Friday 30 November 2012

Who do you think you are?

One of my wife's hobbies is genealogy. So far she has traced her direct ancestors all the way back to the early eighteenth century, when one of them was born in Edinburgh. He is described in the records as being the son of a member of the Edinburgh City Guard (an armed quasi-police force) who was an in-dweller of the Castle. He later joined the British Army, and after serving as a infantry soldier in a number of regiments raised by successive Dukes of Argyll, he ended his service as an Invalid and Master Gunner at Landguard Fort near Harwich. When he was 'too old and decrepit for further service' at the age of ninety(!) he moved to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where he remained until he died.

During his service he spent some years in Gibraltar, and whilst he was there he fathered several children, one of whom joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery as a twelve year-old fifer. It was this son who was the first of my wife's family to come to Woolwich, and the family are still here nearly two hundred and fifty years later. (The boy later became Fife-Major to the Company of Gentlemen Cadets, one of the senior NCOs in the Regiment.)

One of the things that my wife had done as part of her research was a Hereditary DNA test. This looks for markers in an individual's DNA and gives an indication of the origins of one's forebears. Because the Y-Chromosome (Y-DNA) passes down from father to son with very little variation, it can be used to trace the origins of your paternal line. In my wife's case the Y-DNA indicated that her father's family came from the Argyll area of Scotland.

My wife prevailed upon me to also have the test ... and it produced an interesting result. My surname is Norman French in origin, and I expected that the results of the Y-DNA would show the necessary genetic markers to support the contention that my paternal line came from Northern France.

It did not. In fact what it did show was that I belonged to a particular haplogroup whose geographical origins can be found in the area known as Frisia or Friesland. This part of the North Sea coast of Europe stretches from the northern part of the Netherlands to the southern part of the Jutland peninsular.

So it would appear that I am not a full-blood Norman after all ... but it is highly likely that I am a Saxon!

Thursday 29 November 2012

And the winner is ...

Yesterday's blog entry may have given the wrong impression that I was upset that I was not eligible to be 'nominated' for the latest award ... but that was not what I was trying to say.

My niggle was that the rules made it impossible for me to nominate any of the excellent blogs that I follow (it is over eighty, by the way) ... although trying to choose just five would have been a Herculean task and I would have ended up offending someone. During the process of thinking about blogs, the Internet, and wargaming I also began to think about the wargaming websites that I still visit on a regular basis ... and decided to 'nominate' them for an 'award' instead.

Funnily enough this was a far easier task than trying to select five blogs ... and here they are, in no particular order except for the first, which is still – in my opinion – far and away the most inspiring wargaming website ever:

Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames Page

Although the original website is no longer available, it has been preserved on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

The Universal General

Rudi Geuden's website is currently moribund, but I still love re-visiting it, especially the pages dedicated to his Afriborian Campaign.

Bob Mackenzie's Web Page

Bob Mackenzie regularly updates his website, and his extremely well illustrated battle reports always have me itching to get my World War II figures and tanks out onto the tabletop.

(Photograph © Bob Mackenzie)

Beautiful models on achievable but realistic terrain. What more could one ask for?

Chris Kemp's Not Quite Mechanised

I first met Chris Kemp at the gathering organised by Paddy Griffith that led to the formation of Wargame Developments and COW (Conference of Wargamers). At the first meeting he put on a wargame using 1:300th-scale model tanks that opened my eyes to the prospect of a number of models representing a unit that fought as one and not a group of individual figures or tanks lumped together.

From these early glimmerings he developed NOT QUITE MECHANISED (NQM), a set of wargames rules for fighting battles from 1930 until 1980. These were the forerunner of MEGABLITZ and Chris is still using and developing them today ... as a visit to his blog shows.

Chris has an interesting attitude to modelling that can probably be summed up as being 'it is good enough'. He is a good modeller – and even better cartoonist – but he would rather wargame than spend hours making sure that every vehicle he uses is exactly correct and each soldier is perfectly painted. He has an exuberant attitude to wargaming ... and one that I wish I could emulate at times!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Wot, no award? … No, but at least we can now wash-up!

The recent spate of awards being made to blogs that have less than 200 followers has made me aware of some real little gems that I had not come across before. This has helped keep my spirits up during the last couple of days, and especially yesterday whilst we were waiting for the plumber to come to fix the leaking pipework under our sink.

The insurance company who supplied the plumber told us he would arrive between 8.00am and 6.00pm, and he did … at 5.30pm! He took about twenty minutes to take apart the pipework that was leaking, clean all the joints, and re-seal them … and then we were able to do the washing-up that had piled up over the course of 24 hours and start the dishwasher that was still full of the previous day’s dirty cups and plates. The plumber also told us that all he had done was to repair the leak, and that the pipework was actually a bit of a mess and should be replaced. (The actual term he used was that it was a bit of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ … and that the person who had installed it had had little or no idea how to do it properly.)

One more thing to be sorted out after Christmas.

Not a lot has been happening on the wargaming front, although I have been trying to finalise the alternative Close Combat mechanism I want to play-test. As soon as I have (which will hopefully be within a day or two) I will make it available via the PORTABLE WARGAME website.

PS. For those of you who DON'T know who the cartoon character at the top of this blog entry is, he is known as Chad in the UK and Kilroy in the USA. He dates from the Second World War and was very popular when I was a child back in the 1950s. He often appeared with the words 'Wot, no ...' written underneath the cartoon, usually with reference to something that was not available or in short supply.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

That sinking feeling

I am up early this morning waiting for the plumber to arrive.

Yesterday my wife noticed that there was a small pool of water in the cupboard under the sink. There was no indication where it had come from so we mopped it up and carried on as normal. Last night I went to turn the dishwasher on and the indicator light indicated that the rinse aid dispenser needed to be refilled. The rinse aid is kept under the sink ... and when I got it out there was a large pool of water there.

A cursory inspection revealed that the complicated system of pipes that connect the sink and dishwasher to the outflow pipe seems to have failed (one of the pipes almost came off in my hand!) and that it will need to be replaced.

Luckily I took out plumbing insurance some years ago. It guarantees a 24-hour service, so at midnight last night I was on the phone to the emergency phone line to book a plumber to come and fix the problem. They will be arriving sometime between 8.00am and 6.00pm, and they will phone 30 minutes before they will arrive.

So today I am going to spend a lot of time waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting.

PS. For anyone who is wondering why I just didn’t phone the local plumber to come and fix the problem, I would just like to point out that I live in London. Plumbers in London (and I suspect in other parts of the UK) are not very thick on the ground and those that are 'available' are not always as reliable as one would hope and expect them to be. They will often arrive late – or even on a different day – and quite a few will either charge you a ‘call-out’ charge of up to £100.00 on top of their normal charges or charge you an astronomic amount for the work that they do … and any emergency work can be even more costly than normal installation or repair work.

The insurance may not be cheap, but at least the plumber – who is approved or employed by the insurance company – will arrive when he is supposed to arrive and the work will be guaranteed by the insurance company.

Monday 26 November 2012

Alternative Close Combat Mechanisms for the Portable Wargame … fourth (and hopefully final) attempt!

After spending even more time today looking at how improve Close Combat mechanism used in my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, I think that it has now reached a stage where it needs some serious play-testing before I make any further changes.

As before the chart is too difficult to include within this blog entry, and so I have added it below as an image. If readers click on the image it should become large enough to read.

The most notable differences between the previous draft and this draft are that:
  • The scores required to 'hit' enemy Units have been changed to reduce the underlying chance of a 'hit' from 50% to 33%
  • Additional bonuses and penalties have been added.
Most of these changes have come about as a result of reader feedback and suggestions, and the resultant Close Combat mechanism does seem to be a lot easier to use and has the potential to be 'tweaked' quite easily to suit a particular historical period.

An idea worth sharing

One of my regular blog readers – Littlejohn – has come up with a very simple and effective method to draw a hexed grid, and his most recent blog entry explains how he used it to create a hexed playing surface for a naval wargame.

His idea was to create a template that used the redundant part of the cardboard terrain from a copy of Richard Borg's BATTLE CRY game. After the terrain hexes were punched out, the cardboard he was left with was a matrix of hexagonal cut-outs, and he converted it to become a template.

The idea is so simple and effective that it deserves recognition, and in my opinion is one of the best ideas I have read about or seen this year ... and for some time before that as well!

Hats off to Littlejohn for coming up with it!

He has done it again! Now there is an electronic version of Memoir of Battle at Sea!

Peter Maller has done it again! Inspired by my MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) rules and the work done by Steve Page on his Old Admirals blog, Peter has produced an electronic version of MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) that uses a hexed grid.

He has even made it possible for players to identify individual ships by name ...

... and to add their details to them.

A fuller explanation of how the game works can be found on his Three by Two Tactics blog and the game itself can be access via his Portable Wargame: Electronic Version website.

Well done and thank you Peter! You have helped make the PORTABLE WARGAME and MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA truly accessible to all.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Alternative Close Combat Mechanisms for the Portable Wargame … third attempt!

After spending some more time today looking at how the Close Combat mechanism used in my PORTABLE WARGAME rules could be made less ambiguous and easier to understand, I think (no, HOPE!) that I have finally cracked it.

The resulting chart is too difficult to include within this blog entry, so I have added it as an image. If readers click on the image, it should become large enough to read.

The following examples will hopefully enable readers to understand how the mechanism works.

Example 1
  • A Mounted Cavalry Unit attacks an entrenched Machine Gun Unit head on.
  • The Cavalry Unit throws a D6 die and scores 6.
  • The Machine Gun Unit is in fortifications so the die score is reduced by 1 to 5 ... but this is still enough to ensure that the Cavalry has 'hit' the Machine Gun Unit.
  • The Machine Gun Unit throws a D6 die and scores 5.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions but it is still high enough to ensure that the Cavalry Unit is 'hit'.
Example 2
  • An Assault Gun Unit attacks a Light Tank Unit in the flank.
  • The Assault Gun Unit throws a D6 die and scores 2.
  • Because the attack has been made on the Light Tank Unit's flank the die score is increased by 1.
  • The resultant score is not sufficient to ensure that the Light Tank Unit is 'hit'.
  • The Light Tank Unit throws its D6 die and scores 6.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions but it is still high enough to ensure that the Assault Gun Unit is 'hit'.
Example 3
  • An Infantry Unit – supported by a Commander in an adjacent grid area – attacks an entrenched Machine Gun Unit from the rear.
  • The Infantry Unit throws a D6 die and scores 3.
  • Because the attack has been made on the Machine Gun Unit's rear the die score is increased by 1.
  • It is increased by a further 1 because the Infantry Unit is supported by a Commander but decreased by 1 because the Machine Gun Unit is entrenched.
  • The resultant score is 4 and this is sufficient to ensure that the Machine Gun Unit is 'hit'.
  • The Machine Gun Unit throws its D6 die and scores 1.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions and it not high enough to ensure that the Infantry Unit is 'hit'.
This is still very much a 'work in progress', but I feel a lot happier with the way it works than I did with the previous draft. I am still considering whether or not to reduce the odds of success slightly (e.g. 4, 5, or 6 [a 50% chance of success] being reduced to 5 or 6 [a 33% chance of success]) and/or increasing the bonus for flank or rear attacks from +1 to +2. My choices will be determined by a series of play-tests of the mechanism ... but when I will have time to set them up is currently impossible to predict.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Back to the drawing board

Judging by the feedback I have already received, the latest drafts of my alternative Close Combat mechanisms for my PORTABLE WARGAME rules are not as unambiguous as I had thought that they were.

Basically I fell into that well-known trap of reading what I thought I had written and not what I had written … with the result that some people were not entirely clear how the alternative Close Combat mechanisms were intended to work. The upshot of this is that I will have to return to the drawing board and try to write another draft that will be easier to understand and even less ambiguous.

This is beginning to turn into a bit of a trial for me … but once I have some alternative Close Combat mechanisms that work – and that people understand – it will have been worth all the effort I have put in.

Alternative Close Combat Mechanisms for the Portable Wargame … second attempt!

Just over a week ago I tried to devise alternative Close Combat mechanisms for my PORTABLE WARGAME rules... and was not as successful as I had hoped I would be.

After a couple more attempts – one of which ended up with a huge matrix that I could not fit onto a single page – I went back to my original alternative Close Combat mechanisms, corrected the mistake that I had inadvertently included, and re-worded the instructions. The latter are now about as unambiguous as I can make them.

The new alternative Close Combat mechanisms can be downloaded from the Downloads page of the PORTABLE WARGAME website or via the following links:
I am actually quite pleased with the new alternate Close Combat mechanisms (it is surprising what a difference a few extra words can make!) and I am now giving serious thought to using them myself in future.

Friday 23 November 2012

Been there, seen that, bought the book ...

One topic that kept coming up during my recent trip to North America was the War of 1812. It did not matter whether you were in the United States or Canada, the War got a mention everywhere we visited.

When I saw a copy of FORTS OF THE WAR OF 1812 on sale in the local branch of Waterstones I decided that I might as well buy a copy, especially as most of the places we had visited during our cruise seemed to have been fortified to some extent during and/or after the War of 1812.

The book was written by Rene Chartrand, illustrated by Donato Spedaliere, and published by Osprey (ISBN 978 1 84908 576 2) as part of their FORTRESS series (No.140). It contains brief histories of the major fortifications built by both sides during the war, and reading the book made me realise that I had photographed quite a few of the fortifications that are mentioned.

Thursday 22 November 2012

My Ten Commandments of wargame design

A couple of days ago David Crook (with whom I enjoy a very regular email correspondence) informed me that he was going to try to write his own ‘Modern’ and ‘19th Century’ wargames rules specifically to use with his wooden block armies.

I am pleased to see yet another wargamer joining the ranks of the wargames designers, and I sent him a list of ten suggestions that I thought might be of help to him … and he has suggested that I share them with my other regular blog readers.

So here are my Ten Commandments of wargame design, in no particular order …
  1. Set out what you want to achieve before your start. This should determine the basic structure your rules will follow and will help you to identify the mechanisms you want to use.
  2. Try to keep the structure of your rules logical.
  3. Always try to devise the simplest method of achieving the results you want to achieve.
  4. Always err on the side of simplicity rather than complexity.
  5. Always remember that less is more.
  6. Use the psychology of numbers (i.e. High is good, low is bad) when using dice to generate results.
  7. Try to make ensure that each mechanism you use is not dependent upon another mechanism otherwise changing one can end up affecting everything else. In other words use ‘plug in’ mechanisms that can be ‘unplugged’ if they don’t work.
  8. Play-test each mechanism before you add it to the rules.
  9. Keep that language you use simple and consistent.
  10. Remove anything that does not contribute to the rules. In other words if players keep forgetting to use a mechanism and the games are not affected by its absence ... then ask yourself whether or not you need that mechanism.
None of them is revolutionary, but they are the distillation of many years of trial and quite a lot of error!

One final thing; a quote from an excellent film about getting old – THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL – which is equally applicable to all sorts of situations in life:

'Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it's not the end.'

A long, varied, and productive day

My brother and I arranged to meet early yesterday morning to discuss some important details regarding my father's ongoing care, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that sufficient finances were in place to pay for it for the foreseeable future. This took quite some time as it involved some lengthy discussions and a visit to the local branch of the bank that holds my father's bank accounts and investments.

We then had some lunch in a local café and afterwards we were able to spend an hour with my father. He was quite chatty and much better than he had been for some time, but he tires easily and needs to rest much more than he used to which is why our joint visit was relatively short.

After my brother and I had parted company, my wife – who had been shopping in the local High Street whilst my brother and I had been to the bank and visited my father – joined me and we set off to a large retail park that was not very far away. Over the past few days we had been discussing the possible replacement of our existing laptop computer with a newer model, and whilst we driving into the retail park my wife noticed that there was a large branch of Comet (an electrical retail group that has recently gone into administration) located near to the entrance and joking remarked that they might have something suitable on sale … and she was right!

We are now the proud owners of an Acer Aspire One D270 10.1-inch Netbook …

… and it says much for the continued development of personal computers that – thanks to Comet administrator's stock liquidation sale – it was less than half the price of our current desktop computers (which are not yet three years old) with twice the clock speed and over five times the RAM!

We finally got back home during the early part of the evening feeling tired, but also feeling that we had done a lot of things that needed to be done and happy that we had bought a new small computer for a very reasonable price.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Too many things I want to do ... and not enough time to do them

The past few weeks (and months!) seem to have been very busy, and the list of things that I want to do – rather than need to do – seems to be getting longer and longer ... and the time available to do them seems to be getting less and less.

At present my list of things I want to do includes:
  • Play-testing both versions of my BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules.
  • Building a portable 'big board' and terrain items so that I can play-test BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME.
  • Painting (and basing) sufficient figures and equipment for a couple of new PORTABLE WARGAME armies for both the 'Modern' and '19th Century' periods.
  • Revising both the PORTABLE WARGAME and BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules in the light of my own play-tests and feedback from other users.
This does not sound like a very long or difficult list of 'things to do', but I don't seem to get enough sufficiently long periods of time to begin tackling any of them. I am, however, managing to do quite a bit of thinking about what I want to do ... so it isn't all bad news.

Sunday 18 November 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis game

Although I was still suffering from the symptoms of a heavy cold I was well enough this morning to make my way central London to take part in one of the monthly wargames put on by the Jockeys Field Irregulars. This was an interesting and somewhat different wargame from the normal figure and/or map games we usually play. Its subject was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my role was to play the part of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Government.

One of the interesting features of the game was the fact that the Kremlin/Soviet High Command was located in Sheffield(!), with the White House/Pentagon in one room in London and Cuba/The Caribbean in another. Communications between London and Sheffield utilised a combination of e-mail, texting, and mobile telephones. Due to problems with WiFi connections that kept failing, most of the communications relied upon text messages and phone calls ... and this led to a suitable level of confusion and misunderstanding, especially when voice messages 'arrived' before players had the opportunity to read relevant earlier text messages.

As Castro I had several concerns. The first of these was the conservation of Cuban sovereignty in the face of a possible American invasion and what could have been an 'occupation' by the Soviets. Secondly I needed to ensure that I maintained my position as head of the Revolutionary Government, which required me to take positive action when provoked by the 'imperialist' United States. Thirdly I wanted to achieve some measure of control over any offensive missiles stationed on Cuba. Finally I wanted to avoid Cuba becoming the target of a possible nuclear exchange between the Americans and the Soviets.

So how did I do?

Well I used some of the SA-2 SAMs stationed on Cuba to engage – and damage – some of the US reconnaissance aircraft that were over-flying my country. In retaliation I moved units of the Cuban Revolutionary Army up to the border with the US base at Guantanamo. I made both the Soviets and Americans aware that I would only withdraw the troops from the border if the US agreed to stop over-flights, which they did after a further series of low-level flights were engaged by Cuban anti-aircraft artillery. (The Soviets even sent me a further regiment of SA-2s to help defend Cuba, and I stationed these around Havana to protect the harbour, the main army base, and the centre of government.)

I also managed to ensure that a possible coup d'état that would have led to my replacement as head of the Revolutionary Government was forestalled by a car 'accident' that resulted in the death of my likely replacement, my own brother Raul. I am not sure who was behind the plot, but I suspect that it might have been the KGB and the Soviet Foreign Ministry. It's nice to know who one's friends are!

During the confusion that arose as a result of the poor communications between the Soviet High Command and the commander of the missile troops on Cuba I negotiated a degree of agreement with the commander about the targets at which the nuclear missiles were aimed. We agreed that priority should be given to targeting US military bases and command centres and not major population centres.

The fact that Cuba was not turned into a nuclear wasteland by the end of the confrontation would seem to indicate that I managed to achieve my fourth objective as well as the other three.

All-in-all I had a successful and very enjoyable game. The crisis came, got 'hot' (at one point the US went to DEFCON 1!), and then – thanks to my mobile phone – went 'cold' again when a successful solution was negotiated between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev.

Full marks must be given to John Bassett who devised the game, Alex Kleanthous who provided the London venue, and Tim Gow who coordinated the Sheffield end of the operation. Without their hard work this game would not have been possible.

Saturday 17 November 2012

The English Civil War version of the Portable Wargame goes electronic!

I was just getting ready to have an early night and decided to have one last look at Google Reader to check up on the latest entries on the blogs that I follow ... and might please I was that I did so!

I almost missed a very short but nonetheless interesting blog entry from Peter Maller on his Three by Two Tactics blog. Peter has taken Steven Page's English Civil War version of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules (it is featured on Steven's Forlorn Hope website) and created an electronic version that can be played on a computer.

This can be accessed on the relevant page of Peter's Portable Wargame: Electronic Version website, although you will also need to download and print a copy of Steven's rules.

Another Osprey book

One bright spot today was the arrival in the post of a copy of WORLD WAR II SOVIET ARMED FORCES (3) 1944-45 (MAA 469 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Darko Pavlovic [ISBN 978 1 84908 634 9]).

This is the final book in Osprey's three-volume series about the Soviet Armed forces during the Great Patriotic War. I already have a copy of WORLD WAR II SOVIET ARMED FORCES (1) 1939-41 (MAA 464 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Darko Pavlovic [ISBN 978 84908 400 0]) ...

... and WORLD WAR II SOVIET ARMED FORCES (2) 1942-431 (MAA 468 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Darko Pavlovic [ISBN 978 84908 420 8].

All three books follow the usual Osprey MEN-AT-ARMS layout (48 pages in length of which 8 are colour plates) and each traces the organisation and uniforms of the Soviet Armed Forces during the Great Patriotic War.

Never, ever try to write wargames rules when you are not well!

Besides having to deal with the fallout from the recent deterioration in my father's health, my wife and I have – in the light of our recent retirements – been doing some serious reassessments of our lifestyle.

The latter has included the opening moves in what looks like turning into a serious de-cluttering of our house and a rationalisation of our possessions. (Regular readers will remember that I had undergone a similar process with regard to my toy/wargames room after I stopped working last year.) So far the main living room has been given a very thorough cleaning and the storage sections of display cabinets have been cleared and reorganised. The number of objects in them has been reduced, with the surplus being put aside for either resale or donations to local charities. Likewise the large number of audio cassettes we owned and had stored in our dining room has been passed on to someone who is going to sell them on our behalf. (There was no point in keeping them as we have no means of playing them!)

Usually I find the process of cleaning gives me time to think about wargames designs, and it was whilst I was cleaning the windows in the living room that I re-designed – in my head – the Close Combat mechanisms I used in my PORTABLE WARGAME rules in the hope that the new alternatives would meet the needs of those players who found the existing mechanisms to be counter-intuitive. What I had not realised was that by the time I got around to turning those thoughts into actual words I would have begun to come down with a very heavy cold.

I know that there are quite a few people who think that writing wargames rules are easy. You take something from here, something else from there, add a bit of this, et voila it is done. This may be true for some wargames designers … but it is not true for me. I agonise over things like consistency in terminology in a set of rules, so that something is not referred to as a ‘unit’ in one paragraph, a ‘base’ in another, and a ‘stand’ in a third. In order to do this one needs to have a clear mind … and as I have learnt in the past and relearned yesterday, you should NEVER, EVER try to write wargames rules when you are not feeling 100% well and are unable to concentrate upon what you are doing.

I thought that what I had written in the alternative Close Combat mechanisms I added to the PORTABLE WARGAME website yesterday made perfect sense. The feedback I received pointed out an error that I should have picked up when I proof-read the rules and that the rules were somewhat unclear and could lead to misinterpretation. Having looked at what I had written it is obvious that the feedback is absolutely right. I shall re-draft the alternative Close Combat mechanisms as soon as the cold has begun to abate. In the meantime I am going to try to find something fairly mindless to do that does not require much concentration.

Friday 16 November 2012

Alternative Close Combat Mechanisms for the Portable Wargame

Some days ago I promised that I would try to devise alternative Close Combat mechanisms for my PORTABLE WARGAME rules ... and I managed to do so today.

I will not bore you with why this has taken me so long, but I will admit that the actual task of writing alternative Close Combat mechanisms for both of the two historical periods (Modern and 19th Century) and the two grid systems (Squared and Hexed) was not as easy as I had thought it would be.

The alternative Close Combat mechanisms can be downloaded from the Downloads page of the PORTABLE WARGAME website or via the following links:
I will not be using these alternate Close Combat mechanisms in my own battles, but I have made them available for those players who might wish to use them.

Thursday 15 November 2012

The First Rule of Wargaming and the Spirit of the Wargame

Further to yesterday's blog entry I have decided to add the text of Fred Jane's FIRST RULE OF WARGAMING and my THE SPIRIT OF THE WARGAME (adapted from the text of THE SPIRIT OF THE GAME in the R&A Ltd's RULES OF GOLF) to the navigation sidebar of my blog. I hope that it will serve as a reminder to myself and other wargamers about what our hobby should try to achieve, and how we show strive to achieve it.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The 'psychology' of numbers and game mechanisms … and misunderstanding chance

One of the most common comments I have had about my PORTABLE WARGAME rules is the fact that the Close Combat mechanism seems counter-intuitive to some players. The reason for this lies in the fact that players dice to see the effect of close combat on their Unit and NOT the effect their attack has had on the enemy Unit. In itself this is not a difficult problem to solve, and I hope to provide players with an alternative mechanism that achieves the same results in due course.

In my eyes the existing mechanism is not that different from the combat mechanism that Tim Gow incorporated into MEGABLIZ. This works as follows:
  • Each player counts the number of Strength Points that their units have.
  • They then pass one dice for each of these Strength Points to their opponent in a Combat Box (a small box with a lid that can be fixed so that opposing players can not see the scores on the rolled dice).
  • The players then shut their Combat Boxes, shake them to roll the dice inside, and then open the boxes to see the dice scores.
  • The results are then read off the Combat Matrix that is fixed to the inside of the Combat Box lid. The Combat Matrix shows the dice score required to inflict a casualty (i.e. remove a Strength Point).
  • Each player then adjusts their units' Strength Points accordingly.
Using this method the results of a combat are concealed from the opposing player … but each player has – in fact – rolled the dice that determine the effect of combat on their troops and not on their opponent’s troops.

Thinking about this ‘problem’ reminded me of a conversation (or was it correspondence?) that I had many years ago with Andy Callan. He pointed out to me that there was a ‘psychology’* behind the way we use (and perceive) the numbers generated by dice throws and the mechanisms we use to determine results using those numbers, and that if a game designer was not aware of this ‘psychology’ players might feel that a mechanism was counter-intuitive. In other words, if the mechanism or the results it generated did not conform to the ingrained expectations players had, it would not feel ‘right’.

For example players inherently expect higher numbers to produce positive results and lower numbers to produce negative results. Likewise they expect additions to dice scores to reflect some benefit and reductions to reflect a disadvantage. Since Andy Callan pointed this out to me I have always tried to bear this in mind … and as far as I can remember this holds true for the mechanisms I have used in my PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

Interestingly this ‘psychology’ also tends to cloud some people’s understanding of chance. When I was looking at ways of using an ordinary D6 die to replace the special dice used in Richard Borg’s MEMOIR ’44 rules, I was taken to task by one reader when I suggested:
  • Using 6 on a D6 die to replace the Grenade symbol on a MEMOIR ’44 die;
  • Using 5 on a D6 die to replace the Tank symbol on a MEMOIR ’44 die;
  • Using 4 or 5 on a D6 die to replace the Infantry symbols on a MEMOIR ’44 die;
  • Using 1 on a D6 die to replace the Flag symbol on a MEMOIR ’44 die.
I pointed out that the chance of a particular symbol coming up when a MEMOIR ’44 die was thrown was the same as the chance of a particular number or combination of numbers being thrown on a D6 die … but the person was adamant that I was wrong because:
  • The symbols appeared once (or in the case of the Infantry symbol, twice) on a MEMOIR '44 die, and each face of the MEMOIR '44 die had a symbol on it:
  • I had ignored the Miss symbol out altogether;
  • I had not allocated a value to the numbers 2 or 3 on the D6 die.
In actual fact the chance of throwing a MEMOIR '44 die and getting a result that will 'hit' an Infantry Unit is 1 in 2 (a Grenade symbol or one of the two Infantry symbols) ... which is exactly the same chance of throwing a 4, 5, or 6 on a D6 die; Likewise the chance of throwing a MEMOIR '44 die and getting a result that will 'hit' an Tank Unit is 1 in 3 (a Grenade symbol or a Tank symbol) ... which is the same chance of throwing a 5 or 6 on a D6 die; ... and so on.

The mathematics does not lie … but the perception we have of what we ‘see’ when the die is thrown engenders a feeling that the results that are generated are not ‘right’. In other words, the ‘psychology’ is tending to cloud our understanding of chance and making us feel uncomfortable with the mechanisms used and the results they produce.

Game designers (like me) should beware! Failure to understand this 'psychology' could be fatal to our wargames rules!

* When using the term 'psychology' in this blog entry I am using it in the sense that it concerns 'the understanding of mental processes and behaviour'.

Monday 12 November 2012

A further Portable Wargame website update

Almost as soon as I uploaded the recently updated PORTABLE WARGAME website I noticed that there were some typographical errors on some of the draft BIG BOARD PORTABLE wargames rules.

I have now had the opportunity to correct all those errors (I hope!) and I took the opportunity presented by the need to make a further update of the PORTABLE WARGAME website to:
  • Add a definition of what a 'retreat' move is to the Definitions section on all the drafts.
  • Add an additional set of rules that dealt with woods to the Special Rules section on all the drafts.
  • Add revised drafts of the original PORTABLE WARGAME rules to the Downloads page on the website. (The revised drafts share a common format with the BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules and use similar mechanisms.)
I expect that users will 'mix and match' from the various drafts available to them in order to develop their own 'in-house' versions of the basic PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

Portable Wargame news

This morning has so far been dominated by a number of things that relate to my PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

Firstly Littlejohn (one of my blog's regular readers) has fought another Colonial battle using a slightly modified version of my rules. The battle was set on the North West Frontier of India and the battle report can be seen and read here.

Secondly Ross Macfarlane has developed a set of Colonial rules inspired by the PORTABLE WARGAME rules but that draw heavily upon his own HEARTS OF TIN rules. A rough first draft of his rules can be found here.

Thirdly I have been working on revising all the current versions of both the PORTABLE WARGAME and BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules so that they share a common format and use similar mechanisms throughout. It has also given me the opportunity to correct some of the typographical errors that I have found. My intention is to make these latest drafts of the rules available via the PORTABLE WARGAME website later today.

Sunday 11 November 2012

My Boy Jack

Rudyard Kipling has been one of my favourite authors for a very long time, and on this Armistice Day I would like to share his poem MY BOY JACK with my regular blog readers.
Have you news of my boy Jack?
Not this tide.
When d’you think that he’ll come back?
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

Has any one else had word of him?
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
With his father's enthusiastic encouragement, John Kipling (who was usually called Jack by his family) joined the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards despite having such poor eyesight that he could have been exempted from military service. He was killed at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and Rudyard Kipling was grief-stricken for the rest of his life.

Rudyard Kipling subsequently acted as literary adviser to the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), and devised the inscription 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore' on cemetery memorial stones and 'Known unto God' on the gravestones of those soldiers who bodies could not be identified.

This last must have been particularly poignant for Kipling as his own son's body was never identified.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Self-assembly ... and self-control!

My wife collects paperweights. To the average wargamer this might seem a bit odd, but it does have the advantage that it helps my wife to understand – to a certain extend – my desire to collect toy soldiers.

The majority of my wife's collection was stored in an IKEA glass display cabinet, but over time it had begun to show signs of wear and tear. As a result she ordered a new cabinet to replace it ... and my task this afternoon has been to assemble it.

The parts were very well packed. The outer cover was made from thick corrugated cardboard, and the corners were reinforced with plastic protectors. Inside the packaging was mainly expanded polystyrene and thick polythene, and each of the major components were very well protected from potential damage. The small parts were each in separate sealed plastic bags, and the instructions were over twelve pages long.

Just unpacking and checking the components took the best part of half an hour … and then I started work. The first thing I had to do was to try to understand the almost entirely visual instructions. These were a series of drawings that showed the various stages of the construction process and which components went where. The only problem was that some parts of the drawing was so small that they were almost useless … and by halfway through the construction process I realised that there was actually a much easier way to assemble the cabinet. (All those years of putting together Airfix kits were not wasted after all!). Unfortunately this realisation came too late to speed or ease the process, and so I continued to follow the instructions I had … and I have the cuts and bruises to prove it.

The cabinet is now complete and awaiting a good clean by my wife before the paperweights can be put into it. I have managed to disassemble to old cabinet, and its component parts are now waiting for disposal at the local recycling centre.

So why the comment about self-control?

Well my wife tells me that during the construction process I used a lot of language more suited to the parade ground than the conservatory (which is where I assembled the new cabinet). As anyone who knows me will tell you, I never ever swear … well not much … and then only after extreme provocation … and when I am putting together self-assembly furniture!

Google ... and the curse of the double comment!

Is it just me ... or are other people having the same problem? You submit a comment about a blog entry you have read ... and then it appears not once but twice (and sometimes three times!).

I know that one or two of my regular blog readers have had this problem over the past week or two when they have left comments on my blog, and I have had the same thing happen to me when I have left comments on blogs that I follow.

Is anyone else experiencing this problem?

Friday 9 November 2012

Portable Wargame website updated

I had some spare time today and decided that the PORTABLE WARGAME website needed updating.

It currently has three pages. The first is a simple INTRODUCTION page, ...

... the second has all the current DOWNLOADS, ...

... and the third gives access to the ARCHIVE of previous versions of the rules.

As time permits I hope to add more stuff to the website, but for the moment I think that the updated website provides adequate access to the various versions of the rules I am currently using, developing, or play-testing.

Even more about the electronic version of the Portable Wargame!

I have had another email from Peter Maller about the work he has been doing to create a truly portable electronic version of the PORTABLE WARGAME.

He informs me that he has made several changes, including:
  • Adding markers to indicate Strength Point loss so that the enlarged version on the onscreen gridded playing board can be used to experiment with the BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules.
  • Adding both 12 x 12 and 12 x 16 onscreen gridded playing boards for the MODERN version of the BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules.
  • Enabling the larger onscreen gridded playing boards to fit onto a standard computer screen by using the zoom-out function in the web browser.
Peter has also informed me that he has started to blog entitled Three by Two Tactics ...

... and a link his blog can be found here.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Steven Page's latest battle report ... and his English Civil War variant of the Portable Wargame rules

When I sat down this morning to catch up on what was happening in the world of wargaming (i.e. reading the blogs that I follow) I did not expect that Steven Page would have not only produced yet another excellent battle report but also published an English Civil War variant of my BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules!

His battle report is about a tank-led assault by the British on the German front line trenches in 1917, and although I am somewhat biased, it seems to me to have been an exciting, fun, and reasonably accurate representation of such an action.

His English Civil War variant of my BBPW rules follow the same basic format as my original rules, and fit on two sides of a piece of paper. This is not a period that I have gamed very much during my time as a wargamer, but reading the rules made me realise that it would not take a lot of work to adapt them for other, earlier historical periods.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Interesting comparisons

I follow quite a few blogs, and every morning I try to make sure that I have time to read any new blog entries. When I did this today it was particularly enjoyable as there were two battle reports where the players had used my BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules to fight typical First World War battles.

The first was featured on David Crook's A WARGAMING ODYSSEY and described a battle from the early months of the war. Part of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was retreating in the face of superior German forces, and had been tasked with holding up the German advance. The Germans were ordered to push forward and maintain the tempo of the advance. I will not go into details (but I would recommend a visit to the battle report as it is – in my opinion – very interesting), but the outcome was not predictable.

The second blog entry was on Steven Page's ADVENTURES IN PORTABLE WARGAMING. This battle report dealt with a British attempt to break through the German trench lines during 1916. As it states at the top of the battle report 'This time it will work. We will smash our way through the thin German line, pass through the village, and get our cavalry into the green fields beyond ...' The result of this battle was also unpredictable, and it held my interest right up until the end.

What pleased me most about these two battle reports was not that they had used my rules (and that the rules had worked!) but that the players had enjoyed themselves and had fought battles that seemed to have the right sort of 'feel' to them. In other words they had been able to fight their battles in the way that such battles had been fought during the Great War. It also helped that the battle reports were both well illustrated and described in such a way that you felt compelled to read them to the end to find out what the outcomes would be.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Airfix's Little Soldiers

I was clearing up some of the detritus in my office when I came across a file box that I thought was empty, only to discover that it contained a book that I had totally forgotten about ... AIRFIX'S LITTLE SOLDIERS: HO/OO FROM 1959 TO 2009 by Jean-Christophe Carbonel.

The book was published in 2009 by Historie & Collections (ISBN 978 2 35250 089 6) and the first half tells the story of the Airfix HO/OO-scale figures and catalogues each of the sets that were issued.

The second half of the book examines
  • The forts, gift sets, and other wargames that were sold and that included Airfix figures.
  • The numerous re-issues of the figures that have taken place.
  • The compatible sets of figures issued by competitors.
Reading this book brought back a lot of memories, especially of my pink plastic Guards Band and Guards Colour Party (the first Airfix figures that I bought!) and the American Civil War Infantry and Artillery. I was also struck by how much I preferred the original figures in the German Infantry set to the later issues, and I only wish that they were still available ... although preferably in hard plastic.

Monday 5 November 2012

Nugget 256

I posted the latest edition of THE NUGGET (N256) this morning and it should be with members of Wargame Developments by the end of this week.

I have also uploaded the PDF versions of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT to the Wargame Developments website, and they are now available for members of Wargame Developments to read online or to download and print.

I have sent the password that is required to open the PDFs to members of Wargame Developments via email, but judging by the number of error messages I received it would appear that many of the email addresses I have on file are incorrect. I have therefore sent a printed copy of the password to all members when I posted THE NUGGET.

Members of Wargame Developments who have not yet re-subscribed can do so via the link on the Wargame Developments website (click here).

Sunday 4 November 2012

Out of the box

I finally managed to get all of the bits and pieces in the 'Mini Wheels Military Force' playset out of the packaging so that I could have a proper look at them.

The aircraft were a BAE Harrier fighter, a Dassault Mirage III fighter, a Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter, and a Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The armoured vehicles were an M1 Abrams tank, an M2 Bradley armoured personnel carrier, an M109 Paladin self-propelled 155mm gun, and an M270 MLRS.

The other vehicles (other than the Humvee) were all very generic in appearance and included a tank transporter, two missile transporters (one of which looked very much it was carrying a SCUD), and a cargo truck.

The accessories included a camouflaged building frontage, a section of wall, several oil barrels, some jerry cans, a jet ski(!), an inflatable dingy, and canoe, a motorbike, and eight painted figures.

Not bad for £5.50 ... and I am looking for more of the same if I can find them.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Yet more about the electronic version of the Portable Wargame

I have had another email from Peter Maller about his online electronic version of my PORTABLE WARGAME.

In his email Peter states the following:
After a couple of hours spent find-and-replacing in a text editor, I've completed a bit bigger 12 x 8 board version of the modern portable wargame page; designed for use on a 1280 x 1024 monitor in full-screen browser mode. It might be just large enough to allow experimentation with the big-board version of the rules.

Inspired by the ace new 'Adventures in Portable Wargaming' blog it includes bonus Martian fighting machines, both of the old school tripod and 50s film flying variety
I have now seen the expanded version of the board (including the playing pieces that represent Martian Fighting Machines) ...

... and I was very impressed.

This latest version of the electronic PORTABLE WARGAME can be found here.

The earlier versions of the electronic  PORTABLE WARGAME (which include Samurai and Horse & Musket versions) are also still available here.

Friday 2 November 2012

A room with a view

My wargames/toy room is on the top floor of our house, and our house is situated near the top of one of the highest points around London. As a the back of the house faces south west, the view from the windows looks across central London.

This morning the air was very clear (probably due to the cold weather) and the view was inspiring ... so inspiring that I thought that it was worth sharing with my regular blog readers.

Please click on the photographs to make them bigger as the detail will be a lot clearer. (If printed, the original would be just under 48" wide!).

To give some idea of what landmarks the view includes, I have annotated the original photograph.

I have also focused specifically on the centre of the photograph, and on the following section I have tried to ensure that the landmarks I have annotated are somewhat clearer.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Comfort buying

I know that when some people are stressed they eat food. (I know this because I am one of them!). Other people relieve their stress by buying something that they don't need, but which makes them feels good. On my wife's advice I tried this today ... and it worked!

I won't bore you with all the details, but I was supposed to take my father to the hospital today to have his chest X-Rayed ... but when I arrived at his care home this morning he was just too weak and tired as a result of the various ailments that are afflicting him to make the trip, so I cancelled the appointment.

After discussing the matter at some length with the manager of the care home, she contacted the local doctor. The latter prescribed a stronger antibiotic in the hope that this would combat the main infection that my father has, and I took the prescription to the local pharmacy. The pharmacy was unable to dispense the antibiotic immediately, so I went for a short walk around the local shops to fill the time until the prescription was ready to be collected.

A few doors along the road from the pharmacy was a charity shop (it raises money for the local children’s hospice), and in the window was a large box entitled ‘Mini Wheels Military Force’ … so heeding my wife’s advice, I bought it for the massive sum of £5.50.

Although the box is labelled ‘1:72 Scale Plastic Playset’, the stuff inside is a mixture of scales. Most of the vehicles are 1:87th-scale and the aircraft seem to be approximately 1:100th-scale, whereas the figures are 35mm tall. That said, there is enough useful stuff in the box to form the basis of one small modern army (and air force) that I can use with my BIG BOARD PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

I was surprised at how much this single purchase helped to raise my spirits on a day when things otherwise appeared to be quite bleak ... and I will certainly look out for similar things to buy the next time I am feeling stressed by circumstances over which I have little or no control.

As to my father ... well the doctor managed to make a house-call whilst I was still at the care home and it has been decided to see if my father will respond to the new stronger antibiotics he has been prescribed. So for the next few days it is going to be a case of 'wait and see' what happens.