A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 8 December 2016

French Siege Train: A Little Progress

The guns were painted up months ago, but recent diversions in the Real Life Dept have meant that the siege train has been stuck in a siding for a while.

You wish to lose a wall? a bastion, perhaps? These are the boys for you

The first batch of gunners are now painted and ready - I'm pleased with them. As ever, they are finished in my simple old toy soldier style, and the unpretentious little SHQ/Kennington crewmen are absolutely fine for purpose. These are the 3 batteries of 24pdr siege guns (old La Vallière pattern models, as is historically accurate for the French in Spain, though the purist might object to the rather later style of jacket...). The crews for the mortars and howitzers are undercoated and on the bottletops, so they should follow shortly.

The siege train also merits some senior officers to go with it, so I'll see what I can come up with.

Jean-Marie ponders - dolphins? why dolphins?

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sieges: A Small Matter of Supplies (and Mining, Just a Bit)

I’m pleased to say that my elderly mother is now safely moved to a care home, which is the best outcome all round – it has been a very difficult and distressing time. Also, we have now sold her house, which was quicker and far easier than it might have been, so, with a bit of luck, my life should be returning to something a bit nearer a state of normality in the next few weeks.

Without  wishing to jump the gun, I thought it would be good to plan a celebratory wargame – a proper, social wargame – for the first time in ages. And it also seemed like an opportunity to try out the siege game again, after my brief but unsustained spell of progress in April. When I come to think about it, though, there is a bit of a problem. It’s all very well running a solo siege, correcting (frequently inventing) rules as I go along, and glossing over the incomplete bits (such as supply – and then there’s mining…), but playing this as an actual game with real people requires a rather more polished show. Thus I am proposing to get the rules typed up in a sensible form (sort of), and fill in the more obvious holes in the game. If some motivational soul ever points out to me that a problem is really an opportunity, my instinct is normally to give them the opportunity of removing my cup of coffee from their shirt front, but it does seem a good idea to embrace this excuse for getting the rules written up. Yes – all right – before I forget them again – quite so. Thank you.

Let’s deal with mining very quickly, and I’ll return to it in some future post. In about 2010, Clive S came up here to help out with some siege testing, and it was pretty good fun, but one thing that was clearly wrong was the effectiveness of mining. Mining was so devastatingly successful in the test game that it made us wonder why anybody ever bothered with all that tedious bombardment stuff. As I frequently do, I shelved the problem, pending some great leap of inspiration or some further research. My shelves are overloaded with things like that. 

Trouble was that my mining rules were so brilliantly clever that I had completely missed the point, and failed to check the dimensions of the problem. Clive and I had our mining parties tunnelling at speeds which would have left the machines which dug the Channel Tunnel miles behind. I will not give details of just how fast our miners could dig – it’s too embarrassing – but if such speeds had been possible then it is clear that mining would definitely have been the standard approach – in fact the whole history of fortification  (and everything else) would have been vastly different. Just put it down as a misunderstanding.

I did a fair amount of reading of late – the most useful source was a nice little booklet published by the Shire people, Siege Mines and Underground Warfare, by Kenneth Wiggins. He actually discusses digging and tunnelling techniques, but the main thing I took from all this scholarship is that miners who had no bad luck and knew what they were doing would do well to average 3 paces a day for the progress of a tunnel.

Ah – right. 3 paces a day is about 20 paces a week, which is one tenth of the way across one of my terrain hexes. This is a very small nibble indeed in one of our battlefields, and requires a whole new look at the matter. Hmmm. This also explains why mining was something of a secondary activity – though useful on its day, of course. I’ll think about this.

Just before I leave the subject of mining – does anyone know where they keep those Channel Tunnel digging machines when they are not using them? Just wondered. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you would throw on the back of a low-loader and off to the next job – interesting…

So – supplies.

I am looking for some dead-easy approach to supplies which does not lead to either insanity or a crippling bookkeeping industry, yet prevents the matter being forgotten completely. My rule of thumb (it may be one of Foy’s Laws, but I can’t remember which one) is that the cleverer and more realistic you make your add-on rules (command, morale, supply, whatever), the more fiddly they become and the more likely they are to be dropped during an otherwise exciting game. In other words, if you really wish to exclude all consideration of command and activation from your wargame (for example), spend a few weeks developing the cleverest rule system the world has ever seen to cover this, and the players will just abandon it on the day. [This may have some parallels in the world of Brexit legislation, but let us not go there.]

I started off with provender – I’ll leave ammunition for the moment. Starting place, obviously, is Bruce Quarrie. Interesting, but far too much information, man. Can’t see the wood for the flipping trees. From the classic Siege of Dendermonde I picked up the useful idea of 2 lbs of bread plus 1 lb of meat per man per day. Ron Miles had a lot of detail in there about how many portions of meat you get from slaughtering a cow (1000) or a sheep (80) or even a cat (1.5), so I decided the simplest way to do this is add the whole lot together as food rations – not to worry what the recipe of the day was. The important bit is that a soldier needs 3 lbs of food a day. A magazine will contain a weight of food, and I’ll formulate some rules on how much this needs to be. As a quick aside, this is an aspect of warfare I have always studiously avoided – so I was interested to see what amounts are involved here.

My unit of strength for my ECW forces is the base – 6 figs per base for foot (200 men), 3 per base for horse (100). It occurred to me that it might be a nice additional convenience to add fodder into the food stores as well, and assume that 100 horsemen consume the same amount as 200 foot – let us stop short of whether the men can eat hay or the horses like their beef well cooked – I’m looking for the simplest-ever supply system.

This is a detailed depiction of 4 lbs of food - that's all you need to know

Thus a base of foot will require 200 x 7 x 3 lbs per week, which is, near enough, 2 tonnes, if you add in the drink. That is a lot – thus a regiment of 3 bases of foot will eat their way through 6 tonnes a week, and (by dint of my bovine assumption of equivalence) a unit of 4 bases of horse will require 8 tonnes. On the basis of no science at all, I’ll assume that an artillery unit needs 4 tonnes a week – they have few personnel but a great many draught animals.

The poor old citizenry do not get to eat as heartily as the soldiers. I’ll assume that 1 tonne will feed 500 civilians for a week. OK – that gives me a basis to get started. I’ll add a rule about rations – military and civilian personnel may get full, ¾, ½, ¼ or no rations – which will affect the health and vigour and general happiness of all parties. Oh yes – about the civilians…

In the absence of factual historical data, the population of a township or conurbation can be generated by the formula nD6 x k, where n has the following values:

Major City – 15
Provincial City – 10
Market Town – 6
Village or fortress – 3

My first assumption is that k should be 250 (I may change my mind later) – thus a market town turning up 6 4 4 3 3 1 with its 6 dice has a population of 21 x 250 = 5250.

Standard split is 50% females; for both sexes, one quarter are children and infants, one quarter old or infirm, thus one half able-bodied. Overall split then is
Females – children 12.5%, able bodied 25%, old/infirm 12.5% and the same for Males, so our market town of 5250 might yield 25% able-bodied men = 1315 approx.

Now I need to check how much you can get in a wagon, how much on a mule. I bet Bruce Quarrie has something on this…

Next I need to develop this a bit, and work out some dice algorithms for the relationship between diet and vigour, vigour and susceptibility to outbreaks of fever; I also need to work out some rules for how the effective strength of a garrison is affected by the need to police the population, and how the attitude and loyalty of the population is affected by things like food supply, sustained bombardment. Lots to think about – that’s OK, I have some more free time and a bit more spare brainpower than I had a week or two ago, so I’ll enjoy the challenge!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Hooptedoodle #242 – They Say the Neon Lights are Bright on Broadband

In which a new gizmo arrives, and British Telecom make one last, bravura attempt to be a pain in the backside.

As I mention fairly regularly, I live in a rural area, and one of the consequences of this is that we have had very poor broadband since forever. This in itself is just a fact of life if you choose to live in the middle of nowhere, but things have actually got steadily worse over recent years – for a start, there are more people online out here, so traffic levels are getting further and further beyond the capacity of the available service, and, for another thing, the global assumption that everyone now has fibre-optic connections which blow your hat off has meant that all the resulting add-on claptrap noise of advertising screws up what bandwidth is left by sending you gratuitous video clips of things you didn’t want to see in the first place. In the last couple of years, it has been a feature of my email that I cannot read it until I have seen some advert of the day – frequently this is a completely irrelevant American advert (this because our ISP, BT, provide an email service which is really just a very poor relation of Yahoo’s), and often it could take up to a minute to reach me from a server in Ohio or similar. Your blood pressure can do some surprising things in a minute.

The fundamental problem has been the distance between here and our nearest telephone exchange. We pay BT for a service which is officially 1 Mb/sec, but it is normally about one fifth of that. Not fast. We were, of course, promised by that nice Mr Cameron that everyone in Britain would soon have superfast broadband, and BT have even published some grandiose plans for implementing this, but no-one was holding their breath around here. BT have finally admitted that there will be 5% of the UK population for whom fast broadband is just not going to be available – we are in the 5%. You may imagine us, sitting around a campfire in our animal skins, playing with bones and baying at the moon.

Well, there is a new game in town. As a result of a local government initiative, a private company, Lothian Broadband, has created a new infrastructure which provides broadband by wireless connection. Our hamlet is now connected. Our broadband is transmitted from the hill of Traprain Law, some 10 miles away, a shared receiver/relayer then sends signals to the individual households, via little aerials – ours is shown in the photo. As broadband goes, it is not especially cheap, but for a total outlay similar to what I was paying BT we now get an effortless 12Mb/sec. This may not seem impressive to you, but for us this is a whole new world.


Very pleased.

I have, of course, taken the opportunity to remove broadband from the services I receive from BT. It was harder to get it sorted out than I expected. As of last month, I was paying BT some £69 per month in total, including a charge for this lamentable broadband service, and – as it happens – my account was some £83 in credit. I spent a fair amount of time on the phone to BT on Thursday, explaining that I wished to keep my telephone services exactly as they were, but to drop the broadband. OK. It was explained to me that my new monthly bill (ignoring any extra call charges that arise) will be £28.74 per month. That seems reasonable – that’s about £40 down on what it was, which compares favourably with the £35 I shall be paying to the new broadband provider.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a confirmatory email stating that my new monthly payment to BT from December would be £72. That’s right – though my account is in credit at the moment, and though the broadband will be removed from the service I receive, my monthly payment was to increase by £3. The email stated that if I did not agree with this, or if there was something incorrect about the proposed changes to the service, I should phone 0800 800 150. So I did.

This number puts you in touch with a technical support team (in New Delhi), who do not know anything about the product ranges or the pricing. All they could do was arrange for the Sales people (in Leeds, I think) to phone me back. This was done, and eventually I got confirmation that the revised service will be what I actually asked for, and that the monthly payment will, in fact, be about £30. That’s more like it.

There was a time when I would have been interested to know just why they had been prepared to charge me a completely fraudulent amount, but I no longer care. I don’t get my broadband from them any more. They can, in fact, go to Hell.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Grateful Thanks from the Wilds

Strange couple of days here - our local electricity supplier has seen fit to do some line upgrades, which is always a good idea, but the result has been that we were without power during daylight hours for a couple of days. We are, of course, in a very rural area - probably only about 14 or 15 households affected by this work - but why November? The first day coincided with the gales and freezing rain associated with the northern fringes of Storm Angus (which was a lot less severe here than further south). It also coincided with the day that Dod the Gardener was coming to trim down the top of the second of our juniper trees, so that our exciting new wireless broadband service may have an uninterrupted line of sight connection from the main transmitter on Traprain Law. The second day, probably fortuitously, prevented the broadband installation anyway, so Dod and the Broadband Men (I have all their albums) will get a second chance at all that tomorrow.

Why November? Is it just that we don't matter much here, or is there some ancient tribal vendetta at work?

Anyway, we've got through the two days. No, the downtime was not restricted to the promised hours - there was a period of overrun yesterday, after dark, when there was not much to do but sit and stare at the log stove (see photo), which is very therapeutic, in fact. Brandy helps, too.

I thought I'd take this chance to thank everyone who pitched in after my plea for help with some Hinton Hunt hussars (see here). Many thanks to Clive, Matt, Simon, Ian, Martin S, Chris and a few others for advice and suggestions, and especially to Roy, Andy T and Old John for providing castings. If I've forgotten to mention anyone, then thanks anyway - this has all been very heartwarming. The project to produce an actual unit of the Husares Españoles (to replace the unit which I currently have-but-hate...) will proceed with dignity and care, rather than speed, but I shall certainly see it through. The tricky bit will be the production of convincing command conversions. You will hear more of this, be sure of that.

Thanks again, anyway - very much indeed.

You may have observed that my previous post on the subject of Trumpo has now been suppressed. I was asked if I had been threatened or imprisoned or anything, and the answer is, of course, no. I thank everyone who contributed comments and balanced appraisal - I simply decided that if I am to be off-blog for a while, I would rather not have a post about Trumpo hanging around as a lasting legacy and reminder. I really don't find Trumpo very amusing at the moment.

Monday, 7 November 2016

New Officer for the 43rd

My good friend Pieter very kindly sent me samples of some new GBM Peninsular War figures he has commissioned, which are now in the Hagen shop. As ever with Massimo's sculpts, the figures are very pleasing - so pleasing, in fact, that I took advantage of a rare couple of hours' free time this evening to paint up a replacement officer for my 43rd Foot - note the regimental eccentricity of a non-regulation pelisse. The unit he will serve with consists of original 1970s Les Higgins figures - the officer is obviously quite a tall man, but his hat is a good match so - by my house rule of thumb (also known as Foy's Third Law) - this officer is officially the correct scale for the job.

He displaces a Les Higgins officer - I'll find the redundant chap alternative employment elsewhere.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

1809 Spaniards - Digging for Figures

My 1809 Spaniards now have a total of 5 light cavalry regiments - 2 of hussars, 2 of cazadores and 1 which is sort of another cazadores unit. Now the dreaded Creeping Elegance rears its head once again. Problem is that 4 of these regiments were produced for me by the excellent Pete Bateman, using conversions of Hinton Hunt French cavalry, and the remaining unit of hussars very definitely was not - it is so far inferior to the Bateman regiments that I have vowed to try to replace it whenever possible.

I have been in contact with Peter, who is not in a position to do anything for me at present, but we have established that I need to drum up some suitable figures - we have some, but not enough.

Examples of FN317
- picture borrowed from the Hinton Hunter blog, which is the standard reference work
I need some Hinton Hunt FN317 - French Hussar in Mirliton cap - the official HH horse to go with this is FNH7. I probably need up to about 8 of these, but any odd figures - painted or otherwise - would be of interest. If you have any such chaps that you could spare, or would like to sell me, could you please get in touch? Send a comment (which I won't publish, if it is not appropriate) or email me at the address in my profile. Since these will be converted and painted as Spaniards, I'd prefer not to import collector-standard pieces!

Last time I asked for help with raising troops I was looking for S-Range Minifigs Spanish infantrymen for 1812, and I was so successful in obtaining reinforcements that my 1812 Spanish army is now large and formidable - well, large anyway.

All help will be very welcome!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #241 - A Return to the Enchanted Forest

Well, we had such a splendid time last year at the Enchanted Forest show in Faskally Wood, at Pitlochry, in Perthshire, that we went again for this year's edition. Really very good indeed - we were, admittedly, lucky with the weather, but it is a marvellous experience - lots of loud music and unbelievable lighting effects in a highland forest, all reflected in a lake. I can't quite remember what psychedelic actually means, but I think it is on the right lines. The festival runs for the month of October each year, and if you get an opportunity to go, I recommend it thoroughly - tickets normally go on sale around July time.

This year's theme was Shimmer (last year's was Flux).

We had a welcome chance to catch up with progress on the new bridge over the
Forth - it may not be open in time for the end of this year, but it won't be far off.
Looks good. The new bridge will not be called the Third Forth Bridge, nor the
Fifth Bridge, nor any other of the popular social media names (especially
not Bridgey McBridgeface) - it will be called (possibly rather tamely) The
Queensferry Crossing. So there.

Autumn on the A9

Foy the Younger throws himself into his highland break with typical zeal

And the show itself was breathtaking...

Pitlochry is rather an expensive place - especially during the Enchanted
Forest season - there was some very competitive marketing in evidence

All very confusing for a visitor who was, almost certainly, probably definitely the
only retired Napoleonic French general in the Highlands this week
The Contesse did a nice job with the photography - she also took some splendid video clips, but these are dauntingly large things to upload, so instead I've linked to someone else's YouTube effort, which gives an idea - only an idea - the spectacle is far larger than a computer or mobile screen can portray, and the sound is well beyond the scope of the budgerigar's-bottom-hole-sized speakers in your laptop - you'll just have to go and see it!