Friends, Romans and Plastic Pushers!

INVICTUS Logo

Well another month and another game. Wonder how I do it? Me too! I spend waaaay to much time in front of this machine. So, what is Invictus all about? Well, obviously it’s about the Roman Empire! After all there is the Aquila (Eagle) with Senātus Populusque Rōmānus right in the logo bar. Still stirs the heart!~ Makes the fingers itch to push legionnaires into the jaws of Tyche (god of chance) don’t it?

This game is designed for 1/72nd scale (HO) plastic and there is a HUGE range of ancients in this scale. The price and quality make a great alternative to metal. 15mm and 25mm can be easily substituted.

Now the question is of course ‘Why Rome?’ and why Rome after the pacific world war II? Well, my answer to that is ‘Why not?’ and the Roman army is one piece of land history I have studied as voraciously as sea warfare.  The Legion was the best fighting machine for two millennia and faced Parthians, Sassinids, Germans, Brits, Picts, Celts and more. No force in world history has faced such a variety of enemies and for the most part won. While the Romans often faced a terrible tactical defeat at the start of the war (not unlike the British Army) they would win the war. Just ask Hannibal. It was the ability of the Romans to adapt their force to fit the situation and enemy. This mission packaging was not unique or new but the Romans did it better than anyone else. Invictus reflects this with a system of customization to allow for infinite play possibles.  All the major forms of units are here Heavy Cavalry, Light Cavalry Archers, Elephants, Chariots, Auxili, and of course the war winners the Legionaries themselves.–enjoy

 

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

Why Battleships?

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

One of the oddities of the Guadalcanal campaign is the fact that battleships were used by both sides in restricted waters, in small numbers, and for very different reasons. Unquestionably the warship with the greatest impact on the campaign was the cruiser. There are many good arguments for saying the destroyer, but destroyers could not perform the multi-functions of a cruiser. Cruisers were for the most part the ‘big guns’ of the battle when battleships weren’t around. And most often battleships weren’t around. Cruisers made good platforms for admiral’s headquarters. Cruisers provided combat information from radar, sea plane, radio intercept and visual spotting to their fleet. Cruisers could more easily control the movement of ships and defend themselves from air attack in daylight. Cruisers were more often used as patrol and first line defense ships than any other type. Cruisers used their big 8 and 6 inch guns in a bombardment function often very close to shore. And yet even with all these reasons, both sides felt compelled to commit battleships from time to time, and the reasons why these commitments were made tells a great deal about the psychology of both the IJN and the USN in this campaign.

Japan’s reason for bringing the battle wagons in, was to ‘soften up’ marines on Guadalcanal island for a land attack to be launched after the bombardment. The failure of the IJN Cruisers and Destroyers to hit meaningful targets and to hit these targets hard enough encouraged the use of battleships. Maybe even as a sort of ‘last resort’ tactic after everything else had failed. The American reason was because the Japanese had brought in battleships. And that in a nut shells tells the whole story of Guadalcanal.

The Japanese spent six very long bloody months trying to pry the allies loose from Guadalcanal using very weapon in their arsenal in the attempt. Hampered by distance and allied air superiority, the Japanese were forced to confine their attempts to take the island to night time. Japanese sailor learned to operate cargo runs at night, sweep the area for enemy ships at night, use spotting planes to detect enemy ships at night, and to attack the island with warships at night. As good as the IJN was at night fighting their inability to perform any function in daylight doomed their mission right from the start.

All the allies had to do was respond meaningfully to any Japanese attempt. And this the allies did brilliantly. The allies never ‘upped the ante’  by introducing new elements into the sea fight, they just kept even with IJN. The allies met Japanese force with force. It cost the allies an Aircraft carrier, several cruisers and destroyers, in fact the allies lost more fighting ships than the IJN did, and yet the Japanese experienced that peculiar aliment of winning the battles and losing the war. The blood shed by the allies on and around Guadalcanal saved thousands of lives later in the war, as a broken Japan stumbled from one loosing battle to another.

Raven Games
Raven Games

To Fire or Not to Fire?

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

If you fire your weapons at night in pitch black you create a self imposed signal as to your position. If you don’t fire you may miss the opportunity to destroy or at least hurt your enemy. Now imagine facing this conundrum EVERY night! Captains faced this every night that they faced their foe around Guadalcanal. The flash and smoke would give you away for only a second and you could change direction, reverse course, something, anything, to throw off your opponent. You could also reverse course or change direction and lose the most important targets or lose your position within your own fleet and take the chance of being destroyed by your own side. This problem is the answer to one great question about the sea fights around Guadalcanal, why did the Japanese never go after the landing craft, merchant men etc. supporting the USA ground forces?

This conundrum plagued the Japanese more so than the Americans. NOT because of radar; as has been assumed through the years; but because they were defending the waters of Guadalcanal. AMERICAN’S KNEW they had friends surrounding them and if they could hold out until dawn their own CAP (Combat Air Patrol)  would defend them in daylight. American CAP flew out of Henderson field every morning weather permitting consisting of fighters (F4F) and (P-40s) along with dive bombers (SBDs) and the occasional army bomber. The target these pilots were looking for? Fat, juicy, Japanese fighting ships racing up the slot, laying on every once of steam to get away.

The Japanese by October 1942 KNEW the waters of Guadalcanal did not belong to them, further they had little choice but to run away after only limited time in enemy waters, or face the wraith American CAP’s.  So this lead more often than not to the conundrum: To Fire or Not to Fire?  The Imperial Navy realized it needed to hit priority targets like landing craft, merchant men, troopships and the like. They understood that the loss of a hand full of American destroyers would not bring victory. But there in lay the trap: The Japanese fighting ships had to either sneak past the patrolling enemy ships; and this got progressively harder as the USN (United States Navy) got better at it’s job; or batter their way through the Americans with enough time remaining to hit the priority targets which lay closer; and therefore deeper in enemy territory; to Guadalcanal. As the Americans coordinated their visual detection and radar detection of the Japanese and as the Japanese had only limited; and therefore predictable; window in which to conduct operations, it got easier for the American to defend the islands and waters off Guadalcanal.

Raven Games
Raven Games

Scenario 2 Steam & Steel

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

Theoretical Battle: September 1942 Night 02:23

IJN Forces are trying to exit Iron Bottom Sound after landing supplies to the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal. A forgotten mine field left behind by Japanese subs is in the path of both the IJN and USN unknown to both fleets. The USN has been given advance knowledge of the Japanese task force but failed to intercept them before they landed their cargo.

Maps: 6

2 Shallow Maps All shallow squares (Yellow) are mined. 1 Mine or Decoy counter in each square.

3 Deep Maps

1 Shore Map

Total Rounds of Play: 6

Place the Shore on the north/east corner of the square. The shallow maps are set below the coast line.  Along the west end of the board are the deep water boards.The IJN enters the board from the North West Board and must exit the Shallow board on the South East Corner. USN forces are placed on any East board including the coastal map and must stop the Japanese player from leaving the map.

theoretical map 1

Forces

Imperial Japanese Navy

6 DD

3 CL

2 CA

1 Float Plane 3 Star Shells 10 torpedoes

United States Navy

4 DD

2 CL

2 CA

2 Float Planes 6 Star Shells 8 Torpedoes

For every Japanese ship sunk USN gains 1VP. USN loses 1VP for every USN ship sunk

USN Wins marginal victory with   4 VP

USN Wins moderate victory with  6 VP

USN Wins crushing victory with   8 VP

Notes: There were many encounters as above, the use of mines by either side was sporadic and often lead to more problems than they solved.  In September of 1942 both the IJN and USN were trying to gain advantage around Guadalcanal but didn’t truly understand the other side’s commitment to the battle.  The Japanese constantly underrated the American resolve and committed forces far to small to do the job of driving the USN out of Guadalcanal waters even temporarily. –Enjoy

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

 

Visibility on the Sea

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

When Lord Nelson cruised into glory at Trafalgar he did so by ordering his fleet to break up and come into ridiculously close range with an enemy who’s seamanship was terrible. Pounding away at each other, so close that ships rigging and masts got tangled up with each other, the battle was more reminiscent of a bloody knife fight. For all the horror, blood and violence of the fight, it was beyond doubt decisive. The rifles used in World War I far out ranged, fired faster, hit harder, and were protected in a way Nelson could never have dreamed. And yet the raw military power of modern warships could not be harnessed effectively. This left Jutland and most other encounters less than decisive. Why? Metal ships did something very easily that wooden ships never did..sink The sheer weight of shells being launched should have insured far more hits; and by extension more sinkings; than were scored at Jutland. Partly this is explained by a lack of effective communication between Admiral and their fleet. But mostly it was due to a lack of equipment able to take the visual data from the observer and create a firing solution fast enough to keep up with the speed of maneuvering ships in battle.

By the time of World War II new technology tried to address this issue. Radar in theory should have made every salvo a hit, yet they were not. Why?

First of all the problem with radar is it can be detected far more easily than trying to use it for targeting. Targets with simple radar detectors could maneuver out of the way.  Often the firing solutions from radar took too long to be calculated to be of any use; the target had moved past the solution or it’s correction. Next radar was new, those using it were new both to it’s strengths and weaknesses. And radar has weaknesses, ground clutter distorts the bounce back. Atmospheric conditions can render images indistinct even at very close ranges. Ships moving in front of the bounce back block enough signal to render the image useless or confused. The target can place it’s prow toward the radar signal and reduce it’s profile confusing the operator into thinking the enemy ship is further away than in reality.

All this being said, what made the battles of Guadalcanal such masterpieces for the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) was their reliance on visual contact. Eye sight cannot be detected other than seeing the observing ship. This is not as easy as it sounds, and the Japanese were VERY good at seeing first and firing first. Does this mean that visual detect was the best way to observe, spot, and fire? No, a mix of both radar and visual detection had to be employed. Eye sight could be confounded by atmospherics just like radar, although the conditions were different. This meant that often what confounded one did not confound the other.

In writing Steam & Steel I realized quickly that the ability to see your target was in many ways the heart of modern naval warfare in a way it never was for Lord Nelson. Nelson was confronted with having to locate and move toward the enemy. He had to bring his ships into range and fire. Visually speaking it’s pretty easy to engage an enemy who’s twenty feet way. But Admiral Mikawa KNEW where the Allied fleet was before the battle of Savo Island he simply sailed down to meet them. He chose night to engage accepting the problems of night sailing in battle. The Admiral’s real problems began when his fleet engaged the enemy; unlike Nelson who lost all control as the guns roared, Mikawa had not only to select targets in the dark, hit the right targets, maintain contact with his fleet and hope the confusion he caused would cover his escape after. His ability to do this fell squarely on the shoulders of his spotters. Steam & Steels assumes that simply ‘seeing’ your enemy is not one of your problems but in fact IS YOUR PROBLEM.

Raven Games
Raven Games

The Pacific War: Fight Smarter Not Harder

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

There will never be another war fought in the way the Pacific War was fought again. Technology rules it out, and the the geopolitical landscape of today makes it unlikely another major naval war is in the offing. And yet all wars of every age have been fought just like the Pacific War in one vital way. The harnessing of people and their talents.

If one were to look at carrier battles, you’d get the impression the naval war took a nap between Guadalcanal and the Philippine Sea. It did not, surface actions abounded. Guadalcanal saw five major surface actions and two of those had battleships at the heart of the task forces. Numerous small ship actions took place across the central and southwest pacific taking a terrible toll on the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) weakening it and paving the way for even greater advances by the USN (United States Navy). In the early stages of the surface war the IJN had a huge advantage against it’s enemy in night actions as well as in tactics, weapons and training. And these advantages came because the Japanese Navy used the talents of it’s personnel to the best advantage. The IJN had poor radar so they gave the men with the best night vision the best optics then available, allowing the Japanese to often spot enemy ships first and gain the precious advantage of firing first. Tireless training in gunnery and torpedo attacks meant the IJN had a huge advantage in night surface action. So much so the Japanese spent the war attempting meet the USN in night surface action when possible. Going so far as to postpone a battle until night could cover their ships.  The USN had A LOT of catching up to do, and America responded like, well, Americans! Partly with technology: radar, and the indispensable Combat Intelligence Center (CIC) aboard ships,  TBS radio, the ECM Mk II ciphering machine, and ever better radios. But while later day Americans talk endlessly about these leaps in technology and how they changed forever fleet combat, we forget that America fought smart, and by fighting smart won the war. Navajo code talkers spoke a language no Japanese listing post could ever decipher. American reconnaissance units flew thousands and thousands of useless missions over non-target Japanese assets making the empire expend men across the face of the pacific weakening the garrisons of real targets. The full employment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry; even after their shameful treatment by a Government that desperately needed every loyal man, women and talent they could bring; were used not just to understand the enemy but to tailor make our propaganda to the average citizen of Japan, and to shape the post war policy of occupation by American forces.

If the pacific war has given us lessons in how superior technology can shape and change a war or warfare in general, it has also taught the lesson that a nation can possesses the industrial, technological even the numerical advantage, but victory comes only with the full employment of every talent that every citizen can bring to produce victory.

Raven Games
Raven Games

Space verses Water and all that lies inbetween!

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

I love ships! I’m more likely to play a fleet of ships then almost anything else. That’s a funny comment from the guy who wrote Warsaw Pact 8-4 and Crusher huh? And yet ships are a passion of mine.

When you first sit down to write a game of ship-to-ship or task force-to-task-force combat the first question you ask “Is this on the water or in space?” Now you might think that is a really weird brain wave, but on a 2D game board there truly is very little difference. Sure you write to two very different realities; is that the right phrase(?); but when you start out, the environment plays only a minor part in your thoughts.  And yet when I settle into writing a game of combat that takes place at sea I feel at home; by the by I live in a land lock state; when I put those ships amongst the stars I’m not only at home but my penchant for space civilizations, technology and warfare kick in like a drug and off I run.

Steam & Steel came out of my attempt to write a space combat game that was based on battleship combat from the age of coal fired ships and somehow ended up being a game of sea combat during World War II in the pacific! So much for planning…Laughing EmojiSteam and Steel has been one of those few projects that ‘just works’ and treats you well.To tell the truth I’m going to miss working on this game as soon as it’s done and offered.

The theatre of operations is a fascinating, it was here in the waters around Guadalcanal that the Japanese lost their superiority in surface and air fighting over the USN. It was also here that the Japanese lost any chance they may have had of a negotiated peace. The allies won, and won big at Guadalcanal, and it was here that the allies realized that total victory over Japan was possible.

Will there be any other titles in the Steam and Steel line? I think so, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic convoy runs offer wonderful opportunities to explore the Regia Marina and the Kriegsmarine. Well, we’ll see what the future brings together–no?

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

Why Korea?

Red Charge LOGO bar

So Red Charge is a game of combat in Korea in 1950? REALLY?? Why on earth would you do Korea? After all what happened in Korea?

A peasant army representing under half the total population of a country the size of Utah, pushed back and humiliated the United States Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy. It did this with only equipment backing from the USSR and Red China. As the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) pushed down the traditional invasion route of the Uijeonbu river valley they used North Korean tactics, command structures, doctrine and above all blood to achieve their surprise and success. In the end the NKPA took on the world.

It was not meant to be that way, the NKPA had been designed to destroy the Republic of Korea forces in few weeks and present the world with a fait accompli. American forces however were quickly inserted into the fighting. The United States Army and Marines truly felt; at least in some commands; the mere sight of American soldiers would give the NKPA and Kim Il Sung pause…it did not, and the US Army and Marines found themselves fighting a terrible ground conflict against a better prepared, equipped and trained enemy. Never the less young men from Iowa, Colorado, New York, and elsewhere toughened up.  They fought a tidal wave, winning out after a tenacious campaign against the onrushing enemy at Pusan.  The ground combat was vicious no holds bared and ideological in its nature.

That is Why Korea…enjoy

Raven Games
Raven Games

Building the Parts II

The counters to my games need to be printed and cut out, but there is an order to this process that saves time and grey matter…

1) Print the counters on glossy paper to give them a professional look and feel.

2) Cut out the front side of counters in bulk. DO NOT attempt to glue each counter front to poster board individually.

3) Cut out the back side of the counters and then separate them into individual counters.

4) Glue the bulk front counters to the poster board. Give yourself plenty of room between counter bulks. Take your time and arrange the counter bulks on the poster board BEFORE gluing. A goodly layer of adhesive spray glue should be used on each bulk. Smooth the counter bulk gently with your hands only. When using newspaper or such for spraying onto, change the paper often, sticky newsprint gets onto the counters and ruins them.

5) Cut out the counters using an Xacto knifeXacto KnifeMake sure you start with a fresh blade and change the blade as needed. DO NOT USE A DULL BLADE.

6) Lay out the now cut bulk counters upside down (blank side up) in even rows on fresh newspaper or paper and apply another layer of  adhesive spray and gently one at a time place the back of the counters on. Make sure the back is in the same direction (top to top) as the front. Counters are done.

If you make a mistake or ruin some counters: Reprint ant start again.

 

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

 

Building the Parts

Okay so you have your copy of Panzer Thrust or Steam and Steel and now it’s time to assemble the parts. But it can be a bit daunting I mean what should you use and what techniques; if any; are useful? So let’s talk about putting all the pieces together.

What do you need?

1) Xacto knife is the most indispensable piece of equipment you can own. I recommend getting blades form Ebay. There are plenty of sellers and 100 packs make a goodly number. Make sure to change out your blades often when cutting. This of course goes without saying, that’s why I am going to say it…BE CAREFUL!

Xacto Knife

2) Box Cutter: The best knife for cardboard there is bar none. Best of all their cheap. Ebay is my personal source and I’ll buy 30 or so at a time. Snap off the blade EVERY TIME you start to cut cardboard.  “Can’t do nothing without a sharp knife”–Julia Child…

Box Cuttera

3) Poster board is cheap and easily bought at any dollar store. I buy my again at Ebay. (Sensing a pattern?) I buy 25 sheets at a time which lasts me about six months or so. Hey! I’ve got a lot of ideas okay? Poster board is best used for counters. It’s not really sturdy enough for map boards that need to be butted together.

Poster Board

4) Cardboard! I LOVE Cardboard I want to thank Mr. C. Board for inventing this stuff!!! Cardboard is free if you just keep your eyes open. One of the best places is the grocers they have cardboard coming out of their ears and love giving it away to any shmuck who wants it, and I’m just the schumck their looking for! Cardboard can be used for counters, but its thick and not that attractive as a counter backing. Not to me anyway. I use cardboard for the backing on maps, and to build buildings for miniatures, plus hills, rivers, canals etc etc etc. A variety of other uses for gaming I have found for this wonderful and recyclable stuff!

Cardboard

5) Finally spray adhesive. Now I have tried them all believe me, if it’s sold in the US, I’ve sprayed it. The only one I recommend is 3m Super 77. It is simply the best stuff. When using make sure to cover everything the spray goes every where. Outside has never worked for me, too many particle that get stuck and won’t let go.

3M Super 77

Okay so now you’ve got your equipment now what? Print out the counters and maps using your home printer, a color laser printer is best but not everyone has one of these. Inkjets will work just fine. I use glossy paper for counters and card stock for the maps. Both are easily obtainable, while not necessarily cheap they make the game look great. Have a printer or office supply place do the printing and get the professional look if you’ve got the loot and trust the place.

Laser Printer

Now cut out the counters (more on this in the next article). Spray the adhesive and glue the counters to the poster board. Spray adhesive takes no drying time so go ahead and start cutting. If the counters are double sided, spray the back of the counter and affix the back side to the counter. Trim any white boarder off the map boards as needed. Use an extra amount of glue with the maps and glue them to the cardboard. Cut out and invite your friends over threatening them with defeat at this great new game you just made.–Enjoy

 

Raven Games
Raven Games