Saturday, 21 January 2017

Time Commanders, BBC Four - "It's Wargames Jim, but not as we know it!"

This week Tom and I had some "boy time" with the television as Carolyn was out late one evening and so we decided to watch the second episode, the Battle of Waterloo, of the three part series of last year's Time Commanders shown here in the UK on BBC 4 with the first episode aired on the 12th December.

We had already seen the first programme looking at the Battle of Zama as featured in the preview publicity shot in the header and the third episode is focused on the Battle of Chalons and the Hun invasion of the western Roman empire.

This series follows on from the two previous runs in 2003 and 2005 with obvious improvements in the game engine from a modified version of Total War which both Tom and Will are familiar with. For those unfamiliar with the series I have attached a link to give an overview of the programme.

This third series has prompted comment from not only my wargaming circle but also friends who know my interests but are not wargamers themselves, interested in the series and my thoughts about it.

It was these latter conversations that caused me to think about writing this post and trying to draw out some principles that come to mind when considering TV shows like this.

My first experience of TV attempting to bring wargaming to the wider public was "Battlegound" produced by Tyne Tees television in 1978 presented by dear old Edward Woodward and Peter Gilder, featuring Peter's terrain and 28mm figures.

I had the pleasure of watching this series at Peter's home in Pickering and playing on the same terrain and with those figures in the early days of his wargame holiday centre.

Edward Woodward sets the scene in "Battleground"
The series can still be viewed on YouTube and remains for me a favourite for many reasons including a huge dollop of nostalgia.

This programme really combined the best aspects of our hobby, namely its presentation of the games and the tactics of the given period with a look at the interplay between the different arms combined with the aesthetics of the figures and terrain designed to capture the look of the period under discussion.

The gamers took time to explain their planned moves as they made them with the thinking that underpinned what they were doing and what they hoped would happen, all designed to keep the observer informed about the key question - why did you do that?

Peter Gilder in action on "Battleground"
With Battleground the casual viewer would generally come away with an understanding of why the battle was fought and what the respective armies looked like and an idea of why it was fought in the manner it was.

Battleground clearly shows its age and vintage with little attention to the issues of command and control and the inclusion of dry ice and cigar smoke battle effects, but I love it still.

Then we had the attempt at bringing "Kriegspiel" to our televisions with the "Game of War" series hosted by Angela Rippon, accompanied by Iain Dickie, Artur Harman and Dr Paddy Griffith.

The interesting aspect about this show was that the guest commanders were serving or former British military commanders who would have certainly had and displayed an understanding of the military concepts of the period they were gaming. It was really revealing to see their natural instincts in attack and defence displayed during the command phases prior to the contacts being adjudicated on the table top by the "wargame experts".

Not only that, but they brought their awareness of the likely issues their subordinates would be facing in the close up and personal battle on the maps and revealed their ideas for coping with those factors, which gave great insight into the world of the senior military commander from what ever period.

Game of War on Channel 4
However television is an audio-visual medium and I felt the series fell down in the rather serious dry approach taken by the presenters and the total lack of aesthetics that Kriegspiel is with two dimensional maps and boring looking meeples and counters - blah! 

I found the show both disappointing and fascinating at the same time but it wasn't a success running just one series of three programmes in the 1990's. I have some old video copies of the show in my loft but am not keen on revisiting them.

Thus we find ourselves in the twenty-first century with all that modern technology can bring to our TV screens to show us war as a game which gives us "Time Commanders".

So where have we arrived at with this show? I am afraid on balance, not in a good place from my perspective.

The structure of the show is to bring opposing teams together to command the respective forces in a major battle from history. These teams of three people have one thing in common in that they share a hobby or interest and perversely have no interest or commitment to understanding military history. So for example the Waterloo programme featured a team of aquarium workers versus a team of competitive archers. This should tell you a lot about where this 'show' is coming from.

They then go through a crash-course in basic military tactics centred around the weaponry of the chosen period in some sort of attempt to give them an idea on how to use the various military formations within their command.

Whilst getting their heads around all this new information about a particular weapon and its use they then get to practice their team work and leadership skills by having one of their number oversee the commands issued by their two subordinates to the game controllers sat at their computer consoles busily controlling the computer graphics presented to 'Joe Public'.

During this process we are treated to a form of 'cod-history' from two historical experts who must be embarrassed at what they are doing but with fingers tightly crossed and understanding that this is show business. This historical commentary is accompanied by a more interesting display of examples of the recreated weaponry of the period and how it was used, together with its likely effects on the enemy - perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show.

Like some wargame rules in our hobby, I get what Time Commanders is and what it isn't. It is a game, it is a show. It is not a study of the battle it purports to portray and it tells the casual viewer nothing of substance about it, that they wouldn't get from a half descent book. What it is is a great example of moving pretty pictures of battle scenes interspersed with a game show where the contestants struggle to cooperate as a team playing the game under a modicum of guidance.

My frustration is that like some wargame rules, this show is masked with this veneer of historical reference so, it seems, to give it an unwarranted quasi-educational merit that it quite clearly doesn't have.

What do I mean? 
For example, the show takes time to pick a certain warrior type and the weapon they carried and demonstrate with the help of the re-enactors how it would have been used and its effects. This as I said is very interesting, and to my mind the best part of the show, but these warriors and their weapons did not operate in isolation and were required to cooperate with other arms to support their activities and were better used against certain enemy troop types than others or in more favourable terrain than others. Without a thorough examination of these aspects it is little wonder that our naive commanders have absolutely no clue as the best use of these troops, much to the glee of the experts who happily point out to the TV audience what they should have done.

The Napoleonic period and the troop types of cavalry, infantry and artillery are the classic rock, scissor and paper comparison between the different arms. The period is marked by the fact that the French under Napoleon's guidance really mastered this concept of all arms co-operation to multiply their effects on the battlefield. 

In the period of Zama through to Waterloo, army size multiplied beyond recognition from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands requiring a command structure to be able to cope with these massive armies lumbering onto the battlefield.

So did Time Commanders build any of these concepts into its recreation of Waterloo? Was there any guidance on all arms cooperation? Was there any discussion about how realistic it was for our game commanders to issue commands one to the other, as they watched their battle unfold on the screen, compared to how it was actually done by Wellington, Blucher and Napoleon. No of course not. Was there any consideration of command groupings, brigades, divisions, corps, reserves? No and again no. So the commanders can be forgiven for just throwing forward any formation they fancied without any consideration of how they were commanded and what formations would support another in any given attack or defence.

In summary the casual observer would have learnt nothing about Waterloo or the way the armies operated in that period from this display of computer gaming.

Like I say, I do get that this is entertainment, and not education, but I find myself objecting to the way it is wrapped up in this pseudo-educational history format.

The so called Waterloo game ended up with all three armies just massing in one final rugby scrum in a hollow somewhere on the allied left flank with the commanders throwing in their senior generals in some bizarre desperate bid to win. Close run it certainly was, any relation to the Battle of Waterloo it wasn't. 

Then to add final insult to injury the so called historical explanation of what actually happened included a description of "just like in our game, there was a desperate race to occupy the key farmhouses on the front of the allied line". Really! Really!! Colonel MacDonald, his brave Guardsmen and the men of the Kings German Legion who spent the night occupying both Hougomont and La Haye Sainte must have been heaving a huge heavenly sigh of despair and lamenting the lack of historical rigour displayed, not giving them of their commanders the credit for recognising the importance of the terrain features and their preparedness for their defence - even though the KGL burnt the barn doors for fire wood overnight and the Guards left their back gate open.

If you pick up a level of frustration in my comment it centres around the fact that a friend of mine who has a very good knowledge of military history and affairs being an ex Captain in the Royal Marines, but has difficulty understanding what I and others get out of historical wargaming asked me about this Waterloo programme.

Like me he spotted the historical inaccuracies and implausibilities and asked me if that was what historical wargaming was about. At the time I hadn't seen this episode and was only basing my comments on the Zama episode that had less glaring faults but many of them similar to the Waterloo show.

That's more like it - Waterloo as it should be
In my view historical wargaming, done well, really helps shed insight into warfare and the great battles of history that other media struggle to portray in quite the same way. The hobby has a great potential to help educate the casual and not so casual enquirer into military history as well as all the other aesthetics covered on this blog. The games I and many others play bear no relation to Time Commanders other than they are based on history.

Surely it is not beyond the whit of TV producers in this age of amazing technological advances that we can't do better than what has gone before and produce an exciting, informative and entertaining explanation and recreation of the great battles of history that gives insights as never before and would encourage future generations to get involved in this fantastic hobby.

Well, I am glad I have got that off my chest. It's been bubbling away in my mind since Wednesday night.

Your comments welcome. I can't be the only one who finds this stuff slightly aggravating, or perhaps you take another view and see the positives of more historical wargaming on mainstream TV attracting people into military history. You see even I can see that aspect, even though the one outlined above outweighs it for me.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Vimeiro Hill - Over the Hills Scenario

Yesterday, I got time to play my second game of Over the Hills, a set of rules for Napoleonics I reviewed back in October last year, and played at the first meeting of 2017 at the Devon Wargames Group

Hard fighting in Vimeiro yesterday at the DWG
Over the Hills - Napoleonic Rules Play-test and Review

I have posted an AAR of our game on the DWG club blog and describe some additions to my game kit for using the rules including the first run out with my Force Morale Cards shown in my annual review.

Devon Wargames Group Vimeiro Hill AAR

In addition I played the rules using my C&G range sticks together with angle of fire gauge as I prefer working with paces and the angles of fire used in C&G as opposed to firing straight ahead as offered in OTH. The changes played seamlessly and I can see OTH working very well alongside C&G as an alternative to using the computer.

That said my poor old brain had to work harder than when playing C&G and I missed the extra granularity that it offers, but it's nice to have an alternative for some of my "dyed in the wool bone roller friends".

I have put up the scenario plus copies of the Force Morale Cards in "My Scenarios" under Vimeiro Hill Scenario - Over the Hills which should link you through to a zip file that you can download.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Talavera 208 - French Horse Artillery

It was the great artillery reformer Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval who designed the standardised artillery equipments that served the French army so well during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

Lt. General Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval,
French artillery officer and engineer
1715 - 1789

The principle of standardisation is an accepted norm in military circles today, but in the eighteenth century it was a truly revolutionary concept.

It was however the increased mobility that the Gribeauval system granted to French artillery forces that really delighted the gunners with the removal of the lavish ornamentation that previously encrusted gun barrels, he managed to pare down the weight by up to 45% in some examples. Even with a slightly heavier more robustly built carriage the weight saving still amounted to about 20% over older systems.

Horse artillery crew in action c1807 using the prolong rope attached to the limber - Print after Dorel
Alongside these improvements were added a robust design of carriage with iron instead of wooden axles and with added ropes and levers the guns could very often be fired whilst still attached to the limber and horse teams, but without the need to move the gun on and off the limber each time, very useful when conducting a fighting retreat or a rapid movement to close range. Whilst the design of the split trail and rounded base prevented the recoil of the gun embedding the trail into soft ground.

The development of horse artillery equipped with the lightest versions of the Gribeauval four and later six pounder guns together with crews mounted and able to ride alongside the drivers and limber teams enabled artillery to accompany cavalry brigades and complete the combined arms teams that characterised the mobility of Revolutionary and Napoleonic warfare over that of the preceding century. With enemy infantry forced to form square by the approach of enemy cavalry, the horse artillery could move in rapidly to blast the closed up infantry and break up their defence.

French horse artillery gunner and driver
The video clip below really illustrates well the Gribeauval artillery system used by the French horse and foot artillery teams. This demonstration group are dressed as foot artillery gunners but the orders and crew placements together with the mobility provided by the drivers and team give a good idea as to how these artillery groups would have operated and the speed that they could be brought into and out of action. 

The cannon were categorised according to the weight of shot they used so originally the pieces consisted of the 4, 8 and 12 pounder brass cannon alongside 6 inch bore howitzers, designed to lob shells at targets behind objects or defences and very useful for setting light to defended buildings.

The foot batteries referred to as "division"in the French army were organised around six guns of the same type and two howitzers, very often using the heavier 8lbr and 12lbr guns and the horse batteries around four guns, usually the 4lbr alongside two howitzers.

It normally took eight specialist artillerymen to serve all calibre's of gun and thirteen to crew a 6" howitzer including two bombardiers to set fuses if shells were being used.

The effective or battle ranges for the different gun models are quoted from Guibert's "Essai Generale de la Tactique - 1803".

Detail of French Horse Artillerymen - Rousselot

In 1801, following complaints from French general officers about the performance of the 4lbr and 8lbr pieces versus enemy 6lbr guns, General Marmont, the Inspector General of Artillery was prompted to write to First Consul Bonaparte.

The principle issues were that the 4lbr gun was a poor weapon when using case shot and the 8lbr gun was too heavy as a medium field piece compared to enemy 6lbrs and that alongside other reforms to the Gribeauval system a 6lbr gun should be produced which would be more effective than the 4lbr and equally mobile and was almost the equal of the 8lbr in fire-power.

Napoleon, an artillery officer himself, always took a close interest in his artillery arm, even to the point of positioning the odd gun or two himself
This report provoked the interest of Napoleon, a gunner by profession himself, to set up a Commission of General Officers on the 29th December 1801 to evaluate the situation and to come forward with proposals.

On the 2nd May 1803 the commission proposed what became known as the Year XI System which among other recommendations proposed the replacement of the 4lbr field gun with a 6lbr long and short barrelled gun.

Of all the reforms under the Year XI System it was arguably the introduction of the 6lbr gun that had the most impact, given that the new system was not universally well received with the principle complaint that much ammunition and resources were already in place for the original Gribeauval pieces.

Year XI would continue to be a 'bone of contention' up to 1810 when Napoleon set up another review that confirmed that the 6lbr gun would be the principle reform to come out of the Year XI System condemning the other recommendations as largely unsuitable.

The rough difficult terrain encountered in the Peninsula persuaded the gunners to use lighter pieces than would normally be the case in the rest of Europe and so the foot batteries would often leave the 12lbr guns in the park preferring the 8lbr and later 6lbr long guns for use in the Spanish interior.

It was the 6lbr that became the principle weapon of the horse artillery, although it was not uncommon to still see the 4lbr in service particularly with allied contingents with, for example, the artillery elements in the German Division being issued 4lbrs as replacements for their own guns on arrival at Bayonne in 1808 before their march into Spain.

Detail of French Drivers - Rousselot
Alongside the Gribeauval reforms the other major influence on the effectiveness of French artillery in general and horse artillery in particular was the professionalising and incorporation of the drivers into a military corps as opposed to the civilian drivers of the previous century.

Civilian drivers were  all militarised on 3rd January 1800 as the "Artillery Train", ensuring that horse teams would enter a battle and that ammunition wagons would be kept close at hand to resupply the guns.

Each gun would have its own team together with two reserve caissons of ammunition carrying about one-hundred and seventy rounds per gun.

In addition to the guns and caissons each battery would include one spare gun carriage and team, one mobile forge and one vehicle for tools and spare parts. Thus there might be around twenty vehicles supporting a typical horse battery.

Interestingly there was, until 1809, the year of Talavera, no French drill manual for manoeuvring their gun batteries, and the one there was was an unofficial publication
  "Projet d'Ordonnance Provisoire pour l'Artillerie, Contenant l'Ecole et les MaManoeuvres d'une Batterie de Campagne"
published by General Officers following the Battle of Wagram that year.

It was not until the more common use of multiple massed batteries as one of the key French tactics that French gunners felt the need to issue a drill manual for individual batteries, but still without official principles for using guns in mass formations.

The French concentrated the bulk of their forty plus pieces at Talavera into a mass battery atop the Cerro de Cascajal designed to support their main attack against the British line on the opposite Cerro de Medellin and in the flatter ground lining the bank of the Portina stream. An Ensign in the 3rd Guards noted the ferocity of the bombardment.

"a tremendous cannonade - shots and shells were falling in every direction - but none of the enemy were to be seen  - the men were all lying in their ranks, and except at the very spot were a shot or shell fell, there was not the least motion - I have seen men killed in the ranks by cannon shot - those immediately around the spot would remove the mutilated corpse to the rear, they would then lie down as if nothing had occurred and remain in the ranks, steady as before." 

Paradoxically horse artillery, so useful in the very forefront of battle, was also ideal in the reserve role; ready to be committed by the General who spotted a weakness in the enemy line. I suspect that will be the role of these guns in the forthcoming games

My French horse artillery are composed of figures from the AB range supplied by Fighting 15's with a link to them in the side column.

The colour combination I mention in the video clip for painting my French equipments consist of:

Base Coat - 75% Russian Uniform, 25% Black
First Highlight - Russian Uniform
Second Highlight - 75% Russian Uniform, 25% Off White
All colours are Vajello.

If you have enjoyed viewing and reading this post then add to your enjoyment by popping over to the "Talavera 208 Just Giving" page using the link below and make any contribution you care to, towards a great cause, Combat Stress, and enjoy the warm feeling that will come knowing you have added to the good in the world; not to mention the thrill when you see these models in action this year, and a message from me thanking you for your support. 

Cheers all 

Sources used in the creation of this post:
French Artillery - Patrick Griffith, Almark
French Napoleonic Artillery - Micheal Head, Almark
Napoleon's Guns 1792-1815 (1) Field Artillery - Rene Chartrand, Ray Hutchins, Osprey Vanguard
Artillery Equipments of the Napoleonic Wars - Terence Wise, Richard Hook, Osprey Men at Arms
Painting War 2, Napoleonic French Army Rafael Perez
Talavera Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W Field

Monday, 2 January 2017

Talavera 208 - British General Officers

Work on finishing off the British and French collections has continued over the Xmas break and I have added the remaining British General Officers required plus another battery of French horse artillery to follow in another post.

So to kick 2017 off with the first post of the year I thought I would take a look at British General Officers, and I will cover the anachronism in the header for this post, so those eagle eyed amongst you can save sending me a comment highlighting it.

The uniform for British General Officers under the 1802 Clothing Regulations described the following dress:

  • Black cocked hat, increasingly worn fore and aft, instead of athwart, having a black cockade with gilt scale loop and button, surmounted by a white feather with red base. At each corner was a gold and crimson tassel.

Graham Turner's illustration of General Wellesley's meeting with General Cuesta prior to the battle of Talavera. Wellesley is shown wearing the full dress uniform of a British General as described in the 1802 regulations. Note Wellesley's  ADC (to his left) wearing two gold bullion epaulettes appropriate for the commander's personal ADC. 
  • The scarlet coat has blue patches at either end of the collar, small indented blue cuffs and blue lapels down to the waist which could be buttoned back to show the blue and fastened to the front using hooks and eyes to be worn double breasted.
  • The long skirts were lined with white cassimere (cashmere smooth white woollen twill), hooked back and fastened at the bottom with scarlet gold embroidered ornaments.
  • There was a gilt button on the blue collar patches, nine or ten down each lapel, three or four set vertically down each skirt and cuff and two at the back at hip level.
  • Generals had their buttons at equal distance, lieutenant-generals in threes, major-generals and brigadier-generals in pairs, except the latter had the skirt and cuff buttons set two over one.
  • On each shoulder was worn an epaulette of gold embroidery on scarlet cloth with gold bullion fringe.
  • There were two types of coat; the embroidered one with gold embroidered loops on all the button holes, including collar cuffs and skirts, and the plain or undress coat which was without the embroidery, but normally had the button holes marked by narrow twists, the same colour as the cloth.

  • White cloth or cassimere breeches with black topped boots were to be worn with either coat and the uniform was completed with a crimson sash worn around the waist with the knot and ends at the left side.
  • The sword was suspended with white waist belt and slings and fastened by a snake clasp between two lions' heads.

All my general officer basing works on one officer representing a brigade command, two for a division, three for a corps and a fancy round base for a king or emperor.

Now to cover off my slight anachronism, in that I have my divisional commander, based with his staff officer wearing the uniform reforms of 1811 with a move away from the previous gold bullion epaulettes to the single aiguillette or brassard worn on the right shoulder only arranged lightly differently for lieutenant and major-generals.

This look would not have been seen at Talavera, but with an eye to future campaigns I put this pair together anyway.

Brigadier General Craufurd depicted leading the Light Division at Bussaco in the undress uniform of a Brigadier General. Note the use of  light infantry style sword carried on a black undress belt worn with more robust grey overalls
The British army worked on the idea that lieutenant-generals would command divisions or wings and major-generals, brigades, but this was not always possible and indeed in the case of General Craufurd, Wellesley had to tread carefully around the regulations when he had a brigadier general commanding the "Light Division", all be it that the division started out more like a large brigade to avoid a more senior general claiming the command from the very able Craufurd.

The rank of brigadier general was not an official rank between colonel and major general but rather an honorary rank for senior field officers promoted to command brigades and several majors and lieutenant-colonels who were the most senior rank in their respective brigades found themselves in command at Talavera, thus I have a buff faced colonel with silver regimental lace in among the general officers displayed.

Of course British General Officers were very often a law unto themselves when it came to uniform regulations with General Picton and his top hat a classic illustration; and even Wellesley was never a stickler for regulation, often preferring a utilitarian blue frock coat over his white breeches and hessian boots to his scarlet dress coat. That said, he did draw the line with Guards officers appearing in the line carrying umbrellas, describing them as 'un-military' in appearance.

As can be seen my general officers are decked out in the more commonly seen and practical hard wearing grey overalls as shown in the picture of General Craufurd.

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton seen here in the 1811 uniform as described in the text
All levels of general officers would have accompanying staff, but I tend only to include them on the base with divisional and above, command levels.

British ADCs were not strictly staff officers, that title reserved for officers serving under the two branches of the staff, the Quartermaster General's Department principally overseeing troop movements and quartering and the Adjutant-General's Department principally concerned with intelligence, prisoners of war, drill, discipline and the rendering of returns.

Members of the two staff offices were represented throughout the commands although both facilities were often carried out at brigade level by the brigade-major, without any other staff. These officers wore the same style of uniform as their generals except their lace was in silver with epauettes on red cloth rather than gold epaulettes for generals.

ADC's on the other hand were attached personally to their generals who were also responsible for their pay and provisions. Their dress regulations was the same as for staff officers except they wore gold rather than silver lace and like brigade-majors wore a single bullion fringed epaulette on blue cloth on the left shoulder (cavalry) or right shoulder (infantry), but with the ADC for a Commander of British forces wearing epaulettes on both shoulders as seen in Graham Turner's illustration above.

Thus my divisional commander is being greeted by a general of infantry's ADC.

Another point to note with British horse furniture is the use of brown leather harnesses rather than the black preferred by the French.

All my general officers are from the AB range of figures from Fighting 15's.

Next up French Horse Artillery

References used in this post:
Talavera 1809, Wellington's Lightning Strike into Spain - Rene Chartrand, Graham Turner, Osprey Campaign.
The British Military, its system and organisation 1803-15 - S.J.Park & G.F. Nafziger
1815 The Uniforms at Waterloo - Ugo Percoli, Micheal Glover, Elizabeth Longford
Wellington's Generals - Michael Barthorp, Richard Hook, Osprey Men at Arms

Saturday, 31 December 2016

JJ's Look Back on 2016 and Plans for 2017

I hope you like the theme of my header picture for this post as JJ's Wargames goes through the annual event of looking back on the year gone and contemplating the fun that lies ahead in the year before us.

This concept and how things come together here at JJ's HQ could be summed up in the picture of Napoleon and his entourage of General Officers who use their telescopes to look at the events of 2016, swapping banter about the highlights that stick in the mind, of the fun and games that caused the most comment and of the expeditions and travel that will be forever the landmarks of 2016.

All this whilst a distracted Emperor, contemplates the year ahead about what are the priorities, with projects started, projects yet to begin, projects to complete, exciting games, shows and travel ideas to fit into the schedule for the new year, not to mention all the units with their painting and modelling plans. Ah the weight of all these decisions, I can often be found sat on the camp chair lost in thought amid the plans of Empire.

Anyway back to the real world and our review of 2016 and a look forward into 2017 and the ideas about what you can expect to see covered here on JJ's.

Scanning back over the one-hundred plus posts, I started to struggle to pull out highlights, to carry on with the analogy above, my telescope was moving from one point to another continuously scanning the horizon.

However I am determined to keep this post as a review and a look forward so have grouped a few things under one topic for conciseness.

In addition, JJ's Wargames is all about working to plans and themes and if you cast a look back to this post in 2015, there was definitely a plan. So I will cast a glance to see if I did what I said I was going to do and more.

Review of 2016

Look back on 2015 and 2016 plans

The year started very much on the theme that it has finished with, namely, Napoleonics and the project that has evolved into Talavera 208.

The completion of the 45e Regiment de Ligne moved the building of Victor's I Corps to about two thirds done at that stage  and the completion of the corps as a whole in August 'broke the back' of the Talavera project and left me looking at light at the end of the tunnel.

Marshal Victors I Corps d'Armee - Talavera

I had never done a project of this scale or intensity, Napoleonics with all the intricacies of uniform peculiarities are always intense, and under the gaze of an audience which demands discipline and I have grown personally in knowing what I am capable of doing.

The plan to complete the Talavera collection in 2016 has proven to be elusive, principally down to other demands on my time that weren't a factor in the previous year. That said, the whole point of a plan is to adjust it as required but still progress towards the desired goal, and that has happened.

Spanish 2nd Cavalry Division at Talavera

In addition to Victor's Corps, Albuquerque's Spanish  2nd Cavalry Division are done together with the French command and as I write this the last of the British commands are done, together with a battery of French horse artillery.

The French will also require three more foot artillery limbers which are on the paint desk now and I will complete a couple of British foot limbers to finish that collection and then we are back to the Spanish.

I should also mention that friends and family supported the progress by getting me some lovely presents this year in the form of the wagons and rear area models such as surgeons and cantinieres from Blue Moon, plus extra casualty sets from Captain Games and AB which will only help bring the game alive with the added drama and eye candy they create.

Talavera 208 King Joseph & Marshals

So although we still have Bassecourt's Spanish Infantry Division to complete plus a few supernumeraries, the collection should be about done in the first quarter of 2017; and of course the final 'big game' recreating the Afternoon Attack by the French forces has now morphed into Talavera 208 and support for Combat Stress which has really added to the project as a whole.

Talavera 208 (1809-2017) In support of Combat Stress

So Talavera has to be a huge high point in 2016 and will feature large going into the New Year 2017.

As discussed in last year's review, I was and am very keen to make 'JJ's Wargames' a magazine style blog and have looked to develop that theme in 2016.

I took a look at the numbers viewing the blog and even given all the issues of distracting fluctuations brought on by 'crawler software' and spikes in traffic from Russia, the traffic to the blog continues to grow as does the followers and comments from you guys.

So what has changed from last year to develop the blog? Well we have contributions from friends of the blog, Mr Steve and Steve M who have added their own insights into places visited and books reviewed which really adds breadth to the content that I create.

The Book Review section of the blog has really developed this year with thirteen reviews posted from Mr Steve and myself that seems to have been well received. We have both looked to write reviews from the eye of the historical wargamer.

Books Reviewed

In addition to books, rule sets have featured with three rule sets getting the JJ's Wargames thumbs up
on the "Game/Simulation, Fun/Pins in the Eye" score-ometer.

I am really looking forward to running another play-test of Over the Hills in January at the Devon Wargames Group first meeting in 2017 and have resurrected my Vimeiro scenarios originally done for Carnage & Glory and Napoleon at War and converted the troop stats to OTH.

Over the Hills - Army/Brigade Fatigue Record Card
Following the first test I have also come up with some adaptations that I want to try out including my own Fatigue Record Cards for the various brigades, using dice to monitor fatigue losses, rather like the arm morale system used in Sam Mustafa's Maurice.

Once I have tested my adaptations I will post them for others to use if they wish.

As well as OTH I am really looking forward to more games of Sharp Practice and A to A in the new year and I am hoping to produce some initiative tokens instead of cards for the latter game as I found the use of the tokens in Sharp Practice much more convenient that card shuffling and is definitely the way I want to go.

Augustus to Aurelian
Over the Hills Napoleonic Rules
Sharp Practice II

A real find occurred whilst on holiday this year. As regular followers will know, I have looked at various campaign vehicles for my Napoleonics which is where I want to go as the collection develops and so this board game drew my attention.

Of course you can only gauge the potential after having played the campaign fully and so Will and later Tom and I played through the game from start to finish with all the possible historical event cards taking a hand.

I was really taken with this neat system of a game and in anticipation of using it in the future have my trusty Cyberboard version all set and ready to go.

The addition of the "Over the Hills" rules to my trusty "Carnage & Glory" also makes campaigning even more doable going forward.

Wellington's War Pacific Rim Games
Wellington's War Campaign PlayTest

One of the best parts of our hobby is the ability to combine it with just about anything we are doing in doors or out. Books and games pretty well have the indoors covered and holiday expeditions and trips to historically themed sites have the outdoors covered.

The highlights of this year for me have been the museums, shows, historical sites and holidays abroad.

The Penarth show, Crusade was a new addition to the wargaming calendar and a very welcome one to start the year, with a very nice show, good selection of traders plus the added attraction of two excellent authors presenting. Great day out.

I am really looking forward to going again in 2017 and to hear Gareth and Adrian present on Command and Control in the Ancient world and Napoleonic warfare in the Mediterranean.

Crusade-2016 Penarth & District Wargames

Another trip up to Cardiff followed the Penarth show to visit the Roman ruins at Caerleon and the National Roman Legion Museum, both fantastic sites to visit.

Caerleon & National Roman Legion Museum (1)
Caerleon & National Roman Legion Museum (2)

Wargames shows always form a big part of my hobby and I try and bring the best games  to JJ's as well as other highlights, which this year included me getting an original copy of 'Dracula' at this year's Attack at Devizes where Mr Steve, Vince and I spent a very pleasant summers afternoon.

In addition, the Talavera collection got a day out at Legionary in Exeter as Steve M and Will went at it in a Carnage & Glory demo game of the Pajar Vergara Scenario that ended up being featured in Wargames Illustrated.

Wargaming Shows

Of course no review of 2016 would be complete without reference to our big holiday this year, principally to meet up with Tom who was touring Australia and the Far East and our trip to Vietnam.

I did several posts about this extraordinary country and the lovely people we met together with aspects of the history of this amazing place, plus Will was doing his bit to promote Anglo-Vietnamese relations in his role as British Ambassador without portfolio.

Vietnam 2016 War Museums

Later in August we took a short week's break to France close to Paris. As well as celebrating my birthday I had the chance to visit two sites I hadn't visited before, Vernon and Rommel's HQ at La Roche Guyon.

It is always fun retracing the steps of the warriors from history and Vernon had an added poignancy for me as it was where my Dad crossed the Seine back in 1944 with Guards Armoured Division on his way up to Brussels.

France 2016 Vernon & Rommel's HQ

Exploring battlefields and sites abroad and away from home is always interesting but it is easy to forget that my home county of Devon has battle sites of its own going back over centuries and I, and it seems you, have enjoyed the series posts looking at the Battlefields in Devon, some new to me.

Battlefields in Devon

This series of posts will continue into 2017 and I am really looking forward to bringing you the many and varied battles from history that can be seen here in beautiful Devon.

I have noticed that Meeples Podcast have started a "Grumpy Wargamers" section airing their rants and 'beefs' against petty annoyances that crop up in the hobby.

As you will know JJ's Wargames is not afraid of exploring the odd subject of contention in the hobby news, and I am pleased to say that the posts and the accompanying comments have been discussed in a constructive way, a quality not always in evidence on other forums.

Subjects covered have included, 'Painting Mojo', 'Great looking Games vs Not' and recently the future look of Miniature Wargames since the departure of Henry Hyde and the take over by new management.

Miniature Wargames Magazine - Whats Going On?
Aesthetics in Wargames - Another Aunt Sally?

I tend to engage in these debates if the subject grabs me and I always enjoy hearing your opinions so I aim to keep that as a feature of the blog going into 2017.

And Finally

In between the work on the Talavera collection there has been the inclusion of projects for friends, with an end of year focus on the Dark Ages big game at the Devon Wargames Group, that finally prompted me to get a copy of Dux Britanniarum and start my own Saxon/Viking collection which I will be adding to, going into 2017.

The Dacian War collection also got some input as I finished off a project that Tom left me, namely to base up the unit of auxiliary infantry he had painted and finish off the Roman commander plus dog.

So there we are, some of the main highlights for me that featured in 2016 and there is still other stuff that didn't make the cut.

It really has been a great wargaming year and one that will live long in the memory, but life is all about what you are going to do now and always having a plan; and so it is time to put down the telescope and to ponder the weight of Empire and who to invade next, no, no, I mean what we will do next...... now you can see why I'm not Napoleon's greatest fan!

2017 Plans

Well as alluded to in the review of 2016, Talavera 208 forms the centrepiece of the year and I am really excited, as it seems many of you are if the comments I have had are anything to go by, about the prospect of seeing the Talavera battle up and running. 

As wargamers, a lot of us have those 'bucket list' of games we want to do and the manner we want to do them in. In this age of skirmish level rule sets and pressure on time to play games of anything over two hours, I feel a bit anachronistic in wanting to play games like I used to, 'In the Grand Manner'.

So for a Peninsular War nut like me, Talavera is one of those games that wouldn't let go, and the excitement of playing it in the grand manner now that the collection is so near to completion is building.

However I was always brought up to believe that life is more about giving than taking and that there is more satisfaction to be had in doing things for others than for ourselves.

Two occasions in my life brought this home to me and one example was fully understanding why my Dad, for many years, continuously raised money for Guide Dogs for the Blind a UK based charity that for many years was based here in Devon. 

His support and money raising efforts spanned decades and only after his death and only after my research into a family story about the commander of his tank being killed in Belgium, did I realise the significance of his efforts. 

Captain Wifred Geoffrey Good was just 31 when he died in one of the bitter battles that were a feature of the German retreat from France into the Low Countries.

Dad always described his officer in loving terms as being like a father to the crew and that his eyes were badly injured at the time of his death. His loss left a deep impression on Dad that obviously demanded a response from him and I came to understand that his efforts for the Guide Dog charity symbolised that.

In 2005 I had the privilege of accompanying my uncle back to the Burma railway, the scene of his traumatic time in captivity as a Japanese prisoner of war and in company with other former POW's as part of an organised trip with the Royal British Legion. I got to get a personal understanding of what those men went though under such a brutal imprisonment.

My uncle was one of the more fortunate survivors in that he received psychiatric support as part of his rehabilitation back into civilian life and his account of surviving his experiences and making a good life following them was truly inspiring.

The realities of war bear no relation whatsoever to our hobby, but our hobby exits because of the interest many have in warfare over the ages and the challenges it creates. I am sure many of us with that interest in the hobby end up having a great appreciation of what our servicemen and women can and may well experience during their service.

So in addition to the fun we will have, playing and sharing these games in 2017, will also have a sincere pursuit of using them as a vehicle to generate as much support as we can for Combat Stress.

The plan is to have the collection as a whole finished and ready to play by the close of May 2017 with an objective to get the first of four games played in June with three players on each side running the two forces.

For more information just check out the Talalvera 208 plan linked at the top of the page or here.
Talavera-208 (1809-2017) - In-Support of Combat Stress

As mentioned, I am planning to run a smaller game using the "Over the Hills" rule set in January at the Devon Wargames Group for the die hard bone rollers out there, so an AAR on that will also follow.

As the painting of the Talavera collection reaches a conclusion the plan will be then to gradually start stepping up the production of the other main theme here on JJ's namely my Dacian Wars project in 28mm as the Napoleonics move off the top spot for painting.

I have covered off the plans for this collection in a series of posts and I can't wait to get stuck into the task of putting the units together and getting the first game up and running.

Like many I am eagerly anticipating the release of the Victrix EIR Legionaries and Auxiliaries and given that Tom and I have already created a core of Roman units I will start putting together some Dacian Warbands and cavalry so we can get a game going sooner rather than later thus playing while the painting is happening.

I will not be joining the latest craze, it seems, of looking for a new Ancient rule set. Spearpoint from the chaps at Gripping Beast looks like being the latest set doing the rounds.

Over the couple of test games played, I really like Phil Hendry's Augustus to Aurelian rules with their more "Lardy style" randomised activation system and they have the added attraction of being focused on the era I am looking to play.

I have already designed my own stat cards for the various troop types and have, as mentioned made some enquires about getting some purpose made counters to use for activation instead of cards.

The new collection will also demand its own terrain and in the build up for this project I have already acquired some pieces for the games planned.

And I am really excited about the launch of this new range of Roman buildings from Warbases in 2017 as shown at Warfare this year

One piece of terrain I am on the look out for is a suitable selection of Greco/Roman fortress walls, gates and towers to recreate the Dacian fortresses.

The other smaller collection that will demand attention as we move into 2017 is my newly acquired Saxon and Viking forces that I intend to work on so I can get into some more shield-wall warfare

So there we are, alongside all the usual content that you would expect to see here on JJ's, the plan will see the painting shift from Napoleonics to Ancients in the second half of the year whilst the gaming will lean heavily towards the former, and the building of a good collection for Combat Stress, until the Romano-Dacian collection takes the table hopefully towards the end of 2017 interspersed with some Dark Ages action.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to making JJ's Wargames a really interesting and fun blog to do in 2016. I really appreciate the comments and feedback from fellow enthusiasts, the kind of interaction many of us can't get from friends outside of our peculiar hobby, who don't really get it. It is the exchange of ideas and thoughts that really make the hobby the sociable interaction that it is and I hope you find that this blog, if anything, is a celebration of that.

Here's wishing everyone an exciting and happy 2017 and even more fun with this hobby.