This post could have been three shorter posts, but it’s easier to dump it all in one, particularly since it has a common theme running through it!
I’ve finally painted some figures this year, my first if I exclude the five vehicle crew painted earlier in the year along with various vehicles. This time it’s a jump back to the 19th Century and a 10-man Paraguayan infantry battalion (see picture below).
My original intention was to have five 10-man Paraguayan infantry battalions, but I’ve added this extra one.
As with many of my Paraguayans, the figures are converted from Newline Designs 20mm American Civil War figures, although the conversion only really involves building the kepi up into a shako with a plastic disc and greenstuff and filing down the legs on those figures wearing socks over the bottoms of their trousers. They’re painted slightly differently in that I’ve discovered and used Vallejo Off White paint for their trousers, which makes them look a little less squeaky clean!
Staying with the Paraguayan War, over last Christmas I had an e-mail from Brazil on the subject. It turned out that the author of a new set of rules for the war (Victor Barone) had seen my blog posts and dropped me a line to let me know that the rules were due to be published in the UK in Spring 2021. These rules, Borders Of Blood, duly came out in May so I bought myself a copy from Caliver Books. Having read through them, I let Victor know that I’d post a review here, so you can find that below (I might repeat myself a bit in the review, since I actually wrote it a couple of weeks ago and have just cut and pasted it in here).
Borders of Blood Rules Review – Wargaming the Paraguayan War 1864 – 1870
Recently published and available from Caliver Books, Borders of Blood is a set of wargames rules designed to allow wargamers to refight battles from the Paraguayan War. I became aware of these rules during an e-mail exchange with the author earlier this year, since he’d seen my own Paraguayan War figures featured on my blog. Caliver Books announced that the rules were available late last month, so I decided to treat myself and buy a copy. The author, Victor Barone, is very familiar with Brazil’s Mato Grosso province where some of the early fighting during the war took place.
Borders of Blood is a 76 page, A4 size softback book in full colour throughout. It’s printed on good quality paper and well presented. Unlike some rule books, the text is a reasonable size (for my old-ish eyes) and this makes it easy to read.
The chapters in the book can be grouped into four main subject areas – a very brief overview of the war, the rules themselves, information on army organisations and uniforms and, finally, two game scenarios based around two of the most important actions of the war. Infantry and cavalry units are formed from groups of figures (artillery units consist of only one group) and combat effects are based around how many groups remain in the units at any given point in the game. Movement and firing distances are based around 28mm figures but can easily be adjusted to cater for other scales.
The rules are quite easy to follow even though they do go into a reasonable amount of detail, although I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has a modest understanding of warfare in this period. Having said that, I think newcomers to the period, or even the hobby, would find it easy to follow and there are examples given throughout the rules of how they work.
I haven’t had the chance to play a game with these rules yet, but some of the rule mechanisms are similar to those in other sets that I’ve used, so I think they’ll work quite well together. The rules make use of Action Dice to activate units and Action Cards to add some random events into the game, both of which sound like good ideas to me! There are a couple of the rules relating to unit formations and movement that I’m not quite sure I agree with, but they are minor points only. Some of the army information is very useful, such as the morale ratings of various units and the proportions of rifled artillery in use as the war progressed and I’ve never come across these details before despite having a few books on the subject. There is also a very useful rule governing troop movements through difficult terrain and swamps, and this penalises Allied troops more than Paraguayan units (a good feature, since Allied troops invading Paraguay were unfamiliar with the terrain).
As a set of rules for someone new to this conflict I’d say they’re ideal. For myself, who’s familiar with this conflict and used other rules tweaked a bit to suit, Borders of Blood still has a lot to offer and I’ll certainly be trying out the rules in anger! I got my copy of the rules for £19-50 from Caliver Books – that is less than the cost of a single 24-man infantry unit composed of 28mm figures, so as far as I’m concerned I’ve got good value for my money with these rules!
Got The Rules So Might As Well Try Them Out!
The rules share a lot of similarities with those I’ve been using for this conflict, so it was relatively easy to set up a game to test them out. I set up a basic game on the small 3 feet x 3 feet area next to my desk, halving all of the weapon ranges and unit movement rates to cater for the smaller area and 20mm figures. I just used the game mat I already had set up and didn’t add any scenery as I just really wanted to test out the basic rules. The Paraguayans had three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a gun battery and a general – the Brazilians had the same (although their cavalry was actually an Argentine unit). The rules give points values for units and cater for their different training and experience, but I just used regular troops throughout. The three Paraguayan infantry battalions are shown in the picture below.
The Allies were marching along a road preparing to cross a small river and were suddenly attacked by a Paraguayan force intent on stopping them. To make things slightly easier to see, I’ve put numbered or lettered counters next to the units and they have a D6 on their movement trays that indicated how many “groups” form the units. The situation at the start of the game is shown below, Paraguayans at the bottom of the picture, Allies at the top.
At the start of each turn, both side roll a D6 for initiative to see who acts first. The each side rolls action dice for each unit and allocates them as each unit is activated. The action dice did not behave impartially and the Allies always rolled significantly higher numbers than the Paraguayans throughout the game – this basically meant that the Allies could move around a lot more. The location of the generals is important, since they confer advantages to units close by.
The picture above shows the situation at the end of Move 1. The Paraguayans started off well, using their gun battery (2) to shell the leading Brazilian unit on the road (E). However, the Argentine cavalry (A) charged into action against one of the Paraguayan infantry battalions, firing their carbines as they closed and then forcing the infantry back in hand to hand combat – since the Paraguayan battalion had to take a forced move back over the edge of the board I decided that it couldn’t re-enter the field of combat, but I could equally have held it off-board and brought it back. One of the supporting Paraguayan battalions (4) charged into the cavalry and forced them to retreat in a disorganised fashion, while the remaining Paraguayan infantry (5) advanced and started firing at the Brazilian infantry (C). On their right flank, the Paraguayan cavalry moved up to threaten the Allied flank.
Move 2 (the picture above shows the end of the move) saw the Allies inflicting casualties on the Paraguayans and forcing them back, although their morale remained good (Paraguayan infantry battalion 5 was now down to below half strength, as shown by the white D6 indicating three of its six constituent groups remain, with a red D6 showing that a further single casualty has been inflicted – a group is removed from the unit for every four casualties it accrues).
In Move 3 (the picture above shows the situation at the end of the move) the Allied infantry managed to inflict casualties on the Paraguayan infantry through a combination of firepower and close assault. This resulted in both remaining Paraguayan infantry battalions retreating off board, although one of the Brazilian infantry battalions (D) was also forced back. With the Paraguayan general isolated, he succumbed to a vicious charge by the Argentine cavalry (generals can’t be fired upon but can be engaged in melee). At this point, the only Paraguayan units left were the artillery battery and cavalry squadron (see below), so I allowed them to retreat and end the game.
I played the game myself, but even checking the rules it didn’t take too long and by the end I’d remembered most of the adjustments needed to determine shooting and melee casualties and morale checks. The really good action dice throws for the Allies allowed them to move up, soften up targets with shooting and then charge home. On the Paraguayan side, their better morale and close proximity to the general at least meant they put up a reasonable defence. The rules also allow each side to pick action cards at the start of each move, which confer performance bonuses or other special abilities, but I didn’t manage to get any of these made up or printed off in time for the game.
Despite only taking three moves, there was quite a lot of action involved and a pretty clear result at the end. Not allowing the Paraguayan infantry battalions to re-enter the field of battle might have been a bit harsh, so I’ll bear that in mind next time (the rules don’t specify what to do in such circumstances, so it’s up to players to agree between themselves). My older rules also tend to let infantry inflict heavier casualties on charging cavalry than Borders Of Blood, so I may make a slight alteration for that if I think it’s needed. I’m also not sure about just how much cavalry used their firearms during this conflict, so will look into that a little further. These are minor points however and overall I think the rules work pretty well! Time to get more troops painted and try a bigger game!