Thursday, 29 November 2018

South of the Border

This Tuesday evening we went down Mexico way for the first time in quite a few years. Richard brought back his US v Mexicans in the 1840s war over Texas, to give me a break from putting on games as I'd been away for the weekend. He'd even provided a newspaper briefing for us all as background.

Our start was a little delayed as Richard had a serious transport malfunction on the way (he dropped his box of figures and spilled them on the pavement leaving his house) but he seemed to have found everything and quickly set up the table.

Phil and Tim took the US invaders, and Steve and I took the defenders of Mexico's territorial integrity. The aim of the battle was to take and hold the river line and bridge. Secretly we Mexicans harboured the desire to give the arrogant Yankees a good thrashing.

We put all our cavalry (the pride of the Mexican army, wearing proper cavalry uniforms) on the right, so we could envelope their left wing and crush them against the river line.

We also manned the villa across the river, but that was quickly overrun.

The Texas Rangers also quickly crossed the river, and turned our left flank, but we held them off in a fine old style.

In fact our defensive line on the river looked pretty solid.

Until those pesky Rangers broke our square. No matter, we had plenty more.

Out on our right we lost a cavalry action, or two, but finally got a two to one attack on their rear. To the right of the bridge we deployed the Grenadier Guards to fend off the hordes of Yankees rushing across the river.

They burst through our defensive line on the bridge, and it was all looking bleak...

... especially as, although we saw off the Texas Rangers, we were powerless in the face of the massed US infantry.

Just in time our reinforcements arrived on our right, and took back the bridge. Huzzah! And our Guards were doing a good job of holding up the right flank (BTW our 2:1 cavalry attack v infantry in line failed dismally).

As darkness fell, our final reserves marched onto the table, ensuring that for practical purposes we got a draw.

It was a thrilling game with a bit of ebb and flow, - mostly Mexican ebb and Yankees flow, it must be admitted - but we managed to hang on and stay in the game.

Richard ran it using Shako II. He isn't as strict as he might be with some of the rule systems, but he encourages a flowing game with a lot of character, so we can forgive him that.

What fun.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Society of Ancients Conference 2018

Although I'm a stalwart of the WD annual weekend conference I've never attended the SoA equivalent, - not back in the 1980s, when it saw the launch of DBA, nor more recently when it was revived by Richard Lockwood. As Richard is a wargaming chum, and has been encouraging me to attend and run a session for at least two years, I finally caved in and said I'd go.

So it was, on a dark and slightly damp late November morning, I loaded up the car, and headed off to the Chesford Grange Hotel near Kenilworth for a weekend with the Ancients.

Unlike CoW the SoA conference has a structure where part of the day is started with a plenary lecture (this used to happen in the early days of CoW), which is then followed by breakout sessions where several games are on offer, that may or may not be linked to the talk.

We started with Mark Fry talking about Bronze Age chariots. He was very good, - focusing on how fast and light they were and how they are not battering rams. And how our previous MNG member, Ian, had beaten him to the punch in a recent article. Having wargamed with Ian for many years, and been on the receiving end of a lot of talk about Egyptian and Hittite chariots there wasn't anything particularly new to me in the talk, but it was a good summary of where we currently are in terms of thinking, and the rest of the audience seem to be interested and convinced. We then had a slightly awkward discussion about how you really need period specific rules, when the room had Phil & Sue Barker in it, the apostles of big period covering rules.

After the talk Mark ran a session called "Wheels of War", where he showed the progress he was making in adapting Wings of War/Glory to chariot warfare.

I'll say right here I think this is a good idea, but that I'd expect that some changes would be needed to enable people to handle a lots more vehicles.

Mark was using quite a few components straight out of the box, unmodified (eg the movement cards), which had some curious effects, as some chariots could perform a "rotary turn", and others couldn't. Not everyone had played WoW before, and Mark took us through it step by step. Duncan Head wasn't nearly as confused as he looks in this picture.

We were soon off in fine style, whirling around each other. I committed a faux pas by pulling out to my left, and then discovered my chariot has a very wide turning circle to get round to the right.

This is a view of the modified control board. The yellow markers are javelins, which are limited in supply, but deadly at close range. The other green markers are for horse and crew. I think this is probably overly fussy, and needs to be slimmed down a bit to enable multiple chariots to be handled easily.

It proved an entertaining game for those of us who took part

The green counters represent a wrecked chariot. There's soon going to be another one, as I rammed into the rear of an opponent, who lost speed due to damage.

I think Mark has got the right idea here, but needs to do some more development work. He needs bespoke cards, as using those for the planes has odd results. The manoeuvres could also be simplified in terms of the numbers of cards. We also had a bit too much dicing to determine who or what was hit. A deck of hit cards would solve that easily enough.

Not a bad start to the day.

Elsewhere people were playing Dux Bellorum, and Mortem et Glorium.

Richard was running the Dawn Raid game he'd playtested on us recently. You will note that the lesson he learned from that test was to get rid of any terrain. People seem to be enjoying it, but I heard some rumblings about how the scenario still resulted in a line up and hit them style battle. Well, it is a Shieldwall game I suppose.

I still don't get MeG, but again the players seemed to be fully engaged, apart from distractions outside the window.

We then had a break for lunch, which was a buffet in the hotel main dining room. I would say it was slightly below par in terms of variety available, and I would say that the catering was the most criticised part of the weekend. I was surprised, as I've been to many conference centres and hotels, and this was not at the better end for the reasons stated. As all I wanted was a light lunch, I was okay with a baked potato and some salad.

After lunch we got Matt Bennett and Roy Boss talking about Normans and Byantines, before heading off for more games. Matt and Roy ran several games based on the lecture theme using Armati, which I know has been their go-to set of rules over many years.

I opted for Simon MacDowell's rampaging Goth game "Somewhere in Gaul", which used his Comitatus rules.

This was a multi-player game that, alas, didn't get all of the roles filled which is never helpful. I got to play two hot-headed young Goths, being helped out by an older, wiser head. The aim of the scenario designer was to sew doubt and confusion amongst us, and have people passing messages and plotting. all of which duly happened.

Here's our Gothic raiding party heading up the road, looking for one last big score. We really needed to cross the river, but our scouting die rolls indicated that it was mostly impassable, except at the ford. I don't know if this was truly down to the die rolling, or if the aim was to funnel us to a big confrontation at the river crossing point.

Finally one party of hot-headed Goths tried to charge into the peasant village, but this ended in abject failure. and we started to skulk off as the game closed down.

It was an interesting attempt at a multi-facted multi-player game. I think that the table size was too big, as it took forever for messengers to get anywhere, and even moving as fast as we could we were unable to get our army close enough to fight the people we were supposed to fight (as opposed to our potential allies) in the time we had. Which was a shame, as I'd have liked to have seen Comitatus being used in anger in a bigger game.

We then had to take down the games, as we used one of the game rooms for the evening dinner. That meant shifting all the kit I'd brought in around, before rushing off to check in as we hadn't been able to check in on arrival, but had to wait until after 3pm.

We then all gathered in the bar, which was absolutely rammed with people on early Works Christmas Dinners, so I hastily put away any ideas of getting in some early evening pre-dinner games.

The company at dinner was convivial, and the service and food just about adequate. A consequence of the hotel being completely booked out most likely.

Once the cloth was drawn there was time to get in a few games. I ran "1460" and Call it Qids" and Phil ran "Gladiolus" using Andy Giting's original set. I think I got to bed about 12:30am.

Up early in the morning to get some breakfast and set up my game, the Matrix version of Hydaspes, as playtested a few weeks ago.

Breakfast was a hearty full English, with animated conversation, before heading off to hear Duncan Head talk about the Battle of Telemon as a primer for the 2019 battle day.

And then to the matrix game I'd set up. I needed 6 players, and just got them, although more people stopped by later to observe.

The game was a first exposure to the system for most of the participants. Matt Bennett said he'd played some with Paddy Griffith, which must have been an interesting experience, as I don't recall matrix games as being one of his strong suits.

Most people got it, and Phil S helping out with developing arguments contributed massively to it all going well. I could see at least one or two of the players and watchers having the revelatory moment, so I think I've made some new converts to the Church of Martixia.

The highlights include Mark Fry's Alexander falling to a glorious death, following being severely wounded. He never really got Alexander moving effectively, despite his best efforts, being too easily distracted on sideshows.

We ran out of time, but not, I'm pleased to say, before Porus mounted his elephant and turned the tide with his Maiden Guards. It was possibly a bit ambitious as a game for complete newbies, given the amount of time we had and the slight overrun on the plenary session.

Lunch was again not great, but no matter, off to play more games.

Only to discover that the game of "To The Strongest" I'd been hoping to get involved in after lunch had been run in the morning, and was being packed away so the person running it could make an early get away. Curses.

Still, no worries, a chance to try Richard L's Dux Bellorum version for the Macedonian and Persian wars based on squares.

This worked really well, despite my misgivings about overusing favoured rules systems for periods they're not written for. We were helped by better command and control through extra LPs which not everyone found to their liking.

And then it was time to go home after a full couple of days, heading off into a very dark November evening.

Final thoughts? It was excellent to meet up with some old friends and make some new ones, and days spent wargaming are seldom wasted as was the case here. I think if I had any criticisms I would have less if I had never been to CoW, which is the gold standard for a residential wargaming weekend

Sharing the venue with other users didn't add to the experience. The SoA has an issue here in that it needs to get attendees up to over 40 for the entire weekend, from a number here of 29, (not all of whom did both days). If they can do that then somewhere like Knuston can be completely booked out for the event, which gives much greater flexibility.  (44 people signed up for CoW this year which guaranteed full occupancy for the venue and total control)

The next issue is increasing the number of sessions and variety. CoW had nearly 40% of participants running a session. It's clearly an event put on by those who attend. The SoA version had a similar proportion, but with a lower number of people attending there's inevitably less variety and fewer games to fill the time. This puts a lot of strain on the organiser, with Richard L putting on things because he needed to fill the time. That's not saying quality suffered, because it didn't, but it did mean Richard hardly got a break. More than one person talked to me about their own club rules they use that fixed some of the problems we discussed. I hope those people will run a game next year. In addition pretty much everything on show with one or two exceptions were face to face traditional table top wargames.

I think we need more slots for little games. I've already mentioned the overcrowded bar, where I thought we might be able to find a corner and roll some dice, but simply not possible. I know Richard is going to look for another venue, so I wish him well with is search. The formal dinner is a nice idea, but much as I like a good sit down meal in the evening, regardless of quality I don't want to spend over 2 hours at dinner if I can get in a couple more games I haven't played before. Or maybe even some that I have.

And I would like to be able to start on the Friday evening, but not at the price that the hotel was charging.

That all sounds a bit negative, which is not how it is supposed to be. Richard has done a great job resurrecting the event, and getting it running for three years. I think it needs to kick on and I also think it can. I expect to be back next year, and if we start the Friday evening, I'll put on a couple of full daytime sessions, plus I'll do a plenary talk too (probably with Phil S), otherwise if it is just Saturday & Sunday I'll do a game and a plenary. I've got a decent back catalogue of ancient period game designs which might make people think. Enough to last me a few years easily.

In summary:

Would I go again? - Yes.
Would I recommend you to go if you are interested in ancient wargaming? - Most definitely yes. This year was really good, but it can be even better.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

More Mistakes

Last week's suggestion that I had got all of my stupid Armati moves out of my system might have been premature.

In line with my policy of using newly painted figures where I can, I put out Republican Romans with Italian allies - recently increased in number -  and north Italian Celts, with my new Gaesati.

There are issues with both of the army lists. The Republican Roman list doesn't let you choose enough allies, and the only list with Gaesati in them is the Galatians. So I doubled the amount of allies on the Roman list and used the Galatian list, but with Celts.

Will took the Romans, (no surprise there) helped by Phil, and Steve and I took the Celts. My plan was to use the Gaesati to soften up some part of the Roman/Italian line as they are non-key units then hit them with the main warbands. Hopefully impetus will break a few weakened or fatigued Roman units, whilst our predominance in the mounted arm will pay dividends on both wings.

Armati can move very quickly. On our right wing this is two turns in. Our combined cavalry/chariot division has clipped the Italian cavalry at the bottom of the photograph, and then split, with the cavalry trying to ride down the skirmishers. The skirmishers hit the cavalry twice from three shots, which was a bit lucky. The cavalry hit the end of the Italian infantry line, which had just finished a triple wheel, and so was disordered. They then outscored the infantry and broke them, as they had impetus.

The Gaesati crashed home with an obligatory charge. I wasn't expecting much, - they are giving away a +2 advantage to the Italians and +3 to the Romans - but we were not helped by rolling 1s & 2s, and the Romans and friends rolling 5s and 6s.

I forgot that the Triarii could wheel and move. Not so Will, and he soon had an advantage over our cavalry out on the left. Again, not helped by rolling very poor dice.

Having broken the end unit with a cavalry charge, we were unable to exploit our advantage as the unit was killed by another hit from the skirmishers. That was three hits out of five shots, which is really quite rare (they have a 28% chance of inflicting a hit, so from 5 shots we should have taken 1 or may be 2 hits).

Next turn we evaded our skirmishers back through our warbands to stop them being overrun when we charged. I also wanted to get them out to the right to shoot up Phil's cavalry, should it defeat our chariots (which they did).

Out on our left we were about to lose another cavalry unit, without inflicting a single hit. With even odds you'd expect to inflict at least once, surely?

In the centre the Gaesati are holding on, just but aren't inflicting any hits.

We are now close enough for some of units to charge in, as we can step forwards some of them so keeping in contact as a division. NB Mistake made here. Our General should not be on the end of the line, facing the Roman general, but one unit inside that.

Having killed our cavalry, Will is now lining up his Triarii to take the flank of our line. So much for Triarii being the reserve unit you hold back as a last resort.

The lines clash, and it isn't looking good. We have four or five combats here and we should be able to outscore in one of them, so breaking a unit with impetus. As Will rolled 5s and 6s all along the line, the fact we rolled 1s, 2s and 3s was irrelevant. As I said above, the General was in the wrong place. we should have moved him more centrally, increasing our chances of breaking through at the cost of the end unit loss over four turns.

Similarly spectacular failures on the right, when we finally got to grips. We should have been in with more of a chance here, only giving away 1 on the die roll, but all to no avail.

Then it was all over, with another cataclysmic set of die rolling failures. Well, successes on Will's part. No point in rolling against those numbers, and our last key unit breaks and the game is over.

I do love Armati, but there are issues with some of the army lists. I was involved in their development many years ago, and many, many long arguments were had. The Romans are really hard to beat, and the Celtic armies have very little in the locker to fight them with. It isn't just the disparity in the troop quality, it is things like the Romans having Triarii who can wheel and move. All the Celts can do is buy more warbands until there is no room left to deploy them. One of the fixes for that, - which was my idea - was to allow them to deploy core warbands in the flank zones. Alternatively you have to buy as much terrain as possible and hope the Romans choose to fight you in it, - although you only get a slight benefit, compared to what the Romans get in the open, and you lose the charge impetus bonus.

Enough moaning. Someone else is putting the game on next week.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Getting all your mistakes in, in one go.

We've been talking about what's hot and what's not on the ancient rules scene, so naturally I put on a game of Armati.

I chose two Successor armies, Antigonid and Early Seleucid (l-r above), but made some odd selections. I bumped up the light troops a lot, especially for the Antigonids, and gave them all the peltasts I had in the box. This might have been an error.

I rigged up a curtain for deployment. We started with Will & Tim as Seleuceus, whilst Richard & I took old One Eye. When we took the curtain down we had managed to deploy with neither wing facing the other. Oh well.

I had a sort of plan when I picked the armies for both of them. I had a senior moment when deploying, and got it completely wrong. I really don't know what I was doing. Richard, who had never played the system, made some suggestions which I should have said no to, quite forcibly, but I didn't. Consequently the game was pretty much lost before we started. (We should have had all the heavy cavalry as individual divisions, with the phalanx as one, and then put the light infantry out on the flanks to support the cavalry).

The Seleucids had elephants. I over compensated in my fear of them. Any how, by this time I was off the hook, as Chris had turned up and took over my wing.

He held his heavy cavalry on the hill, and sent his light horse out wide. We were out numbered in light horse, but Chris got himself into a position where only one of them could shoot at him.

Richard and Chris also taunted the phalanx with a light division. They got some hits early doors...

...but then had to evade out of the way.

Seleuceus lead his Companions up the hill and started to trash the Antigonid heavy cavalry.

As the phalanxes approach Tim has got his peltasts in a good position. That pesky elephant, however, is just out of the way of everything and wasn't worth worrying about.

Another round of melee lost. Chris had gone by now, and I was back behind the right wing, with Phil umpiring.

Things did seem to be looking up for us. After some fiddling about Richard managed to get his cavalry into the back of Will's phalanx, breaking some phalangites. Alas, this was a false dawn. The size of the cavalry unit and the angle it had come in at meant it would find it hard to perform a similar trick on another unit.

No so Tim. After skewering our cavalry he's into the back of our hoplites.

Not just once, but twice.

All over.

Not my finest moment. The Antigonid list has problems, - its troops are generally less good than the Seleucids, and there are things you can't have. To compound it all I made a number of bad decisions when putting it together, then screwed up the deployment and then the battle plan. So, stunning performance all round really.

Any how, now Tim & Richard have been introduced to the rules, maybe it'll go better next time.