Monday, 16 November 2015

Vive la Republique! Vive la Liberte! Vive La France!

Others will no doubt say it more eloquently, but here are some of my favourite French things:

Paris, in all it’s glory

French summers

French food and wine

French films

Louis XIV

French armies

French courage, now and always

Nous sommes unis - Nous sommes Paris

Monday, 2 November 2015

Roundwood Recommends - Number 3: One Stop Campaign Guides

One of the great things about our hobby is being able to develop the setting and background of our wargames, immersing the players in a particular historical period. Sometimes the creation of that world takes on a dimension of its own. We research uniforms, flags, tactical deployments and historic battles. We spend time thinking about the terrain of the conflict, the buildings, the landscape, even the animals which would have been present in Roman Britain, Napoleonic Russia or wherever our armies take us. And, in the process, we read a lot. I think every wargamer I have met has been a great reader, often many amassing fine collections of books which any public or university library would be delighted to hold.

It often seems hard just to find one book for a particular period which tells you, the wargamer, what you need to know.

Modern periods such as the Second World War have an embarrassing wealth of publications, with every possible detail of the combatants described and catalogued in depth. More distant periods, such as the early Middle Ages, sometimes appear to lack any definitive text which contains everything you’d need to start a wargames campaign – instead, more general historical books need to be trawled for the jewels of military history tucked away in obscure paragraphs on Pictish standing stones, Viking longboat building (or whatever).

Whatever the period, the hunt for an elusive single guide to a wargames period or a campaign can be difficult.

With this in mind, I thought another post for my Roundwood Recommends series could be One Stop Campaign Guides. These are single books (if possible) which give a really sound and comprehensive coverage of armies and tactics for a particular period, and which are still fairly readily available.

The idea would be for a newcomer to a historical wargames period to pick up the book and, after reading through, to have a good idea of how the respective armies were organised, fought tactically and strategically, some insight into the major battles and the terrain on which they were fought, and some understanding of the key elements required for victory by the commanders in the particular conflict. Also, if possible, the book should contrast the forces on either side – their organisation, their tactics, their leadership and their methods of fighting.

Looking through the books I have at home, and thinking about the wargames I’ve played in, I’ve narrowed down my list to five books. There were quite a few which almost made it, but each of them fell at one of the hurdles. Some focused too much on one side of the battle. Others paid little attention to the terrain over which battles were fought. Others neglected the strategic aspect of the conflict being discussed.

I should add that my list is very personal. You are very free to disagree with the books I’ve chosen! I am sure you have your own titles which you think do the job as well, or better, than the ones I’ve listed. If so, please do add them into the comments below.

So, in no particular order, here’s my list of the Roundwood Recommends One Stop Campaign Guides.

First up is a relatively new book, “Waging War in Waziristan”, by Andrew Roe. The book features the campaigns staged and policies adopted by the British in Waziristan during the late 19th and early 20th century. Particular attention is played to the role of diplomacy employed by the British and Indian army in controlling the wild tribal highland areas in what is now the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although it’s not a wargaming book, it provides a wonderful summary of the different motivations of the relevant combatants in the area’s conflicts for almost 100 years. Rooted in the analysis of the fighting is an understanding of why the hill tribes of Waziristan were so hostile, uncontrollable and resilient – through understanding the motivation of the hill tribes to fight, and the particular terrain on which campaigns were staged, the British and Indian political officers and commanders in the area were eventually able to calm, control and sometimes suppress this challenging part of the Raj.

Like the other One Stop Campaign Guides, there is a wealth of information in the book to stage skirmishes, set-piece actions or campaigns. Reading through it, the possible scenarios just tumble out from the history of the region (one of my favorite being a mule train of rifle smugglers, whose locally produced rifles were concealed in the false bottoms of a dozen wooden coffins).

It’s a wonderful book, and it’s still in print. If you’re tempted to campaign in “The Grim”, or North India especially in the early 20th Century, it’s a book you can start with and use through a host of games.

Second is an old favourite – Bruce Quarrie’s “Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature”. I am not a Napoleonic buff by any means, but I’ve loved this book for well over 20 years since I first saw a copy in one of the Humberside public libraries in the 1980s. For its time, it was a great attempt to fit everything a wargamer needed to know about the Napoleonic Wars into a single book. Battles, commanders, uniforms, march distances per day, organisation of artillery trains – if it was in the Napoleonic Wars, I imagine that there’s a reference (however brief) in Bruce’s book. 

Of course there are probably dozens of mistakes, over-abbreviations, confused misreadings of historical events. But the scale of the attempt to condense everything a wargamer needs into a small volume is deeply impressive. A grand, even Napoleonic, book. It is sadly out of print, but the internet is a wonderful resource for tracking such titles down.

From Napoleon, to America – and a couple of books which could well be brothers in arms. Both are by Paddy Griffith. The third of my chosen One Stop Campaign Guides is, if various reviews are to be judged, very controversial – being Dr. Grffith’s “Battle Tactics of the Civil War”. Those far better qualified than me can judge whether the book’s thesis (that the ACW was the last “Napoleonic war”) is accurate or not, and to what extent. For me, I greatly enjoyed the way in which the book provided a coherent argument as to how the ACW was fought at a strategic and tactical level. I personally found the late Dr. Griffth’s arguments persuasive, and was impressed by the way in which the tactical and grand-tactical battlefield events were referenced to the location and terrain of the battlefield, and to logistics. 

If nothing else, the book serves as a wonderful introduction for the fourth of my One Stop Campaign Guides – which is Dr. Griffith’s “Battle in the Civil War”. This is a slim, lovingly illustrated guide to the Civil War which sets out in a summary form many of the arguments made by Dr. Griffith in “Battle Tactics of the Civil War”. The illustrations, by Peter Dennis, are simply magnificent. The book is a model of clarity, describing organisation and tactics from the army level of campaigning, to brigade actions, and down to the regimental level. Tactics and terrain are well covered, as are the contrasts between the opposing forces. The two books, taken together, form a great introduction to the ACW, and I would guess that many of you will have them already on your bookshelves. If not, “Battle Tactics of the Civil War” is in print, and there are copies of the illustrated “Battle in the Civil War” available online from time to time.

And finally, to the fifth of my One Stop Campaign Guides. “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” is Dr. David Chandler’s book about how warfare was staged in the late 17th and the early 18th centuries. 

While many of you will no doubt love his “Campaigns of Napoleon” (an undoubtedly brilliant book), for me, I feel “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” is his magnum opus. At the time the book was written, probably less was available to Dr. Chandler about how Marlborough, Villars, Eugene of Savoy and Bouffleurs fought their battles, compared to Napoleon. The book is therefore a great volume of historical detective work. How did firefights take place? How many men were in action at any one time? How did armies manouevre, lay siege, fight? I doubt that many of these questions had been addressed in so comprehensive a way before “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” was published.

It describes the workings of the respective armies, their organisation, tactical handling, deployment, and campaign methods. It focuses on terrain – rivers, roads, strategic theatres. It considers the role of the chief commanders of the age, and of the great engineers. In short, you can start Marlburian wargaming having this book and needing very little else. After many years of playing that period, I found it as useful a guide to how Marlburian armies fought as I had done at the point I started. I was not always sure that Dr. Chandler’s conclusions were the last word on the subject (mainly because he had inspired so many other writers to add to his learning on that period), but they always needed to be borne in mind, and measured carefully before disagreeing. It is also beautifully written, in a clear, careful style which is a model of precision and brevity. Simply, one of my favourite books.

Well, there you have my five One Stop Campaign Guides. I know you’ll have many more. Please feel very free to add yours in the comments.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Roundwood Recommends - Number 2: “Painting Wargames Figures” by Javier Gomez (“EL Mercenario”)

Here’s another in my (irregularly timed) series of posts entitled “Roundwood Recommends”.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for information which teaches you new techniques and approaches for our hobby, whether modelling, terrain-building, gaming or painting. Although I love blogs and other information on the internet, for me nothing quite beats the sensation of having a physical book filled with information in my hands. In short, I’m a sucker for general hobby books, and book about painting miniatures are no exception.

When I saw “Painting Wargames Figures” by Javier Gomez (“EL Mercenario”) as a recommendation on Amazon, I was therefore interested. It’s a reasonably priced, beautifully and fully colour illustrated paperback book which, in step by step chapters, tells you how to paint wargames figures. He has a good writing style, and lays out each chapter logically. He deals with everything from cleaning and priming a figure, to undercoating, to painting and varnishing. In the process he covers flags, washes (or patinas), camouflage, and ground work. There are lots of photographs, all in colour. Most helpfully, each of the paints used by Javier used is broken down into a list of Vallejo paints used to create the colour effect. 

So far so good. And when it arrived, I was very pleased with the book. It was certainly very visually attractive. It very much looked like a useful book to put as a reference work on your shelf. You know the sort. They look quite worthy and helpful, but maybe (just maybe) you don’t use them as much as you would like.

And then, something made me actually give it a go, and use the book as El Mercenario intended all along. I painted some figures using his three colour method, strictly along the lines of the paint colours stated in the book. (I should add that this involved be purchasing about a dozen new Vallejo Model Colour paints, all of which I didn’t have – including Ivory, Buff, Flat Red, Cavalry Brown, and so on).

And I realised that the book was not merely attractive, it really is very, very useful indeed. The colour combinations chosen by El Mercenario for browns, reds, buffs, grey and flesh tones are really excellent. He has clearly thought a great deal about colour combinations, and experimented with these extensively. It takes a steady hand to achieve El Mercenario’s painting effects, but using the techniques and colour combinations in his book is a great step on the journey to getting there.

I also loved that El Mercenario is writing about painting wargame figures. He’s not writing about painting figures which will win you a Golden Demon, or the first prize at Euro Militaire. He’s writing about how to create excellent effects for painting wargame figures on a wargames tabletop. Throughout the whole book, I felt he was “on my side” – appreciating the look I was trying to create for my figures, and that he’d been there himself many times. 

So, in all, a “highly recommended” from me, and a worthy Roundwood Recommends. If you get the chance to buy one, or receive it as a present, I think you’ll like the book.

But if you get the chance to paint some figures using the book, I know you’ll treasure what is a really useful practical guide to painting wargame figures.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Wargame Bloggers Quarterly - Volume 2, Number 1

The new WBQ (Wargame Bloggers Quarterly), being issue 1 of volume 2, arrived online while I was away for a few days again in Northumberland.  It's a fantastic issue, and I think one of the best yet.

There's the second part of Eric the Shed's excellent guide to making Egyptian desert terrain, a very fine piece on "SAGA Do's and Don'ts" by Monty Luhmann (I wish I'd read that a long while back, Monty!) and a terrific article entitled "How to Design a Rulebook" by Mike Reynolds (The Dark Templar).

Mike's article really repays a second reading - it's full of helpful information, practical good sense and valuable design suggestions.  Mike's advice that a rulebook is a "piece of communication" carries a lot of thought behind it, which Mike's article goes on to demonstrate in exemplary fashion.    As with so much in previous issues of WBQ, Mike's article has had me looking and thinking afresh about how I can make written information for gaming look better.  If you do get the chance to have a look at WBQ Volume 2, Issue 1 (see the sidebar on the right hand of this blog for the free download), have a read through Mike's article.  There's something in there for every aspiring rules or scenario writer.

Huge congratulations to all of the editorial team of WBQ for a great edition, and in particular to the tireless Evan (as editor) and Millsy (as designer) for pulling this one together so well.

Congratulations, guys!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Holiday Interlude: National War Museum, Scotland

One of the places I visited on my recent holiday in Northumbria was the Scottish National War Museum, located within Edinburgh Castle. This has been by first visit to Edinburgh in about ten years, and I’m at a loss to explain why I’ve stayed away as long.

The museum is absolutely excellent. The displays are well lit, carefully labelled and take the visitor through the proud and long tradition of Scottish soldering from the 17th Century to the present day. There are several very well-known items, including the iconic painting of the Thin Red Line at Balaclava, accompanied by a host of military weaponry, uniforms and paraphernalia.

I loved the 17th century material, much of which I’d not seen at first hand, including a copy of Sir James Turner’s Pallas Armata

The collection of swords and pistols, including several Highland “dags”, was wonderful  ... 

... as were the displays of Scottish 19th century uniforms, which became steadily more eccentric in Queen Victoria’s “Balmoral” phase.

Of direct relevance to painting Highlanders from the Great War was a set of uniforms and kit from a Highland regiment (in which the webbing looked a lot more green than I had expected).  Does that mean I should start repainting ?  Oh, Lordy....

The selection of field surgical cases from South Africa in the Second Boer War was remarkable, as was coming face to face with the portrait of Piper George Findlater, awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan for piping his battalion forward despite being wounded several times.

Here’s some more photos, which say much more than I ever could.

I visited with my wife and two children (12 and 8). There’s more than enough for a wargaming or historically minded visitor to spend three or four hours, but also enough to keep my kids and Mrs Roundwood happy for a good couple of hours. The remainder of Edinburgh Castle (including the Scottish Hall of Remembrance) is an excellent day out. I certainly recommend that the National War Museum is firmly on the list for any visit to Edinburgh.
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