Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Back from Beyond

It has been quiet here as Mrs T and I have been off on our travels. This time we've been to Borneo to look at wildlife and stuff like that.

It wasn't a history trip, so I have come back with no pressing need for a new army. We did visit Kuching and Sarawak, so I had a quick read up on Brooke of Sarawak, the White Rajah. I got interested in him after reading "Flashman's Lady", but couldn't work out how to game it properly, so I've left it and not gone back.

We did some river trips in small long boats, which (except for the modern motors) are close to what the locals used in the 19th century. The waterways are mostly unchanged by human interference, so are close to their primal state. It was quite atmospheric moving slowly up them. Easy to imagine Brooke and his men making their way up cautiously, prepared for attack from pirates at any turn.

It can be quite claustrophobic at times, and the side tributaries come up on you quickly, and aren't obvious. Ideal for ambushes.

Brooke took a side wheeler paddle steamer up rivers like this. Mad as a hatter.

The original locals lived close to nature in the forest/jungle, and used blow pipes with poisoned darts. We got to shoot one in a visit. The blowpipes are about 6 feet long and come with a spear head/bayonet on the end.

You'll be pleased to hear that I managed to hit a lager can with my third dart at a range of 10 metres. The pipe pulled to the left, so once I'd worked that out it wasn't hard. Admittedly I was using a rest.

Because I hit something I got a dart to take away. The tail flight is made of soft bark, so it fits snuggly in the pipe. The pipes are drilled out of a single piece of ironwood, using a metal bore. Before the advent of Europeans they drilled them out with bamboo. Must have taken forever.

The only other point of note is that one of our guides did talk about local traditions a lot, and let us know that his grandmother was a shaman in the 1960s, and his grandfather was a headhunter at the same time, until he converted to Christianity. When he died, they found his head collection amongst his things.

Finally, nothing to do with wargaming or history, but I did take this rather good picture of an orangutan in the wild.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

ETA for the EVA confirmed

With the EVA all freshly painted and ready to go, as predicted this Monday's game was a return to China, and my "Taiping Era" rules, which last had an outing a couple of years ago.

I had a quick rad through the rules the day before and made some changes. The rules have always worked okay but they have a clunky resolution system that involves rolling up to a dozen or so dice one at a time. This can take a while and can lead to very big swings in fortune. In a moment of revelation I realised that I could have the dice all rolled together if I only changed the "Moral Vigour" value for the unit at the end of each phase, rather than on a dynamic basis. I therefore type up the changes and got ready for the game.

The Ever Victorious Army at full strength are attempting to liberate a small town near Shanghai from the grip of the Taiping forces. The Taipings have marched out in strength to confront them. When I was setting out the armies I realised I had failed to supply the EVA with any command stands. Accordingly the colonel of the Dragoon Guards had to stand in for F T Ward or Chinese Gordon. I couldn't decide which. Anyway, the EVA are on the right of the picture, the Pings on the left.

To represent the town I used my wooden Chinese puzzle walled house and garden that I wrote about a few years back. I put a bit of a wall round it, which improved the look. I resolved then and there to disassemble some of it and paint the walls white to resemble a small Chinese town of the period, and get some pantile sheets to use on the roofs. Another mini-project on the list. I also really need to make some more paddy fields and look again at my Bellona river sections so I can build some river sampans to put on them.

Before the boys arrived I took this picture of two battalions of the EVA advancing in column up the road. The unit with the Green Dragon banner are the Bodyguard, armed with modern rifles.

The Taiping forces had formed up in front of the town, but deployed their guns behind the walls. I should have put them on raised platforms so the could fire over their own chaps.

The Monday Night team for this game were Phil, Will, Chris K and me. Chris and I took the Long Hairs, and Phil & Will the EVA. Both sides edged towards each other, but being numerically stronger Chris and I pushed troops out wide to try and flank  the EVA. I hoped to do great things with our one unit of cavalry on the right. We had massed all of our bamboo spear armed units in the middle to try to get some shock effect.

The EVA's artillery started to make dents in our army's morale. The Mah Jong tiles represent where a unit's MV rating has fallen. I used to use really dinky travel tiles, but we can't really read them now, so I bought a new box of full sized tiles when we were in Vietnam a couple of years back. Our jingals did hit the Bodyguard in the centre tho'.

Wading through the paddy fields was slowing my progress and exposing our troops to sustained fire. Our skirmishing jingal unit in the centre was doing a fine job of protecting our advancing spear units from the withering fire of the EVAs modern weapons. On our left we had our infantry units concentrating their fire on the battalion on the T junction, and we were causing some damage.

My left hand unit in the paddy field finally succumbed to the effects of modern, well handled artillery and had to fall back. The Mah Jong tile is a value of 1, meaning the unit must retire. My other infantry were also taking fire, but my cavalry had cunningly sneaked round the wood and were about to fall upon the flank of one of Will's infantry units.

The EVA's fire finally broke the skirmishing jingals, enabling us to charge in with our spearmen. The EVA battalions held their fire and delivered a pint blank volley to virtually no effect. Phil was again doing his best to break the rules by rolling in the lower quartile of outcomes. I mean, he's rolling 16 D8's three times, looking for 8s. So he should inflict a couple of hits on each unit. In practice he got two hits in total, missing one unit completely.

This meant he had an uphill struggle in the ensuing melee, compounded by another dreadful round of dice rolling. The Pings drove his unit back, and gleefully followed up. (Note: I was beginning to think that the melee rules might need some work, following the change to the MV resolution system referred to above.)

To the left the EVA had got itself fully deployed in line and was delivering sustained volley fire into our forces.

The next round and the Pings were compounding their advantage. The EDNA system at the core of the rules can make it difficult to claw back a position once it has started to slide, and it gets worse quicker the worse things get.

As the EVA got the initiative Will's men were able to form square and beat off my cavalry, who broke and fled. On our left at least one infantry unit is taking the better part of valour, and heading for an early tea. In the centre we're driving back the two EVA battalions opposing us, but it's hard work. If we don't finish them off quickly then our opponents will be able to bring more forces to bear on us and we'll get repelled. Luckily despite routing my cavalry had pinned the EVA left flank in place.

We finally break through in centre, but elsewhere we've got several units retiring as quickly as terrain and dress will allow. Our breakthrough troops are also about to get serious amounts of cannister served up in short order.

It was getting late, so we called the game off. I think the EVA were just ahead, and would soon roll up our left, and probably push in our right. The loss of two battalions would be a bitter price to pay, however.

So, a good evenings entertainment, with the rule changes working well. There's more work to be done on the rest of the rules, however, and after a two year hiatus that might make it a worthy project for the next few months.

"Taiping Era" is one of my favourite of my designs. There's a cleanliness where everything is driven by the EDNA mechanism that I like. It's elegant and economical. However it does mean that I have to work at how the mechanism will work in all areas when I make changes. I can't suddenly introduce a percentage die roll or the turn of a playing card as that isn't how the rules work. It requires careful consideration to make everything fit, but I think it is worth the effort.

Could be back to COW next year if I like the changes. And do the work on the Chinese House.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Bristling with new ideas

I've got to produce a load more phalangites for the upcoming Paratikene battleday in 2018. My original batch were painted in oh-I-don't-know-when, so have been around for quite a while.

The Hat phalangites come with open hands and no pikes, so you have to supply them yourself, which isn't a problem. Soft plastic pikes are not up on my list of really good ideas. When I did the original figures I used uncovered florist wire for spears. This was a good, strong but bendable wire in natural metal that you could buy in packets of 30cm lengths. Just about a year ago that packet finally ran out. My endeavours to buy further packets have been frustrated as all anyone seems to do now are the plastic coated variety, which I don't want. I don't fancy stripping off the plastic coating.

As a stop gap I bought some model control wire from the local model shop, but that's expensive, relatively speaking. Phil, of course, uses purpose cut copper rod with hammered and shaped heads for his figures. That's even more expensive an option, so Mr Cheapskate isn't going to do that, is he?

Monday Night regular, Chris A, mentioned recently that he was using brush bristles. Yes. Bristles off the head of a floor broom. Plastic ones, mind you, not the woody ones. And the thick, stiff ones you use for sweeping outside, not your carpet.

I started to look around for a suitable broom head and finally came across one in Wilko.

I bought a Wilko "Outdoor Broom Head" for £6, which seems to do the trick. A quick check indicates it'll give me about 2,200 spears or pikes, which should see me good for a year or to.

I've trialled a couple on some elephant crew I'm working on, and they seem to stick with a blob of super glue and do the job okay.

It is also possible to squash the end of the bristle flat with some pliers, and then shave it into a spear point with a modelling knife, or clip it with toenail clippers.

Won't be doing that any time soon. After all, none of my other figures have such super detailing as part of their weaponry.

So the experiment is looking quite good at the moment. Of course, having done this and discussed it at our regular Monday Night game it turns out everyone knew this anyway, especially the bit about the toenail clippers. However, I've written the post, so I'll post it anyway.

And whilst it may not be exactly a new idea, it gave me a good title.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Sunday in Peterborough

We made it to Hereward in Peterborough this year, which is good as it is our most local show. Of course, seeing as how we are in the East Midlands it takes as long to drive there as other shows further away, but no worries, this is the closest we have to a local show, so we're keen to be there.

They fitted us in as they had a late drop out, but hopefully going forwards we'll be a fixture.

We throttled back on our representation based on what we took to Newark. This was an appearance by the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society on its own. As you can see we still had enough to put up a decent display stand, which we were able to cover comfortably with just the three of us (me, Phil & Chris A).

We had the 1460 game which got played 6-8 times, at least. Sold a few of the game books too, - in fact it was the first show where we've sold as many games as we have "Battle of Northampton" books, so that's good.

We also had our array of arms and armour. They always prove popular and give us a number of talking points to engage with the public. Everyone loves putting on a helmet.

The show is held in The Cresset, which is a combination sports and theatre complex, I think. Chris A described it as a traditional wargames show venue, and I can see what he means. It was so nice to be out of a big convention hall like Donnington or Newark. For a start the acoustics are a lot better. You can talk to people without shouting.

It's a small affair spread over two halls. The footfall from the public was okay, but one of the traders we spoke too reckoned the public was down on last year, and his takings were half. That's a shame as local shows need games and traders or we lose them.

Amongst the display games there were a few of the usual suspects (including us!!). This VBCW game looked great. Regular readers will be familiar with my problems with it.

This 1917 game won best game. The lads running it did a good job, and were engaging and approachable. Good effort.

I was so busy talking to people my camera wasn't as active as normal, so I'm a bit light on display game shots.

There was a good spread of traders. Dave Lanchester was there, of course. This caught my eye, and I picked it up for a friend who has been playing it with photocopied map and counters. I've played it. Very interesting piece of design.

I usually don't find much on the bring and buy, but the show had "Table Top Sales" at regular intervals. Chris A came back from one and said I should go and look as they had "some boxes of plastic figures". I went and had a look and hit gold. I have a medium term aim to increase my Macedonian and Persian cavalry, to give my Celts and Assyrians a rest for subbing for them in big games. My favourite figures, those from Zvezda/Italeri are getting hard to find or are expensive, so a chance to pick up a few at 50p a shot wasn't to be missed. On reflection I should have offered him £15 for everything he had.

All in all a good day out, and recommended for those of you in the East of the country. Long may it continue.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Mini project completed

I managed to round off a mini-project for my Taiping Era armies last night.

As I hinted in an earlier blog posting I had some spare figures and was considering using them for the Ever Victorious Army that defended Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion. The EVA has a romantic air to it, having been founded by a Yankee soldier of fortune, Frederick Townsend Ward, before being taken over after his death eventually by Charles "Chinese" Gordon. This is the same Gordon who would finally meet his end in Khartoum.

I was not initially going to do the EVA as part of the Taiping project as too much fuss is made about them when compared to the overall size of the Rebellion (bit like the International Brigades in Spain) but as I said I had some odds and ends I could use to start them off. Following the annoyance I experienced with the 1860 Lancashire Games French I wrote about in the same blog above I ditched the over-sized devils, and dashed off a quick order to Mr Kay of Irregular to make up the EVA's numbers..

I'm using Sikhs because of the turbans. They aren't perfect. They shouldn't have an beards, and they needed blanket rolls as well. I added the rolls with a bit of Miliput, and got it on most units, when I remembered, and mostly on the correct shoulders too.

The Sikh artillery crew from Irregular weren't ideal, so I bought Mutineer gunners instead.

The EVA at its peak had 6 battalions, some of which had modern (for the period) Enfield rifles. They were supported by decent quantities of guns which usually proved to be decisive in their encounters with the rebels.

I painted the units in their white summer uniforms, which make a nice contrast with their green turbans and multi coloured blanket rolls. The Officer figures I did in blue. These are a mixture of late 19th century Japanese (which I really like) and ACW Unionist Officers (which I don't).

The flags are fairly authentic, although there is some conjecture involved. The flags we know were green with a red border. Ward's flag just had a big black "W" glyph in the middle and was apparently carried by the 4th battalion even in Gordon's time. Gordon had two of the rectangular flags in similar style, but with a red "G" glyph in a yellow wreath in the middle, and their victories in black Chinese characters. He also had a green dragon banner. That got me flags for 4 units, so I just put on the glyphs for 5 & 6 for the last two.

I painted the gun carriages red, as that was the Chinese way of doing things.

All things considered it isn't a big army, so it'll be interesting to see how they do against the long hairs, probably next Monday. Especially as they usually attack.

Some of the gun crew are in blue, representing European mercenary officers.

This is them in all their glory. I may have too much artillery for them (my 1860 British only have 5 guns in total), but that's a mistake I often make.

And here they are from the other direction.

I think they'll do.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Crimisus Bank Holiday

See what I did there? I set up a refight of the battle of Crimisus on the bank holiday, so I could use a post tile that looks like Christmas Bank Holiday. Yes? No? Oh well, please yourself.

Any how, plucked from the pages of "Lost Battles" again here is a big refight using AMW as has been done on previous Bank Holidays.

The Battle on the River Crimisus took place in in either 341 or 339 BC. It happened during the Carthaginian campaign to take control of the Greek colony of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. A large invasion force was lead by a pair of Generals called Hasdrubal and Hamilar (the Punic leadership was terribly lacking in imagination when choosing names). The Greeks/Syracusans were commanded by the Greek General Timoleon of Corinth.  History would indicate that Timoleon was a general of talent, something that couldn't be said of the Punic Pair.

Whilst we have some reasonable sources for the battle we don't really know where it was fought, so the terrain is speculative and taken from Sabin's book. There was high ground looking down to the River Crimisus, but the plain was cut by minor waterways running down to the river. The accounts indicate that Timoleon's army was heavily outnumbered, and he advanced to take on he invaders against the advice of others. He caught the Carthaginian army as it was crossing the River Crimisus and did okay until the enemy brought up more and more forces. He was then saved by a thunderstorm that blew in from behind him. The rain hammered into the faces of the Carthaginians, giving the Greeks an advantage as their opponents floundered in the mud, blinded by the downpour.

To capture all of this I introduced a few special rules:

1) The Cathaginians start with only their chariots across the river. Each turn the Carthaginian player rolls a d6, and can cross the river with that number of units.
2) Each Carthaginians general gets one dice re-roll each during the game.
3) Timoleon gets one selective re-roll each turn.
4) When the rain arrives at the Umpire's discretion Carthaginians are minus one on combat and morale rolls (subject to a 6 always being a hit/pass)

I also gave Timoleon's army an advantage in quality as well, being Elite/Average, the Carthaginians Average/Levy.

For figures I used a mix of Greeks, Roman Allies, Carthaginians from 2nd Punic War, and Assyrians.

For this game Phil got to be Timoleon. Chris A & I got to play the Cathaginians, although Chris joined us late on, having been held up in traffic.

Here is the set up, with Timoleon to the right. Those chariots always look good.

Phil immediately started by moving his troops wider to stop being outflanked. I rolled a "1" and got some cavalry across the river.

I pushed the chariots up to keep Phil away from the river line to allow me to get my army across.

The chariots look great but they have very big flanks, so my central left hand unit got well taken in the side by some peltasts. The cavalry on the right started to get stuck in. As you can see I got a lot more units over the river this turn. Those infantry are my good stuff, - the Carthaginian "Sacred Bands" and their Libyan supports, - i.e. Punic citizens, mostly, not scruffy mercenaries.

Having seen off the Greek Cavalry near the camera I thought I could pin Phil on the watercourse with my chariots, whilst bringing the cavalry round the flank. In the centre my chariots were getting a hiding, but they had done their job of covering my river crossing.

Over on my left I lost my last chariot unit, and Phil was able to push his cavalry wide.

At the other end of the table I was losing the fight across the river. However, I'd got lots of reserves coming up, including some Gallic Warbands. What could possibly go wrong?

My centre was a bit of a mess, with Timoleon's elite mercenaries carving their way through my Sacred Bands. Phil's second line of hoplites was also closing up to add some weight to the centre.

I pushed up my second line as well. Everyone was engaged all the way along the line, but taking a lot of casualties. The second lines were going to be crucial.

The Generals were also closely involved in the action

Typically for AMW when fights get down to one or two bases the combats can go on for a long time. The chariot on the river line, for example, just sat there, unable to kill or be killed. I'd pushed out a warband to my right, but they hit a unit of hoplites, and were coming off worse. I think by this point we'd introduced the bad weather rule.

The Carthaginian first line was now virtually destroyed, meaning the death of the flower of Punic Manhood. The gaps being opened up were being filled by my second line.

I'd lost a lot of units by now, although not enough to break my army. However, it was time to fire up the BBQ, so I called it a win for Timoleon, and left Phil & Chris in Shedquarters to chew the fat...

...but I clearly shouldn't have left my camera behind.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Biting off more than you can Manchu.

So I know this blog is usually about figure games, but I do play other stuff as well. On my last holiday I met a chap who lives near us who used to play old SPI games and wanted to get back into it. We have been meeting monthly for a while now and he, Gary, has turned up in a few posts. This month it was my turn to host, and I couldn't resist trying out a game I've had on the shelf for a few years.

When I premiered "Taiping Era" at COW several years ago it just so happened that the Strategy & Tactics issue with Rich Berg's game "Manchu" was on the bring and buy. Some one else had picked it up, but based on my offering passed it on to me.

This was published in S&T post SPI, when it was run by World Wide Wargamers, and dates from 1988. Berg has designed some ambitious boardgames (including Campaign for North Africa), but this one is remarkable for a number of reasons both in scope and design concepts.

For example, it has no ZOCs, and the CRT, such as it is, is rather bizarre, using 2D6 in a tens and units fashion. It also has a serious random events table (the "Interesting Times Table or ITT*") and open ended game turns.

A hex is 35 miles, and a turn is a year. The game last 16 turns. It isn't your typical game at all.

We started about 10:30am. Gary played the Imperial Chinese government, and so got to wear the mandarin cap. I'm therefore the Taiping rebels. You can just see the edge of my conical hat on the left.

It's a really colourful game, with each province being a different colour. There's some glare on the picture as I put a sheet of perspex over the map to keep it flat. The Pings start in bottom corner of the map (to the left of the picture, - I'm the four red counters in the yellow province). Peking is in the green province top right. The big blue river across the middle is the Yang-Tse. Shanghai is in the bottom right corner. I therefore start a long way from the centres of civilization. We're several moves in at this point, and neither of us has a game based strategy. I resolved to try and follow the Taiping Strategy as far as possible, and my initial aim was to move east and set up in Nanking. Gary wasn't sure, and just generally tried fire fighting where ever I popped up.

Another different mechanism is that the Imp player has three levels of involvement, as he gets increasingly concerned about the growth of the rebel movement.  So at the start of the game there's only limited things he can do, and the Pings literally have the initiative. As the Rebellion grows he finally wakes up and gets more chance of having the initiative in the game turn, and can deploy more troops.

The Ping player has to balance his advance with triggering the might of the Empire too soon. One of his key decisions is when and where to set up the Capital of his Heavenly Kingdom. Historically this was Nanking, and this was my intention. There are two other locations you can use, one also on the Yang-Tse and then Peking. Gary tried to nail down the Yang-Tse locations, but I got past him and attacked Peking. This was possible because the key to the game is movement by water. If you can get your chaps on junks you can move quicker and you don't suffer attrition for multiple moves in a year. I was able to assemble a massive fleet of junks, embark most of my army, sail past the Imp outposts, and attack Peking.

This contained the Emperor, but a lot of the defenders were Mongolian cavalry, - less use in a siege, so I captured the Capital, and did for the last of the Ch'ins.

I did not know it then, but that was pretty much as good as it got. The game has an initiative system that determines who goes first each year. If you win you get two free actions. Otherwise you have to roll on the "Turn Continuation Table". This may let you perform your announced action, pass the turn to your opponent or end your turn immediately. What that can mean is that a run of bad luck can paralyse your forces. In the three or four turns leading up to the attack on Peking I lost the initiative each time (Imps went first on a 5,6. Never been so cross at rolling high numbers), and then rolled turn end when it came over to me. That meant I wasn't recruiting or causing havoc anywhere else. So although establishing my Capital was a brilliant coup and I subsequently got a decent share of initiatives by that point the ground I needed to make up elsewhere on the map was too great. I also made the error of defending my controlled provinces too thinly on occasion. The Taiping units are twice or four times as strong in terms of fighting ability than most Imps for the same manpower steps. That means a single Ping step can hold off decent sized Imp forces both in the fields and also under siege. However the combat system inflicts hits as a percentage of the stack involved, so even if you win with a one step counter, inflict 75% casualties on your enemy the minimum 5% hits you take will end up being your entire force if it only has one manpower step.

By the end of the game we were both impressed by the level of thought you had to put into each move and the options you have to consider. After over 6 hours of play I was unable to control enough of China to declare the Heavenly Kingdom complete, and the Imperial forces were unable to suppress the rebellion. China was sunk into long term turmoil with no prospect of an end. The game was a  draw.**

We both really enjoyed the game. It is very different, and although there are games with more rules, this one has a lot of odd nooks and crannies. It is so intricate as well that some options don't always work. For example after I had seized Peking and made it my Capital we got "Foreign Intervention" on the ITT. The common outcome for this roll is that the French & English forces capture Peking. The game expects this to happen when the Imps control it, so the consequences of the capture are good for the Pings. But what if the Pings control it? And so in the end we ignored the outcome. The only other problem with the game was that the counter mix isn't big enough. You can end up with a lot of scattered units, so the low value counters are at a premium. It's all very well to suggest you can make more of your own, but that's not likely to happen part way through a game. If anyone out there has an unpunched counter sheet I'd appreciate a scan of it.

I benefited from having a historical knowledge of the period and the Rebellion, but it wasn't enough. If Gary had been more clued up he'd have realised the significance of the Ever Victorious Army in  Shanghai, instead of dismissing it because it could only move a few hexes from the city. He'd have also cottoned on earlier to the importance of the British occupying Canton.

Given the advantages I had before we started it's probably fair to say that Gary probably would have won if we'd used a handicap system.

I really liked this game. It's a challenge to both players, and the history is pretty good too. It isn't perfect, but it is a really good attempt to capture what it was all about.

Anyway, next time we meet we'll be back to something more conventional, with Panzer Group Guderian.

* This is as in "May you live in interesting times" rather than  2 x 3 = fish, 2 x 4 = mushroom, and so on.
** Of course as British cricket lovers a draw that only takes 6 hours is not a problem.