Category Archives: Editorial

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?

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.

The Ideal Wargame

Over recent weeks I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a few games against a range of opponents. Each game has provided plenty of challenges and more than a little inspiration. These games have ranged in size from relatively small encounters to some with a couple of thousand figures. Over the same period I have been mulling over various comments and game photos on the internet. These range from the merits of large games with thousands of 28mm figures, to small games using 6mm or 15mm played on small tables. I’ve also read of players considering their return to competition wargaming after experiencing a pandemic enforced break.

As is to be expected clearly everyone has different views on the features of their ideal game. So with such a vast array of options what makes an ideal game for me?

Firstly, I need to feel the game replicates, to some extent, an actual historic battle. With all such goals compromises must be made. I tend to prefer simple rules yet the rules should create a feasible historical narrative that I at least can identify with. I want my games to comparable to the battles I read of in the history books. Therefore my brigade of miniatures advancing or retreating on the table top should replicate those actions on the historical battlefield or, if it is a fictional engagement, provide features discernible in accounts from historic battles.

I am fascinated by different periods of history and therefore my gaming interests are diverse. Yet within these periods my preference is to deploy armies that historically fought each other.

For instance I have a preference to see battles between Alexander’s Successors or against Rome, as I have outlined in these two reports. Equally, I prefer the Yorkists and Lancastrians to deploy opposite rather than campaigning against Biblical Egypt. In some periods this desire for pitting historical opponents against each other is particularly narrow, limited to a particular year or campaign. To enable this I make choices in figure and ground scale to fit my interests, without breaking the bank. These decisions flow into the table dimensions I use.

I prefer my tables to be visually attractive. Of course improving terrain and miniatures is something of an ongoing process I’m certainly not drawn to battlefields with overly stylised terrain such as square hills. Yes, a feature of some 28mm Ancient competition games. Yet, from a storage perspective I accept that compromises with terrain must be made.

I acknowledge that I have a limited time to play games. Typically I can allocate a few hours in an evening to a game. This time element in part influences the rules I use as I need a plausible result within the gaming window. Sometimes I have a little more time allowing larger games, but these are exceptions.

Skirmish wargaming is increasingly popular with some truely inspirational photos of such games on the internet. I can see the appeal of smaller forces with the ability to create some great terrain to support the battles. Yet I am not drawn to skirmish games which, for me, lack the command challenges of larger battles. I clearly prefer the great commanders of history and their battles and campaigns, rather than Richard Sharpe’s exploits. I wonder if I will always resist the lure?

Finally, my games need to be a rewarding social experience. I am not interested in games where the aspect of winning is paramount. This increasingly means I find myself avoiding competitions, despite having enjoyed them in the past.

Well, enough of me, what defines your ideal game?

Operation Nostalgia

A couple of months ago one of my opponents turned up at our regular gaming evening with a newspaper clipping from the 1970s. The article was of course about our gaming in our younger days, we both were wargaming together in that decade and still do. The article formed part of our drive to recruit new members our fledgling local wargaming club. Clearly we convinced a local reporter to do a small article, possibly not to hard as I recall the reporter was himself interested in military history and modelling. Anyway, many years later the article proved both entertaining and kicked of some reminiscing of wargaming from the past.

Like many readers my interest in military history and wargaming started many years ago when I was at school. Now in small town New Zealand wargaming books were not to be found in local bookstores. However, the local library proved to be a wonderful source of inspiration. Almost on continual loan were the books by Featherstone and Grant, and as you can imagine they proved indispensable.

In those days Airfix plastics were a major part of my gaming. Plastic Churchill and Sherman tanks, supported by infantry of course, advancing across battlefields were engaged by Tigers and Panthers. These Germans were tricky opponents, but a Matchbox Sherman Firefly could even the battle. As to rules, well we used “Battle! Practical Wargaming” by Charles Grant for a number of years.

The book seemed to cover everything that was needed. There were the critical play aides like the “cones of fire” so important to the game, as well as the deflection protractors needed to determine the angle of fire. Then of course there were the battle reports. Outlining the concept of a scenario, which was all new to me at the time, they also provided that much need instruction on the rules in action. Lastly, and certainly not least, were the inspirational photos. Stirring stuff indeed.

In time our World War II games were supplemented by battles from the Ancient period. Now, our Airfix Ancient Britons complete with chariots, with solid wheels of course, engaged Romans in dramatic games. Next, at least for me, was the American Civil War. I recall having painted many ACW figures in my younger days, though in reality I suspect the number was far fewer than I now recollect. Such are the tricks time plays on us.

Soon my plastic warriors began to be supplemented by metal. Initially World War II naval in 1/4800th. This was expanded with orders to the United Kingdom for World War II and Cold War forces in 1/300th. Though I recall being sidetracked by Ancient naval at one point.

The 70’s were clearly vibrant times and today carry a degree of nostalgia, even if some of the detail is lost. I wonder how many readers can recall similar experiences in their early days of wargaming?

More recently, and clearly inspired by the newspaper article, I decided to keep an eye on the local secondhand book market. So began what I will call “Operation Nostalgia”. In an occasional series on Twitter I will explore a few of these books, as well as other aspects of my early wargaming. If you are interested keep an eye out for these posts. You can find them under “Odd Ramblings & Short Game Summaries” on the right, or alternatively follow me Twitter @Thewargamesroom

I hope the series brings back some memories for you and perhaps encourages you to share some of your own.

Reflections & the Year Ahead

Here we are at the beginning of another year. As always it’s a time to look back at the past year and for many of us to ponder what this year may hold. For some readers 2019 will have had a number of challenges and several hardships. I can only hope that your friends and family have been able to rally around and your gaming has provided some enjoyment.

For me the past year has certainly been busy, on both a personal and professional front. Yet, from a wargames perspective it has been rewarding with much painting, organising and gaming.

Game wise I again have again been fortunate with a number of regular opponents and regular games across most of the periods I’m interested in. These have ranged from small games such as the Wings of War game shown above, my last game of 2019, to larger multiplayer events. I find myself pondering what form the larger games could take during the year. It will be interesting to see if what eventuates in this space.

My painting projects have burst into life this year and some are almost complete. I have for example made significant progress expanding no less than three 6mm armies for use with the WWII Spearhead rules. Of the three Spearhead projects the Soviets were certainly the largest and while not complete, the back has certainly been broken.

In addition I’ve  painted some long overdue 15mm DBA armies which have languished unpainted for far too long. In particular the Gauls who have been campaigning against all manner of historical opponents. Further, additional options have been completed allowing the expansion of a couple of Macedonian Successor armies.

Finally I started my latest project an Austrian Seven Years War army in 6mm, for use with Volley Bayonet. The figures, like the other painting projects for 2019 have drawn mostly on existing figures in the existing lead mountain, providing something of a positive feeling of progress.

I’m rather hoping that 2020 will be equally rewarding on the painting front though of course, only time will tell how much further progress is achieved in further reducing the backlog.

I trust that 2020 is kind to you and your family and that you have many hours of enjoyable reading, painting and socialising around your gaming table.