Sunday, 31 December 2017

JJ's Look Back on 2017 and Plans for 2018

As the Emperor Trajan demonstrated, successful projects are all about planning and preparation in a methodical step by step approach

I can't believe how quickly it seems time moves on with another year gone and another to look forward to.

JJ's Wargames has been and will, I hope, continue to be a magazine style blog in the spirit of the great Wargaming monthly journals that so characterised the hobby back in the times when plastics were Airfix, that didn't hold the paint, and variable pose figures were either soldiers holding muskets as if they were putting their umbrellas up to the order "present brollies!" or nothing - ah happy days, who needs all this variety and choice?

So in the spirit of that kind of blog I have looked to develop a mix of posts covering a wide range of subjects that I, (that's why it's called JJ's Wargames) and I hope other wargamers, might find an interesting read alongside an ongoing theme designed to provide continuity and a demonstration of the way I like to plan and build wargaming projects that is by no means unique but I hope none the less interesting to follow.

I write this review and preview in great anticipation, unlike any of the previous annual posts because I know there are great changes afoot which will impact hugely on the plans outlined here and I am really excited about the implications for future wargaming projects that I hope to show here on JJ's.

However, let's not get ahead of ourselves here and, as usual, take a look at what has happened in the last twelve months and consider the good and not so good aspects of 2017 in light of all the stuff promised in 2016.

2017 Review
It was only as I was working my way through the posts for this year pulling out pictures to include for this review that I realised  not only how much of what was promised in my 2016 plan had been carried through but how much extra activity on top of that had been covered; and so to stop this post going into a two parter, and no one wants that, including me, I started putting the following collages together that help capture the things covered here on JJ's this year.

Great fun with Talavera this year - Thanks to all involved for making it one to remember

Of course the dominant theme for the last few years reached a crescendo in 2017 when in the company of friends and with a much wider audience of those who have followed this monster as it grew here on JJ's, Talavera 208 was all I had hoped for and more, with all three games providing six days of entertainment and with the project raising £1,103.52 in support of Combat Stress.

The star of my 2017 wargaming was the Talavera table

After having invested three years putting the collection together it was such fun finally getting the thing out on the table and not only having fun, raising money for a worthy cause but also getting some really revealing insights about the challenges facing Wellesley and Joseph during this pivotal battle of the Peninsular War.

I had always wanted to fight this particular battle in the 'grand manner', Peter Gilder style ever since reading about it in my early teens and picturing the array of gaudy uniforms under a hot Spanish sun battling for the ascendancy in the Tagus Valley.

I can finally cross Talavera off the 'bucket list' and always have the memories from 2017 to look back on.

Books reviewed on JJ's in 2017
The book reviews have continued on into 2017 with nine titles reviewed by myself and Mr Steve, four titles down on our output for 2016, but I think there have been a lot of activities happening that have certainly interrupted my normal reading routine, not to mention the three other novels from the Anthony Riches series, 'Empire' that I have read since my review of 'The Wolfs Gold' back in October.

That said I have always been a firm believer in quality rather than quantity and the book reviews are a really good way of, not only highlighting the historical books that both Steve and I have read from a wargamers perspective, but, certainly from my perspective and I suspect Steve's as well, really helping to cement the understanding we have gained from those books in our own minds when working out how best to summarise the content for you the reader. So everyone's a winner.

Certainly your feedback and comments have been very positive and with Mr Steve's continued input will be a permanent fixture on the blog.

The four away shows attended this year

Wargame shows have always been a series of highlights in the calendar for me and I find them a great way of immersing myself in the hobby, sharing time with like folks who share a common passion. I always learn new things at all the shows I go to and always come away with inspiration and ideas for games of my own.

This year saw a new addition to the calendar with our trip up to Newark in May to visit the first of the two Partizan shows.

In the company of the chaps from the DWG we decided to make a weekend of it by travelling up on the Saturday to spend time gaming at Wargames Foundry, plus taking in the sites before attending the show on the Sunday.

We had a blast of a weekend and have pencilled in this show for 2018 which looks likely to become a bit of a regular thing.

As well as the four 'away' shows, the Devon Wargames Group also put on two games at the Legionary show in Exeter in May, where I was able to play-test the Casa de Salinas scenario for the Over the Hills rule set, part of a collection of games we are putting together specifically for the rules.

As well as attending Partizan we also got to visit some of the sites and took in a game at Foundry

Despite the lack of further visits to battlefield in Devon, a feature I am determined to rectify in 2018, this year has been a bumper year for battlefield touring and I have managed to take in a few places I had not visited before. In addition I have been able to combine them with visits to some amazing museums and have had great pleasure sharing them here on JJ's.

Perhaps Oxford could be described as the cockpit of England with so much history to take in on our long weekend

The English Civil War has figured large on the battlefield visit list with trips to Edghill, Cropredy Bridge, Lagport and Marston Moor. Along with those I posted on trips to Towton, Stamford Bridge, Fulford, Boxtel, Eindhoven and Nijmegan.

We had an amazing trip to York, like Oxford in the south, the very centre of the history in the north of England

The museum visits have been really special this year with an emphasis on including items associated with upcoming themes here on JJ's so a real thrill to see the Roman, Viking and Saxon collections in York, and likewise the amazing Roman collections in Nijmegan, Xanten and Haltern on our holiday in Holland.

Great inspiration from the museum visits this summer in Holland and Germany

Our summer holiday in Holland was particularly special as I haven't been back to this country since visiting as a child with my parents back in the seventies.

The Market Garden sites really only touched the tip of the iceberg, with so much more for future visits 

As well as the ancient history of the area I was very interested in tracing my father's footsteps from more recent times and in particular visits to his former CO, Captain Good's grave site in Belgium and an opportunity to stand on the spot in Eindhoven, with his grandsons Tom and Will, where he parked up seventy three years previously on his way up to Nijmegan during the Arnhem Campaign - a really special memory.

The journey along 'Hell's Highway' to Eindhoven was very special

Alongside the games, book reviews. visits to shows, museums and battlefields there has been a gradual shift in emphasis with regard to the painting with the other projects mentioned in the plans from the 2016 review taking a front and centre position.

This changes saw the Talavera collection finished off in the first quarter of 2017 in time for the first game in June and with a slight pause to allow for games and holidays consuming a lot of the hobby time the shift to the new 28mm collections of Dark Age figures and my Romano-Dacians.

In addition I have also managed to include work for friends collections and special games organised with the club where certain figures have been requested.

The move to 28mm this year has been so relaxing for my old eyes!

It really has been a vintage year in the hobby and I have so many memories to treasure from it that it is hard to imagine it being topped, but the hobby is all about what will you do next, not what you did yesterday, and I, like most wargamers, are always planning and thinking about other great games to play and collections to build.

So where are things going in 2018?

2018 Plan
Well as the header to this post subtly hinted at, the construction process for the next big JJ's Wargame Campaign is underway with Trajan's and possibly Domitian's invasion of Dacia and a collection of 28mm figures designed to model the conflict.

As has been outlined previously, the rules I intend to use for these games will be Phil Hendry's "Augustus to Aurelian" and as with my Napoleonics I will build the collection in corresponding groups of Romans and Dacians to allow for small games to be played on the journey to a collection allowing for bigger ones.

I have a time and place in mind to roll out the larger game sometime in September, but that is Top Secret at the moment with all to be revealed in the new year. The other caveat to that plan is that it could enable the association with Combat Stress to continue and the raising of monies to support their great work.

The collection grew a little over Xmas with a present from Tom of the new Roman Auxiliary Infantry from Victrix and I will be looking to get more of these chaps together with the Victrix cavalry due out early 2018.

The shift in scale and era requires a bit of a 'terrain build' project to commence in the new year with a plan to add scatter terrain, new trees and a range of buildings and defensive works.

As the collection grows the plan will develop to build in further 'Enemies of Rome' including more Roman troops to allow Rome to do what is does best, civil war.

With the additional 28mm terrain items I decided that a smaller collection of Dark Ages figures should commence ahead of the shift from Napoleonics into Romano-Dacians and with the next figures to showcase being my Viking Hirdmen am well on the way to getting this mini-project complete to be able to start some games in the first half of next year, time permitting.

The Devon Wargames Group forms a big part of my wargaming hobby and has grown dramatically in the last two years. The really nice aspect of that growth is that we now have more people interested in an ever wider diet of historical periods and scale that allows one the opportunity to try out different games and rule sets as well as enjoying the social aspect of our hobby.

This year at the club I have showcased some games using an old set of rules 'Target for Tonight' recreating the night bombing campaign of Bomber Command. It has allowed me to dig out an old game and collection that I had filed away but, with new players interested in developing the game further, has given me thoughts to expand the collection and develop the rules this year.

The club and myself have also invested in a collection of new terrain mats from Tiny Wargames and I have included a new 'Battle of Britain' mat to further develop my collection of 1/300th aircraft and scenarios from the battle using 'Bag the Hun' from the Lardies, which is an excellent set of rules.

The Napoleonic theme will continue on into the early part of 2018 as Steve M and I work on a project to put together an early Peninsular War collection of scenarios covering the first two years of British involvement in the conflict, 1808-09 which has produced a series of game reports covered here and on the Devon Wargames Group blog using 'Over the Hills' rules.

This project has been a labour of love exploring what this set of rules can do when modelling historical scenarios and we are looking to share the results of that work later in 2018.

The clue to that Spanish engagement lies in the picture

In addition I am looking to put together another scenario looking at a particular Spanish engagement. This is in very early planning but I will start thinking about the game and how to model it in January after the holiday.

The aim is that the Napoleonic collection will progress slowly in the background to the other main themes with a view to starting the next focus in that theme later, with the collection that is built forming the core to develop future Peninsular War games.

Finally one particular project that has been waiting for some TLC has been my interest in the Age of Sail. When I talk of AOS I refer principally to the late 18th century when Britain's enemies at sea were a more formidable prospect that during the later early 19th century and of course that refers to large naval encounters rather than the smaller ship to ship affairs of the War of 1812.

I have a new sea mat on order and some ideas about developing some games in this arena so, time permitting, I am hoping to start work on this project at different times during 2018. With my new mat will also come the opportunity to get the WWII naval collection back up and running so that may allow another itch to get scratched.

As well as my own projects going forward I have other work in the pipeline including some figures to add to Steve M's French Indian War collection and a certain Dad's Army personality together with a bunch of fanatical Falschirmjagers for a planned game at Chez Chas next summer.

Hopefully then you can look forward to a shmorgishborg of games, figures and themes, and I see the forthcoming year as being very much one of transition and change but looking to lay the foundations for some great future games and collections which I look forward to sharing the progress of along with all the other content that has become a regular feature here on JJ's Wargames.

I wish everyone a great 2018 and every encouragement with your own wargaming projects


Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Battle of Mordor - Sauron's Revenge

It started with rumours that a terrible force threatened the peace of Middle Earth, and that strange folk roamed the land carrying warnings of doom from Mordor, Elvish for 'North Devon' as it is now known in the Fourth Age.

Scholars came forth proclaiming that events would unravel and that the decision as to who would rule, Good or Evil, would all be decided according to the code, known simply as 'Dragon Rampant'.

The Fellowship gathered again in the Shire, Elvish for 'South Devon', and prepared themselves for the dangerous trek north, braving cave trolls and fearsome bands of orcs roaming the countryside west of Minas Tirith now known simply as South Molton.

On arriving before the walls of Mordor it was evident that Sauron was very far from dead and defeated as the saga had been told and retold.

The eye blazed out yet again, though perhaps slightly dimmer than in times past which would explain the intelligence that two of Sauron's armies approached his stronghold carrying cauldrons of pure evil and spite designed to top up the tanks in the mighty fortress and pave the way for the production of even bigger armies ready to pour out of the city and head south to Exeter.

Not only was it imperative that the forces of Gondor and Rohan prevent the additional evil, making its way into to Sauron's lair, but that the Fellowship should engineer a way into Mordor and now, having recovered the ring from Gollum, who didn't fall into the crack of doom carrying the evil band but actually slipped it on and dodged round Sam and Frodo to leg it back to his sheek little mountain pad deep in the middle of Exmoor.

Once into the fortress the plan was the same, namely to drop that gaudy piece of bling back into the fiery crack from whence it came in the first place and allow the peaceful normal folk to go about their business of finding a good ale to drink and good weed to smoke, without fear of being grabbed by the balrogs.

The Mouth of Sauron oversees the defence of the main gate into Mordor

The forces of Rohan and Gondor had mustered in good time and marched north ready to deal with this problem once and for all, camping either side of the fortress in preparation for attacking in the morning.

Sauron though, was wise to the plan and had summoned his armies to force march to his aid whilst lining the battlements with his orc guard and readying to sally forth with the Witch King aboard his favourite Nazgul, Simon, and the local bouncer, come gate guard, Roger the Troll that always seemed to raise a snigger from the orcs.

The four armies were conveniently arrayed on the high ground around the evil tower and city walls emitting foul smelling vapours and gushing torrents of disgusting pollutants that besmirched the land around killing anything it came into contact with.

With roars of defiance from the opposing armies, the advance to battle was on, as the Riders of Rohan swept into the valley to be met by hoards of  mounted wargs with orcs wielding lance and bow.

The advance into the valley by the men of Gondor and the Uruk-hai was somewhat less enthusiastic or perhaps that had something to do with some difficulty in getting the two dice rolled to come up with anything higher than a four.

So as usual it would be down to Gandalf and the Fellowship to make best use of the aggressive start made by the warriors of Rohan and force their way into Sauron's smart looking North Devon apartment block.

The riders of Rohan drew first blood sweeping in among the warg riders and decimating their ranks and beating up a black rider on the way in, not needing the attempted spell casting from Gandalf providing over-watch from the hills behind.

Meanwhile on the other flank the elite Rohan mounted guard waded in among bill carrying orcs after softening them up with a bit of bow fire.

This proved too much for King Theodan's champion, supposed to be standing by in case his support was needed and, before the King could utter the immortal words 'not yet', he was gone, smashing his way in among a bunch of Haradrim archers and then barrelling on into a big hairy bunch of Easterling warriors minding their own business and trying their best not to draw attention to themselves.

While all the fun was going on on their flanks the Rohan infantry advanced with the Fellowship and a big bunch of Dwarf warriors in the centre straight towards the walls of Mordor.

The orcs lining the battlements showered the attack with a good hosing of crossbow bolts to be met with return volleys from elvish archers.

The Rohan and Fellowship attack caught the attention of the Witch King, swooping in on Simon the Nazgul, with Roger the Troll doing his best to keep up.

The elves were forced to redirect their fire skywards and their anti-air support at least drove off the Witch King only to see the elves get caught by a black rider coming in from their flank and decimating the unit.

While the battle raged before the walls of Mordor, Eomer and Eowyn assaulted the walls along with their select bodyguard sweeping the battlements clear of orcs and driving on into the fortress only to be themselves driven back by the Mouth of Sauron and his elite fortress guard.

Both sides were well and truly battered, except the men of Gondor and the Uruk-hai who glared at each other and fired the odd bow.

It was now up to the Fellowship to turn the tide of battle in that filmic way that only a four foot midgit and an old bloke with a long white beard can do.

Aragorn led the attack replacing Eomer and Eowyn, as he smashed his way over the walls driving back the Mouth and his guard as Gandalf  moved to the centre and dealt with the Black Rider who had wiped out the Elvish archers.

Roger the Troll tried to get stuck in but got badly spiked by the Rohan spearmen and a bit of Dwarf action and was forced back to get a plaster put on a nasty graze to his knee.

Taking full advantage of the mayhem and the fact that they were invisible until they involved themselves in any combat, the Hobbits followed Aragorn over the walls and tried to gain access to the tower un-observed.

Surprisingly, considering that they were indeed invisible, the Hobbits progress up the steps to the tower door was suddenly blocked by the Witch King and Simon the Nazgul who decided to break off from attacking the warriors of Rohan and conveniently perch on the last narrow step in front of the door leading to the Crack of Doom.

With no option other than to fight their way in, Frodo and his companions revealed themselves, drew swords and charged the Witch King and Simon the Nazgul, losing two of their number but adding to the hits already caused by Elvish archers and the men of Rohan leaving their path clear and victory in sight.

Of course after any combat our plucky heroes are required to take a 'Courage' test, only needing a five or more on two d6, which they and the other forces of Good had been rolling happily all afternoon.

So why you may ask did we end up rolling a four! I use the word 'we' loosely as it was yours truly that rolled the offending dice resulting in Frodo not completing his victory circuit of Mordor, not getting a lift home on the back of an Eagle and not retiring gracefully into the ranks of the heroes now residing happily beyond the sea in the west.

No it was deemed Frodo had lost his bottle or wits to Sauron's will, slipped the ring on and legged it off to Exmoor to become the new Gollum.

The Xmas fun in deepest darkest North Devon was brought to you courtesy of Chas and Clive putting together the terrain and Clive's figure collection, he claims is for his Grandson, and the other chaps from the Devon Wargames Group, Vince, Steve M, Tom, Will and your reporter JJ.

Happy New Year to everyone.