Monday, 23 May 2016

Spending some time in the lead belt

I haven’t done a show for a while. I missed Campaign in early May and what with my next usual show being Derby in October I was in the market for a visit. The next show due in the calendar was Partizan in Newark, so that looked promising, despite its reputation for favouring the larger sized figure.

Phil was registered in as a stand for the Society of Ancients and also the Northampton Battlefields Society, so as a committee member of the latter I offered my services. Even though it meant an early start on a Sunday morning.

This is the first show at the new venue. It is sad to be leaving Kelham Hall which had a lot of character. There were lots of nooks and crannies and you never knew what you were going to stumble on next. I suspect this was not to a lot of people’s taste. Plus the lighting was always awful and the parking could be a bit dodgy. And it could be a long trek into the display halls.

The show is now at the Newark Showground, a converted RAF base. It’s easier to get to off the A1 and it’s also in a purpose built show venue. Basically a big warehouse like the one at Donnington where they do the Derby show. It means it is light and well laid out, with good big doors you can reverse your car/van up to when loading or unloading. Parking is better as well, apart from the mindless jerks who insist on parking in Disabled Spaces when they don’t have a blue badge.

After a couple of slight issues Phil & I got there a little later than expected. This meant that our other helpers were already on site to carry in the display materials.

For this show Phil had put together a couple of display tables in addition to the magazines and games we also sell for the SoA. The Northampton Battlefield Society has a collection of weaponry and the new book on the Battle of Northampton to sell as well, so we take up some space.

The two display tables were the static display of Naseby (yes, we cover the Naseby Battlefield Trust as well) and a new table that Phil has done for the Battle of Edgecote. This latter was played as a game, with Phil & Chris running the scenario with “L’Arte de La Guerre”, a rule set with which I am not familiar. Both pronounced they were pleased with the outcome, so that was one good thing out of the day.

Edgecote Field

The Yorkists

The Rebels

We had a steady flow of people past the stand but it was never really busy. The layout didn’t do us any favours as we like to put the society stands next to the games. That increases the stop-and-chat flow, increasing our chances of signing up new members and also meaning we don’t need to be in two places at once.

Me, getting excited about Naseby

I had a few good conversations about Naseby and the joy of battlefield visits in Northamptonshire and also spread the word about the threat to the battlefield in Northampton. We sold out of our book, so that was also good news.

My agenda for the day was to pick up some toys from Mr Baccus, some books from Dave Lanchester, a board game or two and play in Simon Miller’s “To the Strongest” with a view to purchasing the rules.

As it turned out I managed two out of the four.

My first call of the day was to Pete Berry at Baccus. Pete is an old friend (like 30+ years old friend) and one of the most interesting thinkers in the hobby. He is always working on something new. On this occasion I wanted to pick up some 1914 period figures for a new project. I’ve been humming and hawing about this for months if not over a year and have finally taken the plunge. I hope I’ve got this one right. I’d hate it to end up in the pile of “Uninspiring Stories” as I couldn’t face telling Pete both that I didn’t really love what I’d got and also that I couldn’t make the project work. Pete was really pleased to see someone buy a 1914 French Army, seeing as they did most of the fighting, so that's a further incentive to make a go of the project.

And they have red trousers. The French, that is.

With the speed I paint I might have something for Pete’s “Joy of 6” show next year.

Dave’s bookstall is always a terrific browse. You never know what you are going to find and he’s another genuinely nice bloke. On this occasion I found a book on the Alsace/Lorraine campaign. Perfect for my newly acquired 1914 armies. I searched in vain for the Osprey on the WW1 French Army and thought I’d leave empty handed on that front only for Dave to turn up with it right at the end of the day. That’s customer service.

Alas my quest for boardgames was still born due to the complete lack of any board game vendors, which was a bit of a surprise.

 Simon  Miller's game was in full swing by the time I got to it. Lots of toy soldiers and a table with one of the most discretely marked grids you could imagine.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to spare enough time to follow the game completely although it seemed to move quickly and the players looked engrossed in it. Using playing cards means there's clutter on the table, and there seemed to be a need for a few too many markers. I'm no stranger to either of these in game design, but I couldn't square their use with the otherwise really pleasant aesthetic of the game.

A quick flick through the rules didn't help me; too many pictures and glossiness to pick up quickly from a casual read. I need to seek this out again at some point before I dismiss it completely.

Elsewhere there was a lot of 28mm stuff all done to the same standard and the same style. A few games stood out to me as being a bit more original.

I loved the look of this enormous age of sail naval game, which seemed to have got most of what you'd want in a game of this type right.

I liked the ships too.

The biggest surprise of the day was a game put on by two old Brixcon AK47 Republic friends, Pauls Hooper & Mileham from Great Yarmouth. Every so often you see something striking and unique. this is one of those.

Armies made out of clothes pegs.

It was all semi-flat, down to the slotted pine trees.

Lots of different troop types, including these Kilties.

Liked the look of the cavalry too.

 And don't forget the native auxiliaries.

Finally my chums from WD's Display Group North were doing their Roman Senator game, which I hope to catch up with a CoW. Not much to look at, but a jolly good time seemed to be being had by all.

All in all a most enjoyable day, even with the disappointments.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Another play test. Sort of.

I sometimes wonder if Phil Barker is any good at DBA. I mean he wrote the rules, so he must know how they work and what you're supposed to do, so I suppose he must be. I've known him now for over 30 years and never seen him play it, so I'm just guessing.

I only mention it as I'm not sure if I'm any good at the rules I write. I mostly umpire people playing them rather than play myself and often when I do play them and try to do what you're supposed to do they don't quite work out for me.

I also wonder if he remembers all the rules he's written, too. Probably only the current ones. I can't remember them when I'm writing them. Chris A is good at reminding me I've forgotten something I've written.

Anyway, I've been away for a while, as referenced in the previous blog, and I hadn't played the Peru/Chile rules for a while before that either. Luckily I was off work Thursday, and Phil as free, so we squeezed a game in during the afternoon.

I wanted to get through as many moves as possible and also really try out the close assault rules. I therefore set up a one division v one division game and took the Chileans to attack with.

I also discovered some settings on my camera that enabled me to increase the depth of field in the pictures (ie get more stuff in focus) so I tried that out too. Alas the lighting in Shedquarters was a bit odd and I couldn't get as bright a set of pictures as I wanted.

Here's a shot of the advancing Chilean forces. This is one of my pre-game shots when I was fiddling about with the depth of field.

This picture shows I might have got it right. Both the head and the tail of the column are in focus, which I normally can't do. Anyway, now on with the game.

These are my Chileans advancing rapidly towards the bridge and road the Peruvians are defending. My aim here was to close the distance and close assault as quickly as I could to test the close combat rules.

Phil countered by charging my cavalry screen. I reacted by forming a double infantry line to enable me to shoot them off if my cavalry shouldn't survive.

Which they didn't.

Phil threatened me with his cavalry for a turn, but they soon retired. Notice how both infantry and cavalry are nicely in focus.

Having seen the cavalry off, I formed up into Attack Columns and advanced. Phil countered by deploying into firing lines. My artillery were deployed on a hill to my rear and were unable to hit anything.

I eventually managed to get one column to charge home and force a Peruvian unit back, but I didn't break it. Elsewhere I'd taken so much disorder advancing that my attacks were ineffective.

Meanwhile Phil circled round with his cavalry and occupied the hacienda on my right flank.

My attack had pretty much broken down now. It was at this point I discovered I was using an out of date playsheet. Not that it would have made much difference.

Phil even managed to deploy his gatling gun on the bridge, but by that point I'd given up the ghost.

So.....not exactly a complete disaster. Found a couple more bugs in the core rules that I've got to smooth out, and I need to delete the out of date QRS file.

However I need to revisit the melee rules. The next day I reset the figures and ran through the assault again using the up to date rules and deploying a skirmisher screen to absorb the fire and protect the attack columns. It sort of worked, but didn't look right.

I fear I have a problem here. The game is giving me a good late 19th century European simulation, but it's not very Latin American. The melee rules are letting me down. I've got some clunky "superior formation" modifier in there and I'm trying to force the mechanism I use for the SCW into the rules because I like it. That's not a good enough reason.

I've had a few ideas since, but I need to work out the wrinkles. I possibly need to go back to the sources again and try to work out exactly why the Chileans could close assault and win against what should be withering fire and the Peruvians mostly couldn't.


BTW I'll be at Newark this weekend on the SoA / Northamptonshire Battlefields Society stand. Stop by and say hello.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Armoured Train Wreck

The blog has been quiet for a little while as I’ve been out of the country with Mrs T. We got back early last week, but there were tasks to be done, lawns to be mowed and a job to go to so no chance to sit down at the key board.

We’ve been in Cuba on a tour, visiting the western half of the island and covering the areas haunted by Hemingway. Like a lot of Europeans we thought we’d get in the trip “before the Americans arrive”. This wasn’t expected to be a military history tour de force and whilst I picked up some items for the hat shelf I didn’t and don’t intend to plunge into the Wars of Independence or the Revolutionary War.

However, like most wargamers, I’m partial to an armoured train. Consequently I got moderately excited when I saw that our itinerary included a trip to Santa Clara to visit the Armoured Train monument.

The attack on the armoured train in Santa Clara effectively marked the end of the war against Castro’s revolutionaries for Batista and his forces. It was undertaken by troops under the command of Che Guevara although he wasn’t there personally. You can argue round the houses about whether he masterminded the victory or whether it was one of his subordinates. However, it happened on his watch and if it had gone wrong he’d have taken the blame, so I guess he gets the credit too.

The story goes like this. Batista sets up an armoured train and mans it with 400 of his best troops (they always say things like this; why would he have put 400 useless troops in it?). It is protected by .50 cal MGs and anti-aircraft gun, presumably deployed in ground attack mode, in best “AK47 Republic” style. This wonder weapon would give the forces strategic movement, protection and the power to intimidate the local population and the lightly armed revolutionaries.

Like many of these grandiose plans that have the air of the last roll of the dice it didn’t have the desired effect. Guevara’s forces derailed it with a bulldozer then chucked bundles of grenades underneath it to disable it further. In the event that this tactic failed they had a locomotive packed with explosives they were going to run into it.

As it turned out the initial plan worked and the 400 men in the train surrendered to 13 revolutionaries. Or 25, depending on who you believe. I'm going with the 20 or so, as their names were listed in one of the cars:-

The memorial to the attack in Santa Clara is worth a visit if you’re ever there. It is strikingly Cuban in its execution, combining Revolutionary triumphalism and artistic interpretation.

On approaching the site the first thing you see is the big yellow bulldozer, mounted on a concrete plinth. It looked to me at the time to be one of the best preserved pieces of industrial equipment anywhere on the island. It certainly looked freshly painted, which is more than you can say for a number of things on the island.

The memorial is next to the railway line and consists of a number of box cars and a flat bed. The actual engine itself isn’t there, - presumably too valuable a piece of equipment to leave lying around. Our guide, who was otherwise very good, was unable to tell us where the locomotive is. The guide books are fairly sniffy about the location of the memorial because it is next to a railway line and a busy road, however seeing as that’s where it all happened that’s where the memorial needs to be. 

The whole thing is dominated by a white concrete structure which is an artistic representation of an explosion. One of the box cars has an art gallery in it. Very Cuban.

The Green Markers highlight the bullet holes 
As far as I can make out it was more of a mobile command post with bodyguards than an armoured train as most of us would understand it. It had a number of drawbacks. First up, the floor is made of wood, hence the effectiveness of throwing grenades or molotovs underneath it.

One of the troop cars. Note the wooden planking floor.
Secondly the defensive armour isn’t something to trust your life too. It consists of two steel/iron sheets with an infill of wet sand to stop spalling inside the cars. 

Thirdly there don’t seem to be any firing ports. You have to slide open the doors in order to fire. Finally the flat bed with the AA guns on it doesn’t have folding sides so you can’t depress the barrels to fire at targets on the ground.

I suspect I’m being unfair, but you wouldn’t get me inside it.

So it really is no surprise that the occupants took the first opportunity to surrender when the whole thing feel off the track.

The whole thing is commemorated on the reverse of the Three Convertible Cuban Peso Banknote.

 Yes, the Cubans have a three denomination note. It was introduced so they'd have a note to put Che on.

After all, the man was a hero.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

El Cid's AMW debut

Having published some El Cid period army lists, I guessed it was time to go public with a game. Friday afternoon was free and so, luckily, was Phil.

I've finished a few more units since the last update, and can now field armies that fit the army lists I did without any substitute figures. For this game I thought I'd do Feudal Spanish (because they're really colourful) versus North African/Almoravids (because they've got camels).

The last time I used NT's AMW rules for the Medieval period it was for Wars of the Roses and I soon moved on from them (Neil's view in the book is that WotR is really dull, - he's not wrong if you use AMW straight). This is the first time I've really used lots of armoured knights against medieval infantry.

The major changes compared to the Classical period is that most infantry is downgraded in effectiveness, knights get a charge bonus and have comparatively better armour. In a straight one on one combat for knights v foot after the first round both sides are rolling the same dice per base, but the knights are saving on a 4-6 whilst infantry save on a 6. This means that knights should win out in the end, but after a bit of a struggle.

Before the battle report proper here's a picture of the Spanish. The army had two units of Knights (Caballeros), one of Caballeros Villanos, one of jinetes, two town militia/medieval foot, one of light cross bows and one of light javelins.

The Almoravids had three units of Spearsmen, one of Black Guards, one jinetes, one Murabit heavy cavalry, one of camels and one light bows. The jinetes are deployed forwards to make use of the interpenetration rule, enabling them to retreat back through heavy infantry.

Another shot of all those lovely massed knights. Don't ya just love 'em?

Phil took the Spaniards and got the first turn. he started with a bold move forwards in the middle, whilst also widening his position to avoid being outflanked.

In response I moved forwards, keeping my infantry mainline intact. Phil closed the gap, but fell short of my jinetes.

Here's a close up of me pelting Phil with javelins.

I then dropped back behind my infantry line. Phil got caught by surprise by this. I'm sure I told him about the new rule for Almoravids. Well. fairly sure. I think.

Undeterred by by the pin pricks from my light hose javelins, Phil picked out my best infantry unit, the Black Guards, and ploughed headlong into it. They gave him a round of javelins before contact. Another new rule. Likewise I'm sure I told Phil about it.

My right wing meanwhile was in danger of being encircled, so my light cavalry headed off in that direction to shore things up a bit. In the middle honours were even between the Black Guard and the knights, both losing a base each.

A quick trip to the other side of the table to see things from Phil's perspective. On the left of the picture my Murabit cavalry are taking a bit of a beating, so my other heavy foot are moving up to bail them out. Either side of the melee in the middle our foot units are lining each other up. On the right I've reduced the Caballeros Villanos by a base through the combination of archery and camel borne javelins.

Here's a close up of my Murabits just before they evaporated. Taken in the flank by the arbalest unit and losing out in the front to the knights they took a lot of hits and failed two morale rolls....

...leaving a bit of a hole for not much in exchange.

Standing back to contemplate the whole scene gives a mixed picture. I've have finally broken the knights in the middle but I'm left with a single base of Black Guards. On the left the Spanish light foot are being manhandled by the camels but are standing their ground. My archers are endeavouring to hold off the Caballeros Villanos, but fear the worst. On the right everyone is drawing breathe waiting for the next clash.

In the bottom corner the two units of jinetes skirmish with each other whilst the knights and spearsmen finally get stuck into each other. In the middle the other heavy foot units have engaged and whilst one combat has been even, I have given the unit with the red flag a bit of a pasting. My light archers are holding on just, but must soon face the inevitable. It is probably about time to extract my camels who haven't been a roaring success.

All of a sudden the knights reduce my spearsmen to half strength. The Black Guards are rushing up to try to hasten the demise of Phil's other militia foot unit.

The archers hold on for another turn, which has enabled me to pull my camels out of danger and present a threat should the Caballeros Villanos break through.

A wider shot shows that in certain areas my luck is holding. My jinetes have got the upper hand, and my spearsmen are fighting back against the knights. The red flag unit is nearly gone, but my unit fighting the blue flags is down to half strength. Those archers still hold on however.

When the Caballeros Villanos break through I'm able to shadow them with the camels to introduce a note of caution. My jinetes have nearly got the job done, but the knights have virtually finished off their opponents. In the top centre left it looks like I'm about to lose the last base to a flank attack from the arbalasters, whilst the Black Guards have finally closed up to do the same to the blue flag unit. I now have a spare unit of spearsmen on the left of the picture who have about faced to come and help out. At this point I'm down to 5 units, and Phil has 6 (one out of shot) with the first side to get down to 2 being the loser.

The arbalasters and Black Guards make their presence felt and we both lose a unit.

I succeeded in taking the Cabalerros Villanos in the rear with my camels but didn't inflict enough damage. The next turn they about face and it looks a bit dodgy.

I've won the light horse battle and so I have 5 units to Phil's 4, but my camels are down to one base and I can't extract them as the spanish light javelins have cut off their escape route. My spearsmen only have one hit left before they are history too. My Black Guards are left chasing a unit of light troops. Not looking too hopeful.

Strangely enough the camels hold on for another turn, but the arbalasts get lucky and the Black Guards get shot away, as the spearsmen finally succumb to the knights. 4:3 to the Spanish

Next turn the camels are eradicated and it is all over.

It was quite a close game and the army lists held up fairly well. I think they may need some slight revisions, but otherwise they do the job.

Phil & I had a brief chat abut how good a simulation the game was. In truth it was a bit too attritional and the cavalry, although being very effective, don't seem to have the effect cavalry should have. Really they should be beating infantry quickly or being bounced off.

As for the Almoravids, the tactics I used didn't look like much of what they usually did. I need to rebalance the army with more heavy foot and light horse to see if I can simulate the infantry fortress with sallying light horse for which they were famous. There's also an option to swap out the infantry back ranks with bowmen, and that may make a difference.

However, as is usually the case with AMW it gave a close, tense, game that was over in a couple of hours with a clear winner and no quibbles.

Next up I need to try the Andalusians. I played a solo game the day before with no pictures taken which ended up with a close Spanish victory again.

Colourful though, aren't they?