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

Sunday 29 April 2012

Solo Campaign - Combat at Ancenigo, Navarra – Saturday 4th April 1812

General view of the battlefield at midday - the French are on the right

Later in the same week, but further north, a punitive expedition from the garrison of Jaca came into contact with guerrilleros from the Huesca area, near the hamlet of Ancenigo. The French had a brigade of 4 battalions of experienced infantry, plus the usual additional small battalion of combined light troops, together with a company of foot artillery borrowed from the fort at Jaca. The whole was commanded by Chef de Bataillon Fantaise, seconded from the 118e Ligne. His infantry included 1 provisional bataillon d’élite of line grenadiers and 2 of foot dragoons – again, picked men from a number of regiments. [Each of these units counted as “grenadiers” in the CCN rules, which gives advantages in melee and in morale tests]. His other battalion was Polish - from the 4th Regt of the Vistula Legion – more tough veterans.

He was opposed by a force of around 3000 guerrilla troops commanded by the sinister Gomez brothers. [The Spanish force had been expected to be rather larger than this, but some of the troops failed to arrive – for the purposes of this campaign, bodies of Spanish irregulars can be greater or less than estimated, depending on dice rolls – the Hermanos Gomez were not lucky in this respect].

This was a much more conventional set-up battle than that at Olias earlier in the week – the French took position on two low hills, artillery in the centre, the Poles and the light troops on the right. Pedro Gomez, the elder of the brothers, had difficulty restraining his troops, who were worked up into a frenzy by a number of priests serving in the ranks. He directed his first attack against the more lightly manned hill on the French right. The two leading bands of irregulars did not even reach the foot of the hill before they were broken by musket fire and disintegrated. Around the same time, roundshot from the French artillery caused another band to break up in the centre.

Rapidly running out of men, momentum and ideas, Gomez threw another two units against the hills on the French right, and sent in his cavalry in a looping, uphill charge against the French left flank. Both of these attacks failed and broke up into crowds of fugitives. The Spanish force retreated in disorder into the hills around the Rio Gallego. The fighting had lasted exactly 22 minutes. If proof were needed, the day demonstrated that irregular troops are not best suited to this kind of warfare.


French Force – from the garrison of Jaca, Navarra (Ch/Bn Fantaise) – approx 3500 men, 6 guns
Grenadiers Provisoirs (1 Bn)
Dragons (a Pied) Provisoirs (2 Bns)
1/4e Vistule
Part of 14/3e Artillerie a Pied (Capt. Plantaine)

Loss – 30 men

Spanish Force – Junta de Navarra, commanded by Pedro and Jose Gomez – approx 3000 men

Loss – 1840 men

The big attack on the French right...

...didn't go well at all

The situation after about 20 minutes - the Spanish forces (on the right) have mostly disappeared 

Poles and skirmishers on the French right, who took most of the weight of the attack - all the French casualties were sustained in this area

This and the remaining pictures were taken by my young son, who is very interested in close-ups - here's some foot dragoons, with Ch/Bn Fantaise close at hand

It's a hard life in the artillery

Guerrilleros retreating through the village

Irregular cavalry

Solo Campaign - Ambuscade near Olias - 31st March 1812

The larger-than-life Ximenez brings his loyal troops to meet the accursed French - my thanks to Iain, who did the super paint job on the leader 

The scenario is the most basic imaginable - a French force in column of march has to pass through a defile in a forest. Spanish irregular forces are concealed in the trees, and their presence is unknown until they choose to attack. Maucune's column marched onto the table in an organised manner, light infantry followed by artillery followed by the line battalions, with light infantry bringing up the rear.

I used Commands & Colors:Napoleonics rules, as usual, but - since all the action was to take place in the centre of the field - I abandoned the use of the Command Cards. I had considered just retaining the Tactical (as opposed to Field Sector) Cards, but felt this might give an unbalanced game. My solution was to require each side to roll 2D3 at the start of each turn - that gave the number of units they could give orders to this turn. Since there was virtually no cavalry involved, squares were not really a consideration, but the idea was that forming square would require that side to give up one of their activation dice - yes, this is excessive - deducting one from the total might have been better. Whatever, this battle involved a great many Spanish guerrilleros, who are not allowed to do anything as formal as deploying into square.

The Spanish irregulars are handled by my own tweaks to CCN - guerrilla infantry may move 2 hexes and battle, and built-up or forest hexes have no effect on their movement. They may move into a forest hex and battle immediately. They do not count crossed sabres in melee, and they are deployed in small units of 2 blocks/stands each. A single uncancelled retreat will eliminate a unit at any time - this is critical - so it is important to keep them well supported, keep generals with them, move them out of the firing line as soon as they take losses and become marginal.

Maucune's column, headed for Aranjuez, was attacked by a force of irregulars under Don Antonio Ximenez, "El Gigante", the clothes-horse of the Junta de Castilla. The Spaniards probably opened fire too early, but Ximenez was keen to get the action under way while the bulk of the French force were still some distance away. The French artillery caused some panic among the leading units on the Spanish left, even though they did not cause a great many casualties, and a couple of these units were eliminated straight away, Don Jorge Maxwell, one of the leaders, being killed in these first exchanges.

It cost the French a great many killed and wounded - the 15e Ligne being particularly badly damaged - but eventually they managed to penetrate into the woods on both sides of the road, and after that it was merely a matter of time before the Spanish force gave way. Handling the guerrilla bands is interesting - they are very mobile, and have a big advantage in rough terrain, but are also very brittle. A single hit will reduce such a unit to a state in which they cannot harm anyone in a wood (for example), because the terrain effect cancels out the only remaining combat dice, and a further hit to themselves will eliminate them and gain another Victory Banner for the enemy. Thus it was constantly necessary to retire worn units and bring up fresh ones. Six Victory Banners were required for a win, and the French had an extra one available if they pushed through the defile to the far end. In the event they didn't need to push that far - they won 6-2 on eliminated units after about an hour, and Ximenez withdrew, his little army melting away into the forest.


French Force - Gen de Divn Baron Maucune's division, Armee de Portugal - approx 7800 men - 8 guns
Brigade d'Arnauld - 15e & 66e Ligne (5 Bns) + combined tirailleur bn
Brigade Montfort - 82e & 86e Ligne (4 Bns) + combined tirailleur bn
11/8e Artillerie a Pied (Capt Genta)

Loss - approx 2600

Spanish Force - Don Antonio Ximenez, army of the Junta de Castilla - approx 4350 men - 3 guns
10 small "battalions" of irregular infantry, brigaded under Don Jorge Maxwell (k) and Don Xavier Gento
Small irregular cavalry unit
Volunteer artillery battery of 3 x 4pdr guns

Loss - approx 3200 - mostly missing

Maucune's column marches serenely into the woods

It's amazing what you don't see when you aren't looking for it...

What lies in wait on one side of the road

...and there's more of the beggars in reserve

After heavy loss to musketry, the French set about clearing the woods

Almost the end - by this stage, most of the guerrilleros had thought of somewhere else they would rather be

Saturday 28 April 2012

Solo Campaign - Week 11

The campaign has slipped a couple of weeks, but is still rolling along. Week 11 gets us up to 5th April 1812, which means that Winter is officially over (hurrah!). I have pasted in the Narrative section for this week, from which you will see that the Earl of Wellington is in trouble back home, and there are two combats between the French and the Spanish partidas to settle before I can finally update the map and the tables.

I wants one. I use Henri Lachouque's lovely 'Napoleon's War in Spain' for this campaign a lot anyway, because it gives useful reproductions of contemporary French maps, but I find the artwork inspirational, and I usually get distracted when I read it! Mention of a blockhouse in the narrative reminds me that I have wanted one for a while - either to build or commission one in 15mm. This illustration shows the sort of thing - this particular one was near Tolosa, but the design was used a lot by the French in Spain to guard their communications. This would be a fine addition to my PW scenery, methinks. I must try to remember to do something about it...   

Narrative - Week 11

Maj Gen Robert Ballard Long has been appointed to command the heavy cavalry brigade of the late Maj Gen JG Le Marchant, and will arrive in late April. In the meantime, the brigade, which is much reduced in numbers, is temporarily commanded by Major Clowes. There is talk of an extra regiment being sent to join Long, and – at his request – a surprise return to the older, non-French, uniforms with bicorne hats. It is not known when this may happen. General Long’s reputation as a leader of cavalry suggests that he is a better administrator than a battlefield commander.

Cotton’s defeated force, lucky with the weather [and the dice], managed to retreat to Orense in splendid order after being beaten at Penausende, suffering no further loss on the march. His army is still Tired, but may now rest and receive overdue reinforcements and replacements. This retreat could easily have been a disaster, which would have made Wellington’s personal situation very difficult.

As it is, there has been the predicted uproar in the British Parliament about the lack of success of the army. [1D6 < 3 in any week from next week will trigger a vote in the House – algorithm for the vote is silly, but an amusing parody of democracy – a total of 5D6 are available, divided according to current mood – at present this is 3:2 against Wellington, but may swing from week to week with further news – at the start of the campaign, for example, it was 4:1 in his favour. 3:2 means that, if a vote were called for, the totals of 3D6 and 2D6 would be compared – if the 3D6 were greater, Wellington would be replaced. A tie produces no change]. Wellington needs a victory, and soon. Sir J Bulstrode Fartingale, member for St Pancras, almost caused a riot by suggesting that the British Army’s continued presence in the Peninsula is entirely dependant on the current success of the Spanish forces.

Karl von Alten, with the Light Division, has crossed the border into Spain at Cuidad Rodrigo. Patrols from his cavalry (1st Hussars KGL) report that there are no French troops at Salamanca.

Marmont, with the main French army at Leon, has detached Treillard’s cavalry (seconded from the Armee du Centre) and ordered them to return to Madrid, since there is a marked lack of French horses anywhere south of Burgos. Treillard had reached Segovia without incident by the end of the week.

Don Antonio Ximenez, “El Gigante”, something of a hothead [and also said by some to be an overscale Hinchliffe figure], has returned to the offensive against Maucune, and advanced back into the Toledo area. Maucune (also a hothead, in any case) has continued his march in pursuit of Ximenez, and his army is surprised to be attacked in woods near Olias, on the Aranjuez road, by an enemy they believed was retreating. Ambush of Olias takes place on Tues 31st March.

In Navarre, guerrilla attacks on a French blockhouse have obliged Chef de Bataillon Armande-Louis Fantaise (of the 118e Ligne, who is astonished to find he has command of the garrison at Jaca) to march his 4 battalions and part of the garrison artillery out to deal with the problem. On Sat 4th April they meet up with the forces of the Junta de Navarra – reportedly 2500 men [though the dice may increase this figure], commanded by the mysterious Hermanos Gomez y Gomez near Ancenigo, in the valley of the Rio Gallegos [because of the small size, this combat might be resolved off-table, which would be a shame, since one of the units, the 4e Vistule, have never been in action before!]. There are many popular tales of Gomez y Gomez, including the legend that they were originally a firm of builders in Zaragoza.

The fever epidemic among the French (Confederation) troops in Burgos continues, but is less serious than had been feared. This week, only the Franzburg Jaeger battalion reported new cases sick (200 men). The epidemic will continue, and the troops there remain Demoralised.

Oh yes - General Foy is recovered from his wound and should return to duty next week. It was nothing...

The updated map and tables will appear once the combats at Olias and Ancenigo have been decided.

Thursday 26 April 2012

The Drummer's Tale

My solo Peninsular War campaign has produced another combat - this time Maucune's Division of the Army of Portugal, with a little cavalry support, are attacked on the march by a large force of Spanish irregulars led by the formidable Don Antonio Ximenez - "El Gigante". I hope to get this battle fought sometime at the weekend, so a report and an update to the campaign notes will follow shortly afterwards.

In the meantime, here's a story I was reminded of yesterday. It is amusing enough to share, I think, though it's military connection is merely incidental.

A friend of mine, who is a professional drummer, received a phone call some years ago from the Glasgow branch of the Musicians' Union, apologising for the short notice, but could he possibly play at a dinner-dance function the following Saturday? It was to be primarily Scottish Country dance music, and it was £200 - which even now would be extraordinarily good money.

Well, yes - he normally didn't do this kind of work, but he certainly could handle it, and he could most definitely handle the money. He was instructed to arrive at 8:30pm at a castle, no less, somewhere in the wilds of Ayrshire, in formal evening suit, and ask for a Major McGuigan, who was the organiser. The dance was for the regimental association of a very famous Scottish regiment.

On the appointed evening, he arrived as instructed, to find that a large number of retired officers and their wives were seated at dinner. Major McGuigan (retired) showed him into a vast ballroom, and asked him to set up his kit, and the dancers would be through in about half an hour. My friend asked where was the rest of the band, and was told that there was no band - he was the band. The Association liked to dance to gramophone records of Scottish dance music, played on a huge old stereogram, and they liked to have a drummer play along to keep them right. This seemed bizarre in the extreme to my friend, but he entered into the spirit of the evening and it really went astonishingly well. He actually enjoyed himself, and everyone seemed most happy.

When the dancing came to an end, the organiser said a few words - the date of the next event, thanks to all and sundry, all that. Then followed an awkward silence, with the dancers still on the floor. Eventually, the Major said to the drummer, "We always finish with the National Anthem".

Right. "Do you have a record of it?". No, they didn't.

Unsure what to do next, and in a state of what he describes as blind panic, the drummer played the introductory roll on the snare, then stood smartly to attention and sang God Save the Queen at the top of his voice. The assembled company all joined in, and the evening concluded happily. He got his money, and was even booked for their next dance. One for the Twilight Zone, though.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Hooptedoodle #50 - Armagnac de Montal 1965

That one there's the rarest, the De Montal '65.
I was given two bottles years ago, when my father was alive,
On a very special birthday, and I’ve kept it just that way –
For family celebrations, or when old friends came to stay.

Take out the cork, let's try some, just a little taste,
A drop of something cherished in a world that’s gone to waste.
That scent of ancient sunshine - it's strange to call to mind
That I was still a schoolboy when those grapes were on the vine.

And now there's half a bottle left, it’s hardly used at all;
I was saving it for something, but what I can’t recall.
Hooptedoodle 50? – any lame excuse will do!
Let’s drink it down, have done with it, and buy in something new.

Cheers! - MSF

Historex - the completed figures

Short supplementary post - I have unpacked the completed Historex figures, made a quick inventory and photographed them, and now propose to wrap them up carefully and put them back in the box. These things are frighteningly delicate. Since I do not intend to unpack them again before they go to auction, I thought I should put the pictures up here. Some of the paperwork suggests that there may also be some completed French gun teams, but they must be in the loft. I don't have them, anyway. There are a few Airfix figures included, which look very good too.
I only once attempted a Historex kit - it took me weeks to put together a model of Marshal Massena, on horseback, and I became irritated when it became obvious that the figure had a ridiculously small head. I did finish it, and it sat for years in the back of the display case before it got broken when I was moving house. Whatever, the experience certainly heightened my appreciation of people who are good at this stuff. I remember (with some unease) reading an instruction which advised scraping the back of the (fabric) webbing straps with a knife edge, to encourage them to curl in the correct direction. Far too intricate for me - I am in the Klutz league when it comes to model making.

Monday 23 April 2012

Oh Crikey - In at the Deep End

A little apprehensively, I went today to see if I could help with getting a handle on a private collection of military models and books. The collection belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend, a poor chap who recently died after a lengthy battle with cancer. His wife wishes to raise money from his collection to go to cancer-related charities, so I'm happy to help with that. My reluctance is only that I can hardly claim to be much of an expert. Still, all hands to the pump.

Astonishing - the late Alastair was an expert on military planes and vehicles - especially of WW2 and later. I have never seen so many books in one house - also boxes and files of all sorts of aviation and scale modelling monthlies. I attach a couple of snapshots to give an idea - this is only the smallest tip of a very large iceberg indeed. He also was an enthusiastic plastic kit builder - again, mostly planes and vehicles, and most of those I think are stored in the loft and haven't been brought out yet.

I also saw a sizeable collection of Historex Napoleonics. An important factor here is that Alastair stopped building models some years ago, but forgot to stop buying the kits in - intending to get around to building them all some day, I guess. Sadly, the day never came. There are - quite literally - cubic yards of boxed, unbuilt plastic kits.
The sheer impossibility of making any impression on this astounding pile of stuff became apparent very quickly. The family lawyer is speaking to a couple of auction houses about putting the books for sale at an appropriate event. Similarly the vehicle kits will require a specialist dealer to move them.

My small effort today consisted of taking the Historex stuff away to attempt to shift it on eBay. Again, there is a mass of unbuilt kits which he was getting around to, and it is clear from the price stickers and the long-defunct model shops which they advertise that some of these have been around since the early 80s at least.

The completed Historex Naps are nice enough - built to a decent standard - though there is evidence of their having been on display for a while. They need a little dusting and a little touch-up, and a couple of plumes and stirrup irons have come adrift, but this was a very thorough and very organised collector - basically they are beautiful, if you like Historex, and as far as I can see all the detached pieces (and there are very few) are carefully kept with the correct models. Certainly if I attempt to glue any bits back on they will not be improved, so I'll leave them as they are.

The unmade Historex kits are mostly straightforward and still sealed, but one or two, at first glance, look a bit sparse - it looks to me as if a few of the bags contain the parts left over for an alternative pose - particularlly for personality generals - I'll try and check this out.

Today has been a fantastic experience, if a little sad because of the circumstances, but my head is definitely spinning. I need to set out all the built Historex models to see what is there, and attempt to match them up with the things which I suspect are spares packs. If/when I put these on eBay, I'm going to do it in a small number of big lots, simply because I don't have time to do it any other way. Interesting, but an intensive exposure to a world which is unfamiliar to me. If I find a model which I really can't identify, there may be the odd squeal for help here.

Friday 20 April 2012

Hooptedoodle #49a - Leaving Home

Magnus has to take drastic steps when his parents fail to take the world banana situation sufficiently seriously.

If anyone is offended by the distressing context or the strong language, I hope you will take comfort from knowing that this story is not true and is, in fact, made up.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Hooptedoodle #49 - The Return of the Bananas

A while ago, I did a Hooptedoodle about bananas, which was prompted by my discovery that the Italians still eat bananas that taste like what I remember bananas used to taste like, rather than the bland, disease-resistant Cavendish strain which has largely replaced them in our supermarkets.

I never did come to any worthwhile conclusions, and the post raised a few eyebrows at the time, though those of you who have kindly stuck with the programme since then will have come to understand that bananas may be about as sensible as it gets.

Anyway, Sarah kindly got in touch with me, since I am obviously concerned about the state of the world's bananas, and directed me to a website which raises our awareness of the fact that the Cavendish, in its turn, may be on the way out. You may well wish to follow this link to see what the outlook is. This is not a paid advert, by the way, just a seamless part of MSFoy's Prometheus Hooptedoodle Service. Of course, I am concerned about anything which threatens the state of the World as we know it, and I would not like to see any developing nations damaged by the failure of their banana harvest, but I would be interested to see what might succeed the pathetic Cavendish on the shelves of Tesco and elsewhere. I never did find out where the Italians got theirs...

Nationality Transplants

Yesterday I got a package from Art Miniaturen - always a pleasant experience. There were various items in the pack, including some of Herr Schmaeling's excellent French Line Artillery limber horses and drivers, which I have finally got around to ordering and which will no doubt make an appearance here in the fullness of days.

The things I was most anxious to get hold of were a couple of packets of set no JS 72/0224, the (Waterloo period) Dutch-Belgian Command set - five officers on foot plus two mounted. I've used these before, with head or hat transplants, to provide 1812-style Spanish infantry officers. Conversions are a strange area of activity for me - I do not rate my talents very highly in this area, and yet I've had surprisingly few disasters over the years. There is something very pleasing about creating a unique figure - especially if it is something which I could not have got elsewhere. It feels, admittedly, like something of a cheat - superglueing together bits of someone else's art is an easy way to get good results, and Schmaeling's figures are particularly fine. Now that I have a little more confidence I find it a little easier, but it still requires a very deep breath to bring a razor saw into contact with one of these little jewels.

The picture shows the contents of one of the Dutch-Belgian packs, ready for the surgeon. On the right you see a Minifigs S-Range SN1s (top), whch figures provide all my Spanish rank-&-file, and a Les Higgins British light infantryman (bottom), which makes an excellent hat/head donor with appropriate mods. When the bandages come off - assuming the results are presentable - the world will hear of these guys again.

A Bit of Previous - here's one I did earlier (1st Sevilla) - colonel is one of these same Art Miniaturen Belgians, with a Les Higgins head

Monday 16 April 2012

ECW - VwQ Rules - Pt 3

Here's the last part of the Victory without Quarter rules, as published by Quindia Studios.

Also, offered in all humility and with no disrespect at all to the original, here are my current thoughts on a number of aspects of the rules which seem to me to need a little more detail. In my recent VwQ game with John, we found that dragoons - as we interpreted the rules - caused us a few problems. To be more accurate, they caused John problems, since my dragoons' fire effect was fearsome - ridiculous, you could say! - and was one of the few encouraging aspects of my army's performance.

The way artillery become involved in melees also seemed a little vague, so we identified a need to add some house rules to clarify that a little. Subsequently I found a few other odd things I thought would improve/clarify the game as it stands. If you find they are unnecessary, or don't actually improve anything, then no problem - don't use them, or else just regard them as my imperfect understanding of what was intended. I wish to emphasise once again that no criticism of the author (Clarence Harrison) is intended - if I didn't think the game was worth the trouble, I would not have gone into this amount of detail.

Here goes - these are all suggested changes for my use of the rules:

Dragoons. The main issue I have with dragoons is that when mounted they consitute a stand of 3 figures, so it seems most logical to keep that arrangement when they dismount. Thus a unit of 12 (say) organised as 4 stands of 3 mounted figures - one stand being command. The command stand remains mounted to represent horses and holders when the unit dismounts - the other 3 stands are replaced by open order stands of 3 standing figures. Dragoons can move 1/2 distance and mount/dismount, or mount/dismount and move 1/2 distance in a move (and still fire).

They are not allowed to fire when mounted, but otherwise will behave exactly the same as ordinary horse (ncluding charges and countercharges), but do not pursue if they win a melee. Mounted dragoons get 2D6 per stand in a melee (which is miserable), and also get the "horse" saving throw of 6+ against hits from long-range muskets.

On foot, they always count as open-order, and they fire like normal musketeers (but only get 2D6 per stand). Since 2D6 is quite generous for a half-strength stand (normal musket-armed infantry are based in sixes, and get 3D6 per stand), they do not benefit from a "volley fire" bonus, and thus do not get RELOAD markers. In melees on foot they may not charge or pursue, and count 1D6 per stand. They may Stand & Fire or Evade if charged - the firing range is calculated as for foot units, but if they Evade they are assumed to have jumped on their horses, so will have Evade and Rout distances calculated as though they are horse.

Small arms fire - additional adjustments to dice throw table: -1 if raw troops firing, +1 if veterans seems appropriate. I would expect the level of training to be particularly telling in musket fire.

Artillery – may Stand and Fire if charged (like infantry), and can be charged - if they are contacted they are eliminated without fighting back (same as Evaders and Routers).

Morale - The universal progression Steady > Shaken > Rout seems too predictable - you always know the worst that can happen. Change made such that morale tests when taking artillery hits, having a Casualty Marker allocated and losing a melee will allow a Steady Unit to go straight to Rout if the morale test result is bad enough - in these situations, a morale test total of 2D6 + adjustments < 7 will Shake a Steady unit and Rout a Shaken one (as at present) but a total of < 4 will take a Steady unit straight to Rout.

I'm not a big fan of morale tests, but I propose to add an extra one to the rules - if a unit being charged elects to "Stand & Fire" (or even just to Stand, if they are unable to fire), then it seems appropriate to test their ability to face the charge first. This becomes especially critical if the charge is coming from flank or rear.

Linear obstacles - deduct 3" from move for each, rather than "half move" penalty, which is awkward if there are 2 in a move. Artillery have to use gates.

Flank/Rear attacks in melee – Any unit allowed to charge (i.e. not dragoons on foot) may attack a steady unit in flank or rear without testing morale first - adjustments to melee combat dice throw to be +1 attacking flank, +2 attacking rear, -1 attacked in flank, -2 attacked in rear. Morale: -1 for flank, -2 for rear in morale tests for Stand & Fire (against a charge), Countercharge and Form Stand of Pikes, and also for defender who loses melee; attacker who loses a melee in which he was making a flank or rear attack (fools!) gets +1, +2 adjustment respectively in the morale test following the melee.

Cover in melees: -1 adjustment to dice if attacking troops behind soft cover, -2 if attacking hard cover. Since the rules specifically allow foot to charge foot who are defending a barricade or obstacle, it seems correct for the rules to cover that kind of melee.

Hooptedoodle #48 - Charles and Norman – today’s pointless tale

I was thinking about this last night. It is a true story, and – since almost everyone involved in it is dead – none of it really matters now. It’s a little bleak, but it is not particularly intended to be sad. There must be many stories like this – you probably have some of your own. I have never written it down or talked much about it, so the main point of setting it down here is to scratch at it a little and see how I feel about it. To maintain the appropriate measure of delicacy, of course, names and places are amended slightly.

I never had a brother. The nearest approximation to a brother I had was a boy named Norman I grew up with. We used to see a lot of each other from a very early age, since my mother used to look after him often when his own mother was at work. So Norman and I were close friends for many years.

Norman’s mum had been in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) towards the end of WW2, and she was posted to an admin job in the South of England, where she met – and became friendly with – a very handsome young GI named Charles, who was involved in the supply arrangements for D-Day.

Almost immediately after VE Day, the couple married (I’ve seen the wedding photograph) and the young bride soon returned to live with her mother in a rather dismal industrial town in Lancashire, while Charles (who was required to remain for a while at his posting in the South) visited them when he could get leave. It seems it didn’t go very well. There are sad descriptions of Charles (who was from Missouri) sitting on the step of the little back yard to watch the sun setting, terminally homesick, and by the time Norman was born the next year, after one of the hardest winters on record, Charles had already gone back to the States.

Norman grew up without a father, and he and I never mentioned the fact. Elsewhere I heard disapproving mention of this terrible disappearing act, but it was not the sort of thing that got talked about in front of children, so Norman’s lack of a dad just became one more tiny human tragedy in the vast human awfulness which is the legacy of war. In adult life, prompted by greater self-assurance and beer, I once asked him if he had ever made contact with his father, and got a good-humoured but dismissive reference to “Vanishing Charlie”, so I never approached the subject again. Charles was a bad person, a loser and a betrayer, and was not talked about.

Many years passed, and Norman – who never had an awful lot of luck, come to think of it – died in very early middle age of cancer. His mother survived him by a number of years, for most of which she was in a state of dementia. When she, too, passed away, Norman’s widow went to help the Executors to sort out the mother’s estate and go through her papers.

There was a mass of stuff – mostly rubbish – but there was a sealed parcel of letters from America. It seems that for a couple of years after 1946 Charles wrote frequently to his wife of his wish to see his new son, pleading with her to come to join him in Missouri – as they “had agreed” – so that they could be a “real family”. Included in the letters were the immigration papers appropriate to a GI’s family, and forms which could be exchanged for boat tickets.

So appears The Alternative Plot, dear reader. Norman and his mum were not deserted by his father after all. The truth is that Norman’s mother had unilaterally decided not to go to join him. Maybe her decision was the correct one – who knows? – but it means that Norman lived his entire life without ever knowing the truth. In Ending B of the theoretical movie, Norman would have gone to meet his father in the New World, and they would have rushed into each other’s arms while the sun shone on the golden wheat fields and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang the big theme. Well, no – the reality is not like that. Norman never knew any of this. Perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t, but sometimes – mostly at 2am when I can’t sleep – it plays on my mind a bit.

But, eventually, none of it matters now.

Sunday 15 April 2012

ECW - VwQ Rules - Pt 2

Here's the second lot of pages (of three lots). I had originally given serious thought to producing an adaptation of the game which worked on my hex grid - this would mean a conversion of 1 hex is (about) 5 or 6 inches. I have abandoned this for the time being because

(1) the differences in movement rates and weapon ranges for the different troop types in VwQ are quite specific and subtle (and hexes, as a crude approximation, might unbalance the game), and also because

(2) the nice twiddly bits about units routing 2D6 inches (3D6 for horse) or getting off a volley at a range of 2D6 inches if charged (1D6 if charged by foot) - things which usefully help reduce predictability for a solo game - would be changed completely by rounding everything to the nearer (or more convenient) whole hex.

So I'll keep the hexes as an interesting idea to be pursued, but my initial use of the game will be in inches, as written. I shall try to ignore the hexes on my tabletop when it is appropriate to do so, or I could paint the back of my boards plain green. Or I could dig out a rather fine sheet of heavy-duty green baize that I haven't seen for a while, but it is awfully dark green baize, and I think I've gone off that idea already...

Inches are fine in any case - the VwQ game as I played it at John's home in Wales recently was untweaked and the inches were not a problem at all, though in recent years I have developed something of an aversion to tape-measures as another source of clutter and potential breakage of bayonets! This is probably due to exposure to a number of congenital button-twiddlers in the past - a spring-loaded tape-measure in the wrong hands has an effect similar to that of canister shot!

Anyway - here is the next instalment of the rules.

Saturday 14 April 2012

ECW - VwQ Rules - Pt 1

I got an email from someone asking me where he could download Clarence Harrison's Victory without Quarter miniatures rules for the English Civil War, and I had a look around and I'm no wiser. It is a damned good question. I believe that if you email Clarence he will send you them, but a couple of discussion threads I saw mentioned that he is in any case very busy with his own life, and this might be both onerous (for Clarence) and slow (for everyone). I have a pdf which was sent to me very kindly by Clive, but as far as I can see the Quindia Studios site doesn't have a download available at present. I have emailed Clarence myself, but thus far have no response.

So I thought I'd take it upon myself to put the rules up here in a series of short posts - not because they have anything to do with me directly, other than my own enthusiasm for them. I don't think this should cause any offence against copyright, since I am not selling them and since they are not offered commercially anywhere anyway. I'll put them out in three instalments, and I will also say a few things about why I like them, how I propose to use them, and about a few things I propose to build into them. If this does step on anyone's toes, or causes any problem, then please shout and I'll pull the posts as necessary. They are intended to be supportive and encouraging - the game should be widely available if it is not already.

Reviews of any sort are always a bit dodgy, since they often tell you more about the reviewer than the item under review, so I hasten to add that any criticism implied here is entirely my personal view, and that overall I think VwQ is an unusually good game. There will be the odd enthusiast who feels moved to say that I should just use Forlorn Hope, or 1644, or De Bellis Renationis, and be really cool (like them). If anyone thinks anything along these lines, then I'm sure you are right, and I will probably have a go at these other rule sets at some time in the future - I have certainly looked at and considered all of these, and a number of others going all the way back to George Gush, Terry Wise, Wm B Protz et alia. I have recently played Charlie Wesencraft's rules from his Practical Wargaming and enjoyed them, but I'm still pretty firm on VwQ as my game of choice for what is - for me - a completely new period.

Why? Well, first and foremost, I likes 'em. I like the philosophy, and I identify very strongly with Clarence's stated objectives and preferences in his own games. In particular the multiple-figure stands, the lack of rosters and record keeping (casualties are not removed), the simplified tactics are all very appealing, and the card-driven activation system is good anyway, but is eminently suitable for solo play, in which I need just the right amount of control to be be placed in the lap of the gods.

Because of my solo game interests, I have also produced a computerised management program incorporating VwQ for my own use. The program is useable in solo or non-solo contexts, of course, but is especially useful for solo stuff, in which the banter and jollity surrounding card shuffling and dice throwing duties are conspicious by their absence, and such functions can become a pain in the butt. The solo gamer (at least this particular solo gamer) is certainly looking for a pleasurable experience, but he is primarily a facilitator for a little piece of (fake) history, and some of the social traditions of miniatures gaming can become a little wretched without a room full of pals. I will trust my laptop to shuffle cards accurately, without cheating and without dropping them on the floor, and to test morale every few seconds without developing the Screaming Habdabs or losing the will to live.

So the program exists, it runs, though it still needs some debugging and the Optional Rules (notably the Event Cards) are not in there yet. Writing the program undoubtedly cements understanding, but it also revealed a few gaps in the game - things which are not covered. Clarence, in his introduction, makes no claims for originality or even completeness of his game, and there are some interesting and useful expansions on the League of Augsburg forum. I do not think it would be disloyal of me to say a little about some of these gaps, and what I have done about them - in any game of this type, there will be a good many points where the author knows what he meant, and takes as understood certain house conventions of his own which he carries in his head and which make sense of situations which are not explicitly covered - Clarence even invites gamers to add their own extensions where they think they are needed.

I'll say a bit more in later parts of this about the add-ons which I (and others) have - erm - added on, and I may even say a bit more about my computer program. In the meantime (at last), here are the first sheets of the rules. If there is some more sensible way to incorporate pdf files in a blog post, I'd be very pleased to learn of it. Oh, and Clarence - if you are out there, I'd be delighted to hear from you.