Friday 30 November 2018

In Blocks I Trust

My very first block battle - Belgium, June 1815 - Game Number 1, Part 1 which was fought way back in January 2012! Note the use of full sized Jenga blocks rather than the later half sized version which is now my standard although I still have a number of the original types in the collection. The playing surface is an Axis and Allies double sided and geomorphic map which I had laminated. Terrain pieces are from the legendary 'Town in a Bag' set.

My recent foray back into the wonderful world of block based wargaming, occasioned by seeing the excellent game put on by Andy Callan at the Battleground show in Stockton, has certainly given me much to think about and, if I am honest, a real 'shot in the arm' so to speak.

I spent some time going over my own block adventures and the associated blog posts and was staggered to realise that most of the groundwork in terms of preparation and the resulting games occurred way back in 2012/13, with the occasional game running later. The end point for most of my activity was in 2014 although I  fought a solitary game using them in May of this year. I have to say that the last game I fought - and I have not said this before - served as a confirmation of all that is good and bad when using blocks for a wargame and so I was pleased that I did it when I did.

The 'classic' block unit labels. From left to right - top row: command, infantry, cavalry and artillery, middle row: machine guns, mortars and anti tank guns, bottom row: tanks and supply vehicles/wagons. Infantry, cavalry and artillery also now have 'heavy' and 'light' types identified by a band across the bottom edge of the label. Black for 'heavy' and white for 'light'.

The blocks were quietly pushed to one side back in 2014 for a number of reasons. To begin with, my work really had me under the cosh which meant that gaming time was reduced. As a result of this the games themselves became more and more 'ragged' as I was not spending the time on them that they really needed in respect of preparation and the all important narrative. They began to look very 'samey' and in truth, I had substituted quantity for quality. With the passage of time I can look back on that period with a far more objective demeanour. I am now fully aware of what worked and what did not and so I am now far better able to take the collection forward in newer directions. 

As mentioned previously the above was very much a halfway house in the evolution of my block armies as I was experimenting with half sized blocks for artillery and command alongside full sized infantry and cavalry blocks. Going forward this will be my standard for non grid based games except that the full sized blocks will be represented by two half blocks.

As is my usual modus operandi, I have taken the decision to make far more use of the block armies than I have done which means a number of issues will need to be addressed. One of the main things I need to do is to make them more readily identifiable as to the force being represented beyond the use of national colours. I have already touched upon a basing idea I was considering that also involved unit flags. Well, I am now going to look at having free standing flags for units and not worrying about basing the half blocks I use – I will simply use them in pairs which will equal a ‘Andy Callan’ sized unit i.e. a single Jenga block. I may think about making some movement trays at some point but this is not essential at this stage.

As unit identification will be a very important part of what I do I need to make sure I get it right from the off. I also fully intend making use of models to supplement the blocks, especially for 'mechanised' games and at this stage I am thinking of basing single models - I have a lot of Axis and Allies tanks and guns etc that would be ideal for this - on a half block sized 2mm thick base (roughly 3cm by 2cm) for things like vehicles, guns and support weapons. The horse and musket period armies will be solely using blocks. Another idea I am considering is to use figures for higher level command bases. My reasoning for this is that if I had a base with a model of Napoleon and a couple of ADCs or similar on it then there could be no mistaking which army is being represented by the anonymous looking blocks!

What does this mean for my current project list then? The list will remain the same with one exception. The whole Arab Revolt/Madasahatta style project will change in a couple of very significant ways as to the manner of execution - but this will be the subject of a later post.

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