EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Test of Arms

My very first wargames were not set in the ancient period, it wasn't until a visit home for Christmas 1972 that I first pitted a new box of Airfix Romans against an equally new box of Ancient Britons. Ever since then ancient/medieval wargaming has been one of my primary wargaming interests though somewhat receding of late. So when Bob Cordery mentioned that he was developing an Ancient Portable Wargame, I volunteered to read over and play test the current draft. Since they are still in development I won't be sharing a lot about the proto-rules or the feedback that I will be sending Bob, just a few general impressions and a quick look at my first test game.
Duke Imonsay deploys his army with his Valdurian allies atop a hill on his right flank.
The rules are essentially a variant of the original Portable Wargame sharing as many rules and mechanisms as possible which makes it easier to move back and forth between period for those like me that dabble in several. The biggest difference comes from the characteristics of the available unit types backed by additional special unit characteristics for a handful of historical troop types.  This approach allows Bob to cover the basics of over a thousand years of warfare in a simple but effective manner but leaves the rules feeling fairly generic. Luckily it is easy to use the unit special rule idea to add appropriate flavour for specific campaigns.

The basic troop types are light infantry and light cavalry, fast with the ability to shoot 2 squares with bow or javelin, heavy infantry and heavy cavalry slower but with a melee bonus, and various traditional specialist units such as elephants, chariots and artillery.  One of the specialist troop types that I was tempted to try was Gallic or German tribesmen who are fast but weak though they can sometimes claim a charge bonus. However, not only would I have needed to stop and base up a few more units but my Viking barbarians are more shield wall types so generic heavy infantry it was.

An overview of the opposing battlelines at the start.
Since I have divested myself of all my 25mm and 54mm ancient armies, apart from some Sassinid Persians and some medieval Scots, I turned to my 40mm Elastolin collection of Huns, Vikings and Romans for what could be seen as a comic book Rome vs Barbarians battle or as part of my fictional, not to say Fantasy campaign world. Any resemblance to a real battle, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

On one side was the Northern Confederation (aka the Barbarians) under King Preisages who commanded 4 heavy cavalry, 5 light cavalry, 3 light infantry and  7 heavy infantry totalling 59 strength points. (I didn't count either general for any purpose for this game.)

Facing them, in defence, were the Border Guards under Count Imonsay with 4 light cavalry, 1 light infantry and 9 heavy infantry assisted by an allied Valdurian contingent of 3 heavy cavalry and 1 light infantry totalling 59 strength points.

An army losing 1/3 of its strength points becomes exhausted and is unable to act aggressively. After several attempts, I'm still pretty vague about how aggressive one can be, shooting seems pretty aggressive to me but is apparently ok as is attacking an enemy who is already adjacent to you when you are activated.   To make it easier to track, I counted out 20 casualty rings for each side (white for the Romans who were assumed to have medical teams to bandage the wounded, red for the bloody Barbarians.) and when they were all issued, that side was exhausted.

Midway through the battle the opposing infantry is engaged in an indecisive scrum with the lines heaving back and forth with the Confederation light cavalry puts pressure on the Count's left wing.
The game began with the  "Barbarian" (the original Valdurian chronicler's prejudice, not mine) horse archers rushing forward to attempt to turn and then crush the Count's left while their shield wall advanced steadily. On the far side of the battle a few barbarian skirmishers came forward to attempt to drive in the Valdurian archers and try to draw their heavy cavalry off the hill.

The game went on with the battle lines pushing and shoving each other forward and back without a breakthrough on either side. The light cavalry held out better than I expected, inflicting few hits but being recoiled more often than losing strength points. (Dice!!) The Count finally decided to throw the Valdurian heavy cavalry forward to disperse the enemy skirmishers and turn the enemy flank.

Alas, the Valdurian Companions, the elite shock troops of the army, were barely able to nudge one small company of enemy skirmishers back off the hill and the attack stalled. On the left, numbers eventually told and the Count's light cavalry started to get cornered and pressed up against the reserves and the recoiling main line and as the second light cavalry unit was eliminated the army became exhausted.

At this point the Barbarians were also only a few points away from being exhausted even though they had not lost a single unit. Rather than risk going over the threshold the King pulled back all of his troops out of contact and outside bow range of the one remaining Valdurian archer and then his horse archers began shooting apart the Count's left flank. As unit after unit was removed the Count had no choice but to signal a general retreat.

The Valdurians still hold their hill but their cavalry has been unable to ride over the skirmishers in front of them, The main battle lines hold but the Count's left flank has collapsed and it is now a matter of retreating before the wild barbarian riders completely swamp the centre and slaughter them to a man. 

On the whole the rules did what they were designed to do. They achieved a believable over all result which could easily have been reversed and by and large the troop types worked. The failure of the heavy cavalry to sweep away the handful of untrained peasant skirmishers in open ground was troublesome despite moderately unlucky dice. The heavy cavalry had a small melee advantage over the skirmishers but it was so small that a minor wobble in probabilities was all it took for the skirmishers to more than hold their own even when flanked.  Possibly a Poor rating for the skirmishers to distinguish them from well armed, well trained professionals would have helped.

The push and shove of the infantry scrum felt right for these armies and the light infantry was about right against other infantry. The light cavalry worked better than I expected given that they have to move into heavy infantry charge reach to shoot. I'm still not convinced that Crassus could be destroyed by Parthians under these rules but possibly if the Parthians were counted as Elite, Horse Archers as well as Cataphracts and the Romans downgraded to ordinary heavy infantry. In any event I must fudge something to try that match up.

Although the rules worked fairly well and the game was enjoyable it lacked a certain amount of tension for me since everything is very incremental. A slow grinding fight sounds right for opposing infantry lines but less so for light troops and cavalry and there is no chance of anything else. It also still feels odd to me that my army could be exhausted without losing a single unit but that it will never collapse in rout like so many ancient armies but that may be largely an expectation formed by habit.

I also noticed something else rather interesting. Old habits die hard and in this game like the previous Zulu ones, I kept forgetting that units adjacent to an enemy do not have to initiate melee on their own turn, especially when they have already taken hits and are fighting against an enemy to their flank! Must make myself a reminder on a QRS.

Another old habit was formed by decades of having separate movement and melee phases in a score of different rules sets. I often forgot to resolve combats until all were done or did some and forgot others. Again a note and a closer attention to process would soon cure these old habits.

Anyway, I will be sending off more detailed technical comments to Bob and start planning another test battle. I would like to see an elephant in action and try the artillery rules as well.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rough Wooing in the Valley

Yesterday I packed up troops and terrain and made the 45 minute trip to Kentville to the Table Top Games day where I set up a version of the game that Rob Dean and I will be running  at Huzzah in Portland next month. The scenario was the same Stuart Asquith one that I played twice earlier this month. The goal for both sides is to garrison the town and exit a force off the far end of the table by road.

The French march on as the game gets underway.
The stand-in Scots barely glimpsed to the left are technically off table at this point.
 Since I didn't have Rob's troops or terrain I fudged things with what I had on hand, throwing in some Scots and so on. I was hoping to have at least four of the lads show up for the duration but life intervenes and some couldn't stay for the whole game while others couldn't come at all. However, I managed to pressgang a passing gamer  who paused by the table for a few seconds too long. He (Greg? Garry? Damn I am bad at names...) turned into an agreeable companion and an able commander for the English (hopefully we'll be able to entice him to join us for more games) and so we had at least four players at one point and two players for long enough for me to get a good feel for the rules and scenario which would have been enough to declare the event a success. Better yet though, Martin was able to stay an extra hour or so and put up with me filling in as both GM and player for the last hour to reach a reasonable conclusion after about three and a half hours in all.

I didn't have room for all the troops to start on table nor did I have a spare side table so please visualize the troops lined up along the board edges  as actually marching down the roads from off table. 
The English were fast off the mark and very aggressive. Their forlorn hope managed to drive off their French equivalent and bottle up the main French force for a good while. A unit of Landsknechts in English pay made their way through the open woods aided by good movement dice and By the time they fell back and rejoined the main English force, nearly half the French infantry had been drawn off to face them. Thanks to the sacrifice of the Forlorn Hope, English archers had already made it to the town while their cavalry and more infantry were well on the way to bypassing it on their way to the exit.

Battle is joined.
The pictures got foggier as the battle went on. I'd like to think this was the effect of gun smoke and the angle of the sun shining into a dark room but I suspect a trip to the snack table for a handful of chips (
crisps for those from the Old Country) may have had an inadvertent, but deleterious, effect on my smartphone lens.
The French had two choices at this point, try to race the English to the exit, a long shot, or try to catch them from behind, crush the rear guard and force the main body to turn back or lose the town. Their General chose the latter. The card sequence and dice had helped the English at first but these things rarely last and the French were able to drive into the middle of the English army. When the large block of Swiss rolled into a small group of Billmen, French expectations were high. Eleven dice for 5 or 6.....0 hits! 4 English dice for 4,5,6 came back  with  3 hits!  A stand off and tied melee since the French took fewer hits than they had stands but not what was expected! (the Swiss mercenaries in 1544 were not quite up to their fathers' reputation.) The English billmen pulled back and let the archers and artillery pound the pikes. A combination of card sequencing, an opportune/inopportune turn ending Joker and more high movement dice allowed the Landsknechts in English pay to run up in time to hit the French in the flank as the bills rushed back in from the front.   The Scots avenged  them and broke the Germans but this left the French General with one slightly worn pike unit and a few stands of heavy cavalry with no swordsmen or halberdiers and very few arquebusiers to storm the town while the English still had two formidible regiments of bills and bows backed by cavalry. There had been some rather tense moments for the English though and the French attack could well have changed the outcome.

Gratuitous shot of the English as their advance guard of light horse, bowmen and sword and buckler men prepares to deploy and go into action early on. 
I won't speak for the players but as GM and rules writer I was pleased at how the game went. This was the first outing for the buffed up rules which have not been out much in the last decade. During this period I have tortured them in various ways to try and get a smoother, faster game without losing too much of the original flavour. In that time they took several false trails but have come back close to where they began but streamlined a little in organization, stripped of some fiddly-ness, and with a few small twists such as the inclusion of a few Chance cards.

Dusk sets in. A couple of turns before the end. The opposing cavalry are manoeuvring to gain an advantage, speed vs weight. Beyond the town the English Landsknechts are about to crash into the obviously second rate Swiss hired by the French.
The game also gave me a chance to spot a few order of battle weaknesses with the French being weaker than intended in firepower and in troops able to take and hold a town (no job for pikemen). All things easily fixed for May. Another lesson of the test is that I need to clarify what is a an acceptable garrison  and what makes a sufficient force leaving the table. I think I will also force Shaken "Regiments" to leave the table rather than having restricted options. These things will help keep the game length inside the convention time limit and make it easier to call it at the end.

Bring on Huzzah!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bit of a Mess Really

If the shortage of blog posts recently suggests that I've not had much time for wargaming this week, well its actually more like I haven't had much time for wargaming this last week.
Hurry up lot, onto those bases, green up and get ready to board the transports!
Now not much is not none but there has been no actual wargaming, nor any new units added. 

There is a game coming up tomorrow though and I have managed a quick reference sheet for     the buffed up and reborn Rough Wooing 16thC rules
(If you're new to the internet Click back there on the coloured hyper links see the QRS and rules.)

I've also managed to finally rebase the last of my Scots from thin-ish card to regulation thick-ish masonite, not the fancy laser cut ones with bevelled edges, I had to saw these up frommold salvaged wallboard. I also made an hour to speed paint a few more Elastolins to round out my pike and shot forces to 22 pike and  10 shot.  Hopefully in the morning I'll have time to finish dry brushing the new bases and pack it all up for transport and be on the road a little after noon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

One Done

I now have my 54mm portable playing field done.

Somedays I just can't get sufficient light for my smart phone.
In life it is actually possible to see the grid lines.

The cloth itself is the reverse of a Hotz hex mat with some paint dabbed on and over painted with gridlines. Due to a ......clerical error, aka brain fart, this mat has a grid of 15x11 3" squares instead of the intended 15x12 squares. Don't ask! I was planning to slip hills under the grid but the flocked hills from my original but warped portable board match well enough in texture and colour that I will use them.

The other 1/2 of the mat will be used hex side up for Russian Civil War games so that both can be on offer at the same time.

I did a quick test of a new scenario, hopefully better for a learning game. Eight British stands with Commander are tasked with holding a hill line for 12 turns against 18 stands of Zulus. To help them out the British are classed as "Disciplined" (ie Elite) while the Zulus are classed as "Brave" as in would rather die than retreat (ie Poor). A Sudden Death game was nerve wracking but very fast ending in a close game with a clear British victory. A game using the basic strength point rules lasted considerable longer but lacked tension until near the end where it looked like the British might eke out a draw. It was only after the game that I realized that I had screwed up and made the British melee every unit that they were in contact with on their own turn forgetting that this was optional. Oops might have turned the game to a British victory.

However, the Portable Game is going away for a couple of weeks now while I work on the main event, the Friday Night 16thC game that Rob and I will be co-hosting. We could run it tomorrow if we had to but apart from fixing up some broken figures and hopefully adding a few more and fine tuning a series of Orders of Battle depending on how many (if any!) players sign up, I need to make a quick reference rules summary to hand out so that is Job One in time for a multi-player local test game next Saturday.

Archive shot of an earlier solo test game.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Getting Back To The 14 Square Wood

Its been a busy few days but I grabbed a minute to cut some bases, dab some paint on them and glue a bit of shrubbery around the edge.
Woods with trees....

Each block is divided into either two or four 3" squares. There is a line of bushes along one outside edge of each quadrant to make it easy to slide bases of 54mm troops in but still make it obvious that this is some sort of terrain piece. The trees have been left loose to make it easier to pack and to accommodate the placement of troops during a game.

....and without trees.
The squares are only indicated by brown areas but its easy to see which quadrant units are in.
Next big chore is to make a matching portable ground cloth to take to Huzzah!.