EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rough Wooing in the Valley

Yesterday I packed up troops and terrain and made the 45 minute trip to Kentville to the Table Top Games day where I set up a version of the game that Rob Dean and I will be running  at Huzzah in Portland next month. The scenario was the same Stuart Asquith one that I played twice earlier this month. The goal for both sides is to garrison the town and exit a force off the far end of the table by road.

The French march on as the game gets underway.
The stand-in Scots barely glimpsed to the left are technically off table at this point.
 Since I didn't have Rob's troops or terrain I fudged things with what I had on hand, throwing in some Scots and so on. I was hoping to have at least four of the lads show up for the duration but life intervenes and some couldn't stay for the whole game while others couldn't come at all. However, I managed to pressgang a passing gamer  who paused by the table for a few seconds too long. He (Greg? Garry? Damn I am bad at names...) turned into an agreeable companion and an able commander for the English (hopefully we'll be able to entice him to join us for more games) and so we had at least four players at one point and two players for long enough for me to get a good feel for the rules and scenario which would have been enough to declare the event a success. Better yet though, Martin was able to stay an extra hour or so and put up with me filling in as both GM and player for the last hour to reach a reasonable conclusion after about three and a half hours in all.

I didn't have room for all the troops to start on table nor did I have a spare side table so please visualize the troops lined up along the board edges  as actually marching down the roads from off table. 
The English were fast off the mark and very aggressive. Their forlorn hope managed to drive off their French equivalent and bottle up the main French force for a good while. A unit of Landsknechts in English pay made their way through the open woods aided by good movement dice and By the time they fell back and rejoined the main English force, nearly half the French infantry had been drawn off to face them. Thanks to the sacrifice of the Forlorn Hope, English archers had already made it to the town while their cavalry and more infantry were well on the way to bypassing it on their way to the exit.

Battle is joined.
The pictures got foggier as the battle went on. I'd like to think this was the effect of gun smoke and the angle of the sun shining into a dark room but I suspect a trip to the snack table for a handful of chips (
crisps for those from the Old Country) may have had an inadvertent, but deleterious, effect on my smartphone lens.
The French had two choices at this point, try to race the English to the exit, a long shot, or try to catch them from behind, crush the rear guard and force the main body to turn back or lose the town. Their General chose the latter. The card sequence and dice had helped the English at first but these things rarely last and the French were able to drive into the middle of the English army. When the large block of Swiss rolled into a small group of Billmen, French expectations were high. Eleven dice for 5 or 6.....0 hits! 4 English dice for 4,5,6 came back  with  3 hits!  A stand off and tied melee since the French took fewer hits than they had stands but not what was expected! (the Swiss mercenaries in 1544 were not quite up to their fathers' reputation.) The English billmen pulled back and let the archers and artillery pound the pikes. A combination of card sequencing, an opportune/inopportune turn ending Joker and more high movement dice allowed the Landsknechts in English pay to run up in time to hit the French in the flank as the bills rushed back in from the front.   The Scots avenged  them and broke the Germans but this left the French General with one slightly worn pike unit and a few stands of heavy cavalry with no swordsmen or halberdiers and very few arquebusiers to storm the town while the English still had two formidible regiments of bills and bows backed by cavalry. There had been some rather tense moments for the English though and the French attack could well have changed the outcome.

Gratuitous shot of the English as their advance guard of light horse, bowmen and sword and buckler men prepares to deploy and go into action early on. 
I won't speak for the players but as GM and rules writer I was pleased at how the game went. This was the first outing for the buffed up rules which have not been out much in the last decade. During this period I have tortured them in various ways to try and get a smoother, faster game without losing too much of the original flavour. In that time they took several false trails but have come back close to where they began but streamlined a little in organization, stripped of some fiddly-ness, and with a few small twists such as the inclusion of a few Chance cards.

Dusk sets in. A couple of turns before the end. The opposing cavalry are manoeuvring to gain an advantage, speed vs weight. Beyond the town the English Landsknechts are about to crash into the obviously second rate Swiss hired by the French.
The game also gave me a chance to spot a few order of battle weaknesses with the French being weaker than intended in firepower and in troops able to take and hold a town (no job for pikemen). All things easily fixed for May. Another lesson of the test is that I need to clarify what is a an acceptable garrison  and what makes a sufficient force leaving the table. I think I will also force Shaken "Regiments" to leave the table rather than having restricted options. These things will help keep the game length inside the convention time limit and make it easier to call it at the end.

Bring on Huzzah!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bit of a Mess Really

If the shortage of blog posts recently suggests that I've not had much time for wargaming this week, well its actually more like I haven't had much time for wargaming this last week.
Hurry up lot, onto those bases, green up and get ready to board the transports!
Now not much is not none but there has been no actual wargaming, nor any new units added. 

There is a game coming up tomorrow though and I have managed a quick reference sheet for     the buffed up and reborn Rough Wooing 16thC rules
(If you're new to the internet Click back there on the coloured hyper links see the QRS and rules.)

I've also managed to finally rebase the last of my Scots from thin-ish card to regulation thick-ish masonite, not the fancy laser cut ones with bevelled edges, I had to saw these up frommold salvaged wallboard. I also made an hour to speed paint a few more Elastolins to round out my pike and shot forces to 22 pike and  10 shot.  Hopefully in the morning I'll have time to finish dry brushing the new bases and pack it all up for transport and be on the road a little after noon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

One Done

I now have my 54mm portable playing field done.

Somedays I just can't get sufficient light for my smart phone.
In life it is actually possible to see the grid lines.

The cloth itself is the reverse of a Hotz hex mat with some paint dabbed on and over painted with gridlines. Due to a ......clerical error, aka brain fart, this mat has a grid of 15x11 3" squares instead of the intended 15x12 squares. Don't ask! I was planning to slip hills under the grid but the flocked hills from my original but warped portable board match well enough in texture and colour that I will use them.

The other 1/2 of the mat will be used hex side up for Russian Civil War games so that both can be on offer at the same time.

I did a quick test of a new scenario, hopefully better for a learning game. Eight British stands with Commander are tasked with holding a hill line for 12 turns against 18 stands of Zulus. To help them out the British are classed as "Disciplined" (ie Elite) while the Zulus are classed as "Brave" as in would rather die than retreat (ie Poor). A Sudden Death game was nerve wracking but very fast ending in a close game with a clear British victory. A game using the basic strength point rules lasted considerable longer but lacked tension until near the end where it looked like the British might eke out a draw. It was only after the game that I realized that I had screwed up and made the British melee every unit that they were in contact with on their own turn forgetting that this was optional. Oops might have turned the game to a British victory.

However, the Portable Game is going away for a couple of weeks now while I work on the main event, the Friday Night 16thC game that Rob and I will be co-hosting. We could run it tomorrow if we had to but apart from fixing up some broken figures and hopefully adding a few more and fine tuning a series of Orders of Battle depending on how many (if any!) players sign up, I need to make a quick reference rules summary to hand out so that is Job One in time for a multi-player local test game next Saturday.

Archive shot of an earlier solo test game.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Getting Back To The 14 Square Wood

Its been a busy few days but I grabbed a minute to cut some bases, dab some paint on them and glue a bit of shrubbery around the edge.
Woods with trees....

Each block is divided into either two or four 3" squares. There is a line of bushes along one outside edge of each quadrant to make it easy to slide bases of 54mm troops in but still make it obvious that this is some sort of terrain piece. The trees have been left loose to make it easier to pack and to accommodate the placement of troops during a game.

....and without trees.
The squares are only indicated by brown areas but its easy to see which quadrant units are in.
Next big chore is to make a matching portable ground cloth to take to Huzzah!.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Just Out of Refit

Amongst the collection of Veteran Britain's I acquired some years ago was a contingent of a dozen or so sailors. I had promised to cherish and enjoy them so for years was reluctant to refinish them but really, what sailor wants to appear for inspection, or battle, in rags? So, having started with the Gordon's I progressed to the Royal Navy.

The Landing Party of the HMS Belmont. Lt.Cdr Burrell is stationed with the rocket battery while Lt. Howie leads the riflemen. (Hmm from this angle these guys look a bit Herbie-ish.)
Oh yes, the rocket is a cut down one from Barzso's New Orleans set.
I decided to start with enough for the game at hand, the rocket battery and a stand of riflemen. That would leave me some figures to crew the gunboat whose plans have not yet been approved and enough for a second stand of riflemen in future. More importantly that left me original figures to use as a guide when painting. Except for the officers so I decided to take close ups for reference before stripping the paint.

I've never been a big Stripper. Too impatient and my wife is extremely sensitive to chemicals but I found a product called Natura Safe Strip which is non-toxic, low odour,  environmentally friendly and fast acting. Brush it on and 30 minutes later the enamel was ready to be brushed/rubbed/washed off. My newer acrylics took about 45 minutes. Sometimes a 2nd coat on tough spots is needed but I didn't care if there were a few spots here and there under a toy soldier finish, I just like to see the hidden detail emerge from under the thick glossy enamel after 90 years.  I think I'll be ready to do more stripping in future!

Three broken figures become one repaired and one brand new figure.
Providing a crewman for the rocket was a puzzler at first, I really didn't want to start carving up
perfectly good, scarce figures. After some poking and thinking I came up with a running sailor with a broken rifle, another broken off his stand at the ankle and one of many kneeling guards with a broken rifle. A few minutes with a saw, some stripping, some putty and glue and the still running sailor had a new arm with full rifle and I had a kneeling crewman.

Couldn't resist finishing the job today. The paint job isn't a perfect match, sometime mixing the acrylics on hand could only come close to matching the original colour after 90 years of fading and sometimes I chose to add something (like painting the bayonet scabbards) but its close enough to please me.

I did get one surprise though. The men all have light red-brown hair but the officers have black beards. As I started to paint I thought...no..surely not.... so I looked at the picture taken from behind and YUP red hair, black beard! They've been on my shelf all this century and I never noticed? I suppose that means it works but not on my ship! One officer got black hair and beard, the other burnt sienna. I set him down on the desk and OMG it was Doug!  (A wargaming friend  from my Navy Days and after.)  Doug was a career officer, Naval Engineer with a background in astro-physics  and an interest in Space so the rocket battery seemed like a reasonable place to put his 1879 counterpart.  (Sure as hell wasn't going to let him near my cavalry but that's another story!)  Maybe a 54mm hot air balloon should follow.

At any rate the refurbishing has been a great deal of fun and they can now appear on public display as a credit to their ship.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Oh look, More Zulus!

Actually its the same Zulus in the same scenario, different Brits this time.
(See my February 11 Battle Report)

The Portable Wargame and One Hour Wargames. They look like they are a good match.
Once again the scenario was "Escape" from Thomas's One Hour Wargame with Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame and my 54mm Zulu War figures on a 3 foot x 3 foot battlefield gridded into 144 3" squares. This time though, I tweaked the forces a bit more for flavour. All of the British were counted as Elite but they only fielded 8 units including the General. The Zulu's had their -1 to shooting penalty and no general since one usually pictures "the old boy" on a hill at the back rather than leading charges. So, 12 Zulu units, 1/2 with firearms against 4 British Infantry, 2 cavalry with carbines, a rocket battery and a General, all Elite. Rocket batteries aren't mentioned but I treated it as a Mountain Gun with a range of 6.    Given my goals of under an hour per game at Huzzah and rules as written, I decided on the Sudden Death option.

The Zulu's won both of the initial tests but this time the British lost. ......OK so 3 straight losses for the British including two where they beat the Zulus but took too long and failed to exit enough units by the deadline in which case something drastic no doubt happens, the arrival of the main Impi perhaps.  I strongly suspect that the British just haven't been focusing on escaping as much as they should have. They probably need to be less concerned about their flank and rear (which tend to get hit anyway) and more concerned about time. I'm going to try again before I decide that its not a suitable scenario as an introductory primer.  After all, all of the games have been enjoyable to play and felt close so maybe I'll drop an occasional reminder about victory conditions. I might add one or two more British infantry units though or at least boost their Exhaustion Point and their activation deck.

The Zulus stand on the brink of Exhaustion but that won't stop them from causing delay.
 I was going to add a rule making the rocket battery less effective than other artillery but I didn't need to, It just kept rolling 1's all by itself.
I did try something new this time. I have a dislike for dice based initiative systems  that let you possibly fail all the time and not get to do anything. Bad enough if playing solo or at a weekly game but as an introduction to a game or as a once in a blue moon game with a friend, bad activation luck can leading to a boring game and spoil the occasion or the experience.  At the same time, I am also opposed to having too much and too predictable control. Something in the middle seems best.

The rules include an optional solo card draw system of the right sort, always something but not always enough but it allows for a run of cards on one side. In a scenario like this such a run could end the game after 10 or 15 minutes. After a bit of thought I decided to give each player their own deck and play igougo but with the card draw indicating how many units to activate. To make life easier I used an idea I have been using and made each deck 15 cards so that when the cards run out, the game is over without having to track turns. I also inserted face cards to mark when the Zulu Horns and Loins arrive.

It worked like a charm but with one little wrinkle. I don't have any matching decks so I increased the range of cards selected. As fickle fate would have it, both sides drew a lot of low cards when they only had a small force on table then a lot of high cards when they had their maximum units available then the rest of the small cards when they only had a few units left. There were some exceptions and over all it will work just fine, even if I don't get around to picking up some new decks of cards.    
Time's up! Turn 15 and only 1 unit has exited with one more on the edge and the rest several turns away.
There were a couple of minor rules issues but nothing new. I find it unsettling that a unit can move from in front of an enemy to their flank where it receives the same bonuses as one that sprang unseen out of ambush.  Its not so bad if it is the speed of cavalry or double-moving natives that lets them move from several squares away but a literal reading of the rule for moving away would seem to say that a unit moving away from an adjacent enemy may not move adjacent to the front of an enemy but does not preclude sidestepping to a square not adjacent to the front of an enemy then moving forward to the flank of the unit it was fighting thus gaining a 2 pt advantage. It that melee is a draw the enemy can then repeat the manoeuvre and thus the units will circle each other like monkeys and weasels until one pops.

Having thought about it I am going to go as far as interpreting the rule on page 46, where it describes a move away from an enemy as "withdrawing", to mean that a unit cannot withdraw from and then attack the same enemy unit in the same turn, even if it becomes a flank attack.

More painting and terrain building will be done before the next test game though.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hasty Report Before I Move On

The slightly revised board has now been blooded (metaphorically).
Faraway's Composite Colonial Battalion prepares to advance on Asquith Junction.
(Note to self: Best make dismounted cavalry figures a priority)
The scenario was the first one in Stuart Asquith's most recent Solo Wargaming book.)
The main driving force for the various experiments has been my shiny new early 20th Century armies. (Well less than 3 years old which counts as new compared to decades for most of the rest.) I'll leave it to the pictures and captions to give an oh so brief summary of the game. Alas I was too wrapped up in the game to take notes let alone more pictures and the speed of play and number of tense moments and turns of fortune were too many to easily recall in order and make sense of in narrative form after two days lapse.

To save suspense, the 4 man company units on the small grid worked as well as I remembered and after some initial tinkering the game was just right for my vision of what the campaigns and battles of the Great Atlantican War of 1901 might have been like.
An overview early on: Larsen's Lancers have raced ahead to block the vital road exit while the Colonial Battalion prepares to assault the town backed by the 4.7". The Select Militia Volunteers in their Red tunics have barely arrived but will bypass the town and move on to the relief of Maybefaking.  Across the table Oerberg Mounted Rifles and Infantry have seized the town while the heavy gun and two battalions of Oberhilse "Volunteers" march around to seize the road exit. 
It took a few turns of trying and tweaking rules mechanics and so on before I managed to re-find that lower level "Colonial" action feel  but by 1/2 way through the game the feel was there. It was only when the game was over that I realized that I had subconsciously re-written the notes into the Square Brigadier, which is where this whole thing started anyway and rules which have given me many very enjoyable Solo games.    

Uncounted turns later (Literally, there was no time limit and I forgot to track the number of turns or the time spent gaming, merely noting partway through the complaints of a pack of hounds whose dinners were late.) the town is firmly in Faraway's hands but the exit is held by Oerberg's foreign volunteers. At this point Oerberg has lost 5 infantry, a machine gun and 2 cavalry or 8 out of 17 units while Faraway has only lost 3 out of 14 units. However, many Faraway units are near exhaustion and attack could  easily lead to heavy casualties and break their morale. It looks like stalemate.
Unless, just maybe.......
There was one new mechanism though. Ever since I dropped the order dice idea there has been a bit much order and predictability for a Colonial skirmish. Having gotten in some MacDuff games last year, not to mention a game of Howard Whitehouse's Gentlemans War at Fall In, I have started playing around with card activation again. It was slightly more work than straight Igo-ugo  but also more fun and (I think) better reflects the diminished control of Colonial warfare with small bodies of widely spread troops without radios.

Suddenly an alert subaltern reports that the enemy commander and the Oerberg artillery have been left alone on the ridge beyond the town, in easy reach of Faraway bayonets. The Baluch companies take over garrison duties and 4 companies of infantry sally out. The enemy general managed to leap in his motorcar and speed to safety but the gun is captured despite heavy casualties from point blank fire as the attack went in. With such heavy losses and no guns (not to mention an Army Morale of 0) any chance of taking Maybefaking  has gone. The order goes out to retreat off to the South East and the road is clear for a relief force to push on down the road while leaving a garrison to hold the Junction.

Now comes the task of once again writing a full version of the rules with notes, something I haven't done for a few years while all this questioning and exploring has been going on.  I've made some notes but that proper, double checked copy will have to wait. Its just over a month until Huzzah and I need to focus on getting both our 40mm 16thC game and my 54mm Portable Wargame event ready and looking as good and providing as enjoyable as possible a playing experience as I can manage for those who choose to sign up and play.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Committee has made its Decison!

For the past few years I have been conducting a series of tests to find the optimum size of grid squares for my table and gaming style along with the related question of the best choice of basing and organization for my needs. One might think that a thorough analysis of the facts could have provided the correct answer but I have found that  intellectual analysis of emotional/aesthetic questions based on untested assumptions rarely reach satisfying conclusions. So the testing and experimenting began.

A quick revised Tin Army takes the field with 1 Company per 3" square.
The real trigger was that I needed to reduce the size of my table from its original 6'x8' to something smaller, without reducing the size of my figures or the quality of the games. So far I have tried 6", 5", 4" and 6" squares subdivided into 3" quadrants. They all have an advantage and a fault.  (Note: I have also tried 4" hexes but there are non-gaming issues which means that they are not a feasible option in the foreseeable future.)

Small grid squares mean not just smaller units but also smaller terrain items or possibly multi-square terrain features and that proved to be the decisive issue as I found that the rules and my preferences were trending in a direction where the number of figures in a unit became irrelevant with a slight bias towards small is better.

Large grid squares mean fewer squares per table essentially making the small table even smaller and requiring me to be ever more clever to design a satisfying game but terrain features become easier to design.

Inbetween sizes provide a typical compromise. They provide the easiest acceptable solution but one which is never quite satisfying

I have had some really good quick games on the big squares but have not been clever enough to successfully design a longer, more complex game and scenario on the small number of large squares. However,  a review of past experiemental games played using smaller grid squares convinced me that that was the way to go IF I could resolve the issue of fitting in buildings, woods and vehicles.  The answer to that would require a mix of getting creative and letting go of some old favorite terrain items and accessories.

A shot from a favourite 2015 Tin Army game on sub-divided 6" squares.

I'm not big on letting go of things but I've been training myself and have reached the point where I am willing to let go of some things that won't fit even as multi square pieces and retire some others for use in the occasional non-gridded game which they are appropriate for.  Multi square boats and train cars are another issue but I can work the rules around that. The getting creative bit has been a mix of some experimentation with lots of looking at pictures of other peoples' wonderful creativity.  Having tackled making a handful of non-scale buildings that fit a 4" grid last fall,  I'm now satisfied that I can not only meet this challenge but enjoy doing it.

So, I took a few minutes on Friday  and once again subdivided each of my 6" squares into 4x3" ones and now the Tin Army is partying like it was 2015 again. What the results of my terrain labours are will be shown here when there are results!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Meanwhile, in a Different Valley

I've been working on a follow up to my last post, had it almost ready last night. Thought I  might finish it today but there was a game on at Jeff's place in the Annapolis Valley ( armchair commander blog) ....

My Brave, Patriotic Antitank Rifle team who went on to liberate a brick house from the Fascists, distract the enemy and almost destroy a 1/2 track full of infantry before being over run by a unit of fascist infantry. 
Jeff had set up a simple multiplayer, 15mm Bolt Action, Russian Front game as an introduction to the rules. As a group our experience with the rules ranged from a little to none at all but by turn two we all seemed to have the hang of it and the rules were not a serious obstacle.
The cell snap we Russians used to plan our attack.

The Germans were defending with a large force of well armed but souless tyrants against​ our paltry handful of brave Patriots. (Which is to say that the forces were of equal value). We won the right to attack with our mission being to break through the German lines and exit units.

After a Council of War we decided to attack up the right bank of the stream with an armoured car and 3 units of infantry while our heavy weapons (mg, sniper and A/T rifle team) deployed left of the stream to provide fire support and fix or "amuse" the enemy. A T34 was in reserve behind the center and 2 veteran infantry units were making a flank March up the right flank. I'm not sure that my clumsy attempts to suggest that they were going to appear on the open left flank had any influence but they seemed hesitant to take our massed infantry assault seriously until it was a bit too late and spent a lot of time and effort on wiping out my handful of support teams and my poor T34 who appeared in the center and dueled with a PAK40 and a Marder for several turns. I say dueled but it was mostly about my guys surviving shot after shot until the last one.

Anyway, the plan worked, our right hook punched a wide hole which allowed us to break through with a substantial force for a clear win.

With  good company, lots of rolling of dice and a little brain work, it was a good day.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Seeking Contrast

Part of me likes the idea of a basic universal framework for miniatures games. Systems like the Command and Colours series of games. The upside is that it becomes easy to remember how things work and common base sizes and mechanisms allow easy sharing of a tabletop and terrain. especially if you are using a grid and building armies from scratch.

The major downside is that the rules can start to get too vanilla and lacking in flavour if one isn't clever enough and the incentive to do multiple periods declines if all the games are similar in overall feel. There can also be issues with getting old armies to conform.

I'm pondering the question again for all my collections, looking for the best way to differentiate them and give each one a distinct feel and a reason to exist. A toy soldier game, a quick, easy to set up in a small space, play and take down game, an all day game, a wargame to refight historical battles, maybe a low level skirmish game and so on.

Early stages of testing revived rules and scenario.

In the meantime, or perhaps in the spirit, I am spending much time at the moment working on the 16th Century Anglo-French wargame that Rob and I will be co-hosting at Huzzah in May. but that will be covered on my Gathering of Hosts blog.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Uhoh! Shouldn't ha' done that!

I finally got to watching the 1938 Post-WWI North West Indian Frontier movie "The Drum" on Youtube.
The Relief Force struggles to get there in time.
(Archive Footage from 2014)

By halfway​ through I was reminiscing about old MacDuff Colonial skirmishes with single figures, by the end I was trying to figure out what to use for "Natives" since the Scruby 40mm Colonials haven't reappeared,......must go lie down in a dark room until I feel  better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Van-Portable Wargame

Ron and I played another Colonial Portable Wargame today.
A call to arms from Minaret instead of a call to prayer! 

The scenario this week was the first Initiative scenario from Asquith and Grant's Scenarios for All Ages (the Red Book).  The attacker (randomly selected) has to march on and seize crossings over both rivers. The defender who gets dribbles of reinforcements has to prevent any crossings, a very hard task though a draw is very possible with the right combination of luck and skill.
Overview as cavalry race back with orders for the reserves to hurry forward.

Ron had originally set this up for Sudden Death using strength points with a total of 13 (12?) units attacking 9 but raising the Exhaustion levels but after a discussion we decided to double the number units to 18 vs 26 (or maybe 24) and use sudden death.
The Elite status of the Hadendowah allowed them to survive three repulsed charges.

Three hours later we had  played some 15 or 16 turns full of nervous tension and swings in advantage. It would be interesting to play with fewer units using the strength points for unit destruction but with army exhaustion based on lost units. That would have allowed the garrison in the town to give up SPs to avoid retreating thus increasing the odds that reinforcements would arrive early enough to seriously contest the first bridge but it would mean fewer miniatures on table unless we really packed the hexes. It might well have had less tension on each die roll though!
Its over. The Mahdist force is exhausted by its losses and incapable of further attacks on the British bridgeheads.

Ron's last reinforcements never came off the shelf, the slip of paper listing them just marched up the road as a reserve! They did their job though Ron lost almost as many units as I did but didn't reach exhaustion due to his larger force.

All in all, the set up may not be easily portable, but it was a cracking good game!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Portable Ridge

Last Sunday I followed up the Square Brigadier game with several repeats using the Portable Wargame as part of my preparation for Huzzah!.
I'm not going to go over them in detail but just make a few observations about all of the games including the SB game and rules.

The 17th Lancers have now been updated with pith helmets and 1879 uniforms. I was tempted to repaint the horses as Chestnuts but left them as is for old times sake

 These, like my US cavalry, are converted from the Britain's Light Brigade that I was lucky enough to buy from Stuart Asquith around the turn of the century. They were the mainspring of my 54mm Colonial games and helped convert me to using glossy Toy Soldiers. Since my Crimean plans never got far I decided to convert them rather than let them go.
Since I had enjoyed the Sudden Death game at Ron's but was worried that my intended 6 unit OB would not be enough for a decent game, I started there. The game took about 25 minutes to play 5 out 15 turns which was a little quick but not bad for a walk up and try it event. It wasn't terribly satisfying though and I felt that a few more units might be needed to add some depth. I couldn't shake the feeling that the Sudden Death version reduces the player's tactical options and devalues reserves.

I decided to reset and try the standard roster system now that I realized that the exhaustion point was 1/3rd SPs rather than 1/2 units as I had wrongly played it in my favourite of the Zulu games. The game lasted about 9 or 10 turns and close to 40 minutes but it ended with only 1 unit destroyed and the nearly intact Canadians (unit wise) standing staring at the victory objective, daring the Yanks to come out from behind the hill and fight. It wasn't bad but it wasn't really satisfying either.

With the Canadians exhausted by long range fire then forced off the hill by an American counter attack, the Americans decline to step over the crest and be shot at. Since an exhausted force cannot attack, Game Over!

Since the best game yet had been the Zulu War game that used the standard Strength Points to determine when units got removed but wrongly based exhaustion on 50% of units destroyed, I reset and played again using that variation.

This time the game went 14 out of 15 turns after various turns of fortune with the Canadians hanging on desperately to a foothold on the hill which would have been a draw and the Americans only avoiding their own exhaustion point by pulling back badly damaged units until need brought them back in a risky but successful bid to clear the Canadians off the hill for a victory.

About half way through the third game. An American flanking counter attack combined with a pinning force is proving hard to deal with as casualties mount.

This mix of units being destroyed by Strength Point loss but Exhaustion being determined  by % unit losses isn't official but it produces the most enjoyable games for me since it allows players to make more "Command decisions" such as to choose to risk trading SPs to hold ground or to conserve strength by using reserves to replace frontline units that have taken heavy losses and also allows players to engage in more than one or two stiff fights so that is how I will run the games at Huzzah after explaining the published mechanisms.

As far the Square Brigadier, it (unsurprisingly) remains my game of choice for my small games at home. It has however taken a step back, away from Tin Army heresies and closer to its roots.

The Tin Army will continue on towards being a more convention battle game, essentially a gridded version of Hearts of Tin but the SB will remain more constrained and designed only for small stylized games, essentially my equivalent to Thomas' One Hour Wargame and doubtless often drawing on his collection of minimalist scenarios. I'm partway through updating the latest War of 1812 draft into a final 1812 to 1885 (non-European) version. Thankfully no new ideas or rules will be introduced, just a few intrusions purged and much (hopefully) clarity and completeness added in both Basic and Optional Advanced rules.

Could take awhile.

Next, time, back to the 16th Century.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Battle of Lookout Ridge

The following is an excerpt from an anonymous journal thought to have been penned by an officer in the Hochelaga Fusiliers who participated in the little known Cyprus Hills Expedition.
The first shots are fired as the Canadians advance into range.
....as we approached the ridge the order came to deploy into a single line with no reserves. "A" battery formed on the left of the infantry, the lancers of the NorthWest Constabulary formed on the far right. When all was in order the bugles rang out and we started forward.

Every once in a while we caught a brief glimpse of a rapidly moving figure on the crest but it was hard to tell how many were there and what there intentions were. As we neared the foot of the hill though the skyline erupted in smoke and a positive hail of bullets rained down on us.  Quickly the gunners opened up driving back a taggle of ragamuffins from their right flank. All along the line the boys advanced, fired a volley then fixed bayonets and drove the enemy off the crest with a cheer. The sight from the top soon sobered us up though.
The Canadians seize the ridge as American reinforcements appear.
From the top of the ridge we could see the enemy we had driven back but also a force twice their numbers rapidly marching towards us, complete with artillery. We lay down on the crest and opened up on the enemy before us while behind us the guns limbered up and rushed to the right passing the Lancers who were galloping towards our open left.
The American force is stubborn under fire and deadly accurate but their General is having trouble coordinating an attack on the ridge. 
The American fire was deadly. Our Colonel went down as we hit the crest and many other good men were helped back down the slope to be bandaged but we held firm and they seemed unwilling to get too close. Seeing their flank open the Lancers rode forward and launched a rash attack. The Americans quickly turned and shot down the half of them. Recoiling they tried again and again, until none were left in the saddle. Perhaps mounted Riflemen would have been more useful in modern war.
The American counter attack has stalled under heavy fire and the need to deal with the flanking cavalry.
At last after two gruelling hours of intense fire, the Americans seemed on the point of launching an assault.  As we braced ourselves, Colonel Marten himself rode up and called out " Fusiliers! Lets see these buggers off. Fix bayonets and follow me!" He spurred down the hill and rising up, we followed cheering. It was too much for the Fenian rabble in front of us and they turned tail and ran.

With their flank wide open and half their companies scattered to the winds or limping to the rear, the Yankee regulars had little choice but to fall back as well. It was over.
The end.
Note: these pictures are of a recreation of this engagement fought out with 54mm figures and the Square Brigadier Rules. The Blue and Red dots indicate where stands or Officers were removed. More discussion of the tabletop battle to follow.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Battle of Lookout Ridge. (Teaser)

In the middle of the Disputed Territory, in the middle of the wide Prairie, is a low hill known locally as Lookout Ridge. Its not much as ridges go but being the highest point of land for miles it makes a good observation post.

When agents reported that the Americans were planning to seize and fortify the ridge in order to set up an experimental Heliograph station, Colonel Marten was ordered to take a detachment out to see them off.

The American advance guard opens fire with  deadly accuracy.

Battle Report of this 2 Hour Square Brigadier version of a One Hour Wargame to follow Sunday afternoon.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Time to get back to the table

OK, I've been having fun, no question, but its been over a week since my last game and two weeks since my last home game. Time to push away from the desk and play something.
I picked this 54mm plastic camel up almost 20 years with vague thoughts of a Zamburak for the Emir. Well the Emir and his lair have gone but it seemed like the time to finally do it. The gun is more than a bit crude and is rather over size but it was the only way I could make it a working gun that actually shoots.
(No, you will not see it in action here!
The question is, once I clear all the c**p off my table, what shall I play?

At the moment its even money between a 16th Century game to get me thinking about my main effort for Huzzah and a 54mm Cyprus Hills game, perhaps played twice with duelling rule sets, Square Brigadier vs Portable Wargame.
These 17th Lancers you will see in action here, but not this weekend. There's too much work left to do on them.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Officer on Parade!

Not much to talk about, I've been too busy chopping and painting and otherwise having fun. So here are the first two finished units.
Colonel Rutland and the 58th Foot. All based on Guardsmen with copies of the Highlanders' helmets. The standing firing figure is a vintage original who had a broken rifle, the kneeling officer was a Soldierpac casting, the rest are all homecast.  (The mounted officer and figures at the ready are from the Miniature Moulds catalogue)

Gordon Highlanders. Dressed for Egypt till the boat sailed right by without stopping. All repainted vintage originals but the officer is a conversion. 

Up next, Seventeenth Lancers in foreign service helmets followed by the Royal Artillery.

The whole force at this point. This is a 6" grid but I am very seriously considering going down to a 5" grid. This will give me 10x14 squares vs 8x12. (I just need to make the table 2" wider...."I have a cunning plan".)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Of Eyes, Stomachs, and Armies

This last week has been full of nostalgic pleasure.

Long before I was a wargamer I fell under Henry Harris's spell and converted all my old Britain's Toy Soldiers into Model Soldiers. I hacked and glued and puttied and painted to make unique poses and uniforms. From there I went on to smaller figures and detailed, shaded, matte finish models for wargaming. Even when I started buying recast Britain's 20 years ago I turned them into models. Now that I've started painting simple glossy 40mm toy soldiers it was easier to finally undertake proper renovations to the antique toys that have come to me.

What a joy it has been to start producing proper toy soldiers for wargaming!

Vintage Britain's Gordon Highlanders. The 3 kneeling and standing firing figures have been repainted, the Officer was converted from a broken firing figure, the prone figure shows their original condition.
The helmets and belts are a little too white but I Like'em!

Originally the Highlanders probably came with an officer with binoculars, but if they did he was lost before they came to me. There were 4 broken figures out of 9 though so I decided to convert a broken firing figure to an officer. His body pose was all wrong for adding binoculars but seemed suitable for a highland version of Britain's iconic sword and pistol officer pose.

Highlanders from Andrew Rose's Collector's Guide to Toy Soldiers. Note the two officers with movable binocular arms. CIV Officer from Andrew Rose's Collector's Guide to Toy Soldiers.

Now, this is officially a small, limited project. I have planned six forces in all: Canadian, US, Cree, British, Zulu and Boer, each initially to be of less than 50 figures and preferably closer to 30 where possible. All armies were to be recruited largely from what I already had on hand or could cast. 

I had started off with 4 figure units for the NorthWest but upped it to 6 because I was enjoying painting and converting the figures! I had ample figures and moulds on hand so upped the numbers to indulge myself. For South Africa I decided to try cutting down the British units to 4 figures so that visually the Zulus would out number them even if they had the same number of units. It seemed like a good idea to keep things standard though so I made a note to reduce all regular units in all the armies back down to 4 as well.

Four men might make a company but it wouldn't use all the figures in hand or look like a battalion so I proposed fielding 2 companies from each regiment to allow a variety of uniforms even in a small force. Once I reviewed what I already had, I found elements of at least 10 British/Canadian infantry regiments. If you add cavalry and artillery we're edging up on potentially 30 tactical units each occupying 1 square. My table is 12 squares wide. Even if I made two separate British forces that never saw each other, they would each still be too big to fit!

When I was young my Mom used to tease us about "our eyes being bigger than our stomach" if we took too much and couldn't finish it, an expression passed down from my grandmother and who knows how many generations before. That was basically the case now. I had starting to plan bigger armies than I was likely to finish or could use or display if I did. I needed to scale back and field fewer but slightly bigger units.

58th Foot, now 4 strong with 2 more waiting. The officer has been "rebadged" from the Hochelaga Fusiliers (headswap and repaint - See him in action with his old unit in Dec 2015 here). Having talked myself out of doing realistic but un-Britainlike stained helmets and belt, I decided to be truer to history, toy soldier history that is, and removed the pointed, laced cuffs. If Britain's did facings you got a swipe of colour and that was it!  

I like the single rank look for this period so I have decided to revert to the existing plan of 6 figure units grouped into "brigades" of 3 or 4 "companies" plus a Mounted Officer. This will accommodate most of my existing 54mm figures with just a few small additions (apart from the non-existent Boer force).

For my South African British force I just need to add 2 figures to the 58th, refurbish 2 more Gordon Highlanders, add another company of British infantry in helmets, refurbish enough sailors to field a Naval Brigade company, convert 4 lancers to sun helmets, convert a gun crew to helmets and paint up a mounted Brigadier in helmet. Then I'll start the Boers, being mounted infantry they will get only 4 figures per unit like the cavalry (unless doing 25 conversions leaves me wanting to do more!) . I'm not sure yet if I will rebase the Zulus onto slightly larger bases to allow an increase to 8 or 10 figure units or just field more units!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Porting Myself to Halifax

On Wednesday I made the trek cross province to Ron's for a Sudan game. When I arrived I discovered that he had laid out the example Colonial game from Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame but with British instead of Egyptian troops on the Imperial side.

The second game nears the end. Mostly 25mm Ral Partha with a handful of Minifigs apart from some Airfix Camel Jockeys and my Scruby Arab cavalry.
We played the game twice. First time around we played straight up and realized we had both made mistakes about how the Strength Points work. I had read the Sudden Death option first which has a 50℅ exhaustion rate and missed that the basic or Roster system had a 30% loss exhaustion point. We had both missed that the book makes no reference to the strength point value of units lost but just a loss of strength points. This means that an army can be exhausted without losing a single unit which rather makes reserves less valuable. A look at the example was of no help since in the last turn, the Egyptians dropped below to 30% mark whether counting the SP's of destroyed units or just the percentage of overall SP's.

In any event it took about nearly two hours before I ground down the British to their exhaustion point and managed it by only using my gun and the muskets of my cavalry and better infantry. With a string of spearmen across the table behind a line of hills the exhausted British had  no option but to retreat. The outcome was never in doubt.

We reset the table and played again using sudden death. Since the number of figures per unit was irrelevant we beefed them up to look better. This game took a bit less than an hour but it was exciting/nerve wracking and involved some hard thinking. Until about the second to last turn the outcome hung in the balance and only some favourable luck saved the faithful, inspiring three units of poor troops to retreat rather than be destroyed and blinded the infidels' sight so that two successive artillery shots needing 2 or better to hit, missed! A double move then allowed the venerable Airfix tribe to exploit  a gap  to make a flank attack and things started to slide for the British.

That second game was the sort of fun game that makes you want to reset and play again but it was time to head home.