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

Wednesday 25 February 2015

I's a Muggin' - Silly Giveaway

This follows on from a discussion on Polemarch’s very fine blog – there was a passing reference to de-emphasis of the unseemly, or politically difficult, aspects of wargaming (such as death, which we shall refer to as the D-word henceforth). 

I felt that a mug bearing a suitable message would be amusingly silly, but then dismissed the idea. Later, I thought better of it – such a mug would not only be superbly tacky, but would be just the thing to extend the intermittent range of Max Foy collectibles – sadly the much-admired tee-shirt (click) is no longer in stock, but the mug would surely be a must-have. Think how your wargaming friends would envy you if you had one, or – if, like me, you have no friends – just think how people might visit you to see it.

View of both sides of the mug - not your cup of tea?
Anyway, I ordered some, and here they are – they exist. As you see, they bear an improving message on one side and my own portrait on the other – how inspirational is that? I shall give away two, as a token of my selfless devotion to the hobby, my supreme lack of both taste and humility and my shameless determination to promote my crappy blog. If you would like one, all you have to do is send me a comment (which I shall not publish) explaining why you truly deserve one (or need one) and how much you would like to receive one. Any details of your personal contribution to the hobby (or anything else, really) will be most welcome – there are no rules at all, except that you must be a follower of this blog. Whichever two submissions amuse me most (and there may be extra points for relevance, but it’s not essential) by midnight on 5th March will receive the mugs – I’ll retain some stock so that I can (maybe) offer them as some sort of special award in the future.

I’ll probably publish the best entries – as long as they are not too rude, of course.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Hooptedoodle #165 - Donkey Award - Property Surveyors

Strictly speaking, this is not really a Donkey Award post – the donkeys in this tale are probably any unfortunate members of the UK public who wish to buy a house. In the world of house buying, which is a Very Serious Business Indeed, involving the commitment of more funds than we normally dare think about, there are a number of sacred professions upon which we are required to call.

The legal chaps and the estate agents have infuriated me for years, but – alas – the game is rigged so that we cannot do without them. Today I am reminded that I am also annoyed by the closed-shop requirement for property surveyors. What on earth is that all about?

We are currently involved in helping an elderly relative to purchase a house in a small town in a rural part of Scotland. The person selling the house has already wheeled in a local estate agent, who informed them that their house should fetch between £180,000 and £200,000.

Different house, different town, same sort of idea

This seemed a tad on the high side, given the local conditions, and we put in our own surveyor – as one does – who feels that £170,000 is nearer the mark. I have the surveyor’s report here – we will be billed some £400 or so for it. Hmmm.

For a start, it is merely the product of a template form on the surveyor’s laptop, and – though the surveyor obviously did have a look at the premises – it is so lightweight, so full of hedges and caveats and useless recommendations to get further specialist opinion that it is almost valueless. The electrical, water and gas services, the timber work, the fire-regulation-compliance of the windows – everything you can think of is accompanied by some form of disclaimer and a recommendation that expert opinion be sought. In other words, there is no come-back on the surveyor if the house is a crock – you should have got a timber specialist (or whatever) in. If something goes wrong, don’t try to pin it on the surveyor – there is no liability there at all. The report even includes much spurious advice about the desirability of regular clearing of gutters, renovation of mastic around bathroom fittings etc – apart from serving to fill up blank space, what is the point of this in a property report?

We reckon the surveyor took less than an hour to drive from his office to the property (assuming he had no other calls in the same area) and spent less than half an hour on site. The only interesting bit of his report is his opinion on the value – the lack of mention of serious problems is also quite useful, though blatantly not in a courtroom context. £400 well spent?

Consider, also, the situation in such a small town, in an area of low population density. How many surveyors are based locally? In the likely event of more than one potential purchaser requiring the services of a surveyor for a single property, what are the chances that more than one of them will approach the same surveyor? Clearly this must happen quite a lot, and it is obvious that the surveyor will not visit the same property twice. I have never heard of a surveyor telling his client, “By the way, I’ve already done a survey at that property, last week, so you can just have a copy of my report for £20.”

Not bloody likely – you each pay your £400 for your copy. The property market is still quiet up here in the wilds, but when things were booming it must have been a bonanza. £400 a pop for a report which has no legal significance and admits no professional liability – to be photocopied at the full price as necessary. I’ve definitely spent my life in the wrong profession.

Right. Property surveyors – they’re on the list.

My ECW Rules - available again

I've had some email recently, most of it from members of TMP and, about my removing access to my Commands & Colors-based rules for the ECW. Though I still have the intention to do some updates to the documentation, I found this morning that the extant versions in Google Docs date from February 2014, so are not far off the current state.

The text panel at the top right of this screen should now once again show the links - if you attempt to use them and they don't get you there, please let me know.

I am reminded that I removed these links a while ago because I was getting a steady trickle of complaints about the rules, and some requests for changes, which is OK but represents a level of user support I had not prepared myself for. Since the number of requests to reinstate the links now exceeds the number of complaints I used to get, I've put things back as they were.

Thus the links at top right will get you to pdf files for the rules and play aids for my CC_ECW game, which is certainly not a supported product, though you are welcome to use it provided you give me appropriate credit if you publish anything.

I am currently using this game with a growing collection of add-on or alternative rule sections, which I intend to document in the same sort of way once they settle down a bit.

Monday 16 February 2015

In Odd Moments

I've been very busy recently, so time to involve myself in hobby activities has been infrequent, and - more to the point - unpredictable. Such moments as have presented themselves have been happily spent making the most of two recent purchases.

The artillery of the dastardly Parliamentarians prepare to fire on the home of the Laceys
Firstly, I was very pleased to obtain a good, secondhand set of DVDs of the 1980s BBC ECW historical drama series, By the Sword Divided. The set (of 8 discs) includes both series; thus far I have got most of the way through the first series, and jolly good it is too. I neither watched nor heard about the original transmission, so it is all new to me. The 1983 date is apparent in the 4:3 picture aspect  and the modest approach to special effects (night-time scenes are pretty much invisible!), but it has the advantage to me that, with a couple of notable exceptions, the cast are mostly unfamiliar (since I never watched Holby City...) and the production is modern enough for me not to be distracted by its shortcomings.

The one stand-out performance is Julian Glover, always a fine actor, as Sir Martin Lacey, a Royalist landowner, but the whole show rings true and is convincing. It also demonstrates a keen awareness of the history and the military aspects (from which I learned quite a bit - which I had not expected), and it comes as no surprise that the historical advisor was Brigadier Peter Young. The slight downside, of course, is that the Brigadier's personal points of bias come through along with his undoubted wisdom, so the Parliamentarian side get the benefit of very little doubt, for example. I also found that the moments when the cast stand and recite historical events to each other, as contextual background disguised as family chatter, were the least convincing of the whole production, but they do tie things together nicely.

I am a bit nervous to note that Sir Martin was killed in last night's instalment, so I am hoping the series does not dip in his absence. I shall continue to work my way through the remaining discs - this series is pretty expensive to get hold of - I was lucky to get a bargain set - but is very highly recommended if you are interested in the period. Michael had informed me that you can watch it on YouTube, which is terrific, but sadly is not practicable at my local broadband speed.

Second bit of shopping was a copy of Blücher, Sam Mustafa's long-awaited grand tactical cousin for Lasalle, in his Honour series of horse and musket rules. I haven't got very far into this yet, but it looks very interesting indeed. One thing that surprises me a little is that it is the logical replacement for Mustafa's Grande Armée rules, yet some of the most cunning, trademark devices from that earlier rule set have been dropped. There are other, newer innovations, of course, but familiarity with the earlier set gives an intriguing insight into the background.

Anyway, I haven't got very far into it yet, so will carry on reading as time permits.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Hooptedoodle #164 – Logs

This is what I did on Saturday, and my aching back reminds me still. We finally burnt almost all the wood from our old Eucalyptus tree this Winter, and it was time to get in a new load. We use our log stove a lot – otherwise our heating is all provided by domestic LPG, and somehow the dramatic fall in world commodity prices has not yet been reflected in retail LPG delivery costs, so all possible help from the wood stove is very welcome.

Because it is almost three years now since we took a delivery of logs, I had rather lost touch with the world of firewood suppliers. A bit of poking around on the internet and a couple of phone calls and I arranged with Shane – who is based at a farm some 8 miles away or so – to deliver me one cubic metre of kiln-dried logs (for burning immediately) plus two cubic metres of barn-dried logs (to season during the year for next Winter). Round here, that’s a lot of logs, boys and girls.

Shane duly delivered the stuff to my driveway on Saturday morning, and my son and I spent the rest of the day clearing out the woodshed, tidying up our remaining logs and then shifting and stacking the new stuff. The result, as you see, is a wall of logs six-and-a-half feet high, by 3 logs deep (front to back) by whatever width this is. Because it is new and clean, and because I am pleased both with the quality of the logs and the achievement of stacking them, I took a commemorative photo.

Thank you, Shane – I’ll phone you again around two years from now, with luck.

Which, you will be sorry to learn, reminds of a very old tale…

One day, this enormous guy with a beard walks into a logging camp, and strides up to the boss, who is eating his breakfast.

“I’m O’Halloran,” says the big man, “you hiring lumberjacks?”

The boss looks up from his ham and eggs, and studies the giant before him.

“You worked as a lumberjack before?”

“What?” says the man, “I told you, I’m O’Halloran – I’m a legend among lumberjacks!”

“I’m sorry, Mr O’Halloran,” says the boss, “I never heard of you – where did you work before?”

“I worked in the Sahara Forest,” says O’Halloran, proudly.

“The Sahara? – but there are no trees in the Sahara…”

“Not now, there aren’t,” says O’Halloran.

ECW Campaign – Week 5

Remains of the King's Gate, at Erneford Castle, today
Most significant event of the week was the defeat of the Royalist force from Northumberland, under General Darracott, at the Battle of High Cark on 4th April.

General Aspinall, Parliamentarian victor at Midlawton on 28th March, was still struggling to put his strangely demoralised army into some kind of shape to take the field. Desertion had been very widespread, especially after it became obvious that no looting would be permitted. Figge-Newton, in overall command of the Parliament army in Lonsdale, ordered William Geddes’ Covenanter force to advance from Pacefield to Cark Ferry, to prevent any junction between the two Royalist forces and to seize the crossing of the River Arith.

Geddes made rapid progress, and crossed the river, but word of his advance came to the notice of General Darracott, at Erneford. That general, borrowing some artillery from the fortress, set off towards the Ferry, where he blundered into the (rather larger) Scottish force. The Battle of High Cark which followed was of short duration, but the Royalists were very disorganised by their defeat, and though Colonel Frayne (who inherited command when Darracott went missing from the battlefield) did well to conduct a withdrawal back to the strong position of the medieval fortress at Erneford, the Parliamentarian cavalry caused a lot of problems, and many men were lost on the retreat.

Geddes quartered his army around Cark Hall – home of the influential Barber family – and sent a request for orders to Figge-Newton, who had set up his staff and HQ at Pacefield Hall.

Meanwhile the Royalist force at Lowther, which had been defeated at Midlawton and was under the temporary command of Lord Sefton (as a result of the indisposition of Lord Porteous, who had not been seen for a week) was recovering fairly well, and (as predicted) many of the missing men were returning to the colours.

The armies needed to rest. Sir Henry Figge-Newton now considered his options. At this time, his favoured scheme was to lay siege to Darracott’s force at Erneford, withdrawing as many men from Geddes’ force as possible – providing him with the siege artillery but taking all the troops he could spare to reinforce the main army at Midlawton, and attempt to bring Porteous’ Royalists (at Lowther) to a decisive battle in that area.

Following the wounding of the Royalist brigadier of foot, Colonel Brogan, at High Cark, his brigade at Erneford was now commanded by Colonel Charlton.

A late development in this week was the arrival from Carlisle of a letter from Prince Rupert, addressed to Lord Sefton, who was instructed to place Lord Porteous under arrest, and send him to Carlisle as soon as he was well enough to travel. Sefton was to remain in acting command of the forces at Lowther; Rupert also explained in the letter that Sir John Darracott was to succeed to overall command in the county – Rupert, of course, did not know that Darracott had been defeated and was currently at Erneford, having lost much of his personal baggage at High Cark, and was thus not in a position to take command. Sefton was last seen composing a diplomatic reply to the Prince.

The "Ghost Pool" on the River Arith, which legend suggests is where
General Darracott hid to avoid capture
Darracott himself was unfortunate enough to have earned the unofficial nickname, “The Ghost of Cark”, as a consequence of the speed with which he was reputed to have quit the battlefield, pursued by the Pitlochrie Horse. In fairness, Sir John showed considerable resourcefulness to escape, by dint of hiding in the river, later rejoining his army soaking wet, and lacking his horse, pistols and boots. He did well to avoid harm or capture, but the loss of his dignity did nothing to help his standing with his sullen army.


No new orders. Troops are resting and recovering.


The siege train is to be readied to move to Cark, to be placed under the command of General Geddes there. Sir Henry Figge-Newton will come to Midlawton next week to meet with General Aspinall and draw up plans for continuation of the campaign.

Monday 9 February 2015

New Figure Commission - Spanish Cavalry

These are the command figures from the forthcoming Spanish cavalry - there are
troopers, too, and a choice of walking or trotting horses (we think)
This is just a pointer to a post on the Hagen Miniatures blog - I'm very excited to see that the Spanish cavalry figures which I commissioned through Uwe (which may be painted as either Dragoons or Line Cavalry) now exist as masters, and are now at the mould-making stage.

They should fill a long-felt gap in the market for 1/72 metal figures - there will be more figures from Hagen for 1806-1810 Spanish troops in the future, but watch out for these next ones. I'm looking forward very much to getting my hands on the cavalry - I'm not wishing to steal anyone's thunder - please keep an eye on the Hagen blog if Spanish Napoleonic soldiers are of interest!

Thursday 5 February 2015

ECW Campaign - Activation Again - Crude but OK

In my recent Battle of High Cark (previous post), I had another example of a medium-sized action which did not lay out nicely in the official play-across-the-table, left-centre-right sector format which best suits Commands & Colors. In fact, the battle did sort itself into across-the-table, but it might not have done.

Since it was also a solo game, there were a couple of reasons why I decided for this occasion to swerve my customised ECW set of C&C Command Cards for activation. I’ve done this on occasions in the past, usually replacing the cards with a semi-improvised dice system to fit the scenario. These systems have all worked tolerably well – my personal view on each of them is based on very short, Stone Age-man criteria.

(1) Does it restrict the number of activated units to about the right level (i.e. something comparable with what the C&C cards would give)?

(2) Is the extra overhead of labour and mental arithmetic acceptable, in view of the advantages offered (i.e. is it a pain in the butt)?

(3) Does it make sense (i.e. can it be explained in sensible, real-world terms, or is it just an obviously artificial game mechanism to limit each move)?

Dice manufacture in the Stone Age - lack of a numbering system was a major problem
Point (1) is simply that C&C provides the player with a hand of cards (usually the cards he doesn’t want), of which he may play one – typically, the sector cards allow activation of between 1 and 4 units, though some allow activation of a number of units equal to the number of cards in the player's hand. This gives an approximate idea of how much activation is appropriate for tested use with C&C’s movement and combat rules, and with the required (short) duration of each turn, to keep things ticking along.

Point (2) is obviously also about keeping the game moving, and a personal aversion I have to command radii (which, of course, are loved and embraced by a great many players whose views and opinions I respect). I have had unhappy flirtations with caches of Command Chips and similar – as soon as they become a nuisance, the Activation rules are abandoned, and I use tasteful application of Point (3) to justify this.

My latest improvisation came after reading some of Neil Thomas’ rules. It does not appear in any of Neil’s books as far as I know, but I find Mr Thomas invigorating for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he is not scared of doing something unorthodox in the interests of simplifying and speeding up the game – I frequently disagree with individual manifestations of this, but at heart he is definitely my kind of wargamer. I have a slight difficulty with the fact that he often has several different approaches for the same period, and I am never sure just how tested and proven these rules are, but once you challenge accepted thinking the gloves are off, and all sorts of new and sacrilegious ideas spring to mind.

All right, Foy – enough preamble, already – what did you do for the ECW battle?

Well, first off I applied my recently-developed “brigade order” rule. An “order” (activation counter) may be placed against a single unit, or against a Leader/General figure – and in my ECW games the Leaders go down to brigade level. Thus far it looks rather like C&C. The ordered Unit or Leader may then move, fight, whatever. However, if the order is given to a Leader, and if he is attached to a combat unit under his own command, then a contiguous group of units from this same brigade may be activated by this single order. Thus my armies have broken out in rashes of coloured counters, to identify the various brigades, and the need to keep them together to take advantage of this feature (an effect I term “daisychaining” when explaining it to bemused visitors) forces the army commander to keep his army organised. If a unit gets separated from its brigade, it requires a separate order – perhaps it will be moved back into contact with the brigade. In broken ground, or if a unit in the middle of the line breaks, or if (heaven forfend) the brigadier stops a bullet, the additional hassle of keeping that brigade under control is considerable.

A more senior Leader may take command of a brigade (only one at a time) if the brigadier is lost. All Leaders attached to units are, of course, at risk if the unit takes losses.

OK – that’s not really all that new – I’ve mentioned this before, and bits of it are sort of derived from CCA. The new bit was the Activation rule. The “phasing” player (don’t you hate that?) is about to take his turn, and he arms himself with a handful of my patent blue ACTIVE counters and a D6.

He is only going to get to place a limited number of Activation counters, so he had better prioritise, and he had better be selective. He gets the first one for nothing – place a counter against any unit or leader he wishes.

It gets harder as he goes along. For his second order/counter, he must throw a 2 or better on the D6. If he gets 2+, he places a second counter, and then he must get 3+ to place a third. And so on – he may stop whenever he wishes, and if he doesn’t make the next number (or successfully places a 6th counter) then he must stop. Yes it is crude – I am proud of how crude it is – but it works, on average it gives something like the number of Activation orders you might expect from C&C, but you don’t know how many until you find out the hard way. Ideal for a solo player - I found it easy, convenient and still with a good few stings in the tail. On four, possibly five occasions in the Battle of High Cark I decided to place an order against one of the C-in-Cs, to move him nearer to where he was needed (just in case). As soon as the C-in-C was identified, without fail, the D6 rolled a “1” and the C-in-C remained where he was. It became a bit of a joke – a sad, solo joke, but there you go.

For a bigger battle, I guess I might use a D8, or a D10, but the D6 might do for even very big actions if the brigade orders feature were available. Anyway, there’s the outline. I liked it the other day – it passed all my Stone Age tests. You can reject it out of hand, or improve on it, or try it out, or tell me that it actually appeared in an SPI game in 1978, but do – at least – think about it. Out of the mouths of fools and single-cell organisms cometh wisdom – when you are contemplating the unthinkably crude, you may come up with a few new wacky ideas of your own.

And, if you haven’t already, have a look at Neil Thomas – I read and shrugged at his Napoleonic book, and did pretty much the same with his One-Hour wargames book, but – by Gum – my mind was racing afterwards. Homeopathy for wargamers?