Building an ACW Earthwork

In July 1864, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers took part in a probing assault against Confederate fortifications on James Island. Together with two other regiments, they attacked a Confederate fieldwork fitted with artillery. I have found no detailed description of how this particular piece of fortification looked, so I decided to make a generic earthwork for the scenario.

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Drawing of Confederate earthworks by Alfred Waud

I normally only make rough sketches for my projects, but this time, I drew the outline of the structure in the size that I actually wanted to have it on a large sheet of paper. This made it easier to determine the overall size – I wanted it to be an imposing center-piece for the table, with space enough for three guns with their crews, but I also didn’t want it to become too large.

The structure itself was based on a 1mm thick sheet of plastic. To make it more massive, I used two layers of 5mm thick foamboard to raise the whole thing a bit. I then drew the outline of the fortifications on the foamboard.

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The wooden walls stabilising the inner face of the fieldwork were made out of match sticks. As always, I glued them unto a piece of paper and, when the glue had set, cut them out in the shape I needed them. This saves as lot of time and is less of a hassle than fiddling around with matchsticks trying to fit them into place individually.

On the flanks, I made raised platforms for infantry to shoot from. I also made wooden platforms for the guns. These can be seen in many period photos and were built so the guns would not sink into the earth when recoiling and could be pushed back into position easier.

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The actual earthworks were then modelled with DAS Air Drying Modelling Clay. It was the first time I used this clay, which is recommended by master modeller Tony Harwood. I’ve only used FIMO Air Light before, which is much lighter and a bit softer, but also more expensive. DAS is surprisingly stiff and it takes some work to make different bits stick together seamlessly. When I had the feeling I finally got it, I was almost finished, so the parts I modelled at the beginning look a bit uneven.

Normally, I would use sand to get a surface structure, but I discovered that I had run out of fine sand, so I decided to try structural paste. I primed the whole thing with Vallejo IDF Israeli Sand Grey and then used Vallejo Dark Earth, which is the same paste I use for the bases of my figures. This was then drybrushed with GW Terminatus Stone. The wooden parts were first painted with GW Stormvermin Fur (a brownish grey), washed and drybrushed with GW Baneblade Brown and Vallejo Silver Grey.

And here it is with artillery:

It looks impressive enough to be a daunting objective for the 1st South Carolina, and I could even use it to recreate the famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts on Fort Wagner.

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Daunenfein’s Downfall – An ASOBH AAR

Last week I was down at the club again. While Virago and Annatar continued their Sharp Practice saga, Sigur and I had a game of Advanced Songs of Blades and Heroes. I was familiar with the basic concepts, as I’ve played Flashing Steel, which is based on the Songs of Blades and Heroes engine, quite often. However, I haven’t had a game in a while and never played the new version.

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There are a couple of small changes in the new version and one big innovation, namely reactions. If you fail one activation roll, your opponent may now react by trying to activate one of his or her figures for one action. If you fail two rolls, the opponent may either make two reactions or take over and start a new turn. I was curious how that would play out – I feared that it might drag out the game a bit or might make it a bit convoluted, distracting from the simple elegance of the rules.

We played on a 6’x4′ table using Sigur’s game mat, which he got from DeepCut Studios. He also brought along his splendidly painted buildings, most of them from Ziterdes, and his stunning figures. The whole set up look extremely nice!

I took the human faction, led by noble Count Daunenfein on his fine steed. His brave companions were Smirre, another mounted guy with a bald pate and a humongous hammer, as well as a slightly crazed inventor with an arquebus. They also had some lackeys, two guys with greatswords and three with spears. The sinister Dark Elves confronting them were led by a Sorceress. Their party consisted of a witch, an assassin, a harpy, two elves with crossbows and three Raiders with hand weapons.

We played with the secret mission generator and each of us drew a paper slip with an objective. My aim was to get at least half of my people across the table.

While Sigur concentrated his guys in the middle, I had a more extended line, with Smirre on my left flank, my leader and the harquebusier in the middle and some foot soldiers on the right.

The sorceress charged into the town square and threw over a table to get cover. My harquebusier also ran forward, ducking from cover to cover to get into a position to shoot. As my right flank lackeys were showing little interest in confronting a horde of shrieking Dark Elves, my leader rode over and made them get a move on.

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Move, you lazy bastards!

I realised that a mounted leader is a very useful thing to have, what with him giving a +1 on activations within long range!

The harquebusier finally stepped out and shot. He was as surprised as anyone when one of the crossbow Elves fell down dead. Excited, he fumbled to reload while I rushed forward a lackey to cover him. In vain – before he could get off another shot, he was cut down by the ghastly Witch Elf and an Elf waving a flag. A melee started to develop in the town square, with two of my lackeys pitted against the assassin, the witch and a Raider.

Meanwhile, the Sorceress had hidden behind a stone wall. A wild charge by one of my spearmen was thwarted by the harpy, who faithfully defended her mistress.

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The harpy deals with the spearman.

Now Smirre decided to even the odds and attack the Sorceress from behind. However, the wily wizard did see him in time and sent a sleeping spell. Smirre promptly started to snore!

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Smirre sleeps.

This was bad and thwarted my carefully laid out plans. I had moved two of my lackeys around the house to my right and brought them into position to slip around Sigur’s flank.

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Lackeys sneaking through backyards.

Having drawn most of Sigur’s guys into a melee in the town square, I wanted to rush my two mounted men over to the other side of the table. And now one of them was sleeping!

The only way to wake someone up is to move into contact. As Smirre was quite isolated on my left, I had to move my leader over. Grudgingly, he trotted in Smirre’s direction, hacking at the harpy on the way.

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Rise and shine, I brought coffee!

However, another shock was to follow: Suddenly, the assassin grabbed a chest lying around in the town square and started to head back. Count Daunenfein didn’t know what was in there, but he was going to make damned certain the dirty Elves didn’t get their grubby fingers on it!

The cards were now on the table: I knew Sigur’s objective and he had guessed mine. The whole battle started to move to the Northern table edge. The Elves had two stragglers, which rushed over to stop my sneaky flank lackeys.

While my guys in the town square tried to stop the assassin carrying away the chest, the Count had managed to wake up Smirre. Both heroes spurred their horses and rode around the melee to help out the lackeys trying to cross the table.

Their charge shocked the Elf rearguard. One Raider was cut down, but then the Sorceress rushed forward and tried to send Smirre back to the land of dreams. This time the bleary-eyed warrior resisted – no one makes better coffee than Count Daunenfein! Angrily, the Sorceress resorted to throwing a fireball, which knocked Daunenfein from his horse. Fortunately, he fell lightly, so he could remount. Meanwhile, Smirre cut down the second Raider. But now a new danger lurked: The assassin had managed to break free from the melee and was getting close to the table edge. Recklessly, the remounted Count charged him.

The assassin, however, quickly sidestepped and tripped the horse, causing Daunenfein to fall down again. Smelling coffee, from the sky above the harpy shot down and gave the poor Count a good kick. The noble heroe was out cold. When his lackeys saw this scene, horror struck them and they ran away. Even brave Smirre took to his heels! One single lackey stood with grim resolution, prepared to sell his life dearly. The game, however, was over…

Victory for Sigur and his Dark Elves!

What a fantastic game! It was dramatic and exciting, with some unexpected twists and really dynamic action which moved from the town square to the table edge. The reaction mechanics is great, it doesn’t slow down the game too much and makes the other player constantly involved.

The only thing that surprised me was the length of the game: We played for more than three hours, which is much longer than what I am used to with Flashing Steel (and longer than the Sharp Practice game on the other table!). The reason for this might have been that we had larger forces – with FS, we normally play with six figures per side and this time, we had eight respectively nine per player. But the main reason, I think, was the size of the table: SOBH is geared towards a 3’x3′ table and using a larger table means a lot more maneuvering. Don’t get me wrong, there was not a minute I was bored during this game and I really liked how the action moved from one part of the table to another. However, for a quick game, it may be better to use a smaller table or at least to designate an area of the large table as the playing field.

This game reminded me again of how great a system SOBH is! I really hope we’ll have another game soon.

Sigur has also written a great AAR, which gives a bit more background information on the warring heroes and which can be found at Skirmish Wargaming. He also kindly let me use some of his photos.

Playing with History

History has a tendency to not stay dead. In many countries, it is evident how issues of the past still shape the political landscape.

Although I’m not American, after the events in Charlottesville, after president Trump’s statements and after reading discussions in ACW forums, I felt sick with gaming the American Civil War for a moment.

What follows is my attempt at trying to clarify my own stance towards wargaming controversial subjects. Perhaps some of you might find those rather rambling thoughts interesting. If not, have no fear – normal service will be resumed shortly.

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I have to admit that I’m generally a rather squeamish player when it comes to periods that have an impact on current politics. I normally avoid WW2 games and only play them with people I trust, because the ideology of National Socialism is still alive in certain parts of Austrian society and I just couldn’t stand it to spend my evening with someone who downplays Nazi crimes.

Now, many people might say that ‘we’re just playing games’. This is, of course, true, if we mean that we shouldn’t take winning or losing too seriously, that no one gets hurt in our games and that we – fortunately! – miss the danger and the suffering experienced by the people we base our games upon.

However, it does not mean that those games have no meaning. Historical wargames always represents something. To say that ‘this is just a game’ misses the fact that we play a game with stories and symbols that still touch people. For example, SS units are not just elite assets on the tabletop, but they represent mass murderers, men who were willing accomplices of a genocidal regime. Swastikas are not just historical symbols, they are still used by political extremists.

As could lately be seen in Charlottesville, the same is true for Confederate symbols. There are people who would prefer to rewrite history and tell us that the Confederates were not racist at all, that it was not about slavery and that their cause was a noble one. This rightly enrages others whose ancestors have made a different experience and who themselves make different experiences each day of their lives. A half-way honest investigation of its history shows that the CSA was a nation based on the suppression of African-Americans, and to deny that is to not only deny the historical experience of slavery and racism, but also the fact that racial inequality still is an experience for many people today.

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This does not mean that we shouldn’t play with this history. But at least for me it means that we should do so respectfully – respectfully not only towards the men (and women) who fought and died in that conflict, but also towards the people who are touched by this history today. This, in turn, means having an open ear for their stories and concerns and not dismiss them by saying they are ‘easily offended’ or ‘politically correct’, or by using any other of those intellectually lazy phrases that signal nothing but an unwillingness to accept that there are other perspectives than ones own.

And before anyone says that this takes out all the fun – really, it’s not that hard to have fun without being a dick!

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By painting figures, writing scenarios and playing games we always tell stories, whether we intend to or not. But we also have it in hand to choose which story we want to tell. For my Civil War gaming, I do not want to repeat the trite and deluded narrative of the chivalrous South and its noble cause. Instead, I want to tell other stories and bring different actors into the foreground: The 1st South Carolina Volunteers, an African-American regiment, for instance.

Which does not mean that I won’t collect, paint or play with Confederate figures. But I will always remember what happened more than a 150 years ago and I won’t whitewash the conflict or downplay the issues that were at stake.

Review: Class Wargames

In 1977, the French artist, political activist and founder of the Situationist International, Guy Debord, published a game called The Game of War. The game was a derivative of chess insofar as it was played on a checkered board and managed without a random element. However, in setting the game in a specific period, namely horse-and-musket, and including a whole set of differentiated troop types, Debord incorporated elements of the then-popular board wargames. Nevertheless, the success of the game failed to materialize and while the political theories of Debord have influenced generations of leftist activists, his wargame has been sneered upon or ignored.

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The aim of the group Class Wargames and the book at hand – which, at the core, is a report of the group’s activities – is to explore what this game meant for Debord and what wargaming in general could mean for contemporary political activism. Class Wargames is a collective of leftist artists, academics and activists, many of them old-time wargamers like Richard Barbrook and Mark Copplestone. Since 2007, they stage wargames in galleries and at art festivals. Apart from Debord’s game, they have played a miniature wargame by Chris Peers set in the Russian Revolution, a couple of specially developed scenarios for Command&Colors: Napoleonics and games of H.G. Wells’ classic Little Wars.

The book is a sort of companion to these activities: It provides a history of Guy Debord’s Game of War and of the political left’s tradition of wargaming, it presents the story of Class Wargame’s own activities, it gives historical background to the battles fought and finally develops a theory of the function of wargaming for leftist politics.

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Class Wargames in action.

So what’s in there for the hobbyist wargamer? Readers interested in the history of wargaming will be fascinated to learn that there is a veritable tradition of leftist wargaming and of games and toy soldiers in art galleries, ranging from the early 20th century avant-garde to the 1960s penchant for performances and pop culture. The historical background to the games is interesting, albeit it won’t present much new to the historically keen gamer.

Where the book shines is in its numerous reflections. Barbrook continually explores the meaning of the games the group stages and draws attention to the narratives they produce. For example, in 2008 they staged a Russian Revolution game at the very place where an important moment of the Revolution happened, namely the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. Using miniatures by Mark Copplestone, Reds vs. Reds presented a critical rereading of what has become the official Russian version of this history. Games such as this, Barbrook argues, can show that historical developments we take for granted were once fiercely disputed. Similarly, the Command & Colors scenario for the Haitian Revolution sheds light on an episode of the Napoleonic Wars that is often neglected. By making the insurgent slaves the heroes of the game’s story, it challenges our perspective on history.

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C&C: Napoleonics in the Haitian Revolution.

Even though I wouldn’t subscribe to all the theoretical analyses brought forward, I enjoyed the plethora of ideas and references. In fact, the only criticism I have is that Barbrook perhaps packs too much into the book’s 330 pages as I sometimes felt like losing the thread. On the other hand, the varied content also makes for fascinating discoveries. And it is never a dry read, as Barbrook succeeds in combining the thrill of intellectual curiosity with the joy of playing a wargame. Highly recommended if you fancy something out of the box.

This review was first published in Miniature Wargames with Battlegames 382.
A digital version of the book is available for free on the Class Wargames homepage.