Sunday 26 April 2015

Chotusitz 1742. An old favourite

There are some battles that I go back to time and time again. One such is Chotusitz 1742. It was a contest between the Austrians and the Prussians during the Austrian War of Succession. For once, the battle starts with the Austrians in a better tactical position and on the attack. Frederick has been caught with a divided force and is racing to bring reinforcements to Chotusitz before Leopold's troops, already deployed there, are crushed.

Anyway, because family commitments will not allow more sociable gaming for the next two weeks or so, this time I'm going to fight this battle solo. I've been itching to get my Austrians into action for ages and I can use some of my new hills. 

Here is my set up for the battle, and no doubt an 'after action battle report' will follow. I've scaled it down slightly (to about four fifths of the units present) so that it fits snugly onto a 12 x 6. I probably need to add some more Austrian Grenzers and cavalry to get it better proportioned, and these are on my painting list.

The initial deployments. The Brezlenka stream and the boggy ground surrounding it make a very good 'hard' eastern table edge - it is on table but wouldn't all quite fit into the shot.

Waldow's cavalry command is emerging from the village of Chotusitz. I plan on starting the game with the Prussians on a turned, as yet unused, cavalry move in the open card so that Waldow can get this cavalry through the village and into the attack.
Leopold's infantry, vastly outnumbered and exhausted from force marching to link with Frederick has scrambled into a position just west of Chotusitz.
Frederick's command in its eventual historical arrival position and formation. 

I'm currently thinking about the best scenario options for this command group's arrival.

The battery deployed on the slight rise in front of Frederick's command belongs to Leopold.
Buddenbrock's Prussian cavalry deployed south of Cirkwitz Pond.
Facing Buddenbrock, at the top of a low ridge, is the bulk of the Austrian cavalry under Bitthyanyi. They are supported by some Grenzer.

All the high ground around Chotusitz is nothing more than a series of very low, gently sloping ridge lines. They will have no effect on movement. 
The Austrian infantry with supporting cavalry to their right face Chotusitz over some very flat ground.

I visited this battlefield several years ago. I don't recommend it unless you have lots of time to spare and are just tagging it to a visit to Kolin (Kolin is not too far away; time is much better spent there IMHO). Chotusitz is quite boringly flat fields (with few good vantage points) and has a military base and airfield on the ground the Austrian infantry had to cross - which further restricts its accessibility and interest.

On Google Earth, Chotusitz is roughly 49 56 52.34 N, 15 23 37.24 E. You can get a good idea of the terrain by looking at the road side views - pretty flat, lots of isolated trees and stuff; field boundaries were probably simple shallow ditches.

The Austrians look rather impressive when lined up. 

Anyway, I'll probably start re-fighting this battle early next week; with a few moves each evening until it's finished.

When it's done I'll probably write up the scenario properly and run it again for Peter and Graham to have a crack at. By then I will have added a few more Grenzer units and a couple more units of Austrian cavalry.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Take to the hills

Since acquiring my most wonderful snooker baize I've been pondering, and making mistakes about, how to do hills.

The structure is easy, of course. If you have a cloth, what you need is hill shaped stuff to go underneath it. With a thick underlay I suppose you could use almost anything, and I did consider investing in a few thick blankets until I priced things up and found that this wasn't a cheap option. Plus, I don't do ad hoc at all well; I've seen some amazing ad hoc results, but I'm just too organised to do it. Don't get me wrong, I applaud those laid back souls for whom ad hoc works - bloody hippies!

I came by my cloth when doing my Lake Trasimene demo game. With an overlaying cloth, hills can be quite grandiose. 

It was my first real 'cloth experience' so I went straight in for lots of two inch thick high density foam boards all eight foot by two. What a waste of money. For those with the tools to cut foam board that is two inches thick, or want to spend hours sanding stuff down, and have a bench rotary saw to keep joining edges square, then this is probably the way to go. I do not fall into this category: I have normal tools and limited time. I have rethought my approach to best tile thickness. As a one off solution, as this picture of my Trasimene terrain shows, 2" thick is fine, but It isn't a practical solution for a general gamer's hill system.

Back to basics. 

Considering that the steepest slopes that war game figures can stand up on, without toppling over or sliding down, even on big bases, is about one in three, and given that the usable length of a coping saw blade is about four and a half inches, a the maximum depth of a board, or contour, would be about an inch thick. 

Given that hills might have to be large, straight edges, and lots of them, are essential. Straight edges mean that sections can be joined up easily. This sounds easy enough, but cutting things with a hand saw rarely gives perfectly straight ninety degree angles - most of us don't use a saw that often.

Biting the bullet, I have recently made a first purchase of new foam board. This time, each board is one inch thick, in pre-cut tiles, two foot by two foot (600 mm x 600 mm x 25 mm).

I bought this stuff on line from a company in Sheffield. It came, in a very sturdy box, next day. 

The sturdy box is important because you get tiles with edges undamaged by transport. I was impressed.

These tiles were not cheap, in fact I thought them expensive at (including delivery) £64.20 for twelve tiles. 

 Now, a hill system needs a design solution. This can be done on paper, and some time should be spent doing this to iron out simple mistakes that might be made later. 

This early drawing shows a couple of mistakes that could have been made. The bottom two drawings (on the right) show the same shapes laid out on a tile in two different ways - the one on the right is wrong - the one on the left uses better edges and gives a better, more usable, left over. 

Likewise, the bottom two drawings, on the left, show the same pattern but using one cut rather than two and a more 'shapely' edge without a 'central' waste. 

The drawing in the centre row shows a one piece hill, or a two piece hill, with the same dimensions - a two piece hill will serve more purpose as it can be the ends, added to other sections to form ridge; a one piece hill can be nothing else. It's all about the straight edges.

This all sounds pretty simple, and you might think that stupid mistakes can be avoided without much thought: However, without thought always provokes stupid mistakes, believe me.

I have gone for basic shapes in three sizes. 20cm, 30cm, and 40cm from the edges - all the above diagrams are for 20cm and 40cm. It will allow me to build big hills of varying dimensions.

Here is a tile marked out for cutting. This is the tile design in the above diagram.  The central waste is now a 'round' hill. The 'slopes', three inches deep, have been marked on and the amount of absolute waste blocked out. This is a best use of tile solution. Not all tiles can be as waste free as this.

Here I've marked out the slope lines. I've done this for explanation only. You don't need to do this on every tile - you just need the top and bottom points.
Tools for the job. 

As well as measures, pencils and the like, I needed a fret saw (long bow, short blade) and a coping saw (medium bow, longer blade). 

I used the fret saw to cut out the basic shapes - the bow is 290mm deep so even approaching from two directions on a 600mm tile will need a small 'snap' to accomplish a cut. I bought a few new fret saw blades because I'd broken loads doing 2" thick boards; doing 1" thick boards I didn't break any. 

The coping saw is used to cut the slopes. Small teeth need less sanding! I found that the coping saw blades at 32 teeth an inch were good.

Sand paper is required to smooth off the saw cuts. I bought 70 and 100grade; 70 grade was most useful - note to self, next time buy 3 sheets to 1. Gentle, firm, steady sanding 'up and down slope' is best. If you are too rough the tile breaks up on the surface and requires even more sanding to remove.

You will notice that I do not own a hot polystyrene cutter. The ones I've seen come in two types. The first, a thin wire between a bow tends not to have a long enough 'cut' or deep enough bow for most jobs and I'm not sure of their strength Vs high density foamboard. I stand to be corrected here and be pointed in the right direction, but I've not seen one with the right dimensions, strength and price. The second device, a long bladed soldering iron type probe (for want of a better description) cost too much for the amount of use I would get from it so I haven't even considered one, although they would probably be perfect for the job. 

Something to saw on is, of course, a minimum requirement. A friend gave me this B&D bench a couple of years ago. I got it out and built it for this job and, with the addition of a short wide plank on the top, it was perfect - thanks, Tim.

The blue tarp', I guess, is optional. But be prepared for a mess and lots of vacuum cleaning when the job is done. Telling your wife (whatever) that you will clean up before you start is a very good idea. The blue tile dust gets everywhere.


So, first, using the fret saw you cut out the basic shapes. The saw is not long enough to reach the centre of the tile so a bit of 'snapping' will be required.
 Next the slopes are cut with the coping saw. This blade has 16 teeth to the inch and the cuts were quite ragged. I swapped it for a 32 to the inch later. They required less post cut sanding.
After cutting, the whole lot needed to be sanded down. 

The wider board to sand on was a very great help. The hill was pressed to it whilst I moved rhythmically up and down the slope with the sand paper.

As up and down things go, this is much less enjoyable than some, and creates a lot more mess.

After sanding there was a 'feathery' edge at the bottom of the slope. I don't like feathery edges because they get caught on stuff and generally lack strength. I cut mine off with a scalpel.
 Here is the tile reassembled to show the lack of waste for this tile.
 This shot shows the gap between the extents of two fret saw cuts. A blade cut here, before snapping the pieces apart stopped a possible bad break. I added the bits of paper to show the gap more clearly.
Put these and a few more pieces together and.....
 This shot shows me cutting the slope with the coping saw. You can see the lack of play in the blade length - 3" is the maximum slope. When cutting you have to keep an eye on the top of the blade and the bottom of the blade to get the slope. 

When negotiating bends and corners you must think of the blade negotiating the radius of a circle - sometimes the bottom of the blade is at the centre, sometimes the top is at the centre - and the blade must rotate around centre.
 So, I've clattered out a few shapes.
 They can form up differently - interchangeable system.
And they fit in my cupboards. 

I still have two tiles to do. I kept them in case I find a horrible mistake in my workings out. I have enough room for at least another 24 full tiles (there is another cupboard this size on the other side of the table) so next time I'll be doing some 'turns' to allow for horse shoe shaped hills and the like. I will also make some tiles 'back fillers' that allow whole sections of the table to be at higher elevation, though I'm not sure I'll ever have enough space to store hills for a proper central depression!

Onwards and upwards. When it comes to hills I now think I'm on the right track.

Oh, by the way. Why so much time sanding? Well I intend to paint all of these hills with emulsion paint so they can be used for my WW2 desert stuff - unless I get a desert coloured cloth (which isn't off the agenda).

Friday 17 April 2015

Basing and ID labels

They say plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy. This has proved the case with my plans for the continuation of my plan for my SYW Austrians. Instead of painting IR42 Gaisruck, which has been started, I decided to take a bit of time out and do some basing.

I hate basing. I put it off, then I put it off some more until the task becomes a big one. At some point, it becomes essential to get it done before it becomes so daunting it may never get done. 

This week I've taken a few hours to do some mass sand and gritting, ink washing, dry brushing and flocking. In a few more hours the job will be done. I really do hate basing!
I have chosen to label all of my Seven Years War units when I base them. Each unit has two labels. 

Firstly, at the rear of each 'flag base' (or 'command base' where a flag isn't present) I have put a small disc with the unit number.  In the case of the Russians I used the first three letters of the units name. I have kept the label small on a natural background colour to keep things unobtrusive, neat and tidy.
This unit is Infantry Regiment 22.

The disc was made out of thin light brown card with a hole punch. 

The panel pin, BTW, is for holding two coloured pony beads one above the other. One (the bottom one) denotes unit quality. The other (the top one) is a 'first fire' marker. The latter is removed after first fire.
More information can be found under each numbered base on a second label. 

These give a list of inhabers (regiment 'owners') and battle honours. These labels were printed onto self-adhesive paper.

The labels rarely serve any purpose, but they finish things off nicely.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Esterhazy Hussars

Lately, it feels like I've been painting nothing but infantry and other foot sloggers. Fortunately, I have several units of cavalry in the lead pile to help break things up. It has been weeks since I painted a horse, so I decided to do a unit of Austrian hussars. This unit represents HR 24 Paul Anton Esterhazy - and it is a very colourful unit.

 Figures are by Front Rank. They have been painted in enamels.

I used three painting guides to do them: Kronoskaf, of course; Greenwood and Ball; Osprey. 

The Osprey shows a figure without lace on the thigh of the breeches, so to save some time I've gone with that. 

Kronoskaf's written info on the shabraque and the sabretache is muddled. They are the wrong way around. The shabraque is blue and the sabretache is red as shown in the diagram.

Kronoskaf describes their Regimentsstandarte as a swallow tailed light blue  flag with a golden central device. It does not indicate what this device is. I have so many white cavalry flags (liebstandarte) that I decided to go for it and guess that the central device might be the Esterhazy heraldic symbol - a gold griffin (?) rampant standing on a crown holding a posy of three red flowers in one claw and a sword in the other. It is probably wrong, but at least it is different and quite pretty!

Lastly, for those new to this blog, I will explain why my cavalry are only eight figures strong rather than twelve figures strong.

I game counting one twenty four man unit of infantry as a two battalion regiment. This means that a cavalry regiment of five squadrons should have twelve figures. However, at this unit scale a regiment of cavalry and a regiment of infantry should cover about the same frontage and I can't fit twelve cavalry on a frontage of 180mm, so I've gone with units of eight. My rules don't count heads, and I don't do casualty removal, so it works for me to have artificially small cavalry units on the same frontage as infantry units. What a palaver!

Next up will be Austrian Infantry Regiment 42 Gaisruck in violet facings. It will be followed by a unit of combined Hungarian Grenadiers and a two gun battery of Austrian artillery. After that I will do a mass basing - I'll have a game-able army 34 units of Austrians to do.

Thursday 9 April 2015

At last, some progress

This post is a general update on what I've been up to. 

For the last few months I've been absolutely snowed under with commissions under deadline. Thankfully, these are now completed, I'm back to regular hours of steady slog and I find myself with the time do do things that have been on my 'hobby to do list' for some time.

First up, whilst my wife was in hospital and I was looking after Alex, I managed, bit by bit, to hex out the main table surface. The drop leaf extension still needs doing, but 12 x 6 will suffice for some time to come. It was the most boring chore I've done in ages - there are 1,450 on that table! 

I have ordered a copy of GMT's War Galley from UGG in Germany (for the reasonable price of £66 including postage) with an eye to playing it on the table with miniatures. 

Now I have time to spit, I have started painting my SYW Austrians again. 

More figures by Front Rank. This time in the classic SYW marching pose. 

These are IR 23 Baden Baden and IR 29 Loudon.
I like this figure pose a lot, probably because it is so SYW, but I still prefer painting the Austrian figure marching with his musket over his shoulder because that figure takes a third less time to paint. Still, variety is the spice of life so I'll continue to ring the pose changes.
Neither of these blue faced regiments had pompoms, they had rosettes instead. So, I cut off all of the pompoms and replaced them with round disc slivers of white metal 'spear shaft'. After doing this, and after painting the figures up, I have decided it was a pointless exercise and I'll not do it again. 

I gave these units yellow Regimentsfahne standards, mainly because the yellow brightens things up. I'll do the next infantry units with white Liebfahne. The first of these will be IR43 Gaisbruck (undercoated today) with violet facings. However, first I'm going to do a unit of Austrian hussars: H 24, Esterhazy, in light blue Pelisse and Dolman with yellow braid, red britches and yellow boots.
Lastly, like all gamers, I suffer from storage difficulties. Today I moved my board games (most of them) across the room to the top of the wall cabinets. My original plan was to invert the cabinets first because they have a 'shelf' that protrudes a few inches at the bottom - actually its a 'foot' because the cabinets were designed to sit on the floor - but, sadly, the construction of the cabinet at the top is not strong enough to allow this. At some point I'll buy a shelf I can screw along the top. Until then the games can stick out a bit further than I'd ideally like.

The space this has made has finally allowed me to store my TSS tiles safely out of the way when not in use. This too is a temporary measure. I will, at some point, put up a 6' long, 2' deep shelf up above the door (you can just see the edge of the door in this shot). This will not look very attractive, but it is another storage solution and good use of idle space.

Thankfully, I still have one of the Bjursta cabinets to fill. It's being saved for my Peninsular War collection, and something to be decided (it's the one full of shoe box lids, the one I use for WIP).