Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sea Wolves: A History Of The Vikings

I've always been interested in Viking lore, from the invasion of England to the exploration of North America.  There is something mystical about the reputation of the bloodthirsty Norsemen, with their raven banners and dragon-prowed longboats.

Recently, I have been building some Viking and Anglo-Saxon forces for Hail Caesar battles.  Although my interest has been deep concerning the Viking age, I realized that I needed to expand my knowledge past my rudimentary ideas about what really happened in the Dark Ages.

I ordered Lars Brownworth's book The Sea Wolves: A History Of The Vikings and read it cover to cover quickly.  The writing is easy to follow and keeps the reader engaged throughout. As a concise, yet thorough, history of the entire Viking age, I highly recommend it to all dark age history buffs.

Although the book doesn't go into great detail on battle tactics and only has basic information about some of the larger battles in England or continental Europe, it excels as a broad overview of the two and a half centuries that encompass the Viking age.

First off, the author explains that the term "Viking" is actually a word for "raider" and goes on to detail the different regions that made up the Scandinavian world: namely the modern-day countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Although the brutality of the Norse exploits are described in a graphic manner, the author always keeps the overall accomplishment of the impact of the Viking age at the forefront.

The book is organized by regions of Viking influence and flows in a generally chronological manner and  opens with a description of the raids of Lindisfarne and the Irish monastery at Iona. After a general description of Norse culture and the geographic areas of Scandinavia in which the Vikings are described as adventurous sea-wanderers, the text shifts to the raids and campaigns in continental Europe and the plundering and ultimate breakup of Charlemagne's Frankish empire.

Several key characters from legend are discussed in great detail, especially Ragnar Lothbrok and Thorgils "the Devil." The campaigns in England are covered in chronological detail including the conquering of Northumbria and East Anglia. The rise and steadfastness of Alfred the Great's Kingdom of Wessex is covered as well. The major battles of this era are covered in general, but not in great detail.

The Viking adventure in Ireland is also covered nicely, and this is a section that I found especially enlightening. When one thinks of the Vikings, Anglo-Saxon England comes to the forefront, yet the Norwegian and Danish campaigns in Ireland and western Scotland are equally as exciting.

The book shifts at this point to discuss the exploration of the Norsemen in the discoveries of Iceland, Greenland, and Leif Erikson's landing in North America. This was an interesting focus away from the bloodthirsty raids that everyone thinks of and highlights the Norse impact on world history.

The Viking adventures in the Slavic lands and what is now modern-day Russia is discussed in a great amount of detail, demonstrating the adventures of primarily Swedish Norsemen in this area of the world. The impact of the opposing empire of Byzantium and the eventual creation of the Varangian Guard is also discussed. Many ideas were brought back to Scandinavia from the Byzantine Empire and served to begin the process of modernizing the Norse world.

The evolution of paganism to Christianity is covered throughout the book. The impact of the Anglo-Saxon and Byzantine cultures were especially important to the hesitant, but ultimately successful, conversion of the Norse beliefs in the Christian God. It's important to note that there were still holdouts to the end and continued embrace of the worship and cultural impact of Odin, Thor, and the rest of the pagan Norse gods.  

Sea Wolves winds down with a discussion of the struggles and evolution of Scandinavian culture at home, highlighting real upheaval and legendary personalities especially in Norway and Denmark.  

As the story winds down, the battle of Stamford Bridge is acknowledged as the sunset of what is known as the Viking Age. The quest for the English crown by Harald Hardrada is described in great detail and Harald's death is heralded as a great Viking death and ultimate entry into Valhalla.

The impact of the Vikings that helped to shape the modern world is huge, although this era of history occurred over a thousand years ago. The ultimate creation of a united England, the formation of Russia, and the discovery of the New World, were but a few of the major consequences of that Norse sea-lust. Lars Brownworth has written an excellent general history of the entire Viking age that is a great starting point for any historian interested in this time period.

As a great beginning to the journey of researching the Dark Ages, this book is outstanding.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Historicon 2017 Recap in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Historicon 2017 is now in the books and, unfortunately for me, was the last miniature gaming convention held in historic Fredericksburg (at least for the time being). Held from July 13th-17th, the temperatures were high, the restaurants and hotels were great, and I had a blast at the convention center.

One of the many impressive games during Historicon 2017

My son accompanied me and we were determined to play in more games and buy more "toys" this year, knowing it was our last Historicon for awhile (we are not planning on making the trek next year to Lancaster, Pennsylvania).

I'm not privy to the convention statistics, but it seemed that attendance was very high throughout the week. The parking lot was almost always full and the gaming rooms were packed. On the negative front,  it seemed that the vendors, for the most part, were experiencing a decrease in total sales. Again, I'm not sure of the accuracy of that statement, but heard several merchants lamenting about the lack of traffic in the vendor hall.

As for gaming, I was able to play in a Chain of Command game (great), an Et Sans Resultat demonstration game (great), a SAGA multi-player game (awesome), and learned how to play the Triumph ancient rules  (Very Good). My son played his hand at Frostgrave, played a critical part in the Battle of Bouvines, more SAGA, and was my opponent in Triumph. I enjoyed all of the games, but James McWilliams' SAGA game was my favorite part of the convention. James, again, proved to be the consummate game master, ensuring that everyone not only had a great time, but taught the details of SAGA in a way that made all of us believers in the system.

I particularly enjoyed chatting about game mechanics with David of Et Sans Resultat, and admired the huge amount of work and original ideas that he put into this relatively new Napoleonic rules system.

The quality of the games and terrain seemed excellent. My pick for "best terrain" was Bill Johnson's Age of Piracy game in Exhibit Hall A. It was obvious that the host went way "over the top" in putting on an impressively beautiful game.

Incredible Terrain !

So here are some of the highlights of Historicon 2017.....what a great show !

Monday, July 10, 2017

Napoleonic Russian Troops

The Imperial Russian Army was the largest and, arguably, the most powerful of the forces that confronted Napoleon. Considered slightly barbaric by their more "enlightened" allies, the Russians had a reputation for toughness and stoic behavior, especially on the defense. The Russian artillery was large in numbers and deadly on the battlefield. Although the Russian line cavalry was solid and dependable, the infamous Cossacks would fill their opponents with fear while on campaign.

A Russian army in miniature is definitely a colorful and powerful force to build and game.

My Russian Napoleonic collection is primarily made up of troops of the 1812-1814 campaigns


In the 1790's, during the Revolutionary wars, the Russian army was patterned after the Prussian model and was linear in nature. Tsar Paul I had an almost unhealthy obsession for anything Prussian and this was definitely reflected throughout the army. For infantry, the line formation was considered the primary formation for battle, while the column by platoons (company column) was to be used for maneuver only.

Tsar Paul I committed his forces to ally with the British in Holland and the Austrians in Switzerland and Italy against the dreaded French foe. The Holland expedition was a disaster, but the Russo/Austrian force under Marshal Suvarov was initially victorious in Italy. Notable victories at Trebbia and Novi cemented the brilliant Suvarov's reputation. Although defeated in Switzerland by Massena (Suvarov was not present at the battle), the Russians built on their reputation for toughness and a particular fondness for the bayonet.

Unfortunately for the Russians, Marshal Suvarov was an exceptional representative of Russian leadership. As a whole, the officer corps in the Russian army was typically horrible and drunk most of the time. Although the officers on the regimental and brigade levels were capable, the higher echelon of leaders were considered deplorable.

In 1805, the Russians and their Austrian allies were beaten decisively at Napoleon's crown jewel of battles, Austerlitz. The Austrians promptly sued for peace, while the Russians retreated.

In 1806, allying itself with Prussia against the French, the Russian army had reorganized with a fixed divisional structure, which greatly increased its administrative and command capability.  The Prussians engaged the Grande Armee before the Russians could arrive and the army was essentially destroyed at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt. The Russians retreated into Poland and waited for Napoleon's advance.

The 1807 campaign in Poland featured the most brutal fighting up to this point in the Napoleonic Wars. The Russians fought the French to a standstill in the snow of Eylau. Although a bloody draw, the Russians abandoned the field, allowing Napoleon to proclaim victory. Eylau saw the massive use of Russian artillery to decisively damage the French. Marshal Augereau's Corps was effectively blown apart by the Russian guns. Although later defeated by Napoleon at Friedland, the 1807, the Russians proved in 1807 that they were worthy foes.

Russian artillery was especially dominating on the fields of Eylau and Borodino

The Treaty of Tilsit  agreed upon between the Emperor Napoleon and the Emperor Alexander temporarily tied Russian interests to France. 

Russian imperial interests eventually collided with France as well as Alexander's disdain for the continental system, which steadily weakened the Russian economy. The formation of Poland as the Duchy of Warsaw also threatened Russia. War was on the horizon and Napoleon gathered a massive Grande Armee and invaded Russia in 1812.

The Russians had utilized  the years of peace wisely and reorganized their forces along the Corps system. This was evident in the battles for "Mother Russia" in 1812. Employing a "scorched earth" policy to draw the French and their allies further into the interior of Russia, the Russians finally made their stand outside Moscow at the Battle of Borodino. Borodino was the bloodiest battle to date in the Napoleonic Wars. Both sides butchered each other, with the Russian guns and unyielding infantry proving to be especially stubborn. At the end of the day, the Russians left the field, but had damaged the Grande Armee severely. Napoleon entered an abandoned Moscow but soon began the long and devastating retreat as winter reared its head. The fearsome Cossacks were especially brutal and established a fearsome reputation among the French. By the end of the campaign, Napoleon's proud army had disappeared and the Russians continued to pursue.

Russian Cossacks and Bashkirs developed a fearsome reputation for raiding in the 1812 campaign

Napoleon proved to be a magician in order to build another army from scratch in the spring campaign of 1813. Although Napoleon had lost an army in Russia, the 1812 campaign was no less kind to the Russian armies. Allying themselves with a resurgent Prussia, the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen were fought and considered minor French victories, but with a substantial lack of cavalry, Napoleon was unable to pursue effectively. A cautious Austria finally joined the coalition with the Prussians and Russians and, after a lengthy campaign, finally defeated the French at the massive battle of Leipzig.

A final campaign for the occupation of France followed in 1814, with Napoleon pulling off miracle after miracle against the allies. Eventually, the French army was diminished to the point of annihilation and Napoleon abdicated. Except for the Hundred Days campaign in 1815 in which the Russians did not see combat, the Napoleonic Wars were over.


The Russian line infantry and jagers were organized into 4 company battalions, 2-3 battalions to a regiment, 2-3 regiments per brigade, and 2-3 brigades per division. Although the line battalions, on paper, contained a grenadier company (the jagers had a carabineer company), these elite troops were typically formed into combined grenadier battalions and brigaded as a reserve force.

The Russian infantry endured harsh discipline that owed much to the cultural treatment of the serfs and peasants of the Russian population by the nobility. This discipline did indeed produce extremely tough soldiers who seemed to withstand hardship of any kind.

The Russian army boasted a powerful Imperial Guard as well and was considered second only to Napoleon's Imperial Guard in size and reputation.

Russian infantry had a reputation for extreme toughness

Russian grenadiers form a powerful brigade


Russian cavalry of the line was made up of Curassiers, Dragoons, and Hussars. The cavalry typically performed well but was overmatched in the earlier years by the extremely well-led French cavalry.

The irregular Russian cavalry consisted of a large number of Cossacks, as well as Bashkirs. Although no match for formed European cavalry on the battlefield, these irregular horsemen excelled at ambushes, woods fighting, and lightning raids on supply lines. Their reputation for not offering quarter and their particular fondness for plunder created a strong fear among the French.

Russian armored cuirassiers in reserve

Russian Hussars at the ready

Ural Cossacks support the infantry


The Russian artillery arm also had a reputation for toughness and tenacity on the field. Batteries were typically huge, sporting 12 guns on the average. The Russians were essentially the first nation to employ massed batteries at Eylau, to horrific effect. Training and leadership was considered excellent. Equipment was maintained at a high level, although gunpowder has been mentioned as a weak spot. The artillery's philosophy was also one of defense, whereas the French tactical philosophy was to use their guns in support of an attack, therefore Russian position batteries typically were immobile and static.

Supply and Logistics

Due to the poor leadership within the Russian officer corps, supply was always a problematic area. When allied with the Austrians and Prussians, the Russian armies benefitted directly from their allies' logistical prowess. When left to their own devices, the Russians subsisted on very little food and forage (another example of the toughness of the Russian soldier).


Especially in the early years, the Russian officer corps was probably the most inefficient and amateurish of all of the coalition nations. The exception was the superb Marshal Suvarov. The inability of the Russians to employ offensive power dictated that many battles were fought on the defense. The years between 1807 and 1812 saw many reforms and the reputation of Russian leadership greatly improved. Leaders like Platov, Kutusov, and Bagration proved to be outstanding generals in the fight against Napoleon.


As a wargaming army, the Russians are one of my favorites. Extremely tough on defense, they are colorful and unique among their European allies.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Search For The Holy Grail: The Best Napoleonic Rules Pt. 7

In this ongoing series, I have analyzed several Napoleonic rules sets in order to find the elusive "holy grail" that most Napoleonic gamers seek. The specific rules rated are tactical in nature; in other words, these rules feature tactical units at the level of infantry battalions, batteries, and cavalry regimentsl. I also reviewed rules that did not feature "simultaneous movement." Grand-tactical rules sets were not reviewed.

This post features General d' Armee, the new Napoleonic system from David Brown (of General de Brigade fame). I have recently reviewed the author's American Civil War rules, Pickett's Charge, and am glad to report that General d' Armee is even more impressive.

General d' Armee is not a clone of Pickett's Charge with a few Napoleonic adjectives added. A great deal of work has gone into this rules set to encompass the overall feel of Napoleonic warfare. Although the basic mechanisms are similar to Pickett's Charge, the details are purely Napoleonic in nature. I actually feel that releasing Pickett's Charge several months ago was a brilliant marketing move to pave the way for the masterful General d' Armee.

Scale:  In my analysis of any rules set, I always take a look at game scale first. The rules can be used for any figure scale available, but are geared towards 15mm and 25mm. Ground scale is approximately 1 yard per millimeter while time scale is 10-15 simulated minutes per game turn. As for figure ratio, the author devised an interesting system that gives the gamer all options. Each tactical unit is classified as Small, Standard, or Large. The rules do not dictate how many figures equals each size unit (although several options are given), as long as players are consistent within the game. I first saw this concept in the Black Powder rules and was impressed with the idea. It is a refreshing change from General de Brigade (which I think very highly of, by the way) with its very stringent basing and figure ratio requirements. It allows me to use my figures for these rules as well as Carnage and Glory 2  (my other favorite rules system).

For my 15mm collection, I personally settled on a figure ratio based on the following:

- A small infantry unit equals 16 casting, while a small cavalry unit equals 8 figures.
- A standard infantry unit equals 24 figures, a standard cavalry unit is made up of 16 figures and a standard 6-8 gun battery equals 2 bases.
- A large infantry unit equals 36 figures, a large cavalry unit equals 24 figures, and a large battery has 3 bases.

Again, this was my choice that reflected my collection and "look" that I wanted on the tabletop and may not be shared by others.

Turn Sequence:  The turn consists of the following phases.

     Command and Initiative. ADC's are rolled for and allocated to brigades by the Division commander. Brigade activations are rolled for. Initiative is rolled for to determine the first side in movement, charges, and firing.
     Charges. Charges are declared, defensive fire occurs, and Charge results are determined.  
     Movement. Normal movement occurs in a UGO/IGO system, with the side winning initiative moving first.
     Firing. All skirmish, musketry, and artillery fire is conducted with the side winning initiative firing first and causing casualties and possible discipline tests before the other side has a chance to fire.
     Melee. All charge results that indicate Melee are conducted at the end of the turn.

Command and Control:  General d' Armee has an interesting "game within a game" when it comes to command and control. In a division-sized game, the division commander is the commander-in-chief and rolls to determine ADC's (aides de camp). The quality of the division commander can impact the number of ADC's rolled for. These ADC's can then be attached to brigades for several different functions.

Each brigade is required to make an activation roll. Passing the activation roll ensures that the brigade follows orders and may move at the player's discretion that turn. When a brigade fails its activation roll, it becomes "hesitant" and is severely limited as to the actions each unit may undertake. Faltering brigades have experienced unit routs or dispersals in previous turns and must be rolled for on a separate table and may end up following orders, retiring, retreating, or routing away.

Here is where the ADC's come in handy. They are always limited in number but extremely valuable in order to keep the division moving.

Attached ADC's can allow another brigade activation roll if the first one is failed. ADC's can also be used to activate reserve brigades, increase artillery rate of fire, add to the brigade skirmish line, order an infantry assault, and other missions. A Faltering brigade must have an ADC attached or the entire brigade conducts a "Sauve Qui Peut."  This is a rather annoying use of a valuable ADC and is a brilliant method of simulating a deteriorating command structure in a division.

For Corps and Army-sized battles, the Corps commander allocates extra ADC's (depending on commander quality) to a particular division or divisions. This is an excellent method of allowing the Corps commander the ability to influence a particular area of the battle.

Tactical command and control is simple and based on a command span of a brigade commander. Units outside this distance are severely limited in their actions.

Charges:  Once initiative is determined, the first player announces all charges, while the second player announces reactions to those charges, whether it is to stand and deliver defensive fire or form square versus a cavalry attack. The charging unit are then moved to within 5 cm of the target, receives any defensive or supporting fire, and then the charge is rolled for depending on the tactical situation. Most of the time, one unit or the other will either falter, retire, retreat, or rout. In some cases, the units close into melee which are conducted at the end of the turn. In comparison to Pickett's Charge, cavalry versus cavalry charges will most often result in melees.

Supporting units in a charge are discussed as well as Massed Columns in a charge. This section takes some extra digestion and is probably the most complex part of the rules (for me, anyway).

The Discipline Test and Morale: As another change to General de Brigade, there is no separate Morale phase. Morale is determined on the unit level during charges, melees, or when a unit suffers destructive fire. When called for, a unit must roll a discipline test to determine any effect on morale.

Morale on the grand-tactical level is dealt with during the command phase. Again, brigades suffering routs or dispersals become Faltering and must roll on a separate activation table.

Movement: After charges are conducted, the first player conducts normal movement. Terrain, changing formations, and movement distances are easily understood for each type of unit. After the first player moves, the second player then conducts all movement. All formations including open order and column by platoons are discussed in detail.

Fire: The first player conducts all fire. Skirmish fire from either the brigade skirmish screens or an open order unit is one of my favorite parts of the system. The formation of brigade skirmish screens are covered as well, with the differences covered in detail between French impulse systems and linear systems of the early Russians or Austrians used. Musketry and Artillery fire are also completely covered in the rules and utilizes a simple 2d6 roll on the fire table plus or minus modifiers. After the first player finishes all fire and all casualties and discipline tests are suffered, the second player then conducts all fire. National characteristics are ingrained in the tables; one example is that 2 rank infantry (British) in line fire on the "superior volley" table as opposed to the standard or inferior volley table. As a unit takes casualties, it not only gets closer to dispersal, its performance in fire and charge ability suffers as well. For certain modifiers (like large battalions or batteries, or Elite units) a number of casualty dice (six sided dice) are generated in addition to the fire table. A nice optional rule that I also use is an extra casualty die for a unit's initial volley.

Melee: For any charges that result in a close combat, these melees are conducted at the end of the turn. Each side will generate a number of casualty dice depending on each unit's tactical situation (size of unit, unformed, morale rating, etc). Casualty dice (six sided dice) are rolled, with hits occurring on 4-6. The difference in hits between opposing units determine what happens. Again, this system is generally similar to Black Powder and is simple and effective.

Summary:  After testing the system out on the table, I felt the rules flow extremely smoothly. One of my primary measures of a great rules set is how it portrays a "story" on the tabletop. These rules do that very well. I am also impressed with the realism and detail that is contained within the rules. The command and control phase in particular inspires excellence.  Not only does it provide dramatic tension, a player is literally forced to keep the grand-tactical big picture in mind...........if not, the battle can be lost solely due to command issues.

As an admirer of Mr. Brown's General de Brigade rules, I feel that the author took the best parts of that rules system and married some truly groundbreaking ideas to create General d' Armee.

As for playability, I rate General d' Armee as a 9 even though there is a large amount of detail ingrained within the pages. Mr. Brown has also certainly done his historical research as the detail and accuracy also seem right on point. I rate General d' Armee an 8.5 in historical accuracy for an overall score of 8.75. 

I think I've found my Holy Grail !