Monday, 17 October 2016

A bit of culture

For wargaming as a hobby poetry probably doesn't rank high on the list of things that are associated with it.

As for me, I avoided Eng Lit at O & A Level* and would mark myself down as a fan of poetry that (a) rhymes and (b) makes me laugh. "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six" rank as my two most favourite poetry books of all time I would say, and I used to be able to recite Jabberwocky.

Consequently the news that The Battlefields Trust had a poet-in-residence was distinctly underwhelming. Well, an interesting idea, but, like "So what?" And it's a performance poet, too.

Anyway, having done this for 12 months she has written enough poems to justify publishing a small book through the Trust.

When we went to Derby Phil turned up with a box of the books as he's a BT Trustee and he's just been to the launch. Phil was very enthusiastic about the book. He's a bit more understanding of poetry than I am. I think he has Eng Lit A Level. He certainly knows his Shakespeare better than me.

Any how, it's all in a good cause, so I bought a copy of "Thorn Kings" by Clare Mulley at Derby and sat down to read a few poems in between playing the Northampton 1460 game.

The poems are based mainly around visits to four battlefields, - Hastings, Towton, Bosworth and Naseby. I can forgive her for not including our very own Northampton as it isn't as well developed in our national consciousness as the others, and I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere.

And they're very good. From the introduction to the explanations it's a gem of a little book. As they're supposed to be performed it helps if you can read them aloud in your head. They're also not at all what I expected. Actually I don't know what I expected, so I'm not sure that statement is relevant. They cover general reflections on battlefields - for example how many are fought on watersheds - to specific incidents such as Okey's dragoons firing at Naseby or individuals such as William the Bastard. The final poem is a general series of thoughts about the conversations held that lead eventually to conflict. One of the best is about the Cock Beck at Towton.

So, a thumbs up from me. here's a link to the Battlfield Trust website about how you can buy it for the little amount of £4. Or you can visit us (well, Phil mostly) at the Society of Ancients/Battlefields Trust/Northampton Battlefields Society stand at most shows and get it there. It was our biggest seller at Derby.

In fact, I was sufficiently inspired to pen the following after I had to walk Northampton Field to take some photographs for the Northampton Battlefields Society.

2pm Northampton September 2016

This time, two hours after noon, there is no meeting denied.

The swish of club, the strike of ball,
Must stand for that of arrow and of blade.
The warning cries of players replace those
Of battle cry and scream of pain.

The dogs let slip are not of war
(although those were of a more martial father)
But are those of hurried half-hour exercise
Between the phone calls and the meeting
That take the place of lunch.

The stream that once washed away a scheme of guns
Now barely fills a dip or hollow and
The trees where a Parliament not of Devils now meets
Stand where once a palisade was breached
By betraying hand.

And the sun shines, unseasonably

As once the rain fell.

(By way of explanation we believe the line of the Lancastrian fortification now runs along a copse called "The Rookery". The collective noun for a rooks is a Parliament. The rest you can work out for yourselves.)

*I actually did French A Level, so I've studied more French than English Lit.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Playing Burma In Shedquarters

...or PBI Shedquarters. Yes, after a break of several years my XIVth Army chaps are out on the table again. Well, three and a half years about. At that time I remarked that I'd just finished a battery of 25pdrs and I really should get round to using them soon. Interesting definition of soon.

The 25pdr is the gun of the Burma campaign. Versatile and jeep transportable it went everywhere and delivered much needed firepower often at quite close range.

Rather than play PBI straight I set up a scenario. Honestly I've hated EVERY pre-game PBI sequence, and the whole reinforcement process which means you can win without putting anything on the table is just irritating. I've got toys, I'm going to use them.

Here we have a British base in the jungle with a radio station (see later photo) defended by a West African company, a couple of Rajput Grants and some emplaced 25pdrs.

I'm using bits of my Matchbox 1:72nd airfield, that looks just right in this scale.

The position includes the remains of an abandoned Buddhist temple in the jungle.

Look! I promised a radio mast. It's one of Phil's. I like it a lot.

We had a lot of jungle and we play a house rule that means it is quicker to move through connected bits of jungle in place of the not completely satisfactory "sneak movement" rule in basic PBI. Suddenly lots of Japanese appeared close up to the temple, and a serious firefight broke out. Phil, as the Japanese, rolled a lot of sixes, but Will saw him off by refusing to roll any ones.

The defenders made use of their armour and guns to keep the attackers at a distance.

However the Japanese had a medium mortar battery and having found a clearing to deploy it in plastered one of the gun positions and knocked out the 25pdr.

In the centre the other howitzer managed to hit the Japanese infantry guns massed on the edge of the village.

One of the attacking tankettes also got the worst of an exchange with a Grant.

Although Will had reinforced his stricken gun emplacement Phil was able to launch a bayonet charge. At this point Phil, at my prompting, was bemoaning the problem with the square by square activation that makes it difficult to launch massed bayonet charges from multiple locations.

The brief but fierce melee rendered all of the attackers dead. The run of sixes at the start of the game had now deserted Phil and he suffered accordingly.

We broke the game at that point as it was getting late. I had under estimated the amount of time we would need for the amount of figures on the table, and Phil hadn't even brought on his reserve platoon yet.

Any how, I managed to blood the 25pdrs at last which was great. I find PBI an infuriating game. I love it and it has a more believable feel than most if not all other low level WW2 games. The motivation/activation sequence gives the players a lot to think about and rewards good decision making. The amount of dice can make it very frustrating (says the man who loves AMW!) as plans can go amiss for no reason other than rank bad luck.

We were using the last but one version of PBI with our own amendments. I was a bigger fan of PBI2, the version before that, but this version fixes some of the issues with them, so that's why we use them. I tried to read the latest version and knowing that Martin has a rigorous playtest process with players that it will be delivering what the PBI die-hards want. However it isn't doing anything extra that I want.

Perhaps it is time for me to write my own.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Another day's wargaming

Being at Derby all weekend clearly wasn't enough, so I spent the following Monday wargaming all day with Richard L, Phil & Chris A.

This day has been on and off for over six months so it was good finally to get it going.

We usually start with a big ancient refight using the AMW/Lost Battles combo. This time round was Gaugamela, which I was surprised to find I'd never done full scale like this. I did it as a matrix game for the SOA Battle Day many years ago and also worked out an 8 unit AMW set up that was printed in Slingshot.

As you can see it needs a lot of toys. In particular it needs lots and lots of cavalry.

Pretty much everything I own was pressed into service. There are some Gauls amongst Alexander's men, and Darius is making use of Indians and Neo-Assyrians.

Richard and Phil took Alexander, with Richard as Alex and Phil as Parmenio. Chris was Darius (looking very relaxed) and I was a lackey. Either Bessos or Mazeus.

Like most refights of this battle the Macedonians didn't follow Alex's plan completely. Partly because the hole to attack into never really opens up, and partly because the phalangites are usually too effective to hold back.

Parmenio's problem is avoiding being enveloped by the masses of cavalry out on the Persian right flank. Alexander's problem is that he appears to have dropped the dice on the floor.

Alexander got stuck straight in, and in common with a lot of rule sets and games the elite cavalry started on a succession of rolling 1s & 2s, especially against levy. The white Persian labels denote levy units; the white Macedonian ones Elite. Everything else is average.

The light infantry are involved in a desperate tussle to allow/prevent the scythe chariots getting at the phalanx.

As you can see my cavalry has been pushed out quite wide to the right in order to get round Parmenio's left. This will cost me later on as it'll take me too long to get them back into the fray. On the right Alexander is making headway at last. Alex's selective re-rolls can make a real difference in combat.

Can't help him with the death roll, however, and Alexander goes down under the hooves of a dying Persian unit. Not even proper Persians, either. Them's is Indians.

Darius threw caution to the winds and closed down the phalanx with his cavalry. I was down the other end of the table with my own problems.

I've got half my cavalry struggling to get to grips with some Thracians. It's taking longer than I'd hoped.

Alexander's wing is slowing down badly. The Companions have failed to make a breakthrough, although the superior Macedonian/Greek foot is making a difference now.

The scythe chariots shrugged off the hail of javelins and closed in on the phalanx. They did a bit of damage, IIRC, but they're then taken off, so you lose a unit by attacking with them.

Alex's wing is looking a bit more open now the chariots and light infantry is mostly out of the way.

The centre starts to become the meat grinder you get when a phalanx gets stuck in.

Parmenio has succeeded in creating an internal flank and throws in all he's got spare. A brilliant move not backed up by brilliant dice rolling.

And then his personal unit takes a lot of hits and Darius goes the way of Alexander.

The Persians have a few complete units in being, but their centre is shot through and the spare units I've got are being shepherded wide.

Parmenio is looking like King of the Battlefield now, causing mayhem in the centre.

We didn't break all the required number of units, but it was clear that the Persians were going to go down. Rather than play out another hour's end game attrition we called it a day and stopped for lunch.

Whilst we'd been hard at it in Shedquarters, Mrs Trebian had made us some ham/cheese/salad wholemeal rolls for lunch. Very handy as it meant I had time to clear the table for the afternoon's games. Have I ever mentioned that Mrs T's wonderful? Well, now I have.

On to the afternoon session.

Richard has never played AK47 Republic in any version, so we dragged out our copies of first edition, divided the table into two and set to it.

I drew Chris, who took a Colonial Settlers army out of those on offer. Richard is a Dictatorship, I think, based on the hat. I've got a Religious Army and I'm wearing a blue beret. Phil's another Colonial, but Chris has my only pith helmet.

This is a type 1 "very open indeed" terrain. The brown wiggly line is a dried up river bed. I had a poor political phase, not getting much in the way of benefit. Didn't get the unit quality upgrades in the last box, which is always a bad sign.

Phil didn't choose a type for his terrain board, just put out lots of cool stuff. He's posted a full account over on his blog.

I don't have a coherent narrative for my game. I attacked. At some point Chris got an air strike and I lost a tank. Rats. That's an Me109 pretending to be a ground attack Cessna.

I did manage to seize one objective, but I had to hide behind it as Chris had professional tanks and armoured cars.

At one point I reckoned I had him, as I got a unit of reinforcements on in the corner near an objective. But then Chris got a unit on and shot at me a lot and I had to run away.

I did have an early close assault on my main objective, but my militia suffered several 1s on the morale rolls and fled, leaving only bodies behind. Chris' units resolutely refused to roll rubbish dice for morale, even the professional ones. Which is just plain unfair.

This is the table at the end of the game. A last desperate attempt to storm the main village objective is just about to end in tears, and Chris has retreated everything away from the edges so I can't shoot at him.

I took a 70 point pasting, which isn't as bad as it seems.

Phil lost by more than 90.

And then it was time to go out for dinner.

We had some PBI planned for the evening, but Richard is an important executive and got summoned away for an early start the following day. So when we got back we drank some coffee and agreed we'd had a really good day.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Derby Day 2016

Well, not just a day. The whole weekend.

Yes, it's that time of the year again for the annual trip to Derby World Wargames at Castle Donington. As trailed on this blog I was there with Phil & Chris on both days, promoting the Northampton Battlefields Society, the Battlefields Trust & the Society of Ancients.

Mostly I was there to get people to play my totally excellent "Northampton 1460" game.

We had quite a good spot, on a walkway but surrounded by traders. We had Baccus behind us and Essex opposite, for example.

We snaffled an extra table to give us our favoured layout of game at one end and promotional materials behind.

Confusingly all this kit is Battlefields Society display items, not Society of Ancients.

Everyone likes to try it out from time to time. Although not the chain mail coif which is heavy and oily and really awkward to put on a display head, let alone your own.

I only got to play one other game all weekend as we were really busy doing Our Game. I sat down with Baccus and ran through their ECW-using-Bolt-Action-style-dice-drawing-from-a-bag game.

Whilst it's a work in progress it was a quick enough system and was quite fun. The fun was aided by me inflicting a crushing defeat on my opponent through brilliant tactics*.

My right flank cavalry have just routed one Parliamentarian cavalry unit, and I'm lining up to do the same on the second.

The die is drawn to indicate which side is moving. The number tells you what it's doing (6=charging) the blobs are hit markers. The first game design point we came up against was that the Royalist dice had rounded edges and the Parliamentarian dice square ones, so you could tell what you were drawing from the bag. They solved this after our game by buying new dice. The other issue was with melee combat. The way the melee worked meant that if a unit receiving a charge didn't break on the initial contact it then effectively got two hacks back before the chargers rolled again, meaning they were likely to break. An interesting mechanism, but probably not as intended for this game.

So, the main business of the weekend. Could we get lots of people to play the Northampton game and be completely ignored in the best participation game award category?**

Well, we played it 18 times in two days, 11 Saturday and 7 Sunday. The results broadly favoured the Yorkists as you can see from the table:

Victory Margin
Yorkist Wins
Lancastrian Wins

Before you decide the game is biased or broken or favours the Yorkists just reflect that an historic result is a +5 to the Yorkists. What that means is that throughout the weekend the Lancastrains normally beat history.

It's probably best to play the game twice and swap sides, as the couple in the above picture did. They both won with the Yorkists, him by +4, her by +3. There was much gloating, clearly the secret of a happy marriage.

Another good show, although my photo record is obviously a bit weak. Picked up some more Great War artillery from Baccus and more bases from Warbases plus a book from Dave L. My purchases were down having been to Partizan barely a month earlier. I saw a couple of Ospreys I was tempted by, but they were at full price. As someone remarked to me "I can't recall when I last paid the cover price for an Osprey". How true.

We had a lot of good passing traffic on the stand and the chance to talk about Northampton, game design and why 28mm figures might not be the answer for this battle was rewarding.

I also noted a couple of slight glitches in the game system which I need to work on. I think I'll be doubling the victory points to give a wider spread of results too.

* - Die rolling
** - Yes. On both counts

Friday, 30 September 2016

Northampton on the move

Heads up to all of you on this side of the pond and in the East Midlands area that I'll be at the Derby World Wargames show at Castle Donington International Exhibition Centre this weekend 1st & 2nd October. I'll be on the Northampton Battlefields Society / Society of Ancients stand with Phil Steele with my Northampton 1460 game. Hopefully some of you will find the time to come along, say hello and play the game. It went really well at Newark a month or so back, so hopefully you won't be disappointed.

For those of you interested in the Northampton battlefield a little update. The Borough Council is running a project to enhance the Delapre Abbey area and improve the walk ways round the battlefield. This should make it easier for disabled access, safer to approach certain areas by moving pathways away from the road and installing signage and viewing points.

It all sounds very interesting but as ever there's local politics involved. This is all happening at the same time as a major development project at the Abbey which will see a Wars of the Roses gallery and exhibit installed as well as other exhibits about the Abbey's history. It's all very exciting and long overdue. At the Northampton Battlefields Society we're actively involved in some areas and trying to get a greater involvement still. We're really keen to help out with the design, where the walk goes and what's put on the signs and information panels. That can be a challenge as for all of our various skills we're not a full time professional body and we have to balance what we like and what we want to support with what we think is destructive to the battlefield area or ill-informed in any explanations.

Which is a way of saying there haven't been many blog posts recently as I've been writing a submission for the local relevant committee members of the Council with the help of Phil (who is our Vice Chairman) & Chairman Mike. Hopefully they'll be impressed as I've wheeled out all of the report writing skills honed over years as a professional bureaucrat and my recent career as a management consultant.

I'm positive on this, and I'm really a half-full kind of guy, but there's always the fear when dealing with local politics that the glass is actually half empty. What we want to avoid is being in  the position of being consulted on a big project and then find we object to the outcome. There's the nightmare scenario of standing at a viewpoint on a battlefield tour next to a brand new shiny information panel and having to say it's wrong.

Or it could all go swimmingly!

Friday, 16 September 2016

What a bunch of Guise-ers (part 2)

Due to a full calendar for both me & Phil next week I ran through the last few moves of the Battle of Guise this afternoon whilst the rain thrashed down.

The French started with an attack on the forward elements of X Active Corps, but were thrown back with losses.

Next up the French counter attacked Sains, which the Germans had seized as a bit of a surprise. The way firing at troops in closed terrain works is for hit markers to be placed (the shell holes). When an assault goes in you draw a card per hit marker with reds indicating actual hits, blacks misses. The artillery as you can see was very effective and the occupying brigade was wiped out, allowing the French assault to be a walk over.

This picture's a bit fuzzy, - I was using my camera phone not my usual SLR. The reverses in the centre were compounded as X Active Corps became exhausted. At the bottom of the picture a French brigade from III Corps has occupied Guise.

Garde Corps was unable to get to grips with its French opponents, and the issues with X Active Corps were starting to expose its rear.

Further attacks in the centre threw X Active Corps off the plateau and overran their howitzers. Garde Corps took a bit of a pounding from French guns firing down from the plateau.

In the final turn French X corps became exhausted, but elsewhere the German position had completely collapsed and they were falling back behind the Oise. The drive on Paris had halted, but the pressure on the BEF had not been relieved as the Germans drew the full attention of the equivalent of 4 French corps. So a bit of a draw on victory conditions although a complete reverse for the Germans.

It is difficult to see how to fashion a winning German position from this scenario. However, looking at the map I see I missed a bridge across the Oise in the set up which would have enabled me to get Garde Corps across the river much more quickly and on much broader a front, bringing my superior artillery in to operation earlier on. One of my issues was the bottle neck trying to get my guns over the river.

The French were also very fortunate in the use of independent commands. They very rarely drew a club which prevents them moving, hence the big out flanking move that got the brigade into Guise.

Having said that I still have a great deal of interest in using Op14 further, although I need to make sure I get to know the rules a lot better. There aren't many of them but they do have quite a few nuances and you need to keep on top of them for the game to work fully.