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GDA2 – lessons from first game

Our game not far from when we finished. At the top right the French cavalry’s flank attack is in progress

My hobby year started off with real momentum. But this crashed to halt in early April, and I’ve made little progress since. A combination of holiday trips, a family crisis and gardening conspired to divert me. I can’t see myself getting back to the hobby room for a few weeks yet. The one bright spot is that I have kept the games going, with my two regular monthly groups, and I have had time to explore new set of rules: Général d’Armée 2 (the published rules don’t bother with the accents: I’m just being nerdy) – known hereon in as GDA2. I have already posted my first reactions. At the start of the month I played my first game with a couple of people at the club.

For this game I went for a similar scenario to my first club game of Lasalle 2, a very different game system, but in a similar space in terms of the scaling. A Prussian brigade of 9 battalions plus two cavalry regiments and two batteries attacks a French division of 10 smaller battalions and two cavalry regiments and two batteries. We used my normal Napoleonics, on 25mm bases, with four bases to a standard unit, and six for a large one (the Prussian infantry were in large units). Because of this small base size, we used the 28mm distances, but in centimetres rather than inches. We played on the same field size I have used for Lasalle 2 – 40in by 60 in, rather than the full 4 ft by 6 ft. Following my concerns about the complexity of the game, we decided to leave some of the rules out, notably the menu of ADC tastings, including the C-in-C commands. My fellow players provided the tokens, including a set of casualty trackers using rotating number devices (which can be seen in the picture – adorned with casualty figures).

The game itself proved a bit lacklustre. The Prussians moved to an infantry attack, but this took too long to develop. The French decided to send their cavalry round their left flank. This again took time, but they were able to deliver a devastating attack on the Prussian cavalry, catching it in the flank, and driving it from the field, causing complete disarray on the Prussian side. At this point we ran out of time. Subsequently we realised that this flank attack should have been kicked off with a Redeploy tasking, which the French player forgot to do – as the cavalry started off in the centre rear. that wouldn’t have been too hard, though.

Clearly the learning curve meant that we were slow. In a learning game it is worth taking time to refer back to the rules a lot. We decided that my attempts to simplify the game didn’t really work – and especially that the CinC intervention rules were critical to the balance of play. We also felt that the scaling didn’t work, as it was taking too long for the combat to develop – even after I allowed the attacking side to deploy much further in than the rulebook suggested. We decided next time to use the full rulebook, and the standard 15mm scaling, though using a 6ft by 4 ft playing area. The unit sizes would need to be kept the same, though, as I don’t have enough miniatures for the six-base standard battalions that you should really have for this scaling.

For all the frustrations we decided that the rule system has an excellent Napoleonic feel, and that this would be our standard Napoleonic system for club games.

It is also clear is that the game’s name is a misnomer. “Général de Division” would give a more realistic idea of the scope. Though the rules do provide for the use of an army corps, this would still need a very large playing area – or smaller scale miniatures. In the latter case, though, our experience is that there is a danger of things being too slow – though I do see Facebook reports of it being done successfully. I will resume development of my own big battle rules.

Alas, I am going to miss the next club day at the beginning of July. However, I have promised to lead a game at my other regular venue, which should entail two players a side. I plan to use the Gilly scenario from the 100 Days book (although this is not a historically accurate reflection of that encounter, on the evening before Ligny). I’m hoping that some of the other players will have some experience of the game – and I will certainly bone up on the rules – as we need to keep it reasonably brisk to get through ten moves.

General D’Armée 2 – first impressions

I have been using Lasalle 2 for my club wargames, gradually working through the scenarios in the rule book. But I’m tiring of it. It is far too abstracted and too gamey – by which I mean the players is more concerned with the operation of game mechanisms than things that a historical commander might consider. Many important features of a Napoleonic battlefield (such as generals and skirmishers) are abstracted away. In my last game I found myself pushing my cavalry towards a random patch of earth because it represented a victory point. This allowed me to snatch a draw from a losing game – and it felt like a lot of nonsense. It’s always possible to rationalise explanations when odd things happen, but I prefer it when tabletop events look more historically plausible. At the same meeting, one of the other club members raved about the General d’Armée 2nd edition rules. I have also seen being praised by some members of my last club – so I thought it was time to investigate.

Now I had heard about GDA and GDA2 before – but because they were designed around divisional or corps-sized games, I had not investigated further. My main focus is bigger battles – and I thought that the well-written Lasalle 2 rules would suffice for club games. But if these rules were gaining popularity at my club, then they were surely worth a look. So I went to the Reisswitz Press section of the Too Fat Lardies website and ordered the pdf and hard copy package. I wasn’t disappointed.

I discovered that they covered remarkably similar space to Lasalle 2 – the typical two-player encounter would be between forces of four to six brigades – being a reinforced division. The basic unit is a battalion for both with typically four bases (this uniform in Lasalle 2 but there is variation in GDA2), allowing only the most basic of formations to be represented: line, column and square – with the column representing all manner of different column types. They are both carefully written. GDA2 covers some 90 pages of A4; Lasalle 2 has some 120 pages of smaller 7in by 10in paper. But GDA2 feels much weightier. More space is given to diagrams in Lasalle 2, and the writing is more spaced out. And Lasalle 2 is split between basic rules (100 pages) and advanced rules. There is no basic game in GDA2 – you plunge straight into the advanced game equivalent. Its quick reference sheets are a full four sides of closely packed A4, with many more tables and categories than Lasalle 2 (whose QR is much briefer but leaves too much out).

My most recent club game of Lasalle 2. My French are attacking the Prussians from the right. You can see my cavalry passing the cornfield on the right centre and heading for that lone tree in the distance – which marks a victory point. I am in the process of overwhelming the village in the foreground. But in the distance on the left Rod’s combined arms attack is about to cause some serious havoc. Great game but it doesn’t feel historical – a problem GDA2 should fix.

Quite a lot is abstracted away in GDA2, of course. But it feels much less. The generals are represented on the table and issue what amount to orders. There are skirmish bases rather than an off-table system. You need a dozen or so hits to destroy a unit in GDA2, rather than the typical seven in Lasalle 2. There are more unit statuses; in Lasalle 2 units are fresh, shaken or broken (though their effectiveness diminishes with each hit); in GDA units can be unformed, brigades can be hesitant, and so on. Somehow GDA2 feels much more serious and detailed.

Write-ups for GDA2 suggest that its the critical innovation in game design is the allocation of Aides-de-Campe (ADCs) from the commander to the brigades. This is a bit oversold. The ADC system is really a variation on the old idea of command points or command capacity. They only superficially represent the role of real ADCs. I have had the idea of using ADC figures to represent command points for allocation each turn in my own rule systems. It is a good idea though – contemporary prints of battles often show individual horseman charging around the field, as well as skirmishers, and these prints should be an inspiration for the tabletop, as they operate under similar constraints. What is much more interesting are the stylised orders that these ADCs transmit, which operate at brigade level – they are called “Taskings”, terminology that I dislike: surely “orders” would be better. They are supplemented by “C-in-C Commands” to represent the impact of the commander taking personal control, which can only happen a limited number of times. Brigades can’t do very much without these orders. This system achieves the same thing as MO in Lasalle 2, but it is less abstracted. It is much easier to understand what is actually supposed to be going on on the field.

One interesting aspect of the brigade order system is that only one unit in a brigade can charge per turn. Amongst other things this stops the wargames tactic of two or more columns ganging up on a unit deployed in line (which happened in my last game but one of Lasalle 2), which is totally unhistorical – a function of how different a wargames tabletop is from a real battlefield. This is an arbitrary rule but a very sound idea.

The turn itself follows a fairly classic Igo-Ugo format, with different phases for command, charges, movement, firing and close combat, each played alternately. This has the big advantage of making multi-player games easier to run – though only one player can allocate the ADCs. The more complex card-driven or other systems so fashionable in modern wargames systems can produce interesting game situations, but are harder to rationalise. They are more suited to skirmish games than one where each commander dominates the whole field of play – as was the case in Napoleonic battles at this level – though perhaps less so for big multi-corps situations. The need to manage multiplayer games without players from the same side having to wait for each other all the time is still the best reason for the traditional alternate move system – and it’s an important consideration for me. It’s the big weakness of Lasalle 2, though the author does make suggestions as to how to run multiplayer games.

There will always be things in a rule system to quibble over from somebody that has been into wargaming and Napoleonic history as long as I have. From a gaming point of view my biggest one is that I would have much preferred a simplified basic game, to which more complexities can be added as people get the hang of it. It’s not hard to see how that might be done. The basic game would focus solely on divisional encounters (the rules do cater for corps games too), with a reduced menu of ADC Taskings (leave out CinC Command, Skirmishers, Artillery Assault, Scouts and Reserve) – and the CinC Commands altogether. No reserves, scouting, simplified troops types, no light infantry skirmish deployment or reinforcing skirmish screens (or you could leave out the skirmish screen altogether), and simplify the troops types a bit (no drilled or enthusiastic) and do away with small (and perhaps large) units. I’m tempted to create such a basic version myself, but currently I have bigger priorities for my limited hobby time. As it is taking on my first game with my usual club partner is going to be a bit daunting.

Other quibbles are pretty minor. I don’t buy the logic that six and eight gun batteries are the same at this level (“If simply having more guns guaranteed superior firepower, then surely every nation would have deployed 12 gun batteries,” the author asks. Then why didn’t everybody use six-gun ones?). It wouldn’t have be too hard to build a bit more depth to the larger batteries, even if there is no firepower distinction. The author isn’t familiar with later Prussian command doctrine, whereby commands at “brigade” level (i.e. the game brigade – the actual Prussian Brigade is a game division) were task-oriented, and it was usual for them to be composed of battalions from two or three different regiments. I would like to see the ability to form converged howitzer batteries. I’m a little less than convinced by the skirmish rules, especially what the deployment of light battalions into full skirmish actually means. It would be pretty much impossible to deploy a whole battalion into skirmish order and to maintain any meaningful control of it – it would disperse over a very wide area. This presumably actually means some combination of a dense screen and formed reserves. And I don’t think this happened much (or at all?) in the Empire era. Commanders often reinforced skirmish screens by drawing off companies/third ranks from formed units – but the rules provide for this already. And yet this is all grumpy old man territory – the issues are either easy to fix or don’t really matter.

The important thing is that these rules are steeped in a Napoleonic feel. Achieving this with relatively simple game mechanisms is quite a feat. Incidentally, I don’t think they would work that well for either Seven Years War, or the mid-19th Century ones. I really want to give these rules a go!

Which leaves the question of how I adapt my Napoleonic armies to the system. I have 18mm men on bases 25mm square (with some on 30mm squares) – six infantry or two cavalry per base. Artillery are on 35-45mm bases. I also have skirmisher bases which are 25mm by 15mm deep, with a pair of figures. The rules say that a standard battalion should have a frontage of about the same as musket range. On the standard scale for 15mm troops (1mm to a yard), this would mean 15cm. That’s six bases (or five if they are 30mm) – with say 8 bases for a large unit (which would be normal for my 1815 Prussians). This is a lot of metal: 36 miniatures for a standard battalion, though it would doubtless be visually impressive. I would prefer to use the basing I already use for Lasalle 2 – four bases to a standard unit, six bases for a large one (using house rules). That would mean using the recommended distance scale for 10mm miniatures – where musket range is 9cm. That’s a bit tight, but it roughly equates to what I’ve been using for Lasalle 2 in terms of distances (musket range is four base-widths). The distances in GDA2 are all (almost) in units of 50 yards – which is 5cm for 15mm, 3in for 28mm, and 3cm for 10mm. So I could try 4cm for 50 yards. – but then all the QRFs etc would have to be redone. Batteries would be two bases, as per Lasalle 2.

In breaking news, I have already agreed to have my first game this coming weekend at the club. And somebody is bringing a set of status markers – which you are encouraged to buy separately, as there are no printable sheets, but which are out of stock. We still have to mark casualties somehow. I think I might stick to pipe cleaners with yellow/white being singles and red being 5s. I will try and simplify the rules (i.e. leave bits of the standard game out).

My aim is to try this system out for club games with generally non-historical scenarios – in place of Lasalle 2 (perhaps using Lasalle scenarios). For big, historical battles, like Ligny, I still want to develop a different system. The authors suggest that GDA2 can be “bathtubbed” for bigger battles, with each unit representing a brigade, and so on up. That’s not a bad idea, but I prefer systems developed specifically for the scale. Anyway, watch this space!

British vehicles for 1943

The three Bedfords. The QLT on the left; the QLD on the right is the metal SHQ model; the others are Airfix

My third article on my latest batch of 1943 British covers the vehicles: three Bedford medium trucks, three carriers, two Quads with limbers, and a CMP 15cwt light truck. I’m not showing the Quads or the OP carrier in this post – but you can see them in my previous one, along with the artillery.

First the big trucks. These Bedfords were one of the mainstays of the British war effort, and the easiest medium trucks to acquire as models in this scale (20mm, 1/76 or 1/72). I had an Airfix kit of the QLD (general purpose) and QLT (troop transport) trucks, and a metal SHQ model. The Airfix models are proper, detailed kits with lots of parts, that require intricate assembly. The SHQ model is much cruder, though also requiring assembly, but with many fewer parts. Neither came with crew. For the Airfix models I used AB figures, though they weren’t an easy fit. For the SHQ model I took a very crude figure from a vintage Airfix Matador I had in stock. That was actually fine – it’s waste of good quality models to put them in an enclosed cab. The Airfix models are nice – they are modern ones, rather than reissued Vintage classics, which I’m going off a bit. The SHQ model, though, was simpler to put together (though vague assembly instructions didn’t help) and looks very similar at distance. Incidentally, the Airfix models came with clear plastic for the windscreens, etc., but I couldn’t lay my hands on them at the critical moment – and would have made it even harder to fit in the crew. None of my other models have clear plastic windows so I wasn’t going to stress about it – though they did turn up later.

After my initially negative impressions of SHQ, I find they are growing on me – they look much better than you would think when they arrive unassembled, and have a nice weight when handling. Their figures are growing on me too – though I prefer the beefier AB ones. Unfortunately SHQ have ceased business. They have been bought by Grubby Tanks/Britannia. As it happens, a few weeks ago I was helping the owner of Grubby Tanks to unload his stuff at the Cavalier wargames show in Tonbridge (put on by my new club); he says that he’s going to put the SHQ items back on the market later this year. I took the opportunity to buy some items of light artillery from his Britannia range – which look quite similar but are significantly cheaper. None are assembled/painted up yet, but include one of the 2pdrs I will need for Medinine (I also bought a German 20mm flak gun and a 75mm infantry gun).

Here’s another view:

The SHQ model is in the middle

And now for my models in desert colours, the CMP light truck and two carriers:

These are all from Plastic Soldier. The CMP truck was easy enough to put together, but it is hard to get excited about it. It’s a very basic model with no options. I left the tilt loose so that I could play it without should the urge take me. This vehicle has no clear role in my set up, but it is available to shift 2-pdrs or Vickers guns if needed. The carriers are a bit more interesting. The are from the PSC Carrier Variants set. The one on the left is the 3in mortar transport. The mortar couldn’t be fired from the vehicle (unlike the German equivalent with the SdKfz 250), but is stowed away at the back. The crew are the standard crew for the PSC “generic” carrier. The one on the right has a 2in mortar in firing position – this weapon could be fired from the vehicle. Since the light mortar was part of the standard equipment of a carrier platoon, this vehicle will stand in as transport for a carrier platoon in my setup.

Another view

The Carrier crew are those supplied by PSC. I’m not a fan of these – a lot of PSC figures seem to be sculpted in 15mm and scaled up, looking a bit clumsy. AB make carrier crews, which would be easier to fit into these models than the slightly smaller Airfix ones – but they are rather pricey and don’t have the 2in mortar in action. From a distance the PSC crew work OK. The generic crew are appropriate for NW Europe with scrim on the helmets; the driver comes with a beret, though the head is separate and easy to swap. I hadn’t woken up to the idea of sawing off heads from the desert uniform to use on the NW Europe bodies yet, though the desert heads would have to come from other PSC models – so I left the scrim helmets on, which isn’t realistic either for 1943 or this theatre. The supplementary figures on the Variants sprue are OK in this regard, though not especially nice mouldings. I added a few boxes and bits to make the carriers look a bit more used. The models worked well, with one exception – it’s hard to fit the Bren gun in the front slot when there is crew in the front seat. You have to skew it a rather awkward angle fairly early in the assembly process.

On the subject of the Carriers, I made up a third one from the Variants set, as an OP (visible in my previous post). This is extremely useful on the tabletop, and it is modelled with a heavy-duty radio set and lots of cable for the field telephone – and a ladder, presumably for accessing vantage points. I only have two niggles; one is that the officer with binoculars is rather crude; the second is that there is no range finder amongst the equipment stowed in the vehicle – even though this does seem be there in the picture in the assembly instructions. These instructions, incidentally, tell you which parts belong to which variants on the additional sprue (the set consists of seven generic sprues and one variants – it would have been more useful for the balance to be 6-2 or 5-3…), but you have to work out for yourself where they go based on a rather basic pictures of the assembled models; in my case even this instruction sheet was missing, and I had to find it and print it off from the website. There are complete instructions for the standard generic carrier though, which is just as well as this is much more complicated. There are alternative parts for Mark 1 and Mark 2 versions; I used the former, based on pictures of the vehicles in theatre.

Now for some notes on my painting of these vehicles and the artillery discussed in the last post, including the Quads and limbers for the 25-pdrs (good basic models from PSC, about which there is not much more to be said – no whinges here). There are two schemes: the Light Mud scheme used in Italy, from Sicily onwards, with Blue-Black as a contrast colour; and the desert scheme of Desert Pink, with Olive Green contrast, used by the Eighth Army in Tunisia (but not the First Army in Tunisia, which had darker UK colour schemes, overpainted ad hoc in many cases). The first of these is well explored territory here. I mixed Light Mud from Raw Sienna and Titanium White, with some Prussian Blue. These are the same pigments I use for Khaki, but with a bit more white and a bit less blue. The Blue Black can be made from the same pigments, with only a touch of white and a lot more blue. In fact I think I just dived into another mix I was using that was lurking on my palette, adjusted slightly. Incidentally, I use a wet palette, as I have for many years. Not the expensive one marketed by one of the usual suspects in the hobby world, but a Daler Rowney one that has been going for many years. Mixing paints from artists’ acrylics, this is a bit of a no-brainer, as you want to keep your pigments going across a multi-day project. In fact in the winter (my studio is only heated when I’m using it), the paint kept going for weeks. Which was just as well given all the interruptions. For the tilts on the trucks I used the Khaki mix I had been using for the infantry for both schemes.

The desert scheme was new for me – this being the last of the three main scenes used by the British in the desert (Coulter and Light Stone being the earlier ones). For the Desert Pink I simply mixed white into Raw Sienna. This is a touch less red than the usual portrayals of this colour, though I suspect (for no particularly good reason) that the pinkness softened with weathering. The Olive Green was a mix based on Sap Green, into which I threw various mixes used for the uniforms to dull down and lighten up a bit. The result may be a little dark. Greens are the hardest colours to mix. The schemes themselves were based on a variety of sources, including the official guidelines (which generally didn’t cover the vehicles I was painting and which were usually simplified in practice), photos (giving only one angle) and otherwise guesswork.

Apart from the basic scheme I painted the tyres and radiators (a variation on the dark grey-black mix) and tracks (ditto with some added silver). And that was pretty much it (apart from the crews, painted as infantry). I took the view that other detail (the lights for example) weren’t important enough to pick out. After this came the decals. I put roundels on the truck and Quad roofs, filched from old aircraft decals, and a couple from some an Italeri halftrack kit that I had recently acquired. I also put some arm of service markings on where I could use appropriate ones. I used the ones in the Airfix kit for two of the Bedford lorries. The others were from some I had printed myself a few years ago – but these were tricky and I lost a number of them in the process. Some models, like one of the carriers in the picture, had to do without. I did not bother with divisional markings (these often weren’t used in 1943 in this theatre).

After this came the weathering and high/low-lighting. I wanted to simplify this from the multiple stages of earlier versions. First I used small amounts of white oil paint brushed into a very thin and slightly uneven layer. Then, as an experiment, I mixed some ink into some new acrylic matt varnish that I recently acquired to make a wash. Previously I have used dark oil paint mixed with a slightly glossy medium, to get into the crevices as a glaze (which, in my parlance, is thicker and stickier than a wash) – followed by spray-on matt varnish. But the matt varnish is a very harsh matt, and the effect is too uniform to my taste. So I was trying to combine the two steps with the new, very liquid varnish, which dries off-matt. The basic concept was sound enough, but unfortunately I used some very powerful black ink. This enhanced the crevices beautifully, but made the models too dark. I had to light brush over the lighter colours on the original paint work again (which the wet palette has preserved); even then they still look a little on the dark side, especially the desert scheme. Finally I applied some powdered pastel in a sort of light dusty mix, with a brush. This served to matt-ify the off-matt varnish, without the harsh uniformity of the spray, and create a dusty texture. Apart from the matt varnish wash being a bit too dark, I’m pleased with the results. I have nice weathered finish, and the decals look well and truly integrated – and the method is quite simple.

My next project is the Medinine Germans – which I have now started. But before then I will do a quick post on some Oxford Diecast models I have acquired.

British artillery for 1943

This time I continue with my description most recent batch of figures and models for my 1943 project, as I build up enough forces to run a scenario for Medinine, by talking about the artillery. These comprised two 25-pdrs, three 6-pdrs and a 17-pdr Pheasant. The above picture is of four of the six weapons, together with two Morris Quads and limbers and the carrier OP. These are items I painted in the Light Mud and Blue-Black scheme introduced after Tunisia, ready to be used in Italy. Missing are the two 2-pdrs that I will need, because I didn’t have the models when I started the batch, and found that I needed a second crew assemblage anyway.

Let’s start with the 25-pdrs. These were the workhorses of British artillery in WW2. In the desert, and on at least one occasion in the Tunisian hills, they served as direct fire support, taking on a role as antitank gun. I’m not sure how much of my artillery I will actually use on the tabletop – because even at Rapid Fire scale they would mostly be off the table – though I think Rapid Fire players like to stretch things and put them on. Still I’ve been buying the models: I have two more 25-pdrs and two 5.5in guns in stock, and a number of German guns too. In the Medenine scenario the antitank guns looks a little thin (though more than adequate historically), so I thought it appropriate to have at least a pair of 25-pdrs ready to act as a last line of defence.

My 25-pdrs. The one in the foreground has an AB crew; the other has a PSC crew with a head-swap.

I had a box of two 25-pdrs with a Morris Quad in hand (together with another with the CMP Quad, as PSC had run out of the Morris sets). I used this. The first decision was whether to use the parts for the later version, with muzzle-brake. I didn’t have definitive information for when this was introduced. A lot of pictures show the earlier version in North Africa – but there are pictures of the later version in Italy in 1943 (or so the picture captions say) – so I decided to go for this, painted up in the Light Mud and Blue Black scheme. Next was the question of crews. I bought one set of eight figures from AB; I only wanted four on the base, so I hoped to get both crews. But they only had one seated figure, and I thought this was critical – otherwise it would be just a group of people staring at the gun. I decided to use the PSC figures for the second gun. These aren’t nearly as good, but good enough, I think. They supply two versions: Western Desert with men in shorts, and North West Europe with late helmets and scrim. I wanted neither, so I decided to head-swap the African heads onto the later bodies. This wasn’t actually that hard. The AB crew have the later helmets too, but I decided to overlook that (as I have on half of my infantry) – and it wasn’t as blatant as on the PSC figures.

Next come the 6-pdrs:

The two 6-pdrs in Light Mud. The one in the foreground is Valiant; the other is an old Airfix one. Both crews are Valiant.

I needed three more of these to go with my one existing model, one of my old Airfix ones. I had another old Airfix one that just needed a paint job. The cheapest way to source a couple more (with crews) looked to be to get the Valiant models, for which I found a decent review. Alas I think they look wrong, when compared to the photographs in theatre. The Airfix ones look better, though I have no reason to think they are particularly accurate – that wasn’t an Airfix strong point at the time. But it looks low and mean, just like the pictures. A second issue is that I wanted the earlier version of the weapon, with a shorter barrel and no muzzle brake. I followed the advice on the Valiant box, but it just didn’t look right either! I am so dissatisfied that I have bought the PSC box of two 6-pdrs with Loyd carriers, hoping these will look better. The Valiant crew figures were OK, though, and in the right uniform for 1943 – though they are too big. Four were provided, though I only used three. For the third crew I used bought AB desert castings with a crew in shorts, just for variety.

Finally there was the 17-pdr Pheasant. Here it is with the third 6-pdr:

Old 17-pdr Pheasant conversion with SHQ crew, with the second Valiant 6-pdr in the background, with AB crew

As I said in my previous post, the Pheasant was something of an afterthought. I don’t think that this weapon was used in Medinine, but the 7th Armoured did have them at the time, and they would have been an option for the British. Actually they probably weren’t that suitable. Their big virtue was their range – but if they had opened up at long range (and the 17-pdr went off with a very spectacular flash and bang) they would then have been picked off by the German artillery and mortars. Plus they were bigger weapons, harder to conceal in the desert. This model is one I made back in the 1970s from and Airfix 25-pdr and a Panther gun barrel. Very basic, but I adjudged it good enough. I had plenty of SHQ crew, which I brought into play. These are slightly smaller than AB figures, and so more appropriate for this slightly smaller-scaled model. Here’s a different angle, including the three vehicles I painted in desert camouflage:

I will describe how I painted the models in my next post covering the vehicles. The process for figures I have already described – they were painted alongside the infantry.

British troops for my 1943 project

It’s been a long absence since my last post. I don’t tend to post until a project is complete, and my most recent project has been a big one. As usual lots of life has intervened to slow things down. But I also have a lot of half-finished projects lying around, especially on the rules-writing side, which is not conducive to regular posting. Still, I now have something definite to report.

Following my last post for Rapid Fire! for hexes in December, my focus has stayed on WW2. We played two games, loosely based on episodes at Salerno. They weren’t particularly interesting. Much depended on encounters between tanks and antitank guns, turning on a small number of D6 throws. Infantry proved pretty useless. The first game at least had a close finish, but the second was an overwhelming British victory as the Germans failed to make any impression on the British Shermans, while the British scored hits pretty much every time. Scenario design was partly at fault, I’m sure – but the whole thing reinforced my dislike of the bathtubbing aspect of the rules. Too much hinged on too few dice throws. But I like scaling of RF, allowing bigger battles using 20mm figures. So I have embarked on writing my own rules – which will be part of a rules family stretching from Great Northern War to Napoloenics to the 1859-71 wars and on to WW2. It is surprising how much the game structure and mechanisms can overlap. That’s the idea anyway.

But I needed a scenario to focus on. Salerno is tricky at this level, especially if you leave the Americans out (they had more tanks, which makes it easier to design good games), and I think I need more experience with the system to work out how to design decent scenarios. Similar things can be said for Sicily. But Tunisia is another matter – there are more tanks!. As it happens the Rapid Fire crew have two Tunisia scenarios (or scenario groups): Medenine and Tebaga Gap. These are among the last desert battles, as the 8th Army fought their way into Tunisia – and so fit into the desert battle series that has been designed for Rapid Fire. I picked Medenine – the last major German tank attack in Africa- though allied tanks were only marginally involved. The scenario is based on the central of the three principal thrusts, with the 15th Panzer Division’s attack on 131 (Queen’s) Infantry Brigade of the 7th Armoured. I decided to set out on two large batches of model-making and painting, first for the British and secondly for the Germans. I started with the British.

For the British I needed two four-company battalions (actually this was more than I needed for this scenario – but I’d need more troops for Tebaga Gap), each with a 3in mortar (with carrier), a 6-pdr and a 2-pdr AT gun, and a carrier platoon. In addition I needed Royal Artillery support with a further two 6-pdrs and a battery of two 25-pdrs – and brigade command, for which I wanted a Dorchester ACV. Mostly field artillery at this scale is off the table, but I wanted the 25-pdrs on the table as a last line of defence should the panzers (eight panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs) push their way through the four 6-pdrs and two 2-pdrs – although historically they didn’t. I already had all I needed for one battalion except the 2-pdr. For the second battalion I bought in AB Tropical infantry (four packs of 10 plus support weapons). These are a recent release, and work pretty well 1943 British infantry in this theatre (unlike my earlier British infantry, which are more appropriate to Normandy 1944). In addition I had PSC 25-pdrs with Morris Quads in stock. I bought in two extra 6-pdrs from Valiant, to use with an old Airfix one I had in stock, and an AB desert crew. On top of this I decided to bring into service an old Pheasant 17-pdr I had made up in the late 1970s from an Airfix 25-pdr and a Panther gun barrel; I compared it to the parts in the PSC 25-pdr kit (which can be made up into a Pheasant), and it didn’t look too far off. I had some crew available bought a number of years ago from SHQ. I needed more carriers – I still have three of my old Airfix ones (three are already in service with AB crews and look jolly nice too) – but I decided these didn’t come up to snuff. I needed crews. The AB ones look fantastic, lifting my rather ropey old Airfix models to the heights, but they took a lot of work to fit, as well as being pricey. Also I needed one as a 3in mortar transport and, more complicated, as the all-important OP for the 25-pdrs. I decided to go for the PSC variants set, which has seven models which include an OP and 3in mortar transport – as well as one with a 2in mortar in firing position, which I can use for a carrier platoon. Finally there was the question of transport. Strictly this wasn’t needed. The British positions were essentially prepared and static – the lorries would have been well to the rear. The antitank guns were carried on portees, but they were lifted off these into dug-in positions – keeping these weapons concealed was tactically critical. Still, I had three Bedford QL lorries in stock, and I thought it was time to bring these into the picture, together with one of my PSC 15cwt CMP light trucks.

So for this project I assembled some 50+ infantry and artillery crew figures, three 6-pdrs, three carriers, three Bedford lorries, two 25-pdrs plus quads, a CMP light truck, and 17-pdr Pheasant. For this post I will stick to the infantry. Here’s a different perspective on my group photo:

And another, closer up…In the background you can also see a battery command element for the 25-pdrs, which got swept into this photo:

And this one catches the Vickers gun on the end. Loyal readers may notice I have been trying to improve my photography. This now includes a backdrop photo bought from a model railway shop (online). This depicts a a very English looking winter or early spring scene – and I need to pay attention to the join! But it does make the picture look a lot better.

As I already said, these are from the recently introduced AB 20mm British “tropical infantry” range, designed to cover the Med and Far East theatres, when troops weren’t wearing shorts (North Africa) or Burma hats. This works pretty well for my 1943 project – they are wearing the earlier version of the helmet, without scrim, and they are using Tommy guns rather than Stens. In Tunisia it was pretty cold, so even the Eighth Army had abandoned their shorts (though they don’t seem to have bothered with the gaiters, and their helmets were still painted sand) – but their sleeves weren’t rolled up. In Sicily it was pretty hot, and many troops adopted shorts, though not as consistently as in the Western Desert. For Salerno, these figures are just right; later in Italy it tuned cold and wet. I’m making no attempt to get the figures, vehicles and guns to look exactly right for each scenario – and if there is one episode that I’m focusing on, it is indeed Salerno, in spite of my struggles with scenarios. So this range was perfect. I had three packs of advancing infantry, one prone infantry, and a Support 2 pack, with a 3in mortar and Vickers gun. The Support 1 pack has a flamethrower, 2in mortar, AT rifle and a PIAT – and I will doubtless get these later – but I have plenty of 2in mortars and PIATs in the later uniform. (PIATs were not in use in Tunisia – so I could probably have use the AT rifle).

The bases are mainly metal washers, but the prone figures and support weapons required bases cut out from mount board. I decided to have only two crew for the mortar and Vickers (three were provided in the pack) to keep the bees size down. These were plastered with the usual mix of acrylic medium, sand and paint (a mix of white and raw umber) to integrate the figure bases. Once mounted the figures were given an undercoat of artists’ gesso (which is white) mixed with some raw umber. The raw umber and white mix gives a nice neutral grey-brown colour, which is now my go-to base colour for figure paining across all eras. It means that any gaps in painting don’t show up. Then came the usual paint job in various mixes of Liquitex artists’ acrylics. For the uniforms this comprised Raw Sienna (orange-brown), Titanium White and Prussian Blue (not much of the last of these, but it’s needed to get khaki), plus a little green for the helmets. The flesh was based on white and Burnt Sienna (red-brown), but once I get the palette going I keep throwing in bits of this and that. This came out a bit on the dark side, but I did want to get tanned flesh, but with a slight pinkish hue. I’m not entirely convinced, but it probably roughly simulates how my own fair flesh would look in those conditions. I’m painting less detail on the figures these days, so the water bottles and bayonet sheathes did not get more than cursory attention, for example. One innovation for this batch was the use of a light/magnifier. My short-range eyesight is pretty decent, but this in fact proved a big help.

Once the basic paint was laid down I was left with the vexed question of how to finish. With my previous WW2 figures I have used ink washes or oil medium glazes, followed by matt varnish spray. This leaves a very harsh matt finish which I don’t really like – though it’s quite fashionable these days. I have recently tried to moderate this by applying a little not-so-matt varnish with a brush – on flesh, weapons and helmets, but I have been rather underwhelmed by the result. As an experiment this time I mixed some black and brown ink into some Liquitex matt varnish (which is very fluid and dries off-matt). Alas I overdid the black ink and the effect was too dark. I had to go back to the figures highlighting the paler bits, including the flesh. This took me to the margins of the level of shine I can tolerate on WW2 figures (I have a much higher tolerance for earlier eras), but brought out the wonderful AB castings very nicely. I need to go a bit easier on the black ink (the stuff I have is extremely powerful), but otherwise I think I’ve found a good technique.

For my rules system I will need to mount these men in pairs on temporary bases – as I have already done with my other infantry using lower-adhesion Copydex. I still want to be able to use as singles if I want to try platoon level games. Next time: the artillery.

Rapid Fire! Reloaded for hexes

The later stages the club game

Wargamers are like butterflies, flitting from project to project. Alas I conform to the stereotype. Earlier this year I diverted to my Great Northern War armies. I then moved on to a twin-track: my 1866 project (Austrians and Italians in 10mm) and my 18mm Napoleonics, using Lasalle 2 rules. I put my 20mm World War 2 project on ice, after some rather irksome kit building, and having lost my way on rules. Now I’ve turned back to these with a vengeance.

I have at last been getting regular games at a local (-ish) club: the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society. At first I played Lasalle, but after a few games I wanted a bit of a change. Then my wargaming partner, Rod, said that he was building up some armies for WW2 using the Rapid Fire! Reloaded system. I had long had it in mind to run my WW2 games using a hex-based system, and even bought a games mat marked in hexes. What if I tried adapting Reloaded to hexes? And so my other projects were put to one side.

Reloaded is the latest in the Rapid Fire! system, which I have used before (I have the 2005 edition), and commented on a few times. They date from the 1990s and were revolutionary in their time, breaking out of the complexity that had dogged WW2 systems before then. They feel very old-school today though – an old-fashioned I-go U-go turn system, and a bang-you’re-dead combat system, without such ideas as suppression. They are designed for 20mm (but workable with 15mm – 28mm) models, and though there is no formal distance scale, they are broadly consistent with 40m to the inch. One model tank represents about 5 real ones, and one two-figure infantry element a normal-sized platoon. The rules are heavily “bath-tubbed” – it is played as though the scale is 1:1, which is something that I struggle with, but makes the rules seem less abstract. This approach is one way of getting a lot of large-scale kit on the table – and arguably more honest that systems like Bolt Action which pretend they are platoon-level.

But for a simplified, fast-play game RF became quite complicated. The basic rules cover 45 pages of A4, admittedly with lots of pictures. The authors (Colin Rumford and Richard Marsh) obviously decided that there was a market for a stripped-down version, and Reloaded is the result. The basic rules (without the sample forces and scenario) cover just 8 pages – though without pictures. They’ve done a pretty decent job. There is no complicated fire table, or observation table, for example. I raised my eyebrows a few times (on the treatment of auto cannon, for example), but then realised that the issue didn’t matter that much. They are bit more abstract – but that is actually a good thing at this scale – as attempts at detail look like bath tubbing. I started to become a bit more surprised at some of the detail left in – for example the extra range given to very high velocity anti-tank guns (e.g. 88s and 17pdrs).

How about converting to hexes? When ordering the mat (from Tiny Wargames – who have a very flexible service), I decided to go for hexes with 3in sides – so 6in from corner to corner, or 5in between the sides. This is pretty big as these things go. They needed to be big for 20mm models, though, especially if they are sharing the space with terrain, such as buildings. My original idea was that more than one tank would be able to occupy a hex. Smaller hexes would certainly have been possible. Larger hexes make the game more abstract – but that speeds things up.

The first thing to tackle was how the game elements occupy the hexes. I decided to have each element facing a hex-side, rather than a corner. This generally how board games for the era work, and it means that elements move forward in a nice straight line. It doesn’t work so well for earlier eras, as you can’t line units up side by side in straight lines. More than one element can occupy a hex, but I soon decided to limit the “stacking” to one large vehicle (models more than 60mm long – most mid-war tanks, Sdfz 251s and medium trucks) or one artillery piece, at least the size of medium anti-tank guns (Pak 38s or 6pdrs). I decided to limit infantry to four bases, with each element assigned to one hex-side, and no more than one per side. A small vehicle (Bren carriers, Sdkfz 250s, jeeps, etc) is the same. I might want to simplify this to suggest a maximum of one element to each hex-side, with large vehicles taking up two opposite sides, and hence preventing other large vehicles from occupation. This complexity results from using larger hexes, of course. With smaller hexes you might have just one or two elements, with vehicles unable to occupy buildings hexes.

For distances, the basic premise is that six inches converts to one hex, or five inches for the longer distances. That only gave me a small number of issues: infantry crawling (3in) which wasn’t too hard to represent (place the figure across the hex-side in the first move). Heavy tanks (9in cross-country) were a bit more of a problem, as I didn’t want to create a rather untidy half-move rule just for them, so I have let them have the normal two hexes cross country for tanks, but reduced road movement by a hex. I dithered about giving them a single-hex move cross-country, but decided that this would slow things down too much. For my 1943 setting there are only two vehicles in scope (given that Valentine tanks were largely out of it by then): Tigers and Churchills, both mainly applicable to Tunisia. I only have Tigers table-ready at the moment, and these should definitely be given the benefit of the doubt. Many rules give them normal tank speed (though they did struggle a bit with the terrain, especially in Sicily). I also needed to decide on firing arc – where I was generous, allowing fixed guns to fire through adjacent hex-sides. This is in keeping with the RF rules, which are generous too. Where the original rules divide direct HE fire in six 8in range bands to decide chances of hitting, I decided to use a D10- instead, with a maximum range of ten hexes (so that you need to throw a 10 to hit at ten hexes, etc.).

By far the biggest conversion issue was close combat, as the use of large hexes makes this much more abstract. I decided to resolve this with an exchange of fire, followed by a dice-off (following the Reloaded rules for this final stage), with the winner being left in possession of the hex and the loser being forced to retreat. This hasn’t been play-tested yet. There is a big difference in the treatment of built-up areas. RF treats each model as if an individual building. In my hex system, a building hex (which may have just one building model so as to leave enough room for a large vehicle too) is treated as an area composed of several actual buildings, without an attempt to resolve occupation in detail. It will be interesting to see how this works out in actual play.

I had a little time to think about terrain. I don’t have much that is directly usable. I experimented with scratch-building an appropriate building using cork floor tiles, of which I have a plentiful supply. You can see the result in the picture. The roof is cardboard overlaid with Noch N-gauge pantile sheet, which I happened to have in stock; I even had some plastic pantile ridge tiles – though I don’t remember where I got these from. There were some learnings, but the result is a nice robust model, which is hollow, so that I can remove the roof and place an infantry element inside. Cork tile also lends itself well to creating ruined buildings. My idea now to build several models using the same technique, in various sizes – but not ruins just yet. I also tried my hand at making some cypress trees – which I didn’t quite finish. There’s a lot more work to do before I start getting the table looking a bit more authentic. Fitting terrain into the hex grid is a further challenge.

Another view of the newly build building model – also cypresses with unfinished bases.

For the rules’ first major outing, last Sunday, I devised a simple scenario, based very loosely on the Salerno beachhead, between two battalion-sized battlegroups. The Germans, attacking, had three Panzer IVs, and Panzer III flamethrower (these were used to devastating effect in the early days of the battle, before they were knocked out by the Allies). The British were supported by a single Sherman, and a 6pdr, and hadn’t had time to dig in. Both sides had a battery of field artillery. In RF terms the Germans had 200 points and the British just over 100 – about half the size of a normal attack-defence game. The game took us about three hours, even allowing for a fairly slow pace for unfamiliar rules. Casualties were heavy. Infantry vanished like snows in summer as soon as they became the focus of attention. The 6-pdr knocked out two Panzer IVs as they approached, while return fire proved ineffective. It was only destroyed by artillery late in the game. The Flammpanzer did for the Sherman in a move-and-fire manoeuvre as it came over a hill. In the end it was a race to see which side’s infantry failed their morale test for 50% casualties. This proved to be the British, though the Germans had passed two tests by this stage.

The rules produced a fast-paced game but are deeply flawed if you are looking for realistic representation of warfare. Most of the flaws are with the original RF system, and not the Reloaded one though. Some things, like move-and-fire are so much part of the core system that I won’t change them until I produce my own rules in the same space. But there are some minor tweaks to deal with things I consider to be anomalies:

  • One change I made on the day was to treat static infantry as being in soft cover, for both observation and firing purposes – as crawling infantry already are. It is normal field craft for infantry to go to ground and use any limited cover.
  • Vehicle machine guns are very effective (three fire dice) when static. This includes both mounted light machine guns used in Bren carriers and the Sdkfz 250/251, and hull machine guns in tanks. When dismounted a carrier platoon or only gets two fire dice. Hull machine guns were defensive weapons where the gunner had limited visibility. Turret machine guns were more effective but had limitations too. I think LMGs mounted on APCs get one die whether moving or static. Hull machine guns likewise get a single dice – and I would limit their range to the adjacent hex. A static turret machine gun gets two dice. Medium machine guns, mounted on sustained fire mounts and fully crewed, still get 4 dice.
  • Not in the Reloaded rules, I would give HMGs and autocannon a limited AP capability – 6 and 5 respectively – limited to small arms range. This is in the main rules, except that heavy autocannon (37mm or 40mm) have more range.
  • Light mortar: I think it is simpler and more realistic to treat these as a direct fire weapon, with a range of 6 hexes, using a D6 to determine hits.
  • I also want to ease the process of indirect fire support, so that any company can call in direct fire support (mortars or infantry guns) and artillery OPs can call in direct resources too. But limit this by making all calls by a separate observer subject to the comms test. That comms test needs to be made a bit more sophisticated, but that’s a job for another day. Each weapon can only be called once, and each observer can only direct one weapon per turn. This is really a down-payment on a more sophisticated system, which I’m basing on Battlefront rules.
  • I also need to cover HE fire on buildings hexes where the occupying troops haven’t been observed. The hex needs to be easy to hit, but which hex-side gets the effect needs to be randomised.

We’ll come back to these rules for another game in January. Alas I won’t have much time to add to my limited available troops on the tabletop, or terrain. But I can focus longer-term painting efforts on building a 400 point army for each side. Meanwhile I am working on ideas for my own rules in this space.

1866 Austrians

Back to the 1866 project. September and October were largely taken up by holidays and gardening, and figure painting took a back seat. The result was that this second batch of 1866 troops was a bit protracted. It will be a while before I’m ready to refight Custoza.

The figures are 10mm from Pendraken, whose range from this period is unmatched. In appearance and detailing they are closer to larger 6mm (such as from Baccus and Adler) than they are to 15/18mm. They need to be deployed en masse and not a great deal of attention needs to be paid to details. They are providing pretty much what I hoped for to recreate the big battles in the age of Bismarck. I have already introduced this project here with my first batch of Italians. Those figures were more appropriate to 1859 (Solferino, etc) than 1866. These, on the other hand, are very much on period. The infantry are in greatcoats, and the cavalry have updated uniforms.

Like the previous batch, this is a three arms package – though not using Pendraken’s army pack this time. The infantry was a mix of Germans and Hungarians (not that it is easy to tell the difference) – enough for 12 bases of line infantry and three of jagers. The cavalry were hussars (4 bases). The artillery were 4 pdr rifled guns, with one limber (there are two to pack, but I only painted one this time). In addition I painted up three generals (from a pack of 5). I bought laser-cut mdf bases from Pendraken: 30mm by 20mm for the infantry and cavalry; 25mm square for the artillery; I already had plenty of 20mm squares for the generals. This is enough for one three-brigade corps (as was the organisation of the Austrian Army of the South – the main army had four-brigades corps) under the system that I am developing.

Here is a closer look at the infantry:

And even closer:

The troops are in the regulation greatcoat which the troops had to wear even in the heat that June. Funnily enough the Italians used the same system, making the troops remarkably similar in appearance; both sides suffered from the heat. The most distinctive feature of the Austrians was the blue trousers (visible because the front skirts of the greatcoats were buttoned back – as with the French and Italian practice) – contrasting with the bluish grey of the Italian uniform trousers. At least the hats are slightly different. One more distinctive feature of the Austrians was that their webbing was pipeclayed white, rather than left dark. However the pose for these figures has the arms and musket in front of the body concealing this. With figures so small it is not worth trying to represent this, apart from the drummer. That at least makes them quite simple to paint. The jagers also wore the greatcoat – though not always, apparently – so I might do some without – perhaps to represent the elite Kaiserjäger. I painted the generals in their grey field uniform. They all came in the same pose, which means that they won’t look right if paired up to represent more senior commands. There don’t seem to be any good figures to represent ADCs, and a charging hussar (I have some spares) won’t look right either. I think will have to use infantry officers.

Moving on to the cavalry:

These are hussars. My system is to represent a regiment (4 squadrons) in two bases. One pair of bases is painted up as the 1st Hussars, which were at Custoza, and the other as either the 4th or 6th regiment – neither of which were in Italy, but which provided a nice contrast, with their light blue uniforms and scarlet cap bags (compared to dark blue and green). The uniforms were much simplified from the Napoleonic era, and not much detail was possible at this scale.

Moving on the artillery:

These are rifled 4-pounders. The trail seat on these Pendraken figures is a bit clumsy though. I may try cutting it down in future. I have put four crew figures on each base (as opposed to three for the Italians) as the Austrians had 8 guns to a battery rather than the usual 6. The mounting is a bit too tight for this though – in future I think 30mm by 25mm would be better. Looking ahead, I want to have some heavy 8-pounders as well. Pendraken don’t make these, so this might be a bit of a challenge. The woodwork was apparently not painted, unlike in the Napoleonic era – but I haven’t seen any clear colour representations of how it looked. As far as I can see it was a bit redder than than the ochre paint used beforehand – which suggests it was stained or varnished in some way – otherwise it would soon start looking a dull grey. I opted for a slight orange-brown, though I can’t say this screams “unpainted wood” to me.

How did I get the raw metal figures ready for the table? The first stage was to mount them on the bases (10 to a base for line infantry, 6 for jagers), set in a matrix of acrylic medium with a mix of white and raw umber paint. I didn’t mix any textural material (such as sand or model railway ballast) in as I do for larger figures, as I thought this would make the basing a bit trickier and slower, with the grains getting between the base of the figures and the mdf mounting. I had previously tried plaster filler, but this proved even trickier. I can’t say I have found the ideal basing matrix – but mounting such individual small figures in dense formation (6mm figures are usually come in strips) is quite tricky. I hoped I could just squish the figures into blob of matrix, but wasn’t that easy. After the matrix had hardened I painted the whole assembly, base included, in white gesso mixed in with Raw Umber paint to create a dry earth colour. After that came the main job of painting, using my usual artist’s acrylic paint. Obviously it was tricky to reach lots of places on the infantry bases, with the figures so close together – but if you can’t see it there’s no point in painting it. This was much rougher and readier than my normal 18mm painting. There was very little in the way of striking high contrast detail to lift the figures (such as white cross-belts, facings, plumes or hat pompons). It still took a few sessions. There really is no good way to speed this up. I used oil paints on the horses, mimicking the technique I use on 18mm – but it was messy and it was hard to overpaint reins, etc. With little positive benefit (the figures are bit small for the wiping technique to create high/low lights) – so I won’t be doing that again. Given that these are armies assembled in peacetime I made the horses on each pair of bases look similar with only small variations (and grey for the trumpeter).

These figures needed a wash or glaze with a thin dark colour particularly badly to bring out the moulded detail that could not be picked out in paint. Like my Italians I used a glaze made with a supposedly fast drying oil medium, mixed with a little brown oil paint. This did an excellent job of distributing the dark pigment to the lowlights, but the finish was too glossy: I wasn’t looking for ultra-flat, but there are limits. After giving it 24 hours to cure I started to apply the basing material – flock or “turf”. This was a big mistake as the basing material stuck to the touch-dry but still slightly-sticky glaze, and I had to abandon it. I then decided to apply matt varnish (which I had done for my Italians) – using some old Winsor & Newton varnish designed for oil paintings. This is nasty, sticky stuff where the flatting agent tends to separate out in the bottle and is very hard to mix back in. I had to take out a quantity of the runny stuff and the some of the gunky flatting agent to mix together in a small batch. Thankfully the result was the right off-matt finish. It was only after this was thoroughly dry that I went back to applying the basing material – just flock this time, as I decided that the turf didn’t look as good (though I used it for all my Italians). Applying flock to the tightly-packed infantry bases was still pretty hard to do with it sticking to the figures themselves. This is hard enough in 18mm! I frequently had to use a large brush and water to clean up the figures. For my 6mm I don’t bother with flocking at all, though I use a textured basing matrix. But that leaves the smooth metal bases visible and didn’t want to do that for the larger figures.

The base flocking/turfing is good enough, without looking particularly good. I will stick with the flock in future, but with variations on the bases with large exposed areas. The main thing I need to change for the next batch is low-lighting glaze. I need to get it in done one coat, without the need for an extra coat of varnish. I have acquired some acrylic matting medium to try out. This is milky when wet but turns transparent when it dries. This will make it tricky to judge the right to amount of ink to mix in. A challenge for next time.

The final step was the flags. For the infantry I used the Pendraken printed paper ones. The cavalry standard was moulded metal – which I did a rough and ready paint job on – which wrks OK at arms length. The flags are important for such relatively dull figures.

I have ordered the next batch of miniatures. I will concentrate on doing a large batch of Italian infantry. This isn’t very exciting but I’m hoping to generate a bit of speed so that I have enough figures for a decent game as soon as possible..

Another Lasalle 2 game

The game swings decisively towards the Prussians as their cavalry arrives on the far side of the table

I am slowly working my way into a new wargames club – the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society. Yesterday I put on a game of Lasalle 2 with another new (or in his case, returning) member, using my 18mm Napoleonic French and Prussian miniatures. I am slowly warming to these rules, but I’m still getting used to them. Some further thoughts on the system follow.

We used scenario 8 in the book “Marching to the Guns”, with the “small” forces. I expanded the game squares to 10″ from 6″ (my figures are on 1″ bases – the runs tailor everything to base width, or BW), to make the table less crowded. The orders of battle were based on the clash between Tippelskirch’s brigade and Habert’s division at Ligny in 1815. The Prussians were the larger army, with their 9 infantry battalions on the table to start, with two brigades of cavalry (one Landwehr) from the corps reserve coming in on their right flank as reinforcements. The French had two brigades of four infantry battalions, plus a brigade of two units of Chasseurs, all on the table at the start (Habert’s division actually had two brigades of six battalions – but their unit sizes were smaller than the Prussians’). They held two of the three geographical victory points at the start, meaning that the Prussians needed to be on the offensive. All the French infantry were treated as veterans, with only three of the Prussian units their equal. The three Landwehr battalions were treated as raw Landwehr, and the 25th Regiment (represented by a mixture of my freshly minted 23rd and 29th regiments) was treated as veteran Landwehr, to reflect the unsettled nature of this unit in 1815. Both sides had one foot and one horse battery each, with the horse battery being part of the Prussian reinforcements.

The Prussians, played by my opponent Rod, (organised into three “brigades” with units of the three regiments mixed up, in accordance with Prussian practice at the time) advanced on a broad front, with each brigade advancing side by side, in a “two up” formation, with the foot artillery on their left. They were content to be quite passive until their reinforcements arrived. This proved to be an effective strategy, as, playing the French, I spied an opportunity to be aggressive on my left flank, against his weakest brigade. I pushed some infantry forward, supported by the cavalry. I hoped that the Prussian reinforcements wouldn’t arrive until later (as had been the case in my only previous game, for another scenario). But on turn three, just as my strategy looked as if it might mature (and after a Prussian Landwehr unit delivered a devastating volley on my leading unit), both cavalry reinforcement brigades arrived, threatening to overwhelm the left flank. I managed to extract my cavalry and the attacking infantry in time, with my artillery (both units operating as a combined battery) destroying the offending Landwehr unit, but I was on the back foot thereafter, continually conceding ground on the left in order to avoid disaster. Rod kept throwing cavalry at my infantry squares on the left, but his reserve Landwehr unit was brought forward, and destroyed the left-most French infantry unit (which had been subject to that devastating volley). This and the other Landwehr unit were the only two units to be destroyed when we called stumps at Turn 12 (this was a nominally 10 turn game, but the rules say the time limit should be extended by up to four turns on a bigger table). One further infantry unit on each side was near destruction (my infantry was being quite aggressive in the centre), and some of Rod’s cavalry was looking a bit ragged. But I had lost one of the VPs, and he had the “carnage” bonus as well, because I had lost the more valuable unit. I could see no prospect of reversing the tide, so conceded.

We were both pretty tired by this point, after about four hours of play. It was Rod’s first experience of these rules, and its rather unusual mechanisms, and only my second game. Several times I needed to look things up in the rule book. In my previous game, played much more aggressively by both sides, there were always tricky decisions on how to use MO points – but this time that was rarely so. But this relatively cautious approach carries risks of its own, of course. The Prussians could easily have run out of time, especially if their reinforcements had arrived later.

From the opposite side of the table at the same time. The Prussian cavalry descends n the French left flank

Overall my impression is of a beautifully crafted game system, which produces an interesting and challenging game. The mechanisms ensure a nice flow with good engagement by both players right through the turn. But those same mechanisms give it more of a feel of a game of toy soldiers than a simulation of history. As to how faithful the tabletop results are to historical scenarios, the jury remains out so far as I’m concerned. Certainly the outcome of Tippelskirch’s attack in 1815 was entirely different – it ended in disaster, with probably only one of Habert’s brigades involved. That was because of the difficulties of coordination on the Prussian side (their cavalry never got seriously involved) – which weren’t helped by a large village in the middle of their deployment area. That says more about the scenario setup than the rules, though – except that the rules will allow more coordination between infantry and cavalry than the historical norm. My main requirement though is for a game I can use on club days – which is very much at the game of toy soldiers side of things. The main problem there is adapting the game mechanism for a multi-player format.

My main concern for now is getting the terrain rules right. In this scenario I introduced fields of standing corn, a feature of the 1815 battles, and important in this episode of Ligny. I had to establish a house rule for this, as the “standing crops” terrain was more for muddy fields of cabbages than man-high rye. I really don’t like the rules on built-up terrain; one reason for choosing this scenario is that it did not involve any. They adopt the classic wargames idea of built-up area patches of about 2-3 base widths square, which must be cleared of terrain models as soon as troops enter. But built-up areas consist of buildings and walls which completely break up formations (and usually only occupied by skirmishers), and streets, where most of the action took place. I like to represent this structure on the tabletop, without the need to remove building models. To do that I need bigger built-up area segments (six base-widths square should be OK, and/or 3-4 BW ones with a single building in an enclosure). With my 10 BW terrain squares, this is not in fact much of a problem. The rules don’t need all the much modification beyond this: the combat, cover and garrison rules work well – indeed much better than most rules systems I have used. The impact on movement needs one or two house rules, though. Moving through a built-up area in battle formation should be hard work, as you have to break down the formation, pass through, and rebuild on the far side.

Another area requiring more work is the tabletop presentation. I want to get a nice-looking but portable table set-up. My Geek Villain “Autumn” cloth, shown, works fine for what it is. I taped on a table boundary, which is a bit of a faff – but I’m sure that there are easier ways of coping with this. I’m pleased with my representation of woods (inspired by Bruce Weigle), using strips of trees made from 3M scourers and coarse flock – though the green cloth interior needs to be a better fit. This looks much more like a real north-European wood than a few free-standing trees sitting on some green cloth. For those built-up areas I am going to need some 10mm building models. My existing models are mainly 6mm, which I can get away with for big battles (where I can’t use big BUA footprints), but look wrong on this format. I have a few on order now. Streams will be a problem; I haven’t seem any that look right that haven’t been built into terrain boards. Beyond that I need elements of eye-candy – fields, free-standing trees, roads and so on, to give more of an impression of real countryside. You can see from the pictures that I used teddy-bear fur for the standing corn. This is good when troops wade through it, rather than on top, but the more usual doormat pieces look a lot more like cornfields! One problem is that clubs (and friends’ houses) tend to have hard tables, so things can’t be pinned in – and I don’t want to hump around soft boards.

For now I’m going to keep my faith with Lasalle. Only of the prospect of multiplayer games becomes serious might I consider alternatives.

More Prussian infantry

The 29th Infantry to front, the 23rd to rear

My top project for the moment is 1866. But while I was waiting for my next order of miniatures from Pendragon (they cast to order, which takes a little time – a small cost for such an extensive range) I thought I was tackle something from of my Napoleonic 18mm lead mountain. Next in the queue were the Prussian 21st and 29th Infantry regiments, as they appeared at Ligny in 1815.

The figures are entirely from AB – the first of my Prussians to have more than a scattering of figures from this source, as opposed to Old Glory 15s. They are wonderful castings, making up somewhat for my rather hurried painting. I had bought them a number of years ago, when I started to plan my Ligny project, and my supplier was grumbling a bit about my small order sizes (as I had asked them to provide command packs without standard bearers – which they did, to be fair). At that time my plan was that each regiment would have six bases of six figures (on 25mm squares), with some skirmish bases (two to base of 25mm by 15mm). I painted up two bases to represent each battalion. At the time I was thinking I might use rules which had two-base battalion units. My main grand tactical system has each base representing about 1,250 men – 2 to three bases per regiment – organised into brigades/divisions. Since then I have adopted Lasalle 2 for tactical games – which uses four base battalions. So six-base regiments make little actual sense on the tabletop. Also I don’t need the skirmish bases these days. I started off with three 12-base regiments (when I modelled Tippelskirch’s brigade), but went smaller after that to achieve more variety – and I am getting that. With the figures already bought, and no need to increase the overall numbers, I have stuck to my original system.

Prussian infantry in 1815 fall into roughly three categories. The original regular regiments (1 to 12 I think), dressed in the full regulation Prussian uniform and with official standards. Then there were the new regiments (up to 29), formed from the reserve regiments and a collection of other corps. The men had not yet been issued with their new uniforms (though the officers had bought theirs), so they wore a wide variety of uniforms from their previous formations – they also had to wait for their standards. The third category were Landwehr – which in turn can be divided into veteran (Silesian, Pomeranian and Kürmark in Blücher’s army) and newly-formed (Elbe and Westfalian) – all in variations of standard landwehr uniform. In that middle category my plan was to have the 25th Regiment (with 12 bases) based on Lützow’s freikorps but with others added in; the 21st with British-style uniforms (which I painted up a few years ago); and then the 23rd and 29th that were the subject of this batch.

The 23rd

The 23rd Regiment were one of the reserve infantry regiments, and had a grey uniform with a tailless jacket – in 1813 there were not the resources to uniform these regiments properly, so they used either imported British-style uniforms (originally destined for Spain or Portugal) or these scratch grey uniforms. In 1815 it was brigaded with the 21st Regiment (and a regiment of Elbe landwehr). One battalion was committed (later in the day )to each of Ligny and St Armand, and the third not committed at all, and presumably part of the rearguard as the Prussians withdrew. I used AB’s reserve infantry for the men, and standard command packs (though no standard bearers) for the officers and drummers (this probably wasn’t accurate for the drummers, but never mind). Two of the reserve infantry figures were in fact in standard uniform with tailed tunic. If I’d had more presence of mind I would have painted them up as NCOs in standard uniform, like the officers and drummers. But it was too late by the time this thought struck. AB did not produce any suitable firing figures for the skirmishers, so I did not produce any. I (regrettably) have no use for them in any of the rules systems anyway. I like the visual appearance of skirmishers, but it is so hard to give them a role in games systems that doesn’t just clog things up.

The 29th
The 29th regiment. The Fusiliers (grenadiers) are on the left.

The 29th Infantry Regiment were one of two regiments (the 28th was the other) formed from two regiments of Berg infantry incorporated into the Prussian army, after serving in Napoleon’s armies. The French repeatedly urged them to desert back to their old allegiance – but to no avail. The 28th was badly mauled prior to Ligny in the rearguard actions. The 29th was committed to both Ligny (the Fusilier battalion) and St Armand (the Musketeer battalions) – and much earlier in the day than the 23rd (they were in I Corps, not II Corps like the 23rd) – and so would have seen much more fighting. The 29th was formed from the 2nd Berg regiment, and its Fusiliers were based on the combined grenadier battalion. I wanted two bases to reflect these ex-grenadiers. For the men I used AB Saxon infantry, which are a reasonably close fit. In fact, the shako cords would have gone, and there would have been a black and white Prussian cockade on the front of the shako. These might not have been that hard to incorporate – but my aim is to get these unpainted figures table-ready as quickly as possible. The command figures are standard Prussian (though again, not accurate for the drummers – such a shame you can’t buy figures individually any more). In the battle the men were told to wear greatcoats because the officers stood out too much in their dark uniforms. I bought one pack of eight Saxon grenadiers for the Fusilier battalion. Even with two command figures that left me two short – I used normal line infantry, but put them in the second rank. this time AB did have suitable firing figures for skirmishers. Since they had plumes I painted them up as Fusiliers. I will find a use for them some day!

The standard uniform for this regiment was white with red collar, shoulder straps, cuffs and turn backs – but white lapels, piped red. The ex-grenadiers had a black plume and blue lapels – which apparently all the Berg infantry had when allied to the French. The trousers for this unit are usually portrayed as white, but my of the sources suggests they were grey in 1815. That’s what I chose to represent. For Lasalle I will quite likely combine two bases from this unit with two bases from the 23rd – and the grey trousers would make this less jarring.


The idea these days is to try to get the figures table-ready quickly. So I based them first, using my standard technique of acrylic gunge mixed with sand and white and raw umber paint as the matrix. The bases are thick paper, with magnetic sheet backing. The hope is that thinner bases blend with the table better (though I do use thick bases for 6mm and 10mm miniatures, for ease of handling) – accepting the risk of warping. That’s one reason I don’t use a water-based basing matrix. I still let them cure on a flat metallic surface – but they still bend a bit.

After basing they got an undercoat. I use white gesso mixed with a little Raw Umber acrylic paint (student quality). I have seen some debate on Facebook as to whether a special undercoat is necessary. For metal figures I have no evidence that specialist paint is needed for adhesion – though plastics are a different matter. Gesso is meant to tighten as it dries, so reducing the risk that detail is swamped – a risk if applied thickly with a standard brush – but not so much if applied from a spray can or airbrush. I’m not so sure that this is a significant effect though. The best primer for shrinkage purposes I have used was a specialist metal primer from Citadel – which dried in a lovely thin coat. But the massive tins this comes in are not very convenient! With the miniatures already based an airbrush or rattle-can would have been hard to use – even with figures un-based I have never been able to get complete coverage with this method, so I only use it in model planes or vehicles. I used an old brush to apply. The Raw Umber (combined with the white of the gesso) gives a nice neutral tone than doesn’t jar if left unpainted.

After the primer I put on the basic colours: the grey, off-white and blue for the tunics and trousers, brown for the pack and a dark grey for the shakos and boots. These were all acrylic artist colour mixes, using Titanium White, Prussian Blue Hue, and Raw Umber. I didn’t use any black or grey pigments on this occasion (getting the grey by mixing the brown and blue). I also applied the flesh – using white mixed in with Burnt Sienna. After this I decided to try putting on the wash, following the experiment I ran with my 10mm 1866 figures. Except this time the wash wasn’t a water and ink mix, but oil paint (Umber) and medium. This is a great way of doing a wash (or glaze, more correctly) as it distributes the pigment better. But it leaves a semi-gloss finish that doesn’t take further paint well, and a very bad idea when there is further detailing to add! After this I applied the detailing – facings, weapons, etc. This was the most time-consuming phase of the whole project and took me about three two-hour sessions, each of the previous phases taking a single session or less. To finish the paintwork I gave the figures a coat of matt varnish – again applied with a brush. This varnish still leaves a slight sheen (unlike the rattle-can stuff).

The final step was flocking the base. I used a mix of fair standard scenic flock – mixing it to ensure that it wasn’t too dark, and not mixing it to throughly so there is a little variation. I have been experimenting with short-cut static grass recently – but since my 18mm Napoleonics mainly use flock, I decided to to stick to this. On this occasion the mix was paler than any of my other Napoleonics – I think this brings out the figures better. I don’t spend a great deal of time doing up bases – as I pack them tight with miniatures, leaving little room for anything else.

Left to right: 23rd, 29th and combined – organised for Lasalle

My final picture shows the new units ready for Lasalle. I have a game coming up, and I’ll give these new units an outing then. Incidentally the mat that they are standing on is a new acquisition – Geek Villain’s Autumn Grassland. I already have Geek Villain’s Sicily mat – but that has too much beige games set in Waterloo. I love the fleece material though. I chose the Autumn mat because it was the most muted of their grass offerings – and I am very wary of the colours being too bright on commercial products. Some of the greens are a bit strong, but the colour texturing is quite nice. I wish they did a mat with a pattern of fields but no roads or other terrain details! The buildings in the background are 6mm from the Total Battle Miniatures 100 Days range, painted by me.

Overall I’m quite pleased with these. The glaze is a bit heavy-handed, and some of the detailing is a little sloppy, but they meet my standard perfectly. I think I now have enough infantry bases to run a game for Ligny – and the cavalry is there too for the Prussians at least. I need to finish the artillery next. After that I have a nice lot of AB Landwehr figures which I want to paint up as Silesians, and then I want paint up the remaining bit of OG standard Prussian infantry to use these up as well as some spare flags. After that there two more cavalry units before I draw a curtain on the Prussian lead mountain.

1866: my next project

My new 10mm Italian troops all together

I began 2023 determined to focus on completing projects already started, my Napoleonics in particular. This didn’t last long, as I worked on reviving my Great Northern War armies and developing a rule system to use them. That show is now done. I have now decided to start a brand new period in a brand new scale. What is going on?

The main thing I hadn’t reckoned on was a revival of my actual gaming. I’m now part of a monthly “club” of half a dozen players from my old club, South London Warlords, that meet in the home of one us. I need games that are conducive to this format. I am also in the process of joining a more local club in Tunbridge Wells. Where that will lead I’m not sure – but that I will need material ready for the club game format. I can put on a game of Lasalle 2 readily enough with my Napoleonics – but these rules are unfamiliar to my fellow gamers. And I hesitate to suggest that they buy a rather pricey rules booklet. These published rules aren’t easy to scan to distribute, even if that was legal – and the clever activation system is a bit awkward in a multiplayer format.

I have been eyeing European wars of 1859 to 1871 for some time. I have been buying Bruce Weigle’s rules, playing the odd game with my friend George, leading up to participating in an 1859 game (part of Solferino) led by Bruce himself at Newbury in 2019. I am also owner of Chris Pringle’s Bloody Big Battles rules for the period, and tried to adapt them to the Napoloenic era – and acquired his extended scenario book. In addition, I have wanted to try out 10mm miniatures. It then struck me how suited this period is to the multiplayer format. On the battlefield the army command function had comparatively little influence, with corps and divisional commanders playing a more decisive role on the day (the army commander doing more to set the day up). Historically it is a very interesting period, marking the transition from smoothbore to rifled to breech-loaded infantry weapons and artillery. The battles were mainly between well-trained regulars, and the short wars meant that there was comparatively little of the complexities of attrition (until 1871, anyway). This makes the wars cleaner than the overlapping American Civil War, as well as the armies being a bit more interesting to look at, including the continued use of shock cavalry.

Three ideas converged. The first is that I wanted to play the battle of Custoza in June 1866. This was a close fought battle between the Austrian army and the Italians – and an interesting counterpoint to the disasters faced by the Austrians to the north against Prussian needle-guns. The second was that I wanted to try 10mm figures. My much loved 18mm Napoleonics are bigger than ideal for big battles, and I find 6mm (which I use for GNW) a bit wee. I wanted to see if I could get 10mm figures table-ready quickly by streamlining the painting process. Third I wanted to try basing figures 30mm by 20mm. My Napoleonics are on 25mm square bases, and my GNWs are on 20mm squares. These look fine when combined into multi-base units. Oblong bases look better when on their own – which they are for Bruce Weigle’s system, for example. This base size looks good for 6mm troops, and I thought they’d work well for 10mm too.

Perusing the Pendraken website, I saw that they did Italians for the period in 10mm. That tipped me over the edge and I made an order, to see how they looked. And I was off. There was a big psychological release being involved in a brand new project in a new period – one not weighed down by questionable decisions on scale and basing made long ago. I now understand why so many gamers do it so often, notwithstanding having failed to complete earlier projects. I have acquired a number of books, and I’m researching the history eagerly. My initial aim is to mount a game for Custoza. The starting point is the BBB scenario for the battle. BBB rules are perfectly workable (I think they work much better for this era than Napoleonics) – but they are still rules for smaller scales being made to work for big battles, with a rather artificial feel in that context. This criticism can’t be made of Bruce Weigle’s system (the 1871 rules adapted for earlier periods – which is what we used in Newbury) – which in particular allow bases to move individually without being forced into constrained base-to-base formations. But these rules aren’t really suitable for the sort of game format I’m planning – they’ll take too long. Besides they are designed for rather smaller battles (there is a Custoza scenario, but it doesn’t cover the whole field for the whole battle). So, fresh from success with my Carolus Rex GNW rules, I’m looking to make my own.

How about the Italians? I bought a Pendraken “army pack” with 90 infantry figures, 30 command figures, 30 Bersaglieri, 15 cavalry and 3 guns. Unfortunately they sent me the 1849-59 version, not the 1859 to 1866. The infantry were in tunics rather than greatcoats, the cavalry were dragoons rather than light cavalry, and I had grenadiers in place of Bersaglieri. I decided I quite liked to the look of the earlier infantry, and the dragoons were nice, and perfectly usable, too. The grenadiers were the main problem – but Pendraken were happy to send me a pack of Bersaglieri (they offered to replace the whole order, of course). So what I have is more an 1859 army than an 1866 one. Since 1859 is on the more distant agenda, that’s not a worry.

The next question was how many figures to put on a base? My first thought was 10 infantry or four cavalry. There is room. But then I thought I could get away with 8 and three respectively – since looser formations were starting to be used in this era. I mounted all the line infantry at 8 to base, except one flag base with 10, to see how it compared. For the Bersaglieri I put then five to a base. This is the result (with the 10-figure flag base):

I made up three groups of four line infantry bases and one Bersaglieri, 15 infantry bases in all. Unfortunately I think the denser basing looks better – and illustrations from the era often show dense deployments. My plan is to mount my next batch, which will be Austrians, at 10 to base (or 5 or 6 jagers),and see how they look en masse. The Austrians particularly favoured dense formations anyway. The flags, incidentally, are from Pendraken. Given the general dullness of the troops (many wore greatcoats in the filed), the flags are an important feature. The Pendraken flags are quite basic, but do the job. They don’t do cavalry flags though, which might be a problem. Talking of cavalry, here they are:

These represent “line cavalry” or dragoons – the nearest the Italians had to elite heavy cavalry, of which they had four regiments. I have representatives from two regiments. A denser basing would be justified here too – but the pack size is 15, one short of what I need for four bases. Since I will (probably) be operating the cavalry in brigades of two or four bases, life is going to be harder if I can’t get four bases out a pack. With three to a base I might even get and extra base. With the cavalry present only in small quantities, that proved decisive, and I will stick to three figures a base – the look is perfectly satisfactory. Here’s the artillery:

These are 8-pounders, the typical Italian artillery piece, which were rifled in 1866 (but not in 1859). They look distinctly like Napoleonic smoothbores to me, but Leon from Pendraken assured me that he did research them, and I know no better. Reliable information on the Italian army of the era is hard to come by, and I’m very thankful that Leon took the job of producing this range on. I have found little consistent information on the line infantry. The Osprey, which covers the topic only briefly, has no pictures of standard line infantry of 1866 – or the Piedmontese army from before. Pendraken supply four crew figures for each piece but I didn’t like one of them. I thought I might reserve four crew figures for heavier weapons.

I will leave description of how I have prepared these figures to another post, when my Austrians are done. My hope is that I can get these troops table-ready quickly. Much more quickly than my 18mm troops, and even the GNW 6mm ones. The jury is out on that. The uniforms are quite simple, and the figures small enough not to need much detailing. Piping and braid need not be attempted! Even the black facings on the Italian infantry present so little contrast to the dark blue coats that I didn’t attempt it. The Austrians wore their greatcoats in the field (removing the tunics underneath in warmer weather), which will be just as simple. This batch of 15 infantry bases, four cavalry and three artillery took a bit longer than I hoped though. I will need over 70 bases of Italians alone if I follow the BBB scenario. I think I will try bigger batches, but of one troop type. This will be pretty boring, but hopefully faster. For the first Austrians though I will do a similar mixed batch, though.