Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Glasgow 29th-30th November

Glasgow Armati - the Phil Rodgers Trophy
... and the Armati League's annual 'end of season' get together in Glasgow.

For those unaware, the Armati League formula is of several rounds which are 'open' (limited by period, but the player chooses and takes his/her own army, including bought and obligatory terrain features .. and the game is played per the set up rules etc. in the book), and several (popularly styled) 'scenario' rounds (where the table and/or army may be fixed and allocated by lot). Traditionally, the last event of the year is in downtown Glasgow a few weeks before Christmas.

At Glasgow, all the tables have terrain preset, and a matched pair of armies are given. In some cases these mirror historical battles, in others, they are appropriate antagonists (say Egyptians and Hittites) but not meant to reflect any particular battle. In some cases the scenario designer will have taken the opportunity to correct little glitches in the army lists, and any such changes will be noted down on the printed sheets which come with the forces. Terrain also might be tweaked (so, the large Sphinx in the armies photo proudly sat as an impassable area in the middle of the Egyptian table - and had a challenging effect on the game, too) ...

The reasoning is many fold. A lot of players do have to travel some distance to Glasgow, including by plane. The system allows the home players to provide all the kit - so visitors just need to get to the hotel with their overnight bags. Nice and simple. The preset terrain, of course, allows for quick start ups (so you ought to be able to get lots of games in), and it is easier to doff a cap to history (and put a cap on gamesmanship?) by providing both sides in the game (and allegedly playtesting it so the encounter is known to be evenly balanced). I use the words 'ought' and 'allegedly' etc. because it is by now a time-honoured Glasgow tradition to question the balance of any and all of the games ...

Personally, I do prefer preset terrain for all tournament circumstances as it precludes players turning up with 'cheesy' terrain pieces, it gets games going quickly, and - in my opinion - it sets a more authentic challenge (take the battlefield as it is and the army that you've got ...) ... That said, the terrain on the tables has got to be reasonable, given the armies. And on that point opinions will always differ.

(Just some of the beautifully presented armies supplied for the Glasgow Armati games)

Games are allocated by drawing a coin marked with the table number out of a bag, then flipping it to see who gets which side (and a few sub rules to minimise players getting the same game/army a second time round) ... In the past there has been a joker system where players could 'avoid' certain draws by playing their joker and going to the bag again. Great idea. Didn't get used in 2009. The advantage of the joker system is that it enables a player to avoid games that are felt to be unbalanced or which (e.g. me, previously, with Samurai 'civil wars') they don't feel offer a satisfactory game under the rules. Overall, a great effort was put on by Glasgow Phoenix, and most of the games were pretty good matches. The armies were generally well thought out, and (see the accompanying photos) the presentation standards were great.

As recorded in Carl Luxford's Newsletter, the tables were as folows: 1 Siatic Egyptian versus Early Achamenid Persian; 2 New Kingdom Egyptian versus Hebrew; 3 Nubian versus New Kingdom Egyptian; 4 Gauls versus Samnites; 5 Seleucids versus Ptolemaic; 6 Fatamid versus Abbasid; 7 Imperial Roman (?) versus Picts; 8 Later Macedonian versus Later Carthaginian; 9 First Crusader versus Nikephoran Byzantines; 10 Ottoman Turk versus Timurid; 11 Catalan Grand Company versus Romanian Frank; 12 German Imperialist versus Milan City State.

(Craig Tannock presents Steve Metheringham with the Phil Rogers trophy)

For the weekend tournament - Steve Metheringham won, Bill Wilson came second, and Vicent Auger came third. The scores meant Bill Wilson retained his crown as Armati League champion for 2009.

Prominent traditional 'end of season' features of the Glasgow event are the additional awards made by the hosts to their various visitors - once an attempt to share out the prizes this has become something of a ritual mocking of regular players and their likes and dislikes ... much to the entertainment of all.

(The assembled Armati players mock their fellow enthusiasts)

There usually then follows a 'parlement' of the 'League' players to fix the general pattern and provisions for the following year (a clearing house and planning session). Sadly, one supposes due to the waning status of the game, the parlement was called off. Ah well, I suspect this will have been my last Glasgow Armati weekend anyway. The idea, the club and the personalities are great, but the rules are overdue for reform and the game has drifted from what it was in the early days of the league.

Nevertheless, thanks for a great weekend and an ideal build up to Christmas ... Best of luck to everyone. I hope the Society of Ancients continues to support the Armati League.

Reading - Rivermead 22nd-23rd November

Warfare 2008The Society of Ancients pitch at Warfare followed a pattern now familiar for shows in the south of England - A Sabin/Cruttenden 28mm historical battle fought as a participation game on the Saturday, changing over to a different game offered on the Sunday. This year was exceptional in that both games were published 'alternative' games, both being run for the Society by their authors (SoA members, of course, as you'd expect ... but seldom are we fortunate enough to get both helping the show team over the course of the same weekend).

On Saturday, Philip Sabin ran a Lost Battles Issus game. This looked superb and attracted many a compliment. It is also an excellent battle to put on using Lost Battles - huge, and difficult to balance using 'old fashioned' table top systems, it can easily be fought to a conclusion with beginners at the helm, twice in a normal show day. The handicap scoring system enables a fair game to follow the historical script but with plenty of chances to win and change history on both sides. Lost Battles has an interesting way of factoring in the effects of linear features which seems uniquely effective at capturing the essence of these typically Persian battles across the banks of a river. Whilst making the defensive position work challenges the Persian player, Alexander has an absolutely crucial role to play in making the Macedonian army tick ...As well as chatting to a good number of interested spectators and visitors, I was fortunate enough to take a limited part in the second of the day's encounters, and the battle rattled through with its usual smoothness. I really do recommend this system for refighting historical battles of the Classical and Hellenistic period. I believe the paperback is now available.
(Alexander has an absolutely crucial role to play in making the Macedonian army tick ...)

On the Sunday, Neil Thomas helped us run a participation game of his Ancient and Medieval WarfareNeil's 8 unit battle system and elegant combat mechanism is an increasingly popular option for fast playing and relatively simple ancient battles. These rules have been quite well covered in Slingshot, and have been the basis for the beautifully presented participation games recently from the Graham D Evans stable (Derby, Milton Keynes etc.) ...However, this year's Warfare was the first time I have been able to watch the system played through by the author, rather than as interpreted and put on by my local Northamptonshire club mates. There is quite a fascinating difference (particularly issues such as wheeling, lining up, flank attacks and such like) ... The good news is that both versions of the game work because both are attempting to get to the same overall effect (and this certainly demonstrates the strength of the underlying mechanisms ...).Looking around the show, as well as the massed of tournament categories, there was an above average selection of display and participation games. The Lance and Longbow Society were offering a Wars of the Roses game based upon RFCM's Bloody Barons from Peter Pig ...Meanwhile, just along from from the Society's pitch, a Roman invasion scenario was nicely depicted with 28mm figures (and prominently dressed with the reconstructed Legionary gear) ...
The 'hugely impressive terrain' prize must have gone to the vast 28mm Soviets in Mongolia game (1938, I guess) featuring that currently popular fluffy way of doing long grass - 'fake fur' I think it is made from - which done as well as this, does indeed look very good (and quite Mongolian, I think - I recall there wasn't much to hide behind except dried up river banks and tall grass!) ... Good figures and vehicles too (and - authentically - bi-plane fighters with rocket armament ...)...And another worthy mention goes to the (sadly static) 54mm plastics display .. very inspiring and good to see so many big but inexpensive figures in a simple but effective presentation.

(54mm plastic Napoleonics - click on the picture for a larger version)

I was able to do some good shopping at this show, too.

See you next year? Thanks to everyone for giving us so much to do.

Pevensey Bay 8th-9th November

Anderida 2008 - 15mm Doubles for the Society of Ancients Trophy
(thanks to Chris for this fantastic shot - honest, this is from the Aqua Club window on the Sunday morning where we were playing the games ...)

Yes, that's a pretty fantastic shot of the sportier types in the surf outside the Pevensey Bay Aqua Club - and well past the best weather on England's channel beaches. That said, it is England, and we'll go down to the beach in any weather. The late night skinny dippers on Eastbourne Promenade could testify to that. But that, as they say, is another story ...

It's a long time since Michael Grant came up with the idea of a friendly late year tournament down on the coast - and the idea that the main prize, the Society's Anderida Trophy, should go to the player that best summed up the event's spirit rather than to the team that amassed the most points. An old-fashioned idea, but one which over the years seems to have kept Anderida an enthusiasts tournament rather than attracted the usual pot-hunters.
(one of the best collections of trophies you will find)

The welcome and the organisation is old fashioned too - and much the better for it. Perhaps I shouldn't have put in the picture of the trophies, though (maybe they are better a 'best kept secret' amongst the Anderida regulars). From the beginning, Anderida has been a restricted lists event, with a new idea each year. The Best Army and Best Baggage awards are well respected, and many of the teams work for much of the preceding year on the new army for the new theme. It is a pleasure often to be asked as a representative of the Society of Ancients, to scout around and see who's come up with contenders. The final decisions are often very difficult.

(Anderida - my collage with some of the armies in use this year)
As for the games, for many of us, they are as much a chance to catch up with old friends as to play toy soldiers
(and Pevensey Bay's traditionally English breakfasts generally mean a fairly leisurely approach to the day's work is embraced by all ...).
This was very much a DBM swansong for me and my SoA Doubles partner, former Treasurer Chris Ager: we have long since both switched and now play Field of Glory for tournaments.

We kind of got dumped on our derrieres in the opening game (against eventual winners Pearce and Morgan) mostly as a result of me deploying as defender in a position where I would be overexposed if the command opposite got a 5 or a 6 on the opening turn. Bit rusty, then ... Fool's Mate for one of our commands - though Darrell and Jeremy administered the blows with their usual offbeat charm. The results, of course, brightened up ... though we could hardly do much to winkle the Romans out of their fortifications in the final game ...

(Phil and Mike's crowded side of the table)

We had chosen Early Armenians for this last DBM tournament - partly because it didn't require too much changing in our busy army boxes (and brains!) from the recent Field of Glory Palmyrans, partly because cavalry armies seem to give a more satisfying game than the dour footsloggers that became such a constant feature after the 3.1 version was adopted ... but mostly because I wanted to curry favour with the gods by circling an eagle over our camp. And I like cataphracts (and I don't like Romans ...)...

(An Armenian Snake Eagle soars auspiciously over the camp)

Clever little camp vignette - clearly stolen in some time travelling raid on Byzantium, if the flag is anything to go by ... Not the best, though - that went to Barry Harman's assemblage of Hunnic wagons (in contention also must have been the Davies/Parker Roman Marching Camp ... the army itself got the main painting prize ... check out their pictures on the Anderida link ...)..

More important, what a good time we had. Great games all. In the end, Chris and I managed to break into the top ten .. level with organiser/hosts Eric and Alan (who seem to spend half their time these days doing Lost Battles displays for the Society at shows as part of Phil Sabin's team ...).. The Society was able to fly the flag (and productively reminded quite a few people to update the subscriptions). And we all did our bit to keep Michael's cherished values going for another year. And yes, we enjoyed playing DBM over the weekend. It made a change.

You can look up the full results on the Anderida website (here ...), but for the tournament positions, Jeremy Morgan and Darrell Pearce came first with their Sassanids, followed by Colin Sharpe and Mike Bennett (second), and Graham Willmot and Paul Stovell (third). Paul Fencott won the Society of Ancients Shield to universal acclaim for his spirited disregard for personal safety (losing six generals over the course of the weekend, including one in every game ...)

I understand next year will see a choice of either FoG or DBM. Never been before? maybe 2009 will be the year ... Meanwhile here's another of those Pevensey views to sign off with.

(Another of Chris Ager's holiday photos)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Leeds - Royal Armouries 26th October

Fiasco 2008The second part of this busy weekend was a trip up to Leeds for the ever popular Fiasco at the Royal Armouries. In the preceding days it had become clear that the organisers had not got my penultimate email and although we could be fitted in, there was no space booked or available for our game. Disappointed, we buddied up with the Lance and Longbow Society (/DL Books) .. a sort of return compliment to Partizan (where SoA and LandLSoc buddy up and we do the game ...)...Nice show. Great venue, of course ... and quite a variety of games on display - different ones to the southern shows circuit too. Most were the rather predictable '28mm statics' of course, although the Pudsey organiser was there with a participation game taster for the HOTT competition they run at the other Leeds show in December. The '28mm statics', of course, often look stupendous but it can be hard to see if they would make good games because there insufficient (if any, sometimes) game turns played by which to judge.
Mind you, don't be misled by my photos - the show was very busy in the morning, and it wasn't until the characteristic early afternoon 'wind down' (often surprisingly early at these northern shows) that I was able to get round, pick up a few bits from the traders and take some pictures.
Thanks to everyone at Fiasco (and thanks for helping us get the kit in and out so efficiently).

If you didn't make it this year, come along and see us at the armouries next year (maybe even volunteer to help put on a game ...). Next SoA outing for this venue should be a round of the Doubles Masters in July - then, emails all being delivered, we hope to be back for the last weekend in October.

Nottingham 25th-26th October

Warhammer World - Campaign Weekend
At the Games Workshop HQ, Nottingham ...

Many thanks to the Warhammer Historical team for inviting us along to the October ancients weekend. The main purpose was to call in and distribute some complimentary copies of the glossy new style Slingshot (to counter the half chance that we had somehow missed getting the message out!) - and to just get a feel for what goes on. For me, it was also the first time at Lenton since it got its medieval makeover. It can look a little unusual in pictures but I must say it does work. Many thanks to the punters. Yes, Mark has done a great job with Slingshot - thank you appreciating it and I do try to pass all the compliments on ...

There were two main themes to the WAB 'competition' going on ... the Punic Wars and the Normans in Britain, in addition to which there was some playtesting/sampling going on of the siege game variant. I say competition, but I must say the impression I got was that the competitive element was little more than a device to get people involved in a series of related games around the theme. That said, it looked like there were plenty of prizes being given away.I then noticed, over in the back corner, Rick Priestley and friends engaged over another group of tables playing Warmaster Ancients and got myself coached through another few turns. The Warmaster enthusiasts have given Society of Ancients events a lot of support of late - the BattleDay, the AGM - and the game is giving an extra dynamic to these events. So, a lot going on up here, and a very warm welcome for us. Sadly, I wasn't able to take up the offer of getting more involved this year (there was the Fiasco show to go to on Sunday in Leeds ...)... but I'm quite tempted to book in for one of these events and get some playing time in!

Portsmouth 19th October

The English DBA Open

Organised by PAWS, the Society of Ancients, Magister Militum and sponsor the annual English DBA Open. Representing SoA, I went down to help Phil Barker present the prizes. I organised my weekend well enough to stay for the day and get some games in, too. Mind you, compared to the team visiting from Italy, mine was a fairly modest expedition. Ciao, guys .... For an Italian view of the event, you could try (here ....).As well as a juniors section and a 25mm section, there were 24 players contesting the 15mm senior trophy. We played off in 4 pools of six players - so generating a 'round robin' of 5 games each ... before the top player from each pool went into a semi-final and final knock out phase. The games were scored on a 5-2-1-0 basis, the 5 being for a proper decisive game win within the time limit (anything else gaining the player 2, 1 or 0) ... so no question - the emphasis was on getting to grips and beating the enemy. After a refresher course (and defeat) very gamely offered by Richard Pulley, my second game was against Mr DBA himself, Phil Barker.No time pressure needed here, it turned out. Phil's army of over-eager Huns (they were being keen enough to ravage their way to the Horn of Africa!) deployed in a tight box ready to burst and overwhelm my sturdy Axumites ... however the 'Pips god' (if indeed it was not he whom I was playing!...) enabled the African warriors to close the ground rapidly (the power of the Ark of the Covenant or some such mumbo-jumbo ...). With one or two 'favourable' combats (mounted v Ps, mounted v Bw, skirmisher v elephant) and precious few Pips to do otherwise, Phil (unwisely, it would turn out) chose to bring about a general and mostly frontal engagement. He failed to win the 'quick kill' combats, and got stuck far to tight with the supporting combats against the warband. The Axumite riposte cut them to pieces. It was the dices, of course (and the clock ... and an opponent who knew well enough that evasion was his strength, but who wanted to gamble for a decisive win ...) ... but it prompted a run of Axumite luck that saw me through the remaining three games undefeated. Thanks Phil.

I also got to play against Ghaznevid, Byzantine and Korean armies - so quite a variety ... if mostly mounted ...

Some thoughts ..

I had managed to call in on the event last year, so determined to participate this year. It was a lot of fun. I have been in or around DBA since before it existed in its current format (I co-organised the Society of Ancients Conference for which Phil conceived the original quick, 12 element, game DBSA ... ), but have become pretty jaded with the DB system, particularly in its 3.1 version of DBM. Indeed, I don't think that game really works any more. So it was good to get back to basics, and to the version of the game not weighed down with grading factors, Pip swapping generals, fiendishly complicated spontaneous moves and bogus press forwards. And, frankly, to a version of the game where it doesn't take 31/2 hours to end up with a draw! In this game, cavalry armies are popular but infantry armies still work; there is no artificial imbalance imposed by regular/irregular; warband and similar 'quick kills' make reasonable sense in the context of the game - and the Pips system does seem to add to, rather than frustrate, the games intention of simulating ancient battle. In hindsight, it seems disappointing that the 'big ancients game' ended up following the DBM rather than Big Battle DBA route.

Some Africans ...

My choice of Axumite Abyssinian served me well enough. It's half Warband - but the option of the Elephant general, plus a Psiloi, 2 Bow, a Blade and a LH gives it some flexibility and some punch against horsemen. I decided to use it in order to get out what is effectively a retired DBM army ... it became almost unusable with what 3.1 did to (F) troops, especially Warband ... and is currently not even on the schedule as far as FoG lists are concerned.

All that aside, the Axumites are a great example of what historical wargames can do. I was introduced to these African armies by the series of articles Richard Young wrote for Slingshot. Those, and an awareness of the mythology of the Ark of the Covenant ending up in Ethiopia ... Our shared leisure interest has a unique way of blending an enthusiasm for collecting new toys and playing games with a fascination with military history - especially those intriguing bits that usually get left out. And so I found out more about the powerful Christian Kingdom of the Horn of Africa, its impressive material culture, its alliances with Constantinople and wars across the Red Sea against the Arabs and Sassanids.

Some Mumbo-Jumbo ...

Of course, we all like to take some liberties ... aside from the story of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ethiopian kingdom may also have a biblical connection to the lands of Sheba. The Sabean culture most obviously associated with of Solomon's royal visitor existed on both sides of the Red Sea, and Egyptian records of the land of Punt indicate African realms with female leaders - was the real Queen of Sheba one such? Would she have been Arab, Yemeni, Axumite?

Well, in wargames terms, her army would most likely have been Saba* - and the Queen of Sheba certainly predates the given dates for the Axumites by over 500 years. Did that stop me constructing the army around an Ark of the Covenant in the camp and an Elephant General which just happened to be ridden by a female leader? Well, given the dates, it obviously would have been a queen of Sheba, not the queen of Sheba - and a nod to an engaging tradition. Any excuse. A scantily-clad Queen of Sheba riding an elephant? That's what I meant by Mumbo-Jumbo!

* ... anyway Saba have no Elephants ... in fact nothing interesting for a queen to ride at all - why, even Arab tradition shows her riding a camel!

Siege Game - Project Update

Welcome to Jerusalem
The first decision that has been made has been to define 2" as the MU (effectively doubling all the distances). This is because everything in FoG happens (broadly) within 15 MUs - mostly the last 6 or 7 - so a game using a 1" MU is needlessly confined to a narrow band of the playing area.

I made up some additional personality figures ... Here is the governor of Jerusalem, Iftikhar ad-Duala ... He can be a Troop Commander (he will be useful within 4 MUs/8", but can't be everywhere at once).
Iftikhar ad-Duala, Fatimid governor of Jerusalem in 1099
(commander of the Turkish garrison)

The general aim, of course, is to get something with a plausible feel and look - but which allows us to use the game mechanisms to play out the historical events.

Schematic view of what the siege might have looked like (though only two towers are mentioned in the sources - one from the north and one from the south) ... this is from a series of drawings here ... (Peter Dennis)

Treat the siege engine as a transport or capability marker. Stack the figures, commanders etc. that represent the BG up behind it. Use it for the movement and combat position. A shooting gallery or belfry is a stand's worth of shooting (the tower might have more than one), the draw bridge is a stands worth of combat frontage.

The Tower makes its final move into contact in the impact phase, and fights one stand (against a single enemy stand). If the attackers win the combat, the attackers must make room for the fighting stand to be placed on the rampart, and an expansion from this is allowed in the movement phase (again, the defender must displace figures to permit this): pick stands up from the stack behind the engine, and place them in the developed combat position.

(click on the picture to see a bigger version)

This scene from a game we played at the Derby show illustrates and easy situation (there is plenty of space for the BG to debouch into ..).. The Tower is part of a BG of 6 assault troop stands (5 armoured HWs + some archers in the gallery). The unit has been successful in its impact and melee and has placed a stand in the fortress. Two further stands have expanded from this (and two are left in the stack behind the engine). The enemy have just broken, and the assault troops will measure their pursuit from their current position in the usual way (and the rest of the BG will join in behind them). This is fairly easy to do when the entry is into a bastion or similar (i.e. where there is space to put everyone into frontal contacts)...

Where wall walks only allow a single stand's depth, it is sensible to use the same system, but count side to side contact as it front to front. Again, if the attacker wins, an expansion must be made room for by the defender (this way, the assault parties can push their way out from a successful attack).

If they assaulters fail to win, they are not established on the wall. The defender can overlap them - they cannot expand or count as more than the single base. If they break, they rout away from engine/equipment at ground level. The defenders can pursue them - but are not obliged to (no test required). Any bases from either side that are not counted as fighters in the melee can be shot at in the usual way.

'Ownership' of equipment ..

Equipment - from ladders to siege towers - 'belong' to BGs. They can be parted in two ways. If the assault party is successful, the equipment can be left at the walls and the BG press on. If the enemy make unopposed contact with any such equipment that has no friends on it/in it/defending it, it is lost. Otherwise other BGs can make temporary use of it to enter the fortress etc. (apply some common sense and be prepared to put scenario notes in should there likely be complicated interactions). If the BG assaults but is routed, likewise it loses the equipment (normally, this means the equipment is destroyed, but scenario notes are useful ..)..

Here a BG approaches the walls with a Cat or Shed .. The whole BG .. 4 stands, the Cat and an attached commander have been placed on a movement tray. It helps the player treat it as an entity (and makes movement easy!) .. it is a BG, formed for an assault. It counts as 4 stands, it has a singles frontage ... it has a Cat with a ram and there is a commander present.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

4th - 5th October Derby University

Old Glory World Championships

Thanks to the Derby chaps for their customary hospitality.

This year we were tucked around the corner a little - but managed to get to see just about everyone at some stage during the weekend.

On Saturday we had another run at Graham E's excellent Trebia set up - Hannibal's great victory replayed using the Neil Thomas 'Ancient and Medieval Wargaming' battle rules.

(and a couple of views from Chris Ager's camera...)

(Graham doing his stuff ...)

(ready for the players again)
Whilst on Sunday we returned to the Jerusalem theme and further developments in the Field of Glory siege game
Thanks to everyone who took part. See you all next year.