Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Why I Love The WSS!

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In “Picking a Wargame Period” I stated a number of reasons a person should select one wargaming period over another. Many of those factors figured in my current love of the WSS. I thought I’d tell you why.

When I started in wargaming in 1965 my first love was Napoleonics, There was something about the glorious and elaborate uniforms, the personas of the age such as Napoleon, Wellington, and even the world wide aspects of the war in the Levant and the Americas that really caught my imagination. Books by Chandler, Weller, and Oman were readily available. The period, even in those early days, was well supplied by Scruby, Minifig, Stadden, and several other manufacturers. After my first trip to Europe my interest was even higher as I had actually visited several battlefields and museums . ( Though, because of the cuisine, coffee and wines, not to mention sun and countryside, I switched my affection from the British to the French in war-game army preferences. It appears that a war gamer marches on his stomach as much as an army!)

The period was the bulk of my early wargaming and my first set of rules “Le Jeu de la Guerre” was a Napoleonic set. This set was one of the first to use hidden Combat Efficiency concepts, and had an interactive turn sequence. It was very popular in the early 70s, and some people still play it! It was in this period I first met Scott Bowden and Jim Getz. I spoke at the Napoleonic Symposium that Scotty ran in Dallas in 1980. I imported the “WarPlan 5/5 campaign system to the US and sold it for a couple of years. I wrote many articles for The Courier in that period-some of which on artillery use and ballistics, and on Lancastrian theorems- caused a bit of controversy and protestation-there were some epic exchanges with a fellow named Vietmeyer about Napoleonic national differences that also garnered some attention. Most of my writing revolved around Napoleonic wargaming.

It was then my life took on a different course, as I began a long career in television, and my career took precedence. During the 80s I had little to do with wargaming, and my figures never saw the table. During the late 80s, I edged back into the hobby, but was a little taken aback by the Napoleonic scene. The rules en vogue at that time had gotten VERY procedural and legalistic-often hundreds of pages in length, and one set had so many acronyms for its turn processes that it was like reading a foreign language! Many of the gamers playing Napoleonics has also gotten to a level of pedantry and petty bickering over inconsequential minutiae that was very off-putting. Instead of innovation, the answer for too many was layer upon layer of rules, sub-rules, and, coupled with the case numbering vogue, made Napoleonic gaming more bureaucratic than fun, and fresh ideas were crushed by “expertise.”

I was done with Napoleonics, and thought I’d try the American Civil War as a new refuge. This led to my writing, “Rebel Yell!”. There I attempted to combine roll-playing game-mastering with historical miniature play. It offered a number of new ideas, but was probably my least successful rule set. It did, however, provide some ideas that later blossomed in Piquet. I soon found, however, That the ACW, just wasn’t for me. The uniform variations were, to say the least, limited; the tactical variations were also fairly limited, with little role for cavalry, and with artillery not yet the dominating force it was to become, it was an infantry slugfest, which had settled down by 1864 into trench warfare in the East, and marauding raiders in the West. I also generally like periods where I can have some level of empathy with both sides of a conflict-and the American Civil War is as difficult for me as many theaters of WWII in that regard.

So, I was at sea for a period to concentrate upon. My answer? Do them all! This was exacerbated by my creation of a multi-period ruleset called Piquet which introduced card sequencing (not activation), highly variable turn sequencing, the concepts of being able to fire at any time, but not being sure when next you could have effect, and a novel means of morale assessment using chips. Some of the aspects of Piquet (especially the “Dress Lines” concept)-led to some calling it “Zen” Wargaming. It was, and is, a great set of rules, and many of its “wild” ideas are now found in many rule sets and are now accepted as standard practice. At that time they sure weren’t!

The need to expand out the Piquet series led me to acquire armies in the SYW, F&I W, Three Musketeers, ACW, Napoleonic, Hundred Years War, ECW, WWII, FPW, and Colonials! However, I had no real attachment to any one period, and most armies were brought up to numbers sufficient for a game, and not given the finishing touches that truly add character-such as mini-diorama scenes, and the impedimenta of trains, limbers, etc. It was a fun time in wargaming for me, and I attended every HMGS East show from 1994-2001 and wrote twos editions of Piquet and every rules supplement during that period, including the initial versions of Les Grognards, Hallowed Ground, Cartouche, Din Of Battle, and Point of Attack. I also brought several people into writing rules, supplements and scenario books during that period. My interests had no period focus as I was trying to do it all!

By 2001 two things occurred that, again changed the equation. First, I started my own company in TV Production and research which required me to step back from the hobby, and, quite frankly, I had burnt out on gaming. Burnout is a common enough result for many people who let the hobby become their business.

I retreated again from the hobby. I sold Piquet Inc. to Brent Oman, who I thought would keep it going, as he did. I sold all my painted figures and most of my unpainted figures-half of my library, and did not game again for almost eight years.

Then, as my career was winding down, and I was looking forward to retirement-it struck me that a return to wargaming was something I wanted to do. I thought again about experimenting with new concepts and ideas, and technology, which I had been very involved with, was now allowing increased control over the creation and publication of rule sets.

I contacted several old war-game buddies and started back into wargaming with the creation of RepiqueRules and the first set, Zouave. I was very energized by moving to a scale that was new to me, 10mm. and also, by the Franco-Prussian War, which was, in many ways, the first true example of a modern war, and presaged the horrific casualties, both military and civilian that were to characterize warfare for the next 75 years. It was the root cause of three wars-the FPW, WWI, and finally WWII. I found the reading of Alistare Horne’s books on the war and the commune very compelling. It had echoes of the Napoleonic past in the French Uniforms, and,yet, had the precursors of machine guns, trench warfare, and the administrative structure of armies and their staff. The numbers of combatants in battle began to edge to the massive scale of modern war, and communications and command control methods became central to military actions. It’s a very interesting period.

However, the period also has some intrinsic gaming issues, namely the French command was generally terrible, The Army had no real structural integrity, and the Prussians had, in their Krupp Breach loading cannon, an almost insurmountable technical advantage. You could compensate with clever scenarios, especially in the Republican period, and you could also, as a French player, adopt the “How well can I do given the limitations of the force?” attitude, but, over time, you yearn for a bit more balance in play.

It is here that I began to look around for another period to explore in conjunction with the development of Die Fighting. I made a list of characteristics I wanted in this new period. This was going to be a major choice, since I was probably, at my age, not going to start too many more armies (At some point you get your last cat, last dog, last car, and last war-game army, though not necessarily in that order!). Here is the list I created:

1. I wanted a period in which both sides were fairly balanced in their chances at victory.

2. I wanted a period in which historical information on tactics, uniforms, and campaign strategy was reasonably available and that information was portrayed by excellent historians and top-notch writing. I also wanted a period where the strategic aims were clear, and the tactics also clear, without too many exceptions and “fancy-footwork.”

3. The location of the conflict should be in Europe, though it would be a plus if it had wider implications and other theaters.

4. Colorful uniforms and flags would be desired.

5. It had to be supplied with figures by a variety of sources, and the figures available should offer more than static poses.

6. It would be in 28mm scale-since I already had two 10mm scale armies.

7. It would be Horse and Musket with a strong representation of cavalry.

8. It would be nice if the period selected hadn’t been gnawed upon by war-game pedants to the point where only a mangled carcass remained.

That was what I was seeking. As it happened, Die Fighting was being play-tested by a group in Norfolk, UK, and my point-man there was Tony Hawkins, a delightful fellow, and he, and the group were playing Marlburian games. The initial testing was all done in the early linear war period. AS we talked and that group gave me their spirited feed back, I began to look at the at period more closely. I had a few bags of Old Glory War of Spanish Succession figures ( the last done by Dave Alsop) that would get me started, hmmm….. I compared it to my list.

!. When one looks closely at the War of Spanish Succession, one soon realizes, that once you get beyond the British hagiographic portrayals of Marlborough and his victories at Ramillies, Blenheim, Malplaquet, and Oudenarde, that the war itself was quite a back and forth affair that the FRENCH finally won! With the exception of Blenheim, perhaps, the victories were all closely fought, and when one casts your attention across the Italian and Spanish theaters, the French allied forces had many a victory. You also begin to realize that there were many smaller engagements and skirmishes, and that a wide range of fighting occurred over the 14 years of the war, and it was more than four British battles and a bunch of sieges. It was a fairly well balanced campaign.

2. As for writers, You get the best. Churchill, and Chandler are well known to the English speaking world, and Chandler has an exalted place among Napoleonic buffs. Few gamers are aware that Chandler’s favorite period, and the one he preferred for wargaming, was the War of Spanish Succession! His ”Marborough as Military Commander,” and “ The Art of War in the Age of Marlborough” are essential reading.

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My favorite author, however, is John A. Lynn. Get a copy of “Giant of the Grande Siecle” and you will have one of the most impressive books on the period and , specifically, the French Army of Louis the XIV, that has been written. It is masterful. He has two other works, “The Wars of Louis the XIV, 1667-1714” and a shorter Osprey pub, “The French Wars 1667-1714” that are also very well written.

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Charles Grant has several uniform guides available, and Mark Allen’s series in Wargames Illustrated on the standards and uniforms of the 17th and early 18th century armies is now available on CD. Well written histories and information are readily available.

The tactics and drill of the period are simple. No light infantry, though dragoons often fill the bill, not a lot of artillery movement-you deploy them that’s where they’ll be unless you can coax the civilian train drovers to face fire (very unlikely) and the three arms are very much equal in their threat. Guns are effective, but heavy and not very mobile, and inaccurate at longer ranges, Cavalry is comparatively mobile and a threat to flanks, but must close; Infantry is a bit clumsy, but can hold ground, and the new impact of the flintlock is beginning to be felt.

The strategic aims are VERY clear-no grandson of a French King on the Spanish Throne-no Bourbons in Madrid! Sure, some squabbles over the low countries, a bit of hassle over The French border, but both sides are the usual suspects and the diplomacy is pretty straightforward. (The term “Perfidious Albion” certainly had its roots in the manner England exited this war!)

3. The WSS is, of course, a European War, but it has implications in North America as Queen Anne’s War, and segues into the Great Northern War involving Scandinavia, Russia, and Eastern Europe with little pause. Some of the troops are useable in both wars! It is not hard to adapt the WSS forces to earlier wars such as the 9 years war-though you may need to add some pike and matchlocks to the mix. No end of possibilities. For those so inclined, it also provides the opportunities of imagi-nations.

4. The uniforms are quite flashy and colorful, especially in 28mm! It is true that many nations used variations on gray and white uniforms with the huge cuffs supplying the reds, yellows, and other colors, but the pre-1707 Spanish coats are like a rainbow including purple, the Bavarians are (arguably) in bright blue, the English provide red coats, and the Prussians dark blue, the cavalry of many nations was in a wide range of coat and cuff colors. The flags are plentiful and very striking. Don’t miss the chance to have a LOT of flags! Because of the relative simplicity of cut and tailoring of the uniforms, the lack of turn backs, and, other than officers, a lack of gaudy lace and frou-frou, the units paint up quickly and are quite neat in their appearance. Remember, no powdered wigs in this period-even for the French!

5. Figures are available from some of the best casters in wargaming. Old Glory has a range, Front Rank has an excellent range ( I particularly like their cavalry and artillery), but my favorite is EBOR figures. I don’t think that there are finer figures being made anywhere! Their anatomy is simply wonderful-actually human! It is the posing, however, that sets them apart even more dramatically. The officers are available in a amazing range of poses-including shouting, waving hats or half-halbards, and their new artillery crews are simply unique in their imaginative, but correct, posing. Whether wiping a forehead, covering their ears from the concussion, or peering through a telescope to observe the effect-these figures are so very good! The line troops come with both grenadier hats or tricorns, and in a wide range of poses as well. The detail in the clothing is impressive-both in its richness, and in not being “too much”. When painted, these figures are really gems. As with most well designed, and cast figures, their excellence actually makes them easier to paint, and ben a basic paint job looks great! There are many reasons for my love of the WSS (as I am demonstrating in this article) but these figures are a major reason.

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6. With a period with the richness of uniform and flags of the WSS-28mm is truly required.

7. Thirty to Forty per cent of most armies were cavalry, and cavalry was often the arm that forced the battle’s decision.

8. There are pedants in the WSS, but the vagaries of the fine detail of uniforms and accouterments, coupled with the wide variation found within armies between regulation and practice-makes their certainty and the heavy hand of button counters a tad less effective. There is much range for opinion-especially informed opinion-and so greater latitude is allowed to all than in some later periods

So, the WSS is my period, and I look forward to adding a lot of period touches and detail (see the Wine Wagon on the forum) and my goal is about 30-40 units on a side to be used on my 12 foot table. I recommend it heartily to anyone looking for a great wargaming experience. I also realize that this is just my opinion, and that others may disagree and prefer other epochs, but they are, of course, foolishly wrong.

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