Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Naval Gazing in the Pacific

After my recent fretting about publications, let's get back to some wargaming. Well, not entirely. I thought I'd better have a look at my Pacific War naval stuff and see if it is in a fit state to put in a set of rules.

I set up a simple encounter battle, with two ironclads aside, supported by some wooden gunboats.

Richard had the Chileans in the distance, and Tim had the Peruvians, including the famous Huascar, which was an ocean going monitor that looks like a trawler. The dice on the sheets of paper are used to record the speed the ships are moving at.

The two flotillas steamed towards each other warily. Actually, that's not true. They steamed at full speed, and opened fire as soon as they were in range. The firing is indicated by the pieces of black pipe-cleaner.

The flotillas turned towards each other. Tim has caused his wooden vessels to hang back a little. Ineffectual fire continues to be exchanged.

As the ships close with each other, Richard gives the position careful consideration. He is trying to turn his ironclads so he can make use of both broadsides in a turn, something he achieves with considerable skill..

After more manoeuvring the Peruvians have managed to get two to one on one of the Chilean ironclads. Alas one of the two is the tiny, wooden, Union, which is lucky to escape with only minor damage. The Huascar misses again. I assure Tim that should he ever get a hit with her massive guns the damage will be considerable.

The Huascar finally hits something and gives the Abtao a shock. Alas for Tim I was wrong and the damage is minimal.

This is a move or two later, and I've lost track of exactly what happened. The Peruvians have taken some minor damage, but the Almirante Cochrane has a busted rudder that can't be fixed, and is destined to sail away in a straight line. The Abtao is badly damaged and is limping out of the fight, its Captain killed by small arms fire from the Independencia. The Chileans have been given a bloody nose, and are retiring from the field.

Neither player had played the system before, which was written by Ian Drury, before being modified by me to get rid of the hexes and add in small arms fire. It is quite hard to hit ships in the system (which is about right) and damage is unpredictable (which is also about right), so it has that going for it.

I need to go back to the sources and have another think, however. I reckon I want to put this on a square grid and use the 2 points straight, 3 points diagonal  system from "Fighting Sail". I also want to introduce a steamship telegraph to the ship control sheets, with "Full Speed/Half Speed" etc on them. If I do that I have some other issues to attend with, such as what about ships that move at different full speeds, and how my card driven phased movement sequence will work.

I'm not a fan of ship hit points, either, which is a Naval warfare standard. For these vessels they rarely, it seems to me, degrade slowly then sink. Critical hits are what it is all about, which includes holing the ship below the waterline, so I might look at that too.

As I said above, it is quite hard for ships to hit and damage each other which is realistic. The question is whether it is fun or not. RFCM's "Hammerin' Iron" is not at all realistic in this area, but the game is fun. It is much easier to inflict damage than it should be, which is quite satisfying when you are firing.

Having said that, the scenario above took about 2 1/2 hours, part of which was because I set the ships up too far apart. The game probably needs to start just outside maximum gun range. If I'd done that we'd have all been firing a bit earlier and been done in closer to 2 hours, which would be about ideal.

As ever, some things to think about.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Not knowing which half

The success of "To Ur is Human" has come as some surprise. Okay, so it isn't a runaway best seller, and no longer troubles the Amazon Top 10s of anything, but it has sold more than the half dozen I expected to shift to wargaming friends, and the numbers are now at a level where there MUST be people who I have never met who have bought a set.

I've been tracking Amazon sales against known events in the outside world, and it looks like I get flurries of activity after someone posts something, but it's hard to tell, as there's obviously a lag between posting, reading and ordering. So I don't really know what has an effect or when.

To compound my confusion I've decided to run $5 of banner advertising on TMP (keep an eye out for it, - that's it at the top). So far about 25% of sales have been in the US, with the rest being UK & 1 copy bought in Germany, but I reckon it'll be worth the investment as it means I can also post on Hobby News, if I understand things correctly, which appears on the front page. The banner will have a direct link through to the new "Wargaming for Grown-Ups" blog page with details of the rules and how to order. As I can monitor page hits, I should be able to track how many people click through, broadly speaking. It is fair to say, love it or hate it, I find that if I get a blog post mentioned on TMP I get loads more traffic than I do from anywhere else.

As I checked on the internet for reviews on forums I don't currently follow, something odd came up. The rules are available on the Japanese version of ebay, from a UK seller called "bonzer bloke". I kid you not, have a look below:

Now this is right bizarre, honestly. And he's charging twice what you'd pay on I know 'cos I checked.

Not that this affects me, unless he's bought a copy and has worked out a way to bootleg them already. I mean, if he's waiting for orders, then shipping them in form Amazon before selling on, I think that's okay by me.

Just if you are one of my Japanese followers, I'd recommend you just go straight to the Amazon Japan website.

BTW The title for this piece is taken from a quote by a Nineteenth century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker who supposedly said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

Friday, 8 November 2019

The Vanity Project II - part 1

Well, I did the cover.

And I suppose posting it here sort of commits me to delivering some time soon-ish.

Why? Well I discovered on checking the small print that Amazon will only pay me my royalties once they get over £100. As I make about £1 on the "To Ur is Human" rule book I obviously need to sell 100 before they send me any dosh.

This one will retail at between £10 - £15, I expect, as they'll be lots more in it, plus, I might do it in colour. That means a slightly higher profit per unit, so together with the "To Ur" rules I might make enough to actually get paid, assuming those who bought the last set become fan-boys and have to own all my output.

Why colour?  I have cards in the game for the Generals, and they currently have flags on them, which look better in colour. Plus there's the "Disorder" markers, which I might put on a "scan for your own purposes" page, and I also drew a lot of flags for my units, so a cut-out flag page might be a good idea.. There's too much of this stuff (especially the officers) to make use of the back cover for it, I think.

I'm intending to include a brief history, plus scenarios for the major battles, together with appropriate force lists and some uniform painting details, plus a proper bibliography.

I'm a bit torn on the Naval theatre. I have the model ships, and I use an ever-so-slightly modified set of rules a friend wrote, which I played at COW. At the moment I can't see the point of completely re-writing them, so perhaps I should drop him a line and see if he objects to me including them (with appropriate thanks and attribution, of course). However, that also means more maps and also ship information and the need to source copyright free illustrations of all the vessels involved.

Food for thought.

Feedback welcome.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A Bit Chile on the Beach this evening

Having sort of said I'd publish my 1879 Pacific War rules, hot on the heels of "To Ur is Human", (or maybe not, - I've another book to write first) I thought it might be best to drag the rules out and play a few games with them.

I decided to mix it up a bit and do a Chilean beach landing. The basic briefing was that, unable to force the main harbour at Lima, the Chileans had gone further north, and landed two divisions on a beach. That's the area between the blue bit and the coastal highway. The area is defended by a small, walled, town, protected by a couple of haciendas with hastily thrown up adobe walls, together with some improvised defences protecting the road. How the Chileans had managed to get two divisions ashore without being molested is a mystery to all of us.

The small, walled, town was made up of European Spanish buildings and walls that once graced a Chinese walled garden. Peruvian buildings of the period tend to be not so tall on account of the earthquakes. But it still looks great.

Tim surged up the beach and across the Esplanade.

Richard did the same.

Tim deployed into Open Order, better to survive the rifle fire coming from the red hacienda.

Tim was also threatening my centre. He was being hit by my defensive fire, but he came on like nothing was affecting him.

Braving the point blank artillery fire, Tim rushed the emplacement. The hand to hand over the adobe wall was brutal and hard fought.

Richard drove off the infantry defending the yellow hacienda, but the Gatling Gun crew were made of sterner stuff.

The Chileans are just unable to close, as the Gatling handles are turned, and the barrels glow red hot (query, - if you roll 3 x 1 on d8s, does that meant the Gatling has jammed???).

My artillery are overrun, and my other central battalion fails to deter its opponents with fire, and is driven back by an attack column. I fear equipping the defenders with the cheapest firearms money can buy might have been a false economy.

Disaster! The Peruvians are driven out of their defensive position, and brave Colonel Bolognesi is killed.

By now Phil had arrived, quite literally with the cavalry, and charged one of my other retiring units in the flank.

Finally the brave defenders of the yellow hacienda were overwhelmed from all sides and killed to a man at their Gatling Guns.

Pretty soon the defenders of the Red hacienda had suffered the same fate, and it was all up for the Peruvians.

Quite a handy introduction to the players, and a good work out for the changes I made after the last game. I did a lot of work on the defence and attacking of buildings and that is shaping up nicely. I also made notes elsewhere in places where the text wasn't as clear as I would have liked. Most of the wording will need a complete re-write when I go to publish, taking out my truncated sentences and abbreviated wording.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

To Ur Elsewhere

It is a typical response of most wargamers when playing an new game system or coming across new toys to ask immediately "What else could I use this for?". Then there's the "I don't have any xyz so why should I buy these rules?" issue.

I'm being caught both ways with "To Ur is Human". I've never really had a problem previously as I was giving rules away, so I didn't have to bother with the first question and I didn't care about the other. Now I've got them out on the market being sold I sort of have to think about them, which is new for me.

Firstly, to state the obvious, "To Ur" was written specifically for Sumerian warfare. Having said that I wasn't writing to exclude other periods, so the honest answer to the "can I use these for other armies and periods?" is "I don't know". I mean obviously you can use them with other figures. The troop types match onto Egyptians and Hittites reasonably well, I suppose, but not having tried it I don't know if it is a good simulation of the period. You could also use them for the campaigns of Alexander, substituting heavy cavalry for battle carts, but if you did they would come with no warranty as to how much like a battle in the period it would look*.

So, given that position, what could be done to make the rules more universal? I think you need to understand some of the philosophy behind the writing of "To Ur" in order to understand why they do what they do. There are two main drivers for the system:

  1. Armies are slow moving and ponderous, except for battle carts which can be fast moving but unpredictable.
  2. How much one side frightens the other is the key determinant of victory. In this view battle carts are a psychological weapon as much as anything, - hence the Fear Test.

If you are going to map the rules on to another period then you have to address the applicability of these design aims and deal with them.

It isn't hard to sort out the first. To make the chariots more like Egyptian chariots then you can remove the wheeling restrictions and the need to roll the dice when charging. Allowing a 90 degree turn for each square moved, or permitting the 45 degree wheel in a starting square or an about face for the cost of a square's movement would probably fix this. A couple of games play testing should enable you to calibrate the changes easily enough. My best guess that allowing 45 degree turns in the first square, permitting a wheel when charging and allowing one free about face would be about right (but NB I have not playtested this idea, - it may be rubbish). You might apply the same analysis to other hard charging mounted troops like Alexander's Companions.

I think that the Fear Test will transfer okay. What needs to be thought about here is not the Fear Test factors themselves, but the hand to hand factors that determine who gets the +2 Fear Test bonus. The Fear Test table and factors had a lot of work and number crunching put into them, and the asymmetric outcomes by troop quality are at the heart of the process and took the longest to get right. There are no certain outcomes, good or bad, in the table and the extreme 1:6 result will enable levy to turn over elites or at least halt them in their tracks. You will note that battle carts are the only troop type that get a charge bonus in hand to hand. This is essential to ensure that a fresh battle cart unit always should get the +2 bonus when attacking from the front so they can hold their position as the terror weapon supreme in the period (unless their opponents have done something clever, like hide behind cover, or stand uphill).

Another thing to note with the carts is that they are half the size of all other units. This means that whilst they are devastatingly effective they are also very brittle. If they get a good Fear Test outcome and frighten their opponents off the battlefield then they can roll on and cause havoc. If they get bogged down in combat then that's less clever. If that looks like a combat outcome you want in another period, then the rules and systems will deliver that, as written. I know there is a debate as to whether later chariots were light skirmishing vehicles or bulldozers. I think with my carts that they aren't really either, and you would only ever charge home against an enemy that is already showing signs of being frightened of you.

The last point on the carts is that they have no ranged missile capability. That is something that is easily fixed by allowing them to shoot as light infantry. Sumerian carts had javelins (which in "To Ur" are only thrown at an adjacent square anyway), but if you want bows, then I'd just use the archery rules.

The last hole to think about is missing troop types. I have no concept of light cavalry in the rules, - you may consider the carts to be a proxy for heavy cavalry - no camels, no elephants. For those of you of a DBA frame of mind I don't differentiate between Blades, Spears, Pikes or Hordes or Warbands. I would say that the system is sufficiently open that it should not be hard to push the factors together to get them into the game, but again, I haven't playtested the rules for more exotic armies with a greater variety of troops. They may work just fine and dandy as written, or at least give you a fun game, but as I said above, they come with no warranty for that.

I don't want to put people off buying "To Ur is Human". They're priced at £5 for that reason, - they're less than a glossy magazine and certainly less than a pint where we held the SOA Conference. There are ideas in them I want to share. All I'd say is that if you do work out how to play them in another period, it would be great if you didn't release them into the wild in such a way that people didn't need to have access to a copy of "To Ur..." in order to play the game.

* Bearing in mind what some people will play and believe they're getting as historical outcome then this may not be an issue.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Society of Ancients Conference 2019

After an enjoyable time last year I went back for another go at the SOA's annual residential bash. The organiser, who I wargame with every quarter, encouraged me to put something on, and also consented to me doing my Edgcote talk as well. The game I took was "To Ur is Human", and the reason I published the rules was because I was taking the game. My hopes of selling large numbers of copies to an enthusiastic audience were high.

I drove up Saturday morning again. The hotel room for the Friday night is a bit rich for my wallet, and there was no guarantee of games, unlike COW. This has been recognised by the organising group, so will be different next year, of which more anon.

The hotel was stuffed to the gills, so I had to park in the entrance to unload, before putting my vehicle in the over spill car park. Lucky for me I was done just before the heavens opened.

The first session was Phil S and Mike Ingram talking about Bosworth, which is the battle day for 2020. This clashed with the RWC Final. Glad I took in the talks, rather than slipping off to the bar. I won't say much on the talks here, other than to remark they were excellent and sparked a healthy debate. Mike was chuffed as he sold out of all of his Bosworth books he'd taken with him.

Then it was time for some games.

I went for David & Sam's presentation of "Gangs of Rome". As you can see they have invested a lot of time and effort on their set up for playing this, unless the buildings are all sold ready painted (which they might be) in which case they've invested a lot of cash in the game.

I was interested in giving this a go as there's been some buzz about it, and it isn't the sort of game that I would normally play.

You have cards for your characters/gang and also cards for equipment, which are represented on the table by MDF denarii. We were instructed to select 75 points of fighters and weapons, but I don't think anyone did this properly. This was the biggest game of GoR that David & Sam had run, and they were unsure of the number of players so there was a bit of confusion. I think it would have been better to have given us pre-selected Gangs, and just got on with the stabbing.

It didn't take long for gang members to start setting on one another. Figure movement sequence was random, with Harry Sidebottom drawing coloured meeples from a cup. The coloured chits on the base are the character number and the number of hit points left. Combat is like the PBI armour rules, with hitting and blocking numbers of dice. Nothing original, but it works.The dice used in the game have Roman numerals on them, which can be a bit confusing when reading IV and VI. However they are essential as the crowds of citizens (the big round multiple figure base) move randomly on a IV, V, VI in the direction of the "V" on the die.

The denarii represent weapons used and dropped. The randomly moving mob is head banging itself into a corner, like a badly operated remote controlled car.

There's also this thing you can do where you can disappear into  a crowd of citizens, then pop out in another group within 18".

We were all hunting for Ballista, but he got away in the end. I got points for stabbing people, so came second.. 

The game relies heavily on the figure and scenery trappings for its appeal. Without them it is fairly ephemeral as a gaming experience. It feels a bit "faddy", which isn't to say that it isn't fun. I'm glad I took part in the game, but I won't be bothering the manufacturers any time soon.

Elsewhere people were re-fighting Bosworth using 54mm Swoppets.

And Mark Fry was back with his Chariots and Wings of War.

I was hoping he was closer to the published version, but progress seems to have been slow, and he's still using Wings of War cards in the game. Hopefully by next year he'll having something shiny and shrink wrapped to show us.

After lunch we had a talk by Simon Macdowell on the Vandals. This was interesting and provocative, and sparked some debate. He was also selling books, for a bargain £10 each (or 3 for £20, which was a true bargain. I avoided it. Don't need any late Roman era armies at the moment).

After the talk I was on with "To Ur is Human".

I had a full house of 6 players. The game was set up very simply. The army on the right is attacking, those on the left defending. I didn't over-egg the scenario as I wanted players to focus on the game, not the plot.

The conference organiser looks on, as one of the players strips for action.

Everyone looks thoughtful. Adam consults the playsheet, looking for inspiration.

Jeremy tries to ride down massed archers with his battle carts. He takes a lot of damage on the way in, and fails a Fear Test.

Duncan rushes his Lugal across, to bolster the archers.

Adam's rule swotting pays off, as his carts overwhelm and break a double ranked heavy infantry unit, who fail successive Fear Tests.

We are nearing game end, I think. With 6 players I did not take that many photos. Duncan Head played a blinder, churning out sixes almost on demand. The players helped me out considerably, as I kept getting the Fear Test outcome numbers swapped round in my head. That may explain why I only sold two copies all weekend. For those of you who are interested and missed out on the buying opportunity they are available here for a very reasonable £5. As I was asked on another post, people were interested in whether they could use the rules for any other period. The answer to that is that these rules were written for the Sumerians. I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire ancient world, so I wouldn't say for sure either way. They might be applicable, - you would have to try them and see. I think the Fear Test has wider applicability, and expect to see it popping up in other rules in the next few years.

We then had a break to change for dinner, and a chance to get a drink in the bar, which was overcrowded and overpriced. Then Harry Sidebottom gave a pre-dinner talk on the crisis in Rome during the 3rd century and then sold lots of his books.

Dinner was a vast improvement on the previous year, both in quality of food and service.

After dinner, some games. I got 1460 out again and ran it three or four times. Overwhelming Yorkist victories every time. Richard L even won it with out using Edward of March.

The next morning I was up to talk about Edgcote. I gave a version of my 550 conference talk, focusing on sources and the battle itself. I think it went well. It's a knowledgeable audience and the Q&A was lively and well informed. Matt's point that the number "60,000" might actually just mean "everybody" (it refers to the 12 tribes of Israel each at a mythic 5,000 people, perhaps) to the medieval reader and writer. With Mike, Simon & Harry all selling books people were nearly skint by the time I stepped up, but I had 5 takers. If anyone couldn't afford one at the time and wants to get one ordered for Christmas, look here, where you can also read all of the 5 star reviews.

Phil then ran the Edgcote game. He doesn't really need me to help, but I was there anyway, reading out appropriate bits of Welsh poetry and other sources.

Hail Caesar continues to do a good job, although I'm still mystified as to why.

It was a complete failure for the rebels. I think Warwick may need to go into hiding.

Behind us Richard L was running his Roman encounter game he trialled on a load of us last time we were down in the West Country in his magnificent games room.

We then had lunch, - again a vast improvement on last year. If I wasn't having a Sunday roast when I got home in the evening I'd have got well stuck in. Instead I had vegetarian pasta.

After lunch Nick Harbud did a talk on probability. It was more interesting than he makes out on this slide.

There were then more games, but I had a lot of tidying up to do, so I set to work on that. Our NBS stand was up and our crates of stuff were all mixed up following a long show season. I therefore took the time, as all of mine and Phil's stuff was together in one place, to repack it all properly and throw out out-of-date promotional material. Then time to head off home in the gathering gloom.

Another worthwhile weekend wargaming, although I would have liked to have sampled a few more games. I'm good with a lecture first thing each morning and an evening pre-dinner speaker but I'd happily go straight into games after lunch, although that does require people to offer them as sessions.

For next year the event will move to Madingley Hall, near Cambridge, which is a conference centre and looks much more suitable for the needs of an event such as this. There are more meeting rooms for games, so we aren't all crammed in together, and the bar is much bigger too. The Conference will also take up at least half of the accommodation rooms and so we will avoid being squeezed to the side by the evening events at a big hotel, as we have been at Chesford Grange both this year and the last. The pricing looks keener too and pretty much guarantees a Friday evening to Sunday afternoon event for me. The drive is a little longer in my case, but otherwise I can't complain.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Phil Left Infantry

So we had another evening in the desert, left set up from last week. As it was the French turn, we, as the Italians, shouted "Opportunity Fire" and opened up with everything we had.

I hit that bren carrier thing with the big gun on it. Major damage, but not knocked out.

Over on the other side of the board the French were massing. The Italian Company Commander was looking a bit exposed, and we really didn't have much to bail him out with.

Especially when the enemy closest get enough APs to close assault. It doesn't take long for the defenders to be overwhelmed. Ignore the "Dug In" marker. It's a reminder the defenders were pinned.

Two turns in and we FINALLY hit that bl**dy Crusader.

We had a big turnout for the game. There were 7 of us. Steve, Patrick and I took the Italians. Dave, Richard and Tim had the French. Phil was umpiring.

We finally got some proper reinforcements on, but the French were so far across the board we didn't have a lot of options. My pairs of trucks on the right kept up a steady fire, but never generated enough APs to dismount safely.

Then two of them had the crew killed, and were taken off.

Then Steve got his infantry on, including a flamethrower. Despite his best efforts, and a spectacular acrylic game aid he did no damage with it.

There were a lot of bases in the dead pile.

Then the French got even more stuff on.

And my last truck ran away as the other one blew up.

We had failed to make much head way elsewhere. We did blow the Chasseurs D'Afrique out of the central building with HE, but too little, too late. We never really recovered from some mistakes in the first turn several weeks ago

Even with that said, it was a nice enough way to spends three evenings gaming. It all went a bit slower than expected, partly because there was a lot of kit flying about, but mainly as most people were learning the system, and with either two or three people aside things slow down.

A final note: Phil has been making amendments to PBI in small ways as he's gone along over the years. Each PC gets an automatic activation, and any activated unit gets +1APs, so it is less inclined to bog down and units can then do things too. He's toying with other ideas as well, as the vehicle HE v infantry rules are a bit poor too. I also like the idea that vehicles get a free 45 degree turn if they are moving.