Thursday 31 December 2020

Every Bullet has its Billet: A guide to wargamimg the late 17th century.


The second in Helion’s new ‘Wargames’ series ‘A Guide to Wargaming in the Late 17th Century’ is this offering by late 17thC wargaming guru Barry Hilton. Unlike the first volume in this series (which was a set of Wargames rules) this publication provides a broad overview of the scope of possibilities that this short period of time offers to wargamers new and old alike.

Now, I am no stranger to the almost 40 years of pretty much constant warfare encompassed by the book, but I still found it to be an interesting and engaging romp through the period. While I may not have learnt anything new, the mouth-wateringly gorgeous colour photos of the author’s extensive collection of figures and ships make up for this ten fold.

However, (and this is a good however), I would suspect that the projected audience for this book falls into either the same camp as I do (grizzled curmudgeonly gamer/collector) or much more importantly, those new to the period or indeed new to historical wargaming. For the latter group, the author has produced an impressive ‘go-to’ manual of all things late 17th, with an extensive signposting service to further, more detailed, reading on the subject, and to the enormous range of wargames resources (i.e. little men, little, and not so little, ships, flags, rules and gaming accessories) that are available.

So what’s inside the covers? We are given a brief historical primer covering the numerous wars that took place at the back end of the century, encompassing not only Western Europe, but Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, India and the war at sea. Subsequent chapters cover the various armies, gaming the period, and suggestions on how to go about building up and using your armies. Then we have a troubleshooting guide of ‘how to’s’ and ‘how to avoids’, such as, to name but a few, basing, how to avoid warping, the use of bayonets, button colours, the cut of clothes and how many flags to use. Barry and I share a preference for over-sized flags and the rationale behind this is explained. Important to many is the compatibility of different figure ranges, and how to make best use of them. I did rather like the section on how to go about building and painting a fleet of 1/2400 (?) scale warships? It is most refreshing to note that unlike some wargame rules and ‘guides’ tied perhaps to a particular manufacturer, the author doesn’t shamelessly promote his own figure range, but suggests how to make the best use of the bewildering number of figures and sculpting styles out there for the newbie gamer.

Of course, without photographs this book would still be interesting but it would be dull, and dull it most certainly is not. The multitude of colour photographs are simply gorgeous, and following on from my earlier observation, include figures from a wide range of different manufacturers, all of which are beautifully painted and photographed. There are also a number of handy maps and some lovely pencil sketches of some of the troop types prevalent in the period.

Overall then this is a nicely written, easy to read and well researched introduction to the period. The author’s views are of course his own, but there is nothing to disagree with and much to applaud. I recommend it without reservation. Helion, in the form of series editor Charles Singleton are to be commended yet again for launching this series. In case my wife reads this, the book will not inspire me to buy more figures to add to my own collection for this period (but it will inspire me to finish some of those many that I already posses in the 'Box of Doom'.

Friday 25 December 2020

Monday 21 December 2020

War of 1812 Inaugural Game

 On Saturday I decided that at long last the time was right for me to give my War of 1812 collection its debut tabletop appearance. Its quite a small collection by my standards but more than enough for a leisurely game on the Saturday before Christmas. It needs a little reorganising as I’m aiming at a 1:10 figure ratio but is still good to go. I only had to finish the bases of over half of the collection but managed them all over a couple of days.  As is the ‘new norm’, the game was live-streamed, using three cameras, on Youtube, while we utilised Sykpe for the audio. The players were able to switch between cameras as they saw fit and independently of anyone else. It works well despite the occasional glitch.

HM Brig Bludgeon offshore, waiting for the return of the army. Will it be in vain.....?

The scenario saw the British marching back to the shore of Lake Erie having been on a late winter (hence the snowy terrain including my new snowy roads and wintry/frozen stream) mission to destroy an American depot about ten miles inland. Their force had, two days previously, come ashore and  captured a small settlement on the lakeside, complete with an old blockhouse, which on its capture was held by Royal Marines and sailors until the return of the main body.

The return route of the main English force was blocked by a hastily assembled brigade of US militia, supported by a handful of US light dragoons and some US regular riflemen. Reinforcements (all US regulars) would arrive at some point along the east and/or west roads. Ideally they'd arrive before the militia speed bump were obliterated.

Conrad and Nigel played the British while Mark (who used to own some of the figures), Richard and Paul played the Americans.  Neil was supposed to be playing on the British side but his internet died. I hadn't advertised the fact that we were playing the War of 1812 but most players seemed to guess. Anyway, what follows is how the game played out. We used Black Powder 2 with my very few house rules and my stats.

The blockhouse with its garrison on Royal Marines and sailors.
Three wagons of loot from the depot. Will they get them back to the lakeside? The rest of the stores were burnt at the depot.

The British advance guard at the start of the game. The smudge on the road to the  left is the main body of the British force, two ‘brigades’ in total. The Americans are lining the fence along the east-west road mid table.
United States 4th Btn of Riflemen

American militia defending the crossroads.
United States 1st Dragoons. 
The Americans ordered their Kentucky Militia riflemen into the wood to cover the bridge.
The British advance was slow, but eventually the  leading brigade of two militia and one regular battalions were able to start deploying off the road.
The British main body, of four regular battalions and a section of 9pdrs marched rapidly towards the centre of the table.

Sadly the advance guard, or ‘light brigade’ (one regular Btn, a flank battalion of militia and the Glengarry Light Infantry, with a section of 5.5” howitzers) failed to move for several turns, so the  most versatile units in the British force were not engaged when most needed. 
Richard’s US regulars took their time arriving, and only did so on Turn six, but just in time. Paul and his brigade had arrived on the other road several turns earlier, effectively blocking that avenue of escape for the British.
Conrad ordered the light Dragoons to cross the stream and get up close to the American militia and ‘worry’ them. Meanwhile Nigel’s regulars crossed the river and advanced on the enemy.

Finally the ‘light brigade’ started to move and slowly caught up with the rest of the British troops.
Nigel’s regulars boldly advanced upon the Americans lining the fence.  

The British tried to clear the Americans with a bayonet charge. Sadly  the latter were  determined to hold their ground and the British were sent packing!

The British in the centre advance resolutely forwards.
The American militia were driven out of the wood in the centre and the US Riflemen forced back by the advance of an English battalion. Paul ordered his brigade forward to slow or hopefully halt the enemy’s advance.

Nigel’s brigade advanced towards the American centre and left. The Americans pushed a battalion of militia through the old cornfield to take them in the flank.

After firing a volley at the British the militia fled when their targets promptly wheeled to the left and charged them!

The  British take the cornfield amd are threatening the American centre. Another British battalion advanced against the fence lone and took heavy casualties from the American infantry and pair of 6pdrs. They passed a break test even with. Minus 5 adjustment due to losses so shrugged off their losses and pulled back a move.

The British are definitely in control of the cornfield. They drove off the dismounted US dragoons who were lining the fence and were poised to break through the American centre.

Unfortunately on the left, Paul’s brigade had advanced and caused Conrad’s battalions to withdraw shaken. The British did manage to hit the battalion pictured hear very hard and they had to pull back.

This give an idea of the opposing lines at the close of the game.  The British left has been stopped and pushed back, the British centre is in a great position to smash the American centre and on the right a last minute success by the British drove off the American regulars lining the fences.
In the very last turn this British battalion charged and broke this battalion of US regulars, leaving a large hole in the line which the Glengarry Light Infantry, the 19th Light Dragoons and Canadian Dragoons would be able to exploit.

Unfortunately we had to stop at that point, mainly as I was struggling to keep going, but also because of an echo on the sound which was driving me round the bend! The signal strength being broadcast from the Burrow remained excellent all day but the sound on Skype didn’t. I would have normally said it was due to a mic being left unmuted on somebody’s machine but not this time. 

We reached a conclusion of sorts, in as far as the British were struggling to break through the American line. However, I think there was a good chance that the American left would have begun to collapse, followed by the centre. In the meantime the American  right could easily have driven the British left back even further and maybe even recaptured the supplies.

It was a fun game and great to get this collection on the table. Of course since the game I’ve almost finished painting two further battalions of American militia and undercoated most of the unpainted figures I have remaining in the box of doom. The biggest job is the restructuring I referred to at the start, which might be a nice job to do over Christmas before I embark on my new main 2021 project.

Thanks to everyone for reading this blog over the past rather difficult year. I hope doing so has been enjoyable amd maybe even seen you through the dark days of the pandemic. I suspect it’ll be with us for a long time yet, even with the vaccinations. So, here’s wishing everyone a very Joyful Christmas and a Happy amd Healthy 2021.

Friday 18 December 2020

Despite Destruction, Misery and Privations, a review.

One of the colour plates from the book showing an armoured a Cossack warrior.

I’ve now read this new book from Helion, No 61 in their ever expanding Century of the Soldier series. Actually I didn’t just read it, I devoured it. Amazing detail. Very easy and enjoyable to read. Well written. Fascinating, in depth and informative. This is the only English language book of its kind that I’m aware of, and the author Michal Paradowski has done a very thorough job indeed, consulting a huge range of Polish language sources to give us a superb description and analysis of the Polish-Lithuanian armies in their war against Sweden in Prussian between 1626 and 1629. 

The author sets the scene nicely and presents us with a detailed analysis of the workings of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the peculiar issues hinging on having an elected King. The many and various components of the army are broken down and described clearly, down to individual regiment and company levels in most cases. As always I am intrigued  by the contribution made by ‘British’ officers and common soldiers, including several well known figures  from the 30 Years War and the British Civil Wars. 

One thing about books in this series that stands out is the quality and quantity of illustrations within each publication. This one is no different and it is jam-packed full of black and white illustrations, most of which are contemporary, and a centre spread of 16 pages of gorgeous colour plates showing examples of troop types found in the army, including eight detailing a great many Polish flags of the period, quite a few which I’d never seen before. The colour plates all come with handy descriptions at the back of the book. There are also some excellent maps outlining the campaigning against the Swedes. There is an extensive list of appendices including some muster rolls, details of garrisons and even a Polish to English dictionary as relevant to 17thC warfare.

This well-researched volume (judging by the extensive bibliography) is destined to take its place as the definitive book in English on the subject, so if this subject is of interest to you, this book should be your ‘go-to’ reference. Helion (and the series editor Charles Singleton) are yet again to be commended on their insight in fostering new authors and the choice of material they publish. Incidentally I know Michal is working on further volumes, including one on the Polish Army and it’s role in lifting the siege of Vienna in 1689, so I am looking forward to these immensely. 

I’ve had to have a major rethink about the composition of my 28mm 17thC Polish army. I probably don’t have too many winged hussars but do need more Cossacks  and some Western infantry and cavalry, which I have somewhere in the depths of ‘the box of Doom’). 

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Christmas comes early with another much anticipated book from Helion

 This arrived today. I’ve been watching the post for a few days now and my delight at the arrival of this, the latest in Helion’s Century of the Soldier series has meant that all engagements in my diary for the next few days have been cancelled, or would have been had there been any of course.... I will post my review as soon as I can this week. Enough time wasting now, as I have a book to read.

Monday 14 December 2020

Some Italians (with choirboys)

Two different lots of figures linked solely by the fact that they are Italian.

First up is my second Carraccio for my Italian Wars project. This one belongs to Florence. The model and some of the attendants are Perry, the choir are from Westwind and there are a couple of Mirliton and Foundry figures in there as well. The decals are off Magister Militum and the banner is a paper Florentine one I had spare in my flag collection.

Next, a unit I bought and painted maybe six or seven years ago but only based this week. It’s a battalion of Piedmontese Bersaglieri from Mirliton Miniatures. I think at one point I was going to do a Piedmontese corps to fight the Austrians in 1866, but these could just as easily be used for more or less any Italian Unification war and of course the Crimea. The wounded officer waving his men on from the ground and the two men catching another officer who has just been hit and has been bowled over backward are quite nice.

Sunday 13 December 2020

Postponed Leuthen refight goes ahead after bad back stopped play.

Saturday 5 December was as  many will know the anniversary of Frederick the Great’s victory over the Hapsbergs at Leuthen in1757. I had been planning to stage a refight of the battle with the Virtual Burrowers but a mega spike for much of last week in my ever present neuropathic pain in my back and all points south knocked that idea on the head.

Thankfully I was sufficiently recovered to consider staging the game yesterday so that is what I did. However, prompted by a brief conversation last week with Jim Purkey (Der Alte Fritz) and then some photographs of his tabletop all set up as seen in his blog this last week, I decided to refight phase 1 of the battle where the Prussians fell upon the exposed and outnumbered Hapsberg left flank corps under Nadasdy at the village of Sagschütz. Plundering some of Jim’s ideas and those of Charles S Grant from his scenario in one of the 'Wargaming in History' series to add to my own thoughts I opted for a scenario that put all the pressure on the Prussians to win, and win quickly and with minimal losses. They had to have driven off the Austrians and reached the opposite table edge with at least half their force by turn 8. They also had to ensure losses were kept to a minimum, with no more than four broken units and/or 20% of the army's stamina value lost

I took a few liberties with the Austrian order of battle, insofar that there was a chance they'd receive reinforcements in the shape of the Saxon cavalry brigade. Conrad and Mark were the Austrians/Reichsarmée respectively while Paul and Neil were the Prussians. We used BP2 with my usual house rules and stats. On to battle, described in the time-honoured way by a series of blurry yet cold looking photos.

The table from the Prussian left. Very bleak looking.   
Rather a lot of Prussian cavalry on their right wing. Thirteen regiments in all under Zeithen.                  
The Prussian left and centre begin their advance.

Two battalions of Reichsarmee troops were left rather exposed to the potential of Prussian cuirassiers hitting them in the rear.
The Prussian cavalry advanced slowly as the brigades became intermingled as a result of some poor command rolls..

On the Austrian right, two battalions of Austrians joined the two already on the table to face the advancing Prussians.

The Prussians failed to hit either of the two exposed Reichs battalions, which were able to pull back and adjust their line to face the threat.

Paul ordered his leading cuirassier brigade to charge. Now the Reichsarmee troops aren't very good but  lost the melee by a single point. The break test that followed saw them head back to the box! The Prussians charged on and defeated a regiment of Austrian dragoons, forcing them off the table, but as the Prussians were by now shaken they had to pull back quickly to rally.

Neil ordered this battalion to advance as far as possible towards the enemy cannon.  He threw very low so they ended up under the muzzles of the guns.

Predictably the Prussian battalion was hit by canister and destroyed.

The reserve Prussian artillery spent a couple turns getting into position, but after a few largely ineffective shots and also due to the absence of decent targets, they advanced closer to the village.

The Prussian centre heading towards the village.

The cavalry combat on the Prussian right became extremely complicated.  Conrad's cuirassiers held their own against odds of three to one against, pushing back or breaking several Prussian regiments. It certainly wasn't going to plan for the Prussians on this flank!

The far left of the Prussian line.

Another segment from the cavalry scrum on the Austrian left. 

Neil wasn't satisfied with ordering one battalion to certain death  by attacking the Austrian cannon, so ordered a grenadier battalion forward. The grenadiers were made of sterner stuff and after surviving the closing fire (which was ineffective this time) they overran the battery and captured the guns. 

A prompt counter attack by the Austrians piled in against the weakened grenadiers.
The grenadiers beat off the Austrian attack. The lead battalion broke, and in doing so took the one behind with it. Disaster for the Austrian right flank.

In turn 4 the Saxon cavalry brigade arrived behind the village.

The Reichsarmee garrison of the village was still holding firm despite taking a few losses from the Prussian guns.

On the Austrian right the remaining Austrians faced off against seven battalions of Prussians.

The Wurtemburg fusilier battalion had been providing support to their mounted companions in the shape of enfilading or traversing fire each time the Prussians rode past them!

The final straw on the Prussian right. Another regiment of cavalry takes to its heels.

At the end of turn 5 it was clear that the Prussians had failed in their objectives, and had taken very heavy losses in the process. Even though their cavalry had to attack on a narrow frontage of just three regiments we were all amazed when four (three really) Austrian regiments beat the stuffing out of 13 Prussian ones!  Paul was very unlucky with his break tests though!

So, although it was obvious that the Prussians would eventually be victorious, their losses and the time it would have taken indicated a significant Austrian victory.  I thought it was always going to be a tough one for the Prussians, and the Austrians admitted afterwards to being convinced the game was a stitch up, which as events indicated it certainly was anything but!  Everyone enjoyed the game, as did I of course.

Although the Austrian cavalry performed very well, it was very much a team effort. On that basis the individual 'Regiment of the Match' goes to the Prussian combined grenadiers who captured the Austrian cannon and broke two infantry regiments for little loss to themselves.