The quest for armored supremacy

 I must admit, of all the recent articles I have read about wargame rules, a single opinion piece, although in two parts, stands out the most. I am referring naturally to a pair of posts on 3++ is the new black concerning vehicles, namely the original article by Kirby and its companion piece, together with all of the comments. I admit, having read both pieces in their entirety, I have decided to throw my own opinion behind one of the ideas tossed around both by Kirby himself and the people who left comments, with a twist. However, before briefly explaining my point of view on the problem of vehicle survivability - since it was the biggest point of controversy - allow me to recant an old story.

On February 11, 1943, the Kampfgruppe Sander Tigers of the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion took part in a German counterattack on a collective farm west of Ssemernikovo, on the outskirts of Rostov. The Kolkhoz defenses proved to be harder than expected, and the Tigers spearheading the attack came under a withering fire from well dug in artillery, tank and self propelled anti tank gun positions. One of the Tigers afvancing on the farm was that of the acting platoon commander, Leutnant Zabel.

Soon after the attack began, his Tiger was hit for the first time by a 76,2 mm armor piercing shot that torn off the makeshift grider supporting the spare track on the lower glacis. All that the crew felt of that hit was a dull clang and a slight jolt. A short while later, a 45 mm shot hit the commander's cupola, shattering a vision slit's armored glass block. The shattered glass block affected forward vision, as its mount was distorted so the block could not be replaced. After a while, a second slug hit almost the same point, rectifying the situation - the block was torn off together with the mount, wounding the commander on the head in the process and leaving the slit unprotected. After the battle, two 45 mm hits and more than anti tank rifle pockmarks were found on the cupola alone.

The loader's hatch could not be closed due to earlier damage and was half-open during the fight, encouraging anti tank riflemen who tried their hand at it. More than a dozen pockmarks were found, some of them distorting the hinges. It took an iron crowbar to force it open after the battle. During the fight, the Tiger was ceaselessly aimed at by machine gunners. At one point, a well aimed burst ignited the smoke grenade dischargers on the turret. Smoke seeped through the various openings, nearly suffocating the crew and preventing any coordinated effort inside the tank.

Enemy fire intensified with the advance of the attack. Each hit was heard and felt by the crew. The hull was rocking from close detonations, acrid smoke was getting inside, yellow-orange flashes were seen and explosions heard. Then, another 76,2 mm shell struck the gun mantlet, snapping the gun brackets. The recoil cylinder started loosing oil. The barrel remained at full recoil. Other hits damaged the radio and the gear lever. Then a brief fire broke out in the engine compartment, after a shell hit from being, which tore off the exhaust shrouds. The automatic fire extinguisher quelled it immediately, without any need to stop the engine. At some point, two Red Army soldiers threw an explosive charge on top of the engine compartment. It detonated without any ill effects except for a dull explosion, a wave of heat felt by the crew, and some acrid smoke.

Despite destroying 6 tanks, 10 anti tank guns, several mortars, several anti tank rifles and numerous machine gun emplacements, the German attack faltered, and the scarred Tiger had to withdraw to lick its wounds. And there was a tongueful of licking to be done. The workshop company mechanics counted 227 anti tank rifle hits, 14 by light anti tank guns or 45 and 57 mm caliber and 11 by 76,2 mm heavy anti tank guns. The right side of the  running gear took most hits with severe damage to it. Many road wheels were shot through, even several rocker arms were holed, and the idler was torn off. Despite all the battle damage, the Tiger was still able to limp through 60 kilometers between the battlefield and the workshop company. Several welded joints failed, and the fuel tank sprung a leak from the jarring effect of the hits. The tracks were hit in several places with various caliber shells, but they not only did not fail, but did not even hinder the Tiger's maneuverability much, any more than the missing right side idler, that is.

The story I have allowed myself to quote from my copy of the third volume of a monumental monograph on the Tiger tank published by AJ Press, illustrates easily, just how durable a real tank is in battlefield condition. Granted, Tigers were counted amongst the hardest specimens of armored vehicles ever constructed, but the point is still made, in my opinion. In real life, tanks are conglomerates of machinery that are not easily to damage in a way that will hinder their operations easily. In order to really damage a tank, or any vehicle in a significant manner, not only its armor has to be damaged or penetrated, no, its insides must be subjected to weapon's destructive power. The real way to destroy an armored vehicle is to damage its internals sufficiently, or to cause critical failure of its components. Let us look, for instance, at the modus operandi of three most commonly used anti tank rounds. First, the venerable High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) shell uses a shaped jet of fire to burn through the armor and either damage the internals, or kill the crew. Second, the High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) round, as the name suggests, squashes against the armor, its explosion, causing the armor itself to rupture, slivers of metal breaking off and cutting through fuel lines and men alike. Third, the most commonly used today Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) shell pierces through the armor by means of sheer kinetic power... to do what? Kill the crewmen, and damage the internals. Armor, by virtue of the three examples, is a secondary problem as far as damaging tanks its concerned. Of course, it must be defeated, but the real source of a vehicle's destruction is the damage to its insides.

What does it mean as far as rules are concerned? Simple - the rules should reflect both the existence of armor, and the damage to vehicle subsystems, and do so in a way that will not be overly complicated and tedious to use during a game. That is why, in my opinion, vehicles should be treated in a similar way other units are. Namely, they should possess statistics for armor strength, resilience of internal components, and yes, you guessed it, structure points similar to wounds. Of course, the solution is simplistic, and in order to spice it up a bit, it could be mated with damage charts, representing the chance of a hit not only removing a structure point, but knocking out a vehicle subsystem, disarming, immobilizing or just jarring the crew inside bad enough to give them pause for a moment. Plus, for certain weapons - perhaps in a similar fashion instant death is resolved - critical damage charts should be ready, for all the situations a vehicle can be destroyed with a single shot. Yes, it is possible in real life - just ask American tankers about the inherent weakness of Soviet-designed tanks with autoloaders fed from magazines put directly beneath the turret ring.

The post obviously does not address vehicle mobility, or esoteric upgrades, such as external armor. It is beyond the scope of my today's rant, although it should be also taken into consideration wen designing, or redesigning, vehicle rules. Still, after reading quite a few rule sets, I believe their authors have decided to sacrifice realism in exchange for ease of balancing the rules, distorting the gameplay in the process. Yes, making realistic vehicles, in any way, will probably require a very different approach to all game rules, but I believe the end result would be closer to real life than any current approximations.


The Most Stylish Man in the World... just kidding

While my blog is a newcomer to the Internet, and it's pretty lightweight as far as content goes, I have been honored by Gothhammer, the man behind the titans and "TRON" styled Eldar on Collegia Titanica for the Stylish Blogger award. While I am definitely not a blogging equivalent of The Most Interesting Man in the World of "Dos Equis" beer commercial fame, I do try to carve a little corner of the World Wide Web for myself. First of all, Gothhammer, if you read these words, I am really grateful for the nomination, and I hope to do it justice some day. Second, since the rules are simple, it is high time to fulfill my obligations, and write something worthwhile.

 Since I have already thanked Gothhammer - okay, just once is not enough, honestly, I was honestly very surprised being amongst the people he has nominated, so once again, thank you, a lot - I should reveal seven things about me you might find useful, humorous, or just plainly inane. Here they are, in no particular order:

One: I have actually learned English in order to read role playing game and tabletop wargame rulebooks. Yes, I am that nerdy, even though Al Yankovich still is still way out of my league.
Two: I have a giant stash of scale models, still pristine, though stuffed into plain boxes. Honestly, there's about four M1 Abrams tanks, a few Sd. Kfz, 234 armored cars, and God knows what else.
Three: I am a giant neat freak, and I have some vestiges of obsessive compulsive disorder. When I buy groceries, I usually get unever number of every article.

Four: I am a terrible painter. Let's leave it at that, although I know it is mostly due to the fact that I'm without practice.

Five: I am an unashamed bibliophile. My supply of military-related magazines and books on the matter is barely contained in a completely filled Billy bookcase.

Six: I love the smell of Gunze polystyrene glue, the citrus kind. Not that I would be using it to give my flat a pleasant scent, but it makes modeling tolerable as far as my olfactory sense is concerned.

Seven: I'm a neat freak, despite my laziness and procrastination. Oh, I am trying to fight those flaws, not that I enjoy too much success.

Since, as Gothhammer has already pointed out, the whole idea has been floating on the waves of the Web for some time, I intend to follow his example, and comment on a few blogs that have caught my attention. Most have probably been nominated already, and if not, well, it's time to rectify that.
Gaming All Areas, first on my list, is a blog I intend to read from start to finish. I harbor a crazy dream of writing my own wargame, and Tenzing's articles are great food for thought, best I've enjoyed in a long time.
Excommunicate Traitoris is definitely one of the more impressive places I have visited. Its owner is a prolific modeler and painter, and a remarkably helpful fellow to boot.

A Year of Frugal Gaming is probably THE place to go, when you want to try your hand at gaming without ruining your budget. Plus, no one who shares his house with a cat is without style.

Colonel Shofer's Blog should definitely find its way to my list. A veritable smorgasbord of great stuff, both made by the owner, and linked from other blogs... it's like Editor's picks of wargaming.

Anatoli's Game Room caught my attention with Polish cavalry and whatnot, but having explored it a bit, I definitely got hooked. I only hope the owner will not sink into "Witcher 2" too bad...

Feralique, while already nominated, deserves praise for creativity and modeling skill. The owner certainly has interesting ideas - check out his Zoicans, for instance.

Dark Future Games would be hard to overlook, due to far too many reasons to quantify. Just go see that pile of terrain, and admire the owners' dedication... or watch the painting and modeling tutorials.

Musings of a Smurf, another undeniably nominated blog, another place with great content. Anything you'll read around there is great food for thought, that's for sure.

Mordian 7th, ah, Mordian 7th... if you want to see great conversion work and terrain, you don't have to look any further. It's hard not to stand in awe, seeing that Assault Engine, and that's just one example.

Collegia Titanica have to close my list. Yes, I was nominated by its owner, but it would be an injustice, should I not point the place out. "TRON" was my favorite when I was a kid, after all.

There you have it. Yes, the list is incomplete, and rightly so - my knowledge of tabletop wargaming blogs is woefully lacking. Still, the places I've highlighted are, in my opinion, cream of the crop. If you don't know them... well, get on with it. There's much more content there, than on my sorry excuse for a blog, that's for damn sure!


The horrors of the dragon's hoard

Despite the fact that humanity, or, at the very least, most of it, has left its hunter-gatherer roots long ago, hobbyists, regardless of their area of expertise, have a tendency to acquire inordinate amounts of goods. Not being an exception to that, although being pretty much a lightweight when compared to some, today I intend to show you some of my workshop. While it is not a novel idea, and at least one person has actually posted a great pictorial on the subject recently – for details, you should visit Dante's Inferno and see for yourself – I suppose there is no hurt in allowing you to see just how much money a one can waste on equipment left unused. Perhaps now, having decided to do something worthwhile with my time, I will do away with dust on my shelves and, hopefully, put my hoard to good use.

First, I am quite sure you do recognize the introduction above, after all, it has been posted about fourteen days ago. While I have been telling myself that I should add new articles in a regular manner – indeed, my Google Calendar has been most unmerciful, pummeling me with reminders about three times a week – multiple real world problems have prevented me from doing so, most notably the fact, that I have been forced to oversee an unpleasant instance of home improvement. It was, I assure you, lots of fun when I have learned, that my gas pipes had ruptured sometimes in the past, and that I had been living with a veritable bomb under my bed. Still, what is done is done, as the man from Stratford on Avon had written, and thus, I can write my posts in peace.

As you can see, I have decided not to show you my entire workshop. It is understandable, since I do share it with my wife, whose desk stands right next to mine, and is, usually, an abomination in the eyes of any God one might worship. This, as I have already written in the earlier, sadly defunct, incarnation of this post, leads to my desk being a parking for cats, although with my return to active duty, so to speak, this might change fairly quickly. Still, having hinted at my wife's habits - she usually creates a small disaster area around herself when she, ahem, creates – I must, once again, admit that she is far more prolific and skilled in her chosen field than I am in mine. Advertising, advertising at its best. Still, returning to the picture at hand, as you can see, I am a follower of the Lord of Flat Packages himself, and thus got most of my furniture and equipment from Ikea. To this day, I have no idea, why have they decided to finish making their Jerker desks, but there are two of them in my workshop, and I'll be thrice damned, if I ever throw them away... well, the metal parts, at least. The wall in front of me is, as you can see, adorned with all manner of tools and consumables, amongst which you probably can see a whole basket of glues and putties, another one filled with sculpting material – lately augmented with four packs of Sculpey, courtesy of my wife's friend who had no use for it – and another holding Acrylicos Vallejo stone textures... and a huge supply of nail polishing blocks, which can be pretty useful, if not easily used up. The black pots, on the other hand, are filled with tools, from humble Excel brand scalpels to circle cutters, riffler files and all sorts of sculpting tools. To my shame, they are in pristine condition, just like my Proxxon Micromot rotary tool, and my brushes. I do hope to change that as soon as possible. Also, as you can see, I do tend to gather piles of books around – currently, there's a truckload of works on website coding and graphic design, as well as a small pile of reference sheets from 1:35 scale figure kits I intend to pilfer for good poses and, since they are my Achilles' heel, folds on the clothing. All in all, I tend to keep my desk in order, but I grow tired of it – lack of mess usually means lack of work. Just ask my better half!

Second, as you can see, these are probably the most prized of my possessions, namely, a single Excel scalpel – I use them religiously, despite the fact that every new blade has to drink some of my blood (honestly... every damn time) – jeweler's tools, namely a pair of side cutters from a very respectable German brand, and a Pakistani-made pliers packaged by Italeri, which are small enough to work on the wire used to make figure armatures, and a set of clay shapers, and not the small ones at that (since they are much easier to fish out of their pot. The last piece is a pair of scissors, and I have my wife - again with the advertising - to thank for them, since they are made by the company run by a renowned scrapbooking artist by the name of Tim Holtz, and, while they had cost me pretty penny, I haven't found anything better. Cutting 1.5 mm thick polystyrene sheets? Not a problem for those.

Third, in order to show you how disorganized I can truly get, I have decided to photograph my paints drawer. I am quite sure the people who run Acrylicos Vallejo, should they ever see this post, will put a price on my head. Alas, for now this must do, at least until I get enough stainless steel bearings to replicate the paint mixing skulls Reaper Miniatures use for their own paint bottles, and I think of some way to store paints without loosing to much space in my cabinet. Time will tell, whether I'll be successful.

There you have it, a hoard worthy of a dragon, not exactly one aged and wise though. Perhaps in one year's time I should make new photographs. Who knows, what will happen to all the things on my treasure trove.


The perils of perfectionism

There is a time in life of every man (or, indeed, woman), when the individual in question has to face the fact that he has, in some way, failed to realize his ambitions. Having read such a bold statement, you are probably becoming suspicious and think of a possible early demise of my blog. This, fortunately, is not the case, otherwise I would probably become the second most ridiculed citizen of Poland on the Internet, right behind Andrew „hit them in the jewels and run” Golota. Still, for my first post after a lengthy hiatus, allow me to write a few words on the biggest, in my opinion, cause of disappointment with oneself in any hobby related community. Oddly enough, the problem I'd like to touch upon, is perfectionism.

Truth be told, there is nothing wrong in gunning for perfection. In a way, it is a constant struggle against our inadequacies. Giants upon whose shoulders others stand are usually perfectionists, regardless of any talent they actually possess. However, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of measuring against perfection of others, and bemoan the fact that it is unachievable, all the while ignoring the obvious truth, that it takes time and practice to reach the lofty heights others might have reached before.

You might now be scratching your heads in confusion as to what am I alluding to. The point I am trying to make however is simple, and actually one I had to assimilate myself. Regardless of your skill level as a hobbyist, how many times have you compared your work to the creations of celebrated individuals, especially at the beginning of your attempts at modeling or painting? How many times have we all been staring at the models done by people such as, for instance, Jennifer Haley, with longing in our eyes, and then glanced upon our works, and despaired? Plenty of times, I bet. For some, comparing their attempts with those of other people can be an impulse to experiment and develop their skills. For others, it is a cause of annoyance with their temporary lack of ability, to the point of, in most extreme cases, abandoning the hobby altogether. I am sure you all know which approach to the problem is better. Honestly, all that remains for me to say on the matter is quoting the words that have prompted me to write this piece. Unfortunately, I cannot sing with the voice of an angel the way Ellen McLain does, but that is all right. „But there's no sense crying over every mistake, you just keep on trying till you run out of cake...” I am positive I would butcher the song horribly anyway.

Enough ranting for today. On a side note, I should probably do an editorial on another rookie mistake many people make, namely setting their goals too high, and spiraling into disappointment with each failure. The fact that I have decided to forge my own Blogger template, and now I am suitably humbled by the task I have undertaken, would probably make it a literary equivalent of a seppuku however. Who knows, perhaps I'll be able to share the end result of my trip through Development Hell with you eventually. Don't hold your breath though, after all, there are no straight roads in any Hell worth mentioning - except for booby trapped ones.


Every journey has a first step

It is, admittedly, with certain trepidation, that I write these words, as I embark upon my journey into the unknown country of, you guessed it, wire and putty, in order to reach the pinnacles of ability and enlightenment that I have decided to conquer. With a dental pick in one hand, and a clay shaper in the other, I walk the first steps towards learning the subtle art of sculpture most intricate... all right, enough of the heroic introduction. You, my reader, are not watching a fantasy movie, such as "Conan the Barbarian", but waste your time on the musings of a novice blogger, and, coincidentally, a novice artisan. Allow me, then, to entertain you with a short tale...

When I was a kid - and so long ago it was - I had inordinate love for paper models. Airplanes I had aplenty, but while they were quite awe inspiring, they also caught dust like mad, and were large enough to turn my den into an unholy variation on a decaying aviation museum (or a post-apocalyptic airfield worthy of "Fallout"). Thus, with each remodeling, the planes disappeared, one by one, but by the time they were all gone, I have been firmly gripped by the bug that was scale modeling, and I have discovered the joys of tabletop wargames as well. It goes without saying, that my interests have quickly gravitated towards little metal men and their incredible machines. "Warzone", poor "Warzone", you, and your Capitol Free Marines are, to this day, sorely missed.

Still, all was not lost. By the time Target Games died an inglorious death, a new shadow has fallen upon me, and many others. Poland, it seemed, was invaded by Britons with bad attitudes and chainswords aplenty. I still have old Dark Angels, painted without paying heed to the universal cry of "thin your paints", and I fondly remember giving my friend and his Space Wolves a hard time, back when Warhammer 40,000 box had three books in it, and "Virus Outbreak" Strategy Card was in fashion. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm faded, confronted with the inevitability of real life hardships, growing tendency for workaholism and procrastination. Years have passed, and after a unlucky stint with armor modeling that has left me with a veritable truckload of 1:35 vehicle kits in neat boxes and a sour taste of failure in my mouth, I have decided, that something had to be done. The outcome of my musings, affected by my long time brewing interest in sculpture, undoubtedly fueled by works of giants, such as Jes Goodwin, Alan and Michael Perry or Brian Nelson (not to mention the sadly defunct team of madmen, who used to work for Rackham), was pretty expectable. Wire and putty it would be, no more, no less.

Since you are probably thinking "enough with this bullshit already" at this point, I believe it is time to finish my ramblings. To do that, a cult movie quote - although not exactly kindly treated - would be oddly appropriate: "It's twenty six kilometers to Warsaw, I've got a box full of putty, half a cup of tools, it's dark, and I'm wearing a head magnifier. Hit it."