Tuesday 29 June 2021

Drifting with the current

 I am now in my last week of furlough and shall be back in full time employment from 1st July although not back in the city until the 5th. With the self inflicted faux pas over my Warbases order I will not be able to finish the ships for the ACW collection before going back to work which is a shame but cannot be helped. The remaining models will not take long to do in any event and considering that I have built 50 of the planned 60 it is not too shabby an outcome. The short interlude has given me time to put my head above the parapet and look at some other bits and pieces I have on the horizon and the first of these concerns the whole skirmish wargame genre.

I have fought numerous skirmish games over the years but for the most part the rules I have tried seem to have ranged from the taxing to the downright unplayable in terms of complexity. I currently have a Fistful of Lead and Galactic Heroes along with some of the offering from Ganesha Games - these are set below the number of figures used in a game of, for example, the ‘Rampant’ series by Daniel Mersey and others. My current old West set up using Deadman’s Hand looks like a step in the right direction for me in terms of the level of detail although I have my own ideas about what a skirmish game should look like which may or may not sit well within the mainstream.

For me a skirmish wargame should have no more than a couple of dozen figures in all and will often be less. I would be looking at perhaps half a dozen or less on one side with the other typically being more. Whilst my thoughts were moving along these lines I was struck by the similarity of how I fight my ‘normal’ games - often with half a dozen units on one side and more on the other.

Thinking cinematically - the figures in a skirmish typically fall into three categories. Principles, supports and extras. At a simple level this could readily translate into elite, trained and raw or similar. It follows that the principles are usually the key to the story so it follows that they ordinarily will be able to do more and probably better than the extra used for the crowd scenes. 

This is where the Portable Wargame comes in. If we took a principle character as having 5 strength points, a support 4 and the extra 3 as a baseline then we have a useful framework to work with. Those strength points (probably not the best description for them in this case but it will do to start with) could be used as other things as well so, for example, a principle might have 5 actions which in turn dictates what the character can do during a turn. It could also be used for initiative or indeed anything one needs it to.

Essentially the principle characters should usually be more able than the extras.

A key point for me in all this is the importance of a well thought out scenario which should be the framework on which the skirmish is based. Key ‘action points’ within the skirmish should be properly planned beforehand so that when such an event occurs it can be handled quickly and efficiently. In may ways the design of a good skirmish is almost as involved as that for a role playing game. The scenario should be a framework that allows for the unexpected because that will always happen!

 From personal choice I would be using a grid to fight over as this makes life a whole lot easier in that the inevitable ‘micro measuring’ is at one fell swoop removed. For what I am thinking about I shall be using a 2” square grid with an area of 9 by 12 squares. By a strange coincidence this is also the size of the playing area I use for full sized battles involving units.

I believe that with a modicum of effort it should be possible to produce a set of skirmish rules based on the  Portable Wargame that would serve as the basic engine for all manner of genres. That is what my recent ‘drifting with the current’  has been pondering, initially with VSF in mind but with other ideas circulating in the grey matter.

First things first though - the remaining ACW ships need to be built and the Old West figures painted so it is no surprise that these are now on the painting tray waiting for some TLC.

Thursday 24 June 2021

Belated Father’s Day Post


The haul - note the two boxes, front and centre….

Last Sunday was of course Father’s Day in the UK. I have to say that I was spoilt rotten by the children (32 and 25 years old respectively so calling them children seems a little odd - perhaps offspring would be better!). Eight bottles of Italian beer, four packets of fruit pastilles (I have a well known fondness for these) and a box of mint flavoured Matchmakers. My son (who is a very good cook) made a superb breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon with coffee - in the Ian Fleming James Bond books this was 007’s breakfast of choice - which set the tone for the day. I would also add that between the two fo them I received some £75 in gift cards for the online retailer named after a South American river (I saw that used on another blog and it seemed too good not to use it myself!).

Always nice to add a couple of hardbacks to the library!

I have used half of the value on the two titles you see above that I have my eye on for a while. Operation Pedestal is the newest title by Max Hastings and is the story of the famous convoy that saved Malta during WW2 from imminent starvation but at a very high cost to the Royal Navy. The whole thing would make for an excellent campaign to refight. 

Note to self: WW2 naval? You have not done any of that for a while have you? Hmmm…

Conquistadores tells the story of the Spanish conquest of the Americas and again, is an epic tale. For the record I have no intention of tackling Aztec armies although having said that I note that Wargames Atlantic are bringing out 28mm plastic Aztecs and Conquistadors at some point so perhaps a skirmish level set up might be doable.

All in all Father’s Day was a very good day for me although my wallet may not be thanking me in due course!

In other news…

They don’t write them like that anymore….

A gentleman that I have had a couple of transactions with over the last years or so (books) is having some building work done and so as part of the inevitable preparation for this he had a sort out of bits and pieces. Among the assortment of goodies he came across the above set of wargame rules. Knowing of my fondness for ACW naval he very kindly sent them to me! 

The rules themselves are quite old school and are very much a product of the times (they were published in 1984) in terms of rule techniques. It was only when I looked at the back cover that I realised that the rules were copyright to none other than John Armatys. I had the pleasure of meeting him at COW (the Conference of Wargamers) in 2019 and took part in his Operation Market Garden game. 

So to Rob Grace many, many thanks for the rules old chap - they have given me a couple of ideas I had not considered for my own rules.


It has been a good week for the most part in that the collection has gained some new bits and pieces (not forgetting Deadman’s Hand) and I have a clearer sense of purpose about things. A small order has gone into Warbases to rectify the shortfall from what I thought would be the last one but I am OK with the wait. 

On a more sober note I found out over the weekend that an old denizen of Newham Wargames Club (actually an occasional member as I recall) and former ACW reenactor via the Southern Skirmish Association has passed away after a long illness. 

Mick had more than his fair share of health issues over the years but I remember him taking the part of the Allies when we ran Operation Market Garden using the board game Hell’s Highway. It became a matter of pride that we were able to bounce vast chunks of dialogue from the film A Bridge Too Far off one another with his particular favourite being from Lt. General 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.

R.I.P Mick.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

The Wild, Wild West….

A box full of Old West goodies….

….don’t take my word for it - check out the contents!

There it is in all its glory.

The very first Western gunfight games I took part in were back on the Isle of Sheppey during the early to mid 1970s. The rules we used were the Old West Skirmish Set by Messrs. Blake, Curtis and Colwill (I believe they were the worthies involved) and the scale was 54mm. For figures we used a variety of Timpo and Britains figures with a few conversions thrown in for good measure. I still wince at the memory of when my newly finished conversion - loosely based on the character of Manalito from the TV series The High Chaparall - lasted until the second game turn when he was shot and suffered a serious leg wound, thus effectively rendering him ‘hors de combat’ for he remainder of the game!

When I joined the Newham Wargames Club after moving to London there was still a healthy dose of Old West games being fought but the move to using Once Upon a Time in the West certainly dampened my enthusiasm. The rules seemed very complex and although there were some very nice touches I found them to be a little more complex than I would have preferred.

Fast forward to SEEMS and gunfights have been fought on numerous occasions using a variety of rules and with 28mm now being the preferred scale. 

I have mentioned in the blog wanting to tackle some skirmish level games and so when I saw the above starter set I was very tempted. Everything one needed to start gaming in the box - that seems to be the way of the world these days - and at an attractive price (£40).  Over the course of last weekend I finally succumbed and so the package arrived on Monday morning (first class service by Great Escape Games I have to say). I am really pleased with this, in fact so pleased that I order some additional figures and a copy of the campaign supplement which arrived this morning! I now have 21 x 28mm metal gunfighters of various sorts to paint, a blacksmiths shop to assemble (produced by 4Ground and it is a lovely model) and ideas for some Old West games in my head. 

The basic idea is that players have a gang of around 6 to 10 models and the game is card activated. Regardless of how the rules work - and they seem very ‘slick’ indeed - I also have A Fistful of Lead to use so I am well served as far as game systems are concerned.

The thing I am really looking forward to though is painting the figures - they are really lovely castings!

As far as buildings are concerned there is a bewildering variety to choose from at all levels of budget. I only need a few and to be honest I am very tempted to build them myself,

In the meantime though, I have to get a further order in to Warbases as I rather messed up the last one as I had forgotten to get a number of essential pieces for the remaining models.

Onwards and upwards though and so I shall make a point of catching up on some Westerns during my daily commute which starts on 5th July.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

The Age of Imperialism on Mars?

Back in the day that was a lot of fun!

 I have always been keen on Victorian Science Fiction. I have been an avid reader of Wells, Verne, Burroughs, Conan Doyle and others for many years and collection of the works by these worthies nestle safely in my Kindle (and via the Kindle App on my trusty IPad). Many years ago I contributed to a set of rules called Land  Ironclads - published by Wessex Games and set within the Aeronef late 19th century universe. Brigade models have a huge range for both rules which I believe are available from the Wargames Vault. My input was limited to the section on the Turkish army of the period although I recall suggesting that the scale of 1:1200th for the vehicles was adopted to tie in with the Aeronef models. 

This was a great collaboration with Aussie Paul - we had a lot of fun with this for sure!

It was all enormous fun at the time but enthusiasm waned and I never really raised much in the way of forces for it. I did rather more with Aeronef though and scratch built Turkish, Greek and Bulgarian aerial fleets and collaborated with Aussie Paul on a mini campaign supplement that again, is probably on the Wargames Vault somewhere. The scratch builds were solely dirigibles and I remember hoovering up vast quantities of plastic aircraft kit ordnance - dirigibles look like bombs after all - and churning out loads of models. It was all great fun.

At the time I had not read John Carter so did not get the whole Barsoom thing. As I remember correctly Space 1889 was already established when Aeronef was launched so the VSF in that universe was largely confined to the planet earth. There were plans for a naval version - Aquanef - and even for a space version - Astronef - but these never got beyond the testing phase which was a pity really,

Anyway, what is the point of all this meandering reminiscing? 

I always rather liked the idea of Redcoats on Mars but was not totally sold on the Space 1889 interpretation. As an aside I wonder how many of us when looking at a fantasy/science fiction setting are truly invested in what the creator intended? For me I like elements of the 1889 version as well as bits and pieces from John Carter but the way I see it it can be sliced and diced however you want - in much the same way as any earth bound imagi-nation.

Whilst wading my way through the Age of Imperialism figures and looking through the Plastic Soldier Review for inspiration (and yes, there has been rather a lot!) I came across a box of Sea People infantry from Hat. Something clicked. The figures have a suitably exotic appearance and lord alone knows why but they screamed out to me ‘Red/High Martians’! 

I reckon there is some mileage with these figures for what I have in mind!

Don’t worry, the sun has not totally addled what is left of my grey matter as the next set I looked at was of unmarried Zulus and British Zulu War Command so normality of sorts has kind of returned.

One of the best books on the subject by the indefatigable Ian Knight. I simply had to dip into this book again and yes, I will probably watch Zulu and Zulu Dawn again - purely in the interests of research naturally…..

I rather liked the ideas of Flyers operating over the Martian landscape - Sky Galleons of Mars style - and was thinking about all the leftover and so far unused MDF templates I have kicking around. I reckon producing some self designed models for this would  not be too difficult - along with some Martian style ground vehicles - perhaps with the Martian types modelled on some of those wonderful looking Chinese/Korean/Japanese warships of the 16th/17th century.

Designing a VSF setting to suit one’s own purposes should be no different than any other imagi-nation and it is one of things that you either enjoy doing or not.

Luckily I do.

So, it looks like a small force of redcoats will be assembled with Zulu and Martian opponents. For the latter I shall look to make some flyer/aerial gunboats and perhaps even some Land ironclads. 

First of all though, the small matter of the remaining ACW bits and pieces - and I am including figures in with this as well!

Monday 14 June 2021

War in the Age of Imperialism

The selection of figures for one of the six combatants in the game. The other colours are blue, green, yellow, grey and purple. There are horses for the two types of rider included. The grouping into 6s and 4s is intentional and indicative of where my thoughts are heading! The above would serve as a small Portable Wargame style force in its own right. 

 You may recall my recent blog post in which I met up with Bob Cordery and took delivery of a copy of Eagle Games: War in the Age of Imperialism. This is a huge ‘Risk with resource management’ style of light wargame notable for two things - a huge map board and the 816 plastic pieces that come with it. Of these it is the 1:72nd (or close to) scale soft plastic figures that are of main interest.

Front and rear facing views of the figures. The two types on the left are (in the game) explorers and engineers. The infantryman is obvious whilst the two riders are cavalry (the the carbine) and leaders (with a sword).

The artillery piece manned by the explorer and the engineer for scale

I finally got the chance to sit down and take a closer look at what was in the box and I am really delighted that I did!

Using the top picture as a guide you can see just how many useful figures there are in the game. To begin with there are 180 infantry standing firing - these are the overall totals of the six colours available - with 72 carbine armed cavalry and 60 with swords. Add in the 48 each of the explorer and engineer figures and 60 artillery pieces you can easily begin to see exactly why I was so pleased to come by this set.

The whole set up is crying out for imagi-nation style use and by dipping into the currently available ranges from manufacturers like HAT and others it would be really simple to add those specialist types one needs. For example, Hat produce a boxed set of British Zulu War command as well as artillery, wagons, and other bits and pieces. With some careful thought beforehand the contents of this game opens up a huge amount of potential for all manner of things Colonial related - as long as one was not too fussy about details of uniforms etc (which I am not!).

I have not worked with soft plastic figures for many years but now have something of a plastic mountain across the medieval, ACW, Colonial and WW2 periods so the time is nigh for me to start doing something with them. The big plus is that it is now a lot easier working with them than way back in the 1970s!

As a matter of some urgency I am now on the lookout for the ACW set and others from the range. As the foundation of a period specific set up they are really useful.

Sunday 13 June 2021

Boiling Hot Boot Sale Bargains

Two unexpected but welcome additions to the library. The SAS title is a more weighty tome than the title might suggest whilst the aircraft book is big, brash and glossy! At a mere 30p each they were an absolute bargain!

 It is a Sunday morning in June and whilst usually at this time of year SWMBO and I are normally found in foreign climes (Facebook continually reminds you with memories of the days in question - this time two years ago we were in Cuba….) when we are not then our local boot sale is the next best thing. Wandering around in a boot sale in the hear we have today was a tiring experience for sure but SWMBO, my daughter and I all came away with some goodies.

Boot sales are funny things in many ways. When they first start up they are primarily made up of people disposing of their bits and pieces - which is preferable to what usually happens next. After a while as the sale in question becomes more popular so the dreaded traders start moving in until eventually you end up with what is more like a glorified street market selling all manner of ‘tat’. Our local boot sale was starting to head in that direction but recently the trend has been reversed so that ordinary household sellers are once again in the majority.

Anyways, the two books you see above were added to the library - both are in pristine condition and they cost me 30p each. That is right, 30p each!

I would not describe myself as a SAS fanboy as such but I am interested in their WW2 operations, along with the SBS. Raids are great for gaming as one does not require much in the way of material to put on a cracking little action. I have a hankering for some operations in the Aegean at some point, probably with a naval angle - shades of The Guns of Navarone - so anything WW2 and ‘special forces’ related will always catch my eye.

The aircraft book is a big, glossy, coffee table style book with some very nice full page colours plates and cutaway diagrams. There is technical detail and to be honest nothing contained within the pages of this book was of earth shattering originality as most of the information has been recycled ad infinitum over the years across many other publications. Still, the eye candy is very nice indeed and for 30p I was not about to complain!

Today was the first time for some weeks I managed to buy anything - picking have been very slim - so the two new books are a welcome addition.

Saturday 12 June 2021

More Additions to the ACW Naval Library

Absolutely delighted to add these two books to the library - £27 for Lincoln’s Navy and £5 for the Confederate. Really high quality content that will help round out my ACW naval collection - at least until I get the other dozen or so titles I am after!

 My recent series of assorted disposals gave me a modest war chest for some bits and pieces and the latest additions arrived this morning. You will probably not be surprised to learn that there is a tale behind this!

An admirable book but damaged beyond my standard for a ‘new’ book so was duly returned. I may well add it at some point but there are other titles I want beforehand

You may recall my recent post (02/06) about the Confederate Navy book that arrived slightly damaged. The damage was actually rather more than I initially thought so I opted to return it for a full refund. The book had been described as being ‘like new’ - it most certainly was not which was a shame really but there you have it.

Meanwhile, the two titles you see above that arrived this morning I had originally been ‘watching’ on eBay and were both listed by the same seller. Note the author of Lincoln’s Navy - the same chap that had written the book I had earlier returned on the Confederate navy. I ordered Lincoln’s Navy from the seller that both volumes listed but initially had decided against the Confederate title as I had the version by the same author on its way (the one that ultimately had to be returned due to damage I had originally ordered before pulling the trigger on the Lincoln title). 

If you are following all this then well done!

The new Confederate navy title (the one in the picture just in case you have lost track!) then appeared listed with another seller at a much lower price than the copy that was listed by the seller alongside Lincoln’s Navy. So, as by now my damaged book was on its way back to its seller and I had been refunded I opted to bid on this book instead.

A confusing tale for sure but it worked out alright in the end!

Page 1 on the Confederate nay contents….

….followed by page 2.

The contents of Lincoln’s Navy

Both titles are not encyclopaedic in respect of the ships that served etc but instead cover much ground in respect of the organisation of the navies and how they worked and what went where and why. It is all very valuable material and I will be sure to make good use of it.

All’s well that ends well and all that!

Thursday 10 June 2021

Resourcing Projects

 Oh yes indeedy! This time I intend hanging on to it!

The back of the box detailing the scenarios and showing the figures

For the first time since I do not know when I had the pleasure of meeting up briefly with Bob Cordery to exchange some bits and pieces and to ‘shoot the breeze’ about matters gaming related and life in general. Bob looked well and was in his usual good form as we chatted about ‘stuff’ after having transacted the all important business. 

The business in hand meant that a large box of goodies was heading my way whilst a much smaller box was heading to Bob. 

Battle Cry was the first Command and Colours I played and the version you see above was the anniversary 2nd edition which included rather more scenarios than the original version as well as better figures. You will probably not be surprised to learn that I have owned this game previously but had passed it on (and immediately regretted it) so to have it back in my collection is a real pleasure. My Spencer Smith project was based on this and to be honest the idea of revisiting the concept again using painted figures is certainly appealing. I could paint those included in the game but would need to get rather more of them as I plan to use the 6 infantry figure standard on two bases for my armies with four figures for cavalry and two or three gunners for artillery. It is something to think about to tie in with the naval project.

A large box full of useful goodies and a massive game board

The back of the box - I now want to get the ACW game in this series, again, not for the game as such, just the components aka: The Figures!

The all important ‘bits and pieces’ - I am confident that I can find uses for most of what is the box!

The second game from Bob’s collection is something a little different and to be honest the sole reason for me getting this is the for the game components. There are 816 pieces in this monster of a game and to be honest I doubt very much if I will ever play it as intended. Whilst the figures in this will not win any prizes for detail they are suitably generic looking to be usable for a whole variety of things - and that is the plan because by dipping into any of the current plastic figure manufacturers (Hat springs to mind) one can round out the forces available. I actually rather enjoy working with plastic figures  - it takes me back to those Airfix armies of yesteryear - but these days the need to convert figures is not quite as essential as back then, simply due to the choice currently available.

I now have a good selection of board game plastic figures - all of which are around the 20mm size - from Risk: Medieval, Axis and Allies and now the two games above. There are some plans afoot which I will get to at some point but for now having the raw material to hand is the key. 

It was really good to meet up with Bob again, albeit briefly, and I am really pleased that he offered these two games to me so I now need to get my thinking cap on!

Tuesday 8 June 2021

Action off the Rio Plata, 15th March 1865....Game Number 66 Part 2

The combatants. The frigate U.S.S. Sacremento at the top of the picture with the U.S.S. Niagara on the centre left and the U.S.S. Kearsage on the centre right. The C.S.S. Stonewall is at the bottom (not literally, at least not yet anyway!)

The C.S.S. Stonewall begins her turn to port in order to engage the rapidly closing frigate - the U.S.S. Sacremento

The U.S.S. Sacremento was gaining rapidly on the stern of the C.S.S. Stonewall  but her course would take her some four points off the Rebel ship’s starboard side. Seeing the course of the Yankee ship Captain Longsdarff decided to circle to port as tightly as he could so that he should be able to engage the aft quarter of the enemy frigate. It would also enable him to see how the second enemy ship was placed in relation to his main target, the fast approaching frigate.

“Something wicked, this way comes….” The closing pair of Union sloops attempting to convince their enemy that they are in fact, but a single vessel. The ruse will be spotted but as long as they are able to both close the range and manoeuvre into a favourable position it will not be in vain

As the C.S.S. Stonewall heeled tightly into her turn the Captain focused his attention on the second enemy ship. The sloop had pored on all steam and every scrap of canvas as she attempted to fall in with her flagship. Her approach was a little untidy as she seemed to be adjusting her course in a seemingly random fashion.

Something gnawed at the back of Captain Longsdarff’s mind. The other ship heading towards him looked somehow different from previously. For sure she had all canvas set and was steaming hard but there was something not quite right her appearance. Her approach was very untidy and indicated poor levels of seamanship so he felt even more confident in the ability of his command to be able to dispense with her as well. She was making enough of a show for two ships he mused - the thought that it was two ships did not enter his thoughts. Satisfied that the haphazardly approaching enemy warship posed no immediate threat the captain turned his attention to the looming enemy frigate.

Turn 1. No firing due to range so straight to initiative. Union 4 Confederate 5 so the Confederate opts to let the Union ships move first.

Captain Longsdarff eases the turn of his ship as the reason for the poor seamanship of the smaller enemy warship is revealed - there is not one but two of them! His instinct that something was not quite right was correct but it was scant consolation as he now had three enemy warships to contend with. Should he cut his losses and make best speed to get away? The thought was dismissed even before it was fully formed - he would fight one of them and then get away. His target would be the Yankee flagship.

Turn 2. The C.S.S. Stonewall opens fire at the frigate and the leading sloop - the U.S.S. Kearsage. With her gunnery factor (GF) of 2 the Stonewall rolls 2d6 against the frigate scoring a 1 and a 4. Her penetration factor (PF) is 3 whilst the armour factor of the frigate (and the other two Union ships) is 0 as they wooden built. This means that a a plus 3 modifier is added to each score making revised scores of 4 and 7 meaning that the frigate has taken a point of damage for the adjusted 4 whilst the adjusted 7 is a critical hit! The location of the single hit is rolled scoring a 1 meaning that a flotation point is scored. The critical hit comes up as a 4 which is a gunnery factor hit, reducing the nearest gunnery factor by 2 or by 1 with an additional flotation point hit. The Union ship opts to take one on each in order to preserve her artillery for the moment. The C.S.S. Stonewall then fires at the U.S.S. Kearsage with her forward artillery.

As this is at maximum range for the type her gunnery factor of two loses a point so a single d6 is rolled. A natural 6 is scored! With the plus 2 for her penetration factor the score is 8 meaning that a critical hit is scored! A further 6 is rolled - FIRE! The U.S.S. Kearsage catches fire!

There is no return Union fire so it is straight to initiative. Union 4, Confederate 3. The Union player lets the Confederate ship move first.

The C.S.S. Stonewall opens fire on both the U.S.S. Sacremento and the U.S.S. Kearsage scoring telling hits on both whilst she continues her turn. Captain Longsdarff noted the tell tale orange glow of a fire aboard the Union sloop which he hoped would take her out of the fight. Every seaman dreaded the outbreak of fire and on a wooden ship even more so. The U.S.S. Kearsage pulled away from the approaching Confederate allowing the U.S.S. Niagara to position herself off the stern of the  Rebel ironclad. Meanwhile Commander Howard on the U.S.S. Sacremento urged his men on as the great ship swung her helm over to engage the enemy.

Turn 3. The U.S.S. Kearsage attempted to douse the flames on her fore deck. To the huge relief of the captain and crew a 1 was rolled so the flames were extinguished. She was able to rejoin the fight. The U.S.S. Niagara opened fire at point blank ravage into the stern of the rebel ship. She has a gunnery factor (GF) of 4 but adds a d6 due to the range making 5d6 in all. Her penetration factor (PF) is 2 but the armour factor of the ironclad C.S.S. Stonewall is 3 meaning that each d6 will have a minus 1 modifier. The firing was abysmal with scores of 1, two 2s, a 3 and 4 - all of which were reduced by 1 for no effect other than a copious expenditure of powder.

The C.S.S. Stonewall fired again at the Yankee frigate. She rolled a pair of 3s which each added a plus 3 PF/AF modifier meant that two sixes were the result for two lots of two point hits. The location rolls were 1 (flotation point) and 3 (gunnery factor). The U.S.S. Sacremento opted to take the two gunnery points off her port battery meaning that she was now 4 gunnery on the starboard and three on the port side.

For initiative the Union rolled 5 whilst the Confederates rolled a 1. Once again the Union allowed the Confederates to move first.

Captain Longsdarff surveyed the scene with a degree of satisfaction occasioned by the simple fact he believed he still had tactical control of the engagement. His enemies were scattered like a covey of partridges and he was well placed to take advantage of their apparent confusion. What happened next was rather unexpected as he found two enemy warships suddenly placed off both of his port quarters. He would be caught between two, as yet ineffective fires. Now was the time force the pace.

Turn 4. Both the U.S.S. Sacremento and the U.S.S. Niagara opened fire with all possible guns against the rebel ironclad. The U.S.S. Sacremento scored a miserly 2, 3 and 4 - all of which were reduced by 1 due to the PF/AF adjustment. The U.S.S. Niagara rolled her 4d6, again each had a minus 1, had scored a 6, two 5s and 2! These were adjusted to 5, two 4s and a 1 meaning that the rebel ships has at last sustained some damage. The hit location rolls were a 1, a 5 and a 6. The 1 was taken as a flotation point hit. The 5 was a steering hit meaning that her turning ability was reduced by 1 and the 6 was a bridge/pilot house hit. Her Captain opted to take the latter as a flotation point hit rather than to effect his steering any further.

The C.S.S. Stonewall fired back at the frigate. Her two d6 scored a magnificent 5 and a 6 which, adding the plus 3 PF/AF modifier meant that two critical hits were scored! This resulted in two rolls which cane up as a 2 and 3. The 2 was hull damage so 2 flotation points were marked off. The 3 was engine/steering damage which required a further roll of a d6 to see the extent of the damage. A 1 was rolled meaning that the ship speed was reduced by one.

The initiative roll would be crucial. The Union rolled 3 whilst the Confederates rolled a 1. Again the Union allowed the Confederate ship to move first.

By now Captain Longsdarff was aware of the damage to the steering of his ship and so cold reason shaped his thinking. It was time to entertain the notion of breaking off the engagement. The enemy frigate was some way away and he took satisfaction from the fact he had inflicted telling damage on her. The two enemy sloops were still in the fight but he was confident he could brush past them. The last broadside from the enemy was a rude reminder (if one was needed) that a lucky blow could end his mission so caution would be needed.

The ship heeled over into the new heading as she made ready for her final shots at the enemy.

Turn 5. U.S.S. Niagara opened fire. 4d6 this time, 3 6s and a 2 was the result, all with the usual minus 1 meaning 3 5s and a 1. Three hits! The location rolls came out as 1, 2 and 3 meaning two flotation point hits and 1 gunnery. the Union player was not finished as the U.S.S. Kearsage opened fire with her forward artillery. Her gunnery factor was 2 and the penetration factor was 3 (the same as the armour factor of the C.S.S. Stonewall) meaning it would be straight dice roles for hits. A pair of 4s came up and the location rolls were 3 and 5. The 3 was another gunnery factor whilst 5 was a further steering hit. The C.S.S. Stonewall was now unable to answer to the helm. Her final shot was against the U.S.S. Kearsage. She rolled a 1 and 3 which were adjusted to a 4 and a 6 meaning three points of damage and two location rolls. A 4 and a 5 came up which meant engines and steering. The ‘6’ hit was thrown against her engines meaning that she was now only able to make speed 4.

The Union rolled 1 and the Confederate rolled a 5 which meant that, to the rebels unmistakeable relief, they would have the choice and so opted to move first.

Captain Longsdarff took the situation in at an instant and decided that discretion was now the better part of valour. His steering was inoperable (he was confident of repairs once far enough away) and his forward casemate resembled a charnel house but his engines were unimpaired. He had bested a Yankee frigate and damaged one of their sloops (judging by the great gouts of steam and smoke he saw he correctly surmised that the engines were damaged). His ship had responded magnificently to the call to battle and he was sure that once repairs had been effected and with a full crew and supplies he would be able to take the war to the Pacific. He ordered full steam ahead and went below to see the crew.

Commander Howard, aboard the battered but still functioning U.S.S. Sacremento, watched the Confederate ship slowly receding into the distance with a sense of pride tinged with relief. His command had performed magnificently against a powerful enemy and whilst she had escaped he was sure that she had been sorely injured. There was no question of his own ship being able to continue the pursuit - her damaged engines and minor flooding would see to that - so it would be left to the sloops. He knew that a squadron was operating out of the Caribbean so he would make for there to gather a more powerful force to settle accounts with the Rebel ironclad. He was not yet aware of the damage to the U.S.S. Kearsage.

Aboard the U.S.S. Kearsage Captain Nathaniel Jones cursed his luck as the engines of his ship had sustained severe damage from the rebel ironclad. He must have used up his ration from Dame Fortune when the fire on his ship was so speedily dealt with! For all that he was pleased with how the ship had held up under full power for so long and so was able to rejoin the rest of the ad hoc squadron assembled to hunt down the rebel raider. The Commander of the force was delighted to have him and his ship available once again as they were  both sorely missed and urgently needed. With his current engine difficulties he had no doubt that he would accompanying the frigate towards a refit and repair.

It would be good to see home once again as Captain Nathaniel Jones had been gone too long.

The U.S.S. Niagara had fought a brisk action against a far more powerful opponent with skill and determination. Her captain was aware of the damage to both the U.S.S. Sacremento and the U.S.S. Kearsage and so the U.S.S. Niagara would most likely revert to a shadowing role. He fervently hoped that sufficient forces could be gathered to tackle the Confederate warship before she reached the vastness of the Pacific.

Overview and Thoughts

It was rather like a bullfight. The C.S.S. Stonewall (the bull) would have the measure of any of the three ships (the matadors/picadors/toreadors) against her - if only she was allowed to concentrate on them one at a time! The Union plan worked after a fashion although the flagship had taken some telling damage, as had the U.S.S. Kearsage. The rebel ship was able to manoeuvre at will but was not able to isolate a single enemy shop so as to administer the coup de grace with her ram. She had to keep moving and all the while the Union ships were doing the same. Captain Longsdarff later described the situation as being like ‘herding cats’. 

With the C.S.S. Stonewall having to break off the action (and being fortunate enough to be able to do so) and head to a safe haven to effect repairs the Union had succeeded in disrupting the Confederate plan and most importantly, had gained some time to organise an effective response. The key thing now was to not lose sight of the Confederate warship and hope that sufficient force could be assembled quickly enough to deal with her.

The action played out in much the way I expected it to but a few areas of the rules needed a second look. There was nothing wrong per se but some of my written passages seemed to have lost their meaning somewhat. I was very pleased with how the whole wooden ship versus an ironclad played out and certainly the game reflected the history rather well. Still, for all that quantity has a quality all of its own and so it was only a matter of time before damage started to get inflicted on the ironclad given the number of ships and guns the Confederate ship was facing. 

I am quite sure that I need not mention the historical action that inspired the game - suffice it to say the outcome was actually not too dissimilar!

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours or so.

Monday 7 June 2021

Action off the Rio Plata, 15th March 1865....Game Number 66 Part 1

 C.S.S Alabama engaged by the U.S.S. Kearsage

Despite rudder problems experienced during heavy weather crossing the Bay of Biscay, the C.S.S. Stonewall, under the command of Captain Ehlrich Longsdarff - had managed to effect the necessary repairs during a brief stopover in Portugal and had successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the South American coast. She had been ordered to head into the Pacific Ocean and to operate against Union shipping in the hope that ships would then have to be redeployed from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, thereby loosening the vice-like grip of the blockade. She would stop for supplies in Uruguay and would then head due south. The plan was sound but for one small factor - the almost ever present Union fleet represented by the frigate the U.S.S. Sacramento and the sloop, the U.S.S. Niagara. 

The Union ships - from left to right the frigate U.S.S. Sacremento and the sloops U.S.S. Niagara and U.S.S. Kearsage

These two vessels had been following her almost from when she had left Portuguese waters but were content to merely shadow the Confederate ship. In truth it would be a risky endeavour taking on an ironclad with two wooden ships so the Union hope was that they would fall in with some form of reinforcement and overwhelm the Confederate ironclad by sheer weight of numbers. Regardless of what was available the Rebel ship would have to be engaged at some point - she was too powerful to be allowed to reach American waters.

The Confederate ironclad ram the C.S.S. Stonewall

As the three ships headed towards South American waters the commander of the Union ships, Commodore Franklin E Howard, considered the choices before him. His command could continue to shadow the rebel ship and indeed, if required he was sure they would be able to overhaul their quarry at a push. The problem was that having done so there remained the vexing challenge of exactly what to do with the rebel ironclad. Howard was not confident that his artillery could do little other than bounce off the Confederate raider - the reverse however, would certainly not be the case. Wooden warships were the navy of yesterday whilst the ironclad was the future. He reasoned that his best and only hope would be to attack from all sides so as not to give his opponent the opportunity to engage a single enemy favourably. Attack from all sides? With two ships? He had no immediate answer to this conundrum but fate would soon intervene, and in the most positive way.

The Union sloop of war, the U.S.S. Kearsage, was currently on the same heading as her countrymen but some half a day or so behind them. Her commander, Captain Nathaniel Jones, had received reports of smoke far ahead but these were unconfirmed as the sightings were so intermittent. Nevertheless, he had an instinctive feeling that something was afoot and so urged his engineers to push on at best speed so as to be able to identify the mysterious and evasive cloud of smoke ahead.

Having recently been refitted the U.S.S. Kearsage was able to gradually close the distance to the mysterious cloud ahead and so was able to identify not one, but two Union warships. 

News soon reached the Commodore of the presence of another Union warship and so he wasted no time in inviting her Captain aboard as soon as the ship was alongside. He also summoned the captain of the sloop U.S.S. Niagara for what would be a council of war. In the meantime, all three ships were to make ready for action.

Aboard the C.S.S. Stonewall, Captain Longsdarff was well aware of the two ships that had been shadowing him for what seemed like an age. He was not overly concerned as he was confident in the ability of his ship to best either enemy ship, even both if the need arose. He toyed with the notion of piling on all seam and sail and attempting to outrun them but was mindful of his coal situation. He would need to refuel once he made landfall in Uruguay and could then slip away to head south and into the Pacific. For now he would continue on his present course.

After pleasantries had been exchanged the Commodore and his two captains got down business. It was speedily done. The U.S.S. Sacremento would pile on all steam and sail and draw ahead of the two sloops. They were to follow and once the frigate was engaged were to head off at an tangent to the flagship, thereby catching the Rebel ship between fires from opposing beams. At this moment the two sloops had to steam in very close proximity so that the Rebel ship would think that there was only one ship in support rather than two. The Commodore was gambling on the fact that whilst the Rebel ship would probably take on two weaker vessels - especially if they were well separated when engaged - she would be unlikely to attempt the trick with three assailants so surprise was essential.

Once the frigate was engaged the two sloops, with the heavier gunned U.S.S.Kearsage in the van, would need to close on the Confederate raider quickly so that her attention would be distracted. For the Commodore and the Union squadron, timing and surprise would be critical. The captains of the two sloops repaired to their commands whilst the U.S.S. Sacremento went to full steam and added on as much sail as she could carry.

Captain Longsdarff noticed the appearance of both a full spread of canvas and of great gouts of smoke from the rapidly closing Yankee frigate and so immediately gave the order for action stations. The C.S.S. Stonewall would engage the frigate and when he had finished with her would then tackle the sloop he had seen in the far distance. If the smaller of the two Yankee ships was fool enough to interfere he would tackle her as well.

Eagerly the C.S.S. Stonewall swung about, unaware that she was heading into what the Union Commander hoped would be a trap.

To be Continued….

Sunday 6 June 2021

Out of Africa - WW1 Style

 S.M.S. Konigsberg in the Rufiji River

Over the years I have dabbled with various facets of the Great War afloat using a variety of rules and scales - from fleet actions down to low level skirmishes. I have enjoyed many games pitting battling dreadnoughts against their opposite numbers or their older, less advanced ‘pre’ versions, magisterial actions involving battle cruisers and with the full panoply of types available to a modern naval power. It has all been enormous fun. In recent years I have looked more towards the lower level style of operation especially that old standby of naval wargaming - hunting the raider. 

The early part of the Great War contained a lot of this type of warfare as the Royal Navy and her allies attempted to round up the overseas units of the German High Seas Fleet and in this they were ultimately successful but at a cost. These ‘hide and seek’ style actions are immensely rewarding as games for a number of reasons. It is a good opportunity to use lighter warships than endless lines of battleships and of course, the older vessels still in service had a vital role to play. Few models are needed so expense can be kept to a minimum.

I have looked at various of the naval operations involving Africa during the Great War and the surrounding seas - the Red Sea and Indian Ocean - and of course this was the setting for the Madasahatta campaign. Naval warfare played a small but significant part of the famous Madasahatta campaign but it was always first a foremost a land affair.

One of my earlier ideas was to expand the Red Sea squadron of the Royal Navy to include East Africa and Madasahatta - with the forces for all sides being upgraded slightly. I planned to do this using Tumbling Dice 1:2400th scale models and indeed, acquired the models I needed - long since moved on to pastures new once I had run out of steam - for such an undertaking. 

I still rather like the idea although now it would not be to the scale I planned originally - either in terms of the number and variety of ships available or the ‘strategic situation’. I have a few ideas in mind as to how I want to approach this but the main point of this - and yes, Lake Tanganyika does play an important role - is that I really want to build the models myself. 

The Rufiji delta operations against the German cruiser Konigsberg are something else I would like to include so a careful look at the Indian Ocean and Red Sea coast of Africa is something I will need to investigate further but I reckon tying all the threads together should be simple enough.

So what does all this mean? Well, I have always intended tackling something Madasahatta related and so the extra bits and pieces from Africa would add on quite seamlessly. I plan to steer away from great lines of dreadnoughts because this will really be League One naval warfare as opposed to the Premier League - a war of older warships with the occasional modern type making an appearance, of hastily requisitioned civilian vessels turned into ersatz warships and where the largest ships afloat will probably be old enough to vote!

From a practical perspective my building technique is better suited to ‘simpler’ looking ships so the classic pre dreadnought battleship would be about as ambitious as I would consider. I have plenty of material to work with but inevitably there will be the need for some bespoke pieces from Warbases. Cruisers of various types and vintage will feature and working to my maximum hull size of 6” the models will of course be stylised and ‘based upon’ rather than strictly accurate.

The biggest challenge I have at present is the thorny subject of non turreted guns and how to build them. Again, I have a few ideas but some experimentation will be needed.

I would love to be able to say that I would also be raising land forces to go with this but for now I have parked any such notion. The ships will the thing and so there will be time enough to think about that side of things. Besides, I have not even finalised the naval forces involved yet.

Thinking about this logically the entire set up will certainly be smaller than the ACW collection - in my mind’s eye I am thinking around 30 to 40 models - which fits in nicely before I tackle the next ‘big’ ship build. It also breaks down into nice bite size chunks as well so Lake Tanganyika will form one part, Rufiji Delta another and then the Red Sea and whatever happens at Madasahatta.

Easy stages, that is the secret to maintaining momentum!

Saturday 5 June 2021

Going Forth with Mimi and Tou Tou

The dust jacket is a little ‘tired’ but the book itself is in really good condition - I can forgive the wear and tear for the sum of £3.29!

 When it comes to looking for one of the more bizarre episodes of the Great War, or indeed any war for that matter, then the Royal Navy expedition to Lake Tanganyika must surely take pole position!

I am aware of the story and indeed, have owned the above book previously - it is one of a number that mysteriously vanished during one of my various ‘reorgansations’ - so when the opportunity to avail myself of a new copy for next to nothing I promptly did so - and it arrived this morning.

From the indefatigable Mr David Manley (available from the Wargames Vault) and….

….the ever prolific Bob Cordery (available from Amazon and Lulu - the book that is, not Bob himself….)!

The battle and campaign have featured in various wargaming publications but the two I am most concerned with are Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames and David Manley’s Steamer Wars. The former has a novel set of tactical rules  whilst the latter also covers the whole campaign for control of the lake. There are models available from Tumbling Dice in 1:600th and also from a New Zealand firm (I can’t remember the name off the top of my head) but for a miserly old skinflint like myself they would certainly be easy enough to scratch build (and I know that Bob Cordery did just that!).

David Manley’ collection featuring some commercially available types as well a few conversions. It all looks pretty straightforward to my stylised building technique eyes!

It would be really easy to tackle this as a mini project with a view to using the campaign rules from David Manley’s set and either his tactical rules or those from Bob. Certainly something to think about and a little different for sure.

In other news….

It has been a pretty wretched week as SWMBO, my daughter and I have all succumbed to a bout of a summer cold. It all started at the beginning of the week with scratch eyes, a tickle in the throat and then came the streaming nose. I am no expert on these things but I reckon having our second Covid jab on Tuesday actually accelerated the process so by Wednesday my wife and I were feeling pretty grim (at this stage my daughter was not quite as bad), so much so that on Thursday we took the precaution of taking a Covid test which was happily negative. Aside from the above there was also the feeling hot and cold and having a head that felt as though it was full of cotton wool. 

This was only ever going to end one way and sure enough we all now have horrible hacking chesty coughs.

It is nothing more serious though - which is a relief!

Wednesday 2 June 2021

A New Addition to the Library

A worthy addition to my small ACW library....

....and it certainly covers the areas of interest for me!

 Following the successful disposal of my ECW collection I have reinvested some of the proceeds into the ACW library. The book you see above arrived yesterday. I am rather pleased with it although it has been damaged slightly by the seller posting it in one of those polythene grip top style postage bags - with no packing or padding! Needless to say when it dropped through the letter box it landed on a corner of the cover and ‘bumped it’. I am notoriously fussy about my books and so I took the matter up with the seller and am waiting on a response. Poor packaging is something that really irritates me!

The ‘bumped’ spine and damaged dust jacket - that looks like friction damage....

....and the torn section. None of this is major by any means but as I mentioned, I am notoriously fussy about my books!

The book itself is a great overview of the development of the Confederate navy and  whilst it is relatively slim - a mere 191 pages - is pretty complete. It was available in the US (it is published by Schiffer) for just under U$40 which seemed rather steep to me if I am honest. The author has a similar volume on the Union  navy which I am waiting on and whilst I am getting towards the end of the ACW project I will certainly get a lot of use out of both volumes.

As long as they are packed properly that is!

Tuesday 1 June 2021

An MDF Dilemma and the Glorious 1st of June

The picture would make a good subject for a caption contest! The late, great, Edward Woodward surveying some figures.... 

It has been a great bank holiday weekend although not in the way that I planned it! My grandson is with us for the week so games of Boku, kick arounds in the garden, two barbecues and and a visit to the seaside for lunch and stuff have all featured so far. Chelsea won the Champions League on Saturday with what was a tactical masterclass on the night (I have been a Chelsea supporter since about 1970) and hopefully augers well for the next season. The last of the ECW collection has been offloaded and my invoice from Warbases is in so the ACW ships will be moving again fairly soon.

Mention of the ACW naval project (again!) is the reason for this post for a couple of reasons. To begin with I had planned to get a game in over the weekend using some of the newly commissioned models I have built but time ran away from me. Then I received an email from that well known Bon vivant, wit, raconteur and all round good egg, Aly Morrison. Aly happened to be going through some copies from his magazine collection when he came across the edition you see depicted at the head of this post - not that want he sent me was anything to do with Edward Woodward of ‘Callan’ fame (great picture though!)!

Aly very kindly scanned me copies of an article contained within the magazine devoted to the warships of the ACW. This has proven useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it served as a good but basic primer to the period, secondly there is mention of a book that the article used as reference which got my ‘book hunter radar’ twitching and finally there is a sketch of the C.S.S. Manassas with two funnels. I have seen pictures of her with either one or two funnels and my version has but a single. To be honest it would be easy enough to either convert the existing model or even to build a new one. I must confess that the two funnelled version came as a bit of a surprise when I first came across pictured of her so configured. I shall do a little further digging to see what I can find before deciding. The pages from the article are as follows:

Note the twin funnels of the C.S.S. Manassas....

....and the Coggins title

My thanks to Aly for this article and also to Stephen Corkett - the author.

My MDF dilemma actually has nothing to do with the C.S.S. Manassas nor even the ACW. 

Over the last nine months I have really enjoyed the whole designing, building and painting process that has gone into the models for my ACW project. I have developed and evolved some effective construction techniques and the whole process has been enormously satisfying. I have looked at other periods with a view to building more models and have come to the conclusion that my simplistic styling is better suited to some periods than others. With this. In mind I doubt if I will build models for WW1 or WW2 as the ship designs became more ‘fiddly’ in terms of detail. I think that the pre dreadnought era will be about as late as I go - certainly in respect of capital ships.

I have a smattering of ships from the game Oak and Iron which are scaled at 1:600th and whilst not as detailed as those from Warlord Games Black Seas are better gaming pieces in my opinion. They are pretty expensive for what they are though and supplies of them are limited. I have really been struggling to get to a decision about these as I have three options to consider. The first is to keep them and add to them when I can. This has the advantage of meaning that I can go straight to painting them - I have 8 models in all - which in turn will work within my planned pirate project. The second alternative I am thinking about is going down the Peter Pig route and using the generic looking 1:450th scale models they produce for their Pieces of Eight rules. These are solid, robust and generic looking and can be tweaked to suit individual preferences. They are certainly cheaper than the Oak and Iron models. The final option is to design and build my own models.

I rather like the final option but there are a couple of grey clouds over the idea. I do not need many ships for this project - certainly nothing like that for the ACW - so the ‘economy of scale’ factor would not really apply. Time will be at a premium as I am back in the office from 1st July (Indian variant and restrictions permitting) so designing the models, getting the pieces from Warbases and building them will take longer. This is important as I am conscious of a couple of other projects that have moved up the batting order following the departure of the ECW.

In the interest of expediency I am thinking that either using what I have or going down the Peter Pig route will be the way forward as in either case all I have to do is paint the models.

The next scratch building project will be of a similar size to the ACW, if not larger, so I want to make sure that I get the planning phase spot on as I will not have the time for any margins of error.

Something to think about anyway.

The Glorious 1st of June

I shall be having my second jab today which is great news. I only hope that the predictions about a possible third wave based on the Indian variant prove to be unfounded but I guess only time will tell.

I was reminded of another Glorious 1st of June  - that being the naval battle of the same name. Many years ago, the denizens of the Newham Wargames Club, based at Eric Knowles shop The New Model Army Limited at Manor Park in East London, were going to stage a refight of the Glorious 1st of June using the Ship O’ the Line Rules (the forerunner to Wooden Ships and Iron Men by Avalon Hill) at the sadly missed Present Arms show formerly held at the Rocheway Centre in Rochford, Essex. Yours truly was tasked with painting and gridding the required boards for the game - I had no models for the conflict but was due to be taking part. To cut a long story short, a little while beforehand I managed to stick a surgical scalpel into the knuckle of my left index finger (I still have the scar from the stitches to this day) whilst cleaning up some 1:300th scale Russian T72 tanks which caused all manner of spectacular leakage and necessitated a trip to A and E. My left hand was out of action (it has never fully recovered) and so I was unable to finish the boards. 

As I recall there were a few frenzied calls to Messrs Fox and Hardman and so arrangements were made to take what boards I had completed and to adjust the game accordingly. To say that I was hugely embarrassed is probably an understatement....

As I recall the game that was put on instead was Cape St. Vincent.

They are dangerous things Russian T72s....