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


Friday, 23 January 2015

A Matter of Honour - The Professor and the Field Marshal


I have to record that the kicking-off point for this post was a recent entry in the blog of the worthy Old Trousers, which is invariably entertaining, and often usefully informative, so my thanks for that, Mr Trousers. [I must add here that I do not have the self-confidence to handle these noms de blog with ease – I pondered whether it would be more matey to address the gentleman in question as just “Old” – for short – but decided against it]

His blog post, you see, made me aware that the long-awaited Blücher game in the Honour series is due to appear very soon. [Again, this gets me near to the edge of my natural comfort zone, since I would be very nervous about the risk of appearing enthusiastic]

It’s a demography thing, really. The dates of the beginning of the post-war growth of miniatures wargaming, along with the inevitable passage of time since then, mean that of recent years we have lost a few of the pioneering heroes of the hobby, and there have been appropriate tributes published – without stopping to check the back-obits, I would recognise that Paddy Griffith, Terry Wise, and Don Featherstone all made a big contribution to my own fascination with tabletop warfare, and there are many others – some of them still alive! – to whom I also owe a great deal. I don’t really do eulogies – not because I am unappreciative, you understand, but because somehow it seems silly when I try to write one. It feels like saying “me too”, but not quite loud enough for anyone to hear.

It is entirely correct that we recognise these key individuals from the past, but I have to say that there is also a list of more recent people that I take very seriously – among so much that is good and positive, there are a few thinkers and rule-writers who particularly strike a chord with me, who can be relied on to give well thought-out games, or at the very least to talk sense. This is all very subjective, and anybody might object to my personal list, or feel I have overlooked someone far more important – they would almost certainly be correct.

Dr Sam A Mustafa
I invariably find the works of Frank Chadwick, Howard Whitehouse and the guys from the Too Fat Lardies worthwhile; I also got a lot out of the commonsense approach of Doc Monaghan’s Big Battalions, and of recent years, of course, I have become quite a fan of Richard Borg. To me, one of the most impressive of the lot has been Dr Sam A Mustafa, the man behind the Honour series of games, and he is my subject for this morning.

Dr Mustafa is a historian and a teaching professor at a US college, so his authorship of wargames is a sideline – by his own admission, the time he has available for the hobby stuff is limited. I first came across him when I became very keen on his Grande Armée Napoleonic rules, and on the later, beta-test prototype Fast Play Grande Armée, which was an unsupported variant which was available for download online for a while.

Let me put this into context – “very keen” in my case does not mean I actually adopted GA as my rules of choice, but I found much that was fresh and sensible in there, and some of the ideas were a big influence on subsequent changes to my own in-house rules. I particularly liked the fact that the rules were aimed at a size of game which I found most enjoyable (i.e. big), and I liked the abstraction or suppression of fiddly bits which were mostly a distraction in a big game. Examples were the disappearance of musketry volleys into a simple, combined close combat phase, what seemed to me to be a novel, practical approach to skirmishers, and the removal of explicit divisional artillery batteries from the game – such artillery was now just an adjustment to the combat effectiveness of each division. Yes – I know – this stuff doesn’t suit everyone, but for big games I found all this very sensible. I had some issues with the Command and Control rules, but then I always do.

In particular, a feature of the Grande Armée booklet is a series of explanatory panels which explain the rationale behind some of the less orthodox rules, in terms of the realities of Napoleonic warfare – I consider these notes to have been worth the price of the booklet, just as an educator and something to get me thinking.


In time, Dr Sam launched his Honour series, and the first product I became aware of was Lasalle. A couple of things about Lasalle: I was a little disappointed that the rules book was of a newly-fashionable format which I call “Big Shiny Books” (BSB), I was surprised that the game was almost a step back towards Old School from GA (it was, after all, aimed at smaller battles), and I had a personal problem in that I could have used my existing armies – organisation and bases – absolutely as they stood, apart from artillery – 3-model batteries would not be an insurmountable obstacle, obviously, but I was reluctant to start dabbling with a very expensive ruleset which required immediate tweaks, right at the outset, to suit my armies. The key word here is “expensive” – BSBs are always too thick, too heavy, packed with irrelevant pictures (to amuse those with a short attention span?), overpriced and far too costly to mail to the UK from America. You can, of course, download a simpler pdf file, but then you have to pay for the ink, the paper and some kind of binder. Hmmm. In fact I did find a cheap secondhand copy of the hardback version in the UK, on eBay, so I own it but – like the gentleman accordionist – I have not yet played it (though I intend to).


What I was really excited about in the Honour series was that a grand-tactical companion game, Blücher, was next in the queue. Well, after some announcements about delays, Blücher was eventually shelved because, said Dr Sam, they couldn’t get it to work well enough, and so they had cut their losses. If you can have degrees of devastation, I was certainly a bit devastated. I took the huff sufficiently to pay scant attention to Maurice and Longstreet and the next products in the series, though I heard they were excellent, and by personal choice I steer clear of user forums (which always seem to me to be dominated by points-scoring exchanges between opinionated guys who don’t know very much), so I was very pleasantly surprised when the Trouser man recently announced that Blücher is back in the plan. Yes!


It looks good – it features an integral mini-campaign system called Scharnhorst, and a whole pile of other goodies, and it is expected to appear in February. There are copious downloadable samples and illustrations on the Honour website, and there is a series of excellent introductory podcasts done by the man himself. The original intention was to have a series of four podcasts, ending before Christmas, but they generated so much interest and so many further questions that Mustafa has produced a fifth, which may well be the start of an occasional series. I listened to all the podcasts last night. The first four are interesting to anyone who might be thinking of buying the game, of course, but the fifth is a beauty – though he apologises for going into detail, Mustafa spends some time explaining the design features of the game, including some of his personal philosophy on what works and what does not work in a wargame of this type, and an extended discussion of activation mechanisms – this, admittedly, is just the sort of thing I find interesting, but if you are with me on this, I recommend it highly – you’ll find it here.


That’s probably quite enough about that – the book will be expensive, that is for sure, and the add-ons (packs of unit cards for specific campaigns and so forth) will all be a further expense, but it looks very promising. It is designed to be playable using printed unit cards as well as with miniatures. I hope it will be available through a European retail outlet, or the postal costs will leave the poor old camel with a badly broken back!


5 comments:

  1. Hmmm. Better have a look at those.

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  2. I am of the same mind - a very persuasive posting!

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  3. I confess that I am growing rather keen to get my hands on Blucher. As I think you've noticed, I've been commenting as I go on a test drive of Dr. Mustafa's Longstreet rules and generally finding them worth the go. Today I waffled on a bit in response to a rather generous but reserved comment from the estimable Ross Mac about new fangled card-driven games and how one might rationalize the degree of card play in these systems. Are the cards a sop to younger players who enjoy a "gotcha" moment or do they actually conceal thoughtful core mechanisms of the rules? My answer is a judicious both, I think. By the way, since this post is all about me, thank you for including my humble little blog in your list of "Blogs I Enjoy". Quite touched, don't you know. More than that rotter Kinch has done, I can assure you.

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    1. Michael - not only do I read your blog regularly, but I would gladly follow it officially if I did not have to convert to the Church of Google+ to do so.

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  4. Hi Tony, Many thanks for your complimentary comments about my blog. Its nice to be appreciated! I am very laid back about my nomenclature and am happy to be referred to in blog land simply as Mr Trousers.

    I thought Grande Armee was one of the most intellectually rigorous sets of rules I had ever encountered. FPGA was for me a more exciting prospect simply because of its scale. A pity it wasn't developed further. Almost a DBA for Napoleonics!

    It is most unfortunate that you have stirred me up about Blucher. I have listened to the podcasts and taken another look at Scharnhorst the campaign system. I'm very taken by this especially the 8 by 6 format of the maps which, as you know, is one of my touchstones.

    I can't see myself buying anything other than the big book so I'll start saving now!

    All the best

    Jay

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