Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Kornberg Complete

I am now completely out of unpainted Fredericks, the picture below shows him in his different guises.

The three Freds (from left to right: unscathed, Dragoon Colonel, Kornberg)

I decided to paint the Kornberg figure to match the Rochling print. I'm happy with the result apart from the white frilly bits on the horse furniture - that looks a bit too much like the icing on a Christmas cake.

It was a fun figure to do, and not that hard - I can't sculpt organic things like hands, but a cuirass is fairly easy to do - as long as you've only got the one figure to do.

John Preece made an thought provoking post on painting figures for wargames. I think I'd like to add my comment on this. Its very easy to look at what other people do, like what you see, and seek to do the same. I think that's where we make a mistake - instead we need to select the features that are relevent to our own situation. In my own case, what I'm doing now would be utterly impracticable (because of the amount of time involved) if I was trying to recruit large armies. But what I can do is try to milk as much enjoyment as possible from creating a small army.

Next on my list is a second squadron of cuirassiers: having done that my metal mountain will be all but gone, pending the arrival of another parcel from the manufacturers.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Kornberg And The Three Freds

Called me biased if you will (I have been called a lot worse), but I happen to think that every range of Seven Years War cavalry ought to start with: SYWAC1 - General Kornberg. Readers of Charge! will recognise this gentleman at once and I hope will echo my sentiment. As far as I am aware, the General is entirely a creation of the book's authors, although he bears some resemblance to Conan-Doyle's Brigadier Gerrard. Despite this I think he's a figure of some significance in wargaming history. Not only did the General figure in both the example battles given in Charge!, but the splendid regiment of cuirassiers featured in the book was named after him.

So it comes as some surprise to find that there's no 30mm figure that I know of which looks quite right to represent him. Examining the photos in Charge! itself is not much help: there's no figure in any of the photos that I'd be certain was him. The Stadden range does include a figure of Seydlitz, but as he's modelled as a pedestrian that's really no great help. Perhaps because I am currently up to my eyeballs in cuirassiers, this is a problem that has been exercising my mind. With so much already to do, it would be absolute madness to start on yet another mini-project, but to inaccurately paraphrase Queen Victoria, "there is no prospect of good sense in this house". And it so happens I think I have a figure that would form good material for a General of Cuirassiers.

Some time ago, due to a fluke event, I became the proud owner of three mounted Frederick The Great figures. Now while I am happy with the sentiment that you can't really have too many of these, nonetheless that gives me two more Fredericks than would be historically accurate. So one excess Frederick has already emerged from a confrontation with craftknife and milliput to find himself a Colonel of Dragoons. The last remaining spare Frederick has been left unscathed until now, but its fate was sealed when I looked at the following Karl Rochling print.

Rochling: Seylitz at Rossbach

The feature that first caught my eye, was the very ornate saddlecloth which is very similar to that for the Frederick figure. I'd find it pretty hard to create that sort of detail. The sash on the Frederick figure is outside the coat, which is conveniently correct. The one thing my Frederick figure lacks is a Cuirass, and that (and its straps) is a fairly simple thing to add with milliput.

Stadden Frederick the Great (on a Suren Horse) with cuirass added.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Slowest Cavalry Advance Since Minden

I have at last completed the first squadron of cavalry. Evidence of this is given in the photos that follow.

This looks to be about as good as I can get with my current camera, so I've decided its time to get a newer one. My current one is very old and it looks like I can get a far better one at a fraction of the price now. If the delivery date is honoured I'll be taking new photos in about four days.

I've found that the Stadden bases are too small to be reliably stable. However, I still want the effect of individually based figures, so I can fight individual figure vs. figure melees as per Charge!. So I'll be mounting them on slightly wider bases - probably about 18mm wide. As there's a nominal spacing of 24mm between figures in my set up they should still look 'properly' separate.

I'm now at the point where I'm figuring out the final orders to the manufacturers that are needed to flesh out my small army for BlastHof. I need a squadron of dragoons and two guns and their crews. The Dragoons are an easy decision - Suren dragoons on Stadden horses. As I noted before the artillery is more problematic. At the moment I'm leaning towards Elite Miniatures SYW Austrian 3pdrs with gunners modified from Stadden AWI as suggested by Alte Fritz.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Nothing Much Really

Nicholas Monsarrat was famous as the author of 'The Cruel Sea'. He was also responsible for another book that I found far more interesting. This was 'Three Corvettes' which is the story of his wartime service in corvettes. There's one particular story in it that often comes to mind.

Minesweeping in WW2 has a risky business. A small boat trailed a sweep behind it hoping to snag mines. As it had to be in front of the sweep to tow it there was every chance that a mine might be inconsiderate enough to contact the boat rather than the sweep, with fatal consquences. Monsarrat recalls watching a minesweeper toiling along when a mine was touched off. He saw the boat disappear in a huge column of water and was very relieved to see it emerge unharmed, if rather the damper, from the other side.

Naval officers in WW2 liked to send signals. It was necessary practise for the signallers anyhow, and, with Noel Coward films in mind, there was a great fondness for displaying calm imperturbalility and wit. So Monsarrat signalled to the minesweeper 'that was a big one'.

The skipper of the minesweeper was clearly Oscar material. His reply to Monsarrat outscores Nelson in my book.

His reply was: 'what was?'.

Which bring me to the fact that I'm still making very slow progress and nothing much to report.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Slow Progress

I've mentioned before that my 'campaign' uses the timeline of today minus 250 years. So around this time Prince Ferdinand was conducting a winter campaign against the French. From Savory:

The Weser was covered in floating ice: the night was rough; no fishermen could be found who had the courage to put us across.

All of which seems pretty strange seeing that I am sat in my conservatory, and finding the sun rather too hot.

Today I'm cutting up terrain hexes, and prepping more cuirassiers to add those I'm currently painting. The latter hasn't been going too well: some of my milliput modelling has been rather careless of late, so some figures haven't come out as well as they ought. I comfort myself with the excuse that it's all good experience and my modelling will improve as my knowledge of what works and what doesn't develops. As well as my first test piece, five more troopers are now coming close to completion. The image below serves for little more that to illustrate my slow progress.

My tripod has arrived. There was a period of confusion while I figured out how to attach the camera to it - I was expecting some sort of clamp, rather than the far more sensible method of a standardised screw. I'll try and make time to take some better shots of the troops, now that camera shake can be eliminated.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Map Editor - Manual Editing

As promised I'll give a quick run down of manual editing. To do this you start by selection the 'tools' action from the 'Edit' menu as shown below

When you do this a tools menu list is presented to you on the right side of the map view. This gives you quick access to all the functions you should need.

You select whatever you want from this list and then click on the map to put what you want at the spot you just clicked on. For terrain, contours, and towns you click within a hex. For roads and rivers you click on near a hex side.

Thats about it for the map editor for now. I've a few things still to tidy up/improve on it. After that I'm going to look at army/unit management though I've no idea about timescales for that.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A Map Editor On The Loose

I've been putting it off for a while in the expectation that I'd think of something else that must be added, but its time to release my Map Editor. By the time you read this there should be a version of it available for download in the Files section of the Old School Wargaming group. As the program has not been tried other than on my Windows XP machine, its very much a beta version

As previously discussed, this version of the program has functionality for creating and printing maps. The maps can be created randomly, or manually or by a combination of both methods. I'll provide some detail now of how this is done.

The first time you start this program you should get a main window, with a smaller window inside it, as shown below. This is a bare terrain map. From here you can begin by editing or manually randomising the map. Today I'll just write up random terrain generation.

Map randomisation is done in two stages: (1) creating the landscape, (2) creating the man made features that exist on it. These actions are both obtained from the Edit menu as shown below.

The first option - randomise terrain - creates natural terrain features: contours, woods, rivers etc. When you select this action you are first presented with the following dialog box which allows you to set a few options

I've tried to use a pretty generic method of interacting with all dialog boxes in this tool. Click once on an option and its selected, click a second time on the bit you want to change, and you should then be able to either select from a list or type a change as appropriate.

The second action - calculate populations - generates towns and routes between towns. Again, a dialog is first presented to give you a few options. Once done, it will also open up a second window which lists all the towns. You can modify towns (for instance to change a name) by double clicking on a town in this new window

Once you have some sort of map you may want to zoom in/out using the +/- keys on your keyboard. If the map is larger than the window then scroll bars will be created where needed so you can scroll the map. Other options affecting how the map is viewed are available by selecting 'Options' from the 'View' menu.

Once you have something worth saving there are options on the 'File' menu to save your map and to print it. You can also output the map as a bmp image.

Tomorrow I'll give information on how to manually edit things and cover any queries received. Oh, and sadly due to today's litigious society, I give the usual disclaimer denying all responsibility for anything my program might do.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Cargo Cults

People possess the ability to construct a world model based on whatever little information they can gather. Polynesian Islanders saw peculiar white men arrive on their islands and set up stations (a wooden hut or two with a flag), and then great white ships would arrive bringing all kinds of marvellous goods.

Very sensibly, the Polynesians set up their own stations, ran up their own flags, and then sat down and waited for their initiative to be rewarded. Sadly, the great white ships failed to arrive. Cargo cults proved a disappointment to their worshippers.

I'm feeling today like one of those islanders. I have a tripod in the post somewhere, I have some paper flags on their travels too. All of which is to say - none of my (blurry) photos for the time being.

My Grenadier-Garde regiment has been lacking a standard. It took me some time to decide how to correct this omission. Prussian grenadier battalions did not have flags: the only battalion with mitre caps in the Prussian Army to have a flag was the Grenadiere-Garde. Not unnaturally then, the Stadden range does not have a standard-bearer wearing a mitre-cap.

I rejected the most obvious choice - take the musketeer standard bearer and put a grenadier head on it. The idea of using two figures to make one seemed an expensive choice with these figures. Secondly, from past experience, I know that you have to take a great deal of care to get head and body lined up together correctly. Any slight error and things can look very peculiar. There is of course the off-chance that the figure will literally 'lose his head' in the stress of battle. I'm not sure if having a headless standard-bearer doesn't require an immediate morale throw.

So I went for a second option. I've taken the 'sergeant with pike' figure, removed said pike, moved the left hand a little forwards, and added the flag-cover (wrapped around his body) using milliput. A brass rod was then inserted where the pike once was. The flag itself, when it arrives, will be from GMB Designs. I've never been able to paint flags and GMB's are the best commercial ones I've seen.

All very easy to do, although I'm not sure that the Colonel approves of his regimental standard being carried so carelessly in just the one hand.

Oh well, if nothing arrives in the post tomorrow, I think I'll try running up a flag.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A Brief Update

Much done but lttle to show for it today. On the figures front I'm still prepping the cavalry before painting, the reins being the thing that really slows me down here.

On the photo side I've decided some investment in new gear is required, as well as learning to take better photos with what I've got. I've a tripod on order for the camera so there should be some improvement in my photos soon.

On the map editor, I've added a town generation algorithm that calculates population based on surrounding landscape and an urbanisation factor. The random terrain generator can now generate towns and can create roads between them.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

More On Mapping

I have coded the method to draw the maps in antique style: the images below shows part of a map printed in various optional settings. The next task on the list is to add towns. Initially I'll give each town only a name, population and position. However that's just a framework within which all sorts of extra detail can be added.

The universe seems to operate by a set of rules that are, at times, perverse. When I paint soldiers I struggle and fail to paint straight lines. When I draw rivers on my maps I want wiggly lines, and its straight lines that are easy. Either someone would have to get outside and straighten up all our rivers, or I had to write a more complex algorithm for my map editor. It took most of the day but, as the images show, wiggly rivers are now accomplished.

On the figures front, I've started painting a cuirassier trooper. There's an occurrence that's becoming annoyingly frequent: I start painting and then discover a feature that needs adding to the figure or something on the figure that needs filing off. Inspection by eye before I start painting seems to fail me, its 'inspection by paintbrush' that spots the problems. So, if its a figure I'm unfamiliar with, its best I start by painting one test case. I've found that the cuirassier figures do not have pigtails, a thing not to be tolerated by a pedant like me. My first attempt to add a pigtail convinced me that I wouldn't be able to use milliput - milliput pigtails are just too thin and fragile unless they can run along the figure's back for support. On the cuirassier figure that wouldn't look right to me. It took a while to think of a solution, and the best I could come up with was to run cotton thread through some epoxy glue and then attach that to the figure.

The Suren figures come with separate swords, but I think they are far too fragile for wargaming, and they'd be tricky to fit to the figure's hand anyway. Probably the best thing to do would be to leave the figures without swords - I doubt cavalry would spend the entire battle with swords drawn anyway. However, I decided I did want shouldered swords, so I went for Alte Fritz's method of using pin swords. These were epoxied onto a slight notch in the shoulder and then soldered onto the hand. After that I added a hilt made of milliput to the hand.

He's now added to a growing number of figures awaiting varnishing and metallics


I've added a few links. With my usual attention to detail, I have no doubt I'll have missed out many that - because they follow similar topics and values - should be there too. So I'll add more as they occur to me. If anyone feels they don't want to be connected to my shambles of a blog then please let me know.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Using a delay timer (as suggested by Jim) has improved my photos a little as can be seen below. So I'll be getting a tripod asap to see if that removes the remaining bluriness. Frederick's demotion to an officer of dragoons is more or less complete. Two coats of varnish, and some metallics and he's done.

There's one detail that's confusing me here. Bleckwenn shows the officer's coat without turnbacks, Dorn & Engelmann with. It was convenient to keep Frederick's turnbacks on the figure so that's what I've done. But I am wondering which is right, or if one depiction is on parade. the other on campaign.

Two squadrons of Willies Cuirassiers have arrived in the post, occasioning a few circuits of delight, running around the room like an excited two year old. Having decided to go for extra detailing, I've decided to drop my normal practice of painting by unit, and paint half a squadron (just four troopers) at a time. I'm trying to make things easier for myself because my limitations as a craftsman are becoming apparent.

Metal is supposed to be an inanimate substance. It should not have a will of its own. So the memories of my struggles against it would seem to be the stuff of nightmares, if it weren't for the physical evidence on the table in front of me. My attempts at modelling are proving more than a little frustrating. Replacing the cast reins with wire ones will serve as an example.

Shaping the droop of the reins then hammering the reins flat after and then cutting to length gives me a good start, no problems. Then there's a bit of a fiddle getting them to sit on the figure. The short rein goes into a hole drilled into the horse's teeth, roughly where the bit would be. The long rein (yes I don't know the correct equine term for bridalry, but then many readers won't either) goes from a hole drilled in the bottom rear of the horse's bridle. I try to fix them in place by soldering, and that's the part where the problem starts.

I am not a good solderer. I haven't done it before so that's no surprise: the way you get good at something is to do lots of it. But I think my poor handling of the soldering iron exacerbates the other problems.

Firstly, I seem to lack the required number of hands. One hand for the iron, one for the solder. At this point I find myself envying the Goddess Kali, she'd have the extra hands needed to hold the two bits you are trying to solder together.

Then, solder itself possesses abilities that I had thought were unknown to science. The ability to ignore gravity and run upwards for one. I can spend ten minutes trying to get solder where I want it to be. Then the reins move out of place; an event observed by the solder which will then quickly go where the reins once were, just to annoy me. If anyone uses solder, do they glue the components with superglue first? I'm not sure if its a good idea to use chemicals near where you are going to apply a hot iron.

Despite the frustrations, I am having fun with it all, and better still I am learning a lot as I go. Saturday was best of all: made all the better by being able to listen to Flashman At The Charge on BBC radio while working. MacDonald-Fraser's version of the Charge Of The Large Brigade was particularly amusing, although I'm not sure my new dragoon officer appreciated the joke.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Mapping The World

My petty rulers now require petty states, more than just names, to rule. With a computer to hand, and with a background in programming, the obvious route was to write a program to create the map, so I have written a terrain editor. The image shows a simple, random map created by my program. Graphics are crude at the moment: its all 'programmer art' which is notoriously ugly, but the basic functionally is all there, and the symbols used can be improved any time I feel particularly artistic. For fun, I'm hoping to add the option of an 'antique' mode where the map is drawn in sepia colours just like an 18th Century map.

There are currently two ways to create a map. There's a random number generator that will create a terrain map from scratch using a few basic parameters - whether or not you want a coast, and how hilly or wet you want things, etc.. Alternatively, you can manually set down each hill or mountain or wood whereever you want. And, perhaps most practically if you choose to create a large map, you can create it randomly and then modify it by hand. You can zoom in and out, and the map can contain a large number of hexes without the program slowing down significantly. The map can be printed or saved as a bitmap file. The map (and all associated data) can also be saved in the program's own format. If there's any programmers out there: its saved in xml format: changing the extension on a file to .xml will enable it to be examined in Explorer or Firefox, so it would be possible for anyone to import it into their own program if they can code.

In my career as a tools programmer one golden rule is that the more functionality you provide in software, the more scope users see for expanding that functionality to cover ever more activities. Its like a builder putting up a wooden shed, and five years later coming back to add crenelations to the large country mansion that now occupies the spot. So I've written the terrain editor as one function within a framework that could happily contain much more - economics, recruitment, unit positions and movement etc - without any difficulty.. Thats the reason for its fancy title (Council Of War) - it may well end up managing every aspect of my imaginary campaign. Whether or when I get much further is, however, uncertain as there seems so much else to do these days.

I'll get the program tidied up (a job known to all programmers as 'the boring bit') and then add it to the files in the Old School Wargaming group - a process that should take a week or two. So anyone who wants to take a look at it can get a copy from there.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Terence Wise once ran a remarkably good military bookshop in Doncaster. It was due to his enterprise that I own a copy of Charge - or at least of the reprint that he published. He also republished some rare, but immensely valuable books, with subscribers to his booklist signing up to guarantee some sales before it was published. Not only did we get a number of desperately wanted books as a result, but we got our names printed inside them, good for the ego, and cheap at the price.

Lord George Sackville (As Lord Germain, by Romney, 1778)

One of these books was 'His Brittanic Majesty's Army In Germany During The Seven Years War ', by Lt. General Sir Reginald Savory. And it was in the pages of this epic tome that I first came across that unfortunate officer Lord George Sackville and his part in the Battle of Minden. In Savory's words:

'Sackville had refused to advance despite repeated orders from Prince Ferdinand. Seldom, if ever, has there been in battle such disgraceful disobedience.'

And there things might have stood for me if I hadn't, one day in London, seen a book entitled 'The Coward of Minden' in a shop window near King's Cross Station. The title was intriguing (I'm still unsure as to why this kind of book is to be happened upon quite by accident whilst wandering about London) so I went in and bought it. The book, by Piers Macksey, turned out to be a detailed history of the conduct of the battle, the events leading up to it, and Sackville's court martial afterwards. And I think it is probably the best source of information for anyone trying to write rules for the Seven Years War that I have had the pleasure to read.

Without wishing to write a spoiler, the book gives a rather different viewpoint to that of Savoury. Macksey points out the factors that explain Sackville's conduct. To give a very brief summary from memory these were.

1. The rate of advance of the British infantry was unprecedented and unanticipated, and was contrary to Ferdinand's plans.
2. Sackville's view of the battle was blocked by a wood that lay between his position on the extreme right flank and the rest of the army..
3. The orders received by Sackville were both ambiguous and contradictory.
4. Sackville was consciencious officer of proven courage, but customarily a very slow mover of troops. This last was compounded by his being an infantry officer put in charge of cavalry.

I don't think that Sackville is exonerated by the above: as a senior officer he was trusted to use his judgement to overcome all these problems, but Macksey does show that he was dealt with very harshly when a quieter, more dignified, removal might have been called for. I rather doubt if I would have done any better in Sackville's position, but then I don't expect anyone to entrust me with the command of part of a real life army. I do find it interesting to compare his conduct with that of Soubise at Vellinghausen: a SYW general's career was obviously determined as much by his connections at court as by his conduct in the field.

This leads me to the point that while factors such as terrain, unit formation, and training are all important in determining movement rates, we cannot omit one factor of fundamental importance: leadership. The difference between a Seydlitz and a Sackville or a Soubise is so great that it can be the most important determinant in how a force manouvres. Charge rules do not account for leadership. This is something I shall have to think about, and any suggestions are welcome.