Thursday 30 June 2011

Strike day ... and an interesting present!

Unlike most of my colleagues, I am not on strike today. My union – the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) – did not ballot for strike action as part of the industrial dispute that the teaching profession has – along with many other public sector workers – with the Government over proposed changes to the various public sector pension schemes.

The ‘management’ of the school – acting on the instructions of the local authority – has kept the school open … with the result that the building is almost empty. The students had not been informed as to which of their teachers would or would not be at work today … and so most of them have ‘voted’ with their feet and not bothered to come in. Those that have come in have had to get through the picket line outside the school gates … and this has been an added deterrent to some of them actually making it in to lessons.

I do not teach until halfway through the morning, so I have been using the time until I do to have a good clear out. I have filled the recycling bin with huge amounts of ‘waste’ paper (mainly documents sent out by the ‘management’ for my ‘guidance’ [i.e. obedience!]) and have filled four storage boxes with students marked work that has to be retained until a year after their course has ended. I am about to begin the process of ‘tidying up’ my area on the computer system. I have already deleted over 4,500 internal emails that I have been sent over the past three years (which is an average of just over 7.5 emails per working day,) and after my lesson this morning I will begin the process of rationalising and archiving my computer work files.

I have actually found the process of ‘tidying up’ very cathartic, and it has been excellent preparation for when I leave on 8th July.

PS. One of my students has just arrived with a ‘Thank you’ present from him and his family. It is a bottle of a special Hungarian herbal drink that is usually drunk as either a digestif or apéritif. It is called ‘Unicum’ … an interesting name, eh?

I wonder if I will enjoy drinking it?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Its nice to be valued ...

Some weeks ago I was told that my existing contract would end at the end of this term ... which is the 15th July. As I would have completed forty years in the teaching profession (both as a trainee and fully qualified teacher), it seemed like an ideal time to 'retire'.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I was casually informed that a decision had been made to terminate my contract a week earlier on Friday 8th July, along with those of all the other contractors currently employed. No warning, no 'Thank you', no nothing.

The decision was apparently made by the school's Governors to 'save money'. Isn't it nice to be valued so highly by the school's 'management'?

The choice of the 8th July means that I will leave work for what will probably be the last time ... and go straight to COW2011.

What a way to celebrate my 'retirement'!

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Paddy Griffith: One year on

It is just over a year since I first heard that Paddy Griffith had suddenly died. It was less than a fortnight before COW2010, and I had been looking forward to seeing him again after a gap of several years. It was not to be.

Since then several people have been helping Paddy's wife and son to ensure that his legacy of unpublished work will be available for generations to come to read and study. Amongst them are Andy Callan, who has arranged for the bulk of Paddy's historical papers to become part of the Liddell Hart archive at King's College, London, and John Curry, who has begun the process of publishing Paddy's wargames. The work that these gentlemen have done deserves to be remembered ... and one year on from Paddy's death seems to be an appropriate time to do so.

Thank you Andy and John (and all the others who have helped Paddy's family and whose names I do not know) for helping to ensure Paddy's work has been preserved for posterity.

Monday 27 June 2011

COW2011: The programmes are ready for posting

I managed to get the COW2011 programmes printed at a small print shop near where I work as I did not have enough time to get to the printers I normally use to print THE NUGGET. They managed to print and collate the fifty copies I needed by the end of the day ... but for some reason they were unable to staple them in the centre of the fold. The reason they gave was that the automatic stapler on the collator had stopped working. They offered to hold on to the programmes until they could be stapled - but were unable to give me any idea when that would be - or to reduce the bill. As time is of the essence, I chose the latter option, so I must apologise in advance to COW attendees for the fact that their copy of the COW programme is not stapled together.

The envelopes are ready, and the COW programmes will be in them and in the post early tomorrow morning, which should mean that they are with COW attendees by the weekend.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Preparing for COW

In two weeks time, COW2011 will be over ... so I have already started to get together the stuff I need for my sessions.

After a discussion with Tim Gow, we decided not to try to fight a full-scale FUNNY LITTLE WARS battle as neither of us has actually used the rules as yet. Instead we intend to fight a small skirmish with each side fielding one or two regiments of Infantry, a gun, and possibly a few cavalry. Once we have got a firm grasp of the rules, we can then plan to fight a full-scale battle later in the year.

As for my PORTABLE WARGAME session ... well I have printed off copies of the rules (but not the rules summary sheet) for the attendees, and I have begun sort out the terrain that I will be using. The figures need to be sorted into 'sides' and put into storage boxes for the journey, and I will need to 'make' some activation dice. These will be made by sticking coloured and numbered 'dots' on the faces of surplus Heroscape™ dice ... of which I have quite a number. All that will then need to be done is for me to create the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that I will use to introduce attendees to the rules.

Tomorrow I hope to get the COW programme printed, and once that is done I shall post it out to attendees. The envelopes are already labelled and have postage stamps on them, so it should only take few minutes for me to put the programmes in the envelopes and get them in the post on Tuesday morning.

Whilst I was printing the labels for the envelopes, I also printed off the labels that will be stuck onto each attendee's badge. These will be issued as attendees arrive at COW, and serve both to help new attendees to recognize each other (there are a few 'virgin' conference goers this year), and as a check on who has or has not arrived by the start of the conference.

The portable wargame: Yet another enthusiast joins the ranks ... and brings a great idea with him!

As I wrote in my reply to a comment made about my recent blog entry entitled MY 'GUIDING PRINCIPLES' FOR WRITING WARGAMES RULES, any set of wargames rules must be written so that anyone can read them and fight a battle with them without having recourse to asking the author questions about what this or that means.

Well I must have got my PORTABLE WARGAME rules up to a reasonable standard as they appear to have yet another 'enthusiast'. I refer – of course – to Dr Vesuvius, whose blog has an excellent report of a small battle fought using the rules.

He also used Heroscape™ hexed terrain for his battle, and came up with one idea that I really liked and that I am going to copy; he used different coloured hexes (as supplied with the game) to delineate woods. Now in the rules it states that 'The placement of a piece of terrain in a hex indicates that entire hex is filled by that type of terrain (e.g. a tree in a hex indicates that the entire hex is wooded; a building in a hex indicates that the entire hex is a built-up area)', but by using Dr Vesuvius' idea it means that one needs fewer trees or buildings to indicate woods or built-up areas and – more importantly – it means that there is more room in the hexes for the troops. Two problems solved at once!

Thank you Dr Vesuvius for both your excellent battle report and the terrain idea!

Saturday 25 June 2011

It once was lost ... but now is found ...

Sorting through the cupboard where I store all the Wargame Developments and Conference of Wargamers stuff, I came across a thin plastic file box that I thought that I had lost. It contained my copy of THE SUN NEVER SETS, a Colonial campaign system devised by Dave Waxtel and Barry Gray and later expanded by Patrick R Wilson.

I bought my copy from 'The Way It Was' (the company run by Larry Brom's daughter, Lori, and which now sells its wargames rules through its 'Sergeants 3' website) back in 2002. I read it with great interest, stored for later reference ... and then 'lost' it when everything was rearranged after my wife and I had a loft conversion/extension built on our house.

The cover describes THE SUN NEVER SETS as 'being in the main a practical campaign system for the Colonial wars of the British Empire, 1860-1885' ... and it is.

My copy contains:
  • A 78-page, spiral bound set of campaign rules and notes
  • A chart that outlines the distances by sea in days from various ports to other ports, on the back of which is a breakdown of the Sequence of Play
  • A master sheet for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to record the Empire's monthly financial accounts/A month-by-month record of the Prime Minister's political level record
  • The Imperial General Staff's monthly war diary/Parliamentary Secretary's record of votes in Parliament
  • A set of 40 political event cards
  • A set of unit and other counters for use with the campaign maps
  • A campaign map of India
  • A campaign map of the sea routes from Great Britain to Africa, Indian, China, and Australia (and all points in between)
  • A campaign map of Burma and India's North East frontier
  • A campaign map of Egypt, the Sudan, and Abyssinia
  • A campaign map of the North Island of New Zealand
  • A campaign map of South Africa
  • A campaign map of China
  • A campaign map of Ashantiland
  • A campaign map of Borneo
All the maps are printed in colour, as are the political event cards.

One day – when I have enough potential players – I might like to run a campaign using THE SUN NEVER SETS; in the meantime, I am going to make sure that it does not get 'lost' again!

Friday 24 June 2011

COW2011: Programme and timetable

Tim Gow, the co-organiser of COW2011, has emailed me the programme and timetable of events for the forthcoming COW2011.

I will be taking both to the printers as soon as I can, but in the meantime blog readers can peruse them by visiting the Wargame Developments website and following the links from the Conference of Wargamers webpage.

COW2011: More sessions!

COW2011 (the 2011 annual Conference of Wargamers) starts in exactly two weeks time, and the list of proposed session continues to grow. Some additions have now been published by Tim Gow, my fellow conference co-ordinator, on his blog. I already had a major dilemma about what sessions to choose to attend, and these additions have not helped matters. Still, it is better to have lots of choice rather than having to scramble around looking for things to do ... not that that has happened very often in the past!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Deadlines ... and how to miss them!

It is 5.00pm and I am sat at my desk at work waiting for the final pieces of coursework to be handed in by my students. The deadline was 4.00pm ... but two of them still have a small but essential piece of work to finish off and hand in.

The dilemma that I had was a simple one; should I leave, which meant that they would not have achieved their Diplomas and would only receive a Certificate, or should I stay and pretend that the clock had stopped at 3.59pm. As you will gather, after much heart-searching I decided to take the latter course of action.

Why? Is it because I am going soft in my old age (probably 'Yes!') or is it because do I not want to end my career with the taint of failure, albeit not mine but the students? In truth I don't know, but ... they have just walked in with the completed work ... and it was worth waiting for.

It is now 5.15pm. The work is marked. The job is done. The course is over. I can now go home and rest.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Funny Little Wars: Movement bases

One thing that I need to get ready before COW is my FUNNY LITTLE WARS army. I have sorted out the units which are:
  • A Regular Infantry Regiment of 20 figures
  • A Reserve Infantry Regiment of 20 figures
  • A Militia Light Infantry Regiment of 20 figures
  • A Machine Gun Battery (A Gatling Gun and 2 crew)
  • A Regular Cavalry Regiment (12 figures)
  • A Field Artillery Battery (2 x Field Guns and 3 crew each)
  • A Heavy Artillery Battery (1 x 4.7-inch Gun and 4 crew)
  • A General
To make sure that the figures can be moved quickly and easily, I need to make some movement bases. I have been experimenting this evening with foam-core for the base and matchsticks to create a lip around the base to stop figures sliding off ... but the results are not as good as I had hoped. Almost there ... but not quite.

I am open to any ideas regular blog readers might have that will solve this problem, but in the meantime I am going to persevere with my current design.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

COW2011: The list of sessions

Now that COW2011 (the 2011 annual Conference of Wargamers) is just over two weeks away, the list of proposed session has now been published by Tim Gow, my fellow conference co-ordinator, on his blog.

This year there seems to be an interesting crop of session on offer, and I can already see that I am going to have a number of difficult choices to make. Mind you, I would rather have that situation than having to scrabble around trying to find sessions to go to. In the meantime I still have quite a bit of work to do preparing for the session that I am running ... so it is off to my toy room to do an hour or so of preparatory work before my evening meal.

Monday 20 June 2011

The portable wargame: Player's reference sheet

Despite that fact that it is getting closer to the end of term and the majority of the public exams are over, I still seem to have quite a lot of school-related work to do. However, once I got home I decided that I needed to draw up a player's reference sheet for my PORTABLE WARGAME rules. This will cover all the main data players will need to fight battles and should mean that they will not need to consult the full text of the rules unless absolutely necessary.

I have almost finished drawing up this reference sheet, and with luck it should be available as a download from THE PORTABLE WARGAME WEBSITE later this evening.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Lunch at the "In and Out"

Yesterday my wife and I were invited out to a lunch at the Naval and Military Club, St. James' Square, London by a very good friend and fellow member of Wargame Developments who we known to all as JB.

The club was founded in 1862, and moved to Cambridge House, Piccadilly in 1866. The building had an entrance and an exit marked "In" and "Out", and over time the club became better known as the "In and Out". In 1999 the club moved to new premises in St. James Square. The house it now occupies was built in 1679 for the Earl of Kent, but in 1725 the building - which was by then owned by the Earl’s son, the Duke of Kent - was badly damaged by a fire. As a result it was rebuilt in 1728 and its facade has changed very little since then.

Between 1912 and 1942 the house was the London home of Lady Nancy Astor – the first female to sit as a Member of Parliament – but during 1942 it was requisitioned by the British Government to serve as the Headquarters of the Free French Forces. After the end of World War II it passed into the Hands of the Arts Council of Great Britain before serving as a Court House for several years. It was bought in 1996 by the Naval and Military Club as a replacement for Cambridge House, and then refurbished.

The interior of the building is magnificent, and after a magnificent lunch of smoked salmon, chicken, and rice pudding, we were taken on a guided tour. Of particular note was the dinning room, which is on the First Floor and overlooks the Square.

Its walls are covered with paintings, including ones of Queen Victoria and her son – the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) – and General Sir Redvers Buller. One wall is covered by a huge depiction of a battle during the 1793 Flanders Campaign. The Library was also of interest, and as I glanced along the shelves I saw quite a number of copies of books that I owned ... and several I would have liked to have borrowed and read!

Like all good things, our visit to the "In and Out" came to an end, and we had to return to the somewhat more mundane – and very wet – outside world. It was a great day out, and helped to raise out spirits at a time when 'reality' has been putting both a physical and emotional strain upon us.

Thank you, JB, for inviting us!

Saturday 18 June 2011

Why do I wargame?

In a comment about yesterday's blog entry, Dr Vesuvius posed me two questions:
  • What do you get out of wargaming?
  • What's the appeal in it for you?
I somewhat smugly replied 'fun and mental stimulation', in response to which he asked a further question:
  • What parts of the hobby give you that fun and mental stimulation?
Now that is a far more difficult and complex question ... and I have been pondering my answer ever since. Here it is.

I enjoy history. I always have, and my particular interest is military history. This may have been the result of my being born less than a mile from the Imperial War Museum, which I visited very frequently during my childhood. It may also be a result of my being born only five years after the end of the Second World War, and listening to the war stories told by my male relatives. Another reason may have been the diet of war stories that I was fed on film and in comics (this was, after all, the age that Harry Pearson wrote about in his wonderful book, ACHTUNG SCHWEINHUND!) or it might have been the presents of toy soldiers that were made to me by various relatives during my pre-teen years. Whatever the reason, I grew up loving military history.

But loving something is not that same as living it … and wargaming gives me that opportunity. Not only can I recreate the battles I have read about, heard about, or seen on film … I can take part in them … I can be an active participant. This fulfils an imaginative need that I have, and that reading novels – mainly war stories, nineteenth and early twentieth century crime fiction or science fiction – has only ever just satiated.

I also enjoy the research. Searching, reading, collating, and recording are part of the historical ‘chase’ or ‘hunt’ that also fulfils a need, and wargaming gives me the opportunity to put that research to practical use. This is why I wrote LA ULTIMA CRUZADA at the same time as I developed my ¡ARRIBA ESPAÑA! rules for the Spanish Civil War. The first was a summary of my research; the second was my research turned into a set of wargames rules.

I also enjoy the therapeutic effect of sitting painting model figures and vehicles as well as creating the terrain over which they will ‘fight’. I tend to do this with the radio switched on so that I can listen to the news, radio plays, classical music or – best of all – Test Match Special. (I still refer to my radio as the ‘wireless’ at times, to the guffaws of anyone under the age of forty!) Doing something constructive with my hands whilst my ‘mind’ is listening to the radio seems to help me to clear it – albeit temporarily – of all the cares and pressures of the world … and ultimately helps to keep me sane. If I did not wargame, I would have to find another hobby to fill this void.

But the ultimate reason why I love to wargame is because I am – at heart – a story teller. I have always seen the story part of history as the most important element. It is the fundamental essence of how I teach, regardless of what I am teaching. I tell the ‘story’ of what I am trying to get my students to understand, and by telling the ‘story’ well enough, I engage them. This is not a method of teaching that has much support (and it is positively discourage by many ‘experts’) as it relies too much on what is seen as the ‘teacher telling’ the students, and not the students finding out for themselves … but I feel that a good storyteller makes the journey through the narrative with their listener. They do not lead them; they go with them, pointing out the interesting things that can be seen along the way.

I see wargaming in the same light. It is telling a ‘story’ … and it is a ‘story’ that I want to be part of, along with other people who want to take the ‘journey’ with me. The rules are a ‘guide’ to the story but only that (hence my desire to produce simple rules that aid the ‘journey’ not hinder it!); they should not dominate the way in which the ‘story’ unfolds. As I make the ‘journey’ through the ‘story’, I like to record what has happened and how it happened – hence my love of well written battle reports and why I have found blogging about my wargaming such fun. And when I have finished my ‘journey’, I like to look back and review it. It is this process of living through and telling the story that is – ultimately – what I get most out of wargaming.

You have now had a chance to look into my wargaming ‘soul’; I hope that you were not too disappointed by what you found there!

Friday 17 June 2011

What does the future hold? ... Lots of potential!

The response to yesterday's blog entry was incredible. I got lots of very good advice and support, and it has helped me to give some serious thought to what I intend do for the foreseeable future.

At present my thoughts are moving in the direction of beginning a 'big project' that will have lots of potential to generate several parallel 'minor projects'. The likelihood is that the 'big project' will:
  • Be set during the 1880s to the early 1900s
  • Be set in an a group of small imagi-nations that 'inhabit' somewhere very akin to South and Central America
  • Use my PORTABLE WARGAME rules
  • Use my Heroscape™ and/or Hexon II hexed terrain
  • Use a number of newly-built Ironclad warships models, scaled so that my figures will not look too ridiculous when placed near them
  • Use 15mm-scale figures drawn mostly from the American Civil War, Franco-Prussian War, and Colonial Wars ranges of various figure manufacturers
  • Use my HO9-scale model railway track, locomotives, and rolling stock
The joy of such a 'big project' is that I already have a lot of stuff that can be used to start it, and what I will need to buy I should be able to acquire without having to spend a great deal of money.

This is just a starting point, and I might change my mind about the location of the imagi-nations and move them to the Balkans. Alternately, I may locate them in a totally imaginary world based on an existing map from a fantasy book (e.g. Robert E Howard's HYBORIA or J R R Tolkien's MIDDLE EARTH) or even one that I have drawn myself.

Robert E Howard's HYBORIA


As Arthur Daley once said, "The World is your lobster, my son."

Thursday 16 June 2011

What does the future hold?

Ross Mac wrote a very interesting and thought-provoking blog entry yesterday that set me thinking about the direction my wargaming is likely to take over the next few years.

To set the scene, I am sixty one years old (but feel like a twenty year-old [don’t we all! – it’s an old joke, but …]) and have been a wargamer since the mid-1960s. I played with my collection of toy soldiers before then, but I count myself to have become a ‘real’ wargamer (whatever that is) from the time when I bought a copy of ‘Charge!: Or, How to Play War Games’ by Brigadier Peter Young and Colonel J Lawford and I found a copy of Donald Featherstone’s ‘War Games’ in the local library.

My wargaming interests have been very varied over the years, but in the main they have been concentrated on the period 1850 to 1950, with a particular emphasis on:
  • The American Civil War (both on land and sea)
  • The British Colonial Wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (including the conflict in Africa during the First World War)
  • The Inter-War period (but especially the Spanish Civil War)
  • World War II (especially the Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War)
I have owned numerous armies – and navies – for these conflicts in a variety of different scales, but over the years I have ‘rationalised’ my collection so that it is mainly 15mm or 20mm-scale, but with the recent addition of quite a few 54mm/1:35th-scale figures and equipment.

My ‘retirement’ from full-time work is now only a matter of weeks away (twenty one working days, to be exact!), and after my wife and I return from our Summer holiday I will have to give serious thought to my wargaming future. Certainly my budget for buying new ‘toys’ will be more limited than it is at present, and the space I have available for all aspects of my wargaming – including storing my figures, terrain, and books – will need to be reorganised. But before I undertake that task, I need to set down some initial thoughts and ideas:
  • Solo wargaming is likely to be my main wargaming experience, interspersed with the occasional game with one or more members of the ‘Jockey’s Field Irregulars’ and my annual attendance at COW (the Conference of Wargamers).
  • Building up my collection of imagi-nations as the background for most of my solo wargaming. I have already created a number of African and South Asian colonies/countries (Dammallia, Mankanika, Sultanate of Marzibar, Deutsches Sudan, Zubia, and Chindia) as well as two Northern European countries (Opeland and Upsland), two small Balkan states (Laurania and Maldacia), and a South American country (Cordeguay). If I could tie these together into some form of imagi-world, I would have a whole range of possible conflicts that I could ‘fight’.
  • I need to rationalise my figure collections or at least try to avoid unnecessary duplication. I currently have several 15mm-scale Colonial armies (both on single and multiple figure bases) and quite a lot of unorganised 15mm World war II figures and equipment, 20mm-scale World War II Russian, German, and Hungarian armies (mainly based for MEGABLITZ but with a substantial number of single figure bases as well), and a 54mm-scale collection of American Civil War figures that are going to form the basis of my FUNNY LITTLE WARS Army of Cordeguay.
  • The fact that I have several collections of figures and equipment in three scales creates problems with regard to the terrain that I need to keep and store. I have a large collection of Hexon II hexed terrain that can be used with all three figure scales as well as an equal substantial amount of Heroscape™ hexed terrain. The latter works well with 15mm-scale figures if the figures are mounted on single figure bases or small multi-figure bases. It also takes up less table space than the Hexon II terrain if one is solely looking at how many hexes one can get onto the tabletop. Add to this the number of buildings I own in different scales (including HO/20mm and N Gauge railway scales), and the storage of my wargames terrain could begin to become problematic if I acquire more items.
I may have to make some quite drastic decisions about the direction of my wargaming future over the next few months (although I hope that the decisions will not be too drastic), but whatever the end result, I intend that it will remain my main hobby for as long as I am capable of throwing a die and moving a figure.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

My ‘guiding principles’ for writing wargames rules

When I wrote yesterday’s blog entry about the origins of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, it set me thinking about the various inputs – for example, wargame rules written by other people and late-night discussions at COW (the Conference of Wargamers) – that have influenced their development.

I did try to draw up a ‘family tree’ that showed how my PORTABLE WARGAME rules were ‘descended’ from ‘Return to New Stanhall’ via SCWaRes, the RED SQUARE games, TABLE TOP BATTLES, and Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules … but the diagram showed so many inter-relationships that it ended up looking like a spider’s web and being almost impossible to follow.

What did emerge was a list of ‘guiding principles rules’ that I use as a guide when I write wargame rules. These are:
  • Fred T Jane’s ‘Reality’ or ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’
  • Golf’s ‘Spirit of the Game’
  • Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Dice’ rule
  • My own ‘Discard rule’
By sticking to these basic guiding principles, I find that I can write wargame rules that satisfy my needs, and that I hope satisfy the needs of others.

Fred T Jane’s ‘Reality’ or ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’
This states that:

‘Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war.’

It is the first rule that is quoted in Fred T Jane’s NAVAL WAR GAME rules, and he considered that it should be the guiding principle when dealing with any disputes that might arise during a game. That is as true today as it was when he wrote it in 1898.

Golf’s ‘Spirit of the Game’
This is adapted from ‘The Rules of Golf’, as published by the Royal and Ancient (R&A) Limited. It states that:

‘Wargames are played, for the most part, without the supervision of an umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual players to show consideration for other players and to abide by the rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the wargame.’

I consider that this rule should be made into a banner and hung up where it can be seen by everyone attending a wargames club or show, and that people who cannot or will not abide by it should be treated as pariahs (Rant over!).

Whilst this is not a true 'guiding principle' when it comes to the process of designing and developing wargames rules, I always have it in mind as this is the spirit in which I want my wargames to be fought. I used to have this statement at the beginning of all my wargames rules (along with Fred T Jane's ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’) ... and I think that I might well include both in all my future ones.

Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Dice’ rule
Joseph Morschauser had a simple rule for adjudicating events that were not covered by a specific rule. It states:

‘Let the dice decide!’

Simply put, if two players cannot resolve a situation that arises during a wargame to their mutual satisfaction, then they should each throw a dice, and the winner’s ‘solution’ prevails. Morschauser considered that time spent arguing about what should happen was time wasted, and that the important thing was to get on with the wargame and argue afterwards.

My own ‘Discard rule’
I have heard other members of Wargame Developments refer to this as ‘Cordery’s Rule of Wargame Design’. It states that:

’If players consistently ignore a rule because it does not make sense or hinders the flow of the wargame, then the rule should be discarded. If players do not notice that it has gone, then it probably should not have been there in the first place.’

This has stood me in good stead over the years, and has enabled me to ‘strip out’ lots of unnecessary rules and verbiage.

These are my ‘guiding principles’ for writing wargames rules. I wonder if other writers and developers of wargame rules have similar ‘guiding principles’?

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Nugget 130 ... A particularly good issue

In preparation for yesterday's blog entry, I read through NUGGET No.130 ... and realised that it contained an article that had important ramifications for my subsequent wargame designs. The article was written by Ian Drury and was a report about a session he had run at the previous COW (Conference of Wargamers). The report – which was entitled 'Return to New Stanhall' – described his game about an opposed landing in the South Pacific during the Second World War, and included a complete set of rules.

During the following year I developed Ian's rules into a set of Colonial wargames rules called SCWaRes (Simple Colonial Wargames Rules) that used a gridded playing surface. I demonstrated SCWaRes at a subsequent COW, and I began to be convinced that this was they way forward for my future wargame designs.

A photograph of my very first play-test of the rules that eventually became SCWaRes.

A photograph of one of the battles fought as part of the Mirkat Campaign. The rules used were the final version of SCWaRes.

Over the next few years I continued to develop my ideas, influenced by Ian Drury and Richard Brook's RED SQUARES rules (e.g. REDCOATS AND DERVISHES) and by Mike & Joyce Smith's TABLE TOP BATTLES: TABLE TOP WARGAMING WITH MINIATURES. The end result of this process was WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!

The next major 'leap forward' was my re-discovery of Joseph Morschauser's book, HOW TO PLAY WAR GAMES IN MINIATURE. The illustrations of Morschauser's battles fought on a gridded battlefield spurred me on to research further into his wargame designs ... and these researches were incorporated into John Curry's re-print of Morschauser's book and subsequently to my latest opus THE PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

And to think that all this began thirteen years ago!

Monday 13 June 2011

A game from the archives

I recently wrote a post on the FUNNY LITTLE WARS Yahoo Group about a lawn game I ran at COW1998. It was a re-fight (in the loosest sense of the term) of the Battle of Santiago (1898) and involved model ships made out of Oasis (the grey, dry blocks of foam used by flower arrangers) and 'spud' guns.

Having re-read the article I wrote about the game in THE NUGGET No.130, I think that some of my regular blog readers might like to read the article. It contains all the rules used and the scenario, and shows that you develop fun games that can be played by a large group of people in a fairly short period of time.

‘Where is Sampson?’ – The Battle of Santiago (1898)

This session arose out of a long-standing interest I have had in naval wargaming, coupled with the appearance over the past few years of large-scale ship models in games at various wargames shows throughout the country. I began to ponder on the possibilities of fighting naval battles in a large hall or on a lawn using large-scale models, and soon found that I was not the only person thinking along these lines. I also discovered that there are several groups of enthusiasts in North America and Europe who fight such battles using radio-controlled models on large lakes. Their models are usually 1:72nd, 1:96th or 1:144th scale (each group seems to have its own favourite), are propelled by electric motors, and fire BB shot from CO2-powered cannons. Furthermore their balsa models sink when they have been repeatedly holed beneath the waterline and the ship’s pumps are unable to cope with the increasing in-rush of water – very realistic indeed! This system appealed to me, but the cost would be prohibitive and it would be impossible to stage at COW.

I was, therefore, in a quandary. What I wanted was a cheap alternative. I also needed a battle to re-fight. The answers to both these problems came to me somewhat serendipitously. I happened to be looking up some information about the Spanish-American War when I realised that 100th anniversary of the Battle of Santiago fell on the weekend of COW. I mentioned this to my wife, who was, at that precise moment, arranging some flowers into a display using a block of florist’s Oasis. I immediately realised that the Oasis, which is about £1.00 for a block 9” x 3” x 3” (22.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 7.5 cm) and which can be cut with a bread-knife, could be the building material I was looking for. After some experimentation I found that I could build two or three simple but recognisable, approximately 1:300th scale models of turn-of-the-century battleships and cruisers out of one block of Oasis. All I needed now was a method of simulating naval gunfire.

Again chance took a hand. On this occasion I had reason to confiscate a “spud” gun from a pupil who was using it to fire at other pupils in a lesson I was covering for an absent colleague. Later, when I was idly sitting in my office with the “spud” gun, trying to decide what to do with it, it suddenly dawned on me that the best way to simulate gunfire is to fire a gun, and that I had in my hand a relatively safe, environmentally-friendly, bio-degradable way of doing just that.

As soon as I got home I set up one of my experimental ship models in the garden, “stole” a potato from the vegetable rack in the kitchen, and proceeded to undertake some target practice. The results were even better than I had expected. The “spud” pellets were easily capable of causing damage to the Oasis material that the ship was made from, and the holes looked very realistic indeed. No arguments would ensue about whether or not a shell had hit its target – the evidence was visible to all who wanted to see it! I now had the essential elements of my game – or so I thought.

The problem of finding enough “spud” guns caused a temporary set-back in my planning, but a trip to my local discount toy shop soon provided me with enough guns for the game at a cost of under £20.00. The ship models took me about three to four hours to make, and cost the princely sum of £4.00. The movement measuring tapes were made out of a roll of discarded tape found by my wife in her sewing basket. I now had all the physical elements I needed for the game; the next stage was the write the rules.

The Rules
1. General Rules:
Nothing may be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war.

2. Moves:
Movement is alternate; the Spanish move first, then fire; the Americans move second, then fire.

3. Movement:
Ships may move up to the maximum length of their individual movement measuring tapes, subject to any penalties imposed by damage or speed changes.

4. Movement Measuring Tapes:
The Movement Measuring Tapes are graduated in movement units of 9” (22.5 cm), each movement unit representing the distance moved by a ship at 3 knots of speed.

5. Speed Changes:
Ships may accelerate from stationary at a speed change rate of one movement unit per move or may decelerate whilst moving at a speed change rate of one movement unit per move.

6. The Effect of Damage on Movement – Hull Hits
Every two hull hits on a cruiser and every three hull hits on a battleship reduces its speed AT ONCE by one movement unit.

7. The Effect of Damage on Movement – Funnel Hits
Every two funnel hits on a ship reduces its speed AT ONCE by one movement unit.

8. The Effect of Damage on Movement – Bridge Hits
If a ship’s bridge is hit it will remain on its present course and at its present speed for D6 moves, subject to penalties imposed by further damage.

9. Waterline Hull Hits:
Any hit that is inflicted in the area where the bottom of the hull meets the surface of the sea is deemed to be a waterline hull hit.

10. Sinking:
A cruiser will sink once it has received 3 waterline hull hits; a battleship will sink once it has received 6 waterline hull hits.

11. Armament and Ammunition:
Each ship is allocated armament (a “spud” gun) and a supply of ammunition (a potato). Neither may be replaced during the course of the game.

12. Firing Procedure:
When it is a side’s turn to fire, the players kneel or crouch behind their model ships. When the umpires deem it to be safe, they will announce that the ten second firing period has begun. Players fire one handed over their models at the enemy and may fire as many times as the wish during the ten seconds, but may not fire once the umpires have announced that the firing period is over.

13. Damage Adjudication:
Once the firing period is over, the umpires adjudicate on the damage caused.

14. The Effect of Damage on Turrets:
If a ship’s turret or turrets are hit the player must fire with their other hand for the next two moves.

15. Ramming:
This is not permitted. See Rule 1.

16. Collisions:
Ships that collide will suffer D6 hull hits, half of which (rounded up) will be waterline hull hits.

17. Scuttling:
A player may scuttle their ship by declaring that they wish to do so at the beginning of their side’s move. A scuttled ship will take D6 moves to sink.

The Game Set-up
It is 9.30 a.m. on Sunday 3rd July, 1898. The majority of ships in the US squadron that is blockading Santiago de Cuba are at anchor, and their officers are conducting the usual Sunday inspections. The ships of the squadron are arranged in a rough semi-circle approximately two miles in diameter, with the semi-circle centred on the on the main fort defending the narrow approached to the harbour, Morro Castle (see map).

From west to east the order of the ships is as follows:
USS Brooklyn (Cruiser)
USS Texas (Battleship)
USS Iowa (Battleship)
USS Oregon (Battleship)
USS Indiana (Battleship)

In the absence of Admiral Sampson, who is nine miles away steaming eastward towards a conference with General Shafter at Siboney aboard the cruiser USS New York, Commodore Schley commands the squadron. At 9.30a.m. the quartermaster aboard Schley’s flagship – the USS Brooklyn – spots smoke rising from the entrance to the harbour, and moments later the leading Spanish ship – the flagship of the Spanish squadron, the cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa – dashes out of the harbour entrance, closely followed by the cruisers Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, and Alimrante Oquendo. At once, the American ships sound “General Quarters”, and the first shots of the battle are fired … but where is Sampson?

The Re-fight
The Spanish sailed forth and immediately turned south-west. This brought them on to a direct collision course with USS Brooklyn, which bore the brunt of their attack. Lead by the Infanta Maria Teresa and Cristobal Colon, every Spanish cruisers’ gun were brought to bear on the luckless Brooklyn, and within a very short time her hull and upperworks were riddled by shot and shell. Despite this she attempted to fight on, and before she sank she was able to inflict some damage upon her attackers.

The USS Texas was the next American ship to become a target of the Spanish squadron, and very soon she was in a severely damaged state. However by this time the Spanish were themselves beginning to suffer from an accumulation of damage and problems with their guns, just as the faster US battleships came into range. In short order the Cristobal Colon, the Vizcaya, and the Almirante Oquendo were all pounded to a standstill by superior American firepower, and were scuttled by their captains in order to avoid capture.

Only the Infanta Maria Teresa was left to face the wrath of the pursuing Americans, and very wisely her captain took her up to full speed and maintained his westward course. Earlier damage had, however, taken its toll on the Spanish ship’s ability to steam at high speed, and gradually the American ships – now joined by Admiral Sampson in the USS New York – came within gunfire range. A hail of shells rained down on the luckless Spanish cruiser, and after suffering fatal damage, she struck her colours. Victory was America’s, but at the cost of a sunken cruiser and a badly damaged battleship.

As a game designer one has to rely on the feed-back of the players in order to make any judgement on the success or otherwise of one's game. In this case the feed-back was very positive indeed, and included the following comments:
1. The gunnery system worked very effectively.
2. It was easy to see whether or not a ship was damaged, and where the damage had been caused.
3. The game moved along at a cracking pace, and the players had plenty to do.
4. It was fun!

Sunday 12 June 2011

I have been to ... Broadside 2011

More than thirty years ago I taught I young man who had an interest in wargaming. This shared interest developed into a friendship that has survived the test of time, and which is one of the good things that resulted from my long career as an educator.

The young man's name is Alan Abbey ... and he is now one of the leading lights behind the Milton Hundred Wargames Club. Today the club organised its first wargames show - Broadside 2011 - and I had the privilege of being able to attend it.

This was a relatively small show, but I think that it has the potential to become a fixture on the round of wargames shows that take place every year in the UK. Once you find the location (I had problems as my SatNav decided to do an automatic upgrade two miles short of the venue ... and I got lost!) and get parked, it was easy to find one's way into the Swallow Leisure Centre in Sittingbourne, Kent. The entrance fee was just £3.00 (and non-wargaming partners and children under sixteen were allowed in free ... a good marketing ploy), which is quite cheap for such an event.

The entrance was a bit hot and steamy, but once inside the two halls being used for the show, the temperature cooled down to a comfortable level. The signage inside was easy to follow, as was the guide that was given out with the event badge and wristband one was given as one entered.

The event was well supported by sponsors (Pen and Sword Books), traders, and local wargames clubs, and I could have spent a lot of money had I had it; in fact, I found more potential purchases at this show than I have at some of the larger ones over the past few years.

The traders included:
  • Pen and Sword Books
  • Second City Games
  • Conquest Games
  • Harfields Military Figures
  • Brigade Models
  • Frontline Wargaming
  • IT Miniatures
  • Shellhole Scenics
  • Alchemy Miniatures
  • Lesleys Bits Box
  • Redoubt Miniatures
  • Tumbling Dice
  • Realistic Modelling Services
  • Dark Heart
  • Andy's Models
  • Red Knight Wargames
  • Tole Haven UK
  • Of Dice and Men
  • Products for Wargamers
  • David Lanchester Books
  • Steve Weston's Toy Soldiers
  • Taylor and Smith Ltd.
  • The Plastic Soldier Company
  • Gringo 40's
  • Armourfast Military Models
  • JJ's Second Hand Books and Kits
  • Crooked Dice
  • KO'ed Dice Bags
  • AAA Models
  • The Last Valley
  • B.E.F. Miniatures
  • Q.R.F. Models
  • Monarch Military Books
The wargames groups that were represented included:
  • The A20 gamers: Warhammer 40,000 battle
  • Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society: Flames of War desert battle
  • Maidstone Wargames Society: Interactive World War 2 game
  • H&B Gaming: 'Space Wars' participation game
  • STaB, Bournemouth: 'Space Vixens from Mars!' game
  • Realistic Modelling Services: Franco-Prussian battle
  • Second City Games: 28mm Sci-fi game
  • Rainham Wargames Club: Western Gunfight
  • Friday Night Fire Fight Club: Suez crisis game
  • Hornchurch Heroes: Flames of War battle
  • Of Dice and Men: Dystopia Wars
  • Medway Wargames Society: Victorian Dinosaur hunt
  • Whitstable and Herne Bay Wargamers: World War 1 battle
  • SEEMS: Napoleonic Naval battle
  • Shepway Wargames Club: North West Frontier battle
  • British Model Soldier Society
  • Twydal Wargames Club
Note: I did take a lot more photographs but the light quality in one of the halls meant that the pictures were all but unusable.

I did make one purchase. It was a book that David Crook pointed out to me - THE ROYAL NAVY & THE PERUVIAN-CHILEAN WAR 1879-1881: RUDOLPH DE LISLE'S DIARIES & WATERCOLOURS edited by Gerard de Lisle (Pen and Sword Maritime [2008] ISBN 978 1 84415 652 8).

This book ticks so many boxes that it was irresistible. Not only is its subject one that has been of great interest to me of late, it also contains reproductions of some unique watercolour paintings of the ships involved in the war and the coastal areas in which they operated. Furthermore, Rudolph de Lisle served with the Naval Brigade during the Gordon Relief Expedition. He was killed at the Battle of Abu Klea when the Gardner Gun under his command jammed and its position was overrun by the Mahdist troops.

I enjoyed my visit to Broadside 2011. It was a cracking good little wargames show ... and I am already looking forward to going to Broadside 2012!

The portable wargame: The Spanish Civil War

Last March I wrote a blog entry about a battle that Nick Huband had fought using the then current version of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules. Nick is a fellow member of Wargame Developments, and in that past we have often discussed our shared interest in some of the more obscure wars that have been fought during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The wargame that Nick fought was an action based on the Battle of Homs (1832). Since then he has been building up a couple of small Spanish Civil War armies, and yesterday he sent me a battle report about an action he fought using the modern version of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules. I was so impressed by both his report and the photographs that he sent with it, that I asked for – and obtained – his permission to share it with my blog readers.

Report on an action using the modern version of the portable wargame
CTV vs. Anarchist militia on the opening day of the Battle of Guadaljara

Opposing forces:
Italian CTV
  • 2 x Light Tank Units (CV33)
  • 7 x Infantry Units
  • 1 x HMG Unit
  • 1 x Field Artillery Unit
  • 1x Command Unit
Anarchist militia
  • 1 x Light Tank Unit (FT17)
  • 6 x Infantry Units
  • 1 x HMG Unit
It is the opening day of the Battle of Guadaljara, the advance guard of the 4th Infantry Division “Littorio” is jumping off to seize the monastery of San Pedro which is believed to be held by anarchist militia.

Special rules: the tanks involved are either very light (CV33) or very old and slow (FT17) and are treated as tanks for movement and close assault and armoured cars for all else meaning that they can be knocked out by ranged fire from HMG’s or close assault by infantry (Molotov cocktails and dynamite bags).

Turn 1
The CTV gain the initiative and jump off down the road with a flanking force moving off on the right using their full activation roll of 9.
The Anarchists start to move their tank across to meet the threat.

Turn 2
The CTV artillery opens up on the Anarchist HMG behind the wall to the front.
Shells hit the target but to no effect.
The CTV again have the initiative. The tanks roll forward but the right flank supports lag behind with a poor activation roll of 5.
The Anarchists continue to redeploy their tank.

Turn 3
The CTV artillery again opens up on the Anarchist HMG position behind the wall to the right of the road. Shells hit the target but again to no effect.
The CTV tanks open up with their HMG’s on the monastery and HMG position to no effect.

The Anarchist HMG knocks out the right hand tank and the infantry in the adjacent houses knock out one stand of CTV infantry – first blood to the Anarchists.

Turn 4
Poor shooting by the CTV artillery as it misses the Anarchist HMG again.
The Anarchists gain the initiative and move their tank onto the road
The CTV now have only four activation dice and roll 5. With their right flank attack slowing down, they try to regroup for a push straight down the road. The tank on the road fires into the monastery knocking out the Anarchists defending it.

Turn 5
The CTV artillery now tries to hit the Anarchist tank and fails.
The CTV tank and HMG now fire at the Anarchist infantry beside the monastery but roll 1 and 2 so no effect.
The Anarchists now reoccupy the monastery and move troops up to support their tank.

Turn 6
The CV artillery tries again to hit the Anarchist tank but fails.
With the CTV tanks within striking distance of the monastery it now need a good activation roll to push through and take the objective. Unfortunately, they throw a dismal 1.
In true Anarchist fashion, the troops in the monastery close assault the lead CV33 with dynamite, blowing it up. The Anarchist HMG also knocks out an infantry stand.

Turn 7
The CTV artillery, ignoring the proximity of their own troops tries again to knock out the tank and, to the relief of all concerned, fails.
The Anarchists continue their attack and knock out the infantry supporting the CV33. The CTV has now lost 50% of their starting strength and with both tanks lost have no chance of reaching their objective. They pull back to their start line.

I had a very enjoyable game with the outcome in the balance until turn 6 when the CTV threw a truly dismal activation roll and their attack fell apart. The rules were easy to understand and produced a fast flowing game which reached a result in under an hour. My only query with the rules is whether the artillery fire at the start of the turn should count against the activation roll.

As you can see, I reclassified the tanks as essentially slow armoured cars, might it be useful to add a “light tank” row to the table?

The rules seem particularly appropriate for WW1, interwar and WW2 games where tanks do not dominate the battlefield and can be disabled by infantry and HMG fire.

I am a great fan of having appropriate buildings on the battlefield as I find that nothing “sets the scene” better. Admittedly, the buildings here were Italian and built for my 1848 game but they were designed to fit into the 55mm squares I use. They were made of 3mm art board for the walls and lighter card for the rest.

The portable wargame: Drawing a line

With COW2011 (the Conference of Wargamers) looming every closer, I need to stop tinkering with my PORTABLE WARGAME rules and move on to preparing for the Conference. As a result I have decided to call a halt to any further changes to the rules ... for the moment.

I have therefore uploaded the latest draft of the rules to THE PORTABLE WARGAME WEBSITE so that any interested reader can read and/or print a copy for their own use. I have also added Ross Mac's 'Unit Quality' rule to the 'Additional Rules' webpage and begun work on a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) webpage.

Saturday 11 June 2011

COW2011: The final preparations are under way

COW2011 (the Conference of Wargamers) takes place in four weeks time. In fact it begins on Friday 8th July, so in four weeks time we will actually be well into the first morning of the conference.

Because Tim Gow and I are the conference organisers, our preparations for COW are not confined to just getting our sessions ready; he prepares the whole COW programme (including the timetable), and I deal with the administration. So far this morning I have sent out the final payment reminders to those members who have yet to pay in full as well as a cheque and list of attendees to the venue, Knuston Hall.

Over the next week or so I will have to process the final payments made by attendees, sent a final list (and payment) to Knuston Hall, print copies of the programme that Tim will send me and post them out to the attendees, and do all those small but vital jobs that organising any event seem to require. I also need to prepare for my two sessions. The first will be devoted to my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, and will describe how they were developed to date and then - the most important part - give session attendees the opportunity to fight a battle with them. The second session will be a battle using the FUNNY LITTLE WARS rules. This will see the first outing of the as yet to be organised Cordeguayan Army, when it will face the might of Forbodia across the Knuston Hall lawn (or in the Practical Room, if wet!).

All this will be taking place during the last few weeks before my retirement from full-time work and whilst my wife and I are trying to find a new home for my father-in-law (and selling his old one) and my brother and I are supervising the sale of my father's house.

The next few weeks are likely to be quite busy (that is a bit of an understatement, by the way!) and I may not be able to blog quite as often as I have over recent months. That said, as I find blogging to be an excellent way to relieve some of the tensions that build up during the day, I may well end up blogging even more than usual!

Friday 10 June 2011

Newly arrived ...

Over the past week or so, a number of parcels containing military history-related books and DVDs have been delivered.

The first to arrive was a DVD entitled THE WINTER WAR: THE TRUE STORY OF A BATTLE AGAINST ALL ODDS. This is a fictional account of the 1939 - 1940 war between Finland and Soviet Russia, and judging by the excerpts I have seen already, it appears to be fairly realistic.

The film tells the story of a platoon of reservists from Kauhava in Southern Ostrobothnia who are serving in the 23rd Infantry Regiment of the Finnish Army. The makers tried to ensure the film was as authentic as possible and used as much genuine (or accurate replica) military hardware from the period as possible, including T-26 light tanks, a Tupolev SB fast bomber, and Polikarpov I-16 fighters.

This was followed a few days later by WARSHIP 2011. This is the thirty-third volume in the series, and I own every volume.

This issue contains articles about:
  • The US Navy's Lexington Class Battle Cruiser designs
  • The Cruiser Dupuy-De-Lôme
  • The Battle for Casablanca November 1942
  • The Croiseur de Battaille de 37000 Tonnes
  • Modern Amphibious Assault Ships
  • Battle at Valparaiso 1866
  • Bussei's Hydrofoil
  • Russia's First Ironclads
  • Small cruiser designs for the RN between the wars
  • The Tomozuru incident
  • The grounding and destruction of HMS Effingham
There is a lot in this volume for anyone interested in naval history to get their teeth into ... and I am particularly interested in the articles about the Battle at Valparaiso and the Russia's First Ironclads.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Cordeguay: The National Flag

As part of my preparations for organising the Army of Cordeguay for its forthcoming 'outing' against the evil forces of Forbodia, I needed to design a flag. After looking through a host of different designs for national flags, I decided to use Chile's as the basis for Cordeguay's National Flag.

The Chilean National Flag

The Cordeguayan National Flag

The basic designs of the flags are the same, but the colours chosen for the Cordeguayan National Flag each represent some aspect of the country's geography or history.
  • Green: Represents the fertile plain where the majority of the country's crops are grown.
  • Yellow: Represents the sand of the Arrida Desert, where the nitrates are extracted.
  • Red: Represents the blood of Cordeguayans that was spilt during its struggle for independence.
  • The White Star: Represents both purity and reminds all Cordeguayans of the role General Molivar – whose personal standard had a white star at its centre – played in the liberation of Cordeguay.

My Funny Little Wars Army: Additional equipment delivered

Just as I was leaving for work this morning, one of my neighbours called across to me. Apparently a parcel addressed to me had been delivered to her house by mistake, and she had been waiting to give it to me the next time she saw me. This was the first opportunity she had had to do so, and so she thrust it into my hands just before I drove off.

Work was quite busy this morning, and now that it is lunchtime, I have finally had the opportunity to open my parcel and find out what was inside. I was very pleased by what I found.

The parcel had been sent to me by Tim Gow (a fellow member of Wargame Developments and builder of FUNNY LITTLE WARS armies), and it contained two non-firing 54mm-scale American Civil War cannon, their limbers (something I am in desperate need of), and an unmade model of a Rolls Royce car that will be very suitable as a staff car for my army's general. The parcel was unexpected, which made its arrival all the more exciting and interesting.

The arrival of the parcel also reminded me that I must begin organising my FUNNY LITTLE WARS army for COW2011 ... which is now only four weeks away!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

The portable wargame: Yet more arms-length play-testing!

The number of people who have been conducting play-tests of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules continues to grow! Brigadier Dundas has a blog entitled DISPATCHES FROM MULTAN that is devoted to wargaming the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars, and his latest blog entry is a report of a battle he has fought using my rules. The photographs are first rate, as are the captions for each one. This is the sort of battle that I had in mind to fight when I began writing these rules, and it is pleasing to see that they produced such an excellent wargame.

Furthermore, it is extremely encouraging to know that people seem to have very little difficulty understanding the game mechanisms I have used in the rules, and are happy that the results are not too ridiculous. It makes me feel that the time I have spent developing the rules has not be wasted.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

The portable wargame: The final draft?

The recent play-tests that Ross Mac, Ron Porter, littlejohn, and I have all run seem to indicate that the current version of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules are close to being ready to be 'signed off'. They are not perfect (are any set of wargames rules?) but they have now got to the stage where the basic rules are fairly fixed, and only minor tinkering and adjustments are needed.

I have had requests for various minor clarifications to be included in the next draft, and it has been suggested that the wording needs to be changed in one or two places to make some of the rules more succinct and easier to understand. I have therefore decided to make that my next priority, after which I will need to begin the process of preparing for COW2011 as it is only just over four weeks away.

Monday 6 June 2011

Cordeguay: Some background notes

The following information about Cordeguay was gleaned from the pages of an old copy of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica':
  • Cordeguay is located close to several other small South American countries, including Sulaco, Coastguana, Nuevo Rico, San Theodoros, and Olifa.
  • The country is divided into three main geographical regions: a coastal plain, a chain of mountains, and a desert (the Arrida Desert).
  • The original inhabitants of the area are the Quincas, and the majority of the native population is descended from them. The Quincas worshipped the Sun, but unlike other South American native cultures they did not use human sacrifices as part of their ceremonies.
  • There are two main Quinca tribes, the Amontillado and Manzanilla. Their culture is mainly agrarian and the main crops they grow are corn and barley (the latter being used to brew a local beer-like alcoholic drink called borrachin), with sheep-rearing (for meat and wool) predominating in the foothill and mountain areas.
  • Cordeguay has three official languages: Spanish, English, and Quinca.
  • Cordeguay is named after Juan Cordes, the conquistador whose small army seized the country for the King of Spain. The use of cavalry and firearms ensured that Cordes’ conquistadors were able to achieve a bloody victory over the Quincas at the First Battle of Atramentum.
  • Cordeguay gained its independence from Spain in the 1820s, when General Molivar led the Army of Liberation to victory over the Spanish Army at the Second Battle of Atramentum.
  • The currency of Cordeguay is the Cordeguayan Quinca. The Quinca is divided into 100 Centimos.
  • The main exports of Cordeguay are nitrates, silver, gold, and wool.
  • Cordeguay is a democratic plutarchy (a combination of a plutocracy and oligarchy). Only those people who have sufficient wealth or property qualify to vote; to date, no Quinca has every voted in an election. Elections for the House of Deputies (the lower chamber of the Cortes Generales) are held every five years, and elections for the House of Senators (the upper chamber) take place every seven years. The President is always a member of the House of Senators, and is either elected by the House of Senators sitting as an electoral college or by Military Acclamation. The current President of the Republic is General Chapuchero.

Sunday 5 June 2011

The portable wargame: The Battle for Long Ridge

I managed to find enough time this morning to begin the process of play-testing the latest draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules. As I needed to set it up as quickly as possible, and because the space available was rather limited, I used my Heroscape™ hexed terrain for the battlefield.

The battlefield is dominated by a long, low ridge – called Long Ridge – which has a small hill at one end of it – One Tree Hill. The ridge is bisected at one end by a narrow valley that leads to White Farm, which is the attacker's objective.

The forces involved are a Prussian (the attackers) and Austro-Hungarian (the defenders), and the battle will end once one side is reduced to 50% of its original strength in Units.

The Prussians have:
  • 1 x Command Unit
  • 8 x Infantry Units
  • 2 x Light Infantry Units (who can be moved as if they were Native Infantry)
  • 2 x Field Artillery Units
The Prussians start the battle being able to throw 5 Activation Dice and will end the battle once they have suffered the loss of 7 Units.

The Austro-Hungarians have:
  • 1 x Command Unit
  • 4 x Infantry Units
  • 1 x Light Infantry Unit (who can be moved as if they were Native Infantry)
  • 1 x Field Artillery Unit
The Austro-Hungarians start the battle being able to throw 3 Activation Dice and will end the battle once they have suffered the loss of 4 Units.

Turn 1
The Austro-Hungarians have occupied the Long Ridge, with their Field Artillery Unit close to the centre of the ridge, flanked on either side by an Infantry Unit. The Light Infantry have taken up a position on the left of the Austro-Hungarian position on One Tree Hill. The Command Unit is positioned to the rear of the Field Artillery Unit, and the two remaining Infantry Units are held back in reserve.

The Prussians deploy facing the ridge, with the bulk of their Infantry units in the centre and the Field Artillery Units to the left of the centre. The Light Infantry units form the right of the Prussian line.

As all the Field Artillery Units are in range of each other, the turn begins with an artillery barrage. Both the Prussian Units undershoot, but the Austro-Hungarians are on target and 'pin' one of the Prussian Units.

Both sides throw for initiative, and the Austro-Hungarians win, but decide not to do anything further this turn so do not throw their Activation Dice.

The Prussians throw their Activation Dice, and can activate 10 Units. The first activation 'unpins' the 'pinned' Artillery Unit. The next 4 are used to move both Light Infantry Units forward twice (they can do this because for the purposes of activation they are being treated as Native Infantry), and the final 5 are used to move 5 of the Infantry Units forward.

Turn 2
The artillery duel continues, with the Austro-Hungarians undershooting this time ... but the Prussian are on target and the Austro-Hungarian Field Artillery Unit is destroyed.

Both sides throw a D6 for initiative, and the Prussians win. They throw their Activation Dice and can activate 8 Units. They use 7 of these to move Units forward along the whole line (including the Command Unit, which is now just behind the right wing of the Prussian line.

The final activation is used by the left-hand Light Infantry Unit to fire at the Austro-Hungarian Light Infantry Unit on One Tree Hill. It can fire because it has not moved this turn. Even though the target is in the open, the Prussian Light Infantry are unable to hit it.

The Austro-Hungarians now throw their Activation Dice and can activate 3 Units. They choose not to move any of their Units, but use their activations so that the Infantry Units on the ridge and One Tree Hill can fire at the nearest Prussian Units.

Their shooting is far more effective, and the Prussians lose 1 of their left-hand Infantry Units, whilst another Infantry Unit and the right-hand Light Infantry Unit are 'pinned'.

Turn 3
The Prussian Artillery Units now begin to pound the Austro-Hungarian Infantry Units on the ridge ... but to no effect. One of the Units undershoots ... and only just misses one of its own side's Infantry Units(!), whilst the other is on target but does no damage.

Both sides throw again to determine which has the initiative, and the Austro-Hungarians win. They throw their Activation Dice and discover that can only activate 2 Units. They again choose to stand their ground and to fire at the oncoming Prussians, as a result of which they 'pin' two further Prussian Infantry Units.

The Prussians then throw their Activation Dice and can activate 9 Units.

The Prussian Commander decides to take a gamble, and uses 2 activations to move his unpinned Light Infantry Unit forward and up the first contour of the ridge so that it can attack the Austro-Hungarian Light Infantry on One Tree Hill. He uses 4 more to remove the 'pins' from his Units and 1 more so that his only leading 'unpinned' Infantry Unit can fire at the left-hand Austro-Hungarian Infantry Unit on the ridge ... which it destroys. The remaining activations are unused.

The Close Combat between the opposing Light Infantry Units takes place.

Both Units have a Close Combat Power of 4, but because the Prussian Unit is attacking an enemy Unit that is one hill contour above it, its Close Combat Power is reduced by 1. (Note: Even though the Austro-Hungarian Unit is one hill contour above the Prussian Unit it does not increase its Close Combat Power by 1 because it is defending and not attacking. If it had initiated the Close Combat it would have qualified for the increased Close Combat Power). The Prussians throw 1 and the Austro-Hungarians throw 4, with the result that both Units are destroyed. The Prussian Commander's gamble seems to have paid off even though he has had to sacrifice a Unit in order to attempt to gain a foothold on the ridge.

Turn 4
The Austro-Hungarians are now in a precarious position. They only have an Infantry Unit and the Command Unit on Long Ridge, and are unlikely to be able to stop the Prussians from getting troops onto the ridge in the near future. Furthermore, the loss of the Light Infantry Unit has reduced the number of Activation Dice they can throw to 2. To further complicate matters, they only have to lose 1 more Unit and they will have to concede the battle.

The Prussian Field Artillery Units open fire on the sole remaining Austro-Hungarian Infantry Unit they can see ... and both overshoot, hitting the hex occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Command Unit ... which is destroyed. The leaderless Austro-Hungarians have now lost over 50% of their initial strength, and must withdraw from the battlefield.

Both sides throw a D6 to see which of them will have the initiative this turn. Unfortunately for the Austro-Hungarians, the Prussians have the initiative. The Prussians throw their Activation Dice, and can move 7 Units, and these activations are used to mount a general advance along the whole front.

The Austro-Hungarians throw their Activation Die (they only have one left!), and can only activate a single unit. The Infantry Unit on the ridge could withdraw or it could fire ... and it chooses to fire ... and 'pins' the nearest Prussian Infantry Unit.

Turn 5
The Prussian Field Artillery Units open fire on the remaining Austro-Hungarian Infantry Unit ... and both undershoot!

The two sides throw for initiative, and the Austro-Hungarians win. They throw their Activation Die, and can activate 3 Units. All the Austro-Hungarian Units withdraw, and the Prussians are left in possession of the battlefield.

First and foremost, the rules – including the newly added ones – work and produce an interesting battle. The actual playing time was less than an hour, but the need to take photographs for this battle report (and to write the battle report ‘as things happened’) meant that it took me just over 3 hours from start to finish.

It was hardly likely that the Austro-Hungarians were likely to win the battle, as they were outnumbered and had not had time to dig any fortifications. I therefore intend to re-run the scenario at some time in the future with the Austro-Hungarians in entrenchments. I suspect that this will make the result of the battle a little less predictable.

Saturday 4 June 2011

The portable wargame: Terrain effects

In his most recent play-test of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, Ross Mac posed some questions about the terrain effects that feature in the current version of the rules. He asked some very pertinent questions ... and I have been musing on them ever since.

My wife and I have spent most of this morning (and a large chunk of this afternoon) at my father's house making sure that it is neat and tidy before any potential buyers go to view it. Luckily my sister had already done quite a bit of sorting out whilst she had been staying there for the past five days, and we had done a lot of the heavy work before she arrived. I had planned to 'treat' myself to a play-test of my rules once I got back home ... but Ross Mac's questions preyed on my mind, and I have been trying to come up with some workable solutions that I can include in my play-test.

In the end, my solution is to replace the relevant extant parts of the Special Rules section as follows:

  • Units may only move up or down one hill contour each time they are activated.
  • Units may not attack enemy Units that are more than one hill contour above or below them.
  • A Unit that is attacking an enemy Unit that is one hill contour above it reduces its Close Combat Power by 1.
  • A Unit that is attacking an enemy Unit that is one hill contour below it increases its Close Combat Power by 1.
  • Hills block line of sight except when a Unit on a hill is looking at another Unit that is on a hill that is the same height and no higher hill blocks the line of sight between the two Units.
  • Mounted Cavalry Units moving through woods may only move 1 hex every time they are activated.
  • Units attacking enemy Units that are in woods reduce their Close Combat Power by 1, even if the attacking Unit is also in the woods.
These are based upon ideas that I have used before, and are derived from Joseph Morschauser's original rules and my development of Richard Borg's BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR '44 rules, MEMOIR OF BATTLE.