Monday, 10 August 2009

A River, a Curtain, and a Threat from the Flank

The River

Being pleased with the look of my Games Workshop gaming mat, I went ahead and bought another one so that battles can take place on my larger 6' x 6' table. As I mentioned in the previous post, the next step was to get some river sections to lay on top. This was something I had been looking at for a while, even before I got the gaming mats. The TSS tiles with river sections look good but you do have to put up with a bit of inflexibility in your layouts: the river always runs through the middle of the square and you can only have straights or 90 degree turns.

The Flames of War river sections (from their 'Battlefield in a Box' range) came out on top for quality and price. I compared JR Miniatures, Terrain Mat and Miniature World Maker products, but they all lost out on one or both of these counts. I know I could have tried to make my own, but first I don't really want to take the time, and second I was not convinced the finished article would be worth it. The FoW rivers can be seen in the pictures below. You get seven 1' sections in a heavy, flexible rubber material which ensures the sections will always lie flat. The water is a blue colour. Now, you don't often see a blue river (they are usually a very dark green or brown in my experience), but the blue is a muted one, really a sort of blue-grey. The colour is also shaded and has a satin gloss finish which I like. The banks are nicely textured in a dark brown, and have been deliberately left like this so that buyers can add their own flock (if they want) to match their own layout. This is a good decision by the producers. The product comes beautifully packaged, ensuring you will receive the sections flat and undamaged. And of course you also get two nice bridges, both painted as well and of good quality. The FoW website gives an excellent idea what the sections and bridges look like.

This product is best bought (in the UK at least) from the Games of War website (yep, Games not Flames), where you get it for £45, post and packing free. And they use UPS delivery, not the Post Office. The only problem I have is the original one of flexibility: you get seven straights, but no curves. This is a rather strange decision by FoW, but if you look at the shape of the individual sections on the FoW website ( as I did) you can see that cutting one of the pieces into two produces two curved sections which work very well. Be careful if you do this that the river along the line of your cut is of the right width to match up with the ends of the normal sections - the river does vary a bit in width. Overall, definitely recommended.

The Curtain

Funny how ideas can sometimes take a while to inspire you. In this case, nearly forty years! The idea of using a curtain across the middle of the games table to conceal deployment was presented by Donald Featherstone in his books War Games and Battles With Model Soldiers, both of which I read in the early seventies. I think the problem was that the idea was mentioned only briefly and with little practical detail on how you might rig your curtain up. Well, for some reason, reflecting on the problem of concealed deployment recently, the idea came back to me and I decided to give it a go. I raised the issue on the Old School Wargaming Yahoo group and found some doubters, but also some people who had used the idea a lot and liked it. I also got an idea for a simple and cheap set up from one of the responding posts.

So, £3.95 got me a bundle of 10 bamboo poles, of 2.1 metre length. Taking 6 and chopping a bit off each, I was able to make two tripods, using stout elastic bands to secure the poles together towards one end. It turned out the base needed to be stabilised by drilling a hole in the bottom of each pole and threading a loop of string through, which forms a triangle when the tripod is deployed. Then another pole can be slung between the two tripods to hold your curtain, in my case a table cloth which I simply draped over. Hey Presto.

I found a length of pole in B&Q which I couldn't resist as it was perfect for the cross piece, but a length of the bamboo would work just as well. I suppose it took an hour or so to fiddle around constructing the whole thing and getting the height right and the tripods reasonably stable. Naturally, I was impatient to try out the idea in a game.

A Threat to the Flank.

This is one of the scenarios from the Grant/Asquith book Scenarios for All Ages. The idea is that two main forces face each other across a river, the section between them being fordable. To the flank is another crossing point via a bridge, and the attackers (M) have sent a flanking force (F) to use this route. The defenders (D) respond by detaching their own flanking force (R) in reaction. The set-up is shown in the map below, taken from the book.

Being determined to try out my new curtain, I set up the table as near as possible to the map, then placed the curtain along the line of the river. Players could deploy as they wished but no closer than 12" to the curtain. In addition, no attacking units were allowed within 12" of the north end of the bridge, and no defending units within 30" of the south end of the bridge. When the curtain was carefully raised and the tripods taken away, the deployment was as below:

Unfortunately the length of the fordable part of the river is not precisly specified in the scenario. The fordable length I chose was between the two poplar trees which you can see on the river banks. This turned out to be too narrow and the attacking Austrians could not bring their superior forces to bear. Re-visiting the book, I can see that the description allows for the fordable length to be rather longer than I went for. Anyway, the result was that on this part of the battle field, a series of restricted frontal assaults went in, all more or less doomed to failure as they were blasted by a solid line of defenders. You will also note that Prussian deployment had been canny: the left flank of the main force was well protected, but the flanking units were also sufficiently close by to assist the main force if needed, which is what happened.

The photos above show the initial attack going in. There was a brief flicker of hope for the Austrians (myself) when one of the Prussian infantry units dropped out of the line, but the gap could not be exploited before it was closed up again.

Fighting on the other flank was confused and indecisive. I only took this one poor quality picture, I'm afraid - the camera ended up focused on the tree in the foreground! At least you get an idea of what one of the FoW bridges looks like.

Here is the final attack going in, on the seventh and last move. You will notice how depleted the units now are. In front of the dragoons (waiting to exploit a breakthrough that never came) light troops have been pushed forward to fill the gap in the attacking line. Of course, this attack was a failure like all the rest and the Austrians gave it up and retreated. The game was played with the Rank and File rules, which I continue to like. One or two reservations have surfaced, but with so few games played I will keep these to myself until I build more experience with the rules.

I have to say I was pleased with the look of the table. As I have said, I continue to have nothing but praise for the TSS system which has served me well for many years. But it's nice to ring the changes once in a while. And the curtain idea was great fun to use; simple but effective.

Comments encouraged, as usual. Happy summer!


Donogh said...

A nice post - really appreciated seeing your thoughts on how the scenario design panned out and how you might change it.

Stokes Schwartz said...

Hello there Keith,

Looks like the curtain idea was a success! Really enjoyed looking at your armies of RSM figures and reading your battle description. Your table set-up is really attractive too.

Best Regards,


Bluebear Jeff said...

A good battle report . . . and I appreciate your "thoughts" following too.

I agree that the table and troops looked splendid.

-- Jeff

Fitz-Badger said...

Nice report and good commentary on terrain/river pieces, scenario and using a curtain.

tidders said...


Nice battle, lovely figs and terrain. I particularly liked those river sections


rf2peter said...


again a very inspiring post. Thank you.
As I said before I recognise myself in your journey through "rulesland". Your table is also very well done: simple without being boring, splendid indeed. This pointed me in the direction of "The Terrain Guy" products, which produces mats and hills/rivers in matching colours.
May I suggest using strips of velcro on the backside to join both battlemats when in use, it gives an almost invisible joint and no need for overlapping.


Keith Flint said...

All comments very much appreciated. And thanks for the tip, Peter.