Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Revisiting Commands & Colors: Ancients

C&C:A was one of my favourite games in the oughties through to the birth of our second child. Following the arrival of young R, the lack of time to play C&C:A online over VASSAL meant that it was gradually displaced by Lost Battles, because Lost Battles is a superior solo experience.

You can certainly enjoy C&C:A solo however, so I set up a game the other night to reacquaint myself with the game.

The scenario played was Arausio.The early play was all made by the Romans. A line command and double time card got them into contact early, and they quickly went out to a 2-0 lead. 

A darken the sky missile attack failed to halt the Roman attacks, and so it came down to local, small-scale counter-attacks to pull the initiative back. This continued for another six or seven turns.

With two banners needed for victory Caepio and his accompanying unit took a chance, but it did not pay off. Left exposed, Caepio was then fallen upon by Boiorix and killed to win the day for the Germans, 7-6. 

Caepio's unit destroyed, and then himself.

While still an enjoyable game, times have changed, and C&C:A is not usually going to be the first game I pull out when I want to play ancients. Its main strengths are:

1) Once learned, it's hard to forget

2) It's a great two-player contest when both players are experienced

3) It has tonnes of scenarios

4) It is a nice game to look at and play

5) The card play system lends itself well to solo play, provided you take out the First Strike card

6) It is an excellent introduction to the era

Its main weaknesses are:

1) As much as I might have tried to convince myself otherwise (and I have!), it has deficiencies as a model of ancient warfare, and

2) It's just not quite as engaging solo as Lost Battles is. 

That said, it's still a very fine game.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Eyeless in Gaza (312 BC)

SP came over last night for the second iteration of our Washbourn Trophy Lost Battles series. I had set the battle as Gaza 312 BC, for its ease of set up (only a flat plain to fight over) when time was short, and for its own sake.

I don't recall having fought it before - though surely I must have - so we were both going in without too many preconceived ideas of how to play the scenario. Being on holiday this week, SP had the day to come up with a strategy, while I would rely upon my knowledge of the rules and 'general tactical nous' to breeze through. 

The first point of interest is the armies. Both are successor forces led by fighting generals - Ptolemy/Seleucus (combined into a single on-table commander) the one and Demetrius the other - with the usual mix of phalangites and cavalry heavy and light. In addition Demetrius had three units of elephants, and Ptolemy a dedicated anti-elephant corps of light infantry, in four units.

Essentially, it was to be a battle of elephants vs light infantry, phalanx vs phalanx, cavalry vs cavalry, and inspired commander (Ptolemy) vs average commander (Demetrius).

In fighting value Ptolemy had the edge 79 points to 67, but it was still close enough to be challenging for both sides. 

We used the historical deployments outlined in Phil Sabin's Lost Battles book, so the action began for us in turn two.

As Demetrius, and with the first move, I attacked on my left with Demetrius himself and his two units of veteran heavy cavalry. I then reinforced this zone with light cavalry from my right flank, bringing them around behind my army to give some extra numbers in what was bound to be a tough fight on the left. My centre left attacked with elephants in the lead, and I advanced in the centre to allow the light cavalry to scoot around behind them in the aforementioned reinforcement move. My right - now my weakest zone - I refused. 

As Ptolemy, SP fought fire with fire on his right. He attacked with bravado with his two veteran heavy cavalry units and light cavalry, and then also reinforced this zone with cavalry from elsewhere in his army. His light infantry hit my elephants hard, and rather than advance his centre and left he merely redeployed his leftmost unit of light cavalry so that they could reinforce Ptolemy next turn if needed.

Turn four saw Demetrius shatter a unit of light cavalry in Ptolemy's zone, but the rest of his army held firm. There was little success elsewhere.

The view from Demetrius's zone after his second attack. Note his position in the lead with his guard cavalry in an attempt to shatter the enemy zone before it can be reinforced. It was not to be!

Ptolemy reinforced his own zone again with more light cavalry, and fought back with determination. He scored two hits with the cavalry in his zone, and then three hits against Demetrius's centre left as the elephants panicked in the face of the light infantry assault. 

Again from Demetrius's zone: a violence of horses, and some reinforcements. 

Two more turns went by with some thrilling exchanges as both sides fought desperately to win the cavalry fight between the two opposed generals. The full complement of Lost Battles's tactical tricks was employed, to our delight: manipulation of  lead units to maximise attack and best defend; command bonuses artfully issued; Favour of the Gods re-rolls demanded; generals rallying what could have been battle-defining strikes. 

Elsewhere the elephants continue to panic, and the phalanxes engaged in the centre. My men all-out-attacked in an effort to make the enemy army as vulnerable as possible to mass rout once the moment came. 

The moment, however, did not come. A shatter, a double shatter, a successful rout test, a shatter, a failed rout test, and Demetrius was alone with his guard cavalry.

The grim reality: Demetrius about to be permanently displaced.

Demetrius's guard was destroyed, and the man himself fled the field. He took the centre left with him in a trumpeting of panicked elephants and a cacaphony of hooves. 

In the centre, the phalanx turned and pulled back, marching off table to escape with what they could.

Battle over, and Ptolemy was victorious 93 points to 74. The result did not show how closely fought it was. In the aftermath, we were pleased to announce that SP had won the Washbourn Trophy. It would change hands and go home with him.

We still had time for a second battle, so we set up again. This one was also a tough fight in which we put hard-learned lessons from the first battle to good use. 

The action on my left played out much as before, with our cavalry wing and elephant-led left-centre eventually losing against Ptolemy, but this time we were a lot more active with our centre and right wing. Even after our left routed, our right fought on, up until the tenth turn, shattering enemy before eventually, just a moment before darkness fell, being shattered ourselves.

Game two, three turns in.

The final result was 100-99, with SP as Ptolemy again emerging the victor! We were both a little surprised with this result. I thought I had done enough to win on points under the Lost Battles handicap system, but not quite.

Again Lost Battles delivered. Two exciting games which could have gone to either side, with two very plausable results which did no injustice to history.

Thanks to SP - worthy winner of the Washbourn Trophy - and to Phil Sabin, master rules designer!

And if you ask for Demetrius now?  You will find him eyeless in Gaza at the mill among slaves.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

History of the World (part 2).

Carrying on from part 1 of my solo, game-learning play of the 'History of the World' boardgame, and with the world still reeling from the Pax Romana (who made a desert and called it peace?), the third epoch of human history began.

The Guptas, appearing in Deccan, claimed the entire Indian subcontinent from its previous inhabitants the Mauryans, but not without some hard fighting. Sculpture, painting and architecture flourished!

But the red team could not be held for long: the indignant steppe Huns rose and bore down upon China, Eurasia and Southern Europe, to seemingly alter the landscape forever. 

The Byzantines however had a story of their own to write. They gained almost total mastery of Europe North and South, and with their legacy peoples still in Africa and the Middle East, the future was looking, um, golden.

History then gave herself over to the Arabians, who repopulated the Middle East, as was only meet. Despite their great numbers, they were unable to proceed much farther, as the descendants of the Guptans resisted the invaders strongly. 

At the close of the third epoch, Red led Gold, with White and Blue fighting for third place. 

Era four commenced with the establishment of a satellite kingdom in Japan and a Viking charge into what would later be known as the New World. More points for Red, who dominate the northern hemisphere.

At that a great khan appeared to unite a hardy people of the plains, but he must have REALLY displeased the gods, because almost half of his attacks were unsuccessful. Behold the blue horde grouping!

The Ottomans came, saw and conquered, but were unable to extend their influence into Europe or Eurasia.

Next the age of discovery dawned. If the tall ships of the Portuguese failed to land in the New World, they did however have the satisfaction of opening a trade route into Eurasia. Spicy!

Going into the fifth and final epoch, Red led Gold, and Blue led White.

The board at the end of the fourth epoch.

The fifth era started with courtly grace as the Qing expanded their influence with spectacular success, establishing dominance in Southeast Asia and even reaching Australia. A good haul of points resulted, but not enough to catch the leaders.  

North America, Africa and the Middle East then fell to the British, who bestrode the world like Colossi from their island fastness (didn't get to Australia, but).

On cue came the proud Americans. Freedom this, freedom that; supremacy in North and South America; a foothold in both Europes. To add insult to grevious injury, they captured Britannia!

The last empire of the game was the Germans. Predictably, they put northern Europe in thrall. What was not in the script was that they then liberated Britain from her American masters. They had no truck with Russia. A golden German finish it may have been, but it was not enough to take victory from the Red team.

At the end of it all, the final scores were as follows:

Red: 151 

Gold: 126 

White: 119 

Blue: 118

And the final board looked like this:

Playing History of the World solo was a heap of fun. Having had this run-through, I was consequently able to teach the game to three Risk playing buddies the following week, and they enjoyed it as much as I did.

It takes a good three or four hours, which is time enough to get involved without being quite long enough to get bored. The only issue I can see is that players who fall behind early may find their interest waning. It is possible to score big later in the game, but it is harder to do this if you don't have legacy pieces still on table, so with a bit more player experience and some developing tabletalk, it may turn into an experiment in diplomacy as well.

To conclude, I think we've found a good one here! 

New Phil Sabin Website

Since Phil Sabin (of Lost Battles and Simulating War fame) retired from Kings College, he has not had a web presence to disseminate his games. He has however just announced one now: the page, Philip Sabin's Wargame Designs, is here. Interestingly, Phil states that he has been "designing ‘total conversions’ which build on the components and data from existing games to give owners of those games a different dimension to explore."

More information is on the website of course, so please check it out if you are interested in accessing Phil's designs. It is good to see him back with a web presence again. 

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