Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

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.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

First figures painted in five years

There is a minor celebration underway at house Prufrock - we have painted out first figures for, as the title suggests, five years. It doesn't seem that long, but it is. 

Anyway, the figures are from the Fighting 15s (old Black Hat) Punic Wars range: their Carthaginian elephants and crew. 

The painting is a bit rough, and although I have glasses now, four years working with computers eight hours a day has taken its toll, and I just don't see the detail as well as I used to. These photos do show me that washes are going to have to be even more of a friend than they have been previously! I might also have to look at contrast paints. I can still 'paint between the lines' but I don't see well enough to highlight in a way that is not blobby. That may improve with practice, but definitely some technical adjustments are in order. 

Anyway, I'm glad to say the duck has been broken, and I will now have enough Carthaginian elephants to be able to stage Bagradas in Lost Battles. 

The next picture really shows the 'blobbiness' of the face highlight I did post-magic wash. I will be able to improve this by adding another wash to bring out the detail. Possibly more damning, it also shows my failure to properly file off the seams in the models, which I will have to watch out for in future.

And a comparison to a Chariot 15 Hellenistic jumbo painted some years ago. Size works well, but you can see the difference in the painting. The old painting was not especially good, but the more recent ones are clearly less carefully done.

But, to be honest, I don't really mind. Given that my painting output has been zero for as long as it has (and for a while I wondered if I would actually paint anything again at all), I'm just pleased to be back on the horse - or elephant, if you prefer.

While I was rummaging around I also tidied up a few other figures that had lost shields or spears in the move over to New Zealand. My next plan is to look at the Numidian horse and bring those bases up to standard. I painted them a very long time ago and they never got a coat of varnish. Some paint has flaked off, and the mixture of matt, satin and gloss finishes from the various paints used is not very pleasing. The idea is to patch them up a bit, give them a bit of the magic wash, and then hit them with a matt spray. 

As for what's after that, we'll see what happens. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

If I could turn back time...

JWH, in his Heretical Gaming blog, recently put up a post - inspired by the late great Peter Young - on the advice he would give to a wargamer just starting out. It is a post worth reading and as an added bonus leads naturally to a person wanting to put up something of their own on the same topic.  

So what would I tell a younger person starting out on their wargaming adventures?

1) Do what you enjoy. Obvious, but harder to keep to than you'd think. There are times when a person buys into something for some other reason: because it's good value; because you feel you should; because you make a plan with another gamer or group; because it might be good for a rainy day. You really don't want to waste time and energy into armies or periods or rules that you won't enjoy. Life is too short.

2) Build both sides. Wargaming is often a solitary activity, so don't be reliant on others. People move; people get busy. Keep your independence. Make sure that you can use those figures solo.

3) Expand on what you have. Easy when you play ancients or WWII, but it applies to other periods too. Why build Romans and Britons in 2mm when you already have part of what you need in 15mm? If you have Carthaginians, you're not far off being able to field an army of Spanish, Gauls, or Numidians. Have Marian Romans? Build a few more units of legionaries and you'll be able to play out Roman civil wars till the end of your days. But see point 1 - choose your expansions wisely!

4) Make wargaming friends who know more than you. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance early on of a couple of grizzled wargame veterans. They show you the standard, give you good practical advice, and help remove mental obstacles. Invaluable.  

5) Get things while you can. You have to be sensible (well, maybe not all of us!), but work on the principle of get what you need when it's available. Vendors close down, lines disappear, prices go up, and personal circumstances change. If you can afford to get what you need now, do it. You can paint at your leisure, but you may not be able to pick up 240 Macedonian phalangites from that manufacturer at that price ever again...

6) Push yourself to paint hard while your eyes are good. Once they go, you'll wish you had painted more when it was easy!

7) Invest in making your table look good. You can have the loveliest armies in the world, but they only look as good as the terrain they are situated in.

8) Be as consistent as you can with your basing and painting styles. Try to do things in such a way that what you produce now will work with what you will produce in ten years.  

9) Find some board games you like. They are easy to set up (provided you have some space around the home) and they offer a different perspective. You can game when you don't feel inspired, they are portable, and they are a great way to introduce non-gaming friends to the hobby. 

10) Take things seriously, but not too much. You need a certain amount of fire and motivation to get projects underway and finished, but we're only playing with toy soldiers. It's not worth making enemies over and some of those rants a person can go off on don't always look so righteous five years down the track!

11) It's a big hobby. You will have times when you're on for certain aspects of it and times when you're not. Make the most of it all - writing, blogging, rules-writing, painting, researching, playing, youtubing, terrain-building, podcasting, and whatever else. Enjoy the variety and don't stress when you're having a fallow period.

12) Be aware that your gaming will go through different phases. Life will intrude. You will have times when there are funds to use and times when there are not. Use the former to help you get through the latter!

13) Have a big idea to work towards. 

14) Have fun!

Thanks for the inspiration JWH (and many others at different times), and anyone reading please feel free to add comments or link below to your own takes on this.

Cheers, and hobby on!

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