Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 1 March 2015

ECW Campaign - Dodgy Scripting

My ECW campaign in a mythical part of northern Lancashire has been interrupted a bit by breaks to allow Real Life to carry on, but I have enjoyed it very much. It has now reached an odd situation.

Two hefty defeats for the Royalist side have made it virtually impossible for them to rescue things; basically they have lost, and, as things have worked out, and as the randomly-generated campaign map is set out, the campaign has run out of space – the armies are stuck against the northern edge of the map, with little further scope for manoeuvre.

I have already declared that the two Royalist forces, rather than retreating northwards off the map, will lock themselves into the towns of Lowther and Erneford, and the Parliamentarians will set up formal sieges against these places. This, of course, is still possible, but seems like a lot of effort for not a lot of entertainment. My thinking on this is definitely influenced by the lack of time I have available to concentrate on the campaign at present, but I have now decided I should attempt to end the thing with rather more of a bang.

Technically, the King’s forces have already lost, but the new plan is that a relieving force will advance to their aid from Carlisle, the Royalist forces at the top of my map should fall back on this support, the Parliament army should follow them, and there will be an extra final battle to settle things. Yes – it’s faked, but it seems a more satisfying way to get out of a lame ending.

So – watch this space!

Separate topic – I’ve had a few entries for my little giveaway exercise, but I’ve also had some notes and comments from people who simply asked me to send them one of the MSFoy mugs – that’s not really what I had in mind! I offer my sincere thanks to anyone who expressed interest, but I really do want some kind of formal entry – send me a suitable prize-winning essay on exactly why you deserve one! Midnight at the end of 5th March is the deadline – if I don’t get entries that amuse me then I shall keep the things.

So there. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

I's a Muggin' - Silly Giveaway

This follows on from a discussion on Polemarch’s very fine blog – there was a passing reference to de-emphasis of the unseemly, or politically difficult, aspects of wargaming (such as death, which we shall refer to as the D-word henceforth). 

I felt that a mug bearing a suitable message would be amusingly silly, but then dismissed the idea. Later, I thought better of it – such a mug would not only be superbly tacky, but would be just the thing to extend the intermittent range of Max Foy collectibles – sadly the much-admired tee-shirt (click) is no longer in stock, but the mug would surely be a must-have. Think how your wargaming friends would envy you if you had one, or – if, like me, you have no friends – just think how people might visit you to see it.

View of both sides of the mug - not your cup of tea?
Anyway, I ordered some, and here they are – they exist. As you see, they bear an improving message on one side and my own portrait on the other – how inspirational is that? I shall give away two, as a token of my selfless devotion to the hobby, my supreme lack of both taste and humility and my shameless determination to promote my crappy blog. If you would like one, all you have to do is send me a comment (which I shall not publish) explaining why you truly deserve one (or need one) and how much you would like to receive one. Any details of your personal contribution to the hobby (or anything else, really) will be most welcome – there are no rules at all, except that you must be a follower of this blog. Whichever two submissions amuse me most (and there may be extra points for relevance, but it’s not essential) by midnight on 5th March will receive the mugs – I’ll retain some stock so that I can (maybe) offer them as some sort of special award in the future.

I’ll probably publish the best entries – as long as they are not too rude, of course.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Hooptedoodle #165 - Donkey Award - Property Surveyors

Strictly speaking, this is not really a Donkey Award post – the donkeys in this tale are probably any unfortunate members of the UK public who wish to buy a house. In the world of house buying, which is a Very Serious Business Indeed, involving the commitment of more funds than we normally dare think about, there are a number of sacred professions upon which we are required to call.

The legal chaps and the estate agents have infuriated me for years, but – alas – the game is rigged so that we cannot do without them. Today I am reminded that I am also annoyed by the closed-shop requirement for property surveyors. What on earth is that all about?

We are currently involved in helping an elderly relative to purchase a house in a small town in a rural part of Scotland. The person selling the house has already wheeled in a local estate agent, who informed them that their house should fetch between £180,000 and £200,000.

Different house, different town, same sort of idea

This seemed a tad on the high side, given the local conditions, and we put in our own surveyor – as one does – who feels that £170,000 is nearer the mark. I have the surveyor’s report here – we will be billed some £400 or so for it. Hmmm.

For a start, it is merely the product of a template form on the surveyor’s laptop, and – though the surveyor obviously did have a look at the premises – it is so lightweight, so full of hedges and caveats and useless recommendations to get further specialist opinion that it is almost valueless. The electrical, water and gas services, the timber work, the fire-regulation-compliance of the windows – everything you can think of is accompanied by some form of disclaimer and a recommendation that expert opinion be sought. In other words, there is no come-back on the surveyor if the house is a crock – you should have got a timber specialist (or whatever) in. If something goes wrong, don’t try to pin it on the surveyor – there is no liability there at all. The report even includes much spurious advice about the desirability of regular clearing of gutters, renovation of mastic around bathroom fittings etc – apart from serving to fill up blank space, what is the point of this in a property report?

We reckon the surveyor took less than an hour to drive from his office to the property (assuming he had no other calls in the same area) and spent less than half an hour on site. The only interesting bit of his report is his opinion on the value – the lack of mention of serious problems is also quite useful, though blatantly not in a courtroom context. £400 well spent?

Consider, also, the situation in such a small town, in an area of low population density. How many surveyors are based locally? In the likely event of more than one potential purchaser requiring the services of a surveyor for a single property, what are the chances that more than one of them will approach the same surveyor? Clearly this must happen quite a lot, and it is obvious that the surveyor will not visit the same property twice. I have never heard of a surveyor telling his client, “By the way, I’ve already done a survey at that property, last week, so you can just have a copy of my report for £20.”

Not bloody likely – you each pay your £400 for your copy. The property market is still quiet up here in the wilds, but when things were booming it must have been a bonanza. £400 a pop for a report which has no legal significance and admits no professional liability – to be photocopied at the full price as necessary. I’ve definitely spent my life in the wrong profession.

Right. Property surveyors – they’re on the list.

My ECW Rules - available again

I've had some email recently, most of it from members of TMP and, about my removing access to my Commands & Colors-based rules for the ECW. Though I still have the intention to do some updates to the documentation, I found this morning that the extant versions in Google Docs date from February 2014, so are not far off the current state.

The text panel at the top right of this screen should now once again show the links - if you attempt to use them and they don't get you there, please let me know.

I am reminded that I removed these links a while ago because I was getting a steady trickle of complaints about the rules, and some requests for changes, which is OK but represents a level of user support I had not prepared myself for. Since the number of requests to reinstate the links now exceeds the number of complaints I used to get, I've put things back as they were.

Thus the links at top right will get you to pdf files for the rules and play aids for my CC_ECW game, which is certainly not a supported product, though you are welcome to use it provided you give me appropriate credit if you publish anything.

I am currently using this game with a growing collection of add-on or alternative rule sections, which I intend to document in the same sort of way once they settle down a bit.

Monday, 16 February 2015

In Odd Moments

I've been very busy recently, so time to involve myself in hobby activities has been infrequent, and - more to the point - unpredictable. Such moments as have presented themselves have been happily spent making the most of two recent purchases.

The artillery of the dastardly Parliamentarians prepare to fire on the home of the Laceys
Firstly, I was very pleased to obtain a good, secondhand set of DVDs of the 1980s BBC ECW historical drama series, By the Sword Divided. The set (of 8 discs) includes both series; thus far I have got most of the way through the first series, and jolly good it is too. I neither watched nor heard about the original transmission, so it is all new to me. The 1983 date is apparent in the 4:3 picture aspect  and the modest approach to special effects (night-time scenes are pretty much invisible!), but it has the advantage to me that, with a couple of notable exceptions, the cast are mostly unfamiliar (since I never watched Holby City...) and the production is modern enough for me not to be distracted by its shortcomings.

The one stand-out performance is Julian Glover, always a fine actor, as Sir Martin Lacey, a Royalist landowner, but the whole show rings true and is convincing. It also demonstrates a keen awareness of the history and the military aspects (from which I learned quite a bit - which I had not expected), and it comes as no surprise that the historical advisor was Brigadier Peter Young. The slight downside, of course, is that the Brigadier's personal points of bias come through along with his undoubted wisdom, so the Parliamentarian side get the benefit of very little doubt, for example. I also found that the moments when the cast stand and recite historical events to each other, as contextual background disguised as family chatter, were the least convincing of the whole production, but they do tie things together nicely.

I am a bit nervous to note that Sir Martin was killed in last night's instalment, so I am hoping the series does not dip in his absence. I shall continue to work my way through the remaining discs - this series is pretty expensive to get hold of - I was lucky to get a bargain set - but is very highly recommended if you are interested in the period. Michael had informed me that you can watch it on YouTube, which is terrific, but sadly is not practicable at my local broadband speed.

Second bit of shopping was a copy of Blücher, Sam Mustafa's long-awaited grand tactical cousin for Lasalle, in his Honour series of horse and musket rules. I haven't got very far into this yet, but it looks very interesting indeed. One thing that surprises me a little is that it is the logical replacement for Mustafa's Grande Armée rules, yet some of the most cunning, trademark devices from that earlier rule set have been dropped. There are other, newer innovations, of course, but familiarity with the earlier set gives an intriguing insight into the background.

Anyway, I haven't got very far into it yet, so will carry on reading as time permits.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Hooptedoodle #164 – Logs

This is what I did on Saturday, and my aching back reminds me still. We finally burnt almost all the wood from our old Eucalyptus tree this Winter, and it was time to get in a new load. We use our log stove a lot – otherwise our heating is all provided by domestic LPG, and somehow the dramatic fall in world commodity prices has not yet been reflected in retail LPG delivery costs, so all possible help from the wood stove is very welcome.

Because it is almost three years now since we took a delivery of logs, I had rather lost touch with the world of firewood suppliers. A bit of poking around on the internet and a couple of phone calls and I arranged with Shane – who is based at a farm some 8 miles away or so – to deliver me one cubic metre of kiln-dried logs (for burning immediately) plus two cubic metres of barn-dried logs (to season during the year for next Winter). Round here, that’s a lot of logs, boys and girls.

Shane duly delivered the stuff to my driveway on Saturday morning, and my son and I spent the rest of the day clearing out the woodshed, tidying up our remaining logs and then shifting and stacking the new stuff. The result, as you see, is a wall of logs six-and-a-half feet high, by 3 logs deep (front to back) by whatever width this is. Because it is new and clean, and because I am pleased both with the quality of the logs and the achievement of stacking them, I took a commemorative photo.

Thank you, Shane – I’ll phone you again around two years from now, with luck.

Which, you will be sorry to learn, reminds of a very old tale…

One day, this enormous guy with a beard walks into a logging camp, and strides up to the boss, who is eating his breakfast.

“I’m O’Halloran,” says the big man, “you hiring lumberjacks?”

The boss looks up from his ham and eggs, and studies the giant before him.

“You worked as a lumberjack before?”

“What?” says the man, “I told you, I’m O’Halloran – I’m a legend among lumberjacks!”

“I’m sorry, Mr O’Halloran,” says the boss, “I never heard of you – where did you work before?”

“I worked in the Sahara Forest,” says O’Halloran, proudly.

“The Sahara? – but there are no trees in the Sahara…”

“Not now, there aren’t,” says O’Halloran.

ECW Campaign – Week 5

Remains of the King's Gate, at Erneford Castle, today
Most significant event of the week was the defeat of the Royalist force from Northumberland, under General Darracott, at the Battle of High Cark on 4th April.

General Aspinall, Parliamentarian victor at Midlawton on 28th March, was still struggling to put his strangely demoralised army into some kind of shape to take the field. Desertion had been very widespread, especially after it became obvious that no looting would be permitted. Figge-Newton, in overall command of the Parliament army in Lonsdale, ordered William Geddes’ Covenanter force to advance from Pacefield to Cark Ferry, to prevent any junction between the two Royalist forces and to seize the crossing of the River Arith.

Geddes made rapid progress, and crossed the river, but word of his advance came to the notice of General Darracott, at Erneford. That general, borrowing some artillery from the fortress, set off towards the Ferry, where he blundered into the (rather larger) Scottish force. The Battle of High Cark which followed was of short duration, but the Royalists were very disorganised by their defeat, and though Colonel Frayne (who inherited command when Darracott went missing from the battlefield) did well to conduct a withdrawal back to the strong position of the medieval fortress at Erneford, the Parliamentarian cavalry caused a lot of problems, and many men were lost on the retreat.

Geddes quartered his army around Cark Hall – home of the influential Barber family – and sent a request for orders to Figge-Newton, who had set up his staff and HQ at Pacefield Hall.

Meanwhile the Royalist force at Lowther, which had been defeated at Midlawton and was under the temporary command of Lord Sefton (as a result of the indisposition of Lord Porteous, who had not been seen for a week) was recovering fairly well, and (as predicted) many of the missing men were returning to the colours.

The armies needed to rest. Sir Henry Figge-Newton now considered his options. At this time, his favoured scheme was to lay siege to Darracott’s force at Erneford, withdrawing as many men from Geddes’ force as possible – providing him with the siege artillery but taking all the troops he could spare to reinforce the main army at Midlawton, and attempt to bring Porteous’ Royalists (at Lowther) to a decisive battle in that area.

Following the wounding of the Royalist brigadier of foot, Colonel Brogan, at High Cark, his brigade at Erneford was now commanded by Colonel Charlton.

A late development in this week was the arrival from Carlisle of a letter from Prince Rupert, addressed to Lord Sefton, who was instructed to place Lord Porteous under arrest, and send him to Carlisle as soon as he was well enough to travel. Sefton was to remain in acting command of the forces at Lowther; Rupert also explained in the letter that Sir John Darracott was to succeed to overall command in the county – Rupert, of course, did not know that Darracott had been defeated and was currently at Erneford, having lost much of his personal baggage at High Cark, and was thus not in a position to take command. Sefton was last seen composing a diplomatic reply to the Prince.

The "Ghost Pool" on the River Arith, which legend suggests is where
General Darracott hid to avoid capture
Darracott himself was unfortunate enough to have earned the unofficial nickname, “The Ghost of Cark”, as a consequence of the speed with which he was reputed to have quit the battlefield, pursued by the Pitlochrie Horse. In fairness, Sir John showed considerable resourcefulness to escape, by dint of hiding in the river, later rejoining his army soaking wet, and lacking his horse, pistols and boots. He did well to avoid harm or capture, but the loss of his dignity did nothing to help his standing with his sullen army.


No new orders. Troops are resting and recovering.


The siege train is to be readied to move to Cark, to be placed under the command of General Geddes there. Sir Henry Figge-Newton will come to Midlawton next week to meet with General Aspinall and draw up plans for continuation of the campaign.