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

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Rule Tweaks

Righto - updated version of MEP rules is now downloadable from here. Thanks again for comments and general help with this.

Divisional artillery may now share a hex with a brigade from their own division, and I've changed some of the Combat rules to suit. I did consider making such a battery just part of one of the brigades, but that becomes complicated if you wish to separate them, or have them acting independently.

I've also made a small change in the scaling of Elements in a Unit (brigade) - if the action is based on a historical OOB, the Elements will now be rounded to the nearer 750 men (500 for cavalry) rather than the higher. Nearer is probably more intuitively sensible anyway - it was higher only to prevent small units vanishing from the OOB. I've thought better of it - let 'em vanish!

Thoroughly enjoying my return to Rory Muir's book. There were a number of incidents which occurred at the Battle of Salamanca which affected the outcome, but which are at much too fine a level of detail to be covered by Grand Tactical rules. Examples are:

(1) Wellington himself detached a couple of guns from the 7th Divn's artillery, and put them on the Lesser Arapile (these were young Capt Dyneley's RHA boys - a tale straight from GA Henty if ever there was one)...

(2) ...and (according to Dyneley), a shell from one of these guns wounded Marshal Marmont, the French commander...

(3) ...and a major panic ensued, while the French HQ went to find General Clauzel, to tell him he was now in command...

(4)...alas, Clauzel had been wounded also and had been taken to the rear, so they now had to find Bonet, who was next in seniority...

(5)...but Bonet was also a casualty. Luckily, Clauzel, with his wound dressed, was able to take command shortly afterwards. Throughout this confusion and this series of bad breaks, Thomieres' Division was still heading for the horizon, which did not help the French situation at all.

None of this fiddly stuff, I promise you, is going to be covered by the intended scope of MEP!

I hope the changes in the draft make some sense - I'll attempt some low-level Combat experimentation with dice and toy soldiers to see what other horrors I haven't thought of...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Salamanca Battlefield

Having put together a first-cut OOB, the next task has been to draw up a battlefield diagram and see if it is possible to get everybody on! Here is my first attempt - I learned a lot in the process, and found some things where I need to decide on some rule changes.

This is all a fudged approximation, based on my understanding (such as it is) of maps in Oman, Marinsin, Ian Fletcher's Osprey book, Rory Muir's excellent study and various other sources. I also consulted the set-up instructions for Maplay Games' Salamanca boardgame and for the Simtac Los Arapiles game.

You will see Thomieres heading off to the left, his orders based on the incorrect assumption that the Allies were retreating in that direction. The Allied 3rd Divn is moving down to attack him. Green hexes are woods, green troops are Portuguese.

Behind Point A are Bradford's Portuguese Brigade, De Espana's Spanish division and George Anson's Light Cavalry Brigade.

Behind Point B are the Allied 7th Division.

Some slight changes in the OOB - no doubt there will be more:

(1) Victor von Alten was wounded early in the day, and his brigade is commanded by Col Arentschildt of the 1st KGL Hussars. For convenience, I propose to include D'Urban's small brigade of Portuguese dragoons in Arentschildt's force.

(2) French 15th Dragoons were detached, off the battlefield to the French right, so I propose to amalgamate Boyer's 3 remaining dragoon regiments into a single brigade, as shown.

(3) Bock's KGL dragoons are also detached, somewhere off the table on the Alled left, so I'll omit them from the OOB.

(4) Just for commonsense, I'll give one of Thomiere's batteries to Bonnet.

Now - Artillery. Shock horror. I have suddenly realised what was probably obvious from the outset, which is that scaling down the numbers of infantry and cavalry units while keeping the artillery unchanged results in the table suddenly becoming covered in artillery. Why didn't I think of that before?

If I try to deploy all the artillery in its own space, the table gets swamped again. Hmmm. You will notice that this first attempt at the battlefield shows no artillery at all, while I decide what to do about them.

First thing I did about them was I did some more reading of other people's rules. Sam Mustafa's Grande Armee, which is of a similar scale and approach to MEP, makes no attempt to represent divisional-level artillery on the table at all - they are simply assumed to be part of each division, and the only guns that are explicitly deployed are reserve batteries. I can see how that would work, but it doesn't appeal. As with the skirmishers, I'd rather have the divisional guns visible on the table, but in some way that isn't a nuisance.

So my current idea is that a divisional battery just squeezes into a hex with one of the brigades. I'm still thinking this over - a hex is about a quarter of a mile (500 paces). What's the frontage of a 6-8 gun battery? Maybe 100 paces - maybe a bit more? Would it be possible to squeeze them in like this?

I'll do some more reading on the subject - as ever, I'd be delighted to receive advice here. I'm also intrigued to know what Marmont did with his artillery - there are some odd references to the work of divisional batteries - supporting Thomieres, for example - but I've never seen any reference to the reserve batteries, and there were 5 or so, as far as I can see. Further, I've never seen any map or depiction of Salamanca which showed any positioning of French artillery.

Since Marmont started the day assuming that his army was about to resume their march to keep pace with Wellington's retreat, maybe the artillery reserve was simply limbered up in order of march, ready for a long trip. I'd like to get a bit more detail on some of that. So - back to the books.

More soon.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Salamanca OOBs

This feels like jumping the gun a bit - it is my intention to stage some kind of re-run of the Battle of Salamanca at some point during the playtesting of the MEP Grand Tactical Rules. As I mentioned before, I have very mixed feelings about any kind of re-enactment of a real battle, but I've never been able to do it before, so this will be proving a point. In the interests of humanity, it will probably be a solo effort!

One of the things I need to do is check that I am actually going to have enough troops to do it (and that they'll fit on the table!), so I've translated the historic OOB's into MEP terms - you'll find the tables below, somewhere. The numbers in brackets after the unit names show how many elements that unit contributes - this will not necessarily be the number of actual battalions which took the field in 1812, the numbers are tweaked to match the overall headcount. And, especially on the Allied side, some of the very small regimental units have been omitted - the numbers still add up.

Thanks once again to my loyal friend Marco, who emailed me some very useful feedback on the MEP draft. He pointed out that a very large brigade is potentially unstoppable, and that a very small one with bad morale could have a starting points value (PV) of zero, which means, of course, that they are eliminated before they set out! Accordingly, two new amendments have been incorporated in the draft (which can be downloaded here):

* a maximum of 4 elements count towards a unit's (brigade's) PV, thus (for example) a unit with 5 Elements and a Quality Bonus of +1 has it's PV restricted to 4 + 1 = 5.

* any single-element unit whose QB is -1 should have a minimum PV of 1 - do not attach the white (negative bonus) counter. Unless such a unit has a significant role in the battle, it is suggested that single-element units be dropped from the OOB, or rolled into another unit.

So here is my first attempt at the OOBs for Marshal Marmont's Armee de Portugal and the Earl of Wellington's Allied army on 22nd July 1812. Remember that the "Units" are the entities in the "Brigade" column. PV figures in red in the table are ones which have been adjusted for Marco's new rules. I have consciously been niggardly in awarding QB points, and I have also marked Bonet's Division down a bit since his troops appear to have had little battle experience. The "Sk" notes in the details of the Allied army show where, for mainly cosmetic reasons, skirmish figures should be from a particular unit.

Conclusions? I'm a bit short of Brunswick skirmishers, but I can do it, fairly comfortably, if I use stand-ins. I think I'll omit the Portuguese cavalry and Don Sanchez's Spanish lancers, just because they were tiny units.

I am thinking of commencing the action at the point at which the French left becomes over-extended. Since it is a (sort of) re-enactment, I will not need to use Blinds or Command rules, so the current MEP draft will probably suffice. I could do this playtest quite soon, in fact.

I'd better get myself organised. More soon.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Home Brewed Flags - Nassau

And yet another - this is derived from the illustration in Vol.3 of Flags of the Napoleonic Wars by Terry Wise. Once again, I did my own only to get better resolution than the Warflag download.

The flag was a small one - only about a metre square. I find you have to watch flag sizes - I don't like to see beautifully painted French Napoleonics staggering around with a 6 foot flag - you see it a lot, but it's wrong. On the other hand, if you make your flags too small, the thickness of the pole and the bloody-mindedness of the paper can result in something that looks like a fancy hatchet. I printed this at 16mm high, which in 1/72 is slightly overscale, but looks OK.

The Nassau regular infantry regiments all had flags like this throughout the Napoleonic Wars - whichever side they happened to be on!

Home Brewed Flags - Kleve-Berg

I needed a flag for one of my new Peninsular War units - this is for the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment of Kleve-Berg, who in the Autumn of 1812 were part of Lamarque's Division of Decaen's Army of Catalonia, on counter-insurgency duty in Northern Spain. This doesn't sound like much of a great gig until you realise that all the rest of the Kleve-Berg units had been sent to Russia, so it could easily have been worse.

I thought it would be friendly to offer it here in case it is useful for anyone else. Usual drill - if you want a copy, please just click on the image to display the big version, then right-click on that and save it to wherever you want.

I wasn't keen on the available downloadable versions of Berg flags from the usual sites, so I constructed my own, for better resolution. This is the post 1809 version of the flag - I have printed mine at 18mm high for 1/72 scale, which looks OK, but I confess that I have no idea what size they were really. It was just gold on white - a lot less attractive than Murat's pre-1809 design, but you'd expect that. All units had the same flag, just overprint the numerals in the corners.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Hooptedoodle #5 - Obfuscation

Two figures, both nominally 25mm - Hinchliffe (on the left) vs Scruby

This post is to share an email conversation – dating from about 3 years ago – between a collector of 20/25mm metal wargame figures and a well-known manufacturer and supplier. It is entirely factual - I thought it was probably worth showing to a wider audience because I feel it is relevant to my discussion of figure scales and sizes, and the way in which the whole subject seems to defeat both logic and commonsense.

It is, as you will see, ultimately a rather sad exchange between two buffoons – there is no good guy, no bad guy, and certainly no winner. The point, if there is one, is the futility of trying to make sense of the various scales and the terminology when the manufacturers themselves are confused.

This is the sort of thing which makes manufacturers and collectors of plastic figures shake their heads smugly.

We start with an enquiry from the would-be customer:

Hi there

Have been looking at your 20mm and 25mm ranges of Napoleonics - very attractive. Problem - as ever - for me is figure scale. Everyone has their own inspired definition of what 20mm and 25mm actually mean!

The bulk of my armies are old [various manufacturers’] figures - which means I am looking for figures which are pretty close to 1/72 scale with HUMAN PROPORTIONS(!) - i.e. men without hats should be 22-24mm tall. Recently I have identified that current-range figures from Falcata, [etc etc] are all suitable, as are [etc] (sometimes).

At risk of being a nuisance, could I please ask how big your 20mm & 25mm Napoleonic figures are? A figure sample would be excellent - if there is a charge for samples, please let me know.

Best regards


And back comes a very prompt answer:


Our 20mm Napoleonic figures are 24mm from base to top of head.. Our 25mm figures are 30mm!!!!.

We can send a sample of each, but would require £2.

Thanks, D----

There is then a short pause, during which the manufacturer exhibits at a wargame show and the prospective customer orders some figure samples from him:

Hi D----

I made the 250 mile round trip to Stockton to look at your 20mm Napoleonics. Very nice. I also took a millimetre rule with me - your 20mm figures are about 18mm from base to top of head, not 24mm as stated. Just like [another manufacturer], in fact.

You should make a note of this, it will save you telling some other prospective customer a load of b----cks on a future occasion.

Best regards


Another rapid response from the manufacturer:

Hi C----

Oddly enough I have 1 of our 20mm French napoleonic figures in front of me
now, and it measures 24mm from base to top of head (not top of shako even)!
I don't think it's me "talking b----cks".


Which must surely be the last word on the subject, you would think. But – no – back comes another shot, this time with some actual evidence:

Hi D----

Oddly enough, I have to hand a £2.75 sample pack of 4 of your 20mm Napoleonics which have just arrived.

I attach a photo, which demonstrates very clearly that the figures (whch are very nicely sculpted, by the way) are in fact 23mm to the top of the shako, which is what I discovered in Stockton.

As I mentioned before, b----cks.

Best regards - hope your eyesight gets better soon


And that, I am sure you will agree, is quite enough of that.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - More Skirmishing

Thanks very much for invaluable input - comments from Ross on previous post, and emails from Marco, Andy and Paul M. I've revised the draft of the Grand Tactical rules - you can download it here if you wish.

There are some changes for movement in woods and for combat involving buildings and built-up areas, but the big changes are for Skirmishers {Rule 9}.

I am impressed by arguments that casualties as a result of skirmisher fire would be mainly restricted to the other side's skirmishers, and thus would be unlikely to cause an enemy brigade to recoil or break. Thus I've changed the rule so that any skirmish hits will be deducted in the first instance from SK (the skirmish factor), if it is non-zero, until it runs out, and thereafter they will be deducted from the Unit's actual PV (which will require morale tests). This does mean that unopposed Skirmisher fire on an infantry Unit is potentially nasty if it scores any hits.

Skirmisher fire on artillery will impact directly on the PV, but, since an artillery battery is classed as a Difficult target (consisting, as it does, mostly of space), the required checkrolls will mean that the skirmishers miss quite a lot. Skirmish fire on cavalry can't happen, since skirmishers are not allowed to operate within 1 hex of cavalry.

I also took out the restriction on using Skirmishers in or against buildings - it's probably unnecessary - if you wish to use Skirmishers in such a situation then carry on, and the defenders can fire back, too.

Once again, thanks to all for your views - very pleased with that.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Skirmishing

Here is the first of the explanatory posts on various bits of the rules of my new (and incomplete) Grand Tactical Napoleonic ("MEP") game. You can download the current draft here and, if you can't understand why I would want to produce such a simplistic set of rules, there's some background and a few objectives in earlier posts.

Old School treatment of infantry skirmishers is normally explicit, and very much the same as formed troops firing volleys - the most common difference is that the figures get a dice each rather than 1 dice per 4 (or 6, or however many), they can hop about all over the place and still fire, and they do not get on very well if they meet with cavalry in the open. This is all fine - if you have the time and space, this is a very good way to address the matter of skirmishers. If the battles get large and complex, the skirmishers become a nuisance. They get lost on the table, and separated from the people they are supposed to be with and, since they are never very effective anyway, tend to be ignored or forgotten as the action heats up. If you really try to keep them involved and busy, you get back into the problem situation where a lot of fiddly effort is required to produce very little effect. A regular feature of tidying up after one of my battles is trying to work out who all these lost skirmishers were supposed to be with, and how they got to be where they are.

A number of the rule sets for big battles, and Grande Armee is a good example, solve the problem by abstracting it - brigades will be allocated some adjusting combat factor which reflects the number and quality of their light troops, but the skirmishers do not actually appear on the tabletop. Or you also see rules where the skirmishing rules are optional, and you can just ignore them altogether for large battles.

That is practical and sensible, but it jars a little. For one thing, the use of skirmishers is pretty much one of the distinguishing characteristics of Napoleonic warfare, and it seems a bit disappointing not to have it represented on the table in some visible form - the special and valued role of the British Light Division, for example, becomes a difficult thing to demonstrate if they are just bog-standard line infantry in the game. For another thing, what about all those lovely painted skirmishers in The Cupboard? On balance, I would prefer to have skirmishers visible on the field, but I do not want them to bog the game down (or be such a nuisance that they end up being ignored, which is a close relative of the same problem), and I do not want them to be more effective than they should be.

Tricky. Getting some kind of a satisfactory answer to this has been a background task for many years. I have an approach for the MEP rules, which is in the draft. It makes some assumptions, some of which are maybe speculative, and I would welcome any guidance here.

My starting principles, and some of this is entirely in the interests of convenience, are

(1) Skirmishers are organised at brigade level, and hang around the edges of their parent brigade

(2) They are not enormously effective – annoying rather than destructive, though the odd good shot can have a disproportionate effect – the probability of causing significant loss of Points Value (PV) to the enemy is not high on any particular turn

(3) However, since they can get a shot both on their own and the enemy’s turn in each Push, and since there may be up to 3 pushes in a 1-hour Bound, they are bound to hit something occasionally

(4) Their primary role is to keep enemy skirmishers at bay, so my rules allow skirmishers to cancel each other out to some extent

(5) This is the area where I am guessing a bit – I assume that if a brigade is making a serious attack, its skirmishers will get out of the way, though they may stand off to the side to mask it from a neighbouring enemy unit. This is relevant in the MEP game because the rules state that all enemy units with whom you are in contact must be attacked in some way or other, and the ways available are by skirmishing or by an actual assault (which itself may have varying degrees of wholeheartedness). Now I’m confident that an assault might well involve some skirmisher activity, but for the purposes of the game I define these as mutually exclusive – in other words, a unit may attack an enemy unit by skirmish or assault, but not both at the same time.

(6) Again, this is in the research area – if a unit moves into contact with 2 enemy units, and is forced to engage them both, it may skirmish against one (not both), and may assault the other (not both).

(7) Let us also stipulate that a skirmish attack – which involves fire by both sides, remember – can only be initiated by the player whose turn it is. The other player cannot choose to take skirmish action against an attacker which has not itself used skirmishers against him.

That is quite enough words. Let’s try a couple of examples. Here’s a French brigade (at the bottom of the picture), with a PV of 4 (number of elements) and a skirmish factor (SK) of 2. Their opponents are a brigade of the Allied 7th Divn, with a PV of 4 (3 elements plus a Veteran bonus of +1, hence the black counter), and they also have an SK of 2.

In a sensible illustration, I would have all my skirmishers mounted individually, on pennies or similar, equal in number to the SK. However, all my skirmishers are currently mounted in threes, so I’ll mark the skirmisher base with the SK number.

The French advance up to the Allied brigade and engage with skirmishers. Both sides will throw a number of dice equal to SK – so 2D6 for each side, and each dice has to score 1 to hit, so this is an even match. Since the action takes place in the open, there is no need for checkrolls.

In this case, the French have thrown 1 and 6, which is a hit for the 1, and the Allies have thrown 1 and 2, which is also 1 hit, so the hits cancel out, and there is no effect. If the Allies had missed entirely, they would have suffered a net loss of 1 from their own PV, and their SK would reduce to 1. If the Allies had hit with both dice, they would have inflicted 1 PV net loss on the French, who would also suffer a corresponding reduction of SK by 1. Sorry if I’m labouring a simple system, but it is the very simplicity which I wish to demonstrate. So – in this case, no losses, no morale test. When all skirmishes and combats are complete for the French turn within this Push, the French will have the option to pull their unit back 1 hex to break the contact, since it was their turn.

Next example – same units, but this time the Allied brigade is in a wood.

The French thow 1 & 4, the Allies 3 & 3. So the Allies have missed, while the French have, potentially, scored a hit. Because the Allies are in a wood, they count as a Difficult target, so a check roll of 3 or less on 1D6 is needed to confirm the hit. In fact the checkroll comes up as a 2, so it is indeed a (rather lucky) hit. The Allies suffer 1 net loss from PV (take away the black counter – PV is now 3) and their SK also reduces to 1. [Remember that the loss of 1 PV does not mean the skirmishers have somehow eliminated a complete battalion, it means that the impact of the hits (mostly psychological, I guess – maybe they hit the brandy barrel) has reduced the overall effectiveness of the Allied brigade.]

Now we need a morale check for the Allied unit – their PV is now 3, but they get a bonus of 1 for being in cover – they throw 2D6, and need to get less than or equal to 4 on each dice to hold their ground. In fact, the dice come up 6 & 6, as bad as possible and, since both failed, the Allied unit breaks and routs out of the wood, which may be now occupied by the French brigade – rather a lucky result?

This is a very simple mechanism, and deliberately so. I’m interested in any views on how this works, and also on my starting assumptions. Subject to whatever debate comes from comments and emails, the next examples will be of combat (i.e. assaults).

Please remember, if you find yourself horrified by the over-simplification or the lack of elegance, that this game is designed for very big battles, and is (hushed whisper) really a board game!

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Clever but Not Useful

There is an ancient Scottish joke about James Watt (of steam engine fame). I apologise in advance if you have heard it before, or if it isn't amusing, or if you are American and believe that Edison invented the steam engine. It seems that young James had an astonishingly enquiring mind when he was a young man. One morning, so the story goes, he was so fascinated watching the kettle boiling that he missed his train to work.

That's it. It's quite a short joke - maybe that's all it has in its favour. However, it strikes a chord with me - it is very easy to hide yourself away in a cave somewhere and brilliantly deduce stuff that everyone knows already because their granny told them.

Since the topic will become a requirement for my Grand Tactical rules in the near future, I wanted to spend a little blog space considering the merits and pitfalls of Command rules. It's been done before, but I want to have another go at thinking this through from basic principles - this may be entirely for my own amusement...

To start with, a cautionary tale. There have been times when I've realised that my wargames are missing something important. A few years ago I was watching the Sergei Bondarchuk Waterloo film for the umpteenth time (isn't it great?) when I realised that my battles would be improved enormously if I had some way of allowing cavalry to get out of control and charge for the horizon. So I did some fairly extensive reading, both of history and of rule sets, and I decided the rules which handled the matter best were (you maybe guessed) The Big Battalions. Since my main wargame rules are computerised, it took a fair amount of grunt to build “recklessness” into the game, but I was pleased with the way it played out in testing. For the next year I had a pretty sophisticated set of monitoring logic in there which checked all cavalry actions, and which (I assume) continued to give reasonable results, and you know what? In a year, not a single cavalry unit ever got out of control. Not once. Every time I fought a battle, all cavalry combat was beset with questions about whether they had a general with them (and the aggressiveness/restraint of each general was well known, as was the quality of the units), and the benefit to the game, as it turned out, was not worth all the bloody effort. The rule was clever enough, was intended to simulate something which appeared to be historically valid, and yet in the long run it wasted a lot of time with scarcely any effect at all. Readers who have seen Foy's Fifth Law will know what I think of that sort of thing.

And there have been other examples. One, for which I have tried very hard not to fall down the same trapdoor, is the nippy matter of Command rules.

So what's all that about? Well, I think it's an attempt to stop wargame generals having a level of control which is completely out of whack with what would have been possible on a real historical battlefield. As the cliché explanation goes, there were no radios, no helicopters - precious little visibility at all, sometimes. Big armies with many layers of commanders, some of them lost, some of them stupid, all of them under unimaginable pressure and constrained to communicate by means of written notes carried around Hell by the idiot sons of the nobility (in the British case, at least). It is little wonder that the 2-evening refight of Ligny seems to boil down to half-an hour's concentrated action, if you analyse it just by theoretical rates of march - the real guys at real Ligny certainly spent most of their time waiting for instructions, wondering what the blazes was going on, or advancing towards a cloud of smoke, or all of these. I guess they did not spend many periods of time advancing 12 inches in column minus 3 inches for crossing a wall.

Chaos, my friends. Chaos. That's where the Command rules come in - anything which gets us away from the idea of a perfectly choreographed, all-pieces-move-at-once game of chequers has to be good. However, it is impossible to simulate all that vagueness in an exactly realistic manner, and most of the rules which are in vogue appear to address it by introducing an element of disruption in various ingenious ways.

The most common approach seems to be the use of a Command Radius - a general of a given calibre can immediately influence units within a certain distance of where he is, and that distance is big if he is Davout, and is small if he is Cuesta. OK - it must work quite nicely, because lots of people do this, but realistic? There is an implication of telepathic or force-of-will communication in there. If Davout really can influence subordinates 35 inches away this move, then the only way this could happen would be by sending an ADC, and it would take that fellow a little while to get there - maybe 35 x 20 paces divided by the light cavalry charge move (etc etc), and that is ignoring the need to write something and read it at the two ends of the journey, not to mention the probability that the ADC wrote down the wrong message, or doesn't find the recipient, or does find a cannonball. However you work this, the reality is that it would not be instantaneous, yet the delay is not explicitly built into Command Radius rules. That's OK - this is just a device to introduce imperfection into the control exercised by the C-in-C, and it has a lot of merit as a practical solution, but please don't get snooty about realism.

Or we might have Command Chits, or CPs or whatever you choose to call them. Depending on an individual general's supposed ability, plus maybe a couple of dice throws, that general will be able to spin a certain number of plates at the same time. OK - I can see that - I have used rules like this myself, and it works. Sometimes the Chits and the Command Radius co-exist in the same set of rules.

And then there's cards - I have used cards, there's something nice and Waddington-like about cards - you know you're in a proper game. I've used Piquet cards, and derivatives of Battle Cry cards and various others, including my own. It's comfortable to have a hand of cards you can develop secretly and play when the moment is right. However, I am not comfortable at all when the card restricts me to control of a formation on the left flank, or of a unit which is arbitrarily classified as "Red" (as in Grognards & Grenadiers) - this is so obviously an artificial, randomly-generated hassle that it can be mostly just frustrating.

Because I do a lot of solo gaming, cards and chits do not work so well for me, and look at the mess they make of the battlefield! So I became very interested in the dice-driven Command system in Fast Play Grande Armee, it is simple in operation, and does not require any special kit or record keeping, though it does require each commander to be allocated a stash of Command Dice each bound, which he may use in various ways, from assisting his subordinates to comply with his wishes to generating re-rolls for poor artillery fire. I implemented a cut-down version of this in my own game, and it worked really well. The bad news, of course, was that it added a huge time and effort overhead to the game.

Not outfaced, I modified it so that only troops and officers within a certain distance of the enemy needed Command actions. It still took a while, but it was better. The fiddly overhead came down but – guess what? That’s right – I was back to the out-of-control cavalry effect – the occasions on which a commander was unable to correct a non-standard Command result, where it actually affected the game, were so few that it really wasn’t worth the constant effort of checking. By default, the Command phase would be dropped from the game – I would just stop doing the testing when fatigue set in.

All this negativity is not leading up to the conclusion that Command rules are a bad idea – I think they are an excellent idea, but they can also get your battles bogged down worse than anything in the entire history of wargaming. I have developed a minimalist set of Command rules, which I’ll explain in a future posting, at the time when I start adding a Command section to the draft.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Foy's Sixth Law

This was considered earlier as a possible addition to the list. After comments and emails following recent blog postings, I see now that this may, in fact, be the greatest of all of Foy's Laws.

Foy's Sixth Law is:

If there are wargame figures which you want, and they are available, buy them now. Sell the house if necessary. The manufacturer will be history by next month. Your wife will understand.


Lamming are one of the great figure makers from the classic 1960s-70s period, so, if this seems like an inappropriately sketchy treatment of them, it is entirely because I have never really bought much of their stuff.

Lamming British infantry, with giant mounted colonel and Minifigs ensigns

For one thing, rightly or wrongly, I always regarded them as specialists in medieval subjects. For another, my local shop (Archie Alexander's Toytub in Edinburgh) didn't stock Lamming - certainly they didn't do the Napoleonics, so it wasn't untill the eBay Age that I got to see any. For a sensible presentation of Lamming's output, visit VINTAGE20MIL or The Old Metal Detector - this is just going to be a peek through the keyhole, which about sums up my experience of this manufacturer.

For reasons which I can't quite put my finger on, I subconsciously group Lamming with Garrison. Apart from the fact that I actually had some Garrison figures about 30 years before I had any Lamming (though they were roughly contemporary in anyone else's real world), there is the scale creep thing which was quite similar for both. Later Garrisons, from about 1975 on, got bigger and bigger, presumably to cope with the general inflation of the Wargame Millimetre, as 25mm came to mean something entirely different. Lamming appear to have done the same thing, only their later figures got fatter as well (there is a nice pictorial demonstration of this aspect of Lamming's history in Lazy-Limey's blog). I tend to avoid the two makes, not because there is anything fundamentally wrong with them, but because I don't understand the ranges well enough to be able to predict whether a specific model is going to be of a suitable size. I have made a few blunders on eBay.

53rd Foot, with ensigns and mounted officer by Art Miniaturen

I like Lamming's very early 25mm Napoleonics - the French have hats which are too big for me, but the advancing British infantryman is a nice little, ectomorphic figure which stands nicely alongside Les Higgins men in stature. I have, I think, 3 battalions of these chaps. I don't care much for the very tall standing officer that goes with them, but the drummer is fine, and it seems right to keep them together where possible. Right from the outset, there is a recognisable facial style - thin faces with high cheekbones. As time passed, this family characteristic (because they are clearly all related) developed into the full, and very distinctive, "Easter Island" look. My cousin used to say that the early figures reminded him of the Treens, from the Dan Dare stories in the old Eagle comic - it goes without saying that my cousin must have been far, far older than me.

Apart from the infantry, I once had a (now rare) mounted officer to go with them, but he was far too big, and a couple of batteries of RHA, which were very nice but so obviously different from everything else I had that I sold them on.

That's about all for Lamming, really - I very much like the look of their cavalry (nice horses!), but fear of the unknown and my eBay experiences have prevented any closer acquaintance - thus far, anyway.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Size Comparison

Since I was asked, here's some size comparisons - from left to right, in each picture, Les Higgins/PMD, NapoleoN, Hinton Hunt.

I have to say that the NapoleoN infantry are bigger than the HH by more than I thought - I think the British infantry may be a bit taller than some others in the range.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

NapoleoN Miniatures

I am not going to grind any axes here. I thought, and still think, that NapoleoN Miniatures were underrated. I bought a lot of them, and am still hoping that they come back from retirement so I can buy some more.

First problem is - what do you call these guys? You can't stress the final capital in NapoleoN, so I tend to refer to them as NapoleoN 20 (their original name) or NapoleoN Minatures, as they became. Based in Murcia, Spain, and set up by a small group of real wargame enthusiasts, their range included, in addition to 1/72 white metal figures, hex-based rules (still downloadable from the website) and army lists for the Peninsular War.

The first, considerable attraction for me is that the chief sculptor (Ventura?) is a real talent. The horses, cannons and general officers are especially lovely, though there were also odd figures which are clearly the lovely ones with a spare head tacked on. They produced a limited range of positions - infantry are marching, with flankers, officers, standard bearers and drummers (plus loading and firing skirmishers for French, British and Spanish armies), cavalry are also fairly calm - sabres shouldered, walking horses. They added a nice touch by casting variations of the figures with differing head angles, and there was a choice of horses - they sold the figures primarily in multiple packs, though they were also available singly, and a pack would normally contain a mixture of poses to make the units interesting.

They did have a tendency toward extreme optimism when announcing launch dates for new products, but they were really nice, courteous people to deal with. They sold the figures directly, or through online dealers like Kamar. It was wonderfully refreshing - quite nostalgic, in fact - to be able to browse through a catalogue and say, "I'll have 70 of those, and 30 of those, and I'd better have some of those...", and just order them! Shades of Hinton Hunt in the Old Days, except - for a while at least - the stuff that came back through the post was a bit more predictable than HH.

The muskets on the British infantry were a bit fragile, a problem that they sorted out with later releases. At the time they ceased trading, they had just re-launched the old Les Higgins/PMD range, were bringing out some terrific Spanish cavalry, and were talking about diversifying into other campaigns - helmeted Austrians with separate heads were mentioned.

Sadly, it didn't happen. I understand that they ran into problems with the casting facility and, especially, the courier service which handled their shipping. Also, their new, improved website-cum-online-shop, which was always a little clunky, got choked to obliteration by the inevitable moronic Russian spam engines (I have fantasies about being locked in a room with one of the degenerates that write these things, and a baseball bat...).

Around the beginning of 2009, just as they announced changes in the packaging, some new 15mm Spanish Civil War figures and the first Les Higgins re-issues, things suddenly went quiet. Presumably the economic unpleasantness didn't help - maybe someone just got fed up. The intention was to get themselves sorted out and then start trading again, but since then Angel, the main man, has started a related business elsewhere, so I guess we just wait and see.

I am uncomfortably aware that I brokered the sale of the Les Higgins moulds and masters to NapoleoN, so I do not propose to say very much about that - I cannot believe that they are lost forever, so I have to trust that they will reappear sometime in the future, though I have nothing definite to base this view on. We all need a little faith.

Like composers, wargame figure manufacturers seem to acquire status after they have gone. I do not propose to present any sort of cod eulogy - I am simply putting out a lot of pictures here - admittedly with my painting! - to let the figures speak for themselves. Please enjoy, and perhaps shed a little tear with me.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - First Draft

With a bit of luck, you should find the first draft of MEP here.

If it looks surprisingly polished for a draft, that is illusory, and is entirely because it is a cut-&-stitch lash-up from the rules of my main game. This is very much "warts and all" at this stage - the Command section is missing, as are a few other bits and pieces - what is here is a collection of the main combat and morale mechanisms, plus movement rules.

In a few days I'll set out some examples of how combat and skirmishing work, with pictures, which should help things make a little more sense. Please bear in mind that this early version has not been written for publication - this is really just my own notes.

My PV points system gives a kind of amalgam of troop quality and numerical strength - it is, so to speak, an Effectiveness measure. When a Unit loses a point from its PV, it doesn't necessarily mean that a complete battalion has been wiped out, it just means that the Unit (brigade) is now a bit less effective than it was. If artillery fires on a Unit and does not cause any PV loss, it doesn't mean that they managed a complete miss - it simply means that the overall impact of the losses suffered and the loss of confidence has had very little effect.

If you do have a look at this lot, I hope you find it interesting, but please prepare to be underwhelmed at this stage. I will, of course, be pleased to receive any comments. In particular, if the download doesn't work, or you can't find or read the file, please let me know.

My intention is to update this draft as I incorporate changes and add missing bits, so the downloadable file will evolve with time (i.e. I'm not storing a version history online!).

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Hooptedoodle #4 - Let's Hear it for the Moonbeams

Looking over the postings to date in this blog, I keep finding traces of what have been constant themes for me in building up my armies - the frequent demise of my favourite figure manufacturers, and the frustration of dealing with firms which seemed to conduct their activities in a haphazard, apparently clueless manner which cannot be unrelated to this high rate of mortality.

I spent almost all my salaried life working as a professional in the finance industry - not a fashionable item on the CV these days - and I became very used to people doing what they said they were going to do, on the date they said they were going to do it. Further, I eventually took the planned, underwritten, regulated, audited, boring environment in which I existed as a behavioural norm. When I was not at work, my expectations of retail stores and other organisations with which I transacted was that they, also, would behave in a disciplined, predictable manner. Life is too busy to waste in chasing people who mess you around.

And then there were the wargame figure dealers. They were a world apart.

The underlying problem is the entirely predictable one that businesses run by enthusiasts often run into difficulties when the business grows beyond being just a hobby. On the other hand, if it wasn't for these enthusiasts there would be no suppliers. A true entrepreneur would not be impressed by the business case for marketing a wide range of specialised castings to a small number of guys who spend their weekends in lofts, painting - he would take one look at the hassle, the overheads, the health and safety problems and the likely return on making little soldiers for a small nerd market(!) and would do something else instead. If it wasn't for the dreamers and the freaks (which certainly includes me, after all) the hobby wouldn't exist, so bless 'em all.

Belatedly, and notwithstanding all previous grumblings, I offer a toast of gratitude to all the lovely people, moonbeams and headless chickens, living or not, who have made my hobby possible.


If Minifigs have been the longest stayers in wargame miniatures manufacture, the Spanish firm, Falcata, must have been one of the shortest. Their white metal 1/72 figures are certainly attractive, and a bit different - they are what I would describe as diorama material - many variations in pose, some quite subtle, and many different details of dress. The French infantry set, for example, which I have found to be the most useful, has many men in marching positions, with all possible combinations of with/without shako covers and gaiters, different head and hand placements, some with bandaged heads, some waving - considerable variety, and I have put together some pleasingly scruffy units of French allies from them. The figures came in a box of 30-odd, with a plastic spacer inside, sealing them in. They were expensive (especially if you paid Guinea Hobbies' astonishing postal rates), there was no guarantee of exactly which figures you would get in a box and - like plastic figures - a proportion of the contents would not be useful for wargaming.

They produced two excellent Spanish infantry sets (one of 1808 line infantry, one of grenadiers of the same period), plus French infantry, British infantry in stovepipe hats (a set I found less useful because of the high proportion of battalion-company men in firing poses, which I don't use), a super set of of KGL heavy dragoons, and some very fine looking Spanish lancers, though I was not able to get hold of any of this last set. There were also plans to produce British Rifles, French light infantry and other sets, but they didn't appear.

The figures have chunky bases, and the sculpting ranges from some veritable works of art to a few very crude conversions, which suggests that there were several individuals producing the masters. There are also some minor mistakes in the uniforms - epaulettes and rank distinctions are often incorrect. Casting was a bit uneven, and the moulds were beginning to break up a little around the time the supply dried up. So, they were an odd mixture, but they are a very useful source of odd poses for command figures or for use in conversion jobs - my Cazadores de Castilla regiment, as per JM Bueno's book, are Falcata Frenchmen (for the double-breasted lapel jackets) with Higgins British Light Infantry heads (for the tapered LI shako).

I know very little about the Falcata firm - Mike Oliver, who was their UK importer for a while, has mentioned that their approach to business was rather on the relaxed side. Whatever, they disappeared fairly abruptly around 2008, though the occasional box of remainder stock can be found in on-line model shops. It would be unfair to try to guess what happened, but it is not unknown for these little cottage studios to be set up by enthusiasts who cannot cope with the routine demands of production and shipping when the business starts to become serious. Anybody know?

I think they differ from their Spanish compatriots, NapoleoN Miniatures (whom I shall look at next week), in the dioramic style and the fact that Falcata do not seem to have sold the figures direct. Also, I think I would regard them as a charming oddity rather than, potentially, a major wargames supplier - by contrast, as I am sure I will mention on a future occasion, I think we will come to realise how big a loss has been the demise of NapoleoN, which is a tale for another time.