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Bolt Action Battle Report: Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows!

Tony and I met for a great game of Bolt Action last week.  On the way in to the LFGS I found €10 on the street.  It was going to be that kind of game.

We decided to play the BA.net mission Nuts! and bring 1250 point lists (more on this later).

I brought:
Platoon 1
Reg. Junior Lt. and friend
Reg. Siberian squad (10 rifles)
Vet. scout (7)
Reg. sniper
Reg. BA-64DShK
Reg. T34/85

Platoon 2
Reg. Junior Lt.
Reg. tank riders (10)
Vet. Assault Engineers with flame-thrower (8)
Commissar and friend
Reg. medic and friend
Reg. truck with MMG
Reg. Katyusha (I wanted to bring my Katyusha and a tank so I had to take two platoons)
Free Rifle squad

14 dice, 1250 points

Tony brought:
Reg. 1st Lt.
Commandos (8)
Commandos (8)
Commandos (8)
Commandos (8)
Free artillery observer
Reg. medium mortar
Reg. sniper
Reg. Blacker Bombard
Reg. light artillery (25pdr)
Reg. 3-ton truck
Reg. AEC Mk. III
Reg. Churchill AVRE
13 dice, 1250 points

Set-up, sizing up

The mission is straightforward and tactical.  There is an objective in the center of the table and then one objective in each table quarter.  My plan was to use the scouts to hold or contest the center objective and focus the remainder of my forces and my outflanking death-star assault engineers on one side of the table.  I assumed Tony would be fairly aggressive and want to get those commandos into assault as soon as possible.

The table:

I was the “defender” and choose the right side of the table.  I committed the truck, medic, solo lt., and assault engineers to outflank on my left (the bottom of the table above).  My T34/85 with tank riders and Katyusha were in reserve.  Tony put a platoon of commandos in his truck to outflank.  He started with two units of commandos on the table and the fourth one in reserve.  Also on the table was his sniper, Churchill, Lt. and 25pdr.  His AEC and blacker were also in reserve.

I got lucky, not for the last time that night, with the roll-off to place forward-deploying teams.  My scouts occupied the ruin close to the center objective.  Tony placed his sniper in the building on his half of the table and my sniper got a nice window view as well.

Tony’s Blacker Bombard deserves special mention.  What’s that you say?  You didn’t know Warlord made the kit?  They don’t.  Tony’s is a scratch-build:

Churchill AVRE, Blacker Bombar, 25pdr., AEC mkIII, and medium mortar–Tony’s design philosophy can be expressed as: “If you have less than a d6 HE GTFO.”
My hope that I could attrit his infantry squads while keeping my T34/85 alive.
Turn 1
Things got off to a fantastic start for me.

I got the first dice out of the bag and my sniper instantly killed his opposite number.  My scouts hunkered down while my green squad, commissar, and one of my officers moved up to the large building on my left.  The squad went into the bottom floor while the HQ units hid out of sight behind it.  My BA-64 fired blindly at Tony’s Blacker and killed a crew member.  Tony’s infantry occupied the building on his left, but his shooting was ineffectual.

Turn 2

Tony had a better run of dice and his reserves showed up without fail.  My T34 didn’t come on.  The AVRE fired at my scouts and missed.  Tony’s 25pdr missed my siberians.  I fired the Katyusha–two units were in range of the target squad–and rolled a 5, 6, and 6.  His 25pdr observer dispersed in red mist and five commandos went down.  The Katyusha is a Bob Emmerson model.  Top quality.  
Tony’s other commando squad moved up his right, closing in on my green squad.
Turn 3
A real bloodbath.  The commandos on Tony’s right assaulted my green squad which was bunkered down.  
The green squad was predictably wiped, but they took out five commandos.  With the next dice I launched my Commissar and his BFF into the building.  The two killed one of the commandos before getting a Fairbairn-Sykes in the guts.
Tony’s AVRE shot and missed, but anything it aims at takes a down marker (3D6 HE!).  The only bright spot for Tony occurred when his 25pdr popped my BA-64.
My Katyusha shot at a commando squad.  Tony, now in fear of my dice rolling, took a down dice.  And the Katy hit to knock out two commandos.
Turn 4
This was the decisive turn.  I got the first dice and rolled for my T34.  It arrived.  It shot at Tony’s Churchill.  I rolled a 6.  I then rolled a 6 for penetration followed by a 6 on the result table.  I was like:
Tony was like:
Things were a bit grim for the British from here on out.  Tony’s mortar couldn’t hit anything.  His AEC missed at short range.  Units failed order tests with one pin marker.  Smoke dispersed.  Paint chipped off miniatures.  I wanted to buy him a shot of bourbon.  
Turn 5
We had both been holding off on our outflankers but they came in strong this turn.  Tony’s hit first.  They came on my left and gunned down one of my lieutenants.  My engineers came on and flamed a unit of commandos, killing two.  Of course they failed their morale check and fucked off.
Turn 6

Tony had a few units left and was contesting the objective on his left, and holding the objective on my left with his outflankers.  My T34 lined up his AEC and squeezed off a a shot.  Tony need the AEC to do some damage this turn so he couldn’t recce away.  Of course I hit and the AEC exploded.

We called it at that point.
Concluding thoughts
1.  Tanks suck, but it hurts less at 1250.
Really, play the game at 1250.  It is a huge improvement.  Why?  Because tanks suck in BA and they are never worth taking at 1000 points (there are a few exceptions).  At 1250, however, it doesn’t hurt as bad to put a tank on the table that may only fire its gun four times in the whole game and hit once.  Tony’s AVRE did fuck all the whole game except hold down one side of the table.  Tanks simply don’t earn their points unless you get a freakish performance. 
2.  This is a good mission.  
The http://www.boltaction.net/ guys are doing alot to support the game.  This is a solid mission that forces hard choices.  

Bolt Action Tournament Report: the Welsh Open, 2014

This past weekend Ulick, Tony, and myself headed over to the Welsh Open.  We had heard great things about this tournament from the previous year and the air fares fell the right way for us (€70 round trip).  This is a lengthy report for a blog post so I’ll break it into three acts:
Act 1: Getting there, venue, organization, ice-breaker tank game
Act 2: My tournament games
Act 3: Lessons learned, planning for next year
Act 1

Ever wonder what Maynooth, Ireland, looks like at 4:00 a.m.?

Our flight was at 6:15 a.m. so I caught the 4:00 a.m. airport hopper from Maynooth.  I met Ulick and Tony at the airport.  Security let us straight through and we were a bit hurt not to be given the opportunity to take out our models and explain the detailing and shading on the metal minis.  By 8:00 a.m. we were on a shuttle bus to Cardiff city center and we were at the door of Firestorm Games at 8:45 a.m.  Don’t you love it when modern air travel lives up to its reputation?
Firestorm Games is easily the best gaming shop I have ever experienced in terms of stock and facilities.  Only the original Dakka Dakka in New Hampshire, U.S.A., comes close, but it lacked a bar.  Ulick was particularly impressed by the Flames of War stock.
Table after table for Bolt Action, FoW, GW systems, Infinity, or any other system (with the possible exception of 6mm ancients).  There was an abundance of high-quality, varied terrain on hand too.

The tournament was a strictly Allies vs. Axis affair.  Each table had a specific mission tied to an actual World War Two battle.  A world map with the missions’ locations was a nice touch (“He’ll see the big board!!!”).
This table strewn with ruined 4Ground buildings was one of my favorite battlefields.
The players assembled for a briefing/welcome from Ian and we all got to work for the first game: the ice-breaker team tank battle.
Ulick and Tony played on a North African table

I played on a table with this awesome rail gun

 My partner played a U.S. list and I brought a T-34/85, SU-76, BA-64 DShK,tank riders, and my green squad in a truck.  The T-34/85 bagged a Pz-IV at long range, and the two other Pz. IV’s on the enemy team exploded much too easily on the next turn. 

My green infantry squad destroyed a Puma in assault, easily earning them “unit of the match” designation.
The only tricky moment came when My BA-64 fubared, but in what can only be described as the best spot prize ever conceived, I was handed a beer because I had fubared.
After the tank game we retired to the lounge/bar area of Firestorm Games and had more beer.

Act 2

I brought a 12 dice list:
1.  Senior regular lieutenant with friend (the +2 proved decisive at least 3 times).
2.  Kommissar with friend
3.  Regular SU-76i
4.  Regular BA-DShK
5.  Guards: 8 rifles
6.  Guards: 5 SMGs, 2 rifles (1 panzerfaust)
7.  Regular ZiS-3
8.  Regular truck with MMG
9.  Assault engineers (flamethrower, 6 SMG, body armor)
10.  Scouts (2 rifles, 5 SMG)
11.  Sniper
12.  Free green squad

My first game was against Steve who was fielding a German force with several kitted-out regular squads, a StuH, a pioneer unit with flamethrower in a transport and a few other bits and pieces.  The game got off to a promising start when my scouts assaulted and wiped a squad on Turn 2.

However, a poorly judged outflank cost me the game.  Steve had his pioneer squad in outflank, and I had my assault engineers outflanking too.  My error was to bring them on first.  They drove on, wiped an infantry squad but were then wiped by Steve’s pioneers.  I scrounged a point for holding the secondary objective and another for a tertiary objective.

My next game saw my Soviets head to South East Asia to engage another German force on this lovely airfield table:

My opponent, Rob, fielded a Pz. IV, heavy mortar, 222 recon car, MMG, air observer, and a decent amount of infantry.  Smoking hot dice for me proved fatal: my sniper killed the MMG and the mortar.  A lucky turn 1 shot from the SU-76 eliminated the air observer before he could call in the strike.  My ZiS-3 and SU-76 hid from the Pz. IV and by the end of the game it was just about all Rob had left.  I was able to claim three points for the win, and two extra points for the secondary and tertiary objectives.

For my third game I faced off against James and his fantastic looking japanese force.  We played the race-to-Arnhem table.  He had four infantry squads, a light tank, a light AT gun, two snipers, a light mortar, three suicide AT guys, and officer.  The mission was hold until relieved.  My assault engineers were absolutely lethal.  They roasted two infantry squads and a sniper.  Combined fire and successive assaults killed James’s other two infantry squads.  One of the buildings brewed up and James’s officer was caught in the conflagration.  This was another five point win.  The dense table really helped me get my units in close to the objective and assault range unmolested.  A sniper had one chance to kill the engineer’s flamethrower but failed to wound.

My fourth and final game was against Rich H’s Finnish force.  A win required one of us to hold the objective in the middle of the table–a large house.  A german officer in the woods (at the top of the photo below) provided the secondary objective.  Looking over Rich’s veteran list and the large LOS-blocking objective I concluded there was no way I could prevent him from contesting the objective.  I decided to play for the draw and try to rack up the extra points for the secondary and tertiary objectives.

The fighting around the house was cagey but unforgiving.  Rich pushed hard but he couldn’t draw LOS to shoot consistently.  I shuffled my scouts and a Guards squad around and used ambush orders on my SMG squad to discourage assaults.

On my left flank a rifle squad spent three turns trekking through a mushy field to capture the German officer and my heroic outflanking assault engineers flame-throwered Rich’s sniper and his deep recon squad (but only after it had killed my feckless ZiS-3).

By the end of turn six I had two attrited squads contesting the center building and Rich’s veterans and flame-thrower team (which had already killed my lethargic SU-76) were closing in.  I caught a break–finally for my rolling in this game–and ended the game on turn 6 with clutch roll.  I would have been hard pressed to contest the house for another turn.

 I ended the tournament with two wins, a draw, and loss, but I managed to claim two bonus points in each of my games so I finished with 16 out of 20 points.  I was surprised to learn that this put me towards the bottom of the allied table!  The games were enjoyable and it was great to put some names to faces.

Act 3

The combination of venue and organization made for a fantastic tournament.  The prize support was neck deep.  Twenty-two people traveled from far and wide to Cardiff for this event and it’s easy to see why.  I’m looking forward to the event next year.

There are a few ways this event could be improved.  These are minor suggestions and I’ll be doing my best to attend next year even if the event is a straight repeat!
1.  Missions?
The Axis players got absolutely beat to death.  Just about all of them finished in the single digits.  This suggests that they got the short end of the stick on the missions.  Some will say the more experienced tournament players go for the Allied lists because they are stronger, but that doesn’t explain the pounding inflicted on the Axis players.  The tables were fantastic, and I’m a big fan of having a mixture of heavy, medium, and light terrain tables.  Even though the desert table was bald it had two massive hills to block LOS.  My suggestion would be to keep the themed tables but use book missions with players rolling off for attacker/defender as normally.  The secondary and tertiary scoring system was great and I wouldn’t change that at all.
2.  Down with that sort of thing?
Something that left a bad taste was to see a few players reverse-moving recce units towards the enemy.  This is a well-known RAW exploit (the rules demand that a recce move be in reverse, but a wheeled recce unit can make two 90-degree turns before moving).  Certainly nobody in our gaming group has the chutzpah to do this.  My suggestion would be for the TO to knock this on its head either in the rulespack or at the player briefing.  There were a few other instances of WAACism–a player denying LOS from unit A to B but then claiming LOS from unit B to A with one of his dice.
3.  Comp?
In addition to missions, the TOs might want to look at the relative strengths of the Allied and Axis lists from the tournament as a possible explanation for the crushing Allied victory.  There was a good bit of recce-spam in the Allied lists, and none in the Axis lists.  Flamethrowers were much more prevalent on the Allied side of the table too.  Thankfully I don’t think anyone brought a vehicle flame-thrower.  We’re a big fan of the Australian 2014 Cancon tournament rulespack.  It is fairly straightforward:
1.  No dice limit.  2.  Single generic platoon only.  3.  No vehicle flame and 0-1 infantry flame.  4.  Inexperienced indirect fire requires a 6 then a 6 to hit on their ranging shots, then 6, then 5, etc.

These are minor suggestions.  This was the most fun I’ve had at a tournament in a long time.  The atmosphere was great, the venue fantastic, and the organization was flawless.  A big thanks to Ian, Jack, Dave, Rich and the rest of the organizers for a great weekend.

Unit/Model Review: Warlord Games Soviet Maxim MMG

We recently received a Warlord Games Maxim MMG as a gift from a well-meaning spouse devoid of any concern for or knowledge of optimized list building.  It’s available here.

[note: ignore the HMG designation.  This appears to be an error.  The only Soviet HMG is the DShK which currently lacks a Warlord Games model.  The Maxim above is a MMG]

We’ll be conducting a review of this unit and model.  It’s our fourth in the series where we attempt to provide an all-around assessment of a purchase both in terms of its gameplay characteristics as well as a model to be assembled and admired.  We evaluate:
1.  Functionality
2.  Kit characteristics
3.  Value (a judgement which considers the price in reference to the unit’s funtionality)

1.  Functionality
The maxim is a MMG.  As such it has a range of 36″ and a rate of fire of 4.  It is a team (3 crew), fixed weapon.  A maxim rated “regular” comes in at 50 points and a gun shield can be added for an additional 5 points.  As a MMG the maxim has no damage bonus.  It cannot damage or pin fully armored vehicles.  It will struggle to destroy soft-skins but is quite good at adding a pin to such vehicles.

2.  Kit characteristics
More fantastic sculps from Warlord Games.  Assembly is straightforward, although our crew did require a bit of tidying.  The mmg itself goes together without any trouble.  No base is supplied, but embrace the freedom this gives you as a hobbyist.  Build up a nice rubbled window-sill for your maxim; or perhaps you want to surround it with downed trees to use as cover!

3.  Value
Would you take a maxim over a medium mortar?  Would you take a maxim rather than a truck with MMG?  There is, in short, a lot of competition for the 55 points you’ll spend to field a maxim.  We do not classify the maxim as an optimized unit.  Normally we like to use a unit at least six times before we make even a tentative judgement.  However, in the case of the maxim MMG we must admit that we have never played a game with it.  On its face we never considered it a good use of points (knowing the truth of something without having to experience it is called a priori knowledge).  As such, we’ll conclude with a few thoughts regarding how we intend to use it in the next few weeks:

1.  When you need a pin.  Leroy Hoard, a running back for the Cleveland Browns once said, “Coach, if you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards.  If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.”  And so it is with the humble but reliable maxim.  It has a long range and four shots. Even shooting at distant concealed targets it has a good chance of landing a hit.  It might not kill much, but it can be relied upon to put a pin on a unit.  Later in the game when units are attrited that extra pin from a maxim could make a big difference.  Sure it’s not going to red mist infantry squads like a medium mortar, but it will perform more consistently if less spectacularly.

2.  Ambush.  Four shots with a 36″ range can make an effective ambushing unit, particularly against outflanking team weapons.  For example, our own nosediver loves to outflank a flame-thrower team in universal carrier.  The carrier drives on 9″ with an advance; then the flame-thrower team debuses with an advance order, moves 6″ and roasts a squad.  A maxim set to ambush would stand a decent chance of killing one model, maybe both, in that unit (remember, moral test if you pop one member of two-strong infantry unit).  In addition, if it is able to take advantage of hidden deployment the maxim has a good chance of living until turn 3 or 4.

3.  Harass recon units.  Many recon vehicles are open-topped and thus vulnerable to being pinned by the maxim.  If targeted by a maxim the player controlling the recon unit will have to decide if they really want to burn their one recon move to dodge a MMG.  This frees up your AT assets to go after other units.  The 36″ range means the maxim will always have good table coverage too.  Now unfortunately this strategy demands that the maxim receive an early order dice.  Tactically this may not always be a good idea.

This is a great model and as a unit we’re going to give it a few games.  We would certainly recommend it as a necessary addition for any collector. It’s only €9 and looks damn good.  Here’s our maxim painted up and eager to prove its value:

Unit/Model Review: Warlord Games ZiS-3 divisional gun

The unit/model under review today is the Warlord Games ZiS 3 divisional gun.  It is available here.

The Soviet Union produced over 60,000 of these guns.  They played a decisive role at the Battle of Kursk where they formed the backbone of anti-tank strong points.   Versatile, rugged, and beloved by its crew, from 1942 until the end of the war the ZiS-3 was a key ingredient for the success of the Red Army.

We can assert apodictically: this unit belongs in any Soviet list.  Nevertheless, propriety demands that we conduct a formal review.  This is our third Warlord Games model review.  We previously reviewed the Warlord Games SU-76M and their 2 1/2 ton truck.  As before, our goal is to present the reader with a guide to assess a model in terms of gameplay, hobby elements, and value:

1.  Functionality
2.  Kit characteristics
3.  Value (a judgement which considers the price in reference to the unit’s functionality).

1.  Functionality
In Bolt Action the ZiS-3 is a medium anti-tank gun and light howitzer.  It has a gun shield and follows the rules for fixed, team weapons (4 crew).  A ZiS-3 with a regular rating costs 80 points.  The gun is a good source of HE (d6) firing either directly or indirectly.  It can fire smoke, and its medium AT gun has a range of 60″.  It is not immobile and this affords it protection from repeat indirect fire as well as giving it the chance to deploy on to the table from reserve.  The gun takes an artillery slot and is a nice compliment to another AT asset.  Bolt Action tracked vehicle rules allow for only one 90-degree turn with an advance order.  In addition, the front armor arc is significantly narrower than in Flames of War.  Thus, with two anti-tank assets carefully deployed you can make it difficult for an opponent to keep his front arc facing all the AT threats.

2.  Kit characteristics
This is a metal kit.   For an experienced hobbyist assembly is straightforward but not easy.  It contains a number of thin and spindly pieces: the gun barrel, two towing trails, and gun shield.   Beginners will have to be careful straightening any pieces that may be bent.  The pieces may also need to be cleaned up with a hobby file.  There are three metal crew figures.  These are outstanding sculpts.  Interestingly, Warlord Games crew models appear to be unique for different guns (or at least the four–ZiS-3, 81mm mortar, 45mm anti-tank gun, and maxim MMG–that we possess).  This is a real mark of class.  Our only complaint is the lack of a supplied base.

3.  Value
This model costs £16/€20/$26.50.  A relatively pricey blister, the sting is lessened by quality of the crew models and the utility of the unit; the ZiS-3 is an “auto-include” for the Soviet player.  For a mere 30 points more than a medium mortar you get a unit that can fire indirectly or directly using either AP or HE, possesses a gunshield, and cannot be one-shotted by a sniper. Soulless monsters can use the Seelow Heights theatre selector to construct a list with four of these potent guns with plenty of points left over (the War Altar fully endorses the use of generic, single platoon forces for tournament games).  A ZiS-3 combined with a SU-76 provides two sources of direct-fire d6 HE as well as two medium anti-tank guns for a mere 210 points.  Add a medium mortar and you have three units that can fire d6 HE–that’s going to red mist a few infantry squads!  Below is our assembled and painted ZiS-3.  Next week we’ll review the Soviet maxim MMG.

Unit/Model review: Warlord Games SU-76

Today we are reviewing the Warlord Games SU-76.  It can be found here.  The SU-76 was the second-most numerous AFV produced by the USSR.  It was easy to produce, light and fast, and possessed a versatile gun.

We’ll be conducting a holistic assessment just as we did with our review of the Warlord Games 2 1/2 ton truck.  We’ll thus consider
1.  Functionality
2.  Kit characteristics
3.  Value (a judgement which considers the price in reference to the unit’s functionality).

1.  Functionality
In Bolt Action the SU-76 is has a damage value of 8+ (light tank).  It is open-topped and comes equipped with a forward-facing light howitzer (that’s d6 HE).  A five point upgrade removes open-topped and another ten points allows it to fire both AP and HE rounds.  An enclosed, dual ammo SU-76 with a rating of “regular” costs 130 points.  With the ammo upgrade this tank can thus fire d6 HE either indirectly or directly, or shoot as a medium AT gun, and even fire smoke.  We are impressed with the versatility of the main armament, which is good because it does not come with any machine guns.

In game terms, we also find that it is better to go big or small with points spent on tanks.  For 130 points this SU-76 has a good chance to penetrate medium tanks that cost 235 points, and it’s d6 HE will decimate veteran squads.  At 130 points, it doesn’t hurt quite as bad when an American air observer calls in a Thunderbolt to obliterate it.  The light armor and lack of machine guns means that you’ll have to play this tank defensively.

Finally, at just 130 points for a medium AT gun this vehicle can potentially be “spammed” in the new Tank War games.

2.  Kit characteristics.
This a fine kit.  It come as a resin chassis with metal components: gun, tracks, and crew.  The quality of casting and the level of detail is impressive, as we’ve come to expect from Warlord games.  After a wash with a mild detergent the kit was assembled easily.

3.  Value

This model costs £22/€28/$37.  Although we find this to be on the pricey side, we also think this unit has great potential on the table top.  In an effort to more rigorously quantify the utility of the model in terms of its points value and actual price we appealed to our very own Maynard to devise a formula.  We’re happy to say that he has provided us with a straight forward formula to discover theta, θ, of any given unit.  The formula uses a sum totaling model over all n, where n is each count listed.

Unit Weight, x

Reiteration Congruence, µ
Unit Cost Production, a
Unit Impact, ζ
Painting and assembly Weight, ψ
Using the above you can see that the SU-76 greatly outclasses the T-34/85 especially if used in a army list of 12 or more dice.  Below is a photograph of our assembled and painted SU-76.  It may soon be going into battle at the Welsh Open.

Bolt Action Review: Warlord Games ‘Deuce’ 2-and-a-half ton truck with .50 cal MG

The model under review today is the Warlord Games ‘Deuce’ 2-and-a-half ton truck with .50 cal MG (http://store.warlordgames.com/collections/us-army/products/deuce-2-and-a-half-ton-truck-with-50cal-mg).

The U.S. produced over half a million trucks during the war.  They shipped thousands upon thousands of these to their allies as part of the lend-lease program.  Indeed, two-thirds of all trucks used by the Soviets were of American origin.

We’ll be assessing the model using the following categories:
1.  Functionality
2.  Kit characteristics
3.  Value (a judgement which considers the price in reference to the unit’s functionality)

1.  Functionality
This is soft-skin transport.  In Bolt Action as a regular U.S. truck with a HMG it will cost 76 points.  As a truck with MMG it’s 66 points.  I’m using it as a regular Soviet lend-lease truck with MMG for 54 points.  It is an important and useful addition to a Bolt Action force.  First, it contributes a relatively inexpensive order die.  Crucially, though, it delivers my unit of Assault Engineers with body armor and a flame thrower 12″ onto the table with an advance or 24″ with a run.  This works fantastically when deploying as part of the first wave in a mission using the last/first strategy.  Try to give the truck the last order die out of the bag so it can come on at a safe spot away from enemy big guns, then give the transported unit the first die out of the bag the next turn.  Finally, the pintle-mounted MMG provides either my medic or kommissar with a useful purpose (forgive me).

2.  Kit characteristics
Once assembled this is a solid chunk of resin.  The War Altar approves categorically of two things: resin vehicles and metal infantry.  The cab and chassis form the two main components of the kit.  You glue these together easily enough and then glue on the metal wheels.  The canvas cover is also resin.  The mudflaps, steering wheel, lamps, and other details are impressive.  The only fiddly bit is the frame for the pintle-mounted MMG.  It was easy enough, however, for even my caffeine-riddled hands to manage.  All told, the vehicle was assembled in under an hour.

3.  Value
The Deuce costs £20/€25/$34.  The War Altar is torn about spending money on transports.  In general, the editorial team resents paying for models that spend little time on the table-top.  Yet we also recognize that they are essential for some broken units (e.g., 12 M3A1 scout cars with .50 cals at €9 a pop to pull 12 ZiS-3 guns in Flames of War).  The truck which provides essential transport for slow units and allows a medic to blast away with a MMG is an “optimized” unit in terms of list building.

  This is a great model.  It was a pleasure to assemble and paint.  There are other units you may wish to consider before spending the money on a transport.  For example, I’d recommend purchasing a Warlord Games ZiS-3 (review forthcoming!) before getting a truck.  Nevertheless, we recommend this vehicle as an addition to a collection that is already well-rounded and intended for use in a competitive setting.

Here’s the truck completed and ready for action:

Warheads Flames of War League, Week 1

The annual Warheads Flames of War League began this week.  At stake: bowls of schadenfreude and an engraved name on the Warheads league plaque.

This year the league is short, just four games.  We’re playing two Fair Fight missions, Fighting Withdrawal, and the new mission Breakout.  It’s a 1780 point Late War league.  Players are restricted to one briefing for the duration of the league but can alter lists from week to week.  NGFS is banned.  Scoring works this way: 3 points for a win, 1 point for a loss.  Small points (traditional FoW scoring) are tie breakers, with enemy platoons killed as 3rd tie breaker if needed.  In addition, you get 1 bonus big point for using the same list for four weeks, and another generous big point if you are fully painted for the whole league.  The lists and rules are on this thread: http://warheads.ie/index.php?topic=530.0

Nine Thursday night regulars reported for duty and names were drawn from a hat (actually, a Samsung phone) for pairings.  The mission was Free-for-All.

Baz’s Tankovy and Floody’s 2ID landed together on table 1.

Padraic, the league kommissar, drew Grant.  How would Grant’s Aufklarungsschwadron fair against 2ID?  On table 3, John’s trained Panzer Kampfgruppe faced off against Ulick’s Canadian infantry.
Table 4 pitted Daniel’s Canadian Armoured Recce list of Sherman ninja tanks against Brendan’s Independent Tank Company.  Brendan looked over his Stuart spam and concluded: Worst.  Match.  Ever.

This left yours truly with a bye.  Sad face (Although the bye point win and the fact that Woody and I went for a few pints provided some consolation):

The games were of a high standard.  Everyone save Grant is a tournament veteran.  The armies were nicely painted too.  Check out the detail on Floody’s staff team maps:

Padraic’s Sherman platoon took cover in a tree line while the infantry in the background dug in.  Grant attacked aggressively, quickly lost several platoons and then Padraic cleaned up for a major win.

Daniel’s land mattresses were ready for action:

Brendan’s 11 platoon Stuart spam list suffered mightily at the hands of the Canuck ninja tanks and Daniel came away with a decisive victory.

The bloodiest game of the night was between John and Ulick.  John’s FlaKs put some fear into Ulick’s two Sherman platoons.  John’s jagdpanthers inflicted kills until a single Typhoon wiped out the unit.  The guys traded a good few platoons before time was called and they limped away with a mutual loss.
Ulick’s two units of Shermans, backed up by fin and fur boys, lined up for battle:

 Baz and Floody both played aggressively.  A risky flanking action by T-34s put serious pressure on Floody.

Floody, however, was able to sneak a unit of Stuarts and recce jeeps onto one of Baz’s objective.  Unfortunately for Floody, they ran into Baz’s commander who had paused for a brief looting pit stop.  The lone matilda contested the objective and the game finished with a mutual loss.

It was a good night and the four games were enjoyable to watch.  The table after Week 1:

1.  Daniel, 3-6-6
2.  Padraic, 3-6-6
3.  Brian, 3-6-0 (bye)
4.  Ulick, 1-3-5
5.  John, 1-3-4
6.  Baz, 1-3-3
7.  Floody, 1-3-3
8.  Brendan, 1-0-0
9.  Grant, 1-0-0

Bolt Action! British Commandos vs. Soviets

Tony and I met for a cracker of a game this week.  The game was 1000 points.

I brought:
1.  Regular Junior Lieutenant with friend
2.  Inexperienced Commissar with friend
3.  Veteran rifle squad with 2 captured panzerfausts
4.  Veteran SMG tank rider squad
5.  Assault engineer squad with flamethrower
6.  Scout squad
7.  SU-76
8.  Medium morar
9.  M-42 45mm AT gun
10.  Free green squad
11.  Sniper
12.  Regular BA-64

Tony brought:
1.  Lieutenant with  friend
2.  Medic with friend
3.  Free artillery observer
4.  Heavy mortar with observer
5.  MMG
6.  Sniper
7.  Anti-tank rifle
8.  Commando squad
9.  Commando squad
10.  Commando squad
11.  Cromwell CS
12.  Commando squad

A nice list, and two units with 2d6 HE certainly had my Vets worried.  The Cromwell CS was a recent acquisition for Tony.  It’s a Corgi pre-painted die-cast model.  The best part?  Check out those tracks!

We discovered that if you make a tank sound when you move this particular model you will always hit with the medium howitzer.

We rolled up Envelopment for the mission.  This mission requires the attacker to move on from his table edge with the objectives of exiting units off the opposite table edge, finishing the game with units in the defender’s deployment zone, and killing enemy units.  The defender earns points by killing enemy units.  The table had a nice road network and a decent cluster of buildings in the center.


I won the roll and decided to attack.  In this mission only the defender deploys.  On turn 1 the attacker moves forces onto the table.  Tony opted to deploy everything and he put a decent force on each flank.

Turn 1
Tony’s Cromwell was on his left flank so I decided to push everything against the right flank.  I outflanked with the assault engineers, a veteran squad, my commissar and my commander.  The games starts with a preparatory bombardment by the attacker.  Unfortunately for me I rolled a ‘1’ and the bombardment failed to materialize.  My scouts started in a building in the middle of the table.  A photo of the Soviet advance against the British right flank:

I used the buildings to hide the SU-76 and my mortar from Tony’s Cromwell and heavy mortar.  The green squad was eager to prove their worth.  However, their headstrong advance put them in line-of-sight of trouble.  See the Cromwell CS in the distance?

From the Cromwell’s point of view:

Lucky for Tony the Cromwell hit, lucky for me he rolled atrociously and only killed 3 in the unit.  He did, however, inflict three pins and the green squad would remain in that spot for the remainder of the game (note to self: suck it up and roll over the down order next time).  The defender benefits from Hidden Deployment so there was no shooting for me other than my sniper adjusting his scope.

Turn 2
Tony’s heavy mortar had fired in T1 and missed, it missed again in T2.  My sniper caught a break and eliminated it.  My scouts broke cover and assaulted Tony’s MMG on the ground floor of a ruin.  One of Tony’s para sqauds then assaulted and wiped out the scouts.

Seeing the action on his right flank, Tony decided to move over one of his para squads from the left.  The outflankers prevented him from vacating his left flank entirely.

My SU-76 and medium mortar started firing on the ruin which had a British squad on each floor.  Both missed.  Tony’s sniper killed the NCO of my tank rider squad, and one of his rifle squads inflicted two more casualties.  With his last order dice, Tony’s artillery observer called in a strike.  Uh oh.

Turn 3
Like sunshine on the 4th of July, Tony’s artillery strike covered my units with pins.

Thus did the Soviet advance come to a screeching halt.  The British paras inflicted a handful of other casualties with shooting.  The Cromwell broke cover to reinforce the right flank and I sprung my trap: the mighty 45mm anti-tank gun.

Alas the little anti-tank gun that thought it could failed to get the job done–for three turns in a row.

Turn 4
The Soviet advance was struggling at this point.  My only hope was to bring on my outflankers.  I had committed them all to the main advance against Tony’s right flank.  I successfully rolled for all four units–nice!

An unlucky para squad took the heat from my assault engineers and three were roasted.

The paras passed their morale check and launched an assault against the engineers [gulp].  The resulting assault roll against my veteran engineers:

The engineers, surprised to still be alive, killed the paras to death!  More assaults were to follow.  Tony had advanced a para unit into a building.  My severely depleted tank rider squad attempted an assault–and rolled a 4 to pass their test.  In they went:

These paras, however, had evidently remember to sharpen their knives and my tank riders were wiped, although they did take four paras with them.

The Cromwell once again found itself with the opportunity to make a decisive contribution.  Tony drew down on the assault engineers, hit with the medium howitzer, and killed two engineers.

The BA-64 which had been shooting ineffectually for a few turns took a hit from the anti-tank rifle and then FUBARed back to within a few inches of my table edge.  The SU-76 missed, but the medium mortar hit the ruin…and killed one guy in the anti-tank rifle team.
Turn 5

Serious business now.  Tony and I conducted some assaults in the center of the table.  I lost my commander and a veteran squad for one of Tony’s para squads.

I decided to move the assault engineers off the table rather than face another Cromwell shot.  The BA-64, now recovered, put a pin on the Cromwell.  The SU-76 and the mortar both inflicted casualties. 
Turn 6
The dice bag was considerably lighter than when the game started.  I possessed a slight lead in units killed, but the Tony as the defender earns more victory points for killing units than me.  I had to get units into his deployment zone.  The pinned down troops in my backfield were unsympathetic.  Tony’s sniper killed my commissar and my mortar and SU-76 inflicted additional casualties.  The turn was over quickly however, and the game ended without a Turn 7.  Victory points were tallied and…a 10-10 draw!
I was really close to victory–that preparatory bombardment would sure as hell have helped.  And yet Tony’s Cromwell, although able to hit consistently, evidently had a bad batch of HE shells.  Both my green squad and my assault engineers should have been red-misted by that tank.

Tony and I were both happy with how our tanks performed.  My SU-76 was cheap as chips and had success firing both indirectly and directly (with HE).  Similarly, other than the below-average kill rolls, the Cromwell performed well.

[edit: oops!  Tony corrected me: he brought Commandos not Paras!]

History Corner: Great Fails of World War Two (part 1)

The War Altar’s History Corner is going to spend some time considering great technological “fails” of the Second World War.  We’re going to start with a program developed by the Americans, codename Operation Aphrodite.

In 1943 the Americans and British had a problem.  German U-boats had an indestructible base at Lorient on the western coast of France.  These fortified submarine pens, which boasted 7 meter-thick roofs, were impervious to allied bombing.

Unable to destroy the pens the Allies fire-bombed the town in an effort to kill everyone who worked in the base or supplied it.  On January 15, 1943, the Royal Air Force dropped 20,000 incendiary bombs on the town.  They hit the town seven more times over the next nine weeks.  The town was reduced to rubble and the survivors evacuated.  Submarine operations continued with minimal disruption.  

The British then developed a bunker-buster bomb called the “tallboy.”  This was a 5 ton bomb over 6 meters long.  Dropped from a height of 18,000 feet it would be travelling at 1207 kph (750 mph) when it hit the ground.  These were very difficult bombs to make and use.  Most of them missed, and the one recorded hit on the submarine pens at Lorient failed to penetrate the roof.

Incapable of either destroying the submarine pens or annihilating the supporting population and infrastructure the Allies opted for a new tactic: radio-controlled bombers.  This was Operation Aphrodite.  The plan was to take older B-17 and B-24 bombers, fill them with 9 tons of explosives and then fly them into the Submarine pens using radio control.  Two pilots would fly the drone bomber to 10,000 feet altitude, turn on the RC equipment and then bail out.  Another bomber flying near would then use the radio controls to fly the drone bomber into the target.  A TV camera in the drone cockpit broadcast images of the flight deck instruments back to a pilot in the controlling bomber.  Imagine using a low resolution, black and white version of Skype to drive a car.

Two brave souls were needed to pilot the drone.  The U.S. offered any volunteer pilot the Distinguished Flying Cross.  In addition, every Operation Aphrodite mission counted for five missions.  Twenty-five missions constituted a complete tour of duty (in 1942 the average bomber completed twelve missions before being shot down or wrecked!).

There were fifteen Aphrodite missions from late 1944 until early 1945.  Fourteen failed in spectacular fashion. One flew out of control and crashed in Sweden.  Another blew up prematurely and destroyed an escort plane.  Some were shot down by enemy anti-aircraft guns.  The most famous death was that of Joseph P. Kennedy, the elder brother of JFK.  His Aphrodite drone exploded before he and his co-pilot could bail out.  The U.S. National Archives has the letter that was sent home:

The missions were so ineffective and dangerous that Aphrodite was cancelled after just four months.  The Lorient pens were never targeted and they survived the war intact.  The German garrison surrendered on May 10, 1945.  Fortunately for the Allies they were able to defeat the U-boats at sea.

The Germans, it turns out, were years ahead of the Allies in RC technology.  On September 9, 1943, the British and Americans invaded mainland Italy.  The light cruiser the U.S.S. Savannah provided close-support naval gun fire. On September 11 a single German bomber dropped a Fritz-X radio-controlled bomb.  The crew guided it towards its target and the 320kg warhead struck a turret of the Savannah.  The crew of the Savannah salvaged the ship but it was effectively out of the war.

The Germans hit about a dozen ships with these guided bombs including the HMS Warspite.  A Fritz-X attack sunk the Italian battleship Roma killing most of the crew.  The allies scrambled to develop countermeasures.  British radio jamming proved to be effective and the Normandy landings were carried out under a cloud of electronic jamming to prevent Fritz-X attacks.  Despite the initial spectacular successes of these bombs they were countered quickly and with relative ease.
Operation Aphrodite remains a relatively unknown story of the Second World War.  Probably because it was such a terrible failure for the Allies.  This is unfortunate because the history of Operation Aphrodite also includes the stories of brave people like Joseph Kennedy.  The attempt to hit specific military targets with pin point accuracy, and the failure to achieve this, also provides good context to consider the strategic bombing campaign.  
What other technological ‘fails’ in the Second World War come to mind?  Jagdtiger?  I-400 submarine?

Bolt Action: Soviets vs. Germans

The War Altar is happy to present another Bolt Action AAR.  Once again it was the Soviets against the Germans.  The players decided on the mission Demolition.  A player who finishes a turn with a unit in base contact with the enemy’s objective (in this case the players used fuel depots) wins.  It’s a simple mission but one that demands action by both players.

The Soviets brought:
1.  Veteran second lieutenant and friend
2.  Veteran medic and friend
3.  Inexperienced commissar and friend
4.  Regular T-34/85
5.  Veteran tank riders (11)
6.  Veteran squad (8) with rifles
7.  Veteran squad (11) with 1 SMG, 2 captured panzerfausts, and 10 rifles
8.  Free green, inexperienced squad (12) with rifles and anti-tank grenades
9.  Regular M-42 45mm anti-tank gun
10.  Veteran medium mortar
11.  Regular sniper
1000 points

The Germans brought
1.  Regular second lieutenant and friend
2.  Veteran medic and friend
3.  Forward air controller
4.  Regular Hetzer
5.  Regular medium mortar
6.  Regular sniper
7.  Green Volks squad, 2 SMGs, faust
8.  Veteran squad (8), 2 assault rifles, 1 panzerfaust, 2 SMGs
9.  Veteran squad (8), 2 LMGs, 1 panzerfaust
10.  Veteran squad (8), 2 assault rifles, 1 panzerfaust, 2 SMGs
11.  Truck
1000 points

The Germans player deployed his objective in the center of his table edge defended by the veteran squad with 2 LMGs and the Volks squad.  The mortar deployed in line of sight opposite the Soviet objective.  The truck and another veteran squad deployed behind a wood.  Hidden deployment ensured the safety of the softskin even if the Soviet player got a run of early dice.  The Hetzer, air controller, medic, lieutenant, sniper, and the remaining veteran squad went into reserve.  The Hetzer and veteran squad executed an outflank manoeuvre.

The Soviet player deployed his objective on his left near the table edge.   A direct consequence of the objective placement was the German player’s decision to outflank two of his units.  The Soviet objective placement was a decision which was immediately criticized by a number of individuals.  One observer commented, “Well that was stupid.”  Another onlooker, an ETC veteran, demanded an explanation.  Having been excoriated for his decision the Soviet player offered the following rationale.  The objective placement was, in fact, a ploy to provoke a German outflank .  This would give the Soviet player two turns, perhaps more, to run riot.  In addition, so he contended, the outflanking forces would come on piecemeal and be dealt with by Soviet reserves which were sure to arrive a full turn ahead of any German unit.  He would thus triumph with minimal casualties.  The War Altar has concluded that the Soviet player’s thinking is not without some, well a very small bit, of merit.  However, the objective was within a run move (12″) of the table edge which was inexcusable.  A slightly greater distance may have perhaps provoked the German outflank yet required an extra turn of movement.

In any case, the Soviet player deployed his T-34/85 near the objective, the mortar on his far right with line  of sight to the German objective and the building containing the Volksgrenadiers, the tank riders in the center of the table behind a building, the large panzerfaust/rifle squad in a building next to the tank riders, and the sniper on the upper storey of a house in the middle of the table.  This left the following units in reserve: medic, lieutenant, commissar, small veteran squad, inexperienced squad, and the anti-tank gun.

The game commenced and the first dice out of the bag was German.  The truck rushed towards the Soviet objective:

The remainder of the turn was straightforward: the Germans failed in all shooting and the Soviets shot their sniper, large rifle squad, tank, and mortar at the German truck.  The result, perhaps surprisingly given the volume of fire, was only a dead truck and 1 dead German.  Nevertheless, the Germans were heavily pinned and it would remain to be seen whether or not this unit would be able to activate the following turn.

Turn 2
With Turn 2 the Soviet player did indeed begin to see the arrival of his reserves.  The anti-tank gun came on near the objective as did the eight-strong veteran rifle squad.  The medic and lieutenant arrived and took up position between the tank riders and the large rifle squad.  The air controller also arrived.  The German LMG squad shot the tank riders but only killed a single soldier.  The Soviet player then advanced the tank riders who shot the hell out of the pinned German squad which was then followed up by a tank assault which eliminated the squad:

Turn 3
Having eliminated the immediate threat to his objective the Soviet player advanced on the German objective with the SMG tank riders and the large rifle squad, supported by the medic and the lieutenant.  The German player got an early dice but rolled a 10 to bring on the Hetzer.  Bad luck, Hetzer!  The Soviet player then put an ambush order on the T-34/85 and the infantry squad.  The German sniper put a pin on the anti-tank gun and the German mortar fired and missed it.  Between the sniper and the ranging in mortar it was unlikely that the anti-tank gun would contribute much in subsequent turns.  Having failed to bring on the Hetzer the German player, quite rightly, decided to put a ‘down’ order on the outflanking German infantry squad.  The German air controller called in an air strike on the T-34/85.

Turn 4
The turn began with the air strike….which failed to materialize.  The Soviet player kept the infantry and tank in ambush.  The anti-tank gun attempted to move, failed, and was then eliminated by the German mortar.  However, the SMG tank riders and the large rifle squad continued their advance and suppressed the German LMG squads in the building.  The Soviet mortar fired on the Volksgrenadiers in hiding and missed.  The German player made the audacious decision to put ‘down’ dice on the outflankers.  A quick calculation had established that these units would need to be able to reach the objective the turn they arrive and this would not be possible unless the outflank was executed on Turn 5.  The inexperienced Soviet rifle platoon arrived and took up position near the table edge.

Turn 5
The crux turn.  The turn begins with an airstrike…and the German player rolls a 1.  The rookie pilot peppers the units guarding the German objective sprinkling pin markers generously.  The Soviet mortar then fires on the Volksgrenadiers, hits, and gets a detonation on the right floor.  The ensuing blast inflicts one casualty.  The German player then rolls a 1 for his Green check which results in additional pin markers.  The Soviet player then rolls a 6.  Between the airstrike, the mortar, and the additional pins the Volksgrenadiers have 9 pin markers.  They decide they’ve had enough and run away.  The War Altar can’t help but note here that in two of the last three games this same German unit has rolled a 1 for its Green check and the Soviet player has rolled a 6 for additional pins.  A string of Red die emerge from the bag and the Soviet player launches two critical assault.  First, the SMG tank riders, reduced in size now from repeated LMG shooting, assaults the German lieutenant sheltering in the ground floor of a building behind which is located the German objective.  The brave tankodesantniki slaughter the German officer and consolidate out the back side of the building.  The large rifle squad assaults the medic and kills him to death (the War Altar passes no judgement) and consolidates onto the German objective:

The German outflankers finally arrive.  The veteran infantry come on first and impressive shooting mangles the eight strong veteran squad.  The Hetzer arrives and drives to the objective.  The turn ends with both enemy units in base contact with both objectives–draw!

This was a tactically tense game; poor rolling by the German air controller certainly did not help the German cause.  On the other hand, the Soviet player could have blocked the German outflankers by stringing out his green, inexperienced squad along the table edge.  This, however, would have been gamey and, more importantly, visually unappealing.  Remember players, in tournament play the inability of outflankers to assault the turn they arrive combined with the ability of your opponent to block the table edge limits the utility of outflanking.

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