A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Rules - Field of Battle

Since 1970 or thereabouts I guess I've read many hundreds of sets of wargames rules - the number expands rapidly if I include boardgames. The proportion of these which I've actually played is really so small that often I wonder why I've wasted so much time on my researches - what is it I've been looking for? Typically I don't finish a first reading - my initial interest will suddenly be frozen out by my dislike of the morale rules, or the activation rules, or the potential requirement to rebase everything - or something. My hit rate for eventual buy-in is pathetic. For a while, a couple of years ago, I thought I was going to really go for Lasalle, but I managed to find enough areas of discomfort to avoid making a commitment. [Phew - that was a close call...]

At present I am supposed to be working on an update to my (slowly developing) ECW siege game (Leaguer - yes, all right, all right...) and the development of a hex-gridded game for my Napoleonics which allows for more tactical manoeuvre than the Commands & Colors games which have become the house standard. Over both of these I am feeling rather guilty, since I have had a splendid amount of help from Mark and Jay, respectively, and I am keen not to leave everything hanging - it seems, at best, a bit impolite. Problem with the siege game has been that the discussion (which has been excellent, by the way) has turned up a few more questions than answers of late, so some heavyweight re-thinking is needed. Problem with the detailed hex Napoleonic game (for smaller actions, you understand) is that my original idea of simply sticking extra activities into C&C just produced a mess of a game - the tactical additions were compromised by the join with C&C, and the beauties (and they are considerable) of C&C were wrecked by the fiddly additions. Thus I started again - the new game has a proportion of Neil Thomas in it, but develops some of Neil's ideas quite a bit. I'd reached the point with this where the next thing to do was some serious playtesting, to enable me to produce a good, robust, working draft. So that's where I am: playtesting to be arranged as soon as is practicable.

There's a lot going on, and it doesn't seem too helpful if I find myself reading yet more rules which are not on the plan, but that's what I've been doing. I have suddenly become very interested in Field of Battle, from Brent Oman's Piquet product family. I have been very interested in Piquet for years - I have the base rules and the Grognards supplement, and have read them numerous times. Always with the same result - I really like a lot of the ideas in there, but there are a good few things which are - well - too fussy for my taste. I am unlikely to become a regular user.

Field of Battle is a relative of Piquet, involves some of the same principles and philosophies, but is a more straightforward game - or at least it seems so to me. My interest was sparked by the blogged activities of Le Duc de Gobin and Sgt Steiner - excellent fellows both. I am grateful to M Le Duc for explaining the nature of the game (left to myself, I find Piquet's product range, and the overlaps within it, bewildering), and for guiding me through some of the basic ideas. I have now read the booklet twice, and will start a third reading next week. I have found nothing that turns me off. The game is card driven, and lends itself very well to solo play (a big plus for me), the unit basing is almost identical to the way my armies have been set up since 1972 [If you build it, they will come - though it might take a while...], it all makes the most excellent sense. It looks very like what I thought Lasalle might offer, when I had the hots for that. It also offers a tweakable base set of rules which will lend themselves to a wide range of horse-&-musket wars. I have now gone so far as to invest in a proper set of the cards from the publisher - the US postal rates make this more of a serious investment than I had anticipated - and I hope to receive these shortly when new stocks come in.

As interruptions go, this promises to be a worthwhile one. I am gently enthusiastic about this - not to replace my existing rule systems, but to provide a rewarding alternative. Let's see how it goes.

If it all turns to rat droppings, you may hear no more about it, but I'm not approaching it with that expectation.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #296 - Suddenly Things Went Quiet

The weather has eased a lot over the last week, but today it is blustery, from the East, and the temperature is dropping again. The feeders are very busy - today's crowds included lots of Great Tits, Greenfinches, a Siskin, and then...

Bad Baddie in the garden - Accipiter nisus - female Sparrow Hawk (hungry; disgruntled)
We are always nervously aware of these fellows - you don't normally see them clearly, but sometimes out of the corner of your eye you see a flash of something, and a puff of feathers, and one of the smaller birds has gone. There is a slight feeling of setting up a buffet for the Sparrow Hawk when we restock the feeders, but we don't see much of them and that's Nature, I guess.

This is a rare view. The Contesse spotted this female sitting in our apple tree, and it was still there when she got back with her camera. We suspect that it's sulking, mentally reviewing what went wrong with that last attack.

You win some, and then you lose some.

***** Late Edit (Friday night, 16th March) *****

M. Le Poilu sent me this fine picture of Omar, his former local Sparrow Hawk kingpin - shows up well how much more colourful the males are (Merci, M. Le P)

And my wife passed me this rather horrifying confrontation between a Sparrow Hawk and a Starling, which is from the very fine work of Terry Stevenson, a British wildlife photographer with a large and deserved following. Sorry if this spoils your enjoyment of your supper...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

20mm Figure Comparison - vintage Napoleonic figures vs SHQ

Mark emailed me on the subject of size compatibility of various 20mm and "true 25mm" figures, so I have knocked up another of those strange green comparison photos. Since I often get involved in this kind of conversation (and since my view is as subjective as everyone else's!) I thought the pic might be of wider interest.

The particular thread in my correspondence with Mark has been how successfully SHQ/Kennington figures might blend in with (for example) Hinton Hunt. As the photo shows, I think, they match pretty well, though you have to beware of the occasional midget, such as the Spanish hussar marked with an asterisk - for some reason I never understood, all the Kennington Spanish Napoleonics are a bit small.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

1809 Spaniards - Light Infantry Completed!

This morning I have two new light infantry units ready for action, so I am pleased to note that the original planned four such units are now finished. Another little milestone (as opposed to a millstone, which is a different thing altogether).

With skirmishers deployed
In close order - skirmishers tucked away at the back
These are the Voluntarios de Gerona (yellow facings) and the Cazadores de Barbastro (red). The castings are Falcata, apart from the marching officer and the drummer in Barbastro, which are NapoleoN. The Falcata figures paint up nicely, but the moulds were suffering badly when these chaps were produced, and it took a lot of filing and re-carving to get them into shape.

According to my (expanded) target OOB for the 1809 Spaniards, the only things I still have to paint are 2 battalions of grenadiers, 3 units of line cavalry, 1 of dragoons, 1 foot battery, a few more generals and ADCs and a small group of zapadores (individually based). Apart from elegances like limbers and some garrison artillery that's the lot, so I hope I can finish them this year.

Cazadores de Barbastro
Voluntarios de Gerona
In case they are useful, here are the flags for these units, which I have produced with Paintshop Pro - if you print them at about 20mm high (cut off the green bits!) that's near enough 1/72 scale - I would not recommend them for anything bigger than that. Feel free to use them, but if you share them or publish any pictures, I'd appreciate a mention!

A quick word on Spanish light infantry flags - these units each consisted of a single battalion, which carried the Coronela national flag; if they still had a Sencilla (battalion flag) left over from an earlier regimental organisation, it would be stored away in a church or a depot somewhere. There is a very tattered sencilla for the Barbastro unit still in existence, but by 1809 it was no longer carried on campaign.

Friday, 9 March 2018

A Weakness for Dragoons

This is going to be another of those how-high-can-you-pile-it? posts. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Five years ago, give or take a day, I published a post celebrating (lamenting?) that I had acquired and refurbished another unit of French dragoons, despite the fact that I already had quite enough.

Welcome to the 26eme & 27eme Dragons - you will observe that the trumpeter
for the 27eme has not arrived yet - plans are in hand, and he should be present shortly!
Well, I've done it again - this time a further two such units. I could claim that, as a Peninsular War devotee, I can never have too many dragoons, or merely confess that I have a long history of having my head turned by a pretty regiment of the blighters. It maybe goes deeper than that.

When I was about 12 (or so) I was lucky enough to be granted a private tour of the Musée de l'Armée (my grandfather was a friend of one of the directors), and one of my most vivid memories of a fascinating but confused Sunday morning is suddenly being confronted by a life-size mannikin of a mounted Napoleonic dragoon, and being dumbstruck (you may well know the actual mannikin I mean - he's still there today, still scaring the kids). It had never occurred to me that soldiers were terrifying individually as well as collectively.

When I started building my Peninsular armies - 10 years or so later - I was enchanted by the PMD/Les Higgins French dragoons. My original quota was a brigade of two regiments, the 6eme (red facings) and the 15eme (pink!). Later I added a third - the 25eme (orange) - but that was it for Les Higgins - they went out of business. In the days before eBay, that was as far as things went - if your manufacturer (or scale!!) went OOP then you were well and truly stuck.

When NapoleoN Miniaturas were active I finally obtained the fourth regiment of the Armée de Portugal's Dragoon Division - the 11eme (crimson) - and then I was happy. Job done.

But then eBay took over, and still the new/old toy soldiers are trickling in. Five years after the last "final" recruits, here are two more. And I'm still pleased with them, and still delighted to have an opportunity to dig out that entire section of the army for a group photo.

My French dragoon contingent - a lot of eyes-right going on, to simplify the
mould-lines for PMD! If there are not enough horses in Spain to go around, then the
chaps at the front can jolly well walk.
Very silly, very self-indulgent and - really - what hobbies are all about. It would be a poor kind of a world if you were not allowed to have too many dragoons, would it not?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

First Round to the Beast

I used to have a boss whose catch phrase was "Don't spend much time telling me what you're hoping to do - tell me when you've done it". I'm sure this is identifiable as some labelled style of defective management (like the once-celebrated Mushroom Management, Fox-in-the-Henhouse Management and a host of other Nineties jokes which I'm sure no-one remembers now), but his approach did have some advantages. If I applied this principle to myself now, and I'm sure a lot of fellow wargamers are in the same situation, I'd often have very little to talk about.

The so-called "Beast from the East" [Donkey Award nominee] storm in the UK did eventually cause a postponement of our Marston Moor game - it was probably always a safe bet, but the hoped-for easing of the weather conditions on Thursday and Friday didn't happen, and this morning (Saturday, the official day for the event) the travel situation is still pretty awful - no trains, for one thing, and the country roads are not safe at all. Thus the logistics have killed us.

No problem - I've photographed the tabletop set-up in detail, I've put the (ready-labelled) armies in their box-files in exactly the same order they'll go back on the table, and I've put all the scenery elements in a box of their own, all ready to go; we can re-arrange the game later in the month. In the meantime, the Dining Room can be used for dining, as specified. I'd best make sure I've typed up all the scenario rules and features - you know - in case I forget...

Obviously I am a bit disappointed, but when Nature decides to take a poke at you she doesn't mess about, so let's get on with it. If I have to put my battle away in its boxes, then it's a good idea to put it away really well. There - that feels better.

I include a couple of photos, if only to demonstrate to Jonathan (who knows his snow) that we did get proper snow in the end. The road along the coast from our farm to the village has been impassable for two days, as has the road past the farm down towards the A1 and places like Dunbar, Haddington, Edinburgh, England - everywhere, really. This means that we, and the village of North Berwick, have been cut off from the Outside World for two days. Problem has been the type of snow, and the high winds. I'm not sure an idiot layman's description of snow is just what you wish to read today, but in our garden we had, at the most, maybe 20cm of very soft, puffy snow - like polystyrene packing beads, about the size of Rice Krispies. Because it was so cold it was very dry, and blew about in the wind.

That's someone digging out the main road from North Berwick to the outside world,
3pm Friday - 48 hours after it was cut off. I know these things are routine in Canada
and Russia, but we are not really used to this.
About a mile away, on what passes for a main road here, the east wind drifted this puffy stuff across what will later be wheat fields and it got trapped between the hedges, on the roadway. This is where the photos were taken - on the A198. I've never seen anything like this around here. The drifts also put the single-track railway to North Berwick under about 3 metres of snow in a cutting near Ferrygate, I'm told. Marston Moor is just one of a great many things which aren't going to happen today!

This is around the same spot, the road past our farm, Thursday morning, looking the
other way. Some people don't believe in the Red Weather Alerts, do they?
Forecast for next week is not brilliant, but seems to be wetter, which might be OK. I'm certainly pretty bored with what we have at the moment.

Must mention a classic manifestation of Sod's Law. Two nights ago a big chunk of the cement seal around the flue-pipe of our wood stove suddenly dropped out. That's never happened before, either. Of course, my stand-by tub of ready-mixed fire cement has set rock-hard, and, though they have shelves of the stuff in the hardware store in the village, we haven't been able to reach the village. Hmmm. Above the howling wind, I am certain I heard faint laughter.

***** Late Digression - PINBAT's revenge *****

Digger or not, the A198 is still not viable today, and it's still snowing. Apparently it is just about possible to get into North Berwick from Edinburgh (the opposite side from us) along the coast road from Longniddry, and so yesterday Tesco managed to get a truck to their supermarket here by coming that way, and driving through the town, since the usual route was blocked by snow. Just in time - supplies are running very low.

Now then, back in 2007, when it first opened, Tesco was the subject of a lot of local hostility here. I don't live next door to the place, so my view may be coloured by this fact, but I regard the presence of Tesco as a huge improvement in our quality of life. Whatever, at the time there was a fearsome militant movement - recruited mostly, it seemed, from the ranks of residents who commuted to Edinburgh everyday and thus spent little time here - named PINBAT (People in North Berwick against Tesco). The opening of the store was eventually secured after negotiations which yielded cash donations to the local community and also - I now learn - an agreement that Tesco's wagons would not drive through the town.

Well - guess what? Some superannuated survivor from PINBAT yesterday registered an official complaint that Tesco had broken the 2007 agreement by rerouting a supply van to avoid the blocked roads. Accordingly, Tesco sent this morning's wagon by the official route, up the A198, and it got stuck at the village of Whitekirk, as we might have predicted. Thus, people, there is no food in North Berwick today. 

Someone, somewhere, must think they've won a little victory. I sincerely hope the rest of the community don't find out who it was.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #295 - A Walk with the Beast from the East

It's been snowing here now for three days. By other people's standards, considering the severity of the current storm, our conditions are not bad at all, but we rarely get any snow here, which is probably an indication of what it must be like for the more exposed bits of the East coast.

The Contesse took her camera out for a walk on the farm this afternoon - she had some trouble holding the thing steady in the freezing wind, but here are a couple of her pictures, to prove there is still life here.

Cock chaffinch hanging on for grim death in the easterly gale, he has his eyes
fixed on our feeders
Down on the beach things are a bit rough; when we get strong easterly winds,
combined with the Spring tides, it is not unknown for the waves to wreck the
harbour of our nearest village
He's hiding, but still recognisable - in the hedges near the Old Adam field, the
Contesse spotted a male Yellowhammer [emberiza citrinella] - not so rare in these
parts, and they are here all year round, but we've never seen one! - not in all the
years we've been here. So, he's not in our garden, but he's still a bit of a star guest.