Monday, 15 October 2018

A Weekly Wargaming Round-Up

It has been a busy last week or so, and the blogging seems to have slackened off a bit, so here is a round up of the games I've been playing.

I was a bit involved in things over the previous weekend, so I turned to "Hammerin' Iron II" for Tuesday evening's entertainment.

Will and Tim turned up for the evening, - a bit of a drop from previous weeks, although Phil joined us at the end for a chat. I set up an engagement battle with equal points aside. The Rebs were all ironclads but the Yankees has a couple of big heavily gunned ironclads and a small flotilla of wooden ships. The arrival dice staggered the times the ships turned up, but kept it interesting.

The Rebs are so out gunned that they pretty much have to resort to ramming, and Tim worked that out quite quickly (funnily enough he really liked the movable hexagons. In fact, everyone loves the movable hexagons. Why did Martin ever change the system?)

In the first encounter the Palmetto State took on the Tulip and the Fuschia, lining up a pretty good ram on the Tulip.

The Tulip went down easily enough, but the Palmetto State took enough damage to hamper her considerably. The blue marker indicates she has a maximum one hex move speed, which is a real problem for a ram ship.

And then the Manasas got a pretty good hit on the Cairo, alas both ships were disabled, and as the Cairo has a broadside and the Manasas a singe bow chaser, it didn't look good for the Rebel ship.

Sure enough she soon caught fire and sank.

This is the last picture I took, which is of the Palmetto State trying to ram the Cairo. By this time the Cairo's sister ship, the Carondelet, was on the table, meaning it was all pretty hopeless for the Rebels.

Another successful run out for the fleets, and much enjoyed by both players.

We rounded the week off with a multi-centre game on the Yom Kippur War crisis, like the one we played in February.

Shedquarters represented the White House in this game, with Chris K as Tricky Dicky, Phil as Henry Kissinger, Will as Schlesinger (Defence Secretary), Gary as Moorer (Joint Chief of Staff), and me running the CIA. Other teams scattered round the country played the USSR, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel.

We were all connected using Skype, text messaging and a WhatsApp group dedicated to the game. It went very well, with much fun had by all. The Egyptians settled for limited objectives, and sued for peace as soon as they were over the Suez Canal. Israel accepted that and went all out in the Golan, fighting the Syrians to a stalemate. The Soviets funnelled in tons of supplies whilst offering to organise peace talks. We managed to keep our heads cool and avoided an oil embargo whilst ensuring Israel's survival by threatening to resupply her, without actually doing so.In the end we agreed to host a 6 nation peace conference with no preconditions.

Well done to Ian Drury, who organised it all.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Trying Other People's Rules (2)

Back in April we did a re-fight of the Civil War battle of St Fagan's (pronounced Fag-Annes, I was told last night, not Fay-Gan, as I usually say it), using a set of rules written by someone several of us know through WD.

The game was a mixed success, and resulted in me writing a fairly detailed critique of what we didn't like for the pages of WD's "Nugget".

Undaunted, Mike Elliott was back for some more, and sent me a re-written version, taking into account our criticisms, and asking if we'd care to give it another go as he's short of playtesters. As I'm not currently working on anything I thought it might do for a Tuesday evening.

The rules are intended for smaller refights, - say up to 5-6,000 a side tops. A flick through my bookshelf came up with the Battle of Braddock Down, 19th January 1643. This was a thorough victory for Sir Ralph Hopton & Sir Bevil Grenville's Cornishmen over the Parliamentarian forces under General Ruthven. By all accounts it was a fairly one-sided affair, but you never know with these things.

The Parliamentarians amounted to about 1,000 horse and 3,000 foot, so on a scale of 1 base = 100 men, that gave me four cavalry regiments, and five foot. The Royalists have about 500 horse and 4,500 foot, so I went for two cavalry regiments and eight foot. I gave both sides a Galloper gun. The Parliamentarian forces are mostly raw, the Royalists have some average horse, four veteran Cornish foot regiments (the front rank with flags in the pictures) and four raw militia units.

The site of the battle is disputed, but we know both armies formed up on hill crests with some scrubby land between them, signified by the light green areas surrounded by hedges. Any units in there move at half speed and count as being in cover when fired at.

We had quite a turnout. Steve made it, as did Richard and another newbie Tim. Phil then turned up, as did Chris A. Steve & Tim got Parliament, to be joined later by Chris. Richard took the Royalists, and was helped by Phil later on.

Historically the battle started with a lot of desultory musketry exchanges, until Hopton decided enough was enough, reformed his army, and ordered Grenville to lead an attack. That's where this game started. True to form, the Royalist commanders surged down the hill, although instead of going straight for it, Richard contemplated forming up in column and forcing the hedged road.

One of our major criticisms of the previous iteration of the rules was that the movement distances were too long. Mike has addressed this, but they're still quite quick.

Rater than try to hold the crest line the Parliamentarians decided to get down in the dip, too, whilst trying to turn the Royalist flank with their cavalry.

Phil moved his only cavalry unit out to cover the flank, then started to drive off the other horse with steady volleys from his infantry. In the distance the two opposing cavalry wings made their way towards each other. In the centre musket fire has been exchanged, but the first melee has already formed.

The Royalists prevailed, and drove back the enthusiastic Parliamentarians.

They then followed up to engage them once more. Near the camera, the opposing horse is finally lined up for some combat, whilst the foot still are able to drive the horse back, the difficult terrain making it hard for them to get out of the way. Up top, a regiment of Royalist militia is able to enfilade the Parliamentarian horse.

The cavalry is now properly engaged on both flanks, and the firefight has started up in the middle.

To everyone's surprise, the Parliamentarian horse win a round of combat, and drive their opponents back

It's getting a bit feisty in the middle too.

The Royalists are generally prevailing everywhere, driving the Parliamentarians back to their starting positions.

Units are starting to degrade quickly now, and many of them are Shaken, indicated by the markers behind the units. The intensity of the fighting is preventing units rallying off their damage.

The forces of Parliament are starting to suffer disproportionately. Things are definitely looking bleak.

One Parliamentarian unit in the middle has broken and been removed. The Royalists are now circling, obtaining local numerical superiority.

This finally pays off, and another unit is broken... are a unit of horse.

That was enough to break the army. Game over.

So we got the same result as history but in a slightly different way. Again it was proved that Veteran Foot are the key, and will cause lots of problems. We discussed how the Parliamentarians were expected to win. Well, it looks like they didn't have much of a chance, really, so you need to judge them on how they did compared to their historical predecessors. Unlike the forces under Ruthven at the time, they surrendered the crest and counter attacked, inflicting more damage. The actual battle featured a simultaneous assault on the Parliamentarian foot line on the crest by the Cornishmen, which was all over in minutes, the Parliamentarians fleeing after firing one round. I suspect that more scenario specific rules are required to achieve this.

Still it passed the time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Shouting at Books

I read a lot of books. Always have at least one on the go. Of these, a lot are history books, usually to do with whatever wargaming project I'm working on.

I also read books to do with my role in the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society. I am painfully aware that my knowledge of medieval history is weak, as it was not my favourite part of the syllabus when I was at Uni. Sorry, Professor Luscombe, if you are still with us, I just did not enjoy it. Probably something to do with the Latin. One of the problems I have now is that because we have a couple of "Wars of the Roses"* battlefields in our county I end up reading a fair bit of history for that period. And I have to say, the period attracts a lot of fanatics with an axe to grind (and I know one when I see one, - I spent a lot of my degree on the English Civil War). Most notable are the Ricardians. Firstly, it is important to point out that the Richard III Society has been responsible for creating the environment leading to some of the best scholarship on the period. The Ricardian journal is a repository of top quality historical research. After that it has to be said that the Cult of the Crouchback has produced some very annoying books coupled with lopsided thinking and the worst aspects of a form of hero worship.

I'm not averse to a bit of revisionism in my history**. Just because everyone thinks something happened a certain way doesn't mean that it did, - revisiting a subject and re-researching it with fresh eyes is valuable, even if you come to the same conclusions. Of course, secretly, every historical writer wants to find something some else hasn't found before.

However, I would say that if you are intending to shift the goal posts, then you need to be thorough and you need to document your argument carefully. This can create problems in several areas. One of the big problems we have in the medieval period is that the voice of women is very rarely heard. They are key parts of a household, - and many Queens and noble women have wielded enormous power and influence (Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort are just two women called Margaret who spring to mind). Alas we have little documentation about what they did, said or thought. That makes them marvellous material for speculation. The same can be said of anyone who isn't a seriously important noble as well. Add on top of that you have a society which still relies heavily on the spoken word and memory and important things, especially things meant to be secret, aren't always written down.

All of this is background to explain a type of "history" which is essentially just a whole load of speculation piled on top of more speculation and seeing everything in a particular light, ignoring the obvious and imputing motives we can't possibly know. In what I'd describe as a proper history book the writer should make clear where his facts come from through footnotes and referencing so you can go and check them. I made this point back in July in my post about the work I did on Major General Boteler. By following the references I was able to track down an error in the story about him that changed the complexion of it all quite a bit. In speculation history it doesn't matter, - you just write stuff with no references*** and leave people trying to guess where you got your information from. I recently gave up on a book about the Princes in the Tower because the whole line of argument involved very selective use of facts, an attempt to stare down logic and had what I'd describe as "corkscrew thinking", all without proper references. You can't just say "so-and-so reports" an event. You need to give chapter and verse. On the other hand (and I'm looking at you, John Ashdown-Hill) it isn't acceptable to rely on your own works as references and wikipedia articles, which are subject to change on a whim.

All of which has led me to the equivalent of shouting at the TV when history programmes are on. I have, on occasion, been reduced to shouting at one of these books "You cannot be serious!!"

Is that better or worse than shouting at the telly?

I used to think this was only really a problem with military history and books for wargamers. Much as I love the WRG guides to ancient armies there is no way, almost of verifying what they are telling you. They sit uncomfortably between proper history, - they are doing things no one else has done before, - and unsupported speculation****. But that's not unusual in our hobby. There's loads of stuff that "every wargamer knows", but where it comes from no one can say. But I see now that we are no better or worse than some people who publish mainstream history books of the late medieval period*****.

So am I the only person who shouts at books?

Because if I'm not, is it safe to admit I shout at fiction books too, when they annoy me?

*Strictly speaking one isn't part of the Wars of the Roses, but more on that some other time.
** I'm currently working on a revisionist piece myself at the moment, so I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't.
*** Although I have to point out here that Sir Charles Oman didn't really use footnotes or references either, curse him.
**** And Ospreys, too.
***** I have just finished Hugh Bicheno's two volume history of the WotR, and I should have been shouting at it for all the reasons given above. However, when he speculates, it is clear that he is doing so, and he doesn't seem, to me, to give his theories the same weigh as facts. Or it could be because I agree with a lot of what he has written as it accords with the period as I understand it.

Friday, 28 September 2018

A Trial in the Desert

After we did Hammerin' Iron II Gary & I had a quick visit to the Sudan. Gary has been reading a bit about the campaign and was keen to give it a go. He even made a rather nifty bust of General Gordon, that you can see lurking in the background of the previous blog posting. We only had a short time left of our game time, so I just threw some bits on the table, to give him and idea of how a game might work.

We used the "Redcoats in the Sudan" rules. I gave him a small brigade column and a couple of wagons, and said he had to march to the next oasis. I had a similar number of Mahdist rubs, concealed on the table.

Here's one of my units camped out by the oasis.

My Mahdists emerge over the hill top, and start the mad rush to overwhelm the British

Gary starts to deploy his units into a form of perimeter, and pulls back his cavalry screen. I reckon with some half decent die rolls I'll be able to get round the side and cut up his wagons.

As you can see he has anchored his left flank with a square, and covered the right with his horse.

Having had a so-so run of luck in Hammerin' Iron it all came good in this game for him. Decent dice rolls for activation points then devastating rifle volleys. Didn't miss a single shot, and the screw guns were devastating too.

Even the cavalry had a day of glory, cutting up a disorganised half strength Mahdist rub.

Which left my army completely broken and fleeing off the table in about 45 minutes.

I think Gary quite likes wargaming in the Sudan after that.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Any old (Hammerin') Iron II

Time for my monthly boardgaming day. Only today we did some table top wargaming instead. Gary is getting quite keen on naval games, so I put on some ACW Riverine action.

I have always loved this iteration of HI. I have played the new version on the hex mat, and it is a good game. However I love the cardboard hexagons and the slightly rough and ready feel to it all.

As a learning game we started with the classic Hampton Roads scenario. I got the Monitor (far end) and Gary got the Merrimac/Virginia.

Bit lighter on the sand banks than the scenario suggests, so I popped in a promontory to close the river up a bit.

After a bit of nifty manoeuvring I got in the first shot, and caused a fire on the Virginia. My main concern here was that this meant I was going to get a full broadside from the Reb Ironclad in the near future.

This duly happened and I took some damage. Luckily I survived a critical hit on the turret.

The Rebs quickly put the fire out. But the next time I fired I got another critical hit, and succeeded in knocking out the Virignia's engine room, marooning her mid-river, at the mercy of the river flow washing her down on to a river bank.

Win to Billy Yank's naval brother.

Having got the basics of play sorted, we moved up a gear. We tried the scenario where a fleet of mixed Union ships has to sail up river, and fight its way past a Reb blockade so they can support a land action.

I got the Rebs this time. Here's my fleet.

Gary has a bit of a mixed bag. Those Yankee ironclads with full broadsides use up a lot of points.

After turn one I've got 4 ships on, to Gary's two. My aim is to fight him as far up the table as I can, to stop anyone breaking past me and dashing off my table edge.

Having feinted to the left I'm now switching to the right to try and get several ships on the Sandusky, as she's a nasty looking monitor. I've had some new arrivals to cover my left, slowly steaming up the table.

I mis-estimate the movement distances, and it allows Gary to get local superiority on the Planter. The Dunwich has a heft punch at the front with one Heavy and one Medium gun.

The Planter succumbs. I think she was even rammed by the Dunwich, which all came as a bit of a surprise as it sank her outright and the Dunwich got away pretty much scot free.

I did succeed in hitting the Dunwich as she veered off across the sand bank, and got her to catch fire. Elsewhere my three ironclad rams start their slow, steady progress downstream, line abreast across the river.

The Dunwich put her fire out, as I was closing on her with the Drewery. Alas for me I got caught in a cross fire from the Signal, and I now caught fire.

The General Bragg had got a bit mixed up. Because she is a long ship she is difficult to turn, so I ended up ramming one of Gary's tiddlers by mistake. The self inflicted damage knocked out my engines (note yellow counter), so I was stuck there. Luckily for me in the overall picture Gary was rolling poorly to get his extra ships on.

Meanwhile on the sandbank the Drewery was blazing away nicely. Alas that's because she was on fire, not because of her gunnery.

The Manasas had done a lot of damage on the left side of the board, and finished off the Dunwich with a ram. As she backed water she was caught amidships by the Sandusky. She had been reduced to ramming as her gun turret had seized up and her guns were out of action (note brown counter). She turned out to be a better ram ship that monitor, and sunk the Manasas with a straight hit

On the other side the late arriving Yankee reinforcements were circling the General Bragg, who was hanging on, and inflicting surprising amounts of damage with her armaments. She has reduced the Cairo to one hex movement (note green counter) and the Sassacus can now only steer to the left (note blue counter). Okay, so she is on fire, but that just makes it all the more heroic.

As Gary's mission was to get 4 ships off my end of the table, and he was reduced now to 3, one of which could only go in circles, I won that one too.

As I said above, I do love this version of HI, and the model ships continue to be a delight. They are lovely little models and just the right size for this type of game. The rules can be a bit random, as young people would say, but that just adds to the fun of it all.

One of my all time favourites.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Colouring some Celts

So next year the SOA Battleday is Telemon a Republican Romans v Celts battle. The Celt army included a goodly number of naked warriors, and I don't have any of them in my current collection. Just lots of Airfix Ancient Britons.

Luckily over the last few years a WD friend, Tim, has been off loading bags of his "I'll never get round to them" 20mm plastics on me. One of these included some Italeri Gauls. These are quite nice, and, despite having a limited number of poses, include at least one naked warrior. In addition some of the bare chested figures are wearing trousers that are quite tight, and with a bit of carving round the ankles and application of thick paint can easily be mistaken for men in a state of undress.

The carving is quite delicate on the figures, and they are really well done, - nicely proportioned in decent poses. The shields are separate, so you get added variety because you get two shield designs. The javelin men have had their plastic weapons replaced by pins as usual.

I picked up another couple of boxes of these in my haul from Hereward at Peterborough. That also included a set of Hat "Carthaginian Allies", which have amongst their numbers two naked Celt poses, so that added some more variety to the pile to be painted.

With all of that together I have another 5 units all undercoated and ready to paint. As these will now form my "Fast Warbands", being 3 figures on a 60mm x 30mm base. Hopefully that'll be enough for the refight.

With the advent of these units I will probably rebase a lot of my Ancients Brits to make them "Solid Warbands" with 4 figures on a 60mm x 20mm base. That should make some space in my "Celtic Warband" storage boxes.

Looks like I'm going to need another pot of flesh paint, however.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Bridges of Cropredy

Following our epic refight of the Battle of Marston Moor I turned my attention to the southern campaign, and had a look at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in the summer of 1644.

This is an awkward one. The armies don't line up and face each other, and the battle is fought in a rambling fashion over a large area, mostly by cavalry. On the other hand I was aware that the battle had been re-fought using the "Victory Without..." rules at COW many years back, so it must be possible, right?

My first call was the Nugget reports on the original COW game, and alas, they were not much help. Other than to let me know that the battle was an awkward one to fight.

I had to adjust the battlefield a bit as I wanted to use the squares again. I also modified the movement rules, increasing the distance units covered. Otherwise we'd have been there all night before anyone hit anyone (a problem the game at COW had I think). Unfortunately I probably over did it a bit.

This is the set up. The King's Army of Oxford has been playing cat and mouse with Waller's smaller army, and has got itself strung out as the Vanguard rushes off to the top of the picture, across Hay's Bridge to try and run down some Parliamentarian forces.

Seeing that this has evened up the numbers a bit Waller launches a pincer movement across two crossing points to pinch off the trailing units of the Royalist Army.

Waller and his cavalry brigade are at the bottom, just getting ready to cross the Cherwell at Slat's Mill. In the centre left his number two, Middleton, is ready to cross at Cropredy Bridge and accompanying ford, with the bulk of the army. He has to seal off the split in the Royalist forces by taking and holding Hays Bridge, and then combine to destroy the trailing units.

The game opened with Parliament rushing the dragoons defending Cropredy Bridge and ford, sweeping them away...

...Hazelrigge's Horse pursued them towards Hays Bridge.

The rest of Middleton's force burst across the river, and rushed for the higher ground. Out of shot, Waller's force was more cautious as it crossed the ford by the Mill, and tried to negotiate its way up the steep slope, against the grain of the ridge and furrow fields.

The Royalist column continued to head for Hays Bridge, but a couple of cavalry brigades wheeled off to provide cover.

Sorry for the fuzzy nature of this picture. Hazelrigge's men (centre of the picture)  managed to get up on the ridge line quicker than anyone expected (told you I got the move distances wrong), but the Royalist horse reacted quickly and turned to face.

Much to everyone's surprise the Royalist horse broke, and were pursued past their surprised foot. By this point two Royalist commanders had been unhorsed and captured, but I forgot to take pictures.

The Parliamentarians also had another win a bit further south, and that surprise rendered the unit next to them "Unsteady". So far Waller's plan was going much better than it did historically.

Waller's problem was that he was struggling to get his horse up the steep hill near the camera. Nothing was stopping the onward march of his foot across the table, however.

Eventually they burst up onto the ridge line, breaking their opponents at the cost of Waller falling off his horse.

Alas for Middleton he was unable to get his dragoons to Hays Bridge in time, and elements of the King's forces were able to return.

This prompted Richard, as Middleton, to start to form a defensive position with his foot to counter the threat.

Phil was rushing his cavalry across the river as quickly as the bridge would allow.

Meanwhile Astley had formed his foot into a hedgehog as the cavalry melees swirled around him.

At the bottom of the picture a very confused cavalry melee has some Parliamentarian horse broken by their Royalist opponents...

...who are shortly charged in the rear by some other Parliamentarian horse such that both units flee across Cropredy Bridge together, heading for Banbury and screaming "all is lost".

The Royalists were now holding Hays Bridge very securely.

Middleton is now sort of trying to conduct a retreat back to Cropredy, but he keeps changing his mind.

The Royalists are now firmly positioned on the hill in  front of Wardington. Scrappy cavalry melees are taking place all over the board, with units being caught in the flank and rear as local superiority occurs.

As night fell the Royalist counter attack had stopped the Parliamentarians, who were now certainly falling back from their high water mark. Waller has inflicted significant damage on the Royalists, but at a cost that has also weakened his army. Probably a better result for him than historically, however.

The game proved challenging but did provide an evening's entertainment. I had identified a number of the issues that would occur, but unfortunately didn't get all the fixes right. More work needs to be done to get it right, if I was to play it again.

The rules may have run their course. They have proved a useful tool to get real battles on the table top, but their limitations are becoming clearer. They work best if you use playing card activation most likely, and for a multiplayer game that just slows it down to much. The hand to hand rules are really too much of a blunt instrument with massive amounts of luck in them.

Where we go next, I'm not sure. The figures used for this battle were actually painted as the King's Army at Oxford and Waller's Army, but because of the figure scale I didn't get most of the foot regiments on the table. The units were painted as one base equals 50, but the figure scale here is 1 base equals 200. I want to use more of them in a more detailed and involved system. Phil is keen on Advanced Armati, and that does provide a good game. I think for my own peace of mind I have to look at the whole thing from scratch and see where I get to.