Monday, November 30, 2015

Late Arrivals

I admit it, it's been a long road to a far destination from where I set out 15 years ago, for my hobby as well as other aspects of life.  So it was satisfying this weekend to feel various things finally snuggling into to a comfy feeling of "home". No doubt this presages another tectonic shift in my life in due course but hopefully not for a few years. More to the point, in particular with regards to wargaming, after exploring a lot of possibilities and options by practical experimentation and trial as well as by endless musing and pondering, this is the first time in over a decade that I'm not only happy with the shape of things but understand why they work for me.  (Not saying I can explain why sensibly, but that's not today's job anyway.)

Back to Saturday's game. This was a 2nd run through of OHW Scenario 10: Late Arrivals. It was played on a 12 x 12 grid of 9cm squares so each square equated to a 3"x 3" grid on a map and by extension each 4" to 6" wide OHW unit was replaced by 2 x 1 grid area units, the 2" to 4" artillery being maintained as 1 gun. This gave Blue 6 x infantry, 4 x cavalry and 1 gun vs a Red force of 4 x infantry, 4 cavalry, 2 light infantry and 1 gun. I added 2 Brigadiers to each side. All infantry had rifled muskets, all cavalry could dismount with rifled carbines.

I, umh, was cleaning out my smart phone and accidentally deleted the early pics of the troops marching on but if you refer to the previous blogpost, Minnow appeared on Turn 5 as the first Blue Reinforcements marched on. Not much happened before that other than Blue pulling chance cards that allowed them to move Red unit's back while Red responded by rolling low numbers of orders to make it harder to recover from the confusion.

Anyway, smart phone + poor lighting and in a hurry didn't make for great photos so you're not missing much and an absorbing game meant that I missed too many turns worth of pictures to show the game unfolding. I hadn't actually expected much of this game so the result was a pleasant surprise to say the least.

Previously, on Turn 6 Red finally pulled a favourable chance card and used it to march Blue's infantry straight forward towards the wood without deploying. Since the town remained defended and the cavalry was coming, Blue went with it, formed line and attacked the fence. Eventually the attack was repulsed but it ate up most of Red's pitiful supply of orders, drew off Red's infantry and delayed the attack on the town. I might not have thought through the consequences of playing the card as well as I should have, it could have been used to move up my own infantry in hope's of boxing Blue's infantry into a congested mess in the streets of the town with nowhere to retreat to.  

The Tin Army rules that I was using are built around a ground scale of grid square = 150 yards, give or take 50 yards since these are toys, with a time scale in the vicinity of 10-20 minutes per turn on average over the course of a day. Units represented around 450 line infantry (give or take 150 based on ground scale etc) or 1/2 that number of light infantry or cavalry or a battery of 4 - 6 guns.  In other words the forces were in the neighbourhood, very roughly. of 2,000 to 4,000 men per side. A summary of rules will appear very soon followed by a post  discussing some of the ideas and maybe even why I chose this or that option over the other ones that I have tried. The full rules are going to take longer since I want to take the time to write them up properly. I started to do that last year for the original WW1 version but lost my handwritten notes and forgot. Won't happen again! This time its just a matter of expanding the existing sketchy late 19thC version.

The game assumes that line infantry are deploying a skirmish screen of up to 1/2 their strength (if supports are included as per SOP) up to 2 squares ahead  of their line which is acting as a reserve for the supports without the skirmishers and supports being shown. The screen will withdraw when appropriate such as during an assault by one side or the other. A marker figure could be used but in practice I found that that just crowded and confused the table top and instead have been assuming their presence.  Light Infantry are assumed to be either detachments or specialist sharpshooters will are all operating as skirmishers and close supports.

Around Turn 12 of 15. Blue's cavalry has arrived and after using a die to choose whether to reinforce the almost empty town or make a flank attack, has moved into town and largely dismounted. Red's infantry is taking serious losses but Blue's battered infantry is starting to break under pressure. Only 3 turns are left and Red is getting desperate.
A most important feature of the game is that it is based on the assumption that the player is the General trying to control the shape of the battle while subordinate Brigadiers and battalion commanders handle their troops using standard tactics without bothering the General. Whether they do a good job and get their troops in the right formation at the right time facing the right direction or not will be  reflected on how their units do in combat. Inevitably there is still some fiddling by the player since he is actually moving the troops but one of the reasons I like the 1 stand units is that it doesn't allow much of such fiddling by the player. This leaves him (or her, always implied) to decide things like when and where to attack, commit the reserves etc. This is a lonnnnng way from my OSW roots and I should acknowledge Frank Chadwick's influence here as well as Arty Conliffe in addition to such later influence as Joe Morschauser and Bob Cordery.

Turn 15! (Really must paint more Blue dismounted cavalry figures).  Blue is hanging on to the town but has lost  5 infantry and 2 cavalry units out of 11 units, more than 1/2, not to mention that Brigadier Zinn was nabbed when a unit he was leading was broken by an assault (upper left behind the Red artillery) compared to Red who has only lost 2 infantry and 1 cavalry unit, plus 2 Brigadiers wounded on the last 2 turns.  If one figures out Army morale by the Tin Army,  they started at 11 + 3 for objectives held - 7 lost units for 7/14 which is the bare minimum to hold. One more hit on the Blue Guard Lancers would have done it! 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Tin Army Marches On

Hoorah! I found time yesterday to play the game.
Minnow tried, she really did, but its just not her thing.
No time this morning for a full battle report but two thumbs up. Shortly before starting I had looked at the Kapelle game from June and, as I fiddled with the Major General over the first few turns, I realized that I was reinventing the similar but slightly different Tin Army which I had been happy with but had somehow sort of almost forgotten. So I ended up playing the Tin Army with the addition of the Chance Cards. Exactly right.

Battle report with comments tomorrow and hopefully the first full draft. Work has already begun on the permanent (sic) table.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Same This or the Same That?

I kept looking at the table last night thinking ”something's not right ”. This morning I figured it out.

I didn't mean to replay using the same number of grid squares and units, I meant to replay using the same (roughly) table size and number of stands.

So here we are with 12*12 9cm squares  and 11 single stand units compared to the original 9*9 5" squares and 6 units totalling 11 stands. Given that the scenario calls for units to be 1/9 to 1/6 of the board width, this maintains that density of troops but with greater flexibility. It also better represents what I am aiming for. Of course, now I don't have time to play!  Maybe tomorrow.

The rules will be an expanded, slightly down scaled, version of the "Square Major General in the ACW" used to fight Gettysburg last year. Since it will cover more than the ACW the tentative working title is the "The Minie Major General".

Thursday, November 26, 2015

House Renovations, Sort of

After following some dark paths in my search for  rules to handle multiple units per grid square I decided that I was focussing on the wrong end of the stick. After yet more poking in dark recesses of my mind I remembered that, despite my leaning towards even divisions of a foot, I have twice decided that 9 cm squares are the optimum practical compromise. They will hold one 60mm base, a little loosely but with room for a fence, stonewall or a narrow solid house besides or room for a square hollow house that will hold a 60mm stand.

 So, I removed about a 1/2"slice from the long walls of my favorite homemade stone house so it would fit. Needs to be glued back together and the paint touched up but it works for a town house.
Testing the proposal on my old 9cm grid cloth. Multiple smaller houses will probably look better but its good to have options.

Before I go farther I have decided to replay the last scenario on the same 8x9 grid but using 1 stand units on 9cm squares instead of 2 stand units on 5" squares. Assuming it works as anticipated, the plan will be a grid of 12x15 9cm squares instead of 9x12 5" ones. In other words it will effectively make my table bigger. As a bonus the rules will remain easy to play off grid.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


As much as I enjoyed the last game, there were a few niggling things to clear up about the look and feel of the game to get it to match what I imagine.

This is just the sort of thing that's in my head.
Photo lifted from Day of Battles FBook page, but according to Bob Cordery originally published in a Wargamer's Newsletter article about Gerard de Pre.
One of these was how to handle buildings. I spent some time playing with options for the ceramic and proposed new homemade buildings as well as whether or not 6" rather than 5" squares would help. I also broke out the little wooden houses.

Another was still a lingering wish that I could use each stand as a game piece. Things came to a head when I found myself writing and erasing rules for changing formation. The idea is that these sorts of details are being handled by Colonels and Brigadiers, not the General Officer Commanding, and should therefore be taken out of the player's hands. Failure to do their job being included amongst the unseen things represented by the dice. However, having 2 stand units brings a constant itch to play with unit formations.

Neither of these issues are new so I scrolled back through the archives looking at relevant posts.
This is the sort of look I'm actually after, but with bases full of close order troops rather than the small numbers of individual figures. From a game last February.

Two things quickly became apparent.

One is that while the little wooden buildings are a bit too small, the bigger ones, still under scale as they may be, change the feel of the board down towards a more grand skirmish game. I'm going to have to put nostalgia aside and make new, purpose built, towns and farms in order to get the "battle" look that I want.

A late 20th Century Colonial game from last May with each stand as a unit and multiple unts per square.

The other thing is that I've encountered the multiple units in a square issue before and now that I've been playing some non gridded, closer to original Morschauser Medieval games, I basically know how to handle the issue using based units where adjacent units can't get mixed up. Properly worded, the rules won't be hard to apply during a game, the difficulty is in writing, clear, concise, rules to describe how to do it. In other words, the real issue isn't that the game will be hard to play, just hard to write!

 In both cases, to get what I want is going to take some work from this lazy fellow!  I hear that's good for me though. Luckily the winter campaign season is close. We had our first dusting of snow yesterday.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Old Tricks for Old Dogs

This morning when I sat down, cat on my lap, to play, I was momentarily at a loss. Nothing I had been thinking of seemed to fit what I was looking at and yet it looked pretty much like what I had been picturing since I took down the big table. I shrugged, rolled an Orders Die and let instinct take over. In no time at all I was playing the old 2013 Square Brigadier. (Oh.) And enjoying it, like those old games. (Oh).

The Blue Guards and 7th Infantry arrive on Turn 5. Meanwhile Red has being faffing about with abysmal order dice and getting shot up by Blue's artillery.

My original intent for this Atlantica campaign was to use 1 unit per 1 unit for Grant scenarios. In this case with a OHW scenario I had only 6 units but it all worked like a charm. The resulting game lasted just over an hour suggesting the larger Grant ones should be good for 2-3 hours. 

The game was supposed to go 15 turns but since I was using dice for activation I used cards for a combined Chance Deck and turn record such as I have been experimenting with. Once again it worked like a charm despite suspicions that an Oberhilse agent had spiked the deck. Two chance cards turned up. One allowed Blue to halt a Red unit on turn 2, the other shortened the game by 3 turns robbing Red of time for bombardment.

At last Red is up, engaged and making progress. The 1st Infantry has just been driven back into cover losing the aging Brigadier Zinn yet again. Five times Brigadiers intervened to rally troops under fire or lead a charge and 4 times they rolled '1' and were wounded. Seriously? These new rifled muskets must be pretty dangerous after all!
Several times I was going to try various new ideas but the game was flowing well so I let things be. There were plenty of tense moments, brilliant rolls for Blue, like the fistful of 6's from Blue's artillery to repulse a charge by Red's cavalry and amazingly poor ones for Red at times, at least until they got warmed up. 

With time running out, only 1 block captured and units on both sides one hit away from dedtruction, it was "Do or Die" for Red. "Bugler! Sound Charge!"
OK, so the answer should have been obvious. Once I had the 40mm troops mounted on easy to handle bases and a table with a grid big enough to hold them, there was no reason not to fallback on the game I had liked do much with the 4x20mm figures on the card table. All the waffling and confusion has been largely about past expectations and habits of thinking.

There is some evidence tbat Blue's Guard Lancers may be secretly armed with repeating carbines for dismounted action. The questions now are whether the Tigers can slip out of town in the midst of all the confusion as night falls and how is Old Turner going to explain the loss of 2 units of infantry and 2 of cavalry without taking the objective. Might be retirement time. The age of Cocket Hats and Tails is over!
I was going to repost the page with the rules but apparently I over typed it with one of the 20th Century variants, carelessly relying on the Google drive backup which I apparently never actually made. Oops. Luckily its all in my head and there's plenty of abandoned variants to start from. 

It will have to come back as Square Major General given the size and scale but it'll be back on line (and properly backed up) soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

There is the Enemy!

No, the Plan did not survive contact with the enemy.

Luckily I had another plan in reserve!

Red's advance guard catches up with Blue's rear guard. 

I did manage to get a base coat of green on the bases but duty called and I did not have time to build the new table. By the time I finished  and got back at it, my energy meter was on low. I decided to just strip off the cloth and the expansion board balanced on top of the temporary table and set up a scenario on the painted top. Then I plopped 2 stands of redcoats on the table and some of the new gift boxes houses in the making and looked at the grid and remembered how a single big house twice as wide as a battalion does not look like a village.  Looking at the 2 stand battalion pretending to be 2 units got me thinking about scenarios and my attraction to identifiable, named units with histories and...and... well ok then, back to where I was on Friday. Looks like it is time to build some new terrain after all, might even be able to splice two of those gift boxes to make a 1 square rectangular row house able to hold 2 stands.

So, one 2 stand battalion per scenario unit instead of 2 or 3 single stand ones and one unit per square.  Rules adjusted to the grid but basically  the same. The variable length moves will have to return to the shadows. I had started playing with using a  card deck to track the number of moves played with face cards as chance cards and have pondered using the numbered cards as unit activations. I'll try that before going back to orders dice. Given that most "armies" will only be 6 to 12 units, 18 tops, I'll follow Lawford, Young and Grant, reduce game brigades to 2 or 3 battalions and not worry so much over scale or matching wargame armies to historical ones for these games. Games being the operative word.

As long as I'm shrinking stuff, I decided to pull a scenario from Thomas' One Hour Wargames to see if I can make a 2 hour wargame out of it. (picture above) Tomorrow hopefully.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Basic Sketch of new rules variant.

OK, rwo basic forces have been based. They just need a lick of paint in the morning and I'll be ready to play. 

Once again preexisting assets have torpedoed a few of what seemed like reasonable decisions. The subject of grid or grid free has been up in the air with a bias  towards gridded but I would have to replace all my favorite  buildings  or go with too few large squares. My existing units vary in size which makes a 1 unit per grid solution awkward as well as any system with rules based on fixed unit sizes. Luckily, the rules were originally based on Morschauser's rules where each stand is a unit and regiments meaningless groups of stands for colour.   So its 1 stand units and no grid. Dropping the grid and working with multiple small units has allowedme to go back 15 years to variable moves for groups of stands as a form of command control. 

What follows is not even a rough draft but rather an outline or summary skipping many details, explanations and rationale, just enough to test the new bases in battle. Not sure about a title, like Hearts of Tin it is a development of Morschauser Meets MacDuff but closer and leaning in the other direction.

  1. Aim: Solo Non-European mid19th century, horse and musket, division or smaller sized, wargame rules suitable for fighting scenarios or for games based on actions from War of 1812, Mexican American War, Indian Mutiny, American Civil War and others. Each 60x60 stand is a game “unit" of 200-400 men. Player is “army” commander, unit commanders are assumed to be handling details. Brigade Commanders coordinate and motivate units.
  2. Formation is 1 unit or else Commander and 2 or more units touching and aligned. Must maintain formation when moving but units may detach before move.  May rearrange units instead of moving.(eg column to line).
  3. Movement. Roll per formation. Announce intention before roll. 2d6” for infantry or artillery. 3d6” for cavalry, horse arty +d6 for cavalry charge.  x½ in broken ground or if infantry in difficult. May not move closer than 1” to enemy unit or enemy held terrain unless charging.
  4. Shooting. Infantry long range is shooting by skirmish screen
    1. 2 dice close range,  1 die long range. 5,6 hits +1 superior firepower, -1 inferior firepower.
    2. ½ dice vs troops in cover, lt inf and cavalry
    3. ½ dice if shaken
    4. Range: musket 3”/6”, rifle 6”/12”, arty 12”/36”
    5. Give ground. Target unit may cancel ½ hits by retreating in disorder.

  1. Charge Resolution. Charge is move to contact. Must begin move facing enemy, if starting to enemy’s front may only charge the front. Align after combat. After all moves, shooting and rallies done resolve charges. Attacker picks order of fights. Both sides roll 4 dice per unit. 5,6 hits, +1shock troops, -1 inferior melee ½ dice if attacking cover or over obstacle or if shaken, disordered or flanked. +1 d per supporting unit. Must be touching but not in melee If attacker scores more hits defender retreats, o/w attacker retreats in disorder. Disorder must rally next turn may not shoot or move. If shaken rout.
  2. Morale. Avg 4, elite 5, poor 3. hits = morale = shaken replace hits with shaken marker. Shaken shoots and fights with ½ dice . Shaken unit defeated in melee routs. If hits again = morale then unit destroyed for game purpose. Shaken unit cannot recover during game.
  3. Rally. No move or shoot. Roll 1 die. 5,6 remove 1 hit.   +1 Elite or gen with. -1 Militia
Commander. Enables Formation move, add 1 to rally if attached, add 1 die in charge combat, 1=cdr removed.

Friday, November 20, 2015

In a State, State, State of Confusion

It's bad enough tackling a complete refit of 2 armies when you have a whole free weekend ahead (as planned) and you know exactly what the planned outcome is and that doesn't change partway through. Neither of those expectations turned out to be completely true. 

You might say there were a few kinks in the process. This is going to take a few more days to clear.

On the downside, this will not be the innovative (for me) Big Battle game that was a vague idea in my head. If that happens the 1/72 ACW will have to carry that banner after all. Instead it'll be a fairly conventional 16 figure battalion sort of thing.

On the upside, when I'm done, including restorng the remaining Oberhilse units to the 1860 uniforms they were cast with, there will be room for everyone as well as room to finally paint the already planned additions; guards, highlanders, Ft Henry Guard sorts etc.. It will conform to the long standing  desire to look a bit like someone 100 years ago built armies from what boxes of toy soldiers they could find while retaining the Not Quite Fenian Raids  or Britain in the ACW look of my original vision but in 40mm ( See Rebel Island Report). It will also provide the Table Top Teaser type games that are my wargaming equivalent of comfort food.

It'll be up to the rules then to make the games a little longer and more engaging, exciting and challanging again. It's not just about time or number of turns but 2-3 hours on average and 18-24 turns with time for prebattle recce and skirmishing and time to regroup after a failed attack or defence, bring up reserves and try again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Newsflash:Run! Run for your Lives!

Yes indeed, the Martians are back! Bigger and badder and there's more of 'em to boot!
The landscape seemed empty as the giant machines swung up the valley but, as the first tripods neared the gap, human soldiers swarmed out of their trenches and made a daring grenade assault.

Once again this was an old Grant chestnut, Holding Action from scenarios for wargames. We rolled for armies and sides and once again I commanded the Martians and was on the attack. My mission was to breakthrough and exit the board along the road.

The first wave of close assaults by human infantry caused no damage and the Martian advance guard strode triumphantly through the gap.

There's always more humans hiding in some hole in the ground though, in this case including Bikers doing the Skywalker thing with towing cables. In no time tripods were being damaged and immobilized, things that not only made them more vulnerable to the next attack but prevented them from fulfilling scenario victory conditions!

Oops! Where'd the gap go? Oh Ares! There's those damned motorcycles!

The battle wobbled back and forth until, with time running out, I was reduced to one fully functional tripod while Ron was down to a handful of infantry and 2 Bikers. Freeing a tripod from cables requires a die roll which either restores freedom or damages the Tripod, possibly destroying it. One does not like to trust things to a die roll but the only other option was to concede.
Do or Die. If I can free the 3 tripods that have been immobilized by cables I just might be able to wipe out the 2 elite Biker squads and escape, If not........
Lady Luck was with me. Not only did I free 2 of the tripods suffering only minor damage to the other but I finally managed to blast both remaining bikers. The road was clear. I had to abandon 1 damaged tripod which was essentially moving in random directions but I routed the last humans and freed the third tripod before I moved on.

This was our 3rd game of All Quiet (adapted to hexes) and it is clear that it is a very finely crafted and bslanced game system with each side having different strengths and weaknesses. Player's choice of tactics and troop handling techniques but the dice element is extreme enough to occasionally upset even the soundest plan.  Good stuff!

Now back to the mess on my gaming table and the rule thoughts that have been slowly forming in my head.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Boxes, Little Boxes

Finally, I may be on the verge of following in the footsteps of those pioneers who have successfully  converted dollar store stuff into cheap wargaming accessories!  Just need to add a top floor inside and repaint.

Xmas gift box houses in the making. Very close in size to my scratchbuilt foamcore stone house.

In other news, re-re-re-re-basing has commenced. The new bases have been cut from salvaged masonite fake wood panelling, probably 60's vintage. As I fiddled with the troops I had a nagging feeling that there was something I was forgetting. When in doubt, dally.

At last I remembered! The big battle 'thing' is intended to be an occasional change from the Teaser type games that I expect to remain my usual fare.  Since I want my shiny 40's to be my main "thing", they should be geared to the Teasers leaving the 1/72 ACW lads to fight the occasional Big Battle. This is exactly what I had decided last December for the same reason.  Phew!

So, I am long way from a rules draft but the framework is coalescing in my mind.  There is nothing terribly innovative I fear though perhaps mixed a little differently. The main time period will be from 1837 to 1869 with provision to include the War of 1812. Since my ACW lads are based on stands 1/2 the size of tge 40's, I may be able to use the same rules for both with all measurements and ranges being halved for the small guys (in other words measurement in base widths).

Each base or stand of troops will be a game entity or "unit" representing an average of 3-400 men for infantry so a small battalion or a wing of a large battalion. Brigade formations with stands touching each other will be important for controlling movement. Possibly this will mean a return to DBA style orders dice with 1 PIP needed to move a 'formation' or else Brigade orders with out of command rolls for units not in formation. With potentially over 150 1/72nd stands or 100 40mm ones on the table in a big game, I might not want to track 4 hits on every stand but rely instead on some sort of disorder/recoil/rout combat result.

More revolutionary for me is that I am going to try to write them as solo rules pitting me against a sort of manual AI rather than as a convention game with me roleplaying both sides. We'll see how that goes, it may be a 2 step process where I get the rules settled and then add the enemy action and reaction  tables.

Gotta keep them little grey cells alive!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making My Smaller Table Bigger on the Inside

Its now official, the new, "permanent", table will be 5ft x4ft. That's not exactly a cardtable or portable board but neither is it a big or even a standard table, closer to a 1/2 size one.

The last few months have largely been about investigating alternate paradigms for my hobby over the next few years.  I want something smaller and more focused. I knew before I started that I could play interesting quick games on a small table but one of the questions was whether or not that was going to be enough it that was my only option. I'm satisfied now it isn't but I'm also quite happy with the smaller  table and the idea of smaller armies than those I envisaged 10 years ago. However, I want an option for longer, more complex  games as well as well as the quick and easy ones.

There are various ways of making a wargame longer and more complex. One is to make the rules more complex thus taking more time and requiring more thought. I'm not keen on detailed, complex rules these days but my current games could stand to regain a little depth. More on that later.

Another way to add complexity is just to make a game bigger. Having more units adds depth and complexity even to very simple rules. The traditional way to make a wargame table feel bigger without changing the rules is to use smaller figures and cut all measurements. Last year I  experimented with using my 1/72 ACW regiments as brigades, it worked but all terrain became merely symbolic.  I would prefer to keep my ACW boys pretty much as they are with 3x6 figure bases representing a regiment of roughly 400 to 500 men using a ground scale of roughly 6 cm=100 m.

My 16 figure 40mm units use pretty much the same scale giving the same sort of game but more visually abstracted so it seems to make sense to just take the abstraction a step farther and go a bit more V&B/Morschauser. If I use 8 figures on a 60mm base to represent a battalion of 600 to 800 men giving a ground scale of roughly  6 cm=200 to 250 m then my battlefield would be roughly 5km x 6km in very round numbers. Lots of room for  a score of regiments to manouvre and big enough to fit a selection of 19th Century battles from various campaigns in  India or Mexico for example.

Now to build the table, adjust the rules, finish rebasmmphhcoughahmming  a couple of units and then try it all out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lest We Forget

Its not a combat veteran that I am remembering this year but a Peacekeeping Veteran instead, my late cousin John deSolla. John was commissioned into the Queen's Own Rifles and served with them until his battalion was rebadged as PPCLI in 1970 when our army, navy and airforce were merged into the Canadian Forces. He was a career soldier and served as a Peacekeeper in Cyprus in the 60's and as a UN Observer on the Golan Heights in the '70's.

This is my late cousin John and his still beautiful wife, Greta, back in 1965. (not to forget his sister Anne and her late husband Mac)
John was what I call a double cousin. His mother was my father's older sister while his father was my mother's older brother. John who was around 20 years older than me was also a bit of a hero for me. Apart from that rifle green uniform and pouch belt (still think pouch belts are very cool) he was one of those people who seemed to know all sorts of things, have done all sorts of things and seemed to be able to turn his hand to almost anything  yet was respectful and caring towards others. He also had a fund of stories once I was older and lived close enough to see him periodically. Some of these were about his service but he also had some memories about my dad before the war and the change in him when he came back without his older brother.

I got some good advice from him in my early years at military college. Don't go in the infantry he said, its fun crawling in the mud when you're in your 20's but not so much when you're 40 with arthritis and rheumatism. Right, got it! The navy gets hot meals and beds to sleep in, even if they rock a bit at times. He also said don't start smoking. He was right there too.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Carry On Men!

Today I played a solo The Sword and the Flame skirmish in honour of the late Larry Brom who was such an inspiration to so many of us. My 25mm  Sudan figures are long gone as are most of my 54mm fictional Colonial figures but Colonial Wargaming, like historical Colonial campaigns before them, is often about doing the best you can with what you've got.

I have just embarked on a mini-project to refurbish some Britain's toy soldiers, some 90 year old antiques along with some 15 year old recasts, for a fictional North West Rebellion campaign. This game will kick that off. My Canadians were originally painted 15 years ago in 8 man companies for my own With MacDuff To The Frontier rules but TS&TF is nothing if not flexible so I just kept that organization.

The scenario has a vital supply cart broken down in the Cyprus Hills, miles from Fort MacDuff. A relief column, including a Pioneer who can repair the wagon, is on its way. News of the supplies has reached a hungry Rebel force of Metis and Cree and they are out to capture them.

All units are 8 strong, the Canadians are classed as British, the Metis and Cree were treated like Boers. The rebels began with eight 40mm marker figures in the woods which could be moved as normal. When a unit was spotted or wanted to fire I pulled a card. A red card indicated a dummy while on a black card I set out a unit. Once all 4 units were down I removed any remaining dummies since I didn't have a 5th unit to twist the game balance. (Luckily for the Canadians!).  A company of Victoria rifles provided the escort with numbers being made up by a teamster and a Commisary clerk. Two companies of the 6th Hochelaga Fusiliers (later merged with the Canadian Grenadier Guards) and 1 of the 5th Royal Scots (later Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) under Lt Col. Bromfoot formed the rescue party with 1 company on table and another arriving each turn.

As is so often the case with TS&TF games it didn't exactly go as planned but it had plenty of moments of tension and relief and not a little drama along the way. Luckily it came out alright in the end.

It certainly wasn't planned that the Ace of Hearts would turn up when assessing the effect of shooting hits on A company of the Fusiliers while the Colonel was with them, nor that a die roll would decide that it would fall not on the Sergeant or the Captain but on the Colonel. It happened though and the little group of wargamer figures lost their leader. They all passed morale and carried on though and we shall do the same.
There was an air of excitement when the column headed out to recover the broken down supply cart. Almost anything beat drill, fatigues and boredom. Two hours later they came upon the cart  in a hollow between low wooded hills. As the Fusiliers followed the cart track past some brush a rifle cracked out followed by wild yells and a furious fusillade. This was it! The Boys from Montreal were in action!  

Those hours of drill paid off as the Volunteers extended at the double and returned fire. While B Company engaged the enemy frontally, A Company wheeled to face what turned out to be a fleeing deer. Suddenly the woods behind them exploded into action and bullets whistled about their ears. Their brave captain was hit in the leg and the bold Colonel himself stiffened suddenly, cried out "Carry on Brave Boys" and then slid lifeless to the ground. Suddenly it didn't seem all fun and games anymore.
The Victoria Rifles scurried for cover behind flour sacks, barrels and the wagon and returned fire as best they could. With the Highlanders coming up at the double and the Fusiliers slowly creeping closer, the situation appeared to be in hand but then a Cree warrior in a chieftain's bonnet raised a tomahawk and bounded forward from the trees followed by a mere handful of braves. A young rifleman took careful aim and brought the chief down but the handful of braves kept coming. A brief fight ensued, bayonet vs tomahawk, then the last living warrior turned and sprinted back to the treeline to join the skulkers.

Soon the Fusiliers arrived and formed a cordon around the cart while the sapper fixed the wheel. It was the work of a few moments to fill the cart with supplies and wounded soldiers then the march back began with the Fusiliers acting as escort and the Scots forming a rear/flank guard to disuade the handful of remaining Cree and Metis riflemen from any rash pursuit.

One hurdle remained. B company of the Fusiliers had been left to keep the way home open. After a long exchange of fire they had suffered 50% losses but were still clinging to their position. Their Captain decided on a shift to the right towards the rest of the column. The wounded had been left in a little hollow where they appeared to be safe but as soon as the fighting men had shifted to the right, a party of Cree warriors emerged from the woods. The Captain ordered his men to hurry back to save the wounded but as the Cree opened fire confusion and fatigue suddenly turned to panic and the survivors broke and ran for the fort. The soldiers around the wagon soon sent the Cree fleeing back into cover and the retreat continued unmolested, collecting wounded soldiers as they went.

Mission accomplished but hostilities had begun and casualties had been heavy, 7 dead and as many wounded.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cypress Hills Cover Up?

When I was a young cadet in the Canadian Black Watch I used to wonder why the NorthWest Rebellion didn't appear on our battle honours. I understood that there had been concern about sending  French Canadians to fight the metis but the Fusiliers de Montreal (65th Battalion at the time) were sent to Edmonton to chase Big Bear. None of the Montreal English battalions were sent though, not the 5th Royal Scots (now the RHRC or Black Watch),  nor the Victoria Rifles nor the Canadian Grenadier Guards (then the 1st Prince of Wales and 6th Hochelaga Fusiliers).  However, I have come across two clues that suggest that perhaps these regiments did march west after all but that the evidence has been erased from the public record.

Britain's toy soldiers face each other again.
The first clue came with the discovery of a reference to one of of the rarest sets of Britain's toy soldiers ever released. According to my source it was titled Cypress Hills Expedition and contained a mix of British Guards, charging Highlanders, Riflemen, Cowboys and Indians. The second clue was a partial page out of an old book. On the page there is a fragment of a hand drawn map which shows the Canada US border and some hills along with the caption "ief of Fort MacDuff", the tear goes through the map and caption so there is no other context.

Now, I've never heard of a Fort MacDuff on the prairies but the Cypress Hills lie along the US Border in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta and is where the NWMP established Fort McLeod. The area was an ancestral battleground between Cree, Blackfoot and Piegan and the excellent hunting drew  Metis as well as the various tribes. It also drew American hunters and whiskey traders and is where Sitting Bull led the Sioux when they  crossed the border seeking protection from the US army.  Shortly before the Riel Rebellion there were a series of meetings between Cree and Blackfoot to put aside their ancient hostility and form a coalition so as to deal with the Canadian government from a place of strength.

The history books tell us that the warlike Blackfoot chose to stay home while the Cree fought, that the Sioux went meekly back to the US  and that none of the border tensions between Canada and the US ever resulted in a serious incident. But now I it possible that there was a campaign in the Cyprus Hills that the governments wanted hushed up so badly that all evidence of the march west of the Montreal militia was destroyed? Did red coats and blue coats clash in a border incident? Was there a Fort MacDuff and was it besieged? Was it relieved or did it fall? Did the Hochelaga Fusiliers really wear their bearskins into action?

I will do my best over the next few years to discover what I can and share it with you.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Keeping the Flame Alive

Yesterday we received the sad news that another wargaming great has died. Should you be one of the rare  wargamers who has not at least heard of Larry Brom or the Sword and the Flame then his article on the Sergeants Three website and a read through some of the tributes on tmp will give you some idea of the man and his impact on the hobby. Larry didn't just do Colonial gaming and has published rules for other periods as well as various magazine articles but TS&TF and his emphasis on fun as well as history are what he is best remembered for.

The Fusiliers (now Canadian Grenadier Guards)  approach a detachment of Victoria Rifles guarding a broken down supply cart, but are those Cree warriors in the woods?

I have only played a handful of TS&TF games and I can't claim Larry as a personal friend but his rules and attitude were a major influence on me and were reflected in my With MacDuff to the Frontier rules. It was always a pleasure to chat with him at conventions and I was pleased and flattered to be amongst the OnLine Colonial wargamers recognized by him in the 20th Anniversary Edition of TS&TF. It was a very special pleasure to finally fight hand to hand with him, or rather to roll dice against him, at El Teb, Historicon 2005.   A true gentleman and an inspiration.

This is a wheel problem sir!
I decided today that I should stage a memorial TS&TF game. The obvious choice was Zulus but they would have had to fight my home service Guards and Highlanders and might just disrupt my new plans. So, I have set up an 1885 North West Rebellion skirmish to be played out in memory of Larry Brom this weekend.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Winter is Coming

The Fall is always a busy time for me. There are always a lot of things to be done to be ready for winter.  Once the house is snug, the yard is secure, emergency preparations made, my permament table built and the snows begin, the winter games can begin.
The nearest stand of infantry are brand shiny new Garrison figures fresh from my desk this morning. All the rest of the figures are 40 year old Garrison and Minifig veterans in the process of being refurbished and rebased.  
I'm ready for something more than a quick and easy game but now is not the time and anyway I want my table properly set up first so I've gone back to my painting desk this week.

One of the 6 remaining collections that I plan to work on is my 25mm Old School medieval/fantasy campaign planned around the restoring and reinforcing the remnants of my original metal wargame figures from the 70's. This revival was largely triggered by three Robs. Rob Young for resurrecting the old Garrison ranges, Rob Hingley for getting me into a HOTT game a few years back and joggling memories and more recently, Rob Dean for a discussion about his plans for hosting a vintage fantasy massed battle game at a con next year about rules for the same. Not where I thought I'd be in my 5th decade of wargaming but I'm having fun

This Minifig Vercingetorix was once one of my favorite and least successful Generals. His sword broke for the 2nd time while I was trying him on various horses. Now rearmed with an axe, rehorsed and refurbished he is a new man and will become High King and Army Commander of the Northern Confederation.