Saturday, 18 November 2017

Vive La Difference!

In all my dealings on the internet, on blogs, on Twitter when I was a twit (a very brief sojourn, in my case, forced upon my by a course), via email and across the whole gamut of media, I try not to act with annoyance, irritation and certainly not in anger. The destructive effects of anger, trolling and so on are displayed on your screens every day, and I, for one, wish to have not part in that.

So I have thought very carefully about posting this article, and let the fires of, well, not anger or even mild irritation die down. As the residue is a mix of slight frustration and very modest exasperation is sufficient to motivate a blog post, but not, I hope, to cause any flame wars to erupt across the wargaming blogo-sphere, I will, cautiously, attempt to explain.

One of the blogs I keep an eye on (‘follow’ seems altogether too much like fan-dom for comfort) is MS Foy’s ‘Prometheus in Aspic’. It is, I find, interesting, both in the wargaming aspects and in the trips down memory lane. I am not, never have been, and never will be, a Napoleonic wargamer, but M. Foy’s occasional forays into English Civil War, attempts at campaigns and so on make for an interesting read.  

A recent post (as I write this) was on the very old Minifigs 5 mm blocks. I am, bless my little cotton socks, far too young to remember these, although I have heard of them. M. Foy, in the course of a trip down memory lane recalling a Scottish wargamer, remarks on the philosophy of using small figures, comments I will try to return to later.

The problem I have, which is the cause of my slight feelings of exasperation, at least sufficient to promote an outbreak of a sight as I read the comments, were notes along the line of ‘I could not possible paint anything that small’. Now, in some cases, including from the blog owner himself, this was dressed up as ‘I know it can be done but I couldn’t do it’, or words to that effect. Often these sorts of comments are wrapped up in self-deprecatory humour, along the lines of ‘I’m too old for this’.

Now, I am a 6 mm wargamer. This is a choice I have made, and I have been wargaming in the scale for about 25 years. My eyesight was never very good to start with, and recently I have, on my optician’s advice, started to swap between two pairs of spectacles. The alternative was ‘varifocals’, but I do not fancy reading (something which, some of you may have noticed, I do quite a lot of) with my head turned back at a funny angle. Can I assure all the doubters that it is perfectly possible to paint 6 mm figures very nicely (or, in my case, adequately) whatever the state of you eyesight.

The problem is that this comes round again and again in wargame circles. ‘I can’t paint that size’. What size brush do you need for that?’ and so on. I have seen and heard enough of it to be thoroughly bored by the whole thing (so why write about it? Catharsis, probably; I doubt I will change anyone’s mind). The point is that painting 6 mm figures is easy; it just requires a rather different technique from bigger figures.

If you think about logically (and I realise logic has little to do with the “normal” scale prejudice I have referred to recently) then painting a belt on a 25 mm figure is no easier, and might be rather a lot more difficult, than painting a face and hands on a 6 mm figure. I trust that those who claim they could not paint a 6 mm figure have left the belts and gaiters unpainted on their own larger figures. Consistency is important, after all.

‘Ah,’ the reply might come, ‘but what about the eyeballs!’ This is often pronounced as if the 6 mm figure painter has never thought of it before. It is rather easy. You do not even attempt to paint them. You cannot see them; you cannot see them even in a real sized human at a few paces, so why try on a wargame figure?

Bizarre objection upon bizarre objection tends to follow. It becomes perfectly clear that the wargamer making these objections has no intention of being persuaded out of their point of view. It is not even as if the 6 mm wargame figure painter is attempting to convert them. There is no acknowledgement that an alternative way can be found. And that is very sad, for in my very limited experience of switching from 6 mm figure painting to bigger figures, painting the smaller ones is very useful in making better progress with the big ones. Learning a new technique is often a useful activity. Conversely, being closed to the very idea of a new technique seems to me to diminish the humanity of person closing the idea down.

Now, I do not wish anyone to get upset, throw teddies around, and denounce me to the wargame authorities or anything of the sort as a result of my comments. Hopefully, readers of the blog (which may include M. Foy himself, I’m not sure) will know that I am of the opinion that each wargamer can wargame how they wish, in whatever scale they choose. But I also think that there is a tremendous amount that we can learn from each other about wargaming – rules, ideas, scenarios and, yes, techniques of painting. Simply dismissing the experience of a set of wargamers through some sort of scotoma is unfortunate, to say the least.

Now, I hope I have not ranted. This post is meant as a mild reproof for those whose ideas of painting are perhaps a little stale, made more in sorrow than in anger. Wargaming is, after all, a hobby. If I get angry about it, the whole point is rather dented, after all.


And, finally, I have run out of words, so a discussion of the ‘philosophy’ of 6 mm wargaming will have to wait for another opportunity…

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Postmodern Wargame Rules

Once again I have been reading about postmodernism. My sins (in a previous life, of course) must have been really bad. Or possibly this is, in fact, purgatory. Either is possible. Douglas Adams did hypothesise that if anyone figured out what the universe was for, it would instantly be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. His second hypothesis was that this had already happened.

One of the problem that I, at least, have, is trying to get to grips with what postmodernism really is. I suspect that the true postmodernist would rule the question out of court. Even to ask the question is to be insufficiently postmodern, I suspect. On the other hand, extreme postmodernism views the entire world as a construct, mostly of human language. As Alvin Plantinga once pointed out, on this basis a roomful of people not thinking about the Moon could make it disappear. Somehow, that does not happen. He also observed that not thinking or talking about it would be a tremendous and very cheap way of curing most medical problems.

Be all that as it may, the more serious postmodern philosophers take hermeneutics seriously. By this they mean that a text can have multiple interpretations. Each interpretation cannot be ruled as being wrong. I am not mad because my interpretation differs from yours. The problem is that this can land up in both smugness and relativism. Smugness because, of course, such things as the Reformation and the murder it evoked would not have happened if everyone was as smart and as tolerant as postmodern hermeneutic philosophers. Relativism because, so far as I know, no-one has come up with criteria for deciding which of the alternative interpretations is, in any sense at all, better.

Now of course we hear the cry in the distance ‘It is all relative!’ This is one of the claims of the late modern (and whatever comes after that) world. The problem here is that the statement itself ‘it is all relative’ is not a relative statement. It is an absolute. It is really saying ‘everything is relative except this statement’. The response of most sane, non-postmodern people who stop for a moment and ponder it is to rule the statement itself out. There have to be some absolutes somewhere, otherwise nothing, including the internet, would work.

By now you are probably wondering where the wargame content is, or, probably, you have already guessed it and are about to stop reading anyway. Fair enough. I am, almost certainly, insufficiently postmodern for most postmodern tastes and not nearly modernist enough for most modernists. Mea culpa (hey, dog Latin; this is a blog of culture and taste).

Anyway, as those of you who read the blog more than once, and who are not Russian bot-nets who occasionally bombard the site with spurious hits, will know, I am attempting to perpetrate some wargame rules, both of them in areas about which I feel I know too little. This is, of course, highly postmodern. At least, most postmodern philosophers feel they can comment on anything without the need for understanding it. Hence the Sokal hoax, for example, which is one of the funniest incidents in fairly recent academic scholarship I am aware of.

My lack of knowledge apart, there is an issue of interpretation. Opinions in historiography vary, often widely. For some, the landing of Spanish troops on the shores of England would have provoked fanatic resistance from the inhabitants. There is some evidence for this. English forces were not as badly trained and organised as earlier historiography suggests. The regime did have loyal supporters, and English troops fighting on home soil might not have been as bad as their counterparts sent abroad.

On the other hand, who would really have wanted to take on the regional (or global; again, opinions differ over the might of Spain) superpower in the cause of a regime which had as its head an unmarried woman of a certain age without children? Not only that but Elizabeth was excommunicated and could appear vacillating. Furthermore, if Parma’s forces had got ashore, would the hardened professionals not have made mincemeat of the English trained bands? England was not the Netherlands. While earthworks could have been constructed, large-scale flooding as used to defend Low Country cities was not an option. The Spanish probably could not be bogged down in siege warfare until they went bankrupt again.

We thus have a problem of multiple interpretations. If the Armada landed, the English might have had a chance, or they might not. The case can be argued either way. There is no final evidence, in the form of the Armada landing, which could decide the case. We can become lost in a welter of conflicting opinion, all backed up by evidence of some form or another, all open to interpretation and re-interpretation.

As I have mentioned before, the problem confronting a wargame rule writer is that this sort of situation cannot prevail. We require greater certainty than the evidence can yield, and a more concrete basis of interpretation than historiography can give us. In short, we have to guess. We have to go way beyond the evidence and do things no historian would accept (I know there are historians who are wargamers; I guess they have to accept it was well).

All we can do is to write down our pre-rule writing suppositions. I think the English trained bands may have given a good account of themselves fighting in their own counties, therefore I have decided they will not run away as soon as they are shot at by the Spanish. I have, of course, only highly indirect evidence for this; in part this supposition is based on the fact that I would like to have a worthwhile wargame at all. But at least that presupposition is clear and my lack of evidence for it is stated. Someone can, of course, come along and challenge it but then, possibly, there is no way they can confirm their assumption and we will have really boring wargames.


Somehow, in postmodernism, reality still intrudes. Derrida wrote texts and expected people would read them, even though that activity was questionable in his eyes and what the reader was doing was potentially ambiguous. Nevertheless, Derrida’s texts exist. Nevertheless my ‘Wars of the Counter Reformation’ rules exist.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

On Writing Rules

I have, it seems, somehow committed myself to writing, or helping to write, two sets of wargame rules. One is my own Wars of the Counter Reformation set, which I need for the Armada game and campaign. The other is the recently mooted Polemos: Thirty Years War rule set. I confess that I feel qualified to write neither.

Of course, if we ever felt qualified to write anything, we would never achieve much. I doubt that Tolstoy felt particularly qualified for writing War and Peace and yet, somehow, he did. There is, however, a problem, at least with the Thirty Years War: most of the information about the war is not in English. I do not read any other language and, in fact, a historian would have to master a forbidding quantity of European languages to be able to read a reasonable proportion of the available documentation.

This does not really bother most wargamers, of course. Mostly, all we want to do is bung a few (or a lot of) figures onto the table and play a game. Historical accuracy does not seem to matter that much. Indeed, it has to be said that most wargame rules exaggerate some aspects of a war or period, at the expense of others. It is the only way to make an interesting game.

I have, as most of you are probably aware, perpetrated a few sets of rules in my time. I had a hand in Polemos: English Civil War, and wrote Polemos: SPQR myself. I make non claim that these rules are accurate portrayals of the periods in question. In a sense, they cannot be. A long time ago I mentioned that a battle narrative is like describing a house – you can describe all the bits but you cannot see them all at once. Thus a rule set is going to have to try to describe a bit of the battle.

For PM: SPQR I tried to write the rule set from the perspective of the general. This led to someone commenting that the player had to ‘micromanage the big stuff’. I was quite pleased with the comment, which I think was intended as a compliment, because the general’s perspective what what I had aimed for. To some extent I suppose I succeeded.

Any piece of writing is not so much finished but abandoned by its author. Wargame rules are no exception to the rule, I think. I could have read much more, thought much more, tried out many more rule ideas and combinations, and done much more play testing. What the outcome would have been I do not know. Certainly if, now, I rewrote the rules they would be very different. I am not about to launch at that task, however.

A few things would stay the same. My ‘Wars of the Counter Reformation’ draft, which I have just typed up, retains some of the features of the Polemos series, particularly some of the bits I like, such as the order system. It also has more than a small debt to the DBR system, flawed though that rule set seems to be. A few original thoughts might even have sneaked in. If readers of the blog are fortunate (or unlucky) I might post the draft as it is.

There are, of course, many things that are problems in writing rules, especially in pinching bits which you like from other sets and cobbling them together. Firstly, of course, there are different troop types. For the English Civil War we coul deal with a very limited number of different sorts of troops. The number of interactions between arms was limited. Admittedly we had to perhaps exaggerate some differences to make an interesting wargame. There are always going to be design decisions and compromises. The main one in PM: ECW is related to cavalry and, specifically the difference between trotters and gallopers. I think I would refine that now, although I am not sure how.

Similarly, in PM: SPQR I had to design around skirmishers. Skirmishers, in the ancient records are present in sometimes vast numbers. As I was attempting to design Polemos: Age of Alexander it became clear firstly that the historians record thousands and tens of thousands of skirmishing type troops. Secondly, it became cleaer that they had very little impact on the outcome of battles. There are a few battles in the ancient world where they did have an effect, but they were mainly due to ambush, terrain and / or silly decisions by generals, such as ‘let’s march out into the desert without much water’. So skirmishers, while present, are weak, and I think they should be.

These sorts of decisions are balanced by others, of course. As I think I note in the ‘Designer’s Notes’ in PM: SPQR, ancient battles were won by men with pointy sticks. Cavalry (as Alexander demonstrated) could be effective, but mostly, they were not. Similarly, in the ECW, cavalry were more able to win battles, but still, really, needed to be part of a combined arms activity; either that or get lucky.

And so we come to the Wars of the Counter Reformation. One of the problems is, of course, that aside from the French civil wars, there were not that many battles. The wars were, with only a few exceptions, wars of siege and counter siege, naval operations, raids, and the vast drain of money and resources that these things needed. The wars were mainly won and lost by financial exhaustion and the refusal of countries to supply more men and material.

Any rule set for the period, then, has to be largely a function of the imagination, of what would, could or might have happened. Whether my ideas are right or not is impossible to say. The Armada did not land. The Dutch and Spanish armies only occasionally came to blows away from siege warfare. It could have been different, but the data as to what might have happened does not exist.


On the other hand, no-one can prove me wrong, either….

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Scots and the English Civil War

I read, on someone’s blog that I have now forgotten the details of, a review of Alisdair McRae’s ‘How the Scots Won the English Civil War’ (History Press, Stroud, 2013). It was, I recall, largely an account of how bad the book was. Given that and the opportunity to acquire it cheaply, I was consumed by curiosity, and settled down to read it.

Recently, I supervised a final year undergraduate dissertation, which was an interesting experience. Without giving too much away, the project was the sort devised by a rather weak student who had heard the same word used in two different contexts, was thus convinced that there was a connection and pursued the said connection, in spite of all the evidence against such a link, the supervisor’s promptings that things needed thinking through differently, and so on.

Further, the execution of the project was on the lamentable side. Supervisoral suggestions and corrections to spelling, grammar and sense were ignored, and the project sailed on to submission riddled with errors and with more unreferenced quotes than you can shake a stick at. If you sense a little of the supervisor’s frustration here, you would be correct.

Of course, it all came to grief when it was marked, and the supervisor, yours truly, was called upon to second mark it. To be honest, I think that to first marker’s judgment was positively generous given the work submitted and the plagiarism detected. A shame, I think; it was a nice original idea.

Returning to the book in hand (or, in my case, on desk), I think we have a similar situation. One of the ironies here is, of course, that I was reading McRae at the same time as second marking the dissertation. It is a nice idea, but lamentably executed. I find it hard to believe that a reputable publisher let it go out into the world in such a state.

First, the good things. The idea of writing a history of the English Civil Wars from a Scottish perspective is a fine one. I am not aware of anyone who has taken this approach, but it would certainly give a different perspective to the goings on in England, and, of course, due acknowledgment of Scotland’s own, very bitter, civil strife of the time. I do, incidentally, on my ‘unread’ book shelf, have a number of other tomes on Scotland and the English Civil Wars waiting to be read, so it is possible that such a history does exist, but that I have not read it yet.

The book probably tries to do too much. A general account of the Thirty Year’s War is given, apparently to show the experience of Scottish mercenaries in Europe prior to 1640 or so. Fair enough, but the narrative gets rather clogged up by this and a lot of it adds little to any other general history of the Thirty Years War. I suspect that it is, to put it politely, derivative of readily available accounts in English of those events.

The book then moves towards accounts of the Bishop’s Wars and opening moves in the English Civil War, followed by the raising of the Scottish Army and its despatch south. This has some interesting detail on the raising of the regiments but is rather light on the political and social, let alone religious, drivers and meanings.

The best bits of the book are the descriptions of the Scottish actions at the sieges of Newcastle, Carlisle and Hereford. This includes information that I have not come across before, although it is lamentably referenced and so impossible to follow up on. The chapter on Marston Moor is all right, but the author wants to credit the Scottish infantry with saving the day and also claims that Cromwell and his cronies stole the credit (which might be true). As with most battle accounts, however, it is mostly garbled – the siege accounts are much better and even include useful maps, although the illustrations of re-enactors re-enacting are less so.

The book also includes an account of Montrose’s campaign, including detail on Phillpaugh, some of which I had not seen before, and a brief account of Preston which rather fails to give credit to Langdale’s before any Scots were in action (if, in fact, any Scots did anything much at the battle except flee).

The book finishes with a few comments on Scotland in the 1650’s and Montrose’s sticky end, as well as a lengthy and unnecessary gallop through medical ideas of the seventeenth century leading up to the death of Hugh Fraser.

The subtitle of the book, ‘The Triumph of Fraser’s Dragoons’ is the reason for this last bit. The dragoons appear briefly in the narrative but, as the author admits in the Epilogue, there is very little evidence to be found of their activities. I suspect that this could be said of most units in any army of the time, so should not have come as the surprise it seems to have done to the author. On its own terms, therefore, the book is a failure. No unit history of Fraser’s dragoons could be written, no matter how nice an idea it might have seemed at the time.

Which brings us to the lamentable state of the referencing. There is a list of references and some notes, so the work aspires to some sort of academic pretension. However, in the notes a reference is to Barratt (2002). A crosscheck with the reference list yields ‘Barratt (2002)’. Not terribly useful. In fact, it is a lot worse than the student dissertation is just dissed above. Furthermore there are copious quotes from historical sources. These are unreferenced. In my book, this is plagiarism, even though the sources are 350 years old or so. As I said, I am surprised that a reputable publisher let this through. I know that publishing is a rather cash-strapped business these days and that editors and the process of editing is expensive, but these are schoolchild mistakes. There are, out there in internet-land, various free (and paid for) reference management software products. A few clicks of the mouse button can tidy this sort of rubbish up.


So a nice idea but badly executed. A shame – I think the author has something to say, and that something is interesting. Despite the blurb proclaiming his avid historian credentials, re-enactment, television appearances and ‘numerous’ articles in the press and magazines, I suppose he won’t be the last to find that writing something book-length is a very different beast indeed.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Armada Update

Behind the scenes here at Chateau Polemarch, all has been activity. Actually, that is not the case. All has been not-terribly good health, suffered by myself and the Estimable Mrs P. We appear to have cross infected each other with colds. She acquired one, and donated it to me. Not to be outdone, I have returned the compliment and so she is now sniffling. One of the joys of married life, I suppose.

Anyway, before this becomes a further tale of woe, I have been beavering away at the Armada project. I do not exactly recall what the state of play was when I last reported, but the Armada and elements of the English navy have been rebased. I think I might have noted before that rebasing the ships from thin card to plastic card was a lot harder than I thought, except for those ships where the glue chipped off in one go.

Beyond that, catalogues have been perused, orders dispatched and painting, and some basing has been undertaken. I am now about ten bases away from having a viable wargame of the Armada landing on the beach north of Whitby, and we shall then see what happens. I now have suitable untrained bands, as well as trained bands, Spanish infantry and, the last off the production line, naval guns and crews. There is a fair amount of evidence from the Irish wars of the sixteenth century that naval guns were landed and used, incidentally. I am having to use Napoleonic figures, however.

Firstly, of course, I shall need some wargame rules. My first response was to use the Polemos: English Civil War rules, which I had a hand. But, firstly, to do so would break the Polemos ethos, which is to treat each period on its own merits. Secondly, they would not work for the Wars of the Counter-Reformation, because the troop types are different. I have Spanish sword and buckler men to storm the beaches, for example. They did not exist in the English Civil War.

So PM: ECW are not viable. I have perused other rule sets which I have on my shelves which are not ECW-centric. I have DBR, which may well work for the period, but I am not so keen on them as I was. I have Renaissance Principles of War, which does not seem to be the sort of rule set suitable for this sort of battle. I also have, in the depths of my archive, George Gush’s WRG Renaissance Rules and also Tercio. I am afraid, however, that I lack both the time and the patience for the. I have perused the Perfect Captain’s Spanish Fury rules, but I simply cannot get the hang of them.

So I am a bit stuck. I know the sort of thing I am looking for, and the sort of battle I would like to fight, but cannot find the suitable rule set. I suppose I shall have to write my own, stealing bits from here and there that I like and might fit with my ideas and with the sort of thing I am trying to do.

I do have a problem with this approach, however. No rule set I have ever written survives first contact. Some drafts did not, indeed, survive putting the soldiers on the table, let alone fighting a wargame. This is not, or, I feel, should not be a major problem, but I find it to be so. I ought, I know, to have a more lassiez-fare attitude to this. What happens on the table happens, even though a subsequent rule change would make it impossible. After all, apparently impossible things do happen in warfare. Rules do not cover everything.

I am occasionally accused of being a perfectionist. That might be a charge that would stick, although it is strenuously denied. But I do admit to liking to be at least consistent, which is difficult if the rules, the very framework of the battles I fight, keep changing around me. Inconsistencies will abound, and as I am hoping to turn this into a campaign game (I am not painting all these peasants, guns and crews and rebasing entire navies for just one game. Even if the Spanish fail to take Whitby, they will try again somewhere else). Adjusting, say, the effectiveness of a 9 pounder between one game and the next could raise objections from my little lead slaves, at least, that they are dragging these dead weights over the Yorkshire Moors to no avail. I would have no answer to them, except to remove their straw and tell them to get the guns to Pickering and back by daybreak.

I probably need to re-educate myself, along the lines of ‘if you take that attitude you’ll never get anywhere’. Like Alice, I often give myself good advice, although I do not always take it. For some reason, probably due to my tendency for perfectionism at least with fairly abstract things, I do like them to be right. I can live with poorly painted soldiers (and, in this project, I am doing so), but inconsistent rules freak me out a bit.

I suspect that what will happen will be something like that. I will jot some rules down, pinching bits from DBR and PM: ECW (and even Polemos: SPQR, because I write it and so I quite like it (even if no-one else does, so there)) and give the game a go. The rules will morph at the latest at the point where my shiny new rowing boats with Spanish assault troops hit the beach. I will reach a conclusion of some description, but feel vaguely unsatisfied. A week or so later I will have re-written the rules and have another go. Something similar will happen. This may cycle on for a bit before I give up in frustration, and most of the planning and painting will be wasted.

I will then move on to the next project. Fortunately, I know what that will be: rebasing the Tibetans.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Method in Wargaming

I am sure I have mentioned before my sins, which must be manifold and are, I dare say, still racking up nicely on the heavenly mileometer associated with my name. For them, as hopefully some sort of penance, I have been reading about method. This started off as reading about theological method but has kind of broadened. Now, I am thinking about method in general and whether there might be such a beast as a method in wargaming. If there is I shall consider that there might also be a method in theology.

I shall now issue my standard disclaimer for these musings triggered off by half of my occupation at present: no Bible bashing will occur in the words below, nor indeed in the thinking, as hopefully will be explained in the next paragraph or so.

About half of my occupation is doing fairly silly things with reading stuff around education, theology, science and philosophy. I am not going to explain why here (I give myself 1000 words, give or take, and it would take too many of them), but I do, and I drop across stuff which I think is interesting to wargaming from time to time. One such was, for those of you with long memories, a canter through the ethics of wargaming. The present issue is concerned with method.

The case in point, which has issued in this wail of despair, is a book called ‘Method in Theology’ by a Canadian chap called Bernard Lonergan. Lonergan details how he thinks theology should be done. there is little or no theological content in the book, just a method. He divides theological method into eight ‘functional specialties’, namely Research, Interpretation, History, Dialectic, Foundations, Doctrines, Systematics and Communications. Each, he suggests, is a necessary component of the doing of theology, rather than the content thereof.

Now, one of the criticisms of Lonergan’s method is that is far too general. Most subjects, it is suggested, could have their methods divided into the same eight specialties. This is not, perhaps, entirely surprising, as Lonergan seems to have based his ideas about theological method on an analogy with scientific method. As Alan Chalmers remarks towards the beginning of ‘What is this thing called science?’, every other subject seems to want to describe itself as a science – hence we obtain social science, historical science and of course economics, the dismal science.

Given this generality, I started to wonder whether wargaming, which after all sits somewhere between history, politics and social science, so it might be fair game for a method. On the other hand, not all that many practicing scientists or theologians actually worry about whether they have a worked out, explicit method at all. They are too busy doing stuff to bother. The same could well be the case for wargamers.

So, to begin at the beginning, with Research. Lonergan has in mind here the sorts of academic research, perhaps archaeology, which goes alongside learning in seminars and lectures. But I do not think we need to be limited to that. After all, a good deal of research revolves around what other people write. Thus reading a magazine, blog or book would count. The wargamer has a bright idea: I shall create a sixteenth century Tibetan army. (The example is so bizarre that I suspect that no-one, except me, has one. I was, in all honesty, slightly surprised that I had one as well).

Having decided on that, the wargamer then has to do some more digging around suitable figures, rules and, possibly, the history of Tibet. Then the stage of interpretation looms. ‘Given what I have found out, what does it mean?’ Will this figure be suitable for a sixteenth century Tibetan cavalryman? Which rules should I use? Who did the Tibetans fight? (For any period of history before the formation of the modern nation state, the answer to that question is usually ‘themselves, mostly’).

History might then come into play, as the wargamer’s analysis spreads to the formation of Tibetan armies, their enemies, how the Mongolian hordes and Chinese interacted with them and so on. As I mentioned recently, wargaming can take one into some odd corners. What did Tibetan houses look like? How did the Temples function? When did prayer flags come in? The methodical wargamer may well pose these questions and many more.

Next up is dialectics, or arguing. It is quite likely that at least two different interpretations will have been found. Perhaps, in my case, two entirely different histories of Tibet have been found, one maybe more Chinese influence, the other by the ‘free Tibet’ sorts of people. The wargamer has to decide which strand they will come down upon.We also note that wargaming can lead the wargamer into some modern politically sensitive areas.  For a less contentious dialectic, two manufacturers might have totally opposing views as to the nature of Tibetan super-heavy cavalry.

The decisions made at the dialectic stage will inform the rest of the project, and thus constitute the foundations specialty. The wargamer convinces themselves of the correctness of their interpretation, model choice and so on. The doctrines stage is, of course, related to the choice of rules, and that is informed by the assumed tactics and army make up that the wargamer has chosen. This, we decide, is how these wargames will be fought.

Next up is the systematic stage. This involves solving any confusion and dispute that the different doctrines decided upon will throw us. The decisions might be around, say, the effectiveness of Chinese musketry in the sixteenth century as opposed to Tibetan foot archery and horse archers. This is a synthesis that only the wargamer (or rules writer, if any rule writer has actually considered this place and period specifically) can decide upon. Similarly (or, rather, differently) these is that sinking moment when you realise that your chosen models and chosen base size do not fit together. Not for nothing is systematics linked back to interpretation.

Finally, there is communications. You take photographs of your shiny new army and post them.  You post blog reports of your victories over the enemy. You analyse your mistakes, or the limitations of the rules.


And finally, of course, you read about another period / place / battle / army, and the whole cycle kicks off again….

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Bias and Scale Prejudice

I am, as most of you that read the blog will be aware, a 6 mm wargamer, on the whole. I do have a whole stack of 28 (or so) mm figures, bought at various times with various projects in mind, but mostly they remain even more unpainted than my 6 mm figures. This idea of a skirmish game sometimes appeals, and I also have a few figures suitable for ‘Flashing Blades’ should I ever decide to revive my solo role playing game career.

On occasion I also go to wargame shows. There, I sometimes stand behind the Baccus 6 mm stand and watch the punters. Some, perhaps most, do come in and look at the wares and are engaged in conversation by Mr. Berry, who usually manages to sell them something (he is very good at it). Nevertheless I do also stand there by the painted figures stand and listen to passing wargamers sneer or laugh at the 6 mm figures on display.

It has often puzzled me as to why this should be. I dare say that I have written about it before here. There are issues of ‘othering’ going on, for example. Non-conformists often land up the butt of ignorant sneering and, sadly, that is what seems to happen sometimes. There is, in wargaming as in everything else, a group think of conformity. Thirty-odd millimetre figures are the norm, that is where wargamers, perhaps, feel safe, and so on.

You might wonder what has provoked these comments. Mr Berry has an interesting post on the News section of the Baccus web site (Google for it like I had to) entitled ‘Historical Gaming – the Times They are a Changin’. It is not a rant about how unfair the 32 mm wargame world is to the rest of the hobby (although that might be a legitimate grumble) but a wonder as to why this should be the case. Hence this post, by way of a ‘good question, glad you asked…’ comment.

Now there are the normal comments about painting and unit recognition. They can easily be dismissed, of course. Anyone, of whatever eyesight, who can paint a 34 mm figure can paint 6 mm. It really is not difficult. Similarly, if you can identify a unit of any scale from 3 feet away, you can identify a base of 6 mm figures. There is an inherent bias, I think, that small figures must be difficult to paint. It just happens to be untrue.

Mr Berry identifies a further problem, in that the magazines show mostly 33 mm figures painted to the level that would not disgrace an art exhibition. This, it seems to be the case, is part of the prejudice which can build up in the hobby. 29 mm figures are the gold standard, the norm. It is compounded by the fact that they are relatively easy to photograph. 6 mm figures, at least on their own, are not that easy to take pictures of. Further, pictures can show up imperfections in painting that the eye does not see. So most articles are illustrated with 31 mm figures, whatever the original scale was suggested.

There have been some thoughtful replies from members of the editorial teams of various wargame magazines on the Baccus forum. These essentially make the arguments noted above. The magazines can, after all, only work with articles people send them and with pictures they can generate. It is a lot easier to create another picture with a few stock gendarmes in 30 mm than it is to photograph a 6 mm army from scratch. Further, I would submit that most articles submitted to a magazine is in a generic scale. Over the years the stuff I have submitted was worked out and play tested in 6 mm, and illustrated in the article in 35 mm. It is just the way it is.

Mr Berry wonders about the effect of all this on historical wargaming. The hobby, or this aspect of it, seems to be being reduced to skirmish games. This seems to be happening in two ways, in my view. Firstly, big battles (whatever they may be) are reduced in a historical wargame refight, to something that looks like a skirmish. Thus, as, I think, Peter Gilder commented many moons ago, Naseby can be refought with 100 figures on one side and 50 on the other. It just does not look like a big battle. But when the aspiration is to paint 29 mm figures to work of art standard, 150 figures is a fair old target and the temptation is to cut the numbers.

Secondly, there is much more focus on ‘real’ skirmishes. Campaigns are created around a few figures and their adventures. I have no problem with that, except that this is not the only way of wargaming. Big battles do have a different dynamic to skirmishes. But to create a big battle in 26 mm figures, and to make it look like a bit battle, is a very expensive and time consuming process. Thus imagined historically set skirmishes seem to be becoming another norm.

Now, I am not about to start bemoaning the terrible state of the world, the end of wargaming as we know it or any of these things. Everyone develops, over time, the wargaming that they are comfortable with, I imagine. If that is done with thought and care, who am I to sneer or ‘other’ them? It is not as though 6 mm figures are the only ones to be looked down upon by the 27 mm devotees – 42 mm, 54 mm and 15 mm also come in for some distain. But maybe those of us who do carry the flame for 32 mm figures might like to ponder exactly what form of wargaming they are advocating.

I am sure I have mentioned before a very nice 26 mm game I saw at a show. It looked like a lovely skirmish game was being conducted. It was a bit of a shock to discover that it was supposed to be the Battle of Lutzen (1632). It did not look like it is all I can really say.


Anyway, I don’t want anyone to get upset, call me a heretic or hurl any teddies out of their pram over this, but it is a bit of a conundrum to me. I wonder if anyone can throw any more light on the matter.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Decisive Battles of the English Civil War

One of the subtitles of this blog should, perhaps, be ‘I read the books so you don’t have to.’ I have, indeed, recently finished ‘Decisive Battles of the English Civil War’, by Malcolm Wanklyn (Pen & Sword, Barnsley: 2014), which is, apparently, a revised edition of a tome of 2004. It is a book that I really rather wanted to like and enjoy, but I am not wholly sure that I did.

The first issue is, perhaps, with the title. Now, often enough, titles are not the fault of the author, but, so far as I can see, Wanklyn equates ‘decisive’ with ‘significant’. The two battles of Newbury, which feature in the book, were, perhaps, significant, as victory in the first for the Royalists and in the second for Parliament, could well have decisively changed the course of the war. But significant is not the same as decisive, although I suppose a book entitled ‘Significant Battles of the ECW’ would probably be deemed to be boring.

By many measures, of course, Austin Woolrych’s assessment in ‘Battles of the English Civil War’ that the three decisive battles were Marston Moor, Naseby and Preston still stands. Marston Moor cost the Royalists the north, Naseby cost the King his throne and Preston cost him his life. Wanklyn observes that this can be nuanced, in that the Royalists still drew resources from the north after the middle of 1644, and that the King was still king after the middle of 1645 and was dealt with as such. However, that is the fate of most broad brush-strokes of history.

Wanklyn does agree with Woolrych, however, that the battles and their outcomes do need to be made more central to historiography. Historians have a terrible tendency to be interested in stuff like treaties and agreements. Woolrych noted that if one side or the other had not won the battle, there would have been no need for the treaty. In ignoring battles historians give a one sided view of the world. Battles, of course, have only been disregarded in historiography since, roughly, the end of the Second World War. This was coupled with the rise of Marxist interpretations of history where, for example, the ECW is the result of the rise of the gentry (or the fall of the gentry, or the rise of the merchant class, or whatever). The brush-strokes are drawn more broadly. The result of a war is inevitable because the economic factors make it so.

Thus, in seventeenth century Britain, Parliament was inevitable going to win the English Civil Wars. If the participants had known that, of course, they could all have stayed at home. Wanklyn disputes that this is the case. Wars, campaigns and battles are contingent and, therefore, the outcome can never be a result of simple economic balance. Yes, Parliament had the bult of the economic resource, and, in fact, the bulk of the population, to draw on. Possibly this had an effect, in that the troops of Parliament tended to be slightly better equipped, paid and, perhaps most decisively, present in higher number of infantry on the battlefield. Nevertheless, in battle numbers and equipment are not decisive.

Wanklyn sees the need for narratives of what happened on the battlefield to explain the outcomes of the battles. However, he also argues that most of the narratives that we have are, in part, made up. Some accounts simply assume that, say, the left wing of the cavalry were in a certain place because that is what military theory says should have happened. However, if this cannot be ascertained from historical sources, it should not be assumed. He wants, in a sense, to produce a minimal narrative, acknowledging the things that we cannot know because the sources do not tell us.

Battles are, of course, complex things. Participants, on the whole, cannot tell us very much, except that which they themselves experienced. Putting the fragments of battle narrative together is fraught with difficulty over geography and timing. Even more recent developments, such as re-enacting and battlefield archaeology can only tell us so much. Reenactors are not fighting battles, nor are they present in the numbers (particularly of cavalry) that the originals had. Archaeology can only tell us what evidence has survived. A concentration of musket balls may imply a fierce fire-fight, or it may be where an ammunition waggon turned over. Nothing can really be decisive in counting, at least as a single piece of evidence.

We might consider that Wanklyn is impossibly post-modern in his approach, but in fact he would have an ally in Whatley ('On the Possibility of Reconstructing Marathon and Other Ancient Battles', The Journal of Hellenic Studies 84 (1964), 119-139.). The point is that we cannot ‘reconstruct’ battles. We simply do not have the evidence.

So what, you might ask, is the problem with Wanklyn’s book? I think there are two. Firstly, there is the structure, which takes each battle in two chapters. The first is on the context, sources and landscape for the action, the second on a construction of what can be known. Fair enough, but I found it a bit tricky to keep the balance between what I read about the sources and what was accepted as evidence in the narrative. Perhaps intermeshing the two would have made the battle narrative a lot more broken up and difficult to follow, but at least it would have been obvious to the reader why a piece of established historiography was being rejected at a particular point. Maybe there is just no good way of doing this.

The second problem is with the maps. Now, I accept that there is a great deal of uncertainty about locations, geography, unit identity and so on, and that this has to be reflected in the maps. The problem I have is that often geographical features are mentioned in the text but are not on the map, leaving the reader confused as to what is going on. A few more maps, for example of the route of the flank march of Waller’s troops at Second Newbury, would have been helpful.

Overall this is an interesting but slightly frustrating book. It is causing me to ponder afresh ECW fighting. Wanklyn’s point is that ECW armies, when they functioned properly, we combined arms forces. Cavalry needed infantry to operate properly and vice versa. Similarly he argues that the forces were a lot more flexible in use that we might have been led to believe from our, somewhat flawed, historiography to date.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Odd Corners of Wargaming

Wargaming, it seems to me, can take you into some rather peculiar places, at least in terms of interest and trying to find stuff out. Wargamers, by and large and so far as I can tell, do not usually take part in expeditions to find the lost city of Machu Picchu (which was never lost, incidentally; the Inca knew perfectly well where it was, they just never bothered telling the Spanish), or trekking in the wastes of Siberia, but I find, at least, that I land up asking questions which only a few others have ever asked.

Take a recent incident as an example. The houses where I live are almost all tiled, as they are, I imagine, in most places in England. But it has not always been thus. I was brought up in the south and there thatch is still, in some of the more picturesque villages at least, quite frequent. As I am pondering a wargame based in the north, I wondered what people used to have a roofs in the past.

The Estimable Mrs P and I could think of a few examples of thatch in our local patch, but not many. Puzzled, I consulted my big book of northern history and looked up building materials. There, in a paragraph, was an explanation. Clay tiles came in during the seventeenth century, largely replacing thatch. I do not know exactly why tiles replaced thatch. Possibly the tiles are longer lasting, but a decent thatch lasts 20-30 years and, from painful experience, modern tiles at least do not seem to last much longer than that.

Now, we can also ask what the thatch was made of. In these parts there was a mix of straw and heather thatches. This was a minor lightbulb moment for me at least, as we had been a little puzzled by the relative absence of reed beds and the like to make the straw for thatching. After all, animals would have taken the priority for fodder and bedding over human comfort. Heather, at least in some parts, would have been plentiful, cheap and not much use for anything else.

This, of course, hits the next question: what colour was the thatch? Now here we hit a real problem, I think. I know that real thatch is grey or black. I have, as I mentioned above, seen a fair number of thatched cottages in my time. And yet my thatched cottages for the wargame table are distinctly yellow in colour. That is correct, they are the colour of straw, as you would expect, of course.

Now we land up in some obscure place in human psychology. More precisely, we land up pondering what ‘looks right’ on the table. A thatch with a black roof just would not, I think, look right. Even though I know that in real life thatch is not yellow, my table needs to look right.

Either that or I am, yet again, in a minority of one, and should be rightly regarded as barking by the rest of the world.

It does not stop there, of course. I do, I realise, many things wargame wise because thy look right. Armour is shiny, even though by the English Civil War it was being carefully blackened to avoid rust. Cannon barrels are black and carriages are wood coloured. For the matter of that, wood is brown, while really, when it has been weathered for a bit, it is more grey.

Of course, there are also problems of scale, which I have mentioned before. My houses are in scale with the troops, so they are much bigger than the ground scale. At present, this is being further complicated by the presence of smaller scale ships in the town harbour, and even smaller scale ships for the Armada. I have tried this out. Somehow, despite all the jumps in scale, it looks about right.

I have worked it out, in fact. From the 1:300th scale castle tower, looking out to sea, the Armada on the horizon is about a mile away, given that the Armada ships are 1:2400th scale. The assault ships which are to be used are, of course, in the correct figure scale, but then they will only become of major interest to the landlubbers when they are near the beach anyway.

There may, of course, be undetected problems. In my role as the Spanish commander, I might try to use some of the smaller ships to rush the harbour. Naturally, as the English counterpart, I have a battery of ships guns to place on the mole to protect the harbour from just such an eventuality. The ships are the small ones, the guns are the big ones and the ships in the harbour from which the guns came are somewhere in between. It might look right, but I can foresee madness looming when the shore batteries and Armada ships attempt to engage each other.

The human mind is a flexible and subtle thing, of course. I have a suspicion that all of this does not really matter. Firstly, of course, everything is an abstraction anyway. The Armada troops are not really going to be put ashore by half a dozen small rowing boats. The town, even Whitby after the Abbey closure and its subsequent decline in prosperity (wagaming as a portal to economic history. Who knew?) was still larger than the ten or so buildings I have for it. The ships in harbour are, in fact, seventeenth century – the French La Corunna and the English Speaker. They are also in full sail, which would be ludicrous when in harbour, and one of them, at least, does not have the room to turn to get out.


I know all this, and yet, somehow, it is probably the ‘nicest’ terrain I have ever set out for a wargame planning session. I might have to dig out the camera and treat you all to a photograph of it, so you can point out all the flaws to me.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Project Wargame?

There has been a bit of a meme around recently on the wargame blogs that I view around the idea of project managing the hobby. I think, in its inception it was harmless enough, a reflection on what would constitute enough for a wargamer; which projects are those which are to be done before one hangs one’s dice up.

As such, I think the question is, perhaps interesting, but maybe a little pointless. We all know, after all, that there is always that one more project, extra army, more units for this one, a few more terrain pieces for that one. We know that we can give it up anytime. We just do not.

Looking through my archives of figures I have found this a lot. I have a variety of ‘renaissance’ figures, and many of them are, in fact, painted. But I have also found a horde of unpainted figures and other items, presumably bought on the basis of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’. Somewhat surprisingly, given the average wargamer’s ability to concentrate on any given single thing for more than eight seconds at a time (oh, hang on, that is the latest estimate in our smart phone “enabled” world; goldfish, incidentally, can manage 6 seconds, so we are safe from that quarter at least), I have a number of painted, never used figures and objects. The weirdest one of these has to be the Irregular Miniatures Aztec Causeway, part of the Aztec town set (much of the rest of which remains unpainted). Even more oddly, the causeway is about to be reincarnated as Whitby Harbour. But I digress.

Anyway, I tried the Estimable Mrs P. out on the idea of project managing wargaming. She gave me one of her ‘Never mind, I love you anyway’ looks, and then remarked that as wargaming was a hobby, it did not require project managing. Just do things you enjoy, she opined, and stop if you stop enjoying them.

Fair enough, I thought. But then a nasty thought struck me. As you might be aware, I am busy rebasing assorted troops for the Wars of the Counter-Reformation, that is, warfare in the age of the Armada. I had spent some time in reviewing my troops (and ships as well. If you ask me, rebasing ships is a lot harder than rebasing toy soldiers.) While doing so, I noted a number of gaps in the lines. I required (I could say ‘need’, but one never ‘needs’ in a hobby) some more rowing boats, to expedite the landing of the Armada troops on this Fair Isle. Some further sword and bucker men were to be added as well, given that the cavalry would be unable to land mounted and pikes in a small boat would be a disaster, I imagine. Further than that, there was an absence of Huguenot cavalry. ‘Why,’ you might ask, ‘do you require them?’ For completeness, of course.

There is also the small matter of an appropriate Irish army. I had cobbled together such for my previous escapades but now, of course, official, authentic figures were available. Gone (or redeployed, at least) are my bonnacts looking suspiciously like highlanders. On order are the real thing.

And so, looking back, I see a rather alarming trend in managing this project emerging. I have, thus far, resisted the temptation to right down a list of things to do, prioritise them and then tick them off as each militia unit is painted, each ship is rebased and each cannon is remounted. But the temptation is there. Project management is lurking by the door.

Now, far be it from me to be biased against project management. I may simply have had bad experiences thereof, n0t least a colleague who, when confronted with unrealistic goals and implausible time frames responded with ‘let’s project manage our way out of this!’ No, no, and thrice, no. Let us return the idea to management and tell them to think it properly this time. It is not our responsibility to sort out the junk that comes from on high (someone remarked to me recently that they’d hate to be my manager; point taken, so would I).

My other objection to the way of project management is that it reduces everything to money. At least, money is hiding in the background, even if it is turned into weeks or units. Money is the god-idol of our age, and all must bow before it. My favourite story about this was of my poor, benighted colleague who had had managing our major project dumped on him. At a meeting (in the days when I attended them) he exclaimed ‘We’ve got the get this bit done. We should have started it last month, and so we’ve only got two months left!’ I turned to him and said ‘Which bit again?’ He reiterated. ‘Oh, I did that last week.’ I got a long, silent, slightly resentful stare. But it was true.

Anyway, the point is that project management, for all its ability to enable some things that need to happen happen before other things which depend on them, is a bit of a black art dressed up as a science (much like ‘management’ itself. On my lips the ‘m’ word is used only as a term of abuse; Alistair McIntyre’s ‘After Virtue’ does a good job in demolishing the mystique of management. More managers should read it and resign and go and do something useful with their lives).

Anyway, I do not mean to rant (although rereading the above, you could be forgiven for not believing me at all). Project management is something we all do a bit of. I need to buy the toy soldiers before trying to paint them for example. That, in its simplest form, is project management. Most project management is little more than this, incidentally, but beings remuneration that most ordinary mortals can only stand and stare at. I am sure that the original post does not deserve the polemic dished out above for a fairly innocent idea.

In the interests of disclosure, I had better add that I have known at least one nice, human, hardworking and effective project manager. She resigned her post after six months as senior management would not sign off on any of the bits she needed to get done.


It is of course possible that my toy soldiers will do something similar….

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Elizabethan Militia

As part of project Armada, I have been reading a book which is only semi-related to wargaming. From the title, the unwary wargamer might suppose that it was suitable as a tome for the hobby: ‘War and Politics in the Elizabethan Counties’, by Neil Younger (2012, Manchester, MUP). Nevertheless, it is an interesting book, partly because Younger discusses the strategy of the Elizabethan regime, and partly because he has a much higher view of the Elizabethan military than has often been the case.

First things first, however:. Younger observes, correctly, that the wars Elizabethan England engaged in between 1585 and 1604 have no collective name. Intrigued, I checked what the set of army lists in DBR were called for the period. Barker calls it ‘The Wars of the Reformation’. These include English, Irish, Low Countries Spanish, Dutch Rebellion and both Huguenot and Catholic League French. The wars cover 1560 to 1605-ish, with the Spanish and Dutch lists going on to the end of the Thirty Years War. The name ‘Wars of the Reformation’ is rather a misnomer if you ask me. Lutcher did his bit of vandalism to a church door in 1517. John Calvin, who I (probably wrongly, granted) regard as a ‘second wave’ reformer died in 1564. The Reformation was well on by the time the period started. The Counter-Reformation was launched by the Council of Trent which met from 1545 – 1563, after all.

Perhaps ‘Wars of the Counter-Reformation’ would be a better term for the period. The religious situation in Germany was more settled after an agreement that the state would follow the brand of faith of the ruler, and so Germany was reasonably quiet in the period. There were various rebellions in the Low Countries, granted, and France went through one of its seemingly periodic collapses. How much all of this really had to do with faith is, of course, slightly moot. It did, but faith was not the only issue involved, even in the Low Countries.

England went to war in 1585 reluctantly. The country was poor and divided, it was felt. The Elizabethan settlement of the church in 1560 had tried to keep more or less everyone on board and had been reasonably successful, but there were still a lot of recusants around and their loyalty was in doubt. The Elizabethan regime employed classic delaying tactics to avert war, and it was only in 1585, when negotiations collapsed, that preparations for conflict were started.

The Elizabethan strategy consisted of three parts. The first was to avoid invasion. It was unclear how many people would rally to the Protestant regime’s defence, particularly as the head of it was an aging, childless woman. Avoiding putting the support for the Queen to the test was paramount. Allied to this was the control of Ireland, which was seen by many as a springboard to invading England itself. Thus, the major troop deployment of the regime was, in fact, from 1595 to Ireland.

The third element of the strategy was to keep the Channel ports, those on the south, in neutral or friendly hands. Thus Elizabeth sent support to both the Dutch rebels and Henry IV, even when the latter turned to Catholicism. A mildly Catholic but tolerant regime in France was preferable to a Counter-Reformation inspired Spanish backed radical Catholic one.

The English strategy was, thus, defensive in nature. This did not, of course, preclude local offensive action. Some of the Elizabethan raids on Spanish ports were among the most spectacularly successful of their type ever. But, overall, the government tried to reign in those politicians and generals who were most enthusiastic about offensive warfare, either at sea or on land. War, the government knew, was expensive. A defensive war was the cheapest option, and that was what was fought. In strategic terms, although Elizabeth was dead before the peace treaty was signed, the English obtained their objectives.

Part of the war preparations in England and Wales were the creation of county lieutenants, crown representatives. These tended to be reliable (radical Protestant) nobles from the area, and to them passed the requirement to organise the Elizabethan defensive militias, in this case, the trained bands. Militias had, of course, always existed. Theoretically any male between 16 and 60 was in the militia. But warfare had developed, and pike and shot units were required. Each county was called upon to train a proportion of its men in modern methods, as well as arm and pay them.

As Younger observes, the Elizabethan militia was never (well, hardly ever) tried out in action. We have no historical evidence whether the measures would have been sufficient to defend to country if the Armada had landed. Much historiography, however, argues that it would have done badly against Parma’s professionals, or the troops from Spain carried on the ships themselves. Younger begs to differ a little. Some of the militia seems to have been of reasonable quality and trained to some extent at least. Further, quite a few of them were enthusiastic and, as the Dutch had demonstrated, a lot could be done with enthusiasm and a fair bit of digging.

The idea behind the defences against the 1588 Armada are not, Younger observes, as is usually represented in the history books. They suggest that three armies were formed, one to track the Armada along the south coast, one at Tilbury to defend against landings in Essex when that seemed likely, and one in London to defend the capital and Queen. In fact, the first army never existed. The trained bands mustered in each county as the Armada approached. The plan was that this would be the initial resistance if there was a landing, and the county trained band would be reinforced by trained bands from neighbouring counties, fighting, presumably, a drawn out delaying battle until the Spanish were exhausted and cut off, by the navy, from reinforcements and supply. Given the defeat of the Armada and the fact it never landed, the third army never existed – the trained bands were sent home practically before they had set out. The Tilbury army did come into being, but only for a short time.


Younger observes that this might not have been the best way of defending the realm, but it was financially efficient. Unlike most early modern European powers, Elizabeth’s government fought a long war without going bankrupt or losing credit status. The focus is often (probably rightly) on the navy, but Younger observes that when the regime of Charles I went to war in the 1620’s it was soon in financial and political straits. Both the strategy and the trust of the county elites for the government were lost.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Rules, Generic Rules and Periods

As avid readers of the blog will be aware, I do not have a great deal of enthusiasm these days for generic rules. The rule sets I have written have been for specific periods, or even sub-periods. For the record, I have written or help write rules for the English Civil War (or War of the Three Kingdoms, or British Civil War, or whatever we are calling it this week), the Roman Imperial era, (First Century BC to First Century AD) and some rules for Ancient Greeks from Marathon to after Alexander. The latter have not been published and, so far as I am any judge, will not be. These are all in the Polemos series published by Baccus. I have also written some rules for the Elizabethan Anglo-Scottish Borders, called ‘Shake Loose the Border’ which were published as a magazine article quite a while ago.

Now, I have also mentioned using both DBA and DBR. I also possess a copy of DBM, although I think I only ever played it once. DBA is a good rule set, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed it. DBR is not so good, in that it does seem to mess up some of the basic troop interactions (I have not seen DBR 2.0, admittedly). They are both generic rule sets that go both around the world and across the centuries. Granted DBR is a bit more specific than DBA, but the range of cultures is huge.

This brings me to one of the problems I have with such sets, a distinctly wargamer’s problem. I used to take note of army lists, and one of the things you can do with DBR, as I think I mentioned once, is to make up 100 army point armies. This works quite nicely for Western European powers. You get armies of between ten and fifteen bases, and I can live with that.

Where it fails is for other cultures. I dug out my DBR 100 AP lists the other day. They date back to the time when I must have had a great deal more time than I do today, as they cover more or less every list in the army list books, some of them more than once. What I do notice, however, is that the less ‘advanced’ a culture is, at least in its means of killing other people, the more bases the army has. The Inca, for example, hit thirty three. The Pueblo Indians hit thirty or so as well. The problem is that some of the cultures listed surely cannot have fielded that many soldiers compared to the twelve of a full Western army.

A long time ago I was a member of the DBM email list, and very interesting it was too. I had a break from it for a few months and then came back. In the meantime a new edition had come out and all the competition gamers (an occupation which I cannot get my heads around, neither then nor today) were discussing lists which were termed ‘WoC’. It took me a while, several weeks I think, to work out that the reference was to lists like the Incas, and the acronym meant ‘Wall of Crap’. The rules had been changed such that the most effective competition armies were those with many, many elements. An Inca army at 400 army points was, literally, a wall of poor troops stretched across the table. The idea was that an opponent, fielding say a small but quality army of French Medieval, simply would get overrun. The bases would go down to lucky dice rolls and overlapping. The losses to the Inca (or whatever other WoC army was being fielded) would be huge, but their wings (or whatever they are called in DBM) would still be a long way from breaking. The idea was that they were impossible to defeat.

As with DBM, so with DBR: an Inca army is a tough proposition because there are so many of them. I, of course, also found them a tough proposition due to the number of bases I had to paint. I think it was the DBM Inca who broke me, Renaissance wargaming wise. Actually, the Estimable Mrs P. thinks it was the Aztecs who broke me, and given what I have recently found in terms of semi-painted figures, she might be right.

So that is one thing, and I suspect it is a problem with any rule set that uses a points system. Granted the idea is to provide ‘balance’, whatever that means, between different armies, but it does seem to skew the systems as well.

Another problem that there is with these sorts of rule sets is that they do cross both the centuries and cultures. At any given time there is a wide variety of cultures co-existing on the planet. They do not all fight in the same way. Similarly, there are different cultures that succeed each other in a given area. Again, they do not fight in the same way.

This is a problem which can be solved in two ways, it seems. First, you can create highly specific rule sets of given era / culture combinations. I am considering such for the Wars of Elizabeth, for example, and have written some, as described above. The alternative, as someone mentioned in a comment a week or two back, is to self-consciously write rules to deliver a generic, high level view of a wide variety of eras.

Either of these approaches is fine, it seems to me. But we do have to be clear as to what we are doing. Polemos: ECW will not, in my view, do for Elizabethan wars. I do not think that simply tinkering with the edges of the rules, adding troop types and so on will cut the mustard. The fifty odd years that separate Elizabeth and Charles I is sufficient to cause problems, at least at the level I would like to model.

You could also, I imagine, really go for a generic rule set covering, say, 1500-1800. This would model the basic interactions and flow of the battle. I dare say it would be quite interesting if you could get it right.  But you do have to accept that specific period flavour will be missing.


Most wargamers, and most rule sets seem to ignore the argument above, and I dare say most wargamers will continue to buy cross-cultural, cross-era sets because they are easiest to use, and enable jumping around across periods and continents. But I do think there is cost to doing this, and it is not one I am particularly willing to pay.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

How Big is Your Army?

Alas and alack, for I am the most unfortunate of wargamers. Actually, I suspect that is entirely untrue; the experience I am going to recount is probably familiar to many wargamers of some years standing, at least. It may even be a salutary lesson for us all. You never can tell.

Anyway, as those of you who have read recent bits of the blog may be aware, I have been considering a ‘late Tudor’ army. Indeed, I have done more than consider such an army. I have dug out some old figures and have started to rebase them in my ‘new’ basing scheme. By new I mean a scheme which I have been using for only just over twelve years. It is still new to me.

Those of you with really long and very obscure memories might recall the old ‘DBM-list’, which was run, if I recall correctly, from an email server in Stanford. It was quite a high volume list, and discussed the minutiae of DBM, like how to line up your troop bases to cause maximum disruption to the opposition and cause any recoils to become losses. I was never that interested in those sorts of tactics, but there was a lot of other interesting stuff as well.

In a rush of youthful enthusiasm I copied a map of Europe, digitised it (not easy in those days) and invited members of the DBM list to participate in an online, run by email campaign, entitled ‘1618-Something’. It was very, very simple with area movement and armies could ‘support’ each other. Each army was a one hundred point DBR army (newly, I think, released then). The first support army contributed an extra fifty points, the next twenty five and so on. There was also a possibility for a ‘train’, artillery, and a ‘siege train’, big guns for sieges. You will also realise now where the renaissance naval rules I posted a few weeks ago in a much ignored post came from. I had navies.

It was, of course, an excuse to generate battles and, as such, it worked quite nicely. There were a few issues. Some single area states were very vulnerable to being knocked out. I also came under pressure to extend the map eastwards to India, China and Japan. Fortunately it all fell apart before Africa and the Americas appeared. It became hard to get orders from people – some had life, some lost interest and so on. It lasted about 1 game year and 2 real life years.

There were some fun bits along the way, of course. Various South East European nations banded together in an anti-Russian alliance and continually lost to them. A battle in India had to be declared a draw because both commanders were killed by rocket fire in the same bound. A French fleet landed up isolated in the Baltic. A Russian battle was, I was assured, fought out on a table set up for a refight of Stalingrad. And so on.

Now, I am ambling towards a point here. As inventor, creator and umpire of the whole thing I decided I needed to have the correct armies to fight out any given battle that might arise. Thus I spent a considerable amount of time painting and basing any conceivable army from the DBR lists, including the obscure ones like North Africans and Vietnamese. Having done that, with a rush of blood to the head and more enthusiasm than either sense of than I can muster today, I proceeded to create armies for the whole of the DBR ‘period’, to a value of one hundred army points. If I recall correctly this was the DBR answer to DBA – Western European armies came out to be around 10 – 15 bases.

It is to this load of figures that I have turned to find some Tudors. Rest assured, I have located them and they are currently being based. But then enthusiasm crept in and I started to look at what I had found. Burmese elephants for example. Tibetans. Samurai. Manchu. And so on, and so on.

Now this has some problems. I do not recall what some of the troops are. I can recognise the most obvious, of course, but some of the, for example, Vietnamese, elude me. I am sure I knew what they were when I last used them. The second problem is that they are a bit jumbled up. I found bases of Swiss halberdiers in with Spanish jinites. My artillery seems to be distributed over a vast number of boxes, to the extent that I am still unsure how many falconets there are. But these are minor, compared to the big problem:

I want to rebase the lot.

Not only that, but I want to use them. I have a smaller table now, and I was never too comfortable with DBR as a rule set (I don’t know if version 2 is any better). There are, without putting too fine a point on it, huge numbers of, for example, Inca. Simply moving them is probably beyond my patience now (it remains to be seen whether rebasing them is beyond it, of course).

And that brings me, slowly, to the point. How many bases on a given size of table, make an army? The DBR answer was simple: 100 points worth. Depending on the value of the bases that could be anything from 10 to quite a few. DBA’s answer is also simple: 12. I did have a very nice Aztec DBA campaign on our coffee table once.


I tried thinking about force to space ratios, and how many bases would fit on my table. Nothing, however, really clicked. Then I recalled reading, a long time ago, that 12 was the maximum number of subunits a commander could realistically deal with. And so the decision was made, arbitrary as it is. An army consists of twelve bases. Given that I have already rebased about 25 bases of Tudors, an Elizabethan Civil War battle seems to be beckoning.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Packing Soldiers

It might surprise some people to realize that the purpose of fighting snot to kill enemy soldiers. While soldiers are expected to fight and, in fact, to kill, that is not the main purpose of their existence and activity. The main purpose of fighting is to smash up the coherence of the enemy. Once that is done, the enemy will break and become either extremely vulnerable to further attack and slaughter, or simply run away in a confused mass.

This fairly simple fact accounts, for example, for the disparity of casualty figures in many pre-modern battles. The victors lose few men. The losers lose many. The disparity can be somewhere around 5% for the winners to 15% for the losers.  In one of Montrose’s battles the winners lost a single man, the losers hundreds. The pursuit was the main cause of the casualties.

I have been reading Bert Hall’s ‘Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe’ (Johns Hopkins, 1997), as I mentioned last time. He starts, sensibly enough, with medieval warfare, and he notes, along the way, that the basic idea of most offensive warfare is to achieve the incoherence of the enemy formations. If that can be achieved, the battle is more or less won.

There are, of course, various ways to achieve incoherence. One of the main ones is to charge the enemy formation with big, scary aristocratic cavalry. If they flinch then you have won. Bodies of infantry on the defensive rely on coherence to see of cavalry commands. If only a few decide that the future looks rosier in the rear areas, then the formation can lose coherence and the battle is lost and won.

Another way to smash up the enemy formation is via archery. Longbows are the only bows to have really a sufficient rate of fire to achieve this and, famously, the English achieved this at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. The point here is that the archers were deployed forward and to the flanks of a solid body of dismounted men-at-arms. The enemy, for whatever reasons, charged up the middle and were flanked by the archers and shot up. People under fire tend to flinch away from the cause of the problem, and so the French knights bunched up. The formation was disrupted. Men began to fear, at least, suffocation. By the time contact was made the coherence and energy of the assaulting formation was lost. The front might still fight bravely and destructively, but their chances of winning had gone.

Of course, the French did not take too long to hit on a solution to the problem, and spent much of the middle part of the Hundred Years War refusing to fight battles against English armies on the defensive. Given that being on the defensive was required for the English tactics to work, this was very effective. The French would not, and the English could not attack. The French could then deploy their resources in sieges and raid, exploiting the fact that the English struggled to hold the ground.

An alternative was the pike. The Low Countries guild pikemen had startling success against the French when they stood on the defensive. Again, the problem they did have was exactly that they needed to stay on the defensive to maintain coherence against the enemy. Big blocks of men are hard to move and keep in formation, and pike blocks rely on being big and in formation. As with the English this became problematic. The French refused to fight and even tried various ruses to induce the Flemish to attack. If they did, they were lost.

Finally we reach the Swiss, who both used pikes in large numbers and had a reputation for attacking at speed. This seems to have something to do with the nature of Swiss society and recruitment to the army. Villages fought together, as did urban guildsmen. Training was undertaken. The Swiss pike block was much more coherent and capable than any other infantry formation of the era, and it showed. But the point is that this depended on the social conditions in Switzerland – loyalty to canton, time to train and, in the final analysis, a lack of decent farmland for the sons of peasant farmers.

The thing is, much as I rack my brains, I cannot think of a set of wargame rules that models this lack of coherence. The older rule sets tend to focus on casualties. We can fudge that to argue that not everyone counted as a casualty was, in fact, dead, but it is exactly that, a fudge. More recent rule sets would have bases, say, of French dismounted men-at-arms recoil at an angle to the incoming archery, or, in extreme cases, be eliminated. And yet this is not what history tells us happened.

Now, you might say ‘Well, Polemos rules do not do that either’, and, indeed, you would be right. We did try to model unit disruption through the shaken system, and I think that cramping troops together as they flinched away from incoming fire was not a major part of the English Civil War, but I do not really think that Polemos, either, could cope.

Here, I think the problem is the bases we tend to use. My bases are stiff plastic card. You cannot cramp them together any more than side by side. It just does not work and anyway, would probably start to damage the bases if you tried. And yet this cramping is what we find in the medieval historical record.

Off hand, the only mechanism I can think of to model this behaviour would be for a flinching unit to move into another unit and for the effectiveness of the combined base to be reduced by, say, a half. Then when that base is his, it jumps into the next across and effectiveness is reduced again. This might model the effect we need, but could be a bit annoying.


This is not, of course, the only time when over dense formations were a problem – the French infantry in the villages at Blenheim were tightly packed and could barely raise their arms, or so I recall. So I wonder if anyone has any bright ideas for modelling the effect, or is it just one of those historical things we ignore to get a nice game?