Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Christopher Teutsch's Victory at Poitiers

I try to pick up new books on the Hundred Years War as they become available.  If they're affordable. I passed by Peter Hoskins' In the Steps of the Black Prince: The Road to Poitiers 1355-56 at ninety bucks.  However I did receive the hand-selected Victory at Poitiers by Christian Teutsch for my birthday.  On Amazon the book is recommended as a new account of the battle, and my hope is that Teutsch's 2010 work might do for Poitiers what Anne Curry did in her 2006 reassessment of Agincourt.

Though Teutsch provides a fresh look at this important 1356 battle, the book itself is a bit of a disappointment. Though Teutsch's assessment of the battlefield and particularly English movements during the battle are new and fresh, the vast majority of the book's pages are not devoted to the study of Poitiers or events particularly related to this battle.

First, just a little bit of information regarding this book.  It is part of a military history series, the Campaign Chronicles published by Pen and Sword Military in the U.K. Series, especially military history series, leave me a little uneasy.  It usually limits length and scope to something a little more formulaic.  Consider any Osprey series book.  Generally they are strictly page limited and and come with a specific format with regard to what is presented and the way it is presented.  Unfortunately, the breadth and depth of what the author has to share is limited in favor of the publisher's format.  I fear that is what may have happened here.

Victory at Poitiers is a mere 141 pages of text.  It has several pages of useful maps, and begins notes and index on page 143.  There is no bibliography.  Teutsch makes reference to sources, primary and secondary, throughout the text and one can determine his sources through his extensive end notes.  I don't know about you, but I really like a bibliography.  I build my own collection of sources on them. Not a killer, but certainly an annoyance. Even Osprey books have a list of sources.

Too much of what Teutsch attempts to do is provide context.  There are six pages devoted to medieval warfare and eight pages devoted to an extremely shallow understanding of the origins of the Hundred Years War.  I'm not sure this is necessary unless the publishers believed this little bit of information was going to suck in a few non-specialist readers to buy a $30 book about a, let's face it, little known battle from the 14th century.  The battle analysis is followed by a mere 14 pages devoted to the aftermath of the battle.  But most of that is a description of events that came generations later, including the final defeat at Castillon.  I'm not sure this is a productive use of space. Or see my previous criticism about audience. Toss in the six blank pages that appear at the end of each chapter, and there are 34 pages of 141 that, in my view are wasted space. 

The book gets interesting when Teutsch examines the battles of Crecy and Neville's Cross and begins to apply the lessons learned from these action to the movements and motivation of the Prince of Wales at Poitiers.  Warning: this has been done before.  Clifford Rodger in his excellent War Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy Under Edward III, 1327-1360 also examined the lessons the King Edward learned from his Scottish campaigns and applied them to the Hundred Years Wars.  Teutsch simply fast forwards to Prince Edwards lessons from more recent battles, though he was not present at Neville's Cross and applies them to Poitiers.  In a nuthshell those lessons were threefold: 1) Reluctant armies can be brought to battle given the right incentives. 2) An enemy might be brought to battle if he trusted more in weight of numbers, but victory was more dependent on a tactical rather than numerical superiority. 3) A battle, if won, could insure the domination of a larger and economically superior nation by a smaller, less developed nation. Definitely worth a look, especially if the reader hasn't thumbed through Rodgers.

The real value in this book, however is not all the context setting, it is the 60 or pages devoted to  the description and analysis of the campaign of 1356 and the battle itself. In a painstaking review of the contemporary sources such as Froissart, Geoffrey LeBaker, the Chandos Herald and others, and the more recent scholars including Alfred Burne, H.J. Hewitt, Richard Barber, Jonathan Sumption, Teutsch offers a new interpretation of the battle. Particularly with regard to the location of the battle itself, and the nature of the final battle with King Jean's division, this is new to me.

Without giving too much away, Teutsch effectively makes the claim the English positions were not completely set as the battle opened.  Salisbury's battle was still moving into position as the cavalry of the vanguard struck.  He also alters the Prince's original position to a hilltop adjacent to the heights occupied by Salisbury and Warwick.  Another important difference from other accounts is the suggestion that after the initial French attack on the English defenses, the Anglo-Gascon forces responded quite aggressively, effectively launching a counter attacks. Warwick's division effectively mounted to pursue the Duke of Orleans's division and returned to the field just in time to fall on the flank of King Jean's final attack. 

Despite the book's shortcomings, there is enough new stuff here that it is reshaping my approach to the battle and kind of options I might offer to the players in a Poitiers battle.  Taking the good with the not so good, the book is a worthy addition to my Hundred Years War library.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Finished at last: Victrix British lights

I've scribbled already about assembling Victrix British Napoleonics, but I finally sat down and painted the little boogers.  I feel they turned out reasonably well, but they do pose some interesting problems.
This a 24 figure converged light infantry unit.  I based them on 20mm X 40mm bases from Litko.
First some nuts and bolts observations.  On metal figures mold marks can be a real problem.  They require your attention in getting them ready to paint with your file and X-acto blade. Usually they can be clearly seen.  Plastic figures are different, and there definitely is some flash and mold marks down the leg on these figures.  They're also kind of stealthy.  Often they aren't seen until primed, and even then some are hard to locate.  My least favorite are the little bits of flash that hang onto the canteens or bayonets.  I'll have to look harder next time.

Another issue is the casting differences between metal and plastic figures.  When a metal figure is in an advancing pose, the arms are usually molded close to the body.  The arms become part of the body, and that's that.  Certain parts aren't paintable and we don't worry about it.  Plastic figures are different.  With the arms glued on separately, every part of the figure is accessible . . . sort of. It's still hard to reach everything with a brush, so I painted what I could.

That said, Victrix figures are very nicely detailed.  The figures are well proportioned.  The shakos are nicely shaped, with nice cords and plate.  The myriad belts and straps are all there, and it's pretty clear which is which.  The muskets are nice, though the barrel was a bit too fine for me to blackline.  The face is nice, but very small.  I went with a simple wash for the face and hands rather than trying to brush detail it.

A somewhat tighter look.  Most of my units are based 40mm X 40mm, but because they can form a single line, i.e. extended order, they are on the shallower bases.
The tunics are painted Vallejo vermillion, with Vallejo orange-red highlights.  The haversacks are Ceramcoat ivory white and lined with Ceramcoat gray-brown.  The belts are Ceramcoat white.  The trousers are a mix of your basic Ceramcoat gray and ivory white. I reasoned some of the British were issued white linen trousers during the summer in Spain, and they may have brought them with them to the Chesapeake during the summer.

If I have one beef with these figures, it is the figure mix.  In the effort to provide considerable figure variety, Victrix has made it more difficult for those of us who create units on stands.  What do I mean?  For each figure sprue (there are basically four sprues per box, with another four sprues of equipage,) there are two in a march/attack pose.  That means eight march/attack figures per box.  There are similar numbers of firingish (yes I know that's not a word, but you get it.)  Some figures advancing plus command figures.  It seems to me I should be able to cobble together three 32 figure units out of three boxes of miniatures boasting 52 figures per box.  Yet, that's not at all clear to me. The figure selection is great if I'm mounting them individually, but if I'm mounting them four to a base, there needs to be a bit more uniformity. 

I did manage to complete the three War of 1812 units I had on the docket this summer and I'm going to fiddle with some mounted troops from my Mississippi and HYW projects before painting more Baltimore militia types. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Crysler's Farm playtest

I've mentioned before that Doug, Mark and I are interested in playing a series of War of 1812 games at Enfilade over the next couple of years during the bicentennial.  It looks like Crysler's Farm and Sackett's Harbor are on the docket for 2013.  We played through an out of the box Crysler's Farm at Enfilade last May, and nobody was happy with the result.  So Mark, Doug and I talked through some potential changes. We played with the Regimental Fire and Fury rules using the QRS for 1812. These are written for 15mm figures, so for our 28's we made a couple of changes.  First we agree to keep the movement distances the same.  However, we did double the firing ranges.  One can discuss how this alters the ground scale, etc., but we found it didn't unbalance the game, didn't make it a shooting game, it worked fine.

Today seemed like the perfect day to give our changes a playtest.  It's my last Truant's game as we begin heading into the school year.  Mark, Joe, Al, Rocky and I gathered at The Game Matrix for one final hurrah.

Mark, Doug and I talked up some changes that would make the game more competitive for the British.  The battle was the age old story of a veteran, well-led small force wreaking havoc on a less talented, poorly led large force.  The small force was a British army defending outside Montreal against a larger American force led by the nefarious James Wilkinson, sick in his bed on a barge.

In our Enfilade game, the Americans arrived on the table, set up, all at once and just rolled over the Brits, despite the difficult terrain. For this scenario, we added some house rules and staggered the American set up.  The big change we allowed in the rules was to give the British veteran units a +1 add to their fire, and the one crack British unit a +2.  A departure to be sure, but it offset the size of the American force overall, as well as the size of the American units, which was also sizable.

The Americans began with Swartout's brigade in position to fight the unit of Canadian Fencibles and the 89th across the ravines on the left, and Cole's small brigade ready to take on the Canadian Voltigeurs in the woods on the right flank.  Covington's brigade was marching on to the table, while Boyd's British regulars were holding the center behind a rail fence.
Cole's brigade dances with the Canadian Voltigeurs on the American right.  Eventually the American numbers told and the Voltigeurs were driven off.
The best hope for the Americans is to be very aggressive.  Their units tend to be larger, but once they start taking casualties, will become much more likely to become tardy or stall altogether.

I ran Swartout's and Coles's brigades.  Both are poor commanders, so a -1 for their command rolls.  This didn't make a big difference on the right as I pushed Cole's two regiments pretty rapidly against the Voltigeurs in extended order in the woods.  Though Joe peppered me pretty good, I also had a pretty good turn of fire, and when his command roll made him tardy, was able to charge him, and scatter him.

Against Rocky, on the left, however, things didn't go quite so well. I lined up my brigade and advanced across the ravine, took some pretty effective fire and then the units in the center and on the right broke. I generally rolled poorly for command on this flank, averaging something like a 3 or less, while with Cole's brigade it was a 7 or more. I also misinterpreted the rules for in command and out of command, and the upshot is two of my three units in Swartout's brigade broke, could never recover their morale and routed off the table.
Swartout's disaster.  The last American unit (left) dukes it out with two British units as its two brigade mates broke (center) and fled the field.
In the center, Al moved his units as quickly as possible into the center, and took on Joe's two British line units with some assistance from Rocky.  Al also used the two American gun sections to stabilize my situation on the left, as well as the small unit of American light dragoons, as Rocky overextended himself in driving my remnants off.  Joe was gradually being overwhelmed in the center as Cole's brigade emerged from the woods and threatened his flank left (our right right.) As Rocky's command lost contact with Joe, the gigantic American Boat battalion appeared to his front and the light dragoons prepared to charge the 89th in the flank.  We called the game as it became clear the British would have to withdraw or be destroyed.
D.C. militia impersonate U.S. regulars as Al advances Covington's brigade in the center.
The situation at game end.  The American center (far) has advanced past the British right, isolating the 89th and Fencibles.  American reinforcements move in for the kill.
Though the British gun (right) has just nailed the remnants of Cole's brigade, holding off a catastrophic flanking movement, the two redcoat units holding the center are wounded and badly outnumbered by Covington's troops and will have to retreat.

There were lots of things that had to go right for the Americans to win.  First, we played a very aggressive game.  As a result, we took loads of casualties.  Cole's success in the woods was also a pretty lucky break.  Things had to go right in order to actually get my hands on Joe there.  Rocky didn't help things by advancing beyond support range for Joe, and made a fight in the center, where the real battle was going to be, much more tenuous.

All in all the game went well, but deserves additional play just to be sure for Enfilade.  Just as a note, neither Mark or myself had any of the actual units at the battle.  We substituted what we had for the units in the game.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Terrain making the Mark Waddington way, Pt. 1

I'm tired of my terrain bits.  I have some trees, use felt for the shapes of woods/forests/rough ground.  Bleah.  It's easy to schlep around and doesn't take much space, but it also looks blah.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty proud of the pieces I made for Chickasaw Bluffs, but it also primed me for doing something more.
I moved the show out to the garage.  This is just a quick photo of all my gear.  Mark's gear is far more impressive.
I was really impressed by the pieces Mark Waddington used in his Vietnam game.  I figured I could also do something for the wars in the American woods.  However, I confess to a general feeling I have making stuff, whether it's projects around the house or building wargame scenery, and that's ineptitude.  I lack self confidence, which leads to lack of motivation, which means no follow-through, which leads to a collection of crappy terrain.

When I inquired about Mark's method, he quite generously invited me to his home in Duvall to try my own hand at making stuff. He walked me through his process, and I'm going to share that with you as I try to do it on my own. 

It starts with some mdf, or medium density fiberboard.  It's available at Home Depot and Lowes.  I have some 2 X 2 sheets that are usually available, and I know they are willing to cut larger sheets for you at no cost, if, like me, you are truck-impaired.  It's recommended you use 1/8", or 1/4" mdf.  I bought some 1/4" stuff to make DBA boards with, and got some of the thinner stuff as packing that came in a large box of whatever-we-don't-need Lorri ordered.
A couple of mdf shapes I'll use to make terrain.  This is the 1/4" mdf that's been cut with a jigsaw and sanded out with an orbital sander.
The next step is to lay out your mdf and draw the shapes you'd like your terrain to be.  I like bigger pieces, but remember they also take up space on the game board.  You just want them to be representational of woods or rough terrain, and will move them around as troops move into or through the terrain, so big may not be practical.  When you're finished, cut them out using a jigsaw, or whatever else.  My handy jigsaw hasn't seen much use in the many years I've owned it, but it was perfect for this task.

After cutting, smooth out your shapes using some kind of sander, preferably some kind of power sander.  Mark uses a portable belt sander.  I didn't have one of these, but I do have an orbital sander, a veteran Ryobi fellow used many times for stripping my deck.  Try to but a sloped edge on your shapes and smooth out all the jagged edges you may have left on your shapes during the cutting.
A couple of shapes with the shaped pieces of pink foam on them.  They're larger pieces with smaller bits of pink foam.  Maybe I should have gone bigger.  Hmmm.
 Next step is to make some choices.  Do you want to have some elevated areas in your terrain.  Hey it's your terrain.  Make it as busy as you want.  Lots of elevation, no elevation, it's all up to you.  I used pink foam left over from another project. I made my chunks fairly small, you may want something different.  I cut a chunk of it out with an X-acto knife, though I'm sure another tool would be lots better.  No matter.  I glued it down with some white glue and let it dry.  When I was ready to work with it I used a combination file I bought at Fred Meyer for two shape it into the relative shape I wanted.  I had eight mdf shapes and put pink foam bits on four of them.  Why?  No particular reason
Four pieces slathered in lightweight spackle awaiting sandpaper.  I'll probably spackle all eight pieces before I begin sanding.
Last, for this entry, I slathered my shapes with spackle.  I used the lightweight spackle Mark recommended.  You can get a nice sized tub of the stuff for six bucks. I applied mine with a metal putty knife.  My chief complaint is the spackle tends to stick to the knife, and I wonder if it would do the same with a plastic implement.  Oh well, I tried to use what I have.  In any case, be sure to get a good coat of that on to the mdf and the pink foam. 

In my next entry I'll show you my experience sanding, priming and painting (and hopefully my pink foam won't melt (??!!)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Knuckleduster Maryland Militia

Knuckleduster Maryland militia figures.  Much more enjoyable to paint than their Marines.
It's hard to figure out what American militia looked like during the War of 1812.  That's probably because most militia was a joke. It was almost more of a social and drinking club than a military institution in many places.  Some units had elaborate uniforms and others didn't.

One of the better known militia units is the 5th Maryland.  It's known because of the famous Don Troiani painting of the battalion at North Point pictured below.  It's a great uniform, and has even attracted some 5th Maryland re-enactors in the Baltimore area.  What's not clear, however, is whether this particular uniform was worn by Maryland militia across the state. According to sources, we're not even certain the 5th Maryland wore this uniform, or if each company in the unit was different.

In any case, Knuckleduster released their version of this unit in the spring, and I ordered them to represent the Annapolis militia that appeared near the end of the Bladensburg battle.  I enjoyed painting these figures much more than the KD Marines.  They are simple and clean.  They're in that basic march attack pose that opens all the detail on the figure up to easy painting.  The uniform, with its blue tunic and red facings, is attractive but straight forward.  I painted the white turnbacks with red piping according to the pictures of re-enactors, but which I suspect is also incorrect. I chose to give them a white turban and a plume that is white over black.  I'm not certain of the turban and plume colors, only that these colors likely represented differences between companies. 

I enjoyed painting these figures quite a bit, much more than the Marines.  I've included a couple of pictures: one of the KD guys alone, and one alongside the OG figures as a comparison.  I still think the Old Glory figures are a bit better, but the Knuckleduster figures are good too.  Sizewise, there isn't much of a difference.  The poses really wouldn't allow much opportunity to mix within a unit, but in the same army no problem.  My painting style has changed since I painted the Old Glory figures long ago.  I'll probably use the unit on the right as one of the Annapolis battalions.  The Knuckleduster unit sports a Maryland flag from Quindia studios.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

My WAB experiment

Ahh, to drag out my HYW figures today.  It's been a couple of years.  Hard to believe.
Off to try my hand at Warhammer Ancient Battles version 2.0 today.  Or maybe it's Armies of Antiquity, I really have no idea.  Anyway, there's a fairly active WAB group in the Pierce County area, and I can easily put together and English and a French Hundred Years War army for skazillions of points.  Unfortunately, I'm limited to to just 2,000 points with pretty limited and expensive troop types. 

I'll just be playing with HYW English today.  My goals are simple:
1.  Try the rules and learn the system a bit.
2.  Can my WAB army expect to function like a historical army?

This number two is really important to me.  That doesn't mean I should just show up and win.  It doesn't mean my counterpart should just set up and get shot to pieces, but I want to see if an English army composed of longbowmen and men at arms functions pretty much like an English army composed of longbowmen and men at arms.  I have a suspicion it won't, but I'll give it a few tries to find out.

Battle report tomorrow