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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Less is More and Bigger is Better

Don't you hate it when clichés apply?

But before I begin, thank you all for the various book suggestions but a special thank you to Mad Padre Mike for suggesting Walter Bloem's The Advance from Mons 1914. This is my favorite sort of military history, an eye witness account by an observent, thinking  person who knows his business and knows how to write.  In this case he uses his skill as a prize winning novelist and playwright to give a real sense of the emotions and motivations of men as well as relating the what and how. At least one of his prewar Franco Prussian War novels was translated into English but it looks like it will take more than a casual search to turn up a copy. I suspect his post war politics may have discouraged interest in his work but I have nothing but praise for this book which repeatedly distracted me from work and play alike from downloading to completion.  Highly recommended.

Other books downloaded and scanned/ spot read but not yet studied are a battlefield guide to Mons with some very detailed maps and  Spencer Jones book on the development of British tactics.

After reading Jones' chapter on infantry tactics, about 1/2 of the battlefield guide and Bloem's book I'm feeling much more comfortable about my understanding of the battlefield and tactical aspects of the early war, which is to say everything so far has confirmed and backed up what I already thought. I've also realized that I've read more than I remembered as  various snippets of books read long ago resurfaced to my consciousness.

The new Brigade General steps down from his captured Renault to address the Hussars who have escorted him here. At the same time he looks around  and contemplates how crowded his units are.

Unfortunately, all this has confirmed my initial impression that I need to make some adjustments on the tabletop.  I had been planning to work up to a Brigade attack on a grid of 15 x 18 squares, say 100 figures vs 50. Sitting down to cross reference rules with table I find that that as it stands the table would represent an area of 4-5 km wide by 3-4 km deep. OK for a brigade in the 2nd part of the Boer War but a suitable front for a divisional attack in 1914 or the first part of the Boer War.

To resolve this, there were 3 main options: increase the scope of the game to a Divisional action, change the scale to 100 yds per square making units into sections or platoons, or use fewer grid squares.

If I had gone with my initial impulse to make use of the many excellent 1/72 figures now available, both of the 1st two options would have been attractive. The 2nd option being ripe for a conventional wargame with 100's of figures on modular model railroad terrain. But I didn't take that route which is lucky for me because I hate doing model terrain and the approach has already been done by many, most of whom have done a better job than I would. Either option would work with my 40's so the deciding factor was that I don't really want to paint double or triple the numbers of the same figures or play longer games. I'd rather branch out into other campaigns and armies.

So that left a reduction of the number of grid squares either by using bigger squares or by playing on one corner of the board. It seems a bit odd to plan to use only about 1/3 of the table for 90% of games but it would leave my options open.

There is another issue to look at though, the look of the thing. Put simply, 4" squares are a tight squeeze for 40mm figures, especially when terrain is added although this could be eased by using semiflat trees and houses like the ruined corners that came with my Marx Over The Top mini-playset (or as featured on the Major General's site). Its next to impossible though to fit a limber in a 4" square even if using 2 squares per limbered battery or to fit my boats or most of my houses. Last night I broke out some of the various scraps of gridded cloth table mats  from my experiments over the last 4 years. This allowed me to compare the fit of troops and terrrain on 4", 5" and 6" squares. In the end the best one was the one I did for my first go at Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame in 2011. This was a cloth with 6" squares marked by solid lines but subdivided by a central cross into 3" square which could be used or ignored. Ding!

Much better. Does it come full size? In green? 

If I applied this pattern, I could take my 1/72nd troops from their 10x12 grid to a 20x24 grid of 3" squares for an occasional big battle or use my 40's on a 10x12 grid of 6" squares which fit them comfortably. I could also share terrain items across tables. Since tabletop teasers have been shown to adapt well to a 10x12 grid, translated scenarios map could be used for either the portable or the permanent table. The 10 x 12 grid would also be about right for a Brigade attack in 1914.

Thinking back to the pair of old books that I have turned to since I could first read, one was on the Boer War but the other was on the Great War. I've have been expecting for years to have to eventually put the Boer War on the table but I may just have been ambushed by the Great War while I wasn't looking. I wonder how my little toy train would look full of Turks, rolling across a desert?

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.