EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, January 16, 2017

Being flexible (updated)

Well the day has come and gone and I enjoyed myself, hopefully the players did too. It was certainly a close game for most of the more than two hours.

**Update. For the Hun's POV and a more detailed report of the game with more (and better) pictures, check out Jeff's Armchair Commander blog
Ping Pong table? Ohhhhhkay, I can stretch the terrain a bit.....

Even the smallest event can remind us of the potential need to react to the unforseen (ie friction). In this case I missed a passing reference to a ping-pong table in a day-before-email on start times.  I was expecting something like a 5x6 playing area.

Now, I could have just declared that we were only playing on 1/2 the table but I hate to surrender playing area without a struggle so I rearranged things a bit and stretched terrain out while berating myself for not extending the roads to the edge of the cloth as originally planned and for deciding not to bother bringing extra wall sections, trees etc. Aw well, one has to adapt, be flexible and make do as best as one can.

Told you we'd be safe from the horse archers in these woods. Enemy Light Infantry? Where?

The rules are still in development so I was especially glad to get in an actual test game with actual players before heading to Huzzah in May.

Over all they worked as intended but it was soon clear that I had forgotten to actually write down a couple of little things, relying on my own habits, and that there were, as usual, some different ways of doing certain things that I hadn't considered. I need to add the accidental omissions but also need to decide how picky I want to be. Do I need to be more explicit about manouver options, tweak the rules to be clearer and simpler (one man's simple is another man's puzzle) or just not worry about it. All this quick play, gridded stuff has made me more forgiving  but some contemplation is required.

I also need better a QRS which is going to require me to master the Android tools at my disposal. What would really help are unit stats on the back of the bases, I nearly got that done..........

All of the beef, mutton and flour were captured during the last couple of turns  but the Beer cart made it to the Fort which tried to declare a draw if not an outright win due to cargo value.

So much for the game, time to get back to Toy Soldiers with rifles.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Too Busy To Blog

I've had various topics to blog about this week, including a new Prince of Valdur adventure, but apart from the usual extra Winter type chores and the following recovery periods, I've been too busy.
The Centurions have been busy.

On Saturday I'll be running a Miniature Wargame at a multi-genre games day event. Not just a public venue but the first game that I've run for the guys from the valley who I've started gaming with a couple of times a year (except Jeff who I've gamed with for a decade) .  It doesn't need to be spectacular but it would be good if it was fun and doesn't embarass me by being too shoddy.

The chosen scenario is a minor variation of the venerable Wagon Train from Grant's Scenarios for Wargames, an old chestnut that rarely fails in any period. My choice of toys and rules was to make it the first public outing for both my new increased 'horde' of Elastolin Huns and Romans and my Gathering of Hosts rules. The trick was that neither were ready!

Between Dithering and Distractions, the refurbishing and integration of my new and old Elastolin hosts, which I had expected to have finished last fall, hadn't really begun. Taken slowly and done with loving care, this was a project that I could have dragged out and enjoyed for a decade or more, if that was my nature, but as it turns out, using my new 'wait, wait.....GO GO GO", impetuous, slapdash approach allowed me to make a final decision on permanent unit stands vs temporary units using individuals on magnetic movement trays, and get about 40 useable units based and refurbished in a week. In other words over half  of the figure pool and sufficient for the day.

The armies are a hodgepodge of original, repainted, partially repainted, converted and done from kits and I love 'em all.

I also managed to implement an idea I stole from Jeff ( Armchair Commander blog) a nail stuck in the base to hold my casualty rings.

A new armoured Hun, converted from a knight. Note post and red ring.

The basic idea and form of the rules was fairly set but some the exact details were swinging back and forth. Confirmation to a pattern vied with the attraction of strong differences and distinct characteristics for various troop types.

Then the whole thing nearly got ambushed and upset by an urge to go with 2 stand units on a 6" grid. A good idea on its own possibly but the associated Rough Wooing is a joint, nongridded, 1 stand is a unit, project and by covering the gridded table and playing a game I banished the deviant thought.

The quickly improvised test game. Not all the troops had been refurbished yet but I enjoyed myself.

Just player QR sheets to do including unit stats, combat modifiers etc and a mere handful of individuals needing a few more touch ups and I'll be ready to go.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Is Smaller Really Bigger?

Change can be hard. New ideas, even attractive, effective ones, often clash with accepted values. A browse through past blog posts reflects this as I have shifted from the expectations and norms of decades of accepting that more of everything was best.  A quarter of a century ago I wanted a big table with lots of beautiful terrain and many, many beautifully painted and animated model soldiers organized into many units of at least a score of figures and games that lasted for hours. Those are all still worthwhile goals and I applaud those who seek and especially those who reach these goals. However, these days my aspirations and tastes have changed and I am most often found enjoying much smaller, simpler games with toy soldiers with an ideal game lasting two hours or so, maybe three with a challenging opponent.

There are many reasons behind this change but they are perhaps less significant than the observation that after 45 years of gaming, the big, beautiful games are remembered largely as enjoyable social events while most of my favourite gaming memories are of quite small, simple games.

So with this in mind, I'll turn to the matter in hand.

One of the reasons for enlarging the size of my grid squares was to make it easier to accommodate 40mm figure compatible terrain features but another was to allow me to use larger units for the look of the thing. As I went to lay out my 1812 figures for that last game of 2016 it occurred to me that I only had 7 units per side and that the game made no allowance for 2 stand units, they were treated just the same as one stand units just visually more attractive.

Instantly I felt an urge to add something, formations definitely, and preferably combat dice and attrition by stand as in the old Hearts of Tin. Something to make having two stands different and better than one. I also felt apprehension that the game would be too short if I didn't make changes. Lacking time to properly think out and test some rule changes I considered using the same number of stands but treating each as a unit and treating each 3"x3"  quadrant as a square, something I have done before to make the table "larger" and to double the size of the armies.  Again though this would be an impromptu change which might or might not work. It would at the least almost certainly make for a longer game but by the time we sat down the day was passing rapidly, and I opted to go with what I was confident of, which is to say the standard Square Brigadier with one square = one unit regardless of how it is represented and I enjoyed the resulting game with seven units per side even if it did only last an hour .

The next day however, I reset the table to try the one stand is a unit on a 3" grid version with no rule changes.      

The one stand is a unit in a 3" square version..
The result was a two hour game with fourteen units per side which was OK but which looked more like the dog's breakfast than battle lines. It lacked the tension and excitement of the first game since the loss of any one unit was not significant given the ample reserves. What did change was that the terrain shrank. For example, the riflemen in the farm had no significant reach and their stronghold was now easily bypassed making it irrelevant. This was not necessarily good or bad, just different but it would have to be considered when designing scenarios. More importantly is that the rules were still treating each unit as a small battalion but they didn't look like it and what was supposed to be not much more than a skirmish between brigades became bigger than most War of 1812 battles. That wasn't the intent.

My conclusion was that the one stand per grid on a 3" grid would only work for me for me if I changed the scale, doubling ranges and so on. To get the right sort of look I would need to go back and try again to add an effective group rule with group sub-commanders and rules to encourage battle lines and so on. I would also have to revisit ways to make very small but practical and effective terrain for 40mm figures. But would it be worth it?  Probably not, I've tried that path before and failed, more than once. In any case, I  rather like the look of the two stand units on the 6" grid.  Some rules for columns and lines would not be amiss though.  I have considered allowing the two stand units to roll more dice and take more hits but the main effect apart from lengthening the game appears to be shifting the game towards average results resulting in slow, indecisive, less exciting victory by attrition.

The Dec 30th game with each unit occupying a 6" square.
I turned my mind from rules to the best use of existing figures for Atlantica as well as the War of 1812 and a look at what would be easily possible.  The various line infantry units were largely raised as 18 or 24 figure battalions. I have managed to squeeze 8 figures onto temporary 60mm x 60mm stands but not only do many look a little crowded for toy soldiers but its not  a great match for the existing units. Most of my other horse and musket/rifle armies are moving towards 3 figures on a 60mm width and this seems like a good choice here giving me 12 figure line battalions, 6 light infantry or cavalry. This looks pretty small now but my early 15mm armies were organized in 12 man battalions for the WRG 1685 to 1845 rules so its not new.  With the addition of a few more flags and drummers, maybe a few more privates here and there, I will easily be able to field a dozen units per side, all arms included. Enough to fill the table and remove the need to make units more resilient.

The estimated length of a game will again be able to be gauged by the size and complexity of scenario chosen without any need for rules to give each unit greater longevity. My existing terrain will fit as planned on the 6" grid and I will still be able to use the same armies on the portable board by using only one stand per unit without anything changing but the look of the thing.

Sounds like a plan.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Eternal Optimism or Planning 2017

The last 10 years have seen wave after wave of changes and challenges in my life, something inevitably reflected in the turbulent state of my hobby. It feels a little strange then to look back on 2016 as a year of little change in my life, a year which has seen various lengthy internal hobby debates finally reach conclusions which feel  natural and tested rather than arbitrary or dogmatic.

Could this be the year when my plans relate meaningfully to what I actually do? Maybe, where's Lucy with the football?

2017 Fort Belmont Wargaming Plans

1. Gathering of Hosts. 40mm "Shock Era". This is technically my oldest active wargaming collection since it incorporates a few figures that I first played with when I was 5 (an I ain't talkin' replicas). Part of it is essentially duplicated in 25mm including my first 25mm wargame figures but when I was fortunate enough to be offered a  collection of Elastolins that would double what I had, I decided to archive the 25's and base and organize all of the 40's into one compatible unit pool for three overlapping settings: a Prince Valiant inspired Fall of Rome setting, an historical 16thC setting and a medieval-fantasy setting which will incorporate some of the barbarian types and Huns from Prince Valiant, some of the late medieval knights, archers and pikemen from the 16thC and various other medieval and fantasy elements. Look for a series of early Medieval (5thC)  games this winter followed by 16thC ones leading up to a proposed appearance at Huzzah and then, hopefully, a medieval/fantasy campaign over the summer and fall.

2. Not Quite the Seven Years War in America. (NQSYWA).  40mm Semi-flat. This is a sort of extension to the existing Charge! & Prince August Semiflats collection. Making two incompatible collections of Seven Years War semi-flat figures just didn't make sense so I will use the new moulds to paint up some new Charge! compatible units on magnetic movement trays. There might or might not be some small games later this year but the focus this year will be on painting more French troops and then my first British units once those moulds are released.

3. War of 1812-1842.  40mm Square Brigadier. This is a catch all for historical and non-historical early 19thC figures. The goal for this year is to field two opposing War of 1812 armies, all flocked etc and organized as 2 stand for the 6" grid (1 stand units if using the portable board). This may then expand later to revive the earlier Atlantican colonial campaigns.

4.  ACW. 1/72 mostly Airfix. My existing 1/72nd mostly Airfix collection will continue to see some service this year but first there is terrain awaiting paint and a decision to be made on the level of game to be played and a bespoke ACW version of which ever of my existing rules that I decide to use.  The plan is to get some fences etc done before the next game but sometimes these guys seem to just pop out of the box and on to the table when they feel like it.

5. North West Campaign 54mm Toy Soldiers. This is the last home of my 54mm toy soldiers, a mix of vintage Britain's and homecast figures plus a few strays. I'm not sure exactly where its going but I'm sure it will continue to grow and see action on the table.

6. The Great Atlantican War  Shiny 40 mm  toy soldiers. This is the great early 20th Century war waged by toy soldiers in my fictional land of Atlantica. I want to get this on the table more often and maybe even manage some mini-campaigns but first I need to do some work on organization and presentation. This probably won't get far until after Huzzah in May but I'll be very disappointed if I don't get my act together on this in 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Last Bridge

I do like to end the blogging year with a game. The last game so far has been solo but by happy a chance I received a call from my friend Bruce who was home from Alberta visiting family. So today after several hours of chatting around the kitchen table I dragged him upstairs where I had a game laid out. Since the masking tape road and river for Blastoff Bridge was still on the table, I had hastily reset the rest of the terrain and laid out my War of 1812 armies for a Square Brigadier game, the first non-solo SB game I have played.

The British line under fire early on.
I had recently completed marking the middle of the 6" squares to allow them to be used as 3" squares figuring that this would allow me to use more units and give more maneuver room. By the time we finally got to it the afternoon was waning and it seemed to me that a game with 14 units aside  would take too long so I reverted to the 6" squares and just made all units 2 stands strong for looks only. It turned out to be a good decision.    I think it looked better and moved quickly with lots of decisive action and only a few lulls for manoeuvre and redeployment.  
The armies march on. The end of turn 2
Each side had 7 units and 2 commanders. The British had a battery, 2 light infantry and 4 infantry. The Americans had a battery, a squadron of Dragoons, 1 unit of Riflemen and 4 infantry. The US had the mission of destroying the bridge.  Bruce chose the Americans, largely I think because he was already sitting there while we chatted about wargaming and mutual friends. The first side to lose 4 units would lose otherwise victory was decided on whether the US could blow the bridge or at least hold one end at the end of the game.
Bruce in action.
I sent two units across the river to attack the farm while the rest marched forward with all speed and deployed to attack the bridge. Bruce quickly moved to occupy the farm, sending 1 lone unit across the river as a vague threat and massed the rest of his army around the farm and bridge.
Firing breaks out. Note the sneaky NY Dragoons lurking behind the farm. In a few turns they would sneak down the table edge and then take advantage of a flip in initiative to make a double move and charge into the rear of my British infantry before they could react.
 The firing was soon hot and having lost a brigadier while trying to steady the troops my infantry was driven back. Bruce decided to send his cavalry around my flank and with a sudden flip of initiative he was able to charge into my flank before I could rally and face him. He then proceeded to roll up and wipe out the 104th. My light infantry were caught in a pincer between a charge by the Lafeyette Volunteers and the pursuing Dragoons behind them. Having already taken losses from the riflemen they were easily over run. I was now 1/2 way to my break point and out of position.

Firefight across the river.
 In the centre a fierce firefight raged for several turns before I managed to silence his battery and drive his infantry back. I felt uneasy at doing it but crossed over my infantry and started moving up supports. A possibly rash charge by the now tired Dragoons ended with the loss of the Dragoons and their accompanying Brigadier. A chance card now allowed me to shake loose his reserve infantry unit threatening my flank. I was hoping it would retreat but rolled an unordered advance to the middle of no where. I expanded the bridgehead, opened with cannister on the stray infantry unit and was starting to relax when another initiative flip resulted in a sudden resurgence of Blue infantry. Swinging his unit around to fire across the river into my flank he attacked from two sides and destroyed my Glengarry Light Infantry. I was now down 3 units against his 2 losses. Cannister drove one American unit back and some unusually effective musketry routed another battered regiment and shot down his Brigadier. The game turned on a thread, next loss to either side would end the game otherwise the end was 5 turns away. and I no longer held both sides of the bridge. The next turn was indecisive but at last I sent in the Fusiliers supported by the 89th. Either or both sides could lose but the Fusiliers came through for me.
Mid game, the British have lost more units and leaders but the remaining American units are in worse shape.
All is yet to be lost or won.
Here ends the year.   A look ahead will be next.