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Monday, March 21, 2016

Back to the 80s with Battletech

After the intensity of the Quinto CoC campaign, this week Fritz and I just wanted to throw some minis down on the table to fight it out.  Although I'd played a tiny bit of Battletech back in the early 90s, it was Fritz that rekindled my interest in the game and setting.  I'm working on my own combined arms force for Battletech (we're planning a campaign), but in the meantime we're using Fritz's minis.

Ostensibly, we have an unnamed mercenary company in service to House Davion defending against some other mercenaries working for someone or another. Kurita maybe. But yeah, we just wanted to blow some stuff up.

My forces:

There was a tiny bit of larger agenda on the table, as Fritz and I are planning a more serious campaign sometime in April, and we're acclimating ourselves to the sometimes Byzantine Battletech rules bit by bit. This week, we each took a relatively light lance, with one assault mech bringing in the firepower (my Stalker and his Awesome).  But we also each have a Patton/Rommel tank,  a Scorpion light tank, and four units of jump infantry (jump packs).  It's the last I'm most interested in, as I have a strange masochistic desire to fight giant robots with the most humble of units.

Deployment: I separated my forces into a small group on the right, larger group on the left, and a lone Jenner at the middle, to dart where he's needed.

The enemy:

As the game begins, Fritz dashes his light mechs behind the hill and decides to find out if a single Patton tank can hold off a Stalker.

After some maneuvering and ineffective long range fire, the battle is coming into focus. The hill at the center of the table is clearly the main area of contention.

Infantry move up on the left flank, supported by armor.

While I only have two platoons on this flank, Fritz has his whole 4-platoon company advancing, covered by the awesome power of the... awesome.

Silly name. Very 80s though. There should be another mech called the "Totally Tubular" with, you know, lots of missile tubes. 

Funny thing about Battletech... I love it, in fact I love it to a surprising degree given its clunky rules and often ugly mechs.  But damn some of the mechs are ugly, and worse, hard to tell apart. I had an Enforcer and Commando, and I totally confused them. Ultimately, I had to switch models, as I had the one without jump jets jumping around up on things the whole beginning of the game.

I think my favorite mech is the Jenner, although it is indeed up there on the ugly scale. Here the Jenner has gotten around the rear of the enemy Assassin and cut right through its rear armor. Meanwhile the Commando/Enforcer (I'm not really sure which!) hits him from the front. 

Meanwhile the enemy infantry approach while my own dig in inside the ruins.

The Stalker vs. Tank battle on the right is pretty inconclusive. The tank has too much armor, but lacks the firepower (and hot dice) to do much to the massive assault mech. I'm sure that if we'd kept plugging away at each other, the mech would have triumphed, but as it stands we only succeeded in some minor damage to each other.

Meanwhile the action on the hill was heating up.

My Commando/Enforce (no the other one, the one with jump jets), took a nasty hit to his left arm, knocking out the weapon.

While on the right, the infantry finally got into range of each other. Distracted by the mechs at the center, the Awesome ignores the infantry and tanks as beneath his notice.

My infantry were at a 2:1 disadvantage, but were better covered by tanks. The anti-infantry weapons of the tanks were able to catch the enemy infantry in the open, and while I took some terrible casualties, my men were in cover and came out the better for it.

An interesting moment - with the enemy winning initiative, Fritz was able to get into head-to-head combat with my Jenner. Both mechs fired everything they had at each other at point blank range.

And both utterly missed with everything.

Meanwhile the enemy Cicada used its superior mobility to get behind my Stalker.  The Stalker, like the enemy Awesome, had begun to turn its attention to the decisive mech battle at center, and also exposed its rear to the enemy Patton/Rommel tank. While it was nothing its armor couldn't handle, the combo managed to destroy one of the Short Range Missile packs in the shoulder.

However, with a win to initiative, I was able to turn the table and really pound the smaller mech.

On the left, the enemy infantry, after losing two whole platoons, had jumped into cover themselves. It helped, but didn't save them from continuing machine gun and flamer attacks from the tanks. I too lost one platoon, but a second continued to fire from the other side of the wall.

Ah, the moment of glory. As the Cicada ran up to once again engage the Stalker, it got too close to my infantry who pounced. One platoon managed to begin to climb the mech, waiting to do some serious swarming damage next turn.  The Cicada, it's arm blown off and smoking, was in real trouble.

As the Cicada slowly succumbed to the infantry tearing out its engines and the other mechs pounding it, the second infantry platoon moved to catch up to the Assassin, which had been surrounded by light mechs. It too succeeded in climbing.

With infantry swarming two mechs and all of their light mechs taking damage, things were not looking good for the attackers.

Finally, the Cicada fell, taken down from a shot by the Enforcer after having taken terrible damage from the infantry assault.

With that, we were forced to call the game as we were out of time. But it was clear that the attackers were repulsed. They'd lost the Cicada and three infantry platoons, and it seemed unlikely that the Assassin and other light mech would survive the next turn, as they'd taken extreme damage.  Fritz declared that the Awesome and the tanks would have immediately tried to slink away.

My defenders were in better shape.  I lost only one infantry platoon, but had taken some damage to my mechs, including one missing limb. Yet nowhere near the damage done to the enemy. Another Victory in the annals of House Davion.

CONCLUSIONS?  Well, I'm greatly encouraged by the way infantry played out. If you're careful (and take the necessary upgrades for infantry), then infantry can be a real threat, even to a mech.  My full-strength platoon dealt more than twice the damage of a large laser to the mech it swarmed for instance, and further, a full-strength platoon, dug in, is hard for a mech to destroy, taking a fraction of the damage from most weapons. Most mechwarriors probably ignore them in favor of other targets, but I think if used skillfully, those mechwarriors ignore them at great peril.

Next time, we'll be trying out aerospace fighters and possibly some VTOLs to get a handle on that aspect of the rules.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Don't fear the Airbrush

Oh, hell yes.  My birthday gifts have arrived. My wife picked me up the compressor, and I got a beautiful Iwata Eclipse airbrush from... me.  I'm a very generous man.

I have to admit to being seriously intimidated by airbrushing, and while my desire for one was strong, I put it off for a long while over fear that I would just suck at it and have several hundred dollars of buyers remorse taunting me from the shelf.

Turns out, I need not have worried. Airbrushing is EASY. Almost ridiculously so. 

Case in point, the two 1/72 PSC Shermans below.  The one on the left was brush-painted, and I am rather proud of it. I think it's some of my best work with drybrushing, washes, and highlights that I've done, especially considering how hard it is to drybrush curved surfaces and flat areas. I'm very happy with it and it took quite a while (many hours over the course of many days).

Yet the Sherman on the right, done in about an hour with an airbrush (and most of that time was cleaning the airbrush - one of the things that really slows it down), is just as good, maybe better.

These tanks were primed black, and white was first airbrushed onto areas I wanted highlighted. Seconds later, it was base-coated, and the highlights appeared automatically.

On the Churchill below, the highlights came out easy, and effects like diesel smoke are unbelievably easy. It could be better, but not a bad first effort.

As practice, I reprimed some All Quiet on the Martian Front tanks and painted them. These were actually my first attempts, and they didn't come out quite as well as the WWII tanks (not the same quality model anyway).   I also played around with a brushed-on chipping effect here.

And coal-smoke airbrushed on.

The Churchill all put together. I'm holding off on the weathering until my decals arrive.

The lesson here is "fear not the airbrush", excepting perhaps its price tag. It's not cheap to get into, but the learning curve is not as high as people seem to say, at least in my opinion. However, I would suggest that a quality airbrush very much makes a difference, based on the difference between the cheap "Master Airbrush" I received for X-mas and the Iwata I just bought.

The main downside to the airbrush is the maintenance and cleaning. It feels like it takes longer to clean after each color than painting with the color, but that probably isn't precisely true. I'm sure I'll get quicker at it with time. There are lots of little finicky moments, thinning of paint is important, and you will make mistakes, but the same is true of brush painting.  In the end, this is a very fun tool to play with.

I have a few more tanks I want to do for practice (some Stuarts and some SCW stuff), but then I'm moving on to my next real project... Battletech!

It will be a challenge for my new airbrushing skills to paint such small models, but I'm feeling ready to take the plunge.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Final Assault - Quinto de Ebro Campaign Finale

Here it is, the final objective of the Lincoln Battalion, and the final refuge for Quinto's brave defenders, the town's church at the top of the hill overlooking the city.  Packed with townspeople fleeing the "reds" and the scattered remnants of the units charged with the city's defense, its occupants fear the inevitable. They've all heard stories about the barbarous internationalists and Soviet Russians that have cornered them here.

This is the final board on this ladder campaign, board 5, and Fritz and I are playing here for all the marbles. The Lincolns were tasked with taking the town in three days (each day is 3 turns), and it is noon on the 3rd day. If they win here, they win the campaign. If the Nationalist defenders drive them back here, then they will be able to launch a counter-attack back into the city, which will tie the Lincolns up for the rest of the day, moving the clock into an untenable day 4. That will be considered a Nationalist victory, as the Zaragoza offensive, of which this battle is a small piece, will go off its timetable, allowing Franco's forces to counterattack and opening the (remote) possibility of a relief column reaching Quinto.

There's a small chance of a draw as well, as this is the "Attack on an Objective" scenario in the main book. If the Lincolns break the Nationalists without having anyone in base contact with the church, they will have a chance to try again once more before the end of the 3rd day (although that one they would have to win outright or face a Nationalist victory).  Despite that, I know that both Fritz and I are going for the decisive win tonight...

The approach to the rear of the church from the main town (visible in the last board) is narrow and completely covered by Nationalist machine guns in the rear windows of the church.  Therefore the Lincolns leave a detachment there to prevent any retreat or resupply, and swing their lead platoon around to the front of the church, which offers more options.

This platoon is the famed "Connolly Column" of Irish volunteers. Originally almost company sized, they voted to leave the British Battalion and join the Americans a year before. Now they were reduced to a single battle-hardened platoon.

This scenario will also see the use of both side's last "wild cards". The Lincolns use "Viva la Quinta Brigada", giving them a +2 on their force morale roll for a total morale of 11. The Nationalist defenders, with a modest morale of 9, use "Fascist Propaganda", making the platoon "diehard" for this battle only (and matching the history of this stubborn defense), meaning they ignore all shock. The Lincolns are already "aggressive" and have the "anti-fascist" rule, meaning they never break, but instead retire back pinned. But that they've had all campaign...

The patrol phase begins. The Lincoln scouts go hard to the left, creeping up towards the high walls. My Nationalists lock them down quickly, and also make inroads into the right.

Neither of us got exactly what we wanted out of the patrol phase, and we're making due with what we have. One area I'm pretty happy with is the jump off point on the slope of the right side of the board.

Another is far back towards the church tower.

And the last in the square next to the building.

The Lincolns put one near the table edge, hidden by the wall.

Another next to some buildings in the same area.

And the last inside the courtyard of the larger building near their side of the board.

As the Lincolns start to move, they reveal their plan. A field gun comes on near the wall, clearly intended to blow a hole in it to allow the infantry to make a quick dash for the square and its JoP.

They also deploy a Machine Gun team into the building at the bottom of the hill. This allows them to cover the whole approach to the church when they knock down the walls.

The first infantry section quickly joins the field gun, along with Lt. Joseph Flannagan, their C.O.

With Lt. Flannagan initially separated from the nearby platoon, the Nationalist sniper (free in this scenario) takes some shots at him to no avail.

A machine gun unit set up in one of the church's upper windows, ready for the Irish to charge over the walls.

A Lincoln Battalion mortar team deploys into the courtyard as well.

Lt. Flannagan, hurried along by the sniper, joins his unit and they began to prepare their deployment. It looks like the Lincolns are going to wait for the their second section to join them before making their move.

Preparing for that eventuality, Sargento Javier Rios (senior leader) emerges with a full-strength rifle section, setting them up on overwatch to await the Lincolns on the other side of the wall.

Their appearance takes the wind out of Lt. Flannagan's sails. Charging through any gap would see them taking fire from the whole section AND the machine gunner in the window. They stay put for now, waiting for a double phase no doubt.

At this point, the Nationalist make their move. Wait, who is that in the red beret leading the reduced Nationalist section?   It is none other than El Profesor.

Last scene climbing the hill to the church after sacrificing nearly his entire platoon to the Lincolns, he's been pulled back to service by the army platoon leader, Alfarez Juan Pena, and given the weaker section of only two teams (although with an LMG). The section lost his leader in the last game and the traumatized theology professor was given the job (as a replacement officer, he still only has 1 activation and a reduced range - he was just added for color).

Who better than El Profesor to lead a dangerous and risky flanking attack on the Nationalists?

Meanwhile, a machine gun duel is in progress. The Lincoln gun claims the first blood of the game, but the return fire starts to wear on the unit.

In answer to El Profesor's move, the second Lincoln section deploys into the alleyway. Stretching the distance from the JoP to get there, they only have 5 rifles that can shoot on deployment. All miss the Nationalist soldiers, despite them being in the open.

El Profesor redeploys his men on a lucky double run and they return fire to much greater effect.

To help control the situation, Pena himself joins the unit, only to be immediately be hit with mortar fire. His bugler goes down, but Pena and his flag-bearer make it out unscathed.

As the Lincoln section disappears into the building, Pena orders El Profesor onwards.

The Nationalist machine guns, which would love to gun down those targets, find that they are well outside it's field of fire from the window, and of course, tripod machine guns can't lean out windows...

In the fire from the church and the sniper, the team has taken considerable shock and lost most of its men, including it's junior leader. It soon withdraws deeper into the house, well away from the windows.

El Profesor and his men take possession of the taller building, giving the men at the upper windows shots into the courtyard opposite.

This forces the mortar team to withdraw into cover. The daring gamble is starting to pay off, and the game feels like it's going the Nationalists' way. Certainly the Lincolns have suddenly found themselves on their heels.

Despite rifle shots on them, the Mortar team escapes inside unscathed. So far there have been few casualties, but much maneuvering. At the same time, the field gun begins gradually crawling back away from the wall, perhaps looking to turn its destructive power onto the buildings taken by Pena and El Profesor.  This diversion is working out swimmingly, pulling more and more attention away from the objective.

Perhaps eager to martyr himself, or else to redeem himself for his defeats, El Profesor volunteers to lead a dangerous foray towards the enemy JoP. Alfarez Pena gives his assent, willing to risk this half-crazed fanatic and a few men for the opportunity to demoralize the enemy.

The rush into the archway, so very close to the JoP.  So close, in fact, that we were unable to satisfactorily measure the distance. We had to roll a die to decide if they were close enough to contest the JoP - and they were.

The Irish get a double-run of phases (four 6s rolled) which not only gives them the chance to act again and a free CoC die, but ends the turn and results in them finding a small cache of wine in the building, increasing their morale by 1.  Inspired by the prospect of booze after the battle they pour out of the building, rushing down the stairs in an attempt to assault my men. The first roll isn't enough to assault, and I end the turn, claiming the JoP.

...and dropping the Lincoln morale to a 6. The other losses were from wounded and then killed Junior leaders.

On their second phase, the Lincolns rush to assault, but I use another CoC die to interrupt and flee. They did their job, costing the enemy -2 morale!

But the Lincolns aren't idle, they surge forward, eager to give chase and close on the heavily outnumbered enemy.

They catch them just outside the door of the building hiding the rest of the section and Pena himself.  I steel myself for what seems certain to be a bloodbath.

But instead, Fritz and I are both shocked by the response. Despite having about three times the dice, El Profesor's small band fights like lions, with the traumatized professor leading the charge himself.  It's a clear Nationalist victory, perhaps abetted by the Irish sampling of the wine.

Delivering numerous kills and shock, the Nationalist take only one kill themselves...

Which unfortunately was El Profesor himself.  Bravely steeling his men and leading from the front, despite everything else that happened beforehand, he will be remembered with honor by the Nationalist survivors of Quinto. Those who knew him and saw what became of him in the end rejoiced, knowing that his guilt and pain were lifted from him by his martyrdom, and that even now he's among the elect and among his many students and compatriots that died for him at the town's outer defenses.

The Irish meanwhile are stunned by their reversal of fortunes. They are just shy of being pinned, and end up rushing back 18", short a junior leader, towards the field gun which has just rounded the corner. With no junior leader, and no senior leader nearby, it will be hard to bring these guys back to fighting form.

The Lincoln leader has a hard choice to make. Try to (slowly) bring the section and field gun back around to the wall and church, abandoning the other buildings to Pena's flanking force, or else have Flannagan rush to meet them on his own, braving sniper fire, to remove the shock.  As it happens, the Lincolns decide to do neither, but instead leave them as they are, supporting the field gun which has no shot on the enemy. They are waiting for the Nationalist to come and try to finish the job.

At first, it seems like that's exactly Pena's plan. He brings the section out into the street.

The field gun goes on overwatch in preparation for their charge.

...But Pena has no intention of giving them what they want. He wants to stay close to the church, in case the Lincolns try to cross the wall without the field gun. He starts maneuvering his flanking force under the windows covered by the enemy machine gun. If the Lincolns don't cross the wall, he'll charge into the building and clear out the support units inside.

But the Irish are stubborn, and line up in formation to cross the wall at once. All they need is a double phase...

It comes almost immediately after Fritz ends the turn to pull up my overwatch markers. He catches the defenders, who allowed themselves to relax, off guard, and the Irish surge forward.

Moving quickly to close the gap, we find ourselves in another bayonet charge.

With nearly the same numbers on both sides, it's a coin-flip.

And the coin flips my way. While taking several casualties, including a junior leader and a wound to sargento Rios, the enemy takes worse, losing their junior leader and seeing Lt. Flannagan knocked unconscious.

The hits to the leaders drops the Nationalist morale to a 6.

And the Lincoln morale to a 5. They can't afford any more hits.

However, there's little to be done. The attacking section falls back in some disorder, dragging their unconscious leader with them. With few junior leaders left and an unconscious senior leader, there's no way to remove shock.  Things look grim for the attackers.

However, the Lincolns, knowing what to expect as foreign volunteers if they surrender, never break, instead falling back pinned. This avoids several force morale checks.

Fire from the rifle section and machine guns pins the whole group, driving them further back. But there's nowhere to go unless they move to the high walls.

Pena's section has cut off their only escape. His men charge up the road towards the church and catch the Irish between the two groups.

It's a slaughter.

Lincoln morale plummets at the loss of multiple teams.

With only three command dice, and no way to unpin himself, there's nothing the Irish can do but try to burrow themselves into the sand.

Soon, the section is utterly wiped out, leaving only the unconscious Flannagan alone and bleeding on the ground.

With the loss of their section, the Lincoln morale is at a 1.

As Pena carefully moves closer, deciding whether to take the Irish leader captive, the machine gun in the church makes the decision for him and finishes the job. The Lincoln morale falls to zero, and the game, and campaign, goes to Pena and his Nationalists.

A decisive victory for the Nationalists, they are strong enough to pursue the fleeing Lincolns back into the city, tying them up there until the sun goes down on the third day of the Battle of Quinto. We won't play that battle, as there are just too few left of the Lincolns to defend with (the Connolly Column is essentially no more), and the outcome wouldn't matter for the campaign result anyway.

The Lincoln survivors are few indeed - this campaign has seen the decimation of their first company, and a tarnishing of their reputation in the Republic. While this certainly wouldn't change the outcome of the war, it might well have rippling effects after this battle, whether or not Franco is able to relieve Quinto's besieged church (unlikely - Pena is probably dead the next day). The Lincoln losses mean it is unlikely they were in good enough shape to effectively intervene in the Battle of Belchite only a few days later, which may indeed have changed the outcome there, making the Zaragoza campaign even more of a disaster for the Republic than it was historically.  It's fun to speculate!

This game was a great climax for the campaign, which has been a lot of fun. Fritz is as always a great and challenging opponent, and said he had enough personal glory to be satisfied.  It was a close-run thing, and we agreed that if that close combat with El Profesor had gone differently (or statistically for that matter) the outcome might have been very different.

I hope you've enjoyed following along - I certainly had a blast putting everything together. I hope to offer everyone a .pdf of the full campaign, including historical background, maps, pictures, and the full rules, sometime in the near future. Stay tuned, and thank you for reading!

A final look at the board:

The Lincoln casualties:

The Nationalist casualties (including the famous professor). Doesn't include support losses.