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

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Hooptedoodle #316 - Things I Learned Living Next Door to Richard

Someone has to do it, I suppose
A very long time ago, I moved to the Morningside area of Edinburgh with my young family. I lived there for a good many years, and throughout that time my neighbours were Richard and his wife, Liz. Two more upstanding members of the local community, or people better equipped to represent its traditional values, it would be impossible to imagine. Richard was flawlessly respectable, always polite and smartly turned-out, and was an elder of the Kirk of Scotland. He was a lawyer by profession, and he was a remarkable individual. He had undoubted gifts, but overlying everything were the personal qualities which placed these gifts into context - he was, to be blunt about it, the most nit-picking, over-fussy, infuriatingly pedantic man I ever met (and I have met a few, take my word for this).

The overwhelming impression of Richard which a stranger would pick up on immediately was disapproval - often straying into actual contempt; nothing was ever good enough for Richard. In a way this was a blessing; it was a blessing to everyone else, because it meant that we could all benefit from his unique abilities (and he certainly worked very hard), and it was a blessing to Richard because it meant that he could get on with his job without losing focus, and without risking his sanity in ways which might have troubled lesser beings.

A couple of examples from our neighbourhood might offer some insight into how this came across socially, and I'll discuss his job in a moment.

(Case Study 1) One winter's afternoon it snowed - briefly but fairly heavily. We lived in a quiet street, on a fairly steep hill, and the pavements were quite narrow, with a pronounced camber. Since the council would make no contribution to the amenity of such a backwater, and since we had a lot of elderly people living in the area, there was always some urgency to get snow cleared up before it froze or became impassable. At this time sons nos 2 and 3 from my first family must have been 6 and 5 years old - when I got home from work that day we put on our mittens and scarves and woolly hats, found the snow scrapers and a couple of brooms, and made pretty short work of the fresh, fluffy snow. We even took the spade down the gutter, and cleared a 9" wide channel next to the kerb, in the approved manner, so that the meltwater would have a clear run. This went so well that my sons wanted to carry on for a while, so I commissioned them to clear the sidewalk in front of Richard's house, with a little gentle supervision. Richard was always home late from work, so it would be a practical and, I suppose, neighbourly thing to do. It didn't take long, and we went inside to warm up and put the winter togs away.

I'd forgotten all about this, about 2 hours later, when the doorbell rang and there was Richard, obviously just arrived home. He was correct and polite enough, of course, but it was clear that he was simmering - he was furious that my little sons had cleared his pathway for him. Why? Was it because he had wanted to do it himself ?- had spent the afternoon, maybe, looking forward to it? No - don't think so.

Was it because he had difficulty, socially, with accepting kindness from others, in some way? No - probably not; elders of the Kirk, of course, are expected to be very strong on kindness.

It was, undoubtedly, because my sons had not done the job properly, as he would have done it. Like me, you might think that this is a possibility, though it would require some work of definition and inspection to put dimensions on it, and you might think that it was a small matter about which to get irritated. In his place, if it had mattered at all, I might have got out my own broom and spent a minute and a half putting things right. But not Richard. Richard was special.

(Case Study 2) For a while, I had the privilege of serving on the neighbourhood Garages Committee, which looked after maintenance and other communal issues connected with the area of lock-ups at the rear of the houses (the area was ancient enough for these lock-ups to have been stables in their day, I guess). I was the secretary. Richard, naturally, was the Chairman. I say naturally because Richard would expect to be Chairman - he would have failed to realise that he was tailor-made for the role of Secretary. He would have made a wonderful secretary, though someone might have killed him after a while.

There were many examples of things not being good enough. At one point we had to get the tarmac area surveyed and some estimates for repair work. I had to draft a letter to get this done. My letter could not be sent out until Richard had checked my spelling and grammar - and you just know that he changed it. I think it had to go back to him twice before it could go out. When the survey report arrived, Richard wanted me to go back to them and get some of the wording changed, since there were ambiguities (or Richard saw some) and it might become important later. After some huffing, the surveyor sent a corrected version, but Richard had thought of more changes he wanted. I refused to chase this any further, and things started moving again, but it confirmed my status as someone who was prepared to settle for imperfection, and my card was duly marked.

Richard, you see, was a lawyer who worked for the Scottish Office. His team (which I think probably meant Richard himself, since he worked such long hours that I can't believe he trusted anyone else to do any part of the job properly) was to prepare Government papers relating to Scottish Law (and this was long before the level of devolution Scotland has now, so we are exclusively talking of Westminster at that time). If someone wanted to introduce new legislation, or amend existing legislation, or put a Bill before Parliament, or a "green paper" (as I think statements of policy or future intent were termed) then Richard had to prepare it. If someone proposed a modest change to the use of ancient footpaths in Scotland (for example) then Richard (and his people, to whatever extent this was relevant) would have to research the existing laws and byelaws, going back to the Middle Ages, check the precedents, check the correctness of the language and legal terminology, the punctuation, the grammar, the cross-references, the footnotes etc etc. When it was right, it might go before Parliament, depending on the business schedules. If it were passed, or rejected, or - worst of all - required amendment, then Richard would get it back and the amount of rework was almost always horrifying. Well, I thought it was horrifying - Richard was confident that he was doing an essential job, and I'm sure he was correct. In matters of law, you have to be exact - I almost wrote "as exact as possible", but I could imagine Richard's face at the mere whiff of oxymoron.


So the one important thing that I learned from Richard was that nothing is as straightforward as you think it is going to be. As soon as you get close to the functions of government, especially the legal bits thereof, you are entering a world of mind-numbing complexity, and any change - even the consideration of the possibility of change - is going to require an awful lot of expensive work from a lot of unusual people. Richard and his chums, of course, would know nothing at all about ancient footpaths (or anything else, really), but anyone who came up with some original thought on the matter would have to feed that thought into the legal grinder. That's where the lights grow dim. That's where so many ideas disappear without trace. You may call it bureaucracy - maybe you're right - but Richard would have called it doing the job correctly, and - you know what? - when it comes to the law, he would have been right, too.  

Don't, for goodness sake, get me started on Brexit, but that is what brings this back into the light for me. When we had the Scottish Referendum, any ideas anyone might have had about the attractions (or even the viability) of Scottish independence were dwarfed for me by the vision of the immensity of the amount of work required to accomplish it. This was a lot worse than new tarmac around the garages.

Whole armies of Richards. Immeasurable numbers of hours of checking, researching, getting input from experts and stakeholders, re-punctuating, agreeing, redrafting. I'm exhausted even thinking about it. Given the fact that no-one even had a half-decent idea of what they were voting for, or what would have to be delivered if the YES brigade scraped in, the whole thing becomes a farce. At the time of the Scottish Referendum, even if we had had some understandable vision of what was on the agenda, there just wasn't enough time to do it - and I mean do it properly. To Richard's standards. Given the arguments and the political spin and the uncertainty, it wasn't even worth starting to think about it. As it happens, of course, the Scottish Referendum decided NO, though it was a near thing. Making no change is a doddle - the only jobs needing to be done are clearing up the waste paper and the coffee cups and trying to get all the friends and relatives who fell out over the question to make it up in some way.

Cameron the Weasel, of course, was an unusually slow learner, and after he just about got away with the Scottish Referendum he decided he would push his luck with another Referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Apart from the fact that we still can't get any agreement on what it was people thought they were voting for, there never was even the slightest chance that all the disentangling and redrafting work could be done in the time available. The whole idea is laughable, in a tragic, unfunny way - Richard could have told them. It can't be done. If your MP pretends it can, then either he is a moron (possible) or else he hopes to get some measure of personal gain out of the attempt (also possible). 

It seems there is now some concern that it will be impossible to sort out adequate terms for Britain leaving, in time for the scheduled exit date. Now there's a surprise. Good heavens. Let's find someone to blame - that's always a useful distraction, I think. 


Thursday, 15 November 2018

Ready for The Cupboard, with a Quick Flash of Nipple Pink

All based and flagged, the two battalions of the Grenadiers à Pied de la Garde are now finished and looking for a fight. The guardsmen are 1970s Les Higgins NF1, and the command figures are modern Art Miniaturen castings.

Also completed today are another 2-battalion Bavarian line infantry unit, this one the 5. LIR "Von Preysing", resplendent in pink facings (Nipple Pink paint, thank you Foundry...). Their command figures are a mixture of Hinton Hunt and Falcon (from Hagen), the other ranks are Der Kriegsspieler. Too late for Eggmühl, but I'm sure they'll be in action before long.

Homebrewed Flags - Old Guard Grenadiers 1804-11

Today's minor achievements have been (1) basing up two battalions of the Bavarian 5th Line Infantry and (2) hashing up some half-decent flags for my new Old Guard units (does that make sense?). A couple of hours playing around with Paintshop Pro and here are the flags. If they are of any use to you, please feel free to copy them. If you pass them on, I would appreciate a brief mention - nothing heavy, of course.

Just click on the image to get the full-size version, and save that. I'm sorry the files are so small, my starting images were lower-res than I expected - these flags should work up to just about 28mm scale, certainly no bigger than that. At 1/72 scale, since the real flags were 80cm square, the printed flags should be 11mm across - I like my flags a bit oversized, so I do them at 16mm. Whatever - you work out the scale reduction!

These flags are correct for the Grenadiers a Pied for 1804-1811. Between 1806 and 1808 (I think) there was a second regiment - during this period the 2nd Battalion colour would have been carried by the 1st Bn of the 2nd Regt, and after 1808 they went back to a single regiment, so the 2nd Bn would have got their flag back. In 1811 there was a further re-organisation to three Grenadier regiments, and the replacement flags from this date are recognisable because they have the number of the regiment in the corners instead of the grenade symbol. In 1812, of course, the flags were completely redesigned.

With luck and a steady hand, tomorrow I should have photos of the Guard battalions and the Bavarians all based and finished. No pressure...

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Old Guard Command Figures Finished

Here are the rest of the command figures for my two battalions of the Old Guard. Art Miniaturen figures, from the same set as the mounted colonels who were finished last week. I had some flags printed ready - unfortunately I can't find the beggars this evening, but I'll have a better look tomorrow.

When they are properly based, with flags, the two new battalions may take their place in The Cupboard, ready for action.

This has been rather a good week for painting - with luck, I should have some more Bavarians ready for finishing off in a few days. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Rules Testing - Battle of Albuera (16th May 1811)

Godinot's brigade have a think about their diversionary attack on the village - Von Alten with the KGL light infantry are in residence...
One of my projects at present is to develop a tweaked version of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics for in-house use. This game is intended to work (quickly, and simply, and without ambiguity) for very large battles, for battles which require large, grand-tactical movement of troops (such as off-table reserves), and for games which for other reasons do not lay out logically in the conventional C&CN, across the table, left/centre/right configuration - end-to-end-of-the-table battles, or oddities like the tactical bits of sieges are examples.

The tweaked rules are currently still in a state of flux - the main features are that they do not use the C&CN cards (they use a dice-based activation/initiative system), and they do not enforce strict alternation of moves, but they do use (most of) the main C&CN movement and combat systems. Until they are more stable, I don't really want to say too much about the rules themselves, though I will make some observations of a general nature at the end of this post. The important thing I wish to make clear at the moment is that the tweaked version is not intended as an improvement on original C&CN, nor a correction; it is merely a modified cousin of the game to suit specific kinds of wargames that I seem to be very interested in, so there is no need for anyone to rush to defend the original game, nor to pitch in from the other side, to write it off. Oh yes - my working title for the modified game is "Ramekin". This has no special significance or merit apart from the fact that it amuses me, and it stops me calling it "Vive l'Empereur" or "The Vivandiere's Moustache" or similar.

These rules, in their evolving form, were recently used for the Eggmuhl game here, and for the demo game I set up for my aunt (yes, all right, all right).

This midweek I had planned to set up a solitaire playtest game to do some more refinement (or, as is often the case, to abandon some of the most recent brilliant innovations, since they might simply be a waste of time!). Playtesting is a necessary investment of effort, of course, but playtesting on a solo basis has hazards of its own, since the writer knows what he intended the rules to mean, and how they were supposed to work, and will tend to fail to spot the big holes in them during solo play. Thus I was doubly delighted to have a collaborator yesterday - Count Goya came to help out.

I set up a biggish game based on Albuera, which is a battle of which I had limited understanding previously, and one which is noted for the intensity of the fighting, and the fact that it could have worked out in a number of ways - in fact you might say that it was several different battles, fought successively, in different directions.

I did a lot of reading (so did Goya), and set up a game on my bigger (10'4" x 5', 17 hexes x 9) tabletop. I did some work to sort out which bits of the complex OOBs actually appeared in the field, and - though the numbers of units I fielded didn't match the original battle, the implied numbers of troops were pretty close. [Thus, for example, Girard's Division in my game was 5 battalions, which is about 4000 men, which is correct, though in the original battle these men were spread over 9 battalions.]

I read over, but did not use, the published C&CN Albuera scenario. My game was somewhat larger, and my map was rather more closely based on fact (again, this is not a criticism of anything). We started the game at the point where Beresford (or someone on Beresford's staff) notices that the French are not really serious about attacking the town of Albuera itself - this is a diversion, and the main part of Soult's army has performed a smart left hook, so the principal attack is on the Spanish troops on the Allied right. Thus Stewart's 2nd Division, with Colborne's brigade in front, are sent marching to the right, to cover the Spaniards' exposed flank.

Albuera is renowned for having some key incidents which may not fit with normal wargame rules. Most famously, the French light cavalry - notably the Vistula Lancers - wrecked Colborne's troops, who failed to form square (because Stewart and/or Beresford ordered them to stay in line to maximise firepower, or because there may or may not have been a violent rainstorm which obscured their view and damped their powder, or because they didn't expect the cavalry to be out there on the flank, or for some other reason). It is possible to incorporate some chance card type decision point - I confess I don't care for rigging a game in that way. As a gesture towards history, we adopted a simple dice-test for any infantry wishing to form square - just for the day.

I'm not going to step through the AAR in more detail than comes from the photos - we were not attempting to re-enact anything - Albuera served primarily as an entertaining context for some playtesting. There were some interesting historical parallels in the game - some worked the opposite way to the real battle, of course, and some worked the "correct" way, if in a slightly different manner. We ran out of time, though the French appeared to be winning when it was time for dinner. Whether or not the Allies realised they were beaten, of course, is the critical issue...

Overall view from behind the French left flank at the start of the game. In the foreground is the left hook - La Tour-Maubourg with the cavalry, the divisions of Girard (in front) and Gazan (behind), then Werle's brigade in the centre and, at the far end, Godinot's diversionary assault on the village
View from behind the French right flank - on the Allied side, Karl Von Alten has a KGL brigade in the village, and behind him are Portuguese troops (Otway's cavalry and Harvey's large infantry brigade from 6th Divn); I'll describe the other end of the Allied set-up in a moment...
...and here you are - Zayas' Spaniards in line in the centre of the table, with Stewart's 2nd Division marching to their right behind the Spaniards, to cover the flank. On my game system of replicating the numbers of troops rather than the number of units, Stewart's command comprises Colborne's Brigade (in front, 3 battalions), then Hoghton's (2 bns), then Abercrombie's (2 bns). In rear of them is the 1st brigade (Myers) of Cole's 6th Divn, and beyond them we are back to Harvey's Portuguese (who received no orders throughout the day!)
Pin-up unit - the dreaded Vistula Lancers. In fact they had a remarkably bad day, and were eliminated very quickly. So much for history.
The French cavalry - Vistula boys at the front, then 2 units of chasseurs, then 2 of dragoons - at this point, they were opposed only by a weak brigade of Spanish light cavalry, so they chanced their arm...
... one of the chasseur units and the lancers moved forward to deal with the Spanish horse, and as a result of some of the most outrageous dice-rolling seen for a while the French were repulsed heavily, and the headlining lancers were eliminated, and thus would not get to meet the Buffs later.
Over on the Allied left, and in the centre, the Portuguese still haven't moved, neither have Myers' brigade from Cole's force, and Stewart's boys are making very slow progress towards the right.
Apparently not convinced about the benefits of hanging round demonstrating, Godinot's force gained a foothold in the village  - these are more Poles, the 4eme Vistule - but took a bit of a hammering for their trouble, and gave up on the idea thereafter. In theory there was a Victory Point available for occupation of the village, but after this early effort the KGL were left in peace.
Meanwhile, on the right, Colborne's brigade gets moving. On the tabletop, Colborne's boys were 3 battalions of old (proper 20mm) Lammings, and pretty shiny, too. Since my collection doesn't include the correct units for Albuera, there was some role-playing - notably our "Buffs" were actually a battalion of the 61st Foot (South Gloucestershire), but at least their flag was the right colour.
The firefight - Colborne's chaps appear on the right flank - not quite in the historic manner, and free from cavalry interruptions for the moment. In fact they didn't do very well when they got there - it was a nasty exchange though.
Early stages - Allies slightly ahead - 1 VP for holding the village, and one of the others must be for whacking the lancers. 11 VPs for the win was the order of the day.
Allied right flank isn't looking very clever, and Cole and the Portuguese are still mostly rooted to the spot on the far side. After a slow start, Girard is pressing the Spanish infantry.
Gazan's Division, behind Girard's, watches the attack develop in front. Both Girard and Gazan are prominent hat-wavers. Famous for it.
Back at the village, Godinot's demonstration is over; the combined battalion of grenadiers is sulking after suffering 3 bases-worth of casualties, the light infantry is in the wood, and the battered Poles are in another wood to the left, out of picture. The artillery can't see much point in carrying on wasting orders by firing, so they all hope their job is done and that Soult will win the day elsewhere.
Eventually, of course, the Spanish cavalry on the Allied right got their come-uppance, and were sent packing, and here General Loy, the brigadier, has a Ponsonby moment, as the French dragoons pursue him. Amazingly, they failed to kill or capture him (i.e. they couldn't roll a single crossed-sabres symbol on a total of 8 dice) and thus he escaped, choosing to leave the table just to deny the French the VP they would get if they did for him.
Better fortune for the Allies in the centre - combined-arms attack by one of Hoghton's battalions and Miranda's Spanish battery does some fearsome damage to one of Girard's regiments. All a bit late, really.
Late view from the Allied right shows that their right wing has mostly disappeared, and the left wing has hardly moved. This was just about dinner-time - the scoreboard showed the French leading by 10 points to 6, so they had more or less won.
Final view across towards what was, in fact, Beresford's position from the day before the battle. Beresford is going to get a dreadful roasting from Wellington, who even loaned him The Tree to  stand next to, as you see. On the far left you can see one of the ramekins (to hold initiative dice and order chips) from which the game gets its working title.
 Many thanks to Goya for his company and enthusiasm, and for helping out with the analysis. The game is shaping up nicely, and is a lot of fun, but we need some more work on getting the effect of musketry in balance with history, and to refine the use of the Order Chips (thanks to Tesco for the chips, by the way).

That's enough about that, I think - you'll hear more of the Ramekin soon, I'm sure.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Refurb Work - First of the Old Guard Command Figures

A standard requirement for my refurbishment of bought-in figures is the addition of compatible command figures to suit style and scale, and to fit with the house rules for unit organisation. Ever since I was besotted with the photos in the Charles Grant Napoleonic book, back in the 1970s, I have included mounted colonels with my infantry (or chefs de bataillon, or whatever), and yesterday I painted the mounted officers to go with the two units of Old Guard I'm currently working on.

Classy little sculpts by Jorg Schmaeling at Art Miniaturen, to fit in with Les Higgins guardsmen.
I'm pleased with them. The drummers, officers on foot and eagle-bearers should appear during the next few days, and I'll post some proper photos once they are done and the units are complete with flags. Next in the refurb queue are some French light infantry, I think - I'll need to buy in some SHQ command figures - better get on with that...

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

In response to Wellington Man's comment (below), here's a picture of my existing battalion of Old Guard Chasseurs - one I prepared just a few years earlier! You can't find these castings now - very rare.