EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Winter Quarters: Bigger on the Outside

At last winter weather is upon us. Two more weeks and the winter break/campaign season wull begin in earnest. In preparation I have been borrowing, if not downright stealing, time to begin by clearing for action.

The last year and a half has been one of turmoil for my gaming room as I have attempted to use it for more. This has been most obvious in the shrinking tabletop leading to explorations of how to get the most out of the smallest convenient space, and by a sea of seemingly unclearable clutter which has impeded me at every turn.  There comes a time when one must recognize and accept defeat and start to deal with the consequences and search for a new plan.

The taking apart has been done, things have been "disappeared" and now begins the reconstruction. Experimentation has shown that the less cluttered room could once again house a 5*8 table should I be willing to bump into it constantly but a 4*6 will now fit easily without being in the way. On the surface this will make the table slightly bigger but since I have learned a lot about the pleasure and possibilities of small games I am also going to decrease the number of grid squares thus making the table smaller on the inside ,(a sort of anti-TARDIS?).

The main benefit of going back to 6" squares is merely looks, the larger squares make it easier to fit troops and terrain in together and easier to improve the look, something I'm looking forward to after all this improvisong and experimenting.

More to come in a few days when the table is in fewer pieces.......

Friday, December 2, 2016


Last week was another hectic 'winter is coming ' sort of week leaving little time and energy for hobbies so any comments or conclusions may be even less cohesive than usual.

Mercenary pikemen in French pay clash with old fashioned English bills and bows c1548.
If I remember correctly my aim had been to play a wargame that felt a bit more like a traditional wargame while also turning my mind to the thorny issue of the relationship between historical command and control and game mechanisms. Rather than spend a lot of effort on scenario design or pick one of my usual teasers, I just threw the painted cloth (game mat I suppose in modern parlance) on the table and let it suggest something. That something ended up with one force trying to deny passage along a road through a gap between woods and some broken high ground. When I turned to pick armies my eye fell on my 16thC Anglo-Scottish wars figures and the game was soon good to go.

Battle rages across the board. 
Among the C&C mechanisms that I considered were written game orders as in WRG 3rd edition Ancients, fixed, predefined orders as used in various rules, a variation on DBA's PIPs, diced activation, variable length moves with in command bonus, card draw activation by subordinate command, a couple of others and various combinations. I changed the system mid game and even mid turn and restarted the game twice before essentially giving up and thus finding the best feel yet.

The answer of course, which I should have known by now, was to stop trying to mimic historical processes in favour of getting appropriate results and to stop worrying about inventing "game like" mechanisms for their own sake unless I wanted to make that my focus, which I don't.

A last desperate charge by English heavy cavalry is repulsed and the Earl of Belmont is wounded. The English yield the field but it was nip and tuck.
I went back today and reread some of my own thoughts on control vs fiction from an August 2010 post  and that post still holds true. However that in turn reminded me of Frank Chadwick's design notes from Volley and Bayonet which resonate with me even more now than they did then. I highly recommend clicking on the link above and reading them.

Anyway, what I ended up doing was going back to my now usual card draw for initiative each turn including chance cards in the deck. This was combined with fixed moves which are long enough to let troops get into trouble easily, a zone of control to complicate maneuver once engaged, fewer bigger units or rather groups of stands under a commander (brigades if you will), a rule for detached subunits and combat rules which tend towards the middle but with the possiblity of extreme results. (Thank you to Lawford & Young for that!)

Now to apply this sort of thinking to the mid-ninteenth century. BTW, next time I think that I should ponder about making a wargame more "game like" I must remind myself that Chess is also a game.

Monday, November 28, 2016

That Reminds Me

One of the things that I like about blogging is the feedback and ideas I get back through comments. At the very least they often get me thinking and sometimes rethinking. Whether that extra thinking confirms or changes my mind, or just awakens a dormant thought or intent, I'm better off for it.

I did some ciphering and imagining yesterday about the footprint of various sizes of 54mm units, about scenarios and force make up, about existing figures and possible future units and about force and command structures in various mid-ninteenth century historical engagements of a comparable size to various scenarios that I might play .  I didn't come to any conclusions other than that I need to cast and paint at least three dozen figures before any of it is relevent.

However, just thinking about rules for command reminded me of a thought/feeling that I had at Fall In which was that while I enjoy the sort of short quick "game" Wargames that I have mostly been playing recently, I miss my old style of longer, still simple but slightly more complex and less "gamey", wargames. The resolution I took then was to make an effort to keep doing both when I got home.

So, while my 54mm armies are being rebuilt, I have a generic 16th Century English army  vs an Auld Alliance Franco-Scots army Gathering of Hosts game set up on the table while I tinker with version 8 of the rules which will hearken back to Rough Wooing.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What to do with unemployed Colonels?

If I was less fond of my mounted toy soldier officers, toy soldier game design would be much easier and I could just go with one General per side for these small games.

For some time now I have been quite aware that too many commanders spoil the wargame command broth either by making it too easy to get everyone going or by adding too much overhead in the way of either artificial rules to hinder them from doing their job or excessive details and processes. If the player is the General then someone else (ie the game mechanics) should be doing those lower level jobs, and doing them competently most of the time, unless they are part of an army which is both untrained and inexperienced.

But if I only need one General, maybe with some aides for the look of things, what do I do with all these other mounted officers?

Recently my mind has started going back to all those magazine pictures of Peter Gilder inspired battalions with a mounted officer in the middle. Hard to do with four man units, hence my prolonged efforts to include rules for Colonels and Brigadiers. Even my proposed twelve figure units don't have room for a mounted officer but it occured to me yesterday that for the 1860's Anglo-American border war, a three stand 54mm battalion could accomodate a mounted officer, flag, musician, foot officer and sergeant along with twelve other ranks and look acceptable.

Mock up of two of the new battalions.

Unless I expand my table significantly the maximum number of figures per game has to stay roughly the same. This brings me back to needing a set of rules designed for a small number of long lasting units, in other words, the sort of games suggested by  One Hour Wargames, just not those rules since they are not to my taste.  This means fewer regimental uniforms will be represented but at least my Colonels will have a home that doesn't adversely affect the game.

Right now there are two approaches that seem attractive. One is to ditch the grid and look at various past versions of Hearts of Tin with three stand battalions.  The other is to drop down to a 3" grid with each stand being a unit and allow a Colonel to control 2 adjacent units then proceed with a version of the Square Brigadier. Both sets would probably go back to rolling an "Orders" die each turn, a system that has worked well in the past with a small number of units.

Since the basing and organization will be the same either way, I will proceed to paint and base figures and delay a decision on rules until I have enough battalions painted and based. The NorthWest campaign against the Indians and metis will continue to use one rank half- stands since all units are skirmishers. Initially some existing units will see double duty but, since the numbers are so low, I hope to eventually have all the Canadians wearing more appropriate uniforms.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Meet Me At The Oasis

During the final decade of the 20th Century a couple of us got into 54mm WWII. We started with Rapid Fire! then experimented a bit but drifted off to other things early this century.

After our last game of Airfix Battles, Ron decided that it wasn't quite what he was looking for so he picked up Bolt Action and yesterday we gave them a whirl. I'm not sure why I was expecting him to stay with his 20mm figures.

Once again 1/32 Airfix Ghurkas and Afrika Korps clash! Somewhere in that oasis is a vital well.

As usual, we like to do things our way and adapt rules to our purposes rather than mindlessly obeying so I shouldn't have been surprised when Ron hauled out the 54's  and we started discussing adapting BA to the hex grid.

For the curious, a basic squad of 5x54's will fit nicely in a 10cm Hexon hex so we just declared each grid equal to 3" for ranges and moving etc, rounded odd numbers when they appeared and declared that the 1" rule applied to adjacent hexes. Seemed to work well.

The highpoint of the battle. Several of Ron's units are pinned in the open and the infantry I had rushed into the oasis have located and seized the well.
The basic rules were pretty straight forward and made sense. There were some odd omissions and odd inclusions on the quick reference sheets which resulted in a lot of time spent checking and rechecking for basics like morale check details but by the time a couple of turns had been played it was flowing well.
As darkness fell (ie I realized that I was already an hour late) Ron offered me a draw since I still held the well, (technically). Since I only had 1 lone infantry squad left, my heavy weapons, which were all pinned down, were covering the approaches that his three remaing units of superior infantry no longer needed to use, and he had an infantry unit adjacent to and arguably contesting for control of the objective, I declined the generous offer and ceded the game.
One game is almost never enough to judge a set of rules by but we had fun and overall they seemed to work without too many oddities. Basic fire and move tactics, fire zones etc seemed to work and so on.

There were a few Warhammerish oddities such as the deadly Ninja-like rules for the Ghurkas which we only discovered when Ron charged one of my units to see what would happen and we cracked the close asssault rules. Things like that can be dealt with easily enough by house rules though.

There will be more games.