Monday 30 December 2013

That was the year that was....

Early I know but I wanted to get in quickly and before the rush starts!

I would normally write this post tomorrow but I am going to be rather busy then and as I currently have a window of opportunity between domestic chores figured now would be as good a time as any!

2013 has been an eventful year for me and the biggest thing has been getting back to work - more specifically, changing my career. It has been a huge cultural change and the hours I am working has come as quite a shock to the system. The biggest casualty has been time. Time to spend with the family; time to spend with friends and time to game. I should not complain - especially as at least I am coming home every night and am not away for months at a time, nor am I working anti-social hours.Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying my new career but it has taken rather a lot of getting used to.

The project list for 2013 has failed spectacularly and to be honest, the list may as well be torn up and started again! The only real progress I have made has been with the block collections. I have managed to expand the collection to differentiate between troop types which will be important when I look to tackle the musket era. I have a number of ideas around this and various clues have been dropped via the blog over recent weeks. I have nothing concrete scoped out just yet but hope to shed some further light in due course.

I have some painting to catch up on - the 1/2400th scale warships and a whole pile of aircraft - and had hoped to get some work in over the holiday but this has rather fallen by the wayside. The only thing I have made a lot of progress with is catching up on my reading - either via my priceless Kindle or using real books.

I have a lot of hopes to realise a few games using variants of Bob Cordery's 'Itchy and Scratchy' rules and with this in mind I want to make sure that next year any projects are small, self-contained and can be resourced from my existing collection.

Next year will hopefully see the Ancients getting some attention - the sequel to 300 is due in March - as I have rather a lot of 1/1200th galleys needing some TLC. This may also spawn some 16th century naval action as well as I have a hankering for some Renaissance gaming in some fashion - I have prepared a selection of Janissary blocks specially with this in mind - with the army of the Sublime Porte taking centre stage.

Oh, and some science fiction stuff, at long last....;-)

It only remains then, for me to wish each and everyone one of you a very happy 2014 and I hope that all your respective projects and endeavours come to fruition.

Thursday 26 December 2013

The Christmas Haul 2013

The Western Front during the first weeks of WW1 is a fascinating period to study and game

This is an Osprey compilation hardback containing five of the Duel series of WW2 fighter match ups.

Crossing the Balkans on foot during the 1930s- the third part of the trilogy published after the author's death in 2011.

Well the Christmas day festivities have been and gone - the turkey has been eaten (well half of it has), numerous glasses of seasonal cheer have been drunk and the presents unwrapped. I have done very well this year and no mistake! Aside from the three books you see above I also acquired five Blu-Rays - The Message starring Anthony Quinn, Conan the Barbarian starring Arnie and also the Matrix trilogy. There was also a vast quantity of chocolate and sundry other items and a small sum of cash courtesy of my son that will be suitably invested....;-)

Home Before The Leaves Fall by Ian Senior (published by Osprey ISBN 978 1 84908 843 5) is a study of the German invasion of 1914 and focuses on the German and French actions during the opening weeks of World War 1 as seen from the German perspective. This is a refreshing change from the more usual accounts of the B.E.F and it is an area that I am keen to investigate further. There are plenty of supporting maps and orders of battle included so I fully expect to get a lot of block-based scenario ideas from this. My copy came courtesy of my son - via the monies he treated the 'old man' with for Christmas for the princely sum of £4.99 down from £18.99 as sold in The Works.

Dogfight edited by Tony Holmes (published by Osprey ISBN 978 1 84908 482 6) is a compliation title of five of the 'Duel' series. The match-ups consist of the following:

  • Spitfire vs BF109E
  • P-47 Thunderbolt vs BF109G/K
  • P-40 Warhawk vs Ki-43 "Oscar"
  • P51 Mustang vs FW190
  • Seafire vs A6M "Zero"
I will enjoy this and hope that it will give me sufficient inspiration to get cracking with the painting of my Axis and Allies Angels 20 aircraft. Again, my copy came courtesy of my son for the princely sum of £6.99 down from £20.00 as sold in The Works.

The Broken Road - From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor (published by John Murray ISBN 978 1 84854 752 0) is the third volume of his trilogy describing how, as a young man of eighteen, the author decided to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul during the 1930s. I now need to get a hold of the first two volumes!

I first discovered Patrick Leigh Fermor in the book Ill Met by Moonlight written by W. Stanley Moss - the story of the kidnap of the German General Kriepe from the island of Crete during World War 2. I also discovered several large quotes from his book The Wandering Tree (about his travels in the Caribbean) mentioned in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Live and Let Die.

I am a huge fan of travel writings and so when I discovered that he had undertaken the journey culminating in the Broken Road (although as mentioned this was published posthumously) I was hooked - especially as the area he had traversed was the Balkans and Greece!

One to savour methinks!

All in all then I have been very fortunate this year and still have some funds to be invested although into what exactly is another matter entirely!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

In the footsteps of Ebeneezer Scrooge....

....or A Christmas Carol revisited

The great Alastair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge

Readers of the blog will doubtless be aware that I work in the City of London; a mere five minutes from the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street. The area surrounding the 'Old Lady of Threadneedle Street' is a fascinating myriad of buildings old and new; of small alleyways and secret courtyards lost within modern and classical office buildings, shops and hostelries of every type. Of particular interest in this respect is the block between Cornhill and Lombard Street - it is full of small alleyways and with surprises appearing at almost every turn.

One my personal seasonal traditions is to reread Charles Dickens book - A Christmas Carol during the week before Christmas. I have done this for many years now and always enjoy the experience; more so this year because my offices are located virtually in the heart of where most of the book was actually set - within the heart of the City of London.

Whilst Dickens does not offer much in the way of actual place names in his book by virtue of some local knowledge and some 'google-fu'; together with my trusty electronic copy of A Christmas Carol, I have managed to identify a couple of places featured in his story.

Ebeneezer Scrooge was a businessman with offices in the City of London. The actual location of  'Scrooge and Marleys' is not revealed although reference is made to him conducting business in or around the Royal Exchange as Dickens described 'Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.' At the time of writing A Christmas Carol (1843) the present Royal Excahnge building was still under construction and was not finished until 1844, the previous building had burned down in a fire in 1838. However, across the way from Cornhill is Change Alley so did Scrooge conduct his business there perchance?

Change Alley - the site of many small businesses in Victorian times, benefiting from the building work being undertaken in the construction of the new Royal Exchange. Did Scrooge have an office in here?

Of one thing we can be absolutely certain of is Cornhill, which is mentioned when Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's downtrodden clerk, 'went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of it being Christmas Eve,' and there is indeed a slope from roughly the exit of Change Alley down to Poultry.

Looking down Cornhill. Change Alley is on the left and the right is the new Royal Exchange building completed in 1844 - the year after A Christmas Carol was published. Note the water pump on the right hand side near the post box and the dome of St Paul's Cathedral in the distance, complete with its churchyard .

The water pump is not mentioned in the book per se but I reckon that is contributed to the slide that Bob Cratchit used as it was originally erected in 1790 for watering horses so it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that the sloops had congealed into ice and ran away down the slope towards Poultry.

The Cornhill water pump erected in 1790. the trough was still there until quite recently although all that now remains is the two supports you can see on either side.

When Scrooge left his offices to head home he stopped off and 'took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern'. Now I have a theory about this. I reckon that he probably made used of either of the following two hostelries - the George and Vulture or possibly the  Jamaica Wine House or the Jampot as it is known locally.

The George and Vulture - now primarily an eatery with the small alleyway leading to....

The Jamaica Wine House is certainly quite dark and melancholy on the inside as it boasts much in the way of dark wood paneling and numerous booths - just right for a solitary diner. 

The above venue also features in as a possibility supporting my next theory - no less than where Scrooge actually lived.

'They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with the other houses, and forgotten the way out again.'

In my mind's eye I see a small house tucked in a corner, surrounded by other taller buildings.

Is that house in the middle of the picture that of Scrooge?

The block of buildings you see to the left back on to the Jamaica Wine House which is significant as the cellars run under the house. This is mentioned when Marley's ghost arrives 'as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant's cellar.'

With the exception of the 'Cornhill slide' much of the above is speculation and the locations described in the book could easily refer to just about any part of the city at some point. For me though, as I took these pictures this morning on Christmas Eve I could not help but think about whether or not Charles Dickens wandered around these very streets and alleyways when coming up with the idea for A Christmas Carol some 170 years ago.

It only remains for me to wish all my readers past, present or yet to come; a very Merry Christmas and and a very peaceful and prosperous 2014. Perhaps I should leave the last word to Tiny Tim,

"God bless us, everyone!"

Sunday 22 December 2013

Pirates and the Royal Navy

Something for the Christmas holiday or even during the commute to work!

The Royal Navy have been involved in the suppression of piracy for centuries - which should come as no surprise given the importance of overseas trade to the United Kingdom.

I came across the above title in our local indoor market and after a quick glance through the contents quickly decided that it would be well placed on my bookshelf! In a nutshell the book covers the operations of the Royal Navy against various of the African pirates from the time of Oliver Cromwell up until Queen Victoria and with a nod to the current situation re Somalian piratical activities. The pirates, including the infamous Barbary Corsairs preyed on shipping from all nations and usually any captives were sold into slavery or held for ransom. The situation was hampered by the fact that many of the Barbary potentates were nominally subjects of the Sublime Porte so care needed to be taken lest the wrath of the Ottoman Empire was roused.

There is much potential within this title for small scale war games - either naval actions or combined arms and for me the chance to use the Barbary Corsairs in some fashion would be a temptation difficult to resist. The campaign against Algiers in 1816 by Lord Exmouth being but a single example of what the theatre has to offer.

I must confess that I prefer the idea of the Barbary Corsairs rather than the more conventional Pirates of the Caribbean simply because of the whole Turkish/Moorish angle - this is really an extension of that part of the Ottoman Empire that was more or less continually at undeclared war with the Western powers for some three centuries. The French conquest of Algeria in 1830 led to a substantial reduction in piratical activities along the North African coast although it still continued to be a concern.

I have a large selection of ships that could be used for actions set during the sailing navy period and the later actions featuring the campaign against the Riff during the 1850s would make a cracking mini-campaign involving landing parties and such like.

I will research this in more detail and add the idea to the project list - the Barbary troops could be used for anything from 1650 to 1850 and I am thinking that in 15mm it would be easy enough to cobble together.

Famous last words?....

Wednesday 18 December 2013

A Profound Influence

"The dreamers of the day are dangerous men...."

By now I expect that most readers of this blog are aware of the fact that the actor Peter O'Toole passed away after a long illness on the Saturday just gone. He was a very fine actor appearing in both films and theatre (I really enjoyed Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell) and of course, came to world renown with his portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia in the 1962 David Lean film of the same name.

The film is one of my all-time favourites and from when I first saw it on video (sadly I have never seen it on the big screen although I was lucky enough to see my other film of the era - Zulu - at a cinema in the early 1970s) was enthralled by the whole Lawrence story. At the present time I have the film itself on Blu-Ray, the extended version of Maurice Jarre's superb soundtrack album, numerous Lawrence related books, have avidly read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and planned numerous tabletop adventures set during the Arab Revolt.

The film was truly epic in scale and Peter O'Toole's performance was certainly worthy of an Oscar - he hold the record for the most nominations without actually winning one although did receive an honorary lifetime type one. Historically the film was all over the place and being described as 'based upon' is probably the most generous way to describe it - any film using Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a reference is always going to be on slightly wobbly ground - but, like Zulu, doe not in anyway detract from what was a towering cinematic achievement.

As Lawrence it is fair to say that he captures visually much of the complexity of the man and his many facets. It was a thought-provoking depiction although in reality he was around a foot too tall - Lawrence was quite short.

In closing I would say that the film Lawrence of Arabia, and the late, great Peter O'Toole's depiction of the man himself have been the main instigators of my lifelong interest in the Arab Revolt and have contributed, by extension to interests in many related areas.

R.I.P Peter O'Toole.

Monday 16 December 2013

A Very Special Day

Yours truly and the officially grown up Holly - I am not ashamed to admit that I did have a bit of a wobble when I saw this picture!

Yesterday, the 15th December was a day of much celebration. My darling daughter Holly reached 18 years of age. I cannot really add much to this other than to say how proud and blessed SWMBO and I have been by her and that whilst as parents you always hope your children can learn from you I can safely say that I have learned much from her in return.

I also learned a valuable lesson in computers as I set up her present from SWMBO and I - a Macbook Pro - in that using Apple is so easy after Windows!

The celebratory sombreros courtesy of Pancho's Cantina will feature in a separate post....;-)

So in closing - to my beautiful, witty, intelligent, considerate Holly, a very, very happy birthday!

Saturday 14 December 2013

Old enemies and new friends....

Fezian battleships circa 1905. Nusretieh served as the fleet flagship during the pre-dreadnought era.

The man cave is in dire need of a tidy up or, to be more specific, a reorganisation. It is not that it is a mess as such - more like I have another idea to make it more space efficient. All will be revealed in due course but the upshot of my 'moving-things-around-to-see-where-they might-best-fit-allowing-for-the-temporary-placement-of-the-Christmas-decorations-boxes-by-my-gaming-table' is that have made the acquaintance once again with the pre-dreadnought fleets of both Fezia and Rusland aka inspired by Turkey and Russia. Though I say so myself I was rather pleased with the way these turned out - so much so that I have revisited the partially painted battle cruisers for both the British and German fleets for WW1.

Enter stage, third left - cue change of plan....

The Rusland fleet - Admiral class battleships.

The models that I have currently awaiting the brush are not going to be completed as they were intended i.e. for the Royal Navy and the High Seas fleet. I have opted instead to go completely imagi-naval and complete the fleets of both Fezia and Rusland. Furthermore, I do not intend adding anything further to either fleet so they can make do with the models I have available. I have abandoned my plans to incorporate any Panzerschiffe models although I may possibly add a couple of C in C 1/2400th models in due course - just to add a little variety. I have a number of ideas around the composition of the fleets that have been described previously so I won't repeat them here but suffice it to say one side will be primarily British ships and the other will be German. Or possibly a mix of the two.

I have not played a naval game of any sort for some time and seeing numerous blog posts on the subject has got me hankering for the tang of salt in the air; the icy dagger-like sting of the spray at 30 knots and the boom of rolling salvoes of heavy ordnance with the acrid smell of cordite....

Well, in the mind's eye anyway!

I always find naval games to be a worthwhile diversion - a soothing balm to an overheated imagination - whilst I am beavering away on other projects - the only problem is that they then tend to take over what I was originally working on....Hmmm.

Monday 9 December 2013

Ancient and Renaissance Blocks

The great block reorganisation has made some significant progress this weekend as the core sets for red, blue, grey and grey have been completed. It was not quite as onerous as I originally expected but was time-consuming all the same. One thing it has made me think long and hard about though is the possibility of using the block armies for earlier periods of warfare.

I have previously mentioned that I have played ancient games on a number of occasions and have owned Carthaginian, Ancient Indian, Gallic, Viking and Late Imperial Roman armies over the years. At the present time I do not own any painted ancient armies - in fact, the only ancient exposure I have is a complete set of all the Command and Colours Ancients series of games by Richard Borg (as I do for most of the Napoleonics as well). Now you could be forgiven for thinking that as devoted block user having these units available via the games would be sufficient for my needs. To be honest I certainly thought so but now am not so sure. The Command and Colours blocks are really good to look at but my feeling now is that it would be more in keeping with my current usage to use blocks of my own design.

Initially when I thought about this my head quickly became filled with a myriad of unit type permutations - pikes, spears, javelins, archers, swordsmen etc - which threatened to derail the entire idea or at least making it incredibly complicated. I then stepped back and thought about it rationally (which sets a rather dangerous precedent for me!).

Now that I have added some distinguishing marks to the existing horse and musket blocks - the black and white stripes - I should easily be able to differentiate between troop types so, for example, I could have Roman legionaries, auxiliary infantry and assorted allies represented readily enough. The same principle could be applied to cavalry so everything from Pathian Cataphracts to Numidian light horse can also be tackled simply by designating the appropriate label as the specific type required.

I must confess that my thinking was helped somewhat by referring to my copies of both DBA and HOTTs for reasons that are easy to see. As both sets of rules merge similar troop types into unit categories it makes it a lot easier to represent units using blocks - as long as they are clearly defined beforehand. This is something I will need to work out but to be honest, will be fairly straightforward to do by making use of the aforementioned different labels types and by standardising unit compositions in some way.

The biggest single problem I am facing with tackling this project is how to represent formed bodies of troops are with ranged weapons. The horse and musket era assumes that all infantry types are armed with a firearm of some kind (excepting those blocks used for native types - Zulus etc) but in the earlier period having having some way of identifying separate 'shooters and fighters' is required. After thinking about this I have decided that a new label type, based on the standard infantry label, will need to be designed. This will enable units of formed shooters to be represented and, by dint of the idea I am currently pursuing, will also double for pike units during the Renaissance period where the standard infantry block can be used as per its more usual horse and musket incarnation.

I realise this may seem a little on the confusing side for which I can only apologise but once the new block type is ready it will all make a lot more sense.

The plan is to tackle the ancient (taken in its 1500 and earlier guise) era and also the Renaissance in some fashion - simply because the lure of the Ottoman Turks of the period is something that I am unable to resist.

Friday 6 December 2013

Greece in the Project Machinery

An entertaining and inspirational read in 2013....

Following on from my previous post I have just completed reading the book you see above - a book acquired by chance at a boot sale ages ago. The author, David Howarth, is a particular favourite of mine for no other reason than that he had written one of the most inspirational books of my war games career - A Near Run Thing, covering the battle of Waterloo. I read this avidly back in the early 1970s and still have a copy of the same which I dip into occasionally and still be inspired by.

....and the same in 1973!

The Greek Adventure flows along in an easy fashion and like his Waterloo title does not contain any orders of battle or maps of any of the numerous sieges etc. It just reads very nicely and represents a great primer for the subject (and yes, I have a copy of David Brewster's far more serious study of the war to read next). I particularly like his personal anecdotes as he sailed around Greece interspersed with the story he was telling - it gave one a real sense of almost being there.

It is not an in depth analytical study but is a cracking read and hugely entertaining - and more importantly, inspiring in many different ways.

Just like his Waterloo title was all those years ago....;-)

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Greece is the word....

Greek brigands in action

Sometimes you come across a war or campaign that appears to offer little in the way of tactical or strategic interest. Notably absent are any great examples of the art of war; no 'great captain' or crack formation of troops cross the stage of the conflict but for all that, the war or campaign still manages to inspire the gamer in some way or another. Sometimes, the idea of the conflict is more inspiring than the events in actuality - in this case I am talking about the Greek War of Independence.

In a nutshell, the war consisted of gangs of brigands overcoming the bulk of the Turkish occupying forces - usually with a view more to the local situation rather than the 'national' one - and a makeshift 'navy' sailing rings around the far more powerful Turkish fleet. This was then followed by a determined Turkish response on land as the specially requested Egyptian army managed to take back pretty much all of the liberated Greek territory from the assorted rebels. By this time the great powers had taken an interest and the culmination of this was the destruction of the Turkish/Egyptian fleet at Navarino in 1827 which effectively ended the Turkish occupation.

The legendary Greek female admiral - Bouboulina. She was said to have had six children and was so unattractive to look at she had to seduce men at pistol point!

The Greek forces consisted of various bands of brigands - the Klephts or Armatouli - that operated across Greece and were usually more concerned with being the top dogs in their particular location and of getting one over their rivals. The idea of nationalism was very much a foreign import which the Greeks themselves were initially sceptical about. Even the foreign volunteers and adventurers were indifferently welcomed and the theatre of war led to many cases of destitution as the Greeks had little money or death by disease. Byron himself being such a victim.

From such unpromising material though a number of great gaming opportunities can be explored. My opinion is that for the most part this is very much like a Colonial campaign - the North West frontier springs to mind - except with a naval dimension. I like the idea of gaming irregulars against regulars as this always makes for some interesting actions given the differing priorities and objectives of the combatants. I am planning to try a couple of actions once the remaining block armies have been completed just as an experiment but I reckon there is much potential with this war - more so than would first appear from reading about it.

As ever, much to ponder methinks....;-)

Monday 2 December 2013

Of Christmas, Blocks and the Adriatic....

It has been a busy weekend and no mistake. The first weekend in December is when we traditionally put up the Christmas decorations and so much untangling of lights (invariably accompanied by that seasonal game of 'find the blown light bulb' from amongst some hundred or so others - real men shun the use of bulb testers!) and trying to remember how they all went up last year. After several false starts and a quick trip to the local supermarket we managed to get this first part of Christmas completed yesterday - including the all important Christmas tree. From a practicality point of view we have an artificial tree but it is a very nice looking one all the same and now proudly occupies its usual haunt in the lounge - reminding all and sundry that it 'tis the season to be jolly. At this stage a special thankyou should be extended to the three family cats - Maisie and Mango never stirred from their feline slumbers whilst all this tinseled mayhem was going on around them whilst Minnie's sole contribution was to explore the inside of one of the boxes used for storing the decorations - luckily when she chose to jump inside all the breakables had been removed! I realise that may seem a little early in the month but December is a busy one for use this year especially as it will be featuring my daughter's eighteenth birthday in a couple of weeks and so the preparations for this auspicious event also have to be factored in....;-)

I made a lot of progress with the blocks although they are not quite finished. Whilst labelling and reorganising the collection I have changed the number of types by colour somewhat meaning that some additional labels had to be printed. Previously I opted to have the six colours available in identical permutations as far as unit types are concerned. This meant that for the red, blue and green set I also had various modern units - tanks, anti tank guns and infantry support weapons (machine guns and mortars) in the same way as the grey, brown and olive coloured set. I have now changed this. The brown and olive set are now mainly modern whilst the red, blue and green set are, for want of a better description, pre mechanised. The sole exception is the grey set which will feature both types. Looking at the new arrangement begs the simple question of why I did not think of this before. The new configuration should be complete over the next few days.

I have just finished reading Tom Pocock's book Stopping Napoleon - War and Intrigue in the Mediterranean - and what a fascinating title it has proven to be! I had no knowledge of the various plans afoot that the British had and successively discarded in the Mediterranean - aiding Calabrian rebels in Italy, offering to assist the rebels in the Tyrol in 1809, not to mention the myriad commerce raiding type operations carried out the Royal Navy - including 'cutting out' raids. There is a whole lot of inspiration here for low level games (eminently suitable for the tabletop) and of course with a few notable characters thrown in for good measure. It has given me a few ideas and certainly some intriguing combined operations may well result - especially as I have rather a lot of ships to make use of from the Pirates of the Caribbean game.

One to ponder methinks....;-)

Thursday 28 November 2013

In Blocks we Trust....(Still)....Part 4

Blocks of a more historical nature. Kriegsspiel units taken from the Too Fat Lardies website from which the rules and maps are available see Too Fat Lardies for details

I had planned to have started labelling the new 360 blocks for the collection but hit a minor snag when I discovered that I only had around a third of the number I needed in an unlabeled condition. A further third needed stripping (removing the old labels) leaving a shortfall of around 120 or so. After some juggling of the existing collection I was able to sacrifice around 20 blocks per colour (I reduced some troop types as experience has shown I had rather more of certain units than I needed). After having made up the number of blocks I needed I then set about reorganising the storage boxes to accommodate the additional types.

So far, so good....or so I thought.

It is now impossible to keep all of the blocks of a single colour in a single storage box so I will need to acquire another six boxes for the overflow. The additional box will contain the modern unit types - tanks, trucks and infantry support weapons - and, when I finally get around to it, certain pre-gunpowder types.

As as the 360 blocks are concerned the main task was to strip some 240 of the existing labels prior to adding the new ones. This is very simple but both time consuming and tedious. Using the edge of your thumbnail you need to 'tease' the label off in the attempt to remove it in one piece. If you fail (and these labels are surprisingly resilient to being removed) you can end up with the backing adhesive or layers of paper needing minor attention with a file to remove. I suppose in a way this is the block equivalent or rebasing figures....;-)

Still, it is finally completed so the next step will be to cut out and label the new addition and so I hope to be doing this over the next few days.

Monday 25 November 2013

In Blocks we Trust....(Still)....Part 3

The artillery labels. By using the same system (the black and white strip) I can at last differentiate between calibre/types of guns in use.

It has been a busy weekend for a variety of reasons with little done on the gaming front. This was not actually a bad things as much of what was done has been outstanding for a few weeks so at least now the domestic list is looking a little more restrained!

I managed to draft up the additional artillery sheet of block labels (see above) and have printed them off. With the other types it means that I now have an additional 360 blocks to label. This is not difficult to do and is something that can be readily tackled when parked in front of the TV. I will need to reorganise the storage boxes somewhat and so have decided that the modern blocks will be stored separately from the core blocks of infantry, cavalry and artillery - simply because I game less often with tanks etc.

All being well this lot should be ready for next weekend and although I shall be equally busy then I am hopeful that I will be able to game in at some point.

Saturday 23 November 2013

In Blocks we Trust (Still)....Part 2

The new labels - note the black and white trim. 

Since my last post I have been messing about with designs for the additional troop types I wanted to make available for my block armies. The main criteria was that the design needed to be visible on the table top. It also needed to be simple to produce and in keeping with the existing designs. The symbols I have used are mainly based on standard NATO map symbols although the commander block is derived from the maps that feature in David Chandler's book - The Campaigns of Napoleon.

I considered a number of ideas but eventually settled on the technique you see above - the use of plain black or white bars across the bottom edge of the symbol. Aside from using this idea with infantry and cavalry - for grenadiers, light infantry and varying cavalry 'weights' - there is no reason why I should not use the same method for varying artillery types and even modern equipment - tanks and similar. Initially I was only going to tackle the red, green and blue armies but have decided to extend the scope to include all the colours I possess. Luckily I have more than sufficient Jenga blocks cut in two to be able to do this.

I am planning on labeling the blocks over the next day or two and will be sure to post some pictures when they are ready.

Monday 18 November 2013

In Blocks we Trust....(Still)

I defy any reader of this blog not to be inspired by this book in the biggest possible way....;-)

One of the things that has been niggling away at me for some time - and of all things the Pirate ships I recently acquired have added to this - is the small but significant point of how best to differentiate between troop types using my well tried and trusty block armies.

As it stands the blocks are readily identifiable by general type - infantry, cavalry, artillery etc - but I am thinking that breaking this down further would be beneficial. I am looking long and hard at Napoleonics and the 18th century and so representing different troop capabilities within the same notional type seems to be more important. I want to be able to represent grenadiers, light infantry and varying 'weights' of cavalry - all of which are culturally more significant earlier on. In my minds eye I can see a four block infantry infantry unit consisting of two line blocks, a grenadier block and one for the light company. For the record that is the organisation for an advanced infantry regiment from Charge....;-)

Now I realise that the good Lt. Colonel and Brigadier would view my use of blocks for gaming in a more civilised era as bordering on heresy  but I would defend my position by saying that I have a number of very special ideas that I am sure that they would approve of. Eventually.

I hope to have the first additions ready to roll out by the weekend - all I need to do now is to take Bob Cordery's Itchy and Scratchy 19th century rules and tweak them back into the 18th century.

I also need to add irregular light infantry and cavalry to the mix. Lots of them....;-)

Sunday 17 November 2013

Somewhere else in the Balkans, 1877....Game Number 45

The following action will probably look rather familiar to most readers as it is, in effect, a slightly larger version of the previous effort (game number 43) which in turn was loosely inspired by the game that Bob Cordery and I had a while ago, shortly after the man cave was commissioned. I offer no apologies for this - my interest in the Russo Turkish War is well known and I was unable to resist the urge to revisit it!

Somewhere else in the Balkans, 1877....The Situation

A divisional sized force of Russians under the command of General Chestikov has been tasked with securing a small village located at the crossroads of a vital communications route for the Turks. The Turks meanwhile had anticipated the Russian move and so had hastily dispatched a reinforced regimental sized formation  with instructions to hold the vital village at all costs. By means of a forced march the Turks, under the command of Pasha Nkeyk, had reached the village before the arrival of the Russians and so had managed to not only secure it but to also bolster the defences with some field works.

The Russians had arrived at their starting positions in the early hours of the morning and so decided to invest the village shortly after first light. As far as they were aware the defenders would be few in number and so unlikely to offer a prolonged resistance. With this in mind the General Chestikov decided to take the village from three sides, using the terrain on either flank to mask his intentions. If successful, this three-pronged attack would ensue that any defenders would be unable to escape except back towards their own lines. From the Russian perspective the forthcoming action should be relatively straightforward but the commander had a healthy respect for the Turks - especially when fighting from cover. 

The Turks needed to hold the village for twelve hours by which time the main body of the army would have redeployed into its new positions meaning that reinforcements would be readily available. Pasha Nkeyk was under no illusions that this would happen early on and so, grim-faced, he readied his men and awaited the coming storm.

The Russians

1 x C in C (2) General Chestikov
3 x Commanders (3)
10 x Infantry (40)
4 x Cavalry (12)
3 x Field Artillery (6)

Strength Points 63 - Exhaustion Points 32

The Turks

1 x C in C (2) Pasha Nkeyk
1 x Commander (1)
5 x Infantry (20)
2 x Cavalry (6)
2 x Artillery (4)

Strength Points 33 - Exhaustion Points 17

The Game

I used Bob Cordery's Itchy and Scratchy Rules to fight the action and there were to be 12 game turns. Any hex with a building on was classed as a BUA and the two Turkish artillery redoubts counted as cover only against fire coming in through one of the 'walled' hex sides. The Turks did not have enough time to construct anything more substantial prior to the Russian attack.

Somewhere else in the Balkans, 1877....The Battle

As the sun rose the Russians realised that  the Turks held the village in greater strength than first thought. Even so, Chestikov was confident that he could prevail, especially as either flank offered an opportunity to get close to the Turkish position using the terrain to cover their approach.

The Turks deployed in cover - either in the village, within the field works or the woods on either flank. Pasha Nkeyk kept half of his cavalry and a single infantry unit in reserve.

The heart of the Turkish position showing the cavalry and infantry held in reserve. Pasha Nkeyk set up his command post in the centre of the village.

The start of the action shows the Russian advancing on a broad front but with the flanks managing to forge ahead of the troops in the centre. By a command oversight the artillery initially deployed outside of effective range so hastily limbered up and followed the infantry and cavalry they were due to support. Meanwhile, the Turks were content to be spectators although their commander knew this would not last for long.

With remorseless intent the Russians continue their advance. The flanking formations, using the terrain to the utmost, are almost in contact but the centre has only just assumed its attack formation. The redeployed Russian artillery has at last come into action and manages to draw first blood by destroying half of the Turkish artillery in the right hand redoubt.

In the centre the Russian infantry are at last ready to commence their attack, supported by their artillery.

On the Russian left the attack develops though the woods with the cavalry and artillery in support.  Meanwhile, with grim resolve, the Turks ready themselves for the impending attack.

Meanwhile on the right flank, with the infantry in the van, the Russian attack approaches the Turkish position. Upon sighting the mass of green coated infantry bearing down on them the sole Turkish defenders opt to fall back deeper into the woods.

With a bloodcurdling cry the Turkish horsemen crash into the first of the Russian cavalry units. After a brief but vicious struggle the Russians are forced back with losses. Their supporting regiment of horse manages to exact a swift retribution against the victorious Turks though, charging and destroying the disordered remnants. Enthused by the success of their fellow horseman the surviving Russian cavalry, from the unit recently bested by the Turks, attempt to drive the Turks from their position in the woods. Despite managing to inflict some casualties the remaining horseman are shot down.

On the right the Russian attack forces its way into the woods whilst the central formation moves up to the Turkish field works.

The first attack against the village results in equal numbers of casualties but the Turks, perhaps mindful of the supporting Russian infantry, are forced back.

On the left flank though, a coordinated and punishing Turkish attack involving firstly the two infantry units, secondly the artillery and with the coup de grace being delivered by the cavalry; the right flank Russian infantry unit is destroyed under the weight of rifle, shot and cold steel directed at it from all directions! The remains of the Russian cavalry, recently victorious against their Turkish counterparts, then proceed to suffer the same fate as their predecessors at the hands of the same Turkish infantry unit. Thus far the Russian attack is faltering on this flank.

The Russian attack through the woods meets with a setback at the hands of the Turkish riflemen as the tide of green coated infantrymen comprising the centre formation crash into the main redoubts. A desperate struggle at point blank range ensues.

With a herculean effort the Turks beat the Russians in the centre back with devastating losses. The battle swings in the balance though as the Turks in the wood to the rear of the redoubt are finally driven out by the victorious Russians.

Meanwhile, on the opposite flank, the two sides face off on either side of the dirt track with neither side displaying any degree of eagerness to force a conclusion.

The decisive blow. After having hacked their way through the undergrowth and driven off the Turkish defenders in the wood at last the Russians emerge behind the enemy redoubt. With volleys of rifle fire and slashing of bayonets the green coated horde sweeps into the now unprotected rear of the Turkish position and with a cry of 'Urrah!' the Russian infantry storm the redoubt! The village, so gallantly held and bitterly coveted is on the verge of falling to the Russians.

At this point both sides had exceeded their respective Exhaustion Levels but, as the Russians had managed to break into the Turkish position they were deemed to have carried the day. The final score was Russia: 35 strength points lost and Turkey: 20 strength points lost.

As the Russian right flank victoriously surged into the redoubt and the village the left flank maintained its watching brief against the Turkish units defending the woods to their front. The forlorn attempt to prise them out of their position, not for the fist time that day, failed ignominiously. Meanwhile, unaware of the fate of the rest of the garrison, the Turkish artillery gleefully battered their Russian counterpart with what proved to be the final exchange of a bloody day.

General Chestikov was aghast at the losses his proud division had suffered - his infantry was now little better than a brigade. He had lot half of his cavalry in foolhardy action against infantry in woods and his centre formation was battered unnecessarily by taking what seemed like an age to get into contact. Luckily it did when the right flank attack went in as it gave the Turks much to think about from all directions. It was a much harder fight than he anticipated and in the end it was down to numbers. He made a mental note not to underestimate the tenacity of his opponents when defending a position again.

Pasha Nkeyk knew the day was lost when streams of his panic-stricken infantry ran across the rear of the redoubt with a veritable green tide in hot pursuit. He took the situation in at a glance and made ready to beat a hasty retreat. A runner was sent to the remaining troops in the village and the woods on the opposite flank to the Russian break in and they gradually managed to disengage. The battered survivors, with Pasha Nkeyk at their head fell back from the village with the Russians too exhausted to pursue.


I actually felt quite drained at the end of this fight! It was a very close run thing right until the final game turn (I played 6 out of the 12 planned) despite the disparity in numbers. The Turks fought back hard and actually bettered the Russians on their left and the centre. The battle was won on the Russian right flank and I think that the Turkish decision to send the reserve infantry to the opposite flank early on may have tipped the balance in  Chestikov's favour. The rules demonstrated the increasing power of the defence - especially behind any form of cover - and played magnificently.

The game was tense, exciting and enormous fun to play.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Speeding up a slower pace

Since I have been fortunate enough to be back in the workplace and in a job I am enjoying my hobby related time has been pared back to the bone. This situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and so a fairly drastic rethink has been needed about what I can and cannot do in the short term. My grandiose project list has taken a battering and any kind of schedule has been completely derailed.

To be honest, I found this to be quite demotivating.

I have therefore taken the decision to space out my projects and ideas - actually more like abandon them in the format envisaged - and tackle things on a 'little and often' basis. My ideal would be to only undertake those things that I could realistically get completed over a weekend so in my case that means that any painting will be very small scale. If I plan a game for a weekend then the paintbrush may not even see the light of day.

I really enjoy my solo games and find the whole process of thinking about a scenario, organising the forces, creating a terrain to fight over, playing the game and writing about it afterwards to be enormously relaxing and so my focus will be on these for a while. For the umpteenth time I am so glad I persevered with the block armies for without them I am not sure what I would be able to get done in the limited time I seem to have.

In fact, the block armies will be getting a minor tweak as I want to add some additional unit types - more of which later.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Somewhere in the Balkans, 1877....Game Number 44

The following action was fought very much on the spur of the moment and was very much by way of an experiment. I wanted to try the scenario generation system from Neil Thomas's Wargaming 19th Century Europe 1815 - 1878 with my block armies and the latest version of Bob Cordery's 'Itchy and Scratchy' rules. I want to try the rules from the book in due course - once I have 'hexed' them - as they have a number of effective looking ideas contained therein. For the moment though, I will make use of Bob's rules.

The terrain was based on that used for the mini game (usually fought on a 2ft square area) variant and the units for each side, and the starting edges of the playing area, were determined randomly based on the tables provided. The two combatants - Russia and Turkey - rolled 5 and 6 respectively meaning that the Russians fielded 3 infantry units and 2 batteries of artillery whilst the Turks has 4 infantry units and a single artillery battery. All the infantry units consisted of 4 blocks whilst the artillery had 2. The C in C for each side consisted of a single block. This meant that the Russians had 17 strength points (exhaustion level 8) and the Turks had 19 (exhaustion level 9).

Somewhere in the Balkans, 1877....

The action was fought using the Hexon tiles, configured 9 x 8. The Russians (the green blocks) are attacking from the East. The two objectives - the hill occupied by the Russian artillery and the small town - have to both be captured in order to secure a victory.

The Turks opted to move their artillery through the town with the bulk of the infantry facing the enemy occupied hill.

The Russians opted to deploy their artillery on the hill with the infantry in support and facing the town.

Turn 1 sees both sides moving up into the attack. The Russians push their artillery to the edge of the hill giving it a superb field of fire whilst their infantry deploys to assault the town. The Turks likewise consolidate their hold on the town and ready their infantry to attack the Russians.

Turn 2. Conscious of their slight inferiority in numbers of infantry the Russians content themselves with using their artillery to telling effect. The Turkish artillery is also quick to register a hit on the nearest enemy infantry.

Turn 3. With Russian artillery battering his infantry the Turkish commander moves up a fresh unit from the town and opens up a murderous long range fire. Still the Russian shells rain down.

Turn 4. The Russian artillery continues to batter the opposing Turkish infantry into submission, helped by some flanking rifle fire. Meanwhile, to relieve the pressure on the opposite flank the Turks steadily reduce the Russian infantry with a withering long range fire.

Turn 5. Seizing their chance the Russians quickly redeploy their artillery whilst the infantry swing around to assault the town. Despite the Russian casualties it is the Turks that are on the brink of reaching their exhaustion level first.

Turn 6. The momentary respite from the redeploying Russian artillery gave false hope to the Turks as it was soon back in action and to telling effect. Sensing victory, the Russian commander urged his infantry forward to capture the town.

Turn 7. The remains of the Turkish force fall back on their artillery in the town whilst the Russians make ready for their assault.

Turn 8 (and I am sorry to say the last of pictures). The Russians attempt to batter their way into the town but have not reckoned on the tenacity of the Turkish artillery and their resolute commander.

Turns 9 and 10 saw successive waves of Russian attempts to storm the town being fought off by the Turkish artillery. The Turks lost a point of artillery but the Russian lost all 4 of the infantry points remaining and also the C in C. As neither side was able to secure the two objectives the result was inconclusive.

Under the strength point system the game should have ended in turn 6 with the Turks being forced to go on the defensive. I opted to observe the scenario instructions whereby to win a side needed to secure both objectives - the hill and the town. As it turned out the Turks fell back and denied the Russians the town so overall the result was the same.

Although this was a small action it was not without a certain amount of interest - not least of which demonstrating the danger of remaining stationary whilst under artillery fire. It also revealed how dangerous a close combat could be when the opposition 'battles back'. The Russians were very unlucky against the Turkish artillery in the town and it showed just how important the use of cover is when outnumbered.

I shall experiment further with the ideas of Neil Thomas as they offer some interesting ideas for the gamer - especially when fighting solo.

It was a pleasant way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon when all is said and done.