Friday, 17 February 2017

3 700 km east to Austerlitz—follow-up

If you would like to read and see more about this game, I strongly urge you to visit Ben (Rosbif's) blog for his second instalment "The Revenge of Dr Love"

As always an entertaining, balanced account with plenty of piccies. Thanks Ben.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

All about the history

Mais qu’est alors cette vérité historique, la plupart du temps? Une fable convenue. Ainsi qu’on l’a dit fort ingénieusement...
(What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon. As it has been very ingeniously remarked...)
Las Cases (1823), Mémorial de Sainte Hélène: Journal de la Vie Privée et des Conversations de l’Empereur Napoléon, à Sainte Hélène. Cited at

Bonaparte devant le Sphinx by Jean-Léon Gérôme (WikimediaCommons)

This post has been inspired by a couple of recent incidents. 

Firstly, a questionnaire from Hat, one of the manufacturers of the wonderful 1/72nd scale figures that we like to use. They have had a change of ownership recently and have been surveying their customers a lot. One recent questionnaire posed the question:
"Are toy soldiers your main hobby?"
I found the question impossible to answer. For a start, I do not like to call them toy soldiers, preferring military miniatures (a bit coy on my part, I admit). More importantly, none of the options was "they are not my hobby". The collecting of 'toy soldiers' is but part of the wonderful hobby that I enjoy, viz. wargaming.

Secondly, a bit of email correspondence between Julian and myself regarding 'home made' models which made me realise that, while we have quite similar preferences on most things wargaming, the ranking of key aspects of the hobby for each of us—perhaps even what we regard as the ultimate 'point' of the hobby— is quite different.

You see, for me, it is all about the history.

There are so many aspects to wargaming aren't there? Reading and researching the history, reading and researching uniform details, collecting and painting the miniatures, building terrain items and other wargaming pieces, designing scenarios, getting together with friends... not to mention playing the games (perhaps even satisfying a competitive urge or trying to do better than one's historical counterpart)!

History is no. 1 for me. This explains my strong preference for historical wargaming and playing historically-based games. I'll join in with a fictional action but it does not hold the same interest for me. I've even been known to play a fantasy game, but it has been just that, a 'game'.

This may be blasphemous on a wargaming related blog, but, if push came to shove, if I were on a 'desert island'#, I'd take my history books over my figures—all 21 714 of them at time of writing this (figures that is).
# It is quite a well appointed 'desert island', you see! Probably more Gilligan's Island. Marie-Ann or Ginger, that old boyhood question...

So, what is it that most grasps you in this wonderful hobby, interest (obsession!) that we enjoy?

Monday, 13 February 2017

3 700 km east to Austerlitz

Prior to Julian's recent, excellent post about our game of "Glorious First of June", it had been three months since our last post on this blog. The blogging may have been quiet over Dec–Jan, but there was plenty of action on wargames tables various.

For me, 2017 began with a mega-game of Austerlitz, thanks to the Nunawading Wargames Association.

Getting there was at least half the fun as I took the opportunity to drive the approximately 3700 km west to east across Australia to get there.

I have been fortunate to have played in one of the other of the Nunawading Wargames Association's January games, having joined them for Borodino in 2014. I was unable to make it to Waterloo in 2015 and they had a break in 2016, so it was marvellous to be able to join them for Austerlitz this year.

I won't try to do a full report of this magnificent game. Ben 'Rosbif' will be doing this and has already begun with Part 1 of his account

The table, prepared by Tim was spectacular as ever.

Darren devised a simple, effective and tension-building way to represent the early morning fog.

The French lead corps entered the fog from the west, heading NE and SE.

The scenario used the historical set-up and initial orders, so the allies held in the north while attacking from the south.

Some early action featuring Lannes' and Bagration's cavalry. As with the real thing northern sector was another world away in this game.

In the southern sector, the Russian 2nd column occupied the orchard between Sokolnitz and Sokolnitz castle and made a right mess of the place. No potatoes, so it was alcoholic cider that day...!!

I was most fortunate to be given command of St Hilaire's fine division from Soult's corps (thanks Andrew!).

As the fog lifted we fell on the disorganised and unsuspecting 3rd column that had become confused and lost, losing all formation integrity.

Next in our sights was 4th column. Vandamme's division took the lead in this attack, directed personally by Marshal Soult. 

It was a fast & furious advance that saw us re-occupying the Pratzen Heights—nearly capturing the Czar in the process.
(Okay, nothing of the sort really, I merely managed to snap this photo before they moved him!).

A couple of low shots to indicate the expanse of the table and grandeur of the game.

Having disposed of 3rd column, I prepared to continue on into 2nd...

Trouble is that the allies had other ideas forming a solid defensive line and sending their cavalry into our exposed flank, which was all the more so as I'd decided to career off to the south instead of swinging to the east with Vandamme.

My over-zealousness contributed to our lack of cavalry to exploit our success (or even defend our flank).

A divisional morale test was called for. Still, good troops, relatively light losses, they'd pass on anything but a...

... ten (i.e. '0' on D10).

Off we went.

Which left a bit of a gap!

Thanks to the timely arrival of Davout's (Bourcier's) dragoons there were sufficient French to hold the line until St Hilaire's division had rallied and come back to the front.

The allies were largely content to occupy the southern side of the Pratzen Heights... in some force!

After two and a half-fabulous days of wargaming the game had reached somewhat of a stalemate in the north, both sides having fought one another to a standstill. So it was that the extended battle for the Pratzen would decide the game as a draw of unlikely victory to one or the other side.

St Hilaire's orders were to attack, so that's what we did.

Forming his units in close column he drove for the 'hinge' held by the Austrian advance guard of Keinmayer.

Aided by good dice from me and poor rolling by John we cleared first the artillery, then their supporting infantry.

Causing the Austrian 'division' to retreat.

The game was called at this stage: a minor French victory. The allied players had done far, far better than their historical counter-parts and we French had done nowhere near as well.

Thanks so much again to all of the Nunawading Wargames Association Napoleonics players for allowing me to join their special weekend game. Thanks especially to Tim and Jill for their marvellous hospitality.

Next year it's Austerlitz again, but this time with freedom to the players to devise their own plans.

The New Year for us began with the Glorious First June. As I noted above, Julian has already put together a fine post about that game.

In coming posts I'll report on the games that we played in November and December last year. Here's a little taster.

Action at Pretzsch, 29 October 1759

An action that we played out twice, once using Age of Reason rules and the second with our adapted version of Zimmermann's rules. Both played out equally well, providing two excellent games and similar results.

Second Sicilian War

Carthaginian hegemony was not challenged by the result of our game!

Battle of Laüs

Based on the great victory of the Lucanians over the Greeks . Mark and I played it twice, changing sides, but neither of us was able to emulate the Lucanian's historical success.

Battle of Mt Vesuvius

First battle of the Third Servile War. Gaius Claudius Glaber's Rome Guard were once again swept aside by the 'Spartacans'.

Caesar's 1st invasion of Britain redux

That's two attempts and two failures for our version of Caesar!

Battle of Sahay 24 May, 1742

Another game from Charles S. Grant's fabulous historical scenarios for the War of Austrian War. A memorable French victory it was too. :)

Guest Blogger Starts Blogging! 

Our guest blogger Phil from York, UK has begun his own blog!
His first report is of his game of the Battle of Austerlitz, recognising a most unusual anniversary!

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Heart-breaking Encounter

After so much hype to myself, I was immensely looking forward to the ANF's third playtest of Napoleonic naval rules, fighting Glorious 1st June using Heart of Oak rules.

With the assistance of colleagues I was able to deploy the entire fleets of both sides using Sails of Glory models with reasonable accuracy. The obviously inaccurate ships of the line were three-deck British 2nd Rates, for which 1st Rates had to do duty, and the various very large French 80 gun ships for which we had to use Third Rate 74s. I therefore look forward enormously to the issue of 'Redoubtable' from Sails of Glory. That said, the lines looked reasonably close to their historical counterparts when deployed, we all agreed, especially from a distance. And we had three commanders a side, which was ideal. The frigates provided some scenery. 

Unfortunately, this was the high point of the battle. The basic problem with the rules, which I ought to have identified before even trying them out, was the one minute turn. Even starting the action I thought as late as possible - when historically firing started - had two contradictory and unfortunate consequences when fighting a battle on this scale. First, firing concentrated on one vessel from six or seven (why not?) resulted in appalling battle damage in a single minute. Ridiculous. Secondly, sailing, whilst easily understood and plausible, resulted in minute mm moves. The imbalance rapidly proved destructive to the entire game, a bitter reminder of how an awful set of rules can kill off an action. Within a minute or so, the British did make the turn to starboard as historically, but they never had a chance of getting to grips with the enemy.

A further problem was that differences in sailing qualities amongst vessels, combined with rigid selections of sail, resulted in the line disintegrating within a few minutes. That cannot be right - certainly some ships did fall behind from time to time, but the entire principle of the line of battle relied on the ability of the majority of ships to keep station. 

Within a couple of minutes we had ships on both sides on fire and heavily damaged, which was equally unrealistic. 

All we managed to get to, after no fewer than eleven turns, was the British line getting somewhat closer to the French, and some tacking by the head of the French line, one ship of which managed to dismast itself in the process, which seemed excessive: no one would even try, with that kind of risk. 

It was evident that had we continued, the British would lose several ships, with others crippled, before they would ever get a proper chance to return fire. Howe's successful strategy would have been suicidal, and he would have known that and not tried it. 

We realised these rules might work for a few ships, but they simply did not scale up. Not so much rain stopped play as pain stopped the day. 

I was in a position of owing my colleagues a significant apology.

But there has been a bright lining to this cloudy game. Our conclusion was that none of the rule sets we've seen so far: Signal Close Action (especially in its latest complex incarnation), Form Line of Battle and now Heart of Oak can ever achieve our goal, which is to have a very high chance of fighting through a major naval encounter in a day or two, with a result that comes within the boundaries of historical plausibility - a naval version of Shako. On the other hand, Heart of Oak sailing mechanics may form the basis of a decent set of rules with approximately fifteen minute turns, a move getting done in about half an hour or so, a move of a dozen cm or more with several heading changes incorporated. Even the firing mechanics might work, the idea of fire at will is quite attractive, But the firing rules must definitely be stripped of the entirely unrealistic 'points' system that has cursed so many naval wargames rules and which forms the basis of rule sets that are designed to achieve this same goal: ships of the period may sink because of fire, but otherwise they generally did not, and were surrendered by their crews not because they were either about to sink but because they were surrounded by superior foes. Science fiction ships may plausibly have 'points', but the entire approach is not valid for naval wargaming IMHO: critical hits' ought to be the only hits that a set of naval rules count, which will need boosting along with restrictions on concentrating fire. Finally, the signalling system seemed pretty reasonable in principle, but the idea that it could all happen in a minute was implausible. I have been charged with producing 'Fleet', a substantial modification to Heart of Oak, and I will do just that once we've play tested Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls. My colleagues deserve a decent set of Napoleonic fleet action naval rules, and if there are none out there, then I need to put my thinking cap on and develop such a set using Heart of Oak as a basis. Wish me luck.