Saturday, 26 March 2022

The Wargaming Compendium

I admit it. I have come very late to the newer wargaming books party. I do not think I have bought a book on wargaming, as opposed to history (military or otherwise), which, as the gentle reader will know, I consume in near-industrial quantities, for a good number of years, probably over a decade.

Still, better late than never, I suppose, and when an advert email came in for this tome at a reduced price

Hyde, H. (2011). The Wargaming Compendium. Barnsley: Pen & Sword,

I kind of leapt at it. I suppose I have been looking for something that might make the creative juices flow a little and grow a bit of enthusiasm.

As probably most wargamers know of Henry Hyde I will not give a thumbnail sketch or try to classify his writing. The book does more or less what I needed: it comes with oodles of enthusiasm. Whether it is quite the ‘wargamer’s bible’ that some of blurb claims might be a bit moot, but it is certainly an interesting book and is a ‘treasure trove’ of advice, examples and vast quantities of eye-catching photographs of toy soldiers, bit and small, in all sorts of wargames, big and small.

There are all sorts of ideas and examples floating around in the book. The introduction is a guide to basic concepts, then there is a history of wargaming. Different periods from ancients to science-fiction are discussed, then making terrain. There is a long chapter on painting figures, the example being some 1/72nd plastic Napoleonic British and French. If I have a criticism here, the quality of the painting would put me off, as a total beginner. While Henry’s tone is that of a kindly uncle all though, with ‘I recommend that you…’ and ‘I would add…’ liberally sprinkled through the text I would feel a bit overwhelmed by the painting guide.

On the other hand I do not have the patience for that level of detail and have never got the hang of  multiple layers of dry-brushing to build up a colour, nor of washes. That is probably just me, and you can tell by the (lack of) quality of even my more recent efforts at painting that I have always aimed to get the toys ready to go onto the table, even if the quantity of wargames played, do not reflect painted solider availability.

Still, minor grips aside, the book then moves on to what to do with the little chaps when finished. Duels are covered with two figures, and there are rules for gladiators. Skirmishes follow, with rules for the wild west. Battles follow, with a digression on military organization and how to reflect real battles, the really big ones. This section comes with some interesting ponderings on the literal approach, with the correct number of units, the bath-tub approach, by scaling the available space to the battlefield and then filling it with appropriate units, and then scaling down to figure size to permit the former to be done in a reasonable time and space.

In the latter bit I am not sure Mr. Hyde goes quite far enough. He recommends 6 mm for big historical battles. Myself, I would probably go for 2 mm for something like Waterloo.  If you scale down to 6 mm size the units can still get a bit lost in the sheer quantity of troops on the table, and the scale of the terrain and battlefield. Still, a minor quibble and a bit of a matter of taste, I suspect.

The book then moves on to campaign games of various forms. HH is clearly an enthusiast for campaigns, and starts with linked battles, so the winning force advances a table and the losers defend that. This would, I think, work well for WW1 or WW2 games, but perhaps not so well for, say, ECW. He then discusses map making, suggesting a Speed map for the ECW, for example (fair enough)  or other tricks like shrinking and inverting Australia (not literally) to be a desert island.

HH’s own preference is clearly for imagi-nations on fictitious maps, and that is fine by me. Inspired by Charles Grant’s The War Game and Tony Bath’s Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, he describes creating an imaginary map and populating it with terrain, towns and personalities. In the latter I have a bit of a gripe, perhaps, in that his personality generator uses d100, which gives a rather startling range of attribute values. According to HH this is how the original D&D did it. Never having played D&D I cannot comment on that, but Runequest used 3d6 to give less extreme results, and I think Tony Bath’s original used playing card. Anyway, each to their own on this one.

The author then shows how to drill down to his own five miles hexes and from thence to a battlefield. He also covers wargame journals. Here, I have to say, the Mr. Hyde’s skills as a graphic designer come to the fore. The maps are depressingly beautiful and the page of his journal showing the uniform of a regiment of imagi-nation infantry are extremely nice and far beyond my abilities. This wargamer, as with the painting and pictures, can only admire and move on.

The campaign rules which end the chapter are fairly straightforward and workable, although they include a bit too much detail for me. HH says somewhere that the wargamer, or the rules writer at least, has to consider what level the game is to be played at. Wargamers have a tendency to swap roles within a game, from general to commander of a wing to brigadier and so on. These rules have a similar feel to them, so I could be the commander of the army (or, indeed, monarch of an imagination) one moment and an individual scout having run into an enemy army group the next. It is great if you have the time, energy and attention to detail he has. I’m not sure, having tried it, that I do.

Next along are Mr. Hyde’s own rules, Shot, Steel and Stone for the Eighteenth century. The introduction is very good, with the troop types and excellent illustrations. The rules, I confess, I have not read, but a sample battle is given which seems to play very nicely.

Finally, more briefly, other aspects of wargaming are covered – naval, air, solo and multiplayer games all get their moment. The last bit is about wargaming in the digital age, followed by appendices on books and suppliers. As HH ruefully admits, this was out of date as soon as the book was published. Still, a good effort.

Overall, an excellent book to lend to someone considering wargaming as a hobby, and a burst of enthusiasm for us jaded old grognards. I did not intend to sit down a read it cover to cover, but I did and I am glad I did. Recommended.


Saturday, 19 March 2022

The Bogged Down Painter


Well, I have been trying to reduce the unpainted lead mountain. As the long-term reader of this blog might remember, the original pile started out at around 2500 little men, and was then reduced by 1000 last year (1024 for you pedants out there). This left around 1800 toys to paint.

You might question my maths, but some were added – Muscovites and assorted buildings and fortifications. So, this year, the aim was to reduce the lead pile to under 1000. Now, for reasons I do not recall, my painting year starts sometime around October, and it is now March, so six months or so down the line how is it going?

The above shows, sort of, the state of play in October. The sort of caveat is because three of the rows listed above are later additions. I have the misfortune to have a birthday near Christmas. As a child I regarded this as a terrible tragedy, as relatives would contribute to the terrible ‘Christmas ‘n’ Birthday present’, which meant that for one of the events you would receive nothing. It could have been worse – I was due on the day before Christmas Eve but was several weeks late.

Anyway, the original total was around 1555, and that was augmented by 288 Baccus ECW infantry, because I kept running out, and the Commonwealth and Dutch Anglo-Dutch Wars fleets. These are the starter packs in 1:2400 scale from Tumbling Dice. So, as you can see, a fair stack of toys yet to go. I also keep turning up extra bits and pieces tucked away in various boxes, hence the addition of some ECW generals. There are a few more bits as well, as I empty more boxes and trays they will come to the foreground.

Still, the original plan was to paint around 750 little men, to halve the unpainted lead pile. With the advent of the ECW infantry, that was increased back to 1000. The ships I do not really know how to account for, so they are in the ‘other’ column, along with the chariots and blot shooters from the outstanding ancients.

How, you might wonder, am I getting on? Well, the current state of play, as per finished toys, is below.

This shows reasonable progress, I think, although as I might have mentioned, I have got a bit bogged down.

The Scottish cavalry have been painted as some Irish (with green bonnets) and Scots. The remaining Scottish cavalry are lancers, whom I have not got around to daubing yet. The Irish infantry are the other half of the six regiments that I painted, I think, last year. You might wonder why I have six regiments, but that is the way Baccus sells them, and I do not like to ‘waste’ figures.

The ECW infantry were the Christmas present, and I was determined that they would not sit in the package or draw for two years before I got to them. After all, I have mentioned a couple of time that I keep running out of pikemen. I suppose that, on reflection, I could have made up the numbers by using my copious quantities of Scottish and Irish infantry. I suppose I am a purist by nature. Either that, or I am subconsciously planning bigger ECW battles.

The rest of the figure painting has been a bit of seeing what I can do reasonably quickly. As noted, Julius Caesar suffered a bit from lack of cavalry and of skirmishers when he invaded Britain last year. The Marian Roman painting was the outstanding slingers and strictly Roman cavalry from the lead pile. The Greek cavalry came along for the ride, as it were, and were painted at the same time.

The Celts were painted as it seemed a bit unfair to paint Jules’ reinforcements without some Ancient Britons. They too got skirmishers and (light) cavalry, but the bulk of the foot are extra warbands. I suspect a good tribal army can never have enough of those. I would like to get to the chariots and Roman (and Greek) bolt shooters, but they are a bit more fiddly. Speaking of fiddly…

The ships that have been painted are the smaller ones in the starter packs – yachts, cromsters and hoekers. I find that I can paint these fairly quickly (because I have low standards and they are small). However, I now have got to the fifth rates which require some assembly – sails, in point of fact. My record on sticking things together is not good. I tend to use enormous quantities of glue and, when super gluing things, stick everything to everything else, except what was intended. I have attached various items to my fingers, of course. The last lot of ships I renovated were glued with PVA, which was OK but the masts needed lengthy support.

As part of the deal which acquired the ships for my birthday, superglue was also supplied. Now, I am old enough at this game to know that superglue, of whatever brand, is pretty well a one-use tube. By the time I get around to using it again, the superglue has superglued itself to itself, to the tube and also to the nozzle where it was supposed to emerge. So the current plan is to prepare all the bits of ships, sails, chariots and bolt shooters I can, prime the parts that need priming, and then have a superglue fest.

The other thing to add to the list are my recently rediscovered 25/28/31/35 mm figures, the aim of which were for skirmish and role-playing games. I never got that far with them, but some are painted to an OK sort of standard, some are in the throes of being repainted, and quite a few dismounted cavalrymen from Redoubt Enterprises (do they still exist?) are still in bits and need, guess what, supergluing together.

Then I will need to work out a rate of exchange: how many 6 mm figures constitute one 28 mm figure?

Saturday, 12 March 2022

A One Hour Wargame

Casting around for a battle, I ordered up Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames, and started to look at the scenarios. My eye lighted upon Scenario 23 (p. 110-1) which was based on Yellow Ford (1598). As I have ECW Irish in abundance, and have just finished six regiments of ECW English, I thought this was a rather splendid opportunity to get the English onto the table and to get the Irish out again.

Having further pondered, I thought I would give the pike and shot rules in the book a go. I was only momentarily disconcerted by the discovery that my table is only 2’ 6” square, instead of the mandated 3’, but decided on reflection to ignore the fact.

The picture shows Blue’s deployment. The Irish rolled two infantry units and the other two were irregulars, which are bow armed according to the scenario. This is a bit interesting as it shows that the efforts to keep troop types down to four is not always going to work. Anyway, one regiment of foot is in the town, one is in reserve, and the irregulars are in the woods.

The English wound up with four infantry regiments, a reiter regiment and a swordsmen regiment, which I interpreted as polearms. I deployed them on turn one, as directed and the re-read the rules. This meant that I swapped the swordsmen from fronting the wood to fronting the town.

You can see above on the far side the swordsmen unit with an infantry regiment behind, then two infantry regiments. Nearest, just off camera, are the reiters and a supporting infantry regiment.

You can see that three of my bases make up a Neil Thomas unit – three 40 mm wide bases are nearly 5”, and the rules say 4-6” per unit. The rules only cover three sides in the book, so there is quite a lot missing. For example, how do units cross the bridge or fords, or move along the road claiming the bonus. I probably interpreted this erratically. The road bonus was given, and units could cross the fords without penalty.

It has to be said, the rules are fast, furious and rather bloody. The self-conscious lack of morale rules ensures that units hang on until they are eliminated. The out of ammunition rules mean that infantry units have to close into combat quite quickly. There do not appear to be any rules for withdrawing from close combat and being relieved, but we live with that.

There was also some ambiguity in my head when the reiters flanked to reserve Irish infantry. I decided that despite the rules they would charge (I mean, who wouldn’t?). They inflicted a lot of damage, but it was not clear whether that should be halved and doubled (i.e. as rolled) or doubled simpliciter. I chose the latter because, well, cavalry charging the flank of an infantry unit should get some sort of pay-off, surely. Maybe that was wrong.

Unfortunately, the ‘crisis’ picture turned out a bit blurry, but the final positions are above. The reiter on the left have disposed of their opponents. The English infantry in the centre have eliminated the forward irregular unit in the wood. The swordsmen, after a hard fight have done away with the Irish regiment defending the town, also after a hard fight. The only Irish unit remaining is in the central woods, and they have not really been in action. However, the English can exit three units on the road south now, and that is the end of the matter. They won.

I did rather enjoy the battle, even though, pace the book title, it took only about half an hour. The speed of movement took me rather by surprise. Even though there were no cavalry on the table (12” move) 10” and 6” are pretty speedy on a three-foot table. I was also not sure about the turning of units and whether the reiters should really have managed to crash the reserve Irish foot in flank.

As for the rules, well, they are what they say on the tin: simple without being simplistic. What is missing, I think, is a lot of the detail which takes up room in wargame rules, such as moving along roads, turning to face the enemy and interpenetration. The fact is that if you commit to hand-to-hand conflict, you are staying there until one side, or the other, is eliminated.

I suppose the best characterisation of the rules is “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! You are dead”. Each unit has a strength of 15 points and loses them in combat. As combat is by roll of D6, you get four or five turns of it before the poorer roller is eliminated. Shooting is a bit more problematic. Thomas has a rule where a unit shooting rolls a second dice and has a one third possibility of being declared out of ammunition. My problem is that from my reading of pike and shot warfare this did not happen very often. I suppose it adds to the randomness of things.

I was also a bit puzzled by the swordsman category of troops. While there were occasional polearm armed infantrymen or sword and buckler men around, they were not that numerous. Some of the fun stuff of the period is also missing – the interaction of pike and shot, dragoons, artillery and so on. I know that this was done for a reason, and a good reason, but I rather missed them. The difference between reiter and cavalry is also, in my opinion, overblown. But then I do not really believe in the caracole as a mainline cavalry tactic anyway.

The scenario was a good one, however, and I shall be playing more from the book, probably using my own rules. Having seen how the book’s rules work I can recalibrate the scenarios to my own efforts and make them work quite nicely, I think.

Overall, a very worthwhile book and battle. I shall probably have some more general comments in a bit. 

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Kings of the Sea

As has been the general theme so far this year, I am going to blog again about that unpopular wet stuff, known as the ocean. For I have been reading again, and, of course, I am hoping by continued transgression into naval matters, to reduce the readership of the blog to single figures, if not fewer.

Davies, J. D. (2017). Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II & the Royal Navy. Barnsley: Seaforth.

It is always nice to report on a well-produced history book, and this is such. The Estimable Mrs P thought it a nice book with nice illustrations, and so it is. An advantage of the period of the Anglo-Dutch Wars is that there are excellent paintings of some of the actions, which give a very good idea of the ships and their activities. There are also, of course, a good number of non-battle naval paintings, which give a check on what might have been more fanciful interpretations of the actions and, indeed, that habit of early modern artists to compress the whole narrative into a single frame.

It is also good to read something that challenges the conventional narrative history of something or another, and this book does that. The usual narrative of Charles II is that he was the ‘Merrie Monarch’ and was only interested in who he could get into bed rather than any matters of state. Thus he was at the mercy, or in the hands of, his officials and ministers who took advantage of his laziness and dissolution and ran things their way, to their financial advantage.

In terms of the navy, that official is Samuel Pepys. Davies is not daft enough to write Sam off as just a minute taker, although he did do that, but his argument is that Charles II was heavily involved in naval matters, as was his brother James, Lord High Admiral. At one point Davies observes that according to the minutes Charles had attended more naval board meetings than anyone else, including our Sam.

While the book is not a narrative of the Dutch Wars, politics or campaigns, there is a lot of information in it about all these things. It starts with the ancestry of the Stuart dynasty in Scotland, observing that their original seat, Rothesay Castle on the Isle of Bute needed a sea voyage to get to it. As the Stuarts came to the monarchy in Scotland, so the interest in the navy grew. James IV (r. 1488 – 1513) led three naval expeditions to the west, defeating the last independent Lord of the Isles, and, after finding hiring ships was less successful, focused on building up a Scottish navy, the largest of which was the Michael, launched in 1511. In 1513 the Scottish navy had 38 ships of which 15 were true warships.

James I and VI, when he came to the English throne, was not so interested in the navy, perhaps because he was a peaceable soul on the whole. However, his sons Henry and Charles were. Henry, James’ oldest son, was given a small ship by the Lord High Admiral in 1604. A few years later the Prince Royal was launched, a colossal ship by the standards of the time. The King’s favourite, Buckingham, was appointed Lord High Admiral in 1619 and naval expansion got under way. There were 35 serviceable ships in 1623.

Charles I is, of course, well known for enlarging the navy, almost literally, with the 1637 Sovereign of the Seas, the most expensive British warship for over a century. The background to the civil war also included disputes about ship money, the tax originally levied on coastal counties for their defence which Charles extended to the whole country. This was, in part, against the backdrop of on ongoing war in the Mediterranean against the North African states, particularly Salee.

Under the Commonwealth the navy increased again. It was, after all, a matter of self-defence for the new republic. Charles II escaped in 1646 to Jersey, where, it seems, he learnt to sail, and was given a pinnace. The second civil war, when ten warships defected from the Commonwealth navy, gave Prince Rupert a taste of command, which forced the Commonwealth navy under Blake to blockage the Tagus for most of a year. The royalist fleet ceased to exist after a hurricane in the Caribbean in 1652.

There is an awful lot more in the book. I have only covered so far the first couple of chapters, so you can tell I am an enthusiast. There is a chapter on the royal yachts, which were general purpose dispatch, packet and transport for dignitaries vessels, under the King’s direct command. In fact, one of the points Davies makes is that all of His Majesty’s Ships were under his direct command, no matter what his admirals might think.

Charles II was also directly responsible for the galley frigate, the aim of which was the pursuit of Barbary Corsairs. They required larger crews than usual (as they had oars) and were thus uneconomic. Eventually three were built, the Charles Galley and James Galley, and were highly successful in their role. A third followed in 1687, Mary Galley. They were ultimately converted into fifth rates and lost their rowing function. However, Davies notes that the main idea of the vessels, a single, uninterrupted gun deck became the basis of British frigate design.

A great deal more could be said. Davies observes that British and world history might have changed on 3 June 1665 if James had been hit by the Dutch chain shot which killed the three men standing next to him on the quarterdeck of the Royal Charles. Imagine the differences: no Glorious Revolution, no William III, no Battle of the Boyne, no Culloden. On such things history turns, I suppose.

Perhaps the most interesting wargame idea in the book are the almost constant wars against the city states of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis and Salee. These come along with the defence of Tangiers, which turned out to be too far away from the others to be useful. Interestingly, the British rented port facilities in Gibraltar decades before the captured the place in 1704.

An excellent book. I might return to it, as I have only just scratched the surface.