Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Trial and Error in the Desert

This Monday night game was not in Shedquarters, but over in Chris K's conservatory. Chris runs WW2 Operational Games under a constantly evolving system called "Not Quite Mechanised". We have spent many, many, many, years fighting the Eastern Front, but every so often we have a sojourn in the desert. This week we were at 2nd Alamein.

After much badgering by me and Phil Chris has finally accepted that NQM would benefit from moving to squares and accepting the discipline this would impose.

I missed the first half of the game a week or so ago so I took the Italian defenders. They were dug in behind minefields and stuff, so it looked like a good choice.

The British did have a lot of chaps, and a lot of artillery to boot. It was quite intense.

They also had a lot of armour.

I got a bit overrun.

When we finished I had held on by the skin of my teeth, although I can't claim any credit for that. The game was really a play test of the squares and the challenges that the deep minefield warfare gives the designer. We reset and replayed several phases and turns to see what different results we would get.

I think Phil and I gave Chris a lot of good value feedback, and we are working towards a large, square based game some time over the summer, hopefully, when my SCW Italians will reappear in the desert. Chris' take on the evening is over here.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

A Tough Call

Last year I wrote about my rebasing of my Taiping Era figures in a couple of posts here and here. I'd had them based on 30mm squares and I'd come to the conclusion that they'd look good on 30mm x 15mm bases, like my Peruvians and Chileans. I mused at the time that this might be the start of a major project to rebase all of my pre-20th century armies done in Peter Pig style.

I didn't really want to do it, - my attitude tends to be that once it's based, it's based and the stuff is based to last. So when I'd finished the Taiping basing and come to a crashing halt with my mid 19th century French from Lancashire games I put the idea away, or rather closed my mind to it. Life is too short for rebasing.

Then I was up with my board gaming chum Gary's a few weeks back. We were playing SPI's "Seelowe" again, - the July scenario. I was the British and got completely clobbered. Any way, this is by-the-by. Under my malign influence Gary has been draw inexorably towards figure gaming and military history and has started to pick up the odd book, - particularly Ospreys if he can get them cheap.

He was quite pleased that he'd picked up some of the Sudan Campaign editions, including Don Featherstone's classic on Khartoum. We discussed wargaming the subject, and I mentioned that we enjoy a bit of British in the Sudan, and suggested we could try  bit of "Science v Pluck" on his next visit to Shedquarters.

Again I didn't think anymore about it as I was working on my Marlburian stuff and getting those rules into shape. As they've got closer to completion I felt I was able to take a quick look in the boxes and think about some scenarios.

Well, my heart fell. Much as I am a fan of my own work I really didn't like the look of them at all. The three figures on the square bases look okay for units that are skirmishing (although honestly they are a bit close for that) but for a unit that's standing shoulder to shoulder to hold off hordes of Dervishes they just don't look the part.

I quickly closed the box and opened up one for a different army to stop me thinking about it. Alas it was one of my ECW boxes. They looked wrong too. They would clearly benefit from being 3 on a 30mm x 15mm base than 4 on a 30mm x 30mm base. Whatever was I thinking??

To make it worse I had a sneaking suspicion that I'd got a bag of 30mm x 15mm bases on the shelf in the study, so no excuses. Oh curses.

So there was no way out. First thing this morning I put a couple of units in the ankle bath. These are based on plastic, so not so easy to get off as mdf I suspected. Not so after a few hours they were a little bit loose. That enabled me to glue a few  up this afternoon to see what they look like.

Okay, so not a perfect background, but that looks more like a thin red line. As you can see above my boxes are purpose built for my figures, but with these they take up exactly half the floor area, so I should be able to simple double up the figures in each section. That'll help with my storage space.

The cavalry I'll probably put on square bases as they're currently on 30mm x 40mm, but I'll have to check exactly what I've got before I start, as for the Camel Corps I'll need to remember that they need to be dismounted, and taking off a 2 camel base and replacing it with a 3 figure infantry base won't look right. Of course 2 x 2 camel bases becoming one 3 man infantry base might work okay. But for regular cavalry it'll increase the number of bases I can deploy as I'll get three off two of my current bases. Did you follow that?

I think I'll leave the Mahdists on the square bases, however.

That should take care of my summer.

And then the ECW stuff....they're 4 to a base so reducing them to 3 to a base will give me extra regiments. Dammit. Gonna have to do them too. I'm afraid to open any more boxes.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Countdown to COW for Corporal John

Yes, only 3 more game evenings before "Va t'en guerre" is unleashed upon the wargaming public at this year's COW, so some playtesting opportunities still to be taken.

Following on from the last game, when I'd started to change things round a bit to accommodate more of Nosworthy's views, I'd had a more coherent re-write covering Platoon Fire and the French "a prest" tactics. I've also added extra benefits for fighting in line and allowing a place for the cavalry to re-group. For this game the French are to the left, with the Anglo-Dutch to the right.

I start by winning the initiative, and press forward to cross the stream and boggy ground. Phil, who is running the Anglo-Dutch has been playing "Shako" over the weekend, so he had some helpful comments to make.

Because it's a Marlborough game you have to have a big cavalry melee in the centre, don't you? I don't have enough space toys or time to do a proper battle refight at COW, so I'm aiming to do a sort of extract of the centre at Blenheim. Here we are, surging towards each other.

Mixed results all along the line, but happy with how the rule changes are shaping up. I've had two units routed, but I broke one of Phil's and have fought him to a standstill elsewhere.

Alas I have run into Phil's infantry support, and one of my cavalry units receives a full volley, disrupting it badly. I have a slight concern that musketry is too effective but I want the game to move along and not get bogged down. Plus this'll teach me not stand in front of fully formed infantry with loaded muskets.

On the left flank I emerged from the marsh and delivered my volleys. Alas I failed to inflict damage all along the line, so some of my units fell into disorder.

I've rather been driven back in the centre. Hmmm.

On the left we start to close. Shouting "Vive le roi" my men storm across the marshy ground, ignoring the rippling stream of lead from the Anglo Dutch Platoon Fire. It's a mixed outcome, with some being driven back by defensive fire, whilst on the left victory is nearly ours.

Over on the right we're finally getting into action, with musket fire being exchanged.

The battlefield is now wreathed in smoke. I'm just about holding my own, but Phil is gaining the upper hand.

In the centre I've been able to push my infantry forward to allow my cavalry to reform in relative safety.

We ended when the battle for the village was just hotting up and I had reformed my horse sufficiently to guard against Phil's returning marauding cavalry.

Phil remarked at the end that what I'm good at is getting period detail into a game, but what I'm less good at is laying out how you win a battle, - what sort of thing makes a brigade/division/army break and flee. I think that's fair comment. I usually put in a paragraph about army break levels and then just ignore it on the grounds that it should be obvious who has won. This can lead to a bit of "last man standing" gaming at its worst.

Still, something to think about, but otherwise progress is good, - and it looks like 18th century linear warfare, so that's positive.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Not all wasted

It has been a bit quiet around here again. Lots of issues with an elderly relative being in hospital then going into care has been taking up time, and I've also been working on something not entirely wargamerly too.

As I may have mentioned before I'm a member of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society. We have a public meeting most months with a guest speaker on a historical subject related to military history, the history of Northamptonshire and its surrounds, or medieval history in general. As I used to do a bit of lecturing/training at work and have a degree in history I mentioned to the man who arranges our talks that I'd be up for doing a session.

So for reasons too arcane to go into now I ended up doing a joint presentation with Phil on the evidence for the Battle of Edgcote in May, and I'm in the programme to talk about William Boteler in July.

July's the slot speakers don't often want to do as it falls in the academic holidays - we don't meet in August for similar reasons - so a member of the Society is the easy way to fill the gap. Last year we had our Secretary Peter, talk about archery, and very good he was too.

So, William Boteler. Or Butler. Who's he then?

Boteler is a man who has virtually disappeared from history, but for a few short years was an important man in Northamptonshire and the surrounding area under the Protectorate, being appointed Major-General for the region. His reputation did not survive the Restoration, when he was described as a "proud, insolent, domineering Turkish Bashaw". Tough talking about a dead man unable to defend himself.

I first came across Boteler when I was at University (so that's nearly 40 years ago) and there were a couple of things that interested me about him. At the time I didn't live in Northamptonshire and had no intention of doing so, so I didn't follow up that much. Well, not at all, really. I did think at the time that there was a proper book to be written about the Major-Generals period of history, and I'd have pitched that for my PhD but instead  went off and got a proper job, got married, had a family etc, etc.

Fast forward a few years, - to 2005, in fact, according to my Amazon order history - and the book I would have written was actually written, and a jolly good book it is too. This re-introduced me to  William Boteler and the world of the Major-Generals, and I reflected, not for the first time, that it is good to be able to read a proper history book from cover to cover without being under pressure to mine it for an essay or seminar paper. There's enough stuff on him in this book to make you want to know more.

Although of course I never followed up and found out anymore, because sometimes you just don't.

When I came to needing a subject for a talk, however, I reckoned there was enough to fill 40 minutes without any serious digging. I was able to supplement Durston with my notes from way back when, and, joy of joy, photocopies of pages from the Thurloe State Papers. (John Thurloe was Cromwell's secretary of state, and his collection of letters is a terrific resource, - and all available at British History On Line, too, now). So I had all of that to read too.

And then it was off to the local history section of the library to look at what they've got, and to cross check assertions made in other, more general works. And then it all sort of started to get more interesting. The only decent length biographical essay on Boteler* describes him as "the most execrated" of the Major Generals. His entry in the most recent Dictionary of National Biography (he didn't make the first edition) written by no other than Ivan Roots describes him as "an unappealing personality". What had he done to make himself so unpopular?

It was in the cross checking that it started to get interesting. I'm not, nor ever have been, a professional historian, but I was unable to verify all of the accusations against him, and we seemed to have a case not of history repeating itself but historians repeating one another. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that you didn't make yourself popular in Restoration England by suggesting that Cromwell's henchmen might have been nice guys, actually.

I was also lucky enough to study not only the Protectorate period, but also Religion and Belief in the 16th and 17th century, which I recall being tremendous fun. This lead me to read Christopher Hill's wonderful "The World Turned Upside Down" which is full of vibrant characters and overflowing with well chosen quotations from contemporary documents and leaflets. It is a terrific evocation of a time when ideas were flowing and being debated by all levels in Society. In the case of Boteler I went back to it to remind myself what the early sectaries, including Quakers, were like and what they believed in, as Boteler had several run-ins with radical groups. Having read that chapter I had to stay with the book and read a few more.

Finally in terms of background I turned to S R Gardiner's epic eight volume history of The Great Civil War and the Protectorate. Although it is a hundred plus years old it is still valuable as the chronology is correct and, well, I enjoy the prose. The volumes on the Commonwealth and Protectorate were regular companions during my final year at University. A few years ago, - it may be more than 10 - I found a pristine set of all 8 of them in a second hand book shop, marked down at £2 each, so I bought them, and they have sat proudly on my study book shelf ever since.

So, not all my time at University wasted then, as I at least know where to look to verify information on a completely obscure 17th century individual no one really cares about.

Now, enough of this displacement activity and back to working on my talk.

And if any of you are around Northampton on the 26th July it would be great to see you at the Northampton Marriott Hotel. We start at 7:30pm. It's £5 on the door, or free to NBS members.

*Written by Paul Hardacre, and American History Professor in the 1940s, and published in the Huntington Library Quarterly. I misread that as "Huntingdon" and had foolishly assumed it was written by some local history buff out in the Fens, not an eminent US History Professor writing for a prestigious academic library.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Marlburian Shake Up

So I read Nosworthy, and it set me to thinking. He doesn't exactly disagree with Chandler, but then he doesn't exactly agree with him either. It did clarify my thinking a bit about the tactical philosophies used by the opposing armies and how it might be embedded in the rules even more than now.

So as I was sitting waiting for my Monday Night opponent to arrive I started to  make a few adjustments, focusing on whether troops were trained to rely on musketry or cold steel. I was only part way done when Phil arrived, but by the end of our evening's session my ideas were well enough formed for the rewrite I put together afterwards.

I threw together some bits and pieces for a simple encounter battle. French to the right, British to the left.

I'd set the armies up a bit off set. No one was in column, so we advanced towards each other in line.

My cavalry in the centre got the worst of a volley from Phil's foot, and retired behind my infantry line. One other of my cavalry units came unstuck and were soon being pursued off the table.

Bottom left Phil tries a frontal attack on my infantry, only to be held at bay by a combination of musketry and hard fighting.

On the right flank my cavalry mass came up against some steadfast infantry

Bottom left Phil throws in some more cavalry to try and deal with my recalcitrant foot. Elsewhere volleys are exchanged.

The extra horse do the trick and my line stumbles backwards.

Elsewhere we have a stalemate favouring the British, so we called it a night. We'd been speaking of other things, and so only got in 4 or 5 moves. None the less I got a lot out of the game from the point of view of game mechanics, so an evening well spent.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Battle Day 2018 Delayed

Well, we finally got round to this game. The Society of Ancients Battle Day for 2018 was Parataikene, the monumental draw between Antigonus and Eumenes. I was intending to do the game with Basic Impetus, and I also got a load of figures painted so I could swap out the interlopers from previous games. No Assyrians or Gauls lurking in the background for this one.

Then, of course, Mrs T and I booked our epic holiday to New Zealand, which happened to clash with the Games Day. That meant that rather than run it on the actual day I would need to put aside some Shedquarters time to do it.

The obvious choice was 19th May, well away from TV shows and street parties commemorating the Royal Wedding. My protagonists were Chris A and Phil. Alas Will was unwell, so we thought there would only be three of us. Luckily MNG irregular Graham S phoned Chris part way through and unveiled his availability (well, he was looking for someone to play a board game with actually), so he joined us - of which more anon.

Eumenes is this side, Antigonus opposite. Phil and I ran Eumenes, and Chris took Antigonus along with Graham S when he arrived.

Taking the advice of the Battle Day organiser I made a big open space on the Eumenid right wing. This meant that the Antigonid light horse could pull out wide and occupy the Eumenid heavies. As you can see from the picture players never like the historical set up, and Phil is moving his right wing elephants across sharpish.

Chris' peltasts take on one of Phil's elephants. Note that the elephant is a modified BI unit, - I've added light infantry bases and changed the factors. I also put in a rule about horse not being able to charge them. This gave a better result compared to the base rules, but still isn't perfect. However unlike some of the early play throughs elephants weren't the battle winning weapon, which is more authentic.

In fact, the peltasts did for the elephants pretty quickly.

Out on the other wing it was a bit more crowded and cagey.

In the centre the Antigonid peltasts were lining up to have a go at the Eumenid phalanx.

This didn't go well for them, and they soon retired behind their own phalanx. BTW I up-gunned the Silver Shield/Hypaspist factors for this game, as those in the base rules don't allow them to perform as well as they did historically.

The peltasts had broken up the neatness of the Eumenid line, but they got stuck in anyway.

Graham S turned up, and his first action was to roll three sixes which caused my Companions to break and flee. BI has a form of catastrophe mechanism which, on reflection, turns the game into a bit of a crap shoot.

The Silver Shields are starting to have an effect. That should be a two unit deep block on their left, and they've driven the whole lot back, including their neighbours, killing a unit in the process.

Elsewhere in the middle another elephant unit comes unstuck...

... as does one on the left flank.

Over on the right I'm doing my best to compensate for the shock loss of my Companions by covering my cavalry's flank with a elephant, to scare off those pesky light horse.

The left has turned into a maelstrom of whirling cavalry actions.

The elephants are a busted flush, but the veterans in Eumenes line are performing as expected.

The left wing is opening up, but some outrageous dice rolling is throwing up some odd outcomes and what our DBA friends might call "quick kills".

On the other flank a dual attack on a cavalry unit with elephants and flanking cavalry fails to break them. Repeatedly. What is going on here?? (Phil was kind enough to say that my decision here may have cost us the battle.)

Look. They still won't die, and that light horse is coming round our rear.

The Antigonids have finally unlocked their right flank, and are bursting out to attack our infatry.

This sort of thing never bodes well.

And then the left wing fell away.

The Antigonids posted a win but the Silver Shields/Hypaspists survived to fight another day.

I'm aiming for a proper write up for Slingshot, with full army lists, rule amendments and critique. In summary we had a good game but whether it was Successor Warfare or not is a moot point. That may not matter to many (after all I've just downloaded Pike & Shotte for free from Warlord games and reading through confirms what I thought, - that's got nothing to do with renaissance warfare, but people love them any way), but I think it means that this experiment has now been closed down as far as the Monday Night Group is concerned.