Monday 17 February 2014

Honours Of War

Now it can be revealed. 2014 will be an interesting year for me wargaming-wise, as I have been commissioned by Osprey Publishing to write a set of wargaming rules for the Seven Years War.

The working title is Honours of War, a phrase I found in Donald Featherstone's book on this period, Wargames Through the Ages 1420-1783,

'On the wargame table each commander will endeavour to manoeuvre the enemy
 into untenable positions so that they must accept the Honours of War...'

The definition of the phrase in the Collins dictionary is,

'The honours granted by the victorious to the defeated, 
esp. as of marching out with all arms and flags flying.'

So the phrase seemed to say something about 18th century warfare, as well as the spirit in which miniature wargames themselves should be played.

Most of you will be familiar with the range of Osprey rules published so far. Last year, some adverts for the range carried the invitation to send in proposals for further titles. This offer was backed up by an interview in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy (no.68) with Phil Smith, who is head of the Osprey Wargames project. He confirmed the offer and the sort of thing Osprey were looking for.

I have enjoyed a few games of Dux Bellorum, courtesy of my old muckers Steve and Craig

Those familiar with this blog will know I have been playing games with my own set of rules for the SYW. So in the spirit of 'what the hell', and not expecting to get anywhere, I sent off the current version to Phil. 

His reply was a surprise. He wasn't completely sold, but he gave me room to get back to him and indicate how I thought his doubts could be resolved. These were mostly around making the rules inviting to those who might be new to the period, providing them with the possibility of modestly sized starter games and a points system to help them build their armies. I was able to confirm that these concerns could be fixed, along with making the rules playable with smaller figures than the 30mm ones I used.

And then there were 2 more surprises in store for me. Phil wrote back saying he felt I had addressed his concerns and was prepared to take my proposal to a publishing meeting and pitch it to those involved. Crikey. Then, not long after, he emailed me to say 'we have a wargame'. In other words, my proposal was accepted, and I had around a year to get the rules re-written, play tested, and ready for publication with associated diagrams and illustrations. I was gobsmacked. What an opportunity!

This was at the end of September last year. Since then I have been working the rules up towards a publishable standard. This has involved widening them to include all the nations involved in the SYW in Europe (rather than just Prussia and Austria), developing a points system, showing how the rules would work for 15mm, 10mm and 6mm models, and writing all the introductions, explanations and explanatory diagrams needed to make everything understandable to someone completely new to the rules.

The work so far has been great - my knowledge of the period is now much improved, and the intellectual exercise of getting everything together has been very rewarding. Phil at Osprey has been helpful and supportive - having the backing of a decent-sized publisher will make this project so much more enjoyable. Assuming all goes well, it will be great to get my work out there and see what people think about it. And then there will be the buzz of going to wargames shows or visiting blogs and seeing people enjoying playing games with my rules. Plus I might even make a few quid to spend on more toys!

But before all that comes the playtesting. This is where you can get involved. I have to submit my final manuscript around this time next year, so until then I want to invite gamers who don't know either me or the rules to take a look at Honours of War, play them if possible, and get back to me with feedback. You might only be able to give the rules a quick read through and let me know what you think, or you might have armies for the period already and be prepared to try a few games to really test how the rules play. All genuine contributions will be gratefully received. Apart from the chance to be on the ground floor of a new set of wargames rules, I can't offer much in return, except the possibility of a name check in the rules and maybe a free copy when they get published (no promises I'm afraid).

If you're interested, you can contact me at:

Or, visit the Yahoo Group at this address and apply to join. A brief explanation of your interest would be appreciated:

All you need to explore the rules is available for download once you've joined the group.

Publication date is planned for November 2015, so there's plenty of time. Hope you can get involved.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Final Spurt

Oh Matron! What I mean is, 2014 is destined to be the year that I complete my Seven Years War armies. Things have dragged on quite long enough, and now that I can afford to get figures painted for me rather than doing all my own painting the rate of completion of the final units will increase from extremely sluggish to... magnificently gradual.

Following the arrival of a recent order from RSM Miniatures, the first units to be completed were my Austrian grenadier battalions; so now I have a brigade of three.

Grenadier battalions Soro, Fiorenza and Siskovics

Also recently acquired are some heavy guns. I simply had to see how good the new Fife and Drum artillery was, and as Mr Purky doesn't do an Austrian gun as yet, I bought a couple of the Napoleonic Austrian 12pdrs from Front Rank. I preferred the look of the latter to the generic SYW 12pdr Front Rank offer. Not much to choose between the 2 manufacturers in terms of quality - both are excellent.

Fife & Drum Prussian 12pdr on left, Front Rank Austrian 12pdr on right.

And Wargaming As Well!
Just to prove the odd game is still getting played, a few photos from a recent SYW bash. Nothing fancy, just your typical weekend evening pick up game. The attacking Prussians won, by the way.

Table set up. I'm finding my new 6' x 5' table size very useful.

The Austrian defenders.

Those sneaky Grenzers secure the Austrian left flank.

How it all ended. The Austrians were conclusively overcome.
Those cavalry on the near baseline are actually Prussian Hussars - the devils
broke through  between the village and Grenzers and took me in the rear. Ouch!
I guess that explains the camera shake.

Standby for some interesting news - coming up in the next post.

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!