House rules for Bloody Big Battles

After playing two games with very limited house rule adaptations (after my first with a more ambitious version that I didn’t think worked), I have plucked up courage to produce something more ambitious. After a limited play test I think they work well enough to publish here. I won’t be using them at the club for another couple of months, as I will be travelling, but while production is fresh in mind, I though I’d post something here. In my test I thought they worked surprisingly well. You can download from the Rules page.

First of all: scaling. For the standard scale of 1,000 infantry to a base, cavalry is now 333 to a base (from 1,000) or 12 guns (from 24). For the higher scale (1,500 infantry to a base) that gives 500 cavalry and 18 guns. For 1815 French and Prussians I find that an in between scale works well: 1,250/416/15. I am tempted to take the artillery scale down further, but that’s enough for now. Why? Cavalry takes up a lot more space than infantry (indeed I can only squeeze two cavalry miniatures on to the 25mm square bases, in place of six infantrymen). In the von Reisswitz Kriegsspiel (of 1824), an infantry battalion of 900 men takes up the same frontage as 375 cavalry or 10 artillery pieces. The lower scale gives much more scope to represent the variety of cavalry types, and stops them looking rather pathetically few. The British Union Brigade at Waterloo can now be its own unit of 4 bases, rather than being lumped into with the Household cavalry as a 3 base unit. And with French cavalry divisions having strength of 1,500 to 2,000, these are at the margin as two base units. Likewise artillery took up a lot space, and under BBB it is possible to create unrealistic concentrations of strength with devastating results. It also allows us to represent the different sorts of artillery (horse artillery, heavy guns and howitzers) more easily.

The next problem is that game progress is slow, because base removal only happens in quite extreme circumstances. The most common close combat result is for one side to fall back 3in with neither side taking a loss. This means that battles seem to be much slower than the time rate of one hour per pair of moves suggests. In fact Napoleonic divisions had a habit of disappearing after two or three hours of heavy combat. this wasn’t particularly from casualties, but sheer exhaustion. Muzzle loading black powder weapons made a big noise and packed a nasty recoil, and barrels got hot and clogged. Horses weren’t great on stamina either. If you look at the later stages of Ligny, after about three or four hours of fighting, neither side had many effective fighting units left. The same thing can be said for Waterloo. Under current BBB rules it isn’t hard for Lobau’s outnumbered corps to hold off Bulow’s Prussians for hours; historically they made a rapid retreat after about one hour.

The way I have tackled this is in the close combat table for infantry, where for marginal victories in either direction both sides lose a base. To balance this slightly, for a draw (where under the rules both sides lose a base, and go on to fight another round), neither side loses a base (the attacker falls back). Since infantry units are typically four or six bases, it means that the units will start to disappear rather quickly in heavy fighting. And because both sides lose a base, some of the capriciousness of base losses is removed. This is exactly how combat tended to work: both sides tended to get worn down quickly. Cavalry v. cavalry combats use the old table, as I thought this worked better. Cavalry battles had a tendency to go on for quite a time. Usually one side or other was playing for time, and it was quite easy for skilled commanders to slow things down by holding back reserves and such. Casualties were few. This is something wargames rules tend to miss.

The next point to tackle is cavalry attacking infantry. This should have an asymmetric feel that the BBB system mostly misses. When things went well, cavalry could be absolutely devastating (look at the charge of the Union Brigade, or Kellerman at Marengo). But when infantry was prepared it was often ineffective. To tackle this I have done two things. First is a new combat table for Cavalry attacking infantry, in which the asymmetry is reflected. Like the new infantry table, it is quite bloody. Attacks on infantry did wear down cavalry more than attacks on cavalry. And although infantry casualties tended to be low if discipline was maintained, muskets were still discharged and the stress doubtless took its toll. Still infantry won’t lose any bases if it wins or draws. But if it loses on a -7 result, the unit is gone. Also the infantry doesn’t fall back if it isn’t destroyed.

The second thing was to introduce the square. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole unit is in squares – it is more a state of readiness for cavalry attack. Squares move more slowly, are more vulnerable to fire, cannot skirmish and fire less effectively – but they offer better protection against cavalry.This has the advantage of fitting with players’ expectations, and making the game feel more Napoleonic. Also cavalry get an extra bonus if they are attacking disrupted troops – but they can’t attack infantry in difficult terrain.

The next thing is skirmishers. I hesitated on this – as my preferred approach requires some rather intricate rules. Units with skirmish capability have two or three skirmish bases (the same frontage as a normal base, but shallower and with two figures, not six). To use their special capabilities they have to be deployed in front of the unit. Small arms fire is limited to 3in (not the 6in of our previous rules). Skirmishers thus extend the range of fire for infantry, and shield the parent unit. If skirmishers take what would normally be a Disrupted result, there is no disruption but one skirmish base is lost. This means that skirmish attacks will burn out, and take a toll on the resilience of the whole unit. Finally, skirmishers can’t be used against cavalry.

And then artillery. The fire factors had to be taken down to reflect the smaller unit size; also there are slightly different capabilities between Horse, Field and Reserve (i.e.heavy) artillery, and the option of using concentrated howitzers (that’s an indulgence, as I like having howitzer models on the table). Horse artillery gets a movement bonus, so that it can move at cavalry speed if limbered, or move 6in, unlimber and fire at half effect, for example. More radically the “reduced” and “silenced” status is done away with, in about the only place where the rules are simpler than the original. In place of the former they are simply removed (they are smaller units, remember), and in the latter case they are Disrupted. My fellow gamers never liked the “silenced” rule with batteries limbering up and moving off, and it always felt a bit odd to me. The rule must have been there for a reason originally though, so we’ll see if it really works! Another radical departure is that artillery has no close combat capability. If it can’t stop attacker through fire, it is overrun. Also on artillery there are special rules for artillery attaching to an infantry unit and being treated as a joint unit for target and close combat – which reduces vulnerability to attack.

There are quite a few changes, though I have confined them to four pages of text (just).In the play test I thought they worked quite well. As expected, things moved quickly. The French tried a combined infantry and cavalry attack on the Prussians, with two infantry units and one cavalry; the Prussians had one of each (though the infantry had 6 bases to the French 4). At first it went well for the Prussians; its infantry got the better of the French, reducing both units to two bases. But in the process it became disrupted and low on ammo; it hadn’t formed square and the cavalry hit it in the flank. And it threw badly. It was wiped out. In exploitation the cavalry caught a battery in the flank and overran it. The Prussian cavalry then tried to counterattack, but it was held to a draw (both lost a base) and in the second round suffered a -4 and was wiped out. In the next French turn the cavalry then picked off another battery, annihilating the Prussians on that flank. On the other flank, the Prussians attacked but, didn’t press (confining itself to skirmishing), with French cavalry lurking on the flank. One of the infantry units tried to come to its colleague’s aid on the other flank, but too late.

This decisive result owed quite a bit to some good dice by the French at the vital moment. But it proved most unwise for the Prussians to press ahead with un-neutralised cavalry to the flank; it felt not unlike Marengo, though following up to disperse the nemy cavalry was a bonus. I thought the skirmish rules played well too, placing some interesting choices on the player. With players thinking about vulnerability to cavalry, and whether or not to skirmish, the whole game felt much more Napoleonic. It also played briskly. My main doubt now is whether cavalry becomes too dominant.

But so far, so good. Until now I have never really thought that an adapted BBB might do in place of my home grown ones. I’m a bit less sure now!

 

 

1943: British infantry

I am at last tackling the huge painting backlog: for now concentrating on my WW2 1943 project, so that I have enough ready for a tabletop game. I have just finished my first serious batch of British infantry, which means that I am starting to achieve that aim, though I want some recce vehicles, German half-tracks and British carriers to be more serious.

There were 54 figures in the current batch, which go alongside my two 3in mortars and two Vickers machine guns. Nominally these are three infantry sections of 8 men, a dismounted carrier section of 9 men (including 2in mortar and PIAT), an HQ section with officer, radio PIAT and 2in mortar, plus some riflemen, and some spares, including another PIAT and 2in mortar, a radio and a couple more officers.

They are all AB figures. I have fallen in love with these, but they really aren’t right for 1943. They wear the Mk III helmet, instead of the broader-brimmed Mk II. They also wear battledress tunics, when in the Med the men were usually in rolled up shirtsleeves. And, with one exception, the submachineguns are Stens. Although these were in issue in 1943, I haven’t seen them in the 1943 Med pictures; instead the troops are using Tommy guns.  I couldn’t find a satisfactory alternative though, and I liked these figures. Since then I have been pointed in the direction of Eureka’s Pacific Australians. Apart from Owen guns on at least one figure in 10, these look a good fit – though on the pictures of unpainted men the heads look a trifle oversized. I might do a platoon of these later (along with German paras), though not the heavy weapons.

My technique is settling down. First the figures are undercoated in metal primer, which is white. Tempted though I have been to thin it with water (which is OK for metal, but not plastic) I put it on undiluted. After mounting on “steel” washers (not magnetic, alas) or mount board for the two figures bases, and set in my usual mix of sand and impasto gel, I painted the bases raw umber (not mixed with white this time). Over this I put a base coat of khaki. This was mixed from Raw Sienna, Prussian Blue and Titanium White (all student quality paints).  As usual with my freshly mixed base layers, this took a few coats. Partly this is to adjust the balance between the three pigments, and partly the primer can show through. The layering gives the model “depth” I’m told. The first coat takes longer to apply, but the subsequent ones are quite quick – so this no great hardship. Acrylic paint dries quickly, so this is all in the same session. Even so the base layer was a bit thin in places.

After this I used mainly artists pigments, although borrowing some of the paint used on the base layer, still usable on the stay-wet palette on occasion. This included the standards of Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna and Titanium White, with a bit of Raw Umber (mainly to get the dark greys/blacks by mixing with Prussian Blue), Venetian Red and Silver (to help with the metallic bits). The main mixes were Venetian Red, Raw Sienna, and Prussian Blue (and the ubiquitous white) to get a Service Drab dark brown, so characteristic of British equipment in 1943, when green pigments were in short supply; the same combo in different proportions for the flesh tones, and without the red for the webbing and bags. The helmets were painted variations of khaki and brown, but this wasn’t highly visible under the netting and scrim. I had a bit of a wobble on the scrim, which I at first painted green, before reading that it should be brown or hessian. Some of the green is still there, but never mind.

With the basic painting and detailing done, I applied a layer of Quickshade. I did have a quick look at using diluted ink instead, but I think for figures, as opposed to vehicles, the Quickshade is a better bet, as it works into the hollows nicely. My medium tone Quickshade (aka Strong) has expired; I used Dark on my vehicles but thought this was too strong. Fortunately my Soft Tone was still alive, under quite a thick skin, and I used this. I proved ideal. I am using quite a bit of white in my colour mixes, which makes them paler than you would typically get using ready-mixed hobby paints – so it may not be surprising that the soft tone works. I was tempted to leave things there, as the Quickshade did not leave a strong sheen (I think the gloss must be going into the bit that formed the skin – because my medium tone stuff dried quite matt before it expired). However heavy matt varnish is the look of all my stuff, so I gave it a spray in matt varnish to finish. I’m not entirely sure about this, though modern warfare is a dusty business, and that is the look of the real thing. I might want to pick out some parts in a satin varnish though – flesh and weapons, perhaps.

Before the matt varnish went on, the bases needed flocking. For this I used a Woodland Scenic earth base, with some fine pale green flock mixed in. I felt this needed a bit more variety and texture – though the patches of pale green flock didn’t look quite right on my Germans. So I gave selected figures (all the large bases) patches of fine sand, a brown gainy material, and some pale static grass. I can’t get the latter to stand up properly, so it doesn’t look quite right. All this (except the grass) was sealed in using diluted PVA as the varnish spray isn’t quite strong enough for this.

And that was it. I’m pleased with the overall result, though I’ve spotted a few gaps and errors, as usual. These are wargames standard, and not presentation pieces. I think they look better than my German infantry. I suspect the latter suffer from my attempt to reflect the mixture of kit and colours used by the Germans, which makes them look quite scrappy.

Next up I’m going to do more British vehicles and crews. This will include a carrier section (including passengers), a Dingo, a Loyd carrier for the 6-pdr, and a jeep.

Using BBB for Napoleonic battles

Our all day game with a Napoleonic scenario (not a real historical one…) was a success. We finished a well-balanced game which preserved tension to the last turn of eight. We were becoming fluent in rules, which provided a good, workable game system. What to learn?

The scenario was the same one we tried last time: a miniaturised Koniggratz transposed to 1815, between French and Prussians. The forces were half sized, the table 80% in linear dimensions (64% by area). The game  length was reduced from 9-10 turns to 8. The terrain reflected the original BBB scenario a bit more faithfully than our first game at the club, but was still simplified. Six villages were represented, five in Prussian hands at the start. The French objective was to take five. Four (leaving two in Prussian hands) constituted a draw, which is where we ended up. Neither side was particularly close to winning, but each could have.

The first points to reflect on are scenario design. Following the BBB scenario quite closely clearly worked. The standard BBB scenarios set a number of geographical objectives and a time limit, rather than destroying the opponents’ army. Each player controlled about five infantry and cavalry units and two or three artillery units. It took us a bit over half an hour a turn (about 5 hours in total). I don’t think we’re going to get much quicker. For a club night we’ll need to come down to a single corps each with about 3 units, with a more compact playing area (though ours was just 4ft by 5ft) and all the troops on the table at the start, and a five or six turn limit. Or the balance of the rules needs to change.

The problem with the rules is that there is a lot of slugging to no great effect. In our whole game the Prussians lost 7 bases out of 47, and the French 10 from the same number.  Only two units lost two bases. Mostly fire resulted in opponents being disrupted, and assaults in one side falling back 3 inches without a base loss. This is consistent with earlier outings. But how to make it crunchier? My first thought was that our experience was because weaponry was deadlier in the later conflicts that the rules were designed for. Except that our  fire factors have already been beefed up, based on suggestions in a magazine article (though these were more or less the only suggestions adopted). Perhaps it’s bad luck. Only two of our many assaults had a difference of 4+, which is a decisive victory, and there were only two draws, which wear units down quickly. Or maybe it reflects inexperience with the rules. The problem is to make combat deadlier without making it more capricious – which would mean one side suffering serious losses compared to the other from an ordinary bad run of dice. The only way I can think of doing this is fiddling with the assault table to that more combats resulted in the loss of a base by both sides. That’s playing with fire, but I don’t think that Napoleonic divisions were able to survive more than two or three hours of hard infantry to infantry combat, if you take exhaustion and ammunition depletion into account.

The next issue is Napoleonic feel. As I wrote last time, this boils down to cavalry, skirmishers and artillery. In this game we used cavalry to capture and recapture villages from infantry. The clashes between infantry and cavalry really don’t feel right. But this is an area that went badly when I last tried to tinker with it. One method might be to adopt the idea of “squares”, making infantry more vulnerable when not so formed, but less mobile when in square. Infantry also needs to be able to push away cavalry holding ground, when appropriate. But would it just be extra complexity for a slower game? Also cavalry should be more limited in difficult terrain. Funnily enough though I think the rules as they stand work fine for cavalry v. cavalry combat – better than most rule systems in fact.

Then there are skirmishers. We effectively accommodate this with a 6in musket range. I want to use skirmish bases. In principle this is easy. All musketry would be limited to 3in range. Skirmish bases would have a fire factor of 2, but no use against cavalry.  I have crafted an elegant draft rule on this, but my fear is that it just makes things fiddlier, and that players won’t bother with it. An alternative would be to incorporate a version of the main rules on skirmishers (with a skirmish base being part of the main unit formation), and link this to the extra weapon range.

And so to artillery. Artillery, rightly, has a big impact on the game. But each unit acts like a grand battery, while being much more flexible than was realistic, especially in evading threats. Two or more units ganging up can be very formidable. Each one is meant to represent 24 guns. One way of trying to handle this is reduce both the unit size and firepower (and also the provision for units to fire at reduced rate). The close range fire factor might be rounded down as well. We could just do this for horse artillery and give it extra mobility. In some ways this would not change things that much – given that each artillery unit would need a movement throw to move, and that artillery would take up more space (I may enlarge the bases), this could help.

The issue with artillery goes  deeper than this, though. Artillery and adjacent infantry units are treated as separate units. On more than one occasion infantry would retreat, leaving batteries isolated. In this game the isolated artillery showed a remarkable ability to survive.  It didn’t look right, even if it was possible to rationalise it.  In fact artillery had two distinct uses: one was close support to divisions, and the other was forming grand batteries at corps or army level. The rules don’t do a particularity good job of reflecting the former, while they make the latter the manoeuvrability of single batteries. It doesn’t scale up so well from the original Fire and Fury. One idea is to allow artillery to be attached to infantry units, allowing them to fight as joint units. When not doing so, artillery would suffer an automatic walkover when assaulted, though they may still stop an assault in the fire phase (unless defending works, maybe). This approach would work better with the smaller artillery units.

Finally on potential rules revisions I am thinking of a different treatment for built-up areas. This is to treat building models as obstacles, rather removing them when the villages or towns are occupied. The models have to be quite small (though the 6mm I use are fine), and in larger areas you have to have streets wide enough to take bases. This is a bit more complicated, but the internal layout of built up areas did matter.

How do the rules look historically? The French outfought the Prussians: numerical equality left them with a clear upper hand. This was mainly achieved through rating the French as Veteran (with a small number of elite units counted as Aggressive) and the Prussians Trained or Raw. But the Prussians but up a pretty good fight. This feels like the right balance for Ligny and Waterloo – though how to bring the British into this is an interesting question. (I suspect many British units have to be rated Aggressive or Devastating Volleys as well as veteran; many French may be rated as Fragile). The main problem historically is that things are taking too long if one move is meant to represent one hour.

Which leaves me with a dilemma. Is BBB broken enough to fix? If you start fiddling with settled rules systems you quickly run into unintended consequences. Or you make them more complicated to no great purpose. I hesitate.

More BBB Napoleonics

As stopgap measure I have been using Bloody Big Battles to give my Napoleonic armies an outing at the club. The scope of these rules is very similar to that for my Dining Table Napoleon, though the feel is very different, so this is a learning experience.

I reported on our first game, which was a contrived Ligny scenario. One of the learnings from this was how important scenario design is. That scenario was flawed, as I have found for all my loosely Ligny-based scenarios. I will try this battle properly one day, but it needs about double the number of troops on the table that I am currently using – and even that’s too much at the moment! What I have been looking for is scenarios with more tension and choices for the player. Ligny is a fairly straightforward slugging match; a combined Ligny-Quatre Bras scenario would be another matter…

I searched for ideas amongst the scenarios published in the BBB rule book , which covers the Franco-Prussian War, and the supplementary scenario book which covers other battles from the Crimean War onwards. These aren’t Napoleonic, of course, but quite a bit of effort has been put into scenario design to get a good game. Unfortunately these were mostly not obvious multi-player club night choices. The terrain was generally rather complex, and not feasible from the club’s bits and pieces. Quite often forces arrive later in the game – great for dramatic tension, but that means there is nothing for some of the players to do until they arrive. Nevertheless I decided that there was one I could work on: Koniggratz in 1866.

That might look strange. It’s a very big battle. The scenario book uses 2,500 men per base instead of the more normal 1,000 to 1,500. Even then it is double the size of the armies I thought we could manage in an evening with four players. But actually if you represent the forces at one unit per corps (about half size) it works reasonably neatly. The 1815 French, as the better quality army could take on the role of the 1866 Prussians, and the 1815 Prussians could stand in for the 1866 Austrians. I organised my armies into the 1815 units at 1,250 men per base (for the infantry) as this give nicely sized units (4 bases for the French infantry divisions; 4 to 6 for Prussian brigades). For the weakened Austrian corps classed as “Fragile” in BBB I used the mainly Landwehr brigades of III Korps (classed as Raw, not Fragile). The French I classed as Veteran, to make up for the superior armament and tactics of the Prussians in 1866. A large number of Prussians were not due to arrive until Turn 3, but it was easy to split the Prussians between the two players for the first two turns.

The next problem was the terrain. I used roughly the same distances as the BBB scenario. This was a bit of a gamble since I was using half the number of troops. I found that it wasn’t too hard to simplify the rest of the terrain into something that would present similar choices. I did not include the Austrian entrenchments; only the six villages counted as objectives were included (villages in BBB not having a big impact on play).  Although I couldn’t do the hills properly with what the club had (some other members had got to the ones I wanted first), I managed to set up something acceptable in under 30 minutes, we got the game going with four players.

By 10pm we had only got through three and a half moves, though; it needed eight. One player was new to the rules, the two others only had a single game. Even I had to look some things up. But even allowing for that it would be quite hard to finish the game in an evening, even with only six infantry and cavalry units per player. That was the bad news. The good news was that the scenario itself was much more fun. Each player had interesting choices to make. The gaps in the dispositions allowed some dramatic moves to be made. We decided to play it again as a daytime game at Pete’s.

What of the rules? Bernie, probably the most experienced of my co-players, was experiencing them for the first time. He didn’t really like them. Pete and Terry were quite happy; it helped Pete that he had played with the Fire and Fury system before. I think that Bernie was reacting against two major problems. The first is that the rules system was designed for a much smaller scale game (for the American Civil War) and so its mechanisms don’t feel right for the bigger scale. This is the same issue with have with Rapid Fire and Fistful of TOWs for WW2 games, except worse. The BBB system doesn’t have a Napoleonic feel for the smaller scale either. The musketry range is very short; there are no squares to combat cavalry; hitting a unit in the flank is not necessarily decisive, and so on. This means that it looks wrong both as a big division game and as a pretend battalion one.

The other problem is that losses are very lumpy. A lot of not very much happens (getting into and out of disruption) punctuated by occasional dramatic disasters. That’s because a casualties are by base removal, which are a very high proportion of unit strength. This doesn’t reflect a steady accumulation of casualties well at all.

I’m learning to live with these two problems. They do seem to come out in the wash by and large: you get a stimulating game with reasonably realistic results. However my DTN rules should address both issues. They will have an unabashedly big game feel, and I am working on ways to reflect accumulation of fatigue and casualties better – at the same time as being punchy. That’s the hope.

We’re learning how to play BBB. You really need to get units to combine and support each other, to accumulate as many advantages as possible in attack.  Head-on one to one collisions don’t achieve very much unless your objective is simply to delay. But there are aspects where I want to try and make the rules feel more Napoleonic. There are three things I am thinking about: cavalry, skirmishers and artillery.

The thing about cavalry in BBB is that it isn’t very special. It doesn’t fire; it has a longer move. That’s it. I used a Prussian cavalry unit to eject a French infantry unit from a village, unsupported by infantry. Bernie attacked one of my Prussian cavalry units with a combined force of infantry and cavalry (though it only succeeded in pushing it back a bit). The long cavalry move can mean that it appears out of nowhere to make an attack – especially in a game like ours with gaps between the units – though such attacks will be less decisive that people might think. It doesn’t feel right, but I still don’t know what to do. My first attempt to tackle this (long ago for a Waterloo game) was a bit of a disaster. I can think of a lot of possible tweaks but I’m not sure they’d benefit the game.

I’m much closer to developing something on skirmishers. I have rejected the standard BBB rule, which uses skirmish bases as part of the main body. I want to deploy small skirmish bases in front of infantry units. I have drafted a rule that does this, and which also helps the game. But, though I have stripped it down as far as I can, it’s still a bit complicated, and I want us to become more fluent in the main game system first.

My thoughts are altogether less developed on artillery. I think the game can take more artillery units on the table, and allow the possibility of smaller horse artillery units (which can move and fire) and howitzers (to supplement other artillery against cover).

Meanwhile I can take heart from the success of the scenario. I am starting to understand how to craft and adapt scenarios for these rules. Though I need something smaller for club night.

Reflections on the battle of Salerno, September 1943

Very nearly 75 years ago a combined army of British and American troops conducted an amphibious invasion near the Italian town of Salerno, not far from the now glitzy Amalfi Coast, south of Naples. The Germans counterattacked and there were 10 days of hard fighting in which thousands were killed from both sides, and many Italian civilians too, many more of whom lost their homes to artillery bombardment and bombing from the air. The Germans then retreated. This battle is little noticed in current historical accounts of World War 2, but I have long been interested in it.

My initial interest was sparked when I was at school, fascinated by anything to do with WW2, when I read a book on the battle by the journalist Hugh Pond, which included many accounts from survivors. This evolved into my focus on the Mediterranean battles of 1943, before German heavy armour and Allied air superiority created a very awkward asymmetry.  That went on ice in 1979, as I left home (or rather my parents moved out of town leaving me behind), and I put my wargames stuff into storage or gave it away. When I did resume wargaming, I concentrated on the Napoleonic wars.

That changed a couple of years ago when I joined a wargames club, and discovered the enduring popularity of WW2 games. I then found some of my old 1943 models in the loft. Now retired, I decided to have another look. I naturally resumed my interest in Salerno. Source material was thin, though, as historians and games are much more interested in Normandy 1944 and after, or the Western Desert in 1941-42 (to say nothing 1940 Blitzkrieg or the 1941-45 Eastern Front). I found a rather unsatisfactory Osprey book. But eventually I laid my hands on Angus Kostam’s book Salerno 1943  published in 2007. This is a very good book. It reconstructs events across the ten days without digressing into the anecdotes so popular in historical works. The maps could be better, and I would have liked more on the air war (and more detail generally), but after reading this I at last have a better grasp of the sequence of events. It has also given me a better feel for warfare in WW2 in general.

What to say of the battle? Generally the Allies blundered and were outfought by the Germans, who seem to have suffered half the casualties. Only artillery, from field batteries and warships, saved the Allies from disaster. In the end the Germans did not have the strength to prevail. In his analysis Mr Kostan falls in with a fairly standard critical assessment that the Allies under the US General Mark Clark went onto the defensive too quickly, giving the Germans the chance to take the initiative and drive the Allies into the sea. I’m not convinced. The Allies suffered their biggest setbacks when they pushed forward too aggressively, in the British sector on D-Day (when disaster hit the Hampshires), in Battapaglia not long after (ditto the Fusiliers), and the Americans in Altavilla and environs on D+3 and 4. In each case the Germans exposed the tactical ineptitude of inexperienced troops, who left gaps as they pushed outwards. In particular the Allies struggled to coordinate the different arms of service – infantry found itself under attack from armour-supported infantry without armour support or antitank guns. At other times it was the tanks that didn’t have the support (though at least once that happened to the Germans too). Coordination with the artillery was better, and that often saved the day. But I suspect even the artillery was not used as effectively as it could have been – a lot of shells being wasted on buildings which housed no Germans, because they were convenient targets that produced satisfactorily observable results. An object lesson on how things should have been conducted was provided by the British Guards, one of the few veteran units, when, towards the end of the battle, a big German attack ran into a prepared trap, where infantry, artillery and antitank guns were all properly coordinated. On that occasion even the antiaircraft guns were deployed to help, a rarity for the British, but commonplace for Germans. The result was devastating. A rapid advance by Allied troops that were still learning how to fight effectively could have been sliced up by the Germans, leaving the rear areas very vulnerable.

A further thing strikes me about the battle, which presumably applies to WW2 more generally. The fighting forces were quite thin on the ground, and one of the key ingredients to success to was understanding where your enemy actually was. The Germans were adept at pulling back to regroup, and turning up somewhere else. The better Allied troops (notably the US Rangers and paratroops), as well as the Germans, conducted aggressive patrolling in advance of their positions as a matter of course. This was no WW1 battle with clearly defined front lines. This is part of the “empty battlefield” syndrome that I have heard mentioned a number of times.

So what about wargaming Salerno? In the north, and some of the southern fringes, the battle was in hilly country, mostly unsuitable for vehicles. The Germans did use armour but the Allies generally didn’t. There was fierce fighting, including by the British Commandos facing German paratroops, but not so easy to create an attractive game, especially on a club night. Elsewhere though, notably in the sector fought over by the British 56th Division, the ground was flat, and the combat is closer to the popular Normandy pattern – though no bocage. The German forces were drawn from Panzer or Panzergrenadier divisions, so quite well-equipped, including good armour support and armoured half tracks, but no heavy tanks or tank destoyers (notwithstanding frequent reports of Tiger tanks from allied troops), and no panzerfaust or panzerschrek infantry antitank weapons. The allies had good antitank weapons (6pdr and 17pdr antitank guns for the British) including PIATs and bazookas. And the Sherman tanks (with M10 tank destroyers in the US sector) were quite capable of dealing with the German Panzer IVs and StuG IIIs. Air support did not play a big role on either side at the tactical level (though there was quite a bit of bombing of town by medium bombers and German attacks on the fleet). Reconnaissance forces on both sides were frequently drawn into the front line, with armoured cars etc. All this should produce some good games. The difficulty is allowing for artillery, important to both sides, and critical to the Allies, and the struggle the Allies had in ensuring their infantry was properly supported by antitank weapons or armour.

I’m just beginning when it comes to scenario design, though. There should be some ways of getting good club games from these ingredients. There is also scope for a very interesting operational level game (perhaps using Sam Mustafa’s Rommel) looking at the battle as a whole.That’s a whole new area though.

 

1943: my Royals Scots greys Shermans are finished

At long last this project is done. This has been my most complicated project to date, and I hope the most complex in my whole 1943 programme. And there has been a lot learning curve too. In spite of some mistakes, I’m pretty happy with how they’ve turned out.

My posts so far on this have covered the research, the build and finding the right colour. It remained for me to paint the things, apply decals and finish off. I covered the base colour, Light Mud, in my last post – and I’m very pleased with the end result on the finished model.

The next step was to apply the Blue-Black disruptive camouflage. The first problem was to identify the camouflage pattern. Here I managed to find Dick Taylor’s Warpaint Volume 2 which has copies of the official camouflage patterns. I then used photos of actual tanks from the RSGs and other regiments. The colour was a mix of the same three pigments used for the Light Mud: raw sienna, Prussian blue and white. Not very much white! This gave bluish grey. The actual colour may have been blacker, so maybe I needed a touch more raw sienna in the mix, but overall I think it looks OK.

The first model I decided to do following the official pattern for Sherman tanks quite closely – though this diagram was only loosely accurate for the Sherman’s shape. However, when looking at the photos it didn’t look quite right in a couple of places, especially on the upper surfaces. There was too much black. It seems as if the actual painters wanted to conserve the black paint, and so used rather thinner stripes (more like the desert disruptive patterns in fact). As I progressed through the other models referring to photos, I started to get the hang of it and became a lot quicker. I went back to the first model to paint over the excess black. The Blue Black required two coats. After that it was the tracks, stowage and crew. For the metallic bits I used a mix of black and silver with a bit of white and my Light Mud mix, highlighting with a mix stronger in the silver for the tracks. The stowage and crew required the same three pigments that I used for the rest of the model. I did not paint the blanket box at the back of the turret the same as the body of the tank, though this was usual. For the RSGs this box appears to have been fitted after the body had been painted. Instead I painted it a sort of greenish-khaki (a little oxide yellow got into the mix), based on one of the standard British equipment colours of the time. This was one of several oddities for the RSG. I have already talked about the turret hatch doors (with one half-door applied to front of the driver’s position). Also, thought it was common to remove the rear part of the sand guards for tanks in Italy, in other regiments these were welded to the rear deck to aid stowage. This doesn’t seem to have been done on the RSG tanks.

After detailing came a coat of dark tone Quickshade. I used Quickshade to act as “lowlights” and bring out the detailing – and dark because my mid tone has been drying up and my attempts to rescue it have turned it matt. I need a glossy surface for the decals. I also wanted a weathered, dirty look, so didn’t mind too much that it was dark. But it looked a bit messy on the smoother surfaces on the sides, front and turret. This was all fine after the later parts of the process, but I’m starting to think that there may be less sticky and easier to control methods of achieving the required effect. I can use polyurethane varnish as the base for the decals – or perhaps see if Micro Set decal fluid will do the same job – preventing the unsightly “flash” from appearing.

And so on to the decals. I decided to print my own, since I would be unable to find what I needed commercially. There is a problem when using a home printer for this: they don’t have white ink. So you either use transparent paper without any white in the design, or you print on white paper and cut out right up to the edge. This makes it useless for German markings. Turret numbers usually feature white edges; the balkenkreuz is too tricky to cut out at this scale. But British markings tend to be rectangular, and so feasible to cut out. The turret tactical markings don’t feature white (which does make them harder to see!). You don’t need white stars for British vehicles in 1943 Italy or earlier. So I bought packs of both sorts of decal paper, and drew up designs for that I hope will supply the whole project not just these models. This included a crude but adequate version of the thistle on a white over black square that the RSGs used in this period.

I started with the transparent paper and the turret markings. I set the printer to high quality but for normal paper. The quality of the output wasn’t as good as I hoped, but I pressed ahead. The next step was to seal the printed designs with gloss varnish: otherwise the water just washes the ink away (matt varnish is apparently toxic for decals). Unfortunately my spray-on gloss varnish was dead, and it is taking days to get a new supply (the stuff on Amazon is quite pricey). However, polyurethane with a brush was OK, provided the ink was dry (which took a bit longer than expected in the hot, humid weather we were experiencing). And so on to the models. Quite straightforward in principle (I used Micro Set to prepare the model, but I don’t know whether this helped). But the effect was very disappointing. The design was translucent and lost a lot its colour. The ink wasn’t strong enough without a white background. I tried, unsuccessfully, to use a bit of red paint to beef it up – tricky since it features numbers as well as a circle. By this time I had printed the white sheet, and discovered that if I set the printer to one of photo glossy papers it looked a lot better. I decided to take the decals off and reprint.

The white paper decals went on next. Three discrete red-white-red flashes and the RSG unit badge. This was a bit painstaking, but went OK. The decals were quite liable to damage in the process, so there were odd unsightly bits of white. I touched these up with a fine paintbrush after they were dry. With the white paper backing, the colours were wonderfully strong and not a good contrast to the one printed on transparent paper. Back to the reprinted turret markings. This weren’t much better than the first time, especially the bits laid over the black disruptive pattern. But I had lots of spares, so I decided to put a second decal on top to strengthen it. This was not quite as hard as I feared – lining them up was a bit like focusing. But the overall result was still a bit disappointing on the dark background. I put a little red paint on top, but this risked messing things up so that you couldn’t read the numbers.I decided to cut my losses and make do. The final step was to seal with polyurethane on the transparent ones, and Quickshade on the others, to dull them down a bit.

The next step went much better. This was the weathering. I needed to give the vehicles the dusty look so characteristic of vehicles in action. I was inspired by some of the illustrations in books, and especially one of a Light Mud/Blue Black Polish tank in Real Colors of WWII. With my previous German vehicles I had dry-brushed them with a dusty colour – but this wasn’t really very satisfactory. It helped highlight detail, but inclined to be a bit messy. After experimenting on some old models I developed a new technique. I applied diluted dust-coloured paint (Light Mud with a bit more white and some oxide yellow), and then dabbed it off with a cotton bud. This covered the whole vehicle with a fine patina, and left a bit of a bit of texture. The “dust” tended to gather in the recesses – but real dust does that too. I then put semi-dry brushed further dust colour on the tops of the sand guards and other bits near the tracks.  This also served to give the models a matt finish over the Quickshade. I still gave them a spray of matt varnish to deal with the bits of gloss showing through, and to add a bit of protection.

I’m pretty happy in the end. These aren’t display models, but good quality wargames ones. Having learnt a lot from these project, my next ones should be much quicker. Next is my British infantry platoon.

1943: Light Mud

At last! Back to the painting, which I had been forced to stop in February by pressures from the rest of life. Naturally I am starting where I left off, with my 1943 forces. I need to paint enough so that I can get a game going. When I broke off I was in the middle of my most complex project to date: the Royal Scots Greys’ Shermans at Salerno in September 1943. This means resolving one of the key issues when doing British vehicles in the Italian theatre. What is Light Mud?

Light Mud was the new camouflage colour introduced in 1943 by the British command in the Mediterranean, as British forces became embroiled in the mountains of Tunisia. The desert camouflage schemes based on Light Stone and Desert Pink were no longer appropriate – too pale. Meanwhile the service drabs of vehicles shipped from Britain (dark greens and browns) were too dark. Other colours had been used, including Mid Stone, and various mixes, but Light Mud became the new standard by order from April 1943. It was meant to be used in conjunction with a disruptive pattern in Blue-Black – though it often wasn’t.

But what was it? It was manufactured locally (in Egypt) and any specifications have been lost. I doubt whether many original samples of the paint survive, or not without irredeemable weathering. Almost all photos are black and white, and the colour pictures are unreliable. There are verbal descriptions that mention grey and khaki. This would appear to rule out one suggestion, that the colour was produced from a mix of Dark Stone (a dark yellow) and Desert Pink. That would have given a sort of light tan. It could have been a mix of Desert Sand and Dark Olive Green, the standard colour for disruptive patterns – my personal pet theory, as it would have been a good way of using up stocks of redundant paint. We are left with the idea that it was a light to medium grey, with a dash of khaki about it.

These illustrations from Star Decals is where most people seem to end up.

Another source has been a book published by AK paints called The Real Colors of WWII. This claims to based on careful research, including on surviving samples. It includes quality-controlled colour chits. Inevitably, almost, most of this effort seems to have been on German colours, because that is where most hobbyist interest is. They do have a chit for Light Mud, but I don’t know what sources it is based on. That looks greyer and darker than the star decals sheet, but then the same can be said of the Olive Drab. Tonally the colour seems to be very similar to Dunkelgelb, the standard mid to late war German vehicle colour. But it is greyer, though not that far from the grey end of the spectrum of different Dunkelgelbs. I have used the AK book as my main guide on hue, but looking for a rather paler tone than the chit, because of the scale effect and the use of Quickshade later in the process.

I decided to use the same method that I used to produce Khaki. Start with a base colour of Raw Sienna (an orange-brown), dull it down with Prussian Blue, and add white. I used student colours for the blue and the white, but used up some old Liquitex artist grade Raw Sienna, as I don’t yet have student paint for that pigment. My policy is to use student paints for vehicle base coats, and move to artist quality for finer work.

This took a few goes. After a few months out of practice I may have lost my touch a bit – though it took me just as long to reach a satisfactory Dunkelgelb for my Germans. On two occasions I thought I had it right, only to decide that it was too dark or too green once the model was fully dry. It may be that the paints aren’t drying true – a bit of a risk perhaps when you use student colours.  The result is here, with one of my German Pz IIIs for comparison. The German tank should probably be a bit greyer, but it looks to be within the authentic range. 

It does look a bit green, especially compared to the Star Decals sheets. But apparently that’s how it was. Incidentally it is one of the issues when with working with khaki – it sometimes looks green and at others brown.

The next step will be putting on the Blue-Black disruptive colour. The Salerno pictures show high contrast with the Light Mud, before the dust patina built up.

 

 

Airfix Vintage Classics – a trip down memory lane

Like so many men of my age, Airfix polystyrene plastic kits and polythene figures played a big role in my boyhood. It some cases, like me, it led to a lifelong interest in wargaming. In the 1960s and 1970s it took up much of the space now taken by computer games. I spent hours in seclusion working on my kits or reading up about WW2 aircraft, tanks and ships without needing to do any tiresome social interaction. My wife is amazed at my ability to identify WW2 aircraft from the briefest glimpse on film footage.

But times changed and Airfix, the leading company in the business, fell on hard times. It is now part of the Hornby group, and going through a minor revival. Meanwhile my interest was renewed with the discovery of a number of my old models in the loft, and led to my current 1943 project – reviving something that I had left off in 1979, when I left home at the age of 21.

Funnily enough, I find the old Airfix stuff unsatisfactory these days. The land models are in 1/76 scale when I prefer 1/72. They are a bit fiddly to put together, and I don’t like the polythene tracks used on the tanks. And some of the old models (I’m thinking of the Sherman and the Tiger) are a bit crude. The polythene figures are even more unsatisfactory. Though the material enables a fine level of detailing, it doesn’t take paint very well. and though the figures improved considerably over time, I still don’t like them. The Germans are early war when I want mid to late war. The British don’t look right at all. and they are 1/76 – though this matters less on figures. Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) do a wonderful range of plastic models which are much better suited to my needs. AB’s metal figures are exquisite, even if the weapons are a bit chunky.

So I was a bit surprised when I got a promotional email from Airfix advertising their Vintage Classics releases. They provoked some genuine interest. Airfix’s range these days is rather limited, mainly based on aircraft, and modernised and retooled. Clearly there was demand for some of the old models, which were worth re-releasing without modernising. The promotional material is unashamedly nostalgic, pointing out that they are using the old artwork too, some of which is a bit crude. These releases are mainly vehicles and ships, which don’t feature strongly, or at all, in current ranges. First to come out, though, are WW1 plastic figures. These were probably the best figures that Airfix produced, with sets for British, French, German and Americans, and a British horse artillery set. I bought the lot as a teenager, and I still have them. There some familiar problems. A lot of useless poses. The British and Germans are early war, the French and Americans later. So no Lewis gunner. Still, though I’m very interested in WW1 from a historical perspective, I have ruled it out as a wargaming/modelling project. What interests me are the WW2 vehicles, none of which have been released yet.

These are the Matador and 5.5in gun, 88mm Flak gun and tractor, 25pdr and Quad, Bren carrier and 6pdr, 40mm Bofors and tractor, M3 half track, PAK 40 and truck, Panzer IV, Panther tank, StuG III,  Churchill VII, and T34. Of these I already have the M3 half track, Bren/6pdr, Pz IV and Churchill in abundance. I am pressing them into use – but if I was buying new I would go to PSC. The Airfix 25pdr/Quad model was a nice one (I actually have the gun model converted into a 17pdr Partridge, using the Panther barrel) – but PSC do a good one too which include things like a muzzle-brake. The Panther and StuG III are strong on nostalgia (being amongst the first AFV models I owned) but are early models and a little crude (the gun barrels are a little thin, the are 1/76, and have those polythene tracks). There are good alternatives from PSC and others. I already have the Armourfast StuG III. The T34 isn’t in scope for my project; we had a lot of fun with this model, but I’m sure a lot of modern offerings beat it. The Pak 40 and truck are a late model that I never owned – so probably quite good. But I’ve already bought them from PSC, and 1/72 is a more satisfactory scale.

That leaves three models. Firstly the 88 (with SdKfz 7 tractor). This was a lovely model, though the only crew were some stiff passengers for the tractor. It was quite feasible to take the gun from deployed to transported mode. The 88 and SdKfz 7 are not in the PSC range and are harder to find in 1/72. Actually, though an iconic weapon it is rather neglected in wargames – it was really a long range weapon and not so well suited to the skirmish games that comprise games with larger models. Still, I do want one. I’m also less worried about 1/72 for these larger pieces. In fact I had been wondering whether this model was still available.

I never owned the Bofors gun – it was a later model – which means the standard is likely to be quite high. It is another piece that is harder to get. But I would like to bring in aircraft and AA guns at some point, and the Bofors guns played a big role in the rear areas of the Sicily and Salerno beach heads, which in the latter case came into the front line at some points. The Morris 15 cwt tractor is a useful item too – though I’d prefer these smaller trucks to be in 1/72.

And finally the 5.5in/Matador. This where nostalgia really kicks in. I really don’t need these for my wargaming. Medium artillery is off-table stuff. But this was one of my favourites as a child/teenager. It’s hard to say exactly why. The model we had wasn’t even mine – it was my younger brother’s – and painted up by my older brother (easily the most accomplished modeller among us). The gun was a simple but very satisfactory model. The Matador looked just like any other lorry at first, but we soon came to appreciate its size (actually a bit like the SdKfz 7). The Matador was a magnificent bit of British engineering. So I feel that I have to have it. Even two.

One final point is worth making. These models are good value for money. You can get them in metal (SHQ) or, (in some cases) resin (Milicast), but at a lot more cost. The Matador/5.5in combination would cost £20 at SHQ; the Airfix model is, or will be, £5.99.  The Zvezda plastic Bofors gun costs £7.99 without a tractor; the Airfix offer is £8.99 with the Morris (though I don’t know what either of these supply for crews – they are easy enough to get in metal). It’s the same story with the 88. They aren’t available yet, but I’m in no hurry. I have a plastic mountain to get through.

 

Scream Aim Fire rules review

The author of these rules, Jamie Kirkpatrick, asked me to review them, and emailed a Word copy to me. I like to help out other people in the hobby, so I obliged.

Scream Aim Fire is available on Amazon for £7.50 (that link is to the WW2 – Napoleonic is here). It started life as a set of WW2 skirmish rules, and it was then adapted to Napoleonic wars. If you think that sounds a bit odd (I did) you need to understand what these rules are about. They are not about historical gaming. They are a bit like an old-fashioned Hollywood movie (or a video game). The uniforms, vehicles and terrain may look  historical, but the thing itself is designed for entertainment pure and simple. If that bothers you (it bothers me) then these rules aren’t for you (they’re not for me). But that doesn’t mean you won’t get the quick and entertaining game that the author promises.

The version of the rules I have for WW2 covers about 28 pages. That makes them sound a lot longer than they are. They are written in 24 pt font (the usual default is 12pt and professional texts are usually smaller still) and double-spaced. You might be able to get the text onto 3 pages of more conventional text. There are a few pictures but no more than normal these days (actually a bit less). Opinions vary on this sort of rule-writing approach. The upside is that they are very quick to read. The downside is that there are lots of gaps which you will have to fill in for yourself. For example, nowhere does it define what a unit is. But that’s pretty easy to figure out from context (a vehicle or squad of men).

What of the game system? It seems designed to produce a random pattern of play. There looks to be little point to applying any strategy; you need to go with the flow and grab whatever opportunities present. Play is by random activation (each unit has a token or card which you pick out blind). The rules don’t say if you put the card or token back, but by inference you must. There is also a random event token/card, which is quite a neat idea. Once you  pick a unit you have to throw dice to activate, and and see what it can do (you might be forced to move or fire, rather than choose which). At pretty much every stage a dice throw can thwart you. At regular intervals a “shock and awe” means that your unit might disappear if you throw a six. The rules cover artillery and even aircraft (if aircraft are brought on the other side brings on its own one and there’s a dogfight).

I have not tried playing them. The rules require you to prepare two things which aren’t part of the normal wargames kit before you start. You need those cards or tokens to see which units get picked (and a random event), and  you need a bag of tokens marked one to five, which are used at various stages. Neither is hard but it stopped me giving them a 20 minute go. Without playing them it’s hard to tell you how the game flows. My guess is very erratically, and that is the chief source of entertainment.

I have only had a glance through the Napoleonic version. But they share the same mechanisms. There’s no need to worry about columns, lines and squares!

The verdict? These are quite unlike anything I’ve looked at before. If you aren’t bothered by historical authenticity, and you like being entertained by random events, and don’t mind filling in any gaps in the rules yourself, then you might like them. They look very suitable for solo play (in fact they probably work better solo that with two or more players). If you want to make the transition from video games to the full 3-D experience of tabletop gaming then this may be worth a go. But I would be a little surprised if that covers any regular readers to this blog.

Back to Napoleonics – Bloody Big Battles

BBB in progress 21 May 2018

This week we took a break from our WW2 games. My Napoleonic figures got an outing as we decided to try out Chris Pringle’s Bloody Big Battles (BBB) on club night. It went quite well.

BBB is a set of rules based on the Fire and Fury game system, designed for European wars in the later 19th Century. But they are quite usable for the Napoleonic era (and doubtless for the American Civil War too). I like them because they have a very stripped down simplicity, while also being a successful system for recreating big historical battles (as its name suggests). I have used them before for a recreation of Waterloo in 2015.

Their simplicity is one of the things that drew me to their use on club night. But there’s another factor: the Fire and Fury command system is ideal for multi-player games. So many rule systems require some sort of top down command process that makes it quite hard to run different parts of the table in parallel. But in BBB there is no higher command system; no PIPs to allocate; nobody decides which units to move and which to leave. You throw dice to see whether each unit moves, in any order you like. Commanders’ role is confined to affecting this dice roll if close enough.

This did not work so well on this week’s outing, as I was the only player who knew the rules, and I was a little rusty. So instead of players working in parallel, they worked in sequence guided by me. This slowed the game down a lot, and we were nowhere near finished at the end. But the players were starting to get the hang of it, and if every player has a quick reference sheet, I could see this working fine. Perhaps I need to step back and act as gamesmaster next time to facilitate this. But the players seemed quite happy – they were expecting more complexity than there was.

The first question was how to adapt the rules to the era. This is where I came apart in my Waterloo game. I made several changes then, especially around the use of cavalry, and they worked badly. In fact I was assured that such changes were unnecessary. I had a very interesting dialogue with Chris Pringle, which you can read on my Waterloo post. Taking his comments to heart, I made very few changes this time. I looked up an old magazine article on adapting to BBB for a game of Borodino, and found myself rejecting most its modest changes (incorporating a square formation, for example). I made two main changes. First (which I had from my Waterloo game) I halved the figure scale for cavalry, so as to double the number of cavalry bases on the table. Second I adopted the fire table from the magazine article, which lengthened the ranges of artillery and musketry. The official versions were meant to reflect the relative strengths and weaknesses of these weapons compared to more modern ones. Two further adaptations were not changes. I did not use the rule on skirmisher bases. Regulars to this blog know that I get uptight about the treatment of skirmishers in wargames rules, and I wasn’t convinced by this one, both visually on the table (the skirmisher base is kept in close order in the main unit) and on historicity, in the Napoleonic context – it makes more sense when all armies used specialist jager/chasseur units at divisional level. More to the point I wanted to keep this first outing simple. I will return to this. A second change was to the way close combat assaults are determined. Instead of adding some factors and subtracting others from your dice, I arranged modifiers so that each side only had additions, which they could record on a D6, which could then be added to the score of the thrown dice; the result depended on the difference between totals thrown by each side. This worked very well, and Assaults did not get us into the tangle they did in my Waterloo game.

What of the scenario? Chris suggests that scenarios should be based on history, so that the game can be used to appreciate the choices that were available in real battles. There is no system points balancing and terrain choices. Scenario design is a very important element in how the system works – as Chris made very clear in his comments to my blog. I picked on Ligny – since that fitted with my French and Prussian armies (my Austrians not being table-ready). But this was too big for an evening game – so I took the situation of what would have happened if the French had pressed their attack a couple of hours earlier, as commentators suggested they should, before the Gerard’s and Thielmann’s corps arrived. I did some rapid standardisation of unit sizes. Prussian infantry units (four in each corps) were 6 bases (representing about 8,000 men), apart from one smaller unit which was 4 bases. I mainly classed these as Trained, but one unit in each of the two corps was Raw. The cavalry units were 4 bases, and all ordinary trained cavalry. Each corps had three artillery units, including one heavy. In the end I decided not to play horse artillery (which isn’t in fact catered for in the main rules). All the French infantry units were four bases (about 5,000 men). The line infantry (four units) was classed as veteran, the Young Guard as Trained Aggressive and the Old and Middle Guard as Veteran Aggressive. The cavalry units were 3 or 4 bases. They were mainly (three units) classed as Veteran, except the Cuirassiers (Trained Aggressive); the Guard cavalry was Veteran Aggressive. I gave the French three standard artillery batteries, on the assumption that any reserve batteries were still working their way up to the field.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do a proper job on the terrain, and then I couldn’t find the stream pieces in the club’s terrain boxes. I plumped some hills randomly across the table, except one which was formed the basis of the Prussian I Korps position. We experienced a slight technical problem. The Tiny Wargames mat we were using proved too slippery when placed over hills, so we used some slightly incompatible hills placed on top.

How did the game go? We started with the Prussian I Korps in place with II Korps moving in from the Prussian left. The French had four divisions of line infantry ready for the attack (three from Vandamme’s corps in the centre and one, Girard, from Reille’s corps to the left. They threw Vandamme’s divisions into a frontal assault on I Korps position by attacking Ligny, though the left hand one wouldn’t budge. The line cavalry moved out to the right to counter II Korps. The attacks on Ligny didn’t have much effect, except that the defenders got a short on ammo result, and had to be relieved. After two moves of failed movement throws Vandamme’s left division finally got moving; it joined an attack with Girard (from Reille’s corps) on the St Armand complex. This they did at right angles: one frontally and one in the flank. Though Girard was beaten back by strong fire, the other division’s flank attack went better: a bloody assault with two drawn assault rounds gutted the Prussian unit, while the French veteran status meant that it could fight on. Meanwhile the II Korps moved in on the French right. The French cavalry was immobilised by first artillery and then infantry fire. One of Vandamme’s divisions was called off to face this threat, while two Guard units were also pushed into this sector. The battle was slipping away from the French.

There are a couple of pointers here relevant to the historical battle. First it shows why Napoleon waited for Gerard’s corps to arrive, even though this allowed the Prussians to strengthen their position. An  attack on the Prussian position really needed to be conducted from two directions: frontally on Ligny, and on the Prussian right flank through St Armand. They needed two corps to do that, and if Gerard wasn’t there he’d have to have used the Guard, which was a reserve formation. Second it shows how terrain protected the French right, and how important this was. In our game II Korps successfully did what on the day III Korps tried and failed to do. The terrain obstacles that got in their way weren’t in our game – though they looked relatively slight on the map – a shallow stream and some rather open villages. I will have to look at the detailed map more closely to understand what it was that made an attack from this direction so hard.

And the rules? I think the longer weapon ranges were probably OK. Though it means infantry engaging at the equivalent of nearly a kilometre apart (6 inches on the table) this represents the more spread out nature of warfare not fitting our wargames representation – this would have included the use of skirmishers and divisional artillery. But it did mean that infantry could pressure cavalry with firepower, and I’m not sure how historical this is (to be fair cavalry wasn’t supposed to be good at holding ground in this era though). The fighting is often pretty indecisive with units being pushed about and forth without suffering serious damage. This means that I suspect that one turn covers quite a bit less than an hour’s worth of fighting (though St Armand went more to type). I felt this with our Waterloo game too, especially with the Prussian advance being slowed down relatively easily. It was probably a mistake to class the Cuirassiers as Trained though, as this makes them much more likely to be stopped by a bit of firepower. The Young Guard should probably not be classified as such either – perhaps the Aggressive rating (which affects the Assault) should be dropped to distinguish them from the veteran Guard units.  Or the older Guard units could be given “Devastating Volleys”.

Many of the issues reflect scenario design, and our inexperience. The French in the attack needed to think of more ways to achieve advantages for fire and assault. The skirmisher rules may give them more opportunities for this, though I remain sceptical of the BBB rule. Maybe introduce this on our next game. In fact I have an idea to represent skirmishers by deploying special bases in front of the units, and using this to extend the infantry firepower range (instead of the 6 inch allowance), but having cavalry able to suppress this. That’s for the future. I have learned to resist fiddling with mature rules systems like BBB.

One thing that will need more work is scenarios. I might try my Ligny minus scenario again, but with more historical terrain – but this doesn’t look the most exciting game for a club night. I have a battery of scenarios from the Crimean War onwards published by Chris Pringle, which I could try adapting for my French and Prussian armies. Otherwise I need to look at some mid-sized Napoleonic battles. I also need to think about getting my 15mm Napoleonic armies into better shape. I will resist trying to build some armies for Bismarck’s wars though!

I also like the visual appearance with my 15mm figures. The variable sized units of three or more bases look much better than the standard two base units required for Blucher or Horse, Foot, Guns, the two best alternatives. Cavalry units still look a little pathetic in 15mm. I am considering adjusting the figure scale down again, to be one third of the infantry (which means that the men to figure ratio would in fact be equal, as my cavalry bases have two figures and infantry six). I’m also thinking about something similar for artillery, which I think is a bit too compact (and adjusting the fire tables). But not until we have more experience under our belts. Meanwhile BBB Napoleonics look very promising for club nights.