Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Billhooks - First St Albans

Never Mind the Billhooks has really caught everyone's attention and has become the main focus of my regular group at Eric the Shed's.  Having tried a few practice games we took on something a bit more ambitious this week with a  5 player refight of the first battle of St. Alban's, traditionally seen as the opening battle of The  Wars of the Roses. This looks like it may well become game #1 in a refight of all the main battles in sequence.  There is an excellent post from Eric about the background, planning and house rules for the game HERE and his detailed account of the battle HERE.

The terrain for the game was excellent with a dense cluster of buildings and alleyways representing St Albans.

Unusually for this period the battle was fought in the streets of the town with the Lancastrians caught on the hop.  To reflect this they had limited orders for the first couple of turns while the Yorkists advanced across the fields towards the barricaded streets.  

When I first saw the scenario and the terrain I was pretty certain the Lancastrians wouldn't have much of a chance and initially this seemed the case.  On our right the Lancastrians were forced back into the town but on my side of the town the defended barricades and lack of space to manouvre caused the Yorkists some problems. A fierce series of fights broke out all across our front with my Archers and Billmen packed into the alleyways trying to hold back the approaching enemy.

We managed to drive back of the approaching Men at Arms and Billmen but the weight of numbers was too great and the Yorkists were able to swing round onto the end of the main street and into the town while Mark's Lancastrians were gradually being pushed back to defend the King.   

Arch-rivals Percy and Warwick clashed in the centre of town with Percy's men winning the fight and forcing Warwick to retreat but at the price of being wounded.  

Clifford fought his way out of the town, pursuing Yorkist troops but leaving himself exposed

On our right Mark's forces had also been slowly forced back but had also inflicted heavy losses on the Yorkists.   By the end of the evening the Lancastrians were shattered but Henry VI still hadn't been captured (or rescued depending on your perspective) although there was now no one to stop the Yorkists capturing him, so a Yorkist victory but a lot closer than I'd hoped for. 

The rules held up really well again and the tweaks to reflect street fighting made it a different and challenging game.  The terrain looked fantastic and gave a really claustrophobic feeling of trying to marshal men in the narrow, crowded streets.

Oh, and we were visited by Jerry the cat.  Not the same cat as last week... Jerry was much better mannered and didn't attempt to eat anyone.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Latest magazine freebies


Last month I was tempted out of my Covid secure bunker into the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Sutton High Street (if you've ever been to this bit of South London you'll know it wasn't much better pre-pandemic!) to buy a copy of the latest Wargames Illustrated and the free copy of Never Mind the Billhooks.  These excellent rules seem to have really taken off and it sounds like greater things are being planned for them in the future.

Of course WI have a canny marketing department and I was immediately drawn into buying the next issue thanks to the promise of more freebies.  This month they are giving away a sprue of Warlord Games Samurai figures which reminded me my Japanese figures haven't seen the light of day for a while.  

Inevitably I picked up a couple of issues so I now have 10 figures to build... I hadn't realised at the time that there are 3 different sprues on the covers... spear armed Ashigaru, missile troops or Samurai.  I might have paid more attention if I had worked this out but in the end I have 2 worked of Ashigaru which is ideal.

The magazine also features an excellent Billhooks scenario for Stoke Field so well worth getting for that as well.

I also picked up a copy of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy which has a focus on the AWI this month so lots on interesting reading.

Now, off to the loft to find my Japanese collection!

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Billhooks #2: The Battle of Woking

 I managed to get in another game Never Mind the Billhooks this week (from here on referred to as Billhooks).  Pessimistically I think face to face gaming might soon be back on hold as Covid restrictions tighten again so it was good to catch up with Anthony and have game number 2 of Billhooks.

I'd drawn up 2 similar but slightly different armies for the game.  50% of each army has to be Archers and Billmen anyway but one army was slightly larger with extra Archer and Skirmisher units and the other, although outnumbered, had a couple of Veteran units.


Our game pitted a Northern clash between Percy and Clifford... usually allies but one must have spilled the others pint or something.  We allocated the forces randomly so Anthony had the smaller force commanded by Clifford while I had the larger army under Lord Percy.

The omens weren't great when, before the battle started, Lord Percy was forced to duel with Lord Leonard the Furry... he survived (just!) but it obviously rattled him as he performed poorly for the rest of the game (or that's my excuse!)

The game begins with a manoeuvre phase with units alternating movement until someone fires or charges.  This mainly consisted of our skirmishers dancing around each other behind some hedgerows before deciding to ignore each other in favour of the larger and more valuable blocks of troops.

Once the opening shots happened activation switched to the card deck.  Knowing he was outgunned in terms of Archers Anthony decided to aggressively head straight for my centre with his Men at Arms backed by some Scots mercenary Spearmen.

My archers were doing their best to slow him down and to take out his troops on my left flank where I had the advantage of numbers but the cat attack had clearly upset the men and their shooting was pretty poor.  Clifford's archers on the other hand were proving to be very effective whittling down my troops and causing an archer unit to retire.

Lord Clifford's attack in the centre forced my Archers to evade, leaving my Men at Arms alone to face the enemy knights.  It was a very one sided fight with Percy's men at arms losing badly and routing.

I was now running out of Army tokens (you give one up when a unit is Daunted or Routs) and then lost more as more of my units reacted badly to seeing their Lords and Masters legging it off the table.

A well deserved win for Anthony/Clifford and his feline henchman.  There was definitely some learning for me... I should have thought more carefully about the combination of units in block formation.  Veteran units also make quite a difference (they can reroll 1s in melee and morale throws).  Anthony did what I'd failed to do in my last game: I'd dithered in the face of superior numbers where Anthony demonstrated that a fast aggressive attack can sometimes succeed before the numbers can be brought to bear.

 Oh, and don't let giant cats attack your army... no matter how cute they are!!!

Monday, 21 September 2020

The Perfect Captain website closing

I read this morning on Facebook that The Perfect Captain website is going to be closing down some time in mid-October.  I'm guessing many of you will have already come across it but if not it's well worth a look.  The site has been going for over 20 years and hosts a number of free rulesets and campaign systems covering periods from Ancient Greece to the Russian Civil War.

The site and all their downloads can be found HERE

I've played a couple of them... Ironbow which covers the Crusades and Eastern kingdoms and Red Actions which is their Russian Civil War set.  Their rules can be described as 'quirky' I guess and probably aren't everyone's cup of tea but I've enjoyed the games I've played.  They're also a great source of ideas and concepts.

Red Actions is the set I'm most familiar with... they rely a lot of counters and tokens but I always found them a great set for the RCW period and I would imagine they would be easily adaptable for  other settings (I reckon they'd make a good set of rules for VBCW games).  There's a blog post about the last Red Actions game I played (good grief... 2 years ago!!) HERE

Funnily enough the Perfect Captain Wars of the Roses rules and campaign system were discussed at our last WotR game at Eric the Shed's  the other week.  

As I said all their rules are free but the site has always supported a range of charities.  Hopefully the rules will be hosted on their Facebook group but this isn't confirmed yet.   Definitely pop by and take a look before the site disappears

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Never Mind the Billhooks... 1st Game

Earlier this week we got to try out the new rules from Andy Callan, Never Mind the Billhooks.  Blogs have been fairly buzzing with interest about these so I was keen to see how they played out.  There is an excellent write up of the game at Eric the Shed's blog

We had a 4 player game of 100 points each.  Interestingly no one had picked any cavalry and these remain untested although they do look a bit brittle (realistically I think).  

The rules played very well.  We only had a couple of queries afterwards which were answered very quickly on the really active Facebook page by Andy Callan.  The rules themselves have a rather 'old school' feel but without too many modifiers etc to keep track of.  There is a definite hint of Donald Featherstone rules with a touch of Sharp Practice.  Some tokens are needed to record use of arrows (archers have a limited amount), which units are Disarrayed or Daunted and it's also important to be able to track which units have activated or not as, at the end of each round there are a couple of options for units which haven't been ordered earlier in the turn.  This does mean there is a certain amount of tokens etc on the table which I know not everyone likes, but this didn't detract at all from the game.  Leaders are activated by cards and then have a number of orders including activating units under their command, rallying or moving.  There are also bonus cards and special events which can crop up throughout the game.

Eric the Shed had made up some lovely decks of cards for all the leaders (including some personalised ones for each player... you must now call me the Earl of Rutherglen!!) as well as unit cards and all the bonus cards etc.

We randomly allocated sides and began to deploy on the fairly open table... apart from a few hedges and some woods on either flank the table was relatively obstacle free.  Each side had a gun which has a risk of exploding and, sure enough, both guns blew up as soon as they tried to fire!  Clearly a sign that these new-fangled devices will never catch on!

One of the rule requirements is that 50% of your force must be Billmen or Archers and I added some more Bills as well as some mercenary Handgunners and a company of Scots Spearmen.

On my right my Ally Mark was making excellent progress with his skirmishing Handgunners proving very effective and his opponents Archers and Billmen began to waver.  I was faced with a larger number of Archers who sat back and waited for me to advance into range where they could unleash their arrow-storm

One of my commands, led by Lord Percy spent most of the game wandering around in the rear as I messed up my deployment and couldn't get them into the right spot for most of the game.  My Handgunners were also proving very effective and made good use of the woods but, due to their small size, were eventually worn down by arrow fire and routed.

I dithered and couldn't decide whether or not to commit to an attack and risk the bowfire.  A block of Billmen with Archers supporting them in the rear tried a charge but were driven back  by enemy Bills after being weakened by shooting from the enemy archers.  I decided, too late, to go for it and charged my heavily armoured Men at Arms forward, hoping they'd be able to weather the arrow storm... but no they couldn't!  They took heavy casualties advancing and their attack was doomed to failure

Over on the right a Special Event card led to Mark's Men at Arms unit switching sides at a crucial moment (very Wars of the Roses!) and charging into the rear of their former comrades.  At that point we decided the game was well and truly lost!

I think we all agreed these are a really great set of rules and I'm sure they'll be getting a lot of use over the next few months.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Abandoning the Japanese...

 Wargamers are notoriously fickle creatures... we read a book or watch a film and think "ooh... I've always wanted to game the War of the Lower Anhalt-Silesian Succession (or something)"

Then we start the new project and then find the figures languishing, unloved, in a box months, or years, after we first pick up glue and brush.  And that's what I'm guilty of (yet again).  Last summer, back in those heady virus-free days when wargames shows were a thing, I went along to Valhalla, a local show near Farnborough (the original post can be found HERE) and bought a couple of boxes of figures.  One of these was the start of my AWI armies which were quickly painted and then added to and have had several  actual games on the table.  The other box was a set of Warlord games WW2 Japanese: my thinking was to build these up for Chain of Command, along with some Australians or Chindits to oppose them.  I've always fancied doing this as a project.

Since I 'finished' my Wars of the Roses army (for now anyway) and have tinkered with some Gaslands cars I keep thinking I ought to go back to them and finish them off...the're all assembled but only 12 have been painted.  But somehow I just can't work up any enthusiasm at all for finishing them.  This morning I realised that I'm probably never going to complete this.  I think there are 2 main reasons.  One is that they would need a lot of terrain that I don't have... jungle pieces, buildings etc.  I do have a few bits of jungle terrain for Vietnam games but this is in 15mm rather than 28mm and to be honest is very badly in need of repair or replacement as it's very old and tatty.  

The other realisation is that it's going to be a pretty expensive project to complete.  Although Chain of Command works at platoon level I'd still need a couple of boxes to get the core platoon built.  The bigger issue is adding all the interesting stuff that you need as support elements... by the time you've added enough options you need a fair amount of troops and vehicles to add on.  And that's before I get started on the Aussies!

So in a mad rush of blood to the head the decision is made...  off to eBay with them!  I've been mulling over whether to paint up the rest of the unit first and then sell them but I think they may go as they are.
Strangely I feel  quite relieved having made the decision which makes me think it's the right thing to do. Of course it does mean I never got to scratch that Far East WW2 itch (which sounds like some unpleasant medical condition contracted out in the Tropics!) but I may come back to it in 15mm, which is the scale all my other WW2 stuff is in.

The good news is that with the prospect of selling them off, the cash will kickstart a new project (will I never learn!!!).  More on this later...

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

U Boot

Last night we took to the high seas on board a U Boat courtesy of the excellent boardgame U Boot and hosted by Eric the Shed.

This game casts up to 4 players as the crew of a U Boat on a mission in the North Atlantic, cooperating to keep the boat sailing smoothly and attempting to safely patrol and sink enemy ships as well as some side missions that the game throws your way.

The players take the parts of the Captain, 1st Officer, Navigator and Chief Engineer and everything else is directed by an app, running on a phone or tablet.  Perhaps because I'm Scottish the role of Chief Engineer appealed to me...or it could be that I was too chicken to take on the responsibility of captaining the ship or navigating us safely!  My dad would have been so proud... I finally made it as a ship's engineer!! :)

The app is a really smart piece of software, determining the weather, maintenance tasks, incoming messages (which of course have to be decoded via Enigma) and of course, enemy ships.  You can use the app to detect enemy shipping via the periscope or the hydrophones and it's great fun spinning round in your chair looking through the virtual periscope or having to sit hushed in case the microphone picks up your voices and alerts the patrolling enemy ships.

At it's heart the game is really about resource management... you need to have the right crew in the right places to keep everything running and of course things begin to go wrong very quickly.  We'd only just set sail when the toilets needed repairing... luckily my skilled engineers were able to unblock the loo and avert a disaster!

Similarly mundane tasks like routine maintenance and prepping meals for the crew need to be done but of course as soon as enemy shipping is spotted it all goes out the window.

Crew are manouevered around a lovely 3d U Boat model...

And each player has 2 shifts of crew who very quickly run out of capacity to complete their orders if you aren't careful.  The Captain has the overall responsibility of giving orders and has to manage these carefully or the crew's morale plummets.  He is equipped with chocolate, beer and inspiring speeches to try and keep everyone cheery but inevitably crew morale slowly (or quickly) sinks.

The engineering crew...

In our mission we somehow managed to get in a great position on an enemy convoy, sinking a freighter and escaping the resulting depth charge attack by escorts.  We were then spotted by another destroyer which again depth charged us... this time more seriously causing gas poisoning, a fire and several leaks which resulted in several crew being badly injured.  More worryingly my Chief Engineer sprained a finger!  Of course my plucky engineering crew were able to deal  with all the repairs with ruthless efficiency!

We managed to slip away from the destroyer by diving deep although we did find ourselves steering a bit too close to Norway at 150m deep at one point.  We slipped past yet another destroyer, or possibly the same one before coming across another convoy and attempting a last attack.  We struggled to load and fire our remaining torpedoes as a destroyer escort bore down on us and before we could set them off we were rammed and sunk.

The app plays out in real time but you have the option to speed up time when all is hopefully quiet or to pause the action while you think what to do next.  When the action breaks out it does all become really frantic and there was a real tension as we tried to slip past the enemy escorts and heard the depth charges being launched.

The three and half hours we played flew by and the game is really immersive. I know app-based games aren't to everyone's taste but it's really worth trying if you get a chance.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Gaslands Death Race

Earlier in the week we were able to try out Gaslands with 4 players on a larger table, with some excellent terrain supplied by Eric the Shed.

We used the 'Death Race' scenario which is pretty much as you'd expect... a race around a circuit.   We laid it out as a figure of eight to ensure maximum opportunity for crashes although as usual most of the chaos happened as soon as we reached the 1st bend!

In order to save a bit of time we'd pre-made a selection of cars and trucks and randomly gave each player 2 vehicles.  This does take away from part of the fun of the game which is designing your own car and picking weapons etc but it did save a lot of time.

On the start line...

We decided to award each player a point for wrecking an opponents vehicle, and 2 points for completing a lap.  In our practice game we found there wasn't an incentive to complete laps when you could just concentrate on detroying the opposition... this way there was an option for players who wanted to race rather than fight.  In the event awarding points per complete lap was a bit optimistic as only one vehicle actually made it all the way round by the end of the evening

And they're off....

We played on a 6' x 4' table with some large rocky cliffs at the corners and plenty of rocks and crates etc scattered around.

2 players had a motorbike each and these sensibly accelerated away to get away from the heavier pack of cars and trucks.  The 2 bikes fought a high speed duel all the way round... fighting it out with pistols and machine guns at breakneck speeds.  Somehow they both managed to just avoid wiping out although it was a close call.

The bikes speed off ahead of the pack

One of the bikes used his smoke dispensers very effectively to screen his bike from enemy shooting and to annoyingly block part of Gate #2.  The 2nd bike then added some dropped Caltrops into the gate making it extremely hazardous.  By the end of the game one of my cars would end up wrecked in the gate as well!

On the first bend after Gate #1 it all went wrong.  I managed to spin into some rocks and was then rammed.  My sporty Performance Car never managed to get out of gear #2... potentially you can get up to gear 5 or 6 although this can make manouvering pretty tricky as the bikes found out.  Both my cars were pretty beaten up after being rammed, crashing and being shot and were then finished off when Callum's truck unloaded his flamethrower onto both of them, giving him 2 points.

Meanwhile up at Gate #4 Eric the Shed's motorbike had pulled ahead of rival Mark's and crossed the line at the gate tying the scores for a draw, with Mark's bike in close pursuit.  

The game worked really well... within a couple of turns everyone had grasped the movement rules (including not picking up a movement template unless you were going to use it) and how to use the Skid Dice to accelerate and manouevre and hopefully everyone enjoyed the game.

With hindsight there are a couple of things I'd do differently.  Everyone had 2 cars or bikes to begin with but actually just having one would have been better and would have sped up play.  Players could then re-start with a new car if their first one was wrecked.  We also ruled that weapons didn't arm until cars had passed gate #2... otherwise it would have been carnage on the start line.  Because of the chaos on the first bend we then allowed everyone to arm up after gate 1 as we were never going to make it as far as gate #2!!  Ideally using an online spreadsheet car builder to let people build there own cars in advance would be fun but as onnly a couple of us had played I think using the pre-made cars was best in this case.

Great fun and suitable chaotic... Thanks to Eric the Shed for hosting and supplying the brilliant terrain!  

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

An expedition to the outside world

I ventured out into our local high street at the weekend for the first time in about 6 months.  To be fair I never used to go there that often which I guess was a sign of the times pre-virus, but now even more so.  It was quite an odd experience...so many people!!  I haven't felt the urge to return to shops, pubs and cafes since lockdown eased up a bit and it was a bit of a culture shock.  And people 'not doing things right'... I had to resist the urge to remind people to put their masks on properly and sort out their distancing! 

So what prompted this expedition...?

Since completing my Wars of the Roses retinue (I say completed but let's be honest... nothing's ever actually complete) the hunt has been on for a good set of rules.  We've tried Hail Caesar which was fine if a bit bloody, although I'm not sure the WotR can really be too bloody.  They have the advantage that most of the group were familiar with the mechanics although this was mainly due to lots of games of Black Powder and Hail Caesar were different enough to cause some confusion.

The last issue of Wargames Illustrated came with a free set of rules for large skirmish games specifically in the Wars of the Roses and as they were written by the generally excellent Andy Callan these were a 'must buy'

At first glance they look just what I've been after: units are around 12 figures strong and there is a card driven element which looks fun.  Hopefully they will get a try out next week, so more to follow...

This also meant I picked up a couple of magazines in addition to WI (well...it would have been a bit of a wasted journey if I hadn't!).  I haven't actually bought any of the regular magazines for a very long time...certainly not this year at all and very little last year.  I found they were often going unread and had little in them that appealed.  As well as WI I also got a copy of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy...to my mind always the best of the 'big 3' and it's a good read with a focus on Afghanistan this month.  The next issue has articles on the AWI which might tempt me back to another purchase.

WI has several articles on the Wars of the Roses and the rules so a good solid buy.  I also picked up a copy of Tabletop Gaming.  This can be a bit hit and miss depending on the mix of games featured and reviewed. It's very much not a wargames magazine but focuses on 'lighter' Euro style games and role playing but there is usually something intersting in there about forthcoming games, or in my case games that completely passed me by a couple of years ago.