Thursday, March 28, 2024

An Estate Sale Rules Haul and a bit of Memento Mori

 Where do wargamers go when they shuffle off this mortal coil? 

That's a question that I won't attempt to answer.  Even though I am a wargaming vicar, I will leave theology for my other blog.   However, I think most of you, gentle readers, know by now that when our wargaming friends pass away, they tend to leave a lot of stuff behind.

Last Saturday I took advantage of a lovely and sunny early spring day to drive the two hours from Collingwood down to Stratford to visit Hot Lead, ably run by my friend James and his redshirted cohorts.   I only had a short window of time, so it was all about saying hello to old friends, scanning the games in progress, and of course shopping.

The bring and buy was picked over and offered nothing of interest.  I did buy some lovely painted scatter terrain from a local fellow named Dale Jardine (sorry, I don't have his business' name or website), including these overgrown ruins ready for fantasy games or for pulp heroes like these ones to explore:

Fallen trees and stumps!  Perfect for fantasy or for my ACW gaming, where stumps around a homestead or in a second growth forest battle like The Wilderness would be common.   What a clever idea!

Other than these purchases and a handful of specialty dice (including average dice, necessary for Keith Flint's Honours of War rules), there was nothing I really wanted, but then I met some fellows I know who were selling off the wargaming collections of two chaps as a kindness to their loved ones.  

I wasn't interested in the figures on offer, but I was keen to stock up my rules library.  Can one ever have enough Napoleonics rules?

I never did learn the Fire and Fury systems in their heyday, so I feel I should have a look at them.    I've also heard good things about Shako.

Finally, I succumbed to this old school Phil Barker classic, because I love the enthusiasm of people like Barker who enjoyed a hobby before it became an industry.  Coincidentally on social media today, somebody saw this photo and said he'd just received an Easter card from the Barkers, so good to know that Phil is still around.

Why does the elephant on the cover look sad?  Because nobody ever borrowed this poor book!  Either Templeton SS didn't even have _one_ nerd, or the nerd stole the book from the school library. 

So while old wargamers may die, they sure leave a lot of stuff behind them.    I admired my friends for managing these little hobby estate sales;  it is an act of charity to get rid of a friend's kit and hopefully pass some money back to their widow or survivors.   Buying these books seemed the right thing to do, even though it was an intimation of my own mortality. 

Perhaps, as one of my friends said to me, our stuff will  keep circulating in ever decreasing circles as our generation drops off, and eventually there will be only a few us left standing, at which point the last of us should agree that we will be cremated atop a giant pyre of wargames toys.

I have a friend who I've asked to be my hobby executor if I predecease him, and maybe I'll do the same for him, you never know.  What plans have you made for your hobby gear when you fall of your twig?


Monday, March 25, 2024

First Thoughts on Henry Hyde's Shot, Steel and Stone Miniatures Rules

 Not that they are especially new, but I've spent the last few weeks learning a set of horse and musket rules by Henry Hyde called Shot, Steel and Stone (SS&S).    I've been looking for a good set of rules suitable for the Seven Years War period, and added SS&S to my shopping cart when I was buying some books on the Caliver website.  They are also available on the Wargames Vault webstore, and are fairly inexpensive.

My first impression of SS&S was that the subtitle, "The Bare Essentials", described it well.  The black and white book weighs in at about twenty-ish pages but was attractively bound in a soft cardboard cover.   The B&W photos show ranks of the old school figures that Henry unabashedly loves, and help give these rules their nostalgic feel.    However, Henry's been busy augmenting these rules with a whole set of "how to" videos on his You Tube channel, done in his loquacious and enthusiastic style.

Since I had my Turkish 18th century army on the table (see my previous post here), I decided to put my Russian troops down and have a go.  This may have been a mistake, as it's always better to learn a new set of rules with fewer units, but I couldn't resist the visual appeal.   As you can see, I didn't put any terrain down, as I wanted to focus on the core mechanics.

Here are four things I especially liked about these rules.

1) Limited Friction.   Commanders and subcommanders can have three ratings, basically Good, Average, and Poor, which determine their command radii and the bonuses they can give their troops.   However, at the start of each turn, each commander's ability is checked by a die roll, meaning that even good commanders can have a bad moment, and vice versa.  This effectiveness check imposes a limited friction on the battle, so that a bad roll means that a commander's units will move more slowly and be less reliable in melee, or (again), vice versa.   Thus, a wing of the army will not lose a turn, as in some other rule sets where initiative rolls are required, but that wing might perform erratically to the good or bad.

2) Basing Agnostic.   Like other rules sets, bases don't have to be of a certain size as long as the size is standard, and movement and range is measured in base lengths (my bases are generally 2 inch squares, so that's easy to work out). Unit strength is measured by a number of bases.  Bases can be removed by shooting hits or by melee results.   Large units have better morale than smaller ones, and generally when a unit gets to half its original strength, it's basically spent and will retire.  Each base gets so many dice for shooting or for melee.

3) Morale System.  In SS&S units have three levels of quality,  A (elite), B (line) and C (poor).    Morale checks are taken before charging, when being charged, after melee and after shooting hits are taken, etc.   The quality of the unit and its size are among a range of factors that determine the morale check modifier, including:  unit posture (eg, advancing or retreating), hits taken that turn, current size vs starting size, formation (eg, skirmish vs close order), threats to flank and presence and proximity of supporting units.  

That sounds like a lot to calculate, and will remind older players of WRG rules sets and the days of yore, but Henry's supplied a clever little matrix that makes the process fairly easy to work through.  

Of course, the dice will be perverse.   Here my Elite (A Class) Russian grenadiers caught a unit of Poor (C Class) Ottoman skirmish bow in a charge and amazingly the skirmishers held their ground and fought the grenadiers to a standstill, with casualties tied on both sides.   Of course, two of those grenadier bases were newly painted and having their first outing, so the new unit curse naturally applies.

4) Disruptions

Units can acquire Disruption points through events such as being charged by cavalry, crossing difficult terrain, routing, routers passing through, second round of melee, etc.   Disruption points adversely affect morale checks and combat.   Units that do nothing except halt and reform can remove two disruption points per turn.   

Other things worthy of comment:

Shooting and Artillery:  

The shooting rules seem well thought out.   Musket armed infantry, the queen of the 18th century battlefield, are pretty effective (3 dice per base) whereas skirmish troops get one dice per base.   Shooting, like morale, is reminiscent of WRG, with modifiers awarded or denied based on firer's troop quality, target density, first volley, and so forth.    However, hits do not become kills automatically; the targeted player gets a saving throw for each hit.  One blogger who was also reviewing SS&S said that he was inclined to jettison the saving throw for solitaire play, but that he would keep it for FTF gaming as it adds some fun and uncertainty.   Seems fair.

One thing I did learn was that artillery is pretty deadly, especially at short range, and smoothbore artillery hits can only be saved on a 6 on 1d6.  Because I had put all my SYW models on the table, the Russians had four guns (see photo below), which were able to chew up an advancing unit of janissaries long before they got within range.    I would keep the artillery to a minimum.


Horse, especially shock cavalry, are potent but can be seen off by good order infantry in line.   In Henry's rules, there is no need for 18th century infantry to go into square, though fighting the pesky Turks with their light cavalry hordes, I could see the wisdom of the Russian practice of the divisional square.  Here, some Russian musketeers, with artillery support, see off armoured spahis.

Evade moves:  

Light and skirmish troops have the option to take Evade moves, though I found this a little confusing and wished that the rules had an index as it took me a while to track this down.=.    Evaders need to pass a morale test if charged (I think, I need to reread the rules) and then have the opportunity to take a full move with an evade bonus, or shoot (with a move penalty) and evade.    With the Ottoman skirmish horse archer units, for example, they pretty much evade automatically, so they were mostly ineffective but pesky.  I decided that iuf they were to evade, it must be a full evade move straight toward their friendly table edge, and if that took  them off the table edge, too bad.  One could house rule this so that they were lost if they evaded off the table, or took a full turn to regroup before entering the next turn.   
Of course, another approach would be for the Ottomans' opponent to have sufficient light cavalry to keep the skirmish horse away!   As it was, with only one hussar unit on the table, the Russians found the skirmish horse quite annoying.   

Some final points.   Besides his YouTube channel that I've already mentioned, Henry is very active on social media (he's on Bluesky - and today he just posted some errata and clarifications.  Henry also has a Facebook page for SS&S where he has been good about answering questions, so these rules are very well supported by the author, and are obviously his passion project.  That's a huge plus for me.

While I've written about these rules through my own lens of SYW interest, Henry is clear that they could easily work with Napoleonics, and there are some modifiers and rules (eg infantry squares) that are specifically for that period.   SS&S also includes rules for fighting in built up areas which would allow for some siege battles, as well as a colonial section, so it's quite versatile.

While there are other SYW rules that I want to explore (eg, Keith Flint's Honours of War), I will happily try SS&S again, and think with a little investment in time it could serve well.   Any game with five pages of charts and tables will require that sort of investment, so I would say it's more for grognards than beginners, especially those of us who remember the WRG days and secretly miss them, but the rules seem fun and playable.  

Friday, March 22, 2024

Ottomans On Parade: A Resurrected Army

 Some years ago I started something called the Resurrected Armies Project, where I would revisit an old wargaming project and try to breathe some life in it, assuming that the project made the cut (my 20mm WW2 collection was rehomed rather than resurrected, but that's another story).

Recently, after finishing a unit of Assault Group janissaries as seen in my previous post here, I wanted to see how my entire Ottoman army looked on the table.    Some of these figures are quite old, and some, like an ancient Minifigs janissary regiment (the chaps in red) have been recently rebased.   There's more cavalry rebasing to do.  

Here's the entire army.

The total collection can field three units of skirmish bows, two units of janissary infantry, two units of levytype guys with choppers, three units of skirmish akinci cavalry with bows, two units of armoured spahi cavalry, two medium and one heavy gun, and several command figures.  A unit of tufecki musketeers is in the painting queue.

The heavy gun.  I have no idea what make of figures the gunners are.

Gunners in blue and janissaries in red are ancient Minifigs.

The flower of the Sultan's cavalry.    There are a few Assault Group spahis mixed in with God knows what else.   As you can tell from the banner, my Arabic is a bit rusty.

Newer janissary regiment and behind them some bare chested fellows, once dubbed the "Turkish love slaves" in a game ages ago

It's embarrassing that I have so many Ottoman figures and know so little about the Turks in the 18th century.    I've looked at several SYW rules sets and there are no lists for them (there might be an Ottoman list in the very old Age of Reason rules by Todd Kershner, I should see if I still have my set).  Generally I would rate the skirmish troops as low quality, the artillery and janissaries as varying from low to line/trained, and the spahis as line to good, able to go up against European heavy cavalry.

The secret of an Ottoman army should be superior numbers of horse - even a multitude of bad horse units can threaten and engulf the flanks of a smaller, superior force, which is why the Russians favoured large brigade or divisional squares when fighting the Ottomans.

What are your thoughts on how to rate and use such an army?

Cheers and blessings,


Blog Archive