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

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Rules Testing - Battle of Albuera (16th May 1811)

Godinot's brigade have a think about their diversionary attack on the village - Von Alten with the KGL light infantry are in residence...
One of my projects at present is to develop a tweaked version of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics for in-house use. This game is intended to work (quickly, and simply, and without ambiguity) for very large battles, for battles which require large, grand-tactical movement of troops (such as off-table reserves), and for games which for other reasons do not lay out logically in the conventional C&CN, across the table, left/centre/right configuration - end-to-end-of-the-table battles, or oddities like the tactical bits of sieges are examples.

The tweaked rules are currently still in a state of flux - the main features are that they do not use the C&CN cards (they use a dice-based activation/initiative system), and they do not enforce strict alternation of moves, but they do use (most of) the main C&CN movement and combat systems. Until they are more stable, I don't really want to say too much about the rules themselves, though I will make some observations of a general nature at the end of this post. The important thing I wish to make clear at the moment is that the tweaked version is not intended as an improvement on original C&CN, nor a correction; it is merely a modified cousin of the game to suit specific kinds of wargames that I seem to be very interested in, so there is no need for anyone to rush to defend the original game, nor to pitch in from the other side, to write it off. Oh yes - my working title for the modified game is "Ramekin". This has no special significance or merit apart from the fact that it amuses me, and it stops me calling it "Vive l'Empereur" or "The Vivandiere's Moustache" or similar.

These rules, in their evolving form, were recently used for the Eggmuhl game here, and for the demo game I set up for my aunt (yes, all right, all right).

This midweek I had planned to set up a solitaire playtest game to do some more refinement (or, as is often the case, to abandon some of the most recent brilliant innovations, since they might simply be a waste of time!). Playtesting is a necessary investment of effort, of course, but playtesting on a solo basis has hazards of its own, since the writer knows what he intended the rules to mean, and how they were supposed to work, and will tend to fail to spot the big holes in them during solo play. Thus I was doubly delighted to have a collaborator yesterday - Count Goya came to help out.

I set up a biggish game based on Albuera, which is a battle of which I had limited understanding previously, and one which is noted for the intensity of the fighting, and the fact that it could have worked out in a number of ways - in fact you might say that it was several different battles, fought successively, in different directions.

I did a lot of reading (so did Goya), and set up a game on my bigger (10'4" x 5', 17 hexes x 9) tabletop. I did some work to sort out which bits of the complex OOBs actually appeared in the field, and - though the numbers of units I fielded didn't match the original battle, the implied numbers of troops were pretty close. [Thus, for example, Girard's Division in my game was 5 battalions, which is about 4000 men, which is correct, though in the original battle these men were spread over 9 battalions.]

I read over, but did not use, the published C&CN Albuera scenario. My game was somewhat larger, and my map was rather more closely based on fact (again, this is not a criticism of anything). We started the game at the point where Beresford (or someone on Beresford's staff) notices that the French are not really serious about attacking the town of Albuera itself - this is a diversion, and the main part of Soult's army has performed a smart left hook, so the principal attack is on the Spanish troops on the Allied right. Thus Stewart's 2nd Division, with Colborne's brigade in front, are sent marching to the right, to cover the Spaniards' exposed flank.

Albuera is renowned for having some key incidents which may not fit with normal wargame rules. Most famously, the French light cavalry - notably the Vistula Lancers - wrecked Colborne's troops, who failed to form square (because Stewart and/or Beresford ordered them to stay in line to maximise firepower, or because there may or may not have been a violent rainstorm which obscured their view and damped their powder, or because they didn't expect the cavalry to be out there on the flank, or for some other reason). It is possible to incorporate some chance card type decision point - I confess I don't care for rigging a game in that way. As a gesture towards history, we adopted a simple dice-test for any infantry wishing to form square - just for the day.

I'm not going to step through the AAR in more detail than comes from the photos - we were not attempting to re-enact anything - Albuera served primarily as an entertaining context for some playtesting. There were some interesting historical parallels in the game - some worked the opposite way to the real battle, of course, and some worked the "correct" way, if in a slightly different manner. We ran out of time, though the French appeared to be winning when it was time for dinner. Whether or not the Allies realised they were beaten, of course, is the critical issue...

Overall view from behind the French left flank at the start of the game. In the foreground is the left hook - La Tour-Maubourg with the cavalry, the divisions of Girard (in front) and Gazan (behind), then Werle's brigade in the centre and, at the far end, Godinot's diversionary assault on the village
View from behind the French right flank - on the Allied side, Karl Von Alten has a KGL brigade in the village, and behind him are Portuguese troops (Otway's cavalry and Harvey's large infantry brigade from 6th Divn); I'll describe the other end of the Allied set-up in a moment...
...and here you are - Zayas' Spaniards in line in the centre of the table, with Stewart's 2nd Division marching to their right behind the Spaniards, to cover the flank. On my game system of replicating the numbers of troops rather than the number of units, Stewart's command comprises Colborne's Brigade (in front, 3 battalions), then Hoghton's (2 bns), then Abercrombie's (2 bns). In rear of them is the 1st brigade (Myers) of Cole's 6th Divn, and beyond them we are back to Harvey's Portuguese (who received no orders throughout the day!)
Pin-up unit - the dreaded Vistula Lancers. In fact they had a remarkably bad day, and were eliminated very quickly. So much for history.
The French cavalry - Vistula boys at the front, then 2 units of chasseurs, then 2 of dragoons - at this point, they were opposed only by a weak brigade of Spanish light cavalry, so they chanced their arm...
... one of the chasseur units and the lancers moved forward to deal with the Spanish horse, and as a result of some of the most outrageous dice-rolling seen for a while the French were repulsed heavily, and the headlining lancers were eliminated, and thus would not get to meet the Buffs later.
Over on the Allied left, and in the centre, the Portuguese still haven't moved, neither have Myers' brigade from Cole's force, and Stewart's boys are making very slow progress towards the right.
Apparently not convinced about the benefits of hanging round demonstrating, Godinot's force gained a foothold in the village  - these are more Poles, the 4eme Vistule - but took a bit of a hammering for their trouble, and gave up on the idea thereafter. In theory there was a Victory Point available for occupation of the village, but after this early effort the KGL were left in peace.
Meanwhile, on the right, Colborne's brigade gets moving. On the tabletop, Colborne's boys were 3 battalions of old (proper 20mm) Lammings, and pretty shiny, too. Since my collection doesn't include the correct units for Albuera, there was some role-playing - notably our "Buffs" were actually a battalion of the 61st Foot (South Gloucestershire), but at least their flag was the right colour.
The firefight - Colborne's chaps appear on the right flank - not quite in the historic manner, and free from cavalry interruptions for the moment. In fact they didn't do very well when they got there - it was a nasty exchange though.
Early stages - Allies slightly ahead - 1 VP for holding the village, and one of the others must be for whacking the lancers. 11 VPs for the win was the order of the day.
Allied right flank isn't looking very clever, and Cole and the Portuguese are still mostly rooted to the spot on the far side. After a slow start, Girard is pressing the Spanish infantry.
Gazan's Division, behind Girard's, watches the attack develop in front. Both Girard and Gazan are prominent hat-wavers. Famous for it.
Back at the village, Godinot's demonstration is over; the combined battalion of grenadiers is sulking after suffering 3 bases-worth of casualties, the light infantry is in the wood, and the battered Poles are in another wood to the left, out of picture. The artillery can't see much point in carrying on wasting orders by firing, so they all hope their job is done and that Soult will win the day elsewhere.
Eventually, of course, the Spanish cavalry on the Allied right got their come-uppance, and were sent packing, and here General Loy, the brigadier, has a Ponsonby moment, as the French dragoons pursue him. Amazingly, they failed to kill or capture him (i.e. they couldn't roll a single crossed-sabres symbol on a total of 8 dice) and thus he escaped, choosing to leave the table just to deny the French the VP they would get if they did for him.
Better fortune for the Allies in the centre - combined-arms attack by one of Hoghton's battalions and Miranda's Spanish battery does some fearsome damage to one of Girard's regiments. All a bit late, really.
Late view from the Allied right shows that their right wing has mostly disappeared, and the left wing has hardly moved. This was just about dinner-time - the scoreboard showed the French leading by 10 points to 6, so they had more or less won.
Final view across towards what was, in fact, Beresford's position from the day before the battle. Beresford is going to get a dreadful roasting from Wellington, who even loaned him The Tree to  stand next to, as you see. On the far left you can see one of the ramekins (to hold initiative dice and order chips) from which the game gets its working title.
 Many thanks to Goya for his company and enthusiasm, and for helping out with the analysis. The game is shaping up nicely, and is a lot of fun, but we need some more work on getting the effect of musketry in balance with history, and to refine the use of the Order Chips (thanks to Tesco for the chips, by the way).

That's enough about that, I think - you'll hear more of the Ramekin soon, I'm sure.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Refurb Work - First of the Old Guard Command Figures

A standard requirement for my refurbishment of bought-in figures is the addition of compatible command figures to suit style and scale, and to fit with the house rules for unit organisation. Ever since I was besotted with the photos in the Charles Grant Napoleonic book, back in the 1970s, I have included mounted colonels with my infantry (or chefs de bataillon, or whatever), and yesterday I painted the mounted officers to go with the two units of Old Guard I'm currently working on.

Classy little sculpts by Jorg Schmaeling at Art Miniaturen, to fit in with Les Higgins guardsmen.
I'm pleased with them. The drummers, officers on foot and eagle-bearers should appear during the next few days, and I'll post some proper photos once they are done and the units are complete with flags. Next in the refurb queue are some French light infantry, I think - I'll need to buy in some SHQ command figures - better get on with that...

***** Late Edit *****

In response to Wellington Man's comment (below), here's a picture of my existing battalion of Old Guard Chasseurs - one I prepared just a few years earlier! You can't find these castings now - very rare.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Fix Bayonets! - Guest Appearance by Goya

I'm proud and delighted to be able to reproduce a note on the fraught topic of bayonet replacement, contributed by Count Goya, who first showed me the technique. Thank you very much, sir!

Replacing bayonets                      October 2018

The aim of this note is to describe how to replace a broken off bayonet with a staple. A hole is drilled at the end of the musket and the corner of a staple cut to size is glued in place. This gives a much stronger bond than gluing to a flat surface. Bear in mind that by this period, a socket bayonet is parallel to the musket’s barrel and not an extension of it.

Tools required:

Pin vice
Small drill bits - 0.45 to 0.6mm diameter
Flat pliers
Cutting pliers
Ruler or vernier
Craft knife
Craft (PVA) Glue
Pin or pair of dividers
24/6 staples (0.65mm broad)

You can find substitutes for most of the above tools except the pin vice and drill bits.

1: Measure length and width of bayonet and width of musket at the point of attachment. In this case, a Les Higgins British Light Infantryman with a 1mm width bayonet 6.5mm long. The width of the musket is 2mm. The full figure is on the left and the broken on the right.

2. File flat the metal at the point of attachment and make a small indentation with the point of the dividers at the middle point of the width. This will ensure that your drilled hole for the staple is centred and the figure is not ruined. If you can, cut a slot along the tip of the musket for the staple to lie in and give a bit more area for the glue. 

3. Slowly drill the hole with a slightly smaller bit.

4: Once the hole is drilled, file both sides lightly to clean off any swarf and gently push the staple through. Measure the lengths required and take the staple out and cut. Cut these as accurately as possible as otherwise you will have to trim when glued to the figure which is more likely to break. File the sharp end.

5. Straighten the musket as it may have been bent by the drilling.

6. Glue the staple in place making sure that it is straight and leave to dry (figure on the right is the repair).

7. File off any excess glue. If you have cut the angled end too long and it sticks out, file it off gently or use side cutters to get in close.

8: I coat the finished bayonet with PVA glue to strengthen it and provide a base for paint. You can add as many layers as you want for the right thickness.

9: I have used the same approach to replace broken plumes. I glue in a wire and build up the required thickness with putty.

10: On Minifigs S range, the bayonet is attached below the musket so flatten the end and drill from the bottom upwards. The metal is soft enough that it can be reshaped afterwards. Sometimes there is enough metal to drill straight into the remaining part of the attachment.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Back in the Refurb Factory - Old Guard

I decided this week that I should have another bash at the refurb backlog. There's plenty to be cracking along with, to be sure. In theory, refurbs should be a time-efficient way of swelling the ranks, and the work is certainly useful for getting rid of some of the boxes of spare figures before they simply take over - or get out of control, and I just lose stuff. I recently was pleasantly surprised by my restoration of a division of old PMD/Higgins cuirassiers, so I am inspired to try more of the same.

All ready for the command figures to slot into the spaces. Les Higgins NF1s.
This week I've been back in the boxes of Les Higgins French figures which I mentioned a while ago in a post called Carlo's Army - I should get two decent battalions of Old Guard out of this instalment. The restoration of the line troops in Carlo's legacy has been stalled for a month or two, so if the Guard goes well it might rekindle my enthusiasm to get back to them.

To be honest, I have been a bit put off Carlo's guardsmen, because old Carlo pulled something of a fast one on me - when he sent me photos, there seems to have been some rather clever choreography, so that the proportion of broken bayonets in the photos was far less than the reality when they arrived. I have been sulking just a little, I admit it, but in the end it doesn't matter a lot - I have enough undamaged rank and file in the NF1 At the Ready pose to make up two battalions. [Experts will be nodding - the Higgins NF1 guardsman must have the most fragile bayonet in wargaming history - only the firing guardsman pose comes close...]

They were rather nicely painted. They certainly needed freshening up, and Carlo's painting style (back in the 1970s) was a little naive, in that he painted the bits very carefully, but sometimes there are glimpses of bare metal between the bits. Whatever, they have come up a treat - not a big job, and my faith in refurbishment is restored (as it were), which might be a dangerous precedent if I'm not careful. For the Guard, bless him, Carlo stuck to the dress regulations rather better than he did for the Line.

As is always necessary, I have counselled myself that these are not going to be as good as if I'd painted them from scratch myself (which is fair enough if you can get your head around it), but that they will be quite good enough, and will give a very fair return on the cost and the effort needed. Anyway - as of this afternoon they are based and ready for the command figures.

As with the cuirassiers, I have bought in some Art Miniaturen figures for the command - they should be splendid, and they are a very good size match, but another intake of breath is required, as I stare at the contents of the packs and try to work out which half-arm fastens on to which officer etc. I have a few more command figures than I need, in fact - for each battalion I'll add two officers on foot, one drummer, one porte-aigle and a mounted colonel - oh, and one of the units will get a sapeur, since I am one private short.

Today's photo is just to prove to myself that it went OK - I'll try to reproduce my successful effort with the cuirassiers, and get the command figures done before my attention starts wandering back to the Bavarians. I'll report on this lot when the command figures are done!

Hooptedoodle #315 - The Sun Made It Again

Yesterday, 07:50 - looking more or less due east, East Lothian, Scotland. Another interesting sky - this shot isn't from the usual window overlooking our garden, this was taken by my wife, here on the farm, on the way back from the school run. Our house is somewhere in the woods ahead. That may be my personal raincloud heading this way.

When it got going, the day was fine - a bit blustery and definitely colder, but sunny.

Later I hope to have some pictures of some more troops from the painting factory...

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Battle of Eggmühl, 22nd April 1809

Wargaming yesterday; delighted to welcome Goya and Stryker from Up North (or Further Up North, I suppose). Goya brought along an Austrian army (on the train - we are always at the leading edge of technical innovation here at Chateau Foy) and Stryker brought along Marshal Davout. Stryker and I were to command the French forces.

Our game was - unusually for me - one of the published scenarios from Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. This was No.312 - Eggmühl - Day 2 - French Left, which I think must be from Expansion 3 (the Austrian bit). One reason I am always hesitant about using other people's scenarios is because they are usually designed to give both sides a chance of winning, which is OK from a social aspect but sometimes dubious historically, and often (I have found) they give you a grinding match while one side waits for a lucky dice roll or a show-stopping card to give them an edge. I'm sure that GMT Games and their countless fans will not worry at all about my views, I hasten to add.

Anyway, we used the scenario, and it looked interesting, and in fact it gave us a nice game. A feature of the day was that we also used some experimental house tweaks to the rule system. I don't wish to say too much about these at present, since they are still under development, but they seemed promising.

Neither am I going to discuss the real (i.e. historical) battle, since it is well-known, and the portion of it we were playing, though it makes a decent standalone game, is a bit odd in isolation. I will, however, mention briefly the small matter of spelling. If you know better, or can give a better-informed view, please do pitch in here. The locals call the place Eggmühl - I have a locally-produced tourist souvenir of the battle, and there it is - Egg - as in Scrambled Egg. Not Eck, as in Prince of Eckmühl, or as in Bloomin' 'Eck. I assume that the proper German name must be Eckmühl - "the corner mill" (bend in the river Grosse Laabe?), and that the local Bavarian dialect says Egg. The French have always called it Eckmühl, of course, but their track record with German place names is not good anyway. [Ratisbonne? What's that?]

As usual, I'll attempt to fill in a narrative around the photos. In passing, I managed to get hold of some brighter bulbs for the over-table lighting (1200 lumen halogens, two of them, which are supposed to give the same light as old-money 150w jobs, but much less heat), so the photos may be a little brighter than in previous efforts.

As a spoiler, I have to tell you that the French lost [damn]. It wasn't a complete whitewash, but the field is very busy with villages and woods, and the Austrian line infantry, slow-moving and potentially brittle though they are, have 5-blocks-worth of musketry per battalion, and that is a very serious prospect all round. And, of course, Goya commanded his defence rather better than did Rosenberg in 1809. Our rules of the day stipulated 10 Victory Banners for the win, but the situation was sometimes quite difficult to follow, since there were temporary VBs available for possession of the villages, and the exact timing of when these counted was sufficiently complicated for me still to be unable to understand it this morning. I think the final score was about 10-7 to the Kaiserlichs, but I'll take advice on that. French did well enough, but couldn't keep up any kind of momentum in the face of the Austrian musketry.

By the way, if my account of the day shows a little French bias, I hope you will indulge me - the defeat is too recent and too painful. Like all military history, it may take some years for a truthful impartiality to creep into the narrative.

General view from behind the French right flank, at commencement. The French cavalry in
the foreground were always going to struggle to get some open ground to work in. Beyond them
are Von Deroy's shiny new Bavarians, then St Hilaire's Division, and at the far end Friant's boys.
The villages are, in order of proximity to the camera, Unterlaichling, Oberlaichling and
Obersanding, with various arrangements of VBs available for each.
View straight down the middle of the table at the same stage - note that the Bavarians
have some distance to advance across open farmland to attack the village and woods
in the centre.
Unterlaichling - first attack and the Bavarians took the place. A brief moment of glory -
subsequently the village and its neighbouring woods changed hands so many times I
lost count, though our lot never seemed to be in possession when it came time to tot up
the temporary VBs.
On the French left, Friant made a big push through the woods and towards Obersanding.
Heavy going. The dude on the right hand edge, on his own, is Davout, currently Duc
d'Auerstadt and, sadly, destined to remain so.
The problem - too many Hungarians in the Plastic Forest. You're sure of a
big surprise.
Erm - and suddenly the French had a lot less troops advancing on the left...

...and St Hilaire's division in the centre didn't fancy their chances much...
...and the Bavarians, though they are fleetingly back in Unterlaichling here, with some
French légère boys on their left, were running out of men and out of steam. 
Theme for the day - the French needed a bigger superiority in numbers to win the day.
Here they just don't have enough fresh troops left, and we are getting near the end.
After the official VB target was reached, we played on for a little while. I fiddled around
with some of the under-employed French cavalry on the right flank, which was fun but
enhanced neither the result nor the historic narrative. Faint shades of Borodino - some
cuirassiers capture an artillery position on the Bettelberg, but it makes no difference!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Bavarians - 3rd Division Commander

Needed for action on Saturday, here we have General Bernhard Erasmus von Deroy (on the nimble little horse...) and his General-Adjutant; the figures are both from the old Falcon range, now marketed by Hagen. The Adjutant has the Quick-Reference Sheet handy. The gentleman in the cloak is easily recognisable as the ubiquitous Minifigs FNX1, rescued from the spares box and repainted as an officer of cavalry attached to the Bavarian staff - he's obviously seen it all before. The white edging to the base allows quick location of a divisional general.

The mounted figure has a toy-like, Noggin the Nog air, which I find rather appealing. There is a joke here - one of the few stories about Deroy (who was an older officer, and a bit of a traditionalist) describes his fury when he found that his troops were growing all sorts of non-regulation facial hair on campaign - orders of the day appeared very quickly. This casting has a very luxuriant moustache, so poor old Deroy can hide behind a Full Groucho - maybe it's a move to gain the affection of his men?

Sorry the Arctic light has dimmed down the colours a bit - these Bavarian chappies are pretty vivid normally.

Deroy - no whiskers here
Deroy commanded the 3rd Bavarian Division in the VII Corps on the Danube. A well respected veteran and a good leader, he was mortally wounded at Polotsk in 1812.