Sunday, 19 July 2009

While I go crazy painting straps and piping...

...they do look good when completed.

Here is a light infantry
voltigeur just waiting for the last of his comrades to be varnished so that the entire company can be based.

click on image to enlarge

Not the best of photos as they were taken in poor light, and I had to wring them through some severe Photoshopping for them to come out reasonably clearly. Still, good enough for work in (eternal!) progress shots.

It's of course a Front Rank miniature wearing the 1812 habit-veste and campaign trousers. He is also festooned with various equipment making him a right royal pain in la derrière to paint. The easiest ones to paint are- rather surprisingly- the ones in the full dress Bardin 1812 uniform. Less straps to worry about, although the ones in overcoat and covered shakos are also a lot easier on both eyes and blood pressure.

In a moment of madness I decided to give him non-regulation yellow piping down the campaign trousers, based on an illustration I cam across in my copy of Elting/Knotel's Napoleonic Uniforms.

Note to self; never-
ever- decide to put together a wargaming army where all the uniforms have yellow piping running down the sides of dark-coloured trousers. Therein lies the way of Madness.


Painting is made much more pleasant with appropriate "mood music". There are a lot of videos on YouTube featuring that stirring French march La Victoire est a Nous, famous amongst fellow Grognards from the movie Waterloo in 1970. Here is one of the better versions out there.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Minifigs and "Pas de Charge"; Good old days?

Shameless nostalgia time. I came across these pictures on the Minifigs website. The very first metal wargaming figures I ever ordered were some of these Prussian and Russian 25mm Minifigs to supplement my buckets of Airfix figures. I remember ordering them through the mail from a company in Pennsylvania- Soldier World USA I believe it was. Long gone now, of course!

Being 25mm, they of course dwarfed my HO/OO Airfix plastics, but in those pre-
Grognard carefree days, I didn't really care. My Russians held the Airfix La Haye Sainte against hordes of French cuirassiers painted (badly!) as dragoons, and no-one thought to give them a red-card for the historical faux-pas.

Forty years on since they were first released, they are really looking "long in the tooth" and are not really compatible with anything else out there. And they all seemed to be in the same pose, steadily advancing and eyes straight ahead. Yet I still think they had a charm of their own, although these days we have come to expect a lot more detail in our miniatures. But certainly there was no faulting the depth and breadth of Minifig's ranges- they covered just about everything the wargamer of the time could want!

No doubt modern miniatures represent a lot of progress on the part of the sculptor and caster, but I cannot help but to realize that I was able to paint my old Minifigs Napoleonics and Heritage/Hinchliffe medievals (I must have had hundreds of these!) a lot faster than I do my minis these days.

Make no mistake, I still love my Front Rank figures, and I'm certainly not about to go "retro".   Some consider the Front Rank poses too staid when compared to, say Elite or Foundry, but for me, perhaps, they are reminiscent of those old Minifig days, while incorporating the detail that we have come to expect with modern castings.

Nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be.    I used to use the old (1977!) Pas de Charge rules by the venerable George Nafziger, which seemed fine at the time with some mechanisms that I still like.

But when I dragged them out of storage years later and read them through again, I realized that not only had a lot of our notions of Napoleonic warfare changed over time, but that the rules themselves were full of omissions and "wierd goings-on". I think that some of the original charts and tables never made it into the book, as there remain references for mysterious tables that I have never found within the pages!

The rules served me well in their time, but time goes on, as it does with miniatures and just about everything else. And the choice in figures and rules out there now is stunning! These are great times to be a wargamer.

And while it is fun to look at old rules and figures again, there sure isn't any going back for me.

So when ARE Perry or Victrix going to release plastic Russians? And then there are those superb Prussians and Saxons from Calpe. Not to mention some interesting- if expensive- early Napoleonic wars ranges coming out from Foundry.

But practically I should just get on with painting what I have, first...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Nappy Musings...

After spending many months in the Dolomite mountains in WW1, and in the Low Countries and upper Rhine in the War of the Austrian Succession, I find myself coming back to Napoleonics again. This is my usual pattern in wargaming. I drift from one era to another, but almost always come back to Naps at some time or another.

And I have been painting! Here are some photos of work in progress over the last few days.

Général Victor-Eugène BOUILLON-CANTINAT and ADC
(the latter wearing a daringly conspicuous- and non-regulation- white greatcoat!)

I originally converted M. le Général from a Front Rank miniature many years ago- before they released their general officer figures- using Tamiya two-part epoxy putty, a paper clip, and my trusty hand-held modelling drill. I was never happy with the original paint job, so I stripped it off and started again.

The general is left-handed, as was the "real"
(ahem!) general, due to being grievously wounded while fighting the Austrians in 1809.

I still need to work on the eyes and on touching up the horse furniture. Not sure about the white feathers on the general's hat. These should perhaps be in black, but if that is the case it should be an easy job to retouch it.

Another conversion, and one I am extremely pleased with! This is Henri-Etienne Cavignari, veteran of the Italian campaign and of Egypt, and now Chef de Bataillon of the 3/25e Regt. Legere, leading his men against the Czarist horde. About 50% done.

I have long ago come to the conclusion that I will probably have to outsource a large share of the painting to mercenary brush-smiths, which although not being cheap, will mean that I can get the bulk of my collection done, while allowing me to work on favourite units at my leisure.

I have most all the minis I need now anyway (I really only have to buy line infantry for the French, probably Perry plastics), so this may not be as expensive in the long run as it would be if I had to buy the figures as well. It is just a question of looking for a reasonable and reliable painting service that paints in a style I like.


At this time, however, I'd like to just blather on for a bit about what the hobby of Napoleonic wargaming means to me. I came across this thread on TMP, where one poster (it will be clear who this is when you read the thread!) took a position regarding the hobby which I can only call extreme, and which to me embodies all that can be the worst about Napoleonic enthusiasts.

I am a strong proponent of "each to their own" in what is no more than our hobby, and feel that we are free to approach the hobby in the way that we want, regardless of what others may think.

For that reason I am really turned off by those who feel it necessary to prescribe what the "proper" approach to the hobby should be, and who adopt that attitude of superiority and moral certitude that seems to infect the worst of the grognards. Presumptuous intolerance and blanket condemnation are not pretty traits.

So, in the interest of "stand up and be counted!", here is my own, very personal take on what Napoleonic wargaming means to me! Read it, ignore it, agree with it, or damn me to St. Helena; but it does let you where I stand with the hobby, so if my approach offends anyone, they should know this blog ain't for them!


Collecting miniatures, which means eye candy! For me, 28mm minis are big enough to paint, look good in a cabinet, and are just all-around aesthetically pleasing (with a respectful nod toward AB 15mm minis, which, while gorgeous, are just that much too small for these middle-aged eyes to cope with!).

Remaining faithful to history, but not being enslaved by it. I reserve the right to take the occasional liberty with uniform detail when I decide aesthetics warrant it, and even to tweak around historical fact when the narrative requires it.

As I pointed out in another forum, history is my Muse, not my tyrant. This extends to stretching things like having some regiments still carrying the 1803 pattern flags ('coz they're pretty!), and having my light cavalry regiments with eagles and standards, even if in practise they may not have taken them in the field.

I remember some pretentious twaddle being posted on TMP to the effect that if a person didn't replicate exactly the colours of the uniforms worn at the time, then one was showing disrespect to the memory of the soldiers themselves. Utter balderdash as far as I am concerned. We're talking toy soldiers here, not friggin' cenotaphs. My men are in a mix of campaign uniforms and full dress, because I like the variety.

Miniatures first, then the rules. Rule sets tend to come in and go out of fashion over time, but the miniatures always remain. My figures are based a la Peter Gilder and the In the Grand Manner rules, the same system which is used for General de Brigade, my current rules of choice. One thing is certain- I will never re-base. Any new rule set I adopt will have to be modified to suit my basing system, not the other way around!


"Understanding" Napoleonic tactics. I emphasize the "game" in wargame. I feel that miniature wargames are not the best way to formally analyze Napoleonic tactics, and that rules tend to reflect our own biases; to reflect what we expect should happen, rather than reveal any insights as to tactical methods used. In any event, ground/ figure scale throws everything off-kilter anyways, especially as I use 28mm minis.

And then there is the practical- but unavoidable- factor of how much time I have to play. I do not currently have a permanent table, so my games have to fall within the time constraints of being able to be played and to reach a conclusion within a Sunday afternoon.

Of course I want my games to play and feel like a Napoleonic battle may have unfolded, but I am willing to take shortcuts and abstractions to get to that result.

Let there be no misunderstanding; I am not ignorant of the tactics used, I have a considerable library on Napoleonic literature, and consider myself well-read on the period. However, the gaming table is another matter. I game for fun, to roll dice and the goal is to move nicely painted miniatures around on attractive terrain.

My history I save for my reading, and to be honest I am less interested in tactical minutiae anyway. I'm not a soldier, and even if I was I doubt that platoon evolutions in 1813 would have much bearing on combat in 2009 anyway.

Bricoles. Some of the nasty, personal spats & long-running feuds that occur between so-called professional historians, and which end up polluting various wargaming fora, do no-one any credit. On balance I feel they contribute negatively to the hobby. Such people, who are evidently incapable of showing even a modicum of civility on-line, need to stick to their own sandbox and let the rest of us enjoy our leisure activities.

Glorifying either war or Napoleon. Sorry for those who talk about l'Empereur extending the limits of glory and such, but the root of the matter to me is that war was, and remains a nasty and, more often than not, a futile undertaking. I'll not be blinded to that by the pretty uniforms and the charisma of any one man- I put no-one on a pedestal.

Not to say I have no respect for Napoleon, I do. But while I of course acknowledge his undoubted ability, leadership skills and just plain chutzpah, I have a healthy distrust of demagoguery and dictators, no matter how much of a military or administrative genius they may have been, and irregardless of their height (or lack thereof).

Napoleon died many years ago. His feelings are beyond being hurt if I am less than enamoured with him. And I am pretty sure he wouldn't care a jot about the opinion of someone who just plays with toy soldiers!

As an aside, I feel Napoleon was a man of his times; more interested in establishing a dynasty than any kind of democratic meritocracy, and I doubt whether promotions to positions of power based on merit would long have survived his death even if he had remained Emperor of the French. He certainly had amazing talent, and left a lasting legacy. But being human he was as capable of making mistakes and of showing poor judgement as are we all.

4) Just two weeks in June, 1815! There are lots of other fascinating campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars to hold anyone's interest.

Finally, I recognize that others might not share my views and that is fine. However, doing it differently does not make me wrong, nor does it imply that I am ignorant of history. I'm not.
But ultimately it is my hobby, with minis I paid for, so for others to whine about the way I chose to do it is to spit into the wind anyway.