Sunday 6 December 2009

'Rank and File': House Rules

I thought gamers using these rules might be interested in the house rules I am currently adopting. Assume the usual comments about them only representing my personal opinion and being subject to change as I play more games, etc etc. Bear in mind these house rules relate to the SYW period.

My Figure Ratios
1 stand = 125 men. 1 gun = 5 actual guns.
My 'standard' infantry battalion is 5 bases, which would make 625 men in a typical battalion. This seems to me reasonable for a battalion on campaign. Going by the ratios in the rules (see Appendix 3), you get one gun for 25 men, so an artillery base would represent 5 actual guns. You could actually make the figure ratio anything from 100 to 150 men represented by a base (or 4 - 6 guns per artillery base), and things would still work as far as my organisations are concerned. The ratio is the same for cavalry: a base represents around 125 cavalrymen.

Pass Through Morale Test
A unit that routs will normally do so directly away from the enemy. If a friendly unit is in its path, it may deviate by up to 45ยบ to avoid passing through, providing this does not bring it closer to any enemy unit.
If more than 1 stand of a routing unit does pass through a friendly unit, check morale of the unit being routed through using standard modifiers.
Retiring units or single stand units do not cause pass through morale tests. No matter what the cause of the morale test a unit will only have to test morale once in the morale phase.
This is my version of the optional rule published online by Mark in Supplement 2.

Movement: Prussian Drill
Prussian infantry may wheel up to 90 degrees. Prussian cavalry and infantry may oblique move. These abilities do not apply to green units.
This is designed to give the Prussians a slight edge to represent their higher level of drill.

Troop Quality and Firing
Veteran class +1 to firing dice; Green -1.
I think it is correct to give veteran class infantry a significant edge when firing, to represent their greater steadiness, experience of battle and higher level of confidence and training. In the same way green troops get a deduction to simulate their relative lack of training and their confusion and fear in battle. This house rule seems to me the simplest and most obvious way of representing this, and so far doesn't seem to unbalance things.

Dicing For Leader Quality
Prussian: 1, no bonus; 2,3,4,5, +1 bonus; 6, +2 bonus
Austrian: 1,2, no bonus; 3,4,5, +1 bonus; 6, +2 bonus
No re-rolls. When dicing for quality of the C-in-C, add one to the dice roll.
As I only use Austrian and Prussian troops, this is my simplified version of the rules concerning leader quality and bonuses presented on page 44 of the rules.

Green counter for unsteady: red for rout.
You have to mark it in some way. For the moment, small tiddlywinks will do the job.

Movement – use 1792-1848 rules.
These seem more correct to me. For example, if 12 pdrs are counted as heavy guns (which I believe is correct), then making them completely immobile in the game does not fit in with what I have read: the most famous example being the movement of Frederick's 12 pdr 'Brummers' at the battle of Leuthen. Similarly, I don't see any need to hamper the movement of the 6-9 pdrs which constitute the medium guns.
Capturing - Each gun captured during a game cancels one point from the number of army points you have lost. Captured guns can only be moved at manhandled speed.
Just a little extra rule to allow the capturing of guns if they are abandoned by crews fleeing a charge or moving away due to morale.
Light Smoothbore – Close = 8”. Medium = 16”. Long = 32”. Point blank 2”.
Medium Smoothbore - Close = 12”. Medium = 24”. Long = 48”. Point blank 3”.
Heavy Smoothbore - Close = 15”. Medium = 30”. Long = 60”. Point blank 4”.
Mark has said on the Yahoo group that the ranges of artillery were kept deliberately short to help with play balance. I prefer to lengthen them slightly to fit in more comfortably with the infantry firing range and to give back the reach that I think guns ought to have on the table. Mark has suggested shortening infantry musket range as an alternative, but I think the present range for infantry fire works well.
Penetrating Fire - Artillery fire may also affect units behind the original target unit, up to a maximum distance of 3" for light guns, 6” for medium guns and 12” for heavy guns (half this distance for units in hard cover/woods/fired at or from higher ground). Any such troops in the line of fire (normally taken to be through the centre of the target unit) and in range will be liable to hits as normal but with an additional -1 modifier.
An extra rule to represent those bouncing cannon balls.

When unsteady retire distance will be only 1D6” for infantry or 2D6” for cavalry in the SYW period.
I came to the conclusion that the 2D6 for infantry and 3D6 for cavalry made the game too fluid for the 18th century. Just my own view of how SYW battles worked.

Formation Changes
Whilst the unit overall may not move more than half a move, individual bases can move up to their maximum column move to create the new formation.
My view of how formation changes should work.

One Stand Left
Multi stand units reduced to a single stand are removed and count as lost.
This is connected with the changes to the Army Morale rules given below. Single stand units have no real fighting value (in particular as they are often unsteady as well), and I got fed up with them hanging around at the back of the battle keeping well out of the way, but stopping their army being deducted 2 points for a lost unit. So 1 base units are simply removed.

Army Morale
Calculate one quarter and one half of the army points, rounding up fractions. Check army points lost in the end phase of each move. In addition to normal deductions for lost units, deduct 1 army point for every multi-stand unit at or under half strength, and one army point for any unit currently routing. Army points may also be deducted for objectives lost to the enemy.
When an army loses one quarter of its army points it is wavering: effects are the same as for the Army Break Point in the original rules.
When it loses half of its army points, dice for army morale during the end phase on a 4, 5 or 6. Add one to army morale throw for exceptional C-in-C or if most remaining units are veteran. Deduct one for poor C-in-C or if most remaining units are green. If the roll is failed, the army is broken and retreats from the field. If the roll is passed, continue for that move but the roll must be repeated in the end phase of every subsequent move until it is failed and the game ends.
At the end of the game (because one side has broken or time has run out), a result may be established by comparing the army morale of the two sides. If it is the same (e.g. both unaffected, both wavering), then the game is drawn. If one side is unaffected and the other broken, then this can be called a major victory for the unaffected side. If one side is unaffected and the other wavering, or one side wavering whilst the other is broken, then a minor victory for the least affected side may be declared.
My response to the recent discussion on the Yahoo group. This is how I am currently playing it, in an attempt to get a conclusion to a game in the 3 hours which is the maximum I usually have available in the evening. Losing half your army before registering any sort of reaction just takes too long: indeed, losing this many troops would represent a massive and possibly unrealistic loss in a real formation. I believe it is reasonable to bring the onset of army morale forward to 25% losses, and that it is also reasonable to suppose that an army commander would react to reports of weak or routing units.
I would add, however, that this house rule is strongly connected to the size of the armies I use and the playing time I generally have available.

Any comments or disagreements about the above by current players of Rank and File would be warmly welcomed, and read with great interest.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Action In The Plattstadt Valley

Ah, nostalgia. I think you'll agree nostalgia is the beating heart of Old School wargaming. Whilst I myself am quite taken by the whole Old School thing, I like to mix some new school in with the old, especially in terms of rules. So this post is a mix of Old School nostalgia with new school rules and some compromises from the School of Reality.

Furthermore, I am more of a Featherstonian Old Schooler than a Grant/Young Old Schooler. It is the Don's 1962 classic War Games which inspires me, rather than Charge! or The War Game. For a start, Featherstone used Airfix figures, a good number of which I owned myself at the time, and he gamed in the ACW and WW2 periods, with which I was familiar. The Seven Years War and those Spencer Smiths were a bit exotic for me in 1970, when I first started reading wargames books. And Featherstone favoured the 20 figure unit, which has always been my favourite size.

Anyway, it's well past time for a bit of Donald Featherstone-inspired nostalgia on this blog. To whit, a re-fight of the horse and musket classic, 'Action in the Plattville Valley'. For those benighted miscreants who don't own a copy of War Games or are unfamiliar with the battle, I will give the basic details of the original scenario, then detail the changes I made (through choice or necessity) to complete the re-fight.

Action in the Plattville Valley.

The original map, copied from the book, is seen below. Table size was 8' x 5'.

The original game is set in the ACW period. Each side has 6 regiments of infantry with 20 figures each, two regiments of cavalry with 15 figures each, and 2 guns. The regiments are supposedly organised into 'brigades' of two regiments each, but the rules Featherstone used have no real command and control regulations, so the regiments can operate individually or can be grouped in any way the player wishes. Two regiments of infantry from each side (the 'advance guard') enter the table on move 1, moving along their respective roads. From move 2 they may move off the roads, then at the beginning of move 4 the rest of each army (the 'main body') may deploy as required anywhere on each baseline.

The scenario was therefore a fairly simple encounter battle. Forces involved were quite modest in relation to the table size. I felt that the scenario and size of forces were likely to produce a battle with plenty of potential for manoeuvre.

Action in the Plattstadt Valley.

I don't have access to any ACW forces, and anyway I wanted to play the game using my SYW figures. So 1863 in North America became 1757 in Central Europe. I suppose a 'true' refight would use the same rules as laid out in the book, but I had no real desire to do this. Much more to my taste was to use the Rank and File rules from Crusader Publishing. As this blog has already indicated, these have an Old School simplicity but are rather more modern in their mechanisms than Mr Featherstone's originals.


I would have preferred to use an 8' x 6' table, but 6' x 6' is the best I can manage in my wargames room (alright, my dining room). Considering the size of forces in use, there should still be plenty of width. The inability of the infantry units to deploy in single line due to the basing conventions of Rank and File will help. Using the terrain pieces available to me I came up with the terrain shown on the map below, representing the closest I could get to the original.

The only real point to make is regarding the river. This was obviously intended to be fordable as the original game report indicates units crossing Bull Creek, so the Bullenbach is fordable throughout its length by infantry and cavalry. Artillery must use the bridge. Units lose half a move to cross. If fighting whilst crossing, they deduct 1 from any firing/melee/morale dice.

Of course, I didn't make any plasticine hills or mark in the roads and rivers with chalk. But maybe that could be an Old School project for the future. A matt-green painted board, a set of chalks, some hill contours cut from chipboard or some of the foam materials you can get nowadays... Those Old School tables could be very eye-catching, as the photo below (from Featherstone's Complete Wargaming) shows.

Now that's what I call Old School. However, I definitely draw the line at the pullovers. And I'm not getting a side parting either. But I digress.


This would be as per the original.

Success or otherwise would be decided by using the Rank and File Army Break Point rules. These are simplicity itself: 2 points for each unit, except the guns which are 1 point each. Lose half your army points and you are in trouble. Failing that, an Old School-style gentleman's discussion would take place and a winner would be agreed upon.


Each side had 6 infantry units of 5 bases/20 figures each. One of the infantry units on each side was a grenadier battalion ('veteran' in R & F), and one a lower grade unit ('green'), just for a bit of interest. Each side had 2 cavalry regiments of 5 bases/10 figures each, one of cuirassiers and one of dragoons. Two gun models (2 'batteries') per side were also present. Making the cavalry units the same size as in the original game would make them relatively too powerful when using Rank and File, so they stayed at 10 figures.
The leader (or command) figures can be distributed as required, in accordance with the easy going command rules of R & F (which tie in quite well with the type of command rules Featherstone used in the original battle)


1 Commanding Brigadier (+2 bonus), 4 Colonels (+1 bonus).

1st Battalion, Infanterie Regt. No.1, von Winterfeldt (regular)
2nd Battalion, Infanterie Regt. No.1, von Winterfeldt (regular)
1st Battalion, Infanterie Regt. No.33, de la Motte (regular)
2nd Battalion, Infanterie Regt. No.33, de la Motte (regular)
Grenadier Battalion 1/23 Wedel (veteran)
Freibattailone No.1, Le Noble (green)

Kuirassier Regt No.8, von Rochow (veteran)
Dragoner Regt No.6, Schorlemmer (regular)

2 medium guns (regular)


1 Commanding Brigadier (+2 bonus), 4 Colonels (+1 bonus)

1st Battalion, Infanterie Regt No.10, Jung-Wolfenbuttel (regular)
2nd Battalion Infanterie Regt No.10, Jung-Wolfenbuttel (regular)
1st Battalion Infanterie Regt. No.37, Josef Esterhazy (regular)
2nd Battalion Infanterie Regt No.37, Josef Esterhazy (regular)
Grenadier Battalion Siskovics (veteran)
Infanterie Leib Regt., Kurfurst in Bayern (green)

Kuirasssier Regt No.10, Stampach (veteran)
Dragoner Regt. No.37, Kolowrat (regular)

2 medium guns (regular)

The Game.

The terrain. View across the Bullenbach towards the wheatfield. Similar to the views in plates 6 and 9 of Featherstone's book.

Plattstadt, with the Plattwald on the left and the ploughed field in the background. See plate 10 in the original book.

Move 1. On the Austrian (right hand) side, the Siskovics grenadiers lead the 1st battalion of IR10 towards the bridge. On the Prussian side, grenadiers also lead, followed by the 1st battalion of IR1. Rank and File allow a triple move to columns on road outside 12" of the enemy, so initial progress was rapid.

Move 2. The Prussians start to form line, but the Austrians continue in column in order to deploy on the far side of the bridge. By move 3, both advance guards had formed into line and faced each other just to the south of the bridge.

Move 4. The Prussian main body has entered the game. The rules allow a double move off road outside 12" of the enemy, so once again units move forward quickly.

Move 4, showing the initial move of the Austrian main body. Units from the main bodies were placed alternately on their respective baselines. Once all were in place, they moved forward their first move.

Move 4 again. A cavalry clash seems likely on the Austrian right flank. The Prussian cuirassiers are just off the photo to the left.

Move 5. Both sides have quickly established a battle line on opposite sides of the Bullenbach.

Move 5. On the western flank, the Austrian dragoons have veered off into the Plattwald on some vague mission of encirclement (they can just be seen amongst the trees in the background). This leaves the Austrian cuirassiers outnumbered two to one, although they are supported by the 2nd battalion of IR10 who are in position behind them. The Austrian gun in the foreground is bombarding Prussian infantry just outside the photo to the left. In contrast, the Prussian gun chooses to indulge in some counter-battery fire which turned out to be very effective.

Move 6. The Austrians decide to get aggressive. The Hungarians and Bavarians attack across the Bullenbach (probably a bad idea!), whilst the two advance guard battalions in the foreground are ordered to charge the Prussian battalion to their front (1st battalion, IR1). Both Austrian advance guard units are already unsteady, but... orders are orders.

Predictably, the Austrians suffer badly from fire and melee casualties and rout across the bridge at under half strength. This means they will not be returning.

Move 6 on the western flank. The Austrian heavy cavalry brace for impact. (The attacking Prussians have been obliged to approach slowly if they are to maintain formation, with one squadron on the left moving through the woods and two squadrons on their right splashing through the Bullenbach). In the distance the Austrian dragoons veer away from the 2nd battalion of the Prussian IR1, who have emerged from Plattstadt to challenge them as they pass by.

Move 7. The Austrian units attacking across the Bullenbach have been thrown back by Prussian musketry and return to their starting positions. The 1st battalion of IR37 (furthest away in this photo) suffered particularly badly.

Move 7. The Prussian fusiliers of 2nd battalion, IR33, occupy the wall at the north end of the wheatfield, with an artillery battery in support.

Move 8. The Prussian cavalry have charged with predictable results. The Austrian cuirassiers have lost 2 bases and have been forced to fall back.

Move 8. On the hills overlooking the Bullenbach, the depleted Prussian infantry units stand firm. The Freikorps unit on the right is held firmly to its task by the presence of a colonel and the commanding brigadier.

Move 8, and the Austrian dragoons continue on their rather pointless tour of the Prussian baseline. The attack over the Bullenbach has already failed, and there will be no opportunities to attack any Prussian infantry units in the rear. 2nd battalion, IR1 track them around the south of Plattstadt.

Overview of the final positions on move 8. As in the original battle, by this stage the winner was obvious. Two Austrian battalions have been routed for good, and the Austrian gun in the centre has been destroyed by counter battery fire.
All Prussian units are standing firm and are ready to continue, although some have lost one or two stands. There is also a nice gap opening up around the bridge which Prussian units are well placed to take advantage of. A Prussian victory.

And How Was It For You Darling...

Well, not as much manouevre as I hoped for. A table eight foot wide would have helped, making it harder for both sides to form a coherent line. As it was, with two players familiar with SYW tactics, and rules which encourage historical play, two opposing battlelines soon appeared across the table.

As the Austrian commander, my attack across the Bullenbach and the detachment of the dragoons were both attempts to shake things up a bit, but neither had much chance of doing so. A better option would have been a Frederican plan to refuse one flank and load up the other in order to create a breakthrough. However, deployments on both sides were conservative and this option was not explored by either side. Maybe next time.

One key to victory might be to get your advanced guard to occupy the hills on the enemy side of the Bullenbach early on. However, this would be easier said than done with your opponent on the lookout for any such move.

The Rank and File rules continue to impress. They are free flowing and simple to use, but retain all the necessary period flavour.

Comments welcomed as usual. (Apologies to the four gentlemen who posted responses soon after this report was published. Gremlins got into the system and the blog was deleted, so it has had to be re-done).

'Til next time!

Saturday 19 September 2009

Parkfield Miniatures

Just a quick shout out (as the young people say these days) for Parkfield Miniatures of Buckinghamshire. I encountered this firm for the first time at Colours 2009 when I was looking for some 25-30mm size wagons suitable for the SYW period. I found just what I was looking for at half the price of some other wagons I had been looking at across the way.

Needing some rider/driver figures to go with these wagons, I contacted Parkfield by email after the show. Not only did they readily agree to take some appropriate figures out of a couple of their other packs (significantly reducing the cost to me), but these arrived in the post within 48 hours.

Excellent service, and good quality models. The website is -

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Blitzkrieg @ Colours 2009

Frankly, I didn't want to do it. Blitzkrieg Commander at Newbury? No way, no day. I thought Colours 2007 would be my last job. But you don't say no to Big Dave (aka Kiwidave). So I had to box up the armoured train again and get in the motor with Steve.
Take plenty of photos, Dave said. I didn't say no.

Three wargamers ready to go. Left to right: Rob, Dave, Steve. Rob is fairly happy in this shot. We don't know the guy behind Rob. He had a bigger table than us, he had more figures than us and the figures were bigger than ours. We ignored him.

Below: Dave's Rhine crossing game. You don't need a big table to do nice terrain.

Rob is happy. He thinks he is winning. He isn't.

Below: Steve and Keith's Poland game. Check out the command stand with a deserter being shot. Nice!

BT-7s demolish armoured train.

Polish CO looks on impotently.

Above: a nice shot taken by someone else.

Above: The second Poland game. The Poles are finding out why the scenario is called 'encirclement'.

Some other games that took my eye:

Nice 25mm ECW just across the way from us.

Above and below. Really classy 15mm 100 years war demo at the Donnington Miniatures stand.
Awesome painting skills.

Interesting game set in WW1.

Above and below: this is the way to demo a refight of a real battle. Really informative and beautifully set up game of Naseby from the Pike and Shot Society.

28mm WW2. Not really my thing but quite striking.

Only two disappointments during the day. The first was wasting £5 on the worst sausage and chips I've ever had. The second was Steve picking arguments about Flames of War with passing gamers. This is just one example. I didn't realise he was that kind of guy.

End of the day. Four happy wargamers. Alright, three happy wargamers. Rob is not happy. Rob has lost his game. I told you I didn't want to do it...

If you want a full set of pics of everything that happened at Colours this year, check out this site.

Love. I'm out.

Saturday 5 September 2009

The New Wargames Illustrated - a review

When Wargames Illustrated was taken over by Battlefront Miniatures there was a lot of negative reaction, which mainly boiled down to the concern that an independent wargames magazine was about to become the next White Dwarf: that is, just a house magazine for Flames of War. I freely admit I was one of those doubters. Issue 263 is the fourth issue to be published since the takeover, and the first I have actually bought. So how are things going?


First, that cover picture. It is, of course, taken from the cover of the latest Flames of War supplement on the Western Desert, and constitutes blatant advertising for the owners. I think this is wrong as a cover concept. Battlefront are entitled to have as many adverts for their products inside the magazine as they think the readership will stand, but the cover should have something more general. Furthermore, the artwork itself is just plain awful. How Boy's Own can you get? I'm the first to admit I'm just an overgrown kid where toy soldiers are concerned, but this is taking the mickey. One is reminded of the worst of the nonsense contained in the Commando comics I used to read in the sixties.

Inside, the articles make a bad start with a ten page piece on the Tobruk campaign lifted directly from the relevant Osprey title. Again, blatant advertising, this time under the camouflage of an article, reminding us that Osprey have a strong connection here (though I'm not sure exactly what it is - can anyone enlighten me?). Furthermore, regardless of the source, simply copying out chunks from a book (any book) and calling it an article is very tacky indeed.

I have seen comments elsewhere that the review section is weak, and I would tend to agree. Only 4 pages devoted to reviews (there were 10 in the latest Battlegames, by contrast). Would this be a reluctance to give too much prominence to products from other companies? Taking a specific example, the review of the Rank and File rules was naturally of interest to me, but it had very little to say. Most fundamentally, the writer had obviously neither played the rules nor talked to anyone who had. The review also makes mistakes, such as saying that 'initiative is only used to determine who goes first in melee'. The writer also fails to place the rules in the context of already established sets in terms of complexity, mechanisms, realism and playability.

Battlefront have opted for the themed approach to issues of the magazine, an approach I dislike. This is the main reason why I have not bought an issue so far (and why I have never bought an issue of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy). The Western Desert theme was of interest to me on this occasion, but I much prefer to avoid this kind of thing. One has to assume it works as a marketing exercise, but it doesn't work for me. Variety is what I want. And on the subject of marketing exercises, I somehow doubt I will ever see an article on WW2 gaming in the new WI featuring a rule set other than Flames of War.

I think that'll do for the minuses. How about the...


In my opinion it was Battlegames which showed up the real weakness of the old WI. The old magazine was all about pretty pictures, and readable content was limited and of poor quality. Most historical wargamers are out of their teens and twenties (a great number are middle aged like me), and tend to be bookish types. They want something to read and to stimulate their minds, a need which Battlegames crucially tapped into. WI seems to have taken the hint. There are 111 pages in the latest issue and it has to be said that the articles are generally well written and provide good reading. The two photo articles on the Bovington show and Historicon are well presented and provide some of the inspiration you would hope to get by being there. On the down side, the article on the ACW battle of Cedar Mountain repeats the old mistake of too much historical summary and too little on wargaming the battle, which after all the comments on this type of error over the decades is inexcusable. But I'm supposed to be on the pluses here, so I should say that overall there is a lot to read in the magazine, covering a good range of periods. This really is the main strength of the magazine, along with the good quality and generally well chosen photos and high production standards. Finally, at £4 the magazine is realistically priced.

On Balance

My minuses section takes up rather more room than the pluses, but actually (on balance) I enjoyed the magazine and would be happy to purchase another issue (theme permitting). There is sufficient general wargames content of sufficiently high standard to counteract the marketing. Perhaps most irritating is that the marketing is often unfairly disguised as supposedly neutral articles and illustrations. Anyway, I'll keep my eye on future issues. (But for goodness sake do something about the cover. Let's have some pictures of wargaming on the cover of a wargames magazine... )

Wednesday 12 August 2009

A Little Bit Extra

I realised I had missed a couple of half decent photos of action on the Austrian right flank during my last game, so I thought I would pop them in.

Here the two regiments of Austrian cuirassiers lead the rest of the force across the bridge. They are followed by a regiment of dragoons and two battalions of grenadiers. I had high hopes that such a strong force could anticipate some significant success. However, in the background you can see two regiments of Prussian dragoons already being manouevred into striking distance...

This photo illustrates how the Prussians were able to interfere with Austrian deployment, despite being outnumbered. The left hand cuirassier regiment is already at half strength following its first melee (it is also receiving flanking fire from Prussian guns and infantry out of picture to the left). The Austrian dragoons have become vulnerable to a flank charge whilst trying to deploy on a limited patch of ground. Meanwhile the grenadiers attempt to get clear and advance on the Prussian flank. In the event, encountering artillery and infantry fire as well as being threatened in turn by the very successful Prussian dragoons, they would not get beyond the marshy area around the stream branching off the main river.

I hope these extra images are of interest. The Seven Years War period seems to be inspiring me at the moment: those 6mm and 15mm WW2 collections are having a bit of a rest. Next will be a replay of this game with the roles of myself and Paul reversed. However, my next post will probably be a refight of Donald Featherstone's 'Action in the Plattville Valley' from his book War Games. Having acquired a flexible river system, Bull Creek can be properly represented. Of course, it will have to be re-fought in the Seven Years War period, so make that 'Action in the Plattstadt Valley'. Now, what would be the best German translation for Bull Creek...

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!