Saturday, 10 May 2014
Bit of a ruminate.
There’s blog called ‘Polemarch’ (I think I've mentioned it before) whose author regularly poses some penetrating observations and questions about aspects of our hobby. It’s an excellent read (so go and do so), but it does make you think, so be careful. He’s posed a good one today (usually does), but, rather than comment on his blog and take up valuable space, I’ve done so here.
I think there’s a difference between what a wargamer expects his armies/rules to achieve and what is historical fact (or as near to it as we can get). Unless we’re going to go scenario specific then we’re bound to accept a certain amount of generalisation if only for sanity’s sake.
In the great days when ignorance was bliss, ACW rules were essentially Napoleonic rules with longer weapon ranges and so called Ancients covered just about anything up to the horse and musket era. The hobby thrived, obviously, but the emphasis was on game rather than simulation. Now we’ve moved well into the simulation era (and maybe out the other side in some cases), and most (?) gamers expect their rules to reflect the period they’re supposed to represent. That’s not unreasonable, but two things can happen: the gamer takes the rules as gospel (oh God, another convert!) or rejects them because they don’t conform to his/her own impressions of the period. I maybe ought to say imaginings of the period because, although we’re pretty much the same animal as Alexander’s or Napoleon’s soldiers and share the same nature, we’ve certainly been nurtured differently – food, lifestyle, education etc. So, we can only really have a reasonable grasp of the environment of a campaign or battle rather than an intimate knowledge based on experience. This includes re-enactors who spend short periods ‘in character’ and then retreat to their double-glazed, centrally heated homes with all mod cons.
Even reading first hand accounts is fraught with pitfalls. When I write my memoirs of my experiences as a Cold War Warrior, you can bet your granny’s false teeth they’ll be sanitised and I’ll be a thoroughly good chap. Nevertheless, for about 99.9% of wargame periods we have to rely on the written word for historical information (and that includes translations of varying accuracy for most of us) with all its bias and axe grinding - Hofschroer seems driven to reduce the British involvement in the 1815 campaign to simply providing the oranges at half time.
I think the biggest challenge is bringing character to a period, beyond the simply physical capabilities of weapon etc. (though you still have to be very careful with this), by introducing the morale aspects, be they national characteristics or the abilities of commanders. Just to use Napoleonics as an example, I’ve banged on about Austerlitz a couple of times in the past, so why break with tradition? Normally (if there is such a thing as normal in this period) Russian troops are strong in defence and hard to defeat and Austrians are . . . well, just Austrians: not particularly inspiring, even though they did beat Napoleon – O.K. once. However, here’s a quote from Robert Goetz’s “1805:Austerlitz” (pp207-208):
“ . . . the fighting on the Pratzen Heights demonstrated the mismatch between the armies, pitting some of the weakest battalions of the allied armies against some of the best of the French Army. Despite this, allies held the French back for a surprisingly long time, demonstrating a toughness and resilience for which they rarely receive credit. . . . . Finally the Austrians of Jurczik and Rottermund performed better than could be expected of a force that was half composed of raw conscripts”
Couple of caveats. The Russians broke, but the battalions involved had acted as rear guard for part of the allied armies for the previous several days and began the battle tired and under strength. The Austrians retreated in reasonable order, but were fighting under the nose of the Tsar and his staff so had an added incentive.
Although this cuts across most of the accepted Napoleonic standards, it can fairly easily be modelled in a set of rules, but would they become so cumbersome as to be unusable if every eventuality were to be covered?
So, ignoring the influence of the cinema (God forbid), armed with huge amounts of information of often questionable quality, some zealot will eventually want to translate this into a set of rules. The problem here is that rule writers are not necessarily the best historians and vice versa. I read lots about a period and have never gamed a period I wasn’t interested in historically. However, I’ve always felt that, apart from (very) occasional bursts of brilliance, my home-grown rules are a bit ‘clunky’ and lack polish. Conversely, I know a luminary of the wargaming fraternity who, although not the brightest star in the academic firmament, can’t half write a good rule or two. That’s not to say I’m an historian, but you get the drift.
The solution for me is to find a set of rules that satisfy my ‘near enough’ criteria and get on with it. If I find something unbearable, I can give the rules a tweak.
For those who’ve read too much and have a headache, here’s a picture of a Dixon ACW figure with a Redoubt head. I like much of the Dixon range, but I’ve always found their heads a bit of a challenge aesthetically. This one was too good to waste, despite the hand cannon: