Sunday, 29 September 2013

Guess who didn't make it to Derby?


You'll see from the time I'm posting this that It's a little on the early side for a Sunday morning. I've had a night of hell with my knee (just the one) which I seem to have aggravated doing good works for the benefit of, well, mainly me, but good works nonetheless. Our garage is marginally clearer and the local allotment association has increased its store of fuel for the bonfire party. However, as a sort of instant karma, I can't walk properly, nor can I drive; the upshot being that I won't be travelling to Derby today (or whenever, depending on when you read this). I'm browned off at not being able to meet up with James as planned and not cheering on Tamsin in the competitions. Nevertheless, I hope that those of you who did make it had a great show and acquired plenty of goodies.

Now, one advantage, or maybe disadvantage of being up all night is that you have time to think. I spent some time reading and other things to take my mind off the offending joint and did some more work on the Napoleonic rules jiggery-pokery which raised lots of questions and ideas and things which really ought to be play tested. I have my pet niggles about how best to represent skirmishing and the handling of cavalry, but last night it was mostly about unit size, morale and combat effectiveness.

Some twenty miles off the northwest coast of France, between the North Atlantic and the North Sea lies a little island (actually a group of islands) known as Britain, or The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland if you want to be formal. Please note that Jonny Foreigner, the Americans in particular, has a habit of calling the whole of the UK England and referring to the whole population as 'The English' despite the fact that they do appear to recognise that there are also Scots, Irish and Welsh there in not insignificant numbers. Nobody seems to mention the Manx though.

It's only a small place, about half the size of Madagascar, and much smaller than the two European neighbours, France and Germany, it tends to favour when looking for a conveniently local dust up. Britain has a fairly modest population (in size, not attitude) and it's habitually punched well above its weight. This pugnacious attitude produced a huge empire (which the Scots, Irish and Welsh all claim to have been more important than the English in developing) and an ability to annoy just about everyone (although in this case the Scots, Irish and Welsh – and probably the Manx – are quite happy for foreigners to forget about them).

So what's brought on this little epistle? Well, broadly speaking, national characteristics. They're always a thorny problem in rules, Napoleonics in particular, and everyone has their own view as to how best to represent them or even why to bother at all. I'm not overzealous about a simulation as opposed to a wargame, but I do want some flavour in my games. In my view, a set of rules for, say, the Seven Years' War should be tangibly different to Napoleonic rules. That's aside from the debates about other issues: game scale – tactical or grand tactical, for example.

There seems to be a slightly disjointed approach in that some advocates of national characteristics adopt a sort of broad brush approach whereby all Russians are this and all British are that, which I don't think really fits the bill at all, even for competition games. On the other hand, scenario based games and those representing actual engagements have circumstantial factors included which may, or may not reflect national characteristics. Now, this next bit is probably going to mystify non Napoleonic gamers to some extent, but hey-ho!

An example I was discussing with a friend some months ago was the fighting on the Pratzen Heights at the Battle of Austerlitz. I can't find a decent enough map or diagram to illustrate the situation so I'll have to rely on simply describing the circumstances. On the one hand, the French units involved were fresh from the camps at Boulogne where they'd trained and waited for the invasion of England (scuppered by Trafalgar). They were spoiling for a fight and full of themselves: certainly a force to be reckoned with. Facing them were two Allied divisions, one Russian first line regulars including several grenadier battalions, the other Austrian, almost wholly from the most junior battalions of regiments: hastily raised conscript units who might charitably be described as second line troops at best. So, stalwart Russian regulars and shaky Austrian conscripts. On the face of it a no brainer, except that, after some initial success, the Russian battalions broke, whereas the Austrians fought well and with great determination. However, bring this into a proper scenario and we find that the Russians were understrength, worn out battalions who had just fought rearguard actions during Kutuzov's retreat along the Danube valley. Conversely, although conscripts, the Austrian battalions were all up to strength and not only under the gaze of Kutuzov himself, but aided by General Weyrother and a bevy of adjutants and staff officers. Consequently, they were on their mettle and gave way only after considerable French pressure.

So, what you might assume to be 'safe' assessments of national characteristics (stout, reliable Russians, almost impossible to break etc.) were radically changed by the circumstances. It's this sort of thing that has led me to move towards characteristics for troop types rather than include allowance for their nationality. You can still give additional benefits for some types or even identify actual units, but let the scenario determine the relative merits of the troops unless there are definite examples which would hold fast even for pick-up games.

"Dress them in red, blue, or green - they'll run away just the same." Fernando I, King of the Two Sicilies, c. 1800

2 comments:

  1. Totally agree, in our Napoleonic games, Evil Umpire Postie, works out all the scenarios and lists. Like you said he does include a basic set of army morale and competence lists, but then changes them as per scenario. In our what-if The Battle of Hal, supposedly after Napoleon won at Waterloo, the French infantry who fought wer worn as they fought the previous day, so all had 1 stand of troops missing. This severely tested the morale and the players morale, they eventually went on the lose the battle. In another game, much to Ian and Fran's woes, they played the French attacking a Spanish force (me), now my Spanish army was very very good, not the usual Spaniards you'd think, Postie had read somewhere about some elite artillery from a training school. These blew merry hell out of the French, severely dented both players morale and they ended up on the losing side. Its fun to play with troops from outside their normal morales and ratings. You can end up with some terrific games!

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    1. I too enjoyed these games as they changed the way we played the games and acted but also it's like saying the Irish like a drink and bit of a fight now and again!

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