Friday, April 29, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

One from the archives

After weeks of dodging the hype, I made the mistake of turning on the TV this morning. I fear I am in danger of becoming sentimental in my middle age! But, best wishes to the Kate and William.

 'Nuff said.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

After a few months without a painting desk, I am again set up and took an hour today to spit out another ACW regiment. A few seconds with an exacto knife to promote a private to an officer with sword and no pack. Eight of these, 4 files in 2 ranks,  would have fit nicely on each 4cm base but the idea is to have lots of regiments as opposed to just lots of figures so I just let it slide.

I still like these old Airfix guys.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

and I would like to thank

Yes, thanks to Jeff of Saxe-Bearstein fame and Peter the Single Handed Admiral, I am now the blushing recipient of a ....

A little googling about what this is and where it came from came up with a few million hits and little useful information so I left off research and have decided to accept in the spirit intended. The rules seem to vary slightly (how appropriate for me) but are essentially:

  • Thank the nominating blog and provide a link back
  • Share seven things about myself
  • Nominate more blogs you deem worthy to share your honor
  • Let those bloggers know you nominated them!

So thank you to Jeff & Peter,  both of whom I have had the pleasure of gaming with, only once so far in Jeff's case but I hope to repeat the experience, many times in Peter's case though the last occasion was more than 10 years ago now.

Now 7 things, the rules don't seem to specify what sorts of things so

1. I have always had a penchant for stories fictional or real with self sacrificing heroes who come to a bad end, 1st and foremost King Arthur,  Sir Isaac Brock, Tale of 2 Cities, Last of the Mohicans,  Sir William Wallace, you get the picture.  Doubtless says something about me or my life.

2. Since Hector who stars in my header attracts alot of attention, I've probably mentioned this but I share this house and its immediate vicinity with wife, mother-in-law, 1 Quaker parakeet, 5 cats, some of them the working sort, a Whippet and 8 Italian Greyhounds, however,  these are heavily outnumbered by toy soldiers of various sizes.

3. My favorite reading when young included several Classic Comics, particularly Caesar's Conquests, With Fire & Sword, the Black Arrow, Pontiac's Rebellion,  Tale of 2 Cities, Last of the Mohicans, The Scottish Chieftans  (I know, only the last 3 seem to agree with the first point but while I am nothing if not inconsistent, things work out for Pan Shetuski but there is the sacrifice of Pan Longinus, Dick Shelton is betrayed by the only family he has known and ends up sacrificing worldly advancement, Caesar survives his first book but is assassinated before long and both Pontiac and Robert Rogers  come to sad ends. )  More importantly, I have wargamed all of these conflicts at some time.

4.  When my older brother was off at school, I used to sneak his castle out from under his bed and play with it and the accompanying Crescent, Herald and Lido knights. I don't do that anymore. (because they are upstairs in my war room, not under his bed...)

5. My father received a commendation signed by Montgomery, it hangs on my wall. He didn't like to talk about the war but when I was a young serving officer he did share some experiences. This particular one occurred in Holland during a German counter attack that reached the Divisional HQ of which he was part. He was a corporal in the signal corps, responsible for keeping the telephone lines open and he and a fellow signalman did, all night. Everytime they patched one cut the line would go dead somewhere else. (the next morning it turned out they were splicing and $#Q$#@ing few yards from a German MG nest who presumably didn't want to give their position away by shooting).  Anyway, near dawn they drove the jeep back in to town which was crawling with German soldiers, went into a cellar and had a good sleep, missing the order to pull back. The next morning when the Canadians counter attacked and retook the town, it was being "held" by 2 signalmen.....  Apparently the after affect of Canadian flamethrower tanks was nauseating.

6. I joined the Black Watch Cadets in Montreal at the earliest possible age and served for 5 years ending up as Corps Sergeant Major and was rewarded with an inscribed Sgean Dhu  and was allowed to keep my kilt. It fits me better now than it did then and I still where both whenever a tie and jacket are called for.

7. When growing up I was very proud of my Scottish heritage but eventually figured out that I am only 1/4 Scottish (and at that, apparently the Macfarlanes are old British stock, not those 7th Century immigrant types). Of the rest 1/4 is Irish, 1/4 Anglo-Saxon English (The Wright stuff so to speak) and the rest, well, one of my Portugese Jewish de Solla ancestors served as a Dutch General in South Africa at one point and it was from my Grandfather de Solla, that I got my love of Toy Soldiers and military hstory. (and he had been in the regular army, was called back and served in the RHA during the Great War and tried to enlist in the Canadian army for the 2nd but had to settle for the Corps of Commissionaires, keeping an eye out for sabateurs. so he knew somewhat of what he was talking about.) Another de Solla, my late cousin John,  was an officer in the Queen's Own Rifles and when I was in military college suggested that being in the infantry was fun when you were 20 but not so much at 40, one of the factors that led me to sea.)

 So, on to 7 nominees. Can't really nominate all the blogs I enjoy even though I only follow a tiny fraction of the ones that are out there. I also don't have any firm criteria but if I may have the envelope please, in no particular order:

Bob Corderey's Wargaming Miscellany  which has amused, informed and inspired me. I know that Jeff has nominated him as well, so hopefully this is in time so that Bob can combine his response should he accept.

Tim Gow's  because I enjoy reading it and because he builds the toys trucks and tanks and things so I don't have to,

Little John's Lead Garden's  classic wargaming interspersed with some 40mm stuff.

Tiddler's for the same reasons.

Pauly Wauley's wargame blog because I enjoy it and his gaming style.

Tony's  because its different,  and sometimes thought provoking as well as interesting.

Matt's  for his Airfix ACW project if nothing else though sometimes it is nice to see the 19thC take precedence  over tricornes or tanks.

Apologies to those missed, apologies to those nominated for having to either ignore the "honour" or respond and thanks to all those who tune in here.

Now to go let those 7 know what's been done.



Monday, April 25, 2011

Preparing to campaign with a shifting zoom lens

When I set about this 40mm 19thC campaign, I thought long and hard about whether to go with the constant or variable scale approach. I decided to go with the constant approach with five 4 man "companies" per battalion and planned for opposing forces of 2 weak infantry and 1 cavalry division. More men than Zachery Taylor took into Mexico in 1846, or Sir Charles Napier into Scinde four years before.  This was a force that would fill my 6'x8' table when all troops were deployed but even a single company could be deployed under the rules so small skirmishers, pitched battles and anything in between would be possible.

It sounded good but as theory slowly became practice, a deviation became noticeable between  "possible" and "desirable".  A full battle with all troops on the table would be good for a 3-4 hour game, a 1/2 sized battle an hour or 2 and a small skirmish perhaps 20 minutes. All well and good if the campaign was the actual object. If several small engagements occurred in a turn, they could all be resolved in an evening, especially if I adopted the Portable Wargame to simplify battlefield layout. Unfortunately, the original idea had been to play scenarios and table top teasers and the campaign was supposed to be just a vague backdrop.

When I played out Sawmill Village last month, I ended up doubling the recommended forces turning a minor clash of advance guards into a major battle involving over 1/2 the full armies for both sides. To test matters I played a scenario with smaller forces and found it too quick and satisfying for a main event. I either needed to  accept a reinforced brigade as a bare minimum force for an evening's game or rethink things.
1st US Infantry maneuvering with four 8 man companies.

So, here I am, buffing up MacDuff, rebasing troops (almost done) and contemplating organization and the impact on the "campaign".   There are two main options being considered. The first is to use my late War of 1812 organization and field battalions with four companies plus a command group. Each company would have an officer, sergeant and 6 privates, a little heavy on the officer side but not far off what Britain's used to sell. If I fielded 2 companies for each scenario "unit", 4 battalions would suffice. Of course, three such battalions with some cavalry and guns will fill my table.

The 1st US reformed into three 12 man companies.
 The other option is to field a 12 man "company"  per scenario unit with each being a company for small skirmishes or standing in for a battalion for "big" battles. This will feel better for the more common small games but if I want a game to feel like a "real" battle, I may have to break out HofT and my 1/72nd ACW armies (once they are big enough).

Since I already have more than enough troops, (once I round out units with officers and ncos plus a few privates here and there) I will be able to separate out the theaters of war, calling reinforcements should I ever want to put an extension on my table and play a bigger game.

Friday, April 22, 2011


This seems like an appropriate time for renewal and so it is for my red & blue coats. Off with the old bases and onto the new.

Into the bath of water for a few hours to loosen the glue, slid the tip of a heavy exacto blade under the base and moistened sand and twist gently, Pop! Off comes another figure. Scrape the base clean while the glue and sand is still soft, and its ready for reuse by 25mm ancients. Life is so much easier since I stopped trying tough glues to make the bases permanent and went back to water soluble white glue.

The whole table has been taken over as troops go in stages from base removal to base mounting to sanding and flocking (or painting, still deciding). Just over 200 figures to be done this time around.They'll be done by tomorrow.

I've also tinkered with organizations as I rebase and have started assessing what needs to be added, an officer here, a few more privates there. Which has led to another edit for MacDuff.

After some testing last year, I decided that the 4 levels of command (General, Brigadier, Colonel, Captain) needed to be reduced.  by 1 level (Brigadier & Colonel being merged).  There ought to be all 4 levels and so I just added them back in. Now if I had time & space, the Colonel really needs 4 companies, so say 48 man battalions, a pair or more of those for the Brigadier, a couple of Brigades and there is a force worthy of a general. Good in theory but that won't fit on my table and on a big table, that is an 8 hour game in the making which wasn't the plan. Worse, its started confusing things again so I just kicked them back out. So for standard TT Teasers, there will be the "General", subordinate commanders and companies. At 1:10 an 8 man company might be an actual one. More often a 12 man wargame "company" (aka unit) will stand in for several real ones if doing an historical action. (Many companies were as small as 40 men during the War of 1812 for example). For larger games at 1:20, the commanders become Brigadiers and the units, small battalions or wings of battalions.

Back to basing so I can get back to painting and playing..

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Finding the words

The latest version of With MacDuff To The Frontier has been loaded to google docs and to my website and edited and re-edited. (speaking of editing I need to spend some time fixing html on my website)

Apart from the difficulties  of simplifying in a logical and intuitive way, the biggest problem was writing the rules, which I tend to look on as guide lines which I bend to suit the scenario more than a polished game,  in a way where my intent and common practice could be understood by readers.  A couple of times, I even caught myself changing rules to make them easier to express which is just wrong headed. I now see that this has been an issue in the past.

Clear and concise is good. Confused and wordy seems to be easier.

The other difficulty was in keeping the objective firmly in mind. This is not supposed to be competition for Hearts of Tin, it is meant to be complementary.  Very roughly each stand in HofT becomes a unit with 2-4 times as many figures in MacDuff and each turn becomes 2-4 turns. There is some over lap and 1 thing I intend to do is set up Sawmill Village again and refight it. It worked fine as a HofT game with a Division a side. It'll be interesting to try it again with MacDuff and roughly the same number of figures representing roughly a Brigade per side.      

Sunday, April 17, 2011

With MacDuff to the Pirate's Lair

Having played the element version of this skirmish, I reset the table, swapped out the element based regulars for some singly based 1812 redcoats, reorganized the units and broke out With MacDuff To The Frontier which had been written for this sort of game. I was tempted to adopt some of the rule ideas that had worked so well with HofT & Gathering Hosts but I've been down that route before and last year I had enjoyed taking MacDuff back closer to its roots. So, while stripping the rules down a bit, I maintained the essentials, card draw for movement, variable moves, figure to figure melee combat, casualty recovery and 50% break point.
I also kept the newly introduced separate fire phase. I am now in the process of cleaning up the rules and incorporating some of the insights gained over the last 6 months, particularly those on focusing on what's important. The sparking 2011 version will be available soon.
Fighting in the brush. The keeled over redcoats are the victims of terrain not enemy action. Single bases will mean new hills made from that stack of left over pine shelf boards. The native warband proved to be much more troublesome this time around and though eventually routed, they managed to take down the Victoria rifles with them. In part this was due to the Captain and Sergeant both being struck down in an ambush on the 2nd turn! 

The main body presses on under artillery and skirmish fire. 

 The pirates rush back to their ship as the 41st Foot storms the town and the HMS Reuse closes in on the Quai. Will they be in time? 
 Slaughter on the Quai. The pirates were replused by the sailors and marines and caught in the rear by Grendiers.
Captain Perry Lightfoot distances a screaming mob of angry pirates. The York volunteers, left to fend off the plantation force wasn't up to the chore. Badly hit by skirmish fire they were then rushed by swordsmen and broke. In a moment the fleetfooted Captain managed to rally enough men to make a final stand but it wasn't enough.

Once again it was a close fought game, this one going to the British thanks to the resolute crew of the Reuse. However, this game lasted about an hour and a 1/2, maybe a bit longer  and was action packed and eventful with constant decisions to be made all the way through. No question, for small games of this sort, this is a better set of rules.  For slightly larger battles, it is probably a toss up with HofT becoming better as the number of figures grows.

Horses for Courses is the new motto. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Thorny Nest of Pirates.

Since the table was set up, I figured a quick change of scenery would allow me to try a small Hearts of Tin game to further test the suitability of the rules for small skirmishes. An Afghan pass came to mind but I haven't painted any up Afghans or Mahrattas yet. Surveying the shelves in search of inspiration, my eye fell on the small horde of pirates I made for Cold Wars a few years back.  OK,  why not?

Pirates suggested the Caribbean which suggested palm trees, so out they came, pushing the fir trees farther up the mountain side. Removing the palm trees from the shelf exposed my  little band of natives so out they came, blow pipes and all. Pirates needed a ship which in turn needed water so I moved one of the towns back and added a small bay. The other town became a plantation. How do I fit in one of those nice Perry Spanish priests?  Pirates just don't seem appropriate company for him. AHH the natives! An Hispanic, Caribbean Le Loutre.

Then I spotted my steam boats and  having recently looked at some old prints of my Emir's Lair game, inspired by British expeditions against Persian Gulf pirates during the early 19th Century, the scenario started to come together. A pirate lair, defended by shore batteries, is attacked by a British punitive expedition which marches overland to take the stronghold from the rear while the Royal Navy attacks from the sea. A small party of natives, lying along the British path, provides a distraction. (See the previous post for a view of the set up.)

Most of the figures were singly based but the British regulars were on 4 man bases so I just grouped the rest into 4 man companies and carried on. So the forces were:

Native Village: Leader, 1 company of militia light infantry with darts (6" range) and 2 companies of militia "spearmen".

Plantation: Leader, 2 companies of Irregular Light Infantry with muskets and 2 of Swordsmen.

Town. Leader with  2 companies of Irregular Light Infantry with muskets and 2 of Swordsmen plus 2 heavy(siege) guns in batteries.

British Column: (marching in over the mountain)
General +2iC who will take over if he is wounded.
2 companies of Victoria Rifles, regular light infantry with rifles
4 companies of 26th Foot, regular line infantry with muskets
2 companies of York Volunteers: regular line infantry with muskets.

(I contemplated making the British regulars elite but I figured fever and the march through the jungle had probably taken its toll.)

HMS Reuse
Commander, 1 Heavy/Siege gun and crew, 1 company Royal Marines, Elite line infantry with Muskets

The Reuse will appear in the bay, on the corner depending on a die roll, starting whenever the British want, 1 on the first turn, 1 or 2 on next turn etc.
The Pirates could not react until there was firing, the British were seen, or the Native drums started to beat.
The object for the British is to take and burn the pirate ship, the object for the Pirates is to prevent them.
By turn 4, the British are forming on the plain while the Rifles skirmish with the natives. The pirates have come swarming out to pepper them with musket fire while the swordsmen rush to defend the guns.  

 Father Pedro leads his lambs to the slaughter.
 Only 1 turn later than hoped, the Reuse appears and steams towards the jetty and the empty ship
Lieutenant Jack Pointer, Commander of the Reuse,  leads the rush onto the Narwhale.  

Unfortunately, British musketry had driven back the pirate skirmish line at just the wrong time. Winning the initiative, they were able to double back and just reach the ship before the Reuse crashed into the side. Following this up, they inflicted 2 hits in  melee (one from their leader) while the Royal marines whiffed and the Captain, (Commander I suppose technically) who had rushed to lead them  went down and was captured (no doubt hit by a pistol ball as he rushed to duel the Pirate Captain.) As the leaderless Reuse pushed off, blood running out of the scuppers, a shore battery which had been  turned around again, holed her. A bad day for the navy, it was down to the infantry. That wasn't going so well either. With only 8 companies to start with, they had been picked at by skirmish and artillery fire and despite having repulsed a rush of swordmen and having driven back the enemy skirmishers, were down to 5 companies and were just entering grape range. Must have been the hot weather and fever, time to fall back.

So there we are. This is about the smallest game I can see myself playing. Did it work? Yes BUT. The game itself was fun and interesting and the rules worked well (even though I borrowed some improvements from Gathering of Hosts) but it took just over 30 minutes to resolve. Sometimes that's a good thing but it took as long as that to set up and will take nearly long to take down. It has taken even longer to write up the blog entry! A game that short should be quick and easy to set up. I can picture flipping open a gridded board, dropping a few terrain pieces and troops on the grid and being ready to play in 10 minutes with a 5 minute clean up time. That, would make sense.

I need to spend some time thinking about whether I would have liked a game of the same size that took a little longer, or just want to play larger scenarios, saving a portable game for quickies. If I do want to play this as a minimum but worthwhile size of game, then I will continue some refurbishing of  MacDuff and try another game. The urge is towards saying HofT for 20mm elements for battles and MacDuff with single figures for 40mm skirmishes and small battles but no decision has yet been reached.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Quest for the Universal Soldier

Turns out it was never really about bases after all.

About 10 years ago, I decided to set out on a quest for a grail,  the " Universal Toy Soldier". This is my term for the antidote to madness that Lawford & Young espoused in Charge!.  One set of soldiers and one set of rules that can be used for everything from a skirmish between a few companies to big battles with hundreds or even thousands of  toy soldiers fighting out battles inspired from all the ages of man. My choice was 54mm figures and my period was 1855 to 1865, British vs all comers. An odd decision for one who's motto is "strength through diversity". So not surprising that my main scale is now 40mm and that I am still gaming with 20mm, 25mm, & 54mm armies in multiple periods, but that one size fits all theory is apparently still haunting me.

Once upon a time, when I built a wargames "army" it's size and shape was largely determined by rules, a point value, an army list or even just a scenario setup instruction. I still like the concept of a large unified collection but when I look at my table, my love of various periods and the shelves of soldiers, each agitating for an outing, I'm not so sure. Assuming that I'm not building my collection primarily for other people to play with at convetions, then the games need to fit comfortably on my table, my newly smaller table, and I need to arrange things so that I get to play with most of my toys at least once every 2 years and preferably more often. If refighting major historical battles is a priority for me, then I need to either go back to smaller figures for the big battles or  keeping pushing the level of abstraction.  But are the big battles what I really want to play?

 Looking back over old battle reports from the last 15 years, the majority of the most enjoyable games have been the low level or semi-skirmish games set in small wars. Fictional Colonial games, War of 1812 and so on. Not very good simulations perhaps but entertaining games. So much for the Universal Soldier and me. Time to focus the collection on the kind of games I seem to enjoy most and make the other things special projects to keep the diversity alive. This has the benefit of having my 20mm ACW troops not echo the 40mm ones quite so closely. Two horse and musket armies, two scales, two styles of gaming.

Now, in theory, I can play those small games with elements and Hearts of Tin but I could also revive MacDuff and fix it once again, integrating some ideas from HofT. HofT itself, would remain my primarily rules et for my 20mm games.

There only one place where the answer to such choices can be found.

On Hants Island, the pirates (singly based for MacDuff) have made their lair in Belmont Bay. Ship's guns have been landed to form batteries to keep any nosy Royal Navy steam cutters at bay. 

Over the hills from Windsor comes a column of Her Majesty's finest. (based for HofT)

The battle of the rules is about to begin again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Like Wolves Among Sheep, a test game of Gathering of Hosts.

For those who don't follow my Gathering of Hosts blog, I have recently incorporated some of the ideas from the revised Hearts of Tin into my ancients rules. This was their first outing. Logic dictated I do something standard as  a benchmark, Marathon or Platea perhaps so obviously, I opted for something completely  different.

I had been pondering the Cimmerian and Skythian conquests during the 8th to 6th centuries and so decided to pit a small force of horse archers against some local levies backed by reinforcements from a local noble or city. Since  I have been running a "sort of" campaign based on the wars between the Lydians and the Medes, I figured that  I might as well set it there. I wanted to test the morale grades as well as the movement and combat so pitted a force of 9 stands of mobile "regular" cavalry, all with bows against 8 stands of "levy" spearmen and 2 levy skirmishers reinforced by 2 "elite" medium cavalry, 2 medium infantry and 4 "regular" heavy infantry which would roll to arrive.  The attackers needed to break through and exit with over 1/2 their force or else break the defenders. They have the advantage of mobility and missile fire but their movement is hampered by terrain and the enemy outnumber them by 2:1.

Very quickly the rules require the sides to roll for initiative each turn then roll activation dice. Each side takes it in turn to move and shoot then resolve melees. All combat is by the stand, 1 die each plus bonus dice in some circumstances. Levies can take 1 hit, average or regular troops 2 and Elites 3. Small green dice were used to track hits.

The game was played with OS 25mm figures on a 5'x6' table and took about an hour and 1/2 to play around 12 turns.

In a mountain pass in Anatolia, there were 2 small border villages. The men were farmers and herdsmen not warriors and the old watch tower had fallen into decay, but the villagers were armed and ready to fight in their own defense. One April day, when  word came that the Medes had unleashed a raiding party of Skythian  mercenaries, the Headman ordered the menfolk to assemble while the women and children took the flocks and herds into the wooded hills then sent a messenger to the nearby Royal Garrison pleading for succor.

As the men from the 1st village watched the fierce enemy thunder down the valley, the second village mustered its men and set off to join their neighbors. Soon the arrows flew as the horsemen darted in and out, pulling back occasionally to rest their horses. Earlier than expected, the first Royal troops arrived and the villagers began to push forward to block any attempt to slide by.

Seizing the initiative,  a detachment of villagers charged forward into a group of horse archers that had pressed too closely. A few horsemen were caught and pulled from their horses but the rest escaped and rode back. After the arrows and excitement only half the villagers were still fit for duty. (A tied melee with 1 hit aside, the villagers lost a stand and the Mede commander decided to pull back on his next turn to avoid the risk of losing a stand). On the other flank, fire from the skirmishers hit its mark and the Skythians pulled back to regroup, a pause descended on the battlefield.  (Again they wanted to rally hits but rolled poorly with minimal activations and unsuccessful rallies so it took several turns. If the reinforcements had been late, they would have pressed on, hoping to finish it before they arrived.)

As the Lydian King's men approached, the Skythians pressed forward again. The arrows flew thick and fast and the villagers threw down their spears and took to the woods. ( 1/2 casualties on a leader's command will drop the number of hits troops can take thus routing levies). In their place marched the dreaded Phrygian axemen on the Skythian right and the Lydian Lancers on their left. A flurry of arrows halted the cavalry but the axemen pressed forward. The Skythians were driven down the valley, shooting as they rode, occasionally being caught by a rush of axemen but  generally giving as good or better than they received. At last there was no room left for retreat so the Chieftain led a aparty around behind the Phrygians and the arrows soon did the work.  The Lydian spearmen had now taken over the defense of the left hand defile so the Skythian leader masked them and led a large party on a sudden dash to his right,  through the gap left by the fallen axemen.

In a flash, the Lydian lancers charged across the field and disregarding the arrows, pushed the Skythian back through the pass cutting the light horsemen down.  (Taking advantage of a flip in initiativethe Lydian cavalry who had just finished rallying off 2 hits, crossed the table, taking 2 more hits from shooting and charged taking 1 more in melee, removing a stand but led by their general, cut down 5 horse archers taking off 2 stands  and leaving the Skythians 1 hit away from breaking).

The Skythians fled back through the defile. Their chieftain, steeling his nerves, gathered his men and keeping well back from the cantankerous horsemen, showered the enemy spearmen with arrows, dancing back out of reach. The hands of the gods seemed to guide the arrows and in short order the spearmen had had enough and took to the woods, leaving the King's general with a handful of troopers to withdraw and report their failure. (The spearmen has suffered 1 hit earlier and had failed to rally it off, on the last 2 turns, 3 stands of archers roll 2 5's and a 6 then 2 6's, the 5's would normally have caused hits, but not against heavies, the last set of boxcars brought the Lydian forces below 1/2 strength and broke their army).


Over all I was very happy with this first outing. I did make one tweak to the rules mid-game though. In HofT, I had ruled that light troops could be given a 2nd order instead of a faster move, here I gave them a longer move and a free single move if not ordered and allowed all units to be given a 2nd order. With potentially 32" light cavalry or 24" light infantry, it just got too crazy so I went back to the HofT model of standard moves. Instead of costing an extra order to move through difficult terrain though, I ruled that no formations are allowed in woods etc, thus making it hard to move troops. To preserve the ability of lights to function in this ideal light infantry country, I allow them a free move. This can be combined with an order to allow a double move as in HofT or used on its own. 

Now its time for a bigger conventional battle, but its also time to test a small HofT scenario. hmm choices, choices.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My actual introduction to wargaming

I just stumbled across these scans of a Canadian Boy Scout Magazine from the late 60's or very early 70's.  There is a paragraph or 2 missing and unfortunately, the original is also missing, but this was my first real glimpse beyond playing with toy soldiers and collecting model soldiers into wargaming (not to mention home casting.)



This week, what time and energy I have been able to spend on my hobby, in my war room, has been spent taking down shelves, moving furniture, putting shelves up and pushing things about  trying to fit 6 quarts into a gallon container and trying to sift the overflow of junk that I might be able to use one day or have nostalgic ties to into stuff I can pry out of my fingers and throw away, give away or sell as appropriate, and stuff whose time has still not come yet.

At least its given me a chance to handle nearly 1/2 the miniatures I own.Well by weight anyway. Have hardly touched any of the 20 or 54mm plastic figures stashed away in the cupboards. Also many books, I find handling books to be a slow process, they keep opening up and trying to show/tell me things. Anyway, after a several month hiatus, I now have a full time painting desk again, or well almost plus a work table for basing, scenery etc ( and for boxing up ebay stuff).

All this has not, however, stopped my mind from thinking hobby thoughts, just interfered with doing something about it. One result is a new version of my ancients game which I can't wait to try out once the table, which was being used as a way station,  completes its  re-emergence from under various piles. This is of course a ripple from trying out Bob Cordery's gridded wargame.

More ripples from that experience as well as the inevitable ripples from playing Charge!, even in a siege guise and from reading various memoirs, (I highly recommend Twelve Years Military Adventures in 3/4 of the Globe)  by John Blakenston, an engineer on Wellesley's staff with a bad habit of getting mixed up in cavalry charges and the like, very entertaining ) have led to a revival of  the 19thC wargaming single figure vs multi-figure debate now flavoured by the semi-skirmish vs battle and unit vs element debates.

I really love/hate debates over issues that don't really have answers, only choices but this does help explain the sudden return to ancients. :)

I haven't quite got it all sorted yet, so for now I will leave you to ponder the difference  between wargaming Assaye or the Mutiny at Vellore, and various ways of trying to do either or both.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

The siege game, after thoughts

There are too many thoughts to squeeze into one post so I'll stick mostly to the rules for now.

Actually the term  "rules" is a bit strong for the Fire & Stone appendix, they are more like guidelines.   At first glance, the rules appear to use Charge! for the tactical rules but it didn't take long to realize that they were just a few charge-like suggestions for basic movement and casualty infliction. Fine if running a game as a sort of kriegspiel with an umpire or Game Master (GM) but if played straight up it calls for 2 amiable gamers who can talk there way to a consensus.

As it was, I changed my mind on interpretations several times during the game, something which changed the details but may not have changed the outcome. Luck certainly played a strong role in this siege as well but I think the result was still largely the result of player decisions, like planting the 2nd parallel too far from the covered way so that it was unable to support the sap heads when they got within sortie range and not taking advantage of the lack of enemy artillery to storm the ravelin.  

At first I wondered if the incompleteness was just an off the cuff summary of Charge!, not meant to be taken as complete, however, considering his comments on how wargames have to be fast paced and that most rules are too complex,  I suspect that it is more likely that he ruthlessly cut out any minor distractions like "obstructed moves", long/close range musketry, or how one decides how long a melee lasts and who won, relying on an umpire's judgement or reasoned consensus. I suppose one could ask but its really just nosy curiosity.

Some further discussion with my co-hosts is needed before Historicon but I think we are aligned with staying as close to Charge! as  possible. Here is a brief list of some of the rule issues and decisions that I made.

1. Artillery.

  • Can guns fire over trenches?  No, except mortars. The saps, parallels and batteries have to be arranged in such a fashion that the guns have a clear line of fire. (This is one of the rules I changed  partway through after doing some reading to support the decision. The No seems to make a better game as well as suiting the evidence as to common practice vs absolute possibility)
  • Can guns move and be fired in the same siege turn? Not the besieging guns which have to be dragged forward along saps or at night through the mud etc. The defenders however will be allowed to move their guns along the nice clear pathways of the fort and still fire.  
  • Does the Charge! rule of 1/2 effect for shot & shell apply (ie at ranges over 2 feet)? Yes.
  • Does a sortie cancel all other firing for the day or can guns not involved in a sortie  still fire or can they fire every tactical turn which is implied? Yes. A battery that has line of fire to a sortie or assault can fire subject to the usual rules but no battering or counter battery fire can take place during a sortie or assault. (again a mid-game change and again one which favours the defence but makes for a better game encouraging an active defence). We are considering introducing 2 grades of artillery and limiting battering walls to siege guns which will not be allowed to fire during tactical turns, not even in self defence.
  • Do the usual Charge! rules for infantry movement and deciding melees apply? Yes. I opted to consider all melees, even those against breaches or saps  to follow the special rules for fortifications rather than those for assaulting breastworks. In essence, this is single combats and no need to rally after a drawn melee. Once an assault/sortie is launched, it will continue until 1 side loses and is forced to retreat, or runs out of men!
  • How is the covered way crowned? This seems to require sapping and assaulting at the same time, otherwise the assault is left standing in the open if it wins or else the defender can just reoccupy the covered way, and that is how I played it with a sap being laid out along the crest of the covered way within 1/2" of the defenders and then an assault being ordered simultaneously.   If the defenders had won then the sap would have been destroyed as well as the attack being thrown back. It was kind of messy though. Next time I think I might play it that the attack has to go in first but that the turn is over once the melee is ended and that attacker can dig in during the next turn.
  • What about light infantry? Light infantry are very powerful in Charge! Not only can they shoot farther, but they get the same protection creeping spread out across the open as their bretheren do crowded into the trenches. Good for Sebastopol with its rifle pits, not so good for Lille. The jury is out on this for the fictional setting but I'm inclined to limit their numbers severely at the very least and the no over head firing rule would apply. 
This was an interesting and enjoyable game and I intend to do more sieges in future, in particular Fort Erie, Bhurtpore, Mooltan and Delhi come to mind. The problem is the old pendulum between elements rules and single figure rules. This has been set swinging again as I contemplate my born again small table, gaming styles and scenarios. 

By rights, given my interests and preferences, I ought to be a typical "Colonial" gamer playing small skirmishes on the outskirts of empire, whether British, Roman or Persian empire, but I keep getting stuck on planning to for bigger battles, especially historical ones, which I rarely play. It is very possible to play enjoyable skirmishes between a couple of companies of troops (or small actions to distinguish them from the 1:1 semi-role playing style of skirmish) using element based rules but the genre is the forte of figure based rules and since one doesn't need to put 500 men on the table, neither movement trays not tedium are major issues.

There is a lot to be said for each way of playing and I see no way to make a sound decision except to play a bunch of games in each style, and luckily, I am equipped for the task.

Ah well, so be it. if I must, I must. Reset the table!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Siege of St Lambert: Crowning the Covered Way

After the fury of the melee, both sides took a day to assess the situation while the bombardment continued. On the 7th day the remaining engineer led the sappers forward onto the glacis while the defenders crammed into the covered way. A furious storm of grape and musketry failed to stop the progress.

Sensing that an assault on the covered way was imminent, the defenders stripped the walls, and formed a reserve in the place d'armes, militia, volunteers, regulars, all mixed together. Through the night, volunteers from the Irish company sapped left and right along the crown of the glacis, mere yards from the defenders. At dawn, a fierce struggle between the Irish and the Queen's men broke out as MacDuff's Grenadiers and the remnants of the King's company leapt over the parapet and stormed forward.

The fighting was fierce and bloody but neither the attackers nor the defenders would give way until finally, numbers told. (3 drawn rounds of melee). The defenders used up their reserve and gaps began to appear in their line to be exploited by fur capped grenadiers.  At last, the casualties were too many and the remaining defenders fell back to the redoubt. For a moment it looked like the grenadiers might try to storm the ravelin but they were sternly called back to the trenches.
Over night gabions were dragged forward and a battery position dug in to the glacis to allow a breaching battery to open fire. At long last though the defender's mortar had the range and combined  with the fire of the last gun and the muskets of the ravelin's defenders, the last engineer and all but one of the digging party were struck down with the battery unfinished. There would be no breach, but the defenders had been bled dry and no help was coming.

After surveying  the bloody ground and contemplating the losses to his people on both sides of the trenches and the losses to come if the bombardment was to continue until there was no one left to resist an escalade. The King decided to offer generous terms to the Queen Regent, seeking to heal the rift rather than crush the opposition. After pondering the odds (1,2,3 yes, 4,5,6 be damned) she decided to accept.

The Siege of St. Lambert was over.

Thoughts on the game and rules to follow another day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Siege of St. Lambert : The Grand Sortie

On Day 4 the saps crept closer while the artillery bombard included more sound than fury.

Dawn on Day 5 found the saps starting to climb the glacis but behind the covered way, the Germans and Picard's company were massed with fixed bayonets.

With a roar the Queen's men leapt out of the covered way and stormed the heads of the saps. The besieging artillery unleashed a hurried blast of grape while the sappers grabbed their muskets.

A short but sharp melee ensued. When the dust settled, the bodies of the attackers littered the covered way but both engineers had been cut down and the sapping parties driven back in disorder and the new section of saps destroyed. While the melee was in progress the besieging guns turned their attentions to the walls again and dismounted 2 more defending guns! With their final shots, the defenders managed to inflict 3/4 of a casualty! sighhhhh.


This was a trying turn, the rules are frustratingly vague about exactly how sorties  are conducted, points such as whether or not the siege batteries get to fire at the walls each tactical turn or not aren't addressed and while the rules are very similar to Charge!, the sketchy rules don't match  precisely. For example, in Charge!, leaving the covered way would be an obstructed or 1/2 move but there is no mention of such things by Duffy, nor is there any indication of how a melee lasts or how it is decided. Not big issues if running a game as GM and making off the cuff rulings, but with a group of us running the games  and with both players and GM's being used to using Charge! it made sense to me to stay consistent. I reset the sortie and played it again as straight Charge!.

So now we have a garrison with almost no guns facing besiegers with almost no engineers. Hmm.
You may also notice that the old saps have been torn up to provide new ones. I'm going to have to make more!

On to Day 6!

The Siege of St. Lambert : Days 1 to 3

The Germans and Volunteers man the covered way while the militia assist with the guns.

On the morning of April 3rd, the King's artillery opened fire to be met by the roar of the Queen's guns. The massive mortar nicknamed the Tyrany, proved its worth, dropping a huge shell into the Ravelin from 5 feet away and dismounting the gun  within. The sappers worked their way forward then as night fell, began laying out a short second parallel and a battery, well positioned to enfilade the Ravelin.

The Royal company digs while the Pandours stand ready to meet any attempt to sally. Unfortunately the smoke hanging over the battlefield has made it hard for my cellphone to take a clear picture. 

Over night, the defenders dragged a new gun into the ravelin and prepared to open fire. At daybreak the guns opened again, the defenders focusing their fire on the new battery, pounding it hard and killing or wounding 1/2 of the infantry assigned to dig and narrowly missing the engineer. (1/2 of the diggers and the Engineer must survive to complete the work). Once again the Tyrant proved its worth, dropping another shell into the hapless redoubt, dismounting the replacement gun.

The King's company suffers heavy casualties

On the third day, as the attackers dragged 2 guns and a howitzer forward into the new battery and extended the parallel. The Volunteers tried a few long range pot shots but the enemy were just out of rifle range from the covered way..Having considered a sortie, but deciding that the risk was too great, the defenders hunkered down and decided not to replace the redoubt gun again. It was no use, a torrent of fire against the Round Tower soon dismounted yet another gun. There were loud cheers from the garrison when their return fire smashed a gun in the new battery but the worried Queen took to the tower to survey the scene and ponder the loss of nearly 1/2 her artillery in 3 days.

  The Queen-Regent laments the loss of her guns.

The losses in guns was beginning to worry me too! With a 5 or 6 to hit then a 6 to dismount a gun, the attackers had destroyed 3 defending guns with 27 shots. I didn't keep exact tabs but something like 1 in 3 hits was dismounting a gun rather than 1 in 6. On the bright side, the defenders have lots of gun crews available!

The siege continues!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Siege of St. Lambert : Back story and Order of Battle

The origin of the dispute between King Michael of Rosmark and his step-mother, the Queen Regent, goes back to the vague terms of her Regency which could be read as meaning that she was to be Regent until the end of her days. The King's party, of course, maintain that her Regency ended when he came of age. in 2010.

The old army, which contained many foreign soldiers, tends to favour the Queen, herself a foreigner while the newer native Rosmark units follow the new King. The dispute surfaced in 2009 at the Battle of Notquitelobositz when the newly raised The Crown Prince Carabiniers and the Ostmark Hussars fought alongside MacDuff's Fusiliers with the Pragmatic Alliance while the Queen's regiments fought alongside North Polemburg. At the time, Prince Michael claimed that these troops were fighting in accordance of the old contract that had seen Macduff's fight for Alliance pay on many a battlefield. 

After a brief clash at Belmont, the two factions came together to repel an invasion in 2011  But now, amidst plans for a retaliatory strike, conflict has broken out again.   The Queen has taken refuge in the city of St. Lambert, the capital of the Dowry Provinces. An interesting development is that both the old Queen's and King's Brigades appear to be split in their loyalties.


Having sent her cavalry out into the countryside, the Queen Regent's garrison is composed of the following troops:

6 guns and 1 mortar,
3 Artillery officers,
10  gunners
the Queen's, German and Capt Picard's companies of infantry
the Volunteers of St. Lambert light infantry,
The St. Lambert Militia Battalion.

The King's army musters:

9 guns,
3 mortars/howitzers
6 Artillery officers
20 gunners
3 Engineer officers
12 Sappers 
MacDuff's Fusiliers (1 Grenadier and 3 Line companies)
The King's, Royal and Irish companies
The Pandour Light Infantry (these will not dig trenches but will man them) 


The Siege of St. Lambert : Setup

The day began simply enough. Having failed on Saturday to finish the rearrangement of furniture and shelves around the newly shortened table, like a Great War bombardment, the plan moved on towards the production of a 2d cardboard mock up of a possible trace of an 18th C wargame fortress. This was to be followed by a test of the rules in the back of Duffy's Fire and Stone. 

Now I have a fairly weak imagination so a 2D mock up didn't cut it for long, especially once I laid out a few soldiers and guns to test whether or not battalions would hold four guns, each  with their crew of 5. So I dug out some scraps of wood  and raided the bastions and then decided the covered way needed to come up. For years I have recycled those little wooden Moroccan orange crates as storage units and scrap bits for building so I soon had a very abrupt glacis and low covered way. The mitre box was just downstairs so I tried a few cuts so the angles would fit together.  I'm not the one who will be making the actual fortress to be used in July (TG)  so after making some observations and taking a few cellphone snaps, I was ready for phase II. Almost.    

A mock up, just to get an idea of how a wargame fortress might fit onto a table.

A mock up like this didn't seem like a very appealing setting for a game and in any event, it didn't seem "right' to just pitch NQSYW troops on the table without knowing who was fighting who and why. I mean, its not like I could later pretend it didn't happen, is it?

Last week on the spur of the moment, I had postulated a revolt in the city of St. Lambert so I thought a bit more about this and hauled out  my all purpose GW castle that for a dozen years has served as everything from a 54mm Roman fort to the walls of Quebec. As I fiddled  with the covered way, I decided  on earthworks being used to modernize the old city walls and it started to come together. Not having a glacis to match the angles on the earthworks but wanting something to raise it all up, I threw ut some of the off cuts of shelving that I used for the Hook's Farm game and intend to shape into hills once the room settle down and I know what I have left over to work with.

I wanted some form of ravelin in front of the gate so postulated a later attempt to modernize the defenses, some scraps of 1" pine and some toy stone walls did the trick.

The wall looked altogether too regular  and the towers just didn't stand in well enough for bastions but there was that old Hudson & Allan Keep which I had picked up cheap from an Armati opponent at Cold Wars '97.  It doesn't quite fit the GW walls due to the flare at the base (hence the  very noticeable gap) but it looks right. I think I may notch the tower slightly to allow the wall to fit, once refinished, the resulting gap will be passed off as a sewer outlet when serving as a stand alone tower, something for Prince Valiant to use to break in perhaps?

The King's force  sap forward.

Proper fortress guns have been on my to-do list for years, just waiting for me to settle on a period and scale. So instead my usaul make shift clutter of an old Britain's AWI gun (that still fires though weakly),  2 souvenir guns and 3 Barszo guns. None of them are quite right and all but the Britain's need paint but all will serve for now. (There seems to be an improved version of the Barszo gun which may be my solution once I'm solvent again, its that or make one and cast it, I can't afford a full roster of nice 40mm kits.)

Time to consider the besiegers. I had already used many of my sap pieces for the earthworks outside the fort so didn't want to use more. I have some BMC Yorktown battery pieces on hand for the siege batteries as they move forward but the scraps of 1x3 and 2x4 that were left and they just didn't fit. Then I remembered the Barszo New Orleans cotton bale field works. Perhaps wool bales had been used in Rosmark in the previous century?

At this point, it occurred to me that this might have worked better on my now defunct 6x8 table, (The Historicon game will be played on a 6x10) or if I still had my 15mm WAS armies and the vauban style fortress that Dave Wilson left with me but this is my chosen path so I best be able to make it work.  I had deployed the city wall across a 5 foot end, maximizing the distance to the first trenches but still this is barely over 4 feet. I considered doing the first turn on paper with an exchange of fire at 6 feet but decided that it wasn't worth worrying about and shall proceed from this aggressive 1st parallel. It would be good if this game, somewhat smaller than the planned convention one, could be wrapped up with 3 houts of playing time. On to troops.

Charge calls for a minimum gun crew of 4 figures including at least 2 real artillerymen as well as at least 1 officer for 3 guns. Duffy pares this down to an artillery officer and 4 infantrymen per gun with no penalty for untrained gun crews. As I began to allocate militia to help man the guns, it was obvious that I was no where near 2 gunners per gun. I decided to modifiy Duffy's variation to 5 crew per gun of which at least 1 has to be a real artilleryman plus an officer for 3 guns. The defence musters 6 guns plus a mortar, manned by the personnel of 1 field battery and a full battalion of militia. the attackers 9 guns plus 3 mortars (ok 1 huge mortar and 2 howitzers) manned by 2 field batteries and 2 companies of infantry. Not quite the recommended 2:1 but what can you do? As it is there aren't quite enough gunners or room for that many pieces so some are in reserve. The available infantry consists of 1 company of grenadiers, 9 of line, 3 light and 2 militia, nicely dividing into 5 and 10 giving the roughly the recommended ratio for the attackers.

The game was now laid out but my "playtime" was about used up, as I surveyed the table, the tan of the unpainted wood glared at me. Silly to paint it until I know what I'm going to do with it, and I need to cut more angles, and....ok. I quickly gave a wash of Walnut paint onto the eathworks/saps and a bit of grey onto the face of the redoubt. Hardly a finished look but less jarring.

Next post, a short history of the fictional who and why and an order of battle then reports as I find time to play.
The garrison reserve gathers by the mortar to defend the open gate and the tower gap as the enemy saps start to creep across the plain. (hmm must fix those broken gate hinges .....)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Siege of St. Lambert : Teaser

The defenders of St. Lambert stand to arms.

This game began as a simple desire to test out the siege rules in Duffy's Fire & Stone but as so often happens, it began to take on a life of its own. It is still an improvised set up cobbling together various bits but now it is a recreation of the famous siege of St. Lambert in the Second War of Accession. 

More to come.