Friday, 25 November 2016

El Cid and BBDBA3

In the search for a ruleset for my Feudal Spanish and their contemporaries and enemies I was tempted in by the idea of Big Battle DBA3.


Actually I'm happy for any excuse to get these chaps out. Big Battle DBA gives you 36 bases on the table, that's more than a game of AMW. Here's the Spanish all lined up. Phil and Chris K got to play with them.

On the other side I had two Almoravid armies and one Andalusian allied army. Chris A and I had them.

The new camp  followers occupied the BUA on the Spanish baseline.

Here's a shot of one of the Spanish commanders. He's got a big white flag. Another one can be seen in the background. He's got a big white flag too.

Spanish to the right, Arabs to the left. The Spanish cavalry does look a bit intimidating.

Yes. A whole wall of knights.

Out on my right I got into a tangle with the end of the line of knights, and went in too close. I was lucky in the first round of combat and didn't suffer any casualties, so I was able to encircle their left.

Not that it did me any good. I got bounced and my camels failed to make an impact.

The Almoravid light cavalry got caught frontally by some Spanish Knights, lead by their contingent commander.

A complete disaster for the Spanish, including the death of their general as the accursed 1 made a significant showing.

Elsewhere the Black Guards looked set to march across the board, sweeping all before them.

My opponent closed on my spears with his psiloi. I forgot I can't kill them. In the centre the cavalry battle starts to go against us.

Out on our right flank we seem to be doing a bit better.

On our left the Spanish advance out of the town to tempt us in to attack. Will Chris fall for such a transparent tactic? See later on...

In the middle we were definitely on the wrong end of the cavalry action by now.

And extra knights swung the balance over on the right.

Both the Almoravid commands are demoralised by now, and so can't advance. Rubbish.

Our psiloi can't get out of the way and are run down.

They even had the nerve to charge our spears frontally.

You can see now why I had the little rant about the number 1.

Chris did attack over on the left, and we got a bit strung out and eventually came to grief, with everything demoralised. Another win for the Reconquista.

It's a fun way of passing the evening, but there are issues as to whether it can support a four player game or not. It's not a bad simulation of medieval warfare but we really need to swap sides. I'm not a good light horse commander, so the arabs keep getting stuffed. It might be they have a rubbish army of course. I should probably have picked more camels. I also don't like the absence of Murabit heavy cavalry in the Almoravid army list, which looks like an error to me.

Still the toys are shiny.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Not that One again

There is a line in King Lear when the Earl of Kent shouts "Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!". The Bard, it seems, fets free to train his guns on anyone or anything, even a letter of the alphabet.

Sometimes that's how I feel about the number 1. You know, when the dice rolls over and your inner monologue is going "Anything but a 1, anything but a 1" and there it is. The single dot of death, winking at you from the centre of the cube's uppermost face.

Of course it isn't always bad. There are a few rules sets where rolling low is good. Martin Goddard at Peter Pig purposely has low numbers being good in his morale tests, just to provide encouragement to those of us who feel we are carrying more than our fair share of the low end of the number spectrum as the universe contrives to provide an even distribution.

However even Martin was noted for giving the tactical advice "Roll lots of sixes". So not a massive fan of the number 1 either.

And there it was again last night, popping up with alarming regularity during a game of big battle DBA (which will be covered in a later blog). Whether frustrating an army advance by making an appearance as a PIP roll, or ensuring that a unit of knights dies unexpectedly, there was that little single dot spreading misery across the table.

What is to be done with the wretched thing?

Seriously, what is to be done about it? Can we go on like this?

I mean back in the 1970s we all went crazy for average dice which did a way with the 1 completely, spreading the dislike to the number 2, which hardly seems fair. I mean, what has the number 2 ever done, except for being twice 1?

That's sort of hiding from the problem though. If we're allocating probabilities to events then we have to accept the 1, in the same way we must glory in the 6. It occurred to us last night that perhaps we should be looking at some form of compensation for the pain and heart ache inflicted.

For example, every time you roll a 1 you could get a fail marker. Once you have two of them you could be allowed to re-roll a die on a later turn (not immediately, - that would be silly). Or perhaps you cold use a fail marker to add a one to a die roll either before or after you make it. Capped out at a maximum of one add per roll, and not to exceed a six, of course. Otherwise madness would rain.

Or maybe you just get first dibs in the box of biscuits the next time it goes around.

"Thou whoreson one, thou irritating number!", as the more literate amongst us might say.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Those Odd Figures

Back in the day when I were a lad and we had gaslights in the street and so on the appearance of a new Airfix box of figures was an event and you bought them regardless of whether you had an interest in the period.

As you twisted them off the sprues, rubbing down the resulting plastic knob on the base on your Mum's coffee table,  you always had a pile of figures you weren't really sure what you were going to do with them. Some had their rifles the wrong way round or they didn't have weapons at all or they were in daft poses. Still they went in the box and got played with anyway, falling by the wayside as wargaming got more serious and the figures had to be based in units.

The predilection for designers to produce odd figures hasn't gone away. Hat are pretty good in this respect and everything is normally usable, so it isn't a problem I have most of the time. Zvezda are only occasional transgressors as well.

Which is more than I can say for some of the other manufacturers. Strelets spring to mind, for example.

Now this isn't a problem for me as I don't really do Strelets. Not so for my ex-work colleague, Mark C, who has featured in these pages before. He's a man who buys a lot of boxes and he is a Strelets devotee. He's a man who will buy boxes just to get his hands on one or two figures in them, and I think he sometimes buys them blind or on spec.

He was building a Norman army out of Strelets figures, and had ordered boxes of all they had in their range (they make 8 different ones). Some of the boxes have a lot of odd figures that I think tested even Mark's patience. In one of those cross desk conversations we used to have he offered me a bag of oddities, and being a man of his word delivered.

Well, I couldn't say no, could I?

My idea, when he mentioned them, was to use them in a camp model for my Feudal Spanish. I was looking at the time at the battle of Zalaca (about which I have written before on this blog) and that is a battle which actually does feature a camp, such as it is, complete with camp followers and so on who are important to the outcome.

Fast forward a few months and I finally found the time to put my idea into action, and paint up a few bases worth of them. I know under DBA you only need one base of camp followers for any army, but I thought a full four bases AMW unit might look okay. You can judge.

These are from a couple of different boxes. I think they're called "Normans on the March" and "Norman Camp". So here you have some chaps carrying a suit of chain mail, someone carrying lances and a chap drinking.

Then there's some fellows having a good time drinking and eating. I guess these are from the Camp box.

They do seem to be having a good time.

And here's another Norman drinking,  some chaps who have been hunting and a knight dragging along a small child.

Yes. He's dragging a small child. Don't know why. Fill in your own narrative.

Here we are with all of them together. They're a fearsome looking bunch, I think you'll agree.

And ready for a game tonight.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Izad Khast

Now this was a surprise. It is on a list of sites UNESCO is thinking about listing as a world heritage asset. What do you think?

The Izad Khast citadel wasn't on our itinerary, although a quick stop at the renovated caravanserai that bears the same name was. We were on a long journey by coach between Shiraz and Esfahan, I think, and it was getting towards evening when the coach pulled over and we were all asked to get out.

And there before us was the biggest mud-brick building I've ever seen.

Honestly, it's just enormous. It's called a citadel but it's more of a fortified village or refuge. It dates from Sassanid times and was used until the early 19th century, when the Qajar dynasty cleared everyone out and moved them to a more modern village that was easier to police. So that's a period of occupation of over 1500 years where it has grown organically but still within the fortifiable site on the top of the hill.

The entrance is protected by a drawbridge over a ditch, and access is further restricted by a very small doorway. (This is up on the extreme right of the top photgraph and just round the corner). The site isn't always open as it depends on whether the guy with the key is about.

This is the view with the drawbridge behind you, overlooking the abandoned village.

The alley ways between the buildings in the citadel are narrow and winding with no clear plan or layout.

The buildings are dilapidated and some of the alleys lose their shape due to eroded mud from the bricks. No work has been done to repair or maintain it since it was abandoned.

The site had a Zoroastrian temple - which is square - that was converted into a mosque, which would have had a dome. This has now fallen in.

There are no signs telling you what any of this is, and the local guide was a bit vague. No archaeological work has been done here. After all, it's only on the "tentative" list at UNESCO.

Late in the evening, with the late sunlight on it, I can say it was another wonderful, haunting, magical sight (and site). Just wandering through the ruined walkways and buildings you could feel the hundreds of years of history wrapping themselves round you.

And the light was blue, and clear and golden all at once. You didn't want to leave.

In fact, we were there so long it got dark and we never went into the caravanserai (pictured above, taken from the citadel) but I don't think anyone minded.

I didn't.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Square Bashing at Cambrai

As regular readers will know I've been playing some early WW1 games using 6mm Baccus figures and Op14. In fact my earliest Great War collection consists of 15mm Minifigs, British & Germans, set up for 1916 onwards. I've had them quite a long time, - my first rules for them were written on an Amstrad PCW - and they have never really had the usage I envisaged for them. I think they got used to play an Amiens scenario with Op14 a couple of years back.

They were always intended to do Divisional level games, stretching to a corps at most. I've never really solved the problems with this level of resolution. A while back I tried again with Square Bashing, - the revised version. The original version had issues - too many dice, too much calculation - and the more recent version worked okay for the scenario that game with the Army Lists. The trench game was less successful. Anyway, time to revisit a scenario based game. Based on what was to hand, - mainly the Osprey on Cambrai - I reckoned I could get an evening's game out of the action around Bourlon Wood at the back end of November as the Germans were getting ready to counterattack.

I adopted my usual approach of scanning the map then dropping a grid overlay on it in scale with the rules and my table. I can rotate the grid to get the best fit, then print it out to lay the table out. There's then a bit of trial and error to get everything in the right place.

As every RFCM/Peter Pig game has a pre-game sequence and a comprehensive victory points mechanism you (well I) have to work out how much of that to cut. For example there's a whole load of stuff about moving scenery around and so on which isn't helpful if you've just struggled to get the map right. Then there's the objective markers, which are actually useful in driving the game dynamic.

Here's my initial go at the set up. Brits to the top right, Germans bottom left. I put some trenches round the German reinforcement area for the actual game, and moved a few of the units in the Guards Division around.

For example I spread them out over three squares to avoid traffic jams, not as I have them in this picture.

The objectives are denoted with yellow markers. Will & Phil took the British, with Phil getting the Guards. I ran the Germans with Chris K. Phil noted that he had a Great Uncle, I think, who fought in Bourlon Wood.

The British pushed forwards aggressively, grappling with the issues of how to launch a co-ordinated combined arms attack.

On the British left Will launched the first attack on a German machine gun nest hidden in Bourlon Wood. This was beaten off with losses.

In the centre a British bombardment had gone in and destroyed a square of defenders. The thinly held initial German line was pierced, despite the delayed arrival of one of the tank units. The Germans launched an immediate counter attack, as is their style, and actually came a bit unstuck.

One German MG got the full armour rollover treatment.

Alas the tank attack on the MG was beaten off with casualties. However the British fared really well against the German counter attacks and gave them a bloody good hiding. However, had they overstretched themselves?

The fortunes were truly mixed.  The second attempt to overrun the MG on the German left succeeded, and one battalion on the right fought its way forward, but failures elsewhere left them dangerously isolated. What you can't see here, however, is that the Scots Guards have fought their way up the sunken road and into Fontaine Notre-Dame from the left, cutting off the defenders.

Not to be outdone Will finally led a couple of service battalions of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment into the defences and started to clear out the Germans on the northern edge of the wood.

You can see here that the Scots Guards are in the buildings on the German baseline. The Guards have also fought their way into the square in front of them. Elsewhere they're consolidating and the Germans are having a frustrating time of it.

As night fell the British were holding a burning Fontaine Notre-Dame and had made good progress on clearing the other defences. The German counter-attacking forces were in a bit of disarray.

Compared to the historic outcome its a bit mixed. The British got into the village earlier, but were evicted with heavy losses, partly due to poor artillery preparation. They lost a lot of tanks in the village to German artillery as they got separated from infantry support. To the left of the village the German MGs were more effective and prevented the Scots Guards advance. I may need to increase the range for pre-positioned MGs in future games. The fighting in Bourlon Wood itself was bloody and confused, as in the game.

The points score gave a marginal British victory, which didn't look right to me as I thought they'd done better than that.

On balance not a bad evening's entertainment and future games will be improved due to my increasing familiarity with the rule system. I think it will fill the gap I have with some minor surgery.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sassanid Sculptures and Achaemenid Afterlife

Just up the road from Persepolis are the rock face tombs of several Persian Emperors. As it was such a prestigious site the Sassanids commemorated some of their great victories there with rock carvings as well. The area is known as Naqsh-e Rostam.

This picture is taken from the opposite end to the entrance as because of the way the cliff curves it's hard to get all of the tombs in from that direction. It's a long, narrow site which gives its own photographic challenges. From left to right you can make out the tombs of Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I. The lady in pink & black is Mrs T.

This one is Darius I, and is the tomb closest to the site entrance. The Iranians are proud of their pre-Islamic heritage as you can see from the two flags, so no danger of these being trashed ISIS-style.

This is Artaxerxes I's tomb.

This is the best picture I have from the other end. I seem to have some individual tomb photos missing, which is a nuisance.

For the wargamer the Sassanid rock carvings may be of more interest.

This one is the Equestrian Victory of Hormozd II (302-309 AD). To quote the sign on the site:"...shows the triumph of Hormozd II (recognisable by his crown which was shaped by an eagle carrying a pearl in its beak) over a mounted foe....he is represented on horseback charging at full gallop and unhorsing with a long lance an enemy who wears a plumed helmet adorned with the family insignia of Papak, the governor of Georgia. Behind the king his standard bearer carries a banner consisting of a lance topped by a horizontal bar adorned with two highly decorated globes and three strips of fabric waving in the wind."

The Victory of Bahram II (274-94) "...shows in a double register two victories of Bahram II.  The king wears a crown adorned by an eagle's the upper panel gallops towards a mounted enemy and unhorse him with a long spear. His standard bearer (not well defined) follows, carrying a flag (perhaps the red war banner described by Ammianus Marcellinus) consisting of a foe surmounted by a horizontal bar adorned with three globes and two hanging tassels. A second foe (possibly a Roman) is fallen under Bahram's horse. The king's horse is magnificently equipped and large conical tassel fall from the saddle and the harness is elaborate. The king himself carries a long quiver on his left thigh. The lower register depicts a similar equestrian combat: Bahram II charges a mounted foe with a long lance while trampling another enemy under his horse."

The Triumph Relief of Shapur I. This shows Shapur on his horse receiving the submission of two Roman Emperors, probably Valerian and Phillip the Arab. There is some dispute as to which is which.

Dammit. Don't have a caption for this one.

This one is uncertain, according to information at the site. It's probably Shapur II, again. The horseman has a crown similar to those on Shapur II's coins. The horseman is in mail, wearing a Roman helmet. You can clearly see the Royal Standard in the background.

Sorry for the incomplete record, for which I have no real excuse, except as always at these sites you're dodging round people to get pictures without anyone obscuring the scene, whilst they're doing the same.