Friday, December 23, 2011

November/December - Northamptonshire

A busy end of the year ...

Indeed ... in amongst the end of year shows and the odd administrative task, there's been quite a lot going on.

(click on the images if you want a better look at some of the photos)

(Graham's Byzantines near completion: the flocked ones are the new recruits and are classic Donnington figures)

I managed to get another Championship game or two ... Graham hasn't finished his Gothic Wars Armati army quite yet (and so had to sub in a few Piggie Parthians) but I think it looks splendid (and it's always nice to see another new ancients army take the field locally) ...

(armoured horse archers: the core of the Byzantine army of the Gothic War)

It also fought pretty sternly too - taking 4 of Totila's maximum of 6 before capitulating after losing its own 5 Break Points (Armati, that is ... Belisarius breaking on 5 key units down, Totila, 6, due to the Byzantines' slightly smaller, slightly higher specification force)..

In their first combat outing, the Belisarians got fewer of their missile troops to bear in the opening phase, and managed the evolution of lines slightly less well than the Goths (and so were always playing catch up - in footie speak).. But a tough test that could easily have gone the other way had the dice gods so chosen.

(Totila uses tactics to draw the Byzantines into the combat zone)

For some extra Armati army lists (including Totila's Goths), have a look at Warfloot (WF Army menu, Triumph of Cavalry)

I also managed to get to call in on the WD London crowd's pre-Christmas game ... long enough to wish everyone greetings for the season and present the 2010 Paul Morris Prize to John Bassett for his Roman Politics games.

(give us your entries for 2011 or the bunny gets it: John Bassett accepts the Paul Morris Prize for 2010)

Submissions are live for the 2011 Paul Morris Prize: awarded annually for the most innovative non-commercial game within the Society's remit. Contact me via 'comments', the Society Yahoo group, or, say, ancmed, if you have a runner to recommend. It needs to have been presented publicly during the course of 2011, and the panel will need a synopsis of how it works and why it is a winner. It need not be by a Society member.

(A Roman vignette: something for the display cabinet more than the table top)

I've also been grappling with the aesthetics of the flats project and organising the newly acquired collection. Whilst some are just being painted and tidied for display, such as these Romans caught by the Parthians at Carrhae ...

... many are being sorted for the Plataea game - and for now, at least, will be based up on clear plastic to maintain the look of individual loose basing beloved of 1960s photographers. I think this will actually look striking (in a good way) and give that 'new look to an old favourite' that I am looking for.

(sorting out figures for the big Plataea game)

But I will base up the Egyptians and enemies in the modern idiom (grit, grass, pebbles and dry bushing ... rather like those Romans) as a group of DBA armies.
For our last game before Christmas, I put a couple of trial versions out (New Kingdom, early years vs Nubians - though I used the Libyan list as I wanted to field a chariot general ... so I/22a vs I/7b) ... and I have to say all three of us were quite taken with the look.

(a crudely mocked up pair of armies that proved a great success with the players)

The unique look seems to suit Barker's pretty abstract game. The flats, of course, are 30mm, so about the same size as 28mm but without the clumsy look of modern figures.

(the Egyptian infantry running before Pharoaoh)

These shots are just of a mock up of course - even so I think the photos capture that 'something worth exploring' appeal of the figures. The Nubians are nearly ready bar the basing but there is still a lot of painting required on the Egyptians (and I need to think about some camps and general clutter).

(no issues with fitting the figures to the frontage with these figures of course)

Watch this space, as I think if I can do a decent job on them these armies will look splendid and be well worth a little feature.

Christmas is coming. 3 months and 1 week til the BattleDay (they do say time flies when you're having fun!) ...

Don't forget to subscribe to the Society of Ancients by the end of January.
(online subscriptions page)
(Totila's Goths ride out the year eager for another battle)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

11th December, Birmingham

Wargamer 2011 (Great Barr Leisure Centre)
(ready for action at Wargamer 2011)

Wargamer, Derby and Partizan are my nearest shows, all within an hour. For me, Wargamer is the end of the shows year and the point where Shows North goes into Winter Quarters - generally until Vapnartak at the start of February.

I ended up doing this show solo due to lack of volunteers. It is a less busy show than some others so it isn't something that couldn't be managed ... same time, it is an appropriate tone on which to end the year, as the Society has several hundred members who live within easy reach of the show but who are obviously far too busy to help for half of a morning.

Those of us who have invested more than two decades of voluntary effort into the Society have come under attack of late for not being able to summon up sufficient candidates for vacant positions on the Society admin team to allow the ones who don't volunteer a proper democratic vote.

Well it seems to me that if our members are so pressed for time that not even one can volunteer 2 or 3 hours once a year on a Sunday morning (within the enclaves of one of the biggest cities in the United Kingdom), you might as well whistle for a choice of officers.

(Coming of the English DBA game)

But I digress ... the Society took along a choice of DBA options (Double Zama and conventional Arthur against the Early English), which was handy as Barkers, Phil and Sue Laflin, joined us for a pleasant hour or so chewing the DBA V3 fat, and chatting about the games.

I did my best to persuade Phil that Double-based Elements are off scale for DBA (he is wedded to the idea that the game should represent the fact that some troops characteristically fought in deeper formations, and doesn't like the implication that this chrome is lost in 'true scale' DBA unless you use 10mm or 6mm figures) ... Sue tried to engage Phil with the good looks of those double ranked 10mm figures on my Zama board ... and I think we all had to acknowledge that Phil knows more about the formation of Hellenistic pikemen (Pk, who benefit from rear support) than Italian Medieval Crossbowmen (8Bw, a 'compulsory' Double-based Element - DBE - in the current and apparently revised versions of DBA)*
(the gauntlet thrown down: Totila's Gothic army)

I had hoped to get a Championship game in if there were any takers, and so had Totila's Ostrogothic army on hand (DBA, Armati or FoG 650 configurations available) ... but that seems to have run out of steam too, as wargamers prepare to veg out for Christmas ...
(Wargamer 2011: very attractive Napoleonics game)

(Wargamer 2011: Cobridge lads with their big 15mm Armati game)

Which leaves me asking the dwindling circle of volunteers (and blog commentors can join in too ...)... what do we want to do for shows in 2012 ... What themes, what games - if the current formula doesn't float your boat, the blank page is open. Of course, the majority of enthusiasts didn't answer that question for 2011, yet ...

(Wargamer 2011: Shrewsbury club's impressive 18th century Carribean game)

(civilian details from the game)

For me, the flats project for Plataea will dominate the first few months, though I can't see it featuring at shows much before its big day at the end of March (Plateaea BattleDay at Sycamore Hall (Bletchley) Milton Keynes, 31st March 2012) ...

I had a plan to do a 54mm Chariot Racing game, but it won't be any of the conventional commercial products (least of all the clumsy slow and dull
Circus Maximus) ... and I won't have any painting time before April at the earliest (so it's more of a 2013 project I suspect) ...

I had intended to work on an ancients naval game (Peloponessian War period) with 10mm figures on the ships ... (and that would certainly support the Ancient Greek theme )...

(Wargamer 2011: 28mm Thirty years War game)

(close up of some of the infantry)

And undoubtedly we will continue our combined displays with the Lance & Longbow Society (We did the Elephant game and GitS earlier in the year, but the big combo was Verneuil at The Other Partizan ...) ...

(more great detail from the Wyrley Retinue TYW game)

But the bottom line must remain what do you want to do? It is your Society of Ancients ...

Christmas is coming.

*Civic Crossbowmen seem to have enjoyed a ratio of 3:1 against pavisiers, suggesting the whole body formed up 4 ranks deep (quite plausible given the lack of testimony to 'lofted shots' for the crossbow) ... at best, 1 element depth in DBA. Hellenistic pikes, of course customarily formed up 4 times that depth ... 16 ... sometimes, indeed, 32 ... As a parallel, a new DBE is being introduced to simulate deep Theban hoplite formations (famously '50 shields deep'): it seems breathtakingly inappropriate to represent 16 to 32 ranks of pikemen with an option to be one or two elements deep in the game whilst compelling 4 ranks of crossbow/pavisiers to be on double depths (which, technically, being 'Bw' in DBA is actually physically deeper than 50 ranks of Thebans!)! But what would I know?

Friday, December 16, 2011

3rd December, Pudsey

RECON 2011
Shows North made its penultimate move of the season up to Yorkshire for Recon last Saturday.

This was with the President flying solo due to the usual lack of volunteers*, but thankfully as part of a 'multi agency' display, so help was occasionally on hand.

The focus at Recon was a reconstruction of the 1460 Battle of Wakefield - the winter campaign following Northampton ... celebrating a December battle in West Yorkshire (the 550th was 2010 but it took a year for the plan to come together) ...

We were ...
The Society of Ancients

The Lance & Longbow Society
The Towton Battlefield Society
Together with historian/author Helen Cox

In addition to the miniature reconstruction - which was based on Helen's alternative interpretation - the TBS's associated reenactors were on hand in period costume with a selection of 16th century weaponry and armour to support the theme.

Many thanks to Helen for explaining the story of the battle to me. I always struggle keeping up with the political convolutions of the wars of the Roses and the exact reasons why the campaigns sprung up when they did. Wakefield, being in December, seems oddly timed.

After capturing the King at the battle of Northampton, Richard Duke of York faced a winter in which the Lancastrians reorganised and rebuilt. Moving from London to counter a Northern build up, he reached the security of Sandal Castle at Wakefield after a rough encounter with the Lancastrian vanguard at Worksop.

York had probably underestimated the strength of the Lancastrian threat, and found himself outnumbered (probably at least 2:1) but easily able to hold his position within the castle.

Then, inexplicably, on 30th December, he emerged and gave battle on unfavourable and was undone. We have no definitive account of why, though a combination of treachery and miscalculation are at the likely heart.

(Towton Battlefield Society weapons display)

(the Lancastrians at Wakefield 1460)

(16th century Continental style Crossbow)

The show seemed lively and well attended (until the customary northern dissolution from 2pm onwards) and in all respects was a friendly and well supported event with a good mix of trade and things to do , games to play and stuff to look at.
(some impressive Late Roman infantry)

(Medieval Participation Game)

I didn't get to do much 'show going' as I was flying the stand solo, but spotted some good ancient and medieval games, and there is also a HOTT tournament at the event.

We will next be up in these parts for Vapnartak in the New Year. If you are local to these events you might like to volunteer to help out.

(the battle of Wakefield reaches a crescendo)

Don't forget to resubscribe to the Society of Ancients by the end of January
(online subscriptions)

* 'Volunteering' - quick definition ... doing something of benefit to others without expecting to get paid for it. It's probably worth appending that to the blog as although today's wargamer seems to understand 'getting something on the cheap because other people put the work in without asking you to pay for it', they don't seem to get the consequence that occasionally you should also do your bit. I've been a strong advocate over the years of not castigating the ordinary member for this (they also support who only pay their sub ...), but when the proportions fall so below 4% volunteer and more than 96% benefit there is obviously some head scratching to do.

Friday, December 2, 2011

1st December, Northamptonshire

Plataea BattleDay Special No. 2(general view of our Plataea trial using 20mm traditional plastic figures)

Rules, Orbats, General thinking.

We had the first outline kick around the other evening. I asked to try Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming (AMW) as an interesting starting point.

The reason is simple. It has been suggested that as my plan entails using the flats, I might consider Tony Bath's original rules (which were conceived with flats in use). This involved a fiddly system for individual figure removal with which I am not impressed - the world has moved on (and so did Tony Bath's own methodology).

I am more interested in his post combat morale tests in which more of a stricken unit might desert and run as a consequence. Interestingly, AMW, which has full base removal, also has a morale test when a base is lost which might result in the unit disintegrating further.

So, allowing us to think about this (and as a low impact way to push the toys around) Graham helpfully set up a straight Greeks and Persians tussle.

As I know from when we played through Marathon sometime back, it is a walk over for the Greeks. 8 units v 8 units (standard Neil Thomas) the Greeks lost 1 unit by the time the Persians broke (6 down).

(plastic phalanx: the Athenian wing at Plataea)

The archery was sort of deadly - but not quite deadly enough. Losing a base makes Hoplites lose their special cohesion, which costs them a pip on the dice. But losing a base isn't quite a telling risk, and the one pip isn't quite enough to swing the combat (the hoplites will still roll more dice than archers - and then the armour saves ... hoplites save on 4+, 'unarmoured' Persians save on a 6 ... close the deal).

All justifiable - but Herodotus styles it a much tighter affair, implying there is a real contest for the Persian shield line, and only thereafter is the fight one-sided (and defined by the Greeks' longer spears and better armour) ...

I'm not suggesting I go with AMW but it clarified the critical points ... a Persian arrow storm which the Greeks survive (quite possibly by the expedient of sitting down, crouched behind their shields) ... a battle for the shield barricade which the Persians are able to contest - for a while at least ... then a one-sided affair once the barricade is lost (ultimately ending with the Persians trapped in their wooden refuge where they are put to the sword).


I've been looking at a recently published volume, Sparta at War, Strategy Tactics and Campaigns, 550 - 362 BC by American scholar Scott M Rusch ( Amazon link ). So far so good. I particularly like the way he simplifies the issue of numbers and deployment by listing the free Greek contingents, and specifying who they fought against.

I will reproduce that list:

10,000 Lacedaemonians .............................. Native Persians
1,500 Tegeans ............................................. Native Persians
5,000 Corinthians ............................................. Medes
300 Potideans ....................................................Medes
600 Orchomenians ........................................... Medes
3000 Sicyonians .................................................Medes
800 Epidaurians .............................................. Bactrians
1000 Troezenians............................................ Bactrians
200 Lepreates ................................................. Bactrians
400 Myceneans and Tirynthians ..................... Bactrians
1000 Phliasians ............................................... Bactrians
300 Hermioneans ............................................. Indians
600 Eretrians and Styrians ............................... Indians
400 Chalcidians ................................................. Indians
500 Ambraciots .................................................. Sacae
800 Leucadians and Anactorians ........................ Sacae
200 Paleans from Cephallenia ............................ Sacae
500 Aeginetans ................................................... Sacae
3000 Megarians .......................................... Subject Greeks
600 Plataeans ............................................. Subject Greeks
8000 Athenians .......................................... Subject Greeks

The Greeks who take on the Indians number around 1300, those that take on the Sakae 2,000: these are probably the lowest level to represent in the game ... about 1/6 in size compared with, say, the Spartans or the Immortals.

Rusch largely ignores the light troops and all the number crunching that goes with them. He has them protecting the flanks and tying up the numerous Persian cavalry so that the battle is left an infantry contest between the opposing contingents in the list. Neat.

The armies had been against each other for some time by the time of battle, and each contingent knew their place in the line and their probable opponents. Thus the battle has the feel of a series of prize-fights between the hurriedly summoned up forces as an encounter balloons into a set-piece battle.

I have to say the latter perspective very much put me in mind of Strategos or Hail Caesar and the contingent initiative rolls rapidly throwing units forward as the enemy tries to do likewise ...

So something somewhere between Tony Bath and Hail Caesar (but which runs at the pace of AMW) will do nicely. Possibly with a more deadly archery effect which can be nullified by sitting down behind your shield?

How to depict the barricade of shields will be critical. Those Spara/Gherra shields are big but pretty flimsy, you'd have thought ... Then again, if hoplite combat usually involves a good deal of jousting and not a lot of shoving (at least not much before the general othismos ..)... that jousting will be pretty ineffectual until the whole body of troops summons enough group momentum to push beyond the barricade and put their armour and better weapons to good effect.

2 more things we might like to look at.

I'm tempted to look at retaining NT's combat model, but possibly introducing differing unit sizes. It might be a way of improving the Persian arrow storm and allowing a more worrying combat prospect for the otherwise dominant Greeks. Perhaps the Persian should be allowed on such 'massed volley'? It might be that the Sparabarra rank cannot set up or man the barricade and shoot(?) ... so once the position is set, the shooting diminishes?

It would mean that the Persian army would end up being numerically bigger than the Greek whilst giving AMW's matching off of contingent v contingent. Hmmm. I think we could live with that.

(beset by archers: Greek contingents at Plataea)

And I suspect the shield barricades should negate any natural Hoplite benefit in combat (at contact at least - should the Hoplites need to 'win' a round of combat in order to push the barricade aside and for combat then to follow the hoplite v heavy archer norm? That sounds like the Herodotus story ...)

1. Break the unit size mould and give the Persians more bases.
2. Move Shooting to beginning of the move (except if skirmishers reserve their fire for split moves) allowing HI to choose to hide behind their shields (not move later in the turn) for a better save.
3. Introduce a special rule to enable the shield barricade to equalise the combat until the Greeks overcome it. The men in the shield rank are no longer able to shoot.
4. Look at the battle starting without all the units in place, and allowing the commanders to hurry contingents into the fray - given the leaders knew whom they would face, I suggest the appearance of a contingent on one side will prompt the appearance of its opponent on the other ....

Well, there is a skeleton of a game emerging from the test run, I think. I am not convinced the eventual game will be AMW, and I'm happy the methodology will translate to other systems.

Hopefully this will help move the discussion on the the key features of the battle as I am keen to hear how other designers are approaching these issues.

(The Greek right wing on the point of victory: few Persians remain on the field)

19th - 20th November, Reading (Rivermead)

Later November sees the ever popular 2-day Reading show, Warfare - a matchless mix of games, trade and tournament tables and Bring & Buy.

It is a successful mix - why, even I bought something on the Bring & Buy!

My 'tour of duty' on the Society stand was on Sunday, but Philip Sabin has sent some photos of his Pydna game which was the Society's contribution to day one's showcase.

(players cluster round the Society's Pydna game on Saturday)
Perseus of Macedon's fateful showdown with the Roman Republic under the command of Aemilius Paullus (son of the Aemilius Paullus who fought Hannibal at Cannae) ...

(photo coutresy of Philip Sabin)
I understand a number of the Society's 2012 Committee got together in the evening and chewed over their ideas for next year ... I'm sure you will want to give them as much support as I do. What better an occasion to get the ball rolling.
(See who's on the new Committee )

(some colourful Arab infantry from Sunday's game)
On Sunday David Edwards took over the table and presented a Byzantine Wars try-out table sampling Field of Glory and some colourful 28mm Byzantines and Turks.

(click on the image if you would like a bigger view)

(the Varangians attack: Field of Glory Participation Game at Warfare 2011 by The Society of Ancients)
Elsewhere there were other ancients games on display ... It was very nice to see the Malvern group with another of their 28mm Armati games. A nice big table and lots of kit - tis time on an El Cid theme. See, it isn't all just 15mm ...

(The Age of El Cid: 28mm Armati Demonstration Game)

Very much the ancients family, though not an ancients game, I was quite taken with the First Battle of Newbury, put on by some WAR members. First time I've really seen FoG-R done as a presentation game, and great to see the battle through the enclosures.

(15mm English Civil War: Field of Glory Renaissance)

More pictures here ( ECW Battles )

I'm told some of the inspiration came from a Battlefield Walk with Chris Scott.

You can link to the Battlefields Trust ( here )

Keeping us in touch with the forthcoming Plataea theme, there was an interesting 28mm Clash of Empires encounter between Greeks and Persians.

(Clash of Empires Persian Wars)

(28mm Persian Sparabara infantry)

(28mm Spartan Hoplites ready themselves for action)
Although they didn't tag it with any specific incident, the good looking layout and rolling engagements reminded me of the Plataea scenario.

There was the usual choice of games outside our period, many of which looked very attractive ...

(28mm Japanese troops in the Jungle)

The Skirmish Wargames Society won the top award for their Napoleonic game.

(award-winning 54mm Napoleonics from the SWS game)
A very nice day out, and special thanks to the Malvern club, the Clash of Empires enthusiasts and the Battle of Newbury presenters for taking the trouble to explain their games and ideas to me. Nice games - approachable, enthusiastic people.

Some people started to pack up early on the Sunday - but I understand Saturday had been very busy and it had been a long weekend

The show raised just over £900 for the RNLI and £550 for Help for Heroes ...

(6mm Cambrai display. We will remember them)
On the latter topic, there was very clean 6mm Cambrai game - my Grandfather was there in one of those tanks ... a RTR original who thankfully made it through the war otherwise I wouldn't be here to enjoy the peace and freedom so many laid down their lives for.
Thanks to everybody who contributed to a great show.