Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Battlegroup Blitzkrieg - 3rd Light Division, 1939

Just to prove I'm not totally obsessed with the Seven Years War, I thought I would take the opportunity to flag up some progress on the Battlegroup Blitzkrieg front.

This progress was first prompted by the impulse buy of 3 Zvezda Panzer 38(t)s at The Other Partizan. Great models, easy to put together, and cheap as chips. I was so happy with them I bought 3 more - in this way I can have 2 x 3 tank platoons, or 1 x 5 tank platoon. The normal platoon establishment was, apparently, the 5 tank organisation. Here are all six tanks.

Walls were also acquired at The Other Partizan, from Tiger Terrain.

You will see I completed them in the two tone brown/grey scheme which is all the rage these days, following the championing of this scheme by Flames of War. I think it looks pretty good. A new finishing touch was using decals to provide the white German crosses. These are always a bugger to paint, and a great advantage of the Zvezda models is that the surface detail is subdued, so that decals can easily be attached to the model without all those rivets getting in the way. The decals are from a seller on ebay - they are cheap, you get loads in different sizes, and quality is good. The Zvezda models don't come with separate hatches or crew figures. To show which of the tanks had the officers (necessary in some BGB armies) I filed the top of the tank cupolas flat, added Peter Pig German tank commanders, and made a quick open hatch cover from plastic card. Simples.

As the title to this post would indicate, the Panzer 38(t)s used in the Polish campaign were assigned to 3rd Light Division, which had 55 of them alongside 22 Panzer IIs. Below I have put together a BGB battlegroup for a modest game.

This includes a tank platoon, a motorised infantry platoon with platoon HQ and truck mounted support weapons (5cm mortar, MMG, anti-tank rifle), a supporting towed 37mm Pak36, an Sdkfz221 recce support unit and a battlegroup HQ in a Horch command car. For BGB, I am in fact finding that points spent on soft transport are sometimes wasted - the troops end up de-bussing very soon after entering the table without gaining much advantage from being motorised. However, developing a scenario where the transport is needed and useful (say, an ambush on a German column), could be fun. Plus, I wanted to have a good number of toys in the photo.

Speaking of photos, my recent collaboration with James Roach (thats Olicanalad to you) on the Honours of War rulebook has got me attempting to raise my game in the area of photography. So £89 got me a decent budget full-sized tripod (a Hahnel Triad Compact C5. You can get it cheaper on Amazon but I decided to support my local camera shop). Using this with a delay on the camera to make sure there is absolutely no camera shake has been useful. Also useful is James' tip that you don't need fancy specialist lighting, just make the most of what you have. So the photos above were taken in the kitchen, which has the best and most even light in our current house, supported by a couple of normal anglepoise lamps. Prompted by James, I found that during the 10 second delay one can hold up one or both of the lamps and move them around to get the best picture. 

Then of course one uses the editing app of one's choice to improve things a bit more (I just use the standard iPhoto editing procedures on my Mac). There is a way to go yet, but what you see above represents an improvement already. Getting an improvement to pictures of a full wargame rather than carefully posed unit shots will be a greater challenge.

Moving house has meant no games of BGB for a while. We move (fingers crossed) next week, so let's hope I can get the new dining room organised for some gaming asap. I'll have to re-learn how to play the game, but that should be fun in itself.

Next post from the new house. See you soon.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Honours of War Website

In preparation for publication on the 20th of November, I have now opened a modest website for the Honours of War rules. It is quite basic as websites go, being mainly a forum with a few pages of additional content attached. Check it out at

A recent photo of a real game of HoW. Guaranteed not posed.

I think in this day and age a bit of online support is appropriate for a new set of rules. There are of course any number of forums already out there (notably TMP) on which the rules can be discussed, and perhaps will be. But I wanted the main interaction on the rules to take place on ground of my own choosing, as it were. There we can keep things polite and suitably highbrow.

The Yahoo group has been a great facility for getting input from playtesters, but I felt a proper forum would make things easier and better for users, as well as being a more attractive and welcoming environment. The Yahoo group will close in a couple of weeks, so take advantage of any of the downloads while you can. I hope all the valued participants on Yahoo will move over to the forum, and that the atmosphere of well-mannered but honest and open discussion will gravitate to the new location.

A sample page. Thanks to Phil Smith at Osprey for providing copyright content.

This month's Miniature Wargames (391) contains a nice positive review of the rules, for which I am most grateful. It seems that some current users are already plotting to extend the rules to other conflicts of the 18th century, which sounds like fun.

Publication date remains the 20th of November. Not long now!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

General de Cavalerie The Count Florian von Lenzbourg

Ours is a very 'whimsical' hobby. Just check out the first definition of that word that comes up online: playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing or amusing way. The word could have been invented to describe playing with toy soldiers. So I'm sure you will excuse this particular piece of whimsy.

I have of late been giving my SYW brigade and army commanders labels with names on, to identify them during games. I have a set of generic colonels, brigadier generals, lieutenant generals and generals whose names are printed on small cards, and which can be allocated as required. This I find adds a modest bit of interest to my games in this period. Rather than saying "I'll move that brigade next", I (or my opponent) can declare "right, Driesen's brigade next". It's surprising how quickly a few lucky dice rolls enable these characters to come to life as expert leaders of men, or how a disastrous move or two can make them a laughing stock. A bit of banter is vital to any wargaming occasion, and anything that might increase it seems to me to be worth trying. Of course, in games representing real battles, the printer will be employed to deploy some real names.

I have recently taken this modest concept one step further, by creating my first ever wargaming 'personality', General de Cavalerie The Count Florian von Lenzbourg.

The painting scheme is, of course, completely fictional

Keen SYW gamers will see straight away that the Count is the figure of Maurice de Saxe in his carriage at Fontenoy, as produced by Crann Tara Miniatures. It is almost exactly a year since I bought the model, as you can see in this post. I decided that the general seated in the carriage would have to be able to serve with both my Austrian and Prussian armies, so I made him a Swiss mercenary general who has served in many armies of the eighteenth century during his career.

The Count in a Carriage.
This wayward son of a Swiss aristocratic family left home at the age of 13 to serve with the Army of France, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Rising swiftly in rank, he served subsequently as a cavalry commander with the armies of Russia, Austria and Bavaria. It was with the latter army (in 1743) that he suffered the wound in the groin from a ricocheting musket ball that meant he would never be able to mount a horse again.

Here we see the Count in Prussian service, with his escort of Black Hussars.

Whilst this was some relief to the ladies of central Europe, von Lenzbourg decided to have a special carriage made to enable him to continue his military duties. The SYW saw his talents employed by both Austria and Prussia. He became known as 'The Count in a Carriage', although sadly the more rough-tongued of his enemies adopted a very slightly different, but much ruder, epithet. How the loss of a single vowel can alter a meaning!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Filling Up The Time, Filling Up The Corners

A rather frustrating time at the moment as far as actual wargaming goes, with the wargames room (i.e. the dining room) full of furniture and boxes as we prepare to move house. This made a couple of recent visits to wargame shows particularly welcome. I journeyed to The Other Partizan at Newark last weekend, and this weekend it was the turn of Colours 2015. 

Both excellent shows, I thought. As for the venues, Kelham Hall in Newark is gloomy but glorious, whilst Newbury Racecourse is almost the opposite - a modern if bland grandstand with excellent light and space for showing off our hobby. The only slight disappointment at both shows was with the number and quality of the demonstration games, particularly at Colours. Indeed, at the latter there were some bare patches in the floor space which definitely needed filling. Where space is at a premium, as with Kelham Hall, perhaps it's time to foreground the hobby itself and cut down the number of traders? But then, I am at the stage of not needing or wanting much stuff these days; a situation apparently not shared by most of my fellow wargamers.

The main hall at The Other Partizan.
Colours 2015 - the redoubtable Craig Thompson (check shirt) gathers a crowd for his lovely Skirmish Sangin game.
A lot of scratch modelling in evidence, and he also created those stats cards himself.

Although I didn't go to either show with any kind of shopping list, I did of course come away with some stuff. Star buys were two books and a trio of Zvezda Panzer 38(t)s. The latter were pure impulse buys - but at £3 each, what's not to like? The books were Charles Grant's Wargaming in History Vol.4, and the 1798 translation of Warnery's Remarks on Cavalry. The last was a cracking and unexpected find for £15 - at last it's mine!

A further purchase, typical for a wargamer with no real needs but with money burning a hole in his pocket, was a set of 4 cows in 28mm, destined to decorate some corner of a foreign field during the Seven Year's War. Shouldn't bulk out the lead hill too much, I think.

In true Zvezda fashion, the tanks took about half an hour to build.
Here they pose unpainted in front of some Ironclad Miniatures 15mm buildings.

SYW - Dismounted Cavalry
In my SYW games, I find the occasions when cavalry wish to dismount are rare. Usually this occurs when they wish occupy a town or village. In the past, I've made do with spare light infantry figures, but recently I purchased (already painted) some of the dismounted figures available from RSM Miniatures. The range is limited, and I settled for just 8 figures each of dragoons and hussars. These will have to do service as generic dismounted figures as I really can't justify a full set for their very occasional use. I will deploy them as shown with a mounted command base accompanying them representing horse holders and providing a bit of colour.

Austrian Dragoons
Prussian 'Yellow' Hussars

It has to be admitted that the RSMs can't really hold a candle to the dismounted figures available from Fife and Drum Miniatures (in their Minden Miniatures range). They don't have the animation and the range of poses. But these RSM figures are very rarely seen examples from a range which itself is both underexposed and under-rated. I wanted to own them and show them off.

Honours of War
Most of my hobby time at the moment is focussing on preparing a website to support these rules when they come out. This will be a personal website, not an official Osprey one. The pre-release copies of the book have apparently arrived and I eagerly await one. The 'publicity machine' is now beginning to roll, with an invitation from Wargames Illustrated to write a 'designer's notes' article. This should be fun. I am really fortunate to have my first foray into published rules backed by a well known publisher with a high profile, and people who actually do 'publicity'. 

A few interesting months ahead - getting into the new house and setting up wargaming operations in new rooms, and seeing the rules come out. All I need now is to start getting some games in!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

His Britannic Majesty's Army In Germany During The Seven Years War

This title featured briefly in the 'I'm Currently Reading...' section of this blog a while back. Any wargamer looking for a suitably detailed work on the western campaign during the Seven Years War will eventually gravitate to this book - indeed, as things stand, Savory's book is really the only game in town for this subject. The Battle of Minden, of course, gets a good deal of attention in English accounts, but this is about as far as most historians go.

It is perhaps surprising that no other military historian has covered the western theatre, but the reason for this may well be that Savory pretty much nailed it back in 1966. The book's 500-odd pages give the story of the campaigns and battles over the relevant 5 years in great detail, and in the process allow the reader to form a picture of the problems faced in 18th century warmaking. Although the book is primarily one of description rather than analysis, the description is so particular that the reader is naturally led to an understanding of how things were. And Savory is perfectly willing to add some analysis when needed. I learned a great deal of what little I know about the quality of the French Army from this book, for example - information that is sadly lacking elsewhere.

Most of what a wargamer needs is here - force strengths, dates and times, the movements of the various forces before, during and after a battle, and the reasoning behind the actions of the generals. The logistical problems faced are not neglected either. The writer (a military man himself) understands that to make sense of all this, theatre maps and detailed sketch maps are required, and there are plenty of these. The final clincher is that Savory writes in an engaging, slightly old fashioned style that is easy to read and keeps you turning the pages.

So overall, this is a fine read, and indispensable if one is serious about understanding this part of the SYW. The only problem is that the book was out of print for many years and original copies now go for around £200. Fortunately, a small publisher called 18th Century Press has had a facsimile edition available since 2009. This still costs £70, plus £12 postage from France, but in the circumstances we are lucky to have this edition available. 

When I originally and briefly reviewed this book, I had taken it out from my local library using the excellent interloan scheme. But after a year or two of pining, I finally took the plunge and bought the book this month. That gap on my bookshelf just had to be filled. Ordering online is easy, and the parcel arrived in just six days. I was relieved to find that a quality job had been done - this is no cheap digital copy. This is a solidly bound hardback book practically indistinguishable from the original, with a nice new illustration on the dustjacket. The only thing that seems to be missing is the general map that I believe was printed on the endpapers of the original book. As the two theatre maps are still present, this is not a great problem. Added are 4 battle maps in colour (Minden, Wilhelmsthal, Kloster Kamp and Vellinghausen), which in a nice, old school touch are printed separately and tucked in a pocket at the back of the book. These are taken from the British Battles website, and so are probably familiar to the enthusiast for this period, but I certainly appreciated these good quality hard copies of maps available online.

And so, many hours of good reading beckon as I once again tuck into this feast of information. This book is a cracker, and no mistake.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

3 pdr Battalion Gun: An Interactive Experience

This week, my wife and I are mostly on holiday in Norway. We started by flying into Bergen, and naturally Bergen Castle was top of the list for a tourist visit. Imagine my pleasure when, on visiting the Roesenkrantz Tower, I found it had a Cannon Loft (I want one of those when I win the lottery), and there, sitting in the centre of the floor,  was an 18th century 3 pdr battalion gun.

The barrel was made in the 1780s, whilst the carriage is a 19th century replica.
From the information panel: barrel weight 100kg, range with canister 350m, range with roundshot 1000m, crew 5.

Being in a Norwegian museum, I found I was free to handle the gun more or less as I wanted, so I had a go. I found the whole thing surprisingly light to handle. The carriage was well balanced and it was easy to lift and move the gun. Of course, things might have been different on rough ground, but it was interesting to see how I could manoeuvre the gun with one hand. The short video below illustrates the point.


The elevating screw mechanism was in excellent condition and showed just how precise and simple these mechanisms were - a great improvement over the sliding wedge of the early 18th century.

I was also able to find some authentic 18th century uniform items to demonstrate. Being a bit of an expert in this field, I thought readers would find the results valuable.

Or not. Anyway, having a lovely time. More wargaming posts to come once I'm back in good old Blighty.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Alea Iacta Est

Yes, the die is indeed cast and the point of no return for Honours of War has been reached. The final layout has been agreed between Osprey and myself and all the last minute amendments that could be fitted in have been included. Now the layout goes to the printers in China and we wait for the books to be (literally) shipped back to the UK.

The book has turned out to be quite tightly packed with text - I went a bit over the word count, and Phil Smith at Osprey has had to cut down on the eye candy a little to compensate. There are fewer large photos and illustrations than have been seen in some other books in the series. It was great that Osprey were prepared to show flexibility in this respect. But there are still some very nice photos and illustrations, as well as the 4 maps for the scenarios which look excellent to me. Sadly, despite my best efforts, the photos I took of my own collection in action were not of a good enough quality for publication, so no RSM95s grace the pages.

This is in fact a good example of the learning process I have gone through. I have in the past occasionally bemoaned the fact that photos in rule books were there just for show, rather than illustrating the rules. The fact is, getting photos of the required quality is an issue in itself, and the services of a professional or the abilities of a committed and well practised amateur are needed for this alone. Add in the setting up of a large number of shots with very specific layouts, and the problem gets even bigger. And in most cases, diagrams are as good or better at making the point, for a fraction of the effort. So the book has diagrams explaining the rules, and the photos are there for illustration and inspiration only.

I have also learnt that despite there being 4 months until publication date, the final layout is needed now to allow for printing in China and for the inevitable slow boat that will bring the books back.

It was on this blog that I first appealed for playtesters, and so I want to express my thanks here to all those that responded, mostly through the Yahoo Group. A large number of wargamers (around 30+) have sent in specific ideas and feedback, often of the highest standard. These were people who knew the rules only through downloading them off the group and making sense of them on their own gaming tables, with their own collections. That they were able to pick up the rules quickly and usually play enjoyable games straight away has been a great confidence booster for me. The criticisms and suggestions made (always politely expressed) have been fundamental in making the rules much, much better than they were 18 months ago. The rules have been playtested in Italy, the US and Canada as well as the UK. Guys, you know who you are - thank you so much.

In the end, the list of playtesters was of a length that precluded listing all the individual names, which was what I had hoped to do. As well as the length of the list, there was the nagging doubt that  I would leave someone out and thus cause offence. So the rules will have only a generic thank you. It is nonetheless heartfelt.

In true Amazon fashion, the rules are already available for pre-order on their website. At some stage I will probably close down the Yahoo group and arrange some other source for online support, but this is not yet finally decided. Any questions or comments on the rules are still most welcome, either here or on the Yahoo group.

And so I wait until November. Fingers crossed!