Wednesday 26 February 2014

Final Thoughts on a 19th Century Grand Tactical Wargame

Some rather dashing Gallic colonial types (depicted for reasons soon to be revealed....)

I found this under the Crimean War images on Google but I reckon it is from the Russo-Turkish War - any thoughts would be appreciated!

Sometimes you just have to take things on the chin and accept the inevitable. That is what I have decided to do for the time being as my attempt to formulate a set of Grand Tactical rules for the 19th century is causing me a certain amount of pain! I am just not able to make anything stick in respect of the ideas I have - it is as though they are there but for some reason I cannot translate them into a meaningful set of rules. I suppose you could almost call the wargamers equivalent of writer's block....;-)

I need to be a little more disciplined in how I tackle this idea and so further research is needed  - which is a rather cheeky way of saying that I need to read some more sets of rules for inspiration!

I shall step back from this for a while and do something completely different. Whenever I have experienced a wargames land battle overload my thoughts inevitably turn to the sea and so, in order to cleanse my palate so to speak, that is where my next efforts will be directed.

Mention of matters naval related of course raises the looming spectre of painting as I have rather a lot of 1/2400th scale WW1 ships to finish off for Fezia and Rusland so I am hoping that a quick game will serve to reignite the enthusiasm.

We shall see!

Sunday 23 February 2014

More Thoughts on a 19th Century Grand Tactical Wargame

A Peninsula diversion. The action was fought on a 9 x 8 hexed playing area with the sides equating to roughly a division apiece. The units represented brigades and you can clearly see the skirmishers deployed to the fore of each formation. The Allies have a battery of artillery in support of the two British brigades whilst the French have massed their artillery into a grand battery on the hill. The brown troops are the Portuguese and the two green blocks in the the small farm are the men of the 95th rifles. 

I planned to have a test today of the various ideas I have been messing around with for a set of Grand Tactical 19th Century rules. Messing around with turned out to be an apt description of the game I tried for a number of reasons that I had not considered. I will not describe the action in detail but will summarise it after I have listed the points arising from the test.

  • Skirmishers - These fight first - either each other or against any other enemy. I have assumed that equal numbers of these would largely cancel each other out. The problem though, was considering what they should do as their part of the action. My thinking was a little fuzzy on this but I have allowed them to only be destroyed on an infantry hit (I am referring to Command and Colours type combat dice). If hit by an enemy skirmisher with a flag result they are assumed to have fallen back on their supports (if present) and take no further part in the combat. If they survive (and the enemy skirmishers do as well) then they cancel each other out and take no further part in the action for that turn. In a nutshell, skirmishers can only be destroyed by enemy skirmishers or cavalry. If only one side has skirmishers then these can be added to the defending infantry strength.
  • Formations - Halving the number of combat dice for an attacking column in conjunction with the defending unit 'firing' first means that the columns are invariably shot to pieces before having a chance to fight back and when they do it is at a greatly reduced effect. I have no real problem with this per se but it does mean that attacking in column can be an expensive business unless well supported - again, this makes sense from a historical perspective. For the psychological effect I am tempted to allow the attacking column to double the number of combat dice it eventually rolls.
  • Artillery - No real problems with this - at close range it was suitably effective.
  • Facing - This is something I need to think about as attacking an enemy in the flank or rear should be more effective - perhaps some bonus combat dice may be the answer.
The only cavalry combat was fairly straightforward - the British charged in with their usual gusto and were duly chased off. The French columns, no doubt with much 'Vive L'Empereuring' and other such Gallic joie de vivre rolled up to the thin red line and were driven off in the same old style - although not without some hairy moments - in fact one British brigade (the one with the cavalry next to it) was pushed back over the other side of the hill but managed to regain its position, aided in part by the neighbouring Portuguese. If I am honest the game felt like it should do for an action in the Peninsula so must be rated as a success although the combat sequencing needs a little more clarity. I will take away the results from today and see how the next version shapes up but I am thinking that I am on the right track.

One thing that this test did serve to prove though was that a couple of ideas I wanted to incorporate will not now be needed - at least not in their original form.

The size of playing area worked surprisingly well and will certainly feature as a regular fixture from here on in.

All in all then, it was not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon

Saturday 22 February 2014

Thoughts on a 19th Century Grand Tactical Wargame

Needle guns to the fore - Prussians in action in 1866

Work on the grand tactical 19th century rules has continued but it has taken rather a swerve in one respect. As I am naturally using a hexed grid (with my trusty Hexon terrain being the playing surface of choice) it occurred to me that at the level I want to fight combat is, in effect, almost on an area effect basis - essentially the contents of hex A versus the contents of hex B. This means that with a hex containing a potential mix of unit types - infantry, cavalry and artillery - should ideally have the combat subdivided to allow for any such differences.

So no more lumping the combat dice together then....

The system I am working on uses a mixture of  individual combat dice for infantry and cavalry and progressive dice rolls for artillery. This works well and is in fact what is used in Command and Colours Napoleonics so its pedigree is a known quantity. I thought about what a hex versus hex combat represented and whilst it readily includes elements of local low level tactics, essentially the process could be pared down quite readily into a minimal number of dice rolls.

It would be easy to just lump the total number of combat dice together and roll away but I wanted to add a little tactical flavour to the process. My thinking thus far covers the following:
  • Skirmishers, if present, conduct their combat first with any casualties being removed before any other combat and thus unable to take any further part.
  • Artillery, if present, conduct their combat next with any casualties being removed before any other combat and thus unable to take any further part
  • Infantry and Cavalry then fight with Cavalry fighting first - to allow for the potential of shock.
  • Cavalry will have the opportunity to counter an opponents intended action
Taking the above as a set of bare bones I will factor in - matrix-style - what happens to whom and when so that a round of combat between two hexes full of varied troop types will have the ebb and flow of a tactical engagement - almost on a 'rock, paper, scissors' basis.

Does this slow the game down? Possibly, although I want to make this very simple in execution.
Will it add to the all important flavour? I really hope so as one of the problems with games set at a high command level is that the low level action becomes even more abstract. 

It should hopefully serve to address the perennial wargamer's dilemma of wanting to be an army commander that still controls every battalion/regiment/battery in the army!

Thursday 20 February 2014

Butchers in North Africa....Part Two

A rather unusual souvenir of Tunisia - actually purchased in the UK! 

You may recall that back in January I took delivery of four 15mm scale German WW2 FW 190 fighters from the Axis and Allies Bandits High expansion of their collectible aerial combat game - see Butchers in North Africa for details. The models are ready painted in a fairly underwhelming desert colour scheme and merely need some minor detailing to be ready to use - some identification markings and the addition of the missing tail swastika would suffice. I wanted to learn more about the operational use of this aircraft during the Tunisian campaign so was absolutely delighted to come across the title you see above - so much so, that I immediately ordered a copy which arrived whilst I was in Tunisia.

The book comes across as a real labour of love in so much as the two authors have managed to come up with complete operational histories of all the 190 units deployed in Tunisia and with a day-by-day breakdown of the missions undertaken. There are tables of the fates of all the aircraft deployed as well as the records of individual pilots. There are maps (interestingly enough an airbase was located not far from Hammamet) and some very good side view colour plates of not only the FW 190 but also assorted Spitfires and P40s as well as Me 109 Gs. At full price this title should have been £29.99 but I picked mine up for £9.99 so was doubly pleased.

I hope to achieve two things by the acquisition of this book - to draw up some scenarios to game at the club and to also find the appropriate details for my models.

It also serves to give me a deeper insight to the Tunisian campaign....but that is a story for another day!

" A Quadruped of Singular Deportment"

Jacqueline the she-camel. She was a splendid beast.

SWMBO and I have just returned from a very relaxing week in Tunisia; staying at the popular resort of Hammamet. I did very little other than relax on the beach and catch up on some reading with only a single venture out of the hotel to visit the nearby town and Medina (incorporated in 16th century fort - with only the perimeter walls remaining). I had plenty of time to think about many things - gaming related and real world - and the fruits of this will be appearing in due course on the blog.

One of the towers at the entrance to the Medina

The camel above became a regular feature of our days on the beach (and for the record not only did I take a ride but I also swam in the sea - the Mediterranean in February is 'bracing' to say the least!) and she was a placid and docile well mannered beast. SWMBO and I became quite good friends with her and her owner, Mahmoud during our stay and she often observed with apparent interest the regular games of Petanque I played on the shore.

There is not a great deal to tell about the trip to be honest but the week of relaxtion coupled with good food and drink and also some welcome sunshine was just what SWMBO and I needed but now I am back to the real world. Until the next time, that is.

Sunday 9 February 2014

The 19th Century Lightbulb

The Battle of Solferino - not one I am very well acquainted with but I certainly hope to rectify this in time!

OK then, so here is how it goes. In various posts over recent months I have been droning on about tweaking this set of rules or that; I have experimented with several and have probably drafted many more besides. Initially I wanted to work on a smoothbore version of Bob Cordery's MOB or Itchy and Scratchy rules but then a couple of things came to light that have thrown the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

The first thing to derail my well-intentioned thought process was of course, Neil Thomas and his excellent book on 19th Century wargames from 1815 to 1880. I have raved about this book and every time I have opened it have been inspired in one way or another. I had planned (and indeed have done so) to devise a hex based variant and fully intended to test them this weekend BUT have come up with a rather better notion. The second thing (actually second and third if I am completely honest) was a couple of blog posts I happen to read. The first, from the good Kaptain Kobold, has already been mentioned in my most recent battle report but the second caught me completely by surprise and had me kicking myself for not thinking of something similar myself.

MS Foy over at Prometheus in Aspic posted a blog entry way back in December 2011 (the 15th to be exact) in which he discussed some ideas for a grand tactical version of Command and Colours Napoleonics. The intention was to fight large scale battles with reference to actual orders of battle. Essentially, a block represents a battalion of infantry, a regiment of cavalry or a battery of 6 to 8 guns. Furthermore, a hex could contain mixed formations e.g. 3 blocks of light infantry, a rifle blocks and perhaps a battery of artillery. the only restriction was that only infantry supported by artillery or cavalry supported by artillery could operate in a single hex.

This got me thinking and what really got my creative juices flowing was using this approach in conjunction with some of the ideas that Neil Thomas has in his book and then bolting the results on to Bob Cordery's MOB rules - derived as they are from Command and Colours but without the cards.

The Neil Thomas set has some great ideas for formations which would work well with the blocks and would add some rather nice tactical considerations. For example, columns move but lines do not. Also, units pivoting expend movement and fire at reduced effect. There are also rules for skirmishers.

Taking all this into consideration means that her is the potential for a rather neat set of rules that could easily cover the late Napoleonic Wars and with some period specific tweaks just about everything up to around 1880. The ability to be able to map units from historical orders of battle to blocks is a real bonus for me and I intend working on this over the next couple of weeks whilst I am away.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Musing over the Napoleonic Wars....Part 2

This is a truly inspiring book - and needless to say I have been truly inspired!

It has been a rather busy weekend for a number of reasons but I managed to find some time to sit down and spend a while pondering further my Napoleonic adventures and the rules I want to use. This coincided with me changing the size of my hexed playing from its customary 13 by 9 to an 8 by 9.

Why on earth would I do that?

Why indeed - but the reason is a very simple one. I want to experiment with smaller scale actions and with rules that are slightly more detailed. When I say smaller scale I am thinking around the 6 to 8 units a side level or roughly three quarters of my usual efforts. I blame that rather cunning Mr. Neil Thomas for this as his book, Wargaming 19th Century Europe, has gotten me very much in a creative lather and looking at lower level actions. I have yet to acquire a copy of his Napoleonic title (although I have the rules) but it struck me that using the 19th century set for the wars of Napoleon would be no bad thing (at least not for what I have in mind) and so I have spent some time today converting these into a hexed format. Ideally I would like to try these out over the course of the next weekend if time permits.

Assuming all is well I may look to adding in some of the 'pure' Napoleonic set mechanisms - particularly hordes and tribal cavalry.

Much to ponder methinks.

Saturday 1 February 2014

Musing over the Napoleonic Wars....Part 1

A blast from the past - sadly missing from the collection at present - and the generator of a vast number of games and, ahem, frank exchanges of opinion....;-)

I first cut my wargaming teeth on a Charge and Airfix inspired 1815 Allied army. This was in the early 1970s and as my gaming became more sophisticated - meaning I had just discovered the Airfix Magazine Guide on the Napoleonic Wars by Bruce Quarrie - I gravitated towards a Russian army using a combination of Minifigs, Hinchcliffe, Warrior and a very nice unit of Tradition Russian grenadiers (and no, they were not the famous Pavlov regiment either!). I persevered with until the very early 1980s and then the enthusiasm for the period, amid multiple other distractions,withered on the vine so to speak.

Or had it?

I moved to London in early 1978 and joined a wargames club in which nobody fought Napoleonics - rather they used to but had moved on to other periods. The club environment quickly seduced me into other areas (naval and ancients primarily, with a dash of Sci Fi thrown in for good measure) and the Napoleonics were quietly put to one side and then discarded. The next time I raised forces for the period was around ten years or so ago and were based on the units from the board game: Waterloo. Despite some interesting games with the armies involved my interest never really got going to the same levels as it had been previously.

Or had it?

The Napoleonic Wars has, if I am completely honest, never really left me as a period of interest - it has just lain dormant, to come to the surface every so often, as the mood or inclination takes me. My collection of books on the 1815 campaign has never left me and even now just a flick through the pages is sufficient to inspire me. Again, if I am completely honest, the prospect of painting vast armies of figures has been rather off-putting for so so when a Command and Colours Napoleonic game came out I was delighted. However, for a number of reasons it has just not really worked out for me. I love the blocks but I am just not mad on card driven board games when played solo (as most of my games are) for much the same reasons as I am not keen on the other games in the series.

What to do then.

I have given a lot of thought as to how I could revisit my inner Napoleon in terms of the rules I will be using and it will come as no surprise to learn that something Command and Colours based will probably be the set of choice but with the inevitable number of changes and additions. Bob Cordery's Memoir of Battle or his Itchy and Scratchy set have a lot to offer but I will need to tweak them in order to cater for the earlier smooth bore era.

The blocks are ready - and I am not including the Command and Colours versions in this statement - and as ever I have a few ideas up my sleeves for what I want to game - it is just a case of sitting down and crystalising them!