Monday 28 February 2011

The portable wargame: Adding a label

Because a large number of my recent blog entries have related to the ongoing development of my portable wargame, I have decided to add 'The Portable Wargame' to the list of labels in the right-hand sidebar of this blog. This will enable me – and any interested blog readers – to find any particular blog entry or entries about the portable wargame that they may wish to look for.

Sunday 27 February 2011

I have been to ... Cavalier 2011

I have not been able to get to many wargames shows over the past year or so, and it was therefore a great pleasure to be able to find time to go to Cavalier 2011. It was organised by the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society, and was held at the Angel Centre in Tonbridge.

Besides a sizeable trader presence, there were quite a few demonstration and participation games being staged, and the following photo-essay should give you an idea of the range and scope of what was on show.

Sentium 295BC (Society of Ancients)

This participation game was run by the usual stalwarts of the SOA, including Phil Steele and Professor Phil Sabin.

Operation Bodenplatte 1945 (North London Wargames Group)

'Shot, Shell and Steam' American Civil War Naval Battle (Mid Anglia Wargamers)

The Descent of Chivalry (Lance and Longbow Society)

Washington's Army (Peter Pig)

Bronze Age World Cup 1200BC (SEEMS)

This was another of SEEMS's innovative ideas; an all-day 'knock out' competition between various Bronze Age armies.

Grunwald 1410 (Crawley Wargames Club)

Budapest 1945 (Loughton Strike Force)

West Side Story 2000 (Deal Wargames Group)

'Paths of Glory' World War I Battle (The Big Push Group)

Skirmish at Ngoway's Kraal 1879 (Maidstone Wargames Society)

'Die to make men free' American Civil War Battle (Southend Wargames Club)

Taranto 1940 (Staines Wargamers)

Cavalier has always very pleasant show to attend, and this year was no exception. I was able to chat to several people that I know, to pick up quite a few catalogues, and to buy a copy of Mike Snook's GO STRONG INTO THE DESERT (Published by Perry Miniatures [2010] ISBN 978 0 9561842 1 4). This looks like a real 'cracker' of a book, and I look forward to reading it over the next few weeks.

Saturday 26 February 2011

The portable wargame: Another 'country' to fight over

I have spent a bit of time today experimenting with different methods of representing roads and rivers on my vinyl chessboard. As I did not have the time to go to the local craft shop or branch of the John Lewis Partnership, I had to rely on what I had to hand.

In the end I used grey card for the roads and light blue (probably too light blue)card for the rivers. I experimented with the repositionable glue dots, but at a cost of £1.29 for a pack of 64, they seemed like they could end up being quite pricey to use in the long run. I then had a brainwave ... and dug out my trusty tube of Copydex.

Because it is a latex-based rubber cement, it will not stick permanently to vinyl. In fact, any residue is removable with a wipe of a damp cloth. It will, however, hold things in place until they need to be removed.

It only needed a few small 'dots' of Copydex to 'glue' the roads and rivers in place ... and the end result (with other terrain items added as well) looked like this:

I hope to use this terrain to fight a battle over later tonight or tomorrow.

Friday 25 February 2011

Nugget 242

I collected the latest issue of THE NUGGET (No. 242) from the printers today, and I will post it out tomorrow morning. It should, therefore, be with full members of Wargame Developments before the end of next week.

I have also uploaded the PDF versions of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT to the Wargame Developments website, and these are now available for full members and e-members of Wargame Developments to download and read.

The portable wargame: How to represent roads?

My recent blog entry about the terrain I hope to use with my portable wargame generated quite a few comments ... and several ideas as to how to represent roads. My existing solution – to use cream masking tape – meant that roads were not easy to see on the vinyl chessboard, and the very helpful suggestions that have been made have given me much food for thought.

The suggestions include:
  • Identi-tape – This was suggested by Ross Mac. It is a form of gaffer tape that comes in different colours and widths. It is sold in the UK under the trade name of Pro-Gaff gaffer tape.
  • Double thicknesses of masking tape – This was suggested by Bluebear Jeff and means that I can use my existing stock of masking tape.
  • Coloured masking tape (also known a Washi tape) – This was suggested by Chris and jfidz, and it is readily available from the John Lewis Partnership.
In addition to these suggested solutions, arthur1815 proposed that I use lengths of coloured paper/card to represent rivers, and that they could be stuck to the vinyl chessboard with double-sided sticky tape. This has the major advantage of making it possible to make rivers that are not straight, thus improving the ‘look’ of the whole thing.

All of these suggested solutions are not only feasible; they are also very practical and relatively inexpensive. I discussed these alternatives with my wife, and she suggested that I consider using arthur1815's basic idea for making rivers, but use repositionable Pritt Glue Dots to fix the paper/card to the vinyl chessboard rather than use double-sided sticky tape. As she has a supply of these Glue Dots that I can use, I am going to experiment with them as soon as I can. As to the roads, the Washi tape looks like it should be quite easy to obtain in appropriate colours as there is a branch of the John Lewis Partnership at the nearby regional shopping centre.

Thanks to some of my regular blog readers – and my wife – it looks as if the problem is solved.

I have been to ... the 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Show

My wife is an amateur genealogist (amateur in the sense that she is not paid to do her family research; her actual research is of a very high and professional standard). As a result, every year we go to the 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Show at Olympia. This is the premier genealogical event in the UK, and there are literally hundreds of different organisations that have a presence at the show.

In previous years several military museums, publishers of military history books and publications, and military historical societies have had stands at the show, and this year I was able to spend some time wandering around what is termed 'the Military Pavilion' (actually part of the upper floor of the hall). I spent most of my time at two of the stands: At the latter stand I was able to talk to Luke Bilton, and tried to persuade him to look seriously at including some wargaming content in future issues. I don't know how successful I was ... but he did not say 'No'.

Thursday 24 February 2011

The portable wargame: A 'country' to fight over

As I had about half an hour to spare, I decided to see what the new cork hills would look like alongside some of the other terrain I intend to use with my vinyl chessboard.

The buildings are from my collection of 'Town in a bag' buildings, and the trees are from a range made by Essex Miniatures. I used blue masking tape to create a river, and cream masking tape for the roads. The latter does not show up very well on the tan and green vinyl chessboard, and I now realise that I will need to find an alternative method to show roads and tracks.

All-in-all I now feel that – with the exception of the roads – I have almost got the 'look' of the terrain right. As H G Wells would have termed it, I now have a 'country' over which to fight my battles.

The portable wargame: Rules clarification

I realised today that I had not made it clear which of the activation dice (the name I have used in the rules for the 'Risk Express' dice) activated Machine Gun Units.

After giving it some thought, I have added the following caveat to the current rules:

'For the purposes of activation, Machine Gun Units whose weapons are mounted on wheeled carriages similar to those used by Artillery, count as Artillery; Machine Gun Units whose weapons are mounted on tripods, bipods, or small mountings that can be carried or dragged by hand, count as Infantry'.

I have made this distinction because it seems to be the best way to reflect the different tactical use made of machine guns during the historical period covered by the rules. The larger, older machine guns that were mounted on wheeled carriages – such as the Gatling and Gardner – were more difficult to move and often appear to have been used as a short-range, fast-firing piece of Artillery whilst the smaller, newer models – such as the tripod-mounted Maxim Gun – could be moved quite rapidly around the battlefield as an adjunct to the Infantry.

A Gatling Machine Gun mounted on a wheeled carriage.
A prototype Maxim Machine Gun mounted on a tripod.
PS. I have uploaded the amended pdf version of the Frontier/Musket Wargames Rules so that blog readers can access it. I have also altered the links from the earlier blog entries so that they go to the latest version of the rules.

The portable wargame: What the cork hills look like on the vinyl chessboard

Today has been quite a busy day, but I finally managed to set up my new cork hills on my vinyl chessboard ...

... and I think that they look rather good.

I have not done anything to them except to cut them out and shape them. I did consider flocking or painting the tops of each hill, but decided that – for the time being – they do not need that sort of embellishment.

All I need now is enough time to use them in a wargame!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

More cork hills

I was so pleased with the way my first cork hills looked when they were finished that I have made some more today from a second IKEA cork mat that I found in my toy/wargames room.

I now have six hills that are the same size as a single grid square on my vinyl chessboard, and four that cover two grid squares. I have also used some of the odd-shaped off-cuts to make some smaller hills. These have at least one side that is the same length as the side of a grid square so that they can be used on their own or next to one of the regular-shaped hills.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

The cork hills ... or should that be hills of cork?

After receiving suggestions from both arthur1815 and Conrad Kinch about the possibilities of using cork tiles to make hills for my portable wargame, I have spent the last half hour cutting up an IKEA cork mat to make some hills ... and I must admit that they look a lot better than my foamcore ones. Furthermore, they do not need painting as they are already the right colour.

All I have to do now is to sand down the edges to make the shapes look a little less stark and a bit more hill-like. Once I am happy with them, I will see what they look like on the vinyl chessboard ... and then I might actually manage to fight the next play-test of the rules I am using.

Monday 21 February 2011

The portable wargame: The experiment went wrong ... but it should now be working!

Well the link to Google Docs did not work ... so I have used an older but more reliable method in its place. The rules can now be downloaded as a pdf from the following link:
Frontier/Musket Wargames Rules for use with a chessboard battlefield

PS. I have amended the link from my previous blog entry just in case someone tried to use it!

The portable wargame: An experiment

I have had several requests for copies of the rules I have been using with my portable wargame, and so I am going to try to make them available to anyone who wants them. I have never used the method I am going to try to use, so this is by way of being an experiment. It may work ... or it may not, but if I don't give it a try I will not know if this is the best method to use in future.

I have uploaded a pdf version of the rules to Google Docs, and have made access available via the following link:
Frontier/Musket Wargames Rules for use with a chessboard battlefield

I succumbed to the Dark Side … and bought an iPad!

What I should have done today was to set up the latest play-test of the rules I am developing for use with my portable wargame … but what I actually did was to go to the Apple Shop at Bluewater and buy an iPad.

I don’t NEED another computer; I already have a very good PC and a lightweight laptop … but I have found my iPhone to be such a useful bit of kit that it seemed logical that I should buy an iPad to ‘compliment’ my existing hardware. What is more, my wife thought it was a good idea … and when your wife agrees that buying a new piece of electronic gadgetry is a good idea, it is a strong – and somewhat stupid – man who disagrees. In fact my wife thinks it is such a good idea that she is using it as I sit here at my good old PC writing my latest blog entry!

Now just who did we buy the iPad for? Please remind me …

PS. The spellchecker on Microsoft Word does not recognised iPad as a proper word. I wonder why?

Aircraft carriers

A comment I made yesterday that the Thai Navy had an aircraft carrier, but the Royal Navy did not, seems to have created a bit of a stir ... so I checked my information.

According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable source in the World, but one that everyone seems to rely on) the current situation is as follows:
  • Brazil has one aircraft carrier in service.
  • China has one ex-Russian aircraft carrier that is being rebuilt.
  • France has one aircraft carrier in service and one projected.
  • India has one aircraft carrier in service, one ex-Russian aircraft carrier that is being rebuilt, and two under construction.
  • Italy has two aircraft carriers in service.
  • Russia has one aircraft carrier in service.
  • Spain has one aircraft carrier in service.
  • Thailand has one aircraft carrier in service.
  • UK has one aircraft carrier in service (although she is currently under refit) and two under construction.
  • US has eleven aircraft carriers in service. one in reserve, and three ordered or under construction.
This is not, however, the full picture, because if one includes ships capable of operating large numbers of helicopters and/or Harrier-type V/STOL aircraft, the list grows considerably:
  • Australia has two helicopter carriers/assault ships under construction.
  • France has three helicopter carriers/amphibious assault ships in service and one projected.
  • Japan has one helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship in service (it is actually termed a helicopter destroyer), two under construction, and one projected.
  • Republic of Korea has one helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship in service and four projected.
  • Russia has plans to buy at least three helicopter carrier/assault ships from France.
  • Spain has one helicopter carrier/assault ship in service.
  • UK has one helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship in service.
  • US has nine helicopter carriers/amphibious assault ships in service, one under construction, and twelve projected.
When compared to some of the other navies of the World, the UK's single aircraft carrier (that is twenty nine years old, under refit, and that has no fixed wing aircraft that can operate from it) and single helicopter carrier/assault ship look rather insignificant.

Roll on 2016 when the first of the new aircraft carriers is due to be delivered ... and hopefully it will have some fixed wing aircraft for it to operate!

Nugget 242

The latest issue of THE NUGGET (N242) was emailed to me by the editor last night, and I hope to take it to the printers either today or tomorrow. I can then collect it by Saturday and post it out over the weekend.

I will make the PDF versions of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT available for full and e-members to download from the Wargame Developments website as soon as I can after THE NUGGET has been put into the post.

Sunday 20 February 2011

An impulse bargain buy

On the way back from seeing my father, my wife and I paid a flying visit to a retail park in Essex. Whilst my wife visited various clothes stores, I spent my time wandering around a branch of a large shop that specialises in selling all sorts of inexpensive homeware, craft materials, and toys. I had visited other branches of this chain before ... and in the past it proved to be a rich source of bits and pieces that have had wargaming uses.

Today my eye was caught by a toy aircraft carrier that was on sale for £3.00! I thought about buying it for about five seconds ... and then I bought it. However, having got this impulse bargain buy home, I wondered what to 'do' with it. As it is, the model is a passable representation of a 1:300th-scale US Aircraft Carrier, but I don't have any other ship models in that scale.

The model aircraft carrier both in and out of its packaging. It came with three 1:330th-scale jet aricraft and two helicopters. The 1:100th-scale Harrier has been included to give some indication of the actual size of the model.
I found the answer to my problem in Norman Friedman's U.S. AIRCRAFT CARRIERS (published in 1983 [ISBN 0 87021 739 9]). The book contains a section devoted to the attempts by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt to persuade the United States Navy to build a class of small anti-submarine warfare aircraft carriers. They were called Sea Control Ships, and were intended to perform the duties carried out by Escort Carrier during World War II. They looked like this:

Zumwalt was unsuccessful, and the design was not pursued in the United States Navy. However, the Spanish Navy wanted to replace its old ex-United States Light Aircraft Carrier, and they built a version of the Sea Control Ship, SPS Principe de Asturias (R11).

SPS Principe de Asturias.
When the Thai Navy decided that it needed to add mobile airpower to its fleet, they bought a smaller version of the SPS Principe de Asturias from the Spanish. This ship - HTMS Chakri Naruebet - is the smallest aircraft carrier operated by any navy in the world.

HTMS Chakri Naruebet.
I have decided that I will alter the model aircraft carrier I have bought so that it is a Sea Control Ship (or modern Escort Carrier) from which my 1:100th-scale Harriers can fly off in support of my 15mm-scale modern armies.

The portable wargame: Setting up the terrain

Having finished my foamcore hills, I wanted to see what the vinyl chessboard would look like with some terrain set up on it. The results do not look too bad.

One thing was very quickly apparent ... the foamcore hills were not tall enough, so I laid one on top of the other to make them twice as thick. This looked a lot better, but it does mean that I am going to have to make any future hills out of two or three thicknesses of foamcore glued together before they are painted.

The buildings are all from one of the numerous wooden 'Town in a bag' sets that I have bought over recent years, and the trees are made by Essex Miniatures. The trees are unusual in that the trunks and branches are cast from white metal and the foliage appears to be wire wool that has been soaked in some form of modelling plaster before being painted. The resultant trees are quite robust in comparison with most model trees used by wargamers, and each one is unique.

The figures – which I have included so as to give some idea of how big the various terrain items are – were manufactured by Peter Laing.

Saturday 19 February 2011

The vinyl chessboards: What do some more figures look like on them?

Whilst I was waiting for the final coat of paint to dry on the square foamcore hills I have made to use with my vinyl chessboards, I decide to see how single figure bases looked on the chessboards.

The first figures I used were some 20mm-scale World War II Russians ...

... followed by some 15mm-scale Colonials.

What immediately struck me was that 20mm-scale artillery mounted on bases do not leave enough room for the individual crew figures to fit easily into the same grid square on the vinyl chessboard. The groups of three 20mm-scale infantry did not look too out of place, but the groups of four 15mm-scale figures looked somehow wrong ... and I am not quite sure why.

Perhaps it is because the only way I could get them to fit into the grid square was in two ranks of two figures. What is interesting is that when I added two extra figures to each group to create two ranks of three figures ...

... they looked much better.

I cannot explain this phenomenon, but I assume it is all to do with the way we perceive things within an obviously limited area – such the size of a grid square – in relationship to the size and number of figures within that area.

I am left with the feeling that if I am going to use 20mm-scale figures on my vinyl chessboards, they will need to be mounted on multi-figure bases … but that the bases will need to be as small as possible. My feelings about the 15mm-scale figures is that they too should be mounted on multi-figure bases … but that there is potential for me to create a version of the rules whereby single figure bases can be used, thus allowing Units to become degraded as a result of combat in the same way that they are in Richard Borg’s BATTLE CRY! and MEMOIR ’44.

Notes on the figures and weapons:
  • The 20mm-scale Russian World War II figures are from ranges manufactured by Dixons and Britannia, and the 76.2mm Gun is made by Skytrex.
  • The 15mm-scale Colonial figures are manufactured by Essex Miniatures and the Krupp Field Gun was made by Peter Laing.

Birthday presents

My sixty-first birthday was over a week ago, but as a result of me coming down with a rather nasty dose of Norovirus, to all intents and purposes I missed it. I did, however, get some presents from friends and family including two books from Tony Hawkins and a collection of DVDs from my wife.

The first of the books is rather unusual, as it is WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? by Morgan Spurlock (Published in 2008 by Harvill Secker [ISBN 978 1 846 55221 2]).

I first heard of Morgan Spurlock when he directed and starred in the documentary SUPER SIZE ME, during which he ate nothing but a diet of fast food from McDonald's for thirty days. The film was both idiosyncratic and thought-provoking, and I hope that this book will be similar.

The second book is THE BAREFOOT EMPEROR: AN ETHIOPIAN TRAGEDY by Philip Marsden (Published in 2007 by Harper Collins [ISBN 978 0 00 717345 7]).

It tells the story of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, who reigned over that ancient Christian kingdom for 1855 until his death in 1868. He unified the country after it had been riven by civil wars, but eventually he became unstable, and when he imprisoned the British Consul in Ethiopia – Captain Charles Duncan Cameron – and several other British citizens, he precipitated a crisis with Britain. The British response was to send a military expedition to Abyssinia led by Robert Napier. After the Battle of Magdala, when Tewodros' last remaining army was defeated by the British, the Emperor committed suicide so that he would 'fall into the hands of God, rather than man."

I have watched all of the TV films in the SHARPE series, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I know that they are not always historically accurate ... but if I have a couple of hours to fill and I want to watch an action film set in the Napoleonic era, I can do no better than to watch one of these DVDs.

By the way, I have an added interest in the SHARPE series because I was educated in South Essex – the 'home' of his regiment – and for the first few years of my Secondary education I was sat in front of a boy named Cornwall (we had to sit in alphabetical order in class!).

A coincidence ... or what?

Friday 18 February 2011

The portable wargame: My first pieces of terrain

On the spur of the moment, I decided to take the plunge and make some terrain to use with my portable wargame. The first terrain items that I chose to make were some hills that are the same dimensions as the grid squares on the vinyl chessboards I have bought, and I made them from some foamcore board that I acquired a few weeks ago.

I have never used foamcore before, but I had heard that it was quite easy to work with if one used the right tools and methods. I therefore carefully cut out ten two-and-one-quarter-inch squares using a sharp modelling knife and a steel ruler. The foamcore cut quite easily, and it was a simple job to keep the edges square and not to tear the foam too much. In fact, it was a lot easier to work with than balsa wood or basswood, and the finish was a lot neater.

I then painted the edges of the hill squares with two coats of green acrylic paint to help protect them from damage. Once the paint was dry, I then applied two coats of the same colour paint to the top of each hill. It is my intention to eventually paint both top and bottom surfaces of the hill squares to protect them from minor damage, and with a bit of luck they should be ready for use by tomorrow lunchtime.

The vinyl chessboards: What do figures look like on them?

It's Friday evening, and I am not long home from work ... and my half-term holiday has begun!

This evening is the first opportunity I have had to have a proper look at the vinyl chessboards I bought recently. They were advertised as having two-inch grid squares, but on closer inspection the grid squares are actually two-and-one-quarter-inch by two-and-one-quarter-inch. This seemingly tiny difference makes a lot of difference when one looks at the overall size of the board. Instead of being sixteen-inches by sixteen-inches, they are eighteen-inches by eighteen inches or – to put it another way – just over twenty five percent larger.

Having unrolled one of the vinyl chessboards, I wanted to see what some wargamer figures would look like on them. The first I tried were some 20mm-scale World War II Russians …

… followed by some 15mm-scale World War I Americans …

… and some 15mm-scale early twentieth century Colonials.

The 20mm-scale figures do not look too bad, but in my opinion, the 15-mm-scale figures look better. Perhaps if there were more figures on each base, and the bases were slightly smaller, the 20mm-scale figures would not look quite so out of place, but as I am probably going to use 15mm-scale figures for my battles, this is something that I do not need to worry about.

Notes on the figures and weapons:
  • Most of 20mm-scale Russian World War II figures are from the range manufactured by Foundry. The 76.2mm Gun is made by Skytrex, and the manufacturer of the SU76 is unknown but it may be an old Denzil Skinner model.
  • The 15mm-scale World War I figures were manufactured by Minifigs.
  • The 15mm-scale early twentieth century Colonial figures are manufactured by Essex Miniatures and the 18-pounder Field Gun is made by Minifigs.
PS. The buff colour of the lighter squares on the chessboard is closer in colour to that shown in the first of the photographs; they appear far too light in the other two images. This is probably due to the use of artificial light used to light my wargames/toy room.

Thursday 17 February 2011

The portable wargame: The latest draft of the rules

I managed to spend an hour this evening re-drafting the heavily Morschauser-influenced rules I have been using with my portable wargame. The main purpose of the re-draft was to include new rules that related to:
  • The use of 'Risk Express' dice (called 'activation dice' in the rules) to determine how many Units of each type a player can move each turn.
  • The pre-battle deployment of Units in both 'one off' and campaign battles.
  • Native Infantry and Cavalry Units being able to make double-length moves if the player commanding them wishes to use two Unit 'activations' to move one Unit rather than moving two.
I hope to play-test this new draft of the rules sometime over the half-term holiday that takes place next week.


I am grateful to Conrad Kinch for bringing to my notice the campaign to save the farmhouse at Quatre-Bras from demolition to make way for some new houses and offices.

Dominique Timmermans is leading the campaign to prevent this wanton act of historical vandalism, and I have sent an email deploring the possibility that permission will be granted for the demolition to the the two local municipalities involved.

The more of us who join in and support this campaign, the greater is the likelihood that permission will not be granted. The deadline is very short, and if – like me – you want to try to stop this from happening, please go to Dominique Timmermans' website and see how you can help.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

La Coruña: The Castillo de San Antón and the Military Museum

Whilst I was looking through my collection of photographs for the images of Sir John Moore's tomb in La Coruña, I can across some of the Castillo de San Antón – which guards the entrance to the harbour at La Coruña – and one of the artillery pieces that is outside the entrance to the small Military Museum that is just across the road from the tomb.

An aerial of the Castillo de San Antón
A landside view of the Castillo de San Antón
A photograph of the Castillo de San Antón taken from just inside the harbour.
A photograph of the Castillo de San Antón taken from just outside the entrance of the harbour.
Two photographs of a typical 1930s Spanish Medium Gun. The photographs were taken just outside the entrance to the small military museum in La Coruña.