Friday, 3 February 2012

Kitchen Tables and Back to the Back of Beyond

So, with the 1809 campaign done, disted and available for any PBEM or similar bug that grabs me I can turn my attention back to an old favourite - The Back of Beyond!

It was a BoB game that kicked-off this blog; a demo game at Salute using 28mm figures. While I still have these figures tucked away I am also experimenting with some 10mm stuff from Pendraken, painted up in a rudimentary manner and then finished with Army Painter soft tone. The first few are drying as I type and I'll post some photos over the weekend once they have been matt varnished.

This 10mm project is part of my current drive towards "kitchen table wargaming". This is a similar concept to Richard Clarke's "snack pot gaming" mentioned in his column is Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy. In essence it is a response to

  1.  not having the time or inclination at the moment to paint large numbers of figures, or paint larger figures requiring lots of effort and detailing
  2. Wanting to play games in the warm, rather that the garage
  3. Wasting to play quick and easy games - I'm still keen on grids at the moment
My kitchen table is just a shade under 5 x 3 feet and I have been giving some thought to how best to fit interesting games onto this. My napoleonic "square" rules shoudl work well. On a bigger table, using TSS tiles the grid used is made up of 20cm squares (9 squares to a 60cm x 60cm tile) and this means a "standard" wargames table of 6 x 4 feet would give a grid of 6 x 9 squares.

A little scaling down of the grid to use 15cm/6in squares means that the same games can fit onto the kitchen table and actually give a "wider" game as this will measure the same 6 squares across but will be 10 squares wide. The change means that the TSS tiles aren't so viable, but I have a 6 x 4 gree felt cloth that doesn't get much use and which could be easily "gridded" - I'd just marke the vertices with dots or crosses rather than drawing a full grid. As the napoleonic rules use 1 square = 1km (approx), a 10 x 6km battlefield should cope with a reasonably sized battle. Bigger games can be played at the club on Wednesdays or wait until the summer when the garage is more practical.

For the BoB my current thoughts are to use the same grid (but probably on a brown cloth or a baseboard) and develop suitable rules. Using a grid and some basic wooden or polystyrene squares will allow me to build up suitable hills and mountain passes for the likes of Afghanistan. This may not be the absolute pinnacle of aesthetics but I think it can be made to look quite good with a bit of effort and imagination.

The tricky bit now comes in the form of scaling battles appropriately. My main interest is in battles where the basic unit being shoved around is the company, each battle perhaps having around a brigade-equivalent per side - somewhere between 12 and 18 "units" - companies, squadrons, gun sections, etc.

To begin the process of pulling some rules together I have done what I always do first - get a few figures together to decide what looks "right" for a unit. In this case, with the 10mm figures a company of 8 figures - 1 officer/nco and 7 other ranks looks OK and for now I have based these in pairs on 1p pieces, with 2p pieces for MG teams and higher-echelon commanders.

So, we have our 8-figure "company", four of which will produce a battalion in most armies, along with a base of officers as battlaion command. MGs can be allocated as support either as single bases, or fielded as an MG company of 3 or 4 bases grouped together. As with the napoleonic rules I think a square should hold a maximum of 4 units and a few supports such as individual MG bases or gun bases (each representing a section). Grouping MGs or Guns into larger formations (MG companies or batteries) will offer some advantage but will in return take up a greater number of "slots" in a square.

Moving forward, then, a square can hold the equivalent of a battlion of infantry in a formation equivalent to a 2-company frontage with 2 companies in reserve. This approximates (very roughly on the back of an envelope) to the 15cm square representing up to 500m x 500m.

From here I can start to rough out some ranges. Rifle fire can easily penetrate into an adjacent square and probably one square further (except perhaps for untrained troops who could be limited to the close range only). Keeping ranges down a little is important if the game is to be contained within the boundaries of the kitchen table and also allow for artillery, etc.

In the napoleonic rules I use the mechanism of different dice types to represent different abilities - as is the case in Force on Force and I think I'd like to stick with this. By separating out different factors of ability it is possible to give some character to the units. My first thought are to rate units for shooting, melee and morale. There is a subtle difference between units which are good at fighting but have average morale viz-a-viz units with an average ability but high morale. The former can be a bit fragile whereas the latter can get overwhelmed but have a distict "stickability" in the face of battle. The system of recording "hits" etc has yet to be really thought about. Blackpowder currently feels like a reasonable model to use as a base for adaptation, but I also like more in-period rules such as Red Actions - so there is plenty to have a go at.

That is really about as far as I have got for now. I'll post more as the ideas develop. At this stage I'll concentrate mainly on the infantry and MG mechanics and then try to add-in cavalry, armoured cars, artillery, aeroplanes, etc.

Lastly, then. For those who are unfamiliar with this period, what kinds of match-ups am I planning? Well, there are lots of possibilities but the following are the ones foremost in my mind at the moment:

1. Smaller actions of the campaign in Mesopotamia (Brits v Turks)
2. Dunsterforce's adventures in and around Baku (Brits v Persian tribesmen, Brits & local militias v Turks)
3. The Malleson Mission in Transcaspia (British and Indian troops allied to Mensheviks and Turkoman tribes vs Bolsheviks) with a full complement of armoured trains
4. The attacks by the Turkish 3rd Army [The Army of Islam] under Enver Pasha agains the Russians in the Caucusus (Turks v pre-revolutionary Russians)
5. Third Afghan War (British and Indian army vs Afghan tribes and regulars)

British, Russian and Turkish figures are all easily available in 10mm from Pendraken, as are afghan tribesmen. Other forces can probably be put toghether from other stuff in their range.

More soon!

1 comment:

Monty said...

Interesting plans Steve, I like your 'kitchen table' approach; life is too short ;