Sunday, 25 August 2013

Flodden 500 preview

This year is the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. When I was at University in the early 1980s I started to build a Henry VIII army using Dixon's 25mm Flodden range. My friend, Derek (who I've known since I was 8 years old) who has Scottish heritage decided to build a James IV army. We both agreed to refight the battle on its 500th anniversary. You can't say we don't plan things.

Well, its been a long time, but we've both made it this far and we have the armies and we're going to do it. Shedquarters is prepared and the big day will be 31st August for us. Okay, a week or so early, but SOMEONE sort of forget the exact date of the anniversary and so put in a prior engagement. I'm not saying who it was, but I forgive him.

Last week I went and got Derek's Scots so I could size the game for the table. As our wargaming has gone slightly different ways over the years I also took the opportunity to rebase the Scots on a DBx basis, as I did a few years ago with my English.

This last week I've hacked some of my polystyrene ridge lines about and put together a passable representation of Branxton Hill. I also ran a trial game with Phil to see if Armati is the best way of doing this battle, and if so what changes we might need to make.

The armies were originally scaled to 1:200 based on the orbats in Kightley's Flodden book published by Almark. Both of us have gone a little bit outside the normal brief. I expanded my collection to enable me to fight the 1513 campaign in France. Derek bought English as well. I added Imperialists & French to do the continental campaign. Both of us bought figures from other manufacturers because either (a) they looked nice or (b) they were cheap.

What this means is that if we combine our collections and use some modern scholarship (Niall Barr's "Flodden 1513") we can actually fight the battle on 1:100.

So on a slightly damp Sunday morning I've set it all up and taken a few pictures.

So here's a picture of the table set up. Scots are closest to the camera. To whet your appetite for the forthcoming blog of the battle, here are some pictures of the opposing forces. Firstly, the invading Scots:

Lord Home & Earl of Huntley (left wing)

The combined borderers/highlander division. These are all Derek's figures, except for the saffron coated highlanders in the second rank who are from my Elizabethan Irish.

Earl of Errol (left centre)

Nobles & lowland levy. Some of my Swiss have sneaked into the front rank to make up the numbers, but otherwise all Derek's figures.

James IV (right centre)

Nobles in the front rank, levy to the rear. A few elements of my Francis I French pike in the middle. I wish now I'd bought those Scottish pikemen when I had the chance.

Earls of Argyll & Lennox (right wing)

Highlanders all, except for some of the back ranks, who are more from my Irish again.

Now the brave English, defending their homeland against Scottish aggression.

Edmund Howard (right wing)

These are all of my figures, except for the standard bearer. He's one of Derek's. I have to admit he's done a better job on these that me, mostly, so I've gone with his.

The Admiral (centre)

Again, my figures with Derek's banners. Lord Dacre is just visible in the background.

Earl of Surrey (left wing)

Surrey's battle has a couple of Derek's standards, and a few of mine. They're bridging a couple of hills a bit precariously.

Lord Dacre (reserve)

All my own work. Lord Dacre was actually Lord Scrope until about an hour ago when I replaced the standard.

Edward Stanley (late arrival)

All my own figures. One of the banners wasn't actually at Flodden, but I like the look of it.

So, all ready for next Saturday.

Unless I choose to do some more work on the english ridge line.

Friday, 23 August 2013

More about Sumerians

So it had become time to try out the Sumerians on the Monday Night Group. We have had some short conversations about what we expected and some exchanges on our Yahoo group. I was definitely not happy withe the AMW rules played without amendment and had found Neil Thomas' article in Slingshot referred to in an earlier comment. This was in response to an article by Steve Neate where he had made similar comments to me about the Biblical lists and the Sumerians in particular. Neil's main response was to amend the chariot random movement table to stop it being so random.

Before the game we discussed what we thought the battle carts/chariots were intended for. My view, based on nothing but prejudice and spending a career working with economics, is that they could not just be a "prestige weapon" used purely for show. With the paucity of wood in Mesopotamia and the cost and difficulty of controlling the draft animals I do not think that any culture would sink that amount of resource into a weapon that was ineffective on the battle field. And I've never liked the concept of "battle taxis".

So my view for this game was that the chariots would be a skirmishing weapon, split moving and throwing javelins. Having decided upon this we took a look at the combat factors. In the standard game light chariots fight light infantry on even terms. We tweaked the factors to give the chariots and advantage. We also reduced the effectiveness of heavy Biblical infantry when fighting chariots as well.

Ian got here first and took the Akkadians, leaving me with the Sumerian basic list. For the set up Ian drew my attention to the lack of trees and hills in Sumeria, and then we took it in turns to deploy one unit at a time.

Ian deployed his units in a block, with his chariots in the middle. I was a little more expansive, hoping to occupy the anachronistic wood on my right, and send my chariots round Ian's flank by putting them out wide on the right.

Neither of us showed a lot of tactical finesse, which may be in keeping with the armies of the time.

My flanking chariots had a effective battle, winning out against Ian's right flank guard, whilst the infantry tried to close.

The action on the left flank proved to be decisive as I broke Ian's light infantry and then was able to "gang up" on his chariot units and achieve local superiority.

We traded infantry units in the middle, and my slingers in the wood saw off their heavier opponents because of the terrain. My chariots also succeeded in winning their match ups, and I ended out winner.

Phil had arrived part way through the game and declined the offer to take over my army (clearly thought I was going to get beat!) which added another informed observer for the post game discussion.

All things considered we were mostly comfortable with the changes I had made. As a group there was a feeling that the armour class of chariots should be increased, as should that for the heavier infantry, - although we did not reach a full consensus on whether we should differentiate between cloaked and shielded infantry. Ian also remarked that slings are more effective against chariots/horses than bows. We're also in favour of some sort of terror effect caused by the chariots.

So, much food for thought, but a promising start. Think I might get a couple of more boxes of infantry.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Fall Gabel - NQM report

Just catching up with my battle reports. Last Tuesday we had another game of NQM, - an Operational WW2 game - although this time we were on the Eastern Front, not in the Western Desert.

Chris Kemp has been running an Eastern Front campaign for nearly 20 years, or perhaps more. In that time I have played the Russians a lot.

There was some misunderstanding prior to this game. Chris was intending to run over several nights, But I had only allowed for one night in Shedquarters as a lot of the NQM regulars were going to be away for subsequent nights & I didn't want the table tied up preventing me playing other games. In the end it worked really well, with a lot of action crammed into a short period of time.

As ever I took the Russians, defending a railhead this time. The set up was done in a bit of a hurry, and Chris couldn't find the box of Russian infantry divisions. Whilst I substituted with figures from my RCW collection Chris set up and briefed Will & Harvey who were playing the Germans. Having got the position sorted Chris
 then produced the box of Russians, which I swapped out and alas got the figures muddled. Chris said it wasn't important, - unfortunately it turned out this wasn't the case. Two of the positions had no artillery support and the third was light on infantry.

The game started with a German heavy bombing raid on the position. I had a few interceptors, but these were ineffective. As I was still sorting some kit out I didn't see the result of the attacks on the ground troops and Chris marked up the hits on his new Divisional Status boards (you can see one in the bottom left of the picture, behind the entrenchments).

This proved to be a further mistake. Unbeknownst to me the bombing run was very effective and I was carrying a lot of damage. I should have reorganised this off, but I thought I'd only taken one or two hit points and didn't bother.

Will & Harvey then pounded in with a severe artillery barrage and stormed in on the position. My right hand position completely misfired, lost the firefight and then was close assaulted. In the ensuing hand to hand action I think they failed to inflict any damage at all.

Phil then turned up with what I believed to be my reinforcements. However it transpired he was actually bringing more Germans, who started to swarm in on my left flank.

There were a lot of German new arrivals, armour and infantry. My shiny looking emplacements turned out to be only the same strength as a normal built up area and counted as medium, not heavy. Being Russian my artillery were unable to switch targets to support my other positions. It was starting to look a bit grim.

By this time I'd been thrown out of my position on the right, and I was under heavy pressure elsewhere. Phil's armour was off-setting the advantage my entrenchments gave me until I had a lucky barrage from my artillery that had finally found the range. Liberal amounts of hamster bedding were then applied.

Some relief now came into sight, with the arrival of an armoured division of BT5s, and supporting infantry. Things were looking up for me, or so I thought.

However, at that point the Luftwaffe came back:

They plastered my artillery. This was when I discovered how much damage I'd taken earlier on, and the guns started to withdraw.

I had been comprehensively evicted from my front right position, inflicting very few casualties. However, I fell back on the Army HQ and reorganised. I then discovered that my chaps preferred to be fighting in the open, rather than have any cover. I won  the firefight and launched a successful counterattack. On the front left all my good work against the armour was undone by a misunderstanding between me and the umpire. I thought I'd won the firefight. It turned out I hadn't won it well enough and the German infantry swarmed over the parapet.

My final disappointment of the evening was delivered by my armoured division. Phil had dropped off a small flank defensive force as you can see below.

Much to my surprise this position, consisting of four infantry bases and a Wespe turned out to be a really hard nut to crack. They counted as being as well dug in as my troops that had been in place all game and the guns on my armour were rated lower than expected. This meant that, despite overwhelming numbers, I was unable to win the firefight and so prevented from close assaulting a position I expected to just roll over.

At this point the game was wound down as we needed to pack away. It was action packed, and tense. I was guilty of a number of mistakes in my set up, and was caught out a couple of times by an umpiring decision. I can see why it went the way it did, - Chris had an end game in mind, and it isn't time yet for the tide to turn on the Nazi hordes.

Not a problem. I can wait another 20 years. After all, the march of history is on our side. Our victory is inevitable.

(The official, unbiased, report can be found at: TAMBOV Rail junction AAR)

Monday, 12 August 2013

Sumer-y report

So I have finished all of the Sumerain figures with the exception of one unit of chariots. This means I have enough for a Sumerain and Akkadian army under Neil Thomas' "Ancient and Medieval Wargames" rules, and a spare unit for a bit of variation.

So what better way to spend a Sunday morning than a quick solo run through to see how they shape up?  I laid out a basic terrain board with some hills, a bit of wooded area and a small river running across the middle of the board. This looks nice but was probably a mistake.

The set up looked like this:

The Sumerians are farthest from the camera, and have three units of battle wagons, flanked by Biblical infantry with light javelin armed infantry on the extreme flanks.The Akkadians have split their two units of battle wagons either side of a line of Biblical infantry and heavy archers. Flanks covered by light infantry, although they have a unit of slingers as well. BTW I'm only using two bases for battle wagon units instead of four to reduce the number of models I need and also the physical footprint on the table. Each counts as two bases and the loss of one of the "virtual" bases is marked by a black ring.

The battle wagons have a dice based variable move rule. Sometimes they don't move at all, sometimes they shoot off to engage the enemy at top speed with murderous intent. What this means is that each turn your pretty much have to move these first and get the rest of the army to conform. In addition the Biblical infantry get an enhanced saving roll if they don't move at all in the game.

The book says that the battle wagons/light chariots are the battle winning weapon for this army, and that everything else should act in support of them. The picture above shows the position after turn one. Most of the chariots have moved off, but at a variety of speeds. The light infantry near the camera is moving into the wood to hold the flank. At this point I started to have doubts about the implications of the random movement rules for the chariots. The infantry, likewise, is hugging the back line on both sides as there's an advantage to doing so because of the shield rule. This is a bit of an issue if both sides benefit in the same way, - and these are the only two armies that can fight one another as contemporaries.

By the end of turn two all the chariots were up on the river line pretty much. The Sumerians had made good progress in the woods. The Akkadian heavy archers started to move forward as there's no disadvantage to them to doing so, - although they can't move and shoot.

At the conclusion of the next turn the Sumerian chariots had crossed the river and were bearing down on the Akkadian infantry. At the far end a Sumerian chariot unit has contacted the Akkadian slingers following an uncontrolled charge. Any idea that you might skirmish with them, throwing javelins, had gone out the window. The second shock was that they only roll the same number of dice as the opposing light infantry after the initial round of combat, and in this situation the uncontrolled charge across the river evened up the first turn as well. Far from being a battle winning weapon the battle wagons were looking to be a liability.

The Akkadian chariots near the camera have got across the river and the light infantry is slugging it out with missiles in the wood. In the middle the skirmishing idea with the chariots likewise has mostly failed and they've made contact with Akkadian infantry. Then came the real surprise. The infantry are rolling three dice per base (ie 12 per combat round) and the chariots 2 in the first round (ie 8 dice) dropping to 1 subsequently. The infantry are also saving on 5,6, instead of the 6 that everyone else is looking for. The main advantage for the chariots is they're elite and the infantry are levy. Alas this advantage only counts once you've knocked off a base which is going to take three - four turns probably. By that time the chariots will have taken c15 hits. The random chariot movement rules also mean that it is awkward to disengage from the combat. At this point I had come to the conclusion that it was possible that the rules had not been playtested.

Up at the top of the board the Akkadian slingers were prevailing over the Sumerian chariots which are unable to disengage AT ALL as they can only withdraw at the same speed as the infantry can move. This was beginning to look seriously wrong. The Akkadian chariots weren't really moving at all.

By turn 5 or 6 one of the Sumerian chariot units in the middle had perished and following a morale test or two the slingers surprisingly evaporated. 

The Sumerian infantry stepped forward and caught the Akkadian chariots at this end of the table, whilst the other Sumerian chariots in the centre are destroyed. Looking at the photo I think that other chariot unit should be off as well, as it has three black rings and 5 white, but I've lost track of what is going on, as that should be the Akkadian chariots and they should only have minimal damage.

It looks like I've corrected the error on the far chariots, and the other Akkadian chariot unit has managed to extricate itself from the melee.

I think I'll stop the narrative there. The game slogged through another few turns and ended up as a 3 - 2 win to the Sumerians, brought about by them exiting an infantry unit from the board.

On the positive side I like the look of my armies. On the downside AMW really disappointed me. It's the first time that it has done so in any game across all of the periods it covers. I really do think that the rules have not been play tested. Everything in the armies is light armour, so chariots and heavy infantry take casualties as easily as light troops. Neil's statement that "(the chariots) should be at the forefront of any attack, with infantry assigned only to a support role" is a clear nonsense. Their offensive power is limited as they can't skirmish. They roll very few dice in combat and only have a 1 in 3 chance of disengaging when caught by heavy infantry and can't get away from light infantry at all. In summary, the rules and armies are a mess.

I need to do some surgery.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

An Ur-pdate

The recent rainy weather has forced me indoors a bit so I have applied an active paint brush to the Sumerians. They are coming along nicely. The paint scheme is of necessity fairly simple, so units don't take long to finish.

This is the sum total so far, - two units of javelin men, one of skirmishers, three of chariots, three heavy infantry with shields, two without shields and one unit of heavy archers. This is 75% of the minimum number I need to complete, and three more infantry units are cleaned and undercoated on the desk.

The figures are made of a very soft, flexible plastic different from the plastic of my Alexandrians which came from the same company. I've experimented a bit with the chariots, shortening the axles on a few but in the end the original configuration works best. In order to make the yoke fit I glue the wagon in place firmly first. Then the yoke has enough play to be bent up and the "equids" glued underneath. I increased the number of shield carriers by converting some of the figures with horizontal spears to hold them. I scratchbuilt the shields and the results can be seen top right of this picture. Okay but not brilliant.

The slinger unit is appropriately hairy. Whilst I'm not normally bothered by these things, some different poses would have been nice.

Close up of the shield-bearer unit. Quite fearsome.

The archers. By the way it took TWO BOXES (184 figures) to get this unit.

Apart from the few niggles remarked upon here I'm pleased with the army and the figures. I'll end up with 12 chariots and about 160 usable infantry for about £30. Plus they weigh next to nothing when you store them. Tempted to buy another couple of boxes of infantry to beef the armies up a bit more.

And finally, on a separate note, I put up a new shelf in Shedquarters. It's for small things. But mostly it's for hats.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Back to BAIT-sics

I can't believe it has been that long, but it's been nearly a year since we last had a go with RFCM's SCW rules "Bayonets & Ideology Two", aka "BAIT".

Looking back at my post on the subject in August last year I can see we weren't completely satisfied then, but in lieu of an alternative for low level actions I thought I'd give it a go again.

I don't use the full recce sequence in the rules as I want to play specific types of game. In this case, as before, I want to do some of the street fighting around University City in Madrid.

To set the game up I also ignored the basic BAIT army list for the Republicans. The defence of Madrid could be a bit ad hoc at times, so I put together a mixed group of platoons, with some veteran Asaltos backed by a few regulars, some militia and a couple of FT-17s.

The attackers were Spanish Foreign Legion with a couple of field guns.

The role of attackers was taken by Monday Night regular, Will, and a newbie called Harvey. Phil took the Republicans. Ian called in sick.

The basic terrain looked like this, with the Nationalists attacking from the bottom right. Their starting position was a mixture of partial and closed squares, but they then had to cross the road which was open before getting into partial terrain the other side.

The Nationalists started with two platoons and the guns, all veteran. The Republicans had a platoon of Asaltos, also veteran, and the sector commander.

Will took the right hand Nationalist platoon, and Harvey the left. The guns were placed on or about the road. The defenders were split between the large grey wrecked building in the middle and the building just this side of the park with the trees half way up on the right hand side.

Will started off with an aggressive sneak move to the aforementioned park and the unoccupied building next to it.. This succeeded, but he received some opportunity fire and took casualties. He then returned fire and inflicted a lot of hits on the defenders.

When it came to Phil's turn he had one base left in this location, and aware that he would probably lose it the following turn close assaulted the Nationalists in the park.

This tactic succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, as he disposed of the remaining SFL bases and himself surviving.

I should note at this point that the artillery were gloriously ineffective. This part of both BAIT and PBI is thoroughly poor as they seem only to be intended for firing at vehicles, with anti-personnel effects just tagged on the end.

On the other flank Harvey was crossing the road hesitantly, and exchanged fire with the Asaltos in the central building. This, together with a bit of artillery and a close assault left us with the result in the photo - everyone dead.

So at this point pretty much all of the infantry on both sides was dead, apart from the Republican commander and a mortar and the two Nationalist field guns.

Will, however, and salvaged something on his flank and got into the building next to objective two. Phil was now throwing on any reserves he had ready just to keep a presence on the table. The Asaltos then failed a break test and fled.

Phil actually made a good fist of this, and his decisions to bring on units once they'd got four or five bases ready proved effective and he was able to take objective 1.

At this point the turn countdown ran out and the game was over. A count up of victory points gave Phil a marginal victory.

Overall it was a manic and probably unsatisfactory game. Close assaults happen very simply and are devastating to both sides. Phil's theory is that the game is more balanced when the troops are of average quality as the modifiers for veterans mean that troops have to pay less attention to use of cover and so on. I can see what he means. Close assaults are generally much too easy for veteran units.

I should also have done away with the reinforcement rules and had the units come on at predefined points (the tanks never got on). The artillery rules also need work as alluded to above. The idea that regular troops might manhandle an artillery piece up to a strongpoint to blow troops out of it really doesn't work.

What we do next with this type of conflict I'm not sure. It's an important part of the SCW repertoire of games that I want to be able to fight, so it is a problem that needs fixing.

Most perplexing.