Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A break from Gaming-American Flyer Trains

I have been a model railroader most of my life.  The past few years not so much.  In fact, I recently disassembled my N-Scale layout to make room for my gaming.  Miniature gaming is a natural crossover for me as I use many of the modeling and scenery techniques I learned building model railroads in my gaming hobby.

Several years ago I introduced my father to American Flyer S-scale trains when I made a E-bay purchase of an old AF set.  He immediately fell in love with it and shortly after we constructed a sizable layout in his basement.  Since then we have both been acquiring American Flyer rolling stock and accessories with the intent of one day completing the layout. 

My parents are aging and the basement has become more of a storage area for holiday decorations and many items that need to be sorted and disposed.  I know my father still spends considerable time there and likes to run the trains.  Unfortunately the environment is not ideal and the trains do not run as well as they could as the track was not permanently secured.  He has mentioned on several occasions that my brother and I should get together and go through stuff with him and my mother so we can organize better and maybe finish/expand the layout.

We were always adding trains, but never had a completed layout to run them on. Evey year we attend the train shows and get new ideas, but never implement them.  We always talked about plans for finishing it, but other priorities seemed to take precedence. This weekend put an end to the talk.  My father turned 71 this last year so I figured it was time to stop talking about what our plans were for the layout and put them into action so he can enjoy it for awhile.

I took Friday off and with the help of my family and my Brother and Sister in law I put our long talked about plans into action.   I put the finishing touches on the layout and then we all worked on cleaning and organizing the basement.   My parents are currently on the  way home from vacation and have no idea that this was done.

I screwed down all the track, added the shelving (store the trains) applied all the basic scenery, hung the curtains (Hide storage underneath) and we cleaned the basement better than it has ever been since I was a kid. It was a long weekend, but we all felt a good sense of accomplishment.

Shelving added to properly store trains

Shelving on the opposite side

Removed backdrop and added plexiglass to open the view

Curtains hung, thanks to my Sister-in-laws sewing, to hide storage areas

Trains set up ready to run

We still need to do a little painting, but I figure he can have a say in that. Wink   I am thinking about using American Flyer blue and yellow for the exposed bench work/shelving and stenciling an American Flyer themed name.  I will also likely add at least one more level of shelves on each side to allow for a little more expansion.

Now we can work on adding accessories together and enjoy the layout while he relives his childhood with the grandchildren.

Looking forward to seeing my parents reaction when they get home tonight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bolt Action Escalation League

I was recently invited to play in a Bolt Action escalation league at The Labrynth Games in Baraboo, WI.

What is an escalation league you ask?  I asked the same thing.  Basically players start out with a build and add to it as the league progresses from one round to the next.  the key is you can add to your army list, but you cannot take away.  This league started at 500pts and will end with 1250pts.

Round 1-500pts
Round 2 -750pts
Round 3- 1000pts
Round 4-1250pts

The 500pt round had just wrapped up when I joined so I started with a 750pt army.  First I had to build a 500pt army and then add the additional 250pts so I would not have an advantage over other players.

There were already 11 players in the league with 6 allies and 5 Axis, so I chose to go with Germany to even out the Axis vs. Allies playing field. 

My 500pt list included:

Regular 2LT-50pts
Regular Grenadier Squad (NCO w/SMG+5 men, 1 LMG)-83pts
Regular Grenadier Squad (NCO w/SMG +4 Men 1 Assault rifle)-58pts
Regular Grenadier Squad (NCO W/SMG +5 men) -63 pts
Regular MMG-50pts
Regular Pz III J -195pts
499pts Total

I then added to the above to create my 750pt Army:

Regular 1LT +1 man-85pts
VET Grenadier Squad (NCO w/SMG +7 Men, LMG) -127pts
VET Grenadier Squad (NCOw/ Assault rifle, +7 men, assault rifle, LMG)-134 pts
VET Grenadier Squad (NCO w/SMG +6Men W/SMGs) -112 pts
Regular MMG-50pts
Inexperienced Heavy Mortar-46pts
Regular Pz III J-195pts
749pts Total

In each round you are required to play five games with only 1 game per player.  you can play more, but only the first 5 count toward the league score.  The standard scenarios is the book (less top secret) are randomly decided with a die roll.  A win=2pts, draw=1pt and a loss=0pts.  We are playing for pride at this point.

The game boards and terrain are supplied by the store and are generally of very nice quality which makes for some nice visual games.  So far I have had the pleasure to play four games this round and currently stand 2-1-1 with 5 points.

First game was against Tyler U.S. force.  The scenario was Maxim attrition and resulted in my first win as I was able to eliminate two more order die than he did.  It was a well fought game on both sides.  the deciding factor was probably that his American Air severely under performed.  The Pz III was in outflank so the first strike came against one of my VET Squads which wisely went down. As a result he rolled a 2,1,1 on only scored 1 pin.  I was not able to take out the FAO and his second strike came against the PzIII.  This time he rolled a 1 and the air strike bounced back taking out his Medic and pinning 4 of his other units.

First Air strike under performs
Heavy Mortar lays down smoke
VET Grenadiers from outflank tear into Rangers
U.S. Engineers Flame MMG

2nd Air strike results in friendly fire
Pz III attempts to assault large regular squad with 3 pins and the make the morale roll
Daring infantry assault take out MMG

Germans escape with a narrow victory
My second game pitted the Germans against Brian's Italians.  This was maximum attrition again.  It was another extremely close game and at one point the Germans had a the lead.  the deciding factor was the lack of performance from the PzIII against the two Italian light tanks.  Out of five shots the Pz III hit once and failed to penetrate.  The final shot was a point blank range and only needed a 2 to hit, which of course I rolled a 1.  The Italian light AT responded and finally hit setting the Pz III on fire.  I only needed a 8 to save and rolled box cars.  That ended up being game set and match as I had nothing to respond to all the MMGs that the Italian armor carried and he nearly tabled me resulting in a massive Italian victory.

Germans begin the attack in good order

Mortar placed some good smoke and fighting erupted around the ruins
Stand off at close range after three misses.  Italian squad racking up pins
Boom! Deciding shot of the game as the PzIII goes up in flames
In the third game I faced off against Austin's DAK Germans in a training exercise.  This time the scenario was Demolition.  Austin played a good game, but he did not have any armor and his PAK 40 was not able to come on from reserve.  His squads were armed with panzerfausts which kept my PzIII at bay for awhile.  The PzIII was a non factor in the game other than drawing his attention.  When it did come on from out flank it attempted to run down a DAK squad the next turn and he made the morale roll despite having four pins.  The deciding action was a successful assault vs a building that allowed my greatly reduced squad to displace onto the objective after eliminating his full squad in the assault.  Unfortunately I did not get any pics of the actual game other than the table set up which Austin did a great job on making a city scape.

City Scape board
In the fourth game I faced Jordan's American airborne and regulars.  We set up a very nice table with a large church at the center.  Then we rolled maximum attrition for the scenario which did not work real well with all the blocking terrain.  The American howitzer was on one side of the church and my heavy mortar the other both without spotters.  Due to all the hard cover we traded many shots at range which produced many pins, but did not do a lot of damage.  The tank battle that ensued was comical as the PzIII once again proved it needs more time on the range.  Again is 5 shots it only hit once and did not penetrate.  fortunately his Lee did not better with two AT guns a medium, and a light.  In the end he did take out my command team a racked up more attrition pints, but the game was a draw.
Opening moves, lots of LoS blocking terrain
Tanks square off, Pz III missed first of many opportunities
No side could gain a clear advantage and both fired from a distance with minimal results
As it stands now in the 750pt round my Germans have had a decent showing with a 2-1-1 record and one game yet to play.

More to come as the league progresses.

Monday, February 24, 2014

German vs. U.S. Armor Battle - AAR (Bolt Action)

Last night my son and I final played our long awaited armor battle pitting Americans(him) vs. Germans(me).  We set up the table adding a bit more length and played the long way.  I proposed we each place a couple of objectives, but he just wanted to play  the maximum attrition scenario.  Forces were approx 1500pts each.  The Americans had a slight advantage in order dice with ten opposed to the German nine dice to start.

Starting U.S. Forces
Starting German forces-one squad was reduced after this pic so they all would fit in the transports
We rolled off and he chose to start from the end without the buildings fearing the hedges would slow him down.  My tanks moved on to my left so they could see the length of the road and we started trading shots at long range.  He rolled very well achieving many pins on the German armor, but the -1 pen at long range was a determining factor on limiting damage.  In our previous games we had forgot this modifier, and it really makes a difference especially for the lighter American guns.

Initial ranging shots with little effect
The more powerful M10 came up and added an additional Pin to the Panther
The 251/10 with the light AT gun proved ineffective at range
The Panther shook off a pin and hit the lead Sherman resulting in the first kill of the game
The M10 soon suffered the same fate at the hands of the STUG III
As armor targets on the left we dwindling the Germans chose to deploy the Vet Grenadiers from the 251/10 to meet the impending VET U.S. infantry threat.
On the right a Bazooka team came up to threaten the PZ IV, but a German Squad removed the threat with a bold assault
The German infantry would suffer at the hands of the immobilized Chaffe though as it was able to make the order role and decimated them at point blank range
The PZ IV quickly answered though.  The M24 proved tough as it took a hit from the Panzerscheck and two from the PZ IV to finally kill it
The Americans still had some fight in them as they Assaulted and eliminated the Vet Grenadiers
The game went into Turn 7 and it was cleanup time for the German Armor
A lone Sherman remained immobilized at the end of the turn
American Casualties
German casualties-tough day to be a German infantryman

Despite what ended up in a landslide victory for Germany it was a great game as we both had fun.  At least I think he had fun as he was still talking to me afterward and had some ideas for future games.  We both agreed German armor is going to be a tough nut to crack for the Americans.  Tactics will have to change as the Americans need to draw the Germans in closer before engaging to negate the range advantage.  At one point the Panther and the STUG III each had 3 pins and the PZ IV had 2 pins due to a stun hit.  His dice to hit were doing well, but the U.S. Armor just lacked the penetration to knock out the the German tanks.

I do think objectives would have helped balance out game a bit more.  As it was I barely moved my armor once I moved onto the table and had LoS of the majority of the table and he advanced toward me aggressively and was still at long range when the Germans could reach out and touch him without the long range penalty for an extra 1+ turns.  Additionally, I think we will play the width like a standard game with more LoS blocking terrain in the center to encourage maneuver.

In hindsight the Americans would have been better served to take the end of the table with the buildings and keep their armor hidden forcing the Germans to advance and give up the long range advantage.

The game did move along very quickly until the infantry deployed which slowed play up a bit.  We were still done in less than 2 hours which is something we rarely accomplish with a 1000pt game.

More armor in the way of a PZ III, 3rd Sherman, a M3 half track and 251/1 half track are on the bench so I am sure we will revisit another armor battle soon enough.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Company B 28mm Vehicle review

A few weeks ago I was discussing Bolt action with one of my good friends, Mike, and telling him about how much easier it was to paint with my air brush I received for X-mas.  He explained that he was planning a Burma campaign for the upcoming convention season and asked if I might help him with painting a few vehicles.  The next week Mike came up and a "few" vehicles turned into a combination of nine British and Japanese Tanks and trucks.

The vehicles were all from Company B and required assembly.  I had heard about Company B and visited their web store a few times, but had not ordered from them yet.  I figured this would be a good opportunity to check them out first hand and help my friend while I gained experience with the new air brush.

Company B web store:

The vehicles were as follows:

M3 Lee Medium tank x2
M3 "Honey Stuart" light tank x2
Morris 2PDR Porter
Standard Utility 4x2 "Tilly"
Type 95 HA-GO Tankette x2

Complete order prior to assembly
The package comes with a picture of each vehicle, but like Warlord Games no detailed assembly instructions.  Most of the assembly was fairly intuitive and any questions could be referenced to the pictures with a quick Internet search.  I did get stuck on a couple items, but e-mailed Company B and Bruce was very helpful in answering questions and even sent a couple more pics from different angles to help me out.

I was very impressed with the amount of extra stowage that was included with some of the models.

M3 Lee mostly assembled showing all the stowage included
I did find some of the assembly a bit difficult due to the fact that there were not always guided or pegs to line up the tracks as some other models have.  As a result I had the gauge the spacing with the hull and secure the tracks in place while the glue hardened.

Honey Stuarts using rubber bands to secure the tracks
M3 Lee assembly complete
As for casting quality I was initially very impressed with the first M3 Lee I assembled and then noticed that there was some notable variation from one model to the next.  Most of it was simple cleaning up the flashing which is expected with resin and pewter.

The Type 95 Tankettes were a bit more problematic.  The casting quality on these was a bit on the sub standard side in my opinion.  The resin was very thin in spots and the tracks actually had chunks missing and one track was cracked.   Since they were not mine I consulted my friend and we agreed to press on as paint would cover most of it and he wanted these for mid February play testing.

IJA armor during assembly
To be fair we did not give Company B a chance to send replacements, and my guess is they would have based on the interaction I did have.  When I place my first order I request that they take there time and double check each model for casting issues.

Once assembled it was on to painting the part I really enjoy.  My friend gave me artistic license with these.  The tanks were for a Burma campaign so the allied tanks were to be British.  I asked him to send some pics of what he envisioned and then did a web search of my own.  No decals were included and Mike did not provide any.  I asked if he wanted some and he decided to go without for now.  You will also note I did not place the stowage.  This is something Mike will do later if he desires.

I decided to go with the IJA first to get the camo patterns out of the way as we decided the Allied vehicles would all be the same brownish drab.  These were the results:

HA-GO Type 95


M3 Lee

M3 "Honey Stuart"

Porter and "Tilly"

Overall I am happy with the results as is Mike. He already picked up the IJA vehicles as they were completed last week when we gamed together.  I just finished the Allied vehicles this past weekend.

I would give Company B an overall B+ on the quality of the product.  Had there not been casting issues with the IJA Armor it would be a solid A, but due to the inconsistency especially the the IJA tanks would downgrade them .  Granted I did not give them an opportunity to correct the issue, but my feeling is certain items should not make it past initial quality control and should not be left to the customer to have to ask for a replacement.  Either way I would recommend their product line as the scale seems to fit very well with the Warlord Games 1/56 (28mm) stuff I already own.  I certainly plan to order from them in the future.

As I do not consider myself a professional I was not expecting payment for my help other than replacement of materials used.  Mike has indicated that  a Company B order may be in my future.  The M3 Lee while really a European tank certainly is a beautiful model.