Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Back from a North Coast road trip

It's that time of year when the "I'm back from my holidays" blog posts from people start to appear, so here's mine...

Our holidays for the last few years have been mainly in North Wales...there are posts elsewhere on the blog usually tagged as "Castles".

This year we had a slightly different holiday which was more of a road trip.  We began with a few days based in Glasgow for my niece's wedding and staying with my parents.  My son then headed back to London and my wife and I set off on our North Coast road trip.  My wife had come across a Facebook page for a lighthouse on the west coast of Scotland, mainly because of the photography, and we'd decided to stay there for a couple of nights.  The reviews on TripAdvisor are mostly very positive but there are a couple of reviews that are 'interesting' and suggest the owners are a bit odd.  We figured that a couple of nights would give us a good flavour of the it was it was a lovely place to stay but very remote and the owners were very nice indeed.

The lighthouse is near Gairloch on the North West Coast so we had a couple of days exploring the area before heading further north.  In the last couple of years the Scottish Tourist Board have created a driving route to attract tourists...a kind of Scottish Route 66.  This is the North Coast 500 (info here) which, if you're into driving makes for a spectacular road trip, working its way round the West, North and East coast.  The route seemed to be very popular with bikers and owners of vintage cars and lots and lots of Germans...almost every other car/bike we passed was from Germany.

We had a few nights based in the middle of the north coast of Scotland at a place called Bettyhill...pretty unremarkable but a good central spot.  We did the usual touristy things like visiting John O'Groats which is really quite unimpressive...essentially it consists of a signpost and a couple of cafes, but if you've gone all that way you need to at least go and be photographed pointing at the sign.

After a couple o nights up here we then headed back down towards  Inverness and eventually on to Glasgow.

Now of course this is a Wargaming blog (mainly) so the challenge is to find suitable historical and/or wargamey things to write about in a land consisting of sheep,  beaches and moorland and not a lot else.  So here goes...

The Rua Reidh Lighthouse where we stayed....

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Like most lighthouses around Scotland it was built by one of the Stevenson family...yes, the family which includes Robert Louis Stevenson, famous writer and of course, wargaming author of the poem 'The Magic Land of Counterpane" which describes being ill as a child and playing with toy soldiers in the bed (lets face it we've all done it although it does tend to annoy my wife...)

While we stayed at the lighthouse we spent some time on the beach at Gruinard Bay, letting our dogs run riot. 

Gruinard Bay with the Island in the centre right

Just off the bay is Gruinard Island, infamously used by the MoD as a testing ground for Anthrax in 1942 and only declared clear in 1990.  The cleanup was only initiated after 'Operation Dark Harvest' in which after a warning, soil samples appeared outside Porton Down and in Blackpoool where the Conservative government of the day were holding their conference.  That seemed to get there attention!

Just round the coast from Gruinard Bay is Lochewe which is where the Arctic Convoys used to assemble in WW2 before heading off on what must have been the worst possible sea journey to Murmansk or Archangel. 

Loch Ewe

My wife's grandfather sailed on at least a couple of Arctic runs although he was reluctant to talk much about them,  We know he served on HMS Fowey but I think was in the Channel Approaches rather that the north on this ship.

HMS Fowey

At Bettyhill, where we spent a few days I found this Pictish Stone in the local churchyard:

According to the sign next to it, the stone is dated from 800-850 CE

As I mentioned earlier John O'Groats is pretty uninspiring but we also stopped at Dunnet Head which is the actual most northerly part of the mainland and is a nature reserve.  On top of the hill are a number of concrete buildings dating from WW2 when this was a radar station and spotting post for U Boats, given its proximity to Scapa Floe:

WW2 buildings at Dunnet Head

It must have been a pretty bleak posting, especially in winter!

On our way back south we stopped at Wick to walk the dogs and came across Old Wick Castle, guarded by some rather scary cows.  This is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, dating from around 1100 and was apparently built by Earl Harald Maddadson...this part of Scotland owes a lot to the Norse.  Apart from this it seems to have had an uneventful life.

Old Wick Castle

Finally, when we stopped on our way back to do some dolphin spotting in the Cromarty Firth, I realised we were looking out across the Firth to Fort George:

Fort George... a bit out of focus

This fortification was built in the aftermath of the 45 Rebellion and is a fort that had somehow passed me by completely despite several previous trips to Inverness.  We didn't visit as we needed to drive back to Glasgow via Glencoe which took the rest of the day.

Glencoe...handy spot for a massacre
So there we go... quite a few unexpected historical bits and pieces.  The holiday was great fun and we both enjoyed the North Coast route...if you like driving it's well worth doing but do stop and see some of the sights as well!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Quetzalcoatl Rampant

A couple of months ago I finished rebasing and touching up my 1/72 scale Aztecs and Conquistadors but hasn't actually played a game with them.  If come across the Lion Rampant variant "Quetzalcoatl Rampant" which can be found on the excellent I Live With Cats blog (Link) and decided these looked perfect for a test game.

I hadn't played Lion Rampant for ages but luckily Eric the Shed had arranged a Crusades themed game the week before and my son and I took part, fielding the Crusader forces.  There's a report here on Eric's blog.  Let's just say it didn't go well with the Crusaders failing practically every morale roll we made (and admittedly a flawed plan which the Saracens exploited fully).  At least it meant that for the Aztec game I was fully up to date and familiar with the rules.  Quetzalcoatl Rampant has a few variations.  The Conquistadors have half strength units to reflect their low numbers but are significantly more powerful with better strength and defence and of course they have the benefit of  horses and black powder weapons which can have a devastating effect on the Aztecs.  The natives considerably outnumber the Spanish and have the option to capture rather than kill which also saps morale (presumably as the captives still-beating hearts are plucked out etc) although no one did this in our game.

We allocated sides randomly and my opponent, Anthony, took the Aztecs.  We played a scenario where the Aztecs had to defend a sacred pyramid in the centre of the table with part of their force and hope remainder of their warriors arrived in time to repel the plundering Spanish.  This was a  large Lion Rampant game with 35 points per side.  I find the activation rules for Lion rampant a bit disjointed...normally if a unit fails it's command roll then the whole side stops.  At the games at Eric the Sheds the house rule is that even if an individual unit fails we continue for each one in a side.  As a compromise I stuck with the normal LR rule but each of us had 2 commands...the Aztecs had the defenders and the relief force and the Spanish had the Conquistadors and some Tlaxcalan allies.

Initially things looked pretty difficult for the Aztecs.  The Spanish steamed forward although their allies proved a lot less enthusiastic.  The pyramid was defended by the elite Aztec Eagle and Jaguar knights but the relief force was also reluctant to hurry to their rescue.

The Spanish chased off some Aztec skirmishers with a  pack of War Dogs but these in turn took heavy casualties as the key did so and being only 6 strong instead of the usual 12 this meant they couldn't take much punishment.

The Tlaxcalans fielded a unit of archers who proved pretty effective in weakening the Eagle Knights before being driven off the table as the Knights charged forward uncontrollably.  They eventually came to grief themselves when the Spanish cavalry hit them.  By this point the Aztecs relief force was beginning to but crucially most of Anthony's skirmish troops had lagged behind.  Missile troops always seem powerful in LR and these may have made an impact if they'd got there in time.  As it was the Spanish horse and Swordsmen  were able to punch through the centre and seize the Pyramid, winning the game.  What I hadn't realised (but Anthony had) was that I was only a unit away from my army morale breaking so the result was a very close run thing indeed.

The rule variants worked really well and although I'd initially been worried that the Spanish were overpowered the game was well balanced in the end.  Many thanks to the I Live with Cats blog for a great adaptation.

The Spanish arrive

Aztec skirmishers

Woof!!..the Spanish War Dogs

Aztec Knights defend the temple

Aztec reinforcements arrive slowly

Sunday, 18 June 2017

NWF: a generous gift

As regular readers will know I am lucky enough to be part of a regular group that take part in games hosted by Eric the Shed (Shed Wars blog).  During a conversation one evening recently with Eric I mentioned my 54mm North West Frontier project and how it was coming along.  He told me that his late father had some painted some figures and formed these into dioramas and very kindly offered them to me.  He warned me that the painting quality might not be great but they may be usable with some touching up.

A week or so later I picked up a 4 dioramas of infantry and cavalry and a very impressive mounted artillery piece.  All the infantry and cavalry are actually from the same Armies In Plastic range that I've been using for my armies so they'll fit in perfectly.  The cavalry are the British 19th Hussars set and  a unit of Indian Cavalry along with 27 regular infantry.  Although I couldn't see a limbered artillery set on the AiP website I'm pretty sure all the figures and gun pieces are from one of their sets.

 To be honest the painting was pretty good...I've certainly produced much worse... and I don't think the figures will need much more that washing and highlighting in most cases.  Because these are soft plastic there are some parts where the paint has flaked off: this is especially noticeable on the Indians (in the photo you can see the yellow plastic showing through on the sword).

So far I have removed the cavalry and the artillery from their diorama bases.  This was a harder job than it sounds as Eric's father had used what I'm guessing is Milliput or something similar to mount the figures and it was really tough to break off.  I tried soaking the cavalry overnight which helped a bit but actually it was easier when the surface was dry and brittle.  With a bit of twisting and chiselling with a screwdriver (and a few near misses with my fingers) the figures are now free.  I've still to attempt to remove the infantry yet though...they're a pretty substantial block of basing which might take a while.

Once these are free I'll start work on touching up the figures and rebasing and hope I can do credit to Eric Seniors modelling skills.  A very generous gift indeed!  Of course now I have lots of British so my Pathans are a bit outnumbered and I'll have to buy some more!!!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Sharp Practice 2 - 1st game

Napoleonics isn't really my period...don't get me wrong, I'll happily play a game at a club night and have played several excellent Black Powder games at Eric the Shed's place but I find the period a bit intimidating if I'm honest.  Too many uniforms, too many obscure battles and constantly changing alliances between obscure states.  I tend to lose track and it seems to be a period that some people with an interest have a lot of knowledge about, and get very intense about...just take a look at the Napoleonics section of TMP!

Incidentally what is going on over there???  There seems to be a complete meltdown by the editor and an increasing number of rabid right wing posts... After the last debacle with bizarre posts by the Editor about British gamers I've decided to take a break (maybe permanently) from the site and look to other more sensible forums like LAF and TWW for my wargaming info.

Anyway, back to Napoleonics. 

Since my knowledge of the period is a bit lacking I find myself drawn to a more Hollywood/fictional version and the Sharp Practice rules by Too Fat Lardies are ideal for this cinematic style of game.  I'd bought the 2nd edition of these last year but not actually managed to play a game with them so I was glad to test them out earlier this week in a game with a friend.

I've played a few games with the earlier edition (although not for some time) so I was interested to see the changes that they'd made.  The bulk of the rules were very familiar...especially around movement, firing and hand to hand (or Fisticuffs).  The card activation system is also similar but they have clearly been influenced by the development of Chain of Command.  Units deploy from a deployment point and in some cases can have a mobile deployment point, similar to CoC Jump Off points. 

Leaders are activated when their card is drawn and each leader then has a number of orders they can issue. This is one of the areas that can be a bit confusing...a leader's order can be to activate a unit which then in turn has 2 activations of it's own (eg move, reload or fire etc).  Leader's orders are much more varied and they can also add to a units firing, rally off shock points etc.  So a leader could, for example, do 3 things...activate a unit, move and do a task...and the unit could then also do 2 things as part of it's activation.  It takes a little getting used to but works really well in practice.

There are also Command Cards which are players can use to do additional things... a bit like Chain of Command points in CoC.   These can be used to add to firing or fisticuffs, or to allow units to do special activities or activate out of sequence.  Remembering what these can do is pretty important and annoying when you complete your move and then realise that you could have used them.

Sharp Practice works best with a scenario based game and in ours my dastardly French had managed to capture a British soldier and the Regimental Colours and were marching him off into captivity.  A British rescue mission commanded by Andrew had been despatched to bring him back and avoid the disgrace of losing the flag (the scenario would have been rescuing a damsel in distress but I couldn't lay my hands on my civilian figures so a flag bearer had to be pressed into to service instead!)

The French forces set off down the road with a column leading the way and the prisoner escorted by the Guard at the rear

Opposing them were a force of Highlanders, supported by a Navy landing party and the Rifles.  The Highlanders took up a position on a hill overlooking the road and waited for the column to arrive

Eventually they realised I wasn't going to march straight into their guns and they had to reluctantly come off the hill and try to intercept my Guards

The Rifles bravely blocked the road and caused the French column to halt, inflicting several shock points.  They suffered badly though when a returning volley from the leading unit in the French column caused casualties and they quickly took cover in a nearby wood

French Skirmishers had worked round on my right an began taking shots at the Navy who quickly joined the Rifles in the wood

The wood had become a difficult spot to get past as it was full of Riflemen and sailors (armed with 'Big Choppers' according to the rules...)

Andrew's Highlanders had advanced to cut off the Guard and the prisoner who were on the other side of a walled field and screened by the French Voltigeurs.  The potential firepower from the British formation was pretty daunting and would have caused a lot of damage but the French column had now broken up and began to fire into the flank of the British line, causing a huge amount of Shock points to one British unit.

The Rifles had suffered an unexpected penalty when they entered the wood: when 3 Command cards are drawn in a row, a Random Event occurs and unfortunately for a crack Rifle unit it was damp powder (presumably from all the soggy undergrowth), reducing their firepower.  To be fair I also suffered an unfortunate event when my Sergeant stepped in something unpleasant, reducing his command ability until he could wash it off!.

Andrew decided to throw caution to the wind and, having spotted that one of my Line Infantry units was unloaded after firing, the Rifles charged out of the wood and engaged them in Fisticuffs.  The Rifles were clearly led by a rather heroic leader (I wonder who!) as they completely routed the French unit after a couple of rounds of combat!

At the end of the evening the game looked like this.  The Guard are at the top of the picture, having made it 2/3 of the way up the table but are still faced by 2 out of 3 Highland units.  The Navy are a bit beaten up and skulking in the wood but still pose a threat.  The Rifles, at the bottom centre, are about to get blasted by the remaining French unit to their left.  So the game finished quite tightly balanced and still with all to play for.  With hindsight Andrew should probably have come off the hill sooner and taken a more aggressive approach as it allowed me to manoeuvre away from the rather scary Scots for most of the game.

I thought the rules were excellent and have a great feel for this kind of game...there are lots of mechanics for scenario-based tasks (eg burning down buildings, looting, wooing damsels) etc which fit well with the Sharpe-style of game, but which we didn't get into in this game.  I know Andrew wasn't very impressed with them but I find Too Fat Lardies rules are pretty Marmite and people either take to them or not.  For me these are definitely rules to use again and would be ideal for my NWF project.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

NWF progress

Steady work this week on the North West Frontier figures.... cavalry support for the British and the Afghans.  I've now started on a second cavalry unit and extra infantry for the Afghans (I figure they'll need them!) and some Highlanders

Later in the week I should finally get to try out Sharp Practice's been quite a while since I played the 1st edition so I'm not sure I'll actually notice the changes although Deployment seems to be the biggest change.

I also finally managed to get round to watching the first couple of episodes of 'American Gods' which I've been looking forward far it's been pretty faithful to the books and very good indeed.  I also watched the first series of Black Sails which took a little while to grow on me (the first couple of episodes are very slow indeed) but is fun in trashy pirate sort of way.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Some recent games and a North West Frontier update

So no updates for a couple of weeks while work and stuff ate into my time and enthusiasm for sitting in front of the laptop.  Hasn't stopped my playing the odd game though and getting on with some painting for a change.

I was lucky enough to take part in a couple of excellent games at Eric the Shed's.  The first was a very bloody and fun Predator game which involved a lot of running around the jungle being eaten by animals, plants, and occasionally a of those games where anyone actually surviving and getting off the board intact is a bonus: great fun!

The second game was probably the most spectacular that I've seen at Eric's and certainly was the kind of game that would rival anything you'll see at a show.  The full write-up can be found here on the Shed Wars website but I've added a couple of photos below.  The game was an ECW siege with the plucky Royalists defending the walls against a desperate assault by the Parliamentarians.  Have a look at the full report on Eric's blog...really inspiring and a brilliant game despite the walls eventually falling and the defenders being put to the sword.

I've been working on my 54mm North West Frontier figures and have made quite a bit of headway...I've now pretty much completed around 48 foot figures and an artillery piece for the Brits.  Now to get to work on the cavalry before I attempt tartan in 54mm!

The figures completed so far...

Just need to get to work on the riders now

I've also been giving some thought to rules.  Sharp Practice is a definite possibility but I need to get some more figures painted for this.  It would be good to look at something on a more 1:1 level.  Possible contenders include GASLIGHT, the old WRG Fire and Steel rules and possibly adapting Donnybrook.  Definitely more thought required but if anyone has any good suggestions I'd be grateful

Sunday, 30 April 2017

About Cromwell...54mm ECW

I'm increasingly drawn to larger figures and I've finally got back to working on my North-West Frontier figures.  I don't have the 'toy soldier' nostalgia thing that some people associate with this scale, so I'm not a fan of the shiny varnish and block painted look that you often see but they are nice to paint and look very impressive on the table.

Last week I was lucky enough to play a game with my friend Anthony's 54mm ECW armies.  His figures are from 'A Call to Arms' and look really impressive.  The rules we used were 'About Cromwell'.  These are a Belgian set of rules which owe a lot to Command and Colours.  The card element has been removed though and orders are given by the overall CinC and subordinate commanders using dice...rolling an I allows you to activate an Infantry unit, a C, cavalry etc.  The CinC can also transfer an order that he has rolled to a subordinate if it is needed and he is within command range.  The rules were really easy to pick up and the game flowed really well.

I commanded the Royalists  and had more early success in getting my forces moving.  My Cuirassiers tried a speculative charge against the Parliamentarian Commanded Shot (I didn't fancy mixing it with the pikemen) but I discovered that musket range is quite long and took casualties getting into charge range and eventually lost the combat.  I had more success in the left as I advanced my Pike and Shot unit and this time it was my musket fire that proved very effective in causing casualties and driving back the enemy.

The Royalists begin to advance...

...cheered on by the Commanded Shot skulking behind a hedge

King Charles views the battlefield

Over on my right the cavalry engaged after a halting start and I was soundly beaten as Parliaments Cuirassiers routed one unit and then charged into the flank of my second.  The good news was that in true ECW style they then pursued off the table and refused to come back for the remainder of the game!  If they had turned up I would have had nothing except a nervous looking gun crew to defend against them so I was very fortunate!

Boo...the evil Parliamentarians...

Despite my success in driving back Anthony's units on my right the casualties were mounting and, having lost my cavalry command completely, I couldn't afford too many more.  Inevitably the weight of musket fire and a well timed Parliamentary cavalry charge proved too much and the Royalists were broken.

An excellent set of rules if you like the Command & Colours style of game.  Apparently there is also a Napoleonic version called, not surprisingly 'About Bonaparte' which featured in Miniature Wargames last November, and an Ancients version called...'About Caesar'.