Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Monday, February 24, 2014

Alexander II of Epirus in Italy

On the Lost Battles yahoo group there is a member named Carolyne (Megalostrata) who is playing a campaign derived from Phil Sabin's Empire.  She usually uses DBMM to resolve the battles, but last week she posted details of the latest engagement and it sounded so interesting I decided to use it as the basis for a game of my own.

The situation is that Alexander II of Epirus, Pyrrhus's son, has joined forces with the denizens of Magna Graecia to take advantage of a Rome weakened by a just-concluded Punic War. If successful, this brave endeavour will establish once and for all the independence of the Greek city states of Southern Italy.

Alexander has brought over 15,000 phalangites, 15,000 mercenaries and 4000 horse to combine with the Tarentines.

In Lost Battles terms, his army looks like this:

  • 25,000 phalangites organised into six average (Macedonian) and two levy (Tarentine) units. 
  • 7,500 Thracians and Illyrians, or three average heavy infantry units.
  • 5,000 peltasts, or two heavy infantry units.
  • 2,500 slingers, or one light infantry unit.
  • 4000 Greek cavalry, organised as two guard veteran and two average units.  Alexander and his general, Nearchus, each have a veteran unit under their personal command. 
  • 2000 Tarantine cavalry, organised as one veteran and one average unit.

The total fighting value of this force is 70.

The Romans in response send a somewhat thrown-together force comprised of 4 legions plus alae, and an additional legion and ala picked up en-route.

  • 30,000 heavy infantry organised into twelve legionary units.
  • 12,000 light infantry in two levy units.
  • 4,000 cavalry organised as one veteran and three average units.

With the addition of the consul Gauis Genucius Clepsina as an average commander, the total fighting value of this force is 71.

Alexander has a gentle hill on which to deploy, while the Romans have a wood in their right centre and a steep hill on their left flank.

Turn 1 (deployment turn).

The Romans deploy with the infantry in the middle three zones, pushing forward the velites in the centre and through the wood.  The cavalry is divided into a weak left and a strong right.

Alexander deploys his phalangites on the hill with the peltasts and thureophoroi in support. Nearchus leads the bulk of the cavalry against the Roman right while Alexander himself goes to the right with a view to taking the heights on the Roman left and turning the flank.

Romans on left and Greeks on the right.

Turn 2.

The Romans push forward all along the line and dress the cavalry for contact.

Roman advance.
Alexander moves forward aggressively on the right, while the slingers cause some damage (1 hit) to the unscreened legionaries who are approaching the Greek infantry. The Greek foot advance to the edge of the hill and Nearchus readies his command to receive a charge or, if one is not forthcoming, to initiate one himself.

Greek cavalry advances.
Turn 3.

The Romans attack all along the line.  They drive off the slingers (1 hit), disorder the Tarantines (1 hit) and sow confusion amongst the peltasts holding the left of the Greek line (2 hits).  On the right an unnamed tribune leads an effective charge against Nearchus who pays for his caution by seeing his Tarentine light horse and the mixed Greek cavalry unable to withstand the Roman attack (2 hits).  Only tiredness prevents the Romans from following up their advantage further (they just miss scoring another hit due to the negative modifier for charging from a distance).

Roman success in the charge.

The cavalry battle it out.

The peltasts are met with missiles from the woods.

The phalanx must be driven off this hill!

Nearchus and Alexander lead the Greek ripostes as the cavalry fights continue to build in intensity. The uphill assault is treacherous, but the equites holding the hill have been shaken (1 hit).  On the other end of the line Nearchus's second line of horse cut into the Roman line and fight them to a standstill (2 hits).

In the centre the phalanx is proving to be an intimating opponent as the velites and the hastati wrestle its moral and physical weight (2 hits in the centre).  On the left of the infantry line the experienced Thracians hold the line against the advancing Romans and the velites fall back under a volley of spears (1 hit).

The cavalry fight continues.

Turn 4.

The cavalry on the hill hits back at the Tarentines with Alexander, driving them back down the slope (1 hit).  The legionaries of the left make a concerted effort against the far end of the Greek line, and as they work their way into the gaps opened up by their pila and the uneven ground the troops supporting the Macedonians begin to give way (2 hits).

Elsewhere the combats have devolved into exchanges as the troops conserve their energy, but not so in the cavalry attack, where the Romans drive in again on Nearchus and his men. They hold, but barely (1 hit).
Lines engaged.

Alexander now commits himself and his guard to the attack and they carry the hill, breaking through on the right (1 hit - a shatter).

Breakthrough on the right!
The centre, seeing the success of the king, pushes against the Roman line, with dramatic results. The fresh phalangites in depth push back the Romans like rag dolls, and their line - so determined just moments before - is now on the brink of collapse (3 hits, now all the Romans in the central zone are spent).

Nearchus urges his Macedonian guard cavalrymen to remember their fame in war, and they return to the combat with renewed vigour.  This time all but the veteran Italian cavalry break in the face of the Greek spears (3 hits - 2 shatters).

Everywhere now the battle favours Alexander.  What can Clepsina do to turn the tide?

The Romans are falling apart under the pressure.

Turn 5.

The veteran cavalry on the right fall upon the flank of one overly-enthusiastic unit of pursuers, shattering them and driving them from the field (1 hit - 1 shatter), but there are three more units to deal with and the odds against the Italians are long.

Clepsina decides to pull back his demoralised centre and force the phalanx to come down off its hill to continue the fight.  He cannot retreat them all, so the rest of his men hold in place to cover the withdrawal.

Clepsina pulls back

Nearchus and his men now overcome the last of the Italian cavalry and rush on to outflank the Roman right.

Nearchus attacks.

Alexander comes around behind the Roman left and threatens Clepsina's centre.  The central phalanx follows up the retreating Romans while the rest of the line attacks.  The Macedonians left on the hill now turn the tables on their Roman tormenters with a furious attack that leaves the legionaries confused, disorganised and demoralised (2 hits, 1 of them an all-out-attack, all units in the zone are now spent).

The thureophoroi press similarly hard and the Romans are only just holding on (1 hit).

The Roman line fragmented and under pressure.
Turn 6.

The consul organises his men to face the enemy as best he can.  The triarii from the right join him to stiffen the resistance.  Elsewhere the pockets of Roman troops flail against the enemy with no success.

Clepsina tries to reorganise the line.

Alexander leads the attack against the milling infantry and Clepsina rides to meet him. After a brief and bloody clash Clepsina falls (1 hit, Clepsina dies in a rally attempt - 1 shatter, 4 rout) and the end is nigh for the Romans.

Alexander leads the charge and the last Roman resistance begins to crumble.

Elsewhere the Macedonians attack down the hill (1 hit, all out attack) and this is enough to cause panic and the Roman flight now becomes general.

Last rites.

Roman remnants.

The day is lost!

Alexander has won an astounding victory, and all Italy will tremble at the news!


Rome: 1 shattered (6vps), 8 average spent (24vps), 1 veteran spent (4vps), 2 levy spent (4vps).

Epirus: 5 average shattered (30), 1 veteran shattered (8), 1 average commander killed (12), 7 average routed (28), 3 average withdrawn (9), 2 levy routed (6) + 3 points on handicap.

38 vs 96 is a great victory for Alexander.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable game and it was interesting to see Rome really struggle against the phalanx.  The lack of command points to spend on combat bonuses and the ability of the phalangites to use their depth to advantage (+1) saw a very one-sided combat in the centre, and that is what ensured that Rome would lose.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Farewell to an old companion

When I was a university student I used to live in Christchurch, New Zealand.  I had a favourite second hand bookstore in Cashel Mall, and I used to go in there whenever I had a chance.  That and the two second hand record stores were the places you'd see me then (unless I was in the pub). In about 1997 I went into this particular bookstore and found that there was a game there called Terrible Swift Sword.  It looked battered, but I decided I had to get it and used up a night's beer money to grab it for $25.

That bookshop now no longer exists, after being destroyed in the great earthquake of 2011, but I still have the game, or will do until tomorrow.

Because, not without a sight tinge of nostalgia, I've decided to part with it. It's not just that I've taken it around the world with me without ever having played it, but also that I know a fellow who had it when he was a young buck, would love to have it again, and will put it to good use on the table.

As Tennyson said:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

So tonight I got the map out for a look for old time's sake, took a few photos, and readied it for the post.

I'm very pleased that it's going to a good home and hope it will bring back some happy memories and help create a few more.

And here she is, in all her 1976 SPI glory!

the box

the battlefield

a certain town

a certain eminence

Monday, February 10, 2014

Three rules sets for '14

Over the last couple of weeks I've picked up a few new games and rules sets, and have pulled another couple out of the shelves with a view to expanding the range of rules I play.  These are the miniatures rules I'm keen to give some table time this year.

1) Might of Arms.  I love Lost Battles, Commands and Colors: Ancients does a job for me (though it's in New Zealand now which is a little inconvenient), I enjoy To the Strongest and have my own rules to work on, but I really want a dice and ruler ancients set that looks the part in 15mm (ie, not DBA!).  I'm hoping that this might be it.

2) Armati.  This is another dice and ruler affair I want to come back to.  I was really put off Armati after joining the yahoo group way back when I first got the rules in 2006 or 2007.  There were two camps on the yahoo group and each had a different interpretation on how to play a couple of things and these guys would get stuck into each other, often on a personal level, day after day, message after message, and couldn't let things rest.  I still gave the game a shot but I couldn't be bothered with rubbish of that ilk filling my inbox and wasn't interested in asking noob rules questions in that kind of environment so I quit the group. Now might be a good time to try the rules again (but I'm not going back to the group!).

3) Shipwreck!  These modern naval rules come highly recommended so I'm looking forward to getting them on deck.  I will probably use counters for a start, but may end up going for some NavWar fleets later on depending on how enthusiastic I can get about painting them.

That's the plan, but there's many a slip between cup and lip, as they say...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Introduction to Commands and Colors: Ancients

(This is a piece I wrote c.2006 for Keith McNelly's now defunct e-zine "Across the Table".  I have posted it mostly as-is, but dropped one paragraph. Note that it was written for a miniatures gaming audience in New Zealand who had not heard of the game before)

Introduction to Commands and Colors: Ancients.

Commands and Colors: Ancients is a fast-play board war game designed by Richard Borg and published by GMT games.  The board employs hexes, and the pieces are wooden blocks.  Also included are command cards, custom dice, rules/scenario booklets and quick reference sheets.  The base game provides the armies of Rome and Carthage while the first expansion adds troops for Greece and Persia.  The forthcoming second expansion is entitled "Rome and the Barbarians" and will include Roman (probably of the Marian or Early Imperial variety) and "barbarian" armies. 

Commands and Colors (hereafter called C&C) converts very well to miniatures.  All that is needed - aside from the miniatures, of course - is a suitably sized hex-cloth or hex-board, which can be home made easily enough or purchased from Hotz or Kallistra.  The following is a brief introduction to the C&C system.


In C&C all units can take a set number of hits before being destroyed: 4 hits for foot, 3 for cavalry, and 2 for special units such as elephants and chariots. 

There are three main types of troops, all coded by colour and symbol: heavy (red triangle), medium (blue square) and light (green circle). Each type has sub-types. The medium class, for example, contains medium infantry (4 attack dice, 1 movement), warriors, (4/3 attack dice, 1/2 movement), medium cavalry (3 attack dice, 3 movement) and camels (3/2 attack dice, 3 movement). Each sub-class has its own distinct abilities.  In addition, leaders can attach themselves to units and affect combat results significantly. 

Special rules apply to some types of unit: most light troops and cavalry can evade enemy charges; warriors can move an extra hex if charging into combat; auxiliaries can move 2 hexes if they do not fight at all.  Elephants and chariots have a number of rules to reflect their special abilities.  

The Board.

Battles are played out on a hex board of 9 by 13 hexes.  The long side is divided into three sections to indicate the left, centre and right of the battlefield.  The scenarios in the booklet are all based on historical encounters.

The Dice.

The dice in C&C are of the standard 6-sided variety, but with symbols on the faces.  Three of the symbols are coloured.  A red square indicates a hit on a heavy unit, a blue triangle indicates a hit on a medium unit and a green circle indicates a hit on a light unit.  A helmet symbol indicates a hit if there is a friendly leader in the same or an adjacent hex.  Crossed swords indicate a hit if the attacking unit is a heavy, medium or auxiliary unit, while the flag symbol indicates a retreat.

In ranged combat hits are only ever scored on colours, never on swords or helmets.  Flags count as usual.

On the play of the rally or I am Spartacus cards, the dice are rolled to rally/activate units.  In that case, any colour rolled rallies/activates one unit of that type; any helmet rolled rallies/activates a unit of the player's choice.

The Cards and the Turn.

Depending on the historical scenario being fought, players start the game with a hand of 4 to 6 cards.  Each card allows a particular class of troops (e.g. light units), troops in a particular area (e.g. 3 units left), or troops near a leader (e.g. leader’s hex +4) to be ordered.  At the beginning of the turn, the first player selects an order card from his hand, plays it and carries out the move.  A new card is drawn to end the turn.  The next player then repeats the cycle and this continues until a winner is determined. 

The cards allow planning, but also mean that there is a healthy dose of uncertainty in the game.  Sometimes a player will get poor cards for a stretch, which can be frustrating, but the luck generally evens out.


Combat is simple, but with many variables.  There are three types of combat: missile, ordered close combat, and "battleback."  Ordered missile units in range of the enemy may roll 1 or 2 dice, depending on whether they have moved or not, and have a 1 in 6 chance of scoring a hit and a 1 in 6 chance of forcing a retreat for each die thrown.  Ordered units adjacent to the enemy can choose to undertake close combat.  A certain number of dice are rolled (heavy infantry roll 5 dice, light infantry 2, etc.) and hits are scored on the roll of appropriate symbols.  If the enemy unit is destroyed or forced to retreat the attacking unit may advance into the empty hex and may in some circumstances be able to make a second attack.  If the enemy unit is not destroyed or forced to retreat it may "battleback" and attack as if it had been ordered. 

If forced to retreat, units must move their full movement allowance towards their own baseline.  If this is impossible, units must take 1 hit for each point of unused movement.   Supported units or units stacked with a leader can ignore one flag roll, so it is important to plan accordingly.  Retreat is especially dangerous for units with high movement rates.     


Morale is not treated separately in C&C; it is factored into the combat and movement system.  Unit hits model casualties, disorder, and the loss of morale; all of which eventually turn the unit into a disorganised rabble which is no longer effective in the field.  This is the point at which the unit is removed from play.  Command cards also indirectly model the influence of morale states on movement in the same way that pip dice do. 

Victory and Defeat.

The play of turns continues until one of the armies overcomes the other.  This process is measured in banners.  A banner is gained each time an enemy unit or leader is destroyed - or sometimes when an objective is taken - and as soon as a player has won the required number of banners he is declared the victor.  It is common for players to switch sides and play again with the highest number of banners overall determining the victor.


C&C is an abstract design.  Some people may not be comfortable with a game on ancient warfare that does not (for example) explicitly differentiate between units of different armour or weapon class.  In C&C all units of the same class function in the same way no matter whether one represents Roman triarii or a Macedonian phalanx.  What C&C provides is a fast moving, fun game that requires the use of tactics to win.  As with many rulesets, whether those tactics are realistic or not is open to question.

C&C tries to be a good game, not a simulation.  It gives a feel for ancient warfare but not at the expense of simplicity and playability.  However, the system can bear some tinkering, so additional levels of detail can be added fairly easily and without destroying the essence of the game.

At around US$50, C&C:A is not cheap unless you intend to play it as a boardgame also.  I have the base game and the expansion, and can honestly say it has been excellent value for money.  I have probably played around 60 games in 12 months, and it stands up well for solo sessions, too.

For anyone interested, a quick google search will yield a wealth of information about the game including the living rules, user-created scenarios and army lists for pick up games.

Sixth Fleet play by email campaign

A while ago I came across a series of posts by Brad over at Hexsides and Handgrenades, the subject of which was Victory Games' Sixth Fleet.  At the time I knew nothing about this gaming institution, but I was intrigued by Brad's updates and so resolved to track down a copy for myself.

As Brad is another Japan resident and a dedicated moderns wargamer we got in touch and made plans to get a PBEM game underway 'some time'.

Well, it's taken us nearly two years, but that time has now arrived, and last night we kicked off the first scenario.

Brad knows the game fairly well but was kind enough to go easy on me and let us begin at the beginning.

Lord knows I need it!

So far I have managed to lose USS Drum and see USS Baltimore badly damaged, but the Soviets have been given a bloody nose as well, thanks to some Orions on ASW duty and the VASSAL modules' ability to roll three sixes in a row at a crucial point.

It's no lie to say that I've only been kept in the game by those dice rolls.

My planning has been pretty poor, and even though Brad has had only one decent sub against my two he has outplayed me throughout.  I do hope I'm beginning to get a better handle on ASW tactics now though, and if the activation rolls go our way we might just escape with a draw, which would be celebrated here as a Claudian Triumph, though without a full-sized elephant, naturally.

And the game? I'm loving it, and it's going to be well worth the learning.

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