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

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Zoom - Back on the Nursery Slopes

 This follows on from my previous post on this topic, a couple of months ago.

My attempts at Zoom wargaming have been frustrating me because of the poor quality video, and I've decided I should get on with sorting this out. I can hang on to my "Pro" level Zoom account, for which I think I'm paying £14 a month, and try to get the visuals up to a satisfactory standard, or else I should get realistic about the short-term prospects for Zoom (for me), and drop down to the freebie account level, which is good for short chats with small numbers of attendees.

My Zoom set up is as it was two and a half years ago; a brave attempt, largely improvised using ageing mobile devices, suspended from gaffer tape and sky hooks. Heath Robinson for the 2020s. Since the Zoom service has improved in sophistication during the period, and my broadband speed is now about 3.5 times what it was, I was hopeful that I might utilise some better tech at my own end and try to make a difference. If it doesn't work immediately, the prices of the kit have dropped a lot as the pandemic has receded, and there is a good chance that the infrastructure will continue to improve, to justify the investment. 

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was very enthusiastic about - and pleased by - my early efforts with remote wargaming, and only gradually became aware that the video I was putting out for visiting generals was really rather crude, compared with how it looked at my end, and didn't necessarily offer a fulfilling experience.

So my new plan has been to use the two desktop machines in my den/office, which is adjacent to the room where my games are set up, and buy a couple of proper webcams.

At this point, I have to make public admission of a personal trait of mine; where others will go about things in a quiet, businesslike manner, and get good results with little or no fuss, I tend to thrash about and tell everyone about it, which makes it a bit less comfortable when it doesn't work! In the current situation, I think there may be one or two things I find out which may be of use to others having the same struggle, so I shall persist for the moment.

[At this point I must also acknowledge the advice and support I've had from Jon Freitag, who successfully runs games by Zoom which are very much like what I'd like to be hosting myself. I've visited Jon's set up and learned a lot, so I am truly grateful. A splendid fellow. Thank you, Jon.]

I purchased two Logitech StreamCams, which Amazon had on special offer, plus various bits and pieces - thread adaptors for microphone stands (I'll be using old mic stands to support the cameras) and what photographers apparently refer to as "ballheads" [which is a joy and a delight, since "ba'heid" is a children's insult of great and noble lineage in Glasgow] and a variety of USB cables. This stuff has all arrived now. Thus far things have gone pretty well, but I have learned a couple of things which might come in useful to others.

This is Camera B, at the East End of the table, on its microphone stand. The mic stands are very stable, and infinitely adjustable - also I have a few old ones of good quality, which is a selling point. The adjustment thing is maybe a mixed blessing - trying to get the same view twice might be a challenge! This is a trial placement, and the camera is 174cm from the floor, and 64cm horizontally from the centre of the table edge. [This is not unlike trying to get your car seat comfortably adjusted again after it's been serviced...] 
This is the Logitech StreamCam. At the top of the mic stand there is a 3/8" to 1/4" thread converter, and on top of that is the tripod-style "ballhead" - the camera screws straight onto a little platform supported on a lockable ball joint


They work "plug & play", but I had problems immediately since they both produced images which flickered badly. Not unreasonably, being American, these cameras, which are smart enough to correct flicker caused by phase difference between the image refresh rate and the natural flicker of electric lighting caused by the frequency of the mains supply, assumed that I would have a respectable 60Hz rather than our British (almost said "European" - forgive me, O Lord) 50Hz, and flickered their disappointment. Easily fixed - I downloaded some device management software and re-set the flicker correction to the right speed. Finding out what was needed was a lot more tricky online - this obviously is not a problem in American colleges. Here's a nice man I found on the Web to tell you how to do this:

A couple of comments:

(1) The program you need (if you are a Logitech user) is no longer called the Logitech Camera Settings Software, but is now called Logi Tune, available from the Logitech site. This will only be of relevance for this brand of camera, but the flicker problem must be generic, so there will be equivalents.

(2) The flicker is at its worst if you use LED lighting, which is relentlessly strobe-like. Before the cameras were re-adjusted, I practically eliminated it using old-fashioned heated coil bulbs, but I was delighted to be able to reinstate my fancy 2500 lumen daylight LEDs, which are dimmable and also run very cool (and avoid wasting energy - always a fine thing).

USB Cables - Length Limits

The problem in hand - a plan: to replace the current tangle of old mobile devices, I have invested in a couple of webcams, shown here as A and B. To give a scale for the project, the room containing the wargames table is 5m x 3m, the table 8ft (to 10ft4in) x 5ft. The positioning of the laptop mentioned below is shown (under the table)

OK. I have to connect one camera to each of the Mac and the PC in the adjacent room (my office/study/den/hidey-hole). My experimentation bore out what are the industry recommendations. My cameras each have a 5ft cable hardwired in, and I have a number of female-to-male USB extension cables, in lengths of 3ft and 10ft. A camera connected through a 10ft extension plus a 3ft extension to one of the desktop computers will work OK, but that is the limit. Beyond that, the camera is not detected at the computer, so 5 + 10 + 3 = 18ft becomes a new fundament of Nature, like Planck's Constant, the speed of light and the number of oatcakes in a pack of Nairn's Rough Scottish.

I can, as it happens, manage quite easily to connect Cam B to the Mac with an 18ft cable, but I have no chance of getting anywhere near the PC from Cam A without exceeding the limit. 


One solution might be the use of an active "repeater" cable - these are powered by a wall adaptor (5v), and include circuitry to amplify the signal, so can extend the overall range, which could be the answer. I may still try this, but I am not keen on solutions where I buy something in the hope it will work.

Or I could use my Windows laptop (which may actually be of higher spec than the PC), connected by a short USB cable to Cam A, instead. This is not as tidy, but it has proved to work, and I can place the laptop on a little coffee table, safely tucked under the main wargames table - once it is set up and connected to Zoom, I don't need to be able to see it. This is what I have adopted as my starting configuration.

Here's a screenshot of the view from Camera B in the position shown in the photos above. Camera A should be set up in the equivalent position at the other end. The picture resolution here is shown straight from the camera to my Mac, so it hasn't been anywhere near the Zoom server - I'll say something about picture quality when I've gained a little more experience of this configuration

That's more than enough for now. I have a lot to do, and try out, but there are no absolute stoppers yet. Ultimately, this stands or falls by the quality of the video output via Zoom. If that is unusable then I can either wait for the service to improve or leave the cameras to my kids. How can I lose? - all right - please don't comment on that bit.


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

OK - later the same evening, I've been checking over picture quality, comparing pictures that have not yet been sent to Zoom with incoming pictures from Zoom.

First off, I got a nasty fright. I was getting some pretty terrible, inconsistent results - blurring of images when I didn't expect this. I did a little reading, and tried switching off the autofocus on both cameras, using the Logi Tune app. Bingo - immediate improvement. Maybe the poor camera can't decide what to focus on, with a lot of little soldiers spread out. Maybe the level of lighting has an effect. No idea, but it seems much better with the autofocus off; I'll do some more reading tomorrow, and see what the terrible bad news is if you turn it off...

Anyway, with the autofocus put to sleep, and the manual focus set to minimum (deep focus), I did some screenshots, just for interest.

This is a screenshot of a picture coming in from the laptop (the remote participant, connected to Camera A), as seen on the Mac (which is the host here, attached to Camera B) - so this is "incoming", having been through Zoom

This is "outgoing", the view on the host's Mac from its own attached Camera B, which has not been to Zoom. You can't count buttons in either view, but the comparison isn't bad is it? I'll do some more work on this.



Saturday, 13 August 2022

Hooptedoodle #429 - How to Keep an Idiot Entertained

 Like most of Britain, we have been in a heatwave again here. Being Scotland, it is not so severe as further south, but still oppressively hot - especially uncomfortable at night for those of us who are not accustomed to it.

Yesterday was a lot cooler. I live on a farm which is on a headland at the junction of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea, and a quirk of the local geography is that our heatwaves usually have limited duration. After a few days of high temperatures, we get sea mists (haars) rolling in and the temperature drops sharply. There are many occasions when we hear on the radio about the rest of Britain basking in glorious sunshine, while we are tripping about in the gloom, with sweaters on. 

Yesterday the temperature dropped a lot - I believe the maximum here was 17degC, and the minimum was around 12degC, so, though dull and misty, it was pleasantly cool. Suitably invigorated, I made a special note to step out in the evening for a little adventure. The RAF's Red Arrows display team were to appear, flying over the Castle Esplanade in Edinburgh at 21:00 to open this year's Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

No, I had no plans to go into Edinburgh - Heaven forfend! The team would be flying just to the west of the village of Whitekirk, which is about 2 miles from my house, and is visible from the farm here, so my plan was to pop out a little before 9pm, to hear, though probably not see in the mist, them pass. The speeds of planes these days are familiar to us all, but they are still mind-boggling. The Arrows would be taking off from Scampton, Lincolnshire at 20:14, would fly up the East Coast, coming in off the sea somewhere near St Abbs, and would be at Whitekirk, in open country in East Lothian, at 20:56, passing over Edinburgh at 21:00, arriving at Rosyth, on the far side of the Forth Bridges, at 21:03, and then turning to land at Edinburgh Airport.

Friends of mine (in particular Stryker, Goya and the Archduke) who have personal experience of travelling around this area by road will appreciate the unbelievable journey times in the flight plan.

So, around 15 minutes to 9, I walked down to a gap in the row of trees which separates us from the next section of the farm. Through this gap runs a concreted road which passes between two large fields, both under wheat this year, and the view is extensive. Straight ahead, which is south, the land drops to a shallow valley which contains the (Scottish) River Tyne, and then rises to the Lammermuir Hills in the distance. To the left, which is east, beyond the wheatfield is the open sea - straight on for Norway if you keep going. To the right, which is inland, looking west, you can see as far as Traprain Law, and you can also see the church and the roofs of Whitekirk, about 2 miles away. I was in plenty of time. It was a still evening, I could just hear the occasional train in the distance on the London line, the traffic on the A1 and the waves coming in on the beach at Scoughall, so I was confident the Red Arrows would be very distinct.

Whitekirk in sunshine

I stood there for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet, wondering how long the planes would be audible before they got up here. By about 21:10 nothing had happened, and it was obvious I had missed them. Not to worry; I enjoyed my walk back to my house, and on the way I saw a few deer in the wheat field (they were watching me carefully - they may even have been giggling a little), and I also saw a large dog fox crossing the path in front of me. It was getting pretty dark by then.

My wife has recently heard foxes at night; this is the first one we've seen for ages. A few years ago, before the farm's ghillie retired, there were no foxes here - he used to shoot them. Similarly there were no rats in the woods, no magpies, we never saw squirrels. Times have changed - you can't get the staff, you know.

When I got home I learned that the foggy weather had caused the cancellation of the Red Arrows' flight. I don't know when they cancelled it, but it got less publicity than the original programme of events!

My wife's friend in Edinburgh had gone to the trouble of walking to the top of Corstorphine Hill to watch - a real grandstand view up there - so she must have been rather more disappointed than I.

Anyway, it didn't take up much time, and I had a laugh about it. I wonder what excitement I'll get up to today? Yesterday I didn't see the Red Arrows; today I could fail to see - well, anything, really. Spanish Armada? Visitors from space? Any requests?

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Away Day - Another Grand Day Out

 Last Thursday I was privileged to take part in one of Stryker's extravaganzas - Up North - so set off early to pick up Matt from Edinburgh Park (a place where the normal rules of Physics do not apply) and cross over the Forth on our way to battle.

Ian has been quick off the mark, serialising the official history of this battle on his blog, so I shall be careful not to drop any spoilers here. Suffice it to say that the game was spectacular, and faultlessly set up, and the company and the hospitality were excellent, as always. Thanks to Ian and everyone involved - hugely enjoyable.

[Non-Spoiler:] My combined Guard Lancer unit gets off to an early start, and takes some losses, but they recovered to have quite a good day...


Friday, 22 July 2022

Guest Contributor Issue - Le Kriegspiel

 I was delighted this morning to receive an email from Jean-Marc, a friend of mine in France - always good value.

He sent me this photo, taken in a farmhouse in France, as part of a running thread we have on Le Kriegspiel, a very early grid-based miniatures game which still has a following over there.

"After some years of research I have finally found one of the French group still playing the venerable Le  Kriegspiel French rules with 20mm flats, (first version of the rules written out in 1935, which pioneered the use of hexes, last version 1964, translated by Pat Condray in 1965).  

Attached is a pic of a Kriegspiel terrain used in Northern France. Terrain is 6m x 4.5m. No problem reaching the centre of the board, as every wooden tile is removable on all the edges of the terrain. It’s a very heavy terrain btw. As the owner says, «I’m not very good with terrain, this one I have used for 4 decades is very practical». (I have been told that there is a superb terrain in Corsica)." 

My thanks to Jean-Marc. Interesting stuff.


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

Jean-Marc came back with some more information, which is certainly worth a look.

Some links on Le Kriegspiel may be found here and here, and the Pat Condray translation (published on Clive's Vintage Wargaming blog) here.

Jean-Marc explains that the system was originally used for TYW, WSS and Napoleonics, and, later, there were variants for ACW, Franco-Prussian and probably SYW.

He also sent some photos of the 20mm flats.

Once again, thanks very much, Jean-Marc!



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

Jean-Marc very kindly sent some more details about French flats.

"Reading quickly the comments, my own on flats:

30 mm flats were the most common (for kids, first, collectors next), and still are. (Of course, there are larger figures than 30mm, but not for games).

20mm flats figures were used first for dioramas and next for games, and were invented in the 40's/50's in limited numbers. French wargamers took the opportunity to produce them in the mid 60's, they had the customers, the drawers/designers, the engravers etc. And of course a very precise knowledge of uniforms, being linked to the La Sabretache group.

The French production of 20mm specialised in 1805-1809 for Napoleonics, and expanded from there. They did not find [it] useful to copy what already existed in Germany, for example Napoleonics 1812-1815. In fact, they added the figures that could not be found elsewhere.



P.S. If you are wondering why Brigadier Peter Young had the Arquebusiers de Grassins well painted in his rule book,  it is because he was a member of La Sabretache before WWII. He visited his friends of La Sabretache in Paris in 1944, on one of his first trips there."



Friday, 8 July 2022

WSS: More French Horse

 Very pleased to have a couple of new cavalry units ready for action. Lee did a very nice job of painting these. Strictly speaking, this is a single, large unit, but the way my rules handle that is to field them as two separate units, brigaded together.

These chaps, then, represent 6 squadrons of the Gendarmérie de France. The flags are from Robert Hall, the castings are Les Higgins 20mm with some command figures from Irregular.

I thought Napoleon's Guard was pretty confusing, but I have more problems understanding Louis XIV's household regiments. These chaps, I believe, were part of the Royal Household but not part of the actual Guard. No, I don't really see that either, but it means that in my games they will get "Status = 4" rating, which is elite, so that's all we need to know.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Hooptedoodle #428 - Someone Was Watching, After All

Developments in the UK Parliament this morning do not require any particular analysis or applause from a nonentity like me, but I should like to observe that I find it comforting that there might still just be some decency and commonsense out there somewhere.

It would be inappropriate to celebrate someone else's misfortune, of course, and I'm confident things may get worse before they get better, but it is just a straw to cling on to. I have, in any case, decided to avoid getting involved in political matters now, in the interests of my own health.

Anyway, it seems that the Mussolini Effect is still alive and kicking, and I hope that Mr Johnson does not hang around too long where he is obviously not wanted. In his own best interests, I hope he gets a new job doing something more useful, in a healthier environment.

[Please note that I shall not publish or reply to comments on this post - please have a quiet moment to yourself to consider what might come next. Thanks.]

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

WSS: Languedoc Finished

 Extra figures painted, flags (by David of Not By Appointment) added, bases magnetized, photo taken in garden.

Régiment de Langedoc - 20mm Les Higgins castings, though the mounted officer is an Irregular figure on a Higgins horse

This is the last of the French units I propose to build by refurbishing Eric's men. There are still some figures left in the boxes, which may get called into service later, but the rest of the French will be virgin castings.

I wish you to know that I got bitten by ants while taking the pictures. Very small ants, but nippy! It is necessary to suffer for one's art.

Hooptedoodle #427 - SpecSavers - Donkey Award

 OK - this week's whinge. I haven't got the time or the patience to get into an argument with these clowns, so let's just share a bit of truth.

This has been a pretty rough week for me, taken all round, and one of the (numerous) issues which caused problems was my son getting very worried about his eyesight. He currently lives in Glasgow, and had been concerned that the prescription for his spectacles and his contact lenses was becoming a bit out of whack with reality, so he arranged an appointment with his nearest branch of a UK national chain - SpecSavers - he went to their Buchanan Street shop in Central Glasgow.

They confirmed that there had been a change in his eyesight, but nothing to worry about - his eyes were fine. They arranged to re-glaze his spectacles and ordered up new contacts, and after a week or so his order was ready.

Panic stations. He couldn't see at all well, he was getting dizzy and felt ill (he has astigmatism, which is disorientating if the specs aren't working), so he arranged the earliest return to the shop, which was this morning (3 days later). Righto. It seems that there are changes in his prescription, as they had established on his previous visit, and they are about the same in both eyes. For some reason, the order which was made for both contacts and spectacles was incorrect - the left eye was for the new prescription, the right eye for the old.

They will now correct the error. He was comfortable with the lens set-up in the opticians this morning, so with a bit of luck things should be OK when the new order comes through. Yes, there will be an extra charge, and no, no-one apologised, though they did say that they couldn't accept liability.

Think about it. If he had taken a car out on the M8 motorway, which he could if he wished, and caused a fatal accident because he was dizzy and couldn't see, where would the liability sit then? At a less dramatic level, if he had been stopped in his car by a policeman and had failed the vision check, the Polis would not be at all interested in any flaky story about an optician's mistake.

As soon as this is fixed, we are finished with SpecSavers - they may rot in hell. Better to pay a bit extra and go to someone who takes their job seriously.

Can I urge you, if you are a UK resident, to think very carefully before you ever do business with these people?

On a slightly lighter note, I would be really appreciative if anyone wishes to have a shot at this: how about a new advert for SpecSavers, based on this incident? The multiple accident scenario is not necessary, of course.

Friday, 1 July 2022

This and That, but Mostly the Other

 This week I was handed a dose of Real World which has effectively put a stop to much of what I had been hoping to do over the Summer. With luck, I expect to get through this, and in the short term I now have a chance to clear up some odds and ends which have been dragging on a bit while I was indisposed with the Plague.

Topic 1: Another French WSS unit nearing completion

Last night I finished what may be my last refurbishment job for my WSS project. I completed 14 figures for the 18-man Régiment de Languedoc - there are still another 4 figures to be painted from scratch, but that should be very straightforward, and the refurb work is done. This batch has been a bit arduous, to be honest. 

At the start of the French phase of my project, I identified a lot of pre-painted figures from Eric Knowles' collection which could be restored to fill the ranks in my new army. Some of these needed only very light re-touching, so I prioritised those, but as I worked my way through I got to some more battered and re-hashed units, and this last lot was really pretty marginal; I might have been better stripping and starting again, and I think my decision to persevere with restoring them was influenced by a wish to keep Eric's old soldiers on the march as far as possible. Eric might not have recognised some of them now, but I'm pleased with what's been achieved.

The effort required for this batch wasn't helped by a historic decision by someone (many years ago) to improve a nicely-painted regiment by the addition of sawdust, Russian toffee and henhouse-green paint to the bases. Well, in many cases, to the area below the soldiers' knees. Yuck. It's taken me about 2 weeks of soaking and scraping to get it off, but it is now gone.

Anyway, as of this morning, here are the 14 restored fellows, with the glue drying, waiting for a new mounted officer, two ensigns and a drummer to complete them. I'll post a smart photo once they are ready for action.

Topic 2: A Very Old Brush

I've maybe mentioned this brush before, but I was working yesterday with a brush which is certainly the oldest I have, I wonder how long these things last? When my dad died, 14 years ago, I helped my mother to clear out all his old art materials; he had been a keen watercolourist, but hadn't been near the hobby for years.

There were all sorts of solidified paints, and a good number of very old brushes, most of which disintegrated to dust when I rubbed the bristles. However, there were a couple of brushes which he had obviously used, and they still felt OK. I destroyed one a few years ago when I accidentally got superglue on the bristles, but the other is still going strong. Here it is, in the foreground, in action yesterday:

I use this a lot for (for example) applying baseboard-green paint to the bases of my figures, a situation in which I would not choose to involve any of my Series 7 brushes, since the paint is simply latex emulsion paint for interior walls, and they get bunged up.

Things get a bit more sinister if you check the other side of this brush. 

The logo indicates that it comes from HM Stationery Office, was from the 1966 stock, and must have been liberated from the drawing office at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's electrical engineering section at Risley, Lancashire, when my dad worked there as an engineer in the 1970s. I also found a large number of high-quality boxed Beryl pencils - mostly sketching grades like 2B, which is not a lot of use to me - which may have been liberated around the same time. I prefer not to believe that my dad was in the habit of nicking stuff from work, so I'm sure there must be a more comfortable explanation if I could just think of it...

Anyway, my point is that I have a sable brush here which was new in 1966, which my dad must have used for his watercolours from about 1969-1978, and which I have been using regularly for my wargame painting since 2008. I guess the amount of use is probably not as high as you might estimate, but I'm astonished that the sable bristles are still in good shape. It is just one of my "gash" brushes - it gets no special treatment.

Anyone got an older brush which is still in use?

Topic 3: Some Thoughts about Shiny Soldiers

In a convoluted way, this follows on from a conversation I had with Stryker recently, about the implications of applying gloss varnish to miniature soldiers, and what defines an "appropriate" painting style for the Shiny Brigade. Rather famously, he has been doing this for years with his beautiful Napoleonic Hinton Hunts, but it is a new departure for me, starting with my new involvement at the end of 2019 in the Malburian period .

Deciding which bottle of varnish to use to finish your soldiers seems like a mere detail, though there are practical considerations, such as the common trick of using gloss varnish followed by matte, to give a hard-wearing coat. I'm concerned in this note mainly with the "look" of the soldiers, and with some things I have learned about my reaction to my own shiny armies. This will all be extremely personal - what I like and what I'm trying to achieve with my collection will certainly be regarded as strange, or even unacceptable, to others. Some things which I hadn't really thought about became apparent when I started working on the armies. I developed some preferences and some definite views which I hadn't considered previously.

First thing, which came as a bit of a surprise, is that I find that what I'm putting together is not a museum of perfect historic miniatures, or a miniature facsimile of a real army, but is just a collection of toy soldiers. Yes - toys. It's OK - I enjoy, nay, celebrate the fact that they are toys!

Last week I watched the first of the later, colour episodes of Callan, from UK TV back in 1970. Illustrative point. It turns out, you see, that Callan has been moved into a different apartment after his spell in hospital, and his colleague, Cross (Patrick Mower - I hope you're taking notes here), teases him about his box of "toys". Callan gets very scratchy about this, and insists that they are "model soldiers". This is where Callan and I part company; I would have been quite happy that they be regarded as toys. In any case, Patrick Mower spent his later career stuck in some ghastly UK TV Soap [Emmerdale], so in the long run he is in no position to make fun of Callan's toys. [Bastard].

Callan keeps his entire collection of model soldiers in a single "Banner" shirt box. Even in 1970, that makes him a dabbler in my book...

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.

* If I were to paint up a beautiful little model of a WW1 machine-gun team for wargaming, complete with basing involving mud, wire and sandbags, I would never think of giving it a shiny finish. Without pondering too hard about it, it just feels wrong.

* So, if my WSS collection are toys, why? What's the difference?

* I read an article somewhere which suggested that maybe it makes the dreadful idea of conflict and slaughter more acceptable as an entertainment, if the participants are toy-like, and the game is abstracted to the point where there are no dead men or horses cluttering up the field? - Interesting, and possible, but that's not my chief driver, I think.

* A lot must be to do with my figure supplier. I go on rather a lot about the old Les Higgins castings I use - probably rather more than general levels of interest might justify. In the past I've had appreciative comments from John Ray and from David (of the Not By Appointment blog), both men of refined tastes,  about the realistic human proportions of my toys, and the elegance of the sculpture. Cue a round of applause for the late Les Higgins. But there is something more here: the stylised poses, the delicacy of the little men, their strangely androgynous appeal, the bobbed hair, the shapely calves in stockings...

Joli Tambour. You may join me in observing that this picture from an ancient children's book seems to show a drummer wearing the French King's Livery  [Lee will especially appreciate this] 

Nailed it.

These guys are straight out of the French nursery-rhyme books of my childhood, when pretty drummer boys caught the eye of the King's daughter, and all that. They do not have smelly feet, or buck teeth, or outsized, garden-gnome hands; they do not relieve themselves behind your hedge, or burn down your barn - they are just lovely toys, of a very old-fashioned style. Thus it suits me to paint and present them as such, with appropriate overtones of a bygone age, and toy soldiers have to be shiny; it's as natural as, well, something or other that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment. 

There are implications, some of them not obvious, for painting, and I have to thank Lee and Goya and a couple of other kind souls who have generously suppressed some elements of their natural painting styles in support of this idiosyncrasy of mine; if the painting is too impressionistic or too layered then gloss varnish can produce bizarre results. A simple, colourful style lends itself well to the presentation, and the toy units will then move around the field in colourful, rigid formations. They can fight Schellenberg if you wish, but it will be Toy Schellenberg - as my brain ages, I find that my rules are becoming more toy-like, as well.

When I started on this, I had very little idea what I was aiming for, other than clues I could get from what Eric and others had done before me, but what is evolving is a little, personal subculture and some better developed guidelines on how I like things done. This is not based on any series of decrees; I have rarely said, "this is how it will be", but I have frequently said, "Gosh, I really like that", and very occasionally I have said (of my own work), "oops...".

Quite soon, when my WSS Phase 1 is complete (the delay is likely to be associated with non-appearance of staff figures, but I'm working on that), I'll produce full team photos and pay tribute to the heroes who have helped me so much over the last couple of years, but I haven't quite got there yet. I'm constantly amazed by how much I have learned along the way.



Thursday, 23 June 2022

Zoom! - OOOOOH! - phut....

 I'm aware of other bloggers publishing rather splendid accounts of their remote wargames, and I'm very impressed, not to say envious.

I started off using Zoom for wargames with great enthusiasm early in the pandemic lockdown, I hosted a number of games, and I was very pleased and excited by the results and the potential. It was only later, when I took the trouble to find out, that I realised that the video quality I was sending out was so poor that it wasn't such a great experience for the generous friends on whom I was inflicting it. I was sent some very iffy-looking screenshots of what was visible at the far end, and then the Bold David mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised to see how attractive my wargame figures were, when he studied the photographs which I took during the refight of Kilsyth in which he had been involved. The wonders of what I could see on-site had nothing to do with his view, far, far away.

I confess my crest was more than a little fallen.

There was a time when it seemed possible that Zoom offered all that was likely to be available for the foreseeable future in the twilit world of Covid. I had a paid account, since I was involved with the musical activities of the Folk Club of a neighbouring town, and I'd learned a lot there about what could be achieved on a shoestring budget. For the wargaming, I had grandiose plans to spend money on a top-quality streaming video camera, to improve the pictures. My youngest son made the useful observation that I could spend what I wanted, but Zoom would take one look at the available bandwidth out here in The Sticks, and would automatically dumb-down the picture resolution to what it thought our broadband could sustain reliably.

Roman mosaic (low-resolution)

The set up I used here consisted of my (5-year old) Android tablet as the main camera/host, with my alter ego Max attending the sessions using my old iPhone to provide a second camera from the far end of the table. Both of these devices have excellent built-in cameras, and the pictures I can see on-screen at my end of the sessions look very good, but the cruncher has been the dreaded rural broadband. Our service arrives by radio broadcast (no, you read that correctly), by line-of-sight transmission from a hill about 8 miles away. The maximum service available was a humble 12Mb/sec, which may sound laughable but was easily the best of all the options available. No wonder, then, that my Zoom sessions produced pictures with the resolution of a Roman mosaic floor.

Traprain Hill - there's a transmitter up there somewhere

[In passing, I must note that when we were originally being sold the idea of the radio transmission service, one of my neighbours was not happy at all, since she believed that a line-of-sight transmission would not work at night - this has been one of the brighter moments in our experience.]

Well, time has passed, and my internet service provider has upgraded the kit, so we now get a handsome 32Mb/sec, which would still be regarded as a joke in Kensington but represents a whole new age of promise here. Buoyed up by the new possibilities, I roped in some brave volunteers to check out what effect this had on Zoom pictures, and I regret to say that it didn't seem to make any notable difference. The quality at the far end of the connection was still, to coin a technical term, duff.

The Far End view - this screenshot kindly provided by The Other David, captured in far-off Londinium. This is post-upgrade - the camera in use at this instant is the old iPhone at the West End of the table. Not terrible, but certainly not great.

So I wrote to the technical support people at Zoom. If you have never attempted this, by the way, I recommend you do not bother. They are pretty good at debiting money from your bank account very promptly, but their customer service is non-existent. It would be tempting to suggest it is about as bad as you can get, but my world survey is not yet complete; however, I think it must be up there.

So I am left to wonder what is possible. How do those guys out there successfully run remote wargames, with no-one getting frustrated or going blind?

* Despite our local pride in the upgrade, 32Mb/s may still be show-stoppingly slow. I tried connecting the devices directly (by cable) to my hub, rather than use the wi-fi, but it made no difference.

* I could try some more modern mobile devices, but that would cost money, and doesn't seem to offer any guaranteed improvement.

* There must be something in my Zoom settings, you would think, that would sort this out? Well there isn't. I can choose to have my wrinkles blurred a bit, or the background replaced by a photo of Miami, but the picture resolution appears to be a given.

* It does occur to me that the overall traffic on a Zoom session can be cut back a bit by switching off the video pictures from the remote generals, but at this point I am just tinkering with details.

That's about it, really. I am disappointed, since I got the Zoom games quite nicely organised, video quality apart. If I am not going to be able to improve this I shall stop the paid account and go back to the freebie one, which restricts the number of participants and the length of multiple sessions.

I would be really very pleased to get any useful advice here. I thought of moving to Kensington, but decided against it. 

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

I came across this notice on the Zoom site, which may be bad news; it seems that Zoom have restricted display on sessions involving more than 2 participants to "standard quality" rather than HD. It is hoped this is a temporary measure, and apparently it is because of Covid, and apparently it may only be Zoom that got us through Covid anyway. Humility does not seem to come naturally to Zoom's marketing people, but I guess we have to be grateful.


Sunday, 19 June 2022

Hooptedoodle #426 - Just a Minute...

 I'm still trying to get my sleep patterns into some more sensible state, after Covid. I woke early this morning, cross about having slept far too much yesterday, got myself washed and dressed and breakfasted and made a start at 5am on the tax returns - mine and my mother's. There isn't really a great rush to get them done, but I've been putting the task off for a few weeks, and its been starting to irritate me.

Sure enough, I completed my mother's return (on paper, since, not having a driving licence or a passport, my poor old mum no longer exists in the digital world) and my own (online, since I am privileged enough to conform to the required civic profile), and I even drove into the village to post the paper one. I can assure you that the place was very quiet at 9am on a Sunday.

Right - very pleased to have got that done - a bit of a fight-back after the hassle and the slobbing around.

Garden furniture, back on the patio; we'll have to tidy up a little, in case someone falls down a ravine, or gets strangled by a jungle vine

Later today, after investing the standard amount of effort into preparing our recyclable waste for collection tomorrow, I had another look at our new garden parasol. The previous one lasted for 16 years or so, but eventually this year we were forced to accept that Spring-cleaning it with the pressure washer was not a great idea. So we have a new one, which was cheaper than I expected, but also of observably inferior quality.

The parasol will be great - we've even moved the garden furniture back on to the patio, after it spent quite a few years in a sort of exile next to the front steps. One concern I had was that it is now more exposed to the wind, and it billows about in even a relatively gentle breeze. The old parasol had a built-in cord which was used to bind it closed, to keep the sail-area down and keep the beasties out. Today's great idea, then, was that I improvised the same sort of arrangement, using a spare roll of Velcro I've had in a drawer for years. Excellent - problem solved, and it cost me nothing. Result.

The improvised Velcro fastening; yes it is ugly, and it looks cheap and nasty, but I think you may be missing the point here...

I feel as though I'm on a sort of roll - yesterday's triumph was that I repaired a lampshade, which doesn't sound too impressive, but there are fitted shades on the bedside lamps in the attic bedroom, and one of the shades had a broken frame. It was originally spot-welded, I believe (Cheapo Productions - unbeatable value). I had spent some time trying to find a similar pair of shades, but couldn't find any the same size, and none with the conveniently old-fashioned fittings. In a Mother of Invention moment, I realised that I could probably repair the frame with a blob of Gorilla glue. Worth a shot. Worked perfectly. The lampshade problem is solved, and, like the Velcro fastener for the parasol, it cost me absolutely nothing.

And there was light, and you could see for miles

I was really quite invigorated by my successful couple of days, and it was only later this afternoon, when I was looking for other long-standing problems to cross off the to-do list, that I finally realised that I have turned into my dad...

Friday, 17 June 2022

WSS: Les Higgins - a Little More Figure Paleontology

 I warn you now, this is an extremely nerdy post indeed, so if you like this sort of stuff you should maybe worry a little, but welcome to the gang hut anyway.

My WSS armies mostly consist of Les Higgins 20mm castings, or PMD (Phoenix Model Developments), which is how the company was relaunched after Les died in the early 1970s. As I work through the jobs involved in building up my own forces, I have become familiar with slight variants on the figures as time passed. I'm not referring to conversions added to the range by Old John in recent years, I'm referring to evolution in the original production days.

The relevant page from the Les Higgins Miniatures catalogue of 1971

This post (such as it is) was prompted by the realisation that the last few of my original-pattern MP16 castings are about to be painted, and all the MP16s I will have thereafter will be examples of the later PMD figure, which was sculpted entirely by Tim Richards, who succeeded Les as the company's chief designer. There was a sort of landmark period when the range was remastered to show the new PMD logo, and Richards took the opportunity to make some changes - the officer with sword [from pack MP17] was smartened up and given more ornate dress, and a couple of other changes were made; the throwing grenadier [MP3] and the charging grenadier [MP7] were always weak castings, since they stood on one foot, so these were tweaked so that the figures were standing more firmly. For some reason which I've never fathomed, the PMD version of the walking horse has it's head turned to the left, whereas the original was peeking to the right - otherwise the castings appear identical, logos apart. And there was a new, simpler drummer [from MP18], which was all Richards' work

The listing, borrowed without permission from the vintage20MIL website

Anyway, to MP16. The original figure is described, at least in the list in Vintage 20 MIL, as "at the ready". After the changeover to PMD, this figure seems to have disappeared and been replaced by a very different chap, who seems to be advancing in a very businesslike manner. I like both castings, personally - it has been suggested to me that the later version looks very similar to a Strelets French fusilier pose - not a bad copy, considering it predated it by 45 years or so.

To commemorate the passing of my last old-style MP16s, I set up a couple of photos, with a choice of lighting. The two figures on the left are Les Higgins' handiwork, and they show traces of white undercoat. The two on the right are the replacement PMD figure by Tim Richards. 


I love them all. 

Sunday, 12 June 2022

WSS: Déjà Vu (well, sort of)

Case Study No. 1

Some years ago, when I was building up my 20mm ECW armies, I became very interested in the Covenanters of 1643-44. I bought in some useful books, and kind of befriended all those local chaps who had trooped down to Duns Camp, besieged Newcastle and fought at Marston Moor. When I say local, I mean local to where I live; I was especially interested in the adventures of the East Lothian Regiment, for example, who were raised by Sir Ralph Hepburn, whose family seat, Waughton Castle, is about 5 miles from where I'm sitting. Well, it was there before someone nicked all the stone to build dykes and farm steadings.   

I read the life of Alexander Leslie and the history of his army, and there is some wonderful detail of who was who in the Covenanter force. I became very interested in the rather confusing period which is now known as the Bishops' Wars, about 1638-40. I considered whether it would make a satisfactory alternative campaign, and how easily I could fudge armies for it from what I already had planned. I still think about it now, but I quickly decided that the idea was intriguing, but there were some major snags, not the least being that King Charles's on-the-cheap Army of Vengeance was a wash-out. It was a very silly and one-sided conflict. Charles obviously felt that the Divine Right of Kings extended to prohibiting anyone from opposing his army on the battlefield. The point at which I left it is that

(1) it might make an interesting campaign at some point, but not a historical one; it would benefit from the armies being artificially balanced rather a lot.

(2) come to think about it, maybe it would make a nice map game - possibly a boardgame...

Case Study No. 2

Time passes; since the end of 2019 I have been working on refurbishing and extending armies for the War of the Spanish Succession. Once again, I find that I have committed myself to building armies in a long-dead scale, using figures which have been out of production for 45 years or so. It's a rare talent.

In my hunt for alternative figures which would fit, I looked at all sorts, and found that nearly all the plastics and 1/72 metal miniatures were too big. Irregular Miniatures offered some useful variations, but there wasn't much else. Around this time, it occurred to me that Newline, if they made suitable figures, might be just about right for my target 1/76 scale. Of course, they don't. They have some SYW British infantry who obviously have the later uniform. However, they sent me a sample pack of their Jacobites. Hey. Pretty good.

Now I was at the beginning of putting together serious armies for the Blenheim period, and had no wish to get distracted into looking at the 1745 Rebellion. However, I thought that perhaps, as an alternative, The 1715 might be an interesting add-on for my WSS chaps. A period I know very little about, of course, so I made a mental note and shelved the idea for later.

To my amazement, I now estimate I should complete my original Phase One plan for the WSS by Winter this year, ignoring any element of Creeping Elegance which might extend the work. Without wishing to tempt Providence, I spent a little of my current isolation period thinking more about this. I bought a very cheap, pre-owned copy of Stuart Reid's Sheriffmuir on eBay, and it arrived last week. Great book!

I find myself back in the Bishops' Wars situation. What could I do, how rewarding would it be, and how much of a distraction? There are copious lists of regiments, not all of which could have appeared at the same time, but some familiar names from my memory of the old Royalist horse in the days of the Marquis of Newcastle - Widdrington, among others. Maybe some of my ECW cavalry could ride again? A few of the British WSS regiments have the right facings and so on, though of course my flags are hopeless for the years after 1707. And then there are Highland troops - I now know that Newline might work nicely, and I also have some (very scruffily painted) Irregular Highlanders I bought in to help the Marquis of Montrose. Hmmm.

At the moment I am enjoying reading about this, and making up candidate lists of what I could use from what I already have (if I kept my eyes half-shut), and what else I could sensibly add. I'm convinced that I won't do anything for the moment, but it's an interesting possibility. As with my potential cod Bishops' Wars, I think the approach might be a heavily-fictionalised map campaign.

Anyway, whatever happens, I am enjoying reading about yet another unfamiliar bit of history. Learning stuff is fun, provided the old Covid allows one to stay awake long enough to do some reading!

Monday, 6 June 2022

Lee's Painting Service - a word from our sponsors...

 Only about 30 months behind the trend, I have finally contracted Covid. I'm pleased to say it's a mild variant, and I expect to be OK in a week or two - mostly it's a nuisance, not to say a bit embarrassing - I have been very lucky. I feel rather like the kid who got the "regular attendance" prize at school, long after they had finished handing out the sporting and scholastic awards. 

I am isolated in the attic, so have no access to my main desktop computer or my photo-editing software. However, I thought I would have a bash on my old laptop to dedicate a quick post to my good mate Lee Gramson.

Lee has done a load of excellent painting for me over the years, and my armies would be shabbier and smaller without his contribution, so I am a loyal customer and a big fan. He tells me that he recently attempted to promote his painting service on a well-known military modelling and wargaming forum, but had his post removed for non-compliance with the house rules. Seems a bit harsh, but this is a forum from which I and a couple of my hobby acquaintances were chucked out a few years ago for daring to dispute the owner's Jurassic views on plagiarism law. Just shows how little I know.

Anyway, I thought I'd like to recommend Lee's work to anyone who is interested. He's a great brushman, he's obliging and helpful and a genuinely lovely bloke, and his pricing is fair and competitive.

You'll find the details on his blog here. Please check him out.

This is the latest of the 20mm WSS batches Lee has done for me - note that the gloss varnish and the Old School basing are eccentricities of my own house style - Lee is more than happy to do more normal stuff than this!

Monday, 30 May 2022

WSS: The Delicate Matter of Interpenetration


[Nurse - the screens...]

From my recent playtesting game with Ian, we ended up with a note of about 12-14 points in the rules which needed some change - or at the very least some reconsideration. Well and good. That is what the game was about (apart from the social delights), and it had gone well enough to encourage me to get on with thinking about what, if anything, needs to be done.

One area of the rules with which we had some problems (i.e. for which we found we were making things up as we went along, to cover holes and clunky bits) was that of interpenetration. I realise that this gets us into all sorts of disagreements about definitions, so I shall skip lightly over that, and also I shall continue to avoid reading drill manuals, other than the references summarised in the works of Chandler and Nosworthy.

By interpenetration (which is a vague word, but I hung on to it because it affords me some adolescent amusement), I am broadly covering the matter of troops passing through their friends, and in two situations:

(Type 1) voluntarily moving through friends as part of ordered movement

(Type 2) moving round, through (or over) friendly troops when retiring or routing

Since plagiarism is the most sincere demonstration of respect (which is why I am pleased to be so widely respected on TMP), I did a lot of reading, especially of prominent rule sets, some for periods which were not entirely relevant. I looked at, among other sources:

Beneath the Lily Banners

Piquet's Field of Battle (3rd edition)

Black Powder

The Twilight of the Sun King

Polemos's Obstinate and Bloody Battle

Honours of War

Charles S Grant's updates to The War Game Rules

and I got a lot of useful information online - in particular from the excellent Rod's Wargaming blog. I also revisited For King & Parliament, and I have the rules for Tricorne, which is the AWI member of the Commands & Colors family.  

A lot of excellent stuff here - some of it made more or less suitable for my purposes by the underlying game scales, but all of it the product of very sound reasoning. Impressive.

The thing which surprises me is the frequency with which these experts appear to disagree about how such things worked, and even the extent to which they did work. I am not going to produce a table of differences or anything, but the view seems to range from units being able to move freely through each other without delay or disruption (provided they have sufficient movement allowance to get clear of each other) to much more restrictive approaches.

In particular, Field of Battle's basic approach to the topic of Type 1 (voluntary) interpenetration is very detailed and pretty liberal, and I always take very seriously the way the Piquet games are thought through and researched, but in the period-specific section for the WSS it says that such voluntary movement is not permitted, except through deployed artillery batteries. This came as a bit of a surprise, and further reading got me into online debates about whether there should even be such leniency towards moving through artillery - a couple of writers expressed strong views that batteries took up more room than is normally assumed, and that the idea they were mostly space is incorrect because of the crowd of support wagons and limbers, not to mention people racing about with ammunition. I suspend judgement on the porous nature of artillery, then - for the moment. There are a lot of very earnest people out there. Bless them all.

I'm somewhere at the start of a dialogue with Ian about what we learned and what he thinks of my thoughts for changes, plus ideas of his own, etc, so none of what follows is intended to pre-empt any of that discussion, but I'm sketching out some thoughts - mostly prompted by the wide range of opinions elsewhere. I must also emphasise that my priority is to produce a game which is enjoyable and which runs without hitches, rather than to reflect the inspired detail of military thinking at the start of the 18th Century, but it must bear some resemblance to what really happened!

It seems to me, after all this private study, that the fundamental principle of military theory at the time was to prevent the enemy's lethal units of Horse getting around your flank, or breaking through any gaps in your line. Squares were almost unheard of, except in odd instances where a single unit might be isolated somewhere, so the ideal was an unbroken line, from horizon to horizon, the only discontinuities being strong terrain features or built-up areas. The second line of units might have intervals, but never the first; it was an established fact that cavalry could not defeat formed musket infantry attacked from the front, so give them nothing but front to attack.

This means, I think, that the spaces between units which I have claimed, in other periods, give room for routers or reinforcers to pass through were virtually non-existent.

Early days yet, and this is a sketch, but I'm thinking along the following lines for the Type 1 (voluntary) interpenetration situations (note that my game uses hexes, but the principles should hold good in any event):

* Friendly (march) columns and limbered artillery may move freely through or past each other, and any troops at all may pass through friendly unlimbered artillery, but in both these cases they must have enough movement allowance to avoid ending up in the same hex, and may not come into contact with the enemy while so doing.

* Friendly lines which are adjacent, parallel and either one behind the other or directly facing each other, if both are given orders to do so, may exchange places, provided neither of them is in contact with the enemy at any point of the manoeuvre.

And that might be about it for Type 1.

Type 2 needs some more detailed thought. Despite its pretty strict view of Type 1 interpenetration in the WSS, Field of Battle allows routers to pass through (leapfrog) anyone behind them, there seems no limit to how far they can jump, but they have to keep going until they are clear of the rearmost. I'm not keen on that at all, not in a system of units with no gaps in between.

Ian and I prefer a version where retreating units may push a single unit back, without upset to either party, but if this is not possible without pushing back a second unit, or if impassable terrain (or the enemy) gets in the way, then they have to take any extent of the required retreat which they are unable to comply with as losses. Yes, this is very like Commands and Colors - well spotted!  

I'm still reading and thinking - any helpful ideas will be very welcome - any prepared lectures on the full procedure for Passage of Lines will be less warmly greeted - I've done a bit of that this week!