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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Books, Books, Books...and a Magazine

I seem to be having a literary interlude in my wargaming at the moment. My painting and making projects are minor and don't have much priority for the time being. And so I've been settling down to read some recent purchases. Prepare yourself for a long post with no pictures of toy soldiers...

Tabletop Wargames: A Designers' & Writers' Handbook, Rick Priestley and John Lambshead 
(Pen & Sword, 2016, 157 pages)


This title has just been published, and retails for £14.99. Probably the most straightforward thing to say about the book is that it does exactly what it says on the tin - it provides a guide to designing and writing rules for wargames using miniatures, although it should be emphasised that naval wargaming hardly features and air wargaming is not mentioned at all. The fact that it is authored by Rick Priestley pretty much guarantees a good and informative read - if (like me) the name John Lambshead means nothing to you, he is a pretty prolific current rules author himself, working for Osprey and Warlord Games on many well-known sets.
There is plenty of solid information here - data on probability and how to calculate it, some basic technical concepts around rules design, a discussion on scales, and sound advice about the process of writing and layout. Self-opinionated waffle is largely absent. Even if you don't really want to write rules in any serious way, this book represents a sound guide to the factors influencing the rules you buy and use, and will give you some objective guidance for telling a good set from a bad set. It will also shed some light on the reasons why you might like one ruleset and not another. The book is a well-produced softback with colour photos of various wargames figures for those who don't like stories without pictures.
I found only one section I disagreed with (strongly and with considerable justification, as you will see), when the chapter on dice and probability summarily dismissed average dice as 'pretty well obsolete'. Pah! To add insult to injury, the text continues 'no doubt somewhere there is an extant rule set utilising them but offhand we can't think of one'. Yeah, and screw you too, guys. For a final twist of the knife, the 'Warhammer' series is presented as an example of the 'more elegant' solution of rolling more D6s to 'smooth potential outcomes'. I myself had the misfortune of playing several games of Warhammer 40K before my 2 sons grew out of it (around the age of 12), and I found the rules clunky and old-fashioned. If 40K is more elegant a rule system than Honours of War, then I'm a Dutchman. Nevertheless, I feel I should set aside my feelings of bitter personal antagonism. Enough!
I read this book with considerable pleasure, and it was quickly apparent that it will come in very handy for any future rule writing ventures. One of the best wargaming books of recent years.

Tackle Model Soldiers This Way, Donald Featherstone (Stanley Paul, 1963, 128 pages)


I got this one from Abe Books for £17.99 including postage. Tackle Model Soldiers This Way was written after the seminal War Games of 1962, for the same publisher, and is a book I have not bothered with up to now as it is really about making, painting and collecting model soldiers rather than wargaming. However, when Stuart came up with some ideas for our ancient rules project that he had drawn from the book, I became aware that there was some wargaming content within. From there it was a short step to feeling the need to add it to my collection.

I'm glad I did. I don't think it's too much to say that the book will have little or no relevance to most modern-day wargamers, but I read this work from cover to cover with immense pleasure. It takes you back to the days when our hobby was just getting established and the whole business of creating an army and the terrain to play a game over was just so much more demanding. The author's enthusiasm for the whole process of making, painting and collecting model soldiers, whether or not one ends up wargaming with them, shines through and produces a charming read. 

The wargaming content is basically in one chapter, which includes about the briefest and simplest sets of rules for ancients, horse and musket and WW2 you are likely ever to encounter. Nevertheless, it was surprising and interesting to find that the WW2 rules were based on 'sections' of infantry mounted 3 to a base, a thoroughly modern concept which one suspects Mr Featherstone found in Joseph Morschauser's 1962 book How To Play Wargames In Miniature. Certainly it was fascinating to discover the cross-over in influence between the two authors. In fact, this little set of WW2 rules, set over 5 small pages, had me itching to try a game with them.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this work unless you reckon you share my attachment to old wargaming books and the need to have a collection of them on your shelves. But if you do, don't overlook this volume.

Battle Notes For Wargamers, Donald Featherstone (David and Charles, 1973, 174 pages)


This volume will probably be much more familiar to readers, and has formed a gap in my old school book collection for quite a while. I found a copy in practically new condition on Amazon for the ridiculous price of £0.83p plus the usual £2.80 p&p.

Following a fairly substantial, but admittedly rather dated, introduction covering the various wargames concepts involved in re-creating historical battles, the book examines 15 well chosen and interesting actions from ancient times to the Korean war. Each has worthwhile analytic sections on such subjects as rating of commanders and terrain, and has both an historical and wargaming map. I thought the content stood up very well for a book that is over 40 years old, and the book remains a useful source of historical wargaming scenarios and ideas for bringing them to the tabletop.

Certainly, for this price, a no-brainer.

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy Magazine, Issue 86 (Karwansaray Publishing, 82 pages)


With Miniature Wargames apparently destined to become a sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk magazine with the sad departure of Henry Hyde, WSS will definitely be a magazine to keep your eye on. I bought this one because my recent reading of War and Peace, and my subsequent interest in Napoleonic wargaming, made the theme of Napoleon's campaign in Russia a tempting one. And I almost always find the columnists have something interesting to say, which is hardly surprising considering they include Rick Priestley and Richard Clarke.

As for the themed content, it was fine, although as so often in WSS the articles on historical battles were let down by poor maps, which featured some muddy graphic design, insufficient detail and were often presented in a ridiculously small size. But my main reason for writing about this issue was the column from Colin Philips.

He was rebutting a column from a previous issue which had apparently claimed historical wargaming was inherently superior to sci-fi/fantasy/steam punk. Now, although privately and personally I agree completely with this conclusion, it has little justification outside the world of personal prejudice. Colin accordingly produced a well written, polite, and sensible article demonstrating the untenable nature of the previous opinion. However, a few of his statements caught my attention as things I was uncomfortable with.

First off, he writes, "all those little metal miniatures represent men who have died, but we use metal miniatures and rules to provide a level of abstraction to make it a game [...]. We are, in effect, playing toy soldiers." Well Colin, I reckon we aren't 'in effect' playing toy soldiers; we are just simply 'playing toy soldiers'. Playing toy soldiers is what we do and that's it and all about it. Anything else and we are just weird blood-thirsty warmongers. I should say here I reject the view that we are likely to learn anything about warfare from playing wargames, apart of course from when the hobby makes us read proper history.

Colin develops his point by noting games he has played with his grandfathers, both war veterans, and also noting that the occasionally expressed distaste for fighting wars that are still on-going or very recent doesn't seem to be shared by those involved. He mentions Afghanistan veterans with whom he has played his own Skirmish Sangin game. All I want to say here is that, at a personal level, I find this a little odd. Why anyone who has actually experienced war would want to take part in a game about it beats me, especially a game about a war they had actually been involved in. But of course, such a person was Donald Featherstone. This is just a conundrum I am going to have to live with, I reckon. It is an interesting point that Colin is right to bring forward.

However, Colin does succeed in conclusively shooting himself in the foot towards the end of his article, unwittingly giving ammunition to those who favour historical wargaming. Arguing that the the previous writer "has the cart before the horse", he goes on to say, regarding historical gaming, "I'd argue people don't need to know about the history when they play a game, but it'll spark an interest which generally makes them learn more about the period. History is not the requisite to having fun playing a game, but it will fire the imagination and enhance your enjoyment".

I reckon it's pretty obvious that Colin is the guy with the horse and cart the wrong way round. Playing a game in an historical period of which you have no knowledge must ultimately be pretty pointless - you cannot really understand what is going on and why, and furthermore you can have no idea as to whether the rules you are playing are any good or not. History does indeed 'fire the imagination and and enhance your enjoyment' when playing historical games, which is why you need to do your research first. Knowing the period must precede buying rules and figures, and not bothering with the history is one of the reasons old buggers like me decry the 'spoonfeeding' approach of the more developed commercial companies, with their one-stop shops of figures and rules. You cannot get history from a rulebook. Hence it might be possible to argue that historical wargamers occupy the higher intellectual ground, as other gamers have no history to refer to. However, this I do not actually believe.

Thanks for a fine and thought-provoking column Colin.

Having got that off my chest I'll conclude by wishing WSS the very best. The fate of Henry Hyde, as well as that of my new found friend Stuart Asquith and his experience with Practical Wargaming back in the 90s, has confirmed for me what a cut-throat and heartless business the world of magazine publishing can be, even in the supposedly gentlemanly world of wargaming. I don't envy Guy Bowers in the slightest, but he produces a pretty good magazine.

Thanks for reading. 'Till the next time!

Monday, 19 September 2016

'The Battle Of Trimsos'

When I write 'The Battle of Trimsos', I somehow feel I should add © Donald Featherstone, or maybe ® Tony Bath. For me this is a trademark of early wargaming, and very much a classic encounter. As Mr Featherstone's War Games (1962) was the first wargaming book I ever read, and Trimsos is the first battle described in that book, it follows that this was the first wargaming battle report I ever read. As such it holds a special place in my heart. So when Stuart revealed he had a collection of ancient figures and suggested a re-fight of the Battle of Trimsos, using the original rules, I answered 'yes' immediately.

On arrival at Stuart's, he first showed me a couple of flats which he was given a while back, and which he believes belonged to Tony Bath. Quite something to have.


The map below, scanned from the book, shows the original battle setup. Stuart's dining table is 6' x 3', and so exactly matches the dimensions of the table as used in the book.


And below we see how Stuart had set up the game. The figures are basically 20mm plastics, mainly Airfix and HaT, whilst the horse archers are Tradition 25mm and the generals are Hinchliffe figures. The river is from Pegasus Hobbies, with 'New Bridge' being a Bellona model and 'Old Bridge' a find in a garden centre, originally destined for a fish tank! The wall is a bit of Britain's terrain. The elephants are adapted, in true Old School fashion, from Schleich 'baby elephant' models. The palm trees are from Poundland - another typical Stuart find. The hills are home-made MDF shapes.


The keen eyed reader will see that the units are a bit under strength - 12 figures in the infantry units, only 4 in the cavalry units. And here our problems began. To cut a long story short, we found ourselves discovering that not quite enough figures meant that the original rules didn't work properly, and so we embarked on an 'in game' adaption of the rules that quickly meant we spent more time pontificating than playing. Thus the game was not the nostalgic success we had hoped, but did set us off on the path of developing a set of simple old-style ancient wargaming rules, which promises to be an interesting project. Anyway, a few photos can't do any harm...

The Hyrkanian war elephants thunder over Rat Hill. Hang on a minute - could that be
Roman legionaries co-operating with Ancient Britons in the foreground? Sacrilege!
The 2nd Imperial Archers prepare to defend the New Bridge.
General view of the action after 3 moves.
A close up of the Imperial Archers.

Stuart and I share a high regard for the inspiration that Old School wargaming provides, regardless of any nostalgia value. One great thing about this project will be that it will be designed for the use of any ancients one might have - in fact, being able to mix favourite units from any part of the ancient world into one's army is part of the attraction. So I guess you might call this an imagi-nations project, along the lines of Tony Bath's original Hyperborea and Hyrkania. Our basis will be the rules from War Games, as well as the even more basic rules in The Don's Tackle Model Soldiers This Way (1963). Sounds good to me...

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Long Expected Reinforcements

I have been trying some larger SYW games over the last year, with a small group of wargaming friends attending for some daytime gaming which gives us a bit more time. Most recently I have found that I can squeeze a 10' x 6' table into my dining room, and as this room doesn't see much use, the set up can be left in place for 2 or 3 days to make the whole process of setting up and clearing away much more relaxing.

As a result of this slightly more ambitious series of games, I have felt the need for a few extra units. Some of you may remember this post, where I expressed the view that my collection was more or less complete. Ah well, never say never, especially when it comes to wargamers purchasing more stuff. 

These days I limit my painting of SYW kit to the odd general or wagon, as I find painting whole units just too time consuming and tedious. A bit of lightweight painting is enjoyable and relaxing, but for me the production-line stuff is just a chore. So I ordered my new units from the current producers of my favourite RSM95 figures, namely the Dayton Painting Consortium in the U.S.A. 

In this case I had to wait a few months for the figures to turn up, which I was warned about beforehand, but they have finally arrived. Using the DPC means the figures don't have to be bought separately and sent to the figure painter of your choice, and prices are excellent. Generally, one pays about £3 - £3.50 for a painted infantry figure (depending on the exchange rate), which includes buying the unpainted figure, painting, flags, and shipping to the UK. A definite bargain. I base the figures myself as this makes shipping easier with less chance of damage to the figures. The painting style is exactly what I want - basic block painting to a good wargames standard. None of this 5 levels of shading, £5-a-figure just for the painting nonsense. 

Two battalions of Hungarian line infantry plus a regiment of Prussian dragoons were in the current tranche, with a further 2 battalions of Prussian infantry and some Saxon chevauxlegers to follow in a few weeks. Along with the unexpected free units acquired recently, I should be able to fill my table nicely when needed. 

The 2 battalions of IR53 Simbschen. The mounted general was part of the order as well -
the Bavarian officer on foot having an argument is my own work.
Prussian DR6 Schorlemmer, the famous 'porcelain regiment'. Just 8 figures in my HoW cavalry regiments, making it easier to build an army quickly. You can of course use bigger units if you wish.
A close up of the quality. Not good enough for some, I'll admit, but I buy and paint my figures for wargaming,
not for close-up shots on blogs, rulebooks or glossy magazines.

My basing work is pretty basic, as you can see. The bases are made from 2mm thick plastic card or MDF. Paint them grass green, a coat of PVA glue, then sprinkle on the grass flock. Done. I don't think there's much chance of a modelling article in Wargames Illustrated from me in the near future. Not quite enough content to please most gamers!

'Til next time!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Battle Of McHook's Farm

For anyone unaware of the significance of The Battle Of Hook's Farm, see this link. H.G.Wells' original map is shown below.


McHook's? Well, I'm working on a project at the moment to adapt Honours of War for the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th century in general, and the '45 in particular. It turns out Stuart has a fine collection of 30mm figures for this period, of both sides, so we are now working on things together. For this purpose, Stuart had set up a terrain based on Hook's Farm on his dining table (6' x 3') so we could have a little play test of the ideas I have produced so far.

I only took a few snaps of very average quality, so I can't show you an overview of the table. The Government forces (Stuart) were 2 regular battalions, 1 battalion of inferior militia, a regiment of dragoons and 2 light guns. They were set up on the northern table edge. To the south, the Jacobites (myself) were set up with 6 small Highland units, 2 small cavalry units, and 1 light gun. Only 2 of the Jacobite units were given muskets, and these (the ones on the right and left of the first line) were allowed to be superior, although their firing would be classed as inferior. 

The battle turned out to be something of a re-run of Prestonpans. If I may say so, Stuart made the mistake of advancing forward with his regular battalions, temporarily isolating them from the support of his artillery and militia. When the inevitable Highland charge occurred (surging forward either side of The Hovel Public House), all 6 Scots units were concentrated against the regulars, with 3 attacking each battalion, led of course by the musket wielding superior clansmen. The Government fire was not as effective as it might have been, and in the melee that followed both Government battalions, well..., ran away.  My current rules allow the Highlanders a significant charge bonus, and when added to the modifiers for supporting units, the redcoats were simply overwhelmed.

Stuart, gentleman wargamer that he is, pronounced himself pleased with how things had worked. The 2 regular battalions were outnumbered and had fired poorly, and the result seemed fair. The main trick I need to accomplish is to balance the ferocity of the Highland charge against the defensive capabilities of the British line units, so that, as quality and numbers on both sides are varied, a series of plausible results occur. Then maybe we can re-fight some actual battles and see how they work out.

Below are a few snaps, with a little commentary on how things progressed.

The Highlanders crash into the Government left flank infantry.
(And yes, those redcoats are vintage Spencer Smith plastics. Handle with care!)
HoW dictates that in this situation, one unit melees hand-to-hand whilst the other 2 act as support.
2 moves have been played, and both Government battalions are in flight,
overwhelmed by both numbers and the aggression of the Highland charge.
A bit of black-and-white old school flavour for you.
One of the Government guns is feeling rather exposed as the supporting infantry disappears.
The 3rd and final move saw a unit of Jacobite cavalry (Bagot's Hussars) move rapidly round the
Government right flank and charge the hapless militia. 'The Cottage' is seen top right.
The Government Dragoons try the same thing on the opposite end of the table. They find themselves faced by blue-bonneted  Jacobite cavalry supported by the Jacobite light gun. This encounter could have gone either way, but we left it there as the game was effectively over at this point. Firefly Kirk in the background.

Although brief, this was an instructive engagement that supported some of my adaptions so far, and also showed up areas where I had not thought through all the possibilities (for example, the question of Highlanders pursuing following a successful melee). A great pleasure as well to have Stuart's lovely figures to use.

The project has now grown another branch, as Stuart is working on adapting Young and Lawford's Charge! rules for the same period. Plus he has promised to set up a proper re-run of Hook's Farm, complete with wooden building-block houses, Britain's figures and appropriate vintage guns. Oh yes, and then there's the re-fight of The Ancient Battle of Trimsos, from Donald Featherstone's original book, using the original rules. So many games, so little time...

Monday, 1 August 2016

Unexpected Reinforcements

As any wargamer knows, the best kind of reinforcements are the ones that come as a surprise. I was certainly surprised recently when my wargaming friend in Northleach, Stuart Asquith, offered me a whole drawer-full of tricorn-wearing figures entirely for free. Stuart is in the process of thinning out some of his current collection, and has sold many of them, but decided this lot would be a gift. I was bowled over by this act of generosity from someone I have only known for few months - thank you Stuart.

As the pictures below indicate, this is not a collection of battle-scarred veterans from way-back. These are beautifully painted 25mm figures in mint condition, mostly organised in units of 18 figures, which suits Honours of War perfectly. What was particularly intriguing is that Stuart had forgotten which manufacturer's figures they were (both plastic and metal figures are present), and he had painted them in various fictional uniform schemes just for the pleasure of creating colourful units. Immediately, the idea of developing a group of units that were fictional but fitted into a believable SYW narrative was born.

Stuart finishes all his troops in gloss varnish, and the units were based to allow single casualty removal à la Charge! rules. I had the briefest of notions to give the figures a coat of matt varnish to match my own figures, and prise off the individual castings to rebase them. Such sacrilegious thoughts were soon abandoned. The figures look wonderful in their glossy coats, and they wouldn't be Stuart's figures if given a flat finish. As for the basing, this had been done so well that re-basing would be an equal mistake. Stuart had given each figure a 20mm x 20mm space, which fits my basing scheme exactly. Some thin plastic card is already ordered, and the current bases can be glued onto 40mm x 40mm squares of this material to bring them together.

With that decided, an extremely pleasurable afternoon was spent inventing a set of suitable backgrounds for the new units. Some of them received new flags as a result, but that was about the limit of my 'conversions'. The results are described below.

Here we have the 2 battalions of the Royal Lomdardy regiment, allied, of course, with Austria. In gratitude for their service, the Empress Maria Theresa has given permission for them to retain their green uniforms and the flags of their home country. The command figure was a further gift from Stuart, just so that my new units wouldn't lack officers! Wonderful. Plastic figures to the rear, metal in front.
The Fusiliers Francaise. This volunteer unit of Frenchmen resident in the Habsburg lands has adopted the white
Austrian uniform, but again they retain their own national flag by special permission. Plastic figures.
The magnificent blue-coated men of the Polish-Lithuanian regiment Zamoyski. This mercenary unit of exiles are for hire to the highest bidder. Note the grenadier company on the left. More plastic figures.
These imaginary units are designated as originating from the real Prussian ally of Hesse-Kassel. In the rear are the men of the regular regiment von Gräffendorff, and in front the two smaller Freikorps battalions of Haller and Bischausen are seen. The mounted command figure was another gift from Stuart. All these are metal figures.
There was also a group of about a dozen dismounted hussar figures. These close-ups reveal the quality of the painting they had received. They will be re-based as light troops for HoW, providing a very valuable resource of dismounted men for either Prussian or Austrian armies. Metal figures.

So there we are - 8 new units for the table, ready in an afternoon. Can't wait to get these guys into action. Thank you so much Stuart, this was a much appreciated act of kindness.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Relief Of Obschutz

It's been a couple of decades since I last managed to set up a 10' x 6' table in my own home. The good-sized loft conversion I used to have back in the day in our old house was converted to a bedroom after a couple of halcyon years. But some recent measuring indicated that by removing just about all the furniture a 10' x 6' table was possible in our present dining room. What's more, the dining table itself turns out to be just the right height to match up with my 3 fold-up gaming tables to provide the required area. 

This auspicious occasion clearly needed to be properly exploited, and I managed to arrange for 3 other old friends to take part in the intended game, giving 2 players a side. The scenario was developed from one that featured in issue 40 of the free online magazine Warning Order, called 'Relief of a Siege'. I added some more forces and stretched the terrain a bit, but the game I set up was very much the same as published. Thanks to the Wasatch Front Gaming Society for continuing to produce such a great free magazine. Of course, I couldn't have an anonymous town as the objective, so I looked through some military history books until I found the sort of name I wanted.

The terrain is shown by the map, along with the main movements which can be matched up with the orders of battle given below. Each grid square is of course 1 foot.

The Austrian blocking force and besieging force are shown in their starting positions.

The Relief Of Obschutz
Austrian Brief
The Austrians are besieging the small but important town of Obschutz. The Prussian relief force has arrived earlier than expected and the Austrians are struggling to respond in time. The line of wooded hills to the south east of the town provides a natural first line of defence, and a reinforcing column has been despatched.

Austrian Forces under General Clerici   16 units, Army Break Point = 8

Blocking Force – Major General Brettlach
3 infantry battalions, 1 dragoon regiment, 1 Grenz light battalion

Reinforcing Column – Major General O’Kelly
3 infantry battalions, 1 medium artillery battery

Reserve – Lieutenant General Romann
Infantry Brigade, 2 infantry battalions under Major General Salburg
Cavalry Brigade, 2 cuirassier regiments under Major General Luzinsky

Part of the Besieging Force – Major-General Wolffersdorf
1 infantry battalion, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 howitzer battery.

Special Rules
Reinforcing Column: (starts in deployment area as shown on map). O’Kelly has just received a message from Lieutenant General Romann telling him the troops approaching from the south east are Austrian reinforcements. In his confusion he will do nothing for the first move, before the sound of firing reveals the true situation.

Reserve: (starts in deployment area shown on map). Lieutenant General Romann is feeling a trifle liverish this morning after a heavy night with his officers. He discounts news of a Prussian relief force and decides to have a hot chocolate before returning to bed. Then maybe it will be time to review the troops. The protests of Salburg and Luzinsky finally take effect but they cannot leave camp until move 4. Romann will take no part in the ensuing action. Salburg’s Bavarians count as standard quality

Besieging Force: Wolferrsdorf is reluctant to allow his units to leave the siege lines to help fend off the Prussians, fearing a sally by the Prussians in the town. No units may leave the siege lines until move 4. If more than 1 unit then leaves the lines, roll for a Prussian sally, which sets up in contact with any part of the town walls:
1 = town militia, 2-4 = Freikorps battalion (2 available), 5-6 = small regiment of hussars.
Roll again each subsequent move until all have left the town. If the roll is for a unit that has already moved out, nothing happens.

Prussian Brief
The Prussians are hurrying to the aid of their comrades who are besieged in the small but vital town of Obschutz.

Prussian Forces under General Sprecher   21 units, Army Break Point = 10

First Line infantry
3 grenadier battalions and 1 medium battery under Major General Kleist
4 infantry battalions and 1 medium battery under Major General Driesen

Reserve Infantry
2 infantry battalions under Major General Splitgerber

First Line Cavalry
1 cuirassier regiment and 2 dragoon regiments under Major General Einsiedel

Reserve Cavalry
2 hussar regiments under Major General Zepelin

Artillery
2 heavy batteries under Colonel Waldau
2 howitzer batteries under Colonel Breidenbach

Light Troops
2 small jaeger detachments (both independent)

All forces are on table in the Prussian deployment area, and are ready to attack from the first move. A brief bombardment will be fired at the start of the game. Prussian units sallying out from the town are not counted for calculation of ABP.

Victory Conditions
The first side to reach its Army Break Point loses. If the Prussians lose 5 units the Austrians have managed a draw. Any Prussian unit that exits the table along the road by Obschutz, or is otherwise able to enter the town, costs the Austrians 1 ABP.

The Game
The plan concocted by Jon and myself (as the Prussians) was classic in conception, bold and aggressive in execution, and had the additional advantage of being totally foolproof (see map above). Whilst the grenadier brigade assaulted the gap in the hill line frontally, the other leading infantry brigade would push past the Austrian right flank to unhinge the position. Meanwhile, the cavalry of the first line would have swept round the other Austrian flank. Any attempt to set up a coherent defence behind the hills with the reinforcing column would therefore be frustrated by these flanking forces. Finally, the reserve cavalry and infantry would push forward to exploit as required, and complete the inevitable destruction of the Austrian reserve.

Simple! Jon and I gave the Austrians 7 moves before the coup de grace would be applied. 

The Austrian faction (Steve and Craig) with their unofficial advisor Stuart Asquith.
Stuart is clearly frustrated that the Charge! rules are not in use.
The Prussian flanking cavalry are passing in front of them along the table edge.
The objective. The Austrians never felt the need to draw units away from the siege lines around Obschutz.
The Austrian blocking force frustratingly refused to stand on the ridge in order to be surrounded and destroyed.
Instead they fell back and fought in the cover of the woods behind the crests. Much good it would do them!
The outflanking Prussian cavalry came completely unstuck. The Austrian reinforcing column swung across towards them and backed them against the table edge, raking them with musketry and canister. Then the Austrian dragoons excelled themselves with a spirited charge which swept away 2 of the already badly damaged Prussian units.
The Prussian infantry advance eventually removed all the infantry of the Austrian blocking force. One of the defending Hungarian units became the victim of an 'inspiring' command roll, leading to a suicidal charge against superior Prussian forces. Another defending unit can be seen to the right of this photo attempting to fight off 2 Prussian units at once - it also was destroyed. The Prussian heavy guns have moved forward on the right flank.
The Prussian cavalry had achieved one thing - they had drawn the Austrian reinforcing column over to their side of the table, leaving a gap available on the Prussian left. Some stalwart command rolls by the Prussian reserve infantry had them double-moving rapidly into the attack, giving the Prussians superiority in numbers as the Austrian reserve finally lumbered forward. Some desperate pointing action by Craig couldn't prevent the Bavarians giving way.
Back in the Prussian rear, the Grenz light infantry battalion had been isolated in Altenberg. As the Prussian infantry moved away, the Grenzers tried a sally against the nearby Prussian heavy battery. The Prussian gunners calmly turned their guns around and blasted their attackers with canister, sending them tumbling back to the village with heavy casualties.

Overall, the game was a cracker - perhaps the best I have played this year. Playing along the length of the table gave opportunities for both sides to manoeuvre, and when the fighting occurred it was decisive and bloody. The move 7 deadline was predictably missed - the Austrians had managed to destroy 5 Prussian units by move 9 and so could claim some sort of draw, but they had lost 6 units themselves by this point (about to become 7), and there was a gaping hole in their front south of Obschutz. So Obschutz was declared relieved, but the Prussians had been given a bloody nose and the Austrians had fought with skill and guts.

Amongst the players, the game was played in just the right spirit - plenty of banter, a friendly atmosphere, but some concentrated wargaming. There was good and bad luck on both sides - the Austrians for example had rolled for 2 'dashing' commanders, which gave them an extra edge. In contrast, the Prussian howitzer battery rolled an almost endless sequence of ones, leaving them way in the Prussian rear when they should have been lobbing shells into the Austrian reserve. They were under Jon's charge, and his resolute insistence on using his own dice was almost certainly to blame. But on the other hand it was his rolling of sixes which sent the Prussian reserve infantry bounding to the front in the final moves. Such are the fortunes of war.

The original magazine scenario was fought out on a 6' x 4' table using 15mm figures, so you don't need a big set up to play this excellent scenario, which I thoroughly recommend.

'Til next time!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Wargaming With War and Peace

To celebrate passing the halfway stage in this very entertaining book (I'm on page 797 out of 1358 at the time of writing), I thought I might share a couple of Mr Tolstoy's views on history in general and military history in particular. And if you didn't already know, Tolstoy was a Russian artillery officer in the Crimean War.

I thought that would get your attention. Lily James as Natasha Rostov.
Lily James is officially the best looking woman in the world. Apart from my wife.

His account of Austerlitz occurs quite early in the book and is notable for its description of the confusion and chaos of a Napoleonic battle. Take this passage for example:

After riding up to the highest point on our right flank, Prince Bagration started off downhill, where a continuous rattle of gunfire rang out and nothing could be seen for the smoke. The further they descended into the hollow the less they could see, but the more sharply they could sense the proximity of the actual battle. They began to come across wounded men. [...]. They crossed the road and started down a steep incline, where they saw several men lying on the sloping ground. Then they were met by a crowd of soldiers, some of them not wounded. These soldiers, gasping for breath as they hurried uphill, took no notice of the general and went on shouting to each other with much waving of their arms. Ahead of them through the smoke they could now see whole ranks of grey coats, and once the commanding officer set eyes on Bagration he ran off after the retreating mass of soldiers, shouting for them to come back. Bagration rode up to the ranks, where noisy sporadic fire drowned all speech including the officer's shouted commands. The air was thick with gunsmoke. The soldier's faces were all animated and smudged with gunpowder. Ramrods plunged in and out, powder was poured into pans, charges came out of pouches, guns fired. What they were firing at couldn't be seen for the smoke that hung undispersed by the wind. (p.192).

And much later in the book he writes this:

A good player who loses at chess is genuinely convinced that that he lost because he made a mistake, and he goes back to the opening gambits to find what that mistake was, forgetting that his every move throughout the whole game involved similar errors, no move being perfect. The mistake that he concentrates on attracts his attention only because it was exploited by his opponent. How much more complex than this is the game of war, which has to be played out within specific time limits, and where there is no question of one man's will directing events through his control of soulless machinery, because everything develops from the interplay of infinitely varied and arbitrary twists and turns! (p.787).

My point being, when you are playing Honours of War and you throw a 1 for your command roll, stop bitching! It's realistic!