Monday, September 21, 2015

Bolt Action Brazil!

In the English-speaking world, it is generally unknown that a volunteer Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB) fought alongside the US Army in Italy from mid-1944 until the end of the war. This was in effect a light infantry division, consisting of three infantry regiments augmented with artillery and light armour. It was supported by a Brazilian Air Force contingent of a light reconnaissance squadron as well as a P-47 Thunderbolt-equipped fighter squadron.  --From Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II by Cesar Campiani Maximiano and Ricardo Bonalume
About six months ago, I got it into my head to collect a Bolt Action platoon based on the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira, or FEB).

Why Brazil?

Well, like most folks who have been into a given period of historical wargaming for more than a few years, I'm inordinately interested in the weird little nooks and crannies of my chosen period, and the FEB struck me as a fun but not too "out there" choice (as far as these things go).

They were equipped by their American allies (for the most part), so standard U.S. figures suffice nicely. As a nice change of pace from the period, however, the FEB was the only fully racially-integrated division fighting for the Western Allies, so score one for diversity! In fact, I first started reading up on the FEB after having a productive online discussion with a fellow blogger regarding the white-washed nature of typical WWII (European theater) wargaming. Warlord makes a range of Japanese-American and African-American figure heads that provided plenty of conversion opportunities.

Plus it can't be denied that Brazil in the 1940s has a certain romantic charm about it.

But the final tipping point for me came when I saw their divisional sleeve patch:

Yes, that's a snake smoking a pipe. The image was based on an apocryphal story that someone (it changes depending on who you ask - let's just say Hitler) said that the Brazilians would join the war effort "when snakes smoked."

(I've currently got an order in with Fighting Piranha Graphics to produce a sheet of custom sleeve insignia decals...)

I ordered Osprey's volume on the FEB (because of course there's an Osprey book on the subject!) and did some reading. In the end, I decided to base my list off of the FEB in the last stages of the war, as they overran northern Italy during the spring of '45, specifically in the fighting around Montese and Collecchio. In particular, I modeled my collection on a Pelotão de Choque ("Close Combat Platoon"), ad hoc units that were tasked with aggressive reconnaissance and "keeping up the scare" on the retreating Axis forces. The members of the Close Combat Platoons were hand-picked from various units based on their bravery and exploits in the war up to that point, so it's a nice way to model a fierce fighting force in an army that had a, shall we say, somewhat checkered service history.

Although the FEB was equipped with American materiel, they weren't carbon copies of U.S. soldiers. For one thing, despite intentions to do so, they weren't trained in the U.S. Army's contemporary tactical doctrine, and for good reason: the infantry were largely issued surplus M1903 Springfield bolt action rifles rather than the more famous M2 Garand. As such, the Bolt Action special rules for American troops wouldn't be a perfect fit.

What I decided to do, after further reading, was keep the AIR POWER special rule, but replace the FIRE AND MANOEUVRE rule with the VENGEANCE characteristic from the Armies of Great Britain supplement, the better to reflect the FEB's noted solidity on the defense and general chip-on-the-shoulder attitude of wanting to prove themselves to doubtful allies and foes alike.

Without further ado, then, some pictures:

One of the two "Close Combat" squads. Between the halftrack's .50-cal and the .30-cal team, these guys should be able to lay down some serious firepower.
The other "Close Combat" squad, including a bazooka team for some anti-armor (the one place where my list is fairly weak).
Support elements: a Jeep mounting a .30-cal, an FAO team to call in those Thunderbolts, a medic and attached Jeep, and the platoon Lietenant and team. (I also painted up a "moving" .30-cal team for fun.)

Okay, this is when things really went overboard - I assembled and painted a 1/48-scale Thunderbolt to use as an airstrike marker! How could I not though, when Italeri makes a kit with FEB markings?
An integral M8 armored car and an M10 tank destroyer from the 1st Armored Division (which operated in close communication with the FEB).
Partisans! Advance units of the FEB often made contact with local insurgents and used them in operations against local German and Italian defenses.
The whole crew! A little over 1,000 points, so plenty of room to customize my list for a "standard" game. I hope to get them onto the table for a battle very soon.
Os brasileiros estão chegando!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

WarmaHordes Battle Report - Encounter at Swamp Bridge

Major Markus "Siege" Brisbane pored over a map of eastern Cygnar, his brow furrowed. Reports had been coming in from the merchants and scouts that plied the routes along the boundary with the Bloodstone Marches of tracks of elephantine Titans, caravansaries found burned and ruined, and strange disappearances. Major Brisbane suspected Skorne activity, but had no solid evidence as of yet.

A knock at the door. "Come."

Captain Kara Sloane entered, heavy duster sweeping behind her. She saluted and Brisbane peremptorily returned the gesture before considering the map again. "To what do I owe the pleasure, Captain Sloan?"

"Report in from the Marchfells, Major. My contact Reinholdt -"

"That gobber speculator?" spat Major Brisbane.

"He may be a bit...dodgy. But he's never led me astray..."

From behind Captain Sloane's duster emerged a squat little gobber wearing a bowler hat and a duster of his own.

"I was on my way to see my coz, sir," said the gobber in his thick bayou accent. "Wagonload o' trade goods for the swamp-folk, you see. And then, outta nowhere, they come upon me. Big as a house if they was a thumb's height."

Major Brisbane took his eyes of the map and looked at the gobber, his brow arched. "Go on."

"Tusks like so!" said the gobber, adding to the effect with hand gestures.

Brisbane and Sloane looked at each other. "Titans," said the Major. 

Sloane nodded. "The Skorne are in the Marchfells. Reinholdt here can guide me back to the point of the ambush."

"Yes, do go and see what you can find. Be careful, though - it's likely the Skorne have been bolstering their numbers with Gatormen and Farrow mercenaries."

"Oh, don't worry about me," said Captain Sloane, smiling. "I know a few gun mages who still owe me a favor..."

Another game of Warmachine/Hordes is in the can. We played 50 points, and just went with a straight-up skirmish this time. We'll try doing a scenario again soon, I'm sure...

After the dissatisfaction I'd been experiencing with my terrain tiles, I did a bunch of research and settled on terrain mats as my preferred approach. They feel like a nice compromise between the eye candy of 3-D terrain and the ease-of-use that comes with just laying out a blanket to cover the table. I ordered some F.A.T. Mats from Frontline Gaming and I was not disappointed. We used the "Swamp" mat for this battle. I also debuted some latex roads from Early War Miniatures that I'd bought a long time ago but have just gotten around to painting up, as well as some giant mangrove roots that I got through a discount pet supply site - they're meant for aquariums, but certainly look the business on the table! Didn't need painting or anything. (Debating whether to base them up, though.)

We agreed that the dark areas of brackish water on the mat would count as difficult terrain (half movement) except where they were crossed by the roads or bridge. I also couldn't resist putting an outhouse on the board, because why not?

(The wagon would be Reinholdt's, although that particular connection didn't occur to me until after the game, when I was putting the "fluff" part of the game together in my head. Recovering the wagon could've made for an interesting scenario, though. I'll have to remember that in the future.)

I won the initial dice roll and decided to let My Esteemed Opponent set up first. He had brought his trusty Cygnar along, this time led by Captain Kara Sloane. In contrast to last time, this was a distinctly "shooty" army to oppose my melee-focused force. Thus, I wanted to see where he was putting his firing lines so that I could deploy accordingly.

That Defender 'jack would prove a most meddlesome opponent.
Seeing Kara Sloane over on the left, with a squishy shield of puny hoo-mans between her and my Titans, I went with a heavily-weighted flank deployment. Hey, who says you have to set up your W/H armies in a Blood Bowl-style scrimmage line every time?

Battle about to be joined!
A Hunter 'jack trundles off into the woods in the center. This was another one that gave me trouble.
Due to my deployment, the battle quickly turned into one of two halves. Over on my right, my Gatormen surged forward. Despite losing my Paingiver Taskmaster early on, the gators managed to get stuck in against the Cygnar gun mages, whose magelock pistols proved largely ineffective as I closed for the charge. (This was due more to My Esteemed Opponent suffering some atrocious dice-rolling all night than any inherent imbalance in the matchup.)

Seriously, once the Gatormen got stuck in, it was not pretty.
The main show was over on my left, however. I discovered that a Bronzeback Titan facing a shooty army is actually even more effective, since he automatically advances every time someone shoots him. He zigged and zagged his way across the board for two turns before contacting the line of riflemen that stood between him and Kara Sloane.

Going after the Hunter 'jack that took a pot shot at him...

Before turning the face the riflemen who unloaded a fusilade.

I took a shot at winning the game by having my Bronzeback pick up and hurl one of the hapless riflemen straight at Kara Sloane (who is fairly squishy by Warcaster standards), but unfortunately the toss deviated and she was unscathed. However, I still had two other Titans moving up, getting set to crash through the screen of men, plus my Bronzeback, although close to death, was probably going to be able to execute a Trample attack and make a beeline for Sloane on the following turn. I was anticipating the very real possibility of actually winning.

And then My Esteemed Opponent's dice luck, which had been betraying him all night, finally snapped back into place. Kara Sloan activated her Feat, which allowed the Defender and Hunter 'jacks to unload a shedload of lead into Dominar's rubbery flesh. In one turn, he was knocked from full health all the way down to zero! And that was the game.

So I'm 0-3, but it was a damn close-run thing this time. We were both sweating it out right up until the end, which is always my gold standard for a fun game. And this was the first time playing Warmachine/Hordes where I felt like I had a handle on the rules in general and how to best use my forces specifically. My one slip-up was that I thought Rasheth was out of LoS while inside the cloud of fog generated by my Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew, but I should have actually had him deployed behind the cloud. Lesson learned. (This balanced with the fact that My Esteemed Opponent probably could've taken my Bronzeback down earlier with a Combined Ranged Attack, but didn't apply the rules correctly, to his detriment.)

This was also my first time deploying my unit of Farrow Bone Grinders, and they didn't do a whole hell of a lot. I'll probably set them aside in the future in favor of more proactive units like my Nihilators; they'd be a good fit in larger games, or perhaps for a particular scenario, but they didn't have much to do this time out.

And so the Skorne incursion on the borders of Cygnar has been checked for now. But for how much longer can they be held at bay...?

Rasheth snarled at the agonizer at his side, its arm buried elbow deep in his blubbery flesh. "Dig deeper, you idiot! The ball is in there somewhere." He took a deep pull on his hookah, its soporific vapors overcoming the exquisite pain of the bullet extraction process. The fire had gotten too hot back there in the swamp, but he'd be back. His raiding force had tasted blood, and wanted more. Even now, he could hear the reptilian laughter of the Gatormen outside his tent as they played footbal with the head of one of the Cygnar gun mages that had fallen to their snapping jaws and giant pole-axes. 

A mewling cry of triumph announced that the agonizer had located the final ball. With a splurging gush, the lead projectile was removed, covered in blood and bile. Rasheth took it and popped it in his mouth, savoring the taste of his own fluids. He closed his eyes and smiled.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

WarmaHordes Battle Report - Killing Field (plus further thoughts on the game)

Well, at least this time my defeat wasn't quite as humiliating...

I've got to make some custom transfers so I can get my version of Rasheth's glyph on my models' banners.
This was another learning game, but this time, on the advice of a mutual friend, we tried out a scenario as well. We settled on "Killing Field" from the rulebook. We also were both running theme lists. As usual, I was using the "Chain Gang" tier list. My Esteemed Opponent used the "Trial by Fire" theme list that, among other things, gave him three free trenches that played no role in the game whatsoever.

(Unfortunately, we realized we lacked suitable terrain for said trenches, so some ad-hoc slips of paper had to make do. And yes, I realize that in my last WarmaHordes post I was complaining about 2-D paper terrain. To quote Doc Holliday in Tombstone, "It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.")

View from the Cygnar lines, looking out over the...trenches?...and objective markers that would be my undoing.
At any rate, like a sucka I went after the scenario objectives, which proved to be incredibly unfriendly to the way my force needs to operate. See, there's three markers, and you get one point for every marker you control at the end of a turn. And if you get seven points, you win!

The problem is that in order to "control" a marker, you have to have a model camping out literally on top of it at the end of every turn. It's not enough to just run by and tag it as yours then move on, hoping your opponent doesn't run over and claim it for themselves. So I ran my melee-focused Skorne up to the center point of the table, and then essentially allowed My Esteemed Opponent to blast away at me with his many, many ranged weapons. By the time I realized my error, half my force was gone!

Note the huge gaping hole that had formerly been my left flank.
Additionally, as this was still just a learning game, I had subbed out my Gatormen for a unit of Nihilators, just to see how they'd work. I now understand why Gatormen always show up in Rasheth lists. Not that the Nihilators were bad, per se, but a unit of Gatormen would've done much better, both in general and in this scenario particularly. Nihilators will be a good secondary choice for larger lists.

At long last, my Nihilator unit gets to grips with the enemy. Pity there was only one Nihilator left!
I have to say, being a big fan of Malifaux, I found the fact that the scenario didn't add anything to gameplay (and in fact was a big reason I lost) to be rather counter-intuitive. In Malifaux you have to go after your scenario objectives (called Schemes and Strategies); if you just try to sit back and have a slugfest (unless that happens to be part of a Scheme objective), you will lose. Whereas, when it comes to W/H, I've rarely (if ever?) seen an online battle report in which the scenario actually determines the winner. Indeed, I've watched some in which Player A is ahead on Control Points the whole game - right up until his caster gets killed and Player B takes the victory. It's a completely different mode of play from Malifaux.

There's also certainly the possibility that, since we were playing 35-point lists, we simply didn't have enough troops on the field to effectively address the scenario victory conditions.

Another thing that held me up: discovering what exactly the Centurion's "polarity field" does... :-/

Having said all that, I still find myself really engaged by the game. It's got so many different layers, all operating at the same time, and a minor slip-up can have major repercussions (for example, I neglected to move up an Agonizer at a crucial time that could've totally shut down My Esteemed Opponent's front line, but didn't and so paid the price...), so the game demands a real level of intellectual engagement quite similar to a collectable card game.

No matter what, W/H always manages to deliver a satisfying dustup at some point during the game. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Titan Gladiator on the left, close to death and no doubt bleeding from every orifice, would manage to bodily hoist up the Centurion and loft him a good distance, landing on a hapless Gobber!
Also, despite my slip-ups (and, frankly, below-average dice rolling), it was still a relatively close game. I got to mess some stuff up towards the end, and with a mighty Bronzeback at that, and was even a turn away from possibly making an assassination run. As usual, I enjoyed throwing things around the battlefield (not that the Centurion's armor of 24 left me many other options...). The Skorne remain a fun faction to play, and I'm planning to expand my collection over the coming months.

The Bronzeback's run for glory that came too little, too late.
On a final note, this was also the inaugural wargame played in my new gaming room, and I couldn't be happier with how that went. My terrain boards, on the other hand, are leaving something to be desired for me personally. Time for another shakeup in that department, methinks. Anyone interested in buying these boards? Drop me a line.
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