Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Portable Napoleonic Wargame and the American Civil War

Here at last and available in multiple formats as per Bob Cordery's excellent blog

I arrived home from work last night to a most welcome surprise, albeit with one of those 'heart in the mouth' moments! My copy of Bob Cordery's latest book in the Portable Wargame series: The Portable Napoleonic Wargame.

Never a good thing to see but fortunately all was well.

I say heart in the mouth because, as you can see, the postal system was less than gentle with the package but mercifully the book was well protected and therefore in pristine condition.

Bob is going from strength to strength with his writing and this really is a peach of a book. It is very much in the vein of a tool kit for gaming the Napoleonic Wars in a variety of formats. I can do better than quote the back cover and say:

"This book has ten chapters, four sets of rules, three exemplar battle reports, four appendices, a bibliography, and over one hundred and forty illustrations."

I would urge anyone with an interest in the wars of Napoleon to buy this and even if that is not your thing then the chapter beginning on page 140 will certainly be of interest. Bob has listed all the wars up until 1865 that the rules could be used as a basis for and in fact, for my own purposes the Kurz and Allison 30mm Spencer Smith ACW project would be an ideal candidate. I would go as far as saying that any hardcore ACW gamers would find this book to be really useful.

In closing the only thing I would like add - apart from thanking Bob for publishing the book - is that I am REALLY looking forward to his planned Portable Colonial Wargame although this will be some time away methinks!

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 11

Cruel Seas....coming to blogger near you soon....:-)

As work on my book enters a far more time intensive phase so my blogging activity will be correspondingly reduced. The Weekly Sitrep will continue and the odd major event will feature - I am thinking of Cavalier in Tonbridge next month - but anything else will be banked up or accommodated in my Monday morning roundup. It is not a big deal as such but I do need to focus my efforts in the short term whilst I ready the proposal.

This week has seen yours truly spending a lot of time on the book as well as attending to a couple of block-related administrative tasks. I sorted out the small quarter sized blocks - these have been earmarked for use as command blocks with the national flag - and have readied a list of the number and nationality of flags I will need and have sent the same to my 'flag man', Tony at Brigade Models.

I must confess that this was not as straightforward as I imagined it would be as several nationalities went through a number of versions of what would be a national flag. For example our Teutonic friends went through three during the period I am interested in - even more of you allowed for each of the German States prior to unification. I have opted for a Prussian, an Imperial German and finally one for Nazi Germany. It is a small detail for sure but one that will add immeasurably to the look of the thing as well as serving to indicate a unit's facing.

The only flags I will need to design myself would be for tribal African types - Zulus and so forth - various Islamic types - Afghans, Arabs and Mahdists - and finally something for Native Americans. I will have a trawl of the interweb to get some ideas and see what I can come up with.

A Zululand Flag about which I know nothing and so will need to research this in a little more detail methinks

By now Cruel Seas has been around for a while and judging by the various reactions I have seen it has certainly provoked some opinions! There is already a large errata available and many of the issues raised seem to be about the apparent rush into production the game had. I have seen some quite superb looking models on various Facebook groups as well as a number of after action reports all of which is good to see - regardless of whether or not there are teething difficulties with the game itself. My overriding thought is that anything that places naval wargaming into the public gaze is to be applauded and if enough people support this then it will continue to grow. Who knows? Warlord may even think about producing further naval games on the back of this success because let's face it, it has been just that, warts and all.

I have yet to see my review copy (requested well before the release date) but after a long conversation with them on Friday this is in hand. To their credit the chap I spoke to could not have been more professional and apologetic about the delay although it will mean that my review will be one of the last published for the game!

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 10

Go on, you know you want to!

Welcome to the first Weekly Sitrep for 2019! I have spent a fairly productive week working on my army level horse and musket rules for my book and I am pretty pleased with the progress I have made. There is a long way to go but early indications are quite positive.

I have really enjoyed dipping into the Kindle version of David Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon and am pleased I was able to get this - it is certainly easier than lugging the book around!

I have cobbled together a small order to our friends at Warbases for the additional bases I need for the Kurz and Allison ACW project as I have opted to base the figures individually rather than on multiple bases. I could always get movement base sabots if I needed to. The main reason for this is the forthcoming publication of Rebels and Patriots - the latest title in the 'Lion Rampant' series by Dan Mersey and others as individual bases loom large with this.

The biggest (and best) news this week though is the publication of the latest volume in the Portable Wargame series by Bob Cordery - The Portable Napoleonic Wargame.

I have seen the draft version for this and am awaiting my own copy so I will not review this at the moment. Suffice it to say though, Bob has done it again and this book should be on the bookshelf of any wargamer with a smattering of interest in the wars of the Corsican Ogre!

Buy a copy and you will see what I mean....:-)

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Army Level Napoleonic Considerations

Another map of Waterloo showing the topography in a little more detail. Note the areas of higher ground missing from the previous map.

As part of the preparation process in respect of my Corps level horse and musket rules I am currently revisiting some old friends in respect of the books in my Napoleonic library. Needless to say 1815 features quite prominently although there are other titles on the wars against Napoleon present. What I am looking at are orders of battle for the three combatants.

I am planning on three types of game which will use broadly similar gaming mechanics with each tailored to suit the command level of the action being fought. The levels of command can best be shown as follows:

Level of Commander    Main unit of Command    Sub unit of Command

Army                              Corps                                   Division
Corps                              Division                              Brigade
Division                          Brigade                               Battalion

Using the above structure as a guide my plan at this stage is to use a single half block to represent each sub unit. This means that a Army level Main unit is a Corps which is turn made up of Divisions acting at Sub units and consist of a half block for each division and any accompanying cavalry, artillery and other assets. The end result is a formation of around half a dozen or so blocks depending on the organisation being represented.

Moving down a step and the Corps level game then the Division is the Main unit and is made up of a number of Brigades, again with each being represented by a single half block. As Divisions varied in composition in respect of the number of constituent Brigades these could also be anything from two half blocks upwards in size.

Finally at the lowest end of the scale we have the Divisional level game where the Main units are Brigades with the Sub units being individual Battalions.

From the outset you can see that there is a degree of similarity in the composition of the units at each level of action being fought. A Corps in the Army level game may have three divisions of infantry (represented by 3 half blocks), some cavalry and artillery (represented by a half block each) meaning the entire formation may consist of around 5 half blocks. A Division in the Corps level game may have 3 Brigades of infantry (again each of a half block) as well as some supporting cavalry and artillery (represented by a half block each). Finally a Brigade in the Divisional level game could typically feature three or four Battalions each of a single half block with supporting cavalry and artillery again represented by single half blocks if required.

Taking all that into consideration it would be beyond the realm of possibility to have a Main unit from each level of game that is the same size on the tabletop e.g. a Corps of 4 Divisions, a Division of 4 Brigades or a Brigade of 4 Battalions (admittedly this would be rather on the large side!). The use of a unit roster for recording combat losses and also 'what goes where and with whom' is essential given the variable scale of engagement I am considering. With these rules your printer will be your friend!

A print of the battle by William Heath. Coincidentally the pseudonym he used in the 1820s - Paul Pry, after a snooping theatrical character - is the name of a public house in my home town of Rayleigh. I was struck by the similarity of style with the later works by Kurz and Allison depicting the ACW and providing the inspiration for my Spencer Smith project.

Thoughts on Scales

This is very simple in that the only scale I am going to be consistent with is that a single half block will equal one unit/formation. The ground scale is fluid and so will expand and contract as required by the command level of the game being fought as will the associated battlefield topography.

Thoughts on Combat

This will be D6 based and the only constant is that a single D6 will be used for combat by each individual half block regardless of type. There will be no modifiers to consider as such as combat results will be dependent on the effects table being used which will take into consideration such things as terrain, range, attacker/defender situational advantage/disadvantage, troop quality - you know, all the usual stuff.

Plenty to be getting on with then.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Finally facing my Waterloo....

Even after nearly 50 years of reading about it, watching it and gaming it using figures, cardboard counters and blocks the Battle of Waterloo still has the power to move, excite and fire my imagination!

When you look at the map above what do you see? This is a stylised interpretation of that most famous of battles: Waterloo in 1815. Looking closely you can see some of the major topographical features - the road network, towns and villages, woods and waterways - and the approximate starting positions for the major formations that took part in the battle. The map also shows the various attacks and counterattacks that took place during the battle and the approximate times these occurred. The terrain appears to be flat with no significant relief to be seen so we can safely assume that the countryside the battle was fought over was, by and large, gently rolling fields and meadows. As a high level map this does the job reasonably well.

Looking at the way the units are depicted on the map one is straightaway faced with a number of questions. What does each block represent? What units are where? How strong was each unit? Who commanded what?

If one could enlarge the map scale then these points, rather like focusing a camera, become clearer in that one would expect the various blocks to subdivide into smaller blocks e.g. a corps block would split into divisional blocks which in turn would break down into brigades then battalions. All the while the terrain would become more detailed so that if one were to look at a map of the battle at battalion level it would look very different to the above.

This is a very obvious point but what it serves to show is that a single block labelled similarly to the above could serve quite happily as anything from a corps to a battalion. As long as one preserves the appropriate level of detail in the organisation of the forces, the terrain being fought over and the scope of the rules being used for the scale of action being depicted all should be well.

The best way I can think of to describe the above is when you are coming in to land in an aircraft. As you descend to earth the details in the countryside become larger and clearer the closer one gets to the ground and so by extension should the armies being represented and the battlefields one is fighting over.

Due to my lifelong interest in the campaign of 1815 I shall be using this as a test bed for the army level rules I am devising and indeed, depending on how it works out it may even feature in my book but there is  a lot of ground to covered before we get to that stage.

The first step I shall be undertaking is to, in effect, translate the orders of battle into game sized units. At this stage the only decision I have reached is that a single half block will equal a brigade sized formation so a typical division will contain a number of these (typically anything from 3 to 6) plus the all important command/identification block. In order to achieve this I shall be making use of the Napoleon Returns Volley and Bayonet supplement as well as the order of battle from Columbia Games: Napoleon (3rd edition). I will also call upon the various books I have about the campaign in my library. This should be fairly straightforward although I will need to be careful not to overdo the artillery element.

As far as the rules themselves are concerned I have a number of avenues I am investigating but at this stage it is fair to say that the end result will feature a number of game mechanics that have been seen elsewhere although with a couple of 'Crookisms' thrown in for good measure.

Onwards and upwards then!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Big Ideas and Small Steps

First of all, a very happy new year to one and all! Ours was a quiet one spent listening to a classic 70s/80s soul/jazz and funk playlist on YouTube whilst waiting for the midnight hour and the fireworks accompanied by a couple of very nice Gin and Tonics. It has been a number of years since we went out to see in the New Year but it does not matter as we still ritually link arms and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at the appointed time - this year with our 8 year old grandson as well which he enjoyed immensely.

My main gaming effort for the coming year is of course my book. I am really excited about this (naturally!) and will be providing regular-ish updates as it progresses. I have the framework pretty much nailed down and without giving too much away it is devoted to fighting a variety of battles using block armies rather than figures. It is very early days and so I am not expecting it to be viable for publication until the latter part of the year. There will be play testing to be undertaken, photoshoots to be organised, not to mention proof reading of the initial draft - or in other words plenty to be getting on with.

Without going into finite detail I intend having three sets of rules and example games for each level of battle - from army sized engagements through divisional level down to battalion/brigade sized actions. There is a lot of other stuff that will be included and it is worth pointing out that the rules contained therein would be equally at home using figures so for non block gamers try not to be put off by the fact that the title will include the word BLOCKS!

I am starting at the top with the rules in that the army level game will be the first set that I tackle. The rationale for this is simple because when I first devised my block armies they were intended for use on a large scale. I allowed myself to get distracted in a way by the use of Command and Colours type rules culminating in Bob Cordery’s excellent Portable Wargame series. I have no regrets about following this tangent but it was never what the block armies were all about. Without a doubt Bob’s rules have given me much pleasure and indeed, they have established themselves as my ‘go to’ system for lower level games but recent events (mainly Andy Callan’s outstanding War of the Spanish Succession game using full sized Jenga blocks - the rules for this set up are superb) have served to remind me of what I had originally intended gaming with the blocks.

My plan was to be able to fight large scale Napoleonic battles - both historical and fictional - involving multiple corps on a 6ft by 4ft table. The forces used would follow historically accurate orders of battle where applicable and the basic half block would represent a brigade sized formation. A roster system would be used for recording combat losses as well enabling the all important order of battle to assume its rightful place in the order of things.

The rules I am working on for this project have received inspiration from various sources but, and this is the key point, they are intended to fight an army level GAME rather than be an uber-detailed simulation. They will be stylised and with a degree of abstraction but they will (hopefully) capture the all-important ‘feel’ of the period in question. My aim originally was to be able to fight Waterloo on a 6ft by 4ft table and so it will be no surprise that this particular battle will feature as part of the play testing, possibly even in the book itself.

There are a few other bits and pieces that will feature in the book and indeed, in many ways it would be very easy for a further volume to follow as the ideas I have would certainly be sufficient to write one!

With matters block-related being very much ‘front and centre’ it means that everything else will need to be self contained and modest in scope. Cruel Seas will feature (assuming it ever arrives that is...) and also some other WW1 and WW2 naval stuff but in a manner that may surprise you. Aside from these there is of course the Spencer Smith Kurz and Allison ACW project. I now have everything I need for this in terms of figures but, inevitably there is a curve ball in the shape of Rebels and Patriots - the forthcoming ‘Lion Rampant’ style rules due out later this month. Individual or multi-bases? That is the question!

Well that is me, so I hope that your own project list for this year works out - probably better than mine if truth be told if past experience is anything to go by!

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 9

Slothology taken to a higher level....

This is the last Sitrep on 2018 and I must confess that writing it has given me much to reflect on as I look back over the year. The two funerals I have attended - Eric Knowles and Pete Green - have affected me in many ways and for longer than I would not have expected, but if anything they have hardened my resolve to make more of an effort to stay in touch with people within my orbit, both near and far.

The gentle reminder I received from the HMRC way back in February that I can retire in eight years has meant that I have spent rather a lot of time thinking about what I have done, what I am going to do and more importantly, when I am going to do it! The last thing I want to do is to appear morbid or downbeat but I would be less than truthful if I did not acknowledge the impact these three events have had on me over the course of the year and, to a certain extent, how they have influenced my immediate plans. I am determined to get my book about wargaming using block armies written so my main focus for 2019 will be very much directed to this end. It will mean that any practical projects will need to be simple and compact so expect to see naval games featuring alongside the Kurz and Allison project.

In many ways not the easiest of reads but a welcome addition to the library all the same.

Christmas has been and gone, and aside from hoping that all had a great time celebrating in whatever fashion you traditionally do, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share the details of my seasonal haul. The first two items were a 'known quantity' in that I knew they were coming but as it has been a while since I saw them it seemed like a good idea to mention them again.

30mm Spencer Smith Union infantryman and Confederate Cavalryman....

....and the rest of the box full. I have sufficient figures to produce a Charge! sized infantry regiment, two cavalry squadrons and an artillery battery per side plus the appropriate command for my 'old school toy soldier' Kurz and Allison project. With the imminent release of  'Rebels and Patriots' - the 'Lion Rampant' based rules covering the wars in America from 1750 to 1865 - I am sorely tempted to base the figures individually!

My son and daughter came up trumps with a brace of Amazon gift cards alongside some very nice Rioja and various other consumables. I have not used these in their entirety although I did buy a few titles for my Kindle. More by chance than design I seem to be duplicating some of my larger hardbacks with a digital version of the same for convenience. A good case in point is The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler. Much as I enjoy sitting in a favourite leather armchair whilst sipping a glass of a decent Rioja in front of a roaring log fire with a faithful hound at my feet (actually it would on my sofa with bottle of beer and one of the cats parked on my lap but one can picture the imagery) lugging around such a door stop of a tome is not exactly convenient. For me this is where the Kindle comes in to its own. For my daily commute or on holiday it has become indispensable and although it will never replace a proper book in my affections, it is really handy to have.

From my gift cards I have acquired the following:

The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
 Night Action - MTB Flotilla at War by Peter Dickens
The Battle of the Narrow Seas by Peter Scott
Dog Boats at War by Leonard Reynolds
Gunboat Command by Antony Hichens

You have probably worked out why some of the above titles have featured! I have yet to receive my copy of Cruel Seas by Warlord Games but am hopeful it will appear soon.

I would to extend a special note of thanks to davidinsuffolk for helping me out with a scanned copy of the C.F. Wesencraft article I mentioned in the last Sitrep - it has been very useful so many thanks again old chap!

Unsurprisingly work on the army level block rules and by extension the book they will feature in has taken a little bit of back seat over the holiday period but I have managed to scribble down a few ideas so it has not been entirely forgotten.

That about wraps it up fro this week so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful and prosperous 2019.

Happy New Year!

A large Greenall's Gin and Tonic with ice and lemon, a ramekin of Planter's Peanuts and binge-watching Hercule Poirot - what's not to like?