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?


  1. Ross - I always watch your journeys with interest, whatever the eventual destination.

    Those lancers are something.

  2. Ross Mac,

    I have been following the development of this project with considerable interest. As I am currently sorting through the contents of my now-defunct shed, I have had lots of time to think about various projects that I have in mind. Your recent posts have been quite influential in that respect, and your choice of a 6-inch grid (with the option of a 3-inch sub-grid) makes lots of sense and strikes a chord with my own thoughts, although I am thinking more towards a 4-inch grid with a 2-inch sub-grid.

    I look forward to seeing the further development of this project.

    All the best,


    1. There are a lot of threads coming together with this. I am looking forward to the journey.

  3. Charlie Sweet's table used a 6" grid, and he used it with everything from 20mm to 54 mm figures (different unit sizes, of course).

    1. Well I'm following a solid path then. The 20s I had in mind are in very small units for use on a smaller grid.

  4. Hi Ross

    Can I also recommend 'War' by Ludwig Renn. Superb book which covers the whole war but includes the opening campaign of 1914 in detail.



    1. Thanks Mark. Reviews seem very mixed and given the low level I was inclined but I'll take your word on it. No e version yet so I'll keep an eye out for a used copy.