On Friday we are setting off for a five day holiday in Belgium, spending four nights on the battlefield of Waterloo. I am ridiculously excited at the prospect. As a teenager my family lived only a few miles away and I visited often with my Dad, - thirteen times, or so he tells me. He gave me my first Napoleonic history, David Howarth's Near Run Thing, which is still one of my favourite Waterloo accounts. But I haven't been back since 1975 and I am looking forward to seeing all the changes. My wife Caroline arranged the break and is gamely preparing for it. We recently watched Waterloo the movie together (in three instalments) and she is reading Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army. I am so touched by her readiness to embrace the battlefield tour experience! I will try not to abuse her goodwill as who knows what further tours might follow?
We are going with our good friends Keith and Fran. He is as dedicated a gamer as I am and Fran is as unmoved by military history as Caroline is. It may be tempting to suggest we split into boys and girls' parties but I know that would be a bad call. The better approach will be to take the history in small slices, with a lot of good food and at least a few non-Napoleonic diversions.
This has been a great weekend. My oldest friend and opponent, Keith, came up for three nights to coincide with Salute 2016. On Friday evening, we played a game with Tercios, repeating the scenario from 1660 in Ukraine that I tried with Ian a fortnight back. As I expected, Keith really took to the Tercios system, especially the obligation to think carefully about the orders for each unit at the start of each turn. In this game I commanded the Polish assault on a Muscovite redoubt. Unlike Ian who succeeded in this role in our previous game, I was repulsed with heavy losses.
On Saturday Keith, Ian, my sons Nick and Will and I spent the day at Salute. I wasn't sure about the Steampunk theme but Keith, who had grown mutton chops especially for the occasion, assured me that there are some good games to be played in dystopian Olde London. I nevertheless resisted the temptation to invest. Instead I picked up some Fire and Sword 15mm Polish 17th century dragoons, a box of 28mm Warlord British WW2 Infantry, 24 Newline Celtic infantry and To the Strongest, yet another Ancients rule set. It was the best Salute I remember of the past few years. Interesting that clubs from Scandinavia are attending these days. One Swedish group laid on a beautiful early medieval display game,using the skirmish rules, Lion Rampant, adapted for larger battles.
Inspired by those Swedes, on Sunday Keith and I played two games of Lion/Dragon Rampant. We created two retinues using Warhammer Empire figures but agreed not to use magic or monsters, so in essence our forces matched the Lion Rampant 100 Years War lists. One scenario was about collecting taxes in a border village and the other required one side to escort a convoy from one corner of the table to the other. The sense of storytelling was strong and the rules worked very smoothly. We each won one battle, so the score was two to one in Keith's favour by the end of the weekend.
That evening we were joined by friends who don't wargame but do have a fascination for history, so we ended the weekend as we had started it, engrossed in conversation about Wellington in the Peninsular. A pretty hear perfect few days. If only I had taken more photos...
Like many gamers these days, I am a member of several forums supporting particular rules sets or authors. My three current favourites are Honour Games, el Kraken and Polkovnik, covering Longstreet/Blucher/Maurice/Lasalle (and other rules I don't play), Tercios and Sword and Spear respectively. I visit them all every few days. In recent weeks it has struck me that each author has a particular approach to their public. Sam Mustafa of Honour is a regular contributor to his own forums and consults members on certain of his ideas, such as which army card set to release next. He also refers rules questions to the relevant page. He doesn't discourage players from adopting house rules but neither does he seem that interested in discussing rules amendments. His games are playtested extensively before release but once published, his rules are basically done.
The el Kraken forum is quite new so it may pick up, but despite being hosted by the publishers of Tercios, the rules' authors just don't seem to engage with forum members. The result is that newcomers to these excellent rules are left to fend for themselves, checking with each other how they interpret the system. This is a real shame as I can already see house rules springing up all over the place.
The third site is the charm. The author of Sword and Spear, Mark Lewis, is not only a frequent contributor to his own forum, but he positively encourages debate and has amended the rules following extensive discussion with forum members. He doesn't plan to make a habit of this but he has decided to keep army lists a living downloadable resource, to which individuals make contributions with suggestions for new armies. The Sword and Spear community seems to be the most active and engaged of the three, largely, I am sure, because of Mark's engagement with forum members. I wonder how these differing approaches are reflected in sales revenue....