Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Magister Militum

When I decided to take up wargaming seriously as a hobby I started by buying two 15mm army packs, Romans and Carthaginians, from Richard at Magister Militum in the UK. Naturally, those two army packs were soon supplemented by additional figures, and the collection expanded by other armies. It quickly became necessary to purchase from other ranges and manufacturers too, but the figures that began it all for me were those Chariot Miniatures from Magister Militum.

I don't imagine I am the only person in the world who got their introduction to the delights of miniature wargaming in this way.

At that time of course you didn't order by filling an online shopping cart: you looked at the catalogue, emailed the company with the packs you wanted, waited for them to confirm with a price and shipping estimate and a means of payment. If I remember rightly, I might even have had to call Richard up from Japan to give him my credit card details over the phone.

At any rate, there was contact with a human, there were pleases and thank yous, and all those other little interactions that you almost forget were commonplace before shopping carts and secure online payment systems.  

It is therefore with some sadness that I see Magister Militum is closing up shop and putting their ranges on the market. 

I'd like to quickly take the opportunity to thank Richard and all the other folk who may have worked at MM, and hope that life after MM treats them well.

For those to whom MM closing up is new news, I think you still have a couple of days to get a last order in.

I guess the most appropriate thing to do at my end is get those Romans and Carthaginians out on the table for another game....

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

State of the wargame nation

It's been quite some time since I've posted here. We've been through a busy period of house renovations, kids developing social lives, work secondment opportunities and various other things. Earlier in the year I was invited to join a band, so we've been working quite hard learning songs and getting match fit for shows. Things are rolling now - we made our live debut last weekend - and it has been a lot of fun. The last time I played in a live band (apart from attending the odd open mic night) was 1998. I'd reconciled myself to the fact that it may never happen again, so it was a VERY good feeling to get back up on stage in front of a crowd and blast out a few tunes.

We hope to be able to get three hours' worth of material together to allow us to start gigging regularly. There is still some work to be done to get to that stage, but the challenge has been set!

Hobby activity has mostly been confined to looking at my shelves and deciding it's too late to play a game or browsing local boardgame options and making the occasional purchase. So far this year I've picked up Seastrike, Undaunted: Stalingrad, Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 minutes (if you're thinking of getting it, don't bother), Twilight Struggle, and Mare Nostrum. It's an eclectic mix; overseas shipping being prohibitatively expensive means I'm confined to opportunistic nabbing of things that are already in the country. Caesar is a bit of a dog, but the others all look promising. 

In regards to figure gaming, I haven't done any painting since 2019, and I also fell out of love with the Society of Ancients. As this was the avenue I tended to use to present 'serious' hobby pieces, I don't currently have any motivation to put together that sort of structured hobby writing for public consumption. The figures already painted are always there waiting to be used, but whether I will make any further dents in the lead mountain or get back to being the kind of contributor on matters ancient that I used to be is a bit doubtful.

It's been a bit of a depressing period hobby-wise, but you never know when that will change.

So there we are; that's about the state of it. Hope all others in the blogosphere are doing well!

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! 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...