Monday, 11 July 2011

COW2011: A photo report

I arrived at Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire after a very tiring journey from London via the M11 and A14. Not only was the traffic heavy, so was the rain! The latter made driving conditions very hazardous at times, and I was extremely pleased when I finally pulled up outside the Hall and began to unload my luggage. Many of the attendees had already arrived, and it was lovely to receive such warm welcomes from so many old friends.

Friday Night
After dinner, the conference got under way. Tim Gow – my co-organiser – introduced the Plenary Game, for which the attendees were split into six teams.

The conference attendees waiting to start the Plenary Game.

Tim Gow explains the Plenary Game.

We were all given the name of a famous military action that we were to ‘interpret’ to the rest of the attendees through the medium of dance and song. (We were given the opportunity to choose one of two military actions to ‘interpret’: we chose The Charge of The Light Brigade rather than the Battle of Bannockburn.)

Needless to say we acquitted ourselves well in the task, but were let down by our decision to only give each of our rivals one vote for their style and content; they retaliated by giving us low scores … and we came last! The Plenary Game is intended to be an ‘ice breaker’ and this one certainly achieved that … and gave everyone a lot of fun and laughs as well.

We then moved on to the After Dinner Games. I intended to have a go at Richard Brooks’ BROKEN SQUARE solo game, but after watching two other people play, I was too tired to take my turn and went to bed to sleep.

The Egyptian square prepares to move off.

The Egyptian square runs into trouble.

The first encounter between the Egyptian square and the Mahdists. After inflicting casualties on the Mahdists, the square eventually pushed on towards its objective.

What I liked about Richard’s game was both its unpredictability and its simplicity. It was possible to get almost across the board, and then – when the final goal was in sight – for everything to go wrong.

Saturday Morning
Some years ago I demonstrated WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! rules at COW, and Wayne Thomas and David Brock have used them as the basis for their own rules for the Spanish-American War of 1898. I was too late to sign up for one of the player roles in this game, but I decided to act as an observer … and I am very glad that I did!

The American forces preparing to move forward to engage the Spanish defenders.

The American forces deploy from the forest into the open area in front of the Spanish defences.

The Americans mount their final assault on the centre of the Spanish defences.

As you can see from the photographs, the Americans outnumbered the Spanish, who were dug in along a line of hills. The Americans had some difficulty in deploying their superior numbers in the open ground in front of the Spanish positions, but eventually they managed to mount an attack which succeeded in breaking into the centre of the Spanish trenches. During the fighting, the Spanish commander was killed, and this marked the turning point of the battle.

A splendid little wargame about a ‘splendid little war’!

I did manage to get to see part of Ian Drury’s BATTLE OF KNUSTON COURTHOUSE, which was taking place in the next door room to A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR. The rules being used were a version of Ian’s REDCOATS & REBELS, and as the photograph shows …

The heavily wooded terrain around Knuston Courthouse.

… the hexed terrain was covered in trees in order to represent the very wooded terrain so often fought over during the American War of Independence.

Saturday Afternoon
In order to ensure that all the attendees who wanted to try out this latest development of Richard Brooks’ and Ian Drury’s Minischlacht rules system – this time with a 1:1000th ground scale using Hexon II hexes – two re-fights of the battle took place in parallel. I took part in the re-fight that was umpired by Ian Drury.

The battlefield of Froeschwiller. The Prussians (and their Bavarian allies) are advancing from the right and the French forces are occupying the left-hand side of the battlefield.

Some of the French defenders.

The Prussian Vth Corps prepares to move forward to engage the French.

The Prussians struggle to cross the river to engage the French. Every time that they manage to get a unit forward, it is pushed back after suffering casualties.

The centre of the French defences.

After moving their artillery forward, the Prussian Vth Corps finally manages to maintain a foothold on the French side of the river and pushes them out of the centre of their defences.

The Prussians finally win the battle ... but it has taken them much longer than it should have done.

In the end the Prussians – with some minor assistance from the Bavarian – overcame the French positions, but it was a hard fought battle, and although the result was historically correct, the French held out for much longer than they did during the real battle.

Tim Gow and I – in conjunction with the newly recruited FLW devotee, Jim Wallman – set out some units from our FUNNY LITTLE WARS armies and rang a few experiments with the rules.

Several of the major units of the Forbodian Army. King Boris and his staff can be seen standing next to his Rolls Royce staff car.

Some of Jim Wallman's Freedonian Army. 

Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery units of the Cordeguayan Army.

This has convinced us all that we must run a full-scale FUNNY LITTLE WARS battle at COW2013, if not beforehand. Interestingly, this session was not on the conference timetable but we had lots of attendees who popped in to have a look … and to have a go at firing the matchstick-firing cannons at our toy soldiers.

Saturday Evening
This was another of Richard Bassett’s award-winning role-play/map campaign games set during the period around when the Roman Republic was ending and Augustus Caesar was emerging as the new leader of Rome.

Rome's elite. Visible from left to right are Mike Elliott, Phil Steele, John Bassett, David Bradbury, and Roger Barnes.

My role was that of Cimber, a stalwart defender of the Republic and reputed to be the first man to strike a blow at Julius Caesar during this assassination. I managed to achieve almost all of my aims and despite the deaths of Brutus and Cassius (Wayne Thomas and Tony Hawkins), the Republican ‘party’ still retained a power base in what is modern-day Turkey.

This game will be next year’s WD Display Team North participation game. It was designed by Tim Gow and recreates the opening moves of Operation Barbarossa from June to December 1942.

Three ‘tracks’ represent the routes taken by Army Groups North, Centre, and South, and each player ‘commands’ an Army Group. The winner is the first player to get his Army Group to his objective before winter sets in.

Tim Gow demonstrates Rollbahn Ost to Richard Brooks and Graham Evans.

The game is played against the clock – we had 12 minutes to complete the game – and players can either co-operate (which pretty well guarantees the game will be over within the time limit) or concentrate on winning the game (which can mean that all the players run out of time before any of them reach their objectives).

Sunday Morning
Rob Cooper’s modern submarine warfare game is similar to one I took part in years ago … but had a few extra twists that made it very thought-provoking.

Each player is blindfolded and given a small plastic tray containing marbles. They are then placed by the umpire away from their opponent, asked to kneel down on all fours, and then attempt to torpedo their opponent by rolling a marble at them and hitting them! Players can move if they want to, and can ‘ping’ their opponent by saying ‘ping’ to which the opponent must reply ‘pong’, thus giving some idea of their possible location.

I took part in two games; I discovered that it helps not to have squeaky shoes (they are quite literally a dead giveaway!) and that although ‘pinging’ is risky, as long as you are ready to ‘fire’ your torpedoes as soon as your opponent ‘pongs’ back, you can ‘kill’ your enemy.

This was a very interesting game that has generated a few ideas for future games that can use these simple but effective mechanisms.

My session began with a short presentation that described how the PORTABLE WARGAME evolved and developed. It ended with a brief description of the main rules, after which the attendees had to opportunity to try out both the latest hexed-based version of the rules and the earlier square-based ‘modern’ version.

The feedback was very interesting. Players who tried the latest version all found that the simplicity of the rules belied its subtlety as a game. Most battles began with lots of movement, but as Units began to get pinned down, players had to devote more and more of their time and efforts into keeping their forces mobile and able to exploit any initiative they might gain.

In the foreground Philip Hooper and Fred Cartwright are trying out the latest version of my Portable Wargame rules. In the background Wayne Thomas and Richard Brooks are playing an earlier version of the rules on Nick Huband's Spanish Civil War version of the rules.

What was also very interesting was the feedback from players who tried both versions of the rules that although the use of hexes simplified the rules somewhat, squares seemed to be the preferred option because it felt and looked ‘right’.

Nick Huband's Spanish Civil War version of my Portable Wargame.

This may be something to do with the excellent game board, terrain, and figures that Nick Huband kindly brought along to the conference … but it might also reflect a genuine preference for something that can easily be reproduced without the need to buy or acquire a hexed terrain system.

A very thought-provoking that will certainly influence the development of an early twentieth century version of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

Sunday Afternoon
The session after lunch saw a few more players take the opportunity to try out my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, after which the Wargame Developments Annual General Meeting took place. There were not contentious items to discuss, and other that some brief reports by the various officers (including the conference organisers, the treasurer/membership secretary [me!], the editors of THE NUGGET and the COLOUR SUPPLEMENT and the various Display Team Co-ordinators), the conference came to a close … and we began the process of preparing for next year!

My drive home was slightly less arduous than the drive to the conference, and despite holdups on the M1 going south towards London, I managed to get home in just over 2.5 hours.


  1. Hi Bob,

    It looks like a whole lot of fun was had by all! I am intrigued by the submarine game - was there any allowance for defecting Russians and air dropped torpedoes? Dunking sonar would have been very interesting.....;-)

    On the subject of artillery for the Funny Little Wars set up - I have something that Cordeguay would be very interested in but don't tell Forbodia or anybody else......

    All the best,


  2. David Crook,

    The submarine game had no defecting Russians (the topic was, however, discussed) or air dropped torpedoes (although how to simulate this was also discussed after the game); perhaps next year it might!

    Your comments regarding artillery for the Cordeguayan FUNNY LITTLE WARS army has intrigued me, and I look forward to hearing more in due course.

    All the best,


  3. Mosstrooper,

    Perhaps one day you will be able to come to a COW and get a real flavour of what it is all about.

    All the best,


  4. Enjoyed your recap of the COW meeting.

    Interesting outcomes on game preferences regarding the Portable Wargame.

    Glad to hear you had a chance to reconnect with old friends.


  5. Brigadier Dundas (Don),

    I am pleased that you found my report enjoyable to read. It was a great weekend, and seeing lots of old friends was a great way to start my retirement.

    The feedback from my PORTABLE WARGAME session was interesting, and may result in some small but significant changes.

    All the best,


  6. Bob
    A most inspiring report full of excellent games and interesting information...
    As I have once more "rediscovered " the Spanish American war 15mm collection in the garage I must give your rules a go sometime soon.
    best wishes

  7. Tradgardmastare,

    COW was great fun. I always come back tired but with lots of new ideas.

    The Spanish-American War battle fought at COW used a slightly modified version of WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! but the rules should produce a reasonable game as they stand.

    All the best,


  8. Pdf of a hex based acw game - and a separate pdf explaining how to create 3d terrain! This is an interesting site Bob - run by west Craven wargamers - this link is to their hex based acw rules - other parts of this site, and west craven's own club site - over further free pdf downloads. kind regards, Ken

  9. Bob,
    Your convention sounds like it was great fun! Historicon took place this past weekend in Valley Forge. The highlight for me was meeting Ross Mac. I had the pleasure of taking part in one of his games on the Siege of Adelheim. Our side (the besiegers) unfortunately consisted of the two worst die rollers (me of course being one of them) in the history of the hobby. At one point, the two of having lost 24 out of 26 man-to-man melees (the other two were drawn), I suggested it might save a lot of time if Duncan and I were to simply not bother rolling any more dice. Ross was in the midst of drinking a cup of water, all of which then went "down the wrong pipe", as it were; there was much merriment and mirth among the rest of us as Ross attempted to cough up a lung.

    Ah the joys of wargaming...

    Best regards,


  10. Chris,

    It sounds like you had great fun at Historicon! COW is very different but equally enjoyable.

    I would love to be able to meet Ross Mac and to take part in one of his games ... although I might try to avoid choking him in the process!

    I had a similar run of bad dice throws during the re-fight of Froeschwiller at COW, and it is one of the reasons why it took Vth Corps to cross the river and push the French out of their defences.

    All the best,


  11. Ken H,

    Somehow I missed your comment when it first arrived. Sorry.

    Thanks for the links to the ACW rules and terrain article; I intend to have a look at them tomorrow morning.

    All the best,


  12. Bob,
    I think the preference some players expressed for the squared PW board may - in addition to the reasons you suggest - also simply be aesthetic: the grid lines on Nick's very attractive board and the divisions between the hexes on the Hexon terrain are more subtle and much less intrusive than those of the Heroscape hexes.
    It is unfortunate that the Hexon terrain has such large hexes. Hotz terrain mats from the USA have a nice range of hex sizes and colours, but shipping makes them very expensive this side of the Atlantic.
    Ease and cheapness may make me plump for squares, too.
    I enjoyed reading your CoW report very much and wish I could attend, but I really can't justify spending that much on a wargame weekend these days...

  13. Arthur1815,

    I am sure that you are right about the aesthetic aspect of squares vs. hexes. The unpainted Heroscape hexes are quite stark when compared to the subtle grid lines on Nick's board. That said, I have previously experimented with painting and flocking some Heroscape terrain, and it both enhances the look and the lines between the hexes do seem to look less noticeable.

    I will not rush into making any decisions about what to do next with regard to the PORTABLE WARGAME, but I certainly will be continuing to develop it.

    Until you are able to come to a COW again, you can still keep up with developments via THE NUGGET and the Internet ... and hopefully during some face-to-face sessions later in the year.

    All the best,


  14. Bob,
    I've just downloaded the Brothers in Arms rules, sample game and instructions on how to make 3D gameboards recommended by KenH. The 3D hex grid boards, using artists mounting board for the different contours, look really good; something similar would be ideal for a PW game of a particular battle. Well worth a look - thanks KenH!

  15. Arthur1815,

    You are ahead of me on this one, as I seem to have been writing replies to comments or writing blog entries during my free time today.

    The game sounds very promising, and I will pursue my researches - spurred on by Ken H's recommendation and your own - later this evening or tomorrow morning. In the meantime I have to go to a meeting in St Albans that will keep me out of the house until about 10.00pm.

    All the best,


  16. Looks like a good time was had by all - I agree with the previous poster. I think the heroscape hexes look a bit harsh.

  17. Conrad Kinch,

    You must try to come to COW sometime soon to find out for yourself how much the attendees enjoy themselves.

    The Heroscape terrain used at COW2011 was straight from the box, and does look stark. If you compare it with the painted Heroscape hexes used in a recent play-test, you will notice the difference a simple coat of paint can make. It looks much better painted ... in my opinion.

    All the best,



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