Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Greek cavalry and Successor elephants done.

And together at last! Thebans and hamippoi from Xyston along with a test pair of the Potbelly Miniatures Successor jumbos (sans towers).


 




There's nothing negative to be said about Xyston, and the Potbelly models were good to work with. I do fear for the pikes, as the 3d printed plastic is quite brittle. To replace them was going to cause problems as well, so I decided to leave them be and if they break I will cross that bridge when I come to it. It would be great to have the option to order them with open hands, but they are very good value and take paint nicely. They are a little larger than your usual 15mm Indian elephant, but they should look good on the table and on the whole I am very pleased with them.

Monday, July 1, 2024

A new approach to painting.

As a painter, I've tended to be one of those people who works in big batches. In my case it has made for periods of great progress followed by long fallow patches. Having just come out of a fallow patch that, for various reasons, lasted about five years, I've been wondering if it's time to change my approach.

Back in May I took stock of the leadpile and thought about what I was going to do with all these figures I had yet to paint. Was I going to give up further progress as a bad job and start selling things off or was I going to get back on the metaphorical horse? I wondered if I could set myself a goal of painting two figures a day until the end of the year. If I could do that, I thought, it would give me a) more figures to game with and b) a potential way to move forward with the rest of the unpainted collection.

As per usual, my default was to go into big-batch mode. I got about 80 foot painted, and then started on a large cavalry lot, which I have just finished. All of this of course requires decision-making at scale, time spent prepping in large numbers, and then painting one or two steps a session (64 spears in brown, 32 tunic base colours in light grey, 32 in a variety of others, etc...) until the batch is finished.

What this means in practice is my hobby space is completely taken up with prepped figures, paints, bits and pieces, and the sense that you are on a big job. You can't, for example, set up an evening game if you feel like it, because to do so would require you to pack everything away to clear space, play the game, and then put everything back out again.

So I decided to try a new approach. For the moment, I'm calling it 'four for now'. Four to a base is how my infantry figures are organised for painting, so why not just do four figures to (almost) completion in a session? You see immediate progress, you shorten the time frame for playable numbers, and you can do it all in a much a smaller space footprint. I can store prepped figures elsewhere, so when I want to play a game, I can. 

I suppose the idea is to make painting less of an all-or-nothing thing, so that I can work on getting through the figures I have but without making it all-consuming, and by making painting something I am always doing in little bits. 



My first 'four for now'. Washes, base painting and shield patterns to come when I'm up to bigger numbers.

We'll see how long I last! 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Next batch of figures

I had previously harped on here about how keen I was to next get stuck into painting some Persians. Well, so much for that: this next batch (due for magic wash tomorrow) is Greek cavalry and hamippoi of the Theban variety. 



Xyston figures. My goodness, they are a treat to paint. I am a workman, not an artist, so am not able to quite do them justice, but even so, they are wonderful to work with. They do take a bit of prepping, mind....

I'm also working on some 3d printed elephants and from the Xyston pile have another 50-odd Greek cavalry and 80-odd Theban hoplites prepped. 

Successor beasts from Potbelly. Drybrushing underway.

With work extremely busy at the moment but without much tangible to show for it it has been nice to come back home to practical hobbying and feel like you are getting somewhere in at least one aspect of your life!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

In the post

Since moving back to New Zealand in 2019 I've missed playing Commands & Colors: Ancients. I have the boardgames of course, but playing with figures is for me where the game is best as a spectacle.  

In Japan I had made a hexmat myself, but utilizing as it did quite a lot of spray paint, it would not be very economical to use that method in New Zealand. So after a delay of five almost gameless C&C:A years, I decided to order a mat from Tiny Wargames in the UK. It should arrive soonish, and I am looking forward to it very much. Commands & Colors will never be the best simulation you will find, but it is easy to remember, small enough to play on the kitchen table, and so quick to set up and take down you can give the table back to the family by breakfast. 

Also heading this way is the World War One boardgame The Lamps Are Going Out. I have been looking for an affordable copy of it for years. The one I am getting is the paper map first edition, but that suits me fine. I will be playing it solo, and the fact that it uses areas rather than hexes is something I find helps to avoid analysis paralysis. Time will tell how much play it gets (my record with boardgames is not great!), but I hope that it will be one I can set up and play in a weekend, and come back to repeatedly when the mood strikes.

Speaking of boardgames, I also recently got hold of a copy of Ben Hull's Fields of Fire. It is a heavy undertaking, but I am building up to it. As a dedicated solitaire game it is something that once learned will be rewarding. But I digress from my stated purpose - that one is already out of the post and on the shelf!

Monday, June 3, 2024

Sentinum 295 BC with Lost Battles

SP came around tonight for another session of Lost Battles. Our last ancients game was, looking at blog records, late last year, when we played Zama and SP carried off the Washbourn Trophy in triumph. This time around we would play Sentinum. 

SP elected to play the Romans. They have an advantage in fighting value, 69 as against 60 for the Samnites and Gauls, but most of that is taken up with superior Roman generalship. The armies themselves are pretty even - five units of cavalry for the Romans - one veteran, the rest average; five units of mounted for the coalition, four heavy cavalry, one chariotry.

In infantry the coalition has fourteen units of heavy infantry against the Roman ten legionary units and two levy light infantry units. The numbers favour the coalition, but the Roman legionaries have better morale and when fresh are harder to hit.

The Romans have an average commander in Fabius and an uninspired cavalry leader in Decius Mus. The coalition has Gellius Egnatius as an uninspired infantry leader.

So far there is not much between the armies, but at Sentinum the coalition is classed as fatigued: that is, their staying power is compromised. Once a Gallic or Samnite unit has taken a hit, it attacks thereafter at -1, meaning in effect that all things being equal a fatigued heavy infantry unit up against a legionary unit will need 11 or 12 on two dice to to score a hit, so the coalition troops have to try to make an impact early and keep as many units fresh as possible for as long as possible.

Looking from behind the Roman right.

As it eventuated, there was not too much need for deep strategy: it was one of those rare games when everything went right for my side and nothing for my worthy opponent. 

Our right wing engaged immediately, and the infantry in the three central zones advanced. I kept the cavalry on my left refused. They were outnumbered and I felt it was best to be circumspect at the outset.

One wing and the centre engaged. My refused left can be seen on right of the picture.


The Gauls on my right quickly made inroads and the chariots burst through after just two turns of combat, shattering one unit and routing the guard for the unfortunate Decius Mus and denuding the Roman left of any meaningful defenders.

A double hit is scored, Decius Mus is unable to rally either of them, and the Roman left is lost.

Why did the Romans not invoke Favour of the Gods and force a re-roll, Lost Battles afficionadoes may ask? The reason for this is that I had already had such frighteningly good dice in the centre that SP had invoked the gods there, and with the token now in my hands, could not do so again until I had issued an invocation of my own. 

The action continued apace.

Galvanised by the early loss of his left wing and cognisant of the need to fight fire with fire in the centre, SP put as many command points into combat bonuses as he could. This paid off with hits against the Samnite left centre under Gellius. But in doing this he neglected to make use of his cavalry superiority on the right.

 

The refused Samnite cavalry wing is left unmolested.

Gellius Egnatius leads the Samnites as the centres continue the fight. The victorious Gallic cavalry and chariotry can just be seen in the distance in behind the Roman left.

The Roman rear is now exposed and with three units to use for this purpose, the Gauls focus on getting deep in behind the Romans to interfere with their morale and prepare to strike in future turns. SP pulls two units of cavalry out of the line on his right to respond to the threat.

A double hit by Gellius on the Roman right centre sees another unit shattered and the levy light infantry flee.  

With options running out for Rome bold attacks are initiated by the cavalry, now split across two zones to meet threats from two directions, and by the legionaries in the central zones.


Black arrows show direction of Roman attacks in turn 6.

The chariots are hit, but do not break. The other cavalry fails to hit at all. In the right centre, a mighty effort smites Gellius's unit, but in a scene which epitomises SP's luck tonight, Gellius rallies the hit. There is another successful attack in the central zone, but not enough to turn the tide. 


A series of attacks by the coalition sweep away the remaining Roman cavalry and Fabius's sector of the infantry line. The rest of the army holds on for the remainder of the turn, but Gellius administers the coup de grace on the turn after.


Final attack: Gellius rolls up the Roman line, already beset front and rear, with an attack from the flank.

It was a rather unfortunate game for SP. He stuck at it but you can't do much when the dice are your enemy.

From my perspective The Gauls and Samnites were able to keep just enough units fresh to avoid the worst effects of fatigue, and seemed to manage to align their most important attacking moments with their most potent dice rolling. The luck went entirely my way, but it was interesting to see a Lost Battles Roman army unexpected defeated on the table: beat the cavalry, surround the infantry, wear them down until morale starts to fail. 

It was pretty much the historical formula.

Victory Points:

Rome: 

The coalition spent: 3 x average heavy cavalry, 1 x average chariot, 9 x average heavy infantry equates to 52 points

Samnites & Gauls:

Roman shattered: 2 x average legionaries, 2 x average heavy cavalry, 1 x veteran heavy cavalry equates to 32 points

Roman routed: 2 x levy light infantry, 8 x average legionaries, 2 x average heavy cavalry equates to 46 points

Withdrawn: 1 x average commander, 1 x uninspired leader, equates to 9 points. 

Handicap: 18 points

Fatigued: 20 points

Total points for Rome: 52; for Samnites & Gauls: 125, for a major victory.

I now get to keep the Washbourn Trophy for a spell, which makes a bit of a change!


Sunday, June 2, 2024

Libyans on base

There have been a few delays but we've finally got to the fun part - taking the freshly varnished figures off their temporary strips and arranging them on their bases. I think I've said it here before, but it's the part of the painting process I enjoy most. 

The hard work is done and the game - as it were - is almost afoot.

To delay things further, the reason it took about four weeks to get these chaps to this stage is two-fold: one, I decided to bolster the ranks a little, and two, it has been difficult to find the right paints I use during the basing process.

The extra figures I got are from Potbelly Miniatures, a 3d printing enterprise based in New Zealand, of whose existence Mike of Bucellarii kindly apprised me a few posts ago. They are nice figures, but the resin used presented a challenge - none of my glues would work! It took me a bit of time to find the solution, which turned out to be Cyanoacrylate from Avetek NZ. 

The other problem (still not resolved, unfortunately!) is paint. In Japan I used to finish figure bases in Tamiya Flat Green, cardboard bases in any variety of green or khaki, and the edges of said bases in Mr Hobby H58, Interior Green. In order to maintain consistency, I wanted to use the same colours over here, but had not got them yet. I therefore ordered a few pots of the H58. These took about a week to arrive. When I went to use them, I found to my surprise that it is no longer the same colour. I wondered if I'd ordered the wrong code, and went to check: apparently Mr Hobby changed the formula in 2019. 

So I was stuck. I had two pots of paint that won't do the business. Do I order some black and try to mix them to the right colour or find something from another manufacturer that's closer? In the interests of saving time and shipping costs I tried buying a Humbrol pot from a local store, but that is not quite right either. Hmm.

It wouldn't be so bad if this were Japan. It would take ten minutes to find an alternative hobby paint at the local Joshin, and even if you got things wrong it would cost you about $10 for the various paints and thinners I've picked up so far. In New Zealand these mis-steps have cost me $80 and I still don't have the right colour. Oh well. It's never going to do much for your equilibrium comparing prices of hobby products between NZ and Japan!

So I will just use the wrong colour in the meantime and hope it is only me that notices the difference.

The figures drying on their bases (with the offending H58 in the background!)

One thing I have reason to be thankful for is that I was able to bring my non-hobby acrylic paints back here from Japan with me, so it's rare for me to need to actually buy any paint. I shouldn't grumble too much!

Anyway, on to the flocking stage, and I have a game planned for tonight with SP, so it should be a good long weekend.

Monday, May 27, 2024

A Game of Empire

 As a break from painting I got out my copy of Phil Sabin's Empire to play a solo game. Empire is a light wargame set in the ancient era covering 200 years from the time of Alexander through to the demise of an independent Macedon. The map covers Iberia to India, with areas connected by land or sea. It starts with the Achaemenid Persians pre-eminent in the east, controlling eight areas, and Carthage (three areas) dwarfing the foundling Roman Republic (which has to meet consolidation conditions before it can begin to campaign) and Macedon, both of which control just one home area to begin with.

There is a revolt phase (die rolls to find which area throws off the yoke of its oppressor) then a campaign phase in which each of the four powers look to expand their territory or reassert control over territory lost. Three 'great captains' (you can probably guess who they are!) allow five campaigns on the turn(s) they are active instead of the usual single campaign per power.  

There are two scoring rounds, turn 10 and turn 20. Carthage and Persian start with 12 VPs each; Rome and Macedon start with 0

We pick up the action in 350 BC.

350-341 BC. Bactria revolts. Carthage conquers Sicilia. Rome bickers with its Latin neighbours. The Persian Empire moves on Aegyptus but is defeated. Macedon conquers Graecia.

340-331 BC. Persia revolts. Alexander rampages through the east, taking Thracia, Asia, Pontus, Syria and Aegyptus. Rome continues to bicker. Persia takes back the province of Persia. Carthage fails to take Magna Graecia.

330-321 BC. Aegyptus revolts. Alexander continues his campaign, taking Armenia, Mesopotamia, Persia and Parthia. The Persians attempt a revolt in their home territory but fail. Carthage again fails to find a foothold in Magna Graecia. Rome is still embroiled in internecine conflicts. 

320-311 BC. Macedon fails to take Bactria. The Parthians successfully reclaim their capital. Rome consolidates Italia and now has a presence in the Mediterannean. Carthage fails to make any headway in Magna Graecia.

Alexander's conquests and Parthia reclaimed for the green team.
 

Carthage dominates the western sea as Rome emerges.


310-301 BC. Pontus revolts. The Parthians fail to take Bactria. Rome fails to take Magna Graecia, and so fails Carthage. The Successor kingdoms reassert control of Pontus.

300-291 BC. Thracia revolts. The Parthians again fail to take Bactria. Carthage takes Magna Graecia; Rome promptly takes it off Carthage. 

290-281 BC. Persia revolts. Carthage tries another futile expedition to Magna Graecia. The Successors fail to bring Aegyptus into their orbit. Parthia fails to take Bactria. Rome fails to take Cisalpina. Failure is epidemic!

280 - 271 BC. Macedon takes Thracia. Rome fails in an expedition to Sicilia, Parthia fails to take Bactria, and Carthage fails to take Magna Graecia.

270 - 261 BC. There is a revolt in Numidia. Rome takes Sicilia. Successors fail to take Aegyptus. Carthage fails to retake Numidia. Parthia takes Bactria at last. 

260 - 251 BC. Thracia revolts. Carthage brings Numidia back into the fold. The Successors again fail to take Aegyptus. Rome fails to take Cisalpina. 

Rome and Carthage with their spheres of influence (251 BC).



Rome and Macedon (251 BC)



The east (251 BC)



This is now the first scoring round. Parthia controls Parthia and Bactria for 2 points, taking them to 14. Carthage controls Africa (2), Numidia, Iberia (2) for 5 points. This takes them to 17. Rome controls Italia (3), Magna Graecia, Sicilia for 5 points, giving them 5. Macedon controls Macedonia, Graecia, Asia, Pontus, Syria, Armenia, Mesopotamia for 7 points. 

At this stage I thought that Rome looked to be in a strong position to push for a win in turn 20. 

250-241 BC. Revolt in Graecia. Rome tries to attack Africa, unsuccessfully. Carthage attempts to take Sicilia but fails. Macedon takes Graecia again.Parthia fails to take Persian. 

240-231 BC. Rome takes Cisalpina. Carthage fails to take Gallia. Greeks fail against Aegyptus; Parthians fail against Persia.

230-221. Revolt in Magna Graecia. Rome fails to retake it. Parthia fails to take India. Legacy Successors take Aegyptus. Carthage fails to take Gallia.

220-211 BC. Hannibal sweeps through Gallia, Cisalpina, Italia, bringing Rome to its knees. Macedon fails to take Thracia, Parthians succeed in taking Persia, Rome, forced to consolidate again, fails. 

After Hannibal's devastating campaigns against Rome.


210-201 BC. Revolt in Iberia. Scipio consolidates Rome and retakes Magna Graecia, but three other campaigns fail. Carthage fails to reclaim Iberia. Macedon takes Thracia. Parthia successfully conquers India. 

200-191 BC. Pontus revolts. The Roman expansion continues: they take Cisalpina, Gallia, Iberia, Numidia, and just fail to take Africa. Parthia fails to take Mesopotamia. the Successors retake Pontus. Carthage reclaims Numidia.

The Roman revenge is swift, but they do not expand east into Greece.



190-181 BC. Revolt in Syria. Carthage fails to take Iberia. Parthia fails against Mesopotamia. Successors take Syria and Rome fails to claim Sicilia.

180-171 BC. Revolt in Syria again. Parthia takes Mesopotamia. Carthage fails to take Iberia.  Successors claim Syria. Rome takes Sicilia. 

170-161 BC. Revolt in India. Macedon fails to take Illyria. Rome takes Numidia. Parthia fails to claim India. Carthage can't wrest back Numidia.

160-151 BC FINAL TURN: Revolt in Asia. Rome takes Africa. Carthage's attempt to revolt fails. Parthia is unsuccessful in India again and the Successors fail to take Asia.

Last turn scoring: 

Rome: Italia (3) Magna Graecia, Sicilia, Africa (2), Numidia, Iberia (2), Gallia, Cisalpina for 12 points, taking them to 17.
Macedon: Macedonia, Graecia, Thracia, Aegyptus (2), Syria, Pontus, Armenia for 8 points, or 15 all up.
Carthage: no territories remaining, it rests on the 17 it had at turn 10.
Parthia: Parthia, Bactria, Persia, Mesopotamia for 4 points, taking them to 18.

Parthia takes the win with 18. 17 for Rome and Carthage and 15 for Macedon.

Views of the board at game end.

Final positions. 


It was another interesting play of a Phil Sabin game, and surprisingly close. With two turns to go any of the four powers could have won mathmatically. By the last turn it was down to Carthage and Parthia, though I didn't know that until I tallied up the final score. If Carthage had held Africa on the final turn they would have taken the game.

Thoughts: Rome was fighting Carthage all game and never got a chance to expand east. Macedon could not hold Alexander's conquests, with vital revolts depriving it of a stronger result in the first scoring round. But it did manage to stay competitive. Carthage had a worthy fight with Rome and was only just short of victory. Parthia got back into the game with an early successful revolt against Macedon in its home area, and did just enough to take the win.

I wonder if Rome slightly underperforms in Empire. I don't recall a Roman victory in the times I've played it, and the need to risk a sea attack to get a foothold in Greece seems to result in a 'Carthage first' policy when an attack east earlier is probably necessary to achieve a win. 

Good, thoughtful fun anyway, as is usual with Phil Sabin's designs.


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Ventures into the leadpile and other matters

Now that I seem to have got myself back into a bit of a painting routine* and have nearly finished my latest batch of figures, I've naturally started to look at a) what to prep next and b) what next to buy. 

I would dearly like to get my Achaemenid Persians to the point that they could be fielded for a Lost Battles scenario or two, but it would also be an asset to have more Hellenistics painted up. Greek City State and Successor scenarios make magnificent spectacles, but Plataea, Issus and Gaugamela would look fairly presentable as well.  

What to do.

Well, I had a look at the lead pile, or at least the most relevant portions of it.

Hellenistics

Geez, that's a lot to paint... 


The Persians

And so is that... 

For the Persians, ironically enough, what sticks out is what I don't have. There are no Immortals or Sparabara in the pile, and I want to be able to cover Early Achaemenids as well. I've placed a test order with Potbelly Miniatures at the suggestion of Mike, author of the excellent Bucellarii blog, and am also going to look at putting in an order at Museum for some of their Z range Persians. Right at this moment I am probably more interested in gaming the Persian invasion of Greece than I am in Alexander's expeditions (for which I have, unpainted, the Persian figures already). I don't however want to rush in and buy figures that may not fit with the rest of the collection. I will get a few samples and make sure I'm going to be happy with what I do finally order.

As always, the painting focus is on economy of action: the quicker I can get to playing status the better. Coming off painting Libyan foot, more phalangites (for Raphia and the bigger Successor battles) is tempting - it's basically the same colour scheme but with pikes - but that is also the challenge: would painting ennui await? 

While economy of action is all well and good, at some point, with any army, you simply have to knuckle down and do the work. I think that's about where I'm at with the Persians. I have quite a few skirmishers, archers, Egyptian spearmen and cavalry done already, but nowhere near enough to field a Lost Battles army. If I want to make decent progress I need to just sit down and do it.

That said, at the moment I think I will prevaricate, prep some Greek horse, and see what the new orders look like when they arrive.

One of the things I have to be wary of (and seeing the huge amount of lead in the Hellenistic pile above provides proof!) is a tendency towards the never-ending army syndrome. For a variety of reasons, I buy figures for armies that are, by most reasonable measures, finished. A sensible person would be devoting their dosh and time to working on their other armies that are not. 

But who said that you have to be sensible in wargaming? 

State of my 15mm Ancient-era armies.

Complete:
Polybian Romans (x2). Marian Romans (x2). Gauls. Iberians. Early and Later Carthaginians. Macedonians/Successors (x1.5). Latins/Samnites.

Incomplete but fieldable for some scenarios or as contingents:
Hoplite Greeks. 

Fieldable as contingents, or for half-sized games:
Parthians. Numidians. 

Awaiting the brush:
Achaemenid Persians. Second Successor army. Polybian Romans (to replace some figures I'm not happy with). Second hoplite Greek army.

Looking at this, it is clear what I need to do: just get on with the Persians, and throw in some Successors / Greeks in small batches every now and then for a change.

 *at the cost, sadly, of my guitar-playing routine!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

On the painting table

A little later in the year than I'd hoped, but we're finally making a spot of painting progress at the house of Prufrock.

I had planned to have these ready to do Ilipa for the Society of Ancients Battle Day, but as so often happens, the plan did not come to fruition!

These are work in progress Carthaginian spearmen with hoplon, who can be used as Sacred Band for earlier periods or Libyan infantry for Hannibal's war. They are from the Corvus Belli range, but produced in plastic by the Plastic Soldier Company. They are lovely figures. I'm a little pickier with their cavalry, but the Corvus Belli infantry ranges are superb. Unfortunately, they seem to be out of stock at the Plastic Soldier Company now, so when or whether they will be available again I don't know.

Getting close to completion...

Which means I'd best make the most of the ones I have. There are enough for four 16-man units, but as my initial purchase was a couple of figures short, they sent me an extra 8, meaning if I scrounge the bits box and repurpose some command figures I can probably field 72 altogether.

Batch 2 still has more work to do


I'm yet to decide whether to leave the shields as they are or add designs. 

Painting guide:
Dark grey undercoat
Mid brown for spear shafts, sandals, shield backs
Flesh for arms, legs, hands, faces
Light grey for linen armour and shields
Red brown for straps, scabbards
Red for tunics
Dark silver / iron for spearheads
Antique bronze for helmets, shield edges.
White highlight for linen armour, shields
Gold to highlight bronze, shield edges
Silver highlight for spearheads
Highlight for tunics
Green for bases
Magic wash
Highlight for flesh, other areas that might need a touch up
Spray varnish x 2

I haven't been in a painting routine for a long time so am just trying to do a bit each night before dinner and/or after the kids are in bed. I'd like to get some Greek cavalry done next and then try to make a dent in my Achaemenid Persians.

We'll see how we go!


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Chancellorsville and Glory II

If there's one thing I love about boardgames, it's setting them up. I may not get through a whole game, but I do like to get the maps on the table, weight them down for a couple of days to sit flat, leisurely put the counters in place (in consultation with appropriate reference works), and then admire the scene. 

I got Richard Berg's Glory II: Across the Rappahannock about ten years ago, I would guess, when I was in Japan. I set up a couple of one-mapper scenarios, but the whole battle of Chancellorsville is a three-mapper, and I didn't have the dedicated space over there to tackle it. 

The first thing you appreciate is that three maps do the terrain justice. Here we are looking from the west towards Fredericksburg, with the Union forces in the foreground converging on Chancellorsville itself.



Moving east, we see Anderson and company digging in around Zoar Zion Church and waiting for support to come up.



On the heights overlooking Fredericksburg, McLaws stays in prepared positions (for the moment, at least).  


Further south, Early observes Sedgwick and his command across the river. 


It is 7:15am on May 1st, 1863: Hooker is at Chancellorsville, the Federals are massing, and the action is about to commence. Shelby Foote provides commentary and atmosphere; we are all set.





With the prospect of playing this out solo in front of me, I re-read the Foote account and traced it out on the map. I planned to come downstairs the next night and start the game.

But I didn't. 

And that is all we got to.

A week later, I still have not started. Back into its box it goes.

It was a nice project to a certain extent, but I'm a touch concerned, looking at the vast numbers of boardgames on my shelves, how little I actually play them. I wonder if this is what my relationship to the meatier boardgames has come to: are they now just a tool to visualise action, rather than to play it out? 

Or maybe I just need to start pulling chits and rolling dice rather than opening my phone!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Shogun

I'm not a huge TV watcher, but a mate told me I had to watch the new Shogun series, so I did. I now join the vast majority and recommend it highly. Sanada Hiroyuki (as producer) has got it spot on.



It widens and narrows its scope superbly. Great job. 


 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Review: Forged in Battle 15mm Later Seleucid Elephants

 (This review was originally written for Slingshot, the Society of Ancients' Journal, after a review pack of elephants was passed my way. For whatever reason, the review was never published. I happened upon it while going through some old files and thought I would post it here)

Forged in Battle 15mm LATER SELEUCID ELEPHANTS (code MS05) review.




Contents

The pack comes in ten pieces: two identical elephant models with attached towers – the towers are filled in, not hollow – two elephant heads, one with armoured trunk, one without; two identical mahouts in tunic wearing crested Attic helmets (though there may be variations – the website image shows a differently-attired mahout in what appears to be tunic and headband), and six crew figures modelled from the torso up, to be attached to the top surface of the tower. The crew figures are comprised of two archers, two javelinmen and two pike-bearers. They are in various combinations of linen armour, breastplate, and tunic, and wear Boiotian, Attic or Phrygian helmets. In my pack the two sarissa bearers are in different poses, but the archers and javelinmen are not.



Assembly

The pieces required a bit of filing to fit, but that is to be expected. The head of the elephant is attached to the body by means of a male/female joint, but the mahouts had to be filed thinner, their legs positioned carefully and glued to the front of the tower to allow the heads and bodies to meet. I used epoxy putty to fill in the gaps and ensure a strong bond.


The towers are cramped and I could only fit two crewmen per tower, but others may have better skills and more patience at fitting the third figures in than me. I also attached pikes before checking the crew positioning, which resulted in one pike being angled too steeply and the figure thus unusable. Lesson learned.


Modelling

After assembly it became apparent that there was a modelling oversight: the left-hand side of the elephant has the covering cloth right up to the elephant's front shoulder, but the right-hand side does not, so that when viewing from the left the mahout is sitting on the cloth, but from the right he isn't. Ideally you would want to use putty or green stuff to give the impression that the coverings meet, and do it before the mahout is attached. Unfortunately, I didn't notice this until too late, so I have used paint to try to do the same job. Otherwise, the sculpting is crisp, the details are good, and the proportions are attractive.


In terms of dimensions, the elephants are taller and slimmer than the other Seleucid or Indian elephants in my 15mm collection but they are still within the possible size range of the breed so they make for good variety.


Comparison with Chariot elephants (two in centre)


There are no straps across the elephants' rear ends, so people wanting those will need to add them in with putty or paint.

Comparison from the rear


Summary

They are a little tricky to put together, but they look grand. The folds in the cloth, the elephant armour, and the ridges on the elephant skin are very nice to work with and respond well to dry-brushing and washes. They are a very good addition to the current 15mm Successor elephant options, and the sculptor should be commended for going for a slightly different look. These models will work alongside Chariot elephants, for example, and the army will look much the better for their presence. I would certainly recommend this set and am now considering putting in a Christmas order with Forged in Battle, even though I shouldn't really be buying up even more lead…



Monday, April 1, 2024

Easter activities

Well, the Society of Ancients Battle Day has come and gone, and I didn't get to do an Ilipa refight after all. With SP busy with work and my not having cultivated enough other interested parties we will have to do it belatedly.

I did get to take the family over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay for a couple of nights though, which was a great success. We stayed with my aunt and her partner, who was born in America and is an American Civil War buff. As I knew of his ACW interest I put a copy of Battlecry in the car, and on the second night asked if he wanted to try a game. He did. It turns out that he used to own a couple of America Heritage games in his younger days.

He took to the game quite quickly, and we got through two scenarios in about four hours.

I have a couple of copies of Battlecry (one given to me by Pat Hirtle; another that came with some other games I bought from a fellow online), so I have given him the one I took over.

Hopefully he enjoys it, and we might be able to get a game or two in when he's over this side of the hill on business. 

Hope Easter has been restful for you all!

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Testing out Memoir 44

Over the last few weeks SP and I have caught up for a couple of nights yarning and gaming with Memoir 44. I'd picked up a secondhand copy within NZ through a facebook page connection and ordered some expansions from Amazon following an introduction to it during a fleeting visit to Japan.

We tried out the Pegasus Bridge scenario (won both times won by the Allies) last week and Hellfire Pass (both times won by the Allies) tonight.

Hellfire pass, from the German side


Pegasus Bridge from the perspective of the Allies

It's simple but effective and we think we can probably get our young lads interested in a game as well. It may turn out to be a good purchase for that alone.

I'd initially thought I might be put off by the out of scale miniatures the game uses, but in fact they remind me of the maps I used to pore over in the Purnell History of the Second World War zines my grandfather collected.

The scenarios require some pleasing strategising, but as with all the C&C family of games there is plenty of potential for things to go awry. Overall I'm pleased I bought into it, and there is a lot of scope for ongoing play.

It's not going to replace heavier games in my collection but will probably get more play.

We also gave Twilight Struggle a go, but that is for another post. 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Society of Ancients Battle Day: Ilipa preparations.

As February draws to a close thoughts naturally proceed to the Society of Ancients' battle day, which this year is Ilipa, a battle I have all the necessary figures for, and which will be held on the weekend of March 23rd/24th.

I have been a sympathetic participant in several other battle days, these being the refights of Pharsalus in 2016 and Paraitakene in 2018. I also did a solo boardgame version of Bosworth in 2021, but it hardly counts. I had grand plans to do Mantinea in 2023. Unfortunately, I got into a funk and didn't get the figures painted.

The general idea for battle days at my end is to get together with likeminded individuals and play the same battle as the Society chaps, on more or less the same date, and see about submitting a report on it to the Society's journal Slingshot. Can we manage all of that this year? I'm not sure, but it's worth a try.

Ilipa. 

I have a bit of a soft spot for both commanders, the brilliant Scipio and the hapless Hasdrubal. Of course, Hasdrubal's haplessness was largely down to his having to face Scipio every other battle. He seemed to do mostly all right otherwise, was an organiser a union would be proud of (he raised new armies after massive defeats and got Syphax to commit to the Carthaginian cause), while to further commend him he was the father of the magnificent Sophonisba.

How to do the battle.

My best battle day effort by far was the Pharsalus game. Six players, myself as umpire, bespoke rules, and a report for Slingshot. I won't be able to do all of that this year, but would like to get as close as I can.

I've been thinking of using either Commands & Colors: Ancients or Simon Miller's To the Strongest! for the rules. My table layout means that for the former I would need to adjust the scenario to fit suit my space limitations (the wargaming equivalent of converting iambic pentameter to trochaic tetrameter...); for the latter I could just about use the superb James Roach's scenario as it is. My favourite rules, Lost Battles, could be used at a pinch, but they are are not an easy ride for first-time gamers.

Much depends on how many players I can muster. My offsider SP will be away for a few weeks in 'Nam (cue various Rambo-era jokes) fulfilling work commitments. This means that we will not be able to play on the designated weekend, but I think we can get away with that. Between now and then I will try to drum up another few participants and decide how best to so things.

It's good to have a little project on the go.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

On wargames campaigns (after Polemarch)

The excellent blogger Polemarch has recently put up a couple of thought-provoking posts on campaigns. The first talks about types of campaigns, concluding that they are often better in the idea than the execution; the second offers further reasoning about why that might be. 

In the ancients era that I usually game and with the types of large set-piece battles I most enjoy, campaigns tend to not have much value. In this era, campaigning was (with one or two notable exceptions) essentially about bringing one's enemy to battle in circumstances least advantageous to them. The battle was had. If the winner was the home team, the invaders were dispersed and the game, so to speak, was up; if the invader was victorious, terms would be reached and the thing was over (unless of course you were fighting the Achaemenid Persians or the Romans, who would [eventually, or fairly immediately, respectively] raise another army and make you do it all again).  

The interest then in this era is to try to get battlefield advantage. That is not usually best expressed by manoeuvrings over a campaign map, but by some sort of pre-battle system which modifies morale, numbers, terrain, deployment or leadership to the benefit of one or the other side.

If one is to do this, it is quite useful (as indeed it is for just about any circumstance!) to read Caesar to see the kinds of things he considered important when choosing if or when to give battle. 

To me it seems that ancients campaigns work best at either the grand strategic or the tactical level. You can follow the fortunes of nations over years or decades, where competing powers look to prise provinces or regions from one another, or you can follow the fortunes of smaller entities raiding or subduing neighbours in lower intensity local conflicts.

I tried a solo campaign of the latter type set in tribal Iberia. I put quite a bit of time into it, but it simply wasn't exciting enough. It turned out I'd rather refight Zama for the tenth time than try to sustain interest in endless minor encounters between similarly equipped neighbours over local concerns.

For the former type, you can't beat boardgames. If you want to replay the Punic and Macedonian wars, it's far better to do it in a boardgame in one sitting than to stretch it out with questionable bespoke rules to take up three months' worth of miniatures battles, trying to involve players whose chance of winning was, after the first week, only slightly better than nil.

I remember that the time I was most excited about campaigns was back in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle days, when I was young, had oodles of time, and thought that defending a pass against a tidal wave of Orcs was the perfect way to spend a Sunday (and the week before it mulling over army choices!).

The difference here is the difference: you could have Orcs, Goblins, Elves, Dwarves, various humans, all with different characteristics and fighting styles, and all within a realm's distance of one another without doing violence to backstory. Celtiberian tribal dominion versus Celtiberian tribal dominion does not offer quite the same opportunites for variety.

For me, if I want to get six people involved in a game, there are two choices: a boardgame, or a multi-command set-piece battle.

But it's good to be open to being convinced otherwise!


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

You can't fight the Borg

Richard Borg, that is. Following on from my last post, featuring the Borg board game Memoir '44, it turns out that this game I was definitely not going to buy (and on which point I essayed argument), has shown up secondhand. 

I couldn't stop myself.  

I now find myself wondering whether I need to get some expansions, and if so, which ones. Such is the gaming life.

In other, more miniatures-gamery news, I had to make another quick trip to Japan late last week to bring the kids back as a family situation has meant that my wife has had to stay on longer than we expected. On the last evening (of three) there I popped into a local hardware store and found, for about $2.30, wire enough to fit out a dozen pike armies. The beauty of this stuff is that it's stainless, cheap, and dead straight. 35cm sections, with one bend in each. A person of wargamery inclination can get seven to ten pikes per section. This lot should see me right for the rest of my (un)natural life!

I also snuck into the suitcase a few other bits and pieces I'd not previously had room to bring back. 1/72 Zvezda Samurai (could be used for another Borg-inspired project?), some WWII books, and not yet in my suitcase but will be in my darling wife's when she returns, a giant stash of my absolute favourite guitar picks, which can only be found in one shop, and then only if you are lucky. 


Not ideal circumstances, but sometimes you can still get your pikes and picks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

December WWII gaming

Before Christmas I was lucky enough to be able to head over to Japan with the family for a short trip to catch up with some people and spend a bit of time back in the old haunts.  We had various trips planned and things to do, but as fate would have it two of the young ones (not so young really, given they are now sixteen and fourteen!)* caught influenza which kept as mostly housebound for about half of the time I was over there (the family is staying over there a bit longer). 

Still, I managed to catch up with some old friends in our old town, one of whom has become quite a collector of games. One of his favourites is Memoir '44. I asked if he had anything he wanted to play, and this was what he was most keen on. At the age of 49, therefore, I got to play my first games of Memoir '44.

Memoir is not a series that I had ever been particularly interested in. It looked like toys in a box, the tanks are out of scale to the figures, and I played Commands & Colors: Ancients. 

There did not seem any need.

Well, what do I know. It turns out it was great fun. Trust Richard Borg!

Ben quickly ran me through the rules. Of course, the mechanics were familiar from C&C:A, but the tweaks oozed class and induced that nodding satisfaction that comes when you encounter something, know where it came from, and can see how it has built upon earlier iterations.

We played a desert scenario called Sbeitla, Tunisia, which was part of preprinted pack, saving the need to set up the terrain on the map. 

I played as the attacking Germans first up. The tactical position was interesting. The field was dominated by strongly positioned US artillery in the centre, a forward left flank of infantry and armour, and a refused infantry-heavy right flank with anti-tank capability. 

To face this I had a centre of infantry complemented by mixed infantry and armour on the flanks, with my left, bolstered by a veteran (four tanks rather than three) unit, stronger than my right.

Five banners were needed to win, which could be achieved by occupying key positions and/or eliminating enemy units. 

My main concern initially was the artillery, and early moves were focused on neutralising it. While working to this end I was hit by a couple of devastating special cards which destroyed one of my infantry units immediately. Gradually however my armour got into advantageous positions that, in combination with good cards, created opportunies to take enemy units in a crossfire and threaten the terrain objectives. 

Mid-game from the German side. Three banners scored each, but with some excellent opportunites for German armour... 

As it happened, the Germans were able to squeeze out a win by hunting down the vulnerable infantry on the US right. 

We switched sides and played again. In this game the Germans took an early lead and appeared to have the game for the taking, but a US fight back with a special armour assault card combined with lucky dice allowed the double-whammy of destroying units and taking objectives to snatch a victory. 

Game two in progress, from the perspective of the US.

I was impressed enough by Memoir to research its availability in New Zealand.  The boy though is not interested in wargames at this stage. If he were, it would be a great option. But the fact that he would rather do other things and that the subject of the original game is Normandy, which I already have plenty of gaming options for, means that I will likely hold off. Unless of course I find a secondhand copy going, or just change my mind!

When I got back home just after Christmas I took advantage of the 'bachelor life' to get in a game of Undaunted Normandy with SP, just before he took off to go on a cruise with family.

As always, it provided a good game with numerous tactical challenges. I forget which scenario we played, but it was one from the base game that we'd enjoyed first time round. Playing as the US I had a corner position on a hill trying to take objectives in the middle of the battlefield, but with not much cover around. SP as the Germans played an excellent game, presenting multiple threats that forced me to respond. While attempting to prevent my troops being massacred I worked on setting up a machine gun fire base to first neutralise his mortar and then dominate the centre. In doing so I was distracted from what I needed to do to win, which was take ground. SP gave me too much to do and while I was stuck in a reactive cycle he advanced into jump off points. I tried to respond in kind, but it was a little too late. He punished my infantry as they tried to contest the centre, took the objectives from his forward positions and won in handsome style. 

The field at game end.



And they've done it!

It really is a fantastic game, and such a good option to pull out on a week night. Plays fast, is engaging all the way through, and you can have a couple of beers and a yarn beforehand and still have time to get through a game or two.

Anyway, happy new year to you all, and hope it's a good year for everyone. 

*Where did those years go?!


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