Monday, April 20, 2015

Experiencing Shock

There are worse ways to while away a Sunday than playing a series of wargames.
For the first time in over 50 years my Mini-Marx Knights on their white steeds take the field. These  are the only 25/30mm figures I have that were around when How to Play Wargames was published, so  figured I'd include a few.

I started off just dumping a few pieces of terrain on the table then reread the rules with especial attention to winning and losing, a topic I couldn't remember much about, with reason. He is just a tad vague on the subject other than to urge you to have objectives for each side to avoid a fight to the finish with victory to the last stand standing. Luckily I'm not starting completely from scratch so declared that both armies were seeking to dominate this pass between wood and hill and that any army that suffered 50% stand loss would be incapable of further offensive action. No attacks and no shooting but they could defend in melee.

A basic Shock Period army in Morschauser consists of 35 stands, 10 Heavy Cavalry, 5 Light Cavalry, 5 Heavy Infantry, 10 Light Infantry, 5 Missile Infantry. I had about 1/2 of that ready to go on 60mm bases or something close so the Empire fielded 3 HC, 2 LC, 3 HI, 4 Lt I, 4 Archers.  (Given the long ranges, the armoured handgunners were fielded as Lt infantry rather than Missile Light Infantry). The Turanians of the Great King of Kings fielded 5 HC (there are no elephant rules and HC are the toughest troops on the table), 4 LC, 4 Lt Inf and 3 Archers.  I used the roster method with 4 hits/dice per unit.

The Turanians
The Empire's mercenaries.
The game which lasted nearly 1/2 hour was more interesting, more challenging and more fun than I expected and I can see how a master player could use game tactics to great effect to discombobulate an opponent. With every melee ending in the death of 1 side though, an historic clash of hoplite phalanges would result in about a 3 turn game with most of both sides dead. Essentially heavy troops kill everybody, especially each other. Joe gives tactical advice which is reasonably sound about finding ways to create holes in the enemy line and then dashing through to sieze objectives but it sounds a but more like Patton than Ptolemy.

It took a few turns to get used to not having any command control rules and having only the dice, my judgement and the enemy's moves to provide friction but I soon got used to it.

It was a good starting point. I reset the table.

The end of Game 1. With the Spear Phalanx holding the hill and handgunners holding the wood, the Imperial Heavy Cavalry smashes the Turanian center and brings their army to 50% so that no counter attack may be launched.  

I didn't want to change too much too fast (my all too frequent approach in the past) so I started with a few minor adjustments to fit my troops and table, added some more unit types and a way to have  melee not be necessarily decisive.

The first step was to cut the movement and ranges to suit my smaller table. In the original rules the stands are 3" square and all distances are in multiples of 3". That sounds alot like ye old Base Widths to me. He recommends smaller bases for smaller figures and since I was using 60mm square bases, I converted all 3" segments to 60mm and improvised a new measuring stick marked as Melee/HI/LtInf/HC/LC & Bow. (For the first game  I used the stick I made for Comitatus a few years ago.)  Even this minor adjustment helped the game fit better on my 5x6 table.

To address the quick and deadly melee I simply ruled that there would only be 1 round of melee each turn rather than all melees continuing until 1 or both were dead. In addition, the sight of spearmen fiercely battling  each other from 3" away had just not looked right, OK for musket armed troops or even peltasts perhaps but I addressed it as Rob & I did in Rough Wooing by keeping the zone of control aspect but requiring troops to move into contact for melee.

The troop additions were on top of the rules not a replacement these were:
1. Spearmen. Cavalry attacking the front of light or heavy infantry with spears, loses 1 from their "Power". This does not apply if the spears attack (loss of formation?). Obviously this begs for troops like Romans to have their own bonus but I only dealt with what was on the table.

2. Horse Archers. The Light Cavalry in the rules have no missile capacity but have the same fighting ability as heavy infantry except they move twice as fast. I picture them as standard cavalry while the Heavy Cavalry in the rules sound like knights or cataphracts. My Turanian Horse Archers seemed to need something else so I gave them the LC move, a 6" (2 BW) Bow range and a melee factor of 3 instead of 4.

3. Peltasts etc. I also gave light infantry with short ranged missile weapons a 6" (2BW) range with no deduction. So tougher than archers in melee but a shorter range,

4, I left the elephants at power 5 but reduced their move to 12 (4 BW) like light infantry, and ruled that cavalry fighting elephants would lose 1 from their Power.

Lastly, I realized part way through that the system where you only rolled as many dice as the enemy left larger units at a disadvantage if there was only 1 round of rolling so I eventually allowed units to roll as many dice as they had strength points remaining.

The resulting game lasted about an hour and 1/2 and was actually quite interesting and fun with more nuances. It ended in a draw with both the hill and woods still in dispute and neither army able to attack.  I was getting a feel for handling troops under the system and when to risk combat and when to pull back for "strategic" reasons and the system was growing on me, reminiscent of the early days of Rough Wooing. The only real sore spot was that heavy troops were as easy to kill as light ones in melee. Armour was only effective against shooting, in melee it just helped you kill. That didn't seem right. I reset the table.

In game 2 the long spears tried charging uphill into the elephants and belated realized that they have a terrain penalty and just forfeited their bonus. oops. In game 4 both sides were more cautious.
Rob and I had discussed armour saves as an approach and so I tried them. With 4 hits per stand the result was tedium and very slow results. OK perhaps with a dozen units a side but with 30 or more units aside with the figures already on hand it didn't look good. I switched to 1 hit per stand and it felt too random and almost as brutal as the original. I forget who won in the rush to reset the table.

After a break for supper and a bit of thought including several failed ideas like varying strength points,  I eventually thought about how being uphill protects you by lowering the enemy's chance of hitting. I added a loss of 1 to a unit's offensive power if attacking a heavy unit (minimum of 1) and started playing again.

Game 4. After a long, tough, seesaw, struggle, the Turanians drop to 1/2 and must cease offensive actions.  Now outnumbered by the Imperial heavy troops and unable to reply to the fire of 4 bow units the Turanians cede the field. 

There is more work to be done but this was a game that I could see playing again.

Cliche or not, sometime Less really is More.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An Old Shock Returns

Before I redrew my grid I considered the effect on my recently revived medieval/fantasy armies. My basic conclusion was that I wasn't sure that I was headed in the right direction but that I was enjoying it and in one format or another it was here for a while yet!

Advance Guards of the Great King and the Empire clash.

A short while later a conversation about an Old School fantasy battle game based on Morschauser rather than Chainmail or some newer system sparked my interest. So, here I am, about to play a game with Morschauser's original Shock Period rules as written before I start serious work on a derivative.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Couldn't help myself

All I really wanted was a bit of modelling putty and the first place this side of the border that has any was RAFM. Seemed a shame to pay all that postage for just one thing.

RAFM 25mm Character RAF03922
She'll find a home in the West Folk Host, probably leader of one of the bands of forest critters and woodsmen despite her Desert Warrior listing. My Historical Ancients credentials have just slipped another notch but I'm enjoying myself.

Usual light grey prime and cheap craft acrylics.

Still haven't got the putty, hopefully its back ordered. In the meantime, "Something wicked this way comes"........

Monday, March 23, 2015

Never Ending Knights

It's been almost a month since I started this group of Garrison knights and sergeants. They hit a near perfect wave of obstacles ranging from the minor things like repeated calls for physical labour during my best painting light hours and the resulting tiredness in the evenings to major things like having trouble choosing the colours and heraldry and not liking the 1st attempts to an odd reluctance on the part of the figures to accept paint graciously, something I experience now and then. (Cynics might suggest the problem is actually to do with how tired or distracted the painter is.)

In any event they have been bypassed several times while I worked on something else but after having a fairly relaxing day with a game and only 2 hours of snow clearance I decided to force finish them before they got quietly put away unfinished for ever. Luckily gloss varnish hides a multitude of sins.

Sir Daniel Lichen and Sir Edward Longbottom and 2 henchmen almost ready for battle.
When I started in on them, they were going to be a 4 figure unit on unarmoured horses. They would serve as a supporting unit for the Earl of Cowcross or as medium cavalry if needed. Sir Daniel just seemed to need a barded horse though, and possibly a front row seat. Then, the more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed to me that the sergeants and lesser knights and other men at arms would be serving in separate units. It seemed more likely that they should be permanently attached as a 2nd rank to the great lords and knights on their barded horses leaving it to mounted crossbowmen and some sort of border horse to form the light or medium cavalry.

Then I changed the grid size........

My existing and in progress units were designed as 2 stand units to fit a 4" grid. They look a little lost on the 6" grid so either bigger stands or more of them are called for. Either way will allow me to use more figures without making the games bigger, longer or more complex but if I go for more bases I can also add more depth to the units without adding complexity.

So now the plan is to convert the existing partially built armies to a smaller number of larger units, 6 stands if heavy, 3 if light. Since most of the units are not uniformed its mostly a matter of shuffling but, this just might mean "having" to buy more figures.......

Monday, March 2, 2015

Army of the Midlands: The King's Rangers

Few men now inhabit the forests and plains that were once the heartland of the ancient kingdom of Valdur. Wars and waves of invaders have turned it into a wilderness battleground. The very site of the Royal Seat, a fortress perched high on a hill, has been lost but Dunklerne is not forgotten  and the lands along the river, reaching from the mountain to the sea are not called the "Northern Border" but "the King's Hold" and it is guarded not by levies but by troops of the King's Household.
King's Rangers of the Hold Guard or the Green Jacks as they are known in the taverns.
Garrison 25mm.

It says something about history and perceived threats that while the primary responsibility for the Eastern and Western borders of the Midlands lies with the feudal lords and their retainers and tenants,  the Northern Borders are guarded by full time, paid, garrisons even though it has been a generation since the last incursion by the Riders of the Northern Federation.

The lands to the West were once the founding nations of the Great Kingdom of Valdur and the descendants of those ancients may boast of the past in from their wild strongholds but they pose no real threat to the Midlands. To the East there have always been enemies and while the fortunes of war have ebbed and flowed over the centuries, invasions from the East have always drained away in the end.

To the North however, there once stood the Kingdom of Dale. Here the ancestors of the Midland nobles first set foot on the Continent and carved a home for themselves. From there they first fought against and then for the Valdurian Queen and then became more and more apart of that Kingdom until in the end, they made it their own. It was long years thereafter that a new wave of invaders came over land from the East and joining with rebellious Valdurian tribes and Nobles who resented still the Dalish newcomers. Together with the men of the west they tore the Kingdom apart.

In times of plenty relations are good between the Midlands and the North and trade flows across the mountains but when the winters grow cold, the summers dry and the harvest fails, then raiders cross the border again instead of merchant caravans and so the King has tasked Sir John and his Black Company to hold the Great Pass and along the North West frontier he has built posts and filled them with soldiers. The posts themselves are held largely by infantry but horsemen are needed to patrol the lands between the posts. At first these were lancers, sometimes accompanied by a few archers mounted on old nags but as the crossbow evolved and was imported from the Empire, a new soldier appeared. This is the Mounted Crossbowmen trained to shoot from horse back or to charge sword in hand when the situation calls for it, In peace they patrol the borders, in times of war they act as scouts and flankers supporting the Knights, spearmen and foot archers of the main battle line.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A New Gathering

Its been a struggle but the new version of Gathering of Hosts is available from the link to the left 
(or here). The rules are actually fairly close to what I have been using since 2013 but the wording and how things are presented have changed as was determined on last fall.

Habit and expectation initially had me following a conventional approach of defining troop types and having charts for movement, shooting and so on. This works just fine, especially if working with a fairly small number of known troop types but it does get your mind into a certain set when someone says "Peltast" and you think "Reg C LMI w javelin, lts and shield" and since I have been trying to imagine the armies that I am describing as I go, well the writing was getting to be excessive to fit in each change in imaging for very little return and attempts to predefine the building blocks was restrictive unless simple was to be left very far behind.

Here is the last of the 3 games, the smallest (6 units each vs the 9 used earlier) and the fastest, most exciting, with the highest tension and a last minute upset Westman victory largely due to their use of speed and their ability to move through woods to keep melee and missile fire to a minimum. It was extremely close though, several Westlands units escaped when 1 hit away from destruction.  Honours of the Game though went to the new unit of Midlish Mounted Crossbowmen who almost won the game single handedly. More on them in a later post.

So, in a series of small games I experimented with various options to make the game easier to describe and customize from counting noses to having up to 4 single stand units allowed to form temporary groups to, well more things than I care to remember and recount. I finally settled for some old simple ideas with fixed units 1 to a grid area but instead of defining any generic troop types I just described each of the units that I intend to build and added special unit rules that apply just to them. (A touch of WHAB I suppose) It didn't take long to find that some special rules could be cut and pasted in for various similar units in various armies which will simplify gaming but I have skipped the bit where I explain what it represents and why the unit has it. This sort of thing will be added to illustrated army lists over the next year, along with personalities and potted history. One page per army. 

But that's for the future. There is painting and basing to be done before I play again!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Race to the Fords Pt 1.

At last winter has eased up enough for me to get a small Gathering of Hosts game on the table. Looking at the leftover scenery I decided to go for a raiding party of Men of the West trying to slip past the Midlish border lords.

The Men of the West,  nicely organized by the dice, make a dash for the fords.

I've been thinking about how many or how few troop types I want to deal with and come to the conclusion that I want fewer and as proposed last year I have begun to rewrite the rules specifically for what I am doing in this campaign. With that in mind the forces used were:

Raiding Party:
General: The Witch Morgana, Mistress of the Mist. She is accompanied by a sole Heroic Bodyguard and is not a unit. She does not fight in battle if attached to a unit but the Dragon's Breath mist that she can summon will provide cover for the unit against shooting and in melee.
3 units of light cavalry lancers
6 units of unarmoured light infantry including some archers and swordsmen. I diced for each unit to see which edge square they began on.

The Midlish border village contained a unit of billmen and a unit of light infantry archers.

There were 2 converging Midlish columns rushing to cut off and punish the raiders but both ended up coming on the same road.

The Black Company: Subgeneral unit of knights, unit of lancers and unit of crossbowmen.

The Earl of Cowcross: General with unit of knights, unit of lancers and 2 units of light infantry archers.

More to come in a day or so along with a link to the rules as played.