Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Back in the early 1980s, when I was just starting to discover the joys of drainpipe jeans, Dungeons & Dragons and supporting Hull FC, Games Workshop brought out a fun little boardgame called “Apocalypse: The Game of Nuclear Devastation” in which you could wipe out most of Europe with funky stacks of nuclear missiles while enjoying your Indian takeaway on a Friday night.

The game fitted perfectly into the paranoia of the time – would we all be blown into atoms by a nuclear holocaust as soon as Ronnie Reagan was elected, or would we actually manage to live long enough to see Revenge of the Jedi at the cinema? It didn’t really feel as if we were living on a knife edge, although there was just this nagging fear that one frustrated NORAD computer having a seriously bad day could totally mess up our role-playing schedule for the next few millennia.

I first played Apocalypse at the School Wargames Club....Room J7 if I remember correctly on a late Friday afternoon sometime in 1981. I had a blast, most of which came from the pleasure of launching nuclear weapons at your mates and obliterating Vienna. Hey, I never liked that Ultravox record anyway.

I owned a copy of the game in the 1980s and played it a lot at University. It always entertained me that one of the most enthusiastic players was a friend who was a diehard CND supporter – I remember he said it showed “the futility of nuclear war....no winners...blah, blah”. But I always had a sneaky suspicion he just liked obliterating the Low Countries with a three inch nuclear warhead stack. Sadly, I sold my copy of Apocalypse in my Great Boardgame Purge of 1996. The game fetches a fortune on EBay now (and far more than the £10 I sold it for), but I’ve mentioned to a few of my chums that I thought the European devastation theme fitted well with my current Great War interest and that I'd like to try the game again sometime.

Following on from Salute on Saturday, my old wargaming chum from the Humberside club, Mike Brown, and his son George, came to stay for the weekend. I’d originally intended to get all the trench boards out for a series of “Through the Mud and the Blood” games, but we opted for a barbecue on the Saturday evening instead and Mike brought over his copy of Apocalypse.

We played a game after the barbecue, and the years came flashing with memories of Classroom J7, the days of Hull FC still being at the Boulevard, my student housemates and, for some odd reason, all those really catchy Yazoo songs from about 1982.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #1: Simple rules. Three pages only. You can read them in the time it takes to eat a post-barbecue tiramisu.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #2: Elegant strategies. There’s a funky system in which you effect combat between armies which involves choosing a number on a dice (instead of rolling it) while your opponent guesses the number. You have various armies in your province, but only the number of armies equal to the number you chose on your dice can enter the province you're attacking. If your opponent guesses the number correctly, you’re defeated, but you only loose the number of armies you attacked with. OK, we’re not talking Paths of Glory here, but it is fun, gives rise to a lot of bluff between players, and after a late afternoon’s drinking at the pub following the Salute show was just about all I could manage on Saturday night.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #3: NUKES!! Oh yes, building the stacks of nuclear warheads was awesome when I played in the 1980s. And unlike listening to most Brit Synth-Pop of the 80s, it still is fun. You get a missile for each successful conflict, and the stack grows higher and higher. So, here’s the Minsk Monster pile of warheads Mike constructed.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #4: Unleash Hell. You always seem to get to the point when everyone has a stack of missiles. Some large, some small, usually dotted around the capitals of Europe and they inevitable destabilise the game. You simply can’t have an opponent sitting around with a missile threatening your attack into the Carpathians, can you? So it’s time to open the silos for a pre-emptive strike. War, huh...what is it good for? The aim is really to set off a chain reaction as your opponent’s missiles are blown up, killing his armies and ideally blowing up everything around as well. All of which tends to completely undermine the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. But hey, that’s just part of the game – there’s even rules to clean up the nuclear wasteland afterwards, so you can feel sort of liberal and moral while playing the game if you really want to. I don't think we bothered with cleaning up after our nuclear holocausts, however. Anyway, here’s my stack in Rome about to be obliterated by the Minsk Monster....

Things I remembered hating about Apocalypse: Oh well, there’s only one. And it’s that the game just goes on, and on, and on. It’s very difficult to play the victory conditions in the game, which simply say something like play until you’re the last one left alive. We played until most of Northern Russia, Italy and Central Europe was obliterated and covered in a nuclear winter, but even then we had the feeling that we could have carried on well past the early hours on Sunday morning. I guess in the early 1980s, with only three television channels in the UK, few videos, no computers and no internet boardgames just took longer. Why hurry when the best thing on TV after midnight was the test card?

So there you have it...”Apocalypse – The Game of Nuclear Devastation”. Designed by Mike Hayes, released by Games Workshop in 1980. Total Win. And far more fun than a nuclear war.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Salute 2010

On Saturday I went to Salute 2010 at Excel with a few of the other members of the TooFatLardies. This was the first year since 2005 that we’d put on a game, mainly I think because after 5 years of participation gaming we fancied a break this time round.

I can’t deny that this was a pleasant change for me after preparing the terrain for the “Through the Mud and the Blood” Western Front game last year. So, with no last minute terrain making and miniature painting deadlines I was really look forward to the games on display and the fantastic show that the Warlords always put on.

If you’ve never been to Salute in its new docklands setting, I would highly recommend a visit. The space is open and light, there’s plenty of room to move around and just about every wargames manufacturer, terrain maker and rules writer either has a stall or is playing a display game. Sure, people still have some legitimate concerns – the expensive car parking, the fact that the UK’s biggest wargames show is still in London and not somewhere more central, the perception by some people that the atmosphere is not quite what it was at the multi-level Olympia venue. While I appreciate the concerns, I still think that the Salute shows at Excel have never been less than memorable and enjoyable. A huge thanks here is due to the South London Warlords (thanks, guys), but “A Big Pat On The Back” is also owed to every participator who’s games bring the whole event alive and make it a great day out.

OK, so what did stand out this year for me? I have to admit a certain weakness at this point. Over the years I’ve gamed dozens of periods, but I tend to be pretty impressionable and get drawn to the games and periods which reflect what I’m doing at the current times. So my digital photo albums from the early 2000s are full of display games from the 17th Century while I built my Williamite armies. And then it was Samurai and fantasy games I focused on when I was building my Medieval Japanese army. So, this time around, it wasn’t perhaps so surprising that I made headlong for a very attractive game set on the first day of The Great War, the spectacularly named “My Feet Hurt, Mum” which was put on by the Gentlemen of the splendidly monicker-ed South East Essex Military Society.

From what I could see from a few visits to the table, it was an opening engagement between German and Belgian forces on the edge of a Belgian town. The excellent terrain was scratch built on a builder’s board even harder than the Styrofoam I’ve used, and complemented by some fine buildings from Grand Manner.

The figures were, I think, mainly Brigade Models’ line of Early War Belgians and Renegade Early War Germans, but the trucks and wagons were scratch converted and supplemented by some very nice vintage Matchbox cars from the “Models of Yesteryear” range.

As you can hopefully see from the photos, the whole effect was a really awesome table, with plenty to catch, but overwhelm, the eyes. My favourites would be the lovely 1/48th scale monoplanes, the limousine of the Belgian Colonel (carrying his Mistress whom I was informed by the South East Essex chaps was called 'Mademoiselle Tottie') and the vegetable plots to the rear of the houses featuring some great miniature cabbages made from Wedding cake decorations (hmmmm....must search those out).

One of the nicest things about the game was the spirit in which the game was being played and also the friendly, warm welcome the South Essex chaps were giving to everyone visiting the table. It was a relief, though, that Richard and myself were not offered a sample of the Belgian Officer’s hip flask on drawing the “Time for a Snifter card” at 10.30am on Saturday morning.

A few dozen light years from the setting of “Through the Mud and Blood” is the new boardgame of “Incursion”. This is set in a Weird War Gibraltar with dozens of zombies and Weird War stormtroopers attempting to massacre hyper-armoured GIs in the tunnels under the Rock of Gibraltar. Hey, it may not be The Great War, but what’s not to like about that setting !! Wandering over to the “Incursion” game table at Salute I found a Lardy chum, Mike Brian, shaking dice like a demon and running one of the games on an absolutely awesome table which looked just perfect and fitted the mood of the game brilliantly.

Mike’s long time visitor to Lard Island Games Days and despite being a bloody good bloke and all round top guy is just about one of the most unlucky gamers you could ever have the privilege to play against. I declined to ask if his zombies had blundered into a minefield as most of his troops seemed to do whenever I played him, but he looked to be having a good time. Hope your zombies had some brains for lunch Mike...

After wandering about the rest of the show and making a final visit to Great War Belgium with the South East Essex chaps, we headed off to the pub for lunch. The photos, I think, tell their own story.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Planning a Fortified Village

Welcome back! And for those visiting for the first time....what kept you?

One of the terrain items I was looking forward to adding to the Trench Terrain boards we built for the Salute 2009 game was a small village, placed close to the front line. The more I had read about The Great War, the more I was intrigued by how the different combatants on the Western Front, and the particularly German armies, sited their defensive strongpoints on villages, hamlets and wooded areas, and interwove these strongpoints with trench lines. I found some fine descriptions of these arrangements in Jack Sheldon’s books “The German Army on the Somme” and “The Germans at Beaumont Hamel” and also in Terry Norman’s excellent “The Hell They Called High Wood”.

As I read thorough the description of the German defences at locations such as Beaumont Hamel I was interested in the way that the cellars of the village houses had been tunnelled through to interlink with the German front line trenches. This made the villages formidable defensive points, capable of holding up attacks for a considerable time. And so an idea was forming to construct a shell damaged village which could be used as major strongpoint in a trench line game.

Following the shows at Salute in March 2009 and Partizan in May 2009, Richard Clarke, Nick Skinner, Mick Tucker and I had also planned to visit the Crisis show in Antwerp in November 2009. The plan was to build a couple of new Trench Boards on which the “village” could be located. I planned to do this during the summer months in which nothing much else would be happening, with plenty of time to spare before the Crisis show. What would be simpler?

Ah, if only I was clairvoyant....

I found images of shell damaged villages from the Western Front depressingly easy to locate on the internet. Some, like the image of Zonnebeke below, simply showed piles of shell shattered bricks and wood. While it would have been accurate to model a completely destroyed village, we still wanted to make sure the game would be attractive to the visitor to the Crisis show. We wanted to catch the eye, and we felt that piles of splintered wood and broken brick walls barely an inch high, while dramatic, wasn’t the “look” we were aiming for in the Crisis game.

You might remember when we built the trench boards we were trying to re-create the type of new, relatively undamaged fortifications from the Siegfried Stellung in 1917 or 1918. It didn’t seem unreasonable to consider that the various lines comprising the Siegfried Stellung could have incorporated a fortified village of the type we wanted to build – damaged, but not yet destroyed.

I then located images from Langemarck and Zonnebeke and some of the other villages around the Ypres salient taken in 1915 and 1916, both on the net and in Peter Barton’s magnificent book on the panoramas of Passchendaele. These photographs showed the villages after some fighting but before the complete obliteration of these communities later in the War. The images (some of which are added below) conveyed the type of damage which we were trying to achieve in our modelling. There was also the added attraction of very loosely trying to copy Flemish buildings, being mindful of the Crisis 2009 show being set in the beautiful city of Antwerp.

After deciding on the “look” of the village, I wanted to try and think of a way in which the buildings could be fully integrated into the Trench Boards. I was very happy to place the buildings directly on the Trench Boards when needed, but wanted to try something a little different for a show like Crisis. I wanted to use the depth of each of the board, basically being 40mm of so of Styrofoam, in the same way as we had used it to cut out the trenches.

The idea came to me, oddly enough, when reading through a copy of the “Town Cryer”, a great supplement which Games Workshop used to publish for their Mordheim game. This contained rules for tunnel fighting. I started browsing Mordheim sites on the web and found the Gidian-Gelände website featuring a stunning table built for Mordheim, complete with tunnels, cellars and sewers. Here’s the site – I thoroughly recommend a visit:


The Mordheim terrain Gidian had built was more elaborate than we needed, but we picked up some great ideas on how to build cellar and link these together (or not) and how to create access from the buildings to the cellars. So, here’s another of my terrain building maxims: “Never be too inventive to forget to learn from the Greats”. So, for the record Gidian.....thanks for the inspiration!

Anyway, in the next few Blogs I’d like to describe how we went about building the village, and how we ended up with our final design. But to let you know there’s an end in sight, here’s some images from the final Trench Boards, featuring the village of Vlissinghe ....

....all quiet before the storm....

.....defended by German stosstruppen.....

......some of which have decided to take refuge in the crypt of the small Flemish Church of Sint-Griete.

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