Thursday, 31 January 2008
There's an interesting post on The Duchy of Alzheim regarding blogs and their content. I'd like to see everyone using the comments section of that blog to give their own thoughts on the subject.
So I think I should start by apologising to any students of classic literature, or philosophy students, if I am unable to meet the standards that all bloggers are apparently required to reach. I forgive my friend because we have known each other for a long time, and I am hoping that he will be my opponent when I finally fight Blasthof Heath. As for the author of the magazine article referred to in the linked blog, I have no kind words at all: could one convenient way of filling an article (if you are unable to think of anything better) be to denigrate the efforts of others?
Watched TV lately? Its rubbish. Well, I'm not sure I have improved my content by going down this path
I write this blog because it gives me access to other people's ideas. I set down my (often muddled) thoughts, show what I am trying to do, and then my fellow bloggers sort things out for me in the comments section. Others are kind enough to offer encouragement. It seems strange to me that anyone would have a problem with that.
I could stop blogging. I could go next door for advice, but sadly the lady there has never expressed an interest in wargaming the 18th Century, I'm not sure she has many insights into modelling Frederick the Great's army. Blogs are a technology that allows us to converse with like minded individuals wherever in the world they may be.
And if anyone continues to fail to understand what I and fellows like me are about, I can only regret I cannot award him the order of the boot. I refer here to a picture in my first post.
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
A few years ago I moved from a place where house prices were sane to a spot within commuting distance of London. Personally I'd pay a premium to be further away from London, but the reverse happens to be true. So the house I now have is half the size of my last. Conscious of the lack of space I'd have soon, I sold off all my wargames armies before moving, something I haven't regretted. Starting again from scratch gives me total freedom of direction.
My current circumstances are: limited playing area, limited storage space, and no local wargames opponent. These might all be looked on as being problematic, but I'm inclined to see the advantages. The 'sensible' response to having restricted storage and playing areas might be to go for smaller scale armies. I once collected a 15mm French Napoleonic army, and despite the figures used being astonishingly good (Battle Honours), I know, from having collected them, that figures of that size cannot satisfy the values that are permanently imprinted in my brain from a childhood spent dreaming of 30mm figures.
The combination of limited room and the need to use 30mm figures leads to an inescapable conclusion: my wargames army will be small. The funny thing is that accepting the idea doesn't really close any doors, it just identifies what opportunities I possess. A small army, and (with no opponent waiting impatiently at the table) means that I can spend more time on each figure than I have been accustomed to doing. In the past I have never done much more than paint figures. I have always felt the need to complete a unit and move on to paint the next. I think now that, by doing so, I failed to really get as much pleasure from the activity as I could have.
Well, the sense of urgency is now gone. The Cuirassier standard bearer that I recently painted has to be the most valued figure in my collection. The reason for that is that it contains a lot more individuality that comes from me rather than from the original sculptor. I think if I possessed the ability I'd be inclined to try sculpting my own figures. Unfortunately, I am sure that anything I created wouldn't meet the standards of Stadden and Suren, so the result wouldn't bring me the satisfaction I am looking for. However, I can take the time to add extra detailing to each figure - wire reins for cavalry for instance - to create my ideal wargames figure. Figures for life I'd say.
The irony is that after all has been said, I am not excluded from fighting in large battles either. Our gentlemen friends in the Colonies have popularised the practice of gathering together in large teams at a chosen venue. Each person needs to bring only a few units: the mass effect is created by the number of contributors to the armies. So really there is no limit to the thing at all.
Monday, 28 January 2008
My cavalry test piece is complete and he's about as good a figure as I've managed so far. He's painted as a member of KR10, the two sources used for his uniform being Bleckwenn and Dorn&Engelmann. I enjoyed this figure so much that I committed the sin of painting more detail than I'd ever manage on a full regiment: the saddle blanket has 2 and 3 stripes of red and yellow respectively, whereas for mass production 1 and 2 stripes would be all I'd manage.
So, the infantry needed for Blasthof is done, the first two squadrons of cavalry are on order. The final part of the armies to consider is their artillery.
I hate artillery. There's probably not much out there thats hated more (at least when on the receiving end) by the PBI, but I've never been shelled, that's not my excuse, wars are something I see on TV. But I've fought too many wargames where artillery has dominated the battlefield. By the time of the SYW this is not too inaccurate - there are enough descriptions of Frederick's grenadier battalions being blown away by Austrian guns to give it credibility. However, I don't think it gives a good game. Either the side with the most pieces wins a tedious shooting match, or else the side with less artillery is slaughtered when it marches forward into the area swept by the guns
So in my battles I will not allow much artillery to be present, and what there is will be relatively ineffective. If any justification is needed for this then I confess my artillery has been unaffected by the reforms of the mid 18th Century (Valliere, Lichtenstein etc.) that had such a great impact on the size and effectiveness of the of other nations' arsenals.
The action of Blasthof Heath immediately brings the problem of artillery to the fore. The original order of battle had a full battery of two cannons per side, which in my view makes these armies horribly overgunned. It's worth noting that the second battle on my list (Charles Grant's Action!) has only one artillery piece per side despite having more than doubled the numbers of infantry and cavalry present.
My first reaction was to dispense with artillery altogether for Blasthof. However, I've decided to keep one cannon per side. Should both armies prefer to sit down outside of musketry range of each other then the artillery will act as a goad to encourage whoever loses the artillery duel to close. Without this there is the potential for a stalemate to occur. I will however replace the original Charge! artillery effect rules with the following table (NB: ranges would be halved for use in the elementary game)
The choice of which figure range to use for artillery is difficult: manufacturers seem to have the same aversion to artillery as I have, I'd imagine because the volume of figures sold is never going to match the scale of the other arms. Looking at Charge! isn't much help here, it uses Stadden figures that are frankly ahistorical: British Napoleonic horse artillery figures. I love these figures (the brass light dragoon helmet they wear is really elegant), but they represent too great a period shift for my conscience. The Stadden range offers a British SYW officer and a gunner with linstock. There's also a generic artillery piece available under the listings for Napoleonic French, and this looks like the piece used in Charge!.
Willie Figures does offer boxed sets of gunners and cannon, but only for French and British. I think the Willie French will be my choice: the uniforms of all artillery in this period are nearly identical, and the pigtails of Prussian gunners can be added using milliput.
Saturday, 26 January 2008
I have dissembled. I have held back dark secrets. But it is time, at last, to make admission of the hideous facts that lie behind this civilised facade.
In Castle Rheinfels the elderly Landgrave Wilhelm, sits precariously on his throne gazing out over the Rhine. When the fit takes him he sinks into dreams of when he held the stirrup of the great Marlborough, so that General would mount and lead his army on, south and east, to the glorious field of Blenheim. He looks into the deep waters and imagines himself still the immovable western bulwark of the Empire, still blocking passage to the forces of Louis, forgetting that the old alliances are undone and the Hapsburg Eagle and the Lilies Of France now march together.
He should look, instead, to the north-east where the jackals of the House of Marburg watch the his decline into senility with undisguised satisfaction. They wait impatiently for that sublime moment when they will reunite the two houses of Hesse at the point of the bayonet. The foolish Prince of Marburg is held in thrall by the sinister Graf von Arlitz, late of the Prussian Service. The Graf, connoiseur of the birch twig, has disgusted even Frederick with displays of sadism that went far beyond the excesses of even that most ferocious of monarchs. Now he terrorises the farmboys of Northern Hesse, making them into fodder for the ambitions of their Prince.
Ahem, well. Two of these gentlemen, and in one case at least I use the term loosely, are my avatars. On my bad days I am the Landgrave. On my very bad days I am the Graf von Arlitz. On my good days, I am neither and hope to recover some degree of sanity, after sinking into the heady waters in which my two alter egos swim.
Having established the people at the centre of affairs, I have now to decide what to do with them. It seems to me that my two sources provide a convenient progression with scenarios that engage increasing numbers of troops.. Considered in order of complexity we have:
- Blasthof Heath (Charge). Less than a battalion of infantry and half a regiment of cavalry on each side.
- Action! (The Wargame). Two line and one light infantry battalion and a full regiment of cavalry per side.
- Sittangbad (Charge). Two to four line, one light and one pioneer battalion, and two to three cavalry regiments per side.
- Mollwitz(The Wargame). Seven to ten line infantry battalions, and three to six cavalry regiments per side.
These are, for me, a series of landmark battles that provide me with milestones to aim at. I cannot see me ever getting as far as Mollwitz, but Sittangbad remains a plausible target even if it's one that, with my rate of painting, is far in the distance. The first landmark, Blasthof is within vision: if all goes well I shall be visiting that sometime before the middle of the year.
Friday, 25 January 2008
I have all the infantry I'll need for my version of Blasthof Bridge, the next on my to do list is some cavalry. The Stadden range is very limited here, the only (albeit very nice) Prussian SYW cavalry on offer being hussars. A quick look at the photos in Charge has convinced me that the heavy cavalry used in that book are Edward Suren's Willie figures, so I'm happy to follow that lead. After all there can't be many Charge fans out there who don't rate Kornberg's Cuirassiers. To echo the words of the good Brigadier: 'It is our odious view that the Best is Good Enough'. I have departed a little from original: I will mount the Willies troopers on Stadden horses - these horses are such works of beauty that they cannot be ignored. From what I've read on other sites I am not alone in this view and not the first to pursue the policy.
With foresight rather greater than is my usual practice, I sent off for some samples some time ago. I usually paint up a single example before committing myself to a paint scheme: finishing a dozen or so figures and then deciding on a major change has no appeal. As an essay into the problems likely to be encountered on these, I've decided to start on the cavalry by painting up one of the standard bearers. This figure will need a lot more work than any other.
My starting point was a little strange: The standartentrager is an NCO and so should have much of the same gear as the rank and file. Despite this, I've used the Willies Officer figure: I'll lose fewer fingers adding features using milliput than I will cutting things off with a craftknife.
The first problem was to get the figure to fit a larger than intended horse. The Willies saddle cloth didn't look large enough for the horse anyway, so cutting that off dealt with the size problem. I'll use paper saddle cloths printed off on my printer as a replacement. This seems like a pretty happy solution as any cast saddle cloth has to be overly thick to be castable, unless saddle cloths are two inches thick in real life.
I decided to remove the cast reins as these were positioned far away from where the trooper's hand would reach. The replacements were made from the thinnest wire I could find, beaten flat. These weren't very successful. Next time I'll drape them correctly while they still have a circular cross section, they didn't seem to bend where I wanted once they'd been flattened.
The horses mane where the reins had been cut off was repaired with milliput. That was very easy as there was enough of the original sculptor's detail around the damaged area to act as a guide. I next added a frilly ornate sash running diagonally across chest and back from shoulder to waist. Again made from millput, the trick is to roll a cylinder of millput to a diameter of about 1mm, drape it round the figure and then press it flat with a wet knife. I then dimpled the edges with the knife's edge. The folded blankets behind the rider was just a single block of millput. I fitted the block onto the figure and cut off some excess to get the shape right. The three straps holding the lot down were then cut into the block using a knife. Then I marked out the details of the division between top and bottom blankets and their respective folds.
I have to say that this relatively simple piece of sculpting with milliput (my first attempt) was easier than I'd imagined. To be honest, the hard work was done years ago by Edward Suren, and adding little details like these is trivial by comparison with what he did. This isn't like sculpting from scratch or from a dolly, something I'd never try to do.
The flagpole is brass rod, buyable at any model train shop, with a spear point at the end hammered and filed to shape. When I'm doing this I prepare the rod by wrapping a sticky plaster around the rod immediately below the bit being hammered. This protects the rod from inaccurate hammer blows and makes it much easier to grip when filing. The ornamental cords will be added after the paper flag is glued on: these are simply twisted copper wires with cotton tied around the ends to simulate knots.
Things left to do are to file off the officer's waist sash, and glue on a cardboard sabretache. The officer had ornate shoulder straps and these also have to go.
Thats a lot of work for one figure, and completely impractical for a complete regiment. The rest of them will certainly get the paper saddle blankets and maybe replacement reins. But, with sixteen troopers and several officers per side (two squadrons each) in my first batch of figures, thats all I the time want to spend on remodelling what are first class figures anyway.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
Passing the bottle the wrong way, wearing the wrong tie: memories of these errors can cause strong men to blench as they remember the day they were thrown out of the club. So far everything has been very Old School, but now comes a dangerous idea. As I've posted previously, my terrain is based on 100mm hexes, so my battlefields will be divided into a grid that could be used to regulate movement and firing. I think that's an opportunity thats worth exploring, as I can see a number of benefits to using hexes; and the experiment has no cost associated with it, so I can discard the idea if it doesn't work. The good points that come readily to mind are:
- Unambiguous definition of position. The extent of a terrain feature is precisely defined by a hex. Whether a unit is in (say) a wood is therefore simply a matter of whether that unit is in a woods hex or not.
- Precise measurement of distance. In reality it wouldn't matter if two infantry units were at 100 yards range or 101 yards range: the effect on musketry would be imperceptable. But in wargames, where we have to categorise ranges into specific intervals that might make the difference between firing at long range and being out of range altogether. There are similar problems with movement distances. Hexes give us a precise distance, whereas measurement of ranges using a ruler is always subject to a certain element of interpretation.
- The game is speeded up hugely if you can determine distances by eye alone, without the need for a ruler.
I am aware that there's a number of disadvantages. The rarity with which figure-based wargames use hexes as a rules mechanism is a pretty good indication that they exist. For a starter, hexes limit you to distances of a given granularity - one hex or two, you can't move a hex and a half, etc.. However, its going to be an interesting experinment.
The first step is to organise units so they will actually fit the terrain. Infantry figures will have a nominal 16mm frontage, cavalry a 24mm frontage, so formations six and four figures wide respectively will fit comfortably into a hex measuring 100mm wide across flats. Depths will be 24mm for infantry, 48mm for cavalry and both will use 2 rank deep formation when deployed in line. The last is a tight fit for Stadden cavalry, but doable if I use the standing horse figure.
Infantry battalions will therefore have four companies of 12 figures each, cavalry squadrons will have 8 figures. In addition, there will be additional figures - officers, musicians, standard bearers floating around. These last will have no significance within the rules, being entirely decorative. I always loved the look of the battles in 'Charge' where there are always large numbers of such worthies in view, and its important to me to try and reproduce this. I am not entirely happy with the size of a cavalry squadron (its a little small) but that's one downside of using hexes I suppose.
The photo shows a battalion of Stadden Prussian grenadiers in march attack pose: my favourite wargame figure. I think that a similar photo in Charge (of the Erbprinz Regiment in line) was more responsible than any other factor in fixing my tastes in wargaming, as I read the book over and over as a teenager. My version of the regiment just received its drummers and commanding officer today. I posted before that I hate painting drummers, and there's no less than four of them to each of my battalions. But then the commander of a company is a man of substance who, in my possibly eccentric view, cannot be denied such perquisites as his own musician. There's a standard bearer left to paint and then the battalion is complete.
But I digress. The photo shows how a battalion in line would be formed on my hex terrain. As the photo shows, I'm going to keep my figures unbased initially. The time it takes to move singly based figures should not be a problem as I don't intend to build big armies. Should that change and I do base them later, then 48x48 mm bases can be used for both infantry and cavalry, holding 3x2 infantry and 2x1 cavalry figures.
Other than the above, the starting point for my rules will be a mix of those described in 'Charge' and 'The Wargame', using one hex as the equivalent of four inches. I will develop them from there, though I don't as yet know quite how they will develop.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
In the mid 18th century the social commentator, George Coleman, decried the great fashion of his time: "Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world…The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; critics read with Taste; and in short, fiddlers, players, singers, dancers, and mechanics themselves, are all the sons and daughters of Taste. Yet in this amazing super-abundancy of Taste, few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies."
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
The photos are chosen for their value in showing the geometry of the bridge, rather than their beauty: I hope this might make good reference material for wargamers who want to build their own terrain. If I progress so far, I think a model based on Stare Bridge will do admirably for that at Sittangbad.
The entire territory of the two Hesses is constructed out of MDA, foamcore board, and PVA: a circumstance that has undoubtedly affected property values. My terrain will be based on 100mm hexes. There are excellent commercial ranges available that use this size of hex, but all my terrain will be homemade. There are no particular reasons for my doing this, other than the enjoyment of modelling everything myself, and that I can make everything to suit my own tastes.
My terrain hexes are composed of a 4mm bottom layer of MDF with a 5mm layer of foamcore board on top. The MDF gives some rigidity, the foamcore allows me to cut 5mm down to create identations for things such as rivers. I've chosen this to give a reasonable compromise between stiffness, weight and ease of cutting. The big problem with terrain boards of this construction is that the MDF is not thick enough to prevent warping, which seems to happen most when PVA glue shrinks as it dries out.
For example, I am using sand sprinkled onto PVA to give me a grass texture. If this was applied directly onto the foamcore then the resulting terrain board would probably warp. My solution is to apply the sand to a sheet of paper. The paper is thin so it shrinks along with the PVA rather than warping, as long as I keep it on a flat surface and compressed under a few books while it dries. Once fully dried out, the paper is glued (using sparse amounts of PVA) onto the foamcore. It would probably be more sensible to use grass paper from a model railway shop, but this way is more fun: even my sand is 'homemade', being taken from where a river piles it up on a sandbank within a short bike ride of my house.
A refight of Sittangbad is at best some distance away. My first landmark is going to be a refight of Blasthof Bridge: the jpeg shows my version of the bridge under construction. It's not an accurate model of any particular bridge: but then small bridges like this are pretty generic and fairly simple to make. The bridge walls were cut out and directly attached to the MDF hex base first. The 5mm foamcore top of the base was then added around it. Doing things in this order should give the base added rigidity. The road surface was build up by gluing Foamcore cross beams between the walls and then gluing a thin cardboard sheet on top of them. The flagstone surface is just squares of thin card glued onto a piece of paper. This was only glued onto the card surface of the bridge once it had dried (and therefore shrunk as much as it wanted to). Stonework om the bridge walls is again rectangles of thin card, this time glued directly onto the MDF. Next, I have to finish the grass texturing and then decide how best to simulate water.
Monday, 21 January 2008
...the very essence of gravity was design, and consequently deceit; -'twas a taught trick to gain credit of the world for more sense and knowledge than a man was worth (Tristram Shandy).
Incidentally, it is in Tristram Shandy that we find Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, two early wargamers of sorts.
Imaginary nations (Imaginations) are popular nowadays. There is good reason to follow the examples given by Young and Grant - Imaginations give a full rein to individual taste and self-expression, with few of the constraints of historical simulation. 18th Century Europe is an ideal setting - lots of petty states, and uniforms that do not vary greatly in cut between nationalities, so figures are almost anonymous before they are painted. By contrast, a (say) Napoleonic Prussian infantryman when painted in an imaginary uniform still looks suspiciously like a Napoleonic Prussian infantryman, only one painted in funny colours.
I confess that one of my failings is a startling lack of creativity. I do have a brain, but its virtues are entirely technical. So I use the different, if related, technique of alternative history. I have taken the history of Hesse and simply messed it about a bit. My prototype, the original Electorate of Hesse, was divided between four heirs to create the smaller territories of Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Marburg, and Hesse-Rheinfels. Historically, by the 18th Century, the last two dynasties had become extinct. By a strange twist of fate, in my alternative history it is the first two that have disappeared. So I have the houses of Hesse-Rheinfels (Empire Loyalists), and Hesse-Marburg (Northern Protestants) at odds with each other.
My units will be clothed in reasonably accurate Prussian uniforms so they can also be used to fight historic battles of the SYW. This way I can also indulge in the gaucheries of why the muskets of IR6 cannot possibly be the same colour as those of IR18, and other matters of the greatest inconsequence. The only downside to this is the drummers. It seems that 18th Century Colonels clothed their drummers with a stunning disregard for the well-being of future generations of wargamers who would have to paint them.
Recruiting wargame armies (even the sensible armies that avoid many percussionists) takes up a far greater proportion of time than actually fighting with the armies does. My rate of figure painting, two dozen a month when the going is good, makes me one of the slowest recruiters out there. So it makes sense for me to make a game out of raising the armies as well as fighting with them. My alternative history is therefore underway already, before I have armies capable of guarding anything larger than a ladies boudoir. I'm using the timeline of the Seven Years War mixed with garbled versions of contemporary events as a background: so January 2008 is also January 1758. By the time I get to fight a battle, my armies will be populated by units and generals that already possess a considerable amount of individual 'history'. For instance, the infantry companies raised in Hesse-Rheinfels in December are sadly suspect, containing in their ranks many fugitives from the wrecks of the Reichsarmee after Rossbach.
I won't be publishing my war diary in this blog, although I will give excerpts from it. So a recent story ran:
Another calamity for Rheinfels, in the form of a banking scandal. The largest bank in Rheinfels, ‘Der Westlich Reich’ collapses, although its owner is able to depart with sufficient funds to buy a large country estate and a smart new carriage for his lady wife. The Landgrave prevents a run on the bank by having IR Rheinfels perform its drill outside the bank's premises during opening hours, blocking access to frantic customers and proving the advantages of big battalions. He then shows a proper appreciation of the advantages of enlightened absolutism, arresting the unfortunate banker and having him hung, drawn and quartered. Public confidence in Rheinfels banks is quickly restored, although Rheinfels bankers seem less confident, and one banker in particular is certainly beyond all hope of restoration.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
The word Rococo is seen as a combination of the French rocaille, or shell, and the Italian barocco, or Baroque style. Due to Rococo love of shell-like curves and focus on decorative arts, some critics used the term to derogatively imply that the style was frivolous or merely fashion; interestingly, when the term was first used in English in about 1836, it was a colloquialism meaning "old-fashioned".
The above might be a descriptive of a blog such as mine which not only lacks any clear substance, but is certainly old-fashioned.