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


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Pommerania - The Army of 1808 (1)

Continuing the (disputed) history of the Duchy of Stralsund-Rügen. [I got a fright when I looked up Rügen in Google, and found my own blog posting. In case any of this accidentally becomes true, please bear in mind that it isn't really.]


Napoleon's new head of state for the Duchy - the Duke, no less - was Friedrich Wilhelm, Graf von Grimmen (1738-1825), Herr von Podebusk (or Putbus, in its Germanic form), a descendant of the hereditary Princes of Rügen. With some difficulty, Herzog Friedrich was encouraged to move from his summer residence at Quitzin to metropolitan Stralsund, the seat of the new government.

Following membership of the Confederation of the Rhine in March 1808, General Molitor worked with the town councils to recruit and organise the new Duke's army.

By October, the following units existed, at least on paper:

Grenadierbataillon "Zum Alten Greif" - most of the grenadiers were German veterans of the Swedish Army

1. Infanteriebataillon "Putbus"

2. Infanteriebataillon "Graf von Grimmen"

Jägerbataillon "Franzburg"

1. Chevauxlegers "Herzogin Katerin"

2. Chevauxlegers "Herr Friedrich"

Fussbatterie "Stadt Stralsund"


The uniforms of the infantry and artillery units were very strictly based on the French regulations of the day - the use of a blue-grey shade known as eisengrau was in respect for the traditional livery of the Putbus family. The surprising choice of yellow for the elite grenadier corps is thought to reflect the fact that yellow had always been the uniform colour of the Stralsund Burger Guard (even when they served in the Swedish Army) - yellow was in any case one of the national colours (cockade was red on yellow).

The fusilier companies of the line infantry wore white epaulettes, which departs from usual French practice. Grenadiers wore a bearskin cap, other infantry wore standard French shakos.

The Jäger unit had a sharpshooter company, but appears to have been otherwise identical to the Line units.

On a future occasion, when I have done more research, I'll describe the cavalry uniforms, the regimental flags, and a little of their campaign history.

Mystery Figures

I've had these for a year or so. I bought them as part of a mixed lot of Royal Horse Artillery figures, but they are obviously Waterloo-period British Horse Guards, and the style of figure is like nothing I've ever seen before.



They were shown on the Old Metal Detector blog a while ago, and they generated some interest and a few photos of further examples, but no positive ID.

I'm now selling them on eBay, just because they aren't going to serve any particular purpose in my armies. They are attractive 20mm figures, proper little, shiny toy soldiers - factory painted, hand-animated, soldered on to sheet-metal bases and fitted with soldered wire harness. Entirely because they fit the description in the narrative in VINTAGE20MIL, I have a suspicion they might be very early Greenwood & Ball figures, from the days when Mr Greenwood hand-cast them and Miss Ball painted them, but I admit this is a wild guess.

Of course, they might be out of a Christmas cracker, and they're going now, anyway, but I thought I'd have one last go to see if someone can identify the maker. Any ideas?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Complete Rules


I'm supposed to be working today, but it's snowing heavily, so I've taken the opportunity to get the various pieces of the MEP rules stitched together. Result is the first proper version of the game, downloadable from here.

I've taken a little time to check it hangs together, but there will certainly be some typos and inconsistencies remaining. If anyone spots anything daft, please let me know - I am reconciled to an open-ended period of tweaking and fixing!

I'll do some serious playtesting over the next few weeks, and then transfer the rules onto the computer - the game, however, should work perfectly well with dice and lots of red wine...

I'll have to get on with organising the Salamanca session. Watch this space.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - The Butcher's Bill

Bits and pieces, today.

First off, sadly, un petit dommage - after the photo session for the Combat examples, I managed to drop General Maucune, and had to superglue his horse's ankles. Seems OK - better than I feared it might - but it does occur to me that a Hinton Hunt horse would have withstood the fall without problem. The NapoleoN horses are a bit on the elegant side, though less fragile than the current Minifigs horses, especially the rearing ones, on which the old fetlocks cannot support the weight of the figure if you remove the reinforcing struts.

After going over the Combat examples, I am now thinking that a Unit attacking a village or other built-up area should be limited to a Pinning Attack (2D6) - there must be a limit to how many men they can actually bring to bear against a wall?

Finally, since I am not going to include a rule for Weather, here is the last of my proposed Optional Rules for the MEP draft. This gives a method of determining the actual casualties in a battle (or a day of a battle), which is really of more relevance in the context of a campaign. I hope to have a new draft of the Rules downloadable in a few days. At that stage, it should be the first attempt at a full set - I may even write a Contents page and all that!


As ever, all comments most welcome. Apologies for the amount of dice-rolling required for the casualty calculations - another advantage of using a computer.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Combat Examples

Rather later than I had hoped, here are some examples of Combat under the draft MEP rules, which can be downloaded from here.

Two Units Attack One

In this example, Maucune's French Division of two Units (brigades), coming from the bottom of the pictures, attacks a single British Unit. Maucune is visible, with his right hand Unit. In all that follows, black dice are for the French, red for the British.


The first action is an exchange of skirmish fire - each of the Units has a skirmish (SK) value of 2 (denoted by the bright green counters next to each skirmisher base - yes, in a sensible example I would have skirmishers mounted individually, but I haven't), and the Brits choose to split their skirmish strength so as to take on both sets of French skirmishers. Skirmishers hit with a throw of 1 - in the exchange with the French Unit which has Maucune present, each side scores 1 hit, so they cancel out - no net effect; in the other exchange, both sides miss - no net effect.


The actual Combat is fought as two 1:1 Combats. Because there is no requirement for one Combat to be fought first, Maucune (the attacker), chooses to start with his larger Unit. This Unit has 5 Elements present (don't count the skirmishers) - the max number of Elements which can count towards PV is 4, so PV is 4. The adjusted PV has a bonus for the presence of a friendly Unit in the Combat, and for the presence of the General. Adjusted PV is theoretically 6, but since a throw of 6 is always a miss anyway, 5 is the maximum. The French are going for an all-out attack (in both Combats - must be the same for both), which means they roll 4D6, and they are looking for throws of less than or equal to the adjusted PV of 5 (for clarity, I've set the required throw on a large white dice). The British Unit has 4 Elements, so it may match the full 4D6 allocation set by the French, there are no adjustments applicable, so the throws have to be less than or equal to 4 to hit. In the event, each side scores 3 hits.


Because this is a tie (a "score-draw"), each side loses 1 Element (and therefore 1 from its SK), and the attacker (the French Unit) retreats 1 hex. We have to test to see if Maucune himself is a casualty - the Unit lost 1 point from its PV, so a throw of 1 will put Maucune in trouble. In fact it's a 3, so he's OK. Disgruntled, but OK.


Now the second French Unit attacks. It has 4 Elements, but it gets no bonus for multiple attackers, since the support has disappeared. No adjustment - PV is 4, it throws 4D6, and required throws for hits are less than or equal to 4. The British Unit now has only 3 Elements present, so it is restricted to 3D6, and throws must be less than or equal to 3.


In the event, the French have 1 more hit than the British, so the British Unit loses 1 Element (i.e. 1 from its PV), plus 1 from its SK - so the skirmish capability is now eliminated - and retires 1 hex. The French lose nothing, and since they were the attackers, they may advance into the vacated hex if they choose to do so.

Attack Against a Village


French Unit advances against a small British Unit in a rather unattractive village. First action is skirmishing. SKs are both 2, so each side throws 2D6, looking for 1s to hit. Both score a hit, but the British skirmishers are a Protected target, since they are in hard cover, so a checkroll of less than or equal to 2 is needed to confirm the hit. The checkroll fails (it's 6), so the British have a net skirmish advantage of 1 hit. French lose 1 skirmish point.


Now the Combat - French have 4 Elements (i.e it's a brigade of about 3000 men), and are attempting all-out attack against cover. PV is 4, so full 4D6 attack is allowed, but PV is subject to a deduction of 2 since the defender is in a village, so the dice must come up 2 or less for hits. British defenders have a PV of 2 (2 Elements), so may roll only 2D6, which must come up less than or equal to 2.


The dice roll gives the British a rather lucky win by 2 hits to 1, so French lose 1 Element (and therefore, also, their last SK point) and retreat.

A Flank Attack


In this example (and apologies to any Spanish readers - it's just an example!) we have a Spanish Unit which has 3 Elements and a Quality Bonus of -1 (white counter), and thus a PV of 2, and an SK of 1; it is charged in the flank by a Unit of French dragoons which has 3 Elements, plus a General. Note that the Spanish can't use their skirmishers here - skirmishers can act only to the front of the Unit, and, in any event, cannot act against cavalry. So the first thing to check is whether the infantry can manage to react to the charge, forming squares. For this test, their PV (which is 2) must be reduced by 2 because of the flank attack. The minimum of 1 for adjusted PV comes into play - a throw of 1 will allow them to form squares. In the event, the throw of 4 means they are unable to react in this way.


In this example I used red dice for the French - yes, it was a mistake. The French have a PV of 3, so may throw a max of 3D6, and the adjusted PV is 3, plus 1 for the general, plus 2 for the flank attack. The dice must turn up 5 or less to score hits. A flank attack is unopposed, so the infantry do not get to roll any dice in reply. In this example, the cavalry score 3 hits - the 1st hit is the white counter plus 2 Elements (plus the SK point), the 2nd hit is the last remaining Element, the 3rd hit is not required. The infantry have been eliminated, and the cavalry, if they choose, may occupy the vacated hex.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

More Pommerania - Lies & History

This follows on from yesterday's posting about inventing a fictitious nation for the Napoleonic Wars. It is simply an exercise in massaging history a little to fit the script, so please bear this in mind if you proceed to read it! I am still not sure whether I will progress the idea...


The ancient land of Pommerania lies spread across modern borders, and the names of its subdivisions, even now, are confusing. Wikipedia requires a hefty table to show what the bits are called, by whom, and at what times they changed. In broad terms, Pommerania was based around the great Prussian cities of Danzig and Stettin, which now lie in Poland.


The area which is Vorpommern – Hither Pommerania in English – is the western end of the whole. At the end of the 18th Century it was a Swedish possession, but it was a mere stub of its former self. All territories east of the River Oder had been ceded to Prussia, and in 1720 the Treaty of Stockholm gave all land south of the River Peene to the Margrave of Brandenburg (which was also Prussia). Bounded by Mecklenburg in the west and Prussia on its other sides, Swedish Pommerania was a small but much-coveted coastal province on the Baltic. The only two towns of any significance were Greifswald, which had a famed university, and Stralsund, which guards the passage to the large island of Rügen (Rugie in French), which the Swedes were desperate to develop into a major naval base and seaport. Russia was very interested in this area, and, understandably, Prussia had been trying for many years to rid itself of its Swedish neighbour.


Rugen


Sweden’s King Gustav IV Adolf regarded Napoleon as the “Monster of the Apocalypse”, and Sweden were unwise enough to join the Third Coalition (ended by the Treaty of Pressburg following Austerlitz) and, since they were slow learners, they were also members of the ill-fated Fourth Coalition. After Jena-Auerstadt, Napoleon determined to take control of Vorpommern, which would get rid of Swedish influence in northern Germany, protect his new ally, Mecklenburg, and deprive the British Navy and British merchants of the use of Rügen, which was a major smuggling centre.

In 1807, as a sideshow to the main campaign in Poland, the French occupied Vorpommern and destroyed the beginnings of the Swedes’ great new port of Gustavia (on the Mönchgut Peninsula in Rügen), and Marshal Mortier laid siege to Stralsund. The siege did not go well. The defence of the town was organised, with commendable spirit, by Johann Heinrich Essen, its governor. The Swedish army units which had been in Vorpommern had retreated on to the island of Rügen, and it was impossible for the French to prevent supplies and reinforcements reaching Stralsund from the sea, given the presence of Swedish and British navies in the Baltic. Eventually, largely since Mortier was required elsewhere, the Truce of Schlatkow was agreed on 18th April 1807, and Marshal Brune was left in command of the French effort.


Count Toll


King Gustav himself duly turned up in Stralsund, presumably foamng at the mouth, and denounced the truce on 3rd July. The siege was reopened, but it did not last long. Gustav was prevailed upon to go back to Sweden on 20th August, and a Treaty was signed the same day, negotiated by Brune and the formidable Count Johan Kristoffer Toll, who managed to extract terms from the French which are remarkably similar to those of the Convention of Cintra. The Swedish troops were shipped safely home, in exchange for the French taking control of Vorpommern. In true Cintra-like fashion, Brune was disgraced for his part in this, and his career never recovered.

As is true of all sideshows – and anywhere Napoleon was not personally present was always a sideshow – the coverage of what happened thereafter is very sketchy in most accounts of the wars.


General Molitor


One of Brune’s subordinates, General de Division Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor (1770-1849), one of the Empire’s rising stars, was appointed French Governor of Stralsund, and was granted the title Comte de Rugie. He found himself with an immediate issue to handle – a substantial proportion of the Swedish troops on Rügen had been of German and Polish origin, and almost all of these had refused to be shipped back to Sweden, so there was a large number of trained soldiers ready to fight for the new, French supported, “independent” Vorpommern. The Swedish rule had not been popular, there was a legacy of cultural and religious problems which gave rise to a pro-French enthusiasm which exceeded all expectations. There were even volunteers for military service coming from the new Brandenburg territories south of the Peene, since Prussian rule was not popular either.

Always the opportunist, in March 1808 Napoleon created the new Duchy of Stralsund-Rügen, appointing the elderly Friedrich Wilhelm, Graf von Grimmen as Duke, the titular head of state, at Stralsund, and the Duchy, along with its neighbours, Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz, joined the Confederation of the Rhine. The traditional Vorpommern title was officially dropped, since it was a potential source of confusion and disagreement, most of old Pommerania now being in Prussia, but the name of the new state was itself a sore point, and one which makes the study of the history difficult now. German speakers have always called the place Vorpommern, and the troops raised there were invariably termed “Rugeois” by the French – even in official returns.

The population of the new Duchy was in the region of 120,000 in 1808, and the original military contribution to the Confederation was fixed at 2000 men and 800 horses, but the availability of the ex-Swedish troops and the flow of volunteers from the south allowed these figures to be doubled in October 1808.

The Duchy was to provide a battalion of grenadiers, 2 of fusiliers, 1 of jaegers, plus 2 small units of light cavalry. There was also supposed to be a unit of field artillery, but it is not clear whether that was ever raised.

The organisation of this force, and their campaign history, is a subject for a future note.



Stralsund today

Monday, 22 November 2010

Hooptedoodle #8 - Hither Pommerania, anyone?


This follows pretty much from yesterday’s posting about the near-completion of my Peninsular War armies. I used to wargame the ACW (at a very basic level) and had some decent Ancient armies, but I got rid of them to concentrate on the Napoleonic stuff. I have no regrets about this, but I have reached a point (rather to my own amazement) where I need to take stock of what, if anything, I do next.

It’s easy when there is no question of doing anything about it. The most fruitful periods for my imagination are invariably those times when I am too busy, too impecunious or otherwise too distracted to develop the ideas beyond the eye-twinkle stage. And yet there have been times...

Let’s have some realism here – I feel I am too old now to start another new period, or convert everything to 15mm, or do anything which might be regarded as in some way understandable or sensible. I don’t have the free time or the patience, and, apart from anything else, my eyesight is no longer up to mass-production of painted battalions. Equally, there is no question of my giving up my hobby, or quietly folding my hands and waiting for the Grim Umpire to come and roll a double 1 – I shall be more than happy to pursue my version of the Unpleasantness in Spain indefinitely. As I have probably mentioned before, I am aware that my own private Peninsular War has now been going on for about 5 times the duration of the original, so it is not without some historical significance. If I do feel a sudden urge to fight the ACW, I can probably arrange to get myself invited to have a go at someone else's house.

So – what to do? No urgent requirement to do anything at all, of course, but I have always had a soft spot for the Imagi-nation approach – right back to my earliest readings of Charles Grant and Peter Young. To an extent, the Napoleonic period is already a bit like that – I’ve recently been building up a couple of brigades of Rheinbund units, and those quaint little duchies and principalities do get quite close to fantasy.

It’s all Pjotr’s fault, really. He casually suggested recently that I could invent a Napoleonic nation – almost certainly a French ally, obviously. What a crazy idea! However, as it happens, I do have a bit of a stock of unpainted Scruby French Napoleonic figures, and I have nothing to do with them. Hmmm. I have thought of selling them. Nah – no-one will want them. I’ve offered them as a freebie to a couple of people. No takers. I have enough for a battalion of grenadiers (using Old Guard figures), probably 3 battalions of foot chasseurs (Light Inf and Young Guard figures), plus probably 2 regiments of chasseurs-a-cheval-type cavalry. If I scratch round in the spares box, I’m sure I could come up with a foot battery and some staff.

Hmmm.

You see, until recently I would just have got them painted up as yet more French Line, but I’ve already got several times more French troops than I can get on the same battlefield. I also have a strong interest in the 1813-14 campaign in Northern Italy, so maybe I should make them into Neapolitans? Snag, of course, is that this campaign would require me to come up with a large Austrian army, which I don’t really want to get started on.

Hmmm.

Last night I started looking idly at the map. For some reason, I think I would be more comfortable coming up with a slightly distorted version of history for a real place, rather than inventing a complete new place. Don’t ask me to explain why.

Anyway, I got very interested for a while yesterday in Vorpommern, or “Hither Pommerania” as I believe we are supposed to call it in English now (much to the imagined fury of the Hither Pommeranians). It is right next to Mecklenburg, near the Polish border on a modern map. In Napoleonic times it appears to have been divided up between the Margrave of Brandenburg (which I suppose was Prussia) and Sweden, so maybe it is spoken for. I’m still only scratching the surface of this, but it is interesting. There must be a whole bunch of candidate places.

Anyone got any ideas? If I’m going to have a fantasy nation, I’d rather not copy someone else’s, I think. Maybe what I really want here is for someone to send me a slap, and tell me not to be silly!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

My French Army - new pics

I recently got some new units based up, and am now in a position where, once I get a single battalion of foot dragoons ready for garrison duty, my French army has finally attained the organisation target I set myself about 30 years ago. Admittedly there has been a little scope creep over the years.

To celebrate this landmark (saying nothing at all about all the limbers which are still to be built and painted!) I thought it was time we had some more soldier pics on the blog - there's been an awful lot of words lately!

They are all set out in order, staff and artillery at the front, skirmishers at the rear. From left to right (as we see them), the columns are

King of Spain's Guard

Spanish line troops

Italian brigade

1st German brigade

2nd German brigade

6 French line brigades

Reserve artillery, plus garrison troops and artillery and engineers

Heavy cavalry

Light cavalry

With a couple of minor pieces of wargamer's licence, the army is a representative section of the Armee de Portugal with a rather more colourful reserve contingent, dating from around Spring 1812. The Emperor (who doesn't get out of The Cupboard very often) has obviously flown in from the frozen north to review the troops.

Hope you enjoy these - see how many figure manufacturers you can identify!




The Grand Tactical Game - Generals & Command

I've amended the downloadable draft of the MEP Rules, which you can get to from here. This revised version now includes the Rules for the use of Blinds, and I have amended the Game Sequence accordingly.

In this post I've also included previews of some more of the optional rules I propose to add, firstly the procedure for General's Personalities, which is a prerequisite for the Command rules, and which sets an Ability Rating (compliance/initiative, really) and a Leadership Style, which ranges from Cautious to Aggressive.


And then there are the Command Rules themselves - as previously mentioned, these are supposed to be as minimalist as I can get away with - please forgive any lack of elegance here! In my original notes, these are described as "Command Hassles", which kind of sums up the approach.



As ever, I would be delighted to receive comments on these - this is, after all, supposed to be a working draft.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Killing Rates - Wells & Lanchester

I recently obtained a cheap reprint of HG Wells' Little Wars, since my old copy seems to have vanished. Regrettably, and rather shabbily, the reprint appears to be cheap partly because it omits all the diagrams and illustrations. Anyway - to get to the point - I was pleased to renew my acquaintance with a jolly old friend (and that's intended as "old and jolly" rather than "very old").

Wells has a very blunt approach to melees - if troops come into contact, they wipe each other out. Thus two equal-sized units will just eliminate each other, and if a unit of m men is involved in a melee with a smaller unit of strength n, the only survivors of this awfulness will be (m - n) men from the first unit.

Obviously it works, and it is quick, but it does seem a bit crude. I also had a quick squint in Peter Young's Charge! - the melee procedure there is refined by the introduction of probability (dice) and limiting the number of rounds in each melee, but otherwise the line of descent is clear to see.


I dug out the Theorems of Frederick W Lanchester, just to check. If you are familiar with Lanchester then read no further, but FWL was an English engineer and mathematician, who died in 1946 (same year as Wells), and he is most famous as an automotive inventor. I wish to mention, in passing, that my Uncle Harold had a green Lanchester 10 saloon when I was a boy, and a big solid thing it was, too - the Lanchester marque was swallowed by the British Daimler company during the 1950s. More relevantly, in 1916 – 3 years after the publication of Little Wars - Dr Lanchester produced a mathematical analysis of warfare, and the two best known elements of this are his Linear Law (an abstraction of ancient-style warfare) and his n-Square Law. If you look these up on the internet, you'll find so much diverse explanation that it is hard to believe that it all relates to the same ideas. In the interests of providing yet more redundant information on a subject which has already been hammered to death, I'll attempt to provide yet another lightweight view on Lanchester's Laws!

The Linear Law

Imagine two groups of warriors, armed only with (say) a club. One of them has m men, the other has n (a smaller number). Men can only fight one-against-one, so anyone who has no-one to fight presumably stands and watches, cheering (or placing bets?). Anyway, in this remarkably organised and chivalrous form of melee, they match off into n fighting pairs. Assume that each man has an even chance of winning his fight. On a given word or command, there is an almighty thwack! and the casualties are removed. On average, we would expect each side to lose n/2 men. So the (m - n/2) survivors of the first group will now fight the n/2 survivors of the second group. Since n/2 is the smaller group, there will be n/2 fights, of which each side will lose n/4.

And so on. If you are keen on the theory of finite differences, you can solve this as the sum of a series. If not, you can put in some real numbers and do it on a spreadsheet.

If the first force is 1000 men and the second force is 500, and each man has an equal chance of winning each fight, then - on average - we find that we can expect the first force to wipe out the second, while themselves losing 500 men. If the forces were of equal strength, they would eliminate each other.

Step forward, Mr Wells [applause] - in this rather stilted form of combat your rule is exactly correct. It does rather gloss over what the unemployed warriors would be doing during each thwack, for example, and it also ignores the possibility that someone might decide this was a bad idea before reaching the point of actual annihilation. Otherwise, nice job.

The n-Square Law
Let's now consider a more modern form of warfare, in which all the troops on one side are able to kill any of the troops on the other side - perhaps they are all armed with long-range automatic weapons.

If, again, there are m one side and n on the other, and if each man in the first side has a killing rate (the number of enemy troops he can kill in 1 unit of time) equal to Km (this allows for his own effectiveness, the defensive capability of his opponents, and any other relevant contextual factors), and the other side has a killing rate of Kn, then the actual rates of loss will be proportional to the numbers of men


Now, the armies would be considered equally matched if they are wiping each other out (proportionally) at the same rate - i.e. would both be reduced to half strength at the same time, for example.

In this special case, we have m Km = n Kn at any instant; if we substitute in (1) & (2) and integrate, we get

This is Lanchester’s n-Square Law – in words, the total fighting strengths of two forces are equal when their fighting effectiveness (killing rate), multiplied by the square of the numerical strength, is equal.

Thus a force which has half the numerical strength of the opposition would have to have four times its killing rate to be equally matched.

Let's look, again, at our 1000-man force attacking a 500-man one, with equal values of Kn & Km. Running it on a spreadsheet demonstrates that we should expect the 500 man force to be eliminated for a cost of 130-something casualties to the other side. This is very different from the HG Wells situation. It also demonstrates the importance of concentrating your armies, thus:

if two identical 1000-man forces engage, then Lanchester’s n-Square Law has them eliminate each other. However, if one side divides (or is divided) into two 500-man forces, then the 1000-strong enemy force will eliminate the first 500 men and still have 870 or so troops left, which is more than enough to eliminate the second 500 men. Napoleon was right, even though he never met Dr Lanchester.

And that is quite enough of that.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hooptedoodle #7 - Death by Communication - omg


I've had a Facebook account for a while now, but I only recently started making use of it. I have a friend who insists on using his for just about everything. Some of the things he uses it for surprise me. Some of them, I think he dreamed them up specially to give himself another excuse to use it.

In the month or two that I've been making more use of Facebook, it has been useful on about 3 occasions. To balance that, it irritates me and wastes my time a couple of dozen times each day. That is not a positive balance. OK - I can just close the account, or stop using it. Or maybe I can't - I know it's damned hard to remove a photo - maybe you're not allowed to close an account? - who cares, actually? I have friends who cannot listen to a CD without telling everyone. I have seen enough mobile-phone pics of drunk guys with their tongues hanging out to last me a very long time. Graffitti.

So - yes, I'm a bit hostile, and I'm certainly aware of getting old and grumpy, but I worry a little. I worry about the time and bandwidth that are wasted, the consumer cost and the technology investment that underpins the immense exchange of drivel that passes for useful communication. Facebook exists primarily to make a lot of money for the guy who invented it. Facebook is just another manifestation of something which has already been around and growing for years. Why do we need an infinite number of TV channels when the programme content is almost entirely crud? - who watches this stuff? When you 've paid for your new TV, bear in mind that watching crud in High Definition is hardly a mighty step forward (imho).

How many people do you know who dare not switch their mobile phone off, in case they miss out on something? Perhaps you yourself are in this position? I am fortunate enough to live in a rural area where there is no mobile service. When I am at home, you can ring my mobile all you want - it doesn't work. Sometimes this is a nuisance, but mostly it just means that I have got into the habit of switching the mobile on only when I need to be contactable. That's right - weird, eh?

When I used to commute into Edinburgh on the train, I used to be astounded by the girls from the posh private schools, texting each other - from adjacent seats. I guess their parents were paying for this. I used to pass the time trying to ignore it, trying to be absorbed by my book, but distracted by vague thoughts involving chainsaws. I guess the juvenile texters all grew up to be mainstream Facebook users.

A while ago I heard a man on the radio expressing his theory that the amount of initiative people display is inversely proportional to the speed and ease of communication. It was a lot more interesting than it might sound. The example he used which stuck in my mind was the East India Company, back in the 18th Century. They had their own army, as we know, and they had their own army exactly because it would take maybe 6 months to send a message to London and get a reply. If someone attacked them, there was no point at all trying to ask Head Office what to do about it. Nowadays they would have to convene an electronic conference to decide who they needed to talk to, just to define their Terms of Reference. In the last month, I have been chasing a local (village) committee to get some information to put in the local community journal. Amazing. The whole committee are in endless mobile contact with each other, there is a greater degree of convoluted, tangled misinformation than I would have believed and - since everyone always has to consult everyone else - no-one is empowered to make a decision. I never got my notice for the journal - they missed the deadline. Something wrong here, chaps. If you provide a bunch of weasels each with a Blackberry, you achieve nothing. Weasels could not have managed the East India Company.

So, if anyone was thinking of sending me a message on Facebook to tell me how much you enjoyed your coffee this morning, please don't bother. Unless I hear to the contrary, I'll assume everything is fine.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Blinds

Here is another of the optional rules for MEP, which I air for public criticism before incorporating into the draft (probably next weekend, all being well).


Blinds provide an interesting element of "Fog of War" - highly recommended. My solo game has an option where you can shuffle the identity of the blinds for one or both armies, so that one or both commanders has/have no idea who or what is arriving when - that is a decent working definition of chaos. Probably takes the idea a little too far, though it can generate some furious fun.

This draft rule will be identifiable as heavily influenced by TooFatLardies - but who else am I going to borrow ideas on Blinds from?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Downloadable Draft

This is an attempt to get organised. You can see or download the latest draft of the MEP rules from Google Docs by clicking here.

In future, so that I only need to maintain a single link, all references to the downloadable draft of the rules will link to this post, and the version you get to from here will be the latest extant version.

The Grand Tactical Game - End of the Day

This week, progress with the blog has been upset a bit by events in the Real World - a place I avoid whenever possible. The Combat examples have been a bit delayed, though I have done some re-writing of the MEP rules draft, which will appear shortly in downloadable form.


In the interim, here's a general note about victory conditions, nightfall, what happens at the end of the day - all that stuff - which is to be incorporated into the draft as one of the optional rules.



As ever, I'd be very grateful for any comments or (polite!) suggestions.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Morale (or Not)


This week I started doing some detail testing of the Combat mechanisms for MEP, and it became obvious that there are a few more changes needed. Simplifying the actual Combat, and calming down the casualty rates a bit, will be addressed in a forthcoming post – probably next week, in which I also hope to do a couple of walk-throughs of examples of Combats. I’ll make a new draft of the rules available at that time.

But the first surprise, and the most radical (for me) was the realisation that the whole subject of morale needed a rethink.

I remind myself that this is a grand tactical game, and the basic units are brigades. As I have mentioned before, it is spiritually close to being a boardgame. In passing, I must observe that I don’t recall seeing very much in the way of detailed morale rules in boardgames, though I’m sure there are some somewhere. Maybe this is a clue.

In a tactical game, I am used to seeing a battalion routing from contact, subsequently rallied – maybe by the personal intervention of a general officer – then turned round, formed up smartly, and sent back into action, though maybe a bit more circumspectly than before.

But this grand tactical game has brigade-sized units comprising Elements which are each a battalion or equivalent. Losses are counted in Elements – a complete battalion is the smallest amount of loss which we bother with. Let’s think about that for a moment – if a 3-Element unit loses an Element as a result of some incident, it does not mean that 750 infantrymen have just been vaporised, it means that the combined effect of actual casualties and demotivation caused by the incident have reduced the combat capability of the unit by an amount which is roughly equivalent to a battalion’s-worth of the soldiers not contributing any more. They may be dead, or hurt, or they may be shocked into uselessness, or they may be legging it to the rear – it doesn’t actually matter. The point is that there are not so many of them taking part - the “loss” is an amalgam of reduction in headcount and loss of morale. The italics are deliberate.

Continuing this theme, when a unit has lost all its Elements it is eliminated. At risk of unnecessary repetition (after all, this is not a difficult concept, though I seem to have some trouble getting the hang of it!), they have not all been wiped out, they have been reduced to a crowd of fugitive survivors, retreating in disorder, probably throwing away all military paraphernalia as they go, to speed their exit. Whatever else, they are not coming back. Again, their elimination is as much – maybe more – to do with morale as it is to do with casualties.

In view of this, I suddenly had a blinding flash of the obvious – having morale tests in addition to this process is too much of the same thing. What if we dropped the stand-alone morale tests altogether? Also, what is the point of having units on the tabletop explicitly marked as Routing when the casualty mechanisms already allow for people running away? A unit which is reduced to zero strength is running away, and won’t come back – that’s probably all we need. OK – we won’t have Routers, so we don’t need to try to rally them, so that’s another morale test scrapped.

The initial draft has morale tests for units which suffer (significant) loss to artillery and skirmisher fire. OK – it is possible to imagine a unit being reduced to zero by continuing fire – they have run away. If they have not run away, and have just been damaged a bit, there is probably a need for some Activation or Command style check to see if they are prepared to follow orders if they are required to advance (or whatever), but the reaction-type morale test as drafted is not necessary.

So I propose to drop the morale tests, and units losing in combat will be pushed back – they will not run away until they are eliminated. There will be no Routers, and no rallying of Routers.

I feel a bit elated at removing a sizeable piece of fiddle-faddle from the game – I am also nervously aware that the morale tests may be back next week, after some more playtesting, so am not going to make too much of a fuss about it!

More soon.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Hooptedoodle #6 - The Three Excuses Rule


Like everyone else, I came into the world knowing nothing, and have only occasionally managed to improve this situation - and always, I believe, by personal experience. Maybe I was never a good listener, but words of received wisdom only ever come back to me when I am trying to strip off curdled varnish, or lying in hospital, or pleading with the bank, or whatever. By and large, I found stuff out the hard way - one day you will see me listed in the Darwin Awards.

Once upon a time I used to go running at lunchtime with a group of colleagues from work. We used to go Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Life being what it is, now and then someone would send a message apologising for absence - popular reasons included:

(1) I have to look for a present for my wife's birthday - you know how it is.

(2) I think I have a cold coming on - I'll give it a miss today.

(3) I am struggling to finish off a presentation I have to make to the Board this afternoon.

No-one could take exception to any of these, obviously, and the runners would look forward to seeing their missing companion next time. Occasionally, someone would come out with a multiple reason:

(1+2) I have to do some urgent shopping, and anyway I'm not feeling too great, so I'll not be running today.

Poor chap - such a strong case for not being there might even generate some sympathetic (if monosyllabic) discussion during the run. But only very rarely did anyone attempt to claim that they had three simultaneous good reasons for absence. At that point it becomes obvious that they are making it up. The chances of anyone having that good a reason not to do anything at all are so remote as to be discounted without further thought.

Foy's Seventh Law is known in our family as the Three Excuses Rule, and states:

If someone has three good, separate excuses for not being able to do something, that person is lying - they just don't want to do it.

This is a very useful rule indeed - you will regularly be able to use it to judge the merits of politicians, and to apply it to discussions with tradesmen, mail-order retailers, your children, all sorts of people, in a great many practical situations. Only yesterday, the phone helpline for my Internet Service Provider had three excellent reasons why we had no broadband for the second time in four days, and the girl appeared mystified when I laughed as she got to the third excuse.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Art Miniaturen

Another manufacturer who is still doing well, but a rather different style of figure. Jorg Schmaeling's super 1/72 metal figures are, in my view, diorama-style, and very nice too - a little pricey, but lovely. Art Miniaturen are also nice, helpful people to deal with. Herr Schmaeling is happy to provide odd figures from his listed sets, and I understand that he will even consider spare parts - hats, pelisses and so on.


Apart from the price (which is not astronomical, by the way), the only other slight snags are

(1) there is occasional flash trouble - these figures are very detailed, but no compromise is made in animation to ease the casting process - some of the older figures can display signs of mould damage, particularly swords and muskets, and horses' legs can require a bit of dremelling to make them perfect

(2) Schmaeling does not accept payment by credit card or PayPal (at least he didn't a couple of months ago) - this is a bit of an issue for UK residents, since the good old British banks still make it very expensive to transfer money internationally. It is not a real stopper, but how you choose to work around the problem is up to you. I would never, of course, advise anyone to send cash euros in a registered letter. Perish the thought.


I have only one unit which is entirely Art Minaturen - my beloved French 3rd Hussars. These cost me a real arm and a leg, since I felt that my painting could not do justice to such fine figures, so I commissioned the very talented Jez Farminer to do the full collector-standard paint job on them. I am very pleased with them, but I cannot afford to follow this route very often!

I have some French voltigeurs, and a good number of command figures. Here are a few pictures, which I hope speak for themselves.




Finally, here's a conversion - I produced this Spanish colonel by grafting a Les Higgins British Light Infantry head on to an Art Miniaturen Belgian officer figure. The width and quality of the range make these figures ideal for conversions.