Monday, April 23, 2007

The Daleks Have Landed!

Well, it's spring time again (though hereabouts it is spookily much more like summer) and that means a new series of Doctor Who. To celebrate the fact (despite the fact that so far the new run has been CRAP!) I thought I'd dig out my old INVASION EARTH stuff and show young Sickly what it was all about.

Invasion Earth is a 28mm skirmish game that recreates those happy days of the Seventies when every week a different race of aliens would try to take over South East England. Ranged against them were the plucky boys of the British Army, attached to the UNITED NATIONS INTELLIGENCE TASKFORCE (or UNIT), an international organisation seemingly formed to fight men dressed up in unconvincing rubber suits.

The background for our game was that the Doctor's most famous foes, the Daleks, are planning an invasion of Earth (well, the Home Counties at any rate) and have sent a scouting mission ahead of their main force. Their job as baddy aliens is basically to kidnap a bunch of humans for testing and/or conversion into some kind of slave drones. UNIT have detected the alien ship and sent a patrol to investigate. Their task is to bring back some alien astronauts for interrogation and testing. So both sides want the same thing, basically: Each other.

To recreate our game you will need the following:
A Dalek force worth 12 points
A UNIT force worth 12 points (we fixed on 12 as this was the cost of 4 standard Daleks, which seemed a good number for our first game, even though it was more than you ever saw at once it some of the old episodes.)
Scenery and terrain to represent a sleepy, unsuspecting corner of southern England.
A mouth, to bicker with your opponent over petty points of rules law.
A flask of weak lemon drink.

(If you click on the pics, you ought to get a bigger version. I'm not sure as I ain't checked.)
Sickly wanted to be the UNIT troops (or the "Wild Geese" as he called them. He does have a point there, they do look a little like Burton, Harris, Moore and co. Maybe there's a future game to be had in that idea?) . With his twelve points he opted for a captain, five soldiers with SLR, and a Bazooka Team. We included the Land Rover because we wanted to, but decided that it would remain as a piece of scenery, otherwise it would have cost Sickly six of his points.

As stated before, I had control of a scouting party of four Daleks, those cheerful metallic dustbins brimming with hate.

The two factions entered at opposite corners of the playing area. The UNIT troops had the option of starting with a two-man advanced team ahead of the main body. Sickly decided this was a job for the bazooka boys.

The UNIT troops cautiously advance.

The Bazooka team push ahead, and set up a firing position behind a hedge.

The main body quickly follow up.

But here come the Daleks! Everybody hide behind the sofa!

Two of the Daleks head off to deal with the bazooka team, as it is perceived to be the greatest threat.

The remaining two halt to cover the movements of the other humans.

These chaps press on, while the bazooka team, fearing they will be flanked by the Daleks, relocate to the cover of the pink house.

The first shots of the game are fired, a Dalek blaster at extreme range.

Fortunately for the squaddies, the Dalek fire is ineffective.

The UNIT troops carry on up the road. They appear to be trying to flank the Daleks. The bazooka team deploy at an upstairs window.

At this point we called it a night, resolving to continue on the morrow. So, a short intermission.


You might like to drink your weak lemon drink at this point, OR you can save it until later.


Next morning...

...The UNIT soldiers continue their flanking movement, leaving just a single soldier to give covering fire.

A Dalek blaster spits forth its deadly fire, at the foolishly bunched-up humans.
The Captain falls dead. Real bad luck for Sickly, as his ability to make his men shoot more accurately would have come in very handy.

But the brave Tommies press on regardless.

A single Dalek has managed to reach the hedge, as the big tree was obscuring the bazooka team's field of fire from the upstairs window. Too late they have redeployed downstairs, just in time to be blasted to Kingdom Come. Well, the loader at any rate.

The surviving bazooka chap withdraws into the interior of the house. The Daleks begin blasting the building itself, in an attempt to bring it crashing down on to his head.

Two Daleks maintain a watch on the flankers as their colleagues deal with the bazooka.

Not wanting to be buried alive in the rubble, the bazooka fellow exits the house.

Two soldiers advance along the edge of the wheat field, to take some of the pressure off the bazooka man.

While over on the other side a firefight has developed. The Dalek for the first time remembers his mission and opts to use the "stun" setting.

After many shots ping off the Dalek's armour, finally a hit that cause some damage! I was seriously lucky with the Daleks' armour saves for ages.

(Those with keen eyes will spot the malevolent furry form of Buster in the background. He is the real force behind the Daleks' plans. Can't you see him just exuding ill-will to humanity, as he sits there, plotting and brooding.)

One of the Daleks enters the house, while another turns to face the new threat from the wheatfield. A stray soldier moves to unite with the bazooka operator, intending to act as his new loader.

The newly formed team await the Dalek behind the hedge. Using his "Unstoppable Force" ability, the Dalek dramatically bursts through the wall. Now is surely the bazooka's moment of glory...

...Except Sickly miscalculated, horribly! The target Dalek is inside the minimum firing range and they may not fire! Cripes! The Dalek quickly makes him pay for his mistake, stunning the two crew members.

Back over by the wheat field two UNIT soldiers take on a Dalek.

Sickly is learning the game, and has one soldier maintain fire on the pepper pot (causing a hit, too), while the other outflanks it...

...And charges into melee combat...

...Which Daleks are notoriously rubbish at. In the TV series it is possible to overwhelm them by simply throwing your coat over the stupid things. One Dalek immobilised. If the Good Guys win, this one will be recovered for testing and questioning.

At the same time on the other side of the field, a similar scene is being enacted...

...With the same result! They may be the Superior Beings, but they don't like it up 'em!
Two Daleks down, this isn't good!

But the squaddies have been whittled down as well. And we enter a final game of cat and mouse. Two Daleks against two soldiers.

Ouch! You damaged my Dalek!

Unfortunately for humanity, this final round goes to the metallic Space Nazis...

Eventually the last soldier is mopped up.

Final Results:
DALEKS: 2 Daleks damaged and immobilised
(but recovered and repaired)
1 Dalek Damaged but repaired

UNIT: Captain and three soldiers killed
Five soldiers captured and enslaved

So, not a bad tally for the Dustbinators, five more test subjects or mindless slave drones for the pot. Sickly had his own ideas as to what would happen to them, and it involved the Daleks' sink plunger attachments, but we won't go into that...

The game was bags of fun. Previously when I played it years ago I had worried and fussed that it was too simplistic, and invented all kinds of extra rules to jazz it up and make it more modern. For out of the box it is very Old Skool, and doesn't even have morale rules. But this time we tried it almost "as is" with a minimum of tinkering ( made the stun setting less effective than normal fire for one thing, to make it a tactical choice whether to use it or not).

I have to say, the lack of a morale system didn't spoil the game at all, which I found very surprising, as I would normally think of that as absolutely essential. If anything the players' own caution acted as a morale system of its own. Real good "fast play" fun. What I think that Cousin Jonathan refers to as "beer and pretzels", though I must own that I've never really understood what that means. Sometimes things don't need to be complex for you to have a good time. There were plenty of tactical challenges, we both discovered. The soldiers' rifles are more accurate at long range than Dalek blasters, but if a Dalek gets close they are deadly. On the other hand, if they get too close they are vulnerable to being close-assaulted, something which they do not excel at.

Also, the Daleks are not very maneuverable. They have to move in straight lines, cannot move and change facing in the same turn, and have quite a narrow arc of fire. A clever human player can use this to his advantage. On the up side, Daleks are tough, and take quite a bit of killing.

Sickly enjoyed it hugely, despite the fact that he lost. It was a very close-run thing, so he didn't mind so much. He's already been pestering me to play again, so we'll probably continue our campaign soon. I've promised him that the Doctor will be involved when we do...

Friday, April 20, 2007


The focus of our fictional Great War campaign now shifts away from Africa to the High Seas for a bit. In August 1914, the German Commerce Raider SMS Elke (a converted merchantman) left her base in China for the last time to pursue a Guerre de Course against Entente shipping. Under the leadership of Captain Grimm (a cousin of the sailor we saw meet his doom on lake Wittelsbach a while ago) in the following weeks she made a mockery of her enemies, ranging far and wide off the coast of Asia and into the South Seas, capturing numerous prizes.

After a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the Japanese light cruiser Matakishi in the maze of islands and treacherous shoals around Pulo Prabang, the Elke escaped and slipped into the Indian Ocean. Discovering that HMAS Kylie and HMAS Dannii had been sent to sink her, Captain Grimm decided to head away from the sea lanes, to raid a little-known British possession: The Coconut Islands.

(Table set-up: Click for bigger pics)
Leaving behind most of her recently captured prizes for the time being, she headed for the island of Little Coconuts accompanied only by the Scheherazade, a private British pleasure boat that she had captured recently. Little Coconuts presented quite a plump target for the Germans, containing an important radio transmitter, a fuel-oil depot, and most importantly, the world's most tasty coconuts! Renowned around the globe by connoisseurs, they are said to contain that certain something. Grimm was determined to thumb his nose at the British by making off with a few, and would personally present them to the Kaiser for his table upon his return to Germany.

Though not common knowledge, another target was present here: The top secret undersea communication cable from the WACA to Lord's. German Naval Integillence had discovered that this cable crossed the island, too. Grimm had secret orders to locate and cut the cable, in addition to any other mayhem he might be able to cause. With the cricket scores from Australia unavailable in time, the 1915 edition of Wisden Cricketer's Almanac would not be able to be published, sending morale throughout the British Empire plummeting at one fell swoop! The Cricket-obsessed British would be unable to recover from such a blow, and would surely be knocked out of the war.

So to recap, the German player's objectives were as follows:

1) Destroy the radio equipment and antenna mast.
2) Blow up the fuel-oil depot.
3) Steal as many luscious coconuts as possible.
4) Cut the Trans-Oceanic Cricket Score Cable.

The Scheherazade would be used to put ashore a landing party. It was known that the British, thinking that the Coconut Islands were too far off the beaten track to be attacked, had left them virtually undefended, just a few lazy Royal Marines would be all the opposition Grimm's men faced.

But Grimm's intelligence was out of date. The Germans were sailing into a trap...

Realising the vulnerability of the Islands, the Entente powers had moved swiftly to make them more defensible. In the true spirit of the Entente Cordiale the French had dropped off a detachment of sailors with two naval guns to bolster things for now. They had already positioned their guns, and constructed quite strong earth emplacements for them...

(Actually, I had planned for the gunners to be Royal Navy, but my RN gunners weren't ready when the gaming night was sprung on me at short notice, so my "Belgians" had to stand in as Frenchmen.)

In addition to the French gunners, the radio hut was ready to send out a distress call to the nearby sister island of Big Coconuts, where the RNAS had recently completed construction of an airfield, and had two planes standing ready to intervene should the call come.

So Grimm, brimming over with his irrational Teutonic hatred for Cricket, and possessed of an unnatural lust for King George's coconuts, sent off his men to meet their fate in the Scheherazade, while the Elke positioned herself to support the attack with its big guns.

(Pierre Moreau often gave out autographed books to his men, he is pictured here with a rare unsigned copy.)

Here we see the French sailors relaxing before the battle. Notable among them is their leader, Enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe Pierre Moreau, the famous author of 17th Century Romances-turned fighting seaman. Known of course for the Baron Connard series of books, such as "L'Epée Rose." Who can forget the charismatic Baron Connard? With his supreme fencing skills, witty quips ("You, sir, are a gross exaggeration!"), and his silver-tongued way with the ladies ("Madame, je bande de toi!") he is certainly a character that will stand the test of time. Enseigne Moreau has found that handing out free copies of his book to the men raises morale tremendously. After all, good toilet paper can be hard to come by on a long sea voyage...

Anyway, enough Pete-baiting, on to:


Things got going with an exchange of fire between the Elke's big guns and the emplacement on the mole, where Moreau was directing the gun crew.

Then the previously hidden French gun on the little island joined the party.

The Royale Marines headed off towards the beach to have a look at what was going on. Hearing gunfire, the radio operator frantically began tapping out the distress call, hoping to summon the RNAS planes. He was told to "Calm down" and not be seen to panic in front of the "Frogs." That would be worse than actually losing to the Germans.

"Come on, chaps! Don't lag behind. Last one to the beach is a rotten egg!"

With the Elke giving supporting fire, the plucky Scheherezade ran the gauntlet of the French guns.

The Elke's gunners scored a hit. The smaller French gun was unseated and two of its crew killed.

Moving into a position where she could see the fuel depot, the Elke spoke again with her guns, sending massive columns of smoke and flame into the tropical blue sky.

But by now she was having troubles of her own. Moreau's gunners were begining to take their toll on her. A small fire started on her decks had now spread, and was becoming dangerously out of control, despite the best efforts of the damage control teams.

Things were just getting worse! The Elke was losing men by the bucket load, and soon both the main guns had fallen silent. A problem with the rudder didn't help matters much, either. Moreau's men turned their attention to the Scheherezade , which was now looking extremely small and vulnerable. A few shots and she turned tail and fled back out to sea, her decks washed with blood. With the Elke now unable to silence the defending gun battery, there was nothing for it but to call off the attack.

So still burning, the much-vaunted "Terror of the South Seas" fled with her tail between her legs, which serves Grimm right for the beastly things he said about Cricket. Quite right, too. The French sailors cheered themselves daft, but their joy soon turned to sadness. Lying unnoticed until now on a pile of sandbags was the crumpled body of Moreau. There was not a mark on him, but he sadly lay dead. One of the Elke's barrages must have landed too close for him. So while literary critics in Paris heaved a collective sigh of relief, lovers of swashbuckling action and romance would mourn the news. No more would L'Epée Rose thrust its way through the ballrooms and bedchambers of France...

The Royal Marines sat on the beach and enjoyed the show, but were a little miffed at the way the Froggies had hogged the limelight. The RNAS turned up too late to be of any use and sullenly flew back to Big Coconuts. Worried about the Australian cruisers, Grimm would have to swiftly rendevous with his other prizes and retrieve their crews to replace his losses, and then make a dash for the safety of German Central Africa to make repairs. More of that another day...

Well, from an umpiring point of view the game was an utter disaster. I had hoped for a landing, a fight with the Marines, and some action with the aircraft to make it all a real exciting stew of action. But the German failure to silence the French guns completely put the kibosh on everything. And it was ALL MY FAULT!

A hitherto unspotted flaw or glitch in the rules made it almost impossible for the Elke to hit the battery on the mole, and almost impossible for the battery to miss the Elke. Oh well, call it play-testing, I suppose. At least we've got it sorted now. Funny thing is, it didn't spoil the game for the players at all, they seemed to have a real good time. The German player seemed to revel in the desperate situation he found himself in at the end. So I suppose it just goes to show that with good players, even the most (unintentionally) one-sided of games can be fun for all. And they did take out the smaller gun and the fuel tanks, too...