Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Monday, January 19, 2015

January goings-on

Well, it's been an eventful few weeks in the house of Prufrock. There is a quite exciting PBEM game of Ukraine '44 underway with Kevin from the Zhodani Commando blog which is taking up a bit of thinking time. I really like the game; it has a bit of A Victory Lost about it in that the rules are quite straightforward but they support quite a few different strategies. So far I have been outplayed by a man with a good plan (and a plan, it may be noted, that I didn't fully see the threat in until recently, which is surely a sign of surpassing goodness in said planning!), and I think we will be struggling to get out of this one.

This has really piqued my interest in boardgaming again. In an instance of particularly good timing, two old wargaming friends have recently got in touch about re-starting some PBEM action, so some games will be afoot. The corollary is that painting is likely to be going on the backburner (again) for a while as I look through rules sets, but what can you do?

Nevertheless, earlier in the month a little more progress was made on painting some Thebans and prepping a few more (no small matter where Xyston figures are concerned!) so we will have plenty on hand to do once the painting bug and the time to feed it does return.

Ironically enough considering my recent disavowal of attraction to model making, I've made up four plastic model kits over the last few weeks. Three 1/100 Spitfires for the kids, and a Space Battleship Yamato model that was also going to be for the kids, but may actually become a side project of my own. I'm being a little cautious about this as space combat is not usually my thing, but it might be nice to do for a change...

Finally, on the personal front, my wife and I celebrated out tenth wedding anniversary recently, and it was nice to look back on what has been a pretty happy time. Like every couple we have our ups and downs, but it was great to have a decent excuse to go out together for a fine dinner and some good wine. In the near future my youngest brother and his wife will be dropping by on their way back from a sojourn in Europe, so we might even have an excuse for another good night out fairly soon.

When you see how rough some people have it at the moment it's a good reminder to count one's blessings and make a point of enjoying the journey you are on rather than getting caught up in worrying about the destination.

And on that note I will take my leave for the evening and thank you for reading. Cheers!

Monday, January 5, 2015


I'd promised myself a holiday game of Lost Battles' Magnesia scenario over the New Year break, and - cataphracts now painted - got to it the other night.

For those who know Lost Battles and its prior incarnations, I went with the Strategos II deployments and orders of battle rather than those in the latest version. This means that there are no camps on table and the Seleucid phalangites are all average quality units.  I also made a further change of my own, exchanging one unit of the 'Silver Shields' for standard heavy infantry as I felt that three units of phalangites on the right of the main phalanx gave that wing just a little too much strike power.

For appearance's sake I plunked a base of Roman cavalry on table between the river and the Roman infantry line. This flank guard is too small to register as a unit at Lost Battles' scale, but as it is mentioned so prominently in the sources I felt it needed to be on table, even if only in token form.

A quick word about the Lost Battles system 


Lost Battles requires activation for units to do anything, and to activate these units requires command points. The quality of an army's organisation and leadership is thus represented by the number of these points it can muster. Commands can be used anywhere across the battlefield, but named leaders also contribute 'exemptions', which act as localized command points that can be used in the general's own zone (and in his zone only!).

Generally speaking, two command points will activate a zone to fight or move (the battlefield is five zones wide by four zones deep); one point will move a single unit; two points will allow a unit to move twice as far as usual (called a double move, strangely enough!); and to give a fighting unit a +1 modifier to the attacking dice roll will also cost 2 points. Veteran units are cheaper to activate, but this is just a summary and I don't want to bore you unnecessarily with details, so we won't say anything more than that!

A bit of maths tells us that to activate a standard battleline in its entirety (two wing zones, three centre zones) will cost a minimum of 10 commands. If players want to give combat bonuses to any of the zones, these will cost a further 2 points per bonus, and any fancy redeployment or exploitation moves are usually going to cost 2 points per unit as well.

For this battle, the Romans get a base of 7 command points per turn plus 2 activation and 2 combat bonus exemptions for each of their commanders. The Seleucids have a base of 6 points, with 2 of each exemption type for Antiochus. Both sides will also get a command die roll, but because the day starts with a bit of rain about, the command die roll is halved. The number of command points will therefore be scarcer than usual until the weather clears, and both armies will need to be conservative with their approach, making the most of the points they get.

The Magnesian battlefield is more constricted than normal because of the river on one flank. The two armies therefore will usually need to activate only four zones rather than the usual five.

Turn 1: deployment

From the Seleucid right. Dahae, Silver shields, cataphracts, heavy infantry, main phalanx line. Antiochus is forward of the line behind the levy light infantry.

From the Roman left on the river. The left ala, the Roman legions, the right ala, the Pergamenes and the cavalry. Velites are advanced to skirmish.

The legions again.

Antiochus. Scythed chariots in the distance oppose Eumenes and the Pergamene cavalry.

The phalanx in the centre is formed up deep with elephants in the intervals. The Seleucid left extends beyond, with heavy infantry, cavalry, cataphracts. Galatian cavalry is on the far left. Scythed chariots and light infantry man the first line. 

There are several important decisions to make in this scenario.

1) Does Eumenes charge straight in against the scythed chariot wing and risk having his cavalry hammered in the counter-attack? Does he instead hold back and have his light infantry absorb the enemy charge and make his main thrust a counter-attack?

2) Does the Seleucid phalanx advance in the centre and incur the first casualties or does it stay put and hope the Romans close with them, thereby allowing the pikemen the first strike?

3) Does Antiochus attack the Roman left frontally, or does he personally lead an outflanking party?

4) How far do the respective leaders push their luck in an attempt to rally hits? Hits scored on Antiochus' and Eumenes' zones can be rallied on a 2d6 roll of 9-12, but the leaders would themselves die should the roll come up 2 or 3. When and how often to risk all on a rally will be here - as it so often is in Lost Battles - gutbusting questions.

Turn 2: Openings

Eumenes elects to advance immediately. The scythed chariots withdraw; another hit is scored. Further to the right the Roman cavalry presses the Galatians hard.

The light infantry in Antiochus' zone are hit.

The Seleucids outflank the Roman left with the light cavalry. 

They advance the phalanx in the centre. On the right, Antiochus chooses to delay the attack, resolving instead to bring up the second line.

The cataphracts on the left damage the Italian cavalry.

Turn 3: The Lines Clash

Eumenes presses the attack.

Two of the Seleucid cavalry units are destroyed as a double hits sees off the cataphracts and the Roman cavalry cuts down the Galatians on the far end of the line. 

The Seleucid centre loses its skirmish screen to enemy attack. The elephants rampage, causing further disorder.

A strong response on the right sees the Roman advance shaken. 

The remnants on the left score three hits against Eumenes' zone, but he rallies two of them to prevent catastrophe. 

Turn 4: Advantage Antiochus

The infantry clash becomes general; Seleucid cataphracts lead the charge on the right.

Eumenes fails to break through.  Antiochus holds his veteran cataphracts together and Eumenes rallies yet another hit on the Roman right.

Turn 5: Breathrough

Eumenes engenders the collapse the Romans need.  The Seleucid left vanishes!

The Seleucid right has caused massive damage to the Roman left. Any more hits and the line will begin to shatter.

Turn 6: Decision

The weather clears; a command roll of 6 enables the Romans to send their cavalry (here Eumenes) into the rear of the Seleucid lines, lowering the morale of the easterners and rendering their attacks less effective.

The legionaries press everything into an attack on Antiochus' zone.

A hit is scored on the lead cataphracts.

Antiochus decides to attempt a rally so that he can get one more turn before disordering the Silver Shield phalanx.

He rolls a 3, and dies.

Surrounded, and with army morale suffering a -3 modifier for Antiochus' death, for having had four units shattered and for having enemy units in front and rear, the Seleucids break.

This ala heaves a sight of relief...

Is he really dead?

What? He tried to rally? 


And there we have it!

My notes for turn 6 say:

Break in the rain. Full command dice.  Cavalry gets around behind the Seleucid infantry. Antiochus tries to rally a hit on the cataphracts but is killed in the attempt.  The army routs.

It was an unfortunate result, especially as the rally was not really necessary at this point. The hit could have been absorbed, but with time running out I felt that the best chance to try to win a battlefield victory was to be aggressive and attempt to take the Romans on.

Conservative may well have been the better option here: another turn spent hitting Roman units would probably have resulted in a game victory for the Seleucids.

But 'tis no great matter - the soldiers were lead, not flesh and blood!

Returning to our key decision points from earlier:

1) Eumenes did attack from the beginning. It almost cost him his wing; three successful rallies ensured that it didn't.

2) The phalanx did advance. It took a lot of hits in so doing, but the Roman line was under pressure. Holding back would have allowed the Romans to pick and choose their place of attack and reinforce where weaknesses appeared.

3) Antiochus did stay with the main line. His personal command exemptions made a huge difference: the Roman left was only a couple of hits away from taking serious damage and facing potential collapse.

4) Rally attempts were made. Eumenes' ones were necessary; Antiochus' ones were more ornamental. The first succeeded, the second cost the Seleucids the battle.

It was an exciting game, and one where the Seleucids came closer to winning than it looks.

Aftermath: points tallies

Shattered. 1 x LCat, 1 x LHC, 1 x LHI, 1 x AHC, 1 x AL for 30 points
Routed. 3 x LLI. 2 x VCat, 1 x IEL, 3 x APH, 1 x AHI  for 39 points
Withdrawn. 1 x SCH, 1 x |ALC, 4 x APH, 1 x VHC for 20 points

89 points for Rome.

Shattered. 1 x LLI for 4 points
Spent. 3 x VLE, 3 x ALE. 1 x VLI, 1 x ALI, 1 x AHC, 1 x VHC for 35 points
Handicap. 24 points

63 points for the Seleucids.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mulled Newbury

Today I was lucky enough to be able to jump on a train and head north for a few hours of gaming with Pat, whom I had not seen for a twelvemonth.

Amidst the odd snowflake, some mulled wine and around a picturesque table, we refought 2nd Newbury with the boardgame This Accursed Civil War from GMT's Musket and Pike series.

I took the side of Parliament and deployed on both flanks, as if to trap the king in a vise. I outnumbered him and was under charge orders.  What could possibly go wrong?

King Charles awaits.

Well, as has been telegraphed, quite a lot. Firstly, my own intrepid self Skippen bungled his attack on the Royalist position at Speen.

Bungle bungle bungle...
As a consequence, Waller, being overall commander, was forced to get involved rallying and reforming the troops thrown back during the somewhat over-hasty assault against a prepared position.

But Balfour's and Cromwell's cavalry wings would surely do their best and save the day.

Onwards, gentlemen!
And so they did: Balfour's horse destroyed Maurice's flank defence, but so weakened themselves in the act that they were in turn overwhelmed by a devastating counter-attack, prosecuted under the very eyes of the king himself.

Cromwell's wing then also got into prancing difficulties.  Hedge crossings disrupted their formation and unimpressive thinking condemned them to the indignity of being reaction-charged in a constricted space.  Consequently, they were unable to bring any force to bear against the brave (and superbly led!) Royalist horse. Touche, Patrick!


Skippen's foot eventually got back into the action and pushed the Royalists from their position at Speen.

Looking a little more promising as we punish Maurice with musketry.
Sadly, our casualties were mounting, and like an idiot, Skippen stayed in the front line with his wobbling brigade instead of sensibly retiring to join the next line. He dies bloodily, and with him lie our chances of winning the day.

But what of the other flank, you may ask?

There too it was a sorry sight. We got across the river but disordered ourselves so terribly we failed to get any momentum against the stalwart men of the king.

With night (and snow) falling, it was time for Waller to catch his train back home call his men together in conference and have a good go at them.


Despite the awfulness of the defeat, it was an excellent game to play. A real tactical puzzle, and it was a thrill to re-learn this solid system. It can get a bit fiddly for fat-fingered Kiwis with all the markers about, but it has a lot of to-and-fro action that makes for a great day's gaming and provides some moments of high drama.

As an added bonus, I won a copy of the game on the Japanese version of ebay the other night, so I can study my many mistakes in the comfort of my own private dungeon!

Many thanks to Pat for a most enjoyable day and some most palatable beverages.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year end round up

The end of year has rolled around far too soon, yet again.  I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that...

In some ways it wasn't such a great year for hobby stuff. I have barely managed to paint 100 figures, but did get a complete Pompeian army out of these by combining them with some previously painted figures I got from a purchase a couple of years ago.  I suppose one new game-able army is better than nothing!

In other respects though it wasn't a bad year; there was a period when gaming didn't seem very important, but after getting through that and recovering some enthusiasm I've probably developed a more philosophical attitude to the whole shebang. One thing that came out of it was the decision to just do what I want to do and not put pressure on myself by committing to anything that might end up seeming like work.

Other good things are that the youngest is now old enough to be trusted around miniatures, and he's turned out to be quite interested in models and what not. This last week I've made up three 1/100 Spitfires for him and the girls and they've enjoyed playing around with those.

Although not so enamoured of figures, the girls have come to love 'basic' Dungeonquest, so it's a lovely time. Our eldest is pretty good at Othello and I think she's going to have a good analytical head on her.

I was lucky enough to get a few good games in. Ones that stand out are the spectacular Modern Spearhead game that Luke hosted for Pat and I in January, and the multiplayer game of Machiavelli that we got in about the same time. I also have a PBEM Russian front game on the go with a fellow blogger - which is proving to be both a headscratcher and a lot of fun - and earlier in the year there were a couple of good 6th Fleet scenarios played out with Brad from Hexsides and Handgrenades.

There wasn't time enough to meet up with fellow gamers Pat and Luke much this year which is something that I regret, but when we did get together it was well worth it. Hopefully we can make a bit more of it happen in 2015.

On the blogging front, there was a dry spell, but the continued support from readers has been overwhelming. I started this blog as a way to document what I'd done and motivate myself to improve my painting enough for it to be photographed, but it's ended up becoming a hobby unto itself. There are too many people to be able to thank you all individually for your comments and encouragement, but it has been and continues to be much appreciated.

Anyway, to finish, I quickly painted some Xyston Thebans to get me over the hundred minis mark for the year, and with a few more to do yet it would be nice to get an army done in the New Year sometime.

BTW, those are clubs on the shields, not chicken drumsticks ;-)

And one of the boy learning how to prep from some grumpy old man...

Happy New Year to you all, and I hope 2015 brings you health, wealth and good things in great abundance.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Varnish in the Boxing Day sun...

Nothing like the smell of varnish on a crisp morning!  Hope everyone had a great Christmas, and all the best to you for the new year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

W.I.P: Cataphracts

After a discussion on the SoA forum that touched on the battle of Magnesia, I was tempted to set up the table last night for another go of the Lost Battles scenario. In looking at the OOB I remembered that I still needed to paint up a couple of units of QRF cataphracts that I had bought for this very battle a few years ago.

Fortunately, half of them were already primed, so I thought I might quickly paint them up and do the battle over the New Year break.

I'm trying a different technique for the armour: metallic paints followed by a wash of Tamiya smoke mixed with a little black.  I'm now in the process of painting in the details, but I think it works better than the gray undercoat and wash which I use for lorica hamata and similar.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hard times for model shops.

I popped into the local Ma and Pa plastic model shop in town the other day to have a browse and a wee chat with the owner. I got put onto him ages ago by a mate who used to build the odd Normandy diorama, and over the years we've got reasonably friendly. As my only local hobby contact, I look forward to our occasional conversations about painting, kitsets or terrain. He has masses of stock and even though I don't build plastic models I can get lost in there looking at what he's got in or what he's currently building and thirty minutes will go by in a flash.  He's a really nice guy, so I always try and buy a few things from him when I'm in that part of town; flock, paint brushes and such like.

Anyway, I must have caught him on a bad day, because when I asked how things were going he replied with uncharacteristic seriousness. It turns out that business is bad going on worse, and that it has got to the stage that his sons are not interesting in continuing with the store when he retires. Ten to fifteen years ago, he reckoned, he used to have a lot of customers through his shop, mostly children, and mostly on weekends. They'd get model kits as presents and spend their pocket money to get more, they'd ask to look at the displays he has, would ask for advice on building and painting, and would use the track he has set up for radio controlled cars. Nowadays, by contrast, the children don't come in at all. The customers he does get are all largely adult males who were once modellers as children.

To lighten the mood he joked that I could take over the store when he was gone, but he may have been a bit more serious than he let on.

We nattered on for a while and in commiserating with him I asked whether he had tried selling through the local version of ebay.  He shook his head and said that he didn't want to do it because a) he likes talking to his customers, not just selling to them, and b) some internet buyers can be very demanding, and that dealing with those kinds of people is exhausting and can put your reputation at risk.

There wasn't much I could say to cheer him up, but I agreed with him wholeheartedly that it was very sad to see a once-popular and much-loved hobby no longer able to compete for attention against other forms of entertainment.

It made me think about our own hobby. I'm not much of a proselytizer for wargaming, but I would hate to see wargaming going the same way.  The thing wargaming has in its favour over modelling is that it is a broad hobby with many facets to it.  There's room for the modeller, the painter (and the painting services user...) the  casual gamer and the competitive gamer. You can be a rules writer or a rules lawyer; a social type or a misanthrope. It's not only about building things, but also about using them in an imaginative way, and I think there is more satisfaction to be had in employing your troops on a tabletop than there is in only seeing them on display in a glass case.

And what about the no kids situation? I don't know if this is such a big problem with wargaming.  My parents were not wargamers, and with the odd exception, nor were the parents or relatives of my wargaming buddies. I came to organised wargaming (ie, with rules and self-painted figures and whatnot) in my early thirties, when I had some disposable income and less desire to spend that income on nights out on the tiles.

So, while my friend's hobby store situation is a cautionary tale, I don't think wargaming needs to worry just yet.

But I'd like to throw this open to readers.

Is there a correlation between model making and wargaming?  Does it worry you if associated hobbies start to feel the pinch?  Are kids of your acquaintance interested in  modelling or wargaming?

Are wargaming parents important? In your experience, are they a pathway into the hobby for youngsters?

It would be good to hear your thoughts.

To finish on a happier note, here is what I got from the model shop the other day. 1/700 buildings, dirt cheap, that will work splendidly with my 1/300 figures. I would never have found these over the internet, and in my view any hobby would be much the poorer without people like my model shop mate who keep things going with their knowledge and enthusiasm.

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