Thursday 30 April 2009

Nugget 226

I will be collecting the latest issue of THE NUGGET (N226) later this morning, and it should be in the post and on its way to members early this afternoon. It should, therefore, be with members by later this week or early next week.

The PDF version is now available online via the Wargame Developments website. All members should now have received the password they need to read the PDF, but if they have lost it or cannot remember it they should contact me.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

The philosophy, practice, and practicality of wargames design

One thing that I have never understood is why the creators of wargames rules do not – as a rule – write designer’s notes to go with their rules. Some do (e.g. Frank Chadwick) but others do not, and I find that it is the latter group whose rules I find more difficult to understand. Often you need to ‘get inside the designer’s head’ to understand what they are trying to achieve with a particular game mechanism, and if there are no explanatory notes, this is more guesswork than anything else.

Perhaps it is because I moved from teaching History to teaching Information Communication Technology that I learned to always try to put down on paper some sort of ‘specification’ before beginning the ‘design’ process. It becomes the skeleton onto which I ‘build’ my rules. I also try to make my rule mechanisms self-contained (e.g. a card driven activation system that is suitable for both solo and face-to-face games) so that if it does not work after ‘testing’, I can pull it out and replace it with something that does work.

Finally I always apply what was once termed ‘Cordery’s Rule’ by another member of Wargame Developments; this states that ‘if, after a few game turns, a player does not remember to use a particular rule or game mechanism during a game, and the game has functioned without that rule or game mechanism, then think seriously about removing it’.

I think that wargame design should be a process of reduction NOT expansion; the latter does not lead to better design or more realism … it just leads to confusion!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Some thoughts about designing an operational-level wargame

I have been trying to make a list of all the basic design elements I want to include in my operational-level Eastern Front wargame. So far the list includes (in no particular order):
  • The terrain will be divided into 10cm hexes (i.e. Hexon II);
  • An individual stand will represent a regiment-sized unit or a divisional/corps/army HQ;
  • Stands will be grouped together to form divisions (e.g. three infantry stands, a field artillery stand, and a divisional HQ stand form an infantry division) or to form corps/army assets (e.g. a tank regiment, a medium artillery regiment, a heavy artillery regiment, and a corps/army HQ stand form a corps’ or army’s assets);

What a Russian Rifle Division might look like.
  • Activation cards will be used for each division or group of corps/army assets;
  • Only stands from the same division or group of corps/army assets will be able to occupy the same hex;
  • Each stand will be allocated a combat value based upon its experience, training, and equipment. This combat value – which will be indicated by a numbered magnetic marker – will be degraded during the battle as the result of combat;
  • Each HQ stand will be allocated a morale value for the division or group of corps/army assets it controls. This morale value – which will be indicated by a numbered magnetic marker – will be degraded during the battle as the result of combat;
  • Combat will be hex to hex, with the one stand in a hex – with the support of any other stands from the same division or group of corps/army assets that are in that hex – attacking an enemy stand in another hex;
  • The combat system will use a D12 for German forces and a D10 for all other forces (i.e. Russian and Axis allies);
  • The combat system will be resolved by comparing the attacking stand’s dice score added to the attacking stand’s combat value and any relevant combat factors (e.g. cover, terrain) with the defending stand’s dice score added to the defending stand’s combat value and any relevant combat factors.
This is the starting point for my design; it is my 'specification'. All I need to do now is to begin the 'design' process before proceeding on to 'implementation', 'testing', and 'evaluation'.

Nugget 226

I hope to take the latest issue of THE NUGGET to the printers later this morning and I should be able to pick it up on Thursday or Friday. With any luck I hope to get it out in the post by Monday next week, and it should be with members later that week.

I hope to upload the PDF versions of the latest issues of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT to the Wargame Developments website over the coming weekend so that members (including e-members) can read it before the printed version arrives in the post.

Monday 27 April 2009

Canrobert? This Robert can!

Thanks to the fact that the road works that have made my trips to and from work a nightmare for the past two months are now finished, I was able to drive home in just under thirty minutes tonight ... about a third of the time it took me one day last week!

Marshal Canrobert
Having an hour extra free time this evening gave me the incentive to make the additional activation and unit cards for the slightly expanded version of SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES that I and Richard Brooks will be taking to COW (the Conference of Wargamers) in July. As a result I now have a set of activation cards for Marshal Canrobert and unit cards for his French III Corps. All I need to do now is to laminate them and then –as the French say – voila!

Sunday 26 April 2009

A time for reflection

Having finally had a few hours of time to myself, I have been able to think about what project or projects I want to proceed with next.

I have now boiled it down to the following:
  • Doing some further work on SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES in preparation for the Conference of Wargamers in early July. This will involve making some additional playing pieces so that the French III Corps can be deployed on the battlefield as well as activation cards for Marshal Canrobert, who commanded the III Corps.
  • Unpacking my collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm Napoleonic figures from their storage boxes and organising them into units. Once that is done, and any damage they may have suffered is repaired, I will varnish and base them.
  • Finishing the redraft of my much-modified version of the TABLE TOP BATTLES rules by Mike and Joyce Smith so that they can be used to re-fight land battles from the mid-twentieth century. The rules are intended to enable me to fight an operational-level Eastern Front campaign using my existing collection of 20mm MEGABLITZ figures and model vehicles. The individual figure and vehicle bases will represent regiments, and the working title for the rules is OPERATIVNAIA ISKUSSTVA (‘Operational Art’ in Russian).

The joys of blogging

Sitting at my computer, re-reading my own blog entries as well as reading the most recent entries on the blogs that I follow, I realised how much blogging has enhanced my wargaming over recent months.

Firstly, I have come into contact with a lot of other wargamers via the blogging community, and I have found their enthusiasm for all sorts of different types and styles of wargaming very infectious.

Secondly, I find what other wargamers are doing and writing about in their blogs inspiring, and this has helped me to focus on developing projects that would otherwise have remained in the ‘to be done later’ file.

Thirdly, I find the process of writing my blog entries makes me THINK about what I am doing, and this has helped me to DO far more than I would otherwise have achieved.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Colonial Wargaming website update

I have added a couple of new pages about the Solent Sea Forts and the seaward defences of Cherbourg to my Colonial Wargaming website.

The pages reuse the images that have already featured in a previous blog entry as well as some others taken at the same time.

Friday 24 April 2009

A morning off … well, sort of …

I don’t usually work on Friday mornings, although recently I have been called in on more than one occasion to do a few extra bits and pieces related to individual student’s coursework. This morning, however, I have an hour or two to relax and do a few things that I want – rather than have – to do.

The first of these was to have a quick look at two books that were delivered whilst I was away. They are:

They both seem to follow a similar layout to ORDER OF BATTLE – GERMAN PANZERS IN WWII and ORDER OF BATTLE – GERMAN INFANTRY IN WWII, which were both written by Chris Bishop, and which I already own. Whilst they do not contain highly detailed ORBATs, they do cover the general history and development of these sections of the German armed forces up to and during the Second World War, and are good basic primers.

The second thing that I have managed to do is to read Paul Leniston’s Napoleonic Wargaming rules right the way through several times. They have given me much food for thought, and the methodology behind their design is very similar to my own ideas on wargames design. That is not to say that we think exactly the same way about the mechanisms that we might use to resolve – for example – combat, but that the game architectures we both use have many similarities.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Working on my day off ...

Thursday is the only weekday on which I don't work ... except today!

I had planned to spend much of today reading Paul Leniston's Napoleonic Wargaming rules and getting some of my Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm Napoleonic figures out of storage prior to organising them for basing. However I had a phone call from my boss whilst I was driving home last night, asking me to come in to work today to help some of my students to complete some unfinished coursework.

More money is always useful as it keeps the wheels of war(gaming) going, so here I am, at work, making a blog entry during my lunch break.

Ho! Hum! Halcyon days!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Seen on my travels ... the Pegasus Bridge Museum

During my visit to the British landing beaches in Normandy, I visited the Pegasus Bridge Museum. The Museum is a relatively new museum and is built around the original Pegasus Bridge, which was removed some years ago to a new site near the river crossing when it became too weak to support the growing volume and weight of road traffic in the area.

The Museum can be reached by crossing the new Pegasus Bridge, passing Café Gondrée as you do so.

Café Gondrée - as seen from the tour coach.

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge - the figure on the right of the image gives some idea how long the bridge is.

Pegasus Bridge - the figures give some idea how wide the bridge is, including the pedestrian walkways on either side of the roadway.

A glider-borne Jeep, similar to that driven by my father.

The inside of an original Horsa Glider.

Inside the replica Horsa Glider that is housed in the grounds of the Museum.

A composite image of the replica Horsa Glider that is housed in the grounds of the Museum.
This is an excellent museum, and well worth a visit if you are in Normandy.

I had just under an hour to walk round and to take photographs, and would have liked longer as this would have given me the opportunity to cross the new bridge and to drink in the first building to be liberated during Operation Overlord - Café Gondrée.

Monday 20 April 2009

Seen on my travels ... a Falange memorial

One of my long-term interests has been the Spanish Civil War. Many years ago I wrote a book about the conflict for wargamers – LA ULTIMA CRUZADA (The Last Crusade) – that was published by Caliver Books. Since then I have always been on the lookout for anything that relates to the war.

When I wrote the first edition of my book the Generalissimo had not been dead ten years, and Spain was still developing as a democracy. Since then a lot has changed, and information about the Civil War has become much easier to obtain. The past still has a diminishing influence on the present, but as the generation who fought in the Civil War has gradually died out, it seems that many Spanish people have come to terms with their past and are moving forward into a very different future.

It was therefore something of a surprise to see the following memorial on the outside wall of the cathedral in Vigo. It is a memorial to the fallen members of the Falange who came from Vigo.

I had supposed that all such memorials were long gone, but I was wrong. Whilst I was taking this photograph I was approached by a Spaniard who was at least as old as I am if not older, and he asked me in somewhat fractured English if I knew what I was photographing. When I said that I did, and that I was aware of who José Antonio de Primo de Rivera was and why ‘Presente!’ was at the bottom of the memorial, he explained that there was still a lot of strong pro-Falangist feeling in the area. He then bid me ‘Adios’ and went on his way.

Whether or not what he said is true or not I cannot say, but I must admit that I am still surprised to see such a memorial in such a prominent public place in today’s Spain.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Seen on my travels ... Victorian fortifications

The Victorians feared a French invasion, and built defences in and around Portsmouth and Southampton. These are often called 'Palmerston's Follies' and were finished just in time for the French and British to become allies!

The French also feared an invasion ... by the British, and built defences around their main ports. These are some of the sea forts built to defend Cherbourg.

They were also finished in time for the outbreak of Anglo-British friendship after the Crimean War, and were formally opened by Napoleon III and Queen Victoria.

This picture shows how the forts were joined together by moles, with each fort controlling access to one of the harbour entrances.

Catching up

Since I got back yesterday I seem to have spent a lot of time catching up with all the correspondence – both written and electronic – that was waiting for me. Most important was the end of year employee returns that have to be made to HM Revenue & Customs. My accountant does most of the work for me, but I still have to check everything because it is my neck on the line if any of the data is incorrect.

I also had to process several bookings for COW (the annual Conference of Wargamers that is run by Wargame Developments), and this brought the number of definite bookings up to 32. As the maximum number that can attend is 54, this is a very healthy situation to be in with nearly two months to go.

I have also been trying to catch up with the blogs that I follow. In particular I wanted to see how Paul Leniston’s Napoleonic Wargaming blog was progressing, and I was not disappointed. This looks like it could easily become compulsive reading for me, especially since he has sent me a copy of his draft rules. I still intend to sort out my collection of 25/28mm Napoleonic figures so that I can wargame with them, and Paul’s approach to wargaming the era ticks a lot of boxes for me.

On top of all of this, my wife and I have had to do the inevitable food shopping to refill the larder for the next week. Now I like to eat – you don’t get to be my size by starving – but I hate shopping in supermarkets. I find the lighting oppressive, the noise (especially screaming children) unpleasant, and the need to stand in a long queue at the checkout exceedingly boring. I long for the days when I could go into a proper butcher’s shop to buy meat, an baker’s for freshly cooked crusty bread, and a grocer’s where the shop assistants did exactly that … assist you with your purchases. Such shops do still exist, but until I retire I just do not have the time to go to them, so until then I will have to grit my teeth and bear it.

Rant over for the day … I might just have time to read the stuff Paul has sent me before my wife finds me yet another chore to do …

Going places … and coming back!

I have just returned from two ‘back-to-back’ cruises on P&O’s Oriana. The first cruise lasted thee days and visited Zeebrugge and Cherbourg (it was supposed to go to Le Havre, but the French dock workers were on strike and we were diverted to an alternate port).

We have visited Zeebrugge many times, but on this occasion the weather was not to good when we disembarked so all my wife and I did was travel into Blankenberge on the shuttle bus. We had a very pleasant walk along the seafront, bought some Belgian chocolate, and one or two other things (including some very nice 1:100th scale model tanks made by SIKU).

Luckily for us the diversion to Cherbourg did not stop my wife and I from joining an excursion to the British landing beaches in Normandy. It started with a visit to the Pegasus Bridge Museum, where I took loads of pictures and bought quite a few bits and pieces. These included a 6th Airborne Division baseball cap for my father (who served with 53rd [Worcester Yeomanry] Air-landing Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, the division’s artillery regiment) and a couple of pre-painted model aircraft (a 1:150th scale Messerschmitt Bf109 E3 painted in Rumanian colours and a 1:140th scale MiG-3 in all-white camouflage, both made by SKY PILOT) for myself.

The second cruise went to Madeira, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Vigo. The weather was not too bad considering the time of year, and the ‘sea days’ between Southampton and Madeira on the way out and Lanzarote (via Vigo) and Southampton on the way back gave me time to do some reading. The latter included:
  • CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith
As one would expect, the former is a very detailed, scholarly work that draws heavily upon the Russian military archives that are slowly being made accessible to historians. The latter is a murder story set at the end of the Stalinist era, and captures the feeling of a time when the slightest suspicion of disloyalty could condemn individuals and their families to imprisonment or execution.

The ‘sea days’ also gave me time to think about my next wargaming projects and to begin work on a set of operational-level World War II wargames rules that draw heavily upon the MEGABLITZ rules written by Tim Gow, the various rules created by Richard Brooks and Ian Drury that are collectively known as the RED SQUARE rules, and TABLE TOP BATTLES by Mike and Joyce Smith.

But more of that later …

Saturday 4 April 2009

Just when I thought I was safe … inspiration from another blog clouds my judgement!

In the aftermath of Cruiser 2009 and Salute 2009 I have been giving some serious thought as to what wargaming project I will put my energies into next.

I had lots of different ideas, but was gradually coming to the conclusion that I was going to concentrate my efforts on the Eastern Front next. I even began to sort through the pile of unpainted World War II 20mm lead figure that I have stored in my wargames room when I happened upon Paul Leniston’s Napoleonic Wargaming blog … and the situation as to what I would do next suddenly became somewhat less clear.

Paul’s blog makes it very clear that he is a Napoleonic wargamer through and through, and it is not a period that has ever held any strong appeal for me. True, I have bought quite a few Napoleonic figures in my time. The latest foray led to me subscribing to the Del Prado BATTLE OF WATERLOO part work, as a result of which I now have over 300 painted figures for the Allied and French armies at Waterloo. But I never seemed to get the enthusiasm to use the figures – mainly because all the rules I looked at seemed to use far larger numbers of figures than I had – and they are presently languishing in a storage box.

However, once I began to read Paul’s blog and saw the way he went about organising his Napoleonic armies, I realised that he had hit upon the very thing that I wanted; the ability to fight large-scale Napoleonic battles with a relatively small number of figures.

Once I return from my forthcoming holiday cruise I shall be giving some serious thought to taking my Napoleonic figures out of storage and actually fighting some wargames with them … unless, of course, something else crops up in the meantime to divert me once again.

Who said that wargamers have butterfly minds?

Thursday 2 April 2009

Nugget 225

I will be posting the latest issue of THE NUGGET (N225) tomorrow morning, and it should be with members by later this week or early next week. I had hoped to post it today, but pressure of work – I was called in on my day off – meant that labelling and filling the envelopes had to wait until this evening.

The PDF version is now available online via the Wargame Developments website. All members should now have received the password they need to read the PDF, but if they have lost it or cannot remember it they should contact me.