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Monday 23 January 2023

Unit Sizes- the 'All armies are the same' problem.

 How do chaps these days build their armies? Has it changed from the 1970s when I started?  What dictates the sizes of units in  given army or for a given period? Historical prototypes? Personal preference? The look of the thing? The chosen rule set or army list? The packaging style of your chosen miniatures range ? All or none of the above?

Speaking for myself I would say historical prototype first every time,  followed by the look of the thing, possibly influenced by chosen rule set and perhaps personal preference.

Aunit of Marlburian Infantry- Irish in French Service at around 1 :20 so 36 figures equates to 720 men. Bases on 15mm frontage for the men 20mm per fig for the command. . These will be used in Grantian style games but in AOR also.

 I like to build an army mostly to a set 'figure to man' ratio.  I accept that these are often somewhat notional and may have little to do with the chosen rules, but then all a ruleset really does is tell you which dice to throw and when, all the rest is often guff and marketing- especially these days.. I am fortunate in that our gaming group does not contain any rules lawyers. 'History Lawyers' 100% but rules lawyers nary a one thankfully. So for example my SYW armies are at a nominal ratio pf 1 figure to 20 men, so a British Cavalry or Dragoon regiment has three squadrons each of 8- 10 models- mostly 8 . Infantry Battalions range around the 20-32 figure mark, based where possible on actual numbers dug out from various sources and always with an eye to 'the look of the thing'. Otherwise why use model soldiers in the first place? My ECW armies are much the same but with a figure to man ratio of 1:10 so a single cavalry troop can be anything from 4-10 figures depending upon time and place. Regiments being various numbers of Troops.. Of course there is a bit of number crunching and fiddling to get a viable unit but  that is part of the price you pay. Infantry units can be large but as in the period they can be split into 2 battalions if the scenario demand it.

Individually based Scots Greys- these will do for Retro style games such as 'Charge!' on indeed any game where the model is paramount rather than its base. 

I also tend to build my armies so that I can use them with more than one set of rules So my Marian Romans can fight using Tactica or WRG or even Tony Bath without harm. My AWI, Black Powder or British Grenadier or Warfare in the Age of Reason. Since I don't do competitions and always do both sides for a period then I don't expect to have arguments about this base being 5mm larger than that base. I base for visual appeal- mostly - rather than rules lawyering.

So rules that force a non- historical  organisation upon the players will usually get very short shrift from me, binwards they will often go. This  is one of the reasons I dislike DBR intensely and find much of Pikeman's Lament risible, to name but two that have aroused my ire. Both of these in their different ways enforce a non- historical organisation on the players  for the simple reason that the rules mechanisms demand such. I've heard the 'Forsyth argument' (Good game good game)  but that does not wash for me as they both  butcher the historical prototype something rotten, again each in their different ways - though to be honest it IS possible to get something out of Pikeman's Lament with a bit of 'reverse butchery' ,if you could be bothered, but there are plenty of alternatives out there so why bother.?

A rather aged ECW unit based for WRG . Would not base them this way today but I'm not about to destroy someone else work for the sake of a few millimetres.  Represents a unit of about 400 men.

I LIKE my armies to have different sized units in them as did the historical prototypes. Look for example at any 'Horse and Musket' period order of battle form anywhere in the world and you will see Battalions and Regiments (units) in the same Brigade or Division(formations)  at differing strengths. For me this gives the units character and dare I say it historical verisimilitude -tenuous thought that last may be. As an aside I might note that such difference have at times played havoc with a players  battle plan if a unit was found to be too big or not strong enough for a give task but that is one of the risks of generalship surely? 

Anyway an army where all the  units were identically sized - slaved to a rule set would be mightily tedious to paint. Endless obedience to some anonymous games designer who possibly knows a lot less about the period than you do (but has some - at least in his view- smart games mechanism that he can force a bit of history into, he may even be right) . Nah just does not fit with me. so I mostly avoid rule sets that dictate the unit sizes- especially where those sizes seem to be dictated not merely by the writer but seemingly by the packaging methods of his favourite companies.

All armies are not the same they do not automatically have the same organisations - look at the history and you will quickly find this to be true. I understand the lure of 'gaming convenience' and am not always immune to this- my 15mm Moderns suffer a little though not enough so that I would use a rule set such as Cold War Commander which again - according to chaps who know more than me, butchers organisations to fit the rules.. My own moderns will fit with Team Yankee or Combined Arms. We tries CWC but hated it tend now to go with a modified version of TW - though a set called Sabre Squadron  needs to be tried. 

I suppose part of my problem is that I am not PRIMARILY  a games player but rather a historian who plays historical wargames- with the emphasis on the historical; so non- historical items in purportedly historical wargames rules are going to at least raise an eyebrow! But after all I'm writing this post to provoke discussion - which I know for some is anathema (I've been accused of being a 'Gate keeper' whatever that piece of silliness may mean- in the past when posting other discussions) but surely out of discussion comes new ideas ..... or does it? 

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Catching up on my Reading -16. The Battle of Rocroi.

Now off and on I have something of an interest in the 30 Years War- though often not the bits that you are supposed to be interested in. No Swedes for me for a start. 

 No my main interest is the French army of that period and it's all Oliver Reed's fault aided- though he would not know it- by Gerard Depadieu and George MacDonald Fraser- and never forgetting Alexandre Dumas - but there you  go  all sorts of things can spark an interest.

 So the new publication from Helion on the Battle of Rocroi- written by Alberto Raul Esteban Ribas- an author previously unknown to me really sparked  my curiosity telling the tale of Conde's great victory for the French over the mighty Spanish army in 1643. 

In the Helion 'Century of the Soldier' series (no94 to be precise) the volume  is up to the usual Helion physical standard that we have come to expect. in all 167 pages.

 First off  Mr Ribas knows his stuff. The breadth of his knowledge of the various French and Spanish sources for the battle and the campaign is impressive. The author has done his research- this show in the extensive bibliography but more than that  the book is well written and detailed - even if the prose is occasionally a tad ponderous this does not in the least detract from the scholarship.

The treatment of the actual battle is very detailed indeed, including, as it does, a full order of battle for the French and as full an OB for the Spanish as can be gleaned from the sources. Mr Ribas takes us through the fighting almost blow by blow, citing the various anomalies in the sources which have caused some confusion to scholars over the years. This detail is never tedious and repays careful reading, but let us be clear, you will need to concentrate. I personally was left  with the conclusion that the Spanish lost the battle  by missing their chances for victory while the French won by taking advantage of every chance they had. However you will need to read this excellent book to get the benfit of Mr Ribas's narrative and  conclusions - no spoilers here ! 

The narrative is backed up by a fine selection of contemporary illustrations which show us what the troops were supposed to look like or how 17th century artists saw them.  The maps by George Anderson are in their usual clear style and make the narrative easier to follow.

 If I have one reservation it is the colour plates. They are well drawn but perhaps a bit pedestrian and suffer from a surfeit of  blue but this is my only reservation in an otherwise excellent and useful book .

Definitely recommended.

Now all I need to do is get the 40mm French and Spanish on the table !