Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: B Company Bases

For many years as my collection of figures increased, storage and transport have become a problem. Living a good distance from the game shop or other friend's homes in which games are more often played, transport security matters. I had heard of magnetic bases but was skeptical.

Many of the bases I had seen were expensive, thin and seemed impractical for a large scale rebasing project. That was my view until I had a wargaming friend who showed me his stands. After that, I bought hundreds and began rebasing, as seen here.

At first glance, it appears different from what one would expect. The rough brown texture would appear to be a slight hindrance for adhering figures to. Believe it or not, it works fine and would probably do better than a flat surface if you're using sand or some other textured ground work.

Another feature I like is the fact that if you want to remove figures from the base, you don't end up destroying the base. After years of dealing with thick cardboard, plastic or wood bases, this was quite a change for me. According to the maker, a soak in water can loosen the figures to ease release. I found no problem popping them off with a hobby knife. The top surface appears to be some form of hard board and the bottom a flex steel type of magnet that is so well connected to the board that it appears to be one solid piece.

The bases come in almost any size you could want. Here is a 1.5" square, a 1.5"x1" rectangle and a 1" square base and a 1"x3.5" base reserved for my caissons and limbers. All the bases I've ordered (hundreds) have been precision cut and I haven't had one misshapen base or obtuse angle to date. The turn around time from when the order is placed to when it is received is far faster than Litko Aero Systems by a far margin. I made an order on a Thursday afternoon and had the bases on Monday. With Litko I've had to wait weeks and are far more pricey.

I highly recommend these bases if you're serious about transporting your figures in magnetic containers and for a sturdy, clean base.

Orders can be placed by contacting Bill from Good Ground LLC.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Shako 2: Review Findings

Since I was asked to write a review of Shako 2, here it is. With this review, I don't intend to copy and paste sections of rules or recite statistics in order to support my opinion and observations. Please remember these are my opinions and observations and everyone is entitled to them, right or wrong.

Now with that warning out of the way, let me just say this set of rules is a bit peculiar in some ways. The first phase is the artillery phase. Although perhaps not unprecedented, it is an odd way to begin a turn. With artillery, there are ranges and in this set of rules, bounce through casualties to consider for multiple battalions. The author seems either unaware or unconcerned with ground conditions (like muddy, hard, soft etc) and terrain features. Wellington's hiding behind a ridge in this game is only really possible if it were a mountain. It is difficult to overlook such a fault as blatant as this in a Napoleonic rule set. Hard to ignore perhaps, but this is minor on my list.

The next phase is movement. Now you start off the game with a prewritten order such as defend or attack and try to indicate it on the map. Your troops continue this until you attempt to change the order by using one of your ADC's to reach the commanding general for that brigade. Each general rolls a 6-sided die to determine in what order the sequence of movement will occur. Nothing too unusual here and does seem to allow ebb and flow to occur. It does break the predictability up and is a nice feature.

The first half of my problem with these rules is the author's fascination with DBA. Battalions are not able to oblique? Can only wheel 45 degrees once per 20-30 minutes (which is what each turn is supposed to represent)? Really? Is this the Napoleonic wars or the Seven Years War? If you're French, you do get to move and then change formation or change formation and then move, as opposed to everyone else only being able to change formation and then move. You may not change formation and charge - why? Who knows; perhaps 30 minutes isn't enough time. Again, the author loses track of the time consideration for each turn and so the rules miss a major conflict in period doctrine and flat out reality. As much as I am not particularly in love with Black Powder, at least if you have the movement, you can do anything. Given the time for a turn, that does not quite match up with reality. Arty Confliffe missed the boat here and it is very frustrating to deal with, as you have little way to respond to close up, aggressive movement by the enemy.

The third phase is for skirmisher attacks. Represented by even fewer figures than the already emaciated unit size used in the game, their attacks can be brutal. Considering you typically need a 5 or 6 to knock these guys out, they tend to stick around and be annoying. Finally, something historical! They do have glass jaws and so one kill gets rid of them. They can inflict staggers (disorder) on units, which does impact their shooting and melee benefits. They also have a longer engagement range for musketry of 6" instead of the 4" for formed battalions. Cavalry can overrun them if you're neglectful or wreckless in your handling of them. All in all, a good thing.

The second part of this phase is regular musketry fire. Since all firing is simultaneous, it matters not who goes first. The second 50% of my problem with the rules stem from this phase. Firing is limited to straight ahead, no deviation. If one of your own battalions happens to be within the straight ahead, your battalion commanders are deemed too stupid to tell the men to aim their fire at the enemy and so you may not shoot. The lack of arc in fire is reminiscent of DBA type of rules. Since when is the DBA model of thinking considered either revolutionary or an advancement in gaming?

There are casualties in this game depending on unit size. This game tends to have generic battalion sizes, however they can be tweaked by adding an extra kill or stand if you wish. Kills are recorded on the unit with markers but all stands remain until the unit is removed from play.

I would not do this review justice if I didn't insert some personal experiences I've had with this shooting dilemma. I need to add that although you shoot straight, you are also never able to or required to split your fire amongst multiple targets. Let us say some Dutch battalion at Quatre Bras is formed into a line and is being charged by three French columns. The defender may roll one dice and if a roll happens to be equal to or higher than the morale of the attacking units, typically a 4 for line infantry, possibly a 5 for better formations, then the enemy is thrown back and staggered. The French would not close in and the defender could then counter charge the staggered units if so desired. If the defender rolled an unmodified 6, then he would have staggered all the battalions and caused two kills to be distributed as equally as possible. This was my first experience with Shako 2.

In a later game while playing Austrians in some historical scenario around 1800, I used two Austrian battalions to destroy and or maul about a half a dozen French battalions with great ease. I was defending two town sections and with a 50% chance to simply repulse the attack, I did just that over and over again. I tended to roll 5's and 6's causing kills; but my point is that such an easy ability to repulse attackers offsets the meager -1 the defender gets in the melee if they roll a failed volley (basically, they don't even cause a stagger and miss). Such was the frustration by one of my opponents (this was his first game playing with these rules) that he hasn't played since. I was nearly as livid after Quatre Bras when almost none of my attacks could close because either Dutch or British could roll well enough to likely repulse the attack. I suppose they expect you to stagger the defender first before attacking, but since attacking battalions may not shoot, then you're stuck with musketry duels or praying your opponent rolls poorly.

Why don't defenders have to divide their shots or receive negative modifiers for having to shoot multiple targets? Why are all targets hit with the same result? Am I alone in thinking this is really too powerful?

Phase five is about changing orders, rallying, brigade break point tests and such. Although in one way I do admire the orders idea, you must wait till there is an enemy formation within 12" if you say, wanted to change your defend order and move into a better position or go on the offensive. Again, this demonstrates linear thinking that doesn't correspond well with the period it is supposed to be representing. Brigades have so many losses to take break tests. At 33%, they take a test to see if they become demoralized, which will impact future tests for the 50% and greater break tests. At least this allows formations to crumble and the army to slowly go away instead of dying to the man like Age of Eagles.

Over the last year or so, I've played this set of rules enough to say that I'd give them about a 5 out of 10. The shooting needs to be corrected in multiple ways and fluidity must be added to movement in order to bring it out of the 18th century and into the 19th century of Napoleonic warfare. I will say the rules are quick to pick up but are equally quick to annoy with their overly restrictive functions, as mentioned above. If DBN is to your liking, then you'll enjoy similar linear, two dimensional thinking and scarcity in figures being required to play. I would still suggest to anyone to go ahead and play it, but recall this review and see if my observations and experiences are not true. If you're going to play, play as the aggressor and see the rules from their worst. It is playable, but it is not one of those sets of rules you find stocked on shelves in stores - for good reason.

If you love the rules, then I say great. I only can tolerate them as a means to play with my large collection from time to time. A real pity I was unable to find many great things to say about it. What's your experiences with Shako 2?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Battle of Valls - February 25, 1809

[Caption: Spanish on the left and French entering on the far right. Southern end looking north, with Castro's brigade on the left foreground.]

After the battles at Cardadeu and Molins Del Rey, the demoralized Spanish army withdrew to Tarragona to reorganize. The French went into cantonments as they too were weakened from the constant fighting. By February, the Spanish army had been drilled to the point where it could take the offensive. The Spanish moved north in two divisions, intending to catch the French and Italian forces in a dispersed manner.

Simultaneously, St. Cyr’s divisions marched south; driving Castro’s Spanish out of Igualada and capturing the Spanish magazines. Reding realized he had lost the opportunity to defeat the French in detail. Reding opted to join Castro and fall back on Tarragona. In a surprise move, the Spanish force marched through parts of the night, arriving northwest of Valls early on the morning of February 25th, where they were intercepted by St. Cyr with Souham’s 1st Division. Reding opted to cut through the opposing force.

[Caption: Spanish view from behind Saint Ellier's brigade across from Verge's brigade.]

Our game, using Shako II rules, began with historical OOB's, deployments and even outcome. The scenario was set for 12 turns and for the first 10 of the turns, the Spanish seemed to be in firm control of victory. The French were having problems getting close enough within the time allotted and to inflict enough losses to secure the Sierra Alta hill within the Spanish deployment zone. The French northern wing seemed to be completely inactive for the entire game and effectively did nothing and so a stand off occurred between the French and Spanish commander Saint Ellier's brigade.

[Caption: Spanish center showing portions of Irazano's brigade to the left and Castro's to the right. Fontane's brigade can be seen on the background on the left and Dumoulin's brigade on the right.]

By the 10th turn, the French finally managed some coordination to come up and attack. An aggressive chasseur a cheval cavalry unit made a rash attack on some second rate Spanish cavalry and wiped them out. The Spanish Maria Luisa Hussars charged the following phase and drove them back with some loss. The French infantry in the center under Mazzuchelli, managed to inflict heavy loss on Irazano's brigade, but were taking plenty of kills in the process. Castro's brigade was hit on the front and flank by Fontane and Dumoulin, respectively. Quite naturally with the Spanish flank unable to be anchored to any point, facing greater numbers and quality, it did not take long for this Spanish brigade to disintegrate and break.

The Spanish cavalry brigade under Casteldosorius, tried a rash attack on some French infantry crossing the stream and were bloodily repulsed and destroyed. With 2/3 of this brigade gone, they broke. By the end of turn 12, Irazano's brigade had suffered too many losses and became demoralized. The French managed to pull off a solid victory with troops on the Alta Sierra and the best wing of the Spanish army managed to walk away untouched, to fight another day.

I intended to have more pictures to document the turns, however my camera did not have its memory card and the internal memory only holds so much. With both sides having one artillery battery a piece, little action occurred until the last couple of turns when the French closed in. The scenario is under official development and perhaps one day will be released in a book with the other scenarios I have played and wrote about here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Spanish Unit: Estremadura Regiment

My newest addition to my Spanish Napoleonic army is the Extremadura regiment. I wanted something with a little different color in the army and the deep red/crimson facings appealed to me. There's no spectacular war history with this regiment, just a good contrast to the otherwise dull white uniform.
My picture taking isn't the best despite having a very expensive DSLR camera; however the black lining should be evident to the naked eye. I was unable to locate any references for the exact coat of arms on the flag for this regiment, so whose to say what is correct or incorrect?
I didn't do the tiki striping of blue on the trousers as I don't know how it would contrast with the red facings. Takes nothing away in my opinion.
Just as I was unable to locate any flag information specifically for this regiment, I was also unable to locate the proper design for the flamme of the grenadier's cap. I borrowed the design from another regiment. The designs tended to be similar just with some minor uniqueness according to each regiment. The figures are 15mm Battle Honors Spanish figures. The two officers and flag bearers are AB, as the bag of figures I got a deal on from eBay didn't have any command.