Thursday 7 March 2013

WW2 Coastal Forces - 1/1200 vs 1/600

I'm looking at my 1/1200 Hallmark minis (which I bought on a whim) and find myself in a quandary.

Do I add to my 1/1200 coastal collection and thus "lock in" to a scale? Or do I switch to 1/600 before it its too late.

The argument for 1/1200 - quite crisp, and as well detailed as 1/600 - but man, it's tiny. What's the point of detail if you can't see it without a magnifying glass?

1/600 are easier to handle, at more than double the price ($5.25 vs $2). Surprisingly, coastal freighters are quite close in cost - $9 in 1/600 vs $7 in 1/1200 for a 500-700 tonner.

This PT boat from PT-Dockyard costs around $5.25. It doesn't have more detail, but you can at least see the detail there is....
"Will you pay... the price of detail?"
However here's an argument against both - they are both overpriced!
For the same $2 for a microscopic 1/1200 S-boat you can get a much larger aeronef ship (also metal) with an accompanying flight stand (not pictured)... The "nef" has far more metal than a $7 freighter. 
My original rationale is price - however getting a decent 1/1200 collection then switching later would be even more costly.....

Sunday 3 March 2013

Schnell Rules for Schnellboot, Hunters on the Shoreline, Pz.8 Coastal Wargame Rules

I am embarking on WW2 coastal forces as a gaming "genre."  Since most battles are at night, air power plays a lesser role (this is the reason I have always preferred WW1/pre-dreadnoughts), there is an interesting mix of cat-and-mouse stealth and frantic, high speed, close-range combat.  I also like the fact coastal forces (in contrast to the bigger ships) saw almost constant action, in some varied and unusual locations (Black Sea, Baltic, Aegean saw some interesting battles).  There is a weird mix of high tech, and jury-rigged ships. Converted landing craft and barges with anti tank guns and heavily armed sailing yachts served alongside 40kt S-boats with Lurssen effect rudders, or super agile minesweepers with vertical propellors

The S-Boot; stealthier, faster, tougher and more sea-worthy than its rivals

High speed, flimsy boats, heavily armed with automatic cannon means combat should be short, sharp and bloody. I would like the rules I use to reflect this. The two main rules I found, Flaklighter and Action Stations, were meticulously researched and detailed.  In fact, they would be handy as reference material. However I reckon the average WW2 coastal action would be over well before I finished a single game turn, given the amount of minutinae and record-keeping. 

Under the premise that it is easier to complicate a simple rule set, rather than simplify a complex one, I went looking for a fast play ruleset upon which I could "add to" if needed.

The Best Rules are Free
Ironically, the rules that seem to best suit my needs are freely downloadable.  The first ones I came across that fit my "fast play" criteria were from the Panzer 8 series of "one page" wargames series, which have a fast play ruleset to fit almost every genre, including Pz.8 Coastal Wargame Rules.

Speed was recorded using a d6, making it easy to record speed changes.  30mm and smaller guns were grouped as a "fire factor" whilst 37mm and larger scored individual hits.  Hits were scored on 4+ rolls (modified for range and speed). Super simple. Damage is easy too - compare weapon attack + d6 to ship defence + d6 - the margin determines if ships are either Damaged, Wrecked or Sunk.  Heavy guns can be knocked out separately.  These rules were inspired and distilled from Schnell Rules for Schnellboot and Hunters on the Shoreline.  Pz.8 also has simple rules to allow submarines to be involved.

The Fairmile D is my favourite MTB for "looks" - and with its size, radar and impressive firepower it was arguably the pinnacle of allied MTB design

Next, to Hunters on the Shoreline.  (by the author of Flaklighter). It was also a pretty straightforward game. Ships moved 1cm per knot of speed, and it had more thorough visibility rules (a good thing, given the paramount importance of spotting in night actions). It used a similar firing system to Pz.8 (fire factor for small weapons, individual hits for bigger guns) albeit using different dice types (d8s, d12s, etc) but its damage system was much more involved - MTBs had "buoyancy points" (a.k.a. the dreaded hull boxes) of which were only 5-10 for a MTB but could be up to 100 for a destroyer.  In addition there were 7 hit locations.  I felt all the extra recording was not worth the cost, over the simplicity of Pz.8 - its damage system is comparable to that of the more complex commercial rulesets. HotS also has rules for smoke and for using depth charges against surface targets.

The numerous Russian G-5 hydroplanes were only 14-16 tons (they had an easily corroded aluminium hull). In light conditions, the two 800 or 1000bhp aircraft engines push them along at 49 or 56 knots (and an incredible 63 knots when not fully loaded!)

Finally, the elusive "Schnell Rules for Schnellboot" by David Manley (also the author of Action Stations). After exploring many dead ends and broken links, I found them in the files of the narrow seas yahoo group. It shares movement similarities with Hunters of the Shoreline with the fastest MTBs topping out at around 30cm/move. 

The spotting rules, though still simple, are the best yet, with dummy markers to add uncertainty. Firing uses a d20, modified as usual by target size and speed. Weapons fire is grouped by "type" (i.e. HMG, 2pdr, 20mm, 30mm, etc) and is thus a bit more detailed and fiddly than the "fire factor" approach of Pz.8 and HotS.  

However the damage system is excellent - with Damaged, Heavily Damaged, Wrecked or Sunk (4 "levels" compared to Pz.8's 3). Speed, maneuver and weapons can also be knocked out.  It is a little too complex to simply use markers on the board (like Pz.8) but it adds extra 'grittiness' without bogging down. 

SRfSb also has rules for aircraft, starshells and flares, an alternate torpedo resolution method, depth charges. There is also the chance of random visibility or fires caused from gunfire hits illuminating the vessel. SRfSb also has the most comprehensive list of vessels and stats.

Whilst all the rules are solid fast-play options (with a special nod to Pz.8's 0-record keeping approach) I am opting for Schell Rules, due to its similarities with the excellent Bulldogs Away modern FAC rules, simple but meaningful damage, and easy compatibility with Action Stations' more complex rules.

PT Dockyard sells a wide range of coastal forces in 1/600, as well as publishing the Flaklighter rules

I find it interesting both SRfSb and HotS are by the authors of the more complex rulesets Action Stations and Flaklighter respectively. This is good, allowing me to "borrow" concepts from the more complicated rules with confidence, whilst enjoying the more playable, simpler rules.

I plan on borrowing weather rules, auditory detection, firing guns causing auto-illumination; gun crews "losing" their target due to "night blindness" caused by muzzle flash, searchlights, damage control, and especially mine warfare (as mine laying was an important part of coastal missions)

I am also aware of "Attack with Torpedoes" which is supposed to be a slick rules set; but as (AFAIK) it is available only from America (which has godawful postage costs - I don't fancy paying more for postage than for the rules themselves) I'm going to regretfully give them a miss.

Recommend? Well, sure, they're all free, so what are you waiting for? Ironically, I find all the fast play rulesets offer reasonable detail and are better "games" than their commercial big brothers, which are bloated and overcomplicated in comparison.  I would however recommend picking up either Flaklighter or Action Stations for their reference value and the ability to add in more complex rules if you choose.

There is plenty of useful material in the narrow seas yahoo group and I like the look of the campaign (also free) from the Coastal Command series.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Cheap Generic Terrain for 1/1200, 1/600, 1/300

I was keeping an eye out for terrain for my new Aeronef fleets when I came across these 1/1200 items from Brigade's own "Land Ironclads" range.

 At $7.50 for 20, a village/small town is very affordable....

Not only is it cheap and affordable - it would also work for 1/300 and 1/600 aerial games. Having smaller sized terrain gives a feeling of altitude and "perspective" and makes the ground seem far below the aircraft models on their stands.

This sea fort looks quite plausible

I could also use then for 1/1200 age of sail games and my new 1/1200 coastal forces.
As I was quite pleased with my last Brigade 1/300 terrain, these sci fi desert dwellings, AND this new terrain seems useful for a range of games...   ....I feel an order coming on.

 A village is not complete without a church...

Besides industrial, agricultural buildings and city "terraced" houses, there is also a Middle Eastern range:

Generic Middle Eastern terrain is useful from the middle ages to modern games....

Definitely a useful range with many applications, and Brigade seems to be expanding its micro scale terrain with regular updates and new content....

Work Benches, Paint Holders & Space Mats

Tired of having random paint pots laying around my workbench, I took matters into my own hands. I wanted the paints to be visible side-on (I know you can dab the colour on the lid, but half the time I have to pick the pot up to check the exact shade anyway) and my old paint holder was too small, and had taken up too much room on my bench.

As usual, the solution had to be cheap and very fast to build. I like to spend my time painting and playing with models, not woodworking.  Could I make my own paint rack in under an hour?

CNC Workshop Miniatures scenery holds 33 pots for $30. It also takes up valuable bench space. You'd also need two or three of them, unless you have a tiny paint collection...

I used to have a rack a bit like the one above but I found it took up to much table space, and "looking down" it was not always evident what colour the paint was.  I usually ended up with random pots I was using sitting on the bench, anyway. I got rid of the "custom holder" and experimented with keeping paint in clear drawers, and clip open containers with partitions. 

So some sort of shelving, preferably at eye height?  A quick trip to Bunnings later and I had
6 x $1.50 pine strips (120mm)
1 x $8 MDF sheet (120mmx60mm)
1 x $3 pack of small nails
Cost - $20 total

1. Since the pine strips and MDF were of equal length there was no cutting required.  Score!
2. Eschewing a tape measure, I spaced the pine strip "shelves" with a few Vallejo bottles (they are the tallest paints I own)
3. I PVA glue the pine strips to the MDF, clamping at both ends to hold them while it dries
4. Flipping the MDF over, I mark the other side to show where the pine strips are
5. This makes it a cinch to whack in a dozen nails each row, in a  fast "production line"
Total elapsed time - 43 minutes (hah, well under deadline!)

Yes, it's not exactly woodworking 101, but it's only holding tiny bottles of paint, for goodness sake. It doesn't need to pass engineering certifications.  Like with my terrain articles, I like to show how quickly, cheaply and easily even a non-skilled person (I can barely nail straight) can put stuff together. 

 My 43-minute shelf holds 200 pots for $20.  And it takes up no bench space. I plan on putting certain colours in certain shelves, and labeling them. No more rummaging for Boltgun Metal!

A shot of my complete workbench. The engraver/drill/hand tool by Ozito has been very handy for $30 (as opposed to $90 for the "official" Dremel).  The $20 Ozito bench grinder is also great for hobby purposes. I've only pinned my shelf in place with clamps as I am getting a brand new shed in a few weeks. Oooh yeah!

Space Mats
As I was tidying my man-cave, I thought I'd take a comparison shot of the Monday Knight Productions vs Hotz space mats.  Bear in mind the Hotz I have is custom-built with stars only - for the same price you can also get nebulae like the MKP mat.

The Hotz Mat on the right has much more subtle hexes markings, which I think is a better look. The material is also better quality and has a nicer "finish" which would resist stains better.

Both are practically identical in price (approx. $60 delivered for a 6x4 mat) but Hotz are famously erratic with communication (my mat arrived after 6 months) but have a better quality product; whereas MKP have brilliant customer service and are quick to post stuff out.

Friday 1 March 2013

Aeronef - WIP (Merchants, Austrian and British fleets)

I've launched into painting the smaller ships for my Aeronef fleets. Though I initially decided to proxy the Austrians as German navy, I opted to go with the dark green pre-WW1 Austrian paint scheme simply as I like the variety, and it is a historically plausible excuse to avoid using grey. I already have enough boring shades of grey with my WW1 1/2400 ships.

 The ships currently on my workbench.  I'm practicing on the escorts and light cruisers before tackling the bigger ships...

These are WIP shots - the warships are all base-coated, but of course need to be washed, drybrushed and detailed.   The merchant ships have only just been started and are only half-covered in paint.

I'm posting this as I have struck a problem with my merchant vessels. I am going with a white upperworks/black hull scheme for all of them, but I have two problems

(a) the best way to paint white ships without them looking super starched whitey-white  (I don't think I've had so much uninterrupted white on a model before); and

(b) what colour should the cargo containers be? Modern ones tend towards reds, blues and greens, but I don't want my ships looking like Christmas decorations.  Maybe a subdued dark grey or dark metal for the "boxes"?  Or a bronzey colour?   Or should they simply be a white/light grey like the upperworks?

I haven't got far on the merchant ships as I'm not sure what is the best way to go about painting them. In particular, the colour of the cargo "boxes" is problematic

With the cargo ships, I have washed the white with a black wash to pick out the details so I can see "what I have to deal with."

The Austrian escorts are huge - they seem capable of taking on British cruisers!
Weirdly they are the same price as the smaller British escorts - I'd swear they'd use double the metal to make...

Another thing that bothers me - the Austrian escorts are much, much bigger than the British escorts which is jarring when they are alongside each other on the table.  They are even bigger than British destroyers - almost cruiser-sized.

I'm keen to get these painted as I am eyeing off the French fleets. Hopefully I can sneak in another order before the baby arrives, and sucks up all my time and money....

I might as well get painting as there is no way to get into work... or even into town.  I know it sounds cool to be "stuck home" but after 5 days I know what house arrest feels like...