“Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” - Napoleon
The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm
It was good to get back to shuffling figures around the table after a few weeks break. I was actually in at the club last week, but the only game on offer was a boardgame – Junta. While it was quite fun to play, it wasn’t “proper” wargaming, and it certainly wasn’t photogenic. That’s what comes when you go away for a fortnight – people arrange silly games!This week was also a pre-arranged affair, set up by German Michael. It was a Renaissance clash, between his Imperialists, backed by some Spaniards, against my Venetians and Donald’s French. The game was played out on a strangely-shaped 8×4 foot table. This meant it was a long thin battlefield – just a large featureless plain, with hills at either end. That meant there was no room for finesse – just a straight at ’em game. We had five commands a side – three “battalias” of foot, centred around a pike block with its supports, and cavalry on each wing. Two of our battalias were Venetian and one was French (or rather Swiss), while the enemy had two Imperialist battalias, and a Spanish one. The Venetians-French had more heavy cavalry than their opponents, although we were fairly evenly matched in stradiots. To compensate, Michael gave the Imperialists a huge amount of extra artillery. The fighting began with Olivier, commanding the French, being told by Michael (Imperialist and referee) that his elite gendarmes had to charge forward, regardless of the cost. That meant they were forced into the front of the landsknecht pikes. Then, Michael told Olivier that as he hadn’t actually declared a charge, then he couldn’t make contact. That meant a turn of messing around getting shot at point-blank range before the suicide charge could actually take place!The result of course, was a guaranteed French repulse, with half the gendarmes being wiped out. After that the French played a delaying game, tying up about half of the Imperialist army while my Venetians did their best to turn things around. On my side of the table I was up against Donald, who commanded his own Spanish augmented by a handful of assorted Germans. As he was determined to stay put, I plodded forward, towards the waiting enemy.In fact it was artillery that dictated the course of the game. We had three medium guns, and since we were advancing these weren’t much use. By contrast the Imperialists had nine, including a couple of heavies. So, we either had to close fast and try to capture the enemy artillery, or risk being whittled away to nothing by cannon balls. That’s why I launched an all-out advance, screened on my right by the stradiots, who bravely screened the rest of the Venetian army from the heaviest Imperialist guns.The trouble was, with Pike & Shotte artillery are devastatingly effective, particularly at close or medium range. So, the nearer I got, the worse the pounding I took. First my skirmish screen of arquebusiers was dispordered or shot away, which opened up my pikes to the barrage. They soon got disordered too, and under the rules disordered units can’t move forward or back – they just sit there in front of the guns, getting shredded. That’s exactly what started to happen.The only way forward was to unleash my Venetian men-at-arms. They charged the guns, but while I overran one piece, the rest of my horsemen were halted by disorder, and so made no headway. So, effectively most of my army was now pinned down in front of the Imperialist guns. Appeals for divine help from my “carrocio” (above) went unanswered…Over on my right the French and the Germans were still sparring, with each side launching cavalry attacks. Michael’s German men-at-arms even charged one of my Venetian crossbow militia units. Now, crossbowmen have no effective closing fire in the rules, but Michael had made an amendment, giving them a reduced ability shoot. Amazingly, this proved enough to repulse the charge. Undeterred, the Imperialist horse tried again – and again. In fact they launched three charges in all before breaking the militia, and got pretty badly battered in the process. At the same time my other militia crossbow unit saw off a fierce attack by Spanish sword and bucklermen, which at least propped up my centre for a bit. The only thing that really let me off the hook was break tests. I had to make a few, for a badly shot-up Venetian pike block, for my Venetian men-at-arms, and for a unit of stradiots. In all but one case I didn’t flee the field, but retired – which neatly got me out of range of those darned Imperialist guns. I lose a unit of lanza spezzata heavy cavalry though. For his part Donald was taking some light casualties too – that gun and a supporting unit of two-handed swordsmen. With that the battle petered out. as it was almost time to pack up, and we had a lot of lead to put away.The battle then, was something of a draw, but really it was a marginal defensive victory for the Imperialists. Breaking the back of the Fench gendarmes at the start sort of pulled our teeth, and after that the Imperialist guns saw to it that their defensive line was all-but impregnable. One of the problems with Pike & Shotte is that when the going gets tough the rules really bog down, particularly when you get so many little but powerful units whizzing about the table. Still, it was an interesting game, and it looked truly spectacular.
Misc., Wargame Companies
I’ve missed the last two wargames club nights as I’ve been away in Florida. I was there to give a talk about pirates, and I used the trip as an excuse to take a few days of R&R down in Key West, and up in Miami. On my travels, I grasped the opportunity to pay a visit to Firelock Games, a new kid on the wargames block, and one of the most interesting hobby companies I’ve encountered. Their lair is located in Kendall, a suburb of Miami, and their offices and workshops are tucked away in an industrial area, well away from the glamour of Miami Beach or Coral Gables. Getting there was a bit of a chore, thanks to heavy traffic, but it was well worth the trip. That’s Kendall up above – not the most glamorous area, but pleasant enough. Trust me – there are far worse parts of Miami that this! Now, Firelock Games first appeared on my radar about two years ago, when rumours started circulating about a new set of pirate rules. Then adverts started appearing. One of them is shown down below. it all looked fairly well planned and researched, even if I was a little miffed they’d used a rival pirate historian as their consultant! Still, it all looked terrific, and seemed to be set in the era of the Buccaneers – Henry Morgan and his ilk. That made it a lot more game-able than something set in The Golden Age of Piracy, which was really a little later – the first quarter of the 18th century, regardless of the advertising claim down below. The buccaneers fought everywhere around the Caribbean basin, so its a period with bags of wargaming potential. Then, the rules appeared. It took me a while to get round to buying a copy of Blood & Plunder , but when I did I was impressed by the high production quality. Also, it soon became apparent that Firelock Games weren’t just selling a set of rules. they’d gone a lot further, and built up a whole package. They sold you the rules, but you could also buy cards with troop and leader characteristics on them, activation cards, game markers and even specially-themed ten-sided dice. This had been done before by other companies, but it was still pretty impressive. However, that was only the start. Next, Firelock began producing a range of figures to support their rules, and then ships too. You see, Blood & Plunder isn’t just about fighting it out on land. You can also use the rules to fight sea battles too . I was also impressed when I started reading the rules. they began with a useful historical precis of the Buccaneering era, written by my piratical rival Benerson Little. I have to say, Benerson did a great job, especially when he produced a detailed timeline of buccaneering activity. There’s more than enough meat there to tempt wargamers to set sail for the Spanish Main. I have to admit, I haven’t tried the rules out yet, but I’ve read them, and I plan to play with them very soon. To older European wargamers like me who lack a fantasy gaming background I usually balk at the mention of D10s, or rules laid out in a format designed to please the Warhammer crowd. However, there was enough style and chrome here to make me want to try the system for myself. So, finding myself in Miami, I got in touch with Mike Tuñez of Firelock, who kindly invited me to drop by. It was Mike who came up with the whole concept, and was the mastermind behind the Blood & Plunder rules. He’s a lovely guy, and a real enthusiast of the period. Mike began by giving me the grand tour. Their offices and workshop is utilitarian rather than sub-tropical swanky, but I was impressed by the way it was all laid out. For a company that was fairly new they had it all worked out, with a marketing person, a money person, a design team and of course the production staff. Here’s a picture from the beating-heart of Firelock – the casting area. They keep producing more figures, hence the stack of moulds, but what impressed me the most was the replica morion, used presumably as a caster’s safety hat…
Next Mike let me scrounge a couple of sets of cards – the activation ones, which are themed according to what side you want to play, and the unit and character cards. A selection of the English buccaneer ones are shown above. I quite like the miniatures, but I had to confess to Mike that I’d already invested in the old Foundry range, backed up by a few English Civil War and Late 17th century figures. He didn’t seem to mind, and insisted you can play Blood & Plunder with whatever you have – even the cards can be replaced by plain old playing cards, although then you’d miss some of the period chrome.Next we passed the poor guy whose job it was to quality check the castings, and pop the lead into blister packs. Beyond him was the packaging department, and several racks, all with resin ship models on them. When Mike showed me a pile of miscasts he sells cheap at shows I was seriously tempted, but then I thought of my already over-stuffed suitcase, and abandoned any boat-buying ideas – for the moment. Mike showed me the models, and I was seriously impressed with them. Best of all was the rigging. Each one comes with elasticated thread, which makes rigging a breeze. Like most things at Firelock, it had all been thought through. Here are some more cards – the activation decks used for the English and Spanish. You also get others, for French, Dutch or non-aligned Buccaneers. As I said, you could use playing cards, but these have the activation information already on them, and show you which suit trumps others. Whoever designed these puppies had a real eye for period flavour. The danger, of course, is that this will all inspire me to take another look at my own buccaneers, which have been languishing in a box for far too long. Just in case you care, here are some of them;The top lot are Buccaneers, a mixture of Foundry pirate figures and a few Bicorne English Civil War musketeers mixed in with them. I’d recently put them on bases (from Supreme Littleness Designs) with 20mm (1 pence) slots, with magnetic backing. The plan was to use them for A Pikeman’s Lament, the new 17th century grand skirmish set from Osprey, but now I’m veering more towards Blood & Plunder. I guess I’ll have to try them both out.Down below are some Spanish – in this case regulars from the Nova Armada Regiment, attached to the Armada de Barlavento (Windward Fleet), charged with defending the Spanish Main. The figures are mainly late 17th century ones from North Star, with some English Civil War ones thrown in. I also have non-uniformed local militia, and Indian allies. Anyway, back to my visit to Firelock Games. Mike showed me the range of ship models he and his team had produced, and then unveiled his latest creation – a prototype model of a Spanish galleon. Now, I have a sloop and a pinnace in m,y own collection, but these are tiny compared to this leviathan. That’s the galleon down below, on the company’s gaming table. Yes, they game there at lunchtimes, or rather they would when they aren’t working all hours masterminding the very same kickstarter designed top launch this puppy. Now, I’ve written the Osprey on Spanish Galleon, so I know my way around them. I was impressed. While not designed on any particular ship, it had the right look and size for a mammoth treasure galleon of the late 17th century, and as Mike tried to explain the problems he’d had to overcome in designing and building it, I wasn’t really listening, as I was too busy drooling over the model…The rules, you see, are designed as a set for use on land, as most buccaneering actions were fought around the coastlines of the Spanish Main, but they also fought at sea. Morgan’s sea battle off the Maracaibo Bar is a prime example, or the ship actions fought elsewhere, as recounted in period accounts like Exquemelin’s The Buccaneers of America. So, you can use figures, but ships are very handy too. The rules allow you to use both, and contain a simple but seemingly effective set of naval rules which allow your fights to move from the sea to the land, and back again. Like I said – it’s all well thought out. As a parting shot Mike offered me a tot of rum – and although it was very unlike me I had to decline, as I was driving. Instead then, he gave me a newly-produced miniature – a lovely little figure based on the painting of a buccaneer by Howard Pyle. I can’t wait to paint it, and now I’m home I’ll have to dig out my Buccaneers and Spanish, and give it all a go. So, expect this to appear here soon as a new period – The Spanish Main. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a pic of my most recent Spanish unit – half a dozen Spanish cavalry – mid to late 17th century Dragones de Cuera (Colonial Spanish cavalry, with buff-coats). They tended to carry lances and adarga shields, and these ones are all Front Rank Figures, mostly converted from their Spanish Napoleonic irregular lancer. I think they look the part! So, a big thank you to Mike and the Firelock team for letting this old pirate historian poke around their place, and for inspiring me to blow the dust off an old half-abandoned period.