Sunday, 27 December 2015

Pre-Christmas Battle Day - Game 2

Been a bit tied up for the last few days, so the second report of the pre-Christmas games day is a bit delayed.

After some dinner at a pub in the village the evening's entertainment was provided by Chris A at the request of Phil. Phil was quite keen to try Saga, as he thinks it might work as a basis for a Samurai game. In my case it gave me a chance to pull out some Essex Saxons & Normans who last saw the light of day in my award winning participation game, "Harrying of the North".

Saga is a 28mm semi-skirmish Dark Ages game with a lot of followers. Nothing I say here will make any difference to what anyone thinks of it.

Chris umpired and used my figures as Welsh and his as Vikings, as he understands both of these armies. In the game you get small bands of warriors led by a warlord, and there's lots of special abilities that you may or may not be able to use. You get this special set of dice and you roll them. Then you allocate them to the abilities on your Battle Board (TM) such as Ambush, Move, Go Berserk and so on. These vary by army type. This is quite an interesting mechanism and is a novel way of dealing with this type of chrome. Mastering this bit of the game is essential to playing it well. I'm not sure of I have enough interest to learn the system.

Anyway, I partnered Richard against Phil, and started off sneaking through the woods, using an ability that meant I didn't have to slow down.

Then Phil shot me with his bowmen and killed lots of figures. I think I was unlucky.

Richard then charged over on the other side of the board. The markers represent fatigue. Your opponent decides what effect this has on you. Which is quite clever.

We moved up our archers and shot, missing everything. Clearly better to shoot at targets in cover.

We won the fight on our left, driving off their warlord (he's at the back in a big winged helmet) but we were clearly going to get caught in the flank by Phil's chaps hiding in the wood. I rushed my hearthmen across to provide support.

I also rushed out of the wood as being shot at whilst standing still was a bit rubbish.

Alas for Phil his warlord was forced to charge us or lose face, so Richard killed him and the game was over.

There's some interesting ideas in the game and it doesn't hang around long enough to outstay its welcome. I can see why people like it, but I'm not sure I can be bothered to learn it. Having said that it's more playable than older medieval / dark ages type skirmish games (eg Retinue), so it has something going for it.

There are a number of mechanisms I may pinch in future, but I find the basic Battle Board mechanism a bit contrived for the period. I can see rolling dice and allocating them to functions working for me in a more modern game where leadership is also about management, but not really here, I fear.

The rule book is nice & glossy, but it has the need for summaries and little boxes where an irritating bloke called Ragnar explains how you play the game. I'd like to think that should be clear from the rules text. But what do I know.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Battle of Northampton Book Review

Okay. This is quite simple. If you have any interest in the Battle of Northampton and the Wars of the Roses then you need to buy this book.

Mike Ingram has gone over all the sources (and we're in double figures for this battle now, so it really is well documented, despite what others may tell you) and combined modern research to produce a thorough assessment of what we know.  Based on the current state of knowledge this is definitive.

In many way this is similar to the classic works produced by the Brigadier Peter Young on the great battles of the English Civil War. The book takes you through the background to the campaign, the weapons and tactics used by the armies of the time, the battle itself, the opposing forces and the aftermath. There's also some excellent material on the national importance of medieval Northampton, which gives the context of why they were fighting where they were.

If that weren't enough you also get reprints of the major sources for the battle (if I have a criticism it would be that I would have included all of them, but as we have a new translation of Wavrin's accounts here I'm just being picky).

In addition to the text there are maps of medieval Northampton, the campaign (with ALL the named places from the text marked on it) and of course maps of the battle and the battlefield today. The non-text items are rounded off by the requisite number of family trees and a number of photographs and illustrations, some by noted historical illustrator Matthew Ryan.

This is an ambitious undertaking by the Northampton Battlefields Society. I have to confess some self interest, - I'm a committee member of the Society and I did read the original text and make a few suggestions, - but I don't think that skews my views. People who know me, know I'm honest in these things. If the book was rubbish I'd say so and quit the Society. There are a few problems with it. A professional publisher would have employed a professional proof reader. I missed an aberrant apostrophe here or there when I went through it, but that's minor quibble, It looks great and reads well.

If you want it now and you're local to Northampton you can get a copy from the town museum. If you're father afield you can but it from Amazon. If you do wargames shows in the UK you'll be able to pick up a copy from the Northampton Battlefields Society or Society of Ancients stand most likely. All profits get ploughed back into the Society to help us defend the battlefield from unwanted development and promote a greater understanding of our heritage.

Go on. Buy it now.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Pre-Christmas Battle Day - Game 1

Mr Lockwood decreed we needed to meet again, before Christmas. Who could say no?

I'm now on "contractor break", the period from just before Christmas to just after New Year when clients don't want to see you in the office as there's no one else about and nothing can get done, so I took the weekend to do some planning and we had a day's gaming on Monday.

At our last meeting Richard said he's like to play in a game with an Armoured Train. Who doesn't?

So I agreed to set up a game of "Return to the River Don". Shame the rules don't have anything about armoured trains in them, so I improvised.

The scenario featured a Soviet armoured train, broken down in a station. Its elite guard of Black Sea fleet sailors had occupied the station whilst the engineers feverishly worked to fix the locomotive. For the purposes of the game only the gun carriage is relevant. Everything else is for show.

I warn you now, the game ended up as a bit of a Russian Epic of Zhivagian proportions, so this report may take a little while.

Chris arrived first and, seizing the budnovka, took control of the Reds. His forces, consisting of two infantry regiments and a some cavalry, are rushing to relieve the train and prevent it falling into the hands of the Whites.

Richard arrived next, and slipped right into the role of White Commander. He has a couple of foot regiments, a cavalry brigade and some armoured cars. His units are generally smaller but higher quality. He must take control of this valuable Soviet asset.

The core of "RTTRD" is the command and control system that gives units the chance to refuse orders, or say "NYET". When this occurs the player can finish that unit's move or he can attend the unit personally and coerce them to follow orders. Such coercion can have negative effects later on. Richard got a NYET in his first turn, and decided to stop. I suspect this was unwise. The little metal fellows can detect weakness in a leader.

Chris experienced similar issues in one of his units, but despatched the Political Commissar and his Cheka bodyguard to sort it out. You can see the "COERCION" marker next to the unit.

Phil arrived and joined Chris. I undertook to give Richard support and advice.

Phil took the Red units on the left hand road, and soon got his artillery deployed. He's like that.

Chris persisted in having issues with one of his units, so the Cheka had their hands full keeping them going.

Richard soon had his artillery deployed and started to shell the station.

Eventually, on the third time of asking, Chris' recalcitrant unit Mutinied and marched off the table, to the impotent screams of the Commissar.

Phil, meanwhile, had managed to get a unit of conscripts to line the edge of a wood, with a small amount of encouragement from Comrade Machine Pistol.

In the centre Richard had succeeded in moving up one of his elite Officer units, with the aim of assaulting the station. They'd taken some hits from the armoured train, but kept coming.

This is the situation from Richard's right. Phil's conscripts in the wood have forced his second regiment to deploy in order to deal with them.

Chris' regiment, minus the awkward squad, were now making proper progress.

In the distance you can see Richard's cavalry moving up, and his two armoured cars, one on the road.

The first assault on the station goes badly for the Whites, who are broken and rout. BTW I discovered that I'd re-written the melee rules when I set the game up, so the booklet on the blog, up top right, is now out of date.

Richard was now trying to bring his superiority in cavalry numbers to bear, but The Soviets just managed to keep stealing the initiative from him. I think it was at this point that he got fed up with units refusing to do as they were told and reverted to the knout without further thought. In the meantime the train had finally got steam up.

This is from the other end of the table, and it's all going off at once. On the left in the village a lone tchanka is holding back a Soviet assault column. In the right centre the Garford Putilov has opened up on the station with its main gun. The other armoured car has suffered a mechanical malfunction and is limping home. On the right of the station a second assault column is winding itself up for an attack.

In the wood Phil's conscripts break under a headlong assault from some White volunteers. Coercion markers abound on both sides.This regiment is lead by a commander with the quality of "Enthusiastic". That is code for a "a complete blockhead who willingly shoots his own men". Ironically, due to the way the dice fell, he had a run of uninterrupted success, which is more than you can say for his colleagues. He is going to emerge from this encounter with his reputation considerably enhanced. The fate of the counter-revolution is sealed.

The Soviets bring up another column in their attempt to overrun the tchanka. Its heroic stand is close to being over.

In the centre the cavalry battle ends with the Soviets victorious, much against expectations. No worries, - the Whites have another unit in reserve.

A general overview of the situation. At the top of the picture the tchanka still holds out. In the middle the remaining cavalry units close on each other. The Garford closes on the station, pounding the occupants, prior to the assault. In the wood at lower right the Whites storm through, but the rest of the regiment is in a bit of a mess,

The White cavalry charge home. It's not a pretty sight, and they are bounced back to their starting position.

The Whites storm into the station, and break the sailors. The Red supports to the right have arrived too late.

The Red cavalry counter attack, and give the Whites a complete pasting.

It's nearly all over. The train is moving slowly off and, although they hold the station, the Whites are in complete disarray.

Except for the wood, where, lead by their enthusiastic officer, they boldly march off towards the Red baggage.

That was about 6-7 hours play, with breaks for lunch, coffee, mince pies and cake. It kept the players occupied the whole time, and we stayed well on message through out, with no one getting distracted.

Or talking about Star Wars.

I'd call it a success.

(An account by one of the Red commanders can be found here: Link)

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Battle of Zalaca/Zallaca/Zallaqa/Zallaka/Sagrajas

For a wargaming blog there’s been precious little about actual wargaming posted recently. However the need to work from home so I could attend a dental appointment gave me the opportunity to get a game in this week.

I have taken a break from the South Americans on my painting desk over the past week or so and gone back to my “El Cid” figures, adding in some more elements of knights to bolster my forces. I don’t have enough bases for an AMW army yet, but a game of slightly-larger-but-not-quite-Big Battle-DBA3 seemed viable.

I have been looking for some detailed accounts of battles from the Reconquista but with little luck. Then I stumbled across a blog piece about a new account published in Spanish* based upon arab sources for the Battle of Salagre/Zalaca/Zallaka/Zallaqa or whatever fought in 1086. This is the battle that Alfonso and the Cid have a big argument about in the movie, apparently, because Charlton Heston doesn’t turn up and the Christians get beaten and thousands are slaughtered and then the Muslims chop off everyone’s heads and stand on the pile. Or not.

Accounts of the battle are bedevilled by numbers. These touch numbers like 50,000 from which Alfonso only escapes with 500 men. If you’ve read Verbruggen or Contamine then you are immediately on your guard. The revisionist account I found gets the numbers down to 3,000 Christians and 5,000 Muslims, so 500 survivors isn’t quite so bad.

Looking at the likely breakdowns of the forces this looked eminently do-able with what I’ve got in the box.

Alfonso’s forces are about 2,000 heavy cavalry and 1,000 foot. This represents the teeth end of European medieval armies, and the amount of horse is further increased relative to the foot as he is marching hurriedly to intercept and destroy Yusuf’s Amoravid invaders. I made this into two DBA armies, ignoring the army lists.

Army 1: 12 x Kn (inc 1 Gen)
Army 2: 4 x Sp (inc 1 Gen), 2 x 3Cb, 4x Ps & 2 x LH. (The LH are to make up the numbers as  I ran out of infantry. Hadn’t painted as many as I thought).

Yusuf and his Andalusian allies are given as 1,000 heavy Andalusian horse, 2,000 African light horse and 2,000 foot.  Again, I put this into two armies, ignoring the numerical differences. I often have this problem when thinking what to do with DBA armies, - should I actually have given them 3 armies? Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Army 1: 6 x Cav (inc 1 Gen), 6 x Ps
Army 2: 4 x Sp, 1 x Cm, 1 x Cav (Gen), 6 x LH.

The battlefield is unknown precisely and the accounts are a bit mixed. The Christian camp does get ransacked, but it is a long way behind the battlefield.

The Muslims have a palisaded camp just across a river or not, depending on who you believe. That gets attacked by the Christian cavalry. Probably.

Yusuf puts out lightly armed yihadist foot as a screen for his army, and then lines up the Andalusian cavalry behind that. The camp (or the area just in front of it) is defended by the javelin armed spear like shieldwall. The light horse he holds back and uses as a flanking force to surround the Christian army. His right flank is secured upon a deep river tributary and his left by some high ground.

Alfonso sets his knights (“caballeros”) up in two waves, with the foot behind them. We know very little about the foot.

I set the armies up like that, although I was aware that this might cause problems for the Andalusians as the psiloi are likely to get swept away and so demoralise Army 1 quite quickly. Phil, when he saw the set up, suggested using Hordes instead as they don’t count towards the army breakpoint.

Anyway, Phil took the Spanish & I took the Andalusians and the Almoravids. He started with a headlong rush at my line. He also brought up light horse from his reserve to provide a flanking element. His second line of knights he split to send his right hand elements off to guard himself from my flanking manoeuvre.

I responded by moving my cavalry through my psiloi. I really needed more PiPs so I could send my psiloi out to widen my position and protect my cavalry’s flanks.

Phil then clattered into my line to pin it, I think, whilst he brought up units to give him an overlap on the left. Also because he'd got knights v cavalry.

As it turned out I did quite well in the initial combat as I only lost one die roll and managed to kill a Knight element and otherwise disrupt Phil’s front line.

Meanwhile I started to send my Light Horse round the back of the hill to attack Phil’s flank & rear.

This was the high point of the game for me.

The next round I don't think I rolled more than 3, so I got pushed back or killed all along the line.

It didn't get any better in my turn. I ended up recoiling behind my psiloi. The knights followed up not giving me any breathing space.

By now the army had lost 4 elements and was demoralised and started to flee the field. My general died gloriously.

I pulled my second army out and formed a defensive line on the river bank.

What I don't have any more of its pictures of what happened next. We played the PIP rule for light cavalry wrong, doubling the cost because they were behind a hill. This rule doesn't apply to light horse, so I took longer getting round than I should have and Phil had more than adequate flank guards in place.

In all honesty I suspect that this wouldn't have made any difference as I quickly lost another four elements and the whole force was consequently demoralised and beaten. Victory for Alfonso.

I think the scenario has legs in it if I resolve a couple of things. The LH should probably just appear on the flank, and the Christians shouldn't be able to wheel units off to protect the flanks until this attack has been triggered. Phil's suggestion about the Hordes is a good one too.

Any how an enjoyable evening even tho' I lost. Really pleased with how these armies are shaping up. Need to alternate painting these with the work on the South Americans before I revisit the game however.

*Zalaca. La batalla en el siglo XI by J M Gonzalez Lanzarote

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Cu Chi Coup

One of our day trips whilst in Ho Chi Minh City was to the Cu Chi tunnel area. This was given added poignancy as our guide's family was from the area and had pro-South sympathies. He himself was born after the war, but his mother and brothers all lived in the tunnels.

The Cu Chi area was strongly Communist, so US forces forces bombed repeatedly (one bomb from a B52 to every square metre) and also sprayed defoliants. The response of the population was to go underground.

No trip to Saigon is therefore complete without a trip to the remains of the tunnels.

The trip is mainly about the VC's resourcefulness in the tunnel area, but they don't miss a chance to show you the sort of weaponry the US was putting in the field against them.

The site is run by the Vietnamese Army as a theme park. It is manned by photogenic young guides who smile a lot and look very fetching in the black or green pyjamas. Alas I seem not to have taken any pictures of them for this photo report.

You are introduced to the subject by a black and white propaganda video, probably shot in the 1970s or 60s. It celebrates the military victories of the villagers, featuring a number who won "Heroic American Killer" awards after seeing their families being slaughtered by US forces. Subtle it ain't. It is very obviously staged and as so many Vietnamese saw combat I wonder who it is supposedly aimed at.

Leaving the video tent you are greeted by a knocked out American tank. All the while you can hear firing in the background. This isn't sound effects, - you can fire AK47s or any number of weapons left behind by US forces for $1 a round. It's clearly very popular and must be a big earner for the site. Apparently the locals hate it as it brings back too many memories of the war.

Some of the area is given over to tunnels that actually remain.

This is an access tunnel that had been partly dug out. Not big, is it?

This is a ventilation shaft. It should be covered in foliage. The US used dogs to sniff them out, but the locals sprayed them with American soap so they'd get confused.

Here you can see the entrance to a tunnel, covered by a wooden board. The feet in the picture belong to the guide. He's big for a Vietnamese, but small for a Westerner.

These really are very, very, small.

As far as I can make out they didn't fight from the tunnels, but had foxholes next to then entrances. You can just make this one out.

This is the last of the authentic photos. All the rest of the site is reconstructions.

They're quite proud of the booby traps they set for the US forces, which were developed from animal traps.

Even with all the other weaponry on display they really are rather unpleasant to say the least.

There are several sets of these dotted about, manned by demonstrators with long sticks they put in them to activate them.

They're accompanied by a fresco showing the hapless Americans falling into them.

There's a tunnel you can go through that has been widened for Westerners. I went to go through, but bottled it. I get claustrophobia, particularly when the atmosphere gets hot and humid, so not perfect for me.  The other "tunnels" you can look into are reconstructions dug into pits, which to be fair are fairly dark. Here we see two mannequins sawing an unexploded shell in half to extract the explosives to make weapons.

This is a hospital room. Very difficult picture to take as it was pitch black and the camera couldn't work out how to focus. Our guide's mother was forced to work in one of these.

This was a dining room, I think. One hole in the ground can look pretty much like any other.

There were also practical demos of things like how to make Ho Chi Minh sandals out of truck tyres.

Finally a couple of wax work heroes of the fight against the Western Imperialists. This is the uniform effected by the regular guides.

Typically some of the pictures I took didn't work out right, or were just under or over exposed. In and out of the trees made for some awkward lighting conditions. I also thought I'd taken pictures then found I hadn't.

For example I didn't get a good one of a B-52 bomb crater.

Which is a shame, as that's where they put all the earth so the Americans wouldn't know they were tunnelling.