Sunday, February 13, 2011

More on Charlie Wesencraft

 After 35 Years I Finally Can See The Book Again

I mentioned last week that I had loaned Charles Wesencraft's book to a Civil War reenactor in August of 1976 at the Rockford event, and have not seen it since, as he has not returned it yet.

In those days besides re-enacting the Civil War we were also playing Terrible Swift Sword, a large boardgame from SPI about the Battle of Gettysburg. It had just come out then and was the rage, but too big. TSS was designed by Richard Berg. It had every regiment at 1:100 men and every single cannon, designated by type, in their batteries. What a game, but we could not play it through in a single sitting.

In fact they didn't let me play at all, not even to take a Confederate cavalry regiment around the flank to try to intercept the Union supply wagons. I entertained myself reading back issues of Wargamers Digest, an old magazine that was strong on WW2 but not exclusively, while the players dug through the rules interminably trying to figure out various effects to get through the evening of the first day.

Meanwhile the Yankees were digging entrenchments on the high ground and the Confederates were taking potshots with artillery, trying to bring up reinforcements. They couldn't spare even a single cavalry regiment to take those Yankee supply wagons. I still think it would have worked, and been well worth the candle.

Later on however I bought the game, and a whole series of others following a similar or comparable system, and also made a point of visiting virtually all the battlefields of the French and Indian, the Revolutionary War and quite a substantial number of those of the Civil War, plus some in other countries.

The Books Arrived in Six Days

I had ordered the book, along with a few others, on Saturday and it arrived Friday. Within the first minute I saw I had it wrong in my ranting post from last week, which was inspired by the troll. At least partly wrong. So that led to some further exploring which was good.

The other books include the Franz Szabo, The Seven Years War in Europe 1756-1763, and John Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, and also Peter Wilson's  The Thirty Years War. For John Lynn I previously only owned the Osprey version, but this is the full version.

There's a fifth book coming separately from a third party, but I will not mention that one's name until I have safely secured it.

Peter Wilson is a member of the Seven Years War Association, and contributed some articles to that group's Journal over the years, including an article on the Kesselsdorf campaign.

SYWA Journals

Back issues may be available from their respective editors, if they have them on hand, so the first five or six years or so from Bill Protz, and the next five or so years from Jim Purky, and with a little effort, maybe someone might sell you those from the next few years when the late Jim Mitchell was Editor, which were Volumes XI-XIV.

Not bloody likely I would give up mine, and in fact they never did send me the last one, for that matter, in all the confusion.

The  Der Alte Fritz blog is where to go for the Jim Purky period issues, which were Volumes VI through X. That's not for sure, but I thought I saw he had some not too long ago.
Here's a link to Jim's blog to reach him

One of my best purchases of the 90's was the set of all back issues from the Bill Protz era of the SYWA Journal. It's chock full of articles from members and there are lots of good ideas there. In Volumes I-V there was relatively more of a MWAN-like atmosphere with heavy participation by the readers sending in lots of small articles. Nowadays we can find that sort of thing on the plethora of blogs.
Here's a link to Bill's blog to reach him

One Minute After The Books Arrived
Since my colleagues and I dabble in shipping and receiving sometimes we spent a few moments looking at the technique of the labels, the packing, etc, and before the minute was up I dug past the Szabo, Lynn and Wilson to have a look at the Charlie Wesencraft Practical Wargaming.

Charlie Wesencraft's Practical WargamingCharlie Wesencraft's With Pike and Musket

In seconds I found the words 'in the grand manner,' and knew that my ranting post was not quite right, last week. Most of it is all right but I had some parts backwards, 35 years after the last time I had seen the book. So after that I spent several hours digging for the real facts, and found some gems, from the earlier days of wargame history.

Peter Gilder was talking about his version of the grand manner in print in April 1970, thus well before Charlie Wesencraft, published 1974, used the term to mean quite the opposite manner of setting up a game.

Gilder's definition would involve setting up as many tables as possible, with thousands of figures, in order to do a large battle, while still using figure to man ratios of 1:10 or 1:12, leading to battalions around 60 figures. And big figures, with big terrain and everything else.

He is known to have built a hatch in the table to come up from underneath for reaching further than the six feet of width previously considered a practical limit, due to the length of a man's arm.  I have played on a table 8 feet wide and we just let the center suffer a bit, trying to use a ruler to push troops. But it really turned into two battles side-by-side. There will be some excellent links on Peter Gilder down below, including pics and articles.

The Wesencraft version of the grand manner is the other way around. He also uses the term grand scale in the text. He was suggesting using the same based figures which were three or so to a base for the other game to represent higher levels of command than are used in the tactical games. So he had battalions of maybe twenty men, at a ratio of 1:32, but he also had other rules with different ratios. I say maybe because he had differing organizations for different armies and times.

In the loft above his garage he built a permanent wargames room and a table of his own design which could be 4' X 4' if not in use, but could extend to 8' X 4' with storage space underneath.

The ancients game is 1:32, and then the Medieval game is at 1:100. I remember now that I built some siege towers and war engines, as well as boiling oil buckets, for the medieval siege game. The ancients game comes in two versions, for those who use bases and for those whose figures are individually mounted.

The Pike and Musket game is also at 1:100, with varying depths of formations. I remember chopping up Airfix men from other periods to try to make English Civil War conversions, since the Airfix line did not have what I needed, and lead cost too much.

The 18th Century game for a change of pace, is at 1:10 men. But on page 124 he notes that for another couple levels, the Napoleonic game which is 1:40, or the army corps in action game, which is 1:128, or 1:200 (plus) could also be adapted for the 18th century. In this section also are a few pages each for siege warfare, and the colonial scene.

The regular Napoleonic game at 1:40 had the odd innovation of having the front rank represent two ranks, and then all the armies using three ranks had a third figure behind every pair of front-rank men, which is a way of showing more men there while only counting the front rank for fire purposes. That is an effective way of doing it, but I remember my figures looked a little odd like that, and my opponent refused to think about the mathematics behind the approach. He wanted two ranks,  but was not very familiar with Napoleonics anyway, so things like hussars looked odd to him too.

Then there are also an ACW game at 1:40 and a Franco-Prussian War game at 1:50, with various suggestions appropriate to those periods.

I'll skip over those quickly to get to chapter 11, The Army Corps in Action game. I forgot to mention earlier there was also an Ancients game in Chapter 6 called Ancient Battles in the Grand Manner. So it's a couple different games that he uses to explore the 'revolution in wargame thinking,' of having a single stand represent a whole unit.

This Ancient battles in the Grand Manner uses a ratio of 1:128, and he mentions that Cannae in the 2nd Punic War would require 200 horse and 2,000 foot for the Romans and for Hannibal, 300 cavalry and 1,100 infantry. This would be a magnificent spectacle, but beyond the pockets of most wargamers.

On page 46 he mentions that most battles had thousands of men, but many gamers for lack of enough figures reduce the number of units to a mere handful. He says, "This is wrong thinking. One should reduce the number of figures and keep the correct number of units." And so he quadruples the 32 men up to 128 per figure, and what was a century or maniple becomes a whole cohort or regiment, so he can do Cannae, the whole thing, with 48 Roman cavalry and 500 infantry, and 80 cavalry and 272 infantry for the Carthaginians. He discusses how to appropriately adjust time and distance in proportion.

So in chapter 6 he develops the ancient game at that scale with different rules which look a whole lot like DBA in certain ways, such as the manner of resolving combat. These rules run 9 pages, and the first DBA was 12, a decade or more later.

There's a TMP thread here

in which the comment by Mike, "Bl- ck Hat Miniatures" on 26 Sep 10 is interesting, about the resemblance to DBA that he noticed.

Then there is another game besides that one, for the army corps in action, in chapter 11. In this one he is talking about the Napoleonic Wars, and still using one of his stands of three figures to represent this time a battalion/regiment of 600-700 men. He wanted his table, eight feet long, to give him 8 miles of space, so he made a mile 12" in this version. It again uses the combat system of a breaking point by type of troops, and rolling a 1 above is fall back, 2 above run, plus three disintegrate.

As mentioned above, in the 18th Century section he was also suggesting that besides the 1:10 game he was presenting there, that the reader could adapt the Napoleonic 'and particularly' the army corps in action rules to the 18th century period.

The Review

In my earlier review I had not seen the book in 35 years. Now that I've had it since Friday, I can say that it is even better than I remembered, even though it's a little different than I remembered. For example, my 35 year old notes about the Crimean War game where a British or French brigade of 6 battalions, or a Russian Division of 7 battalions, were one stand, do not appear here. Yet in my notes it's only one page from the how to use boiling oil, which is from this book.  I must have read that Crimean part someplace else, but it does sound much like what is here. It could either be another book from that period or maybe a magazine article.

Unless John Curry, who arranged this edition, cut that part out, but it looks to be complete. As far as the reviewer on Amazon with his one star and complaining about physical quality, he can safely be ignored. The book was ordered on Feb 5 and was created on Feb 8 using It was on my hands on Feb 11.

But the original in hardcover also drew the same criticisms from Donald Featherstone himself, about the photos, diagrams and lack of good enough terrain in the pics. He seems really to have been miffed that only 2 of his then 13 books were in the bibliography. even though on page 13 DF gets a much larger paragraph than Peter Young and J.P. Lawford. I will link to a copy of Featherstone's review at the time to replace the modern one on Amazon, so you can read it yourself.

This is an excellent blog with a lot of old-time wargaming things, and this C. Wesencraft page has the Featherstone review at the bottom. There is also a lot of other good stuff there besides.
vintage wargaming

Then here is another blog with a wealth of Peter Gilder material, and somewhere in there you can find him talking about his grand manner in print from April 1970 onwards. Just click on the word Gilder under his 'Labels' section for a number of good pieces.
unfashionably shiny

And I'll add another one to the blogroll besides these, because the author is doing a lot of thinking like I am doing, about rules, and like me missed his Wesencraft book after it left his hands.
 That's here.promethius in aspic


  1. Bill Protz still has some back issues of the SYWA Journal for volumes I-V and I have a few copies of volumes VI-X in my possession that I would gladly sell.

    We still play Gilder's In The Grand Manner Napoleonics a couple of times each year.


  2. My comment got discombobulated. Protz has back issues for vols. I-V and I have them for vols. VI-X

  3. Excellent, glad you stopped in, in case any readers get curious. IMO, they should. Even that backwards, upside down, discombobulated issue that one time;)

  4. Excellent post but why didn't they let you play originally or did I miss something.

  5. One of the d'd Yankee Generals in the game was the guy who borrowed the book. He's a good guy and a professional, I don't mean to embarrass him just to turn a phrase. It's not like he could easily find me all those years. Got the book anyway, now. If he wasn't Meade then he might've been Reynolds, in the game.

    I was at the right hand of General Robert E. Lee.

    But wanted to at least do a Mosby raid around our left. The real Longstreet is accused of sulking there too, like Achilles in his tent.

    No, you would be out of command. Too dangerous, can't spare a regiment. What's the rule on that? Hmmmm.

    All four of us were in the 12th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, but since I wasn't 18 they wouldn't let me use a musket, so either I would carry their Bonnie Blue flag or the Confederate battle flag, for them, or else I also could do 'linstock' (match) duty for the Chesnut Light Artillery SC at battles, firing the 6-pounder, since for that one could be 15, by local rules. It was above 'powder monkey,' at least.

    So they were used to counting me in or out of different things all the time, and probably thought I was too unreliable a teenager to play in the game, with such bearded old men who might be 30 or so. After all I was there today, might not be back next week, and this monster TSS game would require multiple sessions. It was a new thing then to have regimental detail like that, before the games were simpler brigade level, except for Torgau, which was the grandfather of these series.

    We lost touch because the following summer at 17 Uncle Sam had me in the occupation forces at a camp in South Carolina itself using M-16 and grenades, when I signed on with the Damyankees, still long before the CSA would let me carry musket.

  6. On Torgau, the blogroll has a new addition, Torgau Project, from a gamer in Italy who played Torgau back then and now look what he's doing. I know what he means, about that game.

  7. Hi - I'm new to your blog - thank you for the mention. Like you, I now have a nice new replacement copy of "Practical Wargames" after all these years, and in fact I'm glad you mentioned it, because I'm going to take it to bed for a read now!

    Right from the first time I saw them, I always thought Wesencraft's rules hung together more sensibly as a complete game - they didn't leave so many unanswered questions as the books I'd read previously.

    Very nice blog - I look forward to more of this.


  8. Hi Tony, you're very welcome. I ended up reading a lot in your blog after those other ones.

    The CW had commonsense practicality and helped me develop a more flexible way of thinking. To see it doesn't have to be 1:20, 1:12, or even a round figure, and that there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    Look on that vintage one at the Borodino '73 game in which you had Chandler, Featherstone, Duffy, Wesencraft, Anthony Brett-James, et al doing Borodino at 1:500 probably with half or more Airfix, in spite of all the 'rules' of all those guys we never hear of this one, at Sandhurst no less. Maybe a variation on the army corps in action game.

    They were able to make them up on the spot to fit what they had, and Featherstone looking at his postcard copy of the rules, 'which he appeared not to understand!'

  9. Reading this early material, especially the magazine articles, one detects some tensions, an element of bitchiness, between the people whom we now see as the principal personalities in the development of the hobby. There was certainly some friction between the Americans and the Brits, but within Britain there was also a bit of a North/South divide, there was some defensive behaviour on the part of the influential clubs, which is maybe understandable, and there appears to have been some scratching and biting as the emerging celebrities jostled for position.

    I have also heard that there were some noted British wargamers who had served as officers in WW2, who treated gamers who had served in the ranks with an amount of disdain.

    All good fun, with hindsight, and the hobby owes all these people a great deal, but some come across to me as more likeable than others.

    Wesencraft's chief disadvantage seems to have been that he lived a long way from Southampton and Tunbridge Wells, and therefore might as well have been an American! In the pre-Internet days these things loomed rather larger.



  10. Well said. Curry says in '09 he was still kicking in Durham at 80 and said 'wargaming is a wonderful hobby.'

    For the record, I have long thought that the most likely to have brought down the Red Baron were neither Snoopy, as Hollywood would have it, nor the RFC Officer who received, and accepted, the credit, but the Australian enlisted men on the ground, who as a two-man team shared credit between themselves, amongst themselves.

  11. ill read this post when i get back so i can leave a more better comment then this comment im about to post =]

  12. Hi digger, The New Years Eve post with Faustina Bordoni is popular among the Italians and French; one of her descendants wrote in and it was an honor to help him read more about her.