Saturday, 21 April 2018

Old School Napoleonics (2)

Mr Asquith has been a little under the weather of late, so it was with great pleasure that I attended his house a few days ago to recommence our regular games. The occasion was celebrated in fine fashion with a game in one of the great wargaming periods, played using some classic figures. To wit, a Napoleonic game with 30mm figures from the Willie (Edward Suren) and Tradition (Charles Stadden) ranges, both still available from Tradition of London. All the figures had been painted, and the units assembled, relatively recently by Stuart. As so often, the game turned out to be an object lesson in how much pleasure can be wrung from a modest number of figures, simple rules and a dining table playing area. To illustrate this, we will begin with the orders of battle of the opposing armies. The figures in brackets are the number of models in each unit.

GOC: The Duke of Wellington
2i/c: Major General Cooke

Mercer’s Troop (‘G’) RHA
Ramsay’s Troop (‘H’) RHA

1st Infantry Division
Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton GCB

1st Infantry Brigade
Major General Sir Colin Halkett
95th Rifles (5)
1st Foot Guards (10)
28th The North Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot (24)

2nd Infantry Brigade
Major General James Kempt
79th Regiment of Cameron Highlanders (10)
7th (2nd West Prussian) Infantry Regiment (10)

Cavalry Division
Major General Lord Somerset (Uxbridge)

1st (Light) Cavalry Brigade
7th (or Queen’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) (4)
8th (or King’s Royal Irish) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) (4)
17th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) (4)
19th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (4)

2nd (Heavy) Cavalry Brigade
1st (Royal) Dragoons (4)
2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (4)


GOC: The Emperor Napoleon
General Baron Gourgaud (Orderly officer to Napoleon)
2i/c: Marshal Soult

Imperial Guard Artillery
2nd Company Old Guard Horse Artillery
5th Company Old Guard Foot Artillery

Imperial Guard Infantry
General of Division Louis Friant (o/c Imperial Guard Infantry)
1st Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard (12)
2nd Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard (10)

Imperial Guard Cavalry 
Lieutenant General Baron d’Hurbal (Carabiniers)
2nd Regiment of Lancers of the Imperial Guard (4)
Horse Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard (4)
Empress Dragoons of the Imperial Guard (4)

1st Infantry Brigade
Light Company 3rd Bn, 4th Confederation Regiment (Saxon Duchies) (5)
Grenadier Company, 1st Bn, 4th Confederation Regiment (Saxon Duchies) (10)
Grenadier Company, 1st Bn, 5th Confederation Regiment (Anhalt - Lippe) (12)
Grenadier Company, 1st Bn, 7th Confederation Regt (Mecklenburg-Schwerin) (10)

1st Cavalry Brigade
Lieutenant General Count Milhaud (Cuirassiers)
11th Hussars (4)
3rd Cuirassiers (red) (4) 
7th Cuirassiers (yellow) (4)

The objective for each side was simple - the destruction of their opponents. The photo below shows the armies laid out for battle, with the British nearest the camera:

It will be as well to start with some close ups of selected units on their start lines, just to give a flavour of the lovely figures in use.

British cavalry, with the Light Brigade nearest.
The British would suffer from their inferiority in heavy cavalry.
The Emperor Napoleon and his suite.
The 2 battalions of the Gloucesters with their magnificent colours.

The rules in use were particularly simple, and are appended at the end of this post. In particular, the game distances are adapted for a 6' x 3' dining table. And so we commenced the game:

The British 1st Infantry Division, in all their glory, wait to move off.
The inevitable cavalry melee commenced almost straight away.
The French extreme right. Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard move through the village
with light infantry covering their flank.
A firefight commences across the main road.
Both sides were initially reluctant to sound the charge.
The French advantage in heavy cavalry soon told on the other flank.
The crossroads is firmly in French hands.
Deadlock between the French (far side) and British (near side) infantry.
The French cavalry breakthrough forces one of the
battalions of the Gloucesters into square.
The 95th Rifles having been ridden over at the crossroads, Stuart conceded "to save needless slaughter".
Or in other words, to avoid the spectacle of his army being rolled up by my cavalry!

We concluded the afternoon by reviewing the ECW units Stuart has put together, using the same figure manufacturers as seen in this battle. The ECW is a period I have often considered playing, but have never ventured into. I look forward to trying this new venture in the future, once we have adopted some suitably simple rules! Talking of which, the rules used for this Napoleonic dust-up are given below.

Oh and by the way, if you want to view the first 'Old School Napoleonics' post, check this link. See you next time.

Monday, 19 February 2018

In Which I Try Out 'To The Strongest'

I was glad to have the opportunity to try out these popular ancients rules, thanks to my good friend Steve who had invested in a set recently. Being stuck in my ways (see previous post), I had regularly looked into buying these rules, then just as regularly rejected them. Grids? Playing cards? No, don't do none of that shit (as the young people say). 

But it was time to turn over a new leaf. All that was necessary was to mark out a grid with some scenic scatter and trim down my units to fit into the 6" square boxes. Steve came over to Northleach and provided the rules and the know-how.

The set-up. It was about 20 minutes work to mark out the grid.

We played two games, sticking to the basics and leaving out some of the more advanced rules. I can certainly see why these rules have been so well received - they are obviously the product of a clever mind, being original and easy to grasp. Just like everyone says, using grids does away with fiddly measuring, and using the cards also speeds things up. In fact, we played through the two games rapidly and easily. Leaving out some of the more subtle rules detracted from the game a bit, I reckon - but this was hardly the fault of the rules. 

With the inclusion of a good, old-fashioned 'march' rule, units get into action quickly.

The use of grids doesn't necessarily mean that the battles appear too formal and tidy.

Downsides? I had the feeling that the games were over a bit too quickly, for my personal taste. A bit too 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am', if you know what I mean. But adding in more of the game detail that we deliberately left out may fix this. Certainly, I would need to spend more time making sure that the parameters for my various unit types were set correctly - this is very important in any set of wargames rules, but particularly so for ancients with such a variety of troops.

"We were just standing there minding our own business when this bunch of Numidians when galloping past right behind us!'
Once again I find that 'grids' doesn't mean 'boring'.

The author, Simon Miller, has quickly acquired a reputation for being available to answer online questions, and being very open to suggestions and critiques. This is greatly to his credit, as is the availability of army lists and amendments as free downloads. Well done sir.

Elephant/heavy chariot face-off.

As the pictures show, with a little care the cards can be kept off the actual playing area, so they needn't become too intrusive. Overall, this brief taster left me keen to investigate further and learn more. I had to be strong with myself and hold back my natural wargamer's instinct to buy the book straight away (it's very well presented and written, by the way). Yes, the benefits of being careful with your cash go to the strongest.

To get the view from the other side of the hill, see Steve's own blog post.

See you again soon.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

My Narrow View Of Wargaming

Over the last year or so I have met some new (and rather special) wargamers, plunged into a new period, and started writing a new set of rules for which I have some pretensions to publish. These experiences have caused me to reflect on the nature of contemporary wargaming with miniatures, and how my view of it is perhaps rather blinkered and probably more than a little old-fashioned.

One of a lovely set of photos recently posted on the HoW forum.

If you are a regular reader you will know my approach to the hobby was shaped by the early wargaming books that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s, most importantly those by Donald Featherstone. No matter how many websites I now visit, and no matter how many contemporary magazines I consume, I have come to realise that the basic impression of what wargaming is about that I took on board back then, has stuck with me ever since. It has done so because it chimes in exactly with what I want from the hobby. 

So, according to me, wargaming springs from an interest in military history. Therefore, all wargaming is historical wargaming. Warhammer, for example? Some weird spin-off played by kids, which is definitely not real wargaming.

Therefore, the first thing a real wargamer does when intending to play a particular period of history is to read lots of books. Of course, all proper wargamers will have a significant but carefully selected collection of military history books. From these, you acquire a basic but sound knowledge of the political and military background of your period, the way battles were fought, the various troop types involved, how they were organised, their strengths and weaknesses, who won, who lost, etc. etc. Then you might think about which rules to use, and after that what figure and model ranges you might look into. Size? Well, 28mm ideally, or perhaps 20mm. I have compromised on 15mm for WW2 games due to the movement speeds and weapon ranges. Smaller than that? Forget it. This is about playing with toy soldiers and any size smaller than 15mm are just markers or counters. One can't tell the difference between 'grenadiers' and 'line', or an MG team and a mortar team. At least not with my eyesight. This then, is my view of what wargaming ought to be.

Off to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester for some solid historical research.

The point of this exposition is not to deride those who don't share my concept. It is rather to point out that I don't, even after all these years, appear to fully understand or appreciate what the hobby of wargaming with miniatures involves, here in the second decade of the 21st century. My blind spots are mostly without any rational basis. In rational terms, there is no difference between Warhammer 40K and Honours of War as hobby activities.

Now, in the case of 2mm figures I stand by my judgement that these are no better than cardboard counters. Not that there's anything wrong with cardboard counters per se, it's just that they are not part of wargaming with miniatures. And neither are 2mm figures. But of course, my Seven Years War games are no more 'real' or 'appropriate' than fantasy or sci-fi gaming, and my careful representations of historical battles are no more central to what wargaming is than any 'pulp' skirmish. This I know with my rational mind, but my gut reaction is always to ignore such games as being not worthy of my attention, and somehow to regard those playing them as rather weird people who have somehow missed the point. Strange, isn't it?

This impacts on my appreciation of hobby trends. The Osprey Wargames series of rules, of which Honours of War is one, are dominated by skirmish sets, often non-historical and featuring fantasy and pulp themes. In considering pitching my ancients rules to Osprey, I foolishly assumed that they would be gagging for a 'proper' set of wargames rules, relating to 'proper' size battles in a 'proper' wargaming era. Of course, after receiving some real world advice, I was brought to realise that Osprey publish what they publish because it sells well, and fits in well with the format and concept of the series.  And lots of wargamers are really pleased with what is on offer. HoW is actually something of an odd one out (though I could hardly have hoped for a better first time experience with this fine company).

Why does stuff like this leave me cold?

Another example is figure poses. Once again, I find myself bemused by the desire for figures in a variety of dynamic poses. I have been collecting some 28mm hard-plastic figures recently, and apparently contemporary wargamers love lots of head choices, weapon choices, arm choices, etc... No two figures can be the same. I find myself thinking, "who the hell comes up with these ideas? - all I want is a set of figures all in the same pose looking neat and tidy, ideally with no confusing choices, and which are easy to base because they don't get in each other's way". Unfortunately, rather like the tubby metal figures with exaggerated detail we are also so used to seeing these days, the modellers and painters have taken over. Strangely and inexplicably, the people who make model soldiers are just as happy to sell figures to those who enjoy modelling and painting, as to those who just want toys to play games with. Yes, there are some people out there buying and painting wargames figures who don't actually wargame with them. Ever! Shouldn't there be a law against this, my prejudices tell me? Of course there shouldn't. Keeping sales up keeps the ranges alive and improves availability for everyone.

I won't even mention my absurd, and rather patronising, distaste for those who strive for the highest standards of figure painting. This distaste has received some airings in the past, and on one occasion prompted the highest number of comments on a post I have ever had. No. I'm definitely not going to mention that subject. Except to say that I still don't really understand that to some people painting figures is more important than getting them on the table and fighting battles with them. But there it is, you see. I really don't understand. The failure of understanding is mine. Therefore, I am schooling myself to accept this attitude as a fact of wargaming life, and no longer get worked up about it.

Ah, the beating heart of the hobby!
A 28mm Horse and Musket game set up by Chris Gregg.

One final problem I can't rid myself of is a suspicion of what I call 'corporate wargaming', meaning the more fully commercialised and generally business-oriented end of the hobby, mostly run by ex-Games Workshop employees. I think the worst bit is the commercial need to constantly re-invent products in order to keep revenue up - the 'codex creep' of GW is mirrored by the new editions of rules from certain other companies that don't really need new editions. I remain very much the sort of old-fashioned wargamer who just wants a set of rules, in a reasonably produced but modest booklet costing maybe £10-15. I can work out the rest for myself. But even here I am changing my outlook. My current WW2 rules of choice are the Battlegroup series, which could have been tailor made to irritate me with their £20 coffee table basic rules, and £25 coffee table supplements which are necessary to play the campaign of your choice. But I find myself embracing the whole thing, as I have come to like and trust the 2 authors (mainly via the decent Battlegroup forum), and I like the rules, which I am assured are finished with and won't be updated just for the sake of it. There we are; I must be growing as a wargamer!

I won't be changing my wargaming preferences any time soon, of course. In fact, I can confidently state that old-fashioned historical wargaming will remain my only interest in this hobby. But increasing one's understanding of what the hobby is, and what it's realities are, is a journey worth making. It's just strange to see how long it has taken me to fully appreciate my dinosaur-like blind spots.

'Til next time!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

More Ancients

It seems I am unable to shake off my current Ancients Bug - the era continues to fascinate me, as does developing my set of rules for the period. The SYW and WW2 continue to be very much on the back burner.

I recently had the great good fortune to meet and game with Roy Boss, current president of the Society of Ancients. What better contact to make for a budding ancient gamer and rules writer? He lives quite close to me in Cirencester.

Roy in his wargames lair. 
To say Roy's collection of wargames figures is extensive would be rather an understatement - he is a great enthusiast and has 50 years of collecting behind him. When we decided to have a try-out of my rules with some of Roy's ancients collection, he kindly chose to honour the old school pretensions of the rules with some old school figures. Half an hour or so of delving produced Roman and Celtic armies in 20mm metal, with many of the figures going back to the 60s and 70s. Needless to say, our test game produced much useful discussion and ideas for rule improvements. 

The rules are designed to cope easily with armies based any which way, and Roy's figures were based very differently from my own. Happily, all went well and I was reassured that basing is not something to worry about. A few more photos are included below. 

A hugely enjoyable and profitable few hours. Thank you Roy.

My Roman cavalry melee with their Celtic opponents,
whilst the legionaries to their right are assaulted by a warband.
Oops! How did that happen? Roy is a much better general than I, even with someone else's rules.
A much depleted unit of legionaries becomes the meat in a Celtic sandwich.
Hmm... this is becoming a habit. A unit of Roman allied cavalry is surrounded.
Overview. I was losing badly when we called it a day. But I had learned a lot.

I will be visiting again to have a go at Armati, Roy's favourite ancients set. Playing other rules will add to my knowledge of alternatives and possibilities. And I have a game of To The Strongest coming up as well, with my longtime wargames buddy and friend Steve J. No sign of the obsession waning just for the moment.

'Til next time.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Santa And The Egyptian Chariots

I don't normally ask Santa for wargames stuff at Christmas, as doing so feels a little cold-blooded. I prefer my presents to be a little more spontaneous (and perhaps a little less warlike during the Season Of Goodwill). But this year I wanted to push on my ancient armies a bit further, and so requested some HCH Figures painted Egyptian war chariots. 

And so, much to my pleased surprise, four of them duly turned up. About a week of occasional construction found them based and ready to go. These guys are £20 each, fully painted but needing some putting together. As with all the HCH painted products I have purchased so far, I was more than happy with the completed models. 

These are, like the war elephants from the same company, wonderfully weighty models with a fine heft to them. The chariots themselves are not perhaps as colourful as some models you see photos of, but this does not bother me. The bright horses and crew create a fine impression.

These guys join my three Assyrian heavy chariots to form the chariot corps of my imaginary Paphlagonian army. The heavies now rejoice under the name of the 'Guard Chariots', whilst the lights are to be known as the 'Sinope Chariots'. 

A couple of units of Victrix legionaries and maybe a unit of Persian Immortals will just about finish off the armies I want. I don't want the project to get out of hand, and my WW2 and SYW gaming are beginning to feel neglected.

Ah, the satisfactions of a successfully proceeding project!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Russians vs Turks, post WW1.

Last week, it was once again my pleasure to head over to Stuart's for a game. There always seems to be something a bit unusual and highly diverting on the menu, and this occasion was no exception - a Russia vs. Turkey encounter set in the years immediately after the First World War.

The table that greeted me is shown in the photo above. Minifigs S Range 25mm figures mostly, with a couple of units of Tradition Crimea figures filling out the Russian force. Guns were converted Airfix ACW models plus a few Tradition guns from the Horse and Musket period. 

Rules were on one side of A4 - actually about three-quarters of one side of A4. 'You don't think they're a bit too complex?" I was asked. I assured Stuart that this was not the case, and we set to. Well, we actually set to after nearly an hour of convivial chat about wargaming in general, and our own recent endeavours in the hobby in particular. This is always a very pleasant part of our meetings.

Turkish infantry.
Their Russian opponents. Yes, the flags are from the Napoleonic period.
Do you want to make something of it?
Russian light cavalry
The Turkish centre.
Action! Turkish right wing advancing.
After taking casualties from Russian rifle fire, the two Turkish units are sent reeling back by a cavalry charge.
Cavalry action on the Turkish left wing. The two nearest buildings in the town are from Airfix.
Infantry meet in the central village.
Russian infantry supporting their cavalry against the Turkish left wing.
Nice pointing!
Turkish artillery (converted Airfix ACW guns) pound the Russian infantry line.
No way through here.
Alas, time ran out before a result could be declared. It was great to game a period I'd never encountered before. Also interesting was starting with a very simple set of rules that Stuart was happy to develop as the game went along. This is always a very instructive way to wargame, but needs open-minded and experienced gamers on both sides of the table, as well as people who have the same broad outlook regarding what they are trying to achieve. 

Stuart mentioned the possibility of developing a 'single side of A4' set of generic horse and musket rules. Now there's a challenge. Not something everyone would enjoy, and it requires wargamers who are willing to resolve any situations not strictly covered by the rules in a spirit of cooperation. But I can see his point that creating such a set would be an absorbing challenge.

Look out Neil Thomas!

'Til next time!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Battle Of The Temple Crossings

A very welcome email from my old wargames buddy Steve gave me the chance recently to set up another ancients game. I would be able to move on from the Trimsos scenario and also give a couple of new units their baptism of fire. 

The new battle would be based on an 18th century scenario posted on the HoW website some time ago - you can see the original here. Thanks as usual to our prolific HoW poster Damnitz for this excellent game idea.

The map shows the set-up as adapted from the original - each map square is 1' x 1'. The forces of Paphlagonia are attacking a small Latium army defending the river crossings near a disused temple. The river is low at the moment, but by autumn it will be in full flow and the crossings will be vital. I would command the Army of Paphlagonia, whilst Steve led the Army of the Kingdom of Latium. North is to the top of the map.

The Battle Of The Temple Crossings.


Army of Pahplagonia

A. Blue Shields Infantry (24 figures, pike phalanx)
B. Yellow Shields Infantry (24 figures, pike phalanx)
C. Galchobar Warband (24 figures, celtic warriors)
D. Zagora Archers (16 figures)
E. Serpent's Tongue Javelinmen (16 figures)
F. Companion Cavalry (12 figures, heavy cavalry)
G. 100 Suns Mounted Archers (12 figures, light cavalry)
H. War Chariots ( 3 heavy chariots)

10 units. Army Break Point 5.

Army of the Kingdom of Latium

1-3. 1st, 2nd & 3rd Regiments, The Kingdom Infantry (16 figures each, heavy infantry)
4. Na'Arun Slingers (16 figures, light infantry)
5. Auricomus Cataphracts (12 figures, heavy cavalry)
6. Medjay Cavalry (12 figures, light cavalry)
7. War Elephants (3 armoured elephants)
8. Bolt Thrower

10 units. Army Break Point 5

Scenario Conditions
The Paphlagonian army can set up within 1 foot of their baseline, the Latium army within 2 feet of theirs. Temple Hill is gentle, the River Parthenius is crossable. The first army to reach its army break point loses. Each river crossing lost loses the Army of Latium one army point (equivalent to losing one unit).

The Battle In Pictures

I set the figures out in advance to save time. The army of Latium is nearest the camera.
Only a single unit of light infantry is west of the river.
The Latium elephants advance, with a mission to disrupt the powerful Paphlagonian pike phalanx.
Two units of the Kingdom Infantry are in support.
The crunch approaches. The Paphlagonian right wing is also making a determined advance.
With one elephant distracted by the Paphlagonian archers, the contest in the centre is unequal
and the elephants are easily dispatched. On the right, the Serpent's Tongue javelimen are putting up a stout fight against a regiment of the Kingdom Infantry, but ultimately they were doomed.
A confused and deadly melee takes place on the eastern flank. One chariot is already destroyed.
Overview around turn 3. The Blue and Yellow Shields own the centre of the battlefield, whilst the Galchobar Warband clear the wood and find little opposition ahead of them. However, the 100 Suns mounted archers, attempting a sally towards the ford, have been smartly seen off by the Latium slingers, and can be seen licking their wounds at the right of the photo.
The Paphlagonian phalanx closes in on its next victims, as two units of the Latium heavy infantry contingent 
slide over to defend the bridge. The Yellow Shields have been weakened by 
flanking fire from the bolt thrower, but so far they have shrugged off the casualties.
Meanwhile at the ford an unequal contest between the Na'Arun slingers and the attacking warband commences.
Sensibly, the slingers give ground, hoping to fight a delaying action.
But Paphlagonia now have the ford.
End game. Both units of the Kingdom infantry take 50% casualties in a bloody melee -
one hangs on bravely, the other retreats to the bridge.

Steve had to depart after 5 moves, and at this stage Latium were actually ahead, having lost only 2.5 units to the 3.5 units lost by Paphlagonia. However, as neither side had yet broken, I decided to play out one more turn solo, which was hard fought and decisive (see the last two photos). The Blue and Yellow Shields charged and defeated the opposing units of the Kingdom Infantry, whilst the warband took the ford which cost Latium another Army Point. The Auricomus cataphracts were also destroyed in this turn as the lengthy fighting on the eastern flank turned in the favour of Paphlagonia. Suddenly, Latium had lost five Army Points and were broken, whilst Paphlagonia had just held on, with a total of 4.5 army points lost.

I must say I was particularly pleased by the sturdy performance of my pike units, as the Blue and Yellow shields trudged implacably across the table defeating all before them. Good work lads!

An excellent game had resulted, with plenty of useful lessons learnt about the rules. Only one sour note was struck, when Steve was firing his bolt thrower against the flank of the advancing Yellow Shields. "Do I get grazing fire for a bolt thrower? Those Blue Shields are in the line of fire!" was the question. Fortunately, at heart Steve is every inch a gentleman and a stern glance was all that was required to end this embarrassing interjection. Bouncing bolts! What next!

'Til the next time.