Sunday, 27 October 2013

Crook's Drift, South Africa 1879....Game Number 43

Private Henry Hook: Crook's Drift... It'd take an Kentishman to give his name to a rotten stinking middle o' nowhere hole like this.

The mission station at Crook's Drift was not designed for defence and indeed, was only used as a staging post for reinforcements to bivouac in before heading to the front. It was prudent to wait until a reasonable number of men had accumulated before setting out into enemy territory and so the occupants could consist of troops from any number of parent units. On this occasion the garrison consisted of the following troops:

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Seven officers including surgeon, commissaries and so on; Adendorff now I suppose; wounded and sick 36, fit for duty 97 from B company and with a Gatling Gun and crew from H.M.S. Gannet. Not much of an army for you.

Lieutenant John Chard had already settled the issue of command with Bromhead (his commission was dated slightly earlier, therefore he had seniority) and had issued orders for the perimeter of the mission station to fortified with spare wagons, mealie bags and anything else that could be used as a barrier. Originally he had planned to construct a redoubt in the centre but decided to use the power of the Gatling Gun to sweep the forward perimeter if needed. The small detachment out to the northwest would form a mobile reserve, to be deployed as and when needed.

The Zulus, under their fearless commander, Chief UpaNunda had adopted the classic war formation of the fighting bull buffalo. The young unmarried regiments were deployed on the hills in the west whilst the the junior married men were in the east. The white shielded veterans were under his direct command in the centre.

The initial deployment. Crook's Drift is in the centre with the Zulus occupying the high ground on three sides. A small detachment of British are on watch to the northwest. The Gatling Gun with the Naval crew under Lieutenant Chard are in the centre whilst Lieutenant Bromhead is on the right by the hospital with Colour Sergeant Bourne on the left.

Crook's Drift in more detail - note the Gatling Gun by the chapel. Lieutenant Chard took the decision to include the ramshackle native huts within the perimeter in order to break up and channel any breakthroughs the Zulus might make. Lieutenant Bromhead was scathing of the plan devised by his notional superior:

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: You mean your only plan is to stand behind a few feet of mealie bags and wait for the attack?

The apparent impertinence of his comment went unanswered as Colour Sergeant Bourne snapped to attention before both officers and calmly delivered his report: 

Colour Sergeant Bourne: The sentries report Zulus to the south west. Thousands of them.

The view from the Northwest - the British troops on the right spotted the oncoming Zulus to the south of them. They immediately fell back to the mission to take up their position before the Zulu onslaught.

Turn 1. With a rhythmic stamping of feet, a furious drumming of shields and a spine-chilling cry of 'USUTHU!' the two Zulu horns attempt to envelop the mission station whilst the veteran white shielded head under the command of Chief UpAnunda waited impassively in the foreground. Already the Martini Henry rifles are ringing out. Within the mission itself the defenders hurriedly reinforce the walls facing the Zulu onslaught - from both flanks.

Turn 2. Despite the dreadful volleys from the British rifles and with a shattering crash the Zulus hit both the east and the west wall. Bayonets, clubbed rifles, assegais and knobkerries rise and fall as men from both sides fight desperately for their lives. For the British on the west wall it is a grim struggle with quarter neither asked for nor given. Slowly the hard pressed defenders are forced back from the perimeter in the foreground. Lieutenant Bromhead leads the battered survivors deeper into the mission with the Cheering Zulus in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, the rock-steady voice of Colour Sergeant Bourne serves to put steel in the defenders of the east wall, just as the first wave of Zulus arrive:

Colour Sergeant Bourne: Look to you front, mark your target when it comes.

Turn 3. The defenders on the west wall stand fast and continue to pour volley after volley into their implacable assailants. With a triumphant battle cry the Zulus pour over the ramparts, eager to wash their spears in the blood of the retiring redcoats. Meanwhile on the east wall the defenders, although hard pressed are managing to hold their own whilst the Zulu losses continue to mount.

Turn 4 - The Climax. On the west wall Lieutenant Bromhead and the survivors fall back across the front of the Gatling Gun which promptly roars into action, cutting the next wave of Zulus down as they struggle across the ramparts. Meanwhile the other defenders continue to pour volley after punishing volley into their impotent adversaries. On the east wall Colour Sergeant Bourne pulls his men back in an orderly retirement as the Zulus pour over the barricades. Taking the situation in hand in an instant, he calls his men to order and with stentorian tones issues the order to fire. Repeatedly.

Colour Sergeant Bourne: Front rank fire! Rear rank fire, reload!

The volleys of Martini Henry rifle fire crashed out at point blank range (note the three doubles in the score!) and with the other casualties sustained the Zulus are defeated!

The action was fought using Bob Cordery's 'Itchy and Scratchy' rules and was a real treat to play. The action flowed along very nicely and the dice convention in use caused no problems whatsoever. In fact I would say that these seem to play better than the usual sets of rules I would use.

I particularly liked the effect of close range rifle fire versus troops armed with hand weapons - it was suitably lethal - especially from behind cover! Having said that, I might consider giving such troops a bonus when attacking from cover, from an ambush for example.

In the game itself the Zulus were quite unlucky with some of their dice rolls whereas the British did not seem to be able to miss although the final volley was rather spectacular!

I will leave the last words to Lieutenant Chard and Color Sergeant Bourne:

Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind.

Friday, 25 October 2013

There be MORE Pirates!....But from where?

What a treasure trove of goodies - sadly the Port had been consumed....;-)

I arrived home this evening after a long and wearying week to not one but two mysterious parcels. After having reassured SWMBO that I had not been on a buying spree I finally opened the boxes to find the contents you see above. A couple of dozen extra Pirate ships - mostly Spanish and Royal Navy - complete with all the associated cards, tokens and terrain pieces and the added bonus of no less than four forts. There was also a square gridded playing map that I had not seen before with rules to use the models on a square grid. I will get this laminated for protection purposes but the idea of using a square grid is not a new one as a certain number of SEEMS will attest to. I still have the scars to prove it - literally....;-)

Big and Spanish - with shades of Don Lardo and his despicable schemes

I have no clue as to the identity of this mysterious benefactor although my suspicions are directed to the north and with the initials of a well known Tennessee beverage in mind this should serve to illuminate the matter. I will however, extend my most sincere and grateful thanks to this doyen of gaming and of such a generous spirit - it is very much appreciated and will most certainly be put to good use!

(Please drop me a line as well - you know who you are!)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Not a Lot but more than a Little....

No boot sales, no shopping trips (except for the usual weekly food shop), no major works of gaming undertaken but it feels as though I managed to get rather a lot of minor nagging 'odds and ends' taken care of this weekend. You know, all of those 'get around to it' tasks that always seem to accumulate. I never intend to procrastinate but life sometimes has a way of forcing this on you - usually due to other assorted and pressing tasks requiring more urgent attention.

I managed to get a lot of gaming related bits and pieces put back where they belong and not over every available flat surface in man cave. Several sets of rules reappeared in their rightful places and I even managed to tackle a little painting although in retrospect this may have been a mistake as that which was undertaken will need to be corrected (WW1 1/2400th scale battle cruisers). I also got around to sorting out the block army collection - my original rather than the Command and Colours versions - and this has given me a number of ideas to go forward with.

The block armies will probably be my mainstay for the foreseeable future simply because my painting time is now so limited but I have a cunning plan around the Christmas break which is now not that far away. In our household the festive planning is overshadowed somewhat by my daughter's 18th birthday in mid December which takes a degree of priority.

All of pottering, planning and musing is small beer really but I feel better for it - so much so that I was sufficiently inspired to have set up a game to fight using the latest version of Bob Cordery's 'Itchy and Scratchy' rules. That was the real treat for me, setting up the table with the terrain and deciding which units to deploy. The report for this will feature later in the week, once I have fought it.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

There be Pirates....

This is an example of the models I have acquired - GHQ or Rod Langton they are not but they are ready to use and look great en masse!

Oh well, so much for the good intentions....;-)

I made a flying visit to the club on Wednesday to be greeted on arrival by a table groaning under the weight of a huge collection of gaming related stuff being disposed of to make way for the impending arrival of a first child. I was speechless, nay gobsmacked! Mr Fox duly made a note in his diary at this historic event....

There was a lot of good stuff on display including more 20mm WW2 tanks and figures than you could shake a very large stick at, unmade kits, board games and much more besides. A lot of the things I would have made a beeline for has already been snapped up but I came away with a copy of Rapid Fire plus seven supplements, a bag of unopened Battlefleet Gothic Ork and Chaos spaceships and a huge selection of ships from the sadly defunct Pirates of the Spanish Main collectible model game by Wizkids.

I must confess to never having played this game when it was fashionable BUT, as you have probably guessed, I have a rather cunning plan for what I will be using the 104 models that I now own. The models themselves are quite nice to look at and whilst the scales are somewhat variable they certainly look effective enough on the tabletop. They will offend the naval purist but to be honest, this is probably the only way I will ever get to game anything 'wind and water' related.

To whit....

I am thinking that there would be some mileage in using the selection of models I have for some species of a mini campaign set in South East Asia during the latter part of the 18th century. The nationalities represented are the French, the Spanish, the British, the Americans, the Chinese, the Pirates and even the Barbary Corsairs.

An example of one of the forts - rather a neat little idea methinks

I have a rather natty set of rules to use with these models and the entire project will be neolithic in its simplicity. I should point out that the idea with this is not entirely original as a similar idea formed the basis for Eric Knowles's WW1 naval campaign set in the general area.

Luckily for me the only effort I will need to expend is very much cerebral in nature - writing 'stuff' and designing maps etc. The rules I want to use can be readily adapted to hexes which in turn will make the map part so much easier to design.

Besides, I need another project to deal with don't I?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The University of Kent - Medway Campus

Yours truly contemplating the nuances of Victorian gunboat diplomacy (taken by Holly on her I Pod)

As my daughter is currently at the start of her final year of A levels we have started to look around at Universities for the degree course she wants to undertake. The first of these was visited today and so SWMBO, Holly and I left the house a little after eight o'clock this morning for the short fifty minute drive to Chatham in the Medway towns.

I got the shock of the my life when I discovered that pretty much all of the Campus occupies the buildings that once formed the Royal Naval dockyard at Chatham. In fact, the two studios that Holly would be using (she wants to take a degree in fine art) are based in the buildings overlooking both HMS Cavalier (the WW2 destroyer occupying number two dry dock  in which HMS Victory was built!) and HMS Gannet the Victorian era gunboat! At this point I cursed inwardly as I had not taken a camera with me! Prior to our arrival I should have checked the location but had resigned myself to, at best, seeing the historic naval dockyard from a distance - that is what you get for relying on a map.

Needless to say I was highly delighted by this discovery (Holly had her palm on her forehead and was shaking her head slowly and sighing audibly as her old dad 'took in the view' and immediately pondered how I could organise a game around Victorian gunboats (visions of Bob Cordery's adventures appeared at this point!).

The studios themselves (one of which was the former galvanising shed) are really 'light and airy' and so ideal for budding artists - mainly due to the huge arched windows on all sides.

After the delights of seeing all that assorted naval hardware we continued our tour and saw the small museum of the Kent Police - complete with a 'Tardis' style Police phone box - and an on site brewery so all those student raves should be well catered for....;-) There was also a workshop for artistic model making including a brand new laser cutting machine - and you can be sure my ears pricked up when this was described (visions of poor Holly slaving away cutting out buildings, walls and goodness knows what else until the early hours for her dad!).

The university library is the former drill hall which contains a small cafeteria named after one of the naval ratings killed by a German Gotha bomber raid in 1917. Adorning the walls are a number of photographs from when the Campus was a naval base although sadly I was unable to spend more time looking around. Should Holly secure a place there I will certainly have a very good excuse to look into the buildings and history in a lot more detail.

On a personal note the whole day resonated with much in the way of good feelings. To begin with, HMS Gannet was built in Sheerness dockyard - the town I was born in and grew up in so naturally I felt some kind of 'connection'. Secondly, my grandfather on my father's side (long since dead) who served in the Royal Navy from 1919 to 1945 was actually based at various times in HMS Pembroke - the name given to the shore base of the RN dockyard. I can check the dates for this as I have my grandfather's service papers.

Call it cheesy is you will but I could not help but wonder as we looked around if the ghost of my grandfather was looking down approvingly on his great-granddaughter and his grandson in the same place as he himself had spent many happy years.

It makes you wonder....

Friday, 11 October 2013

A Rather Neat and Inspiring Title

Something for the train - and possibly the weekend!

I must confess to have been considering acquiring the above title for some time and earlier this week - by virtue of eBay - managed to do just that!

I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of the content of the book mainly because it seemed to be so well laid out. You have an overview of the period, a suggested set of rules (which have 'use then with the blocks!' written all over them - as Mr. Hardman and others have pointed out), a set of army lists - useful for reference - and a number of historical scenarios spanning the era.

The rules look quite interesting and would be eminently suitable for use with the blocks as they are base driven.

Coming as this does on the back of my recent acquisition of the book on the Swiss Civil War of 1847 (Three Weeks in November by Ralph Weaver) I now have even less excuse for not attempting a game from this period of history!

In closing the pictures are top drawer and very inspiring and cover some surprising topics (the Carlist War or even the war of 1864 with Denmark anyone?). My only observation is that it would have been nice to have seen a game from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 but then that is just me!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

In the words of Marvin Gaye....

"The World Will Hear From Me Again!"

....What's goin' on...?

That is a tricky one to be sure and one with no easy answer - other than the fact that it is a VERY typical example of my somewhat haphazard approach to anything project related! This will also be very much of a mixed bag of a post due to work and real life 'stuff' stopping anything more frequent!

I fully intended tackling the cleaned up and based 42mm plastic WW2 figures this weekend but something managed to get in the way. 

A tray full of 1/2400th WW1 warships for both the Grand and High Seas Fleets.

These are based and under coated and need only some TLC to be ready for action. There is rather a lot of them to tackle in one hit so I decided to go with the battle cruisers and escorts to begin with so the Royal Navy will get HMS Tiger and a pair of Lions whilst the Germans will gain a pair of Derflingers. Both sides will also have eight destroyers to go with the light cruisers that are already finished.

I am waiting on some models from Panzerschiffe to complete this collection - especially the earlier battle cruisers for both sides - and so this little lot will suffice for the time being. I have the battleships on the stocks for both sides but and working of scaled down fleets in terms of numbers so representatives from each class (usually in pairs where able) is the order of the day - rather like the system Paul Hague used in his book Sea Battles in Miniature.

I have a couple of ideas around rules to go with these (another project existing in scribbled note form!) and so once the models are ready I hope to be trying them out.

SWMBO and I headed to a local boot sale this morning and I was able to source a couple of cheap Blu-rays - Avatar and Braveheart, and a hardback copy of Roy Adkins book Trfalgar - The Biography of a Battle. This came in at a massive 40p....

I have no immediate plans to tackle any 'wind and water' type naval actions although and such games are invariably a lot of fun and are a particular favourite of Mr Fox at the club. For me the problem is that the models take too much work to prepare properly unless one goes down the 1/2400th or even 1/4800th route. I have a couple of simple ideas though that may yield useful results - more of which later though.

It has been a busy week at work and so little else has been tackled although I have been catching up on some reading. I have finished Three Weeks in November - the title I have been raving about on the Swiss civil war of 1847 (LOTS of ideas in that one I can tell you!) but I am currently wading through the complete series of Fu Manchu stories by Sax Rohmer - something a little different to be sure but I am thinking that a cracking army for HOTTs would result....;-)