Napoleonic Wargaming for fun and Little Cold Wars- book reviews.

As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.

The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.

As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.

Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.

Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.

The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.

The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.

Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).

On a completely different tack but in the same order I bought a copy of Little Cold Wars: Wargaming the Cold War using Toy Soldiers by Tim Gow and Betrand Plastique. This rule set takes a nostalgic and delightfully whimsical approach to the often technologically obsessed genre of Cold War gaming. Channelling HG Wells the authors have developed hybrid of a floor game with toy soldiers to the warm glow of remembering a childhood living under the bomb. Eschewing dice for all but the Close Combat mechanisms Little Cold Wars sees a mix of scales (1/35th for toy soldiers, 1/48th for vehicles, 1/72nd for aircraft) do battle by matchstick firing cannon, dropping darts into targets and throwing scrunched up bits of paper. The thing is it really works, I can vouch for this having played an early playtest version of the rules.

Early hobby gaming all started out by using physical props to determine the results of combat, it was not until after WW2 that the dice rolling obsession took hold. It is really pleasing to see a return to these mechanisms are carefully put together is a game that relies on two lots of nostalgia, not that any gamers alive today would have played any HG Wells style games pre war so that nostalgia at least is vicarious. Being 11 and just starting at secondary school when the Berlin Wall was opened I am probably amongst the youngest gamers who remember the Cold War with any clarity, I’d be interested as to what a millennial would make of Little Cold Wars. My uncle was in the Army in Berlin at the time it was knocked down and brought a piece back for me which I still have.

[A little piece has broken off from the larger lump which gave me the idea to crush it up and mix it with plaster to create a scale model of a section of the wall to have a physical link to the place on the table top]

Either way it is a game I want to play myself, albeit all in 20mm, though I need to assemble a few props and toy cannon… and buy some silly hats… I just wish I still had my DDR flag too.

Both books are available here:

http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.

Black Ops rules review and playtest.

Whilst I attended the recent Fiasco show (great to meet up with a few people but the show wasn’t great- not a good look when a third of your demo/ participation tables are no shows…) I picked up a few bits including the new Black Ops rules from Osprey.

Written by Guy Bowers and subtitled ‘Tactical Espionage Wargaming’ it is in the common ‘Men at Arms’ sized format and is clearly designed to bring the feel and flavour or many FPS PC games to the table top.

By the Tuesday following the show I had read through the rules and decided to run a couple of quick games to test the rules.

I’m not a fan of points in games; there is nothing wrong with in principle but their mere inclusion in a set of rules brings out the worst in a significant minority of gamers who represent the antithesis of my preferred gaming style. Still I created two roughly equal sides from the extensive faction lists: One a conscript squad the other a 4 man SOF team and got the table set up.

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The first game was a quick encounter game to get the basics of activation, movement and firing worked out.

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The game is run using a deck of cards- much like the old Arc of Fire rules that I’ve played lots of but with types of figure activated on each card rather than discreet units. Movement and activations are simple and firing is just rolling over the required hit number.

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As a basic skirmish game the rules work well enough, not better or worse than other comparable sets really though I would have preferred a bit more friction in the activation system. However that is not the rule sets raison d’etre so I reset the table to run a stealth mission.

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Here the rules really came into their own with wandering guards and noise token which had to be minimised by the raiding player to avoid raising the alarm- though I’d like to see the noise list extended. This style of game is great fun and I can see it being played a lot in the coming months here, especially as I’ve plenty of figures and terrain that are suitable and ready to be used.

My only real criticism of the rules is that I thought the close combat system is a bit weak and breaks down quickly when you have a large melee. I will say however that I’ve yet to find a close combat system in any set of skirmish rules that I’ve really thought was good.

The rules seem to be marketed as a Science Fiction set but in reality they are really decent set of modern i.e. 21st century skirmish rules, the SF parts only really amount to one small table of extra equipment. Equipment that in the most part can be found in prototype form currently.

Cheers,

Pete.

Matrix Games for Modern Wargames – review.

Back in the mid nineties I began to move away from the GW flavored gaming that dominated my teenage gaming and started to dabble with historicals. I remember merrily jumping in at the deep-end by buying loads of Airfix and Revell plastic to play the Napoleonic set ‘Empire’, a rather detailed set of rules that came in a giant ring binder, oddly that didn’t put me off but I did move to Rapid Fire a few years later and found my ‘home’ in 20th century gaming….

What’s the point of this rather brief history of mine you ask? Well around this time I started to buy copies of Wargames Illustrated and Miniature Wargaming, and it was in one of these early purchases of mine that I was first introduced to the idea of Matrix games. I’m pretty sure that it was a colonial game entitled ‘Save Gordon’, I remember that the idea looked interesting and I fancied giving it a go but as of today I have still yet to try a game.

At it’s simplest a matrix game uses the knowledge and Dialectic skills of the players to generate the ‘story’ of the game rather than any numbers based statistical system. A qualitative approach rather than quantitative if you will. Have an idea or declare an action, say why it should happen and a learned umpire will judge how likely it will be to succeed or fail: that’s pretty much it.

This slim A4 volume seeks to introduce the very simple mechanics of the system and provide five modern (Falklands, Bosnia, Syria, Crimea and Afghanistan) scenarios, it has to be said at this point that the book is aimed at the professional gamer in academic/ military spheres rather than the casual hobbyist. Accordingly whilst I’m very glad I got the book, as it covers everything I was wanting to know, it is not the kind of book that will be immediately useful nor do I expect running any of the games from it anytime soon. Given that the usual numbers of roles in a game is greater than my usual gaming group is just one problem, I feel that the assumed knowledge of the players needs to be of the same level and fairly high lest one player dominates with an unfair advantage given his or her knowledge of the scenario/ period in question. Likewise I don’t feel I know enough personally to try and run the game given the type of judgement call an umpire needs to make in every round (though not to completely talk myself down I could probably make a good go of two of them if not a third as well). However having read the brief piece on the history of the matrix game by the originator, Chris Engle, I looked up his own page and found plenty of games there that would be a better introduction should I want to try something on my usual game night. The only thing I think that the book lacked was an extended example from at least one of the scenarios giving a fully turns worth of arguments and umpire decisions from each of the roles in the game; though this is only a minor quibble.

All in all a great read that should be for anyone who wants to try wargaming beyond the usual line-them-up-and-roll-the-dice.

Cheers,

Pete.

Useful links:

http://www.wargaming.co/

http://hamsterpress.net/

Donald Featherstone’s Air War Games

I’ve always thought it’s nice to know the history of where things have come from. Being introduced to gaming in the 1990 through GW, it was only much later I learned of the long list of older gamers who had really paved the way. As such I’ve been trying to build up my own library (mainly through ebay and 2nd hand shops) of the books I missed in my youth.

As I’ve my interest is aviation history has been with me as long as I can remember when I heard this volume was being republished I picked a copy up. Subtitled ‘Wargaming Aerial Warfare 1914- 1975, Revised Edition’ it has been heavily reworked by John Curry. rather than being a single set of rules it is a compendium of ideas that you can slot in as you see fit. It is evident from when it was written that rules didn’t always feature air attacks so there is a fair bit on adding ground attacks to your games. Today it is rare for a game above skirmish level that doesn’t include such rules already built in. Rather than the common aircraft on a stick that you see in practically every game Featherstone here advocated stringing a net or at least a few wires above the table and then suspending the aircraft from them. I don’t know how popular that method was at the time but is certainly hasn’t lasted.

The biggest difference from when the book was first written, 1966, is the number of different scales that model aircraft come in that simply weren’t around those decades ago. The smaller scales allow people to play big air war games on a smallish table rather than having to use a garden or large hall. It is to this end that the heavy revision makes good: expanded notes on the availability of models, and commercial games as well as three mini games added as appendices bring the book up to date. I wouldn’t go as far to say that the book is definitive but the additions certainly make it still relevant. (As something of an aside if the book was reworked to be definitive it would not be Donald Featherstone’s work, as such what revision has been added has been done very sympathetically.) The sections of weather in air games will be making an appearance in my own games and the Fletcher Pratt game certainly requires some more investigating.

Overall a fascinating look back at the history and origins of many sets of rules with enough material in it to be worthwhile today.

Cheers,

Pete.

Innovations in Wargaming- review.

I recently picked up a copy of ‘Innovations in Wargaming Vol. 1’, edited by John Curry. The book is subtitled ‘Developments in professional and hobby wargames’ which got me wondering how many ‘professionals’ would buy it….

Anyway the book covers the kind of game that moves away from either a traditional toy soldier set up or else adds to the interest by upping the scale- the chapter on ‘hall games’ would be the most recognizable to most hobby gamers. Basically the example given is a large multiplayer game against an umpire controlled opponent.

The majority of the games covered are committee games. These fall somewhere between a planning session and a role playing game. 5 such versions are featured. It is a style of gaming I’ve slowly been planning myself so the hints and tips I read will be very useful, along with the excellent opening chapter on designing wargames rules.

Also included is a rather nice example of a naval Kriegsspiel set in the Napoleonic era. Sadly not an area of history I’m particularly au fait with otherwise I’d run it myself; however the ideas in it would be easily transferable to any other time you’d care to mention.

The book delivered pretty much what I hoped it would. I’ve been wanting to add an extra level to my regular Monday night games; a kind of mini game before the table top toy soldier game. My SWAT raid was an early attempt at this, so now with a few more ideas I’ll try some more things out.

My only complaint about the book is in the ordering of the chapters. Having read it in the order each chapter is presented I felt that the first half of Paddy Griffiths’ text should have been incorporated into the main body of the text rather than being left as an appendix, possibly after Bob Cordery’s Designing Wargames Rules…?

The book is available here: http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.