Sunday, 28 June 2020

Little Wars TV

The majority of you will know how dull most wargaming videos that you find on the net really are. Some tedious 'unboxing' where someone removes a product from its packaging and tells you what's inside, or a monstrously uninformative 'rules review' that consists of flicking through the pages of a rulebook whilst filming yourself doing it. And don't start me on the game reports...

Well, there is an alternative for the sane and discerning. Many of you will already be aware of Little Wars TV, but for those of you who aren't, I would thoroughly recommend you take a look. I'm not going to tell you much here, just follow the links and see for yourselves. These guys produce wargaming content that's actually entertaining and worth watching.

The latter is where the real fun resides, but see also the rules reviews. Yes, video rules reviews that you can actually stay awake through. I recommend you check out the Gettysburg broadcast (Episode 201), which is a remarkable piece of work for a bunch of amateurs.

Greg Wagman (the eloquent and personable guy who fronts up a lot of the broadcasts) was the same chap that did the scenarios which inspired my recent Ostrolenka post. If you haven't encountered this bunch of gentlemen yet - enjoy.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Counter-Battery Fire

Just a quick post on a common wargaming practice, which was prompted by finding an old photo online.

It is a commonplace in Horse and Musket rules to treat deployed (i.e. unlimbered) artillery batteries as 'dispersed targets' or similar. Like light infantry, deployed batteries are assumed to be well spread out and therefore, in general terms, harder to hit. This fits in well with what you read in most books about Horse and Musket tactics - firing at enemy artillery batteries with your own artillery is supposed to be a waste of ammunition.

So far so good. The reading I have been doing recently around Napoleonic warfare (and I've been doing a lot), commonly supports this idea. Napoleon himself spoke against artillery carrying out counter-battery fire. Unfortunately for this theory, when one turns to reading battle accounts, it is quite common to find the artillery from one side being instructed to engage enemy artillery when the enemy fire is becoming a serious problem - or indeed for artillery units themselves to engage enemy batteries on their own initiative. It is also common to find that such fire succeeded, depending of course on various factors such as the competence of the opposing batteries, their relative numbers, and any advantages of position one or the other artillery grouping might have.

So, in my opinion, the concept and practice of gaining 'artillery superiority' during an engagement was definitely current in Napoleonic warfare, and other Horse and Musket periods. I wanted to reflect this in my rules - having a nice little ding-dong between opposing batteries would, it seemed to me, add a bit of spice to a game. So in Shadow of the Eagles there is no negative modifier for artillery (or anyone else) firing at deployed artillery.

My rationalisation was that, firstly, firing in my rules (as in most others these days) is considered to represent not just actual death and destruction, but the moral or disordering effect of incoming fire - the effects of fear, fatigue and stress. As artillerymen cannot conduct their tasks whilst taking advantage of local cover or lying down, we must take account of the suppressive effect of enemy artillery fire in addition to actual casualties being inflicted.

Secondly, I started to question just how 'dispersed' an unlimbered artillery battery might be. Apart from the guns and crews, there are ammunition wagons, limbers, numerous men servicing those limbers and wagons, and of course lots (and lots) of horses. And so on this second point we finally get to the photo I mentioned at the outset. Below is a photo taken during the American Civil War of a 6 gun artillery battery and its supporting equipments deployed ready to fire:

Apologies, but that's about as big as it gets (as the Bishop said to the actress). But consider - does that really look like a 'dispersed target' to you? OK, maybe this was a parade of some sort (it is extremely unlikely to be a combat photograph), and those guns may be at less than normal deployment distance. But consider the depth of the target as well as its width. 

So I think the image makes a point. There are a surprising number of similar ACW photos online - I include a few below. The first might be another view of the same battery already shown above:

Of course, some of those photos very definitely feature artillery that was on parade. But I think there is food for thought here - and I am inclined to think the approach in my rules is correct - or at the very least justifiable.

Let me know what you think. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The Battle of Ostrolenka, 16th February 1807

With the lockdown situation still preventing face-to-face wargaming, I decided it was time for a solo Shadow of the Eagles playtest. I wanted a full-blown battle, and something a bit more interesting than lining up equal opposing armies on opposite baselines.

Deciding a nice Napoleonic scenario was needed, I came up with the idea of searching Google for 'Napoleonic scenarios'. Pretty clever, eh? And what should come up but exactly what I wanted, a blog called 'Free Napoleonic Scenarios'. My thanks to Greg Wagman, who created the site, for putting in the work in the first place and making it available online, and also for allowing me to reproduce the scenario map, shown below:

© Greg Wagman

The scenario I chose is based on The Battle of Ostrolenka, which took place in the aftermath of the famous Battle of Eylau. Greg admits in the background to the scenario that it has been massaged a bit to make for a better game - which is entirely sensible. I did my own bits of massaging, mostly as the online scenario is for Age of Eagles, a set of rules which allow for multi-division battles. For my own rules, divisions would have to become brigades unless I wanted to have a very large table (which I didn't) and lots of players (which I didn't have).

Add to this mix the fact that SYW figures would stand in for Napoleonic French and Russians, and this becomes very much 'A Battle Based On Ostrolenka But Only A Bit Like It'. Nevertheless, the scenario (as you will see) makes for an interesting clash which would test out my rules nicely.

The Forces
French, General Savary. Orders - 'Seek out and destroy the local Russian forces'.

1. On table at start, deployed around Ostrolenka - Rielle's Brigade.
Infantry Brigade - 2 Infantry Battalions, 1 Field Battery.
                              Independent Hussar regiment.

2. Arriving turn 2, point A - Savary's Division.
Gazan's Infantry Brigade - 2 Infantry Battalions
Becker's Cavalry Brigade - 2 Dragoon Regiments

3. Arriving turn 5, point C - Suchet's Brigade.
Infantry Brigade - 1 Grenadier Battalion, 2 Infantry Battalions, 1 Field Battery.

Total, 12 units.

Russian, General Essen. Orders - 'Capture Ostrolenka and drive the French from the field'.

1. On table at start, deployed north of the 'sandy hills' - Essen's Division.
Orlov's Infantry Brigade - 2 Infantry Battalions, 1 Field Battery
Penza's Infantry Brigade - 2 Infantry Battalions
Independent Dragoon Regiment

2. Arriving turn 3, point B - Volkonski's Brigade.
Cavalry Brigade - 2 Hussar Regiments, 1 Field Battery.
Independent Jaeger Battalion

3. Arriving turn 5, point B, Sedmarkatzki's Division.
Korolev's Cavalry Brigade - 1 Dragoon Regiment, 2 Hussar Regiments
Bikov's Infantry Brigade - 2 Infantry Battalions

Total, 15 units.

For the appropriate Russian flavour, one of Sedmarkatzki's Hussar regiments should be Cossacks - but I decided to just use Hussars as I didn't have suitable figures.

The Game

The battlefield from the south-east, with Ostrolenka top left,
 and the starting units of both sides in position.
The French emerge from Ostrolenka, but find themselves a little over-faced as the
Russians come into view attacking over the 'sandy hills'.
The Russian left wing infantry form into columns, whilst the Russian Dragoons charge the French right flank.
The French right wing infantry unit promptly forms square, and the Dragoons fall back with heavy casualties.
Here we see Savary's division has arrived (left), and Volkonski's cavalry with its supports to the right.
The French Dragoons move though the woods to hold off the Russians whilst the French infantry hurry on to Ostrolenka.
North of Ostrolenka a stalemate has broken out. The Russians are more numerous but the French are of higher quality,
and are receiving excellent artillery support from the hill across the stream behind their right flank.
Suchet's brigade is arriving behind them from point C - Ostrolenka seems secure.
The French Dragoons are outnumbered with the arrival of Sedmarkatzki's forces from point B, but they delay the Russian cavalry long enough for Gazan's infantry to form up east of Ostrolenka and divert Sedmarkatzki's infantry.
After about 10 turns (I wasn't counting), it is clear the French hold on Ostrolenka is secure. The Russians have failed to achieve their objective, but the French have been forced onto the defensive and the Russian forces are largely intact.

An indecisive game, with casualties on both sides light. It was interesting to see that when both sides deploy skirmish screens, a drawn out infantry firefight can result (as occurred north of Ostrolenka). Historical, but a bit dull! I called the game a draw, but it had been a most useful playtest.

I thought the scenario itself was excellent, providing plenty of manoeuvre and requiring constant decisions from both sides. It would certainly play much better with 2 or more players, rather than my enforced solo try-out. Thanks again Gregg.

'Til next time!

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Airfix Nostalgia Project - Part 2

WARNING: This post contains no information or photos relevant to Airfix kits.

Well, that's got the disclaimer out of the way. Despite the absence of Airfix kits in this post, I thought I would include an update on the closing stages of this enjoyable project. Part 1 of the posts regarding this project ended with a photo of my unmade Revell kit of a Vought Corsair. I am happy to report that this model is now made and the original 5 models are now finished. 

I'm afraid the Light Tank Mk.VI that I mentioned has been binned - making it was fun, but then I got to all the fiddly transfers and kind of gave up. The vehicle wasn't really part of the project and I didn't want another model needing to be dusted and taking up shelf space.

There has, however, been a further significant development. Some of you may have noticed the comment on the previous Airfix post from Steve-The-Wargamer, in which the absence of an Italian WW2 fighter was pointed out. This made good sense to me, and I have been investigating the Airfix G.50bis model, especially one in 'bagged' form. Unfortunately these seem to be about £25-30, mostly on ebay, and I felt I couldn't justify this at a time when my wife and I are trying to save money following my furloughing from work. But then, what did I come across online but a model of a much better Italian fighter - the Macchi C.202 Folgore.

Even better, this was a 1970s boxed kit from FROG. Ah, FROG - that name got my nostalgia meter swinging towards the red. Cost? Fifteen quid including postage from the fine people at Kingkit. It seemed an excellent way to finish up the project - I had pretty good memories of making the old FROG kits, as they often tackled the more esoteric aircraft subjects. I still fondly remember making their 'Gloster Whittle' kit, which lingered in my collection long after many others had been disposed of.

So the order went off, and as soon as I received it and opened the parcel I was very glad I'd made the investment. Here was more nostalgia, in spades. Anyone remember that the old FROG boxes opened out into a 'working tray'? I kept my modelling stuff in one for years when I was a lad.

What impressed me in particular was the high quality of the model itself - lovely moulding, no flash, good fit of parts. Good service as usual from Kingkit - I recommend these guys if you yourself fancy a bit of plastic kit nostalgia. A nice website, reasonable prices and every kit checked for completeness.

Can't wait to get started!

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Free SYW Rules: Post of Honour v.9

Hi everyone. First of all, I hope you are coping with the Covid 19 crisis and finding some good amongst the bad. I am in a very fortunate position myself, and end up feeling rather guilty when I reflect on how tough these times are for some people.

This is just a brief post to flag up the availability of the latest version of Post of Honour. If you haven't encountered them before, they are not meant to replace Honours of War, but are my attempt to produce something a little simpler as an alternative. The rules are also suitable for the War of the Austrian Succession.

Die Schlacht von Leuthen (detail), Carl Rochling.

They can be dowloaded for free directly from these links:

Update 16th May - the downloads are now available in PDF format.

I hope you find the rules of interest. If you visit the Honours of War website, you can find a discussion board dedicated to PoH.

And finally, a reminder to Napoleonic wargamers that the Napoleonic version of PoH, which I have called Shadow of the Eagles, is available at the 'Eagles Shadow' discussion group:

Good luck everyone! 'Til next time.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Airfix Nostalgia Project

I wonder how many wargamers of a certain age started off with Airfix figures, and at the same time built their modelling skills with Airfix construction kits? Well, that was certainly me. In the late 60s (I was 10 in 1967) I was obsessed with building Airfix kits. The new releases were a constant source of delight and making them took up a lot of my time. My standards of finishing were generally low, and improved only slowly. It's hard to say when the obsession tailed off, but let's say by about 1974 it was mostly over. By then I had started to discover wargaming.

These days I don't do much painting or modelling. I've got the armies I want, and building up more (particularly, for example, building some sort of Napoleonic collection) is far too daunting in money and time to even consider. But about a year ago I got the itch to go back in time and build an Airfix kit or two. After some lightweight reflection I agreed with myself what the project would entail:
  • I would concentrate on WW2 fighters. They would be economical on shelf space (always an issue for the model kit builder), and they had formed the heart of my old obsession back in the 1960s.
  • Five kits only. One from each of the 5 major nations - Britain, the U.S., Germany, Russia and Japan. See 'shelf space' above.
  • The kits would be bought from model shops. This was a great idea - supporting local businesses, and re-visiting the old feeling of wondering what would be in stock, and not always finding exactly what you wanted.
  • Airfix preferred, but other companies not excluded.
  • Don't overdo the standard of finish. Aim for fairly rapid completion to link with my style of work as a kid.
And so it began. Visiting local model and toy shops in Gloucester, Stroud and Witney produced the first 3 kits, all modern Airfix. The actual first was a Curtiss Tomahawk, filling the role of British fighter. Here were the project rules in action - the plane is of course American in origin, but the British version was on offer in the shop and I chose it over the obvious alternatives of Spitfire and Hurricane just because, at that moment, it took my fancy. Just like a 10 year old. The other 2, bought in different shops at different times, were a Bf-109 and a Zero.

I was knocked out by the quality of the kits. They went together like a dream, with hardly any cleaning up of parts and certainly no filling of joints needed. The transfers (should that be decals?) also went on beautifully. A coat of matt varnish finished these guys off nicely. I was a happy modeller.

Time for more enjoyable browsing in real model shops, this time Cirencester and Bourton-on-the-Water. By coincidence, the Russian and U.S. slots were both filled by Revell kits, both once again purchased on the principle of what was on the shelves and took my fancy. The Yak-3 was definitely a small kit in a big box, but again a pleasure to build:

 The Vought Corsair was my other choice:

Yes, one of those crazy new-fangled starter sets. My challenge is to finish it using the paints and crappy brush provided. But those of you still awake will see the Corsair remains unbuilt. This was due to the project taking a crazy, left field direction before it was finished. I decided the project would not be complete without an original kit from my glory days, from the period known among modellers as the Airfix 'Golden Age' - which according to my Airfix book was 1952-1981. 

Obtaining a kit from the late 60s/early 70s would of course mean going online, but what the hell. The choice of old kits is pretty good and prices are mostly reasonable. I settled in the end for a model of the Westland Whirlwind which I remembered fondly from childhood days. I was genuinely thrilled to handle one of the old-fashioned 'bagged' kits again. What a nerd! I'll let the photos tell the story:

I was certain the transfers (OK, decals) would be useless after about 50 years in the bag, but actually they worked OK with careful handling (and about 4 coats of Microsol). And once again I refused to enhance the kit or even use filler. Just build it and paint it. And keep the packaging of course. There was no way those instructions or even the plastic bag were going in the bin.

Apart from the kits, this was a cheap project. I didn't buy any new paints or tools, and any paint colours I didn't have were mixed from what I did have, just like the old days. Although I was using Vallejo acrylics rather than Airfix or Humbrol enamels.

So there we are. Another project conceived, planned and executed - they call me Mr Finisher round these parts. And all tremendous fun. It really was as satisfying and relaxing a project as I had hoped it would be

Well, there is the Corsair to build. And I inherited an Airfix kit of a Mk.VI Light Tank from Stuart Asquith, which he was giving away to a good home at the last Cotswold Wargaming Day. That's under construction at the moment. I also have a terrible desire to order another 1960s kit or two - maybe a bomber like a Heinkel 111 or a Wellington. But it's time to resist - money and shelf space are limited.

Good Luck everyone. 'Til next time!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Cotswold Wargaming Day 2020

To those of you who saw the 'Ghost Post' regarding this event (yes, it was there and then it was gone), my sincere apologies. The date I initially settled on turned out to be the date of The Other Partizan, which is a pretty big show on the wargaming calendar. I didn't want anyone to suffer from divided loyalties, and of course I wanted as many people as possible to be able to attend both shows - and with my own being much the smaller, the Cotswold event would have been the one to suffer.

The hall last year.

So, let's start again. For a variety of reasons which I won't go into, the show will be a bit later this year, and will be held on Sunday 18th October. With luck, this later date will also increase the chances of avoiding cancellation due to Covid-19. Those who have attended in previous years and those on my mailing list will be receiving an email from me shortly. However, to be honest there is little to add to last year's info - it will be the same venue and the same ethos, perhaps with the ability to offer space to one or two extra games.

So, with luck, 8-10 games, no traders, but an informal 'wargaming market' where you can offload stuff you don't want, and acquire stuff you never knew you wanted at knock-down prices. Minimal entry fee and free tea, coffee and biscuits.

Last year again - quality figures by Phil Olley.
To summarise:

SUNDAY 18TH OCTOBER, 08.30 - 17.00
GL54 3QJ

Fingers crossed for a good outcome to the present pandemic. My sincere best wishes to everyone regarding the very difficult times to come.