Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Ipsus 301 B.C.

I was quite keen to get some of my newer troops onto the table and browsing through the Lost Battles back catalogue I came across a scenario for Ipsus, and thought it might be fun to give it a go.

Lysimachus and Seleucus have a fair whack of elephants.

And even some scythed chariots.

Their centre and right centre, made up of phalangites, heavy infantry, and of course elephants, is strong.

Antigonus Monopthalmus and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes have far fewer jumbos, but do have excellent cavalry

Their centre is also a mix of phalangites and heavy infantry.

Battle commences with a charge by the scythed chariots. They are taken out by the light infantry and do no serious damage.

What does do damage is the eastern coalition's light cavalry making short work of Antigonus' left flank. They rout the cavalry there and prepare to get in behind the lines.

The elephants and light infantry skirmish while the heavy infantry lines draw closer.

Demetrius' cavalry attack on the right meets heavy opposition.

The elephants face off in the centre.

Hits begin to mount.

With the light cavalry now threatening the rear of the Antigonid infantry, it appears only a matter of time before Seleucus and Lysimachus win.

It happens even more quickly than expected. Demetrius falls, and the whole army either routs of surrenders.

39 plays 83 means a big, almost bloodless victory for Seleucus and Lysimachus. There are new sheriffs in town!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Kids' project

In Japanese elementary schools the kids often get given a craft project to do over the summer holidays. This year our two youngest wanted to do something a bit different, and they decided they'd like to make some model ships.

They selected the ones they wanted to do, then I dug out some hard foamboard I had around the house, made up some plans, and set them loose.

The models were just under 60cm long, and took a couple of days to make, given spraying and drying periods.

As it turns out, our girl won the class prize for hers. Given that the model she chose to make is of a ship that's still close to Japanese hearts, it was probably a good choice!

I reckon they did a pretty good job.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Having just finished my second game of Brad Smith's NATO Air Commander, I feel ready to set down some initial thoughts.

To be up front, I know Brad, like him, and communicate with him. I have no commercial interest in his game or the company that produces it, but I am likely to be biased in his favour rather than not, so please take that into account when reading this.


They are fine and functional. The paper map tends to sit high, so you'll want some kind of clear cover to hold it flat. The rule book - error free and a breeze to navigate - is one you could use as a model of its kind, should you ever need one, and if you play many board wargames, you will know this is a rare thing indeed. The counters are thick and sturdy, and the rulers and cutting / trimming devices normally used for extracting counters from their sheets are here superfluous: you can just punch them out with no fear of tearing or damage. This was a great speeder-upper of pre-game prep, and the heft and solidity of the Hollandspiele cardboard is pleasing.

The cards are good, with a satiny finish that helps them to shuffle well. They may need to go into card covers to preserve them for long use, but for the moment I won't worry.

I also like the box art. It's evocative of the era, alienating, and sinister.

There is a bit of a solvent smell from the ink used, but being a miniatures gamer and accustomed to making allowance for hobby stinkages that sort of thing doesn't bother me too much.

Getting started

As with most dedicated solitaire games, the system is very much about following a process. Turn order is strict, and while there seem to be a lot of options at first, as you get used to the system, you see that there are normal options and there are exceptional ones. The common choices quickly become routine, and by the second game I was not needing the rule book at all except to check special situations, and even then one check was usually enough. The player aid is very good and soon will be all you need.

One big advantage of procedural games like this is that you can just sit down, start playing and worry about getting things absolutely right later.

For those who don't know, a point of difference here is that there are no dice used in NATO Air Commander: it is all cards and player decisions that drive the play.

Situation and play

The NATO player is faced with a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe, set in 1987. The WP will be advancing along six avenues (shown on the map shot below and called thrust lines in the game) and NATO will be trying to stop them. WP forces gain victory points for taking certain spaces, and it is the player's job to utilise resources to slow, halt and counter-attack the WP advances.

Game map showing the six routes of advance.

Each turn the NATO player will undertake a number of raids for various purposes. What follows is a quick summation of the main options available.

Standard 'primary mission' options

Close Air Support (CAS). Air units are assigned to strike at WP ground units. This to try to halt WP advances in particular areas and to achieve objectives handed down by high command.

Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD). Air units strike at enemy ground-based air defenses. This is a theatre-wide effect, which, if successful, degrades WP ability to stop NATO air to ground attacks.

Offensive Counter-Air (OCA). Air units are assigned to work towards obtaining theatre-wide air superiority. If successful, this makes it harder for the WP air forces to prevent you doing what you want to do.

Special options

Follow-on Forces Attack (FOFA). Air units attack WP reinforcements before they get to where they are needed on the front lines.

Decapitation Strike. Air units attempt to hit WP command and control.

Raid process

Raids all have a primary mission (as listed above), and players may assign up to three aircraft counters to that primary mission. Each raid also has two support missions, these being air escort and suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD is the acronym used for the latter). The catch is that a maximum of five aircraft counters can be assigned across the three missions of a raid, so you have to choose your aircraft and their roles carefully.

In resolving a raid, two cards are used. The first card is matched against the air escort support. If the card is equal to or higher than the air escort factor, the raid fails. If the air escort is up to the task a second card is drawn, and this is matched against the suppression of air defences support (SEAD) value. Again, if the card number equals or exceeds the defence factor, the raid fails. If it is lower than the defence factor, the raid succeeds, and hit(s) are scored against the target by the primary mission aircraft.

Sample Close Air Support (CAS) type raid directed against one Warsaw Pact thrust line.

The historical dilemma faced by planners regarding overlapping NATO aircraft roles is very neatly captured here by the design: the factor used for Close Air Support is the same factor used to suppress enemy air defences and the same factor used to disrupt the arrival of enemy reinforcements, so to concentrate on one role is to neglect the others. It is a neat and uncomplicated way to force players to consider relative mission importance at any given time.

As an aside, while there are various ways to load the raid resolution in your favour, discovering what they are and how best to use them is half the fun, so I won't spoil that by going into details.

After the raid segment of the turn, the WP begins its ground attacks. On each thrust line you compare attack factors vs defence factors, subtract any Close Air Support raid hits from the WP attack strength, and draw a card. If the WP draws or wins, the NATO ground force is eliminated and the WP force advances one more space down the track. If NATO wins, the WP force loses a cohesion point.

There are some additional subtleties, but those are the basics.

Ground attack is a particularly brutal phase for the NATO player, especially early in the game. Even strong NATO defences can be undone without the assistance of successful Close Air Support raids.

Following ground combat there are various reinforcement phases, replenishment phases and the like to deal with. If you want to know more about this, you can read the rule book on boardgamegeek.

General trends - in the first, and easiest scenario at least - are that the WP will advance steadily along one or two lines of attack, but resistance will stiffen over the other four or five.

See pictures below for some in-game examples:

Advances after turn 3.

Advances after turn 4.

Advances after turn 6.

Tension and player decisions

NATO Air Commander is pretty tense. You are constantly weighing risk and reward and dealing with greater and lesser pressures which must be prioritized in some fashion. Do you focus on achieving your high command objectives - at the risk of failure and higher casualties, but with success promising extra resources to spend - or go for more limited objectives that may (or may not) pay off longer term?

To compound things the game has 'guaranteed success' built in - so if you overcommit to a particular raid, you will be certain of success. Yay. But if you guarantee success in one area, you will have fewer resources to use elsewhere. Is it better to make fewer, surer attacks, or more, riskier attacks? It is a constant balancing act.

As an example of the sort of decisions a player must make, here is an extended play report from the final turn of my second game, played using the easiest scenario.

Sample play

To set the scene, at turn start we had strong ground forces in four of the six avenues of advance, but to turn a minor defeat into a minor victory, NATO had to take back Hamburg (worth 2 victory points) in sector Alpha, and Hannover (also worth 2 VPs), in sector Bravo.

In the first case NATO would need to push the WP forces back one space, in the second, two. In our favour, we had the AWACs event, meaning we could redraw a failed air support mission card for each raid.

Target spaces, and a handy event card.

We also pulled the two best objective cards we could have hoped for: if we could complete the missions, the auto-retreat results would allow us to push back the WP forces in sectors Alpha and Bravo, recapture the key cities shown above, and win the war.

We would need to pull off seven raids, but would get some nice positive modifiers from earlier OCA (to help air escort missions) and DEAD (to aid ground suppression missions) track progress.

To complete the task, NATO went for one OCA raid using the stealth capable F-117 (it would only fail on a card pull of 10), meaning that to fulfill objectives NATO would need to lead six other successful Close Air Support raids, one of which, in sector Alpha, must do three points of damage. A big effort would be needed, but there were the resources to do it.

This is how the aircraft assets were arranged. Provided that the Offensive Counter-Air (OCA) mission succeeds (remember it can be scotched with a 10 card), all raids but raid four, which can be derailed by a 10 card on the Air Escort mission, are guaranteed success, due to the OCA (air superiority) and DEAD (killing off of enemy ground-to-air defences) progress which has been dearly bought in the previous nine turns.

Assigned raids.

Here are the thrust lines the raids targeted. This arrangement ensures that - assuming successful raids - the WP will not be able to make any ground-combat progress in sectors Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Echo.

Thrust lines targeted. Note the concentration in the north!

And so we started, raid by raid.

First off, the OCA raid succeeded, pushing up our OCA level to safety for all raids except raid four.

Raid four rolls around: a 10 card is pulled for Air Intercept. It's a failure.  No matter, we can use our AWACS event card to draw a new card. Lucky for us!

Nice to have an event card like this to give us a helping hand!

Unfortunately, our second card was a repeat of the first! This equalled and therefore defeated the raid's air escort factor of ten, which meant the raid failed.

Ouch! Smashed twice!

The other six raids succeeded, and while we were able to achieve our three close air support raid hits in Alpha sector and push the WP out of Hamburg, that one failure meant that reclaiming Hannover was beyond us.

So the WP pull off a minor victory by the narrowest of margins!

Victory for the Warsaw Pact!

As you can imagine, this was a very enjoyable gaming experience, and engaging on many levels.


I really enjoy the game and look forward to exploring it further. There are gameplay aspects I have not properly looked at yet, two more official scenarios, variant suggestions, and likely user-generated content which will all help to sustain interest. It is also a meaty game: it's not a fifteen minute filler - it's up to two, two-and-a-half hours of thoughtful play interspersed by periods of going with your gut to deal with crises.

Yet it would be remiss to not remark on areas of potential weakness. In this regard there are two things that nag at me. One is Warsaw Pact success. Once the WP have got to the end of a thrust line, that's it. There's nothing you can do about it as a player, and nothing else happens except for a loss of a VP per turn until turn 6. In effect, you get stronger once the WP has made a breakthrough because you no longer need to (or can, for that matter) throw forces at that thrust line. This frees up your forces for use elsewhere. In practice, instead of using 20 odd assets to defend six lines of attack, you are now using those assets to defend five lines, and things get much easier. Provided it's in a less important area (sector Delta or Foxtrot) a breakthrough is not a body blow: it's a sigh of relief, and that seems counter-intuitive to me.

It would make sense to see a continued requirement to commit air resources to lost sectors. Perhaps a simple directive to complete a successful raid in the lost sector each turn, with an additional VP penalty for failure, would be enough. Another option might be to give a ground attack bonus to WP forces attacking along thrust lines adjacent to the one lost, so as to force NATO to commit stronger forces to preserve the outflanked areas.

I feel thematically it would make sense to make players worry about containing the breakthrough rather than just accepting it, ignoring it, and gratefully employing the freed-up assets elsewhere which is the default position at the moment.

Compounding this, given that you can still win the game even if you lose control of a thrust line or two, there is not the same desperation to defend all along the front that there would have been historically. As C J Bowie noted in his article in Air Force Magazine, July 2007:

The greatest concern was the inner German border. 
Defending the border region was a daunting prospect. Land forces usually prefer to fall back and trade territory for time, but West Germany could not accept any strategy that accepted a Soviet thrust - however brief - into its national territory. 

The other thing I'm not convinced of is attrition. Unless you fail a raid, or pull an unlucky event card, your forces suffer no losses at all. Even in a failed raid, the worst that can happen is two step losses, and while that is not pleasant, it is not destructive unless cumulative.

I don't know what projected casualties would have been exactly, but at least one USAF officer felt they would have been considerable:

In the event of a WP attack, high aircraft attrition is expected on both sides and the fight for air superiority may well be decided in three or four days. (p.35)

Assuming then that combat attrition would take its toll on experienced pilots, on aircraft, and on ground services, having a higher attrition rate than that present so far in my games would seem to me to be likely, but I was playing the easiest scenario, and my ideas around what the normal attrition rate is might change dramatically when using the more demanding starting situations.

If it turns out that attrition rates are too low, I don't think it is an insurmountable issue. To get away from the guaranteed win / guaranteed no attrition options, it would be easy enough to bring in a low-odds casualty test after each successful raid.

It may not be needed, but would be a non-intrusive solution if a variant were desired.

* * * 

I have taken some time here to go into potential issues, but I hope that the space spent on these does not give the impression that the game is a faulty one: it is not. It is innovative in its mechanisms and exciting in its scope. If it does indeed require adjustments along the lines here suggested, they would be cosmetic, and would not detract from the core mechanisms and innovative elements of the game itself.

Others' complaints about the game

I have seen a quite astonishing complaint about the game that I feel obliged to address before finishing here. The complaint is that the use of acronyms is difficult and off-putting.

I really do find this hard to understand when it is coming from experienced wargamers.

All wargames use abbreviations and acronyms. This game has about six. They were all in official use, they are all explained early in the rule set, they are all self-explanatory, and they all add to the atmosphere.

If a person can read a CRT with its EX, A1, DR2 and so on results, a person can deal with these acronyms. We wargamers will happily bang on about PzKW IVs, M60A3s, tribunes and triari, and will use 'wrecked' in an ACW context without a second thought, so to complain that CAS or DEAD are impenetrable terms seems to me a complaint too far.

So please don't think acronyms are a reason to avoid the game. They are not. Just grab a pen and six post-it notes and it'll be problem solved.

Final comments

In my view Brad Smith has done an excellent job with NATO Air Commander. It is a grand theme, it uses new and innovative mechanisms, it is immersive, it is exciting, it is testing, and it is tense. The components are good, the rule book is excellent, and from opening the box you can be playing in about thirty minutes.

It looks already to have good replay value and I have a hunch the system used here will be influential in future game designs.

Well done Brad, well done Hollandspiele, and I hope that this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A prize, some work in progress, and a few books

In the mail today came a prize from the USA (via Magister Militum in the UK): Jonathan of Palouse Wargaming Journal recently had a competition on his blog, and as the wargaming gods would have it, yours truly was lucky enough to win a prize.

To cut a long story short, there are now four more 15mm Carthaginian heavy chariots for me to paint up, which will be just brilliant. Since Jonathan is a master of painting chariots, these will also be a nice reminder of who they came from, and of the kindness of wargamers.

Thanks Jonathan!

Another thing that has been happening the past few days is some paint work on Forged in Battle Seleucid elephants. I'm doing a review for Slingshot, and have been enjoying beavering away at them in the hobby room. Here's where we're at so far. I can see I've been a touch heavy-handed on the drybrushing, but the old magic wash ought to sort that out later!

Lastly, over the last ten days or thereabout some books on matrix wargaming have been dribbling into the letterbox from the Book Depository. It's a form I'd like to learn more about and play around with because of its educational applicability. I've already written a little about using games in the ESL classroom, and would like to experiment more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Thapsus article

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to finish off an article on the battle of Thapsus for Slingshot, and it has been a bit of a slog. At about 20 pages in MS Word, it's almost a thesis.

It started out as a scenario for Lost Battles, but it's not a simple battle, so I felt I should go into a bit more detail about choices around troop numbers, relative troop quality and so on. Before long, in an effort to explain the numbers, it had become a short history of the African campaign, then an analysis of the differences between the sources, then a reconstruction of the battle that tries to reconcile some of the oddities, and throughout it all a commentary on various problems around the battle.

Then it finally gets to the scenario, and variations thereof.

Phew. I hope it will be more interesting to read than it sounds.

Anyway, I was quite surprised to realise that it's been gestating for about a year - but, come to think of it, that is just about right for a thesis!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Life is Short

I had one of those defining-and-not-in-a-good-way life events occur a couple of months ago. I have an American friend who I used to work with over here. A really good guy from Illinois. He has a wry sense of humour and an easy manner, loves the outdoors, and was popular with the ladies in Japan.

He left here for another place about fourteen years ago I guess, but we got in touch again through a well-known social media network about eight years ago. He was now married, with two kids, and was teaching at a school in Mexico.

In a different era he'd be the kind of person you'd send a Christmas card once a year, with an open invitation to come and stay if he and/or his family were ever coming over your way.

Not deeply connected buddies, but friends, and a guy you could pick up with where you left off, and that you'd trust.

In the new dispensation though you send a message or two when you reconnect, and from then on interact by 'liking' a photo or post now and then, maybe dropping a comment sometimes, and he does the same to you.

I saw some time ago that there was an abrupt shift in images. Gone were the family photos. Instead, there were shots of him in the outdoors, him with his kids, him having coffee with a woman. Wow, I thought, he might've taken up with someone else. I didn't want to pry, so said nothing, but privately I was assuming he must've done a dirty on his wife.

Not long after that I posted on this particular social network a link to an article I'd read on abusive partners, and how abuse is not the simple thing those of us who are lucky enough to have good relationships might think it is. I was surprised to see that he'd liked the article. Not many others did. I sort of wondered what his story was. Again though, I didn't want to pry, so said nothing.

Anyway, a couple of months ago he posted on this social media network that it should be harder to get a gun in America. I saw the post in real time, thought, 'oh, crap. Must be another nut gone and killed a bunch of people' and told myself I should check the news.

I couldn't find anything about a mass shooting in the online papers, but a day or two later it became apparent that there had been a shooting that day: he had gone and shot himself.

It was pretty nasty.

I'm sure we would all have a pretty similar reaction to that. 

The thing that got me though was that in this day and age, with this interconnectedness, with social media, with this life in real time online, that a guy could feel so alone that he could go buy a gun, post cryptically about killing himself, have no one pick up on it, have no one go and see if he was OK, perhaps have no one even message him to see if he's OK, and then go and pull the trigger, was an awful indictment of where we as societies are at.

I wondered what kind of useful function this social media serves if it can figure out things you might like to buy but blinds you to the things that matter. That it could obscure the fact that a friend is hurting, leaving him only feeling able to communicate that hurt by arcane signs, such as a change of profile images, or a pregnant 'like,' until the final decision is made, and when it is made, and in this case posted, perhaps in the hope that someone would understand and reach out, it was seen as a political statement, not for what it really was.

Anyway, it's something I'm still struggling to come to terms with. The result so far is that I've become hyper-sensitive to anything negative that a person might post, just in case it is indicative of a deeper malaise. It has become quite stressful.

I don't know what the solution to the suicide epidemic in Western countries is (the statistics for New Zealand are particularly horrific), but I've decided that you have to make as much of an effort as you can to help people.

And you know, I think I can see how wargaming could be a positive thing in this regard. A chance to get people together, a chance to introduce friends or acquaintances to something new, a chance to learn new skills, and have something you can enjoy in your own company. You have the opportunity to make mistakes, get better, put problem-solving into practice, achieve little milestones, be satisfied with your own handiwork, feel that you are making progress - but not be there quite yet, and yet that is fine - and be able to reward yourself for progress in small but satisfying ways.

It's no cure-all of course, but it could be a little part of the puzzle, and may help people in need in ways we wouldn't necessarily quite understand ourselves.

Monday, October 15, 2018


There's been a little more painting here over the past week or so.

Some Old Glory Persian slingers. I've quite enjoyed working on these.

Note the difference the dip makes (centre figure).

That's a start made on my Achaemenid Persian foot, though there are about 400 more to go!

Then some more figures from the American purchase. These one I've just touched up and based. I'm not a big fan of these riders. They sort of look like gormless rabbits.

The Donnington Italian foot is OK, but I'm badly missing my matt spray varnish, which has decided to go all cloudy on me and I've had to use semi-gloss to clean them up. Don't like the look very much. Too shiny...

Functional stuff, but I think I prefer my own painting style.

Friday, October 12, 2018

NATO Air Commander board game

Well, I've just got to put in a plug for something my buddy Brad Smith of Hexsides and Handgrenades (and other things too) renown has done: he's just had his first game published, a solitaire Cold-War-goes-hot beauty called - you guessed it - NATO Air Commander.

I reckon this is going to be an absolute belter of a game. 90 minutes of solitaire action defending Europe from the Soviet hordes c.1987, using a very cool card-driven resolution process. It starts on special for $40, and the international shipping is only $22 (shipping sounds bad, but if you'd lived in Japan as long as I have you'd've seen a lot worse!).

Anyway, if Cold War solitaire play sounds like your thing, you can get more information on it here.

Well done Brad, congratulations, and I can't wait for it to arrive!

Edit: see here for my review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Help identifying some old ancients figures

Would anyone have any idea what make these figures might be? They are smaller and more delicate than standard 15mm. Underneath they have the serial number 6329, and what could be an M followed by © 1978.

Could they be Mike's Models, perhaps?

Any help much appreciated!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Essex phalangites

Another batch from the recent US deal. These are Essex phalangites which were quite nicely painted already. The pikes needed straightening out and tidying up, then it was a white highlight on the linen armour and a dose of the dip. I needed to paint up and add 7 other figures from my Old Glory command set (the gift that keeps on giving!) to make up the numbers.

And here's a wee size comparison to some other 15mm ranges.

Black Hat 15s:

Xyston 15s:

These guys will be handy for big Successor battles, even if they are a lot smaller than the Xyston...

Monday, October 1, 2018

WIP: Touching up older figures

Back in July I posted about a shipment of various already painted Italian and Greek figures I'd received from the USA.

It's taken longer than I thought (doesn't it always?!), but I've been slowly working on getting them ship-shape and based. I've been out of a painting rhythm, so it's been a bit of a struggle, even though there's not a lot to do. First step was to touch up the paint jobs so that no bare metal would be showing through. I've then given them a little brush with my magic wash, and will come back to do a few highlights here and there.

     Before                              after
 the dip treatment
I should have taken proper before shots to see whether my tinkering is going to actually make them look better!

They'll be handy figures to have around, anyway. These are from the Donnington's Italian States range, codes IT32 and IT48.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Caesar and I

The other night as I exited the shower after my evening ablutions, lurched into the living room sweating like a beast and cursed the Japanese late summer humidity, my wife was heard to remark in appreciative tones something along the lines of  "you're a man like a hero of old."

I was quite pleased about that - clearly recent over-eating had been having some positive results - and started sweating a little more in manly pride.

It turns out she was talking about one of the actors in her latest TV drama, but the thought has stuck with me all week: "a man like a hero of old."

Well, wouldn't you know it, but some desultory reading around Caesar has in fact thrown up some pretty compelling similarities between that particular hero of old and my own self. I would enumerate them to my wife, but I fear that just right now the reception might lack a sense of gravity appropriate to the occasion.

Luckily, I have a blog. What's a blog for if not to face facts now and then? Anyway, here are some of the similarities I found. I think people will agree that the resemblance is strong.

By Louis le Grand - own work / Altes Museum Berlin (Berliner Museumsinsel), Public Domain

For authenticity, I will quote the English translations of the original texts followed by Commentaries of my own.

Exhibit the first:

"His baldness was a disfigurement." (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 45.2)

Hardly needs any explanation. Granted, I don't comb forward like he did, and I'm not especially ashamed of imitating a bowling pin, but it is 2018, and expectations have changed.

Exhibit the second: 

"When he was at leisure and was reading from a history of Alexander, he was lost in thought for  a long time, and then burst into tears. His friends were astonished and asked the reason for his tears. 'Do you not think,' said he, 'it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?'" (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 11.5-6)

Again, no real need for explanation here, except that perhaps in my case I burst not into tears. It was more a sort of mournful grimace.

Exhibit the third: 

"That he drank very little wine not even his enemies denied." (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 53.1)

Very true. That said, it's not so much that I wouldn't drink wine, it's that I prefer beer, gin, or whisk(e)y.

Exhibit the fourth: 

"Many came to see him, and he gave each one what he wanted."  (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 20.2)

Caesar gave to friends and political allies; I give to various taxation authorities. But the shared devotion to doing one's civic duty is undeniable.

Exhibit the fifth: 

"And the reason that he refused to lead his troops out to battle was not that he did not believe they would win, although they were inexperienced and outnumbered, but he considered that it mattered what kind of victory it would be: for he reckoned it would be a stain on his character if after achieving so many successes, defeating such great armies, and winning so many splendid victories, he was generally thought to have wrung a blood-soaked victory from the remnant of his opponents' forces when these had only been scraped together after a rout. He had accordingly made up his mind to put up with their boastful self-glorification until some of his veteran legions appeared as part of his second convoy." (Anonymous, The African War, 31)

I too wait for the veteran legions, even though I know I would win. It's just a point of personal pride. One must maintain one's standards, even in a foreign country. In fact, especially then.

Well, there's plenty more where that came from - and I could draw from the well all day - but I think I can justly claim to have made my point.

A man like a hero of old. 

I might wait till the TV drama season ends, and then present this evidence to my better half. I'm sure she'll agree with me eventually. After all, Caesar's wife must be above suspicion!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Quick review: Phil Sabin's PHALANX

The other day I had a quick try out of Phil Sabin's early set of ancient rules, PHALANX. They originally appeared in Slingshot as diceless rules for historical battles, but Phil has made a simplified version available on his Lost Battles yahoo group as a free download.

The game is played on a hex grid, nine deep and eleven wide (so you can use a Commands & Colors board, for example). Each side has a baggage base and ten fighting units - seven of hoplites, one of peltasts, and two of cavalry. One hoplite unit contains a general.

Spartans and Thebans!

Units move either one or two hexes depending on their type, and there are some neat little 'Sabinisms' to give unit classes their own character while keeping rules to a minimum (the rules are in fact just one page long).

It's an IGO-UGO game, and deployment (in another familiar Sabinism) is included in the play, with both sides deploying onto the field from their respective baggage bases.

First turn: both sides commence deployment.

There is no luck in the game except in choosing which side goes first. Combat is won by ganging up attacking units on the enemy, so that two attackers will rout peltasts or cavalry, three attackers will rout hoplites, and four attackers will rout a general's unit. The general's unit itself counts as two attackers when on the offense.

Jockeying for position.

When a side finishes its turn and finds itself with four or more of its own units routed, the game is over, and both sides score points based upon how many units were routed during the game.

As you can imagine, with IGO-UGO movement and diceless combat, the game is all about carefully manoeuvring units into position to defeat the enemy before the enemy can defeat you. It's more like chess with figures than it's like, say, DBA.

Three units of Theban hoplites attack the exposed Spartan allies (and brace themselves for the counterattack).

It does not work very well as a solo game (for obvious reasons!) but I think it would be quite good against an opponent. I imagine playing a match over two games to allow both players to have a turn moving first and tallying up the total points scored to decide the victor would be nice way to spend an hour or two with a wargaming buddy.

There are some ideas for optional rules on the Yahoo group, and a few others suggest themselves already. Secret deployment would be one obvious tweak, as would some kind of initiative challenge system to potentially change the turn order during the game.

It would be good to look at the historical battle scenarios too, but I'd need to get hold of the Golden Years of Slingshot DVD first to access the original articles, and even then I'm not sure if it will have everything - the rules may well have been included with Slingshot as a separate booklet. I can probably find that out from Phil himself at some point and update this review with that information EDIT: Yes, it has been confirmed that the Slingshot DVD does contain the necessary rules and scenarios.

(Relevant Slingshot issues w. page numbers.)

Anyway, if you have a hex grid mat (or board) and some appropriate figures (or counters), you might like to try it out. It's simple to learn, and the price is certainly right!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Messing about with game design.

When it comes to hobbies, I like to do things because I feel like doing them at that moment, not out of a sense of obligation. This is fine for most things in wargaming (figure painting, blogging, research, article writing etc.) but one thing it doesn't work very well for is game design. Every now and then I come up with a few ideas for a boardgame, campaign rules or a solo AI project, and make a start on it. Soon enough though I get distracted, go off and do something else, and leave it unfinished. Unfortunately, by the time I come back to it, I can't make much sense of what it was I was trying to do in the first place. At that point it either goes back into the folder or I have to start the whole process over again. Usually I can't be bothered.

So my 'it's a hobby man, it's for enjoyment, not work' approach falls down for things which, without concentrated effort - and, yes, work - won't ever get anywhere.

But this last couple of weeks I've had a game come to me almost fully formed. It uses bits and pieces of designs I've messed around with in the past, so somehow or other the ideas must have been quietly brewing (or festering, depending on how you like your metaphors!) in the subconscious, and have decided to force their way out now.

The game is certainly not anything groundbreaking or special. In fact it's quite simple, but it does do what it's asked to do, which is quite rewarding.

Now, I just have to make sure that I do get it all finished before I flit off onto something else!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A (Slightly Revised) Taxonomy of Battle Reports

Although battle reports make up a large proportion of all wargaming writings, it has struck this blogger that there has not perhaps been as serious an investigation into the various types of battle reports (or after action reports, if you prefer) as the subject deserves. Having read and written many reports myself, having criticised and been criticised, having ignored and been ignored, having quietly turned away and been quietly turned away from, I feel I am as qualified or unqualified as the next joe to attempt a Summary of the Topic.  

I introduce, therefore, A Taxonomy of Common or Uncommon Battle Reports. Note that these are not presented in alphabetical order.
  • The all-action first-person perspective report. Often quite iffy. Will be striking if done well but potentially cringeworthy if not. Can be uncomfortably florid. 
  • The pictorial report. Lots of pictures but often light on details and the reader must fill in the gaps in the tale himself. This may or may not be a good thing.
  • The faux-historical report. Written as if out of a history book. Often dense, may use period language and allusions. Can be very good or very bad.
  • The dramatic, short story report: The 26th of February dawned bright and chill as the aged centurion drew forth his burnished blade and spat upon the ground. "This day may be our last, old friend; but I swear to you on the ghosts of my ancestors it shall not be our least." Plenty of purple prose, misused semi-colons and attempts at soldierly or heroic dialogue. Either inspiring or not.
  • The wargame magazine report. Orders of Battle, terrain descriptions, general intentions, report of the action, thoughts, potential action points for the future. Usually precise, methodical and informative. May include footnotes.
  • The dual/multiple-perspective report. Different participants each put in a report and these are blended together to tell the story from different perspectives. Often very good, but hard to coordinate.
  • The self-deprecating report. Humorous references to how bad a tabletop general the author is, how he misinterpreted the rules, rolled atrociously and lost or - incredibly - snuck a win against all notions of justice. Seems innocuous and good-humoured but may conceal a bitter and impotent rage the depths of which can only be guessed at.
  • The 'got the band back together' report. Here the main focus is on the characters of the wargamers involved, how great it was to see everyone again, how we should do such things more often, how far everyone has driven, how much less hair people have than before, how waistlines have expanded and a few comments about how the traits of the various players may or may not have altered since the last time all were together. Generally closes with "we must do this again, but sooner."
  • The complaint report. Basically a chance to slam the rules or your fellow players.  99% of the time the writer concerned lost the game.
  • The gush report. Essentially a chance to extol the virtues of the rules and/or fellow players. Everything is brilliant, superb, simple but effective, amazingly intuitive, etc. The players are all generous, modest, wonderful painters and very sporting. 99% of the time the writer concerned won the game.
  • The modestly triumphant report. Author provides game background and politely talks the reader through the steps taken to secure victory, commenting on which were successful and which not. Often accompanied by commiserations, praise for the gallant opponent's sportsmanship, and words of encouragement. The reader infers that the author feels his own actions were hugely influential in the outcome. 
  • The revenge report. Author provides meta-history of previous encounters between the players, sometimes including detailed anecdotes illustrative of his former agonies. Goes on to detail his win and key aspects of the turnaround. May linger. May come back later to linger on said lingers. May or may not involve obvious gloating.
  • The game organiser report. Author explains the preparations made, scenario details, instructions to participants, a report, considerations, elements that were successful, and elements that were not. May come with slight overtones of anxiety, relief, smugness or humour depending on the circumstances on the day.
  • The newbie report. Written from a newcomer's perspective. "Go easy on me, this is my first time and first time reporting on a wargame. Gosh, it was a little confusing, but I'm pretty sure it was fun. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I think our team won or lost. Or maybe it was a draw. I sure want to do it again though. If I want to build my own armies, what are the best places to buy figures online, and what scale do you recommend?" etc. May have a euro boardgaming background.
  • The hearty report. Channels the spirit of famous wargame writings past. Will usually feature 18th century armies, imagi-nations, titled officers with Franco-German names, and exaggeratedly polite expressions / slightly bawdy officer humour. Lovely pictures of large battalions made up of one-pose miniatures photographed in their one pose. Game will stop after the 6th turn and report will include conjecture about possible results had the six participants had two or three more days available to play. 
  • The tournament report. Writer goes through a series of games played in a tournament setting. Will likely combine elements of several of the reports above. There might be a pictorial first up when the camera battery was still good followed by a self-deprecatory, a modestly triumphant, and perhaps finishing with an overall 'got the band back together' retrospective, a gush or complaint, or even a revenge depending on how the results fell.
  • The informative report. (NEW!) Talks readers through the game, narrating the action while also informing readers on how the rules mechanisms work. May touch on selected mechanisms; may list the whole lot. Takes up to three cups of tea (or coffee, hot water, warm milk, etc) to read.
  • The solo report. The author writes up a solo game as if it had two or more people involved in it. May adopt a high tone. May be somewhat affected. May even be a trifle precious. May drone on. A specialty of this blog, in fact.
  • The 'what a great game' report. A person writing up a game they've had and trying to convey to others a little of the experience. Honest, engaging, readable, possibly humorous, possibly serious, may involve analysis, pictures, commentary, narrative or bits of the lot. Could be told in any of a number of ways, but the main takeaway is delight in the game and in the spirit of the thing. The oil that brings in new people, spreads the word about new rules, shows off new figures, and keeps the hobby going. Absolutely indispensible.

Of course, this is written with tongue in cheek, but to be serious, please feel free to comment, to agree or disagree, to add ideas of your own, to talk about the kinds of reports you like or don't like, and the kinds you aspire to write yourself. Also, if you want to, please feel free to include a link to a report of your own that you enjoyed writing or are pleased with in some way, and if you would like, a report of someone else's that you think others might like to read. My own view is that battle reports are a wonderful thing no matter how they are written or presented. Each one is an individual's contribution to the hobby, and should be applauded, even though as readers we will naturally have our own particular preferences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A cricket interlude

As blog readers may know, I quite enjoy a spot of cricket. I've followed it with the kind of sad, all-consuming passion that only a person who in his own cricketing life batted at 9, fielded at long leg and rarely bowled, can.

So it has given me and other cricketing tragics the world over great pleasure these past couple of days to see one of England's greatest but seemingly most underappreciated players, their opening batsman Alastair Cook, finish up his England career by scoring 71 and 147 in his final test, after having struggled to reach 20 in the tests preceding it.

As cricinfo writer George Dobell put it regarding the ovation given for Cook reaching his hundred:

Well done to Alastair Cook for hewing himself two last monuments to greatness, and well done to the crowd for giving him something that no embittered columnist, ex-player frenemy or twitter big mouth will ever be able to take away from him.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Alan Peart, DFC

It was sad to see reported in New Zealand newpapers today that the country's last surviving Second World War fighter ace, Alan Peart, has passed away.

Modest, humane, matter-of-fact, and with an amazing memory for detail, it goes without saying that he must also have been quite a pilot. This video footage of him talking about his wartime experiences is a good watch.

He has a memoir, From North Africa to the Arakan, which I will put on my 'must track down' list.

Sincere condolences to his family and friends, but a man for them to be proud of. May he rest in peace.

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