Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Light For The Blind

 Charlie Wesencraft's Practical Wargaming

 This Ramble Started With a Post On Don't Throw a One
This article began innocently enough as I was reading on Ray's blog, Don't Throw a One, which you can check out in the blogroll, down at the bottom right sidebar of this page. His post I am referring to is called "Recently Painted #12--6mm French WSS," posted on Feb 4.

He had posted some pics of French regiments for the War of the Spanish Succession that he had painted for his friend Postie. These are 6mm Heroics and Ros, from the Marlburian range. His article explains a little about their plan to paint up the armies for the Battle of Blenheim, 1704, and that they are 70% there.

It was particularly interesting to me, because I have some 6mm collections too, and was curious to see what these look like since mine are a different type. These are from the H and R Marlburian range, whereas my H and R are from the Seven Years War range, and I have been meaning to get the Marlburian one of these days.

I already had some early Franks and Hun cavalry from Irregulars, (although the Huns might actually be H and R), and some Old English and Vikings from Heroics and Ros for the 1066 period, when I ordered a large number of Adler 6mm for the Seven Years War several years ago. I know I should have proceeded next to Normans, but these collections do not always proceed logically. The Adlers do look very nice, but I noticed they were quite a bit larger than the other two manufacturers' figures, and that is the common problem of Scale Creep.

Scale Creep Issues
Scale Creep has plagued 25mm scale over the years until people finally started to admit they are 28mm. What happens is the manufacturer thinks they must have more details jammed in for those who want to paint goggle-eyes and what not--and unfortunately they are right, they do need to do that, in order to have larger sales from people hearing about the improved detail over older lines. It's for the people just into paintjobs, appearances over substance.

And so now I found my new 6mm did not fit with the older 6mm, since to take advantage of Scale Creep they had made them more like 8mm. I decided that although I enjoyed looking at the details, I actually liked the Heroics and Ros better anyway, and also the Irregulars, because they gave me a greater feeling of satisfaction in what seemed to be a classic-looking pose. I am not sure how to describe this greater satisfaction but that it was very real. They just remind me of the good old days better.

Old School Wargaming for the 18th Century
I came up looking at pictures in Brig. Peter Young's "Charge! Or How To Play Wargames," and other classic older works such as "The War Game," by Charles Grant. These and other books and booklets from those days when I was starting out are nowadays called Old School, and have a definite nostalgic appeal for many.

And it may be that nostalgic appeal translated for me into a large purchase of SYW H and R, which I enjoyed painting, even though I had just done up all the armies in the larger 6mm. If they are slightly less detailed, and smaller as a more true 6mm, I felt better converting with paint to uniforms of other armies such as Hannoverians and others than what the label officially says they are supposed to be.

At some point about two or three years ago, I went further and started only to be able to think about 2mm instead of either one of the 6mm. That happened probably because I am more interested, as a solo gamer for the most part, in trying to get a historical battle set up as correctly as can be, whereas for other gamers their goals may be a little different. It simply will not do for me to set up three battalions and try to say that is Blenheim, and a battalion is a wing, and they can fire 12" because it looks right, or even close to that.

I want my Blenheim to be the correctly scaled size of field, and the units too, and if they don't fit it's because the original numbers were wrong, and I want to correct them if that's the case. The real troops fit the field perfectly by definition. My model isn't right unless mine fit perfectly too.

All that's fine, and that's my experience this past decade. In previous decades I used the 20mm plastics from Airfix, and in the 80' and 90's was working on metal 15mm from Minifigs, Old Glory and Frontier, or that may also be called Heritage, I think.

I began 18th Century gaming with rules from 1973 as a result of Don Lowry's ads in Boys Life and started out with nearly all the rules from Guidon Games until Chainmail morphed into the vastly successful Dungeons and Dragons, which I did not find interesting very much. The 18C rules were Grosstaktik by Leon Tucker, and perhaps because they so opened my imagination at a formative age, I still consider them the best-written set of rules of all time. Tucker also did Short Rules which were influential on me too, for Napoleonics.

In the meantime he was co-author of Tractics for World War Two in 1/87 scale along with Mike Reese. Those rules are still well-remembered whereas the others are largely forgotten, but to me they were all important, and I absorbed them before seeing "Charge." Grosstaktik was like Charge in that each figure was meant to be 12 men, but had the innovation that it wasn't really necessary to put all 8 men on a company tray because the tray was an element regardless of how many figures were there. A roster kept track of them anyway. Nowadays most use bases or trays, but then it was an innovation not fully accepted, and my old friend Michael still looks askance at people's trays, although not critically.

And that's old school. Especially since the days of Charge, and especially for the 18th Century period,
the attitude of the gamers has been better than what we see in other periods. So if ones like Showalter or some others try to say it's a myth that the 18th century wars were more gentlemanly or humane than other periods, in our own behavior we can still try to be more gentlemanly in our approach to wargaming, than the people in the other periods. And we do. This attitude has been consciously encouraged among 18C people for decades now with great success.

They Don't Know Any Better
I enjoy seeing the rancor on something like a WW2 or Napoleonic board, or as seen on the Frothers, but don't participate that way, and would especially be disturbed when someone from one of those periods brings their behavior into ours, because they don't know any better. It means they do not know the period.

The Troll
This is all a ramble on thoughts I had after seeing Ray attracted an anonymous commenter to his posting, who says that the 6mm should only be in what he calls 'grand scale,' and then makes a smarmy crack about how he thinks there is something wrong with having a battalion with 12 figures.

It sounds like he is repeating words from certain critics of Empire, a Napoleonic  set of rules, but I suspect he doesn't even know the background of the slogans he mimics in the absence of any critical thinking skills of his own.

Aside from the fact the pictures are labelled clearly as regiments and not battalions, anyway, and the uniforms and flags would tell us that had they not been captioned as such, the criticism itself is rankling and required me to exercise some patience after spending 37 years developing my own thought. I can understand Ray threatening to send a voodoo curse, but my 18C background helps me to control my own response to the trolling.

Hold Off On The Voodoo Curse
I work with a real Haitian all the time, and am aware that their magic works most powerfully through love,  in reality, and not just the voodoo curses of the Hollywood version.

When my responding comment reached 450 words, I thought better of it and decided to post it here, along with a discussion of the other issues raised. So instead I'll append that growing comment on here, after a brief review of Practical Wargaming.

 I'm still waiting for the new version with John Curry's name on it, and can't say yet what he's done to it, but I am very glad it is finally available again. I have been waiting for decades.

 The ranting comment contains a little about Charlie Wesencraft's Practical Wargaming, which has been reprinted by another publisher and is available in the US or from Amazon UK. I had the original and really liked it, but unfortunately another ACW reenactor from the 12th South Carolina borrowed mine at the Rockford event in August, 1976, and has not yet returned it. Now it has been reprinted, and I could finally forgive him, if he were to repent.

If you'll look at the only review, the reviewer gives it only one star, and complains about the physical quality of the reprint, but as an original reader I can tell you it is more like five stars, content-wise, to me, regardless of whatever that reviewer is complaining about, and I'd pay full price for a hand-written copy done by a monk in a monastery. I still have my own hand-written notes from 1976 right now. Think about that. It's a 34-year old spiral notebook. Thanks indirectly to that troll I have ordered the new reprint and will have it soon, so there's an example of how to take some negative energy and turn it into a great positive.
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Next follows the rant that I have thought better of, and put here instead.  It would make more sense in conjunction with the original post and its actual comments.                                                 

The Deleted Comment
I agree with kicking rocks, if he means the misguided critic. Those are not battalions, but regiments, anyway, as clearly indicated in the text. A real 18C gamer could tell by the flags and uniforms without the text.

Most importantly an 18C gamer would not make smarmy remarks, even if he were right instead of demonstrably wrong. That's because the 18C period has maintained a gentlemanly and sporting attitude for a generation since Brigadier Peter Young, unlike the other periods, where they half-learned to behave that way, repeating the words of others without understanding. I suspect him of coming from Napoleonics.

 When Charlie Wesencraft invented 'grand scale' in the seventies he meant one half figure per battalion and his book is available now as a classic reprint in the UK and the US, under the title Charlie Wesencraft's Practical Wargaming, available off my links as well as other places.

 He had Divisions of three figures for the Crimea, to represent 6 or 7 battalions. He had six other periods, too.

 It was Peter Gilder later on talking about a 'Grand Manner' with enormous setups okay for a club of millionaires, going all the way to the limits of possibility. That's just more visually impressive but not improved historically. Easy to prove, all battalions were not ever any one size, his are always 60 expensive figs. Thus, wrong. Nor is it practical for normal working people.

 Porky, Postie and Ray are  right, and there should be some elbow room. Even a minimal, overly minimal Blenheim for a head-on clash with no elbow room for any maneuver needs 5 miles frontage and a good 66 battalions and 160 squadrons just for one side. Plus the other side, another 90 and 178 respectively. That is 156 battalions, 338 squadrons, on five miles by two or three, for the minimal version.

 Winston Churchill knew very well what he was about and his map giving extra depth to see the approaches and nearby terrain gives 11 miles by 6 miles. With that extra space you can see why Eugene was late, crossing 5 ridges while the rest came up the low road.

I've got armies of 6mm Adler which are more like 8mm and also Heroics and Ros like those shown and like them better for their simplicity, which is why I bought them over and above the Adler. Both are from the SYW ranges. Glad to see what the earlier 'Marlburian' range look like and may get some soon.

There's nothing wrong with even one or two figures per battalion which with a little imagination and perspective, mathematics and geometry rightly applied to the geography available makes a Blenheim setup look like a Battle.
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  1. You are absolutely right and my time in WSS wargaming was a joy and was never a chore because scale and size was never an issue for me as I was using skirmishing rules, your post hits the nail on the head as ever and is as well written and good to read as always. Good stuff.

  2. Hey don't let him do that curse, it has already turned to the good.

  3. The curse is cancelled thanks to your post! It was kind of tongue in cheek anyway, everyone’s got their own views, but the thing that really annoyed me was that it was anonymous. If someone wants to criticize Postie's and my work, fair enough, but at least put your name down, so we can answer the critisism. if you can't or won't, don't post a damn comment!!
    Thanks for the support, it's greatly appreciated, and a great post by the way!!

  4. It was Der Alte Fritz who spread that 12-man thing around, and for him it was tongue in cheek to begin with; he didn't like how much time Empire took and was chiding the authors of Age of Reason who he knows and games with in the Chicago area. He can afford to follow the Peter Gilder method and that's great. But when AOR took some real criticism, which was correct, he then defended it. That was in Historical Gamer magazine. The critic was right, the scales were wrong by 100%, but the defense was that it's only a game, it's fun and we are more gentlemanly than to worry about it. He then played other rules, and criticized 12-man battalions many times after. But the number of figures wasn't the problem, it was how their frontage related to reality and to musket range from the scale given. The problem could be solved by changing the word battalion to regiment, or by correcting some distances. you can see his blog in the blogroll too, and see the giant snowstorm we are still suffering from. He's about 45 minutes away from me.