Monday 1 April 2024

Battle Ravens - Dan Mersey

It's been a while since we last had a game but this weekend I finally managed to clear enough space for one.  Battle Ravens is a board game designed by Dan Mersey with graphics provided by Peter Dennis, both well known names in the gaming world, the former for rules systems and the latter for his excellent ranges of paper soldiers.  The game is about combat in a Viking/Saxon shieldwall and comes with opposing 35mm armies of Peter's card mounted paper soldiers.  Anthony thought it would be good to play using 54mm toy soldiers so I dusted off the Dark Ages collection and this is how it went:

The two armies square up to form shieldwalls, each has armoured Hirdmen (Hearthguards) in the front line, unarmoured Bondi in the second line and a group of Thrals (skirmishers) behind them.  The command units overseeing each shieldwall have no role in the game but I included them to represent the players, and because they look good.

Each shieldwall is split into 6 areas, delineated here by the use of movement trays, at the start of the game players dice to see who goes first and then take it in turns to allocate tokens (Ravens) to each area of their shieldwall, Ravens are used to pay for activity in each area, either attack, defend (saving throws) or to move between areas.  

Player A selects one area in their shieldwall and pays with its' Ravens to either attack or move, but not both. To attack, Ravens are payed to buy dice throws, a score of 6 is two hits and 4 or 5 gives one hit. combat takes place against troops in the immediately opposite area, two hits will kill a Hirdman and one hit kills a Bondi.  If there are casualties Player B can now pay some of the Ravens from the area being attacked to buy saving dice throws: 6 saves two hits and 4 or 5 saves one hit.

Player B then selects an area of his wall to activate and either attack or move.

To move, one Raven is paid for each figure to be moved to an adjacent area and no more than 9 figures can be placed in any one area.

When the Ravens in all the areas on both sides have been spent it is the end of the turn and a new turn begins with both players alternating, as before, to allocate Ravens to areas in their shieldwall.

The Playmobil pirate ship above is perfect for 54mm toy soldiers, it was a cheap car boot find and plays no role in the game but looks great so I had to include it for a bit of set dressing.

The three bowmen behind the shieldwall are Thralls and they allow failed attacking dice throws to be rerolled, for each reroll one Thrall is removed from the board, at the start of the next turn any Thralls that were removed are returned to the game.

Each player also gets 5 bonus cards which reflect the national characteristics of of the armies and allow additional actions, just one card can be played each turn.   The basic game offers expansion kits of these cards to allow for armies of  Scots, Welsh and Normans.

The simple game system is very easy to learn and quick to play, despite this we made some inevitable errors in our interpretation of the rules and soon learned that the apparent simplicity masks some subtle nuances which emerge as the game progresses.

As wargames with 54mm toy solders go, Battle Ravens can be played in a very small area, across a dining table would be ideal, and with very few figures required.  We used 18 Hirdmen, 18 Bondi and 3 Thralls per side so only 78 figures needed in total.  

The sail billows in the wind, sending the longship scudding across the waves towards the estuary where the surf crashes against the treacherous rocks.

I really enjoyed building these Dark Ages armies and was it was great to get them on the table, using 54mm toy soldiers makes a massive difference to the visual impact of the game.  There's a great variety in the painting and poses of the figures which include Timpo, DSG, TSSD, Emhar, Cherilea, Del Prado, Co-Ma, Jean Hoefler, Jecsan, Conte, Fontanini, Replicants, Marx, Almies in Plastic, Technolog, NeTechnologist and Cafe Storme.

We both felt it was a great system for portraying the desperation of the shieldwall, the frustration of battering away trying to force a breach while urgently rushing to shore up the holes in your own wall before it collapses, now I know what it feels like being Uhtred in one of Bernard Cornwall's Last Kingdom novels.

Friday 13 October 2023

German Wargame Rules from 1917

 Strategie und Taktik des Spiels mit Bleisoldaten (Strategy and Tactics for games with lead soldiers) 

Pentagon Publishing, Stuttgart, 1917 78 pages monochrome.

I had been hunting this little tome for many years but it constantly evaded me until last year when I bit the bullet and treated myself for my birthday!

There is a pencil note inside the front cover; 20 Pfg Berlin Katz 31.13.35.  It must have passed through many people's hands, or perhaps just a few.

After a Forward and Introduction the Chapters are: 
1. The Ground 
2. Tactical exercises in Company column 
3 Small off road exercises 
4. Exercises in larger groups 
5. Exercises with Army Corps 
6. The Battle Game 
7. Fantasy Wars 
8. The Strategic deployment 
9. Creating the preconditions for the Battle 
10. The course of the Battle 
11. Closing remarks

Quite a lot packed into such a small book and it appears to be much like a military manual for linear formations.

My schoolboy conversational German has long since escaped me, along with his French counterpart, so I'm struggling with this antiquated gothic text.  If you are more comfortable with it please give us all a precis of the Forward and Introduction shown here.

It contains two maps, the larger fold out one above showing the Battle of Leuthen and a smaller "Sketch of the battle of Pirot" (Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885 - no I hadn't heard of it either)

Chapter 7 Fantasy Wars, gives listings of  the disposition of Army Corps for Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal.  

Bearing in mind this was printed in 1917 here's what it has to say about England:

 "Similar data can hardly be given for England, since universal conscription was only introduced during the present war, the standing army was formerly only small in number in peacetime, and was largely fragmented in foreign possessions, and the division into army corps and other tactical units took place entirely according to the needs and circumstances.  During the Boer Wars, England brought out a total of about 228,000 men, i.e. about 6 army corps according to our estimates"

Saturday 7 October 2023

More on John Ruddle

 Further to my last post, many thanks to Brad DeSantis for directing me to the excellent articles about John Ruddle's garden by Bob Cordery on his Wargaming Miscellany blog.  Bob has captured every photograph of John's garden that I think I've ever seen published and will give you a good flavour of what it was like:

And here is a link to the short film report for the Nationwide TV programme in 1978 discovered by Brian Cameron and mentioned in Bob's post of 23rd may 2023.

John Ruddles garden 1978

They're both well worth a look.

Thursday 5 October 2023

John Ruddle 1932 - 2023

 I don't normally buy Toy Soldier Collector magazine, because it mostly seems to be about reviewing new product, but flicking through the latest issue I noticed two articles of interest.

The first was a three page tribute to John Ruddle, who sadly passed away in February, written by James Opie, with photographs taken by Paul Cattermole.  John will be well known to most people who visit these pages due to his internationally renowned model garden, which has featured in numerous wargame publications down the decades.  I didn't know John well but he only lived about a mile away from me and kindly invited me over to visit on a couple of occasions.  He was a great character with an unbridled passion for the hobby, both collecting and wargaming with Britains 54mm hollow cast lead toy soldiers.

So much so that he had landscaped his garden to represent different continents complete with buildings built from concrete in the relevant styles of architecture.  The beds on the left represented Europe, with areas allocated to England, France, Germany and Italy, also a small area for Belgium which included the Mons canal.  The large lawn in the centre of the garden represented ocean, and John had made fleets of battleships which he'd cut out of aluminium sheet so that the wouldn't rust because they were left out all year round.  

If I remember correctly the end of the garden had a large rockery with a hill fort and village to represent the North West Frontier and Africa.  There were two ponds which fed streams representing rivers and the canal mentioned above, that ran through the countries.  There was also an O gauge railway, originally clockwork, John told me that when he had his house rewired the electrician was so taken with the garden he offered to electrify the railway, he installed a transformer and built a control panel for John to operate it.

On one occasion John was in the process of building a palace with harem for a Turkish Sultan, to be situated on a point between Africa and Europe.  He had laid out a square wooden frame on the ground and filled it with sand, into which he would make an imprint of the building facade, and then pour in concrete.  He explained that on some of his earlier buildings he'd had a problem with cracks in the concrete due to frost until a builder doing some work on his house advised him to add sugar to the mix to prevent this.  A lot of the buildings had removeable roofs so that figures could be stored inside them, nothing vintage but ones that he cast himself, and each year he would give their paintwork a touch up, he also had to spring clean the buildings because mice would nest in them over the winter!

The last time I met John was at the London Toy Soldier Show where Paul Morehead and I interviewed him about his memories of Major Henry Harris, but that's another story for another day.  He was also selling off part of his collection so I bought several units of German and Russian cavalry from him, he was very pleased that they would continue to serve in games on the table and in the garden.

Which leads me neatly on to the second article of interest and this is two pages written by Paul Holcroft Wright about the new edition of Funny Little Wars, a reworking of the original layout with all new illustrations and incorporating a lot more background to H.G. Wells.  I know that several other bloggers who visit here are fellow members of the FLW group and will already have the new edition but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a mention.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Japanese Warrior Monks

 Many many moons ago Chinese firm Hing Fat produced a set of Ninjas, quite nice little figures and all in original action poses with a variety of suitably Japanese weaponry.  You used to see them everywhere, but nowadays not so much.  Now my understanding is that Ninjas are some sort of super stealthy assassin, so not the sort that you want whole armies of, with that in mind I turned some of them into Warrior Monks:

I converted these six just to see how they would work, I think they're good enough to justify making up to a unit of twelve, then maybe another sect in blue.  I like the idea of having varied units that can act as allies to the main armies of a period, it makes the converting and painting less onerous when you know you only have to make a few.

This is a modern solid metal figure made by Frontline, from a set of medieval cavalry that were given away with magazine partworks, they came freestanding without a base, which makes them prone to falling over as they are rather heavy and have a high centre of gravity

This was the only Samurai figure they made in the range, shame really as they are beautifully painted, I added the base for stability and it makes a very welcome addition to the collection I am slowly building up.