Thursday, 25 April 2019

Genesis of a ruleset

It sounds a bit grand doesn't it?. It's been a long road. I started war gaming in 1968. I had a game called " Battle of the Bighorn produced by a company called Waddingtons. For those of a much younger age, the game provided plastic figures of the U.S. Cavalry on foot and American Indians.

The soldiers were set up in the middle of the board and the Indians were set up around the edges. The idea of the game was to try and get the standard off the table with as many soldiers as possible ( I think!). The main thing about this game was that it was played on squares.

That set me thinking. At that time Airfix were producing plastic figures of Romans and Gaullic tribesmen. I made up my own board of 1 inch squares and started using a modified rule set from the game to fight the battles.

Moving on to 1970 and Don Featherstones book : Battles with Model Soldiers made its appearance. For me it was a revelation!. Proper Wargaming. All through the 70,s and 80,s this book was the bedrock of all subsequent gaming activities with my mates. Other inventions and systems were used and or amended as required.

Through all this time there were  good and not so good games. I was the one entrusted to write the rules and on occasion, especially when things were not going to well for one side or the other the inevitable arguments would rise to the surface.

" that unit is out of range because the distant is short by 1/8th of an inch"!
" that's not a melee  because you moved them, and even right at the end of the move distance they are still 1/8th of an inch short so you cannot use your melee bonus to decimate my unit!
And so on.

I wanted to use squares but my mates didn't like them so you go with the majority vote. As one of them said " you cannot cheat with squares!
Indeed at one point I was so depressed with the constant wrangling I actually binned an entire  group  of 150 figures that I had only just converted and painted!!.

Well, you know how it is. Once war gaming is in the blood you cannot give it up, and I started back in 6mm. I bought a load of Heroics and Ros English civil War figures. The main reasons for this is because, ( a) they were cheap and (b) they were quick to paint.
 I wrote some rules for using them and  the same group used them. This was one of the the best situations we ever did.

A mate of mine came up with a campaign and he also did an area campaign map of Britain. There were 6 of us, three Royalist and three Parliamentarians. ( Yes, I was Charles the 1st which gives you some idea of what happened to me!!).

However, the campaign went really well. We fought small actions using my mates 28mm figures and the larger actions using my 6mm stuff. Even without doing anything totally historical the campaign culminated in the siege of Oxford. We actually recreated roughly the city of Oxford and it's defences on a 6' by 4' table using all my 6mm figures and buildings.

The city fell and ended the campaign. The rules that I used seem to work well and  were accepted by the group.  I wrote them up ,and entitled " Matchlock " I submitted the set to Partizan Press who published them in 1988.

Situations never stay the same, and thus it was for our group. Everyone went their separate ways as life guided each individual on their separate path to follow  their own destiny ( profound philosophy here!!).

I was having the odd game on remote occasions but more often solo. I met Joyce and after a time together she asked about war gaming. Well, she had a go, but it was obvious that that the historical complexities were going over her head.

However I did not want to dent her enthusiasm so, that's when I decided to ditch the historical stuff and go right back to basics. With squares. Once again I had to start from scratch having had to sell most of my figures to cover debts. This time I started again with 15mm.

I wrote up a rule set using the squares and Joyce picked up on it really quickly. In time I also met other blokes who were interested in Wargaming and also had a go at the game using the squares. One in particular (sadly deceased) wanted to try Fantasy gaming but could not get his head around  the rules printed by the Nottingham Empire. After playing the grid game I had set up, he was hooked. Joyce was instrumental in the way the game was structured in order that It could be picked up quickly and easily.

I married Joyce.

With extensive  help of my Brother- in- Law Des, who had a computer and  Jill, one of Joyce's friends, who typed up the original manuscript, the first attempt at publishing came about.

" Wavey Bayonets And Spaghetti  Spears" was the first attempt at this. It got a small write up in Miniature Wargames , the title came from an article I had read. Needless to say it got a few sells but died quietly!!

By this time I had realised that the hobby was moving upmarket with some big hitters making their presence known. The rule system worked so ,with some add- ons and a colour cover, Table Top Armies made its appearance. Once again with my brother- in -laws help plus a review in Wargames Soldiers and Strategy we tried to get it out there. Another quiet death!!

I must admit I was ready to give up, but something kept driving me. I knew the rule system was good. People who had never wargamed had tried it and enjoyed playing. Those that had time were coming back. At this time my financial situation was picking up a bit but I realised  I had to present something a bit more " professional ".

So, once again with a great deal of help from my Brother in Law with his computer skills plus a ISBN NUMBER, TABLE TOP BATTLES. came out. At this time I was also running a postal campaign based on the War of the Austrian Succession. I did a later one based on the Seven years War. Both went very well.

 There was a good review in Battlegames, and Patizan Press were doing the distribution. This time there was some movement and I was told that small numbers were selling world  wide . Since 2007 it has been selling in small numbers.

Fast forward to 2018. During that year a review suddenly appears in Miniature Wargames. I was a bit surprised. The basic premise was that the rule set was ok but a bit history-lite and not for serious gamers.
Well, mentally I agreed with this in principle, however I still felt that they could still hold an historical game together.

A time later I received a letter from a friend telling me that a member of the Solo Wargames Association ( now online and called Lone Warrior. Editor is Richard Barbuto.) had reviewed them and played an historical game. The reviewer found that although Table Top Battles was not historical the rule set still gave a historical result!

My morale was restored by reading of this.  I still felt that the rule system rocked!!
In the last few years the Wargames Association of Reading has allowed me to present  a Participation Game at their annual Warfare event in Reading. This has also been well received by those members of the public who tried a game.

Now here we are in 2019 with  digital technology well and truly wrapped around humanity. One of my Stepsons suggested putting the book on-line. I also thought about going the whole distance by updating the book with a new cover etc.
After 46 years of work I had also been lucky to reach retirement!

So it was that Table Top Battles version 2 appeared both as a paperback and pdf file. It has been selling slowly but steady. On a personal level I felt vindicated. It won't be everybody's "cup of tea" but judging by the success of  Richard Borgs Command and Colours system using hexes. Peter Pigs rules, some of which use squares ( and pre-date my efforts). The release of " To the Strongest " by Simon Miller and " Tin Soldiers in Action by Rudiger and Klaus Hofrichter more recently, show that the use of the square grid in war gaming has found its place in the hobby.

Joe Morschauser started using squares back in the 60s and Charles Sweet continued in the70s but very few people ( including myself) knew of them until recently.

 I feel proud that I have helped kickstart this particular form of wargaming back in to the mainstream. As stated in previous blog posts, using a grid makes a lot  of movement rules redundant. There is no argument about whether a target is in or out of range and  close combat is unequivocal. I will continue using squares and my one regret is not sticking to this system in the first place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!!

Hopefully you, dear reader have managed to stay awake through all the above! Next time I will be writing about scratchbuilding ships.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

What's my Timeline

As a " cardigan dude" in the grand scheme of war gaming, I have gamed many historical and a few non historical eras. When I started I knew very little of actual military history. Like most wargamers I was influenced by the film's that I watched or books that I read. My early war gaming consisted of a grid of 1 inch squares with a plastic figure in each square. You had to roll a six to hit.

Having read Donald Featherstones Battles with Model soldiers when it appeared in 1970, I started out with the American Civil War. At that time Airfix had both Union and Confederate boxes of figures on sale. Information about the war were in plentiful supply at the library. The figures were never painted or based!, the game was more important.

The first foray into metal came when I read a copy of the Airfix magazine. A company called Miniature Figurines were advertising metal figures in 25mm (??).
Infantry were 1 shilling (5 pence ) and Cavalry were 2 shillings ( 10 pence ). I think at that time I bought some Imperial Romans and Barbarians. The game was always a fight on the edge of Hadrians wall ( a company called Britain's made farmyard walling which was quite tall compared to the figures.

Anyway, I,m waffling, more to the point what do I actually like war gaming.

First: The 18th century. There were conflicts going on all over the planet from small scale skirmishes to full scale battles. The numbers involved in a large battle were between 20/50 thousand. Those in a small battle maybe 500 to a few thousand. You can pitch Europeans against Amerindians or Asian warriors. Alliance's changed at various times so that one minute the Austrians were fighting the French the next time they would be allies. Famous commanders didn't always have it their own way. In this century, the British army were auxilliaries to the Hanovarian army with the Duke of Cumberland making a fair few blunders! Even Frederick the Great lost battles simply by underestimating his opponents!!

The uniforms are straightforward to paint and nowhere as complicated as the Napoleonic wars. As a bonus one or more countries used more or less the same colours. In addition to this the Navy played a more integrated part in moving troops around. So, virtually any scenario you can think of can be played out on the table.

Number 2: The late Roman Empire. By this time in history the Western Empire was suffering. As ground was being lost to small tribes of Barbarians the amount of money in taxes was also being reduced. Emperors were fighting userpers with Roman armies fighting each other and the Barbarians. Eventually the Native tribesmen became the Roman army. As central authority broke down, petty kingdoms rose up. Even the Huns were employed by the Romans as auxiliary cavalry. So you can mix and match troop types to make up opposing forces.

3: The American Civil War. This needs no intro. Most people know about the war if not the politics. In this instance you either need infantry and guns or cavalry. Very few battles were fought with all three arms present. Most of the bigger battles were fought in the East.

The Western theatre had the smaller but more diverse armies. This theatre also created a lot of raids. Once again the uniforms are a doddle to paint, with the added bonus that most of the combatants  looked pretty tatty after a few months in the field. ( to be honest our war game armies are a lot more well dressed and tidy than their real life counterparts!!)

Even groups of Amerindians were part of the armies on both sides. Well, these are the three main eras that I have armies for, and I have the greatest and longest interest in. I have done others ;

The Thirty Years War. The English Civil War.  The Napoleonic Wars in Italy , The 14th century in Italy. The Roman Republic and Hannibalic Wars (all in various scales ) but I,ve always maintained in interest in the three listed above. Don't ask me why. I think in part it's because of the simplicity and diversity in each of the three periods. Armies do not have to be massive and the individual formations don't have to have loads of figures.

I have also had science fiction forces in 6mm and 28mm. 10mm armies of Orcs and Humans have also been part of my wargaming life.

I have never done other 19th century eras or done anything on World War 1 or 2.
Maybe because my parents and their relatives were involved. I don't know. However as a " last Hurrah!" I might go into 6mm once again mainly because of the space I have to store stuff.One is the Russo-Polish war 1917 to 1925 and/or the Franco Austrian war of 1859.

One final era that I have some figures for is the 12th century ( 28mm!!),. I'm thinking of doing some actions on Sicily at skirmish level.  We shall see. Apart from this there are a few sci- fi figures sitting in a draw waiting to see the light of day!!

Just to clarify, I use 15mm figures for the 18th century and the American Civil War, and 20mm plastics  ( with a few metal figures ) for the Late Roman Empire.

Next time I'll write some stuff about the current rule set. Oh! and some board games!