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Friday, 1 December 2017

Russians vs Turks, post WW1.

Last week, it was once again my pleasure to head over to Stuart's for a game. There always seems to be something a bit unusual and highly diverting on the menu, and this occasion was no exception - a Russia vs. Turkey encounter set in the years immediately after the First World War.


The table that greeted me is shown in the photo above. Minifigs S Range 25mm figures mostly, with a couple of units of Tradition Crimea figures filling out the Russian force. Guns were converted Airfix ACW models plus a few Tradition guns from the Horse and Musket period. 

Rules were on one side of A4 - actually about three-quarters of one side of A4. 'You don't think they're a bit too complex?" I was asked. I assured Stuart that this was not the case, and we set to. Well, we actually set to after nearly an hour of convivial chat about wargaming in general, and our own recent endeavours in the hobby in particular. This is always a very pleasant part of our meetings.

Turkish infantry.
Their Russian opponents. Yes, the flags are from the Napoleonic period.
Do you want to make something of it?
Russian light cavalry
The Turkish centre.
Action! Turkish right wing advancing.
After taking casualties from Russian rifle fire, the two Turkish units are sent reeling back by a cavalry charge.
Cavalry action on the Turkish left wing. The two nearest buildings in the town are from Airfix.
Infantry meet in the central village.
Russian infantry supporting their cavalry against the Turkish left wing.
Nice pointing!
Turkish artillery (converted Airfix ACW guns) pound the Russian infantry line.
No way through here.
Alas, time ran out before a result could be declared. It was great to game a period I'd never encountered before. Also interesting was starting with a very simple set of rules that Stuart was happy to develop as the game went along. This is always a very instructive way to wargame, but needs open-minded and experienced gamers on both sides of the table, as well as people who have the same broad outlook regarding what they are trying to achieve. 

Stuart mentioned the possibility of developing a 'single side of A4' set of generic horse and musket rules. Now there's a challenge. Not something everyone would enjoy, and it requires wargamers who are willing to resolve any situations not strictly covered by the rules in a spirit of cooperation. But I can see his point that creating such a set would be an absorbing challenge.

Look out Neil Thomas!

'Til next time!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Battle Of The Temple Crossings

A very welcome email from my old wargames buddy Steve gave me the chance recently to set up another ancients game. I would be able to move on from the Trimsos scenario and also give a couple of new units their baptism of fire. 

The new battle would be based on an 18th century scenario posted on the HoW website some time ago - you can see the original here. Thanks as usual to our prolific HoW poster Damnitz for this excellent game idea.

The map shows the set-up as adapted from the original - each map square is 1' x 1'. The forces of Paphlagonia are attacking a small Latium army defending the river crossings near a disused temple. The river is low at the moment, but by autumn it will be in full flow and the crossings will be vital. I would command the Army of Paphlagonia, whilst Steve led the Army of the Kingdom of Latium. North is to the top of the map.

The Battle Of The Temple Crossings.

Forces

Army of Pahplagonia

A. Blue Shields Infantry (24 figures, pike phalanx)
B. Yellow Shields Infantry (24 figures, pike phalanx)
C. Galchobar Warband (24 figures, celtic warriors)
D. Zagora Archers (16 figures)
E. Serpent's Tongue Javelinmen (16 figures)
F. Companion Cavalry (12 figures, heavy cavalry)
G. 100 Suns Mounted Archers (12 figures, light cavalry)
H. War Chariots ( 3 heavy chariots)

10 units. Army Break Point 5.

Army of the Kingdom of Latium

1-3. 1st, 2nd & 3rd Regiments, The Kingdom Infantry (16 figures each, heavy infantry)
4. Na'Arun Slingers (16 figures, light infantry)
5. Auricomus Cataphracts (12 figures, heavy cavalry)
6. Medjay Cavalry (12 figures, light cavalry)
7. War Elephants (3 armoured elephants)
8. Bolt Thrower

10 units. Army Break Point 5

Scenario Conditions
The Paphlagonian army can set up within 1 foot of their baseline, the Latium army within 2 feet of theirs. Temple Hill is gentle, the River Parthenius is crossable. The first army to reach its army break point loses. Each river crossing lost loses the Army of Latium one army point (equivalent to losing one unit).

The Battle In Pictures

I set the figures out in advance to save time. The army of Latium is nearest the camera.
Only a single unit of light infantry is west of the river.
The Latium elephants advance, with a mission to disrupt the powerful Paphlagonian pike phalanx.
Two units of the Kingdom Infantry are in support.
The crunch approaches. The Paphlagonian right wing is also making a determined advance.
With one elephant distracted by the Paphlagonian archers, the contest in the centre is unequal
and the elephants are easily dispatched. On the right, the Serpent's Tongue javelimen are putting up a stout fight against a regiment of the Kingdom Infantry, but ultimately they were doomed.
A confused and deadly melee takes place on the eastern flank. One chariot is already destroyed.
Overview around turn 3. The Blue and Yellow Shields own the centre of the battlefield, whilst the Galchobar Warband clear the wood and find little opposition ahead of them. However, the 100 Suns mounted archers, attempting a sally towards the ford, have been smartly seen off by the Latium slingers, and can be seen licking their wounds at the right of the photo.
The Paphlagonian phalanx closes in on its next victims, as two units of the Latium heavy infantry contingent 
slide over to defend the bridge. The Yellow Shields have been weakened by 
flanking fire from the bolt thrower, but so far they have shrugged off the casualties.
Meanwhile at the ford an unequal contest between the Na'Arun slingers and the attacking warband commences.
Sensibly, the slingers give ground, hoping to fight a delaying action.
But Paphlagonia now have the ford.
End game. Both units of the Kingdom infantry take 50% casualties in a bloody melee -
one hangs on bravely, the other retreats to the bridge.

Steve had to depart after 5 moves, and at this stage Latium were actually ahead, having lost only 2.5 units to the 3.5 units lost by Paphlagonia. However, as neither side had yet broken, I decided to play out one more turn solo, which was hard fought and decisive (see the last two photos). The Blue and Yellow Shields charged and defeated the opposing units of the Kingdom Infantry, whilst the warband took the ford which cost Latium another Army Point. The Auricomus cataphracts were also destroyed in this turn as the lengthy fighting on the eastern flank turned in the favour of Paphlagonia. Suddenly, Latium had lost five Army Points and were broken, whilst Paphlagonia had just held on, with a total of 4.5 army points lost.

I must say I was particularly pleased by the sturdy performance of my pike units, as the Blue and Yellow shields trudged implacably across the table defeating all before them. Good work lads!

Wash-up 
An excellent game had resulted, with plenty of useful lessons learnt about the rules. Only one sour note was struck, when Steve was firing his bolt thrower against the flank of the advancing Yellow Shields. "Do I get grazing fire for a bolt thrower? Those Blue Shields are in the line of fire!" was the question. Fortunately, at heart Steve is every inch a gentleman and a stern glance was all that was required to end this embarrassing interjection. Bouncing bolts! What next!

'Til the next time.

Friday, 17 November 2017

'Old' Doesn't Equal 'Old School'

I have recently invested in a couple of issues of Miniature Wargames, specifically nos. 413 and 415. I bought 413 because it had the first in series of articles by Jon Sutherland, supposedly concerning his overhaul (or 'reinvention') of a set of 1980s rules called Hoplite Warfare. The particular attraction here was the tag that Jon was intending to 'breathe new life' into a set of old school ancients rules. This is exactly the kind of thing I am currently involved in, so I reckoned seeing how someone else did it would be a good thing.

No! Definitely not Old School.

I was to be sadly disappointed. The problem can be easily summarised - the rules Jon was working on were not 'old school' to begin with (they were plainly over-complex and brain numbing), and Jon's development of them, whilst simplifying them a good deal, inevitably wasn't at all old school either. Jon, along with editor John Treadaway, had mistaken 'old' for 'old school', a sad mistake for two such experienced wargamers.

Hoplite Warfare was published in the 1980s. The alarm bells should have rung straight away, because of course no old school rules were published in the 1980s. By this time, the simple 'playing with toy soldiers' approach of genuine old school rules had been replaced by the foolish idea that complication approaching the barely understandable (and occasionally going beyond this into the la-la land of the unplayable) was how sophisticated wargamers did their thing. This process had been started in 1969 with the publication of the 1st edition of the WRG's War Games Rules 1000AD to 500BC ('WRG Ancients' to you and me), and it gathered momentum through the seventies, eighties and into the nineties. Only in the 21st century have we mostly come back to our senses, a process ironically started by the good old WRG with their DBA rules (1990). So note: just because a set of rules was published in 1969, that doesn't necessarily make them old school.

It is actually pretty easy to define what old school rules are - just open a copy of Featherstone's War Games, or Grant's The War Game, or Terry Wise's Introduction To Battlegaming, or Young and Lawford's Charge!. Old school rules are very simple, with a simple structure that is usually move - fire - melee, combined with IGO - UGO (or in other words, players take it in turns to move and fire, but usually melee simultaneously). Abstraction is minimal, the rules are intuitive and easy to understand, casualties are recorded by removing figures. Six-sided dice are used throughout. Modifiers to die rolls are minimal, morale rules likewise, command and control practically non-existent.

The really interesting thing here, at least from my perspective, is that no matter how nostalgic some of us get about these old rules, playing with them in the here and now generally leads to unsatisfying games. One major problem is that they tend to be too simple. They lack the subtlety and granularity of successful modern sets; that is, the ability to bring out all the important aspects and nuances of a particular period whilst remaining fundamentally straightforward, a quality which characterises the best contemporary rules. This emphasises the basic mistake Jon Sutherland and John Treadaway are making - 'breathing new life into' or 'resurrecting' old school rules for our present times would generally mean making them a bit more complex, not reducing their complexity as Jon is doing with Hoplite Warfare

Interestingly enough, I bought issue 415 for a very similar reason to that which tempted me to purchase issue 413 - an article on an 'old school' project, this time by Andy Copestake. The editor chose to call this a 'Retro Project', but fortunately Andy quickly demonstrated he had the right idea about all this old school stuff. At the epicentre of 'old school' stand the toy soldiers, and what we do is play with them. The main rules Andy mentioned were Charge!. And Andy started his article by noting that old school seemed to be back in vogue, which is hardly surprising as most wargamers these days are proud to announce that what they are doing is 'playing with toy soldiers'. 

If old school wargaming is back in vogue (which it most certainly is), it would be best to have the right idea about what 'old school' actually means. I hope I have at least partly put the record straight in this post.

More proper wargaming soon!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Instant Celtic Warband

Being very pleased with my HCH Figures war elephants, I was immediately interested when HCH started doing a '30% off' sale for a selection of their painted infantry and cavalry packs.

A Celtic-style warband was one of my current 'must haves' for the ancients collection, and I had been intending to purchase the Warlord Games plastic 'Celtic Warriors' set, which offered some very actively posed figures at a good price - not much more than 50p a figure. But then I noticed the HCH 'Celtic Infantry' offer (currently 30% off), and began to be tempted. This set would cost £2.50 per figure, but that would be painted and ready to go. The standard of painting looked very good in the photos.

So I took the plunge, and am very happy that I did. Ordered late morning, arrived next day by Post Office 'signed for'. Thirty-six hours from ordering, my new figures were ready to go. That's the way to collect an army!

Neatly and individually packaged. No damage in transit whatsoever.

Most weapons and shields come separately to aid postage. Assembly was easy.
I was astounded by the quality of the painting for the price charged.

Looking good in 3 ranks. The draco standard I added from the spares box.

How do you hand-paint a shield to that standard? Way beyond my abilities.

Plaid clothing very neatly painted. Even the backs of the shields have some detail.

So, a 24 figure painted unit for £64 including p&p. OK, with the Warlord Games plastics you get 40 figures for £22. But then it would take me a month to paint them, probably longer. With the Tin Soldier unpainted infantry figures costing around £1, you're getting excellent painted figures for an extra £1.50, which is a cracking deal IMHO. Some may feel the Tin Soldier figures lack the animation or elegance of more modern sculpts, but as with the HCH elephants I like the chunky, old-school charm of these chaps. Love the helmets, guys.

There are plenty more to choose from on the HCH site, and not just ancients. Well worth a look.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

'The Ancient Battle of Trimsos'


Well, it's almost exactly a year since I kicked off what I called 'The Trimsos Project' - and now I can claim to have achieved my initial goal. I have the armies and terrain I need to stage a full-blooded re-fight of Donald Featherstone's 'Battle of Trimsos' from 1962, along with some rules that I have developed myself from the Featherstonian originals. The rules are still a work in progress, but they are at least at the stage where you can fight a decent battle with them. This I have now done, staging a re-fight as a solo game the other week, then using my old gaming buddy Paul as a guinea pig for a second game this week.

If by any chance readers are interested in how things have developed over the preceding months, older posts covering the project can be found here, here, or here. As you might have guessed, things took rather longer than I first expected (I had hoped to get to my current position by late summer), but my worst fears of partial or total failure have not been realised. Getting into the complex world of Ancient Wargaming turned out to be a thoroughly absorbing journey which has involved much very enjoyable reading and many hours of modelling. The latter was really rather fun to start with, and although the novelty of turning out units of ancient figures has rather palled recently, overall the painting experience has been good. Now the (self-imposed) pressure is off, I can proceed to expand my armies at a suitably leisurely rate. And when I say expand, I am not going to do anything silly like aim for a large ancients collection. An extra half-a-dozen or so units should suffice to allow plenty of interesting games in the future.

Before continuing with the story of my first Trimsos battles, I should acknowledge that the inspiration for the project lies with my near-neighbour Stuart Asquith. His original invitation to re-create Trimsos over a year ago sparked my interest both in the original game, and also in a concept of ancient wargaming that avoided getting into a specific period but rather involved the creation of imaginary, Tony Bath-style armies that could be composed of any ancient figures you liked. That original game with Stuart, where Ancient Britons shared the table with New Kingdom Egyptians and Roman legionaries, opened my eyes to a more light-hearted approach to wargaming that offered me a refreshing change, compared to the rather serious task of getting the historical details of the Seven Years War straightened out for my Honours of War rules and associated armies. Whilst the ancient rules I have been developing ended up a long way from Mr Featherstone's, it was that easy-going concept of collecting whatever ancient figures took your fancy that has really kept the project alive.

The previous posts already flagged up will suffice to give an idea of how I conceived and then worked through the project. Here I will simply show how I finally put the game on, giving an idea of what I kept from the original and what I altered.

Terrain
The original 6' x 3' table was extended to 6' x 5', which would make for a less cramped set-up and allow the use of full moves, rather than the half moves used in the original game. My table can be seen in the first photo below.

I picked an S&A Scenics 'Dried Earth' felt cloth as the basic playing surface, which cost £34 for an 8' x 6' cloth. I used the Flames of War river I already had, and created the three contoured hills from 18mm MDF. This was a particularly fun part of the project, involving the purchase of a cheap electric jigsaw for cutting out the shapes, which worked like a dream. These were then painted in emulsion and varnished. I did buy some palm trees as well, but in the end substituted some small model railway trees I already had, which better suggested the arid but not entirely desert landscape I was trying to create. A handful of light green scenic scatter randomly sown across the landscape completed the picture.


Armies
The structure of the two armies followed the original orders of battle quite closely. However, I dreamed up two new countries for my combat, not wanting to follow Tony Bath too slavishly, and so it was the armies of Paphlagonia (Hyperborea) and Latium (Hyrkania) which took the field. The back story for these two imaginary countries is limited - I imagine Paphlagonia to be the possessor of a modest Anatolian 'empire', which the Italian-based Kingdom of Latium covets for its own. The initial battles between these armies will imagine an invasion of Anatolia by Latium at an unspecified point in ancient history.

Army of Paphlagonia, under General Aristodemus Zephyros

The Blue Shields Infantry (24 figures)
The Yellow Shields Infantry (24 figures)
The Zagora Archers (16 figures)
The Companion Cavalry (12 figures)
The 100 Suns Mounted Archers (12 figures)
3 Heavy War Chariots
1 Catapult
1 Bolt Thrower

The only slight innovation here was the replacement of the 3 original heavy infantry regiments (1st and 2nd Gwalur Infantry and 1st Thurn Infantry) by 2 larger units, which would together have the same number of figures as the 3 regiments of heavy infantry in the opposing Army of Latium. This was purely to add a little personal flavour.

Army of the Kingdom of Latium, under General Maximus Decimus Meridius

1st Kingdom Infantry (16 figures)
2nd Kingdom Infantry (16 figures)
3rd Kingdom Infantry (16 figures)
The Na'Arun Slingers (16 figures)
The Auricomus Cataphracts (12 figures)
The Medjay Light Cavalry (12 figures)
3 War Elephants
1 Bolt Thrower

Note that both armies use slightly smaller units than those in the 1962 battle. This was simply to make creating the armies a little quicker for a gamer with limited painting abilities. Both sides had two sub-generals to increase the command possibilities.

Scenario Tweaks
The most important of these was to make the River Trimsos crossable. This meant that the Paphlagonian forces west of the river were not cut off from their comrades, with the unwinnable task of crossing New Bridge as their only offensive option. I felt this was acceptable as the area was described in the book as 'the arid region around the River Trimsos', which suggested a river of limited flow which might be relatively easy to cross.
The change in table size has already been mentioned. The final arrangement of the terrain had to be a compromise between the original map and the photos of the original battle, as these two differed. I favoured the terrain as shown in the photos, as this gave enough space east of the River Trimsos for the army of Paphlagonia to be deployed as in the original game.
For victory conditions, my rules use the time-honoured technique of defeat following the loss of half of one's units. With each elephant, chariot or war engine counting as a single unit, this gave each army 10 units, so the first to lose five would suffer defeat.

The Games
So, two games were fought to formally complete this initial phase of the project, firstly a solo one to iron out any gross problems followed by a second 'proper' game with two players. I had envisaged doing a blow-by-blow account of the two-player battle, mimicking the original book, but readers will be relieved to know they will not have to work their way though such a trial. In the end, creating such an account was simply too much work, and would involve extensive explanations of the rules to go with it.

Suffice to say the games were very enjoyable. It was of course particularly satisfying to see the battlefield finally set out after a year's work, and I was happy with the look of the thing as well as how the games played. The solo game saw a winning draw by Latium (both sides lost their 5 units on the same turn, but Paphlagonia had lost a 6th unit in addition to the basic 5), whilst the second battle saw Latium (controlled by myself) given a thorough beating, ending up with seven units lost to Paphlagonia's one! Thus, it would seem the scenario is reasonably well balanced and can go either way.

The photos below give a further flavour of how the figures and terrain looked.

Solo game - the Paphlagonian Companion cavalry set about the enemy's elephants.

Solo game - combat around New Bridge.

Two player game - the doomed cavalry and elephants of Latium advance over and around The Pimple.

End of the two-player game. The Paphlagonian chariots and light cavalry have penetrated
into the enemy's rear. The Blue Shields triumphantly occupy the peak of Rat Hill.

And For My Next Trick...
I have already started work on some new troops, commencing with a couple of units of light javelin men and a unit of Celtic Warband (of which more in a new post to follow shortly). Then it will be time to move away from the Trimsos scenario and fight some new battles. I'll be sure to keep you informed.

'Til next time!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Goldilocks Cataphracts

I have set October 31st as the target date for completion of my Trimsos Project - that is, all the units and terrain needed for a re-fight of Donald Featherstone's 'Battle of Trimsos'. The rules I have been developing are quite playable as they are, but of course will continue to be altered as play testing continues.

I know, never set targets for a hobby project. But I reckon I'm nearly there. One of the reasons for optimism is that I have been helped over my painting wall by a bit of sub-contracting. Stuart has been waxing lyrical recently over the painting he's doing for some of his new projects, and so I caught him in a good mood and asked if he might find time to paint something for me. A good humoured but slightly sideways look resulted, but soon a price was agreed. The guy really is on a roll at the moment - in about a week I was able to collect the figures from his house - a 2 minute drive instead of paying P&P!

Now, painting standards for wargames figures can be a delicate subject. We might look at some figures and think they are a bit underpainted (or even, perish the thought, badly painted), though we would probably be polite enough to say nothing. My own painting standard I would assess as at the better end of underpainted. I have also stated my personal opinion, in a post a while back, that wargames figures can also be overpainted, an opinion which was vociferously challenged in a number of comments. 

Well, let me just say that the unit of cataphracts I now have in my collection is what I would describe as just right. Colourful but not garish, detailed but not pointlessly so, impressive whether seen at wargames ranges or picked up and examined. Oh, and Stuart's suggestion to paint the kontos red was inspired. Note that no two figures are the same - here is a unit that looks elite and proud of it.

For the record these are Warlord Games Sarmatian Cataphracts, in 28mm of course.



Can't wait to get these guys into action. Do you think 'The Goldilocks Cataphracts' might be a bit too whimsical a name for these chaps? Not quite martial enough perhaps? 

Anyway, enthusiasm re-kindled!

Edit: 'Goldilocks' in latin = 'Auricomus' (masculine). 'Auricomus Cataphracts' has a certain ring to it, I think.

Friday, 1 September 2017

The Bridge At Staruchy - September 1939

And so good fortune presented me with a free morning to set up and fight out the airborne assault scenario I had developed, with the intention of trying out the rules for glider and parachute landings recently published in Battlegroup Tobruk.

Now Battlegroup (like most contemporary rules, especially the WW2 ones) benefit from being played regularly. Whilst basically simple, there are quite a few fiddly bits to get the hang of, and if you haven't played for a while there can be some time-consuming searching through the rules for re-familiarisation. Such was my experience for this game, with the added problem of using the completely new rules for airborne landings.

The new rules I found pretty good. They seem to have the right balance of frustration and 'feel', which gives a good impression of the things that can go both right and wrong during an opposed glider and parachute assault. What was particularly interesting was that my modest game (platoon level, about 400 points per side) was resolved in just three moves. They were three quite lengthy moves (about 45 minutes each) due to my rusty Battlegroup skills, but nevertheless the relatively high Battle Rating of the Germans was rapidly eroded as gliders crashed, Fallschirmjäger dropped into the river, and Polish fire took its toll.

The scenario as described in my original post provided a pretty tight game, with the Poles exceeding their Battle Rating in German turn 3, whilst the Germans themselves had lost 34 of their original 35 BR. One surprise was how quickly the 2 pillboxes fell - with a cover save of 2+ for the occupants, these are usually tough nuts to crack. But some intense small arms fire linked to a run of 1s emptied one pillbox, whilst the other was silenced by placing a very handy 'ammo low' card on top of it. Flamethrowers are really fearsome weapons in Battlegroup, provided you can get them into range, and a Polish squad was quickly wiped out by such a discharge. They would have been ideal to clear the pillboxes, but in the end weren't needed. The counters taken for being under flamethrower fire and being under air attack were very useful in eroding Polish strength.

Below are a few pictures to give you a feel for the terrain - 15mm miniatures of course. The only changes I would make to the scenario as presented in my previous post would be to give just 20" of trenches to the Poles (more isn't needed), and reduce the number of HS-123 strikes to 1 to balance the points. I would also restrict the 'Alarm' special rule to 2 turns in this particular case. I didn't use the 'Red Shines The Sun!' special rule either. With veteran and elite Germans facing inexperienced Poles, the superiority in German morale didn't need extra boosting. 

The overall set up and the position after German turn 1.
One glider was destroyed, and of the other 3 only 1 made a perfect landing.
Polish positions around the bridge.
The only glider to land exactly as planned. I mistakenly marked the occupants as 'pinned' at first, as you can see.
In fact they were entitled to receive orders straight away.
The HS-123 strikes were effective in pinning some of the Polish units around the bridge.
Polish reinforcements arriving on turn 2 advance past an abandoned glider.
Final positions. A 'drop canister objective' has been captured by a German squad (bottom right), which won the game.
This particular rule is a clever abstraction of the critical nature of paratroops (especially German ones) having to retrieve supply canisters after a drop.
I'm looking forward to giving these rules another try, perhaps in a bigger game featuring air-landing troops. Perhaps this project from 2013 would be a good one to resurrect. 

In the unlikely event anyone is interested, I would represent transport planes landing under fire during a Battlegroup game in the same way as glider landings, but make them a bit more likely to land safely. So the dice rolls become 1-destroyed, 2-3 rough landing, 4-6 perfect landing. Thus the better chance of a good arrival (due to being powered aircraft using an airfield or prepared strip) is represented.

Thanks for reading. 'Til next time.