Friday, 28 February 2014

The Battle Of Ramillies - 1706

Having spent the last couple of weeks painting my Risk figures to look like Great Northern War Swedes for 'Maurice', I got a chance to use them tonight - as Anglo-Scottish-Dutch-Danish troops in our refight of Ramillies.

Caesar put together the scenario, scaling it so that it could be run as a two-player game. Both sides had about ten infantry units. The Franco-Bavarians had seven cavalry, including some guard units, whilst the Anglo-Dutch had six units, mostly trained. The Anglo-Dutch had artillery superiority, though - five units compared to the Franco-Bavarian three. The Anglo-Dutch had the Lethal Volleys and Great Captain advantages, whilst the Franco-Bavarian had Maison Du Roi to upgrade their cavalry. We had a couple of notables on each side. The Franco-Bavarians defended.

Ralph played the Franco-Bavarians. He stacked his infantry on his right, garrisoning  the two towns in his centre with elite units. His cavalry were on the left; I would have to cross the stream to get to them. I put my cavalry opposite his, and did the same with my infantry. I decided to bypass one garrisoned town altogether, and face the other with my artillery. Here are the armies deployed for battle:

My cavalry.

And my infantry. Charles XII stood in for the Duke of Malborough in this game.

The Franco-Bavarian garrisons, with the infantry line beyond them.

The Franco-Bavarian cavalry. I still have some painting to do; those units will soon become Great Northern War Russians.

I had a plan of sorts. I aimed to push the cavalry forward towards the stream, then advance my infantry to within striking distance of their enemy opposite numbers and then, once the firefight had started - a firefight in which I had an edge - lead my cavalry against that of the enemy, forcing Ralph to choose between fighting my cavalry, or rallying off the hits being caused by my superior firing. I aimed to bypass the fortified town; being forward of the Franco-Bavarian line I reasoned that I could move quickly past them and get to grips with the main enemy force without them causing me any real trouble.

I have no real idea if it worked; it went wrong from the start when I pushed my cavalry forward too far. By the stream they came under enemy artillery fire, so I crossed the stream to avoid it.

With my cavalry on his side of the table, Ralph pushed his forward to within charge distance of mine. He outnumbered me and outclassed me. This wasn't a fight I could win, and I couldn't shift the focus of the battle elsewhere because nothing else was remotely in position.

The Franco-Bavarian cavalry attacked, hitting the left of my line with both numbers and quality. Needless to say, one of my trained units fled immediately.

Ralph charged again, but luck was with me. I had just picked up a 'Stirrups In' card, and this enabled my line to hold his second attack. Not by much, it was true, but enough for my units to survive. And enough that some of Ralph's cavalry were on three or four disruption points. I ordered any cavalry that could to charge, and three of the Franco-Bavarian units fled.

Of course my cavalry was disordered and vulnerable now, and I lost more units to Ralph's next charge. However his guard and elite units were becoming very disordered, so he pulled them back toward the cover of his main line. I had one unit in striking distance; a rear attack saw two more Franco-Bavarian units routed.

Ralph had a fresh guard unit however - left behind when his main line attacked - and that soon finished off the two remaining Anglo-Dutch cavalry units.

There had been thirteen cavalry units in play at the start of the game. As we finished the first deck, only one remained - a Franco-Bavarian guard unit, out wide on his left flank. On both sides morale had dropped from 18 to 6. Ralph moved the cavalry far over onto the flank, possibly with the aim of bringing it over the stream and threatening the exposed flak of my artillery. I moved two infantry units to cover that flank, and action on that side of the table fizzled out.

It was time for the Anglo-Dutch infantry to advance. I saw a good chance to win here - both of us were very low on morale, but I reasoned that in a head-to-head volley fight my Lethal Volleys would give me the edge. This only needed to be a short fight, as a couple of losses on either side could give victory to the other. Neither of us had units we could easily maneuver to affect the fight.

I started a bombardment of one of the Franco-Bavarian garrisons. This was partially to try and keep their heads down as the flank of my infantry line moved past them, but also because it gave me two cards from the deck. By alternating bombard actions with march moves to advance my infantry I was able to slowly add cards to my hand, depleted after the cavalry action. With the luxury of being able to sit and wait, Ralph just passed a couple of times in order to build his hand up.

My infantry advanced past the garrison. I detailed one unit to take it under fire.

The lines closed. The first volleys were fired ...

... and I revealed my secret weapon. Throughout the game I had been stacking my hand with firing bonus cards. With the knowledge that the firefight need only be short, I threw them down like confetti - my first attack was enhanced with Deadly Fire, and one Franco-Bavarian unit was decimated where it stood. Other units were soon stacking up disorder. I used Firefight to force a volley phase on the Franco-Bavarians when they didn't want one, and First Fire to make mine count when they did.

In a few turns it was over. Massed firepower won the day, wiping out three Franco-Bavarian units, and taking their morale to zero. I'd also played Death Of A Hero towards the end - a card I'd held since the beginning of the game - but I needn't have bothered.

This was a bloodbath of a game, with both sides losing pretty well all of their cavalry. The key point for me was picking up that 'Stirrups In' card just when I needed it to hold of the second French cavalry charge. That saved my cavalry and gave me me chance to even the odds a little, which I was able to do. From that point the cavalry battle was just going to cause morale attrition, with the survivors probably having little chance to influence the rest of the game. And that suited me, because it meant there would be in a straight infantry fight, one I knew that I could win.

My thanks to Caesar for designing a cracking scenario, and to Ralph for being a gallant opponent. I was happy to see my Swedes in action for the first time, even under false colours.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Time Warp

Catherine and I went away for a few days last weekend, what with it being our wedding anniversary and everything. We headed down the coast, and had a night in a B&B at Milton, followed by a couple of days camping in the Meroo National Park. This is because I know how to show a girl a good time.

Anyway, we spent a lot of Thursday afternoon poking around the small township of Milton. One shop sold toys, theatrical costumes and fishing gear (really), and tucked away on a shelf were these:

Look at the date on those issues of 'Different Worlds':

If I thought those things were undiscovered treasure, worth a fortune if touted on eBay, I'd nip back down to Milton and snap them up. Then spend the money on a rather nice retro frock I saw in another shop there, the expense of which I couldn't quite justify ...

In other news, I tried some proper basing on one stand of my Swedes. Specifically that of Charles XII himself. Came out pretty well, I thought:

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

'Brigadier General' In The Gran Chaco

The 1930s Chaco War is on my length list of Things I'd Like To Have A Go At One Day. There's a few figure ranges around, in a couple of scales, and a couple of basic armies look easy enough to assemble.

I don't have any figure for it yet, though, but tonight I decided to dip my toe in the water (not that there was much in the Gran Chaco). I'd read a couple of brief reports/reviews of a newsih, small-scale WWII game called 'Brigadier General', which was supposed to be suitable for solo play; easy for me, therefore, to set up a quick game and see how things went. I bought and printer off a copy yesterday, read the rules through, and set to.

For figures I used my hair-roller WW1 armies, with the Germans standing in for the Paraguayans and the British the Bolivians. A single Risk gun masqueraded as the Bolivian artillery.

'Brigadier General' uses 40mm square elements, each one representing a company, so three bases basically represents a battalion of infantry. A basic force consists of 12 such bases, plus a HQ base. I used the following forces:

Bolivia - 1 x HQ, 6 x Infantry, 2 x Heavy Weapons, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Light Armour, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Fighter
Paraguay - 1 x HQ, 7 x Infantry, 3 x Heavy Weapons, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Fighter

I played the Bolivians, and left the Paraguayans to the AI.

Here's the board - the Bolivian are deployed at the bottom of the picture, with a strong combined-arms force in the centre, supported by the artillery, infantry on one flank, and a small force of cavalry on the other. The Paraguayans were deployed by the game system - a weak centre, a very strong right flank and a less strong left flank.

Here's the main Bolivian force, with my scratchbuilt MkIV tanks standing in for their tankettes.

The Paraguayan right was an impressively large force of infantry, supported by heavy weapons.

Both sides had aircraft, press-ganged from my 1/600 WW1 collection.

The Bolivians attacked right away, subjecting the Paraguayan HQ to strafing.

The Paraguayans attacked some Bolivian heavy weapons in the centre.

And got shot down. That's an opposed die roll, with the infantry AA scoring three times what the aircraft rolled (after combat factors are added in). Twelve elements - opposed rolls with combat results based on multiples? Recognise this game yet?

The Bolivians advanced, whilst the Paraguayans occupied a hill. At this stage I began to feel that the AI wasn't really doing any good, and just started paying the Paraguayans myself. The AI would have had those two Paraguayan bases launch themselves into a close assault on the overwhelming Bolivian force ...

An overview of the battle.

The tankettes assaulted the Paraguayans on the hill, but were repulsed. Note the small rocks on the unit behind them; units in 'Brigadier General' take Fatigue Points (FP) from combat. These can be rallied off, but if they exceed the unit's combat factor it's lost. Pulling units out of combat to recover is a tactic that is well rewarded.

On the Bolivian right their cavalry attacked a lone Paraguayan infantry company, driving it back.

The Paraguayan right assaulted the Bolivians opposite them, who had based their defensive position on some dense jungle.

The Bolivians fought off the attack, although they lost their exposed flank unit. Unfortunately the Paraguayan cavalry was too far from its HQ to exploit the excellent position it was in.

This was the position at the point I gave up on the game.

Yes, I gave up. I just wasn't enjoying it. 

'Brigadier General' is designed to be simple and, I believe, a little abstract. However I found it too abstract; it just lacked colour. Despite the units having special abilities they still felt very much the same. And the DBA-style groups (for these rules owe an awful lot to DBA) just didn't feel right.

I have to confess that I also found looking things up difficult, The rules really could have used an editorial hand to organise them; things are defined after the rules that use them (groups, for example), and the order of sections doesn't feel logical. Some definitions are hazy, or non-existent - what, for example, does 'unengaged' mean in the rally rules? It's a pretty fundamental section, but the eligibility of units to actually rally is a little fuzzy. For this game I took it to mean that the unit had not engaged in close combat, or been shot at, during the turn. But I may be wrong; it's not clear. And how are supply lines - a link between a unit and the HQ - measured so that they can be cut? The example given in the rules is very simplistic, but is the line between unit and HQ measured from any point of one base to any point of the other (which makes the supply lines hard to cut by interposing an enemy unit), or nearest point to nearest point? Again, the rules aren't clear.

What I felt I have bought is a game that's still partially floating around inside the author's head. Now I don't mind play-testing a set of rules and providing feedback or even just questions. But I prefer to do it before I've paid for them.

I did feel there was merit in the unit activation system, which is tied to an overall force morale. You can try to activate individual bases, which means that some might move, or activate whole groups, where you have the risk of mass failure set off against being able to use a large block of troops. Of course, what a group is isn't defined until near the end of the rules, and how an activated group may move isn't clear; do the units have to stay together, a la DBA, or can they move individually (like in Maurice, for example)?

I really wanted to like 'Brigadier General'; it's a size of game I like, promised solo play and gave me a possible set of quick low-complexity rules for WWII, and similar conflicts. But I was disappointed; there's nothing in them that I felt was worth my while buying them for. Maybe I will try another game, but I can't see it happening. If I relent, you'll read about it here.

Saying that, I enjoyed putting together my Gran Chaco forces, and getting fired up to play a game with the feel of that conflict. And now I have figures on temporary bases, it would be a shame not to use them for something. I see  a Memoir '44 variant coming on ...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Battle Of Sky Hill - 1079AD

This is another piece from my old website - a DBA scenario covering a battle on the Isle of Man. I'd forgotten about this until the other night when, whilst on a short camping holiday to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary, my wife and I were reminiscing about past holidays in the UK, whilst sat around the camp-fire.

This battle took place on the Isle of Man in 1079AD (see map, which you can click on to enlarge), and although relatively insignificant in the overall scheme of things, it established a dynasty that would rule the island, and the Hebrides, for the next two hundred years.

At the time of the battle, the Isle of Man was part of a larger political entity called the Kingdom of the Sudreys, which consisted of Man and the Hebrides. Although most of the kingdom was made up of Scottish islands, there is evidence to suggest that the Isle of Man was the political and ecclesiastical seat of the kingdom.

Despite its relative proximity to Britain, the Isle of Man remained untouched by the Romans or Saxons, and at the time of the expansion of the Vikings still had a Celtic population. The Norse arrived in the early 9th century and settled relatively peacefully, creating a unique Norse-Celtic cultural fusion that is still in evidence today.

The Battle of Sky Hill seems to have occurred as an attempt by Godred Crovan to become king of the Sudreys. His father, Harald the Black was king from c. 1035-1040, but on his death the kingdom appeared to come under the control of the Earls of Orkney. When their control over the islands lapsed around 1049, the throne passed to a distant relation of Harald the Black, Sigtrygg, whose brother was king of Dublin. His son, Godred II, who reigned until 1075, succeeded Sigtrygg.

But what of Godred Crovan during this time? In theory, at least, he was a legitimate heir to the throne. It is probable he had spent some time in Norway, as he was married to a daughter of Harald the Ruthless, and fought with him at Stamford Bridge in 1066. After the battle, Godred Crovan came to Man, and was honourably received by the king (probably Godred II). When Godred II died in 1075, the throne passed to his son, Fingall, but he does not seem to have retained it long. In 1075, Godred Crovan assembled a fleet and an army, probably of Norse from the Hebrides, and attacked the island. He was repulsed, but was soon back for a second attempt. Again he was repulsed, but is during this period that Fingall 'disappears' from the record, and it is probable he was killed during one of the invasion attempts. In 1079, Godred Crovan came back, and the chronicles are reasonably clear as to what happened next:
"A third time he gathered a massive force and came by night to the harbour which is called Ramsey, and three hundred men he hid in a wood which was on the sloping brow of the mountain called Sky Hill. At dawn the Manxmen formed up in battle order and after a massive charge joined battle with Godred. When the battle was raging vehemently, the three hundred rose from their place of hiding at their rear and began to weaken the resistance of the Manxmen and compelled them to flee. Now when they saw themselves defeated without any place for them to escape to, for the tide had filled the riverbed at Ramsey and the enemy were pressing constantly from the other side, those that were left begged Godred with pitiful cries to spare them their lives. Moved with compassion and taking pity on their plight, since he had been reared among them for some time, he called off his army and forbade them to pursue them further."
Chronica Regum Mannie et Insularum (The Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles)
It has been suggested that Fingall died at this battle, but the otherwise detailed account neglects to mention this, so it is unlikely. In any event by his victory at Sky Hill, Godred Crovan became king of the Sudreys, and took the kingdom to new heights, codifying its laws and exerting a measure of control over neighbouring kingdoms. Some of the Hebrides were lost in 1156, and the rest of the islands, including Man, passed to control of the Scottish crown in 1266. A final rebellion by the Manx occurred in 1275, but was defeated at the Battle of Ronaldsway, and the kingdom of the Sudreys ceased to exist.

The Armies

Norse: 2 x 4Bd (Huscarls), 7 x 3/4Bd (Islemen or Viking Hird), 2 x 3Wb (Beserks, Freelance Raiders or Wilder Islemen), 1 x 2Ps (Archers)

This army is a combination of the DBA Viking army (106a) and the Scots Isles and Highlands (128). The general is Godred Crovan, and is one of the Huscarl elements.

Manx: 2 x 4Bd (Huscarls), 8 x 4Bd (Manx Norse), 2 x 2Ps (Archers)

This army is a cross between the Viking (106a) and the Leidang (106b). The general is nameless, but for the purposes of the game assume that it is Fingall. Once again, he is one of the Huscarl elements.


The Norse deploy first, placing ten elements of their force within 600p of their baseline. These ten elements must include the general. The other two elements are involved in Godred's Stratagem; see Special Rules. A Viking long-ship (or some equivalent marker) should be placed on the river, 600p from the Norse baseline. This may or may not have an effect on play, but will look nice regardless.

The Manx then deploy within 600p of their baseline and take first bound.

Both sides have a camp.

Terrain Notes

The river is impassable to all troops but Godred's ships; see Special Rules.

The forest is impassable, but troops may ambush out of it; see Special Rules.

Any troops that are forced to recoil into the forest or the river are lost.

The fordability of the stream should be diced for. Dice for the two sections each side of the ford separately. As it does not seem to have presented a major obstacle in the battle, apply a -1 to the die roll.

Special Rules - Godred's Stratagem

In the actual battle the Norse hid 300 men in ambush on Sky Hill. This special rule simulates this, but allows for the Norse player two alternative options in order to keep the Manx player guessing.

Ten of the Norse elements are deployed as normal. The other two elements are kept off table, and the Norse player must secretly choose one (and only one) of the following options for them:
  • They are merely off-table behind the Norse baseline.
  • They are deployed on board the ship.
  • They are deployed in ambush in the forest on Sky Hill.
If the elements are merely off-table, they may enter as a group anywhere along the Norse baseline at the cost of 1 PIP.

If either of the other two options has been chosen, then the option may not be revealed until the Vikings roll a '6' for PIPs. On the bound they roll a '6', or on any subsequent bound, they may reveal their chosen stratagem according to the following rules:

If the ship option is chosen, then moving the ship reveals it. The ship costs 1 PIP per turn to move, and may move up to 400p. It may only move on the navigable portion of the River Sulby; the last 600p towards the Manx baseline are not navigable. The elements on board may deploy on the river's edge as a group for 1 PIP; deploy them side by side, centred on the middle of the ship. They may deploy in contact with enemy, but remember they are lost if they are forced to recoil into the river. Once deployed, the ship has no further effect on play, but can be retained on-table for decorative purposes. If the ship option is not selected, then it remains on table, but may not be moved.

If the Sky Hill option is chosen, then it is revealed by the Norse player moving the hidden elements out of the forest. The elements may group move or move as single elements, but both must exit on the same turn. They may be deployed in contact with enemy elements, but count as being in bad going for the ensuing combat. If forced to recoil whilst on the forest's edge, then they are lost.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA victory condition apply.

Background Notes

I came across this battle whilst on holiday on the Isle of Man in June 1999*. I had, in fact, assured my wife that the island was free of battlefields to visit, but discovered I was wrong on the second day. Needless to say I spent inordinate amounts of the remaining holiday trying to work out how to game the battle. Virtually all of the information about the battle can be found in the above excerpt from the Chronicles; the rest of the detail is conjecture. The driving force behind any decision has always been the need to create a good game.

The 'hook' with this battle was Godred's ambush. Unfortunately, such things are difficult to pull off in scenarios, unless one player is unfamiliar with the battle, and you only want to play the game once. I decided that perhaps giving the Vikings a couple of options for their ambushing force would create the right level of uncertainty for the Manx player. The option of the riverborne force grew out of the reference to the tide filling the riverbed, the fact that these were Vikings after all, and finally to the discovery of an unpainted Irregular Miniatures 6mm Viking Longship just begging to be used for something.

How big is this battle? Godred's force is described as 'massive', and having a 'great number' of ships. This suggests that his army was at least a couple of thousand strong, probably larger, although these descriptive phrases could just be chronicler's exaggeration. In any event, his ambush force would be a very small proportion of his available army, less than 10% probably. I have chosen to make it two elements, or 15% of his force, so that they are worth fielding. Assume that they have a morale effect out of all proportion to their numbers. There is no evidence at all for the size of the Manx force (I don't even know what the population of Man was likely to be at the time), so I have assumed that it is roughly equal to that of Godred's force. It is likely to have been larger, in which case it can be assumed to be less enthusiastic or well equipped. For game purposes it has the same number of elements.

I have defined this scenario in terms of the ground scale given in DBA. In fact, given that the armies were relatively small, the map is based on a scale of 1" = 50p. This should be borne in mind when trying to translate the battle to other systems, or to relate the scenario to geographical reality!

I took a few pictures of the battlefield.

View of Sky Hill from Ramsey

Sky Hill and the field of battle from the east. The trees in the foreground line the stream.

View from the edge of the forest on Sky Hill looking out north east over the battlefield.

The plaque commemorating the battle.

Close up of the plaque. The text reads:
"The Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles record that in 1079 a Norseman, Godred Crovan mustered a great number of ships and came to Man where he joined battle with the people of the land. Defeated twice, on the third attempt he landed his army by night at Ramsey and hid 300 men in the woods on Skyhill. Next day, at the height of the battle the hidden forces attacked the Manxmen from behind and victory for Godred was assured. He treated the islanders mercifully and established a Norse dynasty that ruled Man until 1265."The Society For The Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment

The following publications proved invaluable in designing this scenario:

  • Chronica Regum Mannie et Insularum (The Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles)
    Transcribed, translated and introduced by George Broderick
    Manx National Heritage 1996
  • The History Of The Isle Of Man Under The Norse
    G.V.C Young
    The Manx-Svenska Publishing Co. 1981
  • Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
    Ian Heath
    Wargames Research Group 1980
  • Landranger Ordnance Survey 95 - Isle Of Man (1:50 000 scale)
    Ordnance Survey
  • DBM Army Lists - Book 3: 476AD to 1071AD
    Compiled by Phil Barker and Richard Bodley Scott
    Wargames Research Group 1994.
The two maps were scanned from 'A Brief History Of The Isle Of Man' by G.V.C Young (1981) and used with permission.

*So I was accompanied on my battlefield tourism not only by my long-suffering wife, but by my children, then aged two and three.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Digital Rules - Warriors Of Barsoom

Mister Nizz at 'Third Point Of Singularity' has announced that he has added TSR's 'Warriors Of Barsoom' rules to his digital rules project. Published in 974, as a set of rules they aren't up to much, but as a piece of Barsoomian wargames history they are well worth a look.

Details Here

His project is to take various sets of rules that are available on the 'net and convert them into epub format, which enables them to be used on most tablets. It's an interesting idea.

(Regulars on this blog will recognise two of the other sets he has available as well)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Ga Pa!

The Swedes are done.

Well, I say 'done'. They still need to be varnished, but it's been raining all day. And I will do something more attractive with the bases as well. But they are in a mostly done state.

And here they are - about 100pts worth in Maurice terms.

I'm taking a few days off painting now, as I'm going away for a long weekend to celebrate my 21st wedding anniversary. But when I get back I'll be ready to start on the Russians.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Do You Have A Flag?

My Swedes do. Well, some of them; I've been trying out an idea for putting flags onto the existing standard-bearer figures, and it seems to work OK. Now I just have to hand-paint a flag for each of the seven infantry units I have. Easy

Update - A good evening's work; all seven units now have flags. I have no idea if the regimental flags correspond to the uniforms; I just went with flags that (i) looked nice and (ii) were relatively easy to paint.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Two Years!

The Stronghold Rebuilt has now been running for two years, and I'm still finding things to post about. How about that?

As with the first year, for a blog that was conceived to be a repository for posts about 'Hordes of the Things', it's seen a majority of posts about other games. I could have done what other people do, and have a different blog for different types of games, and it has to be said that single-subject blogs are not without there appeal. But my ability to concentrate on one game or project for more than a few days at a time is so limited that it would be pointless; I'd have heaps of blogs in no time at all, and I have enough trouble maintaining the four that I do post in. This one get's 90% of my blog time, rest assured - the others aren't game-related*.

Anyway, I won't bore you with a run-down of the last year; I pretty much did that at the start of January. suffice to say it's been a varied year of interesting games, and I've had fun sharing them with you.

In the meantime, here's another picture of my Great Northern War Swedish infantry. I will probably give the bases a temporary coat of green until I decide how I'm going to do the army as a whole. In addition I'm not doing the flags, as I may replace the standard bearers with better figures, converted from the basic infantryman in the same way that I did the pikes. That will have to wait until the batch of Risk figures I've ordered from eBay arrives ...

And now it's time to get back to painting the Swedish cavalry and artillery. My aim is to have all figures, if not the bases, completed by the end of the weekend. It's raining here, so I can't see us going out anywhere.

*There's one for our business, one in which I sometimes document  my crossdressing adventures and a new one I'm using to publish  my old writings on the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Painting Swedes

I have been making some progress on my Risk figure Swedes this week. The infantry are now almost done.

Pikes added ...

Basic painting ...

Nearing completion ...

I will finish them off tomorrow, then make a start on the cavalry and artillery.

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