A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 23 March 2018

Rules - Allan Gallacher's "Ripples" Game

This follows from the brief discussion of Piquet in yesterday's post - as an example of a game which uses neither simultaneous activation nor conventional alternate turns - plus an email I got from Geoff P which reminded me of some other unorthodox approaches to wargames I had found interesting in the past.

This very nearly got classified as an off-topic Hooptedoodle. It is potentially going to be a rather irritating post, where I attempt to describe something that was so long ago I cannot remember it clearly, in the hope that someone recognises what I'm talking about and has some further thoughts on the matter. It is not, I emphasise, of any significance other than it will bother me a little if I can't remember!

A long time ago, in another century, I had a friend named Allan Gallacher, who was really the fellow who stoked up my enthusiasm for miniatures wargaming, and whose splendidly irreverent approach to the hobby probably gave me my grounding as the misfit I became. Allan's constant theme was that his games with toy soldiers were never as successful nor as enjoyable as he thought they ought to be, and that as time passed and rules were "improved" (including his own, to be fair) the situation became worse rather than better.

The particular period I am thinking of came after Allan had declared himself to be very fed up with miniatures games which "achieved very little over very long evenings". As I recall, he had recently experienced a club game in which a melee that would have lasted a very few minutes in reality had taken over an hour to come to a resolution. The thing about this which particularly annoyed him was that most of that hour had been taken up with much marching and countermarching by units who were a long way from any useful action.

This, of course, is recognisable as what we would now call activation - most rules of recent date contain systems which force the commanders to concentrate on the significant bits of the action, rather than being distracted by the lovely spectacle of all those regiments marching round in circles. Allan felt very strongly that some of the best fun he ever had with toy soldiers was as a kid, on his bedroom carpet, playing with Timpo and Britains cowboys and Indians (to use an old and politically insensitive term) - in these games, there was no strategic element at all. There would be a massive brawl going on between figures who were close enough to the action to be involved, and the rest of the figures would be dormant until either the brawl moved close enough for them to become embroiled in it, or until some kind of lull or stalemate forced a new initiative somewhere else. The point being that the game kind of "rippled" (to use Allan's word) out from identifiable hot-spots, and unengaged troops would remain unengaged until the hot spots moved or someone did something about  it.

Allan produced a sketch of a game which he code-named "Ripples", and I was involved in a couple of playtest games. I remember that we played at Allan's flat, in Great King Street in Edinburgh, and that Pat Timmins, Alan Low and John Ramsay were there at various times. The game - if it matters - was an ACW action - only time I ever saw Spencer Smith ACW soldiers up close.

I don't remember much detail of the game, but it had some interesting features - units could move, fire, charge etc automatically if they were in a position to do so - if they were within some defined "threat range"; this "threat" might be a threat from themselves against the enemy, or a threat from the enemy. If you fired at some unit or other, then the next thing that would happen would probably be that they would fire back, if they could, and this might alternate back and forth until there was an outcome of some sort. Combat did not get frozen until the next turn - it was followed through, so that there would be moments when different little bits of the same action would be at slightly different elapsed times from each other. Allan's justification for this was that the actual fighting time in a real battle was relatively brief compared with the standing waiting time, so that a bit of elasticity was OK. He also had a concept which used tokens he called "disrupters" - these were in short supply, and I remember we used some old, pre-decimal coins, though when they were issued or how they were replenished I don't recall. If you played a disrupter you could initiate some action by a unit which was not currently in threat range - to bring up a reserve, for example, might require the expenditure of a few disrupters.

It was crude - underdeveloped. Artillery was a major problem - since artillery could theoretically offer a threat to anyone within their range, the rules got a bit tricky to avoid artillery simply firing all the time, and - accordingly - someone fighting back. The game was eventually shelved as yet another daft idea, and yet...

The idea of allowing hot-spots to get ahead of the time frame in this way is interesting - it certainly makes things exciting, though you may end up in the game with the cowboys on the bedroom carpet. It obviously needed a lot of work, but it did demonstrate that you could limit the amount of pointless countermarching of remote units if you focused on units affected by the "ripples" from the hot-spots.

The only reason I mention this at all is that I am sure that Allan said that he had borrowed the idea from somewhere else - it may have been Morschauser, though I am not sure at all about that. Anyone recognise such an approach to miniatures gaming? In more recent years I was interested that the published Huzzah! rules focused on threats (i.e. implied threats as much as actual charges and ranged fire), which rang a few bells, and which sort of stood the normal game logic on its head - the Huzzah! game, to me, though, was disappointingly complicated.

Maybe Field of Battle does a bit of this - the possibility that it might is what reminded me of the long-defunct Ripples Experiment.

That's it, really. Just an old memory - as I say, I wonder if anyone recognises the concept of a game which "brews" around units who are engaged, and which requires some deliberate initiative to involve anyone else?

Sorry about this - duff post, probably...

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Rules - Field of Battle

Since 1970 or thereabouts I guess I've read many hundreds of sets of wargames rules - the number expands rapidly if I include boardgames. The proportion of these which I've actually played is really so small that often I wonder why I've wasted so much time on my researches - what is it I've been looking for? Typically I don't finish a first reading - my initial interest will suddenly be frozen out by my dislike of the morale rules, or the activation rules, or the potential requirement to rebase everything - or something. My hit rate for eventual buy-in is pathetic. For a while, a couple of years ago, I thought I was going to really go for Lasalle, but I managed to find enough areas of discomfort to avoid making a commitment. [Phew - that was a close call...]

At present I am supposed to be working on an update to my (slowly developing) ECW siege game (Leaguer - yes, all right, all right...) and the development of a hex-gridded game for my Napoleonics which allows for more tactical manoeuvre than the Commands & Colors games which have become the house standard. Over both of these I am feeling rather guilty, since I have had a splendid amount of help from Mark and Jay, respectively, and I am keen not to leave everything hanging - it seems, at best, a bit impolite. Problem with the siege game has been that the discussion (which has been excellent, by the way) has turned up a few more questions than answers of late, so some heavyweight re-thinking is needed. Problem with the detailed hex Napoleonic game (for smaller actions, you understand) is that my original idea of simply sticking extra activities into C&C just produced a mess of a game - the tactical additions were compromised by the join with C&C, and the beauties (and they are considerable) of C&C were wrecked by the fiddly additions. Thus I started again - the new game has a proportion of Neil Thomas in it, but develops some of Neil's ideas quite a bit. I'd reached the point with this where the next thing to do was some serious playtesting, to enable me to produce a good, robust, working draft. So that's where I am: playtesting to be arranged as soon as is practicable.

There's a lot going on, and it doesn't seem too helpful if I find myself reading yet more rules which are not on the plan, but that's what I've been doing. I have suddenly become very interested in Field of Battle, from Brent Oman's Piquet product family. I have been very interested in Piquet for years - I have the base rules and the Grognards supplement, and have read them numerous times. Always with the same result - I really like a lot of the ideas in there, but there are a good few things which are - well - too fussy for my taste. I am unlikely to become a regular user.

Field of Battle is a relative of Piquet, involves some of the same principles and philosophies, but is a more straightforward game - or at least it seems so to me. My interest was sparked by the blogged activities of Le Duc de Gobin and Sgt Steiner - excellent fellows both. I am grateful to M Le Duc for explaining the nature of the game (left to myself, I find Piquet's product range, and the overlaps within it, bewildering), and for guiding me through some of the basic ideas. I have now read the booklet twice, and will start a third reading next week. I have found nothing that turns me off. The game is card driven, and lends itself very well to solo play (a big plus for me), the unit basing is almost identical to the way my armies have been set up since 1972 [If you build it, they will come - though it might take a while...], it all makes the most excellent sense. It looks very like what I thought Lasalle might offer, when I had the hots for that. It also offers a tweakable base set of rules which will lend themselves to a wide range of horse-&-musket wars. I have now gone so far as to invest in a proper set of the cards from the publisher - the US postal rates make this more of a serious investment than I had anticipated - and I hope to receive these shortly when new stocks come in.

As interruptions go, this promises to be a worthwhile one. I am gently enthusiastic about this - not to replace my existing rule systems, but to provide a rewarding alternative. Let's see how it goes.

If it all turns to rat droppings, you may hear no more about it, but I'm not approaching it with that expectation.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #296 - Suddenly Things Went Quiet

The weather has eased a lot over the last week, but today it is blustery, from the East, and the temperature is dropping again. The feeders are very busy - today's crowds included lots of Great Tits, Greenfinches, a Siskin, and then...

Bad Baddie in the garden - Accipiter nisus - female Sparrow Hawk (hungry; disgruntled)
We are always nervously aware of these fellows - you don't normally see them clearly, but sometimes out of the corner of your eye you see a flash of something, and a puff of feathers, and one of the smaller birds has gone. There is a slight feeling of setting up a buffet for the Sparrow Hawk when we restock the feeders, but we don't see much of them and that's Nature, I guess.

This is a rare view. The Contesse spotted this female sitting in our apple tree, and it was still there when she got back with her camera. We suspect that it's sulking, mentally reviewing what went wrong with that last attack.

You win some, and then you lose some.

***** Late Edit (Friday night, 16th March) *****

M. Le Poilu sent me this fine picture of Omar, his former local Sparrow Hawk kingpin - shows up well how much more colourful the males are (Merci, M. Le P)

And my wife passed me this rather horrifying confrontation between a Sparrow Hawk and a Starling, which is from the very fine work of Terry Stevenson, a British wildlife photographer with a large and deserved following. Sorry if this spoils your enjoyment of your supper...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

20mm Figure Comparison - vintage Napoleonic figures vs SHQ

Mark emailed me on the subject of size compatibility of various 20mm and "true 25mm" figures, so I have knocked up another of those strange green comparison photos. Since I often get involved in this kind of conversation (and since my view is as subjective as everyone else's!) I thought the pic might be of wider interest.

The particular thread in my correspondence with Mark has been how successfully SHQ/Kennington figures might blend in with (for example) Hinton Hunt. As the photo shows, I think, they match pretty well, though you have to beware of the occasional midget, such as the Spanish hussar marked with an asterisk - for some reason I never understood, all the Kennington Spanish Napoleonics are a bit small.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

1809 Spaniards - Light Infantry Completed!

This morning I have two new light infantry units ready for action, so I am pleased to note that the original planned four such units are now finished. Another little milestone (as opposed to a millstone, which is a different thing altogether).

With skirmishers deployed
In close order - skirmishers tucked away at the back
These are the Voluntarios de Gerona (yellow facings) and the Cazadores de Barbastro (red). The castings are Falcata, apart from the marching officer and the drummer in Barbastro, which are NapoleoN. The Falcata figures paint up nicely, but the moulds were suffering badly when these chaps were produced, and it took a lot of filing and re-carving to get them into shape.

According to my (expanded) target OOB for the 1809 Spaniards, the only things I still have to paint are 2 battalions of grenadiers, 3 units of line cavalry, 1 of dragoons, 1 foot battery, a few more generals and ADCs and a small group of zapadores (individually based). Apart from elegances like limbers and some garrison artillery that's the lot, so I hope I can finish them this year.

Cazadores de Barbastro
Voluntarios de Gerona
In case they are useful, here are the flags for these units, which I have produced with Paintshop Pro - if you print them at about 20mm high (cut off the green bits!) that's near enough 1/72 scale - I would not recommend them for anything bigger than that. Feel free to use them, but if you share them or publish any pictures, I'd appreciate a mention!

A quick word on Spanish light infantry flags - these units each consisted of a single battalion, which carried the Coronela national flag; if they still had a Sencilla (battalion flag) left over from an earlier regimental organisation, it would be stored away in a church or a depot somewhere. There is a very tattered sencilla for the Barbastro unit still in existence, but by 1809 it was no longer carried on campaign.

Friday, 9 March 2018

A Weakness for Dragoons

This is going to be another of those how-high-can-you-pile-it? posts. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Five years ago, give or take a day, I published a post celebrating (lamenting?) that I had acquired and refurbished another unit of French dragoons, despite the fact that I already had quite enough.

Welcome to the 26eme & 27eme Dragons - you will observe that the trumpeter
for the 27eme has not arrived yet - plans are in hand, and he should be present shortly!
Well, I've done it again - this time a further two such units. I could claim that, as a Peninsular War devotee, I can never have too many dragoons, or merely confess that I have a long history of having my head turned by a pretty regiment of the blighters. It maybe goes deeper than that.

When I was about 12 (or so) I was lucky enough to be granted a private tour of the Musée de l'Armée (my grandfather was a friend of one of the directors), and one of my most vivid memories of a fascinating but confused Sunday morning is suddenly being confronted by a life-size mannikin of a mounted Napoleonic dragoon, and being dumbstruck (you may well know the actual mannikin I mean - he's still there today, still scaring the kids). It had never occurred to me that soldiers were terrifying individually as well as collectively.

When I started building my Peninsular armies - 10 years or so later - I was enchanted by the PMD/Les Higgins French dragoons. My original quota was a brigade of two regiments, the 6eme (red facings) and the 15eme (pink!). Later I added a third - the 25eme (orange) - but that was it for Les Higgins - they went out of business. In the days before eBay, that was as far as things went - if your manufacturer (or scale!!) went OOP then you were well and truly stuck.

When NapoleoN Miniaturas were active I finally obtained the fourth regiment of the Armée de Portugal's Dragoon Division - the 11eme (crimson) - and then I was happy. Job done.

But then eBay took over, and still the new/old toy soldiers are trickling in. Five years after the last "final" recruits, here are two more. And I'm still pleased with them, and still delighted to have an opportunity to dig out that entire section of the army for a group photo.

My French dragoon contingent - a lot of eyes-right going on, to simplify the
mould-lines for PMD! If there are not enough horses in Spain to go around, then the
chaps at the front can jolly well walk.
Very silly, very self-indulgent and - really - what hobbies are all about. It would be a poor kind of a world if you were not allowed to have too many dragoons, would it not?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

First Round to the Beast

I used to have a boss whose catch phrase was "Don't spend much time telling me what you're hoping to do - tell me when you've done it". I'm sure this is identifiable as some labelled style of defective management (like the once-celebrated Mushroom Management, Fox-in-the-Henhouse Management and a host of other Nineties jokes which I'm sure no-one remembers now), but his approach did have some advantages. If I applied this principle to myself now, and I'm sure a lot of fellow wargamers are in the same situation, I'd often have very little to talk about.

The so-called "Beast from the East" [Donkey Award nominee] storm in the UK did eventually cause a postponement of our Marston Moor game - it was probably always a safe bet, but the hoped-for easing of the weather conditions on Thursday and Friday didn't happen, and this morning (Saturday, the official day for the event) the travel situation is still pretty awful - no trains, for one thing, and the country roads are not safe at all. Thus the logistics have killed us.

No problem - I've photographed the tabletop set-up in detail, I've put the (ready-labelled) armies in their box-files in exactly the same order they'll go back on the table, and I've put all the scenery elements in a box of their own, all ready to go; we can re-arrange the game later in the month. In the meantime, the Dining Room can be used for dining, as specified. I'd best make sure I've typed up all the scenario rules and features - you know - in case I forget...

Obviously I am a bit disappointed, but when Nature decides to take a poke at you she doesn't mess about, so let's get on with it. If I have to put my battle away in its boxes, then it's a good idea to put it away really well. There - that feels better.

I include a couple of photos, if only to demonstrate to Jonathan (who knows his snow) that we did get proper snow in the end. The road along the coast from our farm to the village has been impassable for two days, as has the road past the farm down towards the A1 and places like Dunbar, Haddington, Edinburgh, England - everywhere, really. This means that we, and the village of North Berwick, have been cut off from the Outside World for two days. Problem has been the type of snow, and the high winds. I'm not sure an idiot layman's description of snow is just what you wish to read today, but in our garden we had, at the most, maybe 20cm of very soft, puffy snow - like polystyrene packing beads, about the size of Rice Krispies. Because it was so cold it was very dry, and blew about in the wind.

That's someone digging out the main road from North Berwick to the outside world,
3pm Friday - 48 hours after it was cut off. I know these things are routine in Canada
and Russia, but we are not really used to this.
About a mile away, on what passes for a main road here, the east wind drifted this puffy stuff across what will later be wheat fields and it got trapped between the hedges, on the roadway. This is where the photos were taken - on the A198. I've never seen anything like this around here. The drifts also put the single-track railway to North Berwick under about 3 metres of snow in a cutting near Ferrygate, I'm told. Marston Moor is just one of a great many things which aren't going to happen today!

This is around the same spot, the road past our farm, Thursday morning, looking the
other way. Some people don't believe in the Red Weather Alerts, do they?
Forecast for next week is not brilliant, but seems to be wetter, which might be OK. I'm certainly pretty bored with what we have at the moment.

Must mention a classic manifestation of Sod's Law. Two nights ago a big chunk of the cement seal around the flue-pipe of our wood stove suddenly dropped out. That's never happened before, either. Of course, my stand-by tub of ready-mixed fire cement has set rock-hard, and, though they have shelves of the stuff in the hardware store in the village, we haven't been able to reach the village. Hmmm. Above the howling wind, I am certain I heard faint laughter.

***** Late Digression - PINBAT's revenge *****

Digger or not, the A198 is still not viable today, and it's still snowing. Apparently it is just about possible to get into North Berwick from Edinburgh (the opposite side from us) along the coast road from Longniddry, and so yesterday Tesco managed to get a truck to their supermarket here by coming that way, and driving through the town, since the usual route was blocked by snow. Just in time - supplies are running very low.

Now then, back in 2007, when it first opened, Tesco was the subject of a lot of local hostility here. I don't live next door to the place, so my view may be coloured by this fact, but I regard the presence of Tesco as a huge improvement in our quality of life. Whatever, at the time there was a fearsome militant movement - recruited mostly, it seemed, from the ranks of residents who commuted to Edinburgh everyday and thus spent little time here - named PINBAT (People in North Berwick against Tesco). The opening of the store was eventually secured after negotiations which yielded cash donations to the local community and also - I now learn - an agreement that Tesco's wagons would not drive through the town.

Well - guess what? Some superannuated survivor from PINBAT yesterday registered an official complaint that Tesco had broken the 2007 agreement by rerouting a supply van to avoid the blocked roads. Accordingly, Tesco sent this morning's wagon by the official route, up the A198, and it got stuck at the village of Whitekirk, as we might have predicted. Thus, people, there is no food in North Berwick today. 

Someone, somewhere, must think they've won a little victory. I sincerely hope the rest of the community don't find out who it was.