16 June 2022
Words by Martin Gane. Photos by The Editor.
I saw this game at Salute and asked Martin to write something about it for the magazine, and he kindly obliged. Ed.
We wargamers are a fickle breed, easily distracted by the next shiny range of figures that gets advertised. It never ceases to surprise me how certain periods of military history suddenly appear popular with wargamers: suddenly they are all the rage – for just a little while – and then they disappear again, just as fast as they first appeared. The popularity of these “new” or forgotten eras is normally triggered by a great set of new rules or a fantastic range of new figures. The British involvement in India is one such period that – over the course of the last few years – appears to have grown in popularity. Quite why that should be, I am not really sure.
I have been collecting figures for the period known as Wellington in India 1799 to 1806 for the last twenty years or more. I was first drawn into the period by the range of figures produced by Redoubt Enterprises (other ranges are available) and a series of articles that appeared in various wargame magazines at the time. After a year, I had a fine collection of nearly a 100 painted figures. Yes, I am a very slow painter and this meant that the force I had assembled was not big enough to re-fight any major battles and so my army just stopped growing after about eighteen months. Is this a familiar story? In truth it was a stalled project: I had lost interest and my initial enthusiasm for the period had died but... I still had a lot of unpainted metal.
Like most wargamers, over the years I have culled many a stalled project and got rid of “once loved” figures to fellow collectors. For me, sadly, this is an on-going issue but – as I have grown older – I have got better at curbing my inner butterfly and not committing to projects without a set of rules or a definitive end target.
GRANT & THE RAJ
I realised that my own Wellington in India collection – despite being stalled since the late '90s – was unique. I found I could not part with the figures, even the unpainted ones: they kept calling me back but... not enough to actually paint any more of them! Then one day, out of the blue, I heard that Charles Stuart Grant was selling his collection of Wellington in India figures. Like many wargamers, I suspected he needed to clear out some figures due to a lack of space, or perhaps he no longer played with the armies. Or, like me, maybe he may just have wanted some extra cash to purchase the new shiny thing.
After a brief exchange of emails Charles and I met up with him at the wargames show in Newark (I’m guessing Partizan. Ed.) and he proceeded to hand multiple box files of figures over to me: far more than I had expected. His collection was huge plus, very generously – and so like the man – he had thrown in a pile of unpainted figures.
When I got home I took out all the figures and put them in my storage cupboards to get to when time allowed. I am ashamed to admit this is where the models sat for a few years as I was focused on finishing other periods that had me gripped. Once I retired I then had the time to address Charles’ collection.
PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
The figures were all individually based on pennies and – despite my best efforts – were impossible to remove. It was this, rather than any other factor, that dictated the size of my multi-figure bases. Over the course of the last two years, sixty-percent of the collection has been rebased on to multi-figure bases: units have been added and the odd figure repainted. Despite different painting styles I discovered that a universal style of basing really does pull an army together.
Whilst I now had a collection of figures for both sides I was still lacking any suitable rules. I started to look for inspiration at some simple systems that Stuart Asquith wrote, plus there was a set of rules included in Stuart and Charles book, Wellington in India – A Wargamers Guide but – just as I was contemplating adapting these for big battles – a fellow member of the club I’m a member of (the South London Warlords) offered to help. Brian Cameron has been a wargamer for decades and his name was familiar to me (and Mr Cameron has written a number of articles for this magazine. Ed.) but despite being members of the same club I could not say I really knew him or that we were friends. His first draft of the rules was exactly what I was looking for: simple, big game rules that accurately appeared to portray fighting in the period. I was delighted. Writing rules is a really skilful job and well beyond my capabilities.
Now being a member of the South London Warlords means that I have access to a number of players to interact with and it did not take long to gather together a group of members willing to play test the rules. And, of course, fielding big colourful, 28mm figure armies helped! Play testing must be a rule writer’s nightmare, as gamers misinterpreted, misunderstood, attempted to break the rules or – at worse still – create situations which no rule set could cope with.
Whilst the initial ‘vanilla’ version was a solid start and fitted on to two sides of A4 it left too much that new players could misinterpret. All the time Brian sat through the playtests, he remained calm and kept notes of all the feedback. After five more games – and endless player requests for amendments and additions – we ended up with a Version Six: the final draft. It now amounted to all of six pages... Brian had created a fast play, fun set of rules that everyone enjoyed (perhaps he could let us have a copy for the magazine so we can all have a whack at it? Ed.).
The Mahrattas (it's spelt both ways Ed.) have a variety of troop types, commanders, weapons and troop grades, plus the additional fun of numerous rocket men, who, on a good day can take out whole bases of British and allied troops but on a bad day can wipe out their own men. Added to this is a riot of colourful uniforms, huge unwieldy guns and the odd elephant.
The British have regular infantry, sepoys and very difficult to manage “charge at everything” British cavalry. The five playtest games were great fun, so good in fact that when we wanted to playtest with new players there was some difficulty as our previous players always wanted to join in again. All our battles resulted in close British victories but the Indian commanders were getting ever more sophisticated with their initial deployment and the level of British casualties continued to grow higher with each game.
We had a target to put a game on in April 2020 at Salute and the idea was we would play the game and it would be dedicated to the late and great Stuart Asquith. As you may be aware that event did not happen and so it was not till November of 2021 that we were able to finally put troops on the table. The South London Warlords committee had agreed that at different hero from the war game world would be recognised at Salute and over the course of the next few years the plan is that the club would develop the concept of a ‘Hall of Fame’, where other clubs or companies could recognise individuals who had contributed to the hobby.
Our tribute was very much a team effort: the South London Warlords playtested the game, Charles Grant, the ever reliable Fernando Enterprise and myself painted the figures, and Brian Cameron brought the game to life with an entertaining and realistic game that very cleverly represented warfare in India at the time.
The figures are all from the excellent Redoubt Enterprises range (now owned by Grubby Tanks) from their Wellington in India range. As I mentioned earlier, although a lot of the figures were originally in the collection of Charles S Grant, the majority have been repainted and rebased by me. There are also a limited number of unique figures converted by me. Other than figures painted by the excellent Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka the very nice British command group was painted by Graham Green from when he was a partner in a painting service many years ago (he still is! Ed.).
Scenery was all hand made by me out of DAS modelling clay over a foam board shell.
It was tempting to base the game on the famous battle of Assaye but I felt this had been done to death and required an awful lot of guns which I simply did not have. Instead I went for the lesser known battle of Delhi, 1804. There were numerous battles fought against the British in India so there are endless possibilities for future games. My thanks to everyone involved, we had a great day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Salute, where we had a lot of interest all day long.
On returning home, once the troops were back in their storage places I started to take another look at what I had in the collection and realised that I just needed some more Indian commanders, preferably on elephants. I had half a dozen part-painted units that just need the odd figure to complete so a few more figures to order… but hey: here I go again! But... what’s that? My favourite manufacturer has just produced something else I have always wanted? Maybe those extra units and commanders will just have to wait...
If you are interested in learning more about this period I would recommend the following books:
The starting point for most gamers is Jac Weller's excellent Wellington in India. From a wargames perspective Charles S Grant has recently updated the book I mentioned earlier: Wellington in India – A Wargamers Guide and I would thoroughly recommend this as a starting point. I recently purchased Wellington and the British Armies in Indian Campaign 1798 -1803 by Martin R Howard which is an excellent read and brings you much closer to the action.
If you want to delve deeper into the Indian states that fought against the East India Company and the British than look no further than Andy Copestake’s very readable Their Infantry will Astonish You recently published by Helion.
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One Day, One Whole Army...
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