Sunday, 30 April 2017

The men from Ucles

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to chateau Foy to take part in a refight of the battle of Ucles. I was on the Spanish side under the tutelage of the great man himself whilst the French were ably led by General Goya.

A general view of the table from behind the Spanish right flank.
The centre of the field - that's Ucles in the middle, an objective for the French but almost impossible to take due to sheer cliffs on most of the hex sides. Tony uses 15mm buildings with his 20mm troops and it works really well.
Now, call me old fashioned if you will, but I’ve never really liked the idea of hexes for miniatures games believing that the best place for them is board games, campaign maps and beehives. That said however, I’ve always admired the photos on Tony’s blog of his neat set up of miniatures and terrain for use with the Command & Colours rule set and it was great to be able to see all this for real.

The Spanish light cavalry shown here are all Hinton Hunt although Tony's armies have troops from just about every 20mm figure maker. Tony and I were eager to throw away our cavalry needlessly (we're both that sort of general) but we had to wait several turns before we could achieve this.
Spanish militia in the woods on the far right of our line. These militia boys put up a splendid fight, clearly Bruce Quarrie's rules were never translated into Spanish.
Those of you who follow Tony’s blog will know that he primarily wargames the Peninsular War and he has a truly stunning collection of 20mm figures for the period. It looked to me as if he has every single battalion of British, Portuguese, Spanish and French troops that ever took part but if not he can’t be far off that total.

The French cavalry were mostly comprised of Dragoons. I think these are Les Higgins (Tony, put me right).
The game started with a French assault on our outpost at Tribaldos. Our defending grenadiers made a great fight of it with an action that resembled La Haye Sainte or Hougoumont. Although the Spanish were eventually ejected we ground down the French so much that no further serious action occurred on this flank.
There can’t be many wargamers who have a Spanish Napoleonic army but Tony’s is well researched and spectacular to look at. My own prejudice against having one stems I think from Bruce Quarrie’s rules in the 70s which incorporated rather biased national characteristics that made a Spanish army pretty much unusable. Why waste time collecting one when you could have a division of British regulars instead?

A view of the Spanish left flank - the fighting around Tribaldos continues in the distance.
And here's a view of the right flank - French reinforcements are arriving on the far table edge.
As it turned out the game was highly enjoyable and provided a realistic ebb and flow that is hard to find with most conventional miniatures rules. Once you get away from worries about unit facings and formations (although there is a cunning rule for squares) and focus instead on the tricky command decisions you have to make C&C becomes a very gripping game.

Eventually the action on the right flank developed into a serious clash of arms. At the end of play each side had 7VP's which was a very good result for the Spanish. If we had played on my suspicion is that the French would have picked up the required 10VP's for a victory before we did.
I came away very impressed with both Tony’s fantastic figure collection and the C&C rules and am looking forward to another game at some point in the future. My thanks to Tony and Mrs Foy for their hospitality (we had lunch in the garden – in Scotland in April!) and to my travelling companion and opponent General Goya. A grand day out.

For a full battle report hop on over to Tony's blog here.


lewisgunner said...

Good pictures, Tony obviously has oodles of troops and the effect is impressive. I found C&C very disorienting, effectively the units have zones of control around their hex so the direction that you fight in is not just straight ahead. That gives it a chess like quality where you have to plan ahead and get lucky with the command cards to arrange a concentration of force. Its good point is that hex movement takes away the need to measure wheels and moves accurately. If you move two hexes a go then you just occupy the hex. Very stylised I would say.

Stryker said...

Roy - true it is stylised as it is after all a board game. What impressed me is how well it seemed to play using miniatures as it still felt like a conventional wargame. Not for everyone I know but I would definately play it again!

Wellington Man said...

I agree that Foy's collection is truly magnificent, and amazingly educational! I was a bit sceptical about C&C too, but also found that it made for a gripping game. Sensational photos, by the way!

Stryker said...

Matt - Tony's dedication to a single theatre of war is a lesson to us all. I wish I could be that disciplined. The way he has taken the game and adapted it to miniatures is second to none which is why I found it so appealing - not sure it would be as much fun for me using simple blocks!

Stuart C said...

A very impressive setup - my own attempts at hexes always go slightly askew.

Stryker said...

Ah Stuart, yes we could learn a thing or two from the bees!

MSFoy said...

Ian - this is a very generous and well-rounded description - you rather played down the importance of your own contribution - i can only mention (again) that the Spaniards don't normally win when I'm involved! I hope your thermal underwear proved adequate for the al fresco dining arrangements. Thanks agin for coming along - excellent fun.

C&C - I'm keen not to give any trace of being defensive here, because that is not what I'm on about at all. I am accused sometimes of evangelism, mostly by people who foam at the mouth at mention of hexes! I hope this is not the case - I am enthusiastic about my use of C&C because it works well for me, and I found it brought back a little of the excitement in wargames that I hoped for 40-odd years ago but have seldom seen since. I have abandoned the actual C&C boardgame with blocks for the time being, because the tedium of setting up cancels out a lot of the enjoyment - especially solo - and there is minimal visual entertainment (though it's a nicely made game, etc etc).

Roy is exactly correct - C&C is very stylised, and many people find it unsatisfying for that reason. It does mean that you can't have fun putting skirmishers in the church and climbing walls and all that, which I admit is a bit of a loss - on the other hand, I had years and years of games which did that sort of thing, which became too fatiguing for me and rarely, if ever, finished - Napoleon didn't really issue orders at Waterloo for the 45e Ligne to form column - he assumed someone on the spot would do that for him, so there was an element of abstraction implicit in the real battles. It's a trade-off. There's no right or wrong here, obviously - there isn't even something that is definitely (or consistently) better than something else.

I am the first to admit that C&C does not lend itself well to smaller actions, nor for the sort of game where detailed manoeuvre is required - the nearer you get to a skirmish the less suitable it is - much too coarse. That doesn't necessarily invalidate hexes (he said, irritatingly) - I have add-ons which allow a more detailed hex game (my use of hexes predates C&C by about 35 years), but the reverse side of my battleboards is plain, virtuous green, so I can use any rules I wish. I find C&C enjoyable and flexible, but it is certainly not the only game I ever wish to play.

The trick is getting the level of detail appropriate to the scale of the action, the time available and the limits of the gamer's physical and mental stamina (and mine is getting shorter by the minute - what were we talking about, again?). I suspect that over-complication in rulesets is driven (sometimes) by a search for some concept of realism, and also (sometimes) by a need for the rule-writer to demonstrate his phenomenal grasp of the drill manuals and the techniques of the day. Whatever, I find that problems I have with rules are almost always with this mismatch of game level - I am sure that Gilder's vast games (where the commanding general is also a very large number of sergeant majors, all at the same time) were spectacular and enjoyable, but I get exhausted just thinking about it. My shortcoming and my loss, rather than the hobby's, I understand!

My apologies for abusing your blog with a ramble, but I find the topic interesting!

'Lee. said...

Great write up Ian. I'm glad you enjoyed playing Commands & Colors rules.

Stryker said...

Tony - please feel free to ramble on my blog anytime! I enjoyed C&C so much I'm thinking of asking for the basic set for my birthday (yes, it's that time of year again). It's a well thought out rule system that despite being stylised has the real feel of a Napoleonic game. I'm certainly looking forward to having another go if only to see if my run of dice rolling luck continues.

Lee - thanks, I really did enjoy the game although I think I would have enjoyed any rules used with Tony's amazing armies, well except possibly Bruce Quarrie's...

Ross Mac said...

Never too hold to expand one's experiences I say and never too old (and only very shortly too young) to make one's own mind up about things afterwards.

Good ramble by Foy and good blog post and pictures by you.

lewisgunner said...

Tony makes an important point about games that never finished. Its why I moved my Ancients playing from DBM to Armati, so many games were left hanging with a decision based on 'side X looks like he has victory in sight, or the best strategic situation' . If one followed competition wargaming, one found that there are a large number of draws, winning draws, losing draws etc. Of course deploying equal points forces takes much of the blame. Certainly in Napoleonic warfare it is nearly always a matter of one side defending, the other attacking and the attacking side would generally have some advantage or necessity which compelled them to bring on battle. It would be very rare for both sides to be manoeuvering freely with equal forces. ( Of course, if you are playing with Austrians its generally going to be a question of defending :-))). Equal points games suffer from the problem of both sides being equally worn down by the time enough units have been weakened or destroyed to allow manoeuvres that might bring overwhelming force to bear. At Cirencester we frequently play scenario based games with unbalanced sides, which is great, though, depite the imbalance, both sides still get excited about win or loss as if they had an equal chance.