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.


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!

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!