Forward Observer 23

A Rock and a Hard Place

I vaguely remember from Physics O Level something about equal and opposite forces. On one side I have the very strong desire not to start yet another period; on the other the ever increasing temptations of the AWI and a Very British Civil War. The latter seems to be quite a success based on the volume of pictures and posts on hobby fora, product releases, and from chatting to people at shows. I am not sure it is the Next Big Thing that many manufacturers have been waiting for, but it will fit that role until something better comes along. Bandwagon ho!

Intrigued, I dropped a line to Simon Douglas at Solway Crafts and Miniatures who gets the vast bulk of the credit for making this one such a popular period. They published 1938: A Very British Civil War in December 2008 which has gone on to sell over 1,000 copies, and three further supplements are also selling well. Simon advises that the publications are background focused source books, not rule sets – he hears that gamers are using Great War, Triumph and Tragedy, and Rate of Fire among others. I would think that the Lardies rules could work as well. Simon thinks that the demographic, “seems to be forty plus, often nostalgic gentlemen, mainly but not exclusively in the UK. Sweden, Germany, USA, Australia and New Zealand also have a following.”

So why the temptation for me? It largely comes down to the fact that there are no opportunities for British based gaming after the seventeenth century. As I build my terrain based on England, and essentially see it as a model railway, I am seeing the chance to merge the two. I can see myself fighting among red brick, pantiled buildings, perhaps even some almshouses and cottages, big hedges, oaks and elms. Certainly a train running around in LNER livery (pre-grouping would be even better, but I can’t stretch reality that much), with countryside to match, would certainly make for some good gaming and imagery. But in the back of my mind there was always something not right about VBCW. It took a while to work it out. Not the fact that it is fiction, or skirmish level, or even that it is founded on counterfactuals. It was because I couldn’t bring myself to fight over the English countryside. You thought I was odd. Now you have the proof!

For all that I am no stranger to the period, in many ways it is a favourite, and when I get my finger out my Between The Wars game should appear. The appeal is obvious: the chance to use some excellent figures from Musketeer, Empress (ex Anglian), Gripping Beast, Copplestone, Great War, Artizan, Pulp, Brigade, Bolt Action and the rest. Not to mention the tempting, exotic and often downright barmy vehicles from Force of Arms, Empress, Copplestone and BEF. There is the obvious Dad’s Army approach, the opportunity to deploy imaginative and esoteric forces, and not a single gamer can pull you up on uniform details.

Simon concludes, “Another important feature is the cooperative nature of 1938. From three writers on the first book to, now, more than twenty player-writers have been involved in developing the project. More is on the way – we now have the allied skills of Pete Barfield, a rather good artist who will be doing illustrations for a series of booklets giving more useful detail on the major factions. In January 2011 (22nd/23rd) we are teaming up with the Albanich show to provide the first 38 Fest bringing together many of those involved. We have also hired the local arts cinema for a showing of Richard III, a film rather inspirational to the whole project. Although we have plenty more in store for 1938, in late 2011 we will be launching another and complementary project – A Very British Conquest of Space which ambitiously looks at developing an alternative British History from 1870’s to 1980’s”.

Return to the Tufty Club

I have, as regular readers know, been a user of grass tufts since the earliest releases from Silflor. Now it seems one can barely move for companies leaping on the flora bandwagon (Noch, Heki and Busch not to mention several hobby companies including Realistic Modelling, Treemendus,  Fredericus Rex and Kamizukuri), and a visit to even a small model shop reveals a host of second and third generation products clamouring for attention. In truth, one still has to be selective as not all look quite right (some of the greens are hard to believe) and, let’s be honest, the high prices are sobering. Being a mad early adopter, I don’t think I ever worked out what each base was costing me. Now, with the Sterling devaluation and rip-off Britain doing its evil work, I think £15 for 60 tufts is, umm, ‘having a laugh’. But that seems true of much current hobby pricing, and indeed the wider economy.

That said, there are still bargains to be had and, in fairness, the standard is excellent and rising all the time. Multi-shade grass tufts, strips and mats, flowers, vegetables, corn stalks, crops, vines, cacti and a ready made swamp that pretty much nails that terrain feature. They even do tumble weed. My favourites are Silflor’s ivy which is just perfect for trees and walls, their autumn Maple is also excellent. Busch do some amazing grapevines and Realistic Modelling have a superb wirewool foliage material that has many uses. I still have no idea how some of this stuff is made, and I dearly hope some poor soul isn’t sitting at home sticking on leaves. Have a look at Gaugemaster’s and Scenic Express’s web catalogues to see what is out there.

Wish List

One of the more difficult problems I face in Forward Observer is making a list interesting. I am sure this says, a) don’t do the list and b) no, really, don’t do it. But every time I am faced with several products or developments I am moved to mention, but about which there is not that much to say – e.g. necessarily subjective views on figure releases. So, here is my solution. Consider it an experiment. I am calling it On Radar, or things I have seen this month that have ignited the enthusiasm:

Copplestone’s armoured cars             Right product, right time.

Elite’s 1796 Austrians                                   Peter Morbey’s best work.

Empress’s Colonials                           Ebob and Hicks continue to please.

Eureka’s Suvorov Russians                Tempting? Not ‘alf!

Front Rank’s 40mm AWI                   Maximum appeal, maximum resistance!

GW’s Swan Knights                           Irresistible.

Gripping Beast’s 28mm Hirdmen      Possibly the best plastics yet.

Minden’s 30mm SYW Hussars          Lovely stuff from Mr Ansell and The Guvnor

Musketeer’s VBCW                           Evocative stuff by Mr Hicks.

Otherworld’s retro D&D figures       Purestrain nostalgia. Superb!

Perry French Hussars                         28mm Historex. Too many ideas!

Shapeway’s 3D printing service        We are getting there, quicker than I thought.

Spencer Smith Franco-Prussians       A great blend of old and new styles.

Steve Barber’s 42mm Aztecs             Excellent figures. A new period?

TerrainBoard’s, er, Terrain Boards    Resin rivers! Looking good.

Vallejo’s White Primer                      Thin, but very, very good.

1866 (and all that)

My gaming friends and I have a long list of rules and periods we want to try. I am sure many of you will be familiar with this predicament. In some periods we have upwards of ten rule sets for evaluation (which explains why reviews can take a while). Progress largely relies on acquiring/sorting the figures, compromising on basing, planning and organising game sessions, and waiting for the stars, or moon, to be correctly aligned. This, as you know, can take months or even years. Recently three 1866 rule sets called louder than usual for attention – Real Time’s Wars of Empire I, Bruce Weigle’s 1866, and Repique’s Zouave which is reviewed elsewhere this issue – so I decided to shortcut the process. In a burst of activity, I made Austrian and Prussian armies using topdown graphics on counters. This means creating each troop type and terrain features using a vector drawing package (or crayons, if you prefer), ‘basing’ them, printing them out in colour, sticking them to card or MDF, and playing the game. You can find loads of similar stuff at juniorgeneral.org

I realise that a handful of you will be saying, ‘Mmm. A boardgame/miniatures hybrid. Sounds workable, if rather two dimensional.’, while most will be wailing loudly and holding up crucifixes. Years ago, I would have been in the latter group but as part of my mellowing process, I no longer mind. I love figures (obviously), but in some cases I would rather get to play the rules quickly and cheaply. As these squashed armies take me about 10 hours each from start to finish, cost fluppence, provide every single regiment, facing colour and literally unlimited forces (print me another division, Jeeves!), and (best case) we are playing a few days later. On this basis, they are hard to fault. No, obviously, I would not do it for every period, but those we are just trying out? Yessir! In the space of seven weeks (spooky) we have played all three rule sets several times, from a standing start. When was the last time that happened?

Our first game of Bruce Weigle’s 1866, also using counters, was quite an epic. We replayed Nachod, where typically the Austrians are counterattacking the Prussians in Bohemia. The Prussians thinly hold a crest and wood, and have reserves coming up. The Austrians have initial strength advantage and reserves, but not much command talent, yet must take the plateau quickly.

The game had a welcome chaotic feel, very strong narrative and some really memorable events: cavalry charges, massed artillery lines, a Pickett’s Charge (or two), jaegers brawling in the woods, at least five brigade assaults, a melee that was fought to a standstill, units halting at the most annoying times, a cavalry force circumnavigating the enemy rear and charging twice without ever once fighting, columns of reinforcements jamming the approach roads, and a series of command choices – go left or right, attack immediately or delay. It was, if nothing else, bloody and the Austrian storm columns suffered badly. Both sides felt under pressure, as we revealed in the post mortem, and it would be good to play it again to see how differently it panned out.

The rules must be pretty good to generate the excellent period feel, and to control a fast moving style of game. They also do a very credible job of simulating the Dreyse’s effect and Austrian doctrine, but I was surprised at how old style they are – not Old School. While there are large movement distances, there are lots of modifiers, morale checks, die rolls and quite a few tables. I think you would typically be looking at three to four hours upwards for a battle. Nevertheless, as you can tell, I liked them well enough and will return to these and the earlier titles – 1859 and 1870. Of course Mr Weigle’s rulebooks are famously more than just the rules. There is history, plenty of scenarios, tips on making his beautiful terrain, and a very good bibliography. This is, as they say, quite a package and an absolute delight overall.

Endpiece

Three conversations with beginners this month. One in person, one by letter (yes, really), and one email. Despite being spread all over the country, they are all telling the same story: recent attendance for the first time at a wargame club, and in each case completely ignored. Now this would be hard to believe if I hadn’t written about it thirty, twenty and ten years ago, and experienced it myself on several occasions. Surely we can’t still be in that stupid position where some clubs advertise, presumably want new members and income, yet don’t have the common courtesy to break off from a game to make someone feel welcome? Unbelievable. I’ll leave you club types to ponder this, but there must be an answer.

Mike Siggins