Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Silly formations?

 There is currently quite an interesting discussion on the Facebook 17th century wargaming group concerning ECW wargames rules. What is fascinating about it is how few of the posters actually mention the period when they are extolling the virtues of their favourite set. Mechanisms - often Simplicity  sometimes  but rarely if ever the actual period. You would thin it would appear once in a while. But that is the "dark heart" of today's wargaming - it is ALL about game and rarely if ever about the period being gamed.
Royalist foot- all formed 4 ranks deep both pike and shot. Equally 2 ranks deep for a smaller unit would be fine 

 Now perhaps some perspicacious chap can answer me this. Why in some rules do the "game designers" allow silly formations and mad organisations. Now I'm only talking about historical wargaming here . I don't care if your Dwarfs form up in the famous King Ankelbyter XIV's  pigs arse formation  or of the Fartenberg Fusiliers use the inverse square- with all the bayonets pointing inwards. No I'm talking about rules purporting to be historical and allowing patently non- historical formations . In this instance specifically English Civil War.
A better view of my prefered 4 ranks deep- but all forming the same depth- which is the real point. The additions to the base depths are simply to protect the charged pikes. This unit did several tours of duty in the OGUK display case

Add caption
 Since when Gentle reader do the shot form up only half as deep as the pikes in a fully formed battalion of foot. I see it quite often on games using this or that ruleset. Pike and Shotte does it. To Defy a King does it. It is possible to do it in 1644 or Warhammer ECW or Gush . It appears possible in newer sets such as The Kingdom is Ours- which I do not own. But none of these answer the question. Why? I've read Barriffe and Elton, Glanced at Hexham none of these contemporary sources show the foot drawn up like this. Contemporary battle maps such as Streeter or De Gomme don't show it. All show foot in usually 6 ranks- both Pike and shot- no difference between the two.  Now- being kind- if you squint a bit the 4 ranks of pikes with 2 ,2 rank sleeves of shot might just about look like a bad Swedish Brigade but since Swedish Brigade was only used (badly) at Edgehill by the Royalists that does not explain why it appears so often on ECW games today.. When you are daring enough to ask wwhy this is you either get blank stares or mumbling about how" it is  in da rules innit"  but never have I had any inkling of a period explanation. Surely the best thing to do would be to lose the 2 extra ranks of pikemen or- as I do- add the extra shot and make the whole unit 4 ranks deep- though I can see why plenty of chaps would not do this and would therefore unless you like big units prefer the former option. I am also aware of the "salvee" argument which allows foot to double their files in order to fire 3 ranks at once as a salvee. That does not mean that  moving in  doubled files was normal. Equally I know that on occaison  troops formed up 3 ranks deep to cover a wider frontage Now if there is a source that details pikes regularly forming up with twice the depth of the regiements shot I should love to see it.
Parliamentarian Cuirassiers 2 ranks deep to represent the 6 ranks they normally used early in the war.

 Equally when I began ECW gaming in about 1976 or so  I started with small units of 6 pikes 12 shot or 8 pikes 16 shot but all formed up 2 ranks deep. Rules were with Derek Sharamns or later Gush and I suspect that under Gush is where- for me at least the rot began. Under those rules Pikes received a rank bonus in melee but shot could fire only a maximum of 2 ranks deep- I played tournaments at the time so .... However I have grown up since then and would not choose to be so unhistorical now.
Add caption
 This kind of silliness happens far less with Horse. Though I tend to form up my Early Parliamentarin horse 2 ranks of models deep - to represent their 6 ranks - as against the Cavaliers single rank of models to represent 3 ranks deep.
A Royalist Brigade is"Swedish Brigade". 3 regiments of foot .

 Now I am aware of the abstraction argument - and as always some level of abstraction is unavoidable simply because we are using little metal men on a table and not big flesh and blood ones in a field, dice and not actual gunpowder and we are not, normally, attempting to maim and kill one another.(Though I have seen fits of picque at Tournaments)
The rather more complicated version as depicted by De Gomme no where are the shot depicted at  half the depth of the pikemen. 

 So my question Ladies and Gentlemen
 How  has this "incorrect convention" become almost normal and why - despite the historical evidence to the contrary and as I am sure has occurred more than  a few times. How many other bits of  non historical silliness that did not happen of a battlefield do we take for granted merely  because"they make a good game" .

27 comments:

  1. Good to see a reference to Derek Sharman, little known now but crucial to Wargaming in the North East in his time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Derek was a firend for a while- lost touch when he moved to Berwick upon Tweed. Last spoke to him about 10 years ago

      Delete
    2. Yep, Derek was a big big influence on wargaming in the NE.

      Delete


  2. Nice post bringing historical correctness to the fore

    During my re-organisation of my 40mm P&S collection I admit to having fudged my pike block to 3 deep and muskets to 2 deep - guilty :). Mainly due to squeezing a command stand into the front of the pike block - perhaps I should correct this before the next campaign (or not ...) . I usually deploy the cavalry in two ranks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had ECW armies in the early 70s and all units were in 2 ranks (cavalry in one rank). I don't really know much about the period but having glanced at the odd photo in wargame magazines over the years I just assumed that new historical research was responsible for the phenomenon you describe. Interesting to find out that this is not the case.

    "Historical correctness" could be a new movement!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Alan and Stryker- Historical correctness is a very old movement- see Grant and Featherstone and Wise . Some have possibly lost sight of it in the "its da gaming innit" movement of today . I have a respectable but not exhaustive ECW library and surely I would have notices such an odd formation if it was at all the norm in the period . I haven't so I conclude it isn't- always wiling to be proved wrong with proper contemporary sources but so far Nowt NADA NIX Bugger all ! so I am forced to conclude that it simply did not happen that way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Quite agree. Often, it is, as you say, down to the fact that the modern trend is to see a flashy hardback rulebook as a historical reference work with no need to do any more research but able to play almost straight out of the box.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Impressive and beautiful troops here!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Couldn't agree more; I can only assume the lesser depth of muskets is just 'gaming the rules' to allow more figures to fire. Is it just that rules don't prohibit it, or do some actually specify it?
    If it's claimed to be for salvee fire, that rather smacks of the WW2 German armies that have only Tiger tanks.. And you could hit them with your cavalry next turn, and say 'none of them can fire, they are all re-loading!' It seems a shame George Gush didn't specify formation depths in his Army Lists ( I think Terry Wise did ). But perhaps he assumed we had all read some history, or at least his lovely 'Renaissance Armies'.
    I really think units in this period should look like solid blocks, just as the old prints show them, surely that's the point? Three ranks of figures, at least! In 28mm that gets expensive, of course, which may be a big factor? Maybe smaller scales have the advantage: Mr Roundwood's 2mm Thirty Years War armies look great..

    ReplyDelete
  8. i wholeheartedly agree Andy. Historically accurate beats rules conventions hand down in my view. And don't get me started on army lists.....

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks lads- and no don't get me started on Army lists either. A few years back I wrote an article in MW which Henry Hyde- then Editor re- Titled Who needs Army Lists. My waspish opinions in that article still stand .

    ReplyDelete
  10. I played Gush's rules back in the mid 80s. There were quite a few Renaissance fans at Staines but I was just a user and never had an army of my own! Thing is, I cannot remember any two-rank musket blocks; all seemed deep. I played one ECW game but again, from memory, they were the same depth as pike. When I finally delved into ECW all my regiments were three deep, and that was for the awful 1644: I just did them like that because they looked better! My last foray was with Victory Without Quarter and that had the pike and shot at the same depth.
    I suspect the 'two rank' issue comes from rule limitations on the number of ranks that can fire, so it may be cash-strapped gamers found a way of keeping down cost. Rather like the 'break on 50%' rule which makes the presence of half the unit pointless in game terms.
    I follow my instinct of making formations look right and make the rules work from that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes that would be about right- I played Gush in the 70s and 80s too. and as recently as last year mostly deployed 2 deep as the optimum though sometimes3 Pikes almost always the same depth as shot - though not always when playing competitions back then . As for instinct- precisely my view

      Delete
  11. This is where I'm at with the period. I've had figures for a very long time, but haven't found the rules that fit the period. Since I'm modelling both sides and don't need to fit modern trends to find a game, historical accuracy is what I want.
    Of what's offered currently, what do you see out there as most fitting the bill?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm in much the same boat in that I don't need to follow modern trends as I always do both sides for any period. Of the published sets I currently own Forlorn hope is the best - but no ruleset is perfect. It is open ended and can take a little modification without too much strain. Basing and organisation is not an issue - as it can be with some of the modern stand based systems. You can organise your troops to suit the type of action you want to fight rather than be forced into a game system which is more of a straight jacket. However I could quibble about cavalry terminology and artillery is a little odd but overall I have not- so far -found a better published set that gives a reasonable view of the war.

      Delete
    2. Many thanks for the informative post and the reply. I'm going to find a copy of Forlorn Hope.

      Delete
  12. I’ve got my thirty years war armies on the same depth for both pike and shot so they cover the same depth but then fudged it to allow Swedes in 2 to 3 ranks deep and their enemies in deeper formations.Swedes have less figures per unit but still manoeuvre in blocks.We use home brewed rules and raise both sides for every period we play.We use lots of figures and it looks right to us. I still read commercial rule sets but stopped using them out of the box years ago! What’s the fun in that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly I almost always tweak a bit- even if I like the rules I fiddle with organisations.

      Delete
  13. I think it all depends on the level that you want to play at. If set at the army level then the rules should be designed to cope with the player deciding how to best represent the units on the base. A high level of abstraction is reasonable in this case.

    If it's more tactical then a clearly defined basing routine is a must. IMHO In this case there's no excuse for a lack of historical accuracy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See your point Phil game "level" can impose serious limits on "positive freedom". I have also found that basing can be over emphasized.- though both sides must use the same system- never a problem in my case as I ALWAYS do both sides for a period.- Never seen the point of 1 army what does it do play with itself !!

      Delete
  14. Ooops - I'm PhilG. Sorry about the missed name.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I can think of two possible reasons that have nothing to do with slavish adherence to rule sets. Firstly, the searching for a way to present a unit while limiting the number of figures that have to be bought and / or painted. Secondly two rank's of shot visually throws 3 or 4 rows of pike into something that looks a bit more pike-block 'like'!

    I'm not saying either is a real reason, but the aesthetic may be an acceptable visual compromise and is certainly something I would consider, but that is probably because it is not my prime period and that may also be a reason for acceptability.

    I picked up The Kingdom is Ours at a recent wargame show. They have a few formations available, one being the Demi-Herce in which the whole regiment stands at 2 stands deep, the front stand are shot and the rear are pike. They have the Horned Battle, which has a pike block at least 2 stands deep with one stand of shot to either side.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I recently bought a copy of that too. I have to check to be sure but nowhere so far have I found the horned battle named or used. I'm sure I would have noticed but it is possible I missed it. the demi hrece is a known formation - sometimes used by the Royalists.. I really can't accept the usual collection of "gaming excuses" for deliberately being unhistorical. They only suffice if you are Dwarf- fiddling or elf mumbling.
      TKIO has other problems - by gum they are dice heavy and the gaming process is long winded because of that. Despite some nice touches this is a "game" rather than a set of rules for people who think dice olling is intellectual and more dice rolling is somehow more fun ....

      Delete
  16. The problem with almost all Wargames rules that I’ve used is the description of what a figure or group of figures is supposed to represent. How they were used and what they are supposed to represent. Formations are mentioned but not how they are constructed.
    If you have no one to show you how things work in a game, you are lost.
    Going back to the 1960’s Brigadier Peter Young made it clear. First with simple rules with a blow by blow description of a battle for a bridge and again in the advanced rules with a retreat across the R.Weser chased by a superior force.
    However the only rules I can think of that describes how brigades and divisions are formed was Empire Napoleonic Rules, supplying a great deal of detail on generals for moral purposes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see your point here but back in the day most people read actual books to find out how regiment brigade etc were formed for the different periods covered. For ECW for instance Peter young- yes that one was author of a fine series of books at around the same time Charge came out in the 1960s

      Delete