Saturday, 16 April 2016

El Cid's AMW debut

Having published some El Cid period army lists, I guessed it was time to go public with a game. Friday afternoon was free and so, luckily, was Phil.

I've finished a few more units since the last update, and can now field armies that fit the army lists I did without any substitute figures. For this game I thought I'd do Feudal Spanish (because they're really colourful) versus North African/Almoravids (because they've got camels).

The last time I used NT's AMW rules for the Medieval period it was for Wars of the Roses and I soon moved on from them (Neil's view in the book is that WotR is really dull, - he's not wrong if you use AMW straight). This is the first time I've really used lots of armoured knights against medieval infantry.

The major changes compared to the Classical period is that most infantry is downgraded in effectiveness, knights get a charge bonus and have comparatively better armour. In a straight one on one combat for knights v foot after the first round both sides are rolling the same dice per base, but the knights are saving on a 4-6 whilst infantry save on a 6. This means that knights should win out in the end, but after a bit of a struggle.

Before the battle report proper here's a picture of the Spanish. The army had two units of Knights (Caballeros), one of Caballeros Villanos, one of jinetes, two town militia/medieval foot, one of light cross bows and one of light javelins.

The Almoravids had three units of Spearsmen, one of Black Guards, one jinetes, one Murabit heavy cavalry, one of camels and one light bows. The jinetes are deployed forwards to make use of the interpenetration rule, enabling them to retreat back through heavy infantry.

Another shot of all those lovely massed knights. Don't ya just love 'em?

Phil took the Spaniards and got the first turn. he started with a bold move forwards in the middle, whilst also widening his position to avoid being outflanked.

In response I moved forwards, keeping my infantry mainline intact. Phil closed the gap, but fell short of my jinetes.

Here's a close up of me pelting Phil with javelins.

I then dropped back behind my infantry line. Phil got caught by surprise by this. I'm sure I told him about the new rule for Almoravids. Well. fairly sure. I think.

Undeterred by by the pin pricks from my light hose javelins, Phil picked out my best infantry unit, the Black Guards, and ploughed headlong into it. They gave him a round of javelins before contact. Another new rule. Likewise I'm sure I told Phil about it.

My right wing meanwhile was in danger of being encircled, so my light cavalry headed off in that direction to shore things up a bit. In the middle honours were even between the Black Guard and the knights, both losing a base each.

A quick trip to the other side of the table to see things from Phil's perspective. On the left of the picture my Murabit cavalry are taking a bit of a beating, so my other heavy foot are moving up to bail them out. Either side of the melee in the middle our foot units are lining each other up. On the right I've reduced the Caballeros Villanos by a base through the combination of archery and camel borne javelins.

Here's a close up of my Murabits just before they evaporated. Taken in the flank by the arbalest unit and losing out in the front to the knights they took a lot of hits and failed two morale rolls....

...leaving a bit of a hole for not much in exchange.

Standing back to contemplate the whole scene gives a mixed picture. I've have finally broken the knights in the middle but I'm left with a single base of Black Guards. On the left the Spanish light foot are being manhandled by the camels but are standing their ground. My archers are endeavouring to hold off the Caballeros Villanos, but fear the worst. On the right everyone is drawing breathe waiting for the next clash.

In the bottom corner the two units of jinetes skirmish with each other whilst the knights and spearsmen finally get stuck into each other. In the middle the other heavy foot units have engaged and whilst one combat has been even, I have given the unit with the red flag a bit of a pasting. My light archers are holding on just, but must soon face the inevitable. It is probably about time to extract my camels who haven't been a roaring success.

All of a sudden the knights reduce my spearsmen to half strength. The Black Guards are rushing up to try to hasten the demise of Phil's other militia foot unit.

The archers hold on for another turn, which has enabled me to pull my camels out of danger and present a threat should the Caballeros Villanos break through.

A wider shot shows that in certain areas my luck is holding. My jinetes have got the upper hand, and my spearsmen are fighting back against the knights. The red flag unit is nearly gone, but my unit fighting the blue flags is down to half strength. Those archers still hold on however.

When the Caballeros Villanos break through I'm able to shadow them with the camels to introduce a note of caution. My jinetes have nearly got the job done, but the knights have virtually finished off their opponents. In the top centre left it looks like I'm about to lose the last base to a flank attack from the arbalasters, whilst the Black Guards have finally closed up to do the same to the blue flag unit. I now have a spare unit of spearsmen on the left of the picture who have about faced to come and help out. At this point I'm down to 5 units, and Phil has 6 (one out of shot) with the first side to get down to 2 being the loser.

The arbalasters and Black Guards make their presence felt and we both lose a unit.

I succeeded in taking the Cabalerros Villanos in the rear with my camels but didn't inflict enough damage. The next turn they about face and it looks a bit dodgy.

I've won the light horse battle and so I have 5 units to Phil's 4, but my camels are down to one base and I can't extract them as the spanish light javelins have cut off their escape route. My spearsmen only have one hit left before they are history too. My Black Guards are left chasing a unit of light troops. Not looking too hopeful.

Strangely enough the camels hold on for another turn, but the arbalasts get lucky and the Black Guards get shot away, as the spearsmen finally succumb to the knights. 4:3 to the Spanish

Next turn the camels are eradicated and it is all over.

It was quite a close game and the army lists held up fairly well. I think they may need some slight revisions, but otherwise they do the job.

Phil & I had a brief chat abut how good a simulation the game was. In truth it was a bit too attritional and the cavalry, although being very effective, don't seem to have the effect cavalry should have. Really they should be beating infantry quickly or being bounced off.

As for the Almoravids, the tactics I used didn't look like much of what they usually did. I need to rebalance the army with more heavy foot and light horse to see if I can simulate the infantry fortress with sallying light horse for which they were famous. There's also an option to swap out the infantry back ranks with bowmen, and that may make a difference.

However, as is usually the case with AMW it gave a close, tense, game that was over in a couple of hours with a clear winner and no quibbles.

Next up I need to try the Andalusians. I played a solo game the day before with no pictures taken which ended up with a close Spanish victory again.

Colourful though, aren't they?

Saturday, 9 April 2016

A Grown Up Subject

I've thought about writing this blog quite a bit this week. You see in respect of the subject matter those who need to read it and take notice won't. Those who don't need to will read it and it will make no difference to them. Then again, as Edmund Burke said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".

Whilst I wouldn't claim to be a particularly good man I hope I am not evil, and so I think I'll have my say.

Just under a week ago a long term wargaming ex-serviceman friend of mine shared a link to a Tumblr blog posting, entitled "Tabletop Wargaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem". And there, I've just lost all those who need to read further. For those of you who haven't read it the posting documents the relentless sexual harassment that a female games shop employee and game hobbyist in Canada has suffered in over a decade of being part of the hobby. In Canada. Home of nice people.

Okay, get this straight. This wasn't just about sexism but about sexual harassment as well. Sexual harassment that involved the physical assault on a fellow human being. If you don't think that's wrong you need to crawl back into your cave and never come out in polite society again.

Being in the 50+ bracket I realise that I'm part of the problem to some extent. Things that were acceptable when I was growing up are now recognised as being completely unacceptable. Attitudes change as we become better people. If you want another example in the way attitudes change don't forget that in the 18th century it was a status symbol to own slaves, now we realise that it isn't.

HOWEVER I've spent 30+ years working in the financial services business and I have had my fair share of diversity training. I know it is traditional to poke fun at these courses and waffle on about "political correctness gone mad" but if you could just hear what some people say during them you know there are people who have a problem. Political Correctness is about respecting people who are different and not discriminating against them because they are different. Most "isms" are about the exercise of power over those who don't have it. Bear that in mind when some Daily Mail reader, who has never faced  real discrimination in his life, goes off on one.

The reaction to the original blog has been varied, but there are two aspects of it I want to address here. These can be summed up as follows:

1) It's happening in RPGs/Board Gaming. I do xyz gaming, it's not happening there.
2) I've never seen it, so it's not happening.

So, point 1. I'd regard myself as a historical wargamer who occasionally dabbles in RPGs and board games. I know people who only do historical games and there are people who only do RPGs or board games. The hobby isn't homogeneous but there's a lot of crossover. We all go to the same shows/conventions and we mostly frequent the same shops. Hobby magazines mostly cover all aspects of the hobby. If there's a problem in one area of the hobby, it's quite likely (if not a racing certainty) that its in all the other areas too. Why? Because generally speaking all aspects of the non-computer wargaming hobby are patronised overwhelmingly by the same demographic. Yes, there are women who game, but they are not, in wargaming terms "the other half of the sky". Not by a long, long, way. If there's a problem with those who play RPGs, there's a problem with those who do miniatures gaming. Taking extremes into account a lot of people dress the same and shower with the same degree of regularity. It's not a great stretch to assume that they share the same set of social mores or attitudes towards women.

The second point is just facile. A lot of people have called the woman concerned a liar or a fantasist based on this position. Right, let's try to put this into words the hard of thinking might get their heads round. Just because I haven't seen it doesn't mean it isn't happening. When I got bullied at school the perpetrators made sure no one else saw it, - or at least no one else who'd be brave enough to stand up and do something about it. Many, many, years ago I worked in a team where we had a problem. We knew we had a problem but you just couldn't nail down the evidence. People moved on for other reasons, the problem went away. I deeply regret now I didn't do more at the time.

This is happening,  - believe it. If it happens in the work place where it is a manager's job to stamp it out, be sure it's happening in the hobby arena as well. So, instead of saying "I haven't seen it, it isn't happening", say "When I see it, I will challenge this type of behaviour". Do not blend in with the crowd and snigger along with the rest of them.

Of course it might be that the people concerned think the behaviour is acceptable. Well it isn't. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The original post that kicked this off is here: White Male Terrorism Post. If you haven't read it, you should.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Inspiring stories (4)

After the depressing thoughts that emerged around my attempt to get interested in Old Fritz and the Seven Years War perhaps I should give some time and space to one of the happier projects that emerged from University. These are my Henri de Navarre Huguenots, who have featured once or twice before in this blog.

Prior to going up to college I hadn’t really given much thought to wargaming in the Renaissance era. After all Airfix didn’t do any pike and shot sets. The only exception to this was an attempt to do ECW skirmish games using “Flintlock and Ramrod” from the guys who did the Old West skirmish rules.

I also knew next to nothing about the French Wars of Religion.

In my second year I took a course on the Rise of French Absolutism, taught by Doctor (now Professor) Mark Greengrass*, which started with the reign of Henri IV, but of course also needed you to understand the background. I took the course partly because I liked Dr G, who was also my tutor, but also because I didn’t fancy some of the other options. Plus, in theory, I could read French and I thought I should keep that up if I could.

It opened up to me a wonderful world of complete chaos and colourful characters. Oman’s accounts of the battles lead by the young prince from Navarre were truly inspiring to me. The sheer nerve of holding his infantry in arquebus only blocks between his cavalry and effectively introducing volley fire was genius. Okay, so he had problems against the Duke of Parma, but who wouldn’t have?

On top of that Henri's a real character, although it is probably understating it a bit to say he was a "philanderer". He's one of the quotable historical figures as well "Paris is worth a Mass" and "A chicken in every pot". He was also quite short. I saw a suit of his armour once, - I don't think he was much over 5' 6". Perhaps he had to compensate for that. Of course, once you're on a horse not many people can tell

Anyway, that book by Oman - "A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century" was out on hard rotation from the university library to wargames club members all the time I was there, I think. I eventually got my own copy when Greenhill republished it. I bought it in Foyle's on one of my trips to our London Head office, when I would bunk off early claiming I had to catch a train so I could sneak off down Charing Cross Road. So that would be in the late 1980s. My copy has a price ticket saying "Only £27:50".

I can assure you that in 1987/8 £27:50 was never "only". Don't regret ever buying it tho'.

Anyway, back to University time. I started casting around for figures, and bought George Gush’s book on Renaissance Armies (although I may have bought this for another army at the time – not sure). I have the orange first edition in paperback.

I had no preference for manufacturer (BTW - we're talking 25mm here). I knew I wanted some reiters/Millers and some arquebusiers. And some landsknechts, just for starters. The local wargaming shop, the "New Model Soldier Shop" (up the Penistone Road, IIRC) did Minifigs and other bits and pieces, so I picked up a load of landsneckts and some of their 30 Years War reiters. They formed the core of the "mercenary" parts of the army. The Minifig arquebusiers were rubbish and he didn't have many of them, so I had a gap there. Luckily I stumbled across a new company at the Sheffield Wargames Show (pre-Triples, I think) called Essex and immediately fell in love with their renaissance figures. They provided my French Huguenot foot (bear in mind that I'm only putting together one side at the moment).

I really went to town with the cavalry and French foot. Every figure was unique, - arms chopped, bodies twisted, equipment added with Miliput. They still look the business, although way too much work for me ever to do that type of thing again.

For rules I started off with Terry Wise's 30 Years War rules, which he published under his Athena imprint. I have them around here somewhere.

We did a big refight of the Battle of Arques with them in my final year, pulling in figures from everyone's renaissance collections to make it happen. I playtested the design on a table in my parents garage one vacation. 

That army is with me still. It has expanded over time, and has figures from all sorts of ranges, - including Ral Partha, Citadel Historical and I think there's some GW bits in there too. Some figures I have no idea who the manufacturers were. I used to walk round shows and just buy half a dozen figures if they looked like they'd fit in. It expanded sideways as well, so I could do a Catholic League army, then I got contemporary Spanish and Elizabethan English (mostly Irregular).

I love that army, still do. And it's from a period I would never have believed I would have been interested in 6 months before I got involved with it.

I wrote my own very specific rules ("Henri IV and the League") which appeared in an edition of the Nugget. They had a sliding scale of melee outcomes based on the ratio of scores between the two sides, with no hard boundaries or step changes between the ratios, - thus 1.9:1 was better than 1.5:1 and only marginally worse than 2:1.

The melee rules worked fine, I think, but looking at them just now - a hard copy printed from an Amstrad PCW, marked "2nd edition 1991" - the firing rules have a pencil comment in my hand writing that says "This doesn't work very well".

Since 1991 I've used several sets of rules. I did a run of successful Matrix Games, using a variation of the "De Matricae Bellae " rules I wrote for the Society of Ancients. They've also fought their way through Armati and FoG-R, and in the dim and distant past George Gush's WRG rules and also Dave Millward's "Tercio" which were not a success.

As you might guess I can never see a time when I'd sell these fellows off or dump them on a Bring & Buy.

You see, that's a process that I hope to repeat whenever I start a new period. Doing something because I'm truly inspired, not because I think I should be. Those sorts of armies are Keepers.

* Brother of Paul Greengrass, the film director, but at the time when he was making documentaries and before Bourne.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Battle of Magnesia 190 BC

Another Bank Holiday, another AMW mega refight.

The subject this time was another classic Romans v Phalanx match up with Scipio v Antiochus. I have to say up front that I was slightly less prepared for this than I expected to be. My first intention was to do the Battle of Tunis in 310 BC between Carthage and Syracuse. It's got chariots in it, and I thought my Assyrians would pass muster in a pinch. Having set the game up I realised there were a number of structural issues that might mean it was less interesting than it might be. Like it would be a head on smash up with no room to manoeuvre at all.

No matter, I realised I had Magnesia that I'd never done, and Thursday off work to sort it all out for a Friday pm game. Then it turned out I did have to work Thursday, so I did all the game prep on Friday morning, so not as much thought went into it as usual. This time I had to rely entirely on "Lost Battles", without a chance to check anything in the sources myself.

I was joined by three of my regulars for the game, which enabled me to have one player for Scipio, one for Antiochus and one for Eumenes, Scipio's ally who excelled on his right flank.

This is the set up. Seleucids to the left, Romans to the right. Only the Roman camp is on the table, and it has two units in it. Otherwise the layout is as per Sabin & "Lost Battles".

The Romans went first, and I stood in for Eumenes whilst we waited for Phil. Without consulting Scipio I launched an immediate attack, because that's what Eumenes did. In fact it looked like the best choice. Smash in the Seleucid left with our superior cavalry and roll the rest up. The above picture is from behind our position, and the first indication things were going to go pear shaped came when I was unable to either hit the scythed chariots with any archery, nor was I able to get the light troops in its way to prevent it mashing up something useful.

The scythed chariot made contact with my cavalry, and the failure of the archers to do anything meant their flank was up in the air, and open to the Seleucid light troops for no net gain.

The scythed chariot was removed after one round of combat, as per the rules, but not until it had done some considerable damage to one of my cavalry units. Here is the first indication that the scenario might have problems. Loss of scythed chariots in the basic game is a nuisance as they count as a full unit and are very unlikely to take a unit with them. In a larger game where their side has more units it is much less of a problem. I hadn't really addressed the disparity in numbers as well as I could, although I thought having two commanders to one would make more difference than it did. You'll also notice that I reduced the numbers of massed Seleucid archers as they would really chew up the Romans before contact as there's no adjustment to shooting effect for levy troops.

Phil has now arrived (only a couple of moves in, so I haven't had the chance to ruin his position too much). Will has marched out his camp guards, and otherwise held back with the rest of the army. Chris A as Antiochus has gone forward with everything except for one unit of cataphracts, which he has decided will be needed on his left flank. I didn't think much about Will's reluctance as Scipio to advance, but in the end I think it hurt the Romans as they were too disconnected from the cavalry flank when they needed help.

Eumenes' flank is turning into a great churning cavalry melee, and Chris has done well to support his horse with infantry. Phil also did him a massive favour be proving incapable of rolling anything higher than a 3 in both combats and for saving rolls. His elite Companion cavalry was being shoved in a mincer by some scruffy levy types.

On the Roman left the Seleucids tried to sneak their light cavalry past the end of the line. It was pointed out to me that they should have been horse archers, not javelins.

As I said, bit short on the research time.

The cavalry fight over on the right wasn't going either as well or as quickly as the Romans expected and needed.

And rapidly went from bad to worse as the Roman/Eumenid cavalry sort of melted away.

This is just a close up of the cavalry melee and adds nothing to the narrative.

Those levy cataphracts are now just a base away from making a breakthrough, and there's barely a scratch on them. Ooo-er. The base turned to its side means there's a morale check to be made.

Elsewhere the end Legion unit took some javelins as the cavalry galloped past on their way to loot the camp. In the centre the velites were inflicting some damage on the elephant unit, whilst the phalanx ground slowly forwards.

A couple of lucky throws and Eumenes and his Companions (near the top of the picture) have finally won their encounter. Shame they are (a) down to one base and (b) a long way away from the rest of the battle.

The light cavalry can now see the shiny blue plunder in the camp. Elsewhere the elephants are chomping up the velites. At the top of the picture Eumenes rushes his Companions over to help out in the final cavalry fight. Probably the right decision, but it pulled them even further away from the scene of the action.

On the left and centre the lines of infantry close steadily. In the middle the elephants prove particularly difficult to kill, and are making a major mess of the Roman front line.

There's a single legion unit facing off three units of phalangites. They might need a bit of luck.

The light horse attack the Roman camp. It all seems to be very quiet in there.

On the Seleucid left centre they have swept all before them and are now looking to roll up the Roman line. The Romans really need something to go their way.

The Light Cavalry find the camp empty (NB The camp is part of the Zvezda Baltic Medieval Fortress. It isn't much like a Roman marching camp, but I like it).

The lines finally close. There's a hint of a chance here as you would expect formed Legions to fight off Heavy Cavalry if their flanks are secure. Plus Scipio's there, adding his support.

One Legion finishes off its mounted foes in fairly short order. Has the tide turned? The Legion out on the Roman left has nearly destroyed one Phalanx already.

The Romans finally kill the elephant through the application of overwhelming force. Reserves are being rushed over to shore up the right flank.

As the camp goes up in smoke to the cries of "Where are you sleeping tonight, Scipio?", Antiochus pulls out his central cavalry unit, and sends in some allied infantry to see if they can do a better job on the Legions.

The Roman right flank is looking even more dodgy despite the reinforcements sent across to help out. The cavalry fight out on the extreme right has just taken too long to resolve.

In the centre the Romans are hanging on, although most units are now at half strength. If Scipio can just finish off that final base in front of him, he can break through and create an internal flank.

Or, of course, it could all go to mush and he could die in the combat. Which he did.

On their right centre the Romans finally achieve a breakthrough, but too late, as the Seleucids have turned their flank.

The Reserves are surrounded and crushed, despite Eumenes' late intervention.

A couple more combat rolls, and the Romans reach their army break point. It was closer than it looked. There are quite a few Seleucid units that have been badly roughed up, but crucially they're still in the game. The Romans, alas, may have lost fewer bases overall, but they've lost more units.

The Roman march to the East has been halted.

A satisfactory game that filled an afternoon for 3-4 players (I helped push the Seleucids about under Chris' direction and shared the dice rolling duties), taking about 3  1/2 hours. Not bad for the amount of kit on the table and the less than breakneck speed it was played at.

The outcome was fairly close, as I said, but I'm not sure how much like Magnesia it looked. If I were to play it again I'd need to reconsider a number of things to even things up.