EXCERPT 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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 New Projects continued: Constructs, Convergence and Conversion

OK then the Boer War, Boers hiding in trenches, being shelled ineffectively while shooting down the gunners and pinning down long lines of Brits who have to get close enough to stab people to do damage... well, no, I wasn't thinking of that Boer War, I was thinking of the one that appears elsewhere in older wargaming books, agile mounted parties of Boers with guns, ambushes and surprises on both sides, lots of shooting, lots of maneuver. It is the war that appears in memoirs, in the old Baden-Powell cartoon strip in the scouting magazine I got in my teens, (the same magazine where the article on wargames and home casting appeared)  and in some accounts of the Canadian contingents that I have read. Largely it is the war after the fall of Pretoria though it does appears here and there earlier on but is usually dismissed by books that focus on the Big Battles of 1899 and on Black Week in particular.

This is a game that needs to combine large distances with small parties of men fighting dispersed, all on a small table top with relatively few figures. It is definitely not a game where constant scale will make sense, unless perhaps, if you are playing outside. There are some very interesting and relevant rules ideas to be found in some of the earliest rules (Just tucking into John Curry's invaluable Wargaming Pioneers, more on that book in a later post, perhaps.) But the more I get back into this, the more it looks like an opportunity to scratch several vague long term itches.

Wargaming vs Historical Wargaming.

This bit of semantics has become a bit of a bug bear to me, (silly really since I did spend a while as an Historical wargamer with a Capital H, still enjoy studying history and games inspired by it  and I still approve of the concept as long as it doesn't involve me too closely). Anyway, many of the early books on War Gaming (as opposed to Historical Wargaming) used a fictional or non-specific contemporary setting that just happens to be the late 19th & early 20th centuries, the same setting I've been dancing around for ages. When one reads accounts of the Metis, the Boers, Pershing in Mexico perhaps, though I am just guessing not having read up on it, and other similar campaigns, even some parts of WWI & the RCW when away from the trenches, one gets a picture of mobility in wide spaces, the importance of rails for supply and troop movement, the deadliness of modern fire (well modern for then), the value of cover, the strengths and weakness of artillery, the value of discipline for assaults, the value of imagination, courage and mobility to change the picture, the high level of casualties especially when caught wrong footed but even under prolonged fire if in imperfect cover but the rarity of even small units being put out of action by fire. (etc etc)

In other words rather than trying to "accurately" reproduce any one of a number of historical engagements and campaigns where we know what actually happened, this is a good opportunity to draw inspiration from the Metis Rebllions, The Boer Wars, the Arab Revolt, the Senussi and more for a  fresh story in a fictional background. Something from the early 20thC history of North Atlantica.

In earlier precis, there had been mention of a Metis or mixed blood culture in the more remote plains of Northern Atlantica, technically these should be in the south now that the map has been flipped, but I'm going to say that the directions were right, the tentative scrawling on the map an error in interpretation. These upcoming campaigns that are starting to swirl in my head will take place in the age of rifles, MG's, drab uniforms (and some not so drab), trains, early automobiles, 4.7" naval guns and 18 pdr field guns. The Queen's forces I think will be largely in pith helmet and light khaki drill though some darker khaki and also some slouch hats or peaked caps may fit in somewhere. Opposing forces will include some regulars, allies, volunteers, state police  or similar in field grey with in spiked helmets, (a chance to use castings fresh from the Zinn Brigade molds for a change). The main opposing force  of "rebels" (depending on your POV) will be Boer/Metis types but possibly mixed with more native Atlantican types. Much work on back ground needs to be done and some intervening history and wars resolved. (technically I ought to fight the intervening wars but I am impatient.)


Some aspects of supply and maneuver could be relegated to campaign  maps but I don't want to just play a later version of With MacDuff with rifle range stretching 1/2 way across the table. A Portable or Frontier Wargame approach is attractive and has not yet been declined but since the game will be set at the Turn of the Century, contemporary with Wells and other early wargames, the use of single toy soldiers is attractive. I don't want to mow down the abandoned bit of hayfield across the brook, so, something more Big Wars that Little Wars I think.

A few things to consider, some repetitions of above comments:

  • It seems from 1st hand accounts that its easy to "pin" units but hard to kill them
  • A slow drain of casualties does have an effect and units can eventually break. This could be done by removing figures or by using a roster or similar. The firing power of a unit doesn't seem to diminish in proportion to casualties or rather casualties rarely reach above 20%-30% so the rate at which morale would be effected does not have a 1:1 relationship with casualties. Units sometimes withdraw voluntarily r may retire with out being destroyed. This all brings the Battlecry stable to mind.
  • Rietz talks about how deadly the British fire was, especially up close which rather speaks against one stereotype though he is confident that the Boer fire was even more deadly which reinforces that one. He also distinguishes between ranges, very long one range being too far for accurate shooting though not for effective pinning. At short range, the marksmanship of the Boers really comes into play.  This all tends to match some of the handful of Canadian accounts I've read.
  • Rietz also reinforces the stereotypes about bayonet charges and how effective they were and how hard it was to get men to stand. If they did stand and weren't able to stop the British from closing the results were usually decisive.  Even if the Boers managed to ride away, if chased by cavalry, it might be hours or days before they regrouped. So charges can destroy units.
  • Cover makes huge difference. Even slight cover helps slow permanent losses but does not lessen pins. Hard cover as in trenches and gullies or rocky hills can reduce casualties still more but getting troops to advance out of cover is hard. 
  • Shooting mechanism. This all seems to call for good old fashioned 1 die to hit based on range with a hit causing a pin, another roll for each hit to convert the pin to a loss with modifers for cover and range.
  • Distances. Given a 5x6 table, I think  Big War ish ranges so 12" for modern rifles only divided into short and long to avoid excessive picky-ness. Guns reaching out 2 or 3 times that depending on weight. Movement should be generous, perhaps 12" in the open for infantry, 18" for cavalry BUT subject to opportunity fire which will tend to stop it. 
  • Units & Morale. As I write this, I am starting to incline more and more to unit vs unit combat rather then figure vs figure. This means it could work with elements but it could also work with small units and hits being laid down. Possibly 1 die per "company" when shooting with 6 Regulars but only 4 irregulars to show the ability of the regulars to carry on. Units reduced to 1 figure will retreat or maybe they can hold but units wiped out cost more for victory and can't be reclaimed in a campaign. Possibly also a system of allowing retreats to lesson casualties. (Did mention that I finally got a chance to try a Battle Cry derivative at Huzzah, not using the command cards though)  
Probably more than enough random musings for one day.



  1. Ross Mac,

    As I was reading your comments about your next project (or projects), I was struck by the fact that your description sounded very similar to the sort of warfare that John Buchan wrote about in his book 'The Courts of the Morning'. Bearing in mind that Buchan had experience of South Africa as well as serving during the Great War, the warfare described is a mixture of mobile mounted infantry action vs. a modern concentional mobile army. I am sure that you have read the book at some time, but it might be worth revisiting for ideas.

    All the best,


  2. Bob, I must confess that I have not read Courts of the Morning or indeed any of His Excellency the Right Honourable, the Lord Tweedsmuir's works. An omission that I intend to make good as soon as possible.

    I see that it is criticized for too much time spent describing geography and military movements. These sound like good things to me!

    Thanks for the tip.

  3. Ross Mac,

    It might be a bit too 'modern' for what you want, but it might give you some ideas.

    John Buchan is one of my favourite writers, along with Conan Doyle, H G Wells, Boris Akunin, Herge, and Martin Cruz Smith.

    All the best,