Monday 8 July 2019

Home Thoughts from COW 2019

This weekend saw the annual Conference of Wargamers (COW) organised by Wargames Developments taking place in what is almost their spiritual home of Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire. It also marked the occasion of my very first visit to COW despite having been an occasional member of WD over the years. The weekend starts on Friday evening and runs until Sunday afternoon but due to a diary clash I was unable to attend Friday and so I set out for the 100 mile drive to Knuston Hall around 6:20 am on Saturday. with an expected travel time of just over two hours.

Knuston Hall - a quiet and tranquil country retreat - usually (well until the first weekend in July!)

Sure enough I arrived as breakfast was in full swing so after having checked in and dumped my bags I headed off for something to eat (to avoid repetition I have to say that the food is excellent!). After some very tasty scrambled eggs and bacon with some much needed coffee I started to have a wander about. I am not a regular driver (I average less than 4,000 miles a year) and so after any drive of over and hour and so - especially to somewhere I have not been to before - I invariably get a slight nagging headache which takes a couple of hours to shake off. With this in mind I made the decision to avoid booking in to any of the games until later in the day - in fact not until after dinner - so that I could worth through the headache and take a good browse around at what was going on.

Tim Gow, the sartorially elegant bon vivant, wit and raconteur 

Tim Gow had other ideas though as he greeted me in the lobby and gave me an impromptu but very welcome guided tour of the place as well as regaling me with tales of COWs gone by and the areas outside that have been used as battlefields (who can forget the Knuston Heights?) previously. Tour complete it was time to 'do the rounds' and see what was happening and where. I was also on a mission to meet as many people that I had previously only interacted with via blogs and emails as well as satisfying something rather special and a longstanding personal ambition of mine

Well it wouldn't be COW without some of the real thing would it?

The immortal Trebian running a quite superb looking 20mm plastic game set during the Jacobite Rebellion - Culloden I think - using his own rules (which he kindly gave me a copy of). Look closely and you may well recognise some Airfix American War of Independence infantry.

Trebian, in conjunction with Phil Steele, also ran a very nice looking War of the Roses game based on the Battle of Edgecote. As well as having fought the battle he has also written about the same and is a tireless supporter and campaigner for the Northamptonshire Battlefields Trust

Sue Laflin running her Asterix and Redbeard's Treasure game which looked like a huge amount of fun!

One of the highlights of the conference for me was the opportunity to meet, in person, both Phil Barker and Sue Laflin and to express my thanks for the enormous amount of pleasure everything WRG has given me since the late 1970s. I am adult enough to admit to being initially quite starstruck but I needn't have worried as they were both quite approachable! I was able to swap anecdotes with Phil concerning WRG 6th edition ancients and also his 1685 to 1845 set which was a lot of fun. The word legend can be used very easily these days but let's be completely honest, Phil and Sue are right up there with Featherstone, Grant, Lawford, Young and others in my opinion and their contribution to our hobby has been immense. It was an absolute pleasure meeting them.

John Armatys and the WD Display Team North with the delightful '10 minute Operation Market Garden' game. I thought I had missed this as it was scheduled for Friday night but John very kindly ran it again for me and it was enormous fun.

Needless to say the quotes from 'A Bridge Too Far' came fast and furious!

The battlefield. Essentially the game was about 30 Corps advancing to Arnhem. I played it twice and the first time got as far as Elst (next to Arnhem) whilst the second time I successfully reached the bridge relieved the British 1st Airborne with a day to spare for sightseeing and picking tulips....

Over the Hills (and far away) - a hypothetical divisional level action set somewhere in Spain during the Peninsular war. The rules in use were written by Wayne Thomas and cover the period 1790 to 1840 using a square grid. David Brock and Colin Maby provided support and Wayne very kindly gave me a copy of his rules for which grateful thanks.

Another view of the same action, this time from the opposite end of the table. The game featured 15mm figures and a really nice cloth.

COW, 54mm figures and Tim Gow are almost obligatory/inevitable and this year was no exception as the large scale kit came out to fight an action - Gandesa - from the Spanish Civil War. Originally this was supposed to be on the lawn but the weather turned slightly inclement so the indoor option was preferred. I did not take part but contributed by carrying 6 empty pint glasses to and from the venue for use as flight stands for the air support. Nerf guns, dartboards and oasis blocks (the things that florists use for flower displays) all featured and Mr Gow supplied all the toys except for buildings I believe. there were some truly inspired pieces of conversion work, painting and inventive bodgery in evidence and indeed, Tim is a past master of such inventiveness!

The scene at the end of the battle. Whilst this was being fought I was busy taking Arnhem....

Carry On up the Nile organised and run by COW stalwart and old friend Bob Cordery

I can do no better that to quote directly from the conference brochure - "An opportunity to try out Chris Engle's battle rules, POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS / SIMPLE STUPID RULES.

A none to serious sequel to last year's SAVE GORDON! game. Can a second British relief force (led by Sir Sydney Ruff-Diamond) breal the siege of Khartoum and relieve Gordon and Sir Garnet Wolseley? Will the 3rd Foot and Mouth (the famous 'Devils in Skirts') give the Dervishes a whirl they'll never forget? Not so much Khartoum as Khartoon...and more Charlton Trotter than Charlton Heston! (Charlton is Rodney Trotter's middle name. Not a lot of people know that.)

This was how Bob had set up the action initially but, once the players became involved all this was to change, and quite dramatically.

Note the position of the relieving gunboat and troop transport

Note the marauding Burpas under their feared leader Bungdit Din but wait, who is that mysterious figure standing on his own facing the troop ship? It is none other than Randy Lal, the Khasi of Kalabar (played to stunning effect by yours truly....)

The action by this stage was well under way and by virtue of the Mahdi decisively out-praying the infidel note the dice score where 6s are very good....

I am not going to write up a blow by blow account of this game as I believe that there will be better accounts available in due course. I will add my personal observations once the official reports are out from my residence in exile from a leaking cottage just outside of Norfolk... Suffice it to say it was enjoyed by all and if anyone had made a recording of the dialogue then it would have seemed liked a Carry On tribute show! 

Sue Laflin with her Pirates of the Spanish Main Game using the ships from the Wargame the Spanish Armada book by Peter Dennis and Andy Callan available from Helion.

The action underway. My Piratical career got off to a less than successful start as I managed to drive one ship onto a reef and then had three others sunk out of eight!

John Curry of the History of Wargames project. A very nice chap chock full of 'stuff' - and all wargamers like 'stuff'!

I drew this ship at random. Honest....

The allies look on whilst plotting the downfall of the Germans (they did not have to worry about this as they managed it quite well on their own!)

The action underway - note the very nice shell splash markers.

The game that John had organised was based on the US Naval War college wargames devised between the wars. The games was very much pre aircraft and indeed, was based on WW1 ships. The rules were designed very much for teaching command and control rather than being a detailed set of naval wargames rules so big guns and battleships were very much the order of the day. John only had 1:3000th WW2 ships available so these, in true Hollywood tradition, substituted for their WW1 counterparts. The gratifyingly relaxed nature of COW means that such considerations as using the right models for a game are very much small beer in the overall scheme of things.

The scenario was very simple. It was early 1914 and a small German squadron had to exit the straits of Gibraltar to head home to Germany. The allied force of British and US warships (I told you it was hypothetical) were tasked with stopping them. The two sides were settled upon and we then had to randomly draw to see what ship we would be using. I was VERY pleased to see that I had drawn the German battle cruiser Seydlitz – my fondness for this ship is well known – and so the final match up was that the allies had four dreadnoughts and a battlecruiser whilst the Germans had two battle cruisers and three dreadnoughts. The allies had a substantial advantage in weight of fire. After resolving a few scale and distance issues – John agreed that using the Avalon Hill Jutland counters would have worked better – we got under way.

In many respects the game resembled the old arcade of Space Invaders in the allies merely orbited from side to side whilst the Germans moved closer and closer and got more and more shot up. In many ways it replicated the way the war went in that whilst the Germans had parity of numbers in terms of capital ships (historically they closest they got was, I believe in late 1914/early 1915) they were certainly outgunned and so It was not going to end well if we had continued but luckily lunch intervened. It was an interesting system in use – no dice – and it could potentially be expanded out into something more ‘wargamey’. Details of this and many other early wargames that are available to purchase can be found of John’s website here.

Another example of COW wildlife - there were loads of them!

For me COW is much bigger than the sum of its parts. For sure there is a veritable smorgasbord of games on offer and you would really struggle to not find something that appeals. I managed to get 5 games in (to qualify that one of them I played twice so 4 if one was to be pedantic) over the weekend but it could easily have been double that. The best part had to be the people. Here was gathering of like-minded individuals that could interact in a serious or light-hearted way, united by a common cause which may or may not involve using model soldiers, tanks, ships or aircraft to have fun and to play games. Ideas were batted about, anecdotes flew like confetti as battles gone by were remembered as well as those that were no longer around. I was a COW novice but any apprehension I may have had disappeared within minutes of my arrival and the entire weekend was one of cracking good fellowship.

I was delighted to have met many so many people that I have only previously interacted with via the blogosphere and apologies in advance if I have missed anyone out – Geordie – an exiled FOG (I now know what the ‘Exiled FOG’ means!), Trebian, John Curry and Martin Rapier.

Geordie was on good form and over several beers we swapped war stories as well crossing swords over the table in Bob Cordery’s game. Trebian the Passionate made sure that one could not fail to be enthused by his lunchtime speech about battlefield preservation – he is heavily involved in this - and our heritage. John Curry shared his obvious dedication to his History of Wargames project and this is one that deserves all our thanks. It was a real pleasure to meet up with Martin Rapier and we spent some time discussing what he was up to and how it was all going. This was a common theme throughout the weekend as was the sharing of ideas and the willingness, without exception to talk about projects old and new.

I drove home from COW just after lunch on Sunday and as I said my goodbyes was universally asked if I enjoyed it and would I be back next year (with the occasional observation that I had survived the experience!). I would be delighted to do so as the whole weekend reinforced all of my ideas about what wargames should be like, more importantly, how they should be played. Comradely good fellowship, good food, stimulating conversation and a wonderful selection of games makes COW a fantastic experience and I am richer for having been there.

My sincerest thanks to both Bob Cordery and Tim Gow for encouraging me to attend and for having the patience to wait until I did – all I can say is that it is better late than never!


Jonathan Freitag said...

Excellent report-out, David! Looks like you had a marvelous weekend.

Tim Gow said...

Glad you made it to COW - at last! See you next year....

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


It was great to see you ... and thanks very much for the Cuban flag, which is a welcome addition to my collection.

You made a wonderful Randi Lal (although I think that Randy LOL might have been a better name!) and I thought that once the players had understood the potential of PBOM, the game developed into a real classic that will be talked about for years to come.

All the best,


PS. Why is Geordie called an Exile FoG?

Steve J. said...

Glad you had a great weekend and there were certainly some interesting games on show.

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...


Your account reads to me as good as Kipling's poetry
It holistically sums CoW up at the essence


Geordie the Exiled FoG is best explained at the bar at CoW, circa 11 pm
If I may, I would happily explain to you in person next year?


Best Wishes

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Geordie an Exiled FoG,

I look forward to finding out next year.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Jonathan,

At the risk of being considered over the top (Who me?Perish the thought....) I would say that was one of the most influential weekends of my nearly fifty years of wargaming!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Tim,

As sure as the sun comes or you bring out the 54mm toys!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

It was a privilege to take part and an absolute hoot and will be destined to be cheerfully remembered for years to come!

On a practical note I loved the clean simplicity of the models you had built as they combined both aesthetic appeal and practicality of use.

I will defer to Geordie re his blog nom de plume!

All the best,


PS I believe the flag for Puerto Rico is of the same design but with the blue and the red swapped.

David Crook said...

Hi Steve J,

It was tremendous fun and set to feature in my calender for years to come!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

Aw shucks, you are making me blush! It was magnificent fun and for me a real tonic.

BTW, I forgot to mention your ships you had with you - they were really nice and crying out to be COW'd at some point - preferably on the lawn!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

I had been wracking my brains for ages over Geordie's nom de plume but will not spoil the surprise for you. It is very clever!

All the best,