Thursday, 31 December 2020

JJ's Wargames Year End Review, 2020 & The Plan for the New Year Ahead, 2021

A Storm with an Anchored Warship in Distress off a Rocky Coast - Nicholas Pocock

When I sat down to start this annual review for the blog, I began by looking for a suitable header-picture to try and capture some of the thoughts I had about this year's wargaming activities and the plans I have looking forward for 2021; and, as with last year, the nautical theme captured my imagination, but instead of the focus on the plans very much front and centre in last year's post, this year feels a very different situation that I suspect many of us find ourselves in.

I then saw the evocative picture by Nicholas Pocock of a warship, practically dismasted, looking close to dragging her anchors on a rocky lee shore and with her ensign upside down signalling the distress of attempting to ride out the storm and immediately thought how the scene seemed to capture so much of how 2020 feels like after a year of lockdowns; with constant mortality reports, news of political unrest brought to the streets, a seemingly never ending Brexit negotiation and our hobby time impacted massively by the requirements of social distancing, but with the promise of better times ahead now several vaccines seem close to being made generally available, captured in the burst of sunshine in the break in the clouds.

My header from last year's annual review with so much to look forward to doing in the New Year
in a world so different to the one we have now.
JJ's Wargames - Year End Review 2019
I then thought of how this year has been very much a case of 'battening down the hatches' which has caused a lot of distress for many and less so perhaps for others but has naturally caused change to the daily routine and the wider adoption of technology to enable different forms of social interaction to continue and in my own case see me finally grasp the intent to use Vassal for boardgaming to its full extent with Steve and I now very comfortable using the platform to continue our regular boardgaming meet-ups whilst chatting over social media.

So with the caveat of what a year 2020 has been and the impact it has had I thought I would look at how much wargaming activity has been covered here on the blog and the changes to the content caused and what I hope to do in the New Year with another caveat that the future is still fairly uncertain.

This year started to look like most others and with my table back in action after a few months of house renovations had caused it to be covered up it was great to be able to welcome Jack, David and Bob around it to start to work up a set of rules, War by Sail, for my growing collection of 1:700th age of sail model ships, that culminated in us playing the action off Cape Ortegal fought after Trafalgar in November 1805.

Our 'War by Sail' game of the Action of Cape Ortegal 4th November 1805, played back in February in what turned out to be the last game fought on the table this year.

Only a few weeks prior to that game I attended the only wargames show I got to visit in 2019 when I drove down to Plymouth for PAW 2020 which now seems like a lifetime ago and, looking at the pictures from my report, like another world away from the one we now inhabit.

My picture of the main hall at PAW in early February this year in a the world we used to have with the babble of wargamers enjoying their hobby in social conviviality.

Then the following month I attended the last gathering of the Devon Wargames Group since the pandemic and reported on a great game that most of the club participated in whem club members Lee, Mel and Jamie brought along their amazing collection of Lord of the Rings figures and terrain to stage the Battle of Pelennor Field, so it was certainly a good game to bring a premature end to the year on.

We didn't know it at the time but this great LOTR game would be the last held at the Devon Wargames Group meeting in early March.

So effectively a normal year in the hobby came to an end in March 2020 with the government announcement of a national lockdown in the face of the Covid19 Pandemic that changed the world forever and changed the content of the blog.

My reaction to this situation was fairly philosophical based on my professional experience in the pharmaceutical industry and knowing 'that this to shall pass' whilst conscious that at times like this our responsibility to others is called upon and thus the pleasures of a simple hobby and pastime take second place to those other more important demands.

So, like for many others, the regular hobby habits had to be adjusted to the new situation and thus whilst some activities such as wargame shows, face to face gaming and visits to historical sights were reduced of stopped altogether, others, like reading, modelling and adventures into new activities such as remote boardgaming and video tutorials definitely gained from the change of focus and illustrates well why our hobby is one that fits in well with any life situation offering so many ways for us to express ourselves and enjoy all its many aspects.

So it was really interesting pulling this post together to see how the change had affected the content of the blog whilst noting that the output of posts was maintained and I start the review with the book reviews posted this year that is one area of my hobby that definitely gained from the change.

The opportunity to read more books has been amply rewarded with a lot of additional books read and reviewed here on JJ's.

Historical wargaming as opposed to simply gaming demands and rather presupposes an underlying interest in the history that underpins the gaming activity and a regular reading habit supports that base of knowledge that informs the games we play.

Reading for me is such a pleasure and a natural turn to in between modelling and painting and certainly at bedtime with a book setting up my pre-sleep routine perfectly, and I always have the next book lined up ready to replace that one being currently read.

I very rarely give my books a new home, hence I now have a rather extensive collection covering the periods and themes of military history that interests me; and with the current theme very much focussed on age of sail it has been a real pleasure picking out old books from my collection and rereading some of them alongside the newer titles I have picked this year, not to mention the odd excursion into other themes to broaden the diet.

At this rate I'm going to need to get some more book shelves!

It was really pleasing to see that the book reviews, which included a review from Mr Steve, were dramatically up on the year with just six looked at last year and nineteen this year which certainly reflects my own reading habits, as not every book I read gets reviewed on the blog.

Unfortunately face to face gaming alongside show attendance were the most changed aspects in my hobby year, with a good start on the gaming front with the Target for Tonight Battle for Berlin Bomber Campaign reaching a climax with just two games left to complete the eight game series when pandemic stopped play, and very much at the top of my play list once we can resume normal activity.

The Target for Tonight Battle of Berlin was proving an interesting campaign of eight games when we were forced to call a halt after six games played.

Likewise the age of sail gaming was just getting started with our two meetings to play 'War by Sail' which holds much promise as a turn to set of rules but unfortunately that development was also brought to a premature postponement.
War by Sail getting an early play test before the pandemic

Thus with face to face gaming on hold for the foreseeable I turned to other ways to get my gaming fix which resulted in me digging out the Vassal collection of boardgame modules to help fill the time, first with a solo game module of Tonnage Wars recreating the U-boat war against Atlantic convoys and then setting up a regular Tuesday night meet up with Steve M to see how practical the online platform was to use for some remote play.

Band of Heroes, Break out Normandy, Tonnage War and Mr Madison's War, part of the collection of games played this year on Vassal and reported about here on the blog.

Well since getting to grips with Columbia's War of 1812 back in March our adventures with this platform have really gathered pace since, with the following favourites played and reported here on the blog, captured in the collage of screen shots taken from our games this year.

Screen shots taken from our Vassal games of Rommel in the Desert, Mr Madison's War, War of 1812, Unhappy King Charles and Washington's War

With a change in the weather and the warm summer sun, infections rates dropped dramatically and movement restrictions relaxed allowing some of the usual outdoor activities normally covered here on the blog to resume.

I have been really keen to explore some of the many Neolithic-Iron-Age historical monuments on Dartmoor and to get more familiar with using my ViewRanger walking app carried on my phone and it was great fun exploring the moor this summer.

The summer weather and the subsequent drop in infections together with a relaxation of movement restrictions allowed for some expeditions on to Dartmoor exploring ancient iron-age settlements and monuments

Alongside the Dartmoor expeditions I managed to get some historic sites walked this year that saw a visit to the Froward Point WWII gun battery that guarded the approach to the naval base at Dartmouth during the war.

A few historical sites were explored this year including this one, the former WWII Coastal Gun Battery at Froward Point on Devon's South Coast.

Also Mr Steve and I were able to meet up to take advantage of the summer sun with visits to Lansdown Hill and Tewkesbury together with several other interesting sites close by.

Mr Steve and I also squeezed in some relaxed lockdown expeditions first to Lansdown Hill and to Tewkesbury featured below.

The expedition to Tewkesbury was the last this year before infection rates started to rise and movement was again restricted.

Another area to gain from the forced confinement was the amount of figure painting time that saw a few 28mm additions completed alongside the bulk of work that concentrated on the All at Sea project to produce a rather large collection of Age of Sail 1:700th ships.

As well as reading time, painting and modelling time benefited from the confinement to quarters with some figure modelling squeezed into the ship building program.

Building, painting and rigging these models has been great fun and a very enjoyable way to spend my time and these imposing models really reward the effort put into them with the way thay can look that really captures the elegance of these classic ships.

Of course this year has been very much focused on building up the 1:700th collection of Age of Sail model ships

The core of the collection is now complete and leaves just a relatively small number of models to be added for this first part to be done as outlined in my New Year plans below and like anything the more you do the quicker and more effective you become and I am keen to press on with some additional collections as outlined below, later this year.

The collection was featured in August as part of my effort to support promoting International Naval Wargames Day this year, and will continue to feature as part of my plans for the collection going into the New Year

In addition to completing my own projects which feature here on the blog, I really am keen to share the love and the skills necessary to help others replicate the way I like to build and paint my models.

I have produced PDF tutorials before, that are available here in my links bar on the right column, in my downloads section, but I was conscious that with something like rigging these model ships, actually seeing the process and hopefully how relatively straight forward it really is to do would encourage more folks to have a go.

This idea prompted me into developing a new skill, that of simple video production and editing, that could help me develop video tutorials as an added feature of the JJ's Wargames YouTube channel and I hope to add other useful and interesting content going forward, time permitting.

Another new venture this year was to get into video and video editing to make better use of JJ's Wargames YouTube Channel with the roll out of three video tutorials looking at rigging 1:700th model ships.

So 2020 has seen lots of models built and painted, lots of reading and book reviews, a few places visited and explored and lots of boardgames revisited with gaming activity enhanced using Vassal and video to add to the content, but I have really missed the social side of the hobby and the games played here at JJ's, at my monthly gatherings with the chaps at the DWG and the wargame shows that have made such an important part of the annual calendar.

This is not the annual review I would have expected to be writing when I sat down to compose the review for 2019 and I note with a smile that alongside my collection plans, I was anticipating being away on holiday to the other side of the world which of course has been postponed.

Likewise the plan for 2021 seems much less certain than plans I have sat down to write in the previous years, knowing as we do that 'any plan changes on first contact with the enemy' with the past enemies being distractions and lost time now further complicated with the addition of Covid 19.

So with the prospect of circumstances changing, one way or another, the status quo is likely to remain until opportunity presents other options with the routine of the last few weeks continuing into the first quarter of 2021 as vaccine roll out takes effect and warmer weather sees the seasonal decline of the virus to allow increased social activity.

My little pile of work planned for the foreseeable few months of 2021 as things look set to change yet again.

Thus my plans for 2021 sees work continuing primarily with the 1:700th model ships, with my stack of unbuilt kits topped up by family members over the Xmas break and giving me impetus to crack on once the holidays are over.

Black Seas being premiered at Salute 2019

So what is all this activity directed towards? I know I am not alone among age of sail wargamers to delight in the idea of at sometime playing the Battle of Trafalgar and when I first saw the Warlord range of models being premiered at Salute in 2019, I thought them perfect for staging such a game with all the table-top impact that 28mm gives to figure gaming.

Battle of Trafalgar - Thomas Serres
The kind of scene I hope to evoke with a game recreating the battle in 1:700th scale

Of course playing such a game will require a bit of pre-planning to create the space and time to play it but the first hurdle has to be the creation of the collection of models and at this stage the following need to be constructed:

French - 8 x 3rd Rate, Spanish 1 x 3rd Rate and 2 x 1st Rate, British 2 x 3rd Rate, 4 x 1st Rate and a cutter and Schooner.

Once these models are added to the collection I will do some roll out pictures of the British, French and Spanish squadrons that made up the British and Allied Combined Fleets.

Then planning will hopefully proceed on to testing the rules out with some smaller scenario type games once we can start to get back around the table top which will allow for any necessary adaptations to allow for a much bigger game.

Of course, I would very much like to play the game on or as close to October 21st and the intention would be to create a Trafalgar Night gathering to remember and certainly something to look forward to once this pandemic has been brought under control.

Battle of Cuddalore 1783 - Auguste Jugelet

My interest in the Age of Sail has in the past been primarily engaged with the earlier period and particularly the American War of Independence when the superiority of the Royal Navy was not at the peak it reached in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

That interest led me to build a collection of 1:1200th ships for the Suffren-Hughes campaign fought in the Indian Ocean and I am keen to replace that collection with a similar one in 1:700th and have already started to assemble reference materials and some of the models in preparation for that next project.

I am really looking forward to the challenge of creating the models to capture the look of the British and French fleets that fought off the Coromandel Coast in the late 1780's.

Lake battles and the smaller actions would seem a perfect fit for using 1:700th models

Finally as far as model ships are concerned, the scratch building of some of the smaller ships has further interested my ideas to collect suitable models for the smaller actions fought between fifth rates or lower and a Great Lakes selection of models that would tie in with those ideas nicely, with 1:700th scale almost perfect for recreating these actions.

Once the ship model itch has been well and truly scratched I feel likely that the 28mm Ancient and AWI collections will resume centre stage with work needed to finish off my Romano-Dacian collection and my Mohawk Valley project, but I am not  going to make them a hostage to fortune until the current plans are nearer completion and the time ahead becomes somewhat more predictable.

With regard to the blog, I plan to maintain the shape of its content and regularity of posts going into the New Year with the content changing in reaction to circumstance.

The Christmas and New Year break from my normal painting and modelling activities has provided a bit of down time to turn my attention to gaming the Trafalgar project, starting with a re-write of the Black Seas Trafalgar Leeward Line Scenario for War by Sail.

I have all the models including the named ones to recreate this action recreating the attack by Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood's Leeward Column and his first group of ships and have made some changes to my record sheets following the playtests this year to produce the required orders of battle.

Part of the British order of battle for The Leeward Line Scenario

In addition to that I have been finishing off the first re-write of the War by Sail QRF which includes some of the alterations we made to the rules during our games which I will use for this warm up game.

My new look Ship record sheets, for play testing will hopefully form the basis of the look of the record ships for the complete Trafalgar game.

So to wet the appetite of the games to come and some of the work I intend to do as part of the warm up work I have attached pictures of the set up for the Leeward Line Scenario ready to work on over the next few days.

Collingwood aboard the Royal Sovereign 100-guns leads the British Lee Column into the attack.
'What would Nelson give to be here?'

With my recent boardgame activity I have been following the work of game designer Gilbert Collins on his YouTube channel where he looks at and talks about various games he plays in his collection.

Just recently he has been refighting the Battle of Minorca using Flying Colours and his walk through of the play and his re-write of the rules to produce his fast-play set has given me an idea to do something similar with this particular scenario.

The view of the British attack from the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet perspective with Alava's flagship Santa Anna at the head

The two opposing lines about to make contact

So I will produce a report of how this plays out in time with my normal in game pictures but I might look at producing some video to illustrate the rules during the play-test.

Royal Sovereign (left) races the 74-gun Belleisle into the attack

The lead ships Santa Ana 112-guns, Le Fougueux 74-guns and Le Pluton 74-guns prepare to open fire with L'Indomptable 84-guns and Monarca 74-guns covering the gaps, and with the frigates Cornelie 40-guns and Le Themis 40-guns in the rear ready to give assistance to any crippled survivors.

Seagull's view over frigate Cornelie

L'Indomptable 84-guns covers the flagship

Le Pluton 74-guns leads L’Algeciras 74-guns in the centre of the squadron

With the band of the Royal Marines playing and the signal 'Engage More Closely' flying, Royal Sovereign prepares to break the enemy line.

Thank you to everyone who has joined the fun here on JJ's in an interesting year with the comments you have left and particularly to long-suffering friends who have contributed to the posts on various activities throughout the year, that make the blog content what it is.

May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers every success with their own plans for 2021 and to have a happy time pursuing them in the New Year.

As ever, onward and upward.



  1. Great review JJ and I think we can all share in the highs and lows of 2020. The one great positive that the year has brought is how social media has been used effectively bringing people’s hobby to the front such as blogs as yours and YouTube channels. It’s has been an inspiration seeing fellow wargamers projects coming together and I look forward to seeing them at the club, most notably your excellent collection of ships.

    Oh, by the way, I have taken your advice on Napoleonics and will look to start that sometime in 2021. I’m also keen on learning carnage and glory as I have both the ECW and ACW software, maybe that’s something we can do at the club this year.

    It’s funny that the Pelennor Fields game we brought down to you guys was our first and last social game of this year, we were very nervous about bringing down as this was our first official time at the club, but we had such a great time that we still talk about it today.

    Thanks to you and everyone at the club and we will continue to support the club in the groups page as well as meeting when we can.

    Happy New Year to you JJ from all of us

    Lee, Mel and Jamie

    The BattleBunkerBlog Gaming Group

    1. Hi Lee,
      Thank you, and yes certainly a year that I sure will be long in the memory for some good and some bad reasons.

      Pleased to hear about the Napoleonics, I'm always happy to play Carnage and Glory and I note that Nigel has his campaign suite of programs up and running which really adds to the whole set up, as I had the privilege of trying out his draft set and very good they were to.

      I really enjoyed playing your LOTR game it was obviously a labour of love which made the game more special for me and thank you to you, Mel and Jamie for hosting it.

      Anyway here's hoping for better days in 2021

      Happy New year to you all

  2. JJ, your blog was a source of inspiration - as always - in a dark year. I love the balance of historical colour and detail with your beautiful models. Keep up the good work in 2021...and don’t forget your Peninsula Napoleonics! Happy New Year

    1. Hi Rulane10,
      Happy New Year and thank you.

      I'm really pleased that you enjoy the blog and I intend to keep it going for sometime yet as I have a lot of fun putting it together.

      I haven't forgotten the Peninsular Napoleonics, and, as I've said before, Napoleonics is the period I first fell in love with and have kept coming back to again and again, but after five to six years devoted towards the early Peninsular and up to Talavera I needed to refresh on other periods and I know I'll have much more in the way of ideas for games for the Napoleonic collection when I return to it.

      Thanks again for you kind comments

  3. Fantastic to see the fleets at sea, what a marvellous sight. Simply gorgeous!
    Regards, James