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


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Assorted Wargames Nostalgia

This post really is just a collection of bits. I was going through a file of old paperwork connected with my wargaming past – nothing very distinguished, but I was reminded of a few things. Sadly, the accompanying photos for the first item were lost ages ago, during the hostilities which followed my split with my first wife (which almost certainly serves me right).

(1) Waterloo Day – yes, today is the 199th anniversary of Napoleon’s Really Bad Day, and one of the items I found in the file was a sheet of scribblings from a 160th anniversary Waterloo game I played at my old flat in Marchmont, Edinburgh, with some friends [that’s 1975, ladies and gentlemen]. The first thing that struck me was that, of the players involved – Philip Snell, John Ramsay, Dave Thompson, Alan Low, Allan Gallacher and myself – I am the only one still alive. Good grief – I hadn’t thought of that before. The game was considerably scaled down, but still used inappropriately detailed rules (around about this time I started using Charles Wesencraft’s rules, with all distances halved, but June 1975 is just a little early for that, so I guess we were using a hybrid game which was mostly Tunbridge Wells [George Gush?] with some bits of South-East Scotland WG thrown in). This was probably one of the last biggish games I staged before I started painting hexagons all over my tabletop – we hadn’t thought of Old School yet, though there was definitely some creaking associated with our enthusiasm for what we naively regarded as increased realism.


One thing I remember fondly was that Allan G was supposed to bring the Prussians, since otherwise we didn’t have any, but he actually turned up with Russians, since he didn’t have any Prussians either but hadn’t the heart to tell us. Thus this particular version of the B of W was notable for an unusual lack of authenticity in the OOB. The battle staggered on all day – eventually we agreed that the Allies were beaten, and that was that – we caught the last orders for drinks at the Bruntsfield Hotel and got into the obligatory justificatory arguments. We had decided that the [P]Russians would arrive after 2pm as soon as Wellington threw 11 or better on 2D6 (or “two dice”, as we would have called them at the time) at the start of his turn. As soon as they arrived, Napoleon would start rolling dice each turn, and a French reserve force under Grouchy would arrive on a 9 or better. Don’t ask me where these scientific probabilities came from, but – anyway – it’s academic, since Wellington never managed the requisite dice roll, and his bewildered Russian allies were not called into play, and eventually returned to Dunfermline in their toolbox – I’m not sure if they were relieved or outraged.


(2) Having mentioned the South-East Scotland chaps, I am delighted to have had an email from Mark, in Canada, who knew the notorious George Jeffrey back in the 1980s (rather after I knew him), and was, for a while, a disciple of George’s famed (but little understood, especially by me) Variable Length Bound system, or VLB. This, in theory, is the answer to a great many problems which wargamers have struggled with over the decades, but is reputed to suffer from the slight problem that it doesn’t actually work. Whatever – without making any pre-emptive judgements – I have invited Mark to contribute some notes about VLB, which we have briefly mentioned here before, and he hopes to send me something – excellent.

(3) I found a bunch of photos of my old (early 1970s) Ancient armies, which were dreadfully crude but served me for many years. Now gone – a nice chap in New Zealand bought them on eBay some years ago – their only claim to a place in my heart is that they are – like my Waterloo collaborators – no more. I don’t expect anyone to be excited by my crap painting or my very basic Airfix + Garrison + Atlantic armies, but – if we are to preserve a hallowed whisper for Old School – it is as well to remember that this was the reality. You may notice that my dread of paint-shedding by plastic figures was such that I kept spears and the wobbly bits of chariots etc in the raw plastic, which explains the distinctive vibrant orange preservative obviously employed by the Celtic chariot builders.

I am still quietly pleased by the onager, which I built from balsa, with shirt button wheels (all right, all right), based on the drawings in the WRG’s nice little book. Purists will protest that the Romans did not have shirts, never mind shirt buttons.



Note early view of The Cupboard - I didn't have so many figures in 2001


The occasion commemorated by the first few photos is my first wargame in my present house, New Year 2001. The room is what was the dining room at that time, which has subsequently become the downstairs shower/toilet (so wargames in the bog almost took place here), and my opponent was Malcolm Turner, who – now I think about it – is also dead now. Maybe it’s me then? That will have cut the queue of people wishing to visit Chateau Foy for a wargame, I would think.

The remainder were taken 5 years ago, when I was proposing to sell them.













(4) I also found some vintage, typed casualty tables I derived from the kill rates in Bill Leeson’s reprint of Von Reisswitz’s Kriegsspiel rules, which I am still poring over. These may be too dry even for the standards of this blog, but I’ll see if there is something useful which could be put here.

I think that’s probably quite enough of all that…

11 comments:

  1. The sight of Airfix Romans still makes me think "enemy in sight".

    Still, if I ever decide its time for Euthenasia, I'll be in touch.

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    1. You're always welcome, Ross - just don't tell your insurers.

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  2. I have a copy of the Jeffrey book - bought second hand in a old bookshop in the Peak District - wonder if anybody ever played them ?

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    1. You can bet your boots that he did, and anyone who knew him would never dare admit to using anything else. For myself, I'm just surprised that he got the rules to stay unaltered for long enough to get them published.

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  3. You know, those now gone ancient armies of yours look pretty nice to my eyes. Not half bad at all. And the onager is a neat bit of scratch-building. It's almost enough to interest me in the period were time and money more plentiful.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Uh, oh - thanks Stokes, but that's a bit worrying - if these old guys start looking nice, it's definitely time to head home for a rest (as Ernest Shackleton sort of said).

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  4. Your 1970's prove that what is old is new again! Your ancients game on hex could slip right into Commands & Colors for miniatures.

    Your old armies look great to these eyes. Enjoy seeing everyone's old "vintage" collections.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan - I appreciate that. In fact, any hostility any of us feels towards his former toys is just banked-up frustration over their shortcomings at the time - these old Airfix etc Celts & Romans gave me a lot of useful practice at painting and organising little armies, and a lot of fun, though the campaigns were usually more entertaining than the rather turgid slugging matches which the battles invariably turned into. It's worth pointing out that I didn't make the Celtic army Ancient Brits - Phil Barker told us that the Brits didn't have archers - which is a remarkable omission, you would think - although Airfix clearly included them in the set, and the Gauls didn't have chariots, ditto ditto Airfix. Thus they were sort of vague Celts.

      I'm quite pleased to see the old pictures, but they sat undisturbed in my cupboard for years, and i don't really miss them now.

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  5. Gosh - what memories for me as well - the Airfix Romans were the first figures I painted properly when I was a lad. By properly I mean I sat down and worked out what the colour scheme was going to be and which colours I had to buy from my pocket money. Actually now I think about it - I'm still doing that..

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    1. My Airfix Romans came in for a lot of stick over the years from visiting experts - historically inaccurate etc - I didn't like them much for more hands-on reasons - those stupid stick-on shields were annoying, and the curly plastic pila were dreadful - but somehow they never had the charisma of the noble savage barbarians. Visiting generals offered a choice of sides would always opt for the Celts, because the chariots and the slingers made them more interesting - the Romans did have artillery, but it rarely hit anything.

      One aspect of these games I recall is that for a while I had a cunning morale rule, whereby volatile (i.e. barbarian) troops could leave the table, but might still come back. This might even have been realistic, but produced some very odd game endings, with the Celtic chieftain left with very few troops, furiously rolling dice to try to retrieve enough of the routers to stage a rally...

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  6. I received an email from Louis which was in rather dubious taste - no, that's not quite accurate - it was definitely in very poor taste. Louis referred to the irony of playing war-games in the toilet (which, as I explained, did not quite take place) considering my known hostility to order sheets and other paperwork on the battlefield. I'll leave it to the discretion and imagination of the reader to work out Louis' theme.

    Classy...

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