My daughter, who is in second grade, had an assignment to build a replica of one of Columbus' ships. Daddy was in a quandary: how much help should a professional historian/miniatures gamer give to his daughter? Well the answer is: apparently a lot less than some of the other dads. But we're proud of our little Santa Maria. My daughter drew up blueprints, and I cut foamcore board to her specifications. We then glued two box lids to represent the forecastle and poop deck (a lot of humor to be found in that term). She painted with some of my craft-store acrylics, printed out a sail with a cross of Malta, added some labels to identify parts of the ship (she is the only kid in second grade who can tell you WHY 'port' and 'starboard' are the terms for left and right on a ship), and voila!
So, I'm beginning a new project: 15mm Post Roman Britons and Saxons. Gonna get my Arthur on. So, I spent an hour prepping my first Roman-British Cavalry and Saxon infantry, gluing little shields down and mounting them on popsicle sticks. The minis are from Splintered Light. They look good and there is shockingly little flash on them.
Anyhow, I went out very early this morning to prime them, so as not to disturb the neighbors with spray paint fumes. I left them out to dry for an hour before I brought them back in the house.
When I went back out again, the troops were all in disarray. Most had been ripped from their popsicle stick sprues. Many were scattered on the ground (fortunately, I had raked the day before, or else my troops would have been found in the spring, resembling the bog man). A guilty looking squirrel chattered down at me from a tree.
My Mogadishu setup has been on the table for several days now with the helicopters on flight stands. Every time someone jostled the table and knocked one of the birds over, all the students would cheerily yell "Black Hawk Down!" Now that we've finally reached the point in the narrative where the helicopters are actually shot down, there will be no more yelling.
And I know that it should be "Huey Down!". But hey, at $3 a pop, they look pretty good. And they still sharpen pencils.
In addition to my Military History class, I teach two sections of our standard Freshman history course, which focuses on Revolutions. We spend the year on two case studies: France and Russia. We are nearing the end of our French Revolution unit. Napoleon has become First Consul and has decisively beaten the Austrians at Marengo. While our course focuses on the political and social reforms of the Bonapartist regime, how can I resist talking about the military side of things?
While my main seminar table has been given over to Black Hawk Down, I have set up this hypothetical Napoleonic engagement in the corner of my room. French troops are in the foreground, Austrians in the rear. The Austrians have gone for something out of Frederick the Great's playbook: cavalry on the flanks, with a long line of infantry with artillery interspersed among regiments for support. A column of Landwehr marches to relieve pressure on the Austrian left. In short, the Austrians are deliberate dupes for Napoleon. The French have a strong center with two large assault columns formed. Bavarian allies are on the French left (allowing me to talk about the Empire and spread of nationalism and revolutionary ideas), while a strong reserve of dragoons and cuirassiers await their chance to exploit any breakthrough.
Uh-oh! The Bavarians got caught by cavalry in the open. They quickly form square in response.
The Austrian line waits for the assault columns to appear.
Napoleon assembles his heavy guns into a grand battery to soften the Austrian center up.
Austrian hopes lie in their strong left, with dragoons and a small infantry division hoping to hold out until the Landwehr can provide the weight of numbers.
The last unit in my military history class is modern asymmetrical warfare. As a case study, we read Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, still available in the serial form in which it was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Because the operation described is so complex, and because the reading is so episodic, I decided to lay out the following game table, so we could represent some of the action as it occurred. And yeah, we'll be watching the movie as Christmas draws near and attention spans go down the chimney.
The scene above is the plan as conceived. The D-Boys have yet to drop in, but the Rangers are about to quick-rope into position (only two of the four chalk groups are represented on the table). One student correctly pointed out that one of the helicopters was out of position, and it should be a block to the north. We moved it.
Then we placed the Rangers and Delta team into position. Rumbling in from the south are three Humvees representing the ground convoy. Still to come: mobs of militia and roadblocks galore.
Finally, a student pointed out that the helicopters are not Blackhawks, but rather Vietnam-era Hueys. I explained that gamers are cheap and often use substitutes when they don't feel like chucking down fifteen bucks for a period-appropriate chopper.
While my Military History course has clamored for another round of wargames, I will only tantalize them with dioramas made up of my miniatures which I will use to illustrate aspects of the texts we are reading. Below is a 10mm WWII setup I am using to illustrate the fighting that took place in the Normandy bocage in our WWII unit. An advancing American company, with some armor in support, is about to discover a world of hurt.
The game is over, and it looks like history repeated itself. Last year's simulation followed the course of the battle in terms of where the engagements took place. This year's fight reflected different tactical choices, but the outcome more closely reflected the historical battle. A few local American successes were negated once the British got their act together and destroyed the prongs of the Colonial attack. I'm glad we played one more day. It led to a decisive outcome, and the papers the students will write as part of their debriefing will be able to take the consequences of their choices fully into account.
The Black Powder rules worked well, and the raw beginners were running turns themselves towards the end. I'm glad I was there to referee, though, and I think an umpire would be a great addition even when experienced players are engaged to make snap calls and move things along.
Here on the eastern side of the battlefield, one Continental brigade entirely disintegrated on the last turn. After a blunder, a beleaguered US regiment found itself surrounded on three sides and went down in a blaze of glory. Or musketballs. A militia brigade in support took some early hits and never fully rejoined the fight.
On the west side, the British troops formed an angle and warded off any American attacks. one militia brigade (the "Mel Gibsons") in the center were never able to bring their muskets to bear, stalling out in the center. The girls who led the attacks on the flanks did a lot of damage to their British counterparts, but the red line stood firm, having redeployed the British elites from one side of the battlefield to the other.
All in all, what a great way to apply what we've learned. We lost a few days to Hurricane Sandy, but spirits were high on both sides after this lame effort to engage in my hobby and get paid for it!
This was going to be my last session around the game table. really, it was. But only in the last two turns did the players finally get their troops into a position to attack, and the units started coming off the table in earnest. Germantown Academy students are pretty competitive under most circumstances, and my class has a lot of the best kind of student-athlete: those kids who bring the best lessons off the field into everything they do. They insisted that we play one more class period, so they can better know which side won. Who am I to argue?
The Americans had the advantage in the early go, with the surge that took the Chew House, but the British outmaneuvered the Americans on the west flank, pretty much giving themselves the initiative for the next few turns and forcing the Yanks to play their game. Troop quality started to tell as the maneuver set up local advantages. By this stage late in the game, everyone was pretty much into it, and when Angela saved her artillery with a 1 in 6 break test check, the whole table cheered. Good times.
Gotta love these big Harkness Tables. They make for good seminar roundtables, and even better gaming platforms.
In these late stages, there are two battles going on. The one around the Chew House looked like it was going to go the American way, but a blunder sent two regiments into a hailstorm of musketry. Now the Brits hold the advantage in the area. On the other flank, brigades take turns getting into trouble, but the students are getting the hang of pulling back weak units and replacing them with fresh troops.
The British abandon the Chew House, but pounce upon an isolated American brigade, practically surrounding it and pouring fire into the unlucky regiments. Most brigades on both sides have been battered, and many are rapidly approaching the tipping point.
Christiaan: I am going to wipe you off the map, Angela!
One thing people seem to like or despise about Black Powder is the way in which the entire tide of battle can change with a few lopsided rolls of the dice. On turn 7, the Continental force massing behind the woods was thrown into disarray when a misheard order sent one brigade off in the wrong direction and left the other two confused about where to go next. The British took advantage of the respite and went to the scrum at the Chew House, where a massed American charge finally had driven the stubborn defenders out for good. All of a sudden, five British brigades were closing in on two worn out colonial brigades
Brits and Hessians close in!
The view from the American side. In the firefight to the east of the Chew House, the dice had gone to the Americans. The British elites decided to retire after taking heavy casualties from twice their number of Continentals. This gave the Yanks some time to redeploy to meet the new British assault.
The rest of the Americans finally spring out from behind and around the woods. The British were so intent on their attack that they did not have troops covering their rear, and they had to leave the first American volleys unanswered. Thus far, three British regiments have been lost to the Amricans' one, but the shooting has only really just begun.
Note that if you look very carefully at the pile of junk on my table, you can see a 3 lb. cannonball from our school's archives that was fired in the 1777 Battle of Germantown and was later discovered on our school's grounds. Since I'm the school Archivist, I get to bring it out to play Show'n'Tell.
Someone asked if they could hurl it at their opponent's troops on the game table. I informed them that the damage caused by a cannonball would pale in comparison with what I would do to them if they smashed my minis...
Tension builds as both armies finish their dance and commit to a strategy (come to think of it, forcing the teams to commit to a fifteen minute planning session before troops were deployed would have been helpful. Oh, well. More fun for me this way).
The massed Continental charge finally drives the battered light infantry out of the Chew House. They had done their job, though, giving the grenadiers and Highlanders time to advance to the scene. The militia opposing the British elites made a good showing of themselves, but quality started to show as the leading militia unit routed off the board, and the second is starting to have its line wear thin. The Highlanders are taking their lumps as well, and it will be a test of endurance and will to see who holds the Germantown Pike.
Meanwhile, over by the wood, both sides commit to mass their troops. The Continental army masses three brigades in what looks for all the world like a French attack column. I've been dropping hints to deploy a regiment or two from the rear to add firepower, but none have been willing to abandon the maneuverability the big columns provide. Since I'm not using rules for penetration into dense formations, it's not a bad call on their part. After reading Clausewitz and studying the Battle of Brandywine, they have the importance of not committing everything at once drilled into their heads. Here, you can see a sea of red sweeping around the east side of the woods. Should be fun in the next couple of turns.
Best line of the day: Male British general: "Should I move left or right?" Female British General: "I think you need to come over here and touch me...no! wait! I didn't mean that!"
Two bulk of the two armies continue their slow dance around the central forest. They are creeping closer to each other, and units have moved to within long artillery range. No serious hits so far, but the poo poo may hit the fan in a turn or two. The problem with Black Powder rules is that it is difficult to launch a coordinated multi-brigade attack. Neither force is willing to send in their troops piecemeal, so the dance continues...
On the eastern flank, some crack shooting by the NY Militia devastated the troops holding the Chew House. Washington then committed his best troops to charge the shaken British light infantry. Despite three regiments being committed, the charge did little more than clear the house for a few moments before the Brits were able to reinforce it. Meanwhile, the British elites have moved to within musket range of the militia. Shots have been traded, and as expected, the militia caught the worst of it, but they are far from out of it. Perhaps superior numbers can make a difference.
As promised, here are some closeups of the troops on the table. I consider myself an "average" painter. I am amazed at how good some of the hobbyists who post their work on TMP are, and I realize that I will never be able to approach their standard. However, when I looks at minis I painted 20 years ago, and can with pride look at how far I've come from the days of "basecoat and green balsa bases."
The flag shown in this image has special resonance in our school. We have this flag hanging in our main lobby, a gift from a generous donor. It was the first flag of the Continental army, ordered by Washington at the siege of Boston. If our flag is genuine, it's worth a fortune. I rather suspect that it's a high quality reproduction, though. Still, since I don't know for certain, I can pretend it's genuine.
"Lord Howe, dare we enter the tangled jungles of Pennsylvania?"
"Major, my dog went in there in pursuit of a rabbit. We must follow!"
Washington has committed two of this brigades to reduce the small garrison of light infantry int he Chew House. In the early exchanges of fire, the Light Infantry took a hit, but the stone walls of their makeshift fort are allowing them to buy time for Cornwallis' elite brigade to respond to the sound of the guns.
The remainder of the Continental line is forming to the east side of the woods in the center of the table. This puts a large, challenging terrain feature between the two forces. Will there be a rumble in the jungle, or will one army be able to race around the woods to catch the enemy in the flank?
After three moves, the British army found how frustrating the dice can be. After the first two turns, only one brigade moved out of its starting position. However, on turn three, some quality moves got the Brits off and running. They seem to be concentrating most of their forces in the Wissahickon Valley and in the wooded area in the east bank. Will they be able to deliver a knockout punch, or will the Colonials outmaneuver them?
It's time for my annual miniatures game interactive learning experience with the students in my Military History class. This year, I'm using a new board, new miniatures (the 6mm troops are gone. Enter the 15mm bad boys. See the Continental Army here and the British Army here.)
Here is General Howe surrounded by his subordinate commanders. Note that the Brits oped for a strong central position. It might give them flexibility in responding to an American attack, but a coordinated assault could leave them paralyzed.
And here is General Washington standing bravely behind his brigade commanders. The Yanks have foregone the simple approach up the Germantown Pike and the ill-fated thrust down the west bank of the Wissahickon in favor of a two-pronged attack. the woods in the center of the board are already proving to be an obstacle. We got through one round of American moves. With some crummy rolling, one brigade surged forward to the Chew House, one crept down the eastern flank of the woods, and the other three stayed put. Will history repeat itself?
Tomorrow, the shooting begins! Will the Chew House prove to be pivotal this time around?
Finished up my 15mm Somalis and US Rangers. The project only took about six weeks, and the Force on Force rules only need a few dozen soldiers on each side. I wanted to do a lot of civilian mobs as well, since they seem to be an unfortunately integral part of modern urban combat. My 2'x2' board is crowded with the buildings I made and/or painted, which is good as the parts of Mogadishu where the events surrounding the "Black Hawk Down" incident were a real tangle of houses (check out Google Maps if you don't believe me). I just need to do some road blocks and debris markers, which should be fun.
Yep, those are Vietnam-era Hueys rather than Black Hawks. Deal with it. They're pencil sharpeners I got off eBay for about $1.50 each. They painted up pretty nice, if I say so myself.
As always, click to enlarge and thanks for visiting.
The cheapo buildings I made from foamcore and painted with textured spraypaint blend in surprisingly well with the resin building I got from JR Miniatures. They're a little bigger, but the mix of sizes and styles looks right to me.
Here come the Rangers, escorting one of their Humvees. I have not decided yet whether my Somali buildings need the Minwax/varnish treatment. It looked really good on my WWII buildings, but I don't want to chance the loss of the gleaming white walls on the mosque and a few other stucco buildings. Furthermore, I worry about the minwax stain pooling on the flat rooftops.
Don't mess with technicals. Speedy little insurgents, ain't they.
Anyhow, this setup is not a game I intend to play. I'm new to Force on Force, and I think my first scenario is going to be much, much simpler.
A huge thank you to reenactor Eric Turner, who offered to talk to my Military History class about the life of a Revolutionary War soldier. Although it was too rainy to go out to the fields and see black powder in action, the students got to learn about everything from the best way to prepare salt pork to the nasty types of wounds created by bayonets and musket balls.
I recently picked up a copy of Force on Force with an eye towards gaming a "Black Hawk Down" scenario. I've already made a bunch of foamcore buildings, and I like the fact that most scenarios are played on a 2x2 board.
I finished up my first batch of US and Somali infantry. The manufacturers are Peter Pig and Rebel Minis. They scale nicely together, although the Peter Pig civilians look waifish next to the combatants. No wonder the UN needs to get food aid into Somalia!
I recently read a tip on TMP to indicate support weapons with a green tuft. I was all too happy to rip off this idea. Furthermore, I indicated squad leaders with white pebbles. Let's call it "bookless bookkeeping."
The colors in the US camouflage came out well, but I would have preferred a more faded look. Maybe I should leave them in direct sunlight for a few hours.
The civilian figures range from "people just standing around" to "angry rioters with chainsaws and looted televisions." Put enough on a base, and you have a party!
It was overcast and chilly, not quite as foggy as it was on the morning of the actual Battle of Germantown, but otherwise it was a fine day for an attack on the Chew House. With my daughter in tow, I attended the annual reenactment of the Battle of Germantown today. Always a great time, with lots to do for the kids and enough loud noises to make my ears ring for a week.
Below is my fellow TMPer Eric Turner, representing the 1st New Jersey. He has very generously agreed to speak to my Military History class when we do our AWI unit.
Just before the big boom. Enough to shake your dental work loose. I shudder to think what a battery of larger field pieces with full charges would have sounded like. The audience cheered when a round of cannister took out five redcoats right in front of where my daughter and I were sitting. The British officer theatrically turned around and admonished us "I'll have you know that they were good lads. Every last one of them." Yeah, buddy. But we're Philadelphia fans. You're lucky there's no snow on the ground.
Hessians and Grenadiers. Oh, my!
The assault on the Chew House begins. I thinks its amazingly cool that they're able to stage this reenactment on the very ground where the battle was fought. I had always thought that the hideous lawn sculpture should be removed, but apparently they were there in 1777. So. All right then.
Lots of carnage this year. Abut half of the Continental army became casualties. The woman next to me was the wife of a reenactor. At one point she told her child, who was sittinng with my daughter "Oh, look. I think your daddy is going to survive today...Oh, wait. There he goes. Too bad." Man, those military wives are tough.