Monday, 20 August 2018

As I Walked Out

I have been for a few days walking in the Cotswolds:

The River Severn in the distance

When one stays in a hotel on a Saturday in the UK there is always the possibility of sharing it with a wedding party, which will inevitably be loud, drunk and raucous. On this occasion our fellow guests turned out to be a submariners' reunion, and they were loud, drunk and raucous. Being the Royal Navy there were plenty of beards, tattoos and hip flasks full of rum. And that was just the wives.

A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


A sadly postponed visit to an exhibition about Noggin the Nog (would I lie to you?) left some unexpected free time which was utilised by having a first pass at setting up Varna. My information about the battle came mostly from the Freezywater publication on Janos Hunyadi, written by Bob Black and available from the Lance & Longbow Society, and from the Warhammer Historical book Vlad the Impaler by John Bianchi, which I suspect is out of print. A lot of online references to the battle seem to be of the lunatic, right-wing, alternate history type, but I thought this blog post from Dalauppror was very useful.

Janos Hunyadi puts himself about

The battle has some resemblances to a couple we have played in the legendary wargames room over the years. Firstly, it occurred during a crusade and, just like their predecessors three centuries earlier, the crusader commanders seem to have been totally inept at manoeuvring their armies.  On November 10th, 1444 they found themselves with their backs to the Black Sea, Lake Varda on their left flank and the impassable Franken Hills blocking the way to their right. The only way home was straight ahead, which was why the Ottomans had placed their army there and built a fortified camp. Secondly, at one point Sultan Murad II was apparently on the verge of doing a Frederick and making a run for it leaving his army behind; unlike the Prussian flautist he stayed put and, perhaps as a result, never became 'the Great'.

The view from the Franken Hills

Having quoted my sources - such as they are - I had better say that I have discounted much of what they write. I take the view that the forces were fairly evenly balanced, with the crusaders claim of being outnumbered three, or even five, to one being by way of an excuse for losing. I also don't believe the assertion in Bianchi's book that Vlad Dracul (the Impaler's father) commanded the Wallachians.

Murad's camp

The letters behind each unit are there to distinguish commands, while the numbers represent the base saving throw of the unit. White beads indicate lances, green beads are heroes, and in due course red beads will be hits. I may, or as so often may not, have a play through solo to see what happens, but there will certainly be a couple of changes. At the moment Zizka is standing in for Hunyadi, but Black's book has a Hunyadi standard and I have a mountain of unpainted plastic so I shall knock out a command stand for him. I also need a couple more stands of horse archers. Apart from that - and as long as one can cope with WotR hobilars as Wallachian light horse - we're good to go.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Explotar el puente

We entered a new era of wargaming - or at least a new theatre - last night when James' long awaited (long, long, long awaited) Peninsular War forces took to the table for the first time. Peter and I had no advance warning of this nor, more pertinently, that we would be playing Black Powder. I'm pretty sure that it was the first time this year that we had played them, and a certain rustiness showed through. James had obviously studied the Napoleonic elements in particular (skirmishers, squares, columns of attack etc), but I think we realised fairly early on that he was in the same boat as us when he tried to slip in a rule that clearly came from Blitzkrieg Commander.

The figures are, naturally, wonderfully painted. They have appeared a number of times already on his blog and I believe that he is intending to put up some more photos following this game. Speaking of which, I think what happened last night best described as exploratory. The rather abstract way that skirmishers are dealt with is much to my taste, but took a bit of getting one's head around. I think we all agreed that riflemen were too much of a super unit (I took out a whole regiment of hussars from great distance with one small group of them) and the next step is to try to incorporate their effect into general skirmish fire rather than having them represented separately. All those years ago when I started wargaming I was at the hyper-realist, rivet counting end of the spectrum; now I lean to as abstract as possible while retaining an acceptable level of recognisable period flavour.

For the record the game, a version of that old favourite the blow the bridge scenario, was not going the way of the British when we called it a night, but I think we had all gained a better understanding of the appropriate Black Powder Napoleonic tactics, not to mention reminding ourselves how the core rules work in the first place.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018


“O Life,
How oft we throw it off and think, - 'Enough,
Enough of life in so much! - here's a cause
For rupture; - herein we must break with Life,
Or be ourselves unworthy; here we are wronged,
Maimed, spoiled for aspiration: farewell Life!'
- And so, as froward babes, we hide our eyes
And think all ended. - Then, Life calls to us
In some transformed, apocryphal, new voice,
Above us, or below us, or around . .
Perhaps we name it Nature's voice, or Love's,
Tricking ourselves, because we are more ashamed
To own our compensations than our griefs:
Still, Life's voice! - still, we make our peace with Life.” 

           -  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Blood markers

"I learned to play the instruments of war, and paint in blood." - Cassandra Clare

There has been a bit of a conversation between the Don and me about Bill Boorer, which I wouldn't bother with unless you are especially keen to know who said what to whom in our home town forty years ago. Indeed possibly the most interesting thing about it is that he spells the name of the place as one word, whereas I have always favoured two.

However, it reminds me to tell you what happened to the print of a Strike Wing attack that I bought. You will recall that when it arrived it was clearly too large to fit comfortably in the annexe. Having been framed - at great expense - it has been sitting propped up in my living room. After staring at it for a while I have come to the conclusion that it is too large to fit in any sort of aesthetically pleasing way in the house itself. It has therefore, physical constraints notwithstanding, been hung in the annexe after all. I have no doubt that it will feature in due course in photos, looming out of scale over the tabletop. It has subsequently been joined on the wall by a thankfully smaller picture to provide a bit of balance. The only thing the two have in common is they both relate to periods that I don't actually game; perhaps that's the start of a theme.

The recent outbreak of modelling continues, but hasn't progressed beyond making markers and game aids. Still, one can never have enough of those and so I thought I would make some bead-carrying pins of the type often seen in photos on James' blog. Not only did this involve once again struggling with the lightweight filler, but also the use of superglue. Regular readers will know that for some reason I have never been particularly competent with the stuff; indeed I mainly use the UV hardened alternative instead these days. In this case I thought that the assembly line type process involved meant that superglue was more suitable, but still wasn't surprised when I found a piece in progress attached to my hand. I was somewhat more disconcerted to find that it wasn't because of a chemical bond forming between skin and copper, but rather because I had impaled myself on a carpet tack. By the time these things get used they will have been covered with acrylic burnt umber, but for now one of them is a tasteful reddish-brown.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Sharpie's Triumph

I forgot that I had taken some photos of the Malesov game, so here's one at random:

Spot the drunken hero

James' suggestion - and I know that you have been waiting for it - is to allocate the Victory Medals unevenly, with the warwagons getting the bulk. In order to win therefore the Imperialists will be forced to attack the wagenburg directly; historically accurate and tactically foolish. The sensible thing for me to do would be to try the idea out immediately, but naturally I won't; Varna is a different sort of battle.

One of the practical problems we encountered was the tokens sticking together in the bag as they were being drawn. This is no reflection on Warbases, but is rather due to a dodgy bottle of varnish that I had, which I applied after painting the backs to differentiate the various sets. I have therefore decided to try a different solution, namely Scrabble type plastic tiles:

As you can see the set includes a couple of symbols. I have some plans to use those for some scenario specific rules. The sixes and nines are distinguishable, but not easily without standing them side by side. Here's one bag's worth after judicious application of Sharpie pen.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hope was but a timid friend

Not that you would know from either James' blog or mine, but there has actually been some wargaming in the Lower Wharfe Valley. Two games in fact, very different in most ways, but what they shared was an eventual winner who had basically given up about two thirds of the way through and only carried on because there was plenty of time left.

The first was the blow the bridge scenario that we had played in the legendary wargames room two or three times a couple of years ago, and a very good game it gives. I was the Russians seeking to prevent said bridge being blown and, not remembering any details from the previous games, chose to bring the infantry on at the road entrance nearest to the bridge with the cavalry arriving later from one end of the table. When this was revealed there was much shaking of heads and sucking of teeth from Peter and James, with the strong consensus being that I'd got it all wrong. As it happens the gods of Piquet thought differently, because in the morale draw at the beginning I drew a Brilliant Leader card plus a Stratagem, which turned out to be basically another Brilliant Leader card for one command. The net effect was that that one infantry command stormed across the table and would actually have seized the bridge had I focussed on the important stuff rather than moving as many units as possible. If you ever play Piquet then that, dear reader, is the golden rule. The converse of having good cards in my deck was that I didn't have much morale. I failed major morale twice, ran out and actually started giving it to the Prussians. That basically means the game is over, but it was only about ten o'clock and my cavalry had just arrived so we carried on. The was nothing to do except act aggressively and damn the consequences; sure enough, from that point on it was a completely one sided affair and the Prussians fairly quickly succumbed.

The second game, in the less than legendary annexe, was the previously advertised Malesov. On this occasion the Imperialists gained an early advantage by immediately getting all their cavalry over the bridge - meant to be a bottleneck - and flanking the Hussites on both sides. With the warwagons' shooting achieving absolutely nothing, the Catholic crossbowmen advanced, fired and as luck would have it, killed Zizka himself; he not just being C-in-C, but also commander of the wagenburg. It didn't look good, but Peter - for it was he on this occasion - carried on because, well, the night was still young. And then, suddenly the wheels came off the Imperialists' caravan. They lost a couple of melees (although James did implausibly draw four tens in a row at one point), did very badly in the ensuing rout tests and, just like that, it was all over. The Hussites had won without moving anything off the table.

That last point does make me wonder about the quality of the scenario. James came up with a good sounding approach to force the crusaders to attack the warwagons front on, which of course is what they did at the time, but which no tabletop commander with any sense is going to voluntarily repeat. Details will be given in a future post along with those of one or two other changes to equipment that I am going to make to improve gameplay of TtS!. We are back to James' next week, but I think the next game in the annexe will be Varna, 1444. There are still warwagons, but it also gives me a chance to break out the Ottomans. And yes, I do have a Janissary marching band.