Sunday, 29 March 2015

Society of Ancients Battle Day 2015

As trailed in the last post this Saturday I was up slightly earlier than usual to head off to Sycamore Hall in Bletchley for the annual Society of Ancients Battle Day.

This event has been running for 13 years now and this year it reached new heights. Even with one game dropping out there were 16 games on display using 14 different systems. More on them later.


On arrival the hall was a mass of activity with people unloading terrain and toys. Luckily Hydaspes was fought on an open flat plain so no real challenges on the terrain front for anyone.


After initial set ups there's usually a talk from some one eminent. On this occasion it was Professor Phil Sabin who went over the different views on Hydaspes. This was followed by a Q&A, where Phil was joined by Duncan Head, author of "Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" (which still ranks as the definitive work on armies of the period). Duncan also wrote the very good article on Alexander's army at the Hydaspes in December's Slingshot. If you don't have a copy of that, you should seek it out from the SoA stand at the next show you attend. Or buy it on line.

After that, a quick zip round the other games, before we started on our own.


This is Big Battle DBA 3, put on by an old friend, Martyn Simpson. It was busy all day, with a lot of interest it seemed.


This is one of the two Command and Colours games on the day. I think both won prizes for something or other. I've played C&C and it is certainly fun with some intriguing mechanisms. I find it a bit too board gamey to make me want to play it on more than a one off basis. And at the price it sells at I won't be buying my own copy.


I wasn't familiar with "War & Conquest" (shows I don't get out much) but it's a Warhammer Ancients second generation game I think. The rule book is all gloss and pictures with the normal blocks of meandering text that takes 5 pages to tell you that you roll some dice and add on factors. On the positive side all the army lists & QRF are supposedly available on the supporting website so once you've bought the book that's your total spend on rules. It looked horribly heavy going and clunky. I guess if you like that sort of game then it's the one for you.


This is "Lost Battles", run by Phil Sabin. This churned over a few times on the day, with Phil making copious notes as it went along. It had a coterie of fans and was well liked it seemed. Phil had used LB as the basis for some of his talk earlier on. I like the LB book a lot as I've said before, but I do find the rules a bit soulless and Phil has dealt with a number of the problems wargames rules grapple with by just raising the level of resolution so they are not relevant.


Comitatus was a completely new game for me and I didn't see it played either. I've probably missed it as it's a set of rules for the Dark Ages. Fairly pointless having this picture here really.


Vincent Auger, who is usually to be seen with the Armati boys, was here with his own rules. Which were written in French. That'd give him an advantage over the people he was playing I'd guess.


This is the other Command & Colours game. The hex grid on the playing surface is very subtle. They were also using a mix of figures, including Indians from the same Hat range I was using.


This is Duncan Head's take on the battle which used DBMM and followed Hammond's interpretation which has the battle as an overwhelming attack on the Indian left whilst the rest do nothing. Given this position he really only needed half the table and didn't need most of the Indian infantry.


Finally of the games I photographed this is Armati in action. As regular readers know I am a fan of Armati, but it can look ugly with all of the hit and fatigue markers on the table.

Other rules I saw being used were WRG 5th or 6th edition, "Hail Caesar", "Spear and Shield" or something like that, Piquet and I think "To the Strongest".  I'm probably coming up short on some of the systems in play.


Well, I had my AMW adaptation to be getting on with. My players were Phil from our local group and Simon Wilson who came down from somewhere near Sheffield to play. He took the Indians.


I haven't documented the game turn by turn as I've written up versions of this several times already. Phil went in for a big right hook, lead by Alexander. He took some heavy casualties on his other units, especially from the chariots, but it turned out to be a devastating tactic.


King Porus tried to even up the odds by intervening, but he eventually had to flee to the relative safety of his infantry line. The elephants tried to press on in the centre and inflicted some damage but were unable to make a break through. They also kept dying and the running into each other  when going berserk.


Eventually Phil was able to encircle both ends of the line, and Porus died when the infantry unit  has was with was overwhelmed by Alexander and two units of Companions.  Simon took it very well and claimed to have enjoyed the day. I really should have taped down the edges on the mat to stop it riding up in the centre.

We only got to play the game once due to lack of fresh players. and we probably didn't have quite enough time any way.

It really shows how the hobby has fragmented over the years, and continues to do so. The oldest rules on display were 6th edition which date from 1980. A battle day run in the early 80s would probably have featured lots of games using 6th edition plus possibly Tony Bath and his rules and that would have been that, unless the Halifax team turned up with "Shock of Impact". But 14 sets of rules, - no, not believable.

Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable day out and recommended to anyone who hasn't tried it. Keep your eyes open for next year's event.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Society of Ancients Battle Day 28 March 2015

Haven't done one of these for a while. Battle Day, that is*.

I took part in the early ones, - I did Gaugamela, Sambre & Dorylaeum all as Matrix Games in pre-blog days - and then I stopped. There was always a reason not to go, although I've helped Phil out with some of his submissions, and this year it seemed like I'd miss it too. However changes to holiday plans meant I would be in the UK over the required weekend so I went to not taking part to running a game inside a fortnight.

Luckily for me the battle is Hydaspes this year, which I've re fought a couple of times with AMW, and the organiser (Richard Lockwood) took part in one of those. I think he really wanted me to take part. Details are here: Battle Day

So far I have two players, me & Phil, but more may join in over the next week.

As I can't take my Shedquarters tables with me I needed to check out my transportable terrain mat. Whilst I've got those big green cloths which are featured when I'm playing square based games I usually take my vinyl play mat which is blue on one side and green on the other. The blue side has featured in Hammerin' Iron posts on this blog. When I rolled it out I was reminded that the green side was also marked out in squares, so I had to do a quick repaint. (BTW This mat is made of two vinyl advertising posters that Chris K gave me when he ran an outdoor shop. They were for Berghaus, I think).

Having repainted I did a quick sizing with the proposed forces. It's a bit of a squeeze, but they fit.


Indians on the right, Macedonians an the left. Copy of Slingshot with excellent articles on the armies in the foreground.


Alexander and his companions. These are new figures,  - Hat - which were bought in anticipation of this game. I'd been using Gauls to make up the numbers.


Porus & his elephants. Richard Lockwood says we shouldn't use as many elephants as we can lay our hands on. I don't completely agree.


Another shot of the Indian line. It's wall to wall stuff.

From the layout I don't expect much manoeuvring. I am expecting a hard fought and bloody encounter.

We will be using the Shedquarters amendments that reduce the effectiveness of elephants and give generals a role. If we have enough time we might refight it without these changes. If we do I expect Alexander to get well and truly spanked.

* If you have never heard of these what happens is the same battle is re fought by lots of different groups, all using different rules. The results are written up and published in Slingshot. The day successfully proves that everyone's chosen rules are the best.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Taiping Trials

Today I had a visit from fellow WDer Tim Gow from "Megablitz and More". He came to see me on a business matter, but we also found the time to squeeze in some "Shed Action".

As we haven't had a game for a while I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to put on. Then the answer became obvious. The Taiping's have been finished recently and haven't been blooded yet. "Taiping Era" it is then, prompting some late might flag painting.

Not having played the rules for a while I set up a fairly simple confrontation. I hadn't realised how many Imperials I had, so I had to cut the army size back to make a game of it.

It was a good refresher for me of the rules and Tim made some helpful suggestions as well in areas where the rules have proved problematic in the past. I also learned not to pack the centre of the table with terrain if you want the game to move forward swiftly.


My Imperials are to the left, Tim's Rebels to the right. We meet in a fertile valley, at a cross roads dividing the local paddy fields.


Tim, worried about his right flank, bolsters his sword and shield men with a unit of cavalry.


He adopts a watchful pose in the centre, relying on his massed guns to drive off my superior forces.


 I, cunningly, have deployed my artillery out of range and in the wrong place so I have no covering fire. This means my Tiger Men are swiftly broken by Tim's artillery, and are soon streaming towards the rear.

On my right my brave Manchoo horse wade through paddy fields to face down Tim's cavalry.


On my left I have massed my Mongol hordes, confident of smashing in Tim's flank guards and delivering me victory.


A vigorous round of combat  sees one of my cavalry units needing to retire for refit, whilst Tim's skirmishers take to their heels.


Everywhere the mighty forces of the Empire press forward as the Taiping Rebels cower on their base line.


The left flank cavalry melee ends with both sides falling back after indecisive combat. On the far flank, and out of shot, we have broken a unit each and so both have some cavalry threatening our opponent's rear.


Here's a close up of Tim's right flank horse, showing their shaky morale with an MV ("Moral Vigour") marker of two.


Meanwhile in the middle my rallied Tiger Men have counter attacked and are just about to overrun those pesky Taiping jingals, whilst my own such unit pours fire into those opposing infantry.


Alas I am unable to close and break where I need to, and Tim's guns are breaking my units one at a time.


The left flank has descended into a stalemate as I am unable to rally my cavalry sufficiently to close again. Tim's superior quality troops are making a difference all along the line.


A final shot of the centre. Most of my infantry has broken and it is time for Tim to go home. Another victory for the Heavenly Kingdom.

I need to revisit my understanding of the rules and tidy up a few areas, but otherwise not too bad a return. I probably need more Taiping troops and I also need to look again at the command structure. Still, good enough to return to CoW, most probably.

(NB The rules are available as a download, top right of the page).


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Rapid Roses (2)

So, having rashly suggested that the Rapid rules might work for the Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Northampton, there was nothing for it but to try the ideas out.

Phil took the Lancastrians and I ran the Yorkists. I had some scribbled notes but no playsheets so Phil was a bit at sea. He couldn't even remember playing Rapid Raphia, so he was on the back foot a bit.


The battlefield is divided up into notional zones. It takes three moves to get from ridge to barricade, and there are zones in front of each defending battle. When we play the game live we will probably need to mark them with pins. The cavalry skirmish takes place in a little world of its own, but it gives the defender something to do.


I was going to have battles/units switch from moving all on the same cards to fighting by element when they got into contact, but that proved to be unnecessary. We had quite a discussion about the effectiveness of archery and decided it shouldn't be too strong. There's no account of an arrow "storm" at Northampton and neither of us is convinced by the masses of falling arrows argument. A bodkin armour piercing arrow is intended to be shot on a flat trajectory for a start (think about it, - a falling arrow is losing speed and coming in at a glancing angle).

I pressed on and moved up to the barricades. The totally new element of the game is the use of the joker in the bidding for priority at the start of the turn. If you bid with a joker you get to chose not only who goes first but also select from a menu of potential special events, - such as treachery, negotiations, artillery able to fire/not fire and so on. Some of these events can only be tried for at certain times.


When we got to the barricades Phil tried with a joker to fire his guns, but failed. I went in the next turn for some treachery, and my Lord Shrewsbury switched sides and helped the Bastard Fauconberg's men over the defences. Although that is effectively game over we fought on some more turns to see how the rules played out.


Elsewhere it proved very hard to get across the barricades until the flank has been turned by the treacherous retreat of Shrewsbury's men. Lord Grey of Ruthin held on to the bitter end, seeing off Edward of March, who died in an assault.

I then turned up another joker and demanded a complete surrender, which on a turn of a card turned out to be effective.

So, in conclusion there is a game in there and it will probably take about 30 minutes to play, which is perfect for a participation game. We will halve the deck for each side and use 26 cards plus two or three jokers depending on the special events. So far we have:

  • Treachery
  • Negotiation
  • Excommunication
  • Firing Lancastrian Guns / Weather
  • Prayer
  • Escape

Any other ideas plus how they might be resolved welcome.

What we have got here is a set of rules to play Northampton quickly. That's the first target. Once that's sorted I can look at producing a generic set of WotR rules.

Once we'd finished we had a quick game of DBA with the Feudal Spanish and Murabits. Phil took the Murabits because they had a new Tuareg Camel element that needed blooding. He likes camels.


Phil won the aggression thingy and I set up the table. Those brown blobs are ploughed fields. I went first and rolled a "1" for my PiPs, making the ploughed fields bad going. Any how, I just advanced the whole line in an effort to get to grips as soon as possible.


Phil rolled a 5 for his PiPs, and set up his defensive line whilst trying to get round my flank with some Light Horse.

I kept rolling 1s for my PiPs which was all I needed to charge my heavy horse straight at Phil's line.


I was a bit concerned that Phil was going to sack my camp, so I turned my caballeros villanos to cut him off. Luckily Phil had mistimed his move and I was able to get him in a threat zone, so he had to fight my horse, rather than overrun the camp.


When the lines collided I out rolled Phil in ALL of the combats. So he lost some elements, including his General who had been matched up against mine.


I did the same in the next turn and so won the game without losing any elements.

My, my. I'm good at DBA 3!!!!

We had a look afterwards at the Army Lists we are using for these armies and it's clear that the Murabits (and the Andalusians) lack some firepower. They need to get favourable terrain for all their light troops, but the Murabits in particular suffer from having high aggression so never getting to lay it out.

They have access to allies, including Feudal Spanish, so the answer may be to max them out with three elements of Christian Knight allies. Which means I have to get another box of El Cid Spanish Heavy Cavalry.

I was going to do that any way.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Rapid Roses

Campaign at Milton Keynes is back. Great news. It’s my favourite show because it is free and accessible to the general public as it takes part in a shopping mall, right outside the main department store. If you want to reach out to new and potential gamers this is the way to do it.

This year we are intending to be there promoting the Northampton Battlefields Society. Phil will have his game board and figures there so we’ll be putting a game on. Previously we’ve played this as a matrix game with varying degrees of success. This time when we were discussing the whole thing I just suggested that I could adapt Rapid Raphia as “Rapid Roses” and we could use that.

This falls under the heading of “seemed like a good idea at the time”. Raphia is a very different battle to Northampton.  The latter battle has no elephants for a start. However the basic idea of evening out the luck and limiting the game length through use of equal decks of cards for both sides is still valid for a participation game.

Rapid Raphia, the elephants aside, probably has more troop types and also more sophistication in tactics compared not just to Northampton but to Wars of the Roses battles in general. The main thing missing from Rapid Raphia is a set of missile rules, and I definitely need them for Rapid Roses. After all half each army is made up of longbowmen and as has been recently discussed on this blog Northampton saw the first verifiable instance of artillery being fired on an English battlefield. An absence of missile rules would clearly be an oversight.

There's another challenge for WotR battles generally and there are some specific issues with Northampton. Raphia enabled me to have multiple units per side, - by coincidence 12 as it happened. WotR battles are fairly formulaic with the three divisions. These vary in size but clearly manoeuvre together. That means that I need to do some surgery on the number of cards / units dynamic.

And then there's the perennial problem with the Battle of Northampton. One side is sitting behind a barricade waiting to be attacked which means that player has limited choices. And then the battle is all resolved by some treachery.

I've started to work my way towards some solutions, and I'd have made more progress today if my netbook hadn't frozen up on the train (I had an extra long journey today as I was working from a regional office, not in the City). I think I know how to deal with barricades, and I think I know how to deal with the treachery aspect without it being inevitable either way.

Finally, of course RR is a square based game, and Phil's terrain board is anything but. I suppose we could leave his kit as a static display and I could build a stylised version, using my figures, but that'll just be confusing for the punters.

Much to think about.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Little Victories

Okay, so I haven't been posting much recently. The commute is hard work at the moment, especially when the morning and evening is dark. I'm also a bit further across London than the last time I did this, although we've just changed buildings and I can't work out if that makes it better or worse.

Anyway, very little wargaming at the moment, and not a lot of painting. I am making some progress tho'.


This is my Taiping Army. at last. Well, not quite. Still got to do all the command stands and add the banners, but all the actual units are done. Probably need to get more toys next time I see Ian Kay at Irregular, but they'll do for now.

I've also prepped my next mini-project.


These will be the DBA 3.0 Andalusian Army (III/34b) based on the Hat figures, to go with my Feudal Spanish and Murabits. There are some nice figures in these sets. For those of you who do the 28mm stuff they also do these figures in the bigger scale in hard plastic. Well worth a look.

I can now spend some time sorting out my order for my Peruvians & Chilians I think.

Phil & I are going to Campaign at MK with the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society in May. We'll be taking Phil's figures & terrain board and I suggested that the "Rapid Raphia" rules might be adjustable. So, working title of "Rapid Roses" and some scribbled notes during my lunch break have got that under way. More work than I thought, but I have a long train journey on Thursday (visiting one of our Northern offices) so I might get some work done on them then.

So, not all bad then.


Friday, 13 February 2015

Moment of History

The Northampton Battlefields Society held a press conference on Thursday. After a year of research we finally have an answer on the only known artefact dug up on or near the battlefield of Northampton.

There's a bit of a tale behind this artefact. It's a cannon ball and it was found, then lost or forgotten about and then found again. Once the NBS had found out about it the ball was sent off to be dated by Dr Glenn Foard at Huddersfield University. Anyone with an interest in British battlefields should have heard of Glenn due to his ground breaking work on Naseby and Bosworth. How Huddersfield came to be a centre for battlefield archaeology I can't say, but it's a nice place.

When you take all the caveats into account it turns out that the ball was most likely fired by the Yorkists at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. That makes it the oldest cannon ball fired on a battlefield in Britain. So, based on this evidence the Battle of Northampton was the first battle in Britain where artillery was fired.

And people want to put a football pitch and a car park on it.

The BBC jumped the gun a bit and published their story a bit early, but it's worth a look. Here's the link as it is buried in the local news section, despite this being a nationally significant find: Oldest Cannon Ball Found. A fuller explanation and pictures is on the NBS blog: NBS Blog.

There are a number of important things here. First use of artillery is pretty damn important from a historical point of view, but this shouldn't make us obsess about the artefacts that can be dug up. They just show us where the battle was. The ground itself is the real artefact.

It made the local news on TV & radio, and also got 3 lines on page 17 of The Sun as well as proper coverage in the local papers and elsewhere on the net.

 So, what does it look like? Well, there are better pictures on line, but this one shows our very pleased Chairman holding it up.


Not very big, is it? However it is having a huge impact.

One of our local councillors even said the battlefield was safe. Whether we believe him or not we shall have to see. Most importantly this gives a lie to the criticism we repeatedly get that there's no archaeology on the site. That's only because we haven't looked yet.