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

Friday 3 October 2014

ECW Campaign – Preliminary Work & More Testing

Thornthwaite - with St David's in the background
Some time – probably within the next couple of months – I hope at last to get my solo ECW campaign under way. I am collecting together a short shopping list of ideas, and of things that I learned from my Peninsular War campaign which I wish to do differently this time.

The campaign will not use a formal map; the idea is to improvise a map based on my “North Country” edition of the Perfect Captain’s “Battlefinder” card system, and the rules for supply and movement will be correspondingly simpler.

The area to be fought over will thus be fictitious, and the forces and leaders will also be of my own invention. There was nothing wrong with using real places and (more or less) real armies in the Peninsular War, but doing so definitely pushes towards a specific organisation, and the strategies are bound to reflect what really happened, at least in part. This time it will be different – the area to be used will be some previously unknown location vaguely similar to the Lonsdale Hundred of Lancashire (which in reality includes Lancaster and part of the Lake District), and the participants will be my own invention, though some of them may look rather like known historical units – pure coincidence. You will not find the towns or roads on John Speed’s contemporary maps, but that is entirely because Speed opted not to show them. You will not find any historical record of the troops or the generals, but that is simply because Peter Young overlooked them.

The timing will be (vaguely) 1643, to keep everything up in the air and steer clear of the New Model Army. The political context will be smudged to suit the occasion whenever necessary. The tabletop battles will use my ECW variant of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics, which is undergoing some further minor changes – these are to be tested thoroughly before use. Formal sieges, and also any battles which are too small or otherwise unsuitable for a miniatures game, will be handled by the algorithmic approach which worked well in the Peninsula.

* * * *

Yesterday I had a preliminary solo game to test some recent rule tweaks – it represented the little-known Battle of Thornthwaite, which is separate from the campaign but is around the same area, and employs some of the same forces. It is a decent-sized toe in the water.

Thornthwaite is a prosperous little market town of approximately 800 inhabitants. The prominent family in the area are the Hesketh’s, cousins of the Marquess of Newcastle; they are Catholics and strong supporters of the King, and their sympathies are reflected in the stance of the inhabitants. The town’s important position, commanding the highway from Lancaster to some other place, is well recognised, though it has no walls and is not a particularly easy place to defend, the nearby River Dribble being a negligible stream at this time of year. The Royalist army in the area, under the command of Lord Benedict Porteous, alerted to the approach of a sizeable Parliamentarian army, has placed infantry in the town itself, and also in the parish church of St David of Briardale, which now lies about half a mile from the town, as a result of rebuilding after the plagues of the previous century.

The particular rule tweaks to be tested in this action were:

Accelerated troop movement – 1 hex bonus when further than 2 hexes from the enemy.
C&C “section” command cards (other than any which refer to the number of cards in the player’s hand – Assault and Refuse, being examples) may be applied to a Leader who is attached to one of his own units, and the order extends to any contiguous string of units from the same brigade.
Some changes to the influence and immortality of attached Leaders.
An experimental rule to cover the fire of Mortars, and a system for recording damage to built-up areas (and, though we had none yesterday, fortress walls).
A couple of refinements of movement rules, including a fledging road bonus and a change whereby units may move through friendly artillery, but may not end their move in the same hex.
A few other things.

Orders of Battle (numbers in square brackets are simply the identifying unit number on the bases; the list also shows the colours of small beads blu-tacked onto the bases to make it easier to keep brigades together and identify the army structure)

Battle of Thornthwaite – 1643

Army of the Parliament (Sir Nathaniel Aspinall [87])

Right                         – brigade of Lord Alwyn [96] (purple)
      Col Thomas South’s RoH [125]
      Sir Rowland Barkhill’s RoH [126]
    brigade of Col Thomas Chetwynd [97] (red)
      Chetwynd’s RoH [123]
      Sir William Dundonald’s RoH [124]
Left                            – Col Matthew Allington [98] (silver)
      Sir Beardsley Heron’s RoH [121]
      Col James Winstanley’s RoH [122]
      Col Richard Sudley’s RoH [127]
      Lord Eastham’s RoH [128]

Right                         - Col Robert Bryanston [86] (green)
                                                      Bryanston’s RoF [106]
                                                      Col Obediah Hawkstone’s RoF [107]
Left                            - Col Edward Buckland [84] (yellow)
                                                      Buckland’s RoF [101]
                                                      Col Joseph Grafton’s RoF [105]
                                                      Col John Burdett’s RoF [108]
Reserve                   - Lord Lambton [99] (sky blue)
                                                      Lord Lambton’s RoF [102]
                                                      Sir Thos Nielson’s RoF [103]
                                                      Sir Julius Mossley’s RoF [104]

                                                      Capt Wm Ancaster’s Dragoons [120]
                                                      Med Gun [140]
                                                      Light Gun [139]
                                                      Heavy Gun [147]
                                                      Heavy Mortar [157]

Army of the King (Benedict, Lord Porteous [3])

Right                         - Lord Sefton [4] (green)
                                                      Lord Sefton’s RoH [44]
                                                      Sir Henry Moorhouse’s RoH [47]
                                                      Col John Noden’s RoH [48]
Left                            - Sir Roderick Broadhurst [10] (yellow)
                                                      Broadhurst’s RoH [43]
                                                      Lord Cressington’s RoH [46]

Garrison                  - Col Archibald Rice [17] (turquoise)
                                                      Rice’s RoF [23]
                                                      Col Wm Ringrose’s RoF [25]
                                                      Sir Marmaduke Davies’ RoF [27]
Reserve                   - Sir James Parkfield [19] (silver)
                                                      Parkfield’s RoF [19]
                                                      Lord Ullet’s RoF [24]
St David’s               - Col John Fulwood [18] (dk blue)
                                                      Fulwood’s RoF [28]
                                                      Capt Charles Grove’s Firelocks [38]

                                                      Maj Oliver Dingle’s Dragoons [40]
                                                      Light Gun [59]
                                                      Med Gun [61]

Royalists had a hand of 5 Command Cards, Parliamentarians 6. The Victory Point requirement for a win was 10, 2 of these being available for possession of more of the town than the enemy and 1 for possession of St David’s church.

I shall not give a detailed account of the action – the captions of the photos should provide much of that. Both armies had an amount of horse which was not of immediate use in fighting for a town and, predictably, the Royalists started their defence by employing theirs in launching a wild cavalry charge against the (numerically superior) force of horse on the Parliamentary left.

Ignoring this distraction, the infantry brigades of Edward Buckland and Lord Lambton [P] set about attacking the town itself. Their attack was preceded by a short bombardment from a large siege mortar known as The Clapperdudgeon (commanded by Capt R Rousell), which started a couple of small fires, but failed to hurt anyone. The infantry approached the open ground to the East of the town under heavy fire of musketry, showing great courage, but were repulsed quickly and completely once they reached the edge of the town.

Buckland’s force was destroyed, and together with the heavy losses already sustained by Allington’s horsemen on the Parliamentarian left, this was sufficient to clock up the required 10 VPs before Lambton’s men could get involved in the assault, and the Parliament army withdrew, most of its troops having done little beyond some manoeuvring. They will return, they will fight again soon. The battle lasted about two hours elapsed, allowing for some head scratching over new rules.

Broadhurst's horse [R] on Mill Hill

View from behind Parliament right flank - they had more troops eventually

Col Bryanston with the Parliamentary reserve foot

General Aspinall watches his attack develop

Allington's horse on the Parliamentary left - they had a very bad day

General view of the Royalist position

Defenders in Thornthwaite

Broadhurst's men looked businesslike but didn't actually do anything

Lord Sefton's bold charge wrecks the Parliament horse

In goes the main assault - Buckland's brigade

Lord Porteous - he won, but he still doesn't know which way up the map is
I am left to ponder the advantage which “galloper” type horse gain in a melee. It may well be appropriate for the tactics, but the cavalry on both sides at this stage of the war in this theatre would mostly be provincial gentlemen and their retainers – I am not sure that there would have been a great deal of experience of the German wars, and Prince Rupert is nowhere to be seen in these parts. If there was a fault in the game here, I feel it may be more to do with my simplistic decision to make all Royalist horse “Gallopers” and all their opponents “Trotters” – certainly the Royalists cut through their opposite numbers very effectively, but that might not be entirely correct for this backwater of the wars.

Casualties among brigade commanders (which do not give rise to VPs) were lighter than I feared they might be, and the “daisychain” brigade order rule worked nicely for shifting men quickly, and encouraged a structural discipline on the armies which is pleasing and usually entirely absent in C&C. The coloured beads are a big help, but the tiny specimens I used are a complete swine to handle and attach – I spent a fair amount of time crawling around with a torch, looking for dropped beads (which, of course, roll for a surprising distance).

Interesting game – I’ve left it set up, so that I can re-run some bits of it with further tweaklets. On the King’s side, Lord Sefton distinguished himself with a remarkable cavalry attack, though he was captured in the process. Once again, artillery was mostly a waste of time once friendly infantry moved in front of it, since only the light guns may move once they have started firing – I understand this is pretty much how it was.


  1. I'm afraid my knowledge of the ECW is rather superficial but the game certainly looks very attractive.

    1. I fear that mine is also still rather superficial - there is a danger that the ECW is one of those periods that you have to love for what it is, but the battles are a bit samey - I try to avoid that. Given the opportunity, the armies would try to find a big open space to fight in, and use the available forces in a largely predictable, "correct" manner.

  2. The ECW has always been a "possible-maybe" period for me, but those pikes and buff coats do make for an attractive looking tabletop.

    1. Good visual appeal, certainly - I fear that my ex-David Winter town is a little cute - someone suggested it could have been Bree...

  3. That is quite a large and handsome game layout! Fought to completion in two hours? Incredible!

    From your photos, it appears that you are using casualty counters rather than stand removal to denote block loss. I approve!

    What is the thought on your foot deployments having shot forward and pike back? My preference would be to deploy the foot in their traditional battaglia of central pike with shot sleeves. Of course, that might be too tight for your hexes.

    1. Hi Jonathan - the deployment of the foot units is entirely explained by laziness on my part - they are just placed for convenience in handling, and the rules do not distinguish formation (except stand of pikes, which none of these foot units are capable of, not being veterans) nor direction of facing. The hexes are just about 4mm narrower than 3 bases in line, so it can be forced in!

      Casualty counters - you bet. The unit is either still there or not still there - the frontage is irrelevant in these rules, and the collateral damage aspect of having all horizontal surfaces lined with soldiers carrying pikes is, as you know, scary! Casualty counters means I can finish a battle in around two hours, and then have everything sorted out ready to refight or put everything away within half an hour. OCD wargames.

    2. "The unit is either still there or not" is what I prefer too. I like to think of it as ether being combat effective or not. Since I paint all of the models, I want them to be on the table as long as possible. I really dislike games where figures or stands immediately beginning a migration off table as soon as the game begins. Detracts greatly from the look of the table, to me.

  4. I think battles in just about any period can be a bit 'samey' and nimaginative - how many photos of Ancients games have you seen where there are simply two lines of troops bashing away down the length of the board? As I've said myself, you need proper scenarios and campaign games to bring out the true flavour of a period and I think you've done that well here. It's not just about shuffling figures around a board.

    1. I agree Gary, the Campaign CONTEXT changes the nature of what is seen and often happens on the tactical battlefield.

    2. Thanks Gary - I have about 6 or 7 books containing Pike & Shot type scenarios, and, after I'd rejected all the historical ones, I couldn't raise any enthusiasm for what I found. For a start, my C&C mutant rules work best for a fair-sized scrap, and there is a fixation in scenario books for skirmishes, daylight raids, small ambushes. As I think I've said before here, scenarios come in to their own when you have a visiting opponent and you have, for shame's sake, to offer an event which is a worthwhile match. For solo stuff I can entirely please myself, and if it doesn't work then scrap it and start again - with something else if it seems a better idea!

  5. Great-looking game and good ideas for the campaign, I'll be following progress with great interest - best of luck.

    1. Thank you sir - don't hold your breath just yet, but it should be along around the end of the year (no statement of which year, just like the campaign setting).

  6. I have occasionally wondered, given my ECW reading, if a random die roll would not be more 'accurate' than galloper / trotter ratings - so horse are randomly one or the other. Many Royalist horse seem to have trotted into action; significant later Parliamentary horse advanced at a 'pretty round trot' which seems to imply more than thinking about a caracole.

    Even Rupert might have trotted occasionally. The evidence suggests that the wild charges at Naseby (certainly) and Edgehill (possibly) were, in fact, planned tactics to defeat the opposing horse before their numbers could tell. Losing control was an unfortunate side effect of the tactics.

    Still, a nice looking tabletop and campaign. Enjoy...

    1. Thanks very much. After due deliberation and half a bottle of Montepulciano I reckon that cavalry in this campaign will be Trotters throughout, unless some celeb units come up from Oxford or similar. I also reckon that a fair proportion will be classed as "militia".

      I agree that the dice involved in combats offer enough unpredictability to cover the rare occasions when someone forgets his pistols and just goes for it.