Saturday, June 18, 2011

Troops, Terrain and Tabletop Situations

These are the requirements that I need to get sorted before I can finally sink my teeth into this early 19thC Historical Fantasy.

TROOPS.  The look of these is easy enough now that I've got myself talked into believing that I don't need to be overly fastidious about historical accuracy for a a fictional, ok fantasy campaign that may end up being fought over a non-existent stretch  of the US-Canada border where it follows the Neverwausie River. Essentially the uniforms will be a blend of 1814 and 1837-9 uniforms with a leaning towards militia uniforms often illustrated but rarely worn in battle. My US Regulars  in light blue were easy to paint up and accurate for 1839 but really I wanted something like the 1820's vintage blue coated regulars in Davy Crocket. Oddly enough the bell shako and white pants look was popular with Militia and Volunter units for years later so would have been perfectly acceptable if I had thought to look beyond the regular army.

This engraving is in a book I've had since I was a kid and exactly the sort of thing I had in mind when I started but was too  "serious"? "shy"? to pursue initially. I'm going to fix that. I'm also going to take it as licence to add Highlanders and maybe even a Horse Guard in busby and cuirass someday.  I lifted this copy of the image from the website for the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Infantry.

The following one is from the NY Public Library Digital collection, a marvelous resource. Doesn't quite match the latest research but its exactly what I had in mind so new units will follow suit. I often only use 5 or 6 units in a  scenario and very rarely more than 8 so I figure if I paint up 12 regular and volunteer/militia units in various 1812, 1820's and my existing 1839 uniforms, I can pick and choose to suit. The same plan applies to the British & Canadian forces. I will worry more about consistent style than conforming to the latest historical research.

Now, organisation. I'm not quite there yet so that needs a final decision. The main contenders are:

1) The Hearts of Tin approach: Five 40mmx40mm bases with 4 figures each for use with Hearts of Tin. This was a front runner for several years but there are some issues with the odd number of bases and the organization and basing doesn't work especially well with either MacDuff or the Portable Wargame which are the 2 main rulesets being considered.   It can however be tweaked by going to 4 or 6 bases or by ditching the bases altogether.

2) The MacDuff Approach 3 companies each with an officer, sergeant and 6 soldiers, all mounted individually.  This is the oldest organization and can argue that it has worked over the years and is flexible. It will also work for any of the rulesets being considered

3) The 90mm Approach. Two 45mm square bases with 6 figures on each make a unit. Up to 6 of these would make a brigade or in other words, each unit is 1/2 a battalion, a detachment or a very weak battalion. Alternately each stand is a company and I tweak the rules to allow 2 units in 1 hex.  This would add some much needed flexibility when running a campaign and wanting to do some small actions. This option gives a realistic shoulder to shoulder deployment of troops and will allow the most figures in the smallest space. I'm not sure if that's still good or if its now bad. After much pondering, I finally remembered why  I pulled back from this close deployment before. With a wider frontage, it doesn't matter if some troops are on bases and others are individually mounted. With the tight formation, the frontages won't match so either 1 unit has an advantage or else you have to equate an 8 man unit on 1 side with a 12  man unit on the other. It works but it looks/feels wrong and I am always suspicious of adopting something that looks/feels wrong as a base.

At the moment Option 2 is ahead, especially for its flexibility in a campaign situation .

TERRAIN. Replacing unsatisfactory or worn out terrain has been a priority for a while, but very little action has been taken as I haven't been able to decide where I am going to fight, some or all of Denmark, India, South Africa, Eastern North America and the North West have all been considered over the last decade. No sense in making Adobe houses for New Brunswick or Wooden clapboard houses for India. Having decided on an Eastern North American setting as the main theatre of operations, I can now  proceed to lay out villages and farms, woods, bridges etc and see what I have that works and what needs to be replaced or added. sighhhh I just know that this is going to mean working on trees. Damn.

TABLETOP SITUATIONS. OK I stretched this for the sake of alliteration, basically, what sort of games will I be playing. What mix of Tabletop Teasers and similar scenarios and historical refights, skirmishes, little battles, big battles? It all affects the design of scenery and selection of rules which in turn affects organization.

Looking back over various games and settings that I've enjoyed over the last few years, I've gotten the most fun out of the mixed Faraway & Oberhilse campaign. Really what I want to do is just bring that home so I don't HAVE to make up everything. The more I read on the smaller engagements of the War of 1812, the more it seems like an ideal campaign for me, especially if the historical constraints are lifted somewhat. Getting the right units in the right places, getting just the right numbers and a balanced game, the after affects of changing history in one place when playing out a campaign or of ignoring the effect of reversed outcomes when playing a campaign and so forth.

So in essence, a fantasy campaign set in a mix of real and fictional locations, people and units during a fictional war between real countries, played out in a series of Table Top Teasers, some of which will be homemade ones based on War of 1812 actions.  This means the rules and organization used will have to allow for ambushes of convoys and yet make a clash between 1/2 a dozen battalions feel like the struggle for a continent. Its only 2 weeks until I leave for Historicon with some preparations left to do not to mention non-wargaming obligations so I don't anticipate a lot of progress till this fall, but I think I need a play-off between MacDuff and the Portable Wargame, a series of scenarios played out once with each rule set to decide which will be the primary set for this campaign.

I may also need a new title for this campaign. I am leaning towards "The Defended Border".  (The US-Canada border having been widely publicized in the last century as the "longest undefended border". A phrase which seems to have gone out of favour these days of border security and passports.

**Post script. I have just added a page providing information on the "real"  Aroostock War. Just some background right now but I plan to include a list of units, uniforms, personalities and so forth. The link is up top.


  1. First, Ross, allow me to congratulate you upon your permanent exclusion from the "Uniform Nazis Club" . . . I'm certainly glad that I'm not a member either.

    Next, an idea that you might or might not like . . . but which might help with your "basing quandary".

    Because I base my figures on pennies (cheapest metal basing material going), I will get a few dollars worth of pennies at the bank, then dump them out and use a strong magnet to pull out the "magnetic" ones.

    (True, they are ferrous not magnetic, but you know what I mean. I've found that roughly 1/5 to 1/4 of the Canadian pennies I get are gripped by the magnet. These I keep, the rest I recycle and deposit in the bank.)

    I then build bases of the various sizes I want out of plastic or cardstock and then stick on those "sheet magnets" (easily cut by scissors) that you can get at an office supply store.

    I also put a rim around them with balsa strips to aid in containing the figures. This allows me to use the same figures in different sized units as well as removing casualties with ease.

    Of course you can use washers, thin sheet steel or commercial steel bases instead of pennies . . . the concept is the same.

    If this idea helps, Ross, feel free to make use of it. If not, well, I tried to help.

    -- Jeff

  2. Thanks Jeff, I appreciate the thought. I have experimented with magnetic bases but so far the 40's tend to end up being too top heavy to hold securely unless I uses bases that are wider than I like.