Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Edgehill with Pat

Following a couple of weeks of preparations, old Japan mate Pat H and myself got together online last Thursday using VASSAL for the board and Discord for chat to start a playthrough of the Musket and Pike scenario of Edgehill. 

For those that may not know Musket and Pike, it is a series of hex and counter boardgames put out by GMT focusing on battles of the English Civil War / Thirty Years War era. It was originated by Ben Hull, but has an obvious progenitor in the Berg/Herman Great Battles of History series. Like the GBoH series before it, it is a grand tactical treatment of each battle, with a specific map, named counters, and various scenario options for each battle.

The system tracks morale, attrition and formation at the unit level, while command and control rules require orders to be set at the wing level and communication traced between commanders and the commanded.

Command counters have special functions which allow units they are stacked with or in some cases are adjacent to to perform orders (rally, reform, etc) which their wing stance (charge, make ready, etc) may not ordinarily allow. 

It is one of those systems that I thought would allow a battle to be worked through over a a week or so of casual after-dinner play. Unfortunately, to this point I have not yet been motivated enough learnt the rules well enough to manage this. Hopefully this Edgehill game with Pat will change that. 

But on to the game. The scenario sees the Royalists (Pat being an inveterate Royalist I had to be very careful not to mention Harry or Megan in the course of the evening - it could have got nasty!) with charge orders itching to have at the Parliamentarian menace. As commander of the said menace, I got to sit back and watch as Rupert surged forward on my left. 

His initial activation saw all right wing cavalry, dragoons and musketeers forward. Pat then rolled for a continuation and was successful, leading to controlled carnage as his wing engaged with mine. A remarkable run of luck with my reactive shooting saw Pat's wing take considerable casualties in the charge, but ended with my commander driven off the field. 

Battle map after two activations of Rupert's wing.

It remains to be seen how we can come back from this. On the positive side, we were not routed in our entirely, and all of Rupert's units have suffered some kind of attrition. 

It has been enjoyable. It took about 90 minutes of play to get to this point in the game, but I expect things will speed up. The advatange of rules which are so procedural is that once you get those procedures down, things start to take care of themselves. The disadvantage of course it that it takes a bit of time to familiarise oneself with those procedures. 

It seems though that we are well on our way.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Undaunted once more

SP and I reconvened for another game of Undaunted Normandy last night. It was scenario 12, the last of the originals, so we have worked our way through the box. The Germans snuck it. But when asking SP what he would have done differently I realised that I'd not seen the Allied control marker on the zone I took to win, and that I had declared a victory prematurely. Red faces all round!

Never mind, the game was secondary to the chat anyway. 

The game itself continues to shine. As an indication of how much I am enjoying it, I have a few ideas for house rules...

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Rumours of war(gaming) and the kindness of strangers

It's been a long time since I've rock n rolled, as the song goes. While a neat little intro, it's not strictly correct: I have played a few games, but nothing worth blogging about.

Sadly, that seems to have been the case for most things at the moment - not worth blogging about.

But that has all changed today. Two things happened. First, I caught up with my old mate SP, who assures me he is keen to get a game underway as soon as we can; the other is that a kind denizen of boardgamegeek has gone to considerable trouble to look out and send me the rules for a vintage game I bought recently that arrived sans booklet.

It would be very rude to get it to table given the lengths the fellow went to to scan the paperwork, so playing it has become mission number 1. 

While speaking of kindness, I should also mention a first class instance of it from the folks at the Plastic Soldier Company. I ordered some plastic Carthaginians from them a few months ago but the pack arrived two figures short. I emailed to let them know about it and they promptly sent me replacements along with an extra figure or two for good measure. 

They are damned good too, being of the Corvus Belli 15mm range.

So there we are. I hope 2023 will treat all readers well (or if not well, at least a good deal better than it's treated Jeff Beck), and that your dice roll what you wish for a decent portion of the time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Notions of (Phil Sabin's) Empire

Faced tonight with a sudden hankering to play a game, I trotted downstairs, surveyed the shelves, and settled upon Phil Sabin's Empire. As something that takes an epic subject, could be set up without too much rules review and can be got through in an hour, it was the obvious choice.

Covering the period 350-150 BC, the game takes in the Mediterranean world (stretching as far east as India) and its Persian, Macedonian, Carthaginian and Roman inhabitants. Each of the twenty game turns starts with a rebellion roll which turns one occupied territory neutral, and then the four powers get to take a turn attempting to expand. Usually a power gets one attack per turn, but in a great captain turn they will get five (so they best make the most of it).

There is not a lot to the game tactically: you are pretty much at the mercy of the dice. To successfully conquer a territory on Empire's point-to-point game map a power needs to roll 4 or better on a d6. There are modifiers at play, and with certain territories worth more for victory point purposes, it is usually clear what the best attack is, and then you have to hope the die (or dice when attacking across a sea route) will cooperate.

It's all very straightforward - even bearing in mind a couple of special rules - and with two victory turns (VPs are counted on turns ten and twenty), everyone knows what they are aiming at.

Opening situation: Carthage blue (3 territories), Rome red (1 territory), Macedon yellow (1 territory) Persia green (8 territories).

In our game Macedonia started gloriously, winning Graecia on turn one and then watching Alexander wreak absolute havoc on turns two and three, wiping out the Persians and being on the doorsteps of both India and Aegyptus.

Alexander's conquests.

Neither Carthage nor Rome could make much headway in the first century of play, but Persia / Parthia reclaimed its homeland just before the first victory turn was up, and with both Carthage and Persia receiving handicap assistance, the scores at 250 BC were recorded as Rome 5, Macedon 13, Persia 14 and Carthage 16.

Carthage and Rome squabbled over Gallia until Hannibal's entrance saw Rome's influence temporarily squashed. Two turns of great captains for Rome began promisingly, but perverse sea assault rolls and some untimely revolts meant Roman expansion was stopped at Sicily, Iberia and Macedonia. 

All game Alexander's successors held on grimly to his conquests in Asia, but the Parthians (the Persian replacements) began to reclaim some of the eastern territories. 

Parthians reconquer some of the ancestral homelands.

Carthage and Rome continued to squabble ineffectually over Iberia, and at game end, the points were tallied thus: Rome 12, Persia / Parthia 20, and Carthage and Macedon tied for first place on 21. 

Board at game end, 150BC.

It was a nice little historical interlude, and left me with one or two ideas for future play.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The changing face of wargaming

One of the things that has impressed me most in the time I've been wargaming is the way that game design has progressed.  

When I started it was with Diplomacy and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, both of which required a certain time investment to play. Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition was massively fun at the time, but it took an evening to cost out your army, took all day to fight, and the amount of dice rolling was phenomenal. Diplomacy required eight people (seven if you could get by without an umpire), and by the end of the game your relationship with at least one of those players would be damaged almost irreparably. 

That said, each game was a genuine event, and would be remembered for years.

When I got into wargaming again in the post-university years, it was with process-heavy historical miniatures games - seemingly cut from similar cloth to WFB - and sprawling hex-and-counter games such as those from The Gamers. 

Enter card-driven games -  Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage and For the People, for example - which used point-to-point movement instead of hexes, based victory around control of blocs of territory, and made card play the central decision mechanism. Able to be used in a variety of ways, each card gave players the choice to trigger an event, use the card to perform an action, or try to bury it so that it could not be leveraged to advantage by one's opponent. 

Then there were Commands and Colors: Ancients and Lost Battles: both hybrid developments of earlier miniatures and board game types. Commands and Colors used cards for unit activation, employed custom dice, and provided generic units with customisable battlefields. Lost Battles used a square grid with a lead (as in front, not metal!) unit model to allow tactical match ups, a handicap system to afford outmatched armies a chance at a game win, and followed a uniquely academic approach.

In the meantime both eurogame and wargame designers had been coming up with interesting new takes on old game mechanisms, such as tile drawing, deck building, trick taking, dice hoarding, chit pulling, and bluffing. Friedrich, Maria, the Simmons titles and Sekigahara all helped bring some of these interesting intersections into the world of wargames. 

Then along came W1815, the strikingly innovative map game on Waterloo, which featured static forces, and an action card for each commander, not only designating possible actions as in other card-driven games, but also - brilliantly - functioning as individualised combat results tables. This game on its own has led to an entirely new 'static battle' genre that is being explored by designers to take on previously hard-to-game situations, and its influence is felt almost everywhere. 

Ian Brody's groundbreaking Quartermaster General series has been another landmark modern design. In terms of how cards can be used to introduce player options, create gruelling battles of hand and mind, while also reducing large conflicts to key elements playable in ninety minutes, it is hard to overstate its importance. Who would have thought in 1980 that you could take World War II and play it out as a six-player game in recognisable and satisfying fashion in less time that it takes to complete a game of Risk, and without a die in sight? Certainly not Milton Bradley!

The Quartermaster series has broadened the definition of wargame.

And the dance continues. The Undaunted series has added new layers of depth to map, card and dice combinations in wargames. Solitaire games, using bots, are plentiful - and designers are retro-fitting older games for solitaire play using these new concepts. We are seeing an explosion of impressive fast-playing, decision-centric, bot-soloable, war-themed crossover games that bring in ideas put together in fresh ways by young(ish), crafty designers who are not afraid to defy wargame convention, who have wide gaming experience in different genres, and will borrow and refine from anywhere in the service of the game.  

It seems, at the moment, that possibilities are legion.

What a great time to be a wargamer! 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Painting, Gettysburg revisited, and a musical diversion

For the first time since perhaps March 2019 I have picked up a paintbrush. The objects of my attentions were not the Greeks for Mantinea signalled earlier this year, but Carthaginian elephants and crew so that I can play Bagradas without co-opting Macedonian jumbos, and as a way to ease back in with reasonably rapid additions for the table.

Unfortunately, it was quickly apparent that in the three years since I last painted my eyesight has deteriorated significantly. In short, I couldn't see what I was doing. 

I tried again the next day in natural light and I could see details better, but it's still a long way from what I am accustomed to and it has come as a bit of a shock.

I knew that moving from teaching into constant computer work had taken a toll on my eyes, but I put a lot of it down to general tiredness. I didn't realise it had become quite this bad.   

The situation I am now in is that unless I get some glasses sorted, painting will only be possible on sunny days. As I used to do most of my painting at night in my old hobby room, it will take a serious readjustment to make much progress in terms of reducing the 15mm lead mountain. It is clearly time for some re-evaluation.

In happier news, I got Eric Lee Smith's Battle Hymn on the table again. Goodness me, it is a beautiful game.

Heth's boys on the march.

And I also bought myself a new guitar, a Telecaster copy. After the kind of work week when I thought of starting to apply for other jobs, I was told to have a drink and chill out. I did, and did. I'm looking forward to it arriving and cranking up the volume in the den!

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Entertainment in a time of COVID

The bell finally tolled for me on Sunday. I'd had a minor sniffle come on Friday night and thought nothing of it. It then progressed to sneezes on Saturday, so on Sunday I decided to get a test before heading out anywhere other people might be. I was sure it was just a bit of a cold, but the RAT test immediately clanged out 'COVID!'  

With the wife and kids away in Japan visiting family, I did not have to worry about passing it on to them, so I just got in touch with work, ordered some food to be delivered from the supermarket, and settled down to wait it out for a week.

In my favour was the fact that there was a cricket test on. Sadly, we were getting royally thumped, so it was a slightly blue Prufrock looking out the window on Monday who saw a package had been delivered. 

Wouldn't you know it, it was Mike Lambo's Battles of Medieval Britain, for which I'd put in an order about six weeks previously and almost despaired of ever seeing. As it turned out, its arrival couldn't have been better timed. 

The book includes ten pages of rules and solitaire game representations of twelve British battles. These being:

  • Brunanburh, 937
  • Fulford Gate, 1066
  • Stamford Bridge, 1066
  • Hastings, 1066
  • The Standard, 1138
  • Lewes, 1264
  • Evesham, 1265
  • Orewin Bridge, 1282
  • Stirling Bridge, 1297
  • Falkirk, 1298
  • Bannockburn, 1314
  • Shrewsbury, 1403

Each battle comes with a one page full colour hex map and an accompanying description of the information necessary to play out the battle. The rules are clear and simple, need only d6s, and contain nothing that could cause (or exacerbate!) any headaches.

Set up is not fixed: the defending units are positioned by dice roll, as are any reinforcements when they arrive. With only five types of units, you can retain all the unit characteristics in your head and just focus on beating the game. The order generation mechanism is quite neat, and combat is of the 'score x on 2d6, with various +/- modifiers' type.

Turns work as follows:

- mark off turn on turn track

- roll for and place any applicable defender reinforcements 

- activate each player unit one by one by rolling a number of dice to generate orders. Use (or don't) orders as desired

- when all player units have been activated, defending units attack all player units in range

And that's it. Defending units don't move (although defending reinforcements will appear during the battle), so it is up to you as the attacker to calculate the best way to defeat the enemy in the number of turns available. 

Fulford Gate using Commands & Colors terrain and 15mm figures.

The battles are essentially military-themed interactive puzzles, somewhat akin to chess problems, but with variable set up and random elements to consider. To make it easier you can give yourself an extra turn to achieve the objectives. To make it harder, give yourself one fewer.

I've played through the first two scenarios already, and they are a cool way to pass a bit of time. Simulations they are not, but if you want to spend a half hour exercising the brain and rolling a few dice, you could do a lot worse. 

And as for providing entertainment while isolating with COVID, it does the job!

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