Three In One!

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!

36 comments

  1. Great looking unit John. Must have been great to have the author contact you due to what you had already posted, and more rules can only develop your games further

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I think that your Paraguayan War figures are my favourites. It’s a topic right up my street – 19th century, lots of colourful uniforms, a conflict a little less mainstream and I’ve got a Brazilian sister-in-law to boot! What a timely book to be released – sounds great and I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun with it too.

    The Paraguayan white trousers look nice. Incidentally, I’ve only ever used Vallejo’s off-white. I think Vallejo do “white”, “cold white”, “metallic white” and probably more too, so perhaps I should branch out a bit!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Marvin! 🙂 I’ve still got some more Allied troops to paint, by my reckoning about another 40 or so. Having said that, I found another unit with different uniforms only yesterday, so might have to do some of them! I have a feeling some of my older figures in “white” may now have yellowed a bit, so they fit in well with “off white”!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi John,
    I am very grateful that you had time to do this battlereport and commented on my book.
    I’m glad that the rules pleased you.
    I have the habit of making small changes to the rules system to suit my preferences.
    I think your considerations are very pertinent.
    It may be that in a second edition of the book (if it is edited), I will make some changes.
    Especially with regard to the use of firearms by the Squadrons.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Victor, appreciate your comments! 🙂 I think I’m only going to use the odd small tweak if I think I need it. It’s probably more difficult for English speakers to find out the fine details of the war and you no doubt have an advantage there, so your views are always welcome. Having played a game I’m quite motivated to get more of my Paraguayan War figures finished!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Dave! 🙂 Apologies for the delay in replying, but I’ve had to have a rake through my bookshelves for you! I have the following books on the Paraguayan War:

      1. Osprey Men-At-Arms series book Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance 1864 – 70 by Gabriele Esposito (48 pages)
      2. Osprey Campaign series book The Paraguayan War 1864 – 70 by Gabriele Esposito (96 pages)
      3. Winged Hussar published book The War of the Triple Alliance by Gabriele Esposito (140-ish pages)
      4. Wargames Foundry published book Armies of the 19th Century: The Americas – The Paraguayan War by Terry Hooker (190 pages)
      5. Warships at the Battle of Riachuelo (naval battle on the Paraguay river) by William Eugene Warner (80 pages)
      6. The Paraguayan War – Causes and Early Conduct by Thomas Whigham (520 pages)
      7. The Road To Armageddon – Paraguay versus the Triple Alliance 1866 – 70 by Thomas Whigham (630 pages)

      I’d recommend the Wargames Foundry book as the best starter (it’s still available on the Wargames Foundry website under “Books” for £30). It’s got a history of events preceding the war and quite a readable account of the war itself, plus black and white line drawings of loads of soldiers/uniforms. Difficult to beat for the balance between history and uniforms/armies for the length of the book.

      The two books by Thomas Whigham are very detailed histories, but I found them very readable (don’t be put off by the page count)! The first book covers everything leading up to the war and the first part of the war up to the end of 1865, when the Paraguayans were conducting offensive operations. The second book covers the remainder of the war (1866 to 1870) after the Allies invaded Paraguay right through to the end. I read the second book first since the first book was out of print, but it has been reprinted (the second book does have an intro that summarises what happened leading up to 1866).

      The first three are all by the same author and follow the usual format for the series of which they are part. The Winged Hussar book probably duplicates what’s in the Men-At-Arms book but does contain some extra material and all of them have coloured illustrations.

      The Battle of Riachuelo was the largest naval battle in South America and the book contains info on all of the ships involved, along with line drawings of them and a brief account of the battle itself.

      Hope that helps!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Great work on converting the figures John but I love the fact you got an email from the author. It never ceases to amaze me where some of our blog posts gets seen and by whom. I think that’s one of the things I love about it most. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I remember when all we had were Airfix and we all became Dr Frankensteins cutting off heads, torsos, and legs, and putting them back togehter in a different order. Don’t miss it a bit!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. What an epic post John, replete with your cool (and well-painted as always) figures, a history lesson, a battle report, and now banter with the author. I can’t wait for the book, let alone the movie!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. The unit looks great and so do the rules and battle report! I love how so many different kinds of gaming interests are supported in our hobby as well. This is a period I would have never guessed exists but it looks very interesting and is something I’ll look forward to learning more about as you share more of your experiences with it 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks Jeff! 🙂 As I get older I think I’m heading back in time as far as my wargames and military history interests go! As far as my Paraguayan War forces go, I’ve actually made good progress on them, but am still finding some interesting uniforms that I’d like to get painted. Hope the move and wedding plans are progressing well for you!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Anthony! 🙂 The conversions are quite straightforward really. I like the rules – if anything I’ll tweak ’em a little bit but they are good as they are! A few years ago I bought a set of Renaissance warfare rules, thinking that in this day and age they’d be quite streamlined and easy to follow/use – how wrong I was! One of the few things I’ve bought on Amazon that I had to send back!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Another nice group of infantry and the book looks like fun. It seems like a good idea to play a game or two against yourself like you did to evaluate the rules and of course (hopefulyl) to have fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sorry mate ! I didn’t realize how far behind I have become AHH ! will try to catch up!
    Only a true modeler would go to those lengths John, its good to see some one going to those lengths to attain the correct detail! I’m only happy to get rid of the flash and bend a few poses!!

    Like

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