Sunday, 27 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (8)

Some more light infantry to add to the lads. Looking at the army list this is one of those Armate armies where you bury your key troops in a cloud of worthless rabble, armed to the teeth with every type of missile weapon you can imagine.

So these are Isaurian Archers.

Like the Isaurian javelin men before them they suffer a little bit from having very big heads, either that or they're using some seriously volumising hair-care products. The paint job is based upon the pictures in Boss' Montvert publication that I've referred to before, although I've livened up the shield patterns a bit.

Here they are from the other side. Bit concerned that the quilting type design down the front is a bit "busy", but otherwise pleased with them.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Fast Play Myth

I used to do pub quizzes. One of the people who used to organise them had a saying that there was no such thing as a hard question, just stuff you don’t know. There is an element of truth in this. If you haven’t ever read anything on the Taiping rebellion or if you don’t watch Coronation Street you’ll suffer in those areas. However being asked “What colour is my jumper?” is pretty much a gimme, unless you’re colour blind.

I sort of feel this way about fast play wargames rules. Well, let’s get some perspective. Pretty much every set of rules ever published is suitable for fast play with vast armies. Very few advertise themselves as “gives turgid play with two units a side”. There are some outliers in this analysis. FoG doesn’t claim to be for vast armies in its pure form (neither does DBA) and Megablitz is not intended for skirmish games.

In my experience there are few rule sets that deliver what they promise from day one, - except perhaps DBA. It’s like the quiz master. There are no fast play rules, just those you know really well and those you don’t. I’ve written on Black Powder quite a bit. They do play quickly, - if you know how they work. If you have to stop to look at the rule book at any point then the game just stops in its tracks. Some rules you think are fast play, then they trip you up. An example of that would be Armati. I play them less frequently than I used to, but I could play them without reference to the playsheet or the rule book, mostly. It was those odd, rarely used, rules that would trip me up if my opponent invoked them. Although I suppose the game did go quickly as my plans unravelled.

I re-read Tony Bath’s Ancient rules recently and I have to say that starting from scratch they looked like a pig to learn, although they probably gave a fast moving game. On the other hand Neil Thomas’ “Ancient and Medieval Wargmaing” had us up and playing in a very short time, with little reference to anything except a few data tables.

Of course fast play isn’t just down to simple mechanisms, - they’ve got to give you a result. Much as I love Armati some of the infantry v infantry melees can go on for ever. So the claim “you don’t need to look at the playsheet” or “no playsheet required” isn’t really a guide. If you’ve got a mechanism that requires one side to roll a double 6 when the other is throwing a double 1 to get a result you’re going to be there a long time. It may be realistic, but it isn’t fast.

Which sort of brings me to this week’s game. We did something from the US/Mexican War of the 1840s, where the USA started to stamp its manifest destiny all over the continent. For rules we were using Arty Conliffe’s “Shako II” Napoleonic rules as basically both armies were still armed with muskets and fought in lines and columns.

I was quite excited by this as I have a lot of time for Arty Conliffe as a game designer. I like Armati, as I’ve said, and Crossfire is a game I’d like to play a lot more. So, Shako II which was both by Arty and featured “fast play” seemed to me to tick most of my boxes.

It was a simple game. Lots of not very good Mexicans marched across the battlefield to take on the small, yet perfectly formed, Yankees. As the Mexicans my colleague and I formed a simple plan, - we had everything in column and just put our heads down and went for them. It nearly succeeded, but we were undone by the rather too simple destruction of our cavalry by some Texas Ranger – Rough Rider types. These put our lancers to flight, despite us having lances (with pennons) and nicer, neater, brightly coloured uniforms.

The infantry columns had mixed success. The Yankees shook out into a firing line and we charged into them. Sometimes we got shot off, sometimes we lost the melee and sometimes we broke the line. Alas the first two outcomes outweighed the latter one by a bit and our army broke and fled. It was satisfying seeing some of the Yankees heading for home and I think they got a much bloodier nose than normally expected.

So what about Shako II and its fast play credentials? It took about 2 ½ hours for my two divisions to march across a four foot deep table and fight themselves to defeat. There was no hesitation, no fancy tactics. There was a bit of fussing about with the cavalry, and a bit of flicking through the rule book, of which we only had one copy, so we weren’t moving as fast as we could.

The rules don’t seem as complicated as old favourites such as Bruce Quarrie’s rules published by Airfix, all those years ago (lent my copy out, never got it back) but are they fast? I’m not convinced. And the rule book layout isn’t good. There’s a lot of text crammed into the pages, - although there are some nice diagrams, which are helpful, and some pictures, which are not – and there’s an odd desire to put grey backgrounds to some of the text boxes. I mean dark grey, thus rendering the text almost indecipherable. I’d obviously need to sit down for an evening or two to get the hang of them, but compared to Armati and Crossfire they're not as clear nor is the layout as visually appealing (and that doesn’t mean put in glossy pictures).

I think we should give them another go, and I’d like to spice up the scenario as I’ve had as much fun as I’m going to get out of just marching in a straight line.

So all in all, I think Shako II proves my original thesis. There’s no such thing as fast play rules. There’s just rule sets you know, and rule sets you don’t.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (7)

So, the next bunch of Belisarius' brave boys. These are Hunnic Foederati. I have to say that the early Byzantines weren't shy on loading up the different troop types in their army. This is the 7th posting on this project, and I reckon I've got another 5 different types to paint in addition to these. Admittedly that includes 3 different flavours of psiloi with bows (or SI - Bows in Armati speak), but it's stil quite a few.

They're quite nice looking figures. They don't have any of the "flatness" I noted in the Auxilia, and the poses are well done, with some good animation. The figures look quite nicely proportioned as well. They're not heavily carved, so the highlighting and shading is a bit forced in places but I don't think they suffer for all that.

For a painting guide I used the classic Barker "Armies & Enemies of Ancient Rome", and you can see the figures are pretty much taken straight from Ian Heath's immortal drawings. The colour guides are beautifully vague, - natural cloth and coloured caps, so that's what they've got, as you can see.

The only thing I'm not completely sure about with these are the horses. I always struggle to get believable horse colours. I've cracked it for the chestnuts. They are painted Tamiya XF-9 (Hull Red), but the white horses are actually meant to be piebald. I think they're okay, but I don't think I'll do anymore like that for a while.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Battle of El-Tel

Our group was supposed to be doing some Mexican war thing this Thursday, but due to an unfortunate incident the organiser had to drop out. However, following our recent interesting goes at Zulus and Redcoats with Black Powder I volunteered to have a go with BP in the Sudan.

I used the El-Teb scenario in the back of the book as a starting point for the forces and stats, although I cut back on some of the troop types and factors. In particular I reduced the awesome power of the British Hussars, who seem to be armed with phasers and chainsaws.

Very cleverly I forgot my camera, so I was reduced to taking a few snapshots on my Blackberry.

As ever with Black Powder it gave us an amusing evening but it's never quite right. You wonder what books the authors have been reading if they think that cavalry is a war winning weapon against the frightening Fuzzy-Wuzzy. Their effectiveness and the whole set of rules about infantry fighting cavalry need to be looked at if we're going to use them again. I also don't get why Highlanders have better HtH factors than Fuzzies and also better stamina.

The British were on a punitive expedition against a lonely village, fronted by a wadi, and flanked by some hills. The approach march was halting due to some poor command rolls, until the lead brigade blundered and veered off at an angle.

Here you can see that they've successfully exposed their flank to the wadi at the top of the screen, thus tempting the Dervishes to launch a full scale assault. Again, thanks to poor command rolls they decided to stay concealed behind the hills, and encourage further British indiscretions.

Eventually the Dervishes came out of hiding and decided to set-too.

Here you can see them try to launch an attack from the wadi. They moved off, but only got one move segment so didn't make it (we were using centimetres for inches as these are 15mm figures). This timidity on the part of the dervish hordes gave the Brits a chance to recover and form the obligatory Brigade Square.

The square was formed in a hurry, and the infantry just about made it. You can see to the bottom of the picture the Gardner gun and a packed up screw gun that got left outside. The other brigade artillery is still milling around in the middle of the square with the water bowser, out of formation, as the fuzzies slam into the front face. Meanwhile the Northampton Yeomanry square up to the supporting dervish warband.

This was the main confrontation of the evening. The attack on the square took three turns to fight off. The dervishes survived repeated break tests for losing melee, which was only fair as the British had outrageous luck on their saving rolls. The cavalry broke that warband, but the lead regiment was likewise destroyed by some others coming up into support.

Off picture to the top the Highlanders from the other brigade lined the wadi and tried to shoot off three or four dervish warbands. They failed, - the shooting was okay, but the melee didn't go their way as two warbands managed to pool resources in the fight.

So we called it a day. Marginal British victory, but the loss of a cavalry and an infantry regiment was quite a high price to pay.

BP did the job on the evening, but they're clearly a Napoleonic set of rules that's just spread out in either direction. The factors and rules for colonial forces just aren't quite there, although no doubt the colonial supplement whenever it turns up will solve that.

For preference I'd play Science v Pluck, but that's harder work for the umpire and the players so BP fitted the bill this week.

We may return when I remeber my camera.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (6)

At last some of the classic Trebian troop type, - heavy infantry.

Well, I say “Heavy Infantry” but this is really a poor shower compared to the Legionnaries , Phalangites and Hoplites that grace my largest and most long standing armies.

I mean, even the Carthaginians have some heavies in armour, although admittedly that’s 600 years beforehand.

So here are some “Auxilia Palantina” which is what passes for backbone for this army. Okay, I know you can dismount some of the cataphracts but that would mean buying extra figures and, come on guys, they’re CATAPHRACTS!! Why would I take them off their horses? In Armati terms they’re hard as nails, armed to the teeth and don’t suffer from the obligatory charge move.

Any how, back to my new recruits. The figures are a bit flat and ideally in a unit of this size & type I’d like a variety of poses. If they’re massed infantry shield-wall legionary types then a single pose, standing shoulder to shoulder is a winner, but these don’t really fit that mould. As they’re basically javelin chuckers.

The figures are not only a bit flat, but they’re a bit bland. The lack of heavy detailing/folds in their tunics makes the shading a bit of a challenge although they’re probably more authentic for not having lots of deep cutting in the design style. There’s actually some nice detailing on the figures in the tunic yoke and the decoration near the tunic hem. Alas a layer of undercoat followed by blocking in with a mixed off-white matt vinyl emulsion rather obscured it all. Again, it’s probably an authentic depth but it isn’t doing any favours with the dry brushing.

They’re painted up okay. The shields are quite ambitious for me with the Chi-Rho and inset colours. I’m not sure I’ve pulled it off. They look a little bit too busy in all honesty. I have another unit to paint and I’ll be going for a brighter more geometric design for them, I think.

Still they’ll plug the middle of my battle line, and form a base from which my cavalry can launch devastating attacks on my less civilised opponents.

My last thoughts cover the overall authenticity of using these figures. Our sources in some areas aren’t great and there’s a general feeling that generic Auxilia Palantina of this type hung around in the same style kit for 300 years. That doesn’t convince me, but then how much variation can you get in a loose fitting tunic and a big oval shield?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (5)

Okay, so the secret is out, but having started with this as a title for postings on this army I'm reluctant to change tack.

Here's the latest batch of recruits to Belisarius' adventure. The Armati army list rather grandly lists them as "Hippo-Toxotoi", which translates as Horse Archers.

That could well be Belisarius with the sword!
 The haven't come up too bad. The paint job is based on the illustrations in Roy Boss' book on Justinian's wars published by Montvert (now alas out of print and selling at premium prices.

Despite my new close up glasses I had made especially for painting and a 000 paintbrush I'm still struggling with the fine details. The chequer piping on the archer's clothing makes them look a little like they're wearing pyjamas, and that isn't the best ever "Chi-Rho" on the standard. The difficulty isn't my eyesight but a small lack of motor control in my painting hand that derives from some neck and back problems I had a few years ago. It's frustrating to admit it, but I have to recognise that I've now got figures in my collection that I won't surpass in terms of painting quality. I'm also finding that I really shouldn't paint for more than a hour at a time.

Apart from that I think they'll look fine on the table top, and for these figures I've also got a picture of them from behind.

They warrant a reverse shot as I put a lot of work into the shading on the cloaks, so it seems a pity to waste it.

I suspect that we don't pay enough attention to the backs of our figures. After all the fronts get shields or lace frogging and so on, depending on the period. However, unless you are really unlucky as a player you'll actually spend most of your time looking at the backs of your figures as they march remorselessly towards your opponents. I suppose a well painted front may intimidate your enemy, but it may just be a lot of wasted effort from the point of view of personal pleasure during the game.

Next up will be some Auxilia Palantina, followed by some Huns. This army has a lot of variety in it, but there's also a lot of some units to paint. The Hippo Toxotoi in particular are a significant proportion of the army. I'm pretty sure this won't be finished in time for my annual "Attack of the Killer Wind Up Christmas Puddings" game, which is a shame as my regular opponent has an exact contemporary army to take it on. That, likewise, is stuffed full of cavalry so it'll be a whirling frenetic affair when they finally get to grips.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (4)

The development of the army gathers pace. I succeeded in painting some more light troops over the weekend so the DBA version of the army is looking in good shape. When I complete the couple of cavalry bases on the desk then I'll have done the requisite 12 elements, if I allow myself two bases of Gothic cavalry.

 Oh. And I need to two a couple of bases of Spears. So actually not close to finishing at all, really. Any how, here's the latest additions. Call them Psiloi or Skirmish Infantry (SI) or whatever you want depending on your favourite rule set, but they're light troops armed with dual purpose throwing and stabbing javelins.

The books describe these as Isaurians. Again these are Donnington miniatures and they've painted up okay. It's the first time that I've had to do lots of shading for ages to get the effect I want, but I think on this occasion it is giving me brighter colours than using the magic dip method.

So far then we're got:

  • Moorish light horse
  • Moorish javelin foot
  • Gothic cavalry
  • Cataphracts
  • Isaurian light foot

Any more guesses? The last posting got precisely zero guesses, so I suspect that readers have lost interest in this game.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The attack of the Shrimpi

Thursday night, so the Monday Night Group are back together again. This week we re-entered the world of Black Powder, with 6mm British & Zulus (hence "shrimpi" - see, it's an Impi that is small in size......)

Regular readers will know I have an awkward relationship with BP. It is poorly written, badly laid out, inadequately indexed and much too expensive for what is in it. It also doesn't cover the period it claims to cover in the original book. However, there's a feel to the game that has an appeal, and it has some elements that are ingenious and work quite well.

Any how, previous gripes may have arisen because we've used it for one of the periods (War of Spanish Succession) that isn't properly covered. The Zulu wars, however, are absolutely core subject matter as they warrant a full battle report in the rule book, and specimen troop characteristics.

Phil had acquired some fairly old Heroics & Ros 6mm blocks of Imperial forces & Zulus and without him doing too much on them they were okay to use in a game. We did a sort of re-run of the game in the rulebook (it's my terrain by the way), which features a small detachment of Brits being rescued by a column from a marauding Zulu impi.

 I shall let the pictures tell the story

The British column, headed by some Native horse enters the table
A wider shot showing the Sargent's lonely laager, nestling in the crook of the river
The impi in the distance. The Native horse swing to the left to screen the column's flank
Thew Native horse form a firing line on the River. The Lancers have crossed the River, whilst the column hurries to catch up. The Zulus look ominous.

The impi in the middle has been routed by the steady rifle fire of the Naval Brigade. Meanwhile the Lancers have undertaken a death-or-glory charge. The Gating Gun, needless to say, has jammed.

The Lancers have broken the other impi on the British left wing, but the Native skirmish line this side of the river looks a bit vulnerable.

The British have their "Thin Red Line" properly formed at last as the Zulus start their headlong rush in the centre, screened by skirmishers. Cunning.
And that was the last picture I took. The Red line held off the Zulus through some rapid fire and stiff work with the bayonet and were left masters of the field. The Gatling Gun had been unjammed, but it got jammed again using defensive fire as the middle impi crashed in on the laager position. The MG mechanism is quite good. You roll for hits one die at a time, as many times as you want. You can stop when you want, but if you roll a 1 it jams. Hence when the impi charged in response to Phil's question "How many times are you going to fire?" the only answer was:

"Until it jams!"

We had a fun evening and I hope you'll agree it looks like a Zulu wars battle. Hopefully we'll give it another go, but my feeling is that BP is in many ways too much of a blunt weapon. Even with all of their special rules you can bolt on Zulus still only move as fast as a British company in line.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (3)

The next troops up for consideration aren’t that difficult to paint. They’re mostly armoured so it’s a case of undercoating in black and dry-brushing in silver. I used to do my 25mm fully barded cavalry by using a black wash then polishing off the excess, which was very quick and very effective.

However they seem to have taken a long time to get to the finished state. Well their start was delayed as I decided to remount the riders with a Milliput saddlecloth each as the horse are very skinny and bending the riders’ legs to make them fit made the riders look really odd. The Milliput has been a mixed success, - some of them have worked out really well, others have set with a gap under the saddle – which is annoying.

In the interim the family Trebian has been fully occupied with one thing and another. My father has moved into a care home for a trial period, which has required a lot of too-ing and fro-ing between here and the home and the family home where my mother still lives. How long this arrangement will hold out is anyone’s guess, but I suppose it has gone as stress free as it could have done although there’s still a pile of paperwork to sort out. Then this last weekend we’ve been away moving Miss T into her first flat down where she is about to start her first permanent teaching job. So, lots of carrying boxes up and down stairs and assembling flat pack furniture and so on. Then there’s all the on-line forms to do: -  insurance & BT & electricity & TV licence. So, busy but satisfying. We were rushing about so much didn’t even notice that apparently we got an extra hour in bed because of the clocks going back.

Any how one of the local boys reckon these troops will let the “cat” out of the bag as to what the army is, so I’m posting pictures but no description. There is some dispute as to whether the army actually had these as the sources don’t describe the full range of equipment precisely but I reckon they did as they represent best practice at the time and make tactical sense within the army’s overall make up.

This evening I’ll undercoat some more figures in my quest to produce, at least, a DBA army out of the bits I’ve got. I suspect that the next batch will give it way if these figures haven’t done so already.