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Getting Started in the 18th Century. . .

I've had a new comment posted for a January 2009 posting -- The 18th Century? What's the Fascination? -- from a relative newcomer to the hobby, who asks about getting started, figures, and so forth.  So, I'll say a few random words about my personal preferences and then turn things over to anyone else who might care to chime in here with further advice.

As far as getting started and finding inspiration, I'd suggest that you can do no better than to find and read the two books shown above: Charge! Or How to Play War Games (1967) by Peter Young and James Lawford and The War Game (1971) by Charles Grant.

Both titles are available in recent reprinted editions at reasonable prices and filled with all manner of historically-based explanation and explication.  In addition, the two books present detailed rules for fighting 18th Century battles.  They also contain a variety of inspiring photos, useful information on painting figures, building your armies, creating scenery, etc., etc.  There are, naturally, lots of other useful, more recent history and uniform books out there, but these two provide a solid starting point for anyone interested in the 18th Century in particular, or, indeed, wargaming in general.

Where figures are concerned, I prefer the 25-30mm variety by manufacturers like RSM95, Minden Miniatures, Tradition, Suren, and Holger Eriksson.  The latter produces some of the finest mounted figures around with regard to the horses themselves though they can be be a bit pricy.  Have a look at the 'Links' section of the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog (on the right of your screen) for more detailed information at the websites for these particular companies.

There are many other good 18th Century figure ranges on the market (even some in plastic), in a variety of sizes and scales, but those I mention above are especially good if you prefer realistic human proportions with understated detail.  Sadly, there are many figures on the market with strange anatomy, in overly dramatic poses. . .  A definite a no-no for the 18th century.  A few brands come to mind, but I'll keep those thoughts to myself for now.

Suffice to say, take some time examining samples from several different manufacturers before you purchase any figures in bulk.  It will save you money, disappointment, and frustration in the long run.  In any case, I'd suggest that you start small, say 150 figures or so, divided into five or six units with some supporting artillery, maybe two or three guns and crew.  This will give you enough for a small tabletop army without it taking you several years to finish painting them. 

But what about painting those figures?  Well, that's very much an individual thing that you will learn through trial and error.  There is much information on how to do it on this blog and, indeed, across the Internet, so I won't go into a tutorial this morning.  However, I will say that even if your early efforts with the brush leave something to be desired, practice and determination will have you producing units of nicely painted figures before too many months have gone by.

The main thing to remember about painting figures is that you need to give it a try, be consistent in your efforts, and don't become intimidated into inactivity by the ranks of shiny, unpainted figures lined up on your painting table.  The figures won't paint themselves after all!  Neither should you become discouraged if your first few units don't resemble the museum pieces produced by professional painters. . .  Ah, alliteration this morning!  Finally, don't be afraid to experiment a bit with your own painting, to find the method that works best for you.

What uniforms will you paint onto those figures?  Well, there are many different, good historical uniform reference books available, which will help you paint your units.  Those by Osprey are readily available and don't cost too much.  I also like Uniforms of the Seven Years War by John Mollo and Malcom McGregor, which might be hard to find now, but it is worth tracking down.  The old titles by Fred and Lillian Funken are also worth a look as are uniform books on the American War of Independence and the French and Indian War in Canada.  Lots of titles too on the earlier War of Austrian Succession, the War of Spanish Succession, the Great Northern War, and so on, depending on your precise area of historical interest.  One thing about the 18th Century is that the era provides a broad array of conflicts on which we can base our tabletop aspirations.

But back to uniforms.  Again, there are lots of other highly interesting books out there at various prices if you choose to paint your troops in historical uniforms.  Alternately, you can throw caution to the wind and paint your miniature armies in totally made-up, fictitious uniforms, which is perfectly acceptable and something that many "imagi-nations" enthusiasts do these days.  My own preference is to dig up illustrations of lesser known uniforms worn by the troops of minor combatants -- for instance the myriad of formations that comprised the Reichsarmee of the Holy Roman Empire -- and use these as models for the uniforms of my own imaginary forces.  But that's just me, and you might choose an entirely different approach, which is one of the things that makes the wargaming hobby so great.

A word of caution before I finish.  I'd strongly advise picking one project and seeing it through to completion before you head off in another direction.  There are many would-be wargamers out there who never manage to play many games, or indeed get anything finished because they are caught in an endless cycle of planning, purchasing, selling, trading, and painting a few figures half-way before they bounce off again in a different direction, looking for something else in another historical era along with the figures, books, and assorted paraphernalia that go along with it.

Multiple wargaming interests are fine, but if you ever want to get anything finished in one area, it's really worth some honest reflection and hard thinking about your most consuming interests BEFORE you purchase figures and related supplies in bulk.  Otherwise, everything will simply end up gathering dust somewhere because your time, money, and creative efforts are pulled in too many directions at once.

So, finish preparing and painting your basic 18th Century force of 150 or so figures first.  Try them on for size in a few games.  Learn some more about the different ways the actual troops of the era maneuvered and were used on the battlefield by their commanders.  And if you so choose, it's a fairly simple matter to add a few more specialty units to you basic force.  Hussars, pontoon, or engineering troops anyone?  Or, if you've still got the itch to try your hand at another wargaming era, now is the time for those ancient Greeks and Persians, Napoleonics, WWII, Warhammer, 1930s pulp gaming, and on. . .  and on. . .  and on. . .  ad infinitum.  But finish your 18th Century project first before you start something else, guys!

Ok, I'm off my soapbox for today.  I hope this information might be helpful for those of you just starting out in the hobby.  There is really a great deal to think about -- and some judicious, limited, and productive daydreaming is a lot of fun --  but these are just a few basic considerations for newcomers to the wargaming hobby to mull over.  If any of you Grand Duchy of Stollen regulars care to add to this, please do by leaving a comment of the helpful variety -- no links to nude girly sites or anything like that, please.  We're a family place after all!  ;-)


marinergrim said…
I'd also highly reccommend the Funken books for uniforms. Mollo has many of the more unusual as well.
I think you're spot on there with your post.
Bluebear Jeff said…
Allow me to particularly second your figure suggestions . . . particularly in regard to the RSM figures.

For North American buyers, there aren't any figures even close for quality at an exceptionally low price. Here's the link:

== Jeff
Conrad Kinch said…
I would also suggest considering availing of the services of a professional painter if you wish to really get motoring. Not for everybody, but it gets troops on the table quickly.
Jiminho said…
These are all really good suggestions. I might add one more if you are doing an imaginary army or at least mixing and matching uniforms selected from the strange and exotic scattered through the pages of Funcken and Funcken.

A suggestion that was made to me a while ago (it was by Frankfurter of Frankzonia I believe), was to avoid going completely crazy in tailoring you army in unusual uniforms. Instead, keep some of the units clothed in more standard uniforms reflecting those of some of the bigger powers. In doing so, you will accumulate figures that can stand in for the bread and butter regiments that are absolutely necessary for an historical scenario or for including some real word history into an Imaginations campaign. Being "typical", such figures can also stand in quite easily for as-yet unforeseen third parties in an imaginary scenario. If you paint consistently, you will come to the end of your project quickly enough and amass armies of other nations, but that advantage of this idea is that you can manage to get more use of you army early on and keep your enthusiasm for your project thriving.

The core of my own project (an imaginary army) has unique uniforms, but the regular infantry could stand in for Austrians if one dims the lights a bit. Similarly, most of its cavalry and its grenzers follow quite closely Austrian or Russian models. And as for the army of the arch-adversary, they are almost completely drawn directly from an important historical army. There is a lots of double-duty in this project, which lets me feel a bit less guilty about indulging my quite-scarce free time on the units that really grab my imagination.

However, nothing that pleases you and keeps the project moving forward is a mistake!

Giles said…
Another vote for Mollo/MacGregor. Those old Blandford books really are invaluable.

Best wishes

Prince Lupus said…
All metals are now becoming very expensive. A couple of armies as found in the large armies shown in Wargame or Charge would cost thousands of dollars in lead. Have a look at the more recent 1/72 ranges particularly Zvezda - similar size forces for less than a couple of hundred. 28mm plastic is also on the horizon though not much choice yet.
A visit to a frendly auto shop that changes and adjust tires, and a kind request can get you many pounds of tire weight lead. I recently got around 60 to 70 pounds in a bucket. My brother used hid torch snd a steel plate at a 15 to 20 degree angle to get the pure lead. You place an ammount of the tire weights on the high side and apply heat. The lead that flows down is collected at the bottom ready for the casting mealter. I got 50 pounds more or less to cast 40mm Prince August to my hearts content. Cost of tire weights, regular visits to my auto shop when repairs or service needed.
Keith Flint said…
If I could put forward a slightly different perspective, I would say start with the history. For the Seven Years War, the books by Christopher Duffy are essential: easily available and very readable. All the Ospreys on the period that I have seen are good, and it appears they are coming back into print after a regrettable absence. My weak knowledge of other campaigns of the 18th century prevents me making further recommendations outside the SYW.
Charge! and The Wargame are fun books and well worth reading, but there are some drawbacks. The rules themselves are distinctly old fashioned (which of course is the attraction for a lot of people), and the regiments are large which can be daunting when collecting a force. The rules and outlook also tend to be weak on those areas which fascinate me and which are fundamental to historical wargaming - command and control, troop quality and national characteristics. This weakness was (IMHO) carried over in to the new series of books entitled 'Wargaming in History', by Grant and Olley, which nevertheless are another interesting intro to the period.
As you will have realised, my interest is in historical wargaming. I would suggest that even if you go the imagi-nations route, the history is the place to start.
For rules, I find Black Powder just the job - straightforward, easy to pick up and producing a fun game. I use them with 20 figure infantry regiments, much more easy to produce than those of 48 figures!
Anyway, thanks to Prinz Ulrich for giving me the opportunity to sound off. The period is colourful, simple to grasp and tremendous fun.

Finally, looking at the posts from 2009, I find myself disagreeing with those who see the period as a sort of golden age of warfare. 'The minuet of war'? Try telling that to a Prussian musketeer dying of exhaustion by the roadside during one of Frederick's forced marches, in the heat of a Central European summer. War has no golden ages. The scenes of appalling carnage during and after a SYW battle, and the suffering inflicted on civilians in the theatres of war (even if less than some other periods), should banish any thoughts of this being some kind of polite and genteel dance. 'Innocence and naivete'? I don't really think so. Hardly the words that would apply, for example, to Frederick himself. Like any other period, we must regard ourselves as playing with toy soldiers and put the realities of war into another box.
Sorry if I have introduced a note of disagreement or rancour. Great blog, great period!

Best wishes as always, Keith.
Andrew said…
I have been reading your blog with interest and thought that this might be the moment to leave a comment.

I quite agree with the viewpoint that it is easy to get carried away with the next shiny thing in the hobby and never get a playable army finished. This has happened to me and it is something that I am trying to avoid happening these days. I think however that the greatest aid to completing a workable force is having someone to play against. This gives the added incentive of not wishing to let down your comrade in gaming.
Stephen said…
May I recommend never passing a second hand book shop without at least having a browse. Many of my own treasures were arrived at this way.Old Blandford books particularly but I got my Funken books that way also. Okay! In French! But you get so use to French military terminology in this period that even if your French is a bit rusty you work out most of what is written and it's made up for by the wonderful illustrations.

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