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Tuesday 21 July 2015

A Splendid gift from a Gentleman.

 So there I was up to my armpits in  sweaty work. Casting Aircraft and  trying as normal to do  eleventy -nine things at once to assuage the impatience of a vocal few...(Have you ever noticed Gentle readers how it is that the chaps who spend the least make the most row about it? ) Nevertheless I was pretty busy which is the point, when the postman handed me this anonymous cardboard box.
 "Curiouser and Curiouser" said Andy !
After a good five minutes hacking away at the wrapping I discovered Treasure !

3 light drakes or possibly minions.
 For Lo! and even Behold !  the box contained 5 rather splendid ECW artillery  pieces with crews and a limber and powder cart .
"What Ho!" thinks I "Where did these come from"
Further investigation revealed a letter from a gentleman called Jason. Now as it happens I could put a face to the name as we has spoken at some length at Partizan.  at the beginning of June. I'd known this chap at shows for some years as a customer and "face"  but until the last Partizan had not known a name.. Now over the years we had chatted of this and that- with more than a little emphasis on the Pike and Shot period of which Jason had an abiding interestand that we both had a mutual friend in Robbie Roddiss . Now this time I happened to mention my interest in the ECW and the ex-Gilder stuff I'd bought from  DC-  apropos on absolutely nothing- and a couple of weeks later this box turns up out of the blue.
The 2 heavy guns. .
The enclosed letter informed me that these were no use to Jason and were mine with his compliments ...
" Well Thank you Kind Sir " thinks I .
They had it appears been part of Duncan Macfarlanes collection and some at least painted by Phil Robinson. the letter merely signed Jason  However reading Robbie Roddiss blog this morning  he mentioned this Gentlemans full name- Jason Williams.
 So Mr Jason William many thanks for your splendid gift.
 A couple of the pieces can be seen in the Asquith /Gilder Naseby book of.1979 so in a sense they were coming home to join their old comrades.
  Now isn't that  lovely.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Newest Russian Goodness !

 Drabant are continuing to release superb 28mm Miniatures to add to the justly famous 40mm . Nick Bokarev has sent me photos of the 2 latest packs which I have on order
Mounted Russians

Saxon shiedwall- of course the pack will include shields  so they won't look as if they are merelywaving at you!
Those moving horses look truly superb. I should have these in stock in time for Claymore- maybe earlier .....

Monday 13 July 2015

In the light of preceeding blog posts .....

Having read Robbie Roddis  most recent post on his Independant Wargames group blog and - needless to say - stuck my oar in I recalled that  late last year I had started writing an article for hopeful publication in  Miniature Wargames but was ovetaken by other events and left it unfinished.
 However it is germain to the current discussion on History in Wargames so I publish it here as far as I got at the time- rough hewn as it is ....

More Meat on a Butcher’s Apron ...
What is Wargaming without the History?
A Discussion
Andy Copestake.

Currently as I write this our hobby- which for the sake of simplicity we will call Wargaming supports 3 glossy magazines and  quite a few small business- mine included and – if we include the so called “Games Workshop Hobby”  - one large business which dwarfs the rest of us  put together rather more than somewhat.
 As a recreational hobby (as distinct from its use in the Military) Wargaming is around 150 or so years old perhaps a little less. The Manchester Tactical Society for example, were playing Von Ressiwitz’s  Kriegspiel in the latter half of the 19th century – well before Mr Wells published “Little Wars”  in 1913 There were other early Wargamers  such as Robert Louis Stevenson and, however different each individual game, all were largely  military in conception – and- mostly  if not entirely  contemporary to the times in which they were played. In all of these I have not – so far -found a single Elf!
 For clarity Gentle Readers I should make it clear that I’m only really considering Wargames using model- or toy soldiers or miniatures if you prefer. This is because I like the pretty toys – it gives you something to look at during the endless dice rolling.
 The more modern recreational Wargame as we would recognise it dates from the mid 20th century and is largely, though not solely, a post WW2 phenomenon. Elves and the like don’t make their appearance until the 1970s and the Wargaming that takes place is still mostly military and frequently historical- in that the players are gaming some aspect of the military past- is in Ancient Rome or WW2- or indeed anything in between. Fantasy and Sci – Fi games are children of the 1970s and it is in this decade that GW begins it rise.
            Now as it happens I’ve never considered myself to be in the same hobby as GW- even if I use a few of their modelling products the “hobby” they have created with its games of teenage angst and dystopian nastiness is simply not for me so for the sake of this discussion let’s dismiss it from our minds forthwith.
            So what is my hobby and indeed the hobby of many (perhaps most) of the readers of this journal – it’s possibly easier to say what it isn’t. It isn’t GW, isn’t Fantasy Gaming isn’t “Table top gaming” (apparently one of the more modern euphemisms) in theory isn’t always any of those- but may be all of those and more SOME of the time.. That some of us “cross- dress” as it were and paddle our feet in other ponds is incontrovertible and nothing wrong with that . – I’ve been known to play the odd Sci-fi game and still have a small Sci-fi collection,  but it’s not the main part of my hobby as frankly I find it just too lightweight for anything other than a bit of a laugh once in a while. So for many of us our Wargames have at least something of a Historical bent.
  However, let us be clear here Wargaming is NOT history.   For many Wargamers , no matter how interesting they find history in itself, it is merely a tool, a resource, something to be accessed when needed and discarded when not. This of course goes for much of the assorted Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres as well.
 Think about it. Tolkien, Howard, Gemmel, Martin  et al  all lean heavily  upon History to produce their work- some more than others- Martin ‘s “Game of Thrones”  in all its endless turgidity is merely a  Wars of the Roses with funny names and a few dragons.
  So for the majority of the readership a fair chunk of their hobby time is taken up with “Historical Wargaming”  in one of its many and varied forms . So a question or two, to start the ball rolling .
Why , if the foregoing has any truth, does there appear to be a considerable “down “ on history appearing within the pages of  our magazines and in at least some of the current ”Games”  and why do a number of our brethren seem to have an aversion to any kind of historical knowledge?” –. Now I can think of several somewhat sulphurous answers but, however expressive, they don’t really advance the discussion. And yes, this is a discussion – I want to look at all sides of the case- even- or perhaps especially -those with which I disagree.
History gets in the way of the game.
Games- whichever way you put it are ultimately about winning. There is no real getting away from that. All the strategies and game play – even rolling the dice is for one ultimate goal- to win. Therefore any knowledge that doesn’t help you to achieve that is not to the point. The pretty toys are merely counter decoration, just window dressing  as is the history.
 “I can get all the knowledge I need from the rules and Army lists for the game I wish to play.”
Or, as a customer once put it to me, with some heat.
 “I don’t need to read anything about WW2 I play Flames of War .”
 That a goodly proportion of players are only interested in the actual PLAY is once again unarguable and I’ve known chaps who collect Wargames rules the way I collect Military Memoirs and view the painting as a serious chore that gets in the way of the dice rolling. For these guys the GAME is everything (or why else use DBA?).  Many play in regular competitions  but I also mean the  competitive minded since not all of that ilk play in actual tournaments. Some of these motivations I do understand and have been involved with in the past- Old Glory sponsored Derby World Wargames for about 12 years-and I played a lot of competitive games in the 70s and early 80s so I understand the desire to measure oneself against others of similar mien. I know of chaps who got into Wargaming through knowledge of statistics and systems analysis so a love of History is by no means a prerequisite.
I have to say I find this argument really quite narrow but if that’s what blows your skirt up fine, I never thought that wargaming was the same sort of hobby as Monopoly or Scrabble but to some it obviously is ....

History stifles the imagination.
I’ve had this put to me a few times over the years by 2 distinct sets of people. Fantasy/ Sci- Fi gamers and the fictional countries aficionados   which last are fantasy gamers with an historical sheen ( or perhaps historical gamers with fantasy sheen!). The urge to produce, map, populate, and create imaginary lands is an old one. Thomas More did it. Jonathan Swift did it. Numerous other writers have done so. The Fictional Country as a plot device is very common. So why not wargame with fictional countries?. Why not indeed. I’ve done it myself numerous times. However almost without exception these various fictional lands lean heavily upon actual  history. Robert Howards Hyboria. George Martin’s Westeros  and even Tolkien’s Middle Earth  all “borrow” heavily from known history , so it should come as no surprise that the Wargames world abounds with more or less fictional countries  all leaning heavily upon history . Those 2 classics of Wargames literature- Brigadier  Peter Young’s “Charge! “ and Charles Grants “The War Game”  both  have fictitious armies of the 18th century at their core. This idea has been so frequently copied that it has almost acquired a life of its own . There are now probably more fictitious pseudo- Germanic nations in the Wargaming world than there were in the much fragmented Holy Roman Empire of the actual 18th century! All of these are derivative of an actual history but in wargaming terms often arise from a desire to copy the  perceived “greats” of the hobby – who of course knew their history- Grant and  especially Young publishing  notable history books in their own right. So here I’d argue that History fires the imagination rather than limiting it.  The more you know the wider the possibilities.
I want everything all in one package  -open the box and play .
Now this is a relatively new argument I’ve only heard in recent years and seems to stem largely from the more commercial minded of the Games Design lobby.  Get all you need from us  Figures ,Rules, , (Braincells !! ) limiting access to the background and therefore by implication to history the “Games Designer Dudes”  have perhaps acquired an importance which the quality of their game does not always deserve simply by claiming to make you wargaming more instant and “user friendly” .  There are a good selection of quick games available Two Hour Wargames One Hour Wargames  often with limited numbers of units and limited troop types. Add to that the increasing numbers of boxed games using overpriced miniatures  of the “official” variety and you are getting even more limited(but relatively easy) access . Surely you wouldn’t want to be in the position where such games were your only choice.  Like having only pizza or burgers available and calling such low rent  eateries “Restaurants” it is a travesty on the actuality and once again a massive limitation on the possibilities.
 One of the major things that differentiates “Miniatures Wargaming” from almost any other type of gaming hobby is its open ended nature. There are as many different styles and types of gaming experience within this single hobby as there are all the other types of games put together.How many different types of WW2 rules are there?  Ancients? Napoleonic?. By comparison there is only 1 set of accepted rules for Monopoly or Srabble or- perhaps closer to home Risk or Diplomacy.
History and Knowledge is Elitist
Now this one was put to me, most recently, but not for the first time ,on TMP as a result of one of  my earlier articles in this magazine. According to the anonymous correspondent an ability to read “dusty old Books” is elitist, having a library likewise. Apparently – according to this fellow - the young don’t want to read or study or indeed know anything. They want to begin playing immediately. What an arrogant and patronising –“all kids are thick” type of statement. Now frankly this is just the most complete twaddle, yet behind its blusters and nonsense, there is perhaps a point which feeds into the current agonising over “The Future of the Hobby” . There seems to be a body of opinion that says that because there is a shortage of children in the hobby then we are doomed. . Therefore the  only way to avoid being doomed is to dumb down so all games are “child friendly” and  so, therefore again , nothing that smacks of knowledge or indeed anything  that this currently  PC argument perceives as “boring”   has any place within our ranks.  So by irresistible logic  eventually all wargaming will become games that are essentially for children – despite the fact that there are few children in the hobby.  One wonders if this has been thought through!
However to be a tad serious for a moment , there is no doubt that these days  there is an entry level problem in this hobby,  but it depends what you consider entry level. For myself Neil Thomas fine books – intended as entry level or not -go a good way to actually being just that but are not in any way childish .  They are the modern versions of the entry level that Featherstone and Wise provided for me in 1970.The basic premise is simple, games are limited in scope but there is space to progress further.  Surely that is the point of entry level. It is a place to begin, from there you progress as you discover more about the hobby and the bits you want to indulge in, which periods or genres, scales or sizes. I’ve learned and evolved as a Wargamer since 1970  which surely is part of the point in a hobby as open ended and diverse as this.  The urge to limit and “simplify” what is “allowed” seems to be driven by 2 sets of factors – the obvious one being the commercial- after all if you own the best selling and most popular rules then you are on to a nice little earner especially if they pander to today’s lust for instant answers with as little intellectual  effort as possible. Yet having said that I wonder how true it is at grass roots level . Of the wargamers I know personally NONE are devoid of interest in or knowledge of their chosen periods. Some are of course more games orientated than others but it is  perhaps pertinent  that well over half of these gentlemen never buy any of the glossies and have often over the years told me that there is nothing in them to read – other than the adverts.
Arthur Harman’s piece “Staying Alive- a reply” he opines that many of today’s young  gamers simply wargame differently – with a computer using for example – Call of Duty or similar AI driven games. If we accept the premise of the “games are all that matters” and also of “out of the box and play is the way” then this is hardly surprising.  After all were I the games first type then it is hardly likely that I’d spend significant amounts of time money and effort amassing model armies and scenery and all the other paraphernalia that goes with Historical  Miniatures Wargaming .It is because we do NOT accept these things and because we like the miniatures and the History and the social side of the hobby that we do not lock ourselves in our rooms to stare at a screen  in lieu of the  wargaming we do like. There is – or should be more to this wargaming lark than merely the game. It is because Historical Miniatures Wargaming   is so multi-layered- if fully indulged in- that it should encompass several disciplines  historical research, modelling , miniatures painting, collecting ,  discussion and debate and  the actual games and that none are really fully functional without the others.  So one might think that gaming alone is far too thin a subject  to be the sole content of such a magazine as this.
 Indeed I might go further than Mr Harman- not that I disagree in any way- (except the bit about Cardigans- don’t own one, don’t want one !!!) I’d also add that the social ineptness exhibited by a minority of our brethren is exaggerated by the computer. I now eschew most of the wargaming forums simply because the constant low level nastiness of some posters became tedious. None of these pipsqueaks would dare say to your face any of the things they say online – they lack the courage and the honesty yet because they can hide behind some idiotic non-de-plume they think almost anything goes. Almost anything except reasonable adult debate of course. For me that has been the most costly casualty of the “Games only” revolution , reasonable discussion often seems to have been replaced by “but it says on page 42 of Wundarules vol 3...(£29.99)”. Now this kind of statement is completely appropriate in the competition arena but for the rest of us ?  The gap between our games and the historical prototype is now in some areas so wide that each can no longer see the other.
I‘m actually coming around to the view that our greatest problem within our hobby is the closed mind exhibited by some of the loudest voices.  Especially of those who are single game orientated or perhaps that should be single method orientated or perhaps even the “single axe to grind”. Look at the number of wargaming  publications  out there  that cost a small fortune. A set of rules in a pretty book for £20-30.00 additional supplements for 10-20 quid each which of course you often “HAVE” to purchase. It is now very easy to drop £50 or more on a set of rules and its attendant supplements before you have bought a single soldier for the “game” .    Conversely I can go to a decent book dealer at a show and buy a bin load of books for my £50 - and some toys as well  with the change  if I’m lucky , not to mention what a few well chosen web-searches will turn up  but of course this is  not the currently fashionable option the fear of learning stuff is too great for some !
 In the past you’d scour the magazines for relevant articles which would increase your period knowledge and quite possibly save you a few quid . This is far less likely in the current climate as there are far fewer “taster” articles than there used to be  -or perhaps “entry level” is an equally valid term for  the sort of articles I mean . Those that gave you an “in” to a new period or perhaps taught you something  new about a period you thought you knew or maybe gave you a different way to game one of your favourites. Such still occur but now rarely. You are just as likely to find a game driven infomercial for some set of rules you’ve never heard of.


 Now I never did write the conclusion- assuming I had one but I di want to at least try and see the other side- even though I think it's twaddle.
 The whole point ,as always, is to make chaps think about what they and we do  so its it IS deliberately contentious..... that is the point ! 
 I'd appreciate other opinions- from both side of the fence- but not too shrill!! please.

Sunday 12 July 2015

There's no Rules like an old Rules .....

Perusing WSS 79 again - to re-read Richard Clarkes column I came across  Jamie Gordons pice on using "old games" as he puts it .  This was interesting to say the least as  this chaps take on the  hobby is a little odd  in some ways- not wrong  indeed precisly the opposite  and  possibly its me thats out of step here.  but he highlighted- perhaps unintentionally the apparently speedy turnover in rulesets in some wargamers lives. Now I can understand this for tournament players- exactly as he put is but for the rest of us why? - At a club for instance who decides what is and is not playable- try any of that nonsense at the TWATS and the second word you would here would be "OFF!" We'll use the set of rules that the umpire for that game deems appropriate to the period .
 As it happens I've bought 3 sets of rules so far this year- which for me is unprecdented." Pike and Shotte",  "To Defy a King " and very much for a laugh 7TV  and yes I've got Pussy Galore on the painting table !(though strictly speaking I  suppose its Kathy Gale ! )
 The current constant outporing of new rules and supplements is reaching saturation point  and it struck me as I read the article that most of the rules I use and abuse for my wargames are a bit long in the tooth .
 Leaving aside those in "wargaming Classics"- Grant , Charge and suchlike  Many of the sets I use have been around since the 1980s if not earlier.
 Tactica- for Ancients- still have not found a better set
 Warfare in the Age of Reason for the 18th century - not perfect by any means but not bad either and very flexible- which is the point.still in print
British Grenadier- for the AWI- still in print this so does it really count as old?
Combined Arms- for modern warfare-a 1980s set  out of print.
 Have Cold War Commander too, more recent , but its a bit "gamesey" and lightweight- this being of course a major trend with  more recently published rules.
 The Free downloadable ACW set on the OGUK website is unashamadly Featherstonian- and use for 40mm games
What , once again struck me about the piece was that there wasalmost  no talk of "periods" only "games" . What I might ask if  you consider the rules you have chosen for a given period to be the epitome of perfection -  highly  doubtfull in my case   but I'll only replace a set I'm using if the replacements are "better"  in some major way .  Again the article is in  in "gaming" territory rather than "pure" wargaming.( I may have bought a copy of 7TV but its not wargaming its just lightweight fluff for a bit of a laugh once in a while.) 
 The main thrust of  Mr Gordons piece was really to push old GW stuff so has no place on my blog  but his basic point is well made it doesn't have to be all singing all dancing eye candy to still have a place in our pantheon. Mind you I did find "Rustic charm" just a tad patronising - as if somehow the eye candy was now more important than the actual content.  But perhaps he didn't mean it that way .... did he?

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Was the "Golden Age" really that golden.

"When you were young and your heart was an open book"

 (and you may have worn a Mullett  or Flares- or .....(Quelle Horreur!!) BOTH at the same time )

Of late I've seen a few blog posts about how nice the past was- both in terms of our hobby and in other ways too. I've checked out those of the "Wargaming Classics" that I own -3 or 4 Featherstones and a couple of Grants- plus a few others. I've never held copy a of  Wargamers Newsletter in my hand  but I do have a couple of Issues of Table Top Talk and the 3 issues of the hardly noticed Miniature Figurines magazine somewhere and frankly they are all pretty poor- but then if that was all there was ... So how come to some this was some kind of "Golden Age" of Wargaming. I really don't get it. Figures were fewer and FAR FAR FAR   more expensive than  they are now- at leas in proportion to the amount of money that all but a few could spend on them. Most of us made do with Airfix- or perhaps a few Marx. "Proper" figures- i.e. those in metal were rare.. Spencer -Smith plastics were awfully crude and hard to get. I was terribly disappointed when first I held one in my hand - I much preferred Airfix. Yet you still get the nostalgia junkies telling you how much better is was back then - Cobblers !  But even nostalgia moves on - depending upon how old you are and of course how well heeled.  So when was the Golden Age? How long did it last and are we still in it?
Now I'm not without guilt here- much of the stuff that was beyond my reach in my younger days - Tradition Magazine, Stadden ,Suren and Higgins 30mm figures , a decent library of proper  military history books, can now be purchased- with care - for not unreasonable prices- though some items have become rare and command silly money- I can't afford to collect- for instance Indian Army regimental histories any longer  and even some British Army ones are getting a tad on the dear side- even the reprints are not exactly cheap. Yet having said that I'd much rather drop a pony, nifty or a ton on stuff like that than on  rich- boys showing off books. The former will increase my knowledge the latter only their ego.
 Perhaps part of this is because my own sources of inspiration are vey rarely other Wargamers or wargames -they may have helped in days of Yore- but not now or for some  decades. Lets face it the photos in many of the "Classics" are pretty poor given the 1960s technology but equally so were some of the models themselves. Those of larger models by such makers as Courtenay or Desfontaines or Stadden  or Dilley or Longhurst were significantly better and indeed more inspirational in my early days. I suppose I got into the actual gaming part because I wanted to do something with the models I made. To, if perhaps it was possible, make them act in some fashion - even if only a little-  like their historical prototypes. This idea is now well out of fashion - assuming it was ever IN fashion games geeks being no new thing -  but is still one of my prime movers.
Perhaps more so now than then - since I can command more intellectual resouces now than I did when I was 12 or 13 (True despite the rumours!!!)and at least a little more cash than 5 bob a week pocket money- if I was lucky  . Now of course, it is  fashionable to denigrate anything  making even a minor attempt at any kind of realism with the whine that "It's only a Game" but if its "only a game" what is the difference between it (of many different its) and say risk or Diplomacy or chess or draughts or tiddly -winks. the end result of the game is the same somebody wins somebody loses of itself pretty futile- and if  your main concern is results rather than methods then why pick wargaming as against chess or scrabble?
 Riddle me that one Dudes!  
 It may be that just a tiny reactionagainst the "its only a game" whiners  is in progress to judge by Richard Clarkes excellent piece in the latest  WSS, Its nice to hear one of the  current "glitterati" agreeing with stuff you said publicly in the 1990s- in an interview for Military Illustrated as it happens- doesn't occur that often .
 So  the "Golden Age" may be now or perhaps the 1990s before we were all but drowned in low brained overpriced (because over produced eye candy heavy) gamsey crap with the average intellectual content of a  backward kindergarten class and all in the name of "FUN"- without actually having any idea of what "fun" actually means. But at least now you have the choice. Back then the product range was very small indeed- mostly you made your own- you had control over your own idea of "Fun"instead of  having it handed to you on an overpriced plastic plate. But contrairywise the hobby was smaller there were far fewr products of any type- I recall using Airfix farmhouses  with 25mm figures because that was all we had  and  Faller houses with Hincliffe  french Grenadiers firing over the roof- both needless to say in entirely the wrong scale and offensive to the eye- well MY eye-and mostly nobody cared- many still wouldn't.
 Yes I'm rambling a bit - mainly to show that the Golden Age changes with the person you ask. How old they are and how long they have been in the Hobby and indeed what they DO within the hobby. For games Dudes the Golden Age must be now after all there are more daft games about than ever requiring more dice rolling and assorted mumbling round a table full of introverts,  with no modeling, or any other work - either of the brain or of the hands required.
 Of course the idea that the actually is  something as singular as "The Hobby" is very much open to question- much more so now than back then - so there another riddle to sort out.
 Nevertheless  admit it or not for many the "Golden Age"  is now  all those retired Civil servants and apparatchiks of the Government- they might have the age but they also have the gold to indulge their whims- publish a showing off book- lap up the grovelling of "lesser mortals"  or not as the case may be- whatever blows your skirt up ! 

 One good thing about the past though- nobody had decided  public Dwarf Fiddling was legal and normal !(at least not until the mid-70s )