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


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Morale – Now I Remember


I thought I should write this while I still feel the need to do so. It’s amazing how you forget. Yesterday, I blithely set about playing out a small cavalry skirmish for the ECW campaign (previous post, if you can be bothered), and felt that, since the game was too small and fiddly for my usual Commands & Colors style rules, I should get back to some proper, old-fashioned wargaming, and use more traditional rules, such as I knew and loved when I was young and enthusiastic. I was rather looking forward to it.

I didn’t go into this completely blind – I decided to use a derivative of Victory without Quarter, which I have used before for larger ECW actions – including a very large one at Old John’s HQ two years ago. Fine. As I recall, apart from a couple of gaps in the rules (which the derivative is intended to fix), the games went OK.

Well…

I got a bit of a shock yesterday – I mean, the game was OK, but the very small scale of the action threw up an effect which I didn’t expect – or, at least, if I should have expected it then I’d forgotten what wargames used to be like.

The rules I used were a wholehearted effort to do things the old way – put the boards with the non-hex side up, dig out the measuring tape, have the QRS tables taped up on the dresser to keep things grooving along. I didn’t have a bounce stick for roundshot, but it would have felt even better if I had. The action involved a grand total of seven units, with two generals, and I was very happy to measure out march distances, divide the last three inches by two because that was a rough patch of ground, take a full move to deploy from march column into line, measure the outer-edge travel of a line wheeling, all that good stuff. There was a lot of manoeuvring and measuring and moving about, which was fun, and there were two cavalry melees, in quick succession. Then, it seemed, there were about thirty morale tests, which must have taken 80% of the total brain effort and about half the elapsed time.

Holy smoke. The tests in this game require 2D6 to be supplemented by various plus and minus factors, and you pass by totalling 7 or more. You fail by getting 4 to 6. You fail disastrously (and have to go away, quickly) if you get less than 4. Some of the plus/minus factors are constant givens for a unit (level of training, quality etc) some change slowly as the action progresses (increasing losses, past upsets) and some are transients based on current situation (proximity of friends, command, cover, enemy etc). It is a pretty standard, traditional approach to morale. Though it is not complicated, and you can remember a lot of it without reference to the sheet, there is a fair sized list to check against. Every time.

EVERY TIME.

No real surprises here – those of us who learned our wargaming from Messrs Featherstone, Wesencraft, Tunstill and Co would expect a wargame to be like this. It was, if I remember correctly, a point of pride amongst us that this particular clever bit of the game made it more scientific than (for example) Snakes & Ladders. I can remember explaining to my mother that the game wasn’t just bang-bang (such a game would be childish, of course), but the morale mechanisms actually gave the little men a say in what happened, and the challenge for the general was coping with the frustrations which the rules and the dice (and therefore Fate, of course – we were in distinguished company here) handed out. Well, I’m sorry, Mum, but I’m not so enthusiastic now – perhaps I should have cut my teeth on Young and Lawford instead – it might well have given me a more pragmatic education in these matters.

Here’s an example from yesterday. Two cavalry units – both rather shaky – face up to each other on a hillside in Northern England in 1644. Let us call them A and B.

A get within charge range of B, and declare a charge – good for them.

First have to check their morale, to see if they are up for it. Yes, they pass. Charge.

Unit B wish to countercharge – have to check morale. They pass, but in the event the chargers are too close, so B receive the charge at the halt.

The first round of melee takes place, in addition to everything else, A are uphill of B, so the melee is a bit one-sided. B take heavier loss, are shaken and pushed two inches down the slope. They have to have their morale tested  to see if they rout – no, they hold their ground, albeit shaken.

In the next turn, the general in charge of B is lucky enough to get the initiative, so his first order is to rally the shaken unit B. This obviously requires a morale test. They pass, rather surprisingly, so they straighten out their line and wait to be charged again.

A’s turn. A are ordered to charge again – since unit B are now rallied and steady again, A need a morale test – they pass, and charge.

There is no question of a countercharge, the newly-rallied B receive the charge at the halt, and take many casualties – they lose the melee, so – that’s right – they must test morale. They fail – they collapse, and rout 3D6 inches immediately.

Right. A’s commander does not wish them to pursue, so he attempts to hold them by means of – you guessed it – a morale test. They fail, so they pursue, out of control, a distance of 3D6 (which, as it happens, is less than the other lot’s 3D6, so they do not catch them).

From this point, the respective commanders can each look forward to a morale test for A and B every turn until they rally. In yesterday’s action, the routers (B) passed very close to a friendly unit (C), who thus required a morale test to see how they reacted to this. They failed – they were shaken, and thus not able to take orders from the commander.

Round about the same moment, the uncontrolled pursuit brought A face to face with C (who couldn’t have attacked them anyway, but A did not know this), and A had to take a morale test to see how they reacted. They got double 1, which is a bit extreme, and thus they not only stopped their wild pursuit but did an about-face and routed back the way they had come. There were now 3 units who would require a morale test each turn to try to rally them.

Enough of this – you get the idea. Whatever else happened was almost incidental compared with this relentless industry of morale. Obviously I survived the experience, but the tiny action had served to highlight the disproportionate effort which goes into these tests in this style of game.

I had forgotten. I remember now. I don’t really want to do this again – not like this. Commands and Colors just hands out retreats as part of the loose change on the Battle Dice – easy peasy. It’s surprising how quickly you get used to that, though it might not suit everyone. I had a think about what else I used to do – there was life before C&C, and it wasn’t all as wretched as yesterday, so what else was there?

Well, 4 years ago I was using in-house Napoleonic rules which owed a lot to many sources, but particularly to Doc Monaghan’s The Big Battalions – I especially liked his inclusion of musketry volley fire into melees, which made a lot of sense and simplified a lot of things, and I liked the approach to melees themselves, which virtually eliminated all the morale testing around that area.

In TBB, each side has an effectiveness score based on type, nationality and formation, with additions/subtractions for context; add 1D6 for each side, and subtract the defender’s total from the attacker’s. The table of results takes care of all the morale testing at a stroke. You can just get on with your charge…

I quote from TBB – this table gives net results and what they mean:

+5        Defender routed before contact
+3,+4  Defender routed
+1,+2  Defender retreats
0          Violent Struggle takes place
-1,-2    Attacker retreats
-3,-4    Attacker routed
-5         Attacker routed before contact
-6         Attacker refused to advance

Then there are instructions for how many casualties apply to victorious, defeated and routing units, and how to conduct the retreats. Oh yes, a Violent Struggle means that both sides suffer heavy casualties, as though they had been defeated.

So?

Well, the game still contains a lot of detailed rules, but – to me – that seems a more sensible – not to say humane – way to cope with the morale implications of a melee. For future detailed, tactical games, I shall try to find rules which are more like The Big Battalions.

That is, of course, provided I have not forgotten again.







Tuesday, 30 December 2014

ECW Campaign – Skirmish at Hobden’s Mill - 19th March 1644

Lord Alwyn's brigade of Parliamentarian horse plods through woodland in
what passes for column of march in these rules...
As soon as he learned that Parliamentarian troops were at Ringrose House, Lord Porteous, the Royalist commandeer in North Lancashire, sent a fast galloper to Colonel Sir Roderick Broadhurst, stationed at Dransfield House with a cavalry outpost, with orders to bring his force back to Midlawton with all haste, to join the main Royalist army.

Broadhurst was a seasoned campaigner, a veteran of the wars in Germany, and was used to exercising his judgement to interpret the orders of his (very inexperienced) commanding officer in whatever way he thought was in the best interests of His Majesty. On this occasion, he considered that – since the estimates he had received of the Roundhead strength gave real cause for alarm – he should simply cut and run; take his entire garrison from Dransfield and head back east, as ordered.

He set off on the morning of 17th March, with his own regiment of horse and that of Lord Clevedon, plus Major Dingle’s regiment of dragoons and a very small, almost a token, element of light artillery – a frame gun which added little to his firepower but slowed his march down a great deal (though, of course, it might have proved invaluable if he had been required to defend Dransfield House – a situation which seemed unlikely now). A total of some 1200 men.

Some miles to the south, a brigade of Parliamentary horse under Lord Alwyn were plodding towards him through the mud, under orders to hold a position in the area known as Boot Mills – near the site of the long-vanished medieval village of Boot – abandoned and burnt down following the plagues of two centuries earlier. This position would screen the left flank of the Parliamentarian advance and would cover the key fords over the River Arith at Patondale. Lord Alwyn had at his disposal three regiments of horse – those of Thomas Chetwynd, Richard Sudley and Lord Eastham – he had no dragoons, and no artillery presence – speed of movement was considered paramount by the Parliament command. By a complete coincidence, Alwyn also had about 1200 men.

Lord Alwyn knew that a very troublesome force of Royalist horse was present somewhere near Dransfield, but he had no information about its strength or location.

The Parliament forces marched up the road from the bottom; the
mill is the building about two-thirds up the map, beside the road
On the morning of the 19th the two cavalry forces blundered into each other near a mill belonging to the Hobden family, close to the site of Boot village. Broadhurst’s scouts alerted him first, and he attempted to set a trap for the enemy column in the area of enclosures and hedgerows near the mill. Alwyn soon caught sight of the Royalist troopers in the fields next to the mill, and he halted his column and deployed his leading regiment into line.

There followed a quick and decisive melee between Alwyn’s right-hand unit and Broadhurst’s leftmost one, which resulted in the Parliamentarian horsemen being routed. In the period of confusion which followed, Alwyn’s leading support unit refused to advance, and Broadhurst quit the field leading his force away to the east, toward Patondale fords and the Royalist centre at Midlawton. The Royalists had almost no casualties at all – the Parliamentarian Lord Eastham’s Regiment of Horse suffered approximately 80 killed and missing, 115 wounded.

All units of horse are classed as raw “trotters”, Broadhurst is rated as “Competent” (rating 2) and Alwyn as “Poor” (1). I used my Arquebus rules, which are an adaptation of Clarence Harrison’s Victory without Quarter, quite simply because the action was too small and too tactical to suit the Commands & Colors variant I normally use.

[I would describe the experience of using these rules as “Death by Morale Tests” – there is a definite Old School feel to them, but this extends to a relentless series of traditional-style morale checks which proved, ultimately, to be laborious and dispiriting, considering the modest scale of the skirmish and the short duration. I am not filled with any great enthusiasm to use them again in this form…]

The photos should give a little more idea of the fighting. [Note to self: must encourage my son Nick to return to photography duties for these battles – his pictures are always more interesting than mine.]

Normal, full army returns for the end of Week 3 will follow in a few days.

Broadhurst marches his Royalist force on to the field

Having spotted the enemy approaching, Broadhurst sets an ambush at the
mill, and personally leads Lord Clevedon's Horse in a flanking manoeuvre

Broadhurst's remaining troops hurry into position for the ambush

No ambush - Lord Alwyn sees troopers moving in the fields, halts his
march and forms up, detaching Lord Eastham's regiment in a flanking move to the right...

Lord Alwyn, with his Welsh grandad's sword

Alwyn's boys, all formed up and with Lord Eastham's RoH steaming
ahead on the right flank...

...while the Royalists are also in position, with their flanking column moving up on the left...

Dragoons behind the hedge - I bet no-one expected that...

...while Broadhurst's own regiment take position behind the wall of a field, with
pistols at the ready

The frame gun - not a lot of help today. Maybe another time...

General view, from behind the Royalist position, as the first clash approaches

Lord Eastham's Roundheads, on this side, face up to Lord Clevedon's horse

First impact, Eastham's men are pushed back down the hill, suffering heavy
casualties and becoming shaken

And yet they rally, but do not have time to offer any kind of countercharge before Broadhurst
and Lord Clevedon's men are on them again

This time it's decisive - the Parliament regiment streams to the rear, broken, and Broadhurst
fails dismally in his attempt to halt the pursuit by the victors. Then it all becomes
very confused - the routing cavalry pass their colleagues in Thomas Chetwynd's regiment,
who are now the front line, and give them such a shock that they are shaken and refuse
to take orders from Lord Alwyn. Around the same moment, the pursuing Royalist
horse suddenly come upon Chetwynd's halted men, get a disastrous morale check
result and turn tail and rout. In the resultant confusion, Broadhurst gets his
army on the march, on their original route. There is no immediate prospect of Alwyn
organising any kind of pursuit for a while...






Sunday, 28 December 2014

Background Artillery Project - A Gift for Timing


Having only very recently scratched together a more-or-less complete set of limbers for my French artillery - after a great many years spent getting around to it - I am somewhat shaken to receive notification today that Franznap are about to produce artillery train teams and personnel in 1/72 white metal. I had mobilised various cut-and-shut Scruby horses and drivers, refurbished Hinton Hunts - all sorts of things. As you might expect, the Franznap offerings are so beautiful it hurts, certainly blow my limber teams out of the water and into the neighbouring bushes, and - in the numbers that I would have needed - not so very expensive.


Oh well. At least mine are Old School [sniff].

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Hooptedoodle #158 - Newton's Bollocks


In a former lifetime, when I was Lord High Panjandrum in charge of something-or-other for a nameless (and rather stupid) organisation in the finance industry, someone gave me a Newton's Cradle, which was the sort of well-intentioned, pointless executive toy that people gave each other in those days. It was fun for about 90 seconds, and after that it just sat on a dark corner of my meetings table and gathered dust. Eventually I got tired of people playing pranks such as altering the length of the strings so that the balls missed each other, and it got cleared out. I don't know where it went - there must be a lot of pointless executive toys from the 1980s and 90s lying around somewhere - perhaps someone collects them, buys and sells them on eBay - perhaps there is a weird museum somewhere.

Whatever, I have not seen or heard of Newton's Cradle for many years. As part of my Christmas present, my son (who, at 12, is developing into a mathematician of some considerable talent - I hope he ends up less nerdy and boring than his old man...) gave me - well, that's right - you guessed.

Sadly, it has not gone well - something had gone wrong with this particular example in its travels between China and here. The balls had become tangled inside the packaging, and the strings are very thin, transparent, nylon fishing line. Our attempts to disentangle it have met with no success at all - in fact, thus far, the combined attentions of me and my family have, I believe, made things rather worse than they were at the start.

I have an instinctive resistance to phrases like "hopelessly entangled", but I believe we may have a case of just that here, unlikely though it may seem. Things may improve, but time and frustration do not come entirely free of cost, so this may be your only chance to see an example of [roll on drums...] Newton's Bollocks.


Not a big seller, I fear - though I could be open to offers if anyone is interested.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Hooptedoodle #157 - Happy Tangerines to Everyone


Christmas is coming – among other clues, I can tell since I can no longer bear to switch on the TV because the advertising gives me hives, and also our washing machine has broken down and cannot be fixed until the 29th.

This morning’s breakfast fruit reminded me of Christmases in my childhood – there were certain comestibles which I always associated with Christmas at home. I’m not talking about obvious stuff, like turkeys (I never had turkey for Christmas until I was well into my teens – we used to have a goose, sometimes a duck); I can remember my mum making her own mincemeat (to save money, I would guess), and I recall dates (in those distinctive boxes with a camel and a palm tree on the label), walnuts (which I have never cared for) and – in particular – tangerines.

At the bottom of my Christmas stocking, the tradition was that I would always find a couple of tangerines and a silver sixpence. I have no idea how Father Christmas remembered every year, nor how he carted around great masses of tangerines – assuming everyone got them, but they were always there.

I knew that you could buy tangerines at any time of the year, of course, but it seems that we didn’t, and it was such a Christmassy thing in our family that it would have seemed wrong somehow. A tangerine was smaller than an orange, and had a completely different taste – I liked them.

Tangerines seem to be regarded with special affection in folk lore, too – as I recall, both Blackpool FC and Dundee United were always called the Tangerines – not merely the Oranges.


Anyway, today’s idle question is, what became of the tangerine? Whatever it says on the supermarket shelves is gospel, as we know. We went through a period of buying something called mandarin oranges, which were small oranges, but I’m not sure they were tangerines, as in proper tangerines. Nowadays we can get clementines, which to me just seem like small oranges, and we can get satsumas, which I guess must be the same as, or very similar to, tangerines, but they don’t seem to taste just quite the same.

I hasten to add that I enjoy my breakfast satsumas, but I would be sad to think that the tangerine, like the real banana, had succumbed to progress. Any tangerine fanciers/experts out there?

By the way – in passing – the washing machine problem. Bosch’s customer service very nearly got a Donkey Award this morning, but are spared at the last minute. Bosch cannot arrange an engineer visit unless you can give them some numbers from a plate mounted inside the door of the machine. You can see what’s coming: part of the problem with our machine was that we couldn’t open the door. Eventually we did manage to get it open, so the visit is booked, but if we had not opened it then we could not have had an engineer. Seems odd, but we’ll let it go, in the euphoria of having been granted a reprieve. The engineer’s visit, of course, costs £95, excluding parts, and even if he does nothing or cannot fix the machine, the £95 is compulsory. We’ll see how it goes – we went through this scenario in 2008, when the charge was only £69, which is still a handsome fee for telling someone their machine is knackered. You may have your own views on after-sales service scams, but it’s Christmas and for a little while I shall simply believe that a nice man will come and fix our machine. I have the paperwork for the Donkey Award standing by, though, just in case.

I wish everyone a contented and peaceful Christmas – may your satsumas be sweet and your rinse cycle run smoothly – may your eyes be bright and your clothes be dew fresh every day.

Have a good one.

Monday, 15 December 2014

ECW Campaign – Week 2


New secret weapon for the Roundheads; a personal friend of General
Aspinall's, this is Mordecai Hindle, calling down damnation upon the Papist
followers of the King. If attached to a Parliamentarian unit in battle, Mordecai
can add one C&C battle die to their capability. The bad news is that if they have to
retreat from a melee while he is attached, they leave the field in panic (with him)
Each week consists of two turns, and one side has the initiative throughout. This week, since the Royalist HQ had no word of any enemy advance until very late, there is little doubt that the initiative lies with Parliament.

Parliament

Aspinall, seconding a number of chosen officers and sergeants for the job, has arranged for the raising of a pro-Parliament town guard unit at All Hallows (new Force H), to man (and defend, as necessary) a depot there, for storage and shipment of supplies to the advancing army. The job of commanding this unit is given to Captain Joshuah Tweedie, of Hawkstone’s Regiment of Foot.

Word has reached General Figge-Newton, at Fernbeck, that the promised force of Scottish Covenanters, under General William Geddes, are marching from the Ripon area to join his army. Estimates are approximately 6000 foot plus 400 horse, but it is not yet certain when they will arrive, nor exactly where. Figge-Newton has sent messengers to Geddes, requesting that he march towards Pacefield. This group is identified provisionally as new Force I, but they are not yet on the map.

Force D (Lord Alwyn, with a brigade of horse) advance north, along the west bank of the River Arith, from Hoskett Castle to the area around Old Claiffe, to screen the remainder of Aspinall’s army.

Force E (Col Allington’s brigade of horse) cross the Arith at Ringrose House, and march north-east over Old Howk Hill to Frinckus Abbey.

Force F (Col Bryanston’s brigade of foot) march from Harthill, via Ringrose to Hoskett.

Force G (Genl Aspinall, with Hawkstone’s and Lord Lambton’s brigades) marches via Skag Moor, across the river to Thorkeld, destroying the river bridge after crossing).

General Figge-Newton has ordered a new carriage, to allow him to campaign in comfort. We shall hear more of this.

Royalist

Since no word of the enemy movement reached Lowther until Friday, there has been no reaction yet. As from Friday, Lord Porteous knows that the enemy were at Ringrose House a week ago, with a large body of cavalry.

A messenger has also arrived at Lowther with word from Sir John Darracott, commanding a reinforcement sent by the Marquis of Newcastle, confirming that he has lost contact with the Scottish forces, and has opted to march directly to Lowther to join with Lord Porteous – he expects to arrive around 21st March, his force amounting to about 4700 foot, 800 horse – these troops are all classed as veterans, and comprise a new Force F, which is off the map for the present.

Lady Porteous has finally chosen the drapes for her new home, and the Royalist command are (unusually) united in their relief that her husband will now be allowed to concentrate on the job in hand.