Monday, 20 March 2023

No-Score Draw at Germantown

 Faced with the proverbial rainy day ( or at least a 'long morning' ), I took the opportunity to try out a recent purchase:Germantown, a board game from Decision Games 'Mini Game Series'.

I had recently picked this up when I happened to be in the vicinity of  the veteran games shop Leisure Games in Finchley - which I used to visit regularly in the 1990s, but I had not set foot in for 20 years or more. It was nice to see them still trading, with a massive selection of games, of course!  I couldn't leave without buying something, and this was one of the cheapest games they had(!)  - but also an interesting follow-up to my recent on-line gaming experience courtesy of blogger Nundanket and his 'Loose Files and American Scramble' AWI games. 

To quote from the game: A British campaign in the late summer of 1777 had defeated George Washington's American army to capture Philadelphia. The British dispersed their strength to hold the city, reduce Colonial forts along the Delaware River, and watch the Americans, who hovered nearby. Washington saw an opportunity to attack the weakened British at Germantown. The complicated American plan fell apart in dense fog, but a few breaks going their way would have endangered the British position in eastern Pennsylvania. The game uses a simplified 'fast play' version of Decision Games Musket and Saber series rules, and uses a small set of only 40  counters and a mini-map ( 11 by 17 inches ) - so very easy to set up and start playing. The main rules cover  just 4 pages, with a couple more pages for the scenario-specific rules. 

Here it is, with the opposing forces in the second turn ( 06:30 hrs ). The British and Hessians ( red and green counters ) begin deployed around Germantown,  and the Americans arrive in  several columns from four separate roads to the West, North and East - they win a major victory if they can occupy the Market Square of Germantown, or at least one hex of the British camp ( on the hill, just to the South of the town ). The British win a major victory if they can destroy all the American units - no small task. Each hex width  represents about 350m on the ground, and units represent Brigades and Battalions - the Americans also have one battery of artillery, and the British have one unit of cavalry ( part of a small reinforcing column arriving later ).  Some of the units ( American militia and Hessian Jaegers ) can act as light infantry, and make skirmishing attacks rather than getting in close with musket and bayonet. 

The rules are quite simple, with alternate moves and simple D6 die rolls for combat, morale etc. I liked the combat resolution table and its use of the combat strength difference between the opposing units, rather than the old-school 'SPI' style use of ratios ( 2 to 1,  3 to 1 etc ), which I never liked. Combat results can be retreats, routs and step losses - most units can take two step losses, being  'flipped' to the reverse of the counter with lower  strength  for the first one,  then destroyed if another loss is taken - and/or 'disruption' which reduces their combat ability. Both step losses and disruption can be recovered.  Units can 'stack' up to 3 per hex without adverse effect, but only one unit per hex counts for combat, so the stacks very soon shake out into battle lines of single units for best effect - this seems right given the 350m per hex and brigade-size units. Another crucial rule is that when one side's units enter the enemy units' Zones of Control, all the enemy hexes contacted must be attacked - if you decide not to attack the enemy in a hex you have contacted, then the units in that hex can counter-attack you, with their combat factors doubled.  You may decide to concentrate your attack on only some of the contacted enemy, but you have to be confident that you can weather the resultant counter-attacks!  ( it can make sense, if you need to concentrate on the strongest enemy units, maybe ignore the weakest  as their counter-attack will not be too strong, and they may decline to attack)

A major feature of this scenario is the effect of fog - each turn a dice is rolled to decide if the morning fog persists ( with more chance of it clearing as the day goes on, but then a return at the end of the day)  and the presence of fog has some fairly drastic effects.  Movement allowances are randomised and reduced, even road movement is slower, and woods and watercourses have serious effects on movement and combat - there are many small 'brooks' and 'light woods' hexes, and in fog turns these are uprated to 'stream' and 'dense woods' which limit movement and cause combat strengths to be halved.   I get the idea - imagine trying to get a unit of  drilled infantry in strict line formation  to advance and attack across a series of brooks and through woodland in dense fog!  To some extent the the fog blanketed the rules too at the start, as one had to keep remembering that this or that terrain hex  now  behaved like a different terrain hex, but the rules are really pretty simple, and soon picked up. Units on hills get a combat factor bonus in fog, which makes some sense!  

Another important  scenario feature  is the simulation of ammunition shortages for the Americans - after the first few turns the British player gets to choose a number of American units each turn which must take a morale check, and if they fail they will become 'disrupted' , which makes them less capable, especially in the attack. This is quite a bonus for the British, as the number of units to be checked goes up to five in later turns - the disrupted units either have to stop for a turn to recover, or remain  much less useful in any combat. 

And so, to the battle. As you might expect, the fog certainly slowed down the initial American advances, and gave the British time to organise - they elected to use their Hessians ( including  a Jaeger rifles unit )  to  defend their left against US militia,  and to   divide their main British infantry force into two, each division trying to block the progress of one of the columns of  American regulars. The game starts at '05:00 hours', and the fog did not lift until 11:00 ( Turn 5 ), and as a result the main American forces were pretty slow in their advance. By 8:30 ( Turn 3) the Hessians had begun a long series of combats ( lots of skirmishing  in and out of the woods )  with the American militia in the west, in which they held their own and secured the British left flank. The American main forces bumbled their way down the roads, bumping into two outlying  British battalions north of Germantown, and forcing them to retreat - one of them shut themselve up in the Chew House, which becomes a bastion.  There are a whole list of special rules for this house/bastion - but the effect was simply that the battalion occupying it was bypassed and left alone, and took no further part in the proceedings. 

11:00 hrs - US militia ( pale blue, lower right ) threaten the camp

As soon as the fog lifted, everything kicked off , the main American forces in the North  making a general advance and attack which went quite well, forcing the British brigades to retreat - and on the Britsh turn, their counter-attacks were easily repulsed, owing to a whole series of low die rolls giving 'Attacker retreat' results.  Meanwhile the US militia on the Eastern flank threatened to sack the British camp  - arriving only one hex away from a rather sneaky victory. Fortunately for the British, their reinforcement of three Grenadier battalions arrived from the South and attacked the militia, while 4th British brigade (wisely left at the camp as a 'backstop' reserve)  hurried to join them.  The fight went badly for them, though - 4th Brigade suffering an 'exchange' step loss against one militia brigade who had occupied some woods, and the grenadiers being forced to retreat - the dice were distinctly American that turn! 

So when Turn 6 ( 12:30 ) began, American militia were still one hex from the British camp and a possible victory - only to be foiled by the 'ammunition shortage' special rule. The British were only too happy to impose an  'ammo check' on the nearest  militia unit, which  promptly became disrupted and could not advance. This may well have saved the day! 

Over the next few turns, it was to-and-fro stuff, especially in the centre around Germantown, with both sides trying to keep a battle line and launch strong attacks on their opponents, and neither gaining a real advantage - I seemed to develop a habit of rolling a '1'  whenever an attacking force had a good advantage, often resulting in 'Attacker Retreat' results. Neither side's troops seemed very determined in the attack! But overall, the Americans made progress and pushed the British back. By half-way through  the 14:00 turn ( Turn 7 of 9 ), the British commander Howe and his Guards brigade had been forced to abandon the crucial Market Square. The game was only saved then because all the American units attacking Howe had been 'disrupted' by the fiendish ammunition shortages, and disrupted units cannot advance after combat...

14:00 Market Square cleared - but Americans can't advance!

In the British phase, Howe was able to re-occupy the Market Square, and by 15:30 had  his main force formed  into a strong defensive line protecting the town from the North -  though the sneaky American Militia still lurked in the East, again threatening to overrun the British Camp, as the British and Hessian Grenadiers had been drawn into the central fight ( 'all hands to the pumps!'). 

15:30: Brtish line stabilised, but watch those militia..

The Grenadiers and depleted 4th Brigade were hurriedly sent back to save the camp, intercepting those militia units, who would not be able to bypass the defenders' Zones of Control.  And then, at 17:00, the final turn, one last American push, perhaps - and the fog returned! In the centre, Washington's forces  ( despite 4 units disrupted by ammunition shortage,  launched two big attacks as the fog came down -  but  in both cases rolled the seemingly inevitable '1', only forcing their opponents back a little, without losses.  The last American push had stalled.  The British line had held, and on their last turn, Howe decided to do nothing - the return of fog meant that any combat into or out of  brook/stream or woods hexes would be difficult, and might well result in bloody repulses. It was enough to have hung on to Germantown. 

17:00 final situation: fog returns and Brits have held out

And so it ended.  The Hessians  on the British left had done well, with a strong infantry brigade and a jaeger unit combining conventional attacks and skirmishing to push  back double their numbers of American regulars and militia. On the right, the British and Hessian Grenadiers had saved the camp from lurking militia, and in the centre the Thin Red Line had held. So, no Major  American victory  - and vey obviously no British Major win ( this requires 'No Colonial untis remain on the map' - could that really ever happen ? ).  The rules say that a minor victory then goes to whichever side has gained the most Victory Points (VPs)   - and VPs are gained at the rate of 2 VPs per eliminated unit  ( step losses to units still on the table do not count towards VPs ).   And the funny thing was, what with all those '1's rolled in the big attacks, and all those 'Attacker Retreat' and 'Defender Retreat' outcomes, in all those to-and-fro combats, precisely zero units  had been completely eliminated on either side! So, the final score was British 0 VP, Americans 0 VP.  A 'no-score draw'!  

I suppose I could have felt like a lower-league football fan on a drizzly winter Saturday afternoon after their local lads ground out a 0-0 'result' - but it had been more fun that that ( and warmer and dryer!). It had been quite a tense game, both sides had advantages and disadvantages : the British had slightly more powerful units with better morale, but less of them, while the Americans had the numbers, with their regulars almost as good as the British in combat power, and their militia able to use the wooded terrain for skirnishing  to good effect,  but a big problem with ammuntion shortages weakening their attacks and the persistent fog delaying them significantly. I felt that if the dice had decreed the fog  lifted at 08:00 instead of 11:00, things could have been very different - and it could have gone either way!  Both sides seemed equally incapable fo 'rolling high' at the moment of crucial attacks, and this led to a lot of  'retreat' combat outcomes with few actual losses, hence the inability of either side to actually eliminate enemy units!  Perhaps that  somehow ties in with the fogginess of the day - were both sides troops a bit disheartened by all that stumbling around in the fog, and not inclined to press their attacks with vigour? Sometimes the dice gods tell a story..  

Overall, I liked the game, and will give it another go : I liked very manageable size ( larger board games seem to me sometines rather long-winded to set up and play, alas! ),  the fairly simple rules and mechanisms, though there were a few questions arising, perhaps inevitable with simple rules and with lots of scenario-specific rules sometines 'countermanding' the basic rule set (the British 'Queens Rangers' cavalry unit was a challenge - moving fast, it was able to range far behind enemy lines, but I could never quite see how it would be able to actually use its 'charge' ability - it ended up just 'lurking' ineffectually, as you may see in the pictures ).  It's an interesting scenario, and I know other bloggers have used it - for example Norm at Battlefields and Warriors, who ran a splendid PBEM mini-campaign game, which I now need to go and read myself, to see how I probably should have played it(!).   I think the game would also suit another one of  Norm's excellent concepts, that of taking part of the action from a board game battle and playing it out as a small-to-medium game with figures on the tabletop. I don't currently have 'AWI' armies available, but perhaps it might translate to somewhere in central Europe, c. 1760 - Prussians replacing the British holding the town, Austrians (with plenty of Grenzers )  looming through the fog?  

Right, I'm off to read Norm's account of his version of Germantown.. Back to the actual toy soldiers next time, I hope - maybe even a bit of painting? Its about time! Meanwhile keep well, everyone.

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Diversionary Tactics

 David Crook recently posted on his excellent A Wargaming Odyssey blog,  about his list of current projects, to which my response was I suspect that often just after such a list is written, something completely different pops up and overtakes all the things one has carefully listed!  And so it proves.  I have been trying to concentrate my somewhat inadequate hobby efforts on Eighteenth Century,  WW2 in Italy, and Thirty Years' War periods - plenty of reading, organising, painting and gaming to be getting on with on each of them, and not enough actually being done.  But then the other morning I strolled into an Oxfam charity bookshop, made a habitual scan of the Military History shelf, and spotted this: 


Blimey, that's a little specialised for a charity shop! Phil Barker and Ian Heath's Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, 4th Edition ( 1981 ).  In pretty  good condition, and fairly priced, I thought  - I couldn't leave it there, could I?  Indeed not - money changed hands and I took the book home.  It joins a small collection of books acquired fairly recently, on an 'Ancients' theme, because I've been having certain thoughts..

Charity shops started it, really, because I found a couple of vintage volumes by Peter Connolly : The Greek Armies ( 1977) and Greece and Rome at War ( 1981/2012 ). 


The former covers the period from the Trojan War  to Alexander The Great, and is actually a children's educational book, but none the worse for that - the writing style is clear and simple, but not in the least patronising.  Both volumes have plentiful and rather lovely illustrations. I've always had a hankering to investigate the Ancient Greek world - and the second book adds an account of Rome, up to 450AD. So, I think I've got a good set of introductory texts to work with. 


If this is going to lead to any gaming, then rules will be needed, and I have some options there too. Sometime in 1990 or soon after, I spent the princely sum of £2  at Leisure Games in Finchley for a copy of the latest thing in Ancient Wargaming - the first edition of  De Bellis Antiquitatis,  known to us all as DBA. For whatever reason, I never actually played it, but I kept the booklet - 'it might be useful one day'. More recently, what with certain ideas being mulled over and various special offers coming up, I have also picked up  Graham Evans/Trebian's Spartans and Successors, which are billed as Simple Tabletop Wargames Rules for the Classical Ancient Period in the Golden Age of Greece and Macedon. 


And finally, Neil Thomas' well-regarded Ancient and Medieval Wargaming.   Plenty of options and ideas between those three volumes, I reckon. 

Hmmm... if this is going anywhere, some armies will be needed. Although today's find is obviously all about Rome, I admit that the Greek/Persian/Macedonian wars have interested me most so far ( though of course using DBA could allow multiple armies covering various periods to be mobilised quite easily and relatively cheaply ), the triumverate of Greeks/Macedonians, Persians and Indians seems to have all sorts of possibilities and variations. 

But  this is the dilemma - what scale to choose?  Again, if going down the DBA route,  pretty much any scale could be used, for example a 25/28mm DBA force would not involve a large number of figures, and should therefore be fairly quick and cheap to recruit, while smaller scales would give a 'mass' look to the units ( which must be good if deploying Roman Legions or Greek Phalanxes ) while also being relatively inexpensive. Plastic 20mm figures are perhaps  another 'budget' option.  I could do any of  25/28mm,  1:72/20mm, 15mm, 10mm and 6mm - maybe even 2mm, though I have some reservations about those.  I admit I was sorely tempted to try buying  a few nice old-style Lamming  Greeks and Persians, but my timing is not good it seems, as their website says that they are going to stop taking orders for a couple of months due to illness. Sorry to hear that, I wish them a swift recovery and return.

So, I will have to mull over the possibilities of different scales and makes, and we'll see what if anything, comes out of that.  I'd welcome any thoughts from readers who have been down this track themselves.  At the very least, I have some pleasant and interesting  reading options to browse. Here is a bit of inspiration, courtesy of Peter Connolly : 

Also in the next few days the paintbrushes and glue really have to come out - the lead/plastic piles of 7YW, 30YW or WW2 need to be adressed!  Meanwhile, keep well, everyone.  


Wednesday, 1 March 2023

A Course of Study?

Having gone down with a cold, I've been staying indoors, and  reading about the War of The Austrian Succession. A book with that straightforward title, by Reed Browning ( Professor of History, Kenyon College Ohio ),  published  1994, was given to me by my good buddy Dave (aka St Cyr on Wheels),  and seems an ideal introduction. 

It does what it says on the cover

My feeling is that having picked up armies from the period ( thanks to David Crook, the Eric Knowles estate and others )  and used them to rediscover wargaming, I really ought to be properly clued-up on the history of  mid-18th Century Europe, so this is a pretty obvious starting point. 

 But the thing is, how to read?  That might sound a silly question, after all you just open the book and start from page 1, don't you... But I want to try to 'study properly',  and make sure it goes into my head - I have read a lot of books which have been jolly interesting and enjoyable while reading, but are then all-too-quickly forgotten: I want to become reasonably knowledgeable on the subject.

So, with this in mind I've tried to approach it like a course of study - and I decided  that means... taking notes. Have not done that since school and university days, which is a long time ago - and my last experience of studying actual history was for 'O' Level (aged 14 to 16).  I would have loved to do 'A' Level History too, but I didn't have any other good arts subjects, and the school would not allow a mix of arts and sciences - so I ended up doing sciences for 'A' Level and Degree, and saying goodbye to formal study of History. I assumed the science-y sounding degree was good for getting a job - but having said that, Dave and I met while doing the same job, and he had done a degree in  Byzantine History! Ah, the Wild West of mid-80s IT recruitment..

Anyway,  I've been simply using a notebook and pen - the book is quite conveniently divided into multiple sections within each chapter, usually about 4 or 5 pages each, so I've opted to read each section, and then make a synopsis of it in a few lines - maybe half a notebook page.  Just for a laugh, here's a sample of my spidery notes  (actually the handwriting is terrible, isn't it? Well, I was a bit under the weather!) : 


I think it is probably helping me take on board the information - I think having to go back and try to summarise the important points is probably good brain training.  However  I am already wondering if the notebooks are the way forward - sadly, making notes on my computer might be a better idea, if only  for legibility!  Though that means a lot more 'screen time', which I was trying to get away from. I will persist like this for this book - 'I've Started, so I'll Finish' -  and see how it goes. Next up for this topic really should by Christopher Duffy's 'Instrument of War', on the Austrian army. 

So having said that, I wonder if anyone has thoughts on the best way to 'study properly'?  I'd welcome any good advice, and it would be interesting to see if you have any hints, tips and clever tricks for absorbing and retaining the contents of books - while hopefully still enjoying the reading process, of course.  It is meant to be fun, after all.  Until next time, keep well, everyone.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Darkest Day: one year on


Maidan demonstration, Kyiv 2014

Exactly one year ago today Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Of course I sprang into 'action', and wrote a blog post, entitled  The Darkest Day. There didn't seem much else to be done, and to be honest, at the time the outcome seemed inevitable, that outcome being the rapid conquest and subjugation of Ukraine, and its elimination as an independent nation. Quite surprisingly, that blog post became my 'most read' ever ( with the exception of  one other post that had been previously  'nobbled' by a bot attack ).  I had expressed myself pretty strongly, and I wondered if I would attract hostile reactions, even attacks, on the blog - I'm glad to say that didn't happen, and there were many supportive comments.   I've just been re-reading the post, and I stand by everything I said. 

Pro-democracy protestor Yevhen Shulga, 2014

Of course there was a very unexpected outcome: the Russian invasion failed. Ukraine's defence forces fought bravely and successfully, and  gave Putin a massive shock; Western nations have rallied in Ukraine's support and provided arms and equipment to Ukraine.   Despite many thousands of casualties both military and civilian, despite thousands of war crimes inflicted by the Russia's deliberate targeting of the civilians they claim to be 'liberating',  Ukraine fights on, has had victories, and has regained territory. The cost has been terrible, but I entirely understand Ukraine's willingness to pay that cost and keep fighting, and  I think we in the West need to support our governments in supporting Ukraine. Freedom is at stake; Putin now says he is fighting a war against the West, so perhaps we have little choice.

Battle damage to Ukrainian homes, 2022

As before, I am not going to get into nerdy discussions of the fighting and whether they should have done X, Y or Z - there are too many armchair generals already, I'm sure. But there is  of course much  worthwhile analysis available - I would highlight the Royal United Services Institute, which for example has a summary today entitled The War In Ukraine One Year On . I've also been recently recommended a 'Substack' blog ,  Comment is Freed, a joint effort by  political commentatior Sam Freedman  and his father, the military historian  Lawrence Freedman, whose recent piece The Storm Before The Calm  makes interesting reading.   Regarding the effect on those of us not directly involved in the fighting, political journalist Andrew Marr recently wrote a chilling ( but realistic, I'm afraid ) piece which should give us all plenty to consider :  The war in Ukraine will go on for years – and so will its consequences for BritainAlso Steve Rosenberg, the BBC's man in Moscow has been consistently interesting ( and sobering for those who might think the Russian population will not support Putin ), his latest piece about How Putin's fate is tied to Russia's war raises some scary possibilities  ( civil war in a nuclear-armed power? ). 

burial of victims of Russian occupation, Bucha 2022

Yesterday I paid a visit to London's Imperial War Museum, which had advertised an exhibition of pictures by photo-journalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind. covering the period since the 2014 Ukraine revolution and Russian takeover of  Crimea,  to the current war. I used my phone to capture some of those pictures, which I include in this blog post.  They are very impressive, but I have to say the exhibition was underwhelming - there was just one small room, and perhaps no more than 20 pictures. I thought the subject deserved a much bigger effort than that - and I note that the main exhibition space in the museum is currently filled by an exhibit about computer games.  I'm not sure if this is a deliberate reflection of the priorities of the IWM management.  However, I was glad to see the exhibition and spend a little time thinking about the situation. I guess this post is also part of that train of thought. 


Yevhen Shulga, now Ukrainian soldier, 2022

I'll get back to hobby stuff next time; meanwhile I think it's worth a pause to reflect. Keep well, everyone. 

Thursday, 16 February 2023

Portable Pike & Shot: Controlling the River

 Last time, I set up the forces and table for a trial game of The Portable Pike and Shot Wargame rules variant by Alan Saunders. I have now played the game, and can report how it went - quite well, actually! 

Herr General Blau's Imperialists approached from the South ( nearest camera ), and the French under General Le Rouge from the North, both intending  to seize control of two bridges across the river.  Both sides started off-table, and I decided to make their deployments quite random - I divided the table into 3 sections left/centre/right for each army, and rolled a 'D6' dice for each unit - roll 1 or 2 to enter on the left, 3 or 4 centre, 5 or 6 right - but no more than 3 units could arrive in each section.  The dice decreed that the Imperialists deployed all three of their infantry regiments on their left, with their cavalry and dragoons on the right and artillery in the centre,  while the French had two infantry regiments and their cavalry on their right, dragoons in the centre and the remaining foot regiment and artillery on their left.  So, both sides had sent strong forces to take the Western bridge, with fewer units going for the Eastern bridge, but with slight variations in the makeup of those sub-groups. did the dice know that there was no bridge in the centre?

The rules decree an initiative die roll each turn, with the winning player going first and usually getting to activate more units. So initiative is quite important, and it must be said that the dice gods were on General Blau's side - the Imperialists won the initiatve on the first four turns, and in seven of the ten turns in all! Quite an advantage. By turn 2, both sides cavalry had crossed the river at their respective bridges ( French at West bridge, Imperialists at East bridge ), and 'contact' was made as the French horse charged into oncoming Imperial foot, specifically the Roter Mantel (thanks, Google translation) regiment. Close combat under these rules has a slightly amended system to Bob Cordery's original Portable Wargame - each side rolls a dice (with modifiers, e.g. for cavalry charging, or foot with pikes)  'to hit', and the highest modified score  gets to inflict damage first if hits have been achieved.  Both sides could suffer hits, of course. This seemed to work fairly well, avoiding multiple rounds of 'no effect' combat. In the first fight, the Imperial redcoats took a hit and suffered a loss of 1SP - first blood to the French.   At East bridge, the French Regiment Vert opened fire at the Imperial cuirassiers - with no effect.   

Turn 2 : Horse vs Foot at both bridges

On Turn 3, the Imperial foot at West Bridge tried to push back the French cavalry, but everything went wrong for them - the cavalry kept rolling sixes!  Roter Mantel regiment was forced to retreat, and the cavalry pursued (it's mandatory for horse to follow-up if close combat opposition retreats), crashing into regiment  Blauer Mantel, beating them and forcing them to lose 1SP rather than retreat and be pursued again! So much for the Imperial counter-attack.  Finally the 'Blaus' steadied things on their own activation, with a volley of musketry forcing the rampant cavalry to retreat back to the bridge.   That didn't stop the horsemen, though - in the French turn, they charged again! But the dice were not with them this time, and they 'bounced off'. They had thoroughly unnerved the Imperial infantry, and  bought time for French infantry to come up to West Bridge.  At East Bridge, the  French regiment Vert, facing enemy cavalry and dragoons, wisely took to the cover of wood, while their own dragoons moved up in support.

The clash at West Bridge continued the following turn, and the French cavalry's luck held under fire from Imperial muskets and newly-arrived cannon ( artillery are not very effective unless firing at close range - 2 hexes or less ), then charging yet again and taking anoother SP from Blauer Mantel regiment. In the centre, Imperial cavalry gave a nasty shock to the French dragoons ( which count as foot in combat, but of course have no pikes )  - 1 SP loss. At the end of Turn 4,  losses were French 1SP, Imperials 4SP, mainly due to those rampaging French cavalry!  Going well for the French, but the Imperialists had East Bridge, and three regiments of foot must eventually see off one cavalry?

Grinding on at West Bridge: Cavalry clash in the centre

Turn 5 - finally General Le Rouge won the initiative, and used it well. He pulled his cavalry unit back from the bridge and personally led it to the centre, promptly crashing into the Imperial cavalry, pushing them back and following-up. At West bridge,  regiment Rouge charged in, but were stopped by Imperial Blauer Mantel, losing 1 SP.  On the Imperial turn that fight continued, both sides losing 1 SP rather than retreat, both determined not to fall back from the bridge - desperate stuff. The Imperial Horse continued to be pushed back by their French opponents, and were now back to East Bridge.

And so things continued for another two turns, with a grinding fight between infantry regiments at West Bridge - French regiment Rouge reduced to 1SP and falling back, replaced by their regiment Bleu comrades, and neither side giving ground, Meanwhile the opposing cavalry duked it out in the centre. Losses mounted fast - by end of Turn 7,  losses were 7 SPs each ( both sides having  'Break Point'  at 11 SP ).

Infantry fight at West Bridge..

..and Cavalry fight in the centre

Turn 8 brought a twist - the initiative die roll was tied,  and in these rules that means a 'Random Event'. A couple of die rolls determined that this would affect the French, and the result was the other player picks one of the affected player's units and performs an action with it, including engaging in combat. It will still only shoot at or charge enemy units, but the decision to do so is in the hands of the player making the move.  So, one French unit would 'go rogue' for a turn;  I chose to make foot Regiment Bleu retreat a full move from West Bridge. Presumably the desperate fight had temporarily broken its morale.. Of course this 'opened up' West Bridge, and the Imperials promply won the re-roll for initiative and poured their infantry over the bridge, attacking the weakened  regiment Rouge - and destroying it!  The only consolation for the French was that in the continuing cavalry fight, the Imperial horse were reduced to only one remaining  SP, and their hold on East Bridge looked very shakey.  

Turn 8: 'Random Event' gives Imperials the bridge 

Next turn the Imperial infantry ( regiments Roter Mantel and Gruner Mantel ) kept pushing their lone French opponent (regiment Bleu) even further from West Bridge - bad news for General Le Rouge. However, in the East he threw everything at the Imperial cavalry -  his Regiment Vert charging out of the woods to support his cavalry - and finally broke them! Thus East Bridge taken by the French, to balance events to the West. At end of Turn 9 losses were  French 9 SP and Imperials 10SP -  only 2SP and 1SP from break points, who would crack first? 

Turn 10 was the end - and General Le Rouge's dice won the initiative, allowing him and his cavalry  to gallop over East Bridge, then swing West to threaten the Imperials at the other bridge from behind. Over in the West, Regiment Bleu steadied their muskets and delivered a volley at  Gruner Mantel regiment - and took 1 SP from them. Not much effect on a relatively fresh unit, but crucially it meant the Imperialists reached their 'Break Point' of 11 SP losses.  As such, on their turn they must take a 'Break Test' - a D6 roll, with modifiers relating to possession of objectives ( even, with both sides holding one bridge ) and proportion of units lost. The modifiers looked good at 'Plus 2' with a modified 4 or more required - but Herr General Blau  rolled a one!  His weary men's morale had clearly collapsed as the French Cavalry ran amok behind them - his army was deemed Broken, and victory went to the French!  Losses at the end - French 9SP, Imperial 11SP. 

Turn 10 - French Cavalry rampant (lower right) 

I really enjoyed this game, and I think the rules went pretty well.  I particularly liked the way the distinction between shooting and close combat is handled - with units adacent to each other able to simply shoot, but shooting having somewhat less effect, and close combat is the way to force a decisive result and to take ground. The scenario obviously tended to funnel the action into two 'bottlenecks' at the bridges, but that added to the tension as both sides contested those bridges determinedly, unwilling to retreat. Equally I thought the 'Random Event' added a nice bit of friction, and with only one such event coming up, it didn't overly randomise the game. The 'Break Point' rule seemed good too, as reaching Break Point does not mean automatic defeat - with good die-rolling, an army past its Break Point can keep fighting.  Not so for Herr General Blau, however! 

I hope you've enjoyed my account of the game, I certainly enjoyed playing the it, and will certainly  come back to these rules. Many thanks to Alan Saunders for them,  and to  Bob Cordery for publishing them in The Portable Pike & Shot Wargame. 

Next time - well, I have a few ideas, and not yet sure which one to pursue. Meanwhile I've also  enjoyed no less than two remote games in  the American War of Independence period ( Loose Files and American Scramble )  run by the excellent Nundanket - many thanks to him and the other players.  Until next time, keep well everyone. 

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Trying out the Portable Pike and Shot

Having given my Pike and Shot armies a couple of goes recently with different rule sets and enjoyed those games, I thought I'd like to have another game in the same period. I've been reading Bob Cordery's (and friends)  book The Portable Pike and Shot Wargame, which has several sets of rules, including two variants for ECW/30YW forces. Having looked through them, I was interested by Alan Saunders' ECW variant, which seems to have some good ideas which Alan explains in his Design Notes. 

Alan's rules are strictly 'ECW', but I think they'll stretch to being used with my Thirty Years War armies representing French and Imperialists - I tend to think that by the 1640s, a lot of the features of earlier 30YW armies such as 3/4 armoured Cuirassiers, mounted Arquebusiers and larger Tercios would have fallen out of use, even if some units still carried those names. Admittedly my armies of vintage figures maybe look a bit more 1620s/1630s, but I am choosing to overlook that! 

I'm going for a simple setup, from an old favourite source: Neil Thomas One Hour Wargames. I selected Scenario 3: 'Control the River'. Neil Thomas summarises as follows The Red and Blue armies represent portions of much larger forces. Their commanding generals have ordered them to seize two strategic river corssings, as a base for future operations.   As typical for OHW, there are six units per side, which is  within my reach. It's a simple, symmetrical layout, with a river dividing the field, crossed by two bridges, control of which is the objective for both sides.  

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I've also gone for symmetry in the opposing forces - which will represent the French and the Imperialists.  Here is the Imperial contingent: 

 It consists of :

        Two  Pike and Shot Infantry Regiments ( 'Grun' and 'Blau' ),  rated 'Trained',                                             each 4 Strength Points (SP) 

        One  Pike and Shot Infantry Regiment ( 'Rot'  ), rated 'Elite', 5 SP

        One unit of  Cuirassiers  ( Horse ), rated 'Trained' , 3 SP

        One unit of Dragoons, rated 'Trained',  3SP

        One unit of Artillery, rated 'Trained', 2SP  

A total of 21 SP. Alan's rules the army has a Break Point, equal to half its total SPs rounded up. So the Break Point for this army is 11 SP. When casualties reach the Break Point, the army must test each turn to continue fighting. For those interested in such things, the figures are 15mm scale and mostly from Mike's Models, Frei Korps 15 and Minifigs - as far as I remember, given they are some decades old! 

Obviously the French force is similar, though I made a slight variation in the morale ratings - all three French infantry regiments will be 'Trained', but their cavalry unit will be 'Elite'.  I have a shortage of Dragoon figures, so I have drafted in some of MacFarlane's Scots cavalry to represent Dragoons. Here is the French force

     which consists of :

        Three Pike and Shot Infantry Regiments ( 'Rouge', 'Vert' and 'Bleu' ),  rated 'Trained',                                             each 4 Strength Points (SP) 

        One unit of  Horse ( 'Turenne' ) rated 'Elite', 4 SP

        One unit of Dragoons ( 'MacFarlane' ), rated 'Trained',  3SP

        One unit of Artillery, rated 'Trained', 2SP 

Giving a total of  21 SP and Break Point at 11 SP.  Figures mostly a bit more recent, from Essex Miniatures, except the Scots and the Artillery which  Ross told me were 'old strip Minifigs' ( I think their first 15mm range ) from the late 1970s - real veterans!  

This is a simple  'encounter battle'  - at the start, neither side has troops on the table. The French represent 'Red' who will enter from the Northern ( top ) table edge on Turn 1 , while the 'Blue' Imperialists enter from the Southern table edge at the same time. It should be a nice straightforward scenario, and I hope an easy introduction to the rules.  Next time, we'll  see how it goes. Meanwhile keep well, everyone.

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Fnurban #23 Rainy Day Miscellany

The other day I had the good fortune to be in London for the afternoon, before an evening of boardgaming with friends: the only drawback being that it was a rather wet afternoon in the Great Wen. Since the gaming was due to take place in the  Borough area, what better place to visit beforehand than the nearby Imperial War Museum? 

With those 15-inch guns, this is surely the best-defended property in the city, as long as any assailant remains about 15 miles away.  I had about 90 minutes in the museum - not really enough to  tour the whole thing properly, so contented myself with looking at a few old favourites. I may not have been there since the pandemic, but I had previously seen the fairly recent WW1 gallery, which is well worth a tour.  The temporary exhibition space sounds promising in that the current show is called 'War Games' - but that is all  about computer/video games, not my sort of thing at all.  I looked in at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery and its display about 'Extraordinary Heroes' :  This display houses the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses, alongside a significant collection of George Crosses. Discover over 250 stories of people who faced adversity and performed acts of bravery. All were awarded either a Victoria Cross (VC) or George Cross (GC) - the highest recognitions of bravery that can be given by Britain and, for many years, the Commonwealth. On display, for each recipient, are the medals belonging them, usually with a photograph ( even for the Crimeam War awards ) and   description of their act of bravery - a high proportion  of which resulted in posthoumus awards, which was  a sobering realisation. Sadly there is a distinct  'plus ca change' aspect too, when neighbouring exhibits relate to the long-dead heroes of the Third Afghan War ( 1878-1880 ) and those recently deceased in Helmand Province.   

Prominent among the 'old favourites' is Spitfire Mk 1A,  serial R6915, which saw action in 1940 with 609 Squadron RAF and is now suspended above the main hall.

By coincidence, only a few days before I had listened to Al Murray and James Holland discussing this very machine on their 'We Have Ways..' podcast, with special guest James May They had observed that though the Spitifre is undoubtedly a visually beautiful aircraft, when you get closer to it there is a distinctly rough-edged quality to the construction, with all the rivets and panel joins -  and I had to agree with them.  Beautiful maybe, but very much still a workmanlike tool for a particular job. 

Given that admission is free, one should find a way of giving some money, even if only for a cuppa in the cafe; on this occasion the museum shop ambushed me, with a display of books in a fine new 'Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics' edition, and a 'three for two' offer.

 Oh dear, more for the books backlog pile - which is considerable and probably unmanagable.  In my defence, I have been looking for a copy of Alexander Baron's  From the City, From the Plough for a while now, and the other two also look promising - all are fictional accounts of the British Army's 1944-45 campagn in NW Europe following D-Day, written by men with first-hand experience of their settings.       

There followed a fairly short walk to a pub in  Borough Market, to meet my friends Dave ( aka  St Cyr on Wheels ), Paul and Rupert  for a boardgame evening. We had agreed to keep things simple, so Dave tried out SQPRisiko  on us -  this is basically a version of the old favourite Risk  produced in Italy, with a Roman Empire setting, some new features such as naval fleets and battles, and amphibious attacks.

I haven't played Risk in decades, but I used to love it as a child;  all that time spent during school (and college!)  holidays came flooding back, and a thoroughly good time was had (one of the players, all well over 50, and a very keen boardgamer, had never played Risk - amazing!).  The addition of fleets worked well, allowing seaborne invasions of enemy territory  - so don't leave any coastal areas weakly-defended! There are also a number of territories with neutral garrisons, which are quite strong and can be expensive to conquer - if you attack one and don't quite manage to  wipe it out, you may leave it an easy target for the next player.  I think the Risk combat system is genius, and it's fascinating to see how different playing styles work out - in our game, two players went for slow and steady build-up of armies giving strong defences and gradual expansion, while the other two relied more on rapid attacks and didn't worry too much about in-depth defence - unfortunately the latter two tended to fight each other, allowing the 'slow and steady' players to build up strength. Victory points are scored for holding the most territory or controlling sea areas each turn, which gives an idea of who is winning or losing.   Almost inevitably there was no 'finish' to the game, but when we called time Paul was winning , having built 'slow and steady' in Northern Europe, and wisely invested in some fleets in the  Channel and Biscay. Overall, I'd say the game is a nice twist on a vintage classic, I enjoyed it very much! 

Many thanks to Dave 'St Cyr' for the below picture of our game in its early stages, before Red and Blue started building big armies while Yellow and Black tore lumps out of each other..

Early stages - I am blue, building up in Iberia


That's all for now, next time back to the toy soldiers I think. I've been looking at The Portable Pike and Shot Wargame, and also Rapid Fire Reloaded - which to try next? Meanwhile, keep well, everyone.