Friday, September 30, 2011

Strelets French Field Hospital

Strelets French Field Hospital from their now defunct French Army Camp set

I bought these figures ready painted from Mark Bevis of Micromark along with the rest of the set. They are quite crude and not as good as the current run of Strelets work, but they paint up well and Mark has done a good job here. All I did was dolly up the base a bit, though I may trim it later to reduce the footprint.

There are Memoir '44 rules for Field Hospitals, which are as follows.

"Hospital: An ordered infantry unit on a Hospital hex may recover lost figures, as long as no enemy unit is in an
adjacent hex, by applying the exact same procedure as a Medics & Mechanics Command card, but rolling 6 dice
instead. The unit cannot move or battle this turn, even if it is healed."

I think that might be a little generous and I think it reflects Provosts or MPs rousting out men who've carried wounded back to the hospital and sending them back to the line rather than Lazarus like recoveries. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence of straggler clustering around hospitals in the blackpowder period.

On the other hand, being next to an open air operating theatre where men are having their legs hacked off probably isn't too good for your spirits, so there is an argument for making troops more brittle in close proximity to one. How about this for size.

"Hospital: Whenever an infantry unit takes casualties, take one of the removed figures and place them in the hospital hex. These are straggler figures. An ordered infantry unit on a Hospital hex may recover lost figures, as long as no enemy unit is in an vadjacent hex, by applying the exact same procedure as a Rally Command card, but rolling 6 dice. The unit cannot move or battle this turn, even if it is healed. The replacement figures must be taken from the stragglers. Units in a Hospital hex do not count for supports."

Stretcher bearers, a duty traditionally performed by bandsmen

Field Hospitals are rarely feature in wargames. Funny Little Wars is the only set that I can think of where they appear and I suspect that may have had something to do with the author is an Army chaplain. Chaplains, if they are anything like the clergymen of my social circle, spend more time than they would like in hospitals.

Our hospitals and accident and emergency rooms are often bloody, but they certainly cannot compare to the squalidness and the horror of triage on the horse and musket battlefield. We're all familiar with the idea of amputation, but I've never come across a better evocation of the reality then Ed Zwick's Glory. This is clip , though it lacks gore, is not for the faint of heart.

The bloody business, the surgeon calls for his blades

I'm reading War and Peace at the moment and was put in mind of hospitals when Count Nikolai Rostov visits one.

"Close to the corner, on an overcoat, sat an old, unshaven, gray-bearded soldier as thin as a skeleton, with a stern sallow face and eyes intently fixed on Rostov. The man's neighbor on one side whispered something to him, pointing at Rostov, who noticed that the old man wanted to speak to him. He drew nearer and saw that the old man had only one leg bent under him, the other had been amputated above the knee. His neighbor on the other side, who lay motionless some distance from him with his head thrown back, was a young soldier with a snub nose. His pale waxen face was still freckled and his eyes were rolled back. Rostov looked at the young soldier and a cold chill ran down his back.

"Why, this one seems..." he began, turning to the assistant.

"And how we've been begging, your honor," said the old soldier, his jaw quivering. "He's been dead since morning. After all we're men, not dogs."

"I'll send someone at once. He shall be taken away—taken away at once," said the assistant hurriedly. "Let us go, your honor."

"Yes, yes, let us go," said Rostov hastily, and lowering his eyes and shrinking, he tried to pass unnoticed between the rows of reproachful envious eyes that were fixed upon him, and went out of the room."

Tolstoy probably saw his fair share of hospitals during his service in the Crimea and the Caucasus. I don't doubt that then as now, it was better not to be there.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Spanish/Portuguese Infantry

Hat Spanish Geurrillas, painted by Boomer

I've been building up my Spanish forces for a while now while we've been waiting for the Command & Colours: Napoleonics Spanish expansion, which apparently will be with us in late November. Even after pre-ordering I very much thought that I'll get my copy before Christmas, which curiously enough will mean that I'll get it at around the same time as I got Napoleonics last year.

These are all HAT chaps from their Spanish Guerrillas set. They are all in round hats and a variety of differant uniforms. I took the decision to paint them up in red and brown as it leaves them relatively flexible.

The chaps advancing through the garden, officer and musician from Kennington

If my Ospreys are correct, the Almeria Regiment wore this uniform from 1808 to 1811, while Mina's first regiment of Alva wore something very similar with white gaiters. The homespun brown and black round hat combination was also worn by Portuguese militia units towards the end of the Peninsula war. Consequently, they'll be doing duty as Spanish and Portuguese line infantry for a while. Eventually of course, I'll need to organise proper Portuguese line infantry, but these will do for the time being.

An American officer from Kennington's 1812 range,
he seems a reasonable match to some of the Portuguese uniforms I've seen

The Almeria Regiment was a two battalion regiment organised in 1808 from the third battalion of the Zaragoza regiment and the Volunteers of Granada. They took part in the defence of Barcelona in1808 and were heavily in Catalonia and Aragon.

They were wiped out by the French in fighting Taragona in 1811.

An American bugler from Kennington's 1812 range,
painted up as a gallant Spanish/Portuguese

Don Francisco Espoz y Mina had three battalions of uniformed guerrillas in his band, all of whom wore the black round hat and brown coats, but with gaiters and a colour coded facings red for the first battalion, green and yellow for the second and third.

The Ordenanza chaps were probably happy enough to have any uniform at all, but Rene Chartrand states that their uniform jackets were brown faced in a uniform colour.

This approach probably doesn't do much for the purist, but it allows me to bulk up my forces quickly and get games on the table.

Attribution: Most of the above was cribbed from the relevant Osprey's, both of which were written by Rene Chartrand.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why I like Overlord

A Hinton Hunt General Murat, as flamboyant as his real life counterpart
(click to embiggen)
(thanks to Clive of Vintage Wargaming)

In a recent post I described Overlord for Foy, but due to pressures of time and to avoid writing a small novel as a blog entry I just stuck to describing what Overlord is and how it is played.

And now to the rather more interesting question of why Overlord is such fun.

Command & Colours is a simple system. It is designed for speedy play and it succeeds admirably in that goal. But by the nature of the beast, there are omissions, morale is folded into the combat system, the cards are by necessity an abstraction, but all for all its faults it is a good game that demands tactical skill, rewards adherence to the principles of war and forces players to make choices.

One of the advantages of the simple rule set is that not only is it easily learned, but that it quickly falls away in play. I've internalised the rules so thoroughly at this stage that I can just play, focusing on what I want to do - rather than wrestling with the rules or trying to remember modifiers. That could be said of any game once you've played it often enough, but based on my own experience and with the honourable exception of Little Wars, I have never found a ruleset that was so friendly to beginners.

A Hinton Hunt Davout - out looking for Bernadotte

I have played more games of Command & Colours with more people, with less set up and more willingness on the part of the players to play again than any other game. Some of these players are people who would not otherwise play wargames, others are people who didn't play wargames when we started playing Command & Colours and have now branched out. I can count the number of times I've been short of someone to play with on the fingers of one nose.

All these factors conspire to eradicate two of the perennial problems of the wargamer.

1. Not having anyone to play with.
2. Not being able to finish a game because of time constraints.

A Hinton Hunt General Nansouty - this little metal fellow is likely prove a more pliant subordinate then the usual Overlord player and somewhat less sarcastic

These two factors make regular Overlord games possible, because a game with six players can be finished in under two hours and because the rules are so simple to pick up, it's not difficult to find six chaps who are willing to play.

And it's this broad base of players that make Overlord such an interesting experience because as Commander in Chief you often find yourself having to make judgements very early on about which sections of the battlefield are going to be important and where you want to put your strong players versus your weak players. Play often enough and you'll start thinking in terms of defensive and offensive players, who is lucky and who is not as well as who will grow petulant if not given enough cards or attention. Our lead brigadiers and plastic brigade majors are singularly pliable and trustworthy subordinates, Overlord on the other hand introduces an element of man management into the game.

One of my favourite games of Overlord was Donogh's Champions Hill game from Warpcon a few years ago. We played the scenario three times and on the second occasion I was the Commander in Chief of the Federal forces. In brief, the situation was as follows, the Rebels held a strong defensive position along a long rise with a road running behind them. We outnumbered them, but not massively so. I had been a Field General on a losing Federal team the previous day and I was determined not to repeat the experience. Our Commander in Chief led with a very loose rein and allowed his three subordinates to pelt the Rebel position with piecemeal attacks which the Rebels defeated by juggling their forces to create local superiority and hammering our attacks in detail.

There was no way I was going to allow this happen. I came up with a plan for a slow, careful advance on a broad front in order to rupture the Rebel defence by exerting pressure all along the line. I explained my plan which was accepted with much nodding of heads. This seeming acquiescence went out the window once battle was joined. The player on my left flank, lets call him Sickles for the sake of argument, advanced rashly and began to take fire from Rebel batteries, while the rest of the army was shaking itself out of column and into line.

I told him to pull back and he advocated making a rush for the guns. I starved him of cards until the rest of the army was in position, during which time he took casualties and grumbled a bit. I gave him his head a little so that he could clear out Rebel sharpshooters ahead of his position, but watched him carefully to make sure he didn't over extend himself.

Once the right wing had moved up and were in position to begin the assault, we advanced all along the line and shattered the Rebel defence. It was an exhausting experience, but incredibly rewarding not least because I had to keep the centre and right wing commander focused on the long game rather than chasing short term goals. The commander on the left required careful management because I'd no desire to offend him, but I was damned if I was going to let him throw the game away*.

Along the way we had to cope with muddled orders (a lack of the appropriate cards), a traffic jam on the approach roads and Steve's spirited counter attack on the Rebel right, but we did it in the end and I have rarely savoured a tabletop victory more.

There have been other great moments, not least

- standing over my pal Andrew, yelling "You will attack!" Eventually he did, it didn't win us the game but it certainly tore the guts out of a Rebel victory and made their position considerably less rosy in the next campaign game.

- nominating Steve to draw cards for us (because he's lucky) when the US Marines got hung up on the beaches during our Guam campaign and were facing total ruin. Steve managed to draw "Their Finest Hour" three times in a row - a 216,000 to 1 shot - and saved the day.

- turning my back on Savage for two turns and returning to discover that in the best traditions of the cavalry he'd charged forward with his Soviet tanks, seized the objective and was making the Germans pay bitterly for failing to occupy their own defensive position promptly. That prompted some pretty speedy rethinking of the plan I can tell you!

I find that this additional human element incredibly rewarding and I think it adds a great deal to the experience of playing a wargame, both as a game and as a social occasion. That isn't to say that element isn't achievable with other game systems, simply that Command & Colours supports it better than most.

I have yet to find a better way to get a group of friends around a table and playing games while still having time to chat and I've never had a more challenging wargaming experience than trying to convince three rugged individualists to all pull in the same direction at the same time.

*Not least because I've done as much myself as anyone who played our Antietam game can testify to.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Latest arrival

On a non-wargaming related note, here is some footage of our latest
arrival; Sir Harry Flashman VC. He's just all tuckered out.

You get some strange looks at the vet with that name I can tell you.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Ordenanza advancing through the garden
(click to embiggen)

We had a wargames evening the day before yesterday and managed to get five games in over the day. These were mostly Second World War engagements and we finished one Overlord game (albeit with only four players) of the Market Garden scenario.

I would have pictures up, but the cable for my camera seems to have gone walk about.

We did however get a Napoleonics game in, though one that ended poorly for the redcoats. It was the first Busaco scenario in the book and featured a unit of Portuguese militia. I had forgotten about these chaps and subbed in the Irlanda at the last minute, but thinking about it afterwards they were a very poor choice.

The above are HAT Spanish geurrillas which I'm using as Portuguese Ordenanza. The Ordenanza were a home guard of sorts and were called out in times of national peril. Made up of every able bodied male, they had no uniform and were were armed with a mixture of firearms, pikes, scythes, slash hooks and like manner of improvised weapons. If I recall correctly they were mainly useful for eating up provisions and murdering their officers for suspected treason, which they did with a regularity that makes for depressing reading.

In fact you can read about it here and here.

My Ordenanza are all armed with firearms as I haven't found the time to convert any chaps with pikes and I will probably be using them as guerrillas once the Spanish expansion arrives.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


An Example Overlord Board

In response to Foy's question, a brief outline of Command & Colours Overlord. I say Overlord because that's what we call it, the Ancients version is called Epic and the forthcoming Napoleonic version will be called Le Grande Bataille or some such similar Continental nonsense.

Well in brief - Overlord is a Memoir '44 variant game. The idea is that the players combine two sets of the basic game and set the boards side by side.

You can find the rules here.

Above you can see an example board set up for the battle of Prokhorovka. You can see that the three sections of the normal board are now six. The game can be played with six players, but ideally you should have eight, divided into two teams of three or four.

An Overlord game in full swing, in each case the Field General in the centre is playing the Commander in Chief.
In this case, Siskey the Commander in Chief, on the Soviet side is standing up to get a better view of the field

These teams are made up of three "Field Generals" and one "Commander in Chief". If you've six players, the Command in Chief also takes one of the Field General spots. Each Field General is responsible for a section of the battlefield. On the enlarged board, the two sections on the left (what would have been the left flank and centre section on the normal board) become the left flank, the two centre sections become the centre and so on.

The Commander in Chief draws a hand of cards, typically eight to twelve. He may give out up to three cards every turn, but only draws two at the end of his turn. He may give out those cards in any combination he wishes, one to each general, two to one and none to the others or however he wishes.

Cards are divided into two types, section and tactics cards. In Memoir '44, section cards are green, tactics cards are grey. For Napoleonics, we sort of determined which was which as we went along, but basically if a card does not refer to a specific section (left, centre, right) we treated it as a tactics card.

Field Generals may play one tactics card or two section cards (one in each of their sections).

I have been criticised as a somewhat "hands on" Commander in Chief

In the rules as written, the Field General must then play those cards, but we leave it their discretion. A Field General may choose to ignore the instructions of the CinC, but may find himself short of cards thereafter!

In Memoir '44 there is a rule called "Taking the initiative", whereby a Field General who find himself without cards can roll a die and move a unit of the type indicated. However, on a flag he must retreat a unit and on a grenade symbol a unit (selected by the player) must take a casualty. We've always deemed this overly punitive and used to allow a player to roll a die in each section, while discounting the flag and the grenade results.

For Napoleonics, I've taken a different tack and use the following rule.

On a turn when a Field General has not played a card, he may activate any unit attached to or adjacent to a Leader.
The Special Deck that comes with the Memoir '44 Overlord set

Normally we use a standard deck of cards with some changes to how the cards play. Days of Wonder did release a special Overlord deck with the changes on them, but for Napoleonics as it was our first game we just played with a standard deck and made up house ruling on the fly, based on what we'd previously done with Memoir '44.

Here's a quick list.

Section Cards
Scout cards - Played as written, but a Commander in Chief may pick up one additional card per Scout played. This is the only way he can prevent his hand size being eaten away.
Probe & Attack Cards - Played as written.
Assault Cards - Move a number of units equal to four plus number of Generals in the section.

Forward - Play as probe, but this card may be given to any Field General.
Flank Attack - Play as probe, but may be given to Field General commanding the right or left flank.
Similarly Coordinated Advance and Recon in Force, though Recon allows you to draw an extra card much like a Scout.

Tactics Cards

Bayonet Charge, Bombard, Cavalry Charge, Fire & Hold, Force Mach, Give them the Cold Steal (sic), Leadership, Le Grand Manoeuvre, Short of Supply. - Played as normal.

Counter-attack - played by the Commander in Chief directly from his hand, counts as whatever card it replaces.

First Strike - played by the Commander in Chief directly from his hand and immediately replaced. Doesn't not count as a card play.

Elan - played by the Commander in Chief directly from his hand. This is the only card played this turn. Each Field General rolls four dice and moves accordingly.

Rally - played by the Commander in Chief directly from his hand. This is the only card played this turn. Commander in Chief rolls dice equal to his hand size and distributes them as he wishes.

And that is a very short description of Overlord games, I think I'll go into why I like them so much in another post.

Roster Systems, Casualty Caps & How I do it.

Another picture of my Irlanda regiment painted by Mr E
Now based to match the rest of my collection
(click to embiggen)

Bob over at Wargaming Miscellany has been mulling over the possibilities of roster systems, casualty caps and other means of marking casualties in games. I hate casualty caps as I think they look awful and they cut at one of the main reasons I play games with toy soldiers in the first place; the beauty of the thing.

I dislike rosters, but it's an irrational aversion- there are plenty of games that make good use of them. The slips of paper always manage to migrate onto the table though and spoil the look of battalions of toy soldiers marching across the table.

The regiment deployed in full
(click to embiggen)

This collection of figures represents a unit made up of four blocks in the regular game. The sixteen men in the first two ranks represent one block, with the officer, NCO and drummer representing one block each. Astute observers will recognise this organisation from a popular old school wargaming classic.

The unit has taken one casualty and the drummer is removed, but with three "blocks" left the regiment still has plenty of fight left in it
(click to embiggen)

I use a visual roster system for my Command & Colours units which is based around three key ideas.

Point One - I wish to keep the greatest number of toy soldiers on the board for the longest period of time. I love the sight of them in serried ranks. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy playing with 20mm figures so much. They're big enough to be recognisable but still small and cheap enough that they can be used en masse.

Poor old Sergeant Darcy has copped it, reducing the regiment to a strength of two blocks
But what sort of dull fellow would humble those proud plumes with casualty caps?
(click to embiggen)

Point Two - The "visual roster" must be clear. Ambiguity in a game is fine, but it must be designed ambiguity. I may not know what cards my opponent is holding is fine, but having the playing piece working against you because it is unclear what the represent is a recipe for disaster. Not least because it can easily escalate in an accusation of cheating and there is nothing corrosive to the atmosphere of fun and good fellowship that I consider the hallmark of a good wargame.

A Frency bullet has ended another proud Jacobite line. Lieutenant O'Connor has been cut down, leaving the regiment teetering on one block, but with sixteen figures still on the field
(click to embiggen)

Three - the beauty of the figures must not interfere with the speedy playing of the game. I enjoy games, so much so that I want to play lots of them. I did once have grand plans for developing a system whereby the officer and NCO figures were placed around the unit in order to communicate to both players whether it was advancing, falling back, loading, etc. It was a nice idea and would have looked interesting. However, the added complication would have added significantly to the playing time without making the game play much more interesting.

To say nothing of the potential for confusion.

Speed is also one of the reasons I am so taken with my black metal plates, because the cut down the number of hand movements required to move a unit significantly. I don't mind taking time over decisions which are the interesting part of a game, but physically manipulating the playing pieces should take as little time as possible.

Alas! The Irlanda has been wiped out, leaving only Duggan, the casualty marker behind

(click to embiggen)

This approach is no more valid than any other, but it is the one I have adopted and I think my reasons are clear. My posting has been a little sparse of late as work has made rather more demands on my limited brain energy than usual, but I do have the inestimable advantage of having been asked some very interesting questions in the comments section of this blog which should provide the spur for a post or two.

But until then, goodnight.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Busaco, the calm before the storm

The chaps came over last week and we got a game of Command & Colours Napoleonics in. It was our first time trying the Overlord rules and rather than using any of the variants used based on Ancients, we used the Overlord for Memoir '44 and adapted them as we went along.

The chaps look over the field of battle,
From left to right Minion for Hire, General Du Gorman, Savage, Mr E & BRO

A brutal and licentious soldiery

The Battle of Busaco in 1810 was in many ways what could be considered a typical Wellingtonian battle. The Duke was retreating from the French after the fall of the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida. The Duke hid his army behind a hill while the French under Marshall Massena pelted it with columns. The columns made some progress until they were driven back by a British counter-attack. Ney hearing gunfire and assuming the attack had been a success, battered his troops to pieces in another attack and eventually the exhausted French withdrew.

You can read a proper account here.

Our game didn't quite work out like that

The French push forward on the right

French push forward on the left

The French attack on the left withers under an Allied counter attack
Mr E looks away in disgust as his counter attack falls apart
The Frogs mull over their assault while General Du Gourmand (Massena) turns to drink for inspiration

Mr E (Pack) turns to BRO (Wellington) for help with his disintegrating right

But to no avail, Savage with a typically Gallic gesture appeals to
General Du Gourmand for cards on the right

Savage pauses to put the boot into the British right

With the British right crushed and the left driven in, the redcoats slink away leaving the field to the Frog eaters

We played the Busaco scenario from the CCNapoleonics website. This is essentially the two scenarios from the basic book stuck together to form a whole. It was a lengthier process then we expected taking about two hours playing time, but it didn't flag at any point and the players were all engaged.

My main concern was a desire to test out a new wrinkle in the command rules. Most of the C&C games have a "taking the initiative" mechanic which involves rolling a die and moving a unit of the type indicated on the die. I have experimented with a rule which allows a player who does not play a card to activate a unit attached to or adjacent to a Leader. This seems to work well and it did mean that the players were thinking very carefully about where to put their Leaders.

I had anticipated adding a rule allowing each Leader to "lend" an activation to an ADC figure, but the players felt that in a six player game this was an additional complication that took more time than the added value warranted. After watching them play, I agree.

The score line of 7-13 was rather harsh on the British as a few lucky cavalry charges allowed them to pick off several weakened units while screening or withdrawing their own one or two strength units. The general feeling was that the scenario was relatively balanced and the game was closer than the score line indicated. However, I am going to have to work on some bespoke hills and sharpish if we're going to play it at Gaelcon.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


To the left

To the right

Shoot it up, shoot it up, it's alright*

Falklands sniper painted at last. I tried to think of something clever to do with the cape, but ended up painting it in DPM after all. I'm beginning to think that this chap isn't actually a fully qualified marksman, but a gifted amateur who due to unforeseen circumstances at the beginning of the Russian/Volgan invasion got his hands on a snipers rifle and had to quickly jury rig the rest of his kit.

The face paint was copied from an illustration in "Basic Battle Skills" and everything else was just sort of made up as I went along.

Note that like all soulless killers, Mr. Sniper is a ginger.

*With apologies to Claphams finest, the Stereo MCs.