Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tombland.. a review

Just back from a week on a sun bed in Cyprus ..  much needed as it's been somewhat of an "annus horribilis" in the Steve the Wargamer domicile, and suffice to say that out of three holidays we had arranged this year, this was the only one that we actually managed to go on..! 

Not surprisingly therefore the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer and I did ABSOLUTELY nothing for the whole holiday other than trundle from bed to food to sunbed to food to bed while very much enjoying the late season sunshine, oh, and drinking a few Keo's.. such an environment of course is ideal for the consumption of large numbers of books, and the Kindle got a right bashing...

First on the list then, a welcome return for Matthew Shardlake in the latest of the series by the inestimable C. J. Sansom..  been a long wait for this book, and I read somewhere that it is because the author has been ill (for which my best wishes), but without a doubt the wait was worth it, as this is an absolute blinder of  book..

So for this those who aren't aware, the book series is written around the activities of Sergeant at Law Matthew Shardlake, and is set in the late Tudor period, around the last years of Henry VIII, and the succession - Shardlake is a conscientious lawyer, and is approached by people in power (in the earlier books he works for both Cromwell and Moore) when they need something investigating from a legal perspective and in this book, with Henry dead, his patron is the young Princess Elizabeth. One of Elizabeth's distant relatives has been accused of murder and she asks Shardlake to represent him in court, and to investigate the veracity of the charges bought against him..

One of the joys of this series is that Shardlake is no Jack Reacher, he is human, he has a spinal deformity that causes pain, he is getting old, he gets tired, he occasionally gets crotchety, so the work Elizabeth asks him to do is not easy as it requires travel to Norwich in a time of great social unease in England..  Edward (Henry's successor) is only 6 so the country is ruled by a council of powerful men, but power has devolved to one of them who is fixated on (a failed) war with Scotland, the country is bankrupt as a result of paying for the war, inflation is rife, wages are static, and there is an increasing move to enclose land to farm sheep for their wool..  not surprisingly civil tensions are rising, and shortly after Shardlake arrives in Norfolk, rebellion breaks out..

The book is largely then about the investigation, but is also about the civil rising lead by Robert Kett [clicky] (so this was 1549) - packed full of period colour, a damn good murder mystery, social history, and military history (the rebels were eventually defeated in a pitched battle just outside Norwich - the depiction of the battle is brilliant), this book is an absolute triumph and I recommend it and the rest of the series without reserve...  Steve the Wargamer rates this one 10+ out of 10

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"The Black Prince".. a review

This was a Kindle bargain some time ago - bought on a whim, and purely because I've been fascinated by Edward, the Black Prince, ever since, as a considerably younger Steve the Wargamer, I  built the old Airfix 1/12th scale figure, but knew surprisingly little about him...  

So it was that after a run of fiction - some of it fluffy, some not - and in support of my aim to read more non-fiction in 2018, I came to the end of a book and then spotted this sitting in my 'to read' pile..

So what did I think? Well despite the almost universal belief that this is the best biography of the Prince out there, I have to say that for all it's length it's a little thin on direct evidence of the Prince himself....

The author focuses a lot on the people round the Prince, rather than the Prince directly - a major chunk of the first part of the book is about his grandfather, and how he might have influenced his father and hence the Prince's character - a lot of the book is about his enemies, friends, and family rather than him personally, but the bits about him are excellent...

Edward III, his father, gave the Prince (who was his eldest son) a lot of responsibility at a very early age, he is made "guardian of England" at least three times (aged 8, 10 and 12) while Edward III is in France on one of the many invasions he launches against the French, in support of his claim that France is rightfully his. He is given excellent advisors and tutors in this role but the Prince was seemingly a quick learner. His made Prince of Wales at 13, and knighted at 16.

At Crecy, still 16, he commanded the vanguard of the British army, and Edward showed no favours to his son, he was well and truly in harms way during the battle and was largely responsible for the victory.

He is clearly an excellent battle field commander, and has a good grasp of strategy as well - at 25 he was appointed the king's lieutenant in Gascony, and ordered to lead an army into Aquitaine on a chevauchée (basically a huge plundering raid), during which he pillaged Avignonet and Castelnaudary, sacked Carcassonne, and plundered Narbonne. The next year (1356 aged 26) on another chevauchée he ravaged Auvergne, Limousin, and Berry but failed to take Bourges. 

Takes you back..
By now his army was in a bad way, and an overwhelming French force had outflanked them near Poitiers but despite offering peace terms, the French King (John II) demands his surrender as part of the acceptance so the Prince refuses, and his army turns and fights - with the outcome that we all know so well, and where the French King is taken prisoner and is ransomed (in the end this was never paid, and the John's son was very adept and far cleverer than his father - the English would have been better off letting John free??)

This is the high point of the Princes life to be honest - from now on in it is a slow and steady decline...

Edward makes him Prince of Aquitaine and Gascony, which he administers fairly and well, but money is always an issue and Edward does not support him as much as he should have. An expensive and largely failed campaign in Spain in support of the prime plum Pedro in his attempt to recover his throne from his half brother Henry ends in the prince winning the battle of Najera, but Pedro not honouring his debts - the prince returns to Aquitaine broke both financially, and increasingly health'wise.

Money is now short and without the support of Edward III, Aquitaine, and the Prince are increasingly under attack from forces coordinated by John's son, the Dauphin which he is hard pressed to fight off - eventually, the Princes first son dead by the plague, and badly ill, he returns to England, eventually to die of a wasting illness that to this day has not been wholly identified (Wiki says dysentery, but the author disagrees). At the very end of his life there was a rapprochement with Edward (who was going senile, and that may explain his mishandling of the Najera/Aquitaine situation) but the close relationship of his youth had been lost..

So what do we have - for me, a figure that is still seen at one remove, but who was clearly a genuinely religious man, who loved his wife (he never slept with another woman after they married), lived the knightly life completely (he founded the order of the Garter), and was very generous* to those he relied on, both high and low born, a superb battlefield commander, a strategist, and a gifted administrator who was able to charm anyone he met..   worth reading? Yes! Steve the Wargamer rates this 8/10..

*if anything a little too generous, he was always short of cash.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

...and even more on Warblington Castle...

Following up on this post [clicky], and then this one [clicky], and then finally this one [clicky] I happened to notice in the local paper that the place was up for sale (if you've got two and a half mill sitting round unused, by the way, it might be an opportunity?) ...

Never one to pass up the chance of gaining some additional knowledge I grabbed all the sale pictures I could...

Gatehouse - or rather what Cromwell's troops left of it when they'd finished...  love the garages built in to the bottom of it, but is it me or would you be a bit bothered about chunks of masonry landing on the roof while you were working in there??


...and from the other side showing the main gate..  so the garages are round the corner on the left...




Not Warblington - this is Cowdray House (following) - from the same period and giving an idea what the gatehouse and castle would have looked like complete..



From the grounds, and showing the remains of what I think are a moat/fosse...


Ground works plan - I think the picture above is probably the area to the south of the drive


..and this time an 18th century print - showing the gate from the rear


Last of all - a portrait of the redoubtable Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and last of the Plantagenet line, who built the castle sometime between 1515 and 1525, and was executed by Henry VIII (more for the actions of her son I suspect than anything concrete)...  read more here [clicky] on her grisly end...  what I didn't know was that in 1886, she was beatified by Pope Leo XIII as one of the English Martyrs to the Catholic faith... May 28th is her feast day...

 Fascinating...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Portsea Island Beer Festival - 2018

It's that time again..  hurrah!

Our (8th!)  yearly amble to the Groundlings Theatre (venue for the beer festival) coincided  with a bout of fine weather int he UK - not often I get to cycle to the event in weather warm enough for a tshirt and shorts but so it was this year..

Started off with a fine full English breakfast (even the hash browns were nice and I normally avoid them like the plague) in the historical surroundings of the Ship Anson pub on the Hard in Portsmouth..


Interesting history...  been there since the 18th century - the picture dates end of the 19th - this was known as the devils acre back in the day - 50 yards to the left of the picture is the main gates for the dockyard and there were thirteen pubs in a row all vying for the money of any matelot or dockyard worker who needed something to take their mind off, well, anything really ...  the Victoria and Albert is now a newsagents..  the Ship Anson bought the pub next door (right) and knocked into one...  the London Tavern was done for by the Luftwaffe in 1941 and is now the beer garden/patio for the Anson (where I put my bike while having brekkie)..  apocryphal or not - the London Tavern is also where they reckon the term "the King's Shilling" was coined...  the landlady used to slip a shilling into the beer pot and when it was drunk you were said to have taken the shilling and therefore carted off to army or more likely navy (as a youngster I was always fascinated by the fact my Dad had some pewter tankards with glass bottoms - that was why... )  Funny to think I was sat in the window to the right of the door eating sausages  - the things you could have seen through that window if you had a time machine!

Anyway - breakfast consumed it was time for some beer..

Not a bad year this year - ie. better than last but still not outstanding..  the smaller festivals still seem to be struggling to get beer from the majors onto the list..

Bear with me on the following - one of the jolly boys poured a whole half pint over my program by accident so I'm going from memory!

Brewery (clickable) Beer (click for more info) ABV Notes (from brewery website) What I can remember...
Lincoln Green Quarterstaff5%"Stout of heart and nature. A rich, full bodied stout with flaked barley and generous blackcurrant hop bitterness."I've had a few beers from this brewery as they are based in Hucknall in Nottingham and having relatives who live there and know I like beer, so they often get me a few bottles from here for Christmas - either way I hadn't realised it was a stout when I first ordered it but it was still one of my favourite beers of the day... delicious
Brunswick Triple Hop 4% "A straw coloured ale, and like the name suggests, three hop varieties used in three separate stages. Dry, with a bitter astringency". Despite the blurb I found this decidely average - maybe I should have had it before the stout?
Kelchner Black IPA 4.8% "A black IPA that is brewed with a multitude of hops and sits comfortably on a roasty base of dark malts. Dense citrus, coffee and chocolate notes with a dry and resinous finish make this a dark beer for those who don’t want to leave the hops behind." Also known as "After Dark" on their web site...  OK - but not as good as the Quarterstaff...
Slaters Haka 5.2% "Haka is an award winning New Zealand Pale Ale that is dry hopped for three weeks". Unexceptional I'm afraid despite the three weeks - though some of the guys particularly liked it...
Triple FFF Lady Eleanor 4.6% "Fruity with a robust bitterness" My beer of the festival - nice enough I had two or three of these - strong taste of fruity bitterness, very drinkable - head and shoulders above everything I had apart from the Quarterstaff - recommended
Urban IslandHigh and Dry5.5%"A juicy and intensely hopped American IPA with an earthy herbal base and citrus finish."Tasty ale this one from a local brewery, and another of my top three for the day.. 











Think that was it... 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Happy times...

..we're just entering a golden period of historical fiction...   don't miss out..  most of these are out next month...  


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Abundance Farm... Game

Apologies for the delay in posting..  way too busy, especially given it was Colours the next day, and then some sailing, and then some etc etc etc...  

So first things first - to name my sources this is the "La Granja de la Abundancia" scenario from the Albion triumphant booklet for Black Powder.

For this game I re-attempted the overhead shot method I tried with the War of the Spanish Succession game I played a few weeks ago..  have to say slightly less spectacular results as the table is bigger so the camera was higher and etc etc..  but there were enough to give a flavour of the ebb and flow of this cracking little battle (well  it was for me, anyway - DG was just ruing the say he threw a 5 on the OOB table! )

Move 1 (following) - first units on the table and as a reminder British/Hessian to the left, American to the right..

Not surprisingly I opted to bring both cavalry regiments on first, and went pell mell for the farm..
Move two... DG is sending his lights forward aggressively to counter my cavalry.. my main force is looking to secure the T junction hill (and I had plans on DG's hamlet) - first points are won equally - the two lower hills are taken by each side...




Move 3..  and it looks like DG is going all out for the farm which I have now taken ownership of in the name of the Crown - he is probing forward with his Lights through the woods.... 


Couple of moves later -  I have T junction hill..


...while DG's first cautious probes with his light infantry towards the farm have been dealt with roughly by the Death or Glory boys..  one light battalion sent scurrying in some discomfort (left below - red dice = rout)...


Few moves later and my 3rd Brigade is destined to strengthen the farm as I don't think they'll be needed for the assault on DG's farm/hamlet, and it also looks like DG's main feint is also the farm..


Same view at ground level..



A few moves later and those Lights of DG's have recovered (left below - in front of the unit with the blue star banner) with the assistance of a passing Brigadier to put some backbone into the dice throw.. 


...another move and battle has ensued at the T junction with both sides exchanging musketry and attempting to close to melee...  DG is forming a major assault on the hill..



Few moves from the end - following - and apologies for the slight blur, I was holding the camera above my head - only excuse I have..  



DG has switched focus to the T junction hill and has made the first of at least two or three assaults..  my artillery on the hill is doing great work - canister will always ruin your day...  To the bottom of the picture, near the farm, DG has halted -  his idea was that they would hold my cavalry in position, which they did, but the farm was still mine...

...and so we enter the final few moves..


...better shot at ground level.. British forces in strength and hold the line...  DG conceded on turn 12..



Overview..



Post match analysis:

  • First off, "Cheers, John!"
  • A good scenario but ensure that either, both sides are equal, or at least that both sides have the same amount of cavalry; keep the table but throw one and both sides have the same, perhaps..
  • Agree in advance whether cavalry can hold a building type area when your rules don't allow cavalry to enter buildings..  we agreed that in this case the British held the farm but DG's valid point was that the cavalry didn't actually enter the farm so did they hold it? I held to the "sphere of influence" position...  not surprisingly.. you'll now understand the significance of those dismounted dragoons in my loot pile from Colours..  
  • A monumental tussle, I had forgotten how good more than 6 units a side looks..
  • We'll replay this one at some time as DG has unfinished business...  Warfare weekend perhaps..
  • Refreshments on the evening was the awesome Hobgoblin IPA



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I have been to.. Colours '18

So before I put up a post on the JC Memorial game just a brief review of the Colours show which I attended Saturday.. this was my first wargame show in 10 months, as I purposely missed Salute this year (I think I'll go next year by the by, as I've worked out that a show is much more than a big bunch of traders and hygienically challenged fat blokes with pony tails -  it also helps to fuel the enthusiasm, and general wargaming mojo which was much missed this year)

Big crowds of people - no decline for this show, but again, apropos of nothing, every time I go I''m amazed at how much more ground has been sold and turned into luxury flats looking over the race course..  so the old car park is now a block of flats, and the new parking is in the centre of the course..  bit of a frisson walking across the race track to get to the stands..  I'm amazed how long the straights are..

First point of call the Art of War t-shirt stand on the top floor - big Lee clued me into these guys on one of his posts, and I put in a trial order for their Shieldwall t-shirt - which i was very impressed with - good fit, good quality, so I was going to get another tshirt today - the Raven banner one this time. I recommend them completely and without reservation...

Job done I then wandered off to have a look round the show -  wads of twenty quid notes widely seen so people clearly not short of money - didn't really sense a trend this year, lots of MDF of course but that's not new, didn't really sense a new period coming to the fore, or any new 'go to' rule sets..  lots of shopping going on though..

What caught the eye? Some very nice and very reasonably priced resin boats on the Games of War stand the boats [clicky]in particular were very nice and very reasonably priced.. I also liked these which I thought were brilliant and hugely affordable - I may well invest and replace those ratty old home made terraces I use for 15mm WWII skirmish... they are separate as well so roof and upper story can be removed..


Booty then? The aforementioned t-shirt, some additional mini dice for the AWI collection (to show unit status), a book on the Earl of Essex that I've had on my to 'get list' for a while (my ECW project is based round Edgehill so this will fit the bill nicely) and for the first time in an age some little metal men - dismounted dragoons who are destined for the AWI project - enough for two units, one of them will be British for sure, the other I can paint as the American 4th Dragoons - if they work I'll get some more to represent the other units I have. These were from Eagle Miniatures and very reasonably priced..


...and so on to the games...   not going to a wargames show for 10 months is good for the soul - it refreshes the taste buds and allows you to enjoy games that if you were going to lots of shows you'd probably ignore ("meh" as the young people like to say)

So I have four games to feature from the myriads of games being shown..  and in the usual manner, in reverse order, they are..

Fourth.. "Operation Goodwood" by the Friends Who Like Rapid Fire... shed loads of 20mm goodness, and everything I like and dislike about Rapid Fire on a single table...  

...everything I like and dislike about Rapid Fire...

...modelling was magnificent, vehicles and terrain lovely, but..  you knew there had to be a but...  wall to wall cab ranked tanks...  it looked like a Sherman NCP car park on a busy Saturday morning at the local shopping centre...  it called out for just one carefully time fighter bomber sweep...  I know, I know, it's an operational level game, but it would have been infinitely better looking if a smaller scale had been used so the the vehicles could have been spread out a bit...  10mm perfect, 15mm better..



In third place, not my period, not my scale, and hex terrain (though DG thought they weren't using the hexes for movement measurement?) but I thought this game was magnificent..  "Blood and Bridges", a cold war game in 1/200 scale (tick) by Chris Wykes and Friends..  now this is a miniatures version of the board game (Lock ‘n Loads World at War series) and is a fictional 3rd World War encounter between British/NATO forces and Russia..

..loved the helicopters..
Simply superb..


Cab ranked tanks again, but in this scale they work..  yeah, I'm weird..



...and in second place... "The Race Across Idlib Province, 28th October, 1918" by "Adrian Shepherd and Friends".


...so the background to the game is that the British are attempting the capture of the last remaining Ottoman/German airstrip in northern Syria (a collection point for serviceable aircraft) ...  and it was the aircraft that caught the eye for me...


..."Krak des Berger", a ruined Crusader castle scratch built  for the game by Adrian Shepherd....


...game information presented on A3 laminated sheets made to look like old newspapers from the day - very clever..


Rolls Royce armoured cars and Model T's ..  what's not to like!

Loved the Triplane as well

...and that Fokker DVII is good enough to eat..
...other blog posts [clicky] would confirm the British failed in their objective on the day, but a good time was had nonetheless.. 

So without further ado..  in first place...  Simon Miller's "To The Strongest" English Civil War game, "Soggy Bottom", which was wall to wall beauty, and a joy to behold..

Parliament left, Royalist right

...Cromwell and the lads looking for a good time..

Old Robin's own..

More Parliamentary horse - left flank..

Royalist horse - right flank

...I bet Archer liked custard as a child...  how GOOD are they?


Stunning flag..

...final view.. one day...  one day..

Superb show..  roll on Warfare...