Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Vae Victis reviews BBB, BBEB & BBBB

Many readers of this blog may already be familiar with Vae Victis. For those who are not: VV is a gorgeous, lavish, high-quality French wargaming magazine. The publication of Konstantinos Travlos's Bloody Big Balkan Battles campaign book (BBBB) prompted Nicolas Strategos at VV to commission a review not only of BBBB but also of the parent BBB ruleset and its companion BBEB scenario book.

The review is mainly descriptive of the mechanisms and contents, but perhaps I can extract and translate its essential assessment here without committing too many crimes against the French language.

For BBEB, it just lists the wars covered. For BBBB, it goes further:
"The content is extremely educational and provides an excellent synthesis of events."

For the BBB rules:
"Overall, BBB offers a level of abstraction and a scale of game suited to 'big battles', with simple mechanisms and loads of high quality scenarios. Basically it allows you and some good buddies to get together around a standard wargame table and recreate the major 'collisions' of the second half of the 19th century (and the start of the 20th)."

"Good points: simple mechanisms, suitable for multi-player games, high quality scenarios.
Flaws: running out of ammunition (this seems a bit excessive and will happen too often during a game)."

My thanks to Nicolas for arranging the review, and to VV's reviewer Jean-Philippe Imbach for doing a thorough job and bringing BBB to the attention of our wargaming comrades across the Channel.

I guess at some point we should do that French-language edition of BBB ...

Monday, 8 July 2019

Nice review of BBB from 'Manteuffel' (Wargaming from the Balcony)

Pleased to stumble across this latest review of BBB, published in May 2019 by 'Manteuffel' on his Wargaming from the Balcony blog. I don't know who Manteuffel is, nor what his balcony overlooks (though some clues elsewhere on the blog suggest he is somewhere in Virginia USA or thereabouts), but I hope he won't mind me picking out a couple of my favourite lines from his review:

"Our group has found the rules as a good and simple system that allows us to play (and finish) battles during the 19th century."

"We often get occasional players, so having a system that they can quickly grasp is a true bonus."

"BBB is what we have been looking for."

"If your looking to play full sized battles in an afternoon with some buddies, BBB just might be for you!"

I'm particularly pleased to see that he and his group have been getting good value out of BBB for Napoleonics, as witness for instance his AAR for the Battle of Gordeczna. As he says:

"We actually find that [we can] use the rules for the later Napoleonic period without modification. We just reduce the unit scale and apply the appropriate unit attributes and the rules fit like a glove. We had been working on our own variations of rules to cover this scale, but are all in agreement that this is not longer necessary, as BBB is what we have been looking for. "

"[BBB is] our current preferred system for to play full sized battles in the 19th century."

Manteuffel, if you're reading this: I appreciate you taking the trouble to write such a thoughtful review, and I'm delighted that you and your group are having such a good time with BBB!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Operation Bluecoat: The Wilderness in the bocage?

Had the privilege of spending the 75th anniversary D-Day week in Normandy, witnessing commemorations, celebrations, reenactments, and events of all kinds. A wonderfully memorable week.

[Sorry, no photo right now for technical reasons! I should add one in a week or so.]

Naturally we had to mark it with some suitably themed wargames. One highlight was joining the Guerriers du Marais for their exposition in the municipal gallery in Carentan. They had two display games: one a 28mm Bolt Action section of Omaha Beach (fine scratchbuilt bunkers by Pierre); the other a 10mm representation of the whole of the battle for Carentan, using a WWII adaptation of BBB.

The buildings for the latter were real works of art, having been handcrafted by Colin based on actual Carentan buildings, using photos from 1944. The game was good value too. The poor German players really felt pummelled by the US artillery, airpower and naval gunfire support. At the end their paras were still hanging on grimly, but 17th SS had taken a battering and the Ostbataillons had lost interest long ago. The game felt right, and of course it was great to fight for Carentan in Carentan.

We fought a couple of other battles as well. But my favourite game of the week was the tail-end of Operation Bluecoat. Bluecoat seems to be a somewhat neglected operation in Normandy histories, perhaps because it is a kind of bridesmaid as it covers the US flank after the more glamorous and well-known US Operation Cobra. But whereas much of the Normandy fighting is simple frontal assault slog with limited options for the defender, the last part of Bluecoat offers scope for games of much more complex and interesting maneuver.

The focus of our game was the period in early August 1944 when two British divisions - 11th Armoured and Guards Armoured - push south from St.-Martin-des-Besaces toward Vire and the critical east-west highway through it that the Germans are using as an axis for their drive on Mortain. The result is that they collide at right angles with 9th SS Panzer Division 'Hohenstaufen' and some other fragments and remnants. Hence the attacking British forces are not much larger than the defending/counterattacking Germans; both sides have substantial mobile and armoured formations; and both sides need and want to maneuver.

To me the situation is strikingly similar to the ACW Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. (See here and here.) Invert the map east-west, and you have the British playing the part of the Union - with Guards Armoured showing some of the diffidence and caution of the passive and confused Union army - while 9SS is Bobby Lee's mobile, smaller but highly motivated and aggressively led army, striking at ninety degrees. Vire isn't quite Richmond, but near enough in providing an objective at the southern end of the pitch that the CSA/9SS have to stop the US/Brits from reaching; and to do so they have several options of blocking, smashing, or cutting rear lines of communication.

We fought this twice in Normandy, having fought it once already in UK. In game 1 (UK), the British easily raced south and cut the road at Vaudry and Viessoix but then couldn't make much progress along it to the east, and ended up winning by turning west and taking Vire (unhistorically, since in the actual campaign this could shifted from the British to the US sector during the operation). Game 2 was another British win as the Germans opted for a straight punch to the west from Estry, came within an ace of cutting British supply lines completely, but left the road to Vire and the highway too open. Game 3, benefiting from previous experience, the German players followed a more historical plan. KG Weiss's Tigers successfully dominated the main road toward Vire for the whole game, and 9SS managed to string out along the key Estry ridge and hold that against all efforts. There was an alarm late in the game when Guard Armoured briefly opened a gap on the eastern flank and looked like getting through behind 9SS; but reserves plugged the gap. By then all the British formations had run out of steam, so a German win evened up the score somewhat.

The game was fought with a playtest version of Frank Chadwick's forthcoming Breakthrough! rules.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Bash Day III was a blast!

The third Bloody Big Battles Bash Day was held in Oxford on Sunday 12 May 2019. Thirty players got together and played morning and afternoon games of the seven participation games on offer.

Upstart rebels confront forces of the Crown at Germantown.
(No, that's not a local rival of The Plough.)
Photo by kind permission of Alan Millicheap.

Let me pay tribute here to all the dedicated and creative gamemasters who laid on such beautiful and enjoyable games. In chronological order by battle:

Bruce McCallum: Edgehill (1642), English Civil War

Haim Ben-Zion: Helsingborg (1710), Great Northern War

Rodge Williams & Alan Millicheap: Germantown (1777), American War of Independence

Dave Whaley: 2nd Battle of Komárom (1849), Hungarian War of Independence

Crispin Matson: Italian War (1859) – trio of Montebello, Palestro and Magenta

Simon Dunsterville: Gettysburg (1863), American Civil War

Anton van Dellen: Colenso (1899), Second Boer War

These gentlemen's efforts included creating custom terrain, designing scenarios, painting up armies specially, and above all, getting up unreasonably early on a Sunday morning to set up to entertain others. Huge thank yous and very well done. (Some photos of a couple of the games here.)

Thank you also to those who helped out with logistical support in various ways, setting up tables, collecting entrance fees, washing up etc, lending troops, having reserve games ready in case of dropouts, and general encouragement and moral support.

Last but not least, thank you to the players. Thank you all for coming to Bash Day and participating in such good spirit.

To those who wanted to be there but couldn't for various reasons: sorry you couldn't make it, we missed you, and hope you can get to the next one.

It was a bonus that we were so efficient this year that almost all the games were done by 4:30 p.m., enabling a very convivial reorg and replen phase in the Plough.

It was a great day and could hardly have gone better. We had a wonderful variety of games (over 250 years of history) and scales (2mm, 6mm, 10mm and 15mm all on display). We had pretty much ideal ratios of players to games, so by and large everyone got two or even three games in and had a fair share of battle, no players sidelined and no GMs sitting forlorn and neglected. People mixed and mingled, made new friends and got new ideas. Above all, we all achieved the #1 victory condition, to have fun.

Therefore, my final thank you is to all those who nudged and chivvied me for the last year or so and finally prompted me to run Bash Day III. As I write this on a tide of caffeine, sleep deprivation and general euphoria, I can say with some confidence that we will want to repeat it and run Bash Day IV in 2020. Comments welcome as to what features to keep, and what to change and improve, etc.

Until then: Bash On!