|Croats ambush a Prussian supply wagon and its escort of dismounted hussars.
(Minden Miniatures, Perry supply wagon, Cigar Box Battles game mat)
Click/Double Click all pictures to see them in their full awesomeness.
Well, we seem to have come down with a case of skirmish game fever here at Schloss Seewald, and the only prescription for the fever is either more cowbell or paint more figures. I have opted for the latter seeing that I do not own any cowbells.
I have pretty much decided that my convention games for 2020 will all be skirmish level games set in either the SYW or the AWI, or even both! I have observed that convention gamers seem to have more fun playing in the smaller skirmish games, where they might command anything from one to, say, 24 figures, than they do in large battalion/regiment styles of games.
Possible skirmish scenarios include the ever popular ambush of the wagon train convoy, or a raid on the field bakery of the enemy (an army can't fight without bread), or the capture of a certain king who likes to ride out in the country on reconnaisance. You get the idea.
|Croat Terror Strikes Again!
|A Prussian field bakery seems like a ripe target for a Croat raid.
( A mix of RSM and Minden figures. Field bakery ovens scratch-built by Ed Phillips;
the other buildings were made by Herb Gundt).
An added benefit, I think, is that it should be easier to transport all of the components of a skirmish game set up than it is for a larger game of 12-16 regiments per side. At least I think that to be the case, but if you have been a reader of this blog since its inception in 2010, you know that Der Alte Fritz doesn't like to do anything nice and easy, so there is a risk that the size of my skirmish game set up could grow like kudzu.
I digress though...
|Prussian Black Hussars - one of my favorite cavalry uniforms of all time.
(Minden Miniatures dismounted Prussian hussars in mirliton hats)
The Genesis of this Particular Butterfly
The attraction of the skirmish game began to germinate at the recent Seven Years War Association convention in April 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. I was talking with Paul Petri and Herb Gundt about the dearth of game on Saturday evening of the convention and we were trying to gin up a solution to get more games for that time slot. It used to be that Saturday evening was THE Prime Time slot at the convention, but somewhere along the line, the attraction seemed to fade away. I noticed that people were taking off earlier on Saturday and traveling home, whereas they used to stay at the hotel on Saturday night and go home on Sunday.
What to do? Schedule games that are more fun and less serious on Saturday night. Now I know of one curmudgeon who bristles at the idea of wargames being fun, but let's cross him off our list as an outlier on the extreme and focus on the large majority of gamers who go to a convention to have some fun. ("No Fritz, I want to travel several hundred miles to a convention and have a miserable time in each game that I play in.").
First, the Rules
I decided that I needed to have a set of skirmish rules that are easy to learn and yes, fun to play, and ones that could introduce a certain level of role playing. Sharp Practice seemed like a good set, at least until I played them at the Little Wars convention this year. I liked the rules, but they seemed too complicated for a person to pick up right away (that would be ME). Skirmish game rules need to be easy, easy and more easy to learn so that the players can step into their roles and start stabbing their fellow gamers in the back, as needed, during the game.
I looked at a number of skirmish level rules, but then deep in the cobwebs of my brains, I remembered that I used to use my own set of rules, called "Croat Terror", for skirmish games and they met my requirements of (1) easy to learn, and (2) fun to play. The title of the rules has its genesis in a FIW game that Tod Kershner used to run at conventions, called "Iroquois Terror." I thought that Tod's title instantly conveyed the concept of fun, so when I sought to have a game set in Europe, the idea of roving bands of Croat light infantry wreeking terror on Prussian supply convoys led to the name "Croat Terror for my rules. In this day and age of global terrorism, perhaps the title has too much of a raw edge to it and might have to be renamed. What was acceptable in the 1990s may be less so in 2019. Your thoughts on this would be appriciated.
So I decided to go with the "Croat Terror " rules for my skirmish games.
Organizing the Forces
I think that once skirmish units get to be more than about 20-30 figures, then we are no longer talking about playing a skirmish game. I can't pinpoint the precise size, but it is one of those "I'll know it when I see it" types of things. I have elected to go with a company of 12 figures as the basic building block of the combatants. Each group of 12 figures has one NCO in it - this is what I am calling a "company" of figures. Two such companies are commanded by an officer, probably at the captain or major rank.
Some examples of the figure organization are shown below - Prussian freikorps troops and Prussian jagers. The individual stands (25mm diameter discs) and movement trays will be finished off with my usual static grass and tufts or flower. My apologies for showing them in their unfinished state.
|Prussian frei-battalion or regiment. Two companies of twelve figures plus a commanding officer.
The forces include a mix of Fife & Drum AWI Continentals painted as Prussians
and some Fife & Drum AWI Hessians painted as Prussians.
|Prussian jagers - two companies of 12 figures plus a commanding officer.
(Minden Miniatures, all)
I am using 25mm diameter wood discs for the individual figures, which fit into a movement tray that holds the 12 figures in the company. The NCO is one of the figures on the movement tray plus 11 rank and file soldiers. I decided on using Litko movement trays for my skirmish companies. They are reasonably priced, the unit looks nice and tidy in the tray, and Litko provides really great customer service.
I mentioned that portability of the terrain was an important consideration for me. I use a 6ft by 12ft canvas matt that rolls up onto a cylinder. The problem is that the cylinder is six feet long, so it can be a problem finding a place for it when I load up my car with "game stuff". I have seen a number of game judges using the Cigar Box Battles game mats, as mentioned in an earlier blog post, and so I purchased two 6ft by 5ft mats that are designed to match up (roads to roads, etc.) for my skirmish games. I can fold the mats up into a smaller, rectangular size that takes up way less room than the six foot cylinder. That is a big plus as far as I'm concerned.
I should add that I really like the Cigar Box game mats.
Once the mat is set up on the table, then it is a simple matter of placing trees and buildings and whatever else strikes your fancy onto the game mat. I carry all of my buildings and trees in plastic stackable bins that have a pull-out drawer. When I am packing up, it is easy to put the few buildings into a plastic bin and then do the same for the trees. That's pretty much it as far as the terrain goes. Easy peasy and everything is all tickety-boo.
Figures to use in the Game
Naturally, I am largely using Minden SYW and Fife and Drum AWI miniatures. I add in the occasional RSM and/or Perry figure here and there. Perry has some nice civilian figures in their AWI figure range that are worth having a look. I like to have a lot of civilians roaming around the perifery of the game table. But you had best beware, if you decide to attack a civilian with one of your soldiers, be advised that the civilians can fight back. Oftentimes the civilians are noncombatants, but once one of them are attacked, then they band together and go crazy on the offending side.
The Tale of Bucket Woman
I recall one game in which a Croat player decided to kill a woman carrying one of those water bucket yokes. We called her Bucket Woman and she was a deadly fighter. To begin, one Croat attacked Bucket Woman and didn't realize that she could and would fight back. The Croat got clocked by one swing of her water bucket yoke.
|Bucket Woman - the Biggest Badass in Silesia
(Minden Croats, Foundry Bucket Woman, and Perry Ma and Pa figures)
|Two Croats warily approach the dreaded Bucket Woman.
Ma and Pa are in the background observing the things to come.
OK, then the Croat player decided that he would attack again, only this time with two Croats. Bad idea, because a water yoke has two wooden buckets and with one swing to the left and one swing to the right Bucket Woman dispatched two more naer-do-well Croats.
Finally, the Croat player's blood was up and he wanted revenge, however, he was now wise to the ways of Bucket Woman and decided to shoot her rather than get in another melee with her. And not with just one Croat, but with five Croats, just to make sure. As you might guess, the Croats fired and all of them missed.
But wait, there's more... Bucket Woman had a pistol concealed in her robes and as the black powder smoke from the Croat muskets wafted up into the air, she pulled out her pistol, aimed it at one of the Croats, and despatched him with one shot.
Finally, the Croat player decided that he had had enough and retreated away from Bucket Woman. No one else dared to engage her thereafter.
This is the type of story that makes skirmish games so much fun. They can be very unpredictable and the players can't help but get involved with the role playing aspect of the game.
My Proposed Austrian and Prussian Forces
I will have to do a number of play tests to determine whether a player should have only one company of 12 figures, or will two companies work too, or will two companies clog up the table. Let me know what your thoughts are: 12 figures per player or 24 figures per player.
Thus far I have painted 2 x 12 Prussian Freikorps infantry, 2 x 12 Prussian jagers, 1 x 12 dismounted Black Hussars, and I'm in the process of finishing up 1 x 12 dismounted Zieten Hussars.
My Austrian army currently has 2 x 12 Croats and 2 x 12 Austrian grenadiers with some more units to follow to even up the sides.
I am making good progress in my painting of the skirmish figures so I hope to be able to run some play test games over the summer.
I think that we are going to have a lot of FUN with the Skirmish Game Project