Thursday, 30 December 2010
Having had a day to consider yesterday's MEP-playtesting action at Los Arapiles, I've got some thoughts to put into some kind of order. Some of the thoughts are about the fact that it was a (sort of) re-enactment; a few are about the operation of the game.
A scenario is a scenario, so there is no particular disadvantage in using an event that actually took place, you would think.
Well, maybe. Certainly, playing out a real, historical battle with as-accurate-as-you-can-get forces and conditions shouldn't be able to be faulted for lack of realism, and yet real, historical battles appear to be beset by so many intangibles, flukes and things that don't make sense that you have to keep a very broad mind about what, if anything, it proves.
It's a truism that most real battles make very poor wargames, for the simple reason that no sane general would choose to commit to an attack if he stood a chance of losing - i.e. most real battles were very one-sided, and could only have had one reasonable outcome. There are a number - relatively few - which are favourites for re-enactment because they could have gone either way - a Close Run Thing. This will usually be because someone misjudged the strength of his enemy, or the timing of his or his enemy's expected reinforcements, or someone just had a plain, old-fashioned stroke of luck.
One thing that I found yesterday was that, even if it is played as a game, without a complete script, it's hard to feel involved in a historical action. Pack's brigade's attack on the Greater Arapile at Salamanca failed in 1812, and it failed again yesterday, which might be considered to vindicate the game a little, but I only made Pack attack at all because of the historical precedent. If that had been a proper game, with no real-history prototype to follow, and if I had been the (20mm) Duke of W, I'd never have considered sending Pack off on a mission like that. But, because that's what really happened, I sent him and his Portuguese lads in without any concern at all.
I think that is the missing element in the re-enactment - involvement. If you are invited to fight a wargame somewhere, with refreshments, the company of friends, all that, the battle will take place - you will contest lost causes, you will commit your reserves, you will be genuinely upset when your lancers are routed. You will, in short, care. The enjoyment of the game is usually in direct proportion to the amount of enthusiasm you put into it. Well, I have to say that at Salamanca, though I was interested to see how it went, I really could not have cared less.
The MEP Rules
I can say, honestly, that most of the game ran very nicely. My efforts in MEP to cut down the overheads of morale testing, the elimination of single musket volleys - all the simplification - worked well. The only disappointment was that artillery fire and skirmishing are still quite laborious, and need further change to make large battles practicable.
It's maybe worth making a preliminary observation about the difference between rule-proving and game experience. A number of fighting mechanisms in MEP were checked for reasonableness and workability by the time-worn process of putting a few units on a table, and testing, again and again, variants on a situation. When MEP went to print, there were no kites flying, this was all supposed to be practical stuff. The problems which emerged, such as they are, come from the sheer size of a grand tactical battle. In a more detailed, divisional sized game, at any given moment you might have a couple of artillery batteries deployed and firing, so you can take a bit of trouble to calculate the results. In a big, higher-level game - specifically Salamanca, yesterday, at 1:125 figure scale - there might be 15 or 20 batteries in action, every push of every bound, both sides firing simultaneously. That is an awful lot of work if you design it wrongly. Especially if most of that fire produces no result - in MEP, the smallest loss you can inflict is 1 point, which means that the target unit has been discouraged to an extent which is equivalent to a battalion of men packing their kit and going home. Thus, a lot of the artillery fire produces no effect. If you are spending a lot of time grinding through all those batteries - "have that lot fired? - no? - right, they'll fire at the unit on the hill again - that's 2 dice, and I need to throw 2s or less - damn! - missed - who's next?" etc etc etc - it becomes tempting to just stop the artillery fire altogether. Similarly the skirmishing. Anything in a wargame which requires a fair amount of work, yet only rarely produces a significant result, will eventually either be omitted or will be a source of annoyance.
I'll think further about skirmishing on a separate occasion, for the moment I have been concentrating on ways to reduce the workload required by artillery fire.
A quick digression. Entirely because it's an example of a ruleset which looks at the problem in another way, Ian Marsh's Huzzah! (Oozlum Games) is of interest. Instead of rattling through a long list of tests for individual firings by batteries and infantry units, Huzzah! considers instead the situation of the target units. Huzzah! is worth a read anyway, though the details of the game make it quite complex, and not really suited to a big game, but the point here is that it got me thinking about testing the targets, not all the firers. How about this? - the artillery units nominate targets, and red counters (say) are placed against target units; so canister fire might require 2 red counters. When all targets have been declared (for both sides, in the case of MEP), you carry out a single test for each unit that has red counters showing, i.e. organise the tests by target rather than firer. If the unit with 3 red counters showing is in cover, or is otherwise a bad target, you might throw 3D6, requiring scores which reflect its situation and type - design your own test, I'm just playing with ideas here!
It may seem that testing the targets rather than the firers just gives you the same problem, organised a different way, but I believe it should make things a bit simpler. Yesterday, there was a situation where 4 batteries were all firing on a single brigade on a hilltop. For every battery, I had to go through the "is the target in cover? are they in open order?" check and then roll the dice for that shot (well, the computer rolled the dice in its head, but the questions were still there). It would have been a big advantage to organise it the other way round - nominate the targets, then ask, once and for all, if the target was in cover etc, and proceed to roll the dice to see how they fared.
I think that does warrant a change - I would certainly have been glad to do it the other way yesterday!
This blog has been busy again this last week or so, which is mostly the fault of the weather preventing my doing much else. I'm going to be relatively busy for a week or two, so things will get quiet here for a while. To anyone who reads this stuff, my thanks and very best wishes - a Good New Year to you!
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Since part of the objective was to prove the rules, it seemed inappropriate to attempt just to act out what really happened, yet ignoring the history altogether would kind of nullify the whole point of making it Salamanca. I decided to set up the action as it stood at about 1pm, put a few of the principal events into the first few bounds, and see what happened.
Well, it didn't turn out to be a very close copy of history - my starting point was to be the attack on the French left flank by Pakenham, with cavalry support, and Pack's independent Portuguese brigade's assault on the Greater Arapile, a hill in the middle of the French position.
Things started pretty much as in the real battle - Pack's attack was repulsed, and Pakenham quickly broke Thomieres' leading brigade, though his own losses were severe. History stopped dead at this point. The British heavy cavalry (Le Marchant's brigade) made no progress at all in following up - they were checked by Thomieres' weak second brigade - so much for the most glorious cavalry charge in British history. Then Cole's and Leith's Divisions were very badly mauled by the divisions of Barbot (vice Clauzel), Maucune and Bonet in the centre, and the momentum was lost. The French position was strong, any further British attempt to attack would have been foolhardy (the Allied off-field reserves, primarily the 7th Division and De Espana's Castillian troops, were not due for an hour, and were not capable of affecting the outcome), and there was little else that Wellington could do but resume his retreat towards Portugal. The French cavalry was not up to the job of harrying the withdrawal, and both sides left the field in reasonable order around 3:30pm. French casualties were slightly higher at about 10% of all troops engaged, and they lost two senior generals in Bonet and Tirlet (commander of the artillery reserve).
The rules worked well enough - artillery counter-battery fire seemed possibly a bit too effective, but it's debatable. The weather was fine and dry throughout, the only command snag of note was when Lowry Cole called off his attack on Bonet, which was probably good judgement. The game (it didn't feel very much like a game, since I spent much of the time with my nose in Dr Muir's book, checking the script) was over in about 90 minutes - I was running the rules on a computer, and did cut back on the skirmishing, which was mostly ineffective (which is probably correct, and was expected).
So a bit of a damp squib, all in all. I was persuaded by Dr Muir that Maucune was accompanied by an amount of artillery which could only have been possible if part of the reserve park was so deployed, and that may have been a significant element. Don't know, really. I also have to say that, when you see the real numbers of troops set out on the battlefield (scales were 1 hex = 1/4 of a mile, 1 bound is an hour, 1 figure = 125 men for this game), it seems improbable that the French could lose, unless there is some major morale advantage working against them.
I do not intend to repeat the action, so I include some pictures, just to prove it happened.
All right - it was a lot of fun, really, but I'm rather disappointed that the big battle stalled! It was pleasing to be able to attempt a battle on this scale, but the little units still feel a bit strange.
General view of the battlefield, looking West. The French position is down the near edge of the table, then up the left hand edge. From the right, the French have the Divisions of Foy (far right), Ferey, Sarrut, Bonet (on the hillock and beyond), Barbot, and Maucune in the centre on the ridge. At the far end, on the left flank, is Thomieres, with support from Taupin and the light cavalry of Curto. Note the rather exposed position of William Anson's British brigade, on the hill of the Lesser Arapile in the centre of the picture.
Wellington's hammer - the Allied Third Division on Wellington's extreme right, under Pakenham, with cavalry on both sides, forced-marching to attack Thomieres. It didn't go too well...
The rest of the Allied position - Leith's Division in the foreground, supported by Clinton, then, further away, Cole, Pack's independent brigade, Henry Campbell's First Division and the Light Division (Karl von Alten) on the extreme left.
View from behind Clauzel's position. In the real battle, the French were convinced that the Allies were in retreat - you can see why - there's not much over there, is there?
Almost the end - the French haven't moved very much, but their centre looks pretty solid. Time to get marching and try another day.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Fusilier of King Joseph's 2nd (Toledo) Regt - note pre-bottle-top coin
After publishing yesterday's Hefty Effort, I was thinking some more about my initial dealings with the hobby-shop man who did some painting for me. I was astounded when he complained (amongst a great many other things) about the number of colours required for a Napoleonic figure, and how long it took to do the work. I had admired some extremely complicated Fantasy things that he had done, and - given that my requirements for wargame figures are relatively primitive anyway - I dismissed his complaint as nonsense.
Thinking about it again, I had a go at writing down just what it is that I do to paint a battalion from scratch, and it is much more fiddly than I would have thought. Please note that this is no kind of "how-to" explanation or guideline for painting Napoleonic troops - Lord knows I am hardly qualified to offer any advice on the subject!
For a standard French Napoleonic line battalion - for me this would be, typically, Les Higgins fusiliers and flankers, and mostly Kennington, NapoleoN or Art Miniaturen command figures, including a mounted colonel - the required work would be, in sequence:
Clean up/modify castings as necessary, superglue colonel onto his horse; blu-tak figures onto plastic bottle-tops for painting.
Humbrol matt white enamel: base coat over everything - leave overnight.
Acrylics from now on:
White: trousers/breeches, lapels, turnbacks, belts, drum heads.
Dark blue: coats, colonel's saddle cloth.
Red: collars, cuffs, shoulder straps, piping round lapels and (maybe) round turnbacks, grenadiers' epaulettes and plumes.
Dark blue (again): middles of shoulder straps (leaving red piped edges), cuff flaps, clean up edges.
White (again): clean up edges & belts, piping round collars if reqd, officers' plumes & gloves.
Mid green & yellow: voltigeurs epaulettes & collars (maybe) & plumes.
Flesh: heads & hands.
Blue-grey: rolled greatcoats.
Dark brown: colonel's horse, muskets, hair & moustaches.
Earth: packs, horse's hooves.
Black: hats, boots, cartridge pouches and all scabbards, horse harness & straps, flag pole.
Leather: boot cuffs, socket for eagle-bearer's strap.
White (again): musket slings, bottom layer of cockades, ties & laces on packs.
Red (again): blobs on cockades.
Mid blue: more blobs on cockades, drum hoops.
Purple, dk green, orange, sky blue: shako pompoms.
Whatever: detailing of drummer & colonel & colonel's horse, plus touch-up and fancy tweaks as required.
Matt varnish over everything - leave a couple of hours (prepare plywood bases).
Gunmetal: musket barrels and fittings.
Brass/gold: buttons, (maybe) some musket fittings, sword hilts and scabbard trim, chinscales, hat plates, all officers' finery and distinctions, including edging of saddle cloth and top band of shakos; The Eagle, drum case, fancy bits on horse's strapping.
Silver: bayonets, sword blades, stirrups, harness buckles on horse.
White (one last time) plus leather (again): tensioners on drum.
Paint figure bases with regulation baseboard-green emulsion.
Glue figures on bases with PVA - leave to dry.
Paint completed bases with green emulsion.
Now get them a flag, get them labelled up as necessary, make up a sabot (movement tray), put them in The Cupboard.
It's rather more than I thought - if someone asked me to do all that for them, I would complain, too. I would certainly charge more than I paid him.
Monday, 27 December 2010
There’s a particularly sound reason for this, since my painting is not especially good – a fact of which I am reminded more and more forcibly by continuing exposure to the wonders of the internet. I have always regarded painting as a means to an end. I need to have my armies painted to a satisfactory standard (my definition) so that I can use them, and I have found that painting is certainly the biggest bottleneck (and source of stress!) connected with the hobby. I have never been able to look at mounds of unpainted figures and feel actual pleasure at the prospect of getting them ready for action, though over the years I have successfully (again, my definition) painted many thousands. I suspect that, deep down, I don’t really enjoy painting, either – I do like tinkering with the odd general or command figure, but the idea of painting a complete battalion is not attractive. It’s a little like interior decoration – it’s really satisfying when you have finished, but it can be pretty grim getting to that point!
This has become more pronounced as I have become older and less patient, as my eyesight has dimmed a bit, and as the plans and the organisation of the armies have became gradually more grandiose. There was a time when I could happily paint a battalion in a week, working at it in odd moments, so that I could confidently expect to have maybe 4 or 5 new units a month. I have been thinking about what (apart from myself) has changed. Firstly, I suddenly found, on my return to wargaming after a long interruption caused by other priorities, that I felt an urgent need to make up for lost time, the implication being that 4 or 5 units in a month was never going to be enough. Secondly, and this is maybe less daft, my early days were in the Age of Enamels – at that time painting a battalion was ideal – by the time I had done all the red jackets, my Humbrol paint would be dry enough to start again at the left-hand end with the next colour. The concept of sitting down to paint a celebrity general in a single evening is really quite new-fangled – definitely a consequence of using acrylics – it surprises me a bit to recall this, but I guess it’s a fact.
My view of my own painting reminds me of something a jazz saxophonist friend said to me years ago. He was regarded locally as something of a hero, but he dismissed the idea with a chuckle – “No,” he said, “I am certainly not a great player, but I have been an average-to-good player for enough years to get to understand my own strengths and limitations, and I’ve learned how to bluff my way out of tricky situations!”.
That feels about right – I have been an average painter for long enough to know how to get decent results.
In the very beginning, I read (probably in Featherstone’s War Games) that the objective with wargame figures was that they should look good “in the mass”, and that the quality of the paintwork was of secondary importance. Good enough – I took this is as my guideline, or maybe excuse, and cracked on.
My only previous experience of painting models had been on HO/OO Airfix railway buildings when I was 12 – I recall a house of which I made a pretty rough job, and the famous half-timbered inn, which I abandoned after I got half-way through painting the beams. If I remember correctly, the unfinished inn featured in the railway layout for some years, with its unpainted side turned to the wall. The real problem, apart from my lack of ability, had been the heartbreaking awfulness of the paint. I had bought a set of Airfix paints (in very distinctive little screw-top glass jars – square section, tapering toward the top – great design for paint, eh?). They were gloopy, uneven, had dreadful colours – the sort of colour you see now in the washable poster paints they give to kids at nursery school. I know it is not acceptable to say anything bad about Airfix, but I have to say those paints were rubbish.
Back to the soldiers – I bought in some tinlets of Humbrol, and got working on some units of Airfix ACW Union infantry. My grand plan was to leave the dark blue plastic for the tunics and kepis, slap some sky blue on the trousers, some flesh on the hands and faces (approximately) and then (the hard bit) pick out firearms, belting, boots and equipment with brown and black. My ignorance was so complete that it wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th unit that I realised that if I took a little more trouble to stir the sky blue then it would go on thick enough to stop the blue plastic showing through. Ri-i-ight. I went back and repainted the previous (n – 1) units to match, and then bought in some dark blue and re-did the tunics, and after that I improved as I went along. Block colours, meeting accurately at the edges – what else could there be?
My idea of unobtainable perfection at that time was provided by the illustrations out of the glossy magazines, and the Charles Grant books in particular. I was aware of a completely separate discipline in the painting of 54mm figures to an ornate, collector standard, but it never occurred to me, even for an instant, that my little wargame figures could be treated the same way.
By the time I returned to wargaming after an enforced break, the world had changed almost beyond recognition. Everyone now seemed to buy 28mm castings which featured incredible detail, acrylics had arrived, and a whole new style had developed. Figures were now painted with multiple levels of highlighting and shading, and every single casting, as far as I could tell, now had to have a personality. I was very impressed, though I was less comfortable with the tendency toward caricature and the grotesque which seemed to have become an accepted norm in both sculpting and painting. Certain manufacturers seem to have been particularly influential in this, but I was never quite sure why a style which seemed to have its roots in Fantasy gaming should have spread to bog-standard horse & musket. No matter.
Mostly out of gentle mischief, I have occasionally rattled a few teacups with comments on the blogs of others – especially on the subject of shading. Three-dimensional people do not walk around with shadows painted on them – the fall of the light does this on its own. I don’t want to stir up a pointless debate here – it’s all been done before, anyway, and what you like is what you like – but shading seems to me to be a useful thing to apply to flats, for example, but the more detailed and rotund the castings become the less the need for it. My view is unfashionable, I know this, and my style is stuck in a time-warp anyway because I need to make new additions to my armies compatible with the existing figures. I love to see figures painted in more detailed styles – the guys who did not grow up with Humbrol are less constrained by the traditions of those days, and so much of their work is terrific, but I can’t do it myself, and probably would choose not to if I could. I am comfortable with my own paintwork, I’m proud of my little soldiers, though I would never seriously offer them up as an example to be copied or even to be politely desired.
I also never got the hang of what I think of as the “stained glass” style – black undercoat, with colours applied leaving a small margin between. Looks pretty good. One of the pro painters I have used in the past does this very effectively, but when I do it, it looks scabrous – not properly finished at all!
So I’m happy in my style – the figures suit me and I couldn’t change now anyway. The main changes in my approach over recent years have been:
(1) Use of acrylic paints and varnishes – a mighty step forward.
(2) To compensate for the old Tempus Fugit in the eyeball department, I now use a prescription jeweller’s loop, which is a great thing, and a daylight-type reading lamp of the kind used for embroidery and tapestry-making.
(3) From eBay, and various purchases of private collections, I have bought in a lot of second-hand vintage figures, so I have done a lot of re-touching and refurbishing, which is quicker and easier and more productive than I thought it would be.
(4) And, of course, I have now come to realise that my plans are only possible if I pay for the services of other painters – of which more later.
Before I move on to discuss the paints I have used, I might mention that I have recently had a lot of fun painting buildings for wargames. Since I am a madman, and since I need buildings to have a small footprint to avoid ground-scale paradoxes, I use 15mm buildings with my 20mm/“true 25mm” figures. I have acquired some very pleasing little buildings, from Hovels, SHQ and numerous other makers, and had an absolute ball painting them up. It’s very liberating – almost the opposite of figure painting, in that a very rough approach is best. I use household emulsion paints, slap the stuff on, lots of vigorous dry-brushing. The amazing thing is that the quicker you do them, the better they seem to look. I wish I could get that much fun out of painting soldiers! – I’m sure that the amateur psychologists out there could offer an explanation.
This could be a long and tedious list – I’ll try to avoid that. I started out with Humbrol enamels – all sorts – I used gloss paints with a flatting agent added if necessary. The railway colours gave a huge range of subtle shades, and then – later – came the tailor-made military series, which were excellent. I ended up with a massive collection, stored away in old shirt boxes. They were fiddly to use, but gave good results, and I don’t think I’ve ever had any colours fade, though some of the units are now 40 years old. Being enamels, of course, eventually they all solidified in the tins, so I threw a whole pile away.
I also used Testor paints, in little bottles. Bernard the miserable hobby-shop man recommended the Testor shade “wood” as a flesh colour for Ancients, because, he said, “men were real men in those days”. But were they wooden men? I only had a few of these.
Plaka were a radical departure. I grew very tired of red jacket colour bleeding through into white belting, and a local art shop recommended the use of Plaka acrylic, since it would not reactivate the solvent-based enamels. The Plaka white was a great find, for exactly that purpose, and, since I have recently found that the stuff is still available, I have thought of maybe getting a pot, for old times' sake! I also used their mid-blue shade for my Portuguese infantry, which was closer to electric blue than I had intended, and Clive recently refinished them in a less psychedelic shade.
All my figures, right from the outset, were finished with an acrylic glaze, and I have never had any problems with it, either with yellowing or with peeling. I used Cryla Matt Medium for years, which went on milky blue but dried clear.
After the Extended Break, I got involved with acrylics. I have to come clean here, and admit that mostly I have used Games Workshop paints. They are cheap, I can buy them locally, I like the practical little pots, and they are absolutely fit for purpose. I have some problems with opacity of a couple of shades – notably yellows and crimsons – but generally have been pleased with them. I also use Vallejo for specific shades and colours, but always begrudge the waste involved when my puddle of paint on the cooking-foil working palette turns out to be far too much, or dries out prematurely. One of the problems out here in the wilds is that a number of well-known and highly regarded makes of paint are not available locally, and I am always nervous about buying paint on-line.
For varnish, I have become very fond of Winsor & Newton’s Galeria Matt Varnish, which I get very cheaply from a local art shop in 75ml bottles. It is easy and clean to use, you can flop it on and, as long as you invest enough time shaking the bottle before use, it dries to a nice, slightly satin finish.
And that’s about it. I don’t dip my soldiers in anything, I don’t buy co-ordinated sets of matching highlight colours. It’s a pretty humble effort, really. I still use, mostly, Humbrol matt white as a base coat. I sometimes use black acrylic undercoat for a dark uniform, but my eyesight means that I have to dry-brush with a lighter grey so I can see what I’m supposed to be painting. I also have a problem if, for example, I paint navy blue on top of black undercoat – I can’t tell the colours apart!
Painters – Getting the Job Done
It took me a long time to come to terms with getting someone else to paint my soldiers. For a start, I come from a long line of skinflints, but I also have felt for many years that your armies are only really yours if you paint them yourself.
My first experience of this was with the owner of a model shop in a neighbouring town. His shop was the usual haven for the deranged, and he filled in the quiet spells in his day by painting Wood Elves and so forth – superb. One day we agreed that he could do some cavalry for me – as a try-out. He had painted lots of Napoleonics in the past, and would do a decent job for me, very cheaply. It was worth a try, definitely, so he set about my KGL dragoons. It took a long time. Eventually I got them back, with a long story about bad luck and disaster, and I paid up and took my figures home. First, and obvious, piece of bad news was that he had apparently convinced himself that KGL stood for King’s Dragoon Guards, and had modified the uniform accordingly. Also, there were a number of other aspects of the paint job which I wasn’t quite happy with, so I did a fair amount of re-touching and then I had a nice little unit. I was disappointed that there was such a lot of rework needed, but overall the effort saved was well worth the money. I had a few more dalliances with the model shop man before I got tired of always having to chase him, but I’d succeeded in changing my prejudices a little and I had learned a couple of valuable lessons.
I had learned that – like any tradesman – a hired painter will not necessarily do a better job than you could have done yourself, and that you may have a certain amount of refinishing to do to get the figures just the way you want them. On the other hand, as long as you are not paying through the nose it can be a decent investment in convenience.
My next venture involved a fairly well-known pro painter, who is a superb craftsman. He is a friend of a friend, and I agreed with him that he would do a wargame-standard job on my figures, in a style which suited me, and he should bear in mind that I might in any case do some touching-up at the end. He quoted me a cheap enough price and he did a number of excellent units for me. Bad news this time was that the man earns his living at this stuff, and he gets paid most of his money for doing very serious collector-standard painting for the website of a leading figure manufacturer. Accordingly, work for me was a bit of a background activity, and the turnaround was too slow. My main reason for using a painter, after all, was to keep things progressing. I got some really nice figures out of that arrangement, though.
Then I got a number of batches of figures painted in Sri Lanka. Another new ball game. My experience of the paintshop I dealt with was a little mixed, to be honest, and that was partly my own fault. All correspondence and negotiation is carried out with the main man, who was always professional and very helpful. The operation works entirely through him, whereby hangs a potential weakness. He translates all uniform data and all instructions into the local language, and the painters work just from his translation. If the instructions are incorrect, they will not know. All quality control is also routed through the same man at the end of the job, so there is an awful lot of critical stuff depending entirely on one link in the process. If they are busy, things can go a bit wrong, and I got a couple of orders returned with some of the facing colours transposed, and with detailing carried out which I had specifically asked not to be done. I had a fair amount of rework, though, once again, the overall cost was probably justified by the effort which the exercise had saved me. Left to themselves, the Sri Lankans will default to a style of painting which involves an amount of shading, painting of creases in clothing, eyeballs (aaaargh!), and application of dark wash to faces. The best way to use the service is to send your own painted samples of exactly what you want, in terms of uniforms and style, and that is what you will get back. They are efficient and businesslike, and the painting is well done – they’ll even clean up the castings for you if you wish. At present I am not using their services, though I might again in the future. After the episode of the transposed facings, I felt they could have done a little more to offer me a cheap deal on future work. No go. It never occurred to them, and I’m too proud to beg, honey.
So I am now using a good painter in England. He does a pretty low-spec job for me – old school wargames style – charges me relatively little and gives me back figures which are probably 90% finished – suits me – I’ll finish them to suit myself. If I paid the full £10-a-casting collector-standard fee I’d almost certainly have the brushes out when they came back, anyway!
The important thing with using painters is having a clear idea what it is you want them to do for you, making sure your instructions are spot on, and, of course, deciding whether it’s worth the cost.
Sunday, 26 December 2010
It is a bold move to attempt to turn your hobby into your job; the chances of making a successful living are usually much less than you think, and the chances of retaining any fondness for the hobby are about one in ten.
I live near a small seaside town which is full of the sort of shops which you would expect. Coffee places, florists, art & craft emporia, and an unbelievable number of gift shops. There's always a new one being opened, complete with free sherry for visitors, and some of them are lovely, but reality will normally arrive quite soon, and many of them close within a year.
To a large extent (as always, given the chance) I place a lot of the blame with the banks. There is a certain type of what used to be termed Middle Class Person - mostly ladies - who have always wanted to open a gift shop. The banks should put more effort into pointing out a few things before helping them to set up, viz:
(1) There are 3 other, identical shops already, within 50 metres.
(2) These shops will make very nice money, thank you, during the Summer, when all the visitors come, but will really catch a cold during the long, quiet Winters.
(3) There is a limit to the number of agate bracelets the locals will want. Local residents - especially the ones with money - tend to work in the nearest city, and mostly do their shopping there.
(4) When the novelty wears off and the sherry runs out, the gift shop will cut back to 10-4 opening, then 4 day opening, then only opening when they can be bothered, and eventually the "Lease for Sale" will appear.
Now this is all very sad. It would be a fine thing if people's dreams worked out, and on a rare occasion one such business will in fact do very well, but in most cases they fizzle out, leaving the proprietors short on cash and, I imagine, discouraged. The predictability of the entire life cycle can't offer much solace, either. Do these ladies learn anything? Is that the end of their interest in gift shops?
The specific example I was thinking about the other day was a hobby shop in Edinburgh which I used to patronise around 1970. The owner was rather a grumpy soul, but occasionally he would open up a bit and chat. It was another sad tale. As a child, he had been a passionate builder of balsa wood aeroplanes, and his (very expensive) private education had foundered hopelessly on the fact that the only thing in the world he was interested in was making models. Eventually he left school, and became an architectural model maker - he worked for an organisation that did commissions, building models of proposed shopping centres and so on. This went fairly well, and he rather enjoyed his job, which didn't pay much, until one day he inherited the family money, and set up the model and hobby shop he had always wanted.
By the time I knew him, the shop had been open about 12 years, and he hated it. Initially it had been fine - there were long quiet periods during the day when he could get on with his own interests (mostly working model steam engines when I knew him), but he would continually be interrupted by - well, customers, I guess. He said to me, "Some fat bloke with a squeaky voice will come in and bend my ear all afternoon about the exact shade of cream paint for LMS railway carriages, and - frankly - I couldn't care less!". He had some health problems, and eventually sold up to concentrate on his new hobby, which was making furniture.
OK - another tale of frustration and disappointment - but what had he expected it would be like when he started? Maybe we all change with the years, maybe enthusiasm is a sap which dries up. His problem, I suspect was partly that he didn't very much care for people who were a bit like himself (common enough), and that much of the pleasure went out of running the shop when he was relying on it for his livelihood.
To all those who have made a success of making money from their hobby, I offer my compliments and my best wishes - good on you. My earlier post about Moonbeams was an attempt to give appropriate credit to the dreamers and the crackpots who have made wargaming possible as a hobby - we owe these people a great deal, but I still believe that most such ventures fail, sadly.
Friday, 24 December 2010
Monday, 20 December 2010
Yes - all right, all right - I know a whole pile of people have got much worse weather than we have, and I also know that most nations outside the UK seem to cope with snow rather better than we do, but this month has been sufficiently harsh to warrant yet another mention.
I live right next to the sea, and it's fairly rare for us to get snow at all, but here it is - out in the sticks, South East Scotland, this morning, with the sun struggling to rise. Time to bank up the log stove and get my book out.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
It seems that SEGOM did indeed produce a 54mm acetate series, and one of the forums I was looking at suggested that they produced these (cheaper) figures to compete with MDM, who were very successful with their Serie de l'Epoque Napoleonienne. There seems to be some confusion between SEGOM and MDM anyway, but the more I look at the MDM examples the more I start to think that maybe my remembered wooden mounting blocks were actually black plastic, and that the labels may in fact have been white! The labels look very familiar...
The first picture are actual SEGOM, apparently, while the rest are all MDM (though some were claimed to be SEGOM). The strange round black base in the final picture is the end cap of a clear plastic box in which the figures were sold.
So I think my figures may well have been MDM, of which I had never heard until this evening. It seems that MDM also made a more expensive series of metal figures - not sure of the scale. If anyone has some actual knowledge on this subject (and I certainly do not!), then please do chip in! I also remember the figures as being rather more attractive, and better finished, but no matter.
Life is like that, I find.
My family has always been a little complicated. When I was a kid, I was aware that my maternal grandparents had separated before WW2, and that my grandfather lived with his new family in Paris. He was English, but from 1928 until he retired around 1968 he lived and worked in Paris. I only met him a few times - for about 4 years, from the age of about 11, my cousin and I used to go to stay with him during the Summer, at Neuilly-sur-Seine, and he made a huge impression on me.
He was enormously well-read, a great Fabian, and was opinionated and articulate in equal measure - which makes him sound a little forbidding, but in fact he was also very personable, humorous (as long as he was not the butt of the joke!), and a marvellous raconteur. Sitting down at 7 for a 3-hour dinner was a new experience for two 11-year-olds from Liverpool. I have always regretted that his early death (from lung cancer - he was a lifelong addict to Black & White and Markovitch cigarettes) meant that my own children never got to meet him, because he was an absolute treasure.
There is some point to this story. Grandpère was a great Napoleonic fan, and one day he arranged for us to visit the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides outside of public opening hours, on an early Sunday morning - I think that one of the curators was a personal friend. Of course, it was all too much for my childish attention span - I have a confused recollection of countless numbers of tattered flags, and of rows and rows of glass cases with life-size mannequins in uniform, though I do remember very clearly being overawed by the sheer size of a mounted dragoon, and entranced by the Vauban room with its little models of fortress towns. When our heads were obviously spinning, my grandfather sat us on the steps next to Napoleon's tomb, and worked his way around the friezes on the wall, describing (because he knew his stuff) the great battles of this Emperor who was within a few metres of where we sat.
I was never the same again. It was one of those episodes which, on recall, make you wish you had a "replay" button handy so that you could run them again. I have been to the Musée de l'Armée a few times in later life, but it seemed smaller and less bewildering than my first experience - this may simply be because of faulty recollection, but I suspect we may have been taken to places which are off-limits to normal day visitors.
On a couple of occasions after that, my cousin and I received gifts from Paris which were models of Napoleonic soldiers. They were beautifully painted - like nothing I had ever seen - though of course I didn't really understand what they represented. I recall that I had a line infantry fusilier, and my cousin had a most impressive infantry sapeur with a fine beard and a big apron. One of my figures had a small accident when his plume got broken off, and I stuck it back on with clear Durofix. I knew little of model soldiers (still true!), and over the years, of course, they disappeared, along with most of the other priceless jewels of childhood. Of recent years, I have often wondered what they might have been - i.e. who was the maker. I have had a good poke around on the internet - especially in eBay - to look for something similar, but never found anything, so if anyone has any ideas, I'd be pleased to know them.
I cannot show pictures, obviously, because they are long gone. They were 54mm figures - very elegant - cast in a hard plastic which was a very slightly creamy white. They were very finely painted, in glossy, toy-soldier style - I remember being very struck by the detailing of piping and cockades and shako cords. The white parts of the uniforms were unpainted - the white plastic showed through. They had small rectangular bases, which were painted an earth brown shade, and they were mounted on small wooden blocks, bearing a stuck-on label (presumably paper or card), which was printed in black with a dull gold background, giving details of the unit, the year and so on.
I never knew the maker - it would have meant nothing to me, anyway. It has been suggested that they might have been Starlux, though I have not seen Starlux figures mounted on blocks in this way. They must have been purchased new around 1958-61, I would guess, and almost certainly from the toy department at La Samaritaine - now closed, alas, but still fondly remembered as a very fine working definition of Heaven for small boys of all ages.
It really doesn't matter, of course, but, in an idle sort of way which is appropriate to being snowed in again, I'd be pleased to shine a little light into the past.
Saturday, 18 December 2010
In my experience, weather is an important addition to wargames, but it is one of the most likely things to get forgotten about when you are trying to rally the troops one last time at about 2am, and it is certainly one of the most likely things to be dropped from the rules for big games.
Accordingly, I really only consider the weather in detail in computerised games – the old computer, he never forgets, he never gets tired. I’m sitting here this morning, happy that the last lot of snow has gone, but aware from the TV news that more is expected, so some mention of weather seems appropriate.
I have to apologise immediately for the fact that, since they are primarily intended for Summer campaigns in Spain, my weather rules, in their present form, do not cover snow or extreme temperature, neither do they allow for fog/mist (except by implication). Oh – and wind isn’t covered either. In fact, I’m becoming increasingly ashamed of the whole thing as I write.
So this is just an outline – food for thought, if you like. If you find the ideas interesting, I’m confident you can easily improve on what I do, or produce something more suitable for your own games. My weather rules are very much based in the scale and style of games I fight. For example, my main Napoleonic rules have 30-minute bounds and 200-pace hexes, and do not allow for formed musket volley fire – musketry is included in close combat, and the effect of weather on the combat rules reflects this. My MEP Grand Tactical variant will use the same set-up in its automated form, with some adjustment for the 1-hour bounds, the halved ground-scale and the simplified combat rules.
Although the implementation of these rules is on a computer, I shall attempt to illustrate them in the form of dice-throws.
My starting point is a simple, linear, numerical barometer which I think I originally adopted from Charlie Wesencraft (or it might have been Featherstone) about 40 years ago. You can use a cardboard track, or a homemade numbered pegboard – whatever you like. You start with a 2D6 throw to set the weather indicator (wr) – the detail of all this is set out in the attached note – 2 means that it’s fine, 12 that it’s bucketing down with rain.
There are 4 indicators, Weather, Visibility, Mud and Dampness. You’ll need to keep track of the time of day, and determine (at the outset) the official time of dusk, and you’ll need a pair of weather dice – just normal 6-sided dice, but different colours. I use a white one and a black – where necessary, the white counts as +ve and the black as –ve – in all that follows, w is the white dice score, and b the black one. At the end of each bound, roll the 2 weather dice once and adjust the indicators (note this is just a single roll of the 2 dice - eveything can be worked out from this one roll):
Weather (wr), which is the main sliding barometer – this is set initially by rolling the weather dice and adding them together (w + b) – thereafter it is moved up and down each bound – increase by 1 if w > b, decrease by 1 if w < b. If w = b then it stays the same.
Visibility (visi), is the number of hexagons at which units may be seen on the tabletop, and thus the limit of artillery fire. The distance at which Blinds may be spotted, and it which generals may influence the conduct and discipline of their troops is also limited by small values of visi. visi is calculated as (12 – wr), tweaked for the onset of dusk and given a minimum value of 1.
Mud (mud), which is another sliding scale, is initially set equal to b, and its subsequent change is driven by the current value of wr and the value of (w + b) each bound – progressively higher values of mud will limit artillery “bounce-through” for deep targets, prevent the use of movement bonuses, reduce movement rates for all troops, and ultimately prevent all movement of artillery and vehicles.
Dampness (damp) , is initially set to w, and subsequently changes in a manner very similar to mud. damp is a measure of the effect of wet weather on powder-dependent troops. At high values, it stops skirmish fire, reduces the combat effectiveness of infantry and, ultimately, also limits the effects of artillery fire.
At the outset, the start time is set, and the time of dusk (from a scenario, or whatever), and the initial values of wr, visi, mud and damp are set, as described. . If they agree to do so, the generals may request a re-throw, but they may only do this twice – after 2 recalculations they must accept the conditions as given.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
First, some pictures. The dress uniforms of the two regiments of chevauxlegers were in the style of French chasseurs, but white with coloured facings and piping. This proved to be an impractical choice - the white garments became very shabby on campaign, and supplies of white cloth were so limited that there are descriptions of the cavalry troopers of the Brigade Rugeois wearing grey or brown, and there is some evidence that they were supplied with French-issue green uniforms.
Next we have our artist's interpretation of the regulations for the infantry standards. They are known to have been 140cm square, unfringed, and carried on a blackened pole with a gilt spear-head finial. No examples or contemporary illustrations exist, though there is a description of what appears to have been the colour of the Von Grimmen battalion, hanging in the cathedral at Huesca in 1882.
From the top, these are the colours of the Grenadiers Zum Alten Greif (bearing the arms of Stralsund), the 1st and 2nd Infantry Battalions (bearing, respectively, the arms of the Podebusk Princes of Rügen and of the house of Von Grimmen) and the Jaegers (bearing the Pommerngreif, the traditional griffin of Pommerania).
Continuing the history of the units of Rugeois in the service of the French Emperor.
The unit of Grenadiers served as the Stralsund garrison - their role was to show the flag at parades, underlining the status of Herzog Friedrich and generally acting as town guard. The rest of the army was distributed in small detachments around the convoluted coast of Rügen itself and the towns on the Baltic shore, their main duty being to discourage British trade, which was still carried on, in total defiance of the Continental System. The problem seems to have been heightened by the fact that an estimated one-third of the population made their living, directly or indirectly, through this illegal commerce. The Duke's Army were almost entirely ineffective in their efforts to interfere, not least because of the very high degree of corruption and bribery which persisted in the Army. Jacques Lazare, who succeeded Molitor as French ambassador to the Duke, is on record as saying, "it is hard to stop this infernal business when the authorities and the army are making more money from it than the smugglers".
In an attempt to make a high-profile example, Major Ernst Arschkratzer of the Grenadiers was sentenced to a public flogging in Stralsund's Fischmarkt in November 1808, but he was pardoned by the Duchess before the punishment could be carried out. The real low point came during Ferdinand von Schill's brief adventure in Vorpommern - he and his German partisan "Freikorps" picked the Duchy as an obvious easy option when they required to seize a port on the Baltic. Von Schill's troops were defeated at the so-called Battle of Stralsund in May 1809, and Von Schill himself was killed. It is noticeable that the "French" forces which beat him were Danes, Dutch (2nd, 5th, 6th & 9th Dutch Line Regts, 2nd Cuirassiers, some artillery) and a small number of French regulars - the Duchy's own soldiers were conspicuously absent. Further, Mattaeus Hoffnunglos, colonel-in-second of the Infanteriebataillon Graf von Grimmen, was imprisoned for publishing a pamphlet which claimed that it was "unethical and unnatural" for the Vorpommern troops to be ordered to fire on their German brothers.
The enthusiasm for Napoleon had already largely vanished - desertion and corruption continued unabated and there were frequent confrontations between local troops and French officials and citizens in Stralsund and elsewhere. Napoleon ordered the worst of the officers to be replaced - largely with Frenchmen and Hanoverians - and the whole force was sent to Northern Spain in October 1809 to form part of the counter-insurgency force. In fact they performed passably well, probably because of the iron will of Marshal Suchet, and because desertion meant almost certain torture and a slow death at the hands of the guerillas. When the best of the French allies were being sent home from Spain for the Russian campaign in the Winter of 1811-12, the Rugeois were not even considered.
After Napoleon's failure in Russia, Vorpommern returned to its former situation - the people had their own traditions - they had largely ignored the Swedes when they were in power, now they ignored the elderly Duke and his French supporters. The survivors of the forces of the Duchy were marched back from Spain into France - just 87 of them arrived back home - though the probable truth is that many more got back home but went into hiding to escape military service. There was a brief, and chaotic, period of French military occupation, then the Duchy was abandoned, and withdrew from the Confederation of the Rhine - the old patriarch went back to being the Herr von Putbus, and to his hobby of sailing hand-carved model boats on his pond at Quitzin. The Swedes returned briefly, and arranged a swap with the Danes - they traded Vorpommern for Norway. Then in 1814 the Congress of Vienna presented the whole area to Prussia, which is probably where it should have been all along.
In the University at Greifswald, among other material of interest, there is a manuscript memoir of a sergeant in the Prussian Army who fought at Ligny and Wavre in 1815, who was a native of Franzburg and had previously served in Spain with the Jaegerbataillon – I am trying to arrange to get a competent translation made available.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Hence the drop-off in the blogging activity. I have, however, managed to spend a little time putting the MEP Grand Tactical rules onto the computer, and things are progressing well - I hope to have everything up and running in a week or so.
I've also been refining the set-up and scenario for my proposed Salamanca battle. I'm still not sure whether I just try to act out the actual events, or (more likely) set it up at a point in time and then let the game rules rip, and see where I get to. My intention is to start the action at about 1pm, as the French left flank is becoming over-extended and just after Marmont has been carted off, wounded, and replaced by Clauzel.
To set the context and check details I have a full set of Oman's history available, and various other useful works, but have had an absolutely wonderful time re-reading Rory Muir's book. Just great. He dissects the battle into its principal actions, and at the end of each chapter there is a commentary section which discusses the inconsistencies between the various sources and tries to resolve areas of doubt - in many instances this is at least as fascinating as the account of the fighting. Yes, this is a well-known book, but I thought I would record my appreciation, and recommend it most highly to anyone who has not read it.
So here is my (tweaked) Order of Battle, as printed out by my computer program.
The figures are EL: Elements (750 inf, 500 cav, 1 battery), QB: Quality Bonus, SK: Skirmish capability. The numbers in square brackets are the identifiers for the computer.
I have followed what I believe to be current thinking on the French organisation: Barbot stands in for Clauzel, Col Loverdo for Barbot, Taupin is in charge of Brennier's Divn, Thomieres in charge of Souham's; the cavalry brigadier Carrie de Boissy is absent, since he had been wounded and captured 4 days earlier. Senior colonels command brigades wherever appropriate.
On the Allied side, I've excluded the Spanish lancers (because it's a small force, and I'm not sure where if at all they were engaged), and I've put all the Spanish infantry into a single brigade, just to make it large enough to be useful.
Throughout, units which are known to have been absent or posted off the field are omitted, and the listing of battalions and cavalry regiments is fudged a bit to balance the total numbers against the historical OOBs. If your favourite regiment has disappeared then I apologise - I too was disappointed that my newly painted Regiment de Prusse was excluded by the rounding rules!
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
That's when you start refining your armies to make them "nicer", or nearer to your personal (current?) idea of perfection. In my case, this follows an extended period during which I was so desperate for more and more troops that I would have kept both the new and the old versions of a unit, just to get the numbers up.
This is the second time I've replaced the Brunswickers, which is getting a bit serious, I guess. My original battalion was all Minifigs - the officer and drummer were s-range (and were really very nice), but the rank and file were the later, bigger Minifigs - as wide as they were high - and they were pretty awful. No - I didn't mean to express it like that - what I mean is they were a poor match for the rest of my armies. Anyway, I lived with them in that state until a few years ago, when I set about getting rid of all the overscale Minifig "chunkies", and I replaced them with castings from the current Kennington range.
The Kenningtons were fine - much more like the thing - but they were, strictly speaking, the Leibregiment from Waterloo. Now I think this uniform is probably pretty authentically what the Brunswickers wore in the last year of the Peninsular War, but I really wanted to try to get some figures in the earlier uniform with the longer polrock coat.
I'm delighted to say that I managed to buy some suitable vintage figures on eBay a week or two ago, and Clive (once again) very kindly helped out with some matching skirmishers, and here they are, based in my normal light infantry style, with two half-subunits of skirmishers and two close-order subunits to act as supports. They seem to me to be some sort of early Minifigs, though the small bayonets are clearly not s-range (I have some s-range Brunswickers, and the figures are similar but distinctly different). If anyone knows what they are, please shout. The officer may well be s-range - not sure. Alas, I did not get a replacement drummer to complete the unit, so I still have my Kennington drummer. If anyone has a spare s-range Brunswick drummer (BrN 6s?), please get in touch - I'll be very interested!
Monday, 6 December 2010
A good friend has suggested that there is a certain irony in my posting a rant about over-communication, when my blog itself may offer a shining example of exactly that kind of superfluous blether. Further, he suggested that it might be a good strategy to reduce the output a little, in the interests of boosting the average quality of said output.
I value his feedback, as they used to say on management training courses. Undoubtedly he has a point, and I did think seriously about it for several seconds. On balance, however, I will stick with the old market-stall line, “Never mind the quality, feel the width!”.
Firstly, I am touched but faintly surprised to think that anyone would approach this blog with any expectation of quality. There is a lot of real knowledge out there on the Internet, and a lot of expertise which I have never felt qualified to add to in any serious way.
Secondly, there is a monstrous non sequitur in the assumption that a reduction of volume would in any way influence the value of the content. Let’s face it, it behoves the terminally verbose to see ourselves as we really are, and I freely admit that my need to press the PUBLISH button from time to time has nothing to do with strategy – it just feels appropriate at the time (though, as in other areas of my life, I sometimes wonder about it after the event).
I’ll persist with the same old approach – if someone finds at least some of this stuff worthwhile, then I am very pleased. If not? – well I guess I’ll just keep churning it out anyway – at least for a while!
So – today’s pointless ramble will be about GMT’s game Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, which has finally been released. This comes under the general heading of old news, probably, but there are a good many people very excited about this, and I include myself. I have previously identified the application of this new boardgame to miniatures battles as potentially a very important step in breaking down the traditional Napoleonic boardgamers vs toy soldiers divide (which is both sad and obstructive), and towards establishing a middle ground which embraces the best features of both worlds.
I already have a passing familiarity with the Commands & Colors: Ancients game and its expansion sets, and have read a fair amount about Battle Cry and other games authored by Richard Borg. My interest in the new game is not so that it may replace any of my existing games (although, of course, it might). At present I am aware of the lack in the GMT game of a few things I like to see on the tabletop – skirmishing being one – and I would like to know more about the implied scalability (to grand strategy level) which is hinted at in the rules.
However, having read what has been published to date, I realised that I had to give this a trial. I went through all sorts of stupid fantasies about contacting GMT to see if they would sell me just the Command cards and the bits for making up the battle dice, but realised that they would probably just tell me to go and play with my soldiers. After some fairly alarming ideas about producing a mock-up of the game – some of which would entail more cost and inconvenience than simply ordering the complete product from GMT – I eventually saw sense and placed my order like a good chap. I don’t know when it will actually arrive, and I promise not to say too much about it until I have something to say, but I am – how shall I put it? – cautiously expectant.
Saturday, 4 December 2010
Majority of the figures are Les Higgins, one of the foot officers is a 20mm Garrison casting, and the mounted officer is PMD, though I put him on a rather passive Falcata horse to give suitably non-reg campaign appearance and to avoid having the rather silly Higgins horse galloping alongside marching troops. The drummer is a 1/72 Strelets plastic, and I'm not awfully happy with him, but there isn't much else available.
Anyway, I'm very pleased with the unit - thanks very much to Iain for most of the Higginses, and to Clive for help with the command figures. I fear these chaps have a fairly humble career coming up - they seem like ideal garrison troops for a fortress or maybe a hostile village. Higgins put epaulettes on the advancing dragoon figure, though not on the "at the ready" one, and thus I have a very high proportion of guys here in elite company uniform. Accordingly, they are a provisional bataillon de marche, from the 19e and 23e regiments, who seem to have sent all their best men!