Tuesday 29 June 2010

Paddy Griffiths

As some of you already know, Paddy Griffith's died recently.  I can't say I was his best friend, or even a friend, but he was the most influential wargame writer I ever read, and I had the pleasure of playing in several of his games too.  Paddy was a well know military historian who wrote extensively and taught at Sandhurst, here in England.  I know him best as the editor of the Nugget, the house magazine for Wargame Developments, who also run a yearly Conference of Wargamers.  The title of which alone speaks volumes for the groups' sense of humour.

I remember playing at the first CoW I attended in one of Paddy's games, called First Bombing Raid in History.  I volunteered to be the Batman, which was fortunate for the pilot that I was accepted.  Paddy had given players folding bicycles for them to ride, all folded up of course.  Given I’m a keen bicycle enthusiast, a recalcitrant folding bicycle holds no horrors for me, so my fellow team member was able to take to the runway.  The initial take-off was aborted, but fine-tuning allowed a successful second attempt to be made.  Then flak fired at the bicycle/aircraft by having several boisterous lads throw Frisbees at the unsuspecting player.  Much fun was had.

Another game by Paddy was a freestyle role-playing game called the Red Star Express where we had an hour (representing twenty hours) in which to drive our great workers’ express from Moscow to wherever the Revolutionary action was (I was too lowly to be told our destination).  It was a miserable ride with the cook short rationing us and then ripping us off with over-priced vodka.  As the track ganger my job became vital in overcoming the counter revolutionary forces that bedeviled our journey, and I can say with out doubt, or fear of contradiction, that I led the way in patriotic fervour and willingness to face action and do my job under any conditions (by keeping my character totally drunk on vodka).  I was even wounded, by capitalist terrorist fire, but not a word of protest or anguish passed my lips as quietly I waited for medical aid (encouraged to scream my head off by the umpires), which I received from the hands of no lesser person than the Political Commissar (Bob Cordery I think).

A very busy man who had to keep an ever vigilant eye out for subversives and counter revolutionaries, his duties led him to re-educate several firemen who were sabotaging our noble cause.  If more citizens were like this man then the Revolution would be assured and we would not have failed to reach our destination on time.

Another fun game that also managed to teach its participants about an obscure part of history.  That was Paddy's greatest gift, he opened up people's minds to new ideas and ways of thinking.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Downtown Mogadishu 1


I got a bunch of buildings for Xmas from the 15mm range from Fieldworks, which are still awaiting their turn through the Paint-it-Pink workshop. Given that it is now June and they are still in the plastic bags I guess I'll be lucky to get them finished by next Xmas at the rate I'm going.

However, some of the buildings in this post don't appear to be available for sale at this time. Sorry about that, they obviously withdraw and replace models according to sales.

I'm tempted to buy another three of the above building, which is still available, so that I could make a square block using them around a crossroad, or alleyway. All of the buildings in the Fieldworks range come with accessible interiors thorough using removable floors and roofs. The pictures below show how the interior works.

Overall, I think these are pretty neat buildings, and I really must get around to painting them soon.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Clan Jade Falcon


There are two things on needs to know about Clan Jade Falcon. The first is that they are a Clan force, and the second that they are called the Jade Falcons. Please excuse the Black Adder referential joke, but that pretty much sums up what I knew about the Falcons when I acquired some MechWarrior Clan mechs.

As a diehard in the wool (!?) OSR BattleTech player, the Clans have a lot of baggage for me, which is doubly ironic given that I got the chance to write and design the stats for a whole bunch of Clan mech designs on the 3055TRO. However, the rules for MechWarrior clix game focus on combined arms command & control, which means that the disparity in tech between the Clans and the Inner Sphere forces is less intrusive. That is not to say that Clan tech is less superior, as quite frankly I don't know, as I've not played enough games of MechWarrior, or spent enough time taking apart the mechanics of the game to say.

What I will say is that the Jade Falcon "totem" mechs look way cool, which is enough for me at this time.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Yesterdays Heroes of Tomorrow


While what I am about to write largely concerns BattleTech, I feel the arguments are apposite for a large number of wargaming eras.

Though reminiscing is sometimes seen as a sign of old age, when I was a teenager, I use to play tabletop wargames with a friend called Tim. He was very much into the Germans and the SS, and introduced me to the questionable delights of Sven Hassel. Tim use to pretty much beat me every game we played. I started off as Anglo-American, tried playing Germans and ended up fielding Russians. As Stalin said "quantity has a quality all of its own", and furthermore as I saw it then, the Russians has the Josef Stalin heavy tanks. Even so I still lost to Tim and his Tigers, Panthers and assorted special panzers etc.

Just to assuage everyone's sympathy for my string of losses, I did turn it around, and at the end I totally humiliated Tim by defeating him in detail in one long summer afternoon's game on the floor of his front living room. AFAICR we never played again after that. Then Tim got into being a skinhead, and I was a bit of a hippy chick (artistic & highly strung), so we had a natural parting of the ways, which brings me around to the concept of "powering-down" games.

I think it's only natural to want to play the elite units when you begin wargaming. After all, they represent the so called best-of-the-best, and who doesn't want to be associated with the best? After more than 25 years of playing games I also think we tend to move on from this place and start to see that playing the worst-of-the-worst and winning is actually rather rewarding, if a whole lot harder to achieve. So I have found myself intrigued by the challenges of WW1 and the first tanks, which lets face it were a nightmare to operate. I call this process "powering-down", which is the opposite of the tendency to want to have bigger and better, or "powering-up" games via the introduction of better stuff.

While tanks in WW1 were shiney new things that opened up tactical options, they could at the end of the day be rendered inoperative with fire from a battery of heavy machine guns. The same can also be said of the inter-war period tanks when the lessons of WW1 were reflected upon, and the operational doctrines for using tanks were formulated by people like Liddell Hart. What he proposed found itself being used in various theatres of operations around the world, and it became clear that not everyone had learnt the same lessons from WW1, or came to the same conclusions about the role of the tank in future wars as a result.

Like any transitional periods, things can happen that suggest one course, while the reality that was that WW2 really sorted out the sheep from the goats. While people will argue that giant battling robots is rather a silly idea, for a whole heap of sensible reasons, the fact is that conceptually they are no different to the tanks of WW1, except in that theirs is an imaginary role that only the mechs can overcome. If you accept this premise, then we can look at tank development in real wars affects how we game them, and by extension look at what happens when you develop games that try to represent the ultimate war machines in action against each other with tanks and mechs as interchangeable units.

What I have seen from this process is that rules to cover different periods of WW1 or WW2 are different. There are few rules that try to cover both wars, because the "powering-up" that occurred, which in real life means that WW1 tanks are completely outclassed by early WW2 tanks, let alone late war tanks like the Tiger, Panther and King Tiger etc.BattleTech is a set of rules that covers a period of more than 50 years of war, and justifies this through the initial premise that prior to main 3025 period there was technological stagnation. The game background then goes on to posit that in the post Helm data-core renaissance, the in universe realms rediscover the lost technological processes.

That as an assumption for a future universe background is a pretty reasonable place to start, but it then led to further conflict, which has meant that the mechs have become far more powerful by 3075. A bit like the difference between early WW2 and late WW2 tanks, while in the background of circa 3025 we have the WW1 and interwar style mechs. However great this may seem to those players who want to see the universe "powered up" with new weapons and technology, the result is that the nature of the game is fundamentally changed.

New BattleTech is not the same as old BattleTech, even though the core rules remain largely the same, and it's all down to stuff that has been added to the game to "power-up" the mechs. This is IMNSHO a very bad thing indeed, because it removes the charm of the initial background. The charm for me lay in the idea of mechs as knights. Once mechs just became commodities then you may have more powerful tanks/mechs, but the significance of the pilot is downplayed. This "cost" has affected how the game is played.

Now if you agree that the original background of the game is where the idea of mechs as a concept works best, then the question becomes how do you return the game to its roots?

You have to find some way to "power-down" the game background. This is why I think that moving the BattleTech timeline forward to 3130 and the Dark Age/Age of Destruction is a good thing. It will allow the game designers to remove the large amount of Tiger, King Tiger and Panther tank analogs, while giving a good reason for using simpler mechs for games. Much as in the same way players who have been playing WW2 for a long time gravitate towards early war period as it is tactically more challenging than fielding herds of Tiger tanks.

This direction is even supported by the original background of the game universe where battlemechs were rare and people converted civilian mechs, called "industrials" into military vehicles by adding weapons and armour to them. In much the same way as in the Interwar period trucks had weapons and armour added to them to make them into armoured cars, or for a more recent example in the Middle East etc, Toyota trucks are converted into so called 'technicals" by adding weapons to them.

So I welcome the new Dark Age and the chance to field "industrial"mechs to the game, and only having limited access to true battlemechs for the same reasons that I have found that I enjoy playing with WW1 tanks and the inter war period conflicts like the Spanish Civil War.