There are those who believe that the days of the big fleet carrier are over. There are those who believe that they are “too easy to kill.” This is nonsense. Big aircraft carriers are quite hard to kill, like Mason Storm (Steven Seagal). Let’s talk about why.
When first introduced, I, like many others, was not a fan of the PCC Division in USPSA. Frankly, I thought it was rather silly to shoot a carbine at a pistol match, even if the “P” in USPSA stands for Practical. Given some time, I’ve come to reconsider the division. And frankly, I could do with some carbine practice, even if that carbine is firing 9mm rounds. I love shooting carbines. It’s my first shooting love, if I’m to wax romantic for a bit. Anyway, this is an opportunity to get some carbine practice in, with the benefit that I don’t need a rifle-rated backstop. This allows me to get some close-in practice on pistol ranges, which are a bit easier to find in my current area. Plus they’re fun to shoot.
With my goals of ‘fun carbine practice’ in mind, let’s see what I’ll end up getting. I do need a competition-worthy PCC. Since I explicitly want this to drill carbine handling and shooting up close, I can ignore all of the faux-SBR “pistols” out there. I don’t have a desire to fill out a Form 1 on this. My goal, strangely enough, is to buy my PCC, add a red-dot sight of some sort, and get shooting. For once, I’m not looking to build or tinker my way to a solution.
So. Ignore the faux-SBRs and just about anything that isn’t intended as a turnkey-competition gun. And, non-SBR barrels are going to get me closer to the handling of my carbines, which are also not SBRs. I’m also going to require my PCC to use Glock magazines, because those are cheap and good and I already have a lot of them (yes, I have some of the 33-round mags). That disqualifies a lot of perfectly good guns, but I don’t care. These are my criteria.
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I’m getting a JP GMR-15. It’s AR-15 based, so the feel and controls are the same. JP makes really nice stuff, and their 9mm carbines ‘just work’. Like their other carbines. It takes Glock mags, and it even has a functional last round bolt hold open. Not that it matters for a competition gun, but it’s nice to have. Oh, and it can be had with a sweet trigger.
The GMR-15 is a blowback-operated gun, like most other 9mm AR conversions. Technically speaking, a gas-operated gun would be softer. But we’re talking about a 9x19mm round fired from about seven pounds of carbine. Recoil is not going to be an issue. We’re principally concerned with movement of the dot, which can be controlled by adjusting the weights of the buffer and carrier. If we want to.
All that it’s going to need is a dot.
Leading off with a (temporary) new section…
to Restore the Republic of American Football
That section title got away from me a bit. (If it were the Rebel Alliance of American Football, it would be the RAAF! That’s a fun acronym that isn’t in use anywhere else.) Anywho, it’s that awkward time of the sports year which falls between the end of the NFL playoffs and the start of the NFL preseason1, so the Alliance of American Football was an obvious thing to check out.
The short version is, it has promise, some of which is currently unrealized. The long version is, I’m writing a full post, so be patient. In the interests of having some extra fun with the league, I’ve decided to do picks against the spread for the remaining nine weeks of the season.
- Salt Lake Stallions at Birmingham Iron (-6.5): I don’t have a good feel for this one, but I say Salt Lake covers. Birmingham didn’t generate much offense last time out, and a shutdown defense only takes you so far.
- Arizona Hotshots (-10.5) at Memphis Express: Arizona in this one—the Hotshots are the pacesetters in the league right now, and Memphis is realizing that the Christian Hackenburg Show isn’t going to work.
- Orlando Apollos (-6.5) at San Antonio Commanders: I like Orlando in this one. San Antonio looked iffy in their game last week against the Fleet.
- Atlanta Legends at San Diego Fleet (-9.5): Atlanta to cover. I don’t think they’re bad enough to lose by 10 to the Fleet, who (despite being one of my chosen rooting interests this year) are not very good themselves.
- Is artillery underrepresented in today’s armed services? – The Russians would tell you yes, which is why they have artillery all the way down to the battalion level. I’m inclined to at least listen, given that the Russians are (have recently been?) engaged in the Donbass in one of the only near-peer fights in the world.
- Defence Technology Review is always worth a read – Of particular note: Land 400 updates (though no major ones), and Marines to try out UAV-guy-per-squad. That leads to an unwieldy structure, though: three fireteams of three each, plus a command element including the squad leader, assistant squad leader, and UAV operator. If your squad needs a command team, it may be too complicated.
- The first Ford-class carrier is almost ready for service
- Another story on the Fitz crash
- Venezuela’s military holds the key to power in that country – Military of critical importance in dictatorship, water still wet, sky still blue (or possibly gray).
- The USAF says it’s less than two years away from hypersonic missiles – Then we can threaten Chinese carrier groups like the Russians threaten ours!
- Iron Man suit not feasible, SOCOM reluctantly admits
- China considering dropping its no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons
- Canadian diplomats sue Canadian government over Havana Syndrome – Apparently, the Canadian government shrugged off stories of sonic attacks from American diplomats, only to find its own diplomats similarly afflicted some time later.
- Business Insider reports: the Gripen is underrated and awesome – German Eurofighter pilots were taunting Gripen pilots, who then used their full, unrestricted EW setups and flew up on the Eurofighters’ wings. Hot take: EW is better than stealth. Stealth requires design compromises and (sometimes) finicky coatings, and can’t easily be adjusted in the field. EW can be done in software (to a great degree).
- Australia to buy its new submarines from France – I guess they finally worked out the details to their satisfaction. Parvusimperator and I were kind of rooting for the Japanese Soryus.
- South Korea to increase payments for presence of US troops – With companion Polandball strip.
- The F-35B won’t solve Australia’s defense problems – The author asks an interesting question by way of analogy: “[…] if a stray oil rig off the Philippines is a problem for the State Department, and an occupying naval force is a problem for the Pentagon, which solves the problem of an occupying oil rig?” The defense problem China poses to nearby states is two-pronged, and the prong poking harder right now is the diplomatic one.
- M2A5 Bradley canceled, M2A6 Bradley proposed – You might think I’m joking. Nope.
- F-35Bs operating from amphibious assault ships conduct strike exercises with external stores – I wasn’t aware they were that far along.
- In related news, US F-35Bs will join British F-35Bs aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on her first operational deployment – A happy bit of allied nation friendliness, that.
- China building a sixth-generation fighter – Although nobody’s quite sure what sixth-generation means. I think we’re at risk of marketing speak taking over, as it did with the occasional ‘4th+++bis-generation fighter’ designations you see.
- In the 1950s, atomic tests were a Las Vegas tourist draw – Very Fallout.
- Who or what brought down Dag Hammarskjöld? – Moving a decade or so on from Fallout to Bond.
- USS Hornet found
Science and Technology
- The Sum-Product Problem – A Quanta piece, so of course I’m not well-equipped to summarize it, but it was fascinating nevertheless.
- US railways are the most advanced in the world – American travelers use roads more than their European counterparts, but American railways are overwhelmingly more effective at transporting cargo.
- A profile of the founder of Tesla rival Rivian – Rivian is making an electro-SUV and an electro-pickup, both with non-trivial offroad capability.
- The Coriolis effect in rotating space habitats – I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this subject for years, and finally, thanks to this article, I think I have a handle on it.
- Revolvers are passé, says one commentator – Interesting article, but isn’t he 20 or 30 years late to the party?
- The worst phonetic alphabet… in the world
- Facebook has a right to block hate speech, but here’s why it shouldn’t – Broadly, I agree.
- Inside the Cleveland Browns’ front office – It is, in fact, a clown show.
- In old but fun news, the saga of the AAirpass – If I could fly first class wherever I wanted for no additional cost, you can bet I would be taking my wife on the occasional lunch date to Europe.
- Attempting to quantify the money New Star Wars could have made – I don’t agree 100% with the analysis, but it’s a fun thing to try nevertheless. I have in mind a measure (inflation-adjusted Box Office Above Replacement), but I think I’d need more detail on historical movie releases and grosses than I have at present. I’d want to look at the average haul of the top 25 movies in a year to determine the average blockbuster, then adjust for inflation using ticket prices rather than, say, CPI.
- I may be glossing over some other sports somewhat. ↩
Time to do a procurement post for something I have been putting off: Utility Helicopters. This is a really crowded market, and the fact that we can probably get rid of anything on the really large end as being to similar to the CH-47 that we’ve already bought doesn’t help us very much. Since there are so many plausible options, let’s look at what we need, and then throw on some nice-to-haves that could hopefully narrow the field. That’s a lot more interesting than a deep dive into costs, and much more practicable for me (in that I’m actually willing to write it and I don’t need to track down pricing data).
First, just to simplify things a little, we want a fully combat-ready helicopter that’s been purchased by at least one other nation. Probably obvious, but it needs saying. No reinventing the rotor for this.
Next, we want a capacity of about a squad’s worth of men. As I write this, it occurs to me that I haven’t talked as much as I should about organization, and I certainly haven’t talked much about light infantry. We’ll pick ten combat-laden men as the minimum required capacity. Somewhat arbitrary, but that should cover most squad options. Note the emphasis on combat-laden; this is not a question of overall passenger capacity, but immediately usable passenger capacity for men ready to go into the fight.
Cargo capacity isn’t a huge deal, mostly because we already have CH-47s. I have no particular requirements for cargo capacity, other than there should be some. Certainly anything that meets the troop requirement above will have sufficient cargo capacity for our purposes.
We would also require medevac capability, but that is also no great burden, as most utility helicopter models available already have the capability to be easily reconfigured for stretchers.
Clearly, our utility helicopter should also have the ability to mount door guns, but again, this is no great burden. That’s a pretty standard utility helicopter feature. It would also be nice if we could mount pylons with some rockets for some extra support/attack capability. Also no great burden.
Now, let’s get on to some actual, difficult requirements. We’d like versions available with an aerial refueling probe. Specifically, we’d like this to facilitate longer-range search and rescue operations as well as long range special operations deployments. Fulfilling this is actually quite the tall order by the rules of our procurement game.
That gets us nicely to the UH-60 Blackhawk as our overall utility helicopter choice. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s also not the most expensive, and it has the variants we want, namely the HH-60 with the refueling boom. And yes, that variant has been exported to South Korea. The Blackhawk is a proven choice, with plenty of export buys as well as good combat service. It also has an available gunship variant. As we’ll see in another post, it’s also one of the few utility helicopters to have an actual production electronic warfare variant. The Blackhawk is available with a bunch of integrated FLIR options (again, thanks HH-60), and there’s even a couple naval versions, should we want them.
Tom Brady is not the greatest quarterback of all time.
That got your attention, I suspect1. You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone making the claim that Mr. Brady of the Patriots is the greatest of all time, especially at times (like now) when he’s added to his collection of championship jewelry. It’s a popular view, shared by many a sportswriter, but I don’t think it stands up to scrutiny.
We won’t stoop so far as to bandy about the word ‘cheater’. My argument is rooted in statistics. What is Brady best at? As it turns out, none of the headline quarterback numbers. He’s fourth all-time in passing yards and completions, and third all-time in quarterback rating and touchdown passes. Drew Brees is better in all three categories2, and has consistently had a less effective supporting cast. Peyton Manning still has more yards and touchdowns than Brady, and took one season fewer to rack up the numbers. (Manning played 18 seasons. Brady is up to 19.) Aaron Rodgers leads all of them in career quarterback rating by a country mile, and frequently has no surrounding offense of any note. So, why does the sports world think Brady is the best?
Wins. That is, both regular-season wins and playoff wins, where his record is admittedly superb. He’s 237-70 in games he started for a .772 winning percentage, both of which are marks that may stand forever3. Only our own Ben Roethlisberger and Seattle’s Russell Wilson are even close, and by ‘close’ I don’t even mean within .100 (.670 and .668, respectively). In the playoffs, his record is just as good, 30-104, and all six of the Patriots Super Bowl wins.
It’s a pretty wild resume, that’s for sure, but we’ve established that Brady, statistically, is NFL royalty but not the undisputed king. Given that science indicates there is no such quality as clutch, we can’t give Brady the nod for that in our scientific study. To set him apart from the crowd, all we’re left with is his record.
The regular season is easy to explain: the Patriots are a big fish in a small pond. They are joined in the AFC East by three perennial dumpster fires, who they repeatedly thrash year after year en route to an easy playoff berth, coasting on an all-but-guaranteed four to six wins per season. The playoffs require a deeper look.
Or, perhaps, a thought experiment. Why is Drew Brees not making deep playoff runs or winning championships year after year? Remember, clutch isn’t a thing. Given that New England and New Orleans both have top-tier quarterbacks under center, what’s the difference?
Coaching. That, I think, is the real answer here. Without taking anything away from Brady, who is deservedly bound for the Hall of Fame, Bill Belichick is the reason why the Patriots are always contenders.
For one, there’s scheming5. If you follow sports, you’re no doubt familiar with two genres of article: first, those predicting that a game the Patriots are playing in will go in such-and-such a way; second, those following said game which express surprise that it went in an entirely different direction. That’s the true Patriots way: in must-win games, they always play a game which perfectly exploits their opponents’ weaknesses. Look at the Super Bowl: the high-flying (if you’ll permit me the cliche) Rams scored three points, and those only on a long field goal. By playing an unusual defense they have little history with, the Patriots made it hard to plan for their defensive strategy. By using a very north-south style of defensive line play, they took the teeth out of the Rams’ running game, and put so much pressure on Goff that he could never find a rhythm.
For another, there’s personnel. Brady has never had a huge supporting cast, but he’s almost always had at least two good receivers to throw to: usually, a deep threat and an underneath possession guy. This year, it was Edelman and Gronkowski. In 2007, it was Welker and Moss. Belichick has a preternatural talent for finding the right pieces to the puzzle, and they’re rarely big-name stars.
Finally, there’s motivation. Belichick keeps his teams hungry by convincing them nobody is giving them credit, or that everybody has lost faith in their ability to win. This is facially absurd, but it works. All it takes is one iffy loss for the nation’s sportswriters to plaster their front pages with stories about how the Patriots dynasty is over, Brady is decrepit, and Belichick’s devil’s bargain has finally run out. Wallpaper your locker room with those and give the right speech, and bam. A motivated, hungry team.
It’s worth saying that Brady would probably still be a top-tier quarterback talent without Belichick. I don’t think he would have as many rings as he does, though, and I do think that Belichick would be widely regarded as a successful coach even without a superstar quarterback.
I’ll put it to you in the form of a hypothetical. You can have one of these two scenarios: your team retains its head coach but gets Brady as its quarterback; your team retains its quarterback but gets Belichick as its head coach.
I think it’s an obvious choice.
- Unless you aren’t a football fan, but then why are you reading this article? ↩
- At least as of October 18, when the SB Nation article I’m cribbing from was written. I’m not invested enough in this argument to bother with very much research. ↩
- He’s .825 at home, which is absurd. ↩
- Playing in 40 playoff games itself is absurd. Roethlisberger is next on the list at a mere 21. ↩
- In the sense of game planning, not in the sense of nefarious moustache-twirling. ↩
Last week’s call for laptop names was premature, happily. A replacement battery and some marring on the chassis from my jimmying screwdrivers later, and we’re back in action.
- France, not satisfied with the FREMM, is building another quality frigate – “Hon hon, let us show up les Americains again!”
- Older F-35Bs may not last beyond 2025 – That seems like a bit of a problem. The Drive reports they’re running into problems after around 1500 flight hours, with an estimated total life of about 2,100 hours. That is not great.
- Two more Fords coming – The carriers, not the automobiles. Buying two at once saves a few billion dollars, and is also a huge thumbed nose to China. “We aren’t even feeling very competitive yet, and we’re still building two at once.”
- Sending the Navy into the Arctic for FONOPS is dangerous – Not because of a lack of ice-melting gear on the ships themselves, but because of a lack of icebreakers. A trip whose purpose is to annoy Russia (and Canada, don’t forget) which risks getting a ship stuck in ice and then requires Russian or Canadian assistance is a bad investment.
- James Holmes: does the Navy really need to worry about fleet size? – In which we are reminded that hull count is a terrible measure, given that a 4000-ton LCS is basically useless but a 200-ton catamaran with a bunch of missiles on it is not. James Holmes, a perennial favorite here, is writing a book called A Brief Guide to Naval Strategy, due out in November. That’s going to be a day 1 buy for at least one of us.
- Rhodesian mine ambush protected vehicles – A Weaponsman classic.
- Germany’s putting Trophy APS on Leopard IIs – Parvusimperator’s current tank and active protection system preferences, all in a handy package.
- USAF light attack testing program stalls – What the Soviets call frontal aviation really should be an Army concern.
- Navy’s ‘Magic Carpet’ system makes carrier landings much easier – To the point where a reporter could pull them off (in a simulator, of course). That’s something else.
- China aiming to build four nuclear carriers – I, for one, welcome the 21st-century naval arms race to come.
- Forgotten Weapons on the Colt CK901 – It’s an AR-15-pattern rifle in 7.62×39, designed for the Yemeni military. It has some nifty features you don’t find in presently-available 7.62×39 ARs. I could see myself buying one, if they ever release it for the American shooting public.
- Oracle continues comic book supervillainy – By auditing Java users and attempting to wring license fees out of them for uses in violation of terms.
- Do e-cigarettes help people quit smoking? – They help people quit smoking cigarettes, at any rate. I suspect they are not so good at helping people quit vaping.
- A brewing Bitcoin scam? – QuadrigaCX is a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange whose founder recently died. The sub-bullets following are wild conspiracy-theorizing, based in part on the article above.
- Gerry Cotten, the deceased, is claimed to have died in India of Crohn’s disease. He is Canadian, however, and lived in Canada. Crohn’s is not generally a fatal condition except in severe, poorly-managed cases. Severe-unto-death cases make long airline flights unlikely, for reasons of lavatory availability.
- According to the blog post above, Quadriga’s story (that much of the exchange’s crypto reserves were in an offline wallet on an encrypted laptop) doesn’t jive with known transactions. Quadriga was paying withdrawals with new deposits, and a large amount of Bitcoin left Quadriga’s known online wallets by way of another exchange.
- If I were looking to con a bunch of people and run away somewhere, a destination like India, where English is widely spoken, a life of luxury is readily and cheaply available, and local officials are not entirely above bribery, would be high on my list. So also would a cryptocurrency exchange be high on my list of methods.
The 6.8 mm SPC cartridge was designed to improve the firepower of US special operations forces without requiring the issuing of an entirely brand new rifle. It’s one of many alternative calibers for the AR-15. While it had the backing of Remington, and was designed with the help of some active special operations forces, a number of issues have come up to get in the way of its popularity. These include (in no particular order) two different SAAMI specifications for the cartridge, more effective 5.56 mm cartridges, ready availability of 7.62x51mm carbines, a whole bunch of other important gear that’s not going to pay for itself, and the round not being a non-NATO standard has mean that it hasn’t been adopted by the organizations that worked to develop it. However, a middle eastern special forces unit has adopted the weapon as a compact carbine. Let’s take a look.
This unit contracted with LWRC for the gun, with the goal of having a very short barrel (8.5″) and plenty of firepower. Given a relatively large order of more than 30,000 carbines, LWRC decided to make some changes. To ensure reliable feeding, they worked with Magpul to design 6.8-specific magazines. These are wider than standard AR-15 magazines, and the magwell on the new guns was widened to accept them. The new magazines have that same great windowed PMAG design, hold 30 rounds, and weigh 1.32 lbs fully loaded.
Other than the aforementioned 8.5″ barrel, the rifle has a quadrail handguard, pistol-length buffer tube, PDW-length stock, and a short-stroke gas piston system. The top rail of the handguard is removable to clean or service the gas piston. The rifle is the SIX8-UCIW. A version with a longer barrel, as well as an SBR version are available for civilian purchase, though obviously without select fire capability.
LWRC also worked with ATK (the parent company of Speer) to get a round that would function well in a rather short barrel. ATK obliged with a special round that will do the job, even with military flash suppressants. And yes, it’s SPC II spec.
Ok, what do we think? Well, it’s a solid execution of the “PDW” concept for a protective detail rather than for rear echelon troops. A short, relatively light package with plenty of firepower is exactly what this will deliver. I’m not a big fan of ‘nonstandard’ cartridges for general issue (who, admittedly are not expected to have super-short 8.5″ barrels), but I like the thought process here. Another tool in the toolbox, and one that fills a useful niche at that.
Yup, it’s a Thursday entry again, but only because I spent yesterday’s lunch break working, last night finishing today’s scheduled post, and this morning attempting to resuscitate my laptop.
So, uh, anyone have favorite fictional AIs and computers? I think I’m going to need a new computer name in the near future.
- Austal under investigation for bookkeeping? – More as it develops.
- The Royal Navy’s frigate-building schedule – TLDR: the Type 23 frigates are getting retired in the mid-2020s. The Type 31e frigates will therefore have to be built, finished with sea trials, and ready to enter service in about four years after the contract is awarded. Seems unlikely.
- “When Task & Purpose asked [Army spokesman] Esper why the Army needs artillery that can lob a shell up to 1,000 miles, Esper explained the U.S. military needs to outrange enemy guns – I want this guy to answer more questions. “We need 20-megaton bombs so we can out-explode enemy IEDs. We need more helicopters so we can out-cool enemy handheld fans.”
- Two KC-46s delivered – Putting an end to a long, twisted, and lawsuit-fraught journey.
- USNI News with a little roundup of the lasting damage following the Fat Leonard scandal – Imagine being known to history as Fat Leonard. I don’t know much about the original scandal, but I think he’s the sort of guy I’d keep on prison-retainer, as it were. If you end up with a war, a moderately corrupt but otherwise loyal scrounging expert is just the kind of port agent you want.
- Video of an explosive Tu-22M3 crash – Possibly unsettling if you realize you’re watching several people die, so skip the click if that sounds bad to you. We briefly discussed the initial incident report on Discord, too.
- Pirates of the Caribbean, 2019 edition – As it turns out, when you’re a Venezuelan fisherman who used to work for the now-nationalized fishing companies, kidnap and ransom of the Trinidad and Tobago-flagged fishermen right off your coast starts to look awfully tempting.
- The Air Force is confident in New Space – As well they should be, in my estimation.
- Hawkeye and Brutus, artillery-on-a-truck systems for the US Army – That’s a 105mm-on-an-HMMWV, and a 155mm-on-an-unspecified-medium-tactical-vehicle. For once, an Army system which isn’t overspecified.
- The LCS mission packages are all terrible – Except for the variable depth sonar in the ASW package, but that’s a small bit of shine in a large pile of crap.
- Is China preparing its population for war with Taiwan?
- Parvusimperator presents an MP5 clone – Not wanting to be left out after the SHOT roundup. (Incorrect: he submitted this prior to that post.)
- Big Army seeks squad fire control system for next-gen small arms – False assumption in headline: the Army will ever get its act together enough to buy next-gen small arms.
History in Pictures (Mostly)
- The US Carrier fleet laid to in Ulithi lagoon – Photo from early 1945, features eleven aircraft carriers. In early 1943, there was one active, undamaged American aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
- The cruiser Аврора, which fired the shot which signaled revolutionaries to storm the palace in St. Petersburg – I’ve been there in person, but that was before they repaired and repainted her a few years ago. Also, I didn’t get an overhead shot.
- On ship rigs and performance to windward – Nothing I didn’t know already, but well-presented and easy-reading, with the added benefit of some diagrams to clarify some of the mechanics.
- Undersea cable damage wipes out Tonga’s Internet – Infrastructure is always more fragile than you realize.
- Like coffee? How about SPACE ROASTED COFFEE? – Or rather, coffee roasted by reentry heat. Except it isn’t heated directly by reentry heat, of course, just by a heat exchanger. Also, given launch costs and the amount of coffee it takes to make a cup, we’re looking at about $500 per cup.
- GDPR used to attack the free press – Unintended consequences? In my vast and complicated system of regulation? Shock!
- We at the Soapbox are watching out for you, which is why we present this travel advisory – Yes, only just now has the State Department issued a Do Not Go advisory for Venezuela.
- In Japan, you’re expected to throw a $10,000 party if you hit a hole in one in golf – So there’s insurance for it, and despite the fact that it would be easy to cheat, almost nobody does, because golf is a gentleman’s game, and gentlemen don’t cheat their insurance companies.
The clunkily-named Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is, at its core, a turn-based tactical wargame set on the battlefields of Asia during the Sengoku period, developed by Byzantine Games and published by Slitherine.
That sells it short, though.
The Sengoku period is a fascinating time in Japanese history, familiar to anyone who’s played a Total War game with ‘Shogun’ in the title. Competing daimyo fought for the title of shogun, de facto ruler of Japan. Usefully, at least for wargame designers, it was a century or so of near-constant war.
Sengoku Jidai has a number of expansions which extend it well beyond Japan in the 16th century, to China and Korea in the same era, all the way back to Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries. With the exception of gunpowder, warfare in those eras was broadly similar, so I won’t make too much of the differences. (Also, my interest in the era mainly runs toward the Sengoku period, and that’s what I’ve played extensively, so I’ll stick with talking about it.)
I can’t find a solid source to confirm or deny that the battlefield rules in Sengoku Jidai are based on a tabletop wargaming system, but it feels like they could be. They’re clean and simple.
Movement is on a square grid. Combat is pretty mathy, but comes down to Points of Advantage which affect the result, and which are gained or lost based on many of your typical wargame conditions. (Think spears against horses, rough terrain and disorder, morale, and so on.) Turning units is hard, as is shifting them long distances; they’re fairly slow, and 45-degree turns are about as much as you can manage without running out of action points. Units outside of their generals’ command range are even less mobile, an unusual but sensible design choice. Rather than stack up more combat modifiers, generals simply yield a more flexible, better-coordinated force. Works for me.
When units get into melee combat, they usually stay there for a few turns, wearing each other down and slowly inflicting losses until someone breaks. Once units get into close combat, you lose control over them, and even if your unit routs its opponent, you may not get control back—units automatically pursue routers, and may charge enemies in their paths.
There are good tutorials, both in the sense of tutorial missions and in the sense of tutorial popups explaining events as they happen, and between those and the elegance of the rules, it’s easy to get to grips with the system and start with the generalship.
Finally, for the cost of entry, you get a random map generator, a random battle generator, some historical scenarios, and some dynamic campaigns (simple ones, but enough to contextualize battles). Even the base game gets you the Sengoku Jidai campaigns and the Imjin War, I believe. If you enjoy the gunpowder- and artillery-heavy armies of the latter, I’d recommend picking up the Mandate of Heaven DLC, too, which buys you expanded Chinese factions and four more dynamic campaigns.
I don’t have a lot to say here. The sounds are competent but uninspired, though the music is pleasantly atmospheric. The unit graphics are little groups of men and horses, more in the vein of counters than anything else. The landscapes are quite pretty, to the extent that they can be given the square grid they have to fit, and have a whiff of Japanese landscape painting about them in color palette and design.
One notable trouble spot is the lack of anti-aliasing, which is a bother for a game featuring spearmen aplenty. Another is that units don’t shrink as you batter them. A 1500-man unit of yari ashigaru looks the same at full strength as it does after losing 600 men, the only difference being a more tattered flag. As far as I’m aware, there’s no game mechanic which requires easy knowledge of a unit’s original size, so I count this as a flaw.
If you’ve read any of my previous wargame reviews, you’ll probably remember that verisimilitude is just about my favorite word in this kind of article. The point of a wargame is not to simulate every arrow and every man down to the smallest wound. The point of a wargame is to evoke a sense of place.
So, what is evocative about Sengoku Jidai’s gameplay? What puts me in the mindset of a field commander in 16th-century Asia?
First: deployment is crucial. On the scale of a battlefield, infantry is slow. Even cavalry takes a while to get where you want it. If you deploy your main body poorly, you can easily lose a battle you should have won. If you deploy your main body well, taking advantage of the terrain and the strengths of your units, you can win battles you might otherwise have lost.
Second: loss of control is rapid. Once the lines crash together, the outcome is largely out of your hands, except insofar as you contribute to key points with flanking maneuvers. As the general in command of an army, your responsibility is to deploy your forces well and, on the approach, meet weak points in the enemy’s deployment with strength. That seems accurate to me.
Like all the best wargames, when I get into the groove, it doesn’t feel like a game, in spite of the tabletop feeling of the rules. I give it my recommendation.
It’s available on Steam, but doesn’t work with Steam Play/Proton/Wine on my Mint 19.1 system, and as far as I know, doesn’t have high-DPI support.
Here, you’ll find our selections for most interesting things from SHOT 2019.
Best Optic: Aimpoint Acro P-1
I like more options for my pistol optics, and Aimpoint has a great red dot sight track record. Seeing as there have been several revisions to the current sights targeted at the market, this late entry might still make a strong showing.
Best Pistol We’ve Been Wanting For Years: Glock 48
Seems a no-brainer to put ten rounds in something that’s Glock 19 sized, but thinner. For those who prefer carrying a slimmer pistol, are happy with (or legally restricted to) ten rounds, and want something to just work. Fortunately, Glock has finally delivered. I hope they put the time into getting this to work without issues.
Best Knife: Ka-Bar TDI Flipper Folder
Previous knives from the Ka-Bar/TDI partnership have been fixed blade. They’re generally well thought out and come in at a reasonable price. This one is also well thought out, also at a good price point. And it folds.
Best In Show: Walther Q5 Match SF
This had a soft launch before SHOT, but was there and was a star of range day. For more on this pistol, look at my write-up. This is also the product on this list that’s most likely to be purchased by me. I’m happy to see the best striker-fired handgun trigger get a cool steel frame for competition.
Best Glock In Disguise: Faxon Firearms FX-19
Building a polymer-framed striker-fired pistol is basically trivial nowadays. Start with a box of Glock parts and some calipers, and soon after, voila. Faxon Firearms gets bonus points for very aggressive styling and being known less as a gunmaker and more as a barrel manufacturer.
Best Video Game-Inspired Accessory: Radetec Glock Slide Shot Counter
Already known for round counters in smart grips, Radetec has gone further and made a smart slide which indicates whether there is a round in the chamber, how many are left in the magazine, and whether a magazine is inserted at all. Straight from the pages of your favorite dystopian fiction or the in-universe UI of your favorite sci-fi game.
Best Kel-Tec Vaporware: CP-33
Alternate heading: Most Innovative Magazine Design. The CP-33’s magazine is a double-double-stack design, which holds 33 rounds of .22LR out of the box, or 50 with an extended magazine. If only I could get one with a giggle switch.
Best MP5 Clone: Palmetto State Armory
It’s a true, roller-delayed MP5 clone, with nice Magpul furniture and a price tag HK would scoff at: $1100. I won’t be buying one, but it’s nice to see someone in America making a reasonably priced replica gun. I wonder if I could get them to do a Mauser C96 clone…
Best In Show: Franklin Armory’s Providence
A magazine-fed, manually-operated rifle where all you have to do is pull the trigger. By using a long pull and presumably a lot of leverage, the Providence trigger cycles the bolt and fires the next round all in one motion. A delightfully clever poke in the eye to jurisdictions with bad firearms law.