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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Claymore 2009: expectations fulfilled but not exceeded

The new home
To cut to the chase: Claymore lived up to the cautious optimism engendered by its long overdue change of venue; and that's the "cautious" as much as the "optimism". The new venue is Telford College's new main campus, opened less than 3 years ago. So, while not pretty outside, the building is spacious, bright and airy inside. A far cry from the cramped and stuffy lodgings from which Claymore suffered at the old Meadowbank venue, this was unanimously praised by everyone to whom I spoke.
Spacious, bright and airy: the main convention hall (the college refectory)
That said, readers will already recognise there were reservations (and I'm here considering the venue not the event):
  • The second convention room was in the gym; not quite as nice as the refectory; and a few minutes away - this didn't bother me as much as it did others.
  • The bring and buy: the great failure of the new venue this was (again by unanimous opinion) more cramped and poky than it had been at Meadowbank.
Even though the bring-and-buy's room was too small for its purpose, the very fact that it had a room of its own was interesting. The painting demo had its own room too. I wonder how many side rooms like this there are available in the new Telford College campus, and how many of them could feasibly be put to use by Claymore? It'd be nice if there were possibilities like this which the event could use to expand. Time will tell I guess.

The painting demo
The painting demo was my next port of call after the bring-and-buy. This had its own room, showing already the new attractions on offer at the more spacious venue. The demo was quite well laid out, with a webcam, digital projector and screen; all of which showed the potential of the latest technology to make something really interesting of an event like this.
Our painters (in no particular order): Andrew Taylor, Brian Philips and David Imrie
Did our 3 painters make the most of this chance to showcase their skills and pass the fruits of their experience? To be honest I don't know because I didn't return after my brief early visit. Of what I did see I can say:
  • Our painters looked as if they'd suffered a few teething problems with the basic logistics of their event, which is hardly surprising for a first go.
  • There was no sign of a programme: it strikes me that a schedule structured around the 3 basic experience levels- beginner, intermediate and advanced; that this would've made for an event a more attractive showcase for the painters' skills.
What I do know is that I hope Claymore repeats this in 2010, and that I remember to take names. D'oh!

The tables
I did visit the 3 participation games I'd found listed in the programme. The first I found was the Dingwall Wargames Club's 1/144th scale Dambusters game (not much to see on the website BTW, but there are contact details). The table was full so I booked my seat and headed for the Dundee Skirmishers. When found this proved to be a demonstration game, but I took some pictures of the frankly quite impressive layout.
The Soviets move out from the cover of the treeline
Duncan - "The Little General" - shows off his handiwork
Some nice terrain
"Bombs away!"
It was soon time for my Dambusters game with the Dingwall club. This game was delightfully simple:
  • Objective: 4 Lancasters must breach a Ruhr dam in Operation Chastise, as immortalised in the 1955 movie The Dam Busters.
  • Gameplay: Make a bombing run lasting 6 turns, taking your luck with the flak and trying to bring your Lancaster to the ideal speed and height before you dropped your famous bouncing bomb.
  • Rules:
  1. Each turn, you could accelerate/decelerate or climb/dive.
  2. Roll 1d6 to determine how many feet or mph you gained or lost.
  3. Flak was likewise a simple roll of 1d6 to generate results varying from damage to enforced changes in speed or height.
  4. Each player had 3 'jokers'; cards they could use once each, eg. for dice modifiers or rerolls.
  5. The final bombing run was a simple percentage dice roll with modifiers for damage, and for degrees of variance from the ideal speed and height.
And that was that, except that, with rules that fit easily on a single sheet of A4 and which could've been squeezed comfortably onto a single sheet of A5, the game was actually simpler even that than summary.

Dambusters in action (note the white tape which marked each turn's movement

In our game I was Y for 'Yankee', number 3 in line. By the time I'd seen the previous 2 bombers move for a turn or two I had an idea of what I thought would be good tactics: we were coming in hight and fast; and with 6 turns of flying I was going to have to adjust for a few turns before I could hope to pull into straight and level flight. So I opted to climb straight away rather than dive then find myself having to climb again. The reactions of the Dingwall gamers told me that this was quite smart.
Yours truly prepares to brave the flak again
After this promising start it all went pear-shaped with the dice so that I ended up providing some light entertainment for everyone else. The 'high point' was when I needed to roll high; rolled 1; decided to use my 'joker' for a reroll; and rolled the inevitable 1 again. The hilarity of my bombing run notwithstanding I was able finally to hit the dam with a lucky roll of 29%. Three of our four planes hit the dam on that run, for 69% damage. It was the highest score at that time but we were well down the day's rankings in the end, including at least 3 who managed to blow the dam.

Thirty minutes on 'Bloody Omaha
'
The tagline for this game staged by Royal Air Force Wargamers Association (Leuchars) was (I paraphrase):
"The average life expectancy of a US Ranger in the first wave at Omaha beach on June 6th 1944 was 30 minutes. Can you survive that long?"
Six hardy volunteers led a squad of 12 US Rangers fully equipped with bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges, led by none other than Captain Tom Hanks (AKA. Captain Miller) himself. Our objective was simple: get up that beach and blow that bunker!
Two of the RAFWA guys beside their lovely table
The picture above shows the details of the table:
  • The brewed-up Sherman complete with poor GI who'd lost his legs when the tank ran over them.
  • The beach obstacles, including the damn wire.
  • The bunker.
  • And our landing craft.
You can also see the survivors of the previous attempt huddled by the shingle where they'd failed even to breach the wire.

The rules were simple again:
  • We were mortared.
  • We were machine-gunned.
  • We moved (8" minus wounds).
  • Then we fired - 1, 2 or 3d10 depending on weapon, needing a 9+ to hit (pesky bunkers).
  • Then we took our actions, eg. doing first aid or setting a bangalore.
So, our 6 brave volunteers had a quick planning session, in which yours truly suggested splitting to go up each flank, meaning that half of us would've had to have run twice as far diagonally across the beach. My 'plan' quickly forgotten, we piled out of our landing craft, spread out, and took the short route - straight ahead.

My BAR man (each of us had 1 character from Saving Private Ryan: I think mine was Pvt. Reiben with the BAR) was in the front, so he was targetted first. He was dead in 2 turns, but not before he'd managed to lay down some effective fire on the bunker. Quickly out of the landing craft and doubling in bounds via the beach obstacles our squad soon managed to reach the shingle bank, led by my #2 character, who proved to be the day's crackshot with 2 KIA's to his credit. We were helped in this dash by the inaccuracy of the German mortars, which constantly missed us, and which finally only hit the landing craft once we'd all made our exit.
Four of our brave team, including (on my right) the hero of the hour: our medic
Safely hunkered by the shingle, we reorganised and waited while a bangalore cleared a weak section of the wire. Then our men were running towards that bunker as fast as their legs could carry them. We'd picked up a flamethrower from a casualty at the shingle, and our flamethrower man proved deadly. One attack disposed of the HMG and a 2nd attack cleared the trench in front of the bunker.

The rest of us sprinted round the back to finish the bunker off with our satchel charges. Of course, in our haste we'd forgotten the 'murder hole' (about which we'd been quietly reminded by one of the RAF guys; I'd actually thought he was just talking 'in character' so to speak). We were lucky: we managed to set our satchel charges before the German in the murder hole opened fire, killing my character with a single shot just before the bunker blew. We'd won, and our casualties had been remarkably light, all things considered.

Afterthoughts
Both of these games were great fun: simple concepts cleanly executed for maximum ease of play on the day; ideal public participation games in other words. The 'Bloody Omaha' game was my personal favourite:
  • It was a lovely piece of work, featuring Tamiya models which were a bit of a nostalgia rush for yours truly.
  • The combination of simple rules; just enough players to generate command confusion; and the relentless pressure of the GM's made for a tense and dramatic half hour's gaming.
  • On top of all that, my hooting and hollering was largely in celebration of success instead of in an ironic response to ever more hilarious failure.
I heard later that this game won a well-deserved Best of Show.

The swag
I bought some stuff as you'd expect, mostly books. Of particular note was a pile of 6 (count them: 6!) Osprey Campaign series paperbacks for a mere £25. You can be sure I availed myself of that offer with enthusiasm dear readers. The same trader had many fascinating books at irresistibly reduced prices, one of which was an odd little volume: Britain, France, and Belgium, 1939-1940, by Brian Bond. I say "odd" because books on this campaign are relatively rare; rarer still are books which deal with the geopolitical background to the Anglo-French strategy instead of merely rehashing the familiar story of the German blitzkrieg. I may have more to say about this book in the future.

And I treated myself to a new game, naturally enough. More about this too in due course no doubt.

The verdict
This year was as much fun as I've had at Claymore in many a year. The sheer pleasantness of the new setting played an important part in that, as did the comforting rituals of catching up with old friends. Most important though was the simple application of the lesson I learned at UK Expo'09: have something to do. You can be sure I'll be applying this to future visits to Claymore. Meanwhile, a big thank you to the guys from Dingwall and Leuchars, as well as to all at SESWC for all their efforts. ;)
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