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


Wednesday 19 June 2024

Siege of Liverpool 1644: The Game

 Last night I hosted the actual game, having talked about it for long enough. The draft rules worked pretty well - a few things need fixing, but we worked around most of the issues we came across.

Once again, my sincere thanks to the Jolly Broom Man for joining me on Zoom to play through another piece of historical tragedy. A very rewarding evening.

 
Royalist field artillery in action on the high ground near Everton

The build up to this siege has been sketched out in a previous post, so last night was all about getting on with it. Some sort of narrative should emerge from the photos; I'll briefly discuss rules matters later.

 
Things are very peaceful, before Prince Rupert's army arrives on the field. The end of the field nearest the camera is marshy - a no-go area

 
Two teams of sappers, relaxing in the grounds of the Castle before All Hell arrives


 
Rupert's besieging force arrives in the "safe area" outside the lines; he also had more troops available to assist in the event of a storm, but initially they were busy making gabions and cutting down trees. As you do...  The giant dice is to ensure that everyone can see the day's "digging number", which later had quite an impact when it became so high that the Royalist troops were struggling to complete building parts of the 2nd Parallel before the sun came up!

 
Sappers at work, zig-zagging their way towards the fortress - the brown felt strips work well, but don't look like hard cover, which is what they count as. The little stand of gabions is to remind us that they are not sitting ducks (and it is night time, after all)


 
An early trench raid - two companies of Meldrum's garrison troops, under cover of darkness, attack sappers on the job, and have brought some sappers of their own, to collapse the sap if the Royalist sappers are driven out. As I recall, this particular raid failed

 
We were using an Event Card system. To keep the number of events down to sensible levels, the active player had to roll a 5 or 6 on a D6 to draw a card. Sod's Law came into play very early; I had worked two historical events in as "Scenario Specials", and after only a few turns one came up...

 
... yes, it was a long shot, but Colonel Moore abandoned his fortress, leaving by boat during the night, which is exactly what he did back in 1644. The garrison suffered a loss of morale points, but passed the D6 roll required  to continue fighting without him

 
At this stage, the garrison's field guns were taking something of a hammering from the heavier Royalist pieces, and one of Martindale's first actions after taking over as Governor was to abandon the hornwork outside the North end of the town

 
Here Rupert gets his boys busy with the construction of a 2nd Parallel
 
 
The Royalists are digging forward from the East and the North

 
No immediate panic, but the garrison are beginning to run out of guns; since the port is still open to the river, there is no shortage of powder or ammunition, but guns are becoming a problem

 
Here is Rupert, accompanied by his famous magnetic dog, which for extra security is stuck on with BluTak for the day. Shortly after this photo, the Event Cards struck again, and announced that one of the Royalist senior officers had been killed - dice to identify which one. It was Rupert. I don't know what happened to the dog. Lord John Byron succeeded to the command, but it took a little while, during which the Royalists were unable to rally any of their damaged units

 
Mechanisms; markers; this shows that the Local Support rating for the townspeople (which can range from +3 to -3) is currently higher than you might expect, given the circumstances

Another trench raid; despite plentiful infantry support, the sappers were driven back on this occasion, and the garrison had cause to regret that they had not attached sappers of their own to the raid, who could have destroyed the forward sap. Oh well...

 
The sappers were soon back on the job


 
With the 2nd Parallel becoming better established, the Royalist guns started to concentrate on the earth wall. Here you see the stone damage chips accumulating, while Martindale has his own sappers working as fast as they can to repair the damage. This achieved very little against consolidated fire, and they were pulled back to safety

 
The Royalists' sole mortar, whose job was to drop shells into the town, to upset the civilians. There were a few misfires, none of them catastrophic. One of the rules which didn't work as intended was the starting of fires, and the management of existing fires in the town, so these chaps were less effective than they might have been. Next time, lads...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

With the besieging force sapping towards the walls, Martindale redeployed his men to defend the hornwork
 
 
...and this brought about the first "Tactical Rules" period of the game, as a hand-to-hand combat developed at the hornwork
 

 
The attackers duly captured the hornwork, with their accompanying sappers helping to achieve an escalade
 
 
The bombardment had now achieved sufficient damage (30 hits in this case) to offer a practicable breach
 
 
Extra units were sent forward from the lines to aid with an assault, and a switch to tactical rules was declared again. The defenders, given their shrinking morale total and the existence of a breach, duly laid down their arms and asked for quarter
 
 
Massed Royalist reinforcements, just to emphasise the point, wait for orders
 
 
In this game, the morale points count down towards zero; the garrison has the blue marker here. The scores are close, but there is no hope. If the Committee find Colonel Moore, there will be questions asked



A very quick mention of the rules. We did not use mining partly because Liverpool is built on a marsh, but mostly because those rules do not exist yet!

I have draft espionage rules, and this whole subject can offer a lot of entertainment to the game, but at present it is in danger of generating an industry which requires more extra work than it is worth. I am working on it.

Fires; I mentioned this earlier. I already know what to do to simplify this section and get it to work properly. I'm on it, gentlemen.

As you would expect, there were a number of procedural things we smoothed out as we went along. By and large, though such a game is, by its nature, unfamiliar, it was a fun evening - entertaining, but also educational. I'll do some more work and some behind-the-scenes testing on some rule tweaks, and organise another game pretty soon.

Good. If you are still reading, thanks for your interest. Bruce Quarrie once wrote that only a maniac would attempt to fight a siege on a tabletop. He may have been right - you can maybe form an opinion based on my account of this little game!

34 comments:

  1. It looks like a very interesting game, how long did it take to play? Also I would rest easier knowing that Boye the dog is safe!

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    1. Hi Ian - we were pretty slow, because there is no decent documentation of the rules; we had a formal printout of the turn sequence, but we had to build up some familiarity with the rules procedures as we went along, and there was a lot of chat about why it was or wasn't working at any given moment. I think we played 10 or 11 siege turns, which is something like 3 weeks in real time - we took over 4 hours, but with less chat and better QRS help (and we were getting much quicker as we went along) we could probably have done it in 3. As an example of the sort of thing that took some time to work out a proper procedure, we introduced the use of a marker counter during the "Movement & Digging" phase. Movement is carried out before any digging work, so any unit which still has to do some digging when all the movement is complete was given a gold counter, which (naturally) became known as a "gold-digger" marker. That was just an improvised step, but it helped a lot (especially for those of us with cognitive challenges!). A few things like this.

      Next time I play this the rules will be more stable, and I'll also have dropped some things which seemed clever when I thought of them, but mostly wasted time and effort (you know the sort of thing). Decent QRS guidance will also help. This game will be quicker once I'm confident in what I'm doing. As a result of last night, I have a very useful list of fixes and things to think about.

      On the other hand, setting up the table and tidying the game away is pretty heavy going, but there's a lot of entertainment in that too!

      Boye will be fine. Rupert was the only staff casualty in the engagement, apart from John Moore absenting himself early on.

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    2. "Next time I play this the rules will be more stable, and I'll also have dropped some things which seemed clever when I thought of them, but mostly wasted time and effort (you know the sort of thing)"

      Half the effort of writing rules sometimes is removing extraneous bits that simply aren't needed or that can be merged into other things.

      Are you planning on sharing the siege rules at any stage?

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    3. I'm happy to share anything at all, but I wouldn't recommend them until more work has been done. One of my next jobs is a coherent re-write, but joining the bits together will be more of challenge. I need to get it written down, simply so that I can remember the "official" version of the week. The snag is that we are all used to seeing de-luxe rule books, and I have no intention of trying to add a glossary, a history of siege warfare and suggested strategies! Part of my background is in software development, where there are drop-dead standards for documentation and version management, so it is not comfortable for me to operate with a folder full of scribbles!

      I will put something together this year, unless something goes badly awry. My past experience of this causes me some mirth - I spent ages doing a relatively professional job on one of my rule sets, and a number of people downloaded them (and still use them, I believe), but I was accused of being a fake because I didn't produce a book of tested scenarios to go with it! Yeah - right!

      Thanks for the positive message - I will have something worth sharing quite soon, I hope, but I think it is likely to be a set of mechanisms and a framework. As I am learning, the sieges I have studied are all a bit different - some important aspect often has to be tweaked into the rules a bit. The "Scenario Special" Event Cards are an example - custom built!

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    4. I come from a software development background and also like to make sure any rules I put together have a certain quality to them :)

      (Not worried about adding background material to mine, but I have been known to put version histories in them)

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  2. When I first saw that giant d6 I thought you'd gone to 6mil!
    That all seemed to work pretty well to me although it did highlight the need for lots of special terrain pieces to make it as attractive as the battles. Also, a interesting twist to the historical outcome, if there's no Rupert will York be relieved and if it is it seems reasonable to presume they'll be no Marston Moor?

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    1. I've been collecting the siege kit for years, so it's nice to give it a run out. Also, if I play my cards right, both the rules and the kit should be useful in all periods from the ECW up to Napoleon, with just minor tweaks.

      This will encourage me to assemble and paint a pack of chevaux de frises, and finish painting a few dozen extra gabions. As someone said very recently, you can never have enough gabions.

      The loss of Rupert looks potentially disastrous; his replacements for the march to York include John Byron (no - not great); Goring might be a better bet, if he stays off the booze. Byron would be weeks late, but it would not be his fault.

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  3. An interesting looking game. Never considered a siege game before but I can see the attraction even if only as a solo wargame project.

    And at least Liverpool did not fall to a "Rupert".

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    1. You are probably too young to remember the old Rupert cartoon strips. The narrative was all written in rhyming couplets, so JBM and I made some restrained attempts to add pertinent verses to the action.

      "Then came a stray shot from the fort,
      And our hero's glory was cut short."

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    2. I'm not too young; a big RtB fan as a child although always unsettled by how turned he brown at Christmas on the front cover of the annual. Gosh! Remember annuals?

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    3. Rob - I got sidetracked online, and learned that Rupert had a complicated history, including a "dark period" when the stories became very weird (the author was also becoming weird). He was relaunched with a new author, new image, new yellow scarf and trousers and less complicated stories. Someone used to buy me the RtB annual at Xmas when I was little. I remember being fascinated by the tiny picture in the top corner of each page - you could lose days of your life trying to locate these miniatures in the main story.

      Annuals - I recall that one of my aunts gave me the Buffalo Bill annual each Xmas, then for a couple of years she bought she bought the Tom Merry annual (Frank Richards, like the alternative Billy Bunter) and eventually a string of Charles Buchan's Soccer Gift Book annuals. There must be some thread of "growing up" in there? Rupert was pretty good - a lot of reading and nice pictures, but I always thought his chums were a bit soppy.

      Very strange to think back that far!

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  4. That seems to have played out nicely. An enjoyable game, proof of concept and some useful amendments. What's not to like?

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    1. Worked well - I am disappointed that the "fires" rule failed to upset the residents as planned - interesting that rule failures, when they happen, are often in some really clever bit I spent ages on. Test games are great, not least because they give the occasional reality slap! The residents of my next besieged town had better watch out.

      The rule for mortars firing shells worked nicely; one of the dice rolled for a mortar shell is a black one - if that turns up a 1 then the shell misfired (i.e. didn't explode as intended), and no hits are registered; the 1 is re-rolled - if it turns up another 1 then the nightmare has occurred: the gunner has successfully lit the fuse on the shell itself, but the propellant charge has failed to ignite, in which case the crew run for cover and the mortar destroys itself. We had a few misfires, but none were terminal!

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  5. A very good looking game and a very interesting read, you don't see too many siege games, always good to see something that wee bit different.

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    1. Thanks Donnie - I have had a lot of entertainment and interest from researching sieges and reading other people's rules over the years. They tend to be overly complex, or too laborious in use, so I've borrowed a couple of ideas and gone back to developing my own rules. The big theme is cutting out time-wasting detail, and making everything as simple as possible. A siege is a messy business, and it doesn't help if the game is just a very arduous admin job!

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  6. Not sure how you managed it but you took a complicated subject and distilled its essence into a very playable game. More please!

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    1. Went along nicely, I think - a fairly lightweight ECW subject is a good toe in the water - starting off with the Full Vauban would be a daunting experience! Thanks again for coming out to play.

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  7. Excellent, well done! I think in all the buildup I hadn't realised you were going to game an actual siege, I thought it would just be an assault. I've tried gaming a few sieges and it is hard to do, but your mechanisms seem to work well and cracked along with all the various steps you would expect.

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    1. Hi Martin - there are a number of siege games about, but most of them are really just an assault game with rather exotic scenery. I've still a few areas to smarten up (or even to start at all!), but this is shaping up nicely. When it's working reliably, I'll get the documentation sorted out, so I can look up the rules when I've forgotten what I intended!

      My chief influence is Chris Duffy's "Sandhurst" game in his "Fire & Stone" book, and I also learned a lot from the Piquet "Vauban's Wars" rules, which I have played a few times; what I have now returned to is an evolution of my own "Leaguer" game, which got rather bogged down about 10 years ago. Now that I am a firm believer in the Creed of Simplicity, I am getting there.

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  8. That is a magnificent looking table Tony and sounds like a fun game. A lot of work and thought has obviously gone into it.
    Cheers,
    Lee

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    1. Thanks Lee - a bit of a challenge to try something different! The test game was good, and very useful - now I get a chance to reconsider what the heck I was trying to do...

      All good - I've been thinking about this stuff for so long that it's very pleasing to get it back on the table.

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  9. Tony, you always present a handsome table with your hex system. I have never tried playing a siege before. You and Mark pulled this difficult subject off marvelously.

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    1. Thanks Jon - setting up the game is interesting anyway, so that gets everything off to a good start. After a number of stalled attempts in the past, I've finally come to realise that it's important not to attempt too much detail. Mark and I had a good session - some new questions came up - in fact it's fun just watching the event develop; not sure a siege would be a good subject for anyone who is determined to win (!).

      The ECW is a sensible starting context for sieges; I'm thinking of doing another of these before I move on to the WSS. Maybe Lathom House? Interested in Pontefract as well. Or I could invent one, which avoids being over-influenced by what actually happened.

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  10. I've always been a bit sceptical about the likely fun in siege games but I think you've certainly pulled it off with this one. Very interesting and an enjoyable read. But killing Rupert! So, no battle of Marston Moor and who knows what else! He was one of my favourite characters of the ECW when I was a boy, although I grew more critical with age and Clarendon's assessment of him carried more weight with me...

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    1. I've been collecting siege scenery and equipment as a sort of background fetish throughout many years of refusing to believe that a siege can't be made into a decent game, so I'm quite well positioned to have the occasional bash. You do need participants who have a certain philosophical mindset!

      Rupert - not sure, but I think he may have received the King's famous "ambiguous" letter about the advance to York while he was at Liverpool - need to refresh my understanding of the dates. A difficult guy to get a clear picture of.

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    2. Yes, I can imagine that a siege game has a very different dynamic.

      Looking up the details I found that Rupert was indeed at Liverpool when that fateful letter reached him. His later career does suggest he was rather more than the abrasive if talented beau sabreur of the legends. The contrast between the portraits of him before and after Marston Moor does, I think, show what a huge impact that defeat had on him. (I am thinking especially of the Dobson portrait of 1644 for the after the battle impression.) I can't find the reference at the moment but do I remember correctly that he supposedly kept that letter from the king on his person to the end of his life?

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    3. There were two "Scenario Special" Event Cards in the deck - one concerned John Moore's desertion of his post (which turned up, very early), and the other mentioned an order arriving from the King, instructing Rupert to stop fiddling around at Liverpool and get his army over to York at once, which would have given him 4 turns (about a week) from that point to get the business finished - this second card didn't turn up.

      I find Rupert a difficult man to fathom, but there are a few personalities in the ECW who are like that. There is actual history (somewhere), and then there are all the overlays of subjective spin added by Restorationists, Victorian writers (I don't fully understand that camp, but I guess it is all to do with the magnificence of the Empire) and (more comically) modern re-enactors. As long as we all understand that Cromwell was an evil man with a wart on his face, not much else matters.

      I'm prepared to give Rupert the benefit of quite a bit of doubt; among the high-born amateurs and fox-hunters who had a go at being leaders in this war, he is certainly one of the most talented.

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    4. Quite agree about Cromwell! A very wicked man indeed... Rupert was certainly a man of many parts - dashing and talented general, privateer admiral, latterly amateur chemist and a man who worked on optimizing the mezzotint. On the Civil Wars in general, I find myself more and more agreeing with Seller and Yeatman: Cavaliers Wrong But Romantic, Parliament Right But Repulsive. ;-)

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  11. What a cracking game Tony…
    Getting a siege to work is no easy thing… in real life and in pretend ūüėĀ

    All the best. Aly

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    1. Thanks Aly - hard work, man - you should see the muck under my nails.

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  12. That's a great looking game Tony. Fancy knocking off poor old Rupert!

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    1. Thanks Ray - I guess that card had his name on it (in which case his name must be Altenburger Spielkarten).

      "Poor Rupert's men raised such a shout,
      When the Ace of Diamonds laid him out."

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  13. A very entertaining read Tony and as for Rupert it could have been worse in JBM's campaign King Charles came to a sticky end in 1643!

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    1. Alternative history is often worth the price of admission just for its own sake! Event cards for this period are (I think) necessary but potentially risky. My own reading (such as it is) reveals how often a battle turned on an exploding powder wagon, or a cavalry wing running out of control, or some unit managing to cross an unfordable river; thus it feels as though ignoring the Event card approach misses out on a lot of extra colour, but it becomes beyond stupid if a powder wagon explodes in every action. Thus I think the secret with Event cards is to have a huge variety (including some which have a precedent in the historical event), but make their appearance fairly rare.

      Charlie going topless in 1643 is an interesting idea - it makes me wonder if it would have revealed who the Royalists were actually fighting for, and what the camps really were!

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