Blood Red Skies – Carrier searching

This post covers our search rules for the Blood Red Skies campaign. These are key to getting the right ‘historical’ feel to a carrier vs carrier action because of the importance of locating the enemy and the uncertainty involved. Working off some real world historical events, we wanted to include:

  1. Going after the wrong target. At the Battle of the Coral Sea, both sides sent strikes at what they believed were the enemy fleet carriers, but the IJN hit a US oiler, and the US planes struck the light carrier Shoho. This is reflected in the rules by dummy ‘location fixes’ – if you attack one of them, you are heading for disappointment.
  2. The chance of a strike failing to connect with its target. At Midway most of Hornet’s strike force failed to locate the enemy. The rules mean that even if you strike the right target, you have to make a roll based on your bomber leader’s skill, and the number of ‘fixes’ you have, to actually attack the enemy carrier.
  3.  Aircraft starting to run low on fuel and deciding how much longer to keep looking. At Midway some of the aircraft had to ditch because they had spent too long trying to find the enemy before turning back. If you fail the roll in #2 above, you can decide to ‘push it’ and re-roll, but you may lose some of the returning aircraft.

    The USN oiler Neosho – initially identified as a carrier…

The uncertainty for both sides was also paramount. Neither side was completely sure whether either they had found the enemy, or whether their own position had been identified.

We stuck with the basic 3×3 grid from Ken’s rules, although in ours, all 9 squares are searchable locations representing the area where the enemy carrier is expected to be. At the start of each campaign day, each player secretly chooses a location for their carrier and writes it on their game sheet.

To determine the search success, each player has a pack of cards. Separate out all the diamonds and keep five of them. The other diamonds are not used in the game. Of these five diamonds, each player selects two to be dummies, and notes down their numbers. The three remaining diamonds are added to six random cards from the rest of the deck. This is the ‘correct square’ pile, containing three ‘location fixes’ and six ‘nothing founds’. The remainder of the pack (33 assorted non-diamonds plus two diamond ‘dummy location fixes’) is the ‘incorrect square’ pile.

Part of game sheet

Aircraft with multiple crew (generally the bombers) can then be used to search for the enemy carrier. All aircraft are allocated on the game sheet, which also includes CAP etc. They have enough fuel to search a map square for two turns of an hour each, and they can move to an adjacent square for their second turn of searching. You call out the squares that your aircraft are searching, and the enemy player gives you a card from either the ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ pile as appropriate (keeping secret which pile the card has come from). You don’t know if the ‘location fixes’ you find are real or dummies, and he doesn’t know if you’ve found anything yet. To simplify the game play, the pilot skill is not taken into account for the searching (as in Ken’s rules).

Once you have one or more location fixes, you can launch a strike. One is risky, two is adequate and three is ideal. The turn of your strike, you reveal which square you are attacking and how many ‘fix’ cards you have. You roll dice to locate the target – one dice for each skill level of your best bomber pilot, plus two dice for each location fix. If you get one 6, you have found it but the enemy player will get to reposition it during deployment, if you get two 6s, then it will be smack in the middle of the table. If you get no 6s then you can either return to your home carrier or go for a re-roll, but this will require pilot skill checks for returning aircraft, even if the second roll is also unsuccessful. Assuming you locate something, then enemy player will then reveal whether the location fixes were real or dummies.

Location fixes can also be obtained by other means – you get a ‘free’ one if your carrier is attacked, because the attacking aircraft will tend to give away the enemy position. Some of the carrier doctrines can also be used – for example ‘Submarine’ allows you to search a square each turn without aircraft.

In the next post I’ll cover the CAP and deployment.

Blood Red Skies Carrier Campaigns

We’ve discovered that our favourite way to play Blood Red Skies, the Warlord WW2 aircraft game, is in carrier vs carrier campaigns. We started off with Ken Natt’s “Bath Tub” carrier campaign and have added a load of our home brew rules on top – this describes our combined rules.

Each player has a carrier and about 6 fighters and 12 bombers, and a campaign comprises of typically 3 to 5 games of Blood Red Skies – about a day’s play in all. The players have to allocate their aircraft to search out the enemy carrier and then launch strikes to destroy it, while simultaneously defending their own. A carrier can be sunk in a single attack, so every game feels important and tense. There are a multitude of competing priorities so players have to make complex decisions that align with the real world situations. Do you send your the aircraft that are now ready on their own, or do you wait to launch a larger strike? Do you send your fighters to protect the bomber strike, or do you hold them back to protect your own carrier? Do you keep arming your aircraft on the deck so they are ready to attack, or do you launch them to prevent an enemy bomb setting the whole lot ablaze?

In wargaming it’s always difficult to get away from the chess style scenario where two equal and equivalent forces slog it out. Historical situations tend to be much more asymmetrical but that’s hard to turn into a satisfying game. In these, you get all sorts of different sizes and shapes of game, but set within the larger context of the campaign, they are still interesting, and the chance that a lone torpedo might hit home means that the underdog can snatch a victory.

We start by picking our forces. Each player has 1500 points (a typical BRS game is 500 points). They can spend it on fighters, bombers and carrier doctrines, there are no maximums or minimums because they arise naturally. You could only buy fighters, but then you could never win because you couldn’t damage the enemy carrier. You could only buy bombers, but unescorted bombers have little chance of success. The carrier doctrines represent specific aspects of different nation’s tactics and equipment – armoured decks, radar, AA cruiser escort etc. Points are based on the BRS standard ones, but we’ve tweaked them slightly to better represent their value in these campaigns.

Next step is to put your carrier into a square on a 3×3 grid, and allocate your aircraft. The allocations are marked on a sheet, so neither player knows what the other one is doing. To be used to search, an aircraft must have at least two crew, so suddenly the Fulmar (which is frankly a rubbish fighter) starts to make a bit more sense. Each turn represents an hour, and aircraft can search for two turns. We use a pack of cards to add uncertainty into the search. Each player has a ‘correct deck’ with a number of ‘location fixes’ and an ‘incorrect deck’ – mainly ‘nothing found’, but with a few false positives. Their opponent calls out the squares they are searching (a bit like Battleships), and they get a card from either deck, depending on whether it’s the right square or not. You don’t know if your opponent has received a ‘fix’ or a ‘nothing found’, even if they are searching the right square. Once you have at least one ‘location fix’, you can launch a strike, but if you have only one,  your planes might well not find the right target, or will expend too much fuel searching – the fixes from ‘wrong squares’ are dummies that will result in a wasted strike. Better to get another fix, but that will take longer. You could divert more aircraft into the suspected square, but then the other player will know you are on to him as the air activity intensifies. With two fixes, you’ve got a good chance of your strike being on target. Three is better, but can you afford to wait? With half your aircraft out searching, you might not have much to launch a strike, and there is the risk that your enemy might find you first.

Once a strike is launched, the attacking player rolls to locate the enemy. The roll is based on how many fixes you’ve got and the skill of your senior bomber pilot. If you are unlucky or are attacking one of the dummy locations, then you might find nothing, and have to return to base for the lengthy cycle of landing and rearming. If the roll is failed, you can choose to keep searching, but your planes will be running out of fuel, and you risk losses on the way home.

Assuming you locate the carrier, and there are available defenders then a Blood Red Skies game is fought on the table. The defender can bring any planes on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and also scramble any available on deck, including using bombers in a last ditch attempt to protect the carrier. The carrier can take three damage points, but a single torpedo can do two if you are unlucky, and special damage can occur, such as fires or hull breaches that limit your carrier’s ability to fight and can even cause additional damage.

Fighter losses are typically light – the attacker won’t have many escort fighters and often they will be expending most of their effort in outmanoeuvring and disrupting the attacking fighters rather than actually shooting them down. It’s much more dangerous for the bombers – losses are typically one to two thirds of the attacking force, but it’s all about the hits on the enemy carrier. You might lose all your bombers, but if you get a couple of hits in, that’s a victory.

In the next post, I’ll go into more detail of the rules.

 

Dirt track road for WW2 Normandy campaign

Two Churchills about to get a nasty surprise

I’m planning a WW2 Normandy campaign using the Crossfire ruleset, and I’ve been collecting up the required models and scenery.

Last week I made some dirt track roads, which were surprisingly successful in that they were very quick, very cheap and look great. Altogether there’s about 8ft – enough for most layouts. They could be used for anything from 15mm up to about 28mm without looking odd.

First I cut up an old bit of hardboard into 2″ wide strips with a jigsaw. Then I cut off the edges at a roughly 45 degree angle with a sharp knife. These were deliberately a bit irregular and jagged. To texture the roads, I used “Decorators’ Caulk”, which is a rubbery gap filler sold in a tube for a sealant gun. I was a bit worried that this might cause the hardboard to warp, so I smeared it on very thin with an old credit card, and then roughed it up a bit with my finger. Each section used about a small teaspoonful. I also scratched in a few wheel ruts, mainly with my finger nail. The longer sections were left to dry with something heavy pinning down each end, to reduce the chance of warping.

They were then painted with brown emulsion, drybrushed with a cream coloured emulsion (1/2″ brush) – I deliberately put more on centre to give it more visual interest. The sections were finished off with static grass at the edges. In total they probably took less than two hours from start to finish.

Close up of road texture

 

DBA Roman vs Gauls

Gallic vs. Marian Romans

we had another game of DBA yesterday evening depicting Caesar’s invasion of Gaul. I ended up playing the Gallic force while Aidan took the Romans. The Romans were again on the defensive as the Gauls launched a sudden attack aiming to crush the core of the Roman army.

The Roman Army

Caesar himself was guarded by a formidable line of 8 blade units. It would take a fanatical charge to break through these heavy infantry, made especially hard as the supporting psiloi will boost the blades to +6 on a D6 against warband.

Figures appear from the darkness…

A large hoard of Gallic warband begin to materialise. They have a major disadvantage in the opposed roll against the blades but will kill a unit of blades by only beating them rather than having to double their opponents as the Roman do. These warband fought in double ranks boosting them to +4 against the Romans’ +6, still at a disadvantage but a large improvement over +3. The main threat for the Romans would be having their line split up. If this happened, the warband could make use of flank bonuses to rapidly shred through the blades.

Gallic cavalry flank the Romans

To start the attack, the Gauls quickly moved up their large numbers of cavalry, catching the Roman cavalry in a pincer movement and destroying them. This left Caesar himself exposed on the flank and at risk from suffering the same fate. The legionaries moved in to protect Caesar, causing the enemy cavalry to back off.

Frenzied warband charge the Romans

At this point the two lines clashed as the Gallic forces aimed to break through the much longer Roman line. The results were less than impressive with every single unit of warband being repulsed and the psiloi that were left to join their flank sent fleeing from the oncoming legionaries.

An unsuccessful attack

The warband fought on another turn but were again pushed back by the Roman legions. The warband were lucky not to have had any units lost but were still failing to make a breakthrough.

Gallic cavalry manoeuvre away from enemy blades

At this time the Gallic forces rolled 5 PIPs which allowed them to re position their forces. The cavalry on their right flank retreated from the legionaries and looped around to face Caesar’s cavalry. One unit was also able to close the door on the enemy general’s flank, meaning any failure on his part would mean death and the loss of the battle. While being on equal terms at +3, Caesar’s cavalry were able to push back the Gallic horsemen. The Roman army would fight on for now.

Gallic warband begin to falter

The next turn, disaster struck the warband as the blades finally managed to double and defeat a warband unit. This caused the loss of 2 Gallic units as the rear rank was supporting the warband at the time it was killed. The Gauls managed to avoid complete collapse by using their superior speed to quickly bring their second rank to the front, stopping the formation becoming flanked by the blades. At this point the Gallic line had retreated so far they were in serious danger of colliding with their own psiloi who had fled on the first round of combat.

The breakthrough!

As the warband fell back again another unit was killed, bringing them within 1 more loss of having their force break. Despite this, a stroke of luck allowed them to finally defeat a unit of enemy blades, the Roman line was now in a perilous position. While collapse seemed imminent for the legionaries, a fateful roll of 6 vs 1 allowed the now isolated blades to defeat another warband just as the line broke next to them. This caused the Gallic army to rout and secured victory for Caesar’s legions.

DBA 2nd Punic War

Carthaginians vs. Polybian Romans

After a very long pause, Aidan and I are finally back to playing some games of De Bellis Antiquitatis. Our first significant game was set in the 2nd Punic War between Carthaginians and an army of the Roman Republic. We diced for sides and I ended up playing the Romans. The Carthaginians began the game as the attackers with both sides lined up fairly evenly against each other.

The Carthaginian Army

The Carthaginian army relies on a large mix of units. A small number of auxilia (Ax) and spears (Sp) can fight off most light infantry while the elephants (El) and warband (Wb) are the troops most effective at breaking through the powerful Roman lines. A small amount of mixed cavalry including the general can also be used to skirmish with the enemy. It is critical this commander is kept safe as the battle is lost as soon as he falls.

The Roman Army

The Roman Army is made mainly of blades (Bd) that formed a solid line across the centre. The blades are capable of defeating almost any infantry toe-to-toe and can be supported with lighter psiloi (Ps), allowing them to fight against mounted opponents with reasonable success.

The Roman command advance on the flank

Like the Carthaginians, the Roman general was mounted on horseback and immediately began to move around the side to attack the warband which are particularly vulnerable to cavalry.

Light infantry run for the forest!

This could have proved a major threat to the Carthaginian line as being pushed back with an enemy unit directly on a unit’s flank will instantly destroy it. However, with quick manoeuvring, the auxilia were able to make it to the forest. The Roman cavalry would not be able to attack without engaging them in the forest so chose to instead break off the attack.

The two lines clash

The two major forces collided with each other at this point with the warband on the Romans’ left flank and the elephants in the centre. While The Romans were able to kill one unit of warband and drive the other off, they were put in danger as the spears guarding their right flank were lost to the enemy general. This would allow enemy cavalry and spears to sweep around the side of the Romans and decimate their blade line.

The elephants are repulsed

Luckily for the Romans, the Carthaginians rolled only 1 PIP, meaning they could not move enough troops to capitalise on their advantage. At the same time, the blades that were now on the flank drove off the elephants, relieving the pressure on the line.

Roman cavalry race to the rescue

The Romans killed one of the elephants as it returned to battle, leaving a large hole in the Carthaginian line before immediately being set upon by the enemy general. The Roman cavalry shot back across the Blade line, forcing legionaries to dive out of the way as they passed. Despite this, it was clear that they would not make it in time. This would be a fight between the Carthaginian general and the unit of blades that needed to keep the Roman flank secure.

The final blow!

At this point, a lack of PIPs for the Carthaginians had left their warband stranded in the forest while the spears were regrouping at a crooked angle behind the general. On the fateful dice roll, the Carthaginian general was sent recoiling into the side of their own spears, breaking the unit apart. With a third of its units now lost, the Carthaginian army was forced to retreat, leaving a narrow victory for the Romans.

Judge Dredd Fatties

These are a great example of what’s so appealing about using the Judge Dredd universe as the setting for a tabletop game. There’s just years and years of really inventive content that builds the world. In Mega City One, the bored citizens turn to one ridiculous and/or dangerous fad after another to pass the time; one of them is to put on as much weight as possible and then engage in competitive eating contests.

As part of my ongoing ‘Finish a model per day’ effort, these three have just rolled off the production line. They are part of Warlord’s new range and these multi-part resin models are just perfect. Full of character and detail from the little trays of food to the flab bulging over the belly wheels.

The Fatties best game move is to roll forwards on their belly wheels and deliver a crushing close combat attack – something which worked to deadly effect in one of our recent games.

Mega City One Judges

How many judges does it take to stop a Block war? I don’t know but this lot could take down a lot of perps trying. Just finished them – mostly picking out details and doing the bases.

There’s a wide variety of manufacturers and types of judge here. There are 3 from the new Warlord range, one from Wargames Foundry and all the rest are Mongoose. Only the Warlord ones are still in production. For types of judge, there are cadets, a rookie, a psi judge, an exorcist, a sniper, a heavy weapon, two riot judges, a med and a tech. We’ve been playing the new Judge Dredd game from Warlord. It’s written by Andy Chambers, and uses the activation system from Bolt Action. The model count is very small – 10 models a side feels like a pretty large game, so it’s very easy to get started.  Judges are typically double the points of anything else, so there’s almost no way this lot are ever going to get on the table in one go,  but it still feels good to have so many to choose from.

This year I’ve challenged myself with finishing an average of one model per day in 2020. Sounds pretty ambitious, but I think it’s possible, especially with my son pitching in and helping me, and the ready supply of models that are already half done. This batch of 19 has upped the score considerably. I think I’m lagging behind a bit, but not by much.

Back with some Judge Dredd

The blog has been very neglected for some time, for a number of reasons, so I thought I’d try to start posting more once again. As it’s hard to get round to it, I thought the best thing to do was start with some really simple posts and see if I can get it rolling again, so here we go.

A few months ago, Warlord Games brought out a new Judge Dredd game, written by the legendary Andy Chambers. It’s a great system and I’ve played quite a few games since it came out. More of that later (perhaps).

It’s prompted me to start working through a load of Judge Dredd suitable models to use alongside the new official Warlord ones. On the left we have a riot judge from the Mongoose range. He’s about to gum those citizens in place with lashings of riot foam. On the right are some civilians from the Wargames Foundry Street Violence range.

In future posts, you can expect more of Judge Dredd, preparations for BOYL 2020 and maybe even a bit of 15mm WW2 Normandy for those of a more historical leaning. If anybody’s actually reading this, do please comment and it will help motivate me to keep going.

Gorgons

A pair of gorgons that have finally escaped the ‘in progress’ painting tray. The one on the right is a Reaper model – at UK Games Expo they were running a ‘paint and keep’ table. I turned up right at the end of the day, and knocked this out in 15 minutes, which was challenging when almost every part of it was covered in simultaneously wet paint when I wanted to dry brush. Doing the base at home afterwards probably added another 5 or 6 minutes (I do them in batches).

The other one is a Casting Room Miniatures model. Spent a bit more time on this one, with the purplish washes giving a bit more visual interest. Still a quick and serviceable paint job.

Gorgons are a monster in the core Ghost Archipelago book, so there’s a chance they might actually make it into a game too! As with pretty much all my fantasy stuff, they are of course on WFB 3rd edition standard size – in this case 25mm square.

Gaslands Race

We had a simple Gaslands game yesterday for the first time in a while. Our favoured format is as follows.

  • Line up the cars, players take it in turns to choose one (you don’t have to work out points this way, you can just stick on any old stuff).
  • Death race format
  • Lots of zombies randomly placed

Chaos at the starting line

We don’t use record sheets – car weapons are WYSIWYG. Virtually all of them are magnetised so can be easily swapped for a particular set up. The small dice are used to indicate the car’s gear and also team (black or white). The explosion tokens are the number of hazard points. They are stuck to pennies which makes them heavy enough to not get knocked around.

We each had a performance car and these ended up as the race leaders, but I managed to bungle my dice and wipe out at Gate 3. My opponent helpfully pointed me straight at the gate post, although I pulled off a great backwards turn and shifted straight up to gear 3 to stay in the race.

Here you can see the race leader struggling with a zombie who had climbed on to the bonnet and made repeated attempts to get through the windscreen and scoop out the driver’s brains.

This red car powered away to win, although it was an eventful ride – it got hit by a 125mm cannon, zapped three zombies in a single turn with the arc projector and rolled one slide after another to hurtle round the last couple of gates.