Our Journey To Borodino
Napoleons journey to and from Borodino was long and bloody. Our journey was less bloody, but seemed just as long. But first I should perhaps explain to any reader that if they are hoping to learn about the titanic battle in September 1812 then they’d probably best look elsewhere (the bibliography will help), but I’d leave this bit of writing well alone…
I’ve been gaming for too many years, I can (vaguely) remember Airfix Napoleonics, but after leaving the hobby for the usual reasons: work, beer, women, I returned when I needed de-stressing from work. The wife didn’t like the other women bit and I needed an excuse to drink – although wife, work and children could probably all be counted as reasons.
I gamed for some years with a couple of separate groups that ultimately split, then met and started gaming with some of the Like A Stonewall Group. For those who don’t know this group puts on huge and very impressive 28mm demo games using Old Glory figures. They’ve deservedly won a fair few awards.
I don’t particularly like 28mm figures, much preferring smaller scales, 6 and 15mm. I also enjoy naval, aircraft and virtually any period. After trying a few games in different periods and scales the Derby end of Like a Stonewall branched out from 28mm. All seemed fine until the eponymous Mike decided he’d like to do a demo game – sounds fine – in 6mm, still ok, and how about Napoleonics. All good to me, my favourite period and I’ve got large 6mm Russian and British/Portuguese Irregular/Heroics & Ros armies.
What about Borodino quoth Mike, still ok I’ve got loads of Russians. But then he decided we’d use Baccus figures…..
Now I like Baccus figures, I’ve got two large Marlburian armies, and even a few Wars of the Roses types. Pete Berry is a nice guy, who has the unfortunate (for me) ability to be able to sell sand to the Arabs, at least in the shape of lead to me. But my Irregular/Heroics & Ros Russians aren’t compatible; so I took the decision to sell them and buy and paint a complete new Russian army, cue a faint ker-ching of the cash till in Sheffield. Thanks to Hinds figures for helping with this too – I think.
No problems a few Russians; easy peasy, then I looked at the OB for Borodino…now the brighter amongst you will already now this is a fair sized battle, estimates inevitably vary, but roughly 250,000 men is not far off the mark. From my point of view, painting half the Russians my only thought was: it’s flipping huge .
I seemed to be the only one fazed by the discovery of the size of the task facing us. Oh well, everyone else had done lots of demo games so it must just be novice nerves on my part. Later I think I realised it was because I’d painted hordes of 6mm figures and knew what we had in front of us.
The next step was to put our suggestion to Pete Berry in the hope that he’d support our scheme. So we went to a Baccus open day. Something I’d wanted to do for some time. Although it’s not really a full day it is well worthwhile doing. Pete (and Igor) are welcoming and humorous hosts. It was also fascinating to see the process from idea to figure. I now have deep respect for all the people who make our hobby possible by creating the toys themselves. I also feel slightly churlish when I criticise their work sometimes. It isn’t easy.
The only disappointment was how underwhelming the casting process is. I know there is a fair degree of skill in doing it well, but just spin the mould, pour in molten metal and it’s done. Out come perfect silver men…I somehow felt cheated, surely the creative process should have more fireworks?
I’ve since spoken to someone who’s tried casting, apparently its one of those things that looks incredibly easy, but in fact is an absolute s*d to do. Sorry Igor…respect.
Anyway after speaking to Pete he agreed to help us with the game. So we left Sheffield carrying a heavy load of lead, not completely balanced by a much lighter bank account.
Then we started painting. My amusement at hearing the virgin 6mm painters’ complaints was tempered by the amount of figures to do. I don’t like painting!
What made it worse was one of the group (you know who you are) seemed to paint his contingent in a few weeks, then did some Austrians and Spanish to keep from being bored.
Another, who shall remain nameless: Ian, had his painted professionally. Not cricket really. I plodded on, my only comfort were the other two volunteers who were even slower than me. Although Mike (remember him) felt he had time to buy and paint the Mahdist Army in 6mm (that man Berry again), so he was obviously confident.
Best of all was Barry C (we have two Barry’s to confuse things), who had undercoated a fair few French in white, didn’t like it, then did a few more in black, didn’t like that much either. So finally settled on blue after buying some blue spray at Vapnartak. He is now the proud owner of a multicoloured undercoated French force. A rainbow of uncompleted figures. We’ve only been at this 6 months and he’s got more undercoat than Dulux. But not a lot complete. But on the bright side he has bought the Camel Corp in 6mm….Berry again.
After a mature and considered debate on the subject, varying from ‘you’re on your own mate’ to the unprintable, we agreed that perhaps Franco-Prussian could wait for another day, and wouldn’t it be better to do something in line with Borodino?
So we chose Shevardino, which is best summed up as a completely pointless precursor battle to Borodino, which achieved little apart from pain and grief. I see a parallel here.
We started then to look at terrain. How about scratch building our own? Asked one, this with less than 2 months to go and still not everything painted. Guess who? Again after another, shorter, mature debate, we decided to buy ready made from TSS.
I agreed to write the scenario for Shevardino. So duly consulted a number of books, websites, other scenarios and board games. I spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading accounts. I had four or five maps. All these had in common was that everyone disagreed. I can understand relatively minor errors but these were huge, even where towns were. Now I know things change over time, but towns don’t move that much.
Eventually I wrote something up which looks, to me at least, that it agrees with most of the sources and seems to reconcile most of the inconsistencies. If you have a better idea I’d be grateful to hear.
We had agreed to use Baccus’ Polemos rules, and have now spent a fair few games getting the hang of the rules. This hasn’t been helped by our decision, unanimous this time, but still stupid, to base the figures in battalions, but use the General de Division scale Polemos rules. How easy has this been? Well take a look at the Yahoo Polemos group. We’re the ones asking the stupid questions and leading Chris Grice, the author, to wonder why he bothered. Thanks for the patience Chris.
So, you now get the impression that we’re a bunch of wilful, uncoordinated incompetents. About right, so come and see us at Partizan and find out if it all worked out. If not there’ll be a lot of Baccus stuff on the bring and buy. Some of it fetchingly undercoated in white, black and blue.
The Day the Poles Stood Still.
Well, did we manage to stage the game I hear you say?
Surprisingly we did, it was humbling to hear the faith our sponsor had in us. “Oh you are here after all…..”
Firstly I’d like to say thanks to everyone who spent the time to chat and look at the game. Hopefully it gave you some idea of what can be done with commercial items and a modicum (a very small modicum) of talent.
Our planning has always been a bit suspect, so it was no surprise that we cut it a bit fine finishing everything for show time on Sunday.
Mike managed to get back from Malawi (supposed to be working; in reality a failed attempt to have the most travelled set of Polemos rules) in time to finish off his figures. Just….. he only did the last at 4am Sunday morning.
Not to be outdone Barry C, who had only managed till 3am before Aztec beer (1) and fatigue forced him to give up basing his figures, was still putting the final flags on at 10am. Yes, opening time for the show. Please see the photo for proof. The French have cast a number of aspersions over the accuracy of this report I am ashamed to say. Photographic and eyewitness evidence from reputable and credible bystanders is available to disprove their underhand attempts to belittle the glorious Russian victory, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our game was right next to Baccus’ stand and I could see Pete giving our intrepid flagmaster an admiring glance. Well I think it was admiring….despite being shown how to put the flags on by our expert 6mm specialist (me!) he struggled. The high point for the audience was that the only flag that was accurate for the unit he was doing was the one that he managed to break.
We all like to think our friendly encouragement and jovial banter allowed him to get over the disappointment.
So how did the game go? A bit slowly really, partly because we spent quite a bit of time talking to visitors; that was good, and we certainly spent more time doing that than I expected, or than the others had done for previous 28mm display games.
We wondered why people kept wanting to chat, I’m not sure if the visitors enjoyed our company (unlikely) were impressed by the game (even less likely - did you see the painting on Steve Jones’ 6mm Wagram figures?) or just to make sure we were actually normal (2). Probably there is just a huge interest in ‘Gods Own Scale’. Judging by the brisk early morning trade at Baccus that looks to be the best explanation.
Another reason for the ‘slow’ game was that we probably set up with both sides too far apart (something we’ll have to correct for Borodino) and it took some time for the French to get across the river. Well that’s their story.
In fact your intrepid reporter can reveal the truth. Just like our members of parliament the French blamed the rules….
Cunningly the Russian command, in a rare display of unity, discussed their tactics and decided to bid high for tempo to slow the French deployment down. This duly worked for the first 3 or 4 turns. The French right flank attack towards Utitsa using the Polish Corps was very slow. Instead of pushing quickly down the road through a forest it ambled, a brave Cossack unit charged the head of the Polish Corps, was broken and destroyed for its troubles but it had slowed the Poles down. Hence the subtitle for the article.
We played about half the game length and the Poles had just peeped out of the woods. But then decided they didn't like the look of the world outside of the forest (perhaps they were closet Ents?) and didn’t much fancy fighting the Cossacks. After all the they only outnumbered the Cossacks 3 to 1, and don’t forget the Cossacks were that deadly combination of raw irregular troops, so there was always the chance they might say something nasty before running away.You’ve seen the classic movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. We got the classic French manoeuvre, The Day The Poles Stood Still.
On the French left flank their infantry marched over the numerous bridges and after chasing away a Russian horse battery were bravely charged by two Russian Dragoon regiments, a masterly display of timing. In short and to spare Barry M his blushes a complete French brigade spent and two battalions broken. It’s hard to adequately describe the brilliance of the timing of this manoeuvre. It was even exciting enough to lure Pete away from his latest victim, sorry customer. In an astute observation “The French got pinned over the bridge and caught out, seems right to me”.
In their centre the cautious French gradually assembled decisive numbers and outflanked the plucky Russian jagers who were unable to hold the river and gradually and grudgingly began to withdraw. At least on this occasion outnumbering the Jagers by only 3 to 1 didn’t worry the French, they bravely attacked, although in all fairness there wasn’t a forest anywhere nearby.
That was about it, the French had dawdled for nearly half the game time and had just managed to push across the river and were preparing to assault the main Russian line. Given another 3 or 4 days they might have managed it.
Napoleon asked for lucky generals, on this performance he really needed ones that moved quicker than their snail lunch….(3)
Next stop Borodino at the Worlds at Derby in October; all we need to do is finish the other half of the armies, plus flags. The juries still out on our chances.
For the next exciting instalment I would now encourage all readers of taste and discrestion to >>click here>>