Sunday, 19 November 2017

So just how portable is the Portable Wargame?

After the recent Colonial mini-campaign I fought, I received an email asking how portable the PORTABLE WARGAME was.

That isn't a simple question to answer, so I decided to see how much space the terrain, figures, and playing equipment I used to fight the mini-campaign. The results can be seen below:

The figures, dice, playing cards, casualty markers (in reality clear plastic Roman blind rings), and Exhaustion Point countdown recorders (in truth, knitting stitch counters!) can be stored in two REALLY USEFUL BOX trays that fit into a 4 litre box ...


... and the Heroscape hexes fit into a number of WESTON plastic boxes.


When the lot is stacked together, it looks like this:


From experience (I know, because I tried it!) I can carry this up and down two flights of stairs without any problems ... and it will fit into a normal-sized sports bag or holdall.

The 9 x 8 painted hex baseboard measures approximately 13.75" x 15" (35cms x 38cms).


For carrying about, this will easily fit into one of the 'bag-for-life' plastic carrier bags sold in most large supermarkets.

I could easily have made the game even more portable by using paper or cardboard figures, a cheap cardboard chess board, and cardboard terrain tiles, but I wanted to show a setup that I have used.

I did not point out in the above description that there was room enough in the REALLY USEFUL BOX trays to store another small army. The photographs show a small Egyptian army of the General Gordon era in one of the trays ... and there is still enough to store at least another one or possible more two small armies.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Grids and scales

David Crook – who writes the A WARGAMING ODYSSEY blog – is designing a naval wargame set in the early twentieth century, and in an exchange of emails we have been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using a grid of Hexon II hexes for naval wargames … something that I have done in the past but in an abstract rather than a realistically scaled way.

This set me thinking, and I sat down with a pencil and paper and started playing around with the numbers … and what follows are the results of my thinking.

Assuming that the distance from face-to-face on a Hexon II hex (which measures 10cms from face-to-face) represents a nautical mile, a ship travelling at a speed of one knot would take one hour to move from one hex to an adjacent hex.

This gives gun ranges of one hex representing 2,000 yards, two hexes representing 4,000 yards, three hexes representing 6,000 yards and so on.

If the ship were doing a speed of six knots, it would take ten minutes (i.e. one-sixth of an hour) to move from one hex to an adjacent hex. I chose six knots because during the period David is setting his rules in this seems to work as a common denominator for most major classes of warships; on average battleships do 18 knots (3 hexes), cruisers do 24 knots (4 hexes), and destroyers 30 knots (5 hexes). All the thoughts and ideas that follow are based upon this six knot common denominator assumption.

Now ten minutes can be a long time in a naval battle, with even slow-firing guns being able to get off two or three salvoes, so if we reduce the time scale to five minutes, this has consequences.

For example, if we change the ground scale to one hex representing half a nautical mile (i.e. 1,000 yards) from face-to-face, the move distances per turn will not alter but the gun ranges will, with one hex representing 1,000 yards, two hexes representing 2,000 yards, three hexes representing 3,000 yards and so on. As the Battle of Tsushima began with the ships firing at 10,000 yards and hitting each other at 7,000 yards, the tabletop distances would be between 100cms and 70cms.

As the average heavy gun salvo rate in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima was about one salvo every three minutes, it would seem to make sense to use that as the basic element of the time scale. In this case the ground scale reduces to one hex representing 600 yards from face-to-face, the move distances will not alter, but the gun ranges do, with ten hexes (i.e. 100cms) representing 6,000 yards.

Now all of the above works well if one assumes that one wants to fight a salvo-by-salvo naval battle … but as naval gunnery was still relatively inaccurate (most sources seem to indicate that only about three to five percent of shells actually hit their target and did any damage) this might end up as being a rather tedious wargame to fight.

So if we return to the original timescale where one turn represents ten minutes of real time, our pre-dreadnought battleship will fire three – possibly four – salvoes per turn. Assuming the latter, the ship will therefore fire sixteen shells and possibly – if they are very accurate and achieve a percentage hit rate of 6.25% – score one hit. In reality they are more likely to score one hit every two turns.

This begs the question as to whether or not the time scale needs to be changed so that more firing can take place each turn … and this opens yet another can of worms.

I cannot for the life of me come up with a way of realistically balancing the constraints of ground scale, time scale, and realistic gunnery … which is why I have always tended towards designing naval wargames where these elements are abstract rather than definitive.

Does anyone out there have a solution to this … or is it one of those wargame design problems that is best just ignored?

The Battle of Tsushima as depicted in a painting ...


... and my attempt to model something similar to it!


It may not be art ... but I know what I like!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Border trouble: Into the Shin Valley!

As Sir Hector Boleyn-Green led the Shin Hills Field Force out into the flat land of the Shin Valley, the reason for the apparent precipitant withdrawal of the Shinwazis who had been defending the defile was clear ... it had been done to entice the Britannic troops into a trap!

Arrayed across the valley floor and centred on a stone-built tower atop of which could be seen the leader of the Shinwazis – Emir Abdul Ifran – praying for divine assistance and encouraging his troops to destroy the farangi.


In response, Sir Hector formed the Shin Hills Field Force into a line, with his Artillery Battery and Machine Gun Detachment in the centre. On his right he placed the two Companies of the South Yorkshire Regiment and one Company of the Frontier Rifles, and on his left he had the two Companies of the Macfarlane Highlanders and other Company of the Frontier Rifles.


Sir Hector decided that he would wear down the Shinwazis with artillery fire before attempting any sort of advance, and ordered his Artillery Battery to concentrate on destroying the opposing Shinwazi Artillery.

The experienced Britannic gunners knew their stuff, and their first shells hit one of the Shinwazi Artillery batteries and caused casualties.


The return fire from the Shinwazi Artillery Batteries was ineffective, but it was the signal for the tribesmen the charge!


The Britannic response was devastating. The sound of rifles being fired in volleys, mixed with the rattle of the Gatling Gun, could be heard across the Shin Valley. The Shinwazis suffered terrible casualties before their charge had reached the Britannic line, and several bands had been forced to withdraw.


The opposing Artillery Batteries continued to exchange fire, and the Britannic gunner managed to score more hits on the already depleted Shinwazi Artillery Battery, knocking it out of the fight.


The Shinwazis were also more successful than they had been, and caused casualties amongst the Machine Gun Detachment.


Although some of the impetus of their charge had gone, several of the bands of Shinwazis reached the Britannic line and considerable fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place.



With both sides still refusing to give ground side, the casualties continued to mount.

Despite suffering casualties, the Machine Gun Detachment continued its deadly work, and one of the bands of Shinwazi tribesmen was obliterated.


At this point Sir Hector turned to the commander of the Artillery Battery and said 'It's time to end this slaughter! Can you hit that tower and put an end to that jackanapes who's atop it?'.

The young Captain replied 'With you here sir, I think that we can'

'Then do it!' replied his superior officer.


The Britannic Artillery battery fired ... and hit the tower ... but the Emir was untouched. The remaining Shinwazi Artillery Battery fired back ... but the gunners were poorly trained and their rounds landed nowhere near their target.


Meanwhile the hand-to-hand fighting continued along the whole of the Britannic line.


Neither side would give ground, and the casualties began to mount.

Sir Hector again spoke to the young Artillery Captain. 'Things are getting desperate and I don't know how much longer the men will be able to hold the line. I'm relying on you to end this ... and to end it now!'

The young officer – whose name was Crook – gulped and stammered out an answer. 'Yes, sir! Right away!' He personally selected the next round from the nearby caisson, loaded the cannon, and aimed it himself.

'Fire!'

The Bombardier in charge of the gun pulled the firing lanyard ... and after what seemed like an age (but which was a matter on milliseconds), the gun fired.


The shell flew towards it target ... and hit the very top of the tower!


All of a sudden the Emir's voice could no longer be heard echoing around the battlefield.

'Well done, young man!' said Sir Hector to Captain Crook. 'I wouldn't be surprised if you have something important to tell your dear mama in your next letter home ... Major Crook!' The young officer looked away, embarrassed by the fact that he was intensely proud of what he had done.

All along the line the Shinwazis were falling back. The loss of their beloved Emir seemed to have taken all the fight out of them, and they now seemed more concerned with their own personal preservation than fighting the accursed and ungodly farangi.


The Major in charge of the Macfarlane Highlanders sent a message to Sir Hector to ask if his men should advance after the retreating tribesman, but Sir Hector's reply was in the negative.

'See to your wounded, Major. The men have been fighting hard these last few days and have won a close-run battle today. They need to have some rest and a hot meal. We'll camp here tonight, and tomorrow we will begin punishing the Shinwazis.'

And punish them they did. All the new rifles that the Shinwazis had bought were collected in and taken away. (The maker's markings had all been filed off, but the design was one used by the Rusland Army so there was little doubt of their place of origin.) A levy of five thousand Maria Theresa thalers (a currency that was widely used amongst the frontier tribes) was imposed on the Shinwazis, and a new, more friendly Emir was appointed to lead them in the future. He also agreed that a representative of the Britannic government would be welcome to stay in the Shin Valley for the foreseeable future.

As for Captain (acting Major) Crook ... well his promotion to the rank of Major was confirmed and he was awarded a Military Medal for his actions during the Shin Valley Campaign.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

La Ultima Cruzada ... is about to be uploaded to Lulu.com!

The proof-reading of the text has been completed thanks to the efforts of my wife, Arthur Harman, and Robert-Jan Maycock. I have made the changes that this process identified, and this morning I did a final check to ensure that the layout was they way I wanted it to be.

I have also selected the illustration I want to use on the book's cover and written the blurb to go on the cover. All that now remains is for me to upload the files to Lulu.com and to have a proof copy printed. Once that has arrived and the absolutely final checks are completed, I can approve the book for publication.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Border trouble: The fort in the defile

Having secured the entrance to the defile that led into the Shin Valley, Sir Hector Boleyn-Green chose to push his force forward as quickly as possible. The defile proved to be narrow, with tall precipitous hills on either side. A small fort could just be seen guarding the far end of the defile, and Sir Hector was in no doubt that this would be defended by the Shinwazis.




Using his two Companies of Frontier Rifles as his flank guards, Sir Hector moved his troops forward, with his Artillery Battery to the fore.

Whilst the Artillery fired at the fort and its defenders the Frontier Rifles began to slowly advance ...


... along the tops of the hills.


As they moved closer and closer to the fort ...



... they expected to be attacked at any moment.

They were right to be apprehensive.

Just as the Artillery inflicted its first casualty on the fort's defenders, two bands of Shinwazis emerged from concealment.


Whilst on one flank this resulted in an exchange of ineffective rifle fire ...


... on the other flank some fierce hand-to-hand combat took place ...


... which resulted in a Company of the Frontier Rifles having to withdraw.


Whilst the remaining Britannic Infantry Companies began to move slowly forward and the Artillery battery continued to fire at the fort, ...


... one of the Frontier Rifle Companies continued its firefight with a band of Shinwazi tribesmen ...


... whilst the other sought a way to gain the upper hand over its opponents


One of the bands of Shinwazi riflemen moved forward and fired at the leading Company of the Sheffield Regiment, ...


... inflicting a casualty.

This gave the Company of Frontier Rifles the opportunity they had hoped for, and climbing above the Shinwazis they were able to engage then from the flank, ...


... causing them to fall back toward the fort.


The Artillery Battery had continued to pound the fort, and caused a further casualty amongst its defenders.

Under covering fire from the Artillery Battery, the Infantry Companies of the Macfarlane Highlanders and the South Yorkshire Regiment cautiously advanced up the defile.


The reaction of the Shinwazis was – to say the least – unexpected. The bands of tribesmen on the hills began to withdraw, and the fort's defenders could be seen streaming towards the Shin Valley.


Sir Hector had expected them to put up much more of a fight ... so why hadn't they?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Now that is what I call service!

Just after I wrote my earlier blog entry the courier company that was delivering my new laptop sent me an email that notified me of the times between which I could expect the delivery to be made ... 3.19pm to 4.19pm.

At precisely 3.18pm a courier van stopped outside my house, and at 3.19pm the driver was ringing the doorbell. He handed over the parcel containing my new laptop, and by 3.20pm he had driven off.

Now that is what I call service!

The new laptop has now been unpacked and is presently being charged. It has already been registered with Microsoft, and Office 365 is currently being downloaded and installed. Once that is complete I hope to spend the evening setting the laptop up to suit my particular needs.

Sitting ... waiting ...

Last week I ordered a new small laptop to replace the one we take on cruises. The existing laptop is beginning to show its age, and although perfectly serviceable, its battery life is no longer as good as it used to be and its Window 7 operating system feels clunky when compared to Windows 10.

Last night I had an email from a courier company to tell me that they are going to deliver the laptop today ... at some time between 06.00 and 22.00! They also informed me that I will get a more definite delivery window once the driver has loaded the laptop aboard his van.

I was awake early this morning just in case the delivery came at 6.00. It didn't ... and I'm still waiting for that delivery window notification. Until I get it I cannot do much except sit and wait.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Border trouble: Forcing the defile

As the Shin Hills Field Force approached the entry to the defile that would lead them into the Shin Valley, they had no idea what awaited them.

Being an old hand ans well experienced in fighting the frontier tribes, Sir Hector Boleyn-Green took no chances and covered the advance of his main force by using his two Companies of Frontier Rifles as flank guards.


As his foremost troops could see no sign of any Shinwazi defenders, the Field Force advanced cautiously toward the defile.


Suddenly shots rang out ... and Sir Hector turned to Joseph Warburton (the young journalist from the 'Eastern Star' who was accompanying the Field Force) and said 'That's not muskets! The blighters have got modern rifles! There's going to be some stiff fighting today, of that there is no doubt!'

Unfortunately the Britannic troops were at first unable to see where the shooting was coming from, so whilst the rest of the Field Force deployed into line ...


... the Frontier Rifles began to climb the nearby hills.



From their new vantage points, the Frontier Rifles could see the Shinwazis, who were occupying positions on the slopes above the defile.




As his Artillery Battery and Machine Gun Detachment were not yet in a position from which to engage the enemy, Sir Hector ordered his infantry to advance.


This brought one of the Frontier Rifle Companies into close combat with a group of Shinwazis ...


... and after some stiff hand-to-hand combat the Rifles were forces to fall back.


On the other flank the second Company of Frontier Rifles engaged the Shinwarzis whilst the two Companies of Macfarlane Hignlanders moved forward.


Now that his Artillery Battery was able to engage one of the bands of Shinwazis, it did so ...


... and caused the Shinwazis to withdraw!


Covered by rifle fire from the Company of Frontier Rifles, the Macfarlane Highlanders advanced into the defile, whilst on the other flank ...


... the other Company of Frontier Rifles, supported by two advancing Companies of the South Yorkshire Regiment, engaged the other Shinwazis with rifle fire.


Seeing that the farangi* troops were going to push their way into the defile, and not wishing to suffer unnecessary casualties, the Shinwazis withdrew, leaving the Britannic troops to tend to their wounded and prepare to advance towards the Shin Valley.

Farangi is the Persian word for foreigner, and originally referred to the French (or Franks). The word was later absorbed into Urdu and thence into Hindi, where it is regarded as a rather derogatory slang word for a foreigner.

During this battle I tried a few experimental rules:
  • Units firing uphill reduced the range of their weapons by 1 hex for each contour line their fire crossed.
  • Units expended 1 hex of movement to climb up 1 contour line.
  • Units could not spot an enemy unit unless they had line-of-sight to it and they threw a 4, 5, or 6 on a D6 die. (I decided that the die scores would be modified by +1 if the enemy unit had fired at the spotting unit, +1 if the spotting unit was within 3 hexes of the enemy unit, +2 if the spotting unit was within 2 hexes of the enemy unit, and +3 if they were in adjacent hexes. This meant that units in adjacent hexes had to spot each other!)
These rules seemed to work quite well, and I will continue to experiment with them in future battles.