Saturday, 20 January 2018

La Ultima Cruzada - Review


At last Bob has completely revised his source book on the Spanish Civil War. This is the third edition and the book, although primarily aimed at wargamers, has now become simply a "Spanish Civil War Military Source Book". And the author is self publishing.

Bob has been researching, wargaming and writing about the SCW for a long time. Probably as long as I've known him, which is over 30 years. So there's a lot of work gone into this book.

Physically the book is hardback with a dust jacket, and has 276 pages. At £25 it isn't cheap or expensive, and for what it contains it's worth the money. As Bob is self publishing don't hang around waiting for Dave Lanchester or Dave Ryan to pick up a load of copies and discount to £10. They're being printed on demand

The book is a source book, exactly as it says. It is a series of sections packed with facts and figures. The sections of text in amongst the tables of armaments and units are clearly written and unambiguous. There are 6 sections and a Bibliography:

1) Political parties and main events chronology
2) The Armies of the SCW (divided by type & faction)
3) The Navies of the SCW
4) The Air Forces of the SCW
5) Police and security forces
6) Uniform guide.

Each of the sections is thoroughly researched and supported by appropriate pictures and illustrations. The only false step, in my opinion, is the use of photos of 54mm wargames figures in the uniforms section. Although I understand why Bob has done this, I never like the look of these types of pictures, particularly as they are embedded in the text and not on glossy paper, in this case, so some definition is lost. Still they serve a purpose and so on balance the book is better with them than without.

I think it is hard to stress how good some of this book is. All of it is good, but the section that gives a chronology of the main events is exceptionally clear and coherent. That isn't an easy feat to perform for the SCW, and it stands comparison with any other summary I have read, including those by the very well known historians in the bibliography. The mass of data assembled on weapons and units is breath taking in the details and thoroughness. I can't think of another book like it for any period I'm interested in.

I only have a couple of other reservations, - or rather, areas where I think Bob might have missed a trick. His descriptions of low level unit organisations are okay for the regular armies but unnecessarily weak for the security forces. I'm a fan of wiring diagrams showing battalions broken down into companies and so on. This isn't always possible for SCW units due to the ad-hoc nature of the war, but Bob has the information and it would have enhanced the look of the book. The other point is a pet peeve of mine. The bibliography includes Hemingway's "For Whom..." but ignores Andre Malraux's "Days of Hope" ("L'espoir"). I think the latter is a much better book in terms of writing and also description of the war itself (admittedly from the air) and tends to get overlooked by Anglophile authors. Seek it out on Abebooks and read it. There's a Penguin edition. There's also a lot more self-published International Brigade memoirs from the 1990s (Bob has some of the Gosling Press stuff listed) about and finding it isn't easy. Knowing it exists is a start.

All of these reservations are nitpicking, and I only mention them because of the disclaimer at the top. Bob is a friend and I don't want people to dismiss this review on the grounds that I would say that, wouldn't I. Well, I've paid for my own copy and I've tried to be thorough. In summary:

*****5 Stars - Buy this book NOW

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Bodging with Basic Impetus

I wrote last year about my games with Basic Impetus and how I was unhappy with some of the outcomes as we tried to refight Parataikene with them. I have since raised a few questions on the BI forum and it has been pointed out to me where I was playing the game wrong. Basically (!), however, the game is as it is written as far as players and designers are concerned.

I still have issues, however. If I do Parataikene again - and I will -  I'll end up with the same off-kilter result. The same applies to other Successor battles we have had  a go at, as some troop types aren't doing what they're supposed to.

So, after some thinking, this is my list of amendments that I'll be using going forward:

BASIC IMPETUS - Parataikene Amendments

CL Shooting: CL shoot with all dice in all directions, and do not suffer a deduction for moving.

Elephants: Represent elephants with two elephant models and two skirmishers bases. Modify factors to VBU 4, I 5. Elephants deny Impetus to Mounted Troops WHICH MAY NOT CHARGE THEM, and keep Impetus bonus even when not fresh. Pike Armed troops that are fresh receive Impetus against Elephants. Elephants still do not get Impetus against S & non-Impetuous FL troops

Evading: CL & S may evade, regardless of the direction of charge threat.

Offset Rule: Units may line up precisely in melee, and do not have to be side-shifted to create offset melees.

Melee Break-off: Faster units may break off from melee combat by making a full move to the rear, facing the enemy in accordance with rule 5.3. The unit becomes Disordered. If it is already Disordered it may still break off, and does not suffer the effects of further Disorder. For the purposes of this amendment “S” move faster than “FL” who move faster than “FP”.

Interpenetration: Units may not be forced to move forward or backwards as a result of being interpenetrated. The interpenetrating unit moves the required extra distance to clear the back or front of the interpenetrated unit. Any unit that has to exceed its movement allowance takes Disorder and may not shoot before or after movement.

Wheeling: CL, S & FL units may wheel and move without receiving Disorder.

About face: CL, S & FL units may About Face and move a full move as long as they do not enter combat. This may include a single wheel. All other units may About Face and move at half speed, rounded up. Again they may not enter combat.

Infantry Movement Speeds: FL move at 2H+1H, the +1H having the same restrictions as the Skirmisher +2H.

For other "Classical" period battles I'll need some more changes. For example, modifications are needed for Scythe Chariots, and I haven't looked at the rules for normal chariots at all.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Summing up 2017

As Mrs T is a bit poorly and I'm creeping round the house trying to keep quiet to let her sleep I thought I'd have a look back at the wargames I played last year. In this review I have excluded board wargames, except for the games of "Raid!" I played, using figures. The exclusion of board games is a bit arbitrary and is partly because I haven't included all the board wargames I've played on the blog, but I have included map games, so make of that what you will.

The results of my survey are summarised in the table below:

I'm pleased to see that I averaged nearly a game a week, which is sort of my aim, over the year. Of course, not all games are equal, - DBA & OHW are both short game systems and usually result in several games being played in an evening or afternoon. And it is certainly an average. I've had too many weeks this year when no games have happened, for me, at all. Our periodic gatherings with our friend from the West Country and my attendance at COW really pushed the numbers up. Of course, this list excludes all the shows where I ran "Northampton 1460", so they'd make a difference if included.

So I played 15 different periods and used 21 different sets of rules. Of those my favourite author is me, with four sets on the list, followed by Neil Thomas with three. The category "one-off" is for single shot type games that have specific rules just for that game.

What did surprise me is how few games of "IYTT" I actually played. If I'd had to guess I'd have said at least a dozen before I got to COW, so the amount of play testing was much less than I thought. I'm also surprise at how little AMW I played, its position as my "go-to" ancients rules usurped by Basic Impetus, - which also includes a couple of medieval games as well. DBA slips in there so high as it was used for my Khmer/Burmese/Thai games. The other system with a surprisingly low count is PBI, which probably would be higher if I owned a more up to date copy. And no AK47 Republic at all. That's a real surprise.

Of the systems on there I'd say there's only two I'd not care to play again, - "Black Powder" and "Sharpe Practice". "Hail Caesar" will be the basis of a project in 2018, so it will get more plays regardless of how cold it leaves me feeling. Actually, I suspect that Basic Impetus will only keep its place in 2018 as I'll be doing a battle day re-fight with it.

It's a decent spread of subjects, although I suppose most would lump Ancient/Medieval/Dark Ages/Asian Medieval in together, and you might merge Cold War and Modern.

Apart from being a sort of year end/new year type of thing to do the list may well provide me a prompt for what to look at in 2018. There's quite a few rule systems and periods not on there that deserve to be. All I need to do is find the time, - and the first quarter of 2018 is going to be tight, due to commitments both social and work, that are already in the diary.

I'll just have to play twice as hard for the rest of the year, won't I?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Rene North's Little Book

Over five years a go now I wrote a blog about my War of Spanish Succession armies. I mentioned in that blog that my main source for uniform information was Rene North's "Military Uniforms - 1686 - 1918" from the Hamlyn all-colour paperbacks series. I noted at the time, in the comments, that I no longer had my copy.

Well, a few days ago Mrs T and I went up to Market Harborough to finish our Christmas shopping and no trip is complete without nipping into the two rather good charity second hand book shops to see what had been handed in recently. And, yes, there was a copy. Not my copy, of course, but a copy none the less. I paid a princely £1.50 for it, which is quite a mark up on the 6/- or 30p* marked on the back cover but a bargain in this day and age.

This edition is from 1970. I have a few other originals on my shelf from the Hamlyn All-Colour range, priced either at 6/-  for one published in 1969, and 45p for the two from 1972**. Anyway, 6/- was a lot of money for a book back then, or at least I remember thinking it was. After all you could get a box of Airfix figures for 2/11 (ie a penny shy of 3/-, so half the price of the book), and the famous Sherman and Landing Craft kit for 6/-. Standard paperbacks for children - such as Enid Blyton's Famous Five - were variously 2/6 or 3/6 (12 1/2p and 17 1/2p), so I remember these books being a serious commitment in the birthday present request list for some one at primary school.

It's an odd little book in many ways. Why start in 1686? The only clue is that the text says "In 1686 the English 2nd Regiment of Foot was to wear a red coat lined with green..." . The conflicts covered are bit odd, too. You get 26 wars in a 160 page volume, including "The Brabant Rebellion" of 1789 (what????), and an odd selection of uniforms. Napoleon III's invasion of Italy is covered by four uniform illustrations, one of which is a Cantiniere(??), but as Rene points out the French uniforms are the same as the Crimean War, so that's okay, I guess, as that's in the book too. More description in text than pictures, but hey-ho, you can't have everything.

The sections that got the most use would probably have been the ones on the Napoleonic Wars and the ACW, as we could get the Airfix figures for those. Over time it helped me out with the War of Spanish Succession and The Indian Mutiny, and if I'd had it when I started my WW1 projects, I'd have used it for those too. Although on reflection, I reckon we did use it when we did our garden trench raid game in 54mm back in the mid 70's.

Flicking through the pictures now I can pretty much remember all of them, and honestly I think I'm inspired to try another period just because of them. This chap from the United States - Mexican War is animated enough for anyone. BTW, I've just noticed that good old Rene didn't actually draw the pictures, so kudos to John Berry, who did. Mr Berry also illustrated 35 Ladybird books and much of his work is now being recycled in those Ladybird for adults style books that clog up bookshops at this time of year.

Anyway, I think this picture inspired some of the younger lads in our school wargames group who, IIRC, did try to do this war using Airfix Napoleonics.

It is a bit of cliche to go on about how little we had and how much we relied on books like this in the 1960s/70s. Specialist publications were really expensive and usually obtained from libraries. (Fat chance of getting anything suitable in a library these days, but I digress). Although not cheap this book was in the affordability bracket for most of us, especially if we had an Aunt or Uncle who wanted to buy us a birthday present or would give you a book token.

So I'm glad to have a copy again. Now all I have to do is find this one:

*6/- means Six Shillings, a shilling being 1/20th of £1. I fully expect these denominations to be reintroduced as soon as we have sorted out this business with the blue passports.
** "Myths & legends of Ancient Greece", "Warships" and "Rockets & Missiles", since you ask.

Persian-ing your luck

There's that thing with wargamers that when ever they find something they like, they want to use it for something else. Like, when you paint up a really nice army for one period or war, and someone says "We could use it for that other war instead". Or, when you find a set of rules you like you immediately try to use them for another period.

So, Richard, our West Country friend, is really taken with Dux Bellorum. What that means is that he now wants to use them for Hellenistic Warfare. He took a trial version to the Society of Ancients Conference this year. Because he's been wargaming with me on and off for a while I must be rubbing off on him a bit, because he decided not just to adapt it to anther period, but to put it on squares too.

After our earlier DB game we went down the pub for some dinner. We discussed his ideas on the adaptation, and agreed to give it a go in the evening.

After all, who do we know with gridded cloths and lots of  suitable Macedonian type figures?

(That would be me, by the way).

Setting it up was the work of a few minutes. I had Persians, to the left, and Chris took the Macedonians. We both set up with a goodly block of infantry flanked by cavalry, our frontage covered by some skirmishers. My General in the chariot with his bodyguards is comfortably ensconced behind his mercenary hoplites.

BTW I was still suffering from not having a clue anymore, and cleverly put my skirmishers in front of one of my archer units, preventing them from shooting.

Chris started off with a general advance, except with his cavalry. This is one of those sets of rules where you need to be the moving/charging unit to get the charge bonus, so you don't want to move into charge range first. It was immediately suggested you could use a Leadership Point to order a counter-charge, and this idea was adopted.

This is also a set of rules where you can't move and shoot with your archers. Consequently I sat on my base line and shot away. And tried to fix my deployment cock up. Which was frustrated by rubbish activation rolls.

Up at the top of the picture our light cavalry has clashed. At this point Chris revealed his cunning plan, which was to roll lots and lots of sixes in combat. It was a winning strategy. I countered by rolling 5 dice and getting 5 5's, which is annoying when you need a six to hit.

I was shuffling my line about at last, - you can see my general moving to the left. Was it all too late? What do you think?

The heavy cavalry clash went my way at first. In the first round of combat I stunned Alexander and his companions by inflicting 5 hits, which would normally have broken him if he wasn't so elite and so Alexander-y. BTW I think the white rings are less obtrusive than the casualty discs we used before. And we're using small stones for Leadership Points, again less obtrusive than the red/blue discs we used in the last game.

Chris continued with his winning dice rolling tactic with the infantry, and my hoplites were mostly going backwards, LPs or no.

My extreme right wing cavalry got chased off table quickly enough. I thought I had a window of opportunity to do for Alexander, but the first round of combat was the high point.  At the top of the picture my general was being surrounded. You can see clearly the problem with the archers unable to move and shoot rule here. If I'm going to use them then all I can do is sit on my baseline. This needs looking at. Possibly another thing you could do with LPs?

Alexander now had the upper hand, and my remaining cavalry were falling back quickly.

As for my General...well, I don't think Darius is going anywhere now. Another spectacular loss to me

The game played quickly and smoothly. The grid was used in a rigid fashion, with no diagonal movement for infantry. Cavalry could do a sort of knight's move, keeping their facing. This fitted well with the Hellenistic Theme, and is a solution I've used before I think, in the "Rapid Raphia" rules.

Well, I got truly stuffed. Still, it was fun and with a bit more work is a good piece of development. I can see me doing that again.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Dux-ing and Diving

The last time we met up with our West Country friend Chris A & I were treated to a game of Dux Bellorum. We were sufficiently impressed to ask Richard to run it again for us up in Shedquarters. It also gave Phil an opportunity to try it out.

This time I got the Irish, and Chris/Phil got the Saxons. The Irish are near the camera.

The Saxons set up on a hill. They were the notional defenders for this game.

My army didn't really fit on the hill I had.

I started aggressively and moved off my hill. My chariots are off on a wide right hand sweep. Phil & Chris worked seamlessly, like the experienced dounbles team they are.

Now I will fess up right now. I really don't know what I was playing at in this game. I resolved to charge the Saxons up hill, although I knew that would be fatal. I made a large number of errors because I couldn't judge the move distances correctly, and I failed completely to think through the consequences of my actions. To sum it up it all "seemed like a good idea at the time".

For example I reckoned I could take those units on the flat and hold off the flank guard elite troops with a bunch of slingers. Who can't move and shoot. You'll see how that worked out for me later.

Inexplicably I also thought that I'd be better off using my Leadership Points elsewhere in this melee. Madness.

So one of my units got bounced immediately. Because of the rules about positioning for flank attacks I was spared being roughed up by the Thegn's guard in the first round of combat, as Chris lined them up for a killing blow.

Typically I was saving my high rolls for my chariots movement. In DB you have to roll low in order to move, and high in order to hit in combat. I was getting this the wrong way round.

So I got scissored on my left flank, although due to brilliant dice rolling in this round and lavish application of Leadership Points I held on. I even pushed one unit back. In the centre I realised I had got too close to the hill..... I about faced and retired, tempting the Saxons to surge down off the hill top.

Over on my right the skirmishers were having a set-to in the woods. I'm winning this one.

My left is still clinging on, and the Saxons have had to add another unit to try to break me down. My chaps on the left clearly love being surrounded. My sling armed skirmishers are out of shot, slinging into the rear of the elite unit, all ineffectually.

My feigned flight move backfired totally. Chris cleverly chucked a load of LPs into the middle and got to move out of sequence, so charging me before I could turn round. Elsewhere you can see I've got hold of a Saxon unit on the other end of the hill. I should be overwhelming him, but my spare warrior unit just will not move. My chariots, however, are now careering down on the rear of the main Saxon line. In the wood I have killed one unit of skirmishers.

My whole centre line got beaten in the melee, but no one was broken. As I have to retreat following a losing combat and shieldwalls don't pursue I've now got some space to turn and face. But at what cost? On the left I'm a unit down, but I also did for one in return.

My chariots finally hit the back of the shieldwall, but alas Phil & Chris have an infantry unit free to hit my rear as well. My spare warrior unit on the right just won't move and do anything.

So everything collides in the middle and I can't get an upper hand anywhere. This is mostly my own fault.

So my chariots get wiped out, and the left hand end of the line is being rolled up. My one ray of hope is top right, but those warriors still won't move....

...and the one melee I should have won results in the loss of another unit. All over.

We had more oddities in this game than the first, - bits where the rule didn't deliver - but overall still a lot of fun. I played one of the worst games ever, I think, and hardly made a correct decision all afternoon.

Richard accepts that he needs to do something with the hit markers, - flock them, or stick dead bodies on them, or both. Something, any way, as they are ugly on the table top. Any how, I will continue to keep an eye out for DB and pick up a copy when I can pay what I think is a reasonable price.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Letting Le Cateau-t of the bag

We had another all day affair with our friend from the West Country recently. At his special request we did some more Op14. I took this as an opportunity to blood my 6mm Baccus 1914 BEF, and put on the Battle of Le Cateau. The scenario and map were provided by Martin Rapier of The Games We Play. Martin is a good man for Great War stuff, and I've been struggling with this scenario for a few months at least and couldn't crack it.

The British are to the right, defending the ridge line. Germans are left to top centre, trying to turn the position. There's a German corps in the middle, pinning the BEF in place, and eventually another Corps will turn up on the left of the picture, to complete the envelopment started by the German Cavalry Corps on the side of the hill.

This is the view from behind the German left flank. Lots if woods to cover the advance.

I took the BEF and Richard, our West Country friend, took the Boche. He immediately saw the importance of outflanking my right, and so pushed on at high speed through the woods. Either that or he read the briefing. In the centre and on my left he was more cautious, so the attack developed more slowly. Still, his very presence was pinning my line in place, so that probably achieved his main aim at this point of the game.

I really needed to strengthen my right rear, which was guarded by half the BEF's Cavalry Division. I decided to reinforce it by transferring the other half from my left, but alas this was frustrated by me drawing a Spade. In August 1914 BEF units may not advance if the draw a Spade, due to the inferior quality of their staff work. This was my idea, so I was truly hoist by my own petard.

Richard started to winkle out the French holding Cambrai on the left, and inflicted damage on my Soixante Quinzes deployed on the hill.

We were now three turns into the game, and Phil had arrived with the German Third Reserve Corps, whose task it was to roll up my left flank. My massed artillery was doing a fine job of discouraging Richard from advancing into the valley in the centre.

The action was all happening out on the flanks. Out on my left a brigade of Uhlans overran my French gunline, but then got somewhat stranded on the hill top. On my right my cavalry brigades finally united and deployed as the Hunnic Hordes spread out to envelope them. Fortunately for me the German artillery had paused to shell Le Cateau (centre right of the board), so these attacks would go in without fire support. All along my main line my chaps had been busy with the entrenching tool, and thrown up hasty earthworks.

I drove the Uhlans off the hill on my left, as the Germans deployed in force to attack the French dismounted cavalry in Cambrai. This looked nasty for my brave allies, but in fact it was eating up lots of time, and slowing the German envelopment.

My cavalry were putting up a stout defence, and had given the Huns a bloody nose. It was looking a bit sticky, however, as their flanks were turned.

In the centre the Germans kept advancing into the valley, then retiring the moment they got shelled by my artillery. Le Cateau was starting to take a pounding (note the shell crater) but elsewhere I was relatively unscathed.

Half way through the day, and a quick over view picture. Everything is holding, whilst the Germans mass on my flanks.

The Germans finally storm into Cambrai, driving the French cavalry back into the same square as the British infantry covering their rear.

On my right the cavalry have been driven from their defensive position and have fallen back to the river line. You will note that out on my right some German artillery has finally limbered up and is moving in support of the flank attack.

My cavalry are now back behind the river, getting ready for one last stand.

On my left the French cavalry and the British 10th Brigade have had to fall back behind the crest line to get out of the way of the German shelling.

Le Cateau is now in flames, as the Germans form up to attack across the river. I may need to start to pull back to stop being completely encircled

On my left the Germans have exited Cambrai, only to be surprised by allied forces dug in on the reverse slope.

The final turn. Illuminated by the flames engulfing Le Cateau the Germans finally attack the front line. The shelling has caused much damage to the defenders, but they are able to manage a fighting withdrawal. The German flanking forces have a failure of staff work and are unable to cross the river in the gathering gloom. A heroic performance by the British cavalry is rewarded with their escape from certain death.

Unable to exploit their success the Germans allow my flank guards to slip away. I will need to leave a brigade as a rearguard, but the rest of the army will get clean away.

And there we have it. As historically the Germans were unable to perform the double envelopment, mainly because they ran out of time. The BEF has kept its lines of retreat open and will fall back under the cover of darkness. Whether the famous "Stopping Blow" has been delivered is a moot point. The reason I've taken so few casualties and inflicted not many too is because the Germans didn't come to grips in the middle. My artillery did a good job of pinning them down, and they wouldn't press forward. Le Cateau absorbed most of their artillery fire, and despite the defenders being in a bad way when finally attacked still managed to hold the position. Under the Op14 system you don't know what damage you have actually done to concealed targets until they move or are attacked.

The game played well, with everyone enjoying themselves. It is frustrating for the Germans. They really do need to get on with it and not lose any time at all in order to envelope the position. In fact on the British left it might not be possible at all in the time available, unless the British player bottles it. On the right I think there's enough time. Against a more experienced player I would have come unstuck quite badly, and I should have thinned my front line to shore up this wing.

So a good first showing for the 6mm BEF, and a demand for future games. Excellent.