Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Giving it another chance

Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Or just a soft touch for a lost cause? Or just wanting value for money for an expensive purchase? Whatever the reason, "Black Powder" made a return to Shedquarters this Monday.

In fact it was inspired by the suggestion that I might be taking part in a BP game later in the week, so it made sense to get a refresher.

Consequently I dug out my War of Spanish Succession Airfix plastics, and filled the table full of terrain. On this occasion the Anglo Dutch are defending the top right of the picture, the French attacking from the bottom left. I had the French, Phil the Anglo-Dutch.

I advanced steadily on my left, volleying the troops occupying the small village out there.

They returned fire, and I got the worst of it. Still, plenty more subjects of the French King to fill their spaces.

As I said, Phil was playing the Anglo Dutch, and I had the French. We were a bit thin on the ground for a regular evening. He opened up with his artillery as I threatened the right hand bridge.

Regardless of this barrage, I was able to bound forward and seize the river line. My right flanking manoeuvre has stalled due to bad command rolls.

The musketry exchange continued on the left, and I was getting the worst of it.

The moment had come to launch my massed cavalry charge in the centre. Unfortunately my Guard cavalry were bounced conclusively by some countercharging Dutch cuirassiers.

Phil followed up with a "Sweeping Charge" or whatever it is called...

... and overran my second line too, although this time I inflicted some hits.

Meanwhile, back on my left one of my infantry units broke under musket fire.

I was able to rush up reinforcements and using a combination of front and enfilading fire did for the British infantry in the village.

Time to step back and survey the full picture. My artillery deployed on the hill couldn't hit a thing. To protect my flank on the river assault I had formed up an infantry unit to their left. The loss of the cavalry fight had rather opened up my centre quite badly. Over on the left I've got more infantry lined up, enfilading Phil's British again.

Having achieved fire superiority Phil counter-attacked across the river on the right, inflicting a lot of damage.

He was also able to counter attack on the left, hitting the flank of my line with a cavalry charge. You will be astonished to hear that I survived this attack.

Up until this point BP had been behaving itself fairly well, although the poorly written rule book doesn't help if you have any rule queries. Important rule points are buried in paragraphs of rambling text, and cross referencing in any sensible fashion is largely absent. The book really needs a proper index. However we had a couple of bizarre outcomes such as the flank charge here mentioned, and another on one of my lines on the left.

We ended the game with the armies looking like this. I had failed Brigade Morale for two out of three Brigades, so my army was done for presenting Phil with a win.

BP continues to infuriate me. The command sequence has a lot of merit, but it clearly works better when you have a lot of units to enable the random (I use the word advisedly) effects to even out. On the plus size you can use any size units with it, as long as you are consistent. Of course that does mean that the ground scale is complete garbage, but you can't have everything.

I know that for a WSS game I should have used the "Last Argument of Kings" supplement, but I've seen that and it's mostly garbage*, putting sticking plaster over an already flawed system. Bear in mind, of course, that the basic rule book promises to cover the WSS** anyway, - something the writer of LAOK makes clear isn't the case, as units under BP perform in a way that is alien to the start of the 18th century.

On the other hand it passed the evening pleasantly enough, with a lot of figures and terrain on the table, which is pretty much the justification for BP. I just tend to think that there's more to wargaming than only that.

*Although it is an absolute gem compared with the total waste of paper that is "Zulu".
** Note, however, that it refers to it as "The Spanish War of Succession", which is a thing that doesn't exist.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Wednesday Wargaming

Monday Night regular Will has a copy of "Mortem et Gloriam" (or whatever) that he doesn't really get on with.The armies are too big for his existing collection and no one else locally wants to play it. I'm not unsure that this isn't entirely connected with the £60+ entry tag, once you've paid for rule book, special dice and special cards.

Will's been to tutorials and "boot camps" and so on, but he's not going to continue with them. I borrowed his set on the off chance there was something in them that I'd find useful, but a quick perusal didn't really do it for me either. Some of the new ideas in there I've already tried in slightly different formats, so no real need to go with them. Plus we'd need to buy more dice and cards to play them.

So Will is going to take his copy to Britcon and off-load at the Bring and Buy. If you're interested he's selling for £40, and his box includes not just what I mentioned above but a card rack, measuring sticks and other bits and pieces which'll cost £90+ from the store. It includes the currently out of Stock Marker set too.

What this meant was he needed them back, and as I'm not around for our next regular game he popped over to pick them up on Wednesday afternoon. I thought it was only fair to put on a game for him in compensation for all his trouble.

In the absence of any better ideas I grabbed Neil Thomas' "One Hour Wargames" off the shelf and thought we could give that a go. I taped out a 3' x 3'square on the table and got some scenery handy to set up a scenario or two. Previously I've played in a one-off game run by Chris A and done a bit of solo stuff with them, so this was a chance to explore it all a bit wider.

NB You will note in all of the pictures that I used one base per unit, rather than the 3 or 4 the rules suggest. I don't think it made too much difference.

These pictures are a bit small as they're taken on my phone.

First game we did was Scenario 27 "Disordered Defence" where Blue (me, near camera) had to capture and hold the crossroads from a Red force, part on the table, part off. We used Wars of the Roses medievals for this game. Will got a lot of cavalry in his army.

I quickly attacked the advance guards, with varying degrees of effect. Attacking first gives quite an advantage in hand to hand, as you only inflict hits on your turn. The dice behind units denote hits inflicted. It takes 15 to kill a unit.

To stop me overwhelming the troops on my right, Will charged forwards with his cavalry guarding the cross roads, so my archers sneaked round the back.

I defeated all the advanced troops, but all my stuff was damaged. When Will's reserve of 3 knight units got on the table they made quick work of my forces and Will won.

We then tried it again, with the "Rifle and Sabre" rules, using Bolivians and Chileans. Neither of us got cavalry, but we both had some artillery and rifle armed infantry.

Going first let me pour fire into the advance guards, and also shell the artillery guarding the cross roads.

After a desperate fire fight I overwhelmed the advance guards and blew away Will's artillery. I was then able to move across the table smartish and intercept the reinforcements and finish them off.

We then changed to Scenario 2, "Pitched Battle 2 ". We switched to ancients, and I got Germans and Will got Romans. The aim here is to hold both the hill and the crossroads at the end of 15 turns. I don't know how balanced this is, as the hill offers a benefit in combat, whereas the road doesn't.

Will put some legionaries on the hill, and attacked the cross roads with three other units of the same. He held his middle with cavalry and skirmishers.  I thought I'd shoot his infantry off the hill with my skirmishers, and then attack vigorously from the crossroads. I put my archers in the centre.

Well, the skirmishers couldn't hit a thing, rolling successive 1s on multiple turns. Will hit my archers with his cavalry, and did a lot of harm. I got the drop on the legionaries on the right and started to inflict casualties first.

In desperation I tried to get a 2:1 fight on the hill with my skirmishers. I soon found that they were no match for uphill legionaries. So Will held the hill. I saw off his other foot on the right, and also succeeded in doing for his cavalry, so I held the cross roads. A draw as time ran out.

Finally we did Scenario 3 "Control the river", using the Dark Ages rules and my Khmer and Thai armies.

As the river was impassable we had a slogging match with heavy infantry on the left.  On the right  Will had some skirmishers lurking in and about the woods to cover the bridge with missiles, backed up by some warband. I had more infantry to take the bridge and a skirmisher unit to provide cover.

I supported the bridge fight by shooting at the rear units.

Will eventually shot my skirmishers away, but ended up having to fight my infantry on the left hand bridge. I saw them off, and was able to hunker down on the objective whilst the skirmishers shot at me. By this time we were late on in game turns and I thought he didn't have enough time to shoot me to death. This proved to be right.

On the other bridge I was getting the upper hand, but we ran out of time. So I got half a win.

We played 4 games in about 2 1/2 hours, all of which provided entertainment. The scenarios do play differently with the different periods, and the randomised armies add an extra dimension. As we got into it all it became clearer that there was more depth to the games and rules than we first thought.

An enjoyable afternoon, and a recommended buy, if only for the scenarios.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Edg-ing towards a game

For Phil & me our eventual aim is to produce a game on Edgcote that we can take round the shows and use on the SNorthampton Battlefields Society stand. This one will use 28mm figures as that's a market we don't currently tap in to. If we are going all 28mm then we might as well go "all in" and use a popular set of 28mm rules. So why not start with Warlord's "Hail Caesar" as we've tried "Black Powder" and it wasn't totally terrible.

With the freely downloadable QRS, some notes on their Bosworth game by the Perry twins and an interview with Rick Priestly I thought I had enough to give it a go, relying on BP to fill in the gaps.

As I don't have oodles of 28mm WotR figures to hand, I pressed my Peter Pig figures in to service, and used the Armati scaled down inches measure to get the rules to work with smaller figures. For this trial game I had Chris K, Will & Phil. In practice we pitched Chris against Will, with Phil & me on the side lines shouting encouragement.

When we do it for real we'll probably zone up the terrain, so that there's no need for measuring sticks.

Based on my recent reading we put the Welsh on a hill, with the men from the North just across a small stream. Without having a proper figure/ground scale I improvised three units aside for the main battle lines, with the Welsh having the option of their best troops being mounted if wanted. As they are in the picture.

Just off table we have Lord Stafford, with his archers. The Welsh are not provided with any bowmen for this game, following the usual interpretation.

The Northerners reinforcements are some lighter horse, under Sir John Clapham, and some rag-tag infantry from Northampton.

The Northerners started by advancing across the stream and shooting at the Welsh. They were quite effective, with a number of red casualty markers now in evidence.

Sore provoked by the hail of shot, Pembroke ordered a general attack. One of his units refused to join in.

Despite the odds being in their favour the cavalry were bounced, taking slightly more hits than the Northerners. They tried their Break Test re-roll to keep in touch, but got the same number. Tough going, guys. The yellow counter means disordered.

I think I'm missing some pictures here, as it looks like the previously recalcitrant Welsh unit charged down the hill, only to get well and truly duffed up. It retired in disarray to the hill top, pursued by the men of the North. At this point both sides rolled for their reinforcements, and Clapham arrived, his men shouting "a Warwick, a Warwick". I then required each Welsh unit to take a break test, on sighting the new arrivals.

In a stunning array of Break Test failures, the entire Welsh force turned tail and fled.

So, a very historical outcome.

I'm still not a fan of BP & HC, but they got the job done here. We can simplify the system and produce a 30-40 minute game which will look and feel like "Hail Caesar", but will also be unique for our game.

We have some more issues to solve, - one noted feature of the battle was a feat of amazing derring-do by Sir Richard Herbert, where he slew "four score" men. Or was it eight score? I can't remember, but it is a significant amount. We also have to deal with the issue of how Quarter was given in the battle, and how Robin of Redesdale is to meet his end. The game isn't just a game but a tool for us to explain the battle, so it needs to have a good, clear, memorable narrative.

Any how, a positive start. And we're got a few months yet before the 550th anniversary in 2019.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Edg-ing round the battlefield

So last Wednesday, on the anniversary of the Battle of Edgcote in 1469, Mrs T and I joined an evening battlefield walk around the site. What could be nicer than a pleasant evening's stroll in the summer sunshine around the south Northamptonshire countryside?

We made our way to the Griffin Inn in Chipping Warden (how English does that sound?) and had a lovely pub meal before setting out with the group on the walk. There were just over a dozen of us, I should think, including the Fairport Convention road manager, on his way to set up for the Cropredy Festival.

Between us we had several people who had a view on how and where the battle was fought, - me, Phil, Mike Ingram (the chair of Northamptonshire Battlefields Society) and the leader of Harrington's Companye, who organised the trip.

As we set out it started to cloud over, and the wind picked up. We were devoid of any late afternoon sunshine, alas, but we set off down the Culworth Road anyway, clutching umbrellas as amulets against a rainstorm. To follow this post you might now find it useful to pull up the map from the Battlefield Trust website. Chipping Warden is top left, where the big pink "P" can be seen.

Going down the Culworth Road enables you to see the rather fine ridge and furrow on the fields to the left:

The ridge line in the distance isn't one of the candidates for the "three hills" that traditionally denote the site of the battle. As you go along this road you turn to the right towards Trafford Bridge.

Trafford Bridge crosses the River Cherwell, and for some is the focal point of the battle:

The bridge isn't contemporary with the battle, added to which the landscaping in the 18th century altered the line of the river and put in a weir and a lake. That means that  any conclusions drawn from walking this area have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

From here you can look north to get a good view of Jobs Hill. It is where Drunken Meadow Spinney is marked on the map:

This is a good, prominent rise, with the river at its base, so you can see why it is an attractive choice for one of the three hills.

Across Trafford Bridge the road bears round to the right before a sharp left hand turn. This is where the sign board commemorating the battle is located:

It's great to have a board commemorating a battle that is a bit obscure and whose location is open to debate, making it even more bizarre that there isn't one for Northampton. Personally I'm of the view that it is in the wrong place, but it has to be on publicly accessible land, so options are limited.

Just up a short path from the sign board you can look out towards where the big red block on the map is located.

In this picture you have Trafford Bridge Farm in the centre, I think, and so Edgcote hill to the left. We had a discussion about whether this is Danes Moor or not. In fact it's actually a bit further to the left:

If my reading of this is right Danes Moor is the other side of the tree line just the other side of the wheat field. By now I was fairly convinced we had not made the best use of our time and this wasn't the best spot to evaluate the terrain. It was also getting really cold, so Mrs T and I headed back to the pub and our car.

It was, in conclusion, a frustrating visit. We'd walked round the outside of the battlefield area and never really got in amongst the terrain. It's all very well to look at where the battle was, but I'd prefer to get on the terrain where the armies actually were.

I think we really needed to walk from Chipping Warden down the "Jurassic Way" to Edgcote, and then up the lane to Trafford Bridge Farm. From here you need to pick up the footpath through the farm up to Edgecote Lodge Farm, along the base of Edgcote hill. You then need to walk along to Old Spinney to look across Danes Moor and then to the right for the "alternative" location.

I really need to go back, probably with a smaller party (2 or 3 maximum), and a thorough understanding of the original sources. We had one of those discussions where people say things like "I think it is in Warkworth's chronicle", but without it to hand it was difficult to take the discussion any further forward.

However, my understanding of the battle has moved forwards quite a bit, which is positive, but only in as much I'm sure where we walked wasn't where it was fought.

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.