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|10 JUL 2012 at 11:47pm|
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Posted In: Articles : Miniature Wargaming
Everybody plays computer and board games, right? Surely, nobody still plays with miniatures? It may surprise you to know that the miniatures industry has been steadily growing over the years and is enjoying something of a “Renaissance”. The following article gives you an idea of where the hobby is at today. Those interested in the Napoleonic era, or miniature wargaming in general, please read on to see how things have changed.
A bit of history
To many, wargaming is a relatively new hobby. But in fact, war games of varying levels of complexity can be traced back as far as 1780 and before. After the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Prussian military devised a staff system that used many ideas to improve efficiency and training of the Prussian army and Officer Corp. One of these ideas was war games, or Kriegsspeil. The games evolved throughout the 19th century and spread to other armies and nations around the world, becoming ever more realistic and complex. This period, running-up to the First World War, could arguably be known as the “professional” golden age of wargaming.
Outside of the military, individuals like R.L. Stevenson and H.G. Wells had strong interests in wargaming. A book by H.G. Wells called Little Wars, published in 1913, was a basic set of rules of how to play with toy soldiers. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, others either modified these rules or devised their own until the amateur wargaming hobby began to take shape in the 1950’s. The publication of the 1957 magazine The War Game Digest occurred during a time when wargaming clubs began to appear; which possibly helped set-up an explosion of interest for the subject in the 1960’s.
My own introduction to wargaming came after being taken to see the 1970 film Waterloo as a small boy in London. Perhaps it was the huge spectacle of the film, or just the bright gaudy uniforms; but from that moment I was hooked. To then after discover that there were manufacturers that made lead miniatures of Napoleonic soldiers that could be painted and played with, was too good to be true. From then on, all my pocket money was saved and spent on these miniatures from companies like MiniFigs and Hinchliffe. They were either purchased from local model shops or from visits to shows and exhibitions, like the Model Engineer Exhibition.
Then and now
Arguably, the Napoleonic Wars period became the most popular era to wargame, as the quite extensive ranges of figures that were available grew. Figures were available for all of the major and minor nations involved: from Britain, France, Prussia, Russia and Austria, to The Grand Duchy of Warsaw! You could get infantry, cavalry and artillery miniatures and fight those epic Napoleonic battles that, up until then, you could only read about in books or see in Hollywood films. No computers or internet in those days!
Why is the Napoleonic Wars so popular? I think this was due to the change in warfare of the period. Up until then, armies and battles had been quite small affairs, with quite strict and rigid tactics. “Battle starts at 11, home by 4 for tea and medals!” But the genius of Napoleon changed all that. Conscription, fast campaign and battlefield manoeuvring became the order of the day. This saw the size of nations' armies expand to enormous proportions. The French army that invaded Russia in 1812 was nearly 500,000 strong and had contingents from every nation in Europe under Napoleon's control. Battles could also be fought over longer periods, sometimes 2-3 days, like Wagram (1809) and Leipzig (1813).
By today's standards those early miniatures were quite plain and a little short on detail, but still have a place in most wargamers' collection to this day; if not as functioning wargaming troops, at least for the sake of nostalgia. The skill of modellers, sculptors and casting techniques has advanced so much that miniatures now are so beautifully rendered that each figure in itself is a work of art. One only has to look at the picture galleries on the manufacturers' websites of companies like Front Rank, Calpe, Foundry and numerous others to see a huge number of examples of these magnificent soldiers. Even now, these ranges of figures are constantly being retooled or expanded upon to make the comprehensive catalogue—of just about every troop type that fought in the Napoleonic Wars—more complete. It would have to be a very obscure type of Napoleonic soldier for it not to have been recreated in miniature somewhere, by someone!
Is size important?
A major consideration for any wargamer is scale, and the amount of space available to play. Creating huge armies is all very well, but you will need an equivalent size board, table or play area to show off your troops. Again, the type of game and army you wish to play with is catered by different scales of figures from different manufactures. You can go from 6-10mm figures from companies like Heroics and Ros and Old Glory, to 15-28mm figures from Essex Miniatures and Renegade Miniatures, right up to 54mm figures from First Legion. There are, of course, many more manufacturers who produce figures at different scales, and in more than one scale. So a certain amount of research into the type of army you want to deploy is required before you invest your hard earned savings, to find out what takes your fancy. The size of the figures also usually determines the type of game you want to play. Smaller scales certainly allow for the “big battalions” sized battles. Or, if skirmishing is your thing, then going for the bigger figures is probably the way to go. Games usually can be comfortably played on a dining room table of around 6 x 4 foot. But if you are lucky enough to have a bigger space available, then more is certainly better!
Lead or plastic?
Are you ready to take the plunge into Napoleonic miniature wargaming? Then here is a tricky question for the raw recruit: What type of figures should I buy? A quick Internet search will reveal that there are companies that manufacture only lead miniatures, while some only manufacture plastic miniatures. There are even some that have made an unholy alliance and develop both! If you listen to the old school “grognards” argument then their answer would simply be: “you must buy lead.” Myself, I feel that this is a blinkered view, as companies like Perry Miniatures, Victrix and Warlord Games produce superb ranges of Napoleonic troops in hard plastic. These are quite simply the equal of any lead figures and, in some cases, superior. Buying plastic does also allow you to build up quite sizeable armies relatively quickly.
The obvious argument for plastic over lead is cost. A box of 30-40 hard plastic infantry figures would set you back the same as about 5-6 equivalent lead figures. But neither medium can cover the whole range. So mixing lead and plastic miniatures becomes inevitable. When they are painted, based and presented on the wargames table, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Both types of figures also have some things to consider. Hard plastic figures will need a reasonable amount of assembly as the sets are usually provided with extra arms, heads and accessories. But this does give the wargamer an opportunity to customize and convert his figures. Some lead figures sometimes come with a certain amount of “flash” that needs tidying up. But both of these issues should be of minor importance to the determined wargamer. In the final analysis, it really comes down to your budget and the depth of your pockets! I would certainly recommend a healthy mix of both lead and plastic miniatures in your tabletop armies.
Painting, basing and other pretty bits
The next stage for any would-be wargamer is how to get those miniatures looking as pretty as the examples you’ve seen at exhibitions or on online galleries. Which begs the question: “To paint, or not to paint?” The main thing to remember, if you do want to paint your army yourself, is that the figures don't need to look like they have been professionally painted. In large groups and when in-game any reasonably painted figures will be fine. But if you just want to get on and play and let somebody else do the painting then there are plenty of professional painters around who will do the job for you at varying levels of detail and cost. Again, research and budget must be taken into consideration.
There are also different mediums that can be employed at the painting stage. Water-based acrylics and oil-based enamels are the usual suspects. But it really does come down to personal preference; so trying out both is certainly worthwhile. Access to those “trade” tricks and tips on how to create shading and other stunning effects is now easier. These techniques are quite easy to discover in online tutorials and, in some cases, outstanding books done by professional painters showing off their considerable skills and how to copy them.
Getting those uniforms correct is high on the Napoleonic wargamer's list of priorities. Fortunately, help is on hand from book sources, Osprey Publishing and authors like Philip Haythornthwaite. Online sites are also an invaluable reference; and again, with a little research, just about every conceivable Napoleonic uniform can be found. There really is no excuse for not having your miniatures painted to their parade ground best. Napoleonic uniforms, such as Hussars, Cuirassiers and Carabineers, were really grand opera gone mad. So they deserve to be shown as such.
One of the things that unfortunately does get overlooked, is the basing of your troops. Fantastically painted troops can often be let down by quick basing. There is no excuse, as grass, stone, foliage and just about every type of flora and fauna are now represented in miniature modelling somewhere. Games Workshop and model railway suppliers are always a good place to start, with this. Also, having a look at the competition is another good way of getting ideas for great basing. They do say imitation is the best form of flattery!
Finishing off your troops with the correct flags, banners and standards couldn't be easier. Several companies, like Battleflag or Little Big Men Studios, produce extremely high quality transfers and paper-printed material. Those complicated looking Austrian, Prussian and Russian flags are—now—easy to overcome. You can even get a hold of transfers that can be applied to cavalry sabretaches, infantry backpacks and water canteens!
Terrain and buildings
Now that you have your Napoleonic army ready to face the opposition, some consideration must be put into the type of ground over which it will fight. A green cloth or baize will give you the base. But this will only provide a flat playing surface, which is quite featureless, and not many Napoleonic battles were fought in a billiard-smooth field. All kinds of trees, hedges, walls, roads, bridges and streams are available in different scales to decorate a wargames table. Again, I find model railway suppliers as a good starting point to source these items. There is also the option to make them yourself. Hills are quite easy to represent by cutting and shaping polystyrene tiles, then painting and flocking them. Tutorial videos to show you these methods are available online, to get the effect just right. There are also individuals and companies that make them, so they can be bought off the shelf. Wargames Tournaments and Terrain Warehouse UK are good reference points.
Farmhouses, chateaus and other buildings always look spectacular on the wargames table. The Napoleonic Wars had their fair share of iconic buildings that appeared on the battlefield—one only has to think of La Haye Sainte and Hougomont at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Traditionally, these buildings would have been built from scratch by the wargamer—very satisfying, although very time consuming. But now companies like Hovels Models and Timecast produce beautiful resin buildings, painted or unpainted, in various scales and structures. There no reason to not have a battlefield accurately represented, with buildings and all!
With everything now in place, all that is needed is the rule set. Today, there is a vast range of rules available, with varying levels of complexity, to suit battles of different scales and sizes. Everything, from skirmishes of a few dozen men on each side, to entire battles representing tens of thousands of soldiers! Original rule sets by wargame authors such as Charles Grant, Donald Featherstone and Stuart Asquith, have long been improved upon and updated; and are still in use to this day. But, depending on the size of game and complexity you wish to play, rules like: General de Brigade, Shako, Black Powder and many others are available. I recommend trying out several different sets of rules until you find one that you are comfortable with. There is also the possibility of creating a set of rules yourself from scratch.
So with sliding tape and dice in hand, it’s now time to get together with some good company and get those Napoleonic miniatures moving around the wargames table and into combat!
Beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
I hope this brief overview of wargaming with Napoleonic miniatures has persuaded any of those thinking about getting into the hobby, or those that may have let their interest lapse and needed a little nudge, to get back into it. It's some food for thought. Nothing in this article should be taken as an absolute, as there are so many variables and alternatives. The average wargamer should always be prepared and encouraged to have a certain amount of creative input and artistic licence in his gaming experience. More research will also show you that I have only really scratched the surface on all topics discussed, because of the space allowed.
I would also like to thank Mick Hoddy, Dave Marks and Steve Lampon for allowing me access to their extensive collections, and kind permission to use pictures of their magnificent troops.
I hope to see you all on the battlefield one day. A miniature one of course!
Article written by: Martin Lampon
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