Monday, 11 July 2016

COW2016: A short report

Thanks to the vagaries of the British road system and the increasing levels of traffic it has to deal with, the journey from my home to Knuston Hall took over three hours. As a result I got there nearer to 5.00pm than 4.00pm ... and the place was already abuzz with regular attendees greeting each other warmly.

Once I had parked my car, booked in at the reception desk, and taken my luggage to my room, I went downstairs and spent the next hour or so sorting out the dates and charge for COW2017 as well as chatting with as many attendees as I could. At 7.00pm almost everyone had arrived, and we trooped into the dining room for what was an excellent evening meal. (The chef and his team do a wonderful job, and the food they produce is always well prepared, bought from local sources wherever possible, more than sufficient to meet the needs of any wargamer, beautifully presented, and served extremely well by friendly staff.)

Friday Evening
After dinner the conference got under way. It began with some words of welcome from Tim Gow and myself, and swiftly followed by the Plenary Game. This is always intended to be an ice-breaker, and is designed to introduce the newest attendees to old hands and to get everyone in the mood for having a good conference. This year's game was originally designed by Sue Laflin-Barker, and developed by the members of WD Display Team North, and was entitled HOLY RELICS! Each team represented members of the clergy of a particular cathedral or abbey (in my case I was Precentor of Litchfield Cathedral) and our task was to find/discover holy relics for our establishment so that pilgrims would visit, donate money to the cathedral, and thus ensure that it became richer.

The game used an interesting combination of SCRABBLE and trading. You had to create the name of the relic you wanted to claim possession of using SCRABBLE tiles (e.g. ST CHADS BUCKET) ... and then present it to the Cardinals and the Pope (i.e. the umpires) for their approval. Your team could acquire additional tiles by trading with other teams or by having a successful claim agreed by the umpires. It was great fun, there was lots of noise and laughter ... and the team I was a member of won!

I had a little bit of conference-related admin to do, and so missed the beginning of the After Dinner Game (ADG) that Mike Elliott was running in the library. It was entitled A DARK NIGHT IN WHITECHAPEL and was a game about the Jack the Ripper murders. The game is in the early stages of development, and the session was intended to test the mechanisms currently used. The test went well, and the participants all came up with ideas that will help the design move forward. This is not to say that it was not a good game, but that it has the potential to be an even better one.

The model terrain that Mike created for his game was outstanding, being both light and simple to store as well as looking very effective. Seeing someone else's handiwork is always inspiring, and I for one came away with some terrain ideas that I want to try out.

Saturday Morning
After an appalling night's sleep thanks to my ongoing heavy cold, my spirits were lifted by an excellent cooked breakfast that was eaten with a very entertaining group of attendees. From 9.00am to 11.00am I took part in John Bassett's Matrix Game about Ireland during the Second World War. Entitled DE VALERA'S WAR, the participants each represented one of the significant internal and external 'players' in Irish politics at the time. For example, I was Sir Basil Brooke MC, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and I was given a number of objectives or goals to achieve during the course of the game.

It was a very good session, and helped those who had little or no understanding of what was happening in Ireland during the 1940s to gain a deeper insight into the problem with which the Irish government had to grapple during the Second World War.

From 11.15am until 12.45pm I ran my session in the Beech Room. OH WE SAIL THE OCEAN BLUE is a simple set of naval wargame rules for fighting battles during the pre-dreadnought era, and uses Hexon II terrain tiles, simple wooden toy-like model warships, and lots of D6 dice.

During the session we managed to get through two scenarios. This first involved two battle fleets, each of four pre-dreadnoughts, approaching each other and then engaging their opponents in battle. As it turned out, one side managed to 'cross the T' of the other side with the result that they ended the battle having lost only one battleship whilst the other side was annihilated. (It did not help that the losing side's battle line attempted to turn in succession away from their opponents. It is also worth noting that two of the winning side's battleships were quite badly damaged during the battle and would have probably sunk had the battle continued much longer.)

The second scenario saw two armoured cruisers attack a convoy of merchant ships that were escorted by a protected cruiser and several destroyers. The result was a close run thing, with the attacked being beaten off and most of the convoy surviving ... just!

Saturday Afternoon
The first session of the afternoon (from 2.00pm until 4.00pm) was run by Tim Gow and two other Sheffield wargamers and entitled SUITCASE SAGGER. Teams of three players, suitably encumbered with Russian helmets and AK47s, had to run to a firing point on the lawn, assemble their Sagger missile system (an air-powered foam rocket and launcher that was carried in a metal briefcase) and then fire four Saggers, three at stationary targets and one at a moving target. Once that was done the launcher had to be disassembled, put back in its briefcase, and brought back to the start point.

This was by no way as easy a task to perform as it sounds, and we had great fun trying - and usually failing - to perform our allotted tasks and to hit any of the targets.

After drying off (it had been raining and the lawn was rather wet in places) I then went to the session that Ian Drury was running in the Panelled Room. This session - 1866 AND ALL THAT: THE BATTLE OF LISSA - ran from 4.15pm until 6.30pm and was a re-fight of the battle using model ships from Ian's collection and a hexed playing surface.

The game mechanisms Ian chose to use were simple, elegant, and allowed the disparities between the different types of ships that were present (they ranged from steam-powered wooded line-of-battle ship to fully armoured steam corvettes) to be taken into account. As a result the re-fight was universally agreed to have been excellent, with both sides doing pretty well what their historical counterparts did.

Saturday Evening
Immediately after dinner I took part in Tim Gow's A FISTFUL OF HERRING naval wargame ...

... which he describes as being the sort of naval wargame that would have evolved if Fred Jane had met H G Wells in the pub one day and they had decided to design a naval wargame.

Once Tim's session was over we had to quickly clear the Panelled Room so that Jim Roche's OFF TO DUBLIN IN THE GREEN historical singalong with slides and film clips session could happen. This began at 10.30pm and ended just before midnight, and looked at what was happening during 1916. As a result we covered the Battle of Jutland, the Battle of the Somme, the Siege of Kut, and the Easter Rising, singing relevant songs of the period as we did so.

Sunday Morning and Afternoon
After the excitement and fun of the previous day, it was quite a change to go to John Bassett's session entitled FLUECHTLINGE after breakfast. This turned out to be a classic serious COW session, as it looked not only at what has been described as the worst ever refugee crisis ever (the expulsion of fourteen million Germans from Eastern Europe in 1945) but also at the possibility of designing different games that could help people to plan to deal with such crises as well as enabling those who have to deal with the consequences of forced expulsions, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and sexual violence to develop empathy for the victims of such events.

After such a dark but very thought-provoking session I took a short break in order to pack my stuff together and to discuss the conference with other attendees. These informal discussions continued until it was time for the WD AGM at 3.00pm. This took less than thirty minutes (there were very few changes made to the 'management' of Wargame Developments) and by the end I had already taken over twenty bookings for COW2017!

I left Knuston Hall just after 4.00pm, and by 6.15pm I was home. During my drive home I had much to think about, and I already have a couple of ideas for sessions for next year's conference!


  1. Amazing, isn't it Bob, we both had a great week end and our paths only crossed the once, at the Battle of Lissa game!

    I certainly got some ideas for next year too.

    1. Trebian,

      It was a classic COW. Lots of very interesting and different sessions, and I would have loved to have gone to more sessions than I managed to get to ... especially yours!

      There are some people who I only ever see at the plenary game, meal times, breaks and the AGM, and quite a few that I will only see once or twice at a session I am attending. It is one of he strengths of COW that there is such a variety of sessions on offer ... and long may it remain so.

      All the best,


  2. Bob
    Nice to meet you and everyone. It was indeed an enjoyable weekend, the result of which (for me personally) was the inspiration for three new games. One of these is an inkling and a few ideas; the second is almost fully formed in my mind and the third has the first draft set of rules written!

    A creative and productive time.


    1. Rumblestrip (Andrew),

      It was great to meet you and put a face to the name!

      I am very pleased that you enjoyed the conference, and that you left with ideas for new games. That is exactly why COW is so important to UK wargaming; it provides an opportunity for people to get together, talk, experiment, and to exchange ideas and experience in an outstanding location.

      All the best,


  3. Pleased that your Naval Battleship Games went over well BOB. Yes, the whole weekend certainly sounds very gentlemanly- a good group to be with. Regards. KEV.

    1. Kev,

      The rules worked well (even better than I hoped!) and I suspect from what was said after the session that several people will be using them as written or as a basis for their own rules.

      All the best,