Saturday 25 December 2021

It’s That Time of Year...

I suppose it was inevitable that one year Christmas Day would fall on a Saturday, and hence on blog posting day. That year is this year.

It has become ‘traditional’ on the blog that I offer some rules for any reader’s Christmas present, and there is no reason why this year should be any different. Mind you, tradition is a slippery word; how many times does something have to happen before it becomes a tradition?

Anyway, this year’s offering is the Ancient Rules which I have developed, and which you may have seen in action on the blog over the past year, in Caesar’s invasion of Britain and in the various attempts at Marathon. The link should work for all and sundry, but I may have messed up.

These are indeed the ‘Polemos: SPQR Light’ rules which I started after returning to the original and finding them a bit clunky. They are in tandem with the Wars of the Counter Reformation rules (which really need a new name, extending as they do now from the Hussites to the Great Northern War). You might well need a copy of PM: SPQR to play them; being very short there are doubtless lots of unspoken assumptions that I am unaware of lurking within.

Still, I have worked to try to remove some of the ambiguities of the original rules. The interpenetration and combat outcome rules should be a bit more transparent, and the army morale rules have been reworked. You still have to do a bit of mental arithmetic, I’m afraid. But doing such things is good for the brain.

For reasons that escape me the Ancients Rules start from 20 base armies, while WotCR start from 12. I suspect this is because I am a poor and lazy painter and baser, and just wanted to get to toys on the table when I came to rebasing my Early Modern figures. That is now coming back to bite me, of course, as the battles are expanding, especially as I have discovered that 20 bases a side fit on one of my card tables without looking too squashed or losing the flanks on the table edge.

These rules are not designed as a replacement for PM: SPQR, by the way. I still think the latter give a good game and model the legionary / tribal foot interaction quite nicely. But time and interests move on. These rules cover hoplite warfare as well, although I have not got around to anything that looks like the Punic Wars, or Rome after about 200 AD. Rather than tinker with SPQR, I went for something newer, shorter, and sketchier, and this is the result.

Enough waffle. Enjoy the festive season and the rules, if you dare.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday 18 December 2021


I have been frantically painting. Well, not frantically; after all, wargaming and even painting toy soldiers is a hobby, not a necessity. But I have been painting. This has been for two reasons. First, I have ordered some more toys, and so need to have the equivalent number painted before Christmas to prevent the unpainted lead pile from growing any higher. This means that 288 little fellows need daubing. So far I have managed 216, so not too far to go.

Secondly, I have been trying to finish the English Civil war Irish and Scots. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they have been hanging around for nearly two years. While that is trivial compared to the length of time of of the toys have been waiting, they have been in a kind of half-painted limbo land. The second reason is a bit better grounded. It is usually easier to focus on painting something when you have a specific project in mind. In this case, in mind was the battle of Benburb in 1646.

I won’t bore you with the detailed background to the conflict in Ireland in the 1640s. As Blair Worden noted in his short guide to the English Civil War, the definitive account of the war(s) in Ireland starting in 1641 remains to be written. Even to professional historians it is, to say the least, confusing.

Suffice it to say that to get to Benburb the Anglo-Irish Scottish army (I will call it ‘Scots’ below, just for ease of reference) commanded by Robert Munro marched a long way to meet up with some reinforcements, failed, and was met by an Irish army led by Owen Roe O’Neill. The Scots seem to have slightly outnumbered the Irish. It seems that Munroe expected the Irish to avoid battle, but O’Neill, having been supplied by the Papal Nuncio, decided to fight.

The Scots were tired, having marched about 15 miles on the day, but they attacked anyway. Accounts, inevitably, vary. I followed Gerard Hays-McCoy in the dispositions of the forces, and the return of some of the Irish cavalry from dispersing one of the Scottish columns. The rules were my own Wars of the Counter Reformation. The Scots were given one level of terrain shaken to start off with, reflecting their tiredness.

The initial dispositions are above, Scots to the left and Irish to the right. The river Blackwater is nearest the camera, and the Irish cavalry (or the rest of it) will arrive from the far side of the battlefield upon the Irish rolling a six on their tempo dice. The figures are mostly Baccus, with the exception of a couple of bases or Irish lancers.

To be honest, the Irish horse which you can see are also Baccus figures. But Baccus does not produce Irish horse, so I repurposed some Scots to them. I do have some surplus Scottish lancers as well, and I could have painted them as Irish (the only difference is the colour of the caps – blue for Scots, green for the Irish. Unhistorical, agreed, but I need some quick recognition on the table top). After all, I wanted to have a battle.

Anyway, historically, the Scots cavalry attacked the Irish left first, and so that is what happened. The picture shows how badly it was going. O’Neill turned one of his infantry units to face them (they are up a slope as well, by the way} and moved the cavalry around to assist. Good Irish shooting has seen the rout of the first wave of Scots, who can be seen running away between their mounted colleagues and the foot. The infantry, meanwhile, are starting to cross the stream.

It did not get much better for the Scots. Their second cavalry wave crossed the stream and were charged and routed by the Irish horse. The -1 from the fatigue and the -2 from not having reformed having crossed the stream crippled them, of course.

The final dispositions can be seen above. The Irish cavalry have arrived, crossed the stream and are now menacing the Scottish rear. Munroe has moved his remaining cavalry towards the centre to counter the threat, but that means the Irish left wing horse have now crossed the stream and charged, and routed, some musketeers. In the centre the Irish are crossing the stream under only intermittent fire from the Scottish artillery, while on the far side the Irish infantry has routed two more musketeer bases (good shooting, again, although the Scottish -1 did not help their cause).

At this point the Scottish morale dropped and the army routed. It was probably just as well, as the Irish left wing horse were about to run further amok, and the Scots were running out of options.

It is always nice when a set of rules, especially experimental ones written by me, produce a historical result. I did wonder whether the -1 for the Scots was too swingeing, and I still do. Perhaps it should have been on close combat dice only, not all shooting as well, but then firing a musket was a pretty physical affair. I might try the battle again without the Scots at penalty and see what happens. It was not a particularly easy victory for the Irish – some of the dice rolling they had was appalling – but it was a victory for all that.

Historically the outcome was as in the wargame. The Scots were more or less knocked out of the war, at least in any active sense, and the Irish went on to fall out among themselves until the English Parliament got itself organised and reconquered the land.

It is interesting that some accounts blame the Scottish loss on lazy soldiers shortening their pikes for easy carrying. Perhaps they did, but then so, perhaps, did the Irish. The idea has percolated down the ages to modern wargame rules, however, which downgrade the Scottish pike. It seems much more likely that the Scots lost because they were fatigued, rather than their pointy sticks being a bit shorter than the opposition. But we all love a technological explanation, even if it is wrong.

Saturday 11 December 2021

Ethnic Warfare

 Unfortunately, we have heard far, far, too much about ethnicity-based warfare of late. Most notoriously there have been ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns in the Balkans, let alone the Holocaust and various warfare massacres in Africa. If I could bear to think a little more widely, I am sure that plenty more instances would occur to me.

There is, of course, nothing much new under the sun. Sometimes, however, a new angle opens on something I thought I knew a little about, and reading this book:

Cramsie, J. (2015). British Travellers and the Encounter with Britain 1450 - 1700. Woodbridge: Boydell.

This was an unexpectedly hefty tome but fascinating and, while not obviously related to wargaming, bought the mentioned unexpected light to bear on the subject.

In all honesty, I should have known something about the ethnic relations around the English Civil Wars. I have, after all, read this:

Stoyle, M. (2000). Caricaturing Cymru: Images of the Welsh in the London Press 1642 - 46. In D. Dunn (Ed.), War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain (pp. 162-179). Liverpool: Liverpool University.

Sometimes, however, the connections are just not made in my mind.

Still, Cramsie’s book is fascinating. Actually, he starts with Gerald of Wales, upon which all other ethnographers of the early modern world built, I think. In the time frame, he can survey changing attitudes of differing Britons to themselves and their neighbours. The result is an interesting, although rather alarming, picture.

Various viewpoints were carried over, of course. Classical authors regarded the Welsh, Scots, and Irish as being barbarians. Originally, the term meant only that they did not speak Greek, but it did come to be understood as uncivilised, and so it was. Various authors saw other parts of Britain through this lens. Scottish women hitching their skirts up to tread their washing were regarded with derision, for example, although Cramsie suggests that this became something of a literary trope, and its reality is a little vague.

Things changed, of course, during the period of the study. Wales was incorporated into England by Henry VIII. The view of the English of the Welsh changed, as did the Welsh view of themselves. This was particularly true (and not a little confusing) in Pembrokeshire, which was regarded as England beyond Wales; the writers and travellers knew that the Flemings had been settled there (and elsewhere) after the Norman Conquest and believed that made a difference.

As Stoyle’s chapter suggests, the outbreak of the English Civil War also changed the representations of the peoples of the archipelago in the press as in other writings. The Welsh, insofar as any had an opinion, were largely Royalist in sentiment, and this brought an outpouring of anti-Welsh satire and vituperation in the media. From being proto-English, the Welsh became English haters, papists, looters, impoverished thieves, and so on.

It would seem from another of Stoyle’s articles that the Cornish were treated in a similar way. The wargame representation of Cornish foot, is of course, as superior pikemen, A more contemporary view would place them as warrior paragons (if you were a Royalist) or as pagan thugs if you were Parliamentarian. As with so many things, wargamers have picked up on one or the other, usually the paragon side (a victory for Royalist propaganda, it seems). The Welsh, who probably provided more royal foot than Cornwall, do not get the same sort of appreciative treatment by wargamers.

Newcastle’s army was officered by Catholics, at least in part, and this led to animosities between them and the army of the Fairfaxes and the Eastern Association. Also, of course, the Scottish army came with issues of its own, both against the Catholic officered army and also, fairly quickly, with the Independents of the Eastern Association and Cromwell. These issues could be characterised as religious in nature, but there were also ethnic divisions both between English and Scots and within England – the north-south divide goes back many centuries.

The Irish, of course, suffered from both ethnic and religious animosity. The revolt of 1641 was whipped up into a massacre of immense proportions – far more Protestants were reported as being murdered than had actually been in Ireland at the time. The animosities continued, of course, and were used by Cromwell as the reasons for the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford. There were other issues naturally which interwove with this – the rules of war, for one, and setting an example of what would happen if other garrisons did not surrender was another. Still, ethnic and religious issues were a significant part of the whole.

I noted before that the New Model Army attacked camp follower women in the royalist camp after Naseby. These were probably Welsh but were claimed to be Irish. In Hutton’s book on Cromwell (discussed here recently) he argues that after this the New Model Army, or at least its commanders, Fairfax and Cromwell, became much more willing to negotiate. The invasion of Cornwall in early 1646 was, at least in part, a charm offensive, albeit with teeth. That is not to say that ethnic tensions had declined, but that the army leadership was starting to take a more pragmatic approach to end the fighting.

There were other issues and tensions within the British archipelago, naturally. The obvious one missing so far is between the highland and lowland Scots, which was noted in Cramsie’s book and exploited by Montrose and his cronies. This can also be viewed as an inter-highland clan war and had religious overtones of course. But the point is that these issues added to the tensions and potential for violence and massacre. These, sadly, ensued.

So, there you are. An extra string to our views of the English Civil War and strife in early modern Britain. Nothing is ever simple, and the causes of the English Civil War continue to be argued over, but ethnic tensions are nothing new. The early modern writers understood that the British, in their most general sense, were a mongrel race. As Cramsie notes, this does not sit well with modern nationalism any more than it did in the Seventeenth Century.


Saturday 4 December 2021

Fighting the Elements

‘Isn’t it a bit late in the year to be trying that?’

‘It is, your highness, but I think the Dutch are getting a bit desperate.’

‘Why? I mean, we’re hardly in a position to move on Bergen until the spring.’

‘They probably do not know that, ma’am, and even if they do then our blockade on the place is going to make it a difficult winter for them. So we think they think that they have to give it a go. The question is, ma’am, whether you authorise us to stop them.’

‘Now, let me get this right. We have expended considerable money, ships, and not a few lives to capture Onetee and Teetwo, have we not?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘The purpose of capturing these ports was to blockade Bergen. Is that correct?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘To this end, we have positioned two fleets, one at each port. Yes?’

‘Ma’am is quite correct, ma’am.’

‘And now you are asking me for permission and authorisation to send those fleets blockading the port of Bergen to, let me see, what was it? Ah, yes, I have it. To release the fleets to go and blockage Bergen.’

‘When you put it like that, your highness, it does not seem that we particularly need your authorisation. But I thought it best to check.’

‘I do like to be kept informed, but go, and get on with it.’

‘Yes, ma’am.’


You might recall some amphibious operations in the Low Countries over the last year or two on the blog. These come under the campaign title ‘Small Boat Sailing’ and you can catch up on the campaign from the link of the same name to the right. Of course, given that this is a naval action, most of you will stop reading at the end of the sentence.

For those of you who have carried on, the plan is this. The Dutch are trying to relieve Bergen by sea, and are therefore escorting a convoy of twelve merchant ships to the port. To do this they have to pass by Onetee and Teetwo, the two smaller ports on the estuary, which were taken by the Spanish earlier in the year. The Dutch have twelve medium-sized warships to do the escorting. The Spanish have their light fleets from their ports, twelve small-sized warships each.

After some thought, and realising that I was unlikely to be able to recreate the battlefield from the first wargame in the campaign, I reasoned that the best place to intercept the convoy was on the open sea. There would be more room to maneuver, for one thing, and the terrain would be much easier to set up. The initial dispositions were, well, no one was on the table, so it would be a bit of a boring photograph.

A couple of dice rolls established that the Spanish fleets would appear on the table at moves three and six, giving the Dutch convoy a bit of a start in crossing the table. Here it is in all its glory.

The ships to port and starboard of the main line are the escorts, and the convoy is topped and tailed by larger warships. The ships are, as I recall, a mix of Hallmark and Tumbling Dice, with value removed by my own painting.

After a few moves, the Spanish arrived, and jockeying for position started, not helped by a variable wind direction and slowly worsening weather.

The general aims of the admirals can be seen, bearing in mind that the Dutch objective was to exit via the far left corner of the table. The rear half of the convoy has just split off to aim to pass the Teetwo Spanish ships to the starboard and get across the table being them, shielded by the starboard escorts. The rest of the convoy is aiming straight for the exit (-ish; they have adjusted to starboard a bit to get their escorts aiming towards the Spanish interceptors from Onetee.

The Spanish Teetwo fleet, at the far end of the table, is aiming straight for the convoy, while the Onetee fleet, to the left of the photograph, has split in tow. One half, consisting of the cutters (as it happens, these are in fact Napoleonic era ships, but I wasn’t arguing when I bought them, and I’m not arguing now) is aiming to get in front of the convoy and give it a few broadsides, while the rest is aiming to get behind the port escorts and into the rear of the convoy.

This all took a bit of thinking about. One of the interesting things about purely naval wargaming is that there is quite a lot of positioning to do and, with a variable wind (perhaps a little too variable, but I’m neither sailor nor meteorologist) and ship speeds as a consequence, it is all a bit complex.

Anyway, did I mention that the weather was deteriorating? At turn eleven it hit storm, having already been to light rain (reduced visibility) and then heavy rain (even less visibility – the fleets, although closing actually lost visual contact). I had to invent some storm rules, deciding that each ship would vary from its course by the difference of the throw of two average dice in base widths.

Chaos, naturally enough ensued, as seen above. None of the fleets have managed to maintain any semblance of formation and have only just maintained their courses. A lot depended on the wind and weather rolls on turn twelve, If the weather improved, the action could be sustained. If not, then it would be every ship for itself to scramble into a safe port or stand out to sea to weather the storm.

The roll was made. The storm remained and the wind also stayed the same. The scattering of the ships continued and the game was wrapped up.

In a normal wargame, of course, this would be a disappointment. In a solo game as part of a narrative campaign, that is not the case. The convoy has failed to get to Bergen.


‘They had to go home, then?’

‘Yes, your highness.’

‘Bergen should fall to us next year?’

‘If we maintain the blockade by land and sea, your highness, it should fall into our hands like a ripe plum.’

‘Plums only ripen in late summer.’

‘Yes, your highness. I am trying to think of an early-ripening fruit but am failing at present.’

‘Your strategy is correct, admiral, but your metaphors are lousy.’