Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Twilight of the Sun King and some thoughts on generic armies

Promising but not perfect
The Twilight of the Sun King (TotSK) rules cover the period from 1680-1721. They were originally written by Steven Thomas of Balagan fame but authorship subsequently passed through other hands. I'd been meaning to try them for ages but never got round to it. So I already had an interest when the new, third, version was published by the Pike & Shot Society.

It's a high level game, there are historical scenarios, and, uniquely, it combines different forms of combat into a single unit reaction test. The game has, I believe, great promise but I'm not intending to play it just yet.

My Marlburian armies are currently 'between basing' and my 1690 armies turned out to be too small. For grand tactical games with historical scenarios, this has really concentrated my mind on the desirability of having reasonably generic armies that can be used for a range of historical battles (and rules). Time to look again at 2mm, possibly on 25mm square bases?

The other stop factor is the large number of problems with the rules. The TotSK Yahoo Group is awash with queries and an errata (currently 5 pages long!) is in preparation. Sadly this new version of the rules was obviously not adequately tested or proofed. On the plus side, however, there is a lot of interest in and support for the rules from people who want them to work.

There are two lessons for rule-writers here: get them tested by different groups of people who approach the rules in isolation and get them proof-read by someone like me!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Thirty Years War in 3mm?

My interest in the Thirty Years War periodically resurfaces, and I started this article some months ago the last time it did. I haven't taken things any further, but I thought I'd post it anyway.

I was waiting to see Impetus Baroque at the time, but at the Cavalier show last year (February 2016) I caught sight of the Liber Militum: Tercios rules. The rules emanate from Spain and the English-language version is not as good as it could be. Nonetheless, it appears to be easier to follow than some rules allegedly originating in English.

Suggested 15mm basing on full-size bases.
Basing follows the Impetus precedent of being quite large - 120mm wide for pike-and-shot units, 80mm wide for cavalry and 40mm wide for artillery. Regardless of figure scale, I immediately thought of reducing the base sizes so that a game could be played on a compact 48'' x 32'' playing area. A 120 mm base would become 80 mm, an 80 mm base would become about 53mm (say 60mm) and a 40 mm Base would become about 27mm (says 25 mm).

My campaign for open-handed pikemen in 10 mm or 6 mm didn't get too far, so I began to consider the Magister Militum 3mm figure strips. These do not look clipable, so I needed to see how complete strips would work on the desired base sizes. With the strips being 20mm long, this exercise may also applicable to unclipped Baccus strips.

Tercio Square, Classic, Reformed and Modern
 formations using  Magister Militum's 3mm strips.
Tercios has four types of pike-and-shot unit: Tercios, Classic, Reformed and Modern. I've played or looked at a number of Renaissance rule options over the years. These definitions seem to be a good as any and better than many.

There is some disagreement as to whether the distinctive Tercio formation with shot at the corners was actually used in the TYW. As I understand it the Tercios were not entirely inflexible, but capable of various arrangements. If the shot on each flank were to close up a Tercio would present a simple pike block with sleeves of shot, albeit a large and deep one.

The illustration above shows suggested basing for 15 mm figures. The diagrams (right) show how I would do it with 3 mm strips in a way that would best reproduce the relative numbers and proportions of the 15mm figures.

The iconic T formation for the Modern (Swedes) was my own idea. It may not have been commonly used but it's distinctive and a convenient way of arranging the strips.

I'm not sure of the exact depth of the strips. If they are deeper, then the Tercio square in particular may look better than the way I've depicted it (i.e. squarer). In principle the strips seem to work.

Anyway, this was an entirely cart-before-the-horse exercise as I still haven't even read the rules properly, let alone played them. And I do have some reservations. I'm a bit wary about committing to a rules set that uses bases with different frontages. And I don't think Magister Militum's 3mm range yet has all the required figure types.

Two other developments have also recently occurred. Firstly, I've bought a copy of the new edition of Twilight of the Sun King (more anon) and learnt that a TYW/ECW version is also planned for this year. Secondly, I've seen the first releases in the new 6mm TYW/ECW range from Baccus. Notwithstanding the cast pikes, these are superb figures...

Baccus: Fragile cast pikes but very nice effect.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Great War Spearhead - my introduction

Robert Dunlop, a major contributor to Great War Spearhead, kindly introduced me to the rules. Rather than play on opposing sides we went through the sequence and mechanics of play together. This is an absolutely brilliant approach to teaching rules and makes me wonder why I've never tried the same thing myself!

GWSH evolved from Arty Conliffe's original WW2 Spearhead and was developed by Shawn Taylor with Robert's support. The current edition (GWSH II) is now a fully standalone set of rules. Different rules model different things. The Spearhead family focuses on orders which are marked on maps by arrows of advance. These become the absolute drivers of the game until the enemy are spotted and the play becomes tactical. For that the mechanics are relatively simple.

This approach forces the players to plan. They must study the terrain, look at the routes of advance, and consider the areas of deployment. Crucially, they must also take into account likely or possible enemy plans. Later in the game they may discover the holes and be forced to alter plans and move formations.

GWSH uses a scale of about 80 yards to 1 inch. The 30mm square bases used in the game represent companies and about 12-16 of these are grouped into regiments (British brigades) which are the principal level for order writing and manoeuvre. Four regiments might form a division and two divisions a corps. I generalise here in order to give an idea of scale. A divisional game is a reasonable size for an evening's entertainment, but much larger games can and have been staged.

I now look forward to playing a proper game. Spearhead's grand tactical nature does, of course, appeal to me. In fact, my 10mm Normandy armies were planned and organised for playing the original WW2 version, although I've never got round to using them.

Great War Spearhead

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Great War Crossfire

The empty field (lower left-hand corner) had contained a
German platoon. Despite eliminating this, the British
platoon (lower centre) was beginning to lose the firefight
with the German platoon in the copse on the left edge.
Many of you will know Robert Dunlop from his contribution to the Great War Spearhead rules and scenario books and his extremely well-informed forum postings on WW1 topics. It was thus a pleasure and privilege to welcome him to my local wargames club and to play a WW1 Crossfire game which he organised.

Robert has recently been quoting chapter and verse on the Yahoo Crossfire group about low level training and actions during WW1 - the level that Crossfire represents - so I was keen to see how a WW1 game would work with these WW2 rules.

The game was a meeting battle, a common occurrence in northern France in the early days of WW1 during the Race to the Sea. Robert posted an eloquent account of the game in the Crossfire Yahoo Group placing it in historical context.

The absence of smoke and the relative scarcity of HMGs made this a significantly different style of game to the WW2  ones I've played but the rules worked equally well.

Plenty of reserves but nowhere to send them except into
the German meat-grinder. Miniatures are 15mm Peter
Pig and Minifigs.
The game has rekindled my interest in doing some 1914 armies, but I once again find myself spoilt for choice. For Crossfire armies, which are small and predominantly infantry, I would normally go for 15mm figures, but for early WW1 I am very attracted to the superb 12mm Kallistra ranges. But the armies might also be used for Square BashingBloody Big Battles! and/or Great War Spearhead which all require relatively large numbers of bases, so 6mm Baccus figures might be a better option.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Battles of Napoleon

Battles of Napoleon is a hex board game with miniatures which was published in 2010 and is no longer in print. Despite a superficial similarity in appearance to the Command & Colors series of games, it plays quite differently.

Board games with miniatures are said to be the wave of the future, and I would say that miniatures games with hexes or squares are effectively converging from the other direction. This was thus a game I was keen to try.

My friend Ian, who owns the game, chose the Salamanca scenario and gave me the French with the warning that I was unlikely to win, but fate decided otherwise. The British were stronger, particularly in cavalry, but I had more artillery and a good position on a ridge line defending the three objectives which start in French hands.

The aim of this scenario is to take a majority of the objectives, but you can also win the  game by destroying a certain number of units or killing the enemy c-in-c.

The initial French deployment. The British are yet to set up.
The British made a frontal assault in column and uphill which gave me two  bonuses in firepower. Coupled with a  run of skillful dice throwing (!), the British attack shattered on the French rock. The British may have suffered from bad luck but I believe they would have needed an equally exceptional run of good luck to have succeeded in their strategy.

The French hold firm while the British begin to suffer.
I'd certainly be interested in replaying this game from the British side. My strategy would be...well, you'll have to wait for that!

I really enjoyed the game and I think Napoleonic buffs would prefer this game to the more abstract approach of C&C Napoleonics.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

I don't have much time at the moment to sort out my own games so I'm grateful for the opportunity to play other people's games, even though these are not necessarily part of my annual plan! This recently included a couple of games of X-Wing, the highly popular Star Wars spaceship combat game.

The games were based on a simple introductory scenario which pitted a pair of TIE fighters against an upgraded X-Wing, the components of the core introductory set. I controlled one of the TIE fighters. Although they are generally more manoeuvrable, the upgraded X-Wing continually escaped our arcs of fire while bringing us into its own arc of fire and I was quickly eliminated in the first game.

In the second game it was my companion's turn to be knocked out first. I fared a little better but was still unable to inflict much damage. The X-Wing, however, accidentally flew off the table, giving me the game. It was a victory of sorts, but not really a satisfying one. Had the battlefield been a bit more crowded, we would more easily have ended up with some sort of target in our sights.

The game mechanisms are similar to Wings of Glory WW1 (originally Wings of War) and the game plays straight out of the box. The rules are well written and the gameplay is smooth. The diminutive spaceships are very nicely modelled. I've seen the game played with much larger numbers of much larger ships, so it is very open to the escalation of financial investment.

Despite my recent foray into 15mm Sci-Fi skirmish gaming I'm not a Star Wars fan (or a Trekky), and spaceship combat doesn't really appeal to me. If I wanted to invest in a game of this sort I would probably go for the historical Wings of Glory. At one time I was quite interested in the WW2 variant, but my understanding is that it involves a lot of manoeuvre and that the chance actually to fire is rare, a somewhat frustrating recipe for a wargame. In any event I understand it's out of print at the moment, but never say never. And I see that Ares Games are due to release a new Battle of Britain Starter Set...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Spoils of war from Cavalier 2017

I made a quick raid on the Cavalier show in Tonbridge. With shelves full of unpainted figures and very little time, I didn't have a shopping list and was determined not to add to the lead mountain by buying anything that would need painting.

I thought I would come away empty-handed but spotted these nice, well-painted 6mm buildings on the bring-and-buy stall. They will be ideal for my Bloody Big Battles! Franco-Prussian War project.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Men Who Would Be Kings

There aren't many gaps in my wargaming interests but 19th Century Colonial conflict is one of the more obvious. I do have some old 6mm Anglo-Zulu War figures I completed many years ago but I don't now find them particularly appealing.

Besides the Zulu War I have at one time or another been interested in the Sikh Wars, the Indian Mutiny, the Second Afghan War, the Urabi Revolt, the Sudan, the Second Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. There's no shortage of choice there, but I've never really committed to a particular set of rules.

For large battles, and many Colonial battles were very large indeed, Bloody Big Battles! is now an available option and I'm planning to try out a couple of BBB Colonial scenarios with my block armies. However, the prospect of endlessly refighting one particular battle does not really provide me with enough incentive to paint up two large armies.

At the other end of the scale (1:1) I recently got a copy of Dan Mersey's The Men Who Would Be Kings rules published by Osprey. I haven't played all Dan's rules, but I was very impressed with Dux Bellorum.

28mm Afghans from Artizan Designs
TMWWBK takes an unashamedly Hollywood approach, but why not? While the simulation of historical tactics and the reliving of historical battles has great appeal, you sometimes just want to play a game with military flavour and complete it in an evening without undue preparation or stress.

TMWWBK looks simple, fun and requires only a modest number of figures, another winner in my book. I don't know if it will go well as a multiplayer game but I can foresee that the officer characteristics (which govern unit activation) could be very entertaining in the context of a club night.

I was considering doing the Boxer Rebellion using 28mm figures from Redoubt Enterprises but that is already covered by another club member, so I have been revisiting other options. My current favourite is the Second Afghan War using the beautifully sculpted figures from Artizan Designs.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A strategy for wargaming

Owing to competition from another diversion I'm likely to have even less time this year for wargaming, so I need to optimise use of time I do have. In the past I've tended to flit from one game to another, which makes absorbing rules very difficult. A considerable proportion of gaming time is spent looking things up. Then you don't return to that game for weeks or months and the whole process starts all over again.

This year I'm aiming to become a serial gamer, playing the same games several times before moving on to another one. My current obsession is Command & Colors: Ancients. I've so far played two games and the strategy is certainly working.

Command & Colors: Ancients - Zama. At this point the Carthaginians (near side) were trailing badly.

The first game was the Battle of Akragas 406 BC. I got the Syracusans while my club comrade Chris took the Carthaginians. C&C:A scenarios are not necessarily balanced so the aim is to improve on the historical outcome. The Syracusans should have won but I lost. My ultimate defeat was entirely my own fault when I failed to retire an exposed general.

Chris had not played the game before and I had played it very little some time ago, so a great deal of the game was spent reading rather than playing and I'm not entirely certain we got everything completely right.

The second game was the Battle of Zama 202 BC.  This time I did a little preparation. In particular I studied the elephant rules and planned to counter the beasts with ranged fire from light infantry. In the event I got the Carthaginians (the historical losers) while Chris commanded the Romans!

Having also noted the effect of elephants on cavalry (to be expected), I began to move the elephants to the flanks where Chris had a predominance in cavalry. This was not a bad idea but Chris's light infantry soon closed in on them and took them out in close combat.

The problem with the Carthaginians in this game is that once the elephants are gone you are outnumbered in both cavalry and infantry. Despite this I managed to achieve some good local successes and the balance of Victory Banners (which you win for destroying units and sometimes for occupying objectives) was running at 7:7. It was a very close-run thing but Chris eventually got the eighth and final kill.

What I like about C&C:A is that it allows you to fight historical battles with a minimum of complication. By only the second game of this series, I had absorbed most of the rules and factors, and much less time was spent looking things up.

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