Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WoT update

I've been playing World of Tanks (wikilink*) for just over two months now (seems like forever) and have some decent vehicles in my garage. I have just fought my 100th battle in my KV13 Medium Tank, and hope to change that for an IS Heavy sometime in the coming week. I've been in over 500 battles in my T34-85, and am within about a hundred battles of being able to begin production of the T-43 (which line of development will eventually culminate in the T-54). For a bit of light entertainment I also have an SU85, armed with a 107mm tank killer, which I may or may not decide to upgrade to an SU122 sometime in the future.

I have of course kept my T34, and still enjoy charging around with it and its rapid firing 57mm gun. One can almost sense the surprise of some of those I bump into when I seem to pour shots into them twice as rapidly as the more normal 76mm armament would!

And I still have my MS-1, though hardly ever drive it now (these days getting my lower level kicks from driving my level/Tier 5 T34). It won't last much longer though, as after I replace the KV13 with an IS, I will need the 'slot' presently occupied by the wee MS-1 for my T43 unless I wish to sell off either my T34 or T34-85 (which I don't), or stop developing my line of tank destroyers.

All good fun, and all free. What more could one ask for?

*Updated 'wikilink' to wikipedia link (18 Dec '11).

S & T Nicaragua - First Impressions

My impressions of Strategy and Tactics Issue 120?

In a word, 'impressed'. Several articles about revolutionary warfare central american style makes both for a sad list of the countries that had to undergo the ensuing 'uncivil wars' and an interesting analysis of 'low intensity' warfare environs and the strategies and tactics for use by the various factions. Of course, it hones in on Nicaragua, but the coverage is much wider.

And then there's the game. I haven't yet played it, but look forward to doing so. Suspect it might be solo, but look forward to it none the less as it appears to be a genuine 'simulation' as well as a game. I can easily foresee situations arising in the game which the dark humourist in me would enjoy - in the same way one enjoys a game of Junta or Illuminati.

Cadres, fronts, social classes, public institutions, terrorism, guerrilla tactics, diplomacy and foreign intervention, popular will, political programs, military combat and repression, propaganda, psychological operations, all interwoven quite neatly through simple row and column shifts and dice rolls. In my mind's eye, it seemed to make sense. To get a feel for it, the map and its provinces is more a 'political geography' of the land than a simulation of the terrain. In fact, the terrain rules are optional extras for the basic combat system.

Definitely a wargame, but with more of a eurogamesque approach to simulation than is usually found in such. I look forward to playing it.

To see some graphics of it (and reviews etc), check here.

As a final sidenote, the biographical notes on the game's designer (and author of almost all the articles) say he was (is) a retired US Army Captain. His military career seemed to have been spent in the psyops and then academic fields of endeavour. Thus, my theory of the game as being as much 'simulation' as 'game' might actually be correct!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

S & T

At loose ends one lunch time in the city I wondered into a newsagent's that I hadn't been inside before to scan their 'hobby' section of magazines. Imagine my surprise when I found a copy of 'Strategy and Tactics' for sale! I haven't seen this magazine for decades (!) and, when I last did, it always seemed to be more S&M than gaming fun, what with its concentration on the design, backstory and rules of the hardcore game which was contained in every bimonthly addition. Never-the-less, and realising that I've allegedly 'grown up' a bit in the intervening years, I purchased it. It was edition #270 from Sept/Oct this year, featuring analysis of the American Revolution and the game of that name.

I must say, I was a little disappointed. Firstly, no game. I know, I knew that before I purchased it, but it was still disappointing. And secondly, I felt the articles were less 'meaty' than my memory was telling me the old ones used to be. Larger font, more pictures, dumber diagrams, more filler, less content. Still a good read, but ... well ... disappointing.

It can't have been too bad, however, because when the next edition came in the following week, I bought that too (this one, looking at the Second Battle of Kharkov)! Edition #272 is going to be about the Battle of Lepanto (might give it a miss) but the following one will feature a game called 'Reischwer'. Which, of course, I am already excited about. I might even order the game itself...


Imagine my further surprise this morning when I'm visiting Miltary Hobbies for my bi-annual visit and, while I'm there, the storekeeper pulls out some newly arrived bundles totaling about a hundred copies of old S&T's and plonks them on the counter to show an old customer of his. Unable to help myself, I mosey on over and browse through. These were all old editions, complete with game maps and pieces (still unpressed). Gold!

Restraining myself, I ended up choosing #120 from July 1988 (the 'Nicaragua!' edition, the whole magazine being dedicated to the game, analysis and design notes for the game and background articles examining later 20th century Latin American revolutions) and #156 from December 1992 (concentrating on the Russo-Polish War of 1920 and 'White Eagle Eastward', the included game). At $10 each I considered them a bargain, and nearly got another but had blown my budget rather badly already. Might need to make a return visit!

I'll have a closer look at my purchases and report back here as to whether the inclusion of the games was as wonderful an idea as I thought at the time, and whether the content of the magazines themselves was indeed more substantial than the modern day equivalents.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

RIP Anne

I have just heard that Anne McGafferey passed on on Monday. She was 85 years old. I've read a few of the Pern series, been intrigued by the world she created, read a few of her other books. One of the great women of sf/fantasy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can anyone here help Ralph?

Ralph, over at Клементи Ворошилов (how do I pronounce this?), is doing some really interesting stuff with Advanced Squad Leader. After reading this post, outlining some of the travails of one dedicated to simulating obscure yet important campaigns (in this case, the Brit-Soviet invasion of Iran in 1941), I wished that I knew more of the campaign, or that I had (or had the time to play) ASL - as Ralph was looking for playtesters for his project.

If you can help him, perhaps let him know.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rule of Thumb

Last week, I commenced work on my 1:35 tank model. On Sunday, I had hoped to complete the wheels and suspension, preparatory to the tracks. Seeing as it was a nice day, however, I thought would go and do some things in the garden. This, sadly, resulted in me being very un/lucky in that I managed to jamb my thumb pretty bad but not crush or amputate it (which was never-the-less very painful). Which put paid to my plan to work on the model. Who want's real blood on their model, afterall?

So I went and looked at modeling sites on the web for a few hours, discovering some most excellent youtube videos along the way. Particularly informative is this guy, who's detailed, understandable, knowledgeable and practical productions will be very useful in future. In retrospect, it was very good that I had this enforced time-out from the blood rush of pushing ahead regardless that comes with a new model. Vicariously looking at the detail of what will be required in future, the various stagings of the project, better enables me to determine what needs doing next (my ultimate question at any particular moment). I suspect that this is saving me a lot of grief down the track, and rapidly accelerating my learning curve beyond the old trial and error ways. Of course, it must be matched by skill development which will take time, but you get what I mean. But I digress...

After a couple of days of web research I was in the middle of a busy working week and couldn't really bring time and inclination together, so contented myself in confirming a probable Xmas delivery of a selection of appropriate decals. By that stage, it would be nice to have the construction done, or at a stage at least where minor variants are all that is required to match up with the particular decal and paint job that I decide on.

The only 'real' modeling job I've done since spraying my 67 parts of wheel, suspension and lower hull, with undercoat last Saturday was to grind the diameter of the axles so they fit the wheels a bit more comfortably. Without doing this the fit would be too tight to allow what I learnt from the videos was the advisable method of construction (put on the wheels to fit the tracks during their construction, remove them then prior to painting, glue them on prior to final detailing) and I would likely have experienced grief and heartache at some point.

I've also checked out what a modeling spray gun would be worth, to give the enamel coats of paint and varnish prior to the weathering work with brush and oilpaint. Luckily for me, the Mrs thinks this is a good idea. I'm a lucky man.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Tank Stable

My cunning World of Tanks Russian Campaign unfolds according to plan.

My T34-85 continues to steadily mount up the experience, within several days I'll be able to convert the points I am accumulating into 'research' for a new, higher 'tier' tank (KV-13), with enough 'free experience' points left over to upgrade perhaps the suspension on the new tank before it even leaves the factory (from the KV13 I hope to eventually research and start developing the heavy line of 'IS' tanks). My trusty crew are approaching 70% in their camouflage skill, and will hopefully advance towards 100% by the time I accumulate sufficient further experience to research the T-43 medium tank (the other development path leading from the T34-85).

My T34 now has an 'elite' crew, having researched all the modules and models available for the tank. Being 'elite', all future experience goes directly into crew training in their specialist skill (which I have elected to make 'repair'). Sadly, as the crew approaches perfection I will probably also be becoming involved in new, higher 'tier' vehicles, and thus return to my stable to drive the T34 less and less often. Besides equipment, the T34 also required me to research both the T34-85 and the SU-85 (Tank Destroyer) before regarding the crew as 'elite'.

I've only driven the SU-85 a couple dozen times so far (compared to the almost 400 times I have driven each of my main tank models) and am still getting used to the concept of driving a vehicle without a turret, with all the tactical, practical and visual difficulties that entails. I have upgraded the suspension and am presently accumulating experience to research a better gun. I doubt I'll get an elite crew for this vehicle as will be aiming directly at upgrading to a SU-122 (in W.O.T. the SU-122 is a variant of the SU-100).

Although basically a 'sideline' to me, I am enjoying playing the russian turretless tank destroyer in a different fashion to the tanks. For the TD I am keeping my vision limited to the 'gunsight view' - a little like peering out of the commander's slit in such a vehicle. Although limiting, it puts one right 'inside' the wonderfully rendered terrain of WoT and leads to a deepening of the immersion factor.

The 'strategy' I am following can thus be seen as being focused on the development of my stable of tanks. As a 'free' player I am limited to having five vehicles at any one time. Presently I have the above three models (T34, T34-85 and SU-85) as well as the lower tier MS-1 and BT-7. When I get a KV13, I will dispose of my BT7 to make room, and develop this into a line of heavy tank development, culminating in the IS-4. I will dispose of the MS-1 when I get a T43. This line will culminate in the T-54. I will dispose of the SU-85 when upgrade to a SU-122, and dispose of that when am looking at the SU-152. The Tank Destroyer line is, afterall, only a light diversion from the main game for me.

I will hang onto the T34 and T34-85 as long as possible just for the fun of driving these classic tanks in middle tier battles in the World of Tanks.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

This leads to that

You know how it is. You go to an expo and come home with some model kits of a size and subject that you've never built before. And, after getting over the fact that there are over 160 separate track links that will eventually need to be put together to complete the T34-85, and checking that all the pieces are there (even if the decals are not) and only having one brief moment of gloom until find the piece that was knocked loose from the spruce somewhere in the last 17 years, and then looking at this site to confirm a few ideas about the turret and finding out that the model which I had been thinking of matching up with a tellermine wielding defender of the vaterland (ie circa early 1945) only to find out that the model is of the real model that was produced late in 1945 (ie after the war), I finally decided to start the thing anyway.

So I pressed out a few wheels and axles and wheel hubs, cutting off the attached spruce, filing off the bits of flash, finding out that most pieces fit together albeit a bit tightly but that some don't resulting in a bit of filing and shaving of the offending parts of the parts, learning how the glue works, thanking jah that I had approached the task conservatively, doing the parts for one side of the vehicle so I could work it better on the other side, and got to gluing.

And then I got to thinking about what should be painted when, as some things will be impossible to get to once the assembly proceeds (eg. the suspension springs) and some things will be difficult (eg. the inside 'flange' of the roadwheels). I realised that at this scale (1:35) any 'small' error is actually a 'big' error, so I want to do as well I can. So, while I let my mind work its magic in its dark recesses in a way that will hopefully bring forth the solution to my problem, I set about preparing myself.

Which means I have to sort out the odd collection of knives, blades, files, brushes, paints and other assorted and very miscellaneous modelling equipment. So, I open up the roll top desk into which I have been squirreling away such things since we got it about five years ago at some garage sale, and get to work.

Of course, when it all got too much, I went for a drive in my own T34-85 in the World of Tanks.