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

Sunday 30 January 2022

WSS: Two New French Regiments of Horse

 I'm very pleased to welcome two new units for my French army, once again painted - and very nicely indeed - by Lee. Here (without and with flash - take your choice) are the Regiments of Tarnault (grey coats, in front) and Le Roi (in blue, at the back). Appropriately flagged and based, and ready for the duty boxes - thanks very much, Lee!

I had one rather amusing misadventure while basing these chaps up. The days of steel paper are long gone, alas, and the replacement for it is a very clever material which is described as Ferro Sheet, which is a little thicker than the old metallised paper but otherwise seems to work just as well. The only bad news is that it looks pretty much identical to the familiar self-adhesive Magnetic Sheet which I've been using for my soldiers for some years. I am, of course, careful not to mix these two types of sheet up, but it had to happen eventually. Having stayed up a bit late to finish off the application of Mag Sheet under the bases for these new units, and having made quite a nice job of it, though I say so myself, I was disappointed to find this morning that the new units were sliding about in their storage box - yes, that's right, I'd used the wrong stuff. So, this morning, before I fitted the flags, I had to peel off the Ferro Sheet and replace with Mag Sheet. No damage done, just a reminder that I'll have to be careful.

There is a quick safety check - the Mag Sheet will stick on the central heating radiators, while the Ferro Sheet doesn't. Fortunately, I always have a central heating radiator with me. Planning, or what?

Separate Topic - the Calm Before the Storm

Yes, there's another storm coming today - expected to arrive after 5pm. There was one on Friday, which was noisy but not too bad here, though it was pretty severe elsewhere. This one is expected to be rather worse in this area - unlike Storm Arwen, this one is coming from the South West, so it should at least be rather warmer if/when the power goes off. It is expected to be of short duration - probably finished by midnight. It puts an interesting background to the things which are supposed to be happening today:

(1) we are scheduled to do some testing of our broadband service around 7pm - this with the computer connected by Ethernet, so we don't include any delays caused by wi-fi issues. I've to take screenshots of the results and forward them to my service provider. I would say there is very little chance of our having both electricity and broadband by 7pm...

(2) Amazon tell me that their fine courier will deliver a package to me this evening, before 10pm. I don't think so. I think their local courier will be safely in his bed this evening, and quite right too. 

The sky seemed a bit on the red side this morning - not sure if it's enough to alarm shepherds, but I thought a photo might be a useful souvenir, just in case the garden has gone by tomorrow. [Think positive]

Whatever else happens, we'd better stow the garden chairs in the woodshed this morning. Either that, or else mark them with our name and address.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Sieges: Trial Solo Game - the Siege of San Juan el Timido

View from the fortress, with the British First Parallel in the distance

It took me about a day and a half elapsed to fight my test game to a result. I learned a lot, especially about Vauban's Wars, with which I made a rather daunting start, but which was flowing a lot better by the second day. Although I'd read the book a few times, there is a lot to learn. There is no substitute for just memorising the Combat and Defense values of each unit type - once you've mastered that, things get a lot easier, but for the first two turns I had to read the details of everything that happened, which is really heavy going. After that - after I'd seen most of the things which could happen - things picked up.

Vauban's Wars is Piquet-based, which means it's a very prescriptive, card-driven game, aspects which some people find unappealing, but it is a practical approach, especially for a solo game, and it generates a nice narrative as you go along (or, alternatively, the player(s) will build their own narrative to explain what happened).

My scenario involved an attack on the (fairly modern and tidy) fortress town of San Juan el Timido, somewhere near the Spanish-Portuguese border, in the year 1811. The French commander was the well-connected and irascible Corsican, Général de Division Léonardo, Comte Cindérella, supported by the very capable (though little seen) Général de Brigade Dandini. The fortress has 3 bastions on the table.

The attacking British force was commanded by Major General Sir Paladin Lassiter.

Lassiter's plan was to develop a 2nd Parallel covering the whole south side of the fortress, and then to construct two short 3rd Parallels with a gap in the centre - the intention being to effect a breach on the South-Eastern Bastion (the one on the right from the British viewpoint.

I'll start with a spoiler: the British had such rotten luck during the first 3 game turns (a turn is about half a week, if you are comfortable with such an idea) that any sensible general would have abandoned the siege and tried again another time. In a campaign context, this would have been a no-brainer, but such a proceeding would be of little use for my apprenticeship with the rules, so Lassiter was encouraged to stick with it. 

First priority for the French garrison was to shift their infantry into the town, and move the heavy field guns on the walls, on to some specially constructed platforms (or "doofers" in my house jargon)

Something of a minimalist town, I'm afraid, I had all sorts of plans to paint up the add-on extension board in the regulation baseboard colour, and lay out buildings, gardens and a monastery to double as a powder magazine, but the green paint had gone off, so minimalism it is. Sorry about that, but there was a war on. Here you see Dandini in the Rallying Point in the town, with 4 line battalions, a light howitzer and the second company of sappers

Having no cannons within range until such time as the emplacements in the Second Parallel were constructed, the earliest British efforts were concentrated on forward sapping, and a couple of heavy mortars lobbed a few shells into the town, to keep them on their toes. Trivial effect.

There was a strangely hushed period - the French fortress guns had a few shots at the sappers at work on the approaches, but they were a long way away, they were in good cover and sappers are a poor sort of target anyway. Both generals (being inexperienced!) were nervous about wasting powder, which turned out to be a mistaken approach - the supply of powder is more adequate than you would think, and on balance the rules make it more efficient to give plenty of fire. Since Cindérella was the better of the two commanders, he tended to win most of the initiative rolls (having a D12 against Lassiter's D10), but since the British were making such poor progress he often allowed them to go first, in the hope that the Opportunity Fire rules would give him something to fire at as they approached.

The British working on their forward saps (brown felt, as recommended by Gonsalvo!), still fairly safe from the artillery on the walls
The French turn up a "Trench Raid" card, and bring into action a battalion of elite troops they had placed specially in the fort. The first two such raids seemed very effective - two parties of sappers were sent scrambling back to the 1st Parallel. One of the two raids was very closely contested - the French grenadiers were armed with (in Piquet jargon) a D12+1 (blue), and the sappers had a D8 (red) - the "+1" bit on the blue die was enough to scare away the sappers - here's an exciting war photo of the dice action
The markers in the town indicate that we are on Turn 3 (about a week and a bit after the completion of the 1st Parallel), and the accumulated damage caused by mortar bombardment is 4pts, which is insignificant
At this point things took a turn for the worse for the British; encouraged by their success with Trench Raids, the French tried again. In the absence of protective infantry, the sappers were badly exposed, and this time the two attacks resulted in the elimination of two sapper companies (out of an army total of four companies!). This was not going to help much with getting the 2nd Parallel operational.
Here's a close up of one of the Trench Raid disasters for the British - wiped out. In itself, this is a nuisance, but should be recoverable, since the CinC can create new Sapper teams by converting infantry companies

Not so fast. On the same initiative, General Lassiter, who has to check his health and safety as part of the "Leadership" card, is laid low by a roll of 1 on a D20. Since there was no firing going on, so as you would notice, I have to assume that he fell off his horse, or was just taken ill. Whatever, the British now had no CinC, until the next Leadership card came their way, so there were quite a lot of things which they now couldn't do, such as winning initiative rolls, and recovering (rallying) losses - oh yes, and they couldn't replace the vanished sappers with infantrymen...
And so, being sort of stuck for the moment, the British brought forward most of their infantry, to protect against further Trench Raids. The French artillery - three 24pdr fortress guns plus two 12pdrs, started knocking lumps out of the British infantry, and the British morale was sinking fast
Eventually, the British 2nd Parallel was seen to shape up, emplacements were dug, big guns installed, and they started to fire on the French artillery, very inaccurately to begin with. 
Almost immediately after this, the weather became foggy for the next turn, so any serious fire was not possible. The British infantry also had a slow but steady stream of deserters
When the fog cleared, there was a new CinC (Lord Bakewell), replacement sapper units were created, and the British 24pdrs eliminated the central fortress gun and badly damaged one of the French 12 pdrs
In a sensible world, the British, who had no chance of making a decent attempt at a 3rd Parallel and were in any case running out of men and morale, should have abandoned the siege, but in the interests of gaining experience of the game I pressed on
At the end of Turn 6, some 3 weeks after the completion of the First Parallel, the British ran out of morale points, and they had lost. The starting position had been 26-14 to the Brits - at the end it was 0-8, as you see
In fact, they were doomed anyway, since one of the Unique Event cards turned up had scheduled the arrival of a relieving force for the French during Turn 8. The French knew about this, the Gamemaster (that's me) knew about it, but strangely the British commander had no inkling of it. The British spies had been very unproductive - right from Turn 1, when an attempt to sow insurrection in the town had failed and the spy was arrested and shot. A lack of intelligence, undoubtedly, in several senses, but also a bucketful of bad luck and dreadful dice!

The final state of the French - they had lost one fortress gun, destroyed, suffered damage to a heavy field gun (with white markers), and the one element of damage they had suffered to the match-winning elite battalion had been recovered at the first attempt by Cindérella. They had plenty of food and powder left, too

***** Late Edit *****

I had a couple of emails last night which mentioned the fact that my test siege game may have produced a result (technical knockout?), but didn't get to blowing holes in walls or any of that stuff that one normally associates with sieges. Agreed - the game only got as far as the 2nd Parallel, at which stage shooting at walls is still some way off. The test game was invaluable because it gave me a first serious workout of the rules; I've now seen most of the cards in the pack, and learned a lot about convenient ways of keeping track of the game without written notes and without covering the room in counters and Post-It stickers. One of the more alarming things about Piquet is the potential for clutter - I have a problem with clutter in any form, and it is not an essential part of this game, if you go about it carefully.

After a laboured first couple of turns, my enthusiasm picked up as I became more confident of carrying most of the rules in my head. The lack of wall-bashing is a big gap, however.

It says in the VW manual that you can, if you wish, shorten the game by starting with the Second Parallel built, to whatever degree of completeness you wish, and it offers suggested adjustments for Powder and Food Levels for this later start. Sounds good to me. I believe that the 2nd Parallel, as supplied at the start, probably needs a little careful design, to set the game up for the demolition stage. I'm keen to have a shot at this - it would be interesting to pinch some design ideas from real sieges (or bits of them). Anyway, good so far, and a further test game should appear here once my wife has recovered from the trauma of every scenery box I have being dragged out of the cupboards. I'll have a better idea what I'm doing next time.

For anyone who has read this far, my appreciative thanks. There are a couple of things which I haven't found in the rules yet - storm by escalade may be an example, though I'll no doubt receive a note pointing out that it's on p44. I'm still not altogether comfortable with all the digging being done by specialist sappers, but will think further on this. The game works nicely and, like all Piquet games, is intended to be tweaked as required.  My compliments to Eric and Peter and the other guys who worked hard and long to get VW published - a splendid effort.

Lassiter (in later life, as Governor of St Kitts)

Monday 24 January 2022

Sieges: More Preparation Work

 This is good fun, and a rather different way to spend an evening, but there is still a lot to do to prepare for my solo "practice" siege using Vauban's Wars (VW). After a couple of (short) evenings, I've worked my way through the official start-up checklist from the manual, decided on the forces involved (points-based purchase system), and set up the battlefield (approximately). I still have a lot of stuff to work on - jobs like photocopying and laminating the game turn markers, and making up damage indicators from gravel and PVA glue. Once I have these things in stock, the overheads of putting on a game should be much reduced. I've also laid out my stock of trenches and gun emplacements (mostly from Fat Frank) on a series of canteen trays - it's a bit like a weird tray-bake.

To be going on with, for this evening, here are some photos of the field, and the checklist, including the OOB.

The besieging troops are laid out along the First Parallel. Yes, it does look like a road, but it is a proper trench - since it is out of range of the fortress, and cannot be the objective of a Sortie or a Trench Raid, and since it is assumed to be complete, to get the game off to a flying start, the convention is that it just looks like a road, but if you screw your eyes up a bit it will look fine. There will be plenty of digging coming up, that's for sure. I'm working on a positioning convention for infantry on the walls or covered way - I may need to revisit this, but at present the rule will be that bases touching the parapet are on the firing step, and thus are exposed and may fire. If they are down below then they are in cover and may not fire. OK - I'm on it.

If it's possible, I'd like to add a small table extension behind the fortress section, to include part of the town, including a Rallying Point. I'd also like to add a little Artillery Park for the besiegers, outside the lines (if only to add a little scenic value to what is a very bleak terrain!).

 I've used my old Terrain Warehouse fortress with the supplied glacis pieces, which is pleasing, but does place restrictions on the design of the fort. I may (reluctantly?) opt to use trench pieces to lay out the glacis - most VW users seem to do this, and what it loses in visual brownie points it probably makes up for in flexibility.

I'll knock together another post when I've made sufficient further progress to justify it.

More soon - I think I've got an evening or two of this prep work before any shooting starts!


Trial VW siege - British attacking French in the Peninsula.


3-bastion fortress - no mining (ground too wet or something)


Initial set-up, as per VW manual   * = "hidden"





Besiegers (British)

Garrison (French)






Powder Supply

(D6 + 6)




Supply Dice




Food Supply


17* (Average)


"Popular Support" [low is good]


D8* (fairly hostile)






Strength of Fortress

Assumed "Poorly Maintained"

Walls 6*. Ravelins 5*, Bastions & Gates 7*. Earth Walls 2


Location o f Magazine & Sally Port

To be determined when layout is done

Keep hidden



No (too wet)




[36 points]

Genl & CinC               Free

3 Siege guns              Free

1 Spy                           Free

4 Sappers                    8pts

3 extra Siege Guns    12

2 Heavy Mortars        2

2 Lt Shrapnel Mtrs     1

2 Medium Guns           4

6 Infantry                      6

1 Grenadier                  2

1 extra Spy?                  1

Total exp                     36pts

[18 points]

Genl & CinC         Free

3 Fortress guns  Free

1 Spy                      Free

2 Sappers             4pts

2 Heavy guns       6

1 Light Gun           1

4 Infantry              4

1 Grenadier           2

1 extra Spy?           1

Total exp            18pts


Leadership Dice (LD)

D10 [Average]

D12 [Average]


Siege Morale Pts (SMP)

(decided not to use "Army Specials" for this game, to keep things simple)

23 units => 26SMP



13 units => 14SMP




Sunday 23 January 2022

Sieges: Getting Organised (a Bit...)

 For a while I've been intending to take advantage of the strange world of Covid limitations and do some solo work on getting the hang of Vauban's Wars. Siege games are, by definition, very dependant on all sorts of fancy scenery and hardware, and it is always very easy to find assorted reasons why this is not the ideal time to have a go. Well, that's long enough.

I now plan to have a solo bash at a Napoleonic siege game, so I'm scratching around trying to collect all the bits and pieces I need. Some of this is trivial work, to be honest, it's just a question of getting down to it.

Today I have a case in point. The starting set-up for my proposed training game requires the British to have a couple of heavy mortars. Now I have odd bits of artillery around the place, and I have some spare soldiers, so it was a simple matter to put together the required mortar battery from some old Hinton Hunt gunners and a couple of very scruffy Hinchliffe mortars I got as a make-weight in an eBay parcel. Here they are - not beautiful, but absolutely fine - cross them off the to-do list. Ready for duty.

There is a new approach evident here - previously I put a lot of effort into making up smart siege trains for the French and the British in the Peninsula. I now also have pieces for a proposed Spanish train, including some fortress guns, and I'm starting to collect items for WSS sieges. My new approach is that I shall paint the ordnance pieces in nondescript colours wherever possible, and make up crews of various nations who can "borrow" spare kit as needed. This is the first such - the scabrous mortars here are simply BluTacked onto the bases, so they can be loaned out to another army, in a different period if required, or they can even be replaced by more beautiful examples if the dreaded Creeping Elegance ever catches up with my siege projects.

Anyway, enough said. I retouched and based these chaps (ex Eric Knowles gunners, by the way) while listening to the Crystal Palace vs Liverpool game on the radio. Easy peasy. The British now have siege cannons, mortars (both heavy and Coehorn), various howitzers and sappers. I even have some new, specially sized and based units of foot, rescued from spares boxes for duty on sieges. And still the wonder grew.

I'll put some notes here on the starting set-up for my Vauban's Wars solo game in a day or two.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Hooptedoodle #420 - Whence the Pars?

 The other day I went out for lunch with my good friend Jack the Hat, and, inevitably, we got into our interminable old men's discussion about the history of football, who was the greatest player we ever saw, what was the exact team line-up for the Scottish Cup Final of 1975, and other varied and interesting stuff.

Well, it's maybe a bit specialised, but we get a lot of value out of it. One of our regular subtopics is the history of the Scottish teams. We got into the subject of club nicknames the other day. Let's not dwell too much on details, but we agreed that there is something particularly odd about the nickname of Dunfermline Athletic FC, who are known to their fans as "the Pars", and have been for a very long time.

Dunfermline are not one of the great teams of Scottish football, but they have been around for a very long time, and numerous generations of their supporters have doubtless gone to their graves with the club's badge engraved on their hearts, so they deserve to be treated with all due respect.

They are currently in the Scottish Championship, which is one level below the top league (The Scottish Premiership), and, though they have won the second-level league title numerous times, the only major trophies on record are two wins in the Scottish Cup, which they won in 1960-61 and again in 1967-68. They have had a good number of distinguished players, including internationals, but the most famous of these are individuals who went on to become successful managers in England, notably Owen Coyle, Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes.

The lads of Dunfermline Athletic posing with the Scottish Cup in 1961

Anyway, back to the point. Why the Pars? Well, there are a number of theories, some of them remarkably stupid, but the most likely is because of the club's playing strip. In the early days, Dunfermline played at various times in blue or maroon, but since 1909 they have worn black and white vertical stripes. The nickname is most likely to have come from the Parr, a juvenile form of the salmon (a very important fish in Scotland), which is similarly decked out in black and white stripes.

So there you have it - a piece of information which is unlikely to come in useful in your local pub's quiz night, but there is a wider context which I find interesting. Anyone got any more stories about the nicknames of sporting clubs, any sport, no matter how minor, never mind how disputed or convoluted the history of the name? I'm interested in this stuff, for reasons which have more to do with social history than sport, to be honest. I'm also horrified how little sense of the past modern sports fans have, but that's another issue.

All printable suggestions welcome!     

Thursday 13 January 2022

Hooptedoodle #419 - Herbert Tudor Vernon-Smith is Very Sorry

 Yes - you read it here. The Bounder of the Remove has apologised publicly - one of his chums described his demeanour as "abject", praise indeed, so the coaching must have worked. Personally I am unmoved. I am interested to see how his new friends and comrades in the unfamiliar North react to his adventures, but I find the whole thing extremely tedious.

So much weight has now been attached to the forthcoming independent report (by Sue Gray) that I would not be awfully surprised if the report were already working to a script, viz:

(1) the report will be delayed a long time, so that the media can calm down and the Electorate, being idiots, will forget

(2) whitewash will be applied universally - nothing to see here

I refuse to get drawn again into the sewer of political debate - I made myself rather unwell over the US Election, so no more of that. I will, however, quote my legendary Preston Grannie, who told me, when I was a lad:


If there's someone you can't trust, have nothing to do with them. Doesn't matter if they are friend or family - have nothing to do with them. Shop somewhere else. Life is too short to have to work out what someone really means

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Hooptedoodle #418 - New Year Trip to Kelso

 Since Saturday (New Year's Day) was bright and not too cold, and as I had no possibility of a hangover, I went for a drive to the town of Kelso, in the Scottish Borders. The place is around 50 miles from here, but it's a town I haven't visited for years, and I always liked it.

The Borders region has some very attractive towns, and I used to visit there quite often; my first wife's family came from St Boswell's and from Coldstream. It's a sparsely populated area, very agricultural, but there is a lot of history around those parts. Most of the towns are on the main modern routes into England - the A68 (to Jedburgh and Carter Bar), the A7 (to Hawick and Carlisle) or the A1 (to Berwick and Newcastle), but, although it always had an important strategic position on the mighty River Tweed, people don't normally visit Kelso unless they are going to - erm - Kelso.

My first father-in-law took me to see the sheep sales there, on a Saturday morning long ago, and subsequently I was a guest at various family functions in the town over the years, mostly at the Ednam House hotel (I think there were family connections!).

One effect of the pandemic has been that I have become even more of a recluse than I was before, and I've been nurturing an unreasonable urge to visit some of these old Borders haunts, if only to prove that they still exist!

On Saturday, then, I made a brief but enjoyable visit to Kelso, which was once the county town of Roxburghshire, by the way. Not much traffic, and I didn't get breathalyzed once (I was quite looking forward to it...). I took only a few photos, since the visit itself was the main objective, but I thought they might have some appeal in my blog. When we can travel about again, I recommend the Scottish Border  country as a place worth a visit. From Kelso it's only a few miles to Melrose, site of another great abbey and also Sir Walter Scott's military collection at Abbotsford...

New Year's Day in the main square - never seen it so quiet - it was certainly busier back in the days of the sheep sales. The Cross Keys hotel is something of a local institution. The town, as you see, was shut.


Another hotel - this is the Ednam House, where I've attended numerous weddings, wakes, 21st birthdays and Christmas dinners, back in another century. My first wife's uncle was once captain of Kelso's rugby team, and a Scottish international (traditionally the area is famous for rugby, in addition to wars and sheep-stealing), so the family were local celebrities! 
Kelso has a famous abbey - I'm afraid this is a very poor photo of it. A great area this for ecclesiastical buildings - Dryburgh Abbey is just a few miles away - where I think Earl Haig is buried.
The town has a very fine bridge over the River Tweed, which is not the border with England at this point, though it will become so not far downstream. 

Apologies for this one - it amuses me to think that this may be a must-see site for visiting Beytles fans. I am, as ever, easily pleased by such silliness. I don't know what a Royd was, but Kelso Abbey obviously had one

***** Late Edit *****

Since I was asked about the matter, I did some reading and now realise that the Kelso Ram Sales are still going strong - here's an aerial shot of a recent one [used without permission, of course]. The Events Centre is on the other side of the river from the town - you can see the bridge and the Abbey in the background, and you can see a few modern suburbs in the right backround, south of the Tweed. Maxwellheugh has an industrial park - my first wife's family owned the sawmill in Spylaw Road, south of the river - long gone.


Saturday 1 January 2022

WSS: A Little Midnight Testing

 So what am I doing at midnight on Hogmanay? Am I drunk?

No. Not a drop has been taken. In fact, I may be on the wagon at present - the stuff isn't really agreeing with me. Red wine is currently off the list, since it's like drinking razor blades. Tea and a scone is fine.

Am I feeling festive?

Not bad. My wife went to bed fairly early, and the Polish family next door are having a party in their garden (South-East Scotland, 1st January) which is going to disturb the peace for a few hours yet. I have taken the opportunity to do a bit more solo rules testing - the knotty issue of Combat in my WSS rules. It may be a little unusual as a celebration, but it's going OK - I've got about 5 new tweaks or clarifications thus far, so that's useful.

Examples? Well, for one thing, a unit of Foot which is forced to take a double retreat will now lose any attached battalion gun in their haste. For another, a unit being charged from the flank, while still allowed to make an emergency change (if they pass a test), will no longer be allowed to swing around on the spot if they are already engaged with (or adjacent to) an enemy unit to their front. I think we used to use the term "pinned" once upon a time. And there's more similar; twiddly stuff, but OK.

I'm also getting the hang of the Combat bonuses - what you get an extra dice for - and it's actually as easy as I had hoped it would be. It's just a matter of practice...

Anyway, Billy No-Mates sends you best wishes for the New Year. All the very best to you.