Wednesday, August 08, 2007

January 26, 2006

I'm struggling with the grey.

Of course at sea it became the standard colour for the dreadnought era.

And people might compare the success of the Wehrmacht during the "Feldgrau" era with the defeats of the "Camouflage" era.

I can lift some experience from more recent sporting events. Both Manchester United and the English national team experimented with a pale grey "second strip", and both are agreed to have played consistently poorly in the outfit. Sports Psychologists at the time quoted the lack of inspiration of a neutral colour, coming up with quotes like "Club teams play best in red" - ignoring the obvious fact that Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (who have pretty much dominated the British league for the last 30 years) all wear red. Perhaps more interesting were reports from players who reported difficulty in picking their teammates out from the crowd background.

Whatever the cause, I'm not sure the results map to a battlefield.

Consider the Rebs in the ACW. Their movement in mass would nullify some of the camouflage effects of the uniform,but It must have still had its uses on night patrol or on skirmish screens on a foggy morning. The ability to see your friends might be less important than in a game of football. You need to know where they are to avoid shooting them, and it helps if commanders know where their men are - but there is no suggestion that grey would grant this kind of invisibility.

Grey does seem to have been at the root of a number of friendly fire incidents during the first world war. Grey was pretty much the colour of choice among the armies on the Eastern front, and the only thing that appears to have prevented them from shooting their comrades appears to have been ammunition shortages, or the fact that the enemy sometimes got in the way. The problem appears to have been particularly acute in the forces of the Austrian empire - who were not best mates to start off with anyway.

On the western front the Portuguese were shot up a few times by the British since their grey was very similar to the Germans.

The only winners I can really think of are a subset of the 1813-15 Prussians. Their reserve infantry (initially recalled reservists, but after a year, better considered the junior regiments of the line) dressed in a simple grey uniform. Even the Landwehr looked finer in a blue equivalent - though the Reservists had boots and bayonets - so some sense of priority was preserved. This sounds like a vote for success in grey. Until you consider that the first choice for the reservist uniform was the varied supply of uniforms provided by the British. So some Prussian reservists turned out in the Scarlet of the British fusiliers, some wore the blue of the Portuguese regular army, one battalion were equipped in the dark green of the riflemen. And only those without supplies went into action in the grey issue.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

31 Jul 2007

You know, I'm read how you continue to obsess over the perfect set of 'big' Napoleonic rules, and how I spend hours crafting campaign rules that are 'about one thing only', and then I think about your sons and my nephews, and I realise kids these days are not like us.

They have their Pokémon or GW fluff written for them, and they don't seem to have that geeky perseverance that we do.

Maybe it's an age thing.

The other thing is, I seem to remember growing up in an era when war movies and TV series were common. There was 'Combat', and movies like 'Big Red One' and 'The Longest Day' being televised every so often, and then there was the 'Tour of Duty' series on Malaysian TV (which we used to receive, and which had the swear-words censored by the sound of machine gun rather than a *bleep*).

Wars were not terrible things. They were about men who knew what was right and what was wrong and did what they had to do in full knowledge of the dangers. I still believe that about soldiers and I still get a lump in my throat when I read about soldiers who get medals for risking their own lives to save their comrades, from the Mutiny to the Iraq war.

As a kid I drew pictures of tanks rolling across the landscape, and bombers flying over them, streams of bombs falling from them. My younger nephew draws Pokémons, and the older one doesn't draw at all anymore.

I hope at least one of them will grow up to be a wargamer, and I will be able to bequeath my stash of books, rules, and figures and terrain to them, but so far they are not interested. I thought about buying Little Wars and some 54mm figures for the older boy, but I am not sure his father will approve.


I think we grew up at a time when things hadn't been. Here's a corporate word for you - "Productised".

My way into the hobby was through a couple of school friends who also collected little Airfix men, and books from the local library.

My interests coincided with the books on the shelves at the local library.

There was also an excellent reservation system which enabled non-stock books to be fetched from other libraries. OK I didn't test the system with demands for Shakespeare first impressions etc - but they managed to get all the books I did request. Some even showed up with a completely fresh cellophane cover and library ticket inside - so must have been bought to satisfy my request.

The source for those books was the "By the same author" or the bibliography inside a book I'd read and enjoyed. We had little idea about the real history, so if Charles Grant told us that a British line could beat a French column we had to believe him. However we also sensed that things were not completely watertight with the book sourced games.

Charles Grant in particular tended to intersperse his rules in the narrative of his books - which made the rules unsuitable for playing with the book open. He used 48 man battalions, wooden bounce sticks and soldered wire templates for artillery.

I didn't have the cash to raise such large battalions, I didn't have the space to deploy them, and I didn't have the tools or skill to manufacture the artillery stuff. I suppose I might have asked my grandfather who lived on the same street, and enjoyed building things in his garden shed. However I remember him looking in while I was watching Waterloo on TV one Christmas, and muttering that Napoleon was just as bad as Hitler, so he might not have approved.

Anyway, it was necessary to improvise to get my resources playing on the available table space. So Grant's rules were merged with Featherstones, and small battalions took to the table. It took more than 10 years for the idea of abstraction to really take hold.

I knew that my table could never hold enough battalions to depict Waterloo, but I still insisted in fielding 4 battalions of line infantry and one of Imperial guard. I had not worked out a way to use formations higher than a battalion, nor how to disappear the battalions into composite brigades etc.

I think we have grown so used to tinkering with rules, that it becomes a habit. In my case, I'm also rather dissatisfied with some recent purchases and really think I could do better.

Now the kids with their Pokémon cards...I've tried a few games and found it slightly tedious. I actually enjoyed playing with a starter deck, as things seemed balanced, and with no killer strength Pokémon, there was room for a bit of strategy. I then bought some expansion packs for the boys, and the game was ruined. One of the decks enabled a Pokémon to evolve into something completely lethal, so drawing the right sequence to evolve it effectively wins the game. One of the others had a couple of low level characters which could send the others to sleep for free. The other player is then reduced to trying to wake up every move. If he succeeds, the turn passes and he is awake, if he fails, he is still asleep, though the turn also passes.

So we are a generation of meddlers, rather like the generation before us who did their modeling by scratch-building. The next generation likes their stuff complete - and parts of me cannot blame them - but I know they are also missing out on some intellectual challenge and fun.

So finally on to the subject of Offspring and gaming.

I did try Daniel with Battle cry for a while, and Mathew asked about Crossfire - we played a simple game and he got bored. I don't think either will actually show much interest in gaming. There was a time when I thought this would be a source of much sadness.

I'm actually seeing quite a positive side to it though.

1. My brushes and modeling stuff aren't getting borrowed and damaged/lost.
2. My figures aren't getting damaged and fiddled with.
3. When I do arrange a game with Hugh, I don't get a horde of "Let me come along, I want to command the chariots, let's do a flank march, Oh we're stuck in the swamp" pestering.
4. Football and Martial arts are probably better pastimes for health and general social credibility at school.