Monday, June 30, 2014

Executive DecisionTime

Well, I've reviewed pretty much every option I've  ever tried and several that I haven't. Eventually comes a time to either choose a direction and go forward or give up and go home. Since I'm already home there is really no where to go but ahead.

Last winter, after much testing and experimenting,  I decided that I did not want to limit myself to gridded games despite the many things in their favour. In an effort to keep some of those things I decided to retain as many mechanisms as possible. This now appears to be misguided as it seems to retain many of the artificaial restraints of the grid without the benefits associated with a tradional ungridded approach.The result was looking more and more like various more recent commercial system that I have tried  and not liked enough to adopt. The alternative now beckons of making the games very different so as to have all the more reason to play both the Square Brigadier and Hearts of Tin.

After having wasted countless enjoyable hours poking at my tablet and arguing with auto correct functions (now shut off once again) I have decided that I'm wasting my time trying to produce a complete and consistent draft until the basic structure and mechanisms are set and properly tested (vs 2 units facing off in a corner).

Ready to go.

Here are some of the issues and the approach I have decided to test in a full if small game.

Command Control. Here is an issue that I thought was set until I looked at the scope of types of game that I might want to play. The Pip system that I have been using works well in the Square Brigadier world but when a game might range from  a handful of units in a 40mm Atlantica skirmish with rebels  to a corps sized 1/72nd ACW action, getting the proportion of Pips dice to commanders and to units is tricky and starts to feel very gamy if not tedious.  Despite the difficulties, this will be my fallback position if this experiment doesn't satisfy.

However, I also don't want to  go back to an activation mechanism, especially not one which only applies when a unit is beyond command radius since experience has shown that they are too easily forgotten since there is no player benefit, only a penalty, and they are not habitual.  Neither do I want my old style where a unit might never get to move all game. If I ever go back to an activation roll it will be closer to the one in Fire & Fury where a fresh unit in good order and the attention of higher commanders can be guaranteed at least a 1/2 move.

The alternative I am going to try is to return to the mechanism that I used for years with older versions of these rules, variable length moves with generals having a limited ability to add dice to units. Without an activation roll there is no chance of no move but really a move of 2" is close enough to 0. The new wrinkle will be to insist in Black Powder fashion that the player announce what he is ordering the unit to do before he rolls. Failure to do so will allow the opponent to decide whether he must  reroll the dice or  not.

Play Sequence.   The play sequence in SB is one that I like and works well in that context but has "feel" issues with a bigger, more traditional or OS look. I also miss the old inititative roll but Pips and initiative don't fit well for me since winning the initiative then rolling 1 PIP seems like a gotcha or double jeopardy sort of negation. It also causes difficulties for non simultaneous combat. Being able to bring it back is one plus for going back to variable moves but the feel and rules complications of multiple unanswered shots just gets worse as the game grows. Looking back to just before I switched my focus to gridded games, I was very pleased with a test game using  a mechanism closer to Featherstone whose Battle with Model Soldiers is where I got the initiative idea from. So the game ahead is going to have an old fashioned sequence of initiative roll, A moves, B moves, both shoot, both melee. Trading volleys just feels right as does just shooting once a turn rather than both sides shooting in both halves of the turn.

Morale and Rallying. Still a bit of a bugbear here. I want better troops to be more resilient but I don't want units that never die, and I'm not keen on rosters and markers or morale tests. When I thought briefly that I could swing 6 stand units it was not an issue as each stand loss was not critical but I already know that some units will be 1 or 2 stands, especially in small games. So markers it is, just not sure yet how many. I'm leaning towards going back to tying the number of hits  per stand to the morale grade but may instead just go with a rally roll after a melee defeat to encourage players to close and chase the enemy off. Quality based saving throws is another option that I have not ruled out.

So, hopefully, I will get the table set up tonight and start playing an hour or so a day (avoiding the hottest parts of the day).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Down To The Sea Again

Decades of my life have been spent on the Halifax waterfront, a few months on HMCS Ottawa, a few years as Watch Officer for the Queen's Harbourmaster, almost a decade in the old Post Office across the street from the Maritime Museum, slipping across to have lunch dangling my feet over the water and a decade high up in Purdy's  Wharf Tower looking down on the harbour through plate glass from my desk (including a certain September day when we were suddenly conscious that the US embassy was only 1 floor above us and a coworker couldn't resist pointing out that Window and exclaiming was that a plane heading across the harbour toward us? We all turned then most of us laughed, a few were not so amused but the tension did drop a notch.)

Anyway these days I usually make only make it to the Halifax waterfront once a year. Today was the kind of day to do it with warm verging on hot sunshine with the faintest of breezes. Unfortunately, with this lovely summer day being the first weekend of the summer break and many people making it into a 4 day Canada Day weekend,  nipping into the museum to check out board games appears to have been low on people's to do list.
The view out the window. HMCS Halifax on the left was open to the public. HMCS Sackville on the right was a WWII corvette and is now part of the museum but in my day with QHM she was a working Dept of Fisheries research vessel. Seems odd to me that of the current fleet, only 3 were in service in my day. Doesn't seem that long ago.......
Meanwhile inside, those of us who were present, staff, volunteers and a trickle of kids and mom's had a good time. Various people said nice things and there were two runs of the game, including one in which the privateers lost both of their ships.  Doesn't do to not leave a watch on board.

I also got to play 2 full games of Crocinole, a childhood favorite that I have not played in over 40 years. The Uckers board (a variation on Parchesi) just visible on the right above, brought back memories of evenings in the Wardroom on the sweepers doing navigation training on the West Coast.

So, all in all an enjoyable day out. I'm tempted to bring the Privateers down to Huzzah next year as a walk up and play game in addition to the main event.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sometimes Different is just Different

While I have not had any big chunks of free time recently, I have had ample small chunks as well as plenty of time sitting with tablet while keeping 1/2 an eye on various things. The result is that most of my 1840's/50's infantry is rebased and I have been exploring all sorts of rules options and variations and reading old HofT blog posts.
Actually, looking at the header picture, this is pretty close to the way  Hector originally designed the units in 2008 but on bases 50mm wide instead of 60mm wide.
Sometimes its a long winding road that brings us home.

Part way through cutting 2"x1" bases it occurred to me that since some of the testing had resulted in a decision to treat 2 such bases as 1 2"x2" base unless needed as skirmishers or to fit into a town etc, I could just split 1 base per unit. That was swiftly folllowed by me recalling that 2 years ago I had based these armies on 2x2 bases for Huzzah and that those bases were still somewhere. I found them, some need some sanding but enough were ready to go to speed the process. What I haven't found is any indication of exactly when and why I debased the troops. They still appear in May but suddenly in December the troops are back on singles.

Oh well. Now the troops are back as they were in 2012 and basically the same as in 2009 except that the units are 3 bases not 5 and have a 6" frontage (150mm roughly) vs a 200mm frontage. Doesn't sound like much but over 12 units that's 2 feet less table space required which oddly enough is just what the reduction has been since 2009.

For the rest, I've been revisiting some old ideas and trying out various brand new ones. Some of these look like they would work really well, but, they would be a different game, not my old Hearts of Tin at all. Not better, not worse, just different and to my mild surprise right now I'm not really looking for different. I want familiarity.

Sometimes, like Doc Ruddy used to tell us "You pays your money and takes your choice".

Off to Halifax tomorrow to expose the public of all ages to miniature wargames at the Maritime Museum but hopefully some gaming at home on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Well, that didn't work too well.

I haven't managed any painting yet, looks like I need a casting session first but I did get 3 more units onto their bases. I have also had time for a little 1 or 2 on 1 rule tests. It did not take long to realize I was nowhere near the mark.

The problems started with me trying to arrange the rules to handle my new bases which are 1 rank deep although I still want to deploy them 2 figures deep in line, and my  1/72 ACW bases which are based 2 deep. Eventually I decided to call my new bases "1/2 bases", treating 2 of them as a single 2x2, 6 figure stand but capable of more photogenic posing when required. Sort of like these 1 piece bases from a 2012 photo.

But that was just the start. The proposed changes violated so many principles and aims that I have laid out over the last few years that I just ditched them and started looking over old posts and backing up a few years. The result has become very similar to what was used in the above game and the Cobbs Farm game seen below.

A working draft is published for those with time to waste  but a proper test is a week away, there is lots of proof reading to be done and I'm finally ready after 5 years to start putting  back in all the odd bits, special troops and rules and so on for the Atlantica campaign rather than just leaving the door open. I don't remember seeing the chance cards now that I think of it so I'll have to port them over.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Getting There

Well, my room isn't all back together but its getting closer.

Close enough to think about finally getting back to Atlantica and my gaming plans for this year.

The new 5x6 table, not finished but usable.

 The revised Hearts of Tin rules are just about ready for a spin. Much closer to its roots. I just need to make a final call about whether or not to go back to variable length moves. I hadn't really missed them over the couple of years since I took them out, not until I put them back into MacDuff recently.

However, I'm in the mood for a spot of painting so I think I'll indulge myself and bring a few units up to authorized strength and get a bit of that planned organizing done before I play.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Moroccan Bound

Its hard to believe that three months have passed since I got all excited about the feel and flow of a test Atlantica game and surprised at a wash of nostalgia, but there was Huzzah, both getting ready and then afterwards putting some thought into next year, then this Privateer thing and well here I am, finally back at it.

It may not be apparent from the picture but my room is in a bit of disarray at the moment as is my table itself. (Yes that's the bottom of a piece of it.) However, neither this nor a host of other gardening and renovating chores have completely  kept me away from picking up on where I was.

I was taken by surprise by the nostralgia I felt after the Treacle Creek game in March, especially since it was at least partially triggered by something about the look of the 3 figure stands like those above.  The nostalgic, Old School, attraction I have to single figures is largely borrowed.  It has more to do with the pictures in Little War than my personal experience. I tend to think of my standard basing/rules style as stands or elements with infantry based 2 deep but really these were a development from the late 80's, before that my armies were all based 1 deep, usually with some elements split to allow figure removal, surely the least efficient system of all? (Esp in 15mm) However, I never based in 3 figure elements so why did something about that look strike a cord?  The answer surprised me but a quick look through clippings confirmed that  the bases reminded me of various AWI pictures in Gene McCoy's Wargamers Digest. Huh! How about that?

However, the basing was only a small part of the "feels right" feeling. More important was the pace and feel of the game and the over all look of the `armies' of smaller footprint units on the table. The last Atlantica game I played before Huzzah actually rolled back some of the decisons from that Treacle Creek game, including cutting the test bases to allow for figure removal but I didn't like the feel of that game as much as the two previous ones so its one step back to units of 4-6 stand which is pretty much where HofT began.  As a result, in between other things, I have been  experimenting with exact base dimensions and considering what it would cost to order yet another wave of precut bases vs what it would take to do homemade ones.

One material I did not consider initially were the Moroccan Orange crates that I use for all sorts of wargaming terrain, movement trays and so on. However, they are cheap, easily available, easy to cut and tasty to empty.  The prototype is a complete success and only took a few minutes so we are On the Road and like Webster's dictionary,  we are Morocco bound, just wood not leather.

If the plan works, I will have my room sorted enough to get the 5x6 table ready for a game on Sunday.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Privateer's War

Here are the rules and set up for the game I've put together for the  Arts of the Sailor Board and Card Games event at the Maritime museum on June 28.



This is a simple, homemade, historical miniature board game by Ross Macfarlane. ( It is loosely based on a number of historical privateer raids on the coast of Nova Scotia during the American Revolution but is not an attempt to recreate any particular raid on any particular location.

1. The Gameboard & Setup. The game board is marked off into a number of areas. Those painted blue are ocean, the rest are land. Areas which share a border are adjacent. Those which only touch at a corner are not adjacent. There are 5 borders between land and sea areas which are marked as beaches. These are the only areas where figures on board ship may come ashore or where figures on land may embark onto a waiting ship. Three brown areas are marked as town areas containing loot. One area is marked as the blockhouse and battery area.

The game begins with 2 Loyalists in each marked town area and 2 in the blockhouse area, 1 civilian in each of the 5 town areas, marked or unmarked. The Privateers begin with 2 ships each carrying 10 Privateers. The Privateer may place 1 ship in each of 2 sea areas adjacent to the Eastern edge of the game board.

2. Groups. A group is any number of figures in an area who are going to do the same thing. A player may decide at the start of each turn how many groups to form out of his figures in an area. Civilians must always be a separate group.

2. Sequence of play. The players take turns beginning with the Privateer player. At the start of his turn a player rolls an Activation Die with the result indicating how many groups of figures he may activate that turn. He may roll the dice before deciding how to split his force into groups for that turn. An activated group may move OR shoot OR plunder. Groups which have not been activated may not move or shoot or plunder. Civilians may not shoot or fight in melee. Each group must complete its movement or shooting and melee before the next group is activated. Once the Privateer has finished with all of the groups that he is activating, the Loyalist player takes his turn and repeats the same sequence.

3. Movement.  A group which is activated may move into an adjacent area. Ships may only enter sea areas. A ship must have at least 2 crew figures to move. Figures may only enter land areas or embark on a ship. To disembark from or embark onto a ship, both the ship and the figures must be activated. The ship must begin adjacent to a beach and the figures must disembark into or embark from that area.   Groups may freely move off the board but may not return.
A group which moves into an area containing enemy is making an attack and must immediately resolve melee.

4. Shooting.  A group which is activated may shoot at an enemy in an adjacent area. Roll 1 die per figure with a score of 5 or 6 forcing 1 enemy figure to retreat 1 area. Shooting against the Blockhouse area has no effect. One or more retreat results against a ship will force it to retreat 1 area.

5. Melee. When a player moves into an area containing enemy he pairs his figures up with enemy figures. If one side has more figures then they may double up in as many fights as he can but no more than 2 men can fight each enemy. For each pair of opposing figures roll 1 die per figure and compare the scores. If fighting 2 on 1 the player with 2 figures rolls 1 die per figure then chooses which to use. The Royal Highland Emigrants contained many veteran soldiers and may add +1 to their dice. If one side's die roll is twice the enemy's rolls then 1 enemy figure is removed. If it is higher but not double then 1 enemy figure retreats 1 area unless defending the blockhouse. Once all the pairs have resolved combat if one side lost more combats (figures removed or retreated) then they must retreat, otherwise if there are any defenders left then all remaining attackers must retreat to where they came from.

6. Retreats. When a figure is forced to retreat the owning player must move it to an adjacent area which does not contain any enemy. A figure may not retreat onto a sea area unless it is retreating from a beach onto a friendly ship. It may retreat off the map but may not return. In the case of a melee, attackers must retreat to the area they came from while defenders may not retreat to the area the attackers came from. If a figure is unable to retreat then it will surrender.

5. Plundering. If a group of privateers which is in one of the three marked town areas is activated and NO Loyalist soldiers are in any adjacent area then the privateers may plunder the area. Place 1 loot marker. A maximum of 2 loot markers may be accumulated from each area.  There are also 5 civilians. If a civilian is in an area with a Privateer at the end of a turn they will be taken prisoner and held for ransom (1 loot marker). The Loyalist must hand this over. Plunder must be embarked on board ship to count for victory points. It takes 1 privateer to move 1 loot marker or escort 1 prisoner.

6. The Blockhouse. One area is marked as a blockhouse and battery. No privateer ship may move adjacent to the blockhouse if it contains at least 1 Loyalist soldier and the battery has not been spiked. Spiking the gun may be done by a privateer who is in the area and has been activated when there is no Loyalist figure in an adjacent area. Loyalists defending the blockhouse do not need to retreat from shooting or melee.

7. Reinforcements. There are 2 groups of reinforcements for the Loyalists. If the Loyalist rolls a 6 they may enter 1 of of these groups with 4 militia entering from the South or 4 Highlanders entering from the North by land or the East by boat. Reinforcements may not enter the board in an area occupied by privateers. If the Highlanders capture a privateer sloop they will sail off table with their prize.

8. Winning and Losing. The Privateers get 1 point for each Loot marker that they get on board ship. Losing a ship costs them 2 loot markers. If they lose over 1/2 of their original figures they must give up and retreat with what they have. If the Privateers have a final total of 4 or more then they have won, a score of 1,2 or 3 is a tie and less is a Loyalist win.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Getting closer

I've  had this uneasy feeling that someone on the day might bring up the King's Orange Rangers who were involved in the defense of Liverpool against Privateers. So, I dug into the tray of figures that weren't painted in time for Huzzah and came up with 4 hatmen who have now been painted in red with orange facings and are ready to join the Loyalist defenders.

 The two sloops are done so I just need to paint windows and doors onto 3 more buildings, run a solo test game then print handouts and I'm done. Just in time to take it all to Halifax to test it with live gamers and hand it over.  Mind you there is now a 50% chance that I will make it to the museum for 1/2 a day on the 28th.

In any event by Monday I should return to my normal programming. The Siege of Malta by Franscisco Balbi di Correggio has arrived and the shiny 19thC guys want to try out the new boats.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Work in Progress

While I was preparing for Huzzah a call went out for volunteers to run a "pirate game" at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in late June. Having read too many GA Henty novels when I was a kid, I volunteered first then began to find out what the occasion was and what was needed. After various discussions it seemed that an historical game with a nautical connection that members of the public could try was what was called for. Not having a naval game in my pocket i turned to what I did have, 40mm AWI. So here I am preparing a portable sort of game of an American Privateer raid on a small Nova Scotia town during the American Rebellion.

Lots of work left to do this week.

After reading up on several privateer raids I decided to take a suitable piece of canvas and paint up a generic small Nova Scotian port. I was still short of ships so I turned to my shelves. Some time spent sprucing up an old toy Pirate ship (seen in last post) was promising but it doesn't look quite right on the map. So, I turned to two souvenir fishing dories that have served off and on for a decade. They are a little long for my usual table now and even more so on the small mat so with heart in throat I have begun a long delayed project to shorten them and add mast and bowsprit to produce some small sloops. One at a time.

That left the town. The original idea was to use my usual ceramic clapboard houses but I don't have enough to make a town without resorting to inappropriate brick and stone houses and in any case only 3 or 4 would be able to fit on the small mat.

The big house alternative.

Ever since I staged my first HG Wells Hook's Farm game (see ) I have been intrigued by the idea of a town of wooden houses and am getting ever more attached to increasingly under scale buildings. A slide towards elements vs single figures again has only reinforced this choice so I started scrounging for some blocks of wood and some of the triangular bits of orange crate that I used in the mockup siege game. A little while later I had the makings of a nice little town with the right sort of flavour. It soon became obvious that more prep work would have helped improve the finish (Wells recommended painting the details on paper and gluing this to the wood.)

None the less, with 2 buildings now done,  I like the way the town is shaping up and look forward to seeing it in action in an Atlantica game this summer.

One done, a bunch to go.

So I've got 5 days to finish the houses and other terrain before a test game. Oh, and I need to add the grid which will be irregularly shaped areas, and then write a set of rules suitable for walk up, never played a wargame before, kids of all ages that someone else can teach because it looks like I won't be able to be there at least not all day. What could go wrong?


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Progress of sorts

I managed a few hours away from household duties yesterday   to spend on my own affairs. My room is not all together and done but it is at least  serviceable again. Once I have the time and money I now have room again for a 5'*6' table without being  cramped and room for a temporary  expansion if I figure  out how to work it.  An extra 10sq ft may not sound like much but it would be a 50% increase and give 2 small coastal/lake fleets room to maneuver.
There was another little project distracting me today, hopefully I'll have a picture and explanation tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


My mind has split into 2 directions while thinking about this in background mode.

The 1st was that the DBA/DBR Pips command system would work well for those big blocks containing 20 or 30 companies (or perhaps 9 to 16 wargame stands). If all grouped into 1 block, 1 PIP could control them all but if individual stands start hiving off they could soon be stranded out of position.

I should check out  the "new" DBMM to see what it is all about. I never took to DBM although DBA was ok with the right sort of not picky opponent as is HOTT. Haven't seen my copy of DBR in decades and only recall trying them once or twice.Any rules that require me to remember whose turn it is when I roll dice is in trouble.

The 2nd thought wasn't 16thC at all. I was wondering how my Atlantica campaign plans are going to fare on the all season front. I may need to revisit what I consider a small, medium and large game and plot out a siege situation to see if things are looking reasonable. Looking over the last game, I'm also wondering if I need to push things to be a bit more decisive. In other words get to the same place in fewer turns allowing a bigger game to be handled in 4 or 5 hours and more turns.

In any case while the Spring reno and refitting is only partially done, my table should be back together by the weekend. Can some form of game be far behind?  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Rules for All Seasons

The 15th Century is one of those wargame periods where sieges, large and small, and the small war of raids and ambushes form the bulk of warfare with large pitched battles being much rarer. It is entirely possible to resolve each of these types of action in a different way, different rules, different figures scales, maybe a boardgame siege and so on but for me  there is something lost in that process unless taking each historical event as a stand alone project unto itself. For an ongoing campaign or pseudo campaign, it feels more natural to use the same basic rules and the same figures despite the inevitable practical  concessions, skirmishes with too many figures, battles with too few figures fought on too condensed a battle field and so on. Despite all the theoretical issues, from a player feeling point of view as opposed to logical analysis, it feels right. It feels more like you are there and after all, in life the way you load and fire a musket and so on does not change with the size of a battle, nor do human emotions.

My best experience of the "rules for all seasons" approach has been my participation in the Not Quite Seven Years War.  The games have ranged from small convoy actions and advance guards with a few companies on either side, to pitched battles with over a thousand toy soldiers a side, to the siege of a fortress, all using the same figures, organization and Lawford & Young's Charge! rules (The table top siege game had different rules for the prolonged siege aspects but sorties  and assaults were resolved using Charge!).

The18thC was, however, a time with well established tactics and long term organizations, at least up to the battalion/regiment level. The battalion was a battalion regardless of the level of action. The early to mid 16thC  the other hand saw most armies organized no higher than the hundred or so man company or troop, these often being of mixed pike and shot for the infantry. Some infantry were gathered into larger 1,000 to 2,000 man regiments in some armies but there is little sign of these being tactical units in most armies and what limited information there is on the pitched battles suggest that many armies fielded large blocks with sometimes as many as 4 or 5,000 pikemen but that sometimes these could also split without any hint as to how. Many of the shot fought as skirmishers but not all of them, all the time, especially under Spanish command but before the advent of the Tercio there seems to be little definite information on how it was all organized and controlled in practice. First hand accounts are tantalizing in the pictures they present but like most such throughout time, tend to assume that the reader either already understands the nuts and bolts or else doesn't need/want to know. Throwing in the Turks doesn't really help at all.

This tactical fuzziness isn't too much of an obstacle if wargaming at the highest levels as it can be similarly abstracted out and the main bodies of troops we read about represented as blocks of  miniatures with various characteristics. At the lowest wargaming levels information is so vague that we can pretty much make it up and just field "units" based on our limited information backed by reasonable assumptions and practicalities. This is how we tackled the relief of Haddington game as described in Battlegames Issue x. We found estimates of numbers of various troop types and a few mention of troop strengths under certain leaders and guestimated from there in such a way as to make a good game while still keeping within the limited historical narratives that we had. The rules we devised worked well enough then and in various subsequent smaller games despite my tinkering but if we were to quadruple the number of stands, I am extremely doubtful that the result would ever be a credible refight of Pinkie if played as a game.

Since the only future 16th Century games that have been contemplated so far are the Camisade of Boulogne, Malta and Vienna, or the standard sort of little war scenarios,  it may be a moot point but it all needs a bit more thought on the best way to proceed.