Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bloody Big Battles

We all know that sets of wargaming rules are coming out thick and fast these days. Personally, I think this is a good thing - whatever period you are gaming in, or are thinking of gaming in, you have a wide choice of rules to compare and contrast. It is also heartening to find that some of the new rulesets offer a genuinely new outlook on wargaming, offering fresh ideas and the chance of doing something genuinely different. In this latter connection I wanted to flag up the recently released Bloody Big Battles rules.

Now I should admit to a personal interest here. I first encountered these rules at the Oxford Wargames Society a few months before publication, as the author (Chris Pringle) is a member of the society and was one of the first members to welcome me in when I joined. Since then I have enjoyed three or four games with these rules, usually in a group of at least 4 wargamers, and all have been an excellent experience.

The rules do not cover either of my own main periods. They are designed primarily to game actual battles of the late nineteenth century (1850-1900), from the Crimean War through the American Civil War and on to the Franco-Prussian War, with stops at all the more minor wars along the way. The idea is that the big battles of these wars can be fought out in an evening. This I have found to be entirely possible - my most recent experience was to fight the 3 days of Gettysburg in the company of around 5 other gamers in (if I remember correctly) about 3.5 hours. The game was a lot of fun, as well as being quite instructive.

The rulebook is of 54 pages in roughly A4 size (being published in the US where they don't do proper A4). The publishers are Skirmish Campaigns, and I got my copy through Caliver Books for £18.50 plus p&p. The rules are contained in the first 25 pages, and the rest of the booklet consists of 9 scenarios for the Franco-Prussian War, covering all the main battles. Full details are provided, including a detailed map, to allow each to be fought out on a 6' x 4' table, except Le Mans which requires an 8' x 4' layout. This is a no-nonsense black and white printed rulebook with no fancy pictures or modelling tips, just the rules and the scenarios.
There is no real need for me to detail how the rules work - suffice to say that they are straightforward, easily comprehended and neatly summarised on a 2 sided playsheet which is provided at the back of the rules. The trick of condensing these big battles down is done by making the basic element a 1" square base representing around 1,000 infantry or cavalry or 36 guns. The basic game 'unit' for infantry is a brigade or division of 3,000 to 7,000 men, obviously of 3 to 7 elements. Cavalry brigades or divisions tend to be smaller, and are allowed down to a 2 element size. Gun elements operate as individual units. Figure size is not important - stuff as many of your favourite figures on a base as you want. Obviously 6mm or 10mm figures will work best in creating a physical picture of these large engagements. You might even try 2mm or 3mm figures, but if thinking along these lines I suggest you seek professional help, or just admit you don't like toy soldiers. To get started quickly, some gamers might want to resort to troop blocks or card markers rather than actual stands of figures. Ground scale is around 1" to 200yds, and a turn is 1 hour or thereabouts.

As to creating the battlefields themselves, I can reveal that the author makes excellent use of felt for roads, rivers and woods which can thus be made cheaply and used flexibly. Imaginative use of a collection of TSS 10mm-depth hills creates the topography. Carpet tiles come to mind as a good alternative for hills. The use of a gaming mat, under which you can put whatever comes to hand to create the appropriate hills, would probably be my method.

Already available is a further scenario book, entitled Bloody Big European Battles, which contains a further 16 scenarios and campaign suggestions from a variety of European wars - the scenarios are listed in full in this post on the Pendraken Forum, where you will also find some additional info about the rules concepts from Chris. 
However, Chris has asked me to say that rumours of a forthcoming work covering World War One, entitled Fucking Big Battles, are incorrect.

One would have to say that this is a fairly specialised ruleset written for a specific purpose, but any wargamer worth his salt could easily use them for fictional large battles and campaigns. They represent a very well thought out and straightforward way into gaming large size engagements involving tens of thousands of real troops. 

Online support is available at the Yahoo Group, as are more scenarios to freely download. These downloadable scenarios have the battle maps in colour, which is a big plus, and perhaps my only criticism of the rulebook is that some colour would have been welcome to make the maps easier to use. See also Chris's Flickr page for more maps and photos of games in progress

I'm looking forward to enjoying more games of BBB in the future. They really are something different and well worth looking into.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Increasing Pressure On Wargamers Leads To Alcohol Abuse

This evening I had planned some painting of a Prussian 12pdr battery. But I have had a frustrating day at work and can't be bothered. I am going down the pub to get pissed.

Good night and God bless.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Being An Entertainment With Toy Soldiers representing The Battle of Hochkirch (Part 2)

As I write, part 1 of this post is still showing amongst the Popular Posts in the side bar. It seems nearly 4 years has passed since I promised a post describing the refight of this battle. I guess some sort of apology is called for. The delay was occasioned by the fact that, well, no refight has actually taken place until the present time. As to why - I'm at a loss. I guess the project just fell through the cracks.

Rediscovering the battle again, I found I wanted to tweak things a little. The first was to twist the battlefield a bit more anti-clockwise to provide more space for deploying the Austrian attackers, and remove the northern end of the Kuppritzer-Berg as my table was now only 7.5' x 6'. Its presence was unnecessary anyway: the attacking Austrians were only spotted at the last minute by the defenders, as they were attacking in fog and at night. This brought my table layout much nearer to the map used by Olicanalad in his refight, which he did in 2009. Yeah, I should have paid more attention to the guy in the first place.

The forces were tweaked as well, and as I'm now using Honours of War instead of Black Powder, some of the special rules also changed. Each unit in the game represents around 5 actual units.

I went back to an old-school-style sketch map this time around. Key to the map: IR=infantry regiment, FK=freikorps, GR=grenadier regiment, JGR=jaeger, ART=artillery, CR=cuirassier regiment, DR=dragoon regiment, HR=hussar regiment. Prussian commanders are shown by a circled initial: FR=Frederick II, M=Manteuffel, K=Keith, Z=Zeiten. All generals are dependable unless otherwise indicated.

Battle of Hochkirch, 14thOctober 1758

Commanding General Frederich II (dashing)

GL Manteuffel
2 infantry battalions, 2 grenadier battalions, 1 jaeger detachment, 2 medium artillery batteries

Independent dragoon regiment

FML Keith
1 infantry battalion, 1 Freikorps battalion, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 jaeger detachment, 1 cuirassier regiment, 1 small hussar regiment, 1 medium artillery battery

GL Zeiten (dashing)
1 dragoon regiment, 1 hussar regiment

15.5 units,  Army Break Point = 7

Commanding General FM Daun

FML Forgach
2 infantry battalions, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 medium battery

FML D’Aynse
2 infantry battalions, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 medium battery

FML Loudon (dashing)
1 infantry battalions, 2 Grenz battalions, 1 hussar regiment, 1 medium artillery battery

GdC O’Donnell
1 infantry battalion, 1 cuirassier regiment, 1 dragoon regiment

FZM D’Ahrenberg
4 infantry battalions, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 medium artillery battery

GdC Buccow
1 cuirassier regiment, 1 hussar regiment

24 units,  Army Break Point = 12,  25% = 6

Special Rules.

The battle starts at night. The first 2 moves use the fog rules with visibility at 20cm, moves 3 and 4 use the normal fog rules (visibility 30cm).

The Austrian corps of D’Arenberg and Buccow do not deploy until the beginning of move 5.

Frederick  remains within 20cm of the edge of Rodewitz until the beginning of move 4. Keith and Zeiten cannot react in any way in moves 1 or 2 unless one of their units has an Austrian unit in sight. Manteuffel cannot react until the beginning of move 4.

Prussian gun batteries defeated in melee may be captured and used by the Austrians.

Hochkirch and Rodewitz are each worth 1 army point.

Victory conditions
The scenario means that the Prussians have no chance to defeat the Austrians in a conventional sense. They were thoroughly surprised and outnumbered. To give the game meaning, the following simple rules allow the Prussian commander to emerge with honour if he plays well. 

If the Prussian force can remain unbroken until the end of move 8, a draw has taken place. If it has also inflicted 25% casualties on the Austrians, the Prussians have won.

The Battle 

All the forces are deployed and the battle is about to start. Note that my map was drawn after the game, with lessons from the refight learned. Thus the corps of O'Donnel and Loudon enter a bit further north in the photo than on the map. Shifting them south both corresponds more fully with Mr Duffy's map in By Force of Arms, and also makes it harder for the Austrians to cut off the Prussian line of retreat. The columns of Forgach and D'Aynse can also be deployed a bit closer to Hochkirch, allowing all of Forgach's corps (left) to be on table when the battle starts.
Hochkirch and its defenders.
The Austrians close in. The main attack (seen on the right) was a little slow in its approach, delayed by confusion in the fog and darkness. On the left of the photo Zeiten reacts and gets stuck in to the advancing Austrian cavalry. Around Hochkirch, the Freikorps have been pushed back to the town's western edge.
Frederick moves south from Rodewitz, uncertain but suspicious something bad is happening.
The Austrians surround Hochkirch. Escape for retreating Prussians is possible only to the north east, towards the stream. West of the Hochkirch-Rodewitz road (top left of picture), Zeiten puts in a final flank charge with his cuirassiers, which caused some disruption and delay but couldn't halt O'Donnel's forces.
Move 5, and the corps of Buccow and D'Arenberg can now commence their attack.
Hochkirch captured. The Prussian grenadiers entrenched south of the town are still holding on, despite being completely surrounded.
Despite driving off one of the attacking Austrian battalions, the Prussian grenadiers are about to be destroyed.
The attack has now moved beyond Hochkirch. It looks like the Prussian line of retreat has been cut to the south of Rodewitz.
A pocket has formed around Frederick. The remaining Prussian units are under severe pressure with nowhere to go.
Just before the end. The Prussians are almost at their breakpoint (having lost nearly half their units). The Austrians are only down by one unit.
End of move 8. Frederick's army is cut off and broken. Surrender is the only option. Only the independent dragoon unit seen in the distant background looks like escaping. Two days later the Seven Years War was over and Europe's history was changed forever...

My Life As A Bathtubber
I was uncertain how well this game would play out. Maybe the process of 'bathtubbing' had gone too far (see part 1 for the background to my doubts). In the end, however, it was one of the most enjoyable games I have played for some time, with non-stop action across the table and a credible result. Those who criticise bathtubbing (letting one wargames unit represent a number of real units, but keeping the rules exactly the same) often cite the fact that the ground scale is completely thrown out by this process. They are, of course, completely correct, but somehow games played using this process have a habit of turning out perfectly well. Exactly how this works remains a mystery to me. Perhaps the most well known current proponent of this approach is Charles S Grant, with his Wargaming in History book series. Those lucky enough to have a copy of Henry Hyde's Wargaming Compendium will find the process explained on pages 291 to 293.

If this battle interests you, it is worth checking out Olicanalad's refight already mentioned. The best online source is (as usual) the Kronoskaf website. I'm hoping I will get the chance to replay the battle again - it was fun and absorbing. I'm also hoping it won't take 4 years to set it up.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Hotz Felt Fields

I recently came across these Hotz Flocked Felt Fields, from the same people who produce the wargaming mats, of course. I was interested in getting some to break up the plain green of my wargaming table, especially now I am trying out an S&A Scenics felt wargaming mat.

They are made to order, and Hotz are based in Canada, so be prepared to wait 2 or 3 weeks for them to arrive. The website says they are posted out rolled, but mine arrived loosely folded. There was some light creasing, but a bit of gentle counter-folding was all that was needed to sort this out. There is an advice sheet sent with the product that tells you the best way to cure any problems with gentle ironing if you need to.

The mats are treated and flocked, and seem to be very durable - there was no shedding of flock evident during shipping or during my bit of counter-folding. I selected the '20-30mm' size of fields, and I got a standard set of 4 fields, each in a different colour. Sizes were roughly 35 x 27cm, 28 x 23cm, and 2 small fields each 14 x 11cm. They do lay nice and flat, and overall I am very pleased with them. They look fine as they are, breaking up the plain colour of my table. But of course combining them with trees and hedges or walls  would be great too. They would follow an uneven table up to a point, and could be used across simple, straight hill contours.

Pricing is very reasonable in my opinion - $16 for the mats and $8 postage.

The mats with 15mm German tanks and infantry, and some 30mm SYW infantry.
Close up of one of the fields.

I heartily endorse this product!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Twas The Game Before Christmas...

With some leave booked in the days before Christmas, there was time on Christmas Eve eve (i.e. the 23rd) for a last game before the big day. My old friend Paul was once again able to make the trip across from Bristol.

I'm grabbing all the opportunities I can to playtest Honours of War, so SYW it was. I worked up a quick scenario using some nations I don't normally play - the Prussians would attack, but the defenders would be the Reichsarmee, with their French allies providing a flanking force. 

6' x 5' table. North to the top.

The map shows the Reichsarmee forces in position defending a town and its 2 river crossings. The Prussian force is attacking them, but the Reichsarmee's French allies have performed an outflanking march and hope to catch the Prussians off guard.

Prussian force (attacking, deploys up to 30cm from baseline between wood and eastern board edge)
Infantry brigade - 3 line infantry battalions, 1 grenadier battalion
Infantry brigade - 1 line infantry battalion, 1 grenadier battalion
Infantry brigade - 2 Freikorps battalions, 1 light artillery battery
Cavalry brigade - 2 cuirassier regiments
Cavalry brigade - 2 dragoon regiments
Artillery - 2 medium artillery batteries

Reichsarmee force (defending, deployed as shown. Commanding General with the Reichsarmee)
Infantry brigade - 3 line infantry battalions, 2 medium artillery batteries
Infantry brigade (reserve north of river) - 2 line infantry battalions
Cavalry brigade - 2 dragoon regiments

French force (outflanking counter-attack, arrive between wood and north board edge)
Infantry brigade - 2 line infantry battalions, 2 grenadier battalions, 2 medium artillery batteries
Cavalry brigade - 2 elite cavalry regiments, 1 hussar regiment

The French dice to arrive (by brigade) from the beginning of move 3. Each brigade must roll 4 or more to arrive. Arriving brigades are deployed at the table edge with all units in march column. They then dice for move initiative as normal and can move in their arrival turn. Any brigade failing to arrive tries again next turn, adding 1 to the roll each turn. Once a French brigade has arrived, all allied initiative rolls use the French modifiers.
The Prussians must stay east of a line from the edge of the wood to the western edge of the marshes until some French appear.
The town is formed of 2 built up area templates. Loss of both loses the defenders 1 army break point.

The Game In Pictures

The set up (1). Austrian and Bavarian figures pretending to be Reichsarmee in the foreground.
"Prussians sir, farsands of 'em!"
The set up (2). I was using my new S&A scenics felt mat for the first time.
I like the colour, and the way it moulds itself around hills placed underneath.  
The Prusians advanced briskly forward, with effective supporting fire from their cannon on the ridge.
The Reichsarmee dragoons engage the attacking cuirassiers with little hope of success,
whilst the Reichsarmee reserves move up across the bridges.
It's rush hour in the town as reinforcements struggle through the streets.
Senior officers are forced onto the river banks.
As expected, the Reichsarmee dragoons are destroyed. The Prussians close in. 
The French finally arrived on move 5, which was a move or two too late. Top right are the infantry arriving,
whilst in the foreground the Prussian dragoons immediately charge in to delay the French cavalry.
Yes, I know, these are Austrian figures too.
All those inferior class units really make the Reichsarmee fragile. By the end of move 6 they had all
been destroyed or had streamed out of the town, which was now open to the Prussians.
In the background the 'French' cavalry have triumphed, but at the cost of one of their regiments.
This brought the allies to their breaking point and the Prussians had won. 
Concluding positions. The Prussians are now free to reform and concentrate on the French,
who will not be hanging around to try conclusions.
Paul is gracious in victory. I think the quote here was "you're screwed!".

The Christmas Spirit

Those who know the period will be aware that the Austrian generals' favourite tipple was Hungarian Tokay. I am particularly fond of the following quote from Duffy's By Force Of Arms, regarding the behaviour of Field Marshall Daun:

Verri claims to have seen Daun on a particularly hot day without hat or wig, and enjoying a huge cup of iced lemon sorbet, whilst the first gentlemen and leading gentlemen and officers stood about him. After the sorbet Daun addressed a carafe of Tokay, and at no stage thought of offering anything to anyone else. (p.191).

This year I finally got around to acquiring a few bottles of this lovely stuff, and we opened the first one to accompany the game. Personally, I'm with FM Daun - I wouldn't share this stuff if I didn't have to! These days it's generally described as a dessert wine, but it has a wonderful flavour and is not too syrupy or sweet to be enjoyed at any time. I would say something about the fine golden colour, but by the time I got around to photographing the bottle most of it had gone, as you see. Never mind, 2 more bottles still available for Christmas Day. A fine treat if you can get hold of some. 

And so it only remains to wish all readers a very merry Christmas. See you in the New Year!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Villages and Towns in the SYW

When I was putting together some models for my SYW towns and villages around 5 years ago, I was inspired by the type of model buildings I had seen in the works of Charles Grant and Peter Young. So my built up areas took on the vaguely Germanic, Central European look of prosperous and solidly built small towns. The models were of 15mm size, purchased mainly from JR Miniatures with a couple of models from Total Battle Miniatures. You can see what I mean in the 2 photos below:

Over the last year I have realised that a lot of the small towns and villages fought over in the SYW were a lot more basic than this, consisting of wooden houses and huts, often thatched, and not offering a great deal of protection to the occupants, particularly from artillery fire. For example, read this quote from Duffy's book Prussia's Glory, describing the field of battle at Rossbach:

"The ground was open and cultivated, and devoid of obvious features except a pair of villages (Tagwerben and Reichardtswerben) to the east. They were poorish affairs of thatched houses, and offered no defensive potential." (p.65).

Hence my recent purchase of some rather more rustic buildings. These are now painted up, and below you can see them set up on my traditional square of felt to produce a built up area: 

Some Croats are in residence, supported by a light gun manned by their own gunners.

Protection From Fire
Further reading has refined my opinion of the level of protection that might be expected from occupying built up areas. Roundshot evidently created so many splinters of stone, brick and wood that even well-built towns offered doubtful advantages to those occupying them, unless actually enhanced with entrenchments and suchlike. Villages consisting of wooden buildings and farms would similarly offer limited cover.

So, in Honours of War, only entrenchments offer rock-solid 'heavy cover'. My built up areas are divided into two types, densely built places with mainly stone and brick construction, or more open affairs of mainly wooden buildings. Both are only 'light cover' against roundshot or shell. Against infantry and canister fire the former type is heavy cover, the latter light cover.

In addition, both roundshot from heavy guns, and shell (which I always class as medium) get a +1 modifier against built up areas, so in fact against these types of artillery fire villages and towns are no cover at all. Bring on the howitzers and 12 pounders!

As I have said many times, I like the Black Powder rule set. One thing I don't particularly like, however, is that built up areas in these rules are very tough nuts to crack and attacking them can easily bog down the game, something I have tried to correct in my own rules. Fighting for towns and villages was usually intense and bloody, but unless prepared defences were in place they could often change hands fairly readily. Think of Leuthen or Hochkirk, to take 2 famous examples. Or the village of Krechor at Kolin.

As usual, I am simply gagging to hear from those who might disagree with these conclusions. I try to be open minded at all times!

Good gaming!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hell Yeah!

A Pleasant Surprise
The very lovely Richard Couture at the Kronoskaf Seven Years War website has made this blog his Website of the Month for December, which is very nice of him. If you are visiting as a result of this, welcome. 
If on the other hand you have an interest in the SYW and haven't yet found the Kronoskaf site, I recommend it unreservedly as an outstanding source of information on this particular era of military history. It is also constantly being improved and updated.

The Roaring Inferno of Industrial Wargaming
Now, being nice is all very well, but I have a set of rules (specific to the Seven Years War) to perfect before the end of January next year, and I need your help. Below you can see the cover artwork for Honours of War, to be published next year by Osprey Wargames. Regular visitors know all this already but I'm hoping to interest new visitors prompted by Kronoskaf.

So, regular visitor or new one, I'm hoping you might want to take a minute to visit the Honours of War Yahoo Group. Members of the group have been very helpful in ironing out a few problems and suggesting improvements to the rules, but things have been a bit quiet of late and some new blood might be just the thing. The rules plus a playsheet and some explanatory diagrams can be downloaded from the files section. 
Anything from first impressions following a quick read-through to the results of a full playtest will be gratefully received. Or, if you're feeling nasty, just download the rules and avoid paying for them when they come out. What the hell. Although you will miss a very reasonably priced but excellent quality booklet with some very nice illustrations.

Ooh! Nice!
The rules will be one of the current 'Osprey Wargames' series, retailing at £11.99 at present, which I reckon produces a great balance between an affordable price and a well produced product. And regarding those illustrations, below find a teaser of the quality of photos you can expect. These crackers have been provided for us by James 'Olicanalad' Roach, whose website was the first ever Kronoskaf Website of the Month. Enjoy, and I hope to see you on the Yahoo Group.

Russians (below the river) meeting Prussians

Prussian artillery.