Merry Christmas!

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What you see here is an old miniatures project, hand-made by my girlfriend’s grandfather. It’s a copy of an even older traditional South Tyrolean nativity scene.

K. and her siblings dug it out from the attic and put it into our hallway. It’s rather large – 80cm by 60cm – and quite heavy. Some of the figures are around 28mm! Others are smaller, so you can get a perspective/distance effect. Joseph and Mary are not here, because it’s not the 24th yet. There are two versions of them: a smaller couple, so you can see them arriving in the distance in the days before Christmas, and a large couple for the actual nativity scene.

It’s always nice to see that the family has an interest in miniatures…

I wish all of you relaxing holidays and hope you find time to do the things you love!

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What I did during the last weeks…

Life has been busy, but in a good way. I’ve got a new job and still have to settle into the new routines. I haven’t actually neglected playing games and painting (though it’s going slower), but I didn’t find time or leisure to write blog articles.

Here’s a quick update on my gaming-related activities. I hope that in the future, this blog will again resume a more structured appearance.

My painting has been rather eclectic. I really enjoyed painting the mole at the Vienna Nerd Institute painting workshop, so I’ve continued to work on the fantastic anthropomorphic animals from Oathsworn Miniatures. Here’s my collection so far:

animals

Inspire by our recent sci-fi game, I’ve also finished a landing party for an IPU (Interplanetary Union) starship:

IPU

It get’s even more idiosyncratic. I recently met a very old friend again. When we were youngsters, we played a lot of games together, among them Man O’War. Now he wants to rejoin the hobby and bought a whole load of Man O’War stuff. I couldn’t resist and by chance found a couple of second-hand Orc flyers, so I decided to give them a coat of paint:

flyers

I haven’t yet committed to build up a fleet, but I did get some Renaissance galleys from Navwar, which might do double duty as Orc ships if I can convince anybody to play the excellent Galleys & Galleons

And my final product shows that I haven’t completely lost my sense, as it leads back to my perennial obsession. Using the Busch maize field sprues, I built a corn field for the ACW. I’ve made it modular so troops can be placed inside.

 

I’ve also played a couple of games. Most of them Sharp Practice, but we’ve also started T.I.M.E. Stories, an interesting cooperative game about which more in another blog post.

And I had a game of Flashing Steel, still one of my all-time favorites!

Fact & Fiction in Scenario Design

While I like painting and modelling, what I love most about wargaming is designing and playing scenarios. Now those scenarios don’t necessarily have to be historical – it’s great fun to devise games set in a fantasy or sci-fi world. But for some reasons, I’ve become very interested in the American Civil war and I really enjoy researching the period. Fortunately, for the ACW, there is an abundance of sources available online – not only the indispensable Official Records, but also numerous autobiographies and regimental histories (many of them accessible through the Internet Archive).

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Research is great fun…

However, this material can also become an impediment. Let me explain why. When I research a historical action, I try to find out as much as possible about what happened that day: which units were involved, what was the state of the troops, what was the terrain like, who was commanding, what did they plan to do, what did actually happen and so on.

The problem is that it is easy to get lost in those details. You may end up with a very detailed representation of the historical action, but nonetheless with a scenario that does not capture what it was all about. The reason for this is that scenarios are not static models. To work as games, the have to be dynamic, open-ended processes.

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…but don’t forget to play a game once in a while!

Of course, the historical action was also a dynamic, open-ended process. The people involved did not know what was going to happen, and it was their decisions and actions that determined the outcome. Fortunately, modelling this is what wargames are good at. Wargames – at least the good ones – model the decisions involved in warfare. In one of the Lardies Oddcasts, Richard Clarke remarked that his games always aim at recreating the command decisions faced by commanders in the field. For this, it is important to decide what level of command you want to represent: A regimental commander has other worries than a corps commander, and to mix those levels up is a sign of bad game design. Completeness – trying to model as many decisions as possible, so that you have to micro-manage a regiment’s formation while at the same time decide the deployment of your reserve division – does not actually contribute to a more ‘realistic’ depiction of historical events.

This, I think, is equally true about scenarios. Replicating everything you know of the historical event on the table top may produce a fine diorama, but it will not result in an exciting and dramatic game. To capture what a historical action was all about, it is important to try to recreate the perspectives of the opposing commanders. What was their aim? What did they know? And what were the specific circumstances that shaped their decisions (such as terrain features or the expectation of reinforcements)? It’s important to remember that the commanders in the field had a very limited outlook, not only in the literal sense – most of the time, they didn’t see the deployment of the enemy and his movements – but also in a more general sense: They didn’t know what the enemy was up to and what he knew of their own intentions and aims. Rule sets like Sharp Practice or Longstreet have already built-in mechanics to model this fog of war. But I think it can sometimes be important to integrate such a limited perspective in the design of the scenario itself. Usually with scenarios, both players know not only their objective, but also the other side’s aims. They also know the troops involved, the reinforcements that will turn up, the terrain and so on.

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From historical record…

Paradoxically, to accurately recreate the perspective and the decisions of historical commanders, it may be necessary to leave out details or to modify the deployment, the troops involved or even the terrain. Bolstering one side to create more balanced forces, for example, is not always a boring ‘gamey’ trick to make a scenario more interesting for both players.

When a Union raiding force was attacked by Confederates in June 1863, the Rebel commander didn’t know he only faced 60 soldiers. In a scenario based on accurate numbers, the Confederate player could just charge ahead, knowing he will steamroll the Union force. But this does not capture the uncertainty of the historical commander and the cautious advance that characterized this specific action.

SP_Foto
…to an exciting game.

Historical research is great fun and an important prerequisite for designing historical scenarios, but it is not an end in itself. When the research is done, it is important to try to reduce the situation to its core: What was it all about? What was at stake for the commanders? What shaped and what limited their outlooks and decisions?

The real challenge is to translate historical facts into a game that is not only exciting to play, but that also replicates some of the command decisions faced by the historical commanders. This may involve fiction, but nevertheless – or even because of that – it may also produce those cherished and fleeting moments when, during a game, you suddenly feel a jolting connection with the past.

First Game of Black Powder

This week, I had my first chance to try Black Powder. Some guys at the club had organised a big multiplayer game and they were kind enough to give me a Union brigade to command. The game was played with 28mm figures from the club members’ collection on a humongous table.

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As you can see, I had three regiments and a battery of artillery against six Confederate regiments. Well, I decided to make a stand anyway, as we had some reinforcements coming up.

The battle started with the Confederates on my flank moving up rapidly. I moved one of my regiments in a flanking position and concentrated my fire on the Confederates to my right, but unfortunately I didn’t hit anything. The return fire caused one of my regiments to take hits and become disordered.

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Meanwhile, the Confederate center had trouble advancing while on our left flank, another firefight erupted. We were all waiting eagerly for the promised reinforcements, but General Sigur seems to have lost his way as there was no sign of them anywhere.

Unfortunately, my boys couldn’t stand up to the Confederate pressure and soon my first regiment broke. With fierce artillery fire, I managed to rout some Rebels, but after my second regiment skedaddled the situation looked dire.

My lone surviving regiment was charged by four Confederate units, while my artillery was charged by Rebel cavalry which suddenly turned up on my flank.

This was when we ended the game. My brigade was completely gone, the center still looked good while the left flank was locked in a firefight which could have gone on for a while.

This was also my first experience at playing in a multiplayer game and I had great fun. I also liked what I saw of Black Powder, even though we played with simplified unit stats as it was the first game for all of us.

I have decided that I want to expand my 15mm ACW collection so as to be able to play regimental level games and Black Powder will certainly be one rule set I’ll try out at home with K. (besides Longstreet).

Thanks to the lads for letting me play, lending me figures and suffering my poor dice rolling!