Wednesday, February 20, 2013

16th-17th February, Burton upon Trent

Burton Doubles

I like this event, and Burton Town Hall is a good venue.  And the parking is free.

I hadn't really enjoyed the new version of FoG at Usk, so having to take charge of the army solo (Chris was on family duty for the Saturday) was a little daunting.   We had chosen a Palmyran army with a balance of troop types (15 Battlegroups: 4 cataphracts, 4 horse archers, 4 Romans and 3 light archers) ...

Fortunately, we got a nice draw ... the amiable Martins in the morning, and seemingly regular opponents Hutchby and Thorne in the afternoon.   Another Palmyran, and some obscure Japanese, respectively.

(two very different Palmyrans ... the enemy were clearly true lackeys, full of Roman infantry)

Palmyran armies vary from predominantly mounted Parthian-style Eastern armies to what are basically Roman frontier armies (Romans with extra cataphracts ....) ... It was one of these latter that Jayne and Andrew had chosen.    But don't expect our game to resolve which might be the better choice.   We lost 4 attrition points a piece (so the the score was 9-11 against us as our's was the smaller army ... more cavalry meaning fewer battlegroups).

(marching out against Chris and Dave's Kofun-Nara Japanese ...)

Against the Japanese we were miss-matched ... separated by 5,000 miles of geography and more than 200 years of history.    The Japanese are a big army of archers which probably could not have downed a middle-eastern cataphract however much they shot - but who knows as the confrontation never happened (so there is no history from which to extrapolate).   Undeterred, and with a game spirit, I advanced rapidly covered by skirmishers, and did succeed in getting the cataphracts into contact with these medium foot in the open.  To no avail - another losing draw.

(squaring up to Warring States Chinese on Sunday morning)  

Sunday saw our team restored to full manning ... and facing more regular Northern Doubles opponents, Andy and Kevin Ellis and more far distant enemies from the time machine ... Warring States Chinese.    It is the topic of quite another article as to why Chinese weaponry and armour is so highly rated compared to western equivalents ... suffice to say that these Chinese would probably have fled on sight of determined western soldiery ...

Thankfully, they did.   Whilst I was grinding through indecisive pulses of skirmish and counter attack on the flank, Chris piled in with a combination of armoured cavalry and armoured infantry against the Chinese centre ... Crossbowmen protected by armoured halberdiers behind field defences.   Fortune favoured the brave (for a change), and the desperate Chinese threw in their Inspired Commander (sun was going down on the game).   He died too, and the wavering centre collapsed.    The game ended before we could mop up ... a very gamely played score draw to us.

(a credible historical battle against Aurelian's Principate Romans)

We were all back on message to finish - entirely back on message ... against an Aurelianic period Roman.    Even so, we fought them in green hills far from Palmyra.   Very impressive thickly painted bed sheet terrain as good as I have seen (courtesy of our opponents, John Hogan and Lee Sanders) ... 

We had played Lee at Usk last year and enjoyed big win, achieved mostly by my Aragonese high rolling late in an otherwise very even game.   This was similar, but they had their revenge ...  And the cataphracts who had performed so well in the morning were clearly tired after a good lunch.   They took a couple of Roman units to the brink but could not finish them off.   Both teams pressed on through the game turns to get a finish and on the game's last turn, the Romans got it.

(now you see him/now you don't: a late swing in the battle against China as their C-in-C falls in combat)

So, in all, a slightly below par outcome from a series of thoroughly enjoyable games.   Although V2 seemed better, I think that was mostly down to us picking an army without spears and pikes in it.   There was still plenty of nonsense playing out around the tables - just less gaminess in our encounters.   

Even so, we are now 8 games into V2 and have 7 draws and one result.   With V1 we generally would expect 50% or better (not saying who would win ... just on the game getting completed within the time limits).

(my modest contribution to our forces ... some Eastern baggage and some Roman infantry) 

Although I do think the game will have more traction in other periods, a 12.5% completion rate for a team that regularly gets results is not a good sign - and the interminably fiddly nature of FoG is entirely unimproved in this new version.   As an example, ranges for skirmishers have been reduced which produces fewer casualties.   I can't see how this improves the game (skirmishers still slow the game down ... they just contribute less to getting a result).  Infantry lines still kink implausibly to produce far-fetched flank opportunities (which consequently deter charges, again slowing the game).

(one unit bounced off, one disrupted and damaged ... but you would still expect the cataphracts to win from here ...)

Nevertheless a weekend full of good things ... nice to catch up with old friends (and make some new ones) and good to see stalwarts like Adrian Garbett back wargaming ... Great terrain in our last game (I'm intending to copy this method), lots of nicely turned-out armies, great organisation as always ... and some predictable and unpredictable winners.

(the winners of the ancients events collect their prizes)

Tim Child and John Hickman (Later Carthaginian) won the DBMM event, Dave Handley and Steve Royle (Classical Indian) the FoG-AM ....  I understand Peter Kershaw won the best army prize with his Slave Revolt DBMM army - but I wasn't 'camera and notebook in hand' as I was on my way back from the stage where I had picked up the best baggage award.   Yay!

Good to see proper Ancients armies picking up all the prizes.

Like many others, I always make an effort at Burton - because they try to encourage and reward people making an effort (there's a clue there for tournament organisers ... and it doesn't require a degree in rocket science!) ...


OK,  since you ask ... here's a few more pics ...

(Palmyran camel train 'camp' for FoG-AM)

Since Queen Zenobia first mounted her camel, in the wargamer's mind, dromedaries have been associated with the fabled desert city ...  Add to that Chris's comment on Palmyra ... 'Roman ruins' ... and I had my theme.

The composition recycles several broken or redundant items from my terrain boxes together with a handful of camels from Chariot and Irregular, and a handful of figures - one each from Irregular, Gladiator and New Era Donnington (the Roman lady) and a couple of Middle Imperial soldiers from Chariot.

Plus some cake decoration palm trees.

(click on the images for a bigger picture)  

The nebulous idea is that the army's baggage train is arriving or departing a defended watering hole or urban area well to the rear of the battlefield.   A couple of soldiers guard the archways from the rear, to give the model more than one view point.   I have tried to indicate a bit of Roman style groundwork by glueing on some Warbases bricks and infilling with wood filler and sand.

(Palmyran Camel Train ... from some other view points)  

I'm glad they liked it.

Excellent weekend.   Thanks, Burton.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

10th February, Kelham Hall, Newark

Hammerhead 2013

Many thanks to COGS/GCN for a great day out at Hammerhead.   And thanks to everyone who stopped by and/or played the game.

First up, just to say that although it does capture my vision, the version of Bosworth at Hammerhead was very much still Work In Progress: the bad situation heaped on my shoulders by Vapnartak stalled the final stages of what was originally scheduled for the start of the month.

Well, I eventually got back to completing my tasks on the unloved project with a few days to go - but encountered some unexpected delays: in 54mm you can't always get all the components or variety you want so I had sculpted some masters which just needed casting to complete some of the elements.   Hmmm - but I hadn't left sufficient time for my mould to be a complete failure (the one and only home casting failure I have had).   Inevitably I wasted more time than I had available.

(The Battle of Bosworth as a 54mm DBA game)

Still, Hammerhead is very much a games, rather than an exhibition, show - so a very late night ensured the nearly finished project was ready to play.   Yes, half the foot figures are a bit ghostly, and those bases are not harmonised with the battlefield yet.   But come see us a Alumwell ...

(Battle of Bosworth: aerial view ... click it for a larger view)

This is the battlefield based on the new location.   Roughly arranged on a standard North/South orientation.   The battle takes place in the fields around Fenn Lane, the old Leicester to Atherstone road, just east of where it joins the Watling Street.   Whitemoors Car Park (probably the site of Richard's baggage/rear area*) is just off table in the north-east corner, Stoke Golding just off the south-east corner.

Crown Hill is the gently rising ground in the corner, Fenn Hole the marshy area which Henry left to cover his right as he attacked the Royal army.

The battlefield is a rearranged pasting table - so approximately 3' x 4' ... a direct scale up from by 15mm trial games, less 6" at the back: the 15mm games were on a 2' x 2' using 40mm bases, this double size uses 80mm frontages.

Losing 6" at the back was a compromise for the convenience of the fold-away battlefield.   It is actually no loss - it means the standard DBA camp elements must be left off - but as they play no part in the historical battle this probably no bad thing.   Even so, I have put some baggage behind Richard's side of the table as it helps those familiar with the area by marking Whitemoors which is on the traditional battlefield trail.

(Denouement - game 4: Richard and his cavalry take on Sir William Stanley close by Fenn Hole) 

What I like about Hammerhead is that they have successfully created a show where people play and enjoy the games.   Bosworth got played an impressive 7 times.   Just what I want having gone to the trouble of designing and testing the scenario, then taking it all along to the show.

Most of the games were played with people unfamiliar with DBA, and generally not ancient/medieval (indeed 'historical') players.   The fact that V3 of DBA is still not available is a bit of a downer as we had some converts ready to buy.  The best I could do was steer them to John Curry where you can now get a reprint compilation that includes version 2.2 (all the lists, some articles on tactics and refights etc.) ...

Ancients on the Move regulars will recognise that I supplied the photos!

Most of the games gave us a historical outcome (vindicating, perhaps, Mike Ingram's inreptretation of the battle, which I have used for the scenario - orbats/deployment) ... though, as usual with DBA, no two games were alike.   As several pundits pointed out, re organising the space around the table, I do need somewhere to park the casualties!   More anon.

(some of the other stuff I saw at Hammerhead)

Elsewhere, there were a number of interesting trade stands and some familiar faces trying out some unfamiliar (and familiar - check out that prating mantis in the middle of circular battleboard ... surrounded, all elephant-like) ... More of the games were fantasy/Sci-Fi/pulp genre than historical - but for all that, looked considerably more imaginative than some of the dry colossal games today's historical exhibitors too often clog the halls with.   Great to see plenty of youngsters playing wargames!   Hopefully, we sowed a seed for the future with them.

(smart looking 54mm Napoleonic skirmish game)

Amongst the historical games, there were a number of 15mm WWII games (not all FoW), some aerial combat games and a compact and well produced Napoleonic game.   The shoppers seemed happy with their loot ... I didn't really have enough time away from the game for that but my instinct was that there weren't that many historical traders (I shall wait til WMMS or use the post).  Great show nonetheless.

I will take some Slingshots and games along to Burton Doubles next week, and to the Bournemouth Armati weekend.  Otherwise, see David and friends at Cavalier or the Shows North crew at Alumwell (WMMS).

By then we should have the definitive Bosworth on show and ready to play

16th & 17th Feb Burton Doubles 
24th Feb NDBML Manchester
24th Feb Cavalier Tonbridge
2nd & 3rd March Armati-by-the-Sea
10th March WMMS Wolverhampton

*formerly assumed to be Connected with Henry's baggage - but on no evidence from the finds - just accepting the spurious Ambion Hill location for the battlefield makes it a plausible guess.   Correctly identifying the field puts it behind Richard's lines.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

3rd February ... nowhere, now

The Society of Ancients NOT at Vapnartak

(test shot from the 54mm Bosworth game)

Contrary to pre-publicity and the information in the current issue of Slingshot, the Society of Ancients will not be represented at Vapnartak, York Racecourse this weekend.

Having had a very poor position at last year's show (despite a 350 mile trek in arctic conditions ...), I started planning early for 2013 and Vapnartak's game organiser indicated up front an intention to station the Society adjacent to the Lance & Longbow Society as part of a 'Societies zone' in the high visibility downstairs concourse.  On that basis I accepted this year's invitation and made all the appropriate plans.

After Christmas I was told that this was not the final plan at all, and as a trader had subsequently asked for a game space adjacent to his stand, the layout had been redrawn and the Society was pushed back upstairs again to where we were in 2011.   Not as bad as 2012, of course, but not what we had been given to understand, and a position we have not found suits our sort of displays.

In the circumstances, it is clearly not appropriate to take up Vapnartak's revised offer.   They have not lived up to the space they clearly led us to expect.   They are not offering the Society equal prominence to the Lance & Longbow Society - and they are not even moved to 'do us a favour' on the basis of compensating for what they acknowledge was the short straw in 2012.

As my review of the year shows, we did 33 shows and events last year - 26 of them expressly to represent the Society of Ancients.   At least twice a month, right through the year.   That has become a very expensive operation, and is a big commitment for a team which is entirely comprised of volunteers (whose only reward is doing a good job for the Society).    Fuel prices really mean we must look at reducing the number that mileage.   And so I think it is not appropriate for us 'to do York Wargames Society a favour' and support their show despite them letting us down over the facilities.

Opinions will doubtless divide over York Wargames Society's underlying motivation (the money).   The traders pay for the show and therefore the traders trump clubs and Societies.   Well, yes, but Vapnartak clearly have favourites (whose huge 28mm semi-wargames don't get trumped), and I'd also argue that Society and Club games (who have no resources with which to buy their way in) have been the bedrock around which all the successful shows have built themselves over the last 3 or 4 decades, Vapnartak included.

It is only a week to Hammerhead, who have been much straighter with us - and welcome historical societies and participation games.    Enjoy Vapnartak if you go ... but we will see you at Hammerhead, Kelham Hall, next week.

Friday, February 1, 2013

18th - 20th January, Usk


So ... deep mid-winter sees our annual expedition to South Wales for the Godendag festival of food and drink spread around 4 doubles wargames.  DBM, FoG-R and FoG-AM are on offer and I regularly opt for FoG ancients.

Differences this year were the red weather warning for South Wales (bit of a wet blanket by mid afternoon, but it put around 10% off) and V2 of FoG getting (I think) its first tournament run out - also a bit of a wet blanket in my opinion ... but regular readers will know what my opinion is worth :) ...

(FoG-AM V2 at Godendag ... our Seleucids take on the metal walls of the Roman Republic ...)

Constrained by this year's historical theme, we reluctantly took a Seleucid army - which Chris rendered palatable by the addition of a Parthian ally.   Neither of us really like the way FoG (or most other ancients games really) treat infantry ... but V2 has promised to tone down their battalion level manoeuvre (so maybe we should give a go ... maybe what seem like a few minor changes will capture the phalanx feel FoG never got): well you ought to give us credit for trying, anyway.

We got drawn against African Vandal, Palmyran, African Vandal and Romans.   The double rations of Vandals was because to even out the draw one of the pairings split (with each player reconfiguring their original entry army - exactly): we drew both players over the weekend so got to play against exactly the same army twice.   That really doesn't help variety.   It is also clearly not 'just luck' ... the same thing happened last year, and again we played both halves of the split team.   For the purpose of the 'modified swiss chess' playing the other half of a split pair where you have already faced that army ought to be an invalid draw.

(Patrick's Later Carthaginians take on some Alans from London)

The other parts of our SoA/Northants (and honourary Northants) were Patrick and Lee's Later Carthaginians (though Lee wimped out because the weather forecast said it was snowing) and Charles and Richard's FoG-R Malian/Tuaregs (or was it Tuareg/Malians?) ...  Everyone had their moment of glory ...

And there was also some DBM

What did I think of the changes to FoG-AM ... ?   Well, they didn't seem to have changed the game at all.

OK ... Temporarily, they seem to have slowed the game down while we all look up fiddly little word changes that either don't apply or don't make much difference.   There are changes to the 'turn and move' rules which seem to hamper Light Horse more than they hamper 'all singing/all dancing' infantry ... so one of the few things that did seem to work quite well in V1 (skirmishing) works less well in V2 ...  Hmmm ...

But really, the bottom line is this.   We played to win, and with a reasonably 'game on' spirit ... but all our games were score draws (all games were timed out after 3 1/2 hours), two of them at a barely happening 11-9 score.    This is a woeful judgement on the game.

We would normally get a result (either way) in around half our games.   Obviously the perverse way FoG was designed to stay indecisive despite the long game time (to give everyone a full game, I was told by the designers) is partly to blame, as was all the looking up associated with a new version.

Nevertheless, FoG remains a game where shock troops spend most of the game dicing control tests not to charge each other (as in  too many cases it is advantageous, often unhistorically so, not to charge).   Inspired Commanders really help pass these tests and are becoming ever more popular: so battlelines stare at each other and games end unresolved.  This is a fault in the game design, I have no doubt.

Armati still models this period of warfare much better than FoG, and it is a pity it has missed the overhauls that would have been necessary to keep it up to date.   It is a pity that the only Armati Doubles event (at Stoke Challenge) has fallen by the wayside.   I would certainly play an updated Armati Doubles game in the classical/antiquity period.