Friday, December 27, 2019

Thither 1672

In a previous post, I considered which direction to go with my 1672 project. A few years back, I purchased piles of the Northstar 1672 range (formerly Copplestone Glory of the Sun range). At the time, I was going great guns with writing my own rules, Pike & Periwig. While still a noble project, I'd lost momentum and haven't got it back yet. That left me wondering what to do with all the figures I have, mostly partially painted or just bare lead.

After properly pondering the matter, I've settled on The Pikeman's Lament for many reasons. The rules are easy to learn, fun to play, open to house rules, great to run with larger games in convention settings. I'm a huge fan of living rampantly. It's only natural that I've settled the question the way I have.

Now that my course is set, I've been churning out minis for the project and have in mind a large game for Enfilade!, our local convention in May. I've been helped a lot by the fact that I had several minis partially painted from back when I was writing my own rules.

I also have a few units painted and based, which is problematic. I hate rebasing. I'll need to spruce up and dip the minis to make them match my current style. However, the biggest issue is that the infantry units for Pike & Periwig are 18 figures: 5 pikemen, 10 musketeers, 1 ensign, 1 sergeant, 1 drummer. The units painted can't be re-used as Pikeman's Lament units as is; the numbers are wrong.

So far, I have completed and based a unit of French pikemen. They carry flags for Régiment de Picardie, but the uniform is the standard French gray coats with gray cuffs, a uniform worn by a large number of the French regiments in this period. In the French Wikipedia article I saw a picture of a different uniform with a white coat and red vest, cuffs, trousers, and hose. That's the first I've seen of it and I'm not sure if it's correct. The Osprey title on Louis' army has, as I've painted, gray coats with gray cuffs and no information on vest, trousers, and hose.

The distinctions I'm making between gray-coated, gray-cuffed units will be the flags and the trim such as the aiguillettes, hat bands, trousers & hose. I gave Picardie red aiguillettes, hat bands, and hose with green-brown trousers. I'm working on Regiment Normandie, which will have blue distinctions and also black cuffs for the sergeants and officers.

I have one unit of 6 grenadiers completed and based.

I have a unit of 12 Swiss musketeers completed and based, with another 12-figure unit in the works along with 12 Swiss pikemen.

I have two 12-figure musketeer units painted and dipped for Régiment de Picardie  at this point. I only need to brush on the matte varnish, base them, give 'em a last spritz of dullcote et voila!

I also have some artillery with gunners and an officer figure [actually the Louis XIV figure by Phoenix Games, which is no longer available.]

Finally, I just dipped some French dragoons. I'll eventually have three 6-figure units that will be a mix of dismounted, mounted, and standing horses.

I have a smattering of already-begun French units that I need to finish, likely in the upcoming week, which I have off from work. These units are the second Swiss musketeers, Swiss pikemen, a second unit of 6 grenadiers, and a unit of French cavalry.

After that, I'm starting a few units of English that will include two 12-figure musketeer units and a 12-figure pike unit that I'll paint in red and green as the Coldstream Guards [notably the future regiment of Rudolf Rassendyll]:

I've also got some firelock figures that I'll use for a 12-figure musketeer unit of the Buffs in yellow and red. These were originally marines and eschewed both matchlock and pike. They'll be veteran shot in TPL terms.

I'm pretty happy with this direction. I'm very happy with how quickly I'm churning out units. The dip has—as I've written many times before—revolutionized my painting output. Since November, I've painted more figures than I'd manage in a whole year using my pre-dip technique. My only regret is that I don't paint eyes. They're nor really visible on the table top, but the lack of them shows in close-ups when whole regiments have the Orphan Annie look:

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Whither 1672?

I've been reevaluating my projects lately. It's just November, but I'm looking back on a kind of banner year for gaming, both in the number and diversity of games played and also in how many figures I've painted.

As always, best-laid plans go by the wayside as unintended projects rear up and I with my impulsive, impetuous nature jump right in. Mortal Gods, Test of Honor, and SPQR spring to mind as projects that weren't on my radar on January 1, but which I've either started this year or completed. Saga was a project I started in September last year. Although at the time I only had my El Cid Spanish I painted for Lion Rampant to press into service. My Welsh faction for Saga was completed in January. I'd started with Jugula some time ago, but only got around to completing my horde of gladiators in January.

Some longstanding projects languish, victims of the new new thing, whose shiny delights displace and somnolesce earlier distractions. One of those slumbering distractions is the 1672 Project that I started long ago, but which is now coming back online as the new old thing.

The initial impulse for the 1672 Project started around 2009 when Mark Copplestone released the first packs of his Glory of the Sun range covering late 17th c. European armies for the early wars of Louis XIV. At that time Bill Stewart, Phil Bardsley, Rich Knapton, Doug Hamm, and I got enthused and started buying and conspiring. We planned on using Beneath the Lily Banners, although there was some reservation amidst concerns that the rules (version 1) had some gaping holes and staggering vagaries. The project sort of fizzled. Rich and Phil are now deceased. North Star bought the range and re-named it North Star 1672. I can't gauge Doug's and Bill's interests at this point in time. Bill lives near enough to me and we game often; however, he's undecided about what to do with the figures he has (and has yet to paint). Bob Mackler is enticing him towards a different big battle style project with the figures. Doug is 150 miles away on a good day—and on the foreign side of an international border. Past conspirators in other projects have no interest in the era as a wargaming subject. My expectation is that any further efforts I make for the 1672 Project will be solo. Alone again, naturally.

So, the big question now that I'm slapping paint on lead again is what do I want to do with them.

Pike & Periwig

I earnestly went the solo route for a while and even got fairly well along with writing my own set of rules for it, Pike & Periwig. I like my rules, although I have more work and lots of play-testing to get them right, but I'm not sure I really want to commit myself to a system of my own design and put all my eggs in that basket.

I think that Pike & Periwig might be a lot of fun, but I'm absolutely certain that I'd be the only person painting and basing figures for it. Plus, I'd have to teach everyone the rules and defend my glaring idiosyncrasies. Writing rules is a rabbit hole down which people like me disappear, going deeper into the minutiae of getting right this or that representation of some obscure detail of the military art of the period, only to find in the end that it adds nothing to the play of the game, or even distracts from it.

Nevertheless, saying adieu is hard.

File Leader

I recently got a copy of the venerable vintage set of company-level rules File Leader by Pete Berry and published by Partizan Press in the 1980s. I really like them and have been mulling over the possibility of using them for the 1672 Project rather than use Pike & Periwig.

I have reservations there, too, because the basing system is unique enough to make re-use of the figures difficult without also rebasing them. Basically, the foot are six figures on 60mm square bases (or 'trays' as the rules call them), the horse are three figures on a 60mm square base, officers (which include ensigns, drummers, etc.) are on 40mm square bases.

The rules were written for 25mm figures back before serious scale creep became a thing. Fitting six of the North Star 28mm foot figures on a 60mm square base is no problem, but three horse on the same base size is pretty crowded. They'll fit, but it'll be cozy. According to Mr. Berry himself, the base sizes for horse and foot (and guns, for that matter) need to be the same. Maybe adopting 70mm or 75mm square basing would resolve the horse crowding without being too big for the foot. It's probably better for the guns as well. The small battalion guns fit on a 60mm square base easily, but the larger field guns are about 80mm long and hang out fore and aft from the base. However, at the company/troop level, I don't think I'll need a lot of field guns.

I would also want to tweak a few things. Pete wrote the rules for the English Civil War, but they're adaptable to the latter 17th c. I'd want to call out specific rules for grenadiers and plug bayonets.

I'm finding it hard to pull the trigger and commit to File Leader. There are some things about the rules that I really like, but I'm not sure if they're rules I can see playing a lot over time. I'm just old enough that my gaming days are starting to look like sand flowing through an hourglass. I don't want to put a lot of time, resources, and energy into gaming ventures that go nowhere.

The Pikeman's Lament

I love The Pikeman's Lament. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm rampant in my love for Dan Mersey's and Michael Leck's work with this series of rules.

I think TPL could do the 1670s well. I only hesitate because I've got a lot of 'Rampant' projects going on. I have a lot of AWI and ACW for Rebels and Patriots—it was a major focus this year. Already for TPL, I have a pile of figures for The Irish Project and have recently acquired more, in addition to the unpainted horse that beckon my brush. I have some figures painted for ECW and many, many more partially painted or naked lead yearning to be clothed. I don't lack for pikes and shots.

It's my lack of lacking that gives me pause. I love the pike 'n' shot period, so I hesitate making all my projects with one set of rules, no matter how much I like them. I do have another slumbering project for the Thirty Years War that will be use the Pike & Shotte rules from Warlord Games, but that's been off the back burner and into cold storage since before the earth cooled (although I'd like to see it revived at some point). That project also relies on combining with other peoples collections to play games. For 1672, I'm painting both sides, the terrain, and supplying all the dice, too.

At this point, The Pikeman's Lament is looking to be the most likely candidate. I don't have to write the rules and they're a finished product. The only thing I'd do is tweak the close order rule for shot units to reflect the use of plug bayonets; namely, when in close order, shot can't shoot. I think I'll also allow forming close order as a reaction to being charged. For example, as a reaction, a shot unit can form close order on a roll of 7+ on 2D6. If they try and fail, they become wavering.

I'm getting close to needing to base the figures I'm painting now, so I'll need to make a decision. If I go with TPL, I'll use the standard 3-2-1 basing that I've used for my other 'Rampant' projects so far.

Other considerations

I mentioned Pike & Shotte for my TYW project. I could use the rules for this as well, but I find TPL more enjoyable and I don't want to commit to a big battle project, especially when I'm painting all the figures.

One idea that's been way in the back of my head is using the excellent WRG Renaissance rules by George Gush.

I played these rules a lot in the late 70s and early 80s. I've retained a strong love for them, even though it's been a dozen years since the last time I played them, a game using Kevin Smyth's later 100 Years War figures. Back in the day, we played later 17th c. with them. I had a Brandenburg army using the excellent Dixon Grand Alliance range (sculpted by Mark Copplestone) that I sold when I went away to seminary in 1986. I always wanted to recreate an army with the Dixon figures. I started trying 30 years ago; it hasn't happened yet—but I did buy some figures.

A similar option would be to use Dave Millward's Musketeer rules. They're like Gush's rules, but a bit simpler.

One drawback with either Gush or Millward is that the style of the rules is vintage. I'm not sure whether I could entice enough people to play, even if I'm supplying all the figures, terrain, dice, and free beer. Kevin Smyth and I had a short-lived stab at reviving WRG ancients. We played a few games, but in the end, we couldn't sustain interest. As deep as my nostalgia runs for the Gush Renaissance rules, unless there were some groundswell of interested players, it's doomed to scratch an itch and then languish.

Another, more remote and even vintager idea, is to use the WRG 1685-1845 rules. They might require a slight bit of tweaking to eke the rules back a decade from their starting point.

One final consideration I had was to use The Complete Brigadier. Also just slightly out of our period, but capable of being easily adapted. I've owned more than one copy going back years, they're intriguing, but they reward only diligence. The system is a bit peculiar, I'm not sure if I could draft people into playing it.

Final thoughts

At this point, the odds are good that I'll use The Pikeman's Lament. I don't want the figures to languish forever. I've even just ordered some Swiss Guard for Louis. I also just started a dozen French grenadiers and am getting ready to clean and prime a lot of French musketeers, including some figures with flintlocks that I'll paint as Fusiliers du Roi.

More posts to follow, I hope, that will track my progress and let you know what direction I've settled on. I know you're on the edge of your seats.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Cnoc Uí Chinnéide: Pikeman's Lament AAR

We played The Pikeman's Lament on Saturday. We wound up being a bit short staffed. I planned a six-player game and set up the terrain on Friday afternoon. Based on feedback about who was planning on playing, I initially worried that there would be too many people showing up to play, but at 11:00 it was just John Kennedy and I there—and John had to be there because he owns the place. I was afraid I'd given a war and nobody came. However, about 11:30 a newcomer named Mason showed up. He'd seen John's posting about the scheduled game and was eager to give The Pikeman's Lament a try, so John, Mason, and I gave it go. It turned out to be a great game.

The scenario was set sometime during the Nine Years War (a.k.a. Tyrone's Rebellion) in Ireland—late 1590s. The English had a command atop a central elevation, Cnoc Uí Chinnéide (Kennedy's Hill). Behind that was a river too deep to cross except at a ford and a small bridge.

The field of battle
The Irish were all on the same side of the river as the hill and were in position to begin pressing the English hard. The narrowness of the approach for the other two English commands would provide a few turns of opportunity for the Irish to concentrate against the hill.

Control of the hill depending on proximity to a large Celtic cross erected in some bygone age. To claim control of the hill one side had to have at least one unwavering unit within 3" of the cross without any unwavering enemy also within 3". If neither or both side were within 3" then the hill was contested and no points for control awarded.

English in sole control of the hill
You can download a PDF of the scenario showing each command here.

I ran all three Irish commands, John ran the English left flank command, Mason ran the English right and the center command on the hill.

The defence of the hill: pike, shot, and billmen
In past games I've run with the English and Irish, the Irish tended to get the better of the English because they outshot them. When I started creating the armies a few years ago, I imagined the Irish kern as clouds of skirmishers that would annoy a column of English troops. However, the mechanics of Pikeman's Lament are such that skirmishers (commanded shot) can shoot pretty much as well as shot units, in addition to moving faster and treating rough terrain like clear—but cost half the price. The only downside was smaller units and a 12" maximum range. But what it means for play is that the Irish can throw 24 dice in a firefight for every 12 dice the English throw. The Irish kern shot the English columns to bits in both games I ran of the Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits. The game I ran at Enfilade! this May saw the English win by the skin of their teeth and only by meeting the condition of getting their wagons over the ford unharmed; the English force itself had been decimated by Irish firepower.

Irish shot and Irish kern with calivers
For this game, I wanted to tame the Irish shooting a bit, so I combined the 6-figure kern units into 12-figure shot units, and then I made them raw shot (hit on 6/18"). I don't think I'll make them raw if/when I replay this. Raw shot are pretty awful. I made the English shot all veteran (4+/18"), which were pretty deadly. However, while the Irish certainly didn't shoot the English to pieces in this game, neither did the English obliterate the Irish. It seemed to be mostly balanced, at least in terms of actual results in the game, which must take into consideration some really bad waver test rolls that saw a few units routed even though they had minimal casualties. Rolling snake-eyes has consequences...

The raw shot has a maximum range of 18", but shoot hitting on 6s only. Beyond 12" they're -1 on the die roll. Since they can't roll 7s on a D6, they're really only able to fire at 12" except for their first fire, which adds +1 to the die.

The Irish left wing: lots of raw shot
The Irish moved first. I adopted the Rebels and Patriots activation style and instead of a side's turn ending on a failed activation, I allowed players to go on to attempt activations of all their units. In multiplayer games especially, the loss of a turn when you fail your first activation is a bit deflating. Some players in our past games have been bereft of taking a turn for several turns running. I rather like allowing an attempt to activate all one's units before passing initiative over.

My plan was to strike quick in the center against the command on the hill while delaying the English reinforcements as much as possible with parts of the flank commands, while other parts of the flanks aided the battle in the center.

Moving up the horsemen
My plane sort of worked, but took longer than I figured. The fire of the English veteran shot on the hill caused a lot of pain, although I was able to pass my waver tests for several turns running. I also found myself critically outmatched when I tried my raw shot against Mason's veterans. My one unit of skirmishers (kern with javelins, whom I gave only a 6" range) was supposed  to advance through a bog and harass/distract on of Mason's shot units. It never had a chance to fling its javelins, but it did occupy them for a couple turns, enough to get my cavalry in place and get a unit of raw shot over from my right flank to provide more fire (anemically).

The kern advance to prove that one should never bring a javelin to a gunfight
The Irish cavalry took one shot from Mason's calivermen on the hill and lost 1/3 of their strength. However, they were in position to strike.

Before the carnage and glory
Even though the first few turns were desultory, on turn 3 I was able to strike hard. My Irish shot (real shot, not the saffron-wearing kern) got off a telling volley at Mason's pikes and sent them back wavering. I was then able to charge my cavalry against Mason's shot. I did good damage on impact, although I also took another loss, which put me a half strength. The shot retreated and failed its waver test. I then followed up (gallopers) and in my second strike at them they took more losses and routed after a badly failed waver test.

My diminished cavalry sitting where the English shot made its last stand
Defeating the English shot took a lot of pressure off my forces. Shooters—especially veteran shot—matter. The loss of a unit like that hurts. However, the Irish cavalry didn't last long on the hilltop. Mason attempted to attack with his billmen (and officer) but failed the activation. In my turn I charged only to get repulsed with loss. In Mason's next turn, he charged home and took out my last horse standing. Theirs was a short, but glorious career.

On the English right, Mason's forces were crossing the bridge. The narrow access kept their advance from being strongly felt for a few turns, but before long they were starting to worry me.

English forces cross the bridge against the Irish left
I had a bit of luck at this point. Mason lead with one of his veteran shot units, who advanced within 12" of my raw shot hunkered down behind a stone wall. With the first volley (getting a +1 for a grand effect of 5+ on their shot) they inflicted 2 casualties, Mason rolled snake-eyes for his morale test with no officer within 12". With a result of exactly 0, his fine unfired veteran shot went away. It was the last hurrah for the Irish kern—also their first. It was their only hurrah, but they'll be making much of it and embellishing the story down the generations.

A glorious victory in the making
On my right, John was getting across the ford, slowly. He'd had a string of bad activation rolls, which gave me a bit of time to get in relatively good position. He led with his commanded shot. His officer;s unit was way in the rear and didn't add much to his activations, morale, and rally tests.

John's forces cross the ford
The fight for the hill between Mason's billmen and officer and my gallowglass and officer went for a few rounds. The initial clash was a draw and I was forced to retire.

St. Patrick and St. George content for the hilltop
On the last turn of the game, however, I got one more charge in and wiped out the billmen, killing Mason's officer.

Preparing for the final charge
All the while, John was putting a steady pressure on the Irish right. He was outgunned, having just two veteran commanded shot against two Irish shot units plus a unit of raw shot (kern). Although, my feckless kern spent most of their wasted effort not hitting Mason's billmen on the hill.

Battle shaping up on the right
The Irish shot, on the other hand, managed to eliminate one of John's commanded shot and damaged the other. They also put a few casualties on one of John's pike blocks. In the course of things, though, John put some casualties on one of my shot units, which rolled snake-eyes for its morale test (a trick they'd learned from watching Mason) and they went running back to the bogs of Ballyshannon.

Getting near to push of pike on the Irish right
We sparred a bit with our pikes, but that's kind of ineffectual. Pikes are better defending than attacking. To attack pikes with pikes is to put yourself at a disadvantage. John tried that once and got bounced back. I stood my ground until one of my shot units managed to inflict some casualties and John failed the morale test, becoming wavering. Nevertheless, my attack on his wavering pikes didn't do much more than inflict some casualties and send him backwards. He was able to rally on his next move and our pikes spent the rest of the game glowering at each other.

Taking out Mason's billment on the hilltop was my last good deed for the day. His right flank forces were coming in now. Despite losing one of his two veteran shot, he still had a formidable force, especially against the raw shot I could send against him.

Mason held off my left with his pike unit and moved his remaining shot and his billment to the hill. He also had the right hand shot unit from the hilltop command. I'd been keeping that unit busy with my left flank command, but had suffered much from them, while doing little harm in return since they were well ensconced in a wee wood.

Trying to press him on that flank proved disastrous. One of my raw shot was shot away and my pikes were as well. I had a forlorn hope unit (redshanks mercenaries), but it had taken some damage attacking Mason's sot in the woods and was at half strength. For some reason, the unit of gallowglass—along with my officer—on the Irish left spent the whole game in a wood. I was so focused elsewhere, I just forgot to get them into the fight. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, too, I was regarding them as my last reserve to be committed only to stave off calamity.

The end wasn't calamitous, although it was an English victory 14-9. We played out 8 turns in about 2 hours. The English held the hill uncontested for most of the game. At game's end neither side had uncontested control, so no one got points for that. As for shooting troops, the English had one intact unit of veteran shot, one that was a bit shot up, and a nearly half strength unit of commanded shot. The Irish still had two units of shot, two units of raw shot (for what they were worth), and the redshanks at half strength.

Post mortem

It was great to play The Pikeman's Lament again. We've been playing a lot of Rebels and Patriots, so going back to TPL was a bit of a sea change and it took a few turns to get into the flow. I did use the R&P activation rule that players can keep activating units after one fails until they've made an activation attempt for all their units. It worked very well that way.

I think I tamed the Irish shot, as I hoped. Maybe they were a bit too tame, or maybe making the English veteran shot was too much. Shooting a 4+ is a big advantage, especially when your opponent is firing back a 6.

Pike are clearly a defensive unit type and best used facing cavalry.

I'll run this again later in the year, hopefully when there are a few more people who can play.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Delicate (too delicate) beauties: Lucid Eye Amazons

A short while ago, I found an image of the Amazon figures that are being produced by Lucid Eye Publications for their Ziggurat range. In the pictures I saw, they looked good enough to eat. Plus, they're sculpted by Steve Saleh, one of my favorite figure sculptors out there. He's the one who did Wargames Foundry's World of the Greeks range—in my opinion the best figure range ever made.

I ordered one of each pack they had and the figures arrived yesterday.

They are beautifully sculpted. The detail is very good and I look forward to them being a delight to paint. They're 28mm from foot to eye, but have a very tall look to them. They're also very slender figures, which is a good look for willowy Amazons.

Willowy Amazonian war-women
However, I was immediately disappointed in a few crucial aspects of them. Overall they seem delicate—so much so that I effortlessly broke off a plume while working on one figure. The metal is softish. Trimming, filing, and drilling into the metal is pretty easily done, maybe too easily.

When I saw the pictures online and on the Lucid Eye website, which show the sculptor's greens for the figures, my impression was that the spears were cast on. That gave me pause. I really don't like cast-on spears. It's a sculpting practice I had hoped to have been left in the 70s. Nevertheless, many companies still do it. The effect—as it was in the 70s—is to have oversize barge-pole spears that, after a bit of use, wind up being all wibbly and wobbly. Even before use, it's impossible to get cast metal spears straight. Separate never-bending wire spears have been a thing for four decades. We have the technology, why don't we use it?

Why, oh why?
But it's worse than that. The spears are cast on, but cast onto the hand. Just the hand. The hand isn't cast onto the figure. You have to glue the hand holding the spear onto the figure. The point where hand joins figure is the wrist, the delicate willowy wrist of an Amazon war maiden. It's a very, very small point to attach them. It does not threaten to be a future place where the figure breaks, it promises. In simple, normal use of these figures I can guarantee that I will lose hands and spears. I should prepare myself for replacing them with hooks or some similar prosthetic.

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
My joy of finding the package from Lucid Eye in my mailbox yesterday was soon dissipated when I saw how the figures were. Had they left the hand attached to the wrist and made it open to accept either a cast cartoonishly large spear or a metal wire spear, they would be infinitely better figures for gaming. I can only ask myself, again and again and again, "What were they thinking?"

Hire people with hooks
Rather than just butt-weld the hand/spear to the wrist, I drilled out both and pinned it with brass wire. I hope that helps, but I'm not at all confident that will create a strong join.

The shields are separate, which is typical for figures with shields. They too are attached by a simple butt-weld of fist to hollowed out bit behind the shield boss. That's also pretty standard for figures. I have a lot of Aventine Romans whose shields attach exactly this way. (Aventine, BTW, provides their legionaries with separate sword arms to glue on. That's not great—I hate having to glue appendages onto figures—but at least it's not butt-welding hand to wrist.)

Probably OK if I don't drop it
Apart from the shields, the sword-armed figures are one piece. Also entirely one piece are the archers, which are very nice, so nice as to practically redeem the entire range by themselves.

Perfect, one-piece, what's not to love
I may be whinging a bit—but I'm not merely whinging. Wargame figures are playing pieces that get handled a lot. Even if you're the only one handling them (and you never are) there's the ever-present danger of mishap that results in lost spears or shields. With these figures, I will lose whole hands, which are not easily repaired once broken.

I fell in love with the images of the figures I saw on the Internet. I'm much less in love with the figures I received. Having glue-on hands holding big barge-pole spears is just dumb and ensures future breakage. Had I known this about the way the range is cast, I would never have bought them.

I'll make the best of it now. I'm primering the first batch today. I have another package coming with more spears, more archers, and a new figure: the Amazon queen. I plan to use them with Mortal Gods either as part of the Mythic supplement or just as normal troops—albeit willowy, bare-breasted troops with delicate wrists. But still I ask myself, "What were they thinking?"