Friday, 10 October 2008

'Practical Wargaming'

I have just acquired (temporarily) a copy of Wesencraft's 1974 book, courtesy of my local library. This really is a genuine classic, with a set of well worked out but basically simple rules covering a number of periods, along with some great photos and some rather nostalgic stuff on terrain from the days when making one's own was often a real necessity. I have not had this book in my hands for many years (perhaps as many as 20), and I had forgotten how influential on my own gaming it has been.

I could hardly better this quote from the introduction as summing up my present philosophy of miniatures wargaming:

'I have always thought that a game played with easily understood rules that gave a result, played within a broad outline of a particular period, that gave enjoyment to both the winner and his unfortunate opponent, was to be preferred...' (p.8).

Of particular interest is that phrase 'that gave a result'. I particularly like rules that have the winning/losing conditions built in, rather than just suggesting that the result will usually be obvious after a few moves, or that you should spend half the evening totting up points to decide a winner. Built-in victory conditions commonly involves games based around a series of set scenarios, or an army morale system which results in one side clearly collapsing after a reasonable number of moves. Even simpler is the basic rule that when you have lost (say) half your units, you have lost the game. Such rules produce games with a beginning, middle and an end (like chess). First there is a jockeying for position, then the main fight commences, then as casualties mount careful decisions have to made about risk versus conserving one's forces, as each side (or one side) approaches its breaking point. How often have you had games that just petered out in an inconclusive draw, or resulted in some vague discussion about what might have happened if only a couple more hours were available?

The one major blind spot in the book is it's refusal to consider 'modern' (basically 20th century) wargames. Wesencraft's remarks here are rather inexplicable, especially considering that WW2 games were a common feature of gaming from the start. One need only consider the example of the Lionel Tarr rules and the famous 'Tank and Infantry Action on the St. James Road' from the book Wargames. But Wesencraft is insistent:

'With the coming of modern warfare, millions of men are involved and all scale is lost. Either one figure represents thousands of men, one tank dozens of squadrons, or one is forced to go back almost to square one and fight tiny local actions at company strength [...] personally, I do not believe it is possible to scale down on to a table 4 x 8 ft a modern battle...' (p. 15)

It seems the author's considerable ingenuity and inventiveness deserted him when it came to the end of the 19th century.

Revisiting these old wargames books (buying when I can afford to, borrowing when I can't) has a been a particular pleasure over this last year. My only problem is that at some stage the supply of old classics will dry up!

Monday, 6 October 2008

New Grenadiers

Painting is my least favourite part of the hobby. I quite enjoy it on a limited scale, producing a modest number of vehicles or figures, but when it comes to the task of creating enough units for a whole army, I tend to get a bit depressed at the prospect. In fact, my habit in recent years has been to sell off one army and use the money to purchase painted units to form the basis of a new project. Fortunately, I am not a 'butterfly' wargamer, and have a very limited number of projects on which to concentrate. As a result, this process has only had to happen twice in the last 4-5 years.

My SYW armies had a solid start with the painted RSM95 figures provided by the Dayton Painting Consortium. Now I have had to bite the bullet and start creating new units to expand the forces to the size I want. My main project through July, August and early September was the painting of 4 grenadier units, 2 Austrian and 2 Prussian. I was painting at the rate of about 8 figures a week, or 2 sixteen figure units a month, plus the inevitable delays for holidays etc. I copied the style of the figures I already had: that is, block painting to create a definite 'toy soldier' feel. I have taken some close up photos, so you can see my painting style (such as it is) warts and all. I can only say that the results please me, and look quite good enough at wargames ranges, though I'll admit that close up they're hardly collectors standard! I'm afraid I have little pretension towards improvement - my current standard is quite satisfactory for my purposes. So let's see what I have produced...

This is Grenadier Regiment Wedel, formed from grenadiers of IR1 (left) and IR23 (right). I picked on this unit as I already had IR1 as one of my line regiments. My standard line units are usually 5 bases of 4 figures, so 4 bases seemed appropriate for the Prussian grenadier battalions, which were usually smaller than the line units.

The second unit I chose was battalion Kremzow, formed from the grenadiers of IR17 (left) and IR22 (right). The main factors in choosing this unit were the different uniform details, allowing easy identification between the 2 grenadier units, and the fact that it was involved in the crucial battles of Rossbach, Leuthen and Zorndorf.

Information on the composition of Austrian grenadier units is much rarer, as they were more ephemeral in character than those of Prussia, being formed only as temporary formations during the course of a campaign or part of a campaign. The only unit I found definite information on was this one, the Soro grenadier battalion formed for the battle of Kolin from 2 companies each of grenadiers from the Deutchmeister (left) and Botta (right) regiments. Once again, that seemed to call for 2 bases from each battalion. Thanks to the gentlemen on the Yahoo SYW group who offered the information on this unit. Other Austrian grenadier units are sometimes named, but details of the constituent regiments are almost always missing. Therefore, for my last unit I decided on a fictional battalion, and as the first was a German regiment, the second would be Hungarian :

I called these guys the Siskovics grenadier battalion after the officer who was to become inhaber of Hungarian regiment Josef Esterhazy in 1762, and therefore was associated with a regiment which was already part of my forces. The constituent figures are 2 bases from regiment Erzherzog Ferdinand (left), 2 bases from Josef Esterhazy (centre), and one base from regiment Bethlen (right). Those with copies of the Osprey book on Austrian infantry will recognise the three units from plates E1, E2, and E3 - I'm afraid this was the rather abitrary way the component units were selected!

After painting this lot, my appetite for further work is very small indeed. In short, I have had enough of serious painting for a while. However, my next small project is 4 bases of dismounted dragoons for my Prussians, which isn't too daunting. We'll see how they turn out...