30 August 2015

Book Review: One Hour Wargames

There have been a number of reviews floating around the inter web about this book, authored by Neil Thomas.  Accordingly, I'm not going to go through the book in detail but share my generic thoughts.

Bottom Line Up Front: Its OK, but you probably have most of it in your library already.

Around half the book is a brief description of each era of wargaming, followed by short (2-3 pages) sets of rules to try out the different periods.  Remember the quick play rules that used to grace the pages of Miniature wages and such magazines?  Well on average the rules in this book are more generic.  Fast play yes, but very much targeted at beginners.  Veterans may find them a little bland.

The next half of the book provides 30 war-game scenarios that are period agnostic and present the players with a number of challenges.  These are quite useful, but if you have a copy of either of Charles Stuart Grant's fabled Wargame Scenario books then you already have them.  Of course much more uncommon to find and expensive when you do.
Get these in preference, if you can
I've read a few of Neil Thomas's books before and quite enjoyed them.  However those were all very focused on particular periods of gaming (Ancients, Napoleonic, 19th Century).  If you are new to the hobby or don't already have a scenario book in your library then this is worth your while.  If you are veteran gamer with a good shelf full of goodies, you'll probably want to pass on this.

28 August 2015

Singing La Marseillaise

The Acheron (44 guns) from Master and Commander
For those of you who enjoyed my recent review of Osprey's Fighting Sail naval rules (here) and are thinking about getting themselves a French Fleet, these articles at the very informative Weapons and Warfare website will give you more background and insights into the Republican Fleet of the period




And another neat (and brief) overview of Napoleon's Navy:

The first rate Bretagne (130 guns)
And for the American Revolution period:

26 August 2015

Review: Fighting Sail

Osprey has produced a range of interesting volumes since they began to publish wargames rules, and I have more than a few myself.  I suspect (and know) that many of you do too...

Fighting Sail is a departure from the previous in that it is the first set of naval rules, set specifically in the majestic Age of Sail ranging from the American Revolution to the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  Its in lovely  full glossy colour and filled with lots of pictures of models and artwork from Osprey titles.

I was a Napoleonic affectionado two decades or so ago though I’ve barely touched it since.  A lack of opponents after moving away from my mates who introduced me, but also because I just couldn’t face up to all those hull boxes, sail boxes, gun boxes and crew boxes anymore. We used to play a bit mostly using Wooden Ships and Iron Men. I still have that boxed game and a big, bulging folder with extra rules, articles and supplements and while I’ve tried (and still have) several other sets of rules, they were just different ways of doing the same hit box ritual.  

Fighting Sail is different. You are the Flag Officer commanding the Squadron, not trying to be all the Captains of the ships.  Too many rules try to do this, overloading players with detail. You won’t be deciding to double shot guns, load chain or grape shot, or increase sail.  The Captains do that for themselves - its what they get paid for after all.  That’s quite a different mindset to other Age of Sail games, and the immediate reaction is 'why can’t I do xxx’. The answer is that it is happening, but you as the Commodore/Admiral don’t care and the how too much (and frankly wouldn't know either), just what the outcome is.  If you can get your head around that then everything falls into place and the streamlined elegance of the rules becomes clear.

Fighting Sail lets you play fleet actions like this (Trafalgar 1805) and not get bogged down with more than 3 or 4 ships.
The mechanics work with handfuls of dice looking for target numbers, followed by Hull ‘saves’. This keeps game intuitive and both players are involved throughout.  The simple damage system reduces firepower and manoeuvrability while negating the need for those dreaded hit boxes.

A simple but effective Fleet building system also provides differentiated traits and skills for the different nations' Captains and Admirals. This makes the British quite different in flavour to the Yanks, Spaniards, French and Russians.  Each nation also has a selection of legendary Admirals and Ships for those who want Nelson and Victory or Decatur and the Constitution in their Fleet.

What doesn’t it have? Campaign rules- rather simple and its curious that something that should only be 3-4 pages was omitted.  I can see campaign settings being relatively simple to generate (e.g. Brit/France in the Caribbean, War of 1812) in which the different costs can be skewed to reflect specific availabilities and circumstances.

Overall, just reading these rules got me excited about a period I've long not thought about.  So much so that I’ve spent the day scouring the net looking at different model ranges and trying not IF to buy, but what scale and how many...

If you have any interest in the period and want to try it out, or are looking for a set of rules that let you manoeuvre fleets and squadrons instead of getting bogged down with only 3 or 4 ships, then give Fighting Sail a look.


The Battle of Athos, 1807 - for the ambitious gamer!

23 August 2015

Star Wars Costumes exhibit

I resented posted (here) about my trip to the EMP Museum in Seattle and all its great SciFi and Horror movie props.  Those were the permanent exhibits.  What was also super cool, was the special exhibit displaying a wide range of Star Wars costumes from all 6 movies.

I always thought these guys were really cool
Everyone will recognise this costume I think!

Put together by the Smithsonian, there is a lot of detail on the inspiration behind each of the costumes.  If you have the chance to see this, grab it

20 August 2015

USS Constituion vs HMS Guerriere

Today is the 203rd anniversary of USS Constitution's legendary battle and victory against the Royal Navy frigate HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812.  The story of the battle, which occurred soon after the start of hostilities, is a great example of the sort of friction and chance that impacted maritime operations during the period.  In fact, it reads like a wargamer's AAR.


The history and mythology of this conflict are really interesting to me as an outsider.  I have now seen accounts, relics and stories in British, American and Canadian war museums and the different biases and interpretations are fascinating.
Cover of Osprey's No 19 in the Duel series

17 August 2015

USS Constitution

Launched in 1797, the 30 gun frigate USS Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat (a distinction which is made very clearly to visitors, as Admiral Nelson's 104 gun flagship HMS Victory  is older but no longer afloat).  She is based at the Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston and I have had the privilege of being onboard her twice in the last year.  She is a beautiful ship, very different in style and design to the first rate ship of the line Victory (who I toured about a decade ago) and kept in very fine shape.

Last week I was honoured to be invited to the Change of Command ceremony as a War College classmate of mine became Constitution's 74th Commanding Officer.  His predecessors include such famous names as Decatur and Bainbridge.  Of particular interest is that the crew continue to utilise period costumes for ceremonial purposes, as you can see here.

Fair winds and following seas to the USS Constitution and her new Captain!

16 August 2015

Geeky Artefacts at the EMP

This guy needs no introduction!
During my Summer adventures I took my family to the EMC Museum in Seattle, and what a treasure trove of geeky goodness it is!  Among its other exhibits it has original props and costumes from a large range of classic SciFi and Horror movies.  Here are some of the highlights:

The original light sabres
War of the Worlds, 1953 style

Aliens fans will recognise these immediately

Deckard's Police Cruiser from Blade Runner
Deckard's "PKD Service Revolver"
Zhora's costume
Pris's costume
5th Element props
The original Klingon D7 Battlecruiser model

BSG fans will be most familiar with this dress
Ovian from the original BSG
Viper Pilot costume
The Spice must flow...
I shall not fear, fear is the mind killer...

Discovery 1 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Space weapons and zap guns - how many do you recognise?

The Creature from the Black lagoon
Zombie Werewolf - I knew they were real!
Conan's Atlantean Sword

Weapons from Lord of the Rings

...and your father smelled of elderberries!

Fans of the Princess Bride know who has 6 fingers on his right hand
One of Tyrion Lannister's outfits
We all really loved seeing these goodies fro our favourite shows.  And then the Museum had a temporary exhibit of Star Wars costumes...more to follow on that!