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


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.





23 comments:

  1. I like red tiddlywinks , highly visible and as I play mostly solo a ready reminder of the state of play , Tony

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    1. Good man - it seems there is a general agreement that the tiddlies are ideal for solo games.

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  2. Agreed. I too have started using them in my all too rare solo games. Quick, easy, highly visible, etc., etc. Less fiddly than casualty caps or small plastic curtain rings too.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Yes - I mostly play solo too, and would probably have been less comfortable to develop the tiddly idea for games with human opponents. It's just sort of become a house standard - however, unlike most of the house standards, I can still remember where this one came from. Most of them are because that's what I do, so what's your problem! :-)

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  3. I like red tiddlywinks. I dislike casualty removal.

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    1. Exit polls suggest that tiddlywinks might have a bigger following than I thought...

      I don't mind removing casualties, but I prefer it when they aren't my figures and I'm not doing the tidying up afterwards!

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  4. As you know I remove casualties in games with my own rules and I like this because of the retro/nostalgia element of my Hinton Hunt project. However I agree with you that this is impractical and does lead to the odd real casualty and adds a lot to the clear up time at the end of the game. How my troops survived Vintage Waterloo and Leipzig with just one broken bayonet I'll never know! However as a late convert to C&CN and after having the privilege of playing with your toys, I can say that the red tiddly wink is the perfect way to record losses. It's highly visible to all the players and I think it looks quite neat. I can't see any reason why you should change it!

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    1. Ian - if you'd seen my first attempts at a flat MDF casualty you would have been helpless with laughter, I think. The removal of the men is traditional, and is probably the most pleasing way to eliminate the troops (especially the enemy's troops) - my issues, from my own point of view, are that I am too clumsy and too impatient to make a decent job of it. The "mixed units" ECW problem was a new one to me, and that was the first real argument I'd come across in favour of keeping the casualties on the table. For a smaller game, or for anything remotely like a skirmish, the casualties have to come off - no doubt. For me this is a practical problem, and - like the underscale houses! - I've got used to the rather odd appearance of the Red Blobs.

      Hedley suggests that I subconsciously reject the implied violence, so that if I allocate markers rather than killing the men off, it's a bit like 20mm paintball warfare. I'm trying not to think too carefully about this...

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  5. I normally use small dice but I rather like the look of red tiddlywinks and they are cheap as chips.

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    1. I can break off more bayonets while turning over a miniature die than you would believe...

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  6. The red tiddlywinks work admirably; though I have taken to using little (6mm dia) red 'pom-poms' donated by my daughter in recent years.
    (She told me they might look like blood spatters, and thus might fit the battlefield...and yes, I am worried by this statement ).

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    1. The pom-poms have a nice touch, though the medical implications are bothering, agreed. 6mm is a discipline all of its own, I guess - I had thought along the lines that "bigger battles lend themselves to the use of markers" but I think it is more to do with the number and relative fiddliness of the figures.

      I became slightly worried that my dislike of unit cards would alienate the Bluecher devotees (I have the book, but have not played a game - I am hoping that someone invites me along to watch one some day) - but I gather than most Bluecher players have pretty well-organised systems to put a lot of information on the bases.

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  7. Have you considered green tiddlywinks?

    Less visible, but then, why do you need to notice them all the time? They only become really important when the unit is involved in an event of some kind, at which point you go over and have a butchers at what the tally is. Commanders would have been only dimly aware of the state of the individual battalions at any one time. This could have some interesting tactical effects....

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    1. Agreed - if you are proposing to send someone off to break that defensive line, you might wish to select someone who is still in good shape, though, so research will be pretty constant.

      The theme of using more discreet - maybe even invisible - markers brings me to a rather embarrassing tale - bear with me. For many years I used a self-written computer program to manage my games - this allowed all sorts of options about how much data was readily visible. One of the options, of course, was that you could choose to have no information at all about current state - you could interrogate a specific unit or brigade if you needed to know. You can see how exciting this might be - add this to the Feu Sacré blinds and the fog of war becomes total. The reality was disappointing - visiting generals, having enthused about the level of secrecy, would then tend to maintain written sheets recording the state of their army, which is nonsensical on about 4 different criteria. So I gave that idea up.

      At least I tried it...

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  8. You raise a lot of worthwhile points, Prometheus, some that I have been considering off and on lately, myself. Personally, I'm a casualty removal man, as the most ... erm ... verisimilitudinous method of resording a unit's effectiveness, but you are right about the downside. The red counter is not a bad compromise, and one I have been considering using for some of the rule sets I use. Another possibility is a die place in or on a small stand that is placed in the rear of the unit.

    The 'die-on-a-stand' thing does have this advantage: one is less likely to forget the thing as the unit moves around. It becomes part of the unit. Such is my experience anyhow. I find counters are apt to get forgotten or scattered about.

    However one does these things, convenience is almost as much a criterion as appearance, and counters and such don't detract as much from appearance as one imagines, anyhow.

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    1. The little dice are a nice touch - i find them a bit fiddly to handle (see reference to "horses' hooves"), but they take up less space than counters, and the dice that sit in a little socket are very swish - I like that. My counters don't get left behind because in the games where I use them my units sit firmly on movement sabots, and the counters travel around with the chaps, on the edge of the sabot. I agree that trying to keep control of counters lying on the battlefield near a unit is a near impossibility.

      I have the greatest respect for gamers (why does that word grate? - sorry if it's the wrong word - it doesn't feel comfortable) who go to the trouble of making up casualty markers which look like wounded men. That's very thorough - I am slightly troubled by the idea of a unit then charging about, trailing some dead people on special bases, but I suppose it is no more silly than red tiddlies - it just seems more explicitly bizarre.

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  9. Having discovered 'the joy of hex' I've started gaming in 6mm. My casualty counters are flat topped Lego one pip round tiles. They are a bit fiddly but the only tiddlywinks I could find were way out of scale for the units. I went with yellow for some reason...though I take Wellington Mans point about over advertising the current state of damaged units.

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    1. Yellow Lego is classy - as mentioned above, the world of 6mm brings a few needs and disciplines of its own, I think.

      One of my old books shows photos of games of Jack Scruby and his collaborators, with plastic caps over the figures' hats to denote death. That's OK - in principle that makes a lot of sense, but one's natural defensiveness about the potential intrinsic silliness of playing with soldiers would have me worrying about plastic hats. I am confident that Jack Scruby would not have worried about such matters - it would have taken a brave man to scoff at Jack, I think.

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  10. Whatever floats your boat Sir! We Rejects use cut up pipecleaners to denote loss, disorder and routs gor most sets of our rules. It works....simples!

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    1. Pipecleaners - yes, good. I associate pipecleaners with "gluings" involving yogurt pots which my kids brought home from nursery, but some simple coloured device is fine. I got too clever by half a year or two ago, and bought some tiny coloured beads from a local handicraft shop. They were so small you couldn't see them, I couldn't pick them up, and I couldn't see them on the floor when I (inevitably) dropped the beggars. I wrote that idea off as a failure.

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  11. Oh, I absolutely hate and detest tiddlewinks, curtain rings, plastic caps as casualty markers. What's wrong with using single, disgruntled looking figures facing away from the action to denote loss of cohesion or confidence? Doesn't everyone have a boxfull of useless odds and sods figures for this purpose?
    I also use single 'ADC' figures to represent orders. No incongruous plastic jobbies or roster sheets cluttering up my battlefields.

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    1. Good to come across a man of principle - well said - and I'm all in favour of tidiness.

      ADCs for orders is good too. My only crib about the disgruntled looking figures is lack of visibility, since all my figures look a bit disgruntled anyway. "Doesn't everyone have a boxful of useless odds and sods figures for this purpose?" - well I don't, for one. It is an interesting idea, as I mentioned in the post, but most of the casualty conversions I've seen in the past are lumpier and more disgruntled than you might have in mind. Hence my research into cheap, low profile MDF corpses.

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    2. Ah, you obviously never look on Ebay after a night in the pub. I think that's where my stock of useless figures came from.

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