A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Saturday, 22 July 2017

More French Command - on a run now...

And here are some more. This is the missing artillery command stand - they can also be in charge of the French Siege Train if and when it gets out of the box. The standing figures are from TM1815's set TM-F0002 - French Staff Officers - which are available online from Hagen; the mounted chap is Hinton Hunt FN224, because I have a couple of spares, because it's a figure for which I have a long-standing affection and to get the Old School brownie points score up a bit.


Pleased with these - I'm still not quite sure what artillery commanders do in a wargame, but they can stand around and look smart, I guess. You will observe that they are based on one of my new-house-standard 50x50 jobs (which, strictly speaking, is the size for a Division Commander) and they have the regulation black border, which is used for artillery, engineering and logistics command stands.

Those French ADCs are fun to paint. I must say I do enjoy painting these odd command figures - they don't numb the brain to the same extent as, say, two dozen identical fusiliers.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

New Faith in the Clean Spirit?

After 3 weeks in the Clean Spirit jar, my Qualiticast French command figures had come up very nicely, thank you, so a couple of evenings of brushwork later I have put them back on their little scenic baseboard. There is still some artistic touching-up required on the basing, but here is the new French HQ - it's been a long time coming - I must have bought these figures on eBay five or six years ago.

All freshly painted - apparently invigorated by 3 weeks in the magic stripper.
In the middle distance, young Jean-Aristide gets his instructions from the
Adjudant-Commandant, while his elders and betters appear to be unsure
exactly where the enemy might be. The duty guard from the 3rd Hussars
are probably bored stiff.
 
I have quite a few new staff figures to paint up, so that will keep me busy, but I shall also set up a trial jar of Simple Green. No need for hurry, but let's get on with it. I have some pre-owned Les Higgins Frenchmen who will appreciate the experience, I'm sure.

Latest off-the-wall suggestions for stripping model paints are Coca Cola (which I've heard before) and tomato ketchup (which is a new one on me). At the moment I'm happy with the Clean Spirit test results, now I'll set up a Simple Green batch - that's enough excitement for this month.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Red Tiddlywink of Courage

I've had an interesting exchange of emails with Hedley, who lives in New Zealand, about my use of casualty markers, or loss markers, or whatever you may choose to call them (I am a bit inconsistent myself).

It is evident from photos of my wargames that the look of the thing is rather compromised by the presence of bright red tiddlywinks, which Hedley thought was not necessarily an enhancement. I have written here about this topic before, but Hedley thinks it's interesting, so maybe there is some mileage in setting out my thoughts (my current thoughts, that is - they will doubtless evolve further) on ways of keeping track of the state of our wargame units.


This is one of those areas where it becomes evident that everyone likes what he likes - that we play our games in ways that suit us, and that one man's no-brainer of a solution is another man's pet hate. If I say something here that you disagree with, by the way, that's not a problem - please do not feel the need to write and tell me what a cretin I am. Recently I have been on the receiving end of some silly invective concerning my fondness for the Accursed Hexagon; it seems only fair if I respond by saying that I also have developed a very strong dislike of a few things - order sheets and roster cards are high on the list. They do not work for me - they create mess and they distract attention away from the action on the tabletop. They are simply methods of recording more information, and I understand why they are used, but I find them a mighty turn-off. If I read a set of rules and become aware of an expectation that I am going to write down orders for each unit, each turn, then I shall put the rule book back where I found it. Similarly, I find that unit cards (such as in the Perfect Captain rules, which otherwise seem very satisfactory) are a fussy sort of add-on, to solve game problems that could be handled in other ways.

Let us not get into any boardgames vs miniatures debate - these discussions invariably become religious - but it would be silly to disregard one of the obvious differences. The miniatures player has an advantage in that a lot of the information needed is apparent from the models themselves - we can recognise the type of unit from the uniform and weaponry, and it is convenient to use the size of the unit - the number of figures remaining, if you approach the matter in that way - as an indication of effectiveness. This is a very flexible variant of those numbers in the corners of your boardgame counters; with some thought, the unit on the tabletop can record enough information to allow the game to be fought without off-line devices - yes, that's right - we've all been doing this for years.

Many years ago, I started basing my units up as per the Wesencraft model - normally figures were based in multiples of three, with one of the threes split onto a two and a one, to allow "change" of odd casualties. As time passed, I moved toward larger groups - these days my infantry battalions mostly comprise 4 bases of 6 figures (in two rows). I found it much more convenient to abandon the "small change" idea - I either calculate casualties to the nearer whole base or else use a miniature die to record the odd losses. It's a trade-off. Certainly, I have used 6-man bases for a good few years now, and have never considered changing back, so I guess that - for me - it works.

Having reduced the labour required to remove casualties, the next step was to abandon the removal of casualties altogether, and - once again - I have no immediate intention to change back again. I now use markers to denote losses - I could use rather more subtle markers, but my current cheap-and-cheerful red tiddlywinks do the job, and are visible from across the table. These, I think, are the arguments that brought me to stop removing casualties:

(1) Handling - many of my figures are old and fragile (Les Higgins and Garrison - this mostly means you); on the other hand, some are new and even more fragile (Falcata, Art Miniaturen, NapoleoN, Hagen - this means you). As my eyesight becomes less precise, as my fingers gradually turn into horses' hooves and as my anxious nature seeks new and more obscure things to worry about, I find that the fear of damaging my soldiers has become a serious issue. They are now handled almost exclusively by their bases, and for the less tactically-detailed rulesets they are attached by magnets to rigid sabots. This may seem neurotic, but it is important to me. The less handling the better.

(2) Efficiency (and mess) - Casualties during a miniatures battle, whether removed singly or in large clumps, will gradually take over all the horizontal surfaces in the room (two separate rooms, in my case). Sorting the figures back into organised units before storing them away is a massive contributor to put-away time, and provides extra exposure to the Handling hazard (see (1) above), particularly if the hour is late and the wine is finished.

(3) Proportionality, and the Nature of Casualties [what?] - my take on this is that if a unit is worth (say) 4 to start with (bases, Combat Points, potatoes...) and loses 1 then it does not follow that 25% of the men present just got shot. What it does mean is that the unit is now only about 75% as effective as it was initially - whether the difference is explained by actual physical casualties, or fatigue, or plain old loss of interest is almost immaterial from the general's viewpoint. This came home to me most forcibly when I started working with rules for the English Civil War, which was my first exposure to non-homogeneous regiments. In a unit which consists of 3 bases - say 2 of muskets and 1 of pikes - if you lose a base, which one is it? Further to the point, if the unit has become 2/3 of what it was, what is it now? Well, I reckoned the easiest way to do this was to leave all the original bases in play (so you can see what it was, what mix of subunits it had, how big it was) and just place the red markers to show losses. That gives you a more complete picture. It's also very difficult to represent different formations when you only have 1 base left!

That's about it. That's what prompted me to move in this direction, and thus far - apart from the appearance thing - I have no reason at all to believe I made a mistake. I have a background project somewhere to develop an assorted stock of flat (MDF?) painted casualty markers - which might be interesting, but it would take some work to get this operational, they would probably not be as visible as the red plastic, and there is a slightly undignified whiff of the floating chalk outline scene from Naked Gun.


For the time being, the tiddlywinks have it.





Friday, 14 July 2017

This and That, and Some of the Other

Odds and ends, really.

Topic 1: The Figure Stripping Trials

Getting a breather from the Clean Spirit
Following previous laments about this, and plentiful advice, I have now had the set of Qualiticast French Napoleonic staff figures steeping in a sealed jar of Bartoline Clean Spirit for two weeks, so I decided it was time to see how they are getting on. I fished one of them out, scrubbed down with water and a (rather soft) toothbrush, and did a little exploratory picking with a penknife point. Not bad at all. What I have done now is I put him back in the Clean Spirit with his pals, and we'll see how they are doing in another two weeks. As mentioned by Doug, the big advantages of this stuff are:

(1) - it is unbelievably cheap - a bottle about the size of a wine bottle is about £2-something out of Homebase.

(2) - it is non-toxic - hardly smells of anything - you can soak figures in it forever without damaging the metal - it would do plastic too, it's safe to handle, and you can flush it down the kitchen drain without wrecking your pipes or the environment.

(3) - it seems to work - pretty well, if you like slow and steady rather than quick and life-threatening. I'm interested to see how the residual fragments of paint get on over another two weeks, and - of course - see how easily the paint comes off figures which have been in the bath for a month. Good so far.

I also ordered a bottle of Simple Green, which was much more expensive, and has just arrived - it took a fortnight to get here (posted from Germany, I see, though I ordered it from a UK firm).

If I can find a suitable figure or two, I'll start another trial jar of Simple Green.

Good this - almost scientific, in a pathetic sort of way. I'll report back. They won't be sneering when I get my Nobel Prize...


Topic 2: A Delayed Make-Over

Pontes Bellonae
After I saw some recent photos of my old Bellona bridges, I suddenly realised that they are very crudely presented - I slapped some paint on them about 45 years ago, and that's how they've stayed. They get a fair amount of use, but every time I see them I think, "Oh, there's the old Bellona bridges", and completely fail to register that they are a bit scruffy. This is very odd - if I'd paid a lot of money for some piece of imported resin exotica I would be carefully drybrushing the life out of it before I let anyone see it.

I decided it would be a simple matter to smarten up the Bellona chaps a bit - so I did it last night. Dark brown undercoat, drybrush with two shades of stone. Not a brilliant job, but surely an improvement. Why did it take so long? No idea - low prestige project? - other things to do? - kept forgetting? - some other reason?

Doesn't matter. Done.


Topic 3: This One under Wraps for a While

Drop me a line
What's this then, Foy?

Well, it's fishing line - pretty strong fishing line. It is my latest outside-the-envelope idea for solving what has become something of a bugbear problem in the figure preparing and painting department. There will be some experiments, and if I have any success I'll come out of the cupboard and bore everyone silly. If it doesn't work, I'll just never mention it again.

How can we lose?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Hooptedoodle #268 - Juveniles in the Woodshed

If you can see them then they can see you - hirundo rustica, as ever was
Just to prove that Nature gets the job done, I have to report that our visiting swallows - clumsy builders though they might be - appear to have produced some chicks. Noisy little beggars, and not exactly beautiful in absolute terms, but possessing a certain rough charm.

Many thanks to the Contesse for the photo - a difficult commission - best we have to date.

Yes, our swallows have laid their eggs on top of an electric lamp. Yes, that is dumb. That's nothing, in about 12 or 13 weeks they have to fly to South Africa. Doesn't bear thinking about.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Tamames 1809

The Spanish Regiment Irlanda moving up in support of the left flank - they
performed valiantly, but the battle was decided elsewhere.
Battle of Tamames duly took place last night - excellent game. Once again history was overturned, but we consciously abandoned the historic French script.

Our game was based on the scenario published on the C&CN user site, with a couple of minor changes to the OOB (there are some typos on the scenario, though it is otherwise well thought out). Standard size C&C table (13 x 9 hexes), and, since my colleagues were new to the rules, we used the original Command Cards. which give rather quicker game-play. As always, I used my own rules for the Spanish army, rather than official C&CN Expansion #1 rules (they are pretty similar, in fact).

In the real Battle of Tamames, we are told, General Marchand (who had temporary command of the French VI Corps, while Marshal Ney was on leave in Paris) underestimated the strength of the Spanish position, not to mention their fighting qualities, and attacked their left with insufficient strength. The Spanish won, and Napoleon was as sick as a parrot.

Since we had read our Oman, and thus had the advantage of hindsight, in our game the French abandoned this approach (it was fairly evident from the troops on the table that Maucune's brigade, on the right, even with cavalry support, was not enough to defeat what he was faced with). The scenario probably understates the Spanish numbers a bit - in particular Belvidere's reserve looked a bit sparse behind the Spanish right flank, so our 20mm Marchand last night attacked on his left - though the ridge looked a bit daunting, the numbers were more in his favour - Marcognet's brigade, with support from Labassée's, went in, though it took a while to get suitable cards to promote aggressive action on that flank.

As ever, the C&C scenario has the armies developed at the start, but the attacking side (French) have some choreography to sort out, to get their artillery up from the rear.

There's a general initial picture in my previous post about this battle. The game was pretty frantic last night - brilliant fun. This may have something to do with the action not being hamstrung by the presence of a river, nor bogged down in the defence of a strongpoint, but we certainly had a lot of movement, and C&C managed yet again to provide a game suitable to get the newbies involved and enthusiastic. As is so often the case in such circumstances, I fear the photography was not as thorough as it could have been, so I'll attempt to piece together some kind of narrative from the evidence on the camera!

The French develop their left flank attack - Marcognet to the fore, with
two battalions of 25e Léger on loan from Bardet's brigade

It took a while to get it organised, but here goes the main attack, with the second
line carefully leaving enough space for the leading units to fall back if necessary...

French artilleryman's view of the ridge opposite

Things are a little more stressful for the Spanish artillery on the other side
of the table - with 2 red loss markers showing, this battery is already at reduced
effect - one more loss and they can go for an early bath

An overall view from the Spanish right - they have plenty of troops (and
reserves!) in the centre, but there is not much happening there - at the far end
there is some brisk action - a good amount of ebb and flow. The
double-retreat rule for Spaniards had some interesting effects for the
Spanish light cavalry at the far end - any reverses and they fell back
a l-o-n-g way, so there was a great deal of dashing about - more drama
than effect mostly, though the French made good use of squares on a couple
of occasions
 

General Del Parque decided against making any kind of serious defence of
the town of Tamames, and pulled out to leave the place to the French

[note the statue of St Bernardino of Siena, patron saint of hay fever]

The first wave of Marcognet's attack was halted for a while, but the Spanish troops
on the ridge were gradually getting worn down

A reverse for the French - 1/39e eliminated by an exceptional volley of musketry

With numbers starting to become a problem, the French eventually got the
1/25e Léger up onto the flank of the Spanish line...

...and they quickly put paid to the Regimiento Cantabria...

...the end is nigh - General Losada brings up his last reserve on the Spanish
right - the converged grenadiers of the Africa and Reina regiments, but neither
he nor his brave troops lasted long

History is overturned yet again - the Spanish right flank has gone, the Victory
Point tally is 11-7 (9 for the win), and it's all over...

...whichever way you look at it!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Hooptedoodle #267 - Throw It Away



Must be about time for another whinge, I think. It is a constant source of sorrow to me that our lives seem to be dominated by the need to dump items - especially electronic items - since they are no longer supported, and/or cannot be repaired economically - and buy nice new ones. This process is enforced by the dictates of fashion; the message comes across when the young man on the other end of the support line actually snorts when he learns that my telephone (or camera, or sat-nav, or radio, or washing machine, or whatever) is almost six years old. The implication is that only a dreadful dinosaur would have a product of such age - how can such a person show his face in decent, tech-savvy consumer society? Sometimes the trained engineer [HA!] on the other end of the phone has never even heard of that model number - that's how old and uncool it is.

Well, I've thought some more about this - my thoughts are heavily influenced by two recent examples which I shall share with you in a moment, if you are not quick enough to spot what's coming and move off elsewhere. I have been doing some thinking, and my thoughts are summed up by one word.

Bollocks.


Recent Example 1: Tom-Tom. My wife has a new car - well, it was new some six months ago, and it has a built-in sat-nav system. Very nice. This renders her old Tom-Tom unit, which I bought for her about 6 years ago, redundant. I spotted an opportunity for shameless personal gain here, so I offered to take the old Tom-Tom off her hands - I could happily use it in my van, which would avoid my having to switch my own Garmin sat-nav between my car and my van (which may not seem like much of a hardship, but hey).

I quite like the Tom-Tom - it's friendlier than my Garmin - only problem with it is that the maps have never been updated since the unit was bought. This is not entirely due to hopeless inertia on our part - until recently, our domestic broadband service was so poor that a download big enough to include a complete motoring map of Northern Europe would have taken days and days. In a state of some excitement, I now did some poking about online, and found that a map upgrade would cost me about £35 - fair enough - ordered it and paid by PayPal, but the download wouldn't work - nothing happened. A lot of further searching revealed an appropriate support number (Tom-Tom's website, by the way, is a nightmare - lots of closed loops where links point to the page you are already on, or the one you just came from etc). Nice young man (NYM) explained to my wife that the sat-nav unit in question is now so old that they have withdrawn support for it - in any case, the latest maps are too large to fit the on-board storage. He very kindly arranged a refund of the PayPal payment (which took a week to come through), and offered us a discount on one of their new models. Some thoughts at this point:

(1) Everything must come to an end - it is not unreasonable that Tom-Tom should withdraw support for an old model, though 6 years might be considered rather indecently quick - well, in my world anyway, but...

(2) At any point between 6 years ago (when it was bought) and some time later (when support was withdrawn) there must have been updated maps on sale which would fit the storage - it is quite likely that if I had attempted this transaction last year (say) then it would have worked nicely. This point extends into...

(3) Withdrawn or not, supported or not, there must be a number of past updates still on file which would be an improvement on the map which we have at present. Any one of these would have been useful - we could negotiate a fair price? Well - no....

(4) I realise it doesn't work like that. If they sold me a replacement map which was more modern than the one I have, but not fully up-to-date, then I might trustingly drive into a newly-constructed reservoir and be extinguished. The important point is that if this was simply a consequence of my being too mean or idle to buy an up-to-date map then that would be entirely my problem, but if they had sold me an outdated map which did not show the reservoir then things could get sticky. Hmmm.

(5) OK - accept that. What really pisses me off about this is that the decision to withdraw support for an old product is pretty much arbitrary - the owner has no reasonable idea when this might happen - and it is heavily weighted commercially in favour of forcing existing customers to buy a new replacement. All good economic sense, of course, but - even with a discount - this line of reasoning would discourage me from doing further business with such people.

(6) The way ahead - Ze Plan:  I shall happily continue to use my pre-owned Tom-Tom with its outdated maps, I shall keep my eyes peeled for unexpected reservoirs, and I shall chuckle to myself at the prospect of having diddled Tom-Tom out of - ooh - several pounds. One day you may read about the tragic accident which claimed my life.   

Recent Example 2: Pure. I am a big fan of DAB digital radio. Only concerns I have are that the hardware - certainly from the market-leading brands - is too expensive, and (I am learning) the sets are not wonderfully reliable. I had a small Pure unit which died miserably, about 2 months past the end of the guarantee period, and I rather disappointed myself by buying another Pure radio to replace it. Before she moved out of her own house into a care home, my mother had a surprising number of Pure radios - she liked to have one in each of several rooms (kitchen, sitting room, bedroom - in fact she had two in her bedroom - one on the bedside cabinet, one on the dressing table). This may seem excessive, but her sight is poor, and she cannot see to plug a radio into the mains, nor to retune it when it has moved. We bought 3 of the things for my mum as a batch after my sister died in 2013, so we have a pretty good fix on how old they are.

Mum now has just one of these radios in the care home with her, and she listens to it for many hours a day. Right - that's all very good.

I sort of acquired the rest of them, and they haven't been a huge success. One of them developed a fault with the display, so I gave it away to someone who needed an extra radio. One of the remaining two has also recently had a failure of the display - I checked the support pages on the Pure site, followed the instructions for a full power-down and reset, and the display still didn't work. I emailed them. Within a day, I got a reply from a NYM named Sam. Guess what? - the unit is so old that it is not worth getting it repaired, and they have no suitable spare parts - the best they can offer is a discount off a reconditioned product.

Does any of this sound familiar? Just a minute - they have reconditioned products? Does this mean somebody has fixed one? This seems unlikely - I doubt if they have any actual engineers - the philosophy seems to be one of unloading shiploads of new units from China - it is cheaper and easier to send out a new one than it is to attempt to test or repair an existing one - even assuming they have the skills in this country (which we may debate).

So, in addition to not buying a new Tom-Tom unit, I shall not be buying another Pure radio either - with or without discount. They can focus their marketing on customers who are more in tune [ho - see what I did there?] with their business model. I shall take my custom elsewhere.

Don't misunderstand this - young Sam is obviously a good chap - he sympathised with my situation, and said that if I change my mind (and somehow he seems to believe I will) he can supply a list of current reconditioned deals for out-of-warranty customers [dinosaurs] like me.

All a bit depressing - I'll see you down at the landfill.

I'll finish with my most treasured tale of techno-waste. Some years ago I had a friend who had retired in ill-health from his job, and had set himself up as a self-employed photographer. In his new role he did a vast amount of printing of digital photos - he had a trade card which allowed him to purchase new Canon printers so cheaply that he could now buy a brand new printer (with cartridges) for far less than the cost of a set of replacement cartridges, so it made obviously good sense for him to simply throw away his printer when the ink ran out, and buy a new one. Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?


To cheer me up, here's a smashing song, written and sung by Abbey Lincoln - Abbey is dead now - she recorded this when she was in her late 70s - her voice had gone to hell, as you will hear, but this is a piece of magic. See if it cheers you up too.