Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Games in the mail and books on the Kindle

Last acts before heading off have been to put in an order at NWS online bookstore for a few bits and pieces, namely:

Nightfighter, Ship of the Line and The Skirmisher

...and a quick visit to Project Gutenberg for a bit of holiday reading.

Always good to have something to look forward to on the trip back!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Off to a wedding

I am happy to report that I'll be away for the next couple of weeks attending my brother's wedding.  There will be feasting, mead and some beardy types handy with axes, so let's hope that Grendel and his mother keep a low profile.

Anyway, I will be back posting at some stage in early February.  I trust that you will all behave yourselves in my absence!  

Best wishes to one and all!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ordering from Old Glory 15s - very good experience

With US postal prices due to go up in a few days I decided to get in now and pick up a couple of final bits and pieces I need for some 15mm projects.  Accordingly, I went to the Old Glory 15s site, as the bulk of the purchase would be more of their Marian legionaries to match the ones I got in an ebay buy last year.

It wasn't something I was greatly looking forward to, as I've not found the Old Glory site the easiest to order through in the past.  Happily, I found that they have revamped it entirely.  You set up an account (email and password), search through their stock (they now have enlargeable photos which is a big improvement), put items in your cart, and go to checkout as normal.  You can then check your postage charges by going part-way through the checkout process, and when you are ready to pay can use credit card or paypal.  It's all done quickly and with no fuss.  I was very impressed.

People have their own opinion about Old Glory figures, and I am in the 'very useful' to 'quite like them' camp.  Their foot figures can be a bit chunky of leg, but I really like their cavalry, and you can actually do a bit with some of their less desirable poses if you are prepared to get out your Xacto knife.  So, if you want to pick up some figures in bulk you can do worse than look at Old Glory.

BTW, something I noticed is that if you order your figures in Field of Glory battlegroups rather than individual packs you can get often get a slightly better deal: 32 foot figures for $12 rather than 24 for $10, for example.  If, like me, you prefer the big battalions, this can be a nice perk.

Do any readers use Old Glory 15s?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Grand Dreams in 15mm

As I getting back into painting thoughts naturally turn to projects done and projects yet to be finished.  The plan is that I will one day have enough painted 15mm figures to re-fight any of the scenarios in Phil Sabin's Lost Battles, Hydaspes and (perhaps) Cunaxa excepted.

Now is probably as good a time as any to take stock of where I am on that, and to think about the best painting strategy to take into the future.

Classical Greeks.  I need two Greek armies.  These I have purchased, but I may need to add more hoplites to this force eventually.  Only light troops painted. 15% done.

Persians.  I need a large Persian force. The figures for this I have also purchased.  Unpainted except for the horse archers, but there are 18 bases of them.  10% done.

Macedonians and Successor Kingdoms.  I really do need two pike armies.  I have one painted - the heavy infantry done by Fernando in Sri Lanka - and another purchased.  Another pike block and more cavalry needs to be painted up.  65% done.

Carthaginians.  I have enough Carthaginians for all my Second Punic War needs, though purely for vanity's sake I would like to get more of Hannibal's veterans in Roman armour.  95% done.

Spanish.  I need these as Second Punic War allies, for skirmishes amongst themselves, and for Sertorian battles.  Purchased and the rest are on the painting table now.  75% done.

Gauls.  I need Gauls for Sentinum, as Carthaginian allies, and for fighting Caesar..  Figures are purchased and mostly prepped but yet to be painted.  5% done.

Italian City States.  I need a smattering of these guys as allies and for Sentinum.  80% purchased, 60% painted.

Polybian Romans.  I need a large force of these guys, and have it.  Painted.  100% done, but I do have another army to build because, well, you can never have enough Polybian Romans!

Marian Romans.  I need two large armies so that I can do the civil wars of the late Republic and sundry examples of imperialist aggression.  Purchased and mostly painted after an ebay score.  They just need tidying up, another 140 infantry and 50 cavalry painted, and to be put into units and based.  70% done.

Parthians.  I have a small Parthian force to allow me to do Carrhae in half scale, but when I say small I do mean small - only 22 bases!  100% done, but these do double duty as horse archers for my Persians and cataphracts for my Successors, so calling them a separate army is cheating.

So, of the thirteen armies I need to finish this project, only five are currently tableworthy.  There is clearly much work to be done!

The first task is to finish off the Spanish.  After that I'd like to knock the Marians on the head as that will open up a whole new range of possibilities for civil war battles.  In doing those I'll have to paint up Gallic cavalry, so that will get me some way into the next project, which should probably be Gauls.

Then it will be time for the Successors, though I really enjoy Successor battles, so may bump some phalangites up the queue.  Ideally, I'd send this lot off to get painted as well, but conscience won't allow that at this time.

And there we are - that's the state of play in the 15mm ancients Mediterranean project.  The thing is that almost all the purchasing has been done.  Apart from some more hoplites and Italian troops, I've got pretty much all I need.

Now, if I could only get them painted...

Friday, January 18, 2013


After being inspired by Jason over at Light Bobs and Paint Blobs, I stopped in at the hardware store today and picked up a lamp for painting.  As a result, 6th Fleet got put back in its box and the figures and paints took its place on the table for what was the first decent painting session I've had for a while.

Although I have piles upon piles of boxes filled with prepped figures (and many more with unprepped), the ones I've really been wanting to finish off are my Punic War era Celtiberians.  There are about 180 of them in various stages of completion and there will be psalms in wargaming heaven when I finally get them done.

I got these little guys about seven years ago and the ones that I painted then look a bit ragged compared to the ones that I'm painting now, so the project has had to expand to bring the older paints into line with the newer ones, as I did with my other Spanish.

The truth of the matter is that this is real production line stuff.  I'm relying on the shield painting to standardize everything and hoping that the different painting styles I've gone through will, when combined within the same unit, promote a 'pleasing sense of irregularity'.  But we shall have to wait and see on that score!    

New lamp and workbench

Paionian horse having had some left over brown applied to their spears...

I'd also like to welcome Craig, who is the most recent person to have begun following my blog.  Thanks for doing so, and please feel free to introduce yourself and/or jump in with comments or criticisms any time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ancient and Medieval Wargaming (AMW) with John

For me, one of the great delights of the internet age is the ease with which one can meet like-minded wargame enthusiasts from around the world and not only share ideas and a bit of humour but also actually get to play a bit.

VASSAL is so far the best tool I've encountered for play by email games, but Cyberboard does a good job as well.

One gamer I've been lucky enough to have a bit to do with over the past few years is John Acar, and the latest in our long line of VASSAL matches was concluded just recently. What follows is a brief report. All of the screenshots included here are from John's VASSAL module for the game, which can be found in the file section of the AMW yahoo group.

This rules used were Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, in this instance pitting Macedonians vs Classical Indians.

I set up first as the Macedonians, putting my heavy infantry in the centre, cavalry on the wings, and light infantry on the left ready to take up a defensive position in the wood.  John responded by putting his heavy chariotry on the wings - those on the left supported by his two elephants - and the weaker bow-armed infantry in the centre.

Deployment with Macedonians up top and Indians below.

In AMW the first side to eliminate six of the eight enemy units wins, so my plan was to close as quickly as possible in the centre and trust that my phalanx could defeat his bow quickly. I hoped to beat him on one wing with an outflanking move and hold him as long as possible on the other.  I felt that there was not much I could do to counter the elephants except pray for really good dice.

Heavy chariots are superior to my companion cavalry in AMW, so I imagined that John's plan would be to use that superiority to his advantage, try to win on the flanks, and unleash the jumbos onto my poor unsuspecting heavy infantry.

Over the next few turns the Indians got into bow range and fired off a volley or two, but without conspicuous success.  My cavalry held back on both flanks, daring his chariotry to advance.  On his left, they did.

The Indian shooting improved dramatically as the turns clicked over, and John's chariots charged in on the left.  My hypaspists promptly responded with a charge of their own into the flank of the chariots, and then the hypaspists in their turn were smacked into by an elephant.

Confused?  Hopefully the screenshot below will help.

In the centre the phalangites continued their slow advance, peeling off the rightmost unit to guard against the attack by the second elephant.  On my left, nothing much happened except for the light infantry accepting that they were on the wrong wing and trying to get to the other as quickly as they could.

It was now my turn to charge, and the phalangites piled in.  They managed to rout the unit opposing the left of the line, but the bowmen in the centre put up strong resistance and the struggle turned attritional.

On my right the horse and chariots traded blows, with the supporting hypaspists disappearing rapidly thanks to the attention of the elephant on their flank.

The fight continued, with the leftmost unit of Indian foot swinging round to outflank my phalanx.  The chariots of his right also turned and gave every indication that they would come down off their hill and engage my infantry line.

As the elephants got more into their work, both the hypaspists and flank guard decided they'd had enough.  They broke, and my right centre abruptly collapsed.

It was still slow going in the centre, and (to coin a phrase...) it became apparent that the battle was 'going ill with us'.

John seized his chance to get the other chariots involved, and they charged into the line as well.    The elephants re-positioned themselves to inflict more carnage on the exposed infantry, and my light infantry flung javelins for all they were worth.

In the centre, the second unit of bowmen finally gave way.

The chariots were by now carving up my phalanx, but I hoped that my cavalry's belated arrival on that wing would take care of that.  The freed-up phalanx ploughed into the third unit of bow infantry who continued to put up a brave fight.

Unfortunately (but not unpredictably!) my centre now gave way, and the clever plan I'd had of holding back the companions on my left was shown for what it really was - rubbish!

Ignoring the javelins coming their way, the elephants began feasting on the light infantry.

We were in even graver difficulties now, and, barring some extremely good fortune, it seemed to be just a matter of time before John's men ground me down beneath their remorseless attacks.

My cavalry charge was a failure, and the elephant slammed into my last unit of infantry before we could see off the final unit of enemy bow.  "All is lost," we cried, "especially honour!"

The chariots of the Indian left then roused themselves to finish off my companion cavalry and the rout was complete.

In the end it was a comfortable victory for John and his Indians.  He outplayed and outclassed me here, steamrollering my unfortunate troops with good deployment choices and strong play.

I'm afraid to say that if I were a Carthaginian they'd have hanged me after this performance!

So well done John; and all going well we'll attempt to get a rematch in at some stage this year.

6th Fleet shock - Admiral Prufock demoted!

Scenario 1: 
Anti-Submarine Warfare in the Western Mediterranean.

"To ensure the safe passage of NATO merchant shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar and on to Isreal, EUCOM (European Command) has ordered the US 6th Fleet to conduct high-tempo ASW operations against Soviet submarines in the western Mediterranean.  With most of 6th Fleet's forces committed in the Aegean Sea, COMSIXTHFLT (Commander, 6th Fleet) currently possesses only two subs with which to commence this sweep...

        Meanwhile, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet has received intelligence that the US submarine strength in the western Med is weak.  With  four submarines currently on station in this area, Commander, Black Sea Fleet has ordered the US submarines to be hunted down immediately."

Day 1.

On the morning of day one the Soviets assign their single squadron of Tu16s to detection duties and it begins tracking the USS Baltimore, just north of Naples.  The US assigns two units of Orions to follow the Sumy and the Byngi.

Baltimore shadows Sumy, hitting it south east of Sicily and causing severe damage.  P3 Orions on ASW duties continue the attack, which sees Sumy sink early afternoon.

Baltimore is in turn shadowed by the Nezhen.  Unable to locate the enemy, Baltimore makes for the Corsican coast.

Nezhen's superior speed allows her bring Baltimore to bay under the very noses of the air cover on Sardinia.

Baltimore desperately seeks to locate the enemy but is unable to do so and is sent to the bottom with all hands.

Day two.

The Soviets shift focus to the USS Drum, which is detected in the AM by Tupolovs.  The US assigns two units of Orions to the Drabv and the Byngi.

Confrontation is not long in coming.

The Drabv is engaged and damaged by USS Drum, but the Byngi is in close proximity.

Drum is on her own for the time being and without air support to aid her she sustains damage as Byngi closes and strikes.

Fortunately, Drabv is too far gone to aid in the attack, and the Drum employs evasive tactics in the hope that an opportunity to strike will open up.

In the meantime, the Orions make an attack at 3:30, but are unable to hit the Drabv.  This is almost the last chance for the Drum, and tension is high as the Soviets close for the kill.

By 5:30 Drum has been sunk.  The Soviets, now unmolested in the western Mediterranean, can begin hunting the supply vessels coming through the Strait of Gibraltar.

USS Drum under attack.
This was my first game of 6th Fleet and my amateur tactics are testament to the fact.  By not assigning a unit of Orions to detect Nezhen on the first morning I made a real hash of the strategic air mission choices.  This meant that after destroying the Sumy Baltimore was blind and a sitting duck for the Nezhen, whom she couldn't outrun.    

It has been a valuable lesson in the importance of setting the right units to do the right jobs at the right time.

This was a good and enjoyable introduction to the Fleet system, and while it's clearly going to take me some time to figure out good strategies the rulebook is not at all as daunting as you might think at first glance. That the first scenarios introduce players to the concepts in manageable progressive chunks is very useful, and I think 6th Fleet is the best example of this approach I've yet seen.

Next up will be Scenario 2, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get it done before I'm off on holiday.  We shall see!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Quick and easy disruption/casualty markers

I recently made some disruption markers to fit in with the terrain for my January project game.  The rules required two types of disorder marker, so I decided to try out an idea I had.

Step one: buy a 100 pack of plastic screw covers at the hardware store (¥380).

Step two: divide them into two sets, drilling one hole in the first set of forty, and two holes in the second set of sixty.

Step three: cut thin wire into lengths that approximate the arrow and javelin sizes for the scale you are using.

Step four: insert these lengths into the holes and glue in place, taking care that the screw covers will sit flat.

Screw tops drilled, some with 'javelins' inserted and glued.

Step five: take long sip of beer, and another for good measure.

The tools of the trade...

Step six: spray paint all in a suitable dark green.

Step seven: paint javelins / arrows brown.

Step eight: apply flock, avoiding getting it on the javelins themselves, as far as possible.

Flock and spray paint of choice.
Step nine: put on table as needed.

In theory...

Step ten: have another sip of beer (it was the holiday season, after all!).

So there you have it, markers in nine easy steps - or seven if you omit the beer and the playing!  

I was not sure how they'd look, but they ended up being functional, easy to handle and durable.  They were easy to see without sticking out like a sore thumb, so they were about what I wanted in a marker.

Any comments or suggestions for improvements most welcome. 

The best part about buying second hand games is...

sorting the counters!

This is Sixth Fleet.  Looking forward to giving this a crack solo and then getting a PBEM game underway.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Diary of a Solitaire Caesar

It is 300 BC and Rome a small city possessed of some grand ideas. With five talents to play with (legions cost one talent, city building costs two or three, depending on how civilized the territory is) our hero commences carving out an empire.

300 BC

I expand into North Africa via Sicily, and Gaul via Gallia Cisalpina and Hispania. Everyone tells me that even in these ghastly republican times it's clear that I am Caesar in all but name.

But what's this?

Ha! Puny barbarians.  They will dash themselves on my city walls and fall beneath a hail of pila.

201 BC

Or not.  Rome narrowly survives a sacking, but we won't tell Titus Livius that.

At turn's end I control four cities, so four points are scored.

(Note that black and purple blocks denote barbarians, red blocks legions, plain blocks Roman territory, and plain circles cities).

I will do better in 200 BC, for I now have nine talents with which to raise legions and construct cities and in a fate-ordained orgy of conquest I retake Cisalpina, Hispania and Mauretania, bringing Cyrene and Egypt under the control of the Republic for good measure.  The barbarians and neutrals must learn to fear me.

The barbarians in their turn dance naked long into the night, but are wary of crossing our borders.  They learn fast.

101 BC

A grateful senate declares ten days of public thanksgiving and numerous triumphs.  Eight points are scored and the doors to the temple of Janus are closed.

As 100 BC rolls around I find another twelve talents in the treasury and promptly re-open Janus's doors, thus allowing my legions to sweep north from Egypt, verily all the way to Macedonia.  We have some problems with a pesky bunch in Jerusalem, but what's a legion here or there?

After celebrating another four triumphs and ritually strangling a wolf I fortify the northern borders and claim twelve victory points.

A grateful senate considers deifying me, but settles for declaring me father of the nation instead.  Furious, I pretend to refuse the honour.  Someone's going to pay for this.

I have a kind of weird dribble leaching from the corner of my mouth, but my wife assures me no one even notices it.  Thank Jupiter for that!

1 BC
With another twelve talents to burn I build Caesarias in Macedonia, Thrace and Illyria.  This time the senate does deify me.  I have the censors declare my horse a member of the senatorial order.  How I laugh!

Barbarians demonstrate in a few places and smash the odd thing, but it's nothing to worry about.  Names keep being erased from the map tablet I keep beside my bed, but I'm sure it's just a mistake.  I kill my own mother, just in case.  Twelve points scored.

100 AD
Someone's been pinching from the treasury.  I reckon it might be my younger brother, so I send him off up north to fight the Germans.  Ooops!  Was that poison in your drink, Germanicus?  How unfortunate!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Capri is nice in the summer.

I learn an instrument and grow my hair long.  They say the Spanish are revolting and I agree with them.  Ten points scored.  I kill that uppity Hadrian fellow.  He was getting ideas above his station.  The larks' tongues taste much better without his endless pontificating spoiling the meal.

200 AD
Things are going a bit to pot right now.  Personally, I blame the Christians.  I make an example of as many of them as I can and then split the empire into two.  It's getting too big for one chap to handle by himself, as my soothsayer so rightly says.

By the way, those uncivilized people are really starting to become annoying.  It's getting difficult to find a decent cloak these days.  They must be eating all the minks.  Five points.

300 AD
Frankly, this whole empire thing is getting a bit boring.  I go to Rhodes to study rhetoric.  They all say I have talent.  I learn the flute.  Two points.

400 AD
I have just got back from a lovely time with the king of the Persians, who invited me to be his foot stool.  Two points.  I close the academy at Rhodes, with a flourish.

500 AD
I'm kind of holding out for a hero.  I want to go to both cities in my empire, but Pontus is so far!  I wish someone could take me there.  Perhaps I should try to find a Nordic bodyguard.  No one else seems to want to do anything but cower behind walls.

We eventually get there.  How exciting!  One point.

600 AD
I'm feeling a bit fed up with all of this now.  My indigestion is killing me.  I think I'm going to go and lie down for a while.

700 AD

After last week's game Pat very kindly gave me his copy of Warriors of God, and in it was the print and play game Solitaire Caesar.  I'd heard good things about it, so I've been looking forward to giving it a crack. Tonight, with New Zealand again performing miserably in the cricket and me as a consequence needing something to cheer me up, I got it to table.  It was excellent entertainment, despite my getting absolutely pounded.  I recommend it highly if you want a bit of solitaire fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The search for the Perfect Ancient Wargame...

When I got back into miniatures wargaming about eight years ago I had only a vague idea of what I was letting myself in for.  I imagined that I would paint some figures, find a set of rules, and achieve a comfortable wargaming stasis.

The rules set that accompanied my first forays into figure purchasing and painting was Classical Hack by Phil Viverito.  I joined the yahoo group, asked for advice, then ordered the rules and figures for the 2nd Punic War at the same time.  "I'm off!"  I thought.

Three months later, with two small armies painted and a couple of games under my belt, I got an uneasy feeling.  How on earth, I wondered, can it be right to allow a unit attacked by two others the chance to score twice as many hits as a unit attacked by only one?  One on one the maximum hits were three vs three; two on one the maximum hits were six vs six.  It didn't make sense to me.  I tried to get around it by writing house rules.  Then I gave up.

Next up was Simon MacDowell's Legio, which a fellow ancients enthusiast was modifying.  I was very keen on this and had lots of ideas about how to reinvent the wheel.  We engaged in lengthy email discussions.  Some months later, I realised that I did not really know what I was talking about, did not yet have enough figures for the game, and did not like two of the key mechanisms in the set, namely dicing for control and the variable move distance.

During this phase I also ordered a number of other rules and downloaded a few free or community sets: DBM, Armati, a diceless one, the Crusades set Shattered Lances, Hoplon, and some I now forget.

By now I had been introduced to another ancients gamer who lives a couple of hours north of me, and he showed me DBA, DBM, and Strategos.  I joined the Society of Ancients and we both ordered a copy of Strategos II.

Around this time I discovered a new boardgame called Commands and Colors: Ancients and grabbed that.  I joined the online community and spent a year or two playing countless Commands and Colors games live using VASSAL or solo at home.  I was a member of boardgamegeek, wrote some reports, took photos of the game with miniatures, partook of spirited debates and so on and so forth.  I won a couple of competitive but gentlemanly online tournaments and started to think this was the best game going round.

But there was a problem with Commands and Colors that nagged at me: it was much better played online or as a boardgame than it was played with miniatures.  Sure, it looked nice, but half of the units hardly moved at all during the battles, and it slowly became apparent that the attraction of Commands and Colors was not after all playing out an engaging alternate history, but the thrill of how you handled your cards, positioned your units, rolled your dice and bluffed and outwitted your opponent.  There were great depths to the strategy, but no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, the reality was that that strategy did not have much to do with what I was encountering in Livy, Caesar, Polybius and Plutarch.

And on the home front now we had a daughter.  It was a harder to commit to online tournaments.  I could play, but not every week or two.  I began rationing the tournaments I played in and quietly slipped out of the scene.  I commenced looking for other games to play, ones that I could jump in and out of in better sympathy with domestic rhythms.

I started playing a bit more Strategos II.  Of course, I was playing every few months with my mate in Osaka, but I began giving it the odd go solo at home.  I'd write up a report for the yahoo group, or for  boardgamegeek, and I started to see how well it played and how well it reflected what I was reading in the ancient historians.  I became enthusiastic, as is my wont with these kinds of things.  There were grand discussions on the yahoo group.  I learned a lot about how to approach the primary sources.  I wrote a review and an article, I bought the newest edition, Lost Battles. I started a blog, began photographing, recording and writing about games.  I began playing other rules sets occasionally, in desultory fashion: Basic Impetus, Ancient and Medieval Warfare, Ancients D6, Warhammer Ancients.  I had PBEM games.

It was good, but it all lead back to Lost Battles.  In Lost Battles I could see the narrative.  The story of how the game unfolded struck me there more than it did anywhere else.  Everything made sense, was plausible, and could be explained in real terms.

As I played more I organised a couple of multiplayer online games of Lost Battles, mainly to teach people the game, but also to see how it worked with a chain of command superimposed.  The game and its multiplayer rules sort of worked, but participants got a bit annoyed about the limitations of the format and some players didn't get the rules very well or decided they didn't really like the set after all.  There was perhaps a little frustration or bad feeling, and that was the very opposite of what I was trying to generate.

It wasn't the multiplayer success I was hoping it would be.

By this stage we had three children and it was increasingly difficult to find time to pursue hobby activities at night.  The number of solo games I was playing dropped off, but there was a big push on the boardgame version of Lost Battles, and I got excited about it.  I wrote a review, played a number of games, had a good time; but without the spectacle of playing with figures I couldn't quite get into it as much.  It didn't scream at me to take it off the shelf.

I found when I did play with miniatures that I had played - almost to death - the scenarios I had the figures for.  I fiddled around with some rules changes, tested a friend's low-luck variant in a couple of email games and thought about how I could get a campaign going.  Again, there were periods of enthusiasm, but I couldn't sustain it as I had previously.

I decided to freshen up.  I got Warmaster Ancients and Hail Caesar and played a few playtest turns of both.  I tried looking at Field of Glory again and promptly looked away.  I went back to Commands and Colors for a game or two and was reminded anew that it was fun and skillful but just not really that good as a miniatures game.  The amount of effort it took to set the game up and move the figures around was disproportionate to the reward.  And I couldn't find a story in it that could rise much above the game mechanisms.  There was both too much inaction and too much action.  It was out of kilter; unbalanced.  I couldn't get a plausible 'game-as-alternative-history' story out of it unless I was prepared to make things up or play sub-optimally.  It would always come down to "and then X card was played and some good dice rolling got side Y home," because that's where the interest was: how and in what way the cards were played, how you exploited the weaknesses of your opponent, and whether the dice supported your play.

So, there I was.  As far as Lost Battles was concerned I'd run out of scenarios to play solo, I couldn't get a campaign started, development of the VASSAL module had stalled, I was out of steam, and other alternatives were not quite what I was looking for.

In view of this I decided to challenge myself to write some rules of my own that would work with non-wargamers.  I'll give it a go, I thought, and try to see things with new eyes.

The whole project was stimulating, and in doing it I developed a better understanding of what designers must do, and how they must target certain things at the expense of others.

What I see now is that there is no perfect wargame, and no "comfortable wargaming stasis".  There is no one game that will be right for all situations. Rules will grab me for a season at different times, and for different reasons. Their immediate appeal will wax and wane, but if they are good I'll keep coming back to them, seeing them again from different angles, with different ends in mind, and hopefully with new understanding of what they are trying to do, and of what can be reasonably expected of them.

It's taken me a while to reach this point, but it has been a wonderful journey through a world that is part history, part alternative history, part mathematical framework, part participatory drama.  It has been experienced alone, with friends, with strangers via a computer, and with kindred spirits across the wargaming spectrum.

Long may it continue.

But if I could find perfection within a wargame (we can always live in hope...) what would it look like?

I think I'd see it in those moments within games when all is balance, excitement and potential, in those times when something echoes history so keenly it jolts us, when the satisfaction of a plan well made, a move well executed, or the observation of a brilliant, mournful, heroic, tragic tabletop action fills us with a childish delight in play allied to an adult awareness that this world we create, this little space that is ours, where this cinematic, dramatic need to enact stories on our tabletops is fulfilled is - in its very fragility, in its practical uselessness, in its capacity to lift our spirits, reveal aspects of ourselves to ourselves and heal the little wounds of the long day - something that is worth doing, worth recording and perhaps even worth a little celebrating.

And if you can't have perfection, I've found that rolling double box cars to order makes a pretty good substitute!

And for readers (if anyone has got this far, thank you!) do you have a perfect or close-to-perfect set?  What do you see as 'perfection' in a wargame, and what will mar one?  Have you found a comfortable stasis, or are you too something of an itinerant?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wargaming lectures online

The Centre for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) now has three wargame-related lectures posted on its site, including talks by Phil Sabin and Peter Perla.  Here is a link to the CASL page.

There will be another lecture on Jan 24th on the topic of strategic wargaming, and this can be followed online in real time if you register in advance.  If interested, you should contact Ellie Bartels or Katie Dusek via the link above.

If you can't participate online, you should still be able to find the audio on the CASL site at a later date accompanied by some video or Powerpoint materials.

I've enjoyed what I've seen / heard so far!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The January war

On January 4th six fellows turned up ready to play a multiplayer ancients game using some rules I'd cobbled together borrowing ideas from various different sources and adding in a few things of my own.

The Roman side was made up of 31 units totalling 162 points.  The left was commanded by Ben, the centre by Nikolai, and the right by the commander-in-chief, Pat.  The Seleucids, with 163 points in 32 units, were led by Luke on the left, Al in the centre and Matt on the right.

The battlefield was set in a plain between two small rivers, the first of which bounded the Roman position  behind the right flank and the second of which was behind the Seleucid right.  There was a prominent hill just right of centre on the Roman side of the field and a smaller one on the Roman left.  The Seleucid position had two moderate sized hills on each flank.

Overview of the battlefield from behind the Seleucid right.

The Romans deployed their four legions and allies in three lines (I know, that's a lot of Romans to be over in Asia Minor, but let's not let that disrupt us!) resting on the river on the right, with only a unit of Roman cavalry and another of Greek light cavalry for flank protection.  With the velites out front, the Romans presented a formidible sight, but that was not all - their Greek allies and the rest of the Roman cavalry extended the line another by 1600 metres to the left.

The Roman right.

The centre of the Roman line.

The Greek allies.

The extreme Roman left.

The Seleucids put their phalangites and the bulk of their heavy infantry opposite the legions, resting the left on the hill, with two units of heavy cavalry and another of over-strength light cavalry outside the infantry on the left, giving them a slight edge in horse if they could bring it to bear.  In front of the heavy infantry were units of light infantry, two troops of elephants, and some scythed chariots.   Farther to the right were cataphracts, heavy cavalry, more scythed chariots and light cavalry.

The Seleucid right.

The Seleucid centre.

The phalanx.

The Seleucid left, resting on the hill.

The Seleucids took the first move, and over the first few turns the light troops get themselves into missile range.  The scythed chariots are sent off to do their worst, and their worst they do, being entirely ineffective.

So too the elephants prove to be a liability for the Seleucid side.  They are unable to do any damage at all to the Romans, but managed to make life difficult for the infantry around them by periodically rampaging, causing a number of hits on friendly units.

On the Roman right some cunning play sees the Seleucid left under early pressure, and this in combination with the elephants' moodiness gives the Romans the early advantage on that side.  

The early going.  Note the scythed chariots and lights streaking ahead of the main Seleucid line.

Over time the main lines move closer and the light troops begin to fall back, leaving the field to the heavy foot.  The Greek allied horse on the Roman left manage to isolate and outflank a unit of Seleucid cavalry that advances too swiftly as the melee there is joined.

The centres come into contact; the lights begin to fall back; battle is joined on this flank, but the Seleucids appear loath to leave the safety of their hill.

A closer shot of the action in the centre.  The damage markers on the friendly units around the elephant are the result of its frequent rampages.

Before long there is heavy fighting all across the battlefield.  The elephants are finally killed off on the left, but the ones in the centre stubbornly refuse to rout.  On the Roman left a swirling cavalry fight develops with units intermingled and confusion rife.  In what seems like a grave mistake the Greek light cavalry abandons the hill that anchors the Roman left.

The scene around four turns in, looking from behind the Roman right.

The Greek allied cavalry has abandoned the hill on the Roman left, allowing the Seleucids to occupy the high ground with heavy cavalry.

The Seleucids take the abandoned hill opposing their right, but in so doing over-reach, leaving their forward-most unit of cavalry unsupported.    The allied Greeks take advantage of this, isolating the unit and killing it off, but not before it scores a few hits of its own.

The pressure that the Romans are exerting in the centre finally tells, with the elephant of the centre routing, and the phalanx next to it also going.  A great gap in the line 400 metres wide opens up, and the Seleucids struggle to close it.

Centre with elephant and intact phalanx...

...and centre without them!

The Seleucids are now in difficulty in all areas.  They have been outflanked on the left, have had their centre blown open, and are also in some strife on the right; but there at least they are there giving as good as they get.  The question is, can they hold the centre long enough for the phalanx to grind the legions down, and can Matt win a victory on the right?

Things get worse for the Seleucids - a daring attack on the left sees the Seleucid commander-in-chief captured and killed.  The army's morale is shaken as a result, and command and control is significantly reduced.  Despite this, as the fight in the centre continues, the phalangites' superior to-hit factors begin to tell.  The Romans have their line exchange, but the phalangites are now getting into their work.  In legion after legion the hastati are withdrawn and the principes move up as the casualties begin to mount.

The problem for the Seleucids is that they are losing too many units across the field, and in combination with the death of the commander, their morale is becoming increasingly fragile.

An example of the confused cavalry melee on the Roman left - Tarantine light cavalry under the Seleucid banner smashed in the flank by Thracian cavalry fighting for Rome.

By turn eight the situation is becoming tense for the legionaries as the hits mount and the line thins.  The phalanx has gained superiority at points along the line and the Roman centre is running out of reserves.

But then in the cavalry battle on the left there is a sudden flurry of action: the Roman cavalry destroys a unit of Seleucid heavies and in the subsequent morale test the entire Seleucid right flees the field, taking the phalanx with it.

The moment before the rout...

So in the end it was a combination of accumulated losses, the death of the commander and an unfortunately low morale roll that ended it all for the Seleucids.  I would have considered allowing the phalanx to stay on field a little longer if two of the lads hadn't had trains to catch, but I think ending it at the point we did was appropriate anyway, given that the Seleucids had lost a third of their force even before the morale failure.

From my perspective as umpire it was a most entertaining afternoon, and it seemed that the players enjoyed themselves, so all went well.

There are certain aspects of the rules that need tightening up, but they were geared towards new players and I think the rules did what they were supposed to do in most respects.  I was pleased that the players were doing everything for themselves pretty quickly - except for morale tests, which were my job - and my role was soon simply handing out cards, recording losses, answering the odd question and keeping things moving when needed.  Given that three of the six players had never played a wargame before, the standard of tactical appreciation was pretty high, and except for special rules like withdrawal, line exchange and the odd movement subtlety they figured it all out for themselves brilliantly.

So, there we have it - the January war is over, and I've learned a lot from it.  A) how to make better terrain; B) that I can write rules after all; C) that people are perhaps more interested in giving wargames a crack than you'd think; and D) that I'm too old to go out drinking with the young blokes.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...