Saturday 27 January 2024


The Heretical Wargaming blog, run by JWH, has made some comments on the concepts of clarity and inspiration, a video blog post by Mr BigLee of Posties Rejects. I confess I have not watched the whole vlog; they are not my favourite form of communication, but I have seen a few minutes to get the gist of the point at issue. At least, I think I have.

Mr Lee (I could hardly call him ‘Mr Big’ could I?) suggests that clarity and inspiration are opposed in writing rules. That is, the clarity of a rule set is compromised by the addition of pictures, paintings, original documents, historical descriptions, and so on. JWH disagrees, and I think I agree with him.

The fact is that clarity is a usefully vague expression. It is probably best understood along the lines of an irregular verb: I am clear, you are vague, he is all over the place. That is, clarity is in the eye of the beholder. Clarity, however, seems to cover a range of issues, and so it is not just a single ‘thing’.

Clarity is not the same thing as coherence, for example. Coherence is not the same as meaninglessness, either. Meaninglessness is absolute. The sentence ‘The present king of France is bald’ is meaningless because it does not refer – that is, there is no present king of France. The sentence ‘The Pz II is a German Second World War tank’ in a set of rules about Napoleonic Wargaming is not meaningless – the sentence is correct and means something – it is rather incoherent with the rest of the context.

It is quite possible to be coherent without clarity. Much writing lacks clarity, unfortunately (including mine). Wittgenstein once wrote ‘Whatever can be said can be said clearly’. However, later work by Wittgenstein rather nuanced that statement, I think. Sentences are clear in a given context, with a given background and some sort of agreement between speaker and hearer, or writer and reader, as to what is the background of the writing.

Clarity thus depends on the audience, or the implied audience, the reader of wargame rules. An exposition of Godel’s incompleteness theorem might be clear to a class of mathematicians, but not really for a class of linguists. We can aim for precision, but the cost of precision is additional words or jargon. We have to explain what we mean and, moreover, expect the reader to remember what we mean. For example, in some philosophy (and wargame rules) you are barraged with a bunch of abbreviations and acronyms in the first few pages. These are then used extensively throughout the work. My mind does not retain these well – the meaning is clear, of course, but at the cost of introducing many more symbols into the work (and explaining them). Whether this is worth the price seems to me to be a bit moot.

Language is, of course, ambiguous. ‘I went to the bank’ could mean a trip to withdraw money or going fishing. We can try to avoid ambiguity when we write, but, because of the way English works (and, I presume, other languages do too), we cannot avoid ambiguity. Mostly the context saves us. Reading, in a set of wargame rules ‘The guard charges home’ suggests elite infantry advancing, rather than a railway conductor dashing to their house.

There is also vagueness. Vagueness is both a curse and a help. In the early writing of a set of rules, vagueness is extremely useful. As I have mentioned before, in the Polemos rules the initial state of shaken was referred to as being ‘not happy’ – a base that lost combat was described as ‘not happy’, for example. Over time the term was replaced with ‘shaken’ and the meaning of the term was defined more precisely. This is an avoidable vagueness that should be tidied up before the work is published.

However, some vagueness is unavoidable; some concepts are simply vague. We know what we mean, for example, by the term ‘morale’, but try to write a paragraph or two defining exactly what it is, how it is measured, and what effects it has. I would wager a small amount of money that you do not find it as easy as you expect. There is inherent vagueness about the word morale – we know what we mean by it but it can cover a great number of things all lumped together under it’s hat. We cannot demand more precision than the concept demands.

Finally, there is indeterminateness. This indicates that something is missing from our definition or our thought or concept. The sentence ‘The guard is elite’ is, in fact, indeterminate. How many guards are we referring to? All of them some of the time, some of them all the time, or something in between. This is different from ambiguity or vagueness and does indicate a lacuna in the thought. Therefore, wargame rules should try not to permit indeterminateness as it does lead to multiple, avoidable, interpretations.

The final comment is, I suppose, about conciseness. We can all waffle on endlessly about a subject such as the use of firearms in the Wars of the Roses. Whether all that waffle actually contributes anything, particularly anything to a rule set, is a bit moot. In the rules I have tried to write, I do try to keep the interpretative waffle away from the actual rules. I think it is healthy if a writer gives reasons for their choices in creating rules, but those interpretations should not, I think, be part of the rule set itself.

Perhaps this is what Lee means by ‘inspiration’, the background, explanations, and pictures attempting to give the wargamer the impetus to get the figures and play the game according to the rules. Personally, I do not find the pictures, at least, terribly helpful as there is no way that I can paint that many figures that well. I also sometimes find in the background some dubious assumptions about the period (assuming that I know anything about it, which is rare), which are not that helpful in getting into playing the rules either.

Still, I think JWH is correct in arguing that clarity is distinct from inspiration and that they can (and should) be separated in a rule set. But clarity itself is a portmanteau of different sins, some of which are unavoidable but most of which are traps for the unwary writer and reader.

If you have made it this far through the post, I hope the foregoing is clear…...

Saturday 20 January 2024

Moving On…

Having reviewed 2023, I suppose it is only fair to consider what 2024 might hold wargame-wise. As with most wargamers this is largely unknown territory. After all, we never know when something new and shiny might come along to tempt us away from the path of righteousness which we have been treading with family and credit cards.

Anyway, a few certainties are clear. First, I was rather alarmed to find a lack of naval wargaming in my games for last year. This is, as they say, an oversight. After all, Machiavelli does have fleets, and so I was open to some naval clashes. It is just that they did not happen. I suppose the result here is must try harder.

Thinking about it a little more, it is in fact much easier to conceive of naval actions taking place in campaign contexts. A good number of years ago Paul Hague, I think it was, observed that in a land-based game, it is quite easy to designate that crossroads or hill as being strategically important and to fight over it. At sea, one bit of water looks much like another, and so wider reasons for having a fight need to be sought. Thus, campaign wargaming is a useful additive for making naval games meaningful. This, combined with my penchant recently for campaigns, could be helpful.

On that note, I would quite like to develop some more campaigns. I do not know whether my reader is interested in such things – sometimes it seems you are, sometimes not – but I am fairly sure that I am and that there is a vast quantity of untapped possibilities in running campaign games. As I remarked a couple of times over the last year or so, campaigns can create their own scenarios and battle outcomes. Sometimes what happens on the battlefield is largely irrelevant to the outcome of a campaign, after all (I know that statement would need to be nuanced, by the way…).

There is always the holy grail of campaign gaming, or the apparent one, of some sort of complex imgai-nations type game, along the lines of Tony Bath’s Hyboria. This always seems to get set as the ideal wargame campaign. I am sure that this was not the intention, but that is sometimes how it seems. I think that rougher and readier methods of generating and playing wargame campaigns can be created, and I have tried out a few ideas in the last year or so. The ACW Greeks campaign was one such. Machiavelli and the Siena campaign are more. This needs thinking about, and some naval elements adding.

When we come to painting and acquisitions, there is a bit less to discuss, mercifully. I have demolished most of the unpainted lead pile, and my strategy is not to increase it by very much, if possible, not at all. This resolution has already been undermined, however, by the acquisition of some Warbase Parisian Civilians. These are 25+ mm and are aimed at my Flashing Blades role-playing campaign. Civilians, in any scale, are really quite difficult to find, which is a bit of a nuisance to those of us who do not think that everyone spends all their time fighting battles. Still, I also have about 16 other 25+ mm figures to assemble and paint.

The larger project is the recent (Santa is responsible. It wasn’t my fault, guv) of Chinese, Korean and Japanese fleets. These are aimed at the later Sixteenth Century, of course. Years ago I recall my frustration at being unable to obtain suitable ships for the Japanese invasion of Korea. A couple of years ago I discovered that Tumbling Dice has ranges which fit the bill very nicely, in my favoured 1:2400 scale. This was only slightly mitigated by discovering that I had failed to order any flags, but as the ships are still in their packages this is not going to be a problem any time soon.

Aside from that I am trying to keep the expansion of the forces to a minimum. I might, if they are ever released, obtain some more Italian Wars gendarmes from Baccus. As you might have noted from my Italian Wars campaigns I keep running out of the fellows. While I am about it some more jinites would not go amiss either, but I will try to limit acquisitions. Oh, and there might be some Turkish light cavalry as well, of which stocks are rather limited. And who knows what else.

Alongside this, there has been some writing. I was a bit perturbed to find this on the Helion website:

This is listed for release in the spring. There might be a bit of a problem with it, as it is nowhere near finished yet, and we are awaiting photographs to make it a feast of joy for lovers of the small chaps, and also for those who are willing to be converted. We shall see. If you have any nice pictures of 6 mm figures, from any manufacturer, drop me a comment (I won’t publish them) and we chat.

I have to say that while it has sort of been a labour of love, it has also been blinking hard work and quite frustrating to boot. I am awaiting further information from my co-author – yes, although I am named on the cover, it is actually a collaborative effort betwixt myself and Mr Berry. The Estimable Mrs P and been slightly perturbed on occasion by her husband stomping around the house shouting ‘All collaborators will be shot!’. Mind you, that sort of behaviour is not totally unknown in these parts as it is. It all stems from being in the Academy and trying to cooperate with people separated by time, geography and language.

So, there you are. As I have hinted there may still be some surprises, both in terms of subjects, wargames and even, possibly, more writing projects. In this life, you never quite know what is going to happen next, which does keep things interesting.

Saturday 13 January 2024

Siena Survives

Well, it had to happen. The ‘AI’ for the Italian city wars system occasionally throws up a battle that appears to be unwinnable by the solo wargamer. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. There is a certain amount of hubristic delight in designing a system which can beat you, or at least keep you very much on the hop.

Anyway, to summarise, Siena has had a good year or two, taken over Florence and its provinces and is now looking at gobbling up the Papal States, making the Pope a vassal and holding a string of territory across the centre of Italy. Hubris indeed, you might think. And you may well be right.

The year is 1504 and I rolled for the random event, which occurred before my move. The draw was the King of Clubs. Oh dear. I have been invaded. A die was rolled to establish which misguided power had dared to intervene in my territory. A six was rolled. The Spanish. Oh dear, oh dear.

As you can tell by my comments this was not good news. The Spanish are, in terms of the campaign, a large army and difficult to beat, although quite a few of their elements are skirmishers. My advantage is that they are a bit light in terms of gendarmes. If I could get my heavies among their crossbow skirmishers I could, I reckoned, win this one, or at least not lose.

Things got a bit worse when I drew for Spanish allies. They got two allied contingents, one of shot (ouch) and one of gendarmes (ouch ouch). My advantage in heavy cavalry had suddenly turned into a deficit. So too had my advantage, albeit slight, in shot. I called in some allies who, fortunately, turned out to be arquebusiers, so my equilibrium was somewhat restored. Nevertheless, I expected to lose this one, and the campaign to end forthwith. I determined to go down fighting.

The terrain rolling was kinder to me. The Spanish, being heavy on the skirmishers both mounted and foot, did not want an open board, and I, being outnumbered 15 bases to 23, did not either. So a fair bit of terrain (although oddly, no hills) was rolled up. A couple of settlements, some fields and two streams took their place. The die roll for the sides was also kind to me. I got the edge with the fields and settlements.

Being the defender I set up first with my shot in the fields and settlements, my light cavalry out front and my gendarmes hanging around, trying to look threatening in reserve. I was so worried about this battle that I allowed both sides to redeploy two bases. I brought some shot in from the farm on my right to the central village, while the Spanish moved some gendarmes out to their left flank.

A few moves in and things were hotting up. The Sienese are to the left, where you can see my arquebusiers lining the hedges and my mounted crossbowmen out front, backed by some gendarmes. At this point, and in fact, during most of the game, the Spanish have been suffering from a tempo point drought. The idea was to push their left flank skirmishers up, backed by the gendarmes you can see bottom right who would sail around my right flank and wreak carnage. Meanwhile, their superior light cavalry would see off mine while the foot advanced to assault the fields and then the central gendarmes would administer the coup de grace.

However, the Spanish centre has only just got moving under direct orders from their general, while the Spanish right flank is immobile, as are the gendarmes on their left. The dice rolling was awful, and they rarely held the tempo, let alone managed to do anything with it.

Things got rather complex in the centre. My gendarmes got stuck into the remains of theirs after my mounted crossbows had managed to disrupt them significantly. Not only that but a spare base of gendarmes went after their right flank shot and were busy chasing them off. You can see in the rear of the Spanish several bases without orders forming a second line. The cavalry combat in the centre also got rather more complex than I can describe and needed some thinking about bases being hit in the flank and rear. The upshot was that I managed to rout a couple of Spanish gendarme bases in exchange for one of mine, and then managed to bag the general.

This, however, did not finish off the Spanish. It is a resilient army. I had to dispose of another base of skirmishers (shot to bits by my now otherwise unengaged right) and charge another shot base in the flank, which took a turn or two to do the decent thing and flee. My dice-rolling touch was clearly starting to dwindle. At this point, the Spanish decided that the Pope could be Sienese for all they cared and withdrew. Somehow Siena had managed to survive.

That was a very fraught action, and neither the pictures nor the description do it justice. I kept winning tempo rolls and having sufficient to do what I wanted. For example, when the Spanish gendarmes came a bit close for comfort I could pull my infantry back into the village and move my mounted crossbowmen out of danger, while the Spanish did not manage to get all of their army moving forward.

There is some food for rule thought here. In part, the result was that of poor dice rolling for the Spanish. In part, as well, there is the fact that the defenders need fewer tempo points than an attacker anyway. I do not think I was biased; the Spanish plan still seems viable to me.

So, in the campaign, Siena has survived the biggest existential threat to its existence to date. Also, I still have my move this year and Rome lies at my feet. Plus, I have won a battle and only lost a single base of troops. Forwards!

Saturday 6 January 2024

The Small, Thin Review of the Year

Well, that was (nearly) the year that was. And I suppose it is time to look back and see what has happened. A quick scroll through the posts of the year suggests that approximately 20 wargames have been fought out, which is quite good going for me at least. I cannot really get my head around those who manage 500 wargames in a year, paint four thousand figures to collectors standards, and still hold down a full-time job and spend endless quality time with their families and friends. I must be really inefficient, aside from a poor painter, because I can’t manage that.

Still, enough negativity. So far as I can see most of the wargames were part of different campaigns. The first was from my much-neglected ancients collection and was a consequence of my having painted the rest of the Germans. They forced their passage into the Roman Empire past the hapless Dacians who, if they did not keep defeating the Romans, I would start to suspect of being a sort of ancient road-bump.

Still, next up was a rather interesting and enjoyable campaign in Italian Wars Italy, based on the old Avalon Hill game Machiavelli. This was fascinating, trying out the different armies available with different strengths against each other. The French were within an ace of winning the whole thing, while the Papacy was close to being wiped off the map. Most of the systems I used for regulating the campaign solo, such as the diplomacy table worked very nicely, although the Spanish and French remained in alliance. By the end, the situation in central Italy was fairly well blocked. The powers involved had two armies in the area and were too strong, therefore, to take on any of the others, but not strong enough to have a go themselves. In the north the French were attempting to retake Milan, having lost it to a cheeky Imperial attack. If the French had managed to get moving they would have swamped the defenders, but the initiative cards were not kind.

The Machiavelli campaign generated seven of the wargames, which is pretty good going, I think, and a few surprises. The fight does not always go to the strongest, which is nice to know. The blocking of central Italy could probably have been solved by using the advanced Machiavelli rules, which include finance and the ability to pay off your enemies’ armies. The constipation of Italy could have been relieved by this, but I was cautious because I did not want to overcomplicate the campaign.

Flushed with success, however, I turned to the Thirty Year’s War and tried that. This was a very nice set up although it took most of a morning to sort it out. The map is good, and the counters and state cards are well done. However, even my simplified mechanics made the game too complex, and I gave up after two or three moves, and the same number of wargames. I do not think that it was the fault of it being played solo; the report I have is that the game is unplayable by groups as well. Back, as they say, to the drawing board, or at least to push on a little further with Machiavelli.

Next along, I decided to try out another campaign, this time much more limited in scope. I had been reading a bit about strategy and had sort of understood the strategic problems and opportunities found in the American Civil War. This is probably old hat to most wargamers but was news to me, so I decided to try it out. A very abstract map was generated and forces were randomly allocated from my ancient Greek collection. Four wargames ensued and the Athenians (representing to Union) won. This also was fascinating as a campaign as the Athenian defensive victories early in the campaign really crippled the Spartan plan, as well as crippling one of their forces which should really have been romping to victory.

The Machiavelli and the ACW Greeks campaigns both highlighted how scenarios can be created by the campaign itself. In the Machiavelli campaign, the Papal forces confronted the Spanish, defending a river line. The Spanish crossed the river and, instead of counter-attacking, the Papal army withdrew. This was a strategic decision to lose Rome but to keep the army in being to save Ancona and the other Papal army there. If the Papal army had carried on they would probably have lost and then the remaining army would have been defeated in detail. As it was they could contribute to blocking the centre of Italy.

In the ACW campaign the last battle related to the attempt of a Spartan army to escape the Athenians and retreat south to the other remaining Spartan army. They went down to defeat (partially, of course, glorious) but the scenario was to escape, not beat the enemy. Food, I think, for thought.

For something a bit lighter we revisited Ferdinand and Isabella and their bed antics (um, yes), in which Ferdinand had a much-reduced army. It was quite a lot harder to win with the reduced Spanish but after an initial defeat, he did manage to recapture his bed and carry it back in triumph to his lady. Perhaps you had to be there.

The final run of games has been based around Siena in the Italian Wars. This is an adaptation of an article in Miniature Wargames I wrote ages ago about the rise of the Aztecs. As I write the Sienese have conquered Florence but are desperately fighting against some random invaders. The game is actually midway through downstairs as I write, so I do not know the outcomes of this one. Expect to see a post soon.

There have been one or two other games, of course. The Irish, led by Donal and Dougal went down to defeat in the Curlieu Hills, which seems to round off the Armada Abbeys spur campaign nicely. I also experimented with a game representing reconnaissance. This tried out a few ideas for how to conduct a recce solo and seemed to work quite nicely. Integrating the game into a campaign is a work in progress.

So, there you are a year’s worth of games. I also managed some painting, more or less wiping out the lead pile. However, Santa has delivered some more, so you need not fear about my unpainted lead depression. It is still going strong.