Tuesday 26 June 2018

Wild Geese 2018 Meeting at Kenilworth: yet another report.......

Hopefully this will hit the ether before you are too satiated by other accounts to care! The third gathering of mostly old wargaming fogies like me took place from 22-24th June 2018 at the splendid Chesford Grange Hotel and Spa near Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK. Well chosen at the heart of England (sorry Scotsmen!) and blessed by the sort of weather in which my wife would rather have had me gardening, so a lucky escape :-).
Ken Marshall had organised a very challenging SYW Imagi-Nations game for us in my little Cotswold retreat the Friday evening beforehand and so we were able to make an early start on Saturday morning and do the 1.5 hour run to Kenilworth by 0900.
Setting up at the start of WGWG18
Saturday Morning - 18th Century Imagi-nations
After setting up my painting stall I was a bit tardy from the starting blocks and so, Tony Dillon, remembering he owed me for his participation in the West Country Quatre Bras (2nd day's play report in process) graciously gave me his best troops in Willz Harley's fantastically nostalgic Spencer Smith Miniatures 18th Century Imagi-Nations game. I can't praise these armies too highly. Will has brought painting the simple SS figures to a peak of beauty I could never have imagined when I had my armies as a teenager. Sadly my photos don't do them justice so look around the blogosphere for more pics of them.
From left: Tony, Alan, Willz, Steve and Martin
The game itself was a bit odd for me since I wasn't in at the very start and inherited a right flank consisting of two units of Cuirassiers du Roi and a battalion of Grenadiers du Roi with orders from Tony that said "Not attacking is not an option". Hmmm, OK give it a go, that's what Cuirassiers are for..........But the opposition was the canny Martin Gane with three or four battalions mostly lining hedges, with back-up from a regiment of Hussars.
My Cuirassiers and Grenadiers
The opposition
Enemy commander in the centre
Artillery support on our side
My 16 Cuirassiers ended up with only 2 figures left after the charge and the melee! I decided to retreat to a better position with the other cavalry unit, and the Grenadiers, who had advanced, now had no flank cover and pulled back to a building for safety. Or so I thought. They'd suffered losses from cannon fire and rolled pathetic dice for their own musketry as Martin closed in for the kill. My Grenadiers went down almost to a man in the bloody melee - it felt really "old school" along with the figures.  And then all of sudden Alan Perry and Steve Pearse were shaking hands with us and declaring it a good game as apparently Alan and Tony had conceded to our Prussian-style opponents once they realised my collapsing flank was mirroring their own failures!
Discretion is the better part of valour for my remaining Cuirassiers
Alan enjoys Tony's sense of humour (don't we all?)
A life in the fashion industry obviously informs Martin's camera friendly
 disposition :-)
Cavalry on the Alan-Steve front
Near the end game on my flank
The rules used were the one-side of A4 SYW rules by Der Alte Fritz, and since Jim Purky himself was in the room Willz occasionally asked for interpretation. Fair to say, through ignorance, our game was a bit of an experiment for Willz and all of us and, after each subsequent game, when I spoke to him he was ever more confident he'd cracked it - Well done and thanks Willz for bringing everything all the way up from the far south of Devon.

The final positions: remaining grenadiers break from the building and the opposition infantry merely retreat
Saturday Afternoon - Great Northern War
Straight after lunch it was on to the Great Northern War. I was determined to play in one of Paul Robinson's big games this year as I had missed out both the previous two years by giving priority to Colin's SYW games, which is my favoured period. One is always spoiled for choice at these events - Four great games and only time slots for three. However, to me, Paul is one of the gurus of our hobby who runs one of the best clubs in the UK, at Grimsby, and seems to have developed a knack of managing his time to fit in working for a living, regular gaming, building up armies, developing his own rules and generously supporting blogs like my humble effort with his thoughts. So a real privilege for me, and I wanted to see how he masterminds a game with 6 players and 1000+ figures in just 2.5 hours.

Paul gives us the situation briefing. From left Graham, Martin, Michael and Paul. My force is in the foreground
The answer is a combination of:
- Designing your own rules so you know them back to front without reference to notes
- Practising your game so you can bring in nuances and objectives you know will work in the time
- Not burdening the players with even a Quick Ref Sheet but giving them a quick verbal briefing on the essential points at the start and then being prepared to help them through all situations all over the table (exhausting!!!)
- Slick rules mechanisms - but the clever bit is that you get meaningful results quickly but not necessarily at the expense of units collapsing straight away. In this case situational pros and cons worked through a sliding scale of dice used - D6, D8, D10 and D12. I don't normally like this, believing that two different dice are enough in any game, however with Paul guiding everyone, and using his complete knowledge we didn't have to think much about mechanisms, just the tactics. This was what he told me was his aim at the start, and it was achieved.
Doug contemplates the Swedish defence of the town
Cavalry move forward in the centre
My infantry approach Michael's Russian line
Extreme right flank - the first of many clashes......
....and facing up for another nearer the centre
I commanded the Swedish right flank infantry and my job was to keep the Russian infantry wing at bay while I slowly wheeled the 8 piece supply column up a road at 6 inches a Turn. Gavin Winspear commanded our centre cavalry force but he had a difficult job holding off an equally strong corps of Russian cavalry. Way over on our left it appeared to me that Douglas Thomson had a frustrating task organising allied cossacks and Swedish infantry and some artillery to defend a river and marsh which protected the town, which was the safe haven destination for my wagon train supply column and had to remain open. Our Russian opponents were Graham Cummings opposite the town, Martin Gane in the centre and Michael Perry facing me with the bulk of the Russian Infantry.

Swedish cavalry near the river
Swedish cavalry always seemed to be outnumbered
Facing up across that beautifully modelled marsh
Our success partially depended on these hairy fellows in the town
 Paul told us that Swedish tactics were to attack and get stuck in with the pike and bayonet while Russian infantry favoured firing over close action.  So I knew if I just waited that the Russians would get into musket range and just stand off to shoot me down. Since I had to face the bullets sometime it made sense to advance, keeping the Russians  back as long as possible and try to get the wagons along the road behind me.  It did not prove an easy job as Michael always had fire at me before combat and sometimes twice, but the Swedish units were bigger than the Russians and could take more pain. My first attacks achieved "draws" which was not good enough and I had to pull back. However, in many cases Michael rolled poor morale for his own losses and withdrew disordered, blocking his second line.
My infantry get to grips with Michael's and neither of us came away intact......
.....Leaving the Russians more than a little worried as I make some room to spare two regiments to march off after the wagons and bring up reinforcements 
 I brought up reinforcements and eventually tried again, he also brought some rear units forward and the fortunes see-sawed but the best bit was that Michael made no real geographical gains and the wagon train got as far as where the cavalry were battling in the centre. Gavin was having a tough time as the Russians had sprung an ambush with more light cavalry from a central wood. So I was frustrated to find that the poor chap had disordered cavalry trying to reform where they blocked the road and halted my wagon train! A game with built in jeopardy - would my infantry sacrifice be all in vain?
A general view around the middle of our battle. See those cavalry blocking the road?
Russian cavalry take flight......
.....but the Swedish cavalry have to reform, and the wagon train comes to a halt!
Michael has reformed and managed to make his
 infantry line look formidable again
Winged Hussars were much in evidence, sadly I only got one useable photo
Beyond Gavin it was hard for me to make out how Doug was doing but the road seemed to still be open. Graham's Russian infantry were ominously crossing the beautifully modelled marsh towards the town.
Russians cross the marsh and attack
Doug makes a solid defence
Time for another surge on my flank. Gavin had made the sensible suggestion that I kept some infantry with the wagons in case he could not cope, so with what I had left I made one coherent line and counter attacked again. Rather to my surprise the Russian units had become less resolute than I thought  - a couple collapsed under my pressure and routed even though I lost many, many stands myself in the process (I could not bring myself to take a photo of all the "dead" piled up on my baseline!). But the best was yet to come........
The cavalry clash again in the centre and at last frees up the road for
 my wagon train
More Russian cavalry head rearwards
Round a wood I was able to bring a fresh regiment in line but it faced three lines of Russians. I weathered the incoming fire, slammed the pikes and bayonets in, and routed the first unit. I was entitled to an automatic follow up and the Russians were denied pre-combat fire this time. The next unit routed but Paul, sensing my excitement said, "sorry, you are only allowed the one extra pursuit in a Turn". Time to wait and see.  The next unit was massive, about 40-50 figures all with muskets  levelled at my men. I attacked and they fired, but it turned out they were crap troops with old technology weapons and I only lost a few more figures without too much effect on my morale. Despite their size, Michael's dice determined that they broke up and routed too.  I said to him "I've never  in my wargaming life had the opportunity to do that to a Legend!" and he, rather reeling from his poor dice rolling said "I've never had a reverse quite like that either".
Two Russians had routed now this big one to deal with.......
.........who make a rapid exit.......
.....and even a wargaming Legend can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear
Sadly we reviewed this flank and where, two moves before there had seemed a strong Russian presence, now it was very sparsely populated.

Looking to my left Gavin had rallied and counter attacked and the Russian cavalry in the centre was diminishing in front of him. My wagons could get past him and on towards the town, where, despite the pressure and difficulties facing his irregular troops, Doug was holding out.
More or less the final situation
Paul said he felt the Swedish wagon train would make it and the Russians were not strong enough, where it mattered, to stop them. Good natured hand shakes all round and, thinking he had been deliberately slow to press me, I said to Michael "Thank you for being so generous to me" and he replied "I wasn't being generous, I was just unlucky!" Ah well, that's wargaming for you!

Thank you Paul for a great game and an education in how it's done.

Saturday Evening 
Well, it seems it's now becoming traditional to sit in a big circle in the sunshine of the hotel garden drinking beer, followed by an evening meal, and then more socialising as a big group on the hotel terrace till very late into the evening. I got to know a few new people, caught up with some who by now seemed old friends (though before 2014 I knew no one in this gathering) and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. I anticipated Sunday would bring "something completely different" in the form of the Zulu game, and hope that Gary did not assume my Boddington's-induced hangover was any reflection on his umpiring style!
Gary checks the rule book, but very rarely needed to do so
Sunday Morning - Zulu War
I'm joking of course because this was to be a highlight for me. Gary Phillips is another under estimated wargaming power house who organises mega games with his very active club mates in Norfolk and I have admired his efficient style close up at the two previous Kenilworth events. I was really looking forward to his game and was not to be disappointed. Gary was very well organised and worked out a super 1879 Zulu War scenario using the "Men Who Would Be Kings" rule set. Martin (again) together with Des Darkin and Steve Metheringham and me were each commanders of a group of British or allied companies together tasked with burning a Zulu kraal and then getting away safely (in fact we had to get 6 out of the 12 units off the table). Gary supervised the random Zulu appearances using the "Mr Babbage" mechanisms in the rule book and Tony Dillon was his highly amusing dogsbody handling the bands of not-always-so-ferocious Zulus accompanied by chanting and shield bashing sound effects.

Steve, Des and Martin

Tony psychs himself up before adopting the frenzied Zulu war chant pose
Players rolled for each unit to see their command value and any officer traits. I had two companies of British Foot and a company of Royal Engineers. One company commander was gung ho and would attack anyone within charge range. The engineer commander managed to boost his command value to a brilliant +4. Major Coates, in charge of my companies, was a poor +7 but I ended up having to use this a lot to stop his subordinate inappropriately attacking fierce Zulu spearmen. Like Paul had done Gary gave us a short briefing on what rules we needed to know and with Martin as C-in-C  we were off.
Some of the beautifully painted troops we were able to use
Martin suggested I use my Engineers as far forward as possible (the entrance to the kraal) closely covered by my Foot companies. We were tasked with burning all three huts. He sent the cavalry up the right flank to burn a far distant hut supported by the gun with its sailor escort. The rest were to give fire and moral support on each flank. A great plan but likely to be confounded by the fact that every time a unit moved or set fire to a hut dice rolls usually generated enemy in random situations.

General view of our opening dispositions
Because of the latter point it's almost impossible to put together a coherent account of the game but the role played  by my lads was of course pivotal to the outcome. The Engineers rushed forward and set fire to the first hut (which represented about a dozen I'm told) and the other companies followed but were effectively held up by the sudden appearances of natives on all sides.
Infantry now inside the kraal support the cavalry under pressure
My engineers about to burn the first hut. Steve's cavalry head to the far hut......
......Fight hard and burn it then get hit on the way back
 Major Coates worked overtime trying to get his over enthusiastic company commander to concentrate on burning huts and keeping the heads down of Zulu warriors by fire. More distraction elsewhere meant I could only rely on sporadic support from my commander (Yes Martin I know you were doing your best).  Eventually the Engineers had to finish the job themselves by delivering a crushing fire followed up by rushing the next batch of huts to burn them. Meanwhile Steve's cavalry, with the artillery support, had fought off constant attack and burned the far hut so with all of them burning our force could retreat, Job Done.......
Engineers burn the third hut after the Zulus had been pinned by rifle fire
.........But not so fast, as every movement, even retreat, generated the chance of more natives to block our path. The engineers did this by chance, producing a fierce company of charging headring warriors in the midst of our lines. Fire came in from all sides and the feathered heroes all died, but that meant no fire support this turn for Major Coates who was still trying to retreat Nr 2 company from the kraal. I thought I was going to get away with a clean sheet (as was done historically according to Gary) but about 6 or 7 figures were lost to the spears out of the 12 in Nr 2 company before they got clear. My Engineers and Nr 1 company had no casualties.  The Zulus had been on  a "recycling" rota depending on how badly they had been damaged and now they only had 3 units left (all pinned) with no more in the pipeline. We had 6 units within one or two turns of the table edge and no enemy to block us, so Gary called it a British victory. And a jolly good show too, Sir!
General view of our retreat near the end. All the remaining Zulu units are now pinned
Heroes of the day - the engineers retreat without having lost a man
2nd Company reduced to 5 figures beats a hasty retreat. In the foreground 1st
company in open order can fire 360 degrees and so succeeds in holding off
 the last Zulu threat
As these days I tend mostly to have been fighting big Horse and Musket period games this one ticked many boxes for me of why a weekend away from home can be such a delight with the opportunity to do something different. I'm even more in awe of Gary, who never flagged in his skilled running of events, and apart from a coffee break which we all needed, there was constant action and excitement with each turn bringing mixtures of hilarity, surprise, anguish and always (for my role at least) plenty of mind tangling decisions. The TMWWBK Rules worked very well and all credit to Gary for the beautifully created units and the scenario to fit. I've got the book, and a bag of Zulus deep in a drawer which need painting.  So this work-out was all I need to give me inspiration for a delve back into the Zulu War which I had not done since the "post Zulu movie" era of the mid 1960s when all you could get was converted Airfix Tarzan or Indian natives as Zulus and converted ACW infantry as British. So thank you Gary, it meant more to me than you probably realised.

Wrap up
And so now it was time for Sunday Lunch, awarding of prizes (I got one but modesty forbids me saying what for) and a final catch up before things wound down for a group photo and watching England in the World Cup for those who could not wait for the TV highlights programme. I also got some presents from Will Harley and a souvenir mug from Colin, so quite a nice haul....and I also sold a few paintings to existing clients who I'd like to think are now "fans":-). Another bonus was to see a mock up of Stuart Insch's forthcoming book on the 1759 Sugar Islands Campaign in which I have two full-page illustrations. Stuart expects it to be published soon and be sensibly priced, so a must-have for anyone who likes small scale actions in exotic locations (and I don't mean Madame DuCharmey's bodice!). More info in due course.
Above and below: - my painting display 

My haul: A beautiful Central American hardwood pen/brush holder donated as a prize by the talented Will Harley, and he also gave me the l8th century officer and the red and white Hussarette (inspired by my Giselle). Colin financed a mug for everyone using the logo I put together specially for the occasion. All brilliant!
Another great weekend with the dates provisionally booked for "same time next year". Colin Ashton organised this wonderful gathering and we are all terribly grateful to him for volunteering to do the same for the next one.

Talking of Colin I can't finish this without saying that he put on a splendid looking late 17th Century game with bands of cavalrymen gathering mistresses along the way to compete against each other - Versailles: The Wargame.  It's a period I know nothing about but it looked great with lots of humorous vignettes, and justly won the prize for "Best Looking Game".  Here are some photos:

Guy, Ken and Colin about to start a game of Versailles: The Wargame

Above: Colin had gone to a lot of trouble with vignettes and special terrain
features such as vineyards

Tony Dillon has put together a nice video tour  of the event including short interviews with inter alia
Willz, Jim Purky, Colin, and Michael Perry, as well as a sequence with me listening intently to Gary's pre-game briefing, what more could you ask for ? :-)