Tag Archives: Great Northern War

Great Northern War again

My recent game, which the Swedes taking on the Russians

How time flies! It’s been quite a while since I last posted. My hobby focus has been mainly on my Great Northern War project – though as usual the rest of life intervened to limit the time spent on it. I developed my Carolus Rex rules ready for a proper live game in April. Since then I have modified them, and they are now published on here the Rules Page. I have also painted up six more infantry units (mostly Swedish) and a few other bits and pieces. That draws a line under GNW for the time being. It’s on to the next thing now.

The game was with the monthly group from my old club, which I’d had to miss for a couple of months. There were six of us. It was a sprawling affair using the bulk of my Swedish and Russian armies (I left some Russian infantry, a lot of the Swedish artillery, and the Swedish irregular cavalry out), shown in the picture from the Swedish side. There was no serious terrain. Although the Swedes had much the smaller army, the Russians were mainly D class, and the Swedish troop and command quality showed through, especially with their cavalry. The Swedes had one hairy moment, when the Russians managed to rout both Swedish guard infantry units. If the Swedes (played by me in this case) hadn’t done well on a divisional morale check, and then managed to rally one of the units, it would have been a big struggle for them to win. But the game flowed well, and we concluded within the time allotted. The feedback from the players on the rules was very positive – no big holes were revealed, though some tweaking was needed. Cavalry was too powerful against infantry, and flank attacks needed to be a little more effective. The one issue I won’t fix is the card driven activation system, which means that the six players need to go sequentially, reducing the possibility of parallel processing. I think this dynamic adds a lot to game play.

I have made those tweaks to the rules, as well as correcting a few other details. Increasing the effectiveness of flank attacks meant I felt the need to introduce an option to form square for infantry. This is perfectly historical, in fact, but there is a risk of the unit becoming disordered as it forms up. Interestingly I also changed the rules in a couple of places to reflect what we actually played, rather than what I had written. What we did was more intuitive and made better sense. I am pretty pleased with the rules overall. s discussed before, I feel I may have tilted a bi towards playability rather than historicity, especially in command and manoeuvre, but I do think I have caught important aspects of combat in this era. It should be possible to use them for other conflicts than Swedish/Russians in 1708/09, except that I haven’t developed them to cater for the new Dutch fire discipline methods and three-deep lines, used by Britain and the Netherlands, and neither some of the looser infantry and cavalry types used by the Ottomans and others. I might also want to distinguish between “galloping’ and “trotting” cavalry charge tactics. But life is short and I don’t plan to build armies for these other conflicts. Next time, though, I will design a more interesting scenario – the one inspired by Holowcyzn that I used in early play testing is a suitable starting point.

After that I painted one more batch of figures to give me more options for armies on both sides. These were four Swedish line infantry battalions, two Russian guard battalions, a Swedish heavy gun, a small unit of Swedish Drabant cavalry, and seven artillery limbers. While I still have more metal to paint, I plan to draw a line under things for these armies now. I will only paint up more if a particular scenario demands it. If I have enough units to keep a six player game going for four hours plus, I don’t need more.

For the Swedes I painted four units from different regiments: Kalmar, Skaraborg, Västerbotten and Västmanland. Until now I have prepared two battalions from the same regiment, except for two Manning (additional draft) units. But I have the flags and in any case there is usually a bit of bathtubbing going on in my scenarios. The first two of these units are in hats, and the second two in caps (karpus). I don’t think that the karpus was as widely used as I have them in my armies, but I had bought a lot of the figures from Baccus, and they were a bit nicer than the ones in hats anyway (since then Baccus has brought out some better ones in hats).

The Kalmar and Skaraborg infantry units
The Västmanland and Västerbotten units

I have plenty of Russian infantry, but there was something to be said for having a couple more guard units to beef the army up. I painted these from the Semonovsky regiment, with its blue coats. Like my two units for the Preobrazhensky regiment, I attached foil pennons to the pikes. the evidence for this is pretty thin (one of my early source book suggested it), and even thinner for their use in battle (unlike cavalry lances, where the pennons were considered to add to the psychological effect). Still it helps make the guard units special. I painted them mid-blue with a red lining, like the company standards.

The Semonovsky Russian Guard units

The Swedish Drabants were Karl’s personal bodyguard, and like him were often in the thick of the fighting. I didn’t really need this unit, but Swedish armies were heavy in cavalry, and this unit gives me more options. They weren’t up to full regimental strength, so I’ve had to create rules for smaller, two-base units.

For artillery, I wanted a Swedish heavy gun. The Swedes weren’t usually big on artillery, which hindered mobility, but they did use 12 pdrs at Holowcyzn, and I had the metal. Why I bought a mortar I don’t know, as these were generally siege weapons, but having bought them I thought I’d better paint one up in Russian livery. The other piece in the picture is the regimental artillery for the Semonovsky regiment – which was a matter of covering a piece that I had already painted.

The Drabants, the Swedish heavy artillery, the Russian mortar and a light gun

And finally limbers! I’ve made light (regimental) artillery and even field guns relatively mobile, without the need for limbering – so in our game players didn’t bother with limbers, as it takes a whole turn to limber up (limbers were not under military discipline). But in my next scenario there could be a lot more movement, and I had the metal away. So I painted up seven models to join the two I already had. One of these (like both the earlier ones) had two horses; the other single horse ones are there for my plentiful regimental artillery.

For painting technique I followed the same method as my last batch, described earlier this year. The main point of interest came at the end, when I used a rather dark wash. I started to use my Windsor & Newton peat brown ink, but this has turned thick and very red in hue with age. I tried diluted Antelope Brown (Liquitex I think), but this was very yellow – so I added some black, which is strong stuff and overwhelmed the brown. As I merrily applied it (including to the bases), I thought it enhanced the look. As it dried I the result was a bit dark – it’s not just poor photography in the pictures. I felt the need to highlight some of the yellow facings on the Swedes, and some light yellow highlighting on the bases. this proved to be quite a quick and easy process, leaving me to think that perhaps the lighter colours (facings, flesh and weapons) could be done after a dark wash (with paler base colours), using a quick dab of paint. This going down the rout of the black outline style that I have dismissed as being cartoonish. But it may be more appropriate for the tinies.

My next project is 10mm figures for Italian/Bismarck wars of 1859-71. More of that anon.

Impressionist figure painting – my 6mm GNW army

Six Russian infantry units and regimental artillery. The new Swedish cavalry is in the background

After getting back into the Great Northern War, it was time to bolster my rather limited armies, and run down my lead mountain. My biggest deficiencies were Russian line infantry and Swedish cavalry. So I have painted up six units of Russian infantry, and two units each of Swedish line cavalry and dragoons. I added in some regimental artillery, and a Swedish general. It is some years since I last worked on 6mm figures, so this is quite a break from normal.

The miniatures are from Bacchus, and were all bought back in 2012. I bought a job lot from a friend who had decided to take a different route on his GNW forces. I then developed an absurdly ambitious plan to build up my armies, and bought loads more from Baccus. Then I got distracted when about half had been painted up, and the painted and unpainted figures lived in a plastic box for a decade or so, rarely seeing daylight. I had enough painted up enough for an interesting game, but choices for force composition were very limited. My plan was to paint up two more batches (this is the first), amounting to half or so of the unpainted ones, and then stop – unless a particular need arises.

My original figures were painted in a manner quite similar to my larger 18mm ones. I painted them up before mounting on bases, and put quite a bit of detail on them. Even the barrels on the muskets. But I noticed that this was taking quite a long time, for a scale which was supposed to be quick! This time I wanted to take a different approach – more inspired by Impressionist painting. Impressionist paintings are beautiful from a distance, but make a lot less sense closer up. This is harder than it sounds!

The first step was to mount them on the bases. Apart from the artillery, these are mounted on 20mm squares of MDF, which I had bought along with the original figures, and of which I have more than I will ever need. The regimental artillery is on 15mm squares. I find this system of basing very attractive – though it is what caused my friend to abandon his miniatures, and buy in others mounted on larger bases, with one base to a unit. Baccus produces its infantry figures in 20mm strips of 4 side-by-side. Three of these fit comfortably on a base one behind the other. Historically formations were four deep, with about 150 files (i.e up to 50 per base). So these bases are both too shallow and too deep! Nevertheless this basing recalls contemporary representations in pictures. This would be easy if I could simply plonk the strips on the bases. But there are two problems. Firstly the command strips (supplied at a ratio of one in five in the packs) only have one standard bearer, along with an officer, flanked by two drummers. I like a good proportion of my units (typically the first battalion of a two battalion regiment) to have two flags. That means cutting up the command strip, and then the line strips to make room for the spares. The second problem applies to the Russians only. Russian infantry at this time was armed with a small proportion of pikes (one in eight); I read now (this wasn’t in the literature in 2012) that these were deployed in every other file in the front rank. I decided to represent this, rather than just plonking a strip of pikes in the back row of the centre stand, as I did before. I decided to distribute them PMPM; PMMP; MPMP – so that the pikes would be on the corners. That means cutting up the pike strips, and also the musketeer strips for the front row. Each pair units uses three command strips, three pike strips and 12 musketeer strips. You can just about see how this works on this close-up:

My representation of the Butyrski infantry regiment

The cavalry is more straightforward. These are come in strips of three, fore-and-aft, so they have to be cut up anyway. I mounted the Swedes three to a base, the cavalry staggered to represent the arrowhead formation, the dragoons side-by-side. Actually the Swedish dragoons fought in the same manner as the cavalry; they were equipped to fight dismounted, but I don’t know of them doing this ever in a significant battle (though I know almost nothing of the later war years), unlike their Russian counterparts. Still this mounting serves to distinguish them on the tabletop. Here are the four Swedish units:

The Swedish cavalry, with the dragoon units alternating

I mount the figures in a matrix of acrylic medium mixed with model railway fine track ballast and raw umber acrylic paint. This is the same method as before. The ballast is something I have had for decades: it is finer, lighter (in weight) and more uniform than the sand I use in bigger scales. It gives the surface some texture. After the assembly is fully set, I primed them with gesso mixed with paint. I went for an overall pale grey-green shade (it has to be pale because of the gesso). This is equivalent to the ground in a canvass painting (thinking back to the Impressionists) – the idea is that the colour doesn’t jar if it shows through (modern painters sometimes use a bright ground, thinking that it adds to the effect when it shows through – not appropriate for the wargames table!). Since it was going to be difficult to paint the bases between the strips, I wanted something that would merge with the base colour comfortably – hence the green element. I was overthinking that – in future just mixing in some raw umber (of which I have industrial quantities, thanks to a mistake by my supplier) with the white gesso will be fine. I used an old paintbrush to do the priming, covering both figures and base. I gave some thought to using an airbrush, but actually it can be a little hard to get airbrush paint into nooks and crannies, and getting between the figures and rows wold be tricky. It didn’t take too long with the brush, but it looked awful afterwards, though a lot better after cleaning with brush soap.

Next was the mass painting stage. At his point I treated all ten units and extras as a single batch, though no colour applied to all of them. I started with the horses, using various shades of brown, with some Payne’s Grey, so get a variety of bays, chestnuts and blacks – with a few greys, mainly for the musicians. Also I applied the main coat colour (blue, red or green), and then dark grey for the tricorn hats. For all this, I used my now standard technique of mixing artists acrylic (mainly Liquitex – as their tube design is easily the best, prolonging their life, as well as being excellent quality). No faffing with oil paints as I do with my 18mm horses. All mixes have a bit of white in them. The red was dramatically dulled down (from Cadmium Red Hue) to reflect cheap dyes and campaign weathering; the green (Sap Green as a basis) and blue (Prussian Blue Hue) were dulled down somewhat less. The horse colours (Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna) didn’t need much mixing beyond a touch of white – though the Siennas are a bit bright and I mixed a bit of the Umbers in.

After this I concentrated on finishing each unit in turn. The Russian units were in pairs of battalions from the same regiment, and each pair was treated as a batch. My worry was that if I did each colour for the whole assembly, I would start to lose the will to live, as the results would take so long to show – as well as the greater likelihood of mistakes. What did I paint? Flesh on the faces and hands; red or yellow facings on the cuffs only; brown for the muskets (where easy to reach) and the hair at the back of the head for the back row; dark grey for the pikes, cavalry boots and the scabbards for the rear ranks only of the infantry; I used a paler brown for the pistol pouches on the front of cavalry saddles . Accuracy was not a priority: blobs here and there where I could reach the spot with a brush. I ignored the legs of the infantry and the neckerchiefs; these aren’t visible enough. Finally some detailing. The hats got trim of white, yellow or gold. This detail really stands out when viewing the figures from above; similarly the karpuses had a contrasting lining colour (white or yellow – against he red main colour); silver for the bayonets, sabres and the pike trips; visible straps on the backs got quick attention too. The drummers and officers got a little more work (including the flags for the cavalry – a base colour, edging and a blob in the middle). And that was it. The final step was to wash the figures with diluted ink (peat brown or black).

Then, of course, there are the bases. I don’t go for the fashion of elaborate works of art; I don’t want the bases to draw attention away from the figures, and ideally I want them to blend with the table. At this scale my normal techniques of using flock, sand and/or static grass wouldn’t work – the strands and grains are too big – I just used paint and the texture arising from the basing material (i.e. the model railway ballast). It took me a long time (i.e. trial and error) before I settled on a shade of green that wasn’t too verdant or too grey – a combination of black, white, Yellow Oxide and just a little Sap Green. I then gave them a heavy highlight of a white and yellow mix. I also used a white and Raw Umber mix on some of them. I was left with the issue of the base sides. The MDF I am using for the bases is very chunky – typically I use much thinner material for bases, so as to blend better with the table. But I like the feel of the chunky bases, and it certainly makes handling easier – you can grasp the bases rather than the figures. But what to paint them? At first I tried a green to match with the table surface – but then I noticed that these edges were often shaded. I thought a bit of countershading might work, so I used a white and Raw Umber mix. Whether or not the countershading works (not really light enough from the pictures above), I did like the overall result.

The infantry represent three Russian regiments – Astrakhanski, Butyrski and Schlisselbergski, with two battalions each. Uniforms were subject to the colonel’s whim at this stage, and there was a lot of variation. Evidence for particular regiments is patchy, and my sources back in 2012 disagree with the most recent ones (a book from Helion), so there’s a lot of guesswork. I gave the Astrakhanski and Schlisselbergski green coats with red facings – the most common scheme, which later became the standard. I gave both of them a carpus for headgear in place of the usual tricorn – because I had a lot miniatures with these hats which needed using up (Bacchus don’t appear to sell them any more for the Russians) – these I coloured red and yellow and red and white (one of my existing regiments has a green and white karpus – allowing a ready distinction between the three units). The Butyrski regiment I gave red coats faced yellow, with tricorns with yellow trim. I haven’t given them their flags yet – I’m waiting for colonel’s flags with eagles, though I have coloured company flags from Baccus. I painted the regimental artillery crew in the uniform of the parent regiment (though with tricorn hats in all cases), but the gun itself in red, as used on the bigger guns.

The Schlisselbergski infantry.

The Swedish cavalry represent the Småland and Nyland Indelt regiments, along with the Gyllensterna and Taube dragoon regiments. These all had the standard Swedish blue uniforms; I decided not to try and represent the yellow breeches or coat turnbacks, with facing colours (yellow, red or blue coat colour) on the cuffs only. On the Swedish infantry it will be worth a dab of yellow on the front for the breeches and turnbacks for the front rank at least.

The Nyland Indelt cavalry

And that was it. Alas my photography at this scale is a bit weak, so I’m not giving much of an impression of the result. They are a bit dark maybe (but they need to fit in with my earlier figures) – perhaps an example of the rule that you should use paler colours for smaller scales. But the results work on the tabletop – the Impressionist approach works, and is certainly quicker than attempting too much detail (and correcting minor mistakes). I did need to repaint the bases on my earlier figures to make the assembly more coherent – but I didn’t like these earlier bases anyway – they were too bright and too dark. I will move straight on to next batch, which will add four Swedish infantry units, along with two more units for the Russian Guard, a Swedish heavy gun, a Russian mortar and more limbers.

Carolus Rex – my Great Northern War rules

My trial game using IDV reaches its climax

I have mentioned that I have a small 6mm (Baccus) collection of Swedish and Russian troops for the Great Northern War in the period 1708-09. I offered to bring these out for a game with my South London Warlords friends at one of our regular meetings in Beckenham. The game had to be postponed, alas, but it has got me going on an interesting project: developing a set of rules that I can use with these miniatures with friends not inured in rules systems or the period.

There was no time to develop new rules for the planned game in January. My idea was to use Helion’s In Deo Veritas (IDV) rules, by Philip Garton. I reviewed these a while ago (here and here) for use with my GNW forces – when I thought they were an answer to a prayer. They are really designed for an earlier era, but I thought that it didn’t matter much; indeed Helion and Philip brought out Captain General, a supplement to take them into the early 18th Century. They are pitched at exactly the right level for the games I want to put on.

The problem for the January game was that the format isn’t very user-friendly – the rules are spread over 66 pages with lots of nice pictures and large script, and four pages of quick reference tables in smaller script. This is how publishers like it – Osprey’s Lion Rampant is the similar. Scanning them to prepare other gamers is deeply impractical, as well as a breach of copyright. I like my rules to be compact, allowing the minimum of time to check things out. The rules are also a bit vague in places. This doesn’t seem to bother most people – IDV has a fan club, and people are generally complimentary about the presentation in reviews. One reviewer does try to deal with some of the ambiguities, sharing a correspondence with Philip. I have tried contacting Philip via Helion on a couple of queries, but without luck. What I decided to do was to write my own compact version of the rules, tailored to my basing system and the troop types I was using, with a couple of extra rules to cover the peculiarities of the Swedes, and dealing with aspects of the rules that I felt were unclear. This came to six pages (just) in 10 point script with a two-page quick reference. I then ran a trial scenario at full strength (illustrated above), after having already played a game with the original. This showed the need for a few adjustments, but the rules were suitable and ready for my January game.

But then some serious health issues arose with my wife. We were going in and out of hospital, with the prospect of a big operation in February or March. This meant having to apply an isolation regime, in case of picking up an infection that would throw everything off kilter. My January game was off, and any February one was looking very shaky. This was a big blow, but the enforced idleness gave me an opportunity. Some aspects of IDV were a serious problem for me, applied to this particular period, even though it gives a thoroughly entertaining game. And there were other, lesser things I wasn’t so keen on. I now had time to write my own rules taking in aspects of IDV that I liked (which in turn were largely culled from other systems – such is the evolution of our hobby), and combine them with ideas from other rules. And one set in particular: Gå På (GP), by Thomas Årnfelt. These were the rules that brought me into the period, and which I had used quite a bit. They were innovative, and used the GNW as their starting point, rather than tagging GNW on to the wars of Louis XIV – the unusual Swedish army was handled with proper attention. But the rules are too complicated to throw at my club colleagues for a quick game. The core rules are 35 pages, with only a few line drawings for padding. A lot of time in games was spent trying to find a particular rule to check something. There’s a further problem: poorer quality armies (including the Russian one) were prone to collapse, even when they had a substantial numerical advantage. It was hard for the Swedes to lose, even with a half the number of men, provided they were handled aggressively. Regardless of whether this is historically sound (which I don’t think it is for the Russians in 1708/09), it didn’t make for good gaming. The friend that I had played so many games with gave up on them after a while. The problem could be addressed by weighting the Russians with guard and veteran units, but that is a bit artificial.

The biggest problem by far for me with IDV is that the armies are too responsive – there isn’t enough friction, and this is not impacted by quality of leadership. There is friction – with the use of Attack/Hold/Withdraw orders constraining choices, and restrictive rules concerning direction changes. But against this move distances are long for the standard 4ft by 6ft table which speeds things up a lot. My test scenario was inspired by the battle of Holowczyn in 1708. The Russians are dispersed across the table, with a river and marsh separating one substantial division from the rest. The Swedes need to get across the river, and tackle the Russians piecemeal before they can concentrate. I played it twice with IDV, and both times the Russians had no difficulty concentrating and destroyed the Swedes before they could properly establish their bridgehead. In the historical battle (admittedly fought over a bigger area), the Russians never came close to concentrating properly, and were defeated without many of their troops being engaged. The Swedish-Russian conflict was one of asymmetry. The Swedes had a small, high quality army, with effective and aggressive leadership. By this time, the Russian army was no pushover (unlike the pre-modernised army at the start of the war), but it was inferior and ponderously led. Beating it required manoeuvre. That is what makes the pairing so interesting. This simply can’t be reflected in IDV.

My solution was not in fact derived from Gå På, though it does have a system for doing so. Instead I used the PIP system, invented by Phil Barker and his friends, and used in the revolutionary De Bello Antiquitatis (DBA), and developed in Horse, Foot, Guns (which I have done a similar rewrite job on for Napoleonics). You throw a dice, and this gives you points with which you can spend on moving units around. I applied this a wing level (renamed “divisions”) , using an average die, and dropped the orders system. The orders gave an interesting dynamic, but there is less need to contain the players with the PIP system. There are plenty of other changes, but I have kept the system where the divisions are activated at random using cards (before joint shooting and close combat phases), as this gave a really good chaotic feel to the games. I particularly wanted to reduce the dice throwing in shooting and close combat (you throw for hits, then saves for both sides in IDV), and simplify other throws, where the number of modifiers was too heavy. Most dicing involves two six-sided dice, instead of either just one, or multiples. I reran the trial game, modifying the rule mechanisms after a couple of moves when they weren’t working. This time the Swedes won comfortably, though the Russian army did not collapse. But their poorer quality units were no pushover; towards the end one standard (D class, as I am calling IDV “Raw” and GP “Green”) unit routed a Swedish A class one, though admittedly taking it in the flank. I think the outcome turned on a few decisive throws and card draws, and on a different day there would have been a very different outcome; fortunes swung either way. But the Russians only had ten infantry units (two B, two C, six D) to the Swedes’ eight (two A, four B, two C), so they probably should have had been up against it.

I am pretty pleased with the result, which I have named Carolus Rex in honour of Karl XII of Sweden, the central personality in this conflict, but I’m making one more significant change – which is to cut down the move distances to more like GP ones from the ones based on IDV. That’s to constrain manoeuvring round the flank without the other wide being able to react. This needs to be play tested before being unleashed on the public – but I won’t be doing that just yet. If anybody wants to see what I’ve come up with (the rules are now just over 7 pages of A4 in 10pt script, with a two page quick reference) then get in touch. They are designed for a very specific period and forces, but should readily work for later encounters between Sweden and Russia (the Swedes have fewer high quality units), and to the Danish and Saxon armies too. Earlier Russian or Polish armies though, never mind Ottomans, would require some new troop types. I’m also not so sure about Western European armies – where fire discipline was better developed by some armies, and three-deep lines (from four) began to be used. They are designed for GP basing, with three bases to an infantry unit, in my case 20mm square. At the smaller scales it is now fashionable to have single base units, 60mm-90mm wide. The rules could be used for this, though march columns would need to be dropped (they were rarely used in proximity tot the enemy anyway) and the shooting rules would need to be adapted.

This has been an interesting exercise. My earlier rule-writing efforts (Napoleonic and WW2) have been steeped in history. This time my historical knowledge is relatively light, and I have a strong focus on playability. In two cases I think I may have sacrificed faithfulness to history to playability. I have made the units quite easy to manoeuvre, in an era before such innovations as cadenced marching were in widespread use. But players get frustrated when they can’t do things, and I have noticed a modern fashion to take the faff out of moving units around on the table (Sam Mustafa’s Blucher and Lasalle rules for Napoleonic wares for example). Second it is relatively easy to rally units to bring them back into battle. This is actually quite hard in IDV and GP. But I have just four cohesion states (Good Order, Disordered, Shaken and Broken) and no casualty removal. It’s quite easy to knock a unit into Shaken or Broken status with some moderately good dice, so for playability purposes I thought there needed to opportunities for recovery. In my trial game the Russian commander spent practically the whole battle scooping up shaken and broken units, rallying them and sending them back in (not always successfully). I really don’t know how historically faithful this is. Still in the real Holowczyn I think there were reports of the Russians doing this – so I might not be so far off the money after all!

Next I need to paint up some more units to give me more options in future games.

Update 3 February

No matter how hard you try to draw a line under rule writing, the brain moves on. I said above that I am using the PIP system for giving orders to units to move around the field. I’m having further thoughts on this. I had already decided to go for the idea of generals moving from unit to unit to issue orders in person, rather than using such ideas as “command distance”. This is based on the idea that staff systems had yet to develop, and that most communication was in person (though admittedly orders would tend to be valid for more than a single move). This may be another case of game play getting ahead of history. The general would be limited by an overall movement allowance (generous at 24in), with the number of orders issued limited by PIPs. But what if instead of PIPs I used the die score to determine movement allowance? Say 3in per pip, which (using an average die) would mean 6in to 15in – but putting no limit on the number of orders. Perhaps a cost (say 2in) for each order. You could keep track using a D20. A low score represents the general gathering information and trying to decide what to do. I remember reading Paddy Griffith saying wargamers had little concept of how generals had to manage their time…

In Deo Veritas – a trial game for Great Northern War

More than a year a go I bought the In Deo Veritas rules by Philip Garton, which cover 17th Century conflicts. My plan was to use this for my 6mm Great Northern War (GNW) Russians and Swedes. The GNW was actually in the 18th century but the tactics were similar. In fact Philip Garton later brought out a supplement, Captain General, to cover the early 18th Century. I published my first thoughts here. I have now had the opportunity to run a small solo game.

The rule supplement did not add very much in terms of new rules, and its main value is the four extra scenarios. Alas there were no battles between Russians and Swedes – it is in fact quite hard to find suitable historical battles for the Poltava campaign that my figures are based on. It suggested giving all-musket infantry units an extra fire dice, and treating large dragoon units (such as the Russians used) as poor quality cavalry.

In my game I set a small Swedish force of three infantry and two cavalry units against a larger Russian force of six infantry, two dragoon and one cossack unit, plus two artillery. The Swedes were all Veteran except one Trained infantry unit; the Russians were all Raw except one infantry unit and the cossacks, which were Trained. Both armies were divided into two wings (the infantry and cavalry for the Swedes, four infantry and the cossacks, and two infantry and the dragoons for the Russians), with an overall commander for both armies. This captures the basic asymmetry between the two armies which is one of the things that drew me into gaming these armies. The Swedes are heavily outnumbered but should still have the edge – provided that they are aggressive. The battle was played out on a featureless flat table.

The first issue I had was how to adapt to my miniatures. The rules are designed for most of the units to be based on 3 inch (75mm) bases. My units use 20mm square bases, with three for an infantry unit and four for cavalry. These are actually meant to be infantry battalions and cavalry regiments, rather than the brigades of the rules (roughly twice the number of men) – but I glossed over that. I decided to deploy my infantry bases in line, and cavalry units in two by two blocks, and hope that the variation in frontage wouldn’t matter. It didn’t, and the visual effect was good. A trickier problem how to translate the distances – I used them as published. That was a bit of an issue because I was using tiny playing area of about 24 inches by 36 inches. This meant that some of the move distances (especially cavalry) were a bit long – but there was no easy-to-apply conversion factor. As I write I remember that I had made up some rulers marked out in two-thirds inches (“Canadian inches”) to use with Grande Armée – which would have been perfect. But I don’t think these have survived the house move. One of the advantages of having 6mm figures though is that you can use a smaller playing area, so I want to find a way around this in future. My basing system (developed for Gå På!) may be unusual but it is common to put 6mm units on a single base with 60mm frontage – so solving this problem would help more than me!

How did the game play out? The Russians started the game on Hold orders, and the Swedes on Attack. The Swedes tried to focus on the Russian left flank and refuse the right. This might have worked under Gå På! rules, but not with these. In the second turn the Russian right switched to Attack and caught the two of Swedish infantry units as they tried to make their way across, and outflanked them. Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry attacked the Russian dragoons, but one unit stalled and the other only made slow headway. This was when I took the picture above. It was not going well for the Swedes. But slowly they prevailed. One of the left wing Swedish infantry units escaped the outflanking move and charged forward to attack the infantry to its front. Forcing back first one unit and then the next; when the second unit was forced back it had to pass through the disrupted first unit, causing it to rout. Meanwhile the outflanking Russians routed the remaining Swedish infantry unit (the poorer quality one), but effectively lost one of their units as it ran off in pursuit; the other unit had been disordered in the process. The Russian right, facing one Swedish infantry and two cavalry, bogged down their opponents and started to force them back. But then the Swedes renewed their attack and managed to rout one infantry and one dragoon unit. That proved enough to collapse the Russians.

This was an absorbing game and a close fight. The Swedes probably had the edge, but I now see that their army (ex leadership) was worth 1,500 points to the Russians 1,375. Unlike Gå På! leadership did not have much influence on game play, hence the quick switch to attack by the Russians on their right. Whether this is realistic in a bit dubious – there is no activation step for new orders – but it probably helps to create a more enjoyable game. I used the random generator for leadership quality, with the Russians classed as “new” and the Swedes as “professional”. The dice tilted the Russian way and there wasn’t much difference in leadership quality between the two sides. This had very little impact on the game, though, which was surprising. I still don’t understand the difference between an “experienced” and “normal” general in game play. Unless I have missed something 9always possible), leadership quality does not have as much influence on the game as many modern rules.

Overall I found things a bit slower than I expected. I kept having to look things up. It did not help that the game took three separate sessions, the second a few days after the first, the third a full two weeks later, including a holiday. I don’t think the quick reference sheet is all that well designed – and it would help to slim it down for just the troop types within my armies. A second problem was that the rules are quite thin, though the big type and pictures still mean that they are spread over many pages. A lot of issues just aren’t covered, but it can take a bit of a search to realise that. I had to put in place my own interpretations several times, on matters that rule books should be cover, though often don’t. Less is often more, but not always! With a confident games master, though, most of these issues would disappear. This small battle, featuring lots of raw troops, still took quite a few moves more than I expected (I wasn’t counting though – in the region of ten I think, and about five hours). Melée combat quite often got stuck in a draw; even raw units had to be ground down before being destroyed. Some features of the rules jarred at first outing. I found the three stylised orders that each wing is bound to (Hold, Attack, Withdraw) a bit restrictive at first; the Russians on Hold couldn’t send out their cossacks to do a bit of probing. But this made more sense as the game progressed.

The only historical issue I came up with the that it did not reflect Swedish Gå På! tactics well. In attack the Swedish infantry (still pike-armed) only fired a single shot before going in close; the cavalry did not do any prep fire at all, contrary to general practice at the time. In these rules all units fire at each other as they close. I think this calls for some kind of special rule. Swedish cavalry and pike-armed infantry should be allowed to charge attack; when they do so they do not fire before they go in (but must take fire from their opponents) but get a melee advantage, such as an extra die. A further historical issue is that it is hard to reflect Swedish elite (i.e. Guard) units, if their better line ones are classed as Veteran. You can overdo this sort of thing though, and any extra advantage should be quite subtle.

Before I try these rules out again though, I need to prepare my own QR sheet, focused on my GNW troops, and with reduced distances (roughly two-thirds, perhaps using centimetres rather than inches) – and trying to make the layout clearer.

My first article asked whether these rules were an answer to a prayer (to find rules for my GNW figures). The answer is “yes”. All I need now are opportunities to game!

In Deo Veritas – answer to a prayer?

My wargaming energies are mainly devoted to two periods: the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. But I do have another set of miniatures that rarely get an outing these days: some 6mm Swedes and Russians for the Great Northern War, circa 1709 (the year of the world-changing battle of Poltava). One reason they have not seen the tabletop for so long is that I lack a suitable set rules to use.

When I acquired them my friend George and I used a set of rules called Ga Pa! These are a very clever, written by a Swede, Thomas Arnfelt, with the GNW in mind, though they can be used for other early 18th Century Wars. What was wrong? They were too innovative; George and I liked them, but they would be hard to introduce on a club night, as there were too many new ideas. And even for us, they could be a bit slow at times. They weren’t particularly clearly written either, which meant that quite a lot of time can be lost trying to interpret them for a new situation. Since I used them I notice there’s a second edition, though, which might be an improvement.

My second try was with Barry Hilton’s Under Lily Banners. They are written by a very experienced gamer with a deep love for the era (built mainly by studying conflicts further west – but he has taken on the GNW with a vengeance since). They are quite old-school and designed with bigger figures and fewer units per player than I wanted to do, though. But they were quite usable substituting centimetres for inches. What I really didn’t like about them was cavalry v cavalry combat that owed more to Hollywood than realism, which, given that cavalry is so big in this era, ruined the whole feel. I abandoned them after a single game with George. Perhaps I should have tried harder, but I still felt they were not designed to play the sort of game I wanted.

And so for years the figures stayed in their box, with large numbers of them unpainted and unbased. I had an idea to adapt Horse Foot Guns by Pat Barker. This very expansive system did cover this era, along right up to just before WWI, but would have needed a bit of work with my basing system. Also these rules need a heavy era-specific edit to be workable (I did a Napoleonic rewrite, which I have described on this blog). Too much work.

And then a recent magazine article tickled my fancy. It was describing the launch of a new set of rules by Helion called In Deo Veritas by Philip Garton. These are designed for 17th Century warfare, but GNW marks the transition between this and the next era, and has a late 17th Century feel. And it has been designed with bigger armies and smaller figures in mind. They sounded exactly what I was looking for, so I bought a copy as lockdown reading.

I was not disappointed. They have exactly the right level of detail for me. Unit level combat is dealt with briefly, allowing more focus on higher level issues such as command and cohesion. GP covered both levels well, but that led to the rules being too arduous as a whole. ULB focused on the unit-level stuff, as it would be relatively rare to have big armies on the tabletop. Focusing on the right level is one of the critical aspects of war-games design, and this is clearly understood by Philip. Play is based on one-base units, organised into a number of “wings”. Units are mainly “brigades” of about 1,000 men, on bases of 3in by 1.5in; smaller units on 1.5in squares; larger ones (such as early tercios featuring in the early part of the era) and irregular cavalry on 3in squares. 1in corresponds to about 40 yards.

I don’t want to describe the mechanics in too much detail. Anyway I haven’t played them yet (though I can’t wait). Each wing is given an order (Advance, Hold or Withdraw). Movement is one wing at a time activated in random sequence of both sides (they suggest using cards – but it’s the same as Warlord’s bag of dice). Then there is simultaneous combat, with firing, then melee. Finally the cohesion issues are resolved. There is almost no attempt to model the different types of armament of the units (e.g. pikes v muskets or matchlocks v flintlocks). If that kind of tactical detail is your thing, then you need a lower level set of rules. Cohesion/fatigue is modelled at unit, wing and army level.

How would they adapt for 1709 GNW? In this period the Swedes fought a modernised Russian army under Peter the Great. Flintlock muskets were the main armament, but the Swedes still armed up to a third of their infantry unis with pikes. The Russians used pikes too, but in smaller numbers. The formations were deep by 18th Century standards, the three-rank, platoon-firing units were in the future (except maybe the contemporary Dutch and English). So it has a late 17th century feel. There are two issues that I think might need rules modification. The first is the Swedish Ga Pa! doctrine of shock tactics, both for infantry and cavalry, which were unique at the time (even the cavalry indulged in extensive mounted firefights). I’m not sure if the Swedes need special advantages in melee (and probably disadvantages in firing), or whether quality differences in the rules already will suffice. A Swedish army should be able to take on much larger opposing armies, provided that it is very aggressive. The other issue is the Russian cavalry. They had almost no cavalry as commonly understood, but lots of dragoons served the role, and these rarely fought on foot (but could and sometimes did). In the rules dragoons fight in small units; the Russians often used them en masse. Russian dragoons could be treated as inferior cavalry brigades, or they could be mounted on brigade bases with special provisions. A further possible issue (I don’t have my GNW books with me) is that brigades are a bit on the large side in this war – but I think these rules would work by substituting battalions for brigades.

A much bigger issue for me is basing. All my miniatures are based on 20mm squares, with three bases for a typical infantry unit and four for cavalry. I like the visual appearance of this (especially the Swedes with a central block of pikes), and that is one of the reasons I got into this era in the first place. The basing was quite an effort too (many of the infantry figures were cut off their strips and placed individually). I am not rebasing. I have some ideas on how this might adapt my current basing system, but they have to be tried out. Since I am between homes at the moment, as well as lockdown, with most of my possessions, including my GNW figures, in storage, this will have to wait.

It was very interesting to read the book’s accounts of six battles at the end, turned into scenarios. 17th Century warfare is not something I know much about. What struck me from these accounts is how disorderly the battles were, with sometimes fortunes changing at the very end, and how independently the different wings operated from each other. They look to be great subjects for wargaming, especially multi-player games. These rules seem to reflect that very well, and should be a great basis for club games. Alas that will be some time in the future for me!