28mm Cold War Bundeswehr

Another quick post. Just finished on each of the Under Fire Miniatures 1980s Bundeswehr figures.

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The national flags are a little over scale but I think that they set the figures off nicely.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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Still Not Over By Christmas- a WW3 Megagame.

A couple of Saturdays ago I was in Sheffield for another Pennine Megagames’ event, one I had been particularly looking forward to for a long time (in fact since the game first ran down in London) Rob Cooper’s Still Not Over By Christmas.

As you’ll have gathered from my previous post it was that classic scenario of the Cold War going hot with the Soviets invading westwards. I choose to play the Soviet Air Commander (thus fulfilling a wish I’ve had since I started megagaming 6 years today of overseeing the aircraft) I had two players underneath me who would do the actual fighting as well as an assistant on the day. Things had started a few weeks before the game day with an online planning game run through Facebook, various groups were set up for the players to plan their initial attacks and starting dispositions. I had been fortunate enough to attend the pre- game briefing for game control so I had a good understanding of the game mechanics (not that much of an unfair advantage as one of the NATO air players was present too). From this I was acutely aware that the NATO planes had a threefold advantage. Firstly, their best planes such as F15s and F16s were rated highly, the only thing I had that could equal that was the MiG29 and I had fewer of those than NATO had of eagles and Fighting Falcons. Secondly, their repair rating was better meaning that had much more chance to come back from damage, in the rules things were only permanently lost when they failed a repair roll. Thirdly, NATO had abundant stocks of advanced air to air missiles meaning that they fired first in an engagement, again the Warsaw Pact had some but nowhere near as many. Accordingly, my strategy was to hammer the airfields that the aircraft were being staged out of being as it was easier for us to defeat them on the ground rather than in the air. The number of airbases that we took out affect the number of aircraft that could be flown. By doing this I hoped to keep the balance to contested in our favour, not so much to provide CAS to our own troops but to deny the enemy the same, especially as this would protect the bridges that our follow-on Corps and Divisions would be using to get to the front. Not losing in the air meant we could win on the ground.

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Photos of the counters taken at the pre- game briefing.

 

Air combat was fought with a dogfighting stage leading to an assessment of who had air supremacy, superiority or whether it was contested, this then determined the number of aircraft that got through to perform Close Air Support, Recce or Deep Strike missions, the gamble was that you had to commit aircraft to these tasks before the dogfighting took place; assessing your likelihood of victory was key.

My main job in the preplanning game was to decide upon the initial strategic attacks as the air forces were pretty much set into their north and south groupings. My suggestion was to hit hard and first with a two-day Chemical Weapon strike, we were only allowed to use them for two successive days so I figured a devastating strike on the airfields would get us off to a good start. Also by using them at the start it was be seen, hopefully, as less escalatory than going to WMDs mid game. If anything, we could step down and de- escalate… Similarly, the Spetsnaz cards I had to use were targeted on HQs to give us a slight edge.

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Jason (CinC) and Adrian (my 2iC) plotting on the mini map.

On the day itself as I had a high command roll I was with the CinC sequestered in an upstairs room a long way from the map the game was being fought on. As such we had to make do with second hand reports and camera phone photos in the guise of recce pics; this was aided by a WhatsApp group set up of all of the pact players for quick messages. We were fairly confident that our initial attacks would go well as we had activated a lot of our reserve forces to get as much possible forward as soon as possible. The down side to this was that the NATO forces facing us would be aware that something was coming.

The first CW strike went disastrously, all 6 SCUDs that were delivering the chemical agents to airfields in the northern half of the map missed their targets, causing significant civilian casualties. The second round were more successful but by then the fallout was not just radioactive. The US President, represented here by control, authorised the firing of a single tactical nuclear weapon as a punishment for and a warning against any further civilian casualties. Accordingly, one of our Corp HQ units got vaporised. In the command room there was a rather hurried discussion on how to respond; to go by the doctrine in the handbook we should have responded with 24 weapons targeting HQs and airbases. This, quite obviously, would be a big escalatory step, so with one eye to the meta game we decide to just ask for permission to respond with a single tactical weapon. This was granted and a NATO HQ went the way of ours.

 

For the rest of the game however I made sure that a list of potential targets and enough planes to carry out the missions were kept in reserve by my two air commanders, a few SCUDs were kept back for that purpose too.

For the rest of the game my job mostly consisted of deciding when and where to put the reinforcements. This was tied to where Jason as CinC wanted the main effort to be focused. At the highest levels of command in a megagame I find that coming up with a plan then reacting to the enemy and keeping on top of them with good decisions makes for a less stressful and more enjoyable day than the frantic activity at the map. One of the assets I had at my disposal was the Long Range Aviation aircraft, this could be potentially used to attack the UK mainland, the advantage of doing this was that it would hopefully withdraw some aircraft from the main European theater as well as take out some of the very capable F111s too. However, I was only prepared to launch such an attack if I had seen evidence that the RAF aircraft that had been slated for home defence had moved to join the European fight. My two Mig31 Foxhounds would be no match for all the Phantoms and Lightnings I expected to find there and if they then went on to shoot-down the Tu22 Backfire bombers I’d have a lot of explaining to do to someone before a reassignment to Siberia. Instead I just added them in to the normal fights to give a boost, although one Foxhound was given the special mission to try and breakthrough the fighter screen and go after a NATO AWACS aircraft, this would give us a big advantage in the combat. This, against all the odds, worked, medals all round for the pilots. In fact, making medals for the players at the map did seem to have the desired effect, quite what the NATO players made of them is another matter.

 

On the ground the war went well, Denmark fell to a small, under- resourced but well-handled force and was removed from NATO, there should have been bigger political ramifications from this imo. Also, some VDV had a very short stay in France getting as far as Strasburg. In the best megagame tradition if it had gone on for another turn things would have decisively turned in the Soviets favour, our 2nd wave of ground forces would have entered combat, the anaemic Dutch counter attack would have been defeated and what’s more NATO was running out of all those fancy high tech weapons that were giving them the advantage. In fairness to NATO their deliberate targeting of our Warsaw Pact Allies meant we had political troubles of our own to contend with the resulting dilution of force. Also, a bit more could have been made of the big but narrow salient we created in the NATO centre. One of the differences between an open and closed map is that clever manoeuvres are harder to pull off: everything is visible to the observant player. As such concentration of force and a determination to follow things through often rewards more than an outflanking march that will be spotted.

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After the game we had a debrief: this blurry photo is the closest I got to the main map all game.

I really enjoyed SNOBC, very glad I played it and if the rumours of a follow- on game the year after next come to be true I’d love to reprise my role.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

Still Not Over By Christmas- an annotated bibliography.

I was chatting to one of the attendees for the upcoming Pennine Megagames’ Still Not Over By Christmas  game in a few weeks through FB; Rob was asking me for reading suggestions to get in the mood for the event. Now asking me for book recommendations means you’ll end up with a big list as an answer. I thought it would be useful to share what I said to him here. I’ve focussed on those books that I have read; I know there is a list on the game’s webpage but I’ve added my own comments.

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Paddy Griffith – Not Over By Christmas (1983).

The obvious place to start is with the book that gave the game its title. The late Paddy Griffith gives us an academic analysis of the then contemporary stand- off across the Inner German Border and suggests a new flexible mobile defensive plan for NATO to adopt that does not rely on the use of tactical nuclear weaponry. Some have claimed that this led to a reduction in the tensions of the time but I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable to comment on that in detail.

 

Paddy Griffith- Ultimate Weaponry (1991).

By the same author but aimed at a completely different market this coffee table book written at the very end of the Cold War gives us a run down of the weaponry and tactics of a modern army and how it fits together. A useful (and, at the time of writing, cheap) way to get the details on the basic tactics and the state of the art at the turn of the decade.

 

David Miller- The Cold War: A Military History (1998)

This makes a good companion piece to the above as it covers the whole Cold War but at the higher operational and strategic levels. Taking in both the narrative history as well as technological changes it makes an ideal primer.

 

General Sir John Hackett- The Third World War (1978).

General Sir John Hackett- The Third World War: The Untold Story (1982).

The Third World War really kicked off the 1980s trend for fictional accounts of a possible war between East and West. Covering the war at a fairly high level it charts the deployments and combats, the second volume expands the narrative to cover some of the more minor theatres. Whilst the scenario is well thought through it is a little dry at times.

 

Harold Coyle- Team Yankee (1988).

Coyle’s story is set with in a larger conflict but really concentrates on the lower tactical level of a US armour group: the eponymous Team Yankee as they try to delay the Soviet advance. It makes for a great action filled story with M1 tanks and mechanised infantry being pushed hard by T72s and BMPs filled with infantry.

 

Tom Clancy- Red Storm Rising (1987).

To my mind this is the best written novel of the fictional wars, coming from the prolific Clancy it is one of his few novels that is stand- alone not set within the Ryan-verse that you may know from his other books and many film adaptations. The main story concerns itself with the US attempts to get a convoy across the Atlantic in the face of attacks by Soviet Naval Aviation leading to a second Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Iceland. If you were to read one book to get a feel for the setting I would recommend this one.

 

Kenneth Macksey- First Clash (1985).

Macksey wrote this book to be used as a training aid to the Canadian army, as a result it is a rather detailed account of a 48 hours delaying action by the Canadian 4th Mechanised Brigade (they were to be a reserve for the US forces in CENTAG). Despite this it is still a good read, giving some insight into how the army could see such a mission being carried out.

 

Ralph Peters- Red Army (1989).

Second to Red Storm Rising this should be on all the Soviet players reading lists, unlike the vast majority of the novels listed here to focuses telling the story from the Russian side, whilst not an insider’s account (warning treat Suvorov with suspicion, I’ve not included him here for a reason) it gives an insight into Soviet ways of thinking about how they approached war in the 1980s.

 

Cyril Joly- Silent Night (1986).

The fiction of the time tends to fall into two camps, those who show how NATO’s technological edge will ultimately prevail of those which portray the Soviets as an unstoppable force that could steam roller over us; in both cases there is a point (usually linked to defence spending or the lack thereof) that the author is trying to make… Silent Night takes the idea of the Soviets as unstoppable to frankly ridiculous levels in its account of a Christmas time surprise attack. Avoid this propagandist drivel.

 

Michael Palmer- The War That Never Was (1994).

An interesting and slightly meta account of a fictional wargame after the Cold War. Interesting as it contains a lot of detail of actions and naval confrontations on those theatres that are peripheral to the other stories i.e. anywhere that isn’t West Germany.

 

Peter Tsouras (ed.)- Cold War Hot (2003).

 

A short story anthology of different ways in which the Cold War could have turned hot. The last light- hearted Vodka based one stands out in particular.

 

Bob Forrest – Webb- Chieftains (1982).

Very similar to Team Yankee in that it follows a tank unit on the tactical level but differs in both tone and nationality: downbeat and British. Tough fights and a feel bad ending make this one a favourite.

 

Steven Zaloga- Red Thrust (1989).

Steven Zaloga- Tank War Central Front (1989).

 

The ever prolific Zaloga offers a mix of fiction and analysis in this volume detailing in turn how the component parts of a Soviet offensive would work. Worth looking out for.

 

The second volume comes from Osprey publishing so most of you will know what to expect from this format. The title pretty much explains what it covers, making this a good primer for those in a hurry.

 

Alfred Price- Air Battle Central Europe (1986).

 

A nice little book that focuses solely on the air war (a volume I’ve been looking at again given my role in a few weeks). Interesting as it is written by a former Cold War aviator turned historian based on interviews with contemporary serving pilots. The basic take home from this is most of the aircraft would be used for interdiction, that and the differing approaches that some of the NATO countries take. The USAF going for Vietnam style strike packages whilst the RAF sneaking planes in in pairs under the radar.

 

Harvey Black – Red Effect, Blue Effect, Black Effect (2013- 2014).

 

These are very recent entries into the genre and as such seem a little nostalgic in a strange way. The first one was for me the best focussing as it does on the build up to the war and the activities of the BRIXMIS operatives that went behind the Iron Curtain as military observers, the real life job the author had at the time.

 

All of these books are fairly easy to get hold of through the usual channels, Amazon’s marketplace, ebay and abe books, some are available on kindle too. I hope that this proves useful to some.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

‘The Chosin Few’- my first megagame as designer.

Saturday saw Pennine Megagames put on a Korean war flavoured game by Simon and I: ‘The Chosin Few’. As you have probably guessed it was based on the desperate battle around the Chosin reservoir in North Korea in the winter of 1950 that saw the 1st Marine Division conduct a fighting withdrawal in terrible conditions against a numerically superior foe.

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Running a megagame has been on my personal wargaming ‘to do list’ for a long time, I wanted my game to have the same feel as my first: Jim Wallman’s Operation Goodwood run at the Royal Armouries in 2011. Also I wanted to do something different from a standard set piece attack so I decided to pick a fighting withdrawal, one of the trickier military manoeuvres to pull off. Even spliting the duties 50/50 with Simon a lot of work goes into a megagame and I certainly have a lot more understanding of what you need to get one up and running. It is also one of the reason my blog posts have been a little thin on the ground recently. The production of the game components, whilst enjoyable, was rather time consuming.

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After a few trouble with venues the biggest worry I had over the game was recruiting enough players, given the popularity of some of the other games that Pennine Megagames have run that has not been a problem as they often went to a waiting list. However both of this year’s military themed games (Chosin and Jena) seemed to suffer from a combination of low numbers and a high rate of players dropping out. Oddly though the military themes seem popular it is the games that give or are perceived to give more individual agency to the players that are the most popular. Perhaps there is something off putting about a game set in the more rigid hierarchy of a military organization.

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Given the increase of interest in megagaming after the viral success of the Shut up and Sit Down video perhaps the demographics of those attending games have shifted. The choice of topic, the Korean War, may not of helped matters as a lot of people considered it too niche. Whilst amongst the wargames community it is a well known battle in a well known war I will concede that in the wider gaming world it may be seen as something as an unknown. Fortunately enough players came to ensure the game ran well. I’m pretty sure that it ran as well as it did partly because of the numbers of players.

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The control team did a superb job, after a few turns they were running the map by themselves requiring very little input from either Simon or I. Given that a couple of the team are not hardcore wargamers I really appreciate the effort that they put in. Before the game Simon and I decided to split the control duties with him running the map and me taking care of the rest of the game trying to ensure it’s smooth running. Part of this was visiting the players commanding each side as their superior officer. In the role I could give them certain prods or on one occasion admonish them for not being aggressive enough. It was during these in character visits that I gave out any reinforcements that had become available. We decided not to program the arrival of these forces but to use them as a mechanism to moderate the pace of the game. Unlike the games I run at home an early finish when people have paid you for a days gaming is undesirable. As a balancing mechanism it worked well and was nice to be able to follow the variable fortunes of the game from the privileged position of the control map.

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One player was not too happy in the role that he had as a Chinese Commissar, after a brief chat about things regarding the game and his expectations of it, he inquired if he had any agents behind the enemy lines. I thought that this was an eminently sensible suggestion and came up with a mini game on the fly. I drew up a list of agents in the villages/ towns that the UN players occupied and gave them a ratings based on their loyalty to the party, the accuracy of their intelligence and the effort that they were prepared to put in to collect it. It was a good addition to the game as it acted as a reconnaissance asset for the Chinese who were otherwise just finding units when they made contact with them. (In contrast the American had six flights of Corsairs that could either be used for tactical strikes or reconnaissance.) In Hamhung for example they were two agents both loyal to the party but one who was lazy and unreliable who mostly gave the Chinese what they wanted to hear and the other who gave an exact report every time. Having a double blind game made it much easier to decide on the rate of the flow of information from the contacts. Other ideas were recruiting mountain guides to gain a movement advantage and setting up a propaganda unit in Hamhung, the proved useful when the UN started to bomb the town in support of combat operations there. These addition had the double bonus for keeping all the players involved in the game as well as adding extra depth to it. On the topic of propaganda and the media one of the control had a mini role in the game for one turn; they took on the persona of Marguerite Higgins and were ‘flown’ in to interview General Smith commanding the 1st Marine Division.

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In retrospect a lot more could have been done with the commissar role, other than the few bits that we developed onthefly with those players being asked by control to report back on the morale and socialist fevour of their troops. If the game were to run again all of these aspects that evolved during the course of play would be developed much further.

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Given that the obvious objective for the Chinese is the city of Hamhung at the bottom of the map, the origin of the UN supply lines, it madde sense to havea mini game prepared for the urban combat there. Having two megastacks fighting each other for a dot on a map would have been rather unsatisfying from both the player’s experience and a game design point of view.

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Overall the game ran as well as I hoped it would. I had made a few minor errors with labelling the counters but nothing that couldn’t be rectified witha few strokes of the pen. Everyone I spoke to after the game seemed to have enjoyed themselves and for a game with 20 players it was very satisfying to hear that. The Pennine Megagame calendar has been finalised for 2017 so it will be the year after that when I do my next game. However there will be a trimmed down show friendly version of ‘The Chosin Few’ going to Fiasco in Leeds at the end of this month if anyone wants to see it.

You can find Simon’s write up here: http://lestradesgame.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/the-chosin-few-post-mortem.html

Cheers,

Pete.

Napoleonic Wargaming for fun and Little Cold Wars- book reviews.

As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.

The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.

As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.

Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.

Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.

The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.

The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.

Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).

On a completely different tack but in the same order I bought a copy of Little Cold Wars: Wargaming the Cold War using Toy Soldiers by Tim Gow and Betrand Plastique. This rule set takes a nostalgic and delightfully whimsical approach to the often technologically obsessed genre of Cold War gaming. Channelling HG Wells the authors have developed hybrid of a floor game with toy soldiers to the warm glow of remembering a childhood living under the bomb. Eschewing dice for all but the Close Combat mechanisms Little Cold Wars sees a mix of scales (1/35th for toy soldiers, 1/48th for vehicles, 1/72nd for aircraft) do battle by matchstick firing cannon, dropping darts into targets and throwing scrunched up bits of paper. The thing is it really works, I can vouch for this having played an early playtest version of the rules.

Early hobby gaming all started out by using physical props to determine the results of combat, it was not until after WW2 that the dice rolling obsession took hold. It is really pleasing to see a return to these mechanisms are carefully put together is a game that relies on two lots of nostalgia, not that any gamers alive today would have played any HG Wells style games pre war so that nostalgia at least is vicarious. Being 11 and just starting at secondary school when the Berlin Wall was opened I am probably amongst the youngest gamers who remember the Cold War with any clarity, I’d be interested as to what a millennial would make of Little Cold Wars. My uncle was in the Army in Berlin at the time it was knocked down and brought a piece back for me which I still have.

[A little piece has broken off from the larger lump which gave me the idea to crush it up and mix it with plaster to create a scale model of a section of the wall to have a physical link to the place on the table top]

Either way it is a game I want to play myself, albeit all in 20mm, though I need to assemble a few props and toy cannon… and buy some silly hats… I just wish I still had my DDR flag too.

Both books are available here:

http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.

6mm Cold War game report. Part2- the game.

Following straight on from the last post:

After due consideration Brian decided to place his forces as below, all of the companies dug in or taking cover as appropriate.

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Evan decided to have a broad advance, mixing the little mechanised infantry in and amongst his tanks. After his first turn, which he elected to take as a Scurry, his dispositions and intentions looked like this:

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In 5core Brigade Commander a D6 is rolled at the start of a players turn: on a 1 the turn is a Scurry (all can move) on a 2-5 it is a standard turn (1 unit in 3 may activate) on a 6 it is a Firefight (all may shoot).

Evan put most of his effort into his right flank. A high number of activations (using his assets well) meant that he encircled the bottom wood.

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At this point Brian rolled a Scurry turn and used it to withdraw from what would have been a heavy attack. Evan then took up the positions that the Soviets had vacated.

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Focussing on the centre and his left flank Evan moved forward and occupied the hills for a commanding position.

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As you can see Brian has started to lose his units. Unfortunately this seemed to be the high water point of the West German advance. Brigade Commander uses two different dice in its combat system, Shock dice produce morale results and Kill dice produce the losses (we just use blue and red dice respectively. Basically for the remainder of the game Brian was spectacularly lucky with his shock dice. As soon as Evan tried to advance Brian’s units firing on overwatch would send them scurrying back to which ever spot of cover they tried to emerge from. Thematically you could explain this by the fact that the West German forces were deeply unsettled by the Soviet offensive so much so their counter attack went in at something far below peak efficiency. Mechanically Brian just rolled a lot of 6s on the blue dice.

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Though he was pushed back in the West German right flank Brian’s units did not break completely. Still inflicting losses on Evan.

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Whilst artillery is very potent in the game, as it should be in a game at this level, it did not shift that many of Brian’s units out of their cover, it really wasn’t Evan’s night. That the right flank took all of his attention he failed to breakthrough at all in the centre of left.

With the attack completely stalled and the time getting late we decided to call the game.

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It was a hard-fought game and at time a little frustrating for Evan his plan was sound but Brian’s luck was seemingly endless. Still next week will see the 6mm forces take to the table again, we shall see what happens.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.