Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In memory of JFN

Today would have been my maternal grandfather's 91st birthday.

Jim was born in Otago in New Zealand's South Island, serving a rough apprenticeship on saw mills and steam engines as a youth.  There is a picture of him at 18 years old, tough and lean, peeling potatoes with his crew.  All his life he retained a love of steam, taking us grandchildren to those museums which maintained working engines around the district and even building a miniature replica of his own. 

In the war years he fought as an infantryman with the 26th Battalion of the 2nd NZEF, experiencing at first hand the horrors of Cassino.  He would tell us grandkids the odd funny story but didn't say much about the rest.  Family tradition has it that on one occasion a shell landed nearby and what was left of his mate fitted into a matchbox. 

I imagine he must have been haunted by a few things.

He was always deeply affected by the sound of the pipes. He had Scottish heritage of which he was very proud, but also spoke of hearing the Scots advancing to the pipes off to a flank and this was not something he ever forgot.  The family surprised him with a piper on the occasion of his 70th birthday.  It is a memory I cherish.

After the war he found work as a carpenter, married, and produced two sons and three daughters.  He was a good honest man who drove a Dodge and worked hard but never saw great financial return from his labours.  He built his own house out of town but was forced to sell up and move in closer to doctors and amenities as he and my grandmother grew older.  They retired together on a pension to a kitset house in a newly-developed neighbourhood and while he put on a brave face he missed his shed, his wood-turning lathe and, I suppose, the satisfaction that comes from living in a home you have built with your own hands, among neighbours you've known for many years.

I didn't see him so much after I went to university, but whenever I went home I would go to see him and my grandmother and no matter how old he felt he would always rise out of his chair and greet me with a powerful hug and affectionate words.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep in 1998.  I still think of him often and while I have never been able to properly articulate how important he was to me, I did have the chance to try one time when he was very ill.  He just said "I know, son". Those three words have given me much peace.

He has thirteen grandchildren and (so far) sixteen great-grandkids.  My own kids never got a chance to meet him, but I reckon if they did they would love him to bits, just as I did.

So happy birthday Jim, and I hope they have something 'medicinal' hidden away in a cupboard somewhere that they bring out for you on occasions like this!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Unhappy King Charles!

Set up UKC tonight for a look.  It is quite an impressive sight.

I have a couple of PBEM games scheduled and am liking what I'm seeing so far.  No doubt there will be further posts to follow...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trebia in miniature with Lost Battles. Video reports.

I recently played through a couple of refights of Trebia using Lost Battles, with the idea being to video the games as pseudo-instructional efforts.

I gave it two goes, and while the second effort is far superior to the first, it's still very long, and contains a mistake which, although not game-breaking, got me annoyed with myself.  Given the number of times I've played the system you'd think I'd be able to count correctly!   Grrrr! 

Still, it's too much of a mission to remake it again just on account of that, so I've posted it, error and all.

I daresay that my droning voice and ubiquitous use of 'so' as a transitional tool will drive any viewers up the wall, but I'll put the videos up here anyway.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  I have plenty of soap and water to wash the filth off, so don't hold back! 

Part 1:  Introduction.

Part 2:  Deployment turn.

Part 3: Turn 2.

Part 4: Turn 3.

Part 5: Turn 4.

Part 6: Turn 5.

Part 7: Turn 6.

Part 8: Turn 7 and wrap.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lost Battles instructional videos.

Here are some instructional videos I put together some time ago as an introduction to Lost Battles.  They were done on the fly and are pretty amateur but may be of some use to some, I hope!

Part one:

Part two:

Part three:

Part four:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Caesar's Conquest of Gaul.

Caesar’s conquest of Gaul is one of the most successful invasions and subjugations of a people in history.

In Caesar's time, barbarian Gaul was – as the man himself so famously observed - divided into three parts. The Belgae inhabited the area that is modern Belgium and the Netherlands, bounded by the Marne, the Seine, and the Rhine. The Celts occupied the region from the Marne and Seine to the Garonne in the south and the Rhone in the east. The Aquitanii controlled the area south of the Garonne to the Pyrenees, constrained in the west by the Atlantic Ocean and in the east by the Roman province.

Map from the website 
The Gallic tribes were warlike. Frequently fighting amongst themselves, subject to ancient hatreds, forming alliances based upon friendship, conquest or shared interests, they were, according to Caesar, passionate, willful, easily lead and easily discouraged.

They were in awe of the Germans who, in their periodic ventures across the Rhine, had time and again proved themselves hardier and more formidable in the field than their more civilized Gallic cousins.

At the time of Caesar, Roman traders were already established in many areas of Gaul, bringing wine and other luxuries in exchange for slaves and raw materials. Rome had established friendly relationships and more or less formal alliances with some Gallic and German entities, most notably the Aedui. For Rome’s prestige it was important that her friends a) accepted Roman direction and b) were materially improved by the relationship.

Into this jumped Caesar. Rightly or wrongly, he found a pretext for war, and between 58BC and 50BC proceeded to bring Gaul into the Roman fold, defeating his enemies in open battle, by siege, on sea and on land, subjugating them militarily and diplomatically, physically and psychologically, and did so so completely that this passionate people did not cause any more trouble for Rome for a very long time.

What then were the factors in Caesar’s success?

1) Command flexibility. Caesar and his subordinates were sufficiently capable to deal with all issues that arose. They were able to learn from past mistakes and could improvise solutions to problems caused by local conditions and unfamiliar tactics. The Rhine is an obstacle? Bridge it. The Venetii have command of the sea? Build a fleet. Their vessels are more mobile than those of the Romans? Devise a tool to bring down the enemy’s sails. There are many more such examples.

2) Pragmatism. Ever practical, Caesar tailored his approach to meet the changing social, political and military situation in Gaul. He used diplomacy when it seemed appropriate, force when a statement had to be made, and was not above employing dubious arguments and dirty tricks to achieve his ends. The Germans send their leaders as envoys? Arrest them and slaughter the leaderless rest.

3) Clear goals. Apart perhaps from his expedition to Britain, Caesar knew what he wanted to do and made sure that his subordinates knew this as well. The definition of victory was clear, and the path to it well-trodden: subdue the enemy, take hostages, form alliances, honour friendships, create dependency, provide protection, crush opposition.

4) Intelligence. Caesar’s intelligence network was very good. Most of the time he seemed to know what was brewing, and in addition to this helping him prepare to meet the enemy it allowed him to spin the narrative of war for political gain. There were times when he was caught unprepared – the attacks on Sabinus and Cotta and then Cicero being cases in point – but generally speaking the intelligence he gathered allowed him to meet the enemy on equal or superior terms, and to do this hundreds of miles into hostile territory. This was a considerable feat.

5) The motivation of the troops. Under Caesar, the legionaries could be sure that bravery would be acknowledged by their commanders, cowardice punished, and battlefield success rewarded with loot, slaves and – when it was all over – land to settle down on. With success translating directly into honours and material gain, Caesar’s men were devoted to their commander and proud of their reputation. Caesar had only to disparagingly address his mutinous soldiers as “citizens!” to quell dissent.

6) Man management. Caesar was acutely aware of the psychological state of his men and took care to build up morale before pushing them into a fight. When facing a formidable enemy he would test the mettle of his men in skirmishes, improve confidence through demonstrated success, shame the reluctant into action (“All I need is my loyal Tenth!”) and seek out every advantage that terrain, logistics or morale could give him. His skill in manipulating the psychological state of his men was a key element in his success. He would refuse to engage if he was unconvinced that his troops were mentally up to the task.

7) Generalship. Caesar was clearly a general of genius. Not only did he devise appropriate strategy and tactics, demonstrate command expertise and inspire his troops, but he could also frequently get inside the head of the enemy and induce them to engage him at a disadvantage.

8) Demonstration. Caesar was a master of the big statement. Whether it was slaughtering the vanquished, bridging the Rhine, invading Britain, besieging Alesia or any of the countless other demonstrations of Roman and Julian might we read of in the Gallic War, Caesar constantly impressed on both enemies and friends his military power, engineering ability, diplomatic clout and implacable will to victory. This must have had a daunting effect on the morale of all who came up against him.

9) Building local relationships. Caesar was careful to reward those Gallic individuals and tribes that sided with him. He was forgiving – to a degree – of their occasional reluctance to co-operate, and made a point of improving the lot of his allies both in terms of territory and in terms of honour in counsel. He used both the carrot and the stick effectively.

10) Commitment. The Gauls soon realized to their dismay that Rome was here to stay, and while this united opposition against Caesar, it also gave his allies confidence that there was a future in siding with Rome. He demonstrated that he would not be put off by setbacks, would not vacate Gaul, and would not abandon his friends to vengeful enemies. His defeat of the Germans sent a powerful message, and over time the tribes came to see that there was more to be gained by friendship with Rome than opposition to her. That sentiment reached tipping point, and by the end of Caesar's governorship the tribes were grudgingly accepting of the Roman yoke.

11) Remorselessness and magnanimity. Caesar would neither give up nor rest until he had avenged defeat or insult. Troop losses were replaced by a factor of two to one, and the tribes which continued to oppose him paid an unbearably heavy price. But he also respected bravery and was generous to enemies who submitted to him. A terrible enemy and a good friend, there was little shame in losing to him, but a great incentive to show him loyalty.

In this brief analysis I have narrowed down the factors in Caesar's success to eleven points, but these could easily be expanded or contracted.  What seems clear to me - by any definition - is that Caesar’s achievement was remarkable. Even today his methods and successes stand out, and without wanting to get into political territory here I think there are cautionary lessons to be drawn from Caesar’s example that modern politicians would do well to study.

So, what do readers think?  Do you agree with this assessment of the important factors in Caesar's success?  Are there other key contributors that I have missed out?  Do you feel I have got my facts wrong or jumped to conclusions that the historical record does not support?

Please feel free to discuss, criticize or comment, and thanks for reading.

Map taken from Wikimedia Commons,

Richard Berg's Glory II: Quick Review and Salem Church Scenario

Richard Berg's Glory American Civil War system, published by GMT, has so far produced three games, covering the battles of First and Second Manassas, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Cedar Creek. The first installment was published in 1995, the second in 2002 and the third in 2007. As one would expect from a series that has been around this long, the rules have undergone some revision since they first appeared.  This is a good thing.  The system takes a straightforward and uncomplicated approach to hex-and-counter ACW warfare.

As another positive, the series rules are intuitive and easy to learn, meaning that the game can be quickly brought to table.  While there are a few modifiers (mainly terrain-centric) to get used to, there is no need to get hung up about whether you're playing the line of sight rules correctly or have got the turn order right.

The scale in Glory II is 315 yards per hex and each strength point is worth 200 men or 3-4 guns.  Individual units are brigades, brigades are activated by division, and in the bigger scenarios divisions are activated individually within a larger corps activation.

Each turn equates to about 45 minutes.  Units will typically activate twice within a game turn.

Infantry moves 4 hexes per turn, cavalry 6, and artillery 5.  Movement can be increased if at a distance from the enemy, and actual distance moved is (as usual in wargames...) reduced depending upon the type of terrain encountered.  In clear ground the maximum movement rate for infantry works out to about 2 miles per hour, but extended movement will increase that by up to a third.

There are three types of combat: artillery, defensive fire and charge.  All are resolved on the roll of a single d10, with applicable modifiers.  Results include disorder, retreat, and cohesion tests, often in combination.

Units which perform no movement or fire during an activation can attempt to rally from disorder, but a unit that takes a second hit while disordered is withdrawn from the board.  Withdrawn units get one reform opportunity, and if this test is failed will be permanently eliminated.

Non-artillery combat follows a simple and speedy procedure: active units adjacent to the enemy may, if desired, initiate a 'charge'.   When they do so, the defender gets to roll defensive fire and if this fails to halt the attacker(s) a charge will be made, with its result, for good or ill, depending on another d10 roll. Odds change according to terrain, troop quality and troop numbers, but with all things being equal a charging attacker that makes it through the defensive fire stage will get a good result about 50% if the time and a bad one the rest of the time.  Brigades take disorder hits and retreats, and if they are forced to retreat into the path of enemy units will take an extra hit, which will usually result in the withdrawal of the unit.

There is a neat little covering rule that prevents attackers from ganging up unrealistically on one defender, so players are rewarded for keeping good defensive lives.  As this makes it difficult to get significant odds-shifts in the attackers' favour the ideal tactic is to exploit open flanks, but where that is impossible (and it usually is) units must hammer away grimly at the line trying to make a hole that can be exploited by following waves of troops.

So far so good.

But there is a potential downside, and this is that the Glory system does not track casualties at the unit level, so on-table combat attrition is understood only in terms of disorder.  For those used to tracking both casualties and morale states, this is quite an abstraction.  It can be disconcerting to see a brigade spend all day fighting - rallying each disorder suffered - but still ending the day at the same strength it started.  The effect of casualties is felt at divisional and corps level, in eliminated units, rather than at the brigade level through loss of strength points.

Not tracking casualties may be an abstraction too far for some, but on the whole this broad-brush approach seems to give generally realistic results. I'm not expert in the ACW, but the tactics players are encouraged / forced to use seem to me not entirely dissimilar to those of their historical counterparts.

The combat system is chaotic; it is important to maintain reserves to follow up attacks or replace disordered units with fresh ones.  Attacks are never sure; it is difficult to coordinate with units from different divisions. There is a joyous frustration to it all as again and again troops on the verge of a great success are forced to stop and reform, giving the defenders time do the same.

This all seems to accord reasonably well with my (limited) reading on the subject.

So, in summary, we've got plenty of different battles, simple rules and a realistic feel - though I'd want to research casualty rates before making any unequivocal pronouncements on that score.  While it is possibly too abstract for some, for me it does not have the inertia-inducing detail I find in more complex systems so this - in addition to its other virtues - makes it well-suited for solo play.

What follows is a quick replay of the Salem Church scenario from Glory II: Across the Rappahannock.  This is one of the smallest scenarios, taking just four turns and using only about thirty units all told.  The Confederates, under McLaws, are dug in on the ridge either side of Salem church, while Sedgwick is trying to get through or around them to take control of the pike behind.

Brooks' men come down the pike towards the Confederate position (note the nicely detailed map and refreshing lack of marker-clutter).

The rest of the Union force arrives.  Brooks' troops aim to outflank McLaws on his left, but the ground there is woody and criss-crossed with streams and manoeuvre is slow.

The Confederates consolidate their position and await the Union assault.

Union troops make attacks at key points along the line but McLaws' men hold under the pressure and their defensive fire disrupts most of the attacks on their approach.  Those that are not disrupted are thrown back in the charge.

The Union men throw in fresh troops and one of Newton's Brigades manages to fight its way up the hill and into the Confederate lines.

Fighting is desperate on the Confederate left as Howe's division attempts to get around the far flank.  Cabels' artillery does stirling work in holding up the enemy assault.  The Confederates on the far left are disordered and there are few reserves to throw in.

A shot of the whole battle, clearly showing the union troops that have been pulled back from the line to rally from disorder, and the penetration of the Confederate position.

With time running out Howe's men finally get around the flank, and the road to Zion Church is open behind them.  McLaws has miscalculated - he has not thought to defend his rear.

Howe's men in the woods north of the Confederate position.

McLaws repositions to protect his flank, but cannot prevent Howe's men from taking Zion Church

The Confederate position is suddenly precarious; squeezed on all sides.  But Newton and Brooks' divisions are mostly spent, and the Confederates are still in reasonable order, so they will likely be able to extricate themselves.  With the light deteriorating the firing eases off.

Zion Church has been taken, and the pike is open - Union minor victory is secured.

The fighting stops as darkness falls on the scene:  McLaws has taken 1200 casualties; Sedgwick 2400.

This scenario took me about three hours to set up and fight, and was quite engrossing once it got started.  The Union had some pretty terrible luck with their attacks early on and as as consequence I thought they had no show.  It therefore took me by surprise to discover on the last turn that Howe had the movement to reach Zion Church and achieve the Union minor objective.  

I was a slightly red-faced soloist after this, but could console myself with the thought that if I was unsettled then McLaws must have been feeling it a lot worse! 

If you are interested in the series, Glory III is the only one of the games still in print and currently available.  You can get it from GMT themselves or from the NWS online game store, which has it at a bargain price.  You can probably also get Glory II from NWS is you search there for it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In praise of Facebook and old mates

As maligned as Facebook can be, I'd just like to tell a little story about what it's good for.  There is some relevance to this little diversion, so please do bear with me (or not, as it pleases you!).

I got out of high school about twenty years ago and, after dusting off my hands, went off to college in Christchurch, New Zealand (lately victim to earthquake trouble...) to study this and that.  Second year in, some school mates and I got a flat together (ie, we shared a house).

In many ways it was a pretty sad time.  We lacked for female company, heavy, heavy drinking was the norm (when we could afford it!); the sink was clogged with tea bags and the shower with long hair.  There was a farting chair, the odd shaved eyebrow, lots of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains and (perhaps more shamefully) U2 on the various stereos; a computer game called (I think) Tank Attack, which we would play 4-player on high rotation, and plenty of fish and chips.  We all bashed on the guitar to some degree of unsophistication and took pleasure in having mildly unsavoury characters visiting us, mostly by way of one of our party nicknamed the doctor.

We were mostly pretty good kids.  There was no violence, no mistreatment of persons, very little damage to property and no arrests to speak of.  We were young guys trying to figure out who we were, where we had come from and what we wanted to do with ourselves.  We were at that brittle-bright stage where aspirations could yet co-exist with current circumstances.

Fast forward about eighteen years and things are very different.  We have all lost touch to a greater or lesser degree.  Some are working in New Zealand; others overseas.  Some have families; some do not.  I doubt that many of us play the guitar much anymore, though I think we all probably still love our music.  I am in contact with one of the guys via e-mail, and another through the grapevine.  We might have a beer when I'm back in New Zealand, but there's not a lot of communication between times.

But of Nigel I've heard little.

I knew that he was working for a newspaper, and had hooked up with a girl that we in New Zealand would call a 'keeper', but that was about all.

Then a couple of years ago, after urging from some mates, I set up a Facebook account.  To this point I had resisted Facebook as yet another newfangled cybernetic intrusion.  But after joining find I'm pleasantly surprised.  I can get back in touch with people I haven't talked to in years; can see photos of them, learn what they're up to, figure out who and what not to mention in connection with them and - sometimes tentatively - re-establish long-broken ties.

One day I got a friend request (which, for non-FB uses, means an invite to connect) from Nigel.  I hadn't seen him in about fifteen years.  There was a flurry of emails, comments on photos, and (in our case) the establishment of an erratic chess rivalry (in which Nige has a comfortable edge!).  It was very good to catch up with him again.  It was clear that we had both grown up in many ways, and there were more commonalities - kids, chess, family life - than just music, quaffing ales, and the occasional hike - which is not to say that those are commonalities to be sniffed at.

As we chatted a bit more, and skyped here and there, I ended up sending Nige over some fishing lures from Japan.  He wanted to pay me for them but the cost was so minor and the pleasure in hooking up an old mate so great that I didn't give him the option to.  So what he did was take a look at my blog.

To cut a long story short, the changes from the standard blogger template that you might've seen over the last few months on 'here's no great matter' are all due to Nige.

I couldn't be happier with what he's done.  I'm no graphic artist (nor even a family-friendly one!) and would not have thought about - much less have known how to do - the kinds of things that he has taken the time and pains to put together for me.

So I'd like to take this chance to raise a toast to Nige, to old mates in general, and to facebook for making re-acquaintance possible.  Next time I go back to NZ Nige and I are going to get together (by hook or by crook) for a game or two of chess, a quite beverage, and a face-to-face reminisce after so many years.      

To Nige, with many thanks (and good game)!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Game design fail

There are a couple of game design projects that I would love to do, and when inspiration strikes I'll occasionally sit down, nut out some ideas, and put them down on paper.

Distractions then inevitably intervene.  

Two to six months later when I think "ah yes, I must get back to that little gem of mine!'' I generally find I've misplaced the notes I made, or, on the rare occasions I haven't, the ideas now seem boring, pointless, or stupid, and often shocking combinations of the three.

As an example, a few months ago I came up with a nice little battle game.  The plan was to use this for the tactical part of a 2nd Punic War Iberian campaign.  It could be played solo to completion in about ten minutes, relied on dice and some player input which could be randomized for solo purposes, and generally seemed to do about what I wanted it to.

The problem was that it was not especially exciting in its own right, and so as my interest in the campaign flagged I put the project aside and concentrated on something else (the rugby, probably!).

Now that I want to revisit and tweak it I naturally find that the paper I'd jotted the ideas down on has gone missing and in my feebleness am unable to remember much of what it was that I was doing or thinking at the time.

It's a little frustrating.

Thirty minutes of searching later, I'm going to give up and call it a night.

So here they are, my poor boys all set up to go, but with the grand poobah having lost the rules!

I think that's what kids these days call a fail?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Order in!

As I am now a year older than I was this time last year (he says sagely), my wife very kindly gave me the credit card, pointed me towards the computer and said 'go for your life' (or words to that effect).  As readers may have noticed, board wargames have been getting more of an airing here than usual due to lack of time (and, it has to be said, motivation!) for painting at the moment.

So, rather than order in another bunch of figures that would sit in a box for a few years I decided to get a quick fix, and now have three board wargames heading this way, thanks to NWS online game store.

These titles have been on my want list for a while.  The first of them is A Victory Complete, a magazine game that transposes the A Victory Lost system to the battle of Tannenburg.  It should be good for solo, online and face-to-face play.  I'm getting this one because I love AVL, and don't want to miss out on what could be another classic.  It's got to be better than A Victory Denied, anyway...

The second is Unhappy King Charles!, a strategic-level card-driven game on the English Civil War.  Again, I hope that this will be good for online play, and perhaps solo as well, once I know the system.  I don't have any ECW games, but have been developing an interest in it of late. 

The third is Sixth Fleet, a venerable Cold War era game of naval conflict in the Mediterranean.  After reading the evocative reports by Brad over at Hexsides and Handgrenades I had to get myself a copy.  This one will, I hope, be perfect for solo play, and given my recent fascination for '80s hypothetical actions it should be a theme I can't ignore (mind you, I've said that before)!

So there we have it.   Sure beats socks, ties or underpants!

Cheers, and good gaming to you all :)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...