Saturday 30 July 2022

Jersey Boys Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 23 July 2022

Wargaming Campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 16 July 2022

Chateau Crepé

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

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

What does the English idiot want now?’

The name of the castle over there.’

C’est Chateau Crepé, monsieur.’

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

Non, monsieur, Crepé.’

Is it nearly lunchtime?’

What did he say, Guilliam?’

He’s hungry again.’

We’ve only just had breakfast.’

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

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

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

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


Humbug? Is that the best you can do?’

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

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

Perfect ambassadorial material then, I guess.’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

They are assisting the Spanish wounded, Monsieur.’

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

What is the wine, Guilliam?’

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

Saturday 9 July 2022

The Personality of Crowds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 2 July 2022

Culture and Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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