Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fezia and Rusland, The Balkan Wars and that Groundhog Day Moment....

That Groundhog Day moment - Where did I put that Irregular Miniatures catalogue?

The Rusland, sorry Russian Army of 1890

One day I will learn to make up my mind and stick with it. To be fair I am probably not as bad as I was in my early years but I still have the capacity to occasionally swing wildly between ideas. The sole redeeming feature of this is that the number of hobby related financial disasters has diminished somewhat over the course of time or perhaps I now have a more realistic appraisal of what is viable and what is less so in monetary terms.

I am not going to use the Perry Plastics for my Fezian and Rusland armies. There, I've said it. I will use them for that which they were intended  - i.e. a long term 28mm plastic ACW project - in due course but for a variety of reasons I shall have to abandon my original plan.

The alternative is so blindingly obvious I am still wondering how on earth I managed to completely overlook it. I am going to use the Irregular Miniatures 15mm Balkan War Turkish and Bulgarian armies I have. If you recall I acquired these more of less when they were first released (see the following: Irregular Miniatures Balkan war) TWO YEARS AGO (oh the shame!) but never really did anything with them - other than to discover that the Bulgarian infantryman was in fact wearing the earlier uniform (earlier than 1912 that is) and so was not really suitable. It could have been mixed with figures correctly attired except for the fact that Irregular did make them and so they were consigned to the cupboard and were going to be ignominiously disposed of. However, by dint of some casual research I was able to discover that the Russian army of 1890 was dressed more or less identically to the offending Bulgarian and so I thought - why not? This means then the the Bulgarian Balkan Wars army will in fact be painted as Russian (in 15mm the uniform differences are easily addressed with some painting - the woollen leggings used by many Bulgarians can easily be painted as black boots). In effect then, I will have a pair of historical armies being used as 'imagi-nations.

There are a number of reasons why this is a no-brainer.

  •  To finish the 15mm armies will cost less than £20 - the projected Perry based set up is nearer £200
  • All of my terrain is better suited to 15mm than 28mm
  • I can paint the figures in a very simple 'old toy soldier' with a clear conscience
  • The Irregular Miniatures Balkan Wars range is very extensive and so I can get everything I need from one place and easily.
The figures will be organised as per the Charge! based set up I had planned for the 28mms and they will based individually. I have a number of reasons for this but rules versatility is the most compelling.

Besides, I have two unopened tins of the old Humbrol Autheticolour Rifle Green and it would be a shame not to use them!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Portable Naval War Game - Done and Dusted (for now)

I have finally finished the Portable Naval War Game Rules. I have tweaked them to within an inch of their life and aside from any grammatical howlers or minor correction/clarification I do not envisage any other changes being needed. The core system will need a couple of additions in due course - the 1860 to 1890 period, 1920 to 1945 (with air operations) and, of immediate need, a campaign map move system. To begin with I shall look at a mini operational level campaign (more accurately scenario) which will simply use plotted map moves at the standard table speeds with the action being transferred to the table when in visual range. Overall the tactical rules should be seen very much as a work in progress and as soon as I have worked out how to upload them for anybody that wishes to use them I will do so. The rules make use of generic ship types but I have included a section describing how the specifications can be tailored for specific types if required - and yes, I have done that for my own model fleets! As a long time naval gamer rivet counting habits die hard….;-)
I should point out that unless one is using 1/6000th scale models or Great War at Sea counters the game is hardly 'Portable'. However, I hope that the concepts contained therein are true to the spirit of the original idea, even if they do require a reasonable amount of space to use!
The rules will now be put to one side as my focus shifts back to the ACW river fleets. Repairs and painting will be taking centre stage with the last 32 models requiring completion. As mentioned previously, I will also look to play a couple of ACW games using the blocks  in conjunction with the scenarios from Battle Cry which will be an interesting experience. Or I may even use the models from Battle Cry on a 3d terrain, just to see how it looks.

Turkish Armed Forces 1925 to 1945 Part 1....Turkish Armour

Czech built Praga TH

I had a little trawl across the net and found a few things out about the Turkish armed forces from the 1920s to the end of WW2, mainly concerned with the vehicles used by the army. The first tanks used by the Turks was the famous Renault FT17 during the late 1920s. They later made use of the French R35 in 1940 but between times gained numbers of Vickers Light Tank Vlb and the Russian T26. The Russian also supplied some BT2, T27, T28 (only two of these) and some armoured cars - BA3s and BA6s.

The T26s were taken out of service in 1942 and were replaced in 1943 with 56 German 50mm L60 armed Panzer lll at Hitler's request. They then received some Panzer lV as well - the idea being that Hitler was trying to convince Turkey that attacking the Russians would be a good idea.

From a transport perspective I assume that an assortment of lorries from various sources would be used but also the Turks made much use of a rather interesting Czech built vehicle - the CKD Praga TH. Turkey also made use of the Praga TH6 and 7 (in fact they acquired the entire production run of these two vehicles - just over a 100 of them) and the Praga T9 (also used by the Germans).

Czech built Praga TH6/7 - a poor photo but you can make out a rather fetching camouflage scheme

Czech built Praga TH7/8 - again, a poor photo but you can (just about) make out a rather fetching camouflage scheme

Czech built Praga T9 - the last of the group (and the largest)

I have absolutely no idea if anybody makes these in any scale at all so they would be a challenge and no mistake. Having said that, finding a suitable tracked chassis and adding a truck body should be fairly easy to undertake should I need to.

Not for a while though....;-)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Fezia and Rusland - 50 years on from 1890

One of the big advantages of an 'imagi-nation' is of course that you can do pretty much anything with it. As these two worthies, Fezia and Rusland, are modelled on Turkey and Russia I have spent a little time looking at the military history of each and seeing where my 'imagi-nation' would take me. I have already pencilled in the 18th century as a (very) long term idea but have also been looking at the 1930 to WW2 era. Of course Turkey was neutral during WW2 and Russia had her hands full against the Germans but what about the situation around the Black Sea in WW1? Now that is an interesting area of operations and has graced my table top on many occasions, at least from the naval perspective that is.

As a moment of whimsy though, what about using 1930s/40s kit around the Black Sea but with the military situation akin to that of WW1? Unsurprisingly I came to this from the naval perspective first of all. I have a number of ideas in mind for trying this (and certainly I would be able to game the land side using the blocks if need be) using a real mish mash of ships. The Fezian navy would be far stronger than its historical counterpart and, in true Fezian tradition will have some examples of state of the art ships operating alongside some real antiques.
The land side would of course feature vehicles and so making use of some early war tanks would be fine and will give me a chance to knock up some vehicles for a change. Again, it would be a low intensity set up designed around the Portable War Game concept.

This is very much an idea for the future and as such is not yet even on the back burner but it is something I would like to tackle at some point. The Russian army of the period is pretty well covered in terms of information and models etc but I have yet to find out anything about the Turkish army so some trawling of the net will be called for as a starting point.

Thinking Deep Thoughts....

An aid to clarity of thought....

I have spent most of the weekend involved in a variety of domestic tasks of the kind usually associated with the festive season i.e. Christmas shopping and decorations.Of the latter the one thing that struck me was how quiet the shops appeared to be, given that is less than four weeks to Christmas - a sad reflection on the current economic woes that most people are experiencing perhaps? Either that or it is a wait until the last minute or caning the internet for presents - either way Basildon seemed eerily subdued over the weekend (no bad thing many may say!).

Due to the fact that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and because we also have a number of prior engagements over the coming weekends, SWMBO decided that this weekend the decorations would go up and so out came the tinsel, tree, baubles galore and all the associated festive paraphernalia so that the house now looks like a diluted version of Santa's grotto. I am a sucker for anything Christmas related and so always enjoy doing this and our opinion is that if you are going to bother with decorations at all then you may as well have them up for a reasonable amount of time in order to enjoy the experience and to get into the spirit of things. Besides, it is good fun - especially the annual Christmas game of 'finding the blown bulb from a 40ft length of tree lights'!

I popped into the local Toy and Train fair on Sunday although did not buy anything. There was plenty of military kit on display that would have any 54mm wargamer (especially anybody contemplating a Funny Little Wars set up) reaching for his wallet. There were lots of firing artillery pieces of the WW1 style 18 and WW2 25 pounder variety - as well as some very nice coastal style guns. Prices varied but £3 to £8 seemed to be the average range. There was also a lot of odd Britains figures around as well including a very impressive looking unit of Bengal Lancers that had me both wincing and staring in rapt (mainly at the price but they did look really striking) awe at them.

I also spent a lot of time tackling the fleet lists for the rules and this has given me much food for thought. I think I have allowed myself to fall back into the trap of over egging the pudding. The Royal Navy for example has a list of ships that is now covering three sides of A4. This is an impressive piece of work (if I say so myself) but I was struck by the number of ships that come up with identical factors. This has made me wonder if perhaps I should have stuck to a more generic approach rather than to 'drill down' into such levels of detail. Certainly this approach is probably at odds with the spirit of the Portable War Game.

I am more than happy with the rules as they are but am less convinced about the level of detail I am going to with the ship specifications and so will need to give this some additional consideration.

If anything, if I decide to go down the generic route it will mean that the rules will be complete far sooner than originally planned so that will probably be no bad thing.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Almost Home and Dry....

SMS Lutzow opens fire at Jutland

I have spent the past couple of days trawling through ship specifications for the latest version of the Portable Naval War Game and can safely say it has actually been quite a therapeutic experience. I have various fleet lists so it has been merely a case to setting up new column headings and translating some of the data into the new format. The occasional foray into either Conways or Janes completes the process where any clarification is needed. As usual I have started with the Royal Navy and followed this with the Germans - mainly because their fleets were the largest.

It did throw up a single anomaly though that I have had to address with the rules; that and a minor clarification.

Basically guns are rated as heavy, medium and light and these have maximum ranges of 6, 4 and 3 hexes respectively (remember my models are 1/3000th and the rules are designed for use on a hex grid surface). I wanted the maximum range (6) reserved for dreadnought type ships so the pre dreadnoughts should only be able to reach to around  two thirds of this i.e. 4 hexes. Rating these earlier guns as heavy was okay as far as the shell weight was concerned but the range was wrong (although there were exceptions historically as the Goeben experienced in the Black Sea). What I have decided therefore is to allow for guns to be rated by weight and range. For the most part the system in use is fine and so guns rated at whatever weight will have the corresponding range but for the exceptions will now have a split rating e.g 1 H/M means a ship has 1 heavy (H) gun dice with a maximum range of medium (M) or 4 hexes.

The clarification refers to the Close Range Attack procedure. I had forgotten to allow for the effects or torpedoes from ships other than destroyers. What I have settled on is to allow any ship other than a destroyer when launching a Close Range Attack and then successfully hitting the target to roll a single d6 for torpedo based damage. It is not hugely effective although more so against older ships.

I will be making the rules available to anybody that is interested but I want to complete the ship specifications first of all and also to run another couple of games. I am not expecting this to be much longer and so all should be done and dusted in the next couple of weeks or so.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Portable Naval Wargame (Again)....Final Thoughts

With the fickleness of indecision for which I am legendary I have decided that I will complete the ship specifications to go the rules after all. This is not as painful as it sounds since I already have pretty much most of the world's navies tabled in one form or another and so 'tweaking' them to the new format would not be a massive undertaking. I really want to have the entire 'offering' on one plate so to speak, as much for my own benefit as anything else as it means that I will not have to draft up new ship specifications for any other ships I might acquire in the future (and before you ask, yes I do have a couple of long term ideas on the go!). It also means that when I pass them on to anybody that is interested they will have everything they need to get straight into the action. In the short term then, it means I shall have to concentrate on beating this task into submission over the course of the next few days.

The earlier version - covering 1860 to 1890 - will have to wait for a while as I want to get the ACW ships finished first.

For a variety of domestic reasons my planned foray into the ACW this weekend will have to be postponed for a week but on the plus side I can get to go to the Toy and Train Fair at my daughter's school on Sunday so the weekend will hopefully feature some satisfying retail therapy.

The last time I went to this event (it is held every six weeks or so) I was able to acquire some BMC die cast warships - upon which the famed Minifigs ships were, ahem, based - so I am hopeful that I may be able to repeat this.

The Portable Naval War Game (Again)....Part 5

The much tidied draft is now ready for further testing and so I can now draw a line under this part of the project. I have a tendency to draft rules as a play sheet firstly and so this tends to get very congested as 'tweaks' arise through testing and rethinks. The next step will be to draw up the specifications of a selection of ships from my collection for use in further testing and so I shall be once again making use of my Conways and Janes (never a hardship it must be said!) for the details required.

In the fullness of time I hope to make the end result available for use outside of my cosy loft - I want to get some more game time under my belt first though.

Based on the first play test I am quietly confident though that this time I might just have cracked it - however, past experience has taught me not to count any chickens before they are hatched!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Portable Naval Wargame (Again)....Part 4

Of Torpedoes, Destroyers and the concept of the Naval Melee....

I have used many different sets of naval rules that handle the subject of torpedoes in a variety of ways - from estimating the course change of the target to putting matches on the table and moving them. The one thing that has struck me though is that in virtually every case they are treated as a weapon of mass destruction rather than of mass distraction. Torpedoes are powerful weapons to be sure and there are plenty of historical examples of ships being sunk by a single hit but the problem with them, aside from the reliability aspect, is actually hitting the target. Consider this, the German fleet at Jutland according to their own sources fired off 107 torpedoes. Of this it was reckoned that 2 hit the target. Now clearly it would make for a dull game if we mirrored that unenviable strike rate BUT, the potential of such a weapon had a massive psychological impact historically so just how do we best factor it in?

Imagine, just for a moment this scenario. You are the commander of a destroyer and the signal has just gone up to attack the enemy battle line in the distance. Thus far all you had to do was to maintain station on your own battle line whilst the big ships traded salvo after salvo but now it is your turn to 'face the elephant'. As one the division of destroyers of which you are one swings its helm hard over and accelerates to attack speed. the engine revs increase as the ship buffets and noses into anything approaching a wave and the halyards sing and signal flags crack in the streaming wind. The range comes down and the target battle line gets larger by the minute. Then, like a sparkle of firecrackers the twinkle of the secondary guns followed by a succession of shell splashes mean that they know you are coming. It must seem like every enemy gun is trained on you and tour own artillery fires back - more in hope than expectation as all the while the volume of fire increases; the soaking of near misses drenching everybody topside. You hope and pray that the enemy is unable to adjust the range quickly enough until at last the range for torpedoes is reached and so they are fired - no salvos, just individual tubes. With the helm hard over the ship heels alarmingly as the turn away to safety and away from those terrible guns starts. You were lucky this time but others of the division were less fortunate and flames and smoke bear mute testimony to the enemy fire.

Dramatic and overwritten as usual I know but you can see the point I am making. Large ships cannot safely ignore a torpedo attack and just the threat should be sufficient to disrupt the enemy gunfire at least.

Here is how it will work.

All ships have a Close Attack  value equal to the number of Light gun dice the ship has. Destroyers add their torpedo rating (1, 2 or 3 depending on the size and quantity carried) to this figure so, for example, a battleship may have 2 light gun dice for a rating of 2 whilst a destroyer may have 1 light gun dice plus a rating of 2 for torpedoes making 3 in all. The destroyer declares a Close Range attack (at a range of 1 or 2) and nominates the target. At this point the target ship has two options. It can either engage the attacking destroyer using its own Close Attack rating (and thereby forfeiting any fire for the turn) or it can ignore the threat. In order to score a hit each player must roll equal to or less than their Close Range attack rating with a single d6. If a hit is scored the damage from the attack is based on rolling the number of d6 equal to the Close Range rating of the ship on the normal damage resolution table. All hits from a Close Range attacking destroyer are treated as hull hits. Potentially then, a destroyer could sink a dreadnought outright with the right combination of dice rolls. The destroyer though, if hit, will sustain heavy damage if it is damaged at all.

The target ship has the option to ignore the destroyer, thereby ensuring it can fire in the gunnery segment (I should mention that all Close Range attack resolution is completed before normal gunnery) but the penalty for this is the Close Range attacking destroyer goes straight to damage resolution - in effect a free hit - so this alone should force the player under threat to consider their options very carefully.

Again this probably looks more complex on paper than it is in operation and of course, it will need testing further.

I hope this short series of posts has given a little insight into what I am trying to achieve and also why I am trying to achieve it.

Maintaining the Initiative or the Enthusiasm

In order to stoke the fires of my ACW project 'final hurdle' with the ships I have decided to run a block based ACW land action at the weekend. This will be a first for me as I have not run an ACW game in any shape of form (other than via Battle Cry) at home. I could just as easily use Battle Cry rather than the blocks but that kind of defeats the object of having them somewhat. I may use a Battle Cry scenario though as it will be interesting to see how they work out using blocks rather than figures togther with the Portable War Game system rather than the game rules.

Alternatively I may just set up a hypothetical action and have done with it! I have a few days to consider what I want to do in any event - and it will give me the opportunity and impetus to finish typing up the revised play sheet incorporating strength points and exhaustion levels.

With this in mind I have decided that I want to get into the habit of ensuring that I play at least one game week if possible. This will be in addition to a monthly visit to the club (something I have been somewhat negligent of lately!). It is a lofty (no pun intended!) ideal to be sure but one I should aspire to in order to maximise the use of the new den. Having the use of fast play game rules is a must then as I want to make the most efficient use of my time 'upstairs'!

The Portable Naval Wargame (Again)....Part 3

Of Hit Points and Armour

This is another tricky subject to right in a set of naval war game rules. For me the latter has been far easier to address and so I have gone for armour/protection levels equal to heavy, medium or light. What does this actually mean in a game context? Heavy is reserved for those ships with extensive armour protection and of a meaningful degree of thickness appropriate to the type. Invariably this will mean battleships. I have not considered the location of the said protection simply because there is no need to as gunnery does not look at hit location as such. Medium protection is generally lighter than the heavy type - either because the actual thickness of the armour is lesser or is not as extensive in its coverage. This could also be used for older examples of a given ship type - I am thinking of such things as older, first generation pre dreadnoughts for example. Light protection is taken as having little or no armour and so during the WW1 era would tend to be light cruisers or destroyer types. I am toying with the idea of having gunfire at range 6 (the maximum range for my purposes) treat all armour as light regardless of what the ship is armoured as. The rationale for this is to allow for the effects of plunging fire whereby shells at the end of their trajectory and range tend to hit the target from above and at a steep angle and usually down through the deck into a ship's vitals.  Even for dreadnoughts with armoured decks this was a major problem simply because deck armour was always inadequate as the effect of this type of attack had never been seriously considered.  I will experiment with this and decide later how to apply this - from a rules perspective it is simple to include.

Hit points for ships have given me more sleepless nights than any other aspect of naval rules writing I can think of! It is such a subjective topic although you would not think so when you see the tables of ship specifications in any one of a number of sets of rules. I have experimented with many different approaches to this subject but at the end have come down to assigning an arbitrary figure to a given ship type and then taking it from there. As a benchmark a typical dreadnought battleship will have around 10 hit points. This can be moved up or down as required for older or later examples or for those that differ in some way from the dreaded 'norm'. An example might be to allow for the famous German build quality for their dreadnoughts or for the vastly superior protection offered on the war built dreadnoughts. Everything else can be scaled back from that level  - and in this I have made a couple of what seem to be inconsistent decisions. My smaller ships tend to have proportionally more hit points than would seem logical - for example I want my destroyers to have between 2 and 4 hit points. The reason for this is purely 'gamey' in concept. In most naval games I have taken part in (and this includes those of my own design!) the lot of a destroyer commander is usually a short and exciting one and invariably ends with most of the types being sunk very easily and quickly. Of the 139 destroyers and torpedo boats at Jutland some 13 were sunk or under 10% of those engaged.

Of course destroyers are vulnerable ships when faced with batteries of 5.9 and 6" weapons determined to ruin their day but just because they are does not mean that all they should be is target practice. I want these ships to have some meaning in a game context and so survivability is an important factor. If a destroyer commander is foolish enough to attempt to out shoot a bigger and invariably better armed opponent then he is asking for everything he gets but the canny player - using his ships in a tactically sound fashion - has the ability to fully utilise the strengths of the ships under his command. Essentially I shall be doing away with the 'one hit wonder' approach for this class of ship in the interests of both playability and historical accuracy.

The final part of this series of posts will look at the concept of the Close Range attack or how I did away with torpedoes and lived to tell the tale....

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Portable Naval War Game (Again)....Part 2

The thorny subject of naval gunnery in a war game has probably had more ink spilled over it than any other subject I can think of from a rules perspective. Over the years I have tried a number of different methods but for the sheer fun factor rolling numbers of d6 as a game mechanic is hard to beat so I am not about to upset that hallowed tradition. My last version of the rules used a d6 per two barrels firing which was not bad but I wanted to streamline this and so have opted instead for using a d6 per 4 barrels instead. This means that a typical pre dreadnought will be firing 1d6 for its main guns and a typical dreadnought will be firing 2d6. It makes for faster resolution but maintains the all important fun factor - the ritual cursing of d6 rolls that go against the thrower is again, a time honoured war games ritual, not lightly cast aside.
A d6 gun dice can take two hits before being removed (effectively a hit is two barrels worth of damage, or, if you prefer, a knocked out turret) - the first hit (all will be revealed in due course) - and the first such hit means that the dice suffers a -1 firing modifier. This is easily represented by the simple expedient of using a different coloured d6 for the damaged gun(s). It also is a handy method for representing odd numbers of guns e.g. the Goeben had 10 x 11" guns so this translates into two normal gun dice and one special dice, firing with a -1 modifier.
I have rated guns as being either heavy (range 6), medium (range 4) or light (range 3). Heavy guns are typically anything 11" or larger; medium is anything larger than 6" up to 10" and light are 6" and smaller. Within those bands modifiers to the damage dice could be applied where needed for guns that vary in their impact from their notional category - a good example would be the RN 15" gun gaining a bonus due to its sheer destructive power e.g. the gun would be rated as heavy (obviously) but with a plus 1 damage modifier. Again, this will be optional and will require some research from the gamer as I have neither time nor the inclination to factor every single permutation of gun calibre/weight/shell size/range/age in use with the world's navies over the years under consideration! Seriously though, I will have some gunnery tables included and slotting types in will be easy enough to do - in any event I will do this for my own collection. For my own purposes (and initially using 1/3000th models) I am looking at using a maximum range of around 6 grid areas - so that on my playing surface it means there is some sea room outside of gun range. I have used the familiar short, medium and long range brackets for determining hits with a 6 being required at long range (range 6), 5 or 6 at medium (range 4 and 5) and 4, 5 or 6 at close range (range 1, 2 or 3). A simple table exists to find the modifier used when making a damage roll after having obtained a hit and this compares the weight of the gun against the weight of the target ships armour. The basic principle for gunnery I have employed will be the same for the earlier period although obviously with some appropriate tweaks - smoothbores vs. rifles for one!
The base score to convert a hit into damage relies on a d6 roll and 1, 2 and 3 are misses; a 4 is a hull hit, a 5 is a gun hit and a 6 is two hits - either a pair of hull or gun hits or one of each. The choice lies with the target ship. Depending on the gun/armour combination of the firing/target ship the dice roll for damage can go up or down e.g. a heavy gun hitting light armour gains a +2 to the damage dice meaning that as long as the firing ship does not roll a 1 damage will be inflicted.
In summary then, gunnery is designed to be simple and uses a d6 based system for hits and damage rolls in order to adjudicate results. Armour penetration effects are acknowledged by the damage modifier found by cross referencing the weight of the gun versus the level of the target's protection. Damage is either hull or gun related and this is determined by the damage effect roll. The closer you get, the easier to hit.
The next part of this series of posts will cover damage and allocation of hit points and armour ratings.

A Question of Conscience

The Magnificent 7 - Pook's Turtle style

I really want to 'crack on' with the ships for Fezia and Rusland but a small voice in the back of my mind is getting louder and louder and so I shall bow to the inevitable and tackle the outstanding completion of the ACW ships that I have first of all. There are 32 models to paint (a dozen of which have been started) plus a couple of cat related repairs to undertake so I really must press on with these. It was just over a year ago I started making the models and given the fact that the block armies have worked out as well as they have means I have no excuse for not completing them.

I am going to cheat slightly in that I plan to print off onto sticky labels the covers for the various paddle boxes in order to save painting and it is a technique I want to experiment with for a variety of other ideas I have.

So once again the swampy bayous beckon....;-)

The Portable Naval War Game (Again)....Part 1


In my previous rule sets I spent a lot of time worrying about quite minor differences in speeds between ships. One of the problems with using a grid is that you limited in how you model speeds unless you use one grid area for one knot. This of course in impractical (unless using a football pitch to game on) and so compromises are required. The period under consideration has ships of widely different speeds in use (usually due to age) and so translating these into a reasonable number of movement points is quite a challenge. Experience has shown me that in order to keep the action within reasonable bounds - by that I mean within the confines of my 13 x 9 Hexon playing area - the movement speeds need to be quite small. With this in mind I am looking at a maximum speed of 4 grid areas. Depending on when the action being fought is set this speed of 4 could represent anything from 20 to 40 knots or between 5 to 10 knots per grid area. This needs some clarification.

In the ACW the fastest ship speed I could find was around the 20 knots level. If I used a 'scale' of one grid area equals 10 knots then this would give a speed of 2 with everything slower at a 1. This would be fine if ships could only travel at 10 or 20 knots but clearly this is too large to be useful. So by telescoping the speed into our 4 grid area desired maximum we suddenly have one grid area representing 5 knots which means that ships with speeds of 5, 10, 15 or 20 knots can be far better represented, relatively speaking.

Moving on to WW1 with speeds being much higher the same basic idea can be applied. Lets take 32 knots as being an average maximum speed (I know some ships could go faster but bear with me!) for the 14 - 18 period. This means most destroyers and modern light cruisers will have a speed of 4 or 3 for the older types; most dreadnoughts will be around 3 and pre dreadnoughts around 2. This is far more usable although only goes part way to solving the issue. Barry Carter in his book on WW1 and WW2 naval war games came up with a novel system for covering incremental speeds (speeds that do not divide exactly into the number of grid areas being used) involving the use of 'short' and 'long' moves. In a nutshell certain ships could move at one speed on a short move and slightly faster on a long one. This works very well and so I am going to incorporate a stripped down version of this in the current set. It adds little in terms of complexity but does add to the game overall (and satisfies the knot counters amongst us!). The way this will work will be to assign a knot value to a grid area - in the example above this is 8 knots. A ship that travels at, say 21 knots (a typical dreadnought of the period) will move 2 grid areas on a short move and 3 on a long move. This is calculated by taking out the complete multiples of 8 knot (2 x 8 = 16) and taking the remaining speed - in this case 5 knots - and if this is over half of the incremental speed of 8 knots (which it is) then it is rounded up to an extra move on the long turn.

This is probably easier to apply than to describe so I apologies of it appears overly complex! The rules will feature a speed table in order to avoid any complex calculations. The key thing with this approach is setting the speed benchmark at the correct level in order to ensure that relative speed differences are maintained between types whilst ensuring that sufficient ship movement exists to make the game playable. Essentially an ACW river battle was a much slower affair than Jutland so you cannot apply the same speed approach to each type of action if using a grid. I should point out as well that the use of this incremental speed approach will be an optional rule and not compulsory. It is primarily designed for scenario construction purposes or refights etc.

Turning is simply handled. Everything from an armoured cruiser upwards can turn one corner a turn and anything smaller can turn two.

The second part of this series of posts will cover the thorny subject of gunnery - and I have once again gone for the simple is better approach. There are lots of d6 involved but only half as many as previously!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Couple of Welcome Additions

It has been a very busy weekend for a number of reasons, mostly associated with the usual domestic round. I was able to make a fleeting visit to the Works in Basildon. I was very glad I did as I picked up a couple of very welcome additions to the library. These are both hardback editions and cost a mere £3.99 each which is a positive steal and no mistake!

The first - A Tidy Little War by William Wright covered the British invasion of Egypt in 1882 and includes the bombardment of Alexandria and the battle of Tel El Kebir together with all the associated background covering the invasion etc. The campaign was not nearly as 'tidy' as the title might suggest and certainly the Egyptian gunners earned universal praise during the bombardment of Alexandria. Of course, given my interest in anything remotely exotic and Middle Eastern this is a campaign I will study with relish - especially from the Egyptian perspective!

The second is no less than the memoirs of Lord Jellicoe of Scapa - he of Jutland fame and 'the only man could lose the war in an afternoon'. These were first published in 1919 and are called, appropriately, The Grand Fleet 1914 to 1916 during which time the Grand Fleet was under his command. I have a number of gaps in my WW1 naval library but this is one that I am really pleased to have acquired. I have a hankering to tackle the Jutland campaign using models at some point in my war games career and who knows? If my rules work out OK and if I get the fleets then it would make a great project to undertake.

So Far, So Good - Relatively Speaking

This afternoon saw the first play test of my new Portable Naval War Game which not only featured my slightly larger playing area (see yesterday's post for details) but also, unsurprisingly, the Black Sea Russians and the Turks. The test was in effect a revisit to the previous naval game I tried - the Turks used the Goeben and the Breslau whilst the Russians had one of their Black Sea dreadnoughts - Impertricia Maria and the protected cruiser the Parmiat Mercurija. I played the game for six turns and at the end of the action both of the capital ships had sustained a number of hits - the Turk had lost a turret and had suffered some hull damage as had the Russian - but the escorting cruisers were undamaged. The result was inconclusive but, for a number of reasons, it actually felt historically viable.

I have made a real effort with this set to pare back the mechanisms as far as I am able to in order to align them as far as possible with the mechanics of the Portable War Game concept. I think that I have gone a long way towards fulfilling that ideal but have also managed to ensure that the all important ship differences are not swept up into generic and soulless types.

Unusually for me the draft of these rules is very much a work in progress - I normally have a copy ready to go (and generally bombard people with it - the acres of rain forest I have caused to be trashed over the years is probably biblical in its proportions!) - but in accord with my new and laid back persona I will finish it when I think I have 'nailed' it. The main reason I need to do this is because I have a number of major additions to incorporate - principally covering the period 1860 to 1890 - which will mean that the core system will  work from around 1860 to 1945. Impossible? Perhaps, may be even probably BUT, and to quote Star Trek, "It had the virtue of never having been tried" - maybe or maybe not but a theory has to be disproved before being abandoned entirely!

I will explain my rationales etc as I get them crystalised but for the moment suffice it to say as far as the rules are concerned the numbers of d6 are reduced - for gunnery it is one per four barrels firing instead of two - and the old 'to hit and then a damage roll' is in. Guns are heavy, medium or light; as is armour but with an additional unarmoured category. Torpedoes are included in a close range attack factor which gives destroyers especially a big boost when attacking larger ships. Damage is either hull or gun based (or both if the hit is severe enough) and ships have a varying number of damage points available based on a relative interpretation of their perceived protection level.

Early indications are very encouraging and so I plan to run some other tests over the course of the next week or so. I have a good feeling about these rules - more so than with any other version I have designed - due in part to having ditched an awful lot of detail based chrome in the interests of simplicity.

We shall see....

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Matter of Size

The new playing area - I use a cloth under the tiles as it stops them sliding around at inconvenient moments!

You may recall a short while ago I acquired a secondhand drop leaf dining table which, when fully deployed, measured roughly 60 by 30 inches. The size is sufficient for a Hexon playing area of 13 by 8 - which is roughly the size of a Portable Wargame battlefield and a half (i.e. 12 by 8). Obviously this is not carved in stone but as a benchmark to work from it is certainly as good as any. My original plan for the use of my Hexon was to set up a 13 by 9 playing area - the same size as the board used in Battle Cry and Memoir 44.

The 13 x 8 set up is absolutely fine for use with land actions but is a little narrow when used for naval battles. This was not a major problem but it did give me pause for thought.

You know how it is - something niggles for no discernible reason (I was happy with the original size after all) - and eventually you just have to do something about it!

So I did.

I visited a local timber yard and acquired an MDF off cut (medium density fibreboard for those unfamiliar with the term MDF) sized at 60 by 36 inches and it has made a world of difference - well, an extra row of tiles difference in any event. I can at last set up my Hexon to the size that I wanted to originally i.e. 13 x 9. This will give me greater area for deployment for land actions and for the essential sea room for my naval battles. It also means I could easily translate Battle Cry and Memoir 44 scenarios onto the tabletop should I wish to at some point.

Now there is an idea....;-)

Friday, 18 November 2011

Going Backwards to go Forwards....

As written, the soon to be tested Portable Naval War game (version 127!) was designed to cover the period from roughly 1890 to, ultimately, 1945. The initial set covered the period until the end of the Great War so air operations are missing. As an aside I will extend the set to include the aerial dimension at some point but it will not be for a while. A problem that I had not considered though has arisen with the current version and that is in connection with how to represent earlier vessels - or as I like to think of them, 'pre-pre-dreadnoughts'.

With the historical Turkish navy still using 1860s vintage broadside and central battery ironclads in 1890 it means that I have a number of issues to consider. To begin with, firing arcs. Happily, using a hexed grid alleviates this problem to a huge degree as it is easy to map arcs of fire with little difficulty. There is also the question of rifled versus smoothbore artillery (you could also include breach versus muzzle loading weapons if you have a mind to). That is easy enough to handle and I am using a system I first saw in Donald Featherstone's book Naval Wargames - basically you have two sets of ranges divided into close, medium and long with smoothbores tailing off over distance. There is also the subject of spar torpedoes and ramming - both of which I have some ideas for but will need to clarify this before committing to paper. The fleets of both Fezia and Rusland will feature some of these older vessels (Fezia more so!) and so the additions to the rules are pretty much essential.

I am actually quite pleased that these add ons should be fairly simple to implement and of course it does mean that the potential of the set can go back even further in time and so the ACW would be a serious possibility. I will have to consider adding a couple of additional ship types to the mix - this will include merchantmen and converted civilian ships - those fitted with varying degrees of guns and armour.

It does look like though the ACW river campaign is not ready to be consigned to the back of cupboard just yet and seems determined to make a fight of it for my attention!

Fezia and Rusland at Sea.... Part 2 - Fezia

Mesudiye as built - refitted and rebuilt she served in the Balkan war of 1812 and was sunk in WW1

Mesudiye after her extensive rebuild - hard to believe it was the same ship!

The Turkish navy that I am modelling that of Fezia on was of a reasonable size compared to the Black Sea Russian fleet. The two problems it faced though were that the ships were old and that the navy as a whole was woefully inefficient in terms of training and maintenance.  The Ottoman treasury was perennially empty and so vessels quite often virtually rotted away due to lack of routine care and attention. It was almost as though the naval mindset had been so fixed with the relative longevity of the old wooden Men of War that the new and far more complex steam vessels were accorded the same level of apathy!

Aside form this neglect though, the Turks used an impressive number of ships - it was just that they always seemed to be a generation behind the rest of the world. The Turks had been caught up in the ironclad building frenzy of the 1860s as much as any nation and her navy was impressive looking by the mid 1870s in terms of sheer weight of numbers. In fact, the Turkish navy had offered to support Austria in 1866 against the Prussians - one wonders what the ghosts of Prince Eugen and Don John of Austria would have made of that! Interestingly, the usual Turkish financial woes meant that a number of navies often had the odd ship in their order of battle that had been ordered by the Ottomans but that was unable to be paid for or impacted by political implications - HMS Belleisle and her sister ship HMS Orion (actually Turkish designed) and also HMS Superb; all acquired by the RN due to the situation with Russia in 1877/78. HMS Superb was the sister ship to the Mesudiye and at the time of their construction (in the mid 1870s) they were considered to be amongst the most powerful warships afloat.

HMS Belleisle under the RN flag - the central battery of this ram can clearly be seen

The bulk of the Turkish battle line consisted of broadside and central battery ironclads of various sizes and vintage (and often rebuilt and modernised to a greater or lesser extent) and so the Fezian fleet will follow suit. This will make for an interesting match up against the more modern Rusland ships although they of course will be generally be fewer in number.

Alongside this veritable floating naval museum the Turks also employed some of the small torpedo boats described in part one and so the resultant fleet will have an even greater selection (or even disparity!) of the old and the new when I build it.

Of course there are implications for the Portable Naval wargame rules with all this as whilst they are designed to cover pre dreadnought type ships much of what will be in use will in effect be 'pre' pre dreadnought and so I will need to factor this in in some fashion.

As ever though, this will be enormous fun to undertake and I am looking forward to doing just that.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Fezia and Rusland at Sea.... Part 1 - Rusland

Novgorod at sea and appearing unusually well behaved!

Without a doubt one of the attractions of the two protagonists I have chosen for my 'imagi-nations' is the inevitable naval dimension. Using both Russia and Turkey as the models for the two fleets - perhaps with some selected additions from elsewhere - will provide much in the way of inspiration for models for use in the naval wargames I shall be undertaking alongside the land campaigns. Actually, the naval dimension will be essential given the geography of the region as the only way the two sides can get to each (unless considerations of border violation are ignored!) is via the sea so I need to make some provision for this facet.

The models will be scratch built to my usual maximum hull size of 3 1/2" for the largest vessels and with everything else scaled back from that. Balsa wood, plastic card and tube and the contents of the spares box will provide more than sufficinet raw material for the purpose and so I do not envisage any major dramas in the construction process. For the most part the ships are relatively 'clean' looking and in any event, the models are representations rather than true scale versions.

The ships themselves are a fascinating mix of the very old, the old and the new. Broadside and central battery ironclads, barbette and turret ships being used alongside conceptually modern looking torpedo boats all feature with the majority of the former being in Turkish employ whilst the technologically more advanced vessels serve with Russia. As far as I can tell the Turkish navy appeared to have a greater selection of ships available but that they tended to be older. This then, will be the model for the fleets of both Fezia and Rusland and so the resultant actions will see battles between the more numerous old and the fewer new.

Russia had some interesting designs in use specifically for the Black Sea of which the famous circular warships were but one example. Rusland will undoubtedly acquire some of these - simply because they would be hard to resist making!

Deck view of the Novgorod

A brief introduction to these very unusual looking vessels can be found here:


The Russians also built the Ekaterina ll class of four battleships maounting 6 x 12" in three barbettes in an unusual triangular layout - two of the barbettes were forward with one aft so, in theory, the ship could fire 4 x 12" guns directly forward. Due to the guns being being sited very low this would usually result in a lot of deck related blast damage!

Top and side elevation of the battleship Sinop - of the Ekaterina ll class

An interesting design though - and one that will certainly feature in the Rusland navy.

The torpedo boats in use by either side were quite small and as a rule were around the 80 to 100 tons mark with a speed of around 20 knots. They were armed with a couple of 1" guns and a pair of 14 or 15" torpedoes. This was early on in the evolution of the ship type that would eventually become the destroyer.

Part 2 will follow later and will feature the warships of Turkey circa 1891.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A Proud Parent

Yesterday evening was my soon-to-be 16 year old daughter's 'Learning Review' at her school. This is a one to one with the head of the year in order to review her effort and predicted attainment when she sits her exams in May and June of next year. The predicted exam grades are then used on her college application form for her intended further education. Holly, my daughter, is a very bright girl (no bias there then!) and so parents evenings at the school are always a pleasure for SWMBO and I and last night was absolutely no exception.
Each of her subjects has a series of categories that are marked for both effort and predicted attainment at exam level based on that effort. The categories include such things as homework being on time, classroom involvement, quality and quantity of work, presentation etc. For every category and in every subject Holly scored an A for effort (the one miss was a B) which is quite simply, a staggering achievement and one that both SWMBO and I are hugely proud of. Her predicted grades at exam level are all in the B - A - A star range which is equally impressive and this means she is comfortably on track for the required results for her chosen college based A Levels.  Coupled with an truly glowing report in respect of her social skills and all round classroom contribution and enthusiasm (she was also made a prefect earlier in the year) meant that it was a very happy and parentally fulfilled household last night.
It makes it all worthwhile….;-)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Going with the Flow....

Realistically I am not going to get several ongoing projects finished whilst this current 19th century fix is an itch requiring repeated scratching. Ordinarily I would feel guilty about this - the weight of self inflicted expectation being an onerous burden - but strangely I feel quite liberated by having made such a decision. The ACW ships and many of the planned WW2 naval adventures will happen at some point but not just yet. The strangest thing about all this is that I feel very much as though for the first time in a long while I have a definite sense of wargaming purpose. Fezia, Rusland, Forbodia, Epiria and a few others beside will have more than sufficient interest for me for a long time to come and through the medium of my block armies I will be able to engage in a whole variety of table top actions - from small scale raids and punitive expeditions up to large scale battles - with sufficient diversity to ensure that I will have more than enough to keep me occupied for some time to come.

I will be writing (probably badly!) about the adventures and misadventures of the various protagonists along the way and fully intend to include, naturally, the naval dimension as well.

From a model perspective the plan is to use the Perry plastics (and others) for the armies and scratch builds for the ships and this will of necessity be a long term effort given my usual modelling and painting speed. I am not fussed by this and therein lies the core of my new(er) philosophy. I am going to relax and enjoy my hobby and let the tide take me wherever it rolls - no more self imposed or inflicted angst or agonising  over rules or models or any of the associated minutiae!

It is supposed to be fun after all....;-)

Balkan Wars 1891 Imagi-World Style

Now here is the thing. After having fought Keder Sirt twice I am now itching to extend and expand the conflict using a combination of the famous blocks, Hexon, the 'tweaked' Portable Wargame Colonial rules, my own new Portable Naval rules and a large smattering of Bob Cordery's 1891 Imagi-World.

What am I to do?

Very simple really, and in the time honoured tradition of striking whilst the iron is hot I am going to fight a small mini-campaign based on the actual Balkan War of 1912 but set in 1891 and Bob C's world. The Balkrunian League will be attempting to destroy the last vestiges of Fezian power on the continent and so Forbodia and Epiria will be taking centre stage against the still formidable Fezian Empire. Rusland, despite her recent reverse at the hands of Amir Abdul Abulbul will be involved; albeit primarily from a naval perspective.

Even as I write this, King Boris 111 of Forbodia is planning plans and scheming schemes....;-)

Resisting Everything Except Temptation....

I had planned to spend yesterday evening finishing the play sheet I am drafting for use with the Portable Wargame Colonial rules that incorporates the roster system and a couple of minor language changes to reflect this. It is roughly half completed and would have taken no more than a couple of hours work.

It is still unfinished.

The reason for this 'delay' (which is sadly very typical of my somewhat undisciplined approach to projects) is that I spent the time drafting (and completing) a set of naval rules that mirror the mechanics of the Portable Wargame far more closely than any of my numerous previous versions.

"Oh no, not again!" Would probably be the universal comment; especially as after everyone of my previous sets I have stated with all due solemnity that this particular set is 'it'! I should learn to take notice of what I write; I really should! I have consoled myself with the knowledge that everything that has gone before have been steps on the path to Nirvana and that eventually I will get it right and so never have to suffer the pain of continual rebirth.

I am testing these over the next few days with the outcome as ever reported on the blog. I have chosen to be brutal with this set and so as they stand I am using generic ship and weapon types, simple d6 based combat mechanics, a simple roster for damage recording and something rather novel for torpedo combat.

In the Portable Wargame  melee is handled by units having a Close Combat value or power. Obviously this is for combat up close and personal (i.e. in an adjacent hex). It suddenly occurred to me that this approach could also be extended to naval combat - mainly to cater for destroyer torpedo attacks. I have assumed that destroyers are the only vessels designed to use the torpedo offensively and in order to do so they would have to make, in effect a torpedo 'run' or attack on their target. Taking this a step further the target ship, seeing it was under such an attack would be hugely concerned with avoiding such attention - usually to the detriment of its own gunnery. Taking this idea to its conclusion I have given destroyers the highest Close Range attack value and dreadnoughts and their ilk the lowest.

What of secondary guns designed just to counteract this very thing? Ships that had these weapons still do so and they can be used under normal circumstances just like any other weapon. However, I believe that when a destroyer or destroyers become a more immediate threat to a target ship then they would be forced, if able, to take far more notice of the smaller ships than by merely firing at them.

I have always felt that the threat of a torpedo attack had more effect than the actual potential damage (although this can be real enough) and that also destroyers seemed to be little more than very weak but fast ships. I hope this approach will go some way towards redressing the balance somewhat.

We shall see - Nirvana here we come? Who knows - but you have to try in order to find out!

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Sudden Flash of Realisation....

One of the great things in my life at the moment is having my 'den' fully set up as I want and thereby having the ability to be able to set up and have a game away from the usual domestic hurly-burly. Being able to have a game, leave it set up if unfinished or even if it is finished and merely needs packing away is such a libertaing experience as I no longer have to have an eye on the clock. As I pondered the game of yesterday (Keder Sirt part 2 if you like) it suddenly struck me that I had managed to fight two wargames within the space of a week at an expenditure of (in total) five hours of 'loft time' (i.e. the time in my loft fighting the battles). The use of the blocks and grid based rule systems has certainly helped in this regards - together with some really nifty rule sets.

This is heady stuff and it has served to remind me of a couple of things I need to tackle with some urgency.

Firstly, my gaming table is ever so slightly too small and so I shall be acquiring a piece of 5ft by 3ft 10mm plywood this weekend in order to overlay the exisiting 5ft by 30". I really need to have the extra 6" (Oooooooh….Matron!!!) so that I can set up my Hexon on a 12 hex x 9 basis. This in turn means that my idea for a plot map for operational games will now be extended to 36 x 36 hexes or 12 'tables' worth. The 12 x 9 table top size fits better with the Hexon tiles as the standard tile size is 3 hexes by 2 or 18 such tiles deployed in three columns of 6 tiles each.

Secondly, I need to get the rest of the blocks labelled as soon as possible - I have the Khaki set to do and then the ID numbers need to be added. The result of this will be the ability to game whatever horse and musket, or 20th century campaign want to at a stroke!

Thirdly, the Portable Naval Wargame - with rule mechanics virtually identical to the land version - needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I have a couple of home grown sets that are very good and usuable but they are not in the same league as the elegant simplicity of the land based versions. In the interests of consistency I need to translate this into a naval set - and this will mean looking at the whole subject from a fresh perspective, unfettered by largely redundant detail.

Finally, and this will be a priority. I need to acquire the final pieces of terrain for my Hexon set up. Luckily SWMBO has been making Xmas prezzie type noises so I hope to take suitable advantage of this!

Portable Wargame Rules - OK!

Indeed they certainly are! I used Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame rules for my recent game involving Fezia and Rusland and they worked extremely well although it was only after the game I realised that I had used version one rather than the later set. With this in mind I decided this weekend I would refight the Battle of Keder Sirt using Bob's Colonial version of his original 19th century set.

I was really pleased I did.

The resultant game seemed to be far more decisive, helped in part by the longer move distances and increase in weapon ranges. I still made use of the roster system which seems to offer some tangible 'meat' to the game - units last longer - and suits my own ideas from a campaign perspective far better. For me though, by far the most important feature of these rules is the simple fact that they can be 'dressed up' or 'dressed down' in terms of complexity with relative ease - in fact the roster system I used, combined with exhaustion levels (borrowed from Volley and Bayonet) appeared to slot into the system almost seamlessly.

The battle lasted 6 turns compared to the original 8 and all of the Rusland units managed to get into the fray. The attack in the centre very nearly pushed the Fezians off the ridge whilst the flanking attack had both of the Rusland cavalry units taking on the sole Fezian mounted unit. The Rusland flanking infantry were also able to get to grips with the Bashi Bazouks in the woods and at the end of the game these two Fezian units (the cavalry and the Bashi Bazouks) were clinging on for dear life with each being engaged by two Rusland units. It was only the fact that the Rusland forces hit their exhaustion level due to heavy casualties sustained in the centre - the number of strength points lost from the army total being 14 from 35 - that enabled the Fezians to secure a very narrow victory. It was extremely tense right up to the final turn.

Taking all the above into consideration I still have a few further rule tweaks in mind but the simple fact of the matter is I don't really need to as the rules are excellent as they stand. My changes will include the use of the aforementioned roster and exhaustion level system and I will also reduce a couple of the weapon ranges a tad. The hit results will be also be changed simply because of the implications of using the roster - I will also replace the 'survive, but fall back one hex (grid area)' effect with a 'take a hit or fall back one hex (grid area) as I like having to give the unit owner the choice (to a degree) of how they apply any damage received.

I am also going to be making use of standard units sizes with dice modifiers for the size of the formation - something that is employed in Command and Colours Napoleonics. Using Battle Cry/Memoir 44 as a model I have come up the following:

  • Regular Infantry strength 4/2
  • Cavalry and Irregular Infantry strength 3/2
  • Artillery and Weapons units e.g artillery and mgs strength 2/1
  • Commanders strength 1.
Larger than usual versions of the above would have an extra strength point which would give them a +1 dice modifier during combat. Similarly, when they are reduced to a certain size a -1 dice modifier would come into effect - this is the figure after the slash above. Obviously unit strengths would come into play rather more in a scenario or campaign setting.

In summary then I can say that the rules Bob has devised are really good to use 'straight off the bat' for a fast play game with the right amount of the all important period 'feel' but for my own purposes I have added a few tweaks to align them more with my own rules ideas. It is without a doubt a positive reflection on the elegant simplicity and soundness of the original design that I am able to do this with little adverse effect.

It is far harder to write a 'simple' set of rules that work (Lord alone knows I have tried!) than a more complex set and in this Bob has succeeded admirably. The rules and variants etc can all be found here - 

Take a look and enjoy!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Narodowe Święto Niepodległości) - Polish Independence Day

The Polish National Flag

I am currently working for a Swiss Bank that has offices in Krakow, Poland. As part of my daily duties I am required to have telephone conference call with our Polish colleagues (not for any "Idle Polish Chit-Chat" though!) and when we had our call yesterday they happily told me that today is Polish Independence Day and it is a national holiday.

A brief account of the significance and history of this day can be found here - Polish Independence Day

So to any Polish readers dropping by I will say only this - Szczęśliwy Dzień Niepodległości!

A Punitive Expedition....Part 7 - The Battle of Keder Sirt

The Battle of Keder Sirt - the positions at the start of the action

The single round of artillery fire from the Rusland front line galvanised Abulbul into action, seething as he was with barely concealed anger at the interruption of his religious devotions. A stream or orders issued to the tensely waiting Fezian soldiery deployed on the ridge - mainly ensuring that every man was ready to do his duty or would face the wrath of their mercurial commander in chief. In truth though, there was little the Fezian Army could do other than to await events. Whatever his shortcomings as an individual (which were many and varied if even half of the graffiti on the walls of the hammam between Keder Sirt and the Sultan's palace were true) Abulbul was no mean commander and he was fully painfully aware of the disparity of forces between his own and that of the Rusland attackers. He dare not move from his position until the Rusland intentions were clear otherwise his opponents numerical advantage would ensure that few, if any, of his command would live to see the Sultan again. With a silent muttered prayer and a particularly long and complicated curse he resolved not to quit the ground they were standing on until death or victory.

The Fezian artillery opened fire (at range 5) at the approaching green tide, specifically the Rusland artillery, in the hope that it could reduce its strength somewhat as Abulbul was concerned at the great weight of guns deployed against the ridge - far in excess of his own. The guns duly opened fire and managed to cause some confusion within the Rusland ranks but little material damage (a roll of 5 for the hit and 4 for effect resulting in a pin result). The Rusland reply was to miss as the range was misjudged by the artillery commander (much to Skavar's chagrin) and the resulting barrage fell short to the mocking cheers of the relieved Fezian soldiery (a roll of 4 meaning an undershoot).

As the cheers of the Fezian infantry died away Abulbul immediately sent an aide to the commander of his sole cavalry regiment and ordering him, on pain of a particularly slow and lingering death, to move up from the village to cover the rearward approaches as he anticipated an enemy attack in that area (the Fezian commander had won the activation roll for the turn 2 to 1 and had rolled three activations, using but a single point to move the cavalry).

Skavar leapt into action and so the Rusland army followed suit (helped by an activation point total of no less than 10). The central infantry units began their cautious and unpleasant advance towards the Fezian occupied ridge – unpleasant because they it meant that they would be taking fire whilst being unable to reply. The advance was made on either flank of the artillery position in order to ensure that the guns would still be able to support the infantry until the last possible moment. On the extreme Rusland left flank the force selected to either turn the Fezian right flank or to burn the fortress as needed was immediately set in motion , the cavalry in the van, urged on with all due haste by the dashing figure of Skavar himself. During this flurry of activity the Count also took the opportunity to move his own position forward and so fell in with the rearmost infantry regiment of the right flank central column. Little did he realise the significance of this seemingly innocuous manoeuvre.

The situation at the end of turn 1 - the Rusland advance commences in the centre and on the left flank whilst the Fezian forces await the green onslaught

Suddenly, the Rusland artillery fell silent. Count Skavar decided that his guns needed to be closer to the enemy front line. From the Fezian position it could be seen that the Rusland gunners were preparing to move and the scene of guns being limbered and of men urgently sweating and cursing over their obstinate horses and heavy field pieces could only be the precursor to a large scale assault. Abulbul took this development with a pinch of salt. The only action he took was to order his own artillery to fire at the nearest Rusland regiment of foot as he pragmatically considered the approaching infantry to be far more of a threat than the guns, numerous though they were. The Fezian artillery commander was desperate to fire on his opposite number whilst they were busy limbering up but Abulbul was having none of this and so the guns opened fire on the leading Rusland infantry unit and promptly missed. Or did they? The Fezian artillery had overshot the lead regiment (rolling a 2 at range 3) but instead managed to bombard the now bunched up formations in the lead regiment’s rear – the second infantry regiment of the right hand central column and the commander and his staff! Luck was with Skavar though as his command staff escaped unscathed (effect roll of 1) but the luckless infantry were less fortunate (an effect roll of 4 being a pin). The damage was minor but the resultant confusion caused by this unexpected attack (unexpected because they were in the rear!) led to some inevitable delay as they sorted themselves prior to resuming their advance.

The end of turn 2 - The flanking Rusland cavalry have already outdistanced the supporting infantry whilst the central advance is set to resume with the redeployed artillery.

The Fezian artillery continued to pound the massed Rusland formation but once again they overshot the target (a roll of 2) and bombarded the same position as before but this time luck deserted Skavar as, with a loud explosion, a shell exploded directly in front of him and he was blown from his horse (effect of 5, a hit). The hastily reorganised infantry managed to escape any further damage (a roll of 1 for no effect) as all eyes went to the scene of carnage that had moments before been the army command post.

The smoke gradually cleared and a sweat streaked, bloody and blackened figure emerged staggering to his feet – Skavar was alive! Immediately a crowd of supernumeraries rushed to his aid but, being the man he was, he coughed and shook his head and dismissed them as he dusted himself down and called for a new horse. Stiffly he mounted his new steed and, drawing the remnants of his sword saluted his by now cheering soldiery.

As if to extract some measure of revenge for the near disaster that almost befell them the Rusland artillery rose magnificently to the occasion and immediately fired at the Fezian infantry unit deployed on the right flank of their position. The barrage was on target (a roll of a 6) and effective as great holes were torn in the Fezian formation.

This served to further inspire the Rusland troops and so the advance continued once the lead infantry regiment had reorganised itself (used an activation point to 'unpin' the unit). The Fezian troops waited, content to watch developments at a respectful distance. The leading Rusland infantry unit from their right hand column had just ventured into rifle range when a  volley rang out from the Fezian formation directly opposing them. The damage was immaterial at such a range (range 3) but once again, a degree of confusion was inflicted on the luckless Rusland infantry requiring much reorganising and dressing of ranks before the advance could continue (a score of 3 resulting in yet another pin).

Meanwhile, on the far right of the Fezian position and located in a small wooded copse lurked the infamous Bashi Bazouks. These hardy warriors (or unprincipled brigands - largely depending upon from which side their various and routine depredations were being viewed) were unkempt, slovenly, treacherous, cowardly or fanatically brave (normally a combination of these traits and usually with elements of them all at any given point in time) but to a man were armed to the teeth with shoulder and sidearms, swords and knives of various sorts and inumerable daggers secreted about their vastly unhygenic persons. For all the world they resembled in appearance a lethal version of Ali Baba's forty thieves except that there was rather a lot more of them (just under battalion strength at 3 points) and the arsenal of weaponry carried would usually deter most law-abiding people from closer inspection. For the most part they were seen a liability by the regular army but when used correctly i.e. left to their own devices and as far away from the main body as possible, they did provide a valuable diversionary function as the enemy could not ignore them, at least not if he wanted a happy and contented population in the area, unsavaged and unravaged and with most of their homes, valuables, women, children and livestock intact.

However, when well led (either by reputation or fear - and in Abulbul's case probably both) they could be very useful, albeit lacking the discipline and stomach required for a long fight. As occasional raiders though, they had no equals. The Amir placed these unsavoury characters in the small wood on the right flank and gave them very simple instructions. All they had to do was to stay put and fire at anything in green and he also reminded them that should they harbour any inclinations towards anything different well the whip, the garotte and the bastinado would find some useful employment. The point was not lost on the Bashi Bazouks and so in a very short space of time the wood was turned into a regular strongpoint with a prodigious quantity of assorted firearms (rated as other firearms to represent the variety employed) ready to dispense the Sultan's justice.

The sounds of the battle for the ridge carried to their position but for the most part they were largely unconcerned. The position was a good one with plenty of cover and it was unlikely anything would head their way with serious intent. The first inkling that all was not well when a large dust cloud was seen moving across their front at long range (2 for other firearms). When it was discovered that this cloud belonged to a unit of Rusland cavalry these hardy warriors opened fire with absolutely everything they had including pistols, carbines, blunderbusses, muskets and rifles. The salvo was noisy, smokey and largely ineffective in terms of material damage (a roll of a 3) but the surprise it caused the Rusland cavalry was sufficient to halt them in their tracks in order to reorganise and reform (they were pinned). Suddenly, the plan of the Count had begun to unravel ever so slightly and what had seemed possible in dawn's early light had now become markedly more difficult.

The end of turn 3 - the Rusland cavalry strayed to within range of the Bashi Bazouks whilst in the centre the opposing lines begin to close (white markers are for pins, black for hits)

The artillery of the opposing sides continued to be largely ineffective as both managed to expend great quantities of ammunition to little apparent effect. Neither side was able to correctly estimate the range and so 'over' and 'under' shots were common.

The Rusland cavalry, despite the rather unexpected surprise it had received from their ragged opponents were not to be discouraged. The cavalry regimental commander hailed his opposite number in the second unit and exhorted him to press with the mission whilst he and his men would attend to their dispised and hated adversaries.  In a matter of moments he had rallied the gallant horseman, wheeled the unit on to their right flank, ordered sabres to be drawn and with a loud cheer and the strident call of the bugle, immediately charged their hapless assailants. The disorganised mass of horseman (using the pinned European cavalry 'flight to the front' option) crashed into the edge of the small wood occupied by the Bashi Bazouks and a furious and chaotic melee ensued.

Despite their ragged appearance and unsavory reputation when their gander was up the Bashi Bazouks were formidable fighters and so it proved to be the case as, with whirling scimitars and blood-curdling screams, they fell upon the disorganised horsemen and drove them off with heavy losses (the cavalry rolled a 5 and the Bashi Bazouks a 1). The sound of a hoarse cheer rang across the morning air and all eyes turned to the small wood the Bashi Bazouks had so gallantly held against their illustrious opponents. The ferocious irregulars were not finished yet though as a final volley from out from the wood into the rear of the hastily departing horsemen to add to their discomfiture (a roll of a 3 adding a further pin result to the cavalry).

When news of this setback reached Skavar he adopted his customary sang froid for the benefit of his army but, the first seeds of doubt about the ultimate outcome had been sown.

Urgently he cajoled his centre forward and in this he was magnificent. Galloping hither and thither he alternately cursed and cheered his men and appeared to be everywhere. He needed to be as the attack was bogging down in the face of concentrated Fezian rifle fire.  The two left hand Fezian infantry regiments opened fire at maximum range against the leading right hand Rusland unit and subjected it to a withering series of volleys, laying the entire leading rank low (a pair of 6s). The remaining Fezian unit, having recovered from its earlier artillery casualties managed to discomfort the leading unit of the left hand central Rusland column (scored a 4 for a pin). Despite the herculean efforts of their renowned leader, the Rusland attack was slowly but surely grinding to an ignominious halt.

The end of turn 4 - the repulsed Rusland cavalry are in the foreground whilst the mounting casualties accruing in the centre can be readily see                                         

Still the artillery roared out defiance across the morning sky with that of Fezia being marginally more effective despite being outnumbered by the Rusland guns. As the range came down so the Fezian gunners were able to inflict further damage hit on the leading Rusland infantry regiment of their central left hand column (a 5 for the hit and a 5 for effect) whilst the reply of their adversary was limited to further disrupting the cohesion of the Fezian right hand infantry regiment.

Abulbul was fearsome to behold. Like his esteemed opposite number he was everywhere, cheering, cursing and heaping a selection of choice and convoluted improbable; both on his own troops and occasionally on the approaching Rusland horde. Beneath his grim visage though he was relatively pleased with events thus far as the Rusland attack was undoubtedly flagging.

Once again the badly cut about and disorganised Rusland cavalry charged into the gallant Bashi Bazouks (using the same European cavalry 'flight to the front' pin effect) who continued to occupy the woods. This time with slightly more success but at a further cost of dead and wounded (the cavalry rolled a 2 and the Bashi Bazouks a 1 meaning a hit each and a drawn melee).

Meanwhile in the centre the scales of the battle continued to tip in the Fezian favour as despite the Rusland forces being to expand their frontage slightly it meant that their hard pressed infantry would be unable to return fire. The Fezian troops took full advantage of this and so more damaging volleys crashed out into the luckless Rusland infantry regiment in the van of the right hand column (a 6 for a hit and 4 for a pin). On the Rusland left centre though the Fezian infantry fire was ineffective, no doubt to the relief of the beleaguered target.

The end of turn 5 - the Rusland locked in a now uneven battle with the Bashi Bazouks whilst the Rusland centre continued to advance slowly and unevenly with mounting casualties.

Again the artillery reverted to its pitiful showing as both sides failed to register any hits despite the constant chivying of the respective commanders - and being chivied  by either Skavar of Abulbul was generally not considered to be beneficial to the unfortunate recipients blood pressure; draconian task masters that they were.

The battered Rusland cavalry attempted to disengage from the Bashi Bazouks in order to save the remnants of the regiment and their despised opponents showed no inclination to follow (this was a house rule - cavalry could disengage from infantry after a round of melee) and so with enormous relief the surviving troopers limped away from the scene of their defeat.

Skavar continued to press forward in the centre and with the largely forgotten left flank infantry that were supposed to working in concert with the Rusland cavalry although had been long since outdistanced but their mounted comrades. The remaining Rusland cavalry unit pressed on and rounded a further small wood - only to find their planned route to the fortress blocked by the sole Fezian mounted unit left behind expressly for just such an eventuality. Silently, the Fezian troopers deployed into line, dipped their lances and with the sounding of the charge surged forward to crash into their mounted adversaries.

With flashing blades, lances rising and falling, whinnying horses and the cheers, shouts, curses and screams of the combatants the fight swung first one way and then the other. Eventually the Fezian horsemen gained the upper hand and so the Rusland troopers fell back in some disorder, away from their vengeful assailants (a score of 2 for Fezia and a 6 for Rusland meaning a single hit on the Rusland regiment).

The Fezian infantry in the centre continued to smother their hapless opponents with rifle fire. The heavily engaged lead regiment of the Rusland right hand column continued to suffer from its twin assailants and whilst the damage was immaterial the chaos and confusion within the ranks required yet a further halt in order to reorganise (a miss and a pin result - a 1 and 4 scored). The extreme right flank Fezian regiment continued to fire and in doing so swept the Rusland infantry with damaging losses (score of 6 for a hit).

Finally, and at long range, a parting volley from Bashi Bazouks completed the destruction of the Rusland cavalry and all semblance of order was lost as the battered and bloodied survivors limped back to the safety of the rest of the army. Skavar's great plan had failed.

The end of turn 6 - the failed Rusland cavalry attack can be clearly seen; together with the mounting casualties in the centre.

The climax of the battle was approaching and the lasts acts began to be played out. Both Abulbul and Skavar were aware through long experience the pervasive feel of how a battle was unfolding. Skavar knew his planned coup de main against the fortress had failed and his demonstration against the main Fezian position whilst successful (in the fact that it had occupied the main bulk of the enemy army for the entire action thus far) had been at the cost of some truly horrendous casualty returns. Nevertheless, even at this late hour something could be salvaged from the jaws of defeat. Hastily he summoned his commanders. The Fezian army was struggling, her flank had been turned despite unexpectedly ferocious resistance and one last push would drive the battered and wavering survivors from the ridge. This was his opinion and the thrust of his latest plan. His commanders were, to a man, aghast. The eldest of this, a scarred old veteran of countless skirmishes and battles down the years, surveyed his youthful commander with something almost akin to pity in his eyes.

“Sire, we must break off the action whilst we still can and save the rest of the army...” Skavinsky’s face became mottled with barely suppressed rage. “Retreat!” he exclaimed, “At our moment of triumph?” he continued, his knuckles showing white on the grip of his sword. The aged veteran refused to be cowed and continued to stare unwaveringly at his commander. Skavinsky took a deep breath and knew in his heart that the grizzled old soldier was right. After a momentary pause Skavinsky bowed to the inevitable and set in motion the orders that would save the army; the bitter gall of defeat rising in his gorge as he did so.

Whilst these weighty matters were being debated by the Rusland high command no such difficulties concerned Abulbul. The scent of victory was in the air; he felt it and so did the army. Suddenly, where there had been shouting and cheering, noise and smoke fuelled confusion a feeling of calm efficiency and a certainty of purpose begin to permeate the Fezian ranks. Soldiers remembered their training and acted in unhurried and deliberate steps; rather than the frenzied and febrile haste that had marked their actions thus far. The heady wine of victory was being poured into their cups, drop by inevitable drop. Abulbul drew on renewed reserves of energy and hurled even more colourful and improbable insults and curses on his hapless foe (and his own side if truth be told), much to the delight of his by now adoring soldiery.

The artillery of both sides continued to blaze away and again the Fezian guns maintained the upper hand. Switching targets to yet another Rusland infantry unit they managed to once again disrupt and confuse their frustrated opponents (scoring a 6 for a hit and 4 for a pin). Yet again the Rusland guns failed to achieve any success – much to the mutterings of scarcely concealed contempt from the infantry they were supposed to be supporting. As usual, when an army is facing defeat the natural reaction of the infantry is to blame the artillery who in turn blame the cavalry and so on. Human nature has to have a reason for adversity and in the Rusland army at that point the choices were many and varied.

The Rusland army was paralysed by the realisation of impending defeat (not only losing the initiative but managing to score a 2 and three 1s for but a single activation point). The Fezian infantry fired relentlessly and manged to at last prevail against the obstinate Rusland infantry regiment that had been engaged in an unequal fight for most of action, outnumbered as it was by two to one. A final telling volley swept across the battered survivors and as one man, they dissolved into a panic stricken mob and fled from the field. The remaining Fezian infantry regiment, in concert with the Bashi Bazouks who had merely reappeared at the other edge of their sanctuary, proceeded to flay the leading Rusland infantry unit with an impressive crossfire that left them greatly disorganised and forced into yet another halt to reorganise.

The Fezian cavalry, not to be outdone, charged again at their retiring opposite number although the resultant combat was evenly matched with honours being even (each side scored a hit on the other). The Rusland attempt to escape led to the Fezian horse hotly pursuing them and with flashing lances destroyed them as a fighting force

The end - with defeat staring him in  the face from all points of the compass Skavar concedes defeat.
Skavar had seen enough, the realisation that the day was lost had sunk in with the return of his defeated and broken troops and so, with one eye on the route back to the coast and safety, and with a heavy heart, he reluctantly gave the order for the recall to be sounded.

The effect was electric.

Abulbul was elated as against the odds he had undoubtedly smashed a fine Rusland army and so he soaked up the cheers of his troops like a tonic as his due for the horrors of the day.

Thus ended the battle in an ignominious defeat of the larger Rusland army. Their cavalry was destroyed and their infantry cut about but still formidable once rallied. Abulbul was acutely aware of this and so was not about to force another engagement any time soon and thus the Rusland retreat would be largely unhindered and conducted in an orderly fashion with the Fezian forces content to shepherd the defeated Ruslanders to the coast (they had little choice in this as the armies were now roughly even in strength). The Fezian commander considered it had not been a bad day and hoped that the fruits of his labours would not be compromised by the Fezian navy as he had served up the survivors of this failed attack on a particularly large silver platter.

It was evening and once again the distant cry of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer rolled across the inviolate Fezian countryside....