Monday, March 10, 2014

Charlie Don't Surf After Action Report

Last weekend we got a chance to run through the Battle of Hoa Tan using the Charlie Don't Surf rules. For this game we had four platoons of Americans assault the South of the village and the adjacent terraced rice paddies.

I was able to obtain some very nice maps from a Charlie Troop website and it's webmaster, who kindly sent me a copy of the real battle's after action report. These allowed us to have a good order of battle and orient the game. The map shows how two of the platoons proceeded. In our game we also included the other two platoons and told the players they had to sweep the village and also relieve a reaction force on the paddies.

I had envisioned the Americans splitting into two groups to tackle the village and paddies simultaneously. I also imagined the NVA setting up bunkers and snipers to blunt the force of the American advance early on. Of course, neither happened. The Americans swept up the Eastern half of the board en masse and the NVA player committed whole platoons piecemeal into face to face firefights. The encounter was a bit of a rout for the NVA, even more so than in history.

Maneuver with Blinds
Largely I blame my game parameters for the scope of the rout. Next time I'll mandate that the American players split their forces as was done historically. I'm also going to take the NVA players aside and offer some tips that the actual participants would have been aware of. A time limit may also encourage the American player to move more quickly and take some risks.

Captain Shrader in the Air
On the whole we were happy with the rules. They are fundamentally sound. Full strength American squads will completely outgun their opponents in a face to face encounter. The NVA and VC can avoid such encounters and concentrate on ambush, sniping, and fire from cover. Helicopters can be very effective but become bullet magnets and if they are shot down get the NVA huge amounts of political victory points. Overall the rules reward historically accurate behaviour. Further, the political victory points encourage the Americans to limit casualties and evacuate the wounded whenever possible.

My table setup was a fair success as a test of concept. I'll need to mark out field boundaries better and set up the hedges with more space in between. The trees with pins at their bases stood up perfectly. That technique is going to be heavily used in the future. The board now needs to be coloured in varying shades of green, flooded rice paddies added, and the field boundaries marked.  I was able to find some amazing colour photos taken before the battle and they have been invaluable in designing the board.

Perhaps the only real criticism to the event is in relation to how the rules are written. As with many of the Too Fat Lardies products, the concepts are sound but the writing and editing lend themselves to long minutes trying to sort out specifics. I think these rules are the best on the market for the period and scale and I would recommend them to anyone with an interest, but I do wish TFL would bring in an editor.That aside, though, I'm looking forward to finishing the terrain and giving the game another go.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Little Trees, Fresh as a Breeze

My Vietnam game is set in a lush seaside valley full of rice paddies and trees. Most of the trees I own are completely unsuited for south east Asia so it was clearly time to get more terrain. Unfortunately I am struggling to do the project with some kind of financial restraint and a forest of miniature trees can be very expensive.

A Package From China!
As my wife is aware, when confronted with expense, I use schemes I have learned on the internet to save money and finish my projects. That's what I was doing when I used a power sander in the living room on insulation board. I was saving money when I burned through three cans of spray paint in on un-ventilated basement. Thrift was tops in my mind when I used her bread knives to saw through insulation board (a different project, more insulation board though) and her colander to dry lead figures washed in bulk. That being said she was very excited to learn I was going to buy a forest of tiny trees from China via eBay. I had read on The Miniatures Page that this was a good idea and the advice of an anonymous stranger on a web forum is good enough for me!

Amazingly enough my trees arrived quickly and were exactly perfect for the job. The colors are appropriate for Vietnam and at roughly 6-10mm scale the detail is fine. For a week I kept on re-examining them waiting for the punchline. Would they melt? Are they radioactive plastic trees? Illusions? Nope, they were perfect for the project and very affordable.

Awaiting flocking on the trunk base
Happily there was still opportunity for disaster and mess making in the house. The trees were supplied without bases and had to be somehow affixed to the play surface. The trunks are so very tiny that gluing them to bases would not be very durable. The trunks are also too thin to be drilled and have pins placed inside. I came up with a scheme without the internet this time. I took 17mm pins and clamped one end around the bottom of each tree. Now the trees can be pinned into a foam based mat and removed when the game is over. The clamped pin is pretty secure but I am placing a drop of white glue on each and then adding some flock. The result is stronger and the pin will be invisible.

Considering my record of disastrous goof ups and project malfunctions I'm very pleased with my trees. They were cheap, they look good, and they should do the job!

Break Time From Serious Projects

This Valentine's day my wife got my son perhaps the most awesome gift he has ever received. Two wooden catapults that you can build yourself. There are also some stickers and paper targets of evil knights and dragons. The brand here in question is Boy Craft, which while it offends my progressive sensibilities does pretty perfectly describe these cool toys. I had to settle for building bird houses and macaroni pictures as a kid. Or Pinewood Derby cars, which I really botched. If I had been offered catapults I would be one hundred times more crafty today.

My son built the catapults with minimal help from me. The instructions were clear, the pieces all fit together well and with minimal fiddling, and it even included a tube of wood glue. After some time spent waiting for glue to dry and stickers to stick we were ready to start flinging things around the house.

There really is nothing that is not suited as a catapult target. Chairs, books, people's legs. We could fling apple pieces to the chickens. We could fling cookie pieces into each other's mouths. So picking a target is a win-win endeavor. But if you are looking for a particularly fun time, try building a tower out of blocks, stocking it with guards, and then blasting away with small stones. We made our tower as tall as possible, with lots of Astro Guards perched on precarious landings and balconies.

Here we can see the progression of the tumultuous siege of Fortress Astroman. This was a good forty five minutes of stone flinging but in the end the catapults were victorious and the crew headed off for dinner. Of course I forgot to take a picture of the final ruins of the tower, we were too excited at the time. Flinging things around the living room and knocking down towers is an afternoon that's hard to beat.