Wednesday, 30 December 2020

This War Without an Enemy - First view

The game I ordered a few weeks back for my wife to give me for Christmas (the one of which she said, 'don't bother getting me a birthday present, you getting this for yourself will be my present' [head scratching emoji]) was dutifully held back until Christmas Day. Over the last few days I've been examining the contents of the box and reading through the rules, trying to understand how to play it and how to combine it with table top miniatures for playing out battles.

The map is on an A1 size thick board (c2mm thick) 

This is going to take some effort. By which I mean understanding the game, not this blog post. I hope. I don't play many board games, and the last one I bought (Maria) took some time and effort to understand but was well worth the effort*. So maybe my brain isn't trained up to modern board game standard. It might therefore be a little unfair to say, this isn't all easy to get my head around. There were some bits I read and re-read in the rules, and was still puzzled, before the penny dropped. But I'll defer proper judgement until I've had a trial run through.

* In fact I thought that Maria was a beautifully produced and very cleverly constructed game

I'll probably write a few posts on it, for my own benefit; as part of my learning process. If I can describe it, I must be able to understand it, is my theory. If a side-benefit is it gives you an appreciation of the game so much the better. So my plan is to work through an overview of the game, and then work through the game sequencing and finally have a look at how I can use it in conjunction with miniatures. In effect, how I can use it to generate battles with a strategic context.

First things first, the game is based on the First English Civil War, 1642-46, for two players. It has a number of different scenarios with the full game covering all four and a half years, with each full year having 6 turns and 1642 having only 2. The 6th turn of each full year being a Winter Turn. Each Turn has 5 phases, except the Winter Turn which also has a Year End Phase when things are re-set for the following year**. So already it's beginning to sound a long game. 4 years by 5 turns by 5 phases = 100 phases. Plus 4 Winter Turns times 6 phases = 24 phases. Plus 2 turns times 5 phases = a further 10 phases for 1642 (no Winter Turn). Total = 134 phases, if my maths is correct. Admittedly some do look very brief. One of the phases in each turn is the Tactical Phase when Battles and Siege Combats are resolved. Battles and Siege Combats (Sallies and Storms) themselves have more than one round each, so whilst action is abstracted it doesn't look like it's over with a simple modified die roll. It may be that once I get into it, it will become clearer and actually be simple to enact. Siege Resolution occurs not in the Tactical Phase but in the Supply Phase.

** The Phases in turn are:

  1. Initiative
  2. Operational
  3. Tactical
  4. Supply
  5. Victory
  6. Year End (Winter Turn only)

There is a Victory Point Track (Royalist at one end and Parliamentarian at the other end) on which a marker is moved according to the relative achievement of VPs through the game. If for example, the King has 2 VPs and then Parliament wins one, the marker is moved on the tracker one place towards the Roundhead end, thus reducing the King's VPs to 1. A further 2 VPs to Parliament would mean Parliament is now on 1VP on the tracker. When one side reaches 3 VPs it wins a major victory in the war. Otherwise the game runs to the end of 1646. If a side has VPs it wins a minor victory. If neither side has VPs, the King wins a minor victory.

Labels for the blocks. Not my favourite part of assembling games like this - I'm not the neatest when it comes to applying labels.

Blocks and part of a QRS

The game is played out using blocks which represent either Leaders, Horse, Foot or Artillery. Each block has an Effectiveness rating and a Strength, which can be reduced by attrition or built back-up again. Initiative and ability to move blocks is determined by card. Some cards also have various events which can influence play during the turn. The cards differ between the two sides so there is a slight difference in events which might help or hinder the respective causes. Obviously cities and areas held differ at the start of the game and this can also influence replenishment of the armies.

A sample of the cards. The number at the top represent the Action Points for that turn, the letter below is the Phase in which it is played. Some Events can only be played in certain years.
I haven't yet been able to properly assess whether the game is weighted in favour of Parliament. My initial impression is it looks fairly evenly balanced but I haven't really got into the detail yet, so that view may change.

One issue ahead of me is how to convert blocks to table top units. My initial thought is taking the Effectiveness rating as the quality (raw, trained, veteran etc) and Strength as the number of units. Strength could be a problem if it leads to armies too big for my table or more units than I possess. I need to do a bit more arithmetic here to see how it would pan out. I'm not sure yet whether I would want to play out sallies and storms as a figure game or just use the rules from the game - probably the latter. I certainly don't intend to game the sieges per se on the table top. Apart from not having suitable models for the fortifications, I haven't settled on a set of siege rules.

The quality of the materials is good and the graphics are nice reproductions of period images. As well as the rule book, the game comes with a Playbook which I haven't read yet. It may help make more sense of some of the text in the rules.

Touch of Barkerese

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into these rules. They have lots of period flavour (though most of the mechanisms could work for other periods). My initial thought is that they are a bit on the complicated side, but that could say as much about me as the rules.

I'm looking forward to getting to grips with This War Without an Enemy and understanding it better over the next few days of my Christmas/New Year break. In fact I'd better get a move on. there's not much of it left!

All that remains is to wish you all a Happy New Year. Let's hope it turns out much better than 2020.

Hyvää uutta vuotta!

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

A Rabble of Gentility

Things have been quiet in the wargaming front here of late, not just because of the festive season. I might have mentioned recently how I have deliberately been holding back on ordering more books. Holding off that urge for instant gratification.

Part of my strategy has been to work my way through LOTR again. I finished the Twin Towers round about the time that my latest book order arrived. I’d almost forgotten I’d ordered it.

This cost me £5.99 plus postage from Naval & Military Press. It’s not a book I would have ordered direct from Helion, even at the discounted price. I thought it would be too narrow a field for me. There’s a couple of other books like that (the two Orange and the States volumes spring to mind).

I enjoyed this book more than I expected. It covers, as the subtitle suggests, the brigades of Royalist northern cavalry from the later half of the first ECW. The Northern Horse were a group of brigades, numbering from 1,000 to 2,000 at different times, that were originally part of Newcastle’s army. They fought at Marston Moor and Naseby and had some semi-independent adventures in between and afterwards, culminating on the shores of Cumbria late in 1645 when they had their last ride. The formation seemed to have developed a distinct identity, rather like some of the famous regional British divisions of the World Wars. Loyal to the King, but always balanced by their loyalty to their own ‘countries’ (counties in modern parlance) and their desires to free the North from the rebels didn’t always sit easily with the national strategy of the King. Like this bloggist, typical bolshy northerners.

There’s a few editorial errors that initially distracted me in the beginning, but either it got better or I ceased noticing them. A thoroughly interesting read. There are also a few episodes that provide inspiration for wargaming scenarios. A recommended read from this corner of the blogosphere. A happy addition to my growing collection of John Barratt works.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Happy Christmas

Seasons Greetings to one and all. All the very best for the coming year.

Rouva Nandunket strides ahead, on a very chilly, but beautiful day in Richmond Park.

Wonder if the heath looked like this at Minden, with Sackville's cavalry appearing between the woods? 

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Stop dancing!

 ....while I’m at it, the Annie Lennox video shared by Tradgardmastare on his blog reminded me of another clip on YouTube. This one most definitely isn’t a seasonal song, warning instead of the power the Devil exerts through dance.

I was put in mind of this because of some of the imagery in the Lennox video. I thought it looked a bit like shadow puppetry and an image on this other video.

If you’re interested in the lyrics, a chap called David Nelson helpfully posted them in the comments in both Swedish and English. Bra!

I posted a link to another song by the same singer, Elina, back in May last year. At least I can claim that one was relevant to this blog’s title. 😁

The Holly and the Ivy

Inspired by some of Tradgardmastare’s recent posts, particularly the one with Annie Lennox, I looked up some of my own favourite tracks featuring Christmas carols.

For many years I played Kate Rusby’s 2008 album Sweet Bells to death every December. It features carols in the ‘Sheffield’ tradition - mostly standard words but to different tunes, sung in the pubs of the area around the Steel City. I think the album eventually got under my kids’ skin too and one of the 14-year olds told me the other day that she’d recently introduced her best friend to it. Yes, I’m one of those annoying proselytisers when I find songs that I like.

Ms Rusby normally does a tour in the run up to Christmas. Three years ago I managed to get organised in time to buy tickets for the six of us for her London gig. On my birthday. I was a very happy boy that night.

I wouldn’t say the following is my favourite track - that is too difficult to call. But I offer it here because it makes me think of ‘Olde England’. This version also made me understand that carols really are dancing tunes.

Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Tiers of a Clown

Looks like I won't be getting any face-to-face games in with my son this Christmas. Not being able to have him here fullstop is a big disappointment to all at Schloß Nundanket, but needs must and life goes on. I suppose we must grin and bear it, and learn not to get our hopes pinned on any particular date in the future. Lockdown 2 affected my mood much more than Lockdown 1. With this, I'm learning to roll with the punches. We have our health and we still have our incomes, so we're lucky really. In fact said offspring has a Covid-related job, so it's an ill wind......

It's still a bugger though. Agh!!

2020, reminding you that it's still here with a quick slap in the face and a knee to the groin.

Gotta larf entya!

Post script. Actually, talking of clowns and football, remind me to tell you of recent shenanigans around Grimsby Town Football Club.

Influential Book 2/Shameless Nostalgiafest

Things have been quiet on the wargaming front. Since the last post I've not read any wargaming related books, but blogs have been keeping me going. Reading time has mostly found me with my nose stuck in the Return of the King. I seem to have acquired a lot of books this year and I was poised ready to order new titles a couple of times recently but something held me back. It's so easy to see something I want, click and order it. It's not that I'm worried about the expense - as pastimes go it's not expensive as long as I don't go mad, and I've saved a bit with Lockdown. What I'm worried about, I suppose, is that it's too easy and that diminishing returns will set in. I wonder am I missing something. Is it just another form of consumerism, or displacement activity. Yes and yes, probably, to the last two, but mostly it's the diminishing returns thing. 'Where will it stop?', I ask myself if I simply order a book that I want, read it, enjoy it, then order another.*

* Aside. Where does this thinking come from? Is there some underlying facet of my character that makes me feel guilty about satisfying my own wants? It's not like I'm taking bread from my children's mouths. I didn't grow up in a particularly religious household. The family weren't churchy. Not irreligious. Just not churchy. We weren't lapsed Catholics, or from some brand of ascetic Protestantism. I had a few years in the Boys Brigade, admittedly an avowedly Christian organisation, but it never made me into a self-denying martyr. Growing up we were never flush, so maybe that's got something to do with it. Up until my 30s I didn't have a lot of spare cash, but when I did I loosened the constraints and enjoyed myself for a few years. That didn't cause any feelings of guilt. I just found that it didn't make me happy. Later in my 40s I returned to living on a budget and I was (and have been) happier. But I don't think that satisfying my wants will necessarily make me unhappy.

So I picked up ROTK again as I had read the Fellowship of the Ring a couple of months ago when hit by a similar urge to delay gratification. And that was a good decision in that I've been enjoying it and seen a couple of things I'd not noticed before, including a passage where it struck me that Tolkien might be talking about his own thoughts on fighting through the voice of Faramir. That might not be news to some people. I'm a fan but not one steeped in Tolkien lore.

Anyway, this is all a digression within a digression again. I meant to post something sooner about book 2 on my list. For what it's worth. Before I discovered that there was school wargames club, I played solo with my own rules derived from the notes in the Appendix to the War Game. To be honest, these were a bit laborious, but in my mind this was serious stuff and so any dullness should be accepted. Maybe greater minds could come up with ways of combining all this "realism" with fast playability - perhaps computers could do all the work if only they could be made available to mere mortals. It was the mid-70s so way before even PCs. Finding the school club was a big relief. Here were a bunch of like-minded individuals and the 'house rules' followed the same principles as those suggested in the War Game. In fact the house rules were Arthur Taylor's Rules for Wargaming. Great stuff!

** It wasn't something massively publicised, but there wasn't a massive stigma attached to it. 

Now selling for silly prices on-line

In practice however, the rules, if followed fully, still took forever. There was lots of admin. Casualty rosters (each figure = 20 men). Written orders and simultaneous movement, and therefore scope for much lawyerly activity. Writing the orders with all the daft contingencies we made took longer than the turns. I'm not saying that we didn't have enjoyable games, but it was difficult to reach a conclusion in a couple of hours after school before we were kicked out. I did miss out on an epic D-Day game one weekend, and the boys who took part really enjoyed that, so maybe it was me.

Soon after I bought the newly published WRG rules for the horse and musket period (cannot remember where from though?). It took a bit of getting my head round the new turn phase sequence, but there it was. Simplicity! No written orders. No casualty rosters. Hurrah! (with a few 'huzzahs!' thrown in for good measure). They also came with a points system so we could each choose an army and have a nominally balanced game. 

What it's all about! (Not my copy, I had the '77 edition)

The fledgling Seven Years War interest, sparked by the Lobositz chapter of the War Game, was positively encouraged by the WRG rules. The rules had army lists in an appendix. Army lists only for Marlburians (WSS), SYW and the early Anglo-French conflicts in India. No Napoleonics. I'd been wavering between SYW and Marlburians, but as Martin already had SYW Austrians, SYW Prussians it was. 

I had a trial game on my own then persuaded Martin (the lad who had the Minifigs SYW Austrian collection) to have a game at the school club. This attracted a bit of attention from some of the other lads because one, we were using metal figures (ooh shiny - and they were just that because they were mostly unpainted), and two, it was not the green book. The game was a success in more ways than one. I had the advantage of knowing the rules better, so I won; it turned out to be a very playable game (helped no doubt by the fact that we had no more than a battalion, plus a squadron of cavalry each); and it was of wider interest to the group. 

The rules were a liberation from book-keeping and we could concentrate on being little Napoleons, not Berthier's. Other lads then joined in subsequent games and the arms race commenced! SYW began to butt in on the WWII and ACW table time. My mostly unpainted Airfix Napoleonics and Ancients conversions were consigned to the cupboard. Pocket-money and cash from jobs were funnelled into the fledgling armies. Month-by-month, as state resources allowed, new units were ordered from Minifigs via Toynes model shop in Grimsby. Units under these rules were economical too, when you consider that with the 1:50 ratio you only needed a dozen or so models instead of 30-40 figures. Points values of our respective armies increased, from 150 to 200, 300 and it didn't seem long before we were battling it out with 1,000 point armies. Megalomania had set in. 1,500 points became the norm.

The SYW group grew to five. So we ended up respectively with Austrian, Prussian, Russian, French and British. We started on historical re-fights. Sometimes 2 aside, sometimes 1-v-1. Action relocated from school to my mum's dining room or Tony's bedroom. 6 by 4 feet became 8 by 4 feet and eventually 8 by 6. Anything horse and musket period was adopted as a SYW battle. From Aughrim to Waterloo. All scaled down of course, so 1 battalion on the table represented 3 or 4. The length of the games stretched out from a couple of hours to whole weekend affairs. All day Saturday, right through the evening. Then again the next day until tea time ('dinner time' for southerners). Tony's parents were very tolerant!

Often games would be paused while we got side-tracked in various discussions. Military history. Or politics. Sometimes in intervals, whilst downstairs we'd chat to Tony's parents, or one one memorable occasions, one of the guys who worked for his dad. He had an interesting anecdote of interest to teenage boys. Let's leave it there.

Over time, some of the others dropped out. Martin discovered Lambrettas and sold his collection to Tony. Anthony, discovered I don't know what, and sold out to Tony. And I think the other Chris' collection was also procured by Tony. The height of the megalomania was some time in the early 80s. By then Tony had moved out from his parents house and was living in a flat above a pub on Cleethorpes promenade (what could possibly go wrong!). A couple of his other mates were interested in wargaming. Every SYW-looking model we possessed was put on the table. A simple scenario was devised. My outnumbered army (around 20-odd battalions with slightly more than proportionate cavalry, plus guns) defended a river against Tony's 40 battalions and God knows how many cavalry. Columns from one end of the table to the other. There wasn't space for deploying into lines. The 4 of us pulled an all-nighter, claiming to ourselves that our tiredness would reflect real generals' fatigue. To be honest, we did run out of steam a bit by the end. Not helped by the refuelling method. Well, our 18th century heroes couldn't drink the water could they. I think my side lost.

That was probably the last time I had a SYW game using those rules until I ran a solo version of Soor this time last year. A few years after that all-nighter I sold my stuff off to fund my Heroics and Ros armies.

So, the WRG 1685-1845 rules have a special place in my wargaming life. I had a LOT of fun with them. They helped steer me in the direction of the SYW (and all the subsequent satisfaction I've gained from that interest). The bibliography included a couple of books by a chap called Duffy. WRG 1685-1845 were almost ever-present in my longest spell as a social wargamer. And those games helped cement a friendship. You can't say better than that really for a ruleset.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Influential books

Whilst surfing through my Blogger reading list earlier a thought came to me* that there were two or three books which have had a massive impact on my wargaming life. More than any others. All three were published, and acquired by me, in the 1970s, so they've been around me during the last 5 decades. Whilst others have come since and have had a big impact on my hobby time, most of these have sprung from one or more of these wellsprings. I mentioned a couple of these last year in a trawl through my own history as a wargamer.

* Two things probably brought this about. One, I made a throw-away remark to david in suffolk  about the 1970s. Two, I had been thinking about Jonathan's analyses of the Great Wargames Survey 2020 which discussed the associations between age and wargaming interests.

The three books in question are:

  1. The War Game, ed. Peter Young, London 1972
  2. Wargame Rules 1685-1845, The Wargames Research Group, 1977
  3. The Army of Frederick the Great, Christopher Duffy, Newton Abbot 1974

The Young and Duffy books were both presents from my sister and brother-in-law, known within the family for the great books they choose as presents. I think I was 13 when I got number 1, then I bought the WRG rules in early 1978. This in turn got me into the SYW and I was subsequently bought number 3.

The dust jacket alone got a young lad salivating. Incidentally this is the second copy of the book. The original I had got damaged when it was stored in a damp garage for several years.

I want to take each book in turn and give a sense of how and why it has influenced my wargaming path, naturally starting with The War Game. Wargamers of a slightly older vintage often cite Featherstone, Grant,  and Scruby as their formative wargaming influencers. Others in this truly 'Old School' era were Young & Lawford, and Wesencraft. Whilst many of the chapters were written by these luminaries, mentally I classify the War Game as 'NQOS' (Not Quite Old School). For a start it's in colour! And the terrain is diorama quality. Also, the chapters do not describe wargames or wargaming but historical battles. For Tail-end Baby Boomers like me (I snuck in under the wire) the 70s were probably our formative years. The 1980s were by contrast the least favourite of all my 6 decades. In fact I pity people for whom the 80s were their formative years (sorry Gen-Xers).

So, this book, edited by the pioneering Peter Young, was produced near the start of the best decade and I got given it somewhere in the middle. I'd not seen the real Old School stuff at that stage. I'd not seen any wargaming books or rules at all. So getting the War Game was truly one of those mind blowing moments. First of all, the photography and the models are stunning. Peter Gilder was a major influence on the look with his terrain and some of the models. The other chapter authors, plus other wargamers, also contributed models. And all were superbly photographed by Philip O Stearns, who looks to have had an interesting life. He was in the OSS during the War, and as well as photographing wargames and toy soldiers, he also photographed  er-hem, models in 1/1 scale. There's more about him here including some of his contributions to something called Mayfair. No me neither 😉. 

I'm not sure whether I saw the book first, or a display by the Grimsby Wargaming Club in the Army Recruitment Office Window, but both were around the same period. This was a Proper grown-up Hobby. (I think the GWC was called the Horse & Musket Society in those days).  

Clearly a Proper Hobby. Apparently not all wargamers have such paraphernalia lying around the table.

So clearly presentationally the book was superb. Then there was an impressive list of authors, many with military experience themselves. The pen portraits of the authors gave it all added respectability in my eyes. Each chapter was well structured giving historical background to each of the battles, descriptions of the leaders, a summary of the forces engaged, an account of the battle and some very useful maps.

I'm going to throw in some gratuitous photos here, because the book is such a feast for the eyes. And it conveys something of the sheer mass of material that was in front of my young eyes 45 years ago. Here's something from every chapter. This showed me what a rich field of interest was opening up to me. I hope it conveys some of the excitement I felt first opening up the book and when I devoured every page. And if you haven't read this book, I hope it inspires you to get hold of a copy. 

From the chapter on Thermopylae. So this was the battle that inspired The 300 Spartans film! Not gamed it though. Yet.

Agincourt initial dispositions

Agincourt again. A lot of the English archers here are Airfix Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood's Men conversions, as are some of the French dismounted men-at-arms. I ended up buying lots of these but for conversion to Ancients.

Dispositions for Edgehill. Now I hadn't heard of this battle at the time. It took me until 3 years ago to finally get this battle on the table. Over 40 years but I got there eventually!

Lovely opening shot from the Blenheim chapter. I had Airfix Napoleonic at the time but this set the slow match burning for the 18th century. Or was that down to songs like 'Soldier Soldier' and 'O'er the Hills' learnt at primary school?

Now this was a complete eye-opener for me! I'd not heard of Frederick the Great, or von Browne, let alone  Lobositz. I don't think I even knew that Austria and Prussia contended the SYW! That was all Britain and France in North America, India, plus a bit in Germany right? This shows the style of the pen portraits of the commanders as well as the maps. The figures are clearly Grant's Spencer Smiths - painted in his imagi-nations' armies' colours. Finally re-fought this one 35 years later.

From the Saratoga chapter. Another battle I'd not heard of. The Battle of Freeman's Farm. 2 battles in the one chapter here, the other being Bemis Heights. Re-fought with a lad from school using book 2 rules and Airfix AWI figures.

In the Grand Manner! Austerlitz - another new one on me (I don't recall it from the Ladybird book on Napoleon which was my one source on the Nap Wars outside the British area of involvement). Just look at that lot!

Another mouth-watering shot from Austerlitz. It took until about 2011 to get involved in a re-fight of this when I umpired a game using Marechal de l'Empire and Old School Tony's Baccus collection.

Pretty much all I would need to know to get Waterloo set-up. It took me a few years before I war-gamed it, and that was a refight as a SYW battle because that's what our school group did.

Gettysburg. Day One. Another new one on me. Again it took me a long time to get to this. And again with Old School Tony, using Altar of Freedom. A great battle to attempt. Lots of options.

Last, but not least. El Alamein. Shot of a German column. Whilst I was aware of the Desert War (how could I not be with Airfix DAK and 8th Army sets amongst the first figures I had) I wasn't familiar with El Alamein. I must have had a very cursory acquaintance with the campaign in the Western Desert! And still not made it to the table.

Lots of eye-candy then. And lots of historical background. Much new information. And all very well put together and excellent told. But what helped nudge me in the right direction was the appendix. This gave me the bare bones to get started with war-games rules. Most of this was a revelation. I had not seen a set of war-games rules at that point. I still hadn't after reading this book. But I could cobble together my own on the basis of what the appendix described. Before this I was struggling with 1:1 troop ratios - shooting ranges were enormous on the table!

In conclusion then, the War Game really set me on the path to 'proper' wargaming. It gave me inspiration, validation, information, and (importantly) a framework. More than that it, educated me in areas of military history that I knew nothing about and it nudged me more towards the 18th century from Napoleonics where my area of interest had been the Peninsular War. The Seven Years War in Central Europe became my abiding passion, but not straight away, though the slow match had been lit.

I almost forgot that it also encouraged me to get into Ancients. One of the lads at the school wargames club was also interested in Ancients. Through him I heard about the Wargames Research Group, and thence on to book 2 on the list.....

What would you say are the books most influenced your wargaming career?

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Western Way of War

This is another of those posts that strays far from the stated subject matter. i.e. 'Ruminations on wargaming, especially the Seven Years War, the English Civil War and other 'black powder' periods. Occasional forays into obscure Nordic music and opinionated 'dribble' [sic] on Grimsby Town Football Club.' Perhaps I ought to update the blog header. 

Just to keep it more relevant, I'll slip in the news that my Christmas present arrived in the post today from Belgium. I had to order it myself as the fact you had to pay in Euros foxed the other half. She told me that me paying for it could be in lieu of a present for her birthday, so two presents for the price of one! I'm saving the unboxing for Christmas in the, not totally unlikely, expectation that I will have forgotten it by then so I'll get a nice surprise.

This is a boardgame from Nuts publishing. I'm hoping that  the 'tactical phase' can be played out on the table top

Now back to the Western Way of War. This is not going to be about the book below, although there are connections in the subject matter beyond just the title of book and podcast. But, in the manner of Tristram Shandy, another digression.

The Google app on my phone throws up some interesting feeds now and again. One that popped up this evening didn't lead directly to the podcast in question but led to an article on another website about British military thought. This one . In itself it was an interesting read, and it contained a reference to a subject (procurement) that I've had an interest in throughout most of my working life (though this was never in a defence context). I followed the link and listened to the specific episode of the podcast in question.

That episode was right up my street, though it probably isn't for most people. Not what I was quite expecting either. It was certainly thought provoking. There were no easy or pat answers. There were some interesting nuggets along the way and I thought it ended brilliantly. “A lot of folk who know the answer to everything have probably never asked the right question.” (Professor John Louth, RUSI)

The two professors talking are ex-RN (the host) and ex-RAF (the guest expert) respectively. The latter seems to suggest that the new aircraft carriers were a bad idea - I interpretted it as 'the battleship in the age of the aircraft carrier' a.k.a. 'fighting the last war'. The other thinks they’re beautiful. No surprises for guessing which was which. 😀 I was quite pleased to hear that both profs had slight regional accents (which links to another recent feed in the Google app to the excellent British Library webpages on British Accents & Dialects).

Here is the link to the episode:

And the introductory podcast which I listened to afterwards:

What is the Western Way of War? . This one is probably of much more interest to wargamers and military history buffs.

I got one more episode in this evening, but there are more I want to delve into.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Unheroic failure

OK. Time to own up. I blogged/bragged (‘brogged’?) about achieving my exercise and weight targets for August, September and October. I have to report abject failure for November.


Obviously, starting on 4 November we had the national lockdown Mark II, so that meant swimming was off the agenda. I’m not organised enough for genuine open water swimming. I’m no Spartiate. That didn’t mean I couldn’t get on my bike. Especially as we have a perfectly good, safe-ish, circuit 2km away. I did that a grand total of once. I’m a master of putting things off. And that is just what I did.

It surprised me how little motivation that I had. Normally when I haven’t exercised or done something I should have done for a while, I get annoyed with myself and then crack on with it. This time, when I thought about it I simply was not bothered.

Also after 20 weeks of logging food and drink, I stopped about a week ago. With a complete absence of that internal nagging. I had already relaxed the calorie budget in late September, so I wasn’t surprised to see my weight had gone up a kilo in the last month. That’s not bad I suppose, but I do now need to get a grip or I will have to loosen my belt, and it’s that fat round the middle that it’s really about.

Not getting on my bike also meant that on many days I didn’t even leave the house.

The pool re-opens on Wednesday and I have sessions booked through Monday, excluding Saturday. I will happily jump on my bike again. So having thought that I’d regained my cycling mojo this year, I hadn’t. It was just a form of transport that gave me some additional exercise.

Strange thing the brain. Motivation is a complicated matter.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Shaved Ankles and a Mystery Count - or rambling (on) again

No wargaming yet again this weekend. The mojo has disappeared since I finished my split rail fencing. On the positive side, because it was her weekend off, Rouva Nundanket and I decided to go for a longer walk on Saturday. We've had a few shorter ones lately, but nothing longer than an hour. So forgetting that outdoor clothing shops would be deemed 'non-essential' (I suppose the definition of essential depends on how harsh your weather is) I suggested we walk to Richmond, where there is a reasonably priced emporium of such apparel.

We set off through Richmond Park from our usual point of departure, Laddersile Gate, and headed in a northerly direction.  Quite soon we were able to spot that rare species, the Expatriate Homo Fennica (the Finn abroad). We weren't close enough to confirm, but the signs were there. I saw a couple collecting birch twigs and bundling them into what looked like a vihta (only there were no leaves). Then there was evidence of the plumage. A Marimekko* bag placed on the floor . But the Finn is a shy creature, so we kept our distance and walked on.

* This brand is almost part of the national costume these days, and is often a giveaway abroad. We originally met one of Mrs R's London friends in a park in Hampton. I heard her chatting in Finnish to a woman we didn't know. Afterwards I quizzed her on how she knew the woman was Finnish as the stranger had hardly said a word, and that was in English. "Oh her girls had Marimekko tops on." I once pulled off a similar feat of recognition on a bus, also in Hampton, though this time it was the pattern on the child's socks, and we're still in touch with that family too.

After a while we stopped to decide exactly which way we were going to go, and Mrs N pointed out that I wouldn't be able to buy a new 'fleece' because the shops were shut. I hate to say it but I Googled it to check - oh ye of little faith! Of course she was right. So we followed her suggestion of heading down to Petersham, an area of meadows south of Richmond.

On the way to the river we walked through a field where cattle sometimes graze, and along the side of some fencing. "What type of fencing do you call this?" asked my companion (who's doing a garden planning module at horticultural college). "Oh it's a type of split-rail fence", I stated with confidence and not a little swagger. "A different type of split-rail fence to that model I made, but...blah blah blah...these don't need to be placed at angles as they have vertical support posts. The ends of the rails are chamfered to fit into slots*** on the uprights". "She nodded sagely, no doubt impressed by my knowledge. I did admit that the only reason I know is because I looked up split-rail fencing when I was making the model and saw that there were different types, including this one which is referred to as a 'mortice fence'.

** yeah, yeah, I forgot they were called mortices

We walked on chatting amiably. And she mentioned the fencing again and used the term "Shaved ankle". "You what?". "Those fences. Shaved-ankle fences." It took me a while to recover my composure, before I could correct my sweetheart.

Lovely smooth ankles

I reasoned that this arises from two factors. One, being Finnish, she has sometimes has trouble with Gs. Especially hard Gs. There is no*** G sound in Finnish, only in borrowed foreign words or names. And they often substitute that with a K. Thus Swedish for street, 'gata', becomes 'katu'. The second factor is, and I say this quietly, she's a bit deaf and has denied this for years. So somehow she heard me refer to angles/ankles and chamferred/shaved.

*** well almost none, but this isn't a language lesson, and I'm not sure the example I can think of would be considered a proper hard G sound.

Our route, starting towards the SE corner, north past the golf course. Then SW along the river and circling back via Ham

Once by the river she suggested we sit on a nearby bench and have the soup she'd prepared. No point going to cafes as we'd have to eat outside anyway. And the bench she picked (position 1 on the map) was nice and clean and dry "there might not be another suitable one". This one.

I was unable to find out who Count Stephen Ouvaroff was, though presumably the offspring of a Russian emigré given the birth year. The name sounds like Uvarov, commander of the Russian cavalry on the right wing at Borodino. Given that transliteration from Cyrillic to Latin script is not exact, it's plausible that they could be the same name, if not the same family. Anyone I imagine a dapper gentleman with a very neat beard with a cane sitting here, overlooking the view below towards Marble Hill on the Twickenham side of the river. Whoever he was, he liked a nice view, and I tip my hat to him and his executors for placing the bench there.

The count's view.

Just a short walk upstream from here is a Jacobean pile called Ham House (point 2 on the map). I've never been in in all my 26 years of living over this side of London. Never really wanted to. Since I got interested in the ECW, I've become more keen on the idea. There's an interesting section in the Wiki article about the ECW period, though there was no action in the vicinity.  Refer to the section headed William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart and the one below it.

Ham House from the river path. I guess before the river banks were built up and the channel narrowed, the water came right up to this first wall, depending on tides and rain.

The gardens are surrounded by a high brick wall, rather like Hougoumont at Waterloo.

We walked back to Richmond Park via the suburb/village of Ham, worth a walk and a post on its own. Maybe one for the future. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The Invention of Scandinavia

 The Invention of Scandinavia

Thanks to Steve and Dave in their comments to the previous post, I was made aware of this series on BBC Radio 4. It’s a 3-part series about the similarities and differences between Norway, Denmark and Sweden, with a lot of Early Modern and Modern history thrown in by way of explanation.

I listened to all three episodes earlier. And very interesting it was too. A sort of Scandi 101, with added historical revisionism.

Wargaming wise, there’s some relevance as the Thirty Years War, Northern Wars, Great Northern War, Napoleonic Wars, 2nd Schleswig-Holstein War, and World War II all get referenced in their respective cultural and historical context. The Swedish Indelningsverk system even gets a mention (though I don’t think that term was used in the programme). Yes, I’m stretching the point but it’s background innit?

This trilogy is part of a broader series including ‘the Invention of.....’ other countries, including the UK, Netherlands, and the US. I think I’m going to be gorging myself on this.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

A joke explained....

A while ago I posted a bit of an in-joke. An in-joke for students of Finnish. This is an attempt at a partial explanation - I don't understand enough to give a full explanation, and my head and possibly yours would explode if I did.

Now Finnish, or at least standard formal Finnish, is famously regular and logical (I'm aware this is a relative concept, famous amongst the few people who are interested in this sort of thing). For example, every sound has a letter and every letter has a sound - only one sound. An 'e' always makes the same sound (similar to the 'e' in 'egg'). If you want the 'E' sound as in the name of the letter, you use 'i' and 'i' is always pronounced 'E' (a short 'E' sound). If you want a longer E sound it's written 'ii'. There are other examples of this regularity. Such as the names for things. Gone are all the fancy Greco-Latin and French derived words of English. Noooo! Aeroplanes are 'flying machines' in Finnish. Telephones are 'speaking lines'. And even computers are 'knowledge machines'. At least in formal language. Foreigners are 'outside land people' ('ulkomaalaiset', nominative plural). If you don't know the name of something, you can often make a good guess by using words you already do know. Railway? Well I know the word for road and I know the word for iron, so I'll go with rautatie (iron road) - "Good boy! Well done." You might be wrong but at least you will be using descriptive nouns that make some kind of sense. It can actually be one of the things that makes it seem that becoming competent in this language is an attainable goal.

Then when you feel you have got to grips with these things, just when you can see some light at the end of the tunnel, you learn something new. And that kills your confidence. Stone dead. That light was an oncoming train ('juna*'). 

* No idea where that one comes from though. I'd have guessed at 'rautatieauto' ('auto' = car - a rare exception to that 20th century technology thing mentioned above).

Like the case system. I didn't even know what cases were until I had some Finnish lessons (my wife, then my girlfriend had tried to explain that in some situations that noun you'd just learned got changed in a bewildering variety of ways - 'why?' "it just is"). So they give you some of the easy ones to get your head round, like the locative cases. 'The what?!' Well, Finnish doesn't have all those little words like 'to' and 'from', 'on', 'in', or pairs like 'off from', 'into', 'out of/from'. Instead you stick an ending on the noun you're referring to. 

For example, 'pubi' (pub**) would become 'pubiin' when you are going into it, then 'pubissa' when inside the pub. In the pub (pubissa) my mate brings a couple of pints to the table (pöydälle) and puts the beer on the table (pöydällä - notice the change in the ending).  When you'd had enough you'd come out of the pub ('pubista'). Right, got that. I can grasp that. You do the preposition the wrong way round!

** incidentally, pub is one of those few words in Finnish that is recognisable to English speakers. Another one is bar (bari). This gives rise to one of those other 'rules'. If you can't make up a portmanteau word from what you do know, add 'i' to the English noun. Sometimes do it with a 'European' accent so W is a V (wine = viini, pronounced veeny). But beer isn't beeri, it's olut, or kalja.

So I ring my beloved up and (being proud of myself) announce that "Minä olen junalla" (juna + lla - remember train is 'juna' and on is 'lla'). She sounds a little worried at first. "Oh you mean 'minä olen junissa'. We say 'I am in the train.' If you are on the train it means you are on the roof!" OK, so as well as getting some things back-to-front, they have a slightly different way of looking at things. Actually, in English, we say I am in the car, but I am on the train, so perhaps it's us that have got it wrong. Told you Finnish was logical! Right, lesson learned. I'm cracking on now!

'I've learned those locative case endings'. 

"Good! Now that's less than half the cases."

'How many more are there?!' 

"Well that depends." 

'That depends? On what?' 

"Well different grammarians of the Finnish language have different views on how many cases there are. Some don't think that some of them are separate cases. But it's complicated."

'What!! If the experts in the language don't even know, how are we ignorant foreigners expected to know what to do?'

"Just learn what I teach you. Don't worry about what the theorists think. It's what you do that counts.' 

'OK go on. What's next?'

"Well there's the Partitive case. This case is used when...."

Actually there's a long list of when this case is used, and it's not very clear all the time to non-natives when it should be used. Wiki tells me that it is used to indicate a 'lack of telicity'. No me neither. Suffice to say it was described to me as the gambler's choice. It seems to be used more often than other possible cases. If in doubt use the partitive. Significantly you use it for the L word. You love someone in the partitive case. For some reason. Not in the accusative (that case indicates telicity***). Nor in the nominative (basic dictionary form, 'nothing going on here' case).

*** Actually, Wiki does explain. Telicity is when the action or event is in some sense complete.

So getting back to that joke. Here we have a student of Finnish using his new found knowledge. a joke ruined

It's not just us English speakers who suffer with this. The person who sent the joke to me in the first place is French. The secret is not to overthink it. Just submit. Resistance is futile.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Books by the Donald. And others.

Yes of course I'm talking about Donald Featherstone. You didn't fall for that did you?

Amongst recent acquisitions are a couple of DF books. First up is this which I finished tonight.

This a 1977 edition

The book contains an overview of the war, tactical methods, accounts of ten actions, plus rules. The battle accounts are accompanied by wargame scenario suggestions along with maps. I have to say, I'm not overwhelmed by it. It contains little errors, like mixing up east and west in some of the battle accounts, or has confusing descriptions of what happened. In the latter case simply showing units on the map would have helped - there are in a few cases, but often it's just the terrain layout. These are also not helped by not even clearly showing breakdown of the opposing forces. The rules look OK - very much old school, single figure removal as you'd expect - let down slightly by a confusing saving throw table. I may be a bit thick these days, but I like to see things clearly tabulated or shown on a map/diagram so you can see them at a glance without trawling back through the text. In historiographical terms it might also be a bit too old school, often referring to the British fighting in rigid formations and in inappropriate uniforms. Nevertheless it does provide some useful insights and is a handy source.

As an old school wargaming author, I don't find Featherstone as engaging as Grant, Young or Wesencraft. I have both Don's and Charlie's Pike and Shot books on my shelf and one of them gets re-read from time to time for the sheer pleasure. Clue, I don't think the author was a physio.

Notwithstanding that I also bought DF's Solo-Wargaming (in the History of Wargaming imprint). I haven't started reading this yet, but I've read lots of positive comments. 

Last but not least was the Mollo book on Uniforms of the American Revolution, recommended by some of you. And very useful it is too, with not only colour illustrations but also descriptions of regimental uniforms including those not shown. I naturally used this when I was painting my troops recently. As with my other periods, I don't intend to identify specific regiments, only types, except for the 10th Foot naturally as they later became the Lincolnshire Regiment and I am a Yellabelly (of a sort).

Now back when I was a lad, I read a book on the American War of Independence that had accounts of half a dozen or so battles, with decent maps and troop breakdowns. I think the battles included Camden, Guildford Courthouse, Monmouth, and Cowpens. It was a Blandford sized book, but that's about all I can remember. We're talking c 1980 so maybe it was published in the 70s. Any ideas?

Saturday, 21 November 2020

It's time to stop!

Helion I mean. They keep coming out with books I want to read. Seeing the forthcoming book "Every Bullet Has Its Billet" on the Wars of Louis Quatorze blog, I thought "ooh, I'll have a look at that" and tootled off to the Helion website.

Well that led to me registering interest in ten books. So that'll be 250-300 quid by the time they all arrive at some point in 2021. Four ECW titles; one late-seventeenth century; two War(s)* of the Austrian Succession; one SYW; one Colonial (Sikh Wars); and one WWII (Continuation War).

* being a pedantic type I'd incline to the plural because this was really a series of sometimes overlapping wars between many powers, and with each running according to its own logic, the only common connection being that most of the belligerents were trying to take advantage of the accession of Maria-Theresa to the Habsburg inheritance.

Here's the full list with links:





EVERY BULLET HAS ITS BILLET (wargaming guide to late C17th)






That'll keep me out of harms way for a while next year. And fortunately, bar the Sikh Wars and late 17th century, I have toys that could be used for most of them.

Also worth noting for budding SYW acolytes is the re-publication of Duffy's great work on the Austrian Army's campaigns of the Seven Years War, By Force of Arms . This won't be cheap (it's sister volume Instrument of War is £49.95) but it'll be well worth the money at over 500 large format (245 x 170mm) pages with detailed maps aplenty.

Finally, spare a thought for us poor Grimsby Town fans. The Holloway Honeymoon is well and truly over. 5:0. Five bloody nil. With one shot on target (which I think my mother would have saved, and we buried her in April). I would have stormed out at half time in disgust but I was watching it at home and there was no where to storm off to.

Thursday, 19 November 2020


Just watched a film from 1959 by the British Army Kinema Corporation called captured. Billed in the credits as a training film but it was much more intelligent and subtle than that description makes it appear.

The setting was a camp for captured Brits in the Korean War where the inmates were subjected to interrogation (some of it very indirect and some of it well, more direct). The more direct included applying pressure through sleep deprivation and water boarding. The indirect included leveraging minimal pieces of information about the prisoners.

The film was shown in the UK by TalkingPictures TV (Freeview channel 81) under its IWM banner (Imperial War Museum).

Everything they ever tell you on those SAS applicant type programmes about capture and interrogation was covered in this film.

The one disappointment was that the wrote-up billed Wilfred Bramble (the “dirty old man” of Steptoe fame) as one of the actors and I failed to spot him.

Highly recommended if you find it available.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above

Don't fence me in.

No I've not been listening to Cole Porter, but there are worse ways of spending your time in my opinion. Instead I've been making Split-Rail Fences. Or approximations of them for my 10mm AWI figures.

There are many different kinds of split-rail fence, and you can find more about them here in Wikipedia. I came across an example of one in the open air museum in Helsinki last year. What I didn't realise is that the basic idea was that they could be built without expensive and difficult to obtain ironmongery in remote regions. I've gone for the simplest one to construct, the classic zig-zag form.

As you can see the basic materials are lollipop sticks and matchsticks (without heads) both of which you can buy in the craft sections of retail stores. Or if you are a smoker with a sweet tooth, you can recycle them.  Total length is about 2 metres so over a mile scaled down in game terms. Two lolly sticks stuck edge to edge for the bases. I suppose I could have cut the ends of the sticks off but it seemed too much bother for not a lot of gain.I used Vallejo Deck Tan to paint the matchsticks. I usually use this for bare wood as it gives that grey hue that timber goes when exposed to air over time.

The final result is not ideal. I'd like to have had more 'layers' but the matchsticks are hard to split evenly (with my skills) and the different sections don't join up but they'll do. Now to think of a way to make corn fields.

Post Script: when I showed my wife she said if I was so keen to build fences there were some life sized ones that need attention. Schoolboy error!

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Interesting article on professional wargames

Google has been throwing up some more interesting links (from my point of view) lately in amongst the usual chaff. I don’t know what kind of algorithm comes up with such frequent links to Daily Excess’ propaganda war against Megan*. 

Anyway, today there was a link to an item about the operational/strategic interface in professional wargames at the US Naval College. It’s a 3-part article and I’ve only so far read part 3, but I found it fascinating. It references command and control and unit movement mechanics in leisure wargaming - it specifically calls out board games, but the mechanics mentioned are familiar to figure wargamers.

There was another link in my feed yesterday to a discussion amongst leisure wargamers. Of that more anon. For now here’s the professional wargaming link:

* the frequency and the sheer bile and pettiness is staggering  (I only read the headlines without clicking the link, honest. Well usually). I won’t go further here but there is a distinct whiff of racist hypocrisy about the way Captain Wales’ wife is treated - there was a rather and funny item on the Mash Report about the subject.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020


Well it took me nearly a year, but I've ticked off the last unfinished item on this list! Obviously, like any fallible wargamer, in the last year I've had the occasional slip and added to the pile and I still have some of that to deal with. But I've done the last item (paint the AWI figures) twice over due to a recent purchase.

Still to be done, are the Leven castle walls, some sapper types for the ECW. I also have odds and sods waiting decisions on what to do. E.G years ago I acquired some Soviet infantry in Budenovka hats that I bought for the Winter War alongside some Finns in winter garb. I'm not sure if I'm going to go ahead with that project. For a start I'd need a suitable battle cloth. For another I have a long standing wish to make deciduous trees for winter games not just for the Winter War, but I don't know how I'm going to do them. Also still in the long grass is a fortress for siege games for lack of a robust plan to make it.

All that aside, I'm pleased to have finally polished off that list so I'll raise an imaginary glass. Here are the finished AWI figures.

A brigade a piece.

American militia backed up by Continentals.

The 10th Foot (naturally - they later became the Lincolnshire Regiment) march behind the 3rd Foot.

Rebel riflemen await the British light infantry in rough ground.

American view of British skirmishers 

The whole lot in a Ferrero Rocher box. Next up the step from a Battle in a Box to a Battle on the Table