Points to Ponder

Historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions using points systems for balance. What is your preference? Over recent weeks I’ve listened to a few podcasts and YouTube videos where various people have articulated their preferences, sometimes with clearly strong views. A theme has been a dislike for points systems almost always linked to competition formats. But is it as simple as that?

In a previous post I mentioned that I have no interest in competition games these days. Without doubt this is a result of my experience with overly competitive players, both during and before the game. A hallmark of such players, apart from their “in game” antics, are customised lists tuned to give every benefit possible. In my view these customised armies are a far cry from an historic general’s challenge of making do with the troops available. That said if you have a good group of players then competitions can provide an excellent means of playing games, at least against a group of likeminded players. I do recall several excellent events in the past. But if competitions are out for me then what do I base my games around?

Above, an historical refight of the small Battle of Teugn-Hausen from 1809, all without a hint of points.

I have refought several historical battles of the Napoleonic or American Civil War periods, as well as a few others from other periods. Reading historical accounts, modelling the terrain and deploying the armies can, I find, be immensely satisfying. How did terrain impact the battle, what determined a particular strategy? All these factors combine to help me further understand an historical battle. Unfortunately I can only refight so many historical battles, and of course the preparation time can be significant.

Campaigns have a strong draw. Historical campaigns have the same appeal as historical refights, yet my experiences suggest a successful campaigning can deliver terribly unequal battles, which are not particularly satisfying. I’m of the view that campaign mechanics must be simple providing a narrative for a scenario game, or be played as a seperate campaign in an evening, likely as a board game.

These days the majority of my tabletop games are scenario based. Yet scenarios can be challenging to develop. How do you create a tactical problem that is generally balanced, interesting and of course challenging?

Here, a Seven Years War set piece engagement developed using a scenario.

One option is scenario books. I have found some published scenarios have produced very interesting battles. Yet, sometimes the terrain or force requirements are challenging to replicate, reducing the number of scenarios that can be played. If the scenario book is too generic they are at level that doesn’t interest me. I am for example interested in the larger battle. So five Napoleonic regiments capturing a bridge doesn’t normally interest me. So, if scenario books are not always of use what do I do?

Well, if the scenario designer has done his job correctly he has somehow balanced the scenario, assuming he wants to provide a tactical challenge with an equal chance of success for each side. Here for me is the clue.

Above, Cold War West Germans await the arrival of a Soviet attack. In this game there was considerable difference in points budgets between the attacker and defender.

The majority of scenarios I play have been developed by scenario system either as part of the rules, or as a close addition. Particular examples are the well designed system within Volley & Bayonet and my own system for Spearhead. To help balance the scenario both examples use points systems.

Does this bring me full circle? I mean points and the inherent optimisation they bring are the very problem with competitions aren’t they? Well I don’t think so. I feel points systems can be a useful tool to help balance a scenario. However, that only works if players do not restrict themselves to the same points budget or composition in each game.

The most obvious means of variation is to changing your army composition creating variation. For example using more or less cavalry or different battalion formations. Alternatively you could use a fewer points than your opponent, giving him an advantage. Montrose didn’t seemed that concerned by points budgets. Perhaps different budgets can be used between games. Such a change certainly creates different force structures and therefore challenges. In my view all add variety and tactical interest, much like historical battles.

This of course has been something of a long rambling post. However, in summary I believe points can be a useful tool to balance scenarios. They need not always be associated with competitions.

Before I sign off I must ask, is your preference historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions and of course, why?

Battles on Small Tables

We frequently play reasonably large Volley & Bayonet games, often involving two or more corps. Occasionally we play large games with several corps on each side. However, recently an opponent and I thought we would try playing remotely using Skype. As a result I thought it best to try a smaller game on equally small table. After a little thought Mollwitz was selected. With around 20,000 troops per side, as well as a small physical battlefield, measuring just 2’ x 2’ in our ground scale, it seemed ideal.

After building a snow covered battlefield the miniatures were deployed for what was a fascinating engagement. A summary of the first game can be found here. A week later we refought Mollwitz again. This time I recorded a summary of the game as a video. For those so inclined it can be found here.

More recently we deployed the miniatures again, but this time for a Napoleonic encounter. The battle selected was an old favourite, specifically, Teugn-Hausen from the 1809 Campaign. Again a relatively small table is required, measuring 3’ x 2’.

This battle, while still small, was more complex to refight due to the terrain – a particularly complex wooded ridge and various reinforcements throughout the battle. Despite these additional complexities it proved rewarding and closely followed the historical battle. I have compiled another short video report which can be found here.

Now it’s time to think of something suitable for our next remote game. Ideally it needs to be fought on a reasonably small battlefield with limited troops…

The Year Ahead

Well, I am really pleased with the painting and games I’ve managed last year. Armies have grown and some stirring games have been played. Not a minor achievement in a challenging year where the pandemic has rolled on while also changing employer. Yet somehow January has come and gone. How it disappeared so quickly I’m not really sure. Worse those minor wargaming projects I had planned to action over January have also failed to be started, never mind completed. This of course provides a degree of concern for other projects being considered for the year.

So what are these projects for the year I hear you ask? Well I feel this year I really do want to complete some additional historical refights. Some require only minor additions to the miniatures I have, others a little more work. All are in 6mm, which increasingly is my focus. Here is my current list, subject to change of course…

Firstly, I must completing the terrain project required for the American Civil War Battle of Stones River (1862). December will mark the 160th anniversary so there is some time. In addition a stocktake is required to determine what other minor painting is required for a couple of other battles of the Civil War in 1862, including Second Manassas and Antietam.

Next is completing the Seven Years War Austrians required for Kolin. The Austrian army is certainly playable but with a little more focus I should be able to complete the last infantry and cavalry required to expand the army to that needed for Kolin. There is a degree of satisfaction that the SYW Prussians were completed last year, so surely I can assemble the paint brushes for a final push on the Austrians. There is a possibility I may get distracted with some terrain for a minor battle of the period. Distractions are so dangerous.

Finally, I must return to the Hundred Days project. With the Prussian reinforcements having arrived a couple of months ago from Heroics & Ros there needs to be a focus on at least completing one more Prussian Corps this year. Clearly I need to do some planning on this. The additional Prussians will of course be so useful for 1813 games, that at least is what I’m telling myself as I write this.

This all sounds like a busy year. It would however be remiss of me to ask about your projects. So, what are they?

Over the Western Front

With Christmas fast approaching my opportunities for gaming this year are disappearing. It seemed only fitting to squeeze in our end of year Wings of Glory encounter, locally known as “Snoopy’s Christmas”.

During the evening three scenarios were played out. The first involved a more traditional dogfight with Spads involved in a desperate dogfight somewhere over the front. While the Spads sport interesting colour schemes they really lack manoeuvrability! Next was an unusual scenario that found several two seaters battling it out. In part this was designed to provide one player an opportunity to deploy one of his new two seater German aircraft.

Above, a Breguet 14, one of Alastair’s favourite aircraft, along with a Bristol Fighter concentrate on a Roland. A UFAG fluffs around in the background, the pilot determined to not become involved in a head to head encounter with the more powerful enemy.

The final scenario was based around a reconnaissance mission with each side comprising a two seater and an fighter escort.

Above, a rather colourful Hannover CL.III. Below, the other aircraft in the form of an R.E.8, Spad XIII and Fokker DrI.

The lesson learned here by the German pilots was watch out for the R.E.8. It seemed, on this occasion at least, to be very effective!

Despite my Spad, UFAG and finally Fokker failing to achieve much it was another fine evening of gaming. Snoopy’s Christmas, with Wings of Gory, is a great way to mark the end of an enjoyable gaming year.

Epic Napoleonic

Well, what an interesting couple of weeks there have been with the announcement that Warlord Games are releasing their new “Epic Napoleonic” range. Which for those not aware are a range of 13mm high miniatures in plastic often cast in strips. The range is rather proprietary, being at odds with most existing figure ranges. The intent of course is to make larger games more accessible with many more figures on a table. The announcement can be found here. I do enjoy reading marketing announcements which identify something as “new”.

Well, so what will the gamer planning on fighting epic Napoleonic games receive. Well, it seems a great range of bundles covering everything a wargamer could possibly want. There will be British and French infantry supported by cavalry and artillery. There will even be an instant sandpit and fruit trees. All will be available from 2022. It seems we must wait for some Germans just like Wellington had to. As to Austrians, Russians and all those other colourful armies, they may or may not appear.

In the meantime I will clearly have to make do with deploying my existing 6mm miniatures for battle as illustrated here. Fortunately my collection does include Austrians, Russians and Prussians.

The news of the release however has seen plenty of posts on the internet, well in the little corner that I frequent. Opinions of course are varied. A few comments by 28mm players seem to show disappointed by the announcement. Some point out that there is little figure variation while others that the range is too narrow or the choice of the Hundred Days Campaign is flawed. The cynic in me can’t help wonder if some feel abandoned by their plastic supplier of choice who once made 25mm, or was that 28mm, affordable. Now perhaps they have been abandoned as a new money making venture dawns on the horizon.

My reading suggests a number of 15mm gamers are equally perplexed. Having long decried the 28mm market as being overpriced a number seem drawn to the perceived cost advantages of plastics, but being clearly heavily invested in their existing figures are, no doubt, cautious to adopt something “new”. Others point to the cunning marketing machine that will replace the initial “cheap” plastics with specialist figures in resin or metal.

I’ve not yet seen much discussion in 6mm groups regarding the announcements. I’m not sure if this is because 6mm proponents don’t feel threatened or because they are accepting that 6mm Napoleonics is already something of a niche. Then perhaps 6mm gamers are more focused on scale creep between the existing 6mm manufacturers, where an increase of just one milimetre equates to around a 16% “scale“ variation.

From my perspective I don’t feel at all threatened by the announcement. Napoleonic wargaming has always been diverse with more rules and scales than one can imagine. I generally see variety as being a good thing, it is after all a diverse hobby, though I become frustrated at the religious fervour sometimes adopted. Some will see Warlord’s range as an affordable way to refight larger games, which is positive.

However, I suspect that the additional figures which likely will become available will stretch the affordability equation. In addition the realisation that painting several thousand figures is an investment in time, perhaps a greater investment than initially considered. I am less impressed by the proprietary basing, which I think threatens to reduce the long term reusability of the figures. But then the Black Powder rules have been around for a while and are enjoyed by many so perhaps that’s a mute point.

Now while I won’t be buying any of the figures I will be watching the Warlord announcements play out on social media. At the same time I shall continue to happily paint 6mm Napoleonics drawn from my well stocked lead mountain.