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

Friday 31 October 2014

Background Artillery Project - Surprise Landmark

Yesterday I finished off another British artillery caisson, and was very surprised to find that I had one more caisson than I thought, so I have now reached the target of one limber plus one caisson per battery rather earlier than I expected. Here's the contents of the Anglo-Portuguese artillery boxes, as of this morning. The target organisation of my battlefield artillery is: each battery has 2 model guns, 1 limber (with gun attached permanently - no more dropping spare guns on the floor for me), 1 caisson; horse artillery limbers have 4 horses, all other vehicles have 2 horses - it cuts down on the space requirement (and the horse painting!) and you get used to the look of the thing.

Allied Box 1 - 6 British artillery batteries (3 horse, 3 foot), plus a Portuguese howitzer
battery on an odd-sized base (can't remember why), plus the recently-added British
howitzer battery, which is in here only because I ran out of room in Box 3
Box 2 - a limber and a caisson for each of the British batteries (note 4-horse teams
 for RHA limbers), plus a limber (with mules) for the Portuguese howitzers, plus the new
(weird) spare wheel wagon
Box 3 - mostly siege stuff - 3 heavy (18/24pdr) siege batteries, 2 of the iron M1800 10" howitzers,
2 of mortars, 1 rocket battery, plus a couple of those strange S-Range shot-carts
Siege equipment has no limber provision (sieges are chaotic enough without a car park), and all (most?) of the siege pieces have mud-brown bases, with slightly modified sizes and crew sizes.

This is indeed a small and fleeting landmark - the Allies are now a bit ahead in the Infrastructure Race - the French and their Confederation chums have some 8 or 9 half-painted limbers, so there's lots to do. Idle hands are, as we know, the Devil's wassname. However, this has been a quick squint inside some of my boxes; if I am spared, I'll show inside the French boxes when the time is right.

I realise that organised is not the same as good, but it helps a lot. Note to myself: ECW campaign notwithstanding, I really must do some more Peninsular sieges...

In passing, I was reading my Carl Franklin book on artillery last night, and started working out the column length of a RHA troop on the march, with all the guns, ammo carts, service equipment, supply vehicles and animals plus mounted gunners - I didn't finish the calculation, but the numbers were getting very big. If an RHA troop marched past your house, it would be passing by for quite a while.

Monday 27 October 2014

Background Artillery Project - Spare Wheel Cart

Some more progress in the BAP - no works of art here, certainly, but a pleasing further little shift from the lead mountain into the "infrastructure" box-files.

First item is a little unusual - I'm not sure how such a thing could feature in a game, but it's interesting anyway; no, it's not an early support vehicle for the Tour de France, it is a Napoleonic British Artillery Spare Wheel Cart. Odd contraption comprises a standard gun carriage, adorned with spare wheels and towed behind a standard limber - enough bits and pieces to repair just about anything that might break in an artillery battery on campaign. A British example of the benefits of standardisation in the field. Vehicles here are Hinchliffe 20mm, and the draught team and driver are recognisably Lamming. If you are dubious about the authenticity of such a device, you'll find all the details in Carl Franklin's fine book on the subject.

I also finished off another ammo caisson for the French horse artillery - Lamming caisson with Hinton Hunt motive power this time.

All in the box-files and out of sight now - as I have observed before, sometimes this seems a peculiar end-state for a hobby collection, but no matter.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Background Artillery Project - 5.5" Howitzers

The guns aren't really as blue as the flash makes them appear
I seem to be back to painting my own troops again, so I've been picking away at a few odd things in the queue. Here's a battery of British 5.5" howitzers, ready for the Peninsular siege train. Guns are Hinchliffe 20mm, and the crew are Kennington, who are smart and fit for purpose, and a better match with their NapoleoN colleagues than I expected.

The mud-brown bases for siege units seem a bit drab, but it seemed a good idea once, and it's become a siege-train standard, as has the 4-gunners-per-gun-plus-an-officer-for-the-battery and the reduced-footprint 45mm x 90mm bases. Tradition is everything...

Next up for the Background Artillery Project (BAP) are a British spare wheel cart and yet another British caisson, both with Lamming horses and drivers. Don't hold your breath.

Friday 24 October 2014

Dead on Arrival

Rather sad picture, with thanks to my old friends at Royal Mail. Well packed, FRAGILE eBay parcel received recently, has obviously been dropped from sufficient height to shear off a number of these very old Higgins figures at the ankles. My thoughts at this moment are:

(1) You win some, you lose some

(2) Oh well

(3) This wouldn't happen with Front Rank figures, would it?

Thursday 23 October 2014

Keeping in Step - Movement in IGO-UGO Wargames

When I started dabbling in wargaming, longer ago than you might believe possible, first of all I digested a couple of the Featherstone books, and I got the hang of the basic idea of a game cycle comprising the “Three M’s” – Movement, Missiles and Melees (in that order), and the alternate-moves approach which those books embraced.

I also visited a local club, and found they had their own rules, typed up as a leaflet, but what they played was still, recognisably, a branch of the same family.

Round about the same time, I read somewhere that it was a lot more authentic militarily (and thus better, more serious, more grown-up) to employ a simultaneous-movement system, using written orders for each unit. I was interested enough to try this, and found that – more authentic or not – the overhead of writing, checking and managing the orders was extremely tedious, and any increase in accuracy or compliance with the rules was negligible. There were sheets of paper everywhere, the orders invariably degenerated into unreadable, ambiguous wiggly lines and curved arrows, or abbreviations which could mean almost anything, and the actual game moves which followed had only a very slight connection with what the orders might have said. That crooked arrow curving to left would be interpreted to suit whatever the player felt was in his best interests from moment to moment. The amount of cheating in the game actually increased, likewise the amount of argument. I recall a player claiming that a solitary exclamation mark against a unit on his sheet meant “charge, straight ahead” – what else, he protested, could it mean?

Simultaneous moves didn’t do it for me at all. Of course, my old chum George Jeffrey would have claimed that it worked perfectly for him and his club members (because they were all gentlemen), and that if you couldn’t trust the people you played with then you shouldn’t play with them. And I would have replied, as I would reply now, “wuff wuff”. I never heard such bitter arguments over a supposed pastime as I heard at George’s club nights.

However, alternate-moves did not always result in calm perfection, either. One snag which was always troublesome in IGO-UGO games was that some unit or other would get out of step with the rest of the battle – one move ahead or one move behind – wrong, anyway. As long as everyone moved only during their side’s movement phase, everything was fine, but things became complicated when someone retreated during the enemy’s fire phase, or ran away from a melee which might be during their own turn or the other side’s, or even if someone wished to countercharge when being attacked. Suddenly you would have a unit which was one move ahead of everyone else, and there would then be a discussion of whether they should miss their next official movement opportunity (since they had already moved), views of which frequently varied according to what particular disaster might befall them if they now stood still. This was one area, even of fairly well developed and stable rules, which regularly caused confusion and disagreement.

Now then, although I found them too fussy and too prescriptive to use in their entirety, the publication of the Wargames Research Group’s “Wargames Rules 1685-1845” in 1977 introduced me to a variation on the Three M’s which I found logical and pleasing – in very broad terms, the move now became Missiles, Melees, Movement and – in particular – a (charge) move to contact would now be declared but only partially carried out during the movement phase, the chargers stopping some distance short of their target at the end of their turn, to wait for fire and other enemy reaction before attempting to complete the charge during the opponent’s turn. Of course, the full details of the turn sequence were more fiddly than this, but they hung together well enough if you kept your eye on that nippy old problem of who had moved out of turn, and what should be done about it.

My personal approach to this made use of some coloured counters – red “Attack” arrows, black “Hold” markers and brown “Withdraw” arrows. In a later refinement, I got some custom, plastic versions made up for me by Litko, but the game system worked well enough for years before I added that extra level of elegance.

I’ll skip over the matter of activation – exactly which units (and how many) might do something in a given turn; broadly speaking, units moved only when it was their side’s movement phase, but there were some oddball groups: 
  • Units which, as the result of reaction to a morale test – possibly following combat – were stuck, unable to move, or else were forced to retreat for a single move and were then stuck. These units would be given a black “Hold” marker.
  • Units which, as the result of such a test, had just routed – they were required to run away for a move, and would then be tested in each subsequent turn to see if they rallied or continued to run. These units, in the turn in which they broke, would get a black “Hold” AND a brown “Withdraw”.
  • Units which were already running, and needed to be tested to see if they rallied – these would be identifiable by the presence of a brown “Withdraw” – the black “Hold” would not be present if they were in a continuing rout.
  • Units which were charging to contact (or countercharging) – these would have a red “Attack” marker, which also served to remind the players that they were eligible for an impetus bonus (or whatever the rules allowed in this situation).

In what follows, note that all the references to “Test” (as in “Test morale”) may be addressed in whatever level of detail is required by your preferred rules – at times I have used detailed morale tests (sometimes far too many of them), at other times I have taken little trouble over them; it makes no difference – the point at which such testing would be done (if any…) is quite clear in the sequence; the emphasis here is on movement – who has moved and who has not, and the procedure with the markers is to keep things in order (and it’s surprising how confusing this can get, especially in a solo game).

Phases in a player’s turn (player’s own actions are in a black font – anything which is an enemy action is in red; anything which involved both players is in brown): 
  1. Test units being charged (if they break and run, give them a “Hold” marker and a “Withdraw”, if they are to retire in an orderly manner then move them back and give only the “Hold” marker; if they are able to countercharge, advance them to meeting point, mark them with an “Attack” marker – melee is formed).
  2. Test routers who have been running since at least the previous turn – i.e. any units which just have a “Withdraw” marker (no “Hold”) – if they rally, replace the “Withdraw” with a “Hold”, and turn them as appropriate; if they continue to run, they keep their “Withdraw” marker, and they remain one move ahead of the game – move them back another rout move.
  3. Fire artillery. When all artillery fire is complete, enemy player removes losses, checks for staff casualties and tests morale reaction as appropriate – as before, any unit which is halted or retires gets a “Hold” marker, and any which breaks and runs gets both a “Hold” and a “Withdraw”, and any retirals or routs are carried out now – out of sequence.
  4. Fire musketry. When all musketry fire is complete, enemy player checks for losses and reaction as for artillery fire.
  5. Enemy chargers who are still able to continue their attack now press home the charge, retaining their red “Attack” marker – melees are formed.
  6. Both players now work out melee outcomes (including losses, staff casualties and reaction) in accordance with rules – if the melee continues into a further turn, leave it formed but remove “Attack” markers so no-one gets inappropriate impetus bonus. Any melee losers who retire in good order are pulled back, and get a black “Hold”; if they rout they get both a “Hold” and a “Withdraw” and are turned around and moved back one rout move.
  7. Now is the Movement phase – the player may move (activated) units which are not in a formed melee and which do not have “Hold” and/or “Withdraw” markers. Charges may be declared (subject to necessary morale tests), and charging units are moved part of the way to the target unit, and given a red “Attack” marker (they will have the opportunity to complete the charge at the beginning of the enemy player’s next turn).
  8. When movement is complete, remove all black “Hold” markers from your own units – they have now (correctly) missed out on the movement phase, and are back in step with the rest of the game. Units which still have a brown “Withdraw” are still running, and will be tested for rally/rout in the player’s next turn.

That’s the end of the player’s turn; now the other player goes through the same sequence.

So, to summarise, units which retire or are pinned for a single turn are given a black “Hold” marker which will stop them moving again when it is their normal time to do so, and routers will keep testing, out of sequence, until they are rallied, at which point they are held for a move to get them back into step.

I fear I may appear to have explained something relatively simple in a complicated way, and the plastic markers may seem like overkill, but in a large battle I found this marker system works very well, and avoids confusion in the very areas where the most critical pieces of action are taking place.



Friday 10 October 2014

ECW Generals

Rupert and Chums
A very pleasant feature of an otherwise fairly dismal week here was the arrival of a little packet of ECW generals, painted for me by Iain in return for my foisting off some old deadbeat cavalry onto him - an exchange out of which I feel I did rather well. Iain has long been one of my favourite brush-wielders, and he has done a lovely job on these - thank you, again, young sir. (Hope the house-move goes well.)

It is an established truism that, for 20mm ECW, you just can't get the staff these days, so these fellows are especially welcome. These are SHQ figures, though the left hand figure (who is Prince Rupert in his working gear) is actually a Tumbling Dice man, hacked around a bit, with a pistol from Old John's useful accessory pack (from his 20mm Nostalgic Revival range), and his horse, as usual with my armies, is an SHQ casting, to try to keep scale creep down.

Such is my crazed enthusiasm, I even bought a packet of HO white metal cats and dogs from a model railway supplier, but eventually went off the idea of commissioning a 20mm scale Boye to keep the Prince company on his adventures. Partly this was because it would restrict the scope for getting Rupert to act out the part of someone else when required, but mostly it was because the dogs were not really of suitable breeds, and it would be undignified for the King's nephew to be galloping across the battlefield with a Dachshund. For an instant, I did consider providing one of my ECW personalities with a cat...

So please say hello to Rupert and his chums (as once featured in the Daily Express), and we expect them to speak exclusively in rhyming couplets from this point on. 

In passing, last night I was reading my revised edition of Donald Featherstone's Wargaming Pike and Shot (as one does), when I suddenly received a shock which might have threatened to spill my cocoa if I had had any. I was reading Mr Featherstone's animated account of the Battle of Auldearn in 1645, when I was surprised to note that Montrose was opposed on this occasion by an English force under the command of Sir John Hurry. English? If there was one person I can think of who would have  reacted badly to any confusion over just who was English and who was not, it would be DFF, so this is a puzzle to me - I am not letting go of this one - and there can be no temporary mistyping here, since the army's Englishness is restated on a number of occasions in the narrative. The battle map shows clearly that this English force appears to have comprised the regiments and contingents of Lothian, Findlater,  Seaforth, Moray, Campbell of Lawers and some Highland levies, so what can he possibly mean? Does he mean that they were Protestants? That they were the national army of Scotland, who were allied to the army of the English Parliament? I would reject, out of hand, any suggestion that the writer had had a tiny lapse of memory, and had slipped a hundred years to the Jacobite Unpleasantness. My surprise is only heightened by the fact that this proxy English army at Auldearn, of course, was on the receiving end of - to use a noble Scots phrase - a good gubbing.

So - it is no matter at all, but I am intrigued. I am keen to get back to the book tonight to see if the French turn up at Cropredy Bridge.

Please note - any commenters will get no marks at all for mentioning the Referendum or any related matters. 

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Hooptedoodle #151 – Health & Safety – Donkey Special

This is a tale which I heard about some years ago, but I rejected it as an urban legend. I was too hasty – I have now had confirmation that it was, in fact, true, so I shall tell it to you, that you may share the wonder.

About 4 years ago, my mate Brian had two jobs; he owned the pub in a local village, but he was also an engineer – he specialised in CAD computerised design of heavy-spec heating and ventilation systems – in hospitals and suchlike. For a while, he was commuting from Scotland to York, where he worked on a big project Monday to Friday, staying in lodgings and driving home each Friday evening.

At the time there was some discussion (which required much beer and profanity) of the fact that there was very little of the job for which he needed to be on-site – he could have done all the CAD work at home, emailing in his drawings. He would have to attend a monthly site meeting, but mostly it would be cheaper and simpler if he worked from home, which (of course) would also leave his evenings free to run his pub, rather than drink in someone else’s. This was the basis on which he originally took the job, but the rules were changed.

However, it seems that the main contractor required him to work in York, and – since he was going to be on-site there – he had to attend a Health & Safety briefing first thing every Monday morning, and sign a form to say that he had attended it. Otherwise he was not permitted on the site.

After a while, Brian discovered that the way this really worked was the main contractor needed him to be in York to sign the H&S attendance form, and – as he was now there anyway – they provided office facilities and an accommodation allowance for him to spend his working week there. In other words, he was required to attend the H&S briefing only because he was going to be on-site in York, and the only reason he really had to be on-site was to attend the H&S briefing. It was actually in the contract like this; Brian eventually got very tired of the arrangement, and explained to them in some detail where they could put their ventilators.

We’re here because we’re here because
We’re here because we’re here


Monday 6 October 2014

ECW Campaign - The Map

After publishing yesterday's photo of the Battlefinder cards laid out for the campaign map, I spent a few hours playing around with Gimp, and produced a proper graphic-edited version, which I shall have printed at size A3 (or possibly A2, if the resolution will take it) and laminated by my friendly local print shop, for putting up on the magnetic board in my office.

Here it is, in a reduced size. If you wish to have a look at it, remember this is just a home-tweaked version of The Perfect Captain's Battlefinder system, which is available as a free download from their (his?) website. The only non-standard bit of these cards is that I have changed the place names to suit the North of England - so the influences are Nordic and Saxon rather than Norman. You will observe that some of the cards are inverted - this is deliberate, to get the river to run the correct way. Remember also that this is complete fantasy - no association with real places, past or present, is intended.

The card images do not represent immediately adjacent pieces of terrain - each of these sites may be anything from 5 to 20 miles from its neighbours on the board.

* * * 

Supplementary “Late Edit”

I received a number of emails asking for more detail on how the map is used. I am sort of feeling my way into this campaign, so to some extent the answers are going to be “not quite sure yet”; the idea is that it will be a simplification of The Perfect Captain’s Tinker Fox ECW campaign scenario, which is intended for use with Battlefinder and is, again, available as a download from TPC’s website.

It will be a simplification because I am conducting this campaign solo – thus, for example, the procedure of issuing “Letters” each turn to give orders to subordinate commanders can be a lot less formal and detailed. I had also thought that I was going to do something pretty rudimentary about provisioning the troops, based on the “Provender Points” (P ratings) in the margin on each “district” card, ignoring the more daunting prospect of running a detailed revenue budget for each army – my past experience of campaigns has been that the road to insanity lies in the housekeeping.

On further thought, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the Tinker Fox game is substantially about keeping one’s own troops in line, by paying them (if absolutely necessary!) just in time to prevent open mutiny. I didn’t fancy that overhead – not in a huge amount of detail anyway – but I am also aware that the motivation of the troops in the ECW on a day-to-day basis has more to do with the likelihood of their getting paid than with any minor issues such as the falling-out of King and Parliament. Some element of revenue management may be necessary, though I am a bit apprehensive about it. Also, the existence of a treasure chest with each marching force gives some kind of additional objective!

Current thoughts, in no particular order, and with no implication of permanence:

(1) A turn will be a week. In that time, in decent weather, a mounted, unencumbered force may travel up to 5 districts (i.e. most of the way across the map, if the way is clear), and other forces (on foot, with wagons or guns) may travel up to 3.
(2) Thus the areas between cards represent substantial distances, as described. The map as shown is not a mosaic of terrain tiles; Dr Allen De Vries, who introduced me to the Battlefinder system, describes the map as “an array of football pitches in a large swamp”, which is a little bizarre. Further, travel between the districts is only possible along the 6 paths shown on the template. You cannot fight, manoeuvre or do anything else in the gaps.
(3) The only element of continuity between adjacent districts is the river. The river cannot be crossed between cards – all crossing points are shown in the districts. In some cases, the road appears to track nicely from one card to the next, but not reliably so. Between adjacent cards, the paths and so on behave in some unknown manner which just happens to get you to the correct edge of the next card.
(4) The cards themselves are probably only a guide(!) – for a start, my table is not quite that shape, in any of its configurations. Maps were notoriously poor, though I would expect that the “home” (defending?) side would get less surprises on the battlefield terrain than the other side!
(5) Initial idea is that the Royalists have a major “capitol” (Battlefinder terminology) at Lowther, with useful surrounding towns and villages capable of supporting garrisons. The Parliament side will start at the bottom (southern) edge of the map, and may be deployed on both sides of the river if required. Objective for each side is to get the opposition out of the area, and capture of the enemy capitol is an outright win. At some point, yet to be thought through, the Parliament side will be reinforced by a Covenanter force arriving in the lower right quarter of the map – from roughly the direction of York (or Newcastle, or some such place we may never have heard of).
(6) Back to the housekeeping - Tinker Fox seems to me rather to gloss over the matter of ammunition. On the fells of Lancashire/Westmorland, you might come across a sack of beans or a stray cow or two, but a train of powder and ball seems unlikely. Again, I am keen to avoid insanity in the detail, but this does need some thought. Attacking and capturing powder trains was a well-regarded activity in these parts. 

One message from the emails was “why publish a map if you don’t know how you are going to use it?” – which is valid enough, I guess. Partly I put it up there because a map is a map, and it must be possible to use it somehow – especially since the Battlefinder system and the Tinker Fox scenario contain more than enough clues for how I will choose to make it work. I also put it up there to let it ripen for a while – like the “know your enemy” pictures detectives put on their whiteboards in TV movies!

Sunday 5 October 2014

ECW Campaign – More on the Context

I spent an interesting afternoon building a campaign map using my home-modified cards for the Perfect Captain’s Battlefinder system. The picture above captures the actual master map laid out on the template – I include this photo only because I have it available and it might be of passing interest – I do not expect that anyone will actually be able to read it. No matter – I have everything documented, and a more or less longwinded narrative will appear in time, giving the background (i.e. the fake history) to my ECW campaign. The area depicted is the countryside surrounding the River Arith, which almost certainly lies somewhere between Lancaster and Carlisle.

It’s important to understand that the photo does not show an approximation to an aerial view of the area – it is simply a network of sites which are separated by some undisclosed distance of the order of 5 to 20 miles – each card does not weld seamlessly to its neighbours; I have a vague feeling that it would if the system were really any good, but it doesn’t. These are simply memorable locations (out of the scenario book?) laid out on a template. It is (whisper it) a game board.

One early adjustment to my context work is that the date for the campaign has now slipped back to Spring 1644, which thus allows my Covenanter units to turn out for Parliament. Ah, I hear you say – ah, but – would the Covenanters not have been busy at the siege of Newcastle, and at the build-up to Marston Moor? Are said Covenanters not, as it were, spoken for?

What Marston Moor, I ask? What siege of Newcastle? The real joy of working at the shadowy overlap of fact and fiction is that I can please myself which bits of the genuine stuff I admit to. The scope is limitless – if it suits me to allow real history to place Covenanters on my OOB then I shall take full advantage, while simultaneously ignoring any of that same history which does not fit my script. I am lying on the floor, roaring with delight at the possibilities.

Oh - that Lowther Castle. I think not - built too late, and, anyway, look at the
state of it
The unusually sharp-sighted may spot the walled town of Lowther on my map – an important garrison town for the Royalists in this area. Someone has already asked me, is this connected with Lowther Castle, the home of the Earls of Lonsdale, in old Westmorland? Surely this is a real place? Not necessarily, comes the reply; if it suits my campaign history, the answer may be a tentative yes, but if it does not fit comfortably then it is a complete coincidence, and the town was named for a fellow from Grange-over-Sands I once did Physics practicals with on Saturday mornings in first year at university, sometime in another century.

Anyway – what Lowther Castle?