Wednesday, 22 May 2019

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

The intrepid Archduke Piccolo has now fought an army-level battle, this time using situation that led to the Battle of Wavre (1815) as his starting point.

His battle report can be read here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), and what follows is a small selection of some of the photographs he used to illustrate his battle report.

To date, I've never play-tested the PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME rules with an army-level scenario, and I read this battle report with great interest. Archduke Piccolo has identified some changes to the rules that he feels are needed if they are to meet his requirements ... and I must admit he puts that case for making them very well indeed, and I recommend other users to consider his suggestions. Besides being a very interesting battle report to read, it was an excellent critique of the rules, and gave me feedback that will help me to develop the rules at some point in the future.

I felt that he identified the one particular aspect of the corps-level (and thus the army-level) rules that I think makes them a bit different, namely the Orders rules. I quote:
As time went by ... even successful commands began to break up and lose cohesion. To begin with, it was scarcely worth rolling a die to see if orders reached their destined ears or were carried out, if but one command applied to the whole formation, it was in contiguous grid areas, and it was somewhere accompanied by its commander. Once battle was joined, the problem was still not so very apparent, if the Corps' sub-formations were closely engaged (as was III Corps, along the line of Wavre and Nieder-Wavre). It was once local successes began to be achieved, and the sub-formations becoming separated, that Corps and Army cohesion became problematic. If anything that was even more the case for the defenders.

I think this very feature, frustrating as it can be, is probably what gives this Corps and Army-level Portable Games rule set its own special character.
Incorporating this 'friction' into the rules was something that I spent quite some time thinking about, mainly at the behest of Arthur Harman. I tried to keep the mechanism as simple as possible ... and it seems to have worked exactly as I had hoped it would.

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

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Nugget 318

The editor of THE NUGGET sent the latest issue to me on Sunday. I intend to take it to the printer later today, and with luck it should be ready for me to collect by Friday this week so that I can post it out to members over the Bank Holiday weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the ninth and last issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2018-2019 subscription year.

I was just about to take this issue to the printer when information about some additional COW sessions became available. I have therefore changed the list of COW2019 sessions included in THE NUGGET accordingly, and will now take the latest issue to the printer tomorrow.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Time Team, Shooters Hill, and Shrewsbury House

Later this morning Sue and I will be walking the short distance to Shrewsbury House, our local community centre. From 10.30am to 12.30pm Andy Brockman (a local archaeologist) will be talking about the making of the TIME TEAM episode that was filmed on Shooters Hill during the Summer of 2007. During the excavations, the team of archaeologists, historians, researchers, geo-mappers, and artists from the TV programme searched for (and found) the remains of World War Two defences that we quickly built during the early months of the war, as well as what looked like the communications centre for members of the GHQ Auxiliary Units.

The latter were specially trained and highly secret units that were recruited by the United Kingdom government to wage irregular warfare against the occupying forces should the possible German invasion take place.

I understand that Andy Brockman was closely involved in making the programme, and will talk about how the programme came to be made, what it got right, and what it got wrong.

I actually visited the excavations, and heard Tony Robinson (the programme's presenter) ask one of the archaeologists if he had found the 'lost' anchor point for a barrage balloon. The reply was classic.

'Sorry Tony, we haven't. It's just the remains of another neolithic hearth.'

Shrewsbury House has an interesting history. The original building was constructed in 1789 for the Earl of Shrewsbury, but ten years later it was bought by the Prince Regent, later George IV, as a home for his daughter, Princess Charlotte. She lived in the house for a year, and it was subsequently owned by a number of wealthy people.

From 1908 until 1929, the grounds of Shrewsbury House were used as an Open Air School for delicate children with heart or lung problems, or those suffering from malnourishment. The school had three classes and the teaching staff was made up of a headteacher and three assistants. The non-teaching staff included a nurse, a cook, a helper and a school-keeper. The school was housed in a number of open-sided structures that were located in the gardens, and they were known as 'Doecker sheds'. They were canvas-sided and were impervious to rain. One side of each 'shed' was removable, while the others had windows.

The original building was demolished in 1923 (this did not affect the Open Air School, which continued to operate in the gardens), and a new building was erected on the same site. It eventually passed into local government ownership, and played an important part during the Second World War and the Cold War as a Civil Defence Control Centre. It has since become a local community centre, and is run by a Board of Trustees.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Making the terrain boards for 'Carry On up the Nile' (4)

The defensive wall on the landward side of Khartoum was long, and on my model of the terrain it worked out at being approximately 40-inches (100cm) long. I cut four ten-inch lengths of thin plywood to form the base of the wall, and cut the ends so that they were angled.

I then took the lids of two of the cheap wooden boxes that I bought in THE WORKS, and cut them in half to form the basis of the four gateways that formed part of Khartoum's defensive wall.

I fitted each gateway with a (non-functioning) gate, either side of which I added a small fire-step, each large enough for a single figure.

Once the glue was dry, I then glued one of the gateways to the piece of thin plywood that will form the eastern end of the defensive wall.

At this point, I realised that the finished wall was going to be too long to store or handle easily, so I made dovetail connectors between some of the pieces of plywood so that the three parts of the defensive wall could be clipped together when required.

A second gateway was then glued at the join between this and the next piece of thin plywood, and this process was continued until each joint was reinforced with a gateway.

I then glued blocks of wood that would form the wall's fire-steps at various points along each strip of plywood.

These also provided reinforcement to the thin plywood wall sections when they were glued in place.

Once all the wall sections were glued in place, any weak points in the construction were reinforced using strips of matchstick or small pieces of wood.

Before being given a couple of coasts of PVA to seal the wood before painting, the wall sections were assembled to ensure that all the parts fitted together.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ): Issue 174

The latest copy of SOTQ (Soldiers of the Queen, the quarterly journal of the Victorian Military Society) arrived in the post a couple of days ago, and I have just read it.

The articles included in this issue are:
  • Bloody-Minded Pigott: Forgotten Hero of Victoria's Army by Laura Kwasniewska
  • The Prussian Army of 1870 by Ralph Weaver
  • Two soldiers who never were: Change of name in the Late-Victorian Army by John Sly
  • The Cavalry Journal's Tactical Exercises by Dr Andrew Winrow
  • The Diehards on the Bluebell Railway by Hayden Reed
  • Book Reviews by Dr Roger T Stearn, Dr Rodney Atwood, and Andy Smith
  • Officers of the Victorian Military Society
Unlike some other magazines to which I subscribe, SOTQ never disappoints and there are always plenty of articles inside to interest me!

I particularly enjoyed Laura Kwasniewska's Bloody-Minded Pigott and John Sly's Two soldiers who never were, and thought that Ralph Weaver's The Prussian Army of 1870 was an excellent short guide to the development of the Prussian Army up until 1870. I was very intrigued by mention of Knorr's Erbswurst or Pea Sausage, which – when served with bread – could serve as a soldier's basic daily ration. I was interested to discover that it is still made and sold today ... and can be purchased online!

A modern Erbswurst © Rainer Zenz

Friday, 17 May 2019

Making the terrain boards for 'Carry On up the Nile' (3)

I started the next stage of making the terrain for my COW2019 session by building the fort that was situated at Omdurman. I could not find any images of the actual fortification, so I assumed that it was probably just a walled enclosure with some sort of fire-step inside for the garrison to stand on so that they shoot over the top of the walls.

It was my original intention to build this from foamcore, but a trip to a branch of THE WORKS yielded a number of small wooden boxes that I thought might be suitable for conversion into fortifications. At a cost of £1.00 each, they were a bargain!

I separated the lid from the bottom of the box by removing the small hinges that held the two halves together.

After placing a 15mm-scale figure inside each ...

... I decided that the bottom half was most suitable part for conversion into Fort Omdurman.

Using some scrap pieces of wood that I had, I built a fire-step that went around inside three walls of the fort and added a (non-functioning) gate.

I then set it to one side, and began work on the defensive wall that protected the landward side of Khartoum.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

My four thousandth post!

Today my blog passed another milestone. This is the four thousandth post I have written since I started way back in 2008.

In 2008 I was still working, and although what eventually became THE PORTABLE WARGAME was in its early infancy, I had no idea that it would develop into a proper set of rules that were going to be used by more than just a few wargamers. I also had no idea that I would become a writer and a publisher.

I'm not sure how I am going to celebrate achieving this milestone. There will be no riotous party, specially made cake, or even a glass of champagne. If I'm lucky, I might manage to push a few toy soldiers around on my tabletop ... and that strikes me as being a much more appropriate way to celebrate.

Here's to the next milestone ... five thousand posts!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Wooden castle building blocks

Whilst visiting a branch of THE WORKS (a UK discount book and craft store) I saw that they had on sale a set of wooden castle building blocks.

The set costs £25.00 ... and I was very tempted to buy a set, as I could see all sorts of potential uses for the components. I resisted temptation this time, but I'm not sure if I will be able to do so the next time a visit the shop.

The set would be ideal for anyone who wants to build a traditional toy fort to go with their 54mm-scale LITTLE WARS-style figures ... and I can envisage some of the parts being suitable for use as the basis for buildings in other scales.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Making the terrain boards for 'Carry On up the Nile!' (2)

The next stage was to paint the edges of the boards. (This was not strictly necessary, but I think that it looks neater.) To do this, I used the same Yellow Ochre acrylic paint that I intended to use to represent the desert parts of my completed terrain boards.

I then marked the outline of the River Nile on each board. I based the outline on a map I found of the area around Khartoum at the time of the siege.

I divided the map into a 6 x 8 grid, with each grid square representing a 6-inch square on my terrain boards. (The darker lines in the grid show where the edge of each terrain board would be.)

I tried to represent the main features shown on the map, but widened the River Nile in places to allow the model ships of the Second Relief Force to move along it without looking too ridiculously big in comparison.

Once the outline of the River Nile had been marked on the terrain boards using a soft pencil, I painted in the river using two coats of Cerulean Blue acrylic paint. I was not too worried if the paint strayed outside the lines I had drawn on, as the banks of the River Nile were going to be painted in afterwards.

Once the paint was dry, I then began the more detailed painting of the river banks, using the Yellow Ochre-coloured acrylic paint I had used on the edges of each terrain board. Once that was done, I then filled in the unpainted desert areas on the terrain boards. I used two coats to ensure the best coverage that I could, and the end results looked like this:

Although they are not perfect (there are some gaps between the boards and a certain amount of warping has take place), I think that they are more than adequate for the task. Now all I have to do is to build Khartoum and its defences.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Going around in circles ... but getting there in the end!

I own and use an iPhone 8 ... and late Friday on evening it ended up hitting the Tarmac surface of a car park, screen-side down.

I had been to a Masonic meeting in Watford, and as I was getting into my car, the iPhone - which was in my coat pocket - slipped out of its protective case and hit the ground. There was an unpleasant sounding 'crack', and when I picked it up, there were crack lines from one edge of the screen radiating outwards.

I was not happy, and may well have used a few words that are not repeatable in polite company. I drove home, and on Saturday I searched and found the details of the insurance policy I took out just for this sort of eventuality. The covering letter with the policy gave me a 'phone number to ring to register my claim. I did so, and after selecting several options from the automatic telephone answering system, I was informed that a text message would be sent to me.

I opened the text message ... and it directed me to a website.

I visited the website using the link in the text message, and after logging on and going through a whole load of online options, I was given a telephone number to ring ... the same one I had wrung several minutes beforehand!

Despairing of trying to use an automated 'help' system that seemed to have been designed to do anything except 'help', I decided to go to the Bluewater branch of the iPhone service provider in the hope that I could talk to a real person.

Sue and I went to the retailer (Vodafone) on Sunday morning, and explained what had happened to the young assistant who greeted us at the entrance of the shop. She told us that we had to register a claim with the insurers before they could do anything. In reply to my 'But I've already tried doing that!', she used my iPhone to contact the insurance hotline on a number that the general public aren't usually made aware of! I explained the situation to the 'adviser' at the other end of the telephone call ... and they informed me that as I had AppleCare as part of my insurance cover, I could either:
  1. Hand the phone to the retailer, who would send it off to be repaired
  2. Take the iPhone to the nearest Apple shop, and let them decide whether or not to repair the iPhone or give me a new one
As the former option had a £75.00 excess and the latter only had a £25.00 excess, I chose the latter.

Within five minutes, Sue and I had walked to the nearby branch of Apple and were in the short queue at the entrance. The 'meeter and greeter' we spoke to took a look at the iPhone, said that she thought that the damage looked worse than it actually was, and then passed us on to an assistant who took a much more detailed look at the 'phone's screen. The conversation then went something like this:
'You've got a toughened glass screen protector on this, haven't you?'

'Yes! Hasn't everyone?'

'No, they usually don't bother. In your case it's the screen protector that has cracked, not the screen itself. I'll remove the screen protector to check, but I'm sure that is the only damage.'
The assistant carefully removed the screen protector ... and as soon as she did, it was apparent that the iPhone itself was undamaged. I thanked her for her help, and Sue and I then left the Apple store to do some shopping, during which I visited one of the small mobile phone accessory kiosks to have a new toughened glass screen protector fitted to my iPhone. It only cost me £15.00 ... which is a lot less than the excess I would have had to pay if the 'phone had needed to be repaired or replaced. I also bought a new protective case, as the original one I had purchased had not done a very good job. After all, the damage to the iPhone had happened when the 'phone slipped out of the protective case, something that should not have occurred.

There is an interesting aside to this story. All of the people I dealt with face-to-face whilst sorting this problem out were female, a point that Sue made after we had returned home. In retrospect, it struck me that at no point was I spoken down to, a problem I have had with some male assistants in technology retailers, who think that they know what you want, even before they have listened to you explain what you need! They had all listened to what I had to say before telling me what was wrong. They were assistants who actually assisted, which is something of a rarity in this day and age.