Tuesday 23 June 2015

First Napoleonic stuff painted - French voltigeurs

French voltigeurs - the first batch of Napoleonic troops. Figures are by Front Rank. They were painted, by me, in enamels.

Given that I was invited up to Scotland by the League of Gentlemen Wargamers I thought it might be a good idea to take a small contingent of troops to join the fray. Rather than paint up a unit or two I decided to paint up some French voltigeurs.  I did this because the LoGW use units of 36 figures, (where I will use units of 24 figures), and skirmish stands would 'blend' in better with what was there. I painted up 24 in campaign dress. These will be the skirmish stands for the six units of line infantry I have in campaign dress (another six units are in full dress and will have voltigeurs dressed likewise). 

It seems I've also decided on a basing system for infantry. Line will be based four figures per stand on 40mm x 40mm (six stands per unit), skirmishers will be on the same size bases but with just two figures per stand. Under Lassale rules, French line infantry have a skirmish factor of two, so two stands per unit. Now, I know what you are thinking. In Lassalle most units have four stands, not six, and stand width is important. I've decided to base for use with a lot of different rules and, for Lassalle, I'll make a 'frontage stick' marked with four graduations and I'll fudge 'large' units.

I was quite pleased with how they came out, though I'd forgotten just how much work is involved painting Napoleonic French. But, given one batch is now under my belt, the next lot should be much easier.

I like these figures very much. I painted them in lightish blue coats because they were prone to fade quickly in the Spanish sunshine. Finding  information on unit distinctions (pompom colour, shako bands, etc.) was a bit of a pain. It seems this was down to the whim of individual colonels: In the end I chose to use the unit distinctions for 1815 and poetic licence. The green sword scabbard wrappings are, apparently, shako cords.
So what next. Well, I'm going to try and get my SYW stuff finished. First up, the Prussians. Four units of infantry and two units of Cuirassier. I wonder if I can get them done by the first week in July?

Monday 22 June 2015

Gaming with the League of Gentleman Wargamers - Charles Grant scenarios

For a second time, I was invited to join the League of Gentleman Wargamers in Kirriemuir for a weekend of war gaming entertainment. Invited twice, what on earth were they...........?

Last time the game was organised by Steve R. It was a game organised to such a level that hats were doffed by all present - he had done Kingmaker (one of the best boardgames ever devised) made big and war game stylie. I couldn't imagine anyone equalling it.

The venue is a dream. A huge room and very reasonably rented at £10 per head (including coffee and biscuits) for the entire weekend.
The League on the second day. Though backs are facing, left front to back, Angus, Peter, Steve, Colin (off left) and Bill in the distance. Right, a blurry Charlie, Dale, Steve and Charles. The other Peter couldn't come on the Sunday due to unforeseen  family circumstances.

Same game at about the same time but with an unblurred Charlie (in salmon pink) and in the black top, the man with the rules plan, Kev. Angus, don't do it! Dale, look the other way.

This time it was Charles Grant's turn to design and run the scenarios for the weekend. The scenarios were set, befitting this commemorative year, to mark the fall of Napoleon. Charles ignored the obvious and decided not to do Waterloo, Ligny, Quatre Bras, etc. Better some what ifs further afield involving the others advancing to crush Napoleon's return; a weekend of proper gaming rather than a 'grand demo' of what might have been.

I travelled by train from Yorkshire to Perth to link up with Steve, who kindly gave me a lift for the last leg up to Kirriemuir. We checked into our digs for the weekend, had a meal, a pint or two, then went to the venue to set up for Saturday. After the kiddies disco kicked out (an unforeseen eventuality - half a dozen middle aged me standing outside a kiddies disco doesn't feel right), we succeeded in getting the four tables for the Saturday games set out in under an hour - not bad, and plenty of time left in the evening to chew the fat in a local hostelry.
Vendee country
The Alps

The Pyrenees
Somewhere Vs the Prusso-Russians (?)

Three of the games (four in total) were concerned with the French holding back the advance of the 'coalition' in various theatres. There was a scenario holding back Prussians and Russians; another holding back the Austrians in the Alps (thankfully I didn't have to do this one as the terrain was terribly complicated - it was the Alps!); and one holding the Pyrenees against advances from the Peninsular. The fourth game involved getting a wagon train through a rebellious 'Vendee'. There were eleven players; once twelve, when Charles decided to weigh in. 

My First game. My French try to hold the Pyrenees

Remarkably, I manage a draw.

Vendee country. My troops escort a wagon train (just in shot, bottom right) to the French barracks. Easy peasy. A win. My cavalry take out all three units of Vendee before the wagons are pushed across the bridge. For a moment it looked less certain. The unit in the foreground catastrophically failed its first volley check and was destroyed.

My last game is more difficult but a joy for me to fight. The cavalry melee goes one way then the other until finally, after several turns, I lose: Very exciting.

The rules were designed by Kev. These rules have, apparently, been used for several H&M periods gamed by the LoGW. They are, in essence, very simple. They are very easy to play, have a period feel and an all important element of risk - 'CATASTROPHIC' is a very cleverly defined result! I liked these rules a lot. The mechanisms were very elegant indeed: Well done, Kev. 

On Saturday morning the games commenced. Each scenario was set to last about two and a half hours. Each player would play three of the four scenarios on offer during the day, though from the start you were either French or Allies - I was French. To be honest, I thought the itinerary highly ambitious. It is a mark of Charles' experience that this was achieved without demur of lack of time from any of the players. The scenarios must have been well balanced because at one point or another I think each scenario was won by attacker and defender.

Charles umpired the weekend except for the last 'Vendee' game. I think he must have a thing for unshaven men with scythes. Regardless of his penchant - or not - for the downtrodden and smelly early 19th century 'Daily Mail' reading proletariat, he somehow won the 'Vendee' game. I don't think anyone else did.

At the end of the day I had won one, drawn one and lost one. A mid-table result. I enjoyed each scenario, and actually enjoyed the game I lost the most - it was, from early disasters, a lost cause that just got better. Losing can be the best fun: Is it O.K. to say that out loud?
Just before dinner on Saturday. The French have deployed first. The game is set.

At about 5pm Saturday's games ended. Within an hour, or so, all the games had been dismantled and reset for the big Sunday game. This was to be fought on a 24 foot long by 6-8 foot wide table. It would be the French holding back Prussians, Russians and Austrians (I think). I held the French right against a combined attack from Austrians and Prussians. I was outnumbered 5:2 and I lost but, at the last turn, I still had one unit left, Huzzah! Victory conditions must have been a bit confused because although I thought we had lost, my compatriot Steve (also on the right) thought we had lost, and the entire Allied army thought we had lost, our C-in-C and Angus didn't. At that point I realised why Steve and I had not been reinforced with troops sufficient to hold our position. I hold Dale (our C-in-C) entirely responsible for our defeat and if the 'Empire' is ever restored I will personally hold the basket. Dale, if you read this it's nothing personal, it's merely a 'Matter of State' (LOL).
This is my position just after lunch. That thin and scattered blue line in the immediate foreground is me. That bloody great chunk of white is them. Steve, his belly in blue, and just in shot , does his best to support me, but without reinforcements from the centre I'm doomed. C'est la vie, je t'aime mon Empereur.

So apart from having a lot of fun, as an old dog, what did I learn from the older dog? Well, that is difficult to put into words, and more so as certain assumptions were merely further enforced. More than anything, I think that Charles has designing scenarios down to fine art, even when using rules that are quite new to him. This can only come with experience so I'm not going to even try to explain what he does. But, what he does do, is to keep everything very simple. For want of a better example, when he devises his forces for a particular scenario and wishes to exaggerate a difference in arms (artillery, cavalry, infantry) he will exclude an arm from a force. This might not seem 'historically / army list' right but makes sense in broader terms. When devising scenarios in future, I will now keep this in mind. It is a very 'old school' thing to do; it is something that I, an old lag myself, had somehow forgotten. In game terms it worked magnificently. The victory conditions were also so clearly defined that everyone knew what to do to win. There were no points totting here. You achieved a mission or you didn't. A draw was given, gentlemanly fashion, if one side might have achieved victory if the game was longer or it was too close to call. I gave a draw in my first game because although I had technically won 'at time' I felt that I couldn't, in conscience, claim a proper victory.

Every game was conducted in the best spirit; any gamesmanship was decidedly jocular; fun was had, winner or loser, by everyone; loser's described their fleeting moments of victory with decided glee.

So, how was the weekend for me? The League of Gentlemen Wargamers are a crew that any wargamer would like to associate with (and the general public would probably be best to avoid, LOL). I'm very proud to associate myself with this bunch of backstabbing,  murderous, hard drinking, dice totting, scoundrels. In short, pirates to a man, you just can't beat them for company; but, best check your wallet before you leave. 

I'm hoping that I can make it up to the November bash with a Prohibition Chicago setting: I wonder if  Rocky 'Le Roc' Roche will be there. Named after the 17th century pirate and terror of the eastern seaboard [bizarrely true, and I've half convinced my nine year old son we are related, obviously to each other, and Le Roc].  He would be a sea captain running liqueur, in considerable bulk, out through the St Lawrence to 'States south'. With his trusted crew of well armed waterfront cutthroats and very, very pretty dockside ladies of disarmingly ill repute (yet unpainted and unsourced) he would be a force to reckon with. Pugilists (LoGW members know this is important) beware, this guy's boxer fights under his master's name - cue music.

If I can't make it, due to an appointment in Barcelona, I'm looking forward to the next one after, if I'm invited. I'm down to do an Italian Wars weekend sometime in 2017 - though that is a long way off, it seems I might be a 'Gentleman'. Having said that, given the company........................(LOL).

Friday 12 June 2015

To the Strongest - A proper game.

This is the AAR of this week's Punic Wars battle fought using To the Strongest Rules by Simon Miller. This was the second time we have played using these rules and they ran the game like clockwork. They are definitely well thought out and well balanced. Most of all, they are elegantly simple.

I'm not going to do a blow by blow, card by card, AAR of this battle. Explaining how TtS is played has already been done elsewhere by more experienced players. This is a simple battle narrative with some general impressions of the rules. 

 The table was set with plenty of flank space, though this wasn't used. The battlefield represented an open plain with areas of rough, rocky ground. This counted as difficult terrain for movement but didn't count for cover to missilery. First games are generally best with little terrain.
 The Carthaginians formed up in a battle line with cavalry on the wings and infantry in the centre with few reserves.
 The Romans formed up their infantry in triplex acies with cavalry on the wings.
 The Carthaginians advanced their cavalry wings and their skirmish line. 

To the Strongest throws the odd spanner into the works and the central infantry command's turn ends before all of the skirmishers can be brought forward. 

This lack of 'total control' is a feature of TtS. Being Piquet players, we like this kind of thing.
 On the Roman left the Allied cavalry comes forward to melee with the advancing Carthaginian cavalry. This cavalry battle will go back and forth for the entire battle with cavalry charging, fighting, withdrawing to rally before charging in again. 

Note the 'barrel' counter next to the Roman commander - he has been lightly wounded in the first encounter.
 Meanwhile in the centre the Roman legions steadily, if cautiously, advance. Doing so allows them to maintain formation.

Steady progress, rather than possible extravagant advances, seem to be best in delivering massed units together.
 On the other wing it is the Carthaginians who press the action. The Carthaginian commander is wounded (barrel counter).
 The cavalry action on the Roman left  is fierce but inconclusive. The Roman commander is killed.
 On the Roman right, the Carthaginians get the better of it and begin to seriously threaten the flank of the Roman centre, but they lose their commander in the process.

The pennies, BTW, are ammunition - 'shots' - markers.
 The action on the Roman left has been going on like mad for ages. Not a single unit has been lost.
In the centre the infantry come to grips. Although the Carthaginian commander is wounded then killed, the Roman attack is wrecked by some very spirited fighting by the Carthaginian infantry. The Romans have brought their wooden training swords for the fight - they can't hit and can't save either and, being in small units (maniples are lost on a single fail to save) get slaughtered.

But, it is on the Roman right that the death blow falls. In the far distance of this shot you can see the Carthaginian cavalry has turned the Roman flank. The Romans lose their final victory medal. The Carthaginians still have three. 

Note the 'tuft' counter. We use these to mark disorder. 

Note the 'broken wheel' counter. This marks the presence of an unused minor 'hero'. Heroes allow a failed to hit card to be re-drawn; when the hero is used the counter is removed; presumably the hero goes down doing something heroic. In this case the 'hero' is a hairy Gaul (hairier than any man has a right to be?). Simon M. has a lot of very nice figures representing these, but a counter serves just as well in game play.
(Staged shot - Graham, the standard bearer's arm, pinned and glued, went back just fine; better, stronger than before).

This game, the second time around for the rules,  flowed much better and we made few if any rule mistakes. Also, tactical play was more evident and decisions were far more considered. As a consequence the game was very good fun. 

One noticeable occurrence was the save failure rate by certain unit types during the game. This was, I feel, 'flukey' and added a great deal of jeopardy to the game. 

The loss of leaders: Three leaders, all 'heroic', were lost during the game each having been slightly wounded before succumbing to second hits, they were saving on three plus (non heroic leaders save on two plus). 

Failure to save by the Roman infantry maniples did for the Romans: Not one managed to draw a six or five plus save card (most things were saving on sevens and eights) and they went down like flies. 

Another thing which we liked, was the back and forth nature of the cavalry fight on the Roman left. Although both sides managed to score hits and disorder the enemy, they were all able to rally before they could be finished off with a second hit. Sometimes they withdrew out of charge range to make it easier, and sometimes fresh cavalry were brought up to block charge lanes to protect them until they did. It had the feel of an inconclusive cavalry melee - it might have flamboyantly swirled and clashed about but, they all came home.

We really like these rules. I think they are going to be our go to set for the Punic Wars for the foreseeable future. Mention was even made of running another Punic Wars campaign - though I think having played one, lasting God knows how long last year, we will not be doing that for another year or two. We will certainly try them with other troops we have that fit into the scope of the rules. 

Lastly, mention should be made of Grahams elephants. In their first four activations the drew three aces and a ten. You never hear Graham swear but, I think he was coming pretty close. Those that know TtS will know that this is not good.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

First game of To the Strongest

Last week we played 'To the Strongest' by Simon Miller (aka BigRedBat). It was a small Punic Wars affair with a couple of armies worked out by Simon as a taster game. 

I had marked out my table with a few pins to mark the square grid, I set out the troops and terrain (rough ground counted, but the trees were just for the 'aesthetic') before the game started and Graham and Peter diced for which side they played. I have to admit that we stumbled through the game, frequently looking things up and getting things wrong anyway. This isn't a bad thing, first games are always a learning tool, and often the best way of learning is by trial and error.

Even though we played certain things wrong, the game was thoroughly entertaining. We approve of games with a  built in 'fog of war', and the basic mechanics of the game provide a great deal of this. You are never in full control of everything. A plan, and sound tactics, are essential. The game bundles along at a fair lick. Something of consequence is always happening. The card play (there are no dice in TtS) is easy and easy to follow.

Overall, we were very impressed with To the Strongest. We fought this action out to a conclusion in about two and a half hours - not bad for a first game. This week we will do it all over again. This time I'll do a proper report.

I'm going to need to sort out some new gaming aids. We had to use pennies for ammunition markers because you need so many. I'll also need to get some 'hero' markers / pieces. I'm glad that I decided to keep the decks of mini-playing cards from Christmas crackers over the years as they were just the right size; full size playing cards might be a bit big, especially if there are two units in a box.

To the Strongest are available at the following link, and thoroughly recommended:


Monday 8 June 2015

Women love a man with a big package. So do I.

Here is a tale that you will tell your children, and mightily bored they'll be! (Did you see what I did there?).

I've been expecting a package from Front Rank.

I tracked the package being picked up from Front Rank. I tracked it going to the Coventry Depot. I saw it move to the NW sorting office. I saw it go to Leeds. I saw it go to dispatch and be put on a van for delivery. I waited in certain expectation. The van turned up and the posty brought a small package to my door. 

I said, immediately seeing that this package didn't weigh enough to have £2000+ of lead in it, "Where is the other package?" 

"Other package?" said the posty.

"Yes." says I "The other package I am tracking and that should be on this van."

The posty went to his van and brought back a check list. He looked down the list and said "Ah, yes. Is it a heavy package with HEAVY written on it?"

"That would be the one. So you have it then?" I said hopefully.

"No." he said "I have such a busy run this morning, and I'm so pressed for time, that I decided to put it on the next van due out this afternoon." 

Honestly, you can't make this kind of thing up. The words "But you're bloody here anyway!" went through my mind - thankfully, being British and used to disappointment, they didn't fall out of my mouth.

To top it all, the package didn't come on the next van because the driver took it back to the depot because, you've guessed it, he ran out of delivery time. 

The package arrived safely today, late but better late than never. It was a heavy one. In fact, if you want to know how much £2000+ worth of figures weigh (I haven't counted the figures), they weigh 28 kg.

I've checked the order and, as far as I can see, everything is tickety boo. Well done Front Rank, not so for Parcel Force. I've contacted Front Rank to tell them to reclaim postage.

So, some pics.

 The package. It was a hefty one.
 The Peninsular British, first sort.
 The Portuguese, first sort. Lonely looking chaps.
 The Seven Years War finishing order - mostly Austrians - mostly cavalry.
The Peninsular French.

Well it's in. Now the hard part starts - painting it all. 

SYW first, I think, otherwise it will not get done. A bit of backbone, stiff upper lip, British spunk, Olicana oil required (squeak). 

SYW first, SYW first, SWY first........