Saturday, December 30, 2017

Peruvian Highlands - Machu Picchu and the Inca Drawbridge

As promised in the last episode of the Machu Picchu travelogue, the finale of my visit caps off with a hike to the Inca Drawbridge.  For previous travel accounts, please see:
The Inca Drawbridge is not on the citadel site, itself, but about a twenty minute walk from the Guardhouse around the side of Mach Picchu Mountain.  To reach the drawbridge requires a hike that is not difficult but presents a few hazards.  The main hazard is that the pathway around Machu Picchu Mountain is along a narrow footpath with sheer drops of 1,000 feet to the valley floor below.
Path along Machu Picchu Mountain
The second potential hazard encountered on the day of our visit was frequent confrontations with the local fauna.  While seemingly friendly, the llamas felt no urgency in making a pathway around them easy.  With no wall in place along the path, a quick nudge by a llama might spell the end of a good day.
Fauna grazing along the treacherous path
Fortunately, the animals were quite docile and seemed more interested in grazing along the path than causing any intentional mischief.  They even seemed to enjoy a chance at a photo op.
Say "Cheese"
Making our way passed the llamas and a bend in the trail, the Inca Drawbridge is visible in the distance.
First glimpse of Inca Bridge
The construction of the bridge is quite clever.  A wall was built out from the cliff face and a large gap remains.  Wooden planks were placed across this gap which could be retracted to restrict access to the citadel.  A little sentry post overlooks the drawbridge.

Another interesting feature of the wall is a series of "flying steps" protruding out from the wall face.  Having a lengthy rise and no handhold, negotiating these steps would require great care and balance.  The purpose of these flying steps is speculative but a reasonable conclusion is the these steps were used during the construction of the wall.  Even if an attacker attempted access to the path from the steps, a defender could easily thwart any attempt. 
Inca Drawbridge showing "flying steps"
This flying step feature is seen throughout Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Highlands.  These steps could also have been utilized as a means to quickly access a series of terraces.  This feature is encountered on almost all of the terraces we came across.  Flying steps can be found even at the top of Huayna Picchu.
Flying Steps on Huayna Picchu
While the arduous climb up Huayna Picchu was on Day 1, below is a near aerial view of the Machu Picchu citadel from the top of Huayna Picchu.
View of MP Citadel from atop Huayna Picchu
Having made the journey back from the drawbridge safely, time remained to make one more tour of the citadel itself before taking the shuttle back down the mountain.  As we circumnavigated the main plaza, the sense of scale comes into perspective.  The structures are massive.  To provide a sense of the overwhelming nature of the structures, see the photos below with people for reference.  Everything is built on a massive scale and is truly an awesome sight.
Citadel with Huayna Picchu in background
Eastern Urban Sector
Steep stairway up to the Temple of the Three Windows
Temple of the Sun
After one last photo, we headed back to the citadel entrance and awaited a shuttle.  After a twenty minute ride down the mountain, the shuttle deposited us back in Aguas Calientes. 
Jon with Machu Picchu citadel in background
Aguas Calientes

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ashigaru Yari in 15mm

As promised, a second unit of spear-wielding Ashigaru departs the painting desk.  These 21 figures are Peter Pig like all of the 15mm figures in this project.  Rarely, it seems, that a project is exclusively comprised of one manufacturer.  The 15mm Samurai Battles collection is one such project.
This two-hex stand augments an existing clan which I designate as the "Running Man" clan.  While I tend to build clans or brigades in a set composition of elements, I have found in games using Samurai Battles that more yari are needed than the default two units I field per brigade.  
One note on the seemingly odd stand arrangement.  My co-conspirator and motivator for this project uses a four inch grid for his Samurai Battle games, I wanted units having a four-inch width so that my units maintained the same frontage as his.  Since I use a two-inch hex grid for some of my other gaming projects, two 50mm hexes are joined to form the BMU shown here.  In Samurai Battles and Impetvs, number of figures per stand are not important, so the number of figures per stand is based on my notion of what looks good.   
A BMU having a double hex base allows one of my stands to take up two hexes on the hex game mat providing a more linear look to the game.  This arrangement also allows the possibility of introducing flanks and Zones of Control into the rules being considered. 

With a couple of units freshly mustered off the painting desk, motivation is high to get the collection into battle.  I wonder how long this urge will last?    

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Adding to the Assyrian Wars Project

While work on the Assyrian Wars project has slowed from the heady days of summer, work still continues at a much more moderate pace.  A one or two unit monthly production seems a reasoned and sustainable rate.

Off the painting desk today is a unit of Black Tree Design's Phrygian warriors.  While these warriors may not be specifically earmarked as Assyrians Wars' participants, I overlook any anachronism they may pose.  As light troops, these figures should fit in comfortably among the other units; at least on my gaming table, that is. 
While this stand may represent a typical body of lightly armed and armored troops, a much more interesting stand is in work at the painting desk.  The subject is something not seen yet in the project.  I am still pondering how best to represent it on the gaming table.  Several viable options exist (at least in my mind).  One particular solution in the "more is merrier" camp will produce the likely winner.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Weather wise, Christmas 2017 is shaping up much like Christmas 2016.  That is, snow on the ground and bloody cold outside temperatures.  With those conditions, a White Christmas is almost certain.  As I type out this post, the sun is low on the southern horizon in the northern, midwinter sky.  Clear skies allow the slight, warming rays of the winter sun to penetrate my south facing office window and alight on my keyboard.  The sun's faint warmth in 10 degree F conditions is magnified by the glass in the window providing a perfect situation for enjoying a bit of tranquility before the delightful chaos that accompanies Christmas festivities arrives.

Perhaps it is time for a long winter's nap?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ashigaru Yari in 15mm

It has been a very long time since any 15mm Feudal Japanese figures have passed across the painting desk.  Better late than never, right?  The collection has not seen any tabletop action in an even longer period of time.  What motivated me to push these into the painting queue now?  I really cannot say.  The packs caught my eye on a recent rummage through The Lead Pile.  Often that is the only trigger needed to snap into action.  
Off the painting desk is the first of two Ashigaru spear units.  Figures are from Peter Pig's excellent Feudal Japan Samurai range.  Like most of the Samurai and Ashigaru figures from Peter Pig, the sashimono is cast onto the figure.  A detail I quite like.  No fiddling around to attach a banner to figure.  Even with a simple and stylistic clan emblem, the figures stand out on the gaming table. 
While the figures have not seen action on the gaming table recently, I enjoyed games using both Samurai Battles and Impetvs with the armies mustered.  Using Impetvs, both gridded and non-gridded versions have been tried.  Modifying Impetvs to work on a grid produced intriguing results using simple mechanisms to convert from non-grid to grid.  I am reconsidering the gridded approach and working to codify some of the mechanisms developed and tried during those playtests.  My game notes, thus far, have proven elusive.  Perhaps if the figures get back onto the grid, it may all come back.   

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

An Old Friend Gets a Make-Over...

...and a day out on the gaming table.
The 2016 version
In 1995 The Gamers published the second Operational Combat Series game, Tunisia.  After the high counter density found in the first game in the series, Guderian's Blitzkrieg and my attempts at solitaire play, the "lighter" Tunisia was much appreciated.  Of all of the games in the OCS stable, Tunisia is likely the one I have most played.  While it may have been the most played, none of the OCS games have seen action on my gaming table in about twenty years.
The original 1995 version
Fast forward to 2016.  Multi-Man Publishing published a remake of the 1995 OCS classic Tunisia game entitled, Tunisia II.  Graphically, the components maintain the same look and feel as the original with, perhaps, some improvements as expected with the passage of twenty years in publishing advancements.  Still, the new Tunisian II reminds me very much of my old friend, Tunisia.
Map sample via VASSAL
Counter sample
Twenty years is a long time to have a stack of series games lay dormant without play.  Even though I still add games to the game shelf, getting them onto the table has been a chore.  My focus definitely shifted away from the hex and counter wargame variety to gaming with miniatures but a surge of nostalgia has me reaching for some of my old (and new) wargames.

Tunisia II is one such game. While I have been hinting for a long time at getting the game on the table, that time finally arrived.  Since my impression of the OCS series is that it represents one of the finest models of WWII operational combat designed, I have long wanted to give the fellas a taste of the OCS system.  What better entry than Tunisia II with its very low counter density at the beginning of the Race to Tunis scenario?

That day of reckoning finally arrived.  Scott had a free half day so a introductory game was scheduled.  After a couple of days of punching and clipping counters, reading the rules, becoming reacquainted to the charts and tables, sorting counters, and setting up the game, I was more or less ready.  My recent study of the system has reinforced my notion of how well crafted the OCS system is even after more than twenty-five years of service.  Of course, the rules now stand at Version 4.2 rather than 1.0 but after twenty-five years, the system ought to hum like a well-oiled machine.

We set to work on the game.  While my play was quite rusty with many a rule look up, we managed to get through four or five turns in about three hours.  One memory that came back to me was that a single turn in OCS can consume a lot of time.  With an interactive turn sequence, both players remain engaged throughout the turn.  In the "old" days, some twenty years ago, an FtF gaming session would consist of only one turn.  Games would be in progress for weeks at a time.  Each of us maintained a separate game set up to ponder and plan our next moves until we could next meet.  The planning and anticipation of outwitting an opponent even before meeting to play the turn was great fun.

This exercise has reignited a passion for these games that has been smoldering for twenty years.  I would enjoy getting in much more practice and study to improve my skills in conducting WWII operations using the OCS model.  Even if this effort only results in getting some of my long-neglected games back into a semi-regular rotation, it will be worth the time spent.  When FtF is not possible, VASSAL can step in as substitute.  With VASSAL,time and space become less of a constraint than it posed two decades ago.  Another exploratory game (one of GMT's 1914 series) is in progress via VASSAL.  I have found it to be great fun and an efficient method in learning a new system.  These operational-level wargames provide a perspective difficult to reproduce on the gaming table with miniatures.  Both methods have a place in a wargamer's toolkit.  With luck, Scott will be a willing OCS participant in the future.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Dashing Through The Snow - Romer’s Romp at Mollwitz

Prussians close on Mollwitz
The title for this post originates from my stalwart gaming opponent, Jake, who noted that his Austrian Left Wing cavalry commander, Romer (rated as "Dashing") is appropriately "dashing through the snow."  Was Romer leading the cavalry charge on horseback or in a "one-horse open sleigh?"  Whichever mode of transport chosen, the way Romer cut through my Prussian cavalry, I am certain he was "laughing all the way."
Initial Dispositions
To refresh memories of the Battle of Mollwitz on a both a historical and gaming basis, please turn back to Scenario: Battle of Mollwitz, 10 April 1741.

As expected, the battle opens with the stronger Austrian cavalry wings peeling off from the main battle line and advancing towards the weaker, Prussian cavalry wings. The Prussian first and second lines step off beginning their march towards Mollwitz.
Is this Cannae?
Romer sets his sights on Schulenburg on the Prussian right
while Berlichingen targets Posadowsky on the left
With snow on the ground, charges are muted but Romer pitches into Schulenburg's command.  Schulenburg counters the superior Austrian cuirassiers with his own, outclassed cuirassiers.  Both sides throw in supports. 
Romer crosses swords with Schulenburg
In an extended cavalry clash, both of the primary combatants disengage having suffered heavy casualties.  Having sustained four hits, the Austrian cuirassiers fall back through their supports.  The Prussian Leib Cuirassiers are Done For having suffered five hits.  Routing back through their inferior rated, supporting cavalry, the dragoons sustain two hits as the routing cuirassiers pass through their ranks. 
Both cuirassier formations recoil
On the Prussian left, having crossed the frozen stream, Berlichingen smashes into Posadowsky's troopers.  With snow on the ground, the effect of collision between trot and gallop is significant.  No charging bonus across this heavy ground.  Outnumbered and outclassed, this may not be a fair fight either.
Cavalry clash on the Prussian left
With one of the Austrian hussar regiments joining Berlichingen in the attack on Posadowsky, the Prussian cavalry commander is greatly disadvantaged at three formations to six.  In the cavalry melee, the Prussians lose both the hussars and cuirassiers to the Austrians' one.  Tough times on the Prussian left.  Passing close to Prussian infantry, Austrian cavalry suffers a few casualties from musketry.
Prussian Left Wing in trouble
Jumping back to the large cavalry clash on the Prussian right, Schulenburg attempts to stabilize the situation. Again, outnumbered and outclassed, the inferior Prussian dragoons are no match for the better trained and mounted Austrian troopers.  Both of Schulenburg's remaining cavalry are destroyed in the ensuing cavalry clash.
Two more Prussian cavalry are Done For
Prussian dragoons, destroyed
All of the Prussian cavalry on the right are either dead on the field or put to flight.  With only one remaining Prussian cavalry unit on the left, both flanks of Frederick's Army are vanquished.  Undaunted by the activity on the Prussian flanks, the Prussian infantry continues plodding through the snow on its steady march on Mollwitz towards the Austrian infantry lines.  
Prussian cavalry wings - Gone!
Young King Frederick has seen enough!  Schwerin convinces the King that his duty is to save himself from capture as the Austrian cavalry appears on the army's flanks.  Both flanks!  Resigned to the dire prospects for the outcome, Frederick flees the field of battle.  The dashing Schwerin takes command. 
Frederick flees the field
An hour into the battle, Austrian cavalry wings are swinging wide around the flanks of the Prussian line.  With the Prussian right devoid of cavalry, only one Prussian cavalry formation remains on the battlefield.  That sole Prussian unit is in a tight spot with Berlichingen's wing bearing down on it.  
Double envelopment continues
One quick, sharp clash and the only Prussian cavalry remaining on the field is smashed and scatters.  The Prussian line is left without cavalry support on either flank.  Can the Prussian line maintain its plodding advance towards Mollwitz and the raw Austrian infantry? 
Final cavalry vs cavalry attack on the Prussian left
Another one bites the snow
Having destroyed all Prussian cavalry resistance, von Neipperg now faces his own dilemma.  The dilemma?  The relentless advance by the Prussian infantry towards Mollwitz and the heavy snow-covered ground have put his victorious cavalry out of position.  They have penetrated too deeply into the rear of the Prussian Army.
Prussian cavalry wings vanquished
Despite the loss of his protective cavalry wings, Schwerin believes that victory can still be achieved by coming to grips with the inferior Austrian infantry deployed in front of Mollwitz.  Peeling off grenadiers to guard his vulnerable flanks and leaving his artillery behind to harass any approaching enemy cavalry, Schwerin presses on.
Austrian cavalry in the Prussian rear
Romer slowly turns his cavalry back towards the Prussian rear
while the Prussian infantry continues its advance on Mollwitz
The battle may turn into a race against the clock.  Schwerin's entire battle plan hinges on engaging and defeating the Austrian infantry before his own infantry is taken from the rear by the victorious Austrian cavalry. The heavy ground and the obstacles left behind are working in Schwerin's favor.  Austrian cavalry cannot keep pace.
Austrian cavalry have swung too deep into the rear
Now within musketry range of the Austrians at Mollwitz, Schwerin seems to win the race.  As the range closes, fire erupts from the Austrian line.  A number of Prussians drop and one regiment falls out of line with heavy casualties.
Prussian infantry taste Austrian lead
As the fire fight at Mollwitz increases in intensity, Romer's cavalry bears down on the scattered elements of the Prussian rear guard.  Will the Prussian rear guard be sacrificed to allow the Prussian infantry a chance at victory?

Romer bears down on rear guard
Gaining a double move, Romer succeeds in hitting both the rear guard grenadiers and artillery in flank.  Both Prussian units give their lives for the good of the army.  But is their sacrifice in vain? 
Flank attacks!
At this point in the battle, the Prussians have suffered eight stand losses to the Austrians' three.  Under Honours of War, Army Breakpoints are eleven for the Prussians and ten for the Austrians.  The Austrians need only to destroy three more Prussians without suffering another seven themselves.
Prussians prepare for the attack on Mollwitz
While pinning the Austrian left, the Prussians assault the Austrian right.  The inferior Austrian musketeers cannot stand up to the pressure.  First in a trickle and then in a torrent, Austrian infantry begins breaking for the rear.
Austrian right flank is turned.
Collapse of Austrian right
With his infantry melting away faster than the snow in the afternoon sun, von Neipperg orders a general withdrawal.  The battle is won by Schwerin and the might of the Prussian infantry!
Austrian line disintegrates
The end of the Austrian line
Well! That was near-run thing!  Great fun with many episodes of drama too.

While von Neipperg can be justified in his orders to leave the battlefield having lost most of his infantry since cavalry cannot hold ground, the "game" was still up for grabs.  At the time of capitulation, the Army Breakpoints count stood at P8:A9.  While the Austrians could only sustain one more loss before breaking, how difficult for von Neipperg to pick off three isolated or wavering Prussian units?  An Austrian victory is certainly not beyond belief.  Well, at least I think there is a possibility for an Austrian victory.

Again, HoW produced an exciting game that came down to the last effort.  On points, it really could have gone either way.  The game unfolded in an historical manner and produced the historical outcome.  I look forward to a rematch and trying my hand in von Neipperg's shoes.