Thursday 27 November 2014

Toys On The Table

My ambition to complete my SYW collection before the end of the year is largely fulfilled. Of course, as a red-blooded wargamer I hold to the faith that no army is ever truly complete, so I expect I will find a place for the odd extra unit as motivation and money allows. But in most of my recent battles, some units have remained in their storage drawers, so significant growth seems unnecessary. I have as much as I reasonably need.

Taking stock, I felt it was time for a game that used all my units (every single figure, including civilians and sheep), both in order to see them all out on the table and to test my rules with as big a game as possible. I decided to go for a very basic terrain, and set out the Austrian and Prussian armies opposite each in other in a 'classic' (some might say 'unimaginative') encounter set up. The table size was my maximum 7.5' x 6'. Total number of toys on the table were:

Prussia: infantry 255, cavalry 56, artillery 8 guns+28 crew, senior officers 9.

Austria: infantry 275, cavalry 56, artillery 9 guns+30 crew, senior officers 9.

Other: 10 militia, 8 civilians, 12 assorted supernumerary officers and NCOs, 6 wagons, 9 sheep.

There we are then. Nothing left in the storage drawers, everything out on the table. 

My cavalry units are small (normally 8 figures each), hence the low numbers of actual cavalry figures. Overall, not a massive collection by some standards, but like most people I have my limits of time, space, money and motivation. My SYW project started in 2008, so it has taken 6 years to get to this stage. I suppose around 40% of the figures were painted by me, the rest being painted commercially.

I am currently fortunate in that the dining room at our new home sees little use, so it makes an excellent wargames room where I can set things up and leave them there for as long as I like. Hence I was able to play out my 'big battle' solo using odd hours of spare time over the course of a week or so. I was also able to take my time in taking some photos to a slightly higher standard than normal, using a bit of extra lighting and trying to improve my composition. The recent articles in Miniature Wargaming on wargames photography, authored by Henry Hyde,  were an inspiration here, though sadly top quality results continue to elude me.

Detail of the Austrian Grenzers holding the wood on the Austrian left flank.
They are well supported by light cavalry

The Prussian centre. Grenadier brigade nearest, with line infantry in the background.

Whilst the artillery on both sides commenced a bombardment, the cavalry flanks were the scene of the earliest real action. Here Prussian dragoons charge Austrian cuirassiers.

The infantry centres were more cautious. The Prussians pushed gingerly forward, whilst the Austrians were content to let the enemy come on. A definite blue 'cast' on the Austrian uniforms from my choice of light bulb (although the rear 2 infantry units are Bavarians!).

On the other flank, the Austrian light cavalry advanced and tried a charge against the Prussian Frei-Korps, who were supported in turn by their own hussars. A high risk tactic...

...which resulted in disaster. Two hussar regiments and a dragoon regiment were destroyed.

Overall, the battle was slow to get going. In the distance it is possible to see that the Prussian cavalry attack has failed, although less conclusively than the Austrian charge.

Using the rules to apply pressure. In the background the Prussian cavalry push forward a hussar unit to prevent the Austrian cavalry rallying off hits, whilst howitzers and light guns engage. If charged, the hussars will be able to evade. In the middle right of the picture, the Austrian 'grand battery' (3 model guns representing 12 actual guns) picks off Prussian infantry units at an alarming rate. Six units became two over the course of six moves.

On their right flank, the Prussians have to decide whether to follow up the success in the cavalry encounter.

Prussian grenadiers in column of battalions wait steadily for the order to advance, shrugging off casualties from the Austrian cannonballs skipping through their ranks.
I called the game after 6 moves. Besides the fun of seeing the collection out on parade, a large game was a useful exercise for my rules. For example, I have never used a large 3 gun battery before, and it was surprising to see the effect three model batteries could have when firing together. One of the first things the guys on the Honours of War Yahoo group pointed out was that they felt artillery was too powerful. I had tended to use artillery very sparingly in my games, and so had not noticed this, but I adjusted the artillery effect down in response. I have been wondering recently whether I went too far, but this game reassured me that the playtesters had been right.

Those unfamiliar with this period might think that a setup like this, with both sides lined up opposite each other, cavalry on the wings, infantry in the centre, was typical of the Seven Years War. Whilst such a deployment may have been the basic template, I have read of very few battles where the opposing sides ended up in such a balanced and symmetrical state of affairs. Terrain and other circumstances created all sorts of battle situations, especially due to the common tactic of trying to outflank your opponent with at least part of your force. So the setup was not particularly representative historically.

In wargames terms, despite looking attractive, such a setup didn't make for a very interesting game either, even taking into account that it was just a solo test game. Neither side had much alternative but to advance forward and hope for the best. An interesting wargame needs to provide for a bit of manoeuvre, with some open space to exploit and choices to be made. In this game, both sides had to be so cautious that the infantry didn't even get round to engaging during the 6 moves played. The almost completely open terrain didn't help matters, but it was worth having a game on such an open plain to see how it affected game play.

And Finally - A New Wargaming Mat
The Games Workshop Battlemat is a very good product - durable and easy to use. I have been using 2 of them for a while now, and you see them in the photos above. The two problems are that, one, they seem to be no longer available, and two, although advertised as 6' x 4' they come out at a couple of inches short of 6'. On my 7.5' x 6' table, I end up with a white strip along the baselines, as well as a join along the middle. Call it the effect of OCD, but having seen an S&A Scenics mat at a show recently I decided to get an 8' x 6' one which would cover my table completely and uniformly. The mat is plain green felt, and you see it below just unpacked, before I try to iron out the packing creases (iron not too hot, and don't use steam - any escape of water will stain the cloth). I like the nice bright green colour and the broadly Old School look it gives. Usefully, the mat is a generous 2 to 3 inches over-size in both directions. Total cost £38 including p&p.

The S&A Scenics mat with some TSS hills placed underneath.
The same hills placed on top of the mat. Not sure which I prefer as yet.

As you can see, the worst of the creases are easy to remove. But being felt, the mat will pick up more creases during storage, so we'll see how I get on. And the felt can be a bit 'sticky' with things like tank tracks and the rougher sort of basing. You pays your money, etc...

And that's it for this post. Thanks for visiting.


Sgt Steiner said...

Great looking SYW units.

Steve J. said...

Wow, great to see all the toys on the table; a most impressive sight. But as you say, with so many toys the room for manouevre disappears. The sheer amount of time to play a solo game on this scale is beyond my powers of concentration and motivation.

As for the new gaming mat, keep an eye out for carbaord tubes, or even plastic drainpipe, and simply roll the mat up around the tuve. Hey Presto! no more creases. This assumes you have space to store the tube and rolled mat!

Keith Flint said...

Nice idea Steve. And you're right, even with the time and space solo games don't really have the interest to carry forward a largish game. At least not for me. Put 4 guys around the table with a few hours to spare and you have a different proposition.

Vasiliy Levashov said...

Awesome game!

Millsy said...

Great to see all the toys out on the table sir. Even if it was a bit predictable it looks like great fun. Thanks for sharing!

Bluebear Jeff said...

Steve J already beat me to the suggestion to roll the mat up on a tube (just like they do with cloth in a fabric store).

Your troops look great by the way. Nice to see them all out at once.

-- Jeff

Chris C. said...

That's a beautiful looking game.

Steve J. said...

Yep, this sort of set up begs for a multi-player game, to speed things along and for the fun to be had. So when are you putting one on?

marinergrim said...

a very neat set up and great figures. Like the battlemat with the hills underneath better.

Stryker said...

Great looking game but the sheep don't seem to feature very much!

Interesting about the S&A scenics mat, I'd been thinking about the Woodland Scenics one but that's about 80 quid.

Jim Walkley said...

Lovely to see your toys Keith. I have had an S&A mat for years and at one time tried rolling it on a tube. I found that this was more awkward to store and the creases in the folded mat tended to be obscured by other terrain features, roads etc. Sorry to disagree with Paul but I prefer the hills on top.
Since testing your rules I have decided to have my cavalry in units of 8 figures so doubling the number of units! I don't have table or storage space for more than 3 larger units. Not quite as impressive perhaps but it gives more flexibility in the games. Best wishes. Jim

World2Dave said...

Congratulations on getting this collection 'completed' and looking so good. It must have given you a real sense of achievement to see them all on the table together. Brilliant!

Craig said...

Hi Keith,

Table looks lovely. Nice to see a wargamer who starts...and finishes a project to its conclusion (I am the worlds worst wargames butterfly). As you know its not my period but nonetheless I am thoroughly impressed.

All the best,

Tiny Terrain Models

Keith Flint said...

Stryker, sorry about the sheep. They occupied a table corner on the Prussian left flank and were kept strictly out of the way for the whole battle. They just don't like the noise.

Steve, I would like nothing more (except perhaps a weekend in the country with Emma Watson) than to put on a game with a few old friends here in Oxfordshire. Paul has popped up quite a few times. But the logistics seem to be too much of a problem. If you would like to try and arrange something for the new year, drop me an email.

tidders said...

What a super game

Mad Padre said...

Terrific looking game. I am glad you are ambivalent about the "line em up and have it approach" which seems to characterize gaming of this period. I am growing to like rules that force a more random approach to deployment, or at least give players some constraints to work with.

I agree with Stryker, the sheep were the unsung heroes here!
Best of luck with the rules development,