Sunday, 15 January 2017

An evening with the Guides

After our Friday afternoon event with the Guild of Battlefield Guides we were invited back for their Annual Dinner on Saturday evening. Chairman Mike was unable to attend so it was up to Phil and me to wine and dine on behalf of the Society. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

You meet all sorts at these things, so it was a pleasant surprise not only to renew my acquaintance with Roger Emerson on Friday, but also with Chris Scott, who was in the Roundhead Association when I was, and eventually rose to be Lord General. He had fond memories of my old regiment, John Brights, and we had a few mutual acquaintances including Pete Berry now of Baccus 6mm. I also bumped into one of my predecessors as Chairman of the University of Sheffield Wargames Society.

Gary Sheffield was there too, so I had a chance to have a chat about The Great War and Paddy G's contribution to our scholarship on the period.

The occasion enabled more in-depth discussions than on the Friday afternoon, so the disappointment I felt about attitudes to the use of games & simulations to understand battles and battlefields was able to be over turned somewhat and hopefully minds are a bit more open.

The excellent news for the Northampton Battlefield Society was that we won an award. You can see Vice Chairman Phil with the "Nathaniel Wade Award" looking very pleased with himself. I'm fairly sure the lady next to him hadn't dozed off by this point of the evening. Apologies for the quality of the picture. I was using a smart phone and I'd had a glass or two of lemonade as well.

Here's the details of the award from the Guild of Battlefield Guides Website:

Award Ethos:
The Nathaniel Wade Award will allow the GBG to publicly recognise the contribution of an individual, group or organisation associated with the GBG, who through their efforts has made a significant contribution to the craft of battlefield guiding and the wider Military History community.

Qualification Period:
This is an annual award which will be presented at the GBG AGM – however, the award is not restricted to events or a contribution made in year. The recipient may be recognised for their contribution or achievements made over a number of years.

Qualification Criteria:
The Nathaniel Wade Award may be presented to GBG members or non members; both categories are eligible to be nominated for this award.

Any Guild member may nominate a potential candidate to the Secretary for consideration by council. Final selection of a recipient(s) will be made by the GBG Council.

Previous Winners:
2012                       Battlefield History TV
2013                       Battle Honours
2014                       Centenary Battlefield Tours
2015                       The Belgian Tourist Office London

We're quite chuffed that we've picked up an award previously won by the Belgian Tourist Office and also the other winners, who represent serious players in the Battlefield Tourism industry whereas we're just a small bunch of enthusiasts with a battlefield everyone wants to build on.

The trophy is really nice, - Nathaniel Wade was in the Duke of Monmouth's army, so this is him in full rig, - and we'll be using it to get some more publicity for our cause. You'll also be able to see it on our stand over the next 12 months. Stop by and say hello.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Joining the Guides for a Day

One of the members of the Northampton Battlefields Society is also a member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.This year he was responsible for organising their AGM, and chose to do it in Northamptonshire. The real business of their meeting is on Saturday but he arranged a taster get together on Friday afternoon to look at the Battle of Northampton and the work that NBS has done to promote and protect the site.

NBS was represented by Chairman Mike, Vice Chair Phil and me. Mike was there to talk about the battle, Phil to demonstrate his battlefield model and I was there with the participation game and the newly printed book.

Ironically the meeting was held in the Delapre Golf Club function room. The Golf Club has been our "bete noir" over the car park development on the edge of the battlefield, but on this occasion we were able to build some bridges. Still going to oppose their proposed works however. We had a little side area where we could get our kit out, slightly away from the area where food was being served and big coats were being worn.

I think we put up a pretty good display.

Looks quite professional. How successful we were it's hard to say. These are "professional" guides and won't be guided by anyone who isn't a Guild member. Neither Mike, Phil nor I fall into that category, so we weren't going to lead the actual walks for the two syndicates. Clearly our member who is in the Guild knows the area, but the other group were led by a guide who hadn't looked at the ground and was working off maps. Based on where he took his party I'm not sure we would entirely agree on his interpretation. As we've been working on this site for a few years I think we'd have the view that you need local knowledge to tell you what the maps are telling you about what is new and what is recent modification to the terrain.

I was also disappointed by the attitude that a number of Guild members took towards the use of models and game-based simulations to understand and promote the battle. I suppose I'm so used to being amongst people who take what wargames can tell you seriously I wasn't expecting such a dismissive approach. Some Guild members got it, or were on their way to seeing the use, (sold a few games) but we probably needed more time than we actually had once everyone had seen the gunpowder demo and the field walk.

This is what the Guild looks like at play.

This is an old friend, Roger Emerson, who I haven't seen for 30 years. He was explosives officer for the Roundhead Association when I was a young musketeer back in the 1980s and taught me gunpowder safety. Great character and great bloke.

The guns were provided by the English Free Company.

They had a nice stick gun as well as the breech and muzzle loading cannons.

They also had some longs bows. Here's Phil, just letting the string loose having done a full draw back to his ear.

And here's a cross bow being shot. I have caught the moment of quarrel release here if you look closely.

I couldn't catch a cloth yard shaft in flight, however.

It was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and it went well after we all breathed a sigh of relief following the short snow flurry we had in the morning. Hopefully the Guides learnt a bit from us and about how we have to fight for battlefields with all the resources we have.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Promoting Northampton 1460

As you will all recall before Christmas I announced that the work on the Battle of Northampton game was complete. It went off to the printers and after some hiccups I should receive the final version at the back end of this week.

I have a few not-perfect copies - the centre pages are printed on paper not card as required - and I have been able to produce a demo version of the sale version through the use of a thicker than usual lamination pouch.

It's a relief to see that the concept really works, and the quality of the printing/output is really satisfying. I'd say it stands comparison with the production standards of, for example, Black Powder.*

This means we're confident enough to do pre-launch publicity. The

actual launch will be on the 21st January at Kettering Museum, where there'll be other stuff going on and we'll have copies to buy and you can play the full show version. The price will be £12.99 or £9.99 for Northampton Battlefield Society members. Don't know what the postal cost will be as I don't know how much the final version weighs and hence the cost of the stamps.

Based on what we did with the book Mike Ingram wrote a year back Mike sent out a press release and we got picked up by local radio, as I trailed in the last blog.

So this afternoon I went in for my 15 minutes of fame in the BBC Radio Northampton studios at the top of Abington Street. You can listen to the show on the website for the next month: link. I come on about 40 minutes in. If you hear either David Bowie or Fleetwood Mac I'm on just after them. I have to say the show presenter was very good at putting me at my ease and getting me to talk ("Quelle surprise!" I hear some of you say), and I got most of what I wanted to say across. I had spoken to a production assistant beforehand to cover some of the ground, but I never got across completely why it is important that this is in book format not in a box (although the woman from Library Services who was on after me completely got it).

Having listened back to it I think it's okay, although I say "Um" and "Absolutely" a lot.

Which is, um, I suppose, how I do actually talk. Absolutely.

Come and see me in Kettering to find out for sure.

* I may not like the rules but respect is due to the production standards.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Scruffy Cids

I'm nearing the end of the painting odyssey that is my Feudal Spanish/Andalusian/Almoravid project.

I'm still light a few bases of Christian Knights (probably need another box, if I can find them) and some odd light infantry units. Oh, and I need to do some more crossbow conversions, because you
never get enough in a box.

However, my last unit of Spanish heavy infantry is done. Well, I say last. I've got lots of figures left, (thanks Mark!) so I can do more, but I don't need to do. Up until now I've painted them as dismounted knights and retainers, so they've been fairly uniform in pose and costume. The latest unit is a bit more raggedy, as I've gone for more of a Christian/Muslim borderand feel for them.

I've mixed figures from all three boxes of "El Cid" infantry, chopping off swords and replacing them with spears almost regardless of pose. I had a spare monk/priest from the Spanish command box, so I pushed him into the front rank for a bit of moral leadership.

The poses mostly work. The one I like the least is the one at the back with the blue shield with a white cross. The stance seems a bit odd, but I suppose he could be thrusting with his spear.

These are also a bit odd for what I normally do. I rarely mix poses so extremely in a heavy infantry unit. I tend to the view, especially in units with long weapons such as spears and pikes, that all the chaps in a unit would be doing the same thing, with minor variations. If you don't do that then you end up getting in each other's way, tripping colleagues over with the butt end of your spear and so on. The modern multi-pose fad for having everyone waving their arms about and pointing weapons every which way is a nonsense. Sure, have heads slightly tilted at different angles, and spear points up and down by a few degrees, but for goodness sake have them all point in the same direction.

On a side note the Northampton 1460 game is very close to being available. I have some trial copies and they look great, - the printer now needs to do the definitive run with the centre pages printed on card, not paper, now I have finished correcting the typos, tightening up some of the rules and giving Margaret of Anjou her coat of arms on the biographies page. Our Chairman has sent out a press release and we're doing a launch at Kettering Museum on the 21st January, where we'll have copies for sale and you can play on the big, original, show game version. I will be doing some publicity on local radio on Tuesday 10th January, so if you are inclined to listen to the John Griff show after 2:30pm, you may hear me in action. I'm not sure how board games work as a strictly aural experience, but we're going to give it a go. As we live in the modern world you don't have to be local to listen, as the shows are available on line: link. They do podcasts if you miss it too.

Cross you fingers and wish me luck

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Convoy Raiding in the Great Pacific War

Back in September we played a trial game with some warships from the 1879-84 Pacific War. That game was a theoretical action where all the ironclads of both sides* turned up and hammered it out, using Ian Drury's rules for the Battle of Lissa.

The game was a relative success but some changes were required. Notably I had to add small arms fire as this was significant in most of the actions, suppressing on deck gun crews and injuring bridge staff. I also fiddled around with some other stuff too, as I can't resist it.

For  the next game I thought I'd do a convoy attack scenario, as that was a large part of the naval campaign as the Peruvians tried to stop the Chileans shifting their forces up north.

The Chileans had one ironclad, the Almirante Cochrane, and a couple of wooden steam schooners protecting 5 troop ships. The sharp eyed amongst you will spot that I'm using an odd mixture of Tumbling Dice ships, including two Cutty Sarks and the Great Western as the merchant ships/troop transports.

The Peruvians have got the Independencia, an ironclad, and two wooden steam schooners.In this scenario the Peruvians are slightly faster, as they often were historically, as they had better dry dock facilities for careening their vessels.

The Peruvians advanced in line astern, the Independencia leading, at full steam.

Chris K with the Chileans had an immediate issue as one of his convoy escorts was to landward, so he needed to turn it towards the open sea. They were also spread out so that they needed to get together to stop the Peruvians picking them off one at a time.

The Peruvians at full speed move twice as fast as the troop ships, which the Chilean naval vessels have to keep pace with. Phil, in Nelsonian fashion, is aiming to cut through the line of troop ships with his ironclad and give them broadsides as he does so.

Chris tries to cut him off with Abtao, but fails. The Independencia lets fly at two of the troop ships, damaging the rudder on one (see red dice) and setting the other on fire. Elsewhere the Chilean vessels the Abtao and the Cochrane are giving the Union a hard time. In this exchange the Cochrane takes a bow hit, and starts to take on water. This is significant for the rest of the game as it quickly slows her top speed. (NB Peruvian broadsides are white, and Chilean black if that helps).

The Independencia having cut the line now circles round to finish off the lead ship. Elsewhere the action has become general with ships firing broadsides when they can.

The lead troop ship has been sunk by a ram from Independencia. The Cochrane is circling round to try to drive off the smaller Peruvian vessels or at least slow them down so that the troop ships can escape.

The Peruvians are having mostly their own way, tearing into the troop ships. The task is too big for the Chilean escorts, and the Peruvians are turning to hunt down the fleeing troop ships.

As the game was called to a close the Cochrane was limping badly astern of the other vessels. It looked like there was nothing that could be done to stop the Peruvians destroying the convoy.

Most of my changes worked okay, although I need to look at the critical hit rules which are insufficiently "Latin American", and also look at the firing mechanisms against ironclads. Compared to the Italian /Austrian ships in Ian's game these are small vessels with limited fire power so fire can take a while to have an effect which means the game may be realistic but is a bit slow at times.

The use of hexes rather than a hex board is still a matter of debate. At times it works really well, at others it doesn't. I tried to introduce a DBA -style conforming rule but that proved difficult to implement, no matter how good it looked on paper. I also may need to number them in sets to track who is going where for the ramming rules.

There's something here worth persisting with, I think, although whether it has enough to go to COW I'm not sure.

*All four of them

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Back to the Peninsula

It has been over three years since I last ran a Spanish Civil War game, so it was about time I did something to use my recently painted Republican and Nationalist air forces. This meant going back to the table with the "If You Tolerate This" rules.

The inspiration for the game was the Saragossa/Belchite Republican offensive in late summer 1937. In lieu of finding a good map of the Battle of Belchite I set up the table to create the sort of conditions that gave the Republicans problems and also gave them ample opportunity to make the mistakes they made historically.

I seem not to have taken a picture of the general view of the table, - unusual I know, but you'll just have to work with me on this one. The table had a cross roads with a small town occupied by Guardia Civilia and Fascist Militias in the centre of the table with an anti-tank gun in support. To their right was a small pueblo with a couple of battalions of Regular Army in them. On the other flank was an olive grove, similarly occupied, but also with some field guns. In support was three sections of Condor Legion Panzers and a couple of howitzers.

The Republicans had one Division with four International Brigade battalions, one Popular Army Division of similar size and another  mixed Division of Popular Army supported by a couple of workers militia battalions. They had a few T-26 sections  and also a couple of BT-5s as well as quite a few field guns to help out.

Will was the first to arrive and took over the Republicans. I ran the Nationalists to get the game started, and focused on defending the main town. In the initial moves there was a bit of rules checking and re-checking as memory is failing, alas, plus when we last played rules all the players knew them quite well and also understood what I was trying to achieve. Even I'm not sure now, and in any event all of my rule sets are a work in progress.

I did manage to put Will's artillery under bombardment to hamper their effectiveness, but then Phil turned up and took over the Nationalists.

As Will tried to move across the open he took some fire from the town's defenders. He's suffering here from typical Republican problems. His armour is in the wrong place, - it needs to be further forward, shielding his infantry.

However, he is not being distracted by the village on his left, and is also supporting his attack with the BT-5 sections.

Combined tank and artillery fire puts a lot of hits into the edge of the town, occupied by one of the Guardia Civile units and their associated anti-tank gun.

Slightly fewer hits on the Falange unit next to them.

You can see more clearly from this wider shot the overall position. There's lots of fire going in on both sides. From this position a double activation (you get two per unit in a turn if it is the open) enables one of the IB battalions to double forward and close assault the Guardia Civile unit. Alas they do this without armour support.

This doesn't matter, however, as the Guardia Civile panic (i.e. roll about 3 on two dice) despite emerging from the barrage fire fairly unscathed and are evicted from their position and drop back a square and become Pinned in place. The anti-tank gun is overrun and lost. This is the high water mark for the Republicans, much to everyone's surprise (BTW I later realised I worked this melee out wrong, and ignored the supporting effect of the anti-tank gun).

The other Guardia Civile unit pours fire into the newly emplaced IBs, then close assaults them.

Despite only being in makeshift defences due to their recent occupation the IBs repel the GCs and they fall back to their starting position in Disorder.

At last some air support arrives (Will has been trying to get his bomber wing on to no avail since turn one) and a couple of Nationalist FIATs turn up and strafe the BT-5s. Can you guess how effective they were from the dive on the table?

Meanwhile the Condor Legion tanks have motored round the back edge of the town and got hull down in the sunken road, denoted by the hedges. Shame for them they're only armed with HMGs, which mostly bounce off the T-26s.

Over on the Republican left their infantry finally emerge at the edge of the olive grove to be met by heavy fire from the village.

The town is now surrounded by masses of Republican forces who commence a series of futile assaults on the Falange. It is funny how, in some games, a unit just gets lucky and nothing you can do is effective against them. Attacks by IBs or Popular Army, both with and without armour support were all equally repelled, steadily degrading the attacking forces.

Some Republican units had had enough and started to stream to the rear, their spirit broken.

The remaining IB units tried to work round the other side of the town, alas even the initially successful IB unit is unable to force the Falange out, and end up disordered.

The MG fire from the Panzers is also having a serious effect on the other Republican infantry trapped in the open.

The second wave of Nationalise fighter bombers turn up, but are seen off by Republican interceptors.

The final turn of the game saw the Republicans launch an attack on the Nationalist gun lines and capture one of their howitzer batteries. Alas, for them,  it wasn't really enough. The rest of the Republican forces had been worn out by repeated attacks on the centre.

On reflection not a bad recreation of an SCW battle. The Republicans, despite initial successes, stalled as they tried to take on too many objectives. Poor infantry and armour co-operation at the start of the game weakened their strength in advancing and then stubborn Nationalist defences proved impossible to break at an acceptable cost. The Republican aim of breaking through up the main road was a complete failure.

I took a few notes during the game, so the rules will be revised. I have no major project on the go, so revisiting the SCW might be interesting. The air rules are rubbish, too, so I need to work on them.

An interesting end to the year.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Coutras, Part 2

So, the last game being over so quickly we swapped sides and did it again. And this time we used the rules correctly. This mainly improved the effectiveness of the Huguenot pistol armed cavalry against the gendarmes.

We adjusted the starting positions slightly, too, but nothing significant

Playing the Catholics did mean that I could take some pictures from behind their lines.

Also, I followed the Catholic original tactics more closely. This meant advancing with my left to clear out The Warren and disperse the lighter cavalry in the Huguenot right centre.

This started well, as my stradiots broke Chris' argoulets. I didn't take a breakthrough move here, as my initiative only gave me two divisional splits, and I thought I'd need them later.

I was soon up at The Warren, forcing my pike men over the hedge line.

Then it was time for the big boys to get involved. Chris was more flexible in his use of his central enfants perdues as he seemed more worried about the threat to his left from my infantry.

The conflict around The Warren was hard fought, with BPs being exchanged.

However, I was able to break Chris' extreme left wing infantry unit. Things were looking up.

In the middle our cavalry locked horns, with the Huguenots putting up a much better fight this time.

In The Warren I took a divisional split, and broke into the position.

Having finally dealt with the rest of Chris' lighter horse, he wheeled round a couple of units of arquebusiers to rough me up a bit with flanking fire.

Meanwhile, things were going even better for me in The Warren. Alas this was just a side show.

Over in the marsh, Chris was able to get stuck into one of my infantry regiments on even terms, and broke it.

But the main battle was in the centre, where the day would be won or lost. Henri's Millers (in white) had finally broken the gendarmes in front of them, and the others followed soon after. Closer than the first game, but a Huguenot win.

So, a win to each side, but also two wins to Chris, so that may tell you more about us as wargamers rather than the game balance.

Still, a good enough way to spend the afternoon.