Syrian Street Fighting

Back in February of 2019 I gamed on Gareth Lane’s Chechen/Russian street landscape (see ‘Away Game With Welsh Chechens) and besides having a great time I also much admired the buildings – hand built by a guy he knew. Not long after the event the gang did our cartel game at Hammerhead in March (see Sicario Part VI: The End!) – still the last show game so far, and chatting with Dave afterward we thought it would be good to do a similar game with our ever growing modern middle east collection, which was becoming more and more Syrian oriented, but for it to be realistic it would need to be far more ‘distressed’ than our pristine cartel set up, although we could still use the boards with the roads.

At first I looked around for mdf kits and yes there are a few individual buildings (good old TTC) but not what I was really looking for, we could use our existing middle east building but they are really for villages or the outskirts of towns, or maybe I or one of the group could scratch build? But then I asked myself, but what am I really looking for? Well it doesn’t take much of a Google search to show what the streets of most Syrian cities look like and it’s pretty desperate although oddly iconic and very reminiscent of images of Stalingrad – cue Gareth and his builder.

Contact with Gareth revealed the guy was Chris at Task Force Terrain and in April our journey began.

At first it was all about what I really wanted and what could reasonably fit on the existing street grid so a steady stream of e mails back and forth slowly inched us towards a mutual understanding of where we were going. As an ex automotive industry project manager I have to say this was the most constructive project experience I have ever had and I cannot praise Chris enough for his energy and enthusiasm for the project tempered by what was practical to build and be usable on the table top.

The months April and May were spent exchanging ideas on what buildings would be best for the different parts of the street grid; single ruins at the corners, less damaged apartment style buildings for the double spaces and what to put in the centre as a feature building. Also, mundane stuff like what kind of base to put the buildings on (3mm hardboard eventually), whether there should be pavements around the buildings and should they be damaged, how high could we go and how much access could players get to the buildings and what colour should the buildings be? Strangely this all became increasingly important as we went along; the feature building entailed a lot of back and forth e mails accompanied by real life images for consideration and it was Chris’s idea to go for a hospital, very much a feature of news reports and a potential focal point for a game. The question of pavements was something I hadn’t considered even though they are staring you in the face in every image from the cities but of course space for pavement means less space for building and what size pavement anyway? The height of the buildings became an issue of practicality from a gaming point of view and a construction point of view; too tall and gamers can’t reach across the table and the more floors there are the more messing about taking floors off and on; in the end we opted for small apartment ruins at the corners only two stories high, then larger apartments/office blocks of three stories with removable roofs and top floor and then a straight drop to the ground floor and the centre piece hospital four stories in two halves with removable roof and floors.

The colour palette was decided by Chris doing swatches and sending me photos which worked surprisingly well as I think you’ll agree.

It was during this development that Chris found a picture of a Syrian police station and that became the prototype for one of our double sized buildings.

Into June and the serious work started, well for Chris anyway, I was thinking “I wonder if we could get this ready for The Other Partizan” – oh how we laughed!

As he progressed Chris sent me images of what the raw buildings would look like and the option for limited changes but as we’d discussed the look at length this was essentially a rubber stamp exercise.

Come October and the photos of the finished articles started flowing in and I was completely blown away by the level of detail and had one of those rare moments of experiencing a vision actually realised. Truly stunning.

All that I needed to do now was motor down to Chris and pick them all up. Easy! Well yes if we weren’t in tiers (I was in bloody tears!) and where I lived was different to where Chris lived and the rules kept changing and then no one could go anywhere! At first we just agreed Chris would hold onto the buildings for a while because we’d be able to travel soon……… Obviously it soon became apparent that no one was going anywhere and my project was cluttering up Chris’s workshop so reluctantly I agreed he’d courier them up to me.

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As you can see, 8 boxes arrived one day via DPD, who it must be said did a fine job of delivering in tact, ably assisted by Chris’s magnificent packaging skills.

Having duly unpacked and set them up on the the streets boards on the gaming table they just sat there for several weeks and I dreamt of us gaming on them someday but as that day seemed forever far off I decided to solo game a Spectre game the other week over several nights just to get some use before storing them away for the great gaming return! Hopefully this game will appear with a narrative on LAF in due course but in the meantime here are some shots of the action.

That’s all for this month next month we’ll have a look at the joint project born out of the ashes of lockdown – Successors.

Back To The Blog

With the arrival of 2021 after the long dark night of 2020 I looked at the blog and realised I hadn’t posted since March of last year and asked myself the question why?

The most obvious answer was “well there was a lockdown dummy!” and still is of course, with the obvious result of there being no shows to talk about, no games to post pictures of and no projects to bore everyone about – well not quite but that’ll be another post 🙂 But actually I think it was a bit more than that, partly depression – what’s the point and all that, partly lack of will – who am I going to play with, but mostly the lack of the creative spark engendered by being around others. Personally the death of a close family member early in the pandemic was a blow which was probably not properly dealt with and the ‘sadmin’ took a lot longer to deal with than normal and the clearing of the deceased belongings and property is still with us as a family and as anyone who has been through this it does grind you down.

For us as a Group the initial lockdown stopped us stone dead, we squeezed in Hammerhead (well me and Dave) which was a slightly surreal experience, but as most of the gang are in the vulnerable age group they went into isolation and I haven’t seen them since. That left Dave and I to make the best of the various versions of the rules to meet occasionally in the usual venue socially distanced and with the windows open and when that became untenable create a version of meeting outside where we gamed in Dave’s shed (it’s a big shed!) with the door and windows open but then of course it became too bloody cold and that was the end of that.

Wargaming in the shed did manage to keep us reasonably sane and gave Dave a chance to fully utilise the large playing surface (10 foot x 6 foot) with big set piece battles using a lot of our collections – “bang ’em all on!” No skirmish games here! Just like in the usual venue we could leave the game up and subject to Dave’s shift patterns we meandered our way though several of our big periods (Renaissance, ACW, Carlist & Sikh Wars) allocating 2 or 3 days per battle – what else were we going to do!

The problem with just two of you of course is that you do get a bit comfortable, there isn’t the variable of someone else saying “hold on, what about……” and the banter/argument is two dimensional. On the plus side we did have the time to sit in the garden and just chat, mainly about the hobby, but life under lockdown generally and made some plans for a future we had no idea of when it would arrive. The big decision was us deciding to go full on for Successors in 28mm, no skirmish gaming, no few element bases pretending to be an army but full on; completely mad but that’s what a pandemic lockdown does to you! Original plan was to be well on the way by now but the prolonged pandemic has meant we haven’t been able to get together to really plan it out but I’ll save the full story for the next blog post.

The big decision for me personally was to get a Syrian city scape done to further utilise the 4 foot square road intersections I did for the Sicario games. This was something I’d wanted to do for some time to further enhance our Spectre games so I contracted the job out and was over the moon at the result; this too will be a follow up blog.

That’s enough I think for a getting back to the blog mind set. More to follow – what else am I going to do?

Away Game With Welsh Chechins

This game came about thanks to an invite from Gareth Lane, fellow twitterite, who suggested I came down to south wales for a game on his excellent Russian terrain of Russian Federation v Chechins using the Bolt Action Modern rules. So leaving the rest of the gang behind, mainly due to shift patterns and ‘real life’, I battled through the torrential rain to fly the Westbury flag in far off Wales.

I took on the role of the Russian Federation fielding a force of regulars – 3 infantry sections plus HMG, Grenade Launcher & Sniper support mainly of Inexperienced morale with a range of transport  – BRDM, BYT80, BMP2 & ZSU23-24 all of Regular morale. On top of this was the good stuff being a Spetsnaz section plus Light Mortar & MMG support with an Mi17 transport helicopter and HIND gunship. Both had a dog team assigned to sniff out booby traps (of which Gareth kept telling me there would be many and deadly – psychological warfare!) – more of the dog teams later.

Gareth took the Chechins fielding a mixed force of Veteran Mujahadeen & their warlord Arbi Barayev, Regular Chechin Wolf Pack infantry sections and Inexperienced Chechin rebels plus HMG, Grenade Launcher & Sniper support and a captured BMP2. Also an array of anti personnel & anti tank mines that would be positioned prior to game start.

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Federation objectives were to seize both ends of the tram line and hold at the end of the game thus denying the rebels a vital supply life line and as a bonus kill the warlord Arbi Barayev. The Chechins had the rather simpler objective of protecting the supply line and bloodying the Russians.

The rules were new to me. Gareth had advised me to watch some YouTube play through videos, which I duly did, and to be frank wasn’t too impressed but my golden rule is ‘your house, you rules’ so decided to go with the flow and rely on Gareth to walk me through what could and could not be done.

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The Federation troops were deployed on the eastern edge of the board having three possible entry points at which at least half of the troops must start the game. The Spetsnaz were air mobile and couldn’t enter until turn 3 in what was a 7 turn game (with a random option for an extra single turn). With an abundance of caution (inspired by fear of mines and ambush) I deployed one infantry section plus the the HMG and the ZSU at the northern most entry point – a mistake in a limited turn game as they couldn’t cover enough ground. At the centre point I deployed (over two turns) the other two infantry sections one in a BTR80, one in the BMP2 – the right tactics I think but see later rookie error. At the southern entry point was the BRDM containing the command element leading the way followed by the other BTR80 holding the Grenade Launcher team, the Sniper team and the dog team. The  Chechins were all unseen until Gareth deployed them at pre configured positions and some were in Ambush – a rules mechanism thing.

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The initial moves naturally belonged to the Federation. The northern team moved at Advance speed to start but realising this was too slow I had them Run and to hell with booby traps! Their objective was the northern end of the tram line where a unit of Chechins had materialised but desultory firing didn’t have much effect, the ZSU however which had moved down a parallel street was much more effective – 4 x turret mounted auto cannons at 3 dice a piece are great fun, definitely getting one of these for our Syrian games!  The centre forces moved into the broken terrain and the BMP2 disgorged it’s section and gave covering fire as they crossed the street under fire from Chechins further down, the BTR80 however didn’t deploy it’s troops (oops!) and so when a Chechin RPG came whizzing up the street it brewed up pretty quickly taking half the section with it. The southern force managed to deploy into some buildings to flank the Chechins at the end of the street opposite them with the dog sniffing out a booby trap, the sniper team getting up high and the Grenade Launcher team setting up nicely. The BTR80 got itself in an alley between two buildings which meant that though it couldn’t get hit it was no use in providing fire support so this role went to the BRDM once the commander had debussed.  At this point I was thinking ‘well I’ve drawn him out so I know where most of his stuff is but I’m not winning the fire fight and the tram line is a ways off’

Turn 4 saw the arrival of the good stuff. The HIND deployed to hover over the main street to support the Federation regulars – I didn’t quite get the hang of this to start with and the Mi17 hovered over the northern end of the tram line for the Spetsnaz to rappel down relatively safely due to the ZSU chewing up the Chechins at this end. The plan was now for the Spetsnaz to mop up so the regulars could secure this end and then proceed down the tram lines to the other objective but in the way were a Wolf Pack section in the adjacent street and the veteran Mujahedeen cunningly using the ruined factory as cover. It was going to be a race to the finish!

The HIND wasn’t as deadly as I thought it was going to be and I did have some heart stopping moments when the ambush HMG & Grenade Launcher revealed themselves on the roof top of a large apartment building and tried to bring it down – I could see the markers but couldn’t do anything until Gareth revealed them which is a bit of a clumsy rules mechanism as it could lead players avoiding a spot they wouldn’t necessarily avoid, however mutual good spirit avoided any problem. The plus of the volume of fire the HIND could deliver did however did ensure some judicious pin markers on the Chechins which prevented them overwhelming the Federation regulars at the southern end of the street who had by now lost their BRDM to an RPG and were holding on rather than advancing although this did mean the sniper team could get off some effective kills on the HMG and Grenade Launcher teams on the roof opposite.

In the centre of the action we had an exchange of BPM2 losses; the Chechin vehicle took out the Federation vehicle when I foolishly deployed side on which left the infantry sections there a bit in the air but a turn or two later, the ZSU, having run out of infantry to chew up poked its head round a corner and tore up the Chechin vehicle – love this vehicle!

At the northern end of the table the on foot regulars had got themselves into a bit of a firefight with a sniper they couldn’t hit and couldn’t really move due to the rebel BPM2 (soon to be brewed up) and the HMG team had triggered a booby trap and lost half their team. Spetsnaz to the rescue! They finished off the opposition using the MMG & infantry section while the Mortar team started lobbing shells into the ruined factory and the dog team used the available cover to loosen off a couple of shots which took out Arbi Baryev – spectacular! Now it all came together as the Spetsnaz raced against time; the Chechins advancing up the street alongside the tram lines were taken out and the HIND now hovered over the factory (narrowly avoiding a SAM missile fired on the last turn) raining fire on the Mujahedeen who although not all killed were so pinned they were going nowhere.

Time was called and a minor Russian victory declared having seized one end of the tram line and killed the Chechin warlord. I of course claimed that with the HIND hovering over the other end of the tram line and with most of the Chechins being eliminated – we counted around 40 dead, it was a Federation victory. What it was, was a victory for the hobby, two people who had never met, playing in the right spirit, no rule mongering but equally no silliness and having a thoroughly great day. Thank you Gareth for being a great host I hope we can have a repeat performance sometime soon in the Midlands.

A note on the rules. I’d never played them before but after a few turns they were surprisingly easy to pick up and despite my misgivings played well. Are they perfect? Well no, but what rule set is? They are not as nuanced as say Spectre but for a squad based game where you are effectively ignoring the individuals and concentrating on the whole they give a good game. Would I play them again? Yes.

Rescue At The Old Fort

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This was the 2nd of our ‘Adventures In Syria’ campaign (more of a collection of loosely connected events) and followed on from the ‘Hunt For Ali Suliman’ game where 2 Syrian special forces troopers and their Russian adviser were captured. The rules are Spectre Operations V2.

Fast forward a couple of months and Damascus Mission have negotiated with the insurgent group and agreed a hand over of cash for the captured soldiers and their adviser at the old Ottoman fort some miles west of Aleppo, although unfortunately one soldier has died of his wounds in captivity. Of course nobody negotiates with terrorists, especially Bashar al-Assad, and so a rescue team headed by Marton Csokas are approaching the fort through the eastern cactus field maintaining comms contact with Dmitri Davidovich a seconded sniper on overwatch in the high dunes to the south west. The insurgents are the Azaz Command headed by Amir El Masry one of Suliman’s lieutenants.

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Most of the insurgents are positioned in and around the fort with a couple of men in an outlying shelter and another in rocks to the west scanning the road. A variety of small arms are carried by the group supplemented by two RPG’s, an M249 and a PKM plus a technical with a mounted machine gun, an armoured technical and a truck; all are on Alert and the prisoners are under the watchful eye of Abu Nazir.

The first few moves nothing happened, the Syrians moved cautiously and the insurgents got impatient resulting in El Masry finally sending off El Adouari & Boussalet down the road in the armoured technical to see where the hell the money men were. However once the Syrians were at the wall they were heard and Sleiman & Sheik turned from their positions on the walls to see the Syrians at the breach but the Syrians had the initiative and opened fire killing Sleiman and Nazir (useful) but missing Sheik (not so useful) who let go with his RPG, missing the target but still hitting the wall and killing private Tahir al-Malik in the AOE.

Out on the desert road Adouari reacts to the firing and hauls the technical around and comes roaring back up the road which activates Davidovitch up on the dunes who calmly picks off Boussalet in the back of the vehicle and then picks off Hamza who is manning the machine gun on the other technical.

 

Back at the chaos of the fort El Masry lines up for a shot down at the rescuers from the tower but is gutshot by private Hamza who was left behind in the cactus on overwatch, Masry dies in 3 turns.

 

Csokas and his men are into the fort now, eliminating Sheik before he can let go with another RPG but before they can get the prisoners freed the two guys from the shack, Marhyar & al-Malik make a belated appearance and in the gunfight that follows, Csokas & private Hamdouch kill Marhyar but don’t kill al-Malik before he can spray the area from his M249, missing them but killing prisoner Pushkin (not in the plan at all!). Csokas downs al-Malik before he can do anymore damage and the one remaining insurgent in the fort (Hammoud)is grabbed for questioning (not nice).

Making their way outside with the prisoner, the rescued, and two dead team members, the section are witness to the bizarre sight of Adouari trying to shoot from the window of his moving vehicle with his AK74 and not surprisingly failing while private Hamza calmly suppresses him.

With the sun now high in the sky the team move off to the extraction point leaving behind the shattered remnants of El Masry’s cell and a weakened Ali Suliman.

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Postscript: The parents of Corporal Vladimir Pushkin received the news of their son’s tragic death in a motor vehicle accident on the outskirts of Damascus several weeks later.

 

The Hunt For Ali Suleiman

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A bit of a play on the ‘hunt for Osman Bin Laden’ this came out of a discussion around a modern middle east game we played recently where Syrian special forces and their Russian advisers attempted the capture or elimination of a noted terrorist/resistance fighter/legitimate opposition leader – delete as appropriate according to which news channel you’re watching, somewhere around Aleppo.

Continue reading “The Hunt For Ali Suleiman”