Monday, May 2, 2011, 5:36 PM
Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. Up this time: A few more thoughts about my D&D character and character-building strategies, the resolution of a War at Sea mystery, and a brief thought on the unlamented passing of Osama bin Laden.
Building My Next D&D Character
After abandoning any ideas of trying to build Stabby Smurf, I really put on my thinking cap for the next campaign. The players collectively decided to provide ourselves with an important character constraint: Everyone had to have a good Stealth check, and we would play outlaws or outlaw-like characters without getting too dark. I settled on the idea of providing a bit of muscle for a party otherwise full of rogues, and decided to build a melee-focused striker who could still take some punishment. My theme: Bounty Hunter. My character would be the guy who skirted the line between lawman and outlaw.
I examined several different possibilities for a basic chassis: fighter-slayer, scout ranger from Essentials, or even the marauder-build ranger from Martial Power 2. At first I was jazzed about the ranger angle because I liked the idea of getting some tracking and good bounty-hunter skills built in to my class, but when I started to seriously assemble a marauder, I discovered that I was pretty unenthused about choosing seven or eight different powers to begin play at 5th level. So I looked hard at the scout ranger, and almost went that way… but the scout was a Dex-high character, and I simply saw Murgom (my character) as a big, strapping fellow using Strength to beat up his foes. I waffled back and forth between slayer and scout, until I finally decided that what I really wanted was to roll one big attack each time I swung, instead of the two-weapon fighting used by the scout. Slayer, for the win! I picked out longtooth shifter for my character race, since half-orc just felt a little too savage.
So, now the question became, how do I fit out a slayer with feats and skill choices to play him as a bounty hunter instead of a berserker? A nonlethal weapon to complement my 2-handed sword seemed like a good place to start, so I spent a feat on Bola Training. Next, I wanted to heighten my awareness and woodcraft… but it would be feat-costly to chase after as much skill training as I might want. I instead settled on Alertness. Being the kind of guy who never gets surprised feels like a good compromise on the perception skill, and appropriate for the keen-nosed shifter. I chose Streetwise and Intimidate for my skills, figuring that it just helped to complete the story.
Overall, Murgom is not particularly optimized; I’m wasting feats and choosing skills I won’t ever really use much. But it’s fun to build a character for some roleplaying as well as pure damage output.
War at Sea 6 Booster Set Art Revealed!
I have been following the various threads about the mysterious units shown on the cover of the War at Sea 6 booster set with great interest. I have to say, I am iMpressed by how quickly the WaS cOmmunity identified these ships and planes! It’s gratifying to see that we’ve got the sculpts and paiNts close enough thaT you guys can piece them together. Anyway, to confirm whAt most of you already kNow, here Are the units depicted in the box cover: Heavy Shore Battery; the Italian cruiser Banda Nere; the Fw-190; and the German O-class battlecruiser Moltke.
(Now, I know that the Germans didn’t really have a name for that ship yet. But, following the admittedly thin example of Friedrich der Grosse, I took the liberty of providing what would seem to be a plausible name for the ship, had it been built. The first Moltke was a successful battlecruiser in World War I; it was named for General Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder), who was one of the principal architects of victory in the Franco-Prussian War—just the sort of accomplishment the Nazis would have liked to commemorate with a new ship name. Of course, Hitler was touchy about the Prussian aristocracy, and Moltke the Younger is often blamed for altering the Schlieffen Plan and costing Imperial Germany its best chance to win the First World War.)
Osama bin Laden
I found myself thinking today of a Judge Roy Bean quote, and taking the liberty of applying it to the situation at hand. Judge Bean was a pretty detestable fellow in a lot of ways, and the original context of this quote wouldn’t pass muster by today’s standards, but the sentiment seems poetically appropriate. But if you'll forgive the substitutions, I think Roy Bean put it pretty well:
Osama bin Laden, in a few short weeks, it will be spring, the snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the air will become soft and balmy, in short, Osama bin Laden, the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be there.
The rivulet will run its soaring course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom the rose, still you won’t be here to see.
From every tree top some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation. The gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature, Osama bin Laden, will be glad, but you, you won’t be here to enjoy it because I command the sheriff or some other officer of the country to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of some standing oak and let you hang until you are dead.
And then, Osama bin Laden, I further command that such officer retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but the bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, blood-thirsty, throat-cutting, murdering son of a b****.
That's all for now -- more on Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures next time!
Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 11:33 AM
I suppose I should just admit to myself that I’m not going to update this blog as frequently as I would like to. The trouble is that I like to wait until I have something new to say or announce about the projects I’ve been working on, and I often get caught up in projects that really shouldn’t be talked about for some time yet. It’s not a matter of secrecy for its own sake—we just don’t want to create expectations that we don’t meet later. Schedules sometimes shift and components sometimes change, so I usually have to wait until my projects are fairly close to release before I can speak with complete confidence about them.
Anyway, with that in mind, here are a few things coming up that I think you’ll find interesting…
Dark Legacy of Evard
First, a heads-up: My entry in the Encounters program, Dark Legacy of Evard, begins its season on May 11th. I found a copy on my desk yesterday, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Not only is it an adventure I’m proud of, I think it’s a good ghost story too, and I hope folks will really enjoy it. If you’re interested in playing through, check with your local hobby stores—the Encounters program is running at thousands of stores around the country, and all you have to do is show up to play. I don’t want to say too much about the plot for fear of spoilers, but let me begin with this: Who’s buried in Evard’s tomb?
The Tale of Erekan the Swordmage Concludes
For the last couple of years, my weekly gaming has consisted of playing in Steve Schubert’s home campaign. Two weeks ago we wrapped the campaign after our party defeated the Lich Queen of the Githyanki, seizing from her the last piece of the Rod of Freedom. My character in the game was the human swordmage Erekan. It was a great deal of fun and I enjoyed the mix of characters at the table, but I’m ready to shake things up. We’re starting a new campaign with 5th-level characters, and we’re trying something a bit different. My fellow players decided they wanted to play our own thieves’ guild, so we gave ourselves the character-building limitation of “everybody be able to stealth.” I decided I was ready to play a striker, but I didn't want to just default to thief. I like the slayer-fighter from the Essentials book, since it’s a good combination of durability and damage, and it’s not overly cerebral (Erekan was the party’s voice of caution and deliberation in the previous campaign).
At one point in our character-build discussions Dave Noonan made a disparaging remark about gnomes, and I immediately threatened to build my character as a gnome slayer. “If that means you are a slayer of gnomes, then by all means go ahead,” Dave replied. Anyway, somehow or another our conversation then equated gnomes to smurfs, and I struck upon the perfect appellation for my character concept: Stabby Smurf. Unfortunately it turns out that gnome and slayer do not synergize in the least, and I have to admit I’m enough of a min-maxer that I have to find at least some small association of race and class. So, no Stabby Smurf; I’m trying out a half-orc or shifter “bounty hunter” with my slayer instead.
Air Force Miniatures 3D Printouts
OK, on to Axis & Allies miniatures. Last week I saw a fascinating bit of technology I’ve never seen before, the so-called “3D printing” used for our prototyping of the airplane models in the Angels 20 set. The machine sprays thousands of layers of some sort of silica dust, building up a reasonably durable 3-D object like a sculpture of an airplane at 1:100 scale. This isn’t the process by which we’ll manufacture the actual miniatures themselves—it’s just a “rapid prototyping” that lets us check the sculpture and scale in this brand-new game. Fascinating stuff! Anyway, I was very pleased with the results: The models look awesome! My favorite was the I-16, which is just a tiny little fellow compared to some of the later fighters but oozes character. (In general the Angels 20 set leans toward early war, so we’re looking to represent more fighters in the ’39 to ’42 time span.) It’s one of the weaker units in the set, but anybody playing a Russian “army” will be able to field a small horde of them. We also doubled up on the sculpt—we do a lot of that in this first set—by designing a Chinese I-16 “Abu” to go along with our Flying Tiger. It turns out the Russians provided a ton of military aid to the Nationalist Chinese in the early years of the war, including hundreds of fighters (and a good number of volunteer pilots, too). Here in America we only know about Chennault and his boys, but the Russians provided three or four times as many planes to China as we did. Anyway, I sat down with producer and brand manager Brian Hart yesterday to go over paint schemes for the various units, and I’m extremely stoked. These models are going to be great!
War at Sea 6 News
I saw some speculation on the message boards about how installations might work in the game. Since we’ve got a shore battery coming in set 6, I figured I’d provide a sneak preview of the relevant special abilities. Here goes:
Installation 12 — This unit can be attacked only with Bomb or Gunnery attacks. Enemy Ships with a Landing ability that are in or adjacent to this unit’s sector can invade this unit. If they invade, roll two dice at the end of the turn and add the Landing values of all adjacent enemy Ships to the roll. On a total of 12 or higher, this unit is destroyed.
Coastal Facility — This unit deploys in a coast or island sector on your side of the map. If you have none, it deploys within three sectors of your side of the map. If you deploy it in a coast or island sector, line of sight to and from this unit isn’t blocked by that coast or island.
The “free floating” installation may seem weird, but the sculpt we’re using is based on Fort Drum from Manila Bay. It was a fortified island, so it makes sense that it could be in a sea sector. A different sculpt might have a slightly different version of Coastal Facility.
Oh, and by way of apologizing for such a long break between posts: You IJNCVLF fellows will be pleased to learn that set 6 includes the Taiho. She was the Japanese flagship at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and unlike previous Japanese carriers, she featured a well-armored hull and an armored flight deck. Like the American carrier Lexington—another seemingly large and well-protected carrier—Taiho was done in by an explosion of fuel vapors hours after her aviation fueling system was damaged. It’s a good sculpt (we even managed to get the funnel’s outboard angle), and it should be a fine addition to the AANM game.
One final thought: My nightstand reading these days is James Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. Hornfischer is the fellow who wrote Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts. It’s a very readable history of the fighting around Guadalcanal; I highly recommend it. A number of years back I read Robert Ballard’s Lost Ships of Guadalcanal, which provides another fascinating account of the battles and shows you what became of shipwrecks. And heck, as long as I’m on the topic of my reading, let me say that I am very much looking forward to Oil on the Water, by Eric Bergerud, which should be out in September of this year. Bergerud is the author of one of the best books on the air war in the South Pacific that I’ve ever read, Fire in the Sky. He also wrote Touched with Fire, a book on the land war. There aren’t many authors that combine an examination of the hardware with an account of the campaign and a long look at tactics, organization, and the men doing the fighting. I’ve been waiting for him to get to the naval war for years now.
That’s all for now—back in a few weeks!
Thursday, February 10, 2011, 2:18 PM
Looks like the Wildcat is out of the bag! Longtime readers might remember a blog post a few months back in which I remarked on the fact that I was working on a number of very cool secret projects all at the same time. Well, we’ve now announced one of them in our 2011 Fall Catalog, so I can finally talk a little bit about our brand-new Axis & Allies miniatures game: Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures. We’re planning on two offerings at the end of this year: a Battle of Britain-themed Starter Set, and the Angels 20 booster set.
(I expect that like AANM/War at Sea, folks might use the names more or less interchangeably. I tend to refer to it as AAAFM, Angels 20, or sometimes just “the air game.” Whatever works for you. We thought about just calling it AA Air Miniatures, but that sort of suggests that you’re buying miniatures of air. Eventually we decided that since most of the major powers referred to their air services as “air force” or “air army” in their own languages, Air Force Miniatures was okay, even though it sounds a little anachronistic for the US. But even then the US air service was the US Army Air Force. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the term “angels 20” is military radio slang that refers to altitude: It means you’re flying at 20,000 feet.)
Anyway, I served as the lead designer on the AA Air Force Miniatures game, doing my initial design work in the spring of 2010, and coming back in December to develop and revise the game. Like most A&A fans, I’ve been fascinated by the great warbirds of WW2 all my life. Mons Johnson was my principle co-designer, and I had the assistance, playtesting, and kibitzing of Brian Hart, Ryan Miller, Steve Winter for game play. Ryan Sansaver, Brian Dumas, Nick Isaacs, and Nick Bartolli have been heavily engaged in the process of creating the CAD sculpts of the planes in our sets. All in all, it’s a dedicated and passionate group of WW2 goobs. (As an aside, we’re fortunate to have several great air museums out here in the Northwest; in the last year or so I’ve visited the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, the air museum down in Tillamook, Oregon--it’s in an old blimp hangar—and the museum up at Paine Field in Everett.)
OK, now for a few quick comments and clarifications for people who are asking questions already. First of all, a caveat: The project is still in flux in a few areas, so some details may change. Oh, and another one: It’s too early for a lot of detail, and there are a number of things I’m not going to speak to yet. That said, here are a few quick points I’d like to make:
1/100 Scale: Yep, the models are at 15mm or 1/100 scale. That means the planes are pretty sizable. A typical model is about 3.5” long with a wingspan of 4” or so. Unlike the planes in the AAM sets, the ball joint at the top of the post, not the bottom; you’ll be able to bank and pose your models. In fact, there are some gameplay elements that take advantage of this feature. The models are made of a somewhat harder plastic than the War at Sea models because stiffness is more important for wings, tails, etc., but they should still be pretty durable.
Hex-based Gameplay: Like AAM and AANM, Angels 20 isn’t a true ground-scale minis game; the models are meant to represent where a unit is and which way it’s facing, as opposed to its proportional scale distance to other units. You could certainly use our models to play true-scale games if you like, but we think playing on a grid makes for a quicker and easier beer-and-pretzels experience. The hexes are pretty big to accommodate the generously sized models, so the basic play area is 40” by 30”, like War at Sea.
New Game System: AAAFM is a new system designed to provide the best fighter-on-fighter gameplay we can deliver. The game’s stat cards present a number of traits and characteristics unique to airplanes, such as Speed, High Speed, Turn, Roll, Climb, and Dive. Some elements will be pretty familiar to existing AAM and War at Sea fans—for example, you roll attack dice a lot like War at Sea with a 6 counting as two successes, and you compare it to the target’s Armor and Vital Armor. However, pilot quality and target aspect play a big part in determining how good your attack really is.
Land Game Compatibility: The aircraft miniatures are now in proper scale with the vehicles of AAM, which is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time now. We’re not planning on providing new land-game stat cards for the new aircraft in Angels 20, but the rulebook in the Starter includes an appendix listing land-game stats for the new aircraft.
Randomization: The Starter set is “fixed,” so each starter has the same models in it. As I noted before, the Starter is themed around the Battle of Britain. The Angels 20 booster set is randomized. We’re planning on three planes to a booster. There are a total of 30 units in the booster set.
Distinct Sculpts: Right now we’ve got about 20 distinct sculpts between the starter and the booster set. Naturally, a number of pieces are “repaints” that provide different paint schemes (and stat cards) for different iterations of the same airframe. For example, we use one P-40C sculpt for an American Volunteer Group Flying Tiger, a USAAF P-40B Rookie, and a Soviet Lend-lease Tomahawk II. Basic performance numbers are pretty similar, but each has its own pilot quality and special abilities, each has its own stat card and flavor text, and each is painted appropriately. We’re reasonably careful about version accuracy; as much as we might like to say that a Bf 109F can use the same sculpt as a Bf 109E, we didn’t do that—they’re two different sculpts. Between the Starter set and the booster set, we’ve got 3 unique US sculpts, 3 unique UK sculpts, 2 unique Soviet sculpts, 2 French, 5 German, 2 Italian, and 3 Japanese. Minor countries such as South Africa, Poland, Romania, and Finland are also represented as repaints.
Well, as much as I might like to go on about all sorts of things, I have to be a little cautious in what I say at this point. When we get a little closer I’ll be happy to expand on things like gameplay and interesting units in the set, but for now, I just wanted to answer the basic question of What Is It. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!
Oh, yeah, and for you War at Sea players: This didn’t knock Set 6 out of its schedule. We’re still going ahead with Set 6, it’s just delayed a little because we ran into a bit of a bottleneck.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 12:56 PM
It’s been a busy start to the year already! I’m now engaged in writing the first draft of a new Jack Ravenwild novel, and I’m trying to reestablish the work habits that let me find a few thousand words a week in my evenings and weekends. So far, so good: I just finished Chapter 2 last night. Good football games over the last few weeks haven’t been helping much!
Anyway, I thought I’d take a few minutes and share a few more of the cool or interesting things I’m involved with that are coming up. So here goes:
Gamma World: Legion of Gold
I just received my office copy of the Legion of Gold expansion pack, and I’m very happy with it. In the GWRPG box, Bruce Cordell tackled the adventure, and I handled some other parts of the book, such as the rules chapter. So for Legion of Gold, we switched it around; I took point on the adventure, and Bruce tackled most of the rest of the book. I actually owned and played the original Legion of Gold adventure when I was a kid, and remembered it fondly; this time around, I wanted to take it in a new direction and provide fans of the original with some new twists and surprises to go along with the classic cyborg-army setup. I’m particularly proud of the Luna Gamma material that Bruce and I came up with—I love the way the lunar surface map turned out.
Designing adventures is some of the trickiest writing around, in my humble opinion, and I’m speaking as a guy who’s written a dozen novels. Striking the right balance between helping the DM to provide a smooth cinematic experience for his players and arming him with enough information to deal with a story that might run off the tracks is tough. Anyway, if you liked the Gamma World Roleplaying Game, I think you’ll groove on Legion of Gold, and I hope you check it out!
Dark Legacy of Evard
Speaking of adventures, my next D&D adventure is the Dark Legacy of Evard, which is actually the module for Encounters season 5. We’re still a few months out from my adventure—folks playing Encounters will be finishing up Keep on the Borderlands first, and then it’s Rodney Thompson’s March of the Phantom Brigade next—but it’s another one that I’m pretty happy with. The trick with the Encounters format is that it’s very episodic, and you don’t know that the same players are coming back to the same table week after week. You have to be able to count on every table playing through the adventure hitting the same encounter (or choice of encounters) in a week, so there isn’t a lot of room to let the players try out alternative storylines.
I struggled with that at first, since I felt like I had to railroad the design more than I would like. But once I came to understand what the format was insisting on, I realized that there was an upside to the requirements: I could craft a much more directed (and hopefully engaging) story than I’d normally try to do with an adventure where the heroes might go anywhere at any time. I think the upshot of this is that Dark Legacy of Evard reveals a really interesting story as the players come back each week. In a way, it’s a bit of a throwback to the design sensibilities of old Dungeon magazine or 1e/2e era adventures, where the story is king.
By the way, if you’re not familiar with the Encounters program, it’s a great deal, and you really should check it out. Find a participating hobby store, and you can wander in each Wednesday evening for a couple of hours of free D&D. Getting your own group together can be a lot of work, but here’s a way to get in your gaming just by showing up. What could be easier? Here’s a link:
Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures, set 6
Late last week I got my first look at the “PU” models for AANM set 6. The PU stands for polyurethanes, the first physical models we produce after doing our design and sculpting in various sorts of CAD software. It’s always exciting to see something that had only existed as an image on your computer actually take shape as a real physical object… and a little nerve-wracking too, because you’re never 100% sure you got it right until you can see the darned thing in person. I’m pretty happy with the set; the new sculpts are pretty good, although we’ll have to live with gun barrels that are combined when we might rather see them separate. (I can’t explain how the manufacturing guys reach this decision, but they’re adamant about it.) Anyway, one of the good things about set 6 is that we were able to make some adjustments late in the process to take account of feedback we heard at GenCon and fan reactions to set 5.
Set 6 hopefully should address a few “holes” that have developed in the unit mix over the last couple of years, as well as providing models for some important ship classes we’ve been trying to get to. For example: Set 6 finally includes a British PT boat, the Vospers MTB (I think we’ve got the 70-footer). It’s a solid little torpedo boat, and it includes a special ability for scoring skullduggery VPs like the French sub Casabianca. Its counterpart in the set is the Japanese Daihatsu barge, which comes two to a round base like the PT boats (they would be far too small to do as individual models). The Daihatsu has some extra stealthiness in night conditions, so now you’ll be able to set up South Pacific destroyer and PT boat barge-busting sweeps if you like. They’re not necessarily awesome physical specimens, but the Vospers and the Daihatsu fill some interesting spaces in the game’s assortment of units. Hope you like ‘em!
Oh, and a closing thought: Packers 16, Steelers 14. I think it’s going to be a close Superbowl this year.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 2:36 PM
And now, a little seasonal surprise for you A&A fans out there... A number of folks have begged for a slightly early peek at the set list for WaS V. After checking around with a couple of the stakeholders here at Wizards, I'm happy to oblige. I guess I'm just a big softie.
Without further ado, I present the set list for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures, Set V:
1/39 HMAS Australia
2/39 HMCS St. Laurent
4/39 ORP Blyskawica
5/39 ORP Orzel
6/39 HMS Euryalus
7/39 HMS Glorious
8/39 HMS Swale
9/39 P-40E Warhawk
10/39 PBY Black Cat
11/39 USS Bagley (DD 386)
12/39 USS Essex (CV 9)
13/39 USS Nevada (BB 36)
14/39 USS Quincy (CA 71)
15/39 IL-2M Sturmovik
16/39 Krasni Krym
18/39 Sovyetskiy Soyuz
19/39 B-239 Buffalo
22/39 Friedrich der Grosse
27/39 San Giorgio
28/39 Scipione Africano
29/39 A6M2-N “Rufe”
37/39 HMS Göteborg
38/39 HMS Gotland
39/39 HMS Gustav V
Hope that whets your appetite for some more lil' battleships!
Monday, November 22, 2010, 9:32 AM
Set V Opening Salvo, Part 4
Welcome back! Today we’re finishing up our previews for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set V, scheduled for release on 7 December 2010. This week we’re looking at a pair of hypothetical leviathans that would have been among the most powerful battleships in the world if they had been completed: The Soviet super-dreadnought Sovyetskiy Soyuz, and its German counterpart Friedrich der Grosse. Both units are included in the game because they represent fascinating what-ifs in naval history; either one could have been pushed to completion by the middle of the war if their construction had been prioritized by their respective governments. But, as events developed, both Germany and the Soviet Union found themselves with much more pressing needs than gargantuan battleships.
The Sovyetskiy Soyuz was the lead ship of a class of very large, powerful, modern Soviet battleships intended to counter the large German battleships planned in the late 1930s. The Soviets ignored treaty restrictions, designing a behemoth displacing more than 64,000 tons at full load; only Japan’s Yamato and Musashi would have been larger. The main armament consisted of nine 16-inch guns, with a secondary battery of twelve 6-inch guns and a heavy antiaircraft armament of 3.9-inch guns and 37mm guns. Sovyetskiy Soyuz was designed for excellent protection with a main belt comparable to the Yamato class ships, but she was somewhat underarmed for her size; her armament wasn’t noticeably heavier or more capable than that of the British Nelson class or American North Carolina class, vessels that achieved the same firepower on about 2/3rds the tonnage.
The monstrous battleships presented the Soviet shipbuilding industry with formidable challenges; the heavy armor and 16-inch guns proved especially troublesome. As war approached, construction slowed drastically, since the resources earmarked for the giant battleships were desperately needed for the army’s rearmament efforts. At the outbreak of war in June 1941, Sovyetskiy Soyuz was close to launching with her hull nearly complete and her armor and machinery installed, but she lacked her main turrets and was still years away from completion. By the time the Soviets were in position to resume construction, it was clear that she would have been nothing but a white elephant. She was broken up on the slip after the war.
Gameplay: Sovyetskiy Soyuz is very much like Yamato—it’s a giant, 6-hull point battleship with a very high Armor rating. It lacks the very useful tertiary batteries or Bristling with Guns ability that most other battleships in this point range possess, which means it’s a little more vulnerable to destroyer swarms than similar ships. It does, however, come with a good AA rating thanks to its large amount of medium-sized AA guns. Her Bad Weather Fighter ability makes for a very powerful combo with Smoke Screen-creating destroyers. As with other huge battleships, steam boldly for the objectives and dare your enemies to do their worst.
Friedrich der Grosse
The German Kriegsmarine regarded the two Bismarck-class battleships as merely the first steps in the construction of a powerful new battle fleet, one worthy of a first-class naval power. The centerpiece of the ambitious “Z Plan” for naval rearmament was intended to be the six giant H-class battleships. The H-class design strongly resembled the Bismarck, but featured a more powerful main battery of eight 16-inch guns and slightly improved protection on a hull that increased displacement over the preceding class by more than 10,000 tons. They would have exceeded 60,000 tons in service, not much smaller than the Japanese Yamato class or planned Sovyetskiy Soyuz class. Later German battleship designs reached ludicrous proportions, but were never more than studies.
The first H-class hull, H39, was laid down in July of 1939, with an intended completion of the entire class by 1945. However, war came sooner than Hitler expected, and the utility of battleships that wouldn’t be finished until years after the war’s end (as Hitler saw things in 1939) was highly questionable. Work on H39 was halted in October of 1939, and the hull was later scrapped on the slip. However, the 16-inch guns manufactured for H39 eventually saw service as powerful shore batteries in the Atlantic Wall defenses.
The Germans never officially named H39, but in April of 1942 Time magazine published an article on the new German battleship construction and reported the name Friedrich der Grosse (Frederick the Great). While the Kriegsmarine often used simple letter and number designations for smaller warships, the Germans named their capital ships; Friedrich der Grosse is as good a guess as any. Even though she was never completed, she provides AANM fans with an important piece of Hitler’s Z plan, and makes for some fun alternate-history scenarios.
Gameplay: Large size and superior compartmentation provides Friedrich der Grosse with a vital armor of 17, the highest in the game. Although she was designed with six submerged torpedo tubes, this obsolete feature isn’t included in her attack charts—the tertiary batteries are more important. German fire control radar improved continuously through the war, so like Tirpitz she gains the powerful Extended Range 5 attack on her main battery. When played against enemy battleships lacking ER5, Friedrich der Grosse should hang back and make full use of her range advantage.
Monday, November 15, 2010, 10:11 AM
Set V Opening Salvo, Part 3
Greetings! We’re halfway through our previews for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set V, which releases on 7 December 2010. Last time out we showed off a couple of set V’s small fry, so today we’re moving up to some bigger models of uncommon rarity: The Japanese seaplane tender Chitose, and the British antiaircraft cruiser HMS Euryalus.
During the interwar years, naval aviation evolved in two distinct branches: carrier-based aircraft designed to launch and recover from a flight deck, and seaplanes that could fire off a catapult rail or take off and land from any reasonably calm stretch of water. Seaplane carriers (sometimes referred to as seaplane tenders, although that usually meant a ship intended to serve as a mobile base for large flying boat aircraft) were ships designed to carry a large contingent of floatplanes that could serve as scouts, bombers, and even fighters. By the beginning of World War II most seaplanes were at a significant disadvantage in performance as compared to non-floatplanes, but they were still very useful for scouting, patrol work, and providing light ground support or air cover. A seaplane carrier could provide an instant airbase in an area where it might take weeks or months to build an airstrip, and free up conventional aircraft carriers for more important work.
Chitose and her sister Chiyoda were Japan’s first purpose-built seaplane carriers, built during the mid-30s. Chitose played an active role in the early months of the war, providing air cover and ground support for several landings in the Philippines and East Indies, including Legaspi, Davao, Bangka, Menado, Kendari, Batavia, and Halmahera. She sailed as part of the invasion group in the Battle of Midway, and her floatplanes shot down a PBY that discovered the force. Chitose was badly damaged by dive bombers during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (24 August 1942), but continued to serve in the Solomons until January of 1943, when she returned to Japan for conversion into a conventional light aircraft carrier. She eventually met her end during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (25 October 1944).
Chitose’s aircraft included the F1M2 “Pete,” E13A1 “Jake,” and A6M2-N “Rufe.” While the Pete was no Zero or Val, it could serve as a fighter, scout, or a bomber at need. The Rufe, on the other hand, was actually the seaplane version of the Zero, and was the best floatplane fighter of the war.
Gameplay: Chitose is essentially an unarmored light cruiser with the firepower of a middling destroyer. Don’t be deceived by its unglamorous stats—her Seaplane Detachments special ability provides you with two functional squadrons that are included in Chitose’s 15-point cost. The seaplane squadrons won’t kill many enemy warships or shoot down many planes, but they are excellent for harassing submarines, threatening lone destroyers, and chasing off fragile enemy aircraft such as PBY Catalinas or Swordfish. Most importantly, the seaplane squadrons help you to gain control of the aircraft mission phase by giving you a couple of expendable “units” you can use early in aircraft placement.
Much like the US Atlanta-class light cruisers, the Dido-class cruisers were designed as antiaircraft cruisers just before the outbreak of World War II. They were armed with a main battery of ten 5.25-inch semiautomatic guns—a light weapon for a cruiser, but a true dual-purpose weapon that theoretically gave the Dido-class ships a potent antiair defense. Unfortunately, the 5.25-inch gun was only a mediocre antiaircraft weapon, lacking in rate of fire and maximum elevation; the Dido-class ships were more successful as surface combatants than as antiair platforms.
HMS Euryalus was commissioned in June of 1941, and began her war in the Mediterranean as a convoy escort. She fought in the Second Battle of Sirte (22 March 1942) and in the bitterly contested convoy battles during the summer of 1942. In 1943, she participated in the invasions of Pantelleria and Sicily before returning to England for a refit. Euryalus finished the war with the British Pacific Fleet, fighting in the East Indies and later at Okinawa. She remained in service until 1954.
Gameplay: Euryalus is a fairly straightforward unit; she’s one of the cheapest light cruisers in the game, and provides little more than a very affordable AA 7 unit. In recognition of her good fortune at Sirte Gulf, she has the Chase the Salvoes ability, giving her a chance to avoid instant annihilation from a battleship salvo. While her main battery isn’t very impressive, don’t overlook her torpedo attack; British light cruisers are second only to the Japanese CL’s in torpedo armament. Employ Euryalus as an escort for carriers or auxiliaries threatened by enemy air attack early in the game, and look for chances to torpedo enemy battleships making an aggressive move toward the objectives.
Tune in next week for our fourth and final Opening Salvo--a pair of impressive new battleships!
Monday, November 8, 2010, 1:16 PM
AANM Set V Opening Salvo, Part 2
Welcome back! Today we’re continuing with our Opening Salvo previews for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set V, which releases on 7 December 2010. Since we showed off a couple of big carriers last week, we’re going to go a little smaller today, and preview two new common models: The destroyer USS Bagley, and the Italian corvette Antilope.
Laid down in 1935, USS Bagley was the lead ship of a small class of interwar destroyers designed to carry a heavy torpedo armament at the expense of the gun battery. Somewhat smaller than the destroyers of the numerous Benson and Fletcher classes that followed, Bagley and her sisters were still modern, well-balanced warships that gave good service throughout World War II. The biggest drawback in the design was the poor performance of American torpedoes early in the war, which negated one of the Bagley’s key strong points compared to other US destroyers. The Mark 15 torpedo was very similar to the submarine-launched Mark 14, and often failed to detonate even on a direct hit. (Nine torpedoes fired at the mortally damaged USS Hornet after the Battle of Santa Cruz failed to scuttle the carrier.)
USS Bagley was present at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and responded to the surprise Japanese airstrike with a barrage of AA fire, claiming six kills (although it’s unlikely that all six were hers). She fought at the Battle of Savo Island (7 August 1942), surviving with no damage. USS Bagley later saw action at numerous landings in the Pacific, the Battle of the Phillipine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Game Play: USS Bagley is a reasonably cheap and effective destroyer. She has the Sub Hunter special ability, although her ASW of 4 is only mediocre for an Allied destroyer. The most interesting thing she brings to the table is a very good torpedo attack of 2 dice at range 2, which no other early-war US destroyer can match. However, there’s a drawback; the Defective Torpedoes special ability means that there’s a 2 in 6 chance any torpedo attack you make with Bagley fails automatically. Many American torpedo attacks failed outright due to faulty torpedoes, a critical problem that was not addressed until the end of 1943.
Italy’s Gabbiano-class corvettes were small, cheap anti-submarine escorts designed to meet the ever-growing need for convoy protection. Laid down in the middle of the war, they didn’t begin to enter service until late 1942. They were armed with a single 4-inch gun forward, plus a number of 20mm AA guns, a couple of torpedo tubes, and depth charge throwers—a reasonably capable armament for a small escort. Many of the Gabbianos remained in service long after the war’s end.
Antilope first saw action in the waters off North Africa, protecting convoys reinforcing the Axis bridgehead in Tunisia. She helped to foil an attack by British motor torpedo boats on the night of 15 February 1943 near Marettimo, but Italy’s part as a member of the Axis was drawing to a close. Like many of her sisters, Antilope was seized by the Germans after the Italian surrender. She was recommissioned as Uj6082 (unterseebootjäger or subhunter 6082), and operated in the waters off northern Italy and southern France. She was sunk on the morning of 17 August 1944 by the destroyer USS Endicott in a very unequal contest fought off La Ciotat.
Game Play: Antilope is comparable to the Canadian HMCS Sackville or the Japanese Type 13 subchaser. It’s not going to kill destroyers or shoot down dive bombers, but what it can do is provide a cheap boost to your fleet’s ASW capability with its Sub Hunter ability, and it can sacrifice itself for the sake of an auxiliary such as a transport or freighter thanks to Guard the Convoy. Compared to the other vessels in the cheap escort category, Antilope retains a token Torpedo attack and possesses a decent ASW value. Her biggest drawbacks are her single hull point and her speed of 1; anything that bothers to shoot at her is going to sink her, but if she gets a chance to harass a submarine or divert an attack from a more important unit, Antilope’s done her job.
Monday, November 1, 2010, 6:03 PM
V Opening Salvo, Part 1
Welcome to our first Opening Salvo for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set V, as in V for victory! Set V is scheduled to release on 7 December 2010, but weâre ready to start showing off some of the models and unit capabilities from the new set. First, weâll take a look at two new rare models: The British carrier HMS Glorious, and the carrier Kaga of Japanâs Kido Butai. Â Â
And, to get us started... the aircraft carrier Kaga!
Kaga and her half-sister Akagi were the children of the Washington Treaty of 1922. Both were laid down as battleships, and converted to aircraft carriers when the treaty placed a moratorium on new battleship construction. Her battleship origins showed in her large hull, thick armor, and unusually heavy battery of 8â guns. Although Kaga was originally built with three flight decks and no island, she was extensively reconstructed in the 1930s, emerging with a single flight deck and a small island structure.
Â Â Â Â Â Kaga and Akagi formed the First Carrier Division of the Kido Butai, the Imperial Japanese Navyâs First Air Fleet. Both took part in the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941; Kagaâs torpedo bombers were assigned to attack Battleship Row. As part of the First Air Fleet, Kaga shared in the early war triumphs across the Pacific. She was part of the massive armada assembled to attack Midway Island in early June 1942. During the furious fighting on the morning of 4 June 1942, Kaga was found by the Enterpriseâs dive-bomber squadron, and she was hit by multiple bombs. The bombs ignited uncontrollable fires in the carrierâs crowded hangar decks, burning away most of her hangar and flight deck structure over the rest of the day. She was scuttled that evening by torpedoes from accompanying destroyers.
Â Â Â Â Â Game Play: Like the other carriers built on battleship or battlecruiser hulls, Kaga is a big, tough target with a surprising punch, although the poor siting of her main battery reduces her gunnery effectiveness. If you lose the battle to control the air, you can still seize or contest objectives guarded by cruisers or lighter surface combatants with some confidence. More importantly, Kaga has excellent offensive special abilities to support her air group. In addition to Expert Bomber and Expert Torpedoes, she has Sneak Attack (ironically enough the first Japanese carrier to have the ability), which provides an even better bonus to torpedo attacks when you get a good initiative roll. Make sure you include a good torpedo bomber such as a Kate or Jill when you add Kaga to your fleet.
Like Kaga, Glorious didnât begin her career as a carrier. She was completed as a fast, lightly armored, shallow-draft battlecruiser during World War I, and actually fought in that configuration in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight (31 October 1917). After the war, the large hull and high speed of Glorious and her sisters Courageous and Furious made them excellent candidates for conversion to aircraft carriers instead of scrapping. She was recommissioned in 1930, and served mostly in the Mediterranean Fleet throughout the 1930s.
Â Â Â Â Â HMS Glorious began World War II with a futile hunt in the Indian Ocean for the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. She was ordered back to home waters in April 1940 to provide air cover for the British forces landing in Norway to repel Germanyâs invasion of that country. HMS Glorious made several trips to ferry aircraft reinforcements into Norway during late April and early May, then covered the evacuation operations when the British decided to withdraw. On the afternoon of 8 June 1940, she ran into the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with only two destroyers for escortsâan unforgivable blunder, since it was broad daylight and the captain of HMS Glorious had neglected to establish any kind of air patrol which might have warned him that enemy warships were close by. The Germans quickly sank HMS Glorious with heavy loss of life.
Â Â Â Â Â Game Play: Glorious is a fairly typical fleet carrier in terms of size and durability, but she only carries two squadronsâmost British carriers did not operate with the large airgroups that Japanese or American carriers routinely embarked. Her Expert Dogfighter and Expert ASW abilities make her a good defensive platform, making her a natural choice for embarking fighters for air defense and torpedo bombers for submarine-hunting.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 9:20 AM
Itâs been crazy-busy as usual around the office. I took a week off earlier this month, and came back a week behind. In addition to my assigned project (an upcoming Encounters season) Iâve been juggling some extra writing for a couple of upcoming D&D releases, reviewing the sculpts for the next AANM set, kicking off another new game weâre not quite ready to talk about, and participating in some big-picture strategic review that promises some exciting new directions for us down the road (no, not 5th Edition). Oh, and Iâve also been working up my Opening Salvos for War at Sea V; youâll see the first of those on or around NovemberÂ 2nd. It seems like there arenât enough hours in the day! Combine them with contractors at the house to replace the roof, a student driver in the house, a novel outline Iâm working on, and my determination to pile on the gold with my 80th-level warrior so I can get my next flying mount, a murder to plan and Guilder to frame for it, and Iâm simply swamped. (That last bit was a reference to the Princess Bride, in case you were wondering.)
Anyway, this time up: An idle thought on the ranger, the wizard, and the controller role; a missing mini in War at Sea V; and some ruminations on the Philliesâ season. Next time I'll begin the War at Sea opening salvos.
A post or two back I was lamenting the fact that the 4e wizard isnât the offense-oriented character that wizards were in previous editions, and how I kind of missed that. Early last week I found myself talking with a couple of DMs on our DM Hotline special event, and one of the fellows I talked to asked for some tips on how to deal with a really righteous bow ranger who was making life hard on the monsters in a high-paragon game. I made a remark to the effect of âYeah, the bow ranger can be a better controller than the wizard sometimes,â thinking of how brutally effective those ranged reaction shots can be, and an interesting thought occurred to me: It would be a fun exercise to take a mid-level bow ranger and reskin him as a wizard. Just replace âweaponâ with âimplementâ in all the attack powers, and add a small variety of energy types to the powers: Use d10âs for energy types commonly resisted, and d6âs or d8âs for energy types that arenât often resisted. Take attack powers that come with conditions such as immobilized, weakened, or slowed. Instead of twin strike, you might have âforked bolt,â a lightning bolt power. Disruptive strike could be disruptive ray, zapping someone with radiant damage and dazzling them as they swing. Excruciating shot could be enervating ray, weakening a foe with necrotic damage. If you had the character pick his utility powers from the wizard list instead of the ranger list, youâd get a caster who felt wizardly enough but dished out more damaging, single-target control effectsâŠ a blaster more than a controller. Anyway, I havenât tried it out yet, but I think it could be worth a test-drive.
Oh, and for what itâs worth: Here are a couple of suggestions I gave the DM dealing with that challenging bow ranger character. You can introduce monsters at different times in the combat, so that the real threats show up after the rangerâs already reacted once or twice to monsters that arenât as dangerous. You can create the occasional encounter where the partyâs sight lines are terribleâsay, a fight in a seriously smoky room or in a hedge maze, and you donât see the monsters until theyâre only a square or two away. And you can build some encounters where a strong contingent of stationary artillery monsters hang back and duel the ranger, attacking him directly instead of rushing up to melee the rangerâs allies. Of course, a good proportion of the encounters should still allow the bow ranger to do what he does well; you donât want to never let the character shine in a fight again. Just mix it up a bit so that once every session or two the bow ranger canât make optimal use of his abilities, and the player will gain a greater appreciation for the encounters where his character really rocks.
War at Sea V: The Missing Dragon
A little bad news about our upcoming set V: Itâs going to be 39 miniatures, not 40. We had to pull the Polish light cruiser Dragon out of the set late in the production process. We discovered that we sculpted the Dragon (actually, ORP Dragon, it means âship of the Polish republicâ) at the wrong size. When I was reviewing the paint masters for the set, I found myself admiring a mysterious destroyer. âHmm, this looks good, but which destroyer is it?â I wondered. Then I realized that it wasnât a destroyer; it was a cruiser that had been produced at about 2/3 the size. We used the wrong dimensions, asking for a model about 50mm long when it should have been closer to 75mm long. Anyway, we investigated all sorts of different steps we could take to correct the problem in a reasonable timeframe and cost or arrange a late substitution, and it basically came down to print Dragon as is, or pull it out of the set and leave the set at 39 models rather than 40. We decided that we would rather short the set by one model instead of producing a miniature we knew was wrong. Iâm sorry we didnât catch it sooner, but I hope youâll understand why we cut it. Weâre planning on including the corrected ORP Dragon model in the next set, which is back up to 40 models again.
A Season Ends
Well, the Phillies got knocked out by the San Francisco Giants, thus ending any hope of a historic three-peat as NL champs. Iâm a little disappointed, naturally. As I watched the NLCS I could just see the mantle of âTeam of Destinyâ settling over the Giantsâ shoulders. Not to take anything away from the Giants, who are a good team, but things just fell their way over the series. A couple of Phillies rallies killed by line-outs into double plays, caroms off the wall that come right back to Giants outfielders and keep runners from scoring, bloopers that fall in, a no-name outfielder who becomes Reggie Jackson for a few gamesâŠ I guess when youâve got good pitching on both sides and neither side is hitting all that well itâs going to come down to the lucky breaks and each teamâs ability to capitalize on them. But it was a great season anywayâmy team led the league in wins, threw a perfect game, got a no-hitter in the playoffs, and showed a tremendous amount of grit in battling through a ton of injuries. Better yet, the Phils seem well-positioned to make another run next year. Weâve got three great starting pitchers for the whole season, and the core infield of Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, and Polancoâpossibly the best infield in baseball--are all coming back again. Thatâs a lot to work with! I think the Phillies are going to need a good right-handed power bat in the outfield to replace Werth, someone they can use to platoon with Brown and spell Ibanez if either struggle. Ideally that righty outfielder would be young and tough to strike out, but still command some decent power against lefties. (That might be asking for a lot, I guess.) Anyway, Iâm looking forward to next year. Weâve got another season or two with this great core group and rotation, so Iâm going to enjoy them while I can.