Sunday, 29 July 2018

Trebian Talks. And Talks. And Talks.

As you may or may not know I'm a member of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society. We campaign to protect our local battlefields, and as part of that we run a series of talks throughout the year, usually on the last Thursday of the month.

When we were putting the programme together last year I volunteered to do a talk on William Boteler. He was the man who was appointed as the Major-General for the East Midlands during the Protectorate. I'd come across him and his colleagues when I was at University. Had things turned out differently (like if I'd got a first instead of a 2:1) then he would have formed part of my PhD thesis on the Major-Generals' system. Instead I went out into the world of work, only to discover many years later that someone else had basically written my PhD thesis instead of me. I talked about it on this blog.

Following that piece the cross checking and work on the talk continued. As I was putting the information together and sorting it into a coherent narrative things kept popping up as being a bit odd. There was, for example, a story that Boteler made a practice of pulling down houses belonging to Royalists and Roman Catholics. That's a terrific story, and the details would make a good couple of slides, as evil black and buff coated puritans hounded  people from their homes, demolishing them around their ears. The details in the books and articles I had were sparse, so I went to the foot notes and found the sources. Luckily for me the primary source for the story was held in the local collection of Northampton library, so I was able to go and check it. An enormous 2 volume 18th century compendium of local stories compiled by a Northamptonshire Antiquarian, funded by subscription (who says crowd funding is a new idea?) it turned out to be. I greedily turned the pages only to find the truth was not exactly as reported elsewhere. What actually seems to have happened is he arranged to remove the ceiling beams from an abandoned, unfinished, property that had been built by a now bankrupt or severely financially embarrassed Roman Catholic. Oh. Another half mentioned reference tied him into something that happened prior to his appointment that has since been shown to be post Restoration propaganda. Ah.

Lyveden New Build. Never Finished. Now without roof beams
So how much else of what we know is true, then?

B*gg*r. The 45 minute talk that'd take a few evenings over a week or so to prepare was rapidly morphing into a serious piece of work. Yes and as I dug I found more inaccuracies, and more cases of historians repeating a statement from a previous work, copying the the source reference without, it appeared, going to check it themselves....

And the story, as it emerges, became even more interesting. Boteler's life held a mirror up to the real issues of politics, religion and society in the mid 17th century. Because there was no reason for anyone to argue for the rehabilitation of a second level down Cromwellian bureaucrat post the Restoration the work simply hasn't been done. In the time I had there was only so much I could check and research. Boteler, although born in Northamptonshire, probably ended his life in Surrey. but we don't know. There's probably a record, it's just it'd be a lot of work to find it, and who has the incentive to do so? The details of his early life in Northamptonshire are a bit vague, but I've never really been that interested in geneaological type And there's details in Ivan Root's article that aren't foot noted, and I can't check, so I'd have to go back to first principles, and to be honest I don't have the incentive to do it. No one is going to pay me to get this right. I can't see a biography of Boteler is going to be a big seller, and in any event the historians who have trodden this path before me haven't been able to find the truth.

Anyhow, this all distilled into a wide ranging and thought provoking  talk (I thought) that had stuff in it that our local history guru, Mike Ingram, didn't know or had bought into the myths and legends weaved round the man.

So, last Thursday, on one of the hottest evenings of the year, I shared my findings with about 35 of the faithful (a decent turnout given the weather and the fact the holidays have started). Alas, I did go on a bit, and then a bit more, and then a bit more. I overran by about an hour.

I was a bit surprised at this, - talking to a time limit used to be something I was good at.

Well, everyone stayed awake despite the heat and lack of air conditioning. And a few people afterwards were kind enough to say that they found it all really interesting.

So there you have it. Anyone else need an evening's talk about an obscure bloke from the middle of the 17th century (who admittedly did get mixed up in some entertaining stuff)? I can probably trim it down to an hour now I know how long the whole thing takes once I get going....

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Blitzing those Hexes

MNG'r Chris K put on a game this week. Chris has been running WW2 Operational Games for years and years. He talks about it over on his Not Quite Mechanised blog, when he's not doing hard landscaping. 

Unusually for him he asked for a hex grid (well, offset squares) and brought along a set of rules written by someone else. This is a big deal for Chris. Well, slightly less than you might expect, as the rules were "Hexblitz" by Bob Cordery, which he has written about a lot on his blog (although I'm sure he doesn't need the plug from me).

Chris had a copy as Bob had sent him one as he credits Chris very nicely with inspiring the rules quite a lot. So, being Chris, he'd read them through once or twice and decided we didn't need to play all of them, at least not at first.

We were joined by Phil for this game. He took the Germans, and I took the Russians (on the promise they had some armour).

None of us have played Hexblitz before, although we have played Megablitz, to which it owes a debt, and also a number of card driven systems (such as Op14) which it also draws upon. The actual rules in the book are quite short, - no more than 5 or 6 pages I'd guess, together with a more lengthy battle report explaining how it all works. It retails for the princely sum of £3.99 plus postage, so it won't break the bank.

The Russians are to the right, the Germans to the left. They have occupation of the town. I have to throw them out.

At this point we're almost free-kriegspieling it. We're using the movement rates, but we're going IGO/UGO until we get closer. This might have been because Chris hadn't worked out how important it was to follow the turn sequence, especially when you get close together. Chris isn't big on turn sequences.

The red pins represent strength points. That unit with the white square on its base is one of my recce units that has come off worst in a confrontation with one of Phil's.

Phil is rushing his armour forward to support the town's defenders. Chris' scratch built Soviet Cities look really effective and are handing for putting troops in too.

I'm adopting a broad front approach, trying to envelope the Germans on both flanks. Troops in Hexblitz are in one of three modes, - Moving, Stationary or Dug In. This is a stepped process, - you can only go from one stage to the next. You can't go straight from Dug In to Moving, for example.

The first real clash. This is when I discovered that German units have way more strength points than Soviet ones. Our lack of following the turn sequence is starting to cause a few issues at this point, as it isn't clear who is allowed to attack what and how often.

Currently we're remembering what state units are in. Except when they Dig In, when they get one of my ubiquitous pieces of wooden trench parapet.

There's a bit more confusion over on the right centre. Phil points out it would be easier if we had status markers. So we plunder the Trebian counter box.

A quick application of markers. Move means Move, Form means Stationary and Hold means Dug In. You place your marker for the next turn face down, so when they're turned over you can tell from the previous turn's marker that no one is cheating.

We also dealt out playing card tokens as well, to determine the order of movement. I think we're now playing above 90% of the rules as written. I got a nasty shock in this attack, as the chances of hitting a target go from rolling a 5 or 6 in the open, with one d6 per strength point to needing either double 5 or double 6. That's a big jump for one turn's digging in, and caught me quite by surprise.

Using the playing cards sorted out a number of problems, but also confused me a bit. In some card driven systems if you are attacked and beaten you get driven back and lose your card/activation for the turn. It seems that doesn't happen in Hexblitz.

We've played the equivalent of about 12 game hours by this point. I've had a few successes, but the advance has stalled. I've inflicted a goodly mount of damage, but really need to regroup now I know how things are supposed to work.

Once we got this running properly it was an interesting yet simple system. As we aren't using Bob's sized hexes nor his sized bases we have a stacking issue we need to resolve. Bob's approach is that if it fits in the hex, it's allowed. That's okay if basing and hexes are consistent, but I fear that's not the case for us. There's also something about recce units being allowed to sit on edges/corners to look into more squares that we need to follow up on.

If Chris wants to persist then there's mileage in this yet. The group consensus was that it shows its origins in a solo wargaming tradition which is why the playing cards are central, randomising unit move sequences. I think we were also using a much larger playing area than Hexblitz is normally used for, and if so we need to keep better track of time. We had logistic units on the table, but with the way we were playing their importance was minimised. They'd be more important if we were playing over several days and keeping track of where we were.

If we'd done this before COW, I'd have picked up a copy from Bob in person.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A (board) game in Spain

A few weeks back my chum Tony H sent me this link on Facebook: link. Yes. It's a game about the battle of the Ebro during the Spanish Civil War, published in Poland. 

The company "Tatyka i strategia" publish quite a few games, and have a core WW2 era set of rules they then use as a base for a rabge of games.

The query was whether there were rules in English (answer yes), and then whether the price was a good 'un. I mean, I'm not poverty stricken but there's only so much I'll pay for a board game.

I checked out the company's website, and they were quoting 69 PLN (that's zloty to you and me) plus postage. That's under £15 + postage. I was interested at that point.

However....the FB page was quoting €41 + postage, (£37+ postage) which was certainly more than I wanted to pay. I sent a PM via face book to Wojciech Zalewski, the bloke who owns "TiS" and asked him what was going on. He pointed out that this was the price he had to charge because of PayPal's predatory fx pricing (my words not his). I worked out where the problem was from our end, and negotiated a price in GBP, which came in at c£25 as I got two copies, one for me and one for Tony.

I don't really buy hex grid games these days unless there's a special reason (eg "Manchu"), but as I am now regularly playing this type of game with new friend Gary, and I'm interested in the Spanish Civil War, I thought it was time to add to my collection.

The game arrived within a week of publication day, so that was good. Production is good, box is sturdy, pieces and map are nice. All the counters got shaken out of the frame en-route, which is shade irritating as I then needed to do a counter count to check I'd got all the bits.You get rules in Polish, Spanish and English. The English translation is okay, but it wouldn't have hurt to have an English proof reader give them the once over. Luckily if you PM "TiS" via FB they will respond fairly quickly. You get three scenarios in the English game. There's a fourth in the Polish rules, which will be receiving the attentions of Mr Google Translate at some point.

There are some interesting rule mechanisms that mean it isn't just an SPI clone. The Out of Supply rules have a surrender mechanism, and the way units can dig in is quite interesting too. I set the game up the day before we were due to play, and decided I'd better take the Republicans. It all looked fairly horrible. They key decision in turn one is where to put out your bridges to build a platform to encircle/capture Gandesa, which is the Republican "automatic victory" condition. Like the historic battle you start the game with a lot of chunky units, but that isn't the issue. The CRT is fairly bloodless, and the ability of units to dig in (and everyone starts in Field Fortifications) means that even at maximum odds you might only get a retreat result, and the "speed bump" just gets bumped up the road a bit.

This is an issue as the terrain is hilly/rocky/woody and moving off the roads is very very, slow. So even a really weak unit can cost you a turn's approach march. Second turn in and I've managed to get across the Ebro successfully, and in the north capture Fayon (under the Republic's flag), which is one of the secondary victory point items for Republicans. You'll see XV corps is trying to force the road at the bottom of the picture, to get at Gandesa on the extreme left.

A few more turns in, and I've manged to push my way up the centre, and Gary has withdrawn as many units as he can back into Gandesa. Gary's reinforcements are starting to rush down the board from the top, so the clock is ticking.

Nearing the end of the game, and Gandesa is nearly surrounded. The hex is empty as Gary has taken the stack of Nationalists out to make it easier to count them. My challenge is to close the pocket at the top, which I need to do to win. Otherwise Gary is going to get a VP win by holding back reinforcement points (he gets 1VP for every 8 Strength Points he doesn't use).

Last but one turn, and I've done it. I manage to bounce a unit from an attack into the last gap taking step losses in the process, but so what? I've encircled and captured the city.

Interesting game, where both of us were convinced we were going to lose. If I hadn't sealed the pocket off Gary would have had a comfortable VP win, as I couldn't occupy any of the other cities, having gambled on taking Gandesa. All in all it took about 4 1/2 hours to play, not including set up.

Good game. We'll play again. Pieces are nice and clear, map is easy to follow. Rules could do with improvement, but we can live with that for now.

Very pleased with my purchase. Thanks for bringing to my attention, Mr H.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Rebased at Tel-el-Kebir. Sort of.

Needed to get my rebased units out on the table so I needed a big game for British and Egyptian forces.

Thoughts turned to the 1882 campaign, and the Battle of Tel El Kebir, partly as it is the biggest battle of this type and also because my Great Grandfather was there, as a L/Cpl in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

I went back to my card-driven "Redcoats in the Sudan", last seen four years ago in this post, for the game

Now TEK is a big battle, And with 200 yards per square the 6" squares couldn't hack it, even with a table the size of mine. So, back to my Chile play mat and hills, 3" squares it is, now my troops are based small enough to fit, as long as they're in two ranks. That gives me enough real estate to get a good crack at the set up.

My source for the battle was Featherstone's Osprey book. We also had Pith Helmets.I had a Fez. Phil & Chris K showed up, and as the Egyptians are fairly static, I took them as a plumpire (Phil's idea), and he and CK split the Brits.

I had some scenario specific rules, - wheeled transport for the Brits doesn't move on a black card on their right flank, due to soft sand, and the Egyptians can only react if they have a red card until they are attacked, because it is a night/day break attack, and they might be asleep

The Brits had a Krupp gun on a railway carriage, which they used to advance alongside the canal. The canal is fordable with difficulty as the Egyptians had dammed it further up.

The British advanced confidently. On the left you can see the Cavalry surging forwards, whilst the artillery limber gets stuck in the sand.

The artillery brigade in the middle had a tentative approach, as did CK's Highlanders.

CK's lack of progress didn't stop him giving Phil some good advice, accompanied by some experienced pointing.

I think the Household Cavalry were a bit surprised at being asked to dismount and approach the defences in skirmish order.

Meanwhile the first attack went in with the bayonet, as the Highland Light Infantry delivered a quick volley on the forward bastion, then rushed the position.

On the Egyptian left the cavalry flanked the position, and spooked the defenders, who routed without firing a shot.

The rest of the Highland Brigade advanced resolutely on the defensive line, keeping to march column to maintain flexibility.

The English regiments shook out into line, before continuing their steady advance.

The Highlanders got a rude awakening when they tried to go over the barricades. Surprise was insufficient, and they were driven back (which is quite close to what happened on the actual battle).

A second wave, now including the DCLI went in, this time gaining a foot hold.

The Egyptian left has started to crumble. Pinned from the front by the infantry attack, the cavalry got amongst the fellahin.

Almost forgotten on the right, the Naval Brigade, supported by the Krupp Railway Gun  and the Seaforths destroy most of the troops defending the barricade and canal dam.

The cavalry are well amongst them now.

And we end with most of the Egyptian army fleeing.

Well, it provided an evening's entertainment, and was reasonably accurate. I was rusty with the rules, and it was clear they need a bit of work for this type of game.

It occurred to me at the time that perhaps I should be looking at a variant of "Taiping Era" or "It's Getting a Bit Chile". Hmmm. Some thoughts for the future.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Revisiting old and new buildings

One of the great things about COW and WD is that I've made some great friends. Okay, so we don't hang out down the pub every weekend, but that's partly because we live at opposite ends of the country.

Bob, of Wargaming Miscellany has always been very generous to me in terms of his support for my various SCW projects, having in previous years passed on to me the bits of his SCW library that he doesn't want anymore or has run out of space for.

Recently he has blogged about the need to downsize as he is thinking of moving. I feel this moment is fast approaching me as well, although Shedquarters gives me a lot of flexibility, especially as the originally envisaged under table storage has still not been built. Books might become an issue, however, as I'm reluctant to store them in what is mostly an unheated outbuilding during the winter.

Any how, following his public announcement of his downsizing Bob emailed me to ask if I wanted some 15mm SCW buildings he was offloading, which were mostly from Hovels, a manufacturer I use. And also some Russian buildings of similar provenance.

Well, I said "Yes" to both, and then promptly forgot that the offer included Russian buildings as well.

At COW Bob handed over a good sized, weighty box. I have now had a chance to un-pack it.

What a little box of treasures. Not just Hovels, but some I thought were Timecast but aren't as well.

Bob is a better painter than me, and his buildings looked exquisite. That meant they didn't match mine, of course. My choice was therefore to try and repaint mine in Bob's style, or have a dash at his in mine. I went for the latter, and in any event I didn't need a full repaint, except for the roofs of everything, as I couldn't remember the exact paint mix I used for my terracotta roof tiles.

I also had to put my buildings on bases, as Bob had done a nice job on his, and they certainly improved the look.

And with this warm weather you can bake the bases with sand/flock in the sun.

Bob's generosity has forced me to confront an issue I have hidden from since I started the RCW.

I bought houses from Peter Pig and also some from another company. that I can no longer remember the name of, and can't find on the internet.

These later buildings are "true" 15mm, with removable roofs that are sized to put Flames of War bases inside. They are the grey buildings in the above pictures. Whilst the Hovels and PP buildings fit in scale, those others are monsters.

Really, I can't use both on the same table. Now I've got Bob's I have more of "little 15mm" than "true 15mm". Perhaps it's time to off load the big fellahs.

Anybody know who made them?

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Conference of Wargamers 2018 - Sunday

Sunday morning can often have a bit of a morning-after-the-night-before feel to it. I didn't actually play any games, but attended one workshop, listened to a talk and then gave a talk myself.

I regret that I missed Andrew "Rumblestrip" Rolph's game on the Western Desert, but programming meant I had to be somewhere else for the first session and by the second it was so well underway I didn't feel me joining in would help.

The workshop was a discussion about multi-centre wargames. This was brought about following the game we played in Shedquarters in February where games were simultaneously being run in London, Sheffield and Stirling and Shedquarters. The debrief after that game prompted the organiser to have a get together at COW to discuss how we could improve things. This was a useful session, particularly aided by Jim Wallman of "Megagame Makers" being present. Jim has organised a game with simultaneous locations in London, Cambridge, Southampton, Montreal, New York and Austin, Texas, so he had quite a lot of insight, although he has access to greater resources and time , - the idea of running practice games in the six months prior to the actual game day isn't going to fly with this group, I fear. However, we did thrash out some issues we had encountered and the next effort will be even better. We all hope.

After that I grabbed a cup of tea and a biscuit and headed off to look at Wuestenkregkartenblockenspiel. This was Andrew's game, referred to above. Andrew ran Rattenkrieg last year, which I really enjoyed and this seemed stuffed full of good ideas too. Everyone playing it was very positive.

Then off to hear Bob Cordery of Wargames Miscellany talk about his forays into self publishing with some does and don'ts and pitfalls. A useful session, and very informative. Although I've done a bit of self publishing - for example with "Northampton 1460" - I haven't used any of the print on demand companies like "Lulu". Bob's advice there will probably prove to be helpful, - even though I don't agree on his preference for sans serif fonts.

After lunch it was me, talking about the Battle of Edgcote. Phil S and I did a joint presentation on our researches so far to the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society in May. That took us about 90 minutes + questions, so I just did the middle bit on analysing the sources and army sizes as the slot was just an hour.

I don't have any pictures of this, and I haven't found any posted anywhere else, so here's one of me doing the talk for the NBS:

This slide was in the COW presentation, and sort of sums up part of my thesis, - that not all primary sources are contemporary, and some might not even be primary. I had about 20 in the room, which is nearly half the conference, and had some well informed people in the audience too, who, I think, bought the general thesis and were surprised at how easy it was to over turn some of their preconceptions. I also do something on the comparative sizes of armies at various battles to help us try to work out how many people were actually at Edgcote, and that went down well too.

I was very pleased with how it went. If you are interested and want to know more, keep your eyes open. Next year NBS will be organising a one day study day on the battle in Northampton and I will be re-doing this, with the added advantage of another 12 months' research and reflection.

And then it was time for the AGM and good byes until next year. What another terrific weekend.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Conference of Wargamers 2018 - Saturday Evening

After Dinner it was time for more games. I was quite excited to see an Indian Mutiny game on the list of sessions, even though it wasn't using my rules (which, admittedly, need a revision).

This was a siege relief game, using a variation on "Muskets & Tomahawks". I haven't played M&T but people whose views I respect have and like them a lot, so that's good. On the other hand there is a tendency in a lot (most?) wargamers to find a set of rules we like and then adapt them for everything regardless of suitability. The original "AK47 Republic" rules would be the prime example of this.

Peter Grizzell, who put the game on, has a lot of IM figures. Like, really a lot. And he tried to get all of them on the table, as far as I could see. Kudos to the man. I was surprised to see all the figures individually based with no movement trays in sight.

Of course the lack of movement trays does mean does mean you can set your figures up like this. I  was a mutineer leader, and these are my brave chaps rushing the wall with a scaling ladder. Ian Drury got quite excited about this as he says the original M&T author wanted rules that would give games that looked like a movie.

The system has a card based movement process, where troops of the same type get one or two actions. That means that it is hard to get a co-ordinated attack going, and you have to do things when you can, so in a storm situation you have some units exposed in the open whilst others stay in their trenches.

I did finally get all my chaps rushing forwards. It looked spectacular. I was asked why we attacked the closed gate rather than the big, open one the other side. Well, because the open ground we had to cover was much shorter, and the British had deployed all their best stuff to defend it. And we had ladders.

At last a party got to the walls.

Due to a lack of activation cards thereafter the Brits got in a round or two of shooting, and that first team all got killed, pretty much. But then my brave mutineers had a double action move and ran up the ladder to engage the defenders.

We swept them off the walls and then sort of stopped, because we had no more activation cards until the deck was reshuffled. So we did what all successful stormers of walls do, we stood in the open and strutted up and down whilst the defenders shot at us.

But then my colleague got in over the corner tower after it had been swept clear by artillery, and we were truly on top.

You can't see here, but my leader has now jumped down inside and opened the gates. My chaps are about to pour through. We also got another unit up and over the wall, so as the game ended we had three units inside, the requirement to take the city under our victory conditions (one defender meanwhile was bleating "But I've still got more figures left than them", - well, the victory conditions were clear. Take it on the chin. No one likes a whiny loser). We didn't prevent the relief breaking through our lines, so possibly a protracted and messy follow on game is required to truly award the bragging rights.

We were actively umpired in the game by three umpires, and it all ran fairly well once we'd had a couple of turns. I'm not seeing anything clever in the mechanisms - they have a common sort of thread with many modern skirmish type rules, with "To hit" scores and so on by unit type. What makes it work is the need for players to have personal victory conditions and a scenario that gets everyone involved. I don't know if the rules are particularly cinematic; I think that element comes from priming the players properly and having a scenario that encourages it.

After that another individual figure skirmish game. Well COW is about trying things you don't do normally. This was a much smaller scale, - Mike Elliott's "Buckle My Swash" - guess what period it covers?

Well, we have the Four Musketeers, some other Musketeers, the Cardinal and his Guard and some stuff with diamonds.

It's a small table, but there were enough roles for four of us. I got the Cardinal's Guard.

Soon we were all out flashing our blades, not entirely sure why. It all became clear in the debrief. The rules were simple - basically an opposed die roll with simple modifiers. They allowed the game to carry on at a brisk pace. I think we won. Mike had a "special actions" rule, which enabled you to say you were doing something not in the rules, then roll 2d6 for an outcome. I used it once. Planchett (Roy Kinnear in the movies) crept up behind me to brain me with a bottle. I said I'd duck and he'd hit my opponent instead. A double 6 later, and that's what happened. Highlight of my evening.

In the post game discussion Mike said he wanted to get some sort of cinematic element. I suggested a turn by turn VP system, where you get points for duelling, wounding an opponent, surviving wounds, doing spectacular stuff and so on.

I'm sure it'll be back. Next time maybe Tom Mouat will even get out of the coach.