Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Historical Gaming Magazine Becomes History

Within the current issue of Writer's Digest is an article by Jeff Yeager titled: 10 Questions Writers Must Ask Before Quitting Their Day Job

In my case it would be my day/night/weekend/holiday job...


Nearly every issue of Writer's Digest and The Writer I've read contain such cautionary tales about chucking it all and living the "carefree" life of a full-time writer.

Despite my kooky schedule, I don't plan on quitting anytime soon.

While writing is still something of a hobby for me, it doesn't mean I'm immune to some of the quirks and pitfalls of the publishing industry--albiet in a "miniature" way.

Several months ago I submitted an article to Historical Miniature Gaming (HMG) Magazine. The article was suppose to be published in Issue #12. Today I found out from the editor that not only will there be no Issue #12 but no HMG Magazine!

He didn't give me any details, but my guess is two of the "usual suspects"--the economic downturn & the internet--were involved in the demise of a publication that traces it's lineage back to the "...oldest game magazine in existence" (The Courier page on Wikipedia):


HMG was actually the merger of The Courier and MWAN (Midwest Wargamer's Association) Magazine:


The editor suggested I submit my article to one of the UK gaming magazines: Miniature Wargaming, Wargames Illustrated or Battlegames.

Miniature Wargames already published 3 of my articles (thanks Iain!) and one is pending in Battlegames. I was hoping to support some US gaming magazines, but sadly, they seem to be dissappearing faster than I can write.

HMG may resurface as an e-zine. In the meantime, it's website is still available for viewing and even some downloads:


Sunday, June 28, 2009

My PNWA 2009 Literary Contest Entries

The PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Literary Contest Finalists were posted on-line the other day:


While I submitted two entries this year, my name (sigh), isn't on the list.

The first, Rakkasan Recollections is a short memoir about some of my late father's antics during the Korean War. "Rakkasan" was the name given to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT) by the Japanese during World War II. It means "umbrella men," which my dad always hated; although he liked their unit patch (pictured above) and especially their motto: THE ANGELS FROM HELL.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the angelic umbrella men from Hell:


Even better is the Rakkasan Home page:


I submitted Rakkasan Recollections to the Writer's Digest Annual Literary Contest a couple of years ago, but received no feedback. PNWA, on the otherhand, is very good at providing feedback to it's authors.

My other entry, Sweet Stakes, is a short story that came to me in a Mary Shelley sort-of way. That is, a few years ago I dreamt I was a minion-hunter searching for a vampire terrorising an East European village. The remarkable aspect of this dream was the unique way I immobilized the vampire before finishing him off. (No, I'm afraid it wasn't Bela Lugosi either. I just liked the picture).

I entered the story last year and one of the key comments was that it lacked background material on the minion-hunters. I was--and still am--stumped on how to do this without slowing down the story's action and busting the 14-page entry limit.

The only thing I came up with was to change the story's point of view. I originally wrote Sweet Stakes in First-Person. (After all, it was my dream!). This year I submitted a Second-Person version, making the reader the actual protagonist in the story. I still have both copies on file, so I'm curious as to which one rated higher.

In the meantime, it's: "Lights! Camera! Action!" As I'm having a grand-ol' time making YouTube movies for my fellow wargamers to enjoy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mayhem in Makassar Strait, Part 5

Episode 5 of Mayhem in Makassar Strait was posted on the HISTORICON website yesterday:


In this segement, 6-World War I vintage destroyers and 2 light cruisers are en-route to attack the Japanese beachhead at Balikpapan. Unfortunately the cruisers are forced to turn back due to accidents or mechanical problems--leaving only 4 destroyers to carry out the attack.

Meanwhile Episode 4 was posted on YouTube:


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ambush and Mayhem Uploaded

Two movies were uploaded today. The first, Amush at Adrianople was posted on to YouTube. This was my first battle in the "Power and Glory" De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) Tournament, hosted by Terry Griner and played during NHMGS' Enfilade 09 Convention. My opponent was Rich, from British Columbia. The battle ended in a draw with each of us losing one unit.

At least I did better than the real Emperor Flavius Valens. Adrianople, fought on 9 August 378 AD, was one of the worst military disasters of the Roman Empire:


My version on YouTube:


I went on to play 3 other DBA games. I won the game following this session, but lost the last two games in the tournament. I didn't film any of these battles, because I wanted to save my camera battery for the remaining game sessions that day. Right after this game period I played wargame correspondent and filmed Chris Ewick's Kursk game, taking over 200 photos.

After this I played a Korean War game and took nearly 100 photos. Despite the large number of photos, we were 3.5 hours into a 4 hour game when my camera died. I think I have enough pictures to make a movie out of my last battle at Enfilade!

Part 4 of Mayhem in Makassar Strait was posted on the HISTORICON website this afternoon. In this episode a Dutch sub sneaks into Balikpapan Harbor where a Japanese invasion force has just landed. Mayhem ensues.


Two more episodes of Mayhem to go!

Happy Father's Day!

According to the infamous Wikipedia, Father's Day is celebrated in nearly 100 countries--including Iran. Although I think this year's homage to dear ol' dad was postponed (18 June 09).

Not every country celebrates Father's Day on the 3rd Sunday in June. So there's still time to plan that father-son expedition up Mount Everest! (Nepal--18 September 09).
In Bulgaria Father's Day falls on 26 December. Oh boy! Twice as many neckties!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Huzzah! Stern Rake Studio Recognized by PNWA

Stern Rake Studio was added to the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Member Website Page today!

I'd like to thank the PNWA staff for adding my blog to their list. And also extend a hearty thank you to my dedicated and casual readers for taking interest in my work.

It's listed alphabetically under my name, Ted Henkle:


The main PNWA page is linked to this blog under the Writing Section.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

War Without Mercy, Final Kursk AAR, Nov '43

Frost blanket the entire theater, except for the Crimea, in November. This caused a slight reduction in armored, motorized and transportation movement (-1 movement point and reducing supply lines from 6 to 5 hexes). Winter was rapidly approaching...

The Soviets advanced across the sunny Crimea wiping out a Romanian infantry corps in the peninsula's rugged hills. Meanwhile on the mainland, OKH ordered units of AGS to surge across the Dnepr in a massive spoiling movement to delay the Soviet advance.

Heavy fighting occurred along AGC. As AGS attempted to consolidate along the Dnepr River, AGC's southern flank became exposed and subjected to a massive attack by 9 Soviet Guards Infantry Corps. Two Guards Corps achieved a 30 mile-wide breakthrough, 90 miles due west of Orel.

The preponderance of armor wielded by Koniev forced Kleist to retreat south across the Dnepr. The Dnepr-Dvina Gap was blasted wide open as Soviet tanks overran a Hungarian infantry division. (In game terms, armor units stacked with leaders can conduct attacks in addition to move during the exploitation phase).

Despite the successes on other fronts STAVKA insisted on another offensive to retake Leningrad. In addition to naval gunfire, 4 squadrons of bombers appeared over the skies of Lenin's City and released their ordnance on the both the defenders and Russian civilians. Heavy anti-aircraft fire caused one squadron to veer off course, missing the city altogether.

OKH sent a German infantry corps into Leningrad to reinforce the Finns. The Germans arrived just in time. Once the bombers returned to base and the naval bombardment lifted, the Soviets launched another all-out assault.

While the Germans and Finns were outnumbered they were dug-in throughout the city. Three infantry and 3 Guards corps were thrown into the city only to be cut-down by the entrenched occupiers. This attack, as in last month's assault, was thrown back with heavy casualties.

The frost had a minimal affect on the supply lines of both the Russians or Finns north of Leningrad.

Severe snowstorms roared out of Siberia as November came to a close. OKH took advantage of the inclement weather to disengage from the Soviets across most of the theater. Hampered by heavy snow, the Soviets were unable to pursue. STAVKA decided to wait for a break in the weather in order to resume the advance.

Okay, in real-life terms the weather event described in the above paragraph didn't really happen. It was Sunday morning and the last day of the Expo Convention so Joe & I had to pick up the game. This session ended two turns short of it's historical conclusion (December '43).

However, Joe felt the strategic situation was looking grim for Nazi Germany. According to his assessment, about 1/3 of his infantry was wiped out while another 1/3 was depleted. (That is, the counters flipped to the reverse/reduced side). The panzers on the other hand, were at full strength, but that was only due to the recent reconstitution of 3 Panzer Corps.

In short, Germany couldn't replace combat losses fast enough to stop the growing Soviet juggernaut.

As I mentioned in my initial post on this scenario, I didn't fully grasp all the facets of this strategic monster-game. For the first two months I concentrated only on the fighting capabilities (attack & defense factors) of my combat units. I also didn't realize that destroyed units could be replaced. Then it was another turn before I came across "intelligence" (ie the scenario booklet) and read Germany's Order of Battle (OOB) versus my own. By this time I understood how dominant Soviet industrial capacity was over Germany's.

As the "campaign season" drew to a close, I initiated a more aggressive strategy. Sometimes too aggressive. I tried going head-to-head with Hoth and Kleist in order to deplete their precious panzers. That didn't work (due to low combat odds and poor die-rolling). So I ended up losing tanks in droves and at one point I nearly lost Zhukov. But I could replace my tank losses within a month or two, whereas Joe could not.

Losing Leningrad was embarrassing (another bad die-roll on my part), so I threw everything I could into attacks against the city before the game ended. That didn't work out either. (Joe had his fair share of die rolls too. Throughout this narrative any time I used the phrase "attack faltered," I meant bad die rolls).

The last time I played a monster-game was SPI's War in Europe back in the early '80s. While still large, the map and unit scale make War Without Mercy a "handier" game to play the War in Europe. The easy rules, once learned, make for a smooth-running game that can be played to an actual conclusion.

So if I ever decide to buy a World War II monster game, I'd choose this Struggle for Europe Series.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

War Without Mercy, Kursk AAR #2, Oct '43

The clear skies over Russia disappeared in October. Heavy rains turned the ground to mud, or heavy mud throughout the theater:

Despite the windy seas and stormy skies, the Black Sea Fleet steamed into the Sea of Azov in the hopes of supporting the Crimean Offensive. Unfortunately, even the nearest axis unit was out of range from the fleet's guns. (According to the rules, naval forces can only provide fire support against units on beach, or in port hexes).

STAVKA's plan to inflict hammer blows against the German forces bogged down in the mud. While Soviet forces crossed the Donets River en-mass they couldn't catch the faster German units which were beginning to fall back across the boggy steppes.

Meanwhile on the CEN and NOR fronts, where the mud was thicker and deeper, no headway was made at all against the German defenses.

In Leningrad disaster struck. Once STAVKA felt enough combat power was built up within the city, it ordered the LEN Front to initiate offensive operations against the German lines. Unfortunately, the troops defending Leningrad were content sitting in their trenches and fighting positions. When called upon to attack, they panicked once they came under fire and fled--abandoning Leningrad in their flight. The "Spanish Division" had the honor of being the first Axis unit to march into Lenin's City.

As more Axis units marched into Leningrad, the permafrost up north thawed causing supply difficulties for the Finns guarding the border.

On the third week of October, the weather cleared, drying-out most of the ground within the theater. The Crimea, however remained soggy...

OKH ordered the nearest infantry corps into Estonia to contain the Soviet incursion. Meanwhile Soviet partisans gathered to disrupt rail traffic throughout this Baltic State.

Despite the muddy conditions, the Soviets advanced across the Crimea. Meanwhile on the mainland, German forces began an orderly withdrawal, in order to establish a defensive line along the Dnepr River.

As the German withdrawal continued OKH ordered 3 newly reconstituted Panzer Corps forward to conduct spoiling attacks against the Soviet advance. Soviet partisans were also active on both sides of the Dnepr in an attempt to hamper German rail movement.

Once the fields dried-out and armor replacements arrived, Koniev advanced against AGN's southern flank.

Concentrating his armor between the Dnepr and Dvina Rivers, Koniev slammed into the German positions. The Axis units however, held their ground but were slowly whittled-down.

Obsessed with recapturing Leningrad, STAVKA ordered another offensive, this time turning the guns of the Baltic fleet onto the Axis occupiers. The naval bombardment and heavy street fighting wiped out the tiny Spanish Division. However, the Finns stood firm and threw back the Soviet attackers with heavy casualties.

Supply lines reopened to the Finns lucky enough to be north of the Leningrad cauldron...
Throughout October the muddy ground hampered the movement of armored forces and reduced the effectiveness of air power. (In game terms this meant armored units couldn't utilize their exploitation movement, while "heavy mud" reduced all movement by 1/2. Attacks made by air power were also reduced).
Episode 3 of Mayhem in Makassar Strait was uploaded on to the HISTORICON website today.


In this segment, RNN (Royal Netherlands Navy) Submarine K-XIV intercepts the Japanese task force bound for Borneo.

Episode 2 was uploaded on to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89RBUSOzBoU

Saturday, June 6, 2009

War Without Mercy, Kursk AAR #1, Jul-Sep 1943

For Joe and I, the first day at ConsimWorld's Expo was spent setting up Clash of Arms Games War Without Mercy:


We decided to play Scenario 31.0 Turning the Tide, The Kursk 1943 Scenario (pgs 5-8 in the scenario booklet).

Kursk, the largest tank battle in military history, was a major turning point in the war on the Eastern Front. Despite its defeat at Stalingrad, the German Army was still capable of conducting offensive operations in 1943. After Kursk the Red Army remained on the offensive for the rest of the war.


War Without Mercy is a strategic-level wargame representing the entire Eastern Front. Ground units represent corps or division-sized formations, while air units represent wings (of about 150 aircraft) and naval units represent 1-10 ships. Each game turn, with an Axis Player Phase and Allied Player Phase, represents about 2 weeks.

The Kursk Campaign is a 12-turn scenario starting in July 43 and lasting through December.

I chose to play the Russian high command or "STAVKA."


STAVKA's combat commands were organized into several fronts. These were: Finland (FIN), Leningrad (LEN), Northern (NOR), Central (CEN), Southern (SOU) and the Causcasus (CAU).

Joe, then was left in charge of OKH:


OKH's combat commands were organized into army groups. These were: Finland (FIN), North (AGN), Central (AGC), South (AGS) and Caucasus (CAU).

Some these Fronts/Army Groups can be seen here:

Russia was divided into several Weather Zones. These were, from north to south: A, B and C; while D is in North Africa.

The weather in July was clear, which lasted through September.

In the first week of July OKH launched an offensive against NOR. Three Panzer Corps led by Gen. Kleist of AGN easily breached the Russian lines 180 miles due west of Moscow. The panzers blew open a corridor 60 miles wide and sent STAVKA into panic.

Fortunately, the Germans were unable to fully exploit their gains and fell back to more defensible positions. STAVKA was too worried about the weakness of its defensive lines to realize the strategic and logistical reasons for the German withdrawal.

OKH was to repeat these "Panzer Raids" throughout the campaign. That is, a panzer strike force would conduct an attack and then would fall back rather than risk being cut off. (In game terms this armored units could move a second time using exploitation movement). However during the first part of July Gen. Hoth in AGC tried emulating Kleist's success, but his attack by spearheaded by 2 SS Panzer Corps and 1 Werhmarcht Panzer Corps faltered.

Fearing another breakthrough and the loss of its Tank Corps, STAVKA formed several armored strike groups led by Koniev (NOR) and Zhukov (SOU). Throughout the summer both leaders made probing attacks against German weak points.

STAVKA's caution was assisted by OKH ignoring der Fuhrer's ranting for an all-out offensive against the Kursk Salient. Instead, OKH consolidated its own defenses and conducted adroit panzer raids throughout the summer.

Both STAVKA and OKH employed airpower to support their respective ground operations. Initially the Soviet Airforce got the worst of it. Ill trained, Soviet pilots threw themselves at the invaders with wild abandon--and got shot down in droves.

(In game terms, I misunderstood the air-to-air combat mechanics. I thought that each air counter sent up for interception missions would attack specific enemy air counters. Not so. The combat factor of each "wave" was totalled and compared to the enemy's "wave," then a combat ration was determine. So I quickly found myself fighting aerial battles at less than 1-1 odds and ended up having 6 fighter squadrons shot down in flames!).

Looking for ways to draw German combat units away from the central theaters, STAVKA began planning "Mischief Operations" on the far flanks.

The first such operation was conducted on the Black Sea. A naval transport convoy, carrying a mountain corps, made an amphibious landing south of Kerch on the Crimean Peninsula. The convoy was escorted by the Black Sea Fleet, led by the battleship Paris Kommune. The only Axis naval force in the Black Sea was a Romanian destroyer flotilla. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Romanian destroyers put to sea and attempted to intercept the Soviet fleet. Unable to locate the Soviet task force, the Romanians turned back and were content to remain in port.

The beachhead was secured and the Soviet mountain troops advanced northeast. While a Romanian infantry corps barred their way the Soviet units were able to block the supply routes of several Axis units on the mainland west of Krasnodar.

Another part of STAVKA's Mischief Operation consisted of coordinating partisan activity behind German lines. Their primary effect was causing delays in German rail movement. OKH was forced to breakdown a couple of corps-sized units and deploy them for anti-partisan operations to keep the rail-lines clear.

Generals Hoth and Zhukov engage in panzer raids and Tank counter-raids:

Meanwhile to the north Kleist and Koniev were engaged in similar panzer and tank operations. Unfortunately for Kliest one of his attacks faltered giving Koniev an opportunity to pounce and smash 3 panzer corps. (In game terms all 3 German units had to flip to their depleted/reversed side):

Leningrad besieged by German and Finnish units:

All quiet on the Permafrost Front...

Soviet units on the CAU Front conduct attacks against the out-of-supply Romanians forcing them to abandon Novorossiysk.

In August the Fins got frisky and launched an attack against Leningrad's outer defenses. This offensive was supported by Finnish tanks and aircraft:

The Soviet corps occupying the fortifications were wiped out by this minor onslaught, but the inner defenses held:

This caused STAVKA to worry about Leningrad's security. To draw attention away from the siege, STAVKA executed another Mischief Operation. This time the Baltic Fleet, led by the battleship Marat, put to sea escorting a convoy. The convoy carried one infnatry corps which conducted an amphibious assault 90 miles southwest of Talinn, Estonia. This was just one part of a two pronged operation. As the Soviet troops hit the beaches, 2 airborne divisions landed 30 miles east of Talinn.

However, despite good weather conditions and firm ground, both divisions were victims of poor training and became scattered over a 30-mile radius from their intended drop zones. (In game terms they landed "disrupted").

With Novorossiysk firmly back in Soviet hand, STAVKA reinforced its foothold on the Peninsula:

However, OKH didn't give up on the Crimea without a fight. Two German infantry corps were railed down to the peninsula to beef-up the Romanian forces fighting a desperate rear-guard action.
Meanwhile 3 Soviet Tank Corps maneuvered around the southern flank of AGS recapturing Tagnrog en-route. STAVKA launched a major offensive against the now-exposed flank supported by Guards Infantry and Sturmoviks. As AGS's southern flank was attacked, Zhukov smashed through the army group's center. The breakthrough was short-lived as Hoth drove his 3 Panzer Corps into the breach forcing Zhukov to retreat. The 3 Soviet Tank Corps were sent reeling back through the breach after loosing over 50% of their armored vehicles.

As Zhukov narrowly avoided being cut-off Kliest and Koniev engaged in several armored duels in the north. Several attacks were conducted during this time but no major breakthroughs occurred.

Battle of the Baltic: OKH ordered naval units to to engage the Soviet Baltic Fleet in order to cut off the foothold in Estonia. A coastal defense battleship escorted by one cruiser and one destroyer flotilla sortied and engaged the Soviets off the coast of Latvia. In the ensuing battle, half of the Soviet destroyers were sunk, while the German battleship and all the escorting cruisers were damaged. The German task force retreated and remained in port for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, Soviet and Finnish troops stare at each other across the tundra...
It was now late September. By this time STAVKA received vital intelligence regarding Germany's industrial capacity. Throughout the summer STAVKA focused only on Germany's combat power. In doing so, the Soviet high command was completely unaware of Germany's limited ability to replace it's combat losses. Despite STAVKA's cautious actions, casualties among infantry units was still high. That is, each month the Soviet Union was nearly depleted of it's regular manpower reserve. However the industrial capacity remained intact so the factories kept churning out tanks causing an enormous build up of replacement vehicles.
In real-life terms what this means is that I didn't fully understand the nuances of the rules. I've played very few strategy, especially monster, games. I assumed that once a unit was lost it was gone forever as in tactical battle games.
But even this realization was an incremental process. Once I felt secure in getting steady replacements and reinforcements, I still didn't take my (the USSR) replacement capacity in comparison to Joe's (Germany).
The difference was significant. While German units were stronger and faster than their Soviet counterparts, the ability to replace lost or depleted units was anemic compared to the Soviet Union. In addition to this, the Soviet Union's rail capacity was twice that of Germany's. The industrial cities of the Soviet Union were also closer than Warsaw--the only replacement city available to Germany.
With September over, the weather charts indicated the clear & dry season would probably come to an end...

It Wasn't All Wargaming...

...well, for the most part is was.

Last week my friend Joe and I attended ConsimWorld's Expo wargaming convention. (For a complete brief on the convention itself, see my previous post):


The convention was held at the Tempe Mission Palms Resort in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area:


One of the nice things about this resort was the pool, pictured below. (The second thing I liked about this place was the small fitness room, which I used every morning!) Joe and I would take a break and bring his daughter to splash around in the water before we headed out for lunch.

This year the convention took place from 26-31 May. Last Friday (29 May), Joe and I took a break from the gaming tables and went on a road trip to visit Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca.



Joe went through training and was at one time or anther, stationed at Ft Huachuca during his Army career. More importantly, his daughter was born there. So it was a good opportunity for her to see her place of birth.

The drive took 3 hours in a car Joe rented. He was amazed at how much development has occured along the route in what was once a barren desert. We arrived around lunchtime and ate at a Sonic drive-thru. One Sonic drive-thru recently opened in Puyallup, WA and the lines have been enourmous. So we decided to see what the fuss was about. We felt it was typical fast-food and not worth waiting in line with the engine running.

After lunch we drove around Sierra Vista, which has also grown since Joe's tour-of-duty. Joe took pictures of his daughter in and around the town's hospital where she was born along with swinging by the house they lived in.

After that we drove up to Carr's Peak in the Huachuca Mountains where Joe liked to hike.

Your's truly:

I actually had to put sunscreen on during our drive because I was getting singed even when in the car!

The Huachuca Mountains are high enough and are in the path of prevailing winds to cause the formation of rain clouds on a regular basis. As a result, at a casual glance, it doesn't look like you're in a desert because the mountains are filled with pine trees. A nearby peak as seen along our drive.

Looking southeast (I think):

The next three photos are various shots looking down on Sierra Vista:

One last picture looking down on the valley:

There's also the remains of an old mining camp on this mountain.
We came down off the peak and left Sierra Vista by mid afternoon. We tried to see the Kartchner Caverns but we missed the last tour of the day. So we consoled ourselves by touring the small museum and gift shop.
For dinner we ate at the Red Lobster Restaurant in Tucson, Joe's ex-wife liked to eat at while she was pregnant with their daughter. (Yes, there's a Red Lobster in Tucson, AZ).
The only glitch in the 3-hour return trip was that we didn't know exact location of the Tempe Mission Palms within Phoenix's urban sprawl. The rent-a-car maps were of little help in the dark and we didn't have a GPS (Global Positioning System). Finally we came across the city's light-rail tracks which happen to run by the resort. So we followed the tracks and stumbled back to our rooms just before 11 PM.
The road-trip was fun and despite the late return we were able to do a full game session the following day.