Wednesday, 31 July 2019

"AK47 Republic" for Beginners

So it occurred to me that over the last year or so the Shedquarters MNG has grown in number, and that in all probability none of our new players had played the original "AK47 Republic".

Clearly an omission to be rectified.

I worked out a couple of armies, - Colonials as defenders, and People's Popular Front as attackers. Phil & Richard had played before, so I split them, with Phil defending, then had Dave & Tim with Richard and Steve with Phil.

The terrain is larger than for the "classic" games back in the day when I ran an AK47 convention. The board is about 6' x 5', which I think was the original recommended size. It was the size we played originally until I started the convention, when I shrunk the tables to 4' x 4' to fit the hall size and to ensure we got the games fitted in to the allotted time and space. My, those games were fast and furious.

This is the PPF before the political flowchart...

...and the Colonials.

After putting out the objectives the players swapped sides of the table. The attackers got two units on, - some tanks and some militia infantry - as did the defenders. They got a unit of professional infantry (placed in the town), and two armoured cars.

Richard's militia infantry seized the river crossing, amid much jubilation.

Tim had the tanks, and started a long, slow, drive across the table.

The militia at the crossing spread out and made themselves at home.

Phil decided to punish their impudence by moving his infantry out of the town. His plan, as they are professionals, is to do a lot of firing and get those airstrikes from the random events rules.

As part of their political flowchart the attackers got the 100 point militia power up. They also rolled well on the reinforcements, and got two units on in successive turns in the far corner...

... and their regulars in APCs as well, in the other corner, near the river ford. The defenders were not so lucky, and were facing 5 units with only two. Phil's aggressive approach (was there ever any other) was taking fire, but he was closing the range.

As the regulars de-bussed into the wood, it was revealed that their C-in-C was with them. This proved to be a vital move.

The game countdown crept forwards, with very little shooting going on.

Then Phil got his airstrike marker, having shot a man at the river crossing.

Richard moved his men up to reinforce the defences.

The airstrikes came in, brewing up the truck in the background with the RCL, and destroying a militia vehicle too. The militia at the crossing promptly turned and fled. That's why they aren't on the table any more.

The meant Phil could seize the crossing.

The tanks and armoured cars faced up to each other, and exchanged kills.

Deciding to ride his luck, Phil close assaulted the wood. He got the better of the exchange, but the presence of the attacking general meant their opponents held on, passing most of the morale checks.

Tim started the long slow walk from the corner to the main town, by way of the third objective.

The armoured vehicles continue to fire at each other, as the smaller of the two militia units heads hell for leather to occupy the town.

Finally the defenders get some reinforcements on, which gives Tim pause for thought. Is it too little, too late?

Well, yes, it was. Steve lost his last armoured car, so he was no longer disputing the central objective, which Tim then occupied with his militia. The defending reinforcements got a shot or two at the big militia unit, but not enough to cause it any problems. Phil's professional infantry had by now taken a hit too many, and failed their final morale test, and so retired from the last objective, although Richard was unable to get there and claim it.

Then the defenders rolled a 5 for the countdown and it was game over.

The attackers ran out substantial winners, 72 points to 26. They really had the rub of the green, in both the political charts and in reinforcements. Phil & Steve hung in there with two units versus five for a lot of the game, and could almost have sneaked a win, if they had not lost the last armoured car.

So, a two player game kept six of us occupied and entertained for 3 1/2 hours. AK 47 Republic worked its magic on the newbies who were all enthusiastic about playing again.

Truly a classic set of rules.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Edgcote Week

Last week saw the culmination of about two years work by the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society to mark the 550th anniversary of the battle on the 24th July 1469. Earlier in the year we published a book, and a walk leaflet, and Phil finished work on our battlefield model, all of which, I think, I have written about here.

For this last week we had two major events planned, the Anniversary Walk on the evening of the 24th and the Conference on the 27th. Phil and I, with various other people have done a couple of recce walks to make sure we can get the whole thing in before the sun sets. It looked tight, but we thought we could do it. I then put the finishing touches to the printouts in my presentation book to take round with us, with pictures of Edward IV, situation maps etc etc, - I'm sure you know the sort of thing if you've ever done a guided battlefield walk.

We had a 7pm start in Chipping Warden, and our aim was to get there for 6:30pm and set up a portable Society stand and do a quick pre-walk briefing. Phil stopped off at 5:30pm, and off we went into Northampton's rush hour traffic. Which actually wasn't that bad.

Then 20 minutes later, this happened. Mine is the white car.

Photo (c) Phil Steele
Yes. Rear-ended whilst stationary at traffic lights on the exit to a roundabout. There was nothing for it. We got another Society committee member to come and pick Phil up and get him to Edgcote, whilst I stayed with my car and waited for recovery. So Phil lead the walk on his own (thanks, Phil) and I missed it completely. Still, no need to worry, it's not like it was a special event and we'd been planning it for months. Hang on...

Which then brings us to the Conference on Saturday, held at Abington Park Museum, which is a lovely, historic, venue.

Abington Park Museum. Photo (c) Northamptonshire Surprise
The fine weather was gone, and it started to rain as we unloaded our various stand items into the venue (I had a hire car by now, so at least I was mobile). We were just about set up as people started to arrive, and the AV worked, which is always a bonus. After people registered, they were treated to tewa & coffee in the Great Hall, before moving in to the conference room.

The Great Hall at the Museum. Photo (c) Steve Williams
I can't do the full event justice in the space I have hear, but it all went very well and the feedback has been superb.

That slide, with that date.
We started the day with Harvey Watson of the Battlefields Trust. Harvey's job was to set the scene with some background and what we might call the "traditional" interpretation of the battle. Harvey has been giving this talk for over 10 years now, and did most of the original work in bringing the battle to general attention. He designed the current sign board and wrote the words. He did not disappoint us, and his opening slide contained the first thing we need to get changed, - the erroneous view that the battle was fought on the 26th, not the 24th.

The origin of all the trouble
I'm being a bit unfair. Harvey did an excellent job on the background and gave us a framework to follow for the rest of the day. It was a shame he had to leave at the lunch break, but it was his birthday, so we were lucky to have him there.

After Harvey we had the NBS Chairman, Mike Ingram, who gave us lots of background into the Woodville/Warwick "feud" with a modified version of one of his favourite topics, - the over-mighty subjects of late medieval England.

Wydeville or Woodville, - i'ts all the same
He's done a lot of work since I last heard him talk about this, and he has more information than it is safe for one person to have and try to impart in 50 minutes without anyone's head exploding. I was quite breathless by the time he had done.

That wedding
What I did not fully appreciate was that the much maligned upstart Wydvilles were not the nobodies that Warwick and the Neville's claimed them to be. They may not have been of Royal Blood or cousins to the King, but they were a prominent and significant family and whilst "newer" than the Neville's shouldn't have been regarded as parvenus.

We then took a break for lunch (very good, what I saw of it, as I spent most of the lunch break processing payments and signing books, - the price of fame) before re-convening for the day's mystery package. A Welsh poetry professor from Aberystwyth University's Centre for Advance Welsh and Celtic Studies.

I came across Professor Ann Parry Owen almost by chance when researching the Edgcote book, and through e-mail exchanges she agreed to translate some poems for me. I then pushed my luck and asked her to speak at the Conference, which she agreed to do.

She delivered above and beyond the call of duty, having given a paper in Bangor in North Wales the day before, then driven to Northampton in the evening to talk to us. She is passionate about her subject and couldn't miss a chance to tell the English all about it. 

Professor Ann Parry Owen
And I made her stand in front of a slide with a typo in it. Sorry Ann. I can spell "Anniversary". Honest.

Anyhow she was the hit of the Conference. Bloody brilliant it was. She needs to be given a bigger platform and should be a regular on the Battlefield Conference circuit.

Apparently there are three battles written about by the professional Welsh poets of the late 15th century, - Mortimer's Cross, Edgcote & Banbury. In all cases any statements of fact in the poems must be taken as just that, - they are not poetical flights of fantasy but a truthful recording of who was who and what happened. Ann explained why this was, an argument I won't repeat here, but it makes them unimpeachable as sources if and when we choose to use them. These is a lot more mileage to be made out of this.

Phil's opening slide.
Phil Steel then gave us his speciality, which is understanding what contemporary 15th century art tells us about warfare, or, as he put it "looking for the pictorial clues". Another subject that deserves a much higher profile (book him now if you run medieval or military history conferences or evening talks).

A surprising summary?
I think this was controversial for some in the audience, as Phil pointed out that a lot of what we take to be true isn't supported by all the evidence. You might think, "Well it's art not real life" and therefore can safely be ignored if it doesn't fit in with your preconceptions but, as with the Welsh poetry, Phil made convincing arguments as to why art commissioned by men who had military experience (ie pretty much all of the ruling class) should be taken seriously.

Photo (c) Steve Williams
Finally the audience got me, doing my thing about taking the sources to pieces and trying to make sense of them and how historians have used them. I overran a bit (I put in some extra slides at the last moment as I thought I'd be short). A lot of what I had to say was why Harvey's traditional interpretation has problems, so it was either a shame or a relief that he wasn't there. The following Q&A was a lively session too, which was fun & probably could have gone on for another 20 minutes, but alas we were at closing time, so we had to pack away.

The event was attended by over 60 paying customers, and nearly a third of them came from outside Northamptonshire & our normal catchment area, so we succeeded in running an event with national reach. The buzz from talking to people and from the feedback forms is that we ran an event that people enjoyed and also broke new ground for a lot of the attendees.

It wasn't just speakers either. We had some re-enactors on hand with lots of kit, the battlefield model, and as I alluded to above, a merchandise stand so you could buy our top quality, award winning, ground breaking, publications.

Phil's battlefield model, which attracted a lot of attention

Thursday, 18 July 2019

And finally Falkirk

Supposedly the largest battle of the '45 rebellion, The Battle of Falkirk was fought in January, late in the day and in foul weather. Possibly the great missed opportunity for the Jacobites it presents the game designer and rule writer with a number of problems. It really does need scenario specific rules, so that's why it hasn't featured until now.

As "Va t'en Ecosse" has been to CoW this phase of its development cycle is about complete, bar finishing the couple of regiments sitting on my painting desk. I need to turn to something else for a while, but what better way to round off than with Falkirk, 17th January 1746, and a load of scenario specific rules made up on the spot. More or less.

Falkirk takes place on a plateau, which mostly slopes down towards the British rear and left. The British are initially encamped off to their right, and march to the field in order to give battle. Their artillery becomes bogged down and never makes it. Their right wing is partially protected by an impassable ravine, which is represented by the grey area centre top. The battle starts at 4pm, just as the sun is going down, in the pouring rain which the prevailing wind is driving into the face of the British Army.

For the game Phil took the Jacobites, and Richard the British, assisted by Tim who was given the cavalry.

The game moved on so quickly I seem to have forgotten to photograph loads of it. On their right the Highlanders advanced, then the British cavalry charged them. The Highlanders stood and delivered a volley (first scenario rule introduced, number of dice rolled reduced by a random amount), and inflicted Disorder and some damage. The Dragoons still charged home, but were outclassed by the Highlanders, and were forced to retire with extreme haste. Unlike their historical predecessors I didn't make them flee between the two armies and get shot up.

Having softened them up with his first two Cavalry units, Tim threw in his reserve line.

The reserves fared better, but were still repulsed.

The fleeing cavalry had opened up the British left, and Phil pushed his clans into the open space. Elsewhere the regulars tried to hold off the Highland charges with firepower, but this was proving less effective than usual. Out on their right, the British were starting to turn their infantry inwards to cover what might be a breakthrough in the centre, but this exposed them to musket fire from the Highlanders.

The British left of centre infantry recoiled from the charge. The right centre recovered from being intimidated and repulsed their attackers.

The second wave of Highlanders charged in and broke through in the right centre. The British left has now almost completely gone, apart from some militia hiding in the buildings. Richard is still trying to pull his artillery into position. They only move 1d6 inches per turn, due to the muddy ground.

Phil has finally got his cavalry into position on the right, only to discover that the ground is too marshy for him to charge. He was not amused. Out on his left he has edged a unit round so he can hit the British regiment not fully covered by the ravine.

General Cholomondley is bringing up his infantry to stop his position being turned by the collapse of the centre. He has even deployed his guns.

The Highlanders charge over on their left, but are held. Elsewhere the British Army is in full retreat, and it's a Jacobite victory.

So, very close to a historical outcome. The game is stacked in favour of the Jacobites. They have a higher value army using the crude points system I've put in, and they were generally classed as better quality troops for the entire game. The die roll to reduce firing dice hampers the British more than the Jacobites as that's their main way of dealing with their opponents.

So, a satisfactory conclusion to this part of the "Va t'en Ecosse" journey. One of the players asked about Killiecrankie. I do have rules for plug bayonets in VTG, and I think I might be able to improvise pike elements too....hmmmmmm.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

More Russian High Jinks

In order to allow me some recovery time after COW Richard put on another RCW skirmish game using "Triumph and Tragedy". This was a follow up to the game we played in January.

I got the Reds again, and Steve played the Whites.

Having escaped from the last scenario still in possession of the "Princess" my brave Red forces, supported by some Austrians were holed up in a station (Richard had bought some new track!) waiting for a train so we could get to Moscow with our prisoner. Alas no trains had come for quite a while.

We had two vehicles, - including the stolen Rolls Royce from the last game - but alas only one driver.

There were some Gypsy Girls dancing on the station platform. One squad of my men was in the station house. The umpire refused to let me order my men to loop hole the walls or clear the slates to fire from the roof, which rather cramped my style. I did have an armoured car to cover the main road, however.

Soon the Whites appeared, deploying some artillery, and calling in some air support for a bombing run. He missed the building (lucky, as if the bomb had gone through the roof I'd have lost a lot of people) and injured one of the Gypsy Girls. See. That's how the Capitalists care for the common people.

Then loads of White Infantry and Cavalry, - they may have been Czechs - emerged from the woods. The Putilov armoured car swung its MGs round and literally gave them both barrels.

A litter of order cards covers the table. The section in the walled paddock has formed a firing line, and the men in the station house have likewise formed up to deliver devastating fire. My character has rushed to the Rolls with the hostage, only to find I can't drive. The driver from the lorry is summoned.

There's loads of firing, and my men from the station charge the infantry and the cavalry charge the men from the paddock and it's all confusion. Meanwhile the Rolls has been driven off and I'm making my escape whilst the brave Bolshevik forces hold back the White Tide. Mission successful at the small cost of basically everything.

"T&T" has some interesting mechanisms, and I would like to read the rules properly (although not enough to want to buy them). There are inherent problems with skirmish games once you get beyond four or five men a side, and groups start to need some form of unit coherence. Only by being blind to these problems can you make all of this work. Luckily all this can be salvaged by setting up a good scenario, which Richard did. It was also explained to me that I was supposed to lose and the Whites were supposed to recapture the Princess, setting up the next game in the chain.

What can I say? I'm a military genius.