The Raft Lookout

Welcome to another installment of the Lookout, my overview of things that caught my eye.

First, a boardgame. The Hunt is a two-player wargame dealing with the WW2 operation leading to the Battle of the River Plate: the hunt for the German “pocket battleship” Graf Spee. The game’s production is currently crowdfunded on the platform gamefound, but the goal has already been reached, so it will be produced. The game looks very good and I’ve heard good things about a previous game by the same designer. I like that it is card driven and that the German player’s movement is hidden from the British player, which should provide for a dramatic cat-and-mouse game. It is also inexpensive, so I decided to back it. If you are also interested, there are still nine days left to back The Hunt: https://gamefound.com/projects/saltandpepper/the-hunt

Staying with the naval topic, Sam Mustafa has published a new set of naval miniature wargaming rules called Nimitz. They promise to deliver a quick and uncomplicated game of surface actions, but also include a campaign system that deals with planes, submarines, searching and similar, more complex stuff. As I think that, with naval wargames, a campaign context is much more important than with land wargames, I’m certainly intrigued by an integrated campaign system. I got the rules two weeks ago, but only had a very superficial look into them. The first impression was that they are a bit more granular than David Manley’s Find, Fix and Strike, which might make them more suitable for smaller actions. Although Sam Mustafa has provided ship lists for the most important fleets, there are none for the Spanish Civil War, so I’ll devise them myself. I’ll also paint up more of my Navwar WW2 ships – I went a bit on an ordering spree in December, as they are just so cheap, so I have a lot of them lying unpainted in a box…

Sellswords & Spellslingers is one of my favourites and also one of my most played games. However, although I have played a campaign or two, many of my recent games have been one-off affairs. Recently, Ganesha Games have published two campaigns for Sellswords: a short one, containing six scenarios, called Night of the Assassins, and a much more elaborate one, Close Quarter Battles. The latter is set in a city that sounds very much like Lankhmar, which is a welcome coincidence as I have recently been in the mood for some Fritz Leiber stories. It seems to have a narrative that offers more choice to the players than the usual linear campaigns that are the standard for those kind of games. I bought the book in the hope that I will be able to rope some of my mates into playing the campaign – between them, Sigur and Virago have enough fantasy buildings to recreate the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes with ease…

My Gaming Year 2022

This was definitely the year of naval wargaming. If you add up all the naval wargames in my BGG statistic, they are at the top of the list with 18 gameplays.

In April, I suddenly had the urge to re-visit the 1/300 American Civil War ships I had prepared for a one-shot game years ago. Thanks to my 3D-printer, I added lots of new ships, mainly from East Coast Ironclads. At first I played my modified Galleys & Galleons rules, but from the second game on I started to tinker and by the fourth game, I was starting to create my own rules (I still logged them under Galleys & Gallons on BGG, because there is unfortunately no possibility to log games that are not in the database). I invited a couple of friends for playtesting (thanks to Sigur, Virago, Stephan and of course my wife K. for their feedback!) and, in the end, had something I was actually happy with. It needs some further development, but I’d really like to publish them in one way or another (probably as a low-cost pdf on wargamevault) this year.

Steamboats on the Mississippi.

However, the road into naval wargaming led me beyond the ACW and, after some reading, to the First Sino-Japanese War. I painted two fleets and K. and I started a campaign (which I’d like to finish this year). I then discovered that there were naval actions during the Spanish Civil War and promptly painted a Republican and a Nationalist fleet. From there, an interest in the mediterrean theatre during World War 2 developed, and I ordered even more ships, this time for the Italians and British. Virago, who has a long-time interest in naval aviation, offered to paint up some 1/600 aircraft, so I hope we can play a small campaign this year.

Ironclad action in the First Sino-Japanese War.

Next up on the list (actually in the first position if you don’t count naval wargames as one item) is a game my wife gave me for my birthday, namely Race for the Galaxy. This really is great fun and as you can see we played it a lot. This is also one of the rare games where I tend to win more often than not.

I also did a lot of role-playing this year. I started a Traveller campaign with my virtual group and had a lot of fun with world-building and running the games. I’m really happy about this group – it already existed before COVID and is an opportunity to spend time with friends living in other parts of Europe. And when I was a bit burned out DMing, Jan took over with a fabulous short Shadowrun adventure set in Germany.

De Bellis Napolenicis was another one of my rules-tinkering projects. At the beginning of the year, I started a 6mm napoleonics project and decided to use DBN for rules. I wasn’t completely happy with them and developed my own; however, this attempt at game design produced a decidedly mediocre result, so I abandoned it after a couple of play-tests.

Napoleonic action with 3D-printed 6mm figures.

Spirit Island is also a game I bought this year, mainly because my wife was interested. She also was the driving force behind playing it. I also like it, I think the theme and its implementation is great and it offers an interesting cooperative challenge.

Another recent newcomer is Undaunted: North Africa. I bought it just two weeks ago and we both like it very much, so this will see more plays next year.

The second scenario of Undaunted: North Africa.

At the beginnig of autumn, I was in a bit of a bad mood and behaved like a jerk, moaning that “no-one wants to play the games I want to play”. Keeping a statistic such as this is a useful tool to prove oneself wrong. It’s abundantely clear that I played a lot of games I like and that my friends are very indulgent – they even play-tested my not always exciting game ideas. And we had a lot of fun together, the highlights being the summer event racing game and my birthday game of Sharp Practice. So, sorry guys for being a jerk, I really enjoy all our games together and I hope that we will play many more!

My bad mood was partly a result of my working life, which was a mixed bag, with one huge exception: I started to teach at the Viennese University of Applied Arts at the department of Experimental Game Cultures. I started with a course on Innovations in Tabletop Gaming and I’m now running a course on game mechanics. This is hands down one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had – the students are curious, open and enthusiastic and the atmosphere at the department is incredibly welcoming. I really hope to be able to continue teaching there.

Modifying Malefiz in a game design session.

What is in store for 2023? I’m not really into making big plans, as I know that my interests can change at any moment. If pressed, I’d say that I’d like to publish something, either my ACW naval rules or the Star of Bravery campaign rules (perhaps even both). I’d also like to play a WW2 naval campaign set in the mediterranean, something that might get another motivational push when Sam Mustafa’s recently announced new naval rules come out. I also hope we’ll have another summer event – meeting a large number of good friends to have a day of gaming really is one of the highlights of my year. The Traveller campaign will also continue, at least until I run out of ideas, but then I’m sure someone else will take over as a GM. More Sharp Practice would be nice (I think I needed a bit of a break this year, but I start to miss it…). At the moment, I’m strangely enough again in the mood for some 6mm napoleonics, so I’ll try out Drums and Shakos Large Battles (and perhaps Bl├╝cher).

Oh, and I also want to post much more regularily on here, so I hope you will drop by occasionally. You might find a new post for a change!

It’s Been a While…

… since I last published something on here. I can’t say there’s a special reason, I just seemed to have lacked the mojo to write. But I really intend to reinvigorate the blog, especially now that I have left Twitter (you can find me on Mastodon, though, at tbrand@mastodon.wssmagazine.com).

I actually played a great variety of games this year. After my foray into 6mm napoleonics, which petered out because I couldn’t find rules I was happy with (this might have changed recently, though), I was bitten by the naval bug. I started printing, building and painting 1/600 ACW ships and developed my own rule-set, which according to playtesters is actually fun. I had quite a number of games with several people, the highlight being the Battle of Memphis when my mate Stephan visited from Sweden.

I also had the traditional birthday game, where I invited my mates Virago, Sigur and Martin for a large game of Sharp Practice. The scenario was based on the historical raid on Little Washington, N.C., in 1862. It was great fun and I finally had the opportunity to use the ship I built ages ago!

The big event and the real highlight, however, was our traditional summer gaming event. This time, our very own “Bernie Orclestone” Virago pulled all the stops and presented us with an assortment of fantastic bolides in the form of various 28mm chariots. Sigur also threw in his collection and we had a chaotic, wild and fun racing game! Sigur also wrote a great report on the Grand Prix of Monte Chaoso: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2022/07/the-grand-prix-of-monte-chaoso/

In autumn, Sigur invited me to for a game with his impressive 30 Years War collection. We played the Battle of Herbsthausen:

I also branched out with the naval stuff. First I painted fleets for the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and started a campaign with K., then I became interested in the 20th and assembled fleets for the Spanish Civil War and for WW2.

So, a lot of very diverse projects, and it feels like this won’t change soon. At the moment, I have difficulties concentrating on one topic or period – Last week, I had a sudden urge to play ACW, so I invited Sigur for a game of Drums and Shakos Large Battles.

This is a napoleonic ruleset from the Ganesha Games stable which, with some modifications, works very well for the ACW. We both like it and it might be the answer to my search for rules to use with my 6mm napoleonic, so of course I got the urge to do something in this direction… At the same time, I want to continue with the naval stuff, as Virago is also very interested and has volunteered to paint 1/600 airplanes for a campaign set in the Mediterranean.

Of course I also played other games, but more on those in my end-of-the-year post. I really hope that I will be motivated to update the blog more often. Let’s keep fingers crossed!

I wish all of you Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you might celebrate! Enjoy the festivities!

WATU: The Book, the Movie, the Game

WATU stands for Western Approaches Tactical Unit. This was an organisation of the Royal Navy tasked with developping and teaching anti-submarine tactics for convoy escorts during the Second World War. A recent book by Simon Parkin, titled A Game of Birds and Wolves, presents the fascinating story of this think tank.

There are several remarkable things about WATU. First of all, under the command of Cmd. Gilbert Roberts, they used war games to analyse, develop and teach tactics. Those games were played on the floor with model ships, with the ships’ commanders being stationed behind curtains so they could only see a small portion of the playing surface. They also couldn’t see the U-boats, whose courses were marked in a colour that was invisible from further away – quite an ingenious means of restricting information.

Another remarkable thing was that Wrens – women belonging to the Women’s Royal Naval Service – played a central role at WATU. They not only plotted the courses of the ships, but many of them also played themselves, taking on the roles of U-boat commanders or escort commanders. They became very proficient in the game and often played against Navy commanders who came to WATU to learn the new tactics.

Parkin’s book tells this story in a lively and dramatic way. Concentrating on the persons, he highlights the essential role of Wrens for the success of British anti-submarine tactics. He also stresses the importance of games as a means of analysis, innovation and communication. Highly recommended!

Coincidentally, when reading the book I also stumbled upon the new Tom Hanks movie Greyhound. K. and I decided to watch it and we were both pleasantly suprised. Nowadays, we watch almost no movies – most of them are too long, too loud and too corny (maybe we are just getting old). This one, however, had a sensible length (only 90 minutes), with the pleasant effect that it told a condensed and straight story, concentrating on the actions of the commander, played by Hanks. The only weak point was the uber-villanious U-boat-commander sending threatening messages to the convoy – a rather stupid contrievance that had no relevance for the plot. Still, all in all it’s a movie I’d recommend if you like naval stuff.

All of this made me consider gaming convoy actions. Fortunately, indefatigable naval wargames rules writer Dave Manley is already working on a solo game where the player controls a convoy escort ship. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at defending a convoy from dastardly U-boats!