How to Start Playing Pike and Shot Wargames

A typical Pike and Shot game - this one set in Scotland in 1645.

Introduction

The aim of this page is to help someone who wants to start playing historical tabletop wargames, using miniature figures, in the classic era of pikes and muskets.  The information here is focused on conflicts such as the English Civil War (ECW) and the Thirty Years War (TYW), set in the first part of the 17th century, roughly between 1600 to 1660.  This is part of the historical period that wargamers often call ‘Pike and Shot’.

This page is split in to the following sections.  (You can click on the links to jump straight to the sections).

N.B. As historical gamers get older they are at risk of developing “Beardyness”.  (As a sufferer I should know!)  This can result in them becoming obsessed about tiny details, perhaps even pedantic, potentially interesting, but in the most severe cases fun-suckingly boring. I have tried to keep this page ‘light’ but you will see highlights where my alter ego, Major Beardy, breaks in.  Feel free to skip past these bits!

Major Beardy says ...
 There is no “official” categorisation of historical wargame periods.  Common convention was that period running roughly between 1500 and 1700 was the Renaissance period.  Recently the term ‘Pike and Shot’ has become popular to describe this period as well, based on the common infantry weapons dominating the battlefields of Western Europe. 

The Pike and Shot historical period has a lot to offer wargamers.  It has colourful troops, with even more colourful flags.  It avoids the more complex uniforms that you can find in some later periods.  It is the period that saw the mass use of gunpowder weapons on the battlefield, while still featuring heavily armoured cavalry charging in to combat.  It is the era of the Flashing Blade, the Three Musketeers, and Captain Alatriste.  (Who doesn’t love bucket top boots, a broad brimmed hat, and a deftly wielded rapier!)  There are also numerous conflicts across Europe, and the New World, that can be used as the background to your tabletop games.  


Starting to wargame in this period can seem a bit daunting.  There are many, many suppliers of the different components you’ll need: figures, rules, and terrain, but there is also such a myriad of choices that it can be difficult to know where to begin if you don’t have friends, or a club, with the experience to help guide you.

There are a number of choices that you will need to make.  Historical wargaming can be more of a buffet than a set menu.  You will need to take a look at the options, but then you can fill your plate with the stuff you like!  This page lays out some of the options, as I see them, and I’ll make some suggestions based on my experience.


Pike and Shot Figure Size / Scale


From left to right: 28mm, 25mm, 15mm, 10mm, 6mm
Major Beardy says ...
 Some people get quite ‘excited’ about the size / scale topic.  They will remind you that 28mm, for example, is a size and not a scale.  1/56th is a scale.  You have been warned!

Miniature figures for this period are made in just about every size possible for a ‘toy solider’.  There are current ranges available from manufacturers in 2mm, 3mm, 6mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25/28mm, 40mm and 54mm.  15mm (roughly 1/100 scale) and 28mm (roughly somewhere between 1/48 and 1/56 scales ) are probably most popular, with 6mm and 10mm also having significant followings.  Choice is often one of aesthetics; what you think looks best, and all sizes have their pluses and minuses.  In general bigger means more expensive and requires more room to play games.  The choice often comes down to what your local fellow gamers also prefer.  If you already have collections for other wargame periods it can be easier to stick to the same scale that you use for those other periods.  Terrain (such as trees and hills) can then be used for multiple different wargame periods.

10mm figures from the Williamite wars of the 1690s. A bit later than the period focused on here, but a good example of how you can base units in the smaller scales.

If you are looking for the absolutely easiest way to start then there are a few ways which I’ve described in the Quick Start area below.

Major Beardy says ...
 I currently have figures for the Pike and Shot period in both 28mm and 15mm, and I am sorely tempted to try something in a smaller size such a 3, 6 or 10mm.  However, my favourite is definitely 28mm.  There is something I find very pleasing about these just over an inch high figures.  They can be painted up like miniature works of art (although perhaps not by me!), and I have always been captivated by a table filled with two armies of 28mm figures locked in combat.

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Suggested Pike and Shot Conflicts

Once you have set on a size/scale, but before you rush off to order your first figures, it is worth considering which conflict you want to use as the setting, or backdrop, to your miniature collection and your games.  Just a small amount of investigation will pay huge dividends in helping to understand the setting your miniature warriors operated in, and will add massively to your immersion in the game. 

Major Beardy says ...
 The historical background is the “fluff” that provides a reason for your army, and its opponents, to exist.  This background doesn’t belong to any wargames company and there is no intellectual property (IP) in history as such. From a game point of view, perhaps a downside of this is that its not going be developed or changed to provide new interest. However this can also be seen as a benefit. No one can change or alter your favourite army.  Despite any perceived ‘limits’, no historical gamer has ever run out of armies to collect!

For some people the historical research is as much fun as playing the games, while others want to get figures on the table as quickly as possible. Either way one of the best places to start is one of the books from Osprey (https://ospreypublishing.com). The slim volumes in their Men-at-Arms, and Elite series, are fantastic introductions to armies throughout history.  They are packed with useful information for the wargamer such as uniforms, equipment and organisation.  Although not specifically designed for wargamers, I don’t know any historical wargamer who doesn’t have at least one or two Ospreys on their bookshelves.

Osprey also have a more detailed series called Campaign. These focus on a historical single battle and the military campaign surrounding it. This can be an interesting approach to building a historical army; by basing it on the army that fought a particular battle. A final plug for Osprey is their Essential Histories range which typically summarise a war in an easily accessible volume. Osprey have become so ubiquitous in wargaming circles that it is well worth checking out second hand book shops and sites to find Ospreys at bargain prices. For each of the conflict sections below I will list some suggested Ospreys.

Major Beardy says ...
 Basing your historical army on a specific battle or campaign is not only a good idea it is definitely a way to receive extra beard points from Major Beardy!

There are, of course, many useful books beyond Osprey.  There are also wargaming companies that produce dedicated books, or books that provide rules, army lists and historical background.  Helion are another publisher worth looking at.  They have a series called ‘Century of the Solider’ that focuses on this period (https://www.helion.co.uk/series/century-of-the-soldier-1618-1721.php?sid=f4399e2dec7cf7bc786532f8ff47f4ba), with more volumes coming out all of the time.

Here are my suggestions of historical conflicts, or settings, for which you’ll find figures, rules, and plenty of inspiring background material:

  • The English Civil War (ECW)
  • The Thirty Years War (TYW)
  • Eastern Europe
  • The New World

The English Civil War (ECW)

This period has, for obvious reasons, always been very popular with gamers in the UK.  Historians more accurately call this the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, as the conflict spread across England, Scotland and Ireland, but it is strongly engrained with wargamers as the ECW. The associated wars ran from 1639 through to 1660. Armies split roughly into those fighting in support of King Charles I (the Royalists), and those fighting against him (the Parliamentarians).

An English Civil War battle between the English ‘New Model Army’ and the Scottish Covenanters set in 1651.

There are plenty of figure ranges available, and many accessible books and websites.  It has the added benefit that, if you live in the UK, there will likely have been some actions or battles near where you live, which gives you some local interest. 

It also has the benefit that most figures available can be used for either Royalist or Parliamentarian armies as there was very little differences in dress and equipment between the armies. There are also many units that have no uniform details known for sure, which gives you more of a free reign. It is worth noting that many units had no uniform, so you can give units an irregular look if you want.  A good choice for a first army can be Scots Covenanters as this army fought against all of the others at some point in the wars.

Troops defending a ‘Star Fort’, a common fortification built during the English Civil War.

It is worth looking at the TYW ranges of figures to further fill out your ECW armies.  The TYW was a huge influence on tactics and equipment in the ECW, and many ECW officers had learnt their trade fighting in the conflicts on the continents in the TYW. 

Recommended introductory books:

To see an excellent, and an ever expanding, 15mm collection of ECW troops check out https://www.keepyourpowderdry.co.uk/ . A great site for general ECW history, and also ECW 15mm figures.


The Thirty Years War (TYW)

This conflict ran from 1618 to 1648 across most of central Europe, and involved soldiers from almost every country; from Southern Spain to the Russian Steppes, and from Italy to Finland. Armies are split roughly into those fighting in support of the Hapsburgs (the Imperial armies) or those fighting against them (the Protestant armies).  

There are a good number of figure ranges available, and these are expanding as new figure manufacturers appear in countries beyond the UK and the USA. 

A classic Thirty Years War Imperial army arrayed for battle.

In a similar way to the ECW there are some basic troop types that can work for either side, and there are the same unknowns and leeway with uniforms as there are for the ECW.  There are also opportunities to share some figures across the TYW and ECW conflicts. There are plenty of books and websites in English, and it is better catered for in other languages than the anglo-centric ECW. Indeed if you want to delve really deeply in to the history of the TYW then speaking German or Swedish is a real advantage! 

Swedish infantry brigades prepare to assault the Imperial battle line.

Recommended introductory books:


Eastern European Wars

For the whole time period we are looking at there was a conflict somewhere in Eastern Europe and most of these involved the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which was one of the super-powers in the region.  The armies here were focused on mounted troops, and infantry was often less important than in the TYW or ECW. Some of the main armies in involved were the Polish & Lithuanian Commonwealth, Muscovites (Russian), Tartars, Ottoman Turks, and the Swedish and Imperial armies (from the TYW).

An epic battle picture painted by Peter Snayers. The battle of Kircholm, 1605, between the Poles (left) and the Swedes (right).  It was a stunning Polish victory.

Figure ranges are a bit more limited the further you go East, but there are choices in several scales. 

There are some opportunities for light cavalry, like cossacks and tartars, to be used in multiple different armies.  There was also an evolution in several armies to recruit from, or equip troops in the same way as was typical, further West, meaning you can use figures from the TYW.  There are books and websites in English, but this is an area which is not as well catered for yet as the ECW or TYW.

Recommended introductory books:


The New World

As the European powers established colonies in the Americas so wars started between these powers, and also with the indigenous peoples. Battles tended to be smaller scale and these conflicts are perhaps better suited to skirmishes in the larger figure sizes.  There is often a naval element, as well as a land element, to games set in the West Indies.

The Spanish reconquest of St. Kitts in 1639.

Figure ranges are limited and you will probably need to borrow from ECW and TYW ranges.

This is a bit of an up and coming sub-period and more material is becoming available, in print and online, especially in English. If you have skirmish forces for the ECW or TYW then you could probably use a good proportion of them in the New World. 

Major Beardy says ...
 The armies and settings described above are just scratching the surface really, and there are more options available.  If there is something in particular that you are interested in then ‘Google’ is your friend and a few internet searches can quickly throw up some further options.

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Pike and Shot Quick Starts

I’d you’re looking for quick start in to Pike and Shot games, and you’re looking for something close to a ‘game in a box’ then here are some recommendations, covering 28mm, 15mm and 6mm. 


Warlord Games (28mm)

If you want a quick start to fight battles in the English Civil War or the Thirty Years War, in 28mm, then you can’t go far wrong by looking at Warlord Games “Pike & Shotte” range. They are currently the only manufacturer producing plastic 28mm sets for this period, and they have some great starter sets available. 

It is worth looking through all of their big box sets, but for the simplest start there is the “Pike & Shotte - For King & Country” Starter Army (https://store.warlordgames.com/collections/pike-shotte-starter-sets/products/pike-shotte-for-king-country) This comes with infantry and some cavalry, and the Pike and Shotte rule book.  The great thing with this rule book is that, as well as rules to fight a game,  it also provides campaign rules, army lists for the ECW and TYW, and historical background.  It is packed with great art work and pictures of painted minis which can be inspirational, and helpful as a painting guide. I like these rules, and have written a fuller review of them on the blog page here (https://theviaregia.blogspot.com/p/warlord-games-pike-and-shotte-rules.html).  The figures are plastic multi-part kits, which are relatively straightforward to build, and there are some options available for different head gear and equipment when putting the figures together. With the figures there are some information leaflets which include cut-out flags, and also plastic bases.

If you plan to use different rules, or want to expand on your starter army, then there are some other big box sets from Warlord which provide great value, with some more focused on ECW and some on TYW.  Check out their website on the link above and search for “pike shotte army”.


Wargamer (15mm)

Wargamer, based in Poland, have a great one stop solution for those wanting to play wargames set in 17th century Eastern Europe with 15mm figures. They have a game system called “By Fire And Sword” (http://www.fireandsword.wargamer.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=58) for which they sell rules, army books, figures, flags and terrain.  Their website provides lots of interesting history and background information for the game, and there are some useful YouTube videos that help explain how the game works.  There is an active international competition scene using the game system and this has lead to the rules and army lists being regularly updated.

The game is designed to be played with several sizes of armies from ‘skirmish’ with just a few units and one commander a side, up to ‘division’ with many units and multiple commanders a side.  Wargamer sell some ‘skirmish’ starter sets (https://sklep.wargamer.pl/en/podjazd-koronny-pol-13.html) which includes all of the figures needed for this size of game, and there are free downloads of the rules and lists to support these starter sets. A great way of getting in to the game.  The figures are metal, although they are starting to switch to single cast plastic figures. 


Baccus (6mm)

If you want to go the 6mm route for your pike and shot games then you should check out the Baccus website (https://www.baccus6mm.com/catalogue/WarsoftheEuropeanCrisisECWandTYW/General/).  Baccus specialise in 6mm and their site has everything you will need for 6mm games.  As well as strips of 6mm metal figures they also sell them in army packs which are a great way to get started.  They also have a ‘whole game in a box’ deal (the ECW Boxed Set) which has two ECW armies, flags, bases, painting instructions, some terrain, and a set of the Polemos ECW ruleset.

The Polemos rules have been written with the intention of allowing big battles to be easily re-fought using your 6mm collection (though they will also work with other scales of figures). 

Blood and Plunder (28mm)

If you want to play your pike and shot games in the West Indies, and fancy a nautical theme with a dash of piratical yo ho hoes, then Blood and Plunder from Firelock Games is for you.  They produce rules, figures, terrain and ships for this skirmish level game.  They have a starter set which gets you two skirmish forces, and a set of rules (https://www.firelockgames.com/product/2-player-bundle-pre-order/).

One of the neat thing about Blood and Plunder is the way they have integrated boats and ships into the rules and so naval landings, or actions entirety at sea, are seamlessly integrated. There are YouTube videos which show the game being demonstrated. 


Quick Pick ‘n Mix (28mm)

Another option for quick starting pike and shot games, although having to mix manufacturers, is to combine the plastic 28mm ‘Pike and Shotte’ army sets from Warlord Games (see above) and use these with The Pikeman’s Lament ruleset from Osprey (https://ospreypublishing.com/the-pikeman-s-lament). The Pikeman’s Lament rules are what might be called a ‘large skirmish’ set of rules and include army lists within the book.  


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Pike and Shot Figure Manufacturers

Once you are at the stage where you want to purchase some figures for your Pike and Shot army you may be surprised at the options available, especially in 28mm and 15mm.

We are lucky that there is a well established wargamer-run site that does a great job of listing the manufacturers for “Renaissance” figures.  As well as figures, the site also covers suppliers of printed flags.  These flags a great way to add colour and character to your armies.

Note: the Madaxeman.com website is fabulous resource for all sorts of wargaming related information. 

For 28mm manufacturers

https://www.madaxeman.com/main/28mm_Renaissance_suppliers.php

For 15mm manufacturers

https://www.madaxeman.com/main/15mm_renaissance_suppliers_text.php

It is worth remembering that you can mix figures from different manufacturers and ranges in your Pike and Shot army.  You do have to exercise some caution, as one manufacturer’s 28mm figures, for example, may be a slightly different size to another’s.  How much these size differences bother you is a completely personal thing. Some people accept that real people are all sorts of shapes and sizes, and so don’t mind if their figures vary a bit.  Others like more ‘uniformity’.  I mix different ranges quite happily, but tend to keep figures in a unit from manufacturers whose figures are a similar height.

The best way to decide on which figures you like, and which you’re happy to mix, will come down to getting a few figures, painting them up, and then seeing how you feel when they are on the wargames table. Luckily this ‘collecting’ part of the hobby is something that most wargamers seem to like, or are even addicted to (in my case!).

In this large refight of Lutzen, 1632, there are 28mm figures from all of the manufacturers listed below.

My completely personal recommendations for 28mm figures, based on the Pike and Shot armies that I have collected so far, are listed below.  

Major Beardy says ...
 This is longer list than I expected to write.  Don’t feel that you have to investigate every manufacturer, especially to start with.  Once you’ve got a few units ready for the table, and you start looking around for a different officer, or general figure, for your next unit then it can be really helpful to start expanding your collection in to different ranges. 

Warlord Games


Warlord have great figures available for this, and many other, periods. They are also the only people (so far!) to do plastic figures for this period and scale.  I highly recommend them, and have used Warlord plastics and metal figures for a large part of all of my armies. Their Scots Highlander range is brilliant, and one of the only options if you need some of these wild irregulars for your forces.  The plastic horses are also particular good.  Warlord also offers great value with their box sets, and look out for website offers.
  

Perry Miniatures


I have always loved the sculpting by the Perry twins, and so it is no surprise that I love their ECW figures.  Not a huge range, but really lovely figures. They are on the small size for 28s, and this is because they designed the range to fit in with the ECW figures designed by them at Wargames Foundry, which were large 25mm, rather than 28mm. Despite this I have no problem combing them with the Warlord and TAG 28s.

The Assault Group (TAG)


TAG have a great Renaissance range and have done a really good job of producing the figures not covered well by other manufacturers.  This is particularly true for some of the Eastern European, and Ottoman, armies.

Wargames Foundry

https://www.wargamesfoundry.com/collections/english-civil-war

The Foundry Pike and Shot figures are perhaps getting a bit long in the tooth now and were originally designed by the Perry twins back in the late 80s / early 90s. As mentioned above, they were originally large 25mm, rather than than 28mm, but they are still very nice sculpts.  Worth a look, and I keep being drawn back to them.

Flags of War

https://www.flagsofwar.com/collections/1600

There are plenty of different providers of printed flags for this period and they are well worth getting as a final dressing to your units.  My favourite is Flags of War.  Really nice, vibrant flags, and a great selection.

Warfare Miniatures

https://www.leagueofaugsburg.com/shop/products-cat-16.html

The figure ranges here are primarily for a slightly later period than my armies (1680 to 1720?), but there are some interesting figures coming out for Eastern Europe that can be used for the earlier part of the 17th century as well.  Also some lovely artillery pieces and siege equipment that works for the whole 17th century.  (You will see more of Barry Hilton’s (LofA owner) work in the Inspiration section below!)

1898 Miniatures

https://www.1898miniaturas.com/shop/en/48-spanish-tercios-28mm-miniatures

1898 are a Spanish based manufacturer who have a relatively recent range of 28mm figures aimed at representing the Spanish forces in the Thirty Years War.  I think they will actually do for most European forces in this period. So far mainly infantry and commanders in the range, but worth having a look at.  Fit nicely with the ranges above. Also available in the UK from Empress Miniatures (https://www.empressminiatures.com/1898-miniaturas-tyw-range-109-c.asp) who also have a large ECW range themselves.

Bohemian Miniatures

https://www.horcata.eu/category/thirty-years-war/

A small outfit based in the Czech Republic.  Sculpting by Paul Hicks.  Some really nice TYW themed figures.  Fit in nicely with ranges above.  They do not make horses so you’ll need to get these from Front Rank Miniatures, which is ok as Front Rank do really nice horses! (https://www.frontrank.com/product-category/late-17th-century/late-17th-century-horses/)

Steve Barber Models

https://www.stevebarbermodels.com/store/-c36555030

Another newish range for the TYW.  I like the separate heads in this range, as it gives lots of scope for conversion and variety.

Colonel Bills

https://colonelbills-store.co.uk/epages/4f27da57-42ee-48c0-9cb8-22c9dd921a68.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/4f27da57-42ee-48c0-9cb8-22c9dd921a68/Categories/86/44

This is to place to go for those extra 17th century vignette ‘bits’ that are great at bringing a wargames table to life. Civilians, scouts, the wounded, and even people in the bath! 

Avanpost

https://www.mezzersminis.co.uk/avanpost-thirty-years-war-metal

A special final mention to Avanpost, who are a Russian firm that produce TYW figures in resin and metal.  You can buy direct, but they are also stocked in the UK by Mezzers Minis (link above).  Some of these figures are stunning!  A bit on the smaller side (think Perry’s ECW range), but lovely nonetheless.  The resin figures are a bit sensitive to handling (i.e. little bits break easily!).  The muskets in this range are very small compared to other ranges, and so musketeer figures will not mix well.  (The muskets are probably to scale, but everyone else makes them a bit chunkier so that they are easier to cast and more robust in use.)  A special mention to the artillery pieces that are little works of art - especially the turned brass barrels!

A train of baggage mules with vital suppliers - 28mm by Warlord Games


Pike and Shot Rules

Once you have a few units of figures ready for the table then you’ll need some rules to play a game.  I have already covered a few options in the Quick Start section.  However, there are plenty, plenty more to chose from.  If you thought the list of figure manufacturers was long, then the list of rules is even longer!

I have set up a separate Blog page to list rules for this period. 

https://theviaregia.blogspot.com/p/17th-century-wargames-rules.html

Major Beardy says ...
 I have turned in to a bit of a collector of rules for this period.  I always find the authors have something different and interesting to say about warfare in this period and so I find rules an interesting read (so beardy!)

My quick suggestion for rules remains Warlord Games’ Pike and Shotte rules.  Easy to learn and yet based on a clever and subtle system.  You can’t go wrong. The rule book is very nicely produced, with lots of interesting background, and is well worth the price. 

https://store.warlordgames.com/products/pike-shotte-rulebook?variant=32026969964624


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Pike and Shot Inspiration

This section aims to give just a few ideas for places to get some Pike and Shot ‘inspiration’; ideas for painting your armies, scenarios for games, or just some 17th century ‘eye-candy’.

“Rocroi, el último tercio” by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau - contemporary art works like this can be great wargaming inspiration. 

Roundwoods’s World

http://sidneyroundwood.blogspot.com/search/label/17th%20Century

A wonderful blog produced by Sir Sidney Roundwood, also of Too Fat Lardies fame. Amongst many other things, Sir Sidney blogs about his 17th century Laarden collection.  I love the thought and imagination that goes in to this, and although for a slightly later period than my armies, I find this blog a mine of useful information.

Simon Miller

https://forkingandparliament.blogspot.com/

Simon’s wonderful blog shows off his awesome 28mm ECW armies.  He also produces some fine ECW rules called For King and Parliament (https://bigredbatshop.co.uk/collections/all/products/to-the-strongest-for-king-and-parliament-rules-physical-edition). Nothing beats a big wargames table full of beautiful 28mm figures, and no one does this better than Simon.

Barry Hilton

https://www.leagueofaugsburg.com/gallery/gallery-52-190.html

Barry runs Warfare Miniatures and is also the power house behind the The League of Augsburg creative group. Lots of things to explore on his blog and web store.  I especially like the way Barry ‘dresses’ his wargames tables with extra detail.

Alatriste



Unfortunately there are not many movies set in this period.  Many will have seen the Three Musketeers series.  My favourite however is this Spanish made movie from 2006. You can still find it on DVD and Blu-ray, and it may even be doing the rounds on YouTube.  It stars Viggo Mortensen (yes, that chap from Lord of the Rings), and although in Spanish has good subtitles. The final battle scene is superb.

Peter Snayers

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Snayers

Peter Snayers was a prolific seventeenth century painter who specialised in military subjects, especially battle scenes.  You can see many of his works on the internet and they are great for getting into the detail of seventeenth century military life.  There is a wonderful (but eye-wateringly expensive) book of his paintings available (https://www.naval-military-press.com/product/pieter-snayersbattle-painter-1592-1667/).

Soldiers Bivouacking by Peter Snayers. As well as his epic battle pictures, Snayers also give us fascinating glimpses in to the life in camp for 17th century soldiers.



Conclusion 

I hope that this blog page will have provided you with some ideas on how to start Pike and Shot wargaming.  If there is anything you’re not clear on, or if you’ve any further deals not covered that you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

I hope to see you on the seventeenth century battlefield soon!

Andy @ FoGH.

4 comments:

  1. A most excellent article and as it happens very useful to me at this moment in time.

    I've added you to my Just Add Water wargaming Blogroll.

    Fab stuff and i will keep popping back for reference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Bedford! I am really pleased that this was helpful. Do let me know if there any further you are particularly interested in and I will consider that for future posts.

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  2. Replies
    1. Many thanks, Jose. I am glad the article was of interest :-)

      Delete