emplacement he was going to be producing. In the stable block his estate workers were toiling over the final masters as we spoke.

Well, what can I say. Some thing shouldn’t work. But they do. These bits were designed for both 20mm and 25(8)mm gamers, something which, if you’d told me rather than showing me the goods, I’d have been dubious of. But immediately I could see what these smashing vacuum formed bits would be good for. Without further ado I ran off with said bits ready to paint them up.

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First I cut out some MDF bass for them. A quick flourish of the hot glue gun saw them attached to the bases with only second degree burns to one finger. Not bad going for me.
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The next step is to slap on some PVA glue and dip the model into the sand from the basing pot. This allows the models to match the bases of my other terrain, but it also strengthens the vacuum formed models. I am always a bit concerned about vacuum formed stuff as it can feel flimsy. However, one of my oldest bits of terrain is a Bellona bridge which I painted as a teenager, so I know they can stand the test of time. Their longevity is greatly enhanced by basing. You can use artists mounting board, but MDF really works best for me.
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Okay. Let that dry…
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…and then slap paint on according to your preferred scheme. Finally, shove toy soldiers in them, like so.
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As can be seen, these are rather swish additions to my collection. Chain of Command allows an option of selecting team sized positions for your troops, and this pack looks like it is going to be PERFECT! Apparently a fourth bit will be a team sized entrenchment for riflemen. Now that is ticking all of the boxes for me. Look out for Early War Miniatures around the shows and ask Paul and the Gang about them. The more we nag him, the quicker we can get our mitts on this smashing little set.

So, two mini-projects completed today. I also knocked out all the new road sections and, with much jubilation got the Tamiya bits in the post. So I’ve managed to get the Panzers to a point where tomorrow I can undercoat them. I hope to apply a base coat as well, but Number One daughter is home from Uni and my duties will be more kitchen related than having fun with German tanks. Hopefully I can sneak some time on the Brasserie and give you a further update tomorrow.

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