Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Pharsalus - the return match

To continue the game series started last week SP and I got together Saturday for round two of Pharsalus. You can read about the first battle on the link above, but to recap, while Caesar won the battlefield victory after surrounding and routing the Pompeians, SP did enough damage to Caesar's veterans to win the game 106 to 101.

For round two we swapped sides - this time SP would take Caesar. Pompey's cavalry wing again commenced the fight with a successful charge, and again Pompey refused his right. Caesar advanced judiciously, took the flip flop on turn three, but failed to make much headway in the initial exchanges. 

The initial clash of cavalry (Caesar's to the left; Pompey's to the right). The prize, the Washbourn Trophy, sits in all its glory in the background. 

This changed on turn four, where a succession of successful attacks against Pompey's wing and centre caused nervous flutters on the other side of the table. Pompey's men replied in kind and by the end of the turn both sides had lost a unit in the cavalry fight. 

The lines meet.

From turn five onwards Caesar's veterans began to exert their dominance. Pompey's troops suffered mounting attrition, but were able to manage to inflict some damage of their own. 

Pompey's wing gave way on turn 6, allowing Caesar to get in behind the Pompeian line and lower the morale rating of Pompey's own zone, which routed soon after. Elsewhere, Antony struggled to make much of an impact against the determined resistance and ferocious attacks of the Pompeian right. 

Pompey's zone about to rout in the foreground.

With time almost up, the Pompeian centre routed, leaving just the right on the field. But they were still largely untouched, and fighting a wholly spent Antony. 

The end is near for the Pompeian centre.

Antony lost a unit shattered and was only saved for further embarrassment by a determined attack on the part of the veteran cavalry into the flank of the Pompeian legionaries on the final turn of the game.

The fighting by the river is vicious.

At this the remaining Pompeians routed and it was time to check the scores.

Caesar had done 96 points of damage to 72 by Pompey. When the handicap was added on, it was found that Pompey had won the game by 102 points to 96. 

When the scores of the two games were summed, it turned out that SP had managed 202 across the two battles to yours truly's 203, meaning that the Washbourn Trophy came back to its rightful home by the closest of margins. 

I was a little surprised to win a game victory here. We only shattered two units, but the difference was that we routed after eight units were shattered, whereas in the first game Caesar had shattered ten units in his win. This seemingly minor difference was reflected in the points scored, and shows how tight the margins can be under the Lost Battles handicap system.

So, a fine pair of games, and a good way to introduce SP to brilliant generals. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Pharsalus with SP

The figure gaming drought was broken last weekend with a refight of Pharsalus using - you guessed it - Lost Battles. The family has gone back to Japan for a visit now that the borders have reopened somewhat so with the house to myself it has been a bit easier to use the hobby space (i.e., I can set up the computer on the dining room table rather than on one of the hobby ones!).

SP is still learning the rules, so I thought it was time to bring in a brilliant general so that he can see the affect of a 'flip-flop' on the tactics of the game. In a flip-flop, the brilliant general once per game can reverse the turn order, effectively allowing him to position himself for a more lethal attack, reinforce a zone, or else to exploit a breakthrough.

Pharsalus, when using the historical deployments, is a fairly straightforward affair in Lost Battles. The main choice is about when and how Caesar is to reinforce his right wing cavalry, and then it's about rolling dice and intervening with attack bonuses at appropriate times. Crucially, there is also the matter of when to employ 'favour of the gods' (essentially a re-roll for either an attack you've flunked or one that the enemy has prosecuted a little too vigorously for one's liking). With favour of the gods, once one side has used it, they cannot use it again until their opponent has. As you can imagine, it leads to some difficult decisions in-game and, during the post-mortems, moments for reflection when you consider the coulda, woulda, shouldas. 

SP wanted to take up the cudgel for Pompey, so we started the action on turn two (turn one being taken up by the historical deployments).

As I'm sure most readers are aware, Pompey and the Optimates have numerical superiority in both horse and foot, and have concentrated the cavalry on the left under Caesar's old Gallic War lieutenant Labienus. To counter this cavalry supremacy, Caesar used a 'fourth line' - veteran legionaries supposedly re-armed with long spears and tasked with reinforcing the wing once the cavalry battle had commenced. To reflect Caesar's qualitative superiority, all his troop units are rated veteran, which gives them high morale, better manoeuvrability, and cheaper access to attack bonuses (i.e., +1s to attacks which are paid for with excess command points). 

Pompey's army has a fighting value of 77, and Caesar's 92. 


The battlefield at start.

Pompey began with a powerful cavalry attack. He scored three hits across two attacks, spending one unit of Caesar's cavalry and shattering the other. Caesar elected not to use FotG to call for a re-roll. Elsewhere, Pompey advanced in his own zone and the centre, leaving his right refused.

Caesar employed the flip-flop immediately to reinforce the cavalry with the fourth line, and advanced Antony into contact on his left.

The serious fighting now commenced. 

Mid battle, with the cavalry fight still undecided.

Both sides experienced rising attrition in in the infantry fight. As units became spent they were recycled from the front line to avoid being shattered. Caesar eventually won the cavalry battle (but not without another fright or two) and got in behind the Pompeian line to reduce the enemy's morale. With both sides almost entirely spent and a corresponding reduced ability to recycle, units began to shatter. 

It was at this time that Caesar's veterans came into their own. Utilising their superior manoeuvrability, Caesar was able to shuffle fresh units from one zone to another to increase the overall resilience of the line. Pompey, having no such capacity, began to lose units sooner.

It was his right that came under pressure first, as Antony pressed the attack remorselessly. Before long Pompey's own zone began to falter as well.

Final moments.

At last the Pompeians, with eight units shattered and two zones surrounded, collapsed, but not before having inflicted significant damage on Caesar's own zone. 

In the final accounting we found Caesar had inflicted 101 points of damage on the Pompeians and suffered 76 himself. When the handicap was added (double the difference in fighting value between the two armies), Pompey had scored a narrow game victory of 106 vs 101. 

Caesar was left to rue a couple of moments - not using FotG to deflect the first charge of Labienus and his cavalry, and not attempting to rally a unit that shattered in his own zone being particular examples - but the result was a fair reflection of the battle. After that initial attack on the cavalry I always felt I needed to be doing more damage than I was managing to.

It was a close-fought, nerve-wracking fight, just as Pharsalus should be. SP played with his usual cool head and aversion to excessive risk-taking, both attributes serving him well in pulling off the game victory.

Round two, to decide the holder of the Washbourn Trophy, will be fought today with sides reversed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Bruce Catton

I was browsing thebookdepository.com the other day looking to see if they had the new Gettysburg Solitaire book from Worthington Games. It turns out they didn't, but somehow or other (as one does) I ended up going down an internet rabbit hole. This time it led to Bruce Catton. I'd owned one of his books and loved it (I forget which one - A Stillness at Appomattox, perhaps?) but had lent it to someone and not got it back.

Since that first reading I've always checked secondhand book shops just in case they have any Catton on the shelves but I've not had any luck so far. I imagine it would be a bit different if you were shopping in the US, however!

Anyway, by roundabout means, I came across the website of a secondhand book store in Wellington called Haven Books which had a copy of the Army of the Potomac trilogy. I ordered it and it arrived today, well-thumbed, yellowed, and obviously much-read. Just how a book should be.

But my search also turned up another gem - a C-Span video of a lecture on Bruce Catton given at Gettysburg by David Blight.  I won't spoil it with an inadequate introduction, but if you have an hour and fifteen minutes to spare, you might find it worth your time.   

To close, the Gettysburg movie, Catton, Foote, and Burns have no doubt been the catalysts for many a Civil War obsession. Do readers have any other particular books, videos or lectures that got them interested in the ACW? 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Back on the horse(s)

Well, I stopped procrastinating, rearranged the garage, bought myself a lamp, and started prepping some Greeks for the Mantinea battle day project. I've jumped into cavalry and Theban hoplites first. The figures are a reminder of just how lovely the Xyston figures in this range are - beautifully sculpted, characterfully posed, and nicely proportioned; just slightly north of average for 15mm, they are not yet at the giant stage that the Hellenistics became - but also of how much of a pain it is to drill out hands for spears. 

The other problem of course it that they are intimidating. For a limited painter such as myself there is always the feeling that you won't be able to do them justice. 

Garage prep space.

But making a start is the thing. 

In other news I succumbed to an artfully placed ad while browsing TheBookDepository and ordered Undaunted Normandy. It arrived on Saturday (along with my Landmark Caesar, which is just as good as I'd hoped) and I opened it up for a wee test run on Sunday.

The first scenario in the game booklet

The first thing you notice is that the components look a lot nicer on the table than they do in photos. I was impressed enough to almost go and order the expansions on the strength of the look and feel alone. Better sense prevailed however, and I decided that I would force myself to discover whether I actually liked the game before ordering anything more (radical idea, I know!). 

How is the game? Well, I must preface my comments with the caveat that while I love the idea of squad level WWII games, in practice I mostly find them ho-hum. This one might turn out to be all right. It has a card management aspect to it that I think could be quite enjoyable with the right opponent. Solo it lacks a bit, but then that is true for most games. 

The essence of the game seems to be to build up the cards in your draw deck so as to allow you to string together move and fire sequences (or fire and move sequences, if you prefer) that will put your opponent under pressure. Interestingly, when you fire and hit an opponent's piece, you don't remove the piece, you remove one of the cards which could activate that piece. The piece is only removed when there are no accessible cards for it remaining.

So there is a natural attrition there, but it takes place in the card decks, not on the board itself. Your pieces become less able to act the more they are hit (i.e. there are fewer cards left in the deck left with which the piece can be activated), and the more pieces move, the more undesirable cards are introduced into the deck, thus making it less likely that you'll be able to pull the cards you want when you want them. This is presumably a mechanism to represent the difficulty of coordinating effectively over longer distances.

Pleasingly, Undaunted doesn't have those overpowered 'heroic leadership' pieces which seem to drive so many tactical WWII games. Leadership is abstracted into allowing you to choose cards to put in your deck, and is not the old '+2 to hit when Sergeant Skegg is stacked with your MG squad' type arrangement. 

Not an heroic NCO in sight!

I only played through about five or six turns, but will do a proper review when I've had the chance to mangle my way through a couple of games. 

A good weekend, then! I hope any readers who've got this far also had a productive Saturday and Sunday.

Cheers! 


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Working through prep for 2nd Mantinea

As mentioned in my last post, the Society of Ancients Battle Day for 2023 has been announced as 2nd Mantinea, 362BC. This is the first time in a couple of years that the battle is one I have armies for, so I'm determined to make the most of it. Pleasingly, although I don't have all of the troops I'll need painted yet, I do have a pretty decent start made on them. 

My rules of choice will likely be Lost Battles, so it's the Lost Battles scenario I'll look to to work out how many more troops I'll need to paint up. Bearing in mind that the troop scale is 2.5, it will be 1250 men per average infantry unit, half that for veterans, double for levies, and average cavalry will represent 625 actual horsemen per unit.

Allies: 

2 x Veteran Hoplites (Spartan)

8 figures per unit - 16 figures total 

13 x Average Hoplites (5 x Athenian, 2 x Mantinean, 2 x Elean, 2 x Achaean, 1 Arcadian, 1 Allied

16 figures per unit - 208 figures total

1 x Average Light Infantry (Mercenary)

16 figures per unit

3 x Average Heavy Cavalry (1 Spartan, 1 Athenian, 1 Elean Achaean and Arcadian)

9 figures per unit - 27 figures total

Total figures needed: 224 hoplites, 16 light infantry, 27 heavy cavalry


Thebans:

Average Leader plus Veteran Hoplites (Epaminondas and the Sacred Band)

8 figures per unit, plus Epaminondas and companion - 10 figures total

8 x Average Hoplites (2 x Theban, 3 x Boeotian,  2 x Tegian, 1 Megapolitan, Asean and Pallantian)

16 figures per unit - 128 figures total

5 x Levy Hoplites (2 x Argive, 1 Euboean, 1 Thessalian, 1 Messenian and Sicyonian)

32 figures per unit - 160 figures total

3 x Average Light Infantry ( 1 x Locrian, Malian and Aenianian, 1 Thessalian, 1 Euboean and Mercenary)

16 figures per unit - 48 figures total

4 x Average Heavy Cavalry (2 x Thessalian, 1 Theban, 1 Boeotian)

9 figures per unit - 36 figures total

Total figures needed: 2 leaders, 296 hoplites, 48 light infantry, 36 heavy cavalry


Grand total: 2 leaders, 524 hoplites, 64 light infantry, 63 heavy cavalry

Next step will be to work out how many figures I have already painted, and how many are in the lead mountain. Hopefully I will not need to buy any more, but if I do, it won't be the biggest disaster in the world. There is a little flexibility, too: if I end up being short I could use 12 figure units for light infantry and 24 figure units for the levy hoplites without losing too much in the look of it all.


Painted: 

64 Thebans (Xyston), 64 Generic hoplites (Black Hat) / 8 unpainted (unknown make), 88 unpainted (Xyston) - 224. (300 if Italians are added) - enough for Thebans

64 Spartans, 96 Generic hoplites (Xyston) / 64 unpainted (Xyston) - enough for Allies.

48 Levy hoplites (Old Glory Italians, but they could pass at a pinch)

28 Hoplites (Chariot Italians which could pass at a pinch).

48 Light Infantry with javelin and small shield (old Glory) / 32 unpainted (Xyston)

48 light infantry with bow or sling.

Oodles of peltasts.


Unpainted (all Xyston):

8 Mounted Generals

8 Cavalry with petasos and pilos in chitons

12 Cavalry with Boiotian helmets

8 Cavalry armoured with Boiotian helmets

12 Thessalian Cavalry with cloaks and chitons

20 Cavalry with petasos and pilos in metal and linen armour

12 Spartan Cavalry

19 foot command


To paint: 

64 Spartan hoplites, 88 Theban hoplites, 19 foot command

80 cavalry, though I can get away with a few less.


To buy:

Ideally, I would purchase and paint up another 72 generic hoplites (and about 120 more so I don't have to use Spartans for Athenians etc.!) I will think about this...


Monday, March 21, 2022

Society of Ancients Battle Day

Yesterday the Society of Ancients held their battle day. This year it was Adrianople; last year it was Bosworth. 

I have nothing against those battles of course, but as I do not have figures for them those battle days have passed without much comment or fanfare from yours truly. 

Battle day for 2023 will soon be announced. Apparently, the person who will do the presentation for it next year is Duncan Head, of (amongst other things) Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars fame. 

There is a flutter in my Macedonian and Punic Wars breast....

I am hoping that it will be Magnesia. 

Elephants, scythed chariots, Antiochus the Great, phalangites, cataphracts; legions, a camp, Eumenes of Pergamum and - da-dum-dum-dum - Scipio's younger brother?


EDIT - as it turns out, the battle will be 2nd Mantinea, which is an excellent choice, especially as I have a swag of more Xyston Greeks to paint. This might be just what I need to get started on them!

 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

To everything there is a season

Goes the verse. 

I was lucky enough to get into wargaming seriously at a propitious time. I had long had an interest in it, had borrowed books from the library as a kid, had played rules-based games with a friend and his older brother, but had never really collected armies, boardgames or rules. When I did decide to get into wargaming in 2005, the variety had never been better, information had never been more freely available, and, because of the internet, wargaming was accessible to a degree it had not been before. I had disposable income (this is before children!), shipping was relatively cheap, and it was possible to collect figures rules and games from all around the world without the cost seeming burdensome. I could buy a 15mm army for the price of a night out. Being in Japan, I could get hobby paints for about US$1. What could be better?

I hoovered up painting guides from helpful people on theminiaturespage.com. I joined yahoo groups to learn about rules. I ordered my first figures through Magister Militum in the UK, then happened upon some old stock sales in the US and picked up masses of Xyston Greeks and Macedonians at $1.80 a pack and Old Glory 15s in the old 50 foot/16 mounted bags for $7 each. What a way that was to kick start a collection!

I discovered Commands and Colors: Ancients, joined the online VASSAL tournaments, and won a few of them. I met my Italian gaming buddies Roberto and Andrea. I wrote quite a lot on Boardgamegeek. 

In Japan where I lived at the time I found fellow gamers Luke and Pat. I was introduced to Phil Sabin's Strategos II (later to become Lost Battles) and joined the yahoo group. There was stimulating conversation, intense discussion (mainly courtesy of the late Patrick Waterson), and a set of rules you could get behind. I became a member of the Society of Ancients. 

It was a brilliant, exciting time. Armies got painted, games were played, articles were written, friends were made. Everything was new and fresh.

I started a blog to record what I was doing, and to write those sorts of battle reports I had loved in the books I borrowed from the library as a kid.

*****

Fast forward to 2022, and the landscape is different. Theminiaturespage is a shadow of its former self. Yahoo groups, those rules petri dishes, have vanished. Figure suppliers have gone out of business, passed away, or sold their ranges to others. Prices for 15mm figures have doubled in the UK in some cases. International shipping has become almost unaffordable. Consolidation of manufacturers and pre-packaged plastics sets appear to be the way the market is moving.  

Blogging has lost a lot of its early zest and joyfulness. Bloggers have quietly stopped updating, have moved on in their lives, or had adverse events intervene. The ever-increasing reach of social media has shortened attention spans. Who wants to read a thousand-word blogpost any more? Who wants to write them? 

As people get older, focus changes. You get a little over-familiar with the actual playing of games and start to think about 'legacy' elements, such as bringing new gamers into the hobby, promoting games that you like, building a following, or changing attitudes. When 'legacy' becomes the focus, the hobby becomes less about sharing your own joy and more about getting responses. If you don't get the responses you feel your efforts deserve, dissatisfaction and frustration find a way in. Desire wanes. 

There comes a point when you have to re-evaluate what it is that you enjoy about the hobby and what is it that gives you satisfaction. Is it playing a game with friends? Is it writing up a report of a solo game? Is it researching and painting armies? Is it writing rules or scenarios? Is it bringing other people into the wargaming? Whatever the things that you enjoy are, you have to find them and respect them, because once aspects of how you practise the hobby start to seem like work, it is no longer fun.

I write this because one of my favourite bloggers, Norm Smith of Battlefields and Warriors, is downing tools for a spell. I'm sure we all feel a bit of sadness about that, but also understand it, because we go through those phases ourselves.

I guess the point of this post and my message to Norm (to all of us, really) is that how we interact with wargaming and what we get out of it changes over time. That's natural and to be expected. There is no shame in it. The important thing is to recognise that a hobby has to be about enjoyment. It can't be about meeting expectations - well, it can be for a while, but that is unsustainable. Enjoyment is what first attracts us, but it is also the easiest thing to lose when we start getting caught up in other, more peripheral, things. 

Wargaming will be here when we are ready to come back to it. And Norm, we look forward to seeing you back writing if and when that again becomes one of those things that gives you joy.

Until then, cheers, and thanks for all your efforts. Much appreciated.  

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