Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Picture of this years Emsworth Lobster/Christmas Tree copyright John Tweddle - a local photographer who's offering is a magnitude better than the dreadful one I took.. 😏

The shortest day has passed so from this point on we're heading to warm days and sunshine.. bit of a way to go yet though, oh and a bit of work on Sparrow... 😀

While we wait for summer though - I'll wish any readers who follow the blog Merry Christmas, and an exceedingly Happy New Year!

I have figures under-coated and waiting the paint brush tomorrow (as everyone in the house apart from me and youngest are either out, visiting, or working...  bliss!!), the Christmas Dickens ("Great Expectations", this year) will be advanced, and the beer cupboard will get a pounding...

Best wishes everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"The Last Roundhead" & "The Deceightful Light" .. a review

Apologies for the delay since the last post..  Christmas preparation, trips away, work, and family have meant not a lot going on - but I have read some excellent books in the intervening period - and not being a well known author these two needs special mention...

Not sure where I first saw the recommendation for this book (I think it may have been on the Ralphus 16th and 17th Century blog [clicky]?), but what a recommendation, and now I find myself very much looking forward to what I hope will be a further volume...

The series is written by an author I've not come across before, but who writes a mean story that fairly rolls along - at it's core is the 
(fictional) hero of the two books, Blandford Candy (known to his friends, and some of his enemies, for obvious reasons, as "Sugar"), and the books form his memoirs, written in 1719 when he is proud to be one of the last Roundheads still left alive after the the English Civil War, and the return of Charles II...

Blandford is a happy go lucky young man of good looks, who is forced to leave the family home after having been found out having an affair with his brothers fiancée (there is also mention in the books of a previous dalliance with the local doctors wife, and her daughter, as well ), this forms the catalyst for him leaving home with a letter of introduction to his uncle...

His brothers are both fighting for Charles, but for various and obvious reasons he doesn't want to go to them, and as the uncle he is introduced to by his religiously minded sister is on the side of Parliament, so he ends up there as a junior officer in a troops of horse commanded by the same uncle - when his uncle eventually becomes an intelligence gatherer for the nascent Parliamentary army, Blandford goes with him as a scout.

The author is clearly well read as there are endless numbers of annotations, note and comments, the language is of the time (in the Deceitful Light he comes up with the best insult I have ever heard - "he was as much use as a marzipan dildo" - I have already used it a number of times!), the clothing is described (Blandford is a bit of a dandy with a love of brightly coloured hats in particular) but the descriptions of events are gripping..

As a young gentlemen of the time he naturally becomes a junior officer in the troop and is present at Kineton Fight (Edgehill)  were the description of how Rupert's cavalry handles them badly, is brilliant - his troop recovers though and he is then part of the attack that breaks the Royalist infantry and he captures a standard - something that features later in the books..

Back in London, and still reporting to his uncle, he then becomes involved in an investigation to find a Royalist printing press that is putting out newsletters of a propaganda nature - he also goes to Oxford as part of the Parliamentary peace commission to the King - meeting with his middle brother who has been knighted.

In the space of this one book, he goes from immature young man to experienced/seasoned campaigner, with a jaundiced view of politics, close friendships with his his fellow troopers and scouts, but also experiences losses of those same due to illness, disease, and battle...  very good..

So good in fact that I immediately ordered the second as soon as I finished the first!

"The Deceitful Light" takes up where the previous book finishes and covers from the Autumn of 1643 to Marston Moor in 1644 - Blandford continues to be a scout in his Uncles service but is now a captain and continues to be increasingly involved in the investigation of plots, and the hunting of Royalist spy's, and traitors to the Parliamentary cause.

There are two main plot lines in this second book, one is a murder mystery, and the other slightly more confusing one is a longer term plot that kind of carries on from the first book..  neither is fully resolved within this book I fully expect there to be a follow on...

In history terms it reflects a period when Parliament was a little unsure about how to progress the war, and that's much the same in the book... their strategy was unclear. A large part of the book then focusses on the north and the build up to Marston Moor... Candy meets Cromwell (who he dislikes and admires in equal measure!) and the Fairfax's (who dislike him) - he also meets (in the book) Leven (the Scottish commander). These separate parties all have a desire to win the war against the King - but they have differing views on how it should be done...

It strikes me that this would have very much been the situation at the time - those who had burned their bridges, those who didn't want to spoil their own nest, those who just wanted it all to go away and the status quo return - sounds very much like Brexit!

Overall then two absolute crackers and I can't wait for the next volume - if only to get to the bottom of the murder, and who the damn "washer woman" is... ! Wholeheartedly recommended, stupidly cheap on Kindle, Steve the Wargamer rates these as 10's..   10+'s if you have an interest in the English Civil War

Saturday, November 24, 2018

"La ferme d'abondance" - set up and game..

With the arrival of DG in the south for the weekend's Warfare trip, as is usual with us we looked to slip in a quick game while he was down, and thoughts soon returned to that all too dissatisfying game [clicky] we had for the John Corrigan Memorial a few months ago..  the scenario was superb but balance of play with a randomised force had lead to a somewhat one sided game..  We'd had some idea's about the OOB's being more balanced as in this game cavalry is key, and these were used as the basis for this game...

So it was, that with the table still set from last time, I suggested we play again, but this time in either 15mm War of the Spanish Succession mode or 20mm American Civil War mode; DG agreed and requested Marlburian..

With the table still set up from last time (I love having a permanent wargame table away from the hustle up in the loft!) all I needed to do was swap out the 25mm terrain pieces for 15mm - the table thus became as follows:

Quick reminder:
  • all forces arrive via the town (in this case on the picture above Allies left, French right) and the town is worth one point to the home team, and 3 points to their opponents (if they can take it)
  • the hill mid table top is worth 3 pts.
  • the two other hills are worth 1 pt. each
  • the farm/barn is worth 6 pts.
  • all hills are gentle slopes, the woods (centre of table only marked by the green square outline) are classed as 'dense' - all other tree's are just for show
  • the wheat fields are 'disordered ground' - other than them, the hills, and the woods, everything else is good going - we didn't play a road bonus..
We then diced for sides, and DG chose the French giving me the Allies. He also opted to use the entry on the right in the picture above.

I had diced for OOB before the game (to save time) on a random table and had come up with a 12 unit force that comprised
  • 6 battalions of regular infantry - no morale bonus
  • 4 squadrons of regular cavalry - again no morale bonus
  • 2 batteries of artillery - medium - again no morale bonus 
  • 2 Brigadiers
  • 1 General
..we ignored any national characteristics so the forces were entirely equal.
Game length – 12 turns - from turn 13 throw 2D6 scoring 9 or more for the game to end that move - for each subsequent move deduct one from the total needed (randomness being what it is you should get a game of 14 to 16 turns..)

On to the game...

The first tactical challenge with this scenario is deciding what order to bring your troops on in, as the only entry point is the road..  DG's road jam can be seen top right..  both of us had learnt from the last game though, and both sides had pump primed the advance guard with cavalry, and in both our cases the first target was also the food source ie. the barn..

Move 1 -  cavalry to the fore heading for the barn while n innocent civilian supply train (empty) leaves
I had all four squadrons of my cavalry come on first, followed by three infantry, a gun, the rest of the infantry, and then finally the other gun..  my thinking was that the artillery moved slower than everything else so I was going for speed..  in hindsight I'm not sure that was the best idea as it meant I was missing the ability to hit out at distance until about move 4 or 5.....  

Three squadrons of Queen Anne's finest...

Departing supply wagons... empty... table colour only, and not specific to the scenario
Not 100% sure what DG opted for but I think he parcelled up his troops a bit more than I did..  two cavalry followed by three infantry certainly led the advance, then a gun I think but after that I am unclear.. what I am sure of is that his artillery was in action before mine were..

"Vive le Roi!" French advance guard..
Couple of moves later (next) and DG has taken the time to change his cavalry to line while I am still going at full whack in column..  at this point we adjudged that both sides had taken their respective single hills (1 pt each) and with the control of the town (also 1 pt each) honours were even..

Four or five moves later (following)...  British infantry wends its way through the town to the front line in the far distance...

So, same move, and an explanation of my plan (such as it was, as it changed throughout the game! ) ...  the intent was for the first two squadrons of cavalry (which we saw previously) to deny DG the barn while my main force was directed at the the three point hill, and possibly DG's town depending on what he did.. the following then, shows the main force with cavalry to the fore..

Same move..  DG was clearly making a major effort for the barn (you can see his infantry columns in the distance), and that changed my plans, especially as he had reinforced his town and was making a fairly major effort to deny me the big (3 pt'er) hill..

Next - the action at the barn hots up..British cavalry had deployed to line - they didn't have the ability to occupy the barn, but there job was to ensure DG didn't..

....which I think it fair to say they fairly comprehensively failed to do! 

Couple of moves later (next) and the British cavalry has been seen off by their triumphant French counterparts...  not a complete failure (you can see one of DG's squadrons withdrawing in some discomfort the other side of the wood) but the important thing is that DG has control of the field..  and I do not...  he has 6 pts for the taking, unless I do something, and those two columns of infantry he has are not hanging around despite taking the scenic route..

Plans change then - two battalions of my infantry have been sent down the road between the woods - in the distance I make an effort for the big hill (which also protects their flank)

Two vs one should be enough right?   My artillery is also coming up..  all is not lost...

A few moves later (next) and a fine example of the swings and roundabouts of this excellent game...  3pt'er hill first and that two versus one didn't help...  one of my squadrons was sent off in a state of discombobulation (though they have recovered far left in this picture) and the other squadron is 'disquieted'   (yellow pin = "shaken" - the cause was artillery fire from DG's gun in his town, I think)

At the barn. my horse recovers and see's off the French cavalry but they are weak now and in no condition to stop DG's infantry advance..  I've reinforced the infantry reserve advancing on the barn, and the first battalion has shaken out into line..

A few moves later and the denouement approaches.. that weak British cavalry has been sent packing (red pin = rout), DG has protected his flanks and has cavalry reinforcements, and is facing off the to the first allied battalion - bottom right you can just see one of DG's infantry battalions occupying the barn..

...the battle for the 3pt'er hill hangs in the balance.. so at this point with 8 pts to DG, and 2 pts to me, and a few moves over the scenario end we declared it a French win..

Post match analysis
  • Better tactics won the day - DG is an infantry man and looks to the long picture, I however am your archetypal British cavalry man - "charging at everything" 
  • The eagle eyed among you may have spotted we played longer than the scenario, but that was because as it turned out we didn't think it was long enough and when the game officially 'ended', it was a draw, despite DG being in a commanding position - so we played on a few more moves.. 
  • Refreshments on the night was a couple of pints of the truly splendid Hobgoblin IPA.. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Warfare 2018

Time for the much anticipated, and look forwarded to, trip to Warfare at Reading. Not one of the biggest shows but there's always a nice vibe at this show, and I think this year was good, but perhaps not quite as good as previous years??  Still an excellent show and I shall be back next year..

Purchases were moderate, but included a bargain on the Bring and Buy of a pristine copy of 'Pike and Shotte' for a tenner, and then a first foray into the world of MDF buildings with the purchase of a 15mm European Terrace from 4Ground who were having a 25% off sale

Image shamelessly ripped from the web somewhere...

This will provide a much needed replacement for the home built, but venerable, terraces I currently use (see following)..

Shamelessly ripped from a previous blog post..

'Buying spree' over, it was on the to the games...  now Warfare is primarily a competition weekend, with added on traders and a few demo/participation  games so I've never expect to see jaw dropping, quality, games of the like you'd see at Salute or Partizan, but even so, I thought this year was a bit disappointing compared with previous years...  there were a lot of games on but not many of them were "wow!" Lots of rumpled base cloths, poor terrain/scenery, and none of that "fairy dust" that makes a game stand out... so this year, just a top two for me...

In second, despite the hexes () was this monumental offering by the Wyvern Wargamers [clicky]..  the "Battle of Varna 1444"

This was a previous offering at Salute [clicky], and the level of gloss shows...

All figures are from the 12mm Kalistra range, and the game also uses their hexes..

Game used the 'Hordes and Heroes' rules which are available free for download here [clicky]

Much more on the game at this excellent blog [clicky]..

...but in first place, a stand out clear winner for me...  Stalingrad in 28mm by the Earlswood Wargames Group

Simply stunning...

The guys were actively playing this as I took pictures - this is not some static diorama

The level of detail was stunning ..

Love the dice boxes to ensure the dice don't go shooting off somewhere...

Cracking show, good company, and a bargain - what more could you want??

Friday, November 16, 2018

Clash of Empires.. a review..

Whilst I've been aware of his output I can't say I've ever read any of Ben Kane's books (he wrote the 'Forgotten Legion' series among others) so this was a new try for me..

Set during the early years of what was to become the Roman  Empire the book is set at the end of the Punic wars, in fact one of the early chapters deals with the Battle of Zama and is told from the separate and opposed perspective of two lowly soldiers on each side of a new conflict - Macedonia (under King Philip V who's seeking to recover the glory of Alexander) and Rome (an emerging power looking to reign in Macedonian sea power)

More than anything though it is a story about old and new, about Phalanx versus Legion, and about a changing world as Rome begins to flex its muscles..

On the Macedonian side Demetrios starts of life as a rower in one of the merchant ships supporting the army - but he has dreams of becoming a phalangist, and through good luck, and friendship with the veteran Simonides, is invited to join their ranks...  the descriptions of fighting are stunning - the phalanx fought 16 ranks deep with the veterans in the first ranks, by the time you got to the sixth you knew you were increasing in authority as promotion was through the usual reasons...  On the Roman side we have Felix (and his brother Antonius), who are hastati in one of the Roman legions. He is present at the defeat of the Carthaginians at Zama but in the aftermath is dishonourably discharged after falling asleep on sentry duty..  life as a civilian is hard, and he and his brother are reduced to hard times, but when Rome declares war on Macedonia there is an urgent need for men for the legions, so despite the huge risk (death if they're found out) they re-enlist..

Brilliant story - likeable main characters (apart from the Roman senator ) can't wait for the next one - Steve the Wargamer rates this one 9 out of 10..

Right - back to wargaming - Warfare on Sunday, and DG and I have a game on Saturday evening - stay tuned..

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.....