Sunday, July 22, 2012

History Traveller: Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 marked the 200th anniversary of the opening action of the War of 1812: the British capture of the Fort on Mackinac Island.  The Michigan Historic Parks held a commemoration ceremony and reenactment right on the parade ground of the Fort itself, which today stands as a park and museum.  This event held a special significance for me, not only as a rememberance of events that took place in our own regional backyard, but also as the birthplace of my own lifelong pusuit of all things historical.  My Grandfather was an archeologist and cultural anthropologist who specialized in Michigan history, Native American culture and local geography and geology.  Many summers of my youth were spent wandering Mackinac Island, Northern Michigan and the Great Lakes.  However, it was the frequent access with my Grandfather to Fort Mackinac and nearby Fort Michilimackinac, a location with an even older history dating to the French and Indian War, that truly captured my imagination.  The journey to this event was as much a personal pilgrimage to revisit the origin of my own personal history as it was to commemorate the formation of our own regional story.

Your blogger at Ft. Michilimackinac - a long time ago

The event began with remarks from officials from Michigan, Canada and a representative from the local Odawa Indian organization, each giving their views on the significance of the proceedings.  Then a reenactment of the history of the Fort was presented, starting with the original building of the Fort by the British in 1780.  As a result of the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution, the Fort was handed over to the United States government.  When the Madison administration declared war on the British in 1812, the local British commander took the initiative and sent a force to take the Fort.  The British, with their Native allies, landed on the opposite side of island and pulled cannon to a position which overlooked the fort.  With one shot the British took the Fort unaware as the American garrison commander, fearing for the safety of his men and the local community, surrendered.  The British also commandeered local shipping represented in the reenactment by the reconstructed sloop Friends Good Will, which was anchored in the harbor. 

This did not end the involvement of Fort Mackinac in the War of 1812.  In 1814, an American invasion force landed on the island and fought an unsuccessful field battle with the British to retake the fort.  There is another event planned to remember the Bicentennial of that day in July 2014.  There are also a number of 1812 related ceremonies and reenactments planned around the Great Lakes region over the next few years that I also plan to attend. 

British hand over Fort 1796
Mackinac Island Harbor

British Invasion 1812
American Defenders
Lt. Hanks surrenders the Fort to Cap. Roberts

British and Allies Celebrate Victory

Friends Good Will

On To Richmond: Seven Pines

The scenario for this week's foray into 1862 returns to a more historical situation with General Johnston's attack on Seven Pines.  This is a small 2 turn tournament scenario which requires the South to attack east out of Richmond toward the better part of two Union Corps and pick up points by occupying Seven Pines, Fair Oaks and Savage's Station, and the bridge crossings over the Chickahominy.  Again I take the North and Mike L. the South. 
Dawn of May 31, 1862: Battle of Seven Pines
Turn 1: May 31, 1862
The day opens with rain as mandated by the scenario rules.  DH Hill moves up and attacks the Union positions around Seven Pines without breaking the line.  The Union reinforcements manage to cross the bridges of the swollen Chickahominy and stabilize the front.  Longstreet moves up and manages to push Casey back, but the Union army ends the day with a solid defense along the Seven Pines/Fair Oaks line.
Dawn of June 1, 1862

Turn 2: June 1, 1862
The South begins with attacks along the Union line.  Mike's corps assault and grand assault rolls fail to bring in the needed number of divisions to gain a decisive coordinated attack.  DH Hill and Smith exhaust their units attempting to breech the Union defenses.  In shame, Gen. Johnston throws himself under a Union wagon train.  That leaves "Old Pete" Longstreet, with his last intact Southern formation, to lead the army to victory.  Longstreet points his sword at Seven Pines and says "Roll a 6" and bang...the dreaded 6-1 dice combo slams into the Union III Corps.  "Do it again" says Longstreet of Fair Oaks Station and the Union line melts away.  The North reforms on Savage's Station, this single hex holding the victory points that will spell victory or defeat.  Longstreet is up to the challange and crashes into the considerable Nothern defenses.  Savage's Station falls and Longstreet has saved the day with a Confederate Marginal Victory. 
Night of June 1, 1862: Longstreet holds the field at Savage's Station

Monday, July 9, 2012

On To Richmond: The Gates Of Richmond

The 1862 campaign continued over several sessions during the month of June.  This time we went with the larger seven turn Gates Of Richmond scenario; once again settling into our now familiar roles with Mike L. taking the South and I the North.  This scenario is one of the most intriguing of the game, offering the central hypothetical of the entire campaign: what if McDowell had been allowed to march to Richmond and reinforce McClellan's army.  The system showcases the less unified early war command structures of both sides with typical corps formations containing no more than 2 divisions.  This makes for a very compelling chess-like game with small scale unit activations switching back and forth as each side attempts to gain advantage.
Gates Of Richmond Setup - Morning May 26, 1862
The situation opens with the Army of Potomac straddling the Chickahominy River ready to advance on several different avenues of attack.  The North is awarded points for occupying various important terrain features in the region: railway stations heading NW toward the Shenandoah valley, the defensive redoubt system surrounding the city, the forts guarding the southern approaches along the York River, and finally the city of Richmond itself.  The Confederates earn points, naturally, by preventing this occupation, but also by denying the Union access to its supply line along the railroad back to White House Station on the Pamunkey River. 
Night of May 27, 1862

Turns 1 and 2: May 26-27
I opted to try for a move on Richmond by crossing the Chickahominy north and wheeling around to approach the city from northwest.  This would put me closer to McDowell's marching forces and put me in a postion to push into the unoccupied redoubts in this sector of the Southern defense.  However, this strategy would come at the cost of uncovering my supply line to White House Station.  I was willing to take the risk and see how much strength Mike was willing to commit to take the rail line.  The first day the forces started slowly turning toward the western side of the city.  Day 2 saw rain which slowed everyone to a crawl as the units kept moving in the direction of the plan.  By the end of the day the North had everyone on the North bank of the Chickahominy and the South sent a force toward the supply line.  In the west, the Northern cavalry was able to push into the redoubt line before the South could adequately react. 

Night of May 30, 1862

Turns 3-5: May 28-30
The morning of May 28 found the Union army ready for action as they won a series of activations that marched the balance of two Corps into the western portion of the city itself and crossing over the river into Manchester.  The South positioned to counter-attack the next day.  May 29 was rain again which slowed all operations on both sides.  On May 30 the South launched their attacks which forced back the North from several hexes of the city and out of Manchester, but they could not move the units dug in around the President's House and Hollywood Cemetary.  Longstreet sent a division up the Union supply line which threatened White House Station.
Night of June 1, 1862: The Union holds West Richmond among the blood of Fatigue 4's

Turns 6-7: May 31-June 1, 1862
Turn 6 opened once again with rain.  Along the northern approaches, McDowell and AP Hill slowly made their way to the city battle, but effectively rendered each other hors de combat with their own battles NW of the city.  In the east, Longstreet's division took White House Station.  In response, Sumner sent a division to retake the supply line.  Turn 7 opened with renewed assaults by the South to dislodge the North from Richmond.  After several massive assaults they managed to push Franklin from the President's House, but at a considerable body count.  McClellan managed to hold onto the Public Square and Hollywood Cemetary.  At this point the game came down to who would control White House Station on the Union Supply Line.  Could Longstreet hold against Sumner's race to the river?  The point spread was so narrow that the outcome of this attack would declare the victor.  The final odds for the attack were close so we rolled the dice and the devastating 6 and 1 die roll combination came up in the North's favor!  A win for the North. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On To Richmond: Johnston's Retreat

The next scenario in our continuing series from the 1862 campaign is Johnston's Retreat.  Mike L. took the part of Gen. Johnston, while I put on my McClellan hat.  Here the Confederate army is attempting to slip out of the Warwick River defense line and retreat west to a consolidated line closer to Richmond.  The South gains points for each infantry, artillery and supply wagon train unit that marches to the designated western counties.  The North is charged with slowing down the retreat and inflicting damage on the slow moving wagon trains.  To aid in this task the Union is given a limited amphibious movement capability that will let them slip infantry units behind the Southern retreat path along the York River. 
Setup: Morning of May 4, 1862
Day 1: May 4, 1862
The day opens with the Confederate army already marching west, leaving Stuart's cavalry to screen the Warwick River line.  The morning opens with rain, slowing down operations on both sides.  Mike pushes his army as hard has he can to put some distance between us.  I march into the redoubts of the Warwick line and Stuart's cav manages to slow us down and fall back.  The rain reduces our movement to a crawl as we do a broad front push up the peninsula.  The navy fails to pick up any Union infantry.

Morning of May 5, 1862
Day 2: May 5, 1862
The weather clears up and the Southern commander takes up a position along the Cub Dam Creek redoubt line.  I follow up with a central pinning force and a Corps threatening each flank of the Confederate position.  One Union division under Franklin is transported up the York River and drops off in the area of Eltham Landing.  Mike breaks off a few divisons and races them NW to protect the rear lines and the wagon trains.

Morning of May 6, 1862
Day 3: May 6, 1862
Rain once again slows down operations in the field.  The Union northern flanking force manages to slip around the redoubt line but fails to make any significant headway.   The southern flanking force is slowed by the rain and Longstreet's timely counterattacks.  The navy fails to transport any new troops to reinforce Franklin's force and is bottled up by Hood. 

Morning of May 7, 1862
  Day 4: May 7, 1862
The rain stops and the Union renews its attacks along the Cub Dam line.  Several assaults manage to take the line with heavy losses on both sides but fail to slow the Confederate retreat.  The majority of southern units manage to pull back closer to the objective counties to the west.  One more division under Sykes does manage to get transported to the area of Bailey's Landing.

Morning of May 8, 1862
Day 5: May 8, 1862
The final day of operations find the Confederates poised to march most of their units into the victory objectives.  All looks lost for the Union cause as the South wins several activations allowing for a complete retreat to New Kent County.  However, Sykes manages to get two activations that allow him to slip past the Confederate pickets and raid the wagon train line, inflicting serious damage.  Sykes actions save the day for the Union resulting in a Marginal Union Victory.

Night of May 8, 1862

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Two Events For June 7

There are two big local gaming events this week on Thursday, June 7, neither of which am I likely to be able to attend.
The first comes to us from this news release from Games Plus in Mt. Prospect:

Meet Ted Torgerson, one of the deigners of GMT's 1989 - Dawn of Freedom on Thursday June 7 at 7PM at Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, IL.
Ted will share his story of developing the game and we'll have a Question & Answer session.  Afterwards he will teach the game or play the game, if anyone is interested.  Otherwise, he is up for playing some of the other "hot" new titles that regularly appear at the Thursday night game nights.he first event is at Games Plus.

Also on that same evening, Dave K. is hosting the first meeting of the PAASL group for 2012.  Wish I could be there, but Thursday night remains a hard one for me to get away.

Friday, May 11, 2012

On To Richmond: The Warwick Line

Today marked the beginning of our official 1862 campaign season commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.  Mike L. and myself are planning on working our way through On to Richmond and Stonewall in the Valley over the next few months.   We started right at the beginning of On To Richmond with Scenario 1: The Warwick Line.  This scenario supposes that McClellan acted against form and pushed hard against Magruder's river defense line far down the Peninsula in early April 1862.  The Union is given 3 days of clear weather to break into the Confederate lines and clear out the various forts and redoubts.  We selected sides randomly and I drew the South.
Opening Positions

Mike opened on the first day by pushing toward White House and breaking into the redoubt line around the Wynn's Mill location.  Limited Confederate counterattacks managed to prevent any further attacks along the line.  Day two saw the North push farther south down the redoubt line but were held up at Monson House and were blocked from any moves west by growing Southern reinforcements.  Day 3 saw the north clear the redoubt line all the way to Skill's Creek to the south but without strength to push on to Mulberry Pt.  The balance of the Union army concentrated on Yorktown but were thwarted by Magruder's stalwart defenders, winning a combination of five separate Union assaults.  While the Union army did manage to clear the redoubt line, they took far too many casualties, nearly a 3:1 ratio, which resulted in a Decisive Victory for the South.
Final Positions

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

GCACW at Games Plus

Tuesday night was the second meeting mith Mike L. to continue our foray into the GCACW at Games Plus.  We decided once again to go with some extremely low unit count introductory scenarios so that we could play out a few different situations. 

The first action we went with was the Bath Scenario for Stonewall in the Valley available from the GCACW website.  We picked random sides and I drew the hapless USA forces.  Jackson's 5 rating attacks, even with disorganized and exhausted troops, cleaned up against the average rating of 1 for most Union units.  We did forget to use the new standard rule that reduces Jackson to a 4, but the results were never so narrow that they would have altered the outcome. 

The second scenario was New Market, also taken from the GCACW website for Stonewall in the Valley.  Here I took the South and was tasked with pushing the Union back during one rain turn.  My initial attacks bogged down in the mud and I was never able to catch up.  The turn, and game, ended quickly, once my limited number of units fatigued out. 

For the third engagement we went with the Brandy Station scenario from Stonewall's Last Battle.  Here Mike took the Union and was charged with following Pleasonton's historical plan as per scenario rules to cross at two widely seperated fords.  With luck the Union has a chance to overrun the Confederate cavalry artillery park thereby eliminating the artillery factor from the Southern units for the balance of the game.  The Northern horse broke through the ford but could not quite charge the camp.  Stuart was able to disperse the guns and managed to oppose the additional Union crossings for the win.  Another very enjoyable evening campaigning in the American Civil War.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Great Campaigns of the American Civil War

The Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series remains, after ASL, my most often played collection of games.  Since the publication of Stonewall Jackson's Way in 1992 I have remained a devoted follower of Joe Balkoski's inspired operational system.  In the years that have followed, Ed Beach has continuted to develop and refine the project.  In my opinion, there is no better duo than Joe and Ed when it comes to writing concise and understandable rules.  They have proven time and again their individual technical skills by writing some of the most accessible rules of modern wargaming.  Balkoski's inception for the system came about with his 1988 release Lee vs. Grant, which created a blueprint for the command and control model that would be the centerpiece of the series, albeit at a slightly higer unit scale.  Since that time, the system has grown to include almost every major campaign in the Eastern theater and has recently moved out West with the release of Battle Above the Clouds. 

The great enjoyment of the game, as is often said of ASL, is that it creates such memorable narratives in the course of play.  Playing ASL creates a narrative that resonates with people's experience at reading, hearing and watching World War II small unit war stories.  In a similar vein, the GCACW builds an operational narrative that replicates the tensions of Civil War command as we encouter them in army and unit histories from the period.  In spite of being an operational level game, the system smartly relegates logistical concerns to simple procedures and instead places the emphasis squarely on that part of the ACW that we most often consider: the performance of individual corps and army commanders.  As anyone who has ever participated in a discussion of Civil War leaders knows, much blood and ink is spilled by devotees and detractors of the various personalities from the age.  The game system expertly generates these same command controversies by placing the player largely in the role of the army commander.  You too will be elated by Stonewall Jackson pulling off a lengthy flank march or exasperated by Burnside marching all of four miles in one day.  The impuse initiative die roll and variable movement rate subsystems elegantly recreate the tensions found at the army command level of the ACW.  It remains to this day my favorite treatment of the ACW. 

Beginning this week, fellow PAASLite Mike L. has expressed an interest in learning the game and we plan on holding weekly sessions at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Il.  This week was our first session where we did two quick introductory scenarios: The Race For Spotsylvania from Grant Takes Command and Salem's Church from Stonewall's Last Battle.  My plan is to offer session reports on our weekly confrontations starting soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

ASL Offboard Artillery Cards

More from the ASL accessory department.  Here is a selection of my personalized OBA battery access cards.  The back of each card features a standardized OBA design using VASL as my template.  The face of each card has a unique background picture typically based off a dramatic photo of an artillery piece in action for the black chit draws or a humorous picture for the red draws.  Whenever I run across a photo that is a good match for one of the decks I can just print out a new card and add it too my existing library.  Then an OBA draw deck can be custom built for each module from the available pool of cards. 

I use the same technique for construction of the OBA deck as I did with the Sniper Reminder cards.  Workplace ID lamination sheets are the perfect tool for building playing card sized game pieces.  They provide the uniformity and durability necessary for a working card deck of this size.

Monday, April 2, 2012

History Traveller: National Hellenic Museum

In an attempt to expand topics for the blog I will submit reports about local Chicago area attractions related to military history. 
Last Friday I was with my daughter in Chicago's Greektown area just north of the UIC campus.  We had an hour to kill while waiting for my wife to finish her lunch meeting so we decided to try out the National Hellenic Museum.  The brochure at the door promised exhibits on all aspects of Greek culture including Greek myth, the history of Greece from ancient to modern times, and, the clincher for me, an entire floor dedicated to the War for Greek Independence with displays highlighting "key players and battles".  Unfortunately, the experience did not live up to the pitch.

We started our tour on the first floor of the very beautiful glass and steel modern structure that houses the museum.  Here was located the exhibit titled "Gods, Myths and Mortals" which featured the traditional Greek myth icons in a format that was targeted for the under 10 crowd.  It had a replica temple, trojan horse and path to follow to relive the adventure of Odysseus.  Great for the kids but not much new for the adults.  Sadly, this was to be the highlight of the museum.

The second floor promised to be the centerpiece of the museum, but it is still under contruction.  In lieu of actual exhibits the walls are covered with blueprints, conceptual art and samples of artifacts that will one day be showcased.  It will all look great once it is finished, with planned nods to Alexander, Byzantium and a host of other topics of interest to the history traveller. 

We proceeded to the third floor where I hoped that the journey would be redeemed as promised.  The history of the War for Greek Independence was presented down a hallway with nothing more than a series of printed display placards hanging on the wall, no more than ten on each side of the hall, each briefly detailing major events from the war.  Needless to say very disapointing.  No artifacts, no dioramas, no nothing.  The third floor also features the museum library and oral history center which is certainly the reason for the existance of the museum and a critical focal point for local historians and researchers.  As an historian I can deeply appreciate the need for such collections to be kept alive, but as a museum experience there was much left to be desired.

The admission to the museum was $10 per person (with the typical discounts for children and seniors) which is quite a bargain for Chicago area attractions.  I usually have no problem with donations supporting museums and cultural endeavors, but something about the real lack of anything just didn't sit well with me. Perhaps if they were more up front in their marketing that the price of admission is really more of a donation to get a preview of a seriously unfinished museum would have made the experience more acceptable.  In its current state I cannot recommend a trip to the National Hellenic Museum except to those who really desire to support the cause of the museum. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ASL Sniper Cards

As with many in the ASL community, I have spent a fair amount of my ASL time personalizing and accessorizing my ASL kit.  Featured here is my set of sniper activation number reminder cards.  Each nationality gets their own set of 3 double-sided cards numbered 2-7.    I find that it gives each nationality a bit of a distinctive flair to have their national flag on the gaming table while serving in a functional role. 

The construction of these cards was relatively simple.  I embellished the numbers onto the flag images in Word, printed and cut out to size.  Then I laminated them together using workplace ID lamination sheets, the perfect size for card shaped gaming enhancements. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Games Plus Auction 2012

This weekend is the Games Plus annual game auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois.  Friday night, March 9, is historical game auction night starting at 7pm.  Sadly, I am not sure I will be able to make it this year.

Merry Christmas 1066

This past Christmas my wife commissioned a tree skirt from our friends at the RavenStone Castle featuring fragments from the Bayeux Tapestry.  I hope to eventually theme the whole tree with appropriate medieval decoration.  Then I hope to convince someone to play a Battle of Hastings scenario next to the tree....anyone?
Rose Michel does an amazing job turning medieval fabrics into tapestries and various decorations which she sells at rennaissance fairs and craft shows around the country.  She also sells them from her home, a massive castle built in the county in Harvard, Illinois which she and her family run as a Bed and Breakfast.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gene Wolfe and the Fuller Award

Slightly off topic for this blog, but no less exciting for me personally, was the opportunity I had to meet my favorite author Gene Wolfe at the Capricon XXXII SF convention last week here in Chicago.  He is being honored by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame with the Fuller Award.  The ceremony is being held on March 17th and promises to be quite an amazing evening.  The details can be found here:
Gene is a combat veteran of the Korean War, a fact intended to help keep this post legit.
I will be at the ceremony with my wife and some close friends. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lunch with the IJN

Over the holidays one of my closest friends, Tim, came to visit from Japan where he currently resides.  He brought me a package of a Japanese brand of curry that he tells me has been used by the Japanese navy since back before the war and is still available commercially. 
No new games yet in 2012.  The Palatine ASL group is currently on administrative hiatus so its has been a slow couple of winter months.  Some plans are shaping up for the near future however....