Friday, 28 November 2014

Kriegsspiel at King's College, London

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take part in a kriegsspiel session run by Professor Philip Sabin in the Department of War Studies at King's College, London.

The session lasted from 1.00pm until 5.00pm and was split into three parts.
  • Part 1: A briefing that explained how the game worked (e.g. the placing of the opposing player teams in separate rooms, the sequence of play, and the role of the umpires).
  • Part 2: The wargames were fought. (There were sufficient players and umpires for two games to be fought simultaneously.)
  • Part 3: A debriefing where the umpires described the course of each wargame. This was followed by feedback from the players and a general discussion about the game's design.
The wargames dealt with the situation in North Western Europe from 20th August to 18th September 1914, and were a re-run of the game Professor Sabin designed and ran at a conference that was held in Windsor Castle earlier this year.

The wargame had six turns, each turn representing five days. The map was made up of a number of large hexes, each hex containing a large town or city ... or a forest. Each of the playing pieces/units represented three corps, and they could move one hex each turn. These units could be either 'fresh' (i.e. able to attack) or 'spent' (i.e. in need of reinforcement before they could attack again).

The letters shown on the map indicate the starting positions of each of the three-corps blocks at the start of the battle. Uppercase letters indicate fresh units and lowercase letter indicate spent units (i.e. units that need to be reinforced before that can attack again).
I was a member of one of the two Allied teams, and we managed to win our wargame. (We were either lucky or out-generalled our opponents, depending upon your point of view. My personal opinion was that we chose the right basic strategy ... and had a few lucky breaks.)

The mapboard at one point during the game. The dark blue units are the French, the red unit is the British BEF, and the green unit is the Belgian Army. The yellow blocks indicate where we thought the fresh German units were, and the slips of paper are the assumed locations of German 'spent' units. Our positioning of the German units turned out to be less accurate than we had hoped ... but not drastically so.
At the end of the session Professor Sabin gave each of us a copy of the rules, a copy of a simplified version of the game that came be played by two people (entitled SCHLIEFFEN), and a copy of his very short and simple solo wargame, TAKE THAT HILL!

All-in-all it was a great way to spend a Thursday afternoon ... and I hope that the opportunity to do something similar will occur again very soon.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Changes to the latest draft of the Portable Wargame rules

I have been doing some thinking about the section of the rules that deal with Close Combat, and have done some minor but important re-drafting. It now reads as follows:
CLOSE COMBAT
  • If opposing Units are in orthogonally adjacent grid squares, they are in Close Combat Range.
  • A Unit cannot move past an enemy Unit within Close Combat Range without engaging in Close Combat.
  • If a Unit is blocked part way through its movement by a Close Combat situation, it cannot move any further.
  • Close Combat is conducted after an activated Unit has done everything else (i.e. moved and/or fired); it can never take place at any other point during a Unit’s activation.
  • The Unit that is initiating the Close Combat is the Attacker; the Unit they are attacking is the Defender.
  • To determine if the Close Combat has been effective, the Attacker rolls a D6 die for his Unit and at the same time the Defender rolls a different coloured D6 die for his Unit; the D6 die roll scores are compared with the relevant rows in the ‘Die scores required to hit an enemy Unit’ column in the Close Combat section of the Unit Data Table.
  • If the Attacker is facing the rear or flank of the Defender, the Defender’s D6 die roll score is reduced by 1.
  • A Unit that is hit reduces its Strength Value by 1.
  • In addition, the side with the lower die roll score must retreat 1 grid square immediately, and if they are unable to do so, they automatically reduce their Strength Value by a further 1.
  • If both the Attacker’s and the Defender’s die roll scores are equal, the Close Combat immediately continues for a further round (or – if necessary – rounds) until the Attacker or the Defender prevails (i.e. one side is completely destroyed or is forced to retreat).
The changes ensure that:
  • The Close Combat mechanism takes into account the advantage an Attacker would enjoy if they attack an enemy Unit in the flank or rear and
  • There is a definite result to each Close Combat (i.e. one side loses and is forced to retreat or stands fast but suffers greater casualties or is totally destroyed).
I hope to play-test these changes later this week or at some time over next weekend.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Oops!

I recently ordered a copy of WARSHIPS OF THE CHINCHA ISLAND WARS (1864-1866): SPAIN'S LAST IMPERIAL ADVENTURE by William Eugene Warner from Amazon ...


... but when the package arrived, I received this instead:


Other than some sort of major hiccough in their system, I cannot for the life of me see how Amazon could have confused these two books and sent the wrong one to me. (I do have visions of some poor French businessman or woman who has been sent my book in place of the Personnel Record book that they had ordered. I suspect that they are probably more confused by what has happened than I am!)

I have contacted Amazon, and I am in the process of returning the book they have sent me in the hope that they will eventually send me the book that I have ordered. If it arrives in the near future, I will certainly write a book review about it!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Making them pay!: A play-test of the revised Colonial version of The Portable Wargame rules

Having written a new and revised draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules, I decided that they needed play-testing. As the weather outside yesterday was terrible (it had been raining all night, and it continued to rain well into the evening), it seemed like an ideal day to do it ... so I did.

Scenario
The tax collectors are having more trouble extracting money from the tribes in Southern Zubia, and after one of them was beaten so badly that they died, the local Governor decided that the most troublesome tribes needed teaching a lesson. He therefore sent a small but heavily armed column out into the desert to find the tribal encampments and to ensure that the overdue tax was levied ... along with a bit extra to pay for the trouble the tribes had caused.

As the column advanced deeper and deeper into the desert, they became aware that they were being shadowed. As a result they were fully prepared for an attack, and when the tribesmen came into sight, the column deployed to meet the threat.


The Zubian column comprised 8 units:
  • 4 Infantry Units
  • 1 Cavalry Unit
  • 1 Machine Gun Unit
  • 1 Rifled Field Artillery Unit
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 26 and an Exhaustion Point of 13.

The Tribal forces comprised:
  • 6 Infantry Units armed with hand-held weapons
  • 4 Infantry Units armed with smooth-bore muskets
  • 1 Smooth-bore Artillery Unit
  • 2 Cavalry Units
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 39 and an Exhaustion Point of 20.

The Battle
The Zubian troops advanced to meet the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


Both sides moved forward, with the Tribal cavalry trying to work around onto the Zubian column's flank. The Zubian Artillery Unit fired at the Tribal Infantry Unit immediately in front of them, and caused the first casualties of the battle.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Black 2, Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


The Tribal Cavalry Units finally moved forward to engage the Zubian column's flank, and whilst the battle continued elsewhere – without much effect – there were a series of close combats between the Tribal Cavalry Units and the Zubian Machine Gun Unit, as a result of which both sides sustained casualties.





The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Red 2, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


Circumstances and chance seemed to favour the Zubians who, despite the loss of their Machine Gun Unit ...


... managed to advance and pour a deadly volley of rifle fire into the line of Tribal Infantry Units.


The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Red 2, Red 4, Black 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


As so often happens, things now swung in favour of the other side, and the Tribal forces were able to charge forward and engage the Zubian troops in a number of close combats. As a result the casualties on both sides began to mount. (The Zubians had lost 8 of their initial total Strength Value of 26 and the Tribal forces had lost 16 from their initial total Strength Value of 39.)

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Black 3, Black 3, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


The course of the battle moved towards its climax. The Zubians lost their Field Artillery Unit ...


... but in achieving this minor victory the Tribal forces reached and passed their Exhaustion Point.


The Zubians were able to exploit this, and inflicted further casualties on the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:


At this point it was obvious that the Tribal forces were beaten, but that the Zubians were only a hairsbreadth away from reaching their Exhaustion Point. As a result, both sides fell back to lick their wounds. The Tribal forces did so in the knowledge that the dreaded tax collectors had not been able to enforce their demands, and the Zubians were well aware that although they may have won the battle, they had not achieved their main objective.

Lessons learnt
As expected, the rules work fairly well and produced a fun battle that did not take too long to fight. The combat results were reasonable, and the Unit Activation Cards ensured that there was a degree of uncertainty as to what was going to happen as events unfolded.

I think that the clear casualty markers (they are plastic Roman Blind rings) are less intrusive that the normal white ones, and make it very easy to keep a tally of the Units that have suffered casualties. I do need to have a better method of recording each side's overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function.

One aspect of the rules that I think does require a minor change relates to flank and rear attacks. At present the tactical advantage this should give to an attacker is not factored into the rules, but it would be fairly simple to do so. I have therefore made a note of this and will make the necessary changes to the next draft of the rules.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Miniature Wargames with Battlegames Issue 380

The latest issue of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES magazine arrived in the post on Friday afternoon, and thanks to the problems I have been having with my broadband service, I have managed to read most of this issue before writing this blog entry.


The articles included in this issue are:
  • Briefing (i.e. the editorial) by Henry Hyde
  • World Wide Wargaming by Henry Hyde
  • Forward observer by Neil Shuck
  • Fencing champion: The continuing tales of a wargames widow by Diane Sutherland
  • Fantasy Facts by John Treadaway
  • The Featherstone Annual Tribute: by Henry Hyde
  • Don's colonial collection: Victoria's empire is still fighting in Swindon by Chris Scott
  • Let's fight Oporto 1809: Part 2: the rules and Orders of Battle by Jonathan Jones
  • Red versus Blue: Mass participation wargaming by Phil DutrĂ©
  • Gravelines: Wargaming with Vauban fortresses: part 1 by Henry Hyde
  • Fields of Ponyri: A Battlegroup Kursk campaign weekend by Warwick Kinrade
  • A chat with Larry Brom: A send three and fourpence special outing by Conrad Kinch
  • SELWG 2014: Enthusiastic wargaming at Crystal Palace by John Treadaway
  • The Battlegames Combat Stress Appeal report by Henry Hyde
  • Hex encounter by Brad Harmer
  • Recce
There is a lot of interest for me in this issue. For example, I always wondered what had happened to Donald Featherstone's wonderful collection of Colonial figures ... and now I know! I am also a fan of Larry Brom's work, and own three editions of his THE SWORD AND THE FLAME rules as well as his scenario portfolio and THE SUN NEVER SETS campaign system. Conrad Kinch's interview with Larry – and the introduction and afterword to it – was my particular favourite article in this issue.

Henry Hyde announced a bonus for all of us who subscribe to the printed version of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES. As from this issue our subscriptions will be a Universal Subscription and will include a free digital subscription. This will entitle us to download the digital version of the magazine as well, and will also give us access to the archive of digital issues that have been published.

Now that is a REAL Christmas present ... and I thank Henry and the team for this generous gift!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

I don't believe it!*

Well our cable TV and broadband connections are back up and running again now ... but to how we got back to normal was – to say the least – somewhat frustrating.

When the cable TV connection broke, the first thing that we did was to contact our supplier – Virgin Media – and checked their online fault reports. This indicated that there were no service faults in our area. We then did all the checks that their automated system told us to do, but this was to no avail. Eventually we spoke to someone in their call centre, who identified the problem as being our set-top box, as a result of which we booked an appointment for a technician to come to replace the box.

Less than an hour later, the broadband connection stopped working. We did exactly what we had done when the cable TV connection had broken down (our broadband service is also provided by Virgin Media) and this time the fault was identified as being the modem. This was added to the list of things that the technician would fix when he arrived on Saturday afternoon.

Early on Friday evening the cable TV and broadband connections were suddenly and unexpectedly re-established (we had not realised that it had been until Sue's iPad suddenly began to receive emails), but we decided that this might just be down to the fact that both the set-top box and modem had been switched off whilst we had been out.

During the evening we received an automated telephone call that informed us that the 'area fault' – that we knew nothing about – had been sorted out and our cable TV and broadband connections were now operating as normal. By the time we went to bed, the connections had not broken again, although the broadband seemed to be somewhat slower than normal.

At about 9.00am this morning we received an automated telephone call that reminded us that the technician would be arriving to replace the set-top box and modem between midday and 4.00pm. As a result Sue and I rushed around this morning doing things like the weekend shopping to make sure that we were both available from midday onwards ... and then we sat and waited for the technician to arrive.

We waited ... and waited ... and waited. By the time it was 4.00pm, there was no sign of the technician so I phoned Virgin Media to ask what was happening. After a short conversation with someone at the Service Centre, I was put on 'hold' for nearly twenty minutes. Eventually I spoke to someone in the technical support team ... who informed me that the appointment had been cancelled by Virgin Media on Friday evening after the area fault had been repaired. I explained about the telephone call that we had received reminding us about the forthcoming appointment ... and received a profuse apology as the wrong message had been sent to us. (We should have received an automated message to the effect that the appointment had been cancelled.) The chap from the technical support team then explained that the problem we were having with our broadband connection was not due to the modem (he tested it for us whilst we were talking) and that it was most likely due to someone in our area installing a wireless network that was using the same frequency as ours. He explained how we could overcome this problem, and subsequently I have managed to change the frequency to one that is not being used by another nearby wireless network.

Service has now been resumed as near to normal as it ever is ... and hopefully the problem will not reoccur.

* Please excuse the use of this catchphrase but I really was having a Victor Meldrew of a day today.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Communications down

Just a very short blog entry to inform my regular readers that until my cable TV and broadband service are restored (they both went offline last night) I will only be able to read and reply to emails via my iPhone and 3G connection.

Hopefully everything should be fixed tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

My latest book acquisition

Some time ago – and well before I took part in a re-fight of the Battle of Warsaw last May – pre-ordered a copy of ARMIES OF THE RUSSO-POLISH WAR 1919-21. The book was published very recently, and my copy arrived in the post this afternoon.


The book was been written by Dr Nigel Thomas and illustrated by Adam Hook, and it is No.497 in Osprey's Men-at-Arms series (ISBN 978 1 4728 0106 7). As one has come to expect from titles in this series, it sets the war in context, it describes the military organisations of the states involved in the fighting, it gives a brief history of the war, and it describes the uniforms worn by the forces involved in the fighting. It also contains eight pages of colour plates that illustrate the uniforms that were worn during the war.

All-in-all this looks like being a very useful addition to my bookshelves.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Just as things seemed to be getting better ...

After the brief euphoria induced by my finally managing to fight a wargame, yesterday brought me back down to earth with a bit of a bump. My car went in for a service and its annual MOT roadworthiness test. The car passed its MOT after new brake pads had been fitted, and it was delivered back to me during the early afternoon.

Later during the afternoon I set off to pick up two friends from a local station so that we could all go to a Masonic Lodge of Instruction meeting. When I drove over a speed bump just half a mile from my house, a loud screeching sound suddenly started coming from the rear nearside wheel. I stopped my car at the first place it was safe to do so, phoned my mechanic to ask his advice, and then slowly drove back home. I then borrowed my wife's Lexus (something that she was somewhat reluctant to do) and set off to pick up my friends.

This morning my car was collected by my mechanic ... and an hour later it was returned, fixed. Apparently one of the springs that reduce the vibration of the brake pads when the brakes are applied had come adrift, and was rubbing against the brake disc. Once a new spring was fitted, the problem was cured.

I now have a fully functioning car, and can turn my thoughts to my next wargame. With luck that should take place later this week ... and I can hardly wait to start pushing my toy soldier around on the tabletop.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Guess what I've been doing!

Here's a clue ...


I finally managed to throw off my recent lethargy ... and fought a small wargame!

I used Joseph Morschauser's basic 'Frontier' rules (plus his Roster System) with one major change; I replaced his turn sequence with one that used playing cards. This is a system that I had experimentally used earlier this year, and with a minor change they worked quite well in this battle.

The system works thus:
  • Both sides are allocated a suit colour (British = Red, Mahdists = Black) and the Aces, twos and threes are taken from two packs of standard playing cards to produce the pack of unit activation cards.
  • Two Jokers are also added to the pack.
  • The pack of unit activation cards is thoroughly shuffled, and when the top card is turned over, it determines how many units one of the sides can activate.
  • This continues until a Joker is turned over, at which point the pack is re-shuffled.
This time I also added the four Jacks/Knaves from the one of the packs of cards, and these were used to determine when both side's artillery units could fire. (In Morschauser's rules artillery fires at the beginning of each turn. As the unit activation card system does not have 'turns' as such, I had to come up with an alternative means to determine when artillery units would fire. In this instance, it seemed to work without a hitch. The artillery units fired about as often as I would have expected had I used Morschauser's rules 'as is'.)

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and can hardly wait until I can fight my next battle. As this one only took about fifteen minutes to set up – and that included sorting out and shuffling the pack unit activation cards as well as finding the figures and the terrain cloth – I should be able to do that fairly soon.

As to a battle report about this wargame ... well I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot to take any more photographs. What I can say is that it was a near-run thing, and the British won ... just!