Unternehmen Launenhaft – some rules

Having tested about three other sets of rules for this game, I am now playtesting a new home-grown set.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a four-player game set in the Crimea in the 1850s. The rules used were a period-specific adaptation to a set that we have used for two games at the Wargames Holiday Centre for Victorian era Colonial games. The original rules were titled “Will Victoria be Amused?”

I decided to try to adapt them for 1940, and after a couple of game turns they seem to work. The whole basis of the game is dice that show either red or black (it originated as a playing card driven game). Each turn, for each unit, a player can either play one action with no risk or gamble for two actions. The odds are: one action (one red, one black) =1/2, two actions (two reds) = 1/4, no actions (two blacks) = 1/4.

If either two reds or two blacks are rolled, a third die may be rolled. If after two reds a black is rolled, the player is back to one action. So for a third roll the odds are: only one action 1/2, three actions 1/2. After two blacks, the third die is red (1/2) for one action, or (black) 1/2 for a command blunder.

It is possible for elite troops, troops with a command element present, or troops with specific command orders to re-roll one black die in the hope of getting a red.

So the game is very much based on the morale of the force commander/player. Play safe and move slowly or risk a bit for a possible advantage?

Here are a few worked examples from this morning’s gaming:

An ME109 fighter with 2 x MG and 1 x 20mm cannon fired at a British light tank mark VI at 100 yards. Attack dice rolled: 2 x HMG@4, 1 x 20mm cannon@2. Total 10 dice. 4 reds, 6 blacks = 4 hits. The tank has an armour value of 2, so could only roll 2 dice in defence. Both were black, so no saves and with 4 hits the tank was destroyed.

A company of 1 Pz III and 1 Pz IV fired at a British light tank mark IV at 100 yards. The Pz IV had 3 dice and the Pz III had 2 dice. Only 1 red was rolled, and with 2 dice in defence the British tank shrugged off the attack by rolling 2 reds.

A previously concealed German infantry company of 4 Rifle platoons and 1 MG platoon fired at a British artillery regiment deploying. Range was 200 yards. German fire: 4 rifle dice – 2 for range + 1 MG @ 2 for range = 4 dice. Two reds rolled for 2 hits. British rolled 1 die for vehicles to save and rolled 1 red. Thus 1 hit was 1 Disruption Point on the unit. The unit may, in its next activation, continue to deploy and maybe fire with a -1 die effect or can spend one action to rid itself of the disruption point.

Attached is the draft rule set for 1940. I may have missed out parts as being obvious to me, but not to new gamers, so any comments for revision will be welcome.

“Send a Gunboat”

Inspired by recently watching the film “Yangtse Incident” about HMS Amethyst and the Chinese Civil War in 1949 I was inspired to create a game.  This game could also be easily adapted to, for example, the evacuation of Khartoum in 1884.  Keeping with my policy this year of using the toys I already own rather than buying and painting new stuff I abstracted the game somewhat.

I do have a perfect 1:3000 model of HMS Amethyst, or at least the ship from which she was converted, but nothing else useful for the game, so I made a board game as described below.


An incident in the Belgican Civil Wars.  Sometime between 1890 and 1950.  As the war reaches one of its periodic flare-ups the Anglian Government is advised that there is a danger to civilians in one of the towns along the Indeterminate River that runs between Vlaams and Wallonie.  The Royal Anglian Navy sends three “U class” gunboats to rescue them.

Although the ships (RAS Unsteady, RAS Unstable and RAS Uneasy) are flying the red cross of Anglia from their mastheads it is not entirely certain that either of the warring sides will recognise or respect it.

Game equipment

I have a large collection of Avalon Hill Squad Leader boards, including four No. 7, two No. 8 and one No. 40, as depicted in the picture below.  For ships and shore batteries I used the navy and army pieces from an old Diplomacy game.

Game Play

The game begins with one random board on the table and the three ships off the left end.  The entire game will use six randomised boards end to end with randomised orientation.

One ship is moved onto the first board on each of the first three turns.  A ship moves six hexagons per turn and may make one sixty degree turn during each move.  The speed will be reduced if the ship is damaged.

Other rules will be described as and when they occur.

The first board is No.8, oriented with the ID in the top right (NW) corner.

Turn 1

RAS Unsteady steams into view.  Entering a new board one die is rolled for each of the warring sides to determine how many batteries they had on the board.

Yellow (Wallonie), to the south, has two.  I placed one on a promontory at K5 and one behind a protective wall at S2.

Green (Vlaams), on the north side of the river, has three.  These were placed on the cliffs, within the walls of the castle, at X4; on the projecting cliffs at O8 and on the hill at B8.

The nearest gun battery to RAS Unsteady is a Vlaamser, three hexes away.  A two is rolled for identification, so the ship is unidentified and presumed to be hostile, so the battery opens fire.  Rolling five, one damage point is inflicted.  Unsteady returns fire at a penalty of one for the damage.  A four is rolled, reduced by one for the damage and one for the stone walls, and is insufficient at three hexes range to do any damage.

Turn 2

Unsteady continues at a reduced speed of five hexes, turning to port to follow the far shore line from the Vlaams battery.  RAS Unstable enters the board.  Hoping to avoid the fate of Unsteady she hugs the south shore, keeping maximum distance from the Vlaams shore battery.   The battery is tracking Unsteady and fires again at four hexes, rolling five and scoring a second hit.  Unsteady, her guns reduced to four points, is unable to fire back with any effect.  She is now within two hexes of the Wallonian battery, and identified by them as a neutral in difficulties.  RAS Unstable, checking the range to the Vlaams battery, decides to hold fire and try to evade hostile fire.

Turn 3

Unsteady moves downriver past the Wallonian battery.  Unstable has to make an immediate turn to port to avoid running aground, which then brings her very close to the north bank.  Uneasy enters the board following the same middle course as Unsteady had in turn 1.

The first Vlaams battery now has a choice of two ships.  One has just passed and one is approaching.  Both are unidentified.  The battery fires at the approaching ship, HMAS Uneasy, and misses.  Uneasy returns the fire, also doing no damage.

On the south side of the river the Wallonian battery has two ships in sight.  The first has clearly been damaged by enemy fire, and so can be assumed to be not one of theirs.  The second, at a range of four hexes, is identified as a neutral by rolling a six.

RAS Unsteady is now within range of a second Vlaamser battery.  At five hexes she is not identified, but a couple of random shots fail to find the range.

Turn 4

Unsteady continues at slow speed on the south side of the river.  Unstable overhauls her on the north side.  Uneasy passes the castle headland and comes between the two opposing batteries.

Wallonians.  Battery 1 fails to identify RAS Uneasy as neutral and opens fire at two hexes, causing one damage point.  Uneasy returns fire, also causing one point of damage to the battery.  Further down river RAS Unsteady is identified by Battery 2 and not fired upon.  She blocks the view of RAS Unstable.

Vlaamsers.  The castle battery spots the flags on RAS Uneasy, already under fire from the south bank, and lets her pass.  Down river the second battery correctly identifies the two ships.

Turn 5

Unsteady stays midstream while Unstable draws alongside to port.  Uneasy continues behind them in the centre of the channel, followed by a parting volley from the first Wallonian battery.  The second Wallonian battery ignores the ships that have passed and concentrates on the approaching RAS Eneasy.  Unidentified, shots are fired at long range but do no damage.

From the north bank the Vlaams battery hits RAS Uneasy and causes further damage.  Uneasy’s guns fail to hit the battery.

Turn 6

The leading ships steam on, avoiding as far as possible the battery on the north bank.  Uneasy trails, still within reach of batteries on both banks.  Unstable offered Unsteady a tow, which was declined as she was still under two-thirds power. (Decided by rolling lowerthan the current damage points for a tow to be accepted.)

Uneasy is fired on from both banks, and suffers damage from both.  Returning fire against the Vlaams battery does no damage.

Turn 7
A new game board is added.  A die roll selects the first board from the pile, which is board 7.  A second die roll determines the orientation of the board.  See the next photo.

Rule change.  From experience of action on the first board I halved the potential number of gun batteries.  Now 1,2 is one battery; 3,4 is two batteries; 5 is three batteries and 6 a gun ship.

With rolls of five and three there are three more Vlaams batteries and two Wallonian to be placed on the new board.  The board is heavily wooded and with several marshy areas, as well as three islands, so the batteries are placed on the best available open areas.

RAS Unstable leads the flotilla into this difficult to navigate river area.  Passing close between two potentially hostile batteries she comes under fire from the south bank, but suffers no damage. Returning fire she inflicts one point of damage.

Uneasy is hit again by Wallonian fire and is now in severe difficulty.

Turn 8

Unstable, in the van and as yet undamaged and with speed to her advantage, tries the main channel, hugging the north bank to gain protection from the Vlaams batteries.

Unsteady positionsherself to seek the safety of the narrower south channel.  She is in direct sight of the battery on the south bank, but their shells fall short.

Uneasy is hit again by the Wallonian battery on the south bank and is finally abandoned.

Turn 9.

An exchange of fire between the Wallonian battery and RAS Unsteady results in no damage.  RAS Unstable and Unsteady continue unimpeded.

Turn 10

RAS Unsteady runs aground in the marshes on the south side of the river.  RAS Unsteady continues through the wider channel.

And there, dear reader, we shall leave the ships.  The game will continue

Waterloo Day – the 2015 re-enactment.

Six years ago today one of the biggest ever European re-enactment events took place on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Arriving on site around midday on Friday 16th June I queued to register and receive my access wristband.  (Why do organisers insist on total authenticity of appearance while requiring you to wear a visibly displayed brightly-coloured plastic wristband?)  I had to ask the registration clerk to repeat the question: “Do you require the weefee?”.  No, I saw no purpose in paying for wi-fi in 1815!

I was directed to 2nd British Brigade’s campsite, within the former walled garden at Hougoumont.  The Brigade HQ was against the wall.  Unloading the car I soon had my bell-tent up and began to furnish it.

My tent at Hougoumont

I lived in luxury.  A carpet on the floor, a home-made rope-tensioned bed with a horsehair mattress, washstand with a large copper bowl, a chair and small table with my portable writing desk, a large sea-chest and a couple of other wooden boxes.  My concession to modern living was beneath a blanket behind the bed.  I provided my own toilet facilities – a modern day “thunderbox”.

Suspended from the central pole by chains were a circular iron chandelier for six candles and another iron ring with six hooks for my clothes and accoutrements.

After assisting in erecting the Officers’ mess tent and furnishing that with table and chairs plus table furnishings, I set about my duties.  My first task as quartermaster was to ensure that arriving groups camped in their allotted areas within the brigade area, and to collect expected numbers from each group.  I also had to prepare a guard rota for the weekend based on these numbers, and to make a trip to the museum office to make more copies of the forms we would need for organisation.

In the evening the Brigade marched out to drill while I remained as duty officer.  When they returned I was deputised with one of the sergeants to give one of our constituent units some extra training.  They were from Italy and not totally up to speed with British drill.  My job in this case was interpreter, and I soon discovered that my “business Italian” was not up to military terminology.  Fortunately their interpreter was better.

And so to dinner and bed.

First job next morning was to call on each sub-unit to obtain the day’s attendance for rations and gunpowder issue, and to distribute the guard rota.  Then breakfast and an officers’ briefing from the Brigade Commander.

Once again we drilled as a Brigade.  I believe we had about 250 soldiers (say a half-battalion in real life).  Ours was one of five Allied infantry brigades.  For the rest of the day every time I sat down there was someone with a problem to be sorted out or an errand to be run.  Such is the life of an Aide de Camp.

Living in peace with my pipe while the soldiers drill

Among the issues was to assist with taking evidence for an inquiry into an accident at Friday evening’s “Son et Lumiere” event where the pyrotechnics had got out of hand and one of our ladies was hospitalised.  The “Royal Dutch Army” groups issued an ultimatum, supported by the Allied High Command on behalf of the whole Army that unless the planned pyrotechnics were removed from the battlefield they would not be participating.

We set off for the evening battle.  The French marched from Plancenoit and the Allies from Hougoumont, entering the field via the courtyard of La Haye Sainte farm.  Unfortunately the modern road is higher than the entrance gate to the farm.  A ramp/bridge had been constructed, but not strong enough for our artillery.  Almost one hour later than planned we marched onto the field through waist-high crops.  The original road layout had been mowed or rolled through the crops.

Good reduced-scale representations had been built of both Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte.  These were occupied by the appropriate regiments. On the barricade blocking the “road” beside the farm some wag had hung a cardboard sign: “Frogs Go Home”.

The battle opened with our rocket troop preempting the French cannonade by inadvertently firing a salvo onto our KGL allies in La Haye Sainte, to the ire of the British Army Commander.

The valley soon filled with smoke in the fading light and I felt sorry for the spectators who had spent €60 each to see very little.  But the volleys looked great from where I was standing.

A “brigade” volley at dusk.

The battle progressed in choreographed fashion to the historical conclusion with the destruction of the Imperial Guard and rout of the French.  Because of the late start many spectators had to leave before the end to catch the last bus or train.

And so again to bed.

Next morning I followed the same routine as before.  The Allied forces paraded to stand in silence at 11:35, two hundred yers after the start of the battle.  A column of French soldiers arrived and I quickly halted them.  They had come to salute their forbears at a memorial within our camp, so I had them escorted with due procedure through the camp.

My Commander had told me that he was to dine, as a public display, with the “Duke of Wellington”.  He was not keen and asked me to bring him an urgent message during the meal to get him out of it!  At the last moment he was told he should bring another officer and chose me because I was the only one in full uniform at the time.  I grabbed my white gloves and bicorne and quickly passed the request for an interruption to another officer. 

On arrival my hat and gloves were taken by a footman and I was seated between to “Prussian” officers, both German.  We conversed in a mixture of German and English while a succession of courses, cooked to original recipes and beautifully presented, were placed before us.

During the course of the meal I reminded “His Grace” that we had the Inniskillings with us and we concocted a plan based on the “pig in a knapsack” scene from the film.  I had a friend in the regiment and would provide him with  some loot to be discovered by the Duke.

In due course our “urgent message” arrived, just before the coffee and dainties.  We retrieved our hats and left. “Bugger,” said my C.O. “I was enjoying that.”

I found my Inniskilling friend and gave him one of the brass candelabra from our mess tent.  I then sent a note back to the Duke with the name and details.  Later, as we formed on the battlefield, the Duke rode up and called him out.  Ordered to turn out his haversack he fumbled about and produced – a small pink toy pig!

Our battle followed in a similar way to the previous day.

At one point we were surprised by a troop of enemy cuirassiers on our right flank.  We hastily formed square but the Light Company did not make it.  They formed a defensive “clump” but our square was left with a Light Company sized hole at the rear.  The gap was quickly filled, first by officers and then by the quick action of a sergeant moving men to help.*

Emergency “hole-filling”

The order was given to reform the line, but we quickly went back into square again when light cavalry in French-style shakos loomed out of the smoke.  They were our Dutch allies returning to reform after a charge.

On the march back to camp after the battle we had another incident.  A drunken local tried to shove some of our chaps from the road into the ditch as we marched past.  I intervened to prevent fisticuffs and then had to explain the situation to the Belgian police, who led the chap off after hearing both sides.  Returning to camp I wrote a report of this incident.

By this time it was 11:30 p.m. and I realised that, apart from the public lunch display, I had not sat down since 6:30 a.m. I lay on my bed for a few minutes before joining the noisy “last night” celebration outside.  I awoke at 7:00 next morning.

We packed up in pouring rain and set off home.

I remember thinking during the battle: “Re-enactment doesn’t get better than this.  If I gave up now, I would be satisfied.”  I still re-enact, but have not worn that uniform again.

* The incident with the cavalry and the square is shown in a series of pictures on page 6 of this site.  Phil Thomason managed to encapsulate the whole weekend in his photographic record.


Waterloo Day – preparation.

Following my temporary transfer to the British staff at Waterloo 2014 (see yesterday’s post), I was offered a position on the staff for the “Big One”.

I began my preparations.

Totally unconnected with this I resigned my position as French General in August and reverted to my rôle of a French pensioner from Les Invalides – the French equivalent if the Chelsea Pensioners.

I began to order items of uniform and equipment. I had received a second offer from the appointee to the position of commander of the Allied 2nd Brigade. Having determined that I would be the Assistant Quarternaster General with the rank of Major I began the collection from various uniform manufacturers, metalwork and hat makers, and of course eBay.

My chosen regiment was the Royal Scots. This was my unit from the Marlburian era, so I could claim that it was an ancestral tradition to purchase commissions in that regiment. The regiment was also at the time unrepresented in British Napoleonic reenactment.

With all the kit and caboodle together – I already had the camping gear – I attended a few of the training events held during the run-up to the big event.

I also took responsibility for furnishing the “Officers’ Mess” with an oak trestle table and six folding chairs, together with candelabra, etc.

So, with ferry from Dover booked, I was ready.

Prelude to Waterloo

Almost six ago today I stood on the battlefield of Waterloo for the 200th anniversary. Here is why.

In 2013 politics happened in the British Napoleonic Association and the French General resigned. For some ridiculous reason in May 2014 I was elected to rise from my position of Corporal to become the new General. This was not the first time it had happened to me. A similar situation occurred at Blindheim in 2004.

My first problem was to get a uniform. I bought from my predecessor his second best uniform coat. I bought a new pair of knee-high boots. I already had buckskin cavalry breeches for riding and all the necessary small clothes. The bicorne was a problem. The only major supplier in Europe was sold out, and in any case it would cost at least €600.

In 2013 politics happened in the British Napoleonic Association and the French General resigned. For some ridiculous reason in May 2014 I was elected to rise from my position of Corporal to become the new General. This was not the first time it had happened to me. A similar situation occurred at Blindheim in 2004.

I bought a blank and made up the best hat I could in the circumstances. Arriving at Waterloo for the 2014 reenactment I went to the hat supplier on site and managed to buy the correct hat lace for €200.

After spending most of the morning fruitlessly trying to track down the French Commander-in-Chief to introduce myself I joined my former regiment for drill, as a bystander.

Shortly afterwards I was approached by the French Commander, asking why I was there. I explained in French that I was the new General of the French Army in Britain and that I had been trying to contact him for a month, not least that morning.

He dismissed my uniform as “folklorique”. My breeches ought to be of fine wool, my coat decoration was clearly machine-embroidered* and my hat was incorrect. Dismissing my explanation that I had only 4 weeks to prepare and that we were not actually on inspection at Versailles, he banished me from his army.

I had previously experienced the character of this chap a couple of years before when I was a simple fusilier, and our army of volunteers had mutinied and ignored his orders to continue a parade after 3 hours in 35° heat when he finally decided to arrive to review “his” army.

Somewhat nonplussed I resolved to have nothing further to do with this “gentleman”. I dressed myself in my best period civilian garb and went to visit the British camp at Hougoumont.

There I was welcomed as a friend and asked by the British C-in-C to join his staff for the day as a “disaffected Bourbon officer”. I acquired a white cockade for my top hat and enjoyed the battle from the other side as an Aide de Camp.

Tomorrow. Preparations

*A hand-embroidered coat would cost in the region of £5000. Not in my wildest dreams.

Unternehmen Launenhaft 3

One of the good things about solo wargaming is that you can change or invent rules in the middle of a game. I started the current game using my own rules, but decided that the tank vs tank rules were wrong, it being too hard to achieve a result. I turned to Flames of War and adapted the rules for 6mm hex-based combat. After only two turns I realised that tank vs tank combat in these rules is probably fine for interactive games, but too complex for solo play.

So I continued with another set of home-grown rules, the Universal Wargame set. I have developed this rule set over a number of years, starting with Napoleonic combat. I now have the core ruleset and period-based modules. This game will use the 1939-45 module. The rules stipulate the ground scale as 250 yards to a hex, but I am using 100 yards to the hex. Play is not affected.

A little adjustment to the forces on the table was required, mainly to ensure that all units had a command element as appropriate.

On the clifftop the tank battle continued with the Germans pushing the British Matildas back.
A squadron of A-13 cruisers moved into Lower Eype. A Coy, Dorsets moved out of Watton Farm to retake the radio station.
On the east flank the Recce troop moved slowly down the cratered road out of Bridport, flanked by elements of B Coy. Dorsets.
Bridport was struck by another salvo from the destroyer offshore. Several houses were set alight.
At Lower Eype the Hussars were ambushed with grenades and heavy machine gun fire and thrown into disarray.
Back on the clifftop the two German tanks wiped out the Matildas of the Royal Tank Regt (by spectacularly rolling 12 against 2). The Germans then had to retire to the harbour for re-arming.
On the west flank the Hussarspulled back and then skirted Lower Eype, passing to the north of the village.
At West Bay the German infantry consolidated in preparation to attack the Dorsets advancing from Bridport.
Several cows in the fields opposite wandered down to the river for a drink.
The re-armed German tanks attacked the Yeomanry’s last remaining A-10 and destroyed it (again rolling 3 sixes from 4 dice!).
The mountain troops at Lower Eype were ordered to leave their MGs to watch the road and to send the rifle platoons to recapture the radio station. The first platoon to attempt this was beaten back by rifle fire.

To be continued…