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

Saturday 29 April 2023

WSS: What's in a Name?

 My second attempt at a hex-based miniatures game for the War of the Spanish Succession is coming along nicely, and we are getting to the point where it needs a name. I can't go on calling it Working Title, or even Plan B.

Louis, not showing off his legs, for once

So I need a name. My own preferences are that it should be fairly short, not pompous or melodramatic. If it were apposite that would be good, and I like a bit of quirky humour.

I've had some good suggestions from friends already - here are a few

* Malbrook

* Corporal John

* Prinz Eugen

* Mitre [a headgear link with Tricorne, the Compass Games AWI Game, which is a substantial donor to my new game]

* Perruque [similar headwear reference, which is my own most serious effort thus far]

I also must admit that one of my working titles, the one I have used for short file names on the computer during the typing and desktop publishing phase, is TriWSS, which is not great, although it has the added appeal that I have patented the official pronunciation "Truss", which should be a big marketing plus.

Anyone like to contribute a few more? I'd be eternally grateful, it goes without saying...

Wednesday 26 April 2023

WSS: Plan B Racing Ahead

 The Plan B rule set for my WSS project is making rapid strides. Tonight I've finished the customised card decks for the game - an easy evening of cutting things out and inserting them in plastic sleeves, while I listened to the football match on the Liverpool FC website (we won, which was a bit of a surprise) and enjoyed a restrained glass of Corbières.

A real hobbycraft evening - the cards are ready

All ready for some playtesting now - plans are afoot [plans are a WHAT?]. I'll be away next week, but provisional plans are shaping up.

Plan B does not have a proper name yet; it could justifiably be called A Heavily Modified Version of Richard Borg's "Tricorne" AWI Game, but I'll try to come up with something a bit snappier.

Topic 2 - The Sad Tale of a Stinky Minke

A week ago we had something of a local drama, when a Minke whale was washed up on North Berwick beach. It's a while since we had a dead whale - last one, I think, was at the tiny harbour at Canty Bay, maybe 20 years ago. Last week, this poor thing was fatally injured on the rocks (which indicates it must have been stormier than I had noticed) and ended up on the public beach.

Sadly, the Minke is very dead, and it is 9m long, which is not ideal for the beach in a seaside resort

This is a job for East Lothian Council's Cleansing Dept - yes, the same boys who collect our rubbish and recycle our yogurt pots. They were very businesslike about it, in fact. They obviously have a refrigerated van just for this job.

I don't know what they did with it, but I wouldn't order the seafood pie at the Community Hospital for a couple of weeks if I were you

Sad tale, but all cleared away quickly. We did very briefly get on the national news, though.

Poor thing - it's quite a thought that these chaps swim around off our shore - never seen a live one

Saturday 15 April 2023

Hooptedoodle #440 - Donkey Award - The Clowns Are Everywhere

 This morning's clowns are at Scottish Power, famous collectors of money and occasional suppliers of electricity. I received a text message on my phone - time to submit a new meter reading, it said. Good enough - I went to the desktop computer, entered the supplied URL and submitted a new reading.

While I was in there, I was reminded that my sign-in for my account there includes an email address which I no longer have. Ah - good opportunity to get that fixed, thinks I.

Went into my account details - I can edit just about anything, but no mention of email address. Oh well - there is a chat service on the internet site, so I asked about how to change my email address. The bot was able to answer that one, and it referred me to the screen of account information I'd just been looking at - the one that doesn't mention email addresses.

I must have been feeling energetic this morning; the original text message also recommended that I download and install their [award winning] phone app. So I did - that might be more up to date.

Excellent. It loaded, and opened up, and I was invited to log in. So I entered my old email address and my password, which is still correct.

That's right - you guessed. Since this was the first attempted log-in from my phone, I was told that they would have to check it was really me, so they had sent me a confirmatory email to my email address. The one I no longer have.

By this point my enthusiasm had dimmed. There is a phone number I can call, the website informs me. I have to say that I have phoned Scottish Power before - I have, in fact, spent many, many hours listening to music on that number, hoping that a person might eventually speak to me. Such a phone call will be necessary to sort out my problem, I guess, but it may be a while before I again feel happy and strong enough to try it. This is not the sort of thing I need during Caffeine Detox month.

Does anybody actually design these systems, or do they just grow out of the wall, underneath the sink?


Wednesday 5 April 2023

WSS: Some Notes on Rules Development, Including the Parable of Jim's Crib-Sheet

Jim's Crib-Sheet

Let's start with the digression; get it over with.

Years ago, when I was gainfully employed, I worked with a very nice man named Jim.

He was an unusually intelligent fellow, perceptive, with an analytical spark verging on genius, and he was a brilliant technical writer - really exceptional. When he joined my team, I was puzzled to receive messages of sympathy from some of my colleagues.

One of his previous team-leaders told me:

"If I were to ask Jim to produce a report by lunchtime, describing exactly what was in the 3rd room on the left, down the corridor, I would have to supervise him constantly; left to himself, by the 4th day of his investigation he would have details of what was in the first 2 rooms, but would not have reached the 3rd room yet."

There were other tales along similar lines. The general impression was not that Jim was unfocused - his focus was excellent - there was a bright spotlight shining at all times, but it tended to shine on whatever he found interesting at that instant rather than what he had been asked to do. After some initial problems with him, pretty much as described, I agreed a new procedure with him, on the understanding that it would be our operational secret.

We agreed that Jim should write a short description of any new piece of work. It should set out the scope, whom he would report to, by when, and an outline of what his report would say. He would agree this with me before he started, and the "crib-sheet", as we called it, would never be longer than half a page of notepaper. This last bit was important.

Once the study work started, Jim would check his crib-sheet every morning (we eventually reduced this to every Friday morning), and, if at any point he no longer thought that the sheet described what he was doing, or thought he should be doing, he should immediately come to talk to me.

Maybe I was lucky, but this system worked well. It meant that I could rely on Jim always being busy doing something that was at least a bit like what I'd asked him for. 

End of digression. If I remember, I may refer back to this later on. That was the intention...

WSS - Rules Development

I'm sure I've rambled on about this quite often in the past, and I'm certain that there have been a couple of email conversations on the topic over the last couple of months, so if you've been through all this before, please just nod and pass on. 

Rules: To set a context here, a surprising amount of bookshelf space in my house is taken up by sets of wargames rules, hardly any of which I use on a regular basis. Most of them are commercially successful sets, loved and enjoyed by their adherents. I have read them all at some point. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these sets - it's just that they don't suit me. Something in the systems, or the game-scale, or (very frequently, as I get older) they are too laborious in action. Some of these games were written by me - I don't care for most of them, either. Similar reasons.

In each case, the arrival of new rules has invariably been an occasion for some excitement, if briefly...

WSS: I've always had a hankering to "do" 18th Century wargames. This is complicated to pin down - some or all of the following are contributors:

* Years of gazing at the blurry photos in Charles Grant, Peter Young. Somehow, little men in three-cornered hats are "proper" toy soldiers.
* The history of the period is pleasingly complicated, and all those little German principalities and electorates are very attractive. Given a few unauthorised alliances, there is also vast scope for fictitious campaigns.
* In late 2019, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to purchase a chunk of an existing collection, enough to get a serious WSS project off to a flying start. That turned on a lot of lights.
* The WSS somehow seems a remarkably simplified form of Horse & Musket warfare; the pikes are gone, there is no sign yet of light infantry, skirmishers, rifles, squares, horse artillery, columns of attack and most of the other things which regularly cause problems in wargames.
* Given the style and appearance of Higgins 20mm figures, this was a perfect opportunity for me to assemble armies of shiny, surrealist toy soldiers fighting a simple, logical game - I'd never adopted this kind of approach before.
* I also had my heart set on using a gridded battlefield.

So far, all good. It seems inappropriate to find any upside of lockdown, but it certainly provided opportunities to develop my armies, and, having obtained and read over the best-selling rule sets available, along with Chandler and Nosworthy and a few eye-witnesses, I also decided I would have a go at developing my own game. Apart from anything else, I would certainly learn a lot in the process.

Despite my early aim to make a classically simple game, I was prevailed upon by a number of sources to be sure to give due weight to the difficulty involved in manoeuvring the unwieldy forces of the day, and so a layer of tactical ducking and weaving was added to the shopping list.

Thus Prinz Eugen has been staggering along for 3 years now - it's general progress has consisted mostly of adding in fabulously clever ideas, to enrich the game, and then excising them because they slowed things down and caused frustration (or just didn't work...). I've been deeply grateful for the contributions of a couple of visiting generals, who helped me with testing and made very useful suggestions, and some very kind correspondents, but I still haven't had an opportunity to invite friends for a serious game. I've also had niggling concerns about some aspects - too complicated in places, major overheads to add small amounts of extra authenticity.

So for the last 2 months I've been continuing to cut yet more fat out of Eugen, but in parallel I've also been developing a sneaky Plan B. Last weekend I had the chance to do a direct comparison of how the two shape up. I am here to tell you that I'm pretty sure that Plan B is better.

The new interloper is a cut-down version of Tricorne, Richard Borg's boardgame for the AWI. Let's be honest here - yes, it is Commands & Colors, no less. It involves some new systems but the basic game is largely familiar.

To convert it for use in the WSS, I need to reduce the effective range of muskets, and remove all mention of rifles, light troops, highlanders and so on. The revised dice (and the heightened importance of morale which depends on these dice) work well; the Command Cards and Combat Cards need some tweaking to cater with the different theatre and the 60-year time shift, but all that is manageable.

My prototype game, then, is sort of Tricorne, but I've done a lot of re-typing of rules - at present, it is referred to here as Working Title. There are still some ideas I need to finalise, and when things are more settled I guess I'll design and print my own revised cards, but, whatever else I still have to do, I have a working beta-test game already, it works nicely, and playing it at the weekend felt like getting back into a warm bath on a cold day. Prinz Eugen has been a long-running saga, which at times has taken on a life of its own, and I can confidently say that it now works, though it might be a tricky thing to learn, and it has no capability at all for Zoom, but in my back-to-back comparison with the C&C derivative, for enjoyment, it was, to coin a phrase, knocked into a cocked hat.

I guess PE will now take its place on the bookshelf, not far from Under the Lily Banners, Twilight of the Thing They Thought of Next, Stuart Asquith's rules, and all the others. No regrets, Coyote, I've learned a lot on the free, freeway.

If I'd just set up one of Jim's crib-sheets around Xmas 2019, I'd have put a lot of stress on fast play, keeping the game as simple as possible, and cutting out unnecessary cleverness. And I'd have checked that I was on track, every week. I might even have decided, early on, to hack a WSS game out of Commands & Colors, which is what I had done with some success for the ECW. However, I'd forgotten all about Jim, and the things I used to do. Too clever for that stuff now.


Sunday 2 April 2023

WSS: A Couple of Days of Solo Testing


This wasn't a game at all, really. But I had an opportunity to get the toys out and do some more rules testing.

Priorities were:

* Get more experience of bread-and-butter situations, to see how smoothly the systems operate

* Repeat incidents as necessary, including what-ifs and different tactics, to see what works

* Try some fiddly situations - the things which always find out the weaknesses in the rules - thus I had a couple of enclosures and a village in the middle of the field

* I also wanted to do some back-to-back comparison of two different rule sets - trying the same situations with both

And, of course, it's nice to take a few photos, but the pictures only occasionally give a clue to any kind of battle narrative (since there wasn't one, really!), and there are some odd shots of freak dice rolls, just to keep the boys in the labs happy, which is a bit of a niche market!

I'll put a few captions in here and there, just in case you wonder what the blazes you're looking at!

As ever, lots of Les Higgins figures, with some Irregular friends.

The river at this end is the edge of the battlefield - just to brighten the place up a bit
The French start off in possession of a couple of ploughed fields, including some dismounted dragoons. Yes - I believe the fields are cut from some corduroy trousers I grew out of in the 1970s

More Allies - Austrians, this time

This might have been Corporal John, but he wouldn't admit it
This is the brigade of horse on the Allied left, commanded by Cadogan, who has his dog with him, of course. If it isn't Cadogan, he is looking after Cadogan's dog

The French right flank

Grands Fromages
The lads from Toulouse, appropriately unformed in the village
The British contingent start by trying to capture the farm fields
One of these rule systems uses a lot of D6s, which serves to remind me that one effect of buckets of dice is a trend towards average results and smallish standard deviation - this looks like a bloodbath, but it tells us that the British (red dice) have edged this combat - no kills either way, and the British inflicted 2 retreats on the French while the French only managed to inflict 1 retreat in response, so the net result is that the French will fall back 1 hex, which gets them out of the field...
The British have taken the fields - they have also somehow schlepped their battalion guns over the wall
Austrian I.R. Alt-Salm suffer from long range artillery fire, thanks to very poor saving throws

Having been driven out of one of the fields, French dragoons mount up, form column, and gallop across the front of the enemy, who are too surprised to do anything about it

Les Fromages remain unmoved

British cavalry (Schomberg's Horse?) should have won this scrap, but the dice were unusually decisive on this occasion - that's 3 hits right off the top, so they were eliminated

Not a lot of storyline here - a period of doing repeat trials of particular situations with the two sets of rules
Time to test a full frontal infantry attack (with both rule sets)
Late on, I'm doing a lot of repeats of cavalry attacks on infantry. Educational...