Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Knuston Hall, Northamptonshire 2-4 July
Conference of Wargamers 2010(30 years of COW)
Week off/week on ... then COW arrives: another full weekend - well, the 'full' weekend. Friday through to Sunday afternoon ... a continual choice of games, workshops and discussions covering all periods and styles of wargame.
First up, what has become a regular event these days, a battlefield walk or off-site visit somewhere in the East Midlands (and justifiably 'on the way' for those travelling in): this year, coinciding with the 550th anniversary, and a conference next week, a medieval choice - the Battle of Northampton.
Northampton - July 10 1460 - March, Warwick and Fauconberg (Yorkist) defeat Buckingham and the King (Lancastrian) through the treachery of Lord Grey of Ruthin (changing sides when the Yorkists attack). The Lancastrians are outnumbered 2, maybe 3, to 1, and choose to defend in a prepared artillery position just out side Northampton. The guns don't work due to the waterlogging of the position, and Grey helps the Yorkists into the fortification in his sector. It is a decisive victory and the last where the Yorkists professed any kind of loyalty to the king.
Northampton is one of those battles where we don't exactly know where it took place - just south (or south east) of the town, in the meadows near (or right next to) the river, between (though some feel not directly between) Delapre abbey and the Eleanor Cross on the London Road.
Somewhere under the appropriate meadows and golf fairways lies a medieval battlefield. We had a walk around, and an interesting series of explanations from Mike Elliott of the Battlefields Trust. I had not walked up to the cross to view the possibilities before (and I may have more to say after the upcoming conference).
This year's COW had a sad start due to the loss of the conference and movement's founder, Paddy Griffith, but a week before. He was celebrated, honoured and toasted, before people cheered up a bit - and got on with games both serious and silly in the spirit he had passed on to people ... and of which, even in the hour of his mourning, no doubt he would have approved.
The plenary game, on a beautiful Northamptonshire evening, played on Knuston's main lawn, was a 'live' multi-participation version of WD's 'World War One in Three Turns' (during which the participating bodies learned how to deal with the realities of the new warfare).
Of course it is all a bit simplistic, and, out on the lawn, more than a bit laughable ... but that is the point. To start the weekend by getting everyone mixing, to break a few rules about formality, and to reinforce the rule that there are no rules.
Amongst the fun games that followed, Graham Evans reprised 'The Elephant In The Room' which debuted for SoA at Campaign, earlier in the year (and which draws upon the Anno Domino combat system also featuring in this year's show game 'Greyhounds In The Slips').
I'll have to confess I didn't pursue an entirely ancient and medieval theme through the weekend - and so missed tantalising offerings such as 'Hastings - A View from the Shieldwall' - there was just too much going on. See Bob Cordery's blog, or my 20th century pages for a flavour ...
'The Last Crusade' was Ian Drury's treatment of the 'Battle of Nicopolis'. Using a version of Richard Brooks' Middle Aged Spread that was tweaked to include horse archers, the battle was played on an array of squares with 15mm figures. You will need a membership of WD and a copy of the Nugget to get a full account of these rules, but activation is by square in a sequence determined by playing cards which also limit what the unit can do with that move.
D16s are used in dicing for hits, which can cause losses, disintegration or rout ... The horse archers are like clouds of annoyance getting in the way, clustering around enemies and such like. The 'owning' player doesn't exert a great deal of micro management over them, but the results were quite plausible. With a dramatis personae of newcomers, Ian was nonetheless able to steer through to a decisive outcome (and a convincingly historical one) in a couple of hours ...
'Spartacus' was another run of John Bassett's Slave Revolt game (see the London game reported previously) ... this was played as an After Dinner Game with more players and much less time. The results were admirable and excellent. With more players, and a brutal time regime, the Senate 'Committee Game' worked much better - a sense of urgency impacted on the players, I think, and there were many more decisions taken and a better type of argy-bargy (just what the designer wanted, I'd guess) ...
Meanwhile, back with the operational game (the Slave Revolt), in which, this time, I took no part at all, Spartacus and his gang really were running riot. They were taking on our ad hoc armies, defeating them and killing senators ... even the great Pompey Magnus somehow was toppled. That said, after a great battle of mutual annihilation, Rome was intact (but down to a few raw legions) but the remaining rebels and leaders were using their victory to leave her lands and head for freedom and homelands. Impoverished and depleted, the eternal city had survived a battering the match of Hannibal's.
By the late evening, Greyhounds In The Slips came out, the excellent WWI aerial combat game was into its nth rerun and John Curry was unboxing commercial wargames from yesteryear of the kind you usually only see on a James May nostalgia show.
After a morning spent clashing with Tsarists on the Don (see elsewhere), after lunch we had another bash at Zama and my Double DBA scenario ... This was a great joy as Phil and Sue Barker came along, and did much of the legwork (explaining the game, expanding on tactics and outcomes etc.) pretty much leaving me to do the Zama bits.
Excellent. In this outing Hannibal made a really good go of the elephant attack, held up Masinissa's Numidians whilst getting right into the Roman reserves on the other flank. It was a tough battle, and resolved itself narrowly for Carthage in a slog out of the veterans. This is a theme to be explored further.
Elsewhere, the cardboard simulator had become an inflatable v-bomber attack with slapstick refuelling mechanisms, traitors had been shot at dawn, wind up toy tanks had crossed the trenches and award winning designers had showcased their latest designs. All in all, great weekend. Something to recover from and a lasting tribute to the inspiration and personality of its founder Paddy Griffith.
I understand places for next year's event are already disappearing.