It must be my age but my feet are still throbbing from yesterday’s adventure at Salute. I don’t really know how to structure my report so I’m going for a stream of consciousness series of observations.
The queue: it was easily the longest one I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been going to Salute. But it wasn’t an issue because the stewards organized it so smoothly and it progressed so fast that nobody had time to get bored enough to complain. It does help when some of the stewards are daleks – nobody wants to step out of line and risk extermination!
The headcount: I found the morning a little trying because of the sheer number of people who all wanted to look a the same things as me. There were a few impolite pushes past me – how very dare they! Still, the headcount is a measure of success so I shouldn’t complain too much. After lunchtime, things eased considerably and made life easier.
Paint shopping: once again my search for a vendor of Andrea paints ended in failure. On the plus side, though, I had an entertaining encounter at the Privateer Press stand with the people who sell the P3 range of paints. I’ve heard good things about their white paint, so I thought I’d buy a pot. Problem: they didn’t have pots of individual colours on sale seperately (who comes to the UK’s biggest wargames show and doesn’t anticipate that people might want to buy individual colours?). So they pointed me at their range of pre-packed boxes of six different colours. Needless to say, the five other colours had no appeal to me and I wasn’t going to pay almost £13 to get one pot of white. So I suggested to them that the entrepenurial thing to do would be to offer to break up one of the boxes and sell me the white pot alone. Slightly blank faces until I pointed out that they could then take the box back to base and pop another white pot in for future sale. I’m glad to say that seemed to swing the deal. Well done lads!
Basing materials: I’m not one for buying expensive little bags of things that I can pick up for free on a country walk or buy in bulk at a DIY centre. However, there are a few things that aren’t so easy to come by and £1 for a nice pack of cork boulders qualified as a fair deal especially since this pack will last me for years.
Demo games: there was a strange dichotomy this year. On the one hard there were a couple that really got my goat because the only effort that seemed to have gone into them was laying out a sheet of green felt and sprinkling it with sawdust. Come on people, this is Salute, not your local club night! Move on, nothing worth stopping to see here. I look to the demo games to stock my enthusiasm and inspiration locker. Gladly, several games scored direct hits. I don’t have space, time or a sufficiently good memory to mention them all but three do stick out:
- Loughton Strikeforce’s Bussaco game. OK, I know I’m biased towards Napoleonic big battalion games but the deal-sealer with this one was the fantastic scenery that captured what it must have been like for the French infantry to struggle up the steep slope through Bussaco village under withering British and Portuguese fire from the top of the ridge.
- Tin Soldiers of Antwerp’s tunnel rats game. I don’t think this was even officially listed in the programme but it struck me a a novel idea executed effectively in minimum space.
- Whitstable and Hearne Bay Waragamers’ Ride the Divine Wind. Japanese Kamikaze attack on US warships. For some reason this really pressed my buttons. I’ve got a soft spot for WW2 Japanese aircraft, the modelling was super and idea showed how you can do something really impressive with concentration on quality over quantity – there can’t have been more than half a dozen Japanese planes and only a couple of US ships but they were beautiful.
There is one other game I’ve left off that list but that’s because I’ll come to it later.
Perry plastics: there was quite a scrum at the Perry’s stand and around their colourful Wars of the Roses demo game. I’m not yet ready to buy the plastic Napoleonic cavalry boxes but I did want to inspect them to see how the horses have turned out and what the casualty figures look like. I have to say that the horses impress me tremendously. These plastic ones seem to avoid the squashed body syndrome that afflicts the metal ones. As for the plastic casualty figures – well I’d like to see more variety and I’m never going to buy a box of cavalry just to get hold of a couple of prone casualties. However, if any of you have got spare Perry French plastics casualties you’d like to send to a good home, please remember me in your prayers. I’m even willing to paint one for you as a “thank you”.
The painting competition: usually one of my favourite stop-offs but marred a little this year by there being too many people crowding round for me to comtemplate the artistry in depth. I tend to ignore the fantasy and scifi categories and concentrate on the historicals. I especially liked some 28mm Saxons that appeared to have been based for the
Impulse Impetus rules and David Imrie pointed out some excellent Romans that I suspect actually won a prize (I missed the announcement of the winners).
And so to the main attraction of the day: my chance to learn about the Republic to Empire rules first hand from the author. Barry Hilton had laid on a Waterloo campaign demo game to showcase the rules and I had the chance to take a command and learn the basics. Barry was ably assisted on the day by several fellow League of Gentlemen Gamers and my thanks go to David Imrie, Dave O’Brien and Peter MacCarroll for being so welcoming and such good company.
I started off by taking over a French brigade of three battalions as they attacked some Dutch-Belgian artillery on the right flank. My attack faltered almost immediately but it served as a lesson in the way the rules work. The steps for each turn are easy enough to pick up: roll for initiative, calculate your manoeuvre point entitlement (these are what allow you to issue orders, change formation and execute charges), movement, firing, morale checks, charges and combat resolutions. The first time through, there’s a fair bit to remember but after that it all becomes pretty natural because the structure is logical and, crucially, produces historically realistic outcomes.
Later I graduated to commanding the whole French force: three infantry brigades, a cuirassier brigade and an artillery grand battery plus a couple of other odds and ends. It’s surprisingly easy to scale up the turn sequence from being a brigade commander to commanding the whole division or more by yourself if you don’t have a group of fellow players to share the work. And, as it turned out, I became a lot more successful with my attack on the other flank pressing home and routing one British battalion despite my brave fantassins receiving a point-blank volley from them!
The rules are a clever combination of many ideas that people will recognise from existing rulesets peppered with some unique innovations – particularly for artillery. What I like about them most is that they pay close attention to creating a specifically Napoleonic atmosphere and characteristically Napoleonic outcomes. As such, they encourage players to think and behave like genuine Napoleonic commanders rather than game players trying to exploit the foibles of a given set of rules.
Commanders have to think carefully about the orders they issue and understand that, via the manoeuvre points mechanism, they only have a limited degree of, rather than omnipotent, control over their forces. Foresight, having a practical plan and understanding what formations to use and what orders to issue are at a premium. For example, placing your light cavalry under “advance” orders provides a way for them to disrupt an incautious opponent’s plans at a distance in an historically meaningful way but injudicious issue of the “attack” command to the same units can result in their loss to the classic “charging at everything” problem. Similarly, you need to think carefully about when you choose to fire. Some rulesets will allow an artillery battery to fire almost incessantly and cause casualties far beyond those that would have happened in reality. In Republic to Empire you need to be aware that your battery can only fire a limited number of times before it must fall silent to refit and thereby offer an opportunity to your opponent.
I also like the treatment of casualties and morale. History teaches us that instances of units standing and fighting to the death were few and far between. It was far more typical for one side or the other to lose its nerve and turn and run. As soon as a unit reaches 25% casualties in Republic to Empire, it starts to become highly susceptible to loss of morale and this often results in one side or the other turning tail. The results of this depend of the nature of the forces involved and the resolve of the units concerned. For example, loss by veterans of an infantry versus infantry combat may result in an orderly withdrawl but inexperienced infantry that lose a combat to cavalry may be swept from the field.
Overall, I think Republic to Empire is an excellent ruleset and almost certain to become my preferred option. Just one cheeky aside if you’re also considering these rules: make sure you have a bucketful of dice. In one combat situation I needed to roll 17 dice against Barry’s 13. Don’t worry, it’s easy to do, you just need plenty of the little blighters.
Finally, a word about a detour I made on the way back across London to catch my train home from Paddington. I’m indebted to Mike Siggins’ website for drawing my attention to the existence of the artshop Cornellissen and Son at 105 Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. This part of London is one that I know well and I often visit the British Museum and various bookshops in the area but I’d never noticed this delight before. It’s a highly atmospheric little emporium full of hard-to-come-by goodies for the painter including fulsome stocks of Plaka and Flasche acrylics artists paints and, most especially for me, a stock of Da Vinci paint brushes that I could actually inspect before purchase. In fact, the very helpful staff even offered to let my try the brushes and offered me a choice of two different incarnations of Da Vinci’s brush cleaning soap.