Saturday, 6 January 2018

The (First) Battle of Whitby

‘twas the night before Christmas,
And all over the house,
Nothing was stirring,
Not even a mouse.

Except for a wargamer and a few figures, of course.

With the estimable Mrs P. rushing around large parts of rural England like a mad thing, the scene was set for that rarest of all things in these parts, a full blown wargame. I realised, a few days before, that my role and function as ‘he who keeps the home fires burning’ entailed myself being in the large room stoking the aforementioned home fire.

This activity usually precludes pushing any metal around on a table. But astute readers will have noted, earlier in the year, the acquisition of a card table, for the purpose of playing wargames. Now the neat thing about card tables is that they, by design, fold up and are moveable. They also do not take up that much in the way of footprint when unfolded and set up (deployed, in this case, perhaps).

My slow and rather addled brain (it is the time of year, honest) eventually managed to place two things together, and a plan was hatched to move the card table into the big room, thus enabling both the continuation of the home fire and opening the possibility of a wargame.

Now, some of you may recall that I have, for some time, been rebasing figures (and painting some as well) and writing rules for an Elizabethan period wargame, based around the question ‘what could have happened if the Armada had landed?’ Not feeling quite up to the normal suspension of disbelief that a full blown Armada landing in, say, Kent would entail, including the intervention of Alien Space Bats to remove the English and Dutch navies from the frame , I have gone for a rather smaller frame which does have the advantage of being, perhaps, a little more believable.

Of course, if the Armada had landed, we would be discussing very different scenarios, and a set of counterfactuals along the lines of ‘what if the Armada had not landed?’ This would have entailed the pondering of the English succession of Elizabeth had remained on the throne and whether that Shakespeare chap could have written any decent secular plays, given his employment as a propagandist for the Catholic Church. A discussion of the role of alien space bats in removing the English navy would have also been necessary.

As yet, the wargame has to be fought. I do have, however, all the figures, ships, buildings, markers and rules that I think I need. Indeed, a major industry recently chez Polemarch has been the manufacture of markers. I am a fan of markers. I like all the information required for the wargame to be on the table. I rather dislike having to keep tallies lists off table. Aside from anything else off table frequently seems to become on table, and scratty bits of paper become terrain features.

It turns out that I am even more pedantic than that. Not only do I dislike keeping rosters and other things on paper, I also dislike the recording of unit status and orders with bits of plastic markers, counters, casualty caps and other such items. A marker, it seems to me, should fit with the game. Sticking a plastic hat on a lovingly painted figure (or even one of mine) seems to me an aesthetic disaster, albeit a rather popular one.

My rules are, of course, based on the Polemos camps, although as yet they are inchoate and but a few scrawls on paper. Nevertheless, Polemos does require a certain quantity of book keeping. This is true even though I have attempted to simplify things, as I have removed training classes, which yields fewer combat factors and also any requirement for colour coding bases to tell us if they are raw, trained or whatever. However, tempo, orders, recoils, shaken and disruption due to terrain markers are all required. Thus the recent industry in producing markers of all sorts, the final set, a couple of tempo markers, have just been stuck to their bases.

For PM: SPQR (and, for that matter, PM: Age of Alexander) I have shaken markers consisting of a half width base with a casualty figure placed upon it. This is all right for Ancients, I think, but it does feel a little ghoulish. Thus I have made simple plain green painted markers. The recoil markers are half the width of the shaken ones; in the Wars of the Counter Reformation rules two recoils give one shaken result, so the recoils need recording and a certain amount of accounting needs to be done. The half-half width of the recoil markers gives a clue, at least.  After some comments about how combat shaken and terrain shaken are conceptually different things (I agree), I now have disruption markers for the latter, which are shaken markers but painted brown. I did not manage to work out what sort of terrain item I could place on them like a casualty figure, so I simply went for a different colour.

I discovered when rebasing the figures that I had a large quantity of single mounted officers and small infantry command groups. These are now the tempo points and orders markers. When the side rolls for its tempo points, a group of these are placed by the general’s base as a visual sign of the number of tempo points available. They are mounted on small triangular bases (actually a base width square, cut diagonally) and can then be moved directly to indicate to orders assigned to a particular base or group of bases, the point indicating, where appropriate, the direction of march.

Finally, after a play test, I decided I needed a marker to indicate which side holds the tempo. This matters as, in case of a bidding draw, the side which currently holds the tempo retains it. Previously, I had had to write it down, along with the tempo points, bids and remainder.  As I mentioned, I have just completed the tempo markers, in this case some nice, big cannon.

I now think that I have markers sufficient to contain all the information required to pick up and put down the wargame as necessary. This might not, of course, work quite as well for a face to face game when some information, like the number of tempo points to spend, might be required to be kept secret. However, for me, I think it works, and does not disrupt the aesthetics of the game too much. I shall find out in a day or two.


  1. I think that you are right about the ideal of getting the garish markers off the table. With that in mind, I have done some casualty markers for SPQR and am about to start doing some for the ECW. The use of markers for terrain disruption is an excellent idea, which I intend to steal.

    I always thought one of the good things about the DBx rules was the lack of markers and record keeping.

    1. Yes, the lack of accounting is a good thing. I do have a problem with the way I use PM solo because I write down the tempo points and bids. Thus the officers on triangular bases to account for this.