Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Testing out Memoir 44

Over the last few weeks SP and I have caught up for a couple of nights yarning and gaming with Memoir 44. I'd picked up a secondhand copy within NZ through a facebook page connection and ordered some expansions from Amazon following an introduction to it during a fleeting visit to Japan.

We tried out the Pegasus Bridge scenario (won both times won by the Allies) last week and Hellfire Pass (both times won by the Allies) tonight.

Hellfire pass, from the German side

Pegasus Bridge from the perspective of the Allies

It's simple but effective and we think we can probably get our young lads interested in a game as well. It may turn out to be a good purchase for that alone.

I'd initially thought I might be put off by the out of scale miniatures the game uses, but in fact they remind me of the maps I used to pore over in the Purnell History of the Second World War zines my grandfather collected.

The scenarios require some pleasing strategising, but as with all the C&C family of games there is plenty of potential for things to go awry. Overall I'm pleased I bought into it, and there is a lot of scope for ongoing play.

It's not going to replace heavier games in my collection but will probably get more play.

We also gave Twilight Struggle a go, but that is for another post. 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Society of Ancients Battle Day: Ilipa preparations.

As February draws to a close thoughts naturally proceed to the Society of Ancients' battle day, which this year is Ilipa, a battle I have all the necessary figures for, and which will be held on the weekend of March 23rd/24th.

I have been a sympathetic participant in several other battle days, these being the refights of Pharsalus in 2016 and Paraitakene in 2018. I also did a solo boardgame version of Bosworth in 2021, but it hardly counts. I had grand plans to do Mantinea in 2023. Unfortunately, I got into a funk and didn't get the figures painted.

The general idea for battle days at my end is to get together with likeminded individuals and play the same battle as the Society chaps, on more or less the same date, and see about submitting a report on it to the Society's journal Slingshot. Can we manage all of that this year? I'm not sure, but it's worth a try.


I have a bit of a soft spot for both commanders, the brilliant Scipio and the hapless Hasdrubal. Of course, Hasdrubal's haplessness was largely down to his having to face Scipio every other battle. He seemed to do mostly all right otherwise, was an organiser a union would be proud of (he raised new armies after massive defeats and got Syphax to commit to the Carthaginian cause), while to further commend him he was the father of the magnificent Sophonisba.

How to do the battle.

My best battle day effort by far was the Pharsalus game. Six players, myself as umpire, bespoke rules, and a report for Slingshot. I won't be able to do all of that this year, but would like to get as close as I can.

I've been thinking of using either Commands & Colors: Ancients or Simon Miller's To the Strongest! for the rules. My table layout means that for the former I would need to adjust the scenario to fit suit my space limitations (the wargaming equivalent of converting iambic pentameter to trochaic tetrameter...); for the latter I could just about use the superb James Roach's scenario as it is. My favourite rules, Lost Battles, could be used at a pinch, but they are are not an easy ride for first-time gamers.

Much depends on how many players I can muster. My offsider SP will be away for a few weeks in 'Nam (cue various Rambo-era jokes) fulfilling work commitments. This means that we will not be able to play on the designated weekend, but I think we can get away with that. Between now and then I will try to drum up another few participants and decide how best to so things.

It's good to have a little project on the go.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

On wargames campaigns (after Polemarch)

The excellent blogger Polemarch has recently put up a couple of thought-provoking posts on campaigns. The first talks about types of campaigns, concluding that they are often better in the idea than the execution; the second offers further reasoning about why that might be. 

In the ancients era that I usually game and with the types of large set-piece battles I most enjoy, campaigns tend to not have much value. In this era, campaigning was (with one or two notable exceptions) essentially about bringing one's enemy to battle in circumstances least advantageous to them. The battle was had. If the winner was the home team, the invaders were dispersed and the game, so to speak, was up; if the invader was victorious, terms would be reached and the thing was over (unless of course you were fighting the Achaemenid Persians or the Romans, who would [eventually, or fairly immediately, respectively] raise another army and make you do it all again).  

The interest then in this era is to try to get battlefield advantage. That is not usually best expressed by manoeuvrings over a campaign map, but by some sort of pre-battle system which modifies morale, numbers, terrain, deployment or leadership to the benefit of one or the other side.

If one is to do this, it is quite useful (as indeed it is for just about any circumstance!) to read Caesar to see the kinds of things he considered important when choosing if or when to give battle. 

To me it seems that ancients campaigns work best at either the grand strategic or the tactical level. You can follow the fortunes of nations over years or decades, where competing powers look to prise provinces or regions from one another, or you can follow the fortunes of smaller entities raiding or subduing neighbours in lower intensity local conflicts.

I tried a solo campaign of the latter type set in tribal Iberia. I put quite a bit of time into it, but it simply wasn't exciting enough. It turned out I'd rather refight Zama for the tenth time than try to sustain interest in endless minor encounters between similarly equipped neighbours over local concerns.

For the former type, you can't beat boardgames. If you want to replay the Punic and Macedonian wars, it's far better to do it in a boardgame in one sitting than to stretch it out with questionable bespoke rules to take up three months' worth of miniatures battles, trying to involve players whose chance of winning was, after the first week, only slightly better than nil.

I remember that the time I was most excited about campaigns was back in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle days, when I was young, had oodles of time, and thought that defending a pass against a tidal wave of Orcs was the perfect way to spend a Sunday (and the week before it mulling over army choices!).

The difference here is the difference: you could have Orcs, Goblins, Elves, Dwarves, various humans, all with different characteristics and fighting styles, and all within a realm's distance of one another without doing violence to backstory. Celtiberian tribal dominion versus Celtiberian tribal dominion does not offer quite the same opportunites for variety.

For me, if I want to get six people involved in a game, there are two choices: a boardgame, or a multi-command set-piece battle.

But it's good to be open to being convinced otherwise!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

You can't fight the Borg

Richard Borg, that is. Following on from my last post, featuring the Borg board game Memoir '44, it turns out that this game I was definitely not going to buy (and on which point I essayed argument), has shown up secondhand. 

I couldn't stop myself.  

I now find myself wondering whether I need to get some expansions, and if so, which ones. Such is the gaming life.

In other, more miniatures-gamery news, I had to make another quick trip to Japan late last week to bring the kids back as a family situation has meant that my wife has had to stay on longer than we expected. On the last evening (of three) there I popped into a local hardware store and found, for about $2.30, wire enough to fit out a dozen pike armies. The beauty of this stuff is that it's stainless, cheap, and dead straight. 35cm sections, with one bend in each. A person of wargamery inclination can get seven to ten pikes per section. This lot should see me right for the rest of my (un)natural life!

I also snuck into the suitcase a few other bits and pieces I'd not previously had room to bring back. 1/72 Zvezda Samurai (could be used for another Borg-inspired project?), some WWII books, and not yet in my suitcase but will be in my darling wife's when she returns, a giant stash of my absolute favourite guitar picks, which can only be found in one shop, and then only if you are lucky. 

Not ideal circumstances, but sometimes you can still get your pikes and picks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

December WWII gaming

Before Christmas I was lucky enough to be able to head over to Japan with the family for a short trip to catch up with some people and spend a bit of time back in the old haunts.  We had various trips planned and things to do, but as fate would have it two of the young ones (not so young really, given they are now sixteen and fourteen!)* caught influenza which kept as mostly housebound for about half of the time I was over there (the family is staying over there a bit longer). 

Still, I managed to catch up with some old friends in our old town, one of whom has become quite a collector of games. One of his favourites is Memoir '44. I asked if he had anything he wanted to play, and this was what he was most keen on. At the age of 49, therefore, I got to play my first games of Memoir '44.

Memoir is not a series that I had ever been particularly interested in. It looked like toys in a box, the tanks are out of scale to the figures, and I played Commands & Colors: Ancients. 

There did not seem any need.

Well, what do I know. It turns out it was great fun. Trust Richard Borg!

Ben quickly ran me through the rules. Of course, the mechanics were familiar from C&C:A, but the tweaks oozed class and induced that nodding satisfaction that comes when you encounter something, know where it came from, and can see how it has built upon earlier iterations.

We played a desert scenario called Sbeitla, Tunisia, which was part of preprinted pack, saving the need to set up the terrain on the map. 

I played as the attacking Germans first up. The tactical position was interesting. The field was dominated by strongly positioned US artillery in the centre, a forward left flank of infantry and armour, and a refused infantry-heavy right flank with anti-tank capability. 

To face this I had a centre of infantry complemented by mixed infantry and armour on the flanks, with my left, bolstered by a veteran (four tanks rather than three) unit, stronger than my right.

Five banners were needed to win, which could be achieved by occupying key positions and/or eliminating enemy units. 

My main concern initially was the artillery, and early moves were focused on neutralising it. While working to this end I was hit by a couple of devastating special cards which destroyed one of my infantry units immediately. Gradually however my armour got into advantageous positions that, in combination with good cards, created opportunies to take enemy units in a crossfire and threaten the terrain objectives. 

Mid-game from the German side. Three banners scored each, but with some excellent opportunites for German armour... 

As it happened, the Germans were able to squeeze out a win by hunting down the vulnerable infantry on the US right. 

We switched sides and played again. In this game the Germans took an early lead and appeared to have the game for the taking, but a US fight back with a special armour assault card combined with lucky dice allowed the double-whammy of destroying units and taking objectives to snatch a victory. 

Game two in progress, from the perspective of the US.

I was impressed enough by Memoir to research its availability in New Zealand.  The boy though is not interested in wargames at this stage. If he were, it would be a great option. But the fact that he would rather do other things and that the subject of the original game is Normandy, which I already have plenty of gaming options for, means that I will likely hold off. Unless of course I find a secondhand copy going, or just change my mind!

When I got back home just after Christmas I took advantage of the 'bachelor life' to get in a game of Undaunted Normandy with SP, just before he took off to go on a cruise with family.

As always, it provided a good game with numerous tactical challenges. I forget which scenario we played, but it was one from the base game that we'd enjoyed first time round. Playing as the US I had a corner position on a hill trying to take objectives in the middle of the battlefield, but with not much cover around. SP as the Germans played an excellent game, presenting multiple threats that forced me to respond. While attempting to prevent my troops being massacred I worked on setting up a machine gun fire base to first neutralise his mortar and then dominate the centre. In doing so I was distracted from what I needed to do to win, which was take ground. SP gave me too much to do and while I was stuck in a reactive cycle he advanced into jump off points. I tried to respond in kind, but it was a little too late. He punished my infantry as they tried to contest the centre, took the objectives from his forward positions and won in handsome style. 

The field at game end.

And they've done it!

It really is a fantastic game, and such a good option to pull out on a week night. Plays fast, is engaging all the way through, and you can have a couple of beers and a yarn beforehand and still have time to get through a game or two.

Anyway, happy new year to you all, and hope it's a good year for everyone. 

*Where did those years go?!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tying up a loose end

Back in 2007, when I was living in Japan and my passion for Commands & Colors: Ancients was at its height, I took a 'partscaster'* version of the original back to New Zealand on holiday with a view to introducing the old man to it. 

He loved it. So much so that he ordered in copies of the original game and the first expansion from the US. He bought a folding table sized just right and sourced some large plastic containers to store the blocks in orderly, easy-access fashion. When I went back to NZ thereafter we would play his copies and we roped one of my brothers in to play as well. There were some great times, with that good-humoured banter that you get when playing games with members of your family. 

That was before the old man got sick. After he got sick, we went back to playing Catan, and later Carcassone. When he got really sick we moved back to New Zealand to spend time with him. Well, strictly speaking, I moved back to find a job and house so that we could bring my wife and the kids over, but things moved too fast for the family to get here in time. One of the last things I did gaming-wise with him was paint up some 20mm figures to make a 'partscaster' version of the Desert Raiders of Catan variant. He was proud of the figures but I think we only got to play about three times before it became too hard for him to muster the concentration needed to play.

When he passed away things were pretty raw for a while. I asked Mum if I could have his Commands & Colors games and a couple of other things. They've sat on my shelves for about four years.

My brother, who lives in Australia, every now and then gives me a video call for a catch up and a few drinks when he is back on shore (he skippers a fishing boat). Earlier this year he mentioned C&C:A and we talked about how much fun those games had been. He said he'd love to play again. I said I'd kept the old man's copies and would get them to him.

It turns out that Mum is heading over to Australia to visit Stu and his family for Christmas. Miracle of miracles, she has a bit of room in her suitcase and is happy to take the games over to him. I packed up everything in the original box and left the expansion box empty so Mum can see if she can fill it with socks or something and squeeze that in as well. She reckons she can.

The old man's giant plastic storage boxes are too big to send so I am keeping them here. I put all my blocks into them tonight.

My C&C:A collection now stored in the old man's containers.

It's a strange thing, but it feels like a bit of a weight off the shoulders. I guess it has resolved something that was perhaps more important that I had realised. 

Anyway, I've got us tickets to see Iron Maiden in Auckland in September, so we will be able to talk it through in person!

* for the non-guitarists out there, a 'partscaster' is an electric guitar you put together out of bits from different guitars, or that you assemble yourself from a kit.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Zama with Lost Battles

Old school mate SP was free tonight so we arranged to play a wargame. Being a bit tired of the various iterations of Undaunted, it seemed like a good opportunity to set up a game of Lost Battles, and Zama an excellent choice to blood my new Carthaginian elephants. 

Simon took the Romans. They are more straightforward to manage when it has been some time between games, and I was quite happy to have some nellies under my command again!

We used the historical scenario rather than the free deployment version to speed things up. To briefly describe the situation, both armies have a core of veteran infantry, but the Romans have significant cavalry superiority, and the Carthaginians have had to bring in less able troops to make up numbers, these not being a match for the veteran legionaries. 

Carthage hopes to hold out on the flanks as long as possible, damage the Roman veterans to score points, and maintain a bit of flexibility to respond to circumstances as they develop. For Rome the plan is to negate the elephants with light infantry, hold with the legions, win on the flanks, and grind the Carthaginian infantry down. 

View from the Carthaginian right during turn 2.

And view from the left.

It begins well enough for Carthage - a smattering of successes as the elephants and cavalry engage. Hannibal, feeling the pressure to hurt Rome fast, attacks with desperation; by contrast, Scipio, whose initial anti-elephant tactics prove wickedly adept, relaxes into a watchful and measured prosecution of the battle.

The elephants have been beaten back, injurious to their own side, by the Roman skirmishers.

The battle develops a pattern - ambitious Carthaginian efforts thwarted by careful Roman response, then countered by Roman riposte. In this way the Carthaginian right wing is bested. The Roman line, tested in the centre and on the right, holds. The Numidians on the other wing, countrymen matched against one another, circle and feint.   

The Roman heavy cavalry breaks through.

Carthage pulls infantry from the line to prevent cavalry encirclement at the very moment Rome presses with the legions. The cavalry breakthrough is contained, but the line buckles. Everywhere Carthage strives for effect, but everywhere it is held just short of success.

Hannibal urges the men on.

Carthage's last infantry reserves are thrown in - the veterans of the Italian campaign. Again, Rome holds. 

But on the left there is success at last - Masinissa is threatened by Hannibal's Numidians. One more hit will bring the wing to crisis. The hit does not come.

The fight on the Carthaginian left.

All along the line the pressure mounts. 

Rome outlasting Carthage in the infantry fight, but there is hope on our left.

Abruptly, Masinissa breaks his opponent. He is through! Hannibal pulls elephants back to head off the victorious horse.

The cavalry is contained - just - but the main line is weakening.

Rome remains steadfast. Hannibal rallies his troops under pressure. On the right, there is a chance to see off the Roman cavalry.

One chance! But Rome passes the test.

And with that, the line collapses. Multiple hits in multiple locations have driven the Carthaginian army to breaking point.

The left and right centres have been denuded of troops. The collapse starts on the right, and all run.

The moment just before Carthage is swept away.

And Scipio takes the battle and the points, 116 to 83. A clear victory.

Well done to SP. He played a strong, calm hand. He used favour of the gods rerolls judiciously, aiming to reduce potential damage over pressing for success, and kept giving himself chances to hurt me until eventually he did.

It was a tense, exciting game throughout. I felt I was just one good turn away from doing some serious damage, but SP made sure that that turn never came.

Really good to play Lost Battles again, and SP is keen to go again as soon as we are able.

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