Sunday, 30 November 2014

Games Day 3 - Somewhere in Denmark

Our final games feature of the day was provided by Chris. He brought Neil Thomas' "One Hour Wargames" and his Prusso-Danish War figures along (we didn't know he had them either).

The rules in the book are very simple and it relies on the scenarios being challenging to make the game. The book has a lot of scenarios in it.

In this game the Danes are advancing down the road and the Prussians are trying to stop him. The terrain for this game was the recently harvested wheat fields of Denmark and nothing to do with the sandy desert of Syria.

The Danes had to exit the board with three units. The Prussians caught them in a cross fire (I missed the start of the game as I was making tea/coffee and getting cakes & sausage rolls so I'm not clear exactly what was happening). The system has simple die roll = hits methodology, with units taking 15 hits before destruction. We used Rummikub tiles to record the number of hits. They go up to 13 & have a "Joker" tile you can use for 14 if needed.

The Danish cavalry repeatedly charged the Prussian guns and suffered accordingly. The infantry fire fight was loaded in favour of the Prussians as well. due to their flanking position. Perhaps we hadn't set this up right or we could have been guilty of tired tactics after a long day.

However, having reduced the artillery to 4 hits remaining, perhaps the Danes could force their way off.

Alas Prussian musketry proved too much.

And then it was all over. It took us about 15 minutes, so the challenge with the game seems to be to stretch it to an hour, not squeeze it down to one.

The rules are really, really simple, even for Neil Thomas. The game is based around interesting scenarios, so it needs more tries. I can see that the rules would have further utility for really large games with lots of players. They're quick, unambiguous and don't seem to need umpire intervention.

Anyway, to summarise it was a good way to round off the day and could be played comfortably whilst eating and drinking. I think we'll be seeing them again.

I shall probably seek out a copy of the book sometime in the future.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Games Day 2 - Yarmak

Back from the pub & it's Phil's turn to entertain us.

I have written previously about my re-fight of Cannae using DBA 3.0. This was done as part of a DBA 3.0 "Great Battles" project, due for publication early next year. I was roped into the exercise by Phil, who was planning to do a take on the Battle of Yarmak, 636AD for the project.

Yarmak, as you all know, is the decisive six day battle between the Islamic Hordes spreading the word of the Prophet by fire and sword and the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire. The Islamic forces wins with consequences that are still with us today. Phil is not doing all of the six days but is basing the game on the action that took place on day 5.

Anyway, that's not the big reason to get excited about this game. Phil is putting it on using 30mm flats many of which once belonged to either Phil Barker or Tony Bath. How cool is that!

I'm not a massive fan of the flat aesthetic, I'm afraid, but this is a piece of history. And Phil very cleverly deployed the armies at a slight angle so the players could see the figures obliquely rather than just having a whole array of edges in front of them.

I have to say that from the right angle they do look jolly spiffing

Phil & I took the Byzantine army (which he informed us was mostly Armenians and Arabs) and Richard and Chris took the Islamic Army. I was facing off against Chris. This is never good. He is really adept at creating several of those "kill" situations regularly every turn whereas I'm usually lucky to get two or three in the whole game. As you can see in the above picture the massed lines of cavalry create a pleasing "3D" effect.

My forces are on the left hand side of the line. We have one camp, - in Phil's corner - and they have two, one in each of their corners.

The Islamicists have the ability to switch PIP dice between the players. We are stuck with who gets the highest once we've chosen on turn 1 (it was me, but then I was facing Chris). Chris immediately got his light horse into a column and tried to turn my left flank. I hastily assembled a light division to see him off. In the middle the main lines trundled towards each other, Chris bringing up his reserves to exploit my internal flank.

Part of the problem for the Byzantines is they have some two deep units. These are great against blades, but otherwise they reduce your frontage and cost more when they get killed. As this is mainly a cavalry battle they aren't your go-to troop type.

My light division saw off the flanking move, but I was forced to use it to prop up the end of my line to stop it getting turned whilst I brought up my reserves. I have no idea what was going on on Phil's side of the table.

I had a shocker in the first round of combat and didn't roll above a 3.

Whatever. It still looks great even tho' the figures aren't finished.

Another round of terrible rolls meant I was soon three elements down having inflicted no hits. My light division was down to a single base. On the positive side I'd got my reserves into line and stabilised the position. Phil had taken a hammering as well, losing one of his double elements. Two more down and his command was demoralised.

A few liucky die rolls and I've got my blades through the middle and flanking the enemy line. At this point, however, I lost another base so I was demoralised and we had lost.

Phil & I thought it would be a good idea to play on as I'd only lost a few light troops and most of my heavy stuff was still okay. Plus we had the time to do it. Chris pointed out that if he'd known that he'd have played his previous turn a bit differently, as some of his troops were more epxosed on the basis that he wouldn't have to fight any more.

I hammered forward and my luck changed. Regardless of how he was set up I just out rolled him and got a few doubles, eliminating units straight off.

Before you know it I'm bearing down on his remaining forces and camp and no amount of clever manoeuvres are going to help.

And so the game ended. Phil had managed to drag things back on his flank, and the Byzantines were claiming victory.

Phil has some scenario design issues to deal with and is probably in need of some special rules. The one special rule he did have , - a one off rule that allowed a Cav unit to move like LH - was not used as Chris was okay doing things the old fashioned way.

Unlike Cannae I had no conception of how this should pan out. Phil will have his own ideas about how he wants this to run and so has some thinking to do.

Lots of fun and quite challenging as well. Those flats will look great when they're finished and playing with a real bit of wargaming history is a notable thing in itself.

I'll be sticking with my round figures, however.

And then on to part 3.....

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Games Day 1 - Metaurus

So, on a misty, moist morning we gathered for a day of armed conflict. Richard L had driven up from the depths of Wiltshire and Chris A & Phil had come from just down the road. The day was set for some solid wargames action, interrupted only for tea, coffee, biscuits, cake and a visit to the pub.

First up was my AMW take on the battle of Metaurus. The Romans were commanded by Chris & Richard whilst I ran the Carthaginians until Phil arrived. Chris took the role of the brilliant if slightly rash Consul Nero, and Richard was Consul Salinator. The centre was a joint command thingy between the two of them. Don't look too closely at the Roman forces. There's quite a few imposters bulking up the numbers.

The classic opening move. The Romans advance everything, and we get what I am now realising is the "Lockwood Variation", - a compulsion to turn lots of units to an angle whether it's needed or not.

In my role as Hasdrubal, and taking my tactical advice from Livy, I immediately headed for the Romans with my centre, whilst refusing both wings. Essentially I wanted to punch the elephants through the velites before they got javelined to death whilst hiding out in the woods with my warbands and putting off the inevitable with my outnumbered cavalry.

It doesn't look too bad in the centre at this point, but then the fighting hasn't actually started. The Romans are being a bit tricky and are widening their initial deployment to take advantage of their extra numbers. Hardly fair, is it? They should see how it is done at Cannae. The elephants have hit the velites. Let's see how that goes.

Well, after a turn or two's fighting the results are a bit mixed. True, the velites are suffering but so are the elephants (NB for new viewers, elephants lose a base for every hit they take, normal units need four hits to lose a base. There's something in an earlier blog about our elephant amendments to stop them killing everything). One part of the elephant group has gone berserk into my foot. Other rogue elephants have also distributed their bounty in various directions.

More elephant bits and pieces go on the rampage, and one velites unit has done its job by preventing the elephant hitting the legionnaries. I was hoping for some serious softening up before the infantry lines clashed.

Over on the left Consul Nero starts to work his way into the woods. I love this photo. Airfix Ancient Britons on a block wood hill next to one of those Britains Alder Trees. That's Old School Wargaming as far as I'm concerned. If only I'd got my Bellona river in as well.

The elephants finally break through and at least when they go berserk now they're running into Roman units.

The last elephant dies, but it's still inflicting damage. But is it enough?

The struggle in the wood is becoming intense. The warbands have the advantage, but Consul Nero (looking awfully Alexandrian) is there to encourage his men.

Now some news on the cavalry fight. This has been going on for several turns now (BTW Phil joined us a few turns ago and is running all the Carthaginian army except for the Gauls) and has been fairly evenly matched. At this point tho' this combat has finally tipped decisively in the Roman's favour with a failed morale test and the death of the Carthaginian commander on this flank. Out of shot Phil is doing one of his legendary light horse pieces of work, drawing on Richard's flanking heavy cavalry without letting them get into contact.

Next turn it's the Roman's turn to have a command break down as Porcinius dies. Luckily he's an NPC.

A few turns on and a better view of the cavalry fight. The Romans under Salinator have been brought up short by a gallant flank attack by some skirmishers. The Numidians are still playing tag, and have inflicted a few hits on the Roman cavalry. Alas they are now virtually behind their own line.

A wide angle shot shows that the Carthaginians are starting to be encircled, with their left isolated in the trees.

I think it's clear what's happening here.....

The wood fight sees the end of one unit of warbands (they're levy, and failed a morale check or two) but the Romans have taken some serious damage too.

However, it is now deemed that this flank has turned out to be sufficiently awkward that the "Nero flank march" rule is invoked by Chris. His unengaged units are withdrawn from the table. Where will they re-appear?

Actually they never reappeared. It was time to go down the pub, and although there was another hour's play in the game Hasdrubal was stuck in a pocket. Having run out of places to hide the Numidian cavalry was finally caught and by the end of this turn were seriously damaged. Phil had done a good job in the middle, but he was simply running out of units. The Romans were starting to get a lot of 2:1 combats, which mean you die quickly. Hasdrubal was going to lose. It as just a question of time.

Everyone announced themselves pleased with the game. It's not one I would really return to. There's too little in the sources to make this a real refight (the whole cavalry deployment and fight is a common fiction agreed by most authors on the subject), and the only bit we can be sure of is the fight in the woods. After all we know there were woods with Gauls in and Nero attacked them with 6,000 troops.

The elephants performed to spec, doing fairly equal damage to both sides before all being disposed of one way or another.

Stay tuned for part two.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Real Life Review

Over the past 6 months or so I've shifted a lot of figures from the plastic & lead mountain. I haven't been keeping count of the units but the Neo-Assyrian / Babylonian Armies and the Medes are pretty much done. I've got 5 or 6 units still to paint but they're really the rag-tag and bob tail of the boxes and I don't actually need them. I mean I've got 16 chariot models, I think. That's enough for anyone, isn't it?

The Taipings are well under way as well, - 6 infantry units complete, 2 cavalry, 2 artillery and 4 jingals are done (about time I did a photo report on them). I've only stopped because I've run out of bases. I could cut some of my own, but the Peter Pig ones are always more accurately cut. I suppose I could scratch build some river boats whilst I wait for the bases.

I've started the Murabits/Almoravids as well. Should have 3 or 4 units of those done by the end of the week. They have the benefit of being mostly in long, single coloured robes, so are quick to do.

I've also fitted in quite a few games. There've been some very satisfying re-fights as well as the standard "pick up" games that get played most weeks. Shedquarters has been well used, and proven to be a worth while investment.

I even built that Chinese house. On the down side I've been a bit slack with the rule writing (although I'm pleased with "Rapid Raphia" which has just appeared in Nugget), and I haven't finished any magazine articles. I have finished my write up on Cannae for the DBA 3.0 project however.

So, why this whistle stop half yearly review? Well the reason for the quite impressive out put has been that I haven't been working since mid-May*. My contract ended, we went on holiday and then the summer weather was quite nice and there was no work out there and so on. The question to myself was whether or not I'd actually taken early retirement.

Well, it seems like I might not have. I've been offered a contract with an investment bank to review a Target Operating Model for a subsidiary company and make recommendations. It's in the City and is for an initial three months. After that we have a review and then see if we both want me to carry on.

It's an interesting job, and so I've taken it. It means a severe curtailment of my painting and game design schedule, but it seemed too good to pass up.

Of course these things are never straight forward. I've been talking to them on and off about this since about September, and the hoops everyone needs to jump through to get things sorted out are sometimes ludicrous. Yesterday I had to go and see their recruitment agency at their offices in London to show them my passport. The meeting took about 10 minutes (there was a form to sign as well). Well worth the two hour journey there and the same back. Still, I'm sure they have their reasons as to why it had to be done then rather than on the day I started.

What does this mean? As mentioned above it'll cut into my painting schedule and I'm a bit concerned that I might not be able to reliably host a game once a week. I may have to drop back to a monthly game cycle, possibly even at weekends. On the up side I'll get a lot more reading done, and looking back at my previous time in the City I can see that I was still blogging regularly because of the time spent on the train. There'll be more opinion pieces rather than game write-ups but that's not necessarily a problem. Looking at TMP it's often the case that there's an inverse relationship between the number of opinions held and the number of games actually played.

So I can put off retirement for a few months at least, and possibly for another year or so. My first contract dried up quite suddenly in the end, and at the time I was considering going full time with them (and they likewise with me), so if the last two or three years have taught me anything it's don't over plan things.

And make the most of whatever comes your way.

* Although I've not been working I haven't technically been unemployed. As a contractor I work through my own service company which bills the employment agency then pays me a salary. It pays me a salary even when there's no money going into the company as the sort of companies that use contractors like me don't want you to be signing on as unemployed at the time you're taken on as it makes all the paper work more complicated. Long story short I've been unemployed but I don't appear in the unemployment statistics. And I'm not the only one by a long shot.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Metaurus Set Up

So after a few days re-reading the sources (such as they are) and pushing some plastic about I've come up with this:

The terrain gave me a short pause for thought. Livy says Hasdrubal was trying to build a camp overlooking the river. That could imply a river in front of him, facing the Roman advance. However as there's nothing said about the Romans crossing a river, I put it behind the Carthaginian line. I didn't run it all the way along to give more space for the cavalry action (BTW That's my Bellona River, most of which I've had for over 40 years)

Furthest from the camera is the position defended by the Gauls. This is described as a wooded ridge or similar, in front of their position. I went for a hill with woods on it, and put the Gauls in it as that'll even things up against the legionnaries facing them. I put some random hills near the camera just to break the table up a bit more.

The numbers of troops have bothered me the most, so in the end I divided the table into three and looked at the various match ups to get a bit of balance.

On the Roman right :
Consul Nero
1 x Auxilia, Light Armour, Average (I think his light troops need to be a bit tougher than the usual Velites).
4 x Heavy Infantry, Medium Armour, Average
1 x Triarii, Medium Armour, Veterans

4 x Warband, Light Armour, Levy

In the Middle:
Propraetor Porcius
3 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, Average
8 x Heavy Infantry, Medium Armour, Average
3 x Triarii, Medium Armour, Veterans

2 x Elephants
1 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, slingers, Average
1 x Light Infantry, Light Armour, javelins, Average
6 x Heavy infantry, Medium Armour, Veteran

The Carthaginians are drawn up fairly deep as that's what Livy says. I've made them Veteran to give them a bit more staying power against the masses of Roman foot

On the Roman left:
Consul Salinator
4 x Heavy Cavalry, Medium Armour, Average

"Gisgo" (we have no named number 2 for Hasdrubal, so I've made one up)
2 x Heavy Cavalry, Medium Armour, Average
1 x Light Cavalry (Numidians), Light Armour, Average

To win the Carthaginians have to kill 16 Roman units (leaving 8 on the table), the Romans have to kill 11 (leaving 6 on the table).

We'll be using my revised elephant rules, but with a berserk move with every base that is killed and the standard commander dice re-roll once per turn.

 So, that's what I think. I have a special rule for Nero in my head as well, but I'm not putting it on this blog as some of the players read it.

Just have to wait until Wednesday now.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Musing on Metaurus

We're setting up to do another all day gaming session, so I'm hunting round for an AMW re-fight to put on. In the past I've relied heavily on Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles" as it usually contains all the data I need.

Having worked on Cannae quite a bit recently I felt it only fair to find a Roman win in the Second Punic Wars and do that. Metaurus seemed like an excellent choice. I've been fascinated by the battle ever since I was bought a "Great Land Battles" book whilst on holiday in the 1970s. It was the only battle in the book I hadn't heard about.

Cannae is a battle that has been analysed endlessly, its lessons apparently learned and carried down through the ages. Ultimately it was completely fruitless. It led nowhere. At the very best it allowed Hannibal to stay in the field. It did not bring down Rome. I'm reminded of Manchester's statement in the English Civil War ""If we beat the King ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves". You might as well read "King" as "Romans". If Hannibal loses once he's hanged.

You might therefore argue that Cannae is a massive irrelevance in the overall course of the war.

Unlike Metaurus.

Metaurus is a decisive battle. From this point on Hannibal has no chance of winning the campaign. No major reinforcements will join him. It may take another three or four years, but the Romans know that from this point on they're winning in Italy.

Alas the sources for Metaurus aren't great. We have a fragmentary account from Polybius and a few lines in Appian. The main detail comes from Livy, at which point generally you know you are in trouble. Livy does tend to make things up to suit his narrative.

Metaurus doesn't make it into "Lost Battles", although there is a scenario in "Strategos", giving army lists and a table layout. Unlike "Lost Battles" you don't have actual force numbers, nor do you have deployments. Looking at what Phil Sabin has put in "Strategos" I'm not entirely sure where he gets some of the stuff from, especially the battlefield layout. Rich Berg has also done a board game of the battle, and I don't get his terrain layout either. Both have a river or stream running across the front of the Roman position. I don't know if this is an example of history not repeating itself, but historians repeating one another.

The force numbers are all over the shop as well, with more Carthaginians dying than present at the battle according to the sources. The Wikipedia entry on the troop deployment discusses the "evidence" before concluding against the run of argument that: "Therefore, it is certain that Carthaginians were significantly outnumbered". Outnumbered I think is proven, but significantly less so. It is similarly all over the place about cavalry. It says the Carthaginians had c5,000, but that they lacked cavalry, of which the Romans had substantially more. Based on what we know of the Roman forces - 8 legions + 6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry with Consul Nero - the Romans probably had less than 4,000. As the saying goes "Go figure".

The other issue with the battle is Consul Nero's ability to redeploy substantial numbers of infantry from the extreme right of the line to the extreme left whilst the battle was raging. May need a special rule there.

All in all it's still a battle I want to do, but I'm a little behind where I'd like to be at this stage of the planning. I'm in danger of falling back on "inherent military probability". Oh dear.

I also seem to be a little short in the required numbers of legionnaries.

Ho hum.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Getting Roundway to it

Another game in the occasional series of refights of English Civil War battles using "Victory Without Squares".

This week Phil & I had a go at Roundway Down (aka "Runaway Down") where William Waller's reputation was shredded and Hasilrige's Lobsters fought their last battle.

It is also the battle that created Lord Wilmot's reputation as a dashing cavalry commander and the epitome of the devil may care Cavalier.

Following the inconclusive Battle of Lansdown Wilmot chased Waller's men down again on Roundway Down. The location of the battle isn't known exactly but generally it can be concluded that it was fought on open ground that gave neither side an advantage.

My information for this battle is taken from Richard Brooks' "Battlefields of Britain and Ireland" and the scenario published in "Battle for Wargamers" in the late 70's by Stuart Asquith. Generally I favour Brooks over Asquith for details where they are not compatible. (NB It is not clear whether Wilmot was on the left or the right of the Royalist attack. As most troop positions are based on his actions/location - eg he fights Hasilrige first - deployments in recreations of this battle can be mirror images of each other).

I put Waller's army on a slight ridge to break the table up more than anything. Wilmot's army is approaching at an angle. This is the only way I can see that Waller's guns could have been masked by his cavalry, as reported in the accounts of the action.

Phil was playing Waller, and unlike his predecessor took a more aggressive approach and decided to take the battle to the Royalists.

Things generally went Phil's way. His artillery succeeded in disrupting my right hand cavalry, halting them in their tracks (Disorganised cavalry may not charge). On my left, Hasilrige stood off and gave me a pistol volley, inflicting sufficient damage to even up the conflict, and driving me off, although at some cost to themselves. My inability to pin them in position meant my flanking manoeuvre didn't quite come off.

Phil is rushing his infantry across to shore up Hasilrige's wing. At the bottom Waller's horse close up and discharge their pistols.

The Lobsters bounce off another cavalry charge, but Sir Arthur is unhorsed and retires from the battle

Lord Byron on my right is having the worst of it from Waller's horse and is being steadily driven back.

Another round of combat sees both Byron and Waller severely injured and unable to carry on.

At last Wilmot breaks the Lobsters and their supports and drives them towards the rear of the battle field. His men are in poor shape however.

Outpaced by the fleeing horse Wilmot's men are exposed to a volley from the infantry and break and flee.

Another volley rakes Price Maurice's troop, and he is also injured.

At last Hopton's foot arrive, but it looks like it might be too late.

More volleys from the infantry break Maurice's horse, who also decide to retire.

Byron's horse are then bested by Waller's cavalry, and decide to leave the table too.

The Royalist foot deploy and halt Waller's advance.

On the Parliamentarian right Hasilrige's men have reformed and rejoin the action, to be confronted by Maurice's rallied troops.

Hasilrige & Maurice fight an inconclusive round of combat, but it is clear by this point that the day has gone to the forces of Parliament.

As we had enough time we reset the forces and replayed the game using Advanced Armati, with Phil's ECW amendments. It was closer, but still not a victory for the Royalists.

There is a lesson in both of the refights. It isn't necessarily clear in the battle report, but the odds are stacked in favour of the Royalist cavalry. They have a better than 50% chance of breaking the Parliamentarian horse within a move or two, and a very slim chance of being driven off. The game as I envisaged it would feature a hasty cavalry action then a protracted infantry retirement fight as Waller tries to extract his foot from the shambles.

As it was I never got traction. Excellent shooting by the artillery and also a remarkably effective display of the parliamentarian cavalry tactics (ie taking the charge at the halt and discharging pistols/carbines) blunted Wilmot's hell for leather charges. Once they had failed he had nothing up his sleeve. The infantry were off the field and he had nowhere to fall back on and reform. It shows what a desperate action this was. It is described as brilliant and it was one of the most decisive victories of the war. In addition to the total destruction of the Parliamentarian horse, the infantry finally disintegrate as well.

However it clearly hangs on a knife edge. There's no battlefield tactical sophistication here. Wilmot just gallops up and charges pell-mell into the Parliamentarian Horse. If things go well for him, he's a genius, if they don't he's an idiot. The historical battle seems to prove the validity of the Royalist hard charging tactics at a troop level. If this is to be re-fought, I might need to alter the odds even more.