Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making Trees Out of Twigs, or, Scenes From a Wargamer's Marriage

I never have enough trees for my gaming table.   Either they all look the same (cheap railroad trees from a bag) or just forlorn and mangy (Woodlands Scenics armatures missing foliage clumps), and they never look like a forest, maybe a copse or a spinney (the English language has a surfeit of words for “small group of trees”).

Last winter, on a frigidly cold night, Madame Padre and I were leaving the local library, and she stopped, as she often does, to examine the garden beds.  The fact that she will do this, even in the dead of winter, is one of her more endearing traits, in my opinion.   “Can you use these for trees?”  she asked me, showing me a twig she had snapped off a bush.   It was hard to see in the dark, but it looked rather spindly.   “I could try,” I said, so we snapped off a bunch more and headed home, where the twigs then sat at the back of my painting desk for much of the following year.   

“What do you think of this face?” I asked her the other night, holding up my latest masterpiece.  She glanced at it for all of a second.  “Too dark".  Madame Padre will be the first to admit that she’s not much interested in my “little men” and I knew that was all the feedback I’d get from her.  Then her glance wandered to the back of my painting table.   “You’ve never done anything with those twigs I found you” she said, her tone somehow both hurt and accusing, as if to say, “You never listen to my ideas".   “No”, I said, lamely, “but they’re working their way to the top of my to-do list”, which was sort of true and I had been looking at them the week before.  


Legolas is (pardon the expression) dwarfed by the spindly trees of Mirkwood.

So, the following week, I went to a craft store, found a spray can of dark green paint, and blasted the four most useful-looking of the twigs.   Once dry, I took some dark brown craft paint and brushed it onto the “trunks” and those of the “branches” that I could easily make.   Then I put some children’s plasticine on washers, and stuck the ends of my “trees” in.    They are too tall for anything but 28mm or larger figures, and even then they would be big trees, 40-60 feet tall or so in proportion to the figures.   I suppose they could pass as poplars … I think there are some kinds of poplars that don’t have white bark.  I don’t know.  I’m not really that good with tree spotting.

I’m not even sure what plant these twigs are from, exactly.  Madame Padre thought they were from Sorbaria, sometimes called False Spirea.   If you look up close, the green clusters are more like dried up seed pods than leaves, but from a distance they look ok.

I still need to flock the bases, but last night I couldn’t resist leaving them out on the gaming table, which lives at the back of our TV room, and was pleased when she noticed them.  “My trees!” Madame Padre cried out happily, then looked at me and her eyes narrowed.  “Did you paint those just because I complained that you were ignoring them last week?  You do have free will, you know.  I’m not an ogre”.  I didn’t take that remark seriously, it’s a standard move in her repertoire of verbal chess moves that keep me on my toes.  “Of course not, darling, but it was a good suggestion, and I’m glad I took it.  They do look splendid, don’t they.”  She glanced at them again, her face going neutral.  “I’ve seen you do worse”, she said as she wandered off.   

Such is love.  And now I have four more trees …. and they are nice trees, I think.  Even if I’m not sure what sort of trees they are.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Diplomacy Game: Fall 1903 Turn Results

After several weeks off for several participants to take some holidays, we’ve moved the game forward.  I look forward to the General’s analysis of the game, but the brief result is that it was a bad turn for Russia, good for everyone else.

Current score:  England, Turkeyand France are tied at 7 SCs each, Italy has 6, and Russia and Germany both have 3.   One player (Austria) eliminated. I was a little surprised to see that Vienna still shows as Austrian, but then remembered that Italy captured it in the Spring 1903 turn but did not keep its army there for the Fall turn to secure possession.   I am sure Italy can remedy that in the 1904 turn.

We are now in the Adjustments Phase, and it will be interesting to see where the new units will go.   Scroll down to the bottom to see the Adjustment results.



Results for Fall, 1903 (Movement)

General Notices:
All dislodged units destroyed; advancing to next phase.Order
resolution completed on 28-Oct-2014 at 06:04:32 EDT

Order Results:


A den Supports F ska -swe

F hel -kie Bounced with ber (1 against 1). 

F nth Holds

A nwy -stp

 F ska - swe


 A bel Supports F hol

A bur Holds

 F lyo Holds

 F hol Supports A bel

A pic Holds

A spa Holds


Germany: A ber - kie  Bounced with hel (1 against 1). 

Germany: A boh - mun Bounced with tyr (1 against 1). 

Germany: A sil - ber Failed because Germany: A ber - kie failed. 


No order for unit at Piedmont. Hold order assigned. A pie Holds

 A tri Supports A vie - bud

A tyr -mun Bounced with boh (1 against 1). 

F tys Holds

Italy: A vie -bud


The Army in Budapest cannot retreat; unit destroyed.

The Fleet in Sevastopol cannot retreat; unit destroyed.

No order for unit at Baltic Sea. Hold order assigned. F bal Holds

A bud Supports A ukr -rum Support cut by Move from Vienna. Dislodged from vie (2 against 1). 

A gal Supports A ukr - rum

A mos - lvn

F sev -bla Bounced with bla (1 against 1). Dislodged from arm (2 against 1). 

Russia: A ukr -rum

Russia: A war Holds


The Army in Rumania cannot retreat; unit destroyed.

A arm - sev

F bla Supports A arm - sev

F con - bul/ec

F gre Holds

A rum Supports A arm -sev  Support cut by Move from Ukraine. Dislodged from ukr  (2 against 1). 

A ser - bud Bounced with bud (1 against 1). 

Supply Center Ownership:

England: Denmark, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Norway, St. Petersburg, Sweden (7 total).

France: Belgium, Brest, Holland, Marseilles, Paris, Portugal, Spain (7 total).

Germany: Berlin, Kiel, Munich (3 total).

Italy: Budapest, Naples, Rome, Trieste, Tunis, Venice (6 total).

Russia: Moscow, Rumania, Warsaw (3 total).

Turkey: Ankara, Bulgaria, Constantinople, Greece, Serbia, Sevastopol, Smyrna (7 total).



England: 7 supply centers, 5 units. 2 units may be built.

France: 7 supply centers, 6 units. 1 unit may be built.

Germany: 3 supply centers, 3 units. No units to build or remove.

Italy: 6 supply centers, 5 units. 1 unit may be built.

Russia: 3 supply centers, 5 units. 2 units must be removed.

Turkey: 7 supply centers, 5 units. 2 units may be built.




Monday, October 27, 2014

Tuesday Boardgame: Two Ways To Tell The Same Story

I mentioned in my last post that I recently visited Harpers Ferry, and of course, I couldn’t visit a National Park Civil War site without visiting the bookstore.  NPS bookstores are excellent, with something for everyone from the serious historian to kids.    I allowed myself one book, and it was a hard choice, but here’s what I settled on.

Since my visit to Antietam last year I’ve been very interested in the prelude to that battle, particularly the action at South Mountain.    South Mountain is a long ridge running north to south that separates the area around Hagerstown from the part of Maryland to the east.   When McClellan got his hands on Lee’s orders, as wrapped around the famous cigars, and had an opportunity to destroy the Confederates in detail, his first task was cross South Mountain via three passes or gaps as they are called locally.   These gaps were thinly held by troops under CSA general D.H. Hill, and because McClellan didn’t move with any great urgency, Hill was able to buy a day’s worth of time, allowing Lee to pick off the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry and concentrate most of his army in a strong defensive position along Antietam Creek.  It was not a big battle as they go, but it was a desperate affair fought offer difficult terrain.   As a reenactor long ago, I remember climbing part of the long steep slope up South Mountain around the village of Burkittsville in 2000 and getting quickly and badly winded.    And that was with no one shooting at me.

South Mountain was a hard fought affair, not as bloody as Antietam to be sure, but it saw two promising generals killed:  Garland, one of Hill’s brigade commanders, and Reno, a Union corps commander.

Most historians, like Sears in his excellent Landscape Turned Red, focus primarily on the horrific day of fighting at Antietam, but several authors cover the two weeks that led up to it.  John Michael Priest wrote an excellent account, Before Antietam: The Battle For South Mountain, that covers the moves and countermoves in detail and ends with the sun setting at the end of the day on South Mountain.  It is rich in detail, and would flesh out quite a few small scenarios for rules sets like TFL’s Terrible Sharp Sword.   There were a number of cavalry skirmishes in the first few days of the campaign that are quite exciting and well balanced.  The only problem with Priest’s book is that the maps are hand drawn and not easily deciphered.

The NPS rangers I spoke to told me that the new book by D. Scott Hartwig is an essential treatment of the days before Antietam, so it was my choice.   I’ll report back on it in due course, as soon as I finish my current guilty pleasure, R.F. Delderfield’s Napoleon’s Marshal’s.



On getting home from West Virginia last week, with my copy of Hartwig tucked under my arm, what awaited me in the post but this?



Twin Peaks is the first P500 game I’ve backed - P500 is sort of an internal Kickstarter for GMT fans and customers.   Once they get 500 people committing to the game, they charge 500 credit cards and get the game into production.   Very clever.   I was tempted by this game because it covers two battles, South Mountain, but also one of Stonewall Jackson’s victories in the Valley in the summer of 1862, Cedar Mountain, which I confess I know zilch about.  Two games in one box, using Richard Berg’s Great Battles of the ACW system, a direct descendent of the venerable Terrible Swift Sword from the 1970s, which I’ve mentioned here before.  That seemed like too good an offer to pass up.


As you would expect of GMT, the contents are top notch.  Lovely hex maps, player aids and charts, and beautiful counters.   We really live in a golden age of board wargaming.


I realize that not everyone reading this blog is a paper and counters board gamer, and that’s fine.  However, one advantage of using a system like this to tell the story of South Mountain is that it would be a very difficult battle to do properly on the wargames table.    The number of contours and elevations, and the abundance of woods and tiny farms would challenge even a 6mm treatment of even part of the battle.  Most of our tabletop battles are fought on relatively flat terrain with a few hills tossed in as an afterthought.   South Mountain, like Chattanooga, was one of those big uphill battles fought on difficult terrain that would tax even the most dedicated gaming club to create.

I hope to report back on this game in the near future, but I’m still pushing blocks around in Afghanistan, so it may be a week or two.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Trip To West Virginia and Harpers Ferry

Last week Madame Padre and I got away to West Virginia and stayed at a cabin we found on a travel website called VRBO.  I say cabin but really it was like a hotel, with all the comforts one could want, including wifi and abundant views of the hills covered in fall foliage, at least, when the clouds lifted.   The local countryside has numerous places like this one, set off winding and hilly dirt roads.   Each place, it seemed, had abundant “No Trespassing” signed posted, so when I went for runs, I was always careful to stay on the road.


There was a always a hill to run up.




We chose WV because it was half way between our house in Ontario and Kay’s brother and sister who live in the US South.  We arrived a day ahead of them, and went into the nearby town of Berkeley Springs, a pleasant artsy kind of place, which just happened to having a parade to kick off the start of its apple butter festival.   Kay loves a parade.  there were tons of local politicians out campaigning and they all came to offer us pamphlets and sales pitches.  It was very convenient to say that we were from Canada, which got some odd looks.


These lovely ladies had something to do with nature.



And these people were all dressed up as various kinds of apples.   I’m not sure what the cat in the background is all about. 



As you can see, after 9-11, small US towns have gotten a lot of money for their first responders.



I have no idea.



Making apple butter in the town square. 



After a few days of rain we had a good day and I couldn’t resist suggesting that we go nearby Harpers Ferry for the day.    I was pleased that Kay’s siblings seemed to think it was a good idea, and they had a pretty good day.   This is the second time in a year that I’ve been to a US National Park, and I have to say that the NPS staff do a very fine job.   An NPS ranger gave us an eloquent and polished lecture on the John Brown Raid - he would have been a credit to any university history department.

Part of the preserved town from the Civil War period.  Between the war and the occasional floods that would go half way up these buildings, the folks here had a pretty rough go of it.



A machine shop with the sort of equipment that was used at the US government armoury.   My brother in law is a mechanical engineer and he was quite intrigued at the idea that this sort of shop could assemble rifles out of any  of standardized mass-produced parts, rather than making each rifle separately.


The site where the Firehouse, the site of Brown’s last stand, was originally located.  St. Peter’s, the Catholic church on the hilltop was built before the ACW to minister to the many Irish labourers who worked in the area.  The priest, Fr. Costello, often flew the British flag from the church to protect it from fighting during the several occasions that Harpers Ferry changed hands.



The firehouse, which was known afterwards as John Brown’s Fort.   In one of those odd details about the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart led the US Marines that stormed the building and captured Brown.  The building itself has been moved quite a few times since, including once all the way to Chicago for an exhibition, and isn’t exactly in its original condition.  African-Americans treated it as something of a shrine after the ACW. 



I tried a bottle of the local beer at lunch.   It was pretty rough stuff, I suspect it was made out of coal. 



I love rivers - Harpers Ferry is where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers come together. 



Harpers Ferry is surrounded by mountains.   Once you stand there and look around for a few minutes, you can understand why the place surrendered during the Antietam Campaign.  Once Jackson got control of the surrounding heights, and got his guns up on them, it was pretty much all over. 



Get a battery up there and the town’s in trouble.



It would be an amazing place to tromp around and try to suss out the two day battle that led to the Union surrender.   I’d like to go back and do that one day.   It would also be amazing to try and hike the distance from Harper’s Ferry to the Antietam battlefield , following the route that A.P. Hill’s division took to make its save the day arrival late in the day.  That would be about 17 miles of fast marching to do it in the time that the rebs did.

Highly recommended if you have never visited this part of the country, especially if you want to see a place where the Civil War started, at least before it started officially at Fort Sumter.

Cheers,  MP+

Friday, October 17, 2014

What Started Here?


Madame Padre and I just got back from a week in West Virginia, where we rented a place and visited with her in-laws, which was surprisingly pleasant.   We managed a few day trips.   I am off to a conference in Ottawa in minutes and I have more photos of this place which I’ll post when I get back.  For extra marks, can you identify this place, the event represented by this marker, and the significance of it all?  Clue:  regular readers of this blog will know it’s a period close to my heart (and will infer that it’s somewhere within driving distance of W. Virginia).


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Daily Dissembler, Spring 1903: Your Trusted Source For News From An Imaginary Europe

The Daily Dissembler, Special European Gazette Issue, August 15, 1903

We make sense of a complicated, far-off world so you, dear reader, can enjoy the Gilded Age.



General Sir John Monash, Answering the Call

A second British Army has now landed on the Continent, challenging ideas that England is content to be just a naval power.  The Imperial Expeditionary Force, commanded by Australia’s Sir John Monash, consists of soldiers from Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand.   As we go to press, news arrives that they have successfully landed in Oslo and secured Norway, with detachments on their way by dog-sled and elk-drawn sleighs to the northern border with Russia.  While some of these soldiers from warmer climes were surprised to be finding themselves in frigid Norway, they have accepted their duty with the sturdy, simple, dog-like devotion that characterizes the best scions of England’s far-flung domains.   As Colonel Sterling Moose, the commander of the Strathcona Mounted Rifles (Alberta’s Best), some with snow still on their boots, told the Dissembler, “It’s all rather complicated for Colonials to discuss, but it’s much too high and mighty to ignore.  If it’s good enough for England, it’s good enough for us, so we colonial boys are lining up for war."


The Russian government today issued a statement on the recent happenings in Rumania.
"This was a carefully planned relocation of our forces in line with a long standing agreement with Turkey.  As as well known in the world, the Czar never goes back on a promise."

When asked for comments, a number of European governments expressed doubts about the second part of this statement.
The Czar went on to claim that "our forces are being moved further north to deal with the real enemy...."

By “Franz Ferdinand"


All calm in the Balkans!  Our on-location reporter 'Elgar' tells us that all is now quiet in the Balkan territories of the apparently resurgent Ottoman Empire.  According to sources in the Turkish Military, the battle for Romania was sparked off by a "popular uprising" amount the local population who requested the support of the Sultan's Armies in "throwing off the shackles of the Russian occupation."

Several eyewitnesses reported Russian troops "fleeing in terror" as the Sultan's forces advanced almost unapposed.

Russian prisoners of war taken near Bucharest by Turkish forces.


Our Man Ernest Harrison reports.

[Note to Ed – Bill if things don’t turn out this way run my other article ‘Ministry Calls for Inquiry as Navy Lets Italy Down Again!”]

Sources close to the Foreign Ministry [Bill, send £5,000 dollars, establish an account for me with the best Parisian milliners and a set up subscription to the Boston Woman’s Weekly] tell me that a dossier reputing to contain secret negotiations between the Ottoman and Russian Empires recently arrived in Rome.  The aim of these negotiations was supposedly to establish a cease-fire between the Empires, so that the Turks might attack Italy.  

Despite initial consternation (readers will remember that the Foreign Minister suddenly cancelled his visit to the Bey of Tunis), the reports were quickly dismissed by the Admiralty.  One recently retired admiral told this reporter “This is a load of nonsense!  Those dimwits in the War Ministry might believe such things, but we have a good relationship with the Ottomans – I’ve had my share of Turkish Delight, if you know what I mean, narf, narf!”

Bolstered by naval assurances, the dodgy dossier was immediately dispatched to Constantinople.  “You see” my Foreign Ministry source pointed out, “the fact that the Russians have done this plays into our hands: if it’s true, we can show the Sultan that he has been betrayed; if it’s not it just goes to show the Sultan that the Ruskies are a load of bungling bodgers.”

Wider Implications?

 The real concern in the Ministry is who else the Russians might have sent dossiers to, and what they contained.  “We have good reason to believe that London is receiving this stuff, but what about Paris?  If the Czar is behind the deployment of a fresh fleet in Marseilles, it could mean trouble – after all if we and the French start facing off he has less competition in Central Europe.  No, the sooner the Czar stops playing at puppet-master the better!  Someone might just have to go and cut his strings!”



Story filed by the Daily Dissember’s own Miss Amelia Roosevelt, Intrepid Girl Reporter and niece of the Vice President.

It was not without adventure that I made my way from St. Petersburg to London this fall. My first hurdle was a request from the Italian authorities to detain me, since Count de Graspi, who my sources tell me may soon be Italy’s Commander in Chief, had informed the Russians that I was wanted for “extensive close questioning” with regard to “unfinished business”.   However, thanks to my acquaintance with the young wife of the Tsar’s chief of intelligence, Duchess Molotova Smoulderina, I was able to have this request delayed until I was safely on a British steamer.   Apparently the Duchess is more than familiar with Count de Graspi, and her acquaintance with him dates from when she was an actress in Rome.  She was thus able to persuade her husband that the Count’s request had more to do with matters of the heart than with matters of state.
A further hurdle was an encounter with the Russian Fleet as we were making our way through the Baltic.   A Russian destroyer came alongside, and despite our Captain’s protests, insisted on sending a boarding party aboard to make sure that all papers and cargo were in order.  A Royal Navy officer aboard my steamer, Captain Clive Whickker-Baskett, returning to England after his duty as a military attache, told me that he feared relations between England and Russia might be taking a turn for the worse.  It was a relief to arrive in Copenhagen, where the British flag was flying, and to find the city prosperous and orderly.  From Copenhagen an American steamer took me safely to London, where the newspapers are confident in future British successes on the continent.
Sadly the King was unable to meet with me, and expressed his regret.  The Palace did however give me an interview with Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary.  He was a most courteous and knowledgeable gentleman.  I thanked him for his time and he told me that “All of England followed my adventures with great interest.  In fact, young lady, a popular novelist has published an ongoing series of stories in the weekly papers, loosely based on your adventures and entitled "The Perils of Amelia".   While I do not read themselves myself, due to their somewhat risqué character, they are said to be popular with the working classes."
I asked Lord Lansdowne about the role of the King in the current crisis.
"King Edward VII's main interests are in the fields of foreign affairs and naval and military matters.  He is fluent in French and German, and has made a number of visits abroad.  While he usually takes his annual holidays in Biarritz and Marienbad recently he has been looking at visiting his brother-in-law, King Frederick VIII, in Denmark and his son-in-law, King Haakon VII, in Norway who have recently placed themselves under British protection.   One of his most important foreign trips was an official visit to France in May 1903 as the guest of President Émile Loubet. Later he hopes to visit the Pope in Rome to further create a cordial atmosphere for the European powers and seek an agreement delineating colonies in North Africa, and hopefully ruling out any future war between affected countries.
What of King Edward’s special relationship with the German Kaiser?    King Edward likes to think of himself as the "Uncle of Europe" and has been trying to resolve difficulties faced by his dear nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm.  A key aspect of this has been fleet modernisation and his majesty was most pleased to see the Kaiser embrace the first step in modernising his fleet by the recent scrapping of a number of obsolete battleships in the Baltic.  Some Russian scrap iron dealers, the King understands, have made a late bid for the ships, but are believed to be dismayed that the iron had already been acquired by German munitions factories."
What troubles the King about the current situation?  "The King is troubled by the Russo-Japanese War and its unsettling effect on the colonies, past and present.  This coming so soon after the unpleasant business with the Boers has been resolved is most unfortunate.   The King feels the colonies are often over looked and indeed cannot even be found on the map these days."
A week after my interview with Lord Lansdowne, I was invited by a friend in the War Office to travel to Plymouth, where a large contingent of soldiers from the Colonies were arriving to swell the British forces.    I was thrilled to see many strapping Sikhs, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders arriving, and to note their patriotic reception by the local populace.  As I finish this dispatch, I have been informed that the Commander of the Imperial Expeditionary Force, General Monash, has asked me to join the Force as an “embedded reporter” (I am not sure what that term means, exactly) to come and “see how we colonial boys do things.”  I expect that my next dispatch will be from Scandinavia.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Diplomacy Game: Spring 1903 Results

Some interesting developments occurred in the fifth turn of our Diplomacy game.

Russia’s position has taken a turn for the worse as Turkey has turned its cannons north.   The Russian Army in Rumania has been forced out by three Turkish units and has to retreat north to Ukraine (or be disbanded - Russian player’s choice but the retreat seems a no-brainer.  

Germany’s enigmatic foreign policy has contributed to Russia’s setbacks as the German army in Bohemia tips the balance in giving Italy the keys to Vienna.   England’s second army now makes its appearance on the continent.   France and Italy continue to advance their interests in the south of Europe.    

More analysis coming in the next Daily Dissembler.

Results for Spring, 1903 (Movement)
General Notices:
Order resolution completed on 13-Oct-2014 at 08:11:07 EDT

Order Results:

Austria: The Army in Vienna cannot retreat; unit destroyed.

No order for unit at Vienna. Hold order assigned.  Austria:
A vie Holds  Dislodged from tyr (3 against 1). 


England:  England: A den Holds   England: F hel Supports A den  England: A lon -nwy

Convoy path taken: lon- nth- nwy. 
England: F nth Convoys A lon - nwy  England: F ska Supports A lon -nwy


France: A bel Holds  France: A bur Holds  France: F hol Holds  

France: F mar - lyo  France: A par - pic;  France: A por - spa


Germany: A boh Supports A tyr -vie;  Germany: A kie - ber;

Germany: A sil - gal;  Failed because Russia: A gal - vie failed. 


Italy: A tri Supports A tyr - vie;  Italy: F tun -tys;  Italy: A tus -pie;

Italy: A tyr -vie;  Italy: A ven -tyr


Russia: A bud Supports A gal - vie; Russia: A gal -vie Failed. 

Russia: A mos -war; Failed because Russia: A war -sil failed. 

Russia: A rum Holds; Dislodged from bul (3 against 1).  A Gal has only one retreat option, to Ukr.

Russia: F sev Holds; Russia: F swe - bal;  

Russia: A war -sil  Failed because Germany: A sil - gal failed. 


Turkey: F aeg - con; Turkey: A ank - arm;  

Turkey: F bla  Supports A bul - rum; Turkey: A bul -rum;

Turkey: F gre Holds; Turkey: A ser Supports A bul - rum


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