Saturday, 13 August 2022

Probability and Personality

A week or two ago I reviewed Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Campaigns. It has also been reviewed on JWH’s Heretical Gaming site. There the issue is raised about how personalities are created for your campaign. Now, I do not want to turn this blog post into an exposition of mathematics and probability. I am sure we all recall those lessons from school with a shudder, but I do think there is a bit of a point here, and I do, of course, have my own suggestions.

Along with most other authors, HH has a method of creating personalities for your wargames and campaigns. In this case, 1d100 is rolled for each personality trait of an individual. As JWH observes, this can lead to some rather extreme people populating your armies and countries. One of HH’s examples (p. 271) has Corporal Sheffield having an intelligence of 12 and a health score of 99, along with a charisma of 5. While this might be an amusing element of a campaign, it does indicate that perhaps the creation system is slightly out of kilter, unless you revel in such.

In a similar way, C. S. Grant’s Wargame Campaigns uses a 1d6 roll over a set of characteristics to create personalities. Again, this seems like a method for generating extremes, such as a rash invalid, or a self-centered incompetent. Again, a few of these might enliven a campaign, but quite how a self-centered incompetent is played slightly baffles me. Are they incompetently self-centered and therefore behave in an altruistic manner?

Perhaps the earliest personality creation system, certainly the earliest I have seen and used, is in Tony Bath’s Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, which is perhaps getting on a bit now but is still a worthy read, bubbling over with ideas. Bath uses a playing card system to create characteristics. Having tried this a long time ago I can say it does work but the characters can feel a bit ‘same-y’ and the meaning of the characteristics is a bit vague and how they are incorporated into the campaign is a bit lacking in clarity.

I do not want to tell people how to run their campaigns and personalities, of course, but I do think that single dice rolls are probably not the way forward. I think the idea comes from Dungeons and Dragons, but there are other ways of character creation. JWH suggests a 2d6 roll to obtain some averaging, and that is a distinct improvement, but I would go a bit further.

In the recesses of my mind, I recall my old role-playing game days where the Runequest system used 3d6 rolls for the base attributes of each characteristic. This does have advantages. The average roll on 3d6 is 10.5 (the range is 3 to 18) and the distribution is peaked around this value reasonably strongly. Therefore you get a strong average for a human characteristic – most characters you generate are going to be average in some quarters. They might also have some serious flaws or outstanding features, but these are going to be rather nuanced by the other, more average rolls.

Of course, in Runequest and other games, there are also non-human characters who get different dice rolls, or at least a different number of dice to be rolled. I shall ignore them here except to note for your fantasy or science-fiction game you might like to consider them.

The second advantage of the Runequest system is that the basic characteristics allow you to derive other skills from them. So, for example, your chance of spotting something hidden is given by your intelligence, while your initial ability to pick locks is determined by your intelligence and dexterity, and so on. You can also improve specific skills by use.

As I have been banging on a bit about Flashing Blades a bit here recently I can say that it has a similar system, and some useful skill sets that can be derived from the characteristics of many personalities in wargames. The soldier's career path has basic skills, such as shooting and swordplay, but also things like generalship and strategy. These would be handy for a budding general, and the initial scores can also be improved by training and practice.

The other useful trait of the 3d6 system is that by multiplying the number by five you have an immediate percentage chance of success. Thus, if your character is of average intelligence, say 11, they have a 55% chance of doing the intelligent thing, whatever that might be. If they have an initiative of 12 they have a 60% chance of doing something given a stimulus, and so on. While it does entail a little mental arithmetic, it is a useful basis, I find, for using the personalities I create.

Alternatively, you can use a 1d20 roll. I find that a bit less useful as the results are less fine-grained. You might want to know, for example, by how much your character has failed the intelligence test, or how badly their charisma lets them down in inspiring their men. A 1d100 roll gives you a more finely-grained answer than 1d20.

In both cases, however, there can always be a chance of success (a 1 or 01-05% in my system) and a chance of failure (20 or 96-00). I have also carried over the critical hit and fumble outcomes from role-playing days. The 1/20 of your probability of success at the lowest end counts as a critical roll, so you not only succeed but succeed as well as you can think, so if your roll is 50% you get a critical on a roll of 3% or less (being generous). The top 1/20 of your roll is a fumble (97% or more in the example) which results in the most egregiously silly or stupid thing being the outcome. In the Jersey Boys campaign just started, the Parliamentary land forces commander picked his units for the first wave, fumbled his intelligence test, and chose the forces with the most cowardly leaders. It may not matter, but it causes some amusement, and that is surely why we have personalities in campaign games.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Dealing in Death

It is a truism that wargamers tend to be uninterested in logistics. We are, on the whole, interested in the drama and excitement of the battle, not the long slog to bring weapons and munitions to the units that do the fighting. You can see why: an interest in wargame campaign logistics threatens to turn the hobby, usually tied up in the glamour and heroism of the sharp end, into an accountant’s nightmare.

That is not to say that there are not some honourable mentions along the way. A variety of scenarios, for example, have a supply train at their heart. The sides attack or defend some valuable cargo, be it gunpowder, attractive princesses or large sums of money. Siege wargames (another neglected area of wargaming and warfare over the centuries) also make reference, of necessity, to the problems of supply (which, after all, affected both sides). But, on the whole, wargames are fought without great attention being paid to how the sides came to obtain the wherewithal to enter combat in the first place.

I count myself as guilty as charged here. My wargames devolve all such considerations to an imaginary commissary officer, who makes sure that all units are fed, watered, and issued with copious stocks of ammunition, clothing and fodder for their horses. Real-life is not like that, of course. All of the items an army needs for fighting, moving, and simply existing, have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually not particularly close to the area of operations, at least as far as munitions go. Food is probably a different issue, at least some of the time.

Anyway, as you can probably discern, I have been reading again, this time a book I think I must have read before but have no memory of:

Edwards, P. Dealing in Death: The Arms Trade and the British Civil Wars, 1638-1653. Stroud: Sutton, 2000.

This turned out to be a fascinating read ranging from the Bishop’s Wars through to the expeditions to Ireland and Scotland that finished the civil wars, at least in the sense of fighting.

It turns out that the supply of munitions and weapons is a tricky thing. For the Bishop’s Wars Charles I could call on the Ordinance Office at the Tower, but that was small, underfunded and the king’s timescales were unrealistic. Thus the English armies were ill-equipped. The Scots did better, relying on massive imports from Sweden and Denmark, most of which were not intercepted by the royal navy.

The next challenge was the Irish rebellion. The rebels failed to capture the arsenal at Dublin Castle, but the defending royalist forces quickly ran out of weapons and munitions. They were starting to be supplied by Parliament (there was very little sympathy for the rebels on either side of the political divide in England or Scotland), but when the fighting was threatened and broke out in England supply dried up almost totally. The 1643 Cessation between the royalist and Irish Confederates was a relief to both sides, as the Irish were almost entirely dependent on imports. The English royalists then started to request munitions from Ireland.

There was, of course, a domestic arms industry. This was mainly centred on London and the south-east and so was under the control of Parliament. They also had the main horse market at Smithfield, which helped considerably. On the other hand, the principal officers of the Ordinance Office fled to the king and used their expertise to start manufacturing at Oxford. When Bristol fell to the royalists in 1643 manufacturing was set up there as well.

Things evolved over the war. Initially, the main royal centres of importing goods were in the northeast – Newcastle and Sunderland. Queen Henrietta Maria landed herself and her munitions at Bridlington, under gunfire from a Parliamentary squadron. The capture of the south-west and subsequent fall of the north led to the south-western ports such as Dartmouth becoming important. The stubborn resistance of Plymouth and Lyme increased the inconvenience, of course, but so long as they were blockaded the royalists could import good fairly straightforwardly.

The domestic industry increased to meet the demand. By the late 1640s, Edwards reckons that England was self-sufficient in most things needed to make war, except saltpetre and sulphur. Certainly, Cromwell’s expeditions to Ireland and Scotland had none of the logistical problems which had bedevilled the first civil war.

There were still, of course, transport difficulties. The roads were not great and while waterborne traffic could move goods in bulk, rivers were not always convenient, and a well-placed enemy garrison, such as Gloucester or Reading could limit use even more. Large numbers of draft horses were also required to move an army, and these were not always forthcoming. In Ireland the problem was acute. For those of you interested in the Irish armies of the time, the draught problem was solved by using oxen. I knew I had got those ox carts and limbers for a reason.

The real wargame interest here for those of us who are not accountants is surely in the import trade. All sides imported arms and munitions. All sides employed privateers to disrupt enemy shipping. And all sides attempted to blockade enemy ports. The logistical reason for the downfall of the English royalist cause was the loss of the southwestern ports, and also the shrinking of the areas of control which diminished the supply and manufacturing base. You might have expected Charles’ royal relations (his uncle was King of Denmark, his father-in-law King of France) to help, but both were at best lukewarm.

The possibility for small-scale wargaming and campaigns is almost endless. Collecting possibly contraband cargos from unfriendly or neutral ports, evading privateers and patrolling warships, delivering the cargo and then embarking on the return ship with a new load of exports might not sound that exciting, but I think a decent skirmish or role-playing game or campaign could be made out of it.

As an alternative, another approach could be to play out the naval part I have just suggested and determine the supply of the armies on the table by who has or captures the supply ships. The possibilities are endless.  

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Jersey Boys Part 1

Putting my money where my mouth is, I shall describe the setup for my latest campaign, tentatively titled ‘The Jersey Boys’. I have tried this before, with the attempted invasion of Royalist-held Jersey by the New Model Army in 1651. As the Parliamentarians failed to get ashore, the campaign was a bit short.

Anyway, hoping that will not happen again, I am doing a bit more setup. My normal campaign is of a narrative format, where you start with an idea, a map, and some opposing forces. The original St Ouen’s Bay game was of that format and it was a bit of a failure as a campaign because the Royalists could concentrate against the invasion, and the Jersey militia did not run away, as they had done historically. Under the inspiration of Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Campaigns, I decided another go was on the cards.

I am currently deep into planning and dice rolling. The first objective was to obtain a map. This was easy enough using Google Images; I wanted one that looked a bit old. I then found the technicality in downloading images: you need to copy them rather than download them to get get the full size.

Map safely saved, I wanted to make a start using hexes. I have drawn maps using them before (a Samurai invasion of Korea game many years ago) but this time I wanted to impose a hex grid on an existing map image. Step forward Hexographer, which permits (even in its free incarnation) an image to be loaded and then hexes to be superimposed, blank hexes at that. Having fiddled with the size and number of hexes a bit, I got a map I was reasonably happy with and borrowed my wife’s printed to print it in A3 format.

The next problem to be tackled was that I could only just read the placenames on the map. The roads too were a bit obscure and I was not sure that all of them were shown. A bit of pondering revealed the need for a modern map of the island which was duly procured and installed under the campaign map on my corkboard. Important place names were inked in on the latter.

Next, I trawled the internet and my book collection of information about the campaign. As hinted above there was not much to it in real life, except the siege of Elizabeth Castle, which was pretty well impregnable. However, each parish in Jersey (there are twelve) had a company of militia, and Sir George Carew had 150 horse, 150 dragoons, and 120 fusiliers. Elizabeth Castle had a garrison of 450 men, Mount Orgueil had 60 when it surrendered and St Aubin’s Tower had ‘a few’. These were easily enough placed on the map, with green pins for the militia, yellow for mounted troops, red for garrisons, and purple for the fusiliers.

The next question was about the commanders. I drew up characters for Sir George Carteret and his brother (and deputy) Sir Philip. Then I had to ponder the other characteristics of the defenders. For example, the St Lawrence militia initially refused to muster against the invasion arguing that their role was to defend their parish. Hence, they were late to St Ouen’s. After a bit of thought I named and created characters for the militia company commanders. It might be wasted work, but six dice rolls of 3D6 per commander is not much effort really.

As an aside, I do wonder why Hyde and others use a d100 roll for character creation (or a d6, or whatever). It can create some fairly extreme characteristics. I think the d100 sort of creation is a holdover from D & D, but as I have never played it, I cannot comment further. The games I have played use 3D6 for characteristics, which seems a little more realistic. After all, most people are of average intelligence, that being what average means. You get fewer extremes, at least, or maybe, you could argue, it is just a bit more boring. Perhaps people in public life are more extreme personalities. Anyway, I have gone with the characteristics (Intelligence, Initiative, Charisma etc) Hyde suggests, but rolled on 3D6.

On the Parliamentary side, the commander was Admiral Robert Blake, and the land forces were commanded by Colonel James Hearne. Having already traduced Blake’s reputation I decided to change the names, especially as neither commander rolled well for intelligence in my character creation. That meant, of course, that the Carteret brothers had to have their names changed as well, so they became the Carters. Blake became Block and Hearne became Harme. The record sheets were amended – thank goodness for word processors.

The invaders had Hearne’s regiment of foot, presumably at fairly full strength, of 12 companies, and another six companies from Sir Hardress Waller’s, thus making around 1800 in total. There were two troops of horse (75 each) and ultimately two companies of Guernsey militia reinforced the landers.

I then had to work out the naval forces. Blake had around 80 sail, but many of the ships were small, it would seem. I do not have that many, and I also wanted the Royalists to have some naval units. I have a mix of larger and smaller merchantmen, so I decided that a large one would carry two companies, while the smaller would take one, and a troop of horse would also fit only a smaller vessel. Block, the admiral, was also given six warships, a fourth rate, two fifth rates, and three sixth rates.

I have also spent time creating captains for the ships and allocating the infantry to their vessels. Now I have to create characters for the naval and land force commanders and then return to the Royalist navy. Royalist forces were not evident during the campaign but Jersey was a privateer base and so they would have had some, perhaps smaller, vessels. A more determined defence could have seen either defending forces moved around the coast or naval intervention in the landings. We shall see.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Wargaming Campaigns

Henry Hyde writes very big books. No sooner have I caught up with the Wargaming Compendium (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2011) than another whopper lands on my front doorstep. This one is Wargaming Campaigns (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022). The compendium ran to 520 pages or so, all told. Campaigns run to 526. Wow.

Now, I really want to like the book, let me be clear. I am, as the blog posts might well affirm, a fan of wargame campaigns although I, like many others, struggle with the detail that some wargamers manage to get into their activities. Here, it seems to me, is the rub of wargame campaigning: we have a tendency to get bogged down. It is a problem that HH is well aware of, fortunately.

Firstly, a few other observations. If you are expecting as much eye candy as there was in the Compendium you are going to be a bit disappointed. There are some nice photographs of nice troops, granted, but nowhere near as many as in the first book. Of course, the book is about something else, so we should not be surprised. Second, the production values are pretty high. The work was written, HH admits, over a fair few years and some of the cross-references seem a bit mistaken as if something had been written previously but not made it to the final draft. Or maybe it is just such a big book that I could not recall or find them.

As it is, it is a pretty comprehensive account of running a wargame campaign. I do not think that any book could be fully comprehensive. Wargamers are, at the end of the day, a very inventive lot. The book includes HH’s own campaign rules (March to Glory) and considers campaigns of all descriptions including skirmish and role-playing games, sea and air power, brief accounts of some famous wargame campaigns of the past, and a great deal of ‘you don’t have to do it like this’ comments. You can, after all, campaign perfectly happily without a map.

I suppose that if I have to be critical, I felt that the editing was probably not as thorough as I would have liked. I am not sure, for example, that I really needed to know the perceived personalities of the players in HH’s own imagi-nation world and their campaign world alter egos. Some of the writing seemed to this reader, anyway, to be a little self-indulgent. If the aim of the chapter was to show a campaign in progress, well and good, but I got confused as to which player was which character and where they were on the map (bigger maps are on the companion website, I believe, but that is not much good to me in my armchair).

I found similar oddities in the rules chapter, which roll along quite nicely until towards the end when we get a page or two’s justification as to why disease or desertion rules need to be included. If they are rules, stick to the rules. If you need to justify or explain, then do that somewhere else. I tend to try to separate rules from justification.

A few times HH refers to historical accuracy. Granted, disease and desertion are historical. We might wish to include them in our rules, as we might want to add fleeing refugees clogging the roads, scorched earth policies leading to mass starvation, and so on. These things might be important in a staff officer game but, for my taste, I would rather ignore them. I think that it is exactly a matter of taste, however. If it floats your boat then don’t mind me and my opinions.

Another gripe that a stricter editor might have handled differently is the chapter on maps. HH spends quite a lot of time explaining how to use Adobe Photoshop to create and modify maps. Now, perhaps I am too much of a computer geek for my own good, but I think it was largely unnecessary and more of an indication of the author’s interests than something of general use. After all, Adobe products are rather pricey for creating a wargame map. HH has the product because of his profession, I think.

There are, of course, lots of very positive things in the book, as well as oodles of enthusiasm, which is the most vital component. The mapping software products, mentioned at the end of the maps chapter, such as Hexographer, are most useful, at least at the moment (the problem with the web is that it is fluid). Most of the suggestions in the book are eminently sensible, and the encouragement to start small is vital, in my view.

HH’s observation that wargaming is storytelling got a cheer in this quarter, as well. I am not so keen on his tale (twice told, I fear) of tweaking the chronology in his campaign to get wargames at the same time for his players. That sort of thing is not everyone’s cup of tea (what price historical accuracy now?) and not necessary for a solo wargamer, of course, but it does show the sorts of dilemmas an umpire might face. Still, wargame campaigns are bigger narratives where the wargames themselves are now smaller components of the whole. That does make the campaign more satisfying overall if you can come to some sort of conclusion.

As I said earlier, I really wanted to like this book, and I do. Already a map of Jersey complete with hexagons is pinned to my corkboard in anticipation of a return to St Ouen’s Beach in the near future. That has been hanging around on the back burner for a while and would probably have stayed there if I had not read the book. A bit of a shove in the right direction (I would never have found the mapping software otherwise) and a bit of enthusing worked wonders for my get-up and have-at-it quotient.

Overall, it is a great book, but not flawless. I recommend it to every wargamer. You might not want to use all the ideas, you might only pick up a few bits and pieces to add to your already flourishing worlds, or you might be inspired to start campaigning. But it is definitely a worthwhile read.

Saturday, 16 July 2022

Chateau Crepé

I say, Jaques old chap, what is that place over there.’

Monsieur, there is no-one here called Jaques. My name is Guilliam.’

What does the English idiot want now?’

The name of the castle over there.’

C’est Chateau Crepé, monsieur.’

Creepy? That’s not a good name, Jaques.’

Non, monsieur, Crepé.’

Is it nearly lunchtime?’

What did he say, Guilliam?’

He’s hungry again.’

We’ve only just had breakfast.’

The castle looks interesting, you know. Could we stop there for lunch?’

Monsieur Ambassador, the chateau is held by the enemy. They wish to prevent the treaty arriving in England and preferably dismember you.’

Oh. So not time to have a look around, then?’

The garrison is turning out, Guilliam. They’re going to block the ford.’

Humbug.’

Humbug? Is that the best you can do?’

I didn’t want to say merde for fear of our guest asking what it means.’

Fair enough. How did he get to be ambassador anyway? He doesn’t seem very bright, and doesn’t speak French.’

Perfect ambassadorial material then, I guess.’

*

If you are at all interested, you might recall the Corbie campaign, which started off with a battle and a siege between the French and Spanish Netherlands armies in the late 1630s. Things proceeded and the English government and the French negotiated a treaty whereby both would attack the Spanish. This would blunt the Spanish invasion, from the French point of view, and get Charles I’s anti-Hispanic lobby off his back, thereby preventing the English Civil War. The first skirmish saw the Spanish block the English from seizing the road, and the latter retired towards Calais, where they hope to hire a ship to take the ambassador and treaty to England. The Spanish manned a castle (which I noted a few weeks ago I found in a box) to block the road along which Sir Thomas Bagge (‘Call me ‘T’’) and his escort (a motley crew of French adventurers, led by a Musketeer, naturally) must pass.

The light conditions were not good for the photographs, so I’ll have to describe the scene. At the top left is Chateau Crepé, on a steep hill. In front of it are a river and a ford where the road crosses it. The garrison is six figures, while the Ambassadorial escort is of the same strength. Sir T Bagge (did you see what I did there?) is unarmed.

The Spanish got five moves warning of the French arrival and just about made it to the ford. I would have preferred them to cross the river and defend from the other bank, but it was not to be. The garrison was dismounted, while the French remained on horseback.


The picture shows the clash at the ford. In the left foreground is Sir T, ambling towards the castle (he is an antiquarian) while his escort (or two-thirds of it anyway) is taking on the Spanish. At first, the Spanish spearmen held them off rather well, but as wounds started to be inflicted they were forced back.

The figures are an eclectic mix of old Wargames Foundry, Redoubt Enterprises, and Outpost Border Reivers (masquerading as Spaniards, this time). The castle is in front of Sir T, who is ambling over to take a look while his escort fights for his life.

The crunch came when one of the escorts rolled double six against his opponent, who rolled a measly four. As the Frenchman was mounted, he got a plus two, while his opponent had already been recoiled and thus did not get any support from his nearby oppo. The difference was sufficient to kill the Spaniard. Meanwhile, the central spearman had been severely wounded while the one at the end picked up a light wound, and then another.


The Spanish were forced back into and beyond the stream, while Sir T started to have a poke around the chateau. You can see the French reserve to the left of the action; they are actually covering the ambassador as the Spanish captain had spotted him wandering around unescorted and made a move towards him. However, the wounding of his men meant that his services were required elsewhere – he is the blue-sleeved swordsman standing in the stream.

With only a few figures on the table – thirteen in total including the ambassador, this was a quick skirmish game. I had thought of using Flashing Blades but even a dozen figures is a bit much for a single player to deal with, especially when they start to pick up wounds. The rules were my own home-brew very quick solo skirmish rules, which is a post way of saying ‘scrawl on one side of A4’. As I have, um, repurposed them from Mr. Berry’sOnce Upon a Time in the West Country’ rules, from which the matched 2D6 mechanism was obtained, I think they work quite nicely. I had to mash up the ranges of course to get it to fit on my table.

Still a nice quick wargame fix, and it moves the Corbie campaign on a bit further. I seem to have decided to stick with the big figures for this one, it just seems to fit somehow and, sooner or later, there might be some desperate deeds of daring-do to be done. But, for now, the road to Calais is open. Perhaps I need to break out the new ADW ships again for a chase across the Channel.

*

I say, chaps, this is jolly interesting. This chateau must be ages old. Look at that tapestry.’

Monsieur, it is a sixteenth-century copy of a fourteenth-century Italian altarpiece. The chateau was destroyed by English troops before the Battle of Agincourt.’

Oh. Well, let’s let bygones be bygones, eh, chaps. Where are the other four, anyway?’

They are assisting the Spanish wounded, Monsieur.’

The Spanish have left a rather fine luncheon here. I say we should tuck in. We can save some for the others. Look at this wine. Fabulous!’

What is the wine, Guilliam?’

Local plonk, probably from the Calais cash-and-carry Arnaud. It’s only there for the English booze-cruisers, you know that.’



Saturday, 9 July 2022

The Personality of Crowds

A long time ago, so long ago that I cannot find the post now, I wrote something about crowds and units and how they develop a personality. This was brought back to what remains of my memory by Man Of Tin’s comment a week or two ago about finding it difficult to game anything above a platoon in size, or thereabouts. It is a reasonable point, I think, although I confess that, in my reply, I might have been a little too concise, shall we say, and a better (or at least, longer) answer might be worthwhile.

We can, to some degree, create personalities for our wargames. I am (along with the rest of the wargaming world, it seems) reading through Henry Hyde’s new tome Wargaming Campaigns. He has quite a lot to say on the matter of personalities, both in the sense of creating them for kings and generals for a large-scale campaign and also for doing so for skirmish and role-playing games.

HH takes Dungeons and Dragons as a paradigm for the latter and observes that it would work, or some of it, for larger campaign personalities. The alignments, for example, could be helpful, although you would not want too many chaotic evil characters around, I think, although current world events might make one suspect that there are more than a few lurking in plain sight.

I have never played D & D, I confess. In my role-playing game days, I started with Runequest, moved on to Call of Cthulhu, and finished up with Toon and Flashing Blades. The latter is still on my shelf, and a good game it is too, so long as you make the combat rules a bit simpler. The setting makes the game, particularly if everyone has read Victor Hugo or at least seen some of the films. Nevertheless, it contains quite an extensive process of creating your character, motivations, and skills. The back story is important here, too.

As an aside, my trajectory through role-playing games (which included a friend’s Traveller / Ringworld hybrid) shows a movement towards the silly (Toon was the only game I was actually good at as a player, so much so that I got banned from it) and the perhaps richer setting. Runequest, with its Manicheism division of the world into good and evil (chaos), was serious, and CofC was seriously serious, the burden of defending the apparent last outpost of sanity from nameless horrors beyond led to some fairly intense games.

The point about Flashing Blades is that one of the careers your character can choose is soldier, and here the choice of regiment matters. The different regiments in the French army have different attributes and do different things. The regiments are given different status values, ranging from nine for the Guards to two for the Italian regiment. There are also enmities between the regiments. As is well known the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards did not get on too well. As the rules note, even on campaign duels, if not open conflict, were frequent.

In reality, of course, such activities were not that frequent, but we can start to see how the personality of a unit can be built up. Recently I read an article in History Today about the Falkland War (forty years ago, as the discerning wargamer will know). One of the seamen noted the shock of hearing about HMS Coventry sinking: ‘We’re the Royal Navy. We don’t sink.’

Other units would have similar sorts of thoughts. ‘We are the King’s Musketeers. We defeat the King’s enemies and if that includes the Cardinal’s Guards, so much the worse for them!’ Here the unit is a personality as well. I recall reading an account of the Somme where a debate was held as to which regiments of the British army the officers would prefer to left and right. I do not recall the details, but I think the Guards and the Hampshires came out on top. There was something of the personality of those units – reliability, fighting power – which made other units prefer them.

A crowd can have a personality. Think over news reports. ‘A happy crowd.’ ‘The crowd is turning ugly.’ Crowds do not turn ugly, of course, but the mood can change, and the next step is throwing things. The theologian Walter Wink recalled his involvement in the civil rights movement. Driving to a demonstration he and his friend were pulled over by the police and were terrified. They got a speeding ticket. Later the same day, as part of a mass demonstration, Wink lay down on the road in front of the police without quaking in his boots, because he was with the crowd.

Again, consider those outmoded offices that some of us are being forced back into. The layout of such places constrains how they can be used. An aircraft hanger of a communal office leads to hushed voices and plenty of breaks away from the desk just to break up the monotony. Individual offices lead to many coffee breaks just so you can seek someone to talk to, and so on. The personality of the place of work is mediated by the structure of the building.

The history, traditions, and training of a military unit make for its personality. Perhaps they felt unsupported by another regiment at an obscure battle a century ago. They still treat said unit with suspicion and a wise general will not brigade them together. Perhaps the captains of these two ships fought a duel over the honour of a lady a year ago. The crews drink in different inns and if they meet, there is a punch-up.

The point is that personality can emerge at any level within human society. We use it a lot to characterise, often unfairly, other nations. At that level, it is to be used with care, although there is some truth contained within the jokes. But even within an army different units have different personalities. And, if we choose, as wargamers, we can reflect that.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Culture and Conflict

I have been having an interesting time, recently. Interesting, to some extent at least, along the lines of the old curse ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Not that my own life is haunted by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, of course, although sadly that is not true of other parts of the world. Nevertheless, I am having a reassessment and a ponder.

This has taken a few turns of some interest for the blog, however. I mentioned before considering what sort of solo wargaming book I would like to read. That is still bubbling away, even to the extent of a cluster diagram exploring some of the themes that I would like to see considered. On the other hand, I have just received my copy of Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Campaigns, so everything I might like to have said may well have been written already. We shall see.

Anyway, I have also been looking around at different wargame magazines, or at least at their websites. Things have changed a bit since I used to contribute to Miniature Wargames, not least that the market seems to have been considerably taken over by fantasy and science fiction miniature gaming. That is, as you might divine from the contents of the blog, not for me, but each to their own. I am not going to criticize.

I was perusing the website of Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy, which is the ‘new’ kid on the block, so far as I can tell. They also publish Ancient Warfare and Medieval Warfare, as well as Ancient World. Medieval Warfare has just apparently morphed into Medieval Culture and Conflict. The rationale is quite interesting, I thought and pertains to wargaming and how I think about this blog.

The point made in the rationale is pertinent, I think: warfare was a constituent part of medieval life, and to limit one’s attention to the former is to eliminate a major chunk of why battles were fought (or were avoided) in the period. This is an unfortunate limitation, I agree. There is a lot more to life in general than charging across open fields with a lance or taking a bead on a sapper with a crossbow from a castle wall.

It is the sort of point that military historians have been trying to make for decades, mostly ignored by both the academy and the military history book-buying public. I confess to being one of the latter, at least in my younger days. As I think I have mentioned here before the question: ‘what did they eat?’ is always a pertinent one to ask of your wargame army. As wargamers, we can get to the point that we know in the greatest possible detail the ballistic profile of the Brown Bess musket but have no idea what its wielder ate while on campaign. That might, indeed, matter.

There is the other extreme, of course, practiced by military historians, which is to excise totally the campaign and battle parts of an army’s activities. This is surely as incorrect as the exclusive focus on battles. Armies came into existence for a purpose, and that purpose was not simply to be raised and provide historians with sociological data on the origins of the soldiers. The aim is to establish some cause or claim, and to fight someone if necessary.

The incorporation of medieval culture into medieval conflict is to be welcomed, in my view, although I dare say a few ‘drums and trumpets’ diehards might disagree. One of the more popular posts hereabouts in the last few years (and, to be honest, not many of them are popular) was about a book, Representing War and Violence 1250 – 1600. This is not a wargaming book, of course, but a book about how warfare was perceived in the literature and art of the time. Every government tried to justify its actions in the thought world of the time, much as they do today. Historians, too, wanted to describe the past and tended to do so in terms of their present.

We, therefore, tend to wear a range of spectacles to observe the past, including our own context, that of the historians we rely on, the sources and the context in which they were written, and the sources those writers used. No one ever tried to argue that history was simple. Nor should they.

For example, there are discussions to be had around Alexander III of Macedon (‘the great’). Was he great? Well, by some spectacles he was, conquering the known world. From other perspectives, he was simply a deranged megalomaniac leader intent on fighting and then fighting a bit more until drink, disease, and exhaustion overtook him. The latter is perhaps a more modern perspective than the former. Is it more correct? That might be a matter of opinion or tenderness of conscience.

There is therefore a great deal of culture involved in conflict, both in the worldview of the participants and those who reported on their activities, to say nothing of the world views of current historians and, for that matter of modern wargamers. History is necessarily contested and contestable and, perhaps of all the humanities, history is the subject that most frequently gets rewritten. Current political decisions, for example, are often based on perceptions of history that experts in the field, either professional or amateur, would argue over and, likely, disagree with.

These issues make history interesting and important. Battles and warfare are part of that history, but only a part. To properly understand the history of a period we need something more than ‘that bunch of men with pointy sticks were charged by that bunch’. There are whys and wherefores. I have been reading about the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the third quarter of the Seventeenth Century. Why did they break out? It is actually a difficult question to answer. There are issues about trade, for example, and who was sovereign over the narrow seas. But at the end of the day, on the British side at least, it was because the King and his brother decided to go to war. Why they did that, of course, is a matter of culture and context.



Saturday, 25 June 2022

Plots, Structures and Interactions

I have written here before, and I still think that I am right, that a set of wargame rules is a set of interacting models. The trick is, in writing rules, to get each model functioning correctly (I am assuming that we are talking about historical rules here, but the same applies to fantasy and science fiction, and also role-playing games although the human interaction factor is higher there). Once each model is refined enough, their interactions have to be worked on.

This all sounds a bit high falutin’ and theoretical, so I shall try an example. For an English Civil War game, we need a model for movement (i.e. how far does an infantry unit actually move in a time period?), shooting, close combat, and for morale. These models need to be consistent across all arms, so infantry can face up to cavalry, artillery can behave as we believe artillery did behave, and so on. When you analyse a set of rules by this criteria you have quite a complex set of models, working on their own and interacting.

It is no wonder that rule sets throw up oddities. The complexities only multiply when you add in scale models and terrain. The game has to look and feel correct, whatever those terms might mean in practice. A bunch of musketeers charged in the open by an equal number of cavalrymen should find themselves in trouble, shouldn’t they? A lot might depend on the relative morale of the two sides, of course, on training, on the confidence of the troops to charge or to hold their fire until the last minute, and so on. It is little wonder that recent rule sets have given up on trying to quantify all of these factors, and opted for a straight dice roll with a few modifiers.

You may well be sitting, nodding sagely in agreement and wondering why I have raised the matter again. It is a fair question. I have perpetrated a few sets of rules in my time and commented on the fact. It is in my mind at the moment because, as I noted last time, I needed to write some rules for naval wargames in the Anglo-Dutch Wars period.

The numbers reading blog posts on naval matters tend to show that anything maritime is a big yawn to most wargamers, but if that applies to you, please do not stop reading here. I promise the rest of the post is of relevance to land-based wargames as well.

Writing naval rules brought to mind that, as well as the models outlined above we need to add extra models to the movement rules. Sailing ships were dependent on the wind, and that adds another element to the rule set. In my earlier rules, I tried to avoid explicit rules for tacking, but the wind proved to be impossible to ignore. It just matters too much for sailing ships.

There is thus a minimal number of models which any rule set needs to cover. Rules for movement in power armour are not necessary for World War Two rule sets. Rules for tank movement are. However, often, it has seemed to me, that the more complex the models used for some aspects, the simpler the models are elsewhere. The most egregious example I can think of is a set of WW2 rules, the name of which I do not recall, that had no morale model at all. Even as a young and green wargamer, it seemed a bit odd to have a complex paragraph or two on fire and movement and nothing much on whether the soldiers would hang around to fire (or be fired at).

Some rule sets like the DB* family wave morale away into combat outcomes and re-integrate it into higher formation and the losses accruing to that formation. Thus wings or divisions (or whatever they are called in period) run away at a certain point. This is a little predictable, I feel. The Polemos rule sets I have written have army-level morale, but it comes with a bit of randomness. Armies could and did run away before they needed to, or stand and fight when most sensible observers would have expected them to have chosen discretion over valour.

I suppose that there is only so much complexity or only so many interacting models that we, as wargamers, can or want to cope with. Perhaps this goes with age. I am much less prepared to put up with fiddly accountancy and endless tables than I used to be. Or, maybe, I have just realised that accuracy (whatever that means) does not map onto complexity.

After all, if, as I argued last time, we play wargames to tell entertaining stories, the narrative flow is surely interrupted by having to consult a good, big book of rules and find the right page. Granted most rule sets come with quick play charts, but even so. If the story is the thing then we require something that moves the narrative on, rather than stalling it. Throw a dice, consult a table and chortle or despair over the outcome.

In fiction, each scene is supposed to show something about the characters or move the plot along. In wargames, we do not have a great deal of discovering stuff about the characters on the table (even in RPG) and so the plot is the thing. The driver is the specific scenario, of course, the terrain, balance of forces, objectives, and so on. This might be why straightforward destroy the enemy army wargames get a bit dull after a while. We have to care about the story, and want to know what happens next.

As such, the rules and mechanics, the models, and their interactions are necessary but insufficient conditions for an enjoyable wargame. While wargames can have higher or lower stakes for us, in terms of running campaigns, for example, if, ultimately, we do not care which side wins in terms of outcome, even if as solo gamers we are neutral in the matter, the plot is the thing; the rules need to facilitate but otherwise keep out of the way.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Telling Tales in Wargaming

Over the years, one of the things that has slowly come into focus in writing this blog has been the suspicion that most wargaming is storytelling. I imagine that there are two reactions to that comment. One could be ‘Of course it is, I’ve been saying so for years’, and the other might be’ Wargaming is a serious, grown-up hobby and I’m not telling you stories, just accounts of games.’

Both reactions are valid, naturally, but both sides might be willing to reflect a little bit more on wargaming, as in playing the games, as telling stories. Humans, after all, are storytelling animals. Telling stories, after all, is something that differentiates me from our cat. Stories are how we make sense of the world and receive and digest information about it. Even the most factual news is packaged as a ‘story’, whether we like it or not.

One of the interesting things about running this blog is the varying numbers of readers for the different sorts of posts. Before the botnets get to blatting the posts, which usually takes between a week and a month, depending on which networks are running, the battle report posts usually get fewer reads than the more abstract concepts and ideas posts. Of course, the naval wargaming posts take the lowest place, but battle reports are usually not much above them.

As a snapshot, the last four non-battle report posts have averaged about 68 reads per post. The last four battle report posts have averaged 54 reads. I am not sure whether the difference is really significant. Establishing that would require more work than I am inclined to devote to the topic, but the difference is around 20% in reads, so I suspect there might be some significance there.

My battle reports are part storytelling and part reportage. I tend to top and tail them with a bit of imaginative dialogue from some of the ‘participants’, especially if the wargames are part of a campaign. Then I tend to describe the game, with photographs and a description of the action. At the end are perhaps hints of the next games, and mostly there are not, simply because I have not thought about it yet.

The campaigns are, of course, narratives. In the case of the campaigns reported on the blog, they are self-consciously narrative. I create them not from moves on a map and careful calculation of resources after the mode of the famous Tony Bath Hyboria campaign of wargame legend, but from a storyline, and arc, with some troops and a map of an area.

The most satisfying narrative campaign has been the Armada Abbeys one, which also happened to be the first. These facts might be related, of course. But it did also satisfy the requirements, overall, of a story. It had a beginning, the landing at Whitby, and some plot development, through the battle of Guisborough. There were some plot twists, with the intervention of the Scots and the arrival of Spanish reinforcements. Finally, there was a satisfactory conclusion, with the final surrender of the Spanish forces in the North Yorkshire Moors. The overall tale is a pleasing one, to me at least.

Within the overall narrative arc, there are some key points, both campaign moments, such as when I realized that the Scots did not need to force the Tees bridge at Yarm but could try the next one along at Croft. There were also key points in the battles, such as the charge of the Scottish cavalry at Northallerton which meant that Don Carlos’ army was forced to make a difficult retreat (and was more or less destroyed as a fighting force as a result). There were some bits that I expected to be key points in the narrative, such as the defection of some militia at Guisborough, which did not turn out quite like that. On the other hand, the cavalry action at Mount Grace was a lot more significant than I expected, the resultant English fort dividing the Spanish armies and playing a part in the end of Don Carlos’ army.

The numbers looking at the blog posts, however, suggest that the stories, at least how I write them, are not as popular as the think-pieces. Granted, this blog started as think-pieces; the most popular post ever was called ‘Why I don’t Play WW2 Wargames’ or something of that nature. It was comparatively recently that I started wargame battle reports. Perhaps I am just not very good at them.

I do not know other bloggers' experiences of battle reports as opposed to pondering history and how to wargame it. Perhaps my experience is not representative, I have no idea. Blogging, after all, is a very personal thing; we blog, mostly, for ourselves. For me, the battle reports are convenient ways of logging my campaigns. If others gain ideas and interest from them then that is a bonus, not the point. But the relative unpopularity of my battle reports might suggest that other people’s stories are not as popular as our own.

Maybe there is another point lounging around here. I go to a show and see demonstration games and think ‘That is very nice but I cannot do that.’ The ‘cannot’ is a combination of the period, painting, scenery, cost, space, and all the other things that go towards deciding to stick with what I already have rather than launch into something new. It is quite likely to be the same for blog battle reports: ‘Very nice, but…’ Perhaps that is why they are relatively unpopular, plus the fact that that wargame has already been done in someone else’s story.

I am not sure. The considerations above will certainly not prevent me from writing blogs on my wargames, no matter how unpopular they are. As you might have noticed, I keep posting on the Anglo-Dutch Wars and they are hardly at the forefront of naval wargaming, let alone wargaming per se. But the stories are useful to me, as a record and also because I am, believe it not, human, and like telling stories.  

Saturday, 11 June 2022

A Little Scilly

‘The cavalry will advance and collect those ships, while the infantry will sail over there and make sure the clog wearers do not capture the islands.’

‘Um, general, those are ships and not infantry or cavalry. The cavalry are sixth rates, the infantry you describe are fifth rates, the Lion and the Unicorn.’

‘Captain, you are a sailor, I am a soldier. It is your job to translate my orders. Get on with it.’

‘Aye, aye, sir.'

*

You know what it is like, I am sure. You have a nice set of newly painted toys and you are itching to get them onto the table. But then a problem arises: you have no real idea what you are doing. Further, it turns out that you have no rules that particularly appeal to you. What is a poor solo wargamer to do?

Obviously, short of buying endless rules and engaging in indecision and procrastination, the answer is to sit down and write some rules and still get the toys onto the table. With the Anglo-Dutch Wars ships that is exactly what I did. I was somewhat dissatisfied with the rules to date, and so I stole (I beg your pardon, used as inspiration) the Eighteenth Century Naval Rules from Arthur Taylor’s Discovering Wargames book (which is many years old) for the sailing and weather rules, and my own bits for the combat rules. I find that I really do not like the endless accountancy that most naval wargame rules seem to require.

Next up was a scenario. Reading a little about the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War I came across an incident which seemed to fit the bill, particularly as, as a first outing for the rules, the forces could be small. The Scilly Isles were a base for Royalist privateers in the late 1640s. They even had a court there for the disposal of prizes. As the principal commercial maritime power, this annoyed the Dutch considerably, and so, in 1651 or so (I forget exactly) they dispatched an expedition to the Scillies to recover their vessels.

This move did not go down well with the Commonwealth government, which was attempting to negotiate an alliance with the Dutch at the time (and which was being roundly snubbed to boot). The two governments had wildly different ideas about what they were doing. However, the Commonwealth believed that the Dutch were attempting to set up a naval base on the island, with the connivance of the Stuarts, and so dispatched their own expedition to stop it.

This is the start of my scenario. In real life it did not result in a shooting match but, in my world, it could have done. The first job was to create some islands in 1:2400 scale, and then I had to choose the forces.


The picture shows the game at about move six. The Dutch appeared on move two in St Mary’s Sound. They consisted of two fifth rates, Leeuw and Eenhoorn and four hoekers, sixth rates (which I did not get around to naming). The two fifth rates are mid-picture, two of the hoekers are nearest the camera, about to cut out some merchantmen, and the other two are just boarding some of the others.

The Royalist guard ships are hanging around the other safe passage out of St Mary’s Harbour, Broad Sound which runs south-east to northwest (hence, the camera angle is roughly from the north). The Commonwealth ships arrived on move five. With four sixth rates upfront and two fifth rates (Lion and Unicorn) nearest the camera.

The wind was force 4 during the game (it can change every eight moves) and blowing north to south (this changed slightly to NNE to SSW). Ships cannot sail closer than 45 degrees to the wind and cannot change course across the wind. This caused both sides a fair bit of bother during the game as the sea room is rather constricted.

The ships are mainly my new Tumbling Dice Anglo-Dutch Wars vessels. The Royalist cutters and some of the merchantmen are Hallmark, the rest are Tumbling Dice. Each smaller merchantman counts as one point for the side that holds it at the end of the game, the big ones count as two points. To capture a merchantman a ship has to come alongside, wait for a move while the merchant is boarded and then move off when the merchant can then move. Captured merchantmen will immediately surrender if shot at or boarded by a different side.

The aim of the Dutch is to capture and escape with as many merchantmen as possible. The Commonwealth's aim was to prevent the Dutch from landing (which they have no intention of doing), capture merchantmen and, if at all possible, defeat the Royalists so the Commonwealth can capture the islands. The aim of the Royalists is to prevent their prizes from being taken or, if necessary, surrender to the Commonwealth ships rather than the Dutch.

This was a fascinating game. As I mentioned, the problems of wind and sail in a confined space made movement interesting. The rules kind of worked although I am not sure of the gunnery – it probably needs a bit more refinement.



The picture shows the key point of the game. Two merchants have been boarded by the Dutch and are proceeding, in the middle of the shot, to escape, although they will actually be recaptured by the Royalist guard ships shortly. Two of the larger merchants have also been boarded and are about to set sail to escape (the green counters show Dutch controlled merchants). Most of the Commonwealth sixth rates are sailing into the wind and exchanging shots with the Dutch sixth rates.

The main action is in the centre where the Leeuw, perhaps foolishly (and possibly as a result of my bad seamanship) has boarded another merchantman. However, the Unicorn has got to aft and has just raked her, crippling Leeuw.

For the rest of the game, the Commonwealth sixth rates recaptured the larger merchantmen while the Dutch sixth rates used the narrow channel to the north to escape. Eenhoorn exchanged broadsides with Lion and Unicorn, receiving one hit but inflicting two on Lion. The crew of the Leeuw boarded the merchantman they were in contact with and made off, while Unicorn sailed down on the Royalists and their prizes and the Royalists surrendered.

As the rules were new I do not think it was a bad game. Most of the gunfire was ineffective – it is done on matched rolls and the size of the vessel; the sixth rates did not damage to each other or any other vessel as far as I recall. The combat between the fifth rates did create damage, so that seems as it should be. The sailing rules took a fair bit of getting used to and frustration from this landlubber as the Dutch fifth rates could not turn to face the Commonwealth ships in time. We live and learn.

*

‘The governor of the Islands has offered to surrender to you, sir.’

‘Excellent. I can’t wait to get onto dry land.’

‘The Dutch ship has surrendered as well, sir. It seems to be sinking.’

‘Is that a bad thing for a ship?’

‘A little, sir. We’ll send some men and pumps and see if we can help.’

‘Is that necessary?’

‘Well, sir, it is a bit like having a waggon shed a wheel on a road on land. It gets in the way a bit. That ship is in the main anchorage and so it would be a bit inconvenient.’

‘You mean you want us to park there?’

‘Yes, sir, after a manner.’

‘Did you sigh captain? I distinctly heard a sigh.’

‘Must have been a seagull, sir.’



Saturday, 4 June 2022

A Painful Process

 ‘Are you still painting those ships?’ the Estimable Mrs P enquired one morning.

‘Yes. I’m just up to the bling.’

This elicited a snort from the spousal direction. ‘You don’t do bling.’

‘No, but the ships had quite a lot of it…’

As you might have surmised by occasional grumbling on this blog, the painting of the Anglo-Dutch Wars ships has not been proceeding quickly. It seemed like a fairly straightforward task – fourteen 1:2400 scale ships per side. Starting in February, I reckoned I would be finished by the beginning of April. It is now the end of May and I have just about staggered over the finishing line.

Do not get me wrong: this is not the fault of the models themselves. They are perfectly good scale models of the ships of the time. It was just that your humble correspondent had some problems, in particular assembling the models.

Sone tiny ship models come with sails on masts and little holes in the hull into which you stick the masts and hope that you keep them vertical; the Hallmark galleys and Armada era warships I have are of this type. Some of the ships are small enough to have the sails cast on; the Hallmark and Tumbling Dice little ships I have are of this type.

The Tumbling Dice Anglo-Dutch Wars ships which are the subject here, however, have cast on masts and sails to be attached using glue. The Estimable Mrs P was dispatched, on her next trip to the Post Office (which is in a hardware store, so it does make sense) to obtain some superglue. Fun and games ensued as I attempted to superglue the sails to the masts. The problem was that the masts, being vertical, ensured that the superglue ran down them and out of the joint before it could start to set. Hence, a lack of adhesion and much frustration from this poor modeller.

After a bit of experimentation, an alternative was found, consisting of partly dried PVA glue held in place by my unsteady hand until the sails were glued sufficiently to hold themselves in place. This was a bit hit and miss, and occasional sails were displaced by ineptly placed thumbs while attempting to glue the next one in place, as well as some sails, apparently being firmly glued in place not being so, and requiring the application of more glue to strengthen the joint. Batches of four were as much as I could manage, with one set of sails per ship (there were four sail sets – mizzen, main and foremasts, and a bowsprit sail) per day. Painting, after that, was comparatively simple, although there was always the danger of loosening the sails while undercoating. Extra coats of glue were eventually applied.

Painting complete, attention was then turned to flags. Now at 1:2400 scale, flags are rather small, as you might imagine. Initial experiments of wrapping the flag around the mast worked (especially when I discovered that the flags were adhesive-backed) but looked, in all honesty, a bit off; there was no room on the flag for a bit that wrapped around the flagstaff. They looked OK, but even your erstwhile bad modeller was not too happy.

Next up I tried wrapping the flags around a bit of five amp fuse wire and then supergluing the assembly to the mast. This looked better and, using tweezers, I managed not to superglue myself to anything. It was still fiddly, however, and I needed to paint any sticking out bits of fuse wire in order to make it look like rigging. An improvement, but not gold yet.

Finally, I figured out that I did not need the fuse wire, and simply scored the flags, cut them out, folded them over (removing the backing paper was probably the most fiddly part of the operation), and then glued them directly to the mast using PVA, the superglue having glued its own lid onto the tube in a hissy fit at not having been used properly (either that or me not having wiped the nozzle sufficiently at the previous last use). Being light the flags took the glue very quickly so my wobbly hands managed the task quite adequately (for me, anyway).

Then, liking the look of beflagged ships, my eye fell on the smaller items which had been painted first: cromsters, yachts, and hoekers. The flag sheets came with even smaller flags, and, flushed with success from flagging the fifth rates and above, I scored, cut, and stuck even smaller flags to the little ships.

So now, I present to you, the fruits of my labour. Do not look too closely, but I think they will do for wargaming models. Dutch lights nearest, then Dutch capital ships, British capital ships, and then the British lights, somewhat obscured.




In other news, I was rooting through some of my deep storage boxes the other day and came across a castle, which I had made up and painted years ago. Having started to repaint (finish and/or start over) some of my 25+ mm ECW figures, I retrieved it, even though it is, in fact (as I recall) the Airfix medieval castle.


Here we see the offending article with the newest re-recruits in front. As I recall the figure top right is a Redoubt French Musketeer figure, and the others are old Wargames Foundry. All I can say is ‘En Garde!’

All of this has left me wondering what the point was. I had a plan, even though it was a bit vague for these ships and the big figures. I think it was to do with Corbie; somewhere I do have a figure who was slated to be the English ambassador who was being escorted to the coast with the vital treaty which would bring Britain into the war against the Spanish and avoid the English Civil War. And of course, there would then be a chase at sea….

Things move on, of course, and I am now considering an idea I saw years ago, probably somewhere in Featherstone or possibly in Setting Up A Wargames Campaign of an island-hopping amphibious imagination campaign. Have ships, will travel.



Saturday, 28 May 2022

Wars in an Afternoon

I suppose that this is a bit of a follow-up to the ‘Battle for England’ post. I have already admitted assorted conceptual issues with that wargame idea, so I will not revisit those, except to note my own reaction: ‘Conceptual problems in wargaming? Who knew?’

Be that as it may, there are various ideas floating around for similar sorts of actions/campaigns. I have already mentioned the Peloponnesian Wars as one, contingent on having a huge store of hoplites, of course. Another possibility that Nundanket mentioned was the War of Austrian Succession or even the Napoleonic Wars. However, I have neither the figures nor the expertise to take those ideas any further.

I suppose that anything that could be reproduced on a map could be transferred to a wargame table. There is, of course, the problem of scale and ranges. It might be a little difficult to reproduce World War Two on a wargames table (unless it was a very big one). Even the European theatres might be a bit tricky, although if you went for something like 1944 you could have NW Europe, E Europe, and Italy as your armies. It might work.

Moving back into my historical comfort zone, aside from the ECW and GNW, we could have a stab at the Thirty Years War – French, Dutch, Swedes, Hapsburgs, Spanish, Danes, assorted Germans, and so on. For those who like the exotic, you could also add in Poles, Transylvanians, and, at a push, Muscovites, and Ottomans. That too would require a rather large table, I think.

Moving further back, I have always felt that the board game Machiavelli could be a good foundation for a campaign. I have, sort of done it and it did work. The sort of covers the fact that I simply used the map, rather than the game mechanics to create the actions. Here, I suppose, we are at the border between a map movement campaign and a campaign on a tabletop like my ECW and GNW games.

The advantage of a campaign on a tabletop is that you do not have all the paraphernalia that a map campaign requires, first and foremost, of course, a map, but also tracking and locating issues. A disadvantage might be, as I discovered, a difficulty with what scale of game you are playing. This does not necessarily detract from the game per se, but it might from the experience of the game as a representation of the campaign. As I said before, this might bear further pondering, or at least some proper planning.

Moving further back, some of you might recall I wrote a fair bit about the Norman Conquest of England and its consequences a while ago. This could, I think, be reduced to a table-top campaign. The Normans could be across the Channel, the English would have a northern and southern army, and the Vikings would appear in the north. If the northern Anglo-Saxon army is fairly weak (or a scratch militia army) then Harold and the southern army would have to switch from south to north and back again, as they did historically. It might work especially if you had suitable ship models for the period, as both the Viking and the Norman invasions were amphibious operations, and Harold could have had a fleet.

With shorter ranges and smaller armies, it is possible that the ancient and medieval periods have a lot of opportunities for this sort of game. Alternatively, the simple campaign system in DBA could be adopted and adapted. My GNW game had sort of that concept in mind, but without as many bases for the armies. You could quite easily run something like a Hundred Years War campaign along those lines, with the English, French, Burgundians, Low Countries (they had a habit of rebelling), and possibly Spain and the Empire involved. I imagine in this case Paris would be the prize, although Joan of Arc might have something to say about that.

Moving further back still, a 'first man in Rome' sort of game might be possible. Take, for example, 69 AD, the year of the four emperors. Here you have a Gallic and German contender, the emperor in Rome, the eastern armies (big, but with a war to fight themselves), Spanish provincial armies, and so on. That would be possible, but again, strategic movement might get a bit cramped and you could need fleets, at least for the eastern army. Similarly, the Roman Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey would need fleets, not least because Caesar got around a bit, from Britain to Egypt at least. You would somehow have to represent the general skulduggery and shameless courting of public opinion, as well as the possibility of getting generals killed as they tried to outdo each other’s conquests (Crassus, for example). Possible, but perhaps best on a map.

I suppose the general thrust here is that doing a campaign on a table in a day (or two) is fun, but not appropriate (or I cannot imagine it) for everything. Alexander’s campaigns could be done, I suppose, but he sort of fought linearly – Greeks, then Persians (several times) then Indians. This does not really require a map or a table with all the forces deployed, but a narrative approach working out what happens after a particular battle, and some thinking about what to do if Alexander loses.

None of this solves my conceptual dilemma, of course. Do I set it up as a representation of the campaign or war, or as a single complex battle and let it rip. Having landed up playing once as the latter, and once as a mix, it seems to me that the latter approach would work best, but I could be wrong. I do think, however, that a bit more preparation is required for running a campaign in an afternoon than I put into the ECW game. But that is the purpose of such pieces as this – thinking out loud about where the games should go from here.



Saturday, 21 May 2022

The Roman Invasion of Britain

 We all know the narrative, do we not? Julius Caesar invaded, beat the locals and then went home again, twice. Then, after this reconnaissance in force (and a few civil wars in Rome) the Romans came back under Claudius and stayed, defeating the ungrateful locals who rebelled from time to time, including Boudicca who, in spite of being a heroic woman, was still not a Roman and hence wrong, because she did not grasp all the advantages of Roman civilisation.

Anyway, after bringing the benefits of being Roman to these shores, the country settled down to building stuff in civilised stone to permit later archaeologists to speculate them, and also constructed a wall to keep the even less civilised inhabitants of the far north out. Eventually, of course, as is the way with most civilisations except our own, the Roman Empire collapsed, the legions left to defend the metropolis, and Britain entered the Dark Ages.

Well, it is not that simple, as you probably already know. Every aspect of the above ‘normative’ narrative has been questioned, one way or another. This does not, naturally, mean that it is still not propagated, most histories of Roman Britain at the more popular end of the market spin a tale like that, one way or another.

As you may surmise, I have been reading again:

Hoffmann, B. (2013). The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology versus History. Pen and Sword.

This is an interesting book, although not without caveats. The main one is that it is more tending towards an academic tome, and sometimes the assumptions that the reader knows the locations of the sites of importance and the texts is a bit overwhelming. I suppose there are so many that a location map for everything would be difficult, but I did struggle a bit. Perhaps I should have broken out my trusty OS Roman Britain maps.

Be that as it may, Hoffmann is very interesting about what, exactly we know about Roman Britain, how it came into existence, how it survived and declined. I suppose she takes a more empiricist or reductionist stance: we know very little. By what she calls a ‘journalistic’ standard of evidence, we can essentially say that Julius Caesar came twice and went home again, for example. Precisely what happened while he was here, or why he went home again is largely unknown to us, unless we are rather credulous about Caesar’s own account.

And so it goes on. We know a little bit about the Claudian invasion, but not much, including such important details as where they landed. As Hoffmann point out (she is an archaeologist) archaeology cannot really help, here. We can identify Fishbourne and Richborough as early Roman ports, but not which was first, or even if one of them was first.

At the other end of the time zone, we can identify forts of the Saxon Shore. What we cannot do is deduce whether they were build as a defensive system or were an ad hoc response to various threats and defensive needs constructed at different times, and only came to have a commander later. Archaeology cannot tells us and the chronicles which could cover it do not say.

We are thus left with a bunch of plausible scenarios, stories we can tell about how Roman Britain came and went. Deciding which is the most likely and which the least is a tricky business to say the least. While evidence is being (literally) uncovered all the time, fitting bits of pot into a chronology is difficult and even then the stones might not tell us very much.

Are these conclusions as controversial as the blurb on the book claims? Probably not so much to anyone who has read a bit about the ancient world and Roman Britain, as I have. Nevertheless it is interesting and does stimulate the wargaming taste buds. As my loyal reader might recall I have, following the man himself ‘re-fought’ Caesar’s first British campaign. Julius lost. Hoffmann’s conclusion about the actions is pretty well the same, expressing scepticism about Caesar’s claims and noting some confusion about the chronology and geography of the campaigns anyway. She ends the chapter on Caesar’s activities by quoting Lucan: Caesar Territa Quaesitis ostendit terga Britannis (Pharsalia (5.572)). ‘Caesar came looking for the British and then terrified, turned tail’ Not exactly a ringing endorsement, more along the lines of ‘He came, he saw, he scarpered’.

I suppose a recurrent theme in the book is that of the Roman historians, who tended to be based in southern Europe and have their eyes on Rome, if not residing there. Their reliability regarding activities in and the geography of Britain, not to mention other far flung reaches of the Empire, are bound to be a bit dodgy. In a couple of paragraphs Hoffmann pretty well dismantles the Elizabethan and Victorian obsession with Boudicca. Tactius’ account became widely available in Britain in 1591. Hoffmann notes that it permitted some flattering comparisons for a female monarch menaced by a continental power. Similarly, the Victorians identified Boudicca as a wronged wife and mother, a heroine fighting for British liberty and justice, and certainly better than Queen Cartimandua who surrendered Caractatus to the Romans.

The point is that, probably, Tacitus was using his character of Boudicca more to speak about his own attitudes to women in power, particularly the mothers, sisters and wives of assorted Roman emperors. The revolt of the Iceni is visible in the archaeological record in Colchester and London. Tacitus also notes the destruction of Verulamium, but there is no archaeological evidence. Silchester, however, does yield such evidence, but is not noted by the historians. Boudicca seems to have headed west, not north.

As you might have noted, there is a lot in the book, which is of modest size for what is essentially, notwithstanding the title, a concise history of Roman Britain. I cannot cover it all here – the comments on the end of Roman Britain and the comparative uselessness of the Notitia Dignitatum are also interesting. Perhaps another time.