Sunday, 17 January 2021

Getting things done!

Since Friday I have managed to get quite a few things done ... or at least, started.

The talk about Rabbie Burns (which includes a number of PowerPoint slides*) is finished, and all I have to do before I deliver the talk is to print off the script. I like to script my talks (even if do not always rigidly stick to it) I so that I know when to move from one slide to another.

Regarding the VCOW session I am doing with Gary Sheffield, I have written the scenario for the demonstration of THE PORTABLE WARGAME we are putting on, and drawn the gridded map that we will use. I now need to produce a QRS for the participants, and to prepare a short introduction to the development and basic structure of the rules as well as how they can be used for distance wargaming during the current pandemic. This will involve creating yet another PowerPoint slideshow*, but I hope to keep the number of slides to a minimum.

If I do not get diverted by the need to do other things during the course of the day, I hope to complete the preparations by the end of the day. If not, then I cannot see a reason why it will not be finished by tomorrow evening.

It's really great to feel that after a period of doing very little, I am getting things done again!

* I am very aware of the 'death by PowerPoint' phenomena, and like to keep my slideshows brief, pertinent, and easy to read. I never, ever just read what is on the slide to my audience, as the slides are intended to be 'hooks' for their interest. I regard the text and illustrations that appear on each slide as being paragraph headings for what I am saying, and nothing more.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

VCOW2021 update

The organisers of VCOW2021 had a Zoom meeting this morning, and the programme and timetable for  the conference are almost finalised, and should be published in the near future.

It looks as if is going to be a balanced mixture of talks, online games, and discussions ... and I can already foresee there being at least two sessions that I would like to attend, but which will clash on the timetable. Some people might see this as a problem, but I see it as an indicator that the range of sessions on offer will attract sufficient numbers to ensure that they are successful.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Slowly getting back into the saddle.

I am now just about able to get up the stairs to our home office and my toy/wargame room, and this has meant that am slowly getting back into the saddle with regard to writing and wargaming.

Yesterday, I managed to get up to date with all the normal regular domestic admin tasks one has to do (e.g. checking bank statements, paying bills online) as well as  having a bit of a tidy up. Getting the rubbish that was generated downstairs was a bit challenging, as I can not carry any great weight as yet, and I need to have one hand free to hold the stair’s rail or bannister as I come downstairs. I got it done ... but needed a bit of a rest afterwards to recover.

This morning I managed to put together the slides and the script for an online talk about Rabbie Burns that I am giving next week to a Masonic Lodge, and this afternoon I hope to be able to begin work on the session Gary Sheffield and I are putting on for VCOW21.

I really feel as if I am beginning to make some significant progress towards my recovery, but I am taking care not to push myself too hard too early. I have learned that lots of small steps are better than few great strides.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

But I haven't got a D10 ...

Following up from yesterday's blog post, Gary Sheffield sent me the following message:

'For some reason I can't post comments on your blog. There are a number of automatic dice rolling programmes for those people who don't have dice other than D6s - such as'

It is possible to create your own dice roller (AKA random number generator with top and bottom limits) using MS Excel. This can be done using the RANDOMBETWEEN function.

For example, if you want to generate random whole numbers between 1 and 12 (i.e. the results you would get from rolling or throwing a D12), you type =RANDOMBETWEEN(1,12) in the formula bar.

It will immediately generate a random number between those two limits ...

... which in this case is 5.

To generate another random number, click the cursor in the formula bar, ...

... press the tick, ...

... et voila!

This simple function will work for any range of random numbers you wish to select. For example:

  • For a D4 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,4)
  • For a D6 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,6)
  • For a D8 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,8)
  • For a D10 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,10)
  • For a D12 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,12)
  • For a D20 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,20)
  • For a D100 die = RANDBETWEEN(1,100)
You can even use this function to create random numbers between, for example, 7 and 21, thus:

Monday, 11 January 2021

Some suggested amendments for the Corps-level Portable Naponleonic Wargame rules

THE PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME contained three sets of rules, Brigade-level rules, Division-level rules, and Corps-level rules. Although they all used the same basic game structure and mechanisms, these were adapted to suit the specific level of command being represented on the tabletop. In the Corps-level rules, many of the tactical aspects found in the other rules were abstracted, and players were expected to issue orders to their subordinate commanders ... and these orders were not always acted upon immediately.

Recently, Gary Sheffield has been developing a Napoleonic project based around the 1812 invasion of Russia, and he has made the following amendments to my rules that I think should enhance my simple Command and Control rules. They do required the use of D10, D8, D6, and D4 dice, but I do not think that this will present too many problems to those players who want to use these amendments.

Initial Movements

  • To speed up contact between the armies, at the beginning of the game units may carry out double moves (i.e. infantry move 2 squares, cavalry move 4 squares etc) until opposing units are 4 grid squares apart, at which point, armies revert to normal moves.

Forced Marches

  • Divisions can attempt to force march – i.e. add 1 grid square to the move.
  • This is achieved by rolling a 5 or more on the appropriate die.
  • The chance of this happening is affected by the quality of the divisional commander:
    • Outstanding commanders – Roll a D10 die
    • Above average commanders – Roll a D8 die
    • Average Commanders – Roll a D6 die
    • Poor commanders – cannot get their troops to force march
  • Forced marches carry a penalty.
  • A formation which carries out a forced march that takes them into combat fights then at a disadvantage, so -1 on the die roll.
  • Penalties for force marching are cumulative up to a maximum of -2.
  • Formations can lose penalty if spend they spend 1 or 2 turns stationary and out of combat.
  • Example: French 3rd Division force marches 3 turns consecutively, the 3rd turn taking it into close combat. It thus fights at -2 on the die roll. After the combat it remains stationary and out of combat for 2 turns, thus removing the penalty of fighting at -2. If it had remained stationary and out of combat for only 1 turn, it would have fought the next combat at -1.

Orders (see p.103, para 3)

  • Outstanding commanders – Roll on D10
  • Above Average commanders - Roll on D8
  • Average commanders – Roll on D6
  • Below Average commanders – roll on D4

National Characteristics for the 1812 campaign

  • To represent the national characteristics of the armies in the 1812 campaign, all French Corps and higher commanders are rated as at least above average.
  • To represent the national characteristics of the armies in the 1812 campaign, all Russian units apart from militia are rated as at least Average.
  • No Russian commander is rated higher than average.
Close combat

  • When an entire division is attacked in flank, and some elements of a division is of a superior quality than others (e.g. a mixture of Grenadier and Line brigades), the bonus for elite troops only counts if elite troops are in the majority, (e.g. 2 Grenadier brigades and 1 Line brigade).
  • If as result of winning a combat, the grid square to the immediate front of the victorious unit is vacated by the enemy, the victorious unit may advance to occupy that square.
  • If that brings on another combat, that is fought in the next turn.
  • Dice used in combat:
    • Elite units roll a D8 die
    • Average units roll a D6 die
    • Poor units roll on D6 - 1
  • All Russian infantry when defending get an automatic +1
  • In a situation where multiple attacks are being made on a division spread out over 2 grid squares, only 1 square’s worth of units can have support from a single commander.
  • Troops adjacent to enemy can choose not to engage in combat. This represents a situation where units choose not to close with the enemy; instead an indecisive firefight occurs, which does not produce sufficient casualties to affect the situation of either side.

Results of combat

  • If a unit in column is driven back, the whole division is pushed back – i.e. a base (representing a brigade) doesn't take a further hit through retreating through its own men.

Saturday, 9 January 2021


In just under four weeks, VCOW2021 will be taking place, and as of this morning, the programme includes the sessions that are listed below.


45 minutes: Any number of participants

Brian has been designing conflict simulation games for the civilian market for over 25 years, with over 50 published designs to date. His articles and games have been published by a wide range of large and small firms. His special interests in game design are irregular warfare, "pol-mil" games, concepts of political influence in games, and asymmetry in games generally. In his spare time, he is an Education Officer in the Ministry of Advanced Education of British Columbia, Canada.

In this presentation, Brian will speak briefly about his work in designing asymmetric games on irregular warfare and how this has contributed to the origin and development of the popular "GMT COIN" system. Brian co-designed A Distant Plain (Afghanistan 2003-13) with Volko Ruhnke and designed Colonial Twilight (Algeria 1954-62). His third game using this system, China's War (China 1937-41), is currently under development.

John Bassett: GRAPPLE X

90 minutes: 6-8 participants

A game in finest WD taste about testing the British H-bomb in the 1950s. Features boffins, Valiants, the last generation of imperial administrators and a trusting but slightly anxious local population.


30 minutes: Any number of participants

Based on research undertaken for a PhD this talk will look at the commonly fought but infrequently gamed issue of counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare looking at those games that have tried to simulate this complicated environment.

Pete Sizer is a gamer of 30 years’ experience with an special interest in guerrilla warfare, counter insurgency and asymmetric warfare. He is currently doing a PhD in Wargaming at Bath Spa University, supervised by John Curry and Dr. Clifford Williamson.


1 hour: Any number of participants

A beginner's guide to the technology that will change wargaming. An introduction to choosing a printer, finding models and printing toy soldiers, tanks and terrain.

John Armatys: DETTINGEN

2 hours: 4 participants

A simple refight of the Battle of Dettingen (1743) using Brown Bess Squared (a gridded version of my Brown Bess rules - see Nugget 317) on a PowerPoint table with toy soldiers and terrain mainly from Tom Mouat’s Mapsymbs range.

John Bassett, Ian Drury, and Russell King: WARGAMING THE 1960s

90 minutes: Any number of participants

A panel discussion on wargaming the decade of Algeria and Vietnam, the Berlin wall and Cuban missile crisis, OAS and UDI, Selma, Detroit and Chicago. John, Ian and Russell are inveterate 1960s gamers and will discuss approaches to recreating the era using toy soldiers, board games, free Kriegspiel and role play and will address both the attractions of this decade and what makes a good 1960s wargame.


1 hour: Any number of participants

In this session I will present the first six months of my PhD research into squad-level infantry combat in the 20th and 21st centuries, and how best to represent it in a wargame, via Tabletop Simulator. The session will end with Q&A and a general discussion on what wargaming on this topic does well, less well, or not at all (but should do).

Graham Evans: WELL, DID YOU EVA!

3 hours: 2-4 participants

A game of the Taiping Rebellion. In the vicinity of Shanghai the Ever Victorious Army bid to free a village from the clutches of the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace. This will be a proper toy soldier game run using video streaming. Marvel at the marvellously detailed 15mmm figures, which you won’t be able to touch, as the puppet master pushes them across the table, liberally interpreting your instruction. Using the “Taiping Era” rule set, (trialled at previous COWs, and now available for purchase), this game will provide a unique opportunity to participate in a game at the legendary Shedquarters.

Evan D’Alessandro: TIME FOR TRUTH

2 hours: 2-5 participants

Tallinn, Estonia: A statue put in place by the Soviet Union in 1955 that commemorates the Red Army has been deemed inappropriate to have so near to Parliament. The statue is removed at midnight from near parliament to a suburb park. Due to the violence in 2007 over a similar statue removal, the plans were filed a week in advance and only a small public works crew was briefed. Last night the statue was moved without incident, however, someone got knowledge and social media is quickly aflame. As the morning breaks, a protest is being quickly organized and fears of a second Bronze Night are palpable. As the Russian bear watches from across the border, the question is open: will the situation be defused, or will 2007 repeat? Players will play real life characters, representing the government of Estonia and Tallinn, but need not stick strictly to their roles.

John Wilkie: PAPAL CONCLAVE 1492

2 hours: 4-23 participants

It is August 1492 and Innocent VIII has finally done the first honest thing in his life and actually died, though there are those who were not convinced he had even managed this. But he is now in the ground and so it is time to elect a new pope, to banish the years of misrule and to tread carefully along the tightrope of 15th century Italian politics while not upsetting the French, Spanish, Neapolitans, Venetians or Turks.

As a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church you have been charged with the task of electing a man to take on that role. You may even fancy doing it yourself.

The game is played in accelerated real time with 15 mins covering 1 day, 1 vote per day and as much plotting, scheming and back-stabbing as you can fit in, all conducted on zoom using chat messages, break-out rooms and announcements to the assembled Cardinals. No mobile phones or whatsapp - it is 1492 after all.


90 minutes: 2-6 participants

A game based on the Plains Indians’Native Americans’) buffalo or bison hunts. Players take the role of a Native American buffalo hunter. Their aim is to gallop alongside one of these magnificent animals and bring it down. Everything about it is then usable. Meat, sinew, hide, hair, hooves, horns. To sustain the tribe.

The plan is to play the game over Zoom, but with a real table with toys (bison and hunters) being manoeuvred by me, plus screen layouts so players can see where they are and what to do next to bring down one of the big beasts. Hoka hey!


1 hour: 8-10 participants

Nuclear crises come and go, but yet again the great and the good of the Eastern Bloc get together to mull over key issues and the plans fr progress in their countries - and the inevitable march to Full Socialism. Your speech will be provided to you by your friendly domestic political adviser shortly before the meeting. The minutes of the meeting, and the success of the meeting, have been agreed in advance. Presided over in the beautiful Socialist city of Budapest by the youthful - and relatively sober - team of Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.

John Curry: THE SIX-WEEK NAVAL WAR, 1789

2 hours: 3-15 participants

It is 1 May 1789, and a new war has just broken out between Britain (and her Portuguese allies), and France (and her allies Spain and USA), over the vexed question of the Andorra Succession (the sordid diplomatic details of which need not detain us here).

Britain is thirsting for revenge after her defeat in the American Revolutionary War, and her fleet is in good order, maintaining an open blockade on all enemy ports.

The French Alliance also has a number of old scores to settle, such as regaining Gibraltar, subduing Portugal and wiping out the British sugar islands (or preferably, the City of London herself). The French Alliance can muster more and better ships than the British Alliance; but they are not in such good order.

Every one knows that the war will be over quickly as all three of their governments are nearly bankrupt. The players represent the naval committees of Spain, France and England. Using a hex based map, the game is run using a semi rigid kriegsspiel.

John Curry: THE FARM

90 mins: 1-6 participants

The British army has advanced over the Pyrenees into France in 1814 and the long war is about to end. After a small misunderstanding over goods belonging to a French farmer, you were given an option to prevent a court martial; retrieve a cannon that was left behind in yesterday’s skirmishing by a farm over the next ridge.

Players represent one character in the game. Using the Tabletop simulator software, you can only see from ground level, the game is using the Donald Featherstone Skirmish rules. An Irish soldier, a Scottish soldier, an English soldier etc. led by an upper-class English officer. What could possibly go wrong? The game is a manual first person shooter.


2 hours: 4-7 participants

Ever since Tim Gow brought NATO Brigade Commander to COW many, many years ago, we've been using it run games at the Sheffield club. These have ranged from very modern (Gulf Wars 1 and 2), through traditional Cold War games and also many WW2 games.

During lockdown we've found it works very well for remote gaming as it is grid based and combined with its 'unit at a time' activation mechanism, it helps mitigate the issues of large groups trying to communicate over Zoom.

I'll be running a small game, typical of the ones we've been running since March, which covers the US 84th Infantry Division attacking the Westwall in late 1944.

Active roles for up four US players, three German players and as many observers as can be accommodated sensibly.

Potential players should indicate a preference for sides when booking so I can send out the right briefings.


3 hours: Up to 6 participants

A science fiction role-play adventure set in a 1980s vision of the far future, and soon to be published by Drive Thru RPG.


Details to follow.



A session on the Portable Wargame and how it can be used virtually during lockdown. To include the origins of PW, variations on the original (Bob’s idea being that it is a toolkit which can be amended in all sorts of ways), PW campaigns, and above all, how we have adapted it for use online to play virtual games during the lockdown.

Possible followed by a few turns of a game just to show how it works in practice.

John Bassett: VALKYRIE

2 hours: 4-6 participants

A matrix game of the attempted Berlin putsch against Hitler on 20 July 1944.

"That's the last thing I need" - Albert Speer, 20 July 1944.

Any fully paid-up member of Wargame Developments (WD) or anyone who has been a member within the last two years may register to take part in the Virtual COW (VCOW). WD members may also invite guests to attend.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Nugget 332

The editor sent me the latest issue of THE NUGGET a few days ago, and I have just uploaded the PDF version to Wargame Developments website. It can be downloaded and read online using the password that was sent to all members when they resubscribed.

This issue will only be available as a download until the current lockdown has been raised. At that point a printed copy will be produced and sent out to full members. In the interim, a copy of the PDF version will also be sent as an email attachment to all members later today or early tomorrow.

In addition to the current issue of THE NUGGET, a free set of wargames rules by John Armatys has also been included with Nugget 332. They are entitled PIGSTICKING, and can be downloaded here.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the fifth issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2020-2021 subscription year. If you have not yet re-subscribed, a reminder was sent to you. If you wish to re-subscribe using the PayPal option on the relevant page of the website, you can use the existing buttons as the subscription cost has not changed.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

The past is a foreign country ...

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ is the first line of L P Hartley’s book, THE GO-BETWEEN, and for some reason the quote came to mind when I read a news item earlier today.

It concerned an announcement by the ‘Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War’ that the last widow of a soldier who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War had died on 16th December 2020 at the age of 101!

It appears that Helen Viola Jackson had been 17 years old when she married the 93 year-old James Bolin, a former private in Company F, 14th Missouri Cavalry, on 4th September 1936. She had been encouraged to help him with domestic chores by her father, but Bolin refused to accept charity, and insisted on marrying her so that when he died she would be able to draw the widow’s pension due to the wife of a former Union soldier. They married soon afterwards.

He died in June 1939, and she never remarried. She also never applied for the pension that was due to her.

I remember when Harry Patch, the last surviving combat soldier of the First World War, died in 2009, and as I write this, the number of people who fought during the Second World War is rapidly diminishing. To read a news item that marks the death of the last surviving widow of a soldier of the Union Army during the American Civil War rather stopped me in my tracks ... and made me realise that it was probably the last human link between that bit of the past and the present day,

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Britannia’s Morass: The latest book in the Dawlish Chronicles series

I ‘discovered’ Antoine Vanner's DAWLISH CHRONICLES just after the first book in the series was published, and since then I have read each of the books as they have been published. We have corresponded pretty regularly by email, and I have written a guest blog post on his blog. When he knew I was going into hospital, he even arranged to send me a copy of the latest book to be published, and I have just finished reading it.

Most of the books in the series concentrate on the career of Nicholas Dawlish, a Royal Navy officer who works closely with (and often for) Admiral Sir Richard Topcliffe. The latter fulfils the role of unofficial head of the British government’s intelligence services, organising operations that could be disavowed should the need arise.

In one of the earlier books – BRITANNIA’S AMAZON – Dawlish’s wife Florence was the main protagonist, and the same is the case in the latest book, BRITANNIA’S MORASS. When it begins, the story seems to be about a simple case of blackmail, but as it develops it delves into the world of usurious moneylenders preying on the families of seamen, grievous bodily harm of a moneylender by an irate husband, a resulting court case, the theft (and faking) of important documents, international espionage, and even political assassination.

As with all his previous books, the background research is so extensive and well done that the reader can almost smell the smoke, soot, sweat, and drains that pervade the poorer areas of Portsmouth, as well as the perfumed aromas of the beauty salon that Florence has to visit as part of her investigation into the blackmail of a deceased widow.

Yet again, Antoine Vanner has told an engrossing tale that will feel believable to anyone with even the scantiest knowledge of the seamier side of Victorian society and the international tensions of the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The nine books in the series that have been published to date are:


BRITANNIA’S MORASS: THE DAWLISH CHRONICLES: SEPTEMBER 1884 – DECEMBER 1884 was written by Antoine Vanner and published in 2020 by Old Salt Press (ISBN 978 1 9434 0431 5) and can be purchased via Amazon.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Looking back ... and moving forward

2020 is a year that I think that I lot of us will be glad to see the back of. On the wargaming front, COW2020 had to be cancelled and replaced by a successful online conference, VCOW2020. I published three wargaming books (THE PORTABLE COLONIAL WARGAME, RESTLESS NATIVES, and THE PORTABLE PIKE & SHOT WARGAME) and finally began the preparation work on my Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War. I also produced a colour version of Eric Knowles's MADASAHATTA map, which was well received by aficionados of Colonial imagi-nations.

My health was all right until I took part in a bowel cancer screening programme. From then on, things moved quite quickly, I am am now cancer free ... at the cost of a large part of my colon, a colostomy bag, and a large scar. I’m slowly recovering ... but I’m told that it will be some time (another six to eight weeks) before I am almost back to normal.

So what plans do I have for the future?

Well, lying in hospital after my operation gave me a lot of time to think ... and I’ve decided that I want to set myself a few goals for 2021, goals that the current pandemic shouldn’t have too great an impact on. These goals include:

  • Publishing a PORTABLE MEDIEVAL WARGAME book. (This will be another cooperative effort between myself and at least one other writer.)
  • Writing a PORTABLE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR WARGAME book (This will also be a cooperative effort ... and might morph into a PORTABLE AMERICAN WARS WARGAME book covering the American War of Independence to the Spanish-American War).
  • Staging a Colonial campaign of some sort. (The inspiration for this has come from David Crook and Archduke Piccolo.)
  • Pruning my existing figure collection to a size where I can guarantee each part is used at least once every twelve months. (I have copied this idea from Ross Macfarlane. It seems to work for him, and has enabled him to concentrate in more depth on slightly fewer projects.)
  • Revisiting my Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War project with a view to possibly streamlining it.
  • Taking part in some more online PORTABLE WARGAME battles with Gary Sheffield and company.

I think that these are realistic goals, and i hope to be able to achieve them by the end of the year.