Sunday, 21 July 2019

Other people's Portable Wargame battle reports: The Battle of Quatre Bras

Archduke Piccolo has done it again! Having recently used my PORTABLE WARGAME rules to fight a 'hidden scenario' version of the Battle of Kut, he has now turned his attention to play-testing my PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME rules again, this time with a re-fight of the Battle of Quatre Bras.

Needless to say, he has come up with some very interesting suggestions for how the rules could be improved so that large-scale battles can be fought using them, and I recommend anyone wanting to do that to seriously consider adopting them.

As for the battle report ... well to me it read very much like the story of a real battle, with the ebb and flow first favouring one side and then the other. An very informative introduction to the re-fight (which includes the ORBATs) can be read here, whilst the full battle report (including suggested rule changes) can be read here.

The following photographs give a glimpse of some of the action.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Archduke Piccolo.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Eagle has landed ... fifty years on

Fifty years ago today, I - and what seemed like the entire population of the UK - sat up into the early hours to watch the Moon Landing and the subsequent 'first step'.

The first step, as seen on TV across the world. My memory is that it was not that clear a picture, but that might have been due to the fact that I think that we watched it on an old 405-line monochrome TV and not one of the 'new' 625-line colour ones.*
It came only a relatively short time after the Cuban Missile Crisis had seen the world go to, and the pull back from, the brink of nuclear war, and President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The landing seemed to be the beginning of a new age of optimism ... but within a few years interest in manned space exploration appeared to evaporate.

One wonders what our world might now be like if that initial enthusiasm had been maintained. Would the Cold War between East and West have persisted and taken on a new dimension in space, or would the world's nations come together to look outwards to explore our Solar system?

We'll never know what might have been ... but it looks as if manned space exploration beyond Earth's orbit might just be on the horizon. I do hope so ... and I'd love to sit up late again to see another human set foot on the Moon or possibly even Mars.

* The UK TV systems were in the process of changing over from 405-line to 625-line analogue TV transmissions in 1969. It was not until November 1969 that the BBC and ITV stopped producing programmes in 405-line format, although they did continue to rebroadcast 625-line programmes in the old format for the benefit of viewers who still had old, monochrome TV receivers.

The demise of analogue TV transmissions in the UK in 2012 made the 'old' 625-line TV receivers redundant ... which means that anyone born after November 1998 (when the UK first began transmitting digital terrestrial TV signals) probably has no idea what I have been waffling on about!

Friday, 19 July 2019

The United States Naval War College 1936 Wargame Rules

I've always had a great interest in naval wargaming, and when John Curry announced that he was going to add THE UNITED STATES NAVAL WAR COLLEGE 1936 WARGAME RULES to the list of titles published by the 'History of Wargaming' Project, I just had to have a copy!

This is first volume of what will be a two-part series, and its contents include chapters entitled as follows:
  • Acknowledgements
  • Biographies of Editors
  • Foreword by Read Admiral Jeffrey Hartley, USN
  • Introduction
  • The Training Value of the Wargame
  • Summary of the Rules (1922)
  • Maneuver Rules 1936
  • Theory and Purpose of Fighting Strength Comparisons
  • Section A: General Rules
  • Section B: Conduct of Maneuver
  • Section C: Speed and Fuel
  • Section D: Visibility, Audibility and Smoke Screens
  • Section E: Communications
  • Section F: Gunfire
  • Section G: Torpedo Fire
  • Section H: Mines
  • Section I: Submarines
  • Section J: Aircraft
  • Further Reading
  • Appendix: Sample Fire Effect Tables (1935)
    • Fire Effect Blue 16"/45
    • Fire Effect Blue 8"/55
    • Fire Effect Blue 5"/38
    • Fire Effect Orange 16"/45
    • Fire Effect Orange 8"/50
    • Fire Effect Orange 5.1"/50
    • Torpedo Fire Cards (1935, reprinted 1944)
  • Appendix: Sample Fleet Data (1936)
This book is a positive cornucopia of information for anyone interested in naval warfare and naval wargaming from the period between the two World Wars ... and into the early 1940s. Even if you don't use the rules (which after a little practice are much quicker and easier to use than Fred Janes' and Fletcher Pratt's naval wargames ... even though the latter's rules were in some ways based on the rules in this book!), the book gives an insight into US Navy thinking. As Admiral Chester Nimitz said in 1950 of the per-war wargames at the US Naval War College
'The war with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms here by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise — absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those'.
Whilst the wargames did not actually predict how the war would be fought, they did give a whole generation of leading US Navy officers experience in working together, in sharing knowledge and understanding, in looking at complex problems and developing solutions to those problems, in making mistakes in a safe environment, and looking at any potential conflict from the perspective of their likely opponents (i.e. Orange in the games, who were – of course – the Japanese).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in naval wargaming and the history of naval warfare.

THE UNITED STATES NAVAL WAR COLLEGE 1936 WARGAME RULES: USN WARGAMING BEFORE WWII VOLUME 1 was edited by John Curry and Chris Carlson, and published in 2019 by The 'History of Wargaming' Project (ISBN 978 0 244 12872 2).

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Other people's Portable Wargame battle reports: Another American Civil War battle

First, an apology.

Martin Smith posted his most recent American Civil War battle report on the PORTABLE WARGAME Facebook page back on 28th June, but I've only just managed to read it. In my defence, all I can say is that I have been very busy (a trip to Bristol, my wife's birthday, COW2019, and Madonic bits and pieces) and missed the notification Facebook sent to inform me that a new post had been added. I therefore must apologise to Martin for appearing to ignore his excellent battle report.

As can be seen for the following photographs, Martin used his magnificent 2mm-scale figures to fight this battle on a chessboard. The results are very impressive, and show just how portable the game is!

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Martin Smith.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Miniature Wargames 436

Since COW2019, I seem to have been up to my eyes writing about what happened (including my 'Carry On up the Nile!' battle report) and sorting out the bookings for COW2020. I've also been quite heavily involved in Masonic-related activities, including attending a meeting of the research lodge of which I am the Immediate Past Master, and visiting the small Hertfordshire Provincial Grand Lodge archives, library, and museum in St Albans with regard to a book that I am writing. As a result, the latest issue of this magazine has been sitting unread until last weekend.

The articles included in this issue are:
  • Welcome (i.e. the editorial) by John Treadaway
  • Forward observer
  • Send three and fourpence: The keynote of everything to be simplicity: A co-operative D-Day scenario for Black Ops by Conrad Kinch
  • First & Last: Battles of Tolkein's First Age by Graham Green of Greygreen Customs, with photographs by John Treadaway
  • Men of Bronze: First impressions of the Osprey Rules for Hoplite Battles by David Tuck, with photographs by Malc Johnston
  • Rugen Island: Swedish Pomerania: 1715 by Jon Sutherland, with photographs by Diane Sutherland
  • Show Report: A Full Broadside: The Editor visits the Sittingbourne show with text and photographs by John Treadaway
  • Darker Horizons
    • Fantasy Facts
  • The Great Expedition: Rules for Drake’s Raids in the New World 1585 to 1586 by Chris Swan, with photographs by John Treadaway
  • Recce
  • Wundermaske: The Editor investigates Panzer Putty ... with text and photographs by John Treadaway
  • Tools of the trade: Load up your brush and dive in! We tackle a trinity of tints with a three-in-one review of Coat d'Arms, The Army Painter and Vallejo by James Winspear
  • Combat Fatigue: Painting Wargames Atlantic's new Raumjager
  • How To … build a fantasy house: Part Two: Grab your brush for some exterior decorating! with text and photographs by James Winspear
  • Shuttle Diplomacy: Scratch-building an accurate 28mm Star Trek Shuttle with text and photographs by Tony Harwood
  • Firth Columnist: The continuing tales of a wargames widow with text and photographs by Diane Sutherland
  • Club Directory
So, what did I think of this issue?

If the truth be told, not a lot. As I read it, I began to wonder if I was actually reading a wargames magazine as this issue seemed include a lot of fantasy and science fiction gaming. Ironically, the Darker Horizons section (which I understood is where the fantasy and science fiction articles are supposed to go) only contained Fantasy Facts, whereas in the rest of the magazine we find First & Last: Battles of Tolkein's First Age, How To … build a fantasy house: Part Two, Combat Fatigue: Painting Wargames Atlantic's new Raumjager, and Shuttle Diplomacy: Scratch-building an accurate 28mm Star Trek Shuttle.

In addition, there are two product reviews (Wundermaske and Tools of the trade) which whilst useful, might have been included in the Forward observer section of the magazine.

I am sure that there are plenty of people who would have enjoyed reading this issue because it covered areas of the hobby that interest them ... but regretfully, I am not one of them.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

'Carry On up the Nile!: The battle report

The terrain was set up before the players arrived. (Please note that the model boats are only present to indicate the approximate location at which they enter the battlefield.)

The battlefield, as seen from the west.
The battlefield as seen from the south.
The battlefield as seen from the north.
The battlefield as seen from the north-west.
Before the battle started, players had already signed up for the roles they wanted ... two of them well before the conference started!

The poster for the game (with apologies to the creator of the original poster for the film 'Khartoum').
On the night, I had two conference attendees who arrived just to watch, but rather than let them be passive observers, I roped them in to add an extra player to each side; Captain Keene (commanding the 3rd Foot and Mouth) and Bungdit Din (commanding the Bhurpa tribesmen).

Each player was allocated their troops, and after consulting with the other players on their side, the figures were placed on the terrain.

Whilst General Wolseley spread the bulk of his troops out to man the perimeter fortifications, retaining a small reserve, General Gordon concentrate his troops around the city of Khartoum to protect his headquarters and the river front.

The British defenders of Khartoum were spread around the fortifications, in the open between the fortification and the city, or in the city itself.
The British realised that the greatest threat came from the Mahdist forces massed near the easternmost gates, and deployed accordingly.
General Gordon felt that it was important to defend the waterfront 'just in case'.
The Mahdist troop under the command of the Mahdi and the Khalif massed near the eastern edge of the city's fortifications, whilst the Khasi placed his troops where they could intercept the relief column.

The Khasi's artillery. At one point the crews were driven off by British artillery fire from Khartoum, but they soon returned to their guns.
In order to randomise the order in which players presented their arguments for each turn, I shuffled a pack of playing cards before the game and at the beginning of each turn I dealt a card – face down – to each player. They then turned them over simultaneously, and arguments were presented with the lowest number going first, followed by the second lowest, and so on until each player had had their turn. If two cards with the same number were turned over, then the order of precedence was Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades. If a player was dealt a Joker, they could choose when they wanted to present their argument.

One further point; I told players that anyone who presented an argument that included a quote from a 'Carry On ... ' film (and especially 'Carry On up the Khyber') would improve the argument by one 'step' (e.g. from 'Weak' to 'Average'). I did – however – make one exception; anyone who used the expression 'Ooh, Matron' would be penalised!

Once the game began, it quickly developed into two separate actions, one by the river, and the other in and around the city.

The assault on Khartoum
The Mahdist troops attempted to demolish the eastern-most pair of gates with artillery fire. At first this proved to be ineffective, but gradually the gates were weakened and eventually a larger enough gap was blown in one of them from the Mahdist infantry to surge through them.

The initial Mahdist assault ... which was driven back by combined rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.
The initial inrush was thrown back by gunfire from the defender's artillery and machine gun units, but further Mahdist artillery fire (and overshoots by the British artillery!) widened the existing gap and demolished the second gate, and overwhelming numbers of Mahdist infantry charged through the gates. Some concentrated on rushing the British artillery ...

The second Mahdist assault was far more successful, and overwhelmed many of the British defenders.
... whilst other moved into the centre of the city.

One part of the Mahdist force made its way into the city of Khartoum. General Gordon can be seen observing events from the roof of a building.
The end was inevitable, and as General Gordon walked slowly downstairs to his fate ...

Realising that death was inevitable, General Gordon went down to where the Mahdist mob was ... and was killed. His severed head was then placed on a spear and paraded through the streets. In the game, his ghostly influence lingered on because 'Gordon's is a strong spirit (!)'.
... General Wolseley pulled his troops back towards the western side of the city in the vain hope of rescue.

It did not come.

The defeat of the Relief Column
At the same time as the Mahdists were attempting to batter down the gates of Khartoum's fortifications, the Second Gordon Relief Column sailed into view from the north. Somewhat surprisingly, General Ruff-Diamond chose to sail down the narrower but shorter eastern branch of the river towards Khartoum.

As soon as they came into range of the Bhurpa-crewed field guns on the western bank of the River Nile, the leading boat – HM Gunboat El Tub – came under fire ... and she was holed and began to sink. Her captain swung her to starboard and ran her aground, stopping her from sinking but blocking the river at the same time.

Once the El Tub had been hit and breached to stop her sinking, the two British steamers came under fire from the Bhurpas.
HM Gunboat El Tub, with General Ruff-Diamond aboard.
The Bhurpas moved swiftly towards the stricken ship, and in the name of Shiva, the Khasi ordered them to board it and slaughter everyone the found aboard. General Ruff-Diamond, who was enjoying tiffin at the time, suddenly found himself at the mercy of a band of blood-thirsty Bhurpas. Not having his trusty Webley revolver to hand, he dived through an open window on the port side of the ship ... and into the Nile! He swiftly swam northwards, and despite being shot at by both the Bhurpas and some of his own men (he was dressed all in white, like the Mahdists), he managed to regain the shore just as Captain Keene ordered the 3rd Foot and Mouth to disembark and open fire on the Bhurpas.

With the El Tub firmly under their control, the Bhurpas came under fire from the 3rd Foot and Mouth, who had disembarked from the Thomas Cook.
In the confused fighting that followed, the Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry (The Fore and Aft) lined the port side of the Thomas Cook and repeatedly fired at the lone figure of the Khasi, who managed to find the only tussock in the desert to hide in!

The Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry (The Fore and Aft) line the upper deck of the Thomas Cook and blaze away at the Khasi, who can be seen lying down in cover.
Realising that Khartoum had fallen (the sight of Gordon's head on the end of a spear was enough proof of that fact), General Ruff-Diamond ordered the 3rd Foot and Mouth back aboard the Thomas Cook, which then made its way astern and back northward. He thought that by getting back to the nearest telegraph station in Anglo-Egyptian-controlled territory as quickly as possible, he could break the news of Gordon's death and make his own exploits sound more heroic than they actually were.

Unfortunately, General Ruff-Diamond had forgotten that a 'Daily Mail' journalist had accompanied his relief column, and their version of events would hit the newsstands at the same time his report was published. Little did he realise it, but his next posting was likely to be to the Cannibal Islands, where the British government hoped he would go down well with the natives.

The Khasi tried to make his way towards the Mahdi's tent, but having proved himself no more of a believer than the infidel British (he should never have called upon the assistance of Shiva!), he now became a target for his own Bhurpas! Like his erstwhile enemy, General Ruff-Diamond, he fled northward ... and into inevitable exile on an estate in East Anglia.

As to the fate of General Wolseley ... some months later he was to appear at an Anglo-Egyptian outpost, accompanied by a well-spoken 'native' who had rescued him. When asked his name, the 'native' had replied 'Harry Faversham'.

As you may gather, this was a game full of incident and hilarity ... and I had no idea how many players would have an intimate knowledge of the 'Carry On ...' films. I had expected to hear 'Infamy ... Infamy ... they've all got it in for me!' (and it was used!), and thought that I might hear 'Frying tonight!', but the quotes from the medical doctor present seemed to indicate that his training must have included numerous viewings of the 'Carry On Nurse' (made in 1959), 'Carry On Doctor' (made in 1967), 'Carry On Again Doctor' (made in 1969), and 'Carry On Matron' (made in 1972)!

Please note that the photographs featured above are © David Brock, David Crook, Mark Flanagan, and Bob Cordery.

Monday, 15 July 2019

'Carry On up the Nile!': The opposing armies and the terrain

Each side was allocated troops as follows.

Anglo-Egyptian Forces
Inside Khartoum:
  • General Charles Gordon, commanding:
    • 1st Battalion, Egyptian Infantry
    • 2nd Battalion, Egyptian Infantry
    • 1st Battery, Egyptian Artillery
    • Machine Gun Battery, Egyptian Army
  • General Sir Garnet Wolseley, commanding:
    • 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Rifles
    • 1st Battalion, the Guides
    • A Battery, Royal Artillery
Second Gordon Relief Column (moving up the River Nile):
  • General Sir Sydney Ruff-Diamond, commanding:
    • 3rd Foot and Mouth (The Devils in Skirts)
    • The Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry (The Fore and Aft)
    • B Battery, Royal Artillery
    • Machine Gun Battery, Prince of Wales’ Own South Essex
    • HM Gunboat El Tub
    • HM Steam Transport Thomas Cook

Mahdist Forces (and their allies)
In the area surrounding Khartoum:
  • The (slightly Mad) Mahdi, commanding:
    • Three bands of Jihadi Riflemen
    • A battery of captured Egyptian artillery
  • The Khalif, commanding:
    • Three bands of Jihadi Riflemen
    • A battery of captured Egyptian artillery
  • The Khasi of Kalabar, commanding:
    • The Bhurpa tribesmen
    • Two batteries of captured Egyptian artillery, crewed by loyal Bhurpas

The area around Khartoum

At the commencement of the game, the area within Khartoum's fortifications was occupied by Anglo-Egyptian forces.

The rest of the area around Khartoum (including the fort at Omdurman) was in the hands of the Mahdists and their allies.

The Second Gordon Relief Column was approaching along the River Nile from the north (i.e. the top of the map).

  • The 3rd Foot and Mouth (The Devils in Skirts) are the Highland regiment whose exploits on the North West Frontier of India are retold in the famous drama-documentary, CARRY ON UP THE KHYBER! OR THE BRITISH POSITION IN INDIA.
  • The Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry (The Fore and Aft) also served on the North West Frontier of India, and tales of their exploits are mentioned in several stories written by Rudyard Kipling.
  • The Prince of Wales’ Own South Essex Regiment performed distinguished service during the Napoleonic Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo. One of their most distinguished officers was Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Richard Sharpe, who captured a French Eagle at the Battle of Talavera (27th to 28th July 1809).

Sunday, 14 July 2019

'Carry On up the Nile!: Player Briefings

One aspect of any Matrix Game that a designer has to get right is the Personal Briefing given to each player. These set down their personal goals (for want of a better description, their 'Victory Conditions') as well as some idea of their character's motivations and attitudes.

For 'Carry On up the Nile!' I wrote the following Personal Briefings.

General Charles Gordon
  • Be devout at all opportunities
  • Always exhibit your single-mindedness; after all, it got you where you are today … stuck in a stinking city in the Sudan, surrounded by people who want to kill you
  • Act courageously whenever possible
  • Be as difficult as possible in your dealings with Sir Garnet (For example, remind him as often as possible that you command the garrison of Khartoum); after all, he is a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ who knows little of the Sudan and its people

General Sir Garnet Wolseley
  • Always act heroically
  • Try to enforce the fact that you are now in charge of the defenders of Khartoum (For example, remind General Gordon as often as possible that you command the force sent to relieve him, and was told by the Prime Minster and the Commander-in-Chief to take charge of the situation); after all, you consider yourself the best man for the job
  • Always act imperiously ... especially with subordinates who are not your acolytes

General Sir Sydney Ruff-Diamond
  • Act venially most of the time
  • Be self-serving whenever the opportunity arises
  • Be unflappable in a crisis
  • Stop for tiffin if the opportunity arises
  • If the opportunity arises, get even with the Khasi of Kalabar for dropping you right in it when he led the revolt on the North West Frontier that lost you the plumb job of Governor

The (slightly Mad) Mahdi
  • Always act in a slightly demented but saintly manner
  • Be single-minded regarding the ridding of the Sudan of all ferengi
  • Express your belief that Allah will ensure your victory
  • Lead by contemplating serious and religious matters in your tent

The Khafi
  • Always act heroically
  • Lead from the front
  • Regularly express your belief that you will lead the army to victory over the ferengi
  • Give unswerving loyalty of the army and the Mahdi

The Khasi of Kalabar
  • Act venially most of the time
  • Frequently express your resentment of the British in general and Sir Sydney Ruff-Diamond in particular
  • Lead your loyal Bhurpas from the front; after all, they have followed you into exile and deserve to be treated as elite troops
  • If the opportunity arises, get even with Sir Sydney Ruff-Diamond for forcing you and your followers into exile; after all, spending the rest of your life in exile on an estate in East Anglia was going to be your punishment

As you will notice, the briefings are not always mutually exclusive in their objectives, and may well result in players co-operating even if they are on opposite sides, or being at each other's throats even though they are nominally on the same side. There is obviously going to be tension between Generals Gordon and Wolseley, and there is every likelihood that should the situation arise, there might well be a 'war within a war' if the paths followed by the Khazi and Sir Sydney cross at any point.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

The contents of 'A Winter-ish War' and 'Trouble in Zubia'

Unlike my previous books, I have not included any indication of what is inside each of my latest two books. I have been asked if I could provide that information ... so her goes:


  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • A map of the southern border between Opeland and SPUR
  • The background to the war
    • The Opelandic Army
    • The SPUR Army
  • SPUR's Air Force mobilises!
  • The outbreak of war
  • Day 1: The attack in the left-centre sector
  • Day 1: The attack in the right-centre sector
  • Day 2: The attack in the right-hand sector
  • Day 3: The attack in the left-hand sector
  • The armistice and its aftermath
  • An untold story: The fighting in the far north
  • Bibliography
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Zubia: A short guide
  • The crisis begins
  • The bombardment of Secundria
  • The advance on Zubairo
  • The advance from Port Zub
  • Background to the southern revolt
  • The revolt begins
  • The evacuation of Abou Nasir
  • The defence of Massala
  • Bibliography

Friday, 12 July 2019

My latest book sales figures

Thanks to my preoccupation with COW, I almost missed seeing my latest book sales figures.

In May my sales figures looked like this:

This past month – June – has seen sales continue to grow slowly but surely:

As predicted last month, the total number of books sold in all formats passed the five thousand mark during June ... and I hope that the recent release of A WINTER-ISH WAR and TROUBLE IN ZUBIA will add further sales over the next few months.