Forward Observer 24

Wheels within Wheels

In what now seems a previous existence, and a long time ago, I worked on the money markets for more than a decade. My job relied on identifying, predicting and reacting to trends and movements. Ironic then that I can rarely spot these trends in my life… Thankfully, an epiphany occurred earlier this year. A period of illness, overtime and the proper winter reduced me to a routine of work, food and sleep. Almost hibernation, in fact. Instead of painting and gaming, I just ran the trends and enthusiasms in my head. Odd, you may think, but very useful as I finally spotted… The Cycle.

In short, I have a core cycle of interests that rotate every few months. These are 30mm Napoleonics, 1/72 WWII, medievals, samurai and Dark Ages/War of the Ring. Each visit to a ‘station’ results in a respectable number of troops being painted, but progress is predictably slow overall. There would be a decent Circle Line analogy here, but I see that they have changed even that. Anyway. Bubbling under is my love of making trees and buildings. Interspersed are diversions into WWI planes, 18th Century, Pike and Shot, and ironclads. These ‘minors’ are fairly regular, perhaps once a year, and so probably predictable. Finally, there is the transient butterfly stuff like AT43, VBCW and AK47. Perhaps I should avoid acronym based periods?

This faffing around is, as I have said before, not ideal for sustained output. And that is before I commit time to writing for BattleGames, boardgames, and finding, testing or writing rules. I envy those of you who keep to one period, or have already found The One Ruleset (to rule them all). So not for the first time, I have realised that my ‘army sized’ list of projects is unlikely to ever complete. This is partly down to the above cycle, partly because I actually enjoy the variety, and because ultimately there is not now the time, storage or even gaming space for the massed ranks I have always had in mind. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon, austerity years or not. All that said, gaming frequency is actually okay, as a friend has acquired some super sized horse and musket armies in 15mm which need regular outings. So, back to token forces in 28mm for me, with rules to match, and another look at 6mm or counters for big battles is inevitable.

The World Turned Upside Down

Not the Billy Bragg track, but the latest destination in my journey through the Real Time Wargames range of rule sets. This time we are in the American War of Independence, and again we are provided with both a campaign game and a full blown battle system.

The main feature of these rules is that the local terrain is, rightly, deemed vitally important by the designers. They have therefore come up with a novel system to depict the combat environment, and associated movement difficulties. The battlefield is abstracted into several boxes, each depicting typical terrain. These boxes are linked by tracks, also with terrain distinctions, but which only affect movement. So a unit may be in a clearing, and wishes to attack the enemy on the nearby wooded hill. In their way might be a road, broken terrain or even a swamp. They may negotiate the track, or fail, and be delayed, depending on a modified die roll. I have not seen this used before in miniatures rules, which doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – perhaps in something like Crossfire?, but I am familiar with ‘point to point’ movement from boardgames, which is similar. In a nutshell, it works very well indeed.

Another very clever idea is the make up of units, which gives a nice feel for relative strengths and weaknesses with minimal effort. There are three main components to a unit: bases, flags and officers. An elite, well commanded unit (British grenadiers, say) will have no flags and several officers. A dodgy militia unit will have a paucity of command, and lots of fluttering silk. Casualties affect officers and bases alternately, and the product of bases, officers and flags generates combat strength – officers have a powerful multiplier effect here. When you only have flag bases left, the unit decamps. Simple and elegant.

These are just a couple of strong examples from the rules; I could add the painless command system, the neat assessment and treatment of artillery, or the well handled victory conditions. While there are a couple of things I might change, specifically the mathematical combat mechanism and the unit reform, this is, as you will have gathered, an excellent set of rules. It has innovation, it has the now expected period flavour, and it makes a good stab at the holy grail: being strong in both history and gaming challenge. I really felt as if I had played a tense AWI battle, with a realistic outcome.

Peter Pig, Real Time, Sharp Practice and a few older sets (e.g. Fire and Fury, Science vs Pluck) have done wonders for my gaming enjoyment in the last couple of years. In the shape of TWTUD I am edging ever closer to my ideal rule set. This is pleasing because I doubt I now have the skill, energy or time to do my own! Corny it may be, but after thirty odd years I can see the end of the tunnel. My thoughts aside, if you are open to a refreshing gaming experience, a dash of The New, and a good slug of period specific history, TWTUD comes very highly recommended (and I haven’t even looked at the campaign rules yet!).

Galloping Major

Good name. Points on the board already.

The last few weeks have seen my co-conspirators and I having to make a tough decision. We are talking Woodland Indians. Does one take the Small route (Perry/Conquest) or the Big (Redoubt/Willie/Galloping Major), because they surely will not work together – and I say this as a man who will turn a blind eye to almost any size differential within my armies. Both sides have excellent figures, with similar scope within the ranges. In typical Siggins fashion, I went Big because I already have a load of Redoubts, but am looking for an excuse to go Small as well in a related period. Decision making like this made Britain great.

Anyway. We know that the Redoubt range is one of their best, and Willies hardly need any introduction. The Galloping Major range pulls up neatly alongside, in matching 30mm splendour. The brainchild of Lance Cawkwell, who has a long standing passion for the FIW, the core packs so far have been Indians – both common types and characters – Militia, and Rangers. In the main, these are great little figures, full of character and in some really good poses. Most of the faces are spot on. The detail and variety is excellent, and armed with an Osprey or two and the Griffing books, you are looking at a painting experience to savour.

A slight irony is that Lance is a talented artist (see the Ranger! rules) and draws a mean, lean figure in the Willie anatomical style. The figures are, by contrast, no strangers to the dessert menu. Even allowing for the modern ‘fuller figure’ style, I find the legs and muskets rather chunky (the latter can be improved with careful painting) and, oddly, some moccasined feet look a bit small. One could argue that one head in ten is not up to the standard of the others, but a knowledgeable friend told me that this could be a moulding issue. Otherwise, all good and as Lance has plans for many more packs, including regulars for both sides and more characters, I am a happy punter. Recommended.

The Eagle and The Lion

The widespread success of Command & Colors: Ancients, seemingly throughout both the boardgaming and miniatures hobbies, has inevitably seen related games in other periods. We have had WWII, Medieval/Fantasy and ACW, and now, belatedly, we have Napoleonics. I say belatedly because I have had the C&C Nap rules for over a decade and, as a right minded individual, Napoleonics should clearly have been first choice! But the long awaited GMT game is not here until mid November, which has given its rivals a chance to perform unchallenged.  To be honest, C&C is going to have to work a bit when it finally appears.

The first rival game on the table, just beating out Worthington Games’ 100 Days, is The Eagle and the Lion by Nexus, out of Italy. I did have a slight involvement in this one, as I helped get the uniform research underway, but that was such a small role it doesn’t even merit a credit. So my conscience is clear! The game is huge and looks a treat. It comes with four large, thick card hex maps which will fill a decent sized table. The maps are double sided and also have overlays, thus adding to the terrain options. There are full colour unit and tactical cards, rules, scenarios, dice and markers and, tadahhh, rather nice hard plastic figures with stands – French and British, just as it should be (!). Some of you may wish to paint these. I couldn’t possibly comment.

I think I can sum up the game very quickly. It does exactly what C&C does – battles at a high, fairly abstract pitch – but it does it all at one level of complexity and detail higher. This is not far from a basic set of Napoleonic miniatures rules. Not only is the game good in its own right, it is different in feel from C&C (mainly manifested in the orders mechanism), and it also allows gamers to decide on a more involved (dare I say realistic?) game system. I think it will fit right in above C&C and I think it will do very well.

I am doing a good selling job here, but there are some drawbacks. The first is that the ‘gravestone box’ (description based on size and weight) and quality components attract a £60+ price tag. Definitely try before you buy. There are a few odd rules (immobile lines for one) which are, of course, tweakable. It is not the quickest system out there – reckon on around two hours per scenario. And finally, a certain something is not quite there. It is that experience of playing a new rule set in your favourite period and thinking, mmm, I wouldn’t do it quite like that… So, nothing more than we usually encounter. Recommended.

Regrets, I have a few…

In a world where one has access to fifty billion web pages but only the occasional positive web experience (cynical? me?), it is a pleasure to be able to report an entertaining thread. Essentially, it was ‘If I knew then what I know now.’  This was not of the, ‘I should have asked out Wendy Morgan in third year’, or, ‘Why did I spend all that money on a pre-digital camera?’ variety, more towards which hobby choices you regret. It made me think, and I ended up with these:

Choose one scale and stick with it. (30mm, since you asked.)

Choose one main period, and three subsidiaries if you really must.

Always build forces for both sides in those periods, and get a big table.

The painting table should be either permanent or deployable in seconds.

Actually use that reference material you bought (and justified) ages ago.

Buy painted Gilder, Mason and Robinson figures whenever you see them.

Try not to buy quite so many figures, books and rules.

Never sell anything you have painted.

Learn to love to paint French Line, and save the Guard till last.

Mike Siggins