Sunday, April 23, 2006

Goodbye to a Good Friend

Kelly Jones passed away yesterday.

Kelly was a fairly rare person in our hobby. I say this not to slight anyone in particular or the hobby in general. He was a character. Very loud, in a fun way, Kelly mastered the pirate Arrrrggghhh!, and made it appropriate for any gaming period or genre. His loud voice, big laugh, round belly and honest blue eyes were his hallmarks. Kelly was also incredibly generous with his time. He had a kind word for everyone, especially newcomers and young gamers. He was patient and understanding. Kelly was a much better person than I.

I have so many fond memories of Kelly. He came to some of our early Enfilades as a dealer. We loved dealers, so his company, Vauban Enterprises, was quite a catch. Later we played games together—Steve Knight’s uproarious Saxon Shore games were always an outrageous screaming match with Kelly’s internal Bose system on full volume. Never a great air–racer, Kelly would regularly manage to augur his racer into the ground, but entertained all of us as he was doing so. Saturday nights with the Canadians-we could have given this name to a sitcom-were always fun, usually in Kelly’s room, once including Arte Conliffe, which was sort of a surreal experience. So many great stories were told over so much beer . . .

Perhaps my favorite memories of Kelly is seeing him with my sons, Pat and Casey and Enfilade. Pat attended only one convention, and his most memorable experience is playing a game with Kelly, who didn’t treat him like a kid. Of course, on Sunday morning Kelly, nursing a monstrous hangover, reminded Patrick that his parents had sex, which pretty much ruined most of my son’s adolescence. He spent considerably more time with my younger son Casey, a more sensitive sort. Kelly played games with Casey at convention time, always asked about him, and Casey considered Kelly his friend too.

So, I take this moment to say good-bye to my friend. I knew him only as a gamer. We never discussed family, but I am sure he was a wonderful son, a devoted husband and father, and my heart goes out to his family. I will miss him dearly.

I’ve posted the only picture I have of Kelly, and it is truly wretched.

More Than Agincourt Part 2: A Historical Snapshot

The Hundred Years War is actually a bit longer than a century in length, and its causes are rooted in power (aren’t all conflicts?) The English King as a holder of certain territories in Gascony was a vassal of the French king. Edward the III upon his accession to the Crown refused to give homage to the French king, which Edward knew would lead to war in his French territories. Constantly short of funds, he sought allies in Flanders. The French, meanwhile built a fleet and hired additional galleys from Genoa in preparation to an invasion of England. The first great battle in 1340, was a disaster for the French, was fought at the Flemish port of Sluys. Basically a land battle at sea, the French lost their fleet and a great many men to English longbows.

Despite several abortive campaigns, Edward finally assembled his first land expedition north of Bordeaux in 1346. Landing in Normandy, he marched his army through villages familiar to Americans that would land there nearly 600 years later. In a pattern that would remain familiar throughout much of the HYW, the French King Philip VI, assembled an army and pursued Edward through Normandy into Ponthieu and met disaster at Crecy. Edward followed up his victory with the capture of Calais and insured a permanent military base near the heart of France throughout this conflict.

In 1348 the combatants were visited by the first wave of the Black Plague, disrupting campaigning, trade, economies and societies for years to come. Conflict remained low-level due to a lack of money and manpower until 1356, when Edward’s son, the Prince of Wales, also known as The Black Prince led a Chevauchee, an expedition devoted to accumulating loot and inflicting considerable discomfort to local inhabitants in the Loire valley north of Bordeaux. King Jean le Bon led an army south to destroy the Prince and his army, and the two forces met near the Foret de Noailles. Though the battle was hard fought, the French were defeated and King Jean was captured.

The capture of the French king and his nobles, and their crushing ransom drove the French to ask for a series of truces that left France in relative peace, though beset by political turmoil at home. It also left England in nominal control of Normandy, and enlarged Biscay possessions. The Treaty of Bretigny, in 1361, was a disaster for France and ended the first stage of the Hundred Years War.

The second stage of the conflict found both of the combatants faced with innumerable challenges and dynastic struggle. However, the premature death of the Prince of Wales, Edward III’s long slide into dotage, and the cost of sustaining a continuing campaign in France, restrained the English war effort. In 1364 a more capable monarch, Charles V, ascended the French throne. Together with his constable, the incomparable Betrand du Guesclin, Charles set about reducing the strife within his kingdom, and succeeded in winning back many of the French gains in the Angevin territories as well as much of much of the northern lands, except Calais.

By 1380 however, both nations were exhausted, ruled by young kings. Richard II became king in 1377 on the death of his grandfather Edward III. England, impoverished by years of war was immersed in the Peasant’s Revolt. Guided by poor advice, Richard was deposed by the Henry of Lancaster (Henry IV) in 1399, and England plunged into a decade of civil war and a stubborn revolt by the neighboring Welsh. France, likewise was ruled by a youth, Charles VI, for many years. Charles exhibited many signs of mental illness, and his chaotic rule plunged the country into civil war.

Succeeding his father in 1413, Henry V demanded the crown of France and led his army into France capturing Harfleur and inflicting the disastrous defeat of Agincourt on the French army. Henry showed a genius for siege warfare that his English predecessors lacked, captured and occupied both Rouen and Paris and forced a treaty on the French in 1420 that recognized his future heirs as king of France and England, and in the bargain married Katherine, the daughter of the Charles VI. Henry’s death in 1422, left his infant son under the tutelage of his mother and various advisors

The waning years of the Hundred Years War finds calamities innumerable visited on the English. The uncles that form the regency for Henry VI quarrel and the English effort in France withered due to lack of royal direction. The English besieged Orleans in 1328-29 and were defeated largely through the inspired leadership of Joan of Arc. Joan also energized the resistance to English rule, and led a successful cavalry charge on longbowmen that won the battle of Patay. Joan’s successes allowed the Dauphin, or king in waiting, disinherited by the Treaty of Troyes to enter Rheims and enjoy his coronation as Charles VII.

Though Joan was betrayed to the English and burned in 1430, her spirit energized French resistance to English occupation. Though the English, led by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, remained victorious on the battlefield, the French adopted the successful strategies of du Guesclin, avoiding battle when possible, capturing towns from an English occupier constantly short of resources. In 1445 the French established the Compagnies d’Ordannance, professionalizing their army, and centralizing its direction. The artillery was also organized under the pioneering gunners, Jean and Gaspard Bureau. Bureau’s innovations made artillery more practical in defense, to a besieger and on the battlefield.

In 1450 an English army under Kyriell was attacked and defeated by a French army featuring two light culverins which disrupted the archers, and were ridden down by flanking French cavalry. In 1453, at the siege of Castillon, Talbot was killed rallying his troops in an attack on entrenched artillery. The subsequent defeat of this force sealed the fate of Bordeaux and British possessions in France were reduced to their fortress at Calais. The Hundred Years War was over.

The war raised France to a newly modern power, nationalized and ready to assume leadership on the continent. Henry VI, remained a weak king, beset with the burden of the loss of England’s historic French possessions. Like the boy-king before him, Richard II, Henry’s failure of leadership led to nearly fifty years of civil war during the War of the Roses.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More Than Agincourt: Part 1

More than Agincourt: Part 1

I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V last night. Every time I watch the Crispin’s Day address I’m always urged to paint more figures—you know the one:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”


“Men abed this day shall think themselves accursed upon St. Crispin’s Day!!”

Together with John Keegan’s account of Agincourt in his seminal The Face of Battle, I’ve felt myself propelled toward gaming the Hundred Years War. Agincourt is the battle we usually think of as the critical moment of the HYW, much as we do Waterloo in the Napoleonic era and Gettysburg in the American Civil War. Just as wrongly, of course.

We often remember Agincourt like the Alamo. The good guys (the English) are sick, outnumbered and about to be overwhelmed by hordes of armored Frenchmen. Agincourt, however, has a happier ending with the bad guys (the French) floundering through a morass while arrows rain down in torrents.

The Hundred Years War, fought from 1339-1453 is, of course, much more than Agincourt. It’s even more than the three great English victories-Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, and the intervention of Joan, the Maid of Orleans. Yet, we are often fixed with the image of armored French knights turned into pincushions, followed by lightly armed archers whacking them upside the head with a mallet. We usually also forget that the French are kind of the good guys, fighting to drive off the English invaders, and eventually they won that war—the three great victories notwithstanding. In fact almost everything we’ve come to accept about Hundred Years War is wrong according to the continuing thorough and inquisitive research that continues to publish very interesting writing about this conflict—including the best known battles. I'll follow this writing with several entries regarding the Hundred Years War: 1) The history, focused more on resources than the play by play, 2) the miniatures and rules available, 3) some of the scenarios I’ve hosted over the past couple of years.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Camerone Redux

Back in the old days, when there was a miniatures manufacturer called Wargames Foundry, with fairly priced minis from hard to find ranges, I bought a bunch of figures from their Maxmillian Adventure range. They’re a bit small by today’s 28mm standard, but still very nice. My goal was to re-enact Camerone, the classic fight to the last man battle at Hacienda Trinidad, in which 45 or so French Foreign legionnaires fought 1,800 or so Juarista militia and regulars.

This battle has held a hallowed place in our local gaming lore. Dave Demick and I have been friends for going on thirty years or so, and we have occasionally held Camerone Day celebrations. We typically do this by adopting one of our homes for the day, chasing our wives out of the house by cooking lamb, and eating and drinking copiously. We typically throw a game or two in the works. Only once have we done a Camerone refight, which I took to Enfilade in 1999. I wasn’t happy with the game however, though, and my figures have largely languished in their boxes.

I was yakking with Dennis Trout at the NHMGS auction in February, however, and he talked about his Maxmillian stuff. We made plans to discuss it further, and Tuesday night we did. At Bruce Meyer’s house for an always fun Arc of Fire game, we discussed our resources, and agreed that Camerone was doable. We also discussed rules. I mentioned The Sword and the Flame expansion for this period, and Dennis was agreeable.

This week Dennis sent me a couple of ideas from Free Wargames Rules There were a couple of sets of rules for Camerone. One is by Mark Hannam, and appeared in The Gauntlet They are interesting but seem a bit clunky. A second set of rules by Howard Whitehouse also appear from a 1999 issue of The Heliograph. These rules have the virtue of being simple, but colorful, and should provide some entertainment. If we like these, I may even try to talk Dennis into running the game at Enfilade.

The game is on the 29th, and I’ll post some pictures from the game.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

April DBA at Game Matrix

The first Saturday of each month is DBA day at Game Matrix in Tacoma. I know what you’re thinking : DBA phooey! For many years I felt the same, but my feelings about the game have come full circle. I like the short games. Forty minutes per bout, means I can squeeze about five into an afternoon with plenty of time left over for shopping or schmoozing. I also like the little armies. It keeps my hands in with ancients, and has allowed me to build about 25 different armies. Probably my most favorite aspect of DBA, however, is the guys I play with. They are great, have knowledge of the game, and patient, good sports.

This month I had a new army, I/18 Minoan and Early Mycenaean. It is a chariot army matched with some pike armed elements. I built it primarily to fight my Hittite Empire army. It is an interesting match-up because the pikes are formidable, but fighting in depth, they shorten my front leaving it vulnerable to overlapping. They also have three stands of psiloi and one of auxiliaries which require some skillful use in order to draw off some bad guy elements.

My first game was against Andy Hooper. Andy is a great guy, a DBA scholar who knows the rules inside and out. He’s also a great teacher of the game. Sadly my brain is too much like a sieve to remember all he tells me. Andy took my Hittites and I ran the Minoans. I took most of the psiloi and the aux unit to the right in an effort to draw off some of his troops, while all my chariotry and pikes advanced in the middle. Though I eventually lost two of three light units, I was able to push through the middle and defeat the Hittites 4-3.

My second and third games were against Craig Steed. Craig had a new Slavic army which, sadly, I could not match up with. He, however, had a Magyar army, mostly light horse with some cav and spears to match up with the Slavs who were mostly aux. As usual, I was the attacker, and foolishly didn’t ask for clarification of the busy terrain on the board. There was a river and some hills, and I decided to send some light horse down the far side of the river, because there wasn’t much room to maneuver on the board. Things started well. I got good pip dice, and running cavalry down both board edges, Craig had to make some decisions. Looking to force the river, I drew a unit or so to me, but made an attack with my light horse on a unit on the hill. I didn’t realize it was a steep hill, however so I died in the bad going. My center advanced on his center, and things were going well. I had the advantage with troops and the overlap too. I just couldn’t win on the battlefield. Craig rolled well enough not to lose elements, and tied 3-3, my general was killed on a bad die roll. Slavs win 4G-3

My last game was also against Craig, Minoans vs. his Hittites. This was a DBA nightmare. I averaged a die roll of 1.5 for pips and combat. When that happens the game is short. I shot my lights out on the flank as I hoped, but could never move them again as the pip dice became so microscopic. Needless to say, the Hittites quickly gobbled them up and I was down 2-0. I advanced in the center, and was able to contact. Craig rolled well enough to not be slaughtered by my pikes, while my chariots rolled ones and ones, and ones. Minoans lose 4-2.

Only three games, but I did some shopping and visiting and that was fun. I have another army finished—Neo-Hittites and Aramaean I/31a. I hope to get a start on their opponent, Later Hebrews, I/34b soon.