Tuesday 25 September 2018

West Country Quatre Bras: Wargame refight conclusion and project review

Rather belatedly I can now give a full appraisal of our mammoth project to refight the whole of Quatre Bras at 1:20 figure scale. Thank you to all who have given us massive support through comments and interest on the many blog posts, it has helped keep us motivated.

Quatre Bras Part Two - Wargame Conclusion
This has been contributed by Kevin East who masterminded the whole thing and even ended up playing, as General Reille. I'm illustrating it with some great photos taken during the event by Tony Dillon.
The reports on the two-day game can be accessed here

Kevin writes:

<<In conclusion:
Wargame result points systems are always going to be flawed and some might see that in those collated here. However, it was a game and we needed some measure of accounting when our playing time ran out. The total tally was to read:
 Allies: 16 points. 
French: 66+1 points (the plus 1 is the sabres edge lead from Quatre Bras Part 1).
(see points chart  below  for details - apologies for the format but this is the best copy I can get into blogger. "Rows" refers to areas on this battlefield map - CG)

The Battle Of Quatre Bras (2) 
21/22 April 2018 
POINTS Calculation 




(per unit)
(2 French units routed off field)
(9 allied units destroyed)
(9 allied units routed off field)

(row ‘I’ :Allies) 
(row ‘E’: French)            
(per unit)
(7 units in row ‘E’)


2 (per

















VICTORY: In control of the majority of victory points by 6.00pm on end of Sunday. 
MARGINAL VICTORY or loss: 1-6 points difference. 
MAJOR VICTORY or loss: 7 points or more difference.

Whilst the Allies lost in points, and particularly in the number of units destroyed (10 to 2), by dusk the French had still not captured Quatre Bras which was their ultimate goal, and it's also interesting to note that the Allies held onto all the terrain points they started the game with – quite a feat! This weekend's gaming showed a surge in French forces northward but the going was tough and eventually each side fought themselves to a standstill. Later in day two the 4 battalions of British Guards arrived fresh and were looking to drive the French south into Bossu wood (just like in 1815!) The French Guard Lancers and Chasseurs light cavalry (not used in 1815 by Ney due to an order from Napoleon) were also fresh and threatening the Allied centre and left flank respectively. However, they were without significant infantry support and would not have succeeded very far as an Allied rearguard force of artillery was waiting and the 23rd and 11th British Light Dragoons were just entering the field to put a halt to it.

So I concluded that the Allies did keep the village of Quatre Bras but at a great cost. Realistically they would now retire to lick their wounds and fight another day. The French infantry units were also worn and would have mirrored the Allies’ activity. The French cavalry would continue to press the Allied rear guard for a short period until nightfall. 

Points are one thing, but a reflection upon history is another, and with this in mind I judge that by the end of the game the French have pushed the Allies much further North than they did in history at the parallel time, therefore they score a marked victory in the wargame. However, this gain would soon have ebbed away as tired French infantry would not be able to push further in taking Quatre Bras. So it might be said that the ‘high tide’ mark for the French had in our game proved to be about 8.15pm rather than the 2.30pm on the actual day of battle fought all those years ago. How games and times change!

Some number crunching on both games:
The Quatre Bras duo of games were to reveal some sizeable wargames numbers: 
At 1:20 ratio a total of 3700 Allied and French figures in 133 units were used over the 4 day's gaming, involving 6 players, an umpire, plus reporter/photographer/adviser (Chris) over a combined table/map gaming space of 308 sq/ft.  This was two specially designed and sculpted terrains with the addition of outside (off table) gaming space via map moving and combat which increased the size (in game One) to 18’x17’ to allow off table flanking manoeuvres.  Is this the most detailed wargamed version of Quatre Bras on the planet to date?  Who knows? Perhaps Google will reveal? >>

Thanks a lot Kevin.

Wargaming Quatre Bras as a two year project.

In over 50 years of wargaming this is probably the most satisfying endeavour I have ever been involved with (that's not to say there haven't been some other great ones!). Especially for those who may not have followed this blog for long I think it is worth reflecting on how it came about and why it worked. (This section illustrated by some of my own Quatre Bras photos).
Dutch-Belgian casualty in Bossu Woods
When Kevin came back into my life after a 36 year gap he was a bit of a lost soul collecting beautiful 28mm historically accurate Waterloo armies at 1:20 figure:man ratio but not knowing his way to get to a game. Paul D. and I steered him towards massing his forces to be a major element in our West Country refights of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont at 1:3 scale in 2015. This scratched the  Waterloo itch in the biennial year but Kevin and I still hankered for the grand tactical 1815 game with battalions as the main tactical units, and, against my practical advice, he was intent on 1:20 scale.

First we had to find, or write, a set of rules to suit us and that search began in January 2016 at our joint-birthday game - testing-rank-and-file-rules-for-1815. Thanks to Simon Millar and John Rich I had been introduced to a Seven Years War version of "Rank and File" (R and F) the year before and since R and F covers most of the black powder era I thought they might work using the Napoleonic adaptations.

Enjoying the feel of this small scale test we realised the project could have legs but the 3000-4000 figures required was a daunting task even for the painting machine that is Kevin East. I volunteered to repaint many of my 1:3 scale units and create more, but we badly needed help. The experience of the massive 1:3 refights had given us new contacts and practical big-game organisational opportunities. Also my wargame room and terrain sculpting skills had proved adequate for hosting up to the 8 players at a time we hoped for. Paul H. had kindly lent his ready-made Waterloo armies for LHS and Hougoumont and was keen to "do" Quatre Bras but his base sizes were not compatible with R and F so work would be needed before they could be used. James Fergusson had proved a stalwart supporter of 1:3 and was very willing to come to Gloucestershire regularly to be involved in QB. It was a no brainer to invite Richard Newcombe to join the team as he had been involved with 1:3, had some British Guard Battalions to prove it, and as a retired barrister is just great at getting under the skin of any set of wargames rules!

Kevin and I renewed our reading, trying to dissect the historical Quatre Bras in forensic detail to figure out what we really needed at 1:20 scale. He masterminded the orders of battle and produced a super-detailed list including our existing figures and all those that needed creating/repainting. For my part I played with unit footprint sizes and distances and ranges and tried to come up with the optimum tabletop battlefield to make. We had the following aims for this project:
1. See if, by taking all available historical elements into account, the French could make a decisive victory, as they so nearly did in 1815.
2. Honour the brave inexperienced Dutch-Belgians, Nassauers, Hanoverians and Brunswickers who held off the veteran French for longer than anyone could reasonably have expected. They are so rarely properly represented in refights of QB where the British dominate.
3. Once again enjoy a lot of toys on a big and beautiful tabletop terrain, this time in a classic style Napoleonic battalion level game, the kind we'd dreamed of in our boyhood!
4. Share the joy with as many players as practical and the world via this blog.

Those were long term tasks but we had to keep up momentum and interest and prove various concepts.  First was a two day test game in April 2016. Never mind the QB historical units let's just have an 1815-themed imaginary game. It only involved Kevin, James and me but was a great success and tremendous fun so we were really on....The rules were not perfect but gave us a good framework on which to build the QB detail we needed.

Next we wanted to give Paul a chance to use his figures, so scheduled a game about 6 months hence which felt like plenty of notice. Sadly his work, family life, and community commitments meant Paul had to pull out and with him the prospect of about 1000 of the figures we had hoped to use. This left a hole in our team that took a while to fill in various ways. Nothing daunted we pressed on. Spring 2017 brought the opportunity for another test, this time involving Richard too and so we were off to a good start with verifying the rules modifications so far made. You can see lots of pictures and read the project outcomes of that game here encounter-at-kaaskerke. The most significant changes were:
- better balance of weapon ranges, especially artillery
- need for a very much more nuanced structure in defining differences in unit quality
- historical sized French battalions were too small to stand the pressure they would get in 7 hours or so of historical time in our QB, so compromises on the orbat were needed.

Meanwhile we had managed to revise the figure painting schedule: James took on the Herculean task of creating the whole of the Brunswick Corps and I volunteered to make a four-battalion brigade of Hanoverian landwehr, Kevin took up the slack as best he could but it looked woefully as if sacrifices would have to be made on artillery and all those French skirmishers we needed. That was until I found, via the A Military Gentleman Forum, a dyed in the wool veteran Napoleonic wargamer in Tony Dillon from Birmingham. Tony was also prepared to travel to the Cotswolds (getting lost round Stroud!) for the tests and the real events. Tony's arrival transformed our project, which had looked like having to be put off, as he had considerable quantities of compatible figures and a gung-ho attitude to doing whatever it took to help, including redesigning our playsheet to a more user friendly format.

Some of Tony's Guard Horse Artillery moves in at the gallop
I had warned Kevin at the outset that trying to do the whole battle in 1:20 would outgrow my facilities and the amount of playing time we had.  So around the turn of 2016-17 we made some major decisions. We would fight not one but two weekend games, and split the historical Quatre Bras affair into one game from about 2pm to about 5.30pm taking two days to play, and a second weekend game covering from about 5.30pm to nightfall. This had a number of advantages:
- We could split the terrain to cover most of it in two correctly scaled chunks. The southern section first to represent the Prince of Orange's Corps' stand and retreat towards the crossroads, then this would overlap with a northern section allowing reinforcement by Brunswick, Hanoverian and British troops. Thus we hoped to do justice to history and not just wing it as so many wargames have to.
- First half in September 2017 and the second in April 2018 would give me sufficient break to dismantle and rebuild the 96 square feet of sculpted tabletop terrain
- Though we still had to make every unit they were not all needed at once, so it gave us all another 6 or 7 months to finish painting figures.
- Two weekends gave the potential for more people to be involved overall.
The QB2 build at an early stage - reusing a large chunk from QB1
Recycling some roads and fields from earlier Waterloo terrains.....
....and adding new ones
So our next step was a bigger two-day battle than we had so far done to test the cavalry rules in particular and how units would fare for durability over a long hard-fought game. In May 2016 we staged The Battle of Hoeke Valley reported here hoeke-valley-day-one and here hoeke-valley-second-days-play with a wrap-up here hoeke-valley-wrap-up.  This involved all the project team plus Ken, Roy and Graham for a day each. It prompted huge email discussions afterwards which helped Kevin and me crystalise our thoughts how to conduct the real thing - which was next!

We got there OK and had 5 players for the first event but poor James was ill and had to miss the first serious engagement of his wonderful Brunswick figures. Links to my After-Action- Reports on it via the second one quatre-bras-part-1-second
James got to command most of his Brunswickers personally in QB2

And hopefully you've just read the parts detailing Part Two, and so it's all over.....though I think Kevin is now planning a Prussian force for The Battle of Wavre in about 2020 - 21.........:-)
The River Dyle and Moulin de Bierge near Wavre,
photographed during Kevin's and my trip to Waterloo in 2014
Wargame Project Tips 
New wargamers, or even experienced ones might benefit from a few (fairly obvious) pointers if thinking of undertaking a project like this:
- Establish your aims at the start and try to keep them within the resources you believe you can manage (figures, space and time to play, and sufficient time to organise everything)
- Do engage a number of kindred spirits as early as possible and get agreement to how and when the activities will be shared. Give those people priority to participate, and a share in the decisions on when the games will be. 
- Make sure you have a "completer-finisher" type like we had in Kevin who has the authority and enthusiasm to set everything out clearly and keep driving and encouraging till it's all done.
- Try to ensure all the project team will check emails/texts regularly and respond when required.
- Be prepared to tailor your rules and game system to suit what you want to do, not be unduly ruled by "official" doctrine or outside influences. Have test games as frequently as seems sensible. Best not to have these resemble too closely your eventual scenario, but to illustrate points you know you need to sort out.
- A bonus of this approach is that you keep up team enthusiasm as well as have the chance to get game/rules practice with others outside the team and exposure to fresh ideas.
- Provide plenty of beer, port, chocolate, cake, meals out to the host(s)! (Especially if it's me).
CG gets an end of move briefing from James (Photo by Richard)
Kevin gives directions
Supporting Documents
You can find PDFs of all the Quatre Bras briefings and rules QRS in the Napoleonic Download link in the right hand sidebar, but here is a quick link
Feel free to download them for your own use and if you find anything useful please let us know by Comment on this blog or emailing me, it's what makes the effort of social media/blogging more satisfying.

French wounded being attended to at Tony's field hospital vignettes
French dead along Gemioncourt stream

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Classic Collections do battle at Cotswold Wargaming Day

I was very fortunate to be invited by Keith Flint (of "Honours of War" fame) to the very first Cotswold Wargaming Day held on 2 September  2018 in the small town of Northleach off the A40 in the mid-central Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire.

Keith had organised this and had invited various wargamers he knows in the general Gloucestershire/ West Country area. I live only about 20 miles away from the venue but I met wargamers from a distance - at least Plymouth and Aldershot, and not so far away at Cirencester. Keith had the backing of veteran wargaming legend Stuart Asquith who proudly said he lives near enough to "walk home to lunch and back again". Stuart and Keith had put up prizes, and also with the sponsorship of Osprey Publishing to reward the game organisers for their efforts.  18 attended in various capacities and took part in five games, some ran twice during the day. A small £5 donation each covered hire of the spacious hall and included self service tea, coffee and biscuits all day!  Keith allowed me a nice amount of space for my display of military paintings, which I hope was of general interest, and I made at least one new acquaintance and client out of it as well as discussing a new commission in detail with another.

First a general look round and then a bit more detail of what interested me most.
Willz Harley's classic Spencer Smiths in an SYW Imagi-Nations game
WW2 in Normandy by Jon in 15mm using Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier rules
In the words of Bruce McCallum: "my own easy flight/squadron level air rules. Operation Cinzano, Italian biplanes v Hurricanes over Suffolk in November 1940, when you thought the Battle of Britain was over. (Spitfires & Me 109s in there too!)." Sorry I don't know any more about this apart from that Bruce was treating participants to caviar to snack on!!!!.

Display of original paintings by yours truly
Battle of Talavera 1809 using classic 1:76 scale Hinton Hunt figures, by Roy Boss, Mark Barnett and Stuart
Seven Years War using "Honours of War" rules in 28mm by Steve and Paul

Talavera in "20mm"

When the Cotswold Wargaming Day had originally been planned for March this year and had to be cancelled due to snow I had signed up for Roy and Stuart's classic "20mm" Napoleonic game for purely nostalgic reasons. As a lad when I first started Napoleonics Hinton Hunt figures were a market leader but a bit pricey for me and most of my metal collection was the cheaper and more bland Miniature Figures. So the idea of playing a full blown battle with just part of Roy's classic Hinton Hunt collection was too much to resist. (Apologies for the poor picture quality - the light in that part of the hall just did not like my camera.)

A bonus was that we were to use a 1970s style set of rules called "Muskets and Marshals" by Ian Spencer. Fistfuls of dice, saving throws, casualties in figures not points, simultaneous movement, non-scaled-but-fun weapons ranges - you get the idea.....So this was Talavera 70s style. That meant using historic orders of battle with each battalion at 24 figures and cavalry regiments of 12, lots of guns and the whole battlefield represented on a 10 x 6 table.

 An 8 inch musket range maximum compared to 36 inch artillery range seemed a bit disproportionate but I was here for nostalgic wargaming not a simulation, and it all worked pretty well. So, willing suspension of disbelief and get stuck into those 12 dice per infantry volley and enjoy the mayhem! (Hey, I love saving throws anyway!)

Stuart Asquith casts a practiced eye over the proceedings. See my open left flank in the foreground

I innocently asked if I could go British, and that was before I knew it was Talavera. Matt was busily putting out the French and the Allies had been  placed along the ridges, redoubt and city as if deployed. Although they were all in exposed column blocks on super custom made trays I did not query it - mine not to reason why when playing a new set of rules in someone else's game. And then almost by accident I had been nominated as Sir Arthur Wellesley and was having the orbat briefed verbally, loosely given a historic map as a guide, and a formal historical order of battle in a book in Spanish! To my (pleasant) surprise I was told the "deployment" was only approximate and I was to redeploy how I thought fit within the general historic areas. So, getting my head round the battalions, brigades and divisions at no notice proved a bit more of a challenge than the "old school" muck around that I had expected! Who says wargaming does not keep your brain nimble? Anyway I got there in the end and was quite pleased with my lines and use of reverse slope, except for the exposed left flank which Roy assured me would be secured later.

I won't be giving a blow by blow account but just enjoy the pics of the classic troops with some annotations.

Spanish hold the area of the redoubt
View along the French main line
Some game balance was given by the French dominance in artillery but the British
 had quite a lot of nifty rifle-armed skirmishers
Although I got the troops deployed Stuart turned up just in time to command the British troops on the big left flank hill. Player-umpire Roy had the Spanish, and kept most of the Allied cavalry in a central reserve position. Matt and Tim commanded the French.
Guards Brigade and other British take cover on the reverse slope but my guns
were horribly exposed to the big French battery
Even though fairly well back my central infantry were to suffer from those guns throughout

Tim launched a single regiment of Polish lancers to push back my riflemen...
.....which they did but fell foul of rifle fire and musketry from squares and
fell back sorely depleted
Matt's columns' suffered from Stuart's guns so the French attack voluntarily
halted along the stream valley so his own guns could fire over them
My lines held firm in the centre
Spanish gun crews in the redoubt got diminished by counter battery fire

Roy brought some of our cavalry reserve on the left flank (as he had promised) for Stuart to counter attack. At left a French column charged one of our battalions while it was in square and pushed it back in disorder....but that left the French vulnerable to counter attack which sent them packing. British guns were being smashed by the grand battery.
In the centre the attacking columns formed lines and began to blow my riflemen away by musket volleys
Stuart departed at lunchtime and left me to revive the left flank. Nice score by my Spanish
light horse saw off the French Dragoons and this began a significant start to an
Allied outflanking of the French right
French columns move forward again now the British guns have gone
And the grand battery starts to batter whatever infantry are exposed on the crest
Spanish troops continue to relax in Talavera so Roy can  concentrate on contesting
 the redoubt
Tim chose to attack across the river with cavalry.
I succeeded in forming an emergency square,,,,
.......and these were his melee dice scores!
Depleted cavalry regiment shown below

To give us more manoeuvring space and bring up reserves I advanced in the centre. Although the British infantry suffered they were making space for that cavalry regiment of Roy's at centre left of the picture. 
Sadly Roy's Spanish flee from the redoubt against good French troops (and below).

In the final act of the game Matt attacked all along the ridge and received only average
 casualties from my British lines. A couple of his battalions charged home and both won their melees
which posed difficult issues for a successful British outcome to the battle.
We had played from about 1030 to 1620 with a break for lunch and had to stop with the game hanging in the balance. There had been a lot more incidents than this space allows me to describe but essentially the battlefield ended up as four different zones:

  • Allied left: Significant Allied cavalry strength meant a severe threat to the French flank and would inhibit further progress of the French attack. 
  • Allied centre left: French dominance of the big hill but Matt's lead battalions were now weak and there were still some British reserve battalions
  • Centre: Roy's cavalry had broken a leading French battalion at the stream so I was fairly confident that my strong reserves could repel any further French attempt in this area
  • Allied centre right: The redoubt was lost and the French were storming through towards Talavera and still had uncommitted battalions.

I couldn't stay to hear Roy's pronouncement on a result but I think it would be something along the historical lines - French marginally beaten tactically and with significant losses, but Wellesley would deem that with most of his artillery and light troops shattered he would use his superior cavalry position to cover a strategic withdrawal and leave the Spanish to it! (Care to comment Roy?)

Great fun and a very relaxed atmosphere. Matt and I were almost trying to outdo each other in gentlemanly play!   At one point we couldn't decide so just diced for it. Pragmatic Roy came up and realised the rules did cover the situation but said "Why interfere when both players are happy with a dice decider!" Regular readers know I like a "serious" historical wargame in my own space but when I'm away from home it's OK to play just for fun isn't it? This game fitted the bill perfectly - history, nostalgic figures and rules and good company. Thanks to Roy, Matt, Tim and Stuart for making it possible. Also it confirmed my view that 1:76 (22mm) is an ideal size to refight a historic battle and I will be planning to redo my SYW armies accordingly sometime in the future.

Seven Year's War - Imagi-Nation game

I reported on Will Harley's successful gaming with his classic armies at the Kenilworth Wild Geese gathering in June and he felt able to travel North again for our benefit in Gloucestershire.

Will told me he fell into collecting Spencer Smith figures more or less by accident a few yeras ago and ended up buying many hundreds, and creating two Imagi-Nation armies. For those not familiar with SS they started life in the 1960s as bags of about 50 x "30mm" polythene figures all in the same marching position - grenadier and musketeer, with a few random officers and drummers. There were  three or four mounted poses and a few gunners and that was it. The figures lacked detail so could be painted pretty much as any 18th century types you wanted. Willz has recreated the ingenuity of those early years but applied a more sophisticated painting style and matt finish which gives the armies an appearance of elegance and polish comparable with any modern 28mm range.  He justly got public praise for this from Stuart Asquith who awarded Willz the prize for "Best Painted Armies".


Classic-style big battalions
Above pictures during the first game of the day
Keith took part in the second game - both games used Jim Purky's rules (of Fife and Drum Miniatures)

The versatile dragoon figure - a particular favourite of Willz'

Keith Flint - without whom we would have neither the Cotswold Wargaming Day
nor the brilliant "Honours of War" rule book

Willz explains a point to Keith........
......and then spots the camera and you can't keep a straight face long next to Willz!
 The day also included a speech and prize giving by Stuart Asquith. There was a prize for "Most Gentlemanly Gamer" and who could argue against Bruce winning that - serving caviar with his game! Each of the games got a prize for some aspect of our hobby at which it excelled but Best Overall Game went to - Talavera, in which I was privileged to play Wellington, so I could not disagree it was a great choice.
Roy and Matt receive their prizes from Stuart
The magnificent Stuart Asquith Trophy which will be competed for next year
Many thanks from me to Keith and Stuart for organising such an enjoyable day not very far from home, and to Roy and Matt for putting up with me at Talavera.

Feedback has encouraged Keith to agree to organise CWD2 on 1st September 2019 at the same venue and he hopes to encourage more game organisers and players than for this inaugural venture. So if you live in the general Central/South -West of the UK and fancy organising something you can either get in touch with Keith directly or email me and I will pass it on.