Monday, 15 December 2014

If you see Cid….

It’s been a few days since my last post. A few reasons for this. Firstly I'm working full time, so blogging during the afternoon is more problematical than it has been recently. My painting schedule has been disrupted, and I'm not running any games either.

On top of that there’s been Christmas related activity. I had a lot of my old team round on Saturday for mince pies and a catch up. Nearly three years since I got made redundant and they split up my department, but we still keep in touch.

Anyway, over the last week I've been able to fit in a few minutes painting here and there and my first Feudal Spanish  elements are done. These have been a bit of a challenge. I have generally steered away from the medieval period because of the whole heraldry thing. The Wars of the Roses was okay as no one is holding shields so no need for all that painting of lions and so on. Mostly.

The other thing is that heraldry is so personal. It identifies who the man in the armour is and you have to be careful if you are using the real stuff that at least the guys concerned were alive at the same time. On the other hand in the early 11th century the whole system is still a bit simpler than it later becomes and simple geometric devices aren't uncommon.

Plus Phil has a lovely 15mm Feudal Spanish army. Not that I'm competitive. Besides I'm doing 20mm plastic.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about these two elements. One is made up of figures from the Hat El Cid Command box, the other from the Hat El Cid Spanish Heavy Cavalry. Compared to their Arab / Moroccan adversaries the mounted figures are quite slight. Those of you who regularly look at 28mm Perry style figures will notice quite a change. In build and proportions these are much more like Ral Partha figures of old, and more like the build of the figures you see in medieval manuscripts.

The trumpeter in the command element has a separate arm for his instrument. This fits on its peg really well and didn't seem to need the little blob of superglue to hold it in place, although I used it anyway. The Leader figure is clearly intended to be The Cid, so I gave him the round shield from the options in the box.

The standard bearer had a bit more work done on him. The kite shield is added from the spares on the sprue, but the standard was a problem. The box comes with a nicely modelled flag, with rounded partitions along the edge. I can never get that effect with paper or any other method I've tried. So I wanted to use it, but it’s on a plastic wobbly lance. So I got a bit bold. I cut the flag from the lance pole, and carefully made holes in the flaps where the pole goes with a fairly big safety pin (it was too small flexible and small to use a drill) and then pushed a  pole made from florists wire through as a replacement. It isn't perfect – I missed some of the flaps – but it looks alright and went into the figure’s hand okay. It is held in place at the bottom by being glued into a hole drilled into the figure’s foot.

I got quite ambitious with the design on the flag as far as what I'm normally prepared to paint, but I'm pleased with the result. It's the Madonna and Child. Honest.

The other element of knights had lances replaced by florist wire and the green surcoated figure had his head swapped out for one of the spares in the Command box. He was wearing a flat topped helmet that’s a bit later than the Murabit period, so that had to go.

Unlike my normal cavalry units these have quite a mix of horse colours as I reasoned every man brings his own horse and fights with his friends, so no enforced uniformity of colour.

So that’s two elements done. Next up are some DBA Cv elements, - heavy cavalry with javelins in this case. Then I can get on to the infantry. I have a few days off over Christmas, so you never know, -a new army in the New Year?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A bit of a re-think

Well, I finished my first week in the new job and they want me to go back next week. The commute isn't too bad, - about what I did last time I was in London back in 2013. The job is a bit more unpredictable at the moment, and the opportunities to juggle my start and end times are probably restricted too. I'm a long way up in a tall building which doesn't help at "going home time" with only half a dozen lifts serving the tower.

What this means is that I'm not clear on how much weekly wargaming I'm going to get in for the near future. It also means for sure that my painting time is massively curtailed.

My current painting project is Hat 20mm plastic Murabit/Almoravid North Africans. I had to put the Taiping on stand by as I ran out of bases. I use the Peter Pig 30mm square plastic bases and they have a particular thickness no one in the MDF market supplies. I need to wait until I, or a local friend, is visiting a show with Mr Pig there. I could always order them direct, I suppose, and just take the postage charge, but the postage will end up being 40% of the order total.

With virtually no painting time in the week the Murabits are going to take a while to finish. I've been painting towards an Armati / AMW size army, and I recognise that I'm going to need to buy a few more boxes to get the army numbers right. In the mean time I have done enough for a DBA 2.2 army (III/33). I have DBA 3.0 on order for Christmas but I don't expect much of a change in the list, although having said that it has no archers in it, and the Murabits were famed for having archers hide behind their spearmen.

What I think that means is that I should rotate the armies being painted. I have enough toys given to me by Jim to get an "El Cid" Spanish army out of the boxes and an Andalusian one as well. So I think I'll focus on doing those, with the Spanish next. When I've done a DBA sized army for each I'll go around again and do another DBA sized army and so on.

Anyway, here's my DBA Murabit plastic army:

First up we have the Command element (1 x 3Cv (Gen)). These are from Hat box 8249, "Moorish Command". The drummer figure on the right is riding a donkey. The best of these in pose and fit is probably the trumpeter, but they all do the business.

Next we have an element of Murabit heavy cavalry (1 x  3Cv). The plastic lances have been replaced with florist wire and are painted as bamboo. Unusually for me I have mixed the poses up to give them a more "irregular" feel, rather than having them all with vertical lances etc. These are from Hat box 8247 "Almoravid Heavy Cavalry".

The cavalry are rounded off with some Riff/Berber light horse (3 x 2LH). Javelins have been replaced with pins, as per my normal approach. I've mixed up the tunic colours a bit. We, as wargamers, tend to paint our North Africans/Arabs in white a lot. My various holidays to North Africa would indicate that when you get out of the conurbations where people dress in Western style tunic colours are a lot darker. I've kept quite a few figures in white to make the army look a bit brighter however. These are from Hat box 8246 "Almoravid Light Cavalry".

For the infantry I've gone for some subject people skirmishers (3 x 2Ps). Javelins replaced by pins as you'd expect. It hasn't been obvious up until now but I've gone for a really dark flesh tone, - African rather than Arab, using Colour Party's MA10. I like the tone it gives. The General is done in a lighter shade, - Colour Party's MA36, which I also used for my Indians. These figures, and all the other infantry, are from Hat box 8189 "Almoravid Infantry"

I've gone for some Black Guards in this army (2 x 4Sp). These have been on screen before. I'm considering re-painting the white head coverings. The spears on these haven't been "pinned" as they're held quite close to the tip. I'm hoping they'll be okay.

Finally I've got some light infantry who are a mix of Berbers and Arabs (2 x 3Ax). Spears replaced, but otherwise pretty much standard.

There are some nice foot command figures in the Moorish Command box, which I will work into future units. I will need another box of infantry anyway for my final plans to bear fruit.

I'd got quite a few more infantry painted already, before I decided to stop and go "DBA", so I can vary the infantry mix. My sources for these were the two Ospreys on the Western Islamic forces, the Warhammer Ancients "El Cid" book, and the WRG "Armies of Feudal Europe".

My actual research into the Murabits has otherwise been a bit scanty. I'm sure I got some stuff when I was in Morocco, but apart from my Rough Guide I have no idea where I put it.

This afternoon we have to sort out the Christmas Tree, then I can prepare my Feudal Spanish. I'm liking the look of those figures.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Games Day 3 - Somewhere in Denmark

Our final games feature of the day was provided by Chris. He brought Neil Thomas' "One Hour Wargames" and his Prusso-Danish War figures along (we didn't know he had them either).

The rules in the book are very simple and it relies on the scenarios being challenging to make the game. The book has a lot of scenarios in it.

In this game the Danes are advancing down the road and the Prussians are trying to stop him. The terrain for this game was the recently harvested wheat fields of Denmark and nothing to do with the sandy desert of Syria.

The Danes had to exit the board with three units. The Prussians caught them in a cross fire (I missed the start of the game as I was making tea/coffee and getting cakes & sausage rolls so I'm not clear exactly what was happening). The system has simple die roll = hits methodology, with units taking 15 hits before destruction. We used Rummikub tiles to record the number of hits. They go up to 13 & have a "Joker" tile you can use for 14 if needed.

The Danish cavalry repeatedly charged the Prussian guns and suffered accordingly. The infantry fire fight was loaded in favour of the Prussians as well. due to their flanking position. Perhaps we hadn't set this up right or we could have been guilty of tired tactics after a long day.

However, having reduced the artillery to 4 hits remaining, perhaps the Danes could force their way off.

Alas Prussian musketry proved too much.

And then it was all over. It took us about 15 minutes, so the challenge with the game seems to be to stretch it to an hour, not squeeze it down to one.

The rules are really, really simple, even for Neil Thomas. The game is based around interesting scenarios, so it needs more tries. I can see that the rules would have further utility for really large games with lots of players. They're quick, unambiguous and don't seem to need umpire intervention.

Anyway, to summarise it was a good way to round off the day and could be played comfortably whilst eating and drinking. I think we'll be seeing them again.

I shall probably seek out a copy of the book sometime in the future.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Games Day 2 - Yarmak

Back from the pub & it's Phil's turn to entertain us.

I have written previously about my re-fight of Cannae using DBA 3.0. This was done as part of a DBA 3.0 "Great Battles" project, due for publication early next year. I was roped into the exercise by Phil, who was planning to do a take on the Battle of Yarmak, 636AD for the project.

Yarmak, as you all know, is the decisive six day battle between the Islamic Hordes spreading the word of the Prophet by fire and sword and the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire. The Islamic forces wins with consequences that are still with us today. Phil is not doing all of the six days but is basing the game on the action that took place on day 5.

Anyway, that's not the big reason to get excited about this game. Phil is putting it on using 30mm flats many of which once belonged to either Phil Barker or Tony Bath. How cool is that!

I'm not a massive fan of the flat aesthetic, I'm afraid, but this is a piece of history. And Phil very cleverly deployed the armies at a slight angle so the players could see the figures obliquely rather than just having a whole array of edges in front of them.

I have to say that from the right angle they do look jolly spiffing

Phil & I took the Byzantine army (which he informed us was mostly Armenians and Arabs) and Richard and Chris took the Islamic Army. I was facing off against Chris. This is never good. He is really adept at creating several of those "kill" situations regularly every turn whereas I'm usually lucky to get two or three in the whole game. As you can see in the above picture the massed lines of cavalry create a pleasing "3D" effect.

My forces are on the left hand side of the line. We have one camp, - in Phil's corner - and they have two, one in each of their corners.

The Islamicists have the ability to switch PIP dice between the players. We are stuck with who gets the highest once we've chosen on turn 1 (it was me, but then I was facing Chris). Chris immediately got his light horse into a column and tried to turn my left flank. I hastily assembled a light division to see him off. In the middle the main lines trundled towards each other, Chris bringing up his reserves to exploit my internal flank.

Part of the problem for the Byzantines is they have some two deep units. These are great against blades, but otherwise they reduce your frontage and cost more when they get killed. As this is mainly a cavalry battle they aren't your go-to troop type.

My light division saw off the flanking move, but I was forced to use it to prop up the end of my line to stop it getting turned whilst I brought up my reserves. I have no idea what was going on on Phil's side of the table.

I had a shocker in the first round of combat and didn't roll above a 3.

Whatever. It still looks great even tho' the figures aren't finished.

Another round of terrible rolls meant I was soon three elements down having inflicted no hits. My light division was down to a single base. On the positive side I'd got my reserves into line and stabilised the position. Phil had taken a hammering as well, losing one of his double elements. Two more down and his command was demoralised.

A few liucky die rolls and I've got my blades through the middle and flanking the enemy line. At this point, however, I lost another base so I was demoralised and we had lost.

Phil & I thought it would be a good idea to play on as I'd only lost a few light troops and most of my heavy stuff was still okay. Plus we had the time to do it. Chris pointed out that if he'd known that he'd have played his previous turn a bit differently, as some of his troops were more epxosed on the basis that he wouldn't have to fight any more.

I hammered forward and my luck changed. Regardless of how he was set up I just out rolled him and got a few doubles, eliminating units straight off.

Before you know it I'm bearing down on his remaining forces and camp and no amount of clever manoeuvres are going to help.

And so the game ended. Phil had managed to drag things back on his flank, and the Byzantines were claiming victory.

Phil has some scenario design issues to deal with and is probably in need of some special rules. The one special rule he did have , - a one off rule that allowed a Cav unit to move like LH - was not used as Chris was okay doing things the old fashioned way.

Unlike Cannae I had no conception of how this should pan out. Phil will have his own ideas about how he wants this to run and so has some thinking to do.

Lots of fun and quite challenging as well. Those flats will look great when they're finished and playing with a real bit of wargaming history is a notable thing in itself.

I'll be sticking with my round figures, however.

And then on to part 3.....

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Games Day 1 - Metaurus

So, on a misty, moist morning we gathered for a day of armed conflict. Richard L had driven up from the depths of Wiltshire and Chris A & Phil had come from just down the road. The day was set for some solid wargames action, interrupted only for tea, coffee, biscuits, cake and a visit to the pub.

First up was my AMW take on the battle of Metaurus. The Romans were commanded by Chris & Richard whilst I ran the Carthaginians until Phil arrived. Chris took the role of the brilliant if slightly rash Consul Nero, and Richard was Consul Salinator. The centre was a joint command thingy between the two of them. Don't look too closely at the Roman forces. There's quite a few imposters bulking up the numbers.

The classic opening move. The Romans advance everything, and we get what I am now realising is the "Lockwood Variation", - a compulsion to turn lots of units to an angle whether it's needed or not.

In my role as Hasdrubal, and taking my tactical advice from Livy, I immediately headed for the Romans with my centre, whilst refusing both wings. Essentially I wanted to punch the elephants through the velites before they got javelined to death whilst hiding out in the woods with my warbands and putting off the inevitable with my outnumbered cavalry.

It doesn't look too bad in the centre at this point, but then the fighting hasn't actually started. The Romans are being a bit tricky and are widening their initial deployment to take advantage of their extra numbers. Hardly fair, is it? They should see how it is done at Cannae. The elephants have hit the velites. Let's see how that goes.

Well, after a turn or two's fighting the results are a bit mixed. True, the velites are suffering but so are the elephants (NB for new viewers, elephants lose a base for every hit they take, normal units need four hits to lose a base. There's something in an earlier blog about our elephant amendments to stop them killing everything). One part of the elephant group has gone berserk into my foot. Other rogue elephants have also distributed their bounty in various directions.

More elephant bits and pieces go on the rampage, and one velites unit has done its job by preventing the elephant hitting the legionnaries. I was hoping for some serious softening up before the infantry lines clashed.

Over on the left Consul Nero starts to work his way into the woods. I love this photo. Airfix Ancient Britons on a block wood hill next to one of those Britains Alder Trees. That's Old School Wargaming as far as I'm concerned. If only I'd got my Bellona river in as well.

The elephants finally break through and at least when they go berserk now they're running into Roman units.

The last elephant dies, but it's still inflicting damage. But is it enough?

The struggle in the wood is becoming intense. The warbands have the advantage, but Consul Nero (looking awfully Alexandrian) is there to encourage his men.

Now some news on the cavalry fight. This has been going on for several turns now (BTW Phil joined us a few turns ago and is running all the Carthaginian army except for the Gauls) and has been fairly evenly matched. At this point tho' this combat has finally tipped decisively in the Roman's favour with a failed morale test and the death of the Carthaginian commander on this flank. Out of shot Phil is doing one of his legendary light horse pieces of work, drawing on Richard's flanking heavy cavalry without letting them get into contact.

Next turn it's the Roman's turn to have a command break down as Porcinius dies. Luckily he's an NPC.

A few turns on and a better view of the cavalry fight. The Romans under Salinator have been brought up short by a gallant flank attack by some skirmishers. The Numidians are still playing tag, and have inflicted a few hits on the Roman cavalry. Alas they are now virtually behind their own line.

A wide angle shot shows that the Carthaginians are starting to be encircled, with their left isolated in the trees.

I think it's clear what's happening here.....

The wood fight sees the end of one unit of warbands (they're levy, and failed a morale check or two) but the Romans have taken some serious damage too.

However, it is now deemed that this flank has turned out to be sufficiently awkward that the "Nero flank march" rule is invoked by Chris. His unengaged units are withdrawn from the table. Where will they re-appear?

Actually they never reappeared. It was time to go down the pub, and although there was another hour's play in the game Hasdrubal was stuck in a pocket. Having run out of places to hide the Numidian cavalry was finally caught and by the end of this turn were seriously damaged. Phil had done a good job in the middle, but he was simply running out of units. The Romans were starting to get a lot of 2:1 combats, which mean you die quickly. Hasdrubal was going to lose. It as just a question of time.

Everyone announced themselves pleased with the game. It's not one I would really return to. There's too little in the sources to make this a real refight (the whole cavalry deployment and fight is a common fiction agreed by most authors on the subject), and the only bit we can be sure of is the fight in the woods. After all we know there were woods with Gauls in and Nero attacked them with 6,000 troops.

The elephants performed to spec, doing fairly equal damage to both sides before all being disposed of one way or another.

Stay tuned for part two.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Real Life Review

Over the past 6 months or so I've shifted a lot of figures from the plastic & lead mountain. I haven't been keeping count of the units but the Neo-Assyrian / Babylonian Armies and the Medes are pretty much done. I've got 5 or 6 units still to paint but they're really the rag-tag and bob tail of the boxes and I don't actually need them. I mean I've got 16 chariot models, I think. That's enough for anyone, isn't it?

The Taipings are well under way as well, - 6 infantry units complete, 2 cavalry, 2 artillery and 4 jingals are done (about time I did a photo report on them). I've only stopped because I've run out of bases. I could cut some of my own, but the Peter Pig ones are always more accurately cut. I suppose I could scratch build some river boats whilst I wait for the bases.

I've started the Murabits/Almoravids as well. Should have 3 or 4 units of those done by the end of the week. They have the benefit of being mostly in long, single coloured robes, so are quick to do.

I've also fitted in quite a few games. There've been some very satisfying re-fights as well as the standard "pick up" games that get played most weeks. Shedquarters has been well used, and proven to be a worth while investment.

I even built that Chinese house. On the down side I've been a bit slack with the rule writing (although I'm pleased with "Rapid Raphia" which has just appeared in Nugget), and I haven't finished any magazine articles. I have finished my write up on Cannae for the DBA 3.0 project however.

So, why this whistle stop half yearly review? Well the reason for the quite impressive out put has been that I haven't been working since mid-May*. My contract ended, we went on holiday and then the summer weather was quite nice and there was no work out there and so on. The question to myself was whether or not I'd actually taken early retirement.

Well, it seems like I might not have. I've been offered a contract with an investment bank to review a Target Operating Model for a subsidiary company and make recommendations. It's in the City and is for an initial three months. After that we have a review and then see if we both want me to carry on.

It's an interesting job, and so I've taken it. It means a severe curtailment of my painting and game design schedule, but it seemed too good to pass up.

Of course these things are never straight forward. I've been talking to them on and off about this since about September, and the hoops everyone needs to jump through to get things sorted out are sometimes ludicrous. Yesterday I had to go and see their recruitment agency at their offices in London to show them my passport. The meeting took about 10 minutes (there was a form to sign as well). Well worth the two hour journey there and the same back. Still, I'm sure they have their reasons as to why it had to be done then rather than on the day I started.

What does this mean? As mentioned above it'll cut into my painting schedule and I'm a bit concerned that I might not be able to reliably host a game once a week. I may have to drop back to a monthly game cycle, possibly even at weekends. On the up side I'll get a lot more reading done, and looking back at my previous time in the City I can see that I was still blogging regularly because of the time spent on the train. There'll be more opinion pieces rather than game write-ups but that's not necessarily a problem. Looking at TMP it's often the case that there's an inverse relationship between the number of opinions held and the number of games actually played.

So I can put off retirement for a few months at least, and possibly for another year or so. My first contract dried up quite suddenly in the end, and at the time I was considering going full time with them (and they likewise with me), so if the last two or three years have taught me anything it's don't over plan things.

And make the most of whatever comes your way.

* Although I've not been working I haven't technically been unemployed. As a contractor I work through my own service company which bills the employment agency then pays me a salary. It pays me a salary even when there's no money going into the company as the sort of companies that use contractors like me don't want you to be signing on as unemployed at the time you're taken on as it makes all the paper work more complicated. Long story short I've been unemployed but I don't appear in the unemployment statistics. And I'm not the only one by a long shot.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Metaurus Set Up

So after a few days re-reading the sources (such as they are) and pushing some plastic about I've come up with this:

The terrain gave me a short pause for thought. Livy says Hasdrubal was trying to build a camp overlooking the river. That could imply a river in front of him, facing the Roman advance. However as there's nothing said about the Romans crossing a river, I put it behind the Carthaginian line. I didn't run it all the way along to give more space for the cavalry action (BTW That's my Bellona River, most of which I've had for over 40 years)

Furthest from the camera is the position defended by the Gauls. This is described as a wooded ridge or similar, in front of their position. I went for a hill with woods on it, and put the Gauls in it as that'll even things up against the legionnaries facing them. I put some random hills near the camera just to break the table up a bit more.

The numbers of troops have bothered me the most, so in the end I divided the table into three and looked at the various match ups to get a bit of balance.

On the Roman right :
Consul Nero
1 x Auxilia, Light Armour, Average (I think his light troops need to be a bit tougher than the usual Velites).
4 x Heavy Infantry, Medium Armour, Average
1 x Triarii, Medium Armour, Veterans

4 x Warband, Light Armour, Levy

In the Middle:
Propraetor Porcius
3 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, Average
8 x Heavy Infantry, Medium Armour, Average
3 x Triarii, Medium Armour, Veterans

2 x Elephants
1 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, slingers, Average
1 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, javelins, Average
6 x Heavy infantry, Medium Armour, Veteran

The Carthaginians are drawn up fairly deep as that's what Livy says. I've made them Veteran to give them a bit more staying power against the masses of Roman foot

On the Roman left:
Consul Salinator
4 x Heavy Cavalry, Medium Armour, Average

"Gisgo" (we have no named number 2 for Hasdrubal, so I've made one up)
2 x Heavy Cavalry, Medium Armour, Average
1 x Light Cavalry (Numidians), Light Armour, Average

To win the Carthaginians have to kill 16 Roman units (leaving 8 on the table), the Romans have to kill 11 (leaving 6 on the table).

We'll be using my revised elephant rules, but with a berserk move with every base that is killed and the standard commander dice re-roll once per turn.

 So, that's what I think. I have a special rule for Nero in my head as well, but I'm not putting it on this blog as some of the players read it.

Just have to wait until Wednesday now.