Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Thoughts on black powder skirmishing...

Battle for North Bridge AWI scenario from Wargames Illustrated January 2012

It is fairly obvious to anyone reading these pages that I will never be able to field an army of several hundred figures in any of the "armies" I am working on.  In a previous post I lamented what I saw as a trend to even bigger armies of five hundred figures or so.  Perhaps, however, I am now sensing a backlash against this.  In some of the recent wargames magazines there have been some scenarios for around sixty figures a side.  Partly this is because of the increasing popularity of the new Saga rules, which is good for me as I do actually have enough Dark Ages figures to play a game of this.  Also there are more scenarios for another set of rules I own but haven't played, Sharp Practice.  I noticed two rather good scenarios recently in the magazines featuring Peninsula War and American War of Independence actions.  Interestingly the AWI scenario in January's Wargames Illustrated was played using Black Powder, which I always considered a big units/big battles set, with just 48 figures on each side.  Interesting.

These made me realise that what I have really been hankering after for some time is the ability to do black powder period skirmishes but I don't, surprisingly, really have even the start of appropriate forces.  This, therefore, gives me the chance to start a new set of small forces for these sorts of scenarios.  My criteria are that both sides have to be similar in make up; so no colonial versus tribesmen type forces.  The forces should both be completely armed with muskets or rifles, so this eliminates any pike and shot period figures.  There should be no artillery and, at least initially, no cavalry (I hate painting cavalry!).

This gives us a time period from about 1715 until about 1870.  So which conflicts would be candidates for this project?  Firstly, we have the War of the Austrian Succession.  Although the uniforms are nice (perhaps too nice) it (to me anyway) is a conflict of big battles so we can eliminate that.  Next up we have the Seven Years War which is similar.  There were lots of skirmishes in North America but these often involved native troops so is not what I am after.  The next big one is the America War of Independence, which has always been a weak spot of mine ever since I first got the Airfix plastics and, even more so, the splendid Accurate British in tricornes.  I actually painted quite a lot of these.  Against this, however, is that I had some of the Foundry figures but never painted than and sold them off (along with all my reference books) so this would be an expensive way to go. 

The next big one is, of course, the Napoleonic Wars, which I know I really should do more about.  I continue to paint, very slowly, a unit of Dutch jaegers for Quatre Bras.  When I was at junior school and just getting the new Airfix Highlanders and Cuirassiers someone else in my class, "Lugs" W, was doing the same. Within a year or two I had been given some Hinchliffe French Imperial Guard by my father who was of the strong opinion that this ought to be the first wargames unit anyone painted.  Lugs begged to differ and he got given some Miniature Figurines (which I looked down on as they were so small) British rifleman.  He ventured that, for Napoleonics, the Peninsula campaign was the obvious choice whereas I said it should obviously be Waterloo.  This rather polarised argument has also meant that I have, as a result, no time or interest in Austrians, Russians, Bavarians, Würtemburgers or any of the other Ruritanian armies that most Napoleonic fans bang on about (we might make an honourable exception for the Prussians but they were at Waterloo).  "Lugs" came from a very religious family and so he wasn't allowed to go and see Waterloo at the cinema, which may have affected his choices, somewhat (toy soldiers obviously weren't a problem).  Anyway, I took no notice of him as he was very short and, as his nickname may suggest, was not an attractive chap.  This didn't stop him pursuing Sandra M, the school's crack recorder player, who somewhere between leaving junior school and fourth year at senior school turned into 5'9" of willowy gorgeousness.  I am sure my fetish for girls in tennis dresses was caused by the sight of Sandra playing tennis at the Bishop Duppas park in Shepperton one weekend.  She really did have extraordinarily long legs. Given I was already 6' tall by then and Lugs was still about 5'1" it wasn't him who got kissed by the lovely Sandra under the mistletoe at our friend's Christmas party.  It pains me to say, therefore, that of course, he was quite right on the Napoleonic front (to be fair, his taste in girls couldn't be faulted, either).   The Peninsula campaign offers everything a Napoleonic player might want, from skirmishes to major battles.  This may well have been true of Sandra as well but I never found out as, sadly, her family moved to Camberley, which might as well have been Ulan Bator when you had no transport.  The added incentive here of course was my discovery of Sharpe through the ITV programmes that first appeared in 1993 (I hadn't read the books at that stage).  But...it's all those blessed straps which drive me mad when painting figures from this period.

So, moving along and flicking through my Blandford Military Uniforms of the World, I pass over the Carlist War (I think some of silly hats put me off here), the Mexican American War (if only Gringo 40s had done this in 28mm!) and, with apologies to Matt, the first Schleswig War, and alight upon the Crimean War.  Although I tend to see this as a big battles war (and not many of them either) skirmishes were common but the figures available from Great War Miniatures and Warlord Games aren't, on the whole, in skirmish poses. Still, its worth thinking about.

Timpo Seventh Cavalry 

So, our final "big one" which has sufficient big, medium and small actions is, of course, the American Civil War.  Like many from the Airfix generation this was the first black powder wargaming I did, inspired by Terence Wise's Introduction to Battle Gaming.  However, not long ago I sold my Perry plastics and all my Ospreys on the basis that all the battle reports I saw had dozens of regiments per side.  I also didn't like the Perry plastic infantry, I'm afraid to say.  This is, however, a conflict which does resonate with me because my father was interested in it and gave me some of the Timpo 7th Cavalry figures (standing in for Union infantry) which I used to mow down with a plastic Gatling gun which used to fire those little silver balls you put on trifles (or at least you did in the seventies).  My sympathies were always for the South.

So, we think that we have to choose between AWI, Peninsula Napoleonic, Crimean and American Civil War.  Next time I will try and persuade myself what it should be (given I don't get much time to paint at present I might as well ramble on like this as at least I can do this on the train!).


  1. I don't like the Perry plastic ACW infantry either.. they look like they have piles, or perhaps rheumatic knees......

    I would suggest that for skirmishing you might also want to consider early WWI (not quite black powder I know, but none the less...) but of the list you mention ACW is the standout... easier painting if you go for the rank and file, but also some gorgeous uniforms (sharpshooters, zouaves etc) if you want a change...

    PS. What's the Bath Ales beer like?? Not tried that one....

  2. PS. Your new comment moderation page doesn't have an option to subscribe to comments???

  3. Yes, ACW is starting to loom large!

    The Bath Ale was...chocolatey in a sort of bitter 95% cocoa way. Very nice. Bought it in Tesco!

    Sorry but I don't know what "subscribe to comments" means. I certainly can't find an option in settings but then since I had to switch to Google Chrome for blogger I can't find anything!

  4. I have been tempted by ACW skirmish since getting the Brother Against Brother rules. I did have an abortive attempt in 54mm but only painted 3 figures.

    I would probably go with Redoubt's range as they are big and comprehensive.


  5. Another interesting post. I really like Black Powder, and aspire to have large armies of my own to play games with using these rules.
    However I had not really thought of BP as a skirmish set of rules - I may have to revisit this ruleset with a view to exploring this option...
    I agree with many of your thoughts on periods of choice... and I too hate painting cavalry and all the straps on napoleonic figures...
    Again like you I picked ACW as a period to explore, as it could be played using BP, and the figures wouldnt be too difficult to paint.

    I quite like the perry plastics for this period, and recently completed a unit of them, based so I can skirmish with them, and still rank them them up for big battles... you may have seen my blogpost on these?

    Funny, I had a mate through school who was short and had big ears too... and we both chased the same girl for a while... though in the end neither of us won ;-)

    Keep up the entertaining blogging!

  6. I just found this post after looking for info on Black Powder as skirmish. I guess I need to find that old magazine article. Best, Dean