Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

History of the World (part 1).

The other week I saw advertised a new edition of the classic boardgame 'History of the World' made famous by Avalon Hill. I snuck it into the house like a seventeen year old returning from a night on the beers and let it blend into its surroundings until the time was right to unwrap it and get it to table.

Sunday last was that night. 

With the den to myself and the cricket on, I decided to give it a try.

The Sumerians were the first empire to establish themselves. Getting on their asses they spread from Tigris into Zagros and the Levant. Dominance of the Middle East along with a capital and a monument entered twelve points into the ledger for the blue team. History had begun!


The second empire to emerge was that of the Minoans. Avoiding conflict, these hardy seafarers settled Mauretania and Anatolia. At home they built a palace at Knossos. Some chroniclers considered this to have been a minor tear, but others thought it was bull. At any rate, the gold team had points on the board.


The Hittites then arose, pouring forth with their iron weapons to wipe the Sumerians from the face of the earth and they almost succeeded.

Hittites get to build forts! Cool (unless you're not a Hittite).

In China the Zhou asserted their supremacy and cultivated a satellite kingdom on the banks of the Indus.


And so ended the first epoch of recorded history, and in a neat touch of verisimilitude, I forgot to record the scores. 

Era the second commenced with the rise of the Persians. Alongside their white team legacy Hittites, they dominated India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to win masses of points. Sadly for the Zhou, their erstwhile satellite kingdom became just another satrapy. 


Next it was the turn of the Celts to rampage their way across Europe, Eurasia and Persia. It looked impressive, but with Eurasia terra incognita at this stage of the History, they did not get as impressive a pay-off in points.


The Mauryans subdued India and ventured into Southeast Asia. Two crucial battles were lost, but team red have control of the east.


But then came the Romans, and they smashed everyone - almost as if it was destiny! Northern Europe, Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East all trembled before the tramp of the Roman caligulae. A few indomitable regions held firm, however. 


And with team gold in ascendancy (IIRC) epoch two concluded. 


Monday, May 24, 2021

Slingshot 336

The other day I received the May/June issue of Slingshot, the journal of the Society of Ancients. I joined the Society in about 2007, if I recall correctly, and am glad to say that Slingshot is still in excellent health. 

It has survived the challenges of online culture, the rise (and fall, if recent pronouncements are to be believed!) of blogging, various changings of the guard, the odd ruction amongst the membership, and the sad toll that time inevitably takes on everyone, no matter how unpainted the lead mountain remains.

The current editor, Justin Swanton, has done a wonderful job of bringing a genuinely professional look to the graphics, layout, and typesetting. Justin is a published author himself, having written a historical novel and a book on ancient battle formations, and has a day job within the print industry, so he knows what he is about. 

Funnily enough, I actually disagree with a lot of Justin's ideas on such things as battle formations (I haven't read his book, but do follow conversations on these sorts of topics on the Society forum), and that is part of the charm of a society such as the SoA. People can have different views but still get along. All credit to Justin though: the quality of Slingshot under his stewardship has been extremely high, and he is indefatigable in promoting interest in ancient warfare. As an example, he also runs, and produces the content for, a youtube channel here.

Anyway, to return to topic, the thing I like most about Slingshot is that it is put together from the writings of the membership. That means you get a whole range of themes, interests, topics, and a wide variety of articles. Inevitably, some of these will appeal and some of these won't, but the idiosyncracies of Slingshot are the idiosyncracies of the membership, not those of an editor in a capricious publishing landscape desperately trying to hold on to dwindling market share.

The low level grumbling that occasionally attends the efforts of the wargame glossies is undercut in Slingshot. It is written by members for members: if you don't like the content, write something yourself! 

I guess what I really want to say with this post is that - despite its current professional appearance - Slingshot still holds true to its original amateur, collective ideals. Now into its 336th edition, long may that continue!





Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Heraclea with Lost Battles

Some free time on Saturday and a quick message to old mate SP saw us convening for a game of Lost Battles and a couple of beers. The scenario was to be Heraclea (see here for the armies involved), which would be our third game in a row on the theme of Pyrrhus, following on from two games of Asculum a few weeks ago.

SP has got the hang of the system now, and he needed to have, as Heraclea is a tricky battle to fight. It starts with both sides surprised, meaning that each commander can only deploy four units per turn. This puts a premium on making good decisions. Use of command points is key, particularly around deploying the right units into the right zones at the right time. Getting these things wrong can seriously hamper one's cause. 

Fortunately, he is a quick learner, and has internalised the system so well that picking up the unique features of the battle and the special rules around deployment was not a problem.

To the battle.

First turn, the uninspired Laevinus rolls a 5 for command points, with which he deploys light infantry and heavy cavalry into the centre, centre right and right wing. The inspired Pyrrhus rolls 4, matches the Romans with light infantry in the centre, with two units of heavy cavalry in his left centre, and then challenges Laevinus by advancing light cavalry into the centre right zone.

Second turn Laevinus rolls a 4. He brings his four units of legionaries on in the centre rear, and makes attacks out of his centre and centre right zones, scoring two hits. Pyrrhus rolls 5. He attacks in both zones in contact, scoring two hits of his own on the Roman centre right. He marches up two units of veteran cavalry to overmatch the Roman right wing, and double-moves veteran and average phalanxes to support his centre and centre left.


The field after turn two.


Third turn Laevinus finds himself out of his depth. Rolling a 3, he is forced to either reinforce or attack. He chooses to reinforce. Four more legionary units come on in his right rear, and the others from last turn advance into the centre. Pyrrhus rolls a 5, and attacks along the line. Two shatters are scored against the Roman centre right, and a fierce charge clears the cavalry opposing the Greek left wing. The Romans have lost velites and two units of cavalry in the one turn. It is very close to a triumph for Pyrrhus. He elects to advance the left wing cavalry forward into the zone vacated by the cavalry, but does not advance his centre left. He reinforces his centre and centre left with three units of phalangites, and moves himself and his guard cavalry to the centre.

Fourth turn Laevinus rolls a 3 and is again obliged to choose between reinforcement and attack. Once more he chooses reinforcement: his legionaries in the right rear move forward into the zone recently cleared by Pyrrhus' attacks and four of the remaining units are brought on in the left rear. Again, there are no hits scored against the Greeks, who have scored six hits all told versus two by the Romans. 

Pyrrhus rolls 5 and brings elephants and phalangites up into his left centre. He turns the cavalry on his left wing and forms them up to attack the flank of the newly-advanced Roman infantry next turn. Attacks in the centre succeed, scoring two more hits.


The centre at the end of the fourth turn. 


The Greek cavalry break their opposites and outflank the infantry line.


Fifth turn Laevinus rolls a 1. He attacks centre and centre right, scoring two hits, and surprises the Greek cavalry by advancing three units of equites into his right rear wing to outflank the outflankers. A 4 from Pyrrhus sees him press on with attacks, scoring two hits - both on the Roman right centre - and brings up elephants, phalanx and levy phalanx to join the light cavalry that has been commanding the right centre since turn one. 


Some serious fighting in the central zones.

The Roman cavalry reserve arrives on table, and is about to wheel to the attack,


Sixth turn Laevinus rolls a 2. He attacks all along the line: his newly-deployed cavalry complete the trap, wheel in and score a hit against their opponents, but it is an all out attack, and they suffer a hit of their own in prosecuting it. Three other hits are scored in the infantry fight, and Rome begins to make some headway at last. Laevinus leaves his left centre refused, inviting Pyrrhus to advance. 

Pyrrhus rolls a 1, and does not move his right centre forward.  His attacks in the centre and centre right continue to bear bloody fruit. Three more hits are scored. 

The field after turn 7.

Seventh turn Laevinus rolls a 2 for command, but despite this scores a scarcely credible six hits. The cavalry attack shatters a unit - though the other survives the rout test - and four more hits are scored in the centre. 

Pyrrhus rolls a 3 and pulls the cavalry of his left back further to trade space for time.  He scores a hit in the centre, shattering a unit and causing the velites and a unit of demoralised cavalry to rout. With four units now shattered, Rome's morale incurs a permanent minus, making it more difficult to survive future morale tests. 

A stocktake shows Rome has to this point scored 14 hits with one shatter to the Greeks' 16 hits, four shatters and two routs. Both sides' centres are close to fully spent. The Greeks are still ahead, but Rome is clawing its way back into the contest.

Eighth turn Laevinus rolls a 6.  With both sides desperately trying to feed fresh units into the exhausted central zones, Laevinus scores three more hits. A shatter is saved by Pyrrhus rallying his troops. Roman hearts sink; Greek ones soar.  

Pyrrhus rolls a 2, scores three hits in the central zones and forces a fifth Roman unit to shatter. The Greeks soar some more!

Ninth turn Laevinus rolls a 2. He directs all his efforts into attacking with the infantry. Two hits are scored on Pyrrhus' zone, but the indefatigable Epirote king rallies them both. Two hits are scored on the Greek left centre, and with no one there to rally them, there are two shatters. Morale rolls are fine, and the Greek army holds.

Pyrrhus now rolls a 4. He also throws everything into the infantry fight, but at the key moment fails to score any hits, in some part due to a Favour of the Gods re-roll requested by Laevinus.

Tenth and last turn Laevinus rolls a 3. He presses the attack, two shatters are scored, and with Greek morale now also at -1, the Greek centre left routs. Pyrrhus still stands, and rolls a 3 for commands. He attacks the centre, and causes double hits. Laevinus attempts to rally the shatter, but dies in the attempt! Miraculously, despite being at -2, the Roman morale holds. 

With the tenth turn completed, the day is over, and the battle is a bloody draw, with both sides still having troops on the field.

In the aftermath, it is determined that Rome has managed a narrow victory by virtue of the Lost Battles handicap system. Pyrrhus has inflicted 71 points of damage to Laevinus' 70, but the handicap gives the game win to Rome.


******


This was a tremendous fight, and the brief description given here cannot do justice to the tension attending it. It seemed as if all was lost for Rome on more than one occasion, but the tenacity of the legions was something to see. 

So too the heroism of Pyrrhus - his rallying three shatters in two turns kept his army in the hunt for victory.

It was fitting in the end that the game came down to the last roll. Rome passing its final morale test at that juncture allowed the Roman player to take home the Washbourn Trophy (the piece of plasticware over which we shall henceforth fight!) on points.

It was a real thriller, and SP showed his mettle as a commander. He will be pressing hard again at our next battle. 




  




 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The state of wargaming, May 2021

It feels like a long time since I've written anything related to our collective fascination, but now seems as good a time as any to venture back into familiar territory. 

By way of background, it's gone fast, but I have now been here in New Zealand since February 2019. More than two years, but I still do not feel settled, and have not found a satisfying rhythm. Helping my wife and the children adjust to life here has been my primary concern; a very close second to that has been trying to make a success of myself at work (New Zealand being an easier place for me to make a good living in middle age was one of the main reasons we moved here from Japan). Work has gone well in general, but the cost of living here is excessive. Even with salary increases there is not a lot to spare. 

Preoccupations with such things therefore have affected the gaming life. I don't currently paint, rarely browse new rules, never browse figure ranges, and have almost (but not absolutely) given up on buying board wargames. 

This I give for context, but it is not all bad news: there is an active group of wargamers in the area, and I have a couple of old school friends who are interested in playing figure games. One friend is already meeting me for the occasional Lost Battles refight. With luck and planning, multiplayer games may not be too far away.

Additionally, there is the opportunity to test out some simulation ideas in the work environment. The work I do is public sector. Room to use simulation techniques for training, reflection, consciousness raising, etc may present itself, and in fact I've been given the opportunity to test out some ideas in our annual team day, so hopefully that will go well and may lead to other doors opening.

What I don't have is that desire to play solitaire that I had in Japan. I also seem to have lost the urge to paint and the compulsion to write. These may come back or they may not, but wargaming is back to being - as it was in the beginning - no great matter!

It has been good the last couple of days to have a chance to look at other people's blogs and feel a bit of the old wargaming spirit rekindling. I also read over a few of my old posts and it was (mostly!) pleasant to revisit those times and places.

All up, I'm feeling positive. It may a different kind of wargaming life now, but wargaming still does have its place. I just need a little more time to figure out what that place is exactly!


Monday, April 26, 2021

Chris Hahn's Blog

I've recently become aware that Chris Hahn, a prolific writer on solo wargaming, has started a blog. Chris is particularly interested in the ancient era, and likes to refight historical battles, often using different sets of rules, which he then compares for their effectiveness. 

Interestingly, Chris does not use figures in his games. He uses cardboard bases and maps, so while he will not be showing pictures of figures in action, you will get to see diagrams and thoughtful musings on the battles and the rules.

Chris's blog, called No Painting Required can be found at the following URL: 

https://nopaintingrequired.blogspot.com/

He already has a fine piece up on his refights of Maldon, so I would urge anyone interested in the ancient era to go on over and give Chris a read and a 'welcome' comment.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Pharsalus with Table Battles

Plans to play Triumph have not yet come to fruition, but in an effort to get a game or two in I decided to try the card, dice and sticks game Table Battles by Tom Russell, using figures in place of sticks to give a better sense of the battle.

Pharsalus seemed the obvious choice: I have the figures ready to hand and it is a battle I know well and always enjoy.

Game 1:

Pompey (pink and red cards) comes out of the blocks hard. Caesar (blue and light blue cards) is not able to get his fourth line into action and Pompey bursts through Antony to claim the victory.


Game 2: 

Pompey takes the initiative and never gives it up. Antony and the Cilicians mutually self destruct before Metellus Scipio wins in the centre. 


Game 3:

Some Story. Scipio breaks through in the centre. Battle over. By now I was starting to wonder if Caesar would ever win this. 


Game 4:

Pompey gets a little cocky: Labienus over-commits on attack and cleans up Caesar's cavalry, bringing the fourth line into play. Big mistake. It's close - Antony is almost knocked over again by the Cilicians - but it's a first win for Caesar.


Game 5:

A vicious fight. The fourth line is involved again but it's the infantry cleaning out the entire Pompeian line that wins it for Caesar. 


Game 6:

Pompey is back to winning ways. Caesar brings up the fourth line a touch too soon, which gives Pompey the opportunity to cease initiative, maintain pressure and defeat Caesar's command. 


Game 7:

In the least satisfying game so far Caesar wins again, this time because Pompey has no enemy left that he can legally attack. The troops left on the board (remember, Pompey is the red and pink cards) show what a travesty this result is!


So there we are. Seven games of Pharsalus, four to Pompey and three to Caesar. It's certainly possible to win with both sides once you get the flow of the battle, but if Pompey just concentrates on attacking with his infantry and screening (rather than attacking) with his cavalry (and gets the dice to allow this strategy), he stands a pretty good show of winning. Each Caesarian infantry command is worth two victory points, and running over one will win Pompey the game if Caesar hasn't been able to claim a point himself already.

Not all Table Battle scenarios are equal, and I got put off the game a bit after engaging with a disappointing Granicus scenario from the Alexander expansion which plays nothing like the historical battle and (as far as I can see) is almost unlosable for the Persians if they follow a particular strategy. The figures here though helped with the visuals and atmosphere and the scenario was interesting enough to make me want to keep playing. In so doing I found myself coming round to liking the game again.

All games were played solo, each taking about five to ten minutes from start to finish. It turned out to be an enjoyable way to spend a lazy rainy Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Triumph: Rules for Tabletop Battles Ancient and Medieval

Local wargamer Roundie has been generating some interest in the Washington Grand Company's DBA um, 'tribute', rules set, Triumph. I haven't been able to attend any of the game days/nights myself yet due to a busy social schedule (i.e., work), but I hope to get along at some point. In preparation, I made a visit to Wargame Vault and picked up a PDF copy. 

The DBA derivation is obvious, but while I do not know DBA well enough to be classed as anything more than a raw amateur, I do feel that there are enough changes in Triumph to take it from being merely DBA 4.0 into a game its own. 

For one thing, the troop type categories are more nuanced, and for another the introduction of a points system and battle cards allows armies of different sized forces to fight, and neatly introduces some strategems and augmented troop abilities. 

The terrain generation system and board sizes also bring something new to the table (quite literally), and even though it still uses the devil's own battle method (yes, that's you, opposed die rolls), I am determined to at least give the rules a chance. I haven't played wargames competitively since the old Commands & Colors: Ancients online VASSAL tournaments, and would like to see if I could get up to speed with these.

At any rate, it will be a good excuse to get off my backside, join in with some of the local gaming events, and perhaps even paint up a few more figures. We shall see!

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