Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Wrapping up January 2012

Well, I guess that's it for January, which has been the start of the year in which I seem to have decided to take writing about wargames seriously. And as a result:

  • My first 200 page view day (today!);
  • Just (by a hair) passed 3000 page views for the month, which is also a record by a long way;
  • Passed 8000 page views total!
Not much by the standards of some people's blogs (just teasing, Ray), but I'm kinda pleased at the amount, and hopefully quality, of stuff I've been writing of late.

Coming in February:
...as well as the usual collection of battle reports, painting updates and other merry mayhem. I'm also going to be risking 'Er Indoors' displeasure by being away for wargames events on three weekends in February - Hammerhead (watch our for our participation game), the WAB GT and our club all day game.  

On the painting table:
  • 120 28mm British war band,
  • 9 28mm Numidian cavalry,
  • 26 18mm Napoleonic French,
  • two squads of 28mm PSC Russian infantry,
  • an Age of Arthur army I haven't bought yet
...and probably a very large piece of scenery, of which more later.

Many thanks to everyone who's taken the time to friend, read and comment this blog, and the folks at Peterborough Wargames Club, as well as the folks on the WAB, Man at War, La Bricole, WD3 and Warlord forums and the Lardies and WECW Y! groups. This whole blogging thing works so much better when things cross-pollinate!

It only remains to note that I'll probably be on a blogging hiatus until Monday due to helping run a SF convention this weekend. See you in February!

Battle Report - 30-Jan-2012

This week, Carl ran an ECW participation game using Warhammer ECW, which was a refight (after a fashion) of the Battle of Powick Bridge.

For those unfamiliar with this, it was more a skirmish than a battle, with the Royalist cavalry under Rupert duking it out with the advanced Parliamentary cavalry of Essex's army, who were chasing after a baggage train containing the University of Oxford's silver plate.

The battlefield basically consisted of the aforementioned river bridge at the Parliament end of the table, over which a hedged lane ran between fields along the length of the board towards Worcester and the Oxford silverware. Gary and I took the Royalists, and Carl and Al the Roundheads.

It didn't start at all well. Gary's unit of horse, camping in the field next to the manor house, were the first to notice the Roundheads, charged, were repelled, and chased off the field in disarray, Al producing some prodigious dice rolls to do the deed.

On the other side of the lane, I sent Rupert's horse down between the hedges, to charge the second unit of Roundhead cavalry. This turned into a running battle of charge, retreat and countercharge, not helped by Al's dragoons lining one of the hedges, which I somehow managed to avoid taking a full first volley point blank in the flank from despite several attempts.

The Royalist horse follow through on the retreating
Parliament cavalry. In the distance, Prince Rupert's
gallopers have just routed another unit on the bridge.
Meanwhile, the third unit of our horse cut across the lane towards the manor house. Gary and Carl had another back and forth cavalry scrap, eventually resulting in Gary's unit getting chased off. Back at the lane, the dragoons wavered and fled at the sight of Rupert's troop chasing off their opponents, and I led the Prince's troops into the field and delivered the final charge on Carl's cavalry to wrap things up.

Fun game - I have to admit, I was expecting to lose a lot of units very fast to failed break tests, but a combination of fighting longways down the table and some decent dice meant we had an awful lot of charge, retreat, rally, repeat...

A nice small encounter: bodes well for our campaign starting in April.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Designing scenarios part 1 - preparation

Having knocked together a few scenarios for Operation: Squad, as well as had my thoughts provoked by an excellent piece from Bob Cordery on his Wargaming Miscellany blog, I've been thinking about the practicalities of scenario design (which you'd probably guessed from the title, right?), in particular, the things one needs to do to get it right.

I'd start by pointing out that this isn't about 'tournament' scenarios, but if you like 'mini-campaign' scenarios - it's not about figuring out something to amuse X-thousand point armies, but about giving the opposing generals a hopefully reasonably balanced tactical workout that they can, at the same time, enjoy and feel involved in. I'd also point out that far better people than me have designed scenarios for wargamers, and these are just my opinions.

This post will be divided into two parts: first up, preparation. (OK, let's be honest here. On my past form? at least two parts!)

The Plot

Basically, the first question you need to answer is 'why are the opposing forces here?' The standard tournament answer ("Because they ran into each other, duh!") generally Won't Do - armies don't, normally. One side or other will have an objective, which may or may not be known to the other side, and is usually on terrain of the other's choosing. Some of the more interesting, particularly smaller-scale, battles, focus around taking small strategic objectives like river crossings (Pegasus Bridge) or villages, or covering retreats (Quatre Bras). Sure, that objective sometimes is 'bring the opposing army to battle and crush them', but even then there's a story - look at Waterloo for an example.


Make them fun. Go to a little bit of effort - they can just be verbal briefings, but you could prepare handouts.

Briefings should actually be in two parts: the mission, and, for want of a better word, the knowledge.

If you like, you can consider the mission briefing to be the victory conditions. It could for instance be an in-character communique from the commander's superior officer telling him what his goal is. For extra verisimilitude and immersion, take advantage of modern computers and printers, and use a suitable font as well. I've done at least one mission brief (which those of you going to Hammerhead will see at our club's participation game) with authentic German stamps and Himmler's signature!

The knowledge is the stuff that the commander should know as well as the mission brief - why he's where he is, what condition his forces are in, etc. This can also be used to set up and justify some of the rationale behind the scenario - for example, in one of my Op: Squad scenarios, the German squad (attached to a Flak unit) is transport-less because the Feldwebel of the overall detachment has driven off in the Opel Blitz to visit his (presumably French) girlfriend. It can also be used to set up personal aims for the commander (or commanders, if you're expecting multiple players a side). Above all, it can and probably should be entertaining, something that draws the player in.

On top of that? Maps. Always! Maps are cool: even if they're just sketches. Better yet if you can use one of the cheap or free graphics packages to pretty them up a bit. (For the Mac, OmniGraffle's really neat and not that pricey. For the PC, it's a complete no-brainer - just buy Campaign Cartographer and the Dungeon Designer add-on! (note for Mac users, this will run under CrossOver.)

If you want to see some really masterful attempts to impart knowledge, go grab a copy of Don Featherstone's Skirmish Wargaming, and read some of the two and three page pieces that precede each scenario - they are, to all intents and purposes, short stories. While there's probably considerably more information in those than is absolutely necessary, they do make for excellent plots for scenarios.


This is always a tricky one. The briefing is the primary place where you can tune game balance: number of units available, timings of arrivals, etc. For example, a lot of my Operation: Squad scenarios are designed for equal forces, but compensate for one side being in good defensive positions by requiring half of them to roll to wake up. If you're running with an umpire, it also allows you to add unknown numbers of reinforcements to either side at a later stage in the battle, if things are getting a little one-sided.

That, in itself, opens a whole can of worms, which I'll save for another post, namely the whole question of umpired vs not, and whether the scenario as you write it down should be set in stone thereafter.

Of which, more next time. Enjoy!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

28mm German Panzergrenadiers


Finished these a while back for the Analogue Hobbies painting contest, but there was a minor domestic over the whereabouts of my camera charger ("You said you'd looked there!" "I had." "So what's THIS?" "Erm, that's not where you asked if I'd looked." "Yes it is." "Isn't."...) which meant these took a while to get photographed.

But, anyway - herewith a squad of 11 Warlord 28mm plastic Wehrmacht Panzergrenadiers, based for Operation: Squad (well, based for pretty much anything, actually, since Op: Squad isn't that fussy - most of them are Renedra round 25mm bases, one is a UK 2p coin, which is almost dead on the right size and cheaper!). Army Painter Uniform Grey spray primer, Tamiya Field Grey uniforms, Army Painter Strong Tone dip - which latter seems to have worked very well on the uniforms. Basing is my usual (Tamiya Dark Earth Diorama paint, Javis moorland scatter and spring static grass, some GF9 medium basing grit), and then an overall coat of Army Painter Anti-Shine (JUST before it rained!).

Taken with a Canon EOS 300D and a Tamron 25-70 f2.8 zoom on a tripod, adjusted in iPhoto.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Book review: Charles S Grant, "Scenarios For Wargames"

As promised, the even more awesome Amazon find.

One of the books I never managed to pick up when I was younger, but have kept seen being mentioned since I came back to the hobby - Charles S Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames". The major problem with getting a hold of a copy of this book is every one you see on Amazon seems to start at around the £40 mark (think that's bad, try finding a copy of WAB Age of Arthur - there's one going on Amazon for over £100!!) - I assume because it's rare, and out of print, and not yet being reprinted by John Curry or Henry Hyde (just kidding, guys!). While there are a scant few books I'd be prepared to pay £40, let alone £100, for, we're not talking wargames books, we're talking things like copies of Apollo astronaut biographies signed by the subject (which I did, for Charlie Duke's).

Hence, you can imagine my considerable delight, and rather rapid 1-click purchase finger, when a copy of "Scenarios for Wargamers" turned up on Amazon for £20.

If you're at all familiar with the original or the new Table-Top Teasers (I thoroughly recommend the Battlegames magazine collection of the latter, by the way, just as soon as Atlantic Publishing get them up on their site), you should know what to expect from this book. 52 carefully, in fact meticulously, planned scenarios (one for every week of the year), designed for (in most cases) as generic a pair of forces as possible, well balanced, with clear instructions. Most, if not all, presume on the services of an umpire. In short, they're set at a point between tournament battles and mini-campaigns.

Most of the scenarios are double page spreads, and I guess my one beef is that it's quite a stiff-spined paperback, I suspect exacerbated in my case by it being ex-library (are ALL second-hand wargames books ex-library?) and covered in plastic film. For a book like this, where being able to refer to it constantly helps, I wonder if publishers should take a leaf out of some music publishers book (as it were) and add a stiff spiral binding.

That aside, it's inspirational. I spent a long time flicking through it and going 'ooo, I could use that with...' (fill in as appropriate), and, in a way, it's like "War Game Campaigns": it's a book to get you thinking as well as to use. It's also a good testament to the fact that proper scenarios need preparation, and that the preparation pays off in an increased enjoyment, because you're now not just fighting the army that turned up across the table, but for an objective. If you want the things a campaign gives you (the 'why' behind your battles), but don't have the time, the space or the players, then well-written, properly plotted scenarios are for you.

Of which more, later.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A horse of a different colour part 7 - breeding for colour

[Take 2 - Blogger's iPhone client very kindly lost the first take on this post for me on Sunday. Fortunately, it wasn't scheduled for posting till the day you're reading it, so all it required was me to remember what the heck I'd said. I'm sort of glad, since this version is better.]

Part the seventh. Now we've covered most of the saner genetic colour variations on a horse, it's time to consider some questions which are more related to wargames, specifically "what colour should the horses in my unit be?"

This has three answers, two of which cover 'colour' in the equine genetics sense, and one in the (non-equine) sense of paint (pots thereof). I think they're going to merit an article each to finish this off.

So, the first, short and glib answer to the question "what colour should the horses in my unit be?"


Yup. After all those interesting diversions into skewbald perlino dun roans, the predominant colour of your average, run of the mill cavalry horse is good old bay. Not 'brown'. Bay[1]. There are umpty-froo hundred breeds of horse (check Wikipedia if you don't believe me) but when it comes down to it, they're all genetically horses - equus ferus caballus. The three hundred plus different 'breeds'? They're mostly our fault, with a bit of randomness and mutations among closed populations thrown in.

While researching for this article, I ran across a fascinating piece (rejoicing in the same overall title as this series, in fact) that links to proof that ancient horses were pretty much bay, full stop. It also mentions in passing that chestnut horses only started appearing about 9000 years ago. What this tends to suggest is that ancient horses were pretty much universally AA EE, and that a (and similarly, one would guess, e, and most everything else) are simple random mutations that stuck. Sorry, you lovers of esoteric coat colours - your prize animal is a genetic fluke that managed to hang on!

There's a neat online tool that allows you to calculate what happens when two horses breed: it's pretty obvious that a pair of AA EE bays will always produce another, but equally if you breed Aa Ee with AA EE you will still always get a bay. It's not until you have two animals with e or a mating that you stand any chance of landing a black or a chestnut, and even then over half turn out bay.

And of course, here's where man comes in. Sooner or later, he or she decides, for example, that the black horse is somehow better, more sacred, whatever, and tries to breed from it. Not having the benefit of this series of articles, though, he's probably quite surprised when he breeds it with a bay, and only one in four of its issue turn out black. Eventually, though, he'll get a couple of blacks (EE aa or Ee aa) as a breeding pair, and hey presto, the majority of the progeny of a random pairing of those turn out to be black. But he'll be really surprised when he discovers that the small percentage that aren't are... chestnut??? Wait! What!?[2]

Next along comes someone with a white stallion. By which, of course, I mean a grey[3] horse."Wow," thinks our ancient horse farmer/herder/breeder. "Gotta get me one of those." So he or she pays for it to run with his herd for a bit, and, fingers crossed, it was genetically GG and presto, out pops a Gg foal. Which, to start with, won't look anything like its sire (recipe for disaster there if the white horse's owner can't explain that, although he will be 11 months[4] away by then!) but will eventually turn into a grey horse. Sadly, its offspring will only have a 25% chance of being grey. If our horse breeder's lucky enough to get two foals out of the original deal, that goes up to 75% if he interbreeds them.

And so it goes on! But, still, because your original wildtype horses were AA EE, and both of those are dominant, bays are going to be very common unless your population has been chosen, bred or otherwise lucked into possessing a high frequency of other dominant genes. For an example of this, check out the Appaloosa - actively and quite strictly bred for LP - and as more interesting cases, the Icelandic horse, which as a breed has enough of the recessive a gene for chestnut to be the most common colour, and the Haflinger, which all trace their lineage back to a single aa stallion. (Of course, that doesn't mean there'd be no horses looking like a Haflinger before then!)

This leads me to the second answer to the question "what colour should the horses in my unit be?":

"Mostly bay, unless there's a historical or other reason why not."

Join us next time for a few examples of that answer.

[1] If I have achieved nothing else in the course of this series, I shall be happy if my readers understand what a bay horse looks like.
[2] My second success of this series of posts will be if you can explain that to the poor confused breeder.
[3] My third goal from this series will be achieved if all my readers understand what a grey horse is.
[4] Way back when, on vacation with my soon to be wife, she'd spent the week trying very hard not to be a vet, and had a fun time playing the dumb blonde (for someone who's done a 6 year veterinary medicine course, that's not typecasting!), and getting the tour company rep to help her with all manner of things. Last night of the holidays, there's a quiz (of the "run up, sit in chair, answer, win a prize or pay a forfeit" type), and the rep, who has her pegged as a real ditz, asks 'what's the gestation period of a horse?'. Cue my dearest, still in apparent full-on blonde mode: she rushes up, hair flying, plonks herself down, answers, a bit breathlessly, "Eleven months." Slight pause, then she, almost without thinking, drops into her professional 'of course, this is a rough estimate I'm giving you' tone. "Give or take a couple of weeks."

Rep looks at her. Looks at his answer card. Looks at her. Very surprised. "How did you know that?" 

Herself, innocently, "I'm a vet."

I'm watching the rep's expression, and it's abundantly clear that he's in the process of going "She's a vet. That means she's intelligent. And I've been patronising her for a whole week..." and completely dumping a sizeable chunk of his worldview in the face of having made a bit of an ass of himself!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Operation: Squad scenarios 3

Last one of the current batch of Op: Squad scenarios - this one is another paratroop assault, this time an attempt to demolish a vital railway line. As before, it can be found on the Scenarios page.

I should note straight away that this is the scenario of the three that didn't get play tested, due to there not being enough players on the night. It can be fine-tuned by moving the relative positions of the para drop, the German entry point, and the railway line: if anyone gives it a go, I'm eager for feedback and tuning suggestions.

I should also note that these three scenarios can be played side by side: 3, 1, 2, west to east - the maps are designed to link up.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Battle report - 23-Jan-2012

Down at the club, kickin' it old school! (Aside: no battle reports for the last two weeks, as the 9th was the club AGM and the 16th was a rules test for our Hammerhead display game. Of which, no doubt, more later!)

To be precise, Grahame produced a load of 15mm French/Indian wars figures, and we had a fun skirmish that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Don Featherstone book. The rules, admittedly, were a bit more modern, being a loosely adapted set of DBx, with Grahame umpiring me (the British) against Adie and AndyB (the French).

Basic premise - the British, in the person of a regiment of redcoat and some settlers and militia, are garrisoning a fort and a small village by a river on one of the short sides of the board, aided by a contingent of Roger's Rangers and canoe-borne Indians, both of whom were out on foraging/reconnaisance trips at the start of the game and would appear on my turn 1 on any board edge of my choice. The French, meanwhile, with a couple of smaller line units, a horde of Indians and some decent skirmish troops, are tasked with, unsurprisingly, taking the village.

Adie's Indians and supporting
French line emerge from the
western wood.
I decided to deploy my Indians near the fort, just in case the French decided to do the same. Andy, however, opted for the other end of the river. What the French didn't expect was the returning large contingent of Roger's Rangers appearing right behind Andy's force after their first move, though! My rolling a six for their movement pips definitely helped.

Some of Andy and Adie's skirmishers rushed the village, while half of Andy's force turned to face the Rangers and Adie sent a large Indian war band across from the western edge to help out. First blood went to the British, as the gun in the fort managed to spot the advancing Indians in the wood to the north and just catch one of them.

Roger's Rangers perform a
heroic delaying action.
It was a pretty dour struggle, as the saying goes, from there on in. The militia and settlers managed a pretty sterling defence of the village, being driven out of one building but managing to hold another almost till sunset, and keeping the Indians that landed on the river bank out of the church. My Indian war band tangled with some of Adie's forces, and kept them out of the village. The Rangers took a beating, but basically held up one and a half times their number of troops (including taking out a gun), which if they'd managed to get to the village would have meant it was pretty much all over.

The British finally decide to
come out and fight.
The British line spent, with hindsight, far too long sitting on their backsides in the fort - I should have brought them out earlier to help clear the village.

All in all, though? Fantastic fun, and I'd love another go.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Book review: Don Featherstone, "War Game Campaigns"

I was idly browsing Amazon the other day: I have a wish list that covers most of the classic wargaming books I grew up with (usually from the local library), and every so often I check it to see if there's a copy of any of them anywhere at a price that doesn't make me choke.

This time, I got lucky. An original edition of "War Game Campaigns" for less than a tenner. Now, I know John Curry has a reprint out, but it is a reprint, and given the choice between the feel of a lulu.com reprint and a lovely hardback, I know which I'm going for. Sorry, John! (I also know some of the reprints are available on iBooks for the iPad, but a) this isn't one, and b) while there are some I would buy (and have bought) on iBooks, this one has a special place in my heart!)

It arrived on Friday. Just to even further advance the nostalgia trip, it was an ex-library copy, so not only was it the familiar binding, it even had a library-standard clear plastic film cover over the dust jacket.

I haven't actually held a copy of this book since, roughly, 1980 or so: I can, however, safely say that I must have had our library copy out four or five times during my teenage years, and devoured every page many times. Much like Skirmish Wargaming, I picked it up and flicked through it, and found memories suddenly flooding back: a map here, a chapter title there, a couple of sentences in a battle description, a familiar photo. 

So, nostalgia trip aside, what of it as a book?

Lots of maps, lots of rule snippets and suggestions. The core bits of rules are clearly based on the horse and musket era, although a number of the later chapters cover things outside that period. But, actually, what this book has always been about for me is inspiration. I make no bones about the fact that I'm a historical wargamer, in preference to being just a gamer - for all I play tournament-style WAB encounter battles from time to time, I much more enjoy games where I have context for my on-the-table goals. While Featherstone does devote a bit of time to ladder-type tournaments, the predominant theme of the book is very definitely about ways of giving context and continuity to your battles. Some of the ideas were refreshingly different for their time, for example a Peninsular skirmish campaign that predates Sharpe, and a colonial horse and musket campaign in which each unit represents a company or squadron rather than a battalion. There's also some interesting choices of period, above and beyond the obligatory-for-its-era 18th century horse and musket, that, given the rise of the modern 'mainstream' historical periods, are perhaps even more obscure than they were then. Having said that, there's something about those Warlord and Wargames Factory Zulu Wars figures that's calling to me...

Most of the campaign ideas here aren't as large scale as the word 'campaign' might conjure. They're much more at the Waterloo than Peninsular level, the aim of the off-table actions being to figure out on which particular bit or bits of a moderate-sized area the opposing forces meet, rather than invading whole countries. Much as I like big sweeping campaigns (heck, I'm playing in one!), I can see how these have potential. We're already poaching the 'everyone fields a small force' idea in the club chapters for our club ECW campaign (of which, no doubt, more later). I also note that Big Lee's review of Wargames Illustrated 292 suggests it has a piece on 'one day campaigns', which looks like it might be worth a read as a tie in to some of the things the book covers.

All in all, it's the book I remember. And more, given the much easier availability of figures and rulesets now than back then, especially to a then-impoverished teenager.

That wasn't all that I managed to score on Amazon that day - there was something else even more awesome. But I'll save that for another review.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A horse of a different colour part 6 - odds and sods

So, it looks like there will be a part seven of this series, and possibly even a part eight. However, first, here's part six, which is largely catching up on a couple of loose ends that I missed out on in earlier parts, and not the article I promised last time out.

First up, dappled greys.

I mentioned this very briefly in part two, but it merits a slightly longer note, since greys are pretty common (let's face it, if you have a British 1815 army, you need to paint some greys!).

Classic dappled grey
Wikipedia: Fabio Vidigal
CC BY-SA 2.5
Dapple grey is an intermediate stage, not seen on all horses, in the greying process, where the animal has a dark coat but with 'dapples', or dark rings with lighter centres, all over. It's an intermediate stage because, since grey is very analogous to the greying process in human hair (something I know about all too well), it won't last, and as the horse gets older it will tend towards overall grey or even white.

Much as it's tempting, and fun to paint, the odds are that even in a unit of grey horses, not all the horses will dappled.

Next up, the truth about the A gene, and seal brown horses.

Since I first started coding equine genetics online in the mid/late '90s, there's been some further research and discovery of aspects of the 'Agouti' gene, the A gene that determines the pattern of black pigment on horses. And just when you thought part one all made sense...

Seal brown horse
Wikipedia: public domain
There are, it transpires, multiple possible options for the A gene, as follows:
  • A+ - the original 'wildtype' A gene, dominant over everything, produces very restricted black pigmenting on mane, tail - seen in Przewalski's horse
  • A - the 'classic' bay as discussed in part one of this series, dominant over everything below it
  • At - less restricted black points, produces a 'seal brown' horse, dominant over...
  • a - no black points
So, our classic bay could be AA E, AAt  E or Aa E. The seal brown (i.e. AtAt E or Ata E), is visually and markedly different from either a bay or a black - it commonly has a dark brown coat, dark-to-black mane and tail, but touches of red around the eyes and muzzle, as well as parts of the underneath. In some parts of the world, this is called a 'black and tan'.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Operation: Squad scenarios 2

[No, there wasn't another incomplete post here earlier. You were hallucinating. Move along. Nothing to see, and besides, I have other series of posts to finish yet. Like this one.]

Next Operation: Squad scenario up is the second in the D-Day set - a paratroop landing. There are, I'm told, paratroop landing rules in the original Operation: WW2 rules, which I don't have. The set we played when we did this are not the same as the ones in the PDF - the latter are courtesy of Dan Phillips from our club, and would have been much better on the day!

As before, this can be found on the Scenarios page.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Libraries and general admin

A short two-part post today. First off, I'd like to welcome Dave K at Lead Warrior to the list of my followers, and thank him for his kind comment on my review of Armies of Antiquity 2. While I don't always acknowledge my new followers as much as I'd like, he rates a mention for his most recent post on his blog, on the subject of libraries.

Supporting your local library is a topic that is dear to me: I'm pretty sure that my local library provided a goodly 75% of my reading as a young 'un, from all the Arthur Ransome books, through every yellow-jacketed Gollancz SF book I could get my hands on, to everything Don Featherstone, Charles Grant and Terence Wise wrote. My local library currently has a rather dismal ONE wargaming book on its shelves, but nonetheless I still make use of its copious military history section.

As Dave says:
In the UK the library service is funded by local councils whose budgets are under a lot of pressure at the moment, so they need to justify their existence or they will disappear.
Like him, I pledge to make more use of my library this year, and I commend this action to my readers: in fact, I'm going to match Dave's self-imposed challenge: a library book a week. If you want to do this as well, blog about it, spread the word. Steal the badge I just created and stick it in your blog's sidebar. And while you're at it...

My good friend, programming wizard and talented folk-singer Piers Cawley likewise shares a love of libraries, to the extent that he wrote a wonderful song, "Child Of The Library", and was brave enough to do it as a lightning talk in front of a bunch of open source geeks at OSCon, for which he deserves a medal. It's also a damn fine song.

Second up, a bit of administrivia. I had my first advertising comment today (altogether now, "Awww"). I do not want to restrict comments any more than they are - I like the immediacy of not having to wait for me to moderate them. However, if you're advertising something other than your wargames blog, and your comment isn't relevant other than as an advert, I reserve the right to delete it. So there :)

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Operation: Squad scenarios

I'm in the process of tidying up the briefing notes, and providing maps for, the Operation: Squad scenarios I ran first thing in the New Year at the club.

They will appear on the new Scenarios page on this blog - feel free to make what use of them you like.

The first one up is the glider landing scenario. Note that this took us a couple of goes to get it close to balanced: feel free to tweak and tune it as you like. Nothing is set in stone - these are all just suggestions to try and produce something a little different to the usual Op: Squad encounter battle.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Vive l'Empereur!

Wednesday marked the start of what promises to be an interesting campaign, courtesy of Gavin and a mix of folks I know from the club and folks I've not met before, but are part of his regular gaming circle.

I'll not steal his thunder, as the superb web-based campaign system is his doing and he's blogging about it in detail: but I will note that this promises to be fun, though I'm a little nervous about being the overall french commander of eight whole Corps.

My first set of orders went in today, and the master map (at least, as far as I can see it from my viewpoint) is ready to be updated with reports from the field. The plan is, I gather, that battles will be fought using variously Principles of War and Grand Armée in 6mm, and possibly, if we have a brigade-sized skirmish, I might petition to see if we can give Napoleon At War a crack.

All in all, I'm looking forward to this. Watch this space, although updates will be, perforce, a little behind, partly because it's Gavin's show and partly because, well, les Anglais might be reading!

[As a note - these posts will be tagged with 'vive l'empereur' if you want to find them!]

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Playing favourites

In my blog reading over the past week, I came across a cracking post from the Too Much Lead blog, and then a followup from Steve's Random Musings on favourites: game, period, etc. So I figured, in the interests of keeping an excellent idea going, I'd have a go.

Deep breath, then.... Here goes, with my favourite:


Now that's a tricky one to start with. As I've said in the past, it'd come down to the three periods I played most of with the school wargaming club - WW2, Ancients and Napoleonics. Tough call, but I think if you made me choose, I'd go for the glorious uniforms and large scale sweep of Napoleonics.


Right now, no contest - I'd definitely say 28mm, not least because I find it easiest to paint. That may change once I've got stuck into vast quantities of 18mm Napoleonics, mind, or quite possibly again when I get an IABSM company or two knocked together in 15mm.


Again, it's not a contest at the moment. I just love, love, love Operation: Squad - it does what it has to do to replicate the period it's dealing with at the scale it's designed for, then shuts the %^&*() up, gets out of the way, and lets you get on with it.

Board game

Currently, Shadows Over Camelot. I have a thing for co-operative board games, and this is definitely one of the best of the bunch. Oddly, I have a mild dislike for 'perfect information' non-cooperative board games, such as Carcassone: Discovery, mostly because some of the players I play with insist on turning them into 'everyone advises everyone else' games, which annoys the bejesus out of me!

Figure Manufacturer

I'm going to be a little controversial here: Wargames Factory. Their website's still scrappy, their company politics leave me cold, but there have been a few flashes of pure genius in their figure ranges. Sometime in the near future I'm going to fail to resist temptation, and buy an awful lot of boxes of their Spanish Succession troops and maybe their Zulus as well. And that's quite aside from the several packs of Persian cavalry that are going to find their way into my Parthian army.


Take a bow, Grahame. Simply for not being afraid to come up with proper scenarios for our semi-regular ECW games. And a tip of the hat to Carl for being around for those as well, and for our WAB and Op: Squad encounters.

Inspiration: Film

Has to be A Bridge Too Far. First movie I was allowed to see on my own at the cinema.

Inspiration: Book

Charles Grant's Battle: Practical Wargaming. I lost count of how many times I had that out of the local library, and it was clearly the inspiration for our club rules at school. Yes it's old school, but Action At Twin Farms is and always will be a classic.

For those who don't know, by the way, it's available free online as PDFs of its serialisation in Meccano Magazine. Not that that will stop me trying to track down a real copy again sometime!

Inspiration: Art

Ok. This one's tricky. I have to say, though, that the pages and pages of colour uniform drawings in my copy of Ugo Pericoli's 1815: The Armies At Waterloo are practically falling apart from the amount of time I spent thumbing through them. Yes, sure, it's a book, but the drawings are works of art - Pericoli was costume consultant on the Waterloo movie, and a professor of historical costume in Italy.

The Interweb

All of it!

But seriously? Inspiration comes from the posts you see over to the right here - the list of blogs I follow, the folks out there doing things that I could only dream of, that produce ranks of figures, terrain boards, battle reports that just make me want to get out there and create. A tip of the hat to all of you.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy issue 58

Another magazine review, not least because I sort of promised the folks on Man At War's forum, but also because I happen to rather like the magazine.

So - Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy. Rescued from the ashes of its previous English-as-a-foreign-language incarnation by the good folks at Karwansaray (try saying that after a few), who are the publishers of Ancient Warfare and Mediaeval Warfare magazines as well. They've kept going with the same title and issue numbering sequence, at least in part, I understand, to keep their distribution deals with folks like WH Smiths going. Not that I mind, since good old Smiths is where I bought it, right next to Wargames Illustrated and under the last copy of this month's Miniature Wargames, for £4.20.

Right at the start that makes it pricier than an electronic subscription to Battlegames, but having said that, I do find myself on the horns of a dilemma in that I love the convenience of reading magazines on the iPad, but I do also enjoy physical paper magazines. Still - production quality is top notch: unusually the cover is satin-finish rather than out and out glossy. Minor gripe in that the colophon on the contents page (the list of things you don't really care much about like ad rates and publisher contact details) is grey on black and almost unreadably small, but the rest of the magazine has a beautifully clean layout. The graphic designer in me (he keeps trying to get out!) wonders if the page margins are a bit wide on the article pages, but otherwise - lovely look, easy on the eye to read.

Content-wise, plenty of ads, from most of the usual suspects. Each issue has a theme, to which maybe 40% of the articles stick - this time out it's Napoleonics, with a focus on the Austrian campaigns. Several good articles, with almost universally well-composed and taken photos: the one that interested me, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the comparative reviews of various rulesets, including Napoleon At War and Warhammer Historical's Waterloo set. Good set of reviews, in which all the sets came out well. None of his complaints about Napoleon At War actually seriously affect the playability of the rules: I don't really think it's fair to criticise them for the fact that the tournament rules restrict you to 6 turn games. We're all intelligent people, and I can't remember the last time I actually stuck to (for example) WAB turn limits just because The Book Said So. Equally, while Man At War have specifically designed the rules to suit their figure sets (like Battlefront, they have a vested interest in selling them!), it's not rocket science to figure out the core concepts behind the rules (infantry move == effective musket range == infantry line frontage) and scale all measurements for standard 28mm figure basing to within pretty close tolerances. That aside though, I found it a useful comparative review.

Outside of the themed articles, we have a mix of reviews, painting guides and other articles. The ones that grabbed me were an excellent set of skirmish rules for the hospital fight at Rorke's Drift (must not buy the Warlord box set, must not....), and a set of tweaks to the Warhammer Gladiator rules, which I most definitely will be making use of. In general, I find myself wishing I had figures for a number of their little one-off scenarios, as they'd make great participation games for a club night.

There were also a couple of opinion pieces, one from Rick Priestly on IGOUGO systems, which seems to have provoked some debate, if not outrage, on the TFL list, and one from the Lardies' own Rich Clarke on what he calls 'snack pot' gaming (the next size up from skirmish). On top of that there's an interview with the Lardies about I Ain't Been Shot Mum 3.

And that rather sums up where WS&S gets it right - it's not afraid to stray away from the mainstream rule sets (oh, come on, you know the ones I mean!), and it's not afraid to get stuck into meta-discussions about the hobby. My kind of magazine, very much like Battlegames. I think my long-term plan will be to subscribe to these two, and pick up WI and MW when the contents pique my interest.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A horse of a different colour part 5 - '..."it is of an original colour," said Athos...'

...by which he meant yellow, and was referring to D'Artagnan's rather distinctively coloured horse, which is a source of much amusement in the early chapters of Dumas pére's "The Three Musketeers". So, today - yellow horses. Creams, palominos, buckskins, cremellos, and other things of that ilk.

Unlike the previous post, this is a case where we are much better off starting with a gene, the CR gene, also known as the cream gene. Also, this post is a good test of whether you've been paying attention. Once I tell you what the CR gene does, you can, pretty much, figure out what it will do in combination with other genes.

CR is, like some of the genes mentioned in the previous post, an incomplete dominant gene, in that CR/N has different effects to CR/CR, but those effects are pretty well understood, viz:
  • one copy of CR: all red pigment becomes gold, black is largely unaffected, light brown eyes
  • two copies of CR: cream coloured coat, rosy-pink skin, blue eyes
These tend to be written as CR and CRCR. Don't ask me why :D

A classic palomino.
Image from Wikipedia,
in public domain
So. Let's start with the easy one. Take a horse with aa ee CR. Now, ignoring the cream gene, that's a chestnut, as you should all be aware - remember, E means there's black in the coat, A means if there's black, its only on the mane, tail and legs. The presence of CR gets us a palomino: golden coat, flaxen mane, light brown eyes. Unmistakeable.
"For our young man had a steed which was the observed of all observers. It was a Bearn pony, from twelve to fourteen years old, yellow in his hide..." 
-- Alexandre Dumas, "The Three Musketeers", chapter 1
As an aside, while we're mentioning flaxen, the flaxen mane in ordinary chestnut horses is a single separate dominant gene, apparently.

A buckskin New Forest pony.
Image from Wikipedia,
in public domain
Right. Let's switch the ee for an Ee (or an EE, of course) and the aa for an Aa. Without the CR that's going to be a bay, with dark mane and tail. With the CR, obviously enough, it's going to have dark mane and tail but a golden coat: this is known as a buckskin. It's also potentially mistaken for a bay dun, just to complicate matters - the dun markings (the eel mark, particularly) do allow you to tell them apart.

If we don't have an A present, but still have an E, then the underlying horse will be black: the CR gene does affect this to a slight degree, producing what's known as a smoky black, which are, actually, quite hard to spot from an ordinary black or very dark bay unless you know what to look for, and certainly not at normal figure painting scales!

Right - let's move on to the double-dose of CR: this, as we've said, produces a cream coloured coat and blue eyes. So:
  • CRCR + chestnut is called a cremello,
  • CRCR + bay is called a perlino,
  • CRCR + black is called a smoky cream.
And they're all really difficult to tell apart! Perlinos may have a slightly reddish tail compared to a cremello, but in general - they're another 'almost-white' horse. 

I shall leave as an exercise for the reader to figure out what a horse with EE aa CRCR To/to would look like. Have a think, then have a peek at Wikipedia.

As ever, now we're down the weird and fun end of horse genetics, there are other genes which behave similarly to cream. The main one is champagne: it's a simple dominant gene, that lightens red/brown to gold, and black to chocolate. For more details, check Wikipedia, 'cause, frankly, we're also at the point where the number of possible permutations is starting to make my head spin, and my wife (who's a vet) is telling me I know more about horse genetics than she does, now!

And to answer the question from the previous article: Why do Romanies have black and white horses?

Well, thereby hangs a tale. On a trip to the Ironbridge Gorge Industrial Museum many years ago, my future wife got chatting to a chap (who may well have been a genuine Romany) sitting on the steps of a caravan and demonstrating various things,... well, being Anne, she was making more fuss of his horse, and owned up to being a vet. So, he asked her, seeing as how she was miss-well-educated-veterinary and all, if she could answer him that, with a twinkle in his eye. And, being miss-well-educated-veterinary, she racked her brains through a lot of what I've talked about in the last few posts, and after several good but wrong guesses, she was forced, to his gentle amusement, to give up.

And he smiled, and said, "Well, I'll tell you why we have black and white horses. To pull our caravans."

Next time? I'll wrap up, including some suggestions on painting groups of horses for (for example) barbarian tribes etc.

Should I be worried...

...that I have three blog posts queued up in Blogger waiting to be written (yes, one IS on horse colours, and another is the start of a new series), and I'm starting to actually, y'know... PLAN them... They have outlines... It's scary!

Is there anything my small-but-growing cadre of readers (and a big hi to all the new folks since Christmas) want to see more of? Or less of?

Friday, 6 January 2012

My Friendly Local Gaming Store

... now has a website again. Check out http://www.therift.biz/ for all your gaming needs (and, from experience, if Trev hasn't got it, he can get it). He's still working on getting all the stock uploaded, mind.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Battle Report - 02-Jan-2012

The first game of the new year, down at the club. Lowish turnout, but out of those who did we had four plus me for the Op: Squad scenario(s) I'd spent the past couple of days working on, so, off we went.

The briefing? Basically, it was 0025 or so on June 6th 1944, in a quiet little corner of the Normandy coast that didn't manage to get mentioned in the history books (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), A British rifle squad (Rob) was being dropped by glider by a small river bridge defended by a Wehrmacht squad (Chris) while, a little way east, a squad of Paras (Dewi) were attempting to take a small village garrisoned by some PanzerGrenadiers (Dan). In both cases the Germans get only half a squad until the noise wakes the rest of them, and in addition its dark, so everything past 20cm range requires a Spot roll unless someone fires off a flare.

Had we had six players, the other pair would have had a bunch of US Paras dropping in to blow up a railway line before the Germans garrisoned a few hundred yards away (off-table, cause we're short on 28mm buildings!) could stop them.

We actually got to run the scenarios twice, with a little fine tuning the second time (slit trenches aren't good enough cover for 3d6, really): first time was a rather one-sided massacre for the Germans in both cases: in the second, Rob's Rifles fought to nearly the last man to take the bridge, but Dewi's Paras didn't quite do the job, partly because their random scattering on the drop caused all the Sten-armed guys to be half a field away.

The Horsa, for those wondering, was a Fiddler's Green card kit scaled to 28mm (printed out at about 96%) - it was somewhat fiddly, and I left the undercarriage off in the interests of getting it finished in time: it does, however, look the part. There is also no truth in the rumour that the small cluster of figures in the bottom right are my first entry to the Analogue Hobbies' painting contest :D (I'll photograph them properly as soon as I'm done writing this blogpost, honest, Curt!). There does. however, appear to be truth in the rumour that parachuting Bren gunners have a magnetic attraction to churches.

Lessons learned: playtest, Always playtest. :D also, pay attention when handing out units (I mistakenly gave Chris the PanzerGrenadier list and didn't notice till halfway through turn 1), and don't let people play their own squads instead of the ones you designed in (especially if unpainted :D just kidding, Dan!) as it can unbalance the scenario.

Also, mortars in Op: Squad are a bit gross - it seems far too easy to hit a target dead on.

Rough and ready rules for paras and gliders on a 120cm square table:

I defined a drop zone 120cm long by 60cm wide for the paras, rolled 2d6 x 10cm for distance downrange, 1d6 x 10 cm for crosswise drift for each figure.

For the gliders, I defined a target point, then rolled 2d6 x 10 cm to determine where on the table edge the glider crossed, drew a line through the target point and measured 2d6 x 10cm down it to where the nose of the glider ended up. Horsas have a drag chute, and I gave the British player the option of deploying it to reduce that distance by 1d6 x 5cm.

Then, for each figure, roll 2d6 against the normal pinned/wounded/dead table, plus 1 or 2d6 depending on what kind of terrain they landed in and an extra dice if they pulled the 'chute on the Horsa.
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