Saturday, October 24, 2009

The search for the perfect set of ACW rules #2... "They Couldn't Hit an Elephant"

By way of brief interlude before the next riveting instalment of Scottish history, let me bring you another episode in DG and I's continued search for a decent set of rules to use when we play American Civil War games....

In the last post I brought you (and summarily discarded) "Rebel Yell" [click here] - this time however, we have a much newer set from the Too Fat Lardies [click here] team...

Price £7 for a soft copy (PDF format), add £5 for hard copy..

Format: A4 coloured glossy paper, typed, black and white drawings, no photo's, contains pull out A4 quick reference sheet..

The Rules Brigade level

The rules are designed (optimally) for 15mm figures (also 10-12mm) though they can cater for 25's with some scale and measurement changes.

Figures 4 to a base for regular infantry - representing 100 men - Cavalry are 2 figures to a base and represent 50 men. Multiply the bases to make a regiment (according to historical numbers) so 3-4 bases make the regiment. A number of regiments then makes the brigade - with brigadier.

Skirmishers/dismounted cavalry are represented by leaving gaps between the bases or fielding specific (wider) bases...

The Lardies rules focus on a couple of key concepts, and this set is by no means different to the rest... firstly they, rely on a system of hidden movement called "blinds" to provide the fog of war at the beginning of the game - put simply, they use a blank card of specific size to represent a number of units until the formation is "spotted" (on a dice throw). These "blinds" have the ability to move multiple times so as to bring the game to a quick start. In these rules the organisational level is the "brigade", so each blind represents a brigade of combined arms... if you've played "Principles of War" rules, then the concept will be known to you...

The other concept is the card driven turn - each brigade commander is given a card, while there are blinds on the table they also are given a card - in addition the C-in-C's get one, and there are also cards that allow customisation of commanders eg. bold, inspirational, gifted, and another card for the Confederates in the early years of the war that allows them an extra move... all movement is card driven, with each side acting on the card they draw.

DG and I played an introductory scenario to try the rules out, and I have to be honest and say that it was quite possibly the most frustrating experience he and I have ever had with a set of rules... so what's the problem?? Well among others, these:

  • The rules are crying out for some written examples of how the various rules actually work... these are noticeable by their absence.
  • A key concept as we know is the cards, but DG and I spent at least two days of emails trying to work out what cards should have been in the deck for the introductory scenario that was documented in the rules! It seems to me that as an introductory scenario, this would have been an obvious inclusion?? (By the by, the introductory scenario is huge - what we needed was a brigade a side, what we got was 3 brigades a side... in the end we cut down the scenario for our trial run...)
  • We never did manage to get to grips with how the blinds did things.. blinds have the ability to "spot" - who does this? Where is it measured from? etc.
  • the rules don't seem to have been proof read very well eg. with the tactical level that the game is set at commanders, both brigade and C-in-C are key - but commanders are referred to as 'commanders' throughout so you have to try and figure out which one is being referred to. There are contradictions in the rules, the one that had us going for a while was two statements, one that blinds could do spotting, and the other that only commanders could do spotting... DG and I came to an agreement, but the rules smacked of being a bit 'rushed' to us...
  • The role of the C-in-C is unclear to me even now - and that after three turns of play.. sphere of control rules (ie. what units the C-in-C can influence) are complex...
  • ...

All in all - purely my opinion (and it's by no means universal, as can be seen from the Lardies huge Yahoo group) but not an enjoyable experience.... onwards and upwards, though, the next one is "Mr Lincoln's War"...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bannockburn .... part 1...

As previously mentioned I’m hoping to see the battlefield of Bannockburn in the very near future, so, as is my wont, I've spent a few interesting lunchtimes preparing and investigating and getting the background information ready for the visit.. I do like to know the historical/military/political context in which battles are set – and this one is as complex as most, so the purpose of this first post is just to set the context.....

First off – my knowledge of this particular period of history is not good, I'm no medievalist, though I guess I know as much as most about events in France... to be honest my knowledge of this particular theatre of war, was almost entirely shaped from watching "Braveheart"!

To be fair though, I did go and buy "Freedom's Sword" by Peter Traquair pretty soon after seeing the film, as I knew I needed to add a little fact to the Hollywood glitz....

Having now done some reading (though not I'm afraid Mr Traquair, yet - too little time - too many books!) I was quite surprised that the film “Braveheart” was fairly close to the mark – I had assumed all of it should be ignored completely (apart from the quite astonishingly beautiful Sophie Marceau - right - perhaps!)

For those of you who've seen it the portrayal of Robert the Bruce is quite effective and compares well with what I’ve read – and while Bruce didn’t actively conspire to get Wallace arrested and ultimately, tortured and killed by Edward “Longshanks”, the “Hammer of the Scots” (played by the quite splendidly evil Patrick McGoohan), in real life I should have imagined he wasn't too upset about it.

Basically, the long wars that existed between England and Scotland started as a result of the death of King Alexander (the III) of Scotland, in 1286. As seems to be so often the cause of conflict he died without adult heirs – his children had predeceased him, and his only grand daughter (Margaret) died early, and in doing so triggered 20 odd years of war between England and Scotland. Reading the history I couldn't help thinking of the parallels with a certain King of Spain 500 years later! Nothing changes....

In Scotland however, the search for the new king was on with a vengeance; their were basically two political camps – the Balliol’s, and the Bruce's – each of whom had their supporting camps. Either way – by having the better family relationship, & the stronger position, Balliol was crowned King John in 1292... and it all kind of spiralled downwards from there…

In 1294 – Edward (left) declared war on the French and asked for troops from his Scottish allies; somewhat rashly King John sided with the French, and moved his army to the border. Edward reacted pretty characteristically, got angry, and then destroyed both Berwick on Tweed, and in a campaign of only 17 days, the Scottish army.. he really was an outstanding soldier king.

Edward imposed his own governor on Scotland, seized the Scottish crown jewels and put Balliol in the Tower (he was never to leave it) – many of the Scottish nobles including the Bruce family then swore fealty to Edward, many because they also owned land in England, some because they harboured kingly ambitions but needed time...

By 1297, Scots loyal to King John were in rebellion – the main leaders of the rebellion were Sir Andrew Murray and William Wallace (enter Mel Gibson stage left…). Not much is known about Wallace but either way the two joined forces and defeated the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge. Never one to let something get away from him however, Edward invaded the next year, and won the battle of Falkirk (1298) - Wallace went into hiding for two years but was finally captured, tried, and executed in London in 1305 (FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOM!)

With his death, King John lost his last remaining chance of reclaiming the throne... the remaining political power in Scotland was mostly the Bruce's...

Battle from Holkham Bible

Robert the Bruce launched himself on a long political campaign to garner the extra support he needed from the Scottish nobility to take the crown – he didn’t start too well, however. It's written that he murdered the family head of one of King John’s main supporters while at a meeting being held in church! Despite the faux pas and what should have been an almost automatic excommunication, Bruce retained the support of the Scottish church, and was eventually crowned King of Scotland in 1306

...and back comes Edward again... you begin to understand why he picked up the nickname the 'Hammer of the Scots' when you read the history!

Robert the Bruce was defeated at the battle of Methven, and his wife, family and key supporters arrested and sent to England. Bruce managed to escape to the Highlands and from there started a guerilla war (and this was supposedly the time he was inspired by the spider) which was so effective, he managed to change the political landcape yet again.

In 1307 he beat an English army at the Battle of Loudon Hill, and Edward set off again to bring him to battle, but this time died on the way – he was succeeded by Edward II who (unlike his effeminate portrayal in Braveheart) was a tough fighter but was (allegedly/apparently) homosexual as intimated in the film.

In 1310 Edward II invaded in support of a number of English garrisons (including Perth, Dundee, Stirling & Edinburgh).

In 1313, Perth and Dumfries surrendered after sieges, and by 1314 just two major strategic fortresses remained in English hands: that on the border at Berwick and that controlling the crossing of the Forth at Stirling. Around Lent of 1314 Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king, began the siege of Stirling Castle, which was commanded by Sir Philip Mowbray.

Unable to make any headway, Bruce agreed to a pact with Mowbray - if no relief came by midsummer 1314, the castle would surrender to Bruce.

Edward II marched to rescue Stirling in 1314 – and so the stage was set for the battle of Bannockburn - which'll be the next post - getting excited to see the actual battlefield now!

Monday, October 19, 2009

So where did that week go!!

Difficult to believe that yet another week has gone by, but so it has, in fact, do you know it's Christmas in nine weeks time this Friday??! pink dog clothes

Apologies for the lack of posts - part of the problem is that this is my first blog from a new PC. I've been meaning to upgrade for ages, but with life as hectic as it is I finally managed to get round to it on Saturday, and have spent the time since then putting it together - not in any physical sense, but reloading the software, applications and settings that make a computer your own... all done now though, and all I need to do is a refresh on the old machine to have finished the swapover. All takes time, however..

So what else have I been doing in the interim??

I finished "Gladiator" the latest Scarrow offering in his Roman series featuring Macro & Cato. While it was, as ever, a brilliant read - real boys own adventure stuff - I am increasingly of the view that basically his stories could be set in any period. Macro speaks like a British army sergeant (he actually said "you horrible little men" at one point I'm sure!), and their thoughts and attitudes seem very 20th century to me... compare it, if you will, to O'Brien or Mallinson. If you read one of their books you immediately know where you are historically - it seeps from the pages both in the description of the action & events, but also the attitudes of the main characters... when I read Gladiator I couldn't help thinking that the period was a little interchangeable, if not irrelevant, which is a shame really as Scarrow obviously knows his (Roman) onions... Bottom line - a very enjoyable read, but light on Roman "feel".. Steve the Wargamer gives this one a six and a half out of ten...

Elsewhere, and following an interesting chat with Steve Tuner (the Old Dessauer) [click here for his blog] via the comments section of his blog, we discussed an upcoming NW Frontier project, and whether Dervish figures from the Sudan theatre could represent Pathan tribesmen, so I set up a photo shoot to give a snapshot of some of the Dervish from the Peter Pig 15mm range... for the record, I think "yes"..

I have to say like Peter Pig figures very much - there WWII range are just as good - so it was no trouble to do, and I've been meaning to add these to my Sudan page from some time anyway.

Just for reference these are a selection from pack 1... I'll definitely be getting more...


..and of course the week wouldn't be complete without at least a little jaunt on the water, and that was completed on Sunday...

A beautiful day, but no wind at all, hardly a breath in fact, and not enough to move us against the tide so I anchored up (with new kedge anchor!), got out the flask, and did a little fishing with my cup of tea... caught nothing, but not a care in the world, trust me my friends there is nothing, simply nothing, like messing about in boats...

All the more sad as it has to end soon, and just another few weeks and out she comes - she needs some work doing on her so the timing is good....


So what's coming up?? Well Steve the Wargamer is on the move; he and the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer, plus spuds, are off to Scotland in the nearish future to visit my Dad for a week. Among many other pleasures to look forward to (I do like the Scots, Edinburgh, and especially their beer!), I've been promised a visit to Bannockburn which I'm very much looking forward to - may be it's time I finally hooked out "Freedom's Sword" from my bookshelf and actually read it... it will only have taken me 11 years as there's a receipt from the book club in the front dated July '98!


Oh, and "Palmerston's Folly"??? Named after the Victorian forts that ring Portmsouth which were built at the behest of the aforesaid prime minister to counter the French threat posed by Napoleon III, this is a rather pleasant beer brewed by Suthwyk Ales and made using barley grown on their own farm on Portsdown Hill (site of at least three of the major forts).

As I was going to pick up the PC it seemed churlish not to stop in at the Southwick Brew Shop [click here] and pick up a four pint cary out on the way home... an inspired decision, it was absolute nectar!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fuzzy Wuzzy...

I seem to have been bitten by the painting bug, so, pushing my luck I've been racking up some painting points while I'm still keen... With nothing to hand to paint last night I quickly under-coated enough Dervish troops to make up an additional two bases of sword & spear armed Beja, or Hadendoa, troops.

These are the first Hadendoa to join my Dervish forces as all the rest are Ansar, so all the more welcome for the variety they bring.. they are the guys immortalised by Kipling as "Fuzzy Wuzzy", nicknamed for their elaborate hair styles, but universally admired by the British soldiers of the time for their brave fighting ability.

The most famous of the Hadendoa leaders was Osman Digna, a former slave trader. He joined with the Mahdi shortly after the battle of Tel el Kebir, and his army operated mostly around Suakin on the coast. Osman and his troops have the unique reputation of being the only Dervish troops to break a British square which they did at the battle of Tamai, but despite this, Osman was unable to win the battle.

As arguably the Mahdi's best general, he was largely responsible for the fate of Gordon & Khartoum, and the loss of the Sudan to Egypt. Despite losing an arm at Suakin he went on to serve the Mahdi to the end of the war, was captured, imprisoned, and eventually died at the age of 90 in 1926! Not too bad a life...

These figures are 15mm (naturally) and this time from the Peter Pig "Patrols in the Sudan" range..

"We've fought with many men acrost the seas,
And some of 'em was brave an' some was not:
The Paythan an' the Zulu an' Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o' the lot.
We never got a ha'porth's change of 'im:
'E squatted in the scrub and 'ocked our 'orses,
'E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An' 'e played the cat an' banjo with our forces.
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
Yore a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
We gives you your certificate, an' if you want it signed,
We'll come an' 'ave a romp with you whenever you're inclined.
" - Kipling "Fuzzy Wuzzy"


The sailing season may well be coming to a close, but the summer down here in the south of England is gripping on by the skin of its teeth, and so yesterday found me out on the boat for a n afternoons sailing, in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, despite it being the second week of October! Winds were westerly (with just a little south in it) and I guess force 3 predominantly, though there were a few agreeable gusts to keep you on your toes...

Beautiful afternoon with little motoring (except the last bit to get home) and another first as this was the furthest I'd poked my nose out into the Solent all summer as I rounded the Eastoke mark before turning for home..

I think I'm ready for my first big trip now, and to get more prepared I've even started shopping around for GPS equipment smileys. I strongly suspect that it's not going to happen until next year (simply not enough time left this year) but it's something to look forward to over the winter... the first trip I'd like to do is to the Nab Tower [click here] (pictured right), for no other reason originally than that I've always fancied seeing it (!), but I now understand that there is a second reason, as it also has a military heritage... more on that when I get there (and more importantly get back!)

Distance: 10 miles (125 miles year to date)
Wind: Force 3 occasionally gusting force 4.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Was just browsing around GoogleBooks today (looking for Dervish/Sudan references as is my wont!) and I found these - not full view, but a considerable part of the books! Click on the book picture to be taken to the relevant book text in Google Books...

I think a vote of thanks is owed to John Curry for making this available to Google!

I also found the following:

George Gush/Andrew Finch - Guide to Wargaming


Monday, October 05, 2009

Newline Designs - ACW samples...

The first painting in ages, but as I was kind of fired up to get some paint on the samples from Newline Designs [click here] that I bought at Colours last month.

It all went pretty quickly - a pleasant afternoon was spent slapping on the inks and I'm quite happy with the results..

I suppose as they were samples I should have painted some of them as Confederates, but I got carried away with the dark blue ink..!

They are fantastically easy to paint - these sixteen took me just over four hours in the end - and a pleasant afternoon it was assisted along the way by the Japanese Grand Prix, and Marilyn Monroe in Niagara!

You'll notice that they aren't based.. this is intentional as I haven't yet decided on the rule-set I want to use, so don't know what the basing requirements will be - suffice to say that in "They Couldn't Shoot an Elephant" these guys would be enough to comprise four bases of four figures, which would represent a Union infantry regiment of about 400 men. When push comes to shove, given I'm painting both sides, I could probably chose any basing system I like but I'll hold fire for the time being..

Apart from the basing I also need to complete the standard bearer - pictures of him when he's complete..

So what's next??

Well.. the search for the ruleset continues - DG and I have just set up a small Battle Chronicler game to try out the "They Couldn't Shoot an Elephant" rules - couple of brigades a side, and we're just in the deployment phase at the moment.. I'll feedback further as the game develops.

After that, thoughts will turn to "shopping" as based on this experience I've decided that I need to place an order with Newline for either an army pack, or bargain pack soonest... just need to make my mind up which!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dervish foot rebased...

While the search for the perfect ACW rule set continues (stay tuned - the next rule set is "They Couldn't Shoot an Elephant" by the Too Fat Lardies), things have not stood still on other fronts...

Following the recent Sudan games where we attempted on two occasions to rescue the Belgian observing officer Captain Lucien Verbeek, representative of his majesty King Leopold II of Belgium (and not forgetting his horse Teufel), I became increasingly unsatisfied with the quality of the bases for the Dervish... the bases are large (9cm x 4cm) and in the case of the foot contain between 8 and 10 figures, so they are not light - the bases are made of plastic card (I use this for all my bases except on rare occasions when I've run out and then I use beer mats) and they were simply not up to the job. There were two problems - one, the surface tension of the glue used for the basing material was making them bow (and I hate that - they have to sit flat!), two, I couldn't get my fingers around the bases to pick them up... bottom line - the card was too thin.

A quick trip to Hobby Craft got me a sheet of 1.5mm plastic card at a quite eye watering price (next time I'm off to the web where it seems to be half the price..)! A slightly bigger job was to get the figures off the old bases, but a chisel ended blade on the trusty craft knife seemed to be the best tool. One gashed forefinger later - they were off...

Following a quick coat of Vallejo "Dark Sand", I used real sand for the basing material (on PVA), with a few rocks and clumps of sparse foliage for effect... the sand I use is builders sharp sand which comes with little bits of gravel of varying sizes in it - far preferable to the old flock I used to use...

I'm happy with them - best of all I can pick them up by the base now, rather than one of the figures..


I took last Friday off to get some more sailing in, Despite it being an inset day at school I couldn't tempt either of the sprogs on to the boat so headed off into the harbour on my own (which I really don't mind - in fact I quite like it in a selfish way!). It was a very very quiet afternoon though, little or no wind to start off with so I ended up anchored at the end of the creek to do a little fishing, and what would have been called "make do and mend" in Jack Aubrey's day. New ropes had whippings added to stop them fraying, old ropes were replaced, and all was very peaceful...

Happily the wind came up so sails were re-raised and I headed off into the harbour for a very pleasant couple of hours sailing... until I got back to the mooring and realised that like a complete and total plank I'd left my small anchor (with rope and chain) on the foredeck, and that at sometime during the afternoon while heeled to the wind, it had slowly and elegantly slipped over the side....

I've replaced it now, but if I'd known how expensive it was I'd have at least waved as it slipped over the side!!! Either way, even with that, it was still a brilliant days sail... sunny & warm - most unusual for this time of the year..

Distance: 10 miles (115 miles year to date)
Wind: "Changeable" (Started out with little or nothing, and rose to a Force 3)..