Tuesday, 4 August 2020

A Game of Thrones: Battles for Westeros

Sharpe’s Throne of the Rings - you have got to (King’s) hand it to Sean Bean - he has been in three epics and survived only one of them!

One of the side effects of the current pandemic is that SWMBO and I have indulged in all manner of binge watching via Netflix or on catch up TV. One of these has been the vast sprawling fantasy epic that is George R. R. Martin’s The Games of Thrones.

I have a chequered history with this series and the books upon the TV series is based. I missed it when it was out as it was on a SKY channel we did not have. By the time it was more readily available the real world was up to something like season 5. We watched season 1 and then it was no longer available to us. This happened a number of times until eventually the whole thing finished so SWMBO decided to download the whole lot for us to catch up with.

This was a good idea or so it seemed. The entire 8 seasons was downloaded in glorious HD BUT, following a SKY price hike we decided to bin the HD channels as, to be honest, we did not watch sufficient HD channels to warrant the additional expenditure. The only problem with this was that we found out later that as we had cancelled our HD subscription we were then unable to watch any HD downloads! Every time we went to watch an episode a warning message would appear telling us that in order to watch the following programme we would need to upgrade our subscription! SWMBO then went on to delete all the HD versions in order to download the SD equivalents.

We are now working our way through the entire series and am now halfway through season 5.

I have yet to read the books although I did make a start with the first volume on holiday a few years ago. I really could not get into it at the time and, as I recall, I opted to read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom as an easier option....

The base game includes forces for both Houses Stark and Lannister but expansions are available for additional figures for the above as well many of the other combatants and heroes of Westeros. Would I buy this? I would certainly like to but I would also want a lot of the expansions and the cost would be astronomical. To be honest I would struggle to justify the expense.

Given the popularity of the books and the TV series it is no surprise that there are a number games around covering the world of Westeros and the Byzantine/Machiavellian machinations of the great houses as they compete for the iron throne. There is a quite exquisitely designed board game using 32mm figures with a whole heap of expansions which looks stunning. The figures appear to be closely modelled on the TV series in much the same way as Games Workshop produced their Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit figures to tie in with the films. I have seen a number of strategic boardgames covering the series - including a Risk variant as well as some card game versions.

However, and I must confess that this has rather passed me by, there is another option available for fighting battles set in Westeros, albeit not as all encompassing as the game above but with a very high design pedigree.

This has been around for a while and there a number of expansions available for it but it does not have the coverage of A Song of Ice and Fire

I am of course referring to Battles of Westeros published by Fantasy Flight Games, modelled on the Command and Colours rule system devised by Richard Borg for his fantasy game Battlelore. I was able to pick a secondhand copy of the above and at first glance it looks really good. There is plenty of  GOT flavour so it does not just feel like a medieval battle and the components are top notch. The board is sturdy and all the game counters are of thick card, including the terrain cards. It is card driven in the same way that all Command and Colours games are and these can include the leadership traits of the commanders depicted. As you might expect Stark and Lannister feature in the core set and I have managed to track down a couple of the expansions - The Wardens of the North and House Baratheon.

Painted version of the House Lannister figures and....

....those of House Stark.

The rules and the scenario book

The figures are scaled at 15mm and are of plastic. They are really lovely in my opinion and there are some very helpful painting guides on the FFG website. The rules are the usual C and C style with some very welcome additions in respect of army morale, command radii for personalities and also the option to fight at a skirmish level.

My first impression of this is that it is a more, dare I say it, period specific Command and Colours set in that there is flavour aplenty with the rules and game mechanisms.

The figures in the base game are crying out to be painted and certainly this will satisfy my hankering for something medieval and fantasy-ish or should that be fantasy and medieval-ish? The figures are also based individually so there is always the possibility of the Portable WarGame of Thrones....

In closing, this is a pick up and put down mini side hustle of a project - I am really enjoying the TV series and will certainly attempt the books again - that I can dip in and out of as the mood takes. With the additional expansions there will be sufficient variety to extend the shelf life of the game and of course, there is always the possibility of using the figures elsewhere. The Portable Wargame for sure but also Dan Mersey’s Dragon Rampant as well as Hordes of The Things.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Eric Knowles and the WW1 South East Asia Naval Campaign

I know I have used this picture before but I am rather pleased with it! Incidentally, the guns for this were metal and as I recall Eric had a source for these. Needless to say these were used extensively!

It is funny how after some forty odd years I can still recall much of the fun associated with the WW1 South East Asia naval campaign that Eric Knowles devised and ran using Fletcher Pratt as the rules of choice - on a table top.

I will let that sink in a little.

The table we routinely used at Eric’s house to fight the games arising from the campaign was around 7ft by 5ft which, as any naval gamer with experience of using Fletcher Pratt rules will testify is way too small a playing area. Yet we used it and fought actions up to fleet sized. The result was glorious levels of close proximity carnage and the amount of shipping that was sunk would give any self respecting marine insurance broker sleepless nights! It was enormous fun though, albeit in an anarchic, cartoon kind of way.

I took the whole thing very seriously though with the ship building, order writing and the overall strategic situation - which after some spectacular Central Powers defeats was precarious for the Turks in the extreme.

The campaign fizzled out around about early 1915 as the ship losses for the Central Powers were so heavy that Eric was forced to keep adding ever more powerful and outlandish ships to the navies - which also included the Allies so we had the Bismarck and Tirpitz appearing at Christmas 1914 whilst the Royal Navy acquired the Ark Royal....

Even Eric’s legendary inventiveness and well developed sense of creativity struggled to keep up with demand so the campaign drifted off into the wargaming sunset.

I am looking forward to when Bill unveils the remaining fleets as there are some fantastic models still to be seen. I only hope that they have survived the interim period of storage in good order.

Fast forward to today and what do you do with a forty year old imagi-navy? It would be great to get some games in using elements of the forces available from way back when, even in 1:1200th. To be honest it would not bother me using models of this scale on the table top as most naval games are an exercise in abstraction anyway. Something grid based would work well and if the models look too close to one another it is not the end of the world. I can happily deploy a 6ft by 4ft playing area in the man cave and so as long I don’t think about running Jutland in that scale it could work. In many ways  it would be little different to using 1:1800th scale models as long as the number of models on the table was kept to a sensible level - certainly nothing like the tabletop traffic jams we used to get ‘back in the day’!

Some of the very best games we played during Eric’s campaign were using up to around half a dozen models or so a side and so I am thinking that even using a grid on a 6ft by 4ft this would be a good workable size to aim at.

Some time ago I acquired from Old Painter Bob a selection of 1:1200th WW2 assembled and painted ships as well as some still in kit form. I was wondering how best to use these and so tacking on the Turks (and Austrians) will give me some more variety and would form the basis of a interesting set up.

In truth I used to really enjoy messing about with plastic ship kits - not so much building them as per the box but using them as the basis for something else!

So aside from the rebasing of the Turks and the basing of the Austrians (I may touch up the paintwork on these) I have an easily organised mini project more or less good to go. It will certainly help to scratch my naval itch for sure.

More to follow with this methinks!

Friday, 31 July 2020

The Collection of Eric Knowles and some Turkish Delight

Some of the Austrian navy from the SE Asia campaign. It looked nice but met a ignominious end despite using Russian dreadnoughts for target practice....

I met up (observing the appropriate social distancing conventions) with Bill Knowles yesterday to take delivery of what will be the final part of the first phase of the great disposal of his father’s collection. By way of clarification this means the last of the 18th century stuff, the Napoleonic collection and some other assorted bits and pieces.

The Napoleonic collection was rather a late entry into the lists in that it did not form part of the initial disposals. In fact much of this only came to light when Bill was moving boxes around. Eric Knowles took part in the famous 1965 refight of Waterloo featuring Donald Featherstone and Tony Bath amounts others, taking the role of Picton. Much of Eric’s Napoleonic collection is Waterloo period and there are some rare old gems in terms of the figures. Time has not been kind to the collection in that most of this was in deep storage for nigh on 50 years and experienced several house moves. As a result units are completely mixed up, figures are off their bases and inevitably there are some casualties. It will be a major undertaking to sort this lot out but sort it I will.

There was also the remnants of Eric’s unpainted 20mm WW2 Russians - mostly gun crews and support stuff - and also a complete 14th Army for Burma.

A couple of painted late 17th century Spanish and Venetian cavalry units and some assorted camp follower/ camp scenic bits and pieces more or less completed the picture, apart from an innocuous looking paper box tucked to one side with a couple of Airfix 1:1200th scale Prinz Eugen boxes.

I was intrigues by these as they sat forlornly on the floor of Bill’s garage, the dust of ages adorning them and with the writing pale and faded.

Turkish destroyers - metal models from god knows where although I remember the large B97 types being sold at Eric’s shop. Actual Turkish ship names were used but as I recall we very soon ran out of these as the navy I was using was far larger than anything the Turks ever had!

I looked, and looked again. Sure enough, the boxes contained some of the Turkish ships I painted, converted and scratch built for Eric’s Fletcher Pratt WW1 South East Asia naval campaign fought after the conclusion of the Madasahatta campaign at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 80s.

I am not going to lie but seeing these again after some 40 years actually brought a lump to my throat.

Note the monitors - converted from 1:3000th scale Queen Elizabeth class dreadnoughts and named after something from Mark and Mindy! The submarines are Minifigs but I could not tell you what anything else is or was before Eric got his hands on it!

The collection was not complete as Bill has further boxes of Eric’s ship collection stored elsewhere but this lot somehow found its way to Bill’s amongst all the other stuff. The capital ships and a some of the cruisers are still to be found but it really gave me a boost having these in my hands once again.

A selection of cruisers, again Eric had heavily converted some models, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time although both Airfix and Eaglewall plastic kits featured. Note the small cruiser in the bottom right hand corner.

The Turkish seaplane tender Omar Khayham. This started life as cheap ‘made in Hong Kong’ type toy so my role was merely applying the paint - Eric would routinely pass over a box of models that he had made to be painted so all of these models received their plumage from me. I was rather pleased with this one as it is the only 20th century warship I have EVER painted with a camouflage scheme!

The Omar Khayham looking rather dashing in her rather German 1941 looking paint scheme....

Although Eric provided the lion’s share of the models for the Turkish navy - my role was primarily painting them and preparing the Fletcher Pratt ship cards - I did produce a few of my own. The cruiser you see above one one of two that I built (the other being the Hamedieh) using the hull from an Airfix 1:1200th Tribal class destroyer. By inverting the hull and levelling the sides you were left with a really useful flush decked hull with a rather splendid ram bow. Both of these models came from a single pack of Tribals (there were two in a pack). Neither of these models were historically accurate but they looked close enough to what they should have and not only had the correct number of funnels but also guns in the right places! I was really pleased with them and even after some 40 years I would not be ashamed of putting these on the tabletop!

 Another view, because I could! The guns were metal but everything else was plastic. The boats came from the spares box. I got a little carried away with the fore and aft tripod masts but they looked good!

Aside from the Turks there was also a box containing most of the Austrian fleet (See the picture at the start of the post) which for the most part started life as conversions or straight paint jobs using the range of warships that Minifigs briefly produced.

Much of Eric’s collection has brought back many fond memories for me but this lot has really struck a chord, mainly due to my own involvement. I will look forward in due course to seeing what other ships surface (or should be submarines?) but for now I will think back to the days when the Turkish navy sailed proudly across the South China Sea whilst avoiding the allies....

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Spanish Main or the Barbary Coast?

All a growing lad needs to satisfy his pirate fixation - that and copy of The Pirates by George McDonald Fraser Of Flashman fame!

It has been a busy couple of weeks, what with my return to full time part time work as well as the ongoing domestic situation. The former has been quite challenging and the latter is improving, albeit in small increments.

Due to both of the above my gaming time has been limited but I have made a degree of progress with a few items. My order from Warbases arrived so the last of the painted ACW 30mm Spencer Smith figures have been based and are merely awaiting the paintbrush. Once that has been done I can then look to finish the Texans and the two sharpshooter units which will be the end of the project, at least from the land side.

I have finalised the organisation for the Del Prado collection and there will be an element of downsizing undertaken in due course. The Warbases order also included some more of their really useful movement trays - I wanted some for individual foot figures and also for 3 mounted figures.

I have ordered a supply of grip top polythene bags for the great boardgame counter punch that will include Ironclads, the Ironclad Expansion set, Shot and Shell and also Flat Top. The first three are a priority, Flat Top less so. I may even tackle Avalon Hill’s Bismarck.

I am still ruminating about the 1:600th collection which is in two parts, for both the 19th and the 20th centuries. I have a couple of ideas I am rolling around but as yet nothing carved in stone.

Not sure if ‘fleet combat’ would be the best way to describe this set

One of the things that has taken place though, is that I have acquired a copy of Firelock Games Oak and Iron. This is a 1:600th scale naval game to work with their Blood and Plunder 28mm Pirate game. I was hugely tempted by this when it was first mooted but did nothing about it so, once again, have arrived at the party rather late.

I will post a more detailed review in due course but the thing that I am really excited about this are the ships. They are plastic and not as detailed as those on Warlord Games Black Seas but they are very nice indeed. I like the fact that the masts have the sails attached in a one piece casting but best of all, the ships of the period are, in my opinion, far more attractive than their Napoleonic equivalents. They cover the the second half of the 17th and the early 18th century so would be readily suitable for the Dutch Wars. They are not cheap for what they are but for me this is not a problem - mainly because I do not envisage getting many of them! At this stage my only regret is that so far there is not a Xebec....

Blood and Plunder and to an extent Oak and Iron mainly focus on the Caribbean which is fine but I would be quite keen to look at the Barbary Coast as an alternative. I have several alternative sets of rules to use - Blood and Plunder and Oak and Iron do not ‘float my boat’ at first glance  - for both the land and the naval side but the first order of business will be to get the ships painted (there are 6 in the base game and I have a further 6 en route).

A quite superb set of fun and fast moving rules for naval warfare in the golden age of the pirates

The two that have always put me off sailing ships Are rigging and painting chequered gun ports. Happily with these ‘simpler’ models I will need to to do neither!

Thursday, 16 July 2020

The Portable Wargame Library

The bottom two shelves belong to yours truly whilst SWMBO has the top....

....and with the doors closed peace and tranquility reigns!

As regular readers of the blog will know the main bulk of my collection resides in the man cave - the loft to be specific. This is really handy, especially as SWMBO is an avowed minimalist when it comes to interior design and decor. She also is not keen on having books on display. As the equivalent of a domestic papal dispensation I was allowed to have a single shelf in the lounge for books. This was very handy as it meant that I did not have to keep trotting up and down into the loft every time I wanted to check something.

As an aside I am sure there is deity somewhere that ensures that when you have a pile of six books in front of you the information you need will either be in a book that you do not have or in one that is, in my case, in the loft.

As part of the recent lounge refurbishment we had two units ripped out either side of the fireplace and replaced with a custom built cupboard one side and the TV unit on the other. The previous version of the cupboard was filled with a variety of stuff - paperbacks, cds, tealights and other bits and pieces. The new version has been designated as a book cupboard by the management and so I was delighted to see that her modest library of new age style reading material, travel guides and a selection of street maps only took up a singe shelf.

Imagine then, my delight and surprise when SWMBO informed me that the other two shelves were for me.

Working quickly (before she changed her mind) I managed to spirit tw shelves worth of books from the loft and into their new abode. These will doubtlessly be rotated as projects wax and wane but there is sufficient variety to hand to keep even my most esoteric flights of fancy satisfied.

Best of all, when the doors are closed SWMBO cannot see them.

Domestic harmony is all.....

For the record there are copies of the Portable Wargame series in evidence if you look closely!

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Ironclad Thoughts and Boot Sales

Rules aplenty but check out the book in the top left - a veritable gem of a title covering the period

For a variety of domestic reasons the posts have been a little on the sparse side and this will, unfortunately, be the pattern of things for a while. I am OK but we have a situation that requires rather a lot of my time at present - as well as being back at work albeit on a part time basis.

Dahlgren and Columbiad will probably the first port of call but only after I have ‘hexed’ them

Although I have not been able to do very much on the gaming front I have made a few inroads into preparing for the naval side of the ACW project as well as for the War of the Pacific. Aside from the material available from Yaquinto’s Ironclads and the Ironclads Expansion kit, together with 3W’s Shot and Shell there is also the material available from David Manley for the period. At this very formative stage I plan to use the counters and map boards from the board games with a ‘hexed’ version of David Manley’s rules. There is also the rather pleasant option of using Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames and the tweaked variant prepared by the redoubtable Mr Fox.

The boardgames have some very useful ship data cards that, amongst other things, shows the location of the ships weaponry which will be handy should I decide to get scratch-building again - which is something I am keen to do, failing that good old Peter Pig will supply the ACW ships from their Hammerin’ Iron range.

A very pleasing haul - all hardback and in great condition and costing a mere 50p each!

Following the continual easing of restrictions over recent weeks I am pleased to report that the boot sales are once again back in operation and out particular favourite is no exception. It was all very well organised with single rows of sellers and a one way system - mostly observed but with a few anti-social types pointing out about their ‘ooman rates’ - and between SWMBO, my daughter and I we managed to get quite a respectable haul each.

I was pleased to get the three titles above for quite different reasons. Band of Brothers needs little introduction and whilst I have seen the TV series have not read the book that accompanied it. The Letters of T.E. Lawrence will go into my modest but pretty good collection of books about the man himself. Finally, I have been after a copy in hardback of Desmond Seward’s history of the Hundred Years War for some time, mainly because I rather like the idea of some Lion Rampant style games using solely Perry Plastics or even some cheapo toy Hollywood style medieval figures.

Not a bad haul for sure and against the backdrop of the ongoing domestic situation a most welcome distraction!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Preparing for The War of the Pacific

I mentioned in my last post about my plan to raise some forces for the War of the Pacific 1879 to 1884 using Spencer Smith 30mm ACW figures so I thought I would expand upon the basic idea. To be honest it was (and indeed still is) a war about which I knew very little other than a smattering of tit-bits about the naval side. I have come to this point along a varied route and it really began when I picked up a copy of the above book.

An absolute peach of a book and is full of contemporary flavour and atmosphere.

This is a peach of a book featuring as it does the diaries of a Royal Navy officer who was also had that typically Victorian hobby of watercolour painting. The pictures are quite charming and whilst they focus on the naval side there are some scenic views as well as of the various land forces. The book also contains a potted history of the naval war featuring the famous ironclad Huascar.

Lots of good stuff in here - ship specs, scenarios, campaign rules, maps and general information about this facet of the war.

Initially I planned to tackle the naval side using Tumbling Dice 1:2400th models but the project was abandoned. It would however, make an ideal mini campaign and indeed, David Manley has produced a very useful campaign pack in support of his Dahlgren and Columbiad naval rules for the ACW. This is available from the Wargames Vault as part of his Long Face Games label and is called War of the Pacific. Dahlgren and Colombiad are designed with smaller actions in mind so suit the South American wars very nicely.

The original versions of Yaquinto’s Ironclads and the Expansion Set. The rules are very detailed and ‘chart heavy’ (typical 1980s) but there is a wealth of useful information contained therein and of course, the all important ship counters. Shot and Shell by 3W Games added to the above and addressed the problem of firing large numbers of the same calibre guns.

The Ironclad Expansion Kit also includes the ships for the War of the Pacific so when I choose to fight this I will have the naval dimension covered, albeit using cardboard counters! I should also mention that David Manley’s Scenario pack featured above also includes a selection of ship counters that could be printed off, mounted on card and used in lieu of models. I would use models eventually but for now counters will have to do.

These are a really well thought out and properly play tested set of rules with a lot of useful information about the armies, uniforms, organisations and more contained therein.

The biggest jolt for me concerning this war was when Trebian published his set of rules for the period called ‘It’s Getting a Bit Chile’. Aside from the title of the rules which appealed to my sense of humour - you should see some of his other rule titles - this has been something of a revelation to me about the period. There is not a huge amount of material available on the war in English but Trebian has done a sterling job in distilling it into the confines of his book. The scale of the combats is such that one would not need a vast amount of material to enjoy a good and representative game. For me this is something that ticks an awful lot of boxes! It also falls rather nicely into Portable Wargame territory which is a further bonus and even The Men Who Would be Kings.

With uniforms straight out of imagi-nations territory the look of the armies is colourful and easy enough to replicate using proxy figures. There are some dedicated ranges of figures available but for me the basic ACW cut of most the uniforms (excepting the Picklehaube wearing infantry unit and the helmeted cavalry) means one thing - Spencer Smith

When confronted with a potential new period the first thing one tends to do is to see what books are available - either about the campaigns and battles or the organisation and uniforms of the combatants. There is now the inevitable Osprey title for the war (I do not have a copy of this as yet) but what I did find was the title above. This is a peach of a book and the uniforms of the combatants for the most part can be produced by the simple expedient of paint conversions of pretty much anything wearing a kepi. Whilst not a perfect match the Spencer Smith range are well suited to paint conversions which will suit most uniforms. Naturally there are exceptions to this but I will fall off that particular bridge when I get to it!

I have sufficient figures to field two small forces Each consisting of 4 x 12 figures infantry units, 2 x 4 figures cavalry units (with dismounts) 2 x guns and crew and the inevitable command etc. These will be based individually and use with Trebian’s rules I will need to use movement trays. I plan to paint the figures in an old school gloss varnished style inspired by the work of Old Painter Bob.

It is a project of pure indulgence and the plan is to make a start once the last the ACW Spencer Smiths are completed and the paint conversions for the Del Prado collection. I am now not going to be rebasing this but I will be reorganising it and as a result there will be some excess figures to dispose of.

That is the plan - let’s hope I can stick to it!