Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Back on Track and Stoking the Fire

For two months now I've been puzzling over why I was so unhappy with a game that I had enjoyed so much. Such initially inexplicable unease generally means that my conscious mind has missed something or has pushed something aside.  I was fairly sure it wasn't actually a rules thing but a setting thing. In essence what did the game represent, what was its background and setting and what was I actually seeking?   These things are easier to identify when basing a game on an historical event, when inventing background as well as the game, there is no solid reference, just the dark crevices of my mind and decades of various influences to be sorted and identified. Most of these are known but the interaction between them is sometimes less obvious. Like Mary's lamb, such illusive thoughts tend to run when chased so its best to leave them alone to resurface in their own good time.

This was the look and game that I had wanted, so what was bothering me?

The first step was to put aside the universal rules idea, once that was done it was time to start defining explicitly what I wanted from the glossy toy soldiers. That was harder. Having decided to set the game in the age of breechloaders rather than magazine rifles, in case weapons were a problem, I started looking again at historical wars of the period as well as looking at various old inspirations. I was soon reminded that most wars of the last quarter of the 19th Century fall into one of three categories: wars with massed battles between large armies, wars by a small number of Europeans against hopelessly outclassed (technologically) "Natives" and a rare handful of wars between smaller, reasonably matched forces but set largely in distant, lightly populated, inhospitable, lands such as deserts, mountains and veldt or prairie. The sort of imaginary battles seen in the illustrations in Little Wars or described by Featherstone in Battles with Model Soldiers with small, well matched, armies manoeuvring around green hills, woods and villages were just that, imaginary or else carefully chosen excerpts from larger conflicts.  

So, in addition to continuing to visit Colonial sources, I started looking for more on various European wars to see if I was missing something including downloading a free copy of Molke's book on the Franco Prussian War. It is very readable and at an interesting level, very much like a Kriegspiel with accounts of the movement of Divisions and Corps but occasionally zeroing in on regimental and lower details.  However, there is no way that Oberhilse and Faraway can support that size and level of war and if they could it would be better fought in 10mm than 40mm. The Tel El Kebir or Second Afghan War campaigns are still a bit big but conceivable with 4 figure battalions apart from the settings which are far from the farms and villages of rural Atlantica. The First Boer War is closer but still remote and far too short and lopsided for what I had in mind.

I draw a lot of inspiration and information from war correspondents and memoirs. Here is a 54mm Russell covering the Rebel Island Affair in 2001.

I kept searching and found 2 more free ebooks, this time on a topic of long but abandoned interest and both books I was aware of but had never had a chance to read. Colonel George Denison's History of the Fenian Raid on Fort Erie and Capt. John A. MacDonald's Troublous Times in Canada, a History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870 (note: A militia officer not the Sir John A who was Prime Minister at the time). Both are accounts of the Fenian Raids by Canadian Militia officers who took part. This was where I started back almost 20 years ago, with an aborted plan of doing a nearly historical Fenian War with slightly less Comic Opera and a little more cavalry and artillery and some sustained campaigns, sort of a War of 1812 with breechloaders and less wilderness. My imagination was too weak to carry off the alternate history so invented Oberhilse and Faraway as the setting for a new  Fenian attempt using largely 54mm metal toy soldiers, an adventure which was soon swamped by a turbulent period of my life. The 54mm ACW and British Guards and Highlanders molds remain.

The first Faraway game, back in .....2001? British and Faraway forces land on Rebel Island to wipe out a Fenian base.........

So now I have rediscovered the original premise that would serve up classic Toy Soldier battles in the age of Breechloaders. Checking orders of battle for the few historical Fenian 'battles' as well as the NorthWest Rebellion, another historical campaign that was so close to being a good basis for a campaign, 200-300 man battalions rather than 1,000 man ones are quite reasonable on both sides. Since troops usually operated in extended order with companies detached as needed, a wargame battalion of  a Colonel (Commander) and 2 to 4 companies of 100 men (4 figures) each is quite reasonable and a force of up to a dozen battalions, batteries and squadrons quite comfortable for gaming.

..........or not. An evacuation under fire of the surviving landing force was eventually required.
This was not a period of transition in tactics, so all the fighting was done extended as skirmishers apart from occasional rushes in column so no need for line or square, well apart from that "form square" blunder at Ridgeway but that sort of thing is best covered by a chance card or special rule. Referring back to the British editions of Kriegspiel, which John Curry's History of Wargaming project has so usefully made available and to other sources, 200 yards per square should work with a single extended company or a battalion column filling one square. So its off to fine tune the rules, adjust ranges & moves if needed and try a game this weekend, now that I once again know what I'm trying to represent.


  1. Ross Mac,

    I can see why you are moving in the direction you are although I am sticking with the idea of trying to write a 'universal' set of rules ... although I am toying with a set of tabletop rules based on Paul Wright's FUNNY LITTLE WARS that use tiddlywinks rather than matchstick-firing cannons.

    I will follow you progress with interest.

    All the best,


    1. I vaguely remember a tiddlywink game for 42mm Irregular minis Balkan Wars in WI 15 or so years ago. Units were on beermats and a tiddlywink landing on the mat was a hit. I forget the rest. Could be fun, no need for beermats with a grid!

  2. Knowing what you are trying to represent is a big thing, Ross. I hope that it re-inspires you.

    -- Jeff

  3. That is a really nice ship - where'd you get it from?

    1. A grocery store! It came on a display plinth which I sawed off do it could provide fire support for amphibious operations. Hasn't been out for a while but it's in a cupboard somewhere.

  4. Ross, I've always enjoyed your Oberhilse vs Faraway games because they are suggestive enough to have an early to mid Victorian feel, a War of 1812 matchup. Perhaps they represent a British intervention in the ACW without being explicit? I can read whatever I want into the pictures and descriptions, as I like. You've made a clear decision on the technology (breechloaders vs magazines) which drives the tactics and the kinds of figures you want, making it all coherent. I kind of like the way you don't post campaign maps with fictitious geographies and place names, as that would perhaps make things too specific and too fictitious, but that's your call, some folks like that.
    I don't feel the same need to make rules that you do, I'm lazy enough to play the rules sets that appeal to me, but I think you are right to be suspicious of the universal rules approach and instead work on evoking the historical era that most appeals to you.
    Cheers, M

    1. Right, best not mention the Atlantican Atlas page then. Its been interesting trying to not make it too Canada/US. An expanded Fenian affair was the original concept.

  5. Ross, it's fun to see your 54mm collection up front again. The Fenian conflicts have always interested me as being a quirky, rarely gamed conflict, tailor made for an Imagi-nation treatment just as you have done. Out of curiosity, what figures do you use for the Fenians? Confederates? I for one would love to see some close-ups of them if you ever get around to it. I'm feeling the tuggings of inspiration and could use further aesthetic temptation. Oh, and I agree, that is one very handsome ship!
    Kindest regards,

    1. I had barely started on the Fenians when I decided to drop back to the 1837/8 rebellion and Patriot Hunter incursions ftom the US since there were more engagements, some hotly contested.

      I had one small unit of Fenians in green shell jackets and kepis, the rest were conscripted from my 54mm ACW forces. Confederates in slouch hats would probably be a good start.

      Alas I no longer have the ACW or my Fort Henry Guard.