Friday, August 1, 2014

A wargaming table for the spacially inconvenienced

It's a fact of life, that for most people who live in apartment blocks floor space is at a premium. This tends to put a cramp on any attempts we apartment block dwellers make to do any wargaming in the confides of our homes, since, in addition to having to negotiate for time with spouses and arranging our work schedules around other wargamers' work schedules, we must also figure out where to keep all of our stuff. The latter is something of a Tetris-like puzzle involving paints, brushes, tanks, and random arts and crafts supplies and can be more or less involved, depending on the apartment in question, but the single most problematic space hog is the wargaming table. Simply put, while you may have room in your apartment to set up a table for a game, finding room to store a heavy, monolithic 6' x 4' piece of wood in an aesthetic and socially acceptable manner is no easy task.

The typical solution which myself and my fellow apartment dwellers hit on first tends to be rather straightforward: why not cut the table into smaller bits and stick it together for the duration of gameplay in some rough and ready fashion (e.g., like so or so). It is, after all, much easier to store three small bits of wood behind the couch than it is to successfully conceal one big one. However, what I've found was that the resulting bits of wood can only relatively be considered smaller, rather than actually small. That is, what is effectively a block of wood that's 2' x 4' and 3 times the thickness of the original board is still large and cumbersome to both obscure and keep around the apartment. In addition, having to carry it, assemble it, disassemble it, and carry the lot back every time I was going to have a game was more battlefield engineering than anyone wants.

So I decided to look around for a less obvious solution that would maybe solve some of these problems. I looked at other materials, like various plastic surfaces available to gardeners, and at techniques involving plywood with joists, but it all seemed to have the same problem of assembly and storage, just that weights and sizes differed slightly. Instead, I eventually consulted some people who know things about how actual furniture is made (i.e, my dad), and decided that a wargaming table could maybe pretend to be furniture too, rather than just an ad hoc ugly surface. Hence, why not make a cupboard that magically unfolds into a wargaming table? A simple enough idea, except, as it later turned out, for a few details. The first concept looked something like you see to the side.

I talked that concept over with my dad, and there turned out to be some obvious (in retrospect anyway) problems with that design. First of all, it seemed I had no idea where hinges are placed and how they work (it is not by unicorn magic, apparently). Secondly, there are a number of problems with my idea for extra legs. They would have to be strong enough to carry the weight of the table so they would have to be made from some other material than the rest of the cupboard (i.e. probably not chipboard). They would also be placed on some hinges that are open when the table is not used, and they would be shorter than the surface, so they wouldn't be very aesthetically pleasing. Also, just the existence of protruding bits of stuff bolted onto the surface would make the cupboard less usable when it was in its cupboard form.

Instead we thought up a different and much simpler solution. The cupboard has doors which can be used as legs, which is a dumb idea, since if you put something heavy on an open cupboard door, the distribution of forces will eventually cause the door hinge eventually to be ripped out. But! If you change the distribution of the forces, so that they are not ripped out. This can be done by having the cupboard door be supported on the floor. I.e., we first thought that we would make the doors simply long enough to touch the floor, but I thought this was a bad idea, since it would be hard to open and close the doors, and they would catch on the carpet. Instead, we decided to attach extendable legs to the bottom of the cupboard, and we improvised these from 3" door bolts made for garden gates. If attached vertically, the door bolt can be extended to reach the floor and support the cupboard door. In this way, the force distribution is such, that the weight of the table does not rest on the door hinge, but it rests on the door bolt acting as the extendable leg, and the door bolt can easily take the weight.

What was left to do, was to calibrate the dimensions to figure out both how the wood should be initially cut, and how the finished article should fit into the apartment. This is what the dimensions ended up being:

Having thus completed the design, I got to work implementing this wild scheme. This involved carpentry, of which I am not an adept by any stretch of the imagination, but making closets is mostly about measuring things, it seems. In any case, I managed, which probably means that just about anyone can make one of these. I achieved this feat by first ordering chipboard that was cut to size and then borrowing tools from my dad and putting the bits of wood together, until the cupboard was finished. I documented the entire process in pictures:

It's been a while since I made the folding table and I can recommend it heartily. All of Mirek's and mine games were played on it, and it performs excellently. Folding and unfolding is hassle free, and the surface is more stable than the folding table was. The only drawback is that two of the hinges protrude onto the gaming surface. This is not a huge problem if your gaming mat is thick enough, but since we started using teddy bear fur a while back, we sometimes notice the protrusions. On the other hand, the table virtually does not take up any space, since it is a mild-mannered storage closet in its off time. In addition, it also served me quite well as a 6' x 3' table for when we did a Star Trek Online party in my apartment as well. So, if space is your problem and you don't mind getting your hands dirty (and splinter-ridden) I recommend you look into this solution or a similar one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

4Ground: 15mm Terrace Type1

As our Lenino to Berlin campaign proceeds into urban area of Eastern Poland, we needed to quickly collect some new terrain features (mainly buildings) for our 15mm urban table.

Neither me nor Kondziu has enough time to paint buildings nowadays, so we started to intensively looking for some pre-painted and reasonably priced buildings. Initially, I was thinking about resin models, however, once I saw laser-cut stuff from 4Ground I knew it would be our choice. At this point of the review I have to place a disclaimer - I wasn't paid and I didn't receive anything from 4Ground, dot. Just in case you may think it is an advertisement ;)

To pimp our table in one shot, we decided to buy couple of sets from 4Ground, I will review them in the forthcoming posts:
The models belong to the Europe at War series. As you see our order was quite impressive ;) I have to praise 4Ground for the service. They sent the parcel via UPS! We got it within a week of time.

I have to admit that once we received the shipment two things came to my mind - the first one - ooh man, the buildings are more beautiful than I thought, uuuuh I thought they will have less parts to glue.

I started assembly from the 15mm Terrace Type 1 model. I have to admit that I hadn't had so much fun with modeling since my early childhood, when I assembled many paper models of ships.

The design of the model is incredible. Each convex element is made from a separate part. As you can imagine, this makes a huge number of parts altogether. Fortunately, they fit each other perfectly (OK, almost perfectly in one case). It won't take you more than hour or two to assemble the set.

The building consists of three sub-buildings in one line. Let's follow the assembly of the buildings. I think it will give the idea of how nice they are ;)

First of all, the assembly guide is very good - it shows the process step by step.

It's time to build the ground floor and the passage.

The walls are made from two layers. The inner one has windows, doors, etc.

The outer layer has texture and details.

The assembly of the first floor is similar.

The upper floor consists of the base and three parts of the roof. The piece on the right was the only one that didn't fit very well to the roof piece.

It's almost ready...

Finally, windowsills and jambs.

This is it. Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Skytrex - Command Decision: 15mm Infantry and guns review

I'm sure that many of us from time to time look for some alternative providers to Battlefront, although they provide great minis in 15mm. We do it either to make our small armies unique or just because of budget issues.

Today, I would like to share with you a short review of Command Decision miniatures available from Skytrex. The motivation of buying these minis was quite the same as with previously bought QRF models. We recently play lots of Battlegroup Kursk (BGK) games and I needed to adjust my Flames of War set of minis to fit  BGK rosters. This is how I found Skytrex miniatures.

During our recent Lenino to Berlin campaign I had an opportunity to play infantry formations for the first time in BGK. It revealed that in my collection I lacked AT and infantry guns. I only had PaK40s, which are quite expensive in BGK.  I wanted to add a famous PaK38 and the prettiest infantry gun I've ever seen - 7.5 cm leichtes Infanteriegesch├╝tz 18. I didn't need a whole batteries of those guns, so I started to look around to find some cheaper options. And this is how I found these two sets:
The price is reasonable (6 GBP), however, you get only the guns without crew. What delighted me the most, was that one of the guns in the set is in limbered position (wohaa!).

The 75mm guns are casted as single pieces. Their limbered and unlimbered positions are the same. The PaKs 38 has a lovely feature. Its carriage is casted as a single piece and the gun with the gun shield as another one. This makes it possible to have the gun rotating its gun shield a bit - that looks great. I used a small magnet to make it detachable. Great piece of work Skytrex- really!

The second set I bought was the CD GS05 Panzer Grenadier Platoon HQ 43-45. I needed them mainly because of the Panzershreck team and 5cm mortar. I used the rest of the minis to create one more base of platoon command.
The minis are very nice - especially their poses. The guy with binoculars is the killer one... The only drawback was the Panzershreck itself. It was a little bit too short. I decided to add some combustion fumes made with greenstuff to make it look reasonable.

The third blister was the CD GS16 Light Machine Gun Teams. It consists of three LMG teams. This is the main adjustment you will have to make to switch from FOW to BGK. Each German Squad is divided into two units: 5 men standard team and 3 men LMG team.

A mixture of CD and Battlefront's figures
Finally, the CD GS22 Stretcher Bearers & Casualties. This is a true eye-candy. I don't know if I will ever use them in the future (yes, in BGK you can!), but I just had to take them together with the rest of figures. I also used the wounded guy to make a medic base.

Medic - made from FiB and CD (wounded) figures
To sum up, I have to say they are very nice minis in 15mm scale. They have really nice (uncommon) poses and they are clearly casted. When compared to Battlefront's I would say they are less bulky, so they probably shouldn't be mixed on the same bases with BF minis. However, you can easily mix bases if they stand next to each other.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lenino: Clash at Trigubova

Here's the second installment of our Lenino to Berlin 43-45 campaign, where we replay elements of the clashes in and around the village of Trigubovo.

Trigubovo was a relatively small village to the West of Lenino and in the Southern part of the area of operations during the battle. A road led west from the village and met with a parallel road to the north, while a river flowed to the South. During the battle the settlement was initially fortified and held by the German forces and was secured around noon of the first day by the Soviet 290th Infantry Division and the Polish 1st Infantry Division during the initial push. The position was then held by the the 2nd Battalion of Polish 1st Infantry, only to be successfully counterattacked by the German 39th Corps at around 2 PM and withdraw under the cover of Soviet artillery. The 3rd Battalion of Polish 1st Infantry then attempted a counterattack of its own but failed and was pushed back. After the arrival of reinforcements at around 7 PM, including over a company of tanks from the Polish 1st Tank Regiment, an assault on the whole front commenced and fighting in Trigubovo continued with heavy close-quarters fighting. However, the village remained in German hands. At night Polish scout troops lauched a surprise action at Trigubovo and captured the headquarters of the German 337th Infantry Division. In answer, Polish-speaking German infiltrators were sent to successfully sew chaos within Polish ranks.

The actions around Trigubovo lasted all day and were quite eventful, so we had to recreate it to some extent, but we are under no illusion that we can give justice to the entirety of the battle. Hence, we decided to use an element of chance in picking which part of the scenario we would be trying to represent: we picked the Attack-Counterattack scenario from the BGK book (page 172), and depending on whether the German or the Soviet player rolled to be the attacker, the game would represent either the initial Soviet attack on Trigubovo around noon or the German counterttack in the early afternoon. In either case this meant that the defences in the village would be much under their historical level of preparedness at the outset of the battle, but we thought playing a defensive battle again would be a bit dull (and I'll be damned if I am advancing barely supported infantry on a heavily fortified German position in two battles in a row -k). As luck would have it, the battle turned out to be the German counterattack.

The terrain was set up to represent Trigubovo, as best as we could make out from the maps we had. The village seemed to be one of those by-the-roadside affairs that you still see sometimes: a row of country houses on each side of the single street, with large fenced yards. We added a parallel road to the north and a fork of the two roads to the west, on the German side. We decided not to include the river to the South, since it would constitute nothing more than dead space, so we shifted the entire area of operation to the North instead. In effect the village itself lay in the "Southern" half of the table, with the road traversing in the middle of the "Northern" half. We included two large fields, one to the East of the village, and one to the West, as well as some hills farthest to the North. Finally, we liberally scattered various groves and singular trees throughout.
Also, as it interestingly turned out from our random placement of houses, to the detriment of the Polish 1st Division, in 1943 the fashion in Trigubovo was against having windows facing West.

Kondziu: My roster consisted of pretty much the same things I used during the assault on Hill 215.5: a full company of infantry with some guns and tanks to support it. I took some liberties with the historicity and swapped out the sappers for a couple of snipers. I also added an extra T-34 instead of some bits here and there, like PTRDs (since I have no idea how to use them). The plan was simple enough: take over every bit of hard cover in the town, hunker down, and stay there until the Germans decide they don't have a particularly pressing need to take over after all.

Mirek: I made some important adjustment in my roster. First of all, I reduced the number of armored vehicles to a single platoon of StuGs and SdKfz 222 armored car. The core of my force was a platoon of Panzer grenadiers with some decent support choices: 50mm PaK38, le.IG.18 75mm infantry gun, and HMG. I took also one recon squad and a sniper. My army group was supported by off-table 80mm mortars. Although, I knew that we are going to play attack / counter-attack mission I set my mind to prepare for defense (or at most for slow advance) in urban area. I expected that we both deploy our initial assets in the village. It was huge surprise when it came to me that I would have to assault the village.  Definitely, I wasn't prepared for that…

Deployment was straightforward, because according to the scenario forced us to limit our forces on table to recon units. However, from the beginning I asked myself how to organize my reserves. I decided to start from the guns. I knew that in the following turns, when the battle rage higher, I would not have enough orders to move them at positions. I wanted to deploy them in the small wood on my left flank, because guns in open are extremely fragile. I was really afraid of expected Katyusha barrage. I suspected that Kondziu would launch it in one of the first turns. From my perspective this small wood was the main, reasonable target.

Recon forces deployed and ready for action...
German field guns advancing into position on a nearby hill.... Que Jaws soundtrack.
Kondziu: The initial part of the game was centered around getting a foothold in the village and fortifying my position. Hence, most of my orders in those turn involved moving up infantry (using Ura! Ura!) into the couple of buildings to the South-East, getting as much cover in the fields and wood thickets as possible along the way. The infantry were also dragging along the 45mm gun for support, which could provide some suppressing fire, once in place. Meanwhile, the avant-garde consisting of a couple of sniper units and some infantry scouts screened the advance by skirmishing with whatever was convenient. In effect of the fantastic mobility of the Polish/Soviet infantry, the force quickly managed to achieve a strong position in the village, before the Germans secured their own foothold.

Mirek: During the first turns I tried to concentrate my platoon of grenadiers at the entry to the village. I have to admit that German infantry forces are definitely less mobile than Poles or Soviets. You require huge amounts of orders in the pool to move the whole formation. I have to figure it out how to move effectively. All in all the effect was such that my platoon was spread all over the big crops field on my right flank. It was really difficult for me to control the unit and achieve reasonable firepower. Of course the next problem was that the Poles were hiding in the village while my men were like sitting ducks in the crops field.  To make it worse, I was also a bit unlucky (I definitely used a politically-correct word here) with my rolls.

Kondziu: Once my initial force managed to effectively capture the village, the plan was to keep the enemy at bay until my reinforcements arrived and set up an advantageous position to then fight the German tanks. For this reason, the snipers and guns exchanged fire with some of the guns to the North, while most of the infantry tried to hamper any advancing units within range. However, since the current forces consisted mostly of infantry and a lone light gun, facing German armor would've been a rather daunting concept, and they could arrive at any moment, I decided to move some forces in quickly rather than safely. Notably, I rushed in a towed Zis-3 and unlimbered it behind a fence next to a hut.

Mirek: From the beginning I was aware that I have to force Kondziu to take counters as much as possible. This was my only chance to win this battle. I didn't have to wait long for the first opportunity… A lone truck in the middle of the road…

Mirek: The longest period of the battle was the regular exchange of fire between my forces in the crops field and Kondziu’s infantry in the village. It looked quite realistic. We had one very interesting idea for a home rule. We observed a strange situation when a squad of 8 riflemen is able to use all its firepower through a single opening. Maybe it would be more reasonable to limit the number of barrels than can fire through a single opening (e.g., two). Then LMGs would have much more sense. (I don't think that's a home rule, I think this is how it's meant to work. -k)

Kondziu: At this point, as Mirek rightly points out, the battle turned into a straight-up slog between infantry, firing from building to building, with reserves moving up and either taking over freshly cleaned out building, or simply replacing the casualties in buildings which were secured earlier. By this time most of my infantry company arrived in the village, and I felt my position was rather strong, even from sheer numerical advantage. However, the much anticipated German armor was yet to arrive.

Mirek: Finally, my StuGs arrived at the battlefield. They took their positions and opened fire to support grenadiers. Unfortunately, not for long…

Mirek: Oh no!! The Katyusha barrage was devastating. In one moment my armored fist was crushed into dust. I lost one of the StuGs, and what is more important my only ammo carrier. Although I felt really bad about it, I still had lots of BR and units to continue the assault.

Mirek: At this point I thought that nothing worse could happen… Again, I was so wrong. At the right flank my second StuG was destroyed by a mine…

Kondziu: After the highly successful artillery barrage, and an extremely lucky minestrike, I thought I had the game: superiority in numbers, a strong position in the village against an enemy mostly advancing in the fields, and a metric tonne of BR left to play with. The remainder of my reserves arrived as well, so I had a platoon of T-34s comming up from the rear to deal with the lone StuG. So everything was going my way. All I had to do now, was pin a few things, destroy a few others, and we'd be done.

Mirek: In that moment of time, I really felt that my assault was nearly broken. I didn't have any reasonable forces to push forward. I would probably retreat, but I still had 18 BR left, so I thought it wouldn’t be sporty to surrender like this.

Kondziu: Since everything was going right, and frankly, I was a little tired, I decided to play aggresively and finish the game in a couple of turns. From that point on, nothing went right for me. It seemed like every single BR chit Mirek got was an event, while all I got was 4s and 5s, so in a couple of turns I was precariously balancing in a place of 0 BR. In addition, my troops seemed to be resting on their laurels and refuse to spot or hit any further German teams. Unfortunately for me, I adopted an aggressive style of engagement. Those two things in conjunction: my tanks, guns, and infantry popping out of cover in groups to eliminate those few remaining enemy units, and then not seeing them, or not hitting them, or if they did hit them, not causing any deterioration in enemy morale, my force fell apart.

Kondziu: In the final round my forces managed to kill off that annoying little SdKfz. However, they did not manage to kill the remaining StuG, whose snapshots took out two T-34s, and the loss of the latter deprived me of BR completely, and my force withdrew from the battlefield. Hence the StuG snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the end.

Mirek: It was really funny, because from that point things changed dramatically. It was getting little bit late (good after midnight) and we both wanted to speed up the game. I think that forced Kondziu to start the counter-attack at my positions. I had nothing to loose so I started to fire back with all available barrels. I had tremendous luck, which is difficult to express – impossible became possible. I inflicted so many casualties that “technically” I won the battle.  I said “technically”, because I had no doubts that Kondziu won this encounter. I should probably surrender when I felt it was the time to do so. The rest of the game afterwards was rather a kind “what if” scenario.

Kondziu: In the end Mirek and I found ourselves having different opinions on who actually should win the scenario. Mirek thought it should be I, because of just me being tired towards the end (we played well into the wee hours) and my bad luck. I think Mirek won fair and square, because, well, he did actually win – it was my BR that ran out not his – mostly, because he played smart, while I took stupid risks. Whatever the score though, the battle at the end was definitely very close and fun. Despite my cursing. I also learned my own personal lesson about underestimating an enemy force.

Whoever won, in a relatively historically accurate fashion, the result of the counterattack at Trigubova was a bloody mess for the Polish Division.

Continuing: German forces defend a small village to the north of Lenino against a Polish combined arms force, in the battle of Polzyhy; next up, on Time Commanders this blog.