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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Thursday, 20 May 2021


In the 1950s in the UK, hep cats, copying their jazz confreres from the States, dismissed older folk as being 'square'. Typically, the new slang was, in fact, much older, the pejorative use of 'square' actually dating from the late 18th Century, when the hep cats of the day referred to the more staid members of society by reference to the square-toed shoes they wore.

Today, among the tabletop brigade, square implies the square-based wargame, of which Cpt. Front is a devotee. Following his recent return to the ranks of tin men, Front has been peering at various texts and came across this among the book hills of his little home:

Published by Fonthill in 2012, it is a lavishly illustrated, fascinating account of the wargame as board game. On pp. 78-82, the wargame Polemos makes an appearance:

As Mr. Lewin says, 'Polemos used some brightly painted model soldiers, horses, and gun carriages. This fine military game was invented around 1885 and was awarded a prize medal at the International Inventions Exhibition the same year'. The game was played on a folding linen board, 62 inches x 54 inches, marked out with 600 squares, each 2inches x 2 inches. Mr. Lewin's comments, 'it would appear that luck play little or no part in this game, which must have required intense mental effort'. 

Fascinating stuff. The game is, of all the numerous games covered in the book, most like what we would regard as a war game, and, as such, may well qualify as the first square-based war game.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

The Bad Mahdi...

 aka the Mad Mahdi's lesser known cousin, two times removed.

A tale of dust, thirst and Bob Cordery on the square (get it?).

This was a rare occasion when I was facing a real opponent on the tabletop, in the shape of my grandson who nobly took the part of the Bad Mahdi. We were using Bob Cordery's '"The Gatling's Jammed..." simple Colonial Wargame Rules'. And it was to be another re-fight of the attack on Morobad, seen below:

The British, supported by elements of the Egyptian camelry:

They had a combined strength point total of 46, which gave them an exhaustion point of 15. The Mahdi's men had a strength point total of 37 (though, of course, they had the town walls), with exhaustion point of 12. The exhaustion point marks the point when offensive action is no longer possible.

Being a spirited sort of fellow, the Bad Mahdi decided to defend Morobad with his rifle equipped units, while throwing the rest of his force into an attack designed to stop the Infidels getting anywhere near the town.

Compelled by their want of rifles and muskets, the Mahdi's lads took some heavy fire on their way to contact.

The field gun battery, along with the Nordenfelt did some fine work, but still the crazed Fuzz came on:

Realising that the affair would be decided on the field, the Bad Mahdi sent out his rifle armed units to support the attack. Below we see the hand of Mars (are we getting our religious references mixed here?) moving the riflemen up in support:

The attackers, horse (rather, camel) and foot, closed with the infidel, and some hot dice were thrown, both sides taking casualties:

But the stalwarts of the British Empire held firm: 

The upshot was that just as the Mahdi's riflemen began to close, their entire force hit their exhaustion point.  At that, Col. Bufton and the Bad Mahdi decided to call it a day. Morobad hadn't fallen, but the Mahdi's force had been stopped in its tracks.

Before we go,

Plant of the moment:

Encrusted saxifrage, currently sheltering from the rain in my greenhouse:

Finally, don't forget to visit my other bloggy-website thing:

Stephen M. Cullen – History, books & booklets from Allotment Hut. (

Friday, 14 May 2021

Let the dice...


And decide they did. We left the British and Canadians in what looked like a precarious position. Not only outnumbered, but facing a determined US advance. But here the 'no move and shoot' rule, added to some high dice rolls on the part of the defenders, really made an impact. The US line was unable to close quickly enough, and faced rolling volleys from the defenders:

The Yankees fought back, inflicting heavy casualties on British regulars:

 But the dice decided:

Two of the three US Infantry units were removed from the table, and a general retreat was sounded:

The British and Canadians were, however, unable to follow up. 

Until another day, when perhaps these redoubtable Canadian heroes will make a showing:


A word on the rules.

I really enjoy Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames. They are just the thing for an old bloke, poor of eyesight, short on patience etc, but I wonder about two aspects of the 'Horse and Musket Rules' in Thomas' book. 

Firstly, 'cavalry are the only unit type that may enter Hand-to-Hand Combat'. I understand where this rule comes from - that most units retreated in the face of a bayonet attack - but it does cramp the game somewhat.

Secondly, the hits registered by an artillery hit are reduced by two. Now, given the effect of grape or canister, this seems a little unlikely at close range. Perhaps I will modify that rule next time.

Speaking of next time...

Everyone's favourite 19th Century mad warlord needs to be confronted.

This post was brought to you courtesy of:

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Tough going...

 in Upper Canada.

The US attack line in this 'One Hour' war game is pretty formidable, with three units of regulars, two artillery batteries, and a unit of militia. One of the basic tenets of the 'One Hour' game is that each unit has 15 defence/morale points, and when that limit has been reached the unit is gone. I've made a small adjustment to this rule by allocating lower defence/morale points to some units, for example, the US militia have only 13 points. Nonetheless, the attacking Americans, with the aim of seizing the blockhouse and opening the road to further advances, outnumber the British and Canadian defenders. A strong assault force:

The US artillery open proceedings, and the British artillery in the block house respond:

After a fairly ineffectual exchange, the entire American line advances:

While the British and Canadians move forward to support the blockhouse and await the assault, thereby benefiting from the 'move or fire' rule:

As the opposing lines converge, the British begin to take casualties, suffering from the better die rolls of the US commander:

 It's not looking good...


Meanwhile, wearing my other hat, I have just published an article in the rather fine, and newish, magazine Salient Points, which is the main journal of the Great War Group:

The Great War Group, and Salient Points – Stephen M. Cullen (

Worth a look if the Great War is of interest.

Friday, 7 May 2021

The Yankees are coming....

 to Upper Canada, in the year of Our Lord 1812, '13, '14...

Back on the gaming table, new forces appear:

Above: US Army regulars, and...

Militia. They're not entirely sure whether they should have been mustered out of state, or whether the Constitution permits their deployment out of the USA, but they are quite sure that it is Militia that can defeat the British....

Meanwhile, standing ready, small numbers of British regulars:

in a blockhouse, waiting for reinforcements in the shape of  newly embodied Fencibles and Sedentary Militia.

We wait, tense and expectant.

This is, of course, a self-serving post to advertise the rather good chapter in my recent Pen & Sword book:

I say so myself, but, in Britain at least, the War of 1812 has little resonance. My chapter in Amateur Armies: Militias and Volunteers in War and Peace, 1797-1961, takes a rare look at the important role of British North American (Upper and Lower Canada) and US militias in this war. Worth a read...?

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

'They'll be dancing in the streets of...

 Sblad tonight!' To be said in a Scots accent. As they say, if you know, you know. And if not, try here.

From which you might guess that the spirited, though as it transpired foolhardy, assault of Lovitznian forces on Sblad did not go to plan.

Above, the assault column just had far too much ground to cover before it could contact with the Maltovian defence line. This task was not made easier by some low activation dice throws on the part of the Lovitznian colonel. 

Supporting the main assault, the light infantry made its way through woodlands to fall upon the Maltovian machine gunners. Yet even this attack went wrong, and the light infantry were sent into headlong retreat back through the woods:

That left the main assault with an open flank. Fire poured into the lead regiment, from front and two flanks, as even the militia on the town walls added to the agony despite the limited effectiveness of their obsolete weapons. Finally, five morale points were taken, and it was left to the second regiment in the assault column to charge and melee:

It was a close thing for the Maltovian line, but the attacking column was enveloped by the Maltovians benefiting from a clear flank after the retreat of the Lovitznian light infantry:

The game was over:

The Lovitznian high command is going to have some serious thinking to do. The French doctrine of the bayonet attack just isn't cutting it. More men, more artillery are needed. And some officers need to go on half pay.


Over on my other bloggy-website-thingy I have added a new short piece on the writing of British ex-combatants of the Great War. Do visit (link below), and follow. Cheers!

Blog – Stephen M. Cullen (

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Square Brigadier...

 I had intended to return to the Maltovia/Lovitznia feud by way of Ross Mac's 'A Rattle of Dice' rules. However, I see that during my long absence Ross has produced another set of rules that seem to fit this conflict, his 'The Square Brigadier In The Great Game' rule set. These look like just the sort of rules for an old chap like me, and, more importantly, for my shiny toy soldiers in 42mm.

To play test them, I set up a straightforward Lovitznian assault on the old town of Sblad. No finesse here. The Lovitznian plan of attack involves a column attack towards the flank of the old town where the walls have long been removed to make way for a metalled road. The infantry attack to be supported by field artillery bombardment of the town walls, with the intention of distracting the Moltovian fortress artillery. 

The Lovitznian hordes advance:

Supported by their field artillery:

Col. Vlasov, commanding the defences, immediately took the important decisions, ordering the beer wagon into the safety of the town, manning the town walls with the militia and the professionals of the fortress artillery, while deploying his field force to cover the weak flank of Sblad.

The first few moves went as expected, with the artillery exchanging fire, the Lovitznian line infantry attacking with great élan, and their light infantry making their way through woods on their left flank in the hope of enveloping their opponents' field force:

Above: the Moltovian field force prepares to receive the main assault.

The Lovitznian artillery taking its time to find the range of the defences (more training is clearly needed).

Light infantry in the woods.

The assault column taking casualties, two more hits and the lead regiment is off the field.

To be continued....