Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Honours of War: Curtain Up!

In the beginning was Donald Featherstone.

At least, that was the case for me. War Games was the first wargaming book I ever encountered, in my local library around 1970. I continue to dip into The Don's books in the odd quiet moment, and many of his ideas have stuck with me over the decades, awaiting a re-awakening. 

One of those ideas is the use of a curtain across the wargames table, to provide a very simple, direct and dramatic representation of 'the fog of war'. This idea is rarely seen or even discussed these days, but in my humble opinion it deserves greater attention. I mentioned it on this blog a few years ago, and the contraption I devised at that time has mostly remained under the marital bed since then, rarely seeing the light of day. Recently, I decided it was time to use this device once again, to spice up some attack-defence games I had developed. But before I present a couple of HoW scenarios using this old-fashioned but delightful contrivance, let's recall the words of the man himself.

Another variation is to erect some sort of curtain or barrier across the middle of the table so that each general can lay his troops out without his opponent being able to see his dispositions. Many horrible shocks await each general when the curtain is lifted! The commander of Blue army discovers to his horror that the enemy has a great preponderance of cavalry on their left flank whereas he has but one puny infantry regiment facing them. His own strong left flank, with which he intended to battle away at the enemy, are massed threateningly enough, but unfortunately there is nothing opposite them. This makes for hasty rearrangement and even the best-laid plans of battle can come to naught when the curtain is lifted.
Battles With Model Soldiers, (1970), p. 32.

Anyway, on with the show - here are two scenarios written for HoW which include the use of a curtain across the table. Modern-minded wargamers will be relieved to find that I offer alternative deployment options for those unwilling or unable to deploy such a device. As in the rulebook scenarios, the games are sized for 28mm troops organised in accordance with my suggestions. I have come to realise that HoW players are amongst the most quick-witted and enterprising of wargamers (well, naturally), so any adaptions to other figure sizes and organisations are left safely in your hands.

1. The Action At Inzl
This scenario adds an extra factor to the whole curtain thing by making the fog of war affect terrain as well as troops. As we all know, even the defending side might only have a rather sketchy knowledge of the terrain occupied by, or being advanced over by, the enemy. Therefore, as well as deploying their troops in secret, players will have some terrain items to place where they wish, hopefully to their advantage and the enemy's disadvantage.

The map shows a 6' x 5' table, with grid squares at 1' intervals. The fuzzy line across the centre indicates the position of the curtain.

The Blue force is attempting the block the advance of a slightly larger Red force. Blue has taken up position behind a stream around the imaginary village of Inzl. Red is attacking from the north.

Red – 13 units, Army Break Point = 6
Commanding General
Infantry Brigade: 3 infantry battalions (superior)
Infantry Brigade: 3 infantry battalions
Cavalry Brigade: 2 cavalry regiments
Cavalry Brigade: 2 cavalry regiments
Artillery Brigade: 2 medium batteries
Independent Artillery: 1 howitzer battery

Blue – 10 units,  Army Break Point = 5
Commanding General 
Infantry Brigade: 2 infantry battalions
Infantry Brigade: 3 infantry battalions, 1 medium gun
Independent Light Infantry: 1 light infantry battalion
Cavalry Brigade: 2 cavalry regiments
Independent Artillery: 1 medium battery

Force Notes
As usual, I suggest that players juggle troop types to balance out relative National Characteristics. However, having a brigade of top quality infantry in the attacking force is a good idea to give the attacker a real chance of victory.

Scenario Conditions
Red is the designated attacker. Set up the table as per the map, and then place a curtain across the middle of the table.

Red can deploy anywhere up to 30cm from their table edge. In addition, the Red player must place 2 extra terrain pieces (a hill and a wood, of medium size) on his side of the table, but outside his deployment area and not within 10cm of the curtain.

Blue can deploy anywhere behind the stream. In addition, he must place 4 extra terrain pieces  (a bridge, a wood, a hill and a marsh, the latter 3 of relatively small size) on his side of the table, but not within 10cm of the curtain. The bridge must, of course, be set up across the stream.

The stream has steep banks and counts as a passable river. The village will be classed as a rural BUA. All hills are gentle.

Use the normal victory conditions from the rulebook. The village is worth 1 Army Point. For each Red unit in good morale (3 hits or less) that reaches the Blue side of the stream, Blue loses ½ an Army Point.

If not using a curtain, set up all the terrain as desired, then Blue must deploy either 2 brigades, or 1 brigade and 1 independent unit. Then continue deployment by alternate brigades or independent units from each side, using the deployment zones already described. Obviously, Red will have the luxury of deploying his last 3 brigades or units in full knowledge of where Blue is.

2. The Combat At Lützingen 
Here, Blue is defending the town of Lützingen, which is off the table to the north. The Blue force has taken position around a road junction south of the town. The Red force intends to attack and defeat Blue in order to occupy the town. In this scenario the terrain is pretty basic and so is fully laid out before the battle. 

I have drawn the map for the common table size of 6' x 4'. Once again the position of the curtain is shown by the fuzzy line, in this case slightly south of the table centre.

Blue - 13 units, Army Break Point = 6
Commanding General
Infantry Brigade: 3 infantry battalions
Infantry Brigade: 2 infantry battalions
Infantry Brigade: 2 infantry battalions (inferior)
Independent Light Infantry: 1 battalion
Cavalry Brigade: 3 cavalry regiments (off table at game start)
Artillery: 2 medium batteries

Red - 15 units, Army Break Point = 7
Commanding General:
Infantry Brigade: 4 infantry battalions (superior)
Infantry Brigade: 4 infantry battalions
Cavalry Brigade: 2 cavalry regiments
Cavalry Brigade: 2 cavalry regiments
Artillery: 2 medium batteries, 1 heavy battery

Force Notes
The artillery on each side may be fielded independently or included in any infantry brigade. As with the previous scenario, the suggestions for infantry quality on both sides are made to provide an interesting and fairly balanced game - Red's numerical superiority is limited and he will need a qualitative edge. 

Scenario Conditions
Red is the designated attacker. After setting up the terrain as shown, place the curtain across the table in the position indicated. Red forces deploy anywhere up to 20cm from their baseline. Blue forces may deploy 1 x average die units up to 50cm from their baseline, these units to be selected as preferred by Blue. The remaining Blue units deploy up to 30cm from their baseline. 

The Blue cavalry are in reserve in Lützingen – they arrive at the start of move 4 on a roll of 4-6. If this fails, add 1 to the roll on each subsequent move. They may arrive up to 20cm either side of the road.

All hills are gentle.

Each side seeks to break the other, in accordance with the usual victory conditions. Blue loses ½ an Army Point for every Red unit in good morale on the northern hill or north of the east-west road.

If not using a curtain, simply deploy by alternate brigades or independent units, with Blue starting. Use the same deployment zones and distances.

Pre-Game Bombardments
The website has some simple new rules for these, which I feel can add interest (and perhaps a little extra realism) to an attack-defence game. They can be found on the 'Amendments & Clarifications' download, and would make a good addition to either of the above scenarios.

Some Photos
The reader will be relieved to know that both these scenarios have been playtested and should give good games. Shown below are a few photos to give an idea how they played out with my own 28mm figures. Suffice to say I lost at Inzl, and played out Lützingen solo, where the attacker won. Yes, alright, I didn't actually use the curtain for the solo game. No sniggering at the back.


The cosy and slightly claustrophobic feel you get whilst under cover of the curtain is shown here.
An experience no wargamer should miss, as you cunningly plot your opponent's downfall in near-total privacy.

Curtain up.
A self-satisfied expression suggesting that the other player has failed to surprise you is recommended.

Two dragoon regiments against a lonely light infantry battalion? No problem, I thought.
I was wrong - the lead regiment was thrown back and the second thought the better of it.
Light infantry are surprisingly sticky in any sort of cover.

Attacking grenadiers push up to the stream hoping to create space for the cavalry to cross...

...and succeed! The force commander is on the spot to urge his flank attack forward.

But whilst the attacking cavalry is counter-charged, the enemy infantry reforms...
...and linear warfare is restored. Reminded me a bit of Leuthen!
But in this case the Austrian defence had reformed so neatly that in the end the Prussians lost.

A reminder to pay attention to movement initiative.
I hung these limbered guns out to dry in close proximity to those blasted Croats.
They were charged and destroyed - 2 units lost!


The set-up. The attacking Prussians went for a strong right flank,
with all the cavalry present and supported by the grenadiers.

The Prussian heavy battery stayed in place the whole game and provided worthwhile support.

The attacking grenadiers overwhelm the Grenz infantry in the east wood.
Nevertheless, the grenadier unit seen in melee was also thrown back at first.

Not something you see everyday in HoW - cavalry charging infantry. In this case the 'superior' class cuirassiers are prepared to take on an isolated and 'inferior' Bavarian battalion. They succeeded handsomely.

At this stage of the game (move 4), the Prussian tactics are working -
the strong right flank has pushed the Austrians back with significant losses.

The Austrian cavalry finally arrived on move 5, but had a very cramped area to deploy into.

The dithering commander of the Prussian left flank infantry had been very dithery indeed.
Here he at last gets his men forward after some stern words from his commanding general,
and begins to overwhelm the smaller Austrian brigade facing him.

To cut a long story short, the Austrians fought manfully but collapsed in move 9,
losing 4 units in that last move. The Prussians (Red) had lost 5 units, the Austrians (Blue) 8.

To Conclude...
Yes, it's time to get constructing those curtains (mine is actually a table cloth). They're only present for the time it takes to deploy, but they make for a great game. They are of course particularly suited to the Ancient and Horse and Musket periods, but they could also have their place in the more simple type of Modern battle. As a way of creating a bit of surprise and representing that feeling of not knowing what the enemy is up to, they are simple but effective, and add interest to straightforward attack-defence games.

Maybe some of you will prefer a sheet of hardboard, or a line of terrain tiles set on edge. Let me know of any bright ideas you have.

'Til next time!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Plastic Soldiers and Resin Buildings

Yes folks, I'm afraid I've been letting myself go a bit recently. The last few weeks have seen me dipping my snout into the trough of corporate wargaming. Probably it's because a royalty cheque from Osprey came through recently, which means I can consider my wargaming 'self financing'. My conscience is therefore clear. And I would add that I am perfectly pleased with the purchases I have made - they will not contribute to any lead mountain, nor do they represent butterfly diversions into new projects which will never be completed. Yes, you're right - I do constitute an example of probity and discipline to other wargamers.

Plastic Figures
Advertising works! I've never bothered with any of the modern hard plastic figures, but then I spotted a Warlord Games ad for their new boxes of AWI infantry. Continental Infantry, Hessians, British - all of these are easily adaptable to the SYW if you're not a button-counter. I went for the 'Continental Army Infantry Regiment'.

This is what they're supposed to look like

The contents were a bit disconcerting at first - loads of bodies and heads and arms with no proper instruction leaflet. But there is some perfectly reasonable guidance once you look for it, and after a bit I plunged in. Following a bit of grumbling, I surprised myself by actually starting to enjoy the whole process. There are around 5 pieces to each figure on average. Building up the 20 figures I needed for an HoW unit turned out to be a pleasant and absorbing task.

The resulting models are actually a little taller than RSM95s or Minden Miniatures (which are my personal benchmark) - they would fit in well height-wise with such Old School ranges as Willie or Tradition 30mm figures, although generally they are a bit bulkier. But as a stand-alone unit I have no problem with them in this respect. The plastic figures generally match the elegant and properly proportioned look of my 2 favourite ranges.

One reservation is that the models seem a little delicate - the muskets are long and slender, as is the flagstaff of the standard bearer. Care will be needed in a wargames situation, I reckon. Another drawback for me is that the figures are in different poses - this will be an advantage for many, but I like my 'uniform' battalions. There is also a prevalence of firing figures, which means that placing bases of figures behind each other to represent column formation is tricky - those long muskets get in the way. Overall, creating one unit of these figures will do for me. It was a bit of fun, but I doubt I'll bother with more.

As for painting, the detailing of the models makes them easy to paint. And as they were grey plastic, I didn't bother with an undercoat - completely unnecessary for my block painting style. I settled on painting them as the Hesse-Darmstadt regiment Prinz Georg. This was for a number of reasons - the uniform is basically a very simple blue and white, and the flag is both attractive and downloadable (by dragging off and printing the illustration on the Kronoskaf website). Plus the dark blue coats mean that the unit can be used on the Prussian side without looking out of place, whilst in actual fact being allied with the Austrians as part of the Reichsarmee. So two units for the price of one. Furthermore, the record indicates that this was one of the more effective Reichsarmee regiments which can be rated as standard quality for Honours of War.

Now you get enough bits for 30 figures in the box, but I only need 20 for one my battalions. Looking for ways to use the remaining models, I selected the 6 light infantry figures to form a small unit of Austrian jaeger, in this case based on a unit called Lacy's Jager Corps. These again had a very simple uniform of mainly white with yellow facings and cuffs. Whether the corps had rifles or muskets is problematic, as any detail on them seems non-existent, but I decided they would have rifles in my service.

Unpainted of course - my painting isn't that basic.

As can be seen, these AWI figures have jackets that are really too short for the SYW, and I had to cut down the muskets they were modelled with to produce rifles. In addition the casquets and plumes are not quite the right shape, but they are close enough for me. The figures themselves are not very attractively posed, having a rather 'head down' appearance, but with a quick paint job they'll make an interesting extra unit for the table.

WW2 Plastics
It's been a couple of decades or more since I had any plastic figures in my WW2 collection. But, needing to expand and adapt my collection slightly when moving from Blitzkrieg Commander to Battlegroup Blitzkrieg, I decided to try the Plastic Soldier Company 15mm 'Early War German Infantry'. These really are great value - 138 figures for £21.50 (plus p+p of course) equals about 16p a figure. There is no construction needed for the basic infantry, and just a couple of pieces to put together for things like anti-tank rifles or LMGs. All the models and weapons you need for a 1:1 infantry company are here. There is no flash and little or no preparation is needed. If you were starting out in WW2 wargaming in this size, they would be perfect, in my opinion. The companion box of early war heavy weapons also looks great - but I have all I need of these latter items already.

As with the SYW figures, these are just a little bigger and bulkier than the Peter Pig metal figures I already have, but only slightly, so they are quite compatible if not mixed on the same base. The photo below gives the comparison.

Plastics on the left.

Apologies for the basic paint job - these figures, like all my figures, are painted for the tabletop, not for close-up photography.

Resin Buildings in 15mm
Once again my purchases here were initially for Battlegroup Blitzkrieg. The Flames of War Ruined Italian Monastery will be familiar to most WW2 gamers, and I will only say here that having purchased it I am entirely satisfied with the quality and value for money of this building. Being painted (and very well painted at that) it goes from the box straight onto the table, and looks great. As I use 15mm model buildings for my SYW games, it will also be used in that period, as a stand-alone 'built-up-area'.

Less well known are the products from Ironclad Miniatures. I already have some of their 15mm Eastern European houses, which are of excellent quality. Knowing this, I jumped in and purchased their 'small ruined factory', which looked as if it would make a great centrepiece for any Battlegroup Blitzkrieg village or town. In this I was quite correct. As usual, there is no flash or bubbles, just a top quality casting that needs little or no preparation. Painting this detailed model will need a bit of thought and time, but it will be worth it. 

The only minor problem is that the detachable floor for the 1st storey is a bit small for the space it has to fill - the photo shows the gap around the edges. It is also necessary to enhance the supports for this piece as they are too small to properly hold up the floor - I added 2 lengths of square-section plastic rod, which was the work of minutes. The photos show the building as delivered, with some 15mm figures for scale.

All in all, I'm happy and not feeling too guilty. Both the SYW figures and the monastery have already seen some use.

I heartily endorse all these products!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

That Was The Week That Was

So, last week was both unusual and interesting from a wargaming point of view. Not only did I end up with three events planned in 5 days, but they all involved me joining in with other people's games, so I could be lazy and let the other guys do all the work of providing toys, rules and scenarios. Nice!

Monday - Edgehill
Monday saw me making a visit to the Oxford Wargames Society. I am fortunate to have contacts at both the Oxford and Abingdon clubs, both of which are great clubs and have been the source of many new wargaming friends. Unfortunately my shiftwork patterns and the demands of Real Life mean I don't visit either as often as I would like.

It was most kind of Bob Medcraft at the Oxford Society to invite me to join in with a refight of Edgehill, using the Field of Glory Renaissance rules (hereafter FOG(R)). Not only do I not play the ECW, but I had never used or even read any of the FOG series, so there would be a steep learning curve, and I would need a lot of help. When Bob sent me the cheat sheets for FOG(R) as an introduction, I was a bit intimidated at first as there were 8 of them! Were these rules going to be a bit too complex for a beginner?

Not bad for a club night!

Needless to say on arrival at the club I was welcomed in to the group of players and given a cheerful crash course in the scenario and the rules. Ben, who had done the research and sorted out the set up, had deliberately kept things simple, so the 18' x 4' table was quickly in place along with the 15mm figures. The others were all long time FOG(R) players, so things cracked along at a good pace. The rulebook hardly came out at all, and even the playsheets didn't get much use - I had the usual experience in such circumstances of being heavily guided, and there was plenty of "roll 3 dice Keith, you need 5 or 6!".

Ben braces himself for another roll of the dice, whilst Tom and Bob look on.
Meanwhile, Jerry gets on with a bit of cheating. I'm sure this was the case, as he kept getting the better of me.
What other explanation could there be?

It was all good clean fun, with plenty of banter and much cheering of successful die rolls, and after just over 3 hours gaming it was getting towards time to pack up. The battle was a close run thing, as was the original. The cavalry flanks had engaged first, and the infantry was just becoming seriously engaged as we finished. Both sides still had a chance, but maybe Parliament had a slight edge, with all that low class Royalist infantry around. What was really impressive was that a major battle, with all units represented on the table, had been set up, wargamed and cleared away in around 4 hours. This is a tribute to the enthusiasm and knowledge of the other 4 players, and also to the rules which coped admirably, although of course it helps immensely to be well practised in their use.

Parliamentarian left wing cavalry on the right, Royalists on the left.

Wednesday - Sittangbad
A few weeks ago a comment appeared on my blog from a wargamer who just happened to live in the same little town in the Cotswolds as me. This was a great piece of good luck, but what was really interesting was that he signed himself Stuart Asquith. Naturally, my first thought was, I wonder if...? And indeed it was. It turned out I live about 15 minutes walk away from the former editor of Practical Wargaming, the author of a stack of books on our hobby, and someone who has known and gamed with all my old heroes, including Donald Featherstone, Charles Grant (senior and junior), and Terry Wise. In the picture below he gives a masterclass in the art of pointing in a wargames photo.

The building prominent in the centre of the photo featured in the book The War Game, (Charles Grant, 1971).
It was a gift to Stuart from the author. I handled it with care.

On moving to the Cotswolds, Stuart had to downsize his wargaming somewhat, but he retains his love of the hobby, and in particular his enthusiasm for the collection and painting of classic figure ranges in 30mm, such as Willie, Tradition and Holger Eriksson. He is also a stalwart fan of the Charge! rules, which continue to be his favourite set, and cover his favourite period. So what could be better than to be invited over for a dining table recreation of the classic Battle of Sittangbad, where a young whippersnapper such a myself could be instructed in the finer points?

Stuart has adapted the rules for smaller units of between 8 and 16 figures, and he provided me with a playsheet and rules summary to help things along. Naturally these smaller units make things a whole lot easier than handling the 48 figure, individually based infantry regiments which featured in the original book.

And so we set out the figures and got started. This was my first game at Stuart's and it was old school all the way - in fact, a real bit of old school magic. It's been a while since I handled units with individual soldiers, but with the smaller regiments it was no problem at all. This was a very different experience to Monday - a wonderfully relaxing time with rules of a very refreshing simplicity that could be picked up as one went along. The respective forces were very much in the Grant/Young tradition, being a mix of various units from a variety of horse and musket campaigns, but all lovely figures beautifully painted. Stuart's forces (in the original battle, the Electoral forces under Herzog Johann) were commanded by his favourite general, Soubise, whose figure has been with him for a long while and always appears with an ADC and his favourite... erm, niece, as Stuart puts it!

General Soubise and his suite on Eisenberg Hill, with the 'conspicuous pair of trees' duly represented.

I took the role of General Lentulus, commanding the Imperial forces. As you can see, the terrain was very much in keeping with the rules and figures - some of the old Merit trees which I remember fondly from Charles Grant's Practical Wargaming (1972), some cardboard houses bought in a local shop, and hills from wooden contours. After a cup of tea and a ham roll, I think we called it a draw. My forces had been defeated, but Soubise had been detained for too long to cross the Weser on schedule.  I'll let some pictures give you the flavour - unfortunately my second-rate photos don't really do the figures justice.

Imperial forces in Sittangbad
Unpainted base edges! Disgraceful!
One of Stuart's favourite pieces - here performing as an Electoral battery.
Imperial cavalry. The kettle drummer was particularly impressive.
The battle for Eisenberg village.
Imperial infantry advance from Sittangbad.
Cavalry melee in full swing.
Stuart insisted I include this one - the closing shot of the game
when his favourite artillery battery destroyed my grenadiers in one go.

All in all a fine bit of wargaming. Stuart has some of his figures on multiple bases and so we might try a bit of Honours of War with these, which should be good.

Friday - The Death's Head At Andreevka
And so on Friday an hour or so's drive took me to the northern outskirts of Bristol for some Battlegroup Kursk, laid on by the very lovely Paul James. Paul was the gamer who first introduced me to the Batttlegroup rules, around 3 years ago. I remember when he showed me the rulebook I thought he was nuts - thirty quid for a set of fancy WW2 rules and they only cover the Battle of Kursk? Crazy! But I came round eventually and as readers of the blog will know, I am very much enjoying using my 1939 Polish and German troops with Battlegroup Blitzkrieg

Anyway, Paul had set up one of the scenarios from the BGK book, using his 20mm collection. It always surprises me how big these 1/72nd models look when one is used to 15mm. I was a 20mm WW2 gamer from the 70s through to the 90s, but traded down to 15mm when I moved from North-West Europe 1944-45 to Poland 1939. I don't regret it. And to think WW2 in 28mm is growing as well - that must be a bit limiting on space.

Paul would be the first to admit he is not the world's best modeller and painter - he relies on his son for tank kit construction and painting. I well recall one occasion when Paul had been preparing some plastic Russian anti-tank guns for a forthcoming battle - a frustrating life or death struggle with the multi-part crew delayed the project, and so with the deadline looming Paul just glued the guns and figures onto cardboard bases and spray painted the whole lot from close range in one shade of green. The instructive thing was, once they were on table and the game was in full swing, one hardly noticed the basic paint job.

Anyway, without going into too much detail, the game involved the Russians attacking a German-held village, with German reserves coming to the rescue later in the game. The photos below show the German defensive positions.

I had some model building nostalgia in this game as well - I gave Paul some of my old 20mm buildings when I changed scales, and it always gives me a kick to see these old friends given a run out. 

The Andreevka scenario is a good one and I may well adapt it for a Poland 1939 game. Paul had to substitute T-34s and T-70s for the Churchills used in the real battle. The leading Russian tanks managed to penetrate into the village despite heavy losses, and threatened the objective (the church, represented by a Flames of War ruined monastery), but the German reserves arrived to save the day before the Russian infantry could arrive to support them. We didn't quite get to the end of the game according to the official victory conditions, but we reckoned the Germans had held on and won.

Despite many destroyed tanks,  two T-34s can just be seen on the right,
 entering the village behind the main defensive line.
The entry of the German reserves (mainly STUGs and Panthers) prevents a Russian victory.

A final point - in classic wargaming fashion, Paul had resolved his need for a fair amount of cornfields at short notice by a visit to B&Q, where he had obtained the doormats you can see for a quid each. And of course, our imaginations supplied the rest. Doormats? What doormats?

On Variety In Wargaming
Being made redundant from my job in Bristol and moving to Oxfordshire was of course initially unwelcome, and an upheaval my wife and I could have done without, at the time. But overall things have worked out. In wargaming terms, I have managed to keep in touch with old buddies in the Bristol area, and have made a number of new friends in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire who have really enriched the hobby for me.

What these three games demonstrated to me was that despite all the different rules, different periods and different model scales, it's the wargamers themselves that make for such a variety of experiences in the hobby. Even with the same rules and the same period in the same scale, you can have very different games as your wargaming company changes. This is both enjoyable and instructive, as one is exposed to different approaches to the hobby. Intense or relaxed games, beautifully painted or quickly produced models, big or small scenarios - take your choice, or if you're lucky like me, don't choose at all and enjoy the variety. Long may it continue.