Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Back from Beyond

It has been quiet here as Mrs T and I have been off on our travels. This time we've been to Borneo to look at wildlife and stuff like that.

It wasn't a history trip, so I have come back with no pressing need for a new army. We did visit Kuching and Sarawak, so I had a quick read up on Brooke of Sarawak, the White Rajah. I got interested in him after reading "Flashman's Lady", but couldn't work out how to game it properly, so I've left it and not gone back.

We did some river trips in small long boats, which (except for the modern motors) are close to what the locals used in the 19th century. The waterways are mostly unchanged by human interference, so are close to their primal state. It was quite atmospheric moving slowly up them. Easy to imagine Brooke and his men making their way up cautiously, prepared for attack from pirates at any turn.


It can be quite claustrophobic at times, and the side tributaries come up on you quickly, and aren't obvious. Ideal for ambushes.


Brooke took a side wheeler paddle steamer up rivers like this. Mad as a hatter.

The original locals lived close to nature in the forest/jungle, and used blow pipes with poisoned darts. We got to shoot one in a visit. The blowpipes are about 6 feet long and come with a spear head/bayonet on the end.


You'll be pleased to hear that I managed to hit a lager can with my third dart at a range of 10 metres. The pipe pulled to the left, so once I'd worked that out it wasn't hard. Admittedly I was using a rest.


Because I hit something I got a dart to take away. The tail flight is made of soft bark, so it fits snuggly in the pipe. The pipes are drilled out of a single piece of ironwood, using a metal bore. Before the advent of Europeans they drilled them out with bamboo. Must have taken forever.

The only other point of note is that one of our guides did talk about local traditions a lot, and let us know that his grandmother was a shaman in the 1960s, and his grandfather was a headhunter at the same time, until he converted to Christianity. When he died, they found his head collection amongst his things.

Finally, nothing to do with wargaming or history, but I did take this rather good picture of an orangutan in the wild.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

ETA for the EVA confirmed

With the EVA all freshly painted and ready to go, as predicted this Monday's game was a return to China, and my "Taiping Era" rules, which last had an outing a couple of years ago.

I had a quick rad through the rules the day before and made some changes. The rules have always worked okay but they have a clunky resolution system that involves rolling up to a dozen or so dice one at a time. This can take a while and can lead to very big swings in fortune. In a moment of revelation I realised that I could have the dice all rolled together if I only changed the "Moral Vigour" value for the unit at the end of each phase, rather than on a dynamic basis. I therefore type up the changes and got ready for the game.


The Ever Victorious Army at full strength are attempting to liberate a small town near Shanghai from the grip of the Taiping forces. The Taipings have marched out in strength to confront them. When I was setting out the armies I realised I had failed to supply the EVA with any command stands. Accordingly the colonel of the Dragoon Guards had to stand in for F T Ward or Chinese Gordon. I couldn't decide which. Anyway, the EVA are on the right of the picture, the Pings on the left.

To represent the town I used my wooden Chinese puzzle walled house and garden that I wrote about a few years back. I put a bit of a wall round it, which improved the look. I resolved then and there to disassemble some of it and paint the walls white to resemble a small Chinese town of the period, and get some pantile sheets to use on the roofs. Another mini-project on the list. I also really need to make some more paddy fields and look again at my Bellona river sections so I can build some river sampans to put on them.


Before the boys arrived I took this picture of two battalions of the EVA advancing in column up the road. The unit with the Green Dragon banner are the Bodyguard, armed with modern rifles.


The Taiping forces had formed up in front of the town, but deployed their guns behind the walls. I should have put them on raised platforms so the could fire over their own chaps.


The Monday Night team for this game were Phil, Will, Chris K and me. Chris and I took the Long Hairs, and Phil & Will the EVA. Both sides edged towards each other, but being numerically stronger Chris and I pushed troops out wide to try and flank  the EVA. I hoped to do great things with our one unit of cavalry on the right. We had massed all of our bamboo spear armed units in the middle to try to get some shock effect.


The EVA's artillery started to make dents in our army's morale. The Mah Jong tiles represent where a unit's MV rating has fallen. I used to use really dinky travel tiles, but we can't really read them now, so I bought a new box of full sized tiles when we were in Vietnam a couple of years back. Our jingals did hit the Bodyguard in the centre tho'.


Wading through the paddy fields was slowing my progress and exposing our troops to sustained fire. Our skirmishing jingal unit in the centre was doing a fine job of protecting our advancing spear units from the withering fire of the EVAs modern weapons. On our left we had our infantry units concentrating their fire on the battalion on the T junction, and we were causing some damage.


My left hand unit in the paddy field finally succumbed to the effects of modern, well handled artillery and had to fall back. The Mah Jong tile is a value of 1, meaning the unit must retire. My other infantry were also taking fire, but my cavalry had cunningly sneaked round the wood and were about to fall upon the flank of one of Will's infantry units.


The EVA's fire finally broke the skirmishing jingals, enabling us to charge in with our spearmen. The EVA battalions held their fire and delivered a pint blank volley to virtually no effect. Phil was again doing his best to break the rules by rolling in the lower quartile of outcomes. I mean, he's rolling 16 D8's three times, looking for 8s. So he should inflict a couple of hits on each unit. In practice he got two hits in total, missing one unit completely.

This meant he had an uphill struggle in the ensuing melee, compounded by another dreadful round of dice rolling. The Pings drove his unit back, and gleefully followed up. (Note: I was beginning to think that the melee rules might need some work, following the change to the MV resolution system referred to above.)


To the left the EVA had got itself fully deployed in line and was delivering sustained volley fire into our forces.


The next round and the Pings were compounding their advantage. The EDNA system at the core of the rules can make it difficult to claw back a position once it has started to slide, and it gets worse quicker the worse things get.


As the EVA got the initiative Will's men were able to form square and beat off my cavalry, who broke and fled. On our left at least one infantry unit is taking the better part of valour, and heading for an early tea. In the centre we're driving back the two EVA battalions opposing us, but it's hard work. If we don't finish them off quickly then our opponents will be able to bring more forces to bear on us and we'll get repelled. Luckily despite routing my cavalry had pinned the EVA left flank in place.


We finally break through in centre, but elsewhere we've got several units retiring as quickly as terrain and dress will allow. Our breakthrough troops are also about to get serious amounts of cannister served up in short order.

It was getting late, so we called the game off. I think the EVA were just ahead, and would soon roll up our left, and probably push in our right. The loss of two battalions would be a bitter price to pay, however.

So, a good evenings entertainment, with the rule changes working well. There's more work to be done on the rest of the rules, however, and after a two year hiatus that might make it a worthy project for the next few months.

"Taiping Era" is one of my favourite of my designs. There's a cleanliness where everything is driven by the EDNA mechanism that I like. It's elegant and economical. However it does mean that I have to work at how the mechanism will work in all areas when I make changes. I can't suddenly introduce a percentage die roll or the turn of a playing card as that isn't how the rules work. It requires careful consideration to make everything fit, but I think it is worth the effort.

Could be back to COW next year if I like the changes. And do the work on the Chinese House.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Bristling with new ideas

I've got to produce a load more phalangites for the upcoming Paratikene battleday in 2018. My original batch were painted in oh-I-don't-know-when, so have been around for quite a while.

The Hat phalangites come with open hands and no pikes, so you have to supply them yourself, which isn't a problem. Soft plastic pikes are not up on my list of really good ideas. When I did the original figures I used uncovered florist wire for spears. This was a good, strong but bendable wire in natural metal that you could buy in packets of 30cm lengths. Just about a year ago that packet finally ran out. My endeavours to buy further packets have been frustrated as all anyone seems to do now are the plastic coated variety, which I don't want. I don't fancy stripping off the plastic coating.

As a stop gap I bought some model control wire from the local model shop, but that's expensive, relatively speaking. Phil, of course, uses purpose cut copper rod with hammered and shaped heads for his figures. That's even more expensive an option, so Mr Cheapskate isn't going to do that, is he?

Monday Night regular, Chris A, mentioned recently that he was using brush bristles. Yes. Bristles off the head of a floor broom. Plastic ones, mind you, not the woody ones. And the thick, stiff ones you use for sweeping outside, not your carpet.

I started to look around for a suitable broom head and finally came across one in Wilko.



I bought a Wilko "Outdoor Broom Head" for £6, which seems to do the trick. A quick check indicates it'll give me about 2,200 spears or pikes, which should see me good for a year or to.



I've trialled a couple on some elephant crew I'm working on, and they seem to stick with a blob of super glue and do the job okay.

It is also possible to squash the end of the bristle flat with some pliers, and then shave it into a spear point with a modelling knife, or clip it with toenail clippers.

Won't be doing that any time soon. After all, none of my other figures have such super detailing as part of their weaponry.

So the experiment is looking quite good at the moment. Of course, having done this and discussed it at our regular Monday Night game it turns out everyone knew this anyway, especially the bit about the toenail clippers. However, I've written the post, so I'll post it anyway.

And whilst it may not be exactly a new idea, it gave me a good title.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Sunday in Peterborough

We made it to Hereward in Peterborough this year, which is good as it is our most local show. Of course, seeing as how we are in the East Midlands it takes as long to drive there as other shows further away, but no worries, this is the closest we have to a local show, so we're keen to be there.

They fitted us in as they had a late drop out, but hopefully going forwards we'll be a fixture.


We throttled back on our representation based on what we took to Newark. This was an appearance by the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society on its own. As you can see we still had enough to put up a decent display stand, which we were able to cover comfortably with just the three of us (me, Phil & Chris A).


We had the 1460 game which got played 6-8 times, at least. Sold a few of the game books too, - in fact it was the first show where we've sold as many games as we have "Battle of Northampton" books, so that's good.


We also had our array of arms and armour. They always prove popular and give us a number of talking points to engage with the public. Everyone loves putting on a helmet.


The show is held in The Cresset, which is a combination sports and theatre complex, I think. Chris A described it as a traditional wargames show venue, and I can see what he means. It was so nice to be out of a big convention hall like Donnington or Newark. For a start the acoustics are a lot better. You can talk to people without shouting.


It's a small affair spread over two halls. The footfall from the public was okay, but one of the traders we spoke too reckoned the public was down on last year, and his takings were half. That's a shame as local shows need games and traders or we lose them.


Amongst the display games there were a few of the usual suspects (including us!!). This VBCW game looked great. Regular readers will be familiar with my problems with it.


This 1917 game won best game. The lads running it did a good job, and were engaging and approachable. Good effort.


I was so busy talking to people my camera wasn't as active as normal, so I'm a bit light on display game shots.


There was a good spread of traders. Dave Lanchester was there, of course. This caught my eye, and I picked it up for a friend who has been playing it with photocopied map and counters. I've played it. Very interesting piece of design.


I usually don't find much on the bring and buy, but the show had "Table Top Sales" at regular intervals. Chris A came back from one and said I should go and look as they had "some boxes of plastic figures". I went and had a look and hit gold. I have a medium term aim to increase my Macedonian and Persian cavalry, to give my Celts and Assyrians a rest for subbing for them in big games. My favourite figures, those from Zvezda/Italeri are getting hard to find or are expensive, so a chance to pick up a few at 50p a shot wasn't to be missed. On reflection I should have offered him £15 for everything he had.

All in all a good day out, and recommended for those of you in the East of the country. Long may it continue.