Saturday, 1 February 2014

Wargaming In History vol.5

I am recently returned from a very pleasurable skiing holiday. For the first time in a long time, my wife and I would be holidaying on our own, and in the evenings there would be relaxing hours to fill in the hotel lounge. Some holiday reading was called for, so I brought Barnaby Rudge and the fifth volume in the Wargaming In History series. I leave it to the reader to guess which got the preferential treatment. 

You guessed right.

I already have volume 1 in this series, and I very much enjoyed volume 5. It was a rewarding and interesting read, as most purchasers of this series find. Of particular interest was that some of the most intriguing content involved those parts of the book where I disagreed with Charles' approach. This reflects the best thing about these books - there are the nice photos and the high production values, but it is the combination of these with detailed, thought provoking and well researched content which creates the true value. In summary, there is plenty to get your teeth into. So let's get our teeth into my reservations.

Big vanilla battalions in the wrong formation.
To start with I'm at a distinct disadvantage with this series, as they are uncompromisingly based on a set of rules I don't particularly like. For me, the original Charles Grant Snr. rules are now rather old-fashioned and clunky. What's more they involve Big Battalions of 48 figures, whereas my preference is for infantry units less than half that size. 

This latter point is important because I feel using big units makes representing big battles more difficult than it needs to be. This comes out particularly in the representation of Kunersdorf, where the cramped Russian deployment of the real battle is overemphasised (in my opinion) by units that are just too large. The forces need to be divided down into more and smaller units to give both sides (but especially the Russians) the flexibility to employ their forces effectively. To my mind, a number of the photos demonstrate this, and not just those of Kunersdorf. They are impressive at first sight but on a closer look illuminate games where there are just too many figures crammed into the available space. Of course, I have to admit this seems to be no problem at all for the players of the games themselves, so this has to remain a matter of opinion. But it surely is no coincidence that those rules which are designed to represent big battles (like Volley and Bayonet) tend to use small units - a single stand in the case of V&B. 

Another point, which I found carried over from my impressions of volume 1, is Charles' reluctance to differentiate between the qualities of different armies. This derives from the rules themselves, which it seems to me were designed for imagi-nations rather than historical play, and in which a battalion is a battalion, regardless of which army it belongs to. The refight of the 'Action at Torgau' brings this out. How could a Prussian force defeat a combined Austrian/Reichsarmee force which outnumbered it 3 to 1? One very obvious factor is the low quality of the Reichsarmee units (and the high quality of the Prussian ones), but the book deliberately decides to ignore this, which to my mind is ahistorical. To take but one example, the grandly named Hohenzollern Cuirassiers were a Reicharmee unit formed from 61 different contingents (one of them a single horseman), making it what the Kronoskaf SYW website describes as a 'prime example of a motley crew'. The author acknowledges such potential morale/quality factors, but disregards them without explaining why. Strangely, Charles is willing to apply low morale to some Russian units in the Kunersdorf game, which seems to work well in that case. 

There is also no differentiation between armies in the command and control rules, which basically consist of the use of written orders transmitted by ADCs. Overall, there is very little idea of whether one army or its commanders was better than the other, and if so in what ways and why. This for me is one of the basics if one is attempting 'wargaming in history', and the absence of such considerations is a big disappointment in the books, which nevertheless include much well researched historical detail (such as in the presentation of opposing OOBs).

Finally I was struck by the efficaciousness (is that a word?) of tactics I felt were unhistorical; viz. attacks by battalions in assault column. These turn out very well for the attackers in a couple of the games, but as far as my reading of the Seven Years War goes, attacks in column were not undertaken, presumably for the reason that they didn't work very well. But the rules appear to make them work very well indeed.

So there we have it. The units are too big, national differences are unexplored, and unhistorical tactics win the day. Doesn't sound too good, does it? But of course what shines through is the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the author and the other participants, and the spectacle of the battles represented. So as holiday reading, this book was thoroughly entertaining and much appreciated. I will be pleased to have it on my bookshelf, but further purchases from this series are unlikely. The author's approach is simply too different to my own.

I look forward to comments from defenders of the Grant style!


Archduke Piccolo said...

A worthwhile review, Keith. Personally, I am of the old clunky war gaming school, my own games and rule sets being very similar (because based upon) the Charles Grant set.

Many of your caveats I regard as recommendations, but either way it is not only a matter of opinion but also of taste. Although personally I've never cottoned to V-n-B, it is very popular in this part of the world.

One matter you raise I found of considerable interest: the apparent reluctance of the authors to differentiate qualitatively between armies. I can appreciate why - both ways! I find this area very difficult to do well - such differentiation can be exaggerated beyond history, to the point of driving certain armies off the war games table.

That the Prussians won at Torgau was due to Zieten's seizing the initiative and striking at a sensitive point when the battle seemed over, coinciding with loss of leadership in the Austrian Army at the crucial moment as evening was drawing in. Until then, the Austrians had been holding off the Prussian army without much difficulty at all. Bear in mind even after their defeat, and having lost 6000 prisoners, Prussian losses exceeded the Austrian. I tend to think of Torgau as two battles on the same day: the Austrians winning the first, but taken by surprise and hit in the flank in the second.

Perhaps one ought to differentiate between quality of leadership, as many rule sets do. King Frederick was very ably seconded by his subordinates, Zieten, Seidlitz, Prince Henry and others. The Austrians had plenty of talent, too, but saddled themselves with the incompetence of Prince Charles of Lorraine, and the over-caution of Graf Daun.

By the way, I have been told that in later editions of the War Game, there is included a chapter on 'scaling it down'. Apparently it gives advice on how the rule set can be adapted to 12-figure units, for example. This chapter doesn't appear on my own edition, unfortunately. Having said that, the Charles Grant type of rule set can handle not only much smaller units that his standard 5+48, but also variably sized units as well.

Although our views and tastes differ, I do enjoy your Blog.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Good review... very interesting... I remember the "discussions" about national differences raging back in the 70's... my personal view is that they should be represented, but accept Ions view that they shouldn't make them a caricature, and that a-historical tactics should be penalised...

Gozza said...

A 15mm 48 figure battalion (600 men) based 2x4 figures with a 20mm (3/4")frontage per base has a battalion at a 24cm (9.4")frontage.
That is a scale of 1.8m to the kilometre or 117" to the mile.

In order to field just the Russian defensive position at Kunersdorf you would require 6 metres or table space alone! The table required for Kunersdorf (6 km x 4 km) is 10.8m x 7.2m (11.8 x 7.8yds).
Remember this is at 15mm scale double the sizes for 28mm figures.

The frontage of your unit dictates the scale. Large battalions of figures whilst looking great are totally impractical for fighting battles any larger than Brigade level, five or six battalions a side.

The practical answer is to have a unit to represent a brigade of 4-6 battalions. The table size would be reduced to a practical 2.7 x 1.8m.

Col Bill Gray's SYW rules variant for Age of Eagles would be a good

Archduke Piccolo said...

Keith is correct to note that scaling historical battles to the larger type of battalion does present difficulties, not so much in terms of scaling down the formations (a battalion can stand for a brigade, after all) but in terms of ground scale as Gozza observes. With the sort of scaling involved, suddenly your musketry and gunnery ranges are in effect doubled, tripled, quadrupled even. Is that realistic?

I am not 100% persuaded it is 'unrealistic' (by which I mean 'lacks verisimilitude') for a number of reasons (though many would not find these reasons persuasive, I dare say!). But leaving those aside, it seems to me no difficulty to bring the ranges down in proportion, and probably even simplifying down the entire combat mechanics anyway.

To my mind, the 'Army Level' game brings forth its own problems, but, as I mention in my previous comment, a lot of people have no problem with these. I use 'Army Level' rule sets myself.

Prince Lupus said...

I too love this series of books and I do have some "imagination" big battalions. I also have 15mm and 6mm based for VnB.

I think Brig Grant uses historical battles as scenarios for his own rule set - and nothing wrong with that, they are the best series of wargaming books IMO. The history and OOBs are very useful.

For more "historical" recreation wargames then more command and control and national characteristics may be necessary.

Not always as much fun however.

Keith Flint said...

Archduke - you're quite right, whatever logical arguments one wants to use, it often comes down to personal taste.

When I try larger, real battles, I of course do what you all suggest - one battalion represents 3 or 5 or whatever real battalions. But in true old school fashion, that one battalion still fights as a single battalion, i.e. using the rules as if it was a single battalion.

To put it another way: one rule of thumb I always use is that effective musket range should be about the same as the frontage of an infantry battalion in line - around 200 yards. But if a battalion represents a brigade, should musket range go down by a third or a quarter, because that model battalion is representing the frontage of 3 or 4 actual battalions? My answer is the old school one of no - the rules work the same, but your imagination provides the link between that single battalion of models and the brigade or so it is pretending to be. If the battle looks and feels right, just go with it. This is very much the approach of Mr Grant, so we are not really so far apart.

Hope that makes sense.

Michael Peterson said...

A very interesting discussion. I came to SYW gaming post Charles Grant, via gamers immersed in WRG-style systems, so the Grant approach is a bit foreign to me but I can see its appeal.
I am just experimenting with Sam Mustafa's Maurice rules, and think there might be some similarities between Maurice and the Grant approach, in that the units in Maurice have a somewhat generic feel to them. I gather there are national characteristics rules to similar army quality which I haven't explored yet and maybe that will capture some of the qualitative differences in units and leadership that you describe here. At any rate, that Grant SYW book looks like a must have, thanks for telling me about it.

Kevin MacDonald said...

I fully agree with your review which pretty well sums up why I have not really enjoyed the recent Grant series of 'Wargaming in History.' Different 18th century armies had different inherent capabilities which need to be represented in any viable wargames system. The key attributes for the Seven Years war are (in my opinion): rate of fire, rapidity of manoeuvre (average march pace, means and ease of changing formation), level of training (especially for cavalry - keeping in order during a charge, ease of recall), command structures and morale. Even a superficial reading of the works of Duffy & Nosworthy show there is a great deal of difference to be exploited.

I play a much customised version of Napoleon's Battles which I have re-written through much trial and error for Linear Tactics and the Seven Years War. This also works for ground-scales (I play using the 18mm Eureka range at approximately 1:100 - Brigade Scale). I really don't see how playing at a larger scale (20mm +) can allow for realistic deployments (which is of course why the Grant battles look so impossibly crowded).

All the Best - Enjoying your Blog,

Keith Flint said...

Kevin, thanks for your comments. I would be interested in your views regarding the 'National Differences' section of my SYW rules, Honours of War. You can find them at the Yahoo group, address in the eponymous post above dated 17th February.

The section is towards the end of the rules. Let me know here or on the group.

Cheers, Keith.

Kevin MacDonald said...

As I await access to the Yahoo group there are a few things that I can jot down. The raw 'Napoleon's Battles' system [or in this case 'Frederick's Battles'] has individual ratings and capabilities for each unit type by nationality. The things that one can tinker with regarding National characteristics in this system include: quality in a 'charge situation' [depending upon formation and based on morale/ intimidation factors], +/- for firing [notional rate of fire], response number [for control of cavalry, chance to rally, avoid disorder. etc - this is reflective of training], dispersion rating [largely morale - how many causalities a unit can take before it 'picks up], base movement rates in different formations [some nationalities had a faster rate of march than others] and cost to change formation [obviously the Prussians are quite good at this!]. All in all this system gives a great deal of flexibility to express the individuality of nationalities and troop types. If you like I could e-mail you an Excel document for SYW Prussians & Austrians.

Keith Flint said...

Thanks Kevin. I hope by now you have your invite to join and are part of the group.

Your list of variables is interesting - by all means email it to me at the address on the blog. Some of them are exactly the thing I have included in my National Differences section in the rules. Others might perhaps be more suitable to a more complex set, but I am interested all the same.

Thanks again, Keith.