Friday, January 25, 2019

6mm Scale Scratch Built Dragon’s Teeth

According to Wikipedia; 

Dragon's teeth (German: Drachenzähne) are square-pyramidal fortifications of reinforced concrete first used during the Second World War to impede the movement of tanks and mechanised infantry. The idea was to slow down and channel tanks into killing zones where they could easily be disposed of by anti-tank weapons.

They were employed extensively, particularly on the Siegfried Line. 
I’ve wanted to use these on the tabletop for ages. I searched the web and could only find one manufacturer selling them, perfect six miniatures. I wanted to put a lot of them on the table and I just couldn’t justify the expense. So I decided to scratch build them instead.

I decided to go for the square pyramid shapes. The trick was to find something that I could cut up, that had lots of pyramids already. Trying to cut the shapes by hand just wasn't going to be practical. I googled around for anything that I could use to get that shape. It took a while but I finally found something on eBay that looked like it would do the job. Six weeks later and direct from China it arrived. It cost me £6.24 including postage, or about $10.

It’s a reflexology/ massage/ acupuncture therapeutic foot mat. Dig the propaganda: designed by an internationally famous doctor. No hospital. No side effects. 
Well it’s made from a soft plastic, it has lots of pyramids and it was cheap.

Step 1 - Cutting it up 
I tried using my Dremel to cut it using a rotary blade but soon gave up. The plastic melted and roughed up. However reverting to a sharp, strong craft knife turned out to be the solution. The knife can be fairly easily pushed through with a bit of pressure.
The mat is essentially divided into 9. The 4 side sections were easiest. I cut large squares first, stripping the edging and supporting strips from underneath before cutting the board into strips 4 pyramids long.
There are hundreds of them. I stopped after I’d cut 73. That gives me about 9 feet of dragons teeth 1 wide or 4.5 feet doubled up.
I still have more than half the board left but the remaining bits require more cutting and the middle is just not usable. 
I then used the knife to cut the top off the pyramids to square them off.

Step 2 - Basing and Undercoat 
I superglued the strips onto bases each about 4cm long and about 1cm wide and then sprayed them with a base grey undercoat.

Step 3 - Painting 
I tend to use Army Painter paints and inks, but any decent acrylic paint would work as well. Painting consisted of a first coat of Dark Tone ink wash, then a light dry brush of Desert Yellow followed by another lighter dry brush of Skeleton Bone. Finally a Soft Tone ink wash to finish it off.

Step 4 - Basing 
I used Basetex for a quick finish which I could sculpt around the dragons teeth. And that’s it. Job done.

Different variants 

There were cuboid obstacle variants as well. I haven't tried modelling those but if I get around to it this bar drip mat looks like just the ticket. 

Let me know what you think. Have you tried anything similar?

Happy modelling.

Charles the Modeller

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movement and Activation

The mechanics for movement and formation activation are the core rules underpinning the rules for All Hell Let Loose. In my last post I talked about the design objectives and outlined a quick summary of the movement rules. Today I’m going to delve into that in more detail.

The game is based on the movement and actions of a number of formations under the control of two or more players. Each formation represents a number of companies of troops, a battle group, battalion or regiment under a single command structure. Think majors and colonels trying to respond to orders from generals (the players).

Players have a tabletop view and (hopefully), a unified vision of how they want the battle to progress, they know how fast troops can move and they know when they want a formation to move. However troops on the ground have a limited view of the world, limited information, competing priorities and logistical complications.

I want to compare the rules for All Hell Let Loose to those of chess. In chess the location of every piece is known to both players. The order of movement, alternate with white going first, is clearly understood. The move distances and combat capabilities of every chess piece are known and do not vary. All Hell Let Loose does not mirror this approach. Breaking all of these conventions simulates the lack of knowledge, loss of control and sheer bloody mindedness of others that generals faced when fighting actual battles.

Battlefield Knowledge

A number of approaches are taken to reduce the information available to players on the location of troops on the battlefield.

Formations more than 12” away from any enemy forces can be represented by a counter. Individual units, effectively a platoon of infantry or vehicles, are not placed on the table. Whilst the location of the counter informs the opposing player that something is there the other player remains unsure as to whether it is infantry, mechanised, armoured, artillery as well as to whether it is weak or strong. We call it a strategic counter to reflect it is operating in a less restricted manner than deployed troops.

In addition, in most games, players can elect to place a number of dummy counters on the board, roughly 1 for every 3 or 4 real formations. These counters are intended to enable the player to keep their opponent guessing as to where the real strength of his army lies.

Movement and Action Order

Movement and actions are conducted at the formation level, with all the units belonging to a formation acting when the formation acts. This is controlled by players selecting a dice or token at random from a bag or cup. Two identical, but different coloured sets of dice or tokens are needed, one for each side. Each formation on the table, or in the case of artillery, supporting from off table generates one die. In order to do something with a formation a die from the bag must be allocated to it.

Selection of a die is random. This breaks the alternating approach of many games and removes a level of control from players. It promotes tension, particularly during crucial turns and keeps everybody focussed on action at the table.

Dice bag from and tokens by Lego

Allocation of the die to a formation or counter on the table is allocated by the controlling player. It can be allocated to any formation which has not yet acted in a turn. Once all the dice in the bag have been allocated to formations and the formation actions resolved the turn ends and dice are returned to the bag for the start of the next turn.

Movement and Actions

Players can automatically move strategic counters at a faster speed than deployed troops. However, once they move close to an enemy, or the enemy moves close to them, the formation must deploy. The higher speed and automatic movement of these counters is intended to speed units into combat to drive the game forward.

Deployed formations, however, must determine their movement and capacity to act based on a dice roll. There are three possible outcomes,

Limited Tactical Action - move at half speed or fire at half range
Normal Tactical Action - undertake an action such as move at normal speed, fire a full range, enter ambush, reform
Double Tactical Action - undertake two actions such a move twice, move and fire, fire and assault

The higher the quality of troops the more likely they are to be able to act as the player wishes. In addition the effectiveness of a formation’s officers can provide a bonus or penalty to this check. Well led troops are significantly more effective on the battlefield.

Elements of SS Wachbattalion 3 attack at Arnhem - it is arguably the worst unit on the western front

This approach to movement and capability adds more complexity to the decision making. A unit close to the enemy is always under threat from a possible double activation. No attack or action can be guaranteed. Better quality troops and better quality officers can hold off attacks from numerically superior forces.

Penalties are applied to the activation rolls as formations sustain losses but that will have to wait for another post.

Next time I’ll post a blog on some custom terrain I’ve made.

Charles the Modeller

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Rules Design Objectives and Approach

When designing a rules system the really big question is what am I trying to achieve?

With the rules for All Hell Let Loose there were a number of objectives;

We wanted a game where players controlled multiple battalions, regiments or battlegroups. We wanted to be generals controlling a battle, not captains in charge of a company.  These formations needed to reflect the range of units you’d expect including mortars, HMGs, engineers and recon options.

We wanted to simulate the feel of the period without getting bogged down in the detail. No general has perfect knowledge of the ground and enemy, battalions react too slowly or not at all, threats are over or under estimated. The management of platoons by lieutenants and sergeants, such as unit facing, would not really be our concern.

Players always needed to be involved in the game, and always feel under pressure. Every turn, every action should involve decisions, choices and compromises.

The battlefield needed to fit on a reasonably sized table, 6ft by 4ft for a small game with one player a side, and be scalable for larger games with larger tables and more players per side.

The game durations needed to fit in with our family and work life. Essentially it means we have 4 hours on a Friday night, with games that could carry over for two or three game nights, or could be managed on those golden days that dad’s get off once in a blue moon.

These aspirations dictated or guided the approach to the rules and game.

The table size constraint combined with the desire to fight large battles dictated many of the games principles. Providing a battleground that covered miles along with the need to place a range of different unit types pushed us to the smaller scale figures. 6mm figures seemed to provide the appropriate balance between size, detail and range, although the rules will work equally well with 3mm or 10mm figures.

Forces are organised by formation - a battalion, regiment or battle group. Each formation made up of a number of units, either a stand with infantry or a gun or a vehicle or tank, each representing an historical platoon. Play testing resulted in a limit of 12 units for each formation with larger historical battalions split into two or more formations. This enables sufficient flexibility, figure and unit type representation without threatening to overwhelm any opposition it might encounter, or taking too long to move and adjudicate actions.

The game is intended to be a simulation. Lots of factors are subsumed into a single dice roll to aid speed of play but without losing the feel of the period. Troop quality is split across 3 basic quality levels, command similarly split. Fire effectiveness is aggregated from 0 to +7 with different values for attacks against infantry than against vehicles. Range modifiers are simple and consistent. Turns can represent anything from 15 minutes to an hour of combat. This enables turns to be completed in 20 to 30 minutes of game time and for battles to be fought in a reasonable timeframe.

In order to keep players involved and to add pressure whilst removing control formations act according to the order dice are removed from a bag. Formation activity is further constrained by the result of an activation dice roll based on command and troop quality. Players can never be really sure when a formation will move or how effective it will be. Attacks can start late, be interrupted or never even take place at all. At key points in the game players will be worrying about the colour of the next dice out of the bag whilst trying desperately decide which of their three most critical formations they need to activate first.

Next time I’ll talk more about the order and activation system.

Happy dice rolling!

Charles the Modeller

Brécourt Manor - Part 9 - Camouflage Netting

Experimental 6mm Camouflage Nets The final piece of development work on the Brécourt board has been completed. The episode of Band of Brot...