Salute 2019 approaches

Onto pre-Salute planning now, which obviously means I am drawing up a shopping list. One of my side-projects is to do something with various bits that have turned up unexpectedly in boxes of miniatures etc I’ve bought at bring-and-buy sales, flea markets and boot fairs in the past. I’ve already managed to expand a handful of Early Imperial Romans into half a Legion, plus baggage wagons (and a fort I have yet to put together). This year I think I am going to deal with the English Civil War stuff – I found command elements, at least, for 10 regiments of foot and 4 of horse, so it won’t take much to fill those out and add some artillery, then I can field a small force for each side. And there’s now also a 15mm Minoan army based for DBA rules. Under DBA, each army should have a camp represented on the table, and that’s the one thing the Minoans lack at the moment. I’m wondering if anyone makes a suitable ship, or a Knossos-style temple building, in 15mm; as, sadly, no miniatures manufacturer seems to supply a Minoan snake priestess in that (or any other) scale…


“Where was I when I was so rudely interrupted…?”*

Well. It’s been a while. No excuses, but…life has been very busy. And while I haven’t ceased my gaming activities, they’ve been rather intermittent in spite of my best efforts. All I can say is that my advance on the gaming front is gathering pace again. In an attempt to revitalise the blogging side of things, here are a few game-related things I have actually managed to do in the past year.

I acquired quite a lot of additions to the metal-and-plastic mountain. A 15mm Hunnic army for DBA games. Also in 15mm, Roman civilians and supply wagons. Zulu and British forces for the Anglo-Zulu War, in 28mm. Also in 28mm, miniatures for skirmish games set in feudal Japan and in the French & Indian Wars. And more besides that I can’t immediately recall…

Various boardgames found in charity shops include Cthulhu!!! and Labyrinth.

The collection of post-apocalyptic vehicles for Gaslands has been growing with assorted Hot Wheels cars getting bashed and rusted on the modelling table.

There have been some actual games, too. As evidence, here are some photos of a naval action using those CCG ships mentioned in a previous blog post. It was a fairly brief action, as the Spanish attempted to defeat a squadron of pirate ships, and failed rather dismally to do so.

The rules used were an old set that I originally adapted from those in Phil Dunn’s Sea Battle Games, many years ago, and at least in part the game was a  small test to see if they still work for me. Mostly, so far, they do. The Spanish were undone by superior pirate gunnery, on this occasion; it will be interesting to see how the same ruleset handles a larger action between British and French forces, given that it requires (compared to more modern rules anyway) quite a lot of record keeping.


*Allegedly a quote from Éamon de Valera, a prominent figure in Irish Republicanism and the early Irish state. The story I was told that, having been arrested in the middle of delivering a speech, this was how he began his first public statement after being released from prison.

Being a little Cavalier

I’ve always felt it’s important for those of us engaged in the wargaming hobby – if not the wider public – to support the smaller, more local, wargaming shows and not just turn up for the big events like Salute. Which arguably makes me a bit of a hypocrite as I think the last time I made it to Cavalier, the annual show organised by the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society, was over twenty years ago. There have been reasons. I don’t drive (long story involving a visual disability, that I won’t go into here), and trying to travel north to south, or south to north, through Kent on public transport is about as easy as crossing the Sahara on a skateboard. For six months, many years ago, I was working one day a week in Tunbridge Wells, and I am still scarred by the memory of those rail journeys, and the convoluted connections I had to make in order to get there, and then come home again; on one occasion I found myself stranded in Swanley, which would be enough to put even Sir Ranulph Fiennes off travelling.

However, my partner does drive, and since retiring last spring has become surprisingly forgiving and indulgent of my strange (to her) interests. Which is how, at long last, I managed to attend Cavalier this year.

Society of Ancients, ‘The Battle of Raphia’.

I’m going to start by levelling a criticism, not at Cavalier in particular, but at wargames shows in general – or at the attitude of, it seems, some wargamers at them. There is a problem with the way demonstration games are presented. Not with the visual elements – the painting, modelmaking, and so on – but with the apparent disinterest in actually demonstrating things to, and interacting with, the general public. This might be down to widespread shyness. But I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve obviously taken an interest in a demonstration game at a show, and been studiously ignored by the people who are putting it on, even to the extent of some pretending not to hear me when I’ve asked questions. Being a wargamer myself, at least I have some inkling of what’s happening on the tabletop. For a member of the non-wargaming public, the whole thing must remain utterly perplexing, not to mention a bit unwelcoming.

At Cavalier, only the guys from the Anti-Alchemists, with their game set during the 1835 Texan War of Independence, broke that mould, at least within my experience of the day (note: this is easily subjective enough to be unfair to others!). If anything, Diane probably learned more about General Santa Ana than she ever wanted to know, but the principle of actually engaging her, a non-wargaming member of the public, in a conversation about the game and its background was a sound one.

Anti-Alchemists, ‘Come and Get It! 1835 (Texan War of Independence)’.

Another good approach to presentation was exemplified by the North London Wargame Group’s refight of the Battle of Crug Mawr 1136. The historical background was set out on a large noticeboard, with illustrations and maps to accompany the text, and a bit of a hook to the story to draw people in (think headlines – “Freddy Starr ate my hamster” – that sort of thing); in this case, if I recall correctly, “Birth of the Longbow”, as it did indeed mark the first significant impact of the longbow on a mediaeval battlefield.

North London Wargame Group, ‘The Battle of Crug Mawr 1136’.

As for the other aspects of Cavalier…Free parking on a Sunday, in Tonbridge, is a bonus and there’s a main car park right outside the venue at the Angel Centre. There was a good mix of traders, although I’m saving much of my wargaming fund for a couple of new releases due at Salute this year, meaning I was hardly a big spender this time around. In fact I limited myself to some Thracian heavy cavalry from Essex Miniatures, thereby plugging a small gap in the 15mm Thracian army I’ve been building, and with Gaslands car conversions in mind I picked up a handy bag of machine guns in 20mm scale from Sgts Mess.

Naturally, I envied the painting and modelling skills on display as well. Probably my most-used phrase at these events is, “I wish I could do that”. Because, all too often, I can’t. Special mention must go to Crawley Wargames Club and their ‘Siege of Girona 1796’, especially the modelled section of the city of Girona and its fortifications, altogether an impressive looking game and a deserving winner of the “Best Demonstration Game” award on the day.

Crawley Wargames Club, ‘The Siege of Girona 1796’.
A closer view of Girona itself.

Will I go to Cavalier again? Yes, I am sure I will, non-wargaming driver allowing. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Medway, even when the residents of West Malling barricade the main route with a Farmers’ Market for the day, and as I say these local wargaming events can only survive as showcases for the hobby if we wargamers keep on showing up at them. Which is, I suppose, the moral of the story.

New year, new projects

Like, I suspect, most wargamers, I begin any new calendar year with resolutions for the months ahead, and especially a stack of new gaming and modelling projects queuing up to get started. I have all the usual sort of wargamer resolutions, obviously – reducing the size of the lead-and-plastic mountain of unassembled miniatures, getting around to painting all those 15mm Napoleonics and the SAGA Irish warband I acquired last summer, actually playing that copy of Campaign for North Africa that I bought in the early 1980s, that kind of thing.

But I’m thinking that it might help me to stick with a few of my planned new projects if I flag them up here, in the full glare of public view. That way, at least guilt or embarrassment may kick in and ensure that I make progress with them.

First off, a new 15mm Ancients army, the Carthaginians. These should have a blog post to themselves in the near future, but I’ll just say for now that it’s been in the back of my mind to build up a Carthaginian army for nigh on twenty years. I never quite managed it, until a few weeks ago I discovered that my local hobby shop is now stocking the excellent Xyston Miniatures range. A flurry of impulse buying ensued. And now Carthaginians are awaiting their turn on the assembly line.

A very different project – and the immediate inspiration for writing this blog post, as it happens – has come with this morning’s post. Gaslands (published by Osprey) is the latest in a family of games involving post-apocalyptic vehicles fighting for control of resources, or roads, or just for the hell of it. I still have my copy of Car Wars somewhere, though Battlecars was lost along the way, and have retained a fondness for this kind of scenario that was only fuelled (excuse the pun) by the release of Mad Max: Fury Road a couple of years ago. Gaslands, by all accounts, reinvigorates the genre. It also gives me a fine excuse to go foraging for battered old Hot Wheels cars in the local charity shops, and to spend hours happily converting them into suitably tooled-up monstrosities. Gaslands

Then there are some new (to me) games to figure out and play. I have eight Blood Bowl teams in the collection, enough for a league. My mother bought me a copy of Guild Ball as a Christmas gift. I may not leave the house for the next twelve months.

The last objective that I’ll mention here, for now, is that I intend to crack on with some determined terrain making this year. It’s always been a weaker point in my modelmaking, but with a little help from YouTube tutorials – not least from the brilliant Terrain Tutor – I’m hoping I can get to grips with it. In my head, at least, I have plans to build a Celtic hill fort, and some boards for Malifaux.

There you have it. I’ll still be trying to whittle down the aforementioned mountain of unmade miniatures, making progress with the ongoing campaigns, and certainly digressing into a multitude of other gaming directions. Somehow, in between, I might even manage to do some work.

A Boxing Day battle

At something of a loose end on Boxing Day, I decided to run through a relatively quick solitaire game using the 15mm miniatures that happened to be at the top of a stack of storage boxes. Thus a typically ahistorical encounter, for an Ancients wargamer, between Normans and Parthians…

The battle unfolded in three distinct phases. The Normans (ie me!) deployed with a small hill on either wing occupied by their knights, while archers and spearmen occupied the low ground in between. The Parthians formed up in an obvious fashion, horse archers in front and cataphracts behind them, though some of the horse archers were detached with the aim of trying to outflank the Norman left. Boxing Day battle 1

The Parthians advanced, the detached horse archers seeking to probe around the Norman left flank as ordered. The Parthian intention was to use the main body of horse archers to break up the opposing Norman archers, while the detached elements at least kept the Norman knights on that flank entertained, so that the cataphracts would then be able to rumble through the centre and trample the Norman spearmen beneath their hooves. Things did not go according to plan.

The Norman archers put up stiffer resistance than had been expected. The Parthian horse archers were also shaken by the knights on the Norman right charging downhill at them. They withdrew in some haste, and the Parthian general busied himself with reorganising his forces for another effort. This was the second (and rather quiet) phase, as the cataphracts shifted across to mass on the Parthian left wing. Meanwhile, the knights on the Norman left wheeled to face and counter the approach of those cheeky Parthian horse archers who were trying to sneak past them. Boxing Day battle 2

The third and final phase of the action saw the Normans suddenly become more proactive. There were all-out cavalry melees as knights clashed with cataphracts on one wing, and with horse archers on the other; while in the centre the Norman bowmen, having been whittled down somewhat by the Parthian horse archers’ persistent shooting, pulled back and allowed the spears to make an aggressive move towards the Parthian line. This belated infantry advance would have been futile as an attempt to catch light cavalry, of course, but it did force the horse archers to evade back in their turn and thus provided useful support for the knights, particularly those on the Norman right who were hard pressed in a fight with the cataphracts and in some danger of being overwhelmed. Boxing Day battle 3

At this point, the Norman general was relieved by nightfall and a decision by the Parthian command to withdraw from the battle under cover of darkness, leaving the Norman army bloodied but still holding their position.

Somewhere in Prussia, 1626

Having managed to assemble all my 15mm miniatures for Swedish and Polish armies of the Thirty Years War, the time came to put both forces to the test of battle. I broadly based this game on the very first scenario from a now-venerable but still useful book by Charles Stewart Grant, Programmed Wargames Scenarios – very handy for solitaire gaming, as it provides a primitive kind of AI for the lone wargamer to fight against.

I took personal command of the Swedish army, on this occasion, and deployed my regiments on a low line of hills to meet the advancing Poles. A distinguishing feature of Polish armies in this period was their heavy dependence on massed cavalry. It means they really have to act aggressively; so my assumption was that they’d launch themselves at my line as fast as possible and that their cavalry – a mix of the famous winged hussars and lighter cossack-style horsemen (pancerni) – were going to be my main problem, rather than the lower-quality foot units.

With that in mind, I anchored my infantry regiments and supporting guns on the hills, while massing my own cavalry, two large units of reiters, on my left wing with the idea that I could counter-attack and overwhelm the Polish units on that flank.

The Polish army emerged from the south and deployed with infantry – mostly haidouks, irregular footsoldiers inspired by a type of Balkan outlaw, but with a few levies of variable enthusiasm as well – in the centre with the guns, and cavalry on the wings. To my slight consternation, the Poles stationed two-thirds of their horse on their right, facing off against my own reiters. Any counter-attack was going to prove tougher than I’d hoped.

As luck would have it, the Polish general turned out to be the impetuous type. Even as the artillery on both sides fired the opening shots, he chose to throw everything forward, perhaps hoping that the sheer speed of the attack would break through the Swedish defence. Swedish vs Polish map

Artillery bombardments began to have an effect on both sides. The Yellow Regiment in my centre started to take casualties, though a greater toll was being taken on the haidouks, whose advance slowed as a consequence. Meanwhile, the Polish cavalry on their left came into the range of shot from the Blue Regiment and the little leather regimental guns seemed to have an unnerving impact on them; their advance also slowed.

Action on the other flank was more intense. As the Polish husaria swept forward, I moved one of my reiter regiments into contact with them, and a fierce hand-to-hand fight ensued. I might well have been in trouble had it not been for the fact that, instead of supporting their compatriots in melee, the second line of pancerni wheeled to their left and set off to try to engage my Red Regiment. Even so, the struggle between the two cavalry forces pushed back and forth without a clear advantage going to either side.

At this point fate, in the shape of a chance card, intervened. A fire broke out in the Polish gun position. The Polish artillery was silenced while the gunners worked frantically to extinguish the flames (and while two Russian mercenaries quietly crept away amid the confusion!). This was a relief for the Yellow Regiment, who’d been suffering a steady trickle of casualties, and left the haidouks without artillery support just as they marched into the range of Swedish musketry and of those little leather regimental cannon.

I sent my second regiment of reiters into the swirling melee on my left. That did the trick. The husaria put up a brave fight but were at last overwhelmed by the number of Swedish horse they were facing. With the nearby pancerni now closely embroiled with the Red Regiment, this suddenly exposed the whole right flank of the Polish army to my cavalry counter-attack.

Realising the danger, the Polish general thus took a sensible decision, choosing to withdraw as much as he could of his army and fight again another day.

All in all, it was an enjoyable game to play through, even if it didn’t really reach a decisive conclusion. I think luck was on my side, with the fire in the Polish battery and the husaria being left unsupported in the big cavalry melee both being crucial factors. These two armies will certainly meet again quite soon. It would be interesting to see how the Poles might fare if they are trying to hold a position – not the easiest of tasks for an army so reliant on its cavalry arm.

Meanwhile, in the shipyard…

A couple of years ago, browsing in the local branch of a certain discount store, I happened across a few boxes of a “collectable card game” called Pirates of the Cursed Seas. At £2 or so per box, buying them was inevitable.

The game itself turned out to be a disappointment, to be frank. Essentially, the concept is to build up a fleet of ships and then go sailing to islands, grab some treasure, and sail back home with it, while avoiding the ships of more predatory players. There are some fantastical elements tossed in – sea monsters, undead crews, captains with special abilities, and so on – but fundamentally it’s a variation on good old Buccaneer with a few extra bells and whistles (presumably influenced by the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise). I played the rules twice, and that was enough to bore me with the whole thing. The game ended up being put away in a storage box, with most of the ships I had remaining unbuilt.

And there it stayed until recently.

Finding myself at a loose end one evening, and feeling too tired to do much, I picked up the box of unmade ships and set to work assembling them. This is the gimmick at the heart of the whole Pirates game (it apparently had a few other “Pirates of…” iterations besides the Cursed Seas title). Each ship comes in pieces that punch out of plastic cards, a little bigger than a credit card, and then has to be slotted together.

St George unpunched
HMS St George, before assembly.

The resulting models are not what you could call detailed representations of sailing warships, and are fantasy vessels rather than historical ones, but in spite of their relatively crude appearance and the lack of a consistent scale they do have something appealing about them – if only the fact that they were dirt cheap!

A couple of hours punching and slotting, and I have 33 of these little plastic ships, from four nationalities (Britain, France, Spain and the USA) plus a squadron of pirate ships. But what to do with them?

The crowded shipyard.

This is where my memory kicked in, at last. I recalled an article in one of the wargaming magazines, some time ago, I think by a couple of Belgian wargamers, describing how they’d played a game on a patio using these same sort of CCG models. Any further thoughts about using the actual Pirates of the Cursed Seas rules went out of the window at that point, and an old set of Napoleonic naval rules was duly hauled down from the crowded, dusty bookshelf where it had languished for too long.

The ships have now been glued to bases. Not wanting to spend much of my precious modelmaking time on them, I decided to stick with crudity when basing. Some mounting board, Copydex and a blue marker pen did the job well enough for my purposes.

I’ll play through a small test game soon, if only to remind myself of the rules. Then? Memory stirring again. I recently acquired a copy of the book Honor Among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every and the Pirate Republic of Libertalia, by Jan Rogozinski.  This is a great account of historical pirate activities in the Indian Ocean, and of the independent pirate republic that was established on Madagascar.

So, I have the model ships, and I have a suitable context.  The campaign must surely follow…