Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The Hazard and doubtful Chance of Wars - The Development of SYW Rules

Back here I mentioned some of the ideas I tried to adopt in developing a set of grand tactical rules for the Seven Years War. What follows specifically concerns the development of my SYW rules, some of the key mechanisms that I finally ended up with I adopted for my ECW rules. I my original rules Command & Control involved checking the ‘Initiative Ratings’ of generals. Combat involved opposed die rolls and modifying them according to unit ‘Strength Points’ (‘SP’). This in turn meant keeping a roster of SP which was a bit slow and a bit, well, like admin. All pretty derivative of what was around in terms of rules.  Then I was introduced to Polemos Marechal De l’Empire (MDE) and General de Division (GDD) .

Polemos rules provided a breakthrough for me. They simplified things and speeded the game up, even if the combat mechanism was a bit brutal. As well as getting me back into Napoleonics, it inspired me to rebase my H&R SYW figures and touch up the painting on figures I’d done many years before. 


 Old Fritz assembles his battalions outside Olmütz (or some such place).
The square bases are command bases, the officer on a round base is an ADC heading off to the flank with the King's instructions.

We had some good SYW games using a bowdlerised version of MDE but it felt a bit too, well, Napoleonic. The ebb and flow and combined arms action didn’t feel right for SYW. After lots of tinkering I still found it wasn’t getting that linear warfare feel. So I started completely from scratch. If indeed you ever can start from scratch and forget everything from before.

What were the principles I was looking for in my new ruleset?
  1. Friction
  2. If possible 'the fog of war'
  3. Lady Luck (see the quote above), and finally
  4. I wanted to replicate the difficulty of changing a plan once battle was underway. 
The Command and Control mechanisms would be at the heart of the solution I came up with. I like the Tempo Point idea from Polemos, but although it models the rationing of 'command resources’ it is immediate. I wanted the jeopardy that it all might be too late to change things. You could argue that the Polemos approach models the whole thing (time delays, limited opportunities to influence things etc.), but if you want to do something different with a command you assign TPs and ‘buy’ that change. There isn't that element of doubt - if you have the number Tempo Points needed you can make the change happen even if you could only do this in a limited number of cases. So I came up with the idea of moving ADC figures about the tabletop and reverting to dice rolls to see if orders could be changed. ADCs move at a set pace down the chain of command, from the player's 'personality' figure ('the Commander') to a subordinate general ('General'). There they improve the chance the General’s formation will do what you want it to do at a given point, but you still have to dice for it. You can send more than one ADC to a General if you want to prioritise something. You can dice to ‘change orders’ without an ADC present, but there's a lower chance. The ADCs are added to the subordinate’s own Initiative Rating, which could be one of the following:
  • Lively (3): Those with good coup d’oeuil i.e. generals with plenty of vision and the ability to read the battlefield. They are able and willing to react to developments without always having to receive new orders.  Examples would be Loudon and Seydlitz.
  • Middling (2): The bulk of competent generals who will go about their business under orders
  • Myopic (1): Generals with either poor vision (literally) or without the ability or willingness to take the initiative.  This can include those whose attitude requires extra 'management' by the Commander (Sackville at Minden springs to mind).
The number in brackets is the die roll that you have to be equal to or lower than to succeed. To this you add the number of ADCs present. You can even add a visit from the Big Man himself to drive the point home. Once the attempt has been made remove the ADCs (whether or not it was successful). If unsuccessful, the formation concerned continues to do whatever it was doing before, even if it appears illogical to us as the player with our all-seeing eye. Remember that at eye-level for our tiny men, much less can be seen, people even short distances away can be invisible due to minor terrain features which we don't build on our unaturally flat battlefields. I'm still playing around with the IR values to get the balance right, but for me the mechanism delivers what I was looking for.

What do I mean by changing orders?

Any of the following requires a change of orders:
  • Commencing a move (except at the start of the games, when any or all formations can start moving). If you elect not to move a formation in turn 1, then you still have to successfully change the orders (the original plan may have been misunderstood, or they missed their time/signal to start marching)
  • Halting a move (the only other ways to stop are to end up in Combat or reach an impassable obstacle)
  • Direction Changes (i.e. EVERY direction change)
  • Formation Changes (line or road column only)
  • Rallying
  • Changing pace - i.e. Forced march (faster but adds to attrition)
The number of ADCs is determined each turn by a dice throw. Again, I'm still playing around to get the balance right (type of dice?).

Next up was Combat
This is basically a series of opposed die rolls, modified by circumstances and quality. Pretty standard fare so far. Bases can be pushed back, suffer attrition (disorder/losses - I use casualty markers), and ultimately get removed. By the way, bases represent 2 battalions or c 5 squadrons - i.e. regiments for Prussians and Austrians. Combat occurs when foot and horse are in base-to-base contact. There are actually 3 types of combat each with different sub-phases:
  • cavalry v cavalry
  • cavalry v infantry
  • infantry v infantry
This is a bit complicated to get used to, but I wanted to try to capture the different ways action between the different arms unfolded, otherwise at this scale cavalry just become faster moving infantry. I could elaborate but I might cover that in another post. Needs more play-testing.

Turn Sequence
Turns are UGOIGO, but only 1 ‘action’ is permitted per unit per turn. This speeds up the turn and means the non-phasing player isn't waiting around for so long. Also I reasoned that a unit shouldn't be able to go through a fire fight and then march a given distance in the same time it takes another unit to move the same distance. I gave a lot of thought to the turn sequence and how the different phases interact and ended up with the following:
  • Enforced Moves Phase
  • Artillery and Skirmishing Phase
  • Combat Phase
  • Manoeuvre Phase
  • Orders Phase
I am not totally happy with where Enforced Moves has ended up, so this might change.

If you’re in combat that turn, you cannot then move that turn. If you have an enforced move you cannot initiate combat. Artillery and skirmishing is ‘ranged combat’ which seeks to degrade the enemy units. One option that I've experimented with is to run Combat and Manoeuvre as if it is one phase, running across the table from left to right and performing the relevent action with each formation. So for example, Left Wing Cavalry might be in combat with their opposite numbers so you carry out the Combat phase for them. Then next up is the Left Wing Infantry who might still be advancing and you perform their Manoeuvre Phase. Then on to the Centre Infantry, Right Wing Infantry and Right Wing Cavalry each performing Combat OR Manoeuvre.

The Orders Phase is when you move ADC figures from your Commander towards where you want them to go. Ones already en route also continue to move during this phase. The “order” in the form of an ADC figure is sent immediately after the Manoeuvre Phase, and cannot in effect be carried out before the next Movement Phase. The player may have to anticipate what might happen in the other player’s turn or in his own subsequent Combat and Artillery Phases. The test to change orders is actually carried out at the beginning of the Manoeuvre Phase. There is no limit on the number of changes except that a unit or command can only have one attempt to change orders each turn - no ‘if X doesn’t work I’ll try Y’.

There are other features which I could expand on, but won't for now at least. These include how troops are graded by Type, by level of Discipline and by Temper. The latter (possibly unecessary gloss) was inspired by an idea in the Gå På rules.

Action about to commence in a playtest at Schloß Nundanket

I'll leave you with the full quote that this post's title came from. It sums up my feeling on Early Modern Warfare.
 
"The Hazard and doubtful Chance of Wars, the mighty and surprizing Revolutions of Human Affairs; particularly the unaccountable Events of Engagements and Stratagems, which we see happen daily; and wherein, when the nicest Policy hath done its utmost, Providence hath still the chief Hand, and gives the finishing Stroke; For it is obvious to every Man’s Observation, that what the World calls Fortune, cannot pretend to so absolute a Dominion in any one Instance, as in the Decisions of the Field. And accordingly we often see, that One Hour there turns the whole Face of Affairs, and exalts or reduces a Prince to the very Reverse of what he was an Hour ago." Of Wisdom, Book III, Pierre, Sieur de Charron, transl. George Stanhope, London 1707

Monday, 29 July 2019

Ken Burns' Vietnam

Update: The whole series started again today (10 August) on BBC4 this time from 22:30. Two episodes.

Burns' 10 part documentary is being shown in the UK again on PBS America (available on Freeview). It's being shown in two and half hour long chunks starting well after 10PM so it's too late for this wage slave to see it all.

I caught a few episodes when it was shown last year, and I'm quite content to watch the same episodes all over again. As with Burns' ACW series, this is IMHO a super documentary. The testimony from the veterans from both sides is very moving, and the makers seem to have found some very articulate men to talk to.

Three stand out excerpts from tonight (1968-69), and I write as it's still showing so there could be more:

(1) Tricky Dickie's presidential campaign people encouraging the South Vietnamese president not to attend peace talks in Paris, with the promise that he could get better terms if elected in the upcoming US Presidential election. So there's nothing new under the Sun in terms of what some people are prepared to say to crawl their way to the top.

(2) One US vet saying that 19 year old boys are prepared to do a lot, and ask no questions. "That's what makes them excellent warriors".  "They even have to be told to put raincoats on when it's raining", struck a chord with this father of a young man.

(3) Another US vet saying how he switched on the TV whilst in Australia on R&R, at the time of the Democratic National Congress in Chicago, saw police beating protestors and assumed it was the Soviets in Czechoslovakia. "I became politicised". Not shocking, knowing a bit of the history of my own country too, but it's interesting hearing about transformational moments in people's lives.

I'm sure this will not be news to many of the, ahem, greying wargaming fraternity. It's not totally new to me, though I was 6 at the time and have hazy recollections of the TV news from those days. And I'm not totally naive either. But I found this powerful viewing.

If, you've not seen the programme yet, it's well worth spending the time. Maybe you have some stand out moments of your own.


(2) Karl Marlantes
(3) Ron Ferrizzi

Friday, 26 July 2019

More on Cheriton - Orders of Battle

After my last post, I started thinking more about getting Cheriton on to the gaming table. First thoughts turned to the order of battle, so I reached for all the books on my shelves that 'covered' Cheriton, and I also searched for key sites on the internet, to see what they had to say.

If you're interested in the ECW you'll probably not be surprised that information is thin on the ground. There is mention of a few specific units and leaders on each side (but nowhere near the full order of battle). There are some names common to all sources, and a few that only pop in one place or another. Overall troop numbers are given with a remarkable degree of confidence in most of the books, but with not much consistency and with little in the way of sources quoted. I have to say here and now that I do not (yet) possess any of the books specifically about Cheriton published in the last 50 years, and they might reveal more. At 28 pages I don't anticipate a lot of detail in the Spring book; the Sawyer booklet seems currently unavailable; asking prices on the Adair book are beyond what I'm currently prepared to pay; and the Jones book is not yet published. Maybe I should get down to the library this weekend to see if I can find the Adair book through the inter-library lending service.

Being the slightly-OCD geek that I am (if you can be slightly OCD) I tabulated the sources thus:

Source
Author
Sources referenced
With Pike and Musket: Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Battles for Wargamers
CF Wesencraft
No sources referenced
The English Civil War 1642-1651: An Illustrated History, (London 1983)  pp76-7
Philip Haythornthwaite
Not specifically referenced. Select bibliography includes Cheriton, Adair, J (Kineton 1973)
A Battlefield Atlas of the English Civil War, (Leicester 1986) pp51-53
Anthony Baker
No sources referenced. No bibliography.
The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain with Ordnance Survey Maps (London 1993) pp 152-153
David Smurthwaite
Not specifically referenced. Select bibliography does not show any primary sources or anything specifically related to Cheriton.
Usefully overlays supposed dispositions onto OS Map but with no cited authorities.
The Great Civil War: A Military History of the First Civil War 1642-1646 (London 1959)
Alfred H Burne and Peter Young
Not specifically referenced. Bibliography includes Gardiner; Lord Hopton ‘Bellum Civile’; Thomason Tracts; Godwin, The Civil War in Hampshire (London 1904); E.Walsingham, Brittanicae Virtutis Imago; Webb & Webb, ‘Military Memoirs of Colonel John Birch’ (Camden 1873)
BCW Project

John Adair, Roundhead General, a military biography of Sir William Waller (London 1969)
C.E.H. Chadwyck-Healey (ed), Bellum Civile (Somerset Record Society 1902)
Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)
Laurence Spring, The Campaigns of Sir William Waller's Southern Association 1643-45 (Bristol 1997)
Laurence Spring, The Battle of Cheriton 1644 (Bristol 1997)
Wikipedia

  • Adair, John Eric (1973). Cheriton 1644: The Campaign and the Battle. Kineton,
  • Godwin, G. N. (1918). The Civil War in and around Winchester. Winchester,
  • Spring, Laurence (1997). The Battle of Cheriton 1644. English Civil War battles series. Bristol
  • Memoirs of Colonel John Birch, London: Camden Society, 1st ed., 1846.
P. R. Newman, "Atlas of the English Civil Wars", 44-5
UK Battlefields Resource Centre



Overall numbers of troops quoted on the royalist side vary from 5000 to 7900. On the Parliamentarian side the lowest number given is 8000 but most quote 10000. Again I tabulated what I found in the various texts. The squared bracketed numbers against Baker are my suppositions derived from his comment that the Roundhead cavalry was over 1/3 of the 10000 strong army.




Royalists
Parliamentarians
Source
Horse
Dragoons
Foot
Guns
Total
Horse
Dragoons
Foot
Guns
Total
With Pike and Musket: Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Battles for Wargamers
4100 (breakdown doesn’t add up)
3800 (breakdown doesn’t add up
11
7900
5800 (breakdown doesn’t add up)
3100 (breakdown doesn’t add up)
a few
8900
The English Civil War 1642-1651: An Illustrated History, (London 1983)  pp76-7




Some 6000




10,000
A Battlefield Atlas of the English Civil War, (Leicester 1986) pp51-53





Over 1/3
[3500]
[6500]

10,000
The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain with Ordnance Survey Maps (London 1993) pp 152-153


1000 musketeers under Appleyard

6000
300 under Hazelrig



10000
The Great Civil War: A Military History of the First Civil War 1642-1646 (London 1959)
Nearly 3000

3000
11
Not less than 6000




Outnumbered Hopton’s army by several thousand
BCW Project
3800

3200

7000
3000
600
5000

8600
Wikipedia
2500

3500

6000
3500

6500

10000
UK Battlefields Resource Centre




c 5000




c 10000

Apologies for the small font on the table. I was struggling to fit it in.

On no stronger a basis than them being the most commonly quoted numbers, I'll probably go with 6000 Royalists vs 10000 Parliamentarians. Note of warning - the fact they're so frequently quoted but without good references probably suggests they're mostly repeating what some other secondary source said. Some of the books give some detail on the make up of the horse and foot, such as the oft quoted 'Appleyard's 1000 musketeers' sent to Cheriton Wood by Hopton.

Some leaders are mentioned, sometimes linked to specific units. The most useful sources in this regard are Burne & Young,  the BCW Project and Wikipedia. Putting them together we have the following:

Royalists
Titular commander:               Earl of Forth
De facto commander:            Hopton
Cavalry Commander:             Lieut. General Lord John Stuart
Major General of Horse:        Sir John Smith (Right wing cavalry?)
Left wing cavalry:                   Sir Henry Stowell
Commanded musketeers:      Col. Matthew Appleyard

Unfortunately not much else is clear about the infantry commanders.

Also mentioned; Col. George Lisle, who is the subject of one of my favourite anecdotes from the Civil War*, and Sir Henry Bard, the villain of the piece at Cheriton from the Cavalier point of view.

Parliamentarians
Commander:                           William Waller
Right Wing Cavalry:                William Balfour
Left Wing Cavalry:                  Sir Arthur Haselrig (I surmise he was in overall command)
                                                (he of the Lobsters, not present at Cheriton)
London Brigade# (infantry):    Major General Sir Richard Brown
London regiments (infantry)
in Cheriton Wood:                   Col. Walter Leighton (possibly a sub-unit of Brown's command?)

*# 4 regiments mentioned by Burne and Young: being the Red, White, Yellow and Green, of which White and Yellow were sent into Cheriton Wood under Leighton.

As with the Royalists, the PBI don't seem to get much of a look in.

In looking at the Smurthwaite book, I noticed that he has the Parliamentarian starting positions north of the Petersfield Road, and atop the ridge seen in my photo of Broad Lane in the previous post. This, if accurate, answers a conundrum for me. Most accounts refer to the 'arena' created by the ridges which run north, east and south of the field of battle. On walking the ground I found there was a ridge between the usually quoted starting positions of Hinton Ampner for the Roundheads and the monument near Scrubbs Farm for the Royalists. So the note with my fourth picture in the previous post wrongly says this is were the Parliamentarian line was - they would have passed through that way, but carried on to the next ridge. That being said, there is still a spur of higher ground jutting from Cheriton Wood into the eastern half of the field between the two starting positions as seen in this OS based map from the Battlefield Trust.

http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/media/575%2Epdf

As I can testify, the spur does not have particularly steep slopes, but it is high enough to block line of sight of anything not near the crest. I would say it is a significant enough feature to represent on the gaming table. Talking of which, from that map I reckon an area modelling 2.5km by 1.5m would be needed as a minimum. My table, at my usual 1mm to the yard groundscale, is not deep enough. I'm about 700mm out. Hmmm! Back to the drawing board.

Totally a propos of nothing, except this post being short of pictures, I wonder if this car has anything to do with the late Dan O'Herlihy.



* Captured after the siege of Colchester in 1648, Lisle was sent before a firing squad with his friend Charles Lucas. Lucas was first and opened his shirt and invited the 'Rebels' to "do your worst". Lisle came next and having kissed his dead friend, invited the firing squad to step closer. "Sir, I warrant we will hit you", declared the officer in charge. Lisle smiled, then replied, "I have been nearer to you, friend, when you missed me".

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Cheriton

Radar over at Keep Your Powder Dry recently posted an entry on the Battle of Cheriton including some photos from a walk around the battlefield. The specific post can be found here, but if you haven't visited the blog before, and have an interest in the ECW, it is well worth the time. As well as Cheriton he covers other ECW sites:

https://www.keepyourpowderdry.co.uk/2019/06/battle-of-cheriton-29th-march-1644.html

That post reminded me of a hot day in July last year when I took myself down to Hampshire to do the walk myself. Summer 2018 was one of the hottest ever recorded in the UK, so it wasn't the most comfortable weather to go traipsing round the countryside in. But I had some time off work whilst the family were at work and school, and what better way to use it than indulging my hobby and getting some exercise. The health app on my phone tells me I walked 11.3km that day, most of it at the time of the Cheriton walk. I find it a bit of a stretch that the walk was over 6 miles, so I don't take that as Gospel.

I won't tell you anything about the battle itself. That has been done many times before, by people better qualified, and better writers, than myself. For example: Here; and here.  And that's not including printed material. I should also point out the Battle of Cheriton Project site  here. For some reason I haven't figured out yet, it holds a fascination for me similar to what I feel about Lobositz in the SYW. Only this is much more accessible. It's on my 'to do list' of battles. In fact it was the main target I built up my cavalry forces so much this year. Maybe it's something for the coming weekend. Hmmmm!

Anyway, here are a selection of the photos I took on my walk round Cheriton last year. Hopefully they will be of some interest and use, giving an impression of the lie of the land. First up Church of All Saints, Hinton Ampner. The village didn't seem to feature much in the battle, the manor (now a National Trust property) was where Waller was headquartered before the battle. The church I found particularly attractive and unusual in my experience and looks like it deserves a closer look, but as it was at the start of a longish walk, on a hot day I decided to push on.

More information on the church can be found here: https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101155865-church-of-all-saints-bramdean-and-hinton-ampner#.XTDXzC2ZOu4
The location map on the British Listed Buildings site is quite useful for showing the pathways around the battlefield.

I walked down the hill from the church through the very picturesque hamlet of Hinton Ampner to start the walk proper at Petersfield Road stopping at the first information board:
From there I proceeded across the road to lane opposite (Broad Lane?) (below)
and then turned right (East) along Cheriton Lane (note this is the track running east-west between Cheriton Wood and Cheriton village and not the road of the same name to the north of the wood.

Here is the view looking west from Broad Lane at where the main Parliamentarian line would have been. Erratum: subsequent viewing of the Battlefield Trust's OS-based map indicates that the area shown below is too far south for the Parliamentarian position - it looks like they would have marched through this position on the way to the next ridge.
 
The trees in the centre left look like a wood but are in actual fact just a row of trees bordering Petersfield Road.


Looking up Broad Lane - this gives you a good impression of how formidable some of the hedgerows could be. I don't know if these hedges were there in 1644 (it's never wise to assume the landscape is really as timeless as the usual romantic view of the countryside would have us believe) but most accounts say how the Royalist cavalry were particularly hampered in their deployment by hedges lining lanes to the north of here. Also given the time of year of the battle (March) there would have been a lot less foliage to obscure visibility. Without the leaves in March it would probably just about be possible to poke a musket through and see your target, but not in summer. And they're far too high to see over. However, they may well have been lower and thinner in the seventeenth century if they were planted around new enclosures.

Just before Cheriton Lane meets Petersfield Road, there is a short footpath connecting the lane to Alresford Lane. This is where I went wrong. I was following directions which said turn left (north) along Alresford Lane and head up along a field boundary. In the field there is a broad track which seemed to fit the bill. It was only when I reached the top corner of the field I found myself hemmed in by hedges to the right and in front. I'd missed the gap through to Alresford Lane. I was on the wrong side of the hedge. Faced with the choice of doubling back or somehow squeezing through the hedge, I took the latter course and found out just how formidable these hedges can be! It would be virtually impossible to get through with a pike, or with a horse at all without the help of pioneers cutting a way through, let alone be in any kind of condition to fight formed opposition on the other side. Never complain about big movement penalties for crossing hedges - they're not the twee little things we have round our gardens! It would have been much easier to continue on Cheriton Lane to the road and then head up Alresford Lane from the road.

Once back on the proper track, I followed it north up past the edge of a spur of Cheriton Wood. From a distance it looks particularly dense but the leaves give a slightly misleading impression. It's a bit clearer close up as the following shows. Not ideal country for formed pike and shot units, but passable to musketeers.


Slightly further north the edge of the wood is further back, east, from the lane and you can see here how it is on a pronounced slope. I didn't walk up there, but it's not difficult to see how it would have a commanding view of the battlefield.
The lane continues in a northerly direction towards the area of the Royalist start positions and eventually comes out on the road called Cheriton Lane where it becomes Badshear Lane. Continuing north on the road for a hundred yards or so, I route-marched to a bend in the road where it turns east and a quarter of a mile later arrived at the T-junction with Scrubbs Lane where the monument below was installed in the 1970s.
I'd held off drinking any water until this point so rewarded myself by having a good long swig and sat down for lunch on the bench with this panorama before me. Apologies for the distortion - I haven't got the hang of the panorama facility.

After lunch I hot-footed it back down the road, west, then south west for about 1/2mile where there is a large modern barn by the road and junction with a track called Hinton Lane. I took the lane due south to Dark Lane which heads slightly more south west to New Cheriton. I'd stopped taking photos by then, as time was getting on. I walked through New Cheriton and stopped by a stream which I found out this evening is one of the tributaries of the River Itchen (the sources rise around Hinton Ampner). The Itchen heads north before turning west, before turning south again, through Winchester and Southampton where it enters the Solent.

After refreshing my feet in the stream I tootled down the road to the Hinton Arms before finally heading back to the car and home before rush hour.

Overall it was a very pleasant walk, not too testing despite the heat, and one that could be enjoyed by anyone who likes a walk in picturesque, lowland countryside with no interest in military history. For me it obviously also had added interest and proved quite instructive. If you're in the area or able to get there, I highly recommend it. Maybe I should re-visit it myself in March to get a better feel.

Monday, 8 July 2019

The Continued Recollections of a Wargamer or Nostalgia Ain’t What it Used to Be

I mentioned last time round probably to no one but my reader and myself, how I’d built up a SYW Prussian army in Minifigs 25mm (as small group of school mates variously built up French, Austrian and Russian forces. Minifigs at that time (late 70s) were not the greatest of models. Apart from being on the chunky side. They were not just an extra 5mm taller than Airfix but twice as wide and ‘deep’. Other failings were inaccuracies, anachronisms and idiosyncrasies in the figures. The Prussian heavy cavalry hats were arguably a bit too late for the SYW, but passable. ‘Hungarian Fusileers’ had uniforms and hats that were about 2 decades too late (I don’t know the correct name but they look a bit like short Belgic shakos without the peak; and I cannot find any pictures of said articles). Prussian cuirassiers and Austrian dragoons were modelled holding their carbines, when most authorities at the time emphasised action with the sword  in anything but outpost duty. I’m sure ‘button counters’ can find many other faults. However, they were readily available and served us well at the time - remember there was none of this t’internet business in those days and penniless 15 year olds were not apt to ‘waste’ money on catalogues (printed/typed price lists) when they could pop into a shop in town.

At some point in the 80s I bought a publication called A Book of Sandhurst Wargames by Paddy Griffith.

 Front cover
 Contents page
Back cover showing maps and game pieces

It consisted of 3 boardgames and an RPG (Roll-Playing Game not Rocket-Propelled Grenade. Obviously). I haven’t re-read it for many years and I seem to have lost the maps and counters. I must re-read it because in the back of my head I feel it was somehow influential on me, but I can’t remember exactly how. Oh and I bought this when it was (re-)published in the mid-80s by Bill Leeson:


It only held an interest for me in the part it played in the history of our hobby. I found it of little practical interest beyond its use as a source of data like movement rates.

As time moved on (mid-80s), I’d left the delights of South Humberside’s premier coastal resort and became 'spacially challenged' for a few years while I attempted to join the booming property market in the capital’s outer suburbs. I sold the Minifigs and re-invested the proceeds in H&R and Irregular 6mm SYW ranges. By then Miniature Wargames had been going a few years and Wargames Illustrated had joined the 80s glossy mag market. I devoured them both avidly, and Practical Wargamer too when it came along. I’d had the Morschauser article in the back of my mind and other articles in MW introduced me to the idea of ‘Strength Points’ (SPs) with single base units. SPs were, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, a way of combining size of unit with unit quality (training, morale, experience etc). They could be used as die roll modifiers in modelling combat. An idea I think borrowed from board wargames.

Never being a great originator of new ideas, but a shameless adapter, I latched onto the idea as the basis for a new set of rules I wanted to write. There didn’t seem to be any real grand tactical rules around for the Seven Years War - everything I saw and read about commercial sets involved some sort of figure or sub-unit base removal, and usually formation changes, despite claims that they were for war in the grand manner. I wanted to get to the point where I could at least game something the size of Lobositz (30ish thousand a side) which meant a ground scale in the region of 100 paces to the inch (25mm). So I got writing and eventually went along to SELWG one evening with my toys and found a willing victim to try it out on. That taught me a valuable lesson in play testing. The rules basically totted up the combined SP of any units in contact in a combat, adjusted based on tactical factors, and added a dice throw. What I hadn’t thought of was the decidedly un-Frederician tactic of building up a mass by having deep formations adding SPs to the combat. I felt like the Ancien Regime commanders must have felt like when their battalions in the effete sounding ordre mince faced the hordes of Revolutionary France in l’ordre profond.

The rules got adjusted accordingly, but I somehow never managed to fit in return visits to SELWG. It was a faff and a half to get to after work, and then get home. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Real Life also intruded in other ways - I was still ambitious in those days and I had a wife at least as ambitious. Long work days, including some weekends, and domestic responsibilities took precedence, even before having kids. I managed a few solo games in the partially converted loft of the house we moved into in the mid-90s (it seemed expensive then but I could cry when I think what I had to pay for a run down house in a less desirable street nearby, a few years ago). The rules were gradually honed. I borrowed the idea of using playing cards to generate an element of randomness in the order in which units were activated. A small sized set of cards from a Christmas cracker came in very handy.

Units were foot battalions, 3 cavalry squadrons or a company of heavy artillery (battalion guns being considered ‘factored’ in to the infantry SP). Frontages were 50mm (200 paces). Bases could be any shape and I was able to create various dioramas or tableaux with units. Combat was engaged in when opposing units of cavalry or infantry came within 200 paces of each other. At this range cavalry were assumed to be committed to charging and infantry engaged in a fire fight and advance with the bayonet. Artillery, obviously, engaged in ranged combat and could degrade enemy units’ SP before they got to combat range.

Provision was made for hidden movement - never really tested or testable in the solo environment. The idea was to use blocks to represent columns of troops, as range decreased these could be rotated to show troop type (cavalry/infantry), then later specific categories (e.g. cuirassier/dragoons/hussars) then actual strength (models replaced the blocks).

Next came Command and Control. There had been discussion of the issue in a number of magazine articles in the 80s/90s and the idea of Initiative Ratings for generals came up. I think I got the idea from Koenig Krieg. In fact I’m pretty certain. A now lost version of my rules had basically the same table of Initiative Ratings as used in KK for named historical figures. The way I used these were to get units to perform a certain action, be it initiate movement, assault the enemy or change direction, a simple dice test had to be passed whereby the dice throw had to be below the Initiative Rating (IR) of the force’s commander. In fact there had to be 3 levels of general in an unbroken chain of command from brigade to commander in chief or penalties were incurred. ‘Unbroken’ meaning that units had to be within a command radius of their brigade commander, he in turn had to be within a command radius of his column commander, who in turn had to be within range of his C-in-C. If the chain was only partially complete, the combined IR was therefore lower and the test was harder to pass. Simple and effective in principle, but it required a bit of tweaking of IRs and/or type of die used to get the balance right. [The following text in blue is a new addition to explain a little more about my thinking.] The idea was that the player was nominally the C-in-C, so formations lower down couldn't be expected to act as the player wished without there being the ability to communicate (command radius being the proxy) with subordinates. It wasn't impossible for formations to act on their own initiative but it was a lot harder, unless the subordinate had the coup d'oeuil of a Seydlitz. 

The thinking that underlay this was that disciplined military formations (particularly) in the linear period would follow instructions (if they understood them) and would continue to follow them until something made them stop following them. Those 'things' could be combat with an enemy that stopped them, the attainment of an objective (what next?), new orders (successfully delivered and understood), or different circumstances noticed by the local commander who saw the need to do something different AND he was willing to use his initiative. In less centralised armies than the Prussians, say, aristocratic rivalry might cause nominal subordinates to show less willingness to follow the original script.

Then Real Life took over. Big time. 2 small children and divorce straddled the old and new millennia. Time, space and budgets were massively impacted, to say nothing of the emotional fallout. The new Frau* Nundanket came along, followed a few short years afterwards by the new Misses Nundanket, so even less space and even less disposable income.  Around about this time I re-established regular contact with Old School Tony
* or I should say Rouva Nundanket. 

Tony had discovered Baccus and Polemos in his self-enforced exile from the Mother Country. He started building up forces of French and (if I recall correctly) Russian Napoleonics based for General de Division and Marechal de l’Empire (‘GDD’ and ‘MDE’).  I tried a game on a trip home and was hooked! This was the basis for my next few years wargaming. Helped in no small measure by his purchase of a house-warming present of a British Peninsular War starter army, ready painted and based, for my impending move back up North. A move that never came off (too good to be true - same income as I was on in London but with the ability to go to bed every night in the DN35 postcode area!). We played the Talavera and Austerlitz scenarios from the Polemos scenario book and later Zorndorf using my home-brewed rules described above. The SYW game went OK but the rules lacked something. The obvious answer was there on Tony's bookshelf. There being no Polemos SYW ruleset at that time (around 2010) I set about adapting MDE to the mid-eighteenth century. And my cardboard bases were somewhat lacking too next to his beautifully finished MDF bases. A mass re-basing followed, including a tweak to the ground scale, and a refresh on the paintjob of my H&Rs (some of which were over 20 years old by then). In my new found enthusiasm, I also painted and based to a decent standard a fair amount of Baccus Spanish and Portuguese, and a couple of corps worth of late Napoleonic Prussians (for my son who I'd suckered nurtured into being a historical wargamer). As well as the Polemos-style grand tactical rule-rehash, in my continued obsession with things Frederician, I dabbled in rules for everything from campaign, to siege, operational, to battalion-level** actions.

** as in a battalion's part in line of battle rather than a skirmish.

Nearly there now. Just a major re-hash, ditching of the Polemos MDE framework for my SYW rules to follow before I get to the ECW and the last few years!