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Friday 21 August 2020

Catching Up On My Reading .

 As you may have gathered it has been a bit hectic around here what with one thing and another. My painting has suffered  and indeed slowed to a crawl but not only that but so has my reading. Now I know that some wargamers out there don't do reading- unless it be rule books or "games"  but I do. After all without period knowledge how can  you tell if your currently chosen ruleset is twaddle or not?

 So at the moment I have three  new books in hand - though I have had two of them for some time. All are from Helion and all are a bit tasty.

The King's Irish : The Royalist Anglo-Irish Foot Of The English Civil War

First up "The Kings Irish" by the ever dependable John Barratt. This is a workmanlike account of the trials and tribulations of those "Irish" troops who landed in England to  fight for Charles I in the first civil war. This book does exactly what it says on the cover. giving an account of those units who , from the English Army in Irealnd sent to  put down the 1641 rising were enabled to return to England because of the "Cessation" signed by Charles I with his Irish Catholic subjects. These troops were certainly battle hardened and  used to harsher campaigning  but by no means all supported the Kings cause- more than a few changed sides after the Battle of Nantwich.

I bought this as a counterpoint to Abrams excellent study of  Breretons Cheshire Parliamentarian army since  many of the Kings Irish units landed in Cheshire and North Wales and came into contact with Brertons forces. "Irish" troops were also involved in other campaigns and the book gives decent coverage here as well. This volume  gives a concise and readable account of a group of regiments which  the King thought might win him the war but never quite lived up to their potential . Fascinating. Recommended.  

 Physically the book is the usual "Century of the Soldier" format and a softback but otherwise sturdy. Colour  plates by Sean O'Brogain are well up to that artists usual standard as are those of Flags by Dr. Les Prince. Any other comment of mine is superfluous other than Buy the thing !

 The Most Heavy Stroke : The Battle of Roundway Down 1643

Next another ECW title- regular readers will know of my interest in the period. This one is Chris Scott's The Most Heavy Stroke" . This is an examination of the campaign and battle of Roundway Down. That most astonishing of Royalist victories where a force wholly of cavalry met and defeated an army of all arms more than twice its size. I had wanted to get this for some time but it was Steve Ede-Borret's review of the book in Arquebusier that spurred me to actually get the wallet out.  Steve knows his stuff so I took the plunge and was not in the least disappointed. Splendid book. This has arguably the best blow-by-blow account of an ECW battle  in print and is worth the price for that alone.  Like others in the series this follows the usual pattern and the account of the fighting at Roundway is detailed and to the point. This is the main thrust of the book . Why and how did the Royalists win such a stunning and unlikly victory- Buy this to find out. 

It has to be said that the Helion Century of the Soldier series is well... rather splendid. Personally I own about a dozen or more  of them  Mostly ECW but with some Thirty Years War and I have never been disappointed in any of them Where I CAN check the sources I have found the scholarship excellent and while I might not always agree with the arguments the authors make you think - which surely is rather the point. 

The Commotion Time : Tudor Rebellion in the West, 1549

Finally in this fine triumvirate we come to Dr Ed. Fox's "The Commotion Time" which covers a little known campaign in England almost exactly 100 years before the Civil War.  This one is in Helion's "Retinue to Regiment " series and covers the Western Rebellion of 1549. This is sometimes called "The Prayer Book Rebellion" and saw a series of rising across southern and eastern England against the imposition of the new prayer book imposed by the Protestant government of young Edward VI and Lord Protector Somerset. There were other causes- such as the loss of the monasteries and the subsequent land grabs of the gentry at the expence of the commons (Plus ca Change?).  Other books on these rising have concentrated on Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk and Suffolk and the battle of Dussindale but this volume concentrates on the fighting in Devon  and the Battles of Fenny Bridge, Bishop's Clyst, Clyst Heath and Sampford Courtenay. Militarily this campaign has much more interest than he Norfolk fighting as the rebels were rather more than the usual peasant mob- for a start they had a considerable artillery train.  I have read this period of an on since I acquired Julian Cornwall's  rather good but now a bit outdated volume "Revolt of the Peasantry 1549"- which covers  the whole of the risings of that year. Therefore this new work by Fox was a must buy.  Again not disappointed. The volume covers the campaign well and gives us a lot of informaton on the level of m arms and armour held by the militia of the various parishes. Not only that but the battles are - in wargaming terms eminently refightable being quite small- average of around 3000-4000 men per side over the whole campaign . The Royal Army - aside from the usual English style bows and bills of the period also disposed of some numbers of foreign mercenaries including Stradiots and Italian arquebusiers. Thought the two thousand or so Landsknechts in England at the time do not seem to have been used in this campaign. 
 If I have a critcism of this book it is the lack of colour plates. There aren't any.  Don't let this put you off  as the text and the maps  cover the action in detail.
 Again reccommended. 

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Differing Visual Aesthetics in Wargaming

 There I was varnishing  some refurbished old lead dudes and a thought came to me- well it happens once in a while -  and this  singular occurrence prompted another thought. Wow two thoughts joined together I'll be doing stream of consciousness next ! But no, I am not James Joyce nor was meant to be, the thoughts were in fact idle musing upon the Visual Aesthetics of wargaming and how much they have changed and morphed over the years and equally how much my own views and attitudes to the visual side of the hobby have changed .

 Now to be accurate I have always viewed "the look of the thing" as somewhat more important than the actual dice rolling.

 After all, if this was not so, then I would not bother with the model soldiers in the first place but would stick to screens or little bits of cardboard. I am aware that this is heresy to some who view the actual game play as the epitome of their hobby. Fine. No problem, enjoy yourselves, that is the point do not involve yourselves in the rest of our hobby  there is no need you can get your  painted armies delivered  to your door and begin fondling your numbered  cubes over the table almost immediately.

 Now I am not(well not much) having a go at people who use painting services. I have done so myself. and, once in a while still do. There are some fine chaps providing these services. I have units painted by Steve Skinner, James Main, Darren Taylor and Jez at Shakespeare Studios to name but four and I have never been less than pleased with their work. There are of course other fine painting services out there who do sterling work to judge by the amount of gear I send to them repeatedly on customers behalf's.

Mind you, I have also  several times encountered painters who are complete pillocks and seem to spend half a lifetime telling you why they have not completed your order on time, or even started it yet, and the quoted "6 weeks" inevitably becomes 6 months or more. This is especially galling if you have been daft enough to pay them a deposit. I know of one customer who has been sorely tried by the fact that  for various reasons "Painter X" simply will not finish his commission and has half painted units scattered about like confetti... ten months and counting for some of them .As my Granddad  would have said "Sod that for a game of soldiers". Buying it done,  is not always the simple option.

 No hopefully this goes a bit deeper. The problem , for me at least,with buying your stuff  "ready to play"  means that if you are not careful you are buying someone else's view  of how YOUR collection should look  someone else's vision , someone else's aesthetic. Now if you are a games player you may not give a monkey's about this and that is all well and good for you. But not me. Being only a games player would be to deny  much of the interesting "other stuff" that makes up the idea of the "Compleat Wargamer" (to misquote Isaac Walton) and yes in some  very small way possibly a more complete, thoughtful and rounded human being- something that seems to be in shorter supply now than formerly, though mostly(only mostly) , in my experience, outwith  the wargaming hobby.
However, let us not be too precious about this, let us simply, for the sake of discussion, assume that you think the look of the thing has some importance for you . Okay so that is decided . Where do you go next?
Sikh Cavalry painted in the  "received style" of the 1990s. These by Dave Jarvis.
Indian Mutiny figures. Painted and based by me again in the 1990s received style.Though I always undercoat white or grey rather than the colour killing black.

Surely the next thing to do is to decide what kind of look you want for your collection and for your tables when you use that collection. Now when you go to shows or read a magazine or up to a point browse the zillions of wargaming sites on the internet the does seem to be a certain "received look" followed often seemingly by worshippers at the "Church of the Bloody Expensive Rulebook" and those who kneel to the altar of  the "eye candy" within said B.E.R. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes this is appropriate and even necessary but somehow these days I find all of these set ups looking very similar to each other so that you can barely tell one from another- especially when they have been bought and paid for rather than built by the owners fair hand. I've done a turn at "received look"myself, sometimes alone sometimes with   significant help (though never by simply buying it done) and sometimes still do,   but I have never been a slave to convention. After all the "received style" changes every so often as a new B.E.R. appears Indeed rather the opposite- "The Resistance Lives On" so to speak. I want something a little different something a little closer to unique. Not always, but sometimes when the mood takes me, I want out of the current wargaimng rut. 

The Need for Individuality.

This is one of the reasons why I have- for some games and periods, some of the time- reverted to older "retro" rules. They have a different feel to them . It is the same with "retro" figures they frequently have more individuality. They lack the tediousness of "perfection". With many of today's plastic(or indeed metal) perryclones you are hard put to tell one make from another, still less when all are painted in the "received look"- often with extra knuckles.  I like models and units with a little  style and a little individuality so,  in some cases, I mix makers in the same army or even in the same unit. The idea of having the same army based in the same way for the same rules as every other  chap has absolutely no appeal whatsoever. One of the advantages of older figures was that you could tell a Lamming from a Minifig from a Garrison from a Willie . Variety was the spice of my earlier armies.

Even within my own pretty modest collection I don't want all the armies or games  to look the same. Up to a point each period should have its own look . Sure. there will be similarities and sometimes even a bit of crossover- especially with scenery - but the idea is to create something  with a little individuality rather than another same old same old. In terms of the look of the thing this might sometimes mean a more "stripped back" and simplified terrain more consistent with the "retro" look of some of my armies.
An example of a somewhat more "stripped back" terrain style which seemed in keeping with the  retro feel of "Charge!. by Young and Lawford. 

So my "retro" ECW collection looks subtly different from my "modern" one even though they  have sometimes appeared on the same table for a bigger game.  Its the same for the retro and modern AWI groups too. Though for these , being smaller collections by far -are not quite stand alone yet, but once they are will be used for different style games. The "modern " set being used for rules such as British Grenadier and the "retro" set for Featherstone. Of course they can, at need, come together for larger games in either discipline where a "pure" look  for either is not needed during er... playtime . 

"Retro" E.C.W. painted in the style I used in the 1970s- though these days hopefully with more skill. Most of the figures in this unit are Les Higgins 30mm castings out of production since  the late 1970s.
More "Retro" E.C.W. This time mostly Hinchliffe Foremost- still available. Again painted in the shiny 1970s  style .

You may have gathered by now that the actual game play is the bit of this hobby I treat with the least seriousness. The reason is simple, the actual dice rolling is of no consequence. I don't do competition so I don't often care about such minor matters as win or lose. Win UNHISTORICALLY mind, now that is of some matter -at least to me but  in our group that is very difficult to achieve in Umpire controlled games where the Umpire knows his period and the rulebook is merely a toolbox  for him to select the bits he needs to run the game. No army lists no points systems simply a scenario and a narrative.

The more usual "look" this time a 15mm game our group did at the Durham show in 2019. Models Blue Moon Marlburians from Jim Mains collection

 My point here is that each wargamer should be free to choose his own "look". I have for instance "gone off" - for some periods the heavy terrain boards in the Marlburian game photos in favour of the more portable cloths and "assorted things to stuff under cloths" to make hills and dead ground. For some games that approach is simpler and more effective. I have -in this case- reverted to an earlier time. 

Another demo game at Durham- this time 15mm moderns. Those MDF boards do weigh a bit- but look good. 
A similar game using the same models but with a different look.  That "desert cloth" fits in a holdall rather than a van ! 

The choice as they say is yours ... discuss!