Sunday, 30 September 2018

Thinking out loud..... part 1.

Somewhere between these three publications lies my ideal wargame.

I have been doing an awful lot of thinking and mental planning recently with regards to how I want to be able to use my 40mm Napoleonics. I needed to get a few ideas 'down on paper' and out of my head, in order to be able to see where I am with this. So this post will probably consist of numerous bullet pointed notes that will hopefully come together to assist me in better understanding the shape and form and type of wargame I want to be able to enjoy, and I invite comments and suggestions of course.

1. Grid or no grid?  So this is the starting point for me, and believe me when I say it's been buzzing round my head for weeks now as I weigh up the pro's and con's of both. My instinct is to go with a grid based game using a very subtle 6" square grid, indeed I would like the challenge of doing this and I think a lot about how I could make this look as conventional as possible. Grids just work for me, when I place a unit within a grid it instantly defines the ground occupied, the type of terrain, the movement options available and the range bands for shooting. I don't have to worry about the finer points of facings or formations too much, my unit can be assumed to be doing all that, but the important thing is that it sits within that grid and everything else is obvious at a glance. Units can be placed in formation that best suits the nationality and training of the troop type, in my case columns for the French and line for the British. I am adamant that I will not go back to hexes again for three main reasons, firstly I have done it too many times before, secondly because it's sodding hard work marking them all out, and thirdly because I'm looking to achieve a grid based game that will feature conventional terrain features such as rounded hills,  roads and rivers that can be laid straight across the table, square or rectangular fields and such like. I have in mind Bob C's Portable Wargames rules with the addition of a dice driven random activation system along the lines of Bolt Action where the advantage can potentially be with one side for a few moves before it swings back again which I always found great fun. I'm also keen to avoid the 'you go, I go' thing where all units of one side are moved together, fire, melee etc.

2. How many model soldiers can fit in the grid square and what do they represent? This one has been going round and round my brain almost to the point of torment! I think I now have it nailed however, I'll try to explain. Let's say I want to deploy x number of model soldiers within a 6" grid, there has to be space to represent the terrain type that area represents, so the units need to be fairly small, and 12 x 40mm figures allows for this. I can place 12 British infantry in two ranks, or 12 French infantry in a column of 3 ranks. Now, I am mentally unable to see those 12 figures as representing anything but a single company, they simply wont do as a regiment, brigade or division etc, it works for others I know, but for me it's an infantry company or a troop in the case of 4 cavalry. The next stage is to deploy several companies representing larger formations, so my 12 British infantry based on 120mm frontage can be formed up alongside other companies forming a realistic long firing line, with only a 30mm space between the companies, this really don't look bad at all on the table and the French columns look equally good to my eye as allowing space to deploy into line, although of course this is not relevant to my game. Table size I have decided to use is 5' wide by 6' long which equates to a 10 x 12 grid of 6" squares.

3. Nice flags, musicians and mounted officers. 12 infantry figures representing a company does not allow for lots of flags and officers etc, they would look silly and unrealistic, but of course we all like to see a few on the table don't we? Again I have agonised over this and finally come to the conclusion that I can create command stands representing 'officers', not too big but large enough to accommodate 1 mounted officer, standard bearers and the odd character etc. I think nice round bases maybe 60mm will do as they will need to fit within a square with a unit when they choose to attach and give the morale advantage (ignoring retreats) etc. 60mm is just about workable and will look very pretty I think.

4. What about cavalry and artillery? At the moment my 2 cavalry units (French 2nd Hussars and British 16th Light Dragoons) are each of 16 figures, and in 40mm they are huge! To sit in a 150mm grid square I have to break them down into troops of 4 figures, no choice in that given the size of the bases. I can live with this, especially when 2 such are deployed beside each other. As for the guns, they have to represent a single piece at this level and again I have no problem with that. I will only ever be fighting small scale, low level actions I know, but in 40mm I'm more than happy with that, I just want to push my lovely toy soldiers around the table.

I'll leave it there for now, but will next try to explain in more depth my ideas for the actual rules as outlined above. I'm hoping that Bob C's next book 'The Napoleonic Portable Wargame will expand upon the original rules - I have a hardback copy of 'The Portable Wargame - and address the issue of cavalry charging formed squares and the reaction of the infantry in such cases, most certainly Commands and Colours does this very well and it's something I would like to incorporate into my games, which will be set in Spain around 1810 - 1811.


  1. Aah good! someone else who goes around in circles as to which way to go - sometimes I think re-basing was invented just as a comforter for me! If I can add some unhelpful (spanner in works) thoughts;

    1 - Grids. Two of the three rulesets you like are purposely gridded, the third (OHW) lends itself very naturally to conversion to grids - especially to 6" and matching the frontage of one unit to the grid size and so both your inclination towards grids and choice of rules pushes the grid agenda. I am a fan of grids for sheer functionally, but in truth, beautiful they are not! and your 40mm figures are beautiful, so I would be tempted to keep the door open at this stage as whether to grid or not. Before gridding the surface, it might be nice just to do an open game with One Hour Wargames just to see the beauty of the aesthetic, with units at a strength / frontage that better appeal to your eye and then decide whether to grid or not. Sorry if that throws you back into the loop of indecision:-).

    2. How many figures in a grid? with the many advantage of a grid, there are two notiecable downsides, firstly at times one has to accommodate both figure and terrain in the same square, so there needs to be enough room to do that. Secondly, maximising the frontage of a unit to fit the square is straight forward, but the consequence of the square is that the depth of the square cannot be utilised in any efficient way and is a waste of table space in terms of deployment. The company is an awkward representation as there are 6 - 10 companies in the battalion, so some double ranking of bases within the square may be necessary, which of course deals with problem 2 outlined above (wasted depth), but directly impacts on problem 1 (sharing a square with units and terrain). Having said that, two ranks of horse on a narrow front will still give a magnificent sense of mass. I find two ranks of 9 x 28mm infantry just about gives enough of a sense of line while trying to accommodate my thing of small footprint for a small table. That gives units of 18 infantry on three bases, which I had thought was as fine as I could cut it. 12 would be just two such bases!, though obviously bigger bases in 40mm.

    3 - Flags and officers - Some lovely 60mm bases could be worked up for that if keeping to 12 man units.

    4 - Cavalry and artillery - Artillery seems to be a fixed outcome, with two guns simply having too wide a frontage, so one nicely done and crewed model seems to be a default position. Cavalry can look mean at just four figures. I provisionally have six on two 60mm bases (again weedy 28mm :-) ) and have thought that double ranking that would look good, while still only taking up a small frontage. Perhaps to meet grid obligations two ranks of 4 horse, certainly for heavies, would give a certain mass.

    I have some fairly complicated boardgames that I like, made worse by the fact that I have a lot of different boardgames, so taken together they can be a bit rules intensive and I can never hope to hold all of that in my head, so I am increasing wanting my figure side of things to just be pretty and fun, with rules sitting at the easier end of the complexity spectrum, so that my figures are doing something different than my boardgames.

    I have just re-read this post and realised that in some ways it is not helpful as you have already thrown this around in your head 100 times and I was going to scrap the post, but I am guessing that part of the reason for the original post is to sound out ideas and get some thoughts, so I will hit the publish button, in the knowledge that there is nothing I have written that you have not already been thinking about. I love the charm of your 40's and look forward to hearing more about how you are going to move the project on.

  2. I agree with your hex vs square argument; for me I try to use squares for battles before 1900; hexes after. As for the size of units and what they represent: I saved a picture from Facebook of a game where someone was using their own single figures and terrain using Battle Cry (a Command & Colors variant). As scenarios are based on large battles, such units would represent regiments or brigades using the rules, but looking at the game it looks like a battle involving a regiment with artillery support on both sides. I plan to try a game using this idea. Your command stands could represent brigade or division commands. As for me, I rarely concern myself about what a unit is suppose to represent or how much area a square represent. I want to put toy soldiers on a table and have an enjoyable game. But that's just me.

  3. Having been through all of these same questions several times let me just add a few thoughts:
    1) after years of experiments and backing up to better jump forward, I can happily say that none of it has been wasted as I have learned more about my choices and the process and the games have been enjoyable.

    2) I have tinkered with the unit as company, and leaving aside pros and cons will merely speak in favour of Lawford & Young's approach in Charge! which was to represent a battalion by companies rather than 8 or more. You still get the feel of companies but with room for more than one. Some sort of Battalion integrity rule might be good even if it is just morale.
    3) As for depth, wargamers rarely allow for the empty spaces on the battlefield and ordinarily even in column there is a space between companies, at normal distance a battalion in column of companies should have the same depth as the width of battalion in line. This could be closed up tighter to save space where crammed or to add force to a column assault (the British quarter column) If your squares have room allowing to companies to form up together in a square, one behind the other would nicely represent this but needs rules for the difficulty in manoeuvring and for the vulnerability to artillery fire in particular. It might be as easy to keep them 1 to a square but with a rule allowing them to march more quickly and have some form of support rule during charges.
    4. A minor thing, guns often or usually were deployed in pairs so you might want to consider your 1 gun model as being a pair (not that it matters really, once the dice start rolling)

    5. I have seen some very attractive gridded tables on line and at conventions so can confirm that it IS possible.

    Lastly, enjoy the voyage of exploration!

  4. Some interesting decisions you have to make. One consideration along with the number of figures in a unit as mentioned above is the intended number of units to be fielded on the tabletop. I find gridded games almost benefit from having fewer units, else they quickly fill up with units because the grid spaces out the units far more.

  5. I like hexes, but squares or hexes (I use both) are great they avoid all the 'creep' in unit position and facing and eliminate those borderline case when a distance appears to be smack on the boundary - is it in, is it out? I'm also looking into irregular grids along the lines of the boards in Napoleon's Triumph ( Making things clearer also speeds up people's moves as there's less to think about.

  6. Are you going to do a full grid or just the corners? I did just the corners and it worked but was less obtrusive unless you were looking for it I wish you luck with your deliberations!
    Best Iain

  7. Thank you all for the comments. I think it might be best if I reply collectively in a follow up post addressing the points that have been made, it's given me much to think about!



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