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

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sanity Check - The Case for a Little Diversification

Proverb: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
Variation: “All play and no work makes Jack a rather confused boy”
Extension: “All the same kind of play is starting to make Jack a little weird”

Preamble 1 - Blogs in Winter

I've been aware for a little while that something in my life needs to change. Only a little, maybe, but it is certainly worth looking into. As I have said here before, this blog is invaluable to me - far more than I expected - partly because it has put me in touch with others with similar interests, and I can get insight from people who are kind enough to comment, but also because it gives me an opportunity to write down my own thoughts, which forces a structure and a level of cohesion on them (believe it or not) which might not normally be present. A chance, if you will, to get all my ducks in a row. So most of this is just self-indulgence. But you probably knew that.

There has never been any pretence that Prometheus is all about Napoleonic wargaming - that is just a front. For a start, I'd be very nervous about touting myself as an authority, and in any case I always intended to put out a few irrelevances - the odd blessed tangent. I am careful not to just unload a personal whinge diary on here - occasionally I do feel that something is so bloody awful that I have to add my small and rather squeaky voice to some imagined groundswell, but these outbursts ("ridiculous intemperance" - thanks, Graham, I still love that) are usually intended to be light-hearted. If I tell you about my dandelion extractor, or my fallen tree, or the circus car the garage lent me, it is only because I feel it might be amusing or otherwise faintly interesting. I started this thing off, secure in the knowledge that no-one gives a tinker's cuss what I think anyway, and find to my astonishment that there are 40-odd good people who are prepared to own up to the fact that they occasionally read my burblings. Whatever else that may do, it does remind me that I can't just publish any old dross that comes into my head.

Preamble 2 - The Hobby

I've collected soldiers and fought wargames for 40 years now - admittedly there was a long gap in the middle, when Real Life took a serious hold, but there are Napoleonic soldiers in The Cupboard which have been around since the beginning. My first ever Les Higgins unit is the 1st battalion of the 6e Leger, and they are still in there with all their accumulated mates, ready for action. I probably painted them about Christmas 1972.

The oldest of the Les Higgins Napoleonics - rebased and with new command figures, otherwise these date from 1972 or so

At various times I have also fought the American Civil War, the Roman difficulties in Britannia, and even some Wild West skirmish stuff. I stopped the ACW because the armies were badly done and gave me no satisfaction, and because I realised that the games had nothing to do with the actual ACW. Rather than start again, I passed the armies to my cousin on permanent loan – what you might call hedging my bets. When he died, many years later, his widow found them - the boxes had never been opened since he took them away. I agreed that she should just get rid of them - I am left with a lingering affection for the period, but I don't miss those armies at all.

My Ancients were Airfix and original Garrison 20mm - tidy little armies - by that time I was painting better, I had now dedicated my life to following the teachings of the WRG, and they were quite nicely organised. I never enjoyed the games as much as I would have liked. There is the fundamental difficulty of fighting an asymmetric war, of course - disciplined Empire troops against brave but disadvantaged hooligans. I recall that one of the more interesting phases of this came when I introduced unorthodox morale rules, which stated that Celtic units which fled the field might return, given suitable morale test results. So for a while the battles would reach a point where the Celtic commander would have very few warbands left in action, and a whole list of other units who had run away but might still return. This probably had some element of realism, but made for bewildering games, and we had to impose time limits! Another problem with the games was that they always seemed to develop into a huge grinding match - occasionally more than one such, but there was a lack of movement and/or variety in there which sometimes made the sessions seem like more labour than they were worth. I kept my armies for years, and occasionally dug them out for a battle, but 3 years ago I sold them to a nice chap in New Zealand to make more room for the Napoleonics. I haven't missed them, either, though I like to think they are happy.

The Western skirmish is a mystery - I can clearly remember painting up some rather nice 1/32 plastics, and I bought a set of rules, but I have no recollection of actually playing the game. I cannot even remember what happened to the figures. Ach, well.

So, in the end, I do the Peninsular War, and, because of the uniforms and the OOB of the troops I have available, I am committed to the 1811-1814 period of the PW. No problems with that - I still love the period, enjoy the games and the reading and the characters and the whole deal, and my armies are still getting bigger and bigger. My hobby, in part, has become dedicated to increasing the size of the armies, and thinking up new justifications for so doing. They are already several times bigger than I could fit onto the tabletop, so it's time for a sanity check.

I must mention that I have already had email exchanges on this subject with a few friends who have been very helpful, so if anyone recognises anything in this post which I have lifted straight out of one of those emails, you have my apologies and thanks in equal measure!

Preamble 3 - Life Changes

Though I seem to have difficulty coming to terms with the fact, I officially took early retirement some seven years ago. Now the context has changed again: I recently sold my little publishing business, and have greatly relished the increase in hobby time as a result. I've made good progress with organising my PW armies' infrastructure - transport and siege artillery - and some new supplies of Spaniards of various sorts and more time to get the lead mountain painted up all mean that my armies are growing even further. A very faint alarm bell. Where is this heading? At present I am working on the start of my new solo Peninsular campaign (which has taken a lot of time to get organised, but I am enjoying it), I am also still buying and cleaning-up and painting more of my PW soldiers, I am working somewhere in the background on my translation of Foy's "Vie Militaire", and for my bedtime reading I currently have Vol.1 (1809) of the Dickson Manuscripts. You know what? - I'm becoming weird. Somehow, when I was on holiday, I managed briefly to roam as far away as the 1809 unpleasantness in the Tyrol, but it's all a bit closed, isn’t it? I have a mass of books about the Wagram Campaign, the 1814 Campaign etc etc that I have been waiting to have time to read.

I feel I should get a change of scenery before I disappear up my own exhaust pipe. The removal of my part-time business has changed things - I now need a little diversification!

The Point of All This

I strongly fancy the English Civil War. I do not know a lot about it, but the spectacle, the geographical and cultural immediacy and the fact that it appears to be feasible with smallish armies are all appealing. But I have to do the groundwork properly, and go about it sensibly. A number of friends and confidantes have recommended books and rule sets, and given me their valuable thoughts on scales, figure ranges and general approaches to the subject, for which I am very grateful indeed. The books are arriving every day from AbeBooks and elsewhere, and I have a new ECW shelf in the upstairs bookcase. I have Terry Wise’s rules coming, and to date I have had a look at “Pike & Shot” (John Armatys), the “Perfect Captain” rules (which look fascinating, though it is almost impossible to find all the bits on the website), I have read Charlie Wesencraft’s “With Pike and Musket” (at last), I have the Airfix Guide, the Shire Publications “Discovering” booklet (which is largely a re-run of George Gush’s articles from Miniature Warfare in 1970), I have bought “Forlorn Hope”, which is a lavish production – I have all manner of rules here.

Rules Ancient & Modern

This obsession with rules before I understand the history looks a little like hitching up the horse behind the cart, but I have to get a feel for whether I would like the games, whether I could build up sensible small armies, whether they would be suitable to grow into bigger ones - all that. I also need to get an early feel for figure scales and BASING (oh Lord) – I do not wish to adopt a basing system which locks me into a rule set which is not going to work for me. I’ve done that before...

I have a gentle stream of general histories arriving. The ones I like best so far are by CV Wedgwood – she could actually write history as beautiful English, which is a trait which is less identifiable in some more recent work, I think. The history of the ECW, I regret to say, seems to have eluded me during both my education and my private study to date, so I have only a very casual grasp of it. Perhaps it clashed with double metalwork in the timetable? More likely I had my head jammed into some dark, obsessive place or other that prevented my taking note!

So I want to do this calmly and reasonably, and without derailing my Peninsular War activities or losing control of the rest of my life, but I do want to do it.

Availability of figures is critical - 15mm looked like an obvious choice, and figures are widely available on eBay, but the little guys lack personality for me – sorry about that. I have to actually care about the soldiers. I am pretty certain that 20mm is the way to go – my plan is to use Les Higgins' lovely 20mm, with Hinton Hunt and Kennington to plug gaps in the range and provide variety – I have been pleasantly surprised how compatible the figure sizes are.

I hope to get started in the Spring – to draw a line under the endless expansion of the Napoleonic armies and get started on a new area of interest. Thanks again to those who have helped me thus far – I believe the change will do me good, but one thing is for sure – if for some reason I never do get to fight ECW battles, it will still be a valuable addition to my education!


  1. " Whatever else that may do, it does remind me that I can't just publish any old dross that comes into my head."

    OH! Uh oh, are you sure? Oh dear! No one mentioned this to me!

    I've been enjoying the Spanish campaign btw, despite having no comment to add.

    Good luck with the ECW diversification ( still sounds rather focused to me ). I have dabbled in the past usually in the non-English parts. At least the battlefields will be closer to visit.


    1. I probably write more than my fair share of dross anyway - a high dross quotient (HDQ)- but I do try not to upset anyone on the way! I used to work with a guy who was one of the most unpleasant, sarcastic people ever - when anyone challenged him, or got offended, he would wriggle out of it by saying "I'm just kidding - can't you take a joke?", and somehow make it their fault.

      One day, someone just quietly thumped him and knocked him down. Of course, this was a dreadful thing to do, but I didn't know anyone who was sorry it had happened! I would be sorry to offend anyone while I am amusing myself writing one-liners! "I'm only kidding..."

      Spanish campaign - Marmont is on his last chance, and it's only February.

      Cheers - Tony

  2. As ever Ross has beaten me to it in one.... read this one again and think about it....

    "I started this thing off, secure in the knowledge that no-one gives a tinker's cuss what I think anyway, and find to my astonishment that there are 40-odd good people who are prepared to own up to the fact that they occasionally read my burblings."

    The reason they do is because you do.... ahem.... 'burble' - so the lesson is to ensure that the blog DOES remain your own... writing it so as to appeal to some mythical reader in your head is a sure fire way of losing that enjoyment it currently gives....

    Now.. back to content... ECW?? Way to go.. very much looking to read more.... :o)

    1. Steve - it still surprises me that anyone reads the stuff! When I started out, I imagined that mythical readers were all I had - like all bloggers, I guess, I am mostly amusing myself.

      ECW - I hope to get as far as buying some figures in a month or two...

      Cheers - and thanks - Tony

  3. The "any old dross" thing-is that in the smallprint? Got me worried now!

    Good luck with the new ECW project-Tumbling Dice do a nice range of 1/72nd ECW as well.

    1. Yep - check the small print - it's there. When this blog started, Clive was kind enough to put up a link to it on his Vintage Wargaming blog - and that is a *real* blog, so that's a slick reference. As I recall, he described PiA as "discursive", which might be seen as faintly pejorative (as in "rambling") but is probably spot on!

      Cheers - Tony

      PS - Tumbling Dice - thanks - that reminds me I was going to get them to send me some samples.

  4. I like the way you have remained so focused on your PW project and that really comes through in the whole look of your armies and table top. I can see that a lot of thought has gone into it! It's also great that you still have figures that you painted in 1972 - I so wish I did! However, when you get to the point that you have more figures than you can actually use then it's more than reasonable to take on a new period. I had a Minifigs Royalist Army in 1972, it now resides in the attic of an old school friend but at least it is safe! I will be very interested to see how you develop a new project.


    1. Thanks Ian - when my next batch of figures comes back from the painter I'll do some more Champs de Mars type photos - just to show the current state. Fine line between concentrating on one topic and becoming over-absorbed! - as I said in the post, the real change is that the end of my publishing work allowed the PW to take over - I'll be more balanced in any case once the garden wakes up!

      Regards - Tony

  5. This is one of my favourite blogs and I don't feel there's an unacceptable volume of personal stuff; a certain amount of the latter gives a bit of character and human interest.

    I used to do ECW but could never find a set of rules I was happy with. I think if I did it again I would use the Les Higgins 20s. Pleasantly surprised to hear that Kennington are compatible with them, I would have expected them to be noticeably bigger. Tumbling Dice's ECW certainly are much bigger than the Les Higgins, but it's an attractive range IMHO.

    1. Thanks Steve.

      Figure comparisons are always tricky - sometimes I find the received wisdom doesn't quite agree with what I see. Les Higgins 20mm ECW are in two sizes anyway - the initial group of 4 officers are much smaller than the later figures in the range, for some reason. The later ones are a pretty good match for HH, I was surprised to find (I'll put a photo up here today to show comparison). I haven't actually seen Kennington's ECW figures yet, I confess, but I have found their Nap castings to be a match for HH, if a little chunkier sometimes. I have one TD ECW figure, but he's kneeling - he does look bigger. I also have an s-Range sample - height is OK but big head - usual situation. I have my heart set on the Higgins range - I was just very nervous that I would struggle to find a suitable range to provide matching generals, Scots, alternative cavalry, more command figures, peasant hordes etc.

      Irregular are far too small, btw.

      Cheers - Tony

  6. W.r.t size... I found these comparisons for Tumbling Dice... matched with revell but they have a handy ruler on the side...


    ..this one also features some SHQ... the more I paint them for my ACW project the more I like 20mm as a scale...


  7. "English 'Civil' Wargamming"! - as opposed to that rude foreign form of game-play no doubt, brings to mind the spine of a book currently doing the rounds of the clearance shops (or you can give WHSmith 20-quid for it!), which from more than a couple of feet away reads - The Boys Book of * Arthur Ward, which rather sums it up!

    [The asterisk, should you be holding said tome less than two feet away is the Airfix logo!]

    Les Higgens ECW are some of my favourite figures of all time, I have about 8; not units - figures in a little bag and although they are unpainted 'samples' I still get them out and line them up occasionally!