Wargamer’s Notebook 20

I suppose it says something about times in which we live that the most memorable part of a major figure show is the traffic congestion. Reading really does have a serious problem with car volumes and parking, especially on the Saturday of Colours. Hardly the organiser’s fault, this, but nevertheless an unpleasant 45 minutes from M4 to The Hexagon car park formed the start of what was an otherwise interesting visit. Colours is still, for all its predictability, a staple of the gaming year. In fact, it is probably because of that predictability that hundreds turn up year after year knowing exactly what they are going to get – one of the best trade shows around offering the chance to see the latest autumn products, some decent modelling exhibits, a good central venue and the odd diversionary game. And this year the omnipresent queues had all but disappeared, presumably thanks to the advance booking system, or possibly extra staff on the door. Either way, one well-earned house point to the organisers.

The trade show was as good as ever. I managed to pick up the new Napoleonic Principles of War rules, a few back issues of First Empire and somehow resisted almost all the excellent figures, buildings and books on offer. I called in at the Old Glory stand and, at last, they had some decent 25mm figures on display. The new gunfighters are actually rather good, and the plains indians even better, which pleased me greatly. The sample vignette on display had a couple of befeathered chiefs and some accompanying braves; all were of a high standard, nicely posed, with acceptable detail. The acid test for Old Glory is to get in really close and look at both painted and bare specimens, and these passed muster with no problems. The horses remain rather oddly proportioned, but they can always be replaced. I doubt they would mix too well in the same unit with the recent Foundry ranges, being slightly larger and of thinner build, but I don’t suppose anyone would comment on a separate Old Glory war party. Now all we need to do is convince them that not everyone wants to buy a huge bag of figures (yes, I know, I may as well try to argue that Napoleon’s Battles is a historical game) and we could be getting there. Also available was a new colour magazine come catalogue (titled La Gloire, I think) featuring the OG ranges which, while an excellent idea, was expensive and had some poor figure photography – way too small and dark. Rather defeated the object, I thought…

The games were a little thin as usual, but those that were there were good (especially the multi-player computer game), and the best was (as in 1996, if I recall correctly) a WWII demonstration by the Basingstoke club. Using only ‘stock’ terrain tiles, they work up an impressive overall image with some excellent models. I think the situations they use always help matters. They always look feasible historically, just right in the tactical department and rarely fail to come up with a new slant on oft used themes. This is an interesting point since both Colours and Partizan were notable for discussions over originality or otherwise of demonstration games. A number of admiring viewers indicated to me that while most of the games were impressive, and obviously represented a lot of work, they had seen them all before. I understand this, since the true original standout is indeed a rare bird, but there are enough tweaks on existing games to make them interesting and, to be honest, I see so many games that the occasional repeat is not a problem as the original has long since blurred into lost memory. Of course, there are individuals who can sit down, come up with a new concept and in the space of three months put on a stunning new game. The SODS, Perries, League of Augsburg and Bill Gaskin spring to mind here. It doesn’t always take a scratchbuilt Iron Age village or Russian Steppe to pull it off – those Augsburg redoubts were sufficient to make the game stand out in the mind. In truth, there must still be hundreds of variants of period, figures, scale, setting and tactical situation yet to be explored and I will enjoy looking at them whenever they surface.

I have always rated the campaign booklets from the Canadian Wargamers Group very highly. However, it seems they are something of an undiscovered resource here in the UK. I think they are imported by a couple of enlightened domestic retailers – I have always found them if I look hard enough – but the good news is they are now supplying direct. The general idea, for those that have not yet seen one, is that a campaign is tackled in 72 pages, supplying a short history, uniform and unit details, maps, rules, scenarios and sometimes even a boardgame as well. The standard is high, as Bruce McFarlane (the designer/series editor) is a talented chap, the rules are workable and ingenious, and each one is crammed with useful info. Topics covered so far have included The War of 1812, Flower of Chivalry, SYW in North America and the Canadian forces in WWII. The two new volumes I have before me are Drop Zone, covering Crete, Pegasus Bridge and Arnhem using their innovative Great Battles of WWII system and Whites of Their Eyes, a proficient overview of the AWI. Highly recommended. The guide books are $16 each and available from CWG, Box 1725, Station ‘M’, Calgary, Alberta T2P 2L7, Canada. Visa and Mastercard accepted.

The excellent Battleground series from Talonsoft (imported by Empire Interactive) proceeds apace. As you know, I have covered each of these games over the last few issues and while they have a competent rival in the shape of Age of Rifles, they seem to have cornered the hobby market admirably. Certainly at Colours I saw little else on offer in this field, and the fact that they feature at all on figure and book retailers shelves is testament to their popularity. The combination of superb graphics, ease of play and steady stream of pertinent topics (with subtle system and graphical improvements each time) has obviously hit the spot. The latest pairing will also be a must buy – Bull Run will round out your ACW collection nicely, while my favourite of the series, Waterloo, is now joined by Napoleon in Russia – featuring Borodino and several related actions. As ever, each game contains a large number of smaller scenarios as well as the epic monster game and I have found both well up to the usual standard. Highly recommended. Sadly, the news gleaned from the recent ECTS show is that there will be but one more Battleground title, Prelude to Waterloo, which will cover Quatre Bras, Ligny and I guess Wavre. Talonsoft are moving onto a new series of East Front grand tactical games which, on first sight, look like advanced versions of the Panzer General series. These should be really something. I also hope that Age of Ironclads appears in time as that will finally enable to sell my copy of Ironclads.

I noted with interest that a recent letter writer quite rightly raised the subject of beginners and how they could be catered for. I think the first question may be ‘Are there any to speak of?’, but the answer to that could only come from club representatives. After the recent debacle of Game of War, I have been giving the matter some thought. I don’t have any answers, but it does seem to me to be the one important area that is not being addressed in the hobby. I noted from Colours that Iain Dickie was selling (?) some introductory packs geared to three periods and I know Nexus also sell some basic books penned by Stuart Asquith. This helps, but it may be better to have a something of a starter pack that could be sent out for free – this has worked well for a number of hobbies and would take some organising, but could work. It would be non period/rules specific, but give a general overview, an account of the main periods, club contacts, and so on.

I think half the problem is that, by definition, most of us are so distanced from being beginners that we may have lost sight of what is needed, or indeed what today’s beginners want. I can recall clubs where one was not made welcome, and left to lurk in a corner until beating a hasty retreat. This is surely the ultimate crime – once someone has made the effort to get to a club, the least that should happen is that they get some attention, and involvement in a game. On the other hand, lots of clubs excel at this introductory process and even I eventually found two superb clubs (Chingford and Leyton Grenadier) that had the mix just right. I think I will let this run on for a couple of columns and ask for your input.

Book of the Month is the recent Fosten volume on the Uniforms of the Guards. An excellent compilation of plates showing their evolution through three hundred years. I suppose the Fosten style of artwork is about as diametrically opposite to, say, Richard Hook’s ‘grubby’ work as you can get, but I still like both. Marvellous.