Saturday, November 28, 2015

All You've Got: Snappy Nappy BATREP

Initial dispositions: The British Allies steal the march to the crossroads
The third Black Powder Napoleonic wargame this year for Grant and I: must be some kind of record. We determined to throw in our entire collections which included a bit of historical overlap - what the hell. Grant set up the general layout, we mutually dressed the table-top and commenced with initial deployments of our light Brigades, randomly determining for depth into the field. The British got furthest, stealing the march to the crossroads and village about it - first points to the Brits at the cost of bootlaces!

We agreed to dicing 4in6 for our light cavalry (per squadron) to enter on random roads in sequence. If successful, then we diced for the next squadron, and the next and so on until failure or all squadrons of a particular regiment were brought on. After failure, subsequent squadrons of the same regiment may not necessarily join their comrades at the same entry point. We felt this represented swarms of light cavalry scouts roaming the countryside, feeling for each others advancing divisions as our armies endeavored to come to grips. It enabled unforeseen flanking manouvers throughout the game.
Death of a Leader

Before too long, what proved to be the first critical moment of the battle occurred. The British got three squadrons of KGL Hussars onto the table and at just the right spot to jeopardize the French plans. At this point the KGL had already seen off the first squadron of the French 7eme Hussars. A superb command roll enabled the French Lancers in march column (never good) to reform into attack column and charge to protect the exposed artillery limber racing for the hill. A swift melee and the unthinkable happened for the KGL - a complete rout together with the loss of the cavalry commander who was attached. This was to have serious consequences for the entire British game and proved to be the first of several tipping points.
French form up for the first assault.
Our scenarios invariably throw a multitude of delays in coming on which provide for issues of arrival, forming up and reinforcing our battles. This game; however, provided for systematic appearances of whole brigades in column for both sides. Being a Black Powder game the players were nevertheless reliant upon the quality of their commanders whose randomly rolled scores dictated their ability to co-ordinate and maneuver. The British Light Brigade commander who commenced on-table was simply superb (scoring 10) but the French were almost as good and more critically, consistently so. The same could not be said for subsequent British Brigadiers AND Wellington was proving to be having an average day also. None were rolled for until they came into play so neither of us knew what we were getting.
First French Assault
The French first brigade threw themselves into line and pressed the first attack onto the light woods screening the crossroads which was infested with Portugese Cacardores. At the same time the second brigade rolled in, forming up over the high ground the other side of the hedged approach road. In our games this rarely ever happens: a co-ordinated and supported assault in strength! To the left, the Cacadores were cleared with relative ease thanks to poor defensive rolling but the right wing stalled under a galling artillery barrage from a swiftly deployed Royal Horse Artillery troop (top right above).
Second French Assault
Whist the first screen of woods were cleared, the real obstacle was the crossroads itself flanked by two stone buildings occupied by plenty of British Rifles (95th and 60th). With little experience in assaulting buildings, the French assumed correctly it would be hard fought for and threw in both battalions of Guard Grenadiers who were fortunately toward the front of the army. Over about eight turns they attacked, were repulsed, became disordered, rallied, went back in and at one stage were supported by a third battalion of foot. Only after two batteries of 12pdr foot artillery arrived, were the buildings cleared (or rather demolished) where the French were able to exploit the gap in the centre and push forward.
Crawling along the track
None of the French success would have been so decisive had not British reinforcements been repeatedly delayed. With the aforementioned loss of their cavalry commander, all horse units coming into the game defaulted their command to the Light Brigade's Commander. Whilst a superb leader he was simply unable to be everywhere at once and when defaulting to individual unit orders, this increased the instances of dicing a failed order and stalled British responses. Furthermore, subsequent Brigadiers who came on were military clots of such poor quality that the British player dared only risk Brigade orders under the direst of circumstances. The advance of the British columns therefore were staggered and inconsistent and above all, slow.
A Chance
Just when all seemed hopeless, the British player diced on his entire 10th Hussar regiment (all four squadrons) and arrived just behind the crossroads, poised to devastate the shaken Guard Grenadiers after being repulsed by the Rifles. All that stood in their way of catching the Guard in column and in the rear was a single squadron of French Hussars. This was the second critical turning point of the battle and the head of the French left flank assault was about to be cut-off. We find Black Powder games have the capability of see-sawing dramatically (one of the reasons we love it) but today was not one of those days. It seemed all the British luck was spent in getting the Hussars on and with a fierce result born of dramatic dice rolling, off they went just as soon as they had arrived. What a lost opportunity!
Pushing through the village
With the crossroads reduced, a close order infantry assault on the church yard just as quickly and surprisingly cleared the 52nd Oxfordshire Light Battalion from behind their stone wall. A disappointing performance from them. All that secured what was left of the British forward positions was the disturbing presence of the Horse Artillery.

In an unlikely flanking move with only the cover of a hedgerow, a supported infantry assault survived some incredibly ineffective battery fire at close range over two turns, breached the hedge and finished them off with the bayonet! By this time, french infantry and mixed squadrons of French battle cavalry were swarming across the middle ground and harassing the British arrivals.
By this time the best of the British troops were coming on in large numbers. Large battalions of veteran British line, once formed up were likely to arrest the French advance and could even recapture the ground. They would have to do so unsupported; however, as both the rocket troop and the last of their artillery (the 9pdrs) were cut down whist limbered by free roaming cavalry. Just when nothing appeared to be working for the British, disaster struck in what we believe was the final critical point of the game.
Last Gasp
The KGL Brigade, all Veteran infantry has arrived as the core of a still very strong British infantry army. Just as they had reached the rear road intersection, the British player rolled a 'blunder' on his Brigade order. The result was an uncoordinated charge for a full three moves to the front. At least in column of attack, this nevertheless impetuous result threw half the remaining force far out into the disputed field where French cavalry roamed at will. Some of the battalions successfully fought off several attacks but were unable to form square and inevitably collapsed under sabre and hoof. All that was left was for the British to call the battle lost, which it most decisively was.

  1. Rifles or skirmishers in building work very, very well.
  2. Only attach your Commanders to assaulting units as a last resort.
  3. The more units under one command, the higher the likelihood of failure.
  4. Cavalry are best sent in for attack in echelons of squadron than as a combined regiment. Note: a single demi-squadron is the worst combination as it lacks the higher melee dice of the entire regiment and lacks the advantage it's squadrons have when they combine in 'support'.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


After playing several games of Black Powder and now being a complete aficionado of the rules, I have been compelled to revisit how I base my skirmishers. Many rule sets make sweeping statements or rather lay down prescriptive basing requirements to ensure representation of skirmishers. This is also the case for Black Powder.

My British Rifles (60th Loyal American and 95th Rifle Regiment) were previously based according to the dictates of In the Grand Manner. Both sets, if followed direct collectors to base their figures singly or in pairs. I finally reasoned it was an utter waste of my time.
Unless they are to be defending trenches or some fortified platform, single basing is fiddly and labour intensive in construction and during movement in the game. I tired of swarming them this way and that and to be honest, terrain often caused them to fail in being as upright as a Rifleman should be in the face of the enemy - especially on sloping ground.

I considered that the idea of single bases and their disbursement (at least 2" apart) was notional rather than essential. As long as they present in a loose formation and the figures are obviously spaced apart an alternative would be preferable.

My circular bases are the only circular bases for my armies in Black Powder Napoleonics which makes them instantly identifiable as dedicated skirmishers - as opposed to dispersed light troops or company skirmishers (Mixed Formation in Black Powder). In short, my Rifles are never formed so this option works well for me.
Unlike recent efforts, these are old figure paint jobs (all Elite Miniatures) freshly based for my Peninsular British but they may see the field of Waterloo and the 100 Days.

Friday, November 6, 2015

7eme Regment Hussards: Figure Review (re-reviwed)

This unit is my second attempt at building and painting 28mm Perry Plastic figures. Having previously painted twelve of the Perrys' British hussars I didn't find the experience particularly satisfying. Well it seems that this was largely as a result of my choice of using spray undercoat - never again. I wasn't sure if these plastic constructions would handle my normal hand-painted enamel undercoating but they do as it turns out. This then enabled me to conform to my usual wash-painting technique. I have enjoyed painting these figures so much more and can pretty well guarantee returning to these Perry sculpts for more Napoleonic cavalry in future.
They are superior to their British hussar counterparts to my mind. They have a variety of faces - even though the moustache is once more universally applied to all figures. Perhaps someone should have informed Murat of his inadequacy? The three horse poses come in two halves (lengthways with two legs apiece) and can be broken up a little with mixing the opposing halves for a total combination of nine possibilities. I mixed up the legs with overall trousers and breeches (deliberately) and posed the torsos left/right/straight-on and fixed the heads at different attitudes. Greater variety might have been achieved had these sculpts not come with fixed sword arms in three poses. I fixed the pelisse only on the trumpeters and officers.
Each box set comes with fourteen figures to assemble with one officer and one trumpeter. For wargamers like me; however, I require two boxes for most regiments at 1:20 representative troop scale. In this case, I required 21 figures for three seven figure escadron. I would have preferred a second officer per box and trumpeter. In fact, if the figures had pose-able sword arms a second option with a trumpet would have enabled this easily for those like me requiring one. Given that the box set comes with an eagle, it should have come with a second officer mount (with shabraque) for the officer who more properly carried the standard - I regard this as a genuine shortfall.
The sides of the head of each rider where the chin-scales might meet the shako brim are 'confused' - or at least I am. If they are supposed to be chin-scales, then they totally lose definition toward the rider's chin. At least this is the case with the late war shako head variant I used. The fur busby of the elite company does not have this confusion - clearly they have chin-scales. With my shako riders I have elected to paint this area as side-burns which they may very well be for all I know. The eyes slits on these figures for the riders are narrow and heavily lidded, making the task of painting eyes and eye-balls a very precise exercise. The uniform creases really take my paint-wash rather well. I just love what I suspect might be over-sized sabres and whilst the sword arms only come in three poses, a twist in positioning the torso breaks this up effectively.
The necessity of having to construct these models (seven parts each including horses) and particularly with the way the scabbard and sabretache form a separate attachment renders these figures truly three-dimensional. This makes it fiddly getting in behind outer elements of the model which isn't usually an issue for metal figures; the sculptors having to consider the practicalities of the casting process in their designs.
Last time I blue-tacked the figures to their painting stands (corks) which tended to shift a bit during painting. This time I returned to my practice of gluing them - far better. They are of course much lighter than a metal horse and rider and a couple of times they have popped out of their painting tray and tumbled to the floor accompanied by my obscene commentary. They bounce well on carpet; however, and suffered no damage - nice one
I had difficulty with gluing the shabraque to the figures. I lost one early on and opted to continue without one for further variety. Two more, I re-glued at the end. I cannot emphasise enough the need to ensure they are fixed well before painting. I shall do better next time.
The end result is extremely satisfying and they really do paint up superbly. This lot took me an awfully long time to finish; about four months. All my other life tasks just get in the way, but I think they have been worth it. I went for a very muddy, drenched field look.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Waterloo: Weather, Greatcoats and Shako Covers

I have an ongoing difficulty with the widespread preference of some wargamers for depicting those who fought at Waterloo in greatcoats. There is this persistent notion that from 11:20 am or thereabouts on 18 June 1815, men would have marched and fought in heavy woolen greatcoats because it rained the night before. Together with this idea is that men went into battle with shako covers. This prevailing view and desire has in turn steered sculptors and manufacturers to provide such figures for 1815 - they'd be mad not to of course.
I do not dispute that the weather in Belgium can get cool even in high summer and that weather can change with radical dips and rises in temperature. The morning would have been misty as it was in late May 2012 when I last visited - it was cool also on my visit. Having said that, there was no rain on the day in question and it had ceased by 7:00 am at the latest by all accounts. The meteorological study by  Wheeler and Demaree demonstrates the previous evening's downpour and electrical activity was nevertheless a shallow trough of low pressure following a scorching previous day.
I suggest that it would have been and still is wholly impractical to attempt to march and fight with a sodden greatcoat by midday when the mists were clearing and the weather warming. If worn the night before (and I certainly would have if I'd had one) it's a matter of drying it as best one can and then rolling it and strapping onto the back-pack or saddle. Once on the move, greatcoats would have weighed the men down significantly - heavy on the arms, cumbersome and increasing fatigue for the French in particular who did most of the foot-slogging over muddy ground. An active soldier will have generated his own heat and combined with rising temperatures (even if only a few degrees) in what must have been developing as a humid zone would have been galling. Worse that that, it would simply have been insane.
An active person in the great outdoors is going to dry quicker under even a feeble sun with less on - not more. The uniform jackets were all wool also and should have provided sufficient insulation against any breeze which may have prevailed and if sodden, would have been heavy enough on their own without the assitance of another and thicker layer of soaked wool on top of it.
Of course, there's no such thing as uniform when it comes to uniform. There are references to members of the French Old Guard wearing greatcoats but more to cover civilian attire when a soldier was without a full uniform. For the appearance of the Guard, appearances were almost everything in front of their Emperor. I regard this; however, as an exception to the general rule. I say leave your greatcoated infantry for the Russian winter campaign but keep them away from Waterloo.
On the subject of shako covers - they are an item for campaign as opposed to the day of battle. They were no more likely (on either side) to retain their shako covers by midday than I would carry an open umbrella for four hours after it had stopped raining. As with all items of uniform, given sufficient preparation time (and there was plenty on the day of battle at Waterloo) regiments would have gone into battle as splendidly arrayed as was practicable to identify themselves (particularly important amongst the Allies), increase their own morale, to impress or even intimidate the enemy and display before their own command. It was a different era to the modern.
My difficulty in the persistence of greatcoats and covers only truly extends to when I cannot purchase figures sculpted without them - which is the case for my Elite Miniatures Nassau regiments. In any event, this is my considered opinion - very much considered but nevertheless very much an opinion only. Please feel free to disagree. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Waterloo: Papelotte Map Adjustment

 I must say, for the wargaming researcher, the internet is a blessing from Olympus. A rapid search through Google Earth and voila; an in-situ aerial view of Papelotte farm house. The roads have not essentially changed their course it seems for about two hundred and fifty years making it very simple indeed to translate modern birds eye photography to my map references.
A closer view clearly demonstrates the farm house today and it's orientation to the road - Chemin de la Papelotte. Contrasting this photo to older records (photos), sketches and the Hovels Ltd model and it is clear how to orientate the building - the outer courtyard being where the similarly sized square of heavy vegetation to south is today. What also becomes clear is the relative inacuracy of Adkin's map in his Waterloo Companion is for the placement and orientation of Papelotte.
There will be no substitute for use of the model itself in precisely locating placement of Papelotte on my terrain. Nevertheless, I have shown the amendment of the position and some fiddling with my proposed hedges and crops.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Black Powder House Rules for Napoleonics

Black Powder House Rules by UnluckyGeneral

A few thoughts Grant and I had on how Black Powder rules applied to the way we enjoy our Napoleonic wargames. As you will see if you read the House Rules amendments, we felt that heavy artillery was insufficiently represented and the horse artillery rules governing movement were too fluid; allowing them to magically appear and disappear about the table-top without the practical need for a limber model.
We preferred to limit interpenetration and also felt that units were too easily paralyzed through the disorder rule so introduced a chance of saving against it. 
Most rules allow for forming square as a reaction to charge but we enjoyed the old Grand Manner requirement to form square only in your own move - being a matter of judgement. Not abandoning it entirely, we are providing for a last minute attempt all the same but at a risk of potential disaster. This certainly reflects battlefield events such as those which took place at battles such as Quatre Bras.
Finally, the only provision for Napoleonic battalions deploying skirmishers is the 'mixed order' ability in Black Powder. We felt it ignored the particular capabilities of specially trained and experienced Light Battalions so we are experimenting with transfer of the whole battalion fire rating to its skirmish line. For us, only sufficient figures representing the light companies of any line battalion are ever deployed in the 'mixed order' but will opt for 'up to a third' in the case of light battalions in keeping with Black Powder recommendations.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Papelotte: The Mapping Done

Map with roads

The location of my Papelotte footprint will require careful revisiting. I'm happy with it's notional position but the orientation will require adjustment I am guessing. It's a great excuse to revisit my photos from when I was there. In any case, I enlarged the grid map on my print out and inserted the roads. All roads will be carved into the surface to some extent but much shallower than the sunken roads marked with the lines above. Of course, it will be utterly arbitrary just how sunken they will be and as can be seen, most are not. The roads and their indentation are according to Adkin.
Crops, hedges and trees
I have generally stuck with Adkin's hedge lines but have included trees and crops from the 1777 map by the Austrian cartographer Joseph de Ferraris - map 78 held by the Royal Belgian Library. I have not been slavish in following Ferraris' inclusions, erring toward Adkin's minimalist inclusions. I am not building a static model of Papelotte and its immediate environs but rather a table-top for wargaming on. Nevertheless, with nothing more to go on, crop lines are marked by Ferraris and this will do. He included a lot more hedges and areas of cultivation down to vegie patch plots which I may include once I have the Papelotte model precisely placed. The central cluster of trees I am taking to be an open orchard and the five specimens along the south eastern road to be shade trees. Of course, a lot can change in 38 years.

When the time comes to model the foliage I will have to decide which are crops, types and growth and which are fallow. I will provide for movement through them - probably using removable sections. I just need to think long and hard about what products to use in replicating them.