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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

For King and Country

War is a horrible thing really, full of suffering, death and destruction. Every once in a while I forget briefly why we've decided that its an ok subject for games. However, I don't feel like writing about it tonight so instead I'll share some thoughts on what I'll be doing with my new shiny toys.

Zinnbrigade Homecast Uhlans converted from parade to service dress. (I found a short memoir by an English nurse in Belgium in 1914 which includes mention of the Prussian Uhlans riding into town with the pennants on their lances, so, I'm good on that score) .  I haven't decided yet if I'm going to try to integrate the washers with the figures' bases but in the meantime they're stable.

On the weekend I tried a version of the Square Brigadier using the Battlecry dice and my Nine Years War figures. The result was ok, a bit Boer War-ish wih added colour,  but once over, it sent me digging into my handful of WWI books and the web. This led me to 2 main conclusions:

  • I need more books! Especially about the nuts and bolts of tactics at the company & battalion level in early 1914 and about the functioning of brigades. Most of the dozen or more books I've read over the years were largely collections of individual memories and letters, books on specific campaigns or high level overviews and summaries, and mostly on the Canadians or on non-Western Front campaigns. 
  • A game at the brigade level of command, let alone higher, is likely to be one or more of tedious or large or quite abstract. (In case you're wondering, I've dismissed any idea of a game at lower levels because I want some level of General with authority to plan and a mix of units.)

Since I don't want to have to paint lots of figures before starting this venture  and don't want to track status on units or be making constant rolls to pin and rally while also tracking casualties, I'm looking at abstraction and compromise. 

The Nine Years War continues as the bigger table and revised rules are tested.

For example, I was originally looking at each 4 figure unit as a company for my WWI game. If I really want it to be a company it should be able to take multiple hits, be pinned or forced back and yet keep fighting, possibly all day. Making 3 or 4 stands a company would make that easier but then I'd need 3-4 times the troops and more space. If instead I just call 3 or 4 stands a battalion and don't worry about lower details then as long as 1 stand still has a figure left, the battalion is still in action and so on.

Another matter to consider is the grid size. My table expansion has given me a grid two and a quarter times the number of squares in my usual 120 square board. If I only field 12 to 20 stands then it will be a very empty field. The options are to increase force size, make the squares bigger or just use part of the board for some scenarios. For now the third option will do since it leaves the door open. Increased forces could be a possibility down the road, either more stands per battalion  or more battalions as would a change of scene to a less crowded area, the desert perhaps or East Africa? But that is getting ahead of ourselves. Brigade staff group next I think then gunners and jaegers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Uhlans in Waiting

After several days of getting bogged down in game design issues it was a relief to get back to work on figures today. While I have an old Almark by Nash on WWI German Infantry, I had to turn to an early Funcken for a peek at Uhlans. Since the Zinnbrigade molds are in 1900 parade gear, some minor modification was called for, even for toy soldiers. 

The first was easy enough, I chopped the falling horsehair plume  from the caps. I suspect they didn't carry pennants into the field in 1914 but I like lance pennants so I didn't even check. Various pictures indicate that they should have a slung carbine but while I have carbines I could glue on, I suspect they would be forever getting knocked off so I opted to leave them out. That left the horses which had no valise or saddlebags. I could have gotten away with it but even Britain's added saddle bags and valises to their Boer War British cavalry and besides, the riders fit more securely when tucked in. A few minutes with epoxy putty sufficed. 

Tonight I primed them, tomorrow I'll start painting.  I'll also get back to agonizing over how appropriate it would be to turn this into something akin to a parlour game as well as agonizing over what level of historical accuracy, detail and horror I wish to include.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Uh Oh, That was fun.

Well I may not enjoy or succeed well at carefully shaded, detailed painting anymore but new style faux glossy toy soldiers are still fun and they're fast. (Not necessarily a good thing, I am going to have to find room for a new shelf....)

I should probably explain the New Style. Put simply I like the look of the faux toy soldiers of the 1990's to the real thing of the 1890's. Figures by the like of Toy Army Workshop, Trophy, Imperial and Tradition (et al) are what really make me smile so without deliberate attempts to copy, that is the feel I go for these days.

Field Grey to use the English term is a tough colour for me. The last actual tunic I saw was in the War Museum 30 or 40 years ago and at the time it struck me as much a much more brownish or drab shade of grey green than I expected (certainly compared to my factory painted Marx figures) but I have no idea now if that was a real one or a reproduction and anyway was long ago and far away. Trying to mix a colour that at least looks like photos on the net is what is stumping me. I keep getting a shade that is too cool for my liking. It doesn't help that the mix dries to a slightly different shade.  However, after several tries I decided that having already all but  obliterated all the faint belts on the these figures that this would be good enough. At least I know what colours went into it. I'd have been happier with a 2 pot mixture since that is easier to replicate easily but so be it. Yesterday I re-discovered some Scruby Jaegers that will be added and they'll need to be greygreen not field grey anyway.

I had been leaning towards mounting the figures for this project on bases ala Morschauser for an nongridded game but after rereading some snippets of eye witness accounts it struck me that units seemed to fragment easily and things often got done by small parties working on their own and then there was that toy soldiery thing and my recent unorthadox experience (for me) of not having fixed units in my Privateer game and having that work well so I am leaning back towards a grid but possibly instead of fixed 4 man units, perhaps with 16 man battalions breaking down into groups of individuals as the battle goes on. Or not. In any case, I figured that as long as I was painting a number on the front of the helmet covers, I might as well use it to identify the 4 man company that they belong to rather than painting the same regimental number on 100 guys.

Anyway, now that they are varnished I'm happy with these guys, its just that, well, I was planning to paint shiny colourful figures this year but I have a feeling that shiny drab figures are going to be flooding my table. Look out Jacklex, when the 1st War is over, the Boer War might just have gotten bigger again!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

August 4th is Approaching, Mouldalization has Begun!

The "Great War" as it was once often called, was my grandfather's war. (And as John Hurt reminds us things can be terrible and still be great.) I am determined not to let the Centennial pass unremarked.  The first thing that came to mind was a landscaped table full of 100's of 1/72nd figures but then I blinked and came back to reality. A smaller 1/72nd Square Brigadier game  using Airfix WWI figures to celebrate their 50th  Anniversary seemed the best and most logical choice. So that was out.

I have mentioned before that going through the war did not take the shine off my grandfather's  Britain's toy soldiers so somehow that seemed to point to a way that is already before me, glossy homecast 40mm Toy Soldiers. It is perhaps a shame, or possibly given circumstances, lucky, that the Zinn Brigade figures are a smallish 40mm and not very comfortable when mixed with Irregular or Little Britons (update: having taken a few samples out of the cupboard the difference is less than I thought, more a matter of hat size than height) or even the old B and W ranges when one can lay hands on them but their 1900 Prussian molds make a good start for a toy German army for 1914. The perfectionist would modify them slightly but I'n going to use as many as possible straight out of the mold. The British will be more problematic and its not yet decided whether to do some new masters and make molds or just convert enough figures, one at a time.

The prototypes, hurried up in 2012 and waiting ever since.

The thought of a Little Wars or Captain Sach's game was appealing in a sentimental way but not realistic. Instead, I am going to go for something a little more New School with units of 4 infantry, 3 cavalry or 1 gun and crew, possibly on a base or on a grid. The initial scenario will be Hasty Blocking Position from Programmed Scenarios. The BEF will field 6 companies of infantry, an MG, a  battery and 2 Squadrons of cavalry. The Germans will attack with  8 infantry, 3 cavalry, an MG, and a battery. Add in an HQ for each side and I will need a total of 54 infantry, 15 cavalry, 2 MG with crew, 8 gunners, 2 guns and 6 staff figures. Well, I have 3 infantry done already....

The results of today's casting session. Looks pretty desperate for the BEF. Maybe I should deploy some zouaves?

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tiger by the Tail. An ACW affray.

Sunday's game was loosely based on an historical battle which you are welcome to guess.

The Reb have caught up with a Yankee rearguard of a 4 regiment brigade and 2 batteries. They launch an attack by  two brigades. Three average regiments supported by 5 elite ones and 3 batteries.

The attack took heavy casualties with little progress as did the original so like on the day I marched the Rebs by the flank to try to get inbetween the Yankees and their communications. Part way there it became obvious that there were more Yanks at hand.

This is one of those historicsl battles that sound like a made up wargame scenario. Part way along the ridge was a stone wall which the Rebs managed to deploy behind just before the Yankee counter attack hit.

The Yanks attacked in a most unlikely formation, brigade column of divisions, 2 companies wide, 5 regiments deep, 75 yds wide and 400 yds deep according to Wiki. (Breaking out a ruler my column was pretty close scalewise which shouldn't have been a surprise.)

The first assault on the wall was a bit of a fiasco on the tabletop as was the original. The second go was not much better but then it settled into a firefight. The Yanks made good use of their artillery superiority and brought up their first brigade to flank the rebs. The fighting in the woods was prolonged and bloody.  Eventually as casualties mounted, numbers told and the Rebs reached their 1/3 stands lost breakpoint and gave way. The Rebs had 3 fresh regiments in reserve while the Yankees had 5. Neither was committed but they were counted for the breakpoint which is what kept the Yanks going as they actually lost 1 stand more than the Rebs.

So how did the rules work?

For starters, throughout the game, following roughly the historical movements and attacks, I got roughly the right results including the end result. None of that was preordained though as I didn't fudge any of the dice throws and there were some things that could have gone differently.

The game lasted 17 turns each representing somewhere around 15 to 20 minutes. The historical battle lasted around 5 hours, so, close enough. (Only about 2 hours to play but that's ok).

Losses were 12 Reb stands (out of 36) and 13 Yankees (out of 48). Following the 50% guidelines and taking stands as roughly 150 men on average, thats 900 Reb and 1050 Yankees killed, wounded and missing, dropping to 750 for the Yanks in a day or so compared to 590 Yanks and 780 Rebs in the real action. So a little high but not bad.

But was it fun? Engaging, exciting? Simple, well paced?
Yes on all counts.
I'm not sure if I would have followed the same battle plan if I had a free hand but for a scenario for someone to play the victory conditions would have to include campaign aims in some fashion incuding the need to maintain one`s own force and compell the enemy to react and there would have to be misinformation about enemy strengths and location. Then, maybe.

But yes, all excited about the 1/72nd ACW again which hopefully will not distract me from the 40's. I had a few bad minutes pondering scales today but managed it to square it in my head and will stick with the 3"=100 yard.  The three most pressing things are to do some Division General stands and a Corps Comander stand, mark the regimental bases by brigade and regiment for easy sorting when tired, and do casualty markers. The caps work ok for hits but I would like some record for photos of where the action was hot and it occurred to me that if I had a pool of casualty figures that could be placed when a stand is removed, I could track Army Morale by issuing the correct number by brigade at the start and then when they are gone, they are gone and no need to keep counting stands which have been removed, just to be sure.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ready, Set.......

I have been beavering away at the draft of Hearts of Tin whenever I can spare a minute. At last I am ready again and have a new test game laid out. OK and 2 turns played.  I'll leave readers to guess the historical battle that the game is very (VERY) loosely based on as more pictures are published.

The opposing skirmish lines clash.
 Since even I am getting tired of the ever shifting nature of these rules, I am proceeding diligently. First I come up with clever new complicated ideas, update the draft in a hurry then remember the successful application of K.I.S.S. and go back and remove them substituting tried and true methods, sifted for consistency.

Four quick examples:

  • For some time now the Brigade Order rule was just that if a Brigadier was given an order, he could order any or all of his units within his command radius. (3 squares, 6", 12" etc.) I've gone back to that. This means that a typical Division commander will usually only need 3 or 4 orders per turn but every now and then he will only roll a 1 and it might not be enough or his division will be scattered and hard pressed and 5 or 6 wouldn't be too many.
  • During most of the last 10 years a group of units formed together into 1 line or column or square could be treated as 1 for movement whether using variable moves or order dice. I've gone back to that as well as a way of encouraging battle lines and keeping the Brigadiers command radius low.
  • By stopping the time line in the mid 1860's I have been able to sidestep the whole question of 1870's and later formations where all firing lines were heavy skirmish lines armed with breech loaders with integral supports a few hundred yards in the rear, under cover. That can be incorporated easily enough but the language and mechanisms to handle this plus varying earlier systems and differentiating them on table are not easy.  I'll leave the later stuff for the Square Brigadier. Not that earlier practices were uniform. Skirmish lines were sometimes provided by individual light companies without coordination, sometimes by whole units assigned to the task and sometimes by detached light companies being coordinated rather than acting independently. It seems that by the 1850's it was becoming more common to send out whole units unless just deploying a thin security line which can be safely ignored at this level. That's how I originally treated skirmishers, as separate units, and I am going back to it just because the hassle of writing a simple, effective rule to handle individual, uncoordinated  skirmisher stands acting as part of their parent unit is not worth the effort. So, in the picture above each brigade's skirmish line is one unit with bases spread out. Simple to handle regardless of the size of the game. In a low level skirmish, most units will be single stands anyway.
  • Lastly, when playing I get easily confused when there is a mish mash of modifiers, numbers of dice and special cases hidden in various places so I have focused on the other main approach that I have been using since last year with the Square Brigadier. A fixed 'to hit' score for all combat with the only modifier being the rolling unit's quality. All situation modifiers are done by adapting the number of dice per stand.

The game will continue on Sunday. Then I want to do some casting and painting. I have a toy soldier todo list longer than my arms which has been waiting for questions of time, place and organizaton to be settled.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Large and the Small of it

One of my main criteria for a set of rules for my glossy toy soldiers is the ability to handle every size and scope of game or scenario that I can envisage playing. HofT was not originally envisaged as being suitable for small war skirmishes and engagements but to my surprise during the 2009 scenario a week project, it served admirably. The games were short but fun and engaging.

The set up from behind Faraway Trading Company lines. The same set up was used in both games.
Obviously I also need to get back to finishing renovations and tidying.

Finding myself with an unexpected hour or so yesterday, I quickly set up a version of a scenario that was published in the Courier as part of the original With MacDuff to the Frontier rules. One side consists of 2 villages which contain an objective (arms, money, rebel leader etc) represented by Aces shuffled into a stack of cards, in  this case 13. Each turn a card is discarded. When the "Imperial" force captures a town, he gets all remaining cards. If he captures both aces, he wins. It is technically possible for the Imperial player to lose on the first turn but neither side knows till the end. The scenario can vary in length and number of units as desired but has equal forces with the attacker being regulars and the defender local irregulars, usually with inferior weapons though I appear to have ended up with well armed ones.

The forces chosen for this game were 6 units each of 1 stand and 1 commander per side. Two irregular light cavalry and 4 irregular light infantry on 1 side, 4 regular cavalry, 1 Horse Artillery rocket battery and 1 stand of regular rifle armed light infantry. (Note the habitual mismatch of terminology to rules, hence the need for the return of  specific army data sheets with unit characteristics.)

While I was pondering answers to questions and comments on the previous test game, I had 2 disturbing thoughts which joined some doubts that I had during the playtest but had not had a chance to thoroughly explore. The first was that things were starting to get too complicated and detail or process vs effect oriented again, the antithesus of what the rules were meant to be and of they way they have been whenever they have worked the best. The second was that the hit points were beginning to sound like DP or disorder/disruption points, a very credible and effective idea by Alan Callahan borrowed to good effect by Simon Macdowall and which I like in theory and hate in practice. (Partly for practical reasons and partly because they make the army commander responsible for the unit commander and sergeant major's jobs). Its been tried and rejected for HofT at least twice already. The other doubts had to do with abolishing the traditional HofT melee resolution, not for the first time, and the recurring doubt about absolute reductions for cover vs probability reductions already discussed a while back.

Despite all, I proceeded with the rules as written. To keep this post shortish, the first game was played through to a reasonable conclusion with a draw due to a final desperate charge, the only really aggressive or risky move of the game. Both sides played very defensively, stopping to rally every hit whenever possible. This was probably realistic but dull and it probably cost the Faraway commander his chance of a decisive win since by the time he made it to one village there were few cards left and no chance to take the 2nd one. The melees were, well, odd and unsastisfying. With so few dice and no possible result for cavalry other than rout by number of hits or draw, they were mostly stalemates or mutual annhilation. The larger game had had the same stalemate feel but due to numbers, no annhilations. Over all the command rules worked well except that with the sole commander being both Brigadier and General things got confusing and a bit wierd and it soon became evident that the letter of what was written was not what I had originally intended which was that a formed group of units should easier to control.

Overall it was a bare pass. I could use the rules to do this sort of game if I needed a resolution for a full campaign, but it wasn't sufficiently exciting or fun to be played for its own sake.

In a mad rush to get the last card 2 squadrons of Lancers storm the village which was hastily downgraded to broken ground when I realized that I don't yet have dismounted lancers

I reset and after some thought, fixed the very minor tweak to the Brigade order system since I was fiddling the ditched the whole shaken and rallying thing for the Nth time. Instead, stands come off as hits accumulate and units get weaker.  But I still wanted a brake on units and have long been trying to figure out out to come up with something like the rallying rules in Charge!.  So I did the previously unthought of and basically stole them except I just now realized that I missed the bit about a bigger penalty for losing. I'll fix that. At the same time I restored the usual win/lose melee rules (lacking the usual special cases which will need to be added back) and lastly, I had been trying to decide whether to use a shooting system based on the one in Square Brigadier or use the one I ended up trying which worked OK in most situations. Since I wasn't enthusiastic about it and was making changes anyway I decided to give the other system a chance. At this point my time was up but I overruled life and came back up after supper to play again, at least for a turn or two.

The Lancers seaarch the burning ruins of the farm while the rest of the force presses the remaining natives.

This time the pace was faster, things happened and the differences between troop types and tactical options seemed clearer. The regular cavalry soon became a serious threat but started to be worn down by a trickle of casualties, some gotten while winning melees, others from fire by infantry in cover while the cavalry was rallying. The rallying ate up time and made it tempting to use reserve squadrons to keep up the pace but hovering enemy made that seem rash. At last the irregulars were up against the edge of the table with only 1 hit remaining. In went the charge against enemy plus general and up they came with 3 x6's. OUCH!  Both sides wiped out. OH well, It was balanced by a sudden burst of accuracy by the rockets which cleared one village. Alas it was already emptied of all signs of wrong doing as was the other one by the time it was searched.  This had been been a fast paced and exciting game though. Now to try it with larger forces. Sunday is the target.