24 February 2019

How I Got Started. . .

Stirring scenes like this one, courtesy of the late Peter Gilder, are largely responsible for the way I go about the wargaming hobby now.  Coincidentally, this is one of three early issues of Miniature Wargames that somehow turned up on the shelves of a hobby shop I frequented as a callow youth during the early 1980s.  I still have the original copies, #6, #7, and #12, although I have since replaced them with 'newer' less well-thumbed copies as I have filled in holes in the collection of hobby print matter.  Finally, I'll go out on a limb here and state that the covers of 'modern' wargaming magazines in current publication are rarely as charming or inspiring.

At its heart, my wargaming hobby stems from and grew out of playing with green, gray, and blue plastic toy soldiers, tanks, etc. as a child during the 1970s.  Probably like many of you  GD of S visitors.  I also have very vague recollections of paging through a Phillip O. Stearns (?) book on model soldiers at about four or five years of age one Saturday afternoon with my father in an independent bookstore (Remember those?) called 'The Book Nook' that we used to frequent quite a bit in the city where we lived at the time.   It was run by an older lady named Mrs. Graves, who was assisted by a bunch of university students with long hair and bell-bottom/flared jeans.  This would have been about 1970-71.  

In any case, it was that particular book, whoever the author was, which really sowed the seeds of my interest in painting and collecting model soldiers.  One detail of the book in questions has always remained with me.  There was a two-page spread in it, a large centerfold (!!??) photograph in black and white of some Waterloo diorama somewhere in a museum, or someone's country home.  My father, who had an interest in military history himself, read the caption to me and answered my, no doubt, many questions that followed.

After a pause at the end of the 1970s (Gosh, does that make me sound old, but popular music was starting to get interesting as we moved out of the disco phase and approached the new decade.), it became Dungeons and Dragons for a few years in the very early 80s as a young teenager.  That obsession gradually turned into a consuming interest in all things Napoleonic, chiefly The 100 Days Campaign, thanks to stumbling across a few issues of Military Modelling and Miniature Wargames that somehow made it to this side of The Atlantic.  Truth being stranger (and much more interesting) than fiction, it was not long before D&D receded into the past pretty quickly, and since about 1984, it has been historical miniatures ever since.  Although I never managed to complete the 15mm Corps-level Waterloo project I set out to collect and play all of those years ago. 

That particular boulevard of broken dreams resulted from the usual biting off more than I could chew, young eyes being larger than my stomach, a lack of funds, and then lack of time as I moved into adult life with first work followed eventually with a return to school, buckling down, graduate school, moving around, time abroad, various early teaching jobs, meeting the Grand Duchess, dating and eventually marrying, etc., etc.   Indeed, there was about a 12-year period there when there was no time at all spent on the hobby beyond continuing to acquire and read military history books -- on The 100 Days of course -- as and when time permitted.

Finally, in the late fall of 2005, wondering what was going on with the hobby at large, I stumbled onto an earlier incarnation of Phil Olley's War Cabinet, Greg Horne's Duchy of Alzheim blog, Henry Hyde's Battlegames website (just before the magazine appeared), AND the Yahoo Old School Wargaming forum, which was abuzz at the time with all sorts of discussions that resonated on some level with me, and what I sought from the hobby.  All of this happened in November and December of that year, and it really rekindled my hobby fire, but with an important difference.  This time, I intended to keep my focus strictly on one era rather than dabbling here and there, which is really what led to very little ever being finished the first time around.  Hey, ol' Mom always said I was easily entertained.

The Grand Duchy of Stollen project, which has been underway since late Summer 2006, is really the convergence and culmination of a few different threads.  An interest in the mid-18th century coupled with wanting to do something similar to what was described in the Pages of Young and Lawford's Charge! Or How to Play War Games (1967), which is where the whole fictitious angle came from. The idea for doing this with relatively large units of figures comes also from Peter Gilder's Napoleonic set-up that featured so prominently in early issues of Miniature Wargames and Wargames Illustrated. Sometime about 2006-2007, and related to the wonderful and much missed physical magazine Battlegames, I became aware of Messrs. Protz and Purky.  More recently, the large scale games and hobby approach of U.K. wargamers like Robbie Rodiss, Colin Ashton, as well as Chris Gregg just feature that certain something that speaks to my inner painter, collector, and (very occasional) gamer.

To my eyes, the tables full of skillfully painted large units, attractive scenery, plenty of vignettes, and, occasionally, support troops really made, and continue to make, a lasting an impression on me.  It's not the ONLY way to approach and go about the hobby of course, but for me this is IT.  'Biggism' -- to borrow Phil Olley's term -- at its very best!

Two additional points that have influenced my thinking in moving into and remaining firmly rooted within the mid-18th century, the purview of The Grand Duchy.  First, the armies of the period, by and large, looked very similar, differences in uniform colors notwithstanding.  Troops were not attired in the maddening myriad of headgear and uniform items that makes the later Napoleonic era simultaneously so attractive and yet a figurative black hole.  A siren's song really considering the range of bonnets, shakos, bearskins, regulation, and campaign dress at the very least.  Second, the armies of conflicts like The War of Austrian Succession and  the slightly later Seven Years War were relatively small compared to the huge, multi-corps formations that marched across Europe during the Napoleonic era, making all of this somewhat easier to aspire to on the tabletop albeit in a scaled down, "bathtub" sense. 

All of these influences are behind what became The Grand Duchy of Stollen project, which, like restoring an old house (maternal grandparents and parents who did just that, you see), is very much an ongoing work in progress for a number of years before you can call things done.  But the different facets of The Grand Duchy have managed to hold my interest without fail for quite some time now, and, at this point, I see no reason to seek hobby fulfillment elsewhere, or try wargaming in another way.  My particular approach continues to push all of the right buttons.  Although, were I ever to have unlimited time and money, the mid-19th century in Europe, say the 1840s-1860s in 30mm. . .

Strangely, we've come full circle back to the fantasy/imagination element of D&D since my campaign area, though fictional, is set within the real Europe of the immediate post-SYW era.  The Grand Duchy of Stollen and its immediate neighbors are sandwiched somewhere in between far Eastern Prussia and Courland, but my own entities are such inconsequential political backwaters on the European stage that Frederick II, Maria-Theresa, et al pay polite indifference at best to ol' Grand Duck Irwin-Amadeus of Stollen and his nemesis, the evil and conniving Princess Antonia III, the latter of whom is aided and abetted in her schemes by that most notorious mercenary-adventurer, cad, and bounder, General Phillipe de Latte.  

While time is still at a premium given current work and family commitments, I have managed to continue sometimes very S-L-O-W progress toward painting and collecting two semi-fictitious rival armies -- largely based on Reichsarmee units -- that, ultimately, should consist of about 7-10 line infantry units each, a few companies of jaegers/croats each, maybe 3-5 two-squadron regiments of cavalry each with some guns, crew, limbers, and horse teams.  Of course, I have allowed myself to be diverted for several years with numerous officer and civilian vignettes as well as some support elements and scratch-built buildings (a hobby in its own right) but I've enjoyed those digressions too, and that's really what the hobby is all about to me.  The admittedly circuitous journey rather than the destination.

-- Stokes

 As feared and predicted, painting on the composite unit of grenadiers has temporarily stalled due to a pile of student projects on my desk that need reading and grading plus a delay in receipt of some much needed acrylic hobby paints -- A bottle of Citadel white anyone? -- that have been held up somewhere.  Hence today's recycling of a post I added in reply to a question posed on the Minden Minitures forum that I haunt from time to time when I really ought to be doing other things.  Like reading and grading these blasted student papers.

17 February 2019

Retire vs. Retreat vs. Rout: Tentative Definitions and Further Explanation. . .

Ol' Frederick II leading his troops forward at Zorndorf, on foot no less, with renewed vigor.

Well, after information flooded in from various wargaming friends and acquaintances during the last 36 hour or so (Thank you, everyone!), I seem to have a better handle on the differences between these three terms.  I've cobbled together the working definitions and explanations below based on the responses to my question posed yesterday.  

Please feel free to leave any additional relevant comments as they occur to you, which might enable me to clarify things further.  New observations are welcome since many are well read and, no doubt, have a much better grasp of the subject than me.  

Remember, though, this is a work in progress by a dabbler and hobbyist (yours truly), so no one need tip over a figurative table full of figures and scenery in anger or annoyance like once happened long ago during the early days of the hobby as related by the late Donald Featherstone in a book or article(s) whose title(s) escapes me at the moment.  Read away and see what you think.

-- Stokes

Retire, Retreat, and Rout Defined -- All three are moving AWAY from the enemy: 

1) Retire 
*An orderly withdrawal.   

*When a commander chooses to disengage or shift his troops rearward although unit(s) may not even have made contact with enemy.   

*A deliberate decision to avoid a worse fate.   

*Officers and NCOs still in control and unit cohesion remains intact.  

*Units finish their move facing the enemy. 

*Example: “Unit moves back X number of inches with no further effect.” 

2) Retreat 
*Somewhat more urgent, but still within control of officers and NCOs and related cohesion maintained.   

*Temporarily disordered and wavering.   

*Less from choice than from necessity, for instance line infantry or jaegers in the open avoiding an approaching infantry charge.  

* Usually, follows contact with the enemy, though possibly only the threat of eventual contact, to avoid losing advantage and considerable damage/defeat.  

* Larger formations (brigades, divisions, etc.) usually covered by a rearguard.   

*For average units that have already taken a beating, or poor quality troops, however, a retreat might easily turn into a rout if enemy pressure/contact maintained.   

*Units finish their move with backs to the enemy but can reenter the fray without too much difficulty once the immediate threat has passed if rallied successfully.   

*Example: “Unit moves back X number of inches and requires rallying before it can return to the front line.” 

3) Rout 
*Wild panic has set in.   

*An uncontrolled, involuntary, and disorderly departure from battle.   

*Unit cohesion and discipline lost.   

*Unit(s) not under the control of officers, NCOs, or commanding general (i.e. The Player).  

*Usually the result of a melee or post-melee morale check although heavy casualties from enemy fire might lead to a rout for average to poor quality troops especially if they have taken a beating already.  

*Often requires a rally check (difficult) or some kind of command intervention (difficult) to recover, with possible removal from the table in the following if attempts fail to halt rout and rally troops in question.   

*Enemy units in close pursuit inflict double number of losses shown by D6 rolls to reflect that most casualties happen during a rout if attackers maintain pressure through pursuit. 

*Example: The classic, "Unit moves back a full charge move distance, facing away from enemy, suffers X number of hits/losses, and/or marked by with some form of long-term or permanent disorder or degradation.  

16 February 2019

Enter the Dragon!

The Young Master just post-introductory lesson in Tae Kwon Do.  A genuine smile instead of over the top clowning for the camera.

The Young Master, who has recently expressed an interest in the martial arts, tried out an introductory lesson of Tae Kwon Do this (Saturday) morning to see if it is a good fit for him.  He deals with a number of sensory and cognitive challenges, so we were not sure how things might go, but it seems Paul took right to it.  Besides giving him something to do that he enjoys, it will provide goals, focus, self-discipline, self-respect, and help with self-control things he has already grasped better after working with a Tae Kwon Do instructor one time.  A good good fit it seems, and I am so pleased for our son that I can hardly speak.  Wow!

-- Stokes

Retire vs. Retreat vs. Rout???

I actually enjoy these idealized old paintings of Famous Napoleonic battles more than cinematic attempts to render the same events.  Although I have not watched it in 20 years or more, I always find myself picking about Sergei Bondarchuk's version of Waterloo (1970), which seems to completely ignore most of the allied troops who were part of Wellington's army in Belgium that spring.

Revisiting three early issues of Miniature Wargames this morning, specifically a few related articles by Mark Clayton on Napoleonic troop morale, and I remain confused after all of these years.  1) What is the difference, within a horse and musket era context, between troops that retire, those that retreat, and those that rout, please?  2) How might you make these distinctions readily apparent in rules and on the tabletop?  Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

-- Stokes

11 February 2019

The Joys of Amazon Giftcards. . .

One of the three sizes of Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor brushes I ordered this afternoon.  Should have 'em by the weekend!

There is something nice about sitting on Amazon giftcards for a little while until clarity reveals what one ought to use them for.  Such was the case with a remaining Christmas gift from my in-laws this year.  I finally put together an order this afternoon to replace a few dried up, or soon to be, bottles of Citadel colors and also selected two of each of my three preferred brush sizes -- #1, #3, and #6 rounds.  

These are synthetic bristle brushes intended for watercolorists, but I have long used them for figure painting, and the points usually last long enough for three or four units, depending on the size, before they are relegated to the base-coating and dry-brushing jar.  They give me the results I seek and seem to provide a nice compromise between ready availability, durability, and usefulness on the one hand and price on the other.  I'll need to replaced my 20 year old 000 sable before long, but honestly I don't rely on it all that much any more, so the matter is not yet too pressing.

In other news, I spent about an hour last night carefully applying oil-based silver paint to bayonets, musket barrels, firelocks, and a few officers' swords with my current #1 round, more dry-brushing a very sparing amount to each item, and the result looks rather nice today if I do say so myself.  I'll spare everyone yet another Kodak moment (Remember those?) photographic update until things progress just a bit more though.

-- Stokes

09 February 2019

A Lengthy Saturday Session. . .

The details are starting to make the composite grenadier battalion come together really nicely.

For good measure, here is another photograph to show how they look from behind.

A rare nine hours of uninterrupted sleep last night resulted in clear eyes, an unusually steady hand, and the patience for a lengthy session in the painting chair this afternoon.  

Some touching up to start, followed by lots of slow, painstaking attention to teasing fine lines of light brown onto canteen straps, white on cartridge pouch straps,  and dabbing bits of more white carefully onto fur-covered haversacks and musket straps.  My supply of hobby acrylic white is running out, so I made do for most of the latter with simple leather brown for the enlisted men.  I also hit the shoulder straps on the left shoulders since I was on a roll and lots of these things came together very quickly.  It is not always so!

Still a few things to do, but we're staring to see some light at the end of the painting tunnel!  Time to stop for the time being before I start to make those annoying blunders that take so much time to retouch later.  It has been an unusually productive day, though, so I am pleased.

-- Stokes

03 February 2019

A Scarlet Highlight Really Brings out the Reds!

Three photograph updates showing where things stand with the composite battalion of Kurkoeln (left) Hessen-Darmstadt (right) grenadiers.

Well, it took a while, but the red facings, turnbacks, and bags are done with dark red, red, and a dot or two (or a very careful short dash) of pure scarlet highlight to make the red really stand out.  Still a number of steps to go until they are finished and ready to gloss, but they are finally starting to look like something.  Next: touching up the black areas and dark brown musket stocks before moving onto the white highlight for the shoulder belts.

-- Stokes

01 February 2019

Only -6 Degrees Fahrenheit in the Grand Duchy This Morning. . .

The view from our front porch a short while ago this afternoon at about 1pm.  A high temperature of about 16 F. is forecast for today, almost 30 degrees warmer than yesterday, so the three of us are headed out to ski later this afternoon once the Grand Duchess and Young Master arrive home.

Frigid winter weather provides the perfect excuse for extra time at the painting desk.  After all, one can hardly be asked to go (ok, 'sent') outside to clean out the gutters or engage in other kinds of domestic husbandly pursuits that, if we are honest, many husbands/male partners would rather not do.  So, I too have been plugging away with the 30 or so grenadiers in the composite battalion currently on the table.  

Most of my efforts the last few days have gone into getting the facings and turnbacks started with a dark red -- Citadel's Khorne Red -- which will then get a dash of Evil Sunz Scarlet applied very sparingly atop that.  I've also started to clean up figures here and there as I have gone along, trimming in edges and touching up adjacent areas.  Still lots of small things to paint, but they are starting to come together.  I hope you'll agree once I popt a photo update or two this evening.  Stay tuned!

-- Stokes

30 January 2019

It's -5 Degrees Faherenheit (-20.5 C.) in The Grand Duchy of Stollen Today. . .

Seemingly endless white washes followed by a feather touch of the bristles, each application holding a small drop of black paint, to the gaiter buttons has yielded a nut unpleasing effect to this company of Hessen-Darmstadt Leibgrenadiers.  I was extremely careful to run the very tip of the bristles across the raised buttons and, fortunately, made very few mistakes that required fixing.  Some days, the stars align just right!

The Young Master's school district, along with many others in the area, has closed and, in a very rare move, so too has Michigan State University and will be again tomorrow (Thursday).  The university has only closed half a dozen times due to winter weather in its history, so you know it's cold.  My sister tells me that a client of hers, who is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and with whom she spoke on the telephone this morning, mentioned that is was -27 degrees Fahrenheit there.  

"Zoiks!" as Shaggy used to intone on Saturday morning episodes of the original Hanna-Barbera animated cartoon Scooby Doo, which my sister and I never missed during the 1970s.  "And I would have succeeded if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!"

In any case, the cold provides a perfect excuse to stay warm inside and apply bush to figures.  So, here is where we stand this afternoon with the current batch on the painting table.  You'll see that I have redone the gaiters and garters on the white-clad Hessen-Darmstadt Leibgrenadiers and carefully dragged bristles of black paint over the gaiter buttons.  I've also repainted the breeches and waistcoats of the related officers red.  Next up, the facings and turnbacks.

I also spent some time this morning, after taking care of some online administrative duties for my cancelled classes, looking through my files, copies of various old prints, I have saved into a folder on my computer desktop, for colorful ideas on how I might paint subsequent units of soldiers.  In particular, I am thinking of additional units of combined grenadiers since 30 or infantry figures at a time seem to go reasonably fast.  Lots of room for color if I base these future units some of the uniforms worn by Wurttemburg toops, admittedly outside the confines of the WAS or SYW, as well as Polish Crown Garde, and a few of the lesser states.  In other words figures painted in yellows, light blues, and reds, to provide some additional color beyond the usual dark blue and white.

In addition, there was a Dutch regiment of the mid-18th century, the Walen Infantry, that for a very short while apparently wore Russian uniforms.  If I can uncover some likely flag possibilities, I might just give them to those Minden Russian musketeers I picked up last fall and call 'em Dutch instead of Russians.  We'll see, but I am getting ahead of myself here.  Let's get the current two companies of grenadiers finished first, shall we?

-- Stokes

27 January 2019

How We Suffer for the Hobby. . .

Backtracking a bit here for the white clad Hessen-Darmstadt Leibgrenadiers at right, a frustrating exercise, but this is where we are as of 3:59pam Eastern Standard Time on Sunday afternoon.

Time spent this morning and mid-afternoon redoing the white gaiters and garters on the Hessen-Darmstadt half of my composite grenadier battalion (Argh!!!).  I've taken the opportunity to add the basic brown horse color for the mounted officer as well as the red (Khorne Red, Evil Sunz Scarlet, and very sparse pure Scarlet atop that)breeches, waistcoats, and saddle cloth for the officers plus the drummer's coat for the Kurkoeln Wildenstein drummer.  

And now, it's time to do something that actually helps pay the bills (and purchase life's essentials. . .  more brushes, paints, military history or wargaming hobby books, and soldiers).  No more putting it off.  No way.  No how.  I absolutely must see to some preparation for tomorrow's two classes before returning, hopefully, for an hour or so this evening.  Keep your fingers and toes crossed!

-- Stokes

 I managed to locate a larger version of this lovely Knoetel print online, which not only shows an enlisted man of Hessen-Darmstadt's Leibgrenadierekorps, but also an officer in the near background.  While text references are handy, nothing helps during the painting process like one or two good visual references.  To borrow a term from one Mr. Conrad Kinch, click on the illustration to "embiggen.".


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