Wednesday 30 January 2008

The Eagle has Landed

Revell plastic 26mm: Les Higgins(2) 22mm: Strelets plastic 24mm: MiniFig S range 25mm.

My parcel from America arrived today. 580 finest vintage 20m figures.

This may be a relief to those who feel that I have been treading water lately. Writing a blog about creating an army is always going to be problematic without the Army.

The figures are delightful, slim, elegant and beautifully sculpted. Made of a high tin content so after 40 years and two journeys across the pond only about a dozen bayonets missing.

The first question to answer is what could I mix them with. Probably not much. Plastics have got bigger since the early Airfix sets. The Great Northern War sets are by Zvesda at 25mm and Strelets at 24 and the Strelets are far too chunky. (But as an aside note how well they mix in with the arly minifig S range figures. A real bonus when it comes to playing a game without a lifetimes collecting first.)

So it is quite a relief to note that the present owners of the range have added some much needed varieties especially in the cavalry.

The bases are about 15mm across, but not exactly circular so they will need a little extra space when we come to working out bases.

But for now it is quite enough to sort them into piles of different poses and then line them upon the table and just stare at them.

In praise of the solitary blogger

My use of scenery has sometimes been commented on as eccentric. I prefer the term expressionist.

Since starting this blog, I must confess that I have looked at other peoples efforts with a new respect and interest. I suppose that the urge to share ones interest is universal and there is only so much toy talk that a long suffering partner or family can take.

Some blogs have the fascination of a good soap, "today I had two sausages for breakfast and then bought a pot of Goblin Green." I find myself returning each day with a guilty fascination as to what has happened next. Others such as the riveting 'making miniatures' have me engrossed as someone makes it all look so achievable. But two are becoming my especial favourites on the web.

The Alte Fritz Journal, has shown big battalion gaming at its grandest for a number of months now. While at the other extreme 'Frivolous Fusiliers is starting out chronicling a small scale project.

What they have in spades though is that they reflect the enthusiasm and individuality of their creators. And here is a secret that I can share with you all, you do this hobby to please yourselves. If there are any wargamers out there thinking, " I shall collect and play with toys because it will impress my employers, and also beautiful women will find me mysterious and attractive." Well, perhaps its kinder not to say anything.

Buy the figures that you like, in a scale you enjoy and paint them, putting in the levels of skill and time that suits your needs. And if the others at your club don't like it then they can just sod off. Face it, do you really need the approval of a bunch of grown men who play with toy soldiers?

Monday 28 January 2008

Il Penseroso

So at the end of the day I look back in contemplative meditation.

Reading around a project is one of the great pleasures of the hobby. Indeed over time one can gather a fairly respectable personal library of enjoyable texts. The last time I was building a Marlburian army I was travelling twice a week up to London and the train provided plenty of time for background reading. Since I also had a day a month in Oxford I picked up quite a few classic texts during that year.

Coming back to it after 20 years or so it is interesting to look around and see what has been published in the meantime. Since the begining of the month I have purchased two books by James Falkner and the Osprey on Blenheim. (God bless ebay and the January dip in prices).I hope in time to enjoy reading these and when I do I will write about them here. Hopefully I shall have the energy to revisit the existing library this year, as well.

But I have begun by reading a book for which I had no great expectations.

'Blenheim battle for Europe' Charles Spencer Weidenfeld and Nicholson 2004. 360pp.

In fact it was a gentle easing back into the period and though in no sense ground breaking it covered the period fairly well. It puts Louis 14 at the centre of the book and gives a good overview of his foreign policy. Indeed by the time it has dealt with the early life and marraige of the Duke of Marlborough it has only 60 pages to deal with the battle.

Charles Spencer has read the modern studies of the period and at times these chunks of knowledge are pulled in with the brutality of an undergraduate essay. The style is unremmitingly readable but to be honest I have no problem with popular history, I wish there was more of it. If at times it reads a bit like The Giant of the Grand Siecle meets Blue Peter then so what, at least I finished it.

From that I turned to another work of readable history:

England Under Queen Anne vol 1 Blenheim. G M Trevelyan. 1930 477pp

He states " For my part, I cannot abandon the older ideal of History that was once popular in England, that the same book should make its appeal both to the general reader and the historical student".
Well said, George, I am looking forward to relishing rereading these books a few chapters at a time over the next year, perfect for a deckchair on a summers evening.

"The darkness fell and the scene was blotted out. And with the darkness, sheets of rain descended in pitiless brutality on the maimed and dying men gathered from all the four corners of Europe to perish together on that tragic hill."

In which, I am set upon by thieving bastards

The Government shares out my property to the revenue and postal departments.

I have reached the age when every negative occurrence reinforces the view that we live in an age of complacent self destruction governed by self serving, morons.

We accept the interference of the State into our lives to a degree unthinkable merely thirty years ago and which would be sufficient to provoke any 18C gentleman in armed rebellion.

'The State' (by which we mean those moralising, target setting, centralising, Stalinists, who govern us now) feels it has the right to dictate every aspect of our lives. It even wishes to control what we take into our bodies: Tobacco, Alcohol, caffeine and most food groups are discouraged with rigour, while the male member is positively encouraged, indeed sodomy may soon be compulsory for all adults in the UK.

And in particular what has provoked my ire this sunny winters day? I will tell you.
The Customs have seen fit to stop my small parcel of 40 year old toys and slap £24 duty on figures that have already paid tax at least twice in the past. Not to be left out Parcel Force detain my parcel, and demand a further £8 for telling me they have prevented the US postal service from completing the service for which I have already paid £25. These Gougers will not release my property until I have paid in full and unless I get a move on they will send the figures back to the United States.

Perhaps I should have the strength of the American colonists and tell them to throw the lot in Boston Harbour. But I am really anxious to get started on my Marlburians, so I shall simply nurse my bile and pay up.

What a bunch of total bastards.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

John Marcellus Laroon 1679-1774

'In Flanders a Market Tent in Camp'.
The sketch is done in graphite on paper and is signed and inscribed
Done in Flanders in the year 1707, the year I went into the army.

The above drawing from the Courtald Institute is often reproduced in books about Marlboroughs Armies. To me it seems almost uniquely authentic and I have often wondered who the artist was. Thanks to exhaustive research (ten minutes googling) I am able to add a little to the sketch.

Marcellus Laroon the younger was the son of a dutch painter. He travelled in France and Italy before coming to London in his early twenties and working as an actor and accomplished singer at Drury Lane theatre. He then entered the British army and served in Flanders from 1707 reaching the rank of Captain. Marcellus must have been captured at some point because he was exchanged as a prisoner of war in 1712. He remained as an half pay officer until 1732, while working in the academy of the great portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller. For the rest of his long life he turned to painting for pleasure. Of a convivial nature, his friends were drawn largely from London's artistic, theatrical and musical community

Obviously Austrian Hussars, but the sketch is dated 1771, how far back in a long memory was he going? or is that the date the print was published?

His mature style shows friends relaxing, one feels Marcellus might have been a decent sort to share a pint with.

Monday 14 January 2008

More Nitty Gritty

What then to do with the tiny metal horsemen?

The frontage of a squadron has remained remarkably consistent, no matter what name has been given. As I understand it the reason for this is a line of horses much in excess of 60 or 70 will tend to bunch so that the middle horse are actually lifted off their feet.

Disregarding ranks deep for the moment we can say that a squadron will fit in 100 yds. Marlborough paired up his squadrons which means that we could legitimately put two together on a base which would, at 200 yds, have exactly the same frontage as an infantry battalion ie 4". Now you must understand, I cut my teeth on WRG 5th when combats were decided by 13 figs @ 4 +2 and 7 figs @ 3 +1 versus 9 @ 7-2(facing LTS) and 12 (+6@1/2 effect) @4 -1. Plus the difference of four individual dice throws. As a result having unit frontages match up exactly like that is a balm on old scars.

I still do not have the figures in my hand yet but I suspect that a horseman will need a frontage of 20mm, so that 5 will fit upon the 4" base. I do not require that cavalry and infantry should have exactly the same figure ratio so long as it is somewhere close. In this case it would be about 50-1 for infantry and 60-1 for cavalry. Another result!

The only tiny flaw is that a lot of units had 3 or even 5 squadrons, so if I have five figures to a base I can't split it in half and will have to round all units to the nearest 2 squadrons. Its nothing, a mere detail and yet it nags away at me. What if I expand the bases from 4"(100mm) to 120mm, then I could get six on a base and I could half the base size to allow movement in column or more flexible manoeuvre. That would mean increasing the infantry from 12 to 16 man units. Certainly they would look better at that size and it would help each unit to justify having its own flag.

The problems caused by this would result a four mile frontage would require an extra three feet of table, that's not really an issue (he said, odiously) though it could start tomake depth a bit of an issue. More important would be a 25% increase in cost and painting time required - but it would look nicer!! (curse you Alte Fritz! sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction.)

I could put everybody onto 60mm bases but actually I don't see the point of that for infantry. I think the first quarter of the 18c was just about the only period when columns were never used. I don't think I will ever want to put the foot in anything except a linear formation, so why split the bases down? Just stick the whole unit on one 120mm long base.

Oh dear, it all seemed so clear. Another long walk with the dog over the marshes is called for to mull this over.

Friday 11 January 2008

Why they are a lot more scary in real life

Probably taken at about in Hyde park on a summer morning, the Household Cavalry at the canter. The horses used to imported from Ireland but are mainly from Sweden now. They are 15-16 hands high and reasonably close in appearance to the war horses of the past though lighter legged.

Even in 25mm a lead horse is not very imposing, but when you stand next to these they are huge! When the rider in his helmet and god like uniform is added they are imposing beyond belief. Just one horse is a ton and a half of malicious muscle heading straight at you at 20 miles an hour.
I suppose there is about a half squadron or so here. Two points of relevance to the wargames table occur to me. Firstly any infantry not in close order have not got a chance in hell, no point in writing rules just take them off the board. Secondly how do you control this lot? Yes I know cavalry can manoeuvre, but say you have a charge of a brigade 8 squadrons or so or 16 times this lot. Surely all that's possible is to form them up the ride out to the front saying follow me. Once they are going in generally the right direction discreetly slip to the back of the line. That would be my aim anyway.

Thursday 10 January 2008

Thinking about the horsies

Morier's painting of Earl Ligonier in 1747 admirably shows the heavily
built black troop horse in its glory.note the severely docked tail.

Cavalry mounts always have a tension between the desire for the biggest horses possible to sweep all before them and the general rule that the larger the horse the less well it stands fatigue and privation.

The original English Cavalry horse at the beginning of the 17C was the Great Black which stood at 16 hands. JamesI and CharlesI imported Arab Stallions through which the breed was altered under Charles II. The heavy Lanarkshire black breed and the importation of black Flemish stallions particularly by William III meant that by the beginning of the 18c the Black Horse was the standard English war horse coming in at about 15 hands.

However the ideal was not always met even in peace time as this advertisement from 1677 shows,"Stolen near Paddington, three geldings belonging to His Majesties Guards all between 15 and 16 hands. One dark grey, another dark brown, the other an old dark bay, blind in one eye flat footed and long legged.

By the end of the first decade of the 18c the number of dragoons employed had increased dramatically. In England from 7 to 18 regts, in Russia from 1 to 24, and in France from 14 to 43. In the same period the Dragoons increasingly dropped their role as mounted infantry and were expected to function as battle line cavalry, albeit 2nd rate. The cheaper cost of maintaining a dragoon is often seen as the main force for change, a troopers horse cost about £15 while a dragoons could be purchased for as little as a third of this. However the difficulty in maintaining a supply of horse of the size needed for cavalry troopers must have made it very tempting to raise mounted regiments from the lesser sized and often tougher breeds more widely available.

When it comes to painting the horses I shall follow the general rule that proper cavalry has black horses and Dragoons have a mixture of chestnut and bay. Unless of course we have specific information to the contrary.I am not sure what I will do about British horses tails, Cadogan insisted upon a brutal docking within three inches of the root. However I am as reluctant to mutilate my lovely Les Higgins castings as I would be with the real thing.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Enough with the memory lane, already.

With the painting of units of 30mm Staddens and Holgar Eriksson and, especially re staging the battles of Mollwitz and Sittangbad, I have finally got the nostalgia bug out of my system. No need for big battalions or using Charge rules for every army. I am free to start with a clean slate.

Big Battalions - finally out of my system?

So, it was Charles Grant (alright, almost a clean slate) who used to advise that the best way to do an historical refight was to work out the space you had available and put the number of units that fitted comfortably into that area on the table. He was less keen on starting with an order of battle and listing all the units the trying to build the game around them. If you have followed that, I would say I tend to agree with him.

But why not extend that principle to a logical conclusion and use it to underpin the planning of an army? My table is 12' long, the two main battles of Ramillies and Blenheim both took place on a frontage of four miles. If I want to play those games 3 feet will equal a mile and speaking roughly 50yds will equal one inch.

Then if an average battalion is of 600 men in 3 lines they will occupy a space 4" long. My figure scale will be determined by the number of figures that will fit in that space. The figures are 20mm but on fairly big circular bases, I think of 15mm though I don't have any to check yet, never mind lets just assume 6 will fit. Except that I can't abide one rank deep units so we will say "Sod off" to Mr Constant Scale and model a battalion as 12 figures formed 6x2 on a 4"x1 1/2" base.

At this point two observations may occur to the attentive reader: " What, no big battalions no single figures, surely this is far from Old School. Indeed if you must use this Modernist mish mash why not go the whole hog and use the excellent 6 and 10mm figures now available?"

In reply to the first point, I will attempt to illustrate in future posts that these ideas are derived from the early writings on Wargames just as much as is any 60 man Spencer Smith unit. The second point? Have you not been reading a word I wrote? I like 20mm figures.

Cavalry? well lets not do everything at once. In the next post I may work out how to base the basic units of cavalry manoeuvre and organisation.I shall also need to consider very soon the wise thoughts ofMr Phil Olley on how to make a project such as this succeed.

Monday 7 January 2008

Here we go again

Foxes Marines 1704: later 32nd foot

The great thing about being middle aged is not that you have done everything before,(far from it) but that you can reasonably claim that you have. If you are able to cap that claim with an unfavourable comparison to the efforts of the young chaps today, then ones cup runneth over.
This will be my fourth Marlburian army. The first did not last very long, that was with the 'new' WRG horse and musket rules. 12 man battalions and an extremely odd set of reaction tests and responses. The figures that were painted quickly became companies in 40 and 48 man units. This would have been about 1983.
We played with amended 'Charge' rules by Brigadier Peter Young. Indeed when I think back on it we played almost every period except WW2 with amended Charge rules. Therein lay the problem we really wanted to be playing Charge SYW with 30mm figures, but we couldn't get them. Nevertheless this incarnation rumbled along very happily to the tune of five years and some thousands of figures.
I painted two armies, Bavarian and Austrians, the figures were Dixon and Essex 25mm from the nine years war ranges. One couldn't actually get any marlburian figures back then apart from Minifig, which to be honest I was not keen on. Well if you were a figure manufacturer obviously you would figure Steenkirke as a big seller compared to Blenheim. Eventually
Wargames Foundry brought out some nice figures and I added some units of Danish bought I think at the very first Partizan show. And about that time I think we went on to Napoleonics, (as you do).
The third army was in the mid nineties, and to my eternal shame was 15mm. I used Minifigs, this time a very nice range of figures, but only painted a few units to join in. The project was run by Barry Warner of the Bedford Gladiators Club. He brought back the ideas and the rules from the Wargames Holiday centre.
Now either he changed them quite a bit and lied through his teeth or a visit to the Wargames Holiday Centre must have been akin to the 7 th circle of Hell. 15mm figures on a 24x6' table, but only 4" moves! Artillery seemed to have 28 factors to take into consideration after which one could work out whether the effect was .3 or .4 of a single casualty. Meeting at 9am we would be struggling to bring the cavalry into contact before mid afternoon.
Maybe it was a result of the numbing atmosphere but the games always seemed to produce some surreal moments; Eugene coming around the table to deck Marlborough I dismiss as commonplace, who amongst us has not seen similar. But at Oudenarde the main army's advance was routed through the town which incurred such draconian movement penalties that the army commander attempted resolve the impasse by having whole regiments throw themselves lemming like from town walls. Truly a game stopping moment, try and find that in the rules. Nevertheless the spectacle and beauty of the armies with every unit correctly modelled and neatly painted was a visual treat.
And so Now a Fourth, and probably the the last attempt to get this period just as I want it. This time let the watchword be No Compromises.

Sunday 6 January 2008

The Best Range of Wargames Figures, EVER

As they say it all depends what you mean by best. For beautiful sculpting and stately pose Charles Stadden was in a class of his own. Peter Gilder could breath animation into his figures and Edward Suren could convey a whole world of meaning in the bend of an elbow or the inclination of a head. Nowadays the Perry twins are not too shabby and Mr Ansell gets better with every figure, his Austrians for TAG are breathtaking.That doesn't even scratch the surface everyone will have a favourite from Dick Higgs to Alec Brown and I can't omit some of the less well known masters; John Ray, John Niblett, and Steve Hezzlwood.

But if you say, which was the most delicate and graceful range produced, which was years ahead of its time in sculpting and production values then I think the name of Les Higgins will always come up amongst the old timers.
The range of figures was starting to take of when Les Higgins sadly died in 1972. Although many more figures were produced under the Pheonix label the wargames ranges slowly withered away. The jewel of the 20mm castings were the Marlburian range.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of enthusiasts including the legendary Harry Pearson, this range is back in production. I had vaguely intended to get some but on New Years Eve the opportunity arose to purchase a lot of over 500 original infantry castings.
I dared not pause to consider the sensible options, a quick press on the send button and a new and long coveted army was under production.
Thanks to Steve Gill for the catalogue and for more information Harry Pearsons web site is unrivalled

Saturday 5 January 2008

The last few years

Allied cavalry attack the French flank in a typical 1813 game.
Figures by Elite, Front Rank and Garrison

About 15 years ago I undertook to contribute a few figures to a planned Napoleonic game, 6000 painted 25mm figures later I am still only scratching the surface. I am sure my enthusiasm for this period will last as long as I do. All the same my output has dropped off over the last few years and I am feeling the need of a sabbatical.

30mm classic figures, The Erbprinz Regiment on parade.

Stadden Prussian grenadiers from Peter Johnstone.

The biggest influence on my gaming in recent years has been the Old School Wargaming group run by Patrick Lewis. This yahoo group reawakened my interest in classic figures and rules and led to several new friendships and two memorable demonstration games at Newark in 2006 and 2007. These recreated the wonderful battles from 'Charge' byBrig. Peter Young and 'The Wargame' by Charles Grant.

I have had great fun with large regiments of singly based 30mm figures, but this has been at the risk of neglecting other ideas of the early wargames writers. I want to use my new project to look at less popular rules and writers such as Joe Morschauser and Neil Cogswill.

Friday 4 January 2008

This blog will be a chronicle of my wargaming activity in 2008. But first a look back to where it began for so many of us from my generation. 1966, a brand new copy of Don Featherstone's 'War Games' and a couple of boxes of Airfix. The dining room table for an hour or better still a patch of lino on the bedroom floor.

The photo is of Don Featherstone's Action in the Plattville Valley. I bought the original print from him some ten years ago. I also have the rubber buildings and SAE figures (well Spencer Smith actually) though it took me forty years to finally get them. I am now able to fight this battle again and I am free to start a new project for the New Year.