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

Saturday 31 August 2019

Comfortably Familiar

I've had a relatively quiet week, so decided to do something about reading some of the books I've been acquiring. After some dithering about, just to be awkward, I picked on one I've had for years and years - Charles Grant's The War Game - I haven't read it for a long time, but recently I bought a couple of companion volumes produced by Charles Grant the Younger - The War Game Companion and The War Game Rules, so it seemed appropriate to have a look at all three together.

Thus I settled down with the original book, and I must say I'm really enjoying it. A nice, traditional, bottom-up development of how to play 18th Century wargames, starting from a consideration of how quickly men can march, and setting off at a comfortable, relaxed pace to cover the whole subject. Black and white photos of bounce-sticks, canister frames, huge regiments of free-standing Spencer Smith's. Brilliant. I have to say that I have no wish to play the actual game as described, but it is a very pleasant read - it's thorough, sensibly presented and written in an amiably genteel style, as is perfectly correct for its vintage. It is also, I freely admit, useful to revisit those fundamental assumptions and conventions which we have all taken for granted for so many decades.

I am interested to note that one of the more recent companion volumes discusses how the game has been adapted to use multiple bases - I must have a look at that. And then there is a discussion of campaigns. These rules have been in constant use and continuous evolution since 1971, when the original book was published, and they were already well played-in long before that, so we may safely assume that they work.

Anyway, in the meantime I'm quite happy with a glass of wine and my friendly old, non-threatening book. Very nostalgic.

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

There must be something in the wind - entirely coincidentally, I now realise that I have published this post almost simultaneously with a splendid commemoration of Young & Lawford's Blasthof Bridge game from Charge! on Wellington Man's most excellent Hinton Spieler blog- if you haven't seen it, go over there and enjoy it.  


Tuesday 27 August 2019

Hooptedoodle #340 - The Elephant That Never Forgets

Thread A

Years ago, I opened a savings account with the old Northern Rock Building Society (of Newcastle), because (as I recall) at the time they were paying reasonable interest (remember interest, by the way?). Sometime thereafter Northern Rock was taken over by Virgin Money, and for about 5 years now I have been thinking to myself, why do I keep this account open? It doesn't pay me anything, so as you would notice, and its utility to me is not worth all the junk mail - it's just a sort of float fund. Each month I pondered this briefly, decided that I should do something about it, and then forgot about it for another month.

Now I am informed that Virgin Money has become part of Clydesdale Bank, which cues up a bit of personal history.

Thread B

In (I think) 1979 I returned from a family holiday and we were unpacking when the doorbell rang. On the step there was a gentleman in a suit, who handed me a sealed letter for which I had to sign. It was notification from the John Lewis Partnership that they had started legal proceedings to recover the money I owed them. The holiday was suddenly a distant memory. What on earth was this?

All a bit unfortunate really - I had moved house a couple of years before, and we had had our new kitchen refitted and modernised - my architect, my tradesmen, but the furniture and equipment came from John Lewis. Since the other parties in this project had no interest in waiting for payment, I spread the pain a little by taking out an 18-month credit agreement (what used to be called hire purchase) for part of my bill to JLP. That way I could still do other things, such as eat, and take my family on holiday. That's the way it was done in those days.

I never thought any more about it. Sadly, my bankers (Clydesdale) made a little mistake, and terminated the monthly payments a year early. The date was correct, but the year was wrong. Well, they were only a bank, for goodness sake.

When John Lewis realised that I had done the dirty on them, they began sending me letters about the balance - there were a number of these, getting progressively more assertive and showing more red headings. Again, another small misfortune. They sent these letters to the wrong address - this was because my previous address was still held on my shopping account with them, though the hire purchase agreement correctly showed the new address, which was also where they had delivered the kitchen fittings. Just another bad break.

Of course we got things sorted out fairly quickly. No lasting damage, except that I had a dodgy credit rating for a few years, through no fault of my own. Lewis's got their money, our kitchen was very satisfactory. Thank you very much.

At the end of the episode I requested a meeting with my Clydesdale Bank branch manager, just to ensure everything was cleared up. You will find this hard to believe, but apparently said manager (Mr Harper - I remember him very well) misunderstood why we were having the meeting, and in fact misunderstood what had happened - I am convinced that his staff did not tell him. Not only was there no apology forthcoming, Mr Harper was very sanctimonious about the whole thing (well, he was obviously a busy man, and I was unforgivably young at the time), and he informed me that he would take it as a personal favour if I could avoid such occurrences in future, and ensure that my finances were kept in order. I regret to say that the discussion became a little heated, I closed my accounts at Clydesdale on the spot, and promised Mr Harper that I would never do business with his bank again, neither would I countenance any of my friends or family doing so. Mr Harper, for his part, looked at his watch and announced that he was delighted to hear it.

This is now laughable in the extreme, since there can be hardly anyone left alive who worked for Clydesdale in 1979, but I see no reason to change my views. A promise is a promise - in the retail banking business, at least the customers must strive for a little integrity. I have now closed my Virgin accounts. I refuse to be associated with Clydesdale, even by transfer of ownership, even after all these years.

No-one will notice, of course, and if they did they wouldn't care, but it matters to me. One has to be true to oneself.

Stuff them.

Saturday 17 August 2019

Champs de Mars - August 2019

Today my wife is trekking along the coast, from just north of Berwick to St Abbs, with her walking group, so I'm busy doing some work sorting out The Cupboard. Nothing very exciting - just a delayed Spring clean, to shift the Anglo-Portuguese down one shelf, clear out some scenery pieces and odd junk, re-organise the French army to give more room to accommodate the new units coming from the Refurb, and smarten up the layout of the A4 boxfiles which hold the overflow.

It makes sense to empty the lot, and do a bit of cleaning and tidying. Since this involves laying the troops out so I can change the shelf order, a photograph or two seems appropriate - it's a while since I did a full army photo.

So today's presentation is the French army - the lighting and my photography could certainly be better, but I hope you enjoy the pics. I'm delighted that inspection reveals no damage, which is not really a surprise but is a bit of a relief anyway.

From this end, the columns are Confederation infantry, then Italians plus King Joseph's Spaniards, then 5 columns of French infantry, then the Imperial Guard (with the band at the head!), then dragoons (with various generals and marshals at the rear), then light cavalry, then cuirassiers; at the far (right) end, the field artillery is in front, behind them is the siege artillery, then the garrison artillery, at the back are the engineers, with some logistics stuff alongside

As we used to joke, never mind the quality, feel the width!

Friday 16 August 2019

Reserve Chips in Ramekin (the Genie Delivers?)

New supplies of 18mm chips in two colours, and the requisite D3 to sort out the mysteries of off-table reserves. Hot from the Genie.
I've been doing some work on my Ramekin Napoleonic rules, to encourage the realistic use of off-table reserves. Ramekin is my house variant of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics - it uses the movement and combat systems from C&CN (with some minor changes) but replaces the Command Cards with a dice-based activation system which allocates Order Chips to units. The introduction of this hybrid game has gone pretty well to date, though my recent Neumarkt scenario got a little bogged down in the introduction of off-table reserves into the action. I have been thinking how to improve this problem, and I was delighted (and very surprised!) by the number of interesting contributions and ideas I received.

I am very grateful to Arlen, Dave, David, Chris, Chris, Mark, Peter, Dan, Ross and Rob (and certainly one or two others - if I've omitted you, you know who you are) for applying their very considerable intellect and gaming experience to the issue of my humble rules, and, especially, to Goya, for analysing my rambling draft, and to the Archduke, for coming up with the logical but ground-shaking idea that there should be two types of Order Chips - ordinary ones (as at present), and (exciting, new) Reserve Chips, which are a bit different, as I shall attempt to describe with some attempt at brevity. Thank you, gentlemen.
A proportion of this post is copied from an email exchange I had earlier today - the previous recipient may well recognise sections of the text - apologies, as necessary, but it seemed a shame to waste it! What I like about this is the simplicity - even I can understand it! No doubt some further tweaking will be necessary, but this seems to be shaping up, and it now needs a little playtesting.

Eventually there has probably been sufficient interest in this to justify a short blog post - it will mean little or nothing to most readers, but never mind. Here is what is beginning to look like The Answer (or the First Draft of The Answer...).

* Ramekin rules are pretty much unchanged, except there are now two colours of Order Chips - one colour is Reserve Chips.
* These Reserve Chips arrive by a slow trickle, controlled by the dice, rather like the Order Chips, but there are a couple of differences...
* If your army includes an off-table reserve (of any size) you get to roll an extra D3 along with your Initiative Dice each turn - it doesn't add to the Initiative Total - the only thing you can use it for is to generate Reserve Chips.
* All you can ever do with Reserve Chips is use them to move off-table units on to the table - you can double up these Reserve Chips if you have accumulated enough, to allow the reserves to travel a little further on to the table, but you can't use them for fighting, and once the reserve units are on the table you need normal Order Chips to do anything with them - which is in itself a good reason to wait a while before bringing them on. You can't change Reserve Chips into Order Chips. No.
* If any of your off-table reserves are delayed for any reason (such as the Prussians at Waterloo) then the scenario will include a rule to determine/restrict when they are allowed to come on.
* If you have Reserve Chips left after you've brought all your off-table units on, you can ditch them, and stop rolling the extra die, since it doesn't achieve anything.
* Ramekin already stipulates that normal Order Chips can be carried forward to the next turn if not used, subject to a maximum carry-forward of 5; Reserve Chips may be carried forward without limit. [I am thinking of also allowing Order Chips in the player's stash to be converted to Reserve Chips, without the option to change them back later, but haven't decided about this]
* [Designer's Note...] I have been nervous of creating gamey situations where (for example) a player may use the existence of a reserve as a crafty way to generate extra Order Chips for his army. I think the system set out here works for a number of reasons. I've also abandoned various ambitious plans to allow reserves to be activated by the surrender of accumulated Victory Points - not least because I was at a loss to explain what this represented in a real battle. Apart from the good sense of keeping the reserve fresh and safe, it requires some time to accumulate sufficient Reserve Chips to get a strategic advance organised, and also bringing on the reserve too early runs the risk that there won't be enough Orders to go round - when the army is getting worn out, some of the units will not be using Orders any more, so there should be spare to look after the reserve. The tactic of bringing on the reserve prematurely, to jam up the table when there are insufficient Order Chips to do anything with them looks (historically, I hope) like a bad one!

Anyway - it obviously needs a bit of testing. In the meantime I've taken delivery of a shipment of what (of Moenchengladbach) describe as Crusader-Dubloons - in two colours. These will result in the phasing out of my rather whimsical collection of blue Tesco customer tokens, which have featured on this blog in a number of conflicts of late - I shall miss them, I guess, but this looks a bit more professional.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Another Quick Burst of Engineers

Mostly to give myself a little break from refurbing the 70eme Ligne, I've painted some more soldiers for my French Siege Train. Here are the 1st and 3rd companies of the 2eme Bataillon de Sapeurs, all ready for Ciudad Rodrigo or the Salamanca Forts.

The guys who will do the actual work are from Hagen. The officers are clearly of a superior breed altogether - these are from the Franznap Pontonniers Command set. I've had the Franznap set for a while, but since I am unlikely to make any serious attempt at a wargaming pontoon team, here they are.

I enjoyed painting all of them - a lot of fun. I'm usually a bit nervous of Franznap - the sculpts are lovely, the castings (by Schilling, I believe) are very good too, but the figures are very slender - a bit delicate for tabletop handling, maybe - the castings regularly arrive bent from the supplier, especially the legs of horses, and I am always doubtful about any wargame figures which have to be assembled from bits - they just look as if they are going to come apart in moments of stress.

Anyway, here they are, to sit in The Cupboard and remind me I was going to get back to my siege game any time soon. The officers look a little senior for digging trenches or saps - a Chef de Bataillon and possibly a Colonel? - I guess that must be a really important piece of wood they have there.

As with all (most?) of my siege stuff, these chaps are on the earth brown bases - these are individually based, on magnets, so they can be deployed around the diggings once I have got the siege rules a bit more stable...

Thursday 8 August 2019

Hooptedoodle #339: Kevin and the Genie

The Genie seemed to be getting a little impatient.

"Righto - that's the 200 million euros in a secret Swiss bank account, and the lifetime supply of Flamin' Hot Nacho Cheese-flavour Doritos all arranged - you have one wish left."

"Gosh," said Kevin, "this really is difficult - I don't know what to choose! I'm trying to decide what my favourite brand of chocolate is."

The Genie was now definitely getting a little impatient.

"Look," he said, "I'm really very grateful to you for releasing me from the lamp, and all that, but I've been stuck in there for a thousand years, and I've some catching up to do, so if we could get on with it...?"

Kevin was not outfaced.

"I understand that I can put you back in the lamp at any time until I've had my three wishes granted, isn't that right?" and he held the stopper threateningly, over the top of the lamp. "If I hadn't been given the job of clearing out my Grannie's attic you would still be in there, wouldn't you? - so give me a minute or two to think of something. I'm not sure just what you are able to do, you see - you couldn't give me some ideas?"

The Genie sighed. If you've never heard a Genie sigh, it's a sound you really don't forget in a hurry.

"Well, so far you've exhibited the usual level of greed I expect in these situations - with respect, of course," he added, hastily, glancing at the stopper in Kevin's hand. "Why don't you wish for something which is of some good to the rest of the world, apart from yourself?"

Kevin pondered this for a minute.

"I know," he said, "there's terrible trouble in the Middle East recently - a lot of fighting and religious hatred - terrible misery and suffering in Syria, Yemen, Gaza, places like that. Could you fix that, and make the area peaceful again?"

"Hmmm," murmured the Genie, "that's a refreshing idea - that might be a possibility. The names don't mean anything to me - they may be modern names - where is this place?"

Kevin rushed off and fetched his old Philip's World Atlas for Schools, and opened it at the Middle East. The Genie studied it carefully, but became very uneasy.

"Look - I'm really sorry," he said. "The names are unfamiliar, but I recognise the maps - I know these places well - the people here have hated each other for thousands of years. I don't like to say this, but you've come up with something I really don't think I can do anything about. Too vast a problem - too long a history of trouble. I am sorry, Kevin - it was a really good idea, though. Is there anything else I can do for you? - something a bit easier?"

Kevin became thoughtful for a while. Then he brightened up a little.

"Well, this may seem silly, but I play wargames - battles with model soldiers - with some friends, and we regularly have difficulties trying to arrange our rules to encourage the proper use of off-table reserves. It really doesn't work very well. Since you have knowledge of all the wise things that have ever been done, could you come up with a solution for this problem?"

The Genie just stared at him.

"Let's have another look at that map of the Middle East?" he said.

Tuesday 6 August 2019


Just look at that - it seems that my total hits count has slithered past 750,000 while I wasn't paying attention. I don't normally bother about such things, but it's a pleasingly off-beat sort of landmark, and it is a surprisingly big number - it is so big, in fact, that if I started counting now I would have forgotten what I was doing long before I got there. That's big.

Even allowing for the RSI problems I've got from pressing "cmd-R" for hours at a time ("F5" in my Windows days), and ignoring the strange visits I get from the Ukraine and elsewhere, that still leaves a lot of genuine hits for which I must thank all readers, past and present. I am, honestly, humbled by the thought. Thank you all very much.

Separate Topic

It really doesn't matter, but it has been drawn to my attention that someone is selling 28mm printed Napoleonic flags on eBay, and some of them (by no means all) are my original work. I'm sure the guy makes a lovely job of printing them, and I'm also pretty sure that the files are in the public domain, so I have no right to complain or feel aggrieved - they are not copyrighted in any way, and the seller almost certainly doesn't know the origin of the files he is using.

I know they are mine because (a) I recognise quite a few, and (b) he has faithfully reproduced some which were mere educated guesses on my part, and a couple which are actually incorrect. A couple of his flags are also incorrectly titled, and at least one is from the wrong century.

So - no hard feelings - it doesn't seem quite right (since I wouldn't do this myself), but he is selling them pretty cheap. I would just say that if anyone wants to download and use any of my flags for free, from this blog, please do so - I'm sure the seller won't notice. Just look under the download and flags labels on the right hand side. Cut out the entrepreneur.

Saturday 3 August 2019

French Refurb: Slow but Steady

Another battalion is now finished - bases, sabot, flag, varnish tweaks, labelling. Photos have been taken for The Catalogue and they are into The Cupboard.

I've actually got some metrics for this job - most of the figures come from a collection I bought last year which has the working title of Carlo's Army. There was a blog post of sorts when I painted some of them, in June last year, and since then I've been accumulating figures to fill the gaps. They are finished now - the 2nd battalion of the 47eme Ligne. Figures are mostly vintage Les Higgins, with a mounted Chef de Bataillon and a drummer from Art Miniaturen, and an eagle-bearer from Schilling.

And, as a check, here they are in June 2018. Not exactly lightning-fast progress, but I get there in the end (with help!) and a lot has been going on at the same time. Next up, also from Carlo's legacy, will be two battalions of 70eme Ligne. Don't hold your breath, but they are under way.