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

Friday, 28 February 2014

Hooptedoodle #122 - Donkey Award - Peter Bone Day

Well, goodness me. At first I really thought it was a dry run for April Fool's Day, and then I began to suspect that it was a rumour created by the Scottish Nationalist Party to produce a panic rush towards a "yes" vote for independence, but - no - it was a fact.

This very day, 28th February 2014, a second reading has rejected a Private Member's Bill introduced last June into the British Parliament. This was the work of Mr Peter Bone (illustrated, above), and was a  move to have the national August Bank Holiday in the UK renamed Margaret Thatcher Day. Mr Bone is the Conservative Member for Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, and he appears (not for the first time) to have got it rather badly wrong.

I refuse to make any political observation here, other than to note that he seems to have rather over-estimated public enthusiasm for the idea. The Bill has received remarkably little publicity, yet an online petition opposing the idea received some 124,000 signatures, of which 7,000 arrived today, in anticipation of the second reading.

If you are going to do something really daft, perfect timing is essential, and this must be close to that.

Some questions occur to me:

(a) where do they find these specimens?

(b) who, in God's name, votes for them?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

At Long Last – proper British Peninsular War dragoons

Le Marchant's Brigade - fresh from the painter
I am delighted to introduce the official version of Le Marchant’s Heavy Brigade, circa Spring 1812. As I have mentioned on a number of occasions here previously, I have been looking for figures in the correct uniform in this scale since about 1975. For a while I considered the Hinton Hunt dragoons, but I could never have collected enough anyway, and I excused myself on the grounds that they would be a bit small for my heavy brigade. I rejected Qualiticast for exactly the same reasons. I also had a serious look at the Minifigs S-Range bicorne dragoons, but the uniform is a little early for my purposes. Another, better option was the Falcata boxed set (now OOP) of KGL dragoons, which are perfect apart from the fore-&-aft bicorne hat fitted with chinscales, which was a local eccentricity of the KGL. Briefly, there was also the NapoleoN version of the KGL boys, which were lovely figures, but - like everyone else - I was snoozing during the short time they were available.

3rd Dragoons
4th Dragoons
5th Dragoon Guards
My final version, therefore, is a hybrid – Falcata men with S-Range heads, on Falcata campaign-order horses. This has been an extended labour of love, and it is only fitting that I commissioned Lee to paint them to his usual high standard, so I am really very pleased indeed to have them ready and in The Cupboard.

My previous (post-1812, helmeted) regiments have moved into the Allied Odd-Bods box, while I decide what to do with them. They served as stopgaps for 40 years, so some respect is due.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

British Sappers & Miners

For a while now, I have been looking for some fellows to do sapping and mining work for the British army in my Peninsular War siege games. I already have some nicely authentic French sapeurs armed with pickaxes and shovels, and garbed in cuirasses and helments – these are from the LW and Strelets sets, and were kindly donated by Clive when he came to do some siege testing a couple of years ago.

It might appear to be an obvious subject for a plastic set, but no-one has done a British equivalent to date, so I have been keeping an eye open for conversion possibilities to balance things up. I have a few odd figures – also left by Clive – from the HaT British Marines and Sailors set, and even a couple from the Orion English Pirates set, who can serve well enough as men stripped down for serious digging. To these I have now added some men from Art Miniaturen’s nice set of Austrian engineers, plus a couple from the Finescale Factory set of French pontonniers (which I believe is now back in production, and available from SHQ), and a pair of officers from Falcata.

It occurred to me that an undressed man of any nationality is pretty much the same, so the possibility of these becoming Spanish by simply substituting a couple of specifically Spanish officers into the line-up is already noted. There is one of the Austrians that I attempted to fudge into a pre-1812 Royal Artificer who would need to be hidden or replaced as well.

Ideally I would have used officers with spyglasses or something more obviously specialized (I had ideas of modifying a British ensign so that he was holding a pole, but gave up on that one), but ended up with a couple of chaps lining things up with their swords – presumably with the intention of guarding their men while work goes on, or at least of pre-empting any possibility of disagreement about the task in hand.

As with their French opposite numbers, the men are individually mounted on 20mm discs, backed with magnets so they may stay on their movement trays, and the bases themselves are painted in the official house shade of Siege Mud which is used for siege equipment and engineering.

I’m a little bothered that the man with the wheelbarrow is easily recognizable as Hamish, with whom I played in a band for many years, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered so I won’t consider the matter further.

Another ticked box for the siege games – the British may now dig holes and tunnels whenever they like. Next big gap is some decent trenches and earthworks. Don’t go holding your breath.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Topsy Turvy Wargames – why not?

This will be another of my more ruminating posts – asking a pile of questions, and offering very little in the way of answers. There’s something I can’t quite put my finger on – definitely some idea which is just out of reach. You might well be able to explain it to me, or even convince me that the matter can be safely forgotten about. This is not going to be a competent review of the Huzzah! wargames rules, though it might encourage you to have a look at them.

There were quite a few starting points this time – some probably more obviously significant than others:

(1) I was telling someone about one of my favourite daft moments in a military book – in Frederick E Smith’s screenplay paperback of Waterloo (from the 1970 Bondarchuk movie) there is an episode during the Battle of Ligny where Smith states that “suddenly a shot rang out”, and – of course – Blücher’s horse is hit, and the old bugger is pinned underneath. History notwithstanding, think about it for a moment – suddenly a shot rang out? – and, presumably, it broke the complete silence in which the Battle of Ligny had been enacted prior to that point? Yes, this is silly, but somehow it encapsulates what we expect military dramas to say – more significantly, there is maybe something here which reflects the way we think of battles.

Certainly, my wargames are a bit like this. Because of the tricks we play with time and activation to make the game playable, the tabletop action consists of a series of isolated volleys, separated by periods of measuring and calculation (and whatever else it is you do during your games). Sad person that I am, I sometimes play a background soundtrack of a horse-&-musket battle during my wargames, which is fun, but it is very obvious that the activity on the audio is not very like my battle, which seems much more like a series of shots suddenly ringing out, as it were, in an otherwise silent and mathematical context, in a style which Frederick E Smith would recognize immediately.

(2) In a comment about a recent blog post, I mentioned that I suspected that – certainly at the time of the ECW – the proportion of people killed by an aimed shot intended for them was small. If someone dispatched you while holding the other end of a sword, or if he fired at short range to stop you attacking him, then there was some personal malice involved, but otherwise casualties must have been men who were hit by a passing ball – if there are enough bullets flying about, someone is definitely going to get hurt. It’s like running with scissors – you just know it’s going to happen.

(3) I remembered a minor (low wattage) lightbulb moment I had a couple of years ago when working on Grand Tactical rules; I realized that the tedium of answering the same, repetitious questions about the tactical situation of an artillery target fired on by more than one battery in the same turn could be simplified by considering the total effect on the target unit in one go, rather than as a series of separate shots from the firers. In other words, turn the thing back to front and think about it from the target’s viewpoint. Topsy Turvy, in fact.

(4) As part of an ongoing pastime I have of reading wargames rules, I recently came back to Huzzah!, published by Oozlum Games, which is a ruleset I have never really played with, but which interests me greatly. It is, so to speak, back-to-front in that it focuses on the risks to, and demoralization of, a unit in a combat situation rather than studying individual volleys and the reaction to them.

(5) (This is the last one, I promise) – I was reading someone else’s ECW rules, and was surprised at how effective musketry at long range (100 to 200 paces) was. I can see that someone coming within 200 paces of a musket-armed unit is getting into a stressful situation, but somehow the risk doesn’t seem to me to be simply that of being hit by an aimed volley at such long range.

OK – that’s all the inputs. This left me thinking: what is it that a musket armed ECW unit does to an enemy unit 200 paces away? I think what they do mostly is they frighten them. The potential damage and pain that is implied is more significant than the loss occasioned by the aimed balls at this range. How the recipient unit reacts to this is dependant on a familiar list of things such as their training, fatigue level and so on – the Morale shopping list.

The important point here is that a battlefield is an appalling place, filled with noise, horror and flying metal. Any unit coming within firing range of the enemy is, first and foremost, entering a very dangerous place – an area of high risk. The Huzzah! approach seems appropriate. A commander’s view of one his regiments is not how many have been killed, it is are they still in action, and can they still hurt the enemy? Inability to hurt the enemy any longer could certainly be explained by their all being struck down, but I think there is a general agreement now that what mostly happened was that the effects (physical and mental) of being in a very dangerous and stressful place for a period reduced the effectiveness of a unit to a point where they no longer contributed to the army’s effort.

My battlefield soundtrack seems to portray complete mayhem – a whole pile of firing going on throughout – yet we know that units would try to conserve their ammunition, and that there would be little point in firing blind at distant targets. The Topsy-Turvy approach (courtesy of Huzzah!) is that we consider the situation of a unit which is such-and-such a distance from various threats, and is thus stressed by the sum of the various hazards – as currently experienced and also the expectation of what could happen next. There is a whole pile of lethal material flying about – the nearer you are to the source of the firing, the more discouraging (and damaging) this will be.

The emphasis shifts to examining each unit’s exposure – how far are they from each potential threat? Never mind the individual firers and their activity, assume they will be keeping busy, making things unpleasant, and consider instead the state of each unit exposed to fire.

I have no draft rules to sum this up, and no firm ideas yet, other than an itch which needs scratching, though you might be interested to read the Huzzah! rules.

Topsy Turvy. Interesting. Maybe?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Scales of Injustice? – figure sizes, yet again

This is going to get me dangerously close to obscure worlds such as railway modelling, of which I know nothing, and where I am likely to get slapped down mightily if I use the wrong terminology, or offend the international standards (whether they are universally obeyed or not).

I’ve always been puzzled by the mapping of modelling scales like 20mm, 25mm, 28mm, 40mm and so on against  the more intuitively scientific (and understandable) concepts like 1/72, 1/64, 1/300 and similar. I have moaned on about this at some length before, so will try not to waste too much time going over the same ground.

Basic problem is that figure manufacturers call visibly unequal figure scales by the same name. If we discount the possibility of different sized millimetres being in use simultaneously (although it might happen), the matter boils down to

(a) which bit of the man do you measure? – there are disciples of soles-to-scalp (i.e. how high is a figure), sole-to-eye (which sounds like a convention, but which generates a lot of passionate support – most of the lectures I get from the bearers of wisdom seem to follow this doctrine) and even bottom-of-base-to-eye (which just seems plain daft).

(b) (and this makes a bit of a nonsense of (a)) how tall is this man anyway?  

In response to a previous post, I was directed to this diagram from Jack Scruby, no less, which would appear to be authoritative unless you happen to disagree with it.

What has brought this to mind of late is that I have been involved in purchasing and studying some of the old Hinchliffe 20mm equipment range – the non-WW2 bits of which vanished without trace many years ago. It says on the packet that these are manufactured to a scale of 4mm to the foot, which is near enough 1/76 scale, which is the OO model railway scale. I’m not sure, but I think this scale is widely used for WW2 models. 4mm to the foot would make a 6-foot man 24mm tall, and a 5-foot man 20mm, so where does the “20mm” nomenclature come in?

As far as Hinchliffe are/were concerned, I also have some of their 25mm artillery range, and in there is an information sheet, which explains that their 25mm range uses a scale of 4.75mm to a foot (which I reckon is 1/64), and goes on to state that the human figures in this range are designed to represent men 5 foot 8 inches tall, which means that (assuming Hinchliffe’s manufacturing standards complied with their own house rules), those strange ectomorphic soldiers that turned the wargaming market upside down in the early 1970s must have been 27mm from sole to scalp. Does this mean 25mm to the eye? – whatever it means, this is the official lowdown on how Hinchliffe interpreted “25mm”, and we know for a fact that this is different from what Miniature Figurines and Les Higgins were doing. The information sheet I have, by the way, appears to date from September 1971 – I’m not sure if it is still the same sheet which goes out with the 25mm equipment today – this range, of course, is still in production.

OK – back to Hinchliffe’s 1/76 “20mm” men – assuming the same logic applied, a 5 foot 8 man would be around 22.5mm tall – which is consistent with Hinton Hunt and current Kennington figures – would he be 20mm to the eye? Could it be that the eye-measurers have been right all along?

I don’t buy many plastics – I’m not at all hostile to them, but I have grown accustomed to not buying them, to being concerned about paint-shedding, and discouraged by the proportion of useable wargame poses in a box, considering these are no longer the pocket-money option they once were. At this point someone may feel urged to miss the point of my post, and put me straight about the merits of plastics – please don’t bother – I’ll take your word for it. Honestly, I will.

The relevance of plastic figures here is that 1/72 is the universal standard – how well it is observed and how the manufacturers compare is not the point. No-one can argue about what 1/72 means in mathematical terms, and thus, over the years, I have got used to regarding my Napoleonic collection as being “approximately 1/72” – some  of my figures are described by the makers as 20mm (Hinton Hunt, Kennington, early Lammings, early Garrison, very early Minifigs), some of them are old 25mm (Higgins, Scruby, some S-Range), from before the world got bigger, and some of them are explicitly 1/72 (NapoleoN, Falcata and Art Miniaturen). My in-house rule is that if the hats match, they are the same size. Ideally, my chaps should be around 22-23mm tall (without headgear), though a taller man might be OK if his hat looks right!

25mm Soldiers, as purveyed by Hinchliffe (L) and Scruby
I have now confirmed that the much sought-after 1/76 Hinchliffe artillery are a tad underscale for plastic figures, while their 1/64 cousins are visibly too big. Confusingly, considering the precision which went into the research and sculpting, Hinton Hunt artillery appear to be even smaller than the Hinch 20s, so maybe there was an internal inconsistency there too.

I’ve always tended to avoid Newline 20mm figures – too small for me, though they are lovely – I have no idea what the official scale is, but I have it on good authority that some of their artillery pieces are a good fit with Hinton Hunt, for example, which is useful, but, again, a bit confusing. RSM and Irregular have an even smaller interpretation of 20mm, but at this point I am getting well outside my area of knowledge.

It looks as though my target Napoleonic recruit is somewhere in a ball park between 1/72 and 1/76, with guns and wagons to match. And the devil take the decimal places.

Friday, 14 February 2014

ECW - Updated C&C-based Rules Available Again

Since I have now managed to arrange for a proper PDF Editor on my Mac, I have been able to update my Commands & Colors-based ECW rules, which for file-storage purposes go by the snappy name of CC_ECW, and thus I have re-inserted the section in the top right-hand corner of this window where, if you are interested, you can (or should be able to) access the latest versions from Google Docs, or whatever it is called these days.

I am now up to Version 2_64 of the test rules, which implies a lot more activity than has been the case – my numbering system is too pathetic to explain. Death by Version Control - the legacy of a life in IT. I have dropped the summary of changes (from C&CN) sheet, since it was just one more thing to maintain, and I have revised QRS sheets and a nice new Stand of Pikes tracker, similar to the Squares tracker in C&CN.

Changes in the rules since the last available version are based on my own playtesting and feedback from friends. The significant ones are:

Foot - foot may now move a bit quicker - they may stand still (and carry out either melee or ranged combat), move 1 hex (and carry out melee combat) or move 2 hexes (and then may not combat at all). They may not make a double move if it starts, or at any point brings them within, 2 hexes of the enemy. This is subject to normal terrain rules, and seems to work well.

Horse - this has been a bit trickier - the advantages for Gallopers over Trotters (and Trotters includes Cuirassiers) were too generous - with lucky dice, Galloper cavalry could become unstoppable. Revised version of the rules are:

Gallopers fighting Trotters will get first blow in a melee, regardless of who is the attacker, and may follow up and carry out cavalry breakthrough in a successful fight even if they are not the attacker (i.e. if it is not their player's turn). Trotters attacking will still get to carry out follow-up and breakthrough if they win and a hex is vacated. Other changes here - bonus die for attacking Gallopers is scrapped (they have enough advantages already), and the number of breakthroughs and bonus melees is limited to 1 (the open-ended series of bonus melees can give a crazy game, so I've dropped that).

Rash Gallopers - and these are strictly limited to 1 or 2 units in a game - are like other Gallopers, but they also get a bonus die in melee against non-Galloper horse, and they MUST follow up and carry out breakthrough and bonus melee if they are able to (which simulates their getting out of control). Again, only 1 such bonus melee. Veteran Rash Gallopers fighting Raw Trotters is not a pretty sight…

One further change – because the Chance Cards occurred so infrequently as to have little effect, I’ve doubled the number of Hazzard a Chaunce cards in the Command pack from 2 to 4, so, if you download them, print p8 of the Command Cards twice to give you the extra cards.

Any problems with the links, and/or anything crazy in the documentation, please let me know.