Friday, 25 October 2013
Chris Stoesen scenario books
A short(ish) while ago I received a set of scenario PDFs from Chris Stoesen ( 'Wargamer's Oddsand Ends' blog). There was no ulterior motive, just have a read through and let him know what I thought. So I did and here's what I think.
There are four books involved, two for the WWII air war in the Western Desert, one for the Italians on the Russian Front in WWII and a set for the ACW. All very nicely produced and packed with information. You can get more information and buy the sets from Chris' blog.
I have to confess to a problem with scenarios. The standard I'm used to is that set by the Royal Navy for their own and NATO exercises and for little bits of 'shufty' work which, of course, never happened. We were given huge amounts of (relevant) tasking information and data and superb briefing notes and guidelines. I've yet to see their equal and it's a rare bird in the wargaming world. So, my view of the majority of scenario publications I've seen over the years has been pretty dim. They've been mostly O.K., but generally 'could do better' and not really worth spending money on, with a few notable exceptions. Thankfully, Chris' four sets fall into the 'a few notable exceptions' tray as they're pretty good in my jaundiced opinion. I've seen plenty of hypothetical scenarios, which are relatively easy to compile, but the challenge of writing historically accurate ones and, more importantly, historically accurate ones that work, isn't one to be taken lightly. “Well of course he'd say that, wouldn't he!” No he wouldn't.
To begin with, I'll talk about the two sets of air scenarios. I was drawn to these first because I've never played an air wargame and wanted to get an idea how they worked. Obviously the books are sequential and cover the whole of the North Africa campaign.
Falcon and Gladiator: June 40 to February 41 for use with 'Bag the Hun' and 'Check Your Six'
Air War in the Western Desert: June 41 to November 42 for use with 'Bag the Hun'
They are 122 and 120 pages respectively and a mine of information. I'm sure die hard air wargamers will be familiar with much of the background information, but, as I've generally focused on the land fighting and the Mediterranean naval campaign, the air warfare has always been linked to these. Not too unrealistic a view actually as the air battles were governed by the need to support the ground offensives and attack of defend the naval convoys.
The books follow similar formats, containing background campaign information, orders of battle and briefing notes, but, more than the other two books, they launch very quickly into the rule related information (plenty of that!), which, in itself, was interesting to me. The information and scenario specific rule amendments/additions are absorbing to a novice like me and they're well written so that even I could grasp the situation first off. They also include plenty of references and are supplemented by game templates. If you're sad like me and actually like reading orders of battle/TOEs, you'll understand why I found this aspect of the books the most interesting.
So, you can cover just about the whole of the air conflict for the campaign with minimum stress other than having to do the actual gaming. I thought air wargaming was really only doable on a PC to give a convincing game, but I'm in the process of changing my mind!
The Coming Thunder. Seventeen scenarios (June to December 1861) for 'Terrible Sharp Sword' (American Civil War)
Despite being the baby of the four books, coming to a mere 92 pages (!), this set was my immediate 'favourite' because of the period, but (see below) they're not limited to the ACW. The scenarios are linked by a 'campaign generator' to recreate the Battle of the Peach Orchard, actually a series of skirmishes over a period of weeks over an area of peach orchards in the Falls Church area of Virginia. The peaches themselves could well have been the actual object of the engagements as fighting ceased once all the peaches had been pinched by the soldiers. So, not the more famous 'Peach Orchard' at Gettysburg!
Now, I'm not much of a skirmish gamer and “Terrible Sharp Sword' is an ACW derivative of Too Fat Lardies' 'Sharpe Practice' rules. They're designed for what I'd describe as a large skirmish game with, say, two dozen to twelve dozen (keep it imperial!) figures a side. However, as with all scenario books worth their salt, the seventeen set pieces can be altered as you wish and the option for larger scale actions is an easy one to take up. I'd have little difficulty upping these to at least brigade level affairs, if not divisional squabbles, so a big plus from my point of view. There's also a decent bibliography, including URL's for websites.
In the Name of Roma!: Actions of the 80th Roma Infantry Division on the Eastern Front, August to December 1941.
These are designed for use with 'I Ain't Been Shot Mum', 3rd edition; 'Troops, Weapons & Tactics' and 'Chain of Command'. The Spanish Blue Division is familiar to many gamers, but I don't recall much being published about the Italians on the Eastern Front.
As if the other books aren't good enough, this is the magnum opus of the set. In fact, it's more of a labour or love, weighing in at a healthy 209 pages according to my laptop. It's a very good history in its own right and worth having without any wargaming interest. Those who do buy it for the actual scenarios will find they've got an extended bargain in that they can be transposed to other periods quite easily. The maps themselves should be easily modified to accommodate, say, Napoleonic brigade or even divisional actions.
As you might expect by now, each scenario is a complete package with orbats, map, background, conditions etc. and, importantly, umpire notes, so you can literally pick up and play. Those who want to adapt these for use in other periods will have as much to do as they wish. The briefing and notes are fine as is, but work will obviously need to be done on the weapon systems and orbats. If you simply want to game the scenarios as they were intended, but with another rules system, the notes contained in the introduction are excellent for this and I think they'd do well for use with the Force on Force rules, transposed to more modern conflicts such as the Balkans (or just about anywhere else for that matter). However, it's a much neglected subject and I think it's well worth looking into, particularly with the advent of the Perry WWII Italians.
I haven't gone into too much detail about these books because, to be honest, they speak for themselves. I've possibly been a little excited by their adaptability, but that's the sort of thing I tend to look for. However, I've got to say that they're excellent value for money and, being PDFs, you can get them from Chris's blog more or less instantly. Chris has written other scenario books which are available on the 'Too Fat Lardies' site.