Finding your own way in the world of wargaming can seem a daunting task when you are brought up on a spoon fed diet of the "GW Hobby". With GW I always knew where I was when it came to opponents and miniatures and getting advice on all manner of things. I suppose in a way this is the greatest strength of Games Workshop's all in one policy when it comes to hobbying. They provide everything and so the gamer really needs to do little apart from buying, painting (actually from my experience a lot of GW gamers dont bother with this bit - but that shall be a later post) and turning up at a store or event where a game is more or less guaranteed.
This was not the case however when I decided to move away from GW. It is amazing what a bewildering array of diverse and compartmentalised sections the wargaming community at large presents to the new wargamer. It is hard to know where to start. Initially when I first decided to try historical gaming a couple of years ago I had a friend who was also interested (though less so than I) and so we discussed what we would like to do. For me I was able to split this into general periods of interest and game mechanics and possibilities that I would like to try. Firstly the game and what it would provide:
- Scale, Mass and Spectacle: Whenever I played Warhammer Fantasy, my game of choice up until that point, I was always struck by the great gulf which seperated the background art, story and fluff and the reality of what you saw when a game was played. The talk was all great armies and massive campaigns but the reality more often resembled an insignificant little skirmish. Even so called horde armies (which in my experience are very rarely actually seen played as hordes) were fielding maybe 200 models at 2000pts (the average game size in my experience). These werent battles but backyard brawls. This is an inherent failing of games played with large scale figures and not confined to Warhammer, but for me it just didnt sit well.
- Strategy, tactics and real generalship: Another constant irritation of Warhammer was the often ridiculous outcomes of battles and the crazy tactics required to achieve them. In Warhammer and indeed in the other GW games the levels of attrition suffered by the armies involved is patently ridiculous. It was rare to finish a game in which one or both of the armies were not completely destroyed. Now I know its fantasy but really no general would ever willingly fight a battle expecting the levels of attrition seen in Warhammer - how would he campaign if every battle completely destroyed his army (even in victory!). Furthermore the nature of the game encourages sacrificial units and total commitment of forces - in Warhammer there is no tactical reserve - if a unit is not in contact with the enemy he is not earning back his points.
- Ease of painting and cost of miniatures: Well I am no great mini painter but neither am I totally without hope and I do like to feel I am making progress with a project and can finish one thing before I get the urge to start another. I wanted to move away from the larger scale miniatures (28mm) and move on to a scale that would be faster to paint and cheaper on the wallet. This would also solve the problem of mass and spectacle - I wanted my finished units to really look like regiments or brigades rather than half a dozen or a dozen men.
Secondly periods of interest; for me this meant one thing HORSE AND MUSKET! I have always had a keen interest in the Napoleonic wars and indeed further back to the Seven Years War and the War of Spanish Succession. However the real biggy for me, my real passion, is the American Civil War. I dont know when I really became interested in this period. It was certainly in my early teens and was greatly fostered by Bernard Cornwell and his Starbuck series and by a series of computer wargames made by a company called Talonsoft, the Battleground series (now available from www.matrixgames.com I believe). These were a series of I go U go hex based games centred on some key civil war encounters, Chickamauga, Bull Run, Shiloh etc. They were rather stilted and old fashioned even at the time but they played brilliantly and had a wonderful stirring soundtrack by Bobby Horton. I am not quite sure what it is about the Civil War which so captures my imagination, maybe it is the closeness of it (it really was not that long ago at all), the great personalities or a wealth of other things. I am afraid I have become a total geek on this and my Civil War book collection is threatening to overflow the new bookcase that my girlfriend and I constructed a couple of months ago [not to mention my very expensive reenactors uniform :( ]Anyhow back to the wargaming, maybe I will blog more on this later.
As a compromise my friend and I decided to go for Napoleonics and we proceeded to look at rules. We lighted upon Sam Mustafa's excellent Grand Armee and decided to go for it. Now it was just models - the scale of which is unimportant in GA. I was all for reducing in scale and so we initially looked at 15mm and 20mm, both of which are very well served by figure manufacturers for the period. I was still unhappy however as even with the scale reduction the aim of creating believable or even semi believable units was not being served. This is just about the time I ran across Baccus 6mm and their diminuitive little men, I was pretty stunned. I had never even considered people were gaming with such small figures. I can imagine what some of the painting fascists I knew from my GW circles would have thought of such models. Anyhow I was intrigued and so ordered a starter army for the Napoleonic French (for roughly what it would have cost me for 2 character figures from GW!) I was stoked. When they arrived I was shocked how small they were in the hand but equally and in fact probably more surprised by how bloody excellent the sculpting and casting was. I thought they would be pretty shapeless little lumps. I was wrong. Despite my excitement circumtances conspired against me (I moved, I fell out with the friend who was to do this project with me) and I never painted them.
Fast forward to about a month and a half ago and I ran across these guys garrisoning my closet (having returned to Warhammer and the Warhammer Ancient Battles rules in the interim). That very day I decided to paint a unit and was surprised and pleased to be able to complete them in about 2 hours. Wow I could actually finish a whole army in 6mm in a realistic timeframe. I was hooked. Here is a pic of that very first 6mm unit. Dont laugh they are very small and were my first. There is a knack to painting small scales (which I hadn't got my head around when I did these) and I will certainly blog more on that later :)
A french infantry unit with deployed skirmishers on a GW 50mm monster base. For Grand Armee.
Thats as far as I got with the French - as soon as I had done them I knew what must be done. A new project just for me - no one else to put me off. Two armies in the grand scale so that I could fight the great battles of the American Civil War. Where I started and what I am up to in a coming post :)