A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Hooptedoodle #224 - Donkey Award - The Donkey

Guido Fawkes is most famous for failing to do whatever it was he was planning to do back in 1605 (there is still some debate about just what he and his chums intended), but it is pretty certain that if he had succeeded he would have had the sense and the good taste to refrain from turning up at Westminster a few days later to gloat.

I was determined to avoid a rant about Europe – it’s a fait accompli now (foreign expression meaning “done deal”), so we must make the best of it. However, this Farage chappie takes the biscuit (foreign-derived word meaning “cookie”). Having had the effrontery to turn up in Brussels yesterday (a rare enough event – he has the second-lowest attendance record of all active MEPs), this sneering, shape-shifting hypocrite saw fit to accuse his colleagues in the European Parliament of never having had real jobs. I am aware that he was once a commodities dealer, but I understand that of late he has mostly been a professional politician – certainly since 1999.

It would be interesting to know, in light of his minimal commitment and his constant hostility to the institution, just who has paid for his involvement in the European Parliament, how much he has pocketed and what we have all gained from the experience – apart from a lot of collective embarrassment, and the polishing of the ultimate, nightmare English stereotype, to our eternal glory.

Perhaps he could give us all a break now, and disappear into deserved obscurity? – or maybe he could appear on top of the odd bonfire from time to time?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Testing Day - some gratuitous photos

After Goya and his Austrians had gone home on Saturday, it occurred to me that I should keep the boards out, and set up some soldiers for some rule testing.

The particular things I'm testing at the moment are the continuing prototype of my "brigade activation" tweak, which enables groups of units to be ordered at one go, and the use of bodies of converged light infantry/voltigeurs as Commands & Colors-style light infantry (i.e. a representation of skirmish-order troops in a grand tactical game format).

I set up a couple of armies - far too many soldiers for the table (I had intended to add the table extension, but the extra folding support table turned out to be unavailable) - but it looked so good that I took some pictures. There's no battle narrative, or anything - the playing I did subsequently was just a series of situations to see how the rules work.

When I was in Bath recently I was asked how many Napoleonic soldiers I have and - of course - I have no idea at all. This is probably explained by my lack of focus rather than any suggestion that the number is very large. On Saturday, the conversation briefly turned to how big a battle I could stage, given the space and a big enough table - again, I had to admit that I didn't know, though I do know that I have 60-odd French battalions, if you include the Confederation chaps, the Italians, King Joseph's Spaniards and all that. It got me thinking - it might be worthwhile to set something up sometime - even if it just proves it can't be done, it might be fun finding out! It would require some joinery work and a lot of painting, and I'd have to borrow one of the farm's sheds - hmmm....

So - no story line here - no excuse for the self-indulgent pictures. Ian mentioned that he rarely saw my Brits these days, so there are some here. This set up (on the standard size, 13 x 9 hex C&C table) involves 2 divisions of French, attacking one-division-plus-an-extra-brigade of Brits. I think I have 6 French infantry divisions in total, so that gives some idea of the potential scale of a bigger, wider battle. I'll think about it. If you like this sort of thing, you can play spot-the-figure-manufacturer - nothing very exotic, I think.

The testing? - oh yes - still some more work needed - especially for the skirmishers...

French attacking from the right - 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Armée
de Portugal, circa May 1812

Here are some Brits - Wheatley's Brigade of 1st Division

...and some welcome European immigrants - Von Löwe's KGL brigade, with
Colin Halkett's German Light Brigade beyond...

...and two enormous battalions of Foot Guards on the left, with the heavy
cavalry - yes - that is the Scots Greys on the end, casually dropped in from Ireland for
the day

Some of the converged skirmish units - here are some companies of the 5/60th Rifles in a village

...and the opposition - combined voltigeurs of Barbot's brigade of the French 2nd Division

The stream in the foreground was last seen some 160 years earlier, near Sunderland!

Mostly Garrisons and Les Higgins, I think - note the coloured cubes to denote the brigade structure

These are just different views of the same situation - note the plastic kitchen
utensil - a spatula - an invaluable device for handling troops on sabots; by
the way, following Brexit the sabots will be officially termed "clogs" - one
advantage is that my pal Grammaticus can probably pronounce this

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Defence of Bassaro, December 1813

Yesterday I had a visitor here at the Chateau. My good friend Goya came, to give his Austrian army a first run out, and we took the opportunity to try the Commands & Colors Expansion #5, Generals, Marshals and Tacticians, with its amended set of Command cards, which has been sitting undisturbed since it arrived some months ago.

I have never been involved in a miniatures game involving Austrians at any time since I started wargaming 200 years ago, so I put a lot of thought into drawing up a scenario, such as would grace the auspicious occasion. Since the Austrian force, though growing quickly, is still rather small for one side of a C&CN game, we chose a format where the Kaiserlichs would be defending a strong position against a considerably larger French force, and we chose Eugène Beauharnais’ campaign in Northern Italy in 1813-14. This is suitable for Goya’s late-war uniforms, and it meant that we could use my Spanish/Italian buildings without too much embarrassment.

Research revealed that, apart from Dr GF Nafziger’s invaluable volume on this campaign, there is almost nothing in the English-language history books. David Chandler glides seamlessly from Leipzig/Hanau to Brienne, F Loraine Petre includes a single paragraph (to the effect that Eugène was pretty much banished to the Army of Italy because the Emperor had “had enough of his stepson’s incapacity”), and the Elting & Esposito atlas has an arrow pointing off the main map of 1813, indicating that Eugène was over here somewhere, facing the Austrians. The reason? – quite simple; neither Napoleon nor Wellington was present, so who could be interested?

I found some Austrian sources in Google Books, but overall was surprised at the paucity of material. I finished up with an action at the mythical village of Bassaro, not far from Ferrara (or possibly somewhere else), which apparently commanded a couple of important crossings over the River Adige. The timing, the location and the personnel are not dissimilar to the action around Castagnaro, so there is a rough whiff of authenticity about some of what we were doing. Thank you, yet again, Dr Nafziger.

So Goya’s Austrians were installed in Bassaro and its environs – there were some very important-looking generals present, one of whom had a passing resemblance to Archduke Charles, but they were there only as observers – the Austrian commander on the field was Generalmajor Sutterheim, assisted by Generals Stahremberg, Eckhardt and Wrede (no – not the Bavarian). They had available the 9th Jäger Regt, the Gradiscaner Grenzer Regt, the infantry regiments Kerpen, Bianchi and Jellachich, the Grenadier battalions Purcell and Welsperg and two 6pdr foot batteries, supported by the Radetzky Hussars and the Dragoon regiments Savoy and Hohenlohe – that’s a total of 7 battalions (two of which were light infantry), 3 cavalry units and 2 artillery.

Austrians have a few national characteristics in C&CN. The line infantry battalions are big – 5 blocks – and  have the unique ability to adopt a solid square formation (Bataillonmasse) against cavalry, which behaves like a normal square as far as the rules are concerned, but does not require a Command card to be held hostage on the Square Tracker. The line infantry and the Grenzers suffer double retreats if things go against them, otherwise things are pretty much standard C&CN – troops firing on the move have the half-effect rounded down, and there are the usual advantages for light troops and grenadiers.

Their opposition for the day came from the Division of General Marcognet, who had the French infantry brigades of De Conchy and Jeanin (both names familiar to me, as these were distinguished battalion commanders from the Peninsula) and the Italian brigade of St Paul (another old friend), with, between them, a total of 14 battalions, of which 4 were lights, and there was also a cavalry brigade comprising 2 French regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval and some Italian dragoons, and an Italian foot battery and a French horse battery.

I, of course, was Marcognet, since it was only right that Goya should command his shiny new army. Scenario specifics were that each commander had 5 Command cards and an initial hand of 3 Tactician cards, and that 7 Victory Points would decide the day. There were extra VPs available to the French for each village hex they occupied, and for each of the bridge and the 2 fords which they held. If things became too difficult to hold the position, the Austrians’ only retreat was over the river by this same bridge or the fords (the river being otherwise out of bounds), and they could reduce the French VP holding by 1 for every 2 units or leaders they retreated off the table – such units and leaders could not return, but they would not count as VPs for the French. The only other rule of the day was that any unit which spent an entire move on the road – starting and ending their move upon it, and not involved in any combat – could have an extra hex of movement. In the event neither the road nor the extra VP rules came into play.

To set up, the Austrian commander could place his units anywhere in his half of the table (including the centre line). Having seen the initial defensive position, the French commander could place his entire army within 3 hexes of his baseline – for both armies, leaders could be placed with units if desired. Thereafter, the Austrians could move 3 units or leaders, the French could then move 2, and – finally – the Austrians could move 1 – still restricted to their own half. At that point, we dealt the cards, and the French started the first turn.

My plan, such as it was, given my big superiority in infantry and the cover provided by the central ridge, was to march my main force over the ridge in as much mass as I could manage, overrun the batteries, punch through to the west (my left) of the village and attack the fords. Meanwhile, the French light infantry would advance through the woods to demonstrate against the bridge. The Italians and the cavalry were in reserve on my left, the intention being that they would pile into the attack on the fords as support for the main attack.

The tricky bit was making the extra numbers pay off before I lost enough troops to fulfill the Austrian victory requirements. It was obviously going to be messy, but it seemed possible.  A quick mass advance in the centre, shielded from artillery by the ridge, started things off well, but after that it got progressively more disastrous.

First thing is, these big Austrian line battalions have a lot of firepower, and the double retreats never counted for anything, since I didn’t manage to dislodge anybody. Beyond that difficulty, it’s all down to me. The advance in the centre was delayed by lack of suitable cards, true, but also because I had been too cautious with the deployment of my general officers – if I had been braver, and attached them to the leading units, a couple of cards turned up which would have used their presence to speed up my attack. I also made a mess of the placement of my light infantry, so that the attack through the woods made very little progress – I wasted a lot of time trying to pull battered units out of the way so that they could be replaced by fresh ones, and it all took too long – the bridge was never threatened. When the main attack did reach the central ridge it was disjointed and had little cohesion, the Austrian infantry were ready and used bonus cards well to maximise their fire effect.

Elsewhere – on my left – the Italians were a poor relation, since I could never spare enough orders to get them properly involved. My cavalry was outmatched by the Austrian heavies (my Italian dragoons melted away like snowballs in Hades) and, as a result of a stupid miscalculation of move distances for the cavalry, an otherwise inspired pincer attack with my mounted troops failed dismally and also cost me the Italian artillery. Drat.

In the end, I just ran out of men – the Austrians achieved their 7 VPs and the day was lost – I still had enough troops left to threaten the village, but it had all been too slow, and I had not managed to hold the line together well enough for the units to provide the mutual support which is necessary to stop them falling back.

A most enjoyable day – my compliments and thanks to my noble opponent, not least for driving an hour and a half out here to the Front of Beyond with his precious troops. After a fairly slow start we did, in fact, get the bloodbath I feared we might. The lesson was familiar, but clear – attacking in Commands & Colors is a challenge, especially if you are timid with your positioning of leaders, and if the cards refuse to co-operate with your Grand Scheme.

Great fun!

The battlefield, viewed from the northern (Austrian) side - the village of Bassaro
nestles in a bend of the River Adige - the fords can be seen on the table edge

Things get under way - French on the left, Austrian Jägers in the woods near the bridge 

French left - the cavalry promised little and delivered less, though the brigadier
led a charmed life, and they managed to leave the Italian battery exposed with predictable results

Sutterheim sorts out his defence

Marcognet makes heavy weather of his advance at the far end, while the
Italians and the cavalry wait for their moment at this end

As the Command cards played out, a couple of general officers with the French advance
would really have got things going much quicker - oh well...

Stirring sight - the Austrian cavalry performed excellently, including a couple
of successful bonus (follow-up) melées which did a lot of damage [please
ignore any Spanish unit titles on the borrowed sabots]

Grenzers in the woods - they had a fine view of the cavalry proceedings, but
otherwise were not called upon to do very much

At this point, Marcognet's attack was already going badly - the single unit on the
ridge should have been four units all supporting each other - there will be questions asked...

This was as far as the attack through the woods got - too late, and the Austrians
(noted for their famous bridge balancing act) had organised enough firepower to
prevent anyone emerging from the trees

This looks like a lot of troops, but the boys with all the casualty markers are being withdrawn

This photo captures a point at which the main, central attack has started to fizzle out,
and the cavalry scrap is about to start

...and here it begins, with the French horse outmatched and in any case unable to combine properly

So much for the cavalry - Marcognet has one last push in the centre...

...but the Kaiserlichs are ready, and Victory Points are mounting up!

Another view of the end of the day

Thursday, 23 June 2016

New 1/72 Portuguese from Foy Figures - and a sticky question

The new "Foy Figures" Portuguese - here are the officer, standard bearer, two fusiliers
 and the mounted colonel. I intend to produce some rather more glamorous pictures
of painted figures in due course. I hadn't glued together the drummer or the grenadier
when this rather rushed photo was taken
This week I have received the first production castings of the new Foy Figures Portuguese line infantry I commissioned from Hagen Miniatures. I'm very pleased with them, and am surprised that they are already available, and have joined last year's Spanish cavalry in Hagen's online shop.

I had intended to get some of the figures painted up before showing them here, but subsequently I thought it might be best just to get a picture out there, since they are for sale now, apparently, and the photos on the Hagen site seem to be of the masters. These are, as you see, Peninsular War Portuguese from about 1811, with the later shako. From my personal point of view, they are intended to fill the gap left by the much-missed NapoleoN figures, and they are an excellent size match for the OOP NapoleoNs and the 1/72 plastic sets available - they are slightly taller than Kenningtons, but could appear on the same tabletop with no problems. I have a conspicuous hole in my Anglo-Portuguese army - I have the Portuguese brigades attached to the Third and Sixth Divisions, but the NapoleoN team went bust before I got to the Seventh Division, so that is the immediate target of these new chaps.

Two packs are available from Hagen, a Command set (containing a standard bearer, a drummer, an officer on foot in a greatcoat and a mounted colonel) and a set comprising three marching soldiers (two fusiliers and a grenadier). I am also in the process of commissioning some Cacadores to go with these (which will contain some skirmishing poses), and I hope these will be available in a small number of weeks. Hagen also have plans to produce Portuguese cavalry and artillery from the same period - I hope these will all prove to be useful to Peninsular War disciples of this scale.

As is increasingly common these days (Art Miniaturen, Perry etc) some of these little figures require some assembly - separate arms for the officers and the grenadier, and a separate drum and arms for the drummer. Everything goes together without much grief, but this brings me nicely to Subject Two, which is the small matter of modelling glues (again).

Subject Two

As I get older, I have found that a number of things are not what they used to be. Bananas don't taste the same, flowers don't smell as sweet, and so on; in my wargaming activities, I have found that rulebooks are much longer than they used to be, that 20mm soldiers are smaller, and that Superglue is a feeble imitation of the stuff I loved and used in the 1970s (good grief - that is a long time ago).

Polymerisation of methyl-2-cyanoacrylate (well, naturally)
I'm quite happy to carry out figure conversions, sticking on new heads and other bits, but it is less straightforward than it was. Apart from the mysterious coarsening of my fingertips and the need for brighter lights and optical aids, I have problems holding grafts together long enough for them to stick securely. I have been known to build complex clamps and supporting cradles from BluTak and suchlike, but the fundamental difficulty appears to be that superglue is not what it was. Sometime in 1974 or so I stuck a complete regiment's-worth of fusewire bayonets on a French unit of 20mm Garrisons - a few seconds each and they stuck tight, and they are still firmly in place to this day. Couldn't do it now - not just because I am shakier, but because the glue sets too slowly.

I only think about this occasionally - I keep buying in tubes of Loctite glues of various types from my local hardware store (because they have a short shelf life, and always run out on a Sunday in the middle of a job), and I keep coming back to the same basic problem. Using the methods I have learned over some 40 years of hacking and tacking, I now have a lot of trouble getting heads, arms, drums, flagpoles and whatnot to keep still long enough to make a decent job - and I am keen enough to file joints to a mirror finish and put little wire dowels in and all that. It's just the glue, Your Honour.

I have heard that they (who?) have deliberately reduced the spec of off-the-shelf superglue, so that users do not stick their fingers together - to make it - that's right - safer. There are rather depressing threads on modelling fora where some chap will say, "Ah - but the secret is Gorilla Glue - I use Gorilla Glue and my models stick instantly, so why don't you use it and be ubercool as well?", and some other chap will dismiss this as nonsense, claiming that anyone with any idea at all uses something different.

Uwe makes positive claims for a product called Bondic, which I have not used (though you may well have) - this is a liquid plastic which hardens when exposed to a UV LED lamp, which comes as part of the kit. There is a similar product called Blufixx, apparently, which also gets good reviews, but I am concerned that fastening a flat-ground arm to a flat-ground shoulder on a little soldier produces the sort of joint which would not readily allow you to shine in UV light - I mean, it's dark in there, man - which might make the Bondic kit just another of my collection of expensive modelling white elephants.

I have read vague references to the fact that you can still buy "unaltered" superglue which works like the original, but this gets confused by advertising and by inter-forum squabbles.

Yes it does, no it doesn't, Gorilla is the thing, no it isn't, you need 2-part epoxy, you are an idiot, etc.

I am confident that few people can be as ignorant in this area as I am - any enthusiastic users/endorsers of a product which will change my life? I have used what seems like a wide range of products, but there are still many out there of which I have never heard, and the subject is complicated by the fact that some of these are available only in the US. What I need is a one-tube, convenient, non-toxic glue which sets in a few seconds. Oh, and available in the UK, without breaking the bank.

Any suggestions?


Friday, 17 June 2016

A 30YW Variant of Commands & Colors? - some background development

My own adaptation of Commands & Colors (substantially based on the Napoleonics version of GMT’s game) to facilitate wargames based in the English Civil War is still downloadable from the top right of this screen. In addition to the downloadable materials, I have a growing collection of tweaks, mods and scenario workarounds, and I have also developed a simplified, fast-play version of the same game. I do not want to try to sell anyone anything at all – if it is useful or interesting, you are free to download and use whatever you wish, though I would prefer if I were to get a little credit for my efforts!

Whatever, it is becoming obvious that I need to revise the current draft, and work is in hand to update the documentation shortly (to version 2.65, if memory serves me adequately). I have recently received some requests – in one case, a complaint! – that I should publish (and maintain?) a set of scenarios to accompany the rules, since without these they are of little use.

While I respect that this is part of the established C&C culture, it is not a part that I am particularly interested in. I developed the rules for my own use, and most of my wargaming is of a type which would make a very poor “balanced” scenario. Many of my battles are campaign based, or reflect a situation in which one commander’s ambitions are limited to making the most of a pretty hopeless position – they are, in short, rather like what happened in history. This, in turn, probably reflects the fact that I do much of my gaming solo – Max No-Mates Foy strikes again.

I read the history books, do the planning, design and set up the actions – lots of scribbling in notebooks - for me, that is an important part of the fun, and the rules are there to support this approach. Without thinking about it too carefully, I tend to expect other gamers to do the same sorts of things. If someone is looking for a set-up-&-go ECW based on a competent scenario book then I am clearly the wrong guy to look to. For one thing, I am not especially interested in the sort of scenarios which are published with the GMT games – their historical basis is often distorted in the interests of a playable game, and by the size of the board. I emphasise that I have no problem with any of this, since they are accepted as being excellent games, but it is not what I wish to do. For another thing, if I (not an expert by any means) can take issue with the accuracy of the published Napoleonic scenarios, then I hate to think what enthusiasts would make of my own ECW scenarios! – I have no intention of defending, discussing or apologising for home-grown scenarios which fall short of the expected standards, so I shall simply not publish any.

I’ve also had some comments from people wondering if the rules could be adapted further to give a more general coverage of the Thirty Years War. I’d love to do that – it hasn’t been a priority for me, because I don’t fight 30YW at present, and my knowledge of the history is, well, skimpy. It has always been a background item on the wishlist, however.

Well, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had some very full-on communication with a Canadian gentleman who is very much an expert in the 30YW, and he has sent me some drafts of an interesting C&C style game, the starting point for which is my own C&C_ECW variant. This has been quite challenging at times – arranging to broaden the scope of the game to cope with more varied troop types and weaponry, and alternative tactical approaches, without losing the essential tick-tock simplicity of the C&C game systems, is proving as complex as I feared it might. However, my correspondent is armed with just the sort of expertise I lack in this period, and he is also proving to be logically minded and an excellent writer, so this really is most promising.

I cannot say too much yet, since the initiative is not mine, and also because I have no idea how far the author wishes to pursue it, but there is a proper scenario portfolio being developed alongside the rules drafts, and I would hope some serious playtesting will be starting shortly. The game can be played with blocks or with bases of miniatures – one of the big challenges has been in producing unit classifications which are capable of being applied to the entire 30YW/ECW period, while keeping the game manageable.

You don’t get too many giant Spanish Tercios in the ECW, but the expanded game will have to cope with them, without making them unrealistically unstoppable. It’s coming along nicely at present. It is likely that I will not replace my own rules with the new game immediately, but the ideas we have discussed in the last couple of weeks will certainly be reflected in some of the changes in my own next version.

I find that I have, once again, done something which is likely to cause some mild shaking of heads – I have given a complicated story which has no immediate end product and for which I am forced to be a little secretive – in other words, yet another No News item – but I certainly hope that I should be able to say a little more before too long.