Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Russo-Turks and Rule Ruminations

This week's Monday Night Game was actually held on Monday. It'll never catch on, I tell you. The game came courtesy of our other Chris (not the NQM one) and was set in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, somewhere in Georgia. It was a fairy obscure refight. I say that as the battle doesn't appear in my "Dictionary of Battles" by Brigadier Peter Young, which claims to include all battles, ever, between 1816 and 1970 and is usually pretty reliable.

The game (described below) was fought with Neil Thomas' 19th Century Europe rules. They've given us a couple of interesting and enjoyable games, but we're starting to look at our view of them more critically. It occurred to me that there may be a cycle in respect of wargames rules like the Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger etc). In the case of wargames rules it goes something like:

1) Enchantment: eg "Wow, these look great and do what I want"
2) Learning: eg "Ah, so that means that and that's how that works"
3) Familiarity: eg "We all know how this works"
4) Criticism: eg "These don't really do what we want; that rules is silly"
5) Modification/Rejection: Either "We can just tweak this" or "These are actually rubbish, I refuse to play them again"

I think we're around about stages 3 or 4 at the moment with these rules. We understand them, but not everyone agrees with the design concepts. For example dragoons can only attack other dragoons if they outnumber them. Fine in theory, but in practice should this apply to an open flank?

Anyway, the game set up:

Firstly, ignore the crosses on the cloth. They have no purpose in this game. The Turks are defending the ridge line, behind the first stream. Their first line is in situ. We're waiting for the Russians to deploy. They then need to attack the Turks and push forwards off the road. I was playing the Turks, with Ian. Will & Phil got the Russians.

I'm using a new-ish technique for taking pictures. I'm using my big telephoto lens on my SLR, rather than a close up lens. What do you think of this shot of the Turks in their entrenchments?

It works pretty well, as long as I focus on the right thing. Moving on, when the Russians set up, there were a lot of them:

 It looked fairly scary from the Turkish position, as you can see from this picture:

Or at least it would have done if the auto-focus had picked up either of the Turks or the Russians and not the river line. Sort of like in this picture:

The Russians put together their collective imaginations and tactical acumen and decided to storm the position in column. We harassed their advance with our irregular skirmishers, just visible in the top tight hand corner of the picture below.

The Russian Bear lumbered forward, the stream providing little obstacle.

Even to those whose bases hadn't been finished properly yet. Our well aimed rifle fire and our superior artillery started to have an effect, but the Russians didn't seem to care. Their attitude to casualties seemed to be "plenty more where they came from".

Despite our best efforts it was clear that our ridge line defences were going to be overwhelmed. A fierce melee across the entrenchments ensued:

But the Russians turned the position by forcing the defile, and most of the defenders fell back, leaving a couple of units isolated.

Once the Russians had taken the ridge line they could see our reserve line, and were allowed to re-organise. They occupied our trenches, but as we had no intention of counter-attacking this was merely an academic exercise from the game point of view.

Chris temptingly told us to put the men who had run from the ridge on the baseline just in case they might return as reinforcements. Yeah. Right.

The next few phases of the game involved the Russians pounding our entrenchments with their artillery whilst they rushed their columns across open ground. We did a fair amount of execution with our rifle fire, as you can see below.

The final turn of the game saw the Russians charge home against every position, and actually break the line at one point.

This breaking of the line triggered a general retreat by the Turks, leaving the Russians in possession of the field of battle and, in theory, the winners. Although not with many troops.

At the top left of this last picture you can see the cavalry (sorry, dragoon) stand off that was bothering us. I had been able to charge a Russian infantry column head one and break it with my dragoons as it had been weakened by rifle fire beforehand. Although this had enabled Phil to get his dragoons onto the unit's flank he was unable to charge home as he didn't have a numerical advantage. This may be what Neil intends, but it doesn't look quite right.

 As is normal with Neil's rules we got an enjoyable game played to a conclusion comfortably within the evening with everyone pretty much knowing what was going on most of the time. This isn't too bad for a rule system we've only played twice.

Due to his work commitments Chris can only join us irregularly so it'll be a while before we can rejoin this campaign. This is a shame, as I'm quite looking forward to it.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Alexander & Porus, AMW style

Well, couldn't wait until I finished ALL of them, could I? Due to my continuing lack of proper work I have the odd half an hour to fill when I'm not sweeping up leaves in the garden (we have a FULL SIZED ash tree in our garden. It has an awful lot of leaves) so I have been putting brush to figures regularly, and I've made good progress on the Indians bought in September.

I now have enough to put out an AMW army. So, on Saturday afternoon I set up a quick solo game, matching them against my Alexandrians. I set the armies up straight out of the book, - army list, deployment, the lot.

Here's what the Indians look like

That front line of three elephants looks quite nasty, to put it mildly, especially with the "long bow lanes" to allow for missile support. The Heavy Chariots are similarly unpleasant, with a decent saving roll, although with the full four bases deployed they have an awfully big flank.

Alexander has the traditional double Companion unit on one wing, which gives mobility and hitting power, especially if facing cavalry. NB This game was played straight, with no little rules tweaks.

You may not be able to tell from this angle, but that's a unit of hypaspists next to the cavalry. Alexander naturally had the initiative and moved first, pushing the Companions forward to try and break the frankly quite rubbish Indian cavalry as soon as possible.

Switching to the other side I decided as Porus that even if I was to lose the cavalry battle it would be best to lose it further forward rather than behind the flank of some light weight infantry.

As Alexander I decided it was best not to expose the flanks of the inner Companion unit to a flank attack by the elephants, so I held them back to enable them to advance with the support of the hypaspists. Meanwhile on the other flank the light horse and infantry moved up to start skirmishing with the other Indian cavalry. I also remembered to put the Porus and Alexander figures on the table. Whoops.

Alexander's companions collided with the Indian cavalry. There was an audible intake of breath.

Meanwhile, the skirmishing cavalry inflicted the first damage of the game.

When you're playing both sides you obviously know what each commander is thinking, so the fencing on the Indian right was a bit artificial. In the end I committed the Indian elephants to attack the infantry and pushed up the chariots up to draw the other Companions on. This way everyone kept their internal flanks intact, which I think was fair.

As you can see form the dice rolled below (Indians black, Macedonians red) the Indians were completely intimidated. Not only does Alexander roll two dice per base in cavalry v cavalry combat, but needing 4+ to hit you can see that Porus's boys' hearts weren't really in it.

It was a bit more even on the cavalry v chariot fight. The white rings show the hits inflicted in the first round of combat.

Having taken a hammering in the first round of combat the Indian cavalry then held on quite well, passing their morale check. Unlike the hypaspists who took a serious beating from the elephant that hit them, losing a base to a morale roll.

The infantry did succeed in inflicting two hits per elephant in the first round of combat, which is pretty good going. In the top left corner the Indian cavalry is struggling to get to grips with the light troops, and suffering into the bargain. I've learnt a lot from Phil about how you do this sort of thing with light troops.

The next round saw the elephants really get stuck in and survive with little more damage. On Alexander's left  the cavalry melee was going in his favour, but awfully slowly. The unengaged phalanx started a "flight to the front" to get stuck into the longbow unit that was now in range.

By this point the hypaspsits were pretty much on their last legs.

However, in expiring they succeeded in finishing off the elephant. Alas for them its berserk move fell just short of the elephant to its left.

With the Macedonian centre opening up nicely it looked like the Indian right was about to collapse, so the archers swung round to cover the flank. In the distance those cavalry are undergoing the death by a thousand cuts.

Finally the Companions break the Indian right wing and are free to turn on the Indian centre. Alas this coincides by the complete destruction, pretty much, of the Macedonian centre. Only the brave lads charging the archers survived. The two elephants are badly damaged, but they're still in being and able to do some serious mischief if allowed.

Alexander wheels his left round, whilst in the back corner you can see that his lights have finally got stuck into a severely wounded Indian cavalry unit.

However, in the middle it just got worse and worse. The remaining phalanx made a complete mess of attacking the archers. They inflicted very little damage and then got caught in the rear by an elephant. It was all over quite swiftly. Luckily for Alexander the same was true for the Indian cavalry, who were extinguished without destroying either the light horse or infantry.

The inner Companions managed to catch the right hand archers in the flank.

And bizarrely came off worst. Oh dear. Alex is now down to three units (one of which is a single base of light infantry) whilst the Indians have four. Army breaks when down to two......

Alexander gambles and charges one of the elephants head on.

It dies, and routs safely away from everything.

Everything is closing in on Alex. Could it all be over?

Of course not! A combined charge by the Companions and light horse into the archers wipes them out before the remaining elephant can intervene.

So, a close win for Alexander. It went right down to the wire and provided a couple of hours of entertainment. So, what do the Indians need to win?

Obvious. More elephants.

And a better general.

My Grandfather's favourite war story

My grandfather served on the Western Front in the Great War, as I noted in my previous blog. He used to talk about his service when we went to visit him. Today I've been sorting out his notes and memoirs and have found a version of his favourite story. Or at least the one he told most often:

Late in 1915, we had entered the front line trenches for a spell of 8 days duty. Everything was very quiet, with little or no activity. No firing from us - none from the Germans. A quiet sector where there was a mutual understanding of a "live and let live" policy. This was a time to do more worthwhile things than to fire a few rounds from a rifle at an enemy you could not see. Chiefly writing home, and answering letters from friends.

It was night and I had just finished my two hour "Stand To" duty in the firing bay, gazing fixedly into No Man's Land at nothing. Two Officers came into the bay and said "We want two volunteers to inspect and repair our wire, and to make barbed wire entanglements to seal off a listening post which (is) going to be abandoned". I made one of the two. Wearing protective gloves and wire cutters we formed the wire into large ball shaped entanglements. Pushing them over the top of our trenches we quickly followed into No Man's Land. There was always an element of danger when venturing in No Man's Land, as one could be caught in the light of flares and met with bursts of machine gun fire, searching for our patrols. There was however no incident or trouble. We completed the job, and climbed back into our trenches. It was perishing cold, and my hands and feet were numb as we accompanied the two Officers back to their dugout. One of them produced two glasses, and poured into them a good measure of whisky. Passing one to his fellow Officer he said "You did a good job, thanks very much. GOOD NIGHT". One of these Officers came from "THE SPORTSMAN BATTALION"! I had never been so disgustingly angry in my life. I was furious. On leaving their dugout, on the way back to the front line, I had to pass through an adjoining dugout where the Officers' food stores were kept, such as tinned food, spirits etc. Looking up at these, I grabbed the nearest tin to hand. Back in the front line I looked at the tin to see what I had taken prisoner. It was Condensed Milk! Not so bad, but I wish it had been food.

My turn again for another two hour spell of "Stand To" duty. "Brew up some tea, Pat" I said to my pal. "No milk," said Pat "and I don't like tea without milk". I showed him the tin of condensed. He knew where I had been, so he asked no questions. Many a brew that tin helped. How sweet would have been all those brews if I had only known what consternation and anger that missing tin was responsible for among the Officers. It was their last tin, and there would be a four day wait before their next ration supply!

At a Re-union meeting after the War the story of their behaviour was told to me by the Lance Corporal who was in charge of the Officer's Mess. He told me they acted like spoilt children, not like men, threatened with a reduction in rank, and stupidly a Court Martial! Neither happened.

It was long after, but I had the satisfaction of knowing the misery suffered by the Officers.

At this re-union I had asked the question "Tea, do you remember missing a tin of condensed milk in 1915?", and confessed my theft. "So it was you! They were so enraged at going without milk in their tea, I thought they were going to shoot me!"

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Family memories for Remembrance Day

My paternal Grandfather fought with the 8th KOYLIs (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) on the First Day of the Somme, where he was seriously wounded. When he died we found these documents in his papers. I think they speak for themselves.

He survived the war and ended up as a Sergeant in the Department of the Military Secretary. He lived to the age of 94. He was instrumental in organising the 8th KOYLI reunion dinners every year until at least the mid 60's. If you want anything done, give it to an NCO.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Raphia Revisited

After the success and excitement of the AMW Raphia refight from a few weeks ago I decided to re-run it on a Wednesday evening for the Monday Night Group. This was a bit ambitious as we normally have a maximum of three hours for an evening game and the original run through took about four and a half hours to play.

On the other hand I would have two players aside and I had learned some lessons from the previous game to make the game go a bit quicker. Like deploying the infantry lines closer together.

In the end the attempt was too ambitious. With one player unfamiliar with the system and therefore reluctant just to "go for it" although we got a lot done, we didn't get a full conclusion. However, it was clear Ptolemy was going to lose again, despite great efforts put in by Phil and Will. Aniochus' right flank cavalry were just too strong and allied to good dice rolling and a poor performance by the Ptolemaic phalanx meant Ptolemy  was condemned to a second failure. Any how, here's the pictures.

The armies deployed. Ptolemy on the left, Antiochus on the right

Ptolemy tries to draw Antiochus' left wing cavalry out wide to defeat them in detail

The far wings edge round each other. Richard points at something.

Everything starts to get stuck in. Antiochus hangs back with his centre.

Phil, commanding Ptolemy's left wing, is outnumbered but is pulling his opponents out of shape.

Ptolemy's centre closes, but will it be too late?

The centres approach. Antiochus' light troops inflict some significant hits

The phalanxes shape up to each other

The centre clash begins. Ptolemy's luck doesn't change. He will get the worst of this, mostly.

Will has done an excellent job roughing up Ian's heavy cavalry, but couldn't get his light infantry out of the way

Ptolemy finally punches a hole in the line, but the reserves rush to fill it.

In the distance Ptolemy's cavalry have been destroyed.

Ptolemy's infantry seem to be masters of the field, but is it too late?

Not quite all over, but no way out for Ptolemy
The game was not as satisfactory as the previous run through as on this occasion all of the issues with AMW did bubble to the surface. Some of the special rules aren't totally well thought out (phalanxes fall apart after losing a base even if facing poor quality infantry) and a run of bad luck is magnified by the morale rules.

Of course we are playing the game in a way it was never intended to be, so any issues are with me really.

To prove to myself that the rules still work I ran a quick solo game on Friday afternoon with my new Indians using the game as intended. Report on that later.