Monday, 28 June 2021

A Small Campaign Conundrum

 I have returned to my Seven Years War period campaign using  the 'Soldier King' boardgame: we are in the Summer of 1757,  with the Prussians sweeping forward into Austrian territory following their great victory at Rahden, and having expelled the Austrians from the town of Wittingen, albeit at some cost. 

Summer 1757: situation after Wittingen battle

Roughly translating losses at Wittingen from  the Arthur Harman 'SHAME' rules Combat Value (CV)  points into Bob Cordery's 'Portable Wargame' Strength Points (SP)  values, the Austrians lost the equivalent of only 3 SPs to the Prussians 11 SPs - quite a margin. But most  Austrian units were forced to retire, because they took many more 'Falling Flag' hits which lowered morale rather than strength - an interesting feature of the 'SHAME' combat system, and one which seems to ring true, even though just a result of random dice rolls. One could perhaps characterise it as the weaker Austrian force tending to be 'looking over their shoulders' and more easily persuaded to retire faced with more  numerous assailants, while the Prussians were confident in their superior strength - perhaps over confident - and prepared to stand more losses without their morale suffering.  That's my story, anyway! 

So, it was now the Austrian turn in the campaign game, and they rolled three 'marches', so three units/stacks can move - and each unit can move no more than twice. The first priority was to get the two rather isolated infantry units in the western province of Upper Waldow into some sort of safety - so two marches were used, allowing them to join the main body ( recently expelled from Wittingen )  at Zauche.  So at least they bolstered the main defence,  but the whole army could not then attack - and didn't really feel strong enough to do so, anyway.  With one move remaining, what to do?  Austrian eyes were drawn to the small detached  Prussian infantry force at Piesport - perhaps they could at least do some damage there?  Four Austrian cavalry units were within striking distance;  an opportunity for a classic cavalry raid, striking at a detachment on the enemy flank.   And so, the order was given, and the third Austrian 'march' unleashed the cavalry to attack.


The Austrian cavalry raid..

This is all good fun at the 'strategic' campaign level, but it does leave me with a bit of a conundrum  when it comes to the 'tactical'  aspect,  and how to play out the scenario on the tabletop. We have a small force of line infantry, threatened by a larger force made up of only cavalry. It's certainly not a 'balanced' scenario, to say the least!  On the face of it, scary for the Prussians, who are outnumbered two-to-one in units, and they certainly cannot simply withdraw, as they would be overtaken. But it's not all positive for the Austrians - two of their four units are lower-quality 'Levies' ( including the single Heavy Cavalry unit ), whereas the Prussian foot are all 'Veteran'.  And if the Prussians simply hunker down behind defences in Piesport town,  how can  their attackers make any headway against them? 

A very 'unbalanced' fight - or is it?

 I confess I am a little unsure how to play this out. I will be doing a little thinking, looking at scenario ideas and books - I wonder if Donald Featherstone's 'Wargame Campaigns'  might give me some hints? One approach might be to think of a range of possible scenarios, from 'Prussians panic and attempt to run for it'  to  'Austrians make foolhardy frontal charge'  ( with more moderate setups in between ), then decide on the relative likelyhood of each, and let the dice decide?  It should be an interesting exercise, albeit probably not crucial to the whole campaign,  more a small and entertaining sideshow. I have just enough Austrian Hussars and Cuirassiers to make up the raiding force in 'Portable Wargame' units, so here they are, assembled and ready to move off..

Daring  Austrian raiders

Of course I'd welcome any reasonable suggestions, hints etc on how to approach this - feel free to comment!  I hope to get this played through in the next few days  ( which look to be distinctly rainy - I wonder if the 'variable' weather we are having here in England could be incorporated in the game? ).  So, back soon with a report, I hope. Meanwhile keep well, and safe, everyone. 

**UPDATE** As Neil Patterson pointed out in his really excellent comment, the situation of the town of Piesport is distinguished by its riverside locaiton, so there really  should be some 'river crossing' element in the scenario. Here it is on the map: 

  Thinking cap well and truly on..

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Much-travelled Veterans

I have once again been the recipient of  a lovely piece of generosity, this time from no less than  Ross Macfarlane of 'Battle Game of the Month' fame. 


Back in March, I showed a picture of my 15mm Thirty Years' War period French troops, including some 1980s vintage Minfigs and Mike's Models/Essex.  Ross spotted that picture and  commented as follows: 

if you're interested, I believe there are some 15mm 17thc Highland mercenaries lurking in my cupboard. Old strip minifigs painted in my cabin on HMCS Ottawa in 1977 and a few of their friends that haven't seen action in ..maybe 40 yrs? I think they would be happy to cross the ocean to see action, checkout the local damsels and whiskey etc.

Let me know and I'll send the provosts to round them up.

Well, that sounded very interesting, and of course very generous of Ross. He sent a couple of pictures (including the one above)  which looked even more interesting, and I was happy to accept his kind offer.  A bit more description from Ross :

I'm not sure how many there are and suspect a careful inspection would find the occasional scrape or broken something (eadily fixed or possibly excused) but they are escorting some obviously  not highland cattle and some carts. There are some conversions in there Heritage mounted napoleonic landwehr lancers now wearing bonnet and plaid though they seem to gotten tired of carrying their lancers. 

 Anyway, they are 49!! Years old (how is that possible) but have been sleeping in a cave for decades now after many victories over the Sassanachs so hopefully they have earned some lenience and maybe even gloss varnish if suitable .

All very good stuff, and lovely to have a bit of provenance. I hope the sea wasn't too rough during the painting sessions all those years ago..  I also liked the cattle, wagons etc, those are bound to come in handy - the troops come with their own supply train and food 'on the hoof'! Most appropriate for 17th Century forces. 

I was able to reciprocate to some extent, as I had a set of good old Airfix 1:72  ACW Artillery which Ross liked the look of,  so back at the end of March we wrapped and posted our respective parcels, and the two contingents began their journeys between Suffolk and Nova Scotia. About a week later Ross confirmed the ACW gunners had reached him safely, and I waited for the Scots to arrive.. and waited.. After several weeks, sadly I became resigned to the poor wee chaps ( and livestock ) being lost and/or binned somewhere in the postal system ( being low-value items, we had agreed not to waste money on expensive delivery tracking ). No loss to me, I suppose, but it was very sad to think of them being dumped somewhere.  However I should have had more faith in them, because one day in late May (2 months on!)  I arrived home to find a parcel from Nova Scotia on my doorstep - hurrah!  Labelled as 'By Air', by the way - they must be using some slowish 'planes these days... but they got here in the end.   

So now I am pleased to introduce these much-travelled veteran Scots. 

the full complement on parade

I think these must inevitably join my forces as  Macfarlane's regiment, a much-travelled and battle-hardened body of men on hire to the highest bidder - initially augmenting the forces of the French and/or Bernadines in their campaigns against Bavaria and the Empire.  As you see, the regiment brings its own artillery and a troop of horse,  and those wagons and livestock, which turns out to include  cattle,  goats and a faithful hound.  

the supply train
I think those will be very useful,  I forsee some sort of convoy escort/ambush scenario  being played out.  It's making me think of the game described in  George Gush's  brilliant little 1970s   'Airfix Guide' to the ECW.

regimental artillery

As described, there is an interesting mixture of figures, indeed I think mostly Minifigs early 'strip mounted'  15mms of 1970s vintage, mostly musketeers but some sword and axemen, officers and even a bagpiper! And I like the  painting - even some colourful tartans being worn ( sadly I think Humbrol's tartan paint range is long discontinued ) .

They make me think that for a bit more inspiration, perhaps  I can use this:


'The Lion of the North. a tale of the times of Gustavus Adolphus'  by G.A. Henty ( 1886 ),  which follows the adventures of Munro's regiment in the Swedish service.   The style is, well, rather Victorian, and I suspect his views on Empire, race and nationalism may look quite dodgy these days ( I think in this case,  the muscular  Protestantism of Gustavus was thoroughly approved of ). But I'll give it a go sometime, bearing all that in mind, and I think there might be some good  scenario ideas..

Meanwhile,  I need to get the wee men onto proper bases - I think I will resist glossy varnish at the moment, I think they look fine as they are. Once that is done, they can take their place on the battlefield for the first time in a long while, albeit quite a distance from their original home - just like  their real-life counterparts from the highlands, campaigning in  far-off  'higher Germany'.  Let's hope they fight as well as they look.  When they do get into action, you can read about it here, of course.

Many, many thanks of course to Ross Macfarlane for a terrific piece of wargaming generosity, very much appreciated! 

Keep safe, and well, everyone.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Post-game thoughts on Arthur's SHAME

Having played out a game using Arthur Harman's SHAME ( 'Simple Horse And Musket Engagements') rules from Miniature Wargames issue 457,  I promised to share my thoughts on the rules. So, here we are. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a review,  it's just some musings, a few points that cropped up during and after the game, which I reported a couple of posts back.  

I also could hardly presume to question Arthur's rules-writing ability, ( 'we're not worthy! ) and he will of course always have The Last Word  - but I can at least report on how I got on with the rules.  


Getting stuck in : Cavalry vs Infantry line

I suspect rules-writing is much more difficult than many imagine, especially if you are writing for publication. If you put together some rules just for your own use, or for your local group of gaming friends, then the standard of  writing is less important, becuase if something is misinterpreted you can simply say 'no, I meant this..' and if something is missing, you can add it on the spot, and your authority as creator is probably not challenged.  But if writing for publication, where strangers will be trying to use the rules, and they only have your text to help them, then you'd better write very clearly and you'd better have thought of as many situations that might crop up as possible. But you must also keep it as simple as possible, for fear of producing the dreaded 'WRGese'  ( see section 32 (b) 'a unit may be  be disordered if it is Austrian ( except Hungarians ) and the day of the week dice roll ( see section 29.2.2 ) specified 'Friday' and  the time of day dice roll ( 29.2.3 )  specified a time later than the Central European 'opening time' - see Appendix L, 'miscellaneous Hostelries' )..   

It all reminds me of a reliable favorite feature of  'Systems Analysis for Beginners' type  training courses back in the day ( the late 1980s sort of day, in my case )   -  'write a set of  instructions for making a good cup of tea'... 

'OK, so this is easy, here we go  (1) put the kettle on...'

- 'Excuse me, do I need to put anything in the kettle? You haven't specified..'

and so on.  If you really want to complicate things, introduce the 'Cream Tea scenario', with its hotly-disputed jam first/cream first dilemma.. 

In Suffolk we follow the Cornish protocol: jam first!

Oops, I seem to have digressed. Just a bit of fun.

I did enjoy using the rules - I should say that straight away. Being pretty simple they produced a fairly fast-moving game, and  units could take  damage and get knocked out of action quite quite quickly once they 'got stuck in' to combat, which seemed about right and kept things going on at a good clip. Given  lucky dice rolls, a well-delivered musket volley,  round of canister or  cavalry charge  could shatter an opposing unit in a satisfying way - and if the dice did not oblige, the enemy would shrug off that ragged volley or half-hearted charge. 

The rules are definitely pitched at the  Napoleonic  period - there are skirmishers and Horse Artillery, and  infantry are expected to form square if attacked by cavalry. Wanting to play a Seven Years War period encounter,  I made some changes , the biggest being to abandon the use of square. So if cavalry attacked infantry in line and did not break them, then rather than 'flowing around' a square, I decided the horse would 'bounce back' to reform and perhaps try again - and they would suffer a penalty on their attack dice if charging frontally at all those disciplined volley-firing musketeers.    I simply did not use Horse Artillery or Skirmishers -  the latter are optional, anyway -  though I suppose I could have fielded some light infantry in open order. One query I had was that early on, it's specified that troops should be on 20mm x 20mm bases with 4 infantry per base, but in the section on skirmishers it's stated that they should deploy 'in a line of single figures, one to a square'.. hmmm.  I did like the relatively short musket range - from what I've read, effective musket range was actually frighteningly short. Arthur specifies musket range is  'one square between units' which is  a neat way of explaining it to a child or beginner.  And then artillery canister range is 3 times Musket Range, which I take to be '3 squares between units' (i.e. up to  4 squares, hope I got that right! ) . 

The main thing to master is the combat system, with dice results designated rather like 'Command and Colours' games - the attacking ( fire or close combat ) unit rolls a number of dice based on its quality, and then different dice scores inflict commander hits,  musketry/canister hits, artillery hits,  close combat hits or 'fallen flags' . The 'hits' from fire or close combat reduce the target's 'Combat Value' (CV) in effect its strength or fighting power,  but the 'Fallen Flags' have a separate impact, on the unit's  morale. This can have some interesting effects - the very first piece of firing in the game by the Austrian artillery inflicted two 'flags' on a Prussian cuirassier unit, which brought it to a halt, despite no loss of CV. That seemed entirely feasible - I assumed that  the unit's beloved commander may have stopped a cannon ball, in full view of his men!  The 'Fallen Flags' can be removed by a commander figure joing the unit and rolling a die to rally them,   whereas the CV hits are for ever, and  if the unit loses all its CV, or a number of flags equal to its troop quality, it must withdraw.   I thought this system gave quite interesting results, although it does require you to track two different factors ( CV and Fallen Flags ) for each unit, which some might find a bit fiddly. 

The charging/close combat system I also liked, in that when a unit declares a charge, it rolls its 'attack dice' , and the number of flags and/or hits decides the outcome - with a very good attacking score, the defenders may simply break and run for it!  Or they may be shaken, and roll less dice in response, or be resolute, and roll as normal. That seemed quite a  smart approach, cleverly combining morale effect and casualties, and fun too.  I can well imagine a raw defending battalion, charged by a determined-looking  elite attacking unit, who might give a feebly ragged and inaccurate volley and then turn on their heels; or a steady, experienced defender waiting  'til you see the whites of their eyes, lads!', giving a terrifying  volley that mowed down and halted less motivated attackers!  Another nice touch was the cavalry vs. cavalry mechanism, specifying that if neither unit is halted or broken, they pass through each other, turn, and may charge again next turn.  That seems just right, if my memory of  Mr. Duffy's works is correct. 

 Prussian General wasted many turns failing to rally Cuirassiers


Commanders/officers I didn't quite 'get'.  I think I made a mistake by choosing only one commander figure per side - as a result, both sides' commanders got stuck trying and failing to rally off 'Fallen Flags' from important units, when perhaps they should have been lending their motivation to attacks.  I think I should have had several officers per side, and indeed Arthur's presumed setup involves several players on each side, each having  their own commander figure.  The rules don't actually say a lot more about commanders and ADCs - the latter can apparently 'deliver messages/orders from one General to another, or orders from a General to a unit or formation..'  but there's nothing else I could see about orders, which raises questions.  Can units move at all without having received orders, and must they follow those orders until new orders are received?   As far as I can see in the rules,  they say nothing more  on the subject  (hmm...'Put the kettle on...?').  In effect I answered my own question by assuming telepathic control of units by players, without the need for specific orders to be delivered to them - very 'old school' on my part, perhaps?

That's probably enough for now, I should conclude by saying that I did enjoy using the rules, and they gave a suitably fast and fun game, as promised, with some interesting and thoughtful features that succeed in providing a flavour of the period. Arthur Harman certainly has nothng to be ashamed of.   A few questions came up, and I suspect I will have to think a bit more about suitable adjustments to reflect Frederician warfare - but that's all part of the fun, isn't it?   I think these will make a nice occasional alternative to Bob Cordery's 'Portable Wargame' rules that I have mainly used up to now. I know Bob and Arthur are old friends and wargaming comrades, so that seems rather appropriate.  I hope you've enjoyed reading about the rules, the game and the post-mortem, as I have enjoyed them all - maybe some of you have given them a go too, or will do so.  

This post was a bit delayed by 'real life' but also by glorious weather over the weekend here - not a time to be sat indoors typing on a computer! But I did get a little painting and relevant reading done in the sunshine, of which more later.  Meanwhile keep safe and well, everyone.

Friday, 4 June 2021

R.I.P. Duncan Macfarlane

Thanks,  Duncan

It's very sad to hear the news that Duncan Macfarlane has passed away, aged 73. Of course he was the founder of not one but two long-running magazines for our hobby; and current editors of both have paid tribute.  Dan Fauconbridge, current editor of Wargames Illustrated, says on their website 

It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of Duncan Macfarlane. Duncan was the original owner and editor of Wargames Illustrated, creating and publishing the magazine for the first time in August 1987, after having previously been the editor of Miniature Wargames. Duncan passed away suddenly but peacefully on 28 May 2021, aged 73. He will be sadly missed by all those that knew him, and those within the hobby that didn’t have the good fortune to call him a friend will doubtless be aware of the debt of gratitude owed to him as both an innovator and stalwart of wargaming.

and John Treadaway  of Miniature Wargames, on theirs: 

It is with great sadness that we at Miniature Wargames have heard the news of the death of its original founder, Duncan Macfarlane.

Duncan – an ex-Games Workshop manager – started the magazine in 1983 and produced it for the first four years, acting as both photographer and editor, advertising manager and.. well everything else.

I came across him on more than one occasion delivering magazines in London by hand to a wargaming shop!

He introduced quality photography to the hobby with his shots of painting luminaries of the period and produced a magazine which – even from issue one with its ‘free sci-fi board game’ tag on the front cover – embraced the whole hobby. His talents even extended into appearances on TV to promote wargaming.

After parting ways with Miniature Wargames, he then went on to do something unheard of: he produced a new wargames magazine – Wargames Illustrated – and both now stand as testaments to his love of the hobby.

Both editors promise articles devoted to Duncan in their respective next issues. 

Also paying tribute, the inimitable Mike Siggins on Instagram  said 'worked with Duncan for a decade. Quirky, eccentric, photographer, editor and founder of the two best miniatures magazines. Top bloke. He never did pay me. R.I.P.'

I never properly 'met' Duncan,  though as a younger person I remember  rather shyly buying  the good old green binders for 'Wargames Illustrated' from him at his stall at SELWG or Salute in the 1990s. I'm very pleased to have have nearly all his issues of Miniature Wargames  close at hand ( anyone got a copy of issue 35 going spare? ) , along with the first year or two of Wargames Illustrated - and probably another 15 years worth of 'WI' in the loft.   I loved those magazines and still do; he combined superior illustration and classy design with the ability to persuade  fellow gamers to provide thoughtful and inspiring articles - even if he didn't necessarily ( allegedly ) pay very promptly.  

Two such articles stayed with me for years, decades even - Henry Hyde's splendid  'Fictitious Wars' (in 'MW' issue 47), which was both the launch of Henry's  writing career, I assume,  and later inspiration for a huge resurgence in 'Imagi-nations' gaming;  and Dave Hoyles'  'The Lazy Way'  in MW issue 7, to which I will devote a blog post some day.  And let's not forget Paddy Griffith's articles launching Wargames Developments,  and Duncan's emphasis on publishing new rules, which gave us Andy Callan and his 'Loose Files and American Scramble',  many a set from Arthur Harman and Chris Peers,  and introduced Graham 'Trebian'  Evans  with a Napoleonic Fox-Hunting game(!), among 'many, many more'. Just the  first 12 issues of MW also include articles from George Gush, Terry Wise, Phil Barker, Bob O'Brien, Peter Gilder, C.S. Grant and Don Featherstone -  anyone who was anyone in the hobby wrote for Duncan.

So it's time to settle down for an evening with some well-thumbed copies of his magazines, and raise a glass to the memory of the genius of  Duncan Macfarlane.Thanks, Duncan.   

Keep safe, and well, everyone.