Tuesday 28 February 2012

Dirleton Castle

Today I changed our normal routine which on a Tuesday is fairly undramatic and ventured out into the wilds of East Lothian. Once there we scrabbled around the Sat Nav options and chose to visit Dirleton Castle and Gardens. We had been there once before when the kids were little but had little memory of it.

The de Vaux family (or de Vallibus) came to the British Isles with the Norman Conquest from Rouen in Normandy and settled in Pentney, in eastern England. Two brothers came north at the invitation of David I, King of Scots. Hubert, the elder was given the barony of Gisland in Cumbria (then part of Scotland) while John, the younger was granted Dirleton. The original wooden castle was replaced in the 1200s by a massive stone structure. This castle was demolished by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 to stop the English continually making use of it in their forays northwards.

The lands passed by marriage in the hands of the Haliburton (from Berwickshire) family by 1350 who built a new castle. The last Lord Haliburton died in 1505 leaving the estate divided between 3 daughters. One of them married into the Ruthven family who acquired the title. The castle looked like this in 1550.

The castle was demolished yet again in 1650 when General George Monck laid siege on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The defenders included 60 moss-troopers, some of whom were shot after the battle. The lands were then bought by the Nisbet family who made the ruined castle the centrepiece of their landscaped garden.

The castle now looks like this:

On leaving the castle the view was dominated by the local inn which lead us to have lunch before the short drive back to Edinburgh. And what a nice lunch it was too, Mediterranean soup to start, my wife had steak pie (made with local beef) and I had a haggis tower. (my American readers will be aware that the haggis is an endangered species, only the three legged strain being allowed to be used as food today)

Saturday 25 February 2012

Hexon Terrain

I am toying with the idea of buying some Hexon II terrain.

I'm sure many of you will either have some already or have seen some.

I am thinking of getting two sets of two tone flocked Green/Earth and one set of unflocked Blue. This will give me enough to make a 6 x 4 plain with the option of adding a beach edge.

I would also get some of the hill sets, maybe an escarpment or two and a mountain.

I think I would make my own 'lay on top' rivers and roads as they would also fit my standard table top.

Is anyone able to advise me on such a project? I will need some good advice before trying to twist Paul Kerrisons wallet!!

Task Force 57

I recently finished reading a book entitled Task Force 57 by a Peter C Smith. I knew it would be about the Royal Navy in the Far East towards the end of World War Two. I had no real idea about the scale of effort and was very pleased to find out that it involved the largest British fleet of the whole war.

After I had read it I lent to one of my friends. When he returned it to me he gave me a DVD by Roland R Smith to view which covered Task Force 57 or the British Pacific Fleet to give its proper name as well as the East Indies Fleet.

The DVD has a pretty dry commentary but the film clips are second to none, much better than the snippets that are fairly common on TV documentaries. The topics covered were as much of the combats that had cameramen present as well as carrier flyoffs and landings, shore bombardments, refuelling at sea as well as Royal visits. I would highly recommend it for viewing.

As far as I'm concerned it is a 'Forgotten Fleet' no more.

Here's a little story I've heard many times but I've shortened it into a blunt comparison of things that really happened.

American Admiral to the Captain of one of their carriers.

'What's happening since that kamikazi hit you two hours ago'

in reply

'We're still fighting the fires Sir'

British Admiral to the Captain of one of their carriers.

'What's happening since that kamikazi hit you two hours ago'

in reply

'We've swept it overboard and ranging another strike on deck Sir.

If you don't see the reasoning behind the story I would suggest a bit of research into the carriers of the period as there were some striking differences in their make up.

Friday 24 February 2012

Inside the Hut

Here are a few visual snippets of my hut.

From the outside!

The window side faces West and allows a lot of sunshine and heat to enter even in winter (solar gain they call it). The heater has a frost prevention setting so it never gets really cold including when there is snow on the ground. The ventilation is good and I have never seen condensation on the inside. Note the cable for the digital TV ariel.

And through the door:

Note the bucket containers on the left hand side. They are wheeled and stackable and each when full of lead are just about liftable without too much effort. I have 6 altogether and they are normally stored far up on the left hand side beside table number two which is largely used for temporary storage.

One end of one of the 6 x 4 foot tables.

I am in the midst of transferring my collections from opaque cardboard and wooden boxes to transparent plastic boxes (Really Useful Boxes). It will make finding things much easier and hopefully more efficient storage wise.

When I want to use the second table for a game all these boxes go on the floor in between the two tables and I have a 2 foot filler piece with matching paint job that connects the two making a 10 x 6 foot table. I have a second filler piece which connects the far end of table two with the back wall giving me a 12 x 6 foot table.

And the other end:

Bonus point to anyone who can name the game whose map is on the right hand side at floor level. Members of SESWC are not allowed to enter.

The Painting Corner:

My painting table with computer, TV, lamp and some of my paints.

One of the four under table storage areas:

I have way too many unbuilt plastic kits (who hasn't) that I must one day do something about.

And some of my personal touches:

The silvery bit on the right is one of the three ventilators.

There you are, some of my hut in all its glory. Hopefully next time you see it there will be a game in situ.


Wednesday 22 February 2012

The Wargames Hut

Here is my solution to many of the woes of being a married wargamer. I have a hut to keep all my toys in and also provide playing space so that I'm not dependent on a hurried 3 hour wargame at my local club.

Mind you it is 17 feet long by 10 feet wide and it's only just big enough to meet my needs. It is fully weather tight, well supplied with electrical points, well lit and well insulated, heated, ventilated, both natural and fan assisted, partially carpeted, and has a phone, ethernet and digital TV ariel. It has a security system as well as 10 double glazed windows complete with venetian blinds. More importantly it has two 6 foot by 4 foot tables with the options of making up to a 10 foot by 6 foot or a 12 foot by 6 foot table using some add-on boards.

It also has enough built in storage space to keep most but not all of my collections. I also have a painting table, room to keep all of my paints, sprays, brushes and glues as well as a computer hooked up to a large screen which is also a TV and DVD player. The only thing the hut does not do for me is make a cup of tea in between moves or allow me to meet the resulting calls of nature. Fortunately the house is at the other end of the garden.

Don't ask me what it cost.

OK I'll tell you anyway. Somewhere in excess of £6k but the only other choice I had was to move house. In Edinburgh the difference in cost between a typical 3 bedroom house and a 4 bedroom house is around £100k so I reckon I made the most cost effective choice.

Doomed, We Are All Doomed

I usually play with a small group of friends at my Club (SESWC) on a Thursday evening. These games usually have to be short and sweet as playing time is limited to about 3 hours or they have to be able to be stored away and restarted a following week.

My club is the South East of Scotland Wargames Club and they have their own website at:

The game my group is currently playing is boardgame called DOOM. Details can be found at:

The storyline is that there has been a security breach in the Union Aerospace Corporations Mars base and that a group of Marines (played by three of my friends) have to investigate and resolve the situation. As you can see they are a pretty mean bunch and think nothing of slaughtering anything that moves.

I get to play the Invader and try to stop (well kill) them and prevent them from doing so. I never seem to get enough monsters to stake my claim to the base getting only a few at a time. These few are typical but usually provide little resistance.

I sometimes get more effective chappies who will hopefully dish out a bit more pain to the Marines.

It is early in the game but I know that I will get more effective monsters later on. Big brutes that look like this.

And then I might get some of these.

And finally I will get some of these (whoopee do).

I never get as many as these!!

Abandoned on the Stocks

David Crook asked earlier if I had planned to add other ship types to this fleet.

My answer was simply 'no'. These ships met their desired design requirement and that was for a simple game where each ship captain had all the same options as all the other captains.

Introducing different ship types such as Cruisers and Torpedo Boats would have led to a different sort of game and therefore a different style of rules. This would have exposed the dozen or so players to a series of development phases which would have been much less fun for them and more of a disruption to their normal gaming activities.

However I did try upscaling a model to make it more like a Dreadnought but abandoned the project once the basic hull was made which showed that although the model would have looked much more realistic its size would be incompatible with the available playing area.

Anyone see a resemblence to the real event below?


The final damning view showing the size differential between a 'fun' dreadnought ship and a 'fun' late ironclad ship.

My next building project for a 'fun' ship game will no doubt include magnetism in the structure of the hull and its fittings. I had first thought of making the turrets removable, each them based with magnetic tape and the ship deck covered in steel paper. More recently I have been exploring the small but powerful mini magnets now available.

They are not expensive at all, are very powerful and come in all shapes, sizes and strengths. I envisage a hull interspersed with an assembly of embedded magnetic hotspots and variety of turrets, bridges, funnels, ships boats, explosions, wrecked turrets, smoke plumes and all, each with their own embedded magnet. A ship model can then display a series of incremental damage states which adds to the aesthetic value of the game.

I will certainly blog any steps I make in this direction.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Battleship Turning Circle and Movement Gauge

Here's how ships are manoevred in my Cotton Wool Ball Wargame.

Ships have four speeds apart from Stopped. Full, Three Quarter, Half and Quarter Speed.

Ships can only use Full Speed a few times (usually three) in a game. The Captain has a Full Speed card(s) which he must hand over when Full Speed is ordered. Ships normally steam at Three Quarter Speed.

Engine damage will incremently reduce the speed options available to Captains.

When a turn is ordered the Turning Circle (actually an octagon) is placed in line with forward edge of the ship base, red for turns to port and green for starboard.

The ship is then moved round the Turning Circle according to the speed the ship is capable of steaming. Sharp eyed observers will note that a ship can only complete a full reversal of course at Full Speed.

Movement ahead is fairly straightforward (no pun intended).

Leading to something like:

Going down

This is the view when a ship is heavily targetted by the dreaded cotton wool balls.

 One hit

then another

 and some more

now lots

and finally...

Burning Wrecks

This is what happens when you get hit by too many cotton wool balls.

British Fleet

Here are the British Battleships from my Cotton Wool Ball period.


French Fleet

Here are the French Battleships from my Cotton Wool Ball period.


Cotton Wool Ball Battleships

Quite some time ago I made two fleets of fun warships to use in a wargame where the main combat system involved throwing a cotton wool ball across the table at a profile ship target.

The base is thick card, the hull is three layers of foamboard cut in a ship shape with the top layer recessed to form the maindeck aft of the foredeck. The peaked bow is made from cereal box cardboard and the bridge is another couple of pieces of foamboard. The turrets are carved from balsa wood with guns made from cotton buds. I only used a single barrel on each turret to keep the overall size limited. The mast is a cutdown cocktail stick and the funnels are large drinking straws cut to size. The flags are cut from cereal box cardboard and glued closely to the mast and funnel for resilience. The smoke is made from a pot scourer pad and has been sprayed black. The rest of the paint job is a heavy covering of acrylics including portholes and anchors covered by several coats of gloss varnish. This model is several years old and has fought in several battles without a scratch thanks to the resilience issues covered in its simple construction.

I have two fleets of these, recently discovered after a search of the loft. I would hope to put on some more 'cotton wool ball' battles both at home and at my club. The main combat system involves throwing a cotton wool ball at a profile target lying flat in a box across the table (usually six feet away), the number of balls used is dependent on the number of turrets bearing, the range, the bearing of the target and the speed of the target. Victims of successful shooting usually lost either a turret or a funnel signifing loss of shooting power or loss of speed. Sometimes the bridge would be hit with a subsequent loss of control. A ship would eventually blow up.

Ships suffered accidental and catastrophic magazine hits when the firing captain dipped his cotton wool ball in his beer before firing!!

The vessels in the fleets were named in a tongue-in-cheek fashion to help along the 'fun' element of the game. No insults are intended to any real ships whose identity may be related to those of mine in any fashion.

The British fleet consisted of 6 battleships, namely CORNED BEEF, DREADFUL, USELESS, INCAPABLE, JEALOUS and REPULSIVE.

Their opponents seen here steaming out of the gloom were CONK DE GAUL, COCHON NOIRE, LE GRAND CHAT, PREMIER D'APRIL, MASSIF DERRIERRE and HERRING ROUGE.