Friday, 12 April 2013

The Verdun Project: Echos of Revolution


I’m making a small detour in this post from the battle of Verdun to bring you some stunning images from a game at my local wargames club this week. The action being fought was a brigade-scale Napoleonic engagement in 28mm from Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796, with French demi-brigades being pitched against lines of Austrian battalions.




It was an incredible spectacle, with almost all of the figures having been painted over the last couple of years by Dr Daz, one of the long term club members. I can’t remember a game I enjoyed more for a long time, not only because of the spectacle of a table filled with dazzling uniforms but also because the rules fairly smoothly reflected the tactics and “feel” of the period and theatre.

For Napoleonic experts (of whom I am certainly not one), Daz will be well known as the author of Le Feu Sacre, his set of rules for Napoleonic Divisional games. The action on the wargames table this week, however, was an evolution from the mechanics developed by TooFatLardies’ supremos Richard Clarke and Nick Skinner in their forthcoming Chain of Command rules for World War Two. Daz has skilfully pinched (or perhaps I should say foraged….) the terrific command, control and movement features in Chain of Command and adapted them to the Revolutionary Wars.

It’s always enjoyable when a rule set you enjoy (Chain of Command, still in playtest but due for release this spring) is adapted to encompass a period you’ve always loved (Napoleon’s campaigns in Italy).

So here we had the Austrians (Al and myself) manoeuvring our forces to cross a fast flowing and deep river close to a small Italian town close to Legnano. Substantial French forces (commanded by Elton) were arrayed against us, but were arriving later to the field than our Austrians, allowing us to marshal our forces and press to the bridges before a river crossing became impossible. 



 
A thoroughly enjoyable game developed with our Austrians feinting on the left, while advancing in strength on the right. Highlights of the game included a storming assault by an unsupported, and rash, French battalion over one of the bridges into the mouths of an Austrian 12 pdr battery, and the latter assembly of an impressive line of Austrian battalions facing off against French attack columns. 



By the end of the game, honours had very gracefully been ceded by Elton, as the French Commander, to the Austrians. but as ever, it was the fine spirit in which the game was played, the smooth rules adaptations and Daz’s umpiring and informed commentary which linger in the memory. 




So what on earth has this to do with Verdun and the Great War? Well, possibly not a huge amount at first sight. But there are some connections......

First, I’ve been looking through the internet for some French propaganda posters from the Great War with a view to using them in some resources which I want to post here on the Blog. Its struck me how much of the French propaganda imagery looked back to the glory of the revolution, and the fighting spirit of the first citizen army. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the collective memory of the revolution for the French people was being drawn on to encourage recruitment and contributions to war loans in a later, though equally desperate, conflict. In the two phenomenal posters below, the connection is drawn in the clearest way possible. 



Second, its strange how the site of a miniature army and a wargame can be inspirational for whatever project you’re working on. Daz had introduced in his rules an advantage of inflicting “double shock” for a French attack column contacting their enemy in the first round of combat. His name for that special rule was “La Marseillaise”. As a lifelong Francophile, I have always loved rules like that.  Some players might call it “chrome”, or perhaps even “fluff”, but for me it’s the sort of rule which brings a wargame to life and makes me feel as if I'm playing a French army, not just any army from the period.   I hoping that I’m getting  close to deploying the Great War poilu on the wargames table for the first time next month. As I do so, the thought what additional rule tweaks might be useful in that later period is just as enjoyable.



29 comments:

  1. Superb pictures Sidney, I agree with the comparison of the propaganda pamphlets, the have a remarkable Corp d'esprit about them

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    1. Absolutely Andrew - a great Corps d'Esprit! I'll post some more shortly in some of the posts coming up. Hope you like them.

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  2. Beautiful game and big kudos go to Dr Daz for his fine collection and umpiring. I believe I have a copy of 'Le Feu Sacre' in the library so now I feel compelled to give them a try. Is there a way to get Daz's command/movement modifications? I'm quite intrigued.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the debut of your Poilu! I'm working on some of the hairy fellows myself and should have them done in the next week or so.

    'Attaque a outrance!'

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    1. "Attaque a Outrance!" indeed, Curt!

      Daz's rule adaptations worked really well. He was working from a set of papers during the game, and he mentioned that he didn't really want to publish them becuase of the time-requirements on a rule writer (answering questions, ploughing through forum posts, etc). I'll ask him if he's thinking about posting them anywhere.

      I'm excited about the thought of your greyscale poilu taking the field as well - good luck with getting those chaps finished!

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  3. What size was that playingtable???? Those 28mm battalions looke almost like 15mm in the first photo.

    Interesting to hear the comments about a combination of CoC and LFS. I may have to give a try if it finally consolidates; I have to admit that I did not get engaged by LFS despite being a die-hard Lardite, as you know

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    1. Thanks Benito! The table wasn't the largest we've used - I'd estimate about 6 feet by 5 feet. It was pretty full by the end, but it looked "right" (if that makes sense). The rules we were using were more "Chain of Command" than "Le Feu Sacre" as regards command and control, but the opposite (I think) as regards firing the mechanics.

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  4. What a splendid looking game, great idea with knicking the stuff from from CoC. I thought the dice mechanism of Bolt Action was a great innovation, as you know I combined them in game of M&B, with CoC Rich has taken the use of dice for C&C, moving etc. to the another level, I was wondering about transferring them to M&B if it works for Naps it must be feasable.

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    1. Phil, it was a great game and you've have really enjoyed it. I have been thinking of transitioning the "Chain of Command" C&C mechanics to "Through the Mud and the Blood". I think it would work very well.

      I'm finding that "Chain of Command"'s command and control mechanics give a more subtle game as regards planning your force's deployment and advance. By contrast, the card-driven system in "Through the Mud and the Blood" is slightly more random, even with the inclusion of Command Initiaitve cards. Personally, for the Great War, I enjoy the card-driven system. The point for me in the earlier conflict is that combat was chaotic and unpredictable - the cards really bring that across.

      Also, the cards are a great way to create theme, depth, context and "feel" in the game. I know that these aspects are something which Richard is currently working on as regards "Chain of Command" while keeping it a card-less system.

      So, in summary, definately have a go at transferring the dice-based system to "Through the Mud and the Blood"!

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    2. Yes, I have been having a another look at the CoC videos and perhaps it does give a little to much control for the period, I will no doubt be getting and playing CoC when it is released so will I really be wanting to be playing two contrasting periods with the same rules? For some reason though it seems a little less taxing for me trying to play and turn cards and remember who or who hasn't activated etc. Food for thought anyway,thanks.

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  5. Well that's one heck of a cracking looking game Sidney and a big congrats to Dr. Daz for putting on such a awesome game!

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher! Daz did a fantastic job with the game, so all kudos to him!

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  6. Wonderful looking game Sidney. Very well done to Dr Daz too.

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    1. Thanks Rodger, you'd have loved it. My poor camera-phone pictures (apologies everyone) do not do the game justice!

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  7. I love this period and agree that it is visually spectacular. A great looking game. I agree that the connection between the Revolution and the Great War is one that stirs the soul. The French certainly had a sense of mission in both - 'la patrie en danger' and then spreading the gospel of liberty, equality and fraternity. There is a feeling that comes through in the propaganda of both times that the French were fighting for the future of humanity against the dark forces of oppression. Try humming the Marseillaise while pushing your poilus over the top, and tell me that it isn't invigorating your attack just a little!

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    1. Nate, thanks so much for the excellent comment. I absolutely agree with you! There really is something about trying to get into the minds of the miniature French demi-brigades as they tramp bare-footed and in ragged uniforms across the fields of Valmy or Rivoli! I shall certainly be humming the Marseilaise when the poilu go into action!

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  8. Beautiful looking game Sidney.

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    1. Thanks Fran. Looking forward to finally catching up at Salute!

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  9. Looking lovely! And one hardly sees so many bicorned figures at once!

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    1. DHC, it was a great spectacle, without a doubt!

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  10. Greate looking game ! Very impressive indeed !

    best regards Michael

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  12. Very nice looking game there. I'm currently ploughing through Front Rank and Trent Miniatures for the later Revolutionary Wars/Consular/1805 French myself. Could I ask what figures you used for the French and Austrian infantry? (the artillery and French legere are definitely from Trent if I'm not mistaken).

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    1. Thanks very much Wilde Goose! Of course - the French and Austrians are, Dr Daz mentioned, a mix of Eureka and Trent Miniatures. I thought they both looked splendid on the table.

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  13. Wonderful post Sidney, a real spectacle. It is these sort of AAR's that inspire me to get some more Nap battalions done.

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    1. Thanks Mike. Your own French would certainly have had pride of place on any table!

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  14. Great looking pictures, nice and inspired work!
    Phil.

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