Sunday, 19 November 2017

Warfare 2017

I don't suppose I am alone among the wargame community in having favourite shows that I attend become like landmarks through the year and indeed years as one starts to look back at shows remembered from past times when chatting with friends having similar memories.

I have been coming to Warfare now, on and off for too many years that I care to remember and have reported on a couple of them here on the blog.

Warfare 2016
Warfare 2014

Each time is an opportunity to take a moment to reflect on the hobby with friends, get inspiration for ongoing and new projects and just enjoy a day spending time in the company of like souls passionate about a great hobby.

The traders hall seemed not as busy as last year, and as a punter made the 'retail experience' a much more pleasurable one with time to browse and see what was new without being elbow to elbow with fellow shoppers.

This year, following last year's difficulties getting parked before the show, Steve Vince and I set out from Exeter good and early which saw us arrive a good fifteen minutes before doors open and thus we managed to get parked and into the traders hall right from the start.

I had ordered up a Roman Fort from Martin at Warbases which will be part of the Roman-Dacian project next year and will form a nice back-drop to one of my planned games which will see battle before the walls of Sarmizegetusa.

In addition to the Roman stuff I am in the middle of getting my Dux Bellorum Saxon/Viking collections done and with the Viking Hirdmen on the painting desk as I write, I picked up the LBM shield decals for them and my remaining Dark Age Warrior box, plus this very nice Viking banner man complete with banner from Gripping Beast

Moving swiftly on whilst the hall was relatively open and easy to get around I worked my way over to the Perry Miniatures stand and also picked up a box of plastic Continental Infantry as part of my contribution to getting some figures put together for this year's Devon Wargames Group Xmas big game, now re-named the Gus Murchie Memorial Game in memory of a great friend and fellow club member no longer with us.

I will have to get these ready for a Muskets & Tomahawk game but plan to incorporate these into a future new Maurice collection for the AWI in 28mm.

So with all the purchases done and dusted the remaining part of the day was freed up to go and chat with friends at the show and to wonder around the display games so as to give you an impression of the day here on the blog.

The display game hall seemed as busy as in previous years but lacked a little in terms of the games that had been seen before
You will know my normal routine is to give you a very personalised perspective of the shows I visit and the games that grab my attention.

This means that I tend to linger around tables that fascinate my eye as a modeller, appealing to the aestheticist in me or a game that has my interest from an 'historical' or 'rules being used' perspective where the look of the game used to display that particular action or set or rules really interests me.

So what follows is the collection of games that ticked those boxes at yesterday's show.

Gettysburg, Lee's Right Hook, ACW 28mm - Earlswood Wargames Club

The first game pictured here should need no explanation as to why I spent the time lingering and finding new views to hold in the viewfinder.

This particular game stood out heads above for me as an example of a great display game with attention to detail, lovely terrain and a feast for the eye.

As you will know the American Civil War has never really 'floated my boat' but that took nothing away from the pleasure I had in photographing this game and the Earlswood chaps are to be congratulated for adding much to my day and I suspect a few others with this lovely table.

Battle of Stoke Field 1487 - Newbury & Reading Wargames Society

This particular game grabbed my attention because I was stood on the edge of this very battlefield with Mr Steve earlier this year on our visit to Wargames Foundry and Partizan with the battlefield being situated right next door to the Foundry shop and premises.

Battle of Stoke Field
Wargames Foundry & Battlefield of Stoke Field

The weather on the day which saw the rain coming down in stair-rods prohibited any serious exploration but it is on the list of planned places to see next year.

Arguably the last battle and spluttering end to the viscous Wars of the Roses, the armies and key positions were nicely captured in this 28mm display game.

Battle of Raphia 217 BC - Newbury & Reading Wargames Society 

With my focus very much on my own 28mm ancient collection going into next year, my eye is immediately drawn to ancient games in this scale and the look of the games created, no matter if the period is outside the parameters of my own.

Elephants and massed ranks of pikes is always likely to draw attention and the Newbury and Reading chaps seemed to be deeply engrossed in play when I wondered up to take pictures of their game.

Prince Rupert's Blue-coats, Victory without Quarter - Sealed Knot

I love the English Civil War period and the sight of musket and pike blocks going toe to toe, and so was immediately drawn to the sight of a few chaps from the Sealed Knot Society dressed in appropriate period garb overseeing this very nice collection of 28mm figures doing their stuff.

Occasionally you don't have to spend a fortune on rule-books lavishly filled with wargamers-porn to acquire a really well thought out and entertaining set of rules.

Among examples of this would be 'A Cost of Steel' for playing Wars of the Roses games and in this case 'Victory without Quarter' for the English Civil War.

Victory without Quarter rules.pdf

I was really interested to stop and watch this game being played with my favourite mechanism of random activation, but also to enjoy getting these pictures of the game in play.

Ancients 28mm (Possibly Malvern Old Wargamers) 

With my eye out for ancient collections on show I took a look at this 28mm collection which I assume is the Malvern Old Wargamers, which if mis-attributed, please drop me a comment for a re-edit.

The game had Warlord Romans and Dacians on the table so I was really interested to see how the units were modelled and displayed.

Forager - Stand to Games Ltd

Adrian McWalter and Quinton Dalton were present yesterday displaying their lovely new range of characterful 28mm Peninsular War Napoleonics designed to compliment their new skirmish level rule set 'Forager'

The chaps not only had their display game up and running to show how the rules played but also had an additional display to announce a further development with Forager 2 for wars in North America.

Of course Adrian and Quinton are the inspiration behind Over the Hills, Napoleonic rules, a set I am very much involved with at the moment, developing a collection of Peninsular War battle scenarios with my good friend Steve M, so it was really great for Steve and I to chat with the guys about the games we have played to date and ideas around the rules in general.

Aylesbury Wargames Club - Team Yankee

When I were but a lad and the Cold War was very much a reality rather than a period in history I spent quite a few hours playing BAOR Cold War games in 1:300th using Wargames Research Group rules.

I was struck then by the increased potential of massed destruction offered by weaponry rapidly increased in its effectiveness in the post WWII era with lines of massed Soviet armour rapidly turned into a pyre of smouldering steel.

I am afraid the period lost its appeal for me in those early years in the hobby with the realisation that models didn't stay active for very long on a Cold War battle table and the games became a rather sterile affair of who could kill who the quickest, with one campaign game I remember culminating in a nuclear mine being let off on the outskirts of Exeter providing the final full stop to that particular game and I think my interest in the era.

That said, having lived through the Cold War, and enjoying driving a Chieftain Tank over Salisbury Plain for a 40th birthday treat, I am fascinated in the new interest in the period and Battlefront's lead into modelling it in 15mm with all the implied scale distortion that inevitably entails.

That said the figures, models and terrain can be very effective in the look they create and although a period I would not get into, still can draw my eye with fond recollection of games and collections past.

So that's Warfare 2017 and another year in the hobby nearly concluded but with lots of inspiration and thoughts garnered for future games and collections.

Congratulations to the organising committee and members of the Wargames Association of Reading for pulling off another great show, 38th in the history of the show 'Warfare' and with the club celebrating 39 years in the hobby, hitting their 40th anniversary in February 2018.

The Devon Wargames Group are not far behind with our 37th anniversary this year and well aware of the club traditions that an established club creates.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and spending time with friends and look forward to Warfare in 2018.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mr Steve's Book Review Poll

As regular followers of JJ's Wargames will know, Book Reviews form a big part of the posts on the blog and I am helped with that content by the contributions of Mr Steve who adds to the value of this blog by covering historical reading that would not necessarily fall into my orbit, just as my regular diet of books would not necessarily match his.

Thus we are able to create synergy where the coming together of our joint reading habit produces a greater product than either one alone and hopefully makes this a more entertaining read for you. Don't you just love the thought that goes on here and some of you were probably thinking this thing just gets thrown together!

Last week Mr Steve had me entertain the idea of bringing a little democracy to this corner of the internet by considering opening up the blog to the views of its readers, and allowing you to have some say on the content!

A wise man once advised not to ask a question unless you already knew the answer, something I am sure David Cameron regrets to this day.

So in the spirit of seeing whether you care about the stuff that gets posted up here, and a curiosity as to whether you can be bothered to express any particular desires to input into the process I have been persuaded by Mr Steve to ask the question.

From the following list, which book would you like Mr Steve to review first?

1. The First Anglo-Sikh War - Amarpal Singh
2. The Second Sikh War - Amarpal Singh
3. British & Indian Army Campaigns on the North West Frontier 1849-1908 - Captain H.L. Neveill
4. The Second Barons War, Lewes and Evesham - John Sadler
5. The Roman Emperor Aurelian - John White

I know which one is my choice, but in the spirit of honest broker and interested onlooker I will refrain from expressing a preference and leave the choice to you.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Night Attack, Talavera

Scenario play-testing continues with the next in the Talavera series looking at the night attack carried out by General Ruffin's infantry division on the night of the 27th July 1809 as the armies settled themselves into the Talavera line.

Night attacks are not common during this era of warfare, for the obvious reasons of command and control and finding the enemy in a period that relied very much on line of sight.

The first set up with the French battalions too dispersed for operating at night

This scenario has proved perhaps the most challenging to construct and play using Over the Hills given that we had to incorporate a layer of rules over the basic rules to facilitate the night battle.

Likewise the British were in the right place but those forward KGL battalions needed to double up

As with all this series of historical re-fights the process begins with working out who was there in what strength and where exactly they were.

You might think that would be relatively quite straight-forward but as with a lot of battles from this period and indeed many others, it is not always that easy. The Duke of Wellington's famous quote about battles being like balls, in that the reporter was only really aware of what was happening in their corner of the ball-room, often comes to mind.

The reset start with closed up French now with their commanders in play to monitor command ranges, and a very open Medellin

Anyway most of the sources agree that the Cerro de Medellin was, remarkably, left undefended that evening, a fact that Marshal Victor set out to exploit by sending a division across the valley floor with what seemed like an open goal to put the ball in.

Thus the set up pictures with markers representing the approximate positions of the various battalions needed to reflect that fact.

The only thing that could interfere with French progress towards their objective was the very thing that would allow them to march towards it hopefully unnoticed, namely the cover of darkness.

Similarly the KGL have doubled up on the road with commanders in play - General Hill and Stuart's brigade will appear in the lower left of picture

Thus we come to that layer of rules designed to simulate the potential chaos that could cause individual units to lose their way, fire on friends and surprise enemy alike; all conducted under a dark night sky where visibility could come and go leaving commanders aware of the proximity of the enemy but unable to fire because of a sudden drop in visibility range or indeed vice versa.

First contact, the 5th KGL are caught by the column of the 1/96e Ligne

The blinds or markers are not a new idea but proved a simple way of identifying units that had been spotted and those that hadn't.

The other concern was time, in that the whole French attack lasted slightly less than a hour, indicating a rapid French advance and perhaps a good level of knowledge about the ground given they had been encamped in the area for several weeks before the battle.

The French get the best of the exchange of musketry as the red die appears on the German battalion

In the end we allowed ourselves the luxury of twice the amount of time than in the actual battle to allow the French to try and consolidate a hold on the Medellin should they manage to get more troops on it than did General Ruffin who managed to get just three of his nine battalions to the top.

With the first contact resolved the visibility increases revealing to Baron Low and his 5th KGL the strength of the attack

We played this scenario twice and rapidly discovered the issues with the first draft that were not apparent on a simple read through. That's why play-testing is so important.

In the second game with the adjustments made we saw the French emulate their historical predecessors by rapidly crossing the Portina stream with quite a tight grouping of battalions, with what looked like a potential seven on target for the summit and General Hill nowhere to be seen.

The 96me Ligne on course to attack the KGL as the rest of the division make a home run for the summit of the Medellin

Even when the lead battalions of the 96me Ligne 'bumped' Low's KGL brigade, the lead French column managed to come out on top in the first exchange of musketry as the German battalion failed to cause a hit and received two in return from the head of the column - it seemed the KGL were as disordered and surprised as the historical accounts, that saw them rapidly dispersed losing many men taken prisoner.

The battle between Low's KGL and the 96me Ligne leaves both sides battered with the French marginally stronger as the 9me Legere take the summit. Stewart's brigade can be seen arriving top right. 

The British surprise at the attack was simulated by having their closest brigades on hold orders in the areas of their bivouacs until General Hill could take command and call on them to clear any French on the hill top.

General Hill redirects Donkin's brigade to support Stuart's as he sets about dealing with the French incursion

Then just as it was looking really rosy for French fortunes ill luck and poor situational awareness from several battalion commanders reduced the French battalions headed for the summit from seven to three.

Stuart brings his brigade up the hill, well almost, as the 29th Foot can be seen heading in the wrong direction at right

If this wasn't bad enough General Hill, leading Stuart's brigade, in response to all that musketry, arrived on the back slope and immediately made contact with Colonel Donkin to redirect his brigade towards the hill top.

As the British battalions prepared to counter-attack the clock was against them and the French had already assumed an unassailable points tally

Some relief came with the 29th Foot losing the direction of march and diverging from their brigade comrades but that this still gave the British commander four very good battalions to strike at the three battalions of the 9me Legere.

Game end - the 9me Legere in proud possession of the Medellin

The saving grace for the French was that their progress had been so rapid and the British response, a turn or two too slow in reacting. This meant that the Legere would be repulsed but not soon enough, allowing them to grab an unassailable lead in victory points and thus a French victory.

This scenario is easily played in an evening and poses several decision points to the commanders on both sides trying to manage the chaos of operating at night.