Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

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 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 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 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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A couple of good book scores.

There haven't been too many additions to the library of late, but I was quite pleased to recently pick up both an old favourite and a bit of a rare treasure at a secondhand bookshop in Richmond (Richmond, New Zealand, that is).

(Image nabbed with thanks from M. C. Smith's interesting blog 'Puttering in the Study' here.)

I first read this on loan from Lord Pat of Kobe, and have been looking for a copy since. This was a very good price for the hardcover, and it's in pretty good shape.  The book itself has probably dated a bit, but I like it.

(Image grabbed - again with thanks - from White Lotus Press, here.)

This one was a real find for an ancients enthusiast: it's expensive even through Abe Books, and I could never quite justify the cost, but there it was, hardcover, in good nick, staring at me on the shelf. I almost gave the chap double for it as a slightly better reflection of its value online, but then remembered the reason I hadn't bought it previously was because I couldn't justify paying online prices, and didn't.

Instead I helped out with his rent by buying a poetry collection that no other person in their right mind would ever purchase!

Incidentally, it was quite sad to see that this was the last secondhand bookshop remaining in the Nelson region. Four years ago there were about five, two years ago there were three, and now there's just one. It's a shame; secondhand books and used records were always my favourite objects when I was a student, and it's a pity to think that future generations will have far less opportunity to grow to love such things.

But that's just the way it goes, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New arrivals

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post by David of Splintered Light Miniatures (in this instance however in a private capacity) selling off some figures on behalf of a wargaming friend in poor health. He had a couple of lots for sale and one lot seemed to have some Italians in it, so I dropped him a line asking if they were available. It turns out they were, and so he sent them my way.

I was expecting to be able to put a couple of units of Italians together to flesh out my armies for Lost Battles, but I got a bit more than I bargained for.

This is what turned up: five baggies chocker blog with figures. I was expecting half this much.

After a quick sort through, there are some nicely painted horse archers:

About 80 Italian foot (Donnington, I think) which will be very useful:

20-odd Italian horse (some Essex, perhaps some Donnington too) which, again, will be very useful:

40-odd Essex phalangites which will join my Successor armies. They're suffering a bit from bendy-pike syndrome, but nothing's broken, and they have lovely patterned shields:

...and various other useful bits and pieces:

A spot of TLC and and a brush with my dip mix and they will be good to go.

I'm very pleasantly surprised by these, and have asked David to tell his friend that these will get a lot of use in their new home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A few more Italians

Have got a few more Italians done over the last couple of days. These chaps are (again) from the Strategia e Tattica Polybian Roman range, and although they are nominally hastati in attacking poses, they are going to be used primarily for my Roman Civil Wars armies, and have been based accordingly. With their mix of equipment and different coloured tunics they could be locally raised legions pulled together in a hurry, renegade Latins, slaves armed and fighting for their Roman masters - or slaves fighting against their Roman masters - Roman-trained Numidians, deserters in the east, disaffected Italians fled to Sertorius, Spanish armed as legionaries, ruffians gathered around Catiline, toughs pulled in to intimidate a crowd on voting day, etc etc. In short, they could be anyone or everyone. Should be quite useful, I think.

The painting is nothing special; I just wanted to get them done.

They can be fielded as six units of 12 if veterans, or four units of 18 when poorer quality.

Blog on!

I had a squizz at my blog stats today. If you look very closely, it's just about possible to make out the 'Russian bot' era.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


I set up a table for a solo run-through of What a Tanker 6mm last night, and realised that 6 blokes around a table each with one 6mm tank is just not going to cut it, so I popped into a couple of model shops to see what they had.

It turns out they had quite a bit. Do I blame Two Fat Lardies or my own poor impulse control? Anyway, it's done now, so next task is to smuggle them into the house without drawing too much attention to how much I've spent!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Stocking up on the dip

It has caused me some angst recently to realise (after I'd knocked it over and spilt half the contents onto my table!) that my trusty, long-lasting pottle of acrylic wood stain is nearing its end. I thought therefore that I'd better re-stock, and also grab some extra that I can take to New Zealand with me next trip for future use.

So here we are, two fresh new containers (AKA a lifetime's supply - provided no one knocks them over!) of the miniature painter's last best ingredient:

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

15mm Roman cavalry

With the 'primed-and-ready-to-paint' boxes almost empty, I've been rummaging around in cupboards looking for figures that a) I feel like painting, b) might be useful and c) won't require spray priming in the current summer heat and humidity.

Fortunately, I found a box of Republican Romans I got in a deal with someone, and on looking more closely saw that all the cavalry was ready for paint, so I decided to make a start on those.

I actually feel a little guilty about this lot.  It is made up of a mixture of Chariot and Strategia e Tattica 15mm figures, which is a bit of an unusual combination. I know, because I did a post here suggesting that the two go together reasonably well.  Anyway, someone had bought selections of figures from the two lines, primed them, and then decided that they didn't really want to paint them up after all. I saw him advertise this fact, got in contact with the chap, and bought them off him.

The guilt comes from my wondering whether my original post (which I'd also put up to a wider audience on TMP) had been somehow instrumental in him making the purchase, and then of course in his being disappointed.

I hope not, but in any case, the best way to deal with the situation is to paint them up and use them!

So, to the painting.

These were done a little differently to my old style of painting Romans. I didn't bother with washes or stains prior to painting; my conversion to the dip method means that I now leave that to the end.

I did the horses in various shades, did the browns, the flesh, then cloaks in different reds. I did give a quick black wash on armour and spearheads, then painted on the bronze and silver. Shields were next, then plumes, belts, horse furniture and, finally, whites on the tunics and pteruges. There was a little highlight for cloaks and plumes, and then it was time for the dip.

There is quite an over-representation of command figures in this lot, but I'm sure I can find a use for them!

The photo above shows the problem that comes from skipping the pre-paint wash step I used to do - you can see I've missed a couple of spots on the hand and scabbard. If I'd used a brown wash to begin with those would not have been so obvious. Fortunately, due to the wonders of digital technology I've now seen them and can go and fix that up!

Here is a comparison with the older style painting.

You can see that the cloaks are darker and the folds more pronounced. I do quite like the slightly more cheerful look of the newer paint jobs though. Six of one, half a dozen of the other...

To finish these completely I'll bash out a few blazes and socks on the horses, then it's a case of waiting till autumn so I can give them a hit with the spray varnish.

(Warning) A political post

I keep politics out of my posts here, except perhaps for sideline observations about those practitioners of the art who have not read their history books.

But this last couple of weeks, and particularly today, I have been quite disheartened by political events and various commentaries I've read, and where they are leading us (and I include the commentaries in that).

I took my opinion of politicians from my grandfather, who served in North Africa and Italy, and was a man who believed in a fair go for everyone. Basically, according to the Jim Nicol doctrine, no one really trusts politicians. If they don't start a war, cause an economic meltdown, break the law or obviously use their position for personal gain they've done about as well as you could hope. You expect a bit of grandstanding, but when it comes down to it, you demand they put that aside and the needs of the country first.

Like everyone where I come from and of my age, I believe in democracy as a political system. People run for office, tell us what they want to do, and then we vote for them, or don't. After the election we watch what they do and factor that in for next time. Talking politics among friends is fine - and good debate time, if you enjoy being challenged, as I do - but always with the understanding that friendship is more important than any political or debate stance, and that we will agree to disagree when ideas do not align, and that this will not be a problem.

But that was in New Zealand, and twenty years ago.

I was extremely disappointed to read, a week or two ago, in a New Zealand media outlet, an article calling for a perk that was available to elderly people - a subsidy for folks on benefits, including the pension, to help them heat the house in winter when electricity costs are so high - to no longer be extended to the elderly, on the grounds that older people tend to be better off financially than other demographic groups, and because most of them are white. This was done without spending any time examining the simple facts around either of those condemnations.

Then, in the same outlet, there was discussion of a recent New Zealand free speech kerfuffle. This article examined the implications of denying speakers we don't agree with a platform, and concluded that it was a complicated issue, but denying the platform was probably worse. Sadly, the most liked comment on this article proved that neither the commentator nor his 'likers' understood either the article or the concept of free speech.

Then of course we've had more international politics, but I don't want to go into that.

What disturbs me is this: essentially, the ability for democracy to function is being undermined, and at a scarcely believable rate. At its heart, democracy requires an informed, engaged, and parochial electorate (by parochial I mean an electorate that considers wanting the best for country and citizens to be an essential 'good', while also recognising that such is not the only good). To get that within a democratic state we need a number of things. We need common ideas about what is good for the particular state and its citizens. We need accepted ideas of right and wrong. We need a common standard for verification of truth. We need laws, an acceptance that the law is just, that it applies to all equally, and that those wronged have recourse to challenge the law itself when the law is wrong.

All of these things are under threat.

Instead of an informed electorate, we have lifestyle opinions. People are engaged, but upon very narrow lines. Local-issue parochiality has been replaced by selectively appealing global-issue parochiality, and inevitable distortions have ensued. Ideas of what is good for a particular country have been undermined by what is good for the parochial sub-group. Basic ideas of right and wrong are I hope holding up, but it's getting more fraught all the time. The common standard for verification has been bushwhacked. Claims of self-interest, systemic bias and so on have made it very difficult to get acceptance on a common set of public facts, and this has led to competing claims and competing constituencies. The law is seen as something which favours certain groups, and so other groups feel justified in using whatever means to highlight and subvert this (not necessarily in that order).

As wonderful as the internet is for wargaming, in politics it has removed our idiot filter. The newspapers, magazines and publishing houses that filtered discourse and maintained common standards of fact and evidence are no longer the gatekeepers. The internet has become one giant letter to the editor, and those who share similar views congregate and make their own truth.

There is a militant attitude, based around causes, that defines a lot of internet interactions: a strange but understandable sort of mutually endorsing 'belonging' affair. Again, we are confronted with parochial - and often not fact-based - opinions which many people do not have the intellectual tools to treat with discernment.

I'm worried about where we go from here.

I fear as constituents of democracies we are losing our ability to make informed choices. My hope is that innate scepticism and cynicism will come out, even among the parochially engaged, but I am concerned that time may be running out on our old order.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Tanker Plan

Since I don't have the right models ready for WWII What a Tanker quite yet, I'm thinking I might use some early modern AFVs instead and give them WaT appropriate stats.

If, as a starting point, we make the M48A1 Patton (with its 90mm gun) roughly equivalent to the M4A3E2, that gives us 9 armour, 9 strike, and the heavy armour characteristic, worth 19 points all told.

If we make the T-54/55 roughly equivalent to the Panther A/G, that gives us 9 armour, 9 strike, and the fast characteristic, again worth 19 points.

Based on this comparison I'll drop the Patton's heavy armour characteristic and replace it with rapid fire to reflect its greater ammo capacity, its greater firing capacity, and its better sights. I'll also drop the Patton's strike value by 1 due to inferiority in gun calibre vis a vis the T-54/55. For the T-54/55, I'll also add low profile and slow turret, and keep the fast characteristic.

The points formula for WaT seems to be fairly easy to reverse engineer. It looks as if it's just 1 point for each armour and strike factor, and then a series of pluses or minuses for other factors, these being:

slow; slow turret
TD (usually)
fast; small; rapid fire; low profile; TD (once or twice)
heavy armour; iron fist

So that gives us this:

rapid fire
slow turret
low profile

Next step then is to look to get a solo game in this weekend and see how we get on.

Adversaries line up for the national anthems...

EDIT: stats using Bill Butler's suggestions:

rapid fire
slow turret
low profile

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

First impressions of 'What a Tanker'

Well, having read through the What a Tanker rules now I must say that they have piqued my interest. They seem to use nice clean mechanisms and have effectively grafted on a clever activation system based around the hand management concept. The major difference here from a traditional hand-management game such as the Commands & Colors series is that the Lardies rules writers have you managing dice instead of cards.

To continue with the hand management parallel, the dice act as if they were move cards, acquire target cards, aim cards, shoot cards, reload cards and wild cards. Players 'play' their dice in the order they choose, and resolve each action before moving on to the next. In addition to the activation play, the player may need to dice for move distance or for combat.

So while the game play relies on random 'hand generation', the system gives players some control over their own destiny, and I think gamers all appreciate that, even if that sense of control is more illusory than real!

I think this will work well with a casual group, and I can envisage five or six people, a big table, and a few tasty beverages making for a very pleasant evening or afternoon.

It also has an interesting role play aspect that you can factor in if you want to. Your tank crews gain experience, which gives them some advantages on table. After a certain number of kills, they can 'level up' to a better tank, and start over again. I think you would really appreciate this if you had a dedicated crew of people meeting fairly regularly, and it's something I'd like to try if the conditions at some point prove propitious.

But for now my main concern is building forces. What do I use? I have some 6mm models and I can find 1/72 kits here in Japan, but probably 15mm (1/100) is a better scale: more durable models than the 1/72 modeller's kits and a better look for a skirmish game than 6mm.

The downside is that I have to order in from overseas, pay quite a bit, wait for them to arrive, make up the kits, paint them, and then source terrain. If I go with 6mm I can start right away, can easily and cheaply expand forces through the trusty Heroics and Ros, and I already have a bit of scenery I can use.

Hmm, decisions, decisions!

Anyway, it's quite nice to have another project to work on and in a different style from what I'm used to.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

QRF cataphracts done

It's been quite a while between drinks, but I've finally managed to finish off the final 16 Quick Reaction Force cataphracts I bought about seven years ago (note the quaintly optimistic 'I hope to get a unit finished in time for my game on Friday.' If the Friday in question were two years later, I might've had a shot!).

The first lot was finally finished in 2014, but it wasn't a great experience to prep and paint them and I now see it's taken me four years to do the rest.

They have a lot of flash to remove in tricky places, and require spears. Unfortunately, the hands don't lend themselves to drilling, so you just sort of have to glue and hope. On top of that, I didn't really enjoy painting the armour, had other figures I could use in the meantime, and just sort of put them off, then put them off again.

But they're done now, so that's the '15mm mounted' duck broken for 2018.

And to finish, here they are with their cousins painted in 2014. I thought I'd done a better job on the new batch, but they don't really look all that much different! These will have to wait for their coat of matte varnish. Summer here is not kind to sprays, and nor is winter, which is what the season was when I finished the last batch. I'll have to give both lots a nice going over with matte when spray conditions improve...

Add caption
Thanks for viewing, sorry for the whinging, and may all readers' cataphract models be completed in a far more reasonable time frame!

Monday, July 9, 2018

I’ve given in...

...and picked up a PDF copy of the What a Tanker rules. Unfortunately, it requires tanks with movable turrets, so I can’t use the models I was going to! I expect I’ll be able to come up with a solution though...

Thursday, July 5, 2018


For a project I have on the go I've been dipping back into Caesar's commentaries. Once again, I am struck by the immediacy of the observations, the depth of information, and the quality of the insights. Such a pivotal figure in history, and we are lucky enough to have accounts of his campaigns, and in his own words. It's just astonishing.

Picture from here.

As works of history they are invaluable; as works of literature they are brilliantly composed; as persuasive, case-building and legacy-securing texts they do their job to this day. They are an astounding achievement.

The man was of course a butcher in a time of butchery, but he was not a spiteful one. He preferred to win loyalty and exercise clemency when he could. By comparison to the murderously vengeful Sulla who came before him and the callous and devious Octavion who came after, he was an honourable man.   

But that's not really my point: my point is that when you read Caesar you begin to understand on both an intellectual and a visceral level the kinds of things that an ancient commander had to deal with. You see what he had to take into account before a battle, during a battle, and after the fight was over. You see what went into a successful campaign. You see what led to failure. 

Anyway, whenever I get back into reading him I am always made forcibly conscious of how fortunate we are that the commentaries survived, and how much poorer our understanding of the man and the era would be if they had not.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Sellasia, 222 BC, with Lost Battles

I got the figures out again last night for another bash at a new (for me) Lost Battles scenario, this time Sellasia.

Sellasia was the Spartans' last gasp as a military power, and their defeat here by Antigonus Doson condemned them to relative obscurity thenceforth (though no one of course could erase the fame of their earlier deeds).

The terrain is an interesting mix of streams and hills, with a fortified camp there as well for good measure. The attack limit of five means that the equivalent of five units may attack into or out of each zone (though that is halved when fighting along streams), so massing units in depth will be required.

The terrain. The stream limits the number of 'unit equivalents' able to fight in the central
stream zones at any one time to three, thus forcing the action into the hills.

The armies are both formidable, led by spearheads of veteran troops and supported by good quality infantry, cavalry and skirmishers. Antigonus has four units of veteran phalangites to draw upon, seven units of average phalangites, and one of levy quality. Supplementing the phalanx are three units of average heavy infantry, two units of average heavy cavalry, and three units of average light infantry.

Cleomenes III of Sparta has six units of veteran phalangites (armed with the sarissa, not the hoplite spear), one of average phalangites, and seven units of other heavy infantry. Two units of average light infantry and one of average light cavalry round out his force.

Both Antigonus and Cleomenes are classed as average commanders, so the two sides square off with fighting values of 72 and 63, giving Antigonus a nine point advantage, and 21 units against 17. In real terms, the Macedonians bring 30,000 troops against 20,000.


Both sides put what cavalry they have into the central stream zones and stack the hills on each side. The Spartans keep their veterans together in front of the fortified camp, and Antigonus matches them there with his own veterans and the bulk of the phalanx.

Armies deployed with skirmishers forward and the heavy infantry to catch up.

Spartan centre.

Macedonian centre.

Macedonian right.

Turns two to four.

The first turns see both sides getting the heavy infantry forward and claiming the central zone with cavalry and auxiliaries. The Macedonians get higher activation rolls than the Spartans, but even so Cleomenes decides to move two units of veteran phalanx to support the central zone and attempt to break through there.

Spartan veterans march to join the centre.

The lines in contact.

The high attack limit sees a lot of hits scored, and both sides are forced to feed their reserves into line earlier than they would have wished.

Turns five and six.

The Spartan reinforcements do the business and the Macedonian centre is forced to pull back or risk being destroyed. Fortunately for them, they have the spare command points to do so. But as a consequence of the Spartan relocation, Cleomenes' right is forced to make do with fewer troops, and they are hard-pressed here against Antigonus and his phalanx.

The Macedonian centre pushed back. Attrition rates are high on both sides.

Casualties mount on the Spartan left.

The Macedonians continue to get better returns on their command rolls and use some of the excess activation points to move light infantry forward on their far left to menace the Spartan camp. This little sideshow forces the Spartans to use valuable command points to pull light infantry back in defense of the camp.

Showing the light infantry shenanagens.

Both sides are now almost at breaking point. The Spartans have no reserves remaining; the Macedonians have some, but not many.

Turn seven.

The Spartans damage the Macedonian right, shattering two units and forcing another to flee, but in turn are undone on their own right. With his troops beginning to crack under the pressure of the Macedonian attack, Cleomenes is forced to attempt to rally his men and, disastrously, is killed in the act. The light infantry and cavalry flee, but the rest of the heavy infantry hold firm for now.

The Macedonian attacks continue, more hits mount, and suddenly the entire Spartan line gives way. Antigonus has won the day.

Spartan remnants just prior to the coup de grace.

Cleomenes defeated (image from Wikipedia)

Antigonus triumphant! (again, from Wikipedia)


When it comes time to tally the points, it becomes apparent just how well the Spartans have fought. The Macedonians win, but by 95 points to the Spartans' 90, which is almost as close as you can get.

The telling factor in the win was probably the better Macedonian command returns: they were averaging 11 command points per turn to the Spartans' 8. As a consequence they were more nimble around the field and were able to buy more attack bonuses.

It was an excellent game and a compelling tactical situation. I look forward to trying this one again with an opponent.

Monday, June 25, 2018

1st Mantinea, 418 BC

While trying to kill a little time before the All Blacks / France rugby test was replayed on TV, I decided to set up the Lost Battles 1st Mantinea scenario.

It was the first full hoplite battle I've played with figures. I've done one or two hoplite affairs over VASSAL - and perhaps solo using the boardgame version - but it's always about ten times more satisfying to be able to play on a table using your own figures.

There are however still another 150-odd hoplites to paint yet (and about half of that again in cavalry), so I'll not be getting too far ahead of myself!

Anyway, to the battle.

The first thing you notice with Lost Battles hoplite clashes is that they move fast compared to, say, Punic or Roman Civil War battles. Third turn in and already the hits were mounting up. The battle was a classic revolving door situation: both sides' right flanks won, and it was a race to see whose centre would crack first.

The view from the extreme right of the Argive line.

Agis and the Spartan centre.

The loneliest place in the Spartan line: the far left!

Turn Two.

Both sides initially refused their left, but the Argives, having slightly better quality cavalry, elected to challenge the Spartan horsemen and try to get around the flank.

The action in the centre was furious from the start. The Argives got in the first decent blow, killed Agis, and left four of the eight units the Spartans had in place spent. The Spartans did however respond in kind smartly.

The first shock sends waves through the Spartan centre.

A turn later both sides' advancing rights met the refused flanks opposing them. The Argive horse has already been seen off by this point. So much for their 'slightly better quality'!

Spartan left about to encounter a bit of Argive iron.

Stepped battle lines. End of turn three.
The battle continued at pace and with a correspondingly high attrition rate.

Remnants of the Spartan left.

The Argive left - and then a turn later the Spartan one - collapsed. The victorious right wings turned in upon the enemy centres and did what they could.

Unfortunately for Argos, the Spartans were able to roll up the centre from the flank just before the Argives could do that to the Spartans, and the field was lost.

The Spartan right falls upon the Argive centre. Not before time!

But Argos wins on points after a very meritorious performance - made even more so by the fact that I'd forgotten to put one of the Argive veteran units on table!

92-71 was the victory margin. Under Lost Battles hoplite warfare is fast, furious, and can go either way. I'm already looking forward to more!

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