Monday, September 29, 2008

Farnborough 21st September

The Society of AncientsAGM & Games Day 2008

As Shows North, we get to go all over the UK (overseas, too, sometimes) representing the Society of Ancients at Shows, Competitions and Gatherings. I take my camera along to record what we do and to give readers here a flavour of the events.

Well, I also took my camera with me when I went down to the Society's AGM and Games Day.

Always a worthy event and - these days - an underrated day out. A really good range of games were, as usual, available for visitors to join in (or apologies, in my case, but stand near and discuss ...) - and so I do sympathise with the Committee's conundrum in trying to make the formula work for the 21st century: the idea of an ancients day out is a good one; the combination of games and talks is hard to better ... and if you wanted shopping you would get that, too, if more people came. Oh? The business meeting? Well, I get to chair that at the moment - so it must be good!

Actually, I'm sad the formula of the event has become something of an issue ... When I first attended a Society of Ancients AGM back in the 1970s, I didn't even attend the business meeting (I was greeted on the door by Charles Grant, bought some figures from Peter Gilder, attended a WRG rules forum with Phil Barker and then got an eye-opening demonstration from Steve Reed on how a 'master' could make a Seleucid army sing and dance). WRG 3rd edition if I recall (he said, pulling on his anorak!).

revived in a modern idiom - the Tony Bath rules used in a
(solid figure) game at this year's Society of Ancients AGM

All in all, back in the 70s, I found lots to do and a great mix. Attending the Business Meeting wouldn't even have crossed my mind: OK, I was a full member - but I was also a teenager still at school ... and wouldn't have imagined I would have anything to contribute. I did pop my head round the door, and remember it wasn't particularly well attended - it didn't look like I was missing much! Just as it should be, I'd have thought (just as it still is, really): how interesting is running the Society of Ancients going to be?

To my mind, the AGM Business Meeting always ought to be something of a minority interest - uncontroversial, and not why most people would join the Society; never likely to attract much more than the minimum it need to function unless some crisis beckons (like e.g. in 1987 ...).

another great opportunity at this year's AGM : a chance
to play the big version 'Roma Invicta' with the authors

The 1970s recollection would be my model for an AGM day, really ... a cracking good day out hosted by an organization so competently (transparently/invisibly) run that no-one would consider the business meeting particularly interesting or important. And so the day would be games, talks, demos etc. re-unions with old friends over a cappuccino, clusters of old soldiers planning grand (fanciful) wargames whilst propping up the bar.

Instead, even in a good year, we have the Secretary scurrying around cajoling members through the door to get a head count to satisfy a quorum. 17 times out of the last 20, the number has been exceeded, often comfortably so. But maybe only for quarter - third, maybe - was there anything (genuinely) important on the agenda. I have chaired some of those meetings, and have done so aware that some would like to chew the fat all afternoon, others would rather be elsewhere. Though all are welcome, some have come more out obligation than interest.

Focusing obsessively on something that isn't really that important, perhaps the Society risks creating what sports theorists would call 'success phobia' - A good mix in the right place confidently publicised would make a good day out with its own unique buzz. Formulate the whole event wrapped in the concern that the Business Meeting will be inquorate, and guess what happens?

Readers who know the SoA's business will know that this year the Committee had put forward a constitutional amendment to remove the formal need for a Business Meeting (AGM) with a quorum - so the event could concentrate less on the needs of the obligatory meeting, and more on the features that entertain the visitors and celebrate - and 'showcase' - what the Society does. It is one of those supreme ironies that the motion which would remove the need for a quorum couldn't be put because the meeting was inquorate!

The appended photos show a selection of games from this year's event: a great cross-section from the very venerable Tony Bath rules - though in a modern idiom (not played with flats) - to the most up to date (DBMM and a Medieval Warmaster fought over a very impressive layout)...

Elsewhere, Phil Sabin and Garrett Mills were taking volunteers through Roma Invicta, and the Armati enthusiasts had brought along a playtest set up featuring a number of rule variants currently being discussed on Yahoo's Armati group.

Matthew Bennett gave this year's Games Day talk - on Medieval Cavalry ... and what might be meant by that. An interesting presentation on the theme of the universal soldier which I hope will lead to a Slingshot article. And an interesting follow up to this year's Poitiers Battle Day: Poitiers, of course, where so many Men-at-Arms fought as infantry, but where - following my reading of Froissart, of course - some of the archers under the Captal de Buch seem to have fought as cavalry! Yes indeed, Matthew ... what does cavalry mean in a medieval context?

As well as the inevitable meeting and greeting, after the AGM itself, I sat in for a few intriguing turns of the 2nd Punic war as Hannibal Ravaged Italy inconclusively, chatted through the Warmaster activation mechanisms with Grant and Rick, then paid full attention to several bounds of DBMM.

Given the inquorate nature of the Business Meeting, we had been able informally to talk at some length about reviving the Championship .. watch Slingshot and the Society Yahoo group - the key will be always be using the wargame (in all its variety) to meet other members and fellow enthusiasts. Because - as I thought was obvious in Farnborough this year - the Society of Ancients is not about procedures and codicils, but about people and shared enthusiasm.

Well, that was my AGM and Games Day 2008. Thanks to everyone who took time out to attend - especially the game presenters and Matthew for the talk.

Wherever we confirm for next year's event, I hope to see you there.

Newbury Racecourse 13th - 14th September

Where have we been since Partizan?Sorry to regular visitors for the uncharacteristic gap in posting - work and other issues have meant a few items have backed up a bit. Well here goes - lets get caught up...
Colours 2008
September always brings the prospect of a pleasant day out at Newbury Racecourse - now the long established home of Colours. It always seems to be a sunny day - and the big windows characteristic of these racecourse venues flood the exhibition spaces with light. Vapnartak is similar. Sometimes this is a disadvantage - especially if you are too near the windows ... but I, for one, would much prefer plenty of natural sunshine to the dismal corners one gets in some pokier spaces. Nice turn out this year, and plenty of good games around - photogenic too.

my 'postcard from colours'

Colours is a two day show, and we usually have the 'A team' - Philip Sabin with something from Strategos or Lost Battles and the impressive Eric Cruttenden 28mm collection (see the entry for Salute, e.g.) to give it shape and figure appeal - on saturday, with Shows North taking over on Sunday. This year, we had a bit of a manpower issue, so I went on both days ... manning the stand on Saturday, putting on Welcome to Jerusalem on the Sunday. A bit of a strain, time-wise, but a great weekend ... affording time both to meet people and work on the project. Most of the significant historians and wargames personality of the age were calling in on the Society stand on Saturday, so it was an interesting place to be all day (and if the promises I managed to extract on behalf of our august journal are redeemed, Slingshot will have some good reading coming up!).


In a very impressive last minute revision, Philip Sabin presented a scaled up version of the new Society game - Roma Invicta ... 6' x 6' of relief map, with 10mm figures replacing the counters used in the standard game. The vast map was created, Phil tells me, following the 'artroom' tradition of fixing the sheet up on the wall, then painting in over an image projected onto it. The effect was them enhanced by building up the back to raise up the contours. Very impressive.

The game was virtually the same as that issued out earlier this year, just everything boosted up. Clearly the way to present a boardgame at a public show - and it attracted a lot of visitors and favourable comment. Good show, and a worthy variation on our usual displays, I think.

The map follows that issued with the game. Troop counters were
replaced with 10mm figures
(1: 1,000 horsemen/2,000 foot)

Sunday saw the Shows North team take over, and the up-dated 'Welcome to Jerusalem' game back up to full size. A quieter day, as usual, on the Sunday - but a good chance to play through what we had learnt from the Partizan experiment and put the full display together.

The key zone, of course, is the area around the walls, within range, through which the assault parties will move. The garrison needs space to move about inside the city - and some rules for doing this, too ... but outside, and beyond the range of the defenders, the space is very much decorative (and/or available for game components, charts etc.)... As the defenders aren't really going anywhere, there is very little point forming any assault parties up outside shooting range. And it is probably not that realistic either (although they would obviously move up from the camp or whatever, the point at which they would form up for combat would probably be as they come into range of shooters on the walls). This will need to be a deployment feature of any full 'siege system' for FoG. And probably in an ambush variant also (so that surprise attacks can be launched). More anon.

In 1099, of course, the surprise assault failed. The main attack centred on two mobile towers, one - under the control of Raymond of St Giles threatening the southern approaches - the other, featured in our game, attacking the north east corner. Raymond's tower was burnt by incendiaries, and abandonned. The northern attack was under the leadership of Godfrey de Bouillon. Although his tower was also on fire, it was close enough to the walls for the troops to gain the battlements. As in the game we played at Colours, the successor failure of the incendiary weapons will be critical to the outcome. History seems to give us a tantalising 50/50!

Will had taken Godfrey's role, and the tower -largely undamaged - duly gave forth its complement of assault troops. The results were not good for the wavering Fatimid defenders. They were put to the sword, and the Crusaders flooded into the city. Elsewhere, the ladder parties were struggling to get a foothold - but the collapses elsewhere undermined the resolve all round.

Many thanks to John Curry and Matthew Bennett for important contributions, and to the players for helping us move the project on.

Next time out will be at Derby.

See you there, I hope!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Newark 7th September

Kelham Hall - The Other Partizan

The Society of Ancients and the Lance & Longbow Society back together again for a combined 'ancient and medieval' zone ...

And yes, Dave, I'm sorry. I have been attending shows at Kelham Hall for a decade - but somehow the A1's lack of junction numbers can still leave me confused. Jinxed from previous visits, we were on schedule this time at least not to be late ... then somehow just cruised past the junction and on for about 15 miles before even realising. In total, the unscheduled round trip was 45 miles. Fantastic! Why does this nonsense happen?

Ah, well. Thanks to everyone for their help and patience.

Tell you what, though ... like all the recent Partizans, it was a great day, once we got going. And that's the main thing. Historical wargaming, and meeting fellow enthusiasts.

We had decided to follow up the popular *Crusader battle using Field of Glory* formula we had tried at Claymore, but this time reviving one of my earlier scenarios, Welcome to Jerusalem (the first Crusade 1099 siege of the Holy City)...

I had first devised this game in time to do the shows circuit back in 1999, the 900th anniversary year of the city's fall. After a fair bit of experimentation with (then) fashionable rules, I opted to write the scenario around the more traditional Medieval Warfare by Slim Mumford (so-called Mumford's Siege Rules ...).

These are still available from the Society of Ancients, and are a classic. The nearest contemporary equivalent would be Warhammer Ancient Battles: Medieval Warfare assumes you use individually-based figures and retains that skirmishy feel, with characters dicing for hits, making saving rolls for armour etc. - but with very little instruction on how to play (just a framework of mechanisms and modifiers around which you have to develop your game yourself ... ).. Ideal for adapting to scenarios, and lots of ideas for the big equipment already built in for assault games.

I think individual (sometimes heroic) characterisation has its place in siege games, however grand the notional scale. So often, in history, citadels hold or fall according to the success of one man
at the top of one ladder! The Crusades is also one of those eras rich in heroic personalities - and, like the medieval chronicles we base them on, I think we really want the Bohemonds, Stephens and Godfrey de Bouillons of legend to shine through our games. So any scenario or adaptation will need to balance the modern player's desire to use armies based up for current (often quite abstract) battlegames with the asymmetries of siege warfare and the dynamic contributions of the individual.
(a medieval style Godfrey de
Bouillon in the Crusader camp)

There has been chat, on one forum or another, of whether the very new Field of Glory might work for a siege game - and in terms of its actual game structure, no obvious reason why it wouldn't. And the equipment built for the Jerusalem assault has long been gathering dust. It seemed like a worthy challenge.

For Partizan, we devised some basic accommodations of the equipment and kit into Field of Glory (we replaced most of my 'Mumford' single figures with bases of troops from Chris's DBx Norman army - the singletons would now serve as equipment markers or similar, as appropriate - artillery would be 'bases' as in the battlegame, Siege Engines - towers ans such like - we would have to experiment with as the game progressed) ... and set about devising a list of potential points of advantage for shooting, impact melee etc. What would be Complex Moves? ... what additional factors might need adding into the Cohesion Tests and modifiers (incendiaries?) ... how might we go about the whole process of hitting/destroying siege engines ....

So, with limited space and a lot of question marks, we set up a very simple array - a shallow playing area with some assault parties lined up ready to go, a modest artillery battery to worry the defenders, and some homesick Fatimids lining the walls (determined to keep the Franks out - but unlikely to hang around once an incursion was achieved).

Each part comprised the equipment and/or markers (rams, ladders, axes, mantlets etc.) and a BG's worth of conventionally based Normans to indicate the strength, take the casualties and do the fighting.

The main function of the colossal Beam Slings would be to cause Cohesion Tests on the defenders (the odd 'disruption' result being likely to influence the chances of the ladders parties..)..

The defender artillery were equipped with incendiaries - we decided a simple Complex Move Test (pass or fail) would be sufficient to indicate whether an artillery group's shooting going to be normal or volatile ... the volatile hits igniting the target and causing extra panic for the crews.

(yes, those are Airfix walls -

a great job they do, in 15mm)

Who wins? Well for a full siege or assault game, that's an interesting balance - given that there won't always be a 'fair' balance of resources between the forces. In 1099, the issue was clear cut - if the Crusaders get in, they have won, and the defenders have lost. If all of their equipment is lost or destroyed, or the assault parties flee, the day's endeavours will be called off - and the Fatimids have won (for now, at least ...)...

Well, suffice to say this was just a preliminary outing - a chance to give it a go and get some opinion as much as anything. We were able to play through the sequences enough to see that the game will work, Field of Glory will provide a suitable platform, and that the Crusader siege of 1099 has lost none of its appeal to the showgoing enthusiast.

I will update information as this project progresses - and assuming it is all working, will build up the FoG Siege Game resource as problems are solved/fixed. Follow it here, and I will let you know as/where material gets collected.

Thanks to everyone who helped or took part - whether playing or chewing over some of the ideas. I got a lot out of both forms of involvement, and I hope you will join in again.

We are going to do all this again on Sunday, on the Society of Ancients stand at Colours (Newbury Racecourse - see the link in the side panel) ... Come along and join in if you are free.

Thanks to Chris for his assistance, figures and pictures - and thanks, too, Mike T. for some excellent ideas.