Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Wargaming Synchronicity and Carpe Diem

A selection of Venetian infantry. I found a rather good selection of these on Pinterest.

I am a huge believer in synchronicity - of multiple moving parts, seemingly unconnected but coming together in space and time to a particular end. Some may say that this is all coincidental and that there is no great plan in the overall scheme of things; or that one can be shaping the conclusion to suit the facts. I cannot comment on either of those two views but for me synchronicity has always had an air of inevitability attached to it. So it has been for me over recent weeks and in fact, going back over many years and including two visits to Corfu, two visits to Venice, two visits to Cyprus, two visits to Malta, three to Turkey and one to Crete. Probably even further back when you include being introduced to 18th century wargames in the first place at the former Newham Wargames club in the late 1970s as well the delights of the army and military history of the Sublime Porte, courtesy of Eric Knowles.

All of that history, of reading and visiting places touched by the great events of the past and thinking, always thinking about how they would game. Planning armies and discarding one design after another but still taking part in the occasional period specific game, just to stoke the embers of an idea, of a grand scheme.

I have always been attracted to wars or parts of wars that are not in the mainstream and so when anybody says Marlburian then straightaway thoughts of British, Dutch and French armies automatically spring to mind. For me it is the same thing with the Seven Years War - Britain, Prussia France and Austria first with everything else following up. I prefer the wars on the periphery - not necessarily smaller than the main theatres but, well, different. The armies are usually off balanced for one thing - meaning varying quantities of troop types as well as differing tactical considerations. For me this makes for a better game as both sides have different tools to use.

18th century Ottoman troops. Slightly later than what I am looking at but with little difference in attire.

I have always hankered after an Ottoman Turkish army - probably going back to when I was battered mercilessly by one trying to defend Vienna against hordes of Janissaries and a siege train I still have nightmares about. It always seemed to have that exotic 'wow' factor and I suppose it appealed to the inveterate tinkerer in me. There is such a diverse array of troop types and the army seemed geared up to be able to deal with any kind of opposition thrown at it. In many ways it reminded me of my Carthaginian army which was also a similar 'Swiss army knife' kind of set up although not quite as effective and certainly smaller!

I now have an Ottoman Turkish army suitable for the later 17th and 18th century. I politely declined the offer of Eric's painted version simply because armies of that scale (we are talking about thousands of figures) are no longer part of my gaming universe. I would never be able to use all of it and storing it would be beyond my resources. I toyed with taking a representative selection of figures from the collection - my standard 150 figures an army - but decided against this as the collection should remain intact for those that have more space, time and money than I.

The unpainted version is not as large but still tops out at over a thousand figures and includes Dixon, Essex, Foundry, Hinchliffe and Minifigs. The weakest portion is the cavalry as this virtually all Minifigs and so does not sit well alongside the infantry at all. It is no matter as I shall acquire what I need from elsewhere. I have selected the figures I shall be using and will make the final 'cut' once I have checked out a few sources.

What of the opposition? What do you plan to do with this lot? Well, and here comes the kind of synchronicity part, I have been looking long and hard at Eric's collection of unpainted models and have tried to work out what his plan was. I have no idea but it has crystallised a long dormant idea that resurfaced last year upon my return from Corfu.

The latter half of the 17th century and the early part of the 18th saw the Republic of Venice fight the Turks on a number of occasions. Ultimately the Turks were able to secure most of Southern Greece from the Venetians and indeed, it could have been a lot worse had the Austrians not come to the aid of Venice in 1716. The final war of 1714 to 1718 - the Second Morean War - ended with Venice becoming in effect an Austrian vassal  and the Turks ceding territory to Austria. The Turks kept much of the former Venetian Greek territory.

Eric had raised units for Venice for the period as well as a number of other Italian units as the armies of the Doges relied on the use of mercenaries alongside their militia and small number of regular units. The Turks had their usual core of Janissaries and Sipahis supported by locally raised volunteers and levies. The Austrians was a small regular army supported by the border forces of Croatia and similar.

It would be tempting to equate Eric's Venetians and Austrians with his imagi-nations of Umbriago and Bustenberg respectively but I have no certainty of this.

Janissaries accepting the Sultan's food - always a good sign as it meant that they were happy with their lot! Note the variety of dress except for the famous head gear.

My plan then, is to raise in addition to the Turks, three other representative forces for the period - Venice, Austria and Russia. These will be of a similar size to the Turks so 150 figures will be the order of the day. Taking some 600 figures from Eric's unpainted lead mountain will barely scratch the surface and in fact represents probably less than half a crate of figures.

If I am honest this idea may well have never seen the light of day were it not for the fact I am sorting through Eric's lead mountain and to be frank, it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up on as pretty well everything I need is right there.

I had never planned this, nor was the prospect of painting new style 28mm figures for the 18th century something I would have looked out for but, and this is the important part, many of the figures - particularly the Turks - lend themselves nicely to the old flat colours and dip approach which even I, with my well known pathological aversion to painting anything organic, can manage.

Of necessity I will need to invest in some material to support this project but surprisingly not to any great extent. I currently reckon around half a dozen books, a selection of bases and a number of cannon. For rules I have not really given much thought beyond The Pikemans Lament although I may take a look at Donnybrook. The Portable Wargame would work well or I may even take a look at something specifically Marlburian - perhaps even Maurice, about which I have heard many good things although the number of figures I will be using may be too little.

Let us not forget the naval dimension as well as Venice and Turkey fought a number of clashes in the Aegean sea.

There will be a lot to do with this and for sure it will be a slow burner but it certainly has the feeling of some kind of destiny about it. It has all the elements I enjoy from a gaming perspective as well as appealing to my sense of the exotic.

Carpe Diem for sure but with a long and convoluted ribbon of synchronicity wrapping it all up.

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 16

Afghan Warriors on the North West Frontier

A busy week for sure with the wedding anniversary, SWMBO's birthday, an overnight visit to Broadstairs and various other bits and pieces.

I was pleased to have discovered another secondhand bookshop not far from where I live  - SWMBO was probably less enthusiastic though! - and with the two books I picked up. I was also pleased to have continued with the great figures sort out although I shall be taking some time away from this until I get the final selection of figures from Bill towards the end of next month. As mentioned previously, it makes more sense to catalogue the whole collection at once rather than, in effect, doing it twice.

I was pleased to sort out the Ottoman Turks although it raised a couple of questions. the biggest issue really was that Eric was using a relatively motley selection of old Minifigs for the cavalry component. These are OK but do not look good alongside the infantry so I will need to acquire some cavalry in due course. My plan is to produce a force of around 150 pieces which means that there is an awful lot of figures that will be offloaded in due course. I am also going to base the figures individually as I fully envisage using them for any of the Dan Mersey rule sets.

The Indian selection of Eric's lead mountain looked very much like a case of making use of whatever odds and ends he had lying around including telegraph pole Minifigs ancient Indian infantry for use as native levy types. I rather liked the Afghans he used for some musketeer types and I was rather pleased to see that the range is still available via Caliver Books. It would not need many additional figures to cobble up a force for The men Who Would Be Kings so there is something else to think about.

The figures for the Electorate of Bustenberg look, upon closer inspection, to be early bicorne wearing French Napoleonic infantry. There are also some busby wearing horse artillery and what looks like some early British heavy dragoons (again with bicornes). The Grenadiers Zu Fuss are also wearing bicornes with greatcoats and appear to be from a different manufacturer.

This coming weekend sees the Cavalier show in Tonbridge, Kent. I really enjoy this show as it is large enough to have plenty of variety and small enough to take one's time to savour the games and trade in attendance. It is a chance to catch up with friends and to indulge in a little retail therapy. I have a couple of purchases in mind but nothing major. Terrain is the thing I shall be looking out for, as well a visit to Tumbling Dice - more of which to follow next week.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Scaling a Lead Mountain....Part 3

It has been a busy day sorting through the lead mountain. I have taken the decision to leave the listing until I get the last of the figures from Bill at the end of next month. My reasoning is simple - I would rather sort through the collection once instead of twice as although I am really enjoying the process it is very time consuming and for the time being it is rather limited.

I took the opportunity to sort out the Ottoman Turkish portion of the collection and once again a good few surprises came out of the boxes! To begin with there was a fair amount of Dixon Miniatures in the mix - Janissaries and assorted musketeer types. The infantry was split roughly into two parts - the 16th/early 17th century and the late 17th/early 18th century. The main difference being the type of firearm, either match or flintlock. The latter consists of various Balkan tribes whilst the earlier figures appear to be more Anatolian looking. I believe that Eric wanted to use this army for both the 17th and 18th century.

The next thing concerned the cavalry. For the most part Eric had mobilised an awful lot of Minifigs types. Now these are fine but do not work alongside the figures he was acquiring for the infantry. The cavalry also seemed to be quite early Minifigs which makes the difference in style all the more noticeable. This means that I will look to add the cavalry from one of the newer ranges so the Minifigs will be sadly redundant.

I also came across some figures that I am struggling to identify is if anyone has any ideas please let me know!

These look very modern compared to the other figures but I have no clue as to what they are.

I have a feeling these are Dixons but am not sure. They look very much like Anatolian types but I am not sure.

Now these look very much like renaissance matchlock types and are from the range produced by Naismith.

I also took a look at the figures Eric had planned to use for his Indian armies. For the most part these are all early Minifigs and Eric had made use of some early ancient Indian infantry to use as irregular native types. These are the ‘telegraph pole’ Minifigs and to be honest are not great to look at. There was also a couple of boxes of firearm infantry - after investigation one box contained a unit of colonial Afghan infantry whilst the other contained Dervishes. These are rather nice in a Minifigs kind of way and certainly in the case of the former I would have little hesitation in adding to these for use with The Men Who Would Be Kings.

The one thing that really struck me whilst going through all this lot is how my perception of what constitutes a wargames army has changed over the years. Back in the day aiming for an Eric sized army would have been almost obligatory but nowadays, for me anyway, I tend to work on the basis that an army only needs to be what you would use ordinarily plus a unit or two extra for variety. A good sized force for me would be a dozen units of which I would routinely use only around eight or nine. Given the representational and abstract style of game I usually fight this would translate into around 150 figures all in.

I am thinking that basing figures individually would be a better option rather than using multiple bases as I would be keen to look at the skirmish option as well as for more usual games.

As ever, much to think about - but in a good way!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Revisiting My Ottomania with an Indian Takeaway

I have on a number of occasions acknowledged the fact that my lifelong interest in the affairs of the Sublime Porte had its roots in Eric Knowles’s South East Asia naval campaign set in WW1. As the ‘new kid on the block’ I was given command of the smallest navy that would see service - in this case the Turkish - and so my interest in all things Ottoman was born. To this day I can still see the serried ranks of Janissaries deployed beneath the walls of Vienna when we undertook the refight of the siege of 1683. It was an impressive sight and it took the combined efforts of three other figure collections to match it on the day. Eric’s son Bill still has the terrain that was used to represent both the Turkish camp and Vienna itself.

Fast forward to the present day and I am sitting on a huge collection of unpainted 25/28mm late 17th and 18th century figures which means that the wherewithal to revisit this is certainly present. I should at this point state for the record that I have absolutely no intention of emulating the Vienna set up!

It has made me look long and hard though, at the unpainted Ottoman Turkish collection (amongst others) that Eric had built up and what I can do with it. Bill has already said that I can have this portion of the collection but as we have discussed, even in its unpainted form is far too large for my needs. I have a size in mind and this will also be the basis for the opposition - whatever that may eventually be!

Whilst I was pondering this thorny issue I had the occasion to visit a previously unknown second hand bookshop near to where I live. It proved to be a useful visit as I picked up a couple of titles of special significance for where my whimsical nature is currently residing....

I have read this in the past and it is a good primer for the subject. I had previously disposed of many of the books I owned on the earlier Ottoman Empire so a minor shopping expedition may well be on the cards!

The other title is one that I missed out on when it was out but have had a weather eye open for it ever since. I have always had an interest in the Indian subcontinent during the 18th century and this is is really the story of the East India Company. Eric had started on a collection of assorted native Indian troops - no Sepoys though - and so I am thinking that at some point he may have contemplated gaming the wars of Robert Clive. Given the size of his Ottoman Turkish collection I dread to think what his idea of a Moghul style army would have looked like!

A useful addition to the 18th century section of my library. 

All of the above factors and the continuing sorting of the lead mountain has really given me much to think about. Trying to guess what was in the mind of Eric with even a fraction of this collection is proving to be a challenging (and frustrating!) experience but I am honoured to have the opportunity to do so. I will be raising a couple of forces from his collection and I hope that this will, in some small way, help to preserve Eric’s legacy.

Friday, 15 February 2019

1680 to 1790 Wargames Figures, Units and Armies

Some very colourful gentlemen from an Osprey title although I have no clue as to which one!

Following on from the previous couple of posts I have stepped back from the 11 crate (soon to be joined by a further 6) lead mountain and have had a think about the most effective way to catalogue the figures therein.

My first action was to sort the figures into nationalities which was a very useful exercise and gave me a better view of the scale of the project. However, judging by the emails and comments I have received I am thinking that I need to break this down a little further into some kind of chronological order as well.

A mounted musketeer from the Tangier garrison.

Eric's collection ranged from around 1680 up to the American War of Independence and even the French Revolution so it makes sense to divide the forces into sub periods. With this in mind I shall be adopting the following:

1680 to 1700
1680 to 1720
1740 to 1780
1775 onward.

I have chosen the above dates because some nationalities were a little slower to change uniforms etc than others and so a degree of overlap exists. I do not profess to be an expert on any other periods described but as an example the British army looked different during the wars of Marlborough than in the earlier iteration.

Eric, who knew the period far better than most, described the units using those dates so I shall use them as a guide.

Units will be listed by nationality but I shall order them into the correct time frame so that people that have no interest in a particular period need not look at lists that are not relevant to their chosen subject. Naturally the lists will be incomplete until I get the other 6 crates but at least it means I can make a start on them in the most effective fashion so that the new additions will merely need adding when available.

I hope to get this sorted out over the coming weekend.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Minifigs and Maxi Problems

The famous Minifigs logo. I remember buying their figures from a small shop in Charing Cross and then over at Victoria in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The whole range is now available from Caliver Books.

It has not arisen yet but I can foresee a fairly significant problem looming over the horizon in respect of the Eric Knowles 18th century lead mountain. The unpainted 25/28mm collection contains a significant number of figures produced by that stalwart of wargaming history - Miniature Figurines or Minifigs as we usually refer to them.

For me, from the mid 1970s until the early 1980s armies of Minifigs for all periods from the time of the Pharaohs until the Great War strode across the table tops of the wargaming world. Their catalogue was an inspiring read in its own right and I can remember the sheer thrill of having one drop through the letter box and be read until the pages came loose! In 25mm or 15mm when choosing a new army the first thought (after 'is there an Osprey or a Blandford on it?') was invariably 'do Minifigs do it?' For breadth of coverage and uniformity of quality and pose Minifigs had a huge impact on the wargames of the world. The figures were basic but would reward a good paint job as well as more basic brushwork and although wooden in terms of pose were ideal for using en masse.

Minifigs 25mm Seven Years War infantry.

Now I am going to put this out there and certainly remain to be corrected but I believe that the reason we do not see quite so many Minifigs based armies around is simply because figure ranges now are not only larger but are also more detailed and animated. There is nothing wrong with this as there was nothing wrong with Minifigs - tastes have simply moved on and so it is very rare to see armies of Minifigs alongside Front Rank or Essex for example - simply because the ranges are so different.

I have absolutely no problem with Minifigs but I can see why they may not tick all the boxes for the evolved gamers of today.

Eric had no qualms about mixing ranges in his armies and indeed, was also usually fairly relaxed about such considerations as scale. This means that for most of his armies there is invariably a number of units of Minifigs - usually the first he raised for a particular project.

The problem that I think will arise is that whilst the Front Rank, Essex, Redoubt and later Hinchliffe will find a new home readily enough the early indications are that the perfectly usable Minifigs may well be left behind. This is a conversation that Bill and I will be revisiting in due course but in the meantime I will seeking out those gamers that enjoy using these classic figures.

Scaling a Lead Mountain....Part 2

A useful reference on the army of Hanover during the Seven Years War. Eric had one of these (I mean the army - I am not sure about the book although it would not surprise me in the least!)

Following on from my post of earlier I received a very helpful email from Bill in connection with the ‘missing’ 18th century unpainted figures and it not only confirmed a couple of things for me but also raised yet more questions! To give you a better idea of the enormity of this undertaking, the sorting and cataloguing, I am showing you the list that Bill sent me. The figures are all in unit boxes so he merely carried out a headcount based the labels of the contents in each one. Taking that into consideration there is around another 5 or 6 crates worth which I shall be taking delivery at the end of next month.

The questions that were answered for the main addressed some gaps in the army compositions of those force I have already. A good example of this concerns the Polish army. I have all the cavalry whilst the infantry lurked in Bill’s loft. The British infantry for the 1680 to 1700 period - all 734 of them - was another notable absentee. It is safe to say that Eric liked his armies in ‘the grand manner’ and one wonders when on earth he would have gotten around to painting this lot, much yet use it!

I have added a few comments alongside some of the entries but the names and

Indian or Afghan - I have a small selection of Indian types - foot, mtd and gunners
34 mtd
14 foot

1680-1720 Turkish - I thought I had the whole lot already but obviously not....
162 foot
238 gunners, train guards, drivers etc

SYW 1740-1780 Italian Umbriago - NEW
77 mtd
235 foot

1680-1700 Polish - I already have the mtd element for this army
2 mtd
358 foot

Marlburian Danish - NEW
149 foot
64 mtd
6 guns and limbers

1680-1720 miscellaneous - NEW but there are also some other miscellaneous types I have
124 foot
79 mtd

1680-1700 British - I already have the mtd element for this army
734 foot

1680-1720 Dutch - NEW
438 foot
113 mtd

Marlburian French - I have a good selection of other figures for this army
108 mtd
33 foot

1720-1780 French - I have the foot for this army
108 mtd

French Colonial - NEW
235 foot
6 Canoes

Prussian Brandenburg 1680-1720 - I have a selection of foot and mtd for this army
28 foot
108 mtd

1740-1780 Prussian - I have a small selection of figures already for this army
390 foot
67 mtd

1740-1780 Hanover - NEW
126 mtd
613 foot
4 guns and limbers

1680-1720 Portuguese - NEW
79 mtd
209 foot

SYW Austrian Cavalry - I have the foot and some mtd for this army.
217 mtd
44 foot

Of all the above the one thing that really piqued my curiosity was the army described as the Seven Years War Italian Umbriago - a collection of some 77 mounted and 235 foot. I will check with Bill but if this is correct (and I have no doubt that it is) then Eric was organising a second ‘imagi-nation’ alongside the Electorate of Bustenberg. At the time of writing Bill is preparing a list of the units for 'Umbriago' so we can see what is there and if my theory is correct. Again, should this be correct then it is a second 18th century 'imagi-nation' that Eric was considering.

Until I take delivery of this lot I have no way of knowing what figures Eric has used although I suspect that usual suspects of Minifigs, Front Rank, Essex, Hinchliffe and even Wargames Foundry will feature alongside the smattering of Hinton Hunt and Les Higgins.

'Umbriago' was a song (and an imaginary comic sidekick) by the famous American entertainer Jimmy Durante. Whether or not it will receive a reinvention as an Italian themed 18th century 'imagi-nation' only time will tell!