Tuesday 24 December 2019

'Tis the Season to be Jolly!

To you and yours from me and mine!

This will be my last post for the year so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year!

My gaming plans for 2020 are more or less in place and with sufficient built in variety to ensure that I do not bored and go off on some half-baked scheme at the drop of an 'ooh shiny' moment of weakness (no harm in kidding myself I guess!). This has been governed by the events of the year and how these have impacted on me in a positive way.

The two standout events were going to my first COW in July and having a truly inspiring weekend. The biggest takeaway from this quite wonderful weekend was the confirmation of the simple fact that one does not need thousands of museum quality miniatures and a billiard sized table to fight a satisfying wargame.

The second big thing for the year was of course the not inconsiderable amount of time I have spent in the company of Eric's lead mountains. This has given me much in the way of appreciating the value of focus and so was instrumental in reacquainting myself with the world of Napoleonics on a far more formal basis.

For the first time in a long while I feel far more relaxed about what I am going to game and how I am going to game it which means I can concentrate on enjoying the process rather than being a slave to it.

In closing I would like to thank everybody that has read my ramblings and offered up comments - both are very much much appreciated - and I hope that next year will be a content rich one.

A truly epic film of seasonal good cheer and of overcoming the odds....(especially for Ray)....

Monday 23 December 2019

The End of Empire

No, this is not a Star Wars reference - rather it refers to the campaign of 1814 in France as the allied armies closed in on Paris whilst Wellington moved in to Southern France and another British force went sightseeing in the low countries.

George Nafziger is well known for his extensive collection of orders of battle as well as his massive tome on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. He has also written three books on the war in Germany in 1813 being, in order, Lutzen and Bautzen, Dresden and Napoleon at Leipzig. I have these three but not the 1812 tome as yet but completeness it is on my to get list.

The campaign in 1814 has been described as one of Napoleon's finest in which, bereft of his German allies and massively outnumbered, he continually thwarted the Prussians, Russians and Austrians in a dazzling display of the art of managing the central position, scoring a number of impressive victories. Numbers eventually told as he was continually pushed back and when his Marshals refused to fight any longer he was forced to abdicate. That was essentially the opening scene from the film Waterloo.

This is a great doorstop of a tome at over 750 pages of which roughly a third is given over to extensive orders of battle - a Nafziger speciality in may ways. I was rather pleased to see mention of the British operations in the Low Countries including the affair at Bergen Op Zoom.

With my planning for the Napoleonic period focusing on the period 1812 to 1815 this is a most welcome addition to the library. I am aware that F. Lorraine Petre also wrote about this campaign and also 1813 so in due course it may be worthwhile looking these up.

One thing that I will need to give serious thought to is the small matter of Russian and Austrian armies but this will be for next year. In the meantime though, my collection of Command and Colours: Napoleonics will step up to the plate.

Sunday 22 December 2019

The (Spanish) Eastern Front

Not as well known as Wellington’s theatre the war in the east of Spain was of pivotal importance in the overall scheme of things.

As part of my research into the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars I have recently been looking at the war in Spain. Naturally enough the main focus of much that is in print (or indeed, out of!) revolves around the exploits of the Duke of Wellington as he made his way from Portugal to France. What I was only vaguely aware of though was the extent of the war in the Eastern half of the Peninsula. When I saw the above title (and being familiar with the author’s quite superb atlas covering the war) I immediately ordered it and it is a cracking title for sure!

From my limited knowledge of this part of the war it appears that the allied operations (which featured both the Spanish army and a lot of assorted irregulars) were very much designed to tie down the French. The Royal Navy was active in supporting the allies and there was even use of the Sicilian army as well. This would be fertile ground for me as the mix of troops would be suitably eclectic and with actions that would be smaller in scale. Ideal Portable Napoleonic Wargame material and with bags of mini campaign potential.

The Del Prado collection would furnish the French and the British but I suspect I will need to look further afield for the Spanish and others. Something to ponder as a bolt on to the Napoleonic project for next year.

Friday 20 December 2019

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

'Nuff said.

So began the opening sequence of the first (and every episode since) in the global pop culture phenomena that is Star Wars way back in 1977. The final chapter of what has been described as the 'Skywalker Sequence' - Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker goes on general release today and I for one am really looking forward to going to the cinema to watch it.

For many wargamers the Star Wars universe has been a constant companion and indeed, a source of inspiration in many ways as the background has transitioned into board games, role playing games, miniatures games, computer and arcade games. There have been countless novels and short stories that have really expanded the universe and provided the wargamer with a rich background to tap into for gaming purposes. On the table top one can battle with star fighters, star ships, squads of troops or individuals or even tackle the whole thing at a strategic level - the choices are really vast and are limited only by one's imagination (or wallet....).

I am a lifelong Star Wars fan and have gamed many elements of it at one time or another as well as dipping into the wider universe via the written word - I really enjoyed Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry as well as the Thrawn Trilogy - as well as for the original films. Then of course there is that magnificent soundtrack penned by John Williams which, to this day I will happily listen to and will acquire the latest release (his final so I believe) in due course.

The timeline of films and TV shows - including the animated series

At a personal level it feels as though Episode 9, despite the further films we are told are in the works as well as the TV tie ins (I have yet to see the Mandalorian but am really looking forward to Kenobi) is drawing a veil over a big chunk of my life and to be honest, it is a little sad really. The adventures of Luke, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Lando, Chewie and the droids R2D2 and C3PO, latterly joined by Finn, Rey, Poe, BB8 and all in opposition to Darth Vader, the Emperor and Kylo Ren have given me enormous pleasure over the years in an escapism, Saturday morning cinema  kind of way.

The original trilogy will always be my favourite although I have enjoyed all the others. I felt that he prequels were good overall but there were certain elements that felt as though they had been included 'because they could be' rather than for any logical reason that I could fathom. I enjoyed then anyway because the Star Wars universe is such a great place to set any kind of film in. Rogue 1 was outstanding in my opinion and much as I enjoyed Solo I felt as though it was an opportunity wasted in many ways. The Last Jedi, which has upset many die hard fans was not a bad film - I rather enjoyed it - but again, there were elements that were included that did not appear to offer anything. I also felt that Luke could have been used to far better effect.

There will always be those that will attack a film or films on the point of detail or, dare I say it, artistic interpretation. For me that kind of misses the point. The universe has been planted and the films are very much snapshots of events that have taken place in it. For sure there will be things that may not gel but let us just enjoy it for what it is offering. In doing so it will enable you to gloss over the oddities!

From a gaming perspective I truly believe Star Wars put Sci Fi - or rather Science Fantasy - gaming firmly on the map so to speak. There have been myriad sets of rules for all manner of games released since 1977 that in some way tap in to the universe that George Lucas gave us and many of these are thriving still. There are also some very good games currently available that use the original films as a background but that then bring them up to date to incorporate the latest films etc. X Wing, Armada, Imperial Assault and Legion all spring to mind.

I should also mention Lego as there is a huge amount of Star Wars material available and I have really enjoyed building some elements from it with my light sabre wielding 9 year old grandson as well as with my Wookie and Yoda impersonating 24 year old daughter. Truly this is a generational phenomena and watching the films with them is a real treat.

As I write this the a couple of well known quotes from the films come to mind that sum up the universe of Star Wars and how it has shaped so many things and in so many ways.

Of Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker - "The circle is now complete...."

Of the entire Star Wars universe: "Remember, the force will be with you....always."

Wednesday 18 December 2019

The Shrinking Wargamer and the (Deep) Cut of the Cloth....

This is a sample of the mat I have ordered. The colour is described as 'Meadow' and the grid lines are at a density of 2.0. These are quite heavy looking but I prefer this to anything lighter.

This is at line density 1.0 which is way too fine for my taste!

As the majority of my gaming is solo these days and invariably involves a grid based playing surface it follows that should have a viable solution in place for a table top battlefield. Up to a point this is true although the most pressing need - that of a large hex grid - is currently in the production phase.

I own two boards sized at 3ft by 2ft (one green and one desert) with 3" squares configured on a 12 x 8 basis and the recently penned mat with 4" squares and at 12 x 9. The smaller 3" grid works well with 15/20mm figures but does get a little tight with anything larger which in my case is the 30mm ACW collection.

For hexes I own a ton of Heroscape tiles which are around 1 3/4" across the flats sides and also a whole pile of Axis and Allies: The Collectable Miniatures Game paper mats which are not only double sided but also laminated with pre reprinted terrain. I have used all of these for gaming in the past and will do so going forwards.

The plan for the mat - Command and Colours (occasionally) Standard. I will invest in a desert mat in due course and may even opt for a sea type although this would probably be with smaller hexes.

What I really needed though, was a hexed playing surface with 4" hexes. I used to own a pile of Hexon tiles and terrain pieces which, whilst very high quality, was not only expensive but a royal pain setting up and clearing away (at least it was to me!). As a gamer that is heavily invested in the whole Command and Colours system I was keen to own a playing surface that would mirror one of their typical game boards which used to be 13 x 9. There is some diversity in this as the Medieval version of the game is 13 x 11 and I believe the Great War is different again. I was not fussed about this as a further (limiting) factor came into play - the size of my gaming table.

The man cave boasts not one but two tables with the larger of the two being 5ft by 3ft. A 13 x 9 hexed playing mat with 4" hexes occupies an area of 52" by 32.5" so fits quite tidily on the table top with some space either side for casualties, reinforcements, dice, counters, rules and other associated gaming flam and paradiddle. It looks neat and means that one can fight sitting down if one desires!

I did chuckle to myself at how the playing area size requirement for me has shrunk over the years. Back in the day I aspired to owning a 6ft by 4ft table - I have a fold up version that I made myself but it has been barely used - but successive rule evolutions over the years have reduced that to either 4ft x 3ft or 3ft by 2ft. As my games, even when using figures, tend to be quite abstract with units represented by a handful of figures it is probably easy to see why.

The hex mat I have ordered is a neoprene version from Deep Cut Studios. As it is in effect a bespoke item I have been in constant contact with them and have been impressed with the customer service at the very least. I will post pictures of it when it arrives. Having a 4" hex size means that I will be able to avail myself of the terrain pieces available from Hexon which will save a lot of time and effort. I still need to think about buildings though.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Stepping Back to Move Forward

Command and Colours in the Linear period - something to use figures with at some point perhaps! There is no pressing urgency though.

The units from the base game.

I apologise in advance for the rambling nature of this post but I feel pretty sure that what I am about to relate may well strike a chord with some, if not many. As the year draws to a close it is for me a time of reflection, of looking at what I do and why I do it. This year, rather more than usual, I have had much to think about.

My time thus far in this hobby of ours has been both richly rewarding and infinitely frustrating with the latter being largely of my own making. I have made lifelong friends and fought battles set in historical periods that would never have thought of. My gaming horizon has been expanded enormously and indeed, my first thought when seeing a new book, film, TV programme or something on the net or in a magazine that catches my eye is invariably something along the lines of 'There must be a game in that'. This is all fine and dandy and whilst better people than I can produce noteworthy set ups from the flimsiest of backgrounds it is something that I struggle to do. Invariably I will be enthusiasm personified at the outset but this never seems to last until it is turned into something tangible. Something else will come along and catch my eye and so the whole sorry process repeats itself.

There are however, constants. There are those periods that I will always come back and latterly I have realised that I may have missed a trick or two in not fully appreciating the rich tapestry of gaming options that they offer. I suppose in many ways I took them for granted which is generally considered to be a bad move in any relationship!

Stepping back and viewing the horizon of  the 45 odd years I have been involved in the hobby there are a couple of islands that standout and these are the ones I have realised that I should be heading for rather than splashing about aimlessly.

My first two major interests, back in the early 1970s, were Napoleonics and World War 2. When I moved to London I was introduced to other things such as the Seven Years War, Ancients, Naval games of many types, Sci Fi, Fantasy, role playing games and board games. Some were an extension of my earlier interests whilst others were brand new and shiny. Almost inevitably, when surrounded by infinite temptations, my two original interests were unceremoniously shunted to one side. Thus began a cycle of 'ooh shinyitis' that has effectively lasted since 1978.

I have lost count of the number of projects that I have started, invested in and have then abandoned - sometimes on multiple occasions - and this has become truly depressing!

This year has been something of a watershed for me on the gaming front. In many ways I have had the decisions about what I want to game taken away from me by a variety of circumstances. These are many and varied but can be summarised as relearning an important truth as well having the material to hand to be able to realise a particular project. The biggest single thing I have learned in all this is the value and importance of focus. Sorting through Eric's collection, aside from the sheer hard work and time involved, has been an object lesson in the value of maintaining, dare I say it, the 'Schwerpunkt' of a project. During his long wargaming career Eric, to my knowledge, fought Napoleonics, moved on to the late 17th and early 18th century, was building forces for the Seven Years War and then on to WW2. For sure he dabbled in Colonial WW1 - Madasahatta being the case in point - and also WW1 naval but as far as I know that was it - at least in a meaningful way. I can tell you that going through 18 crates of figures for effectively two periods was a salutary lesson in concentration of effort. It had a profound effect on me I can tell you.

I remember reading in Charge! that the authors believed that one should pick a period and stick to it and whilst I don't fully subscribe to that line of thought it does have value.

The other events that have served to focus the mind are primarily of the windfall variety. The unexpected gift of the beginnings of a Spencer Smith 30mm ACW collection served to make me look closely at the ACW again - my 'on off' relationship with this period is well known - because here was a way I could tackle it in the way I wanted to. Left to my own devices it may very well have not gotten off the ground. I am now set fair to have a completed collection that will satisfy my gaming needs for the period in a style that is pleasing to me. This is currently around two thirds of the way there but is certainly usable as is. The naval side is in hand and even this has had something of a helping hand in the shape of a couple of old board games that will help with the process. I should point out that the ACW was a period I really wanted to tackle using Airfix figures when I was back on the Isle of Sheppey but the only Airfix stockists on the island never seemed to have any!

The acquisition of a large collection of Del Prado Napoleonics (all being well I will have these at the end of January) is in many ways the icing on a particular cake - the figures are from the 1815 campaign which is a particular favourite of mine - with the cake being fighting table top battles using figures using my preferred grid based rule sets. I should mention that this Napoleonic renaissance has also been aided by the realisation that I should really start using the substantial Command and Colours collection I have invested in (especially now I have the Epic expansion!) as well as the impact that Bob Cordery's Portable Napoleonic Wargame has had.

What of WW2 then? Well, I own a goodly chunk of material for Memoir 44 which works well enough although I would not rely on it exclusively for my WW2 fix. Again, I will happily use models when I get to it as doing some basic kit bashing is very appealing. The important thing is that I have the raw material to tackle this as and when I need to.

WW1 and WW2 on the naval side are easy enough to organise as I have sufficient board game based material to use if needed and again I can drop models in as and when required.

Of the other things I have currently in a holding pattern there is little to say. I enjoy the 18th century - sorting Eric's collection reminded me of this - but the likelihood of me ever painting anything for it is remote. I have sufficient board game resources - Tricorne is excellent and when the Jacobite Rebellion set comes out next year I will be certainly be picking it up - to cover the AWI which is the period I always seem to gravitate to. That and pirates of all things - especially with the naval side (watch out Peter Pig, here I come!). Command and Colours Medieval will be an occasional treat as I am waiting on the Arab Conquests and the Crusades to feature - Plastic Soldier Company notwithstanding....

Finally there is the thorny subject of the Arab Revolt or rather, the campaigns across the Middle East. I want to game these but aside from using my block armies there is unlikely to be any figures involved for some time.

I have not included anything Sci Fi or Fantasy related in the list as I have always considered these to be side dishes or in other words pick up or put down as and when the mood takes.

In closing I make no secret of the fact that I use the blog as a sounding board and to help me think out loud. Taking all the above into consideration next year will see some focused gaming for a change but in the meantime there will inevitably be casualties. I plan to reorganise the man cave over the period of the Christmas holiday and there is much material that will be heading onward.

I have been in this situation numerous time over the years and have written about it ad nauseum but this time it feels rather more definitive than previously. If the circle is not complete it is at least heading that way.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Byzantine Intrigue

The first of the new series and I am hoping that the Arab Conquests and the Crusades feature in due course.

You may recall that a whole ago I picked up a copy of the latest Richard Borg Command and Colours game being the first title for the Medieval period. The scenarios in the game covers various of the battles the Late Romans/Early Byzantines fought against the Huns, Goths and Sassanid Persians. There is certainly an overlap with the Ancients game but the Medieval version, whilst similar in many respects has more than sufficient, dare I say it, ‘Medievalness’ to make a noticeable difference in game play. This is the era of the cavalryman holding sway over the battlefield and the game reflects this with the mounted arm being more effective than previously.

For my own part my interest in this period is limited and if truth be told probably owes much to the novel Count Belisarius by Robert Graves and the WRG books on the Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome and the Dark Ages as anything else. The main reason I acquired this game was for the  inevitable expansions which should cover the period of the Arab Conquests and the Crusades which I am far more interested in. GMT Games (the producers of C and C Medieval as well as the Ancients and Napoleonics series) tend to produce the base game which has everything you need and the expansions which are not usable on their own. They also tend to add in additional units that would complete earlier armies so in order to ensure that one is fully up to date one is almost forces to buy each expansion as it is released for completeness. Cynical marketing ploy? Perhaps, but then I couldn’t possibly comment....

I have a couple of books in my library covering the wars of this period of history and indeed, many moons ago was looking to prepare an Arab Conquest Army (25mm Minifigs) for use with WRG 6 th edition. I never got around to this but an army consisting solely of Irregular A fanatics would have been fun to use!

Coincidentally, at least coinciding with the not-so-recent release of C and C Medieval, comes the following batch of goodness to be released next year by the Plastic Soldier Company.

The rules....

....the first army....

....with the first of the opposition....

....some really useful barbarian types...

....with some marauding light horse.

The army box sets are in 15mm hard plastic and the plan is that they will be launched at Salute next year although the pre orders will be available beforehand. 

You will have probably worked out where my thoughts are heading with this  - using figures instead of the blocks from the game - and I have to say it is a tempting option. I will look forward to seeing the figures when they are released and it is something that I suspect I may well be looking long and hard at. If the Plastic Soldier Company expand the range available to include the Arabs then it would be an absolute no brainer.....

...And I have absolutely no brain (at least the willpower portion of the brain that is!).

Thursday 12 December 2019

ACW and Napoleonics in 2020

I wonder how many gamers have used or owned one of these over the years since it was first released back in the 1970s?

A little early I know but as the year draws to a close I have been thinking about what I have been up to and what it will mean for next year. The time has flown by and as is usual a number of ideas have come and gone, some for good and some currently in a holding pattern. In many ways this year has positioned me nicely for 2020 – certainly in respect of both the ACW and, more recently, Napoleonics - but more by chance than design. I have been singularly fortunate in a couple of areas and as a result these are unsurprisingly going to be the main focus of my efforts next year. 

The 30mm Spencer Smith ACW collection will be completed – it is perfectly usable at present – and once I have some specific terrain pieces taken care of as well as the naval dimension I can then focus on not only enjoying some games but also thinking about the campaign aspect. I have plenty of reading material to maintain my enthusiasm and with the potential of using the collection with multiple rules sets and at varying levels (skirmish up to army level) there is plenty of gaming opportunities to enjoy.

The Napoleonic collection that I am about to acquire will enable me to realise a number of ideas I have been considering over the years. Again, there will be a low level naval dimension although this will not now be with Black Seas. The models are lovely but require far more work than I would be prepared to put in. I have yet to decide about basing for the collection – individual versus multiple bases – and will do so once I have it at home. The plan is to organise a representative Anglo Dutch Army for 1815 as far as possible using Del Prado figures but with the odd Tradition 25mm as required. As the ‘units’ will be small – I am thinking along the lines of the Portable Napoleonic Wargame or Command and Colours – adding any additional types here and there will not be too onerous, even allowing for my reluctance to paint anything organic! Again I will need to organise some generic and period specific terrain pieces.

The main focus of my Napoleonic collection will be the 1812 to 1815 period which I suspect will cause the odd sideways glance. It is the era of massed armies and a combination of the Napoleon on the decline and the opposition getting their collective acts together. A simplistic view perhaps but largely correct. For sure the earlier years of the period will receive some attention but for that I shall make use of Command and Colours blocks. The main reason for focusing on the latter period is that I will only need to focus on figures wearing the later uniforms so Bicornes will be reserved for command figures rather than the rank and file!

I have ordered a Deep Cut gaming mat with 4” hexes configured as per a 13 x 9 Command and Colours style playing area. This size of playing mat will fit my gaming table nicely (it is 5ft by 3ft but I like to have some spare table space for gaming paraphernalia – dice, counters and play sheets etc). My plan is to make use of some of the Hexon terrain pieces – roads, rivers and hills primarily – that are available as well adding some of my own home made items. For reasons of pure nostalgia I may even have to invest in a copy of the Airfix Waterloo farmhouse. I am willing to bet that that particular model has appeared on many a stricken field over the years and often in wars other than the campaign of 1815! Given the table footprint of the Airfix kit it would only really be suitable in my world for skirmish level games but this is fine - such a piece of wargaming history should be accommodated somehow! Sadly it would not be very useful on a 4" hex grid. I can remember buying this kit when it first came out and it featured in many games using my 20mm Airfix collection as well as in numerous WW2 games. It is an incredibly useful model and was used in its entirety or in pieces and was also very simple to paint.

There is also something else that would fit in well with my vision and that concerns Merit Trees. In my early days of gaming these were very popular and adorned many miniature battlefields. I had some of these in my collection a couple of years ago but sadly the plastic had become extremely brittle and they more or less disintegrated before my very eyes. It is a shame but given their age is probably not surprising.

My feeling for both projects is that the terrain needs to be simpler looking so as to match the both quality of the figures and their paint jobs. New 'old school' so to speak.

Monday 9 December 2019

A Cornucopia of Conundrums and a Comprehensive Collection

You would think that at my age I would know better....

I have had better weekends. You know that horrible feeling you get when you didn’t do what you know you should have but pressed on any way and made a complete pig’s breakfast of things? The horrible feeling that goes something along the lines of  ‘I should have known better’? Well I had this twice over the weekend.

The first occasion was my attempt at a hexed mat. If you recall I had half a green mat to hex using a specially purchased hex template. In theory it was a simple ‘dot the angles and then join them up’ exercise. I had a nice flat surface to work on and the guarantee of being undisturbed for around four hours as my beloved was out with friends.

What I should have done was to draw some guidelines in light pencil to ensure that the hexes were aligned correctly – these could have easily been rubbed out later – and then completed the hexes one row at a time.

What I did was to ignore this basic safety feature and instead I drew on the hexes along the bottom and the side edges – effectively freehand although using the template - making a playing area of 12 by 11 hexes.

So far so good.

I then started to fill in the area between the two axis but not in any particular order. I kind of went along the lines of ‘let’s see how that area would look’ and it was not long before I realised that something was very slightly awry. Some of the lines began to ever so slightly deviate. The further I went along the greater the deviation until, when I was around 85% of the way complete I reluctantly abandoned the effort. The first few rows were OK so what I shall do will be to cut out a 6 x 8 hexed area and use the rest for terrain overlays. This will suffice for small actions but it will mean that I now need to acquire a larger hex grid playing area.

I was kicking myself because not only had I messed up something that I really should not have but that I also wasted hours of my life doing so!

The next thing which again, I could have easily avoided, concerned a trip out to acquire some more of my block army storage boxes. There is a particular type I use and so far all of mine come from a shop called Home Bargains where they are £2.49 each. The same item is on sale in Hobbycraft for £6.99! SWMBO and I drove over to Basildon (being close to Christmas it was packed, even early on a Sunday) and guess what? They did not have any in stock. A simple check online would have told me this beforehand and saved me a wasted journey.

So there are two examples , if any were needed, of the value of the seven Ps. Proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance!

British Infantry doing what they did best - rolling platoon volleys

Close up the guards infantry. These are very similar in build to the 25mm figures produced by Tradition - which is very useful indeed!

Despite all this doom and gloom (and Chelsea losing 3 – 1 did little to cheer me up) I did have one piece of unbelievable good news. I am in the process of acquiring a substantial collection of the Del Prado: Relive Waterloo 25/28mm figures covering the 1815 campaign. All three armies are represented and the plan is to take delivery at the end of January. In one fell swoop this will form the main project for me for next year and in many ways it will serve to complete the circle as my wargaming career began with the 1815 campaign way back in the early 1970s using Airfix figures. There are many decisions I will need to make in respect of basing and organisation – I am currently looking to Bob Cordery’s Portable Napoleonic Wargame as inspiration although Command and Colours will also feature – and for sure I will need to add to the collection in certain areas. Luckily there are occasional items that appear on eBay as well at our local boot sale and also at the Skirmish toy soldier show so I shall be keeping a close eye on these. Luckily the figures seem very similar in build to those available from Tradition in 25mm although these are not the figures available from Spencer Smith (Peter has the 30mm range I believe).

I am really excited about this collection and so Napoleonics will be a major part of next year on the gaming front for me. I fully intend getting the three 1815 armies up to strength and indeed will also look to add representative forces for the Russians and Austrians in due course. Using the size of my ACW collection as a template this will be easy enough to do and so from a figures perspective my efforts will be focused on the latter part of the wars - 1812 to 1815.

Friday 6 December 2019

A Block for One's Own Back

A generic infantry block

Some 'top down' infantry

A lorry - typically this would be for motorised infantry or logistics, perhaps even in conjunction with the artillery

A generic tank

For bodies of archers

Infantry blocks in formation

Another variant of the infantry block....

....and the cavalry block

Now this was something I never expected to see available! Battlescale Wargames Buildings  have launched a range of resin blocks for wargaming purposes, samples of which you can see above. These are really nice looking and had they been available before I started chopping up vast quantities of Jenga blocks would have certainly made an attractive alternative. I particularly like the small triangular facing indicator (?) at the base of the block which would be very useful when used on a 'free' table top. I also like the 3D effect using raised surfaces to ease painting (even I would struggle to struggle with them!) as well as the symbolic vehicles.

The blocks are sized as follows:

Larger blocks: 35mm frontage x 20mm x 6 to 7mm
Smaller blocks: 20mm x 20mm x 6 to 7mm*

*The vehicle blocks are also available in the 20mm x 20mm size block.

These fit very nicely on the same company's hex tiles which are 80mm across the flat sides (slightly smaller than than the Hexon 100mm version).

I would certainly like to get some of these to experiment with - perhaps with a proper Portable Wargame set up - and I hope that the range is successful for Battlescale, if only so that they persevere with the range and add extra pieces to it.

Who would have thought it? Blocks going all mainstream....whatever next?

Thursday 5 December 2019

Napoleonic Uniform Books from 'Back in the Day'

Volume 1 and 2 of the Funcken Napoleonic set and....

....the rear cover of volume 2. A striking colour combination in evidence for the Lancers of Berg.

For reasons that will become obvious in due course I have been giving my Napoleonic library some attention. Not so much from the perspective of campaign histories as I am reasonably comfortable with what I have - there are a couple of holes that need attention but nothing major. The one key area that has thus far received scant attention concerns uniforms.

The dedicated figures painter no doubt has a huge variety uniform books to choose from ranging from Ospreys, Blandfords, Histoire et Collections and a whole lot more besides. Of course there is also the internet which has become a valuable resource in its own right. I suppose because I am a (very) reluctant painter of figures my own efforts to build a library of uniform details has been modest to the point of insignificance.

1815 the Armies at Waterloo by Ugo Pericoli and....

....an example of the plates contained therein. I deft anybody not to be inspired by the sartorial elegance of the Dutch Lancers!

The very first uniform book I can ever remember buying was the title above by Ugo Pericoli. It was first published in 1973 following the release of the film Waterloo previously upon which he worked. My original copy was a large format paperback I remember buying from a market on the Isle of Sheppey. It has long since gone - disintegrated in fact - but I did treat myself to a hardback version a few years ago. Now it may not be 100% accurate in respect of fine detail but as a source of inspiration to a young and impressionable wargamer furiously painting Airfix Napoleonics it was a Godsend. 

The other two books - the Funcken Napoleonic set - I remember having out on almost constant loan from the library and indeed, they provided much information for my Russian Napoleonic Army. I have just acquired these two again and despite the passage of time the quality of the plates contained therein still serves to enthral and inspire.

I now have all of these in my library and they serve as very pleasant reminders of my early days in the hobby. There may well (and probably is) be better and more accurate studies available but for me these will do nicely. I will add a couple of Blandford titles though for completeness as I always enjoyed the 1812, Peninsular War and Waterloo titles.

Happy days indeed.

Monday 2 December 2019

Even More on a Napoleonic Adventure

Plenty in the box but needs every other expansion to make the fullest use of it. Good job I have them then!

I never tire of seeing this battlefield - images of Christopher Plummer and Rod Stieger circling as I do - and take a look at that board - it is truly Epic....

As the owner of expansions 1 to 5 for Command and Colours Napoleonics – and woefully underused they are as well I might add – I was wary of another addition to the collection without it adding some tangible value. I am of course referring to expansion number 6 or Epic Napoleonics. Boardgamegeek has the following to say about the expansion and there is little I can add so I will not bother!

“EPIC Napoleonics is the sixth expansion for GMT’s Commands & Colours Napoleonics game system. EPIC Napoleonics allows for fighting larger battles with more units. EPIC Napoleonics is actually two game systems in one – the Epic Battles system, and the La Grande Battles system. Although the scope of our Napoleonic game has changed size wise, the historical feel and the basic rules of play, for the most part, remain the same. To experience the maximum enjoyment with these two new Napoleonic game formats, both EPIC Napoleonics and La Grande Battles scenarios are best played using the Command card and Tactician card decks that were part of the Generals, Marshals and Tacticians expansion.
Included in this expansion are six standard sized scenarios that focus on key phases of the battle of Austerlitz, 2 December 1805. This expansion also features 12 EPIC sized engagements and two La Grande Battle scenarios. Also included are two double-sided mounted maps. The EPIC sided battlefield is larger, and at 11 hexes deep by 20 hexes wide, it is almost double the size of the standard size battlefield of 9 hexes deep by 13 hexes wide. When laid side-by-side to form the La Grande battlefield, the battle area is a whopping 11 hexes deep by 26 hexes wide.
In an EPIC Napoleonics game, one player on each side assumes the role of the Commander In Chief (CIC). Each CIC has a hand of Command cards and on a turn must play one card from his hand to order units in one section of the EPIC battlefield. Also on the turn, the CIC must select one card from the Courier rack to play. The card selected from the Courier rack will also order units in one section of the EPIC battlefield. There are only three sections in the EPIC battlefield (left, centre and right) and with two Command cards played each turn, the action quickly becomes very fast and furious.
The Courier rack is a new game mechanic, and starts each battle with five Command cards that are visible to both players. Each turn one card is taken from the rack, so the choice of cards a player has each turn is reduced, until there are only two cards remaining on the rack. The rack is then filled back to five cards before the next player’s turn, and the card selection process from the Courier rack will start again.
EPIC Napoleonic will allow two or more players to enjoy a truly Epic size battle, but it is important to note in order to play most EPIC Napoleonic scenarios, players will need a copy of the Commands & Colours Napoleonic game and its expansions (Spanish, Russian, Austrian, Prussian and Generals, Marshals and Tacticians) This EPIC Napoleonic expansion will only provide enough units and terrain to fill any gaps”.
I know, I know – what on earth has he gone and gotten himself into now? Well if truth be told and in my usual roundabout fashion (aka how I justify what I am doing and how I am doing it) this game has kind of ‘squared the circle’ for me. I cut my teeth on Napoleonics back in the 1970s and the period as a whole has never really gone away. I could never see myself raising multiple armies using hundreds of figures - even smaller scale, 15/10 or 6mm - for the period as there are too many parts of the whole I am interested in. Replacing the blocks with figures on a one for one basis would certainly work though and to be honest is the only way I could see myself doing this. As a result the armies would be large Portable Wargame sized or Dan Mersey’s Rampant-like, very similar to my ACW set up.
There is a smattering of Napoleonic figures available from Spencer Smith which could possibly work well alongside those available from the Del Prado range. The biggest problem for me is really that of choice as to what historical campaign I would get the most mileage from. My fondness for 1815 is well known but I could readily add 1812 in Russia and the Peninsula War, not to mention 1809, 1813 and 1814. Taking that as a whole then you could say the later Napoleonic period rather than the ‘classic’ era up to 1807.
I am keen to get more use out of this collection and certainly all the tools are there. Whilst I like the idea of reproducing the armies with figures it is fair to say that unless something radical happens this is certainly some way off.

Thursday 28 November 2019

More from Eric’s Collection

A selection of French Demi Brigade infantry from the Minifigs S range I believe and also....

....what look like British Royal Marines.

No prizes for guessing what these are! The RHA's finest.

French Dromedary mounted cavalry for Napoleon's Egyptian campaign

Part of the unpainted 18th collection lead mountain that belonged to Eric was a force he had earmarked as an 18th century Indian army. The original crate consisted primarily of ancient Indian figures and cavalry but the above were recently uncovered by Bill and are now with me for disposal. I was rather taken with the French Demi Brigade infantry - any military figure wearing a Tarleton-style helmet will always get my vote - and the camel riders. I have no idea as to what Eric had planned for this part of his collection although it looks very much like he would have been raising two European forces to go with the hordes of natives. I would not be in the least bit surprised if Bill unearthed a box of elephants at some point as well as some substantial native artillery pieces.

There is also a unit of what look like French Chasseurs a Cheval but sadly I had forgotten to take a picture of them. They also appear to be Minifigs S range.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

More on a Napoleonic Adventure

Not something one would first turn to when thinking about the Peninsula War....

As sure as night follows day then you can take it as read that I will always looks at the naval dimension of any given campaign I am studying! I even managed to do this for the Arab Revolt and indeed, the potential of the Red Sea as a theatre of naval operations has featured in one of my long term projects. As I am currently in something of a Napoleonic groove whilst waiting on my hexagon template to arrive I came across the title you see above. To begin with I can do no better than quote the words of the Duke himself:

“If anyone wishes to know the history of this war, I will tell them that it is our maritime superiority (that) gives me the power of maintaining my army while the enemy are unable to do so.”

The Royal Navy played a massive part in the success of Wellington in the Spanish peninsula. Not only did the Navy transport troops and supplies to and from Spain but they also protected the all important supply ships (fully 10% of Great Britain’s merchant marine was used to support Wellington in the Peninsula) from interference, supplied gun crews for use in siege operations and carried out raids all around the coast thereby tying down numerous French troops. This was not the war of great lines of battleships (especially after Trafalgar) but that of the smaller ships, the frigates, brigs, sloops and others.

Strange to relate but although I have looked at the role of the Navy in the Mediterranean I never really studied the Spanish dimension. The above book should help to address that oversight.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

A Napoleonic Adventure

 From the Command and Colours website - GG03 or in other words Epic Waterloo. Now replace those blocks with figures and you may well be on to something....Nah! It'll never catch on....

You know that feeling you occasionally get when you realise that what you thought all along was in fact correct? Well, that is exactly what I am currently experiencing in respect of the Napoleonic Wars. My history with the period is long and almost incidental and began originally way back in the 1970s with my Airfix 1815 set up and moved onwards via Hinchliffe, Tradition and Minifigs (my Russian army which I sold to Eric Knowles) – I would not be surprised if it is still lurking in one of the newly discovered boxes at Bill’s house – and then, much later, a large 15mm Hundred Days set up (all three armies) designed for a set of rules called Le Petit Empereur. I have enjoyed the Columbia Games game Napoleon which covers the 1815 campaign and indeed, the 15mm 1815 collection was amassed to use with this board game and of course more recently Command and Colours.

There was another army I raised during the late 1980s that I have not mentioned before. This was during a rather eventful phase of my life and so I had acquired the figures for an Allied division for 1811 for the Peninsula complete with Portuguese, stovepipe shako wearing British and bicorne wearing heavy dragoons. The figures were all Minifigs and at the time my library also included a full set of both Oman and of Napier. Unfortunately I had to dispose of pretty much all of my collection due to some dire personal circumstances and when I got back on my feet again the Peninsula itch was notable by its absence.

These days my interest in the period is still there – with such a rich gaming tapestry it would be difficult to erase completely – but the execution of the same would be very different from way back when.

There are gamers that have happily used Command and Colours Napoleonic with bases of figures representing individual blocks or even single figures representing the aforementioned blocks. The latter is the approach I have adopted with my ACW collection – 1 figure equals 1 block – and for me it works very nicely. For sure the ACW set up has been expanded slightly to what I call a ‘Charge! and a half’ standard as the organisation reflects that of the famous book of the same name. The figures are based individually which means there is a lot of rule flexibility but given the smallish size of forces used in this fashion moving umpteen figures is not too much of a hassle. Such forces would also work very well with the Portable Wargame or anything from the 'Rampant' stable.

I guess it is a perception thing but whilst I have no problem representing a unit with a handful of figures on a gridded playing surface I would be loathe to do the same on a ‘free’ table top. This was why I opted to model my units on the organisation used in Charge! for the ACW collection. A 16 figure infantry unit or an 8 figure cavalry unit looks presentable enough on the tabletop. Transporting this approach into the Napoleonic period would be straightforward but what figures to use would be another conundrum.

Last week, for an evening and a day, I had the pleasure of the company of MSFOY of Prometheus in Aspic fame. We have exchanged emails and the occasional telephone call over the years but had not met face to face - hardly surprising given the location of our respective residences! I have always admired the attention to detail that MSFOY applies to his armies and games and this is a skill I would most certainly struggle to emulate. Any man that fights Command and Colours games using armies of 20mm Higgins, Hinton Hunt and others on an 8ft by 5ft table featuring 7" hexes is always worthy of my respect and deepest admiration! 

Aside from the dubious pleasure of meeting me and visiting the man cave there was some serious business undertaken of a Napoleonic variety and so I would suggest a quick visit to his blog would certainly be worth your time. For me it was an absolute pleasure to meet up at long last and to discuss gaming, ideas, battles fought and lost and the prospects of the UK following the election and Brexit. 

MSFOY has some very interesting and soundly thought out ideas in respect of his take on Command and Colours Napoleonics and these are ideas that I would certainly consider for my own efforts in this direction.

An incidental but nevertheless significant bonus for me though was finally learning what a Hooptedoodle refers to...

Friday 22 November 2019

Thoughts on the ACW Afloat

A blast from the past - the original Yaquinto Ironclads and the Expansion set. Back in the day I took part in some epic games of this but they are very detailed and struggle with large actions, especially with ships that use broadsides!

Whilst waiting to take delivery of the bases I need for my 1:2400th ACW Naval collection I have been giving some thought to the rules I will want to use with the models. The first decision I took was that the rules will certainly be grid based. There are a number of options to explore including Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames (including the ACW variant that the redoubtable Mr Fox came up with) which have the virtue of being simple to use, are well thought out and capture the all important flavour of the period. At the other end of the spectrum I could make use of the uber-detailed rules from the old Yaquinto board game Ironclads.

Ironclads is a hugely detailed board game of ACW naval combat that came out originally in 1979. There was also an expansion kit produced that covered more ships for the ACW as well as the key ships from the major European fleets of the period. At a ship to ship level or with around half a dozen vessels per side the system worked well enough but anything larger and it became quite cumbersome. The ship data cards for use with the game are really helpful, especially when it comes to the type of artillery mounted. To give you a flavour virtually every major weapon type or calibre carried by either side had a unique stat line for use in the game. Individual hit location was the order of the day and the rules made use of a number of charts and tables that these days would make my eyes bleed! It was a huge amount of fun to play though, despite the complexity.

Seen as another expansion to the original although a standalone product in its own right, Shot and Shell tidied the rules up a little for using land assets as well as addressing the problem of broadside firing ships.

There was also a standalone game released called Shot and Shell that was independent of Ironclads but that used the same system and is usually seen as an additional expansion to the original series. Both Ironclads and the expansion set were rereleased by Excalibre Games in the early 1990s but with a significant difference. The Excalibre version featured ship counters showing a side profile of the vessel in question whilst the original version (and also Shot and Shell) depicted ships on a ‘top down’ view basis.

The Excalibre games versions of the original Yaquinto editions. The Excalibre version features ship counters showing a side profile rather than the top down view of which the latter is far more useful in my opinion.

For me the key thing with naval combat in this period is that individual ships should have a degree of ‘personality’. By that I mean that the rules should allow for such things as critical hits or specific damage rather than just marking down damage points. A good example of this (although a different period) is Ship ‘O the Line, the age of sail wargame rules originally published by Battleline.  These rules have that level of detail which makes them an attractive set for small scale actions although not in the same league of complexity as Ironclads.

So where is this heading them? Well, one of the very usable things about the Ironclad system is the ship cards, especially in respect of what artillery is deployed where on any given vessel. This very handy as the rules I am currently looking at are a vintage set originally published in Miniature Wargames way back in 1984 (issue number 14 to be exact) and written by that well known and respected rule writer, Andy Callan. the article including he rules is available from the Wyre Forest Wargames club as follows: Wyre Forest Wargames Club

Despite the name of the rules (any set of rules named after an Enid Blyton character would struggle to be taken seriously in my opinion)  these are a well thought out set that feature many of the key elements that one would expect to see in a game about ACW river based naval combat. As ever with a skilfully written rule set the core mechanics will stand any amount of tweaking which makes them all the more appealing in my book. They are fast moving and indeed, the only thing I need to do is to superimpose them on to a grid. Each vessel will need a damage chart but his is very handy as it means that guns can be marked on in their correct positions.

The first thing I want to do with these is to convert them into being hex based and to then think about what extra chrome I need to add. I will also need to draw up the appropriate ship cards.

I am rather looking forward to this. 

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Following the Duke

Jac Weller's three titles featuring the Duke of Wellington. The above are the paperback editions whilst I own all three in the Greenhill hardback version. I also have both the India and Peninsula title on Kindle courtesy of an Amazon 99p sale day!

I have often ramble on about my formative years in wargames using an Airfix 20mm plastic 1815 period allied army 'back in the day'. I have always had a soft spot for the Napoleonic wars in one way or another and indeed, have acquired and discarded a number of collections and projects over the years. With my current interest in the war of 1812 holding my attention it was inevitable that I would revisit the broader period, particularly given the British involvement against the French in Spain.

It does not need me to add that the Peninsula War is a rich seam for the wargamer to tap into - from the military perspective it offers everything from small scale skirmishes up to major battles and all levels in between. I would enjoy gaming the period again using figures but to be frank it is unlikely I will do so, especially given the availability of Command and Colours: Napoleonic as a viable alternative.

Having said that, raising a pair of armies for the period is actually not too daunting assuming one has a specific army size in mind. For me what is fast becoming my 'army template' in terms of figures would mean that around 60 to 70 foot and around 20 mounted figures with a couple of guns would be more than sufficient for a variety of options. One could replicate the scenario specific forces for Command and Colours or use the same with the Portable or One Hour Wargame rules - even something from Mersey 'Rampant' stable would fit.

The three books pictured above have been at the heart of my Napoleonic library for years and whilst there may be more up to date histories available still stand up well. They are all easy to read and provide much useful information for the wargamer including maps and orders of battle.

Much to ponder methinks....

Sunday 17 November 2019

Pining for Georgia

Bargain of the day - 8 trees for a pound in two sizes. They are around 7mm thick with the ruler alongside for scale.

Today could have been one of frustration - I will not bore you with the details - but for a pleasing win courtesy of the Works. SWMBO and I headed off to Basildon for some bits and pieces - mainly Christmas related but with a built in browse around as well - and as is my custom when over there I always make a point of stopping in the Works. There was little on the book front to tempt me but I a quick glance at the arts and crafts section led me to the packet above.

The big trees are 6cm whilst their smaller brethren are 3cm. Both are the same thickness - 7mm. For my Spencer Smith project these are ideal (I purchased 5 packs but probably should have gotten some more - I will try the Rayleigh branch (no pun intended!) to get another 3 packs methinks.

I wanted 2D trees as the table footprint is minimal which is an important consideration when using a grid. I am in two minds about how to base these. I am tempted to use the idea below with four trees on a 4” by 1” deep base for some of them and to also to base a few up individually. The advantage of this idea is that the base could be deployed along the grid side nearest the enemy meaning that any troops deployed in the square would be largely invisible to the enemy thereby providing an element of ‘the fog of war’. The individual trees could be used to add a little local colour rather than representing wooded or forested areas.

Rebels lurking in a wood of good Georgia Pine

Obviously the trees will need painting but even for me these should be pretty straightforward. All I need to do now is to get some similarly styled buildings, again with the 2D idea in mind, and work on the scenic aspect of my ACW project will really move along.

I am sure that the purist will point out that the Georgia Pine does not really look like a Christmas tree but such things do not bother me and in any event, these will also work well for the Russian Front!

Saturday 16 November 2019

American Civil War Afloat

Published by the Naval Institute Press ISBN 1-59114-882-0

I reckon that for now I have pretty much all the material I need for the naval side of my ACW project. In addition to a couple of titles on the ships and the two volumes by Jack Coombe (Thunder along the Mississippi and Gunfire Around the Gulf) there are also some sections contained in Battles and Leaders and a number of Osprey titles. There is also the Kindle based Gulf and Inland Waters by Mahan - available for free from Project Gutenberg - which is a good read.

Despite all of that I was missing a good overall history of the naval side of the Civil War so when I spotted the above I figured it would be a good way to address this. I can safely say I was not wrong as this book is really rather good.

To give you a flavour here are the contents.

1. The Union and Confederate Navies: Organisation, Personnel and Shipboard Life
2. Resources, Facilities, Warships and Naval Ordnance
3. Union and Confederate Naval Strategies and the Start of the War
4. The Blockade and Early Atlantic Coastal Operations
5. Early Union Riverine Warfare in the West
6. The First Clash of Ironclads
7. Union Operations on the Lower Mississippi: The Capture of New Orleans
8. Union Riverine Warfare Continued: Vicksburg
9. Union Operations against Charleston 1863
10. Unconventional Weapons: The Torpedo and The Submarine
11. The Commerce Raiders
12. The Red River Campaign
13. The End of the War: Coastal Operations
14. Conclusion

There are also notes, a glossary and an extensive bibliography to support the above which is always useful. As a one volume overview of naval warfare in the American Civil War this certainly ticks all the boxes.

There are a couple of other titles it would be handy to include in the naval section of my ACW library  but for now I have more than sufficient to be going on with. I have the models I need and merely need a single packet of MDF bases (currently on order) to crack on with the painting. As far as rules go I have a number of options to explore - some old friends with some newer stuff and the odd homegrown option.

This will be a lot of fun.