Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, December 11, 2020

Gettysburg, the first day.

Heth roars down the pike and deploys to assault Buford and his cavalry. I Corps arrives on Buford's right to offer support.

Heth moves to the left; Pender comes up on the right. The artillery commands the centre. The cavalry pull back to shorten the line and protect flanks while the rest of I Corps marches to the scene.

Pender assaults. Buford is quickly under immense pressure, but is unable to find the right time to pull back.

Heth continues to advance against I Corps. There are minor casualties on both sides.

Casualties may be light, but the Union position is being squeezed like a ripe cucumber.

Reynolds commences bringing up troops in force. Heth loses two brigades in the fight. Does Buford take this chance to pull back, or does he hold? 

He cannot safely pull back without exposing Reynold's flank, so he waits.

Rodes appears to heap more pressure on the Union line. 

XI Corps marches into Gettysburg. I Corps is readying itself to retreat to Seminary Ridge. 

The scene in the vicinity of the town. Rodes' flank is exposed. He will shortly move back to less dangerous ground.

It is time for Buford to pull out...

But he has left it too late. Waves of attack from Pender and Heth destroy his command.

Early advances onto Rodes's flank.

The Union position is imperilled. Rodes and Early have fixed XI Corps in position. Heth and Pender can choose where to strike on Seminary Ridge, while Early can move to outflank Howard's XI Corps if he wishes.

Heth and Pender attack the left of the Union line, with some success. Once again, the men wearing blue are being squeezed into a dangerously narrow area. 

Early extends his line to threaten the right of Howard's position in Gettysburg.

XII Corps marches onto the battlefield, up the Baltimore Pike towards Cemetery Hill. 

Heth crosses Seminary Ridge and drives in on Gettysburg itself. It is Union I Corps now in danger of being crushed. Casualties in this area are heavy.

But the lesson of Buford's destruction has been learned, and Reynolds pulls his men back as soon as opportunity allows. It is now Heth who risks being outflanked. 

The situation in the town is precarious. A determined push from Early would see the troops there trapped in the town but his troops are exhausted.

Anderson arrives too late to have any affect on the day's fighting.

Night falls with Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill safe for the Union, but only just.


This playthrough for the first day turned out to be a draw, but the board tells us that if the battle were to continue again tomorrow with the troops in their current positions, the Union would be at risk of catastrophic defeat.  As it was, the Confederates took 5700 casualties (19 strength points lost), mostly from Heth's division, while the Union took 7800 casualties (26 strength points lost), mainly from Buford's cavalry and I Corps.

The game was a lively affair. The chit pull activation was by turns cruel and kind to both sides.

There was one lovely moment in Early's activation late in the day when, knowing he needed to attack, I looked at the Union line, thought I don't like the look of that, and found all kinds of ways to appear as if he was preparing for a charge in against them while ensuring one didn't actually happen... 

It wasn't until later that the import of that sunk in!

So, a fun game of Battle for Gettysburg: the First Day. I'm glad I found my copy again, and am pleased I got to play it before getting the newly-arrived Battle Hymn to the table. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Matters small

I had some nice news from Japan recently. One of the little traditions that developed over my time there was to put on an annual game (usually around Christmas time) and invite along members of the local foreign community who might be interested in trying something different. We had a number of successful days and it was a good way for people to get to know others who weren't necessarily in their usual circle of acquaintances.

Anyway, I heard recently that a few of the lads had decided to start getting together to play Dungeons and Dragons. I am devoid of evangelical zeal when it comes to matters gaming (and am opposed to the idea that we should be out there flapping our arms in an attempt to draw others to the light) but it was nice to hear that they felt starting a game group was a worthwhile thing to do.

In other small matters, on one of the wargaming facebook pages there was a how-to video posted by a fellow who makes 2mm ancient armies from scratch. Well done that man!

Finally, leaving small matters behind, huge congratulations to the Argentine rugby team for yesterday defeating the All Blacks for the first time. As much as it pained me to watch it unfold, it was a victory thoroughly deserved! 

Monday, November 9, 2020

A spot of shopping

In the grand tradition of wargamers who haven't done very much recent wargaming, I went and placed an order with a favourite online wargames shop on the weekend.

The games I'd had my eye on for a while, but as they were both in stock and the prufrockian coffers had been slightly swelled due to a bit of overtime, it seemed as if the wargaming stars had aligned. 

Dien Bien Phu is by Legion Wargames, a newish company I've heard good things about but not yet played a game from. A tense siege - modern but not too modern - easily soloable, and an epic situation fixed in the mind by boyhood reading of those collectible magazine sets from the '80s on famous last stands or some such thing. I missed out on the first edition so it was happy chance that NWS had a second edition left in stock just when I was there browsing.

Battle Hymn Volume 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge is by the legendary Eric Lee Smith, building upon his Across Five Aprils system from many years ago, published by Compass Games, and enjoyed by our own Norm Smith whose review of this system I remember reading but cannot find. 

For some unknown reason Gettysburg is a particularly important battle for me. It causes a weird emptiness in the stomach. I've played it out with Summer Storm, Thunder at the Crossroads, and Battle for Gettysburg: the First Day. They all have an honoured place on my shelf (especially the last - as it was a desk top published game with actual paper maps I put it in a Very Safe Place and have not been able to find it since!), but I'm still looking for that game you can set up and play solo (or with a friend) over a couple of evenings with components attractive enough, end point visible enough and game system engaging enough to see it through to the end.

Whether the games live up to my anticipation remains to be seen. Going by previous experience the answer is likely to be 'no' - I'll likely open them up, have a look, put them on the shelf with satisfaction and then never get round to playing them - but we'll do our best to change the pattern!

Anyway, it's a pleasure to deal with NWS again, and I'm looking forward to trying out the new games when they arrive.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Wargaming on

It seems - looking around the blogosphere - that I am not alone in currently going through something of a down phase in the wargaming cycle. 

The aspects of wargaming I get the most enjoyment out of are (in no particular order) finishing up a painting programme, getting my teeth into a set of rules, seeing a game set up and ready to go, and writing about our little hobby.

At the moment however, none of those hold much appeal. I do set up the odd game, but blogging about it feels more like a chore than a joy right now.

Still, I am not closing up shop, and do look forward to adding to the post tally given time and rejuvenated interest.

Until then, take care all!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Pydna, 168 BC.

When Perseus succeeded Philip V as king of Macedon in 179 BC, Macedon was already partially incorporated into the Roman sphere as a subordinate ally kingdom, and had been since Philip's defeat at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. Macedon had been largely left to run its own affairs, but over time, resentment at having to toe the Roman line and Roman suspicions about Macedonian policy combined to raise tensions. Convinced at last that Perseus was a boil needing lancing, Rome acted, and in 171 an army was raised and sent to confront the king.

Fast forwarding to three years later, Rome still had little to show for its efforts. Against a background of mounting frustration with the conduct of the war, the republic turned to Aemilius Paullus, a 60-year-old veteran who had served successfully in Spain and Liguria and been consul before in 182, to finish the affair.

In June of the year 168, Paullus and his army came upon Perseus deployed in a strong position behind a stream near the town of Pydna. Unwilling to attack prematurely, Paullus prepared to wait Perseus out. His troops however appeared to have other ideas, and a local clash between rival water-gathering parties became general.

We pick up the action in turn one. With both armies surprised by the onset of battle, only four units can be brought on table per turn. Each side starts the contest with a unit of cavalry and three units of light infantry deployed. 

Initial deployments
Initial deployment
'Oo are you then?

For Paullus, Scipio Nasica commands the cavalry, thwarting the disruptive efforts of the Macedonian horse with exemplary personal leadership.

His initial attacks unsuccessful, Perseus brings on four more units - the maximum allowed - these being his guard phalangites, a unit of Gauls, and a unit of Thracians. 

Paullus is likewise unsuccessful in his attack, but he orders four units of veteran legionaries forward to support the light infantry.

The next round of attacks are more effective, forcing both sides to rush in additional troops. Perseus, suffering from difficulties with his signalling, can only bring on three units of phalangites; Paullus brings on four more units of legionaries, two of which are veteran.

Perseus reinforces his left; Paullus matches this while also throwing troops into the centre.

The legionaries come up.

The commanders are faced with a stark choice: do they prosecute their attacks to the full extent of their ability, or do they prioritise bringing up reinforcements? Both choose the latter. 

More troops are thrown into the fray

The clash becomes general.

With both sides fully deployed, the battle takes shape. Both sides fight in earnest on the Roman right / Macedonian left and in the centre. On the other wing the fighting is less intense: the cavalry skirmishing prevents the heavy infantry from becoming involved. 

The fighting rages on.

By turn seven, the heavy infantry of both sides are now wholly committed. The phalanx proves irresistable in the centre, but on both wings the strength of the Roman challenge is obvious.

View from the Roman right around turn 8.

With the sun setting it is clear that time is running out. Both sides still stand their ground.

The armies as darkness falls.

The battle ends with the issue undecided. Given the disparity in the forces, Perseus has done remarkably well to hold the Romans off. The day is his.

The battle proved to be very interesting, and Lost Battles yet again showed itself to be a ruleset ideally suited to the solitaire gamer who wants to revisit historical clashes. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Quick Review: Table Battles, by Hollandspiele

Hollandspiele has gained a reputation for innovative, fast-playing board wargames with more to them than meets the eye, and Table Battles is so far proving to be the epitome of that approach.

Using just a dozen or so cards per army, coloured sticks, and six dice per side, the game allows you to recreate dozens of historical battles on your table, each playing out in somewhere between ten and thirty minutes of real time.

The rules are very succinct - just four pages - but they are flexible enough for all kinds of situations and eras to be gamed.

Take Pharsalus, for instance. Pompey begins the battle with four cards on the table representing the commands in his army, being, from left to right, Labienus, Pompey, Sulla and the Cilicians. He rolls his six dice, and can allocate these dice to his commands according to the rolls, the card limitations, and his design. Allocated dice allow him to activate his commands to attack or react to enemy attacks.

His command has two wings - Labienus and everyone else - and he can give dice to one card per wing per turn.

The oval number tell us how many blocks (hits) a division has. Labienus can be activated by doubles, Pompey by fives or sixes - but only one or the other, and only one die per turn (brackets limit number of dice placed per turn to one), Metellus Scipio by threes or fours, and the Cilicians by ones or twos. The orange headed boxes indicate which enemy the division can attack, and the damage it does. The pink headed boxes indicate reactions, which are performed when the enemy attacks.

After the dice are rolled the best choices are to load Labienus and the Cilicians so that Pompey has two good options to activate next turn.

It is now Caesar's turn to roll and allocate dice (note that the turn is just two parts: act [or react], roll and allocate dice; then the other side does the same), with his various possible actions all laid out on the cards as Pompey's were.

An an additional subtlety, Caesar has his Fourth Line in reserve, meaning they can only be activated once Caesar's horse have retired. A close look at the cards shows that the horse cannot attack, with the best they can do being to react to an attack on themselves by forming a screen (screens have the effect of negating an attack and preventing hits on either side).

In this case, Caesar elects to use the horse to screen any potential attack by Labienus and to add one die to Anthony so that he can hopefully deter an attack by the Cilicians.

The game now begins properly, with Pompey activating the Cilicians to attack, doing three hits, taking one themselves, and then another when Antony reacts with his command. Dice are rolled again and allocated, and because Caesar had to respond to Pompey's attack, Pompey is able to retain the initiative and choose where he will activate next.

And that is pretty much way things run.

The game is won when a) one side has no morale cubes left,* or b) the active side has no target remaining that they could, given the right dice, legitimately attack.

* when a division loses its last block that side must surrender a morale cube - or two if it is a 'star' division - but if both divisions - attacking and defending - lose their last block at the same time, no cube is surrendered

Game play is mandated by the rule that if a side can attack, it must [correction - I am wrong here; attacking is a may action] - though it can choose which attack to employ if there are more than one option - and if a side can react, it must [this part is correct!] - though again it can choose among multiple options.

When a side reacts, this counts as its own action, and play returns to the other side. Initiative therefore is very important. If you make a play which does not require a reaction, then the other side now takes the initiative and can choose where to attack, including planning where or how to force reactions themselves. This creates intense dynamic interplay over a number of turns as players try to set the conditions for a devastating attack or else attempt to wrest the initiative from the enemy so that they can dictate play for a period.

In our test game, Pompey's Cilicians and Antony's division cancelled each other out, losing their final blocks at the same time...

Neither side loses a morale block because the removal of the cards was simultaneous.

But Pompey was able to largely keep the initiative and defeat Domitius' division which, having a star on it, was worth two morale cubes, thereby giving Pompey the victory.

The game is short, but the interplay is dynamic and there is a nice range of options in how to approach each battle. The games I've been playing are all solo, but I can see how much fun it would be to settle down with a friend and play out a series of battles over an afternoon or evening.

Verdict: a really fun game. It all fits together so nicely you sort of feel like you could have come up with it yourself. But of course, you didn't - Tom Russell did, and he deserves a bit pat on the back for having done so. As an added bonus, it is available cheaply in a print-and-play version on Wargame Vault if things are a bit too tight to be paying for shipping, and with (at current count) four expansions available, there is a lot of play to be had.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Waterloo Revisited

The urge struck last night for a wargame. A little fossicking brought out recent favourite W1815, and the board was set up.

Napoleon begins with a boom! - the Grand Battery roars its delight at battle commencing. Anti-climactically, the mud interferes, Orange is unaffected, and a relieved Wellington passes the baton to Blucher, who gets lost.

The Grand Battery fires again. This time Allied morale suffers. Blucher brings a division onto the field. Good man!

Once more the Grand Battery barks; again the mud interferes.

Blucher brings on another.

Napoleon changes plans. Reille is activated and Hougoumont threatened, but Wellington calls upon the Reserve, and Hougoumont holds.

Reille attacks again with casualties on both sides. Blucher brings on a third division.

Kellerman is activated to strike at Hill. Allied morale is affected, but at a cost. Hill, having formed square, orders his troops back into line.

Reille attacks again: more casualties on both sides. Blucher brings on a fourth division. Reille continues to attack, and the Reserve is called upon to reinforce Hill.  Reille attacks again with more casualties to both sides. The British cannot sustain the fight, and Hill's command is broken.

Wellington turns to Blucher, who brings on another division and is now present in considerable force.

Reille threatens Hougoumont again, and for the last time the Reserve is used to preserve the position. Milhaud attacks, but Orange goes into square and staves off damage. Blucher launches, and the Guard must activate to prevent Plancenoit falling.

Blucher moves to bring on another division. The Guard attacks Orange with Napoleon's blessing, and does good work.

Blucher launches at Plancenoit again, and this time it succumbs.

The Guard attacks once more, and the Allied army, morale test failed, routs. Victory to the French!

Game 2.

The Grand Battery fires off again, and Blucher navigates his way to the battlefield. This interplay continues for some time. Eventually Kellerman moves against Hill, who goes into and comes out of square. Reille hits Hougoumont but is repulsed. Casualties mount.

Reille throws his all into the attack on Hougoumont. The Reserve activates to hold the French off. Blucher comes as quickly as he can; so quickly that Lobau counter-attacks him.

The Guard moves and Blucher comes on in force. Casualties mount; the French push, but, just as they are about to drive Wellington off his hill, their morale breaks. An unlikely victory for the Allies!

And so W1815 provided an entertaining couple of hours play. The French were very unlucky in the second game to fail a morale test just as they were about to break Wellington on casualties alone. They rolled a six for morale, and with two plus-ones in play, just tipped over their breakpoint. It must've been the spectre of the Prussians that did it!

Overall, the game is nicely balanced, and there are different strategies to explore. It is mostly the French who drive the action, but there are moments when the Allies can apply pressure and force Napoleon into desperate choices. Well suited to solitaire play, I think.

Don't tell the missus, but I enjoy this game so much I've ordered its scion - Hollandspiele's Table Battles and all its expansions - from the US. I wonder if I can smuggle it into the house unnoticed? The chances are not good!

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