Saturday, 30 May 2020

..In Sunny Italy

Just a quick teaser for future posts :  the other day my 'D-Day Dodgers' WW2 forces saw their first action.  For some of the troops, the first time in 40+ years!  More to come later, but for the moment here's a glimpse of the attempt to  liberate Monte Lucedelsole,  Portable Wargame style..

Somewhere in Italy, 1943 or 44..

I hope they have a pleasing old-school look. I like them, at least! 
Next time, some more 7YW rule choices. Meanwhile,  keep safe and well.



Sunday, 24 May 2020

Where next with the Seven Years War? (2) Rules and Regulations

"It is the need to have every detail consistent that is the bete noir of the professional wargamer. It leads him to compile regulations that resemble Acts of Parliament in bulk, and which are only marginally more intelligible....
..our criteria therefore have been not: is this rule rigidly consistent with the rest? but rather: does the final result look correct, does the battlefield look like an 18th-century battlefield? Do correct tactics pay off? Are obviously faulty plans properly penalised? Must the principles of war be observed?"   *

A few further thoughts on future Seven Years War campaigning; having got the figures, we need some rules. Now I have thoroughly enjoyed using and adapting  Bob Cordery's 'Portable Wargame' and will continue to do so, but  I am also quite interested in comparing different possible sets of rules.  Of course we are  looking for enjoyable games, but I think I am also in this to think about 'how it happened', and whether what we are doing feels like a true reflection of how the organisations and tactics of the period really might have worked.  So it seems worthwhile giving a few different rules a look, and seeing how I feel about them. Despite not actually gaming for many a long year, it's funny how one still manages to pick up a surprising number of rulebooks! So, a little tour of the choice of possible rules I have to (quite literally) play with ..

First, the 'old school' : you've really got to start with Charles Grant and  Young and Lawford. Grant's 'The War Game' is where it all started for me, after buying it with childhood 'holiday money' in the 1970s, and being immediately captured by the sheer style, and the deep knowledge lightly worn, with a nice element  of whimsy in the use of imagi-nations.  The problem for pocket-money wargamers back then was the enormous regiments -  48 men and 6 officers!  I saved hard, and bought one regiment of Minifigs Prussian Infantry, which I painted appallingly badly and forced to slum it fighting aginst Airfix plastic Waterloo and AWI figures.  Forty-plus years later, those Prussians may finally get their chance, and a better paint job!  BUT those huge regiments, and the seven feet by five table ( even for a 'small' game ) make it sadly unlikely that my troops will march to the late Mr Grant's drum. It's still a lovely read, though, and if the house ever burns down (heaven forbid) ,  I'll be stood on the pavement, in the proverbial dressing gown, clutching this book.

Young and Lawford's 'Charge' , I  only acquired a couple of years ago, but I have thoroughly enjoyed reading, and of course it shares a lot of the same spirit as Charles Grant's book. The 'Elementary Game' rules cover just  two pages in summary and look eminently practical, and their explanatory chapter is informative, erudite and entertaining. I note that I already have enough figures to mount something on the scale of 'The Action at Blasthof Bridge'. I have only half the space available of the six feet square that they had, but I am wondering if converting to hexes and/or reducing the distances might just work. The 'Advanced Game' looks a bit heavier going, and requires much more space ( Light Cavalry move 30 inches!) so that may have to wait. 

Next up, what you might call the 'mid period' :  good old WRG (1979)  and GDW's  'Volley and Bayonet' (1994).

My copy of WRG 'Wargames Rules 1685-1845'  looks suspiciously pristine and unmarked - funny, as in my memory it had quite a lot of use. It came as a bit of a godsend because of its 40/50 men per figure scale - now you could have battalions of 14 or 16 figures, so much more affordable! The Minifgs Prussians and the Airfix plastics were based up as rather heterodox imagi-nations ( Waterloo Cuirassiers vs. 1776 British Grenadiers, anyone? ), and I think a lot of fun was had. These were a reaction to the typical 1970s book-keeping heavy rules, by introducing element-based troops and simple '4, 5, or 6 and remove one figure per hit' systems, and that was quite welcome after an interlude with Bruce Quarrie's Napoleonic rules. 

Looking at this set again, there is an awful lot of detail - nearly 50 pages of closely-spaced small type!   The trademark WRG Reaction Tests are very much present - there are EIGHT different tests for various circumstances. But this is really just a way to reduce the omnipotence of the player/commander and introduce 'friction', and may compare favourably with  some more modern and arbitrary-feeling 'you can only move 2 units on the left if there is an R in the month' command limitations.   I don't suppose it would take long to remember the tests, and run them from the playsheet. I am quite interested to give this set a go, I think it would actually be pretty playable (quite a lot of the detailed text is taken up with ideas for terrain placement etc, which could be skipped).  Mind you, how about this, fairly typical of the self-confidence of the authors : 

"this is not to say that all relevant factors have not been taken into account.. They have, and the range of casualties obtainable is, for the first time in any set we know of, broadly consistent with those caused in real life".

That is quite some set of assertions, when you think about it...

'Volley and Bayonet' is intriguing, because it's an attempt to portray large battles,  not just a clash of half-a-dozen battalions and a few squadrons.  It also covers  a wide period - about 1750 to 1870. I've owned this for many years, and sadly never actually played it. But why not? The rules are  very simple, and the basic unit is a  brigade on a 3-inch square base, hence small numbers of figures make a large army. I do suspect it would look best with 6mm figures, where a brigade could really look like a brigade,  of several battalions. Also the move distances are quite generous - 24 inches for cavalry, 16 for an infantry brigade - hmm.. I wonder if we might convert to cm?  If so, would we shrink the base size too, or would it matter?  I think it would give a fast and furious game , and the scenarios included look great - for example Lobositz, where the Austrians get 18 regiments of foot and 7 or 8 brigades of Cavalry, now that's an army!  I do quite fancy to try larger battles, and these rules might enable that - it could be fun to compare with Bob Cordery's  Division and Corps-level games, too -  about which more anon.

Just for interest,  I cut out some temporary bases at the recommended sizes, and tried them with some figures , so here is a regiment of ( Prussian ) infantry, and a brigade of cavalry,  based for 'Volley and Bayonet'.

Volley and Bayonet: Infantry Regiment, Cavalry Brigade

 Now I have been chuntering on a little too long; I  hear Mr Bennet  intoning "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough".   And there are still three or four more 'possibles' to explore!  I think they can wait for another day.

 I hope all my readers are well, and enjoying a pleasant holiday weekend. Look after yourselves.

* the quotations at the head of this post are, of course, from  'Charge' by Young and Lawford.


Saturday, 16 May 2020

Where next with The Seven Years War ? (1) Eric's Lead Mountain

Eric Knowles' Prussians - setting a high bar
Having fought my first three battles with 'The Portable Seven Years War' and figures from the late Eric Knowles' collection, it's time for a pause and a gathering  of thoughts. I think the short 'campaign' came to a natural conclusion, with General Dachs' Austrians throwing back Eric von Kleist's invading Prussians (and ending his military career in a drastic manner), but then being rebuffed in their turn as they pursued over the border. So, honours about even. Both games and blog have been tremendous fun, have got me back into wargaming after several decades, and also generated loads of friendly comments from other gamers - thanks everyone!

However, I think I need to expand the scope of the 'project' (if that's not too grand a word), a little, so as not to become samey. I may be guilty of very typical wargamer's megalomania, but do I think more troops are needed,  The most immediately glaring hole in the battle order is that of Austrian regular infantry -  it's a bit embarrasing for General Dachs to rely on dismounted Grenze Hussars, and Jagers  - who are actually Prussian! They could do with some more conventional cavalry, too. 

Fortunately, help is at hand. In addition to the painted figures you have seen from Eric Knowles collection,  David Crook also let me have a fair number of unpainted troops. These came ready-organised and cataloged by Eric, in an eccentric variety of labelled vintage boxes, and even with notes for his planned painting schemes, which I feel rather  duty bound to honour.

Actually the boxes are probably worth a picture!

Eric's boxes of delights
I remember the classy blue boxes of Hinchcliffe figures that I could see (but never afford) as a kid in 'Man and Boy' model shop in Sittingbourne, 40 or more years ago,  and those small maroon ones are from Greenwood and Ball.  A slightly eccentric choice of a 1960s-looking Monogram box for WW2 US army figures now contains  French  Dragoons, and finally there's a rather splendid rectangular display-style box printed with 'Battles of Yesteryear - Napoleonic Period' - now containing Austrian Cuirassiers.

Now this, I find from a little searching, will have once held some 'Alberken' figures - a firm started in 1964, and later morphed into Miniature Figurines. I know Eric was involved in the 1965 Waterloo refight at the Duke of York's Headquarters along with Don Featherstone, Tony Bath et al - I can't help wondering if this rather timeworn box originally held figures that graced that very table? Perhaps a little bit of wargaming history, in a funny sort of way.

What we have in total is roughly this:

    Austrian infantry Regiment 'Botta' , both line and Grenadiers
    Austrian Cuirassiers regiment  'Erzherhog Ferdinand'
    Austrian FreiKorps battalion  'Loudon' with Grenadiers
    Austrian Light Infantry 'Frontier Guards'
    Bavarian Grenadiers 'Rummel'  ( which are confusingly labelled 'Marlburian' but are clearly
                                                          Minifigs 7YW figures )
    French  Dragoon regiment 'Dauphin'  - which may be seconded to fight alongside the Prussians.

In all, about 30-40 cavalry and over 100 foot. Despite the boxes, they are pretty much all 1970s/80s vintage Minifigs, as far as I know.  Plenty to be going on with - David was very generous with what he called 'Brucie Bonuses'!  The Frei Korps, Frontier Guards etc will fit in well with the existing Grenze troops and the Prussians von Kleist Frei Korps, with a leavening of more 'regular' troops on both sides. Not sure how the Bavarians will fit in!

Now, as stated before I am not a skilled painter, and this is all a bit daunting, but I am making a start. The Austrians desperately need line infantry, so first on the painting table are the Regiment 'Botta'.  As you can see, Eric has left me instructions, which I feel I should honour:
That's me told - and happy to comply
With some trepidation I have given the Botta regiment's line figures a coat of white primer, and made a start on painting the first 16 of them, which will make two 'battalions' for The Portable Wargame.  I'm going to take it slowly and carefully, in a simple old school style - they won't win any prizes, and Eric might not be impressed, but let's see how it goes. 

Regiment Botta - primed and ready

Next time, perhaps  a meditation on the wide choice rules for the period. In the meantime, I hope everyone is keeping well and looking out for others, of course,, wherever you are. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

'We Are The D-Day Dodgers..'

Given that this is the Anniversary of VE Day, it seems appropriate to introduce a potential second string to my gaming bow.
Badger Force : off to liberate Italy
Some time ago I dug out some of my childhood 'collection' of plastic toy soldiers, which had been my introduction to wargaming, aged about 11. I particularly remembered the early Airfix 1/72 WW2 German Infantry, and found an old  tobacco tin packed with them. They had never been fully painted, just a rough dab of flesh colour on faces and hands, black boots and brown rifles on the blue-grey plastic. Looking at Bob Cordery's 'The Portable Wargame' and my treasured old copy of Charles Grant's 'Battle' , which had started it all for me, I thought maybe I could do something. I also had some nice 'Matchbox' WW2 British of 1970s vintage, so they could be opponents.

I am certainly no  painter, ( look away now, button-counters, this is certainly not the blog for you! ) but I found I could at least achieve a very simple 'old-school' style, which suits me and the figures just fine.  In my toy soldier world, all boots are black, weapons brown and gunmetal, backpacks leather, and faces plain flesh - with apologies to the shade/highlight/drybrushers.  I am constantly amazed by the standards many painters achieve, but I just don't have the ability to do all that, and if I could I'd still be working on the first squad.. This time, after 45 years or so, at least they were fully covered with paint!  Supplemented with some MG and mortar teams from Brittannia Miniatures 20mm range, based on 1p and 2p pieces ( I feel mildly guilty about defacing the currency -  I always leave the Queen's head as the unpainted underside, sorry ma'am ) in a plain old-school green, they are acceptable Ragged Soldiers for me.   Each side now has  six  4-man 'units' for The Portable Wargame, with supporting MGs and  mortars; and being singly based, they will do for  other rule sets too.

Very few vehicles or equipment items had survived the occasional loft clearances in  intervening decades, but that may be all for the best given my childhood model-making standards! At various recent  shows  and a few  model shops I have picked up some modern kits from Plastic Soldier Company, Armourfast and Zvezda,  and some vintage Airfix for old times' sake, and put them together with varying degrees of ease and frustration - Armourfast and PSC are lovely, quick and easy, but vintage Airfix - how did we ever get anything built?!   So, the British have a selection of Shermans and the odd Valentine, and even an M10 tank destoyer; 6-pounder and 25-pounder guns, and M3 half-tracks.  The Germans have Panzer IVs, StuG 3s, 75mm PAK 40s, 105mm howitzers, and SdKfz 251 half-tracks. Again I have lept the painting very simple - from each according to his abilities -  all my units seem to have tanks fresh from the factory! I did find a dilute wash of Army Painter 'Soft Tone' gave a certain something to the look - maybe I need to be a bit  braver. Just don't be looking to count the rivets..
KampfGruppe von Kleist : stubborn defenders
So, after probably a couple of years of halting progress, I think we have enough for some simple gaming. This is therefore to introduce 'Badger Force',  led by Colonel Badger of the West Suffolks,  tasked with no less than the liberation of entirely imaginary parts of Italy in 1943-1945, and doggedly opposed by KampfGruppe Von Kleist, commanded of course by  Oberst Eric Von Kleist.  I think Bob's  'Portable Wargame: early and mid 20th Century' rules should be a good place to start.

Why Italy ? This is why:

I've had the privilege of hearing folk singer David Campbell  ( son of Ian Campbell, who recorded it in the 1960s,  and an interesting character in himself, to say the least.. )  perform his dad's classic several times, always with  real feeling for the subject matter.    We may be accused of reducing the suffering of our grandfathers to a mere game, and we can debate that endlessly.  But I hope we can also remember, and learn.