Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

It has now been over 20 years since I launched "With MacDuff On the Web" and nearly 10 years since I launched my 2 blogs: Gathering of Hosts and Battle game of the Month.

To celebrate the years and the friends and the million hits I've decided to run a 3 game mini-campaign in late October. By popular vot e it will be set in the mid 18th Century.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turning History into Fiction

Loyal Militia gather to defend Toronto. 54mm plastic & homecast metal conversions.

In this 2002 original shot they are on their Morschauser bases. Within a few years they reverted to single figures and are now in the process of being replaced by 40mm.

I've been remembering evenings after too long days of work, sitting with my cat in my lap, idly pushing unpainted figures about on my desk, trying out organizations, imagining conversion posibilities, new projects, uniform details....doing almost anything except paint the gorram things and get the projects on the table. So I guess I am another who has to be relaxed and have energy before I start painting if I am to enjoy it. So while still in convalescent mode and loaded with antibiotics, what better time to contemplate the coming campaign season and not yet realized toy soldier dreams?

Now the matter at hand is a long cherished, occasionally dabbled in  more often ignored or distorted or dreamt about wargame period, the 1837-38 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. The latter of these has fascinated me since I was a kid, the former was dismissed in all my history books and I was surprised about 10 years ago to discover that there were actual battles and skirmishes over the course of a year.
More on the history in a later post, my mind at the moment is focussed on how this project interacts with various hobby issues that I have been dealing with,

There are a couple of approaches that I have considered over the years.

A. The Historical Recreation: In this model, I would recreate exactly the right units in the right numbers and the right uniforms for each skirmish and battle.

So, for example to do St. Denis, I need 300 British Regulars from the 24th and 32nd Regiments, with a howitzer and something like  5-800 Patriotes, about 2-300 of whom have firearms of some sort.  This is a bang up skirmish, hotly contested and with the British being narrowly defeated.

For St.Charles a few days later, I need  400 British from the 1st and 66th Regiments, in their red coatees and about 80 patriotes. After an indecisive firefight the British lowered their bayonets and charged, giving no quarter.

You might see a trend developing. Putting all the events of both rebellions together, for a strictly historical recreation, there are less than 10 actions that can be teased into a game and only 2 or 3 of these will make a good game without either excess fudging or very clever non-traditional techniques. Of those, 1/2 involve the Quebecois in their traditional dress while the others involve largely Americans and a few  English Canadians who look quite different. On the other side, most of the engaged British units were only present at 1 or 2 actions so strictly, different troops are needed for each action.

If done as a series of projects and content to stage each game once or twice and then put it on the shelf, this is a valid approach and a good excuse to paint a few more troops.  But that's not what I want, I want to paint fewer figures and use them more.

B. The Stand In Wargame. This is where I would grab my 1812 British and any rebel-militia looking types, F&IW Quebec militia, 1812 Tennesseans, Texans, AWI frontiersmen, whatever and use them to fight out the battles. An OK approach if fighting the actions was the main drive, but its not, I want to recreate the prints!

C. The Generic Wargame.  This is the traditional sort of thing where I paint up a bunch of Patriotes and a couple of units of British and then play wargames with them,  maybe based on the real actions, maybe Table Top Teasers or whatever comes to mind. Very, flexible, certainly allows multiple troop use. The many trouble is deciding on which units and how many? Do I want to do separate Upper and Lower Rebel armies? or imagine a situation where they were able to team up?  and what about those American Patriot-Hunters and the threat of US involvement?  Oh Dear! Too many choices! No wonder I ended up trying to go completely fictional!  Still in the end, this is the best route for me I think.

Now in order to design the armies, I really need to figure out what sort of games I want to play. This is where I hit a roadblock that I just don't understand. The answer to what kind of game is obvious. These are skirmish games of the sort that rules such as The Sword & the Flame, Sharpe Practice, Brother vs Brother, the big unit variant of Rocket's Red Glare  etc were designed for, not to mention my own With MacDuff rules, and I have enjoyed many such games. So why can't I get myself to admit that up front and plan for it? Why do I keep eyeing the Palo Alto campaign to see if my latest rules will handle refighting it? I may have done the US troops in expectation of launching them into Canada but I have NO plans of building Mexicans or if I did it would be for the Alamo. So what is the problem?

Perhaps what I need is a change in approach from my current one where I have been slowly, oh so slowly building generic armies to fight whatever scenario comes to hand and go back to an older technique that has worked in the past, design a game and fill that OB. If it works I can expand it, if not, I have a "game in a box".

This post is long enough, my next one will look at the one 1838 game that I staged at Cold Wars a few years ago in 54mm. Come Patriots All. I had nearly forgotten about it but it actually touches on various gaming issues of illusion and so forth that I discussed last month. Hopefully I can find some pictures!
From there I'll start planning the restart of the rebellion in 40mm.


  1. Fascinating post Ross - I've often found myself struggling with the same question. I have gone the generic route to a certain extent - I build specific units (the Legione Irlandaise, the Black Watch, etc) but use them to represent whichever troops I fancy. I think I decided on this course of action after I was told by a chap at a convention that my game was 'unrealistic' because one side was fielding a mark of Panzer six months out of period.


  2. Everyone, for those who don't know, "Upper Canada" and "Lower Canada" are both in Eastern Canada. The "Upper Canada" is mostly lower Ontario (near the Great Lakes); and above it on maps is "Lower Canada" (Quebec and Labrador):

    Ross, I would consider thinking about which battle/skirmish appeals to you the most and begin by modeling it . . . then go from there.

    And please do keep "taking care" of your health.

    -- Jeff