Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arrowstorm: The Attack on St. Jean

I've catapulted myself back into my Hundred Years War mania. This is my one true period of hobby sickness. I only game the period in 28mm, but I have two separate projects going-one that uses singly mounted figures, another that has multiple figures mounted on 50mm square bases. It's by far my largest collection of painted and unpainted figures. I admit it, I love the historical period, and I think there is fun stuff I can do with small actions as well as large battles. For the big battles I'll use the Crusader Rules or Medieval Warfare, though I am far from being able to play either at this time. I probably have close to 400 singly mounted figures at this time, and I do plan a few more, but I can run most skirmishy sorts of games that interest me. The rules I use are called Arrowstorm, but they are really just a knock-off of the Tactica Medieval Siege rules, with additions for this period. They're intended to be easy and fun, and by and large they are.

One of the actions that's intrigued me for some time is the battle for St. Jean in 1346. It's really just historical footnote to Edward III's Crecy campaign, but it is covered in chapter of Livingstone and Witzel's wonderful The Road to Crecy which covers the entire Crecy campaign. Their account of the sack of the suburbs of Caen on Ile St. Jean had the makings of an interesting game. The battle for these suburbs was an accident, really. The island community was the home of wealthy burghers, who persuaded the Count Eu, in command of Caen's defenses, to commit some of his forces to the defense of the town. Eu fortified the St. Pierre Bridge with barricades and towers commanded the span. He brought some 30 boats up the Odon River and filled them with Genoese crossbowmen. Despite his preparations, Eu's situation was desperate. The tidal river was low, and he was outnumbered by four to one.

The vanguard of the Edward III's army was the young Prince of Wales who, two centuries later would be known as The Black Prince. He was still a wet-behind-the-ears 16-year old who had yet to win his spurs (literally, he was knighted by his father on the eve of Crecy.) His troops were engaged in pillaging the church of St. Pierre, when their attention was drawn to the French defenses. It is quite possible that the Genoese on the boats drew the short straw when they began sniping at them. In any case English troops under the Earl of Warwick rushed to the fight on the bridge and the battle was joined. It was a difficult struggle, and the French fought well. Their end was sealed, however, when Sir Thomas Holland led a flanking force across the marshes at on the Odon and flanked the defenders at the bridge. Though aided by citizens from the town, the situation became hopeless and Eu surrendered. He and his knights were ransomed. The wealthy burghers and their possessions were not so lucky as 2,000 perished and the town was thoroughly ransacked.

I tried to create a fairly balanced scenario to refight a semblance of the St. Jean action using the figures I had available. It was an opportunity for me to paint up some figures I've had for a while-and actually get to play with them, which made it even better. Further, it was excuse to paint up my Merrimac cogs and drag out my Miniature Building Authority buildings, which I love to have an excuse for.

Those who volunteered for this mid-week game were Adrian Nelson, David Sullivan and Tim Barela. Tim and Adrian were the Prince of Wales and Earl of Warwick knocking on the door of the fortification guarding the St. Pierre Bridge and David was the clever Sir Thomas Holland trying to capture the town from the back door.

The defenders of the doomed town were Wes Rogers and his son-in-law John, commanding the town militia types, and Dave Schueler as the Count of Eu. Their mission was to hold the the bridge crossing until turn 10 when Edward III would arrive, get pissed off at his adolescent genius and order a halt to this risky venture.

The game began with Tim doing his best Thomas Erpingham impression, massing his archers to devastate one cog by Arrowstorm. Throwing his baton and thirty die rolls in the air, it came down pierced by errant shafts. Only two hits, and the archers never quite recovered their indignity. Loaded with crossbowmen and light bolt throwers, the Genoese never really stood still for the rain of arrows by the English, and after a couple of turn one of the lonbow units broke. Hampered by supply restrictions, the English began to run out of arrows, reducing their rate of fire considerably. Even so, the dice couldn't remain ridiculously bad forever, and the cogs began to suffer considerably.

On the same front, Adrian began massing his knights for an assault across the bridge. Sadly only one of the scaling ladders was tall enough to top the barbican walls. As the armored troops began to slowly move to the point of assault, Adrian's Welsh troops took a chance on being able to cross the Odon. Moving cautiously, lest his entire command be swept downstream, the lightly equipped Welsh made their way across the river at half speed. Unfortunately, the town defenders quickly slipped troops over to meet them. The Welsh quickly found themselves far away from friends and they were dispatched after a valiant defense.

David found it fairly easy going approaching the town. He maneuvered his two units of longbows from the north board edge around the town and prepared to rain longbow death on its defenders. Out gunned by the English, Wes effectively used barricades and houses to slow down the English advance. David's Breton skirmishers got a little too close and were dispatched by some townie crossbowmen. Nevertheless, when the English longbowmen were finally in place on the south edge of the town, they used their huge missile advantage to slaughter the light infantry at the barricades, as well as driving the defenders on the roof of the barbican below. Though Daveshoe and Wes's troops were able to resist Holland's efforts to capture the fortification, they could not prevent the assault across the bridge.

Adrian marched his knights across the St. Pierre bridge and made a ladder assault that was largely unopposed. When the last handful of crossbowmen were driven below, that was all she wrote. Though the English had taken their time to achieve their victory conditions, they did indeed achieve them.

Overall I was pleased with the result. It was a tight battle, with victory achieved on the tenth and last turn of the game. The English won, but not in a walk. I made some dopey mistakes too. I left the two towers that went with the barbican at home. That should make the fortification at the bridge even stronger. I would allow the French to put troops in the houses even earlier. I'd also allow them to position their light bolt shooters on the barbican rather than just the cogs. I would also allow some space between the bridge and fortification, requiring the French to use some of their barricades to contain that area of advance. I'd also allow them to put barricades on the bridge itself. Next run is at Drumbeat on the 9th.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

DANG: The Truth

DANG, or Dave's Annual Naval Game is officially enshrined on my annual gaming dance card, together with the Museum of Flight day and Enfilade. Everything else is gravy, but these are must-do's. I've written about DANG before, Dave Schueler's shindig at his home in West Seattle. This year we played Action Stations, featuring miniatures from Dave's collection and my own.

DANG has three important characteristics. The first, and maybe the most important, is a social aspect. We get to hang out at Dave's house for most of a day, share news and swap lies. This year was no different. We had some DANG veterans-Dave Creager, David Sullivan, Arthur Brooking, and myself-but we also had a pair of DANG noobs; Dale Mickel and Scott Murphy. This year I was teamed with David and Arthur, and being the vets we were, we took nothing terribly seriously, which, under the circumstances was a good idea. We were the Axis side, tasked with running supplies to the trapped German and Italian forces in Tunisia in 1943. Not a pleasant task considering the quality of some of our vessels.

Another important DANG characteristic is the planning phase. Dave gives us our mission(s) and we allot our resources to complete our various tasks. Sometimes the mission planning can be quite complex, and beyond my limited administrative abilities. This time the DANG missions were easy to plot out. Five days with three action periods per day, units required to rest after completion of a mission. I nodded my head, David Sullivan did all the work. This is also the phase of the game in which we conduct psychological warfare against our opponents. We listen in on their noisy conversations (though most of the intelligence we gather in this way is wrong!!) We loudly proclaim our propaganda, make improbable threats and generally make fools of ourselves. Most importantly its a time in which we can snack on all of the tasty treats Dave and Lynn have set up for the participants.

It's difficult being the Axis player when the world begins to go to shit. Hah-Sixth Army is trapped in Stalingrad-no biggie. I can go you one better, the Afrika Korps is surrounded in Tunisia. Our job was to save 'em with a couple of obsolete S-Boats and a slow, underarmed minesweeper with a green crew. The third phase of the game is to actually complete the missions. Some resulted in on-the-table battles, some didn't. In virtually all the battles, the gods of serendipity were on the side of the Axis.

In our first action, night of day one (all the battles were night battles,) our two R boats (minesweepers) were minding their own business sweeping mines off Port Endopincochle or something equally unpronounceable, when two big shadows showed up in the distance. Why is it that when big shadows show up in the distance we just can't seem to leave well enough alone? For whatever reason, Arthur and David decided to go check out the big shadows and discovered they were British destroyers. Destroyers don't sound like a big deal if you're used to playing 1/1200 or 1/2400 fleet actions, but in Action Stations, destroyers may as well be the Yamato. R-boats, on the the other hand, are like rafts made of Popsicle sticks mounting a slingshot and a broom and dustpan. Once the destoyers were spotted, David and Arthur did the only smart thing-they ran. Unfortunately David's boat was not quite faster than a couple of 4-inch shells, which quickly morphed him into splinters. Arthur's boat, however, drew one of the tin cans a little too close to the shore batteries, which succeeded in damaging the vessel and thoughtfully lighting him afire for the amusement of the other destroyer, which cleverly stayed out of range.

After a desultory Day 2 of searching and missing the limping the destroyer from the air, our little flotilla based in Tunis headed off for Bizerte just in time to meet up with some friends-two Fairmile D gunboats and 2 Fairmile D torpedo boats, each bristling with small boat nastiness. Our flotilla consisted of two old S-Boats recently released from training command. We paid careful attention to the one 20mm gun thoughtfully mounted facing to the rear of our boats. This time it Arthur and I each in command of an S-Boat, surrounded by barking bad guys. Somehow I managed to get my boat turned around and dodged the rain of shells of all calibers pointed in my direction. However, Arthur's tactic of having his steering damaged and destroying his enemy, and himself, by ramming, seemed to be the most effective tactic of the day. I escaped with the loss only of my radio. Whew.

The final action occurred the next night when the five S-Boat flotilla out of Port Imbecile decided to exact revenge on the game master for constantly being out-classed, out-gunned, everything but out-lucked. We decided to make those nasty Brits pay. Someplace in the Straits of Sicily, we once again encountered the Big Shadows. To our way of thinking this had to be easier than the previous nights. We'd already shot up one destroyer, how many more could they have? The answer was easy-two. Even though we were five heavily armed, torpedo lugging fools, two destroyers are a lot of destroyers. Coming on pre-plotted courses at maximum speed, the DD's were on us like stink on poop. David had two boats and I had one. We were quickly observed and taken under fire. One of David's boats was able to snap off a pair of torpedoes, wide from the mark. I could never really get a shot. Arthur's two boats were unseen, launched torpedoes and wisely retreated, but David and I were left with two destroyers on our hands. I tried to maneuver close enough to get inside his guns, and avoided much damage. On the other hand, I peppered his bridge with 40mm and 20mm rounds causing a fire, knocking out some unprotected weapons and making Dale wish his mama was nearby. David was desperately trying to avoid a rerun of the first night's entertainment, and his wish was granted when Scott's retreating DD tripped over the mis-aimed torpedoes, did a spectacular pirouette and disappeared beneath the Med. Gack!

While all this fun stuff was going on, we Axis players were able to do the routine things as well. Our silly airforce was able to keep the Allied silly airforce from bombing us into oblivion. We completed an important intelligence related mission involving, cloak and dagger, a U-Boat and the Ark of the Covenant. We also managed to sneak a convoy into Tunis without loss and resupplied the entire Italian army with condoms. Not quite sure of the effect of this on the campaign but Dave declared the Axis the winners. So, I was on the winning side for the first time in four years.

At top we have a picture of an S-Boat-a much better armed S-Boat than most of my commands. Below that is a Fairmile D class Motor Gunboat. It's a great picture, starting with the bow shot of a nasty 2 pdr autocannon, and getting worse as it works its way astern. The last shot is actual footage of Scott Murphy's destroyer as it does the torpedo dance. It was a very brief video.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas-Woo Hoo!

I never complain about the goodies Santa brings me for Christmas. Usually it's a nice mix of practical and fun. Fun usually means books I want or movies on DVD. It usually doesn't include gaming stuff. Let's face it, ordering miniatures usually means navigating an online store with plenty of ranges and lots of stock codes and yikes. Even Santa could get lost.

Sometimes, however, Santa and his elves are industrious and/or extremely creative and make it a little more possible to do some gaming stuff. This year I didn't get any practical stuff-who'da thunk it? Movies galore. A couple of great books-John Keegan's new American Civil War history, and Jonathan Sumption's third volume of The Hundred Years War; Divided Houses. Yippee!!! Even cooler than that, my Keegan book held a gift certificate from the Warstore. For those of you who don't know the Warstore, that's where Perry Miniatures go to live after they make their long sailing trip across the Atlantic. In addition to this good stuff, folks thoughtfully gave me cash. You see where this is going. In any case, my family made my Christmas very merry and I am busily counting the possibilities.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Arrowstorm: A Social History of English Military Bowmen

When I saw this available through Amazon,s I decided I "needed" it. I believe there is a great lack of clarity about the practice and effectiveness of longbowmen during the Hundred Years War. Was the longbow a death dealer to armored and unarmored foes alike? Or did the longbow simply slaughter the unarmored and inflict a certain misery on armored knights. The rain of arrows disordered their dense formations, perhaps knocking some off their feet and providing an opportunity the nimble archers to attack the blind and disordered knights from their flanks, virtually unable to protect themselves, let alone fight back.

The author, Richard Wadge, is an archer, but goes beyond his own experiences to provide a social history of the medieval longbowman. Interesting stuff. I've only begun reading the book, so I'll report back.

A couple of interesting events on the painting front. Last night I finished all of the thirty crossbowmen for my St. Jean scenario. I plan to run this game at Game Matrix on Tuesday December 29th. It leaves me 15 bowmen I need to finish.

Recently I've noticed my eyes tiring after about an hour. Things just sort of blur and I can't get much more done. I tried using reading glasses last night-I borrowed them from Lorri. They were a bit strong-1.5 magnification, but it really did make a difference. I'm thinking 1.15-1.25 magnification would probably work fine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Year's End in Sight

I've been working on a bunch of HYW figures for my Enfilade project on St. Jean. I've fiddled with rules and scenario design, but it's the figures I really need to get done.

I finished 20 Welsh spearmen. They still need to be based, but their spears a pretty long and I haven't quite figured out how to store them. I'm nearly done with 30 Genoese crossbowmen. These will defend two cogs in the middle of the Odon River as well as the fortification defending the bridge over the Odon. I need another 15 longbowmen to fill out my pile of bowmen to over 100. I need a hundred for the scenario. I've barely started these guys. I also need some peasant rock chuckers to torture the English invaders. Yes, just some nutty stuff to maker their life more difficult. In all there are 75 figures needed to finish this scenario. I've painted 26 with another 24 close.

It hasn't been a brilliant painting year. I'll probably finish with about 450 for the year. Not a lot, but the good news is I haven't invested in a lot of new stuff. Okay, some. I invested fairly heavily in the Lewis and Clark project. But, the really great news is that each and every figure I purchased is painted.

I also bought some additional 15mm figures for the Spanish Civil War. I painted a lot of the figures I already have, but I have a couple more Peter Pig militia units to work on as well as some 15mm Italians. Four units in all, plus a couple of 65mm infantry guns that will supplement the Spanish Foreign Legion and Moroccans. I'll work on the SCW figures right after HYW guys are done. I'd like to add some more units too. Peter Pig figs, and maybe some QRF stuff sound about right.

I want to add on to my multi-figure based Hundred Years War project. I have plenty of French and English to paint. I'd like to add another 48 figure dismounted knight unit. Lots of Old Glory figures for this. I also have pavisiers, crossbowmen and mounted knights and squires to work on. In the figures to buy department, I'm out of OG longbowmen from the Crecy and Poitiers range, so a couple more bags are in order.

I'd also like to paint up a lot of my AWI pile. I have some pretty big units remaining to be finished. For the Brits I have some twenty four figures of the 23rd Regiment, as well as the twenty figure 64th Regiment. After that it's the thirty-two figure Von Bose Regiment, and twenty four figures of the 71st Regiment (Fraser's Highlanders.) I would love to get all these units painted in the next calendar year, plus some smaller British/Loyalist units. On the American side I have plenty to paint too. In my diminishing Perry pile I have the 2nd Maryland, thirty-two figures worth. I also have the figures for the 1st Virginia, which is 40 figures strong. I'd like to add a few more units--the 2nd Virginia, also 40 figures and two more little North Carolina infantry. If I paint what I have, just adding the Virginians, I would be able to do Eutaw Springs and Hobkirk's Hill.

The one purchase I've yet to do anything with is my big pile of Victrix figures. I bought over 200 British Napoleonics for the War of 1812, and I feel considerable guilt over my lack of progress on them. I hope to get at least one unit of these boys done--maybe this summer.