Thursday, 26 March 2009

Grenze Infantry

My first attempt at creating my own figures has gotten all the way to a result of sorts. The process took a lot longer than expected: partly my own fault, due to my trying to juggle too many different projects simultaneously, but also due to the bizarre society in which we all live.

I live in a town with a population of 25,000 people, and to any rational observer it might seem that such a town would support a thriving shopping area. What we actually have is a high street with a large number of charity shops, interspersed with banks and building societies, a few genuine shops (none of which seem to have a long life) and a wide selection of places where you can get food poisoning or drunk, depending on your preference. To acquire something as rare as plasticine required a trip to the nearest city. Unadulterated talcum powder was not to be had, so my moulds are dusted with baby powder (relieving me from any anxiety over my soldiery getting nappy rash).

The Silicone rubber I bought on the web from Alec Tiranti's. The mould making was poorly executed (if anyone can claim to be able to control the wilful determination of silicon rubber to explore the world far from the confines of a mould I can only envy him). I let the moulds dry out for some time before attempting casting. My wariness on this point owed much to an incident in my youth when I poured metal into a damp plaster of Paris mould. This turned into an impressive demonstration of the power of the steam catapult, pieces of metal being deposited on the ceiling.

The Offending Article

I have so far cast just one infantryman, although I have the moulds for a cavalryman and his horse also ready. I wanted to paint my first figure up so I could assess whether the results were usable. This is the figure shown in the photo.

With any project like this there is always the danger that one will view the products on one's labour with the same level of impartiality as a mother has for her new-born babe. However, in this case, even I can see the figure has it's faults: I would describe it as hovering dangerously close to the limits of acceptability. In particular, the face came out looking more like a lunar landscape than a face (the photo shows the figure after it has been cleaned up considerably). The overall impression is encouraging though. It does at least conform to my most important criteria: correct (slim) bodily proportions and a pose that works well on the wargames table. If, on my first attempt, I can get a figure that is at least usable, then it is worth pursuing this in the hope that with experience, I will acheive better results next time.

My choice of uniform helps a lot here: it's taken from the Funcken depiction of the Karlstadter-Oguliner Croat on page 99 of volume 2 of the Lace Wars books. The reason for choosing this uniform is that it is bright and busy: something which distracts from the figure's many blemishes. On the wargames table (and with the aid of a 50 year old's eyesight) I am happy with the look of the figure. And there is one good feature of making one's own figures that applies here: if I sculpt a better figure in the future this fellow can be melted down and reborn again.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Crunch

One disappointment in our recent refight of Action! was the absence of any attempt by cavalry to charge infantry in line. As long-term users of the Charge ruleset, we have in the past always written off such an event as inevitably resulting in nothing but woe for the cavalry. The Grantian rules include mechanisms which penalise infantry drawn up in only 2 deep line, and so I was keen to explore whether cavalry might - with these rules at least - expect a more fortunate outcome. The details of the rules I am thinking of are given on page 77 of 'The Wargame'.

Such a test does not require a proper battle and so I chose to lay out the necessary figures and try out the rules by myself. The starting position was a full regiment of dragoons drawn up facing an infantry battalion, also at full strength, deployed in line. I assumed that the infantry had not fired in the previous turn, being content to reserve their fire until just before the moment of impact. I decided, however, not to allow them their first fire bonus.

Starting Position

The Grant rules give the infantry a 50-50 chance of firing at close or medium range, giving -2 or -3 on the dice of each firing group for effect. If this were the sole factor determining losses then casualties would be likely to be heavy at either range, with 8 firing groups resulting in 13 or 8 casualties given average dice rolls. However, in practice there is considerable scope here for multiple hits on the same trooper: each firing group of 6 infantry is only firing at 3 cavalry (note 1). In my refight I scored only 4 casualties firing at medium range (and would have scored 8 casualties if firing at close).

I assumed that front rank losses amongst the cavalry could be filled in from the rear. Thus 12 cavalry charged home. I assumed the average number of breakthroughs (ie. 6) merely throwing for their position. I chose to allow a cavalryman who achieved a breakthrough to remain where he was if he was still in contact with at least one of the enemy (note 2).

After Firing And Breakthroughs

I was now at a moment where the strength of the Grant rules was in evidence: not only had the infantry already suffered casualties that would not have occurred under the Charge! rules, but their formation was sufficiently broken to allow the cavalrymen a far better chance in the subsequent melee. Almost every fight was at 2:1 in the cavalry's favour. In Charge! the cavalry would be facing an unbroken array of bayonets with many more 1:1 combats. This showed in the result, with eight more infantry falling as opposed to only one dragoon.

After The Melee

At the end of the melee, 14 infantry had fallen while the dragoons had lost 5 (or 9). With -3 on their morale due to the number of breakthroughs, as well as a further penalty due to the number of their losses the infantry would have a fair chance of failing their morale throw. Whether the dragoons were in a position to take advantage of this would also be a matter of some doubt: their chances of making a morale throw depending on whether they took losses due to close or medium range musketry.

I have to admit that all of this relies on a very shaky knowledge of the Grant rules. But I do like the mechanisms involved. The importance of steady infantry holding their fire until close range, and the 'feel' of the breakthrough rules seemed to give a flavour of the British infantry's desperate fight against the flower of the French cavalry at Minden.

Note 1: This is based on a very hazy understanding of 'target groups' given the musketry rules given on pages 33-37.

Note 2: In this case I decided the rear rank infantryman would still fall back - he'd probably be more inclined to think of his wife and children at this moment than wish to seek revenge for his fallen comrade.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Afterthoughts on Action! And More Blobs

Our refight of Action has seen me pondering over my choice of rules. When I was fighting battles with my friends as teenagers (some 30 years ago) we always used the Charge rules. There wasn't any real logic to this choice: they simply happened to be the first set of rules that we read and, as we were happy with them, there didn't seem to be any need to explore the issue further. After so many years, using the Grantian rules for the first time has therefore been something of a revelation.

I found that I much preferred the musketry rules from the Grant set. They have slightly more involved mechanics than the Charge ones but give good value for the extra effort. I feel they reflect how range affects the effectiveness of musketry far better than Charge does: our bickering at longish ranges were satisfyingly ineffective.

The Grant morale rules also worked well, although we would attend to proper bookkeeping next time. The Charge method of 49% casualties=no effect, 51%=total loss was never particularly satisfying.

The use of artillery templates as per the Grant rules we avoided and will continue to avoid. I have never found this device usable: often moving a template just a fraction of an inch can radically alter the number of figures within its area. This is not something that works well in a game with any sort of competitive edge. Fortunately a mechanism based on the Charge rules can be substituted here.

We never got a chance to try out the cavalry vs infantry (ie. the breakthrough) rules. In our game, by the time that the infantry columns had been roughed up sufficiently for them to be vulnerable, neither side was in a position to use them. Soubise's Gensdarmes were trying to rally (and failing every kind of dice throw they made), Kornberg's dragoons were better employed as a 'threat in being' to limit Soubise's options. Even so, the existence of these rules had some impact on the game as both sides felt the threat that cavalry posed. Using Charge rules, we were always confident that the casualties suffered to musketry in the charge would make the cavalry regret attempting to charge an infantry battalion.

Cavalry Man and (with luck) Croat

On the sculpting side, progress continues at a pace sufficient to make the average snail look like an olympic athlete. It's still great fun although, with the realisation that it might just result in a usable figure or two, there comes the the daunting prospect of having to try and make a mould. In addition to the cavalry figure, I'm now also working on what I hope might turn into something resembling a Croat.