Monday 25 December 2023

12 Days of Christmas (a wargaming year - 2023)

Good Morning, this is being posted on Christmas Day, mainly for a bit of hobby entertainment for those who find themselves with a bit of spare time or are for whatever reason not doing Christmas and trying to just get through the day, when the hobby internet is otherwise generally quiet.

It’s really only a gentle ramble about a wargaming year in retrospect. So if inclined, pull up a chair or hide under the staircase if necessary and take some time-out for what is a self indulgent post about a load of stuff that doesn’t really matter that much!

I suppose we should start with 2023 New Year resolutions. I don’t really do resolutions, but there was something that I knew needed looking at - hobby balance. 

I needed to set aside more quality hobby time, just to get some more stuff done. Where was this to come from? Well the obvious place - cutting down on the amount of time I spend at the screen, in reality it works out to being ‘HOURS’ per day! So surely, I could drop one of those hours, perhaps the one that I always do after the evening meal.

The time liberated was to be pushed into the various time-hungry aspects of wargaming, such as reading rules, prep for games, punching and trimming counters, painting, terrain building and the gaming itself. 

Additional to that, I wanted to get a bit more general reading done, learn a musical instrument and actually get my paints and canvas out again - after a very loooooong break from them. 

So this was more about a holistic approach to leisure time than anything else and it is worth noting that even after a short time, it became obvious that screen time can be for the most part, just a useless time sink, that (for me anyway) had become too dominating ……. this blog excepted of course!

The thing that surprised me most was that as life-long news junkie, my interest in the news has nose dived this year to just catching the headlines from a reliable source. Partly it is depressingly glum and is its own time sink because of the repeat / refresh / ‘same old’ dimension to it, plus I can’t do anything about any of it, other than get annoyed, so I have stopped bothering.

So that was an easy one, the 6 O’ Clock News, a half hour programme on the TV, once avidly watched daily, was binned. The finer detail of many events now largely pass without my knowledge or judgement.

Anyway, a year on, I can say all of that time saving has been a force for good. Armies have grown a little, the gaming table looks better, some of my bigger boardgames got played, more games in total got played, I can play ‘Happy Birthday’ with one finger on the keyboard :-) though the painting with oils hasn’t happened.

So anyway here we are, the 12 Days of Christmas, a look at twelve of my wargaming calendar highlights of 2023, a bit self indulgent (who cares) and don’t hang your hat too much on the order of things here, because I enjoyed it all and each item had to find a slot somewhere!

So here we go;

On the first Day of Christmas ….

In 2000, when home computing was still to find its full potential, I designed a couple of boardgames for the 1066 battles of Hastings and Stamford Bridge, which I made available via self publishing with Desk Top Publishing software and the help of a local printer. 

Then some years later in 2015, Revolution Games picked the two titles up, putting them into print. Seeing the game with proper die cut counters was really nice for this amateur.

At the start of this year, both those games went out of print.

Now Legion Games have taken an interest in bringing them back into print, but they wanted the third battle of 1066 (Gate Fulford) to be designed and included. I passed on doing that, but another designer (Geoff Noble) has picked up that baton. So hopefully sometime in 2024, the trilogy of 1066 battles will be published.

Geoff is also doing a strategic 1066 game for Legion and the idea is that both the strategic and the tactical games should complement each other. I have seen the proposed map graphics for Gate Fulford, which is a nice job and I look forward to seeing what Geoff will do with that battle.

Ahead of all of this, I have been buying the figures to do some 1066 gaming, hopefully being a project that might start seeing some figure battles on the table during late 2024 and who knows, there may be some 1066 action at Piggy Longton, taking it out of its Wars of the Roses setting.

I recently commissioned a 2 foot long ridge from a terrain builder (S&A Scenics in the UK), to match the other hills that I have from him, which will give the central terrain feature for a Hastings based game (a battlefield that looks uncannily similar to Little Bump Hill on the Piggy Longton map!).

Anyway, the reprinting of the 1066 games is good news (to me at least) and has been part of my 2023 regeneration of hobby,  something for me to look forward to, that will hopefully come to fruition in 2024.

As an aside, the home computer and the reducing costs of local printing and / or online sharing, makes it easier than ever for anyone with a design urge to have a go - or even take an old game from their collection, revamp it with new graphics and have just one copy printed off.

A good challenge for this holiday period would be to design a postcard sized wargame. The map on one side with a hexed (or square) grid and very concise rules on the other. Limit the number of counters to around 16 - 20. A simple task on the face of it, littered with challenge. 

Try it and see where it goes. ‘Wargames on a Postcard’ were once a ‘thing’ for some producers, so you never know, you might get a professional taker on your design, if not, just sharing it online would make for a good blog article.

On the second Day of Christmas …

As part of my ‘not resolution’ to increase the time given over to reading, at the start of the year, I picked up this title;

Barbarossa, How Hitler Lost the War, by Jonathan Dimbleby, published by Penguin, 509 pages. Paperback £9.99.

‘Staggering’ say the Sunday Times, it being on their Bestseller list and it was, I must say, I enjoyed it very much.

There has been a lot of ink spilled on the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, yet surprisingly, I did not own a volume that covered this titanic campaign in any detail.

Dimbleby gives focus to the invasion of the Soviet Union, through to fighting at the gates of Moscow and then the subsequent retreat of the German army following the Soviet winter counter-offensive and this is delivered with some previously unseen archived material, including previously untranslated Russian sources, so something new is being brought to this re-telling.

The Barbarossa campaign has always held interest for me. I have but a modest boardgame collection and yet was pleasantly surprised to find that when counted, I had ten different games that would fit the theatre and time frame covered in the book and so the idea formed that during and after reading this book, over the rest of the year, each of the related boardgames should visit the games table.

This has produced a successful gaming highlight of the year as the book enhanced the games and vice-versa, plus five of the ten games I had not played before, so this stopped them simply sitting on the shelf for however many more years.

One of the games, Defiant Russia, has seven monthly turns (June to December). I played one turn per day and then wrote up ‘that months’ account on a rolling blog post. It was interesting to write each turn in the ‘here and now’ rather than doing a general write up at the end of play. It allowed myself and the reader to follow progress without any certainty of what might follow.

It also gave an opportunity to introduce a character, a soldier who would regularly write home to his sweetheart, with his own perspective of how things were going at the ground level.

Anyway, it was an interesting thing to do and for anyone interested in ‘another’ long read, there is a link in the Resource Section below to the Defiant Russia post.  

On the third Day of Christmas …

Wargame shows - Commenting this year is done from a perspective that in the UK, we have traditionally had a strong wargame show circuit that has likely been taken for granted by many of us. Then Covid came and closed it all down for the best part of two years. 

We missed it and worried whether post Covid, it would get back on its feet. However the signs of recovery were good, with many shows getting record attendances, despite all the product bought over the internet during lockdown and still sitting in gamer’s lead / plastic mountains, waiting to be built and painted.

Just as things got going, we found ourselves in the worst cost of living crisis for fifty years, could the show scene survive the double whammy of Covid followed by more austerity and high food / fuel bills?

My first show of the year was Vapnartak (York). They recorded record numbers through the doors, topping out at 2000. This is very much a traders show and so one assumes people were there to spend.

Sadly I missed Alumwell, a favoured show, which for some time looked like it might not return at all after Covid and I very much wanted to support it and I will next year.

I did however get to Partizan in May and then Phalanx in June. As a bonus, I also got to Second Partizan in October, which I enjoyed immensely and from which I took a bit of inspirational direction - which is exactly what shows should give. 

I was also told that at the later Partizan show, that ‘through the door footfall’ was around 1200, a record for them, beating their previous recent record, so the show circuit seems to have had a good year ….. Well at least in numbers attending, but does than mean that the good footfall is actually spending enough and going on to keep the shows viable?

One thing to remember about the UK show scene is there are a handsome number of shows and our island is small, so many gamers get the chance to go to several shows per year, I got to four. Does that spread the jam a little thin per show? gamer budgets can only go so far. We will only know in future years, by the number of traders who still commit themselves to the show circuit. 

If there is anyone out there who can actually give a trader perspective, then your comments and thoughts below would be gratefully received. Is enough money being spent or are the shows being used as a social gathering between friends, so that they simply just look busy?  

Each visit to a show is just a massive boost to my shear enjoyment of the hobby - long may they prosper and thanks to everyone who adds their bit to making them work!

On the fourth Day of Christmas …

Cross-over gaming - When I first started out wargaming, there seemed quite a strict divide between those who board gamed and those that figure gamed. These days, the line between the two is much more blurred, with many gamers enjoying both and some gaming systems and products covering the hybrid area of having figures on gridded gaming areas / terrain (both hex and squares).

Always having a foot in both worlds, I used to do quite a bit of gaming with figures on hexes, though of late, I have preferred the aesthetic of the figure on the open, free-form table, but the relationship between the two remains close for me.

Increasingly over the past few years, I have been seeing moments and opportunities during boardgame play that looked like they would transfer well to the open tabletop and generally they do. 

One of the reasons that this seems to give a good game is that the situation has naturally occurred during boardgame play, creating a sort of ‘real’ event, with a build up leading to it, rather than it being just a contrived throw down scenario - it seems to offer something to hang your hat on.

So for example, the above situation in the Beaver Dam Creek / Gaines Mill 1862 scenario in Worthington Publishings Seven Days Battles game, with just 3 game counters, it shows the Union far right flank becoming enveloped by Confederate forces that themselves had already suffered heavy casualties.

Above - the boardgame situation, with woods present between the two Confederate Brigades, created an ‘on table’ game that gave us a flanking attack separated by woods, but with the number of Confederate regiments present reduced to reflect the losses already suffered at the time of contact.

In the boardgame, the Union took some losses and retreated, but in the figures game, it was the Confederate assault that was repulsed. However in both games the result of the alternative setting was equally possible. So in the figures game, Branch came very close to collapsing the Union flank and in the boardgame, simply a different die roll could have caused the Union attack to also fail.

The points is, playing the boardgame created a new reality and the figure game then sat on that moment and felt all the more realistic as a ‘known’ situation.

Generally, my Horse & Musket boardgames have units representing brigades, but on table, I prefer regiments / battalions and so researching the proper order-of-battle to go down a level is essential and part of the enjoyment of the whole thing. Going to the lower level gives a much more personalised tactile experience of the action as the entire table is maybe looking at a snapshot of just four hexes from the boardgame.

I can see this sort of thing getting greater coverage on the blog in 2024.

On the fifth Day of Christmas

10 years of blogging (May 29th)

The year saw the tenth anniversary of this blog, not something that at the outset I would have considered likely. 

Looking back to the first post, about a boardgame that covered fighting at Noville (tactical, Bulge 1944), the initial themes of the blog still remain recognisable today, these being fairly lengthy and detailed posts with an emphasis on gaming in small areas.

There have of course been a few ups and down along the way, with the blog being suspended for four months at one point as my enthusiasm for it collapsed. 

I think that today, I have a much easier relationship with the blog. It still demands a lot of work, but I just write as the mood and time takes me, without concerns for deadlines or statistics and much less concern about whether people comment or not.

Ten years has allowed it to get a substantial back catalogue of articles that cover a wide range of games and systems, which can be dipped into as the reader pleases and one of the aspects that I do like is that the long articles can provide a wargame reading companion for anyone, who for whatever reason has some time on their hands that they wish to pass with hobby material (i.e. hospital waiting rooms or train journeys).

The first post was made on 29th May 2013, which covered the replay of a Noville scenario (from the Battle of the Bulge 1944) using Lock ‘n Load’s White Star Rising boardgame of WWII tactical warfare. 

On 29th May 2023, I celebrated the ten years by running another Noville related game, this time from the Old School Tactical system published by Flying Pig and designed by Shayne Logan.

I would never have thought that there would be enough material to keep a blog running for ten years (or more!), but one way or another, there always has been something to write about and it is the combination of that, together with the visible support of kindly folk interacting that has encouraged the e-ink to keep on spilling.

In some respects, blogs look to have had their day, with facebook groups seemingly the more popular, but for the ‘big’ article style of posting, blogging still remains the best way to present work and of course it gives a convenient way for the back catalogue of diverse articles to be easily explored.

As to the future, more of the same I think, with two or three posts a month being sustainable. I also have some private, paid for webspace (the Commanders web site) that I use for a sort of more magaziney quick post type place, so that my ongoing projects and purchases etc, do not create too much ‘noise’ by over posting on the blog itself. I have just paid fees to the host that will see the Commanders web page run to late 2027.

If you haven’t seen the Commanders site, then please have a look, it is the place of ideas and sometimes that can press the right button (link below).

Anyway, thanks to everyone who reads or otherwise takes an interest in the general nonsense on this blog, I think we probably like the same kind of stuff.

For those interested in such things, the blog stats for Battlefields and Warriors Blog currently are;

HITS - 1.2 Million, how many are bots? Who knows!

Monthly visits - regularly 12 to 14,000, thank you.

Followers - 423, again, thank you for the visible support and generosity of your time.

Posts - 438, considering the typical size of a post, that is a lot of wordage! I should spend my time as a top selling author instead :-)

Comments - 9141. Half that number will be me replying, but thank you for the other half and your encouragement.

On the sixth Day of Christmas …

Nostalgia Gaming.

If I were to list the three greatest boardgames of influence at the fledgling stage of my wargaming journey, they would be Cobra (S&T issue 67), The Russian Campaign (Avalon Hill) and Squad Leader (Avalon Hill).

The significance of each game is just one of those nostalgia things, that is both personal and yet widely understood by those of a certain generation. 

Cobra was the first wargaming boardgame that I stumbled upon, its discovery opened the door to a lifetime passion for boardgaming. In those days, pre-internet, there was no convenient place for the solo gamer to ask questions or seek out errata, so we just had to work it out for ourselves. Fortunately, this game, my first exposure, was a very clean system and I was immediately set on a certain path (hoorah!). 

Squad Leader likewise sparked a passion …. for all things tactical WWII. It has never been equalled in my mind, even considering the great ASL that followed. Who will forget their first dip into the game and playing Scenario1: The Guards Counterattack? This would be my number one gaming experience of all time if a Hall of Fame ever required my vote.

The Russian Campaign by Avalon Hill, at the time was considered one of the classics and it is the only wargame that made me want to stay up with until 4 AM to complete ‘that’ game (and back at work for 7 AM! - oh the heady days of youth when such things are even physically possible!). It is such a simple system, certainly not the last word in simulation, but it has its place in my heart.

It just happens to be the case that throughout my wargaming years, games got sold off to generate the cash for new ones and so I allowed some of these early classics to escape me. A few years ago, Decision Games reprinted a new edition of Cobra and this year, GMT brought us The Russian Campaign 5th Edition (above) and so both have re-entered my collection.

For the past few years, I have been promising myself a return to the Cobra game, but you know how it is, these things can easily get squeezed out, though this year, another very important game from my past hit the table - the reprint of Napoleon’s Last Battles, it is such a classic. 

Myself and Mike spent a full day in the summer holidays one year, perhaps as long ago as 30 years, playing the campaign game and it has just been one of those gaming moments that sticks in the mind - this is my first return to it!

It went onto the table just a couple of weeks ago. I had a go with the Quatre Bras battle to get back into the system and it was such a success, that there will be an early return to the other battles (Wavre, Ligny and Waterloo), plus the campaign game that combines all four maps together to be played.

Re-assembling some of these classic and defining games back into the collection has been hugely satisfying - finding that an Oldie can still be a Goodie.

On the figure side of things, I find myself increasingly looking over my shoulder to glories past falling from the readings of my mentors, Featherstone, Grant, Quarrie and others. Not so much for their actual rules, but more for the way they went about things and the actual feel of their game on the table, even those black and white line drawing maps now pull at me.

I have a special affection for the ‘teaser’ type scenario that combines relatively low numbers of units, but a good narrative and a bit of a challenge.

One thing that did survive ‘the great cull’ of rule sets etc is Charles S. Grant’s Programmed Wargame Scenarios, an oldie but goodie (I have the 2020 2nd Edition), which I would like to see play out on the table a couple of times next year. 

The situations are intended for multiple periods and while Horse & Musket is an obvious choice, I note their orders of battle for WWII engagements would fit in rather nicely with Rapid Fire rules, which I have taken a renewed fancy to.

Hoorah for nostalgia gaming and for having a little nostalgia stash set to one side!

On the seventh Day of Christmas …

The Wargamers’ Annual (2023 and 2024) - One of the cherished things of childhood is the indulgence of the simple comic and then the end of year highlight …. the yearly Annual of your fave read. I used to end up with a few at Christmas and they were avidly and repeatedly read.

Last year, after reading a post by David at his ‘Tales from GHQ’ blog, in which he had ordered and received the 2023 Wargamers’ Annual by Charles Grant, I promptly sent off for my copy. This was my first look at these long running annuals, but due to the postal strike it only arrived in January.

It isn’t anything particularly stellar, but it is just a nice read with a certain Old School charm and a definite connection back to a time when the annual was something to look forward to.

This year I got my order in a bit earlier, so the 2024 Wargamers’ Annual was in my hands in early December. I had disciplined myself to put it away for Christmas Day, which to my mind, just elevates the enjoyment of the annual.

The 2024 issue includes a rather nice article on bath-tubbing the Borodino Battle, using the scenario from the Shadow of the Eagles rules (which I actually gamed earlier this year, see the below entry), plus a multi-table Rapid Fire game and plenty of other items in the 102 page booklet.

I shall dive into this tonight, with coffee for a self indulgent hour.

I am tempted to submit an article of my own for consideration for next years issue …… 2025 …. Oh No ….. where is the time going!

On the eighth Day of Christmas …

Big Battle - Borodino - sort of!

While exploring the Shadow of the Eagles set of napoleonic rules by Keith Flint, I became captivated by his third and biggest scenario - Borodino. It was ‘big battle’ with a twist.

Keith had been inspired by a scenario published by his friend, the late Stuart Asquith, in his book ‘Guide To Solo Wargaming’, covering the Borodino battle.

Essentially Borodino was a very linear battle, with a string of notable objectives along its front, from Borodino village on the Russian right, through The Great Redoubt and over other terrain features, until reaching the village of Utitza on the far left.

These six objectives were lined up down the middle of a 6’ table, with each objective nesting in a 12” x 12” space. So it was a sort of streamlined / abstracted way of showing the various important points of focus from the battlefield as a single linear group of related features.

This way of presentation was made all the more viable because historically, the French launched themselves at the Russians in a brutal frontal assault - no room for imaginative manoeuvring.

To get enough figures onto the table, I used my Warlord Games Epic figures, mostly unpainted, but that aspect quickly disappeared as I became drawn in and enthralled by the play - in fact, being unpainted helps the reader with the interpretation of the above situation.

It was a longer game than I would normally play, but of course that is befitting of the grandness of the subject and it was a great way to experience the big battle within the domestic setting of the dining table.

I suppose my excitement at this game does fly in the face of the type of gaming that I will be involved with in 2024, with a definite shift from a smaller scale to the 28’s. I do like seeing different terrain features on the same table and the sense of different actions going on across the table, winning here, being pushed back there, but I remain confident that a smaller battle for the figures and leaving the bigger battle for my boardgames, will be a successful marriage …. we can but wait and see :-)

The Borodino battle was covered here on the blog in a two part post, the link to which is in the Resource Section below.

Either way, it was very different to my usual thing and hugely enjoyable!

On the ninth Day of Christmas …

A ruthless slim down - no, not of me, but rather the hobby collection!

After some 70 years of boardgames being produced, the number of different titles available to collectors are myriad and while without doubt a success story for this niche hobby, for the gamer, it comes with the mirror problem that the large number of different rulebooks in a collection that need to be conquered, can also be many - that is if you are serious about getting these things to the table for regular play.

For a number of years I have been moving in a direction of increasing the number of series style games that I have in the collection, so that one basic rule set will cover many games. For example, for my medieval gaming, I bought the ‘Men of Iron’ tri-pack from GMT, a reprint of three separate series games all brought together, Infidel (Crusades), Blood & Roses (Wars of the Roses) and the original of the series, Men of Iron (14th Century re-emergence of infantry).

This box set gives a total of 20 different battles, all beating to the drum of one rule set and another module (Norman Conquests) is due for release very shortly, containing further battles from the Hastings period.

However, my collection also had a lot of individual, stand alone titles, covering specific battles that I have wanted to explore, but of course, it is here that all of those individual and different rulebooks are concentrated.

Anyway, while looking at the overall problem of storage for my combined boardgame and figure collection and with two more boxed (series) games winging their way to me in the mail, I suddenly, got into a frenzy and became brave (reckless?) enough to do a mass purge of the boardgame collection and between off loading to a game trader and selling privately at very attractive prices via boardgame forums and my own COMMANDERS web page (and yes, dumping some!), made a sizeable dent to the scale of the problem. The collection has been significantly pared back.

This has been a hugely liberating experience, both physically for the space saved and mentally for the focus now given to a smaller range of game titles that I will now play more frequently and get better acquainted with, without the distraction of constantly covering the new ground of learning / re-learning rulesets.

Some favoured single titles remain such as Cobra (Decision Games) and The Russian Campaign (GMT) and most recently a re-acquisition of Napoleon’s Last Battles, but overall, I see this now as an irreversible trend.

My inspiration came from an American gentlemen, who upon hitting retirement, decided to heavily cull down to his favourite 16 titles, whether by selling, donating or simply dumping games. Thank you! 

The experience with the boardgames and the momentum of clearing and streamlining continued into the figure and rule collection and it was here that the biggest impact was to be made.

All scales, including terrain etc. below 20mm went, as did virtually every rule set that I owned and that was a LOT of rules, that in the past have seemed impossible to shift. With the theme of streamlining, I kept the Warlord Games set of sister rule sets, Hail Caesar, Pike & Shotte and Black Powder. For WWII, I have been rather captivated by the Rapid Fire Reloaded update.

I have to be honest and say that most of the rules went into recycling refuse. They just were just too hard to shift individually. There is little demand and postage cost is high. I have travelled this route before and the bottom line is, very little shifts. By going to the recycle centre, in one single action, the entire distraction of all those sets were dealt a single and effective blow. Painful - but decisive!

The end result of all of this streamlining is that there is a much tighter focus on what is left and overspill has moved back from the floor, up onto the liberated space on the shelves.

It has truly been the most positive thing that I have done to impact my hobby for some time. It is no use tinkering around the edges, a certain ruthlessness is needed to get things to where one wants them to be. The primary focus cannot be making money from sales, it must instead be about getting rid of things in volume and making space.

On the tenth Day of Christmas …

Red Blitz - 4 linked battles - During the year, a blogger posed the question, if you had to abandon your home and could only rescue one game, which would it be. For the boardgame part of the answer I elected the Old School Tactical System (OST). It has in all respects become my closest replacement to those games played with basic Squad Leader.

In late August, I put the ‘campaign’ scenario of 4 linked games from the Red Blitz module onto the table. This was essentially covering typical actions around Minsk between 11th Guards Army and 5th Panzer Division.

Set out as scenarios 1 to 4, the idea was that scenario 1 would be played and surviving units would stay on the board, while Scenario 2 would introduce some fixed reinforcements. In addition, victory points earned in the previous scenario could be used to buy in some additional reinforcements of the players choice. This allows a player for example to increase leadership presence or establish defences with mines and wire or get extra assault assets such as tanks etc.

Anyway it remains notable for two reasons, firstly because I kept the board set up for 4 days while I played through the scenarios, so it was a bit of a wargame treat / fest and my longest game of the year. Secondly, it gave such a good game, offering a different perspective to playing stand alone scenarios.

Typical of the OST ethos, it delivered this mini campaign with just a couple of pages of obvious instructions and importantly, no new rules. Anyone who has played OST could easily slip into this scenario set, provided they have the space and time to give it.

The system uses the road net to divide the large mapboard into zones and within each zone there are two objectives. Each player spends the 4 battles, trying claim control of the zones by occupying these objectives.

Very much a treat of the year and one to be repeated at some point.

This has got me thinking how I might link other games together. I have been doing all of the Barbarossa games, though each are stand alone titles, the playing of one does not effect the next, so I will put on my thinking cap and see if I can come up with a solution for the results of one game feeding into the next (related) game.

On the eleventh Day of Christmas …

The Battle of Wavre (campaign) by e-mail. I say campaign, but this was actually representing a single days battle, using a campaign engine so that I could manage a ten player, play by e-mail game.

The idea was that the players would manage their forces via maps and then I would transfer the actions to the tabletop and game them out as individual figure games, using the Shadow of the Eagles rules by Keith Flint.

At the time, the most numbers of napoleonic figures I owned came from the Epic Prussian and French range from Warlord Games. Most were unpainted, but in mattered not, a game is a game and certainly better than no game, regardless of one’s persuasion on the matter.

I happily got the 10 players (thank you everyone) and off we went. It was great fun to see the ‘behind the scenes’ effects of information feeds with opportunities both gained and lost at various times by the players and that general fog-of-war that only an umpire run campaign can create.

There is a huge difference in the appreciation of the full battlefield when it can only be seen and understood by each commander (player), depending where they are located, what they can actually see from their position and what reports flow into their headquarters. 

Enemy reinforcements can arrive on the battlefield unseen by all of the players, their presence only known when one of the commanders suddenly finds them within their sphere of influence. It does help put the gamer in the hot seat of their historical counter-part.

Anyway, it all seemed to work rather well, as players fought desperately hard to gain the bridges over the swollen Dyle river, with bridge capture becoming the focus of intense activity for both sides. 

While playing, I ran a campaign diary so that at the end of it all, the participants could see the bigger picture and place their own involvement within that context. 

The diary made it as a (long) blog post - the link is in the Resource Section below.

There were too many fascinating moments to fit into the ever lengthening campaign diary, but I think my favourite was the moment that a commander, who had been cut off from the main army, struck out independently towards a bridge, with the intention of falling on the enemy flank - a great idea on the face of it. They arrived at the bridge, only to discover that it had been destroyed earlier in the afternoon in the face of the enemy who were trying to cross with cavalry. The commander had never been informed of the bridge destruction and had to turn back. 

While he had been marching towards the bridge, there was another battle nearby to his departure point (if only he had known :-) ) that he could have added his weight to. It is this sort of ‘living’ moment that this style of game play brings into sharp focus.

It worked because the players gave unstintingly to support it - thank you all.

While this was a hugely satisfying experience, it did leave me flagging, wargaming wise, for several weeks later and I doubt I will return to such a big venture.

However …….

In a similar vein, I have the framework for a Midway play by e-mail game sitting in the wings. I did try to go for this at the start of the year, but didn’t get enough takers, however, a year on, I think I might approach this in a slightly different way, so it is presently in ‘tweaking’ status, so that players will find it easier to administer what they have in the air, what’s on deck and what is below deck.

Each player is an officer in charge of a Carrier, except one player is running Midway Island. It is the sort of game where you might be sunk within a few turns! before you have even spotted something to attack, or maybe your attack aircraft are already up and on the way to their target when the enemy attack comes in - Brutal!

I can see this being administratively an easier play by e-mail situation, especially with the anticipated attrition rate of participants and their carriers! 

Anyway, perhaps this will show up as a completed campaign in the 2024 year end review :-)

On the twelfth Day of Christmas …

Getting the 1809 project to the table and starting a pair of Napoleonic Pocket Armies - I have been wanting to start this project for several years, but somehow it has always managed to get squeezed out and in truth, I had no real expectation that 2023 would see the 1809 project move to a serious footing.

Above - 20mm (back right), 28mm (back left) and 13.5mm (front).

There were two hurdles. Firstly, during and since the pandemic, I had over collected the raw materials and had three different scales in the stash to draw upon, 13.5mm (Warlord Games), 20mm (Newline Design) and 28mm (Perry & Victrix). So one had to be chosen to concentrate upon and the other two sold to make space and create funds.

Secondly, a goodly number of Napoleonic wargames rules had accrued and I really just wanted one set to concentrate on.

I found the whole scale and rule thing quite a quandary as there were good arguments in favour of them all and my ability to move forwards with any of it just stagnated!

I decided to create two small generic scenarios and make up enough bases from each scale (unpainted) to be able to play the scenario and then played a whole series of these mini games with the differing scales and rule sets. 

It was quite an undertaking for what essentially might ordinarily be a straight forward decision for most, but I wanted a definitive choice that would allow the stuff not used to be fully cleared out and also, going directly to the table was a better way to properly assess the impact of scales etc in my gaming space.

I went into this actually understanding one thing …. that I wanted smaller battles for a dining room table type setting, I did not want to end up painting countless battalions for the ‘big battle’, my boardgames seem quite capable of handling that task!

Anyway, after much deliberation (too much and then some more!), I settled on the 28’s based on 80mm bases (2 bases per unit) and the Black Powder rules.

The choice of rules had more to do with slimming down the rulebook collection, like I had with the boardgames and to go to a more ‘series’ based set. The trio of rules from Warlord Games, Hail Caesar, Pike & Shotte and Black Powder, do exactly that, so for better or worse, the advantages outweigh the cons.

The ‘Pocket army’ is really just a starter force that allows the Neil Thomas style of scenario to be played. Typically, I would start with a six unit army, four infantry, one cavalry and one artillery and then build up from there.

However, I have recently re-read the Neil Thomas’ book ‘Napoleonic Wargaming’ book with a view to putting his Leibnitz scenario, included in the book, onto the table and he uses a fixed 8 units per side for all games, so my starter set will be based around that. After which, the forces will grow slowly to something like 12 units per side.

The aim is that these Napoleonic Pocket Armies will become fully painted armies during 2024, but at least now we are under way with a plan and these figures are making it to the the table ….. with or without their painted clothes on!

I am hoping that a painting schedule of at least one Napoleonic unit per month will deliver this project by the end of 2024. If it doesn’t ….. well, then this is just a hobby and does it matter? (Please don’t say yes :-) ).


Well, there we are, the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Above - On the table - My Christmas game to play over the holiday is Velikiye Luki from Legion Games. A small footprint game that might have something for everyone (yes, non-boardgamers, this might be the one you have been waiting for :-) ) more on this in a future post.

To bring us up to date, todays haul (Christmas Day 2023) has something for the boardgame shelf, the figure tubs, plus a read, things that I had squirrelled away over recent weeks so that Mrs. Wargamer has a ready made stash to wrap for me, of those things that are essential and not a pair of socks in sight!

The boardgame is the new re-printing of Alexander Deluxe from GMT in their Great Battle of History series, which will join my SPQR box set of the same series, to give a total of 33 ancient based  battles, but just one rulebook. That is worth saying again THIRTY THREE!

I will be using the ‘Simple GBoH’ ruleset with these games. It has been out of print for a long time, but I note, a planned reprint has just gone up on the GMT P500 page.

The surprise wargame … bought by me for me! …  just a couple of days ago (using a courier service from Second Chance Games to guarantee pre-Christmas delivery) is 1944: D-Day to the Rhine, published by Worthington Publishing and designed by Dan Fournie, covering from the invasion through to the race to Germany.

This is the same system as his 1944 Bulge and in fact I think it  has two errata counters for Bulge. It fits in with my collection of series games, but also adds to the list of ‘classic’ style wargame titles from yesteryear, when I first became involved with boardgames, such as the Avalon Hill greats of D-Day, Bulge, Stalingrad, Waterloo, Gettysburg etc. I really want to get a core of those great subjects back into the collection.

Above - The figures treat is a regiment of 12 pre-painted (used) 28mm French cavalry, painted up as the 14th Polish Cuirassiers, which I picked up from E-bay for the kids to buy me. They had actually been kept here, tucked away on my shelf rather than at my children’s homes …. so that the grandchildren didn’t find them and enjoy them first!  :-)

I did a little bit of highlighting to them, tufted the bases to be a closer match to my own and then matt varnished everything to lock down the flocks and take off the sheen that was on the models. They are a lovely addition to the napoleonic project. Thank you.

As to what got played and painted in 2023 - the number of games getting to the table was up on last year with 49 boardgames being played and 54 figure games. 

The top two played boardgames were Old School Tactical (9 playings) and Brothers at War (5 playings). Old School Tactical (WWII tactical) continues to be a favourite and is easy to get to the table and I want even more games this year. 

Brothers at War (ACW Regimental Level) got to the table quite a bit, over a short period, as I was trying to get the rules under my belt, with repeat play being the best way to do this, plus both myself and Mike have a copy so the chances of play increased.

With the focus of getting more series games into the collection, 2024 should see plenty of games played, but across a narrower range of fewer individual rule systems, which is exactly what I want to pursue. 

2023 still saw a lot of diversity amongst game systems played, too many, which meant more dastardly reading of rules to get individual games to the table. 


This was influenced by two things. Firstly I played out my Barbarossa games in association with the Dimbleby book, which of course are all stand alone titles, some with chunky rules and each needing full prep before playing. 

Secondly the majority of our face-to-face gaming generally looks at newish titles and therefore there is a lot of churn involving new systems that need to be learned, with not many being returned to. 

2024 should see a greater reliance on old favourites returning to the table.

The top figures rule set played were Shadow of the Eagles (23 playings), my own Eagles at Quatre Bras rules (7 playings), Black Powder (7 playings) and Valour & Fortitude (5 playings).

The most played rules, Shadow of the Eagles, scored so highly because I used them to run the Wavre 1815 play by e-mail campaign and that alone generated 19 games. When adding in the other top scorers, this was very much a Napoleonic year …. mainly with the Warlord Games Epic scale figures.

Painting effort was generally poor, divided between 28mm Napoleonic, 1/72 WWII and Warlord Games Napoleonic Epic scale, with the latter getting the most attention and which were subsequently sold, so considering everything, I lost a lot of painting ground in 2023, with time wasted …… painting the wrong thing (for me anyway).


At the start of the year, the central theme to my wargaming plan was in reducing screen time. This has significantly opened up other areas of opportunity for me. Just stopping 1 hour a day and converting that to doing ‘real things’, potentially liberates 365 hours a year or more shockingly, that is the equivalent of 45 x 8 hour working days!

However, as the year progressed, it was the reduction of different game systems / rules and scales and clearing out that became the more important hobby changing aspect and it has probably been the most progressive hobby thing that I have done for years. I am increasingly in much more control of being able to bring any part of my collection to the games table with minimum pre-read and having a better understanding of each system. It has felt like a shot in the arm.

In addition to wargaming, I decided to learn an instrument - the keyboard. This has been just a self taught, 15 - 20 minutes a day thing and considering I didn’t know my Middle ‘C’ from my Alphabetti Spaghetti, it has gone rather well, though if you were to hear some of it, you might think it was being murdered :-) but in my head, I am Liberace :-)

I wish I had started this ……. aged five, when the grey cells are sharper! 

Another bonus was meant to be tinkering with paint and canvas. Years ago I did a coloured version in oil paint of a black and white WWII photo, as a cover for my home brew WWII rules, so the plan was to do something similar for my Napoleonic set.

However, the momentum of ‘getting rid of things’ seeped into other hobby areas and I actually got rid of a lot of photographic equipment and also artist materials. 

My view was that despite liking and wanting to paint on canvas, my passion for the wargame would always squeeze out artist painting time and that the truth was that I had actually become disconnected from it as a hobby over quite some time. Once properly rationalised, these things were actually easy things to get rid of and of course they did clear space.

Missing from the year has been my Wars of the Roses saga, Piggy Longton, but for those that enjoy these escapades, they will be making a return in early 2024, likely using the Hail Caesar rules this time. 

I should have been playing out the 1472 year, so a fresh start this January will hopefully see 1472 unfold. 1471 closed with some important matters to resolve, so we should have a good narrative start.

We can recall that Edward has (again) gone into open Rebellion and has tried to recruit Lord Darcy, who has declared his loyalty to the King (Henry).

Darcy instantly is faced with; 

1) having to fortify Piggy Longton in case of immediate attack from Edward. 

2) sending couriers to seek out Somerset (4th Earl) for urgent military aid. 

3) sending Bishop of Dungborough (Stephen the Fearless) and Friar Evian on a perilous journey to London to alert the King that Edward is in the country with French mercenaries. I mean …. what could possibly go wrong!

All of the above sounds like a force for good and it has been, but it has been set against a background of being frustrated by a collection of multiple rules, systems and figure scales, which caused a lot of distraction, by now, I would have been significantly into the 28mm Napoleonic painting, had I not spent so much time painting the Napoleonic Epic scale - and so it was not until the last two months of the year, through that ruthless clear out, that a more sustainable hobby situation revealed itself - going forwards, this should see a much enhanced hobby experience.

Some of this is bound to seep into the blog and cause changes. There will undoubtedly be a tighter focus on fewer game titles and systems. Whenever a new game / system is encountered, it will get the usual lengthy explanation of system, but I think there-after, individual battles will get a brief write up with certain moments highlighted and the inclusion of a link to the earlier post that explains the system for those that want it, so there will be less of a scatter gun approach.

Defined series articles will likely evolve along the lines of the Piggy Longton series, also projects will be discussed as parts I, II and III etc for some continuity. This will allow the reader to more easily just dip in and out of the bits that interest them in what is a pretty diverse blog as far as range of subjects go.

I have broadly got the collection to where I want it to be. The boardgames cover the main periods that interest me using series based rules. There are some single titles that I just enjoy and I pretty much have the ‘classic’ battles and campaigns that I want, such as D-Day, Gettysburg and Waterloo etc.

Above - a kit bash, cavalryman torso and infantryman legs to create a horse holder base. The dropped reins are made from that plastic covered wire that are always wrapped around the cables on new domestic appliances. 

On the figures side, I mostly have the periods covered that interest me and there is a lot of unpainted stuff to still to paint. This part of the collection needs painting time investing in it, rather than money.

There are two more purchases to be made (boardgames) and then as far as I can tell, spend over the short and medium term will be comparatively minimal, with me being satisfied with what I already have and I must say, I am reaching a point in general, where that applies to many things.

I will rather enjoy seeing this blog step away from what I fear has had a whiff of consumerism and instead getting a bit closer to just the game itself.

Although I have talked about a streamlined hobby, there is still a lot of gaming to be done, more than I can easily get to, but it has always been like that, though this time the focus will, I hope, become a more obvious thing.

Either way, I have really enjoyed the gaming of 2023 together with your company and intend to keep the blog fresh and supported through 2024.

Thanks to everyone who gets this far and to those who regularly support the blog, whether by comment or as a follower. Your visible presence and encouragement does keep the e-ink flowing, which all feeds back in to the general fabric of the Blogosphere, that polite corner of the internet that we all enjoy so much.

If you never comment on blogs but do read them, please consider today just visiting another blog of your choice (I have some listed on the right) and tipping a comment at them, just so that they know that their scribblings are appreciated and that there are real people rather than just bots that are reading them :-)

Best wishes for the Christmas period and the New Year and enjoy any gaming that you manage to get done over the holiday period.

Kind Regards, Norm.

Resource Section.

The Defiant Russia post, taking a turn by turn look at the game. LINK

Last Year’s 2022 round-up, hosted at the Hamlet of Piggy Longton. LINK 

The multi-player Campaign battle of Wavre ….. The Diary. LINK

The Battle of Borodino in two parts .. LINK

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.