Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Portable proxies on parade

Over the past few days, I've had the opportunity to use an hour here and an hour there to complete my paper Napoleonic Allied and French armies. These armies will stand in for the armies of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala in battles until the traveling/portable paper armies and metal standing armies for these two nations can be completed.

The mustering of these two finished armies marks quite a milestone for me. These are the first matched armies I've ever finished, in many, many years in this hobby. While working on these armies, I learned a lot about how to organize my time, how to break down a project into small, discrete steps, and how to keep my energy focused on completion. The temptation toward distraction was strong. Several times I nearly put these aside in order to start working on the metal armies for this imagi-nation campaign.

Without further mumbling, here are the two armies, mustered for your enjoyment and comment.

The armies, together, fit into a single plastic tray, with only minimal stacking of one unit atop another. To the fore we have the French army, with the Allies to their rear. The long compartment on the right holds the tools of paper miniature making: double-sided tape (much handier and friendlier to water-soluable printer inks than glue), a good pair of nail scissors, a straight-edge for folding, and a razor knife. Both of these latter are hidden beneath a bag of spare artillery figures and some unassembled command figures.

Also in there are some as-yet unfinished infantry units. These armies are now (almost...see below) large enough to fight any of the scenarios in Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames," and, therefore, are plenty large enough. The unfinished units may be added later, to allow me build the armies large enough to refight Quatre Bras, should the Napoleonics bug bite in the future.

The plan is to buy a compartmented, hinge-topped, plastic storage tray in which these two armies will be stored, and safely travel with me on business trips. The plastic tray you see here is one of my "project in progress" trays, used to keep a project organized and easily un-shelved for work as time permits.

The Allied army. The British and one brigade of the KGL are in the foreground, the British Guards behind them. Behind the Guards is the Brunswick Corps. On the right flank are the Dutch (front) and Hanoverian (rear) complements. As you can see, there are only two brigades of cavalry (one Dutch, one Brunswicker). So, OK, the army isn't quite large enough to play all of the Grant scenarios yet. I'll need to create, print and assemble three more Allied cavalry units to really be done, but these are all I had, as these units were originally made for the Napoleonic Quatre Bras project.

The British Corps. Line infantry, including one brigade of the KGL and one of Highlanders, supported by their artillery. The Guards are in line behind. The Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied army, with his aide, can be seen behind the front line. The Brunswick Corps is formed up to the rear of the Guards.

The Brunswickers, in a bit more detail. For some reason, when I created these units, I neglected to give the 2nd (line) Brigade a standard. An oversight, to be sure, as every other unit has one. Some day, I may correct this.

The massed French army. The Grand Battery formed to the front, Ligne and Legere infantry behind, and the Cavalry formed at the rear.

French Ligne (Line) infantry, with two brigades of Legere (Light) infantry behind. The French didn't form brigades exclusively of Legere battalions. I chose to use Legere figures for those brigades dominated by light infantry battalions (the 1st Brigade, 5th Division, and the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, at Quatre Bras). I may choose to represent Grant's Light Infantry units with these brigades.

The massed guns of the French Grand Battery. It's almost impossible to tell, in this picture or in person, but the last battery in the line has a heavy 12# cannon. I need to find a way to quickly distinguish heavy batteries from field batteries from horse batteries. I toyed with using the number of crew figures to distinguish them (5 = heavy, 4 = field, 3 = horse), but three figures and a cannon on the base looked puny, especially as the light 6# cannon are noticeably smaller. I may simply mark the back of each stand with the battery type.

The French Cavalry. Carabiniers, two Brigades of Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Chasseurs and Lanciers. Which is an odd mix for Quatre Bras. Frankly, I don't remember what I was thinking when I made these units up. But, they'll work very nicely for the purposes of these battles.

Coming soon, some shots of these units upon the hexagonal Chessex field of battle given so generously to me by a friend. And then, with luck, a game!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A lull in the movements of the armies

I was supposed to travel last night, and spend a fruitful night in a hotel room trying out my new portable wargame, but unfortunately the trip was cancelled. It may be just as well, really, as spare time has been very hard to come by, and my armies are completely absent of artillery at this moment.

Tonight I may have time to finish the guns, however. If fortune smiles on me, this will mark quite a milestone. This will be, as odd as this may sound, the first time I've completed a matched pair of wargaming armies.

The armies will have units sufficient to fight almost all of the scenarios in Charles Grants "Scenarios for Wargamers," except for a few cavalry units on the British side. This lack stems from the origin of these figures. I created them in order to refight the battle of Quatre Bras, using one stand to represent each brigade of infantry or cavalry, and one stand per battery of artillery. The British and Allied army had only two cavalry brigades at Quatre Bras, the cavalry of the Brunswick Corps, and the Dutch 3rd Light Brigade. I plan to add a few more units of cavalry once I have time to create them. Some British Light Dragoons and Hussars, and perhaps a unit of Horse Guards, would be nice additions.

I hope to have pictures of these armies up on the blog here in the next few days. And perhaps, spare time providing, a battle between the mock-forces of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala, before long. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The 18th century, in paper

Work continues to assemble by British and French Napoleonic paper miniatures, for use during my upcoming business trip. They will stand in for the forces of Formulgala and Baden-Hundsheim in a border skirmish scenario of some kind. An affair of little importance in the political situation between the two powers. Or is it? Might it instead be the tipping point, plunging the two nations into open warfare?

In the meantime, I spent a little time this weekend beginning some 18th century paper miniatures, so that future traveling games will look much closer to my vision for these armies. And, these figures make nice color studies, informing my choices about the paint I'll eventually put on their little metal counterparts. As a starting point, I used the line drawings available on the Prince August website. These illustrations form part of the catalog for their Holger Eriksson line of molds for 40mm semi-flat miniatures. With their kind permission, I thought I'd share the work-in-progress so far.

Baden-Hundheim infantry

The regulars are simply the Prince August line drawings, with layers of color added. The Grenadier command figures are simple digital "head swops" using the marching grenadier's head. The "Turkish" infantry use the drawings as a base, but have been heavily modified by myself. The drum comes from the cavalry drummer drawing. Note that I plan to use the infantry office figure, with different colors applied of course, for the officer of Grenadier battalions. I may use him as the officer for the "Turkish" battalions as well (I really MUST come up with a name for the "Turkish" province to the south of Baden-Hundsheim), or create a more characteristically Turkish officer figure, depending on how the story of these Southern borderlands plays out. Are they well integrated into the Baden-Hundsheim political machine, and therefore lead by their own loyal officers? Or are they provincial troops, led by officers of the Baden-Hundsheim nobility? I haven't decided yet.

Baden-Hundheim cavalry, from a Prince August line drawing.

Formulgalan Artillery. All figures based on Prince August line drawings.

Baden-Hundsheim Artillery.

I'm not too keen on the lavender gun carriages. I'll probably change those. I may add an officer to each battery as well, from the Prince August standing officer drawing.

Feedback very welcome indeed. Oh, and I should mention that I'm not dead set on the purple uniforms. I'm going to make up a set of these in the brown scheme as well, and see which I prefer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"I have always depended on the kindness..."

of good friends (to paraphrase Mae West).

A very close friend gave me a really amazing gift, after reading my post on creating a portable wargame: a large vinyl Chessex game mat, with hexes on one side and squares on the other, a set of dry-erase markers, and a set of game dice in purple to match the uniform coats of Baden-Hundsheim.

I'm deeply touched. This gift was thoughtful and supporting and very, very much appreciated.

And, the timing was perfect. I just learned that I'll be heading out on an overnight business trip in a couple of weeks. An excellent opportunity to bring the new mat and try a game on the go.

To that end, what little gaming time I have has been put toward finishing my paper Napoleonic figures. They're already printed and ready to be assembled, which puts them well ahead of the 18th century paper miniatures I'm working on (more on that soon). So, for now, Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala will take to the field in red and blue.

Thank you, my dear friend. I appreciate this gift more than I can say.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Formations, revisited

In a comment on my recent post about unit sizes, Ross mentioned that most of the time his units average three stands, for his Hearts of Tin games. Something about that comment got me thinking, and I believe I've struck on a revelation.

For infantry, at least, I'd like to be able to keep a consistent unit size throughout a game. Removing stands, with its resulting reduction in frontage, just feels and looks strange to me. I mentioned in that previous post that I might form my units as four stands of six, and place individuals at the back in order to indicate unit strength. For Heart of Tin, this would be 1-5 figures. For The Portable Wargame (using Ross's mod for unit quality) it would be 1-3 figures.

I had planned to use units of thirty figures, in five stands, including a command stand. For most of my units that command stand featured a mounted commander, a standard bearer or two, and a drummer or two. So suppose I did something like this:

Reduce the command stand to the standard bearer(s) and perhaps the drummer(s), filling in the other spots on the stand with musketeers. Form each unit in four stands of six figures, including this command stand. Mount the commander and four musketeers on individual stands.

The mounted commander and up to four musketeers would be placed behind the four main stands of the unit, denoting unit strength. As strength points are lost, individual musketeers are removed.

In the end, the unit will still consist of 25-29 figures on the table (this is the realization that suddenly struck me as I read Ross' comment, for some reason), and will only shrink minutely as morale degrades and casualties are taken. For The Portable Wargame, I can still field the figures as two units of two stands each, and use the individuals to represent unit strength (though I'd need an additional musketeer if, by chance, both units were rated as elite, with three strength points each). And, I can use the individually mounted musketeers of skirmish games.

I'm going to have to attempt to put a unit like this on the table next to the other options and see which I prefer. And, I'll need to decide what to do about cavalry and artillery. But this sounds promising.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I have only just discovered that, not only are there real towns named Baden and Hundsheim, but they are only thirty-three miles apart.

I thought I was being funny. It was intended as a (not particularly witty) play on "bad dog," and here I find that I've gone and named one of my two countries after a real place.

Oh, for Pete's sake.

On creating a truly portable wargame

Last year (2011), Bob Cordery spent considerable effort developing his rules for The Portable Wargame. The genesis of these rules was the desire to create a set of figures, terrain and rules that would let him bring an entertaining game along wherever he went.

In the course of my job, I have reason to travel now and then. Not much, but occasionally. And, I have three children whom I love dearly, and who are the focus on my time and attention, but who leave me little spare time to set up a game and play it out. So, when Bob starting working through various designs, I paid close attention with an eye toward leveraging those rare evenings in a hotel room.

Bob's work has created a set of rules that are flexible, deliver a fun game, and are malleable to suite one's own tastes and preferred time period. Ross MacFarlane has spent a great deal of virtual ink writing about his experiments and modifications to these rules. Within the list of labels on his blog, click on "portable game" to find yourself several evenings' worth of entertaining rules experimentation. Bob's own blog has his own thoughts on the development of the rules, of course. I've tried these rules out on paper, using printed maps and "counters" made from cut up Post-It notes. But even without a proper tabletop test or two, I'm convinced that these rules will work quite nicely for games on the road.

So, there remain the questions of terrain and toy soldiers. Miniatures would seem to be problematic. They can be heavy and, of course, are prone to damage. My solution won't be for everyone.

For some time, I've been collecting and occasionally designing paper miniatures. Most often these are two-dimensional "figures" consisting of two printed images (front and back) glued together. Sometimes these are mirror images of each other, showing a figure from the side.

Patrick Crusiau has a wonderful collection of paper miniatures, useful primarily for skirmish wargames and role playing games. He also makes 15mm Napoleonic paper soldiers geared toward mass battles. I've taken his images, which are available for free from his web site, and some derived from these by others, then modified them to create units of Napoleonic infantry, cavalry and artillery. These units are very durable. Throw them loose into a plastic, lidded storage box and you can carry them on board your plane or put them in your checked luggage without worry.

These are, as I've said, Napoleonic figures. But I like the look of these massed units well enough to try my hand at creating Baden-Hunsheim and Formulgala armies. Sometime soon, perhaps. If I do, I'll find a way to post the files here, in case you're interested in using them yourself. Meanwhile, if I travel before finding time to create those more appropriate armies, don't be surprised to find my British and French Napoleonics proxied for the noble armies of my two imagi-nations.

As for terrain, Ross has played a few games on Hotz game mats, printed with 3" hexes. These look quite good, and can be folded and tucked into a suitcase easily. I rather like the look of Ross' own painted game boards, onto which he's marked the vertices of hexes. I imagine I could make my own game mat using suitable fabric, spray paint, and a paint pen or something. Either will work well for a travel game.

I plan to denote woods by filling hexes with 2.5D paper model trees. Built-up areas will be marked with paper model buildings. Or, these hexes may be surrounded with flat profiles of buildings (like these), allowing the units to be placed inside. This is attractive, as these profile pieces can be folded flat for storage. Representing elevation is tricky, and a problem I haven't solved yet. I could create elevation by bunching up bedding or placing books beneath the game mat, or I could find a way to create portable "hills" to bring with me. Any suggestions you might have would be very welcome.

So, with a few dice, a folded game mat, a plastic storage box full of paper miniature units and terrain, a copy of The Portable Wargame and a scenario from Charles Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames," "Programmed War Games Scenarios" or his Table Top Teasers in my suitcase, I should be able to get a game set up, played and torn down between checkin and bed time.

I'll keep you posted.

On formations

Before long, the paint will start flying. The piles of bare lead (and pewter) will be transformed into serviceable soldiers. And I'll have to make final decisions about how to base them up.

The decision starts with rules, and the kinds of games I want to play in this campaign setting. The look and feel I am after, primarily, is a table full of large, ranked and uniformed infantry battalions, cavalry regiments and artillery batteries. Massed battles. Yes, I'm interested in skirmish (1 figure = 1 combatant) wargaming as well. But it's a secondary goal within this campaign. At least for now.

Three sets of rules are contending for my gaming attention at the moment. The first is Hearts of Tin, from Ross MacFarlane (for much more, please see his excellent blog, in my list of links). These rules call for infantry and cavalry units consisting of three to five bases, of consistent but not restricted size. The second is The Portable Wargame, by Bob Cordery. His rules allow units to be organized in any way at all, so long as a unit fits within a hex on the Morschausen-inspired game table. Finally, I'd like to give Volley and Bayonet a try. For these rules, units are formed on large, square bases.

In order to be able to play any of these rules with my collection, I plan to assemble my units as follows.

Infantry battalions will be formed in units of thirty figures, based on five stands of six figures each. The figures will be based in two lines of three, on 30mm square bases. For Hearts of Tin, the units will be fielded as they are. For The Portable Wargame, units will consist of two of these bases (so, twelve figures). Two Portable Wargame units can be fielded from each Hearts of Tin unit, with an eye toward taking advantage of some alternative rules Ross MacFarlane experimented with for keeping units from the same parent formation together. For Volley and Bayonet, four of the five stands will be placed in a deep column, two by two.

Cavalry regiments will be formed in units of ten figures, again based on five 30mm square bases, with two figures per base. Units for The Portable Wargame and Volley and Bayonet will be fielded as for the infantry.

Artillery batteries will be formed in units of two guns, each on a 30mm square base (assuming they fit...I need to experiment with this). Each battery of two stands will form a single unit for both Hearts of Tin and The Portable Wargame, and will be placed on a 60mm square sabot base for Volley and Bayonet.

That's the plan, as it stands now. However, I am considering reducing the number of infantry stands and cavalry stands per unit from five to four. I hesitate, because I don't have enough experience with Hearts of Tin to know whether I will regret being able to field five-strong units. And because I want my units to be quite large and formidable on the table. Thirty figures just look better than twenty-four.

However, using twenty-four infantry per battalion has two advantages. I have several units for which I have only twenty-four figures anyway. And, for those for which I have thirty, this will free up figures for use in skirmish wargaming, based singly. Finally, I may wish to reflect casualties by placing individual figures behind my massed ranks and removing them (one per "base" lost in Hearts of Tin, or per strength point if using an alternate rule for unit quality in The Portable Wargame) instead of whole stands. This would preserve the look of the unit until it routs away in disgrace, rather than seeing it dwindle strangely in size and frontage.

More experimentation is required to come to final approach.

New recruits have arrived

Thanks to a friendly Bartertown trader, the ranks of both the Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgalan armies are beginning to swell.

This afternoon I took possession of enough unpainted 15mm figures to field five new battalions of infantry, including two of grenadiers and one of pandours (who may be painted as "turkish" recruits from Baden-Hundsheim's Southern reaches...they do look a fair bit like the Ottoman Nizam-e-Cedid already in the ranks). Also in the box were enough horsemen to field three regiments of cavalry (after doing a few head-swops) and enough guns and crew to add eight pieces of artillery to the collection (four to each army). Four of the five infantry battalions will be somewhat short-handed, consisting of four stands of six figures each rather than the usual five stands, but they will serve well. And I have no doubt that what the grenadiers lack in numbers they will make up in stature and bravado.

As an added bonus, some of these new figures were, unexpectedly, Jeff Valent "Washington's Wars" infantry in an advancing pose. As noted in a previous post, these figures already make up the bulk of my Formulgalan army. What a nice surprise it was to find myself in position to add another battalion.

More as the raw recruits become properly uniformed and taught to stand in their ranks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dressing the Troops

As I mentioned in a prior post, one of the primary reasons for setting my campaign in the 18th century is the opportunity to paint my toy soldiers in bold, colorful uniforms. But, and this is an essential point, which colors?

I wanted colors that looked martial. But not colors immediately associated with a certain nationality. Prussian blue, British red and French white, for instance. I wanted colors that would work with a fairly wide variety of facing/cuff colors as well.

As it happens, I've been down this path before. Some years ago, I had a try at a campaign set in a fictional colonial land created by Donald Bailey. I chose the small country of Nerdistan for my adventures and games, and proceeded to paint up some 20mm WWI Serbian figures from HaT for my games. The army consisted of Nerdistani regulars, and more war-worn mercenaries from their border provinces (sound familiar?). The regulars worn purple and white, with red accents. The mercenaries worn middle brown and tan, again with red accents.

Nerdistani Regulars
Mercenary Infantry - Nerdistan campaign
My apologies for the quality of these pictures. I've learned a lot about photographing miniatures since then. Suffice to say the real miniatures weren't nearly so high contrast, and the purple tunics on the regular were a fair bit richer, the red quite a lot stronger too.

I was quite happy with the blend of martial and unique that these color choices gave me then, so I thought I'd give them a try in the 18th century as well. I was more confident with the chances of purple working well, so I tried that first.

I think those look rather smart, really. My long prior experience and study of Napoleonic uniforms makes that first set look more martial than the second, but it's clear that the armies of the mid-18th century could be found wearing all manner of colors on their cuffs. So, given than I need infantry battalions from more than three regiments in the Baden-Hundsheim army, these will see the field as well. I'm quite happy with these uniforms (though I may well change the facing-color cockades for a more uniform white or purple throughout).

Next up were some experiments with the brown scheme I'd used for the Nerdistan mercenaries.

I do like these well enough. In particular, I like the use of the brown tricorns to underline the brown theme, and the buff pants for the same reason. My main complaint, and it's a serious one, is that these uniforms look a bit too much like those of some American Continental units of the American Revolution. Especially the first row.

And so, I cast my net wider. I opened the color palette in my favorite graphics (which, of course, just happened to be open while I was coloring these uniforms in) and started poking around in it. Middle gray seemed a likely uniform color. Darker than the Swedes of the Great Northern War, but light enough to be clearly gray in 15mm, not read by eye as highlighted black.

I love these. Once I'd done the coats and turnbacks, I was already certain I'd found the colors for my Formulgala units. So, in a nod to the Seven Years War Russian uniforms, and because it looked quite nice, I colored the waistcoats and breeches red. I like these very, very much.

So there you have it. The Baden-Hundsheim regulars will be dressed in royal purple, while the Formulgala standing army will wear middle gray. At least for the infantry. Well, for most of the infantry. Regulars, that is.

You see one of the wonderful things about inventing your own nations is that anything goes. The artillery may well wear a different color than the infantry. The cavalry, or at least some units of the cavalry, may well be dressed more in accordance with the whim and personal style of their commanding officers than in any sense of national dress. And then there are the irregulars.

More on all of these, as things develop. For now, however, it's time to start painting infantry.

Sidenote: the templates for these uniform plates were found on the wonderful website "Not By Appointment," a vast and rich collection of Seven Years War uniform information and templates like these.

On Toy Soldiers

So, having decided to create two imagi-nations, and to fight a campaign (or more than one? Time will tell) between them, what about the toy soldiers that will fight these battles?

One could describe the recruitment of soldiers for this campaign and the creation of the states of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala as a chicken-and-the-egg story. Which came first? Well, both.

First came the project idea itself. The decision to embark on this wargaming adventure. Then, with an eye toward the project, I started examining the piles of miniatures I've amassed over the years in this hobby. Many years ago, I chanced upon a real find at a local game store. This game store has a "bits bin" and buys your old miniatures cheap, then dumps them in the bin and sells them less cheap, but still very inexpensively. And, should you happen to find anything in the bin that doesn't come from one of the most popular games in our hobby, you may well be lucky enough to strike a blind patch in the clerk's knowledge of going rates. Sometimes this works in your favor, as it did for me in this case, and sometimes they'll quote you a price above retail out of ignorance. That's ok. They're good people and willing to listen.

So, one afternoon, I poked my head into the store and looked into the bins, discovering a plastic baggie chock full of American Revolutionary War figures in 15mm from a vendor I didn't recognize. I took a few up to the counter and asked the price, not knowing what to expect. "How about $0.05 each," the clerk said. I tried not to grin too large, and returned to grab the bag and hunt for all of the loose figures that had escaped into deeper recesses of the bin.

I left the store that afternoon with a large collection of figures from Jeff Valent's "Washington's Wars" line (sadly unavailable anymore, so far as I can tell), including line infantry, light infantry, artillery and officers, for about $30. Score.

About a year later, I toyed with the idea of running an American Revolution campaign, and traded for some more of these figures on Bartertown, adding a few packs of Musket Miniatures Continentals to round out the gaps. I had enough, then, for two good sized armies, as well as supporting units of Hessians and French.

And then the project languished. I don't call my other blog "Ramblings of a Distracted Wargamer" for nothing.

Then along came this idea. I dug through the collection, and found that a number of the figures had, rather than the usual "two-and-a-half cornered hat" so common during the American Revolution, more useful proper tricorns. I pulled them out, along with the Hessian grenadiers, because they look great and properly Germanic, and added to this pile the various officers and some tricorned artillery crew with their guns.

And here's where the chicken-and-the-egg part comes in. I'd also collected, at one time or another, Napoleonic Ottoman Turks. I remembered those figures now (actually, I woke up in the middle of the night with this in my mind) and went through that collection looking for likely additions to my budding collection. I have a weakness for adding character to collections through the inclusion of irregular formations. I had two units' worth of Minifigs Nizam-e-Cedid infantry and three cavalry regiments' worth of Spahi and Mamluke cavalry. This made the inclusion of a "Turkish" neighbor country and "Germano-Turkish" border provinces a natural fit within the campaign.

About this time, I sent an inquiry out into the gaming community by posting a request on Bartertown, and by emailing the members of my local gaming group. Surprise, surprise, serendipity struck. One Bartertownian had SYW Russian infantry, cavalry and artillery to sell at a friendly price. A local friend let me know that he had some cossack cavalry and possible infantry he'd be willing to part with. And so the inspirational notes behind the Formulgalan army's battle hymn were struck.

So, as you seen I hope, the miniatures inspired the national character of the two imagi-nations who will contest for honor and territory in my little self-made world. And the character of these two countries will further influence the purchase of additional figures to fill out the ranks of the armies. For instance, I plan to add some Napoleonic Moscow Militia, with their tall hats, pikes and muskets to the Formulgalan army before long. I do so like irregular formations. But then I've mentioned that.

More to come soon, discussing the painting style I plan to use, and the particulars of unit formation and basing that will turn this pile of lead and pewter into standing armies.