Thursday, 18 July 2019

And finally Falkirk

Supposedly the largest battle of the '45 rebellion, The Battle of Falkirk was fought in January, late in the day and in foul weather. Possibly the great missed opportunity for the Jacobites it presents the game designer and rule writer with a number of problems. It really does need scenario specific rules, so that's why it hasn't featured until now.

As "Va t'en Ecosse" has been to CoW this phase of its development cycle is about complete, bar finishing the couple of regiments sitting on my painting desk. I need to turn to something else for a while, but what better way to round off than with Falkirk, 17th January 1746, and a load of scenario specific rules made up on the spot. More or less.

Falkirk takes place on a plateau, which mostly slopes down towards the British rear and left. The British are initially encamped off to their right, and march to the field in order to give battle. Their artillery becomes bogged down and never makes it. Their right wing is partially protected by an impassable ravine, which is represented by the grey area centre top. The battle starts at 4pm, just as the sun is going down, in the pouring rain which the prevailing wind is driving into the face of the British Army.

For the game Phil took the Jacobites, and Richard the British, assisted by Tim who was given the cavalry.

The game moved on so quickly I seem to have forgotten to photograph loads of it. On their right the Highlanders advanced, then the British cavalry charged them. The Highlanders stood and delivered a volley (first scenario rule introduced, number of dice rolled reduced by a random amount), and inflicted Disorder and some damage. The Dragoons still charged home, but were outclassed by the Highlanders, and were forced to retire with extreme haste. Unlike their historical predecessors I didn't make them flee between the two armies and get shot up.

Having softened them up with his first two Cavalry units, Tim threw in his reserve line.

The reserves fared better, but were still repulsed.

The fleeing cavalry had opened up the British left, and Phil pushed his clans into the open space. Elsewhere the regulars tried to hold off the Highland charges with firepower, but this was proving less effective than usual. Out on their right, the British were starting to turn their infantry inwards to cover what might be a breakthrough in the centre, but this exposed them to musket fire from the Highlanders.

The British left of centre infantry recoiled from the charge. The right centre recovered from being intimidated and repulsed their attackers.

The second wave of Highlanders charged in and broke through in the right centre. The British left has now almost completely gone, apart from some militia hiding in the buildings. Richard is still trying to pull his artillery into position. They only move 1d6 inches per turn, due to the muddy ground.

Phil has finally got his cavalry into position on the right, only to discover that the ground is too marshy for him to charge. He was not amused. Out on his left he has edged a unit round so he can hit the British regiment not fully covered by the ravine.

General Cholomondley is bringing up his infantry to stop his position being turned by the collapse of the centre. He has even deployed his guns.

The Highlanders charge over on their left, but are held. Elsewhere the British Army is in full retreat, and it's a Jacobite victory.

So, very close to a historical outcome. The game is stacked in favour of the Jacobites. They have a higher value army using the crude points system I've put in, and they were generally classed as better quality troops for the entire game. The die roll to reduce firing dice hampers the British more than the Jacobites as that's their main way of dealing with their opponents.

So, a satisfactory conclusion to this part of the "Va t'en Ecosse" journey. One of the players asked about Killiecrankie. I do have rules for plug bayonets in VTG, and I think I might be able to improvise pike elements too....hmmmmmm.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

More Russian High Jinks

In order to allow me some recovery time after COW Richard put on another RCW skirmish game using "Triumph and Tragedy". This was a follow up to the game we played in January.

I got the Reds again, and Steve played the Whites.

Having escaped from the last scenario still in possession of the "Princess" my brave Red forces, supported by some Austrians were holed up in a station (Richard had bought some new track!) waiting for a train so we could get to Moscow with our prisoner. Alas no trains had come for quite a while.

We had two vehicles, - including the stolen Rolls Royce from the last game - but alas only one driver.

There were some Gypsy Girls dancing on the station platform. One squad of my men was in the station house. The umpire refused to let me order my men to loop hole the walls or clear the slates to fire from the roof, which rather cramped my style. I did have an armoured car to cover the main road, however.

Soon the Whites appeared, deploying some artillery, and calling in some air support for a bombing run. He missed the building (lucky, as if the bomb had gone through the roof I'd have lost a lot of people) and injured one of the Gypsy Girls. See. That's how the Capitalists care for the common people.

Then loads of White Infantry and Cavalry, - they may have been Czechs - emerged from the woods. The Putilov armoured car swung its MGs round and literally gave them both barrels.

A litter of order cards covers the table. The section in the walled paddock has formed a firing line, and the men in the station house have likewise formed up to deliver devastating fire. My character has rushed to the Rolls with the hostage, only to find I can't drive. The driver from the lorry is summoned.

There's loads of firing, and my men from the station charge the infantry and the cavalry charge the men from the paddock and it's all confusion. Meanwhile the Rolls has been driven off and I'm making my escape whilst the brave Bolshevik forces hold back the White Tide. Mission successful at the small cost of basically everything.

"T&T" has some interesting mechanisms, and I would like to read the rules properly (although not enough to want to buy them). There are inherent problems with skirmish games once you get beyond four or five men a side, and groups start to need some form of unit coherence. Only by being blind to these problems can you make all of this work. Luckily all this can be salvaged by setting up a good scenario, which Richard did. It was also explained to me that I was supposed to lose and the Whites were supposed to recapture the Princess, setting up the next game in the chain.

What can I say? I'm a military genius.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Conference of Wargamers 2019 - Sunday.

Sunday morning is always a bit blurry, so I needed to check my pictures to remind myself what I'd done.

My first session of the morning was John Bassett's "Not just pikes and elephants", a discussion and workshop on Hellenistic urban warfare. He took us through three detailed accounts, the most spectacular of which was Pyrrhus' attempt to storm a city at night using elephants, one of which gets stuck in the gateway. The other two were Ptolemy III's invasion of Babylon and his attempt to track down a high value target and finally Cleomenes III of Sparta and his attempt to raise a revolt in Alexandria. After doing this JB divided us into three groups to look at how we would game each of the scenarios. The group I was in got Cleomenes.

I can't recall how the Ptolemaic group were going to deal with their problem. The Pyrrhic group were going to build four man elephant cardboard box simulators. My group's solution is a bit more toy soldierist. As the Cleominid revolt started with 12 men trying to raise support by running round the streets banging on doors, I thought that you could do this as a 30 minute participation game. The player(s) start with a tray of 12 figures, and they need to raise another 12 (say). They do this by moving round a map or model of Alexandria and each area will have a response value and a resource value. Other locations will have problems to solve. There'll be a morale track, which will fall for every turn they fail to get more followers. When that reaches zero they all commit suicide.

Or something like that. You can see the results of our deliberations on the flip chart above.

After a morning cuppa and home made cookies off to play "Cyber War". This is a cyber warfare training game used in the UK. The scenario is that Redland is trying to thwart invasion plans by Blueland by staging a deniable cyber attack on the only Blueland port. A port that looks a lot like Immingham. But isn't.

We had lots of cyber type weapons and tricks to deploy and some cyber defence experts in the game. I think this might be only my first or second cyber war game and I'm still a bit of a novice at it. I therefore took my role as identifying systems we would want to attack (eg the cranes, or lock gates) then see if they were vulnerable.

Apparently this isn't how its done. Cyber warfare is a lot of "throw it at the wall and see what sticks". Once you've found a weakness you then decide what to do with it. At least I think that was the message.

Anyhow we found a vulnerability and identified a prime slot. We needed to find a time when the tide was on the turn (going out), preferably on a Friday and close to 5pm. This brought us the working slogan of "It's Friday, it's 5 past 5, and it's CRACK-A-LOCK!!". I guess if you find this funny you wouldn't be any good at hacking on account of advanced age.

Well, it worked and we drained the docks with a half loaded ship in the port. This hit bottom and keeled over, rendering the loading area useless and wrecking loads of supplies.

After a full roast Sunday Lunch we had an hour long session before the WD AGM.

I'd got myself on the list for a playtest of Alan Paull's new iteration of "16 card carrier strike"

We were a US two carrier group, and they were the same but Japanese. Alan was trying to develop the game to allow for searching for enemy planes and ships, but in an open game. This meant using dummy counters for ships and for planes.

For the planes you can have up to four flights in the air, launching two per turn, including dummies. The big square counters have plane type and dummy on the back, and you have the counter on top of the stack for what that flight is doing. The dice are used to represent the number of turns you are in the air.

It's not obvious, but we are moving on hexes. And the draught style counters have little planes put on them when you know what they are.

We only had an hour to play, which was nowhere near enough to learn the system and get a good look at it. We succeeded in getting a dive bomber strike on one of their carriers, but lost a load of planes in the process. The dummy system didn't really work that well and it was clear this was early stages of development. I hope Alan got a decent number of "takeaways" from the game, and will be back again.

And that was it. A quick AGM with no surprises, deposit paid for next year. Then a cup of tea and cake, and a last minute game of "Northamptimeshire" with some people who understand voluntary sector "kickstarting" (very helpful) then it was back in the car and homeward bound. CoW over for another year. New games played, old and not so old friends met again and new friends made.

Practically perfect in every way.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Conference of Wargamers 2019 - Saturday Afternoon Edgcote into the evening.

After I had packed Culloden away and had lunch it was time for me to assist on a session, as Phil presented the Edgcote model and associated game.

Despite WD & COW attendees professions to be interested in the game rather than the toys and the terrain, everyone loves a bit of 28mm eye candy. My only difficulty was explaining why we were using Hail Caesar. Most people got the reasoning.

The Royalist encampment. Young Henry Tudor and his companion Richard Corbett have had a more complete paint job, and given an extra bit of scenic basing.

Phil kicked off with an introduction, and then passed over to me to say some more about why the battle was fought. I hadn't really given this intro much thought, as I've been so focused on the Culloden game. I hope I was coherent.

Phil had given more thought as to how the game should be played and the rules in HC we need to use and adapt. We still have an issue with how we deal with the opening position of Pembroke and Devon, and whether or not they are present. For now we are more "Wavrin" than "Hall", with both armies deployed on the hill and ignoring the Barmaid Incident.

Stafford got provoked off the hill with some archery. We were still having issues with units not moving because of the command roll. I recommended afterwards that we went for command values of 8 instead of 7 on 2d6, which gives you closer to a 2/3rds chance of moving.

The Rebel right wing followed up and combat ensued across the river.

Abandoned by his non-moving colleagues Robin himself advanced on Edgcote Lodge Hill and the Royalist army. As a side note our archery skirmish screen rule worked quite well, and one player who uses HC from time to time said he would adopt it.

Devon's men were broken in combat. No need to be scared off by arriving reinforcements.

It was a tough fight, however, and the rebels concerned retired to their hill top.

The Royalists headed down the hill to attack Robin's men. A tough fight. Robin's earlier unanswered archery hits were keeping him in the fight even though outnumbered.

We were dicing for reinforcement options through out the game, and for the first time ever Clapham turned up with Warwick's proper advance guard, - a mounted retinue. They hammered into Pembroke's right wing.

The cavalry broke through and overran the encampment, at the loss of Clapham, whilst he performed various valiant feats of arms.

With the death of Clapham, the retinue had over-reached themselves and so retired.

Fortunately for the rebels Sir William Parr had finally arrived and was able to press home the advantage gained.

And very soon the rest of the Royalists were fleeing. Another hard fought win for the Rebels.

It was another close game, however, and could have gone either way. I'm afraid I'm never going to love HC. It is a tool kit that enables you to adjust the rules to match what you need, but if I was going to do that I'd just write my own rules anyway. However, that wouldn't achieve what we want, which is to use 28mm & HC as a hook to get a certain wargamer demographic to stop by and play the game or at least talk to us.

We're still not quite perfect on how we are using the rules, and Phil & I have had further conversations about what is needed. No. Let's be fair. Phil has done pretty much all the thinking, and then bounced the ideas off me. He's looking to exploit or create natural "lulls" in the game when reinforcements move and or arrive, which I think will capture more how the battle seems to develop. My sense of the actual battle itself is that there's a fair amount of hanging around and hanging on waiting for reinforcements to arrive. That's certainly the case for Robin, who knows where his reinforcements are and probably when they will arrive, so his task is to fix Pembroke and Devon in position so they can be destroyed.

I will be really interested to see what the offside reports from the players will say once the are published in Nugget. This is the closest I've come to running a game with players in the various playtests. When we were at last couple of shows it was mostly just me & Phil, and I was running the society stand whilst Phil ran the game. Hopefully we'll get more help for the next two, and I'll be able to talk to people over the model.

After we wrapped up it was time for a pre-dinner drink and then dinner.

After dinner I was initially at a loose end as I had missed the sign up for the RPG session I normally play in (I was gratified to hear later on that I was missed), so I wandered out to the patio, and took part in a session on large scale kinetic model guns, - those powered by either small gunpowder charges or springs.

There were some lovely, lovely models here. The early ones truly are working scale models, and not the crude guns I mostly recall (I find the Britains 25pdr hard to love). If you can see there's an AA gun at the far end of the table. You fire it by putting several caps (as in the paper strips) into the breach chamber, and pulling a lanyard. It's a nice piece of engineering.

It was pointed out that the quality steadily declined over the years as the models with proper rivets and nuts and bolts were too expensive to machine and assemble.

And I still say that, lovely as they are, I still don't leap at the chance to wargame with them as I honestly can't hit a very large target at short distance.

After that I retreated indoors and found 5 other people to play the "Northamptimeshire" card game I've been working on. It's the first time I've played it with 6 people, and it worked very well. So I know it works as a game, but I'm still stymied as to how I get it into production without breaking my personal bank.

And then as midnight was beckoning I went to bed.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Conference of Wargamers 2019 - Saturday Morning Culloden

My big set piece for this year's COW was a refight, near enough, of Culloden using my "Va t'en Ecosse" rules, which I have been working on over the last few months.

I seemed to have enough time this year to put a cover on what is otherwise a Word document. I have chosen the least original picture of the battle that is known to mankind. And is also out of copyright.

I was up early to get the tables up and the toys out before breakfast. Can't stand coming to a session where the organiser is still ferociously searching through boxes and fussing with the table layout. Also takes the pressure off me at the start to know I've got everything where I want it, and ensures I've got enough tables for what is quite a big game.

The British Army is to the left (I put "Hanoverians" on the sign up sheet, and a player crossed it out and wrote "British Army" in its place. Quite right too). The Jacobites are to the right.

The players started to gather. John got there first. Luckily none of the others were scared off by the furry creature sitting on his head.

The Jacobites were soon taking advantage of the copies of the rules left for them. Nigel decided to take the right wing, with the big Highlander attack columns. Jim, modestly, decided he was ideally suited for the role of the Bonny Prince. Which is sort of fair as he was the only Scot present. Shame that Charlie preferred to speak Italian, really.

The Jacobite team was completed by Rob, who misheard the instruction to wear a Highland shirt as "Wear a Hawaiian shirt". They fired their guns then set off at the British, although Prince Jim held back in the centre. I think he wanted a staggered attack all along the line, but Rob was having none of it. As the first full-fat toy soldier game he'd played in 20 years, he was going to move toys and get stuck in.

Meanwhile the British hold their position, whilst sending forwards their Highland battalion to break down the enclosure walls to allow the Dragoons to pass through to the Jacobite rear.

The Prince decides to join in on the full frontal advance precipitated by Rob on the left.

The front lines engage. Alas for reasons I can't explain this picture is a bit blurry. The audience is mostly leaning back and going "Woah! That looks spicy". Tim finds something more interesting on his tablet. Knuston has good wi-fi.

The first Highland rush smashes into the British left and breaks their opponents, sweeping away the gun crew as well. However Ian has very cleverly bluffed his opponent by taking down the park wall and then switching his cavalry to attack the inner flank (for those of you who are not aware the two players facing off at that end of the table are brothers. So, no needle there or bragging rights on the drive home up for grabs.).

The Highlanders also drive back the centre of the British line, but it isn't a success all along the line, and some of their clans are halted in their tracks.

It's all in the balance. Near the camera on the Highland left Rob's Highlanders intimidate their opponents and drive them back. Elsewhere in the centre the steady musket fire halts and breaks the Highlanders, who flee back behind their second line. Fortunately for them the Lowlanders have been deployed in line against just such an eventuality. The British left continues to reel backwards, but the cavalry has now deployed into line to provide much needed support to the hard pressed infantry.

The Highland success has pushed them into a "kettle" enabling the British to turn and fire into them as they pursue. It is a feature of the rules that you can fire into a melee from the flank and rear. This firing damaged the Highlanders, but didn't break them.


The British right has held up well, but on the centre left the Highlanders have driven well into the second and third lines of the British position. The cavalry out on the left have contacted the Highland reserves and prevented them following up the breakthrough. Not pushing the Dragoons through the enclosures is proving to be a good choice.

The wider angle shot shows that David's right hand unit is still falling back. Rob is using his cavalry to launch a series of charges on the British infantry to hold them in position whilst he repairs his line and tries to rally his Highlanders.

The British cavalry close with the Highland attack columns. The melee is hard fought.

More volleys into the pursuing Highlanders on the British left start to cause great execution.

The British on their right try to keep the Highlanders at bay with platoon fire.

Combined charges by the Highlanders and the supporting cavalry finally get a proper breakthrough on the British right. In the distance the British cavalry has broken through as well. Elsewhere a number of the Highland units have driven their opponents off the table, and we're waiting for if and when they return. Otherwise their bolt is pretty much shot. The British have stabilised their line and are starting to press up on the Lowland Supports.

We were then out of time, and it looked like a marginal British victory. In the interests of balance I didn't make the Jacobite left boggy and difficult to traverse. I also didn't penalise them for being hungry and tired having been up all night. So a game that was in the balance most of the time was what I should have expected and was what I got.

The session took about 3 1/2 hours. It was the biggest game I've put on with "Va t'en Ecosse", and also with more players than normal, none of whom had played the rules before. I was ably assisted by Phil who reminded me of the bits of the rules I'd forgotten. Honestly, I can't do those late nights anymore. So I'd call it a success.

I have a few more units to paint up for these armies., and more gunners too (I need to find some RN gunners, as they served at Prestonpans), but mostly these rules are giving me the game I envisioned. The battles look like the historical encounters, and historic tactics seem to pay dividends.

You'll see from the pictures that I had a number of spectators who stuck with the game for most of the session, plus several people who came in and said nice things about the game and the figures.

Yes. Very pleased. And then off to lunch.