Tuesday, 27 July 2021

On the Starting Block


Preliminary ideas for troop type tokens with a few more to add. Very much a first draft (and with number five needing a little trimming!)  and work in progress but you can see the direction my thoughts are heading in.

I plan to have these tokens produced in laser cut MDF, 3mm thick. They will be quite small as they are designed to be placed on an existing block as required so I reckon they will be no larger than 11mm by 11mm. When ready I could use them as they are or could paint them. In the interest of economy I was thinking of using black as this forms a good contrast to the block colours. I also plan to have a only one such token per unit as having one on each block would not only mean I would need a lot of them but also the chances of them falling off would be far greater and so rather irritating during the heat of battle!

Most of the initial batch above are very much geared towards the pre gunpowder period. This was intentional as whilst I already have some suitable labels for the mechanised era I had nothing for the period prior to the 1700 to 1900 period.

I am rather excited about this as once realised it will increase the scope of gaming activities immeasurably meaning that I can fight battles from the time of the Pharoahs up to the present day using my core block collection with the appropriate token as required.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Back to Block

One of the blocks I use - 29mm x 21mm x 12mm or half a Works style ‘not quite a Jenga block’. 

 I have taken a good look over my block army collection and have more or less settled on what I want to do to increase the scope of how I can use them. I have decided not to draw up any more labels but will instead opt to use some specially designed MDF tokens that will sit on the top of the appropriate block as required to designate specific troop types.

The plan now is to design the symbols that I want - these will not be counters as such - and then to submit the designs to Warbases for them to work their magic for me. At this stage I envisage using a single token per unit as required - for example a bow token would be deployed on a standard infantry or cavalry to indicate an archer or mounted archer type formation. Command and Colours: Medieval uses a counter in this way to distinguish bow armed cavalry so my idea is really just an extension of this.

For the modern period my initial thoughts are for token to represent HMGs, mortars and anti-tank units.

Another significant use will be to identify skirmish style formations or detachments. 

Getting the designs for the tokens right should not be too difficult and having these separate from the block increases their flexibility as well as meaning that I do not as many of them.

So, on to the planning!

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Warriors of the Steppe


The first edition of James Chambers work on the campaigns of the Mongol armies

My back continues to give me grief. It tends to be worse in the mornings - presumably as a result of being upright after sleeping - and after a period of walking around (along with the ongoing ankle/leg situation). I have decided that getting on in years is not without its disadvantages from a health perspective! Seriously though, the back has dragged on for more that I would have thought so a trip to the GP will inevitably follow at some point. In the meantime the man cave is largely off limits, along with lifting and stretching so the great reading frenzy continues instead of modelling.

I first came across the book above during the mid 1980s (the book was originally published in 1979) and for the life of me I cannot think why I did. At the time I would have been far more likely to have looked books on the army of Attila the Hun or even that of Parthian/Sassanid Persia. In any event it is a cracking read and I remember being suitably inspired to think about raising a Mongol army for use under WRG 6th edition. As I recall that particular army featured a lot of Regular B cavalry….

I actually fought using a Mongol army against the Teutonic Knights whilst taking part in an impromptu all day DBA session in my garden using cardboard cut outs for the armies in the absence of figures. The Mongols lost. Fortunately Light Horse as a troop type has fared rather better under DBA 3.0 and so are better able to make use of their advantages in mobility. 

One of the projects on my ‘to do’ list features the Crusades and of course the Mongols appear in this, if only on the periphery - not that the Mamlukes (another idea for an army I had at one time - there seems to be a common thread here - I really like cavalry armies!) thought so at the battle of Ain Jalut

I always intended using the block armies for periods other than the usual horse and musket games I have fought. In order to do this I have two choices. I can either design more block labels that would better represent the myriad troop types from the earlier (or later) period or I can use markers of some kind with the blocks as they are. I certainly have sufficient spare blocks for the former option but I am leaning towards the latter and producing a range of MDF tokens that can designate what the block is actually representing. For example, a bow and arrow marker could be placed on the block to designate that particular weapon rather than having separate archer labels. This is what I am currently planning for the blocks.

The Mongol Conquests had a lasting impact on much of the Middle East and I recall reading somewhere that the devastation visited on the region set back the development of Islamic culture by several centuries. How true this is I cannot say but certainly the impact of the Mongols was a major blow.

For my own part I like the idea of an army with superior strategic and tactical mobility that would probably not be out of place in a WW2 Panzer Division. Something to think about for the future methinks.

The last word should probably be left with Genghis Khan himself (allegedly):

“The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.”

Sound words indeed, so sound in fact that Conan the Barbarian said something rather similar….

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”

Art imitating life perhaps….

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

A Bridge Too Far....

 "This will be a tale to tell your grandchildren...and mightily bored they'll be!"

Yesterday, in the blistering heat of the middle of the day, I attended the funeral of an old friend.

Mick was many things in that he was sociable, articulate, a musician (drums, guitar and the mandolin), an occasional wargamer (with an elastic interpretation of the rules for the most part....), an enthusiastic reenactor, a life long West Ham supporter, eater of unbelievably hot curries  and a dog lover.

For the most part that is how I remember him until the wheels fell off. 

Mick experienced a number of mental health issues that made life for him and those that knew him a challenging and occasionally exasperating experience.

I can remember visiting him in hospital during one of those episodes, back in the early 1980s,  and being surprised to see him sitting on a balcony with a cigarette in one hand and his guitar in the other, strumming a few chords and appearing for all the world to be at peace with himself. Of course this was not the case and his mental condition waxed and waned from good to bad over the last thirty of years or so. When he was in a good place he was like the old Mick but it never lasted and so the demons would reappear to torment him to a lesser or greater degree until he regained a degree of equilibrium. 

In these dark moments it was depressing to see, distressing to experience and draining for all concerned.

For all that he soldiered on - he had long since given up work after taking a medical retirement - and made a life for himself that occasionally dovetailed with that of his friends. In his later years he was supported by another member of the ex Newham Wargames crowd with his family that lived nearby and that was a huge comfort although not without the occasional 'wobble'.

He was a keen dog lover and last four legged friend he owned was called Rommel and when he lost him at the end of 2017 he was deeply upset to the extent that he vowed not to get any further pets. It also triggered a downward spiral that took him a while to recover from. 

I used to be in regular contact with him but with changes in my domestic situation I kind of lost meaningful contact with him for a number of years - I will admit that this was by design on my part as at the time his ongoing situation was causing a degree of tension at home. I used to meet him for lunch in the city occasionally but even that became difficult to manage.

I will say that initially I felt somewhat uncomfortable to have effectively lost contact with him and yet was attending his funeral (I was reassured by friends that I no cause to feel that way - Mick's path was his alone as is our own) but as anyone that has had experience with any kind of mental illness will know sometimes enough has to be enough - especially when it impacts on one's own family. 

It would be easy to say that in many ways Mick was the author of his own ills but the truth is far more complicated than that. For sure he did some things that did not help his situation but for the most part he always seemed to muddle through - at least until the next episode anyway. Sadly, and with the benefit of hindsight the cycle of highs and lows makes for depressing reading. Mick could have been so much more but his health - his mental health initially but his physical health later - seemed to dictate what he could and could not do. To be honest it is the general consensus of opinion that he did not help himself or at least if he did it was at a minimal level.

I last saw Mick three years ago - ironically at another funeral - and although physically ill (he was a heavy smoker and COPD was the inevitable result) he still was able to remind me of the refight of Operation Market Garden we undertook back in the mid 1980s using a board game for the map and Squad Leader counters for the units. Mick was in charge of the Allies whilst yours truly had the Germans. Naturally much fun was had quoting chunks of dialogue from the film A Bridge Too Far including his personal favourite:

Lt. Gen. Horrocks: "Now, I've selected you to lead us not only because of your extraordinary fighting ability, but also because in the unlikely event that the Germans ever get you, they will assume from your attire that they've captured a wretched peasant, and immediately send you on your way."

For my own part I will remember him for the good and whilst his problems were always there or thereabouts his sociability, personality and good humour were what made Mick, Mick. I will miss him, despite having little contact with him for some years.

In closing I hope that he has at last found in his passing the peace that eluded him in life.

R.I.P Mick


Saturday, 17 July 2021

We will, we will Block you….


Army Blue from the block collection with the direct types shown to good effect on the inside of the lid.

A curious thing has occurred over the course of my temporary back affliction. As I have been reluctant to do anything that involves carrying or moving with any degree of acrobatic contortion - entry to the man cave involves an ascending right hand turn with a twist, imagine the start of an Immelmann turn that flattens out at the highest point - I have been contenting myself with catching up on my reading.

This has proven to be a rewarding but frustrating experience. As I have been reading about various periods of military history - no details as yet, it will spoil the surprise - my natural inclination is think about how to game them. This will then mean a couple of hours of researching figures ranges, thinking about organisation, looking for additional books and all the various other assorted tasks one associates with a new project. These days I tend to see reason for more often before ‘pulling the trigger’ so aside from the time spent usually little is lost.

A picture from a while ago of the block army collection in its entirety - there was an awful lot of ‘not quite’ Jenga blocks involved in the production of this lot!

Enter stage third left the humongous collection of block based armies I have. You may recall that these were originally intended to be used to experiment with rules and periods before committing to a figure based set up. They have served me really well in the past and I am pleased that I got them to where they are. I want to take them further though.

It does not bother me using blocks over figures in conjunction with 3D terrain and so I am thinking that what free time I have now that I am back at work may be better served by adding to the blocks rather than replacing them wholesale with figures.

The blocks in the top half of the picture I use for tribal types whilst below you can see some of the 20th century options. These are the types I am address in a far more aesthetically pleasing way - but not with figures for the moment!

One of the ideas I am thinking about involves the use of figures for an army command base - almost a mini diorama style affair with perhaps the C in C himself and an ADC/staff officer type. Block units of infantry and cavalry will benefit from a standard of some kind - I have experimented with this previously but have yet to get it how I would like. Finally, WW2 would see the use of MDF tokens of some kind to differentiate weapon types etc. 

If it all sounds very abstract and stylised then that is exactly what it is - and I have no problem with it being so. I have invested too much time and effort in producing the block armies to give them up so I plan to take them to the next level and if this means that figure based solutions are pushed down the batting order I can live with it. 

The ideas I am pondering at present would also enable me to explore the ancient/medieval period as well so I will report any progress as and when I make any.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

“The sentries report Zulus to the southwest….”


Yet another title from my collection that had mysteriously vanished but has now happily been reacquired! Limited to the early part of the war but really good all the same with some wonderful artwork.

I am still flirting with the idea of some Portable Wargame style forces for the Colonial period based on the contents of what is in the War in the Age of Imperialism board game. If you recall the standard infantry figures is 20mm tall and is based on a standing firing British infantryman (therefore usable for a number of types) so my rather vague plan was to acquire some boxes of figures from Hat to complete the project. That is still a viable option although I have been looking at other scales as well.

No matter - it is the book that is the thing. 

My Zulu war library is very small and to be honest is probably more in tune with the film Zulu than the whole conflict. The period certainly one of those that I come back to repeatedly and from a gaming perspective the asymmetrical nature of the opposing sides makes for all manner of tactical challenges. In its crudest form one could liken the war to the old arcade game of Space Invaders - a relentless and numerically superior foe against a smaller number of far better equipped soldiery. One could also extend the analogy to the film Aliens.

I have fought a couple of games set in the Zulu war using my block armies and they were great fun. Essentially if the Zulus can get into contact then they can cause all manner of problems whereas the British need to be fighting them at arm's length so that their firepower can be used to its best advantage.

I was delighted to reacquire the above book and whilst there are a couple of other titles that would add to the collection I am in no hurry. What I am confident in though, is that I have the rules and the background information necessary to organise a great set up for this most iconic of Colonial campaigns.

All I need to do is to decide how! 

Saturday, 10 July 2021

More Projects? Moi?…..I Couldn’t Possibly Comment….

Two new additions to the library 

 I have just finished my first week back in the office and my back continues to fluctuate from bad to worse to actually not that bad - with the latter condition being firmly in the minority at present!

After a very restless and uncomfortable night in bed - I will not dignify it by saying that I slept - I was greatly cheered by the arrival this morning of the the two booklets you see above.

Arriba Espana is a very workmanlike production by Bob Cordery featuring not one but two sets of rules. There is an updated version of his Arriba Espana Spanish Civil War set and then a Portable Wargame set for the period. This is a very clever production in that the Portable Wargame version incorporates some ideas from the original set so one has the best of both worlds in terms of flexibility - a relatively detailed set of rules for the period as well as a Portable Wargame version.

In addition to the two sets of rules there are a number of very well thought out scenarios - including a mini campaign based on Jarama - that are usable with either set as well as a useful bibliography.

I have to say that I really like the idea behind this latest adaptation of the Portable Wargame - having an updated version of a popular and more formal rules set with a degree of crossover into the PW ‘engine’ demonstrates once again that the core system can be happily ‘sliced and diced’ to suit one’s specific gaming requirements. A worthy addition to the stable and no mistake.

I have a modest amount of gaming history with the Spanish Civil War - primarily the naval side if truth be told - and whilst revisiting it as a going concern is not immediately on the horizon having this book would certainly give me a good choice of rules to use - along of course along with Trebian’s latest rule set: “For Whom the Dice Rolls” (which are currently on my ‘to get’ list). From a Portable Wargame perspective raising a couple of small forces to my usual size certainly appeals but it wold certainly be some way off.

Arriba Espana is available from Amazon and a big thank you to Bob Cordery for my copy.

Wargaming in the Sugar Islands Campaign is altogether a completely different kettle of fish. To begin with  it is not a set of rules but a guide to the Seven Years War campaigns involving the British and French on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The sugar islands were valuable but unhealthy places and the campaigns fought over the them (including the later French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars)  have suffered far more from various ailments - yellow fever amongst others - than from enemy action. There is a lot of potential for the type of small scale actions I enjoy - coastal raids and similar - so it is certainly something I could look at at some point. 

Again, I have some history with the Seven Years War although my interest these days is far more likely to cover the far flung reaches of empire rather than mainland Europe. The French and Indian War, Clive in India and the operations in the Caribbean are of more interest to me although I have never considered raising armies for them. The booklet is available from the Crann Tara range now produced by Dave Ryan and Caliver Books. 

The Crann Tara range of 28mm figures for the 18th century is absolutely lovely and was originally the brainchild of that all round decent fellow, Bon vivant, wit and raconteur, Graham Cummings, to whom I indebted for my copy of the booklet. 

So have I signed up for yet more projects? The short answer is no, at least not in the immediate future to be honest. I will not rule either period out long term though - the idea of Portable Wargaming them is definitely appealing and indeed, I tend to look at pretty much any potential project through the lens of the Portable Wargame.

Many thanks to both Bob and Graham - these two booklets have been far more effective in raising my mood than copious amounts of Bio Freeze, Deep Heat and assorted drugs!