Sunday, 25 November 2012

A double century

I have updated our links to other blogs.

There are now over 200 of the best, cleverest and most interesting from the blogosphere represented in our Link: Wargames Blogs above (224 to be precise).

Check 'em out, you are sure to find something that will surprise or interest you.

Black Friday

I have been receiving emails from on-line retailers—publishers and the like—that refer to a "Black Friday".

In my world Black Friday is a superstitious term used for Friday the 13th. I checked my calendars and there is/was not a Friday 13th in November nor December. I consulted the fount of all knowledge, found this edifying video and all was revealed:

Black Friday

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A fine addition to any Napoleonic library

Book Review: Russian Eyewitness Accounts of the Campaign of 1812, by Alexander Mikaberidze 
(Images courtesy of the publishers. Please do not reproduce without first seeking permission)
This is another fine offering from Alexander Mikaberidze; although in this case more as an editor, and of course researcher and translator, than as an author.
The first thing that I noticed about the book was that it is written in the “wrong” order, commencing as it does with the retreat and ending with the pursuit. This is, of course, not true and is a reflection of the fact that the mind of this reviewer—and I’d wager the minds of most readers of this review—are accustomed to considering the 1812 campaign from the French viewpoint. I am sure that the chapter headings were selected, at least in part, to emphasise this key point of difference between this book and others about the campaign; it is written entirely from the Russian perspective. The book truly provides “ unique insight on the Russian side of the war...”.
In the manner of presenting the material from the eyewitnesses, Mikaberidze has used the same approach as Brett-James did in his 1966 landmark book “1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon's Defeat in Russia”—complete, often long, largely unedited quotes from selected eyewitnesses. This provides the reader with a far more detailed and deeper reading experience than the more common approach of shorter, edited quotes interspersed with text from the author. Importantly, the eyewitness accounts presented in the book provide a range of points of view from the Czar, his generals, officers and their staff, to ‘common’ soldiers and civilians.
There are numerous interesting insights and snippets from the beginning of the war to its victorious end for the Russian forces. These include impressions of the coming war—from excitement to apprehension, a patriotic song sung by the Russian troops—in French!, detailed recollections by Ivan Zhirkevich of 2nd Light Company of Life Guard Artillery Brigade of Kutusov and his staff during the pursuit and, of course, the Battle of Borodino.
Thirty-eight pages are dedicated to accounts from the battle. Tragic, almost poetic descriptions, such as from Ilya Radozhistskii, a lieutenant in the 3rd Light Company of the 11th Artillery Brigade of 6th Corps, describing the night of 6th September “the fires turned the dark clouds in the sky into a crimson twilight and the flames in the sky foretold a bloodshed on the ground” (p. 164). Mikhail Voronstov, commander of the 2nd Combined Grenadier Division, “out of about four thousand men, there were fewer than three hundred at the evening roster call and out of eighteen staff officers only three survived, and, as I recall, only one of them was not wounded” (p. 172). Sergei Mayevskii, Bagration’s adjutant, describes being ordered to see how General Rayevskii was faring at the reboubt during the height of the morning battle. “One hundred cannon bombarded it. Rayevskii, with an elated face, told me, ‘Now go back and tell the Prince what is going on here!’ As I galloped the distance of over two verstas [1.3 miles], I suffered a hit from a flying projectile and the impact was so severe that I could not regain the hearing in my ears or close my mouth for over two hours!” (p. 176). As with elsewhere in the book, Mikaberidze’s approach of reproducing long extracts provides a fuller, more descriptive and richer account.
Each quote is prefaced by a short introductory paragraph from the editor, which the provides the background to the quote and, the first time that a person is quoted, introduces who he was and his position. It is always interesting with primary sources to know how long after events took place they are writing. I would have liked to have seen an appendix with an alphabetical list of the eyewitnesses used, a brief biography of each and from where the material is derived (perhaps even with an assessment by Mikaberidze of the reliability or otherwise).
There is only one map, an overview of the 1812 campaign. While I would always like to see more maps rather than fewer, this one is clearly drawn and seems to present all of the locations that are mentioned in the text, which is always pleasing.
Prince Bagration's last charge at Borodino, by modern Russian artist A. Averyanov. One of the colour plates in the book.
The book is beautifully presented; an aspect that seems to be in common with most publications nowadays. I have the hardback edition of the book, which always adds to the feeling of quality! The print is clear, of a good size and printed on thick paper stock. There are 24 pages of plates, a little over half of them in black and white and the remainder in colour. The black and white plates include reproductions of paintings of the Czar and his generals plus ten reproductions of famous paintings of battle scenes and other events of the campaign from artists such as Albrecht Adam and Faber de Faur and Jan Chelmińiski. The colour plates are reproductions of paintings of events and scenes, plus one of Kutusov and another of Napoleon reviewing the Guard. All of the plates are reproduced clearly and allow the reader to see the detail. While many of these prints are now available on-line (from Wikimedia Commons) it is more convenient to have them in printed form and they add greatly to the overall ‘experience’ of the book.
This book will make a fine addition to any Napoleonic library.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Spreadin’ the love
What a beaut surprise. ‘Rosbif’, the producer of that fabulous blog Monsieur le Rosbif & Johnny Frog has nominated our ANF blog for a Liebster Blog Award. Thanks Rosbif, you are most kind.
Only trouble is that I now have the enjoyable but difficult task of nominating a mere five blogs myself. Ah well, rules are rules and we all know from those veracious emails what can happen if a chain is broken... besides, this is such a great one to be part of:
1. Copy and paste the award on your blog linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.
2. Pass the award to your top 5 favourite blogs with less than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their posts to notify them that they have won the award and listing them on your own blog.
3. Sit back and bask in that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing that you have just made someone's day!
There is no obligation to pass this on to anyone else but it is nice if you do.
Step 1 is easy, but Step 2 is the challenging one. I could easily nominate 20 without having to think too much! How to limit it to a mere five?
The limitation of 200 followers rules out some. To assist me in making a choice, I decided to select from blogs that have fewer than 100 followers and to limit my choices to those that have not already been nominated (as far as I can tell), and are in large part dedicated to Napoleonic wargaming.
That ruled out some great blogs like Rosbif’s Monsieur le Rosbif & Johnny Frog, Philippe’s Association Les Rifllemen, Ian’s Hinton Hunt Vintage Wargame Figures, Mr F’s Mr Farrow 2 U, Matt ‘Pushing Tin’s’ eponymous blog, Peter Anderson’s marvellous Blunders on the Danube, Rodger’s Rebel Barracks, Matt’s Airfix ACW Project, John de Terre Neue’s wargaming in 28 mm and sometimes smaller, ‘Little John’s’ Lead Gardens, David’s Wargames Retreat, Club Le Shakko's blog, Steves Wargames Stuff, Barry’s Redoubt and Paul Alba’s Napoleonics in Miniature**.
I then had to choose five from the remainder, so had to leave out Ken’s Napoleonic Adventures, Warren aka Michael’s Wargamerabbit, Steve’s 15 mm Madness, James’ Napoleon’s HQ, Vitor’s Batalhas Napoleonicas, Lee’s Napoleonic Therapy Project, Iannick Martin’s Clash of Empires, Joseph K's Confused Hobbyist, JJ's Marauder Moments and Martin’s Battle of Waterloo Wargame Project**.

Here are the five recipients of my Liebster Blog Award, in alphabetical order.
  1. Karim’s 10 mm Napoleonics. Small figures in large numbers, painted beautifully, plus book reviews and a great project to wargame Quatre Bras in 2015.
  2. MurdocK’s Marauders, specialising in excellent looking games with mini-armies of well painted figures. He is also running a Leipzig Campaign for the 2013 bicentennial.
  3. Napoleonic Warfare. ‘Silent’ is a relative newcomer to our wargaming bloggers, but he has already posted some great stuff. He uses 6 mm figures to full effect with huge units.
  4. Rafa Pardo’s Project Leipzig and associated website Wargaming with Napoleonic Miniatures are full of great and inspiring ideas for units and games, not to mention interesting videos and other links!
  5. Sparker’s Wargaming Blog details the wargaming ‘adventures‘ at the Hall of Heroes in Campbelltown NSW featuring large numbers of beautifully painted 28 mm figures.

(** That’s not cheating too much is it?!!! Even with the taking of such licence I have a heap of others that I’d like to mention. I can but direct you to the Links to Blogs in the tab above)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A useful little book

This is a useful little book and one of the sources that we used when designing our Borodino game.
The book contains chapters on the background to the campaign, opposing plans, the battlefield, each stage of the battle, the immediate aftermath and the stages of the campaign after Borodino. It is rounded off by a brief chapter containing biographies of a few, selected commanders (chiefly Russian) and detailed appendices of orders of battle.
Being such a short book, the introductory chapters are the weak point. These are too perfunctory, to be of great value. However, this short-coming is more than made up for by the other chapters of the book.
Smith’s description of the battlefield is clear, easily followed and is aided greatly by the fact that he has actually visited the site! He describes how the battlefield has changed since 1812 with the construction of monuments and rebuilt fortifications from 1812 and 1941–2, leading to the features that are present today. His description is accompanied by a few photos of key points, including views towards the Shervardino mound and the Grand Reboubt. These are useful additions to the descriptions—my only complaint is that it would have been great to have had more of them!
The heart of the book is the chapters about each stage of the battle; “Borodino Village—First Blood”, “The Bagration Flêches—Allied Accounts”, “The Bagration Flêches—a Russian Account”, “ The Raevsky Battery—the First Assaults”, “Semenovskaya—Last Bastion of the Russian Centre”, The Southern Flank—the Struggle for Utitsa”, “The Northern Flank—the Russian Raid”, “The Final Assault on the Raevsky Battery”. By dividing the battle into these brief chapters, Smith presents a clear and easy to read account of what was one of the most confusing battles of the Napoleonic wars (I have seen several eyewitness reports indicating that those present did not have a sense of the battle amongst the mayhem and terrible carnage of that titanic struggle). His writing is lucid, readable and aided greatly by numerous, extended quotes from eyewitnesses.
These quotes from participants provide many interesting observations. Two examples of these are from Captain Franz Morgenstern of the 2nd Westphalian Line Infantry who says, in part, “our regiment was drawn up on parade when the order reached us to put on full dress as quickly as possible [Smith’s note: this was often done for set-piece battles and usually involved putting on plumes, shako cords, epaulettes, and medals and decorations]” (p. 61). A later quote from Morgenstern relates an observation regarding some of the young conscripts in his unit, “my senior sergeant, who had seen much action in his past service in the armies of Hessen-Kassel, Prussia, and Austria, delighted me with is sense of humour when he came to me and suggested that I order the three flankers next to me to stick out their tongues. This I did and was surprised to see that all their tongues were as white as their uniforms... of course, I had to put this to the proof and demanded that he show me his tongue; he obliged immediately—it was lobster red!” (pp. 63–64). Whether interesting, humorous, or more harrowing descriptions of the action and losses, these eyewitness accounts add to the depth of the presentation.
The book is well served by a large quantity of detailed maps. While not works of art, they are clear, functional and plentiful—publishers and authors please note; this is the level that is required! There is at least one map in each of the chapters about the stages of the battle, showing clearly the locations of the action and units described in the text.
Example of one of the maps, in this case of the southern flank, around Utitsa. Apologies for the poor quality of the scan!
An important part of Smith’s description of the battle is his identification of the key role of what he calls the ‘northern raid’, Platov and Uvarov’s attack around the northern, left flank of the French-Allied army. It may be argued, and is done so by Smith, that while this ‘raid’ was meant purely as a feint and was a seeming distraction that achieved little directly, it was in fact the critical movement of the battle and a key factor in limiting the French-Allied victory. It stalled the attack by Eugène’s IV Corps on the Grand Redoubt by two hours, it diverted units of IV Corps creating a gap in the front line “that had to be hurriedly filled by other allied units, thus distracting them from their primary tasks and further easing the pressure on the battered Russian centre” (p. 112). Thus, while “Russian high command did not appreciate the breathing space that had just been won or the confusion that had been caused in the enemy’s ranks” (p. 115), Smith does not underestimate it at all and concludes his book; “the significance of Uvarov’s raid on the northern flank during the battle is completely overlooked in practically every work” (p. 151).
The greatest negative of the book for me is Smith’s editorialising. I know what to expect, having read a few of his books, but at times I found it to be too pointed and too one-eyed. He comes to “bury caesar, not to praise him” and does not have the objectivity and balance of a Chandler, Mikaberidze, Field, or even Dodge. Whilst critical of mistakes by the Russians, he does not write about these with the level of vitriol that he reserves for Napoleon. A particularly extreme example of this is his comment about garrisons west of Moscow that he claims Napoleon “callously abandoned to the tender mercies of the Russian partisans...” (p. 145) when he began his initial withdrawal from Moscow in a south-westerly direction, which was blocked at Maloyaroslavets, leading to the retreat along the original line of invasion and the rapid disintegration of the remaining 100 000 men of the main, Grand Armée. Smith continues, “In none of the accounts of the 1812 campaign, which I have read, have I found any mention of orders being sent to these unfortunates to concentrate anywhere to survive the winter, for them to fight their way out to the west, or to join up with the Emperor on his new, southerly line of operations. They were expendable; they had apparently outlived their usefulness” (p. 145). Fortunately, whilst there are numerous such value-laden statements and observations, the bulk of the book is dedicated to Smith’s account and description of the battle.
Whether you find Smith’s point of view galling, agree wholeheartedly, or sit somewhere in between this book is a clear account of the terrible battle of Borodino, and a fantastically useful source for maps, orders of battle, dispositions and movements of the troops.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Rules for Napoleonic wargames: spoilt for choice or just $#@%! confused?

My recent post reviewing the Napoleon at War rules generated some interesting comments and also prompted the unanswerable question; which set of rules are the best for large-scale Napoleonic games? (Although to be fair, the question was couched as “in our opinion”).
Wargames rules have come a long way since "Little Wars"
We are truly spoilt for choice with rules for Napoleonic wargaming, as this list from Deep Fried Happy Mice demonstrates. The worry is that he does not have them all listed either (not to mention the many free sets of rules)!
That is part of the reason why we three amigos at the ANF have been trying a few different sets of rules. We have written and posted a review of most of them (see the tab ‘Evaluating Rules’ above). As Julian said in response to some comments to my post reviewing Napoleon at War, we have settled on Shako with a selection of the rules from Shako II, plus some of our own, and have dubbed the result Shako-ANF. While I like to joke about Mark and Julian being SS-Oberstgruppenführer and SS-Obergruppenführer respectively, where SS stands for Shako Stasi (ha, ha!), I don’t think any of us thinks we have the ultimate Napoleonic wargames rules yet—just the best set that any of us has seen in our time of wargaming since the late-70s/early 80s and, most importantly, the set that suits us best.
For each of us it is a matter of what we want in a set of rules. More game or more simulation? Something that can be easily completed in a single evening of wargaming, or as set that suits a more leisurely approach?
Then there are the specifics of the rules. What figure scale do they use? How long will a turn take to play? How do they manage time and command and control? Do they allow for Napoleonic unit formations? How do they treat higher-order (brigade/division/corps/army wing) formations? How do they restrict the player’s ‘helicopter view’? Do you get units slowly whittled down, absorbing a certain level of casualties before ‘breaking’, or are combat results dealt with quickly and decisively with the loser obliterated or ceasing to be effective? How devastating is artillery fire? And so on...
Fortunately there are plenty of reviews amongst our blogger friends to give those interested an idea about each set. Here are just a few examples to assist you; and perhaps to confuse you further!
The net result of all this? Most of us settle on a set that suits us best, but we are always wondering about the latest set to be released, not to mention some older set about which we have recently become aware. Choice is a wonderful, double-edged sword!

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Mixed Bag and Probably Not for Us

Preliminary Review of Napoleon At War by Ángel Saquero Hernández 
A disclaimer before I begin. This is only a preliminary review of these rules. I am the only one at the ANF to have read them to date and we have not used them in a game. While not ideal, I decided to post this review as I cannot see us using the rules in a game in the near future, mainly because of our focus on games for the remainder of the bicentennial years.
Napoleon at War is based on the premise that a "game" (and it is very much a game) should conclude in six turns. This indicates the market at which these rules are aimed, namely those who need to conclude a game in a single evening, which is, I suspect, the majority of wargamers?!! 
Despite being fast play rules, there do seem to be reasonable mechanisms for most key aspects of Napoleonic warfare. Familiar concepts like unit quality, basic formations, higher level organisation, determination test, élan test, morale test and cavalry opportunity charge are all present. Many ideas are lifted from previous rules and, as usual, there is no attribution or recognition of this ‘heritage’. In fact Hernández goes as far as to say “we have established the concept of command and control” (p. 43); hmmm...!
As with all sets these days, a lot of effort has gone into the graphic design to produce an attractive book. It is also quickly evident that they have been designed to sell boxes of the miniatures produced by the company (a common bit of vertical integration by the writers of wargames rules). I was interested, and surprised, at the use of photos of a handful of re-enactors to ‘decorate’ the text rather than pictures of miniatures in actual wargames. Certainly not my preferred option. Overall though, I found the book to be written in a friendly, conversational style and one which sets the tone of the rules and the expectation of how a game should be played.
A fine feature of the rules are the many, clear and well explained diagrams to illustrate key concepts and covering many examples. Perhaps the cleverest mechanism is the concept of valeur and discipline for morale and training ratings respectively. This enables the esprit de corps and quality of troops to be determined separately. It is however not a new concept, having featured, under different names, in many sets in the past including Quarrie and Empire.
Firing seems to be quite a good system, with increased chances if from a full strength unit, improvement with troop quality (which is somewhat debatable, but commonly used in rules). Losses are used to impact morale and effectiveness. ‘Odd’ losses are not ignored, but are attributed through a saving throw. Once again though there are rapid fire casualties.
Several aspects leapt out at me as bizarre and/or unrealistic when I read the rules. Chief amongst these is the movement. Movement is not done as units as a whole, but is conducted, DBx-style, by moving the command stand and then other stands forming around it. This allows completely unrealistic sideways movements and far too much flexibility of movement. Other mechanisms that did not sit well with me are compulsory firing even if disadvantaged (included for fast play?), cavalry being able to withdraw from small arms fire and compulsory counter-battery fire.
The rules also feature an ‘interesting’ take on rallying. This is based not on retreating or broken units, but a recovery of combat losses (although, since reading these rules, I have seen the same mechanism in Fields of Glory). To me this does not seem the most realistic way to portray higher level morale in a battle game/simulation.
I began this review with a disclaimer, or more of a confession, that I have gone against my own principles and written a review of a set of rules that I have not yet used. However, I am more confident in my assessment, in the absence of playing a game with the rules, after having read some reviews by others.
For example Sgt Steiner who concluded after their playtest “all in all I enjoyed the game rules but not sure they are sufficiently better than Lasalle or Field Of Battle to draw us back to them certainly not with army lists as currently supplied.” Or John and his Band of Wargame Brothers who have tested them twice and found that “they are fast, bloody, not too complicated and produce an enjoyable game.” Also, Torbjorn Blom who has “not been playing Napoleonics before because of they tend to be rule heavy and slow paced Napoleon at War is changing this and I hope that it will be as success full as Flames of War”.
This comment from “Superdude” on TMP (11/8/11) probably sums up why they will be ideal rules for many wargamers, but are unlikely to be a set that we’ll use beyond a single playtest: “they are just what (I) want out of a napoleonic game. I have a feeling nap heads will find them lacking. Bit like the die hard WWII players with FOW. But for me I have found the set I am happy with. I was almost settled with BP and/or Lassalle But now I think I will stick with these.”