Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Star Wars bargain

It's not often I find a really good bargain on hobby related stuff in Japan, but I did today.  I popped into the second hand store down the road to have a look at the guitars they have in at the moment and serendipitously happened upon these in a corner at a ridiculously low price.  They are from 1998, unopened in the original packaging, and each costing about the same as an ice cream.

I'm not actually much of a Star Wars buff, but I know a few people that are, and if they don't want them I'm sure my boy will when he gets a bit older.


Now, I just have to find some space to store them!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Game day part 2 - Ipsus

The second game that Luke and I got through on Sunday was Ipsus.  We used the scenario from Strategos I, but changed it a little based on Luke's reading of the battle.

The Antigonids, commanded by Luke, consisted of the following:

8 units of average phalangites for 40,000 men
1 unit of average heavy infantry for 5,000 men
1 unit of levy heavy infantry for 10,000 men
1 unit of levy light infantry for 10,000 men
1 unit of average light infantry for 5000 men
1 unit of average light cavalry for 2,500 men
4 units of veteran heavy cavalry with an average leader (Demetrius)  for 5,000 men.
1 unit of average heavy cavalry for 2,500 men
1 unit of Indian elephants for a total of 50 elephants
1 average commander, Antigonus.

The allies, under yours truly, were thus composed:

2  units of veteran heavy cavalry for 2,500 men
1 units of average heavy cavalry for 2,500 men
1 unit of levy heavy cavalry for 5,000 men
2 units of average light cavalry for 5,000 men
1 unit of Indian elephants for 50 elephants
4 units of inexperienced Indian elephants (we classed them as African jumbos) for 200 elephants
2 units of average heavy infantry for 10,000 men
7 units of average phalangites for 28,000 men
2 units of levy light infantry for 20,000 men
1 unit of scythed chariots for c.125 chariots
2 average commanders in the persons of  Seleucus and Lysimachus

We used our own deployments rather than attempting any historical one.

Moving first, the Antigonids put out a strong centre of phalangites and a combined arms force in the left centre. Light infantry and elephants were thrown forward in an effort to dominate the middle of the battlefield, and the heavy cavalry was split three left and two right. Demetrius commanded the cavalry on the left and Antigonus was in the centre.

The allies deployed light infantry and elephant screens forward in the centre and centre left, sending most of the cavalry to the right in an effort to counter the influence of Demetrius. The phalanx formed up to match the enemy line, with the scythed chariots deployed centre right.

Deployment, with the Antigonids on the right of picture
The Antigonids advanced in the centre and on the extreme wings.  The left centre was kept back due to a poor command roll; nonetheless, the initial attacks were successful, scoring two hits and shattering a unit of levy light infantry which, caught without heavy infantry support, was unable to negate the second hit.

After 2nd Antigonid turn
The allies replied by advancing to attack with the cavalry on the right. For all their efforts, only one hit was scored on Demetrius' force.  The enemy skirmishers were driven off in the centre, but the scythed chariots were notably ineffective.  With commands running short, on the left a decision was made to extend the line wider rather than advance in support of the forward elephants.  Three hits were made this turn.

After 2nd allied turn
The failure to support the elephants was seized upon by the Antigonids.  The elephant screen was shattered immediately and this galvanised the attack all along the line.  Demetrius, putting himself in the forefront, oversaw a devastating attack on Lysimachus in the cavalry battle on the left.  There were six hits and one shatter this turn.

After 3rd Antigonid turn
With the battle in the balance Lysimachus threw everything into an attack on Demetrius, but the gods were smiling upon the latter and the allied cavalry were ineffective.  Elsewhere, two hits were scored.

After 3rd allied turn
Twin assaults at opposite ends of the field now struck vital blows against the allied cause.  Lysimachus was killed in an attempt to rally hits on his zone, which caused a general panic, carrying off the cavalry and in a cascading effect, the fragile elephants nearby.  In their centre right the combined arms force made a crushing attack, leaving only one enemy unit on the field, and that spent. Five hits were scored this turn, including a shatter and a general killed.

After 4th Antigonid turn
Rousing themselves at last, the allies drove into the central phalanx and the redeployed elephants made short work of the enemy left wing. Five hits and two shatters were scored.

After 4th allied turn
Demetrius now sent the cavalry around to encircle the enemy phalanx and put the fear of death into them. Two more hits saw two more shattered units, and this was enough to send the entire allied army into headlong flight.

The allied army at the time of its collapse
It was another one-sided battle, this time 114 to 39 to Luke and his gallant men.  Dice were again a major factor, but as we were in charge of our own deployments, I cannot help but feel that I left my left weaker than it should have been and made a couple of decisions which, in hindsight, look suspiciously like tactical mistakes!

Again, a thoroughly enjoyable battle, and one-all was pretty fair reflection of the day's play.

Here also is Luke's take on the action, which will give a slightly different perspective!




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Game day - Raphia

I was fortunate enough to have Luke make the trip down for a game day on Sunday.  He brought down his impressive collection of Naismith Macedonians mounted on 80x80 bases and the plan was to do a Successor battle or two and discuss a few things that he's been working on for his own projects.

First up we did a Raphia refight using Lost Battles.  Luke took the Ptolemies and I the Seleucids under Antiochus III. We used the 'historical' deployment and got straight into the action.

Under the Lost Battles rules, The Seleucid forces are represented thusly:

3 units of Indian elephants equating to 120 beasts and 6000 supporting light infantry.
2 unit of veteran heavy cavalry with an average leader (Antiochus and his guard) for 2000 men.
2 units of average heavy cavalry for 4000 men.
1 unit of average light infantry for 4000 men.
7 units of average phalangites for to 28,000 men.
2 units of levy phalangites for 16,000 men.
2 units of levy heavy infantry equalling 16,000 troops.

And the Ptolemaic forces come out like this:

1 average commander (Ptolemy).
1 unit of veteran heavy cavalry for 1000 men.
1 unit of average heavy cavalry for 2000 men.
1 unit of average light cavalry for 2000 men.
2 units of African elephants representing 80 beasts and 4000 skirmishers.
1 unit of veteran phalangites for 2000 men.
11 units of average phalangites equating to 44,000 men.
2 units of levy phalangies for 16,000 men.
1 unit of average heavy infantry for 4000 men.


Deployment, with a smiling Ptolemy Philopater
The Seleucids start with a refused left and the bulk of the phalanx in a strong central position.  The elephants are on each wing and Antiochus is on the far right leading his veteran cavalry.

Ptolemy has advanced on the centre left and on the right.

Ptolemy has first move, which he uses to bring up the phalanx and advance on his right to engage the refused flank.  His attacks are not especially successful, resulting in only two hits.

During the 2nd turn

The Seleucids press the attack on the right and apply as much pressure as they can in the centre and against Ptolemy's zone.  They score seven hits and an all-out attack, which is a pretty good return if I do say so myself.

After the 2nd Seleucid turn
The Ptolemaic forces hit back as strongly as they can, but only three hits register.  Importantly, two of them are against elephant units.

After the 3rd Ptolemaic turn
Antiochus now breaks through on the right and the phalanx continues to make good ground against the enemy.  Four hits are scored, and one unit is shattered.

After the 3rd Seleucid turn

Pressure on the Seleucid left tells and a unit of levy heavy infantry is shattered.  With two other hits also scored, the Seleucid left is now looking vulnerable.

After the 4th Ptolemaic turn
Antiochus advances around the rear of the Ptolemaic forces.  With the enemy both in front and behind them the light and mounted troops in Ptolemy's zone flee in the face of another successful attack.

In an attempt to preserve the left the cavalry takes off on what is euphemistically called an 'outflanking' manoeuvre.


After the 4th Seleucid turn

A strong showing sees four hits scored by the Ptolemaic centre and centre right, but they cannot break through just yet.  The veteran infantry on the left, threatened with overwhelming odds, begin to march off the field.

After the 5th Ptolemaic turn. Ptolemy has wisely repositioned himself.
Antiochus sends a unit to sack the enemy camp and turns himself into the rear of Ptolemy's centre.  The phalanx continues to push and under this pressure the remainder of the enemy army breaks and runs, with thousands presumed slaughtered in the pursuit.

After the Ptolemaic collapse. The man himself has vanished...

It was an entertaining but pretty one-sided game. There were some tense moments on the Seleucid left, but more than anything this was a battle decided by dice and (I'd like to think!) by the judicious positioning of Antiochus' victorious cavalry to have maximum impact on the Ptolemaic morale.

The final victory points favoured Antiochus 111 to 34, but the return match would not be such an unhappy one for our guest...


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Unpainted figures in beer boxes

Just a wee reminder to myself that I really do need to get back painting again at some stage. Realistically, winning the lottery and sending them all to Sri Lanka is looking more and more like the best option!  

exhibit A
exhibit B

exhibit C
exhibit D


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Touch and go on the Ticinus

I'm currently putting together a research article (hopefully for Slingshot) and Lost Battles scenario for a not-so-well-covered battle from the 2nd Punic War and did a quick play test last night.

As it turned out, quick was the operative word!

This is a summary of the action.  Note that the text is positioned below the relevant photograph.


Rome (on the left hand side of the table) deploys first, utilising a light infantry screen with heavy cavalry in support.  Carthage responds by advancing its heavy cavalry in the centre and putting the Numidians on the flanks.



Rome gets first attack, and makes it count.  She scores five hits, curdling the cream of the enemy cavalry straight out of the pail (I know; sorry for inflicting that one on you...).



Carthage in return manages only two hits.  A low command roll prevents her from advancing the Numidian cavalry as speedily as would normally be desirable.



Rome continues to attack with devastating effect - one unit is shattered in the Carthaginian centre and those around it panic and flee.  Rome has a breakthrough almost immediately!  Elsewhere, the Carthaginians lose another unit on the left and the velites score a hit on the advancing light cavalry.



The Carthaginian cavalry begins to inflict some damage of its own, shattering a unit of velites on the Roman left and leaving most of the forward Roman units spent.  She also gets the Numidians in position to envelop the Roman line.



The Romans appear exhausted by their breakthrough: they are unable to press the attack with any success at all this turn.  The enemy commander manages to rally the only hit that is made and the Carthaginians can scarcely believe their good fortune.  Moloch will no doubt be expecting due reward!



Carthage seizes the initiative and with it the advantage: her attack panics and scatters the Roman left just as the Numidians get in behind the Roman right.



The enemy numbers are starting to tell but Rome is not quite done yet.  The cavalry of the right break through as well, driving off the Carthaginian left centre.  Rome now controls the middle of the field, but the enemy commander is still alive and the Numidians are marauding with intent...



The Carthaginian commander now turns inwards to attack the Roman centre: he shatters a fourth Roman unit, and this, combined with a low morale roll, is enough to see the Roman survivors head for the safety of the camp while they still may.

Points tally:

Carthage shattered 3 light infantry units and a heavy cavalry unit for 24 points.  She routed 6 heavy cavalry units and a light infantry unit for another 28 points.  She forced the withdrawal of 2 more light infantry units, another 2 heavy cavalry units and the commander for a further 15 points.

Carthage then scored 67 points.

Rome shattered 3 heavy cavalry and 1 light cavalry unit for 24 points.  She routed 4 heavy cavalry and 2 light cavalry units for a further 24 points.  An enemy light cavalry unit was left spent, for another 3 points.

Rome scored 51 points and gained another 30 on handicap. The total of 81 is enough to give her the game victory.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Useful readings on the Hannibalic War

I'm doing a spot of research at the moment and have been giving the Second Punic War collection a bit of a time off the shelf.  This is a list of what I've been using.

Please feel free to comment, and extra points are yours to command if you add in your own favourite sources for this period!



Hannibal's War by J.F. Lazenby.  Excellent overview.  Gives his sources and is not controversial.  As far as I'm concerned is still the starting point for all investigations.

The War With Hannibal by Titus Livius.  An excerpt from Livy's history.  Essential, along with Polybius.

A History of the Roman World by H.H. Scullard.  Good source looking at the wider context. Not as in- depth for this period as Lazenby, but worth checking to see what he has to say.

Roman Warfare by Adrian Goldsworthy.  General coverage of the Roman approach to war.  Summarises rather than presents.  Has decent suggestions for further reading.

The Fall of Carthage by Adrian Goldsworthy.  A good single book history of the three wars against Carthage.  Very readable and includes copious notes.  This and Lazenby are the two books most focussed on the Hannibalic period.

In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy.  Again, another readable book from Goldsworthy.  Gives military biographies of quintessential Roman generals.  Includes Fabius, Marcellus and Scipio Africanus from our period.

Cavalry Operations in the Ancient World by Robert E. Gaebel.  A very interesting look at the development of cavalry warfare.  Not especially necessary for the Second Punic War however.

Warfare in Antiquity by Hans Delbruck.  Dated but still formidable.  Spends a lot of his time savaging contemporaries and pointing out flaws or inconsistencies in the ancient evidence.  Still, worth referencing as a strong, opinionated and perhaps instructive voice.

Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars by Duncan Head (drawings by Ian Heath).  The ancient wargamer's bible.

Soldiers and Ghosts by J.E. Lendon.  Quite an unusual treatment.  Contends that warfare in a Greek and Roman context was an emulation of heroic myth or legend and an embodiment of cultural attitudes.  I don't agree with everything he says but it's a brilliant and imaginative re-interpretation.  Again, not essential reading as far as the Hannibalic period goes, but not off-topic either.

Lost Battles by Philip Sabin.  Gives good overviews of the main clashes including troop numbers, terrain, and general course of the fighting.  Also touches on some of the scholarly debates around the battles themselves.



I've been using some online sources as well - Polybius especially (and wikipedia when I'm cheating) - but it's nice to have hard copies in front of you. So much time is spent on a computer these days it's almost relaxing to go back to pen and paper for a spell!

Anyway, that's me done.  Feel free to comment and add to the list.  It's always good to be introduced to new books on this topic and on ancient warfare in general.




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of Labyrinth: the War on Terror 2001-?

I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of GMT Games' recent 50% off sale and, having watched a few documentaries on the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, thought I'd like to try a game from the COIN series just to see what the system is like (and what the fuss is about).  A Distant Plain was sold out, so I went for Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? as it seemed to be in the same ball park.

To be fair and open, historical moderns is not really my thing. I enjoy hypothetical Cold-War-goes-hot stuff, but actual recent or ongoing conflicts feel raw to me and I find it a little uncomfortable thinking about gaming them. 

It was therefore with slight wariness that I approached Labyrinth, which takes as its subject the post-9/11 war on terrorism. Please keep this in mind while reading this review.

Anyway, let's take a look at the game itself.

The first thing you notice is that it is played on a beautiful, hard-mounted map. The featured countries are classed as either Muslim or non-Muslim, and they are tracked differently depending upon which category they fall into. Muslim countries have governance (Islamic rule, poor, fair or good) and stance vis-a-vis the US (ally, neutral or adversary) noted, while non-Muslim countries have a counter for posture (hard/soft), indicating whether or not they support the use of force against extremism.

Countries may also harbour terrorist cells, US troops, or a combination of the two.

The game board, clearly enough...
To win the game the US must keep its prestige high and use 'war of ideas' plays to ensure good governance in Muslim states. The Jihadist player must try to keep funding levels high, reduce US prestige - and therefore its ability to influence other nations - and look to foment Islamic rule in Muslim states or set off a WMD in the US itself.

The game revolves around card play, with each card being able to be used as an event or as an operations play. Sometimes, if the card is an enemy event, you might have to play it as both an operation for you and an event for the enemy, so how best to use the cards dominates decision-making.

US operations options include 'war of ideas' in which the US gets, under certain conditions, to roll to improve the governance or stance of a Muslim country.  The lower US prestige, and the greater the difference between US posture (hard/soft) and the posture of the rest of the non-Muslim world, the smaller the chance of this roll succeeding.

The US may also attempt a 'war of ideas' operation to get a non-Muslim country to change its posture from hard to soft, or vice versa.  Again, this depends on a die roll.

The US may opt to use an operations turn to disrupt terrorist cells, foil a terrorist plot, or deploy troops. Troops can generally only be deployed to allied Muslim nations, but the US does have a game-changer option: regime change, whereby the US may order regime change against any country under Islamic rule. This immediately changes the governance of the country to poor ally and brings a significant troop commitment while the US attempts, over time, to end Jihadist resistance and bring the governance level up to good.

The US player has a sort of firefighter role - he or she must look to keep prestige high, maintain alliances, disrupt terrorist cells, use force where needed, promote good governance in Muslim nations, uncover plots and, above all, prevent a WMD attack on US soil.

Naturally enough, the Jihadist player also has a number of options. These include being able to recruit terrorist cells in certain areas, send cells to other nations, set up plots and use either of two different types of jihad to disrupt governance in Muslim countries in an attempt to bring these states closer to or under Islamic rule.

The US is powerful, but can't do everything at once, so the Jihadist player must try to stretch the US as much as possible, lower its prestige, and make it difficult to respond to every threat.

The game also includes solitaire rules (a key feature for me - most of my play is solo), which see the Jihadist side played by an automated system. Apparently there are plans to bring out rules to automate the US side which will be made available through a future edition of GMT Games's house magazine, C3i.

We've been talking so far about operations, but as one of the prime uses of cards is for events, I'd better mention them as well. In fact, it's with these events that things get really interesting (and tricky). There are 120 event cards, and over a turn each player must use the eight or nine cards in his or her hand judiciously. Some events are more useful than others at certain times, or require conditions to be right, or are at their best used before or after the play of other particular events. Learning the card deck is probably the most important thing if you want to become a competitive player of these types of games.

Sample cards showing events, who they favour, and operations value (OpV # in box)

Now, in most card-driven games, this is where things start to get less appealing for me. I don't really want to have to learn a card deck and associated optimal plays to be able to do all right in a game. If I want to play cards, I'll play a traditional card game. But the way that Labyrinth approaches card play seems fresh and does not result in the sense of frustration that I've had with some other games in the genre. I've been happy just to play through the cards as they come, hand by hand, and haven't felt that I'm missing anything on a macro level by not knowing optimal plays.

That said, I'm still ambivalent about the game itself. As I said before, I'm not very comfortable with modern conflicts - especially ongoing ones - and that is a major difficulty for me. It's nothing I didn't know already however, so I'm not going to hold that against the game.

I find that the game mechanisms are clever, but the treatment (necessarily, of course) is at times simplistic and does not go into deeper causes or ramifications, and therefore any understanding that may be generated is, to me, undercut by the feeling that the game is presented from the US side of the divide. As a way to understand a US narrative of an approach to fighting extremism it may be a reasonable approximation, but as a way to come to grips with the wider nuances I think it is of less value.

As an example, we have the Predator card:


This is a positive card for the US if played as an event. However, what it does not show is the anecdotal real-world negative effect that the use of drones has on perceptions of US moral authority and is one example of how the game misses the double-edged nature of much of the goings on in the war against extremism.  That it misses this is due I think to a) it being designed within a particular paradigm, b) us finding that the real world has outgrown the game, and c) the unavoidable imperative to simplify things to fit within a playable game system.

So, points in favour: it's challenging; it has asymmetrical sides; there is plenty of room for player skill; and it is beautifully produced. Points not in favour: the simplifications reduce the value it might have in terms of understanding the conflict; it attempts to quantify a lot of unknowns, some of which have been or will inevitably be overtaken by events; and there is a sense that it is not distanced enough from its subject to be able to see causes, events, and results entirely objectively, even though the intent to be objective is there.

In conclusion I would say that it is an attractive introduction to modern card-driven game systems, has historical interest as a snapshot of 2011 US insider thinking around the war on Islamic extremism, and is likely to prove to be very interesting as a game. But if you are looking for a definitive treatment of this murky ongoing conflict you will have to wait a bit longer.


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