This is a work in progress. Check back in a few days to see how Project Crossfire is progressing. Comments from Ravi Mohan the first reader of the article and my best critic have been added where appropriate. The inspiration for these comments is Donald Knuth's book on Concrete Mathematics, which contains small amusing comments written by actual students of the course on the margin.
India Wargamers first heard of Arty Conliffe's Crossfire rules a couple of years back. We had started gaming Piquet and were already getting addicted the variable initiative concept of Piquet and were eagerly looking out for other rules that offered similar fluid, non-'I Go You Go' game play. We first heard about Crossfire as a set of rules that had been designed in response to a challenge to do away with the ruler and fixed game turns that were common to most existing set of rules. The description caught our attention and we soon ordered our first copy of Crossfire (along with Spearhead and Modern Spearhead. But that is a tale for another day) Though we were quite impressed by the rules (I read it through the night on my overnight train journey from Madras to Trivandrum - on Christmas Eve '02, if my memory serves me right) it would be another year or two before we ever play tested them. This had mostly to do with our interest in the Renaissance era and lack of time and players to pursue multiple periods of gaming.
My personal interest in Crossfire never died [ Though you never won a game AFAIK :) ] . I used to lurk around Crossfire Forums and frequently visited Tim's Toys, the web page of an avid group of Crossfire gamers from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada and Lloydian Aspects, another resource page on Crossfire from across the Atlantic by Nikolas Lloyd. The spectacular battle reports and interesting scenario ideas published by these gentlemen inspired me to play Crossfire myself. My CF dreams remained on the back burner until July 2004, when my work took me to the US and I found myself visiting Historicon '04 for the first time. I picked up a copy of the master rules and the 'Hit the Dirt' scenario book on a lark, along with some Corgi die cast vehicles of 1/72(6) scale. After returning to work in Dallas, I started making a tentative list of things to do to actually play a game. This list languished in my runner for another eight months before it was dusted and became active again in the first week of March, 2005. The circumstances too helped accelerate things. My work load dropped off from last years peak [ You mean you actually work? News to me!! ] ; I discovered AB Figures and the splendid line of AFVs by Cromwell, MMS and others; all the WW2 gamers I met in Dallas seemed to be into Flames of War! The last requires a bit of explanation. I am not against FoW, but I suspect that for most gamers including myself, exposure to the fluid mechanics of Piquet - and if they come to like it - make it hard to go back to turn based games. The last point also meant that the only way I could play Crossfire would be to get something going myself. After playing enough CF games solo I can probably announce it to the unsuspecting DFW gamers ;) Besides, Sarath is in South Carolina for work and he and I play tested the rules a long time ago in India. A decent CF setup might entice him to come over to Dallas and play a game with me :) [ A bottle of Vodka might work better ]
With such (pipe?) dreams, I started working on Project Crossfire. The task is not completed (yet) but you can read about what has transpired so far, as well as my plans for the future in these pages.
The first thing was to give the project a name. The grandiose title of 'Project Crossfire' suggested itself after a night reading the The Yom Kippur War by Abraham Rabinovich. The title had less to do with the war than my tendency to get 'inspired' to get more active in the hobby after reading well written historical accounts! [ Project Crossfire: being the sad saga of Manoj of India who learned how to convert gold into lead ]
The next thing was to decide and start procuring things needed to play a game [ Anything other than actually playing eh? ] . I already had a copy of the rules and a scenario book, so the first list item in the task list was already taken care of. After some research on the Internet (most of it done at work ;)) I decided to start with a game involving a couple of companies or so per side. One of Nikolas Lloyd's scenario ideas particularly appealed to me and shortly thereafter I finalised my own version of one of his scenarios. There are some minor differences between his version and mine, which I will detail later.
If I were back in India, at this stage I would simply have started cutting pieces of paper to make bases [ With 10 minutes remaining for the game and all the players glaring at him may I add? ] . But this time around I decided to go ahead and buy the figures [ Figures? NEVER!! ] , vehicles, terrain and such. Some of this has to do with what I witnessed up close at Historicon '04. Messrs. Tim Marshall, Nikolas Lloyd, Peter Anderson (though he doesn't play WW2) and scores of other are to blame too. For years, these gentlemen have been corrupting the minds of unsuspecting wargamers like myself with gratuitous images and descriptions of their wargaming eye candy [ Before getting "eye candy" get some "brain candy" - first learn to PLAY a set of rules before building up armies ] . By the time I realised this, it was too late. I have been corrupted and my soul now craves more lead (or plastic, as the case may be). To cut a gory story short, I started prowling the Internet looking for suitable miniatures.
The One True Scale
Figures meant scale and from what I have read about the topic it is a veritable holy war out there on the topic of One True Scale. True believers fight not only for their favourite scales - 2, 6, 10, 15, 20, 25, 28 or 54 mm as the case may be - but also for the true representation of scales - 1/72, 1/76, 1,60, 1/48 and so on. Flame wars dwarfing the Crusades abound in the Internet on the topic. Untold number of bytes have been sacrificed in the quest to establish the One True Scale, not to mention the countless web forums charred from the fires lighted by sparring crusaders from various scales. The omens were portentous, but I had a project to finish. I said a brief prayer, donned my armour and pointed my browser to the land of Scale Wars.
My aim was to gather as much information as possible without getting involved in the scale clashes. My first stop was The Miniatures Page (TMP), border town, oasis, tavern and inn rolled into one in the heart of Scale Wars country. I skipped the shadier part of the town, especially the dark alleys leading to the Dawghouse where dark souls were incarcerated in chains and watched over by the lead thirsty hounds of the self proclaimed Dictator of the town. But as with all travellers stops, there was a wealth of information to be gathered here. I found out that 1/72 (or 20 mm, depending on which faction you belong to) is one of the most common figure scales used for WW2, especially Crossfire. 1/56 (or 28 mm depending on - you get the drift) looks more attractive (only to some! I witnessed some rough and tumble shoot outs in one of the corrals over the issue ;)) but is more expensive and so on. I short listed 20 mm and 25/8 mm for my final choices. Some more digging into the archives at TMP and various other sources unearthed the following points of interest:
Facts about 1/72(6) or 20 mm w.r.t WW2
- Large range of manufacturers, nationalities and vehicles to choose from. As one of the TMP regulars put it: "If you are looking for a 1928 Hungarian Zblkdradz truck, you can find it" :)
- Plastic modellers tend to like 20mm as it allows them to combine modeling with wargaming
- Cheaper compared to 1/56(48) or 25(8)mm.
- Figures and vehicles made from plastic, metal or resin
- In the case of Crossfire, lets you play games with more figures than bigger scales as individual figures weight less!
Facts about 1/56(48) or 25(8) mm w.r.t WW2
- Good looking miniatures. (This is not universally true, the 'looks' depend on who you are talking to ;))
- If you like painting, 28mm minis have more scope of detailing as they are bigger
- The range of nationalities and equipment available is limited. This is changing slowly, but it has miles to go before it catches up with what it already in the market for 20mm, especially in the form of plastic 1/72 or 1/76 kits.
- Relatively more expensive. Individual miniatures can cost a Dollar (US) or more compared to 20mm
- Figures and vehicles made from plastic, metal or resin
- The increased bigger size and weight make it difficult to play games involving large number of miniatures.
The issue of cost and weight practically decided the case for me. Mind you, Crossfire can be played equally well with 6mm figures as with 28mm! Another reason in favour of 1/72 or 20mm was that I could re use these figures to play larger battles (battalion level or bigger) with other rule sets. Piquet/Point Of Attack 2 or Spearhead come to mind.
There! I have just made a public announcement declaring myself as the follower of one scale. Though I remain equally respectful of other scales, I am afraid that in the eyes of the fervent masses I have been branded for ever ;) Let the duels commence!
One of the interesting things to note in the land of Scale Wars is the respect with which combatants usually treat manufacturers and retailers. This is not 100% true but good opinions and constructive criticism vastly outnumber hostile comments any day. Even the most fanatic of adherents of Scale factions usually have only good things to say about manufacturers of scales and factions they desist. This stems partly out of the appreciation that for most of the manufacturers their business is a labour of love. In fact a significant number of hobby businesses are one (wo)man shows run out of basements or such. There are notable exceptions to all that I've said above ('Evil Empire', anyone? ;)) but these exceptions only prove the law.
When I started my search for a suitable manufacturers I had several criteria in mind. In no order, they are listed below:
- Decent sculpting
- Affordable prices
- Availability - some lines are near extinct, some are flourishing
- Recommendations from other Wargamers/Reputation. In due time I will form my own opinions based on my own experiences, but for now I will listen carefully to friends in wargaming.
- Availability of nationalities. I am not planning game involving Croatians in the Wehrmacht driving Hungarian Zblkdradz trucks, but I would like to see a decent range of figures and vehicles as well :)
- Retailer "combinability" - can I combine my purchases and limit the number of retailers I have to buy from?
- Compatibility - do the figures/vehicles mix well with others of the same scale?
Thanks to the popularity of the 1/72 scale, there were LOTS of manufacturers for me to choose from. SHQ, AB Figures, Battlefront, Figures Armor Artillery (FAA), Thoroughbred ('Sojers' range), Platoon 20 and so on, to mention but a few. This is not counting plastic kits made by Airfix, Revell, Fujimi etc. Most of these are very good ranges and finally it comes down largely to personal preferences, unless one wishes to save money and make compromises on quality. In the end, I chose AB Figures. Sculpted by Anthony Barton, these are 1/76 scale World War miniatures with an impressive array of figures, especially British. Choosing AB also helped me decide the nationalities - I knew that I had to get Germans, but was not sure if I should get US or British as opponents. ABs beautifully sculpted Brits tilted my decision in favour of starting a British Army.
Incidentally, the AB web site also pointed me in the direction of several suitable Vehicle manufacturers for the scale. Cromwell, MMS, Milicast - here too, the list is long. Of course there are a gazillion plastic kits to consider as well. I have had some experience with plastic. Gamers like Tim Marshall and Nikolas Lloyd use plastic kits extensively (These guys model complex stuff from plastic cards! Insane!). Though I like the detail on plastic kits and their low prices, they also take more time and effort to assemble and are an overkill for wargaming with respect to details. As a wargamer (and a clumsy modeller to boot) I wanted something that could be put together relatively more quickly but also had a good amount of detail. More bytes later, I short listed MMS Models and Cromwell Models. Both are makers of top notch 1/76 scale resin vehicles and guns. They are more expensive than plastic kits, but I am willing to pay the difference. They also have the benefit of being heavier than plastic models (Of course, plastic models can always be weighted by adding some putty 'ballast'). And incidentally, both the ranges (albeit limited quantities of Cromwell) are carried by Brookhurst Hobbies, one of the highly reputed retailers in the US.
At this point, I feel obliged to reveal something about Brookhurst to the trusting gamers. Contrary to popular assumptions, they are not run by Humans. The minds behind the scene, if I can call them that, are alien Artificially Intelligent robots who work 24x7 (case in point: Easter Sunday, 2005), are polite, post news stories on TMP in the small hours of the morning and imitate humans remarkably well. The head computer was recently sighted posing with an alien creature at a gaming convention.
To return to the story, I decided to go ahead and order the necessary vehicles and guns for my scenario from Brookhurst.
The Cavalry is Here
Update on 30-Mar-05: Thanks to some excellent service from Brookhurst the cavalry has reached here in record time! My project inventory now includes three Shermans (Cromwell), one UNIC P-107 and two Pak 70's (MMS).
The reason behind the high reputation enjoyed by Cromwell and MMS models among wargamers was evident from the very first look at the blister packs. MMS models are made from metal and are slightly more complicated to build than Cromwell. There was hardly any flash and absolutely no air holes in the models. The only complaint I have is that the Cromwell Shermans have an extra layer of resin attached to the bottom of the tank tracks. This problem however is easily fixed by a little filing.
At the time of writing this I have assembled one of the Sherman tanks and the Artillery tractor. The Sherman tank is presently drying after having the camouflage painted on. I am now on the lookout for suitable decals.
One of the frustrating things about decals is that most of them are made for Modellers rather than wargamers. This means that decal sets hardly ever have serial numbers belonging to the same unit organization. How do I go about modeling my tanks with serial numbers belonging to the same Company? If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.
In India games were played on Styrofoam sheets covered with graph paper. A 12" grid was marked on the paper in permanent pen to make placement and measurement easier. Since I was buying figures and vehicles, the idea of buying more detailed terrain suggested itself. This was not without problems however. As a bachelor living in a one bedroom Apartment in Dallas, I do not have the luxury of a basement to lay out terrain in. Besides, the nature of my present job is such that I might be required to travel (to another part of the US or back to India) at *very* short notice. The only solution would to be buy or make modular, light weight terrain boards that can be transported without too much trouble.
Kallistra of UK makes just the kind of modular terrain boards that I was looking for. Their Hexon line of Polystyrene boards are modular and space saving (Hexon tiles to make a 3'x4' layout can fit into a 12" x 10" x 10" box). However, they are not inexpensive and more importantly, do not have a US distributor. The rather hefty shipping charges - GBP 40.00 (roughly USD 80.00) for two boxes - made me rethink my choice. After some thought I decided that Hexon would have to wait for now.
Around this time I remembered something I had seen a while ago on TMP. There was a story about foam core hexagons made and marketed by Pictors Studio. I dug up their web site and found that they had expanded the line of hexagons quite a bit since the story ran on TMP. They had on sale 12" hexagons that retailed for $18.00 for a pack of 12. Additionally they had the advantage of being located in the US and which meant significantly reduced shipping charges. These hexagons were not quite the equivalent of Kallistra's Hexon - they were less sturdier, could not be stacked as easily due to the absence of "legs" and had not built in mechanism to hold them together unlike the clips that hold Hexon modules together. But they still offered significant savings in terms of price for me to consider them seriously.
Unless I win the lottery in the next few days or Kallistra is picked up by retailers in the US, I will be ordering Pictors Studio by the end of the week.
Loot from Historicon
I made a major purchase for Crossfire during my trip to Historicon 2005. Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures gave me a good deal on my shopping list for 1/76 scale British Paras and German troops. Nic was a few packs short on one or two items but he has promised to send them to me free of postage!
The packaging of the AB miniatures rank among the best I have seen outside bubble packs. In fact I prefer their method of packaging to bubble packs.
I also had a good look at the various 28mm WW2 miniatures on sale. I found that the 28mm ranges of all manufacturers I saw - especially Artizan, Bolt Action Minis and Crusader - are really beautiful. Unfortunately such quality comes at a cost, a cost that I cannot afford at the moment. Not even for skirmish games :( But I do wholeheartedly recommend these product lines to gamers who can spare the money - and room - for gaming Second World War in 28mm.
Another bit of good news is that there are players interested in Crossfire in Dallas. Cameron Fairchild read about my endeavours from this very web site and e-mailed me. Cool! Now I know that publishing this report was served some purpose after all. Cameron and I are working on meeting sometime in the near future and getting a game together. This really encourages me to accelerate my painting efforts and get the miniatures ready on time for a game.
Other assorted purchases include some road and river pieces from Miniature World Maker, a nifty bridge and out house from Table Top Towns and some terrain sheets from the Plastic Veneer Construction system range made by Precision Products.
Bases too thick?
One of the first things I did by way of "dry fitting" was to see how well the Litko bases would suit the figures. It quickly became evident that I had bought bases a size too thick. Too bad, since this means that I will have to spend more money to buy the super thin bases offered by Litko.
The story continues...
Watch this space for more on Project Crossfire.
|Serial||Item Type||Description||From||Date||Amount||Ship To||Status||Received on|
|1||Crossfire||Master rules for playing Crossfire||Wargames||24-Jul-04||19.95||NA||Done||24-Jul-04|
|2||Bases||Pre cut bases and magnetic strips 1.5 inch square (Pack of 100)||Litko||24-Mar-05||29.88||Home||Done|
|3||Terrain||Modular plastic terrain hexagons and hills||Kallistra||Cancelled|
|4||Terrain||2 x Super glue, 4 x trees, foliage clusters||Woodland Scenics||25-Mar-05||16.72||NA||Done||25-Mar-05|
|5||Vehicles||3 x British M4A4 Sherman, 1 x Humber MK.III Recce Car||Brookhurst Hobbies||27-Mar-05||44.76||Home||Done||30-Mar-05|
|6||Artillery||1 x L'Artillerieschlepper UNIC P-107, 2 x 7.5cm PaK 40||Brookhurst Hobbies||27-Mar-05||39.99||Home||Done||30-Mar-05|
|7||Terrain||Bridge, Cows and Barrels||Trains and Toys||28-Mar-05||10.28||NA||Done||28-Mar-05|
|8||Terrain||Modular foam core terrain hexagons||Pictors Studio||Planned|
|9||Figures||1/76 scale minis||AB Figures||24-Jul-05||280.00||Done||24-Jul-05|