Friday, 16 February 2018

The Simple Life

It's been a couple of weeks since the last post as I haven't been doing any wargaming due to work commitments and a few other things. I have, however, been able to work on my WSS rules that were trialled in the last posting.

So the rules have been out with a couple of people for comment, and the feedback has been very helpful. I've also taken the radical step of reading some books on the subject. This has proved to be quite illuminating, as it seems my memory isn't quite what it was. It seems that my recollections of the research I did for the Seven Years War when I was a student has crossed over a bit with the WSS, and rather contaminated the knowledge pool.

So, a few revisions required. Nothing that requires me to change the core mechanism, which looks remarkably robust. I like games to have unifying mechanisms. I'm not a great fan of, for example, using dice for shooting, cards for melee and dominoes for movement.

The challenge is to produce a quick playing interesting game where lines of infantry blazing at one another doesn't become dull, and you can capture some of the key battlefield tactics. The way cavalry retires behind infantry and reforms at Blenheim is important, and most writers stress the way Marlborough, and also Eugene and Tallard, tried to produce an all arms battle.

All the time the need is to keep this clear and straight forward. I was hoping for two pages of A4, but I'm up to five. Some of that is the introductory stuff about unit basing and so on, and I tend to be generous with the white space and size of print to make them readable.

Some times it is complicated to make things simple.

Anyhow, they need to be put on one side for the moment, as they're not being used to Monday, when my board gaming buddy is coming over for a day of figure gaming. Before then we've got a multi-location telephone game of the Pueblo Crisis.

We've got the Soviet Union in Sheffield, China in Stirling, South Korea and the USA in London, and North Korea in Shedquarters.

We've tested the comms this afternoon and it's all looking good.

Which strangely enough, proved to be simpler than expected.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Going to War

Last week I had another of my regular nostalgic SPI style board game days with Gary. We had a go at WWW's "Decision at Kasserine". It provided us with 6 or so hours of entertainment before we discovered we had got the deployment really wrong. Some good mechanisms tho'. The German player (me) doesn't know his victory conditions until half way through the game. That's challenging.

It also had some rules I didn't quite grasp in terms of their significance at the start. I needed time to sit and look at the counters and the map with the rules for a few hours before playing, instead of being stuck in a hotel in Belfast.

This was a first time play for it. Like a number of games in Gary's collection it was mint & unpunched.

I am finding the counters a bit fiddly for my aged fifty plus fingers now, especially once we get stacks of counters attacking en masse. I think I was doing okay when we had to finish.

Gary remarked that he had a few (?) games from the Marlburian period - I had quite a good one on Blenheim I recall, back in the day - and I , noticing he had acquired a copy of Henry Hyde's Wargamers Companion, suggested we could do a table top WSS game for our next meet up in Shedquarters.

(Little by little we will turn Gary into a toy soldier man. Partly because the game units are less fiddly than cardboard counters. And also because it is easier to tell what units are if there are actually models of them on the table.)

Well, Gary says that's a good idea as long as I send him the rules beforehand. Of course, says I. It then occurs to me when driving home that I've never actually written a set of WSS rules. All I've got on my shelves suitable for the period are Black Powder and the rules Richard L was writing that I seem to have lost. So, technically, they're not on my shelves at all.

Light bulb moment. WSS is my project for the next COW. Fast (ish) play rule for my 20mm plastics. And I need a working prototype for the end of February.

No problem. A few ideas came to me whilst I was driving home, and some others whilst I was asleep. I've decided not to go "squared" this time, so that will present some challenges as I haven't done that for a while, so that'll be refreshing to try. An hour or two on Sunday was all it took to get most of my ideas straight. The core mechanisms are in place, capturing the ideas I want, I just now need to sort the fine detail.

I also need some more units. Alas it seems that Airfix Washington's Army are now very rare, and are going for silly money on ebay. Anyone who knows me - if you have any in an old box, regardless of paint condition, let me know.

Phil was able come over for a play test this afternoon. It was a fairly gentle run through, - we have other things to discuss on the Edgcote project as well, - so we probably got about an hour's play in a three hour period. It went like this.

I'm the French, on the left. Phil is Anglo-Dutch, on the right. Most of my infantry is in march column. Phil's is in a mixture of march column or line.

I set off with my mission to capture the cross roads. I needed to hold the flanks, or delay them, as Phil has more cavalry. And more guns. Which soon started to do a lot of damage (die rolling was lucky, but they are too powerful at long range)

My cavalry is shaping up to face Phil's as they trot forwards. I aim to take him at the halt, and shoot him off with my carbines, before counter attacking.

I'm pushing forwards in the middle, putting off the moment when I have to choose my battlefield formation. You can only fight in either line or attack column. Once you have deployed from march column to either of these you can't change formation again. Keeping units in march column keeps them flexible, but also vulnerable.

The cavalry clash at last. It's a bit raggedy as some British refuse to charge home. My carbines are reasonably effective.

The centres are closing as the cavalry surge back and forwards. Lots of notes are being taken on the rule sheet.

Photograph of British infantry lining a hedge because, well, why not?

My lead units on my right are in attack column, but they've taken some pasting.

We're pressing on in the centre, hoping to overwhelm by sheer force of numbers.

Finally, some infantry open fire. It's the British Grenadiers!

One of Phil's badly beaten up cavalry units tries to turn the flank of my line. They baulk at the charge order.

Some of my stuff is running away now in the centre and on my left.

And my right isn't all that clever either. Time to finish with the British on top.

Lots of things to update in the rules, but they're definitely going in the right direction.

And Phil says he's got some boxes of Washington's Army he can spare. And some cuirassiers.

Yes. An afternoon well spent.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

La Ultima Cruzada - Review


At last Bob has completely revised his source book on the Spanish Civil War. This is the third edition and the book, although primarily aimed at wargamers, has now become simply a "Spanish Civil War Military Source Book". And the author is self publishing.

Bob has been researching, wargaming and writing about the SCW for a long time. Probably as long as I've known him, which is over 30 years. So there's a lot of work gone into this book.

Physically the book is hardback with a dust jacket, and has 276 pages. At £25 it isn't cheap or expensive, and for what it contains it's worth the money. As Bob is self publishing don't hang around waiting for Dave Lanchester or Dave Ryan to pick up a load of copies and discount to £10. They're being printed on demand

The book is a source book, exactly as it says. It is a series of sections packed with facts and figures. The sections of text in amongst the tables of armaments and units are clearly written and unambiguous. There are 6 sections and a Bibliography:

1) Political parties and main events chronology
2) The Armies of the SCW (divided by type & faction)
3) The Navies of the SCW
4) The Air Forces of the SCW
5) Police and security forces
6) Uniform guide.

Each of the sections is thoroughly researched and supported by appropriate pictures and illustrations. The only false step, in my opinion, is the use of photos of 54mm wargames figures in the uniforms section. Although I understand why Bob has done this, I never like the look of these types of pictures, particularly as they are embedded in the text and not on glossy paper, in this case, so some definition is lost. Still they serve a purpose and so on balance the book is better with them than without.

I think it is hard to stress how good some of this book is. All of it is good, but the section that gives a chronology of the main events is exceptionally clear and coherent. That isn't an easy feat to perform for the SCW, and it stands comparison with any other summary I have read, including those by the very well known historians in the bibliography. The mass of data assembled on weapons and units is breath taking in the details and thoroughness. I can't think of another book like it for any period I'm interested in.

I only have a couple of other reservations, - or rather, areas where I think Bob might have missed a trick. His descriptions of low level unit organisations are okay for the regular armies but unnecessarily weak for the security forces. I'm a fan of wiring diagrams showing battalions broken down into companies and so on. This isn't always possible for SCW units due to the ad-hoc nature of the war, but Bob has the information and it would have enhanced the look of the book. The other point is a pet peeve of mine. The bibliography includes Hemingway's "For Whom..." but ignores Andre Malraux's "Days of Hope" ("L'espoir"). I think the latter is a much better book in terms of writing and also description of the war itself (admittedly from the air) and tends to get overlooked by Anglophile authors. Seek it out on Abebooks and read it. There's a Penguin edition. There's also a lot more self-published International Brigade memoirs from the 1990s (Bob has some of the Gosling Press stuff listed) about and finding it isn't easy. Knowing it exists is a start.

All of these reservations are nitpicking, and I only mention them because of the disclaimer at the top. Bob is a friend and I don't want people to dismiss this review on the grounds that I would say that, wouldn't I. Well, I've paid for my own copy and I've tried to be thorough. In summary:

*****5 Stars - Buy this book NOW

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Bodging with Basic Impetus

I wrote last year about my games with Basic Impetus and how I was unhappy with some of the outcomes as we tried to refight Parataikene with them. I have since raised a few questions on the BI forum and it has been pointed out to me where I was playing the game wrong. Basically (!), however, the game is as it is written as far as players and designers are concerned.

I still have issues, however. If I do Parataikene again - and I will -  I'll end up with the same off-kilter result. The same applies to other Successor battles we have had  a go at, as some troop types aren't doing what they're supposed to.

So, after some thinking, this is my list of amendments that I'll be using going forward:

BASIC IMPETUS - Parataikene Amendments

CL Shooting: CL shoot with all dice in all directions, and do not suffer a deduction for moving.

Elephants: Represent elephants with two elephant models and two skirmishers bases. Modify factors to VBU 4, I 5. Elephants deny Impetus to Mounted Troops WHICH MAY NOT CHARGE THEM, and keep Impetus bonus even when not fresh. Pike Armed troops that are fresh receive Impetus against Elephants. Elephants still do not get Impetus against S & non-Impetuous FL troops

Evading: CL & S may evade, regardless of the direction of charge threat.

Offset Rule: Units may line up precisely in melee, and do not have to be side-shifted to create offset melees.

Melee Break-off: Faster units may break off from melee combat by making a full move to the rear, facing the enemy in accordance with rule 5.3. The unit becomes Disordered. If it is already Disordered it may still break off, and does not suffer the effects of further Disorder. For the purposes of this amendment “S” move faster than “FL” who move faster than “FP”.

Interpenetration: Units may not be forced to move forward or backwards as a result of being interpenetrated. The interpenetrating unit moves the required extra distance to clear the back or front of the interpenetrated unit. Any unit that has to exceed its movement allowance takes Disorder and may not shoot before or after movement.

Wheeling: CL, S & FL units may wheel and move without receiving Disorder.

About face: CL, S & FL units may About Face and move a full move as long as they do not enter combat. This may include a single wheel. All other units may About Face and move at half speed, rounded up. Again they may not enter combat.

Infantry Movement Speeds: FL move at 2H+1H, the +1H having the same restrictions as the Skirmisher +2H.

For other "Classical" period battles I'll need some more changes. For example, modifications are needed for Scythe Chariots, and I haven't looked at the rules for normal chariots at all.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Summing up 2017

As Mrs T is a bit poorly and I'm creeping round the house trying to keep quiet to let her sleep I thought I'd have a look back at the wargames I played last year. In this review I have excluded board wargames, except for the games of "Raid!" I played, using figures. The exclusion of board games is a bit arbitrary and is partly because I haven't included all the board wargames I've played on the blog, but I have included map games, so make of that what you will.

The results of my survey are summarised in the table below:

I'm pleased to see that I averaged nearly a game a week, which is sort of my aim, over the year. Of course, not all games are equal, - DBA & OHW are both short game systems and usually result in several games being played in an evening or afternoon. And it is certainly an average. I've had too many weeks this year when no games have happened, for me, at all. Our periodic gatherings with our friend from the West Country and my attendance at COW really pushed the numbers up. Of course, this list excludes all the shows where I ran "Northampton 1460", so they'd make a difference if included.

So I played 15 different periods and used 21 different sets of rules. Of those my favourite author is me, with four sets on the list, followed by Neil Thomas with three. The category "one-off" is for single shot type games that have specific rules just for that game.

What did surprise me is how few games of "IYTT" I actually played. If I'd had to guess I'd have said at least a dozen before I got to COW, so the amount of play testing was much less than I thought. I'm also surprise at how little AMW I played, its position as my "go-to" ancients rules usurped by Basic Impetus, - which also includes a couple of medieval games as well. DBA slips in there so high as it was used for my Khmer/Burmese/Thai games. The other system with a surprisingly low count is PBI, which probably would be higher if I owned a more up to date copy. And no AK47 Republic at all. That's a real surprise.

Of the systems on there I'd say there's only two I'd not care to play again, - "Black Powder" and "Sharpe Practice". "Hail Caesar" will be the basis of a project in 2018, so it will get more plays regardless of how cold it leaves me feeling. Actually, I suspect that Basic Impetus will only keep its place in 2018 as I'll be doing a battle day re-fight with it.

It's a decent spread of subjects, although I suppose most would lump Ancient/Medieval/Dark Ages/Asian Medieval in together, and you might merge Cold War and Modern.

Apart from being a sort of year end/new year type of thing to do the list may well provide me a prompt for what to look at in 2018. There's quite a few rule systems and periods not on there that deserve to be. All I need to do is find the time, - and the first quarter of 2018 is going to be tight, due to commitments both social and work, that are already in the diary.

I'll just have to play twice as hard for the rest of the year, won't I?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Rene North's Little Book

Over five years a go now I wrote a blog about my War of Spanish Succession armies. I mentioned in that blog that my main source for uniform information was Rene North's "Military Uniforms - 1686 - 1918" from the Hamlyn all-colour paperbacks series. I noted at the time, in the comments, that I no longer had my copy.

Well, a few days ago Mrs T and I went up to Market Harborough to finish our Christmas shopping and no trip is complete without nipping into the two rather good charity second hand book shops to see what had been handed in recently. And, yes, there was a copy. Not my copy, of course, but a copy none the less. I paid a princely £1.50 for it, which is quite a mark up on the 6/- or 30p* marked on the back cover but a bargain in this day and age.

This edition is from 1970. I have a few other originals on my shelf from the Hamlyn All-Colour range, priced either at 6/-  for one published in 1969, and 45p for the two from 1972**. Anyway, 6/- was a lot of money for a book back then, or at least I remember thinking it was. After all you could get a box of Airfix figures for 2/11 (ie a penny shy of 3/-, so half the price of the book), and the famous Sherman and Landing Craft kit for 6/-. Standard paperbacks for children - such as Enid Blyton's Famous Five - were variously 2/6 or 3/6 (12 1/2p and 17 1/2p), so I remember these books being a serious commitment in the birthday present request list for some one at primary school.

It's an odd little book in many ways. Why start in 1686? The only clue is that the text says "In 1686 the English 2nd Regiment of Foot was to wear a red coat lined with green..." . The conflicts covered are bit odd, too. You get 26 wars in a 160 page volume, including "The Brabant Rebellion" of 1789 (what????), and an odd selection of uniforms. Napoleon III's invasion of Italy is covered by four uniform illustrations, one of which is a Cantiniere(??), but as Rene points out the French uniforms are the same as the Crimean War, so that's okay, I guess, as that's in the book too. More description in text than pictures, but hey-ho, you can't have everything.

The sections that got the most use would probably have been the ones on the Napoleonic Wars and the ACW, as we could get the Airfix figures for those. Over time it helped me out with the War of Spanish Succession and The Indian Mutiny, and if I'd had it when I started my WW1 projects, I'd have used it for those too. Although on reflection, I reckon we did use it when we did our garden trench raid game in 54mm back in the mid 70's.

Flicking through the pictures now I can pretty much remember all of them, and honestly I think I'm inspired to try another period just because of them. This chap from the United States - Mexican War is animated enough for anyone. BTW, I've just noticed that good old Rene didn't actually draw the pictures, so kudos to John Berry, who did. Mr Berry also illustrated 35 Ladybird books and much of his work is now being recycled in those Ladybird for adults style books that clog up bookshops at this time of year.

Anyway, I think this picture inspired some of the younger lads in our school wargames group who, IIRC, did try to do this war using Airfix Napoleonics.

It is a bit of cliche to go on about how little we had and how much we relied on books like this in the 1960s/70s. Specialist publications were really expensive and usually obtained from libraries. (Fat chance of getting anything suitable in a library these days, but I digress). Although not cheap this book was in the affordability bracket for most of us, especially if we had an Aunt or Uncle who wanted to buy us a birthday present or would give you a book token.

So I'm glad to have a copy again. Now all I have to do is find this one:

*6/- means Six Shillings, a shilling being 1/20th of £1. I fully expect these denominations to be reintroduced as soon as we have sorted out this business with the blue passports.
** "Myths & legends of Ancient Greece", "Warships" and "Rockets & Missiles", since you ask.

Persian-ing your luck

There's that thing with wargamers that when ever they find something they like, they want to use it for something else. Like, when you paint up a really nice army for one period or war, and someone says "We could use it for that other war instead". Or, when you find a set of rules you like you immediately try to use them for another period.

So, Richard, our West Country friend, is really taken with Dux Bellorum. What that means is that he now wants to use them for Hellenistic Warfare. He took a trial version to the Society of Ancients Conference this year. Because he's been wargaming with me on and off for a while I must be rubbing off on him a bit, because he decided not just to adapt it to anther period, but to put it on squares too.

After our earlier DB game we went down the pub for some dinner. We discussed his ideas on the adaptation, and agreed to give it a go in the evening.

After all, who do we know with gridded cloths and lots of  suitable Macedonian type figures?

(That would be me, by the way).

Setting it up was the work of a few minutes. I had Persians, to the left, and Chris took the Macedonians. We both set up with a goodly block of infantry flanked by cavalry, our frontage covered by some skirmishers. My General in the chariot with his bodyguards is comfortably ensconced behind his mercenary hoplites.

BTW I was still suffering from not having a clue anymore, and cleverly put my skirmishers in front of one of my archer units, preventing them from shooting.

Chris started off with a general advance, except with his cavalry. This is one of those sets of rules where you need to be the moving/charging unit to get the charge bonus, so you don't want to move into charge range first. It was immediately suggested you could use a Leadership Point to order a counter-charge, and this idea was adopted.

This is also a set of rules where you can't move and shoot with your archers. Consequently I sat on my base line and shot away. And tried to fix my deployment cock up. Which was frustrated by rubbish activation rolls.

Up at the top of the picture our light cavalry has clashed. At this point Chris revealed his cunning plan, which was to roll lots and lots of sixes in combat. It was a winning strategy. I countered by rolling 5 dice and getting 5 5's, which is annoying when you need a six to hit.

I was shuffling my line about at last, - you can see my general moving to the left. Was it all too late? What do you think?

The heavy cavalry clash went my way at first. In the first round of combat I stunned Alexander and his companions by inflicting 5 hits, which would normally have broken him if he wasn't so elite and so Alexander-y. BTW I think the white rings are less obtrusive than the casualty discs we used before. And we're using small stones for Leadership Points, again less obtrusive than the red/blue discs we used in the last game.

Chris continued with his winning dice rolling tactic with the infantry, and my hoplites were mostly going backwards, LPs or no.

My extreme right wing cavalry got chased off table quickly enough. I thought I had a window of opportunity to do for Alexander, but the first round of combat was the high point.  At the top of the picture my general was being surrounded. You can see clearly the problem with the archers unable to move and shoot rule here. If I'm going to use them then all I can do is sit on my baseline. This needs looking at. Possibly another thing you could do with LPs?

Alexander now had the upper hand, and my remaining cavalry were falling back quickly.

As for my General...well, I don't think Darius is going anywhere now. Another spectacular loss to me

The game played quickly and smoothly. The grid was used in a rigid fashion, with no diagonal movement for infantry. Cavalry could do a sort of knight's move, keeping their facing. This fitted well with the Hellenistic Theme, and is a solution I've used before I think, in the "Rapid Raphia" rules.

Well, I got truly stuffed. Still, it was fun and with a bit more work is a good piece of development. I can see me doing that again.