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


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Peter Brekelmans' Thirty Years War Variant for Commands & Colors



Back in June I made reference to a Thirty Years War variant of Commands & Colors which I had been discussing with the chap who was developing it. During the course of what, for me, for family reasons, has been a rather fragmented Summer, Peter Brekelmans and I exchanged a great deal of correspondence, which I have enjoyed greatly, and from which I learned a good deal. Peter, like me, felt that it should be possible to develop a decent 17th Century variant from the existing GMT Commands & Colors games – his starting place was my own attempt at an ECW game, but he wished to extend the scope to cover the Thirty Years War more completely and – unlike me – he wished to commit a proper effort to developing some scenarios.

Peter uses the concepts of Command and "Chaunce" cards, as did I, but his card sets are rather different from mine. He also was keen to amend the game so that melee combat was simultaneous, rather than the C&C system of attack-and-then-battle-back. We spent some time working with this, and developed systems which would make simultaneous melee blows possible, but we had concerns that the fundamental balance of advantage in the game might be distorted (in favour of the defenders, I believe), so Peter has retained the 2-stage C&C-style melee combat, and offers simultaneous melee as a game option.

My own ECW variant has been in use for some years now, though I confess the current documentation is a little out of date; Peter’s game has been well thought through, but we have lacked the opportunity to do any proper playtesting. Since Peter is running out of enthusiasm to develop this further, in the absence of a potential audience, we’ve agreed that I should make the game available on this blog. I can claim the best of both worlds here – if there is any reflected glory going, then I was a contributor, but if you wish to take issue with any of it, don’t come to me – it wasn’t my game anyway!

I think the game, as presented, is a very nice package – certainly it is thought provoking and a useful education to people like me who know little of the TYW. I shall persist with my own ECW game, though I shall certainly incorporate a couple of new tweaks which came from our discussions, and I hope to get a chance to do some proper testing of Peter’s rules when opportunity presents itself.

You can download the sheets from Google Docs – you will find


2
3
4
5

2
3
4
5
6
7
8


I shall keep this post linked from some panel near the top of my blog display, so that you can find it easily, and we’ll also set up a specific email address so that you may contact Peter about his rules.

I hope you will join me in complimenting Peter on his efforts, his knowledge of the period and his splendid rule-writing style.


As a footnote, I admit to a persistent spinning of the head when working with access rights on Google Docs - if the links don't work, or point you to the wrong place, or tell you to go away, please let me know and I'll attempt to sort things out.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hooptedoodle #235 - The Brief Reign of Michael Dolan


[Since I have no competent hobby stuff going on at the moment, I thought I'd post a story from my old archives, to keep my eye in and in case someone might find it entertaining.]

I once worked for a very large insurance company. They were very famous – real market leaders, of impeccable repute. This company had a network of branch offices all over the British Isles, and these branches were managed by top salesmen, and staffed by people with great experience and a worthy tradition in the industry.

The salesmen used to hunt in packs – the chief salesmen in a branch would each have a team of junior salesmen appointed, and the credit for individual new policies was divided up among the team by some dark art which resulted in the most senior men getting the biggest slice of the sales commission each year. That’s how the industry worked in those days. You may imagine the characters who topped the company’s sales league tables each year – good, solid, extrovert types – the backbone of their local golf club, with a lot of private education on the CV, membership of round tables, masonic orders, and so on.

Predictably, the branches which featured at the top of the lists were places like Brighton, London West End, Manchester, Reading, Oxford and so forth. Each year, the awards at the Annual Conference went to the same old names, from the same old places, and if they hadn’t been turning over so much money it would all have been a bit tedious, I guess.

Then, one year around 1981, there was a new name at the top of the list. This was one of those brief golden ages which were occasionally handed to the insurance industry – prosperity was increasing, and there was a huge upsurge in the house-buying market, so things were going well anyway, but an unexpected star was born. Michael Dolan was a fairly junior member of staff, and he worked out of the company’s branch office in Cork, down at the southern tip of the Republic of Ireland. Yet he generated an astonishing amount of new business that year – an all-time company record – and came from nowhere to top the lists, having sold almost three times the total for the man who was second. The company, of course, was very keen on ethical sales behaviour, and even more keen on protecting the interests of their regular Good Old Boys, so there was some kind of an internal enquiry.

No problem – young Mr Dolan had simply sold a phenomenal amount of new business – almost all of it the newfangled Capital Bond type of savings contract, and all of it correctly and very deliberately allocated to his own personal sales record. There was a great deal of muttering, as you might expect – Michael was seen variously as a cheeky upstart or as a fresh hero and inspiration for the younger staff, and became the object of universal envy. The established order was under threat, but somehow it mattered rather less during what appeared to be a gold rush of some sort.

In those days, money-laundering regulations were in their infancy, and it is possible that such matters were viewed in a more relaxed fashion in the Republic anyway. Michael retained his status as top salesman of the year, but he left rather suddenly and went to work for someone else, outside the industry, which was all a bit strange, but no further details were forthcoming. Some years later, while drinking beer with some of the local staff on a visit to Cork, I heard the truth behind this great mystery.

The Dolan family had connections in the fishing industry in the area. At that time, local trawler captains suddenly found that they could make money very quickly and very painlessly by unloading their entire catch onto Russian factory ships, which worked just outside territorial waters. They got a good price for the fish, paid in cash, with no tax liability, and this did away with that messy business of conforming to official international quotas and of landing the stuff in port and hoping for good prices at auction. Of course, this was terribly illegal, but a lot of it went on, the local fishing fleet was suddenly working very hard, and the fishermen were left only with the problem of making this dodgy money disappear. What could have been more respectable than one of Michael Dolan’s shiny new Capital Bonds, all countersigned and on nice legal paper?

A trawler with a Russian factory ship
Michael was known and trusted by the fishermen, and he used to receive messages to meet various returning captains in the docks area – usually in pubs, at night. Apparently this was rather more unruly than such business deals were normally. Cars with their boots stuffed with banknotes would be at the meetings – I have a vision of carrier bags jammed full of notes, all smelling faintly of cod. The notes, apparently, were all used and untraceable. To add a quaint touch of professionalism, Michael used to employ the out-of-hours services of one Miss Hegarty, from a local bank, who could count and bundle loose cash quickly and accurately and issue an official-looking receipt. Presumably the money went into some account of Michael’s, but it was all paid very correctly into his employer’s sales account, and in the general hysteria surrounding this flood of prosperity, no-one bothered to look too carefully at what was going on.

It was too good to last. All sorts of loopholes were tightened up, the Russian ships were discouraged from operating in Irish waters, the whole fishing fleet was more carefully policed, money-laundering regulation of the finance industry arrived in a very large truck indeed, and it was all over. Exactly who would have been in trouble if it had come to the eyes of officialdom, and in how many ways, is an interesting thought.

Anyway, the mystery disappeared very quickly - it simply never happened. The people in our Cork branch obviously dreamed up the whole thing, to amuse themselves, and they certainly changed the names and the locations in the process, to add to the amusement.

Nothing to see here – move along please.

Michael who…?


Sunday, 18 September 2016

We Apologise for This Interruption in Service


Things have been a bit complicated around here recently - personal and family issues connected with my mother's infirmity mean that I am unlikely to have much time for wargaming or any other leisure activity for a little while.

Thanks to everyone who drops in here - it really is appreciated. I hope things will be back to normal for me before too long - I wish you all peace and comfort!

********

Someone very kindly sent me a link to the following, which is one of the celebrated 1950s Interlude sequences which the BBC used to employ when programme schedules got out of whack, or when the technology had a headache. This is dedicated to all those who remember those hairy old days of TV with affection, and also to anyone who prefers their films not to have too many sudden surprises, or any of that modern, psychological nonsense. Enjoy.


Monday, 12 September 2016

Hooptedoodle #234 - Donkey Award - The Auld Firm


My mother has been having worsening problems with her mobility, and on Saturday I was obliged to call in an emergency doctor, who agreed with me that her difficulties with vertigo required some prompt investigation, and suggested that a visit to hospital would enable this to be checked out, and would also allow the Occupational Therapists to see if it might be possible to get her to walk with her zimmer frame with more confidence.

Accordingly, he arranged for her to be admitted to the Western General (in Edinburgh), and for an ambulance to collect her from home. Since it was about 10pm when he arranged this, we were led to expect the ambulance to arrive around midnight. We packed a bag for her, and waited for the ambulance.

And waited.

And waited. From about 3am we started getting calls from the ambulance control team, to apologise for the delay - apparently they were having an unexpectedly busy night, and, quite rightly, any 999 (emergency) calls received take priority. Such was the flood of 999 calls, in fact, that it was 7am before the ambulance came, by which time my Mum (who is 91), was not very well or happy at all.

Can't really complain - money is tight, we are lucky to have the services we do have, and the doctor and the ambulance crew were all marvellous. So what strange thing was going on in Central Scotland on Saturday night then? - was there an outbreak of Dengue Fever, or had an aeroplane crashed on a city centre? Was it the Great Fire of Bathgate? How could this be?

The answer, of course, is the Auld Firm game. You probably could not care less, but the two biggest rival soccer teams in Scotland are Celtic and Rangers, both based in Glasgow, and both drawing fans and support from all over the country. Since some financial difficulties (too complicated to explain here) resulted in Rangers' being demoted to the lowest division a while ago, there have been no league games between the two for some 4 years or so.

However, cream always rises to the top, as all sewage workers will testify, so Rangers very quickly won promotion through the lower leagues, back up to the Scottish Premier, and on Saturday the magnificent tradition of the Auld Firm match against Celtic was renewed. Terrific.

Well - to a point. Scottish football undoubtedly needs teams with the drawing power and wealth of the Glasgow giants (I nearly said cyclops twins), but the traditions of these clubs, I regret to say, also involve a history of religious and sectarian bigotry (and we are speaking here of Ulster history, rather than Scottish), and a century and more of mindless, drunken conflict. I am confident, I hasten to add, that a lot of very decent people take their kids to the big games in Glasgow, but they are not the ones you see or hear. The Auld Firm game is, mostly, as far as you can tell, about hatred, and about such topical themes as the Battle of the Boyne and Irish Republicanism.

Depressing. Saturday served to remind us of what the tradition really consists of. Not that it matters an awful lot, Celtic won 5-1, which probably turned up the heat a bit. My Mum's ambulance was delayed by the need to look after critically ill people - people who had suffered heart attacks, people who had been injured in accidents - no problem with any of that. But by far the majority of the unusually high demand was football fans, in the aftermath of the big match; guys who had alcohol poisoning, guys who had hurt themselves falling down in a drunken stupor and - most of all - guys who had spent the evening in a frenzy, kicking lumps out of each other.

Thank you, my friends. Thanks for everything. It is a pleasure to share a planet with you.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

More Pottery Buildings - and another mystery church

Though the rate of arrival is now officially reduced, a few more ceramic "ornament" buildings for my ECW towns have sneaked under the wire of late. From the Tey Pottery "Britain in Miniature" series, I'm now really just keeping an eye open for particularly good bargains on a couple of odd buildings which I fancy; I was very pleased this week to get a very cheap example of the splendid Anne of Cleves' House (Lewes), in excellent order, and at a great price, since the collectors normally really go for this one, and prices are usually around £40 to £50 on eBay. Scrooge McFoy, naturally, did not pay anything like that amount.


I also secured a couple of nice churches - these are not from Tey, but are similar in style, and were made as part of John Putnam's "Heritage" series.

The first is, apparently, a miniature of St Michael's Parish Church, Blackawton, Devon, which building dates from the 14th Century.



The other is simply labelled "Church with Tower", which is certainly true, but the configuration with the narrow circular tower (spiral stairway?) joined onto the central square tower is a bit unusual. Anyone recognise the church? - it really doesn't matter, obviously, but I am gently interested.




All these pictures are lifted straight from eBay (for which thanks), and the buildings will be retouched (a little) and matt varnished (a lot) before they appear on any battlefields.

So - no prizes, but does anyone know the unnamed church?


***** Late Edit - Footnote *****

I've only recently become familiar with these ceramic miniature buildings, so I know very little about them, and don't really wish to know more than I need to understand to get a feel for the ranges and their availability. I am not, I remind myself, a proper collector, since I wish to use them in my toy soldier games rather than deploy them artistically on the piano. 

In case you care, Tey Pottery was founded by Carol Maxted-Massey, who produced various styles of ornamental pieces, at one time working with her brother. The factory was initially at Marks Tey, Colchester, though they later moved to 3 separate factories in Norfolk (at Hainford, Lenwade and Banham). They produced teapots, animal miniatures and painted tiles, but they also produced ranges of miniature buildings - I am particularly interested in the Britain in Miniature series, but there were others (usually smaller in scale), and they also did a number of out of catalogue or special order pieces which appear on eBay from time to time. Out of interest, I obtained a pdf history of the maker, so I have a better understanding of what is out there (and some of it is marvellous). Ms Maxted-Massey moved to Spain in 2002, and production ceased at that point.

John Putnam was a teacher who took early retirement in the 1970s so that he could concentrate on his great passion for ceramic modelling and sculpture. His output included his "Heritage" range of buildings, which became very popular. His factory was at his home, a farm near Blackawton, Devon (hence the choice of the church model illustrated above). His work was popular in the USA, so in later years he travelled to New England in order to add some American buildings to his range. John Putnam died some years ago, and his family moved to Totnes - I believe the pottery concern still exists, but whether they are still trading, and whether any new pieces were ever added, are unknown to me. 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

ECW - Guest Spot...

Steve Cooney very kindly sent me a note with some more pictures of his ECW troops, focusing on conversions. As far as I am concerned, this is a key topic, since the illustrations show a mixture of 20mm Hinton Hunt and Les Higgins cavalry figures (of which I use quite a few), and Steve explains the steps he has taken to improve the compatibility of these two makes.

Steve writes:

"...thought you might like to see some figures I tidied up recently....

They are Les Higgins and Hinton Hunt ECW Royalist and Parliamentarian Cavalry, I have attached a couple of photos. I snip the joints between the base and the horses forelegs on the Higgins figures, raise the front of the horse, and re-solder it so that the finished figure is slightly higher than it was originally.  

That way the Les Higgins figures are very compatible with the Hinton Hunt figures and are lovely models in their own right.

Hope you like them."






Thanks Steve - informative and inspirational!

Friday, 2 September 2016

Battle of Montgomery - 18th Sept 1644 - Another Really Bad Day for Lord John

Lord John, just checking that those chaps over by the river are the Other
Lot - his groom is saying nothing...
Well, since the hoped-for guest general is still missing, presumed to be on vacation, Max No-Mates decided to go it alone, and the battle has duly been fought this evening, to the aforementioned hybrid C&C-cum-allsorts rules.

The game lasted about one and a half hours, and I have a sad bit of news for all my Royalist readers - Lord John Byron blew it once again. The real battle swung in the balance for a little while, before the King's men collapsed; my version of it went the same way, but it was never very close...

I started the action at the point where the Parliamentarians have realised that they are outnumbered, and therefore in a bit of trouble, so they decide they must sit tight, while Lord Byron launches his men into a glorious attack, keeping a little reserve back to watch over the siegeworks at Montgomery Castle (and taking personal command of this reserve, naturally).

The activation rules allow spare activation counters to be hoarded (to a maximum of 5), and Byron's best bet would have been to advance slowly and steadily, keep his forces organised and the supports close at hand, and save up a little cache of extra counters to help out in moments of stress, later. He didn't get very good activation dice, that is for sure, but a slower advance would have been a sound idea - the Parliamentarians were not in a position to do much beyond standing and waiting. 5 Victory Points was all that were needed, and the Royalists had scope for gaining an extra 2 if they captured the Salt Bridge, the only Roundhead retreat across the River Camlad (or Kemlett, as John Speed's map says).

The Royalist attack gets moving, concentrating (historically) on the better ground on their right.

Meldrum does a bit of shuffling, to get his defence organised.

General view of the start of the attack - the rough ground is in the Y of the roads, far left.

Meldrum is ready, and salting away spare activation counters for later use.

So they stand and wait...

With the counter cache accumulating.

And the Royalists get nearer...

...and nearer...[really milking this]...

...and by the time they make contact Byron's second line is starting to get out of touch.

Of course, a cavalry fight broke out on the flank.

At last, Meldrum's foot got off what had to be a decisive musket volley - dreadful!
- they hit nothing at all in their big moment! - this was a high point for
the Royalists - things really looked quite promising.

But when the troops got into melee combat, the Parlies did very well indeed.

The cavalry battle was nasty, but Wm Fairfax with the Parliamentarian
horse gradually got the best of it, and also forced Michael Ernle's RoF into
Stand of Pikes (hedgehog, whatever).

Lord John suddenly has a vision.

And now we have it, as the combined cavalry of Myddleton's Brigade and the
Derbyshire Horse swept into Robert Broughton's Foot, coming up in support
- the Reaction Test required Broughton's lot [Class 3] to roll a 3 to get
themselves into Stand of Pikes, but they failed, leaving them unformed and
pretty much helpless. They took heavy losses and were forced to retreat 4 hexes,
which effectively put them out of action for the rest of the day. 

Now Myddleton's horse crashed on into Henry Warren's Foot, which was
also wrecked, Warren himself being captured
 

Suddenly very short of troops, Byron sent up the remainder of his Horse, but
the day was lost. Michael Ernle's regiment, still in Stand of Pikes, was destroyed
by musketry, and surrendered. The 5 VPs were accomplished. 

Situation at the end, seen from behind the Parliamentarian position.

Sir John Meldrum - job done - no celebration and certainly no hat-waving.
He has to get back to running the Siege of Liverpool in the morning.
Overall losses - Meldrum's Parliamentarian Army numbered about 1500 horse and 1500 foot; they lost about 400 horse, 200 foot. Byron's Royalist Army had about 1500 horse and 3000 foot; they lost about 700 horse, 2200 foot, and Col Henry Warren was wounded and taken prisoner. OOBs can be found in the earlier "preamble" post, here.

The real battle ended with the broken Royalist force being pursued right off the field, to the south, which is where they suffered most of their loss (500 killed and 1500 prisoners, I believe, overwhelmingly from the Foot). This evening's version did not continue to play out the pursuit, but I have a simple dice system to simulate the situation at the end of the day. This reflects the state of the respective armies - in particular the balance of effective cavalry remaining. In this action, the Parliament army held the field, with moderate initial losses and the troops still fairly fresh, while the Royalist cavalry was not in a desperate state, but was battered. The system is crude but works OK - the winning side roll 1D6 for each base lost (red "loss" counter - I don't remove actual bases) - any base which rolls 4, 5 or 6 can return to the ranks in the morning - they were just lost somewhere in the general excitement; the bases on the losing side are only rescued by a 6 - those that avoided death and capture are heading homewards, thank you very much.

In my game, poor old Byron should have advanced more carefully, keeping his force better co-ordinated, storing up extra activation counters wherever possible and using his greater numbers of foot to gain superiority in a focused area. He would also have done well to keep his shakier units (Class 3 - yellow markers) out of the front line - this was probably compromised, both in the game and in the real battle, by the fact that the senior officers in the Foot (notably Ernle) were from the Shrewsbury garrison, so the most jaundiced troops were to the fore. There were two particular occasions where lack of enthusiasm caused problems: part of Tom Tyldesley's horse were forced to take the necessary double retreat as the result of a reverse in the cavalry skirmish, which removed them from the action, and - especially -  Broughton's foot failed the reaction test needed to redeploy when attacked by Myddleton's horse, were badly beaten and ran a long way from the action, leaving Myddleton's men to continue to roll up the Royalist left.

In an action of this size there are few second chances - when the day starts to swing one way, lack of fresh reserves and lack of opportunity to withdraw damaged units are decisive - and quickly. The real Battle of Montgomery lasted about an hour - my version must have been fairly similar. Without the Homeric narrative of the rally of the Cheshire Foot and the Yorkshire Horse, the story is simple enough - the King's troops attacked, it did not go well for them and they retreated from the field, losing a great many in killed and captured on the retreat.