Saturday 31 December 2022

Air War Games

Well, here we are again, a New Year (nearly) and the same old stuff. This time I have been reading another old wargaming book, this time helpfully republished in the ‘History of Wargaming’ series by John Curry.

As those of you with the slightest interest in these things will know, there are precisely two books on air wargaming, which makes it an even more marginal wargaming activity than naval wargaming. This second book is, in fact, the earlier published one:

Donald Featherstone’s Air War Games: Wargaming Aerial Warfare 1914 – 1975 (revised edition, ed. John Curry, 2020).

As the original was published in 1966, the dates in the title indicate where some of the revisions occur. The book includes some rules and games for air combat over South-East Asia in the late 1960s. This, and a couple of other chapters on defending the Reich in 1944 and being in Bomber Command in 1943 are not Featherstone chapters, I don’t think. But they are worth having.

The updating does not stop there. The chapters on available models, commercial air wargames, and research are changed almost in their entirety. Hence it is revised; not the original text. This means that at times the editorial voice is rather intrusive, if not dominant. This is a good thing in some senses: most of the model information and the reference books are, to say the least, well out of date. On the other hand, occasionally, the editor’s footnotes, explaining bits of Featherstone’s text, can feel a bit more intrusive. I am not sure whether it is helpful; perhaps I am more used to dealing with old texts on their own terms.

Still, as with most of Featherstone’s books, it is quite a lot of fun. The chapter on methods of using model aircraft conjurers up a load of images in my mind of middle-aged wargamers clambering on top of their tables to string fishing line and cotton across them, and attaching nylon to their precious models to let them slide down wire to drop their bombs. I do not know if anyone really took this up, to be honest. In my hands, anyway, it simply would not work because I am just not that handy.

The key problem is aerial warfare is, of course, the dreaded third dimension. I suppose this is true also in fantasy and science-fiction games as well. Things that fly, aeroplanes, spaceships, and weird bat-like creatures, are always going to pose a problem for the wargamer. We know there is a third dimension, it is just that things in it refuse to stay put. Until someone invents an anti-gravity force field for wargaming, or wargames on a space station, that is the way it is going to stay.

Other methods of suspending aircraft in mid-air have other issues. Basically putting them on telescopic stands works nicely for air-to-air combat, but not for air-to-ground because the base of the telescopic bit gets in the way of the ground forces, or vice-versa. Perhaps some entrepreneurs in the future will invent wargame scale model aircraft as tiny drones.

Anyway, you get some interesting stuff here. As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, Featherstone is well aware that land, sea, and air warfare are all interlinked. He also has a bit on weather in air wargames which is quite helpful. It is not as detailed as Spick’s but does note (which Spick might but not that I recall) that for, say, a bombing raid to be viable the weather at both ends (and in between) needs to be suitable. There is no point in taking off on a beautiful evening in East Anglia if you cannot so much as find Germany, let alone your target because it is shrouded in thick fog.

There are some interesting ideas. Possibly the most interesting to me, although underdeveloped in the book, is a totally map-based game at 1 mm to the mile and 6 minutes to the move. This was the idea of an Edinburgh wargamer, Charles Dick. The location of your aircraft is recorded in a notebook which has one page for each 20 by 20-mile square, and the wargamers write (in pencil) the location of their squadrons, etc. Next move, these are erased and re-written on the next appropriate page until contact is made, at which point silhouettes of the aircraft are shown to the opponent. As Featherstone gnomically remarks, firing and determination of casualties is worked out by ‘whatever methods the combatants desire.’

Having been pondering, for a specific purpose, how to incorporate aerial warfare into wargames, this seems to me to be a workable system that could be updated for the Twenty-First Century using, for example, a spreadsheet or two. The system would also work for air and sea warfare, such as (as DF suggests) Midway.

One of the vital activities in air warfare, I have learned from reading these books on air wargaming, is the reconnaissance and spotting role. It seems to me that these roles are somewhat under-represented in most wargames I have seen set in the Twentieth Century and beyond. And that is a shame, because much of the interest, for me at least, lies there.

As an example I have been watching Warplane Workshop, an obscure series (actually, the Estimable Mrs. P. expressed a wish to see it, as it is about something that neither of us knows anything about) on an obscure UK TV channel (More 4, for those interested). The first program was about restoring and flying a Spitfire Mark 19, which was a reconnaissance, late-war, aircraft, also used for chasing V1s. The problem it was to solve, at least initially, was finding the German forces retreating through France and other bits of Western Europe. After all, you cannot defeat the enemy if you do not know where they are. The methods of handling a very fast aircraft trying to find armed forces that have no wish to be found, in the early morning (to get the shadows) with an oblique camera can only be imagined.

On the other hand, I do recall R. V. Jones remarking that the reconnaissance flights were vital, and he discovered a method of making life easier. The commandos raided a German radar site (I forget where, on the coast of France), really to steal as much as they could of it to see what it was and how it worked. This had the knock-on effect of causing the Germans to place barbed wire around their radar installations which made the job of spotting them a lot easier, as the pictures showed rings of uncut grass around them. Warfare is full of unintended consequences.

Happy New Year.

Saturday 24 December 2022

Christmas Crackers

It has become ‘traditional’, whatever that means, at this time of year, that I give you, my loyal reader, a set of rules to download, ruminate upon, and then leave on your hard drive until the end of time. However, this year, for assorted reasons some of which might become clear eventually, I do not have any such offering. While racking my brains for what I could do which would appear generous (the times are straitened, of course) I hit upon the idea of a fully formed campaign. And so, for those few of you who have been following it (one of the posts has a record-low number of hits, I think) I give you the Jersey Boys campaign.

There are two files in the download (about 1.75 MB, zip file, if you are interested). One is a map, with hexes overlaid, and the other is a list of the commanders with their personalities and the forces at both sides’ disposal. I think it has been rather a fun campaign, but your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Still, it would only take a few name changes to adjust to other age of sail eras. I could quite easily see the campaign re-imagined as a Napoleonic era French invasion, either to prevent British privateers or the RN from using it as a base, or just because Jersey is a convenient bit of the UK (actually, technically, it is not part of the UK, but we’ll have some slack cut due to the time of year) to invade from France.

It could also be imagined as an Anglo-Norman affair, perhaps related to the loss of Normandy by King John, or the Hundred Year’s War, again relating to Normandy. If you want to do a bit more leg work, of course, the Second World War beckons, but a bit of effort could make something interesting relating to the later Nineteenth Century, or the Eighteenth.

The campaign could be made longer if there was a possibility of the defenders being reinforced. The Royalists in the early 1650s were, of course, in a fairly hopeless position, but other eras present other options. Another possibility could be the Romans and some sort of Gallic or Ancient Briton alliance. After all, Asterix’s home village was somewhere on the mainland nearby, I think.

So, plenty of possibilities. Give it a go with whatever forces you have available. You never know, you might enjoy it. And a very Happy Christmas to you all.

The Jersey Boys campaign (map and characters, forces, and dispositions), can be found here.

Saturday 17 December 2022

Sea Battle Games

I have moaned here before about the lack of naval wargaming and wondered about why that may be. Mind you, I have noticed that there is even less air wargaming around, unless one includes ground attack in that category. So I have taken a trip down memory, or in this case, very vague memory, lane, and come up with one of the early books on naval wargaming:

Dunn, P., Sea Battle Games, Hemel Hempstead, MPA, 1970.

I remember this book vaguely from the public library when I was a lad. The cover is striking, showing an exploding ship. This slightly belies the claim that wargame books and rules covers rarely show casualties, the only exception being Charles Grant’s Battle! Anyway, I digress.

The book proceeds more or less as you would expect for the period. There is some background and then some scoping. In this case, there is more or less an apology for not covering, for example, the Armada. This comes with some quite astute (or waspish, depending on your point of view) comments about Victorian historical writing, observing that ‘The historic truth of the Spanish Armada is, alas, far removed from the popular Victorian legend.’ (p.12). Quite so.

Anyway, the scoping comments are quite astute, at least in my opinion. Dunn advocates the use of campaigns. Battles for their own sake land up with rather silly (and certainly unhistorical) activities, such as damaged battleships charging the enemy. He describes the stand-alone action as a ‘blast battle’.

The book itself covers rules for Napoleonic wargames, ironclads (1860-70). The next chapter is a bit of an oddity in this non-expert's eyes, in that it is about pre-Dreadnought gunnery. I imagine that it goes together sufficiently well to permit small actions in the 1880-1940 or so era, when ship-to-ship gunnery combat was, at least theoretically the way actions were settled.

Next up, before the World War Two rules, there is a chapter on Map Campaigns, with three categories: self-contained, where the campaign and action is entirely map based; semi-secret campaigns; completely secret campaigns. The differences are mostly about how much information is revealed to the enemy (and the need for an umpire, of course). The rules are fairly straightforward, fortunately, and they seem to be sensible. The diagrams showing various wargamers’ activities are something you might either love or hate, such as bald Albert, smooth Sam, and bearded umpire Jonathan. The fact that they all wear jackets and Sam, at least, a tie, gives them a certain period charm.

Anyway, World War Two rules follow, and they have all the problems and solutions (including fudges and workarounds) that we already know. Given a scale ship of 1:1200, the ship's speed is translated directly from knots to inches, which means you have to have a fairly large playing area. Gun ranges too are rather scary, suggesting 91 inches for an eighteen-inch salvo. That is probably bigger than my entire wargame ‘room’. Still, Dunn does suggest reducing the range by half or three-quarters. He also notes that while the speed scale is correct for one minute, the damage from gunnery is probably more likely correct for twenty minutes. Compromise is in the air.

Still, torpedo, submarine, and air rules are included, so the rules do not suffer from a lack of comprehensiveness. As with many naval rules I have seen, they rely on both dice and card drawing for resolving gunnery. I have not, of course, seen all that many rule sets, particularly more recent ones, so I cannot comment on other ways of resolution. Still, the limits of wargaming were often identified by pioneer writers, and many of the problems they throw up remain unresolved.

Chapter 9 is ‘The Hypothetical World War Game’, which is fascinating. It is, basically, a campaign set in an imaginary world. Given that heavy bomber range is nearly half the world map, it is not a particularly large world, and steaming off the right-hand side of the map leads you to reappear on the left, it is certainly a world. There are rules for generating the naval forces, air squadrons, and army groups. Resources are limited to steel and oil. The former limits ship repair and construction, and the latter the range of the ships.

The result is an interesting mix of naval activity (the map is mostly islands) and interaction with air and land elements. Doing the latter ‘properly’, of course, makes the whole lot a load more complex and in a context of a naval wargame book beyond its scope. This is a bit of a shame because, well, the epitome of wargaming is surely those operations or wars where all three (or both, in earlier ages) were involved.

Still, the last chapter discusses wargaming in earlier ages, taking 1470 (firearms on warships) as the start date. There are some suggestions on wargaming the Armada, with observations about the differences between Spanish and English gunnery and their strengths and weaknesses. There are a couple of paragraphs on Lepanto and then on Henry VIII’s navy.

Obviously, a book of this age shows it in some aspects. The comments about models are, obviously out of date. The contemporary wargamer has a bewildering choice of scales for naval wargaming, from 1:6000 up. If I ever did get around to Twentieth Century wargaming that is the naval scale I would go for. As I mentioned a long time ago the compression of the ground scale in the Twentieth Century just gets huge, and the only way to deal with it is to reduce the anomalies by shrinking to models. Alternatively, especially with the carrier battles of the later Pacific War, you could manage with a pure map game.

Still, it was worth reading again, after many years of vaguely remembering it. As with any wargame book, there is some useful stuff in it, some things to make the wargamer think, and some parts which make you wonder whether the topic was really carried out in that way. I am not to judge, but the enthusiasm of books of this age is not to be doubted.

Saturday 10 December 2022

The Siege of Somesvar

‘Why are the heretic cowards skulking in there?’

‘Perhaps they have been hit with a spirit of fear by the Lord, Jaz.’

‘They should come out and fight like the heretic cowards they are!’

‘Um, Jaz. Heretic cowards, by definition, would not come out and fight. Due to being cowards, like. You know?’

‘Are you on their side?’

‘No, no. Just trying to explain. The Lord our God gave us brains to use as well as, um, fanatical faith.’

‘I am not a fanatic! The Lord really does speak to me and I call them heretic cowards! HERETIC COWARDS!’

‘Yes, Jaz. Now, perhaps, a nice lie down in the cool and dark of the wagon will help. It's going to be a long siege.’


It has been a long time, or so it feels since the Hussites hit the table. So I thought I would drag them out and see how the rebellion was going. As you might have divined from the above, Jaz and her fellow war wagon drivers have pitched up outside a castle held by a German Crusader army.

Initially, I was going to wargame the approach and deployment, but as the German noble cavalry (4 bases) and skirmishers (2 bases) faced up to the proto-besiegers (24 bases, plus some big bombards) the nobles did the only truly noble thing they could and rode off into the sunset shouting ‘Stand firm’ over their shoulders, and ‘We’re all in this together’, and promising to bring aid. So much for the public school educated.

Anyway, that left the situation as in the picture.

Now, even with two armies, there are not really sufficient troops to surround the castle (Leven Miniatures), but the game was meant as another outing for my playing card-driven siege rules, with hopefully slightly less wacky results than last time. Nevertheless, you can see the results of the first few cards drawn. The Hussite main magazine has exploded (foreground) and part of the castle wall has already collapsed (3 points damage to the left of the gate). Obviously, health and safety and maintenance rules are being laxly enforced on both sides.

The game proceeded quite nicely. The trenches were dug, the batteries established and only a few unwanted events were found, which kept the game moving but did not bog it down in too many events so the generals were totally disempowered.

Above you can see the siege works advanced and a breach has in fact been created in the already damaged wall section. The next card drawn informed me that a wall section had collapsed. The Hussite billmen attempted to storm the breach but were held off by the German spearmen. Along the way a Hussite battery had exploded; clearly, inexperience with gunpowder was telling.

After the storm was repelled I had to do a bit of pondering on behalf of the Hussites. As has been noted, under the rules (in fact, it should be under any rules) bills versus pikes or spears is a bit of a slog. Both have high factors and it is difficult to get a result. In the above storming, the Germans were able to flank some Hussite blades and destroy them. I realised that I was lacking a bit of firepower.

Now, Hussites have firepower. They are famous for it, with the war wagons occasionally being described as prototype tanks (which they were not, but anyway). I noticed that the war wagons could not really be deployed closer to the walls, but that the crews could be. The Hussite war wagons were crewed by folks with both handguns and crossbows, probably a lot more of the latter than the former in reality. So, I thought, I can dismount some of the crews and have them shoot through the breach to clear the way for another assault. Another round of card drawing or two left the Hussites attempting to demolish another wall section (and failing) while pushing their trenches ever closer to the breach.

The above shows the final assault. Hussite firepower pushed the German crossbows back from their temporary defences inside the breach and enabled the billmen to go in again. This time the disruption from the firepower was such as gave the Hussites the upper hand in the combat, and they prevailed, albeit just. The castle surrendered.

I confess I was pleased with how my siege events table worked out. It might have helped that I did not draw any of the mine and countermine cards, of course, but I would probably have simply ignored them. Nevertheless, the cards added colour to the game, with a sudden wall collapse, exploding gunpowder, and, at the last, an immense burst of energy enabling the Hussites to push their trenches right under the walls.

In the game the defence was rather passive, I admit. That was partly because I wanted to test the rules, rather than fight a siege wargame, but also because without the knights the German Crusaders are a bit low on options in a siege. I should have probably given them some more firepower as well. Although they do not seem to have used handguns or cannons on the battlefield, they did on walls and in sieges.

Still, it was a good game. I think my rules are advancing to the point I can conceive that a siege wargame could be interesting and give some difficult decisions to both players, as well as a few random events to cause a bit of head-scratching. At one card each per siege turn, with only half the cards being relevant, you get a nice slow flow of randomness and can make plans. The game, as I recall, took 13 siege turns and two bursts of tactical action in the storming. I have not quite worked out how long a siege turn is, yet. Maybe a few days.


‘We are triumphant! The gates of Hades cannot stand against us!’

‘Jaz, the castle wasn’t called Hades, you know.’

‘Any place where the unbelievers reign is Hades! But the Lord of Hosts has overcome. We march triumphantly against sin, the world, and the Devil. Whose round is it?’

Saturday 3 December 2022

Air Battles in Miniature

Fear not, gentle reader. You have not opened the wrong blog, nor have I gone totally mad, or, hopefully, even slightly. Nevertheless, the title and topic do need some sort of explanation, in this case, a delve down memory lane.

A long time ago I read a couple of issues of Airfix Magazine. As with many of my generation, there was a lot of model making of ships, aircraft and tanks, along with divisions of little soldiers to be stood up, have marbles rolled at them, lost in the garden trenches and so on. One article stuck in my mind, however, was about the use of model aircraft in air wargaming.

The author of the article (there might have been two) was Mike Spick, and there was a book. Being impoverished and also in a small community, my only hope was the town library, which carried a fair few wargaming books, but Mr Spick’s never appeared. Who knows what might have happened if it had.

Still, many years later the memory returned and the second-hand book market turned up trumps:

Spick, M., Air Battles in Miniature: A Wargamers’ Guide to Ariel Combat 1939 – 1945 (PSL, Cambridge, 1978)

With the blessing of the Estimable Mrs P. the tome winged its way to my door, although I had to promise not to start off a World War Two aircraft collection. One quiet Friday afternoon I settled down to read.

The most obvious problem with air combat is the third dimension. Aeroplanes operate in the along, side-to-side and the up and down, while land and sea forces only have to contend with the first two. How this is represented on a wargame table is a matter of some perplexity. Mr Spick has his own answer, at least for the tactical game.

I did manage to reduce the Estimable Mrs P to laughter with some of the solutions to the 3-D problem of air wargaming. Telescopic car aerials, for example, were treated with a little derision. See-through plastic stands fared slightly better, although not a great deal as it was pointed out that aeroplanes operate at different heights. Criss-crosses of thread or fishing line hanging over the table were, I am afraid to say, simply laughed at, along with a look which said ‘Don’t even think it’. I suppose that this solution needs a permanent wargame table.

Still, Mr Spick’s solution is obvious to a mathematician. On the basis that the three dimensions are the same, we can alter the slice of space in which our aircraft operate. That is, instead of the table representing the side-to-side and the along, it represents the up-and-down and the along. Instead of height being bodged, depth is.

The upshot of this is that when making your Airfix aircraft kits, you need to make them in two halves. Depending on in which direction your aircraft is moving, you use a different half. Up and down is obvious, while in and out is, largely, ignored, or at least, reduced to a projection of that dimension on the other two, such as when an aircraft turns.

This certainly gives another view of air combat, and the rest of the book, after accepting that compromises are rife in wargames and in particular air wargames, the tactical rules are worked out with respect to it. So far as I am any judge here (which is not far) they seem workable but, as aircraft vary widely in performance, horribly complex and technical. Air combat is also, it seems, nasty, brutish and short, and a turn length of 4 seconds seems to suggest as much.

So far, so fascinating but, for my poor little brain which can just about cope with half-a-dozen troop types, navigating the differences between a Bf109G and a Spitfire Vc is a bit much. For me, the book gets more interesting when it turns to air-to-ground interactions (bombing, strafing and anti-aircraft fire) and larger-scale campaigns. Here, the x-z plane for the wargame table is abandoned, and the whole is given over to the operational map.

Spick suggests a number of possible limited campaigns. I learnt that the air war on the Eastern Front was mostly fought in support of ground activities, which brings us back to the 3-D problem, but some of the other activities could be recreated. Most obvious is the Battle of Britain, with Luftwaffe air raids and their limited fighter support. Another possibility is the raids by night and day in Germany starting in roughly 1942. Here, considerations of weather and wind are important in planning, and I also learnt that one of the points of pathfinder missions was to measure the wind speed local to the target to aid navigation and the ability to actually hit something.

Interactions of aircraft with naval vessels are also covered. The purists might not like the solutions proposed, but they seem workable to me, but most would probably replace them with whatever their naval rules suggest. Spick does emphasise he is looking at the subject from the air side, not the ground. The book does include dashes of humour: he notes it is easier to keep track of damage to naval air bases than land ones because the former tend to sink.

The best idea in the book, so far as I can tell, is air operations around Malta. Malta was important because of the convoys from Italy to North Africa. Mr Spick notes that when bomber forces were sent to Malta, the Axis air forces went into overdrive. The game could include various aspects of naval warfare, such as the Malta convoys, but can be treated as a pure air campaign. All that would be needed is an outline map of Sicily and Malta, and if I could find one on the Internet I might give it a go.

The forces involved in the Malta campaigns were, on the whole, smallish and included, of course, Italian air units, which are a must, it seems to me, for those who like less fashionable aircraft. The game could conceivably last for three years, from 1940, and the units available varied considerably, as Allied reinforcements got through (or did not) and units of the Luftwaffe were called away to other duties, mostly on the Russian front.

So there you are. A trip down memory lane, a teenage daydream fulfilled and some interesting stuff. But I will probably keep my feet on the ground.

Saturday 26 November 2022

The Second Battle of Temeshvekovar

‘Will these people never give up?’

‘They are Romans, my friend. They never give up as long as their cause is righteous.’

‘Who says if their cause is righteous?’

‘They decide. And if the cause includes money, it is automatically righteous.’

‘They worship money?’

‘Um… Not exactly. They worship the things you can gain with money, especially power and the ability to make people do what you want them to do.’

‘And so they are back again to try to reclaim ‘their’ money.’

‘Indeed, my friend. All you have to do is beat them again.’

‘And you cannot help again?’

‘I am afraid not. I am still tracking down my brother. The plains are a big place. I think I know where he is.’


Long time, no ancients. Still, I have just finished painting some more Dacians and so it seemed like a good idea to get them onto the table. After the last outing, I felt the Romans had been a bit hard done by at Temeshvekovar, losing out to a desperate flanking charge at the Dacian last gasp. Anyway, I went all sophisticated on this one.

The opening move or so is shown above. The Romans, led by yours truly, have just arrived on the table bottom left. Dubloswhiskos is on the hill to the middle left. The piles of playing cards are the Dacian ambush positions, two or four cards for the smaller positions, the rest on the hill to the left, the hill just behind the stream to the right, and Temeshvekovar itself, in the distance in the right corner.

At this point, I recalled how useful light troops were in ambush situations. I had a base of light horse and was determined to use it. The first ambush threw up a base of Dacian bows in the fields in the foreground. I left those to the infantry.

Accompanying the cavalry, I investigated the rear of the first hill and obtained a major ambush of Dacians from their stack: eight bases of tribal foot, a base each of skirmishers and bows. This made me nervous, as it was here that the Roman attack had faltered last time. I determined to approach this assault more methodically.

The plan was to deploy the auxiliaries to prevent Dacian attacks down the hill on the legionary column, while the legionaries moved along the road to take the hill from the flank, covered by the cavalry. It, well, sort of, worked.

Above you can see the auxilia neatly deployed at the foot of the hill, and the legionaries are deploying. However, the auxilia archers have just been struck and routed by a full-blooded charge down the hill by some tribesmen. I had forgotten, since it is so long ago, that the most vulnerable point of the Roman armies seems to be their archers. Humbug. Still, I have the cavalry backing them up and I have deployed some legionaries to give the tribal foot something to think about on their flank. It will be fine.

Sometimes, fine is not enough. Or rather, the dice do not smile on the ‘it will be fine camp’. Disordered as they were by their victory over the bowmen, the tribal foot ploughed into the supporting cavalry and, as the shaken counters indicate, gave them a rough time, even with being flanked by some legionaries. The Dacian foot on the hill, by the way, cannot be persuaded, even by Dubloswhikos, to charge down the hill at the auxilia.

Things went from bad to worse as the Roman cavalry lost the next round of combat and fled, although the legionaries did finish off one of the tribal bases. As the Dacians pursued, however, the remaining Roman cavalry struck them from behind and they added to the routing throng. Meanwhile, Dubloswhiskos persuaded his men to charge and they struck the auxilia, causing the right-hand bases to rout but being recoiled by the left (pesky dice again) which meant that the great barbarian had to dice for his well-being. A six was rolled (dice again!) and he was hors de combat. The Dacian morale went to fall back, so they did, but, next turn, some extra Dacian tempo was rolled and, not having much left to do, the tribesmen charged again and this time routed the auxilia.

By this time both armies were in a fairly parlous state. The Dacians were general-less and only had a skirmisher and an archer base on the hill. The rest of the tribal foot was either routing or pursuing. I was about to assault the hill with an imposing line of legionaries, having managed to impose some sort of order on the centre. Meanwhile, some Dacian foot had sealed off the ford.

After a bit of thought, I called for overnight camping of the armies. The Dacians withdrew from the hill and the pursuing tribesmen circled around to join their friends. The Romans camped on top of the hiss, and the ambush cards, with losses removed, were shuffled and redeployed.

The fighting the next day was rather short. The Roman cavalry crossed the river while the foot moved along the road to the ford. I, as general, was too busy ordering the foot to cross the stream that I failed to stop my cavalry from trotting onto a Dacian skirmisher screen, which they started to dispose of up the hill, but they then fell victim to the downhill tribal foot charge. One base was routed and the Roman morale was gone.

Was it my fault? Maybe. There were simply not enough tempo points around to stop the cavalry at the point I wanted them to halt. Mind you, Dubloswhiskcos had already called up reinforcements from the town so I was going to be in trouble anyway. Two deep tribal foot charging downhill are a handful.


‘So you won again, my friend. Even the Romans might accept you have earned your gold.’

‘Do the Romans accept anything? Anyway, could you sort out your civil war and get back to being my ally before they come again? I have to beat them every time, they only need to win once.’

Saturday 19 November 2022

Post-Colonial Wargaming

Over the years, people who have kindly commented on this blog have raised a number of ways of describing its content. Perhaps the most accurate, at least in the early days, was a kind of postmodern wargaming. I have tended to move away from that at least in terms of blog posts; there are other things to write about, not least playing actual wargames.

Anyway, the title of this post is possibly a red rag to some wargamers but bear with me. It might even turn out to be interesting and relevant. I am reading a book (actually, I have been asked to review it) which has as one of its themes post-colonialism, along with domination, empire and the mindsets that these elements of the world and its history have generated. As with a lot of non-wargaming books I have read, in order to see if the arguments are sound, I thought to apply them to wargaming. This might be a bit unfair, as I have only reached the third chapter, but I will give it a go.

The basic idea is this: modern western society is dominated by global capital, and global capital makes us think in certain ways. We consider economic activity and efficiency, employment and activity, consumption and productivity, and so on. Sitting behind this is the modern subject of economics, and its claims to be scientific. That is, the market is presumed to be rational, and the free individuals who operate within the market are also presumed to be rational actors, and to be able to look out for themselves. This is, of course, a view of the marketplace which is that of the privileged few, those who play the market and win.

Now, before the blog gets accused of being some sort of woke wargaming, ‘woke’ being a term of abuse for thinking about things like racism, colonialism and other prejudices, let me think a little about how wargaming works, at least within its historical context. The idea of postcolonialism, after all, is that there are plenty of alternatives, not just the one tied down by those in power. And it is that idea of alternatives that I think is worth exploring.

Let me take an example, as it might aid clarity. Suppose you decide that the next project in your wargaming is the Battle of Agincourt. You have a rough idea of this, from the bowmen of England fighting with their trousers down and their fingers up against the cream of French nobility. But you do need a little more information, such as how many men there were per side and how they were deployed. It is here the wargamer runs into some difficulty.

According to most chroniclers, the English army numbered around 6000 me. I think we can cope with that, but the French are a lot more difficult. The English chroniclers give between 60000 and 150000, while the French give 8000 and 50000 (some also giving the English 20000). Juliet Barker goes for 8000 men at arms, 4000 archers and 1500 crossbowmen in the vanguard, a similar number in the main battle, two wings of 600 and 800 mounted men at arms, and the rest in the rearguard.

Already the wargamer is faced with choices and alternatives. We have a sort of scientific mindset that needs the numbers and the actions to be nailed down far more accurately than the chronicles can achieve, and a great deal more accurately than the authors and actors probably would have been interested in. We also suffer a little because most historians are more interested in the Treaty of Troyes and its terms rather than the battle which led to it, but I will avoid a rant about the bias of modern historians against military history here.

There are, of course, other confusions, such as the exact compositions and locations of the cavalry, and how the French host was really organised (if indeed it was organised). All sorts of rivalries emerged and were a nightmare for the commanders in assigning positions in the lines and battles. After all, who wanted to be in the rearguard? It seems that this body was the dumping ground for soldiers deemed surplus to requirements, which contributed in all probability to the poor performance on the day.

At this point the scientific wargamer might well hold their head in despair and decide on another battle, one which is better documented and not so fraught with command difficulties. A postcolonial wargamer, however, might embrace the ambiguities and vagueness as an opportunity. After all, what would have happened if 6000 English faced off against 8000 French? Or 20000 French? Would the outcome have been different? Again, there were archers and crossbowmen with the vanguard, but they seem to have disappeared by the morning of the battle. To recreate history, therefore, they should not be included. What would have happened if they had been used?

The point is that there are a number of narratives that can be constructed out of what we do know about Agincourt or, indeed, any other given battle. The point of postcolonialism is that our narratives should not be reduced to a single thread of accepted wisdom. There are, as most proper historians I have read or spoken to know, many options for what did happen and what might have happened. The idea that there is a single narrative, a single way of understanding the events of the past would not, I think, really pass muster in today’s historiography.

The problem is that as wargamers we need, for example, a definite number of troops to put onto the table. Were there 8000 or 20000 French? But the point is that as wargamers we can experiment. What would have happened if there had been 8000? We can guess that a fairly easy English victory would have ensued. Would it be the same with 20000? We can try to find out. And then we can add back in the archers and crossbowmen and ponder the might have beens.

Without resorting to woke-ness, postcolonial readings of history can point us in new directions in wargaming, if we are alert to the alternatives which are available and the vagueness and ambiguity of most of the sources. We need to nail down some things for a wargame, of course, but we can vary the parameters and see what happens another time if we wish.

Saturday 12 November 2022

The Battle of St Peter’s – Jersey Boys V

 ‘You cannot just surrender, Sir George.’

‘Why not, captain? I am in command. I hold the King’s commission. The Commonwealth forces have landed and are just over there, and they have invited us to surrender to prevent the effusion of Christian blood. For the good of the islanders, I will surrender.’

‘You may surrender, Sir George, but I will not, and nor will my men or the militia here with us. The King is not far away and he will support us.’

‘What with, Captain James, what with? An ambassador and a sheaf of French letters?’

‘We must fight on, knowing the justice of our cause.’

‘Justice does not protect against bullets, captain. We must surrender.’

‘In that case, Sir George, you are under arrest. Troopers, take him away. I will assume command.’


And so the die was cast, as it were. Having landed at St Ouen’s Bay, the Commonwealth force split. Hatter’s regiment (the half of it anyway) marched south and scattered the St Brelade militia, as recounted last time. The rest, eleven companies under Harme, marched west to St Peter where the remains of the Royalist army, reinforced by some further militia, had established their camp.

Block was not keen to assault the village and so attempted to persuade the Royalists to disperse peacefully. After a few dice rolls, Sir George was found to be amenable to surrendering, but his second in command, and commander of the garrison dragoons, Captain James, was not. An altercation took place, as recounted above, and the negotiations were rejected.

This left the Royalists with six militia companies and one of dragoons to face the eleven companies of the New Model Army. Everyone had heard the shooting from further south, actually only about a mile away, but no one knew the outcome.

Block decided to use his numerical superiority to outflank the village on his left, while ‘entertaining’ the enemy in the centre and on the right. James had deployed his own dragoons in the marshy ground in front of the village, lined the stream with musketeers and deployed the rest of the militia in the built-up area, except for the reserve, St Saviour’s militia.

The photograph above shows progress. The Commonwealth left hook is advancing while the centre is engaging the dragoons and St Helier militia in the village. The Commonwealth right is also advancing into position, slightly delayed. James has started to move the reserve to assist his own right.

The resulting fight was quite tough for the Commonwealth side. Musketeers holding built-up areas are quite hard to beat either by shooting or assault. The Commonwealth centre was twice bounced back from entering the village, and the left hook only slowly made progress, while the right did not really get into a great deal of action until late in the battle. The Royalist dragoons were quite quickly disposed of, however (some bad dice rolling there) but Block struggled to get his men moving.

The above shows the action just before the end of the game. The Commonwealth left is now in action having routed the St Saviour militia, and St Peter’s militia is now under pressure although relatively secure in the village. The Commonwealth right is trading shots with the Royalists across the stream, while Block is lining up another assault on the village.

As it happens the assault went in from the Commonwealth companies to the left of the village first followed by the frontal assault by the two companies with Block attached. The result saw the first St Helier militia company destroyed, quickly followed (in the follow-up advance) by the second company (a really bad dice roll). This included Captain James as a casualty. The Royalist centre was no more and, in fact, they only had three bases out of the original seven left on the table.

An army morale test was necessary, which, after the dice roll, left a total of minus four. So far as I recall that is the lowest morale for an army I have seen using my rules, and so the Royalists, or what was left of them, fled.

As I mentioned, this was a tougher fight than I had anticipated for the Commonwealth. Block had to get stuck into command in rallying his men and leading them forward again when they had been forced back from the original assaults on the village. In the later part of the game he also suffered from having too little tempo to being his units back into combat and thus utilize his numerical advantage to the full. A three-against-one assault against a built-up area can succeed. A two against one, I discovered, does not. That does seem about right to me. The assault (or shooters) have to get really lucky to damage the defenders.

Nevertheless, under my campaign rules, all the Royalist units involved have now dispersed and nothing lies between Block and St Helier. At sea, the navies are in sight of each other, but the wind is against the Royalists at present so unless the Commonwealth fleet decides to attack them in the narrow channels off St Aubin’s Bay I am not sure they will come to blows. The Commonwealth fleet’s orders are to find a safe anchorage to land the cavalry, not to engage the enemy fleet, after all.


‘Good afternoon, Sir George.’


‘I am so pleased to accept your surrender, but why were you not commanding your troops.’

‘I would have surrendered before, but the dragoon captain arrested me and would fight.’

‘Ah, so this afternoon's fracas is not your fault?’

‘No, but he wouldn’t accept we had lost. Still, there was a lot of musketry and not much loss of life.’

‘And where were you, Sir George, while the fight was going on?’

‘In church, of course. Praying for a miracle.’

‘It would seem Captain James is dead.’

‘My prayers might have been answered.’

‘You are free to go, Sir George, on parole.’

Saturday 5 November 2022

Bayoneting the Wounded

Before you ask, it is an old joke, to do with what auditors do: after the battle, the auditors arrive and… I did not say it was a good joke, and of course, the number of auditors who read this blog will now have plummeted to an all-time low.

Still, I received a challenge a bit ago to count all my little men. That challenge has not been met, because I have not counted my engineers, civilians, buildings, assorted fortifications, siege guns, and so on, but in part, I have done the arithmetic and there is a result:


There you are. That is quite a few little men (all painted, to differing degrees of niceness).

Now there is of course more detail, but those of you who are not detail people, like politicians who are uninterested in how their policies are to be paid for, can stop reading now. Those of you who are thinking ‘Wow, that’s a lot of soldiers and far more than I will ever have’ can reflect on the fact that most of them are 6 mm tall (there are, I think, 25 25+ mm ECW infantry) and that I have been collecting them for nearly thirty years.

The number also puts into perspective the 842 unpainted little men I have in stock, which is a mere 6% or so of the total. So I have not been buying randomly and hoarding the results until wargamer’s honesty took over and I had to admit the numbers left to paint. I have painted the vast majority of my acquisitions.

To the detail, then. The above total consists of 5773 ancients figures and 8118 early modern (and late medieval) figures. It is not, of course, quite that simple. I have counted, for example, a Hussite war wagon as a single figure; in reality, there are quite a few figures associated with it. Similarly with the guns and rowing boats and chariots and so on. But anyway, that is the rough breakdown.

I confess to being a little surprised. Not only was the Estimable Mrs P’s estimate of ‘about 12,000’ alarmingly close to the mark, but I have a good deal more ancients figures than I thought I did. Or at least, the proportion of ancients in the total is higher than I would have guessed. The early moderns got about a ten-year head start over the ancients, so I would have thought that I would have far more of the former than the latter.

The funny thing is that I play more early modern games than ancients. When I do go back to the Greeks or the Romans I do enjoy the games, I admit, but often I decide to break out another late Sixteenth Century game rather than pull out the legions or hoplites. I am not sure why. I started ‘serious’ wargaming with the English Civil war, so maybe it is the pull of those times when life was simpler and a box of Peter Laing figures took a couple of days to appear in the letterbox and might be there after the second post if not initially. I am really showing my age now….

Looking at the ancients figures I find that the Macedonians and Successors box has the largest number of figures with 571. This is mostly accounted for by pikemen, whom I took up basing 16 to a stand. They look good but I tend not to repeat that too often, because it is an awful lot of pikemen to paint (OK, I have done the same for the ECW foot). The other reason is that the depth of the figures on the base is too big for the scale of the bases. Thin red lines (or wavy arrays of pikes) were thin compared to their widths, and I try to reproduce that. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

The biggest army in terms of bases is, in fact, the Early Imperial Romans (they come second in figure numbers), with the Celts not far behind. The Celts have far fewer figures, due to more skirmishers, light horse and chariots. They are followed by the Greeks, who get a lot of hoplites, of course, but not so many cavalry.

The total is 1100 bases or so. Given that my normal wargame consists of twenty bases a side, this means I can field 55 armies or 27.5 wargames at the same time. This is of course arrant nonsense, and I am slowly discovering that even with my small tables I can field forty bases a side at least and not prop the flanks on the table edge. On the other hand, more soldiers on the table do not make a better game necessarily.

The Early Modern totals are in the table. The storage works slightly differently, so I cannot really say which nation is in front. In general, the ECW is the most likely, although, as you can see and has been noted, there are an awful lot of Aztecs there. There are also a lot of Scots and Irish, mostly because the Scots include Montrose’s highlanders and the Irish include C 16 armies as well as ECW era.

I am not trying to show off how many toys or armies I have. Most of them were collected for a specific purpose over the years. A lot of the south and south-east Asians were bought (and very hurriedly and badly painted) for my 1618-Something campaign when it expanded east. Mind you, I do like the odd elephant on a battlefield.

What, you might ask, is next? Well, I keep promising myself that less painting and more wargames are the order of the day for the next period. I have around 840 mostly ancients to go, and then 550 or so medieval plastics that keep appearing in my memory. Actually, they are in a box in the box room which was tidied out recently. The Estimable Mrs P inquired whether I had plans for them. ‘Oh yes,’ I replied. ‘Next year.’ Talk about giving hostages to fortune.  

Saturday 29 October 2022

The Solo Wargaming Guide

Have Amazon voucher, will buy a book, I suppose. After all, that is why the company sends out money off vouchers to customers who have been falling behind their normal purchasing habits. It works, as the following will aver, although until they send me another voucher I might not buy anything else.

Still, the purchase was:

Silvester, W., The Solo Wargaming Guide, Precis, 2013.

I had noted the existence of this book a while ago, during my perusal of recent additions to wargaming books (recent in the sense of post-about 2005, you understand). It looked interesting and so it winged its way to me on a Sunday. Not that there was really any reason for it to be delivered on a Sunday, but that is just Amazon’s way.

It is an interesting book, I think, although not without its flaws. It does have some general ideas for solo wargaming, including the Solo Campaign Mobilization Rules (SCMR) which have a bit of potential. It also covers naval warfare and, very briefly, air wargames. The book is rather dedicated to solo campaign games, although some ideas for tactical wargaming appear, rather mysteriously, towards the end.

Noticeable in much of the book are problems with dice and probability. I have touched on this before, but a lot of the author’s dice rolls for controlling campaigns are based around a single D6. This means that the key commander’s competency rating, for example, goes from a 1 rolled for a bloody idiot to a 6 for superb. This is fine, but actually, most people are average; that is what average means. You are not going to get more than one-third of your commanders as average by this system. The next paragraph notes that most commanders should be rated between two and five. Quite so, but how does that happen in the system?

This sort of problem rather propagates in the rules. A flat roll of 1D6 does not allow the wargamer to adjust the outcomes to favour the most likely route. For example, in starting a campaign it is recommended to select three routes and roll a dice to see which is chosen. With more than 1D6 you can, of course, weight the roll towards the most likely outcome, which while it might make your campaigns or wargames a bit more predictable also removes some of the more outlying (read ‘weird’) results. The problem with the flat roll system is that the wargamer has to adjust the result according to their judgment after it has been decided. My suggestion is to build in the adjustment into the system to start off with. Given a table of probabilities for a 2 or 3-dice system it is really not that hard. And you can still get weird results.

That is not to deny that there is a lot to like about the book. The author adopts a ‘take it or leave it’ tone, which is fine and how wargames should be played. He also refuses to accept that solo wargaming is second best, a position which I agree with. As I have mentioned, many of his systems do need a bit of juggling with to make them accord to probability. As another example, I am not sure that minor damage to a sailing ship in a storm and the ship sinking should have exactly the same probability. I also suspect that steam-powered ships are a bit more resilient when it comes to storms at sea.

I suppose it all comes down to what you want from your campaign game. Loads of low probability results give something that can veer around rather wildly in terms of outcomes and progress. Perhaps I am just a bit boring and want a little extra predictability in my games. On the other hand, even Napoleon might have struggled with rolling for his subcommander’s competence and getting a load of ones. A few sackings in his Human Resources Department might have ensued.

A bit surprising is the lack of personalisation in the book. There is a chapter on it, but that refers mainly to journals and unit histories recorded therein, rather than to the personalities of the commanders. I do feel that this might be a little bit of a missed opportunity, but, on the other hand, personalities do rather equal paperwork or at least a little bit of it.

A strength of the book is that it urges the wargamer to keep administration to a minimum, something I would entirely agree with. I am not sure about his recommendation that you should simply record on a sheet the positions of units rather than stick pins in a map. While the latter does, of course, perforate the map, and heavily fought over areas can start to resemble confetti, it is, in my experience, very easy to miss units when they are just given a map reference. Perhaps I am just not very observant in these things, or my memory is a lot worse than most wargamers.

Still, I do applaud the author for their suggestions for varied wargaming over their imaginations. He seems to have an imaginary world and uses it for different eras, sufficiently far apart both geographically and temporally for the results of one not to affect another. Hence the ancients campaign is about the rise of something that sounds like the Roman Empire, while the Napoleonic era campaign is just that, but between different countries. In Europe, of course, the Roman had long gone before the modern nation-state arose, and a similar view can be taken for an imaginary world.

Overall, then, it was a worthwhile read, but not enough to turn my wargaming world upside down. It is good to read about other people’s take on solo wargaming and their views of how to go about it. I might be adopting one or two aspects of the book to my own games, which is the greatest accolade that one solo wargamer can give to another, but they will, of course, be adjusted, if only because of my views on probability.

Saturday 22 October 2022

Information Flow

One of the things which have slowly come to my attention in wargaming, perhaps particularly in campaigns but not exclusively, is the question of information flow. That is, who knows what and when, and the movement of information between participants.

I suppose that this is particularly acute in pre-modern times before telecommunications came into existence. How often do you read a campaign report where the orders were inflexible because they had to be, and the subordinate commanders struggled or failed to adjust to a changed situation? I think it happened quite often. A decent commander might be one who trusted and was trusted by their subordinates sufficiently to adapt to circumstances and one whose network of information gathering and order dispatch was at least adequate to the task.

As you might guess this has been reinforced for me by the Jersey campaign, where at least three companies of Jersey militia are busy guarding their villages and beaches in blissful ignorance that the enemy is already ashore and their colleagues could really use their presence. The orders to march failed to get through. No one is being insubordinate or dense, they just do not know the situation and therefore cannot react. At the current rate of progress, the first they will know of the successful landing is when the Parliamentarian army marches into their parish.

The wargaming problem here is manifold, of course. The wargamer, even if not a solo player, has a somewhat omnipotent view of what is going on. If Colonel Bright on the left wing can see that the enemy has failed to deploy before him, then the commander in chief and Colonel Dime on the right are also going to know. We can introduce rules which try to simulate the latter two not knowing but it is very difficult to remove knowledge once it is in the wargamer’s head. It is hard not to react to the knowledge even if the ‘men on the ground’ would not know the information.

There are various ways around this problem. We can assume instant telepathy between our commanders (perhaps some science-fiction or fantasy games do so). That seems a little too much for a historical scenario, of course. In Twentieth-Century games, we can assume radio communications (although there were not necessarily reliable) and so more control is available to the commanders. On the other hand, there can be too much information. One of the problems at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant (which nearly went bang) was that so many alarms went off the operators could not see what was important. Similarly, when there is an emergency event there are so many mobile phone calls about it that switchboards are overwhelmed. Too much information can be as difficult to handle as too little.

Assuming that telepathy and radios are unavailable in our historical period, most news travelled by people. These include couriers and aides dashing around on horseback delivering messages from the commander or a scouting party to good old rumours, which may travel less quickly than a man on a horse, but may not. This is information flow, which we can conceptualise, should we feel so inclined, as a network of nodes, some of which light up when a new piece of information appears.

As a node is illuminated, we have to decide what happens next. The node should be programmed to pass the information on to the next node. Hence the scouting party reports back to the unit commander ‘We have seen a troop of cavalry’. That node then also has to decide what to do. Is the report useful and reliable? Does it fit in with the overall picture emerging from other scouting parties and other knowledge received from headquarters? Do we pass it on or seek clarification?

If the decision is to pass the information on, then it goes up the chain of command (hopefully). If the force is fairly small it can go straight to the commander-in-chief, possibly (in ECW armies) via the Scoutmaster (which must have been an unenviable job, it has to be said). But then the commander has to wonder: so what? What does this mean, and how should I react? So the light cavalry has seen a troop of horse. Is that the enemy scouting screen? Is that where they are advancing from? And so on.

We can of course replicate some of this in a campaign game, or even a tabletop wargame. But the thing is that we know, as the wargamer, what is going on. That troop of horse consists of the third troop of the 6th Lancers and they are the lead for the enemy’s fourth division. I know that, but my little lead commander does not. We have to try to persuade ourselves to react to the limited information disclosed rather than the fuller picture we have at our disposal.

I have found it rather hard to control this. Courier cards and their equivalents help. I can record the information sent ‘Enemy in sight’ and to whom it is sent, and when it arrives. I can even control how the recipient reacts. Often that is obvious, but using personalities and an initiative roll helps. Some people will ignore the blindingly obvious, while some will overreact to the slightest news.

In a larger campaign, this does get complicated. I recall one campaign set in Ancient Greece where couriers and ambassadors were zipping around the map in their multitudes. It started to get difficult to record when they arrived where and what information they were bearing. I am sure I missed a few crucial treaties or declarations of war along the way. I cannot be sure. As this was not really a map-based campaign I could not resort to pins for the couriers, although that would have solved part of the problem, at least.

I do not think there is an easy answer to all of this. I suppose that if I had the time and inclination I could write a bit of code that would ping up a message each time a courier arrived somewhere, but I am not sure I want to tie my wargaming to an electronic device. I shall have to stick to map pins and a campaign diary, I suppose.

Saturday 15 October 2022

The Battle of St Brelade – Jersey Boys Part IV

‘Sergeant? Sergeant!?’


‘What is that infernal racket?’

‘I’m playing music, sir.’

‘Is that what you call it? What instrument is that?’

‘It’s a sort of a whistle, sir. It is in harmony.’

‘What with, for heaven’s sake, man? A banshee?’

‘No, sir. It is in harmony with itself, and the surroundings.’


‘No, sir, not Specifically. I was thinking more of being alone on this weird island, miles from anywhere, with an enemy close by but invisible due to the fog, sir. So I was playing some music to cheer the men up.’

‘I think you have done that, sergeant, by stopping. Anyway, we are not alone. There are six companies of Hatter’s regiment here, all ready and raring to go at a moment’s notice.’

‘Yes, sir. Except for Captain Jeffrey’s company, who are having a nap.’

‘It has been a long and damp day, sergeant. Anyway, nothing has happened so far.’

‘It is very quiet, sir. Too quiet….’


As they say: famous last words. As anyone who has been following the invasion of Jersey will recall, the Parliamentarians stormed ashore at St Ouen’s beach this time. As the Royalists retreated (or ran for it) the invaders split into two forces, a central one, commanded by Colonel Harme with his own regiment (or the remaining eleven companies thereof, one company having been scattered on the beach). This one has struck inland towards St Peter’s, following the main retreating Royalist force. The other force, commanded by Major Scott has struck south with six companies of Hatter’s regiment with the idea of capturing St Brealdes and St Aubins, as neither of the militia companies from these parishes were present at the beach. However, due to circumstances beyond Major Scott’s control (i.e. bad dice throwing by yours truly), the southern advance has rather ground to a halt in mist and general bad weather.

The above shows the campaign map, with Hatter’s regiment and the St Brelade’s militia in the south-west of the island. The orange pin is a courier from Sir George Carter summoning the militia company to St Peter’s, where the yellow map pin is. That pin marks the dragoon company of the island garrison, and the green one next to it is four militia companies. Two more militia companies are forced marching there (St Aubin’s and St Lawrence’s). To the south, incidentally, you can see that the fleets are (just about) in contact although the wind is against the Royalists taking any action. This turn the weather has become light rain, so visibility is limited anyway.

The St Brelade’s militia is led by Captain Ralph LeDieu, a fairly courageous and enterprising sort of chap, who has decided that as the invaders are stationary and it is a bit misty, a surprise attack might be in order. And so a small game was born.

The militia is on the left here, and the camp of Hatter’s regiment is on the right. Dice rolling against the company commander’s initiative score indicated that only the company in white coats (they should all be red I know, but we’ve had to go for a bit of wargamer’s licence here) are not on alert. While visibility is two base widths it does not look that good for LeDieu’s man, although they do not know it yet.

Unfortunately, I did not get many decent pictures from the game, fairly short as it was. The militia met Scott’s own company (in brick red in the centre) and, after a bit of a serious fight, actually bested them. By that time, however, even Captain Jeffrey’s company had rallied, and the militia was under pressure.

I told you that the pictures were not that good. Still, the left-hand militia half-company is about to break, while the right-hand company will actually win its fight against the flankers, but then decide that withdrawing is the better part of valour. You can just see the remnants of Scott’s company departing on the right-hand side of the picture.

Under the campaign rules I am developing, incidentally, a company that routs during a wargame automatically disperses, which is why Harme’s regiment is missing a company which routed on the beach. Here, Scott’s company (both half-companies) have routed, so Hatter’s are down a company. The militia lost half a company routed, while LeDieu managed to bring off the other half. Dicing decided that the militia went home, having done their bit.

As a further aside on the rules, units which finish the game shaken or doubly shaken also dice with a risk of dispersing, so the Royalists actually lost an extra unit of militia above those who were routed on the beach, which is why they have no units in the north of the island. If you are wondering why the eastern militia units are not, apparently, doing anything, that is because Carter’s courier summoning them with all speed to St Peter’s went astray; I’ve adopted something along the lines of Henry Hyde’s courier rules, so they have an 80% chance of getting through. It had to be that one which failed, of course.

There are negotiations going on between the forces near St Peter’s. Carter was all set to surrender, but his captain of dragoons, Eric James threatened to arrest him unless the island forces resisted. He is now trying to spin the negotiations out until the reinforcements arrive.

In the aftermath of the St Brelade’s skirmish, Hatter’s have occupied the village and will set about advancing on St Aubin’s, which is undefended except for the garrison of St Aubin’s Tower (red pin). At sea I am not sure what is going to happen; a lot depends on the wind. The most advanced Parliamentarian ship is Tresco, a sixth rate, with the fleet not far behind, Behind them are two small merchants which are carrying the Parliamentary horse, looking for a safe harbour to land them. The rest of the merchant fleet has been sent to collect the Guernsey militia and should be back in two days or so.




‘If you play your whistle thing will my company return?’

‘I can’t, sir. It got broken in the excitement.’

‘We must praise the Lord for small mercies, sergeant.’

Saturday 8 October 2022

Source for the Goose

It is all right. I have not lost my remaining marbles, I really do mean ‘source’. I have banged on before, I am sure, about the historical wargamer’s use of sources to inform their rules, army lists, and games. On the whole, I fear many wargamers, and not a few writers of popular history, are guilty of rather naive reading of what sources we have.

I am not saying that I am much better, of course. We have to treat our sources for warfare with respect. Whoever they were they probably had better access to information than we do. But that does not mean we should treat everything they say with unquestioning belief. As I am sure I have mentioned before, as wargamers we like some sort of firm knowledge about what happened, who was there, and in what numbers, and that information is rarely available to us.

The spark for this little rant has been starting Eleanor Parker’s new tome, which is titled ‘Conquered’, and is about the last generation of children born in Anglo-Saxon England, that is before the Norman conquest. Her argument is along the lines that what we have in the lives of heroes and saints, and the chroniclers, tell us rather more about the times of the writer rather than the times of the written about.

I suspect that this is rather generally true. After all, I think it is acknowledged that Tacitus, for example, rather wrote up the strength, virility, and vitality of the barbarians to contrast them with the effete, wealthy, and lazy Romans of his day. When a half-decent general arrived and put some discipline and backbone into the legions they put the enemy to flight with no problem at all. But the decent Roman commanders incurred the wrath of the useless and incompetent Emperors and were recalled, dismissed, and if they were lucky never commanded again. That is really making a point about the Emperors and those in Rome, not particularly about the commanders, perhaps.

Therefore, we have to be very careful with the sources that we read in order to glean anything about what happened in battles, campaigns, and politics of any particular time. We might think that an ancient source, or one contemporaneous with events, would be the most reliable. But that might be untrue; the source might be the most biased possible. Granted such sources can rarely change the outcomes of events, but they can emphasize or de-emphasize them, and distort the relations between actors in the story and events. As has been noted in popular psychology, people rarely distort the events, but they do distort their relation to the event (consider the difference between ‘The gun went off and he was hit’ and ‘I shot him’).

As the attentive reader of the blog might be aware, I dabble in little or no wargaming after about 1720 or so. The sources, even for events in the Seventeenth Century, can be a little dubious, not to say downright contradictory. I have little idea whether things improved after that. It is possible that they did, but I suspect that confidently bandied around paper strengths might have only a passing relationship with the truth. As a place to start they might be all right, but as soon as a battalion started to march my guess is that it started to lose strength.

Even if no one actually physically deserted or got sick, most armies were depleted by going on a campaign. The lines of communication had to be protected. Places of importance needed garrisons. Other strongholds which had not been captured needed masking and blockading, and so on. More and more people would be needed to bring forward supplies, and all these other forces, rather than the main army, would also need provisioning, reinforcement, and munitions. It all adds up to what I have heard about the modern army, which suggested that for 10,000 men at the sharp end, 40,000 are needed to keep it going. I have no idea if that is correct or not, but it does sound plausible.

The argument is that sources are rather unreliable, and anyway present the viewpoint of the author and the sources they may be drawing upon. A case in point from Parker’s book is Hereward the ‘Wake’, the well-known Anglo-Saxon rebel, exile, freedom fighter, and, well, more or less anything else the sources want to make of him. Some authors want to make him an exemplar of all that was and is (at the time of writing) good about Anglo-Saxon culture. Some blame him for pillaging Peterborough Monastery. The earliest source, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, does not really say a huge amount about him, but he became popular, so much so that a radio station based in Peterborough was named after him in the 1980s.

The point is that we can read the sources about Hereward naively, and construct a pleasing wargame or three from the events. The attack of Peterborough, the skirmishes, and the siege of Ely along with lengthy bouts of amphibious warfare. That is fine and is what (some) of the sources tell us. But they also tell us other things, and Hereward is a more ambiguous figure that we might like. Or, in other words, he is a bit more real than we would like, or that fit into our games.

I suppose this feeds into my musings about narrative recently. The Hereward tales are rattling good ones, with plots that probably fit within the ‘taking on the monster’ genre. Hereward, unjustly deprived of his inheritance by the invaders who murdered his younger brother, takes revenge by raising the locals in rebellion and defies the might of the Conqueror from his Fenland fastness, outfighting and outwitting the Normans until the end. At that point he either makes his peace with the king, having established the right of Anglo-Saxons to exist culturally and as landholders, or he dies gloriously in battle against his perfidious assailants, or, in the earliest versions, he simply disappears, back to the obscurity from which the authors plucked him. I have no idea of what really happened, but there are some good wargames in there somewhere.