Saturday 2 December 2023

Back to Italy

I am not sure why, but the Italian Wars seem to be a bit like an addictive drug. No sooner had I decided that the Machiavelli campaign was more or less deadlocked than I started to read a book about Siena.

Stevenson, J., Siena: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval City, 2023 (Head of Zeus, London)

To be fair, this book, which was a rather late birthday present, was bought for me by the Estimable Mrs P. on the strict understanding that it was not a book about wargaming, military history, battles, or campaigns. And, indeed, it is not. Siena, after all, was a more regional power in Italy, overshadowed from the 13th Century or so by Florence. There are a few interesting military incidents described, such as the Battle of Porta Camollia (1526) where the Sienese, besieged by a joint Florentine and Papal army with cannon that were destroying the unreinforced medieval walls, simply sallied out and captured them, thus securing the city until the 1550s when the big boys got involved for an 18-month horrific siege.

Anyway, the book has a lot of art history in it and so it does fit the brief about having little military about it. But, well, you know what wargamer’s minds are like, as does the Estimable Mrs P. When she inquired what the next wargame was and I replied ‘Italian Wars’ she sort of sighted and asked ‘Siena?’ I could not deny it.

Anyway, this is an idea that has been brewing for a while. Astute readers with long memories might recall a campaign with Aztecs where the idea was to take over the whole of the Valley of Mexico, fighting DBA battles along the way. This is very similar but set in the Italy of 1500 or so. The random elements are much the same, except I have added a chance of assassination. After all, you never know when you are going to be invited to supper with the Borgias.

So, Siena in 1500 faced the world alone and was desperate for some friends, whether real or coerced. This being a wargame campaign, of course, the latter was the preferred option, so long as I won. Not everything wished for, however, comes about. Still, my first move (as there were no random events) was on the port of Piombino which submitted and joined the greater Sienese co-prosperity zone. My personal reputation soared to a heady 8.

The next turn, 1501 saw a random event, however, and that event was that a random vassal city revolted. At least I did not have to spend much time wondering which of my possessions had the temerity to reject my gentle rule. Piombino, obviously the victim of deluded factions and outside forces, rebelled.

A few more dice rolls established the facts. The army of Piombino, augmented by some skirmishing crossbowmen from an unnamed ally, was going to fight. This gave them 16 bases to my 12; the Aztec game had established that outnumbering the solo player made the game more equitable. The terrain rolling made things a bit worse for me (I’m getting my excuses in first, you understand) with the rebels defending a stream.

The rebel centre was held by their light troops, with crossbows and shot on either wing. Their left had their mounted crossbowmen and half their gendarmes. My plan was to attack gently on my right and smash their centre with my sword and buckler-armed troops. This, well, sort of worked.

On my right, the mounted crossbowmen clashed, but that allowed my gendarmes to sneak up on their troops and amble into them at a trot, routing them (snigger). It did, however, leave my gendarmes exposed to a charge by the rebel heavies, and a tempo drought meant I was very concerned for their welfare for a few turns. As shown I managed to infiltrate some mounted crossbows between my gallant men and the scurvy rebel rabble.

In the centre my brave troops were crossing the stream and, even though disordered, were sticking it the skirmishers there and routing them, only slightly disturbed by incoming rebel fire from the flanks (which in fact did for one of my crossbow bases). On the far side (my left) however, my lack of tempo allowed my gendarmes to stray too close to the stream and they got advanced into by the rebel sword and buckler men and driven back. Eventually, these gendarmes would break.

Eventually, it went a bit pear-shaped for both sides. The rebel gendarmes on my right charged but hit the mounted crossbowmen. They routed them, but then cantered on into my waiting gendarmes and were recoiled. As they had the general with them, he had to roll for survival – anything but a six. Oh, well, another dead general. My gendarmes, following up, put both bases to flight. You can just see, by the way, an ambush of even more enemy skirmishers who have just jumped out of the rough ground in the far right corner.

On the other wing, my own gendarmes have been put to flight, causing a morale test which my army failed, going into withdraw mode. As my gendarmes were still in combat, however, I permitted them to finish routing the rebels before disengaging. The rebel army also failed it morale test, withdrawing.

In spite of the carnage, then, I can claim a tactical draw. However, as these pesky rebels were exactly pesky rebels, and my army, three bases down, is a bit small to retake Piombino, it has to count as a strategic defeat. My personal rating has dropped by four points, two for the defeat and two for the city rebelling and not being brought to heel.

All this was, as you will recall, from a random event. I still have to take my own move in 1501. With a much-weakened army, I am not sure what, exactly I can do and, unless I am really lucky with my dice rolling and card drawing, I cannot really see much success in bullying others into submission given my paltry personal rating.

When the Sienese were defeated, sold to Florence, and subjected to a controlling citadel they turned to culture to express their independence. Perhaps I should take up painting instead of aggrandisement in Italy.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Roman Forts

I picked up out of casual interest, of course, an interesting paper last week. As the title suggests it is about Roman fortifications, this time in what is now Syria, Turkey, and northern Iraq.

Casana, J., Goodman, D., Ferwerda, C., ‘A wall or a road? A remote sensing-based investigation of fortifications on Rome's eastern frontier.’ Antiquity, 2023, 1-18.

The reference is a bit incomplete above, but the link should take you there. The paper is released under a common creative licence, so it is free (unlike a lot of academic journal stuff).

The paper, as the title suggests, is about finding a lot of Roman forts on the Empire’s eastern frontier. Or rather, to me, it undermines the idea of there being an eastern frontier in the first place. In the 1920s Jesuit French priest Father Antoine Poidebard conducted a series of ariel surveys over the region and detected a line of forts which he took to be along the military road set out under Diocletian. This, then, was Rome’s eastern frontier, erected to defend the Empire from the Persians and also from nomadic tribes.

Poidebard detected 116 fort structures, of various sizes from towers through small forts to larger ones of 100 meters square or more. The paper reports the results of a survey of the same region using declassified satellite imagery from the 1960s and 1970s, and they found a large number (396) of additional fortifications in the region. They also failed to find some of the originals, and suggest that increased agriculture and urban development have removed them from the archaeological record.

The structures, however, are not distributed along the frontier, but form a roughly east-west line along the desert margins, connecting Mosul on the Tigris River in the east to Aleppo in western Syria. This does not seem to be a defensive fortification system, nor one to protect a road. The authors hypothesise that the structures, while fortified, were, in fact, to provide secure resting places for merchants, messengers and military personnel travelling from east to west (and vice versa).

The paper suggests that the original survey suffered somewhat from bias, in that Poidebard hypothesised where the frontier road was and surveyed that bit, his results confirming the hypothesis. This is not to denigrate his achievement, of course, his was a pioneering study and ariel archaeology did not really get going in a methodical way until after World War Two. Nevertheless, the recent findings do suggest that a re-think of Roman frontiers might be needed. Such rethinks are not uncommon, of course. The nature and purpose of Hadrian’s Wall, for one, have been a matter of some puzzlement for decades. It does not seem to be a purely military installation either, but exactly what it was remains a little disputed. Similarly, I believe that Roman forts in Germany have been discovered far further east than it was thought the Romans ever penetrated. This too is a puzzle.

The authors suggest that the larger forts, at least, were constructed in the Third Century AD. Some of them, of course, were reused in medieval times but digging on the sites is rendered impossible for geopolitical reasons. Therefore good solid dating information is hard to come by, although the authors note that it is difficult at military sites anyway.

It seems possible that our picture of Roman frontiers, or at least some of them, have to change. The idea of legionaries looking out from behind walls at the unknown barbarian wasteland ahead of them, nervously fingering their pila, is clearly incorrect. I suspect that has been known for some time, but it is still the sort of trope we are fed by some parts of the media.

Instead, we have to consider the possibility that neither the Romans nor their neighbours really thought in terms of borders as we do. The frontier was, necessarily, porous. Merchants, at least, needed to cross them to bring luxury goods that the Empire did not produce, and export other things. Diplomats, similarly, needed to cross the frontier and all of these groups also needed places to stay along the way. In Britain the Romans erected mansios along the way, and these were sometimes accompanied by fortifications. Perhaps in Syria, where the population on the desert limit was low and water was in short supply, the staging posts were smaller and more concentrated in a fortified location.

Recent work, apparently, suggests that Roman forts were places of cultural exchange rather than confrontation. The authors suggest that these fortifications were places for travellers to rest, water themselves and their horses or camels, eat, and sleep. While they would have enabled the faster movement of troops to disputed zones within or beyond the fortified zone, their main function seems to have been to enable trade and communication between the Roman Empire and Persia.

As wargamers, of course, this is a bit frustrating. We like our ideas of legionaries marching out to pay the barbarians a lesson, be that in Syria, Germany, or Britain. The evidence, however, does not tend to support the view that cultural encounters were necessarily violent ones. While the military had a presence, they were, perhaps, more there as a sort of civil police rather than to impose the will of Rome on the locality. Unlike wargamers, the Romans were perhaps interested in trade rather than confrontation.

That does not mean that the Romans were unwilling to resort to force, of course. It does suggest that on the frontier there was less of a threat most of the time. It was only when tensions rose, locally or between the Empire and, say, Persia, that these installations became militarily useful, and they would have then secured the lines of communication for any army sent to and beyond the end of the road (as it were).

It is always possible, of course, that more discoveries will undermine even this theory. On the other hand, we do think that Magi from the East managed to arrive in Bethlehem reasonably quickly (within a year or two) from somewhere near Babylon. That does not suggest a heavily fortified and controlled frontier, even though it would make a better wargame.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Curlew Hills

‘Donal, Donal, wake up.’

‘What is the matter Dougal? It is still dark.’

‘I’m worried Donal.’

‘What about this time?’

‘Well, like, we fought a battle against the English right?’

‘Yes, and we captured Limerick.’

‘But then the Spanish who did the fighting went home.’

‘Can’t blame them for that, Dougal. The weather’s better in Spain.’

‘Yes, but now the English are advancing on Limerick.’

‘Well, we’re going to stop them, Dougal.’

‘But how. The Spanish took all their pointy sticks and bang sticks away with them’

‘Their pike and arquebuses, you mean. Yes, they did. But Dougal, we are going to fight the English the old way, by jumping out at them from bogs and woods. The old way, Dougal. The one you prefer, remember?’

‘Well, yes, Donal. But I’d prefer to be jumping out at them with bang-sticks rather than javelins.’


Those of you with very long memories might recall a sub-plot to the Armada Abbeys campaign which featured two cousins, Donal and Dougal, and an errant ship from the Armada unexpected beating the English in battle. If you are really bored, you can catch up using the Armada Abbeys Campaign link on the right.

Be that as it may, I was looking for a game to test out some more reconnaissance and ambush-type rules, and thought the Irish-English clashes might be interesting in this context. A quick look at Wesencraft’s With Pike and Musket refreshed my memory and I set on something that was akin to the Action in the Curlieu Hills from that book, slightly adjusted.

The aim of the English was to transport a siege gun across the board, while that of the Irish was to prevent that. The Spanish, having run out of wine, have sailed back to Spain, unwilling to drink Irish beer any longer. They also seem to have taken their arquebuses and pike with them, so our slightly hapless Irish pair are reverting to proper warfare.

Each side consisted of twelve bases. For the Irish, a spade was allocated for each base. Ace to 4 for the kern, 5-7 for bonnachts, 8-10 for gallowglass, and Jack and Queen for light cavalry. A king indicated two cards were drawn from the deck and troops were allocated according to their value, ignoring the suit.

The English were a standard army from my lists: 2 border horse, one demi-lancer, three shot, three pike, two bows and two polearms. They also had a siege gun to escort across the table, as noted.

For this sort of wargame, you need a fair bit of terrain. The original scenario had a variety of hills, bogs, and woods, and I sort of followed that and added bits as I could I landed up with a fair number of hiding places for the Irish although, not 52, so I was unsure if all of them would turn up.

The English would spot Irish hiding in terrain items at 3 base widths away, while those in open terrain, such as behind hills, would be spotted 6 base widths away.

The photograph shows the game a number of moves in. The English have deployed their border horse against some Irish light cavalry who jumped out from behind a hill (actually, a dip where the wood is) and also managed to deploy some infantry against some kern who were hiding behind the far right wood. As you can see the Irish horse has been driven back.

A few moves later things are starting to heat up. More Irish have appeared, but the English convoy is moving forward mostly unperturbed.

The Irish horse routing to the bottom right of the picture actually had a go at the siege gun but failed to make any impression, and have just been charged by the English demi-lancers who routed them with almost insulting ease. In the background you can see the English redcoats have driven back the kern – actually, they routed one base with which they managed to get into contact. On the left in the centre you can see the border horse; they are actually engaging a gallowglass base in the bog at the extreme left. Other Irish bases are converging on the pass, through which the English will have to move. Another couple of bases of English foot have been deployed against these, but the leading bonnacht base, together with the general, is beginning to appear to be a bit of a threat, especially as they are uphill of the convoy.

The crunch came when the bonnachts charged the lead English pike who had just deployed against them. Decent English tempo rolls meant that other foot and some borderers were lurking ominously. The Irish were, by this time, in a little difficulty, having lost two bases and had their morale slump to ‘waver’, which removes all the orders. Thus, only the bonnachts are moving under direct orders. Poor tempo rolling means that the rest of the Irish are admiring the bravery of their boys.

It nearly worked. The English pike, despite their initial support, were driven back, but the English had sufficient tempo to bring in the heavy mob and practically surround them, and their general, next bound. While the bonnachts fought bravely and nearly pulled off an astonishing victory, the odds wewre too great and they were recoiled. However, with bases in contact to the flank, that result became a lot worse and they routed, taking the general with them. At that point, Donal and Dougal called stumps. Although Irish morale was still OK-ish (withdraw), without a general there was little chance of coordinating any attacks at all.

It was a nice battle, and the mcguffin of the siege gun did its job. The English had to stick to it, and the Irish had to try to overrun it. A problem with these sorts of ambush games is that the attack is uncoordinated and the pressure on the defenders can be rather feeble, or at least not as intense as it could have been. On the other hand, the card system raises lots of questions in the mind of the solo wargamer and encourages the use of light troops for scouting places where the enemy might hide.

So, will Donal and Dougal survive? Will they make their peace with Queen Elizabeth or retreat back to their family home and pass their time eating roast chicken? Only time will tell...

Saturday 11 November 2023

The Scope of Wargame Ethics

Quite a long time ago I had a run of posts on the ethics of wargaming. I am not sure that I came to any useful conclusion, but the thought has returned to my head after a recent post on the Palouse Wargaming Journal. I do not wish to recount the content of the post (you can, and should, read it for yourself) but, in summary, it is about the Eastern Front in World War Two and whether, for example, a board wargame should incorporate elements of the Holocaust, diverting units to round up Jews, and other rear area activities like executing partisans, whole villages and anyone who got it the way.

The subsequent discussion is also interesting, and I will not try to summarise it here, either. In a sense there is no ethical question here: it is a matter of historical accuracy and whether we view the Wehrmacht as being ‘clean’ or not, that is, whether the German army was involved in the atrocities or ignorant of them, or simply decided that it was none of its business. That too is a historiographical minefield as, as the Cold War developed, interest grew in the means of German resistance to Soviet tactics, and some of the participants could get their memoirs out and also attempt to whitewash themselves and their army.

Even without these difficulties, which are real, and the problems that most accounts of the Eastern Front are from a German perspective, simply because the said Cold War denied Soviet archives to historians, there is a bit of a non-ethical (I think) scoping issue here, at least as far as wargaming goes. As a comment notes as wargamers were have the usual historian’s problem – what is to be included and what ignored. We cannot include everything; we are creating a model of a historical situation. Including everything would be recreating the original which is not something we really wish to do.

The scoping problem is then what do we include. At, say, a squad level this might not be too hard a problem. To the question of whether the average German soldier was a Nazi in 1941, 1942, or whenever, the answer is that in a skirmish-level game, the specific ideology of a given solider might not matter too much, except that they may be, I suppose, more or less motivated by the cause.

At the other end of the spectrum, a campaign covering the whole of the war, the syphoning off of units onto other duties might matter quite a lot, both in terms of numbers available at the front and also in terms of suppressing partisan activity and achieving the political goals of the highest levels of command. Whether this was palatable or not is not at issue here (it was not and is not) but whether it should be represented and, if so, how.

There are no simple answers, I suspect. Ignoring the rear areas problem (a nice euphemism for mass murder, I know) might mean that we are ignoring, or at the very least, downplaying the slaughter and mayhem the German invasion brought. On the other hand including these items could be glorifying the very same thing, which is also an unpalatable outcome.

To an extent, these issues are usually ruled offside by wargamers. We know they happened, and we believe them to have been very, very, wrong, but we do not want these facts to get in the way of a good game. There might also be some interest in trying to work out how these two deeply unpleasant regimes fought each other and why one of them won. There are tactical and strategic points of interest to be examined and assessed and, to do so we have to make some compromises and exclusions elsewhere.

The question arises, therefore, if we rule that the rear area murdering is out of scope, are we then really creating a historical wargame of the Eastern Front in World War Two? Are we not, in fact, queering the pitch even by calling it the ‘Eastern’ Front, given that that implies a German-centric point of view?

Again, the question returns to scoping and what we think we need to include and what to leave out in order to create a playable and believable game. There may also be the issue that we would rather not, as nice Western liberals of the Twenty-First Century, no engage in the mass murder, pillage, and rape that the armies engaged in. As I noted before all my wargame armies are well-behaved, pay cash upfront for their food and lodging, and never so much look at a local girl. I would like to wargame, not bog myself down in an ethical and historical quagmire.

Therefore, most wargamers would prefer, I suspect, to ignore the rear area mayhem. If any cognisance is taken of it, it is simply to reduce front-line strength by so many troops who were deployed to other duties (another nice euphemism, well done – ed). We simply rule such activities out of court, or at least out of our wargame.

One way of conceptualising ethical scope is to view it as a series of concentric circles. Innermost is ourselves and our nearest and dearest. Next are our broader families, neighbours, and communities. Then come other items of concern, such as nations, other people (those we do not know), those in far-flung places (relative to ourselves), and then other things such as animals, the environment, and such like. Part of the idea of considering our ethics and attitudes to to widen our ethical scope, to consider more of the items in the circles beyond the closest ones.

Possibly the original post and the questions it raises are related to this. As wargamers how far and how wide does our ethical scope go. We can retain a tight focus on the battle itself and ignore the political, social, and other ramifications of the conflict, or we can, perhaps over time, widen our ethical concerns for what these activities meant in the real world.

I am not sure there is a final answer to that. It might depend quite a lot on who we are and how we are engaging at the time. After all, as wargamers, we want wargames, not historiographical and ethical mazes to navigate.

Saturday 4 November 2023

The Bed Recapture

‘Good morning my dear.’

‘Now Ferdinand. Did you sleep well? You are up early for you.’

‘No. I was uncomfortable.’

‘Well, our bed is currently being transported back to Granada. I believe they are going to put it on display.’

‘On display? How dare they!’

‘Quite easily. They captured it from under your nose. Anyway, if you hurry you can intercept them at the Pass of Adutra.’

‘Ah, yes. I know that place. A very fine young lady came from there. She had a wonderful… um… singing voice. Yes, Voice. She was a base baritone.’

‘Remarkable indeed Ferdinand. I recall the young lady you mean. She could barely croak, but she did wear some low-cut dresses. I sent her away before she could catch pneumonia. Anyway, you should be able to lay an ambush for the Granadines at Adutra.’

‘I shall, I shall. They will ride straight into it.’

‘And then you can shut your trap, Ferdinand.’

‘No need to be like that, my dear. I’m trying my best.’


So, in order to get any marital action, Ferdinand needs to recapture his bed. Fortunately, Isabella has already discovered where the ox cart loaded with the bed is heading for, and is despatching Ferdinand to intercept it. Ferdinand still does not have his full heavy cavalry complement, but he does now outnumber the Granadans in jinites. He did not get his full army deployed last week, which I felt might have been a little unfair, so he gets to lie in wait for the bed-snaffling enemy this time.

The picture shows the situation after a few moves. Ferdinand, who does not really do subtlety, as you might have noticed, has his infantry astride the road and on the hills to each side, while the jinites are skirmishing forward to try to disrupt the enemy march column. His right-wing jinites are in combat and both sides have been a little disrupted. Still, the ox cart with its vital load is plodding along the road and should eventually turn up in Ferdinand’s hands.

A few moves later, and the Granada army is nearly deployed, while their left-wing jinites have forced the Castilians back a bit. On the other flank Ferdinand’s left has caused some damage to the remaining enemy lights, but their crossbowmen are now coming after them. Ferdinand is also starting to advance his infantry in the centre, concerned that his elements will be a bit far apart to support each other. The Granadine infantry is also pushing up, but they have suffered from insufficient tempo to get their heavier cavalry moving again.

The above picture shows the end of the game. The Granadine crossbowmen have forced Ferdiand’s left wing jinites back although they are still in action. However, this meant that those three bases of crossbowmen were not available to the centre. On the Granadine centre left you can see that a base of crossbows is forcing back (and has nearly broken) a base of Castilian shot. On the other hand, the Castilian foot, together with Ferdinand’s gendarmes have just destroyed the second base of Granadine spearmen. The first base can be seen routing in the centre of the picture. They have also accounted for the Granadine general. The ox cart is within reach of the Castilian foot now, as well. On the Castilian right the Granadine tempo drought has left the jinites lacking in orders and ability to reform, and one of the bases is looking a bit rocky.

At this point, however, due to losses, the Granadines were forced to make a morale check which they failed and got a withdraw result. Without a general to persuade them otherwise they withdrew, much to Ferdinand’s relief.

I think I am getting to grips with using the new ‘Castilian light’ army. Having exchanged to base of gendarmes for two of jinites they cannot just smash their way through their opponents as they used to. On the other hand, the light horse can cause considerable problems. In this scenario, the Granadines were forced to try to block the Castilian left-wing jinites from getting to the wagon by deploying three bases of crossbowmen, which meant that these were not available in the centre where their army was crushed. Ferdinand also managed to use his gendarmes and heavy infantry to good effect, administering the coup de grace with the former while the infantry backed them up – in fact, as the picture shows, the final Granadan spear base was practically surrounded when it was destroyed.

Perhaps the Granadines were always up against it in this scenario. They had to keep cohesion while seeing off a mobile enemy. On their left, they more or less succeeded, but not on their right, and they did not manage to get a coordinated defence by infantry and cavalry. A lack of tempo really did not help, granted, but they deployment from column into line also hampered things, as did a general lack of space.


‘Behold your conquering hero comes, Isabella.’

‘Oh, hello Ferdinand.’

‘Put the bed down lads. Carefully. Good. Now, dismiss!’

‘Ferdinand, why were you carried into the room by those poor soldiers?’

‘The Spartans were told to either return carrying their shields or carried on them, my dear. So I thought…’

‘So you returned carried on your bed, rather than carrying it?’

‘Rather a wheeze, don’t you think Issy?’

‘How far did they carry you?’

‘Oh, only from the waiting hall, my dear. I’m not that hard a taskmaster.’

‘Well, I suppose it is appropriate Ferdinand.’


‘You spend most of your time attempting to get young ladies into bed.’

‘I only have eyes for your loveliness, my dear. You know that.’

‘When you talk about this sort of thing, my dear, do you know how I know you are lying?’


‘Your lips are moving, my darling. Still, you did manage to recapture our bed, and so that is a good thing. Now, if you carry it into our chamber, we will investigate how much damage it has incurred during its journeys.’

Saturday 28 October 2023

The King's Bed

  ‘Ah, there you are Ferdinand.’

‘Oh. Isabella, my sweet. I wasn’t expecting you.’

‘So I understand. I have sent those young ladies home.’

‘Young ladies? What young ladies?’

‘The ones not wearing sufficient clothes who were waiting in the corridor for you to be free.’

‘Oh, those young ladies. Um. They are all excellent singers, my dear, its just that they find modern fashions rather restricting.’

‘As do you, Ferdinand. Anyway, you won’t need to worry about getting undressed unless you do something.’

‘Yes, dear. You have to undo all these knots that hold your trousers up. That can be quite time-consuming.’

‘No Ferdinand. That is not what I mean. I have news of great import to us.’

‘Oh? What news?’

‘Granada is poised to capture our bed.’

‘Our bed?’

‘The new one, that you enjoyed testing so much.’

‘How dare they!’

‘It was on an ox cart and I have a report from the escort that they have been forced to stop on a hill by a pursuing enemy force. You must go and relieve them, or no more bed.’

‘At once, my dear. I depart at once!’


Recently I was reading a little bit about the conquest of Peru. The Estimable Mrs P, having endured my confusion as to what was going on – there were about 17 years of civil war after the conquest, after all – suggested that a wargame involving the Reconquista might be interesting. She might have meant the conquistadors, but it reminded me about Ferdinand and Isabella and their quest to conquer Granada.

Anyway, a perusal of some resources came up with Scenario 4 in One Hour Wargames, in which an isolated force holds a hill and waits for reinforcements. The isolated force is one-third of the whole army, and the rest appears from a corner. Needing some sort of reason for an isolated force to be holding a hill, I decided that Ferdinand and Isabella’s new portable bed, for use on campaign, was in danger of being captured. This, as the above might have shown, motivated Ferdinand to saddle up and ride to the rescue.

Those of you with long memories will recall that Ferdinand's forces were downgraded by the loss of two bases of gendarmes, which were the main strike force as they tended to win battles on their own. He therefore has only one gendarme base and more jinites than he is used to. The advanced force, holding the hill and the bed, consists of two bases of shot and two jinites. They need to hold out until the rest of the army arrives.

The picture shows the initial position with the bed wagon in the centre, the holding force on a hill just to the right of it, and the might of the army of Granada on the far right. Ferdinand will arrive top left at the end of turn two.

The picture shows a few moves in. The Castilians on the hill are under pressure from the Granardan infantry and some jinites, while they are also being flanked both left and right. The arrival of Ferdinand means that the Granardan cavalry has been diverted from surrounding the hill to delaying Ferdinand’s advance.

A few moves later and it is nearly all over for the Castilians on the hill, the infantry attack having gone in, overrun them and captured the wagon with the King’s bed on it.

The wagon has been temporarily moved to permit the infantry to fight. In the background, Ferdinand has carefully lined his gendarmes up to charge the Granadine cavalry. They refused. Three times.

‘Why are we charging, sire?’

‘To rescue my bed!’

‘Your bed?’

‘Yes. Charge.’

‘Are we talking a bed, like a thing to sleep on?’

‘Yes, man. My bed, and the Queen’s bed.’

‘We are about to risk life and limb for your bed, sire?’

‘Well, that and Christendom.’

‘Oh, Christendom as well as your marital relations, sire?’

‘Um. Christendom first, man, of course. We are crusaders.’

Eventually, Ferdinand persuaded them to charge home and they did defeat the Granardian cavalry, but Ferdinand had spent his personal tempo on persuading them to do so for some time and the rest of the army was either un-deployed or defeated.

The photograph shows the end of the game. Ferdinand’s cavalry charge has taken him to the right-hand edge of the board, where they are being harassed by some jinites. The wagon, of course, should be on the other side of the hill. The rest of the Castilian army has still not deployed and their morale is a bit low. At this point, I, as Ferdinand, decided to use my second-best bed instead and withdraw.

I think that this scenario depends quite heavily on movement rates. For my rules, the hill could have done to have been a little further from the Granadan table edge. As it was the Castilians on the hill edged backwards as much as they could, but eventually were caught. Ferdinand did suffer from a bit of a tempo drought at times during the game, but his endless attempts to get the gendarmes to charge could have been better spent. I think I got the Granardan command right, for once. Their infantry was too powerful for the detachment on the hill and the jinites did their job quite nicely, better than their counterparts.


‘Ah, Ferdinand. How did you get on? Where is my bed?’

‘My dear, in warfare you cannot always achieve the results you desire.’

‘I see. Without the bed, you will not achieve the results you desire. You know that.’

‘We do have alternative beds, Isabella.’

‘If you think I am going to share a bed with you that creaks every time I turn over while living in a tent, you have another think coming. I don’t want the servants to know what we are up to.’

‘We do have some children, my dear. I dare say they know what we’ve been up to.’

‘You had better start working out how you are going to intercept the carriage of that bed before they get it back to Granada, or it will be no result for you, my friend.’

‘Yes, Isabella.’

Saturday 21 October 2023

A Reconnaissance

A short time ago I read in Lone Warrior an article by Jeff Subko, about reconnaissance operations in World War Two and their importance. It also included quite a lot of information about reconnaissance units and equipment in France in 1944-5 and provoked some thinking by yours truly.

I am rarely one to let a lack of suitable toys slow me down. If you abstract sufficiently, I think, more or less any situation can have its period changed, and so I started pondering. I also recalled some of the activities by the force before Naseby. In short, the Parliamentary scouts surprised a Royalist cavalry outpost in Naseby village. The latter were gambling and playing quoits; I am not sure if the two were linked. Some reports suggest that the Royalists were also having lunch.

All of this went together in my poor overstretched little mind and combined with some of the stuff I read about intelligence in Andrew’s book that I wrote about last week. As I was getting desperate to have a wargame and could not quite stomach starting another campaign, or reviving Machiavelli again, I sketched out a possible reconnaissance game. I vaguely remembered a report on a participation game from years ago, where the player was leading a squad sent to scout a farmhouse in 1944 Normandy where what they found was, in fact, randomly controlled and could be anything from nothing to a Panzer division, I needed a bit of a random method of creating what I found.

I will not bore you with the details here. It is really too much of a scribble. I might write it up more sensibly sometime. Basically, what was found in each terrain item, plus each square of the table, was controlled by playing cards. The encounters ranged from nothing to an enemy camp. There was a points system as well. Getting a message back to headquarters on what was found was 1 point, getting a prisoner or deserter back was 2 points, and losing a base in combat lost 3 points. The idea was to get out with a positive point balance.

The picture shows the initial terrain. Each terrain item was, potentially, the concealment place for an enemy force of some description. My side (the Royalists, for no better reason than that I picked a Royalist cavalry base first) enters by one of the two roads nearest the camera. The idea is to see what might be lurking in the rural scene above and get away without damage, as the points system suggests.

In order to do this I had four bases of dragoons and three of cavalry. The latter was conceived of as backup, to rescue the dragoon bases if they hit trouble. I suppose I could have deployed some scouts as well, but decided against it (or forgot). It probably would not have made much difference. The other thing to note is that I ran out of hedges and walls. I needed quite a lot of cover for troops to hide in, and that included along the roads, so every hedge and wall was deployed. I also have some more unpainted and un-based hedges. I might need to break them out.

Still, I cautiously moved some dragoons onto the table and sprang some enemy dragoons in the rough ground on the right, nearest the camera, as well as a scout on the road ahead of my troops. The dragoons opened fire (ineffectively) while the scout made off pursued by my brave men. After a turn or two they did, in fact, catch him and he was sent up the line to be questioned.

A few moves later things were getting lively. My advanced dragoon troop had found an enemy camp near the road. The shooting of the enemy dragoons (and my dragoon’s return fire when they had dismounted) had started to alert the camp but they were slow to deploy, their general in particular being rather sluggish (I wonder what he was doing). The picture shows the situation as the camp was getting organised. You can see to left and right Parliamentary dragoon outposts and patrols withdrawing, while centre right a Parliamentary cavalry troop is heading for what might become the fray from covering a foraging party which was way out to the right. The foragers themselves, another troop of horse, are rallying.

On my side, on the left, a troop of dragoons backed by cavalry are probing forwards. In the centre I have started to withdraw my leading dragoons as they are a bit exposed, and I have deployed my cavalry to stop any smart ideas of charging them.

As it was it did get a little fraught. The dragoons took a bit longer to withdraw than I hoped, leaving the cavalry facing three bases of enemy cavalry. Both sides attempted to charge but the troops of neither side fancied their chances and so after a few growls and doubtless some sword waving from the more excitable elements on both sides, I completed my withdrawal without too much further ado.

You might think that this was very boring as a wargame. Fair enough. Not much happened. But I did succeed in the mission, and got a message reporting the camp and a prisoner back to headquarters, and managed to get my troops away without too much damage – one of the dragoon troops took a lucky hit from some Parliamentary dragoons near the end of the game.

On the other hand, I had discovered the enemy’s presence in some strength and, possibly, the captive scout might tell us more about the enemy's dispositions. My dragoons had inflicted a few casualties on their most advanced post as well and those dragoons, plus their colleagues on the other flank had been pushed in, to use the contemporary term.

All in all, it was a rather satisfactory little game, I thought, and, if it had been part of a campaign context, might have been a bit more important. The thing with reconnaissance, as I have said, is to try to get your troops off without casualties and the message back to headquarters as to what you have found. Dying in a ditch while taking on the whole New Model Army with a couple of troops of dragoons is not much use to anyone.