Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Mortimer's Cross on Camera

 The Monday Night Group is still not completely comfortable about meeting indoors, so one of our members, Richard, set up a game using Skype. 

He's been fiddling about with a set of Wars of the Roses rules for a while. He did Nibley Green a while a go, a game I missed, so I was keen to find out what he was up to. The rules are based around units being in battles, but made up of successive lines. In our game typically the front line was archers, then men at arms/retainers then some form of levy. Each line has different fighting characteristics, and there are good, clear rules for passage of lines, so you can cycle through your battle lines, retiring troops so they can refresh themselves a bit. This creates lulls in the fighting, which is probably correct.

For this evening's entertainment he chose Edward IV's first solo victory, Mortimer's Cross, about which we really know very little, except for the triple sun omen in the sky.

Each battle had a record sheet, which looked like this:

As you take hits you cross off boxes from right to left, so your status drops from green to yellow to orange to red.

Richard deployed the camera at table level. We (that's Tim and me) were the Yorkists. Here's me, surveying the battlefield from behind our line:

The Lancastrians advanced steadily towards us. We shot at them with our front ranks of archers, with mixed success. Lord Abergavenny had a truly awful evening. The combat mechanism is a simple dice roll against an armour class. The twist is that natural 1s  indicate a depletion of arrow supply, or fatigue if in combat. Commanders can order units to resupply, or rest. They can also do things to inspire their men, at risk to themselves, or prepare to run away if things get a bit dodgy.

The Lancastrians closed in on us, but we did not waiver, holding on to our position on the stream.

We got very close, shooting at point blank range. The stream inhibited our ability to charge each other.

Then they were across, and we charged into them, Edward to the fore in trademark style.

Alas he rolled the dreaded double 6 on the commander risk roll, and so died horribly under some Lancastrian pollaxe. 

The struggle became desperate all along the line. Abergavenny continued to have terrible luck against Owen Tudor, but Edward's battle and Wenlock did much better. We finally broke Wiltshire's men on our right, and had Jasper Tudor on the back foot too, so we ended with a bloody Yorkist victory. But at what cost? All hail King George I, age about 11, soon to be married to a Warwick heiress.

An interesting experience. The camera worked really well. Very frustrating not being able to see exactly what was going on, and my record keeping went a bit astray, so I wasn't sure on the status of the various battles as much as I should have bene.

Richard has some good ideas here. He is right, I think, to lay stress on commanders and have them do things each turn. This is something I did with a set of rules for the WotR I wrote over 10 years ago. I see their development predate the blog, although there is one battle report: link

I liked the way he had the battles constructed, and the passage of lines mechanism. I'm not sure he has the combat strengths right. The melees went on a long time, and that could be shortened, I think. I don't know that he has the balance of archery to melee right just yet, either.

However, happy to do more of this, hopefully sometime in person.

Monday, 21 September 2020

On being 60, and Patrick O'Brian

 I was 60 on Sunday. I've known for several years that this significant birthday would fall at a weekend, and so had that pinned as the climax of a number of celebratory events to take place during the year, to include:

  • A seriously large wargame in Shedquarters.
  • A lawn game in the grounds of Trebian Towers (I was going to ask Tim Gow of "Megablitz and More" to organize this. He doesn't know).
  • Some sort of garden party for friends, family and ex-work colleagues.
  • A game of Tunnels and Trolls, picking up from where we left off 10 years ago.
  • Attendance at some really keen musical and sporting events.
  • A driving tour up to Scotland, taking in Culloden, Loch Ness, the Highlands and also the cultural joys of Edinburgh.

As it turns out, absolutely none of these has been ticked off, which is a bit of a bummer.

With all the uncertainty this will come as no surprise. Luckily both the children and their partners visited over the weekend (although not at the same time) and we played some board games, drank some fizzy wine, ate cake and other nice food. Mrs T and I even watched "The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists!", which is an awesomely good and much under rated film.

This nearly didn't occur, as we could not lay our hands on our copy of it (and I know I have one), so in the end I rented it off Amazon for £2.49.

Why it was re-titled and re-dubbed for US audiences I have no idea. Perfect as it is.

Aware that it was going to be the case a few months back that my bullet list would not be completed, I decided to mark the year in a slightly different way. My father, who passed away in 2013, was a big Patrick O'Brian fan. He had all of the novels, including at the end a few first editions, and I inherited them, al 20/21 (the last is unfinished). During his life I borrowed and read most of them (maybe all - I can't recall) and we would often talk about them. He never really shared the joy I found in my favourite author at the time, but no matter: we could share the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin, in the same way we shared a love of cricket and a desperate hope that Arsenal were going to get it sorted this year. The last visit my father ever made to a cinema (problems with hips made sitting a long time a trial) was with me to go and see "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World". Although the film took liberties  with various story lines, the presence of the fabled "two weevils" joke made it all worth while. I knew that my father had decided he was nearing the end - it took over a year - when those books sat on his shelf in his room at the care home untouched. His absolute conviction that they bore reading repeatedly, and if you looked hard enough there was always something new to discover, was dimmed. He wasn't unhappy, I hope, it just wasn't a place he wanted to read those books. They were read in his favourite armchair at home, with a G&T or a decent glass of wine.

So my 60th year bullet list became the idea that I'd read them all, back to back, in order. And I finished the last, unfinished, novel ("21") this afternoon, the day after my birthday, sat on the deck in the sunshine, with a suitable beverage.

I had forgotten, if I ever realised, that the books follow pretty much seamlessly on from one another. Unlike the Hornblower novels they were written in order and they also end, often, at the full climax, with the final naval battle, or the critical announcement. To compare them to LOTR, they normally end with the Ring going into Mount Doom, so to speak, without the return to the Shire and all the other shenanigans. It leaves you wanting more, but is certainly unconventional.

I had also not realised - entirely because I had not read them at the time - how much the books owe to Jane Austen rather than C S Forester (which I have read). The characterisations and the domestic plot lines have so many echoes of Austen's work. Aubrey's mother in law, the awful Mrs Williams, would have much to say to and share with Mrs Bennett.

The books are compelling, and there is a desire to know what happens next and you do really care for the central protagonists. They are not perfect, however. O'Brian isn't the sparsest of writers and there really is no need to re-iterate in every book that the Surprise is a really weatherly ship and a sweet sailer. I would also have been quite happy never to read that another futtock shroud had been furled after a couple of books. Yes, the research and the detail is amazing but really? Pages of descriptions of bl**dy sails and bl**dy sheets. Do real sailors even enjoy that? And also, by the end, I was quite prepared to take the next ruddy bird and shove it up Dr Maturin's fundament.

But even so, I am sorry to have finished. The last, incomplete, fragment is, I would suggest, a mistake. There's clearly a simmering story of great tension there, but we have no idea of how it will play out. What we do have is ill-fleshed out. It does the memory a dis-service if that's what you are left with remembering. I don't know if my father ever read it. I bought it for him, but he was a bit contemptuous or frustrated by it all, recognising it as a last desperate attempt to monetise anything the man had produced. It's a good thing that Terry Pratchett's unfinished work has not seen the light of day, and I still almost wish I hadn't bothered reading the last one of his that was published anyway.

As I read the books there was a lot (like really a lot) that I'd forgotten, but there were also bits I remember my father and I talking about. And as we got to the last few, when he was getting hardbacks, there it was, a dedication to him from my mother, a book bought for him as a present on their 45th or 46th wedding anniversary, and then one from me, inscribed to him as a birthday present.

There were many things we didn't share. He never got sf or heavy metal. I never got jazz. These books bridged the gap, and I can only regret that I can no longer phone him up and tell him how much I enjoyed that last one, or how such and such really irritated me.

All of which is a bit more maudlin that I normally write. It occurred to me whilst reading them that it has been seven years since he died, and for various reasons I don't know that I've ever really said good-bye properly. The scattering of ashes was less satisfactory than I would have liked, and the location is less easy for us to visit than I originally thought it would have been. On the day itself I ended up just managing the process for the family, rather than taking the opportunity to say farewell as I should have. We've never been back, but then I don't need that to talk to him in my head. The books bring me closer to him than any place, now that the house is gone and sold on several times. They sat there, in the lounge, in that small book shelf niche, next to the fire, always in my eyeline when we were there. When I see them, my parents house unfolds around them, and he's there, with my mother.

I don't know if I'll ever bother reading them again, but I'm never giving them way.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Tuesday Evening To Ur-ing

I rebased all of my Sumerians over the weekend to smarten them up a bit. I've never been happy with the green bases for them, which is my standard for plastic ancients, and finally decided that I could break the pattern for this army. After all, I'm never going to put them up against Alexander or Hannibal.

Of course, having done all that work, I had to get them out for a game.

The new basing also means I move from my old green cloth marked with crosses to my sandy felt, marked with discrete black dots. I can't use my green block hills anymore, so I used my standard sand hills, marking the corners of the squares with green sticky dots.

I've got a heavily armed invasion group on the left, and some border guards on the right.

Here are the invaders, looking rather splendid.

The invaders occupy a small village, having got the initiative and moved first. The defending light troops "swarm*" towards it.

A full on advance for the invaders. Well, it's a solo game, and that's how I roll, y'know?

Due to a mistiming the invaders launch a battle cart charge. The defenders respond, but their Lugal isn't attached to the unit. Could that be significant? Turns out it is, as they lose the melee and are forced back a square (although they hold their "Fight"  status under the Fear test).

Second round of melee, and the defending Lugal joins in. Equal hits on both sides, but earlier loses mean the defenders lose a base.

An attempt to storm the village goes awry as one of the attacking units fails a Fear test, and ends up just looking on.

On the left, the other unit of Battle Carts refuses to charge the formed infantry. Elsewhere the two lines close, the invader's skirmishers dropping back behind their heavier troops.

The defender's lose another round of battle cart combat, and their Lugal dies in the melee. Not good.

The attack on the village is also a failure.

Those left hand battle carts won't rally, and won't charge. Stupid things.

The defensive light infantry drop back to the other village to avoid being charged.

Finally, the battle carts charge on the left. The defending infantry are so shocked they drop to "Fright" status. The attacking infantry is now in range, and charges home. They're hoping for a big win on the right before the defending "Auxila" catch them in the flank.

The charging battle carts break the first line of infantry, despite them having supports. In the centre it's a stalemate, but on the right, the defenders are driven back.

Then, final move. The right hand carts break the supporting infantry, and the infantry in the centre also prevail, putting their opponents to "Flight". On the right the defenders are driven back, but continue to hold on to their "Fight" status.

So, a win to the invaders. I was a bit rusty on the rules, so it was good I was solo-ing, rather than umpiring. I need to sand the edges of the bases, so they don't catch in the felt. Otherwise, not much to say. They're a simple set of rules, and I think they work quite nicely. The new look is a definite improvement, too.

Not a bad evening in Shedquarters.

* The Sumerians called skirmishers "flies".

Indian Mutine-era Available!

After a few weeks hard labour, my first ever supplement is available! This small volume goes with "Taiping Era", so you can fight battles from the Indian Mutiny.

You get 28 pages in colour, which includes rule changes (not many), commander cards and a handful of scenarios. As I haven't been able to playtest as thoroughly as I'd like, and because I wanted to get them out as soon as possible, I've made them available at cost. You can get them from  Amazon or Wargame Vault for £5.

And I prove that the rules work for any scale figures, as my Mutiny fellows at 25mm.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Hmm...flats and guns

Seeing as how the COVID rules allow it, Phil and I had a session in Shedquarters. One of Phil's lockdown projects is to do something with some 18th period flats, utilising something simple in the DBA style of things. As a starting point we had a copy of the as yet unpublished and possibly ill fated "Horse Foot and Guns", which theoretically covers 1701-1914 (EDIT: as pointed out by StuRat below they are now available I don't know. Stop paying attention for a decade and people go crazy). It is many, many, years since I got anywhere near these. I first encountered them when they were a Napoleonic set called "Boots and Brandy".

The aim is old school/1960s look to the game. Hence the bright green bases, and the Airfix cottages and Merit trees. That's a Bellona river in the distance. And Phil wants to find a place for a big ship model in the game, too.

The figures are set up at an angle to each other in an experiment to see if it means we can look a bit more at the sides of them.

In this game Phil had more guns and possibly an extra base of cavalry. I had more infantry. Soon we were moving towards each other as fast as PIPs would allow, and marvelling at the command span rules for different types of command bases.

I charged with my horse, thinking I was a better classification. I wasn't.

The cavalry stuff got a little bit confusing, with bases being repulsed and followed up and fighting multiple rounds of combat. It sort of worked, and was cleverly put together. Bit too much in the rules to learn quickly, as it is covering such a vast period.

I've broken through here, and am following up. I lost the resultant combat on a 6:1 dice roll, and was driven off by the routers.

My infantry line got a bit disrupted by Phil's artillery, but then I blew up one of his guns, so that was all right.

My infantry then got a "press home " outcome in the fire fight. This bit actually looked quite good. I liked how it worked (there's almost something like this in my WSS / Jacobite rules).

So I followed up and killed a base, and Phil dropped back again, and then we stopped because I'd won.

This was very much a trial game, and I can see Phil chopping large bits out and playing around with things to get the game back to a simpler core. It played okay (actually better than okay), and had some of the air of an 18th century battle, as we both worked our way through the rules and tried to understand what was going on. We also, I think, started to understand why it hasn't made it to final print just yet.

But whatever happens, I'm still not going to like PIPs. I mean, they're fine in DBA because of what it is, but I wish Phil B would move on. Sue L-B is the same, even a game about smugglers. Every game I see from them has PIPs in it. Please. No more.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Indian Mutine-Era Playtest

I had an evening free on Tuesday, and in the absence of any visitors I decided to do a solo playtest of one of my proposed "Indian Mutine-era" scenarios for the "Taiping era" mutiny supplement. This is  Fatehpur, which is one of Havelock's early victories.

The figures are my old Minifig 25mm armies from way back. The set up is about right, except the village should be flanked by swamps (which the Indians think are impenetrable, and the British don't) and there should be some hills in the mango groves. I should also probably have put out more rebels.

The British have to capture the town, drive the mutineers off and then exit the far table edge. The mango groves are occupied by Mutineers and "Badmashes". The British are all rifle armed, except for two Sikh units. As I'm using troops based for another game system it isn't clear how many bases are in each unit. Broadly speaking 2 figures are equal to a single base. The British are deployed to deliver volleys into the troops defending the groves. The artillery in the centre start to exchange fire.

Here are the massed mutineers, defending the village. They do look jolly colourful and neat and tidy.

The British deploy into Open Order so they can advance through the groves more easily. With rifles this doesn't affect firing effectiveness so much. The Sikhs stay in line as they have muskets, and take artillery damage. The challenge with Open Order is you have to avoid being contacted by formed troops.

On the other side I try the same. This is more difficult. There's one Sikh and one British regiment facing four Sepoy battalions.

The well directed rifle fire starts to tell on the Badmashes in the groves. I'm using Rummikub(R) tiles to show revised MV as I didn't think Mah Jong tiles were suitable. Suggestions welcome.

The British form up to charge the Badmashes, but they've already had enough and drop back. In the background you can see the Sepoy artillery starting to suffer.

This enables the British to push through the groves more quickly, being able to use Open Order again.

On the other flank, the 84th Foot prepare to launch a bayonet charge into the groves.

The British clear the left hand groves.

On the right the bayonet charge, led personally by Major Renaud, is brutally effective, and the front Sepoy unit breaks, taking their supports with them. The Sikhs are having to be more circumspect. Hordes of Badmash cavalry starts to move up.

The 84th wheel to attack the troops who are being held in place by the Sikhs. The Badmashes charge the "loyal" native horse. One unit refuses to charge, having been shot up by artillery. The native horse are performing better than historically.

The British on the left form up having left the groves. One battalion has been sent left flanking in Open Order.

The Sepoys and Highlanders start to exchange fire. At close range muskets are as deadly as rifles.

The native horse excel themselves, breaking the Badmashes (un-be-lieve-able dice rolling) and pursuing them across the board.

It all hots up on the right flank, with everyone crossing bayonets.

The Highlanders charge home. This could be nip and tuck.

On the right the remaining Sepoys in the groves break and flee. The Sepoy horse survives being swept away by the Badmash rout.

The Highlanders win their first round of combat, and the British achieve a passage of lines, so a fresh battalion of the Madras Fusiliers can get stuck in.

So I'd been playing for a couple of hours, just about, which is enough of my own company. The Sepoys look beat to me. The British have some units looking a bit ragged, and you need to ensure these don't break.

It all looked pretty believable to me. It is tough for the Mutineer player, up against well motivated British troops, but their Western Drill means they don't just stand there and get out manoeuvred like the Imperial Chinese. The British tactics of mixing Open Order and Line worked well, so I was pleased with that.

This'll be a 24 page supplement with four linked scenarios, revised troop values, command cards and a few rule tweaks. I'll put it up on Wargame Vault, and also on Amazon (I like hard copies) for a fiver, I should think, hopefully by the end of September