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

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Hooptedoodle #300 - Visit to a Local Landmark - North Berwick Law

Unprepossessing lump - North Berwick Law doesn't look so great from the car park
In the area where we live there are a number of strangely shaped bumps - some of them are hills (like kids' drawings of hills, really) and some of them, because they finished up in the sea, have become rather quirky looking islands. They are all the hard, basaltic cores of ancient volcanoes. Let the frost and the wind and the Scottish rain nibble away at the softer outside covering for many millions of years and - bingo - you have these strange, characteristic bumps.

One of the more famous examples around here is North Berwick Law. You can see it from most of the surrounding county, you can see it from the Fife coast, across the Firth of Forth - you can even get a glimpse of it from the North Bridge, above Waverley Station, in Central Edinburgh - 40 miles away. It is, in short, a landmark.

Because it's local, of course, we seldom go there - we leave that sort of stuff to the tourists. It's only about 600 feet high, but since it's a fairly abrupt climb from the harbour, it seems higher. Certainly the view is worth the exertion.

I must have climbed NB Law maybe 8 times in my life. The last time before today was when I took a visitor up there, in January 2012 (I am surprised to learn - how time flies) - I recall that walk well, since I slipped on the mud on the way down, and slid about 30 feet on my a*se, which damaged my dignity far more than it injured my person.

Anyway, today was a beautiful day, and off we went for the afternoon. Splendid - clear view, not too windy. As ever, you wonder why you don't do this more often.

The Contesse took her camera, so you get to see rather better quality pictures than I could have managed. My son was much quicker than us, both up and down, and he told us afterwards that he had finished the downward leg in 7 minutes, while we took 23. Maybe this means we enjoyed our walk about 3 times as much as he did? It's a thought.

Apart from these old volcanic plugs, this is quite a flat plain - looking south-west
from the top - note the characteristic red-brown earth that you get in this coastal area
of East Lothian, which continues down the coast into Berwickshire
Looking west across the town - the island right in the middle of the picture is Fidra,
which is supposed to be where RL Stevenson's childhood trips fired the idea behind
Treasure Island
Ah yes - the jawbones. The ones you see here are a replacement set, supplied quite
recently - a fibreglass replica of the genuine ones which rotted away. I find this interesting;
naturally we could not condone the killing of a modern whale to obtain replacement
jawbones, but what will our descendants make of this strange plastic structure on top of
a hill? Obviously some kind of religious significance. In any case, we are in trouble
 - there must already be those who feel we should not be erecting monuments celebrating the
historic hunting of whales. This really is difficult, isn't it...?
Plaque to explain why there is a fake jawbone on top of the hill.
On the horizon on the left are the Lammermuir hills, on the right are the Pentlands,
over near Edinburgh, and in centre, rather closer to our viewpoint, are the Garleton
Hills, near Haddington
View across the harbour towards the island of Craigleith, with the weekend dinghy boys
giving it their best shot. The villages on the Fife coast, right at the top, are Anstruther and
Pittenweem, though I can never remember which is which...
View to the east is back towards our neck of the woods; the Bass Rock - another famous
volcanic plug - looks a bit unreal here - the colour confirms that the gannets are
arriving for the Summer.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Field of Battle - Rules Try-Out

Today, Count Goya - having a rare day off-duty from running his mysterious empire - kindly visited Chateau Foy to help with a first attempt at playing with my new Piquet Field of Battle rules.

It all went pretty well, really - I have to say I've been doing a lot of homework in preparation. These days I find new rules quite daunting - especially a game as unusual in style and philosophy as FoB. We had a small trial action - about a dozen units a side on a very simple terrain.

Trying out rules requires a bit of mental adjustment - you have to forget about playing a game - and never mind at all about winning the thing - the trick is to try all sorts of suicidal cavalry charges against infantry lines and all that - to see what happens. That is the point of the exercise.

With hindsight, I'd have been better to follow Mark D's advice and start with a game where all the leaders and units were straight vanilla - as it was, I decided to follow the randomiser rules and create forces with units of varying quality, just to see how it went. This places a lot of reliance on the little stickers bearing the information for each unit, so it might have been a good idea also if I had made the labels big enough to read more easily(!), but no matter - it's all a learning process.

Simple, minimalist terrain featuring low-kudos cork table-mat hills. Small field (boards
plain side up - they really are hex-free on the reverse, you see).
1809 Spaniards vs French - usual stuff. The Spanish army was officially classified
Abysmal, with Leadership ratings and Sequence Card deck to suit.
Smoke markers indicate units which cannot fire again until a Firepower card turns up
FoB Quick Reference Sheet - my edited version - with (optional) Ninky Nonk attached
A gizmo, but a useful one - an electric shuffling machine, which makes short (though
noisy) work of the task of shuffling the (sleeved) cards to the standard necessary to keep
the game working. As an aside, I note that this machine causes interference on
DAB radio - maybe we should have bought a more expensive one?
The game, it goes without saying, is intriguing, well thought out and, I believe, worthy of study. We were slow and halting today, as we had to discuss how the rules worked, and double-check just about everything (the rules manual is big and thorough, but it is not always easy to find the bit you are looking for among the numerous examples), so it was quite hard work, but we certainly knew a lot more about the game when we had finished. Familiarity will make it a lot more slick and straightforward, I am sure; my main problems today were to do with lack of facility in identifying and selecting the correct poly-dice (and stopping the damned things hiding in odd corners of the table), and with the fact that I'm really not used to a free-form (non-gridded) game these days - certainly not without a knowledgeable umpire to hold my hand. However you look at it, measuring everything is a bit of a pain in the wassname, and so much of the action today seemed to take place in odd angles between units, where the lack of space and the alignments never quite fitted comfortably with my limited understanding of how the rules work. Entirely my own problem, I appreciate. I would be very shame-faced to be starting thinking already about how the game might benefit from being placed on a gridded board, but it is hard not to!

I shall persevere, and I'm sure it will all seem more natural and feel smoother next time. We used a very basic terrain, so there's not a lot to look at here - the photos are really just to prove we got it on the table, and came out undismayed! I'm looking forward to trying again soon, but an early priority for me is to get a look at some more experienced players doing it properly, and I'm working on that, hoping to set something up.

My thanks to Goya for his company and help, and most especially to Darren for his commendable patience and sound guidance over the last few weeks.

Separate Topic - Nothing to do with anything: when I was checking out the Marston Moor battlefield a few months ago, it occurred to me that it would be rather droll to have the battlefield monument appearing on the tabletop for the miniature game. Doesn't seem so amusing now, I guess, but I was impressed enough with the idea to order a suitable specimen from a model railway supplier. In fact the item was out of stock, and the matter dragged on for long enough for me to become unsure whether I'd actually cancelled the order. Eventually I decided I had, and thought no more about it. Marston Moor came and went - twice, in fact, if you count the postponed attempt when we were snowed off. Long after everything was finished and put away and written up, I received an email this week to say that my monument was now in stock and had been posted, and it duly arrived this afternoon. It's quite a handsome item, I guess - it will have to appear in a battle somewhere or other soon, but in the meantime here is a picture, simply to commemorate the passing of a half-baked idea and the uncertainty of medium-term memory. Regard it as a memorial to all those good intentions that don't quite work out. I think it is probably generic enough to serve in a number of contexts and centuries, so no doubt we'll see it around.

Memorial to an unexceptional idea

Monday, 23 April 2018

Hooptedoodle #299 - The Counties

Flag of Rutland
My wife is a subscriber to a monthly magazine called Country Walking - yes, that's right, it's a walking magazine. In a recent issue, there was a little handout sheet - the purpose of the sheet is not really relevant, but the fact that it has an outline map of UK counties caught my eye, and I spent an entertaining half hour or so looking at it.

I was brought up in England - in Liverpool, in fact, which used to be in Lancashire in those days. The Counties were part of our education. I was interested in the fact that top class cricket in England was organised by counties (still is), and a lot of history is organised and recorded by county. Also, I suppose, counties identified the regional loyalties with which we were raised, and some of the counties have been more or less at war with each other for centuries. Once it was principally Lancashire vs Yorkshire, and now it seems to have become Greater London vs The Rest - I claim no particular expertise here.

Anyway, I had a quick shot at identifying the counties on the map - some of course are very easy for me, because they were local and I learned them when I was seven, some are a little trickier (I was very pleased to get both Nottinghamshire and Shropshire correctly, without cheating), and then I got a bit shakier on the Herts and Bucks and Wilts bit, and then I stopped with something of a shock. Just a minute - where's Middlesex? They've forgotten bloody Middlesex - and then I realised that this is not counties as we used to understand them - it also includes the more modern "administrative" counties - there is a correct and complete list of all of them, of course, and it is a mixture of the ancient counties which have apparently been there since long ago, and a bunch of other entities which sort of coalesced out of the ruins of the sad Regions concept (of which more later) which ran our lives between 1965 and 1996. As a very approximate rule of thumb, to use a Scottish example, while someone might just have Roxburghshire tattooed on his arm, since he was proud that this was where he came from, no-one will have Borders Region tattooed on anything apart from maybe the municipal garbage truck (assuming it isn't contracted out or privatised this week, of course).

So this is all a mixture of really old things and more modern concepts which gets us into matters of local government (a phrase which always seems to require a juicy spit at the end, somehow), and - of course - flaming democracy, which has a lot to answer for, but no matter.

It turns out that Middlesex is sort of included (replaced, anyway) for most practical purposes in Greater London, so I can understand that.

I got into problems with the Welsh bit of the map. When I was a kid, since Liverpool was traditionally the unofficial capital of North Wales, I had a lot of Welsh friends, and I used to go cycling and hillwalking in Wales, and spend holidays there. Of course, the counties I used to visit were Caernarvonshire, Cardiganshire, Pembroke - all that. All long gone, and replaced by Dyfed, Powys, Clwyd and so on. These are ancient names, with a nobility of their own, and probably have more traditional gravitas than the names I grew up with - I'm not sure how the boundaries line up, though, and I'm not sure if anyone has Dyfed tattoed on his arm. I'll take that in the spirit of positive change, and leave any Welsh readers to dispute the matter.

I was brought up to know that Rutland was the smallest of the British counties. I thought it had probably been a casualty of Regionalisation, and I was faintly surprised (and pleased) to see that it still appears on the map - at number 35 - and it is pretty small, right enough. But then I observed that Clackmannanshire (85) looks even smaller, so maybe Rutland was only the smallest English county, or maybe it depends on how you measure it. [Being a tedious fellow, I checked - Clackmannan has less land area than Rutland, but rather more residents].

At this point, I was having to face up to the fact that the organisation of the UK is one of those subjects I choose not to think much about, and just hope it doesn't come up in the pub quiz (in which respect it is similar to topics like the geography of what used to be the USSR, popular music after 1985 and the cast of East Enders - all dark areas for me).

I like the traditional names - while accepting that everything must have once replaced something even older, I was pleased when reading about the Covenanters and their army that the regiments were aligned with the places they were raised - places with emotive names like Clydesdale, Teviotdale and The Merse - these sound like real places, which someone would be proud to have as a birthplace - there was not a Borders Region regiment, for example.

Fake Heraldry - the Arms of Borders Region, circa 1970s - a salmon for the
Tweed, a ram's head for someone else. All bollocks - all on the ratepayers' bill
A quick snipe at The Regions, then. Obviously Regionalisation was around for 30 years or so, and wasn't such a stupid flash in the pan as it felt at the time. I'm sure some wonderful work was done, and lives were improved - especially the lives of people who gained new, imposing job titles, with salaries to match. Some of the changes which were made in 1965 and 1974 in the interests of Regionalisation seem to have been carried out by some idiot bureaucrat armed with an official pencil and no conception at all of history or anything else. I recall that some towns moved between Lancs and Yorks, for example, which is an astonishing thing to do to people who had played cricket against each other, stolen sheep and protected their daughters from each other for centuries. Someone tried (unsuccessfully) to give Fife a new name - or include it in some inappropriate new area - I am delighted to say I can't remember the details. Previous mention of Clackmannanshire reminds me that for a while it disappeared into the wonderfully named Central Region. Now there's poetry - something to be proud of. We are the boys from Central. Hmmm. It's a bit like calling a region Up a Bit, and to the Left. Anyway, we seem to have recovered from that dark period.

Now I think about it, what happened to SELNEC (South-East Lancs and North-East Cheshire)? Was that just an early mock-up for Greater Manchester, or did some erk actually think this was a good name? It's a relief, in a way, to see that lack of soul and imagination is nothing new.

By the way, I now live in East Lothian. There was an East Lothian regiment with the Covenanters in 1643 (the colonel was Ralph Hepburn, who was a neighbour of mine from Waughton), but for many years the county was called Haddingtonshire. Hardly anyone knows this now - even in these parts - but old maps of parish boundaries and old regimental photos prove that it mattered to someone once.


Haddingtonshire Rifle Volunteers - 1860s
Anyway, I thought I would share with you the little map, so you can play spot the county - or I suppose you could even colour it in if you have your crayons handy. Personally, I never go anywhere without my crayons if I can help it.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Field of Battle - Nibbling Away

Things are a bit disrupted around here at present - as far as hobby stuff goes, the problem is time. It's not that I don't have any spare time, it's just that it's a bit unpredictable, and tends to become available in small amounts.

Thus for some weeks I haven't been doing any major painting work - it's all been short bursts of refurb work (which can produce finished figures quite quickly, if I do it right), poking at test figures for big batches to come, and reading in odd quiet moments.

I'm working away at getting up to speed on Field of Battle, the Piquet-produced game which has me quite excited at the moment. As with all new games, there is a lot to learn - philosophically as much as anything else - this game is unlike most of my previous wargaming experience. It has some similarities to the full Piquet rules - though it is not simply a "lite" version of Piquet.

I've been reading and studying the rules, and I now have a scenario book, which is very interesting indeed; I've invested in a couple of decks of the official cards, and I have finally sourced some sets of dice. Like Piquet (I think), Field of Battle requires the rolling of small numbers of dice - usually they are rolled singly or in twos - but they may be selected from a set (for each side) of one each of D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20. Interesting challenge to get a completely satisfactory matched set - I had some problems finding D10s which were numbered 1-10 instead of 0-9. Managed it without too much hassle, so I'm all ready to get on with some trials now.

The intro to the rules recommends that the new reader should not be overcome by the length of the booklet, nor damage his health trying to memorise reams of tables. The recommended approach is to set up a smallish game (I'll make this a solo effort - about 10 units a side), and have a bash, taking note of how the cards work. The set-up requires a fair amount of work - it's necessary to determine the quality of the army, and of its leaders and units, make up an appropriate pack of cards for each army, and work out what "size" of die (D6, D8 etc) is to be used by each unit for combat and for defence.

This is not the place to attempt any kind of summary of how the game works, nor attempt any kind of critique - suffice to say that I am happily working away at getting up to speed, and I hope to play a solo trial game sometime in the next however-many weeks. This is not a blistering rate of progress, admittedly, but I am enjoying it. My thanks to Darren, for his kind help and guidance, and also to Brent Oman, the author and originator of the game, for his help and generosity in getting me off the ground.

In a perfect world, the next logical thing for me to do would be to attend someone else's game (as a spectator) to see how it swings and feels. I guess that is unlikely, but I'm open to invitations if anyone fancies it - especially in a warm country with liberal drink laws...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Bavarians - Another Sample Figure

I've finished the second "style sample" - this is a fusilier from the 9th Infantry Regiment Ysenburg - the casting, again, is by Der Kriegspieler.

I'm getting the hang of the Bavarian uniforms now.

Serious painting will be starting shortly...

***** Late Edit *****

A propos of absolutely nothing - this follows a couple of recent conversations. There was some talk of Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo being released on BluRay to commemorate the bicentennial of the battle. Did it ever happen? I can't trace any such product - I have now watched this film an embarrassing number of times (far more than the number of times I've watched The Sound of Music...) and still love it to bits - warts and all. Nay - especially the warts - wart-spotting is a great hobby.

If ever a film needed an HD BluRay edition this is it. Anyone know anything about this?


Saturday, 7 April 2018

Bavarians - More Preliminaries

I've now completed my first pilot figure, and have learned a lot about the Bavarian line infantry uniform, and the practicalities of painting it in 20mm scale. I am now a lot more confident about what is required. This is a fusilier of the 14th IR - a Der Kriegsspieler casting. You can distinguish these from the very similar Hinton Hunt figure since the soldier's feet are placed in the middle of the front and back edges of the base, rather than diagonally opposed in the corners, and the musket is carried in front of the body, with a space behind it, rather than the "bookshelf" attachment of the HH. I will be using some HH castings for the line infantry, but the DKs have an advantage in that they made fusiliers without plumes - presumably Marcus intended that his customers should simply grind the plumes off the grenadier castings, as required.

For the entertainment of those who understand these things, and most certainly know more about them than I do, here's a photo of a small selection of Hinton Hunt Bavarian officers, from my tubs. These are, from left to right, two examples of BVN1 and one of BVN6 - they are all clearly coded under the bases. I was interested that the two BVN1 "charging" chaps are different - they have their heads turned at different angles, as you see, and the one on the left has an unmistakable epaulette on his left shoulder.

Bavarian officers didn't wear epaulettes.

It is always inadvisable to imply, even accidentally, that Marcus ever made any mistakes (similarly for Peter Gilder and the Perry Bros - not acceptable at all), but I wondered whether the left hand figure was in fact an earlier version, subsequently replaced.

As ever, it matters not a jot - I'm happy to file off the epaulette, and it's a luxury to have a choice of two slightly different poses. Just thought I'd mention it.

Next job is to prepare another prototype paint job, this time for the 9th Ysenburg IR. I've received a little shipment of paint from Foundry - I must confess to a very slight moment of disappointment when I found that the appropriate shade for the facings of the 5th Von Preysing IR appears in the Foundry catalogue as Nipple Pink. I hadn't realised that Foundry did that spotty Citadel Warhammer thing - there's something faintly incongruous in my first two official paint acquisitions from Foundry for this new army being Bavarian Cornflower Blue and Nipple Pink, though I accept that this little problem - if there is one - is entirely mine.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Bavarians - Something Stirs

Still a lot to do before this gets seriously underway, but this weekend I've started cleaning up some infantry figures for painting, as part of my Napoleonic Bavarian project. The chaps in the picture make up two battalions - most of them are Der Kriegsspieler, though the command are a mix of Hinton Hunt and Falcon.

The first batch should yield three painted battalions - not sure of the timing, but at least things are moving now.

The infantry will be provided by castings from DK, HH, SHQ (provided the castings are better than the batch I received recently - legs missing etc) and the Hagen-reissued Falcon range. The gunners will be SHQ (since I can't afford the Franznap ones) and the cavalry are still to be worked out. Since the cavalry of my target period of 1809-12 all wore variations on very similar uniforms, it should be possible to recruit nearly all the cavalry from the Hinton Hunt chevauxleger OPC figures, with conversions based thereupon.

My target OOB is in two stages:

The "halfway-house" target is Deroy's 3rd Division of Lefebvre's VII Corps of 1809 - this comprises two brigades of infantry, plus one of cavalry, plus a couple of batteries for the Division. The cavalry brigade is of two regiments (1 Chevauxlegers + 1 of dragoons), and the infantry brigades each comprise 2 x 2-bn line regiments plus a light battalion - that's 10 battalions total.

The longer-term objective is to add Wrede's 2nd Division, which has a very similar structure.

The accumulation of figures proceeds - I have them organised into tubs within crates, as you see, but there's a fair amount to obtain still.

I confess to some nervousness over the small matter of painting HH or DK type figures. It's been a while since I did this on any non-trivial scale, and I am uncomfortably aware that the glories which we see weekly from the blogs of Stryker, Wellington Man and Mark D show how this should be done. I don't anticipate getting even close to that quality, so I'll just have to take refuge behind the old "effective in the mass" policy embraced by some of the wargaming pioneers.

Problem with DK and similar (obviously) is that the detail of the figures is to some extent implied rather than set out in crisp relief in the manner of more modern castings. It'll be fine, I'm sure, but I'm not going into this with any level of arrogance, I can assure you! Doubtless you will see some painted figures emerging fairly shortly, but if my painting is disappointing they may be standing in the distance, slightly out of focus, in Old School black-and-white.