Monday 30 August 2021

Bank Holiday Bargain Book Bonanza

 In all their glory and looking for a new home (or two!)

This is the final post of the three mentioned yesterday - I will then be ‘going dark’ for a week or two. I would like to thank everyone that has sent their best wishes to Laurel and to my brother in law - in both cases they are vert much appreciated. I shall be responding and emailing in due course over the next couple of days. 

I will also be doing the same in respect of the latest Block related post - the comments received were very encouraging indeed and more than ever I know I have made the correct decision to ‘pimp’ them. 

On a practical note the titles below are currently up for disposal and to save hassle I am looking at a flat price of £7.50 per title excluding postage. I will consider deals so if anything takes your fancy then drop me a line at the usual to discuss in detail.

The War of the Three Gods - Peter Crawford
Armies and Enemies of the Crusades (2nd Ed.) - Ian Heath

God’s Warriors - Helen Nicholson/David Nicole
The Crusader Armies - Steve Tibble
Crusaders - Dan Jones
God’s War - Christopher Tyerman
Warrior’s of God - James Reston Jnr.
The Art of War in the Middle Ages - Volume 1 and 2 - Sir Charles Oman (note each volume has an inscription)
Matchlocks to Flintlocks - William Urban
Bayonets and Scimitars - William Urban
The ‘45 - Christopher Duffy
A Few Bloody Noses - Robert Harvey
Rebels and Redcoats - Hugh Bicheno
Death before Glory - Martin Howard
The Forgotten War against Napoleon - Gareth Glover
Wellington’s Eastern Front - Nick Lipscombe
Wellington in the Peninsula - Jac Weller
A Commanding Presence - Ian Robertson
Return of a King - William Dalrymple
Pathan Rising - Mark Simner
The Malakand Field Force - Winston Churchill 
Khyber - Charles Miller
The North West Frontier - Michael Barthorp
Our Friends beneath the Sands - Martin Windrow
Destination Dardanelles - Michael Wilson
The Wolf - Richard Guilliatt/Peter Hohnen
Allenby’s War - David Bullock
Pyramids and Fleshpots and From Gaza to Jerusalem - Stuart Hadaway
Palestine - Edward Erickson
The Defence and Fall of Greece - John Carr
Perilous Committments - Matthew Willingham
Operation Mercury - John Sadler
The First Burma Campaign - Col. E. Foucar
Midway: Dauntless Victory - Peter Smith
The Unforgettable Army - Michael Hickey
Guadalcanal - Adrian Stewart 
Dogfight - Toby Holmes
Aces of the Reich - Mike Spick
Operation Barbarossa - Robert Kirchubel
Stalingrad - Antony Beevor
Russia’s War - Richard Overy
Absolute War - Chris Bellamy
War of the Century - Laurence Rees

Once again many thanks for all the kind thoughts and best wishes etc - the wargaming fraternity never ceases to let me down in respect of its general bonhomie!

Sunday 29 August 2021

Block Changes or Why Didn’t I Think of This Before?

The three examples (best viewed ‘blown up’). The one on the right shows the constituent parts. The small triangle fits along the top edge (there is a triangle marked there) whilst the dice frame forms the edge of the pre cut square. I miscalculated this as I did not allow for the thickness of the frame itself as this should line up with the central recess. The thicker lower edge will have a strip of magnetic paper so that unit ids can be used.

In what seems like an age ago I mentioned about the plans I had to ‘pimp’ the block armies. Aside from the  ‘weapon’ counters (designed for the pre gunpowder and mechanised eras) I also looked at producing some movement trays that could be useful for games where a grid is not used. After some rather hasty designs were drafted and sent to those very nice people at Warbases, a small Jiffy bag arrived with some samples of what I was looking for.

Aside from a small error in the alignment of the dice square - easily rectified - these are just what I wanted. By using a combination of a dice frame and a reduced number of blocks (2 each for infantry and cavalry and a single for artillery) within the footprint of a movement tray I will not only have effectively doubled the size of the block army collection but I will also be able fight battles on a non-gridded basis. The small triangle along the leading edge of the base will be used to indicate the unit facing.

I plan to have two sets of these bases - one in green and one in a sand colour - and I am also planning one other design of base to complete the set up but for now I feeling pretty pleased with this latest iteration of the block armies. I am only peeved that I did nt think of this idea a lot sooner!

The Real World - the First of Three Posts

 It has been a trying couple of weeks and so the blog has suffered accordingly. This will be the first of three posts and then there will be a shortish interlude whilst certain things play out.

I am well although I have been under enormous pressure both at work and home. In the case of the latter my wife has at last found out what the cause of her chronic back pain (and associated loss of sleep as well as mobility issues) is. This has taken around five years to diagnose but at last we now know what the problem is and so the next step will be to decide what the treatment regime will be. The options are medication, medication and physio or medication, physio and surgery. The good news is that the middle option of the three is the more likely although we will not know until we see the Neurologist. In the meantime she is taking industrial quantities of painkillers but remains functional albeit not to the level she would prefer!

The other news concerns my brother in law (Laurel’s older brother). You may recall my mentioning him previously - he is an ex-paratrooper that served in Aden during the Radfan campaign - on his visits to the UK. He is a Canadian citizen now and lives in Vancouver. We also found out a few weeks ago that he has stage 4 Lung Cancer and is now receiving palliative care. For the record I should oint out hat he has never smoked in all his 76 years!

Gordie, Laurel’s brother, is quite a character, even in the face of what he going through. He remains his usual cheerful self although tires easily. West Ham United’s start to the season has given him much enjoyment and he was even able to visit his local pub (actually affiliated to the British legion) for a shandy to see his mates. I have enjoyed numerous visits to various UK military museums with him when he has been over here - usually with a beer or six - as well as his range of service anecdotes.

His sang froid is quite humbling. He said to me that he has had a great life and that he will fight to the end because as a paratrooper (he NEVER says ‘ex’) it is what he is trained to do - to fight against the odds and although these are stacked against him he will keep on giving it his all.

He has been told to get his affairs in order and the prognosis is anything up to a year. 

The news has hit hard and unfortunately the possibility of getting to Vancouver to see him will be very difficult given Laurel’s health situation as well as the Covid restrictions in place in Canada - these are due to be reduced for overseas travellers in a week or so.

Needless to say I am sure you can appreciate that anything hobby related - however welcome the distraction would be - has been absolutely minimal.

We are in regular contact with him which helps and as mentioned, he remains unflaggingly cheerful - I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.

We have come to terms with what will be happening - as well as we can - although I am sure you cab appreciate it has been a torrid time.

I mentioned that this will be the first of three posts - the next two are gaming related (thankfully) - and so the following will be far more usual in content!

Monday 16 August 2021

Blocks and Bases

The initial design - note the facing triangle, the strip for a name label and the frame for a dice for recording strength points. Note the 'border' around where the block(s) fit.

One of my original blocks - the space will take two half blocks easily as they are slightly smaller than a full sized version due to the saw cut when they were chopped in half.

 I have had a bit of a rethink about the whole ‘tokens to indicate weapon types’ idea I mooted previously. I am not going to do it! A far easier idea would be to print off the appropriate symbols and mount them in turn on MDF bases - in this case 20mm diameter circular ones - which in turn would then be placed on the blocks forming the specific unit. This idea is how Command and Colours: Medieval indicates bow armed cavalry so if it is good enough for Richard Borg then who am I to argue?

This will be one half of what I am planning for the block armies with the other being something base related. 

Some time ago I mentioned one of the problems I have with the block armies in that it is not always obvious which way they are facing. When using a grid based system this is not really much of a problem but could be when using them on a normal table top. I had considered using some form of standard deployed at the front of the block(s) in question but despite my best efforts I could never really get it to work. I have settled on a solution though, which I hope will further increase the potential of my block armies. 

I am working on the design for a base for a single half block and one for a full sized (in this case that will usually be two half sized blocks) version. The bases are essentially movement trays but with a couple of differences. To begin with the two longer facing sides of the base (the blocks will be orientated with the long sides top and bottom) will be deeper than just the more usual ‘edged’ variety - 5mm deep along the top and 10mm at the bottom.. The top edge will have a laser cut MDF triangle fixed to the centre so that this will satisfy the facing requirement. On the rear edge I will have a dice frame positioned to one side leaving sufficient space for a strip of magnetic paper. The former will be to indicate the strength points of the unit whilst the latter can be used to hold a magnetic unit identity strip. All I would need to do would be to type out the name of the unit, print it out and stick to some magnetic paper which in turn will go onto the back of the base.

I would look to make two sets of bases - a green set and one in a sand colour and in terms of how they will be used the smaller base, holding a single half block, would be used for small detachments or similar - in the ‘modern’ era I would use this for infantry support weapons and such like - whereas the the larger base will be for a full sized unit.

To the purist the prospect of blocks on movement trays probably seems a little close to being a board game rather than a wargame but for me it represents something quite radical. By using these movement trays I will be able to consider using all manner of rules other than purely grid based ones.

The next step will be to get that very nice man at Warbases to work his magic!

Sunday 15 August 2021

Nautical Boot Sale Bargains

 Two welcome titles for the WW2 naval section of my library. The Tirpitz needs little introduction as to her life and eventual destruction at the hands of the RAF so this is a nice account of the Bismarck’s sister ship. Fraser of North Cape traces the life and career of the man responsible for the sinking of the Scharnhorst as well as taking command of the Far Eastern fleet in 1944.

It is fair to say that the pickings at our local boot sale have been rather slim of late but today I was able to help restore a degree of equilibrium with the acquisition of the two titles above. Each of these are hardback first editions in good condition - no inscriptions - and cost me the princely sum of £1 each.

WW2 naval is not a new project for me by any means and I have a few ideas in a long distance orbit kind of a way - mainly involving 1:1200th scale ships just to be different….

Something to ponder and also a good excuse to dust off my copy of General Quarters (part 1) as well coming bang up to date with Find, Fix and Strike by David Manley. 

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Looks like a Monitor - but isn’t!

The latest addition to the Union fleet - the U.S.S. Keokuk. She carried two 11” guns mounted on pivots with one in each gun house, the foremost of these - the  ‘pear’ shaped one - has a small pilot house built in. She is slightly darker than the picture shows as the picture was taken under artificial light. the rather fetching choppy looking 'sea' is in fact a cushion!

The U.S.S. Keokuk (originally known as the U.S.S. Moodna) was not a model that was going to feature in my collection but for a chance exchange of messages with David Manley. I am sure he will not not mind me telling you all that he has a soft spot for this ship!

U.S.S. Keokuk in action. She was hit over 90 times but was still able to withdraw from the scene only to sink later. In this picture she appears to be trying reverse out of harm’s way!

The model used the hull from the decommissioned nuclear submarine sized version I built of the C.S.S. Manassas. It is still too large for the Keokuk - in what passes for scale in my collection it really needed to be around three quarters of a inch shorter - but it will do. The two gun houses were made from balsa wood sanded into shape - the forward one is a pear shape whilst the aft is circular. In truth it did not take long to build.

The ship itself had a very short career - one month of commissioned service - and was proven to be but lightly protected despite being an ironclad. The general consensus is that she might have fared rather better against a floating target rather than a large rebel fortress!

Now that she has joined the Union fleet and I have managed to get my constructive gene back into action I can press on with the remaining models, particularly the side wheelers. I also seriously need to think about some shore defences including some purpose built forts.

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Wargaming Modern Warfare

 How to fight a war like a modern US Marine - I must confess it had me when I saw all those blocks....

I must confess to not being in any way an authority on the 'professional' wargame as used today despite selected items being available as part of John Curry's History of Wargame Project. Similarly wargaming the 'modern' period (in this case anything from 1965 onwards) is something that I have seldom tackled since the early 1980s. Back then it was very much the 'Cold War turned Hot' type of set up inspired by such works as Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. Add to that Vietnam and the occasional foray into the Arab Israeli wars and you can see where much of my early inspiration came from.

These days I would be more likely to tackle modern gaming at a skirmish level rather than using great phalanxes of track to track Soviet tanks to batter the Western capitalists into submission! 

I digress.

Whilst undertaking one of several work related daily trawls of LinkedIn I came across a piece written by a former US Marine and wargamer turned research analyst - Sebastian Bae - about a professional level wargame he had developed for training purposes for the USMC. The component pieces for the game you see in the picture above. How good does that look? Sadly it is not available other than in the US and only for professional use due to being fairly limited in respect of production. I have asked if the rules and bits and pieces are available via a 'print and play' option as this looks really interesting.

Modern warfare is a highly complex affair in respect of the assets that are available and making the most effective use of them so seeing something like the above really gives an insight into how are and may be fought in the future.

Fascinating stuff.

Saturday 7 August 2021

Back in the Ship Building Business

Where we are so far. Six sets of paddle boxes (including the two parts that make one up for reference) and an old friend that is being repurposed - not to mention changing sides! My original model of the C.S.S. Manassas is being reinvented as the U.S.S. Keokuk

 At long last my back has recovered to the point that I am able to enter the man cave! This will mean that I can at last tackle a list of overdue bits and pieces that have been playing on my conscience for weeks!

The most significant of these is of course the resumption of work on the remaining ten ships for the ACW project. I say remaining with my tongue firmly in cheek as I shall be adding some generic looking transport/merchant types in due course - nor specifically for the ACW - but this will be very much as standalone project as and when I get to it. The eagle eyed amongst you will no doubt have noticed that there are only nine hulls in the picture - this is simply because I have yet to start on what would have been the final model. And guess what? Even at this late stage there will be a slight overspill in that I plan to add a further two models making 62 in all….

Of the batch you see above the key element are the paddle boxes. These were prepared for me by Warbases and are one inch in diameter. They are 2mm thick so have a backing piece that is the same size but 3mm think meaning that the overall width is 5mm. Strictly speaking this is probably a little on the narrow side but as all the models will have a fair amount of mid deck clutter it was important that there was sufficient space. Again, these are not even remotely to any kind of scale!

The ‘sun ray’ effect has been etched in the MDF but as a precaution I plan to deepen the grooves prior to painting so that they will be easier to colour. I may use the old ‘paint the piece and ink in the deepened lines afterwards wiping away any excess as required’ technique but we shall see. Four of the paddle models will feature ‘walking beams’ - one n fact will have two such assemblies.

Aside from the ship building I am also able to at last get some parcels packed for shipping - apologies once again for the delay - as well as tackling the library.

On a more serious note it has proven to be a welcome distraction being back in my retreat as we have a number of domestic health issues to deal with, both at home and abroad.

Friday 6 August 2021

International Naval Wargames Day

It's that time again!

Today is the International Naval Wargames Day whereby gamers of a nautical persuasion are invited to celebrate all things naval wargames related by fighting a naval battle. It can be of any period or scale. I would have dearly liked to have taken an active part in this but sadly I will not be able to get a game in today due to work. However, I am able to post on a naval subject so at least the day has been observed in one form if not the right one!

 As part of the long distance downsizing of my collection I have of course looked at the naval dimension. As you know I have a long history with naval games of various sorts and in various scales. My most recent nautical adventure has been of course the ACW which I have enjoyed immensely and is now one of my naval 'staples' so to speak. I have found the whole ironclad and pre dreadnought era to be an absolutely fascinating period to explore and I know that I will get a lot of pleasure from it going forwards. To a lesser extent the same applies to the Great War period although these days I tend to prefer lower level actions compared to the great Jutland style games of the past. Cruiser/Raider style warfare will be the gaming of choice going forwards although sneaking in the odd battle squadron has a certain whimsical charm! As far as models go for the Great War I certainly plan to scratch build a few types but probably nothing larger than a pre dreadnought battleship - mainly as my building technique would not stretch to the complexity of detail required. I have a vast amount of 1:3000th painted model for the British and Germans courtesy of the late Alan Cook. The collection needs completing as there are some key elements missing - there is a shortage of destroyers as well as, horror of horrors, no SMS Seydlitz! This collection will suit for the larger actions involving dreadnoughts if required.

WW2 naval is another area of interest and I am keen to explore the surface phase of the Battle of the Atlantic. The numbers involved are small and so eminently gameable, even allowing for the complexity of the air element. I have a hankering to tackle submarines and convoys etc (a grid based option works well here) at some point but this is well down the list.

I like the idea of an age of sail style set up - anything from the time of the Spanish Armada to the Napoleonic Wars - although again it would be a low level in terms of the numbers involved (this is a bit of a theme for me). Pirate ships are very much under consideration - do I build them myself or do I buy commercially available models?

If I learned anything from the ACW building fest it is that I really enjoy building simple looking model warships so as this seems to scratch a creative and artistic urge I am keen to carry on doing so!

Moving back in time I have further naval aspirations in respect of the ancient and medieval periods so galleys and cogs may be a thing at some point.

Overall I am happy with what I am seeing as my naval sweet spots for the foreseeable future - there is sufficient variety even for my butterfly like mind - especially as the number of models for the most part is quite modest. For example, once I have the ACW project finished the set up for Lake Tanganyika/East Africa will only need a couple of dozen models or so. Some of the other ideas I have will need even less!

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Looking Backwards and Moving Forwards

I have owned this in the past but sadly my copy when AWOL during the great lost box of books debacle. For me these are one of the most ground breaking sets of rules ever written and so I am delighted to have a copy once again. For the rationale behind the rules read Frank Chadwick's designer's notes 

During my recent period of back induced inactivity I was able to spend rather a lot of time reading. I was able to catch up on a few new titles as well as revisiting some old friends. I have also had time to think about bits and pieces in respect of what I am gaming and what I am going to game (occasionally these are the same....) and more importantly how I am going to go about it. The usual outcome of this is that certain disposals and acquisitions are made and this time has proven to be no exception.

I really need to cull the collection in readiness for the inevitable downsizing when I retire - still five and half years away - so the mind needs to have a degree of focus. It would be easy to offload or dump material en masse if I wanted to but this would probably not be a good idea. Wargaming shelves abhor a vacuum and so seeing these in the man cave as the result of such a draconian culling would probably be all the incentive I needed to go hell for leather in some historical direction or another by way of refilling them. Clearly a more measured approach would preferential.

I reckon I need to reduce my book collection by around a half, probably more, say two thirds. The biggest other part of my collection seems to consist of items that are not immediately usable - there is whole lot of Axis and Allies gaming pieces as well as Risk Medieval figures. The block armies are fairly compact so are certainly staying put, as are the ACW ships and the planned other ships once they are built. I have a modest selection of terrain which will stay as will the modelling/painting materials.

As part and parcel of this ongoing process I will also need to focus on the periods that I shall be sticking with. This will have the effect of ensuring that the book collection stays within reasonable bounds and rather more focussed! 

The holy trinity of naval reference books. These are very comprehensive and I have used them a lot but not for some time as I have other sources for the periods I am interested in - maybe not quite as technical but certainly more than adequate for my needs.

I have disposed of a couple of bits and pieces already but this will be, by design, a rather elongated process. Thus far a couple of board games have gone and this may come as something of a surprise, also my three volumes of Conway's Fighting Ships, covering from 1860 to 1946. The main reason for this is simply that I have most of the naval information I need dotted around other sources so I have little need for them. In truth I have not really used them a great deal  over the past few years so it made sense disposing of them. Hardcore naval gamers may despair at this apparent act of sacrilege but I feel pretty laid back about the decision! 

I have had a rethink in respect of the block armies. I am going to use labels for counters rather than using laser cut tokens. It will be cheaper to realise and will look just as good if I use an MDF base with the appropriate label. All I need to do is the design work or I could even make use of some symbols found in various quarters across the web.

Volley and Bayonet, when originally published, absolutely blew me away in respect of the concepts presented - army level battles using brigades as the building blocks with whatever figure scale you wanted to use. My own copy vanished along with a box of books during one of my periodic reorganisations so I was delighted to get a copy once again.  These rules have been updated to be rather more period specific whilst still retaining the core mechanisms. You will probably not be surprised to learn that I already have a number of ideas to play around using these rules - some of which will be rather surprising but that is for a post at a later date.

Work on the ACW ships continues albeit at rather a sedate pace. Being back at work has impacted quite heavily as previously, whilst on furlough and working from home, it was easy to spend the odd half hour or so when needed. Now I am limited to evenings and weekends so naturally things will take a little longer back in the real world.

There are also a few ongoing domestic issues which are also taking time so my posting to the blog has been rather less frequent than usual and this is likely to be the way for the foreseeable future.

Still, one has to keep on keeping on!