Saturday, 17 July 2010

Busy Week - Little to Show

Its been a very busy week, and I have worked harder than usual on the blogs, but there is not much to report on this one.

Some of you may know that I do four or five blogs each week. One of about living in Spain, and is mostly aimed at our walking group plus friends and family in UK. A second is about our walking visit to Napoleonic battlefields over the years. A new one is about rewriting our wargame rules. There is usually one about our current campaign, but we are between campaigns at present. Then there is this one. This is a general blog about all of our Napoleonic interests, and is designed to give a brief update on what is happening with the other blogs, or sometimes to deal with a subject which does not fit easily into any of the other ones.

I have two main projects at present. First there is the map making. This has proved to be a whole new interest for me. I spend hours and hours creating the two master maps, one of Germany and one of Spain. These are a mixture of real maps and my understanding of how the strategic road system worked in the Napoleonic period. I am hoping that the result will be a series of map which will recreate the historical campaign problems of the period. For example on modern maps the road system has made new centres important, and bypassed historical ones. There is also the problem that as wargamers we are inclined to think that battlefields were important strategic places, often they were not.

My maps consist of a 20 mile grid, and each square has one city, town or village. There are three squares which cover the Waterloo campaign area. The southern one shows Charleroi, strategically as important now as then. The northern one shows Brussels, again no question what to put in that square. The centre one is the problem. On the AA road atlas which I use as the map reference Nivelles is the major town. Genappe and Fluers are the other two shown. There is no sign of Waterloo or Quatre Bras! Clearly Nivelles is the right town to show on this square.

So how to overcome this problem. The maps with the 20 mile grid are the strategic maps. But when two armies come within 80 miles of each other I make a tactical map. On this one nine wargame scenic squares cover the same 20 mile grid. So I have nine squares to show more detail. Nivelles is still shown as the major town, but both Waterloo and Quatre Bras would be shown as cross roads, each with one building to represent a farm or hamlet.

But you will see that a detailed knowledge of historical battlefields, and why they were chosen, is a great advantage if you want to make accurate campaign maps.

The second project is my wargame rules. I am really enjoying this project, as it makes me think about the rules and what I want to achieve with them. They were originally written as a sort of "idiot's guide" for Jan and I. We both have terrible memories and always need to refer to the rules. So I typed up one page to cover each phase of the game. I left out all of the things which we knew, understood and agreed. So what was left was a collection of key points. For example movement showed distances in different formations, but nothing about the formations.

I am also pleased that I have had some response to the rules blog, and all of it constructive and helpful.

I suspect that the rules, and the campaign, will never be complete. Both, and playing wargames, have taken over from the many hours a week I used to spend on painting model soldiers. I have no wish whatsoever to expand or change my collection of model soldiers. I know that this will seem strange to most wargamers, who never have enough figures. I can well understand this attitude, because it was my attitude for about 35 years. I always wanted more or better. But having worked my way through that stage, during which time I was left with hardly any time to actually play wargames, I am now enjoying the fruits of my labours.

We have never spent more time wargaming, nor enjoyed it more. Almost every day we spend a couple of hours at the wargame table. We often question a rule or a result, but we can usually agree on the outcome. If not we are both happy to roll a dice. Then long after the heat of battle I can sit down and consider whether it is important enough to change the rules. Most times it is not, and such a change would create more problems than it would solve.

Like I said at the beginning. Its been a busy week, but very little to show for it. However it has been another enjoyable week and makes me appreciate again how lucky it was when I found that copy of "Charge, or How to Play Wargames" on the library shelf in the late 1960s. That was the start of it all, and I can't imagine what our life would have been without it.


Lee said...

Hello again Paul,

A quick comment to let you know that I'm still following the development of your 'rules' blog and I plan to print and bind the lot into a booklet (with your permission of course!) for when I begin to use them with my own growing armies. having read many of your campaign reports I'm convinced the rules will work for me, albeit with units double the size.

Your 'walking' blog is great too and I love the photography, looks a beautiful place to live.

All the best to you both,


MSFoy said...


Your point about names of areas interested me - I've just been through a similar exercise with my own campaign map. My own map of the Peninsular War is partly derived from the old 'War to the Death' board game, and uses a network of districts connected by a stylised road system, so it's move-based rather than a sheet of hexes, but each district is identified by the name of the principal town (or something), and - tastefully - bears a contemporary coat-of-arms, which we regarded as a nice elegant touch.

Years ago I was involved in a number of Peninsular campaigns, and we found it was very hard to break away from the historic precedent - it was difficult to avoid finding yourself refighting the Battle of Albuera yet again, on the same field, simply because Jac Weller's book features the battlefields on the main map! So we took some trouble to avoid highlighting actual battlefields, so that our campaigns would not be distorted in this way.

So, remembering the old pitfalls, my new map deliberately avoids having districts named after villages which are only notable as having been real battlefields - though obviously you have to have a district of Salamanca!

I believe if you are going to play out a campaign then you should only try to follow history if you actually want to!

Enjoying your blogs as ever - was surprised to see the Austrian army in Spain, but that's history clouding my vision again...



thistlebarrow said...

Hi Tony

It makes sense that it is difficult to avoid ending up in the same place as historical commanders, particularly if you are following their campaign progress. Albuera is a good example. It would not be possible to reach Badajoz from Seville without passing through Albuera. However it is too small to be shown on a large scale map. And of course the main road would have run from Seville to Meridia.

There is another option without having lots of very detailed maps. If you are sending a French force to Badajoz and they are opposed by an allied one, always fight the battle at Albuera. Just set up the table from a historical map, but use your campaign order of battle.

I prefer to use my tactical maps. But it can be justified on the grounds that the defending commander would choose the best available defensive position.

I thing it is reasonable to assume that in any area of 20 square miles there is going to be at leat one good defensive postion. So if one commander is allowed to choose at will, he would be more likely to choose that one. Even though Wellington was not present at Albuera he did choose it and recommended it to Beresford.

Not sure that you mean about an Austrian army in Spain?




thistlebarrow said...

Hi Lee

I can send you a copy of the rules once they are finished if you like? Needless to say you are more than welcome to use them.

I am sure that they can be used with units of any size, whether more wargame figures or each one representing a different formation. The important thing is to keep the number of elements per commander similar. Six elements is about right. With a Gifted commander he can usually do most of what he wants to achieve. With a Poor commander he rarely can. If you were to reduce the number to say four, it would make the commanders life too easy!

I'm glad that you like the walking blog. It has not occurred to me that anyone interested in the Napoleonic one would also find the walking one of interest.

As a blog its the most rewarding one to do. I normally pusblish it each Tuesday, the day after our weekly walk. And if its not done on time I get complaints by email on Wednesday morning!

Costa Blanca is a much more beautiful and varied place than many realise. Most think of Benidorm and packed beaches. But just a few miles inland are mountain ranges and valley's as attractive as anything in England or Wales, or even Scotland. And it never ceases to surprise me how green it is all year around, despite the pretty constant sun shine.

best regards


Matt said...

Hello there,

I've been following your blog for a while, and was quite interested in the walking tour where you mentioned spending time in Seville.

I'll be visiting Seville in around three weeks and wondered if there were any Napoleonic sites of interest you could suggest? I was also wondering if there were any Wargames/miniatures shops in the area that you may know about?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Matt

We only spent two days in Seville, but during that time did not find anything of Napoleonic interest. I am sure that there must be, as Soult had his headquarters there during the period. I did ask our local guide, but her knowledge seemed to end with the defeat of the Moors by the Christians!

Despite this Seville is a lovely city, and very easy to explore on foot. I do hope that it is not too hot to walk around when you are there. The temperature has been 40c plus this past week or so!

However we did find Cadiz very interesting. We only spent one afternoon there, but managed to walk around part of the defensive walls. And its a city we shall certainly return to.

Sorry I can not be of more help. I hope you enjoy your visit.



MSFoy said...

Hi Paul - me again

I agree entirely with your point about tactical actions tending to gravitate to strong defensive positions, and the likelihood of a classic historical position being used on the tabletop. I also agree that Albuera makes your point very well - a better example for me would have been Fuentes d'Onoro; one of my old campaigns had an area which was noted on the map as Fuentes d'Onoro, simply because that's what it said on the map in Michael Glover's book (or whatever) - it was very hard to approach this area on the map without thinking in terms of it being a battlefield!

Also, if a wargame battle does occur on a historical site, it is very hard to think beyond what actually happened - either by repeating it or by altering it as a result of the 'benefit of hindsight'! Potentially an impediment either way.

Austrian army in Spain - don't know if this link will work (cut & paste it or something), but have a look at your Spanish campaign map at

Regards - thanks for all your work


thistlebarrow said...

Hi Tony

Its interesting that you have found the same problem with historical battle sites in relation to actual area maps. It had not really occurred to me until I started making my own maps.

Often our introduction to an area, for example Fuentes de Orono, is in the form of a battle report, with a sketch map of the battle. This always shows the village/cross roads etc as the centre of the map.

Our first visit to Fuentes de Orono was with Holts Battlefield Tours. We arrived at the village, and again got the impression that it was on the main road to Almeida.

When we returned on our own we found it quite difficult to find the village, and even drove past it twice on the Vilar Formosa to Cuidad Rodrigo road! it was not shown on our map and we eventually had to ask at the border post for directions.

Again I agree about finding it hard not to follow historical tactics. Its only one of the reasons I avoid historical battles. The other being the difficulty of recreating the battlefield on the table and fielding the historical order of battle.

Finally I see what you mean about Austrians in Spain. When I did that blog I had not yet produced a tactical map with Profantasy. I did not have one of my hand drawn ones of Spain, so I used the Passau campaign map as an example of what a tactical map would look like. Perhaps not such a good idea after all!

At least it shows someone is reading the blog and trying to make sense of it.