Saturday, 23 January 2021

Providence Lost

You might, from recent posts, be forgiven for thinking that I have forgotten about reading, at least, about the early modern period. A few wargames, granted, have taken place, but where are the books, you might ask. Granted I did the Armada of Flanders, which is a nice, obscure project, but what about something more mainstream.


Well, since you asked, I have recently read:


Lay, P. (2020). Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell's Protectorate. London: Head of Zeus.


This is unashamedly at the more popular end of the market, but then the Protectorate is a complex phenomenon which most popular historians pass over as quickly as possible, wanting to get from the drama of the Civil War and execution of Charles I to the restoration and the ‘rollicking’ adventures of Charles II (by which we mean sex, of course. Why else read history?).


Lay’s account focusses on the failure of the Western Design and the failure of the project to capture Hispaniola, the original target; Jamaica was not regarded as being a suitable alternative, although in the long-run it had a fair number of advantages. Nevertheless, the problem with the failure of the Western Design was that it showed strongly that the new English government, which had imposed it will providentially, under God’s protection, on Ireland and Scotland, had lost that direct line to the Almighty. This resulted in a political-religious crisis in the regime, more precisely, in the head of Oliver Cromwell.


Lay does not take a straight path through the years, which confused me slightly at first. The chapters are more thematic although still broadly chronological. Before I realized this I felt the text skipped around rather, but once I grasped the overall scheme it made sense. There are a lot of issues at stake in the Protectorate, although they boiled down, finally, to the legitimacy of the government and money.


To deal with the money first, the army was expensive and was needed to keep the country down, particularly the recently conquered bits. There was also the issue of external threats from other European countries who took a dim view of the deletion of monarchy and monarchs from the British Isles, as well as Royalist diehards, both at home and abroad who did not cease their rather ineffective plotting. Taxation was required, and there were arguments between the army grandees, who wanted to tax Royalists forever, and civilian politicians, who saw that some sort of healing and restoration of the body politic was required. This, of course, played into the other crisis of the period, that of legitimate government and what it could look like, given the circumstances.


There was also the problem of the loss of the providential guidance of God. Lay notes that, since the days of Elizabeth, there had been the idea about of the chosen nation (or godly part thereof) to chastise the Spanish (who were, of course, Godless Roman Catholic oppressors) and spread the ideals of Protestantism (the Puritans were only loosely Anglican, at best) and English commerce (and make a lot of money along the way). This was first expressed in the colonization of the island of Providence in the Caribbean, which was lost to the Spanish in 1641. Given the political crisis in England at the time, no-one really noticed, but the idea was the same (and many of the people backing the project were the same) as the Western Design.


The loss of the goodwill of the Almighty was clearly due to the sine of the nations, and so the radical, army led, wing of the government was persuaded that the morals of the nation needed to be improved. This led to the rule of the major-generals and assorted efforts to root out various sorts of behaviour, usually described as sinful. However, the local gentry, on the whole, disapproved of the activity of the major generals and disapproved of the majority of the major generals themselves. The latter were, on the whole, upstarts and tactless in dealing with the machinery of local government. The idea was an expensive failure.


This led to the civilians taking over and their idea was, as is widely known, to turn the Protectorate into a monarchy. Cromwell did not like this idea, and it would have further eroded his support among the godly, but it might have worked. As it was, the status quo left a serious problem when Cromwell’s health started to fail. That problem was, of course: what do we do next?


Cromwell nominated his son, Richard, as his successor. To be fair, the latter probably did not want the job and was barely trained for it. Henry was governor of Ireland and might have managed, but it seems that Cromwell was concerned that the removal of Henry from office would lead to rebellion. He might well have been right; look what happened when Wentworth moved to England in the late 1630s.


It all fell apart, as is well recorded. No-one could really agree on the country was to be governed after the loss of the military leader who had made it all possible. Eventually, Charles Stuart, guided by Edward Hyde, managed to obtain a consensus for the return of the monarchy, as Charles II.


Who won the civil wars, then? It depends on what time frame you choose, of course. From one perspective, the Parliamentarians did. Indeed, from the post-1688 viewpoint, Parliament emerged supreme. From the 1650s Cromwell won, and from 1660, probably Hyde could be seen as the victor. After all, he managed to become the chief minister of the new monarch and marry a daughter to the king’s brother. After Clarendon’s fall, however, this might not look quite the same.


Other viewpoints might intrude. Jamaica, of course, was the first British colony to employ slaves in large numbers. Lay observes that while in the British Isles slavery was not permitted, and a slave landing here was free, this did not apply to overseas possessions. Perhaps in history, there are no winners ultimately, but there are losers.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Anarchy in the UK

When I was a lad (many, many years ago) I used to walk home from school past a garage with a neat white wall. Needless to say, the local youth spent some time daubing the pristine surface with assorted graffiti. The one that sticks in my mind at this point was a capital A in a circle, which one of my friends mistook to be the CND logo. Actually, it was the logo of an anarchist organization of rock band (I’m not sure which, or possibly it was both). Anarchy was a ‘thing’ back then, with anarchists trying to organize to take over the world.


One or two of my friends were sort of anarchists and disagreed when I observed that anarchists organizing to take over the world was illogical. If they managed it then they would, by definition, no longer be anarchists. Looking back I fail to see how I managed not to get punched that often in the playground.


Anyway, you will probably be pleased to know that this post does not have anything to do with modern political anarchy (although Robert Nozick’s fine book ‘Anarchy, state and Utopia’ is another work of political philosophy I shall probably never get around to reading) but about the period in English history often called ‘The Anarchy’, as if there was only one.


As you might have surmised, I have been reading again:

Cole, T. (2019). The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England. Stroud: Amberley.

This is, of course, in pursuit of my ‘what happened next?’ wonderings. I got as far as Henry I last time, and so now we get to the next bit, the Anarchy.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle goes for pathos and poetry:

I do not know nor can I tell all the enormities nor all the tortures that they did to wretched men in this land. And it lasted 19 years while Stephen was king, and it always grew worse and worse… Wherever men tilled, the earth bore no corn because the land was all done for by such doings; and they said openly that Christ and His saints slept. Such things and more than we know how to tell, we suffered 19 years for our sins.’

(Swanton, M. (Ed.) (2000). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. London: Phoenix p 264-5 – Peterborough Manuscript 1137).


In other words, things were bad because royal authority had collapsed, and royal authority had collapsed because there were tow claimants to the throne, Henry’s daughter Matilda, sometime Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and her cousin Stephen. Both had powerful backers in England, and there were plenty of foreign powers willing to take a hand in trying to obtain some advantage, either through a friendly occupant of England (and Normandy) or through carving off chunks of Henry’s patrimony.


Needless to say, it all went rather pear-shaped. Neither Stephen or Matilda had enough power to win either diplomatically or militarily. The war consisted of only two real battles, the Standard at Northallerton and Lincoln. The former was decisive, in that a Scottish invasion was defeated, but was a bit of a sideshow to the real action further south. The latter did not, ultimately, achieve anything much.


The warfare was, mostly, about sieges and taking, recapturing, and building castles. Most of the action and aggravation seems to have been along the London to Bristol corridor and the castles along that line. Matilda's forward post was Wallingford which was often besieged but not taken. Malmesbury was held for Stephen and was similarly immune from capture. The defensive capabilities of castles had temporarily exceeded the offensive capability of siege technology.


As you might imagine, with neither side having the resources to finish off the other, and both being able to draw, from time to time, on external resources, the civil war dragged out into an exhausting sequence of sieges, skirmishes, raids and devastation, in both England and Normandy. Cole’s book is a narrative of the activities of both sides, and she does a good job in keeping track of what was going on, and whose side who was on. It is a complex tale, of course, and one from which neither side should draw any comfort. As always in warfare, the ordinary people are the ones who suffer.


Anglo-Norman warfare is, I think, something that often gets overlooked in wargaming terms. This is not to say, by the ay, that I am about to launch into the period, but I do feel it holds potential which is probably unrecognized in broader wargaming. With only two pitched battles, it tends to get overlooked, and with plenty of sieges, most wargamers might well be thinking ‘boring’. Yet there is a lot of interest here.


Firstly, in terms of battles, the knight was not supreme. I have recently read an essay or two which suggest quite strongly that the key to winning battles was not the headlong knightly charge but combined arms. The infantry mattered, and, of course, mattered even more in siege warfare. Secondly, of course, in terms of a campaign, what mattered was who was on whose side and whether they put their men into garrisons or field armies. There are resonances here for me with the English Civil War. I think some sort of narrative or even map-based campaign (if you have the patience) could be very rewarding, and the numbers of toy soldiers needing to be painted would not be huge as the numbers in the field armies were relatively small (because they were expensive, and neither side had much in the way of resources). Probably someone has already done it; after all, all you need is some Normans and a castle.


In the end, no-one really won. Matilda did not become Queen of England; there was too much misogyny around for that. Stephen, on the other hand, did not found a dynasty. Possible, as Bartlett speculates, after the death of his son Eustace and wife Matilda (not the same one as he was fighting, you understand) he lost heart and agreed to Matilda’s (the other one) son becoming his heir. Thus we got Henry II.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Going Dutch

 ‘Your highness, I believe the rebels are attacking our men at Teetwo.’


‘You do not surprise me. They will want to seize the port back.’


‘Yes, ma’am. But they have the advantage of being able to use cavalry. We have not managed to land the horses yet.’


‘I dare say the stout hearts of our men will overcome the lack of mounts.’


‘Yes, ma’am. The Dutch do seem to be deploying some of their new heavy horse, however, cuirassiers.’’


‘In three-quarter armour? Oh, well, we could do with the metal to make pots to boil the horse-meat in, I suppose.’


*


After the Small Boat Sailing incident, the diligent reader will recall, the Spanish had landed at Target Two, the village on the Dutch side of the estuary, while the Dutch fleet was at Target One, with the Spanish lying offshore, waiting to pounce.


Naturally, being a wargamer, I did not proceed in logical order, and so the action at Target Two (Teetwo) was the first onto the table. The Spanish have had a short amount of time to dig in at the village port, while the Dutch have gathered up their forces and advanced.




The picture shows the situation a few moves into the action. Teetwo is, obviously, at top right, and the Dutch are advancing to oppose them. On the walls, a Spanish naval gun has opened up. I am assuming that, by the 1630s, the Spanish had learnt to use the truckle carriage for naval cannon, by the way, at least in northern waters.


The Dutch are all Irregular miniatures figures, except the cuirassiers, at the back, which are Baccus, and newly painted by yours truly. They are a reasonably conventional force of 2 pikes, four shot, a light horse (mounted arquebusiers) a cannon, two bases of reiters and two of cuirassiers. Not that there is much difference between the two latter, in fact (or, in rules).


The Spanish are a bit less conventional, consisting of two pikes, four shot, a cannon, three bases of sailors and two of sword and buckler men, representing their non-mounted cavalry. Again, the figures (although you cannot really see them) are mostly Irregular. The exceptions are the naval gun, which is Langton, and the naval landing parties (when they appear) which are also Langton. So far as I recall there are no other landing parties or naval guns available in 6 mm, which is surely an oversight by someone. Langton figures are fine but I suspect they are true 1:300th scale, so they appear a bit small and spindly alongside Baccus and Irregular, like Heroics and Ros figures. They are also for about 170 years later, but I can live with that.


The buildings are a mix of old Baccus and Leven, and the earthworks are my trusty Irregular Roman marching fort. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed three ships a-sailing in the background. These are two Hallmark brigs (I think) and a Tumbling Dice Hoeker, operating out of the port with a surprise for the Dutch.


As the Dutch deployed, the plans started to be shown. The Dutch idea was to seal off the port with their cavalry and then assault the corner with the cannon with the infantry, shot in by the cannon. The Spanish plan was to sit tight until the landing parties hit the beach to the left flank and rear of the Dutch.



The picture shows the deployment in accordance with the plans. The Dutch curiassiers are nearest the beach providing flank guards to the advancing infantry. The Dutch cannon has just deployed. Meanwhile the Spanish flanking force has just leapt into their dingies to hit the beach (the dingies are very useful little boats from Tumbling Dice – I’ve been looking for something of this nature for years).


Spanish naval gunfire has clearly improved since the Armada. The gun on the walls hardly missed all battle, disrupting the Dutch infantry and, perhaps more importantly, engaging in some wickedly effective counter-battery fire, and eliminating the Dutch cannon in a single shot. Meanwhile, the landing parties hit the beach. Count Maurtiz, the Dutch commander, dashed to the left flank and turned the rearmost cuirassiers around to crush the sailors. The leftmost landing party, not really seeing any other alternative (their friends were safer from being charged by being behind the line of the stream) charge the curiassiers. (I really did not see any alternative here; if they had attempted to stand the charge of the horse, they would have been toast).


To my surprise, the cuirassiers fled. Not only did they flee (without spending any time in close combat) but, due to the constraints of their deployment, they fled through the other cuirassiers and swept them away as well.



In the picture the cuirassiers can be seen fleeing between the lines, while the sailors continue their pursuit towards the friendly walls of Teetwo.


The cavalry threat having evaporated, the Spanish sallied forth and, lead by their general, set about the Dutch left flank musketeers, who were turned to face the threat from the remaining landing parties. With alarming alacrity the swordsmen routed the musketeers, including Count Mauritz, and the Dutch, who had been wavering, collapsed in rout.



What can I say? It was an enjoyable and amusing battle – the look on my face when the landing party charged the cavalry and rolled a six-one against them must have been something to behold, and the accuracy of the Spanish gun also caused some note. The Spanish had a plan and it worked, almost to perfection. Actually, much better then I expected, I was a bit slow with the counter-attack. The Dutch sort of had a plan, and it really did not word, largely due to very poor dice rolling at crucial moments.


*


‘Count Maurtiz of Nassau, your highness.’


‘Ah, Mo. I was expecting you. Your wound is not too serious, I hope.’


‘No, ma’am.’


‘Well, it is lovely to see you. You’ll know Freddie, of course.’


‘Prince Frederick Henry, your highness.’


‘Well, now, I’m afraid Mo that you are not as popular as our Freddie. No one has asked to ransom you, so I am thinking about a week or two of special offers. You know the sort of thing, ransom one Freddie and get a Mo free. What do you think?’


Saturday, 2 January 2021

England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings

 As I noted a few posts ago, I read this:


Bartlett, R. (2000). England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075 - 1225. Oxford: OUP.


Very good it is too, and I got it for an excellent price for a second hand book in excellent condition.


The word I should use to describe the contents is ‘comprehensive’. It really does cover more or less everything you might want to know about life in England between the Norman Conquest and the coming of age of Henry II. As such, of course, it will not interest many wargamers.


As I mentioned before, the chapters in the book are thematic, so the book lacks a narrative thread. That has to come from other sources, but that is not hard to do. The reward for persevering is a much more rounded view of England as it emerged from the Norman Conquest and as life evolved over a hundred and fifty years.


The first thing covered are the problems related to the crown: who, exactly, ruled England. Among European nations of the time, England was a highly centralized state and, as such was a prize worth fighting for, as the centralization made taxation lucrative. As noted before, the problem after the Conquest was that the rulers of England tended to have one foot in England and one in Normandy. This also went for their most important nobles, and, if the Duke of Normandy was not the same person as the King of England could lead to significant problems and warfare. Mind you, the barons of Normandy were a pretty turbulent lot and the rules of surrounding territory were certainly willing and able to interfere and take advantage of any disputes.


The split led, of course, to two sustained periods of conflict. The first was between William I’s sons, the second between Henry I’s daughter and her cousin, Stephen. One of the things which are clear from my reading (and I have read a book on the Anarchy, the latter conflict, which I will come back to at a later date) is that warfare was rarely decisive and usually landed up in a mass of sieges. In the anarchy, there were two battles: The Standard and Lincoln, over nineteen years of activity. I am not sure you could count the sieges.


The absence of the King from England for frequent and lengthy periods did allow the development of some bits of English society and culture which we recognize today. The most obvious is English Common Law, which started to emerge under Henry I as some aspects of the system of justice were brought under more central control It would be nice to think that this was because it was felt that the King’s justice was better, less arbitrary, fairer or something than that meted out by manor, hundred or shire courts, but it seems that the most likely reason for the development was financial – the crown took the fines and fees.


Nevertheless, the development of a central system of justice and of taxation (the Exchequer became more key) and record-keeping does make England after, say, 1215, seem a bit more familiar. There are still oddities that I do not know the development of, such as serfdom. The development of Common Law meant that it became increasingly important to know who was a serf and who was free. The boundaries were not always that clear, and a lot depended on who you could get to swear that you were free, and what dues you had and had not paid.


Other things that strike are the development of monasteries and monastic orders in England, often under noble or royal patronage, and the development of the church as a whole. Bishops were often appointed from among the king’s clerks and there were inevitable clashes between crown and church, most notably, of course, with Thomas Becket. The use of excommunication as a means to bring recalcitrant monarchs into line grew, although its effects were not huge necessarily – more of an embarrassment particularly as the use of excommunication became a weapon in the clashes between church and state.


For a bit of wargaming input, there is a chapter on warfare during the period, although it is fairly short. Raising men was the problem as was money. The feudal host was still, in principle, available, as was the peasant militia, but both of these were often commuted to a tax to enable the hiring of mercenaries. The major innovation of the period was the spread of the castle, and hence, the bogging down of most campaigns in siege warfare. The castle was used to secure land, and as Bartlett notes, that was as true in 1216 as it had been after the Conquest. Bartlett even suggests that there was a form of warfare developed in the period ‘castle-based’, and notes that castles were built to oppose other castles. For example, Stephen built five counter-castles around the Angevin stronghold of Wallingford.


Perhaps the ‘anarchy’ of Stephen’s reign is a good example of what I have often said and most wargamers disagree with: battles are often not that important, what matters is holding land and taking it, and that requires sieges. This seems to be a rule of warfare at least until Marlborough, who, according to my copy of Chandler’s Marlborough as Military Commander fought ten major battles and twenty-six sieges yet is usually regarded as a master of the battle. Battles, of course, are the romantic’s decisive encounter. Sieges are the gritty reality of medieval and early modern warfare.


Before I digress to far, Bartlett’s is a fine book and covers things which would be of interest to some wargamers. For example, the breakdown of farm animals would probably inform many a medieval skirmish game (lots of sheep, apparently). Ideas about the founding of towns and trade would also be of interest, as would the structure of the aristocracy and settlement patterns across the country. In short, there is plenty of meat to go on, even if most wargamers would probably pass the book by.



Saturday, 26 December 2020

Fifty Historical Wargames You Should Play Before You Die

 There have been a plethora of ‘bucket list’ type books published recently, along the lines of ‘Fifty Places You Should See…’ before you become incapable. Probably these are representative of the angst of our age. Quite likely also that they are writers and publishers spotting a decent gap in the market to make some money.

Never having been one to duck a cultural challenge, of course, I have tried to come up with my own list. Or rather, I have come up with a challenge to my loyal reader. After all, why should I do the hard thinking, particularly at Yuletide, when I can get someone else to contribute. You have heard of ‘crowdfunding’, now let us try ‘crowdthinking’.

So, the challenge is to think of fifty historical battles which are wargamable and which are interesting and / or instructive enough to be worth putting effort into wargaming. Being mostly an ancients and early modern wargamer, I suspect that choices will be deeply biased. But, you never know, we might get a book out of it.

My contributions, in no particular order, with a few extra notes:

1. Marathon: The granddaddy of all the historical battles, with so much speculation for just a few paragraphs in Herodotus. Also, it was the subject of one of the first wargame articles I read, way back when, by Charles Grant in ‘Military Modelling’.

2. Edgehill: I have always thought of this as one of the most interesting ECW battles, because neither side really had a clue what they were doing, nor how it should go. More or less any outcome, therefore, seems historically acceptable. Getting wargame rules to accept than an army, having lost both wings and one-third of the centre, can still nearly win is a bit of a challenge, though.

3. Pavia: Or, how to handle early sixteenth-century arquebus units correctly. Not only that, but it was an interesting battle, had significant consequences internationally and the Italian Wars are nothing if not colourful.

4. Issus: You have to have something Alexandrian, don’t you? Even if you think he was a violent, drunken lunatic with absolutely zero self-control and a god complex, he could command a decent battle, although in the Persians under Darius he was not facing the cream of possible opponents. Alexander had also got himself outmanoeuvred strategically, a point which a lot of Alexander worshippers tend to overlook, and he had no choice but to fight his way out of a tight corner.

5. Cremona: The answer to the question ‘who did the Romans mostly fight?’ is, of course, Romans. So one of the civil war battles is a given. I could have picked Caesar against Pompey, but the Year of the Four Caesars will certainly throw up a few interesting conflicts, and the second battle of Cremona is one, detailed in Tacitus’ The Histories.

6. Khanua: Given the nature of the blog, I have to go a little exotic with my list, at least, and the second great battle of Babur, against the Rajputs, seems to fit the bill. Much harder fought than Panipat, but decisive use of firepower again seems to have won the day.

7. Nagashino: Another, more exotic (although probably more familiar to wargamers) battle, again with firepower as the deciding influence. But who can fail to be seduced by the Samurai and their armour? I mean, come on, we are only human, are we not? Fanatical loonies, desperate cavalry charges against prepared defences, what is not to like?

8. Agincourt: Proof, if proof were needed, that some people do not learn from experience. The French, having an ‘army in being’, did not really need to attack Henry, but of course, you need to do the honourable and chivalrous thing and blunder through a muddy field to be present an obliging target to be shot down by Welsh archers. Sarcasm aside, of course, it is an interesting tactical problem – how do you launch heavy infantry at a more mobile firepower army?

9. Ramillies: Of course, Marlborough has to be in anyone's list of good generals, and Ramillies is a masterpiece. It also throws up some interesting questions about grand tactical movement on the battlefield, and French generals buying into feints. It was also a bit before Marlborough's opponents had noticed his habit of pinning their forces and then breaking through somewhere else.

10. Vienna 1683: Of course, the first Ottoman siege of Vienna is interesting, but 1683 combines all sorts of aspects into one major battle, with a wide variety of troop types from Polish hussars to Western European line infantry, along with Janissaries, Ottoman irregulars and so on. As the last gasp of a failing empire (sort of, the Ottoman Empire lasted until 1918, which hardly suggests imminent collapse in 1683) it also has a great deal of strategic interest.

So, my contribution for ten battles. I have tried to avoid fights I know little about (and you have failed, I hear the critics cry). I dare say there may well be cries for Waterloo, D-Day or Stalingrad, along with Gettysburg Minden or similar. I am not going to argue from my normal basis or ignorance.

I have put ten battles up, which I think are all wargamable, and so, according to the title, there are only another 40 to go. So, over to you. Suggestions in the comments please, and if you can add a paragraph of justification, so much the better. Given that today is Boxing Day (the Feast of St Stephen) when, traditionally, games and puzzles are played, this is your starter to the festive season.

Finally, as is usual in recent years, here are the latest version of the WotCR rules, for anyone interested.

And a very Merry Christmas to you all.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Lead Pile

 


Army

Infantry

Cavalry

Other

Total

Spanish

66

27


93

Companions


36


36

Persians

256

21

6 chariots

299

Imitation Legionaries

32



32

Thessalian Cavalry


48


48

Theophorus

80



80

Moors

120



120

Parthians

48

112


162

Celts

80

21

4 chariots

105

Bolt Shooters



4 (Greek)

4

Marian Romans

48

12

4 bolt shooters

64

Macedonians

32

18


50

Germans

136



136

Dacians

120

18


138

Totals

1018

313

18

1349

Ancients


Army

Infantry

Cavalry

Other

Total

Irish ECW

276



276

Scottish ECW

144

117


261

Anglo-Dutch WSS

52

30


82

Danish GNW

8



8

Bavarian WSS

64

24


88

Polish GNW

48

48


96

Unassiged WSS

88



88

Totals

592

219


899

Early Moderns


Overall Total: 2248


I told the Estimable Mrs P. That I had counted up my lead pile. ‘I am not sure,’ she told me, severely, ‘that I think that was a good idea.’ She may well be right, that it was not such a good idea. All I can say in my defence is that my box containing the ancients lead pile has felt a lot lighter since painting the second Sarmatian army, and my shoe box of shame, containing unpainted terrain items, is nearly empty.


The above tables show the results. I confess that the numbers in part intimidate me, and in part are rather fewer than I expected. On the other hand, most of the ancients lead pile is over a decade old, and the WSS and GNW armies are very old Baccus 100 AP DBR forces which, a long, long time ago, I suggested that Mr Berry create and sell. They are quite nice starter armies, or at least they were for me. However, I do get a bit fed up painting uniforms. I also get fed up painting in general, as well.


It is as well to look on the upside of such tables, I feel. Many of the ancients are left overs from constructing the armies in the first place, and then doubling them. The Parthians have not been doubled, admittedly, but they are the only ones on the above list. The Celts, Marian Romans and other bits are just that, left over bits. The un-doubled armies are the Persians, for whom I have plenty of infantry (for the early brand, anyway) but not much cavalry.


The ECW purchases are new. I mean as an ECW fan who can resist the Irish, even if they are, I presume, destined for Montrose’s army. And the Scots need a bit of beefing up with specific cavalry (the Armada Abbeys Campaign has run on Scottish lancers to date), and I need to double the number of musketeer bases, and may as will finish the remaining highlanders while I am about it.


On the other hand, I can point to some solid achievements this year. I just do not write them down, so cannot tabulate them that easily, but it is a fair bit by my book. I have, for example, more than doubled the Sarmatians; as I recall that was about 160 figures or so, all cavalry. I have painted a load of Hussites as well, which are a bit difficult to assess in terms of the above analysis – 12 war wagons with 9 crew each, plus sixteen bases of flail wielding men, assorted cavalry, generals, Polish war waggons and two carroccio wagons. I estimate around 220 figures for that. I also painted a load of spearmen, crossbowmen and handgunners for the Reconquista campaign, which seems to be about 280 figures if memory serves correctly.


So on that estimate painting totals for this year are around 668. However, there are also 90 cuirassiers and 48 Irish infantry to be taken into account, some siege engines and, I think, 48 crew, some buildings (two mosques, two donjons and some castle bits, at least), and twenty-eight small boats from new and twenty-four repainted. I have also painted some terrain and a load of hedges. For someone who does not like painting, I seem to have done quite a lot.


The rebasing project has nearly finished. All of the main armies, of whom the Danes are the last, are rebased. I have some Heroics and Ros artillery to redo, and I am, as mentioned last week considering re-rebasing the Aztecs to reduce the number of bases and make them usable. Mind you, I also managed to drop the Aztec boxes and damage some of the bases, so a few do need redoing anyway.


Overall, then, I reckon I can paint, say, one thousand figures in a year, which means my lead pile will last just over two years. It is a wee bit more complicated than that however. There is a limit to, say, the number of scythed chariots that I need. I already have four, I think, painted and based. There are another six in waiting, but for a twenty base army do I really need ten? That does not, of course, mean that I will not paint them; after all, the term ‘need’ when applied to wargame figures is a bit of an odd usage.


So, if I swear off buying any more figures I can probably aim to halve the lead pile next year, which would be nice. After all, at one point (I think after the small boats order to Tumbling Dice) the Estimable Mrs P., gallantly trying to take an interest in her husband’s antics, asked what else I had to paint. Upon being told some of the highlights from the above list, she responded ‘If I had known that, I might not have sanctioned the boats.’


So, solid progress on the lead pile is required, but I do need to chop the quantities up into manageable chunks. I can manage to base about twenty bases at a time, so that gives a maximum throughput, per batch for basing, of about 140 (120 – 160, depending on whether they are cavalry or infantry). On the other hand, my stated aim for my wargaming activities are to reduce time spent painting and increase that spent having games.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

How (Not) to Take Over the World

 Those of you with long memories might recall my escapades in rebasing Aztecs, and the vast quantity thereof I seem to have. Plans are afoot for reducing the number of bases, incidentally, but meanwhile, what of my plans to become the new Emperor of the known world, in this case, Mexico before the Spanish arrived.


Anyway, following my starting of a campaign to become Emperor of Mexico, you might recall that I started with a success against some Chichimec raiders. I admit that they are not exactly a dangerous foe but in DBA they are a bit tricky, as actually destroying any skirmishers is a bit of a task. They tend, after all, to run away rather than stand up and be destroyed like proper soldiers.


One of the key quantities in the campaign is the ruler’s personal rating. The higher the better, of course. The higher your rating, the more likely cities are to surrender to you without a fight, for example. Plus, you are less likely to be assassinated by disgruntled nobles. Your rating starts at 7 and is increased by one for each battle won, decreased by two for each battle lost, but increased by one for each city conquered or surrendered. On the other hand, you lose one if you withdraw from a battle without fighting.


As a consequence of my victory against the Chichimec raiders, my rating became 8, so then, in the second part of the first turn I moved on Tlacopan, albeit with a DBA army of 11 bases, having lost an auxiliary base (that is, Aztec warriors) against the raiders. A bit of dice rolling and card drawing indicated that the residents of Tlacopan were not impressed by my imperial credentials (at least, not yet) and defied me, calling in their allies to face me with eighteen bases (excluding any hidden in ambush). Granted the allies were all skirmishers, but eighteen against eleven did not seem great odds to me, even so.


After some time pondering the odds (the last battle, you might have noted, was fought in October 2019) I decided to take the hit to my personal rating and withdraw. My personal rating dropped back to 7. That was the end of turn one of the campaign, so I regained the missing base of my army to be at full strength for the next turn.


This time there was no random event, so it became my move immediately. I decided to attack Tlateloco. The residents drew a three on their resistance card, from which my rating was subtracted and another card (a ten, in this case) was added to their resistance total. Thus I had to roll more than six on a D20 for them to surrender without violence. No problem, I thought, and rolled – a six, of course.


So, I thought, these people wish to defy me. Very well, battle will be joined. Drawing up their army they had the normal DBA Mexica array of 3 blades (suit wearers), six auxilia (warriors), and three psiloi (skirmishers), plus an extra ally, of another three skirmishers. No problem with that, I was confident in my newly reinforced and up to strength army.



For reasons I’m not entirely sure about the pictures are not brilliant (they never are with me at the helm, I know, but these seem to me to be worse than usual), but anyway, above are the initial dispositions. In the distance, you can see my brave lads, ready to roll over the foe. I have to say that the campaign game does give some real use for skirmishers, as in this case, the terrain features may contain ambushes if they are in the enemies half of the table. Thus I can use my skirmishers to ‘spring’ and ambushes before the main body arrives.



In the campaign I have ten moves in which to win the battle. I managed to lose it in six. The picture above shows the end of the game. Conspicuous by my absence, you will note that the Aztec general’s base is missing, along with two bases of suit wearers. In DBA terms this means that I have lost. What, you might ask, went wrong?


We await the results of the full public inquiry into the battle, of course, as well as the Royal Commission. However, a few facts are clear. Firstly, there were no ambushes, so they cannot be used as an excuse. The advance of my army was a bit disrupted by pesky skirmishers so my warriors never really got into full combat. However, it was the other flank that turned into a disaster where my suit-wearers got flanked by the enemy and I lost two bases, the second one including the general.


I then had to roll for the fate of the said general, my good self in this case. Fortunately, I rolled low and my flesh, at least, was preserved intact. My reputation as a general, however, took a bit of a pounding and my rating fell to five. Ho, as they say, hum.


I now have to take turn three with an army lacking a suit wearer base, which might make things a bit tricky if I have to fight again. I have to confess that I was probably over-confident in my assault on Tlateloco, especially when no ambushes were discovered. It was a bit ‘hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle’ but my defense is that with the terrain lay out, I did not have much choice.


Still, upwards and onwards as they say. I have to confess that there is a certain satisfaction in designing a campaign system that can beat me in battle. Actually, the last time around, I not only lost in battle but I also eventually lost my life to an ambush. It was a bit like things could happen in real life I suppose, I was desperately trying to shore up my position by winning a battle to restore my reputation when some idiot bashed me on the head with a wooden sword. I hope to do better this time.