Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rising Tide

There is nothing like playing a game, even a solo game, to pique one's interest in a project. First came the preparations and 2 solo versions of Marathon, then when a snow storm cancelled the live play version, I decided to go ahead and improvise a Lydian-Persian clash to try out the new proposed OB's even though I haven't painted up any actual Phyrgian or Lydian troops yet.  The result was a fun game with that sort of not quite historical feel that I was looking for. The sort of feeling I get from re-reading the account of the Hyborian Age battle in Featherstone's Wargames or the battle accounts in Charles Grant's The Ancient Wargame or in various Tabletop Teaser reports (for example, read this account of an ambush of Princess Zenobi's caravan ( ).  A report of the Bridge of Boats game will appear on the Battle of the Month blog before too long but it brought up some interesting points.

The calm before the storm.
Firstly, although  my original intent was to do just enough units to play a few Teasers, I'm now thinking that I want enough troops to be able to run a campaign with more troops on the shelf than will be needed in any one game. Not sure yet exactly how many more but since shelf space has not expanded, this means I will have to be tougher about evicting some unused or unpopular units or armies as well as finding a way to leniently include some favoured units that don't quite fit. Things like 3rd C Thracian mercenaries in helmets with rhomphai, some wild barbarian mercenaries from beyond the boundaries of the civilized world, perhaps from beyond the Black Sea, some with perhaps a slightly celtic air. 

Secondly, I like some form of uncertainty in solo games and have been used to finding this in some combination of command control and variable moves. The morale and combat  results in WHAB seem to provide enough unpredicatility to satisfy myself and scupper carefully and not so carefully laid plans alike. \\\
They certainly provided several turn around points in the Bridge of Boats river crossing just played.

Thirdly, what to do about catapults? Now, really, in the 5th/6th C  I shouldn't need to think about any sort of engines of war unless carrying out a siege but when laying out the river crossing, I felt an awful urge to include them, like Alexander against the Skythians. Now if I was starting from scratch, I would probably be planning an Imperial Roman vs Sassinid campaign and Scorpions and Onagers would not be a problem. The same would apply if playing a Hyborian campaign, and of course I have a few engines kicking about,  hardly ever used in 30 years, some closer to appropriate than others. The jury is out, but if this is going to be my one ancients period then I may wave my magical wand and include them in certain scenarios, (like a river crossing).

Fourthly, the games this month have confirmed my feeling that points are not a good way to balance a game since some troops are always more worth their points than other, especially in certain situations and in a campaign, troops can't always pick their situation. So, while I may count points after the fact for interest  sake, I won't take them into account when designing the campaign armies. Units will be standard sized and troops armed as they are.Proportions of unit types included will be dependent on what seems reasonabl;e crossed with what is available and what I feel liek painting.

Next post, a first stab at orders of battle for the two sides.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Marathon played

Just a quick note for those not following the Game of the Month blog. I have just posted pictures and a report of my first play through of the battle of Marathon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Needs of the Many

I was amused to find that one of the earliest books on wargaming as a hobby, Joe Morschauser's How to Play Wargames in Miniature published in 1962, not only instructed would be gamers how to fasten miniatures to a stand to make a Basic Unit, it also gave tips for later removing the figure without damaging it. It would appear that the issues of whether or not to base miniatures and on what size and shape of base, as well as whether or not to treat the individual soldier as an entity or to only deal with the group, have been with us for at least as long as when I first started playing with toy soliders. Not that I am drawing a connection between the two events, only showing that it is no surprise that these issues have  been a recurring theme for me over the years.

It is not immediately apparent but there are 3 completely different issues which get rolled into this topic of basing though often only 1 or 2 are really germaine to any given project. It is no wonder that the question gets clouded, especially if one is looking for a universal solution.

What are these issues? I summarise them as follows:

a) Practical: Economy of Effort vs Flexibility
b) Esthetic: Static Diorama vs Moving Diorama
c) Theory: Element Statistics vs Counting Noses.

Lets start with the practical side. It doesn't take long pushing 24 or 48 man units of individual figures about to appreciate that some form of movement tray would make things easier. Over the years two main methods of speeding movement have been adopted, the temporary movement tray, often large enough to hold the whole unit or a large segment of it and the smaller permenant stand with various figures mounted on it. Easy. Now how do you change formation and mark the effects of combat?

 With some foresight it is usually possible  to arrange things so that the width of the smallest stand is acceptable as the width of the narrowest legal formation and so on. What if you want to split off part of a unit? or deploy a unit in either close or open order? or fit the stand into your terrain? Sometimes it is possible to arrange a convention, for example, saying that 2 close order stands with a gap between them  now represent the unit in open order. A lot depends on the design of the rules and often rules designed on an element basis (see below) will provide conventions and flat out forbid some things. The question of terrain becomes one of design or of acceptance, as in ruling that a stand in the middle of a small fort is actually manning the walls. With individual figures, these issues generally don't arise but it does take more care and time to move them, even on temporary trays and of course, if that flexibility is required then they have to "debus" and leg it on their own individual bases anyway. The pros and cons balance out in my experience.

The esthetic question actually has a 3rd side which I will mention then dismiss, some gamers don't care one way or the other so it becomes a non-issue. For those who do care, the most evident are the modellers who delight in making  each stand a little mini-diorama, the wounded soldier supported by his comrade, the panicked recruit being grabbed by  grizzled centurion and so forth. Some of these can be near works of art, others of us produce much more modest attempts but which are still fun to build. The thing that came slowly to me is that once done, they are fixed whether they are appropriate to the current situation or not. If loose figures are used, the gamer with time in hand and imagination in gear can advance his skirmishers from rock to tree and can artfully arrange his troops in rout or pursuit or make a suggestive gagle as the men file onto the bridge of boats or wade ashore to assault a foreign shore. The result will not be as definitive as a mini-diorama but rather more suggestive of a child at play  but in my experience, some individuals can retain that imagination through the decades, or rediscover it.

A phalanx advances, leaving a trail of bodies as graphic evidence of the effects of massed Persian bowfire. One could do some casualty vignettes to get an even better effect.

Finally we come to the red herring, the question of Elements. Briefly, I am using this term to refer to rules that treat a group of figures or "element" almost as a gaming counter, it has set characteristics that are used to determine the element's effectiveness and capabilities. The figures are only there to lend colour and perhaps take up space. This often requires either a roster or some form of markers though some rules, like DBA, manage without these. The other main alternative, is to use the figures themselves as markers, typically the number of figures is used as a factor in determing combat effectiveness and figures are removed to show casualties, loss of cohesion and so forth. In its purest form, the element system treats each group of figures a discrete unit but it is common to find hybrid systems where a number of elements units are grouped to form a  unit. In some cases these elements are then treated almost like individual figures rather than as true elements.

Why do I call this a red herring? Well, at one time I believed that an element system required figures to be fixed to bases of a set size and that nose counting systems required the ability to remove casualties. Anyone who has seen a casualty cap in use or used a roster can give the lie to the latter belief and I suspect it was was really a disguised prejudice against such things. The realization that fixed bases are conducive but not essential to element based rules was one of those head slapping revelations that occurred to me while agonizing about how to arrange a game designed for fixed elements when the troops that were going to take part were being supplied by three different players, each with a different basing system. Essentially if there is agreement as to what constitues an element and an amicable spirit of fair play then it doesn't matter  if this group of hoplites are fixed to a base while that group are all individually based, as long as everyone understands that the group of individuals is an entity,  has the same characteristics as it would if glued to a base and has to act as such.            

The Persians, 4 60mm x 40mm bases of 6 figures making a comfortable, easy to handle, unit with 3 formation options. The Carians are crammed in 8 to a base of the same size, a feat not possible with individual 25mm figures, not if you want them to be stable. Looks great at the start but partway through, uh-oh giant dunce caps! Well, I could have used pebbles or dead bodies but.... The hoplites they are fighting are using an emperimental deployment with a mix of 4's and 3's and singles, a failed experimental deployment.

So what does this have to do with my Persians? Well, they started life under a nose counting system with a mix of multiple figure bases and single figures, the worst possible system imaginable!. They were later rearranged into fixed 60mm wide elements, 2 deep for infantry, and fought as such under various element style rules where noses weren't counted and no casualties were marked or removed until the whole unit died. Without changing their basing, they went on to fight under WAB which assumes individual figures and thus, casualty caps or marker dice came into play. Practical but ugly and worse, my stands were poorly arranged and my tactical options were limited unless I started  down the path of figures moving sideways in amrch column or others being placed  in odd or illegal formations while I asked my opponat to please imagine that how they were supposed to be deployed.  In the short term, this was acceptable but once the decison was made to resuurrect 25mm ancients gaming as a major part of my hobby, a better solution was needed.   

Two reasonable alternatives presented themselves to me: re-adopt an elements based set of rules (and either convince my friends to follow me or else put up with the irritating limitations when not playing solo) or  rethink my basing system. After examing every system that I had come across or  used myself over the years, and after allowing the taste for toy soldiers that has resurfaced during the last 10  years, I decided to go with the WAB standard of individual figures on unit movement trays but using a frontage and organization that will still allow me to field 60mm wide elements when I need or want them.

The 1st Regiment of Immortals in their yellow caps, all smugly arranged in straight rows  on standard sized bases. Beside them, wait, that guy in the middle doesn't even have a base! But they are on a standard frontage and could claim to be an element if required, base or no.



Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bow & Spear

If you are putting together any flavour of Achamenid Persian army, then sooner or later, you have to deal with the question of how the infantry were armed. The confusion is due to the old conundrum of a little knowledge, in this case, conflicting knowledge. There is no question that spears, bows and shields were used by the Persians, Medes and various subject nations in addition to various hand weapons. The question is in what combinations? The evidence of a small amount of comtemporary artwork seems to imply that different units carried different combinations: bow & spear, spear and shield or bow and shield. Herodotus says that Cyrus divided the archers from the spearmen but describes the units in Xerxes' army as being armed with all three. A popular theory today is that the front rank had spear and shield while rear ranks carried bows.

Here we see the advantagce of element or unit based combat capability. Assign a missile factor to the unit and a close combat factor, fill the bases with figures to taste, and off you go. Simple and effective! Obviously I'm not going to go there. No, I've been increasingly seduced back into the world of toy soldiers and thus, individually  based wargame figures and while one can still give a unit combat and missile factors even if the figures taht constituute it aren't lued to bases and it is not absolutely essential that the figures are treated in WYSIWYG manner, it is part of the charm to do so.

Since WAB caters to this and is popular with most of my most likely opponants, its worth looking at how they treat the Persians. Right away we see both the strength and weakness of the system. The official lists give suggestions but let you make your own mind up as to what you think is the best intreptation of the history. Not that this isn't possible with other rules if you have a mind to, but I like to see it encouraged. The problem is that when dealing with individual figures in a scaled down unit with varied weapons, there is rarely a good solution. Their proposed one is to field 1 rank of spearmen and 3 of archers. Fair enough but the gamesman in me immediately says "wait a minute, a single rank of spearmen fights exactly the same as a rank of guys with just handweapons so why should I pay extra?". The historian says "well even if I buy into the front rank of spearmen intreptation, that theory says 1 spearmen and 9 archers make up a file, that's 90% archers,  not 75%".  Finally, and most importantly, I say "but the figures I want to use come from the days when we believed that Herodotus meant what he said and was right, so my spearmen all carry bow and shield as well!"

Lucky for me not only is it "MY army" but the rules allow for what I have without having to resort to house rules or modifications. My Immortals will be well armed with every man having bow, spear and wicker shield. The Medes and Persians will have 2 ranks of bow, spear & shield  armed troops and 2 ranks of bow only troops in the rear.   All of the above will be able to form the shield barrier depending on the rules being used.

The subject nations will be more varied and will be fielded as the figures are, some just spear or javelin and shield, some just bow, some mixed bow & spear, oh yes and 1 unit of slingers. I haven't decided yet which bow armed levies will be able to do the shield barrier thing.

The cost of reorganization. My 36 Immortals merged with 12 Medes to make two 24 man units. Since this was the size originally envisaged, I have enough leftovers to end up with 1 Immortal and 2 Mede/Persian infantry regiments all 24 strong. Somewhere down the road, I will add a palace guard in long robes but there are 12 guardsmen that will have to turn in the yellow caps and red over tunics that mark my Immortals and don the white caps and varied tunis of mortal soldiers. I have 12 castings ready for priming to deal with first though.

Next entry, selecting a campign army list without including nations not yet conquered.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Second Thoughts

I spent a considerable time and effort convincing myself that 18 figure units, or more accurately, units with 3 bases each of 6 infantry or 6 bases of 3 cavalry, were the way to go. Maybe one day I'll learn that when I have to work that hard to convince myself of something then its probably not right. While preparing to refight Marathon, I ended up having to play with unit configurations and found that surprise, surprise, the 24 man units that I had originally envisaged were flexible and looked good.
As originally envisaged: 24 man units with 12 man light infantry and cavalry units.
Now if I do revert to 24 man infantry units, what do I do with the cavalry? Keeping to the premise that all regiments are 1,000 strong I have 2 choices: field 24 man cavalry and skirmisher units or field the cavalry and light infantry as 1/2 units or wings, for example the Skythian horse archer unit would be 24 strong but might take the field as two 12 man wings or even four 6 man troops on the day of battle. Actually having the "quarter" as an administrative and tactical sub-unit appeals to me. I have no reason to believe the Persians used such an organization but then, as I've said before, this is "MY" army.

Of course, now I'll need to paint up more troops, but that's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Last Look Back

One of the 1st wargame units I painted, was a unit of LMI (light-medium infantry for the uninitiated) with spear and bow. Thee were converted from Airfix Ancient British kneeling figures, short sleeved red shirts, leather jack, yellow pants, conical bronze helmet. Absolutely useless under WRG3, light infantry would outshoot them and heavy infantry could slauhter them in hand to hand. When I started thinking about those old armies, and checked my usual sources of inspiration from college days, I came up short. The bow and spear idea came from the Persian entry on the list of allowable double weaponry. But why did I think those Britons looked like Persians? Then I dug out an even older book as I started to prepare to refight Marathon.

  Well, well, lookie there! That's them in the middle, well pretty much. How about that?
The book is Stories of Great Battles by Robert N. Webb, illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, published by Whitman Publishing Co in 1960.  More on the book and the Marathon refight on my other blog.

The good news is that I have started work again on organizing and rebasing as I prepare for a small spring campaign. More on this later this week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tales from beyond the frontier

Last March, 4 of us got together for a weekend WAB  campaign of the use what you got sort. My Persians, Gary's Assyrians, Big Jeff's Barbarian's and Little Jeff with his dad's Carthaginians.  We played four 1 on 1 games (2 each) and then the Persians with their Assyrian levies, err I mean allies against the various outlandish types. Having seen what was out there, we decided there was no need to expand the Empire. (unhuh, yup that was our story).

In the first game, Rosius destroys the Phoenician Rebels, err I mean the Carthaginians, despite their use of strange beasts.

Persian levies massed for the final battle. Pity that our Assyrian allies cracked...........

RAFM Skythian noble cavalry chases off some some barbarian tribesmen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new blog

Happy New Year  to all!  As promised, I have just started a 2nd blog. There still some wrinkles to work out, especially as to how the 2 blogs will relate and interface, if at all, but the new blog will consist primarily of battle reports as I play through some of the scenarios and Tabletop Teasers in Battlegames Magazine. It can be found at:
Hopefully next week I can spend a bit more time working on my armies and will be able to add some more posts and start towards getting the lads on the table again.