Monday, November 29, 2021

Now, Where Was I?

Oh yes! The hosts have gathered, the table is set, and one day this week I plan to play the game using the revived Rough Wooing rules since they are close to the Gathering of Hosts rules and cover basically the same general troop types and weapons. The fewer rule sets I have to remember, and tinker with, the better!

The following is a direct copy of today's post on my Gathering of Hosts blog.


Rumours are constant on the frontier. Few are true but none can be ignored so the garrison at Eastford has been on alert for a week. A call for reinforcements has gone out, and mounted patrols of the river have been doubled.  Then one day.....

Alarm! Enemy in sight!

The local frontier garrisons are used to small raiding parties but this looks like an army marching towards them. The men peer over the palisade and some could be seen clenching their fists, shaking them and then opening them like men throwing bones in a tavern while muttering: "Lady Luck be with us".


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Scraping Off The Rust and Oiling the Joints

 What a wonderful day! 

Turn 2 or 3. The armies have marched on and begun to deploy prior to the clash.
Sorry for the quality of the pics. The lighting in the space where there was room for the table was not the best for taking pictures of miniatures, so the flash on my phone had to be used to get any pics at all.

It was a cool grey morning with the threat of showers and/or snow flurries in the air and on the radio and I was a little behind my time, so instead of my usual route of taking the secondary highway which cuts across the peninsula, I took the longer divided highway, nipping onto a secondary road shortcut which would also skirt Halifax and avoid the heaviest least it used to 15 years ago.... Crikey! The woods have exploded with subdivisions, malls, stop lights etc etc since I used to frequent that road. I should have realized that since the process had begun before I moved out of the city.  Next time I'll stick with the quiet path.

All of the troops on the table are 70's era Minifigs painted back in the 70's by 4 or 5 different people, including a handful of those wonderful kilted...pikemen!? and highlanders painted by me back when. (They are in the background here with the big Macfarlane crest on one flag and the cross of Saint Andrew on the other.) 

Anyway, I was still the first to arrive which was good because I had all the terrain. Naturally there was as much catching up as laying out of terrain and troops, interrupted  periodically by a new arrival and a new round of catching up! We were five in the end, in addition to myself there were 2 of the old (sic) gang that I've been friends with since I came to Halifax in the late 70's and 2 veteran recruits from  the boardgaming world that we had met at a local open gaming day in the year before COVID. Still, eventually we got troops and terrain sorted, players briefed and the game began.  Since there were five of us, two of which were new to miniatures, and it was only the third outing for the 'one side of a page' rules that I had written up hastily for a group game in 2018, I offered to be GM and coach.

An overhead view shortly after the previous picture. The Highlanders are recoiling from a surprisingly tough bunch of raw Covenanters. 

We managed a couple of turns before the excellent chili was ready....then with the troops fed and rested we resumed. It seemed like no time at all that the intended departure time had gone by and darkness with showers tending towards snow flurries were imminent. Luckily, the last turn had set the Royalists back on their heels and it was looking like a long reach for them to be able to turn the tables and rout the Covenanters, so we were able to call it and hurriedly pack up and head out. 

More Highlanders but these guys are being a bit tougher. The fact that I painted most of the Highlanders on green bases doesn't really have any significance at all, nope.

The scenario was designed by Paul based on the Battle of Tippermuir. He had written some special scenario rules such as dicing for the quality of some of the newly raised troops on both sides, limited ammo for the Irish, and so on. We made a few unfortunate choices about things such as how to categorize the open woods under the rules and the what effect the special rules would have, but nothing serious. 

We didn't have enough time to play the game through to the point where the Royalists could make a come back, due largely to the socializing and learning how the rules worked, but the socializing was the main event and we played enough turns to declare that Montrose was unlikely to achieve the sort of victory he won historically, if he could win any sort of victory give how the first part went. Indeed more very special scenario rules would be probably be needed to reproduce the historical quick collapse and rout of the Covenanter army but I'm not sure there would be any way to do that AND have an enjoyable GAME rather than an exercise.  

The scenario was interesting though and the game presented some good but different challenges to both sides so, with a little tweaking to the special rules, we plan to play it again. 

The one side of a page rules are available from my rules page (here). They treat units much like a board game counter and aren't likely to satisfy knowledgeable ECW or Pike & Shot aficionados, but were designed to be easy for inexperienced miniature wargamers to pick up and play. So far, the test games have all been enjoyable with new players picking it up fairly quickly, so I am resisting tinkering.

Game's end: The first Royalish assault has been held. The approach of bad weather and darkness have convinced Montrose to pull back rather than renewing the assault.

I have a feeling that it will be a while before there is another public miniature wargaming event here in Nova Scotia but that smaller gatherings like this one, in people's homes, will continue to happen more and more frequently, at least until the next wave comes.....   

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Teaser: It Happened!

First face to face game since the fall of 2019!

The armies enter the field. Covenanters to the left, Montrose to the right.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

ECW Battle Preempts Solo Fantasy and Leads To Building Boom.

 A Game! A REAL game against REAL PEOPLE!  In PERSON! First one since the summer of 2019. 

The game will be ECW hosted by Paul at his house on the other coast...of Nova Scotia, about an hour's drive from here. We'll be using his 25mm army but I'll be bringing along some terrain. The scenario requires a village and a church. I don't have much 25mm terrain anymore, but since the ones I built for my 40's are deliberately under scale and compressed,  I thought they'd do and Paul gave the thumbs up. 

However, I didn't actually have  a

Hammer Hammer Saw Saw...
So, quick and dirty and the cottage is wider than intended...but I think they'll serve. 
Hmm, the cottage wasn't supposed to be that fat! Oh well, once I paint the door it'll serve.
btw, if you're wondering: Yes. In real life my handyman work is just as sloppy and practical.

Well that's the plan for Saturday, which is still 2 days away so anything could happen, but....... 

Our last ECW game, played in October 2018


Meanwhile planning for the  Great Raid continues on the Gathering of Hosts blog.

My 15mm Scots have been idle since they chased the English right out of Nova Scotia so I though a few of them might serve as map markers. 

One way or another, there will be a game this weekend with a battle report to follow!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Two To Get Ready

I managed to get the Horse Lord and Household finished today:

The Horse Lord.
(A bit of a rushed job and the glue on the base hadn't even dried but table ready.) 

These are Garrison figures from the Hyborian range....hmm.. well mostly Hyborian, the armoured horses and the lancer are from the historical ranges. The Chieftain had a nice sword, which he appears to have broken over his knee at frustration over his decade long wait to be painted, so I replaced it with a mace. Well actually, I was using a map pin to clean out a drilled pilot hole for a new sword and inspiration struck.

In addition, I refurbished another stand of the Federation Horse Guards, descendants of the old Valdurian Royal Horse Guards. They are Minifig ME range Rohirrem, led by a Southron officer, and originally mounted on the older,  S range era 1/2 armoured horse but are now remounted on Garrison horses.

1st and 3rd Squadrons of the Northern Federation Horse Guards.

The Horse Guards were amongst the first metal wargames figures I owned and are the more special because I bought them in person in 1974 from the Minifig stand at the Wargame tent at Aldershot, part of some sort of Military Show,  a weekend event of some sort. (I saw 'Wargame' and didn't really notice what else was going on......)

At the time, I was on a 7 week, (which turned into 9 weeks due to an airline strike which threatened to make us awol!) , $5 a day, tour of Europe with a friend from military college. Yes, even back then, $5 wasn't much so we mostly travelled by thumb with occasional train rides and slept mostly in youth hostels or where ever we could find space to roll out our sleeping bags. At Waterloo, after closing, we crept back through the hedge  and rolled out our sleeping bags at the foot of the Lion Mound, a highlight for me. (ahh to be 18 again!).

The wargame weekend wasn't on our agenda but it was one of several solo breaks and I had hitched out to visit the Castle Dore, at the time thought to be from the "Arthurian" Dark Ages which was "my thing",  and just happened to see a poster for a Wargame Tent at Aldershot, part of some sort of Military exhibition. Took about 2 seconds to ditch my plans and hope Eric wasn't too po'd at me being a day late for our rendezvous  (pre cellphone). All the hostels in town were booked but acting on a tip from an old feller in a pub I spent the first night in a police cell (unlocked!) the only time in my life to date. Got to the show and there was Peter Gilder and Phil Barker and a Minifigs booth and.... Heaven! to a young wargamer from the boonies! Having spent the day there, the group of folks running the tent graciously invited me to join them for supper and talk, a prototype game of chariot races, and to roll out my sleeping bag in the tent. Another real highlight, even better than that co-ed hostel in  Copenhagen and the two Swedish...but that's getting way off topic.

Back to the matter at hand: 

The raiding force mustered and ready for the raid to begin.

I was planning to play Wednesday or Thursday but I've been invited to join a couple of local (within 100km) friends for a 25mm ECW game on Saturday and am pledged to build and bring a village. At the moment, the village is just a sheet of foamcore so I have some work to do. It might, or might not, interfere with the game. In any case, the details of the mini-campaign, once worked out,  and the battle reports when the battles happen, will appear on the Gathering of Hosts page but I'll post links when the time comes.   

Saturday, November 20, 2021

One Down

One stand is done and the other is nearly ready.

Theodora is mounted on an individual stand in case I need her to do double duty should I decide to do some 25mm skirmish games

Mind you, with a forecast for a 3 day storm that includes winds of 90kph or more and in excess of 100-150mm of rain, which around here probably means a loss of power at some point, I can't guarantee just when the game will  be played and blogged. 

(Don't worry we are always ready to see out any weather for several weeks.)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Where Are The Horses & The Riders? (sic)

 "They are mustering Lord."

Captain Theodora and her riders.
or Guinevere if memory serves...a stray  figure I picked up from the Wee Wolf booth at Huzzah! a few years ago. 

"We shall be ready to ride to battle in 3 days."

The Horse Lord dresses for battle.

With 3 votes for Knights vs 1 for Prince Valiant, work has begun on preparing a Gathering of Hosts game. 

The last GorH post (disregarding the brief report on an impromptu 1/72 game) was about a meeting to discuss a raid against the Eastern Midlands in retaliation for the Midlish raid on the Federation nearly two years ago. Now, we will find out how it fared.

I suspect that a Prince Valiant game will follow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Bitter Enders Indeed!

 I was doing a bit of sorting and tidying the cupboard under the eaves today, and look what I found!!

The little Boers are Mike's Models painted c1982.
 The big guys are 40mm Scruby ACW castings for comparison. I  tried to get the firing chap to point his rifle somewhere other than straight at the cameraman but......  Think he's got a grudge?

The rest of the Mike's Models were rehomed years or decades ago but these two must have hidden in ambush all these years. 

I never know what I'm going to find in the dark corners.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Looking Ahead

 Its a cold, damp, blustery day. Lots to do but.....not a bad day to put in an hour or two of hobby time.

Happy to be home again, the armies are preparing for their next game by having the bottoms of their bases painted in case they should fall over in public, and having their company number painted onto the back of their bases to aid sorting at conventions. (Next May in Portland oh Powers that be!

I am still set on reducing the number of collections and rules that I use to 8 so that I can dedicate more time playing with what I do have and play some more mini-campaigns.  I also want more free storage space and fewer distractions so sometime this winter there will be a call for brave volunteers to give new homes to old loved soldiers now retired and to 'recruit's who will never be activated, but that is for later.

Time now to think about a game for this cold, damp, blustery week. My 54's have been longest on the shelf of my remaining main collections, but I think its time for some armour, spears and bows. It just remains to pick a scenario and period. Will it be: 

These guys?


or these guys?

Time will tell.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Don't Be Hasty (now with video clip!)

 Yesterday afternoon, since I had largely enjoyed the game, apart from the nearly invulnerable skirmishers and how long it took to play,  I set out to take one more attempt to 'fix' the original Colonial rules. It didn't take long to realize that I had skimmed them rather than carefully read them and had missed some small but important things.  A Do-over seemed in order.

The Royal Scots rally and counterattack!

The control check in the F&I rules was just another variation on the one I'd been using a decade so I had skimmed it and missed several key points. Actually, I'm not sure I ever played it quite as written! Anyway, the big things are that you only need to take a control check if you want to move, rally or hold fire. Its not a big thing since this version of the chart doesn't have a 'must retreat' or 'must charge' option, but this way, if you have time and space, anyone can halt this turn, shooting if appropriate, and then on the next turn, take a control check to rally or move in the direction of your choice without fear of a "keep doing what you did last turn" result and thus being forced to pursue or  keep retreating.

Its a small thing but a time saver when playing (fewer tests)  and it gives players a decision to make: risk the test if the General isn't there, or go slow. I like players being able to make choices and live with the consequences if that decision backfires rather than always being able to blame the dice.

The background music just seemed to call for a quick video of the table.

Thirdly, I forgot all about the scouting rules during the first game! This time I used them, a frill really but with so many Indians and Rangers hiding in the woods, it made the difference occasionally between an ambusher getting in the first shot or the ambushee spotting the enemy first which added a bit more flavour. 

Early in the game.
I reduced the force level by 1 unit on each side to make more room, and because I just don't have enough Indians any more!  The casting pot has been given notice!

Lastly, there was the too easy rally for the regulars with colour party and drummer. The grenadiers were particularly bad, elite troops with commander, regimental colours, and drums: they rallied on a 2 or better last game. In the colonial rules, the colour party and drums together only give a +1, so I went back to that. It was still too easy but I can live with it if elites are rare.

There was one thing I did get wrong back then, allowing quarter casualties. It still sounds realistic but in practice, in any situation with lots of woods for the skirmishers to hide in, the game can deteriorate into a very realistic and BORING  firefight that lasts all day with little result. Today I overruled the rule and  allowed a maximum penalty of 1/2 casualties. The result was that the fighting in the woods was slow, but effective.

After the first close range firefight broke the Royal Scots in one turn (you should have seen the French dice!), they rallied, counter attacked, and got the same treatment. Thanks to the grenadiers they rallied again  but "there wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago". By now the British had lost 1 unit and the rest were hanging by a thread. The French had also taken heavy losses but they still had some viable forces and they held the key position. It was over.

What was the result of the correction of my habits and one small change? The second game clicked along at an average of less than 10 minutes per turn for about 3 hours, just right for a convention or friendly game. It also had some tense turns with the advantage switching back and forth which kept me engaged right up to the end. I think these will do for my Conquest of Canada games.

Ummmmh Rob?  I hate to say this but I'd like to take back all those drastic revisions.... can we call it a mid-life crisis?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Writing MacDuff

During the twenty odd years that preceded MacDuff, I had read every book and magazine article, especially first hand accounts that I could get my hands on,  if they covered the battles, skirmishes and tactics of the campaigns I was interested in. I also read as many relevant sets of rules as I could.  Since the various sources often presented very different versions of the same events, it was often a matter of "you pays your money and takes your choice" as Doc Ruddy used to say but there is no harm in being aware of various ideas, views and methods. 

By the late 80's I was ready to become a less serious wargamers and became slowly interested in  games the equivalent of an historical novel or film, something where the game could create good narratives as well as allowing characters and famous units to develop over time, not by dicing on charts but by their performance in the games they were in and the stories we told about their performance. So, I took some ideas from old school games like Charge! with simple mechanisms, and some newer ones, and then added some of my own ideas mixed with input from the friends I was playing with, and cooked up a set of rules that served us well enough at our regular Friday night games.

Not Quite La Belle Famille: (ie the scenario published in the Courier) The French Indian allies and Couriers des bois have engaged the British allied tribes and rangers while the French regulars have finally reached the clearing.
Command Control and Movement. These related issues were very much on my mind in general as well as with this set of rules. My own take was that things didn't always happen exactly as a commander ordered but neither were they completely random.  I wanted a quick and simple process to keep the game flowing. The result was a card activation system where the player chose which unit to activate, an assignation of personalities to all command figures, a control check for units not under the general's eye and a mix of fixed and variable movement distances. Originally I allowed the player to choose which units or group of units he was going to activate but at conventions, it was easier to assign cards to players.

That actually still works for me but in the F&IW version, ALL units had to roll even if the player's figure was with them. During one early convention game, one poor novice player rolled a "cautious" personality which meant he had a 2 in 6 chance of getting a halted unit to advance.  He NEVER managed to roll the right number to get his lads started and didn't get to do ANYTHING! (I tried to implement a rule saying your 3rd roll automatically passes but his sense of honour and duty did not allow him to accept my fudge.)  Some contemporary games (no names, no packdrill) are designed so that a player who fails any activation forfeits their turn. If they continue to roll the wrong numbers they may lose the game without ever getting to move or shoot with any unit.  Neither realistic or fun in my opinion but obviously it can be for others. If I were to do it again, I'd declare that all players personal figures are Bold, allowed to act according to their own nature or chosen personality.

The Compagnies Franches have deployed and the Illinois militia are at hand.  A desultory firefight between opposing irregulars went on all day in the woods on either side. 

What is a casualty?  I have long believed that the effect of combat was partly physical and partly psychological but used to rely on old fashioned figure removal and morale tests. An article in  Wargames Illustrated in the late 80's or early 90's, Sin Bins and Stragglers I think was the title, possibly by Arthur Harman, or not, (it was a long time ago),  got me thinking about other options. What I decided on was to do away with separate moral tests, put casualties aside until a unit rallied, decide melees by the 'casualty' counts and have units break when the dropped below half, and then add a rally action to see which casualties were just shaken up, lightly wounded or out of ammo etc and could be recovered, and which were dead, wounded or run away. 

I used to get a lot of hassle about zombies coming back to life but since similar concepts have now appeared in more prestigious and popular rules, it seems to be accepted by players.

CHAAARRRGGEE!  When it comes to charges and "melee" I am one of those who believes that any actual hand to hand combat was rare, apart form cavalry charges and attempts to storm a  fortified position. Most infantry charges  were decided by opposing courage or by close range firepower. An old fashioned man to man melee is more fun on the table though and basically gives you the same result as duelling morale tests or charge resolution charts.

The action heated up as the Compagnies Franches moved into musket range of the cabin and abatis. The Royal Scots commenced firing their muskets into the air while their opponents levelled  theirs and unleashed a hail of bullets into the Redcoats.
In the woods, t
he British rangers and Iroquois were slowly forced back to avoid being flanked. 

So, how did the re-test game go? Over all it went well, nothing improbable happened and the fight was well balanced until the Royal Americans lost a firefight and broke after 10 or 12 turns and something like 5 HOURS of playing!  

That has always been the issue with MacDuff games but especially the F&IW games. Despite the small forces, the games take too long, especially in a multiplayer convention game, but also at home.  Some of the Colonial games occasionally were long but not THAT long. The differences in the rule sets are minimal but obviously are important. I have made umpteen attempts to fix them but despite Rob's patience with a new version every year, I have not succeeded. 

During a close comparison of the two versions, I noticed a couple of seemingly small differences that might be part of the cause.   

    a) The units in the Colonial games were larger, especially the Irregular units. Even the skirmisher units were 20 figures instead of the 8 we normally used. That means fewer cards to play, fewer decisions to make and fewer control checks to make. Less flexibility but faster play.

    b) In the original rules units within 24" of and in the line of sight of a General, did not need to take a control test. The variable moves might slow them down but they would attempt to carry out orders. In the F&IW version, every unit must test even if Wolfe is leading them cane in hand. That means a test and check of the chart for every unit every turn followed by more dice for distance. It all takes time. More than that, any commanders modifying the die have to go by their personality and in the F&I rules, a score of 5,6 result means that the unit continues what it was doing last turn, if you can remember what the unit did. This means if you were halted or retreating and are under a Cautious commander, you stay halted or retreat more, even if there is no reason. Sounded reasonable, but that was how that player got locked into not moving at all, all game. 

    c) It was slightly harder for regulars to rally in the original rules. Sometimes a small difference on a d6 roll can have a big effect.

The Royal Scots, broke, rallied well and counter attacked but were broken again. I called the game. 

Lastly, cover halves the number of hits from shooting as does being skirmishers.  Modifiers are cumulative so that skirmishers in the woods suffer 1/4 casualties leading to long indecisive firefights. Realistic but tedious rather than fun and tending to encourage bold or impatient players to out tomahawks and charge Hollywood style.  All those 1/2 casualties also means having some sort of marker to track the halves being carried over.  In the end, the slow attrition lengthens the game and is realistic rather than fun.  I suspect that old fashioned saving throws or die modifiers might have been better gamewise, than carrying over fractions.

So there we have it, the game still works but is too incremental and takes too long to reach a conclusion for a convention game and is too incremental and slow for my current tastes though I still like many of its aims and ideas. Perhaps I should adjust the force composition and try the original Colonial version? 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

MacDuff: Intermission

 This blog post shall be continued tomorrow....

Overview as the attacking French column comes into view while the opposing skirmish lines trade fie.

Lest We Forget


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Lay on Macduffe,

 "And damn’d be him, that first cries hold, enough!"

I figured before I wrote about my thoughts when developing the rules, I should play a game with the rules as published to refresh my memory.

Waiting for the French

The published "Not Quite the Battle of La Belle-Famille" scenario seemed like a good starting place.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

How The Internet & MacDuff Changed My Life

Relax, you haven't been redirected to a tabloid, this is merely a post about the convoluted and intertwined background to the matter at hand.

Now, where to start? 

A GM + 6 player original or Colonial MacDuff game from the turn of the century on my old 6ftx10ft table circa 2000. Each player had his own secret victory conditions but could have a private parley with another player if their figures were together. In one case, one player realized partway through the conversation that his opponent's mission involved capturing him and dispersing his rebels, so he pulled a pistol and fired at him point blank range, unfortunately for him, he missed! The battery powered train was operated by the player calling go and stop with me switching it on and off. Alas, the young fellow playing the Midshipman in charge of the train, panicked at the near approach of angry natives and sped off abandoning the civilians at the little red station which he was ordered to take to safety.  Neither his father nor the abandoned passengers were impressed but an expedition to rescue the captives became the storyline for the next game.

I had been aware of Colonial wargaming since my first Featherstone book and had been fascinated by the Boer Wars since I was old enough to pull the History of the War in South Africa off the shelf to look at the pictures. It had been published in 1900 after the fall of Pretoria had ended the war....OOPS! (It was a gift to my mother from her father who  had enlisted in the British army when the Boer War broke out but was judged too young to go overseas, he had to wait 14 years for that. All of which says something about my heritage and moulding l suppose.) Upon my reentry into civilian life in '81, I spent a year proving that I wasn't very good at running a game store either but it did introduce me to Larry Brom's The Sword & The Flame. I even got to read it when a friend bought it, but he got posted out before he got a force painted up so we could try it. When I finally got a real job and shut down the shop, the leftover stock included some packs of Mike's Models 15mm Colonials so I had my first Anglo-Boer skirmish. A score of figures per side didn't make for much of a game and I had neither cash nor desire to buy more of those chubby little dwarves and there was so much else to do, like 25mm Persians and  15mm French Revolution and Napoleonics and microarmour and ........
Actually I  suppose this article in a Scouting magazine from '69?.'70? was my first look at Colonial Gaming as well as homecasting. It gave me hope but no rules

Time passed, friends came and went and eventually in the late 80's Ron, a fellow alumni of the Montreal Wargaming Club from my college days, arrived in Nova Scotia. We've been gaming ever since in various scales and periods but of interest here was his collection of Ral Partha Colonials. The rules he had brought with him from Montreal were a sort of mashup of Space 1889 and TS&TF which sort of worked. Ron was trying to tweak them and I started painting up Frontier 25mm British and Mahdists and then...ummh..... offered to help with the rules. The result was With MacDuff To the Frontier.  

One of the few pictures I have of Ron's 25mm figures on his old table, full of Geohex terrain.

Why MacDuff? Blame my roommate who I shared my first real apartment with after graduation. We had spent 7 weeks in the summer of '74 backpacking around Europe by rail pass and thumb, sleeping at youth hostels and sometimes, in the open air; like the night we crept through the hedge and slept at the foot of the Lion Mount at Waterloo. (That summer was also the closest I came to attending a British Wargame Show when I took an impromtu sidetrip upon seeing an add for a Wargaming tent at some sort of Aldershot military show on the coming weekend. It was the best weekend of the trip, even over the co-ed hostel in Copenhagen, the two Swedish girls and..well, never mind. I mean I walked in and there was Peter Gilder playing a WRG Ancients game with figures I'd seen in a book, and there was  Phil Barker and a Minifigs stand!  It was also the only time I have slept in a jail cell, not locked I hasten to add. There was not a hostel, hotel or motel bed to be had. An old feller in a pub told me to find a copper, show him a shilling, tell him I couldn't find a bed for the night and ask if he could direct me to somewhere to sleep, and he'd let me sleep in a cell. It worked like a charm but on the next night I found better accommodations by being invited to join the gamers in the Wargaming tent for supper, join in a test run of a chariot racing game, and roll out my sleeping bag there but now I'm really off topic.)  Anyway, on that trip Eric would often say to me "Lead on MacDuff" and he kept it up when we were roommates later on. I guess that misquote stuck in my head. 

By the mid 80's I was working in the regional IT department of Canada Post where mainframe terminals and new mini-computer terminals were mixing with the even newer microcomputers, so I was learning as much as I could as fast as I could. At college my exposure to Cobol programming and punch cards had not been inspiring apart from the ability to go have a beer at the mess in between feeding in the cards and getting the output. When I did an exchange tour on the USS WV Pratt in 1976, a tour of the Ops room with CRT displays, keyboards and trackballs was like something out of StarTrek.  Now some of that handy stuff was spreading rapidly and I was learning fast. So it was that in the early 90's we bought a home computer so I could do the books for the Kennel that Kathy & I  were then running, 365 days a year, on top of my day job, travel, overtime, call ins....... OK now I'm just whining; apart from the accounting and wordprocessing, my brother had been urging me to try bulletin boards and email as a way to keep in touch, so we also bought an acoustic coupler modem, you remember, the type where you take your analog telephone hand set and plug it in to the cradle on the.....OK, never mind.

Now, at last, the threads are starting to come together. It didn't take long to find 'rgmh', you know, that old internet bulletin board: You could make posts and could browse through, reading posts and replying to other posts. Later you could even upload small grainy pictures. It was amazing to connect to gamers around the world. I still remember posting a question about Yugoslav partisans when I was building a 54mm force to face Ron's Germans and I received an answer that started "When I joined the partisans..". 

A few of my 54mm Partisans, all conversions.

I also remember a younger Yugoslav wargamer whose father had been a partisan. He sent me pictures from the war,  scans of illustrations from books, with some translations, and pictures of his 25mm minis. For someone who had been a kid during the Cuban Missile crisis and who had enlisted in the Canadian forces while the US was still at war with North Vietnam, it was amazing. The last time I heard from him was 1995 when NATO was bombing his home city but he and his friends were not going to be intimidated and he was going out despite the raid to play an ancients game. Every now and then I wonder what became of him.

Anyway,  around the same time, someone who was writing a set of rules posted a question about something and I responded and offered to send him a copy of my in progress MacDuff rules for him to pick over. It was a surprise to get a  response from Dick Bryant asking if I would send him a copy for possible publication in The Courier. I did a quick edit, formalized them a bit and sent him both the Colonial version we had been using and the French & Indian version which hadn't even been play tested yet!

OK, now we are approaching the last steps on this long trail.  B this time, rgmh was being supplemented by email lists like Onelist and since Ron and I were playing the new  Armati rules, I signed up to the email group. In 1996 I had to suffer through not being able to join in the first Armati "Arena" at Cold Wars and I decided that I would make the 4,000 km round trip next year to join them. That Armati event was a complete success for me, the format had allowed not only for tournament games, but also for scenario games, as long as you brought both armies, terrain etc and gave the other player choice of sides. I brought two 25mm Scots armies, Lord of the Isles vs Lowland Barons and wrote up two fictional scenarios set in the 1411 Red Harlaw campaign. It turned out that I was the only one used to scenarios but several were quite interested in something more than line em up and go at it, so after I played one game, I GM'd two others. A good time was had by all. 

My 25mm Scots facing Ron's English in an Armati scenario game.

Prior to Cold Wars, Pete Panzeri had put out a call on rgmh for anyone with 54mm figures suitable for a Waterloo game to help him out. I was in the process of building my first 54mm War of 1812 armies so I volunteered to bring British infantry and some US and Canadian units to serve as Dutch Belgians and KGL Riflemen.  While I was building my 1812 force, I had found some old boxes of OOP Airfix 54mm figures at a comicbook/game shop in Halifax. The owner offered me a good deal if I would take them all so I kept what I wanted and had some to sell. I posted about the  WWII Russians on rgmh and got a response from some guy named Rob Dean and agreed to meet him at Cold Wars.   

Pete Panzeri's Haye Sainte game (buildings by Tom Milmore).
The greencoats in the sandpit are some of my lads.

To my great surprise, the 54mm Haye Sainte game was over crowded with many new players including lots of kids. Pete was soon over stretched and asked if I'd run one end of the table. Well I'd done plenty of that at Cangames as well as Dalhousie game days and the rules were simple, so I jumped in, only slightly distracted by things like chatting with Rob about those Russians which he decided not to buy and then with Frank Chadwick who was showing some of his newest 54mm Volley & Bayonet ACW units.

It was a great weekend but I had barely gotten home when I got an email from Arty Conliffe, he had been into the printers and had seen the latest Courier magazine:

The almost completely untested F&IW With MacDuff To The Frontier was first to print!

Before long, I also got an email from Rob. He and Chris Palmer were planning a 40mm homecast F&IW convention game and had decided to try the new MacDuff rules from the latest Courier. Rob  recognized my name and had a few questions. I was  already decided that I was going back next year so I decided sign up for their MacDuff game and to use MacDuff for my planned 54mm Chateauguay game instead of the proposed regimental level variant of  Volley and Bayonet that was being discussed on that email group. 

How did it go? Well 25 years later, having co-hosted scores of various convention games including one Best In Show at Cold Wars, and various other smaller awards, as well some of the other things friends do, Rob and I are still at it! 

Huzzah 2019: Our Sittingbad using a fastplay version of MacDuff and some of our Not Quite The Seven Years War, Prince August homecast armies.   

So it was that the internet became one of my major connections to the hobby, leading me to start the Littlewars email group and then set up a Webpage which eventually became this blog, but also helped me form friendships around the globe and made my remote corner of the world a little less remote. 

In the next post, I'll talk about developing the rules itself and the dangers of not knowing when to stop! 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

What do I want anyway?

In a comment on my last post, Johnathon of The Palouse Wargaming Journal suggested that I consider writing "an expanded discussion on your rules' analysis including what works, what doesn't work, what you want, what you don't want, and how your preferences have changed over time".  My first reaction was that it would be like wandering through a maze lit by strobe lights. After some thought, it seemed to me that I might benefit from it and there may be some others would would find it of interest or even of some use, like those cautionary fairy tales, while the rest can skip over it pretty quickly. More than  that, I might even find the exercise useful apart from the pleasure one sometimes gets from nostalgia. 

In 2010, this was the sort of thing I wanted. 
(See 31 January 2010 post.)
This solo game was played using 'Warhammer Ancient Battles'. The rules were OK if played with the right mind frame, and I had friends with 25mm armies who played them, then they released a new version. Amongst other things, they changed the number of ranks of infantry that could fight and suddenly my basing and unit organization was a liability. At the same time, we made our move away from the city and I found  myself playing mostly solo. I decided to write what became the first edition of Gathering of Hosts

Luckily for everyone, I don't have much, if any, documentation or pictures from the first 30 years so we don't need to wallow too much in the past.  The present didn't spring into existence fully armed though, so  I will at least touch on the early days in this post. My very first book on wargaming was Featherstones's Battles With Model Soldiers which did not contain a full set of rules but did talk about the advantages of writing your own and how to go about it. It included some suggestions about how to write a simple set and then customize them. So there I was, in high school in 1971, conscripting my childhood friend next door, getting down on the floor with airfix, dice and rulers and enjoying ourselves in a private setting using cobbled together WWII rules!  I was lost! (Last year he mailed me his sole unit of 25mm Napoleonic Prussians which had managed to play one game when I was home on leave from college. He turned to golf instead of wargaming. )

Cold Wars 2010: Scenario 3 from The Raid on St. Michel.  Featherstone's book may have been my first, but Charge! was my first complete set of rules, purchased with my first paycheque as a young Officer Cadet at the College Militaire Royal de St. Jean in 1972. Before I could build two 30mm armies, I was on to WRG Ancients with Airfix  so it was 1998 before I got to play a proper game of Charge!. I still play it happily when the opportunity offers and if I still had room for even my old 6'x8' table, I might well still use it for my Horse and Musket rules but with 40mm figures on a 5'x4' table, it is rather limited. (Mind you, I did consider using it for the French Revolution with reduced ranges and moves.) 

Anyway, I'll largely pass over my college days where I really got into things along with Simon MacDowall (Legio, Comitatus, etc),  so much learned in those days and so many good memories over the decades. I'll also largely pass by my  15mm days, partly because I don't have any pictures, but also perhaps to spare reminding The Single Handed Admiral of his days of being prime guinea pig in the ever changing series of rules that eventually ended up being published in Wargames Illustrated. They were the days when I began to get hooked on writing rules and running multiplayer and convention games though so I can't skip them entirely. 

There were some great games in those years, including a number of multiplayer games at Dalhousie where we ran various 15mm early Napoleonic games involving 6 or 8 players,  not counting us, and multi-national 15mm armies. One of my favourites was one where a player panicked when seeing chaps in the wrong colour unit coming over the bridge towards him and opened up with canister, only to find out that they were his allies in full retreat, while in another, an allied cavalry commander was ordered to move into a reserve position while the infantry in reserve launched an attack. He tried to move out of the way only to be ambushed by French light infantry in a wood so he moved forward out of range. This triggered a charge by some French cavalry who had been in dead ground. His brigade won the melee and had to pursue over the crest of a hill, finding the rest of the French. So it was that his honest attempts to allow the infantry to advance while he manoeuvred  into reserve, turned into an attack that disrupted the enemy plans.  Oops. 

One doesn't really need fake command rules and event cards when you have multiple players and hidden units! 

The "Why" intro from my article in Wargames Illustrated Issue 23 (1989)
This is the published version of the ever being tweaked rules we  used with our 15's.
Bad habits are strong!

Another of those games from the 80's, a refight of Austerlitz at another Dal game day, taught me that its entirely possible to be too clever as scenario designer. In order to recreate the allied command confusion and poor performance vs the small but veteran French army, we put all the most experienced players on the French side with the Admiral playing Napoleon, and all the inexperienced players on the other side. They were each given  a written order but there was no over all Commander to coordinate their efforts or react to events.  Great re-creation but the new players thought they'd been set up so we could make fun of them. Even worse, some walked away before the debrief. Those who did stay understood the idea but didn't appreciate it. Instead of having made 5 new recruits, I suspect most never played another historical mini game. Lesson learned, try to make sure that all players have a chance to have fun at these sorts of events, even if they are doomed as they man the walls of the Alamo. 

And that is at least enough for one post if not too much. The next time I take up this topic I'll talk about MacDuff and the effect on me as a few other people actually played it and how I tried to cope with the struggle between reacting to  changes in me while knowing that at least a few other people were playing the rules thus making me feel that I should avoid changing them, and on another unforeseen consequence.    

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

A Whiff of Dice

Its hard to believe that I only managed 2 games in October!  Well, I already have 1 under my belt in November and it was a more satisfying one. The story of the battle is told in the captions. I'll add just a few comments about my newest, philosophically different, rules for the period.

In yesterday's post, we saw the initial French attack faltering and degenerating into a firefight. Now we see the first French attack on the battery repulsed by cannister but in revenge, the York Hussars fumbled their attempt to charge and were in turn, blasted back by cannister before they got close to the guns. The Black Hussars declined an opportunity to attempt another charge up the steep hill and have instead moved around to try to delay Coalition reinforcements.

When the Scots Greys overran the French battery and the French regulars were driven back by fire, it started to looked like another too early, too easy victory. I don't give up easily though and pushed on.

While the French infantry rallied, their sharpshooters kept up a heavy and effective fire on the Highlanders. In the distance, the Black Hussars made an attempt to flank the Hessians but were thwarted by the York Hussars. It was the end of them though,  the last remnant rallied on the field but were totally spent. The French Hussars were weakened but as they reformed, they had at least one more charge in them, and an open flank before them.  

Trusting to the Greys to cover their flank and rear, the Hessians pressed forward to reinforce the Highlanders while the Royal Artillery, reduced to a single gun with half a crew, clung to their position. A final assault by the remnants of the French was stunned and routed by what many observers said was the " most 5's and 6's ever rolled on such a small number of dice". It was over.  

The Representative of the People called for the French General to come answer for his failure but was informed that that gallant Citizen had answered with his life.

I did spend a considerable time this month, analyzing why I haven't been very happy with any of the rules I've been trying for the French Revolution, and some other eras, and what I wanted a set of rules to deliver for solo games,  but also for the occasional 2 player or multiplayer game. Those 3 goals don't necessarily have to be the same but not only is it easier when they line up, I also find it more satisfying. 

So I spent even more time than usual trying to figure out why I wasn't happy, reviewing what I want now compared to what I used to want and why it was different. Then I spent a LOT of time going back and revisiting various older and some newer books on wargaming and past articles and rules that I have written, then made a fresh start. The result was a '2 sides of a page' summary of a new set tentatively to be called "A Whiff of Dice". These have no revolutionary new mechanisms, they just leave out or build in even more of the detail, and focus on the sorts of choices that they reward or punish, and on the balance between too fast, simple and abrupt and too slow, detailed and tedious. 

The game only lasted a few more turns  than the last one but unlike the last one, it wasn't effectively over  after about 20 minutes on turn 3 of 15, and the kinds of decisions I made were mostly more General’s decisions than unit  commanders'  decisions and luck played a substantial, but not overwhelming, role in the game. The game also lasted almost twice as long time wise and included more substantial player decisions and responsibilities and consequences of decisions rather than luck are what makes a game interesting for me.  

But its early days, the rules needed to be tested more and they need to be flushed out into a proper set rather than just a quick reference and that's not a speedy process for me.      

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Here They Come Again

 Our Sources have sent word that the Republicans have again attacked our outpost on Belmont Ridge.

Heavy fighting on the ridge. The French battery again threatened by the York Hussars.

Full story in our next edition,