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

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Kilsyth 1645: The Game

 Wednesday evening - the days were accomplished; I was host, umpire and General Factotum (gopher) for the Battle of Kilsyth, in the company of my two guest generals, Dave and Dave - all by courtesy of Zoom Video Communications Inc, of San Jose, California, suppliers of state-of-the-art digital enabling systems to the World, and Lothian Broadband, of Haddington, Scotland, purveyors of brave-but-faintly-agricultural rural broadband services to the socially isolated.

There are two sub-themes here which should be identified now, and then we shall speak no more of them. 

(1) The first is that the Broadband Thing did get in the way a bit. We had a number of hangs, and one complete system collapse. During Turn 2, the broadband dropped out completely. This was not one of our familiar local temporary hiccups, which restore themselves fairly quickly after the odd freeze and Dalek impression - this was a full dropping of the Zoom session, such that I had to reboot our hub, start the meeting all over again, and phone my guests to apologise. We lived to fight on - as I suggested at the time, we must be due some bonus points for effort and stamina, and I am grateful to the Daves for their splendid resilience and good humour. Apart from the occasional smell of fertilizer, one other downside of the countryside is that some aspects of the infrastructure would be rejected as unreasonable elsewhere. It is interesting that our big dropout last night was around the time that Lothian Broadband's other customers must all have been hooking up to online coverage of the Champions' League football.

(2) Unlikely dice rolls. It has to be said that, after the Zoom restart, General Baillie had the most phenomenal series of bad breaks I've ever witnessed. Not only were his own rolls very poor, but his opponent, Montrose, also produced a series of spectacularly successful melee results, and the whole thing suggests that a properly audited investigation is necessary. In fact, since I was rolling all the dice, had no particular bias and used the same dice for both sides, I think we'll get through the VAR checks. There was occasional muttering about "Catholic dice", but all in good spirit...

General Baillie's personal chaplain, the Rev Dr I M Jolly of Letham, attempting to identify and banish the presence of Catholic Dice - all in vain...

We used the Ramekin modifications to my Commands & Colors-based ECW rules. We also used the Chaunce (event) cards from my base game, to add a little extra colour, but these cards were to be cued by tied (i.e. drawn) Initiative/Activation rolls, and there weren't any (the game only lasted about 8 turns) - so this was a bit of a non-event (so to speak), but in any case the worst powder explosion or unmapped swamp imaginable would have been trivial compared with the broadband risks, so let's not worry about it.

Here's our game map, with the brief explanatory notes I sent to the Daves beforehand:

 FT are Foot, TR are "Trotter" cavalry, HI are Highland levies. MG (confusingly) is Medium Artillery. 

 Background Story:
Montrose (red) was originally set up in an approximate line of battle stretching from around D7 and then upwards, off the table, waiting for the Dumb Covenanters to march along the road from Stirling (the road is just off the left edge of the table, and parallel to it). The initial rebel line up was (probably) Highlanders on the left, Irish in the centre, regular Foot on the right, with Horse covering the rear of the flanks.

Baillie (blue) realised there was a trap, so sent his army on a march along the bottom edge of the map, from the left, using dead ground as much as possible, heading to the high ground beyond the mill at Auchinrivoch, which would place him above and behind Montrose's left flank. If Montrose withdrew, or even just sat there, Baillie was happy to sit and wait for a reinforcement  commanded by the Earl of Lanark, which was coming from the west.

However, two things went wrong for Baillie:

(1) it seems that Montrose became aware of the flanking move, and moved his army to face to their left - their positions on the table reflect how quickly the units could move, and where they were starting from.

(2) for some reason, the small Commanded Shot unit (under Maj Haldane), which was to lead the Foot units to Auchinrivoch, and Home's (veteran) regt of Foot saw highlanders on the other side of the little valley, apparently looking a bit disordered, and deduced that Montrose's chaps were retreating over the mountains (north); thus both units stopped marching up to the mill, and turned to attack directly. Baillie failed to correct this, and was obliged to throw in as much as he could to make the best of this premature attack. Game on.

One can only hope that Major Haldane got a severe talking to afterwards - assuming they could find a suitable part of him to talk to.

 The OOB is:

Government Troops (Lt.Gen William Baillie) - total approx 4300 men


Maj.Gen Sir James Holbourne
Marquis of Argyll's Regt
Earl of Crawford-Lindsay's Regt
Col Robert Home's Regt (veteran)
Earl of Lauderdale's Regt
John Kennedy's Provisional Regt (remnants of the Regts of The Earls of
Cassilis, Glencairn & Loudon)
Maj John Haldane's [combined] battalion of Commanded Shot

Fife Brigade (Maj.Gen John Leslie [Adjutant])
Col James Arnot of Fernie's Regt (raw)
Col John Henderson of Fordell's Regt (raw)
Sir Thomas Morton of Cambo's Regt (raw)


Maj.Gen Earl of Balcarres
Earl of Balcarres' Regt
Harie Barclay's Regt (Lt.Col Mungo Murray)


1 medium gun

Royalist [Rebel] Army (James Graham, Marquis of Montrose) - total approx 4800 men


Col James Farquharson of Inverey
Strathbogie Regt
Graham of Inchbrackie's Regt

Alasdair Mac Colla McDonnell
Col Thomas Laghtnan's Regt (veteran)
Col Manus O'Cahan's Regt (veteran)
Col James McDonnell's Regt (veteran)

Western Clans 1 (MacLean of Treshnish) (raw)
Western Clans 2 (MacDonald of Glengarry) (raw)
Western Clans 3 (MacDonald of Clanranald) (raw)
Western Clans 4 (raw)


Viscount Aboyne
Viscount Aboyne's Regt
Earl of Airlie's Regt

Col Nathaniel Gordon
The Gordon Horse

(unless otherwise stated, all troops are "Trained")

Oh yes - 7 Victory Points for the win.

Initial view of the battlefield of Kilsyth from the Southern end; on the right is the Government (Covenanter) army under General Baillie - at this end are the levies of new units raised in Fife (yellow counter means Raw), under the army Adjutant, John Leslie; beyond them are the Foot, under Baillie and Gen Holbourne, and at the far end are the Horse, under the Earl of Balcarres, who are (boringly) doing what they were asked to do, and heading for the high ground beyond the windmill. On the left is Montrose's (pro-Royalist) Rebel force, with highland levies to the fore, at this end they have the "regular" Foot regiments of Strathbogie and Inchbrackie, in the centre are Mac Colla's extremely scary Irish brigade, and the Horse are wherever they can be squeezed in. Montrose's force is hastily shifting to face its left flank, so is not at its most organised

And the set-up from the North end - you can see Balcarres with the Government Horse at this end, on the left side, and in the centre of the Government line you can see the small unit of Commanded Shot, under Maj Haldane, and the ex-Irish service regulars of Robert Home, both of which saw the Highlanders across the little valley, assumed the Rebels were withdrawing, and promptly abandoned Baillie's orders to head for the high ground, and took a short cut to attack. You may be able to see some red counters here, which identify Veteran units.

Balcarres' brigade of Covenanter horse, which stuck to the script and advanced up to the mill at Auchinrivoch - brave chaps, but they didn't know what the dice had in store for them

From behind Baillie's centre, here you can see Haldane's musketeers and Home's Regt heading off in the wrong direction. Why? Interesting - the musketeers were given the task of leading the flanking manoeuvre by Baillie, and possibly felt that a direct attack was what they had been ordered to carry out. Home's boys were old hands from Ulster, and certainly would have viewed the highlanders opposite as beneath contempt, and probably a soft opponent...

After Baillie initially took the high ground at Auchinrivoch, Montrose sent forward some of his Horse to clear away the Commanded Shot from one of the hills. At the windmill, Holbourne has Lauderdale's Foot.

As Mac Colla brings up his Irish brigade behind (red counters for danger...), a vigorous cavalry battle kicks off at Auchinrivoch. Here the Gordon Horse and Airlie's Regt (on this side, under Viscount Aboyne), take on Balcarres with all of Baillie's Horse.

Meanwhile, over on Montrose's right, the boys from Inchbrackie head off on their own, looking for adventure, with Farquharson of Inverey having the time of his life. The Inchbrackies had their eye on Baillie's only gun, reputed to be "The Prince Robert", captured by the Covenanters at Marston Moor

Baillie put the bulk of his Foot into a nice, tidy line, facing the Highlanders. At this end are one of the (raw) Fife units (yellow counter), but beyond that the foot are all experienced boys with service in England. [Note the presence of Baillie's Tree - recurrent private joke and Leitmotif]

Meanwhile, Murray's Horse and the Earl of Balcarres himself had both been disposed of by the Rebel cavalry, and the VP score was suddenly 3-0
From the Rebel right flank, we see the Inchbrackies closing in on the Government artillery in the foreground; in the middle distance, we can see that the Highlanders (yellow counters) have restricted their activities to swearing at Baillie's defensive line (in Gaelic), while at the far end the Irish Foot, the Strathbogie Regt and the Horse are chipping away at the Government forces, thanks to outrageous dice rolls [and I said I wouldn't mention them]. If you look carefully you can see the personal standards of Mac Colla and Montrose in the distance. If you can't see them, no matter
Below you see the last illustration of evil dice at work (C&C nerds will be interested in this). The unit in the dead centre of the picture is Home's Foot, who had a choice of attacking Airlie's Horse or the Strathbogie Foot in melee. They chose to attack the Horse, at which point Dave Montrose chose to carry out a Retire & Reform manoeuvre with the Horse (the photo was taken after the horse retired, which is why my narrative is probably making no sense), which gives their Foot opponents an unopposed strike in the melee, as the cavalry withdraw 2 hexes, though the effectiveness of the strike is potentially reduced, since "crossed-sabres" and "flag" results do not count in this case. In the event, Home's boys rolled 3 sabres and 1 infantry symbol, scoring zero hits on their opponents. If they had chosen to fight the Strathbogies instead, this roll would have scored 4 hits, more than enough to wipe them out. OK, they didn't, and the dice would probably have been different anyway, but this sets the tone of what was going on! 

By this time, the Inchbrackies had captured the Goverment's cannon, and now engaged the (raw) boys of Col James Arnot of Fernie, and eliminated them
Now the Earl of Airlie's regiment of Rebel Horse finished off the Earl of Balcarres' Horse, who went to join their leader in the boneyard. This was Turn 8 (I think) - the Rebels had now eliminated the Commanded Shot, both regiments of Horse, the Earl of Balcarres, the single cannon, the unhappy Fife boys from Fernie and the Earl of Lauderdale's Foot. That's 7-0, folks. Game over.
A close-up of Robert Home's Regt of Foot, facing up to the Strathbogie Regt. They survived the defeat unscathed.
The Gordon Horse, with Nat Gordon advising them from the rear. One of the stand-out units on the Rebel side
Baillie, who knows that his plan was correct, is right in the foreground (Base #94), with his line of good infantry, still glaring at the distant Highlanders as the rest of his army heads back to Stirling in disorder. He will subsequently write two justificatory letters (which I have here), neither of which, for some reason, says anything about dice

My compliments and thanks to my collaborators, for their company and for braving the realities of Rural Broadband. Thank you gentlemen, very much. Simply because I feel that Chance will even itself out in the end, I am more than tempted to stage this game again.  On the other hand, how would it be if the generals swapped sides, and the luck moved over to the Government side? Hmmm.

Better think this through.

If anyone thinks there is a shortfall here on the background and the campaign leading up to this battle, please look back a few posts on this blog and there is plenty. If you've read through this far, my thanks and my compliments to you as well!

Here's something to think on: the dice had a mind of their own, however, it is worth noting that, with the sides quite evenly matched, the result and the narrative are surprisingly close to history, though in the real battle the Highlanders were more active. Once again, Hmmm...


  1. Hey, wait a minute, I've seen that tree before!

    7:0 seems like a pretty decisive score - well done the Rebels. Another great looking (and inspirational) game Tony.

    1. Through the ages, the great generals have searched out positions which feature a tree like this. Essential. Only thing which is potentially more of an advantage is an ice-cream van.

    2. I think those jaded swans should feature in more of your games also.

    3. The swans would be good if we included the reservoir in the battlefield...

  2. Very enjoyable batrep. Didn’t know much about this battle so thanks for sharing all the background info.

    1. I enjoyed doing the battlefield walk and all that - very educational. I'm looking forward to reading something else for a while now!

  3. A splendid looking and sounding game Tony… as always.
    7-0 to Montrose… just reading that takes me back to my mother filling in the Football pools on a Saturday evening..
    A clear victory indeed

    All the best. Aly

    1. Ah yes - and Forfar 5 East Fife 4 (did it ever happen?)! Thanks Aly - a historically valid result is a rarity here. I guess Baillie should win the replay?

  4. This must be why Napoleon preferred lucky generals to clever ones.

    1. That's right Rob. Lucky generals who brought along their own trick dice!

  5. Excellent. Sounds like a good game was had by all. And congratulations to Dave (whichever one it was!).

    I wonder if the (fictional?) Reverend Doctor was one of the forebears of this chap

    1. Mr Jolley seems a piece of work, eh? Wow. My own prototype was the old Scottish TV sketches that Rikki Fulton used to do - I was going to put a link in, but the ones I found (1980s) on Youtube were remarkably unfunny. Maybe humour and tastes have changed. Maybe nostalgia is, after all, overrated!

    2. Nostalgia. It’s not what is was.

    3. Very true. It used to be really great, too. I used to get irritated when people brought up the present.

  6. Brilliant! Shame about the one-sided dice luck, but Montrose was generally pretty lucky himself wasn't he? And the result wasn't so far from the real one either.
    Evidently Jamie Graham rolled a lot of 6's on the day.
    Great battle report and yes, I think you have to do it again. Best of three?

    1. I guess this was his last great show, since Mac Colla took his best boys away to burn Campbell farms, and the good Covenanter troops came home from England. Montrose's days were done. I was reading about Philiphaugh - now that would not make much of a game.

    2. You can only rely on your luck for so long before it bites you in the bum.
      I once tried to find the battlefield of Philiphaugh. No-one around there has ever heard of it.

    3. Hi Chris - My friend Iain is a fire officer in Selkirk, and he lives in the old Schoolmaster's House, just across the road from Philiphaugh - I've never visited the field, but it must exist. A big problem in the Borders is that much of the land is private farms, and is kept closed just to protect the farms. Mind you, there are some new houses in the vicinity. You don't think....? No - surely not.

  7. Thank you so much, Tony, it was tremendous fun despite being on the receiving end of a thorough trouncing!
    As Baillie I suppose I thought the other side had more cavalry, and those scary Irish veterans, and the highland charge too, so my best bet would be to stand on the defensive, preferably on hills, and let them come at me - which indeed seems to have been what Baillie would have preferred. 'And if it wasn't for those meddling dice...'
    When I am playing solo, I'm often glad that the 'dice gods' can intervene, and take the narrative in directions that I wouldn't have thought of, so I have to consider this the same way - it was fate, it was not written. Home's regiment against the Gordon Horse was quite dispiriting, but I think I was being given a clear message! I will post more thoughts on my own blog, meanwhile thanks so much for all your efforts, it was great fun indeed!

    1. Although the game seemed to have a mind of its own at times, I'm surprised and impressed that we got a result and a narrative not unlike the historical ones, though in 1645 you would have got long odds from the bookies on that one as well. Very strange...

      Again, thanks for your efforts!

  8. As Montrose Dave I have to say thank you for hosting a superlative game Tony, a pleasure not in any way marred by the technical malarkies. I blush for my die rolls. It seems to have been a pretty much unbroken sequence of incredibly fortuitous results, from that first cavalry charge that wiped out the Commanded Shot on Auchinrivoch hill, through the lucky shot that tumbled Balcarres from his saddle, to that final tentative volley from the Irish at the windmill that finished off the last of the Covenanter horse. Catholic and Irish dice indeed - maybe you should replace the crossed sabres symbol with a shillelagh.

    I would always be more than happy to replay this or any other battle, always a pleasure. I am aware of course that at some point the universe will right itself, there will be a profound correction in the karma of the dice and whichever army I am commanding will be nothing but a smoking crater in the middle of your gaming table!


    1. It was my pleasure - absolutely.

      The idea of being scared ever to touch a dice again, in case the Gods of Probability get a chance to even things up - that interests me. There could be a smoking crater in wait, round every corner.

      For no obvious reason, this reminds me of an event from my distant past, when - in spite of overwhelming odds - I beat our resident office champion in a squash ladder game. A real shock - it was at his posh club as well, and his girlfriend was watching. The guy was furious, and challenged me to a rematch for years afterwards. No way in the world was I ever going to play him again, I can tell you. My glory is still undiminished. Squash leagues come and go, but a freak results is a thing of beauty.

  9. Great report and fight and one certainly worthy of a refight. I always ensure when people visit for a game they use the same dice etc. But sometimes these freakish things happen and then seem to get established for the duration. It all makes for a great narrative.

    1. Hi Graham - I've definitely added this to my (small) collection of games worth playing again. Recently revisited Nantwich on a similar basis.

  10. The game looked excellent Tony. Great to see this come together so well after all your ree-search.
    Regards, James

    1. Thanks James - occasionally games take on a life of their own, but I had a lot of fun out of all stages of this one!