Sunday, 27 March 2016

Battle of Magnesia 190 BC

Another Bank Holiday, another AMW mega refight.

The subject this time was another classic Romans v Phalanx match up with Scipio v Antiochus. I have to say up front that I was slightly less prepared for this than I expected to be. My first intention was to do the Battle of Tunis in 310 BC between Carthage and Syracuse. It's got chariots in it, and I thought my Assyrians would pass muster in a pinch. Having set the game up I realised there were a number of structural issues that might mean it was less interesting than it might be. Like it would be a head on smash up with no room to manoeuvre at all.

No matter, I realised I had Magnesia that I'd never done, and Thursday off work to sort it all out for a Friday pm game. Then it turned out I did have to work Thursday, so I did all the game prep on Friday morning, so not as much thought went into it as usual. This time I had to rely entirely on "Lost Battles", without a chance to check anything in the sources myself.

I was joined by three of my regulars for the game, which enabled me to have one player for Scipio, one for Antiochus and one for Eumenes, Scipio's ally who excelled on his right flank.

This is the set up. Seleucids to the left, Romans to the right. Only the Roman camp is on the table, and it has two units in it. Otherwise the layout is as per Sabin & "Lost Battles".

The Romans went first, and I stood in for Eumenes whilst we waited for Phil. Without consulting Scipio I launched an immediate attack, because that's what Eumenes did. In fact it looked like the best choice. Smash in the Seleucid left with our superior cavalry and roll the rest up. The above picture is from behind our position, and the first indication things were going to go pear shaped came when I was unable to either hit the scythed chariots with any archery, nor was I able to get the light troops in its way to prevent it mashing up something useful.

The scythed chariot made contact with my cavalry, and the failure of the archers to do anything meant their flank was up in the air, and open to the Seleucid light troops for no net gain.

The scythed chariot was removed after one round of combat, as per the rules, but not until it had done some considerable damage to one of my cavalry units. Here is the first indication that the scenario might have problems. Loss of scythed chariots in the basic game is a nuisance as they count as a full unit and are very unlikely to take a unit with them. In a larger game where their side has more units it is much less of a problem. I hadn't really addressed the disparity in numbers as well as I could, although I thought having two commanders to one would make more difference than it did. You'll also notice that I reduced the numbers of massed Seleucid archers as they would really chew up the Romans before contact as there's no adjustment to shooting effect for levy troops.

Phil has now arrived (only a couple of moves in, so I haven't had the chance to ruin his position too much). Will has marched out his camp guards, and otherwise held back with the rest of the army. Chris A as Antiochus has gone forward with everything except for one unit of cataphracts, which he has decided will be needed on his left flank. I didn't think much about Will's reluctance as Scipio to advance, but in the end I think it hurt the Romans as they were too disconnected from the cavalry flank when they needed help.

Eumenes' flank is turning into a great churning cavalry melee, and Chris has done well to support his horse with infantry. Phil also did him a massive favour be proving incapable of rolling anything higher than a 3 in both combats and for saving rolls. His elite Companion cavalry was being shoved in a mincer by some scruffy levy types.

On the Roman left the Seleucids tried to sneak their light cavalry past the end of the line. It was pointed out to me that they should have been horse archers, not javelins.

As I said, bit short on the research time.

The cavalry fight over on the right wasn't going either as well or as quickly as the Romans expected and needed.

And rapidly went from bad to worse as the Roman/Eumenid cavalry sort of melted away.

This is just a close up of the cavalry melee and adds nothing to the narrative.

Those levy cataphracts are now just a base away from making a breakthrough, and there's barely a scratch on them. Ooo-er. The base turned to its side means there's a morale check to be made.

Elsewhere the end Legion unit took some javelins as the cavalry galloped past on their way to loot the camp. In the centre the velites were inflicting some damage on the elephant unit, whilst the phalanx ground slowly forwards.

A couple of lucky throws and Eumenes and his Companions (near the top of the picture) have finally won their encounter. Shame they are (a) down to one base and (b) a long way away from the rest of the battle.

The light cavalry can now see the shiny blue plunder in the camp. Elsewhere the elephants are chomping up the velites. At the top of the picture Eumenes rushes his Companions over to help out in the final cavalry fight. Probably the right decision, but it pulled them even further away from the scene of the action.

On the left and centre the lines of infantry close steadily. In the middle the elephants prove particularly difficult to kill, and are making a major mess of the Roman front line.

There's a single legion unit facing off three units of phalangites. They might need a bit of luck.

The light horse attack the Roman camp. It all seems to be very quiet in there.

On the Seleucid left centre they have swept all before them and are now looking to roll up the Roman line. The Romans really need something to go their way.

The Light Cavalry find the camp empty (NB The camp is part of the Zvezda Baltic Medieval Fortress. It isn't much like a Roman marching camp, but I like it).

The lines finally close. There's a hint of a chance here as you would expect formed Legions to fight off Heavy Cavalry if their flanks are secure. Plus Scipio's there, adding his support.

One Legion finishes off its mounted foes in fairly short order. Has the tide turned? The Legion out on the Roman left has nearly destroyed one Phalanx already.

The Romans finally kill the elephant through the application of overwhelming force. Reserves are being rushed over to shore up the right flank.

As the camp goes up in smoke to the cries of "Where are you sleeping tonight, Scipio?", Antiochus pulls out his central cavalry unit, and sends in some allied infantry to see if they can do a better job on the Legions.

The Roman right flank is looking even more dodgy despite the reinforcements sent across to help out. The cavalry fight out on the extreme right has just taken too long to resolve.

In the centre the Romans are hanging on, although most units are now at half strength. If Scipio can just finish off that final base in front of him, he can break through and create an internal flank.

Or, of course, it could all go to mush and he could die in the combat. Which he did.

On their right centre the Romans finally achieve a breakthrough, but too late, as the Seleucids have turned their flank.

The Reserves are surrounded and crushed, despite Eumenes' late intervention.

A couple more combat rolls, and the Romans reach their army break point. It was closer than it looked. There are quite a few Seleucid units that have been badly roughed up, but crucially they're still in the game. The Romans, alas, may have lost fewer bases overall, but they've lost more units.

The Roman march to the East has been halted.

A satisfactory game that filled an afternoon for 3-4 players (I helped push the Seleucids about under Chris' direction and shared the dice rolling duties), taking about 3  1/2 hours. Not bad for the amount of kit on the table and the less than breakneck speed it was played at.

The outcome was fairly close, as I said, but I'm not sure how much like Magnesia it looked. If I were to play it again I'd need to reconsider a number of things to even things up.

Monday, 21 March 2016

(Un) Inspiring Stories (3)

Having written about things that inspired me to start wargaming certain subjects whilst I was a student I thought it might be interesting to ponder some of my other projects that had less successful outcomes.

These days I average about one to two new project a year. This can include expanding an existing period but is normally something completely new. I don’t know how I got into this cycle, but it seems to work. I don’t go out looking for projects. I don’t think “Oh, a New Year coming up, - must start a new project”. If nothing comes along then nothing new gets done. There’s always something in the back log that wasn’t needed at the time I can work on. When you buy soft plastics you don’t always use every figure in the box first time round.

But generally I get interested in something new most years.

If was not always thus. I don’t know if it was peer pressure or what, but I did go through a phase when I felt that I should be doing new projects, and I cast about for new subjects to take on board. I particularly recall a couple from my time at University and just after.

If you do a modern history degree there’s always a lot of war going on. As Trotsky remarked, "War is the Locomotive of History". When you are doing mainly political history it is quite clear that Clausewitz was right, - “War is a mere continuation of politics by another means”.

Which brings me to Frederick the Great. He sits slap-bang across the middle of European history in the 18th century and he is unavoidable if you study the period. He’s a great military leader, no doubt, and his campaigns and methods are interesting. 

I can’t recall if I wrote an essay about him. I think I must have done. I do remember researching his father, Frederick William I, and finding him really interesting. (Built a great army, but never started a war.) That gap in my memory is a bit of a giveaway, I think. Anyway, he seemed like someone I should have been interested in. And I sort of felt I should be starting something new, although on a student grant funds were limited.

It just so happened that Spencer Smith did a range of 30mm Prussian Seven Years War infantry. They were distinctly affordable and really nicely realised. As they were cheap I reckoned I could make up the cavalry units with Hinchcliffe figures as they were size compatible. By this time I had acquired the Blandford book of Seven Years War uniforms and standards, and would shortly lay my hands on the Funcken “Lace Wars” books, which I think were a Christmas or Birthday present. The flags looked really gorgeous and my design concept had each regiment with one of these “in large” amongst the unit. Also, to round it all off, we were using the WRG Horse & Musket rules which are rubbish for Napoleonics, but rather good for the wars of the Ancien Regime.

I bought in a lot of figures and set to work on them. I had tightened up my painting style as well now as I was amongst much more experienced and proficient figure painters. I wasn't shading much, but I was using a lot of black lining to create a classic toy soldier look.

I think they came out okay. They were fairly well regarded amongst the group I gamed with but I was coming up against a few problems.

The Hinchcliffe cavalry were coming out as expensive and difficult to get hold of. The range didn’t have what I really wanted either and some of the figures were frankly quite ugly. I was also struggling with executing the flags really well. Try as I might I couldn't get a Prussian Eagle that looked like anything other than a charcoal grilled Tweety-Pie. In the days before computers and internet clip art I couldn't work out how to fix the problem.

And then there was the fact that no one else was interested in the period. Or rather no one was interested enough to paint up an army. So. No opponent. Unless I painted it myself. And these armies are big.

I finally also came to the conclusion that I actually didn't like the period. Perhaps I should be interested in Old Fritz, it was just that I wasn't. Nothing I could do, nothing I could read, could make me remotely interested in him and his miserable self-serving wars. How I hated him and his perfectly coiffured infantry.

The whole project had been a ghastly error. There was nothing for it but to off load the stuff and write it all off to experience.

Those ghastly Hinchcliffe cavalry.
Make me an offer, but you're paying postage
I think Pete Berry took the infantry off my hands, but didn't want the cavalry. I still have them, sitting in a box in the study, survivors of several bring and buy stalls. Every so often one of our group suggest we start a Charles Grant “The Wargame” type project where we could all paint and contribute units over a period of time. Well, they’re sitting there, waiting for the call.

But I don’t think I’m putting my toe back in that pond ever again.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Walls and Redoubts

One of the features of the Pacific War 1879-84 is the regular bloody assaults on troops defending trenches, walls and redoubts.

I have quite a few walls and so on, but I don't have anything that looks like the type of walls in the contemporary illustrations. They seem to be made from stacking rocks on top of each other and then using some form of adobe construction. Plus all my walls are clearly European in style.

Conceptually I thought I might be able to use lolly sticks with aquarium gravel stuck to it. This is partly because I have a large pot of aquarium gravel lying around and also because I thought that lolly sticks would be easy to find and would save me from cutting up plywood. If the stones didn't look right I thought I could smear them with polyfilla (spackle) to give that rough and ready adobe feel.

Here's my assembly of building products. I had to hand sort the gravel as some bits were too large, hence the small specimen pot in front. The cheap PVA was a problem as it was a bit runny. I would have used hot melt, but I'm running out of glue sticks and all the local cheap suppliers seem to be out of stock.

The sticks are 4 1/2 inches long. This turned out to be okay. Two sticks together cover three 3" squares, and I can cut some down. The diagonal on a 3" square is also about 4 1/4" so they just about fit there too.

Here are some brave Peruvians hiding behind a new wall. I couldn't make them as tall as I'd like as the kneeling infantry couldn't see over them, and those with rifles held at the port couldn't stand up to them.

I've made about 6 full lengths and a couple of 3" sections so far, just to test out the concept.

I can also just about squeeze a gun and a battalion behind them as well.

The diagonals will help me make more redoubt like looking shapes, although this is a BIG redoubt, given the 250 yards to 1 square scale.

This aerial shot shows the diagonals working okay.

There's a slight issue with balancing them on the hills , depending on where the dots are placed, as I may end up with them hanging in the air a bit, but overall they work okay and weren't that time consuming, difficult or expensive to make.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Inspiring Stories (2)

When I was at University I worked on four different wargames projects / armies. One I’ve already written about in the last blog. Of the remaining three only one of them is still with me as a viable project and two of them are cautionary takes I look back at from time to time.

The other one that is still with me is the Indian Mutiny. I’ve blogged previously about the set of rules I eventually wrote (“Sepoy”) so some of what goes below has been aired before, but there were a number of false steps before they emerged.

The original paperback edition
The main inspiration for getting into the period was Flashman. The Indian Mutiny novel, “Flashman in the Great Game”, is one of the best in the series, if not the best. Actually, yes, it is the best. It has everything you’d want from a Flashman novel with a gripping and exciting background.

I’ve been inspired by several Flashman novels but only this one got me to an army and a game design. “Flashman’s Lady” made we want to do the Borneo pirate campaigns of Rajah Brook, but I couldn’t work out how to make it work, so it never came to anything.

Anyway, back to FITGG. It was clear from the book that the campaign had great feats of arms and derring-do. It wasn’t a traditional colonial game as the mutineers were European trained to a large extent, and armed with comparatively modern weapons. Battles are fought top a large extent like European battles, but under the sun. It has a range of fascinating Victorian characters, - Henry Havelock is a man who has been massively overlooked in modern times, but to his contemporaries he was a real hero. What’s more, after the mess of the Crimea it is a relief to find British Army commanders who seem to know what they are doing. Plus we have the Enfield Rifle that changed the battlefield dynamic.

After reading the novel I went off and read Christopher Hibbert’s book “The Great Mutiny” which continued to drive my interest. The novel wasn’t a gross exaggeration, nor did it miss any major items. The bibliography then gave me access to Michael Edwardes series of books on the Mutiny which I found in the various great libraries of my university city.

And to cap it off Minifigs had an Indian Mutiny range, so figures were out there. The other consideration was that the armies were so small that at a scale of 1:50 all of Havelock’s army for the Lucknow campaign was completely affordable and would fit in a small box.

The truth is from then I struggled to produce a viable game. The units were so small that conventional rules wouldn’t work for them and the problem was also what to do with the Mutineer armies. I toyed with a variation of Pony Wars, attracted by the automatic movement system for the (Red) Indians. That failed on several levels. Next up came a version of Science v Pluck, which made it to Knuston for a CoW session. It had a mixed reception.

Edwardes’ book on the Siege of Delhi gave me a lot of ideas, as did his book on Lucknow (“Season in Hell”) which had some terrific contemporary London Illustrated News style etchings in it. By this time I was leaving university, IIRC, and realised that my small armies just wouldn’t work, so I boosted the unit sizes to my current levels. I’m not sure what sequence the games came but I did a couple of successful siege games. One was set in Lucknow and was based around the individual redoubts in the defences and was a sort of group role playing game. I ran it at CoW and it went well for a session, but taking it any further was a challenge.

Next I did a figure game based on British and loyalist forces fighting their way into Delhi to break the siege. This was a gridded game which had a movement system that created a unique maze type effect for each game. I built a lot of buildings for this game and they were moved around the board as the British blundered into various cul-de-sacs as the mutineers fired down on them from roof tops. I ran the game at CoW and then at Triples (or the other way round, probably, as Triples was then in March and CoW in July). I think I got a second or third place in best participation game at Triples.
I liked that game. Wonder if I still have the rules.

And then “File Leader” came along and so we get the story in this blog.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Inspiring stories

Johnny Friday asked me recently why I’m working on the 1879 Pacific War, and I wrote a short response. You can find it in the comments to this blog. What inspires us to wargame a particular period is a question often asked. The answer, alas, is too often “I saw this great range of figures”.

Even in my case (step forward all of you Sumerians).

Some of the armies arise out of serendipity, - some out of being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes it is seeing a range of figures that answer a previously deeply held interest.

For my oldest active army the answer is all a bit mixed up. These are my War of Spanish Succession British, which I initially painted in my first year at University. In a two week period during a vacation, if I remember rightly.

I‘d had an interest in Marlborough for a few years. I mean, as a British wargamer you’re always aware of Marlborough, in the same way that Wellington can be a major obsession. I remember reading an article by Don Featherstone where he wrote about the only way to wargame the period was at a figure scale that enabled you to simulate platoon fire, which all seemed to be a bit too much like hard work to me, so I never pursued the matter.

My school library had all the four volumes of Churchill’s epic biography of the Great Man, and I took them all out at the end of one term in anticipation of us studying the period in History the following term. We’d just finished doing the Stuart period up to the end of James II and accession of William & Mary and I wanted to be ready for where we were obviously going next. As it turned out we never did go there, but diverted into 19th Century Economic & Social history instead. Mortified I never finished reading them (never started? – I can’t recall) and moved on. Corporal John was still there, however.

At the time – late 70’s – I was doing a lot of fantasy wargaming, all Lord of the Rings stuff – and not really doing any new historical bits and pieces except adding the odd Matchbox tank to my WW2 armies. At Uni I discovered that no one was doing fantasy wargaming, and had in fact moved on from such things. All the D&Ders had also moved on and colonised the Tolkein Society, who found RPGs easier than conversing in Elvish. So I was left out on a limb a bit.

At the time Pete Berry (yes, he of Baccus 6mm) was a graduate member of the University Wargames Society and was working through an unhealthy obsession with Charles XII of Sweden, following his reading of Ragnhild Hatton’s biography of the Swedish Monarch. He may even have been responsible for the graffito “Remember Poltava” on the wall of the SU gents.

Pete had a Swedish army based upon 30mm Spencer Smith plastics. He really wanted someone to play against and everyone treated it as a bit of a joke. Pete tried to talk me into doing a Russian Peter the Great army but I said no (I wonder if that would have been more interesting…) but convinced him that it would be okay if I provided him with another contemporary opponent. That gave me the excuse to finally put the Marlburian Army together.

The army is made up of Airfix Washington’s Army and French Cuirassiers (sorry, Waterloo French Cavalry) with hat swaps and Waterloo French Artillery, likewise re-hatted. Given that I did them over 30 years ago the Bostick is holding up really well.

So I suppose you could say that Pete was the inspiration, although he was pushing at an open door.
On the other hand you might also say it arose out of a desperate sense of insecurity and a desire to fit in with new found friends. Whichever it was, I don’t regret putting the army together and I can’t see ever replacing the figures. They’ve been repainted and varnished properly since their first paint job, and rebased as well. They are now joined by contemporary Frenchies, also made out of Airfix WA. I suspect that Pete no longer has his Swedes, but has replaced them with 6mm figures of his own design, and he almost certainly doesn’t use the old WRG 1685+ rules we used at the time, as there’s a Polemos set for period, I think. Plus painting guides and so on. Pete does a job properly when he puts his mind to it.

As readers will know the little fellows get pulled out from time to time and I know that I should probably add a few more battalions. However I haven’t seen any WA boxes around of late, and I’m loath to mix in more modern figures as I think it will ruin the look of the army, - and also show up the original castings. The cavalry in particular are really anonymous looking, which was what made them so good for conversions. I think I’d also be right in thinking that the modern figures will probably be a bit larger.

I don’t know if this is an inspiring story, but it is a story about inspiration.