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

Monday 26 December 2022

Hooptedoodle #435 - Christmas with the English Pastoralists

 My Christmas got off to a flying start when I had to go to bed, unwell, on Saturday morning. A situation which would have been recorded in the cricket score-books of my youth as RETIRED HURT.

Not wishing to dramatise anything here, but I was coughing like an elderly horse, and I was pretty much convinced that I had Covid again, but I have been testing regularly since then, all negative, so I guess I have the flu. Boring.


Well, I have retired to the attic bedroom (as one does), and I have been relying for entertainment on a USB stick of mp3 music which I recorded a few months ago - I have a few of these, for the car, or any outlying BluRay player; this one is titled French Impressionists and English Pastoralists. A sort of private joke for what kind of music it is.

The French bit is easy enough - Ravel, Debussy, Fauré, Hahn, Ibert, a few others. The English category is less obvious; the composers are associated (in my mind) by the style of music rather than the strict dates. Vaughan-Williams, Delius, Bax, Butterworth, Jeffreys, Finzi, Gurney.

Having stashed my festive food in the freezer until some time when I feel up to it, I'm living on Lucozade and Gerald Finzi - musn't grumble.

Finzi gets me to the point I wanted to discuss here. He's better known now than he was, but still not very popular. Finzi himself lived from 1901 to 1956, first of all in London, was evacuated during WW1 to Harrogate and then moved in later life to Gloucestershire. He is probably best known for his song settings of English poetry, with piano accompaniment, but he also produced some beautiful orchestral work.

Gerald Finzi (hurrah!)

I got a real shock when I first heard his Éclogue, for piano and orchestra, on the radio in about 1998 or so. Very moving. Heart stopping, in fact. I understood that he had written the original piece around 1928, as part of a piano concerto which eventually was scrapped. After Finzi's death, his publisher rescued two of the surviving movements as separate pieces. So that must have been around 1960. I couldn't understand how someone who listens to as much music as I have could never have heard such a lovely work; in fact I had never heard of Finzi at all. How could this be?

Well, the start of the explanation is that on that morning I was listening to Classic FM, which was a commercial classical music station in the UK. I would not have heard it on the BBC. Good heavens, no. This is because of the personal bias of one Sir William Glock, a legendary music critic and organiser. Glock is regarded as one of the great men of British music - his influence is still around, though he has been dead since 2000. Glock studied piano with Artur Schnabel in Berlin, and became convinced that modern music was the way to go. He was music critic of the Daily Telegraph and then of the Observer, and ran summer schools to support the growth of "avant-garde" music. His belief was that anyone who wrote music with a more traditional harmonic system - especially if it involved arrangements of folk tunes - was old-hat. Therefore Vaughan-Williams was especially not welcome, as was anyone who had studied under, befriended or (possibly) even heard of Vaughan-Williams.

Sir William Glock (boo!)

From 1959 to 1972 Glock was the BBC's Director of Music, and from 1960 to 1973 he was also head of the London Promenade Concerts. He was a despot. Anyone who was on his (alleged) blacklist of composers would not be performed on the BBC, and there was just about a shut-out on all concerts in London. It might have been possible for concerts to have been performed, or even broadcast, in the more provincial parts of Britain, but who cared about that?

If someone was known (or suspected) to be on Glock's list, the effects were far reaching. The UK recording companies would not touch them, since the BBC would not play or review the records, and there was little scope for public performance. I recall, as a young man, being told that Vaughan-Williams was really an eccentric amateur and would have done much better if he had been a more fastidious orchestrator. Who told me this? - that's right - the good old BBC.

Glock didn't only put a stop to some British composers having an audience in Britain; also Aaron Copeland, Franz Schmidt, Szymanowski and a few others were not encouraged.

In later life, Glock was Director of the Bath Festival, and undoubtedly had some positive influences in the field of music, though his obsession with Pierre Boulez strikes me as a bit odd. However, I recently obtained (at last) a CD of the works of John Jeffreys, which was recorded in the last year of Jeffreys' life, 2014. The sleeve notes on the CD explain that Jeffreys and a few of his contemporaries were unfairly ignored during their productive years, and though Glock and his legacy are not mentioned it is obvious why. At one point, Jeffreys, who had a tendency for depressive illness, was frustrated to the point of destroying the manuscripts for most of his (extensive) portfolio of work.

Well, that does it for me. I hope Glock got a severe talking-to when he arrived at the Pearly Gates. The whole thing smells of the Russian Government banning American music. You will not listen to this, because I say so.

It's rather a long piece, but if you don't know the Éclogue, here it is. I promise you will feel better if you have a listen.

Friday 23 December 2022

Bullets Struggle Uphill?

 Yesterday I enjoyed an English Civil War miniatures game, using my own rules, which are unashamedly based on the Commands & Colors: Napoleonics set.

The game was a lot of fun, and I may write up a battle report when time permits, but during the game a situation arose for which I have no real answer...

At one point we were working out how many Battle Dice to use for an infantry unit firing on another (that's Ranged Combat of course). My guest pointed out that, since in this instance the fire was uphill, then according to my QRS there should be a deduction of 1 die. Oh no, say I, that's a mistake; the [-1] only applies for melee combat uphill. So we check the main rules book, and - goodness me - it says that Foot fighting uphill have a deduction of 1 dice for ranged or melee. To tell the truth, I've never played it like that - I've only ever made the deduction for melees.

Anyway, we made a note that this seems odd, and the rules should probably be changed to require a deduction only for uphill melees, and I scribbled it in my Pending Changes jotter. The game proceeded on its merry way.

Since my ECW game is derived from the C&CN ruleset I had a read of those rules last night, and was surprised to find that they too insist on 1 dice deduction for firing or melee uphill - I had faithfully lifted this into the ECW version. If I'm going to be honest, I have to admit that I can't remember using the deduction for uphill fire in the Napoleonics game either. Hmmm.

Of course, I can change my own rules however I like, and intend to fix this in the next update: -1 dice uphill will only apply to Melee Combat for Foot. Before I consider amending the published C&CN rules as well, I thought I'd see if anyone can provide a really good reason why musket fire would be less effective uphill?

I'm sure there may be a lot of (cod) science involved, and in my search for illustrations I came across lots of photos of American chaps in baseball caps shooting peaceful-looking deer in all sorts of scenery, so I swerved all that.

Anyone have any ideas why musket balls really might be less effective going uphill? I'd be interested to hear any reasons - the more preposterous the better, of course. I can imagine that having the ball roll out of the end of the barrel might be a problem if shooting downhill, but uphill seems OK. If anyone feels moved to use this as an opportunity to have a rant about the stupidity of all aspects of games involving hexes then please don't bother; I've heard it all before, it's boring, and I forgive you anyway. [We know where you live.]

Thursday 8 December 2022

Hooptedoodle #434 - Bookmark and Ramifications

And we note our place with book markers, that measure what we've lost

 I was looking through some old books the other morning - trying to find some military reference or other, and a suitably old bookmark fluttered to the floor.

I must have been given this to accompany a book purchase, one among so many. The old-style telephone number (031 for Edinburgh) indicates that this purchase must have been before 1995 [I knew you'd spot that, Watson], though I am surprised that the insertion of a "1" as second digit of UK phone numbers was as recent as that. No matter.

I am a little embarrassed to relate that I had a single employer from the time I left university until I took early retirement, and for much of that period I was based in or around George Street, and for a large proportion of my lunch breaks I would have been in The Edinburgh Bookshop for some of the time. It wasn't an especially brilliant bookshop - it was always overshadowed locally by James Thin's and Baumeister's and the many specialist booksellers in the Old Town, but - well, it was in George Street, wasn't it? On wet days, cold days and just plain boring days I would traipse along to No.57 after my lunch.

It wasn't a very welcoming store. In charge of the shop-floor were two older ladies who always wore black - very serious older ladies. They were devoted followers of the old Edinburgh principle that anyone who worked in a shop was a cut above anyone who might have the temerity to shop there, and they were very hard on anyone who did not conform to their high standards.

Right at the start of my interest in wargaming, I went into the EB (which, confusingly, was usually known locally as "Brown's", though I never met anyone who remembered it actually being Brown's - I suspect it was one of those social tricks to make outsiders feel uncomfortable) to order the Osprey book about the Iron Brigade. They had a stand of Ospreys, so, since I couldn't find the Iron Brigade, I was encouraged to ask.

Mistake. One of the two Angels of Death rolled her eyes at me, and refused to order it.

"Our stock of these is bewildering, we have lots of them, I think the quality is very poor, and I am not going to order a single copy. I'm sure that if you look in again you may find the item you are looking for, though why anyone should be interested in such matters escapes me."


That kind of sets the tone. I was just a spotty actuarial trainee at the time, and was used to being abused as part of my normal day, so I was not scarred by the experience, and I bought the book on a trip to Newcastle, later the same year. Visiting "Brown's" became a ritual punishment for my colleagues and me - there were many tales of retribution.

My friend Jake Mansfield was asked to leave on one occasion, because he was carrying a Woolworths carrier bag; it was explained to him that a lot of important people patronised the shop, and it was necessary to preserve the tone of the place. Paul Levack was asked to leave because he was carrying a box of cream cakes, obtained from the patisserie next door - maybe this was more understandable. Andy Scott was asked to stop chewing gum.

We were always on our best behaviour - you can understand why.

There were some prominent visitors, in fact - one regular was Professor Peter Higgs (of boson fame), whom I knew slightly because he had been my Mathematical Physics lecturer for one year at university, and there were all manner of lawyers and medical consultants and financial superheroes - none of whom I knew at all, naturally.

I remember one particular incident with affection - it encapsulates so many human frailties in one short lesson, I feel...

I was in "Brown's" at lunchtime, as usual, and decided to ask if they could obtain a particular book for me. The shop was fairly quiet, and I realised with a sinking heart that I would have to speak to one of the Black Sisters. She was already "helping" someone else - generally nondescript middle-aged man, rather below average height, I recall. I stood behind him, to wait my turn. He was not doing well; the lady in charge was becoming very exasperated - shaking her head and being even more rude than usual. He had obviously brought into the shop some kind of a receipt for something he had ordered previously.

"Oh, this is ridiculous - what is all this here? [pointing]"

"I'm sorry, your colleague completed the order - I believe that is the title of the book, is it not?"

"[Theatrical sigh] I can see that it is a title - no - this, here - 'Melville' - is that supposed to be the author?"

"No - no, that is my name..."

"MELVILLE?? - what sort of a name is that? - Melville What? - or is it Mr Melville?"

"No - I'm sorry - it's my name - I am the Viscount Melville."

The lady leapt to attention - like a ramrod; she didn't salute, but I would not have been surprised if she clicked her heels together. Obviously she had been blind-sided by one of these important customers she used to speak of, and what followed was a demonstration of fawning obsequiousness which was so embarrassing that I actually crept away and left them to it. This must be what happens when someone takes a hefty kick in the value-set. I have never forgotten it. The lady in question must have been dead for many years now, but I still remember the occasion with a gentle warmth. Ahhh...   

Edinburgh Bookshop disappeared around 2006. For a time it may have been Ottakers, I believe it was actually a branch of the great rival, James Thin's, for a little while, which must have hurt them deeply. It must have been knocked for six by the arrival of Waterstones, and it was certainly finished off by the rescheduling of George Street to become a very posh shopping area. Nowadays if you cannot eat it or sip it or wear it you will not find it in George Street. Such is progress. Last time I looked, No.57 was a shop selling up-market outdoor sports clothing, but  that may have changed now. The only remaining clue was the iconic clock over the front door.

I was astonished that I cannot find any old photos of The Edinburgh Bookshop online - not even Brown's. I had intended to include a suitably gloomy b&w shot. Just nothing. I spent so many hours there, over the years, on my very best behaviour, and it has vanished without trace. That's not easy to get your head around. There is a new Edinburgh Bookshop now, in Bruntsfield Place, away from the city centre, but they are a completely separate operation; just to be sure, I phoned them up - I spoke to a charming, friendly, helpful lady who was unaware that the old shop had ever existed, and who obviously wouldn't have lasted ten minutes with them, back in the day.

Perhaps I imagined it?


Thursday 1 December 2022

WSS: The First of the Hessians

 Very pleased to report that the first two battalions of the army of Hessen-Kassel are now ready for duty. Very nice paint job, as ever, by Lee. The castings, as ever, are 20mm Les Higgins, with a sprinkling of Irregular.

Here you see the Regiments Erbprinz (front, red facings) and Stückradt (rear, orange facings).

Tuesday 29 November 2022

The Real Northampton

 Here's a rather fine portrait of James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, who commanded the cavalry on the left flank of Charles I's army at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in 1644. I was privileged to take part in a remote game last night, replaying Cropredy, and one of my roles was that of Compton.

 In the actual event, Northampton played a distinguished part at Cropredy, leading a successful charge against Waller's cavalry, so this is stimulating stuff; those of you who know me will recognise that I was an obvious fit for the brave, romantic, 21-year-old hero, who succeeded to his title when his father, the 2nd Earl, was killed at Hopton Heath the year before. It is probably worth mentioning here that the story is that the 2nd Earl was captured and offered quarter, but refused it in such a contemptuous manner that he was promptly knocked on the head. Hmmm. [Discuss]

Last night's game was both captivating and entertaining, and I must send my compliments to my fellow participants, most especially to Jon Freitag, our host and umpire, for his generosity and his patient game management. For myself, I maintained my remarkable record of being involved in turning history upside-down; it was an excellent game - the only faint shadow was that we Royalists took an absolute hammering, and my performance with the left-wing cavalry was especially fleeting.

No matter. I always play wargames with the primary objective of having a ringside seat for a bit of history, to see what happens, so the odd hammering is not a problem, but I am keen to dig out a few books to try to understand how The Real Northampton made a better job than I did of the left flank!

Monday 21 November 2022

WSS: The British Army

 Now I have some staff ready, it is time for a proper group photo for the British. In theory, there could be another dragoon regiment to come - I have the figures, it's just a question of getting them in the painting queue. Priorities - you know how it is.

I've now put a link to my Prinz Eugen rules - somewhere over on the right.

Wednesday 16 November 2022

A Bit of a Change of Scene, All of a Sudan

 Arranged at rather short notice, I was delighted to welcome a visit from Count Goya today. He hasn't been here for a while, what with pandemics and suchlike, but I met him off the Edinburgh train, and then he very kindly treated me to lunch (naturally, I chose the most expensive venue in the High Street), followed by a very quick introduction to The Men Who Would Be Kings at my house. He brought all the kit with him - cloth cover for the battlefield, scenery, soldiers, dice, counters - everything! All packed in a big toolbox - at North Berwick railway station I had to protect him from people pestering him to see if he could come and fix their central heating. 

We didn't have a lot of time to try out the game, so the intention really was just to get a general idea of how it works and feels. Goya has played just a few games before; my total experience consists of reading a pdf of the rules last night, and watching an introductory YouTube clip. As I said to Goya, I am the man who has read the course material, but cannot remember what it said, which rather neatly summarises my whole academic career.

The game is neat, looks good, and was particularly interesting for me since it is a period about which I know very little. We didn't get very far through our game, which was a small action from the Mahdist Wars, before it was time to call a halt, but it was a fascinating glimpse, and I'd like to have another go before too long. Predictably, unfamiliarity dominated the time it took to do anything; an awful lot of table-checking and re-reading rules. We were getting slicker as we went along, as we were meeting less concepts for the first time. It would help, I think, if the rules gave more worked examples, to turn on a few more lights during a read-through, but I guess the Osprey format limits the space available.

We also would have benefited from rather more pre-work of our own on identifying and listing (and evaluating) the attributes of the units and their leaders. With more preparation, and a more realistic time to spread out, this looks a very decent game indeed.

And the soldiers were pretty, as well, of course.

Thanks again to Goya - a most enjoyable day.

I was the British, which gave me less troops to manage, as a rookie. Early on, my cavalry unit spotted some chaps on camels heading my way. Confident that we could sort this lot out in short order, we closed with them, and they attacked
My cavalry were driven back, and then wiped out on the follow-up. Not a promising start...
Now the main Mahdist force came onto the field
With only my 3 regiments of regular infantry left, there was nothing to do but set ourselves up in positions where our superior rifle fire could be used to best effect. We eliminated the camels, and as the Mahdist troops advanced, we began a long-range rifle-fire exchange in which we seemed to have the edge, which was the stage we had reached when we had to call time. Good game - something completely new for me!

Sunday 13 November 2022

WSS: A Gratuitous Group of Glossy Generals

 I've been picking away at some more generals, and am pleased with the results. Pretty run-of-the-mill 20mm chaps really, but the progress is welcome after a bit of a wait.

This is (or could be) Earl Cadogan, accompanied by his faithful companion, Jupiter, who is black entirely because I cribbed it from Aly's blog
Normally I'm not really in favour of British Generals wearing cuirasses over their uniform coats, but this fellow is obviously some form of flaky cavalry commander or similar, so I'll take him on; he even has a moustache, for goodness sake
The main French Command Stand; the grey coat on the Grand Fromage is taken from a photo of a painted sample on the Front Rank website. My research does sometimes use secondary sources, I admit it
Two gentlemen from Hesse-Kassel. The chap on the left has a very old-fashioned hat, but he's a Les Higgins sculpt that I like very much. The more characters in my army, the better. His colleague is an Irregular casting, and this is the first official sight of a new experiment, standing Irregular foot figures on little brass discs, to give a better match in height and general appearance with the Higgins lads

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

I meant to mention this, because it made me laugh, but I forgot, so here it is, as an afterthought.

It will be apparent that the photos above were taken with the help of my new light-box, which is still quite unfamiliar. I took lots of photos, kept the ones I liked best, cropped them, resized them and all that.

When I had everything ready for the post, I was nonplussed to see something very strange had happened to my selected picture of the Hessian officers - exactly what had happened was a mystery, but the picture was faulty. It was apparent that a small child with a pencil had scribbled on the photo - a strange, rambling scribble, but definitely a scribble. Since I had seen neither children nor pencils during my photo shoot I was once again thinking in terms of some weird conspiracy to gaslight me.

However, when I went back to the original version on my camera, the mark was still there. You couldn't see it until the photo was zoomed, but the scribble was there. It was also present in some other shots I had taken at the same time, and the penny dropped. My light-box is held together with velcro - yards of it - round all the edges; it folds flat for storage, and you assemble it like a play-tent. The velcro had obviously captured a long (man-made) fibre from the sleeve of my winter sweater, and it had attached itself to the figure stand. It was almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but, once I had cropped and enhanced the picture, there it was. 

Original version, with supernatural digital scribble... [Click on this for a clearer view]

Easily fixed - the light-box was still set up, I just turned the lights back on and took a couple more photos. Tip for the future: consider wearing a wet-suit during light-box sessions...


Thursday 10 November 2022


 As I believe I have related previously, my maternal grandfather lived in Paris when I was a boy. Once, when we visited him during school holidays when I was about 12 or so, he took me and my cousin along to the Musée de l'Armée, one wet Sunday morning when it was officially closed (the curator was a friend of his - he was that sort of a guy), and I was introduced to Napoleon and his soldiers.

Thereafter, he used to send me occasional Napoleon-themed gifts for my birthday and suchlike. There were a few toy soldiers, but he also sent me some books. Throughout my teens, I gradually acquired a series of little paperbacks, in French (my grandfather was keen on self-improvement!), by an author named, apparently, "Erckmann-Chatrian". I had "Le Conscrit", which is the adventures of a young soldier in the campaign of 1813, "Waterloo", which is a sequel set during the 100 Days, and I also had "Le Blocus" (siege of Phalsbourg) and "L'Invasion" (which is about the 1814 Campaign in France).

In fact, Erckmann and Chatrian were two separate men, lifelong friends from the north-east of France, who wrote a great many books together - ranging from horror stories to collections of regional folk-tales from their part of France. They did most of their writing during the 1860s and 1870s, so the Napoleonic books are novels, written long after the events depicted, but were heavily based on interviews the authors held with old soldiers; thus there is a great deal of reported eye-witness detail which I find very interesting. It's also worth noting, maybe, that E-C were frequently in trouble for their provincial views on Republicanism and kindred topics! 

By way of personal apology, I have to explain that my mother spent a lot of her childhood in Paris (until her parents fell out...), and to this day she is (in theory, at least) completely bilingual. As a result, I had very reasonable French when I was a kid, certainly by the local standards of Toxteth. With some coercion from my mum, I got through the first two E-C volumes when I was about 14-15, but not, as far as I remember, the others.

Years later I got back into Napoleon through the world of toy soldiers. With my fast-fading grasp of French I made rather heavy weather of my old E-C paperbacks, and they disappeared forever when I was divorced in the 1990s.

However, I do have a little hardback of "The Conscript" and "Waterloo", published in English as a single volume by Collins sometime around 1950, I would estimate. I've decided to revisit it, as part of my Winter reading programme this year - we'll see how this goes. I am notoriously impatient these days! 

 It is also possible to download most of the works of Erckmann-Chatrian for free from Project Gutenberg, so I'll think about that as well.

The central character of The Conscript and Waterloo is Joseph Bertha, an orphan who lives in Phalsbourg with a Monsieur Goulden, a watchmaker to whom he is apprenticed. Joseph has a rather soppy girlfriend, Catherine, who lives on a smallholding outside the town, with her Aunt. The details of Joseph's private life are pretty slow going at times, though they do contain some interesting details on the etiquette and social attitudes of the day. Though he is a rather weak youth, and is partially lame, Joseph still gets conscripted in 1813 (to the horror of all parties - especially Catherine's aunt) and sent off to fight in Germany. It does make a man of him, let it be said.

The Waterloo story is less vivid to me now, but I'll certainly give it a read. Some of the early parts of this story contain a lot of interesting information about public attitudes to the return of the Bourbons in 1814, not to mention the arrival of Bonaparte shortly afterwards. Society seems to have split into Old Soldiers vs Everyone Else.

As in most historical fiction, the central character is invariably suspiciously close to the key events in the great battles, but I have to say I found some things I hadn't seen before.

If you are familiar with these books, then I have little to tell you about them. If you are not, then Erckmann and Chatrian themselves are worth reading about, and their recorded eye-witness tales of Napoleon's campaigns, hand-polished or not, are certainly worth a look.

Monday 7 November 2022

Hooptedoodle #433 - Thinking Inside the Box

 This is our door knocker. A cast-iron woodpecker is probably not to everyone's taste, but we have always been very fond of the wild birds in our garden, and the big stars are indisputably the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. When we had our house extended, the door knocker just seemed to choose itself.

Last week, a courier rang the doorbell. After he had handed me my parcel, he said, "by the way, your knocker isn't working". This was a bit disconcerting; frequently someone will knock and tell us the doorbell isn't working, but this was a first.

I tried the knocker, while he was still there. It worked perfectly. He said, "no - you're supposed to bang its beak on the top bit - it's a woodpecker".

I said, "well, you could do that, but I've always just lifted its tail and banged it like a normal door knocker".

I tried it the other way, and it is hard to make a noise.

The courier was adamant. He said, "they wouldn't have made it like a woodpecker if you weren't supposed to knock with the beak".

I said, "but it could have been a horseshoe, or anything - it's just a door knocker".

And the courier grinned and went on his way, shaking his head at my stupidity. Quite rightly so.

Interesting. So if someone has made my door knocker to look like a woodpecker, I have to use it in imitation of a real woodpecker, though it doesn't work that way round? Maybe that's correct. I'm going to have to think a bit more about this.

Here's an old picture of one of our real woodpeckers; this was taken a good few years ago, but I'm prepared to bet his descendants are still around here somewhere.


Thursday 3 November 2022

Be Careful What You Wish For

 A slightly unusual tale.

Here's a photo borrowed from the late Clive Smithers' blog. It is one of a set of pictures he took at my house in June 2010. He brought a stack of his own soldiers with him, and we fought a Peninsular Battle here, using a hex board and my own rules (this was pre-Commands & Colors).

In the right foreground you will see two units of [Hinton Hunt] Portuguese (blue uniforms, dark green bases). They are mounted on borrowed sabots, which adds to the confusion a little, but they were part of Clive's visiting army, and he thought it was a nice touch to bring these particular soldiers on a visit, since he had obtained them from me about 5 years earlier, in a swap deal.

In 2005 I had been in the process of replacing my Portuguese troops with more modern 20mm castings, so the Hinton Hunt boys became surplus to requirements, and Clive was keen to get hold of them. At the time, I had a brief twinge of megalomania, and quite fancied the idea of hanging onto them, so that I would have extra Portuguese [you can never have too many Portuguese]. Anyway, I thought better of it, and happily passed them on. The swap took place in the cafe of the Brocksbushes farm shop, near Corbridge, I recall, accompanied by pie and chips. Clive subsequently rebased the Portuguese and added in a few other castings he had already.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again briefly when he brought them on his visit five years later, and then I subsequently forgot all about them. 

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw them on eBay. My old hand-drawn flags are just as awful as they were all those years ago, and instantly recognisable. The seller had obviously bought them from the recent auctions of Clive's collections. After some pondering, I made an offer for them, and was surprised to be successful. They have now reached me safely, I have removed them from Clive's replacement bases, and am now thinking what I might do with them. I could put them back into the front line, in which case my new house standards will require some extra command figures and a change of facing colours, or else I could use them as siege troops, in which case they are fine as they are. 

In the meantime, I have to say that they are exactly as they were in 2005, and I shall put them safely in a storage box while I decide what to do. In another context, could this be construed as "getting my own back"? I am pleased to have them, though the circumstances are very sad.

Thursday 27 October 2022

WSS: Battle of Wartenried - Twilight of the Sun King Playtest

 Yesterday (evening for me, late morning for him) Jon Freitag was kind enough to join me by Zoom, to give the Twilight of the Sun King [ToSK] rules a hefty workout. One of the strengths of the rule set is its ability to handle large combats, so I set up an action involving all my Brits (that was Jon), defending a ridge position against all my French (that was me).

Schomberg's Horse - award-winning performance

I had tweaked the rules a little to give a battalion-level game, and had taken some trouble to simplify the amount of reading required by removing all reference to pikes, squares, light horse, Turks, GåPå and so on which are not relevant to my bit of the Wars.

I'll give a brief summary of our findings on the rules later. Here are some photos of the action. The French produced an elephantine attack in deep series of lines, with cavalry covering the flanks, and were well beaten. The attack on the right was far more badly disordered by the shallow river than I had expected, and never reached the ridge itself, suffering badly from the British guns. Much of the action in the centre was dominated by cavalry - the outstanding "special mention" has to be Schomberg's Horse, who eliminated 3 French cavalry units, one battery and two battalions in a remarkable tour of the field. They will appear here and there in what follows (well done, chaps... swine!).

Some of the main areas of combat were sadly bogged down by the slow rate of resolution of melee action - a lot of instances of units passing morale tests in unlikely situations, and the procedure of one lot of testing for each side every turn is mostly pretty turgid. Eventually a French surrender was necessary - we made very heavy going of the assault, and were slowed by the minutiae of manoeuvre, which I'm sure had a lot to do with my own incompetence. I did learn that getting your cavalry caught in column is not a good idea!


Ah - French cavalry in column, with no room for manoeuvre, are shown the error of their ways

...just hold your fire for a minute, will you, lads?...

This was the big French cavalry advance in column - like snowballs in Hell

Some of the cavalry vs foot melees ground on for ages...

French right attack disrupted by crossing streams and enemy artillery fire

Gendarmérie de France fail to sweep unsupported infantry (Hamilton's Irish) off the hill

Schomberg's boys get another photo opportunity - lest we forget

The Régiment de Navarre receives vague news that somewhere in front their army has been thumped

I was really very excited by these rules, so was looking forward to giving them a good workout. Like the old Huzzah! Napoleonic rules, they shift the generals' focus away from nonsense like loading and firing, and they must concern themselves with how the units are getting on. The commander's job is to get his army to where he wants it, and the assumption is that fighting will take place by itself. All combat is abstracted to a core series of morale tests, failing which can produce results ranging from loss of strength (unit morale) to "rout", which is break up and elimination of a unit. The manoeuvring involves "Action Tests" for complicated moves such as wheels or changes of formation, which depend on a very simple dice roll.

Jon and I had an entertaining few hours, let it be said, but we were left with some unease about how the rules worked. Some of the individual combat results were just plain silly, and the re-roll system tends to accentuate this [maybe the original 2-average-dice set-up would produce less extremes than the new 2D6 system?]. The morale tests are heavy going, though you do speed up as you get used to them, but a lot of the time not much happens, the rules are often unclear, and melees tended to drag on beyond what seemed reasonable. Manoeuvre is probably the most irritating bit - the rules to handle manoeuvre are quite detailed and really rather fiddly - on a non-gridded field there are lots of special situations which don't seem to be covered.

I was intrigued by what we learned, and there are some good bits in there, but overall the game is not something that either of us would rush to repeat. Each to his own taste, of course, but I found it heavy going, and the morale tests produced some questionable results and generally took a lot of time and effort.

Sorry, but I have bought the rules (including the scenario books which give updates), and spent some time studying them and following the Q&A on the Facebook page. I don't wish to be unfair to anyone, the booklet is a pleasant read and gives a refreshing view on gaming, but I am also left with the impression that the latest version of the game, as played by regulars, has evolved to something rather different from the booklet you buy from the Pike & Shot Society. No doubt someone will take me severely to task here, but that is my take on it. The Brigade Level game with 10mm troops might be a different exercise altogether, but the rules as we played them, interesting though the ideas are, do not tick the boxes I am looking for!

My sincere thanks to Jon, for his enthusiasm and excellent company; whatever the delivery on the rules themselves, it was a fun session, and also very educational! Mission accomplished, and we have agreed that we should meet again in the virtual world of Zoom Wars, and soon!