Saturday, 22 February 2020

Saved by the Enemy

‘I say, the serving girl is a rather comely wench, do you not think?’

The bodyguard cleared his throat. ‘Yes, sire.’

‘What time do you think she gets off? Mind you, she might not mind for a king.’

The bodyguard drew his dagger and quietly placed it on the table.

‘What are you up to?’

‘Following orders, sire. The queen was very specific that you were to be prevented from any dalliance along the way to Castilo Al-Hambra. We have them in writing, that any flesh which delays or distracts you must be removed.’

‘Surely you would not stab a working girl just because….?’

‘No, sire. It would not be the girl we would be removing parts from.’


‘Your Majesty! Your Majesty! News! News! The Grenadine army is ahead.’

‘Saved by the enemy, eh soldier?’

‘Possibly, sire. Possibly’


My loyal reader will recall that Queen Isabella had persuaded King Ferdinand to relieve the Castle of Al-Hambra, and might even be wondering as to what happened next. A simple dice roll decided that the Granadine army, rather than risking an ambush (with a dodgy timetable for arrival) or permitting the Castilians to get to Al-Hambra, decided to fight a defensive battle along the way. After some fairly useless terrain rolling, I decided that the Grenadines would defend a ridge by Ferdinand’s road, and force the Castilians to fight.

The set – up looked like this.

The Grenadine army are nearest the camera, atop their ridge, with an enclosure to the right, occupied by crossbowmen. Their plan is to skirmish with their jinites to left and right to prevent any outflanking while the infantry stay on top of the hills (which you can just make the outlines of out on the photograph) with the general and the cavalry in reserve. The crossbowmen, of which you can see five bases, are newly painted Baccus figures (see, I do paint!), the rest are Irregular, save for a base of Heroics and Ros (three manufacturers on one table, wow! A small prize of internet kudos will go to the spotter of the H & R base from the photo).

Ferdinand’s plan was to demonstrate on his left with skirmishing. Given the nature of the Reconquista, I decided that rather than have crossbowman and handgunners both on skirmish order and closer order bases, I would simply permit both types to skirmish. Given the model of skirmishing in the rules, this seems to work, and the order system can determine which bases are in skirmish order. The main Castilian punch would go in on the right, with two gendarme bases and a jinite, supported by a firepower heavy infantry attack on the Grenadine left.

The next picture shows the battle as it developed, from the Castilian left or Grenadine right.

In the far distance, you can see that the Castilian right has taken a bit of a pummelling, with both gendarme bases being recoiled and shaken by some vigorous skirmishing and a crossbow base hitting home. On the right centre the Castilian firepower is starting to make its presence felt, but not without cost as the Castilian spears have recoiled. Nearer at hand, the right-wing Grenadine jinites have been suffering a bit, but in the bigger picture, it did not matter much at this stage as the Castilians were not aiming to push on this flank.

A turn or two later and it has all gone pear-shaped for the Grenadines.

While the Castilian gendarmes on the right are even more ropey than they were, the Castilian jinites have seen off their opposite number, and the infantry assault has gone in on the Grenadine left. Superior Castilian firepower has done the rest (the close assault was, in fact, beaten off). On the Grenadine right the Castilian jinites have seen off their opposite numbers, while right in the middle, you will note, Ferdinand and his base of gendarmes have seen off the Grenadine commander and his base of cavalry.

If has to be admitted that the Castilians were lucky. Ferdinand assaulted uphill and got his charge home, rather against the odds. He was held in the first round of combat but thereafter just about edged it. Similarly, the Castilian jinites just edged out their opponents, aided and abetted on their left by some crossbowmen. Still, the Grenadines, although their morale was still good, were clearly overwhelmed and conceded the game, having lost six bases and the general to the Castilian none. The battle, however, was not as one-sided as those numbers imply.

By comparison with Polemos: SPQR skirmishers are very effective in WotCR. I am still pondering why. Firstly, I think that WotCR has a lot fewer tempo points around per base, so making counteracting the effects of skirmish ‘lucky’ rolls more difficult to counter. Secondly, I noticed that the CRT for ranged combat has no ‘halt’ outcome, which SPQR has. WotCR goes straight to ‘recoil’ and two recoils make a shaken. Once a base is shaken, recovery is harder and additional damage easier. So I think I might restore the ‘halt’ status to the CRT, or possibly add a separate skirmisher column.


‘I think we did rather well there.’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘I think perhaps we should have a little reward, a little entertainment.’

‘What sort of entertainment, sire?’

‘Well, say, did that serving girl accompany the train? I’m sure an hour or two in her company would help me relax. After all, it was my charge that won the battle, you know. Heroism should have its compensations.’

‘What sort of entertainment did His Majesty have in mind?’ The guard unsheathed his dagger.

‘I am sure the Queen’s orders do not cover such eventualities. I mean, Castilo Al-Hambra is more or less relieved. Just a little stroll in the park tomorrow and the job will be done. Just a little, um, amusement, in advance, won’t hurt.’

‘The Queen’s instructions are very specific, My Lord. No such entertainment until you have relieved the castle and returned to her lodgings when she will see to your relaxation personally.’


‘No, sire. I believe we have some soldiers who can play musical instruments and some who can sing. We can order them in for your entertainment. I believe they have been practising a medley of martial airs.’

‘Actually, I think I might retire. It has been a busy day….’

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Polemos: SPQR Clarifications

Polemos: SPQR Clarifications
JWH has asked a few questions on PM: SPQR so I thought I’d have a bash at answering them here. The answers are not guaranteed – time, writing other rules, changing my thinking, and my own encroaching lack of familiarity with the rules might have changed some things.

I recently played a game of PM:SPQR and was a bit surprised by some of the rules. compared to more recent rules I have written, there are an awful lot of tempo points around, which changes the balance. particularly for skirmishers, quite a lot. I am still pondering....


What exactly is the pursuit rule in Polemos SPQR? There doesn't appear to be a place in the rules where everything is described together but as far as I can make out...

1 - Light Horse, Cavalry and Tribal Foot which rout their target must pursue in the next movement phase. Other troops can choose whether to pursue or not.

Yes, p. 33.

2 - As routing bases move in their next (and subsequent) movement phases, it is possible that the pursuing base will catch the routed base. What happens in these circumstances?
3 - Routed bases "move as fast as possible" which I think should be 3BW for anyone on a horse, 2 BW for anyone on foot. How fast do pursuing bases move? Does this change over time

The idea is that routed bases move at 3 BW for mounted, 2 BW on foot – note that they will have recoiled first in most cases as well, putting them 3.5 or 2.5 BW away from the pursuers – and they don’t slow down. Pursuing bases go at top speed for the first move, one BW less for the next and so on until they are moving at 1 BW. There is no effect of pursuers contacting already routed bases.

4 - Pursuing bases get 2 "terrain" (i.e. not from casualties) shaken levels when "rallying from pursuit". Do the bases get shaken from the moment they begin pursuing or from the moment they begin rallying?

From starting to pursue; it is to represent the disorder of the ‘tally ho’ moment. If the pursuers are contacted while pursuing, they are in some trouble, which seems about right.

5 - If routing bases contact a friendly base that they cannot burst through, the base is removed. What do pursuing bases do at that point?

Carry on pursuing. Just because the base is removed, that simply means it no longer even remotely looks like a coherent body running away. It doesn’t mean that there is no-one to pursue.

Foot Skirmishing:

6 - Foot skirmishers have a range of 2BW. They may move 1BW towards or away from their targets in their movement bound but must pay TPs to do so if they move do not remain in ranged combat range (i.e. 2BW). But this means that foot skirmishers are always in charge range of even foot opponents - is this intended?

Yes. The secret is, therefore, not to skirmish foot with foot skirmishers. I think I would change the eligibility to charge unshaken enemies to only cavalry, chariots and tribal foot now, and I’m not sure about chariots.


7 - "Bases moving into charge range of legitimate targets must declare a charge". Is it intended that this should take place immediately the base moves into charge range, or done in the next player phase?
Next phase.

8 - If the charge does not happen, then must the opposing side declare a charge in its turn or not? Does this differ depending upon whether the opposing side's base is halted or advancing?

No, they don’t have to counter charge and no, it doesn’t matter if they are halted or advancing.

9 - Roman legionaries are rubbish at charging (typically factor 0, +1 for being armoured versus +2 for tribal foot/auxilia enemies, +4 for pike enemies). Is it intended that the Romans, when advancing, should move within 2BW - declare a charge next turn, probably fail - if the opposition does not launch its own charge, the legionaries then advance towards the opposition and (hopefully) simply advance to contact?

It isn’t really intended that the legionaries should charge at all – only in exceptional cases do they appear to have done so (Caesar at Pharsalus is the only case I can think of). Hence the rule change I noted above for charge eligibility. The Romans’ best tactic, I think, is simply to advance, not declare a charge (rule change q. v.) hope to hold the barbarians on the first turn of combat and then hit back in the second. A second line of legionaries is always useful in these circumstances.

Ranged Combat:

10 - In the ranged combat example on p.29, is the -1 modifier "for each extra base shooting at the same target" misapplied? Surely there is no extra base shooting at Parthians-1 & Parthians-2 and what should have happened is that Romans-1 fires at either Parthians1 or Parthians-2? Or alternatively, Romans-1 and Romans-2 fire together at Parthians-2 only, and then the modifier is applied?

Yes, somehow that factor got badly mangled between writing, proof reading and printing – I’ve no idea how that happened, or where. Anyway, the ‘-1 each extra base shooting at the same target’ (p. 27 ranged combat) does not apply in the p, 29 example. If the Parthians were shooting back, one of the Roman bases would get a -1. I suspect the P’s and R’s got mangled, or there was in fact a much longer example edited for space reasons.


It just goes to show that writing rules isn’t that simple a job. We made a conscious effort not to try to cover all options in the rules as it is an impossible task and only lands up with incomprehensible prose which causes much argument and as many questions as a looser approach. Language being what it is, there will always be ambiguities; the Polemos approach is for the players to find a way which suits them and is believable for them.

Still, I hope the above helps and, if it doesn’t, that you’ll let me know. As it says somewhere, the rules are not carved in stone and, if something doesn't make sense, we can change it.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

You Shall Not Pass

‘I am afraid I really cannot let you pass.’

‘Do you think you really have a choice, my friend?’

‘No, I do not have a choice. If I let you pass, the Romans will defeat you and then they will punish both us and you. If I fight you and lose, then the Romans will defeat you and will not punish us, but will annex your land. So, either way, you lose; it is a matter of how much damage is done to my people and my land.’

‘But if you join us we can defeat the Romans together.’

‘Ha! The Romans always win, you know that.’

‘Not this time. They are busy elsewhere and also falling out among themselves. You know what it is with Romans.’

‘As opposed to Sarmatians, you mean?’

‘We have never fallen out among ourselves!’

‘In your tribe, perhaps, that is true. But why do you have this sudden interest in invading the Romans and taking their land?’

‘You would prefer us to take yours?’

‘It is too hilly for you. But someone is putting pressure on your land to make you want to move.’

‘Maybe we have chosen to vacate our land so another can graze on it.’

‘And maybe, just maybe, they are a lot more powerful than you. In which case I will need the Romans to protect me!’

‘Since you will not yield, you will fight.’

‘We will fight.’


Looking through my boxes of underemployed toy soldiers, I came up with “something Roman” and what about those Dacians and Sarmatians. The Dacians have been doubled, but the Sarmatians have not, so a big bash was not possible, but they both exist as twenty base SPQR armies. The plan was that the Sarmatians and Dacians clash, using the scenario outlined above. Then, depending on the outcome, the Romans will launch either a punitive expedition or defend their own lands against the barbarians.

The Sarmatians are, of course, all cavalry, or at least, eighteen bases of cataphracts and two of light cavalry. The Dacians are more mixed: fourteen bases of tribal foot, two foot skirmishers, two archers and two light cavalry. Given the disparity of cavalry and the scenario, I decided that the Dacians would be in ambush. Victory conditions would be the Sarmatians getting half or more of their bases off table on the Dacian side.

After the opening moves the game looked like this. The figures are Baccus, the buildings are, I think, Timecast and the trees Irregular.

The Dacians are to the left, with nine bases of tribal foot in the enclosures at the extreme left (where the D10 is to remind me of their presence), five in the woods on the far side. The archers are in the marsh to the left of the river (which was a stream given it is summer) and two bases of skirmishers in the marsh on the right of the river. The Dacian light horse has crossed the ford, under command of the general, and is skirmishing with the leftmost Sarmatian column to disrupt it and force it to deploy.

As you can see, so far so good. The Dacian ambush on their left has just sprung itself, five bases of tribal foot rushing out of the woods to assault the Sarmatian right-hand column. The lead Sarmatian light horse is trying to stem the rush. 

It has been a while since I have played my own Polemos: SPQR rules and I had to read them carefully. I discovered, for example, that I was a lot more generous with tempo points in SPQR than I have been in more recent rule sets. There, the generals get 5 TP plus 1d6; in more recent rules the generals merely get 1D6, although in both cases the general also get additional personal tempo. I think this speeds the game up. Certainly, in SPQR, the player can get things moving (or removing after a disruption) much faster. I felt, really, that the player has too much control. On the other hand, it does give the player something to do, rather than frustratedly waiting for enough tempo to do something with. I suppose, also, that the WotCR rules are designed for twelve bases, rather than twenty.

There was a good deal of uncertainty in the ranks in the next move or two on both sides. The Sarmatian right (including the general) attempted to charge the Dacian ambushers, and failed. The Dacian right seemed to be about to quell the Sarmatian left with but two light horse bases. However, the Sarmatians seized the tempo in the next bound, the charges went home and, from the Dacian point of view, chaos reigned.

 This is the view from the Sarmatian right. The Dacian ambush has been well and truly routed by the first line of Sarmatian heavies. In the far distance, one of the Dacian light horse has been routed by a cataphract charge. The Dacian skirmishers and archers have emerged from their lairs but too late to influence the action. The main body of the Dacian army has yet to jump out of the fields.

In the turn just finished the Dacians managed to lose six bases, and therefore had to roll for morale. This they failed and went to pessimistic status, which means no advancing. The main body, therefore, could not emerge from the enclosures and the Dacians conceded. There was no chance of stopping the right column of Sarmatians from exiting the Dacian side of the table and, given the disparity in strength between cataphracts and tribal foot, not a huge chance of stopping the left-hand column as well. To be fair, the terrain was rather against the Dacians – there was not really enough of it; perhaps I sprung their left-wing ambush too early, but I think fighting the left-hand column with the light horse far on the other side of the river was a good idea.

Dubolwhiskos, King of the Dacians, to G. Inand Tonicus, Governor of the Roman Province of Macedonia.


I regret to inform you, your grace, that a tribe of barbarian Sarmatians are set to invade Macedonia.
I have tried to prevent them by persuasion and armed force, but their cavalry was too strong for my men, and they have passed through my lands to yours. I trust Rome for the protection of my people and for vengeance against these savages.


Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Sea! The Sea!

Those of you who have made it past the title (I can usually only sucker people into reading naval posts by a silly title) may well be expecting something classical, as ‘The Sea! The Sea!’ is, of course, the cry raised by the Ten Thousand once they got to be able to see the coast of the southern shore of the Black Sea.

But this is not about the classical era, but the early modern one, and the subject is a book I picked up expecting it to be a hard read, as a dry, academic tome, with little or no wargaming application. Which just goes to show that my expectations need some more calibration.

The work in question is:

Mancall, P. C., Shammas, C., eds. Governing the Sea in the Early Modern Era: Essays in Honour of Robert C. Ritchie (San Marono: Huntington Library, 2015).

As the title implies, this is a festschrift for an eminent academic on his retirement (I think). You might not have heard of him (I had not) but some of the essays celebrating his work are of interest, even to the most unhistorical of historical wargamer.

The book is divided into four parts: fisheries, piracy, interpolators and smugglers, and slaves. Each contains something of interest to the wargamer, although there is something of an inevitable North American bias to some of the work.

The section on Fisheries contains two essays. The first is a more historical account of medieval fishing, exhaustion of fish stocks in local waters, particularly as improving storage techniques and roads opened up markets further from the coast thus increasing demand. There were inevitable clashes between fishing fleets in increasing tension between nations over the resources of the sea. As stocks depleted, fishermen ranged further looking for catches, and eventually pitched up off Newfoundland catching from an apparently inexhaustible supply of cod, having already destroyed the apparently inexhaustible supply of herring in the North Sea. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is. The author Richard Hoffman notes that the current crisis in the seas has medieval roots and that so long as the sea is regarded as infinite and of open access, no restraint is going to be used by fishing nations as it is on inland waters.

The second essay chronicles the oddities of Newfoundland, particularly after the 1713 treaty of Utrecht, whereby the French were permitted to fish and land temporarily on Newfoundland, but not to settle, while the British were allowed to do all of the above. Inevitably conflict arose, and the situation was not regularised until surprisingly recently, I think into the Twentieth Century.

Section two, about Pirates, is an interesting set of three essays. The first discusses the problems of pirates in Ireland in the early Seventeenth Century, focussing on the port of Baltimore in Munster which was destroyed by a pirate attack in 1631. The links of this small port across the Atlantic World are explored. It is noted that the captives were largely sold in Algiers, for example, and that the pirates were a motley crew lead by a Dutch renegade and a mixed European and North African crew. The argument is that smuggling and piracy drove colonial expansion in the English maritime world, supplying goods which could otherwise not be obtained through legal channels, either through cost (customs and excise duties) or through scarcity. The administration was unable to police all the ports, and quite a few of the officials were involved in the smuggling anyway. When examined, the black and white of the smuggling turns grey.

The more widely known sorts of piracy that in the Caribbean is considered in the next two essays. The first treats Woods Rogers, governor of the Bahamas and his efforts in the ‘war against the pirates’. The second considers what made a pirate a pirate, as opposed to a buccaneer or a privateer. The answer is, of course, that a lot of it is in the eye of the beholder, and that piracy became piracy when the nations needed to improve trade and impose peace on colonial accessions. Another argument deployed here is that pirates needed safe places for ports and to retire to, and that the articles of piracy which crews signed up to were often forced upon them (sign or swim) and were, in fact, directed at the legal land authorities so the captains could claim their crews were not coerced (and therefore could not desert without facing due penalty). The land and sea worlds here go in tandem; you cannot separate them. It is also noted that our view of pirates is not historical reality, but is more mediated by Treasure Island, particularly the film versions.

The third section deals with interloping and smuggling. The first essay is a clear exposition of the Ambon massacre in 1623, while the English and Dutch were clashing over the spice trade in the Far East. From the English point of view, this poisoned Anglo-Dutch relations for a generation or so, although the Dutch were not particularly bothered by it. It was, of course, a clash (humiliating for the English) between the English East India Company and Dutch equivalent. This was, of course, complicated by European politics. The fact that the English lost meant that the EIC turned west and invested in India, with the consequences of the next few centuries that we are still living with.

The next essay discusses the difficulties of British traders in South America in the Eighteenth Century, when they were allowed to trade there but under suspicion, and the next with the enforcement (or not) of the 1696 Navigation Act in the North American colonies. Essentially, no one was prepared to stop smuggling and the crown did not give the resources to make people do so.

The final part discusses the slave trade. The first essay observes the links between the Portuguese and Spanish maritime empires during the union of the crowns (1580 – 1640). While the empires were supposed to be kept separately, they clearly were not and Portuguese landed up in the Caribbean, with slaves that had obtained in India or Mozambique. As ever, the world turns out to be more complicated than our simple categories allow. Finally, the art of the abolitionists (and pro-slavery campaigners) is discussed, outlining how the cartoons and paintings captured the violence of slavery and the savage life from which the new slaves had been ‘rescued’.

While there is not a great deal of directly relevant wargaming information here, there is a lot for someone who might be interested in an En Garde! or Flashing Blades roleplaying campaign, and there is a fair bit for consideration for a thoughtful wargamer with an eye to what might have been. As I said, the essays are a delight to read and there is little repetition between them, which is often a curse of such festschrifts.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Clutter and Encoding

It is probably just me, but I have noticed, looking around blogs and at a few wargame tables at the show I go to, that wargame tables seem to be developing a more cluttered aspect that I find helpful. I do not mean just the odd coffee cup of some dice (guilty on both counts, from time to time) but a whole load of various markers, pointers and other items aimed at keeping track of the progress of the game.

While keeping track of the activities and status of the armies and units is undoubtedly a good thing, the plethora of markers seems to me to detract from the aesthetics of the game, and it is the aesthetics which, to me at least, is an important part of any wargame. It is, I think, George Gush in his Airfix guide to the English Civil War who observes that an ECW wargame army looks like an army in a contemporary print, and surely that is a good thing. And I agree.

I really do not want to create a storm here (and doing so is fairly unlikely, given the readership of the blog), but does plonking down cards, unit names, casualty caps, large arrows indicating direction of march and so on really enhance our games? Perhaps they are regarded as being vital, important for enjoying the game, but is not the look of the thing just as important?

You might very well object that the idea is a fine thing, but practically there have to be such counters and markers because they are part of the game. I will happily concede that some sort of status symbols are required (and I do not just mean nicely painted figures) but do they have to be so invasive?

Upon thinking about it a little, and trying to get my poor addled brain into gear in the New Year, we do encode an awful lot of information on a wargames table. There are the toys, of course. These encode unit type, facing and location on the battlefield. The terrain itself encodes a load of information about objectives, cover, obstacles and so on. But clearly there is another layer of information which is not so simply encoded, such as status, casualties, orders and so on. Perhaps, too, there is another layer of unit identity, morals and so on.

It is this latter group of information that often creeps onto the battlefield via what I am generally calling ‘clutter’. I do not mean to be derogatory in that word. I mean ‘stuff to help the wargame which is not the wargame’, that is information that needs encoding but could be regarded as being intrusive. Writing ‘clutter’ is easier.

There are various ways of handling such clutter. As I have mentioned, casualty caps can record the strength of the units, arrows their direction of march. I also see that the idea of knocking figures over has made a comeback. Many years ago this was frowned upon as being childish (i.e. what we did with our Airfix figures but have grown out of now) and also potentially damaging to the hard work we put in to painting the figures in the first place. It is not for me to criticise, and I am sure those who do this do it gently, but it does not, to me, add to the aesthetic experience, nor does it really reflect how casualties were really inflicted on the battlefield (most casualties before the rifle were, I believe, inflicted during the pursuit phase). But it is still a means of encoding information on the wargame table.

Another means of handling clutter is to do it off the table. Rosters of casualties for each unit are kept. I used to do this when using WRG and Tercio rules, removing one figure for every twenty men tallied against the casualty list. This, of course, had the appearance of accuracy, but still suffered from the fact noted above, that most casualties were not inflicted until one side ran away. It did keep the clutter at bay, admittedly, but at some cost in bureaucracy. Until fairly recently I went down this path with the tempo points rolls in a Polemos game, and it rather annoyed me, as well as being a bit difficult to pick up the exact finish point when the game resumed the next day.

I am not claiming to have solved the problem, but I do think a little additional thought can conceal the clutter in a bit more aesthetically pleasing and less paper-intensive way. You might have noticed that I have started to use a big gun in my renaissance games to indicate who possesses the tempo. During the turn I have some officers, mounted in triangular bases (known as Single Mounted Officers or SMOs) which are placed next to each general to indicate their pool of available tempo points. This only works, I suppose, because I play solo, but I dare say inventive face to face players could find a viable alternative. These SMOs also double as order markers, the point of the triangle indicating the direction of march and the placing of the SMO relative to the base indicating the orders to the base or group.

Casualties have caused me to pause, and a bit more pain. As I have mentioned, I am not that happy about using casualty bases for shaken markers, although it works and it both aesthetic and. I suppose, accurate. But I have replaced them with plain markers, firstly, because it means I do not have to paint as many soldiers ( a good thing in my book) secondly, because I cannot find (or Baccus have not got around to producing) appropriate markers for every army I have, and thirdly because, in the Polemos rules, two different sorts of shaken are required, which I can differentiate with two colours of markers. I suppose if I were really sophisticated, I could paint each side of a marker in a different colour. I also have ‘recoil’ markers, to keep track of who has just lost a round of combat.

All of this has two effects. Firstly, it preserves the wargame table from bits of paper and plastic which are not directly wargame related, and secondly, it encodes a lot of information into the battlefield, which means that I only really need to look at the table and then I will know the situation when I come to pick the action up at a later date. I am not saying I have solved all the problems, nor that everyone should do as I do (perish the thought; the world would be very boring) but I do think that a little more effort and imagination could preserve the aesthetic integrity of a wargame a bit better than some games do at present.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Pure Self-Indulgence

‘But Izzy, dear, be reasonable.’

‘Don’t you patronise me, you pusillanimous poltroon.’

‘But the strategic situation does not permit the castle to be relieved. It is not part of the plan. We proceed step by step, as we agreed. First, we do the near places, and then we hit the more distant ones when they are nearer. Castillo Al-Hambra is not part of that, not until at least two years hence.’

‘So, you are telling me that you refuse to go to the aid of these brave Christian soldiers who have risked their lives to take the place?’

‘Well, not refuse, Izzy. Obviously, they have done fabulously well and, when they return, I shall reward them handsomely. But we have to keep an eye on the plan, you see. Otherwise, chaos can ensue.’

‘I see. Tell me, then, O strategic oracle, whether Castillo Al-Hambra is on a strategic route between Granada and Malaga.’

‘Of course it is.’

‘And if we hold it, do we have a foot on the throat of the Nasrid kingdom?’

‘Yes, it would be a splendid coup; we would practically split the kingdom in two.

‘I see. Now, are you the commander of the army?’

‘Of course I am Izzy. And I am very proud of it. You know that. As fine a body of men as I could hope for.’

‘Good. And is the army mustered?’

‘Yes, we are fully operational. You got the report from the council, I believe.’

‘I did, Ferdie, yes. Is the army in supply?’

‘Yes, the magazines are full.’

‘Excellent. And is the money on hand to pay the troops and for the supplies?’

‘Well, you look after most of that, my, um, Isabel, my Queen. But I believe that we have sufficient funds.’

‘Finally, then, Ferdie, King and army commander, have you taken the Cross with the aim of kicking the infidels out of Spain, and have you received the Papal blessing so to do?’

‘Yes. And yes. But Izzy, where is this going? You know all this stuff.’

‘I’m just checking my poor womanly understanding, Ferdie. Tell me, please…’

‘What, my dear?’

‘Why the Hell are you still sitting here and not marching on Castillo Al-Hambra?’

‘Well, I have tried to explain, my dear….’ Ferdinand noticed that her foot was tapping on the floor. ‘I mean the plan….’

‘Ferdinand, King and army commander, if you are still standing there in five minutes time and not marching to the relief of Castillo Al-Hambra, there will be trouble. You will not be admitted to my bedchamber until you have retaken it.’

‘But what about the plan! That would be two years away…’

‘Furthermore, I have consulted with your mistresses and the other ladies of the court, and we will permit neither you, nor your commanders, access to our bodies until Al-Hambra is relieved and held.’

‘Izzy, in Lysistrata the women withhold sex until peace comes.’

‘I know. The women of Spain are doing it the other way around. Get on your horse and march. Come back a hero or dead, on your shield or holding it.’

‘But the shields are a bit small for that, Izzy. I mean, they are heart shaped, not hoplons.’

‘Get on with it.’

There was a pause. ‘Why are you still here?’

‘Oh. I’m just thinking about the orders and stuff. There is a lot to do. It will take a few days, you know, Izzy. We have to assemble the troops and the supplies, appoint captains, determine the march route, send out scouts. It all takes time.’

‘I know Ferdie. It is all a bit much. I have tried to help, you know.’

‘I know, sweetheart. But there are some things that women cannot get their heads around. We should be able to set off next week; maybe the one after.’

‘Well, Ferdie, my poor overheated brain has struggled with this, but let me tell you what I have managed.’

‘Go on, my dear.’

‘The scouts went out yesterday. The vanguard left at dawn. If you ride in the next hour you should be able to catch them before they cross the frontier. The main body leaves after the heat of the day has gone; the rearward tomorrow at dawn. I know you would want to travel light, so instead of your fifteen carts of personal gear I have restricted you to two mules, the other senior officers likewise. Don’t worry: I have done your packing for you.’


‘Your horse is saddled and your groom waiting in the courtyard. Your bodyguard is mounted and under strict orders not to permit any dalliance along the way.’


‘They will remove any part of your anatomy that causes you to delay as you ride.’

‘I am the army commander, you know.’

‘I know you are dear and don’t worry. All the orders went out under your name, with your seal upon them, as usual.’

‘But, how could that be. I’ve had my seal with me at all times.’

‘Of course you have, dear. But you were a little tired the night before last. I knew that you would want to get into action as soon as possible and save the garrison of Al-Hambra with all due alacrity, so I anticipated your wishes. Naturally, if you object to my activities you may, as army commander of the joint forces of Castile and Aragon countermand them, but then I, as Queen of Castile, will be forced to order the Castilian forces into the field to rescue their comrades from the place.’

‘I thought we had agreed that the army would be a joint venture.’

‘We did, and I should hate for you to break that agreement, my dear. So it would be better if now you would run along and relieve Castillo Al-Hambra. I promise I shall be terribly grateful when you have succeeded.’

‘Terribly grateful?’

‘Really, really grateful. As only a Queen can be for her returning hero.’

‘Oh. Well, I suppose I had better set out.’

‘Have a nice trip, dear.’

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Retrospect and Prospect

Many blogs and bloggers run posts around this time of year describing past achievements and discussing future projects. It is something I have never really done, so I thought I would make an exception this year, just because, well, I can.

Looking back over the past year’s posts I discover that this has been something of a bumper gaming year for me, with, so far as I can tell, fourteen wargames played. That may not be many by most people’s counts for the year, but it is a large number for me. In 2018, so far as I can tell, there were four wargames played. That is an increase of about 350%. Impressed?

The rebasing project has proceeded apace, however, with now most of my old figures proudly boasting plastic card mounts and their own stands roughly concealed by filler, chinchilla dust, glue and paint. I have tried but failed, to recall what I have rebased this year, but it includes Samurai, Aztecs, Italian Wars, and the Inca, Wars of Spanish Succession and Great Northern War armies. That amounts to a fair horde of bases.

On the painting front, I have finished, of course, the castle, and painted the early-modern Irish, alongside a few bits of Scots for the Armada Abbeys campaign. As I keep moaning about, my painting is slow and bad (but I am too proud (or skint) to get someone to paint the figures for me). Still, it is nice to see a little progress from time to time.

In terms of the campaigns, the Armada Abbeys continues, with the Scots poised to assault Northallerton, the Spanish having suffered a couple of setbacks at Croft Bridge and Mount Grace. Nothing decisive, so far, but you never know. So far as the ancients go Alexander IV is still partying on Ibiza, wondering if his reinforcements will arrive before Daddy’s empire collapses. A few other pointers to campaigns have been strewn around, such as the Khmer and Vietnamese, an Aztec campaign without Conquistadors, the Portuguese in the Persian Gulf and, I dare say, a few other things that have occurred to me perhaps caused a wargame and then been left.

Reading has been quite wide this year. Theoretical historiography has figured with post-colonial history as applied to wargaming being, perhaps to the fore. I realise that for most people that might simply leave them cold, or at best give rise to a puzzled ‘huh?’ Fair enough, and I am not going to argue with anyone who says ‘Stop worrying and put the figures on the table.’ However, I do think that there are some grounds for challenging the ‘normal’ approach to historical wargaming, especially as applied to the historical part of that expression. The normal narrative of the conquest of Central America is one such, as I have tried to hint.

Another issue which has been a theme in my reading recently is what could be known as the rise of Spain. As someone who started off as a Seventeenth-Century wargamer, Spain was the superpower, the global hegemon (at least as far as any power could claim to be such). Until at least mid-to-late century everyone was worried about Spanish domination and, basically, fighting them. One of the themes of the blog this year seems to have been the rise of Spain, that is the era of the end of the Reconquista and the unification of the country under the Catholic Monarchy, that of Ferdinand and Isabella. With the exception of the early Italian Wars which have occasional wargaming traction, this does seem to be an under-explored subject in wargaming, possibly because there were few, if any, pitched battles, the war being one of raids and sieges.

Looking ahead, I do have a few bits in the pipeline, of course. A return to sea warfare is on the cards, when I get around to it, both in the early modern era and ancients. For the Reconquista period, I really should get around to rebasing my renaissance galleys, such as are left after years of neglect. After all, one of the defining issues was the blockade of the southern coast by the Aragonese navy, which blocked supplies and reinforcements arriving from North Africa. For the ancients, a fleet action is on the cards (planned, but not tabled) to relieve Alexander IV, as noted above.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the unpainted lead pile is growing again. Currently, I am working my way through a pile of siege equipment and some other scenic bits and pieces. These are, of course, aimed at the Reconquista which is becoming a bit of a theme (or bee in the bonnet). I also have acquired some Baccus Wars of the Roses hand-gunners, crossbowmen and spearmen for the same purpose. By my usual pace of painting, these should be ready around mid-August.

Further to those, I also have some more buildings, including from the Far East, hoping to kick start getting the Samurai onto the table, and a couple more towers for the castle. The main additions to the painting mound are Baccus ECW Irish, some extra Scots musketeers, Scots horse and cuirassiers. These are to fill in gaps in my current provision, of course, not to start anything new. It does not sound all that much, but I do not expect to get these through my system until the end of the year.

You will notice that I managed to avoid the Wars of the Sun King and, in particular, obtaining anything to do with the British brigade in the Hispano-Portuguese war. This is entirely deliberate as I am not sure I could cope with the quantity of painting. I do, however, have some GNW / WSS armies to finish or start – the Danes need an extra base of infantry, the Anglo-Dutch have been undercoated for about fifteen years and the Bavarians and Poles are unstarted. I also have, of course, a pile of ancients I could paint; in fact, a need for officers is becoming slightly pressing.

As for my future reading, your guess is as good as mine. On the shelf I have some books about the ancient economy, triremes, Ranters, and the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. Awaiting a write up here is a book about the early-modern sea, a paper about the Reconquista, another about warfare in Morocco in the Fifteenth Century and probably a number of other things I have temporarily forgotten.

I realise that much of the above is not to everyone’s taste. Wargaming is a hobby, as is amateur history, and I do not want to take it all too seriously. On the other hand, I do feel that historical wargaming runs a risk of being stuck in a historiographical rut, recycling the same narrative of historical events to run, effectively, the same battles. I am not going to change that single-handedly, I know, but I will continue to throw my penny in here.