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

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Vauban's Bits

Graham, of the Scotia Albion blog, very kindly sent me some 3D-printed bits to add to my store of equipment for my siege wargames. These have been specially scaled to fit with my old (and OOP) Terrain Warehouse Vauban fort, which has always been short of a few bits and pieces - the manufacturers gave up on this range before it was complete, and subsequently were bought over by another firm whose interests lay elsewhere.

He has sent me a selection of pieces, all very interesting and thought-provoking. The most obvious show-stopper is a fine gatehouse/barracks building - this comes with some extra pieces, to provide a few alternate configurations, so that it can be a barracks and not a gatehouse. The photos are of the gatehouse set-up.

I still have to clean up the printed pieces a bit, and I was hoping to get some paint on quickly, so I could knock everyone (someone? - anyone?...) dead with pictures of the finished kit, but alas, a number of my "scenery" paint pots have set solid. I went to my local hardware store to get in some fresh paint today - got a few of them replaced (I use Dulux colour-matching sample tins), but the base colour for the brown shades was out of stock, so my two tins of Rum Caramel (shades #1 and #2) should be available tomorrow or maybe Thursday. That's fine, but since that is the undercoat colour I can't do any painting until I get them. Watch this space.

Thanks again, Graham.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Battle of La Rothiere - 1st Feb 1814

Yesterday was a fighting day, up at Kinross. There were four of us involved - the Archduke was travelling from Westmorland, Baron Stryker was arriving from much closer at hand, in his campaigning sedan chair, I was coming from south of the Forth, and the day's events were scheduled to take place at the legendary Schloss Goya, where the Count did a magnificent job of preparing and planning the game, preparing a very fine luncheon and (whisper it) even serving up lemon cake with afternoon tea.

The battle was a big 'un, no disputing that fact, the scenario lifted from the website. Here is the scenario diagram - we used my Ramekin variant of C&CN - 8 Victory Points for the win.

We each contributed some of the troops. Stryker lost the toss of a coin and thus had to partner me in command of the French. A quick squint at the situation, along with the events of actual history, suggested that we were about to receive a thrashing.

Some of the Russian troops in action were very scary indeed - the Guard Grenadiers are very powerful, and the most formidable of the lot were their Guard Heavy Cavalry, who are 6 blocks strong, get a bonus of +1 die in combat and may disregard 2 retreat flags. Oh, jolly good. I was very pleased to see they were well back in the rear of the Allied reserve at the start - I had visions of their casually touring the battlefield, mopping up our army. The rules also bestow upon the Russian infantry a most unsporting reluctance to run away when pressed, and the final outrage is the Mother Russia die before the battle starts - on the day, this provided an extra block of strength for two of the Russian infantry regiments, and also an extra block for both of their field batteries. This did not seem like good news - since I had no idea how an extra-large battery is allocated combat dice in C&CN, we had to agree an ad-hoc rule for the day to cover this. Whatever, the Russian artillery was a major nuisance throughout the day.

It seemed very odd that the Bavarians present were, of course, not on the French side. The French had some Guard Cavalry, and some Young Guard infantry, but it was decreed that, this being 1814, the quality of the French line infantry did not merit the usual +1 combat die for elan in melee.

We (the French) assumed that the Bavarians would be sent across the stream into our left flank, so we set up to give them a hot reception. In fact they didn't attack us at all, so that was an effective feint! The VP rules for this scenario are fairly complex, but include extra points for possession of the 4 villages of La Giberie, Petit-Mesnil, La Rothiere itself (with the church) and Dienville. We duly defended these four villages, but things did not go very well at the start, the Russians drove us out of La Rothiere and eliminated one of our two field batteries. Thereafter the theme of the day was fighting for the villages, and trying to stay clear of the big Russian batteries. There was a good deal of cavalry fighting as the day developed. We started rather poorly, but as time went on we started to wear down the Russian infantry, and we got the VP score to 7-each. At this point we only (only!) had to push one of our Young Guard units across the stream on our left flank, and attack a wood containing a much-weakened Bavarian regiment (and, preferably, take out Wrede at the same time). This was such a vivid prospect that we could actually see it happening, but it was vital that we won the initiative for the next turn.

We duly won that initiative, and in a state of some excitement we attacked tthe Bavarian-held wood, but the attack failed completely, and the response was conclusive. Around this time, the Russian Guard Grenadiers eliminated one more French unit, and during that same turn we were driven out of two more of the key villages, so that, instead of sneaking a victory 8-7 (which would have been a travesty, to be honest), we actually lost - within a single turn - by 9-4. Hmmm. From the jaws of you-know-what.

Not to worry - great game - historically correct result, and it was exciting throughout. Questions will certainly be asked about the performance of the French artillery, but we are confident that (authentically) Napoleon will just lie through his teeth about the outcome, and publish appropriate Fake News in his dispatches.

My appreciation and very best wishes to my colleagues, and especially to Count Goya for his tireless hospitality. Excellent day!
View from behind the French right at the start, with the River Aube (unfordable) in the foreground, the key villages all defended. You can just see the Bavarian-Austrian force threatening our left flank at the far end of the table, beyond the stream.
Looking along the Russian line, from their left
Russians advancing on their left - this attack didn't develop as much as we expected, but it kept us worried throughout. You can see the pesky "Mother Russia" super-size batteries on the ridge in the background.
The French are quickly driven out of La Rothiere, and one of the French batteries has been overrun and eliminated. That's General Gerard (white border) attempting to convince his men that they should try to take the place back.
This is just a more expansive view of the same moment, I think (apologies for duff photos)
Over on the Allied right, you can see the Bavarians pretending that they might cross the stream and do something, but they sat it out, while we kept a very warlike eye on them
A general view - you can see the gap in the middle, between the armies, caused by the lack of a French answer to the artillery problem. Russians marching forward relentlessly.
The French are running out of infantry at this stage
Time for some volunteers to win the day...
Here we go - Stryker's Young Guard battalion, about to cross the stream and set about those Bavarians - at least they are thinking about it
First of all, they had to cope with an attack from an Austrian hussar unit - we did pretty well - the YG refused to form square, and convinced the hussars that they should take a Retire and Reform option. Good - not immortal yet, but working on it.
Meanwhile, my own Young Guard battalion took back La Rothiere - they didn't keep it for long, but we were starting to win back a few VPs at this stage

The Russians still have a lot of troops, and many of them are fresh. Note that the village of La Rothiere (with church) is now occupied by the Russian Guard Grenadiers - no-one was in any great hurry to take them on, so there they stayed.
Stryker's YG chaps lasted hardly any longer than mine - having failed to shift the Bavarians out of the wood, they were surrounded and eliminated. The game was over shortly afterwards. I hope that Stryker will be able to put a more positive spin on his blog report on this game! L'Empereur is depending on him.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Hooptedoodle #349 - Donkey Award - Aviva

My mother (courtesy of my address) received a letter from Aviva Insurance last week. She has a whole-of-life assurance policy still in force - this policy was issued (I think as a contribution towards funeral costs) many years ago by Sun Life, whose business was absorbed by a succession of larger dinosaurs over the years, the current incumbent being Aviva.

The letter explained that this policy was to become free (i.e. no more premiums) since she is now 95, and that the cash-in surrender value would now be equal to the value on death. This is the same procedure we recently went through with Prudential - eventually these old "industrial" policies cost more to keep in force than they are worth to the insurer, so this is pretty much standard practice - except that the shut-off age is usually 90. My mother is currently paying £5.95 a month for this policy - at a rough estimate, she has paid about two-and-a-half times the death value in premiums over the years, but no matter - she is lucky to have lived this long.

I rang the customer help desk number given in the letter, and spoke to a very helpful chap who accepted that my mother was not well enough or aware enough to be able to write, nor speak on the phone, and that I had Power of Attorney (PoA) for her affairs (though I am not registered as such with Aviva). He also suggested that surrendering the policy now would be a smart move, since my mother's potential funeral costs are trivial compared to the cost of her care while she lives - and we agreed that I would send in my PoA documentation by registered mail, so that we may proceed with the surrender.

It cost me some £4.55 for a small parcel, to be signed for on receipt, and the PoA stuff went off to them with a covering letter and photocopies of the policy and their original letter. This morning the paperwork came back, with a letter (a standard letter with customer details inserted) which explains that the PoA material is not acceptable, for a whole pile of reasons - basically that the document must be either a signed approved copy or else the original.

Naturally one has to do these things correctly, but I'm well practised in this stuff - the Certificate of Registration I sent is a signed, approved copy and the PoA documents are originals - on the official OPG embossed paper. I believe it is completely legal - it has previously been accepted by HM Revenue and Customers, the State Pensions Department, two separate private pension funds of which my mother is a member, Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, Trustee Savings Bank, Santander, National Savings and Investment, Prudential, East Lothian Council, and all manner of traders and utility suppliers my mother previously had accounts with. These documents have toured the UK over the last 10 years, at some expense.

What, you may ask yourself, is special about Aviva?

My irate descriptions of the company this morning may have included some potentially unusual elements - I fear I rather offended the Contesse with my views. I shall phone them on Monday, after my blood pressure medication, and see what we should do next. I am reluctant to send the documents again. The policy, I must add, is only worth some hundreds of pounds, so, since it will eventually become payable when my mother passes away I am tempted to forget about surrendering the policy. I'll try to phone them on Monday - see how it goes.

I suspect there is nothing very special about Aviva. I think it is likely that some dogsbody in Legal Life Services (so it says) saw the unmissable opportunity to get out of doing something by throwing the carrot back into the customer's court and - maybe? - to spoil someone's day while they were at it. I shall shrug this off. If Monday doesn't go well then I'll just forget the surrender offer - I'll check that the premiums stop, you bet. I'll write myself a note about what has happened, and dig the policy out when my mum dies.

If there was ever any remote chance of my ever doing business again with Aviva (after the house insurance pantomime...) then I guess it just vanished.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Join the Queue

Some new figures in the painting queue this week - well, not new, exactly - some of them haven't been owned before, but they aren't new.
Some real Old School French chaps in here - HH Guard Engineers and Line Artillery, and some Alberken Guard Artillery. The Engineers still had the original mould flash under the paint, so I'll try to improve on that this time round
This is a random bunch of old figures which have been fermenting in the Clean Spirit jar for about 10 weeks. Since there were still traces of gloss black and gloss red which refused to shift, they finished up with a few hours in the Domestos - that did it. Like me, you might wonder why I bothered with the 10 weeks in the Clean Spirit, but it's the principle of the thing, really.
10 packs of OOP Falcata Spanish cavalry - once again, I have killed off one of the world's endangered species - I believe they are now officially extinct. This should be enough for 4 regiments, with luck. Put them next to the White Rhino
Probably more interestingly, I also have a little shipment of the much-missed Falcata Spanish Napoleonic heavy cavalry - now rarer than hens' teeth. My mysterious friend and advisor, Count Goya, was recently in Spain. Goya's adventures can only be guessed from occasional glimpses and hints - tantalising, really. Sunset verandahs in Mandalay, a half-seen shadow in a village on the Adriatic, whispers of the Spice Routes, blood and sand...

Anyway, he spotted some OOP Falcata figures in Spain, and very kindly brought me back a pack. I, of course, was much less calm about the matter, and promptly lit up the Internet in my searches to see if there were any more. I am pleased to say that I seem to have managed to snaffle the world's final stocks of the Spanish cavalry.

To save a little on postage, since shipping rates from Spain are famously extravagant, I arranged with my friend Jack the Hat that he would collect the goods for me next time he visited Barcelona (he has an apartment there), and the deed was done last week. I think I have enough for 4 units of line cavalry. They can go in the Spanish box, and I'll get to them.

Jack the Hat, cunningly disguised (without  hat), does the messages
To give an idea of Count Goya's exotic lifestyle, he even has his own food manufactured and supplied when he is on his travels

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Hooptedoodle #348 - know, maybe it is funny, after all...

This morning the plan was to visit my old mum, in the care home in the village. Sometimes this can be kind of heavy going, but the visits mean a lot to her (though she forgets about them almost immediately), and I do feel better afterwards.

This is not a great time, for a lot of reasons - I drove off to the home in my van, trying to find something on the radio which was not about the latest political excitement here in the UK - not easy. Apparently Adrian Mole and his football hooligan sidekick have pulled a brilliant fast one by sending some foreign chaps a letter written in disappearing ink (or something). Wow - what a corker. I can feel patriotic pride flooding though my old veins. What a bunch of self-serving tossers.

When everything turns to rat droppings, Schadenfreude is probably all we have left. Ultimately, I'm past caring what happens - bring it on, but I do have a list of key individuals who I hope get their just desserts after the public enquiry. In such a context, trying to engage my mother in conversation is something of a light relief.

She can only stand my visits for about 30 to 40 minutes (people who know me may understand this), then she starts to get anxious, so when the time appeared to be right I said cheerio and see-you-soon, and left, to get some groceries at Tesco's on the way home. There's a strict regime at the home, whereby visitors have to sign in and out. This all makes good sense, and I was told that, if there's a serious fire, the signatures in the visitors' book will make it easier to reconcile the body count. That's probably more security information than I had thought I needed, but it also bothers me a little - what happens if the book is consumed in the flames? Never mind - if I'm dead, I won't care.

I  signed out (11:45, if it matters), and as I opened the front door to leave there were two fellows standing outside - plumbers, come to service the heating. I held the door open for them, exchanged "good morning"s, and the older of the two said:

"Does someone on the staff know you're going out?"

"It's OK," I told him, "I've signed the book".

So that was all right, then, but I was a bit shaken. As I went to retrieve my van, I was actually laughing out loud. Hysteria? - quite probably, but there is a certain black humour in the thought that one day I may be trapped in the home forever because the plumbers aren't convinced I'm a visitor. Not even Adrian Mole is above such judgements, eventually, I guess. Thank you, God.

Maybe I should take a break from watching my Twilight Zone box set.

Here's a trailer from one of my favourite movies, which is getting more poignant every day.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Change of Scene

On Thursday I travelled down to visit Graham - he of Crann Tara Miniatures, and the very fine Scotia Albion blog - a real celebrity by my standards!

Crann Tara - '45 Rebellion - British Line Command, Marching
Apart from the social side of my visit (i.e. a chance for me to bore someone else to death) and the opportunity to see some of Graham's splendid figures, and talk about how he develops and manufactures (and sells) them, I have been fascinated by his reports of his use of 3D printers, and was very keen to know a bit more.

I had a splendid day - again, I must express my appreciation of Graham's kindness and his resilience and patience in answering my stupid questions so well and so openly. I learned a great deal, I have to say, and he very kindly printed me some samples of Vauban-type fortifications, and provided me with links to some of the more promising sites which provide files for printing (including some, such as Thingiverse, which provide the files free of charge, subject to the usual courtesy rules about non-commercial use and giving credit where it's due).

I accept that the 3D printing machines are probably pretty familiar now, if not to me, but I hadn't realised that they come in various types. Graham has a Prusa machine, which prints using a plastic filament (FDM - Fused Deposition Modelling), and he also has one which is physically smaller (I have forgotten it's maker, but you can find all this on Graham's blog) - this second one produces the printed models in a resin bath rather than on a flatbed in the open air (which is what the FDM one does). Both produce astonishing results - the resin models show fine detail rather better (for figures), while the filament machine is better for buildings and similar pieces. I saw figures of various types, in all sorts of sizes, and am very impressed that the muskets and bayonets appear, faithfully and beautiful, right down to the smallest size. The afternoon was filled with tiny tanks, bren-gun careers, triremes, the hulls and sails of sailing ships, soldiers of every known size and all manner of bits and pieces for fortifications - even furniture for dolls' houses...

Prusa FDM 3D Printer - probably not the same model!
The cost of production of the pieces is very low, though the machines themselves are obviously a serious investment if you are looking for quality and reliability. Printing is slow, which is not a problem, though it requires some commonsense in scoping projects and realistic production times. I was interested to learn that with the resin machine you can group several soldiers (for example) and produce them as a single job, with the same elapsed time as a solitary figure - on the other hand, the FDM printer will do the figures as a single batch, but the times will be additive. I was about to add a note here about why this is so, but I suddenly remember that I am out of my depth.

I also saw a lot of beautiful and interesting painted soldiers, of course, which is inspirational and humbling at the same time, and we talked a lot about wargaming - no-one expected that! I had an excellent day all round. 

It's a part of the country I really don't know at all. I was favourably impressed - it was a fine, sunny day and, maybe apart from Hartlepool [!], the area is more attractive than I expected and, of course, the people are lovely. In the evening Graham took me along to the Redcar Raiders Wargaming Club, which meets in a pub (yeah!). The members were very friendly and welcoming - that's a thriving club. I wandered about, looking at the activities, trying not to do my usual Banquo's Ghost impersonation. Amongst other things, there were a number of Warhammer-style games, and Blood Bowl (which is new to me), and an interesting looking naval game called Blood and Plunder. All great fun. 

Redcar Raiders - photo borrowed from their Facebook page

Thanks again, Graham, for your time and generosity - a fascinating day, and very educational. I'm going to do some more reading online about 3D printers, to see what possibilities there are for adding the missing bits to my existing Vauban fort.

Topic Two

One result of what I have learned is that I now realise that 3D printing is the way to progress my fort and my siege gaming, whatever my timescale, and however ambitious the intentions of the project might become. One immediate casualty is that one of my interim "diversification projects" has now become defunct, which means I have a spare fort to dispose of.

I planned to put this on eBay in a few weeks. Here are some photos - if anyone is interested, please email me at the address in my profile, or else send a comment to this post (stating that it is not for publication) with your email details, so I can contact you. What I have on offer is's Vauban fort set, with some extra pieces.  I regret that it would be a bad idea to mail it outside the UK, since the postage costs will be more than the price of the item - apologies for this, but UK only, please.

Some measurements - it is, as you see, a square fort. It's nominally 15mm scale, and it's cast in hard resin (the larger pieces are hollowed out, to keep the weight down). There are 4 walls, 4 bastions, 2 gatehouses and 4 staircases.

Overall size is 515mm square; the walls are 55mm to the top, and the straight wall sections are 180mm long, the roadway behind the rampart is 42mm wide. It is as new - I bought it about a year ago, and it has been stored, unpainted, in the original packaging - it just needs to be washed and painted. I'll try to get a painted view from Anyscale Models' website.

If you're interested, please get in touch. If there's no interest, I'll put it on eBay in a few weeks, but the price is likely to go up a bit to cover overheads.

Photo of painted Vauban Fort borrowed from Anyscale Models' website - I am offering a few additional bits

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Hooptedoodle #347 - Amazon Prime Telephone Scam

Armed with our whizzo anti-nuisance phone, we have got rather used to not being hassled by morons, but the use of randomised fake caller numbers seems to have brought the problem back.

No damage done here, but just a general heads-up. This scam was going the rounds last year, based on fake emails. It's now moved to the telephone. This last week we have been averaging 3 or 4 scam phone calls a day, sent to both our landline and my wife's mobile. The sender number appears to be randomly generated - none of the numbers is listed on Who Called Me and similar sites, and a call to any of them is rejected as invalid - no such number. Thus we can block each individual number as it is used, but it doesn't help much.

On the 3 occasions we've answered the call, there is a recorded voice message (English, with an Indian-subcontinent accent) which tells us that our Amazon Prime account will now renew itself by billing us $39.99 each month. If we do not wish to renew, press "1" to speak to an account advisor.

We did not press "1", of course, though some nervous people might. None of us has an Amazon Prime account (I can't imagine why we would want one), though both of the telephones in question were used in connection with chasing up recent non-delivery problems (and promised but imaginary refunds) associated with the Amazon Marketplace. Coincidence?

I don't think changing passwords or anything is going to help - we could change our contact numbers for our Amazon accounts, I guess. For the moment we'll just try not to answer, not play along and hope they get fed up with us soon.

Anyway - keep an eye open. I have already ditched my eBay account because of the security risks. I'd hate to lose access to Amazon, but I am starting to think about not buying anything more from Amazon's "marketplace" sellers. I'm sure they are mostly bona fide, but we've come across some lulus.