Thursday, March 9, 2017

Video Games and Miniature Wargaming?

Can the hobby of  miniature wargaming thrive with the plethora of video games available today? Some gamers today feel that the two hobbies cannot be appreciated equally; their view is that video gaming will eventually drown out miniature wargaming. Nonsense, I say. Personally, I enjoy both types of gaming for different reasons. Life is too short to be a dreaded "hobby snob."

I consider myself to primarily be a miniature wargamer.......I enjoy the artistic side of building armies and terrain and seeing a story unfold on the wargaming table in 3D. I enjoy the research that it takes to understand what uniforms and weapons were utilized throughout different eras of history. Building entire units of historical armies is a great outlet for me to escape the stresses of everyday life. Also, the hobby of miniature wargaming is a social hobby; a great time had by a group of gentlemanly gaming friends with cold beer flowing.

I also see a younger (and old geezers too) generation that is totally infatuated with video games. Let's face it, the technology of today gives gamers a fully immersive experience into another world without the effort of painting, building, and setting up terrain onto a table. My son is a great example of a video gamer. He dabbles every now and then in my miniature realm, but ultimately returns to a myriad of video games from every conceivable era of history and fantasy.  The effort involved is downloading the game onto a hard drive and then mastering the game itself with a click of a mouse, understanding the game mechanics, and a knowledge of hotkeys.  I get games offer quick and relatively easy methods to escape reality as opposed to the time and effort that it takes in our hobby. Of course, I would argue that the invested time and effort is all worth it. There are some worries that our hobby is dying out and that video gaming will hasten the death of miniature wargaming. I see more and more young people at the conventions, so that view is debatable. 

But I, as a self-proclaimed miniature wargamer, love video games as well. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Exposure to different eras of history. Let's face it, miniature armies cost a lot of money and much thought needs to go into the decision to dive into a new era of history. Over the past year or so, after many years of solely "horse and musket" gaming, I decided to jump into ancients/medieval and WW2 gaming. History is packed with so many incredible wars and civilizations of years would be a shame to not experience these eras just because "there's no money left in the gaming budget this month."

Playing Rome: Total War years ago got me thinking about diving into the ancients "black hole" of miniature gaming. The Total War series covers a wide number of eras, including typical "horse and musket" eras, Asian warfare, medieval wars, and even the fantasy realm with Total War: Warhammer.

Recently, I downloaded Sengoku Jidai from Slitherine Games. I have always been interested in Asian warfare, but was relatively clueless about the period. Sengoku Jidai allowed me to actually see a "miniatures" game in 2D and it also offered several different campaigns. Through playing it solitaire as well as competitively with another online wargaming buddy, I learned a tremendous amount of information about this particular era. I am now open to building some samurai forces in the future.

A miniatures-style game based on the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Wars throughout the 16th and 17th centuries

I was so impressed with Sengoku Jidai that I downloaded its sister game from Slitherine, Pike and Shot. In this game, historical battles from the English Civil War, the Thirty Years War, and the Italian Wars were also portrayed on a 2D screen.  It allowed me to especially learn about and focus on the Thirty Years War, which has been a possible era of interest for miniature wargaming in our local gaming group for years.

Another miniatures-style game that portrays the Italian Wars, the Thirty Years War, and the English Civil War

Do you know what the interesting part for both of the above games is?  They were based on actual miniatures rules and adapted for the computer.

2. Strategic games that cannot be portrayed easily on the tabletop. As with boardgames, there are many video games that give the player the strategic feel of the period. A miniatures game just can't be applied to this full strategic level.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an example of a game that I recently downloaded that offers the entire Eastern Front campaign of World War 2 (as well as smaller scenarios) in immense detail. Concepts such as supply, partisans, fatigue, morale, command and control, are all taken into account by the computer.  Like nothing else, it has motivated me to start putting my Eastern Front miniatures onto the table.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an incredibly accurate game that is featured in painstaking detail

Screen sample of War In The East

Another game set in World War Two is Company of Heroes 2. It is a tactical game with incredible graphics that really makes me feel like I'm on the field of battle. Along with War In The East, Company of Heroes 2 has inspired me to start moving on my Chain Of Command miniature project (hopefully this weekend).

3. Video games can inspire scenarios for the tabletop.  Sometimes, when I am in the rut of coming up with yet another scenario for a miniatures battle, playing a video game from the same historical era can stimulate the brain and offer new and unique scenario ideas that I haven't thought of before.

4. Video games offer seemingly endless possibilities for Fantasy / Sci-Fi gaming.  Typically, I stick to historical gaming, but for the gamer who wants to delve into the realms of fantasy and science fiction there are so many more choices than currently offered for miniature wargaming. (Although this area continues to grow more and more as evidenced by the number of games at the major conventions). Examples include not only games like StarCraft 2, but an incredible number of role playing or "hack and slash" games like Diablo 3 (2 is my personal fave though), Dark Souls, or Torchlight.  Warhammer started as a miniatures game and is now available as one of the Total War series.

Screenshot from a StarCraft 2 match

Warhammer Total War screenshot

In summary, it is entirely possible for the hobbies of miniature wargaming and video gaming to coexist peacefully.  Actually, I personally recommend embracing both........for the reasons cited above. More than ever, both hobbies are contributing ideas to each other. For example, there are several games now that are actually miniature games in 2D. Some video games are prompting miniature manufacturers to come up with figure lines.  I was so pleased that Matrix Games decided to attend as a vendor at Historicon a couple of years ago. (War In The East is a Matrix game, by the way). I was equally saddened to see that they gave it only 2 years before deciding to abandon the convention due to weak sales. All of us enjoy military history, so why not enjoy the gaming experience in every aspect possible?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Napoleonic Dutch-Belgian Troops

Both the Kingdom of Holland and Belgium were French puppet states and allies for most of the Napoleonic wars. In 1815, the Dutch and Belgians supplied a large contingent of troops to join the British in the Waterloo campaign. Although maligned throughout history as poor-caliber troops, the Dutch-Belgian troops performed solidly in most cases throughout the campaign. At the battle of Quatre Bras, the Dutch-Belgians and Nassau troops held the field against great odds until British and Brunswicker reinforcements arrived. The presence of Dutch-Belgians are critical for any serious 1815 campaign.

My Dutch-Belgians are all 1815-era troops.

1st Dutch-Belgian brigade with attached skirmishers and artillery

2nd Dutch-Belgian brigade with attached skirmishers and artillery

Monday, February 27, 2017

Napoleonic Bavarian Troops

The Kingdom of Bavaria was formed in 1805 from the electorate of Bavaria. One of France's primary German allies, the Bavarians formed the largest German contingent of Napoleon's forces until 1813. In October of 1813, Bavaria switched sides to the allies as Napoleon's forces lost the field at Leipzig. Attempting to block Napoleon's retreat from Leipzig, the Bavarian forces were swept aside easily at Hanau.

Bavarian troops had a reputation of reliability and were quite solid troops, although their performance in battle was rarely spectacular. Due to its size and politically stability, Bavaria was one of Napoleon's most faithful allies......until 1813.

Bavarian cavalry, made up of Dragoons and Chevaulegers

1st Bavarian brigade, with attached skirmishers and artillery

2nd Bavarian brigade, with attached skirmishers and artillery

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Napoleonic Italian Troops

The Kingdom of Italy was founded in 1805 and ruled by the Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon's stepson, Prince Eugene, ruled the kingdom as viceroy. Italian troops were present in almost every campaign from 1805 on. Although primarily serving as garrison troops in the early years, Italians distinguished themselves in Spain, in the 1809 campaign, and during the 1812 invasion of Russia. Although decimated in the retreat from Moscow, Italians continued to serve honorably in the campaigns of 1813.

1st Italian Brigade with attached skirmishers and divisional artillery.

2nd Italian Brigade with attached skirmishers.

Royal Italian Guard with artillery.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Napoleonic Westphalian Troops

The Kingdom of Westphalia was formed in 1807 after Napoleon's defeat of Prussia and Russia. It was formed primarily by incorporating territories from Hesse, Magdeburg, Hanover, and Brunswick. Westphalia was a member of the Confederation of the Rhine and ruled by Napoleon's brother, Jerome. The Kingdom of Westphalia was abolished after the French defeat at Leipzig.

The troops themselves had a poor reputation in combat, as most of them were conscripts. Due to its size though, Westphalia formed a large percentage of France's German allies.

 1st Brigade of Westphalian infantry, including attached skirmishers and artillery

2nd Brigade of Westphalian infantry, including a couple of battalions of Berg infantry and skirmishers

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Viking attack up Falloden hill using Hail Caesar

So I had an urge to do some Dark Age combat with my newly based Norsemen and their Anglo-Saxon adversaries. I've always been infatuated with the Viking invasion of the British isles and I have recently been doing a good bit of reading on the subject. This battle is set in Northumbria in the mid-800's, some time after the raid on Lindisfarne. To be honest, and with apologies to any British readers, I selected Falloden hill as a fictitious place name.....I have no earthly idea if there is any steep hill even remotely close by the village of Falloden in what was the kingdom of Northumbria.

Although I have selected the SAGA rules system for Dark Age skirmishes in the 28mm scale, I have been using Hail Caesar and, recently, Impetus for larger battles in 15mm. Hail Caesar won out for this particular fight.

Furious action on top of the ridge.

The Scenario

Elof the Toothless and his warbands had been raiding the Northumbrian countryside for several months when a random prisoner mentioned the presence of gold in the monastery of Falloden (before the prisoner's throat was unceremoniously cut amid the laughter of the Danes). Gathering his warriors and placing a command under his brother Gudmund the Boar, the Vikings headed off towards the monastery under the guidance of another local Saxon prisoner, who was more than willing to comply with any Danish requests.

Unknown to the Norsemen, a local baron named Osbeorht was alerted to the approach of the invaders and was resolved to meet them in battle. Fully aware of the tactical superiority of the fierce Danes, Osbeorht decided to gather his troops in a strong defensive position and repel the attackers. Falloden hill would be where the Northumbrians would make their stand.

If unfamiliar with the Hail Caesar rules, please check out my earlier review and summary from February 2016.

The scenario is a simple assault up the slope of a moderately steep hill. The two commands of Danish Vikings consisted of 7 standard infantry units of mixed Hird/Bondi, 2 small units of Bondi archers, and one unit of Thrall skirmishers. These warriors were arrayed in a battle line at the foot of Falloden hill.

The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, consisted of a slightly smaller force of two commands under the overall command of Osbeorht. The force consisted of 6 standard units of mixed Thegn/Ceorl infantry, 1 small unit of skirmishers with bows, and 1 unit of skirmishers with javelins. In addition, there was one small unit of Thegn medium cavalry. This force was lined up on the ridge of the hill, awaiting the advance of the Norsemen.

All unit statistics are published in the Late Antiquity To Early Medieval Army Lists for Hail Caesar. As for special rules, I did allow all heavy/medium infantry on both sides to form Shieldwall (Close Order rule in Hail Caesar). I also added the Tough Fighters rule for the Viking Hird infantry. In addition, to give the Dane invaders some tactical edge, I added the Marauder rule for their 2 units of Bondi archers. As for the Northumbrian defenders, the position uphill of the attackers would give a bonus to their hit chances. The command base of Osbeorht would give a reroll capability to the Saxons as well (the Danes did not have a separate overall commander, so therefore would not receive a reroll capability).

The lines of battle are drawn. The Vikings are at the foot of the hill on the left of the picture.

A view from the other side of the field, with the Saxons on the left of the picture.

Elof the Toothless rallies his Vikings for the assault.

The Game

On the first turn, with the Vikings moving first, the command under Gudmond the Boar facing the Saxon left moved rapidly up the slope, with the Bondi archers causing some damage immediately. The Saxons on this flank (with the exception of the disordered unit due to the withering fire from the Viking bowmen) did succeed in forming Shieldwall. On the Saxon right, Elof's Thrall skirmishers succeeded in blundering and blocking the rest of the Danish infantry, resulting in a short movement up the hill.

During the following turn, both Viking commands advanced towards the Saxon shieldwalls, trading missile fire with their adversaries. Both battle lines were preparing to clash.

Gudmond's Danes made first contact on the Saxon left and a furious fight occurred as the Saxon shieldwall held and subsequently repelled the first Viking warriors (although the Saxon unit took a major beating and was shaken).  Elof's Danes inched closer up the ridge as the silent Saxon shieldwall awaited the charge.

Elof's troops in the foreground ready themselves for the final charge. Gudmond's warriors at the top of the picture close onto the Saxon shieldwall.

The Vikings of Elof's command (which made up the primary assault force) then launched themselves against the Saxon shieldwall. Using rear units as supporting units, the Danish warriors attempted to overwhelm the Saxons. The fighting at the top of the ridge was vicious and prolonged. On the Saxon left, Gudmond rebounded from the loss of his lead unit of warriors and personally led one of the rear units to rout the shieldwall (which was already shaken) at the top of the ridge. A hole in the Saxon line was formed.

Elof's warriors attempt to overrun the Saxon shieldwall at the top of the ridge.

Gudmond the Boar leads his warriors against the shaken Saxon shieldwall and ends up throwing it off of the ridge.

As the fighting on the Saxon right was typical back-and-forth fighting, the hole in the Saxon left was made worse when another Saxon unit in the center was routed off by a desparate Viking charge. Gudmond then moved to flank the extreme left of the Saxon line. This was a critical point in the battle. The Saxon commander, Osbeorht,  attached himself to the Thegn cavalry and attempted to lead it to the left flank. An ugly command roll reared its head and the cavalry barely inched its way to the threatened sector. As Gudmond charged the flank with his warriors, the shieldwall............stood ! The Saxon infantry was disordered but it stood (awesome dice rolls) unbelievably. The Thegn cavalry finally made it to the combat and the subsequent fight tipped the tide against the Vikings charging uphill. Gudmond's Danes routed, which caused his entire command to become broken, forcing any remaining units to retreat. The Saxon left held!

The fighting on the Saxon right flank was brutal.

Saxon archers defend the extreme right flank as the Viking Thralls fall back.

On the Saxon right flank, the Vikings were pushing the Northumbrians back. The fighting was tough and alternated between the Saxon shieldwall holding their position and the Vikings pushing ahead stubbornly. The numbers were beginning to tell and the Saxon infantry was bleeding. And finally, with one last Viking charge, led by Elof himself, the Saxons broke and routed.

With one last Viking push, the Saxon shieldwall on the right routed away

At this point, even with the Saxon left stabilized, the Vikings so outnumbered their foes in heavy infantry that the decision was made to end the game. Although the game was in question up until the last turn, the Vikings finally pulled out a victory. The Saxon troops while in Shieldwall and on a higher elevation certainly proved to be worthy adversaries and the Norsemen infantry struggled to take the ridge.

I felt, with the special rules added, that Hail Caesar proved to be an outstanding set of rules for a fast-paced, yet historically feasible, simulation of Dark Age warfare. It was a very balanced scenario that proved to be a lot of fun.

Looks like the monastery in Falloden was about to be looted !

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Napoleonic Spanish Troops

The Spanish troops throughout the Napoleonic Wars had a reputation of incompetence and cowardice with only a few successes versus the French. But in reality, although the Spanish leadership was often incredibly poor, Spanish soldiers fought as hard for their country as any other nationality. Spanish infantry, when led well, proved to be very courageous, while the artillery was particularly stubborn in holding a position. The Spanish cavalry proved pretty poor most of the time though.

The fact that the Spanish hung in there and continued to fight the French on the field, while waging a guerilla war at the same time proved to be a major factor in the ultimate defeat of Napoleon.

The Spanish often fought with their British allies as well as independently against the French. Although most of the time the French were victorious over the Spaniards, there were some bright moments. The Spanish victory at Bailen cannot be understated, while the Spanish troops that died where they stood on the ridge at Albuera allowed the British to counterattack and push the French from the field.

Spanish Dragoons

Spanish Heavy Cavalry

Spanish Light Cavalry

Spanish Artillery

Spanish 1st Brigade

Spanish 2nd Brigade

Spanish 3rd Brigade

Spanish 4th Brigade

Spanish 5th Brigade

Spanish Skirmishers