Enfilade: The Battle of Hue and other stories

Setting up for the game. David Sullivan left. Yours truly right. Photo by Warren Bruhn.

My favorite part of Enfilade is hosting games, which I usually do with a close friend. This Enfilade was no different, and David Sullivan and I ran a couple of games together. The big project of the year, of course, was Hue and we scheduled ourselves to run it Friday night.

Hue is/was my most elaborate project ever, certainly more involved terrain pieces than I’ve ever done. I’m mostly a paint the figures kind of guy with simple terrain. Because Hue is an urban battle, I thought we’d play with a gray ground cloth. When Dave Schueler and David Sullivan came down in the weekend before the convention to walk through a final set-up we talked over cutting green felt to overlay the gray to signify the boundaries between the roads and green areas. We quickly realized this was a really terrible idea, and the gray ground cloth quickly became roads 8″ wide, equal to a turn’s movement in the game.

Because the board is pretty darn busy it took a lot of time to set up. I think the most stressed out I was at the beginning of the convention was trying to figure out how I was going to get the game ready while doing my director duties Friday afternoon. I pursuaded myself and our events coordinator that it was okay to move me to a vacant 8′ X 6′ table and get started early. David arrived mid afternoon, and well before game time we were ready to go.

David and I experimented with rules throughout the spring. We tried the ancient Giac My rules from the 70’s. They had a certain charm mixed in with verbosity and conditions we’d never encounter. Nice for nostalgia. Not so nice for a convention game. We really thought we’d use Ganesha Games’ Flying Lead rules. We really like the Ganesha game engine, but after walking through the rules a couple of times with the necessary sub-units we were concerned it might be difficult for conventioneers to figure out the nuances.

David suggested Arc of Fire, an aging set of skirmish rules by Chris Pringle and Scott Fisher. We tried them out and they seemed to work. It allowed us to give each player a squad, divided into three fire teams. The units are small and subject to quick catastrophe, but we learned that if moving from cover to cover, the Marines had a good chance of survival.

We were fortunate that we had a full house of early sign ups. Nobody dropped out as Covid cancellation casualties, a problem afflicting many games at the convention. Dean and Scott signed on as NVA defenders with a couple of squads backed up by a DsHK heavy machine gun. They were dispersed throughout the two blocks the Marines were trying to capture. Scott, Wil, Reid and James signed up to be the Marine attackers. The onus of the battle was on them. To win they had to drive the North Vietnamese from their defenses, capture the houses, and minimize their casualties. It was a tall order to fulfill.

The Marines arranged one flank squad, commanded by Scott on the far left. The two remaining squads plus the heavy weapons assigned to them directly facing the citadel at the far end of the table. Wil and Reid commanded the two rifle squads while James ran the two M-60 medium machine gun teams, plus an M48A3 tank and a Mule mounted 106mm recoilless rifle.

The game got underway with an explanation of the victory conditions, capture buildings-minimize casualties. Be smart, use cover. As if to put an exclamation point on things, Wil sent one of fire teams across the street only to have all four members slaughtered in a hail of gunfire. All that was left was a pool of blood. From that moment on, the Marines systematically approached each house, and confronted the defenders with gunfire and if need be cannon fire. No more chancing it on the road.

Despite support from his two additional fire teams, Wil’s first group never had a chance. They disappeared in a bloody mist.

on Wil’s right, Reid carefully moved to the blind ends of buildings without risking fire. He carefully picked around the right side, fought a melee in one house and threw out Dean’s defenders. He also moved against the large yellow building near the board edge.

James did his best to offer support. With his two M-60’s he was able to help shoot up some of Dean’s building defenders. However it was clear he didn’t know what to do with the tank. With the commander buttoned up, he simply couldn’t see enough to target his cannon or machine guns. Unbuttoning the commander would almost certainly invite his quick death. Moving too close would likely offer too much of a target to suspected RPG’s that couldn’t be seen, so the tank offered some cover for advancing infantry, which is pretty historical.

The Mule, however, brought down two houses with its cannon, spilling and killing defenders. It had some special concerns because the little utility vehicle is completely open to fire, and on the last turn of the game was damaged by an RPG with the crew wounded.

Scott worked around the wooded left flank, able to avoid the fire crashing down on Wil, Reid and James. He eventually moved against the defenders in the last house on his block. After persistent fire they were eliminated with slight loss. Things were looking up for the Marines, but unfortunately the game ended at 10:45 ish.

The Marines had unquestionably played well and made gains but took too many casualties to get the win. The NVA had their noses quite bloodied but still held too much of the town. A great game, well-played. Except for some rule confusion we did eventually get figured out, I really enjoyed it and would love to play again.

Our second game was the Retreat From Concord. It was a game we ran in 2019. It’s a game we were really excited about re-running because it was a success. It went reasonably well, but it was as a much a Covid casualty as the convention because we couldn’t make time to walk through and play test. So we struggled a bit with the rules, which was unfortunate. We hadn’t played Rebels and Patriots since February 2020. Sigh.

The game is simple. The British grenadiers must march about 52″ or so to within 12″ of the table edge. The American patriot militia bands do their best to work their way to firing positions to drive them stop them. It’s a tough game for the grenadier commander. However, on both flanks there are five units of British light infantry to drive off the nasty Americans.

The patriot forces are many, but brittle, but in this game the Brits just seemed to get out-shot. Lots of Americans were able to form little lines of death that the light infantry was unable to dislodge. As more militia crept closer to the stone walls lining the road, the grenadiers simply bogged down in a hail of fire. Tough day. Even so the game was pretty close with the Yanks defeating the Royal forces 7-5.

Photos of other games in the final blog entry.

Just Walk A-Hue Renee

Sorry, I confess a silent love for the Left Banke and their big 1966 hit. Critics call their music “baroque pop,” and so it is.

While the song is about lost love and a broken heart, this post is more about wrapping up a project and moving on to something else. Anything else.

The Hue project is also a Vietnam project, though I confess my attraction to Hue. I’ve written about that before. It’s unlike the “real” Vietnam. What is the “real” Vietnam? Tim O’Brien wrote about it in “The Things They Carried” when his platoon found the courage to march every day despite the persistent danger of setting off mines, having legs blown off and enduring the eternal anger of the villagers they encountered not far from or long after My Lai.

No, Hue is different. Our game, co-authored with David Sullivan, will be an old fashioned street fight. The figures are done. A playtest was run. The buildings are done. We just have a couple more things to pin down, then the game gets run Friday night at Enfilade.

As projects go, it was relatively small. I think I projected painting 115-125 figures. I painted more than that, but not a lot more. I have 75 Marines, all by Gringo 40’s. I also have three American vehicles: a M-48A3 Patton tank by Company B Miniatures, a M274 “Mule” weapons carrier with 106mm recoilless rifle by Gringo 40’s, and a M-50 Ontos by Empress Miniatures. I’ll say a word or three about the vehicles later.

I have 30 NVA figures. All are Gringo 40’s except for the DsHK heavy machine gun and crew by Empress Miniatures. Add to those 31 Viet Cong by Gringo 40’s plus 16 civilian figures by Empress Miniatures.

That puts my figure count at 152, so a few more than I planned. Of course there is the matter of the 15 unpainted ARVN figures. I can imagine adding more figures if G 40 adds more to their ranges, but it won’t be a big add.

I know I’ve written about the Gringo figures before. I think they’ve done a super job. These are large figures with lots of detail, but not too much. The Marines have a lot of different poses and are well-suited for Hue. I still think there are things that need adding. A corpsman figure, a heavy machine gun for the Marines and NVA, maybe a gun truck if they decide to expand their vehicles.

Gringo 40’s Marines

I’ve painted a small handful of the Empress figures. No Marines. They also detailed, enough to be considered elegant, but quite a bit smaller than the Gringo figures. They are the civilians who can also morph into combatants as well as the NVA heavy machine gun and crew. The gun and crew fit in well, mostly because they are all crouched or seated. The civilians work fine because they are civilians. There are some intriguing Empress offerings, but I think I’ll mostly swear off due to the distinct size difference.

My Hue buildings are done at last. They are a different add for me. I don’t have tons of terrain bits for ANY of my projects. Trees fine, rivers yes, some roads and a few buildings, but the nine Hue houses and the large citadel building are a lot. 3D printed, with a lot of sanding required to reduce the printing striations, they turned out well. I’m also adding pins to hold the two levels of the houses together during game times. They are nice and add a certain something to the game. I’ve also scratchbuilt some of the walls that are needed to play the game. That was actually a very good experience for me. Just getting the chance to do some simple work with foamcore was a confidence builder.

A few words (!!) about vehicles. I am not a vehicle guy. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t have a lot of experience working with them. My projects don’t call for them. So my decision to buy and build a few was a lot like being thrown into an ice cold bath. Some were easy to work with and some were harder. I’ll do a quick review of my experience with the kits in the order I built them.

Let’s start with the Gringo 40’s Mule with 106mm recoilless gun. All pieces are metal and it comes with three crew members. The crew members are all excellent and meet G40’s’ high standards. I especially like the loader figure. Lots of bits on the Mule. I know we’re shooting for authenticity and detail here, but the kit is underserved by a paucity of directions. I found myself looking at the teeny, tiny picture and the bunch of teeny tiny pieces and going “huh?” Two items in particular received my ire. The first is the steering wheel/gear shift which in a perfect world should sort of fit in the driver’s hand. Look I’m not that picky, but with a complete lack of clarity where that assembly actually goes, the spiffy set up with the driver just doesn’t matter. The other thing that made me cranky were the railing pieces. These are nicely made and fit the miniature well, but by the time they arrived in my hands these long thin pieces were like so much over-cooked spaghetti, and straightening them to some usable appearance was a bit of a trial. In the end, the miniature looks great, though I wish I hadn’t put the loader on a separate stand. That’s on me.

The Company B M48A3 seemed like such a behemoth when I opened it. I worked a bit with my friend Michael who has a ton more experience with vehicles and is also a Company B shareholder. I popped open the kit and was amazed at all the cool stuff. It was a bit light on directions, but there wasn’t a mystery about where everything was supposed to go. Two things that really impressed me were the fit of all the main bits, especially the metal tracks with the resin hull, and the many variations that could be done. The M-48 was in service for a long time in a lot of places so it seemed if you the builder was interested in Western Europe or Vietnam or someplace else there were lots of optional bits. I chose to take the machine gun out of the rotating cupola and mount it on a pintle and failing to use my head promptly glued it down in the absolutely wrong place. I did “unglue” it and move it to a location more suitable. It was a fun build, even for a neophyte, and I love the way it turned out.

I ordered the M-50 Ontos by Empress because it looks weirdly cool and had such important impact on the fighting in Hue. The Empress kit has several things going for it. There are no unnecessary bits to confuse me, and the Empress website has four very useful photos of the completed model, so there are some pretty good views of where everything goes. However, there are some unfortunate issues too. The hull is resin, and so are the tracks w/fenders. The great thing about the M-48 and its metal tracks is the crispness of the casting. There is no question about fit. The resin Ontos tracks are not crisp, required lots of sanding and still did not fit properly. It required lots of green stuff to fill gaps–and in close examination still did not fit right. My other big issue is with the turret. An Ontos only has sort of a turret. It’s really just a moving cradle to house the six recoilless rifles. The turret/cradle is small and resin. The cannon are all metal, each much heavier than the cradle. Gluing those guns and keeping them straight and parallel on the very light mounting became part of the “no-fun-zone.” While not wildly askew, they aren’t straight despite my best efforts with CA glue, CA glue accelerant, two part epoxy, all the tools at my disposal. I like the relative simplicity of the kit. It has nice detail. But it’s a little too buggy for someone who is a sort of novice with kits like this. Not sure I’d try this again. Maybe someone who is a better model builder than me.

In any case the kits are done, the figures are done and I’m looking forward to doing something else for a while. Not sure exactly what I’ll move on to, but I may not focus for a while. I’m interested in working on my piles of Spanish-American War figures, some AWI for Regimental Fire and Fury, and 1/1250 ships for the Russo-Japanese War