Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Keep on Blocking!


Another picture of the Jenga blocks in action - this time viewed from the Allied side. Picture with thanks in advance to Paul Robinson of the Grimsby Wargamers

It has been an eventful few days and no mistake! Since my last blog post I have been in contact with Andy Callan and have discussed many things around using blocks for wargaming.

I have been truly inspired!

Andy was kind enough to share many of his thoughts on using Jenga blocks and has also supplied me with a copy of the rules he developed for the War of the Spanish Succession game he demonstrated at Battleground. These are a really neat set which have a lot of potential beyond the period they were designed for. This is certainly something I will give a lot of thought to for a couple of specific ideas I have in mind for next year.


I know you have seen this but I could not resist showing it again! Many thanks to Will McNally for the picture. As an aside I really like the cloth used for the tabletop.

By far and away the main thing that has given me much to consider though is the whole concept of using blocks for wargames rather than figures or even alongside them. I realise now that I may have taken my own block adventures of on a tangent from where they were originally intended. For the most part I tended to use them on what could best be described as a divisional or brigade level basis. In figure parlance this could be anything up to around 8 units of infantry, 2 or 3 of cavalry and a 2 or 3 guns or so. For 20th century actions the level tended to be lower still with games being battalion or company based. This was fine and to be sure I had some very good games. I have absolutely no regrets about how I executed the concept and for what the blocks have been used for they are perfect.

There is one small point though that I overlooked. To be more accurate it was not so much overlooked as parked to one side and quietly forgotten about.

When I set out raising the block armies my original idea was to be able to fight battles whilst raising the armies using figures. A secondary use was to try out new periods in advance of investing any resources to see how it worked out. With one exception every battle I fought with the blocks was fictional and indeed, aside from how the respective armies actually fought historically, every action was off the top of my head so to speak.


An earlier version of my block armies. This was very much an interim solution between the full and half block option and was initially limited to artillery, skirmish and command elements.

What I thought I was doing was fighting battles rather than small portions of them. Andy Callan has come up with a rule system using Jenga blocks that are designed with battles between armies in mind and this has served to effectively 'reset' my thinking about blocks in general, specifically using full sized versions rather than the cut down types I use. Seeing his Jenga armies arrayed on a table top immediately reminded me of what I had originally intended them for - the 'Grand Battle' - before being distracted by more 'tactical level' games.

My feeling is that the full sized blocks are better suited to fighting large battles with the smaller blocks being more effective at a lower level. Naturally a few adjustments would be needed for representing armies at the larger scale and there are a few ideas that can be considered. Andy Callan makes use of plastic Risk cannons mounted of wooden scrabble tiles for his artillery as well as making cavalry units from a basic Jenga block painted brown with a strip of beading glued to the top and painted in whatever the national colour of the army is.

It is worth pointing out that a block in this scale obviously represent a number of units deployed to fight, with spaces and local reserves and certainly in the later period with skirmishers to the fore. This is fine but using the single large block for formations deployed in line is not without its problems in my opinion. What about a formation that is moving along a road in column of march, or massed in a column of attack? What about when the entire formation is under concerted cavalry attack?

Well, taking these points into consideration I am thinking that using my existing block collection with units in pairs would be a viable alternative. This would allow 'formational flexibility' whilst still preserving the 'grand battle' look. As an aside using two half blocks to represent a formation is the approach that Bob Cordery has adopted for his forthcoming Portable Napoleonic Wargame i.e. two bases of infantry or cavalry for a unit which also means that the usual formations of column, line and square can easily be reproduced.

The problem of identification of units with my block armies is one that I have written about previously and I have a couple of ideas in mind to solve this. For his game Andy Callan used flags printed out and stuck on the side of the block facing the owning player thereby adding to the 'fog of war' as the opposition would not be sure about what they were facing until they attacked it. For my purposes, and this is very much a personal thing, I will make use of a roster system for combat resolution.

In truth I have very little to do to use the block armies in the way they were intended but from a lower level perspective, particularly for games set in the 20th century, I have rather a lot more to ponder.

This post has been very much written on the back of an extremely helpful and generous exchange of emails from Andy Callan - his rules (which are very much a WIP) supporting his game are a revelation - and so i would like to extend my thanks to him and his advice to -

'Keep on Blocking!'

14 comments:

Bill Barker said...

The demonstration game at Battleground was excellent - and Andy was (unlike some at other demo games) friendly and engaging.
I just wish I had had more time!
Your post is thought proving....
Bill

David Crook said...

Hi Bill,

I have only met with Andy once, at Salute earlier this year and we had a very interesting discussion about gaming without figures - a subject dear to my heart! He is a great chap to pass some time with and his games and rules are always well thought out. he has certainly given me much to think about!

All the best,

DC

doctorphalanx said...

Very good ideas for the cavalry and artillery.

I'm thinking of doing blocks for the TYW with raised bits for the pikes, but I'd prefer to avoid any sawing...

David Crook said...

Hi doctorphalanx,

The cavalry idea was from Andy but the pike bit was my own. He used lengths of beading which is easy enough to cut for the riders. For me I would paint the pike part to look like a forest of spears, perhaps with a standard as well. One could probably draw something using MS Paint and print it on some self adhesive paper instead of painting if needed.

It has certainly given me something to think about though!

All the best,

DC

The Angry Lurker said...

I do believe that blocking is in my future as I want to recreate the Napoleonic period but cost is a real factor.

David Crook said...

Hi Fran,

"You have taken your first steps into a wider universe...!"

Seriously though, the use of blocks in wargames has a long and noble history - just Google Kriegspiel and you will see the tip of the iceberg. there are a number of boardgame companies that use blocks and for tactical games there are also a number of options. There are many practical advantages and cost is certainly one of them. In many ways you get a better command experience as the units under your command become slightly more anonymous as befits the commander of an army.

I have no regrets about the time I have invested in my own set up which has served me very well indeed.

If you need any pointers etc drop me a line as I will be more than happy to help.

All the best,

DC

The Angry Lurker said...

Cheers for that I will!

Rick Krebs said...

Thanks for the informative follow up, David !

Dale said...

Love those trees. Like the symbols too, but prefer the blocks in the second image, save the artillery. I think a simple short block on base would have sufficed. However, most people do not realize that artillery batteries took up a considerable amount of space, especially when collected into grand batteries.

Fire at Will said...

No problem with using my picture, my discussion with Andy was about my long running ambition to use my Irregular Miniatures 2mm blocks in just such a fashion.

David Crook said...

Hi Fran,

Drop me a line roguejedi@btinternet.com when you are ready and I will take you through what I did.

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Rick,

My pleasure old chap!

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Dale,

I have seen similar blocks to the ones that Andy produced in a couple of board games and they look very good. For my own part I opted to label the blocks and now have so many that I am loathe to produce another set a la Callan.

There is nothing stopping me from using my existing collection in the same way as he has though by simply using infantry and cavalry blocks in pairs. At this stage all I need to do is to fashion some unit identifiers which will probably be flags in some way.

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Will,

Many thanks old chap! Andy's game looked quite superb and with acres of period character. It is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my own block armies although I went off on a tangent somewhat.

Irregular Miniatures 2mm range is really nice so the best of luck with whatever it is you are planning with them.

All the best,

DC