Thursday, 27 February 2014

Ur-ing on the ambitious

Like when I was developing "Call it Qids" I am blessed with lots of opportunities for puns if I stick with "To Ur is Human" for a game name. Having said that "Sumer" isn't bad for pun based titles, either, looking back at past postings.

This Wednesday's game was the first try out for for the amended Sumerian square based rules rules with the added "Fear Factor". It's also the first go with a proper lowland scenario.

The last game we did, which went down okay, was set in a punitive expedition in the mountainous regions, where rebellious elements needed to be tamed. This evening's game was a "fertile crescent" game, set amongst palm groves and irrigation ditches, with the aim of destroying the opponent's army, kicking over his boundary markers and burning his crops. I had a number of concerns as I set this up about whether I had overdone the amount of terrain and the complexity of the layout and....well, you'll need to decide.

The attackers had battle carts, the defenders did not. The idea was that this was a strike force coming up against local militia with a stiffening of regulars.

This is the initial set up. Defenders to the left, attackers to the right. I took the defenders, Phil the attackers.

This is just a neat shot of my skirmish bowmen holding one of the palm groves, over on my right.

My General took position in the central village, guarding the bridge with some light heavy style infantry.

Phil had a large force astride the main road. At this point he was kind enough to say that he thought the game had a real feel of pre-Biblical Mesopotamia about it. Actually, I was very pleased with how the board looked, and the squares just seem to work.

The opening exchanges were around the aforementioned palm grove. My archery failed to deter the advancing heavy infantry.

On the other flank  my first "Fear Test" for some of my levy skirmishers didn't turn out too well, and they headed for the rear, pursued by their opponents.

In the middle Phil charged the palm grove. I passed the Fear Test, but chose to retire in good order, drawing him into my trap. Ha Ha.

As you can see in the middle Phil's troops have started to exact their revenge by setting fire to one of the fields of crops. On the right hand side of the picture Phil is starting to press my slingers who are holding the other palm grove.

In the middle I move some heavy infantry up to defend the bridge......

 ..... and before you know it I'm over the river and trying to give Phil's chariots the what-for, passing a Fear Test in the process.

Phil's chariots pulled back after one round of combat, which enabled my general to link up with the heavy infantry and attack the troops setting fire to the palm grove in font of the village.

In the centre, Phil's heavies pressed forwards.

The charge lead by my General failed spectacularly, and I lost on the subsequent Fear Test. My unit took Fright, then took Flight and headed to the rear, lead comfortably by my General. This pursuit took several turns.

Phil pressed on through the palm grove to attack my skirmish archers who had retreated into the village.

I succeeded in getting one of my heavy units into a threatening position, so Phil charged them with his battle carts. Under the Fear Test I lost out, and slipped to "Fright"-ened status, as signified by my slightly out of line bases.

Phil charged the village, lead by his general, and may have been surprised when my levy bowmen stood their ground in the Fear Test.

Over on the other side of the board the less said the better, as Phil's carts got the better of my infantry in a fight in a village.

The other chariots forced my heavy infantry back steadily, but they just held on.

 In another couple of moves my army was pretty much gone, and the crops and villages were in flames. Big victory for the aggressor, but no photographic evidence

All in all very pleased with how it went. As usual I took loads of notes and I have a bit of thinking to do but the Fear Test mechanism held up well and we didn't miss the old style morale test. The game has a good look and feel and may well end up going to CoW this year.

Monday, 24 February 2014

To Ur is Human

"To Ur is human" is the working title for the revamped set of Akkadian/Sumerian rules. Whilst still using some basic AMW mechanisms I'm moving further and further away from the core game, driven partly as its simplicity is now creating more problems than it solves and also due to the inner restlessness of my wargaming soul.

The move to squares was the big step as it creates a different feel for the game. The game set in the mountain region we played last also focused my thoughts on what sort of victory conditions I wanted, and destroying villages and crops feels like an important part of early Sumerian warfare.

What is frustrating me at the moment is the battle cart problem.What did they actually do on the battle field and how effective were they? Evidence is that their use faded over time, not due to the arrival of the horse, but as campaigning moved into difficult terrain. That makes sense but I think the evidence is for their general falling out of favour for anything other than sending messages between the far flung parts of the empire.

As a battle field weapon we are not as one within our little group. My view is that they must have been an effective battlefield weapon against their contemporaries as they represent a considerable investment of time and effort. Using an economics based argument as opposed to a historical one is unusual for me, but I think that in any organised society there's only so far you go with vanity projects before you realise you're wasting resources. Thus I think we need to find a way of them being, at least from time to time, a devastating weapon. Of course, they could just be a pursuit weapon once infantry have done their job as cavalry have often been down the centuries.

Phil's view is that you can't look at them in respect of any later context and just have to accept that they were better than what went before, rather than being definitively a brilliant thing in themselves. He has a good point and I can see how that works for movement. Thus, based on the wheel base and the likely difficulties arising from the way the animals are yoked and controlled, I have given them a wider turning circle than all other troops and made them faster than infantry, but a bit unpredictable (as Neil Thomas does and also Warhammer Ancients). Thus they can get about the battlefield quite well, but not as well as later cavalry or chariots. That seems to work fine to me. They're also not that good over rough terrain or irrigation ditches.

So far, so good, but that's the non-contentious bit. The problem is the combat role and effectiveness. I think we all agree that they'd be okay chasing broken foes, so that's easy. All I have to do is change the combat system so units break and retreat as well as just losing bases, and give battle carts +1 in pursuit, or something similar.

Next up is the "battle taxi" argument, - ie that they are just used to deliver a hero to the front line for combat. I'm not seeing a lot of Sumerian evidence for heroic combat, so I think that this idea can be left on one side for the moment (I admit to not being too well informed generally on bronze age heroic warfare, so I may be sadly mislead in my thinking here).

One option I have tried is to have them as missile platforms. The riders are shown with throwing spears or javelins, and these seem to be in the quivers in the illustrations we have. However, giving them all round missile ability and allowing them to gallop up, throw, then gallop away didn't fit with the slightly awkward notion we have of them. Especially when you compare them to Egyptian chariots or even the modern reconstructions of the Ancient Briton variety. Given that I'm inclined to believe that javelins are thrown ahead as a preliminary to combat.

That leaves me with what happens in melee. I've tried ramping up the dice (too powerful) and leaving them normal (pointless). They're not knights in armour, but they're not useless. What to do?

My latest thinking is that I'll look at them as a terror-type weapon. Poorer quality troops run the risk of being intimidated by a frontal charge, and if they lose cohesion, it could be quite bad news for them. Similarly, if the shield wall or  hedge of spears stand firm it's quite bad news for the donkey men.

So I have put in a Fear Test for this Wednesday's game. When units charge each other we check to see which side, if either, is intimidated. If you're intimidated your opponent gets more combat dice. I'm using the classic Fight/Fright/Flight analysis for the moment, and basing the roll on a unit's morale class.This means I can give the Battle Carts a low basic number of dice, but give them a good chance of "spooking" levy type troops, and getting extra. At the extreme end  of outcomes the levy might just turn and flee.

If this experiment looks like it works I'll look at morale classes in general. Currently only Battle Carts are Elite, and I wonder whether the Royal Guard infantry should be similarly classified.

Much food for thought.

And I haven't even got to victory conditions yet.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Italian Impetus

This year's Society of Ancients Battleday is doing Montaperti, the famous battle between the Florentines and the Siennese in 1260.

Yup, I hadn't heard of it either until it was selected last year. Phil, of course, as a lover of all things Italian is completely clued up on the subject and has lots of suitable figures in shiny armour with brightly coloured banners.

We trialled some ideas on this last year. Since then Phil has done a load of work on it and I've done nothing.Well, you know how these things go.

That original game was played using Armati, IIRC. For this refight Phil has settled on using "Basic Impetus", the free version of Impetus. Not a set we've used before, but they are written by a pair of Italians, so it has a sort of neatness in its conception as a choice for the game. Phil sent me a detailed map of the terrain, which I succeeded in doing a passable job of turning into a table top layout:

Accounts of the battle are a bit confused. Well, actually, as I understand the accounts of the battle from either side do not tally on most of the major points. The thought of fighting it twice, once using the Florentine account and once with the Siennese, springs immediately to mind, but I digress.

This pictures is "pre game". The Siennese are this side of the river, the Florentines are marching into position on the hillside. Some Siennese have been sent off on a flank march.

This is the Siennese line. The reserve with the banner cart thingy (can't remember what it's called. Sounds like a vegetable or a pasta dish) is sort of cut off in the corner.

The Florentines are all lined up. The dodgy Ghibelline cavalry is to the rear.

Phil set the figures up with me, but he wasn't very well. Luckily Chris K soon turned up, and took over the Florentines. This doubled the number of people in the room who hadn't read the rules.

 I started off by swinging my Frankish cavalry out to my left, heading for the Florentine cavalry on the ridge line.

I sent some cannon fodder skirmishers out ahead to soak up any missiles from the enemy. Under these rules having Impetus makes a lot of difference to cavalry, and taking missile hits disorganises you so you lose it. Cunning, eh?

Here's a picture of the Florentine position, taken from behind my cavalry. Over on my right my infantry are closing into missile range, but who cares about them?

The cavalry get closer and finally....

...clash in a might melee. This was where we started to get a bit lost with the exact rule sequence.

I won the combat, but we overlooked the pushbacks. This was either:

a) Very significant (me) or
b) Note really an issue (Phil & Chris)

Obviously everything is a matter of perspective.

Second round of melee and I got kicked down the hill on one side. You can see the fight in the bottom of the picture, as my infantry advance on the Florentine line.

I brought up my reserve cavalry, and pushed them into the gap. At least that might be what this picture shows.

I have no idea what is going on here. I think Chris might be retiring his infantry line.  Or his dodgy Ghibellines have betrayed him. Something like that.

Yes, clearly the Florentine position is collapsing, due to my brilliant generalship. I think that might be a flank attack appearing on the right hand side..

I have the Florentine crossbowmen in a vice like grip. Almost.

It's nearly all over.

It is now.

The white markers are the units' strength points, once they've taken hits.

A fairly chaotic battle that captured medieval warfare quite well. We (well Phil) sorted the rules out as we went along, and it was making more sense as we got to the end of the game. We need to play this again.

Basic Impetus had some nice little design features that I think warrant closer attention. The units are the same foot print as Armati units, mostly, or those for AMW, so no problems for us there.

Monday, 17 February 2014

There's more...

For those of you who haven't found these yet, I recommend these BBC 4 podcasts: Great War of Words.

They are introduced by Michael Portillo and feature archive material and very good historians discussing the outbreak of the war & war guilt.

I downloaded them to my iPod and have listened to them in the car today, driving to and from work.

I have to say that I feel really vindicated. These are proper historians, from proper universities, from varying backgrounds and they seem to be saying what I thought was the case with modern thinking*, rather than the out of date stuff that medievalist was spouting that was rooted in the 1960s.

The second podcast on war guilt is really, really interesting as it goes into the historiography of the subject and explains why our thinking is so badly messed up.

Excellent. Well done Aunite Beeb again.

(BTW - Haven't tried the Women's Hour broadcasts, but the write up looks interesting for those as well.

*I was part way through writing "and they agree with me" before realising how arrogant that would be. I agree with them, not the other way round. They probably have no idea who I am.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Kharkov completed

So, second evening in Kharkov. Same cast, same location.

The Cossacks and their infantry supports saw off the initial panzer assault and wiped out the Hungarians. They'd taken a pounding in the process, and I had a suspicion they may have over extended their advance.

We had driven the Nazis out of Kharkov, but at an enormous cost. The Guards were quite badly battered, and the Germans were massing their panzers for an assault. They had air support as well.

On my left I finally broke the Hungarians on my left, but it had been a long, hard, struggle. their dogged resistance was the most significant part of the battle. My inability to winkle them out of their foxholes meant that the Germans were eventually able to reinforce their positions in time.

Russian armour starts to arrive in volume, and the river line will soon be mine. The SS panzers at the top of the screen are making mincemeat of my remaining cossacks, alas.

The stukas start to bomb Kharkov, and the SS press on into the outskirts. The fight is very brief, and the Guards, or what is left of them, are soon back across the river.

The German river line has finally collapsed...but probably too late...

The Russian armour drives on, colliding with the Germans rushing to Kharkov. In the background comrade Will is steadily pushing the Germans back into Dnepipetovsk. Which is a shame, as it's our other objective.

The armour fight in the middle shapes up nicely, - from a Russian perspective.

The Russian breakthrough artillery is finally deployed to shell Kharkov. After waiting nearly the length of two evenings it rolls a double one. Spectacular.

The encirclement of the Germans in Kharkov is well under way now. The battle of the Kharkov Kessel will dominate the winter months.

Final shot, - Phil had brought his JU52s along for just this eventuality. He believes he can hold Kharkov with air supply....

We didn't really play to a full conclusion. Another evening might have given us enough, but it wasn't clear. This is the first time in 20 years that the Russians have put sizable amounts of armour on the table. Long may it continue. Alas, our use of it proved ineffective in certain areas, and the Germans always seem to be one step ahead of us. However, comrade Stalin assures us victory is close at hand.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Back here again

I wasn't intending to revisit the Great War controversies again, but I thought I'd draw your attention to more good stuff on the BBC website. Catch it whilst it's there.

Firstly there's a  piece with 10 views on who was at fault for the war: Who was at fault? 10 interpretations

This has already created some controversy amongst people I know. It is has been suggested that it is a very British view. Well, it is on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website, but even so....actually, there are a couple of German historians in the group, one Irish and one American. Universities in the UK, Germany and Turkey are all represented. Quite a good cross section really. Shame it includes Max Hastings.

There's some good debate in there. A couple of them go for "it was everyone's fault" (German & Irish), one blames Serbia (British), the rest fix it on Germany or Austria-Hungary in various combinations.

How much people were influenced by national sentiment you'll have to judge for yourself. To my mind blaming Serbia is a cop-out. Such a small state could only be responsible for conflict in a small area. It was the Great Power backers of both sides who turned it into a European wide war.

Next up is Gary Sheffield's piece in the i-Wonder series. Misjudging the Generals? This looks at British military leadership and Haig in particular.

There are no surprises here, but it is a thoughtful piece for those not familiar with the debate.Probably not even handed enough for "proper" historians who don't think much of military historians, but Sheffield has done the research and most of those who disagree with him haven't.

The last piece is by Joan Bakewell, again the in i-Wonder series: Oh What a Lovely War? which  looks at how modern views of the war have been formed, particularly starting in the 1960s.

This is an decent analysis of how we are where we are, and compliments the one by Ian MacMillan on the war poets. I enjoyed it.

I think the BBC is doing us proud on this.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Weekend's Production

A wet and windy weekend gave me an excuse to hide inside and finish off another unit of Assyrian Guardsmen.

Unlike the previous batch these are all shield carriers, although I'm expecting to paint enough bowmen to sub them into the unit if required.

The shield pattern is just a geometric design, with concentric circles and zig-zags between the various edges. They've come out okay, although not all of the circles were concentric or even circular. As with the last set of Guards I painted the shields separately before attaching them.

The figures are varnished with my normal Ronseal, with the exception of the shields, which were given a diluted coat of Tamiya gloss varnish. It's diluted because it was nearly dried out, and I only found out on Sunday afternoon. I'll give them another coat when I get some more.

Interestingly in December's MWBG there's a really good article on varnish, written by someone who understands the actual chemistry behind it all. It brought back a few memories as my father was a paint chemist for most of his working life, and some of what was said I recognised. The article is mainly aimed at those painting metal figures which are going to get a lot of handling. Frankly, it was too much for me. I've always combined priming and undercoating, and never really had much in the way of problems. I lose more paint through stuff being bent that handling. He also lost me a bit when he talked about adding talculm powder to the, I'm afraid, is way too short as it is.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Kharkov Conundrum

Chris K has been a more regular visitor recently. This usually means one of two things. Either that his employer has come to its senses and is no longer making him drive all the way across the county to do his job (can't tell you who he works for, but its initials are NHS) or he's really desperate to put on an NQM game. If we're lucky it's both, and he gets to turn up early to put the game out before everyone turns up.

This week it was both, so we were off to the Eastern Front with NQM. Details for the scenario are over on Chris's blog: NQM - Winter Offensive 1942. The information there enabled me to spend Sunday morning setting the tables out (which involved re-laying the carpets now Shedquarters is dried out).

As a perennial Soviet Chris softened me up with talk of a "massive Russian push", and " a major counter attack". He even hinted that there might be lots of armour.

He does like a joke, doesn't h?

For the evening's entertainment we were joined by Phil (with some boxes of Soviet infantry and an SS division), Will and Richard. Will & I took the Soviets, Phil and Richard the Germans. This was a big game so Chris did arrive early to get the kit out, and also to press into service some of my RCW infantry to supplement the Russian Hordes.

This is what the  table looked like. Kharkov is in the middle. North is the far end of the table. It is October and all the rivers are frozen.

The Soviets under my command were this side of the river, preparing to take Kharkov. We were pinned in place by Hungarian Divisions, dug in along the river line. We opened the game with holding attacks all along the river, whilst Will was commanded to roll the line up from the flank nearest the camera.

Typically, this being NQM, Will's attack was a complete bust, and he was bounced after barely getting to grips with his opponents. I had no option but to turn the holding attacks into real attacks, and moved up the
Cossack division in support. At the same time the Guards division started the assault on Kharkov. The way the dice were rolling meant I might as well just chance it all.

Here we go, rushing the suburbs, hoping to catch the Nazis off guard. Fat chance, - but coming up against a Veteran Guard division shook them up a bit as we ignored their defensive fire and a Stuka strikes to press home the attack.

The Hungarian division next to Kharkov got the worst of the battle of the conscripts, and failed a morale check. Sensing blood the Cossacks stormed across the frozen river, sabres flashing in the early winter sunshine. It was glorious. I hope the cameras were rolling.

On my left General Will was ordered to press on with all speed towards Dneproptevosk. Or whatever.

Will's attack and my central push was supported by the timely arrival of our air arm. Here's three vintage Ratas showing they're not past it. Much. The aim was to rough up the SS before they ran into my Cossacks. One hit doesn't really cut it, in that context.

In the middle Will's air support was more successful, and the Germans took some damage and started to stumble backwards. The "Hitler Order" hasn't been given yet, but the way Richard was giving ground means it can't be far away.

Phil's SS ploughed through the retiring Hungarians and hit my Cossacks pretty hard. For whoever holds the ground at the end of the battle horse meat is on the menu.

In Kharkov the fighting was intense but indecisive. The Guards had a foot hold, but had little to support them to exploit what they had achieved.

At that point we shut up shop for the evening, but leaving everything in situ to finish next week. I haven't really covered what Will was up to, and the breakthrough reserves are just being deployed.

Next week will be intense.