Friday, 31 May 2019

The Northamptonshire Card Game

I designed a card game in my sleep, flying back from my last holiday. I put together the detail of it on my return, and produced a prototype. It actually played rather well, and the tests I did with people were universally successful.

The game itself was/is about the history of Northamptonshire. It has the dual goal of introducing people to Northamptonshire's very varied history, as well as being a "proper" game that a gamer wouldn't have a problem with playing.

I discussed it with other members of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society Committee and we felt it was a product that would compliment our existing range of merchandise. Problem was, given the need for a decent sized print run to get the unit cost down, the Society couldn't fund the production. Well, it could, but even I, as the designer, wouldn't argue to tie up a large proportion of our disposable funds on a product that might not make its money back for 5 years, if at all.

Initial contacts with people working in the "heritage business" indicated that there might be, - or would be - interest from local heritage sites. Question was whether or not they would be interested in supporting the product. The feeling was that there would probably be an appetite and and funding available. The game, after all, could be tailored to include local heritage locations if needed. It would just be a case of substituting some of the events in the game for events linked to the sponsors, so to speak. This wouldn't be an unlimited opportunity as the locations and events would have to work within the game, and there are certain events that will remain in the deck regardless if it is to be published. I'd rather not see it published at all if it just ended up as a bland "Spires & Squires" deck. William Boteler is always going to be there, as are the Diggers of Wellingborough.

Anyway, through contacts we have we arranged a meeting with people who run a major bit of our county's heritage offering.

When I was working full time I didn't tend to see meetings and committees the same way as a lot of people do. They were not just ways of filling your day and avoiding work. The important thing about them is to understand their purpose and use them to fulfil that. This can be disseminating information or it can be a decision making or approval body. The important thing is to know what it is for and what is expected out of it.

Which brings me to the meeting today, and how I had taken my eye off the ball. I thought I was going to a meeting to demo the game and then talk about arranging the funding and distribution. Turns out I was more of attending a "Dragon's Den". And one where funding was really, really tight.

Now I don't have a problem with the latter idea. If I'd known that then I'd have done the appropriate work beforehand. Neither of the people we were pitching to play modern proprietary games, understand their popularity or get the pricing, and I hadn't done any prep work to explain. So I was left looking like I didn't know my subject, the size of market and so on. Plus, I see this as a way of getting people to learn more about our history from a fairly low cost impulse purchase, not as a way of generating income, and today's heritage is all about making money.

So the meeting didn't get where I wanted it to as the aims were not the same for everyone, and I feel that we may have blown that particular chance, - although I'm wondering if they could do what we wanted anyway.

All of which is a shame, because it feels like we cashed in some high value chips without understanding what we were getting in return. If I'd done that in a work environment I'd be bloody furious with myself, - or, indeed, if one of my staff had done that I'd be livid with them. And there it is, I've just made all the mistakes I was previously so careful to avoid.

So I'm not sure where we go from here. I don't think we can provide the hard marketing data they're going to need, - this was always likely to be an "act of faith" decision where you hazard a couple of grand from a marketing budget to try something different. That's not looking likely in the slightest.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Quarterly Qatch Up

My, how time flies. It seems like only last month we were down in the West Country for a day of wargaming, but no, that is not the case. It's that time again, and here we go with another Shedquarters Day.

We had 5 of us, me, Richard (but not the Monday Night One), Chris A, Phil & Gary. Gary is still coming to terms with figure gaming, but he gets stuck in like a good 'un.

We started with my Jacobite rules, "Va t'en Ecosse". These have had a couple of mods since the last playing. The Attack Column ("Ordre profonde") is back in the rules. They were permissible in the first draft of "Va T'en Guerre" but removed when I concluded that they weren't a feature of the War of Spanish Succession. What is new is an Intimidation Test for units facing a Highland Charge.

Gary & Richard took the Jacobites. They now have a lot moreLowland units, and I tucked in some French units to provide a Prince's Lifeguard cavalry unit and a piece of artillery.

Chris & Phil took the Loyalist Forces. They'd had no new units added.

Another new idea was to introduce a "clan leader" type of officer. That's the foot officer on the square base with a piper. Here he's leading Clan McFlurry across the burn. Not exactly sure what the difference is between him and a normal officer.

A clearer view of the Jacobite advance. The units in an open formation are in march column. I have to do this to differentiate from Attack Column, when they are closed up.

A more aerial shot. I put some random sheep and goats out for a bit of flavour, based on the popularity of the llamas in the Peruvian game.

The Loyalist Right flank is being secured by a Highland battalion. They're not sure which side of the hedge to be on. Is the fine representative of the Highland Cattle breed a threat at all?

First encounter as some British Dragoons are charged by a Highland Regiment, who discharge their muskets as they close.

The Jacobites decide to use their Lowland Reserve line in an aggressive fashion. Their purpose is to provide a support line for the Highlanders to rally behind or to cover a retreat, but Richard & Gary have a more noble purpose in mind for them.

An opening volley by a British Battalion inflicts some damage, which has been put on the second rank regiment in error.

There are some pictures missing before this one. A Highland Regiment charged the regiment with the St Patrick's cross, took damage, failed to intimidate their opponents, lost the melee and were routed.

Undeterred and under the personal direction of Lord George Mint another Highland charge is launched.

After a brief melee the Highlanders are repelled.

Change of tactics, as the Highlanders change into attack columns. In the background the Prince's Lifeguard try to find a flank by heading up into the hills.

The Highlanders are pushing hard in the centre. The left flank will just have to be covered by those Lowlanders in attack columns.

Clan McMuffin charge home and rout their opponents, only for McMuffin of Bleughberie to die in the charge, falling to a Loyalist Musket Ball.

Clan McMuffin chase their routing opponents. Suspect we might not see either of them again.

A McFlurry clan regiment in column formation is stopped in its tracks by a devastating first volley, which leaves them Shaken.

Two Lowland Regiments charge into the right flank battalion, which inflicts a fair amount of damage with its carefully controlled platoon firing. At this point I realised that the old Attack Column rules I cut and pasted from that first draft of VTG have some holes in them.

More Highlanders flee the table before the Massed Muskets of the British Battalions. Is it nearly curtains for the Jacobites?

The Lowland Attack Columns are driven off too. Yes. The Jacobite Rebellion has been stopped in its tracks.

A very pleasing run out of the rules, with a few notes of things to improve. Must finish some proper Jacobite cavalry and artillery as well. And then think about what sort of game I want to put on at COW. I then went to make some lunch...

... and my guests tried their best to put the figures back in the correct boxes, and did actually get it mostly right.

After lunch we had another go with Phil's Double DBA Battle of Telamon. I took over the Romans this time, having played the Gauls last time we did this one.

I had Regulus' army. We lost the die roll for first move.

That meant I was at a disadvantage when trying to get my cavalry up on the hill. I should have ignored history and not bothered with trying this.

I lost both the combats spectacularly, and then had my line flanked by the Gallic cavalry. I brought up the reserves early to extend my front line to stop being flanked on both ends.

It didn't work, as I lost a whole load of fights against warbands which quick kill my blades/spears.

I was partnered by Chris, who managed to shoot a War Wagon with his bolt thrower.

I then lost another load of combats, and my "front army" was broken.

Chris had done all right and made some inroads, but nothing significant.

Phil then reset the armies for the second half of the game.

I took another photo of the Gaulish camp.

The fellows down my end of the table didn't have any better luck in the second half of the game.

We soon had a big pile of dead elements and the Gauls won again.

After that we did Gary's "Fighting Sail" ships. Richard & I were the Royal Navy, with generally speaking better ships. However, we were handicapped by sailing into the wind. This meant the Franco-American fleet normally had the wind gauge and moved faster. In the end that proved to be decisive. Either that or the poor dice we rolled. Or our poor ship management overall.

Still, it's fun to play with these ships. Especially with added smoke.

It was then time to tidy away and head down the local pub for a pleasant meal and pint of beer.

Yes, life isn't that bad at times.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Battle of TelAMWmon

In recognition of the Society of Ancients' battle day this year, my large scale AMW ancient re-fight this late May bank holiday was the Battle of Telamon.

Usually I turn to Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles" or "Strategos" to help me set these up. This time I was forced to read the sources (well, source: it's Polybius or nothing)  myself and work out my own orbats and layout. Either Phil doesn't trust the sources of the battle just breaks his system.

The battle features an army of Gallic plunderers returning home with their loot being trapped between two Roman armies, and having to fight back to back.

AMW isn't too kind to Warband armies, so I re-wrote the combat factors, and made some adjustments for the Gaesati, who fought naked and were greatly trouble by the javelins of the Velites.

Rather than hand out a rules printout, I wrote the changes up on my new-ish whiteboard:

For the afternoon we had a good turn out. Both of our Chris' took one Roman army, and Phil & Steve the other. Richard & I ran the Gauls. I got the army with the Gaesati. The two pairs of Roman players split the armies between Romans and allies.

I think it is easy to tell where the Gauls are, and also the two Roman armies. In the distance is the  hill where the Roman cavalry won a famous victory at the cost of a Consul. The other hill, which would be near the camera, where the Gauls placed their baggage wasn't put out. It just took up space, and doesn't feature in the battle as essentially it just secures that flank. I relied on the edge of the world instead.

The flank near the camera is a bit open for the Romans, so both sets of commanders looked to close it out early on. I should note now that this is quite a hard battle to describe, especially if you are taking part in it. Just sit back and enjoy the pictures.

We had an early clash of cavalry, as I tried to force my way round the Chris' right flank. The Gauls are fresh painted Italeri Gallic Cavalry, part of my haul from Peterborough last year.

Here we see Chris K and Richard having a "are you sure you want to do that" conversation.

Initially Richard was more aggressive than me. He pushed forwards, and moved his second line out to try to envelope the Roman left flank. I held back to keep out of javelin range, as the Gaesati don't get saving rolls. I needed to engage quickly when the correct time came, and use my second line to exploit any breakthroughs or cover any break ins.

On the hill Phil tried to ride down my light infantry and had a shocker, as I killed a base and then he failed a morale check. Not having his Consul involved saved him from severe embarrassment and avoided copying the historical commander death.

Then it was time for my line to attack. There are some hit rings on a Roman unit in the middle,  inflicted by my chariots, which, honestly, played an absolute blinder throughout the entire game

This back to back business gave Richard and I some game management issues. Alas I do not have the removable table centre in the style of Blue Peter, nor, I believe, the Brigadier Peter Young.

The Romans facing Richard were looking a bit overwhelmed as he threw everything at them. Steve was particularly perplexed at this point. Phil is sitting back, glad it isn't his problem, and wondering how he is going to recover the position on the hill.

Having crushed my cavalry in the earlier melee, Chris K immediately turned in on the flank of my Gaesati. I rushed my chariots up to intervene (NB They count as having 4 bases, - I just don't have enough models)

Richard, meanwhile, has got round the Roman flank, and is pounding them hard.

The cavalry flank charge kills a base, but the unit passes its morale check.

Our lines are now more of a bubble shape, with our cavalry and chariots floating round outside it. My chariots have drawn off Chris' cavalry, but my Gaesati units are starting to evaporate, except for one, which has found an open flank. I'm able to shore things up with my reserves, but away on the hill top Chris A has bailed Phil out by throwing his cavalry into the melee, catching my horse from behind.

It's hotting up between Richard and Steve. That kneeling single base unit of Gauls holds on for a long time, enabling Richard to develop his flanking move further.

My flanking Gaesati perform a superb two turn destruction of some Hastati. Perhaps things are turning my way (and, yes, those Roman allies are being played by Greek Mercenary hoplites).

The cavalry melee on the hilltop increases in intensity.

My end of the bubble has sort of opened up. My triumphant Gaesati in the middle go a step too far, and are reduced to half strength in short order by the Principes line of the Roman allies. Off picture my chariots are doing a number on Chris' cavalry.

Richard is going very well. Steve has had to form a flank to avoid being overwhelmed. However, he is confident of finally destroying the singleton Gaulish unit (now known in game terms as a "Valerie*"), pre-announcing his victory in no uncertain terms.

 And then rolls 4 ones. Read the omens in those entrails, Roman.

I've sent the chariots in the distance up to the hills to forestall the cavalry, but Chris A's remaining troops start to turn in on my far flank. Steve has also now finally punched a hole in Richard's line.

Phil has got Richard's left flank in a vice with both foot and horse. I have forced Chris A to divert some foot to deal with the threat my chariots are posing to his cavalry.

Richard is counter attacking on Steve's flank, and think he sees a glimmer of hope (he hasn't looked at my level of casualties. They aren't obvious as I've put the broken units back in their boxes as I'm trying to clear the table as we are going along. A BBQ post game is scheduled, and the rain pounding on the Shedquarters roof suggest we'll probably be eating inside).

My one ray of hope are my chariots, which I try to use to ride down an isolated unit of Velites whilst one of my last warbands tries to finish off some Principes.

Alas my chariots finally crack and are broken, as is my army, finally reduced to four units, the game break point for each army. Richard is on his own now. Doubly so, as my remaining units are removed, and I go outside to take advantage of a lull in the weather to light the BBQ.

When I get back it is game over. Steve has managed to hold on, and Phil has carried on destroying units. Richard's army is broken too. There'll be no drinking round the Gaulish campfires tonight.

It was a close game, and most of the mods I made worked out okay. I got the chariot/cavalry factors a bit wrong, but that didn't spoil the game. The army deployment seemed to go okay as well, so that was well worth the 30 minutes research I did. The whole game took about three hours, which for 6 players and the number of figures on the table wasn't too bad at all.

Yes, a fine way of spending a Bank Holiday.

* As in Valerie Singleton, a reference lost on any non-British readers, and those under the age of 55.