ACW Railroad in 15mm

Railways played an important role in the American Civil War and there were even some skirmishes involving trains. Reason enough to bring tracks and rolling stock to the gaming table!

I’ve been collecting and building stuff for an American Civil War railroad for some time now. My starting point was the 15mm train from Peter Pig. It’s made of resin and definitely a gaming piece rather than an accurate model, but it looks quite nice. It fits TT gauge tracks, so I bought a bunch of those second-hand and based them on strips of plastic to provide them with rudimentary embankments.

My next step was to try my hand at scratch building special rolling stock. The first one was a mortar car. One such car, armed with a ‘Dictator’ mortar, was used by the Federals in the siege of Vicksburg. The mortar is from QRF/Freikorp15.

At the moment, I’m working on some scenarios featuring the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, one of the first African American regiments. In a curious skirmish around Jacksonville, the 1st S.C. fought against a Confederate railway gun armed with a 32pdr cannon. There are no images of this particular car, so I based my model on two photos of another such gun. Experts are not entirely sure if this is a Union or Confederate gun, but it certainly looks interesting enough and was easy to model.

gun1gun2

I’ve not yet made a railway station building, but I’ve made a warehouse and a water tower to service the steam engine. The red brick building in the background is by S&S Models.

And finally a construction site. The handcar is scratch built using parts of a H0 model by Faller.

construction

It was fun building those things and I’m looking forward to having them in a scenario of Sharp Practice.

Time Machine

When I was about 10 years old, I discovered a curious book in my local bookstore. It had a mean looking dinosaur on the front cover, which I immediately identified as a Tyrannosaurus Rex – I was that kind of kid (mind you, that was way before Jurassic Park, when liking dinosaurs was still the mark of being a colossal nerd). I got excited because the book looked like it was a story – not just a popular science volume – revolving around dinosaurs. My excitement grew when I found out that I could influence the story by taking decisions at certain key moments! I bought the book, headed home and finished my first game book that same day.

For some reasons, I never read many game books and the big titles like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy never caught my eye – perhaps because I wasn’t really into fantasy at the time, being more a sci-fi kind of guy, or perhaps because the bookshops I frequented didn’t carry them. However, I did read several volumes of a series called Time Machine, translated as Merlins Zeitmaschine into German. Search for Dinosaurs (Im Land der Ungeheuer) was the second book of the series. The premise was that you were a time traveller looking for proof that birds evolved from dinosaurs by finding and observing an Archaeopteryx. I liked the concept of a game book and enjoyed the story very much. There was even a clever meta episode hidden somewhere: You can meet another time traveller and accidentally accompany him jumping into the present – where you end up in a bookstore, as the other guy hadn’t bought his book! The clerk makes you pay for the book again and throws you out, so you have to start all over again.

I later bought all the other volumes of the series that were available in German. There was a medieval one, one with Samurai and one taking place in the age of pirates. And then there was this:

The cover is a bit wacky, with the sinister looking Rebel and his strangely positioned tiny cannon, but this is the book that sparked my interest in the American Civil War. However, despite the title, most of the story of Civil War Secret Agent (Spion im Bürgerkrieg) actually takes place a bit earlier. Your mission is to investigate the fate of a slave named Thomas Dean. You have to join the Underground Railroad and meet Harriet Tubman to achieve that goal. In between, you also visit several key events of the Civil War.

When I recently re-read the book, I was surprised about how much it teaches about slavery, abolitionism and the Civil War. There’s none of that revisionist Neo-Confederate nonsense in there. Telling the story from the perspectives of the fugitive slaves make it abundantly clear that slavery was at the core of the war, that the South was a society based upon that institution and that there was nothing noble about the Confederate cause.

However, at the time, what really stayed in my memory was this image:

Ironclads

It’s the battle of Hampton Roads! In the book you end up on the USS Minnesota and witness the fight between the Monitor and the Virginia. I remember gazing at the image, fascinated by the strange shape of the ships. When I had finished the book, I immediately got a popular history book on the American Civil War from my library.

The Time Machine books were a key contribution in establishing my love of history. Even more, they also laid the foundation for my love of role-playing games and perhaps even for wargames.

Several of the Time Machine series of books are available in English as pdfs from ANNARCHIVE

Learning to Love Longstreet

I’ve never really been interested in big battle games. Most of the images I’ve seen of such games show masses of figures arrayed in a thin line from one table edge to the other. Shoving bases forward and seeing who rolls higher is not how I like to spend my evening.

Fortunately my mates Sigur and Virago are always ready to dismantle my silly prejudices and show me the abundance of interesting games out there. Last week, it was time to reconsider my thoughts on big battles, as they had prepared a game of Longstreet. The units in Longstreet represent regiments, so battles are admittedly not that big, which is perfectly fine for me. From my reading, I can relate to regimental actions and having recently finished Earl Hess’ fantastic book on small-scale infantry tactics , I was curious to see how the rules would handle the manouvres and formations used by Civil War commanders.

Longstreet-Front-Cover

At the core of Longstreet is a card-driven mechanic. It’s more akin to Commands & Colors than to Sharp Practice, though. The cards don’t drive the turn sequence, which is IGO-UGO, but are hand cards which enable you to not only initiate phases, such as shooting and moving, but also to augment or make specific actions.

We played what I gathered was a rather small action. Each of us got four regiments of five bases plus one battery of two artillery bases. I played the Union, using Virago’s figures, while Sigur fielded his own Confederates.

The terrain featured several hills in the middle and a small town on my left flank. Sigur positioned his artillery on one of the hills, making me deploy cautiously. He also formed two columns to march into the town. I positioned the units on my right flank behind a stone wall. My battery was on my left, where it had a reasonably clear field of fire, covered by another regiment on my far left.

The game started with Sigur moving his troops forward while I stayed put. One reason was that I was hesitant to move into the field of fire of his battery. The other reason was that the troops on my right got tangled up because the road was in a deplorable condition – Sigur had played a card which allowed him to place a piece of heavy going in front of my units, and we reasoned that the road had been swept away by heavy rain. In any case, it took a while until I sorted out my guys and finally had them in a jump-off position on the other side of the stone wall.

Sigur, meanwhile, had decided to move his battery to the center. He also seems to have abandoned the plan to take the town, because his columns suddenly turned about-face. In a rare show of tactical acumen, I recognised this as my chance. Playing the ‘Quickstep’ card, which allowed me to move swiftly, I advanced my whole right flank as far as possible. My leading regiment positioned itself so it could hit Sigur’s guys in the flank, its supporting regiment moved towards the Confederate center to cover the advance while the third regiment marched through the town in column so as to hit the Rebels from behind.

I also had the regiment on my far left advance so as to pin the Confederates positioned there.

To my surprise, the whole scheme worked very well. Caught unawares, the outflanked Rebels had to endure my volleys. It didn’t help that I played a card on one of their units forbidding it from moving for one turn! Confederate casualties started to mount. My counter-battery fire had managed to knock out the enemy artillery, so me regiment in the center could manoeuvre freely. When it made short thrift of its enemy counterpart, Rebel morale broke. Hurrah for the Union!

What a fun game! I was very pleasantly surprised by Longstreet. The rules are simple, quick to learn and very intuitive. The game flowed along smoothly and didn’t take too long. I like the cards, as they introduce a bit of friction and shape possibilities – I wouldn’t have been able to make that flank move if I hadn’t had the ‘Quickstep’ card. However, what I liked most was that manoeuvres really counted and that it was possible to manoeuvre in a way that felt historically plausible. The most important thing for regiments and their commanders in the ACW was articulation, the ability to make a wide array of manouvres and formations and to be able to decide when to perform which. Although the formations are abstracted in the game (which is a good thing in my opinion), it still feels as if you have lots of options and as if your decision makes a difference.

In fact, I was so much taken by Longstreet that I’m now pondering over enlarging my 15mm ACW collection so as to be able to play it at home…

On the Painting Table

Just a quick update on what I’m working on at the moment. For my birthday, K. gave me a gift voucher from my favourite miniatures producer, Peter Pig. I’ve kept the card for a while, as I enjoyed browsing the webstore and pondering what to order. Recently, however, I’ve started to work on a couple of scenarios for Sharp Practice and decided I need more Confederate cavalry, so I got four packs of mounted and one pack of dismounted troopers. That still leaves me with a bit of money for another order! As always, the service from Peter Pig was exemplary.

tray

The Texas Longhorn cattle you can see on the other painting tray are from Irregular Miniatures. I’ve got two dozen of them, as I want to make an impressive herd. This is going to be yet another scenario, namely the curious naval cattle drive of 1862, where sailors from the USS Kathadin drove 1500 Longhorns through enemy territory. Doesn’t that sound like a proper outline for a game of Sharp Practice?

I’ve also recently finished scratch building two log cabins. The basic structure is made from plasticard, with shish kebab skewers glued on as logs. The chimneys are cut out of blue foam and then covered with PVA and dunked into grit – looks a bit irregular but ok enough, I think. The houses will be used for ACW as well as FIW.