Dabbling in Scenery

I have wanted to spice up my wargames table for quite a while now, and buildings are an excellent way to do it.

I also have almost completed my Saxon and Romano-British armies for Dux Britannium, so it seemed logical to start building some terrain for the Age of Arthur.

Dux Britannium comes with six raiding scenarios, which involve a variety of buildings, including churches, villages and farmsteads, but what really caught my fancy was the watchtower. I suppose that’s because nothing says “Declining Roman Glory” like a rusty old watchtower standing guard over a collapsing domain.

So I did a bit of googling to get some ideas about how to scratchbuild a late Roman watchtower. I found this beautiful item on a forum, built by “duhamel”. I love the fence and the very “dark agey” feel it gives.

After getting a general feel for Roman and Romano-British watchtowers (thank you Google Images!) I’ve decided to copy this piece rather closely. At first, I was thinking of giving my tower a balcony, but this was extra finicky work, clashed visually with the palisade, and conveyed more “Imperial Rome” than “Dark Age Britain” to my mind, and that vibe is why I build 3-dimensional terrain instead of using coloured paper to mark important terrain landmarks.

After drawing some scale models on a scrap piece of paper, and comparing them to my figures, I’ve decided to go fora  7x7cm square tower, 16cm tall. The roof will be about 4cm tall, and the open-air observation deck another 4 cm. This gives my 1:72 (about 23-25mm) figures some headroom, especially if they’re waving spears around. The palisade should be only a little bit taller than my based figures, so 3-4 cm ought to do it.

I’ll build the walls out of foamcore, but I’m not sure how to texture them- maybe glue random patches of paper, or cover in putty, before painting. The wooden components can be easily made out of balsa wood and matchsticks. I’m thinking of making a thatched roof out of straw and then matting it down with thick paint or something like that.

I’ll buy some really thin wood to base it on, using some clay or something to sculpt the base into a gentle mound.

I am extremely new to scratchbuilding, and it seems very daunting, though when I give it some thought, each individual process doesn’t seem so difficult.

I’ll report back on my progress!

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Trewes Castle Campaign: The First Turn- Duds and Surprises

The first two weeks of my English Civil War campaign was relatively short but full of incident. Highlights included a failed offensive, a surprise raid, mislaid orders and a chaotic cavalry skirmish. Scroll down to the bottom for a quick map overview of the last two weeks.

The Royalist plan was to secure a strong financial base for future operations. Rear-area troops would spread out and gather supplies while Colonel Harker in the east sent cavalry deep into Parliamentary territory to acquire supplies before they could be protected by parliamentary garrisons.

The Parliamentary plan was far more aggressive. While Governor Garden raised fresh companies of horse, Colonel Supple’s regiments would link up with Colonel Woolley’s dragoons in the west and smash the Royalist concentration at Fertby. Fertby was the most north-westerly Royalist garrison, and a comprehensive victory here would not only surrender the initative to Parliament, but open the Royalists’ entire western flank to future depredations.

Neither plan went to plan.

The Offensive That Weren’t

Firstly, between administrative chaos at Parliamentary HQ in raising more cavalry and Supple’s inability to coordinate with Woolley’s dragoons only a few kilometres away, the planned Parliamentary offensive never occurred. Supple’s troops simply stayed at Knareton and kicked their heels.

Starkey Is Snarky 

Meanwhile, the audacious Colonel Starkey, Royalist cavalry commander of the outpost at Trewes Castle decided to launch a raid against the nearby Parliamentary stronghold at Hathlom House, after spies reported that it was garrisoned entirely by infantry and probably would not attempt to oppose a strong cavalry force in the field. Without orders, Starkey set out on the 19th of March, and returned that evening, victorious and heavy-laden with pillaged supplies. True to form, the Parliamentary garrison had hunkered down behind their fortifications and let the Royalists plunder their fields. This would hinder Parliamentary logistics in the coming weeks.

“To Whom It Wasn’t Meant To Concern…”

Then, an even more unexpected event occurred. The Royalist governor had intended to send cavalry from the west to acquire supplies from deep inside parliamentary territory before Parliamentary troops arrived, but an aide-de-camp mislaid his orders and they were posted to Colonel Dudgeon, the Royalist commander at Fertby, who would have been under heavy attack if the Parliamentarians had got their act together.

Dudgeon was a bit surprised to receive these orders which seemed to be addressed to somebody else, but, as a firm believer in proper military discipline, he followed his orders to the letter. Leading his sole company of elite cavaliers, he snuck through the Parliamentary lines, circled round the bustling town of Kenborough without being noticed (mainly through night-time marches and taking obscure roads), and finally arrived at Chetney Mill- only to discover that there was a small company of Parliamentary cavalry already posted there!

The Squabble At Chetney Mill

Undismayed, Dudgeon simply told his troops to ride on, and bore down on the enemy. The cavaliers caught the parliamentarians by surprise, who first attempted to withdraw towards a nearby rise.

Then Colonel Meuthen, the Parliamentary commander, made a crucial mistake. Seeing the Royalists strung out and in road column formation, his cavalry turned about and attempted to charge in before Dudgeon could form up for battle.

However, Dudgeon was an excellent disciplinarian, and quickly formed his cavalry into line. Seeing that it was too late to either surprise the Royalists or retreat, the Parliamentary cavalry came to a standstill, intending to receive a charge with their pistols. However, Dudgeon’s charge was too ferocious, and they fled as soon as the cavaliers broke into a gallop.

Dudgeon was unable to catch the fugitives, and took no prisoners or inflicted any casualties. It was an embarrassing rout. However, Dudgeon was able to pillage the village, and return home safely laden with supplies.

This raid was even more destructive than Starkey’s unplanned chaos. Not only were weeks of supplies stolen from the area, but parliamentary forces were demoralised.

This has been a dismal few weeks for the forces of Parliament. Not only have their plans for a major offensive been delayed, but they are losing supplies they will need to support their troops in the future. Conversely, the Royalists are quite pleased with their various raids, which have supplemented their war chest quite nicely. However, these wins are relatively minor, and have not shifted the strategic situation very much.

First Turn Events- click to enlarge if you wish to study the campaign in further detail.

First Turn Events- click to enlarge if you wish to study the campaign in further detail.

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A New TinkerFox Campaign Begins!

TinkerFox is a free campaign game about garrison warfare in the early days of the English Civil war. Players command the Royalist or parliamentary forces jockeying for control of a small county. Morale, logistics, orders, friction and tabletop encounters are central to the game. The game’s genius is how it monitors all these factors in a painless and enjoyable fashion, instead of burying you under soulless paperwork.

It uses the also free Very Civile Actions wargame rules to resolve tabletop encounters. Both are produced by the fine fellows at The Perfect Captain, who have to be my favourite wargame designers of all time.

I’ve chosen a rather generic “secure control of the county” scenario, where both sides are attempting to control the region through planting garrisons across the map- leading of course to skirmishes, battles and sieges as they fight over villages, river crossings and so forth.

One of the best things about Tinkerfox is that it uses a randomly generated map, so each game is unique. So I present to you, Kenborough county:

Trewes Castle Campaign Map

This is the Royalist set up. They have a lovely central position, with their right flank secured at a river while their centre (Trewes Castle) is a fortified position manned by an extremely audacious officer (Colonel Starkey) with an elite cavalry command. Starkey should be able to raid and pillage quite cheerfully from the safety of his walls.

Trewes Castle Campaign Map

This is the parliamentary set up. I think the Royalists have a slightly better position, but the Parliamentarians have easier access to the most provender (supplies, represented by P on the map card) and can easily outflank the Royalists in the West, while their centre looks a bit weak as well. Their own centre is garrisoned by 3 companies of foot at Hathlom House, which you might not be able to read, because I flipped it so the stream would line up with the rest of the map.

The Parliamentary Set Up

The Parliamentary Set Up

Now to issue orders to both sides, and let the game commence!

Posted in Campaigns, English Civil War | 1 Comment

Defeat In The Delta

My mate Calruthan has been giving me a lot of trouble in our regular Wesnoth games. He’d won at least the last two when I challenged him (or he challenged me- the challenge is mutual) to another rematch. 

The game was played over a rather strange map called “Sablestone Delta”, which has many small patches of difficult terrain with lots of defensive fortifications scattered around. 

We both began the game with very similar strategies- establishing a forward base over excellent defensive territory while our scouts scurried around securing villages to establish our economy. 


Calruthan was the first to break the impasse by advancing a platoon of spearmen along the left-hand flank, which was conveniently lined with a row of castles running north-south. This did leave his army separated into two parts, and since it was dusk and humans have a 25% disadvantage in the dark, I decided to launch an attack. 

Although the castles gave him a considerable defensive advantage, my archers and woses were able to cause a reasonable amount of damage. I sent other troops further north to stay between the rest of Calruthan’s army and the endangered flank. This had the added advantage that I could seize one of his villages, giving me a greater income. 

Meanwhile, my Elvish scouts made an incursion deep into Calruthan’s territory and ultimately claimed another two villages, completely crippling Calruthan’s economy. 

As soon as the sun began to rise however, my plan started to go all wrong. Calruthan began to envelope my northern force with his superior numbers while he slipped more troops round the back to reinforce the left. Feeling very outnumbered and surrounded, and with daylight coming on (humans have a 25% bonus in daylight) I tried to retreat, but it was too late. 


Calruthan’s envelopment slowed my retreat, and his spearmen made several vicious charges against my archers. I finally managed to return to my original forward base, much battered, only for Calruthan to keep up the assault. He slipped a mage through my ranks and knocked out one of my woses, which hurt because woses were very potent against spearmen, and very expensive. 

Calruthan’s greatest strength is his tactical skill, and he demonstrated it aptly, killing off my rearguard one by one with local superiority of numbers (easy to achieve when you also have strategic superiority of numbers!).

Then I made another mistake. The objective of Battle For Wesnoth is to kill your opponent’s leader. I had moved him up to a fortress quite close to my forward base so I could get my reinforcements (only leaders may recruit) to the battle sooner. Calruthan simply changed tack, threw his veterans against my meagre defenses in front of this fortress, and cut off my leader from the rest of the army.

I desperately tried to send in reinforcements to relieve the place, but my efforts were futile, and he had enough numbers to kill off my leader. It was all over.


Calruthan played very well, especially tactically, and his decision to push the attack rather than re-establish his economy paid off in the end. If I had withdrawn my leader, it is possible that I could have made a come-back: it was dark, giving my troops an advantage, and he was unable to replace any losses, whereas I could.

I made a few tactical mistakes as well- spearmen are deadly in daylight, and my archers just can’t stand up to them. I needed to have trained some more melee troops, and withdrawn earlier. Maybe I should have held my little forward base, and let him come to me. If I had managed to maintain my grip on his economy, then this could have worked very well, giving me the time I needed to restore the numerical imbalance he achieved by training cheaper troops.

After three defeats in a row, I’m definitely keen for a rematch! 

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Make It Pretty: Part of the Plan To Enjoy Wargaming Again

I mentioned last post that my shoddy and incredibly generic gaming set up (risk figures and coloured pieces of paper to mark the hills, woods and buildings) is making me disinterested in tabletop gaming.

I look at the beautiful games of various people on the web, especially TooFatLardies and The Edinburgh Wargames Journal, and they inspire me to go play a game, until I look at my own games, and realise how far short they fall.

I don’t want to start a type of psychological arms race where pretty is never good enough and I’m never satisfied. And the reality is that as a single gamer, who is not a particularly gifted craftsman or painter, I will never be able to match the splendour of an entire wargaming club where individuals have spent years focussing on a single period, where I have had less time and focus on many periods.

But I can do better. I can build Saxon huts and Napoleonic built up areas. I’ve done such “craft” activities before, it was kinda fun and it turned out quite nicely. I already know I can paint up plastic figures if not up to the beautifully inked and drybrushed 28mm figures I see on the interwebs, then good enough to look decent at two feet away- which, let’s face it, is how we usually see our tabletop heroes.

I’ve already bought a Hotz gaming mat (6’x8’- yeah it’s a big one) with painted fields. At first I thought the fields were out of scale to my games, but they actually provide a very pleasing backdrop, and definitely looks better than a plastic table or a thin green bedsheet.

I’ve even bought model trees on ebay (a bargain at 50c a tree!) but I haven’t figured out how to base them yet. They’re very top heavy. If I can sort that out, then I have 3-dimensional forests.

Rivers have always scared me off because of the craft materials you need, but I should just get over it, and set aside a weekend to create a river segment. I’d research how I was going to do it a week or two ahead, buy the materials, and then spend the Saturday figuring it out.

The same can be said for roads, which also add a lot of colour to a tabletop.

There are quite a few paper buildings you can download or buy off the internet, print out and glue together. Not quite as impressive as a foamcore or cardboard house, but fast, cheap and above all, better than cutting out a 2 sq. inch piece of grey paper, blu-tacking it to the table and calling it a chateau.

I’ve started basing the few figures I do have onto actual wood bases, using the excellent and cheap bases from justbasixs and basing materials (basically sand, glue and browny-yellow paint) from the Bacchus basing set. They look so much better than irregular rectangles of thin balsa wood doused in lime-green kindagarten paint.

None of this is a lot of work. What it is are projects which take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and a bit of planning beforehand. They also take time. I won’t have enough scenery for a game in a single day. That will take several afternoons or evenings after dinner of scenery-ing to achieve, just like painting up figures will need regular painting sessions. They don’t even have to be long sessions: I just have to be able to identify gaps in my schedule, and suitable wargaming projects to fill the gap. I can paint a base’s worth of figures in a 15 minute break, or do basing for half an hour before bed.

All of that that is much better than playing a computer game.

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3 Reasons My Wargaming Is Dying

I am Disenfranchised with my Current Setup 

I spent a wonderful portion of my teen years playing wargames with coloured paper or books under bedsheets for scenery, and risk figures for troops. It was wonderful because there were basically no start-up costs. I could pick up a ruleset (free, off the internet) with confidence knowing I didn’t need to spend $200-400 on armies and hours painting them before even discovering if I liked the rules or enjoyed the period or particular army I had selected. For a solo player with no chance to experiment with a friend’s army of choice, and who needs to field both armies (double the expense) that was very beneficial.

But now, this cheap and very fake look is leaving me dissatisfied. Moving blue figurines over green paper is not capturing my imagination. They don’t look like French voltiguers clearing the woods any more, they look like risk figures on a piece of paper. I’m a bit concerned that answering to this disenchantment will create a kind of ascethic arms race in my head, as I always seek a prettier and prettier game. But it is the reality. My games are unappealing to the eye, and that’s made them unappealing to the will.

I am Spoilt for Choice

As I said, using risk figures gave me a superb flexibility as a teenager. I could field Japanese samurai one week, Napoleonic battalions the next, Roman legionaries on Saturday, and then use them for Parthian levies on Sunday. But now, with my collection of rulesets spanning from DBA to the French Wars of Religion to Napoleonic warfare in about three or four different scales to the Russian Civil War to World War Two to modern warfare to Lord of the Rings, it takes me a really long time to actually settle down and choose a period, choose combatants and build an army. I vacillate between multiple choices, and often start setting up for one ruleset but end up either packing it up and not playing at all, or playing a different period.

Computer Games are Easier … and Worse

Given all these problems, it becomes much easier to just open up a computer game like Mount and Blade, Battle for Wesnoth, or the Total War Series, all of which give me the same strategy, tactics and sense of story which I seek in a wargame. The problem is I don’t want to only play computer games, and in fact, it causes chaos in my life. Both are good recreational activities, but one takes at least two hours, includes some set-up, and has a couple of disincentives I’ve already mentioned. The other can be opened and modified with the click of a button. So I choose the computer game.

Given how quickly it can be set up, I can choose to play a computer game at any time of day, even during a study block. It’s accessibility makes it more distracting than a tabletop game. And I have learnt in the last couple of weeks that studying hard for an extended period, and then playing hard for an extended period, is better for both play and study than constantly alternating between the two. I get into a good study flow, and when I do get a game in, it’s a lengthy reward for hard work. That’s much more fulfilling.

Now to formulate a plan addressing all three to resurrect my (still beloved) hobby!

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Fighting In The Manzivan Traps- A Battle For Wesnoth Game

I played a multiplayer game of “Battle For Wesnoth” (a free, turn-based high fantasy game) this weekend with some friends. We had two teams- myself as Elvish Rebels, Zacifier as Human Loyalists, and a Dwarvish AI faction on one team, and two Loyalist factions (played by Calruthan and King James) and a Drakes faction on the other.

I was on the eastern side of the map, with the Dwarves to the north and Calruthan’s Loyalists to my south. In the west, poor Zacifier had both King James and the Drakes to his north.

As I spread my troops out to secure villages, the economic foundation of the game, Calruthan rushed out to attack a small patrol of Elvish archers. We both hurried troops to the front, and at first, Calruthan’s humans had a distinct advantage. By nightfall, I had lost four troops to his two. His troops exploited gaps in my line and teamed up to take my men out piecemeal. But by nightfall I had found more reinforcements to plug the line. A few Dwarves arrived as well, saving my leader from being mobbed by the enemy vanguard. Humans suffer a 25% combat disadvantage in the dark, but Elves and Dwarves are unaffected by the time of day. Furthermore, Calruthan was over-extended in his eagerness to attack, and I was able to outflank him and take his men down piecemeal.

The High Water Mark

The High Water Mark

His best troops lost, his drive on my leader blunted by the Dwarves, and his flank outflanked, Calruthan quickly retired. His rearguard was cut down by combined Elvish and Dwarvish forces, and I started to advance upon his fortress. Realising the game was up, he fled westwards, where the Drakes had slaughtered my ally Zacifier in a short but valiant defence, and left a fortress empty, ready for him to reoccupy.

Calruthan’s retreat was harried constantly by the Dwarves, while I turned north-west to penetrate the enemy’s centre. Here we both made a fatal mistake, as King James’ large army of Human Loyalists were marching on the Dwarvish capital. With practically no army in the north, the Dwarves made a valiant, if patchy defence, and I rushed to their aid. Unfortunately, my advance was hindered by my initial moves to the west before I realised how much trouble the Dwarves were in. The Dwarvish leader was killed in a brave foray (eliminating the Dwarves’ ability to recruit) and I was stuck trying to pin down some veteran dragons, levelled up from their conquest of Zacifier.
Fencing With the Dragons- note the Dwarvish survivors sparring with King James' vanguard in the top-left.

I eventually managed to kill off the nigh-invincible dragons by surrounding them with my own veterans, and moved my own leader up into the late Dwarvish leader’s fortress, to recruit more men. At this stage, King James’ overextended vanguard were fencing with the few remaining Dwarvish outposts, and Calruthan was beating a hasty retreat westwards with more Dwarvish remnants on his tail. The dragons were doing very little, their veterans gone (I later learned King James had absconded with all their villages, crippling their economy! With friends like these…).

Killing King James' Halberdier

I raised more recruits, and then started marching west. My army was starting to become quite a formidable force, as Elvish archers and swordsmen levelled up after beating Calruthan’s first army or the Dragon veterans. I was met by a small and dispersed but quality vanguard of King James’ loyalist troops, levelled up after mopping up operations against the Dwarves. I exploited the gaps in his line and surrounded his extremely elite pikeman with archers, and shot him to 1 hit point of his life. While I was frustrated that I could not finish the job in a single turn, everyone else was impressed how I had killed 78 hit points for practically no loss; one of my archers even beat off a desperate pikeman charge. Just goes to show, the grass is always greener on the other side!

I kept pouring troops into the vanguard’s position, and King James kept feeding troops into the meatgrinder. However, some of his troops couldn’t meet up with the main battleline before I cut them off from help and destroyed them. Devoid of reinforcements, the nucleus of his vanguard was outflanked and beaten down.
The Death of King James
The road to my enemy’s heartlands was open. King James fled south towards the now-motionless Dragon kingdom and I occupied his old headquarters and recruited more men, with the gold I’d accumulated during my westward march.

Calruthan’s rearguard that had escorted him to Zacifier’s base was now very elite, but dispersed; I either contained or eliminated by them with superior numbers of my own elites. Elves rushed into the humans’ last citadel, surrounded the valiant kings, and shot them down. My own leader killed Calruthan in a sword versus staff (he was a magician) duel, after Calruthan had been badly injured by one of my own mages.

The Death of Calruthan

The Death of Calruthan

In the end, I had killed 51 enemies for the loss of 20 of my  own. Calruthan had been on the backfoot ever since his failed sunset assault, and only killed 12for the loss of 24. King James had killed 10 for the loss of 30.  My valiant Dwarves, who had been destroyed by committing so many troops to my defence, and to chasing Calruthan, killed 18 for the loss of 10.

It was a very enjoyable game, at least for me. Calruthan, definitely the most talented player, had a weak starting position separated from his allies, but he made things worse by rushing to attack me, instead of waiting for the dawn and sending cavalry out further afield to expand his economy.

The Dwarves ruined themselves by sending so many soldiers so far away from their king, but it saved me at the height of Calruthan’s assault, and tempted King James to overextend and exploit the gap. I then in turn exploited his overextension by surrounding his vanguard before he could build up an army large enough to match mine. And at that point, the result was inevitable.

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