Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Edg-ing fowards

One project I am committed to over the next 12 months is to do with another local battlefield. Edgcote, fought in July  1469 as part of the "Robin of Redesdale" rebellion, is just inside the boundaries of Northamptonshire and so falls within the remit of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society.

In recent years we have focused mainly on the 1460 battle in the grounds of Delapre Abbey but we have always recognised that we owe a duty of care towards less well known battlefields. Edgcote suffers from being one of those battles that is only not well known, but there are also doubts about exactly where it is. The evidence allows us to place it within a 2 1/2 mile square area between Chipping Warden, Culworth and Thorpe Mandeville with a fair amount of certainty.

The one dedicated book on the subject "Where both the hosts fought" by Phillip Haigh argues for it being fought at the northern end of the square, across the River Cherwell and Trafford Bridge. My go-to book on most British battles, Richard Brooks' "Cassell's Battlefields of Britain & Ireland" has it towards the south. Both set ups are on the Battlefield Trust website's map of the battle.

Haigh's book is good because he reprints most of the available sources as an appendix, so you can make up your own minds. I'm leaning towards Brooks' interpretation because the sources don't mention fighting over a bridge or stream, which is the case with Haigh's analysis.

Haigh, of course, has got form as his "Military History of the Wars of the Roses" repeats the traditional error in respect of the positioning of Northampton.

I'm also more inclined to accept Brooks' numbers against both Haigh and the Battlefields Trust. Another problem with his conclusions is that he hasn't tried to fit the number of men involved on the real estate available. If you try to draw them to scale on the map he suggests they just don't fit. His best estimate is that the armies are about 20,000 strong. Assuming a depth of 8 men per unit at two foot per man (and that's tight) the frontage ends  up being just shy of a mile. That's a lot of ground space. If you go for a shallower formation - which is more likely - of 4 men at a more generous frontage of a yard per man then that's over 2 3/4 miles. For reference the blocks on the maps on the Battlefield Trust's website are about 1,000 yards. The Trust reckons on 5-6,000 men, which fits with their version of Haigh's layout. If you go for the more likely position, then the numbers have to be down to 2-3,000 to fit, which is closer to Brooks' interpretation.

Fascinating, isn't it?

The area itself is under threat from the HS2 project. Depending on which interpretation you take the line either goes through the battlefield (Haigh), or mucks up the view from it and the possible approach marches (Brooks), although an old disused rail line does this a bit already.

As part of our work on the battlefield the Society is going to build a battlefield model/game. We've been supplied with a fair number of figures by Wargames Foundry from the original Perry range, back in the day. These are now 28mm, although I'm sure when I acquired some they were 25mm. Hey-ho.

Phil & I are working on this together, and we're kicking a few ideas around, as I mentioned on one of my COW blogs. Phil has been thinking about this for a while, and he has a view that the gap in our show armoury is the lack of a 28mm classic modern style wargame, using big figures and Warlord Games type rules. Whilst this isn't my normal stomping ground what he says makes a lot of sense. There are people who won't give the time of day to a table with 15mm figures on it, let alone a game that uses wooden blocks with flags stuck on matchsticks.

Which is why I've spent some of today painting some 28mm figures, and thinking about "Hail Caesar"..

Here are 5 men at arms. I went for them as being mostly in armour, they are the easiest to paint. Thin black undercoats and a silver dry brush, and mostly that's it. The non-armour items have been blocked and then covered with tinted varnish. The challenge here will be for the painting styles for the figures to match. Either that or we glue them close together, with Phil's nicely painted chaps round the outside.

Any thoughts out there?

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Monday Nights, revisited

For the first time in quite a while the Monday Night Group met on a Monday night. We also had a good turnout, with Phil, Will & Chris K joining me in Shedquarters for a game of Basic Impetus with my Reconquista armies.

We're at an odd point in the year for me. My wargaming year works towards producing something interesting for COW. Sometimes I have several ideas on the go before one emerges as the project for the year. This year it was the Spanish Civil War. Having thrashed that to death over the last six months it is time to think about what next. There's a good prospect of  return to China, but the issues with the Lancashire Games figures have put that project back on hold. They are unusable with my existing 15mm armies, and I'm not in the mood to shell out on replacements for the moment.

So for this evening it was out with some of my Hat plastics. My relationship with Basic Impetus is a bit on-off. I want to like BI a lot. I do like some of it, but some of it is just infuriating. The question for me is whether as a group we can compromise on playing the version as published, or whether surgery will take place. In any event there's a long term aim of using them for the Parataikene Battle Day next year, but in the interim there's an opportunity to use them where Phil & I think they work the best, - with hard charging knights.

For a change I ran through the BI set up process from the start. Chris is to the left with the Christians, Will to the right with the Andalusians.

Both sides thought it would be good to close the distance, so of they set towards each other. It was obvious that the end of the line nearest the camera would be the decisive point, with the Spanish cavalry massed for a breakthrough charge.

As it was due to some naive movement and poor luck on the initiative roll Chris took some archery damage, before Will was able to engage the Caballeros Villanos with some of his heavier cavalry. They were a well matched pair of opponents.

Will won the initial combat, and drove Chris back. However he was unable to capitalise in the next round of fighting, and the melee stalled. Meanwhile in the wood Will's Light Infantry was trying to clear out Chris' skirmishers. By this time Phil has arrived, and he's at the other end, doing something with light cavalry.

Chris is cleared from the wood, without taking casualties. He is being unlucky with the initiative rolls, as it enables the archers to get another round of shooting at his knights.

Finally the knights are off the leash. One unit, out of shot, joins in with the existing combat and breaks the Andalusan cavalry. In the middle those units of archers look like they're for it.

Crazily Chris' unit beats the archers and they fall back, but his cavalry pursuit move falls short of them, so he misses out on the second round of combat that would have probably done for both of them. I'm all for random pursuit, but infantry out running knights....I don't think so.

Will's cunning in holding back some cavalry to keep them fresh pays off, as he wins the initiative roll again, and is able to pick off Chris' central unit of knights, and break the Villanos as well. Christian army through the break point (due to some other losses at the opposite end of the table) and it is game over.

A slightly frustrating game where the luck didn't run for the Christian army, and one initial error due to lack of familiarity with the rules really made them pay.

So I'm still in a quandary with BI, although it passed the evening pleasantly enough, and does give a quick, clear, outcome. It'll be back, but in what form it is difficult to say.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Some Sepoy Shenannigans

Having downloaded the complete works of G A Henty to my Kindle recently I read some of his books whilst on holiday, including "In Time of Peril", his novel of the Indian Mutiny. This reminded me that once upon a time, many years ago, I once wrote a set of rules called "Sepoy" that were published by Partizan Press.

So why not wheel them out and have another go with them? It's only been 23 years since the publication, and probably over 20 years since we last played a game with them*. Plus they've never had a run out in Shedquarters.

I put a load of Mutineers behind a wall on the edge of a village...

...and set up some Madras Fusiliers and Sikhs to attack them. It all felt a little odd. I've been blogging for nearly 8 years now, so these chaps are all pre-"Wargaming for Grownups". Also, I have no pictures of what my games looked like as I didn't have a digital camera back then, so photographing a wargame was rare.

My mutineers dress in both Red and White. I had some Badmashes amongst the buildings too, and some artillery.

Phil & Chris K ran the Loyalist troops, I plumpired their opponents. I started off trying to flank them with my cavalry. I rolled fairly well for unit activations this turn, so I had a free hand. This was not to last

I also did well with my guns, rolling the first of many double sixes I produced in the evening.

These hits forced some of the Madras boys back a bit.

Did the same on the other flank, and shook up the Sikhs, too.

Next turn I launched a charge at the Loyalist horse, which was a bunch of civilians.

Outnumbered they turned and fled, pursued by by Sepoy horse.

The Loyalists carried on their advance, but their fire was ineffective.

Finally the Sikhs got close enough to launch a bayonet charge, and went in with a vengeance. They count as Ferocious under the rules.

They drove the Sepoys back from the wall, breaking several units.

Then Phil got in amongst the Mutineers with his Fusiliers, and more Sepoys fled.

Soon it was all men to the rear, as the Mutineers turned and fled....

...leaving the Loyalists in possession of the field. You can just see top right that my Native Cavalry also broke when the Civilian horse returned and charged them from behind.

The game went okay, - we had no Officer Incidents, which was a big disappointment. The rules slowly came back to me, but Phil & Chris had little memory of the system. They still work, although I suspect if I were to write them again I might take a slightly different approach and feel more confident about modifying the "File Leader" basic system.

But it was fun to see those Minifigs again.

* Long gaps between trying things out are not unusual. Phil had a 10mm Franco-Prussian War system that we trialled a couple of times. He's keen to give it another go. I'm pretty sure that the last time we played the game was when my son was in Infant school. He's now buying his own house.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Sunday

Up at a reasonable time for an excellent cooked breakfast, Knuston style. My only criticism is the paucity of brown sauce supplies. A bottle of the old HP on the table would be a real improvement.

My morning's entertainment was "Rattenkrieg", Andrew Rolph's game of the siege of Stalingrad, based on Mike Elliott's Easter Rising game of last year. Andrew has been a supporter of my games since attending COW last year, so I was keen to see what he had been up to.

Andrew introduced it as a two player game, but in true COW style we played it with three players aside. And very convivial it turned out to be. There's nothing like discussing your secret strategy ideas in front of the opposition (this is not a criticism of the game, which was very enjoyable)

I got to be the Soviet Northern Front commander in this one. That's the Germans getting themselves sorted out in the picture above. The zonal movement system was very simple, and the areas were colour coded as to whether they were open or city spaces.

The combat system took the playing pieces off the board into a tactical display where a form of DBA combat resolution system was used. Defences, such as rubble, are placed in the row between the two armies, which deploy from the centre outwards. Rubble, by the way, is caused by shelling areas of the City, and also reduces movement.

Lots of opportunities for pointing.

This illustrates my low point as a commander. Having withdrawn into the grey city spaces I failed to cover that knife shaped open space, pointing directly into the Red October and Barricades space. The Germans slipped round behind me and occupied one of the areas leading to the bridges. I managed to seal the area off so it caused no more problems, and was able to recover it when the units were withdrawn to form an army reserve.

It was a very tense game and featured a hard fought engagement in the Grain Elevator, so it was doing something right.

In summary an excellent session for an excellent game. With a few tweaks as discussed at the time it would make an interesting commercial product. Not bad at all for Andrew's first COW session.

After this it was time for a smashing roast Sunday lunch and a few more games of "Northampton 1460" before the WD AGM and time to take our leavings. Until next year.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Saturday afternoon and evening.

Having spent the morning running my own session in a converted stable block, it was time to go and sample other people's hard work.

My first after lunch session was John Bassett's "Fall Edelweiss". John is better known for his semi-role playing games set either in the ancient world or in the dark corners of the modern day. As someone who has been involved in an Eastern Front campaign on and off for about 30 years, mostly as the Russians, I as intrigued to see John's take on this, the Caucasus campaign of 1942.

John's aim was to have a game that focused on logistics and intelligence, so the game board and the units were all slightly stylised. As the Germans we entered from the top of the map, with the aim of taking Maikop, Grozny & Baku and also severing the pipeline on the Caspian Sea (right hand side of the map as you look at it).

White areas are open ground, green are hills and brown are mountains. Attacking into the latter two reduces the number of regular divisions you can use, but allows any number of mountain troops. I was von Kleist, so I had loads of armour and not a lot of the mountain chaps. Units were represented by oblongs of coloured card, with the unit description and key details on one side. Placed face down, and with the introduction of blanks they provided a solid hidden movement system without too much fuss.

The Soviets deployed first. The face down blue units on top of the reds are our Recce. JB simply picked up the stacks we were recce'ing and gave a vague description of what was there. We could then decide where to advance, and where to allocate resources. Of course you could just charge straight in, but if you do you have to spend the log first, and you only get half back if there's nothing there to fight. I did it one or twice when I was sure I knew that the Russians had fallen back into a square, so I would have something to fight. The combat mechanism was simple, - you could roll as many dice as you spent log points, and you could increase them for the schwerpunkt units, tripling or doubling them which burnt through log, but really frightened the Ruskis.

That's the Russian HQ staff at the far end...

... and this shows more of the Germans at the other end.

Here's Russian Mike pondering really carefully where to place. He's about to descend into a very dark place in the face of the overwhelming power of German armour. As someone who has played Russians on this front A LOT it is easy to be bedazzled by the Germans. You just have to remember that's there's an awful lot of the Soviet Union and only a finite amount of Germans. The trick with the Germans is to appear larger than you are and make the Soviets feel inferior.

Ignoring orders to veer to the left I have punched straight through the middle, and even taken on Russian forces in Cherkessk,  a hilly area. The intention here was to find a big stack of Russians and destroy them to put them on the back foot and frit the living daylights out of them. It succeeded really well, which was lucky as I'd had to spare some of my infantry to help the Roumanians take Armavir as a preliminary to the assault on Maikop.

Next turn I left a covering force in Cherkessk (actually all dummies) and drove to the coast. I was sure that the Soviets were in sufficient awe of our military prowess not to counterattack, as proved to be the case.

So, although we didn't capture everything we meant to we had a pretty good run, so I'm claiming a victory.

It was an interesting game, and my write up doesn't do justice to the simple elegance of the recce and log systems. They were the key to victory and once we'd got ourselves sorted out we did okay. In retrospect there were things that as a team we could have tightened up, buy nothing major. My only issue with the game was that the board needed to be bigger with clearer locations. I went the wrong way in one turn as the roads (or lack of them) were obscured by the scruffy layout of the Soviet unit cards.

After a tea break with cake it was time for the second session; Martin Rapier running Phil Sabin's Kartenspiel.

Kartenspiel is a simple card based resource management game simulating early 19th century warfare. Each side has 5 players, being an army commander and four corps commanders. The army commander has half a pack of standard playing cards. Plain cards are infantry, court cards cavalry. These are allocated to corps commanders and once given can't be got back. As the game is won by beating a corp (ie removing all its cards in combat), you need to keep some in reserve to prevent the breakthrough becoming a rout.

Players decide each turn whether they are attacking or defending,what they are using and if their cavalry are charging. They indicate the decision to attack or defend through a simplified version of rock, paper, scissors without the scissors, same with whether the cavalry is charging or not.

We had a brilliant plan (it was mine, as I was army commander). We would refuse the left and hit them with a strong right wing. Mainly the right was run by John Salt (in red with the beard) as after an initial rebuff I put Alan sitting next to him on the defensive.

We nearly had the game won, and had pulled in all their reserves when our left wing corps commander gave the wrong order and attacked. Caught in the open field by a stronger opponent he was overwhelmed and destroyed. Luckily I had some cavalry in reserve against our breakthrough which covered our retreat. By this time Jerry, leading the other army, admitted he had no reserves so if we hadn't screwed it up we'd have been through with a complete win the following turn.

After the first game I dropped out to have a look about. Kartenspiel is a fun game that takes no more than 30 minutes and I can see it being a lot of fun at a club Christmas evening.

Popping into the Lounge I had a quick glimpse at Ian Drury's Pony Wars game "Hurrah Boys, We've Got Them!"

I clearly had come in at a tense moment as the US Cavalry were preparing to mount up and charge the Redskins, having given them a volley with their car-beens.

Nice looking terrain, with a slightly more subtle grid marked on it than I use for my SCW game.

Elsewhere Tom was running an epic matrix game called "Baltic Challenge". I was intending to play this in the evening, but it got shifted to the afternoon after I'd signed up to Kartenspiel. It looked really interesting, being an analysis of issues that might arise in the Baltic states today between Russia and the USA as well as the locals.

Across the lawn John B was running another matrix game, this time based on the Baader-Meinhof gang. This was another game I would have liked to have played in, but John ran it back-to-back with "Fall Edelweiss", so I thought it was only fair to give him a break from me.

It was then time to go for dinner, to discuss our day's achievements.

The evening's main entertainment for me was a WW1 trench raid RPG run by Tom, in the style he has successfully used for WW2 commando raids, secret agents and weird stuff and spaceships.

The game starts with roles being allocated. I ducked out of being the leader this time, nestling in to a part half way down the hierarchy as a Corporal

You then have to share the kit out and make sure you have everything you need for the mission. It is important to co-ordinate between players to make sure all the important kit gets taken. As you can see I had the handcuffs for our prisoner.

The leader then gives us a briefing about how to perform the mission that Tom has given us.

For this game Tom had made some really nice big hexes for us to navigate our way across. On this one we've just found a Jerry listening post and done for the chaps manning it. We're now just about to crawl down the access tunnel to the main trench.

After this it all went a bit pear shaped and we never did find out what the Germans were up to, although we did capture a prisoner. The Lieutenant got wounded, as did a couple of other chaps, and the Sergeant got killed. Not a rousing success, but Tom was very kind to us in saying we'd done jolly well.

Then most of us died a week later when the Germans unleashed their new fiendish gas distribution method.

After this there was some time for a few more games of "Northampton 1460" before I headed off to bed.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Saturday Morning

Having warmed up with "Northampton 1460" the previous evening my big show of the weekend was the full Saturday morning double session for my Spanish Civil War game "If you (still) tolerate this" that regular readers will know has dominated the last 6 months in Shedquarters. On receiving the COW programme I realised that the session was a bit of a dinosaur. Not only am I using revised rules from 5 years a go, but it's the only full-fat table top 15mm figure game with serious amounts of metal on the table. Except, perhaps, for Ian Drury's Pony Wars game. Had I missed the Conference's Zeitgeist this year? It was a relief to see the sign-up sheet full, so thanks to Rich, Alan, Tony, (Republicans) Alex, Mathew and Andrew (Nationalists).

Having staggered off to bed at 2am I set the alarm for 6:30am to give me a fighting chance of getting everything set up before breakfast.

Gee. This was easier 30 years a go.

On the positive side I was down in the Practical Room, which is just off the main car park, so I could back the car pretty much all the way up to the door to unload.

I hadn't written a full scenario but I had a good idea in my head of how I wanted it to go, using the "Three Bridges" layout I tried a couple of times in the last year, including at one of my whole day wargaming days. Tony threw in a curve ball the previous evening, saying he'd only be able to make the second half, so I sketched in a reinforcement role in my head. Then Alex said he could only make the first half, so what the hell, I decided to play it by ear mostly.

Luckily both Will & Phil from the Shedquarters Regulars turned up as technical advisors and to fill in for the missing. Many thanks to both of them. It was really appreciated, as I'm reluctant to ask them to get involved as they have usually suffered enough for my art in the months leading up to COW.

The set up turned out to be not too difficult, with my sub-conscious really doing the business as I laid the terrain out.

In this fictional encounter I went for a broad mix of troops on both sides. The Nationalists (top left above, on the right below) had a small Italian Division, complete with tankettes, field guns and an AA truck. They were helped out by two mixed brigades of Regular Army each with a Falange Bandera attached, and some guns and at the far end some Condor Legion Panzer 1s.

The Republicans had a couple of weak Basque brigades, holding two of the river crossings, and an International brigade with some T26s arriving to help take the third.

I also placed a motorised column of Communist Militias off table, for Tony to use when he arrived. I kept the arrival point open to allow me to balance up the game after the initial Nationalist successes.

The Italians under Mathew really went for it, and rushed the village with all they had. This was a high risk strategy and it didn't really work. Caught in the open the infantry got badly shot up, and the leading tankette squadron broke into the village losing its infantry support. The plucky Basques had it at them with grenades and whatever else came to hand, inflicting numerous casualties and leaving the squadron going up in smoke.

Just when it looked like it couldn't get any worse for the Nationalists a flight of Ratas turned up, managed to avoid their own troops, and shot up a fair few Fascists. The rules worked okay, which was a massive relief.

Over on the Republican right Alan had put one of his T-26s on the bridge. Mostly because he could, I think. This was the only bridge/town not occupied at the start of the game, and Andrew had got in there in force, with Panzers, so this was a fairly ballsy move.

However, supported by IB infantry he was able to take control of the Cathedral area, driving the Fascists back. The Germans may reconsider the efficacy of having their armour equipped with HMGs when coming up against AFVs with a decent sized gun.

In the centre Alex seems to have come unstuck. I have few pictures of this action, but he seems to have been reduced to a single unit of Falange skulking in an olive grove (for those of you not familiar with my terrain conventions, in Spain dry stone walls denote a sunken road and hedges the boundaries of olive groves). Or perhaps he had ignored the central village, and sent his regular infantry off to support Andrew on the left.

Mathew had had enough of this Basque impudence and brought up his flamethrower tank to sort them out.

This softened them up sufficiently for him to launch a successful combined infantry/armour assault on the village.

We had a quick break for tea/coffee/home made biscuits enabling Alex to sneak out and be replaced by Will. Phil was taking an increasingly active role as Soviet advisor to the Republic, and Tony now turned up with his workers' militia in trucks, lead by a brave commander in a commandeered white staff car. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, next turn one of the Nationalists' Fiat squadrons turned up, and despite losing a plane to AA fire they succeeded in shooting up the column, including the white car, killing its occupant. It could have been worse. Mrs Tony was there and kindly chose the Fiats. It could have been a whole flight of He111s. (On a side point here there was another air attack by the Republicans at some point, where they shot down one of their own aircraft. So that was interesting.)

This is the last picture of the game. The Nationalists are mostly going backwards, although they are still clutching at straws in the centre.

Everyone pronounced themselves happy with the game and, except for Alex stuck, it for the whole double session. I got quite a few "drop ins" who sat and watched for a while. I was pleased with how it went, although having just re-introduced it I again forgot the "retire under fire" rule.

I reckon I've got this game about where I want it. Until I invest in one of those table tops with layers of foam over metal base with magnetised strips to make sunken roads more authentic looking I'm happy with the look of it all. The actual simulation looks good too. The combined arms attacks work well, but you need some luck and it all can become unstuck. The attack/counter attack mechanism in street fighting is quite exciting too.

So I think that can all go back in the box for a year or so.

Now off for a well deserved lunch and a pint of the excellent Phipps IPA that Knuston has introduced to the bar.