Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Eckau from Long Ago

So good we lost it twice.

Yesterday was a fighting day - we were re-playing the Battle of Eckau (July 1812),  of which I confess I had never heard before. The real battle has two alternative dates, depending on whose calendar you use - it was fought between Prussian and Russian forces at and around the small town of Gross Eckau (modern Iecava, in Latvia) - the Prussians, of course, were temporarily working as part of Marshal MacDonald's X Corps.

The real battle was fairly small (by our usual standards), and was won by the (real) Prussians. Yesterday's version was hosted by Count Goya, at his castle up in the remote Arctic, so Stryker and I arrived to do our bit to make a mockery of history.

The soldiers were all from Goya's collection, and he had set up the scenario so that we had something like a 1:1 representation of units present.

Goya's sketch map - North at the top (no Gregorian compasses)
The Order of Battle for the game was

8 battalions, each of 3 blocks
1 light cavalry regiment of 4 blocks
1 dragoon regiment of 4 blocks
2 foot artillery batteries
3 leaders

Prussians were split into 2 brigades - one on the east, one in the south west.
The east brigade consisted of:
3 line battalions, each of 4 blocks
1 light battalion of 4 blocks
1 light cavalry regiment of 3 blocks
1 horse artillery battery
1 leader

The south-west brigade was:
3 line battalions
1 dragoon regiment of 3 blocks
2 foot artillery batteries
2 leaders

Since this game does not lend itself well to a left-centre-right command system, we used the Ramekin variant of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics, which employs a dice-based activation system. We did not use the C&C Tactician cards. Stryker  took command of the Prussian "south-west" brigade, I controlled the "east" brigade, and Goya had the Russians.

The river was fordable at all points, troops in the water had the usual combat disadvantages. The victory target was 6 banners. No objective-based banners.

Stryker and I decided we would avoid the built-up areas as far as possible - the problem with Russian line infantry, you see, is that, though their units are fairly small, they are able to ignore 1 retreat flag (unquestioning valour or something), which makes them a formidable proposition in a town. Since the retreat flag exemption greatly reduced our chances of frightening them out of any of the bits of the town, we most certainly did not feel very optimistic about simply shooting them out of the place. Thus the grand master plan was that we would mostly ignore the town - I would steam down the road from the east with my brigade, to the north of the buildings, opposing the Russians' left flank, and Stryker would nip smartly across the fordable river, and take them from the other side. We envisaged a mighty meeting in the middle, like a meat grinder. We were also nervously aware, of course, that the scenario plan of splitting our force into two bits, with the looping flank attack from the East, immediately gave our opponents the central position which Napoleon would have recognised as the place to be. 

The meat grinder, alas, did not come to pass - my East Brigade was stopped and decimated disappointingly quickly, leaving my general helping out with a surviving horse battery, and Stryker never got across the river, so we lost very convincingly, and quite quickly, 6-1 on Victory Points. The Russian boys in the town were undisturbed, happily making turnip broth.

Russians in the town, very comfortable, thank you - we are looking north here
From the East, you can just see my brigade starting their march to glory - Stryker's brigade is just visible in the far left corner
There they are - just starting to march on to the corner - all they have to do is keep left and then cross the river
While my boys from the East are cracking on nicely
Here's a view from the south-west, with Brigade Stryker preparing to leap the River Iecava (not too chilly in July)
It didn't go very well at all - this is a (Warrior) Prussian battery, which was about my most effective unit
Back to the south-west, you see that Stryker has got nowhere near the river yet, while in the distance two of my battalions have taken so much damage from artillery that I can't do much more with them, my cavalry has vanished like snowballs in Hades, and another of my battalions is cut off on the hills and in serious trouble
Here they are, in fact, about  to be eliminated - miraculously, the general commanding survived and went to join the artillery battery
Yes - that's right - Stryker still can't get over the river - hmmm - maybe the town would have been easier...
General view from the East - the units with all the red counters are just standing watching - their orders are to avoid becoming more Victory Banners - if you have exceptional eyesight, you may spot a single white counter over in the far left corner - that is our one and only VB. By this point we had lost 6-1
The game ended quite early, so in the afternoon we tried it again. Same line up - the only changes to the scenario rules were that we reduced the Russian allocation of order chips each move (since in the morning they had had far more than they needed) and we allowed the Prussians three Iron Will counters, which allow an emergency cancellation of a Retreat Flag if all else fails. 

This time, the Prussians went for Plan B, which was to arrange for the East Brigade to get back over the river to the southern bank, join up with the South-West chaps, and attack the village in the approved manner. We actually gained just a little success this way, but not enough - we lost again, though this time the score was 6-3. You may decide for yourself if this is a worthwhile improvement. 

Righto - Take Two - Goya fishing in his Ramekin pot, looking for order chips
Some of Stryker's boys very quickly captured the southern-most part of the town. Gott in Himmel!
And my eastern chaps are splashing over the river to join in the fun. The two units with the blue order chips are about to be sent in against the nearest bit of the village (the Manor House, apparently) - the intention was that support would be arranged by the horse battery (currently in the river), but it didn't work out - not enough orders, and the horse artillery is disappointingly lightweight for bombarding towns.
Defeated again - this time by 6-3, but certainly defeated. Stryker's brave attack has run out of men, and further up the table you can see that my own attack on the built-up area just fizzled out
Excellent day - great lunch, good chat and a nice, interesting game. Many thanks to Goya, and compliments on the game design. Smaller armies gave a refreshing break from serried ranks of shoulder-to-shoulder. At the end, the Prussians had rather more space available than we needed. Things to note:

Russians are tough boys to flush out of a town.

Their artillery is very serious indeed.

I think we were using Russian dice.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

WSS Project - Figure Suppliers

Tonight I hope to finish off the current period of painting and re-basing, and then I'll spend a week or so trying to catch up on the small matter of flags. By tonight I should have completed a third and a fourth unit of cuirassiers for my 1702 Austrians. There's plenty more refurb work to be getting on with, but I'll take a bit of a break.

I cannot promise I have a completely firm idea of how these WSS armies may progress from this point, but there are a couple of basic principles I'd like to stick with if it's at all possible.

(1) The whole reason for buying these figures was that they provided an attractive shortcut into a period of which I have no experience. I intend to keep them "as-is" as far as possible - with just a modicum of touching-up where necessary. This is partly sheer laziness on my part (consciously so, since left to my own instincts I would have everything stripped back to start again, and I don't have the time or the energy for this) and partly a matter of respect - a wish to keep Eric's old soldiers in some recognisable form. It seems only right.

(2) I am determined (and if I succeed it will be the first time ever) to keep some idea of constant scale - I always tend to drift off into some kind of scale creep as I build armies, having convinced myself that 20mm = 25mm, or some such nonsense, and I always regret it later.

In pursuit of End (2), I have been checking out the availability of suitable extra figures. My units will be rather smaller than the original organisation, so - proportionately - I'll need extra command figures. The armies consist entirely of 1970s 20mm Les Higgins figures - and these are pretty small 20mm, too. I can get extra figures from Old John, including conversions and extensions to the original Higgins/PMD catalogue which he has produced, but in the interests of variety I have been looking to see what else will fit with them. After going through everything I could think of, the only makers I am left with are Irregular Miniatures (which are just a tad small, to be honest, but are OK if I mount them on Higgins horses), and Lancer Miniatures (which are OK for height, and have a bit of character about  them, but they are FAT, man - this is the Front Rank of the 20mm world).

On the Lancer front, I think they will probably be OK for isolated figures like staff groups (let us assume that the nobility were obese, then), and possibly odd cavalry command chaps, but generally they are less of a good match than I had hoped - also their horses are crude. I have to say that the cannons and carts look very nice - I'll probably make use of some of them.

A third unit of Austrian cuirassiers - these chaps are the regiment Jung-Darmstadt - the flag is in the pipeline; the odd man out is the trumpeter in the tricorne, who is an Irregular man on a Les Higgins horse. Yes, all right - he's a small man, but he's OK

This is the command base for the fourth regiment - Alt-Hannover. Once again, the flag is coming soon. The trumpeter is one of John's conversions of Les Higgins, the other two are Fat Lancers - not sure about them at all. They are quite nice, if you are into Noggin the Nog
Separate topic: I am disappointed to note I am having problems with metallic paints again. This is a recurrent theme for me - I have a long tradition of getting annoyed with metallic paints which won't cover, or don't shine, or lift when subjected to varnish, etc etc. I have the Foundry metallic paints, and have found them to be a bit feeble - I've tried all sorts of Vallejo and Tamiya and Revell and Testor paints. I used Citadel for a while - they were OK, though the pots went "off" rather quickly. For the last few years I've been using Humbrol acrylics - shades 11 (silver) and 16 (gold) - with no problems, apart from the hand-removing properties of the stupid little screw-top plastic pots. I have now replaced them with new Humbrol pots - different design, in the style of Foundry. The pots themselves are a lot better, but I fear that the paint recipe has been changed again. I spent a lot of time stirring, warming, swearing. The paint, I fear, is crap. I might as well apply yogurt to my soldiers. Thus I am back with my Foundry pots - they seem OK - maybe they've thickened up with being opened. I must revisit the Citadel range again - I have to admit that I don't really understand Citadel paints any more - nothing is just a pot of paint, it is a base colour, or a highlight colour, or some bloody thing or other. I must pay attention, and get some decent gold and silver paint in.

I was spoiled, decades ago - eons ago - by a brief flirtation with Rose Miniatures gold paint, which came as a jar of metallic powder and a jar of clear medium, into which you mixed the powder. It was fiddly, but it produced a magnificent finish - never seen anything as good since. Anyway - persevere.

Flag work starts tomorrow.

Thanks again to Old John, who has been heroically helpful with links and uniform sources, and to all others who have offered help and advice.    

Monday, 6 January 2020

WSS Project - Plodding Along Steadily

I'm still working away on my WSS soldiers - retouching and re-basing - there's a lot to do, but it's going along nicely, and I'm aiming to have enough forces to do some rules testing before long.

Here's a humble photo of some recent work - nothing ground-shaking, just some more nice toy soldiers!
Imperialists - still short of a few colonels and all the flags (which I'm working on separately) - here are some recent additions - 3 battalions of the IR Lothringen (Bishop of Osnabrueck's regt), 2 regiments of cuirassiers and the first of the artillery
Figures are all 1970s Les Higgins 20mm - I can't remember who made the cannon, but they're not Higgins

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Hooptedoodle #352 - In Search of the White Stag

A few weeks ago I was recounting a daft old story for the benefit of the Contesse, and I enjoyed it greatly - though the Contesse did not say much about it, come to think of it.

I'll give a short version of the tale, mostly to fill out the post a bit.

The Original Tale

One Saturday morning in Spring, long ago, it seems I had something of a falling-out with my wife of the time - not an uncommon event, to be sure. On occasions like this, I sometimes used to go for a drive on my own, into the Highlands (I lived in Edinburgh at the time), to calm down. I can only add that traffic was lighter in those days - nowadays I would get stuck behind a caravan, and it would not calm me at all.

Citroen BX - this was so long ago that cars were monochrome
I remember the car I made this particular trip in - it was a Citroen BX - the second of three Citroens I owned. The reason I liked Citroens was that one of my sons used to get very travel-sick when he was a little boy, but he never got sick in a Citroen - something to do with the clever hydraulic suspension, which gave a ride like a hearse. The point is that this car dates the trip pretty accurately to 1988 or 1989.

Loch Lubnaig
On these trips I mostly used to head off towards Stirling - I was a big fan of the collection of vintage sports and racing cars at Doune - now all sold off and gone, alas - and I visited there regularly. On this occasion I headed north-west through Callander towards the Trossachs area. The A84 takes a twisty run along the shores of Loch Lubnaig - we may argue about where the Highlands really start, but this is good enough for me. It began to rain very heavily at this point, and when I got past the loch, as far as the village of Strathyre, I decided to stop for some lunch. There was a pub in the Main Street - I have always thought that Strathyre is a satisfyingly wild-sounding name anyway, so what could be better than to have a warming lunch in a Highland pub?

Strathyre Main Street (the A84) - looking south
I parked on the wide pavement outside, and went in. It was very dark. There was no-one in the bar. No log fire, nothing. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I observed that there were McEwan's tartan towel mats on the bar-top, such as I had not seen in use for maybe 10 or 15 years. I also noticed that I could smell the plumbing very distinctly. I assumed someone would appear soon, so I had a look at the old photos on the walls - grouse shoots from many years earlier, stuff like that, and I became aware that there was some evidence of life in the back room - so I knocked on a door and went in. Two locals in filthy overalls were playing pool - they seemed to have beers, so that was a good sign, I thought. When I entered they stopped playing immediately, stepped closer together, and approached me - quite aggressive - a bit like a phalanx. I backed off a pace or two.

"What are you wantin'?" asked one of them - I am ashamed to admit this, but the man had a glass eye, and I was so fixated by the idea that it must have given him problems playing pool that I was put rather off-balance. Also, alas, I wasn't quite sure if he was speaking to me.

"Er - I was looking for the landlord..."

"How? [Why?] Who are you, like?"

At this point I wasn't very sure, to be honest, but I explained that I was just a customer. The barman appeared in the room with us.

"This guy's looking for you," said Glass Eye. "He stopped us playing."

"What's the problem, then?" said the barman.

Fearing that this wasn't going very well, I went back into the bar with the barman, who took up the regulation position behind the taps.

"Are you wanting something?"

"I was wondering if I could perhaps get something to eat? Some lunch?"

"Lunch?" - perhaps I'd unwittingly suggested something indecent. "We've got crisps."

"You couldn't make me a sandwich or something? Any pies?" - as I said this, the word salmonella appeared like a subtitle.

"Crisps." The barman never blinked, I noticed.

"Erm - could I have a cup of coffee?"

"Nah - the machine's broken. I can sell you a beer..."

"What have you got on draught?" I peered into the darkness.

"You can see what we've got - the taps have signs on them, with the names of the beers."

"Oh yes - sorry - can I have a half-pint of Guinness?"

"It's off."

I was suddenly quite scared - I turned on my heel and ran out. I was delighted to get back into the rain and the fresh air. So much for my Highland idyll - I turned the car round and drove straight back to Edinburgh. At least when I argued with my first wife I knew what I was getting into.

I've always thought my Strathyre Lunch could have made the basis of a good mystery story - the stranger who disappeared. The man who was ritually murdered because he asked for lunch - the police never bothered to investigate, naturally.


After telling the story to the Contesse, the other day, I decided I would do some Internet poking-about, and see if the pub is still open. I forgot about the matter for a couple of days, but this morning I remembered, and I find that the pub - at least nowadays - is The White Stag. It looks quite nice, in fact - I'm sure it's been under new management for decades now. While I was surfing, I came across a bad review of the place on TripAdvisor - pretty spectacularly bad, in fact - and I came across a pretty heavy response from the current owner - I attach them here, in case you find them as entertaining as I did.

Maybe my mystery story is still a possibility - I'm sure the man with the glass eye would have sorted out any trouble-makers - I hope standards have not dropped since 1988.

Of course, we didn't have scope for giving bad reviews with such high visibility then - in those days you had to look people in the eye - real or fake - and deal with them. What an impoverished world it was, now I think about it.

Here's a bit of Jimmy Shand to provide some closing music - serves you all right. Have a good New Year anyway.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Hooptedoodle #351 - Peace Breaks Out on the Dining Table

Last year, because of various family problems, we didn't celebrate Christmas here at all. Today the Contesse and our son and I sat down for Christmas lunch together, and I must say it was very pleasant. Eating a cooked meal together as a family is very therapeutic, no question - also, this was the first year I can remember when I could actually have a glass of wine with lunch, since previously I have invariably been required to get some elderly relative or other back home afterwards, before their personal curfew.

Anyone who has fought battles on this table may be interested to see its peaceful use - this, of course, is why scenic flock is banned from the house...

Not a very ornate set-up today, I admit it - very subdued, but the Contesse provided an excellent meal, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Although this room was only built in 2005, it's sobering to consider the guests we have entertained here who are no longer with us - hmmm. The Ghosts of Christmas Past.

On the subject of Xmas nosh, the Contesse and I were discussing how fashions have changed - she says that, when she was a kid, they usually had chicken at Christmas - we always had a goose, as I recall. To my knowledge, I never ate turkey until I was grown up and had left home. What happened? Did we just miss out on the mainstream, or did turkey become a major Christmas institution relatively recently? Surely it can't have been implanted from Thanksgiving?

Anyway - time to get in some logs for the stove and see what's on the TV this evening. The WSS soldiers are stored away upstairs, so no hobby work for a couple of days [well, maybe a little reading].

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The Miracle of the Berezina

This is actually a reprise - I posted this picture the first Christmas of this blog - I had very few readers in those days, and I think the post went largely unnoticed. I'd forgotten all about it, but came across it today by accident, and it still pleases me, so I thought I would run it again.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to everyone - thank you for visiting here.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

WSS Project - Quick Update

I've been tinkering away with my Bavarian forces - mostly the infantry, since, as is the case for the Austrians, for the cavalry I am waiting for some more reference materials on organisation and uniforms to arrive via the Xmas post.

I have to acknowledge a lot of valuable help and advice from Old John, who also sent me a load of sample figures and some handy uniform info. I'm waiting for the postie to bring Anton Hoffman's The Army of the Blue King, plus the CD version of the Robert Hall book on the Austrian Army (from Baccus), plus a couple of other odds and ends. I was also lucky enough to find a pre-owned copy of Mr Hall's little booklet on the same subject in the long-OOP Kuhn series.

To start with, I am aiming at armies based in 1702-03. For the Bavarians, it looks as though, with the addition of a smallish number of extra figures, the troops I have will provide about 10 or 11 battalions without a lot of work. My final plans for the Austrians - and all the cavalry - will have to wait until I have some better information -  they will end up as a compromise between what I'd ideally like and what I have. Here's a couple of pics of progress to date.

Apart from a couple of missing flags, these boys are retouched, rebased and ready to fight. Here are two Austrian battalions (provisionally from the regts Trautmannsdorf and Lapaczec, though I may change my mind when I'm better informed), plus the Bavarian infantry regiments D'Octfort, Spilberg and Tattenbach, and the Dragoner Monasterol, who still need a couple of dismounted bases to operate as dragoons with my rules
Sorting things out - more Bavarians - on the white tray are the basis of 2 bns of the Leibregiment and 2 bns of the IR Mercy (formerly Haxthausen); lined up on the tabletop to the right are what I have to build up into 2 bns each of Bettendorf and Kurprinz, and 1 bn each of Maffei and Lutzelburg - some extra figures needed, especially command, but it's shaping up. There may be a grenadier battalion coming up as well - thinking about that

I intend the Bavarians to have two regiments of dragoons, one of carabiniers, maybe 3 of heavy horse as a first instalment. I have two batteries waiting to be painted up, and have yet to make up my mind how (or if) battalion guns could be supplied. They also have some French friends to help out - I haven't fully thought this through yet.

I'm pleased with the possibilities offered by extra figures from Irregular Miniatures' Restoration and Marlburian ranges, and from Lancer Miniatures - Newline may offer some possibilities as well - I have yet to try these. Then, of course, the extended range of Les Higgins figures from Old John are essential.

All excellent fun...