Sunday 22 February 2009

The bit of wargames kit I like more than any other

What is it in the above picture that I like most?
Is it the rather tidy Calpe Prussian reservist Battalion blazing away in the foreground?
Is it the Landwher regt boldly marching up in support?
Is it the way the rather nice Pentax I "borrowed" off my missus captured all this? (and she keeps asking for it back)

Nope, none of these things.

The Calpe figures are great, and I like the paintjob.
The bunny-fur they are on works really well.
The Flags are lovely, but its none of these.
Ok, I'll tell you what it is:

Its the low wall of grey rocks.
The rather nondescript piece of incidental terrain. "Its ok" I hear you say...."But why is it so special?"
I'll tell you why I'll always treasure this little terrain feature:
It was made by Peter Gilder.

I've got 3 walls like that one, I've got nothing else made by the great man, nor do I have any figures painted by him unfortunately.
I never actually met the man. I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times and that was it. I only seriously got into 25mm Napoleonics in the early 90's by which time he had died.
I find it a little odd that I never met him.
The majority of my wargaming friends knew him from the WHC under his stewardship. I've been good friends with Mike and Gerry who are there now for many, many years. I met his widow, Doreen, when she would hand over massive bags of newly cast figures in exchange for toilet-roll sized wads of tenners (which, I'm pretty sure went straight down the bingo in Scarborough the same night).
I've heard countless stories about the man (yes, including all the dodgy ones) and the games he would put on.
I own thousands of figures designed by the man, I've played literally hundreds of games using rules written largely by him, on terrain at the WHC made by him.
I've built terrain, and wargames tables slavishly copied from his designs.
I've totally bought into the entire concept of Napoleonic wargaming that was his idea.
In the Grand Manner are more than just another set of rules, they are an entire way of playing Napoleonic wargames which in order to get the best out of them really require you to adhere to the whole deal.

The wall, and some nice landwher

They are what they say on the tin:
Yes, you can have a fun game with them with about a dozen battalions a side, on a 6' x6' table. Yes, you can play them with 6mm figures and you'll get a good game.
However, that really isn't what they are about.
They are about playing a game with THOUSANDS of 25mm figures on a truly enormous wargames table.
If you dissect them, then there are countless faults; The gound scale and ranges don't add up, if you had all the artillery models you should have then you'd get a terrible game, the infantry re-inforcing thing is pretty bizarre; some people whine about "theres no proper command and control".
However, if you play them in the way they were intended, as large, multi-corps, multi-player games they play out just like napoleonic battles.
Deployment is crucial, a corp in the wrong place can lose you the battle, the arrival of re-inforcements in the right place at the right time can win it for you. Occasionally an heroic unit can influence a sector. (Note to the whiners: You just don't get it, ...if you have enough units, on a big enough table you don't need command and control rules). The cavalry battles swing back and forth, dependant often on who has kept reserves. It all adds up.
I still find it pretty amazing that one man was able to work all this out, and was capable of visualising it, putting it down on paper, and getting the result he did.
There are other napoleonic rules that enable you to fight Austerlitz in 3 hours with 200 6mm figures.....go ahead, enjoy...but is that napoleonic wargaming?
Well, not to me it isn't. (Thank God)
To me, and an awful lot of other people, including those who push around 40 figures in a "napoleonic skirmish" (what is that by the way? a brigade action of about 3,000 a side?) the concept of Napoleonic wargaming that Peter Gilder created is the benchmark of what to aspire to.
I'd even go slightly further, in that I'm pretty sure he designed his figures with his rules in mind. If you take some Connoisseur (or Elite, for that matter, who have a direct legacy) figures and put them in a 32 or 36 man unit, then they look right. Individually sometimes they can look strange, add 35 of their mates and they look spot on. Put them in a 12 or 16 man battalion and they don't work. This might have been deliberate or it might have been sub-concious but its definitely true. Sometimes you can take other manufacturers figures which might be individually lovely but put them in a unit and they look dull, or clumsy or just wrong.
So, thanks Peter, thanks for the rules, the figures, and of course, most importantly; thanks for those little walls.

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DC said...

Great post Chris, and i agree 100%. Funnily enough i was at a friend's house just the other day admiring his freshy painted unit of French Hussars organised for Grand Manner and we were discussing Gilder's uncanny ability to sculpt figures with that certain 'something' - the hussars held themselves in a way that just said 'napoleonic hussar', whilst their heavier brethren in the display case opposite were unmistakably Guard du Corps. Irrespective of uniform details Gilder just got it right ( and i guess the size of the units is crucial too). There's something about his work that is hard to put into words - but he just got it spot on. Most modern sculptors just don't get it - the same dolly, time after time,in a different uniform just doesn't quite cut it.

I must admit i've always been frightened by Grand Manner Napoleonics (which is why i've stuck with AWI, Sudan and ECW) - painting 1000s of figures is a lifetime's work. If only there was an easy way...8-(

Nice walls BTW.

Fraxinus said...

Great Post...resisting just getting into Napoleonics I have a few Gilder Riflemen but loads of books on naps from wargaming in plasic many years ago. Calpe Prussians could entice me and the new Perry French are superb....then Victrix...damn roll on the Grand manner. nice photo's by the way.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I envy you the wall Chris, I was fortunate enough to meet Peter several times and he was without a doubt the main reason that I got into and kept on with 25/28mm Napoleonics. An inspiring bloke and a great character who even today is sadly missed.

johnpreece said...

The nail is hit on the head. I only met him twice and I would say he was a nice bloke.

What is undisputable is that he is the nearest thing to a genius that wargames has produced.

Everything that he did was original and has been hugely influencial. Terrain, scenery, rules, figure design all have his fingerprnts all over what we do today.

In someways his copiers have not always done him justice. Gilder altered the pose on a couple of figures in a unit and did one head swap with brilliant effect. His imitators have every figure different and 'wear anything that takes your fancy,' battalions. Terrrain that is so over worked that figures have nowhere to move.

None of that is his fault though. If I could only praise one thing of his it would be his cavalry figures. No one could put character into a horseman like him. In fact my wife, who seldom notices the toys, aused while passing the painting table a year or so ago and commented. " Noe those are nice, why don't you paint more like that instead of those stupid gnomes? A unit of Hinchliffe mounted landwher, at least 40 years old.


Anonymous said...

Dear Chris,

I like the site - and the philosophy behind it: I cannot abide the tyranny of 'authentic' orders of battle! I collect what I like.

Good luck with the site.