Friday, August 19, 2011

Mixing it up

It was too hot and muggy to do much else today, so, more rules tuning.

The Peltast/Psiloi question is now settled. in favour of them being the same general troop classification but with the peltast types being better in melee. At some point I may feel the need for a new classification of fast moving tribal infantry but at the moment I think they can be covered by either light or medium infantry with possibly a special rule for a given medium infantry units moving in difficult terrain or else I may have some units that can be deployed either way.

While I was messing with troop types I dealt with another issue that was looming. My cavalry classifications were basically mirroring DBA but they just didn't seem to fit.   After some more pondering, I decided to divide the missile/shock categories into medium and heavy categories with the latter being cavalry on armoured horses who are less mobile.

I was having trouble trying to find simple ways to cover some of the things around charges, missile fire etc and remembered that I had briefly considered moving the missile fire to the start of the turn but hadn't taken a serious look at it. Today I did and then had a sudden thought about moving charges as well. This brought a few things together and made the result both simpler and closer to what I have had in mind.

Again the rules have been updated. Hopefully tomorrow will be cooler so I can play  a game as I am champing at the see how they feel. It would be nice to play 5 games with no changes!

Scaling Down

When I used the Granicus as the basis for a generic scenario, since I wasn't doing a recreation, I  only  looked at the rough ratio of troop types, (cav, lt infanty, infantry) not the actual numbers.  When laying it out my first thought was, that's not very many troops, I should double that. It would have meant dipping deep into the not-yet-refurbished pile and anyway wouldn't have fit into the 5 foot frontage that I had allocated so I let it be. (There is a roach in the middle of the battlefield that prevents the hardboard river from lying flat if laid the other way. Persian engineers have been tasked with leveling the playing field this fall)

After the game though, I did look though and figured out that the ratio was about 1:200. Doubling would have brought this to 1:100, double the units and probably close to double the playing time. . But would it have doubled my fun? Somehow I doubt it though for a 4 or 6 player game on an 8 foot table if would have been necessary.

But these calculations were swiftly followed by more. At around 1:200, a 1,000 man Persian unit would only be 5 figures, lets say 4 for sake of tidiness. 10 such units would make a standard "division" of 10,000 men. If I were to take battles like Platea as a standard, there is something to be said for that. But assuming somewhere around 1 pace per file, 100 men deployed 10 deep would occupy about 100 paces, or if I squeeze them in, 30 mm. Depending on how generous yoiu are, that gives a reasonable bow range of 60 -75 mm. Let's be generous and say 3". Not really what I had in mind starting out.

Turning back to what I had had in mind, I set out a version of Charles Grant's Apocryphal Well scenario and played out a quick test. (I'll be redoing this as a proper battle report later, I want to work on a few things first.) As I was setting out the troops in their customary 4 ranks, I was startled to be reminded that in the book they were deployed 2 deep like all infantry apart from pikemen were in the "good old days". When did I start assuming that all infantry deployed 4 deep? I must have played too much WHAB over the last decade!  This started  me thinking again about historical formations, depths and frontages, things I had worked hard to put from my mind!  

We don't exactly have a plethora of Persian drill manuals to refer to but if memory serves, the last time I checked, the thought was that each 100 man "company" formed 10 wide and 10 deep with the 1,000 man "regiment" forming 100 wide and 10 deep. Their Greek opponents seem to have usually formed 6 or 8 deep but occasionally 12 until the Thebans got crazy, and of course the Macedonians went with 16 as standard.
The later Hellenistic armies had drills for doubling ranks and so forth but I suspect that the Persians and early Greeks formed they way they were and that was it for the day. All I need to worry about for the moment then are march columns for some scenarios and "formed for battle".  (hmmm I seem to have accidentally deleted  all reference to changing formation, I'd better add something back in).  All of my basing investigation so far, has focused on  a 4 deep infantry formation. I don't really want to go much deeper so this looks like the traditional 3-4 ranks per figure giving a 4 figure deep pike phalanx and 2 figure deep Greek phalanx, possibly with a basing option for 3 deep and either 2 or 3 ranks for the Persians. OK but all else being equal, including table width, 2 ranks instead of 4  means 1/2 as many figures on the table!

1/2 as many figures also means either smaller units or fewer of them. Smaller units is taking me where I was headed in June, a direction I have already rejected but since the plan is to fight a number of CS Grant teasers, I don't want to change the number of units. I don't really want to reduce the number of figures drastically either, so I need to make them fit. I did notice that my 24 man units deployed 2 deep occupied 4/5 of the frontage of one of Grant's 40 man units on the old WRG frontages. That's a good argument for tightening up the files. If I deploy  my 24 strong units 8 wide and 3 deep with a 15mm  frontage per figure, then this nicely stands in for a 1,000 strong "regiment" deployed 10 deep and 100 wide.  The 120mm (~ 5") frontage then represents possibly 100 paces which makes a 12" bow range look reasonable.


Now, the next question is, should I really have separate skirmisher and light infantry categories? or should I base peltasts and psiloi alike, give them the same movement etc capabilities and just give the peltasts better melee capability? It would make both life and  scenarios easier. Hard to separate years of wargame rules from actual evidence and speculation. I'm trying to think, for example, of an occasion in Xenephon, Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy or Caesar where that approach would be wrong.

Possibly I could allow some peltasts to go 2 stands deep to represent them forming in close order, or maybe leave the unit as single figures and choose an appropriate movement tray to allow them to be fielded as either medium or light infantry on any given day.  Needs some thought.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rosin Up The Bow

After a quick test game last night, I have been "fiddling"  with the rules. Nothing serious just some tweaks, a few typos corrected, some name changes and:the following:

  • Orders chart. Having reminded myself that I've been trying to get rid of separate morale tests, I have removed the rout and shaken results from the orders test and tweaked the effect of generals slightly.
  • Movement. I decided that the movement rules didn't need to be so finicky so I have loosened them up. Some gamers might exploit this in unreasonable ways but that's better than cumbersome restrictions that can sometimes end up preventing reasonable moves. 
  • Shooting. When I dropped the 25% shooting casualties shakes a unit, I increased the "to hit" number to 4,5,6. This was too deadly against cavalry so I have rearranged the modifiers and given a  -1 vs cavalry modifier
  • Rout. Instead of having rout as a cumulative melee or an order check result, I have made it a result of accumulated shaken markers. 2 for most troops, 1 for Levy, 3 for Elite. . 

. Time for more testing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Battle of the Halys, sort of.

To test the  current version of the Gathering of Hosts rules, I staged a game loosely based on a scaled down version of the Granicus with Lydians and Medes standing in. This will kick off a truce and let me get on with the Great Rebellion, this time with a little more background imagineering.

The rules themselves under went some fierce scrutiny, primarily aimed at preferences and some very visible changes without changing the core ideas and values. The updated rules as played are available from the google docs. The battle report is on BattleGame of the Month.  The short version is that the Medes are convinced that scythed chariots are the weapon of the future........well, as long as you can get the enemy to present the flank of his phalanx to you......

I want to run the rules again so next up will be a game which sees the Rebels and the Great King's forces clashing over an important watering hole at Apochyrpha on the border of Hyrkania.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Experimental Clibinari

I decided to indulge myself and start in on some Clibinari. These are from the  Garrison 25mm Achaemenid list. What I really wanted were some Sassinid figures, but I had a unit of these in my Valdurian army many years ago. Like my Sassinid elephants, they went missing when I graduated from college and headed west. To be honest, I expected to have followed up with Sassinids by now but maybe this fall. In any event, it felt like time to paint some up. This is where I hit a small hitch, I had no idea how the figure should look. 

This figure, with its baggy pants, cowl, short sleeved over tunic and gallic style hauberk, doesn't resemble any illustrations of Achaemenids that I have seen, thought the short sleeves are typical of Garrison Persians.  I thought I saw something similar in the 2,500 th anniversary parade but on reviewing the video footage I couldn't find them again so perhaps I imagined it.  That was one problem, the other was that I hadn't decided yet who they will represent, Rebels, Persian Nobles, subjects from which province?  It seemed smart to stop and figure that out and work on a test figure.

After trying a dab a colour or 2 to see how it looked, and doing some thinking, I decided that these would be Nobles answering the call to arms, not a regular guard unit. My first thought was to make them Rebels along with my Garrison light cavalry, my "Hyrkanians", but the more I looked at what figures I had available, painted and unpainted,  and thought about scenarios, I decided to put the Garrison Persians on one side, that made these loyal Nobles. One question answered.  

Leather seemed like a reasonable fabric to make a protective hood out of but in addition to not being able to find .any Persian or similar examples, the hood has wrinkles like cloth not leather thick enough to protect. fabric. If you ignore the helmet, the head piece actually resemble one versions of the usual Persian headgear. Since this is often shown as white, I tried painting this one white. That seemed a bit too stark a contrast so I fell back on a dark yellow.

The short sleeved over tunic could probably be almost any colour, my Immortals and light cavalry wear uniform versions but then you can see the whole thing, here only the sleeves show. More than that, I decided that these would be Nobles rather than guardsmen and uniform doesn't sit well with Nobles. A compromise was in order, I went with a dark red that might have been a leather under tunic or might be a tabard of sorts.

Baggy pants and tunics were next. Since they were now nobles answering the call, colourful and non-uniform seemed in order. If the pants had been tight, I'd have thought about embroidery but stiff embroidery doesn't seem to match billowing fabric and I didn't want to go for the cotton print look either so solid colours with embroidery on the tunic, mostly a little brighter colours than this fellow with his dark blue pants perhaps.

Although the armour might be  bronze scale, I have opted for iron since that says "cataphract" to me, but I added polished bronze bits to brighten them. The shields might have been wood or leather or born personal devices but without a reference point, these being nobles in the King's service, and me being lazy, I settled on plain purple shields with a bronze boss.

Now, 11 more to go as the opposing Royal and Rebel armies take shape in my mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ready for a Taste Test

I have gone back to the January edition of gathering of Hosts and applied various lessons learned. The results are now ready for a play test, hopefully one by me this weekend. We will be on puppy watch so I can't go far anyway.

Apart from tightening up details and language, the big change is to replace a rally test and a break test with automatic disorder if suffering 25% missile casualties in 1 turn or losing a round of melee by suffering 50% more hits than inflicted. A compulsory rally/break test for all disordered units then closes the turn. This avoids most of the double jeopardy issues with a separate test but gives a small chance to recover in melee while putting levies, under strength units and melee losers at risk of panic.

It also allowed me to simplify the movement rules.

The old figure rally rule was both fun and tiresome and while it sometimes worked, I think this will give me the same general end result with less fuss and more reliability. Poor units will tend to fall apart, good quality heavy units can withstand a tremendous amount of missile fire before being destroyed but are at risk of temporary disorder.

The updated rules are available on Google Docs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Large, Small or Not at All

That pretty much sums up two key issues that are on the table as I prime some Clibinari and try to figure out where I was at with the rules last June: scale and unit organization.

Scale can mean various things when talking about a miniature wargame, what I am considering is the size of size of battle being represented and its implications for ground scale and the figure to man ratio.  The traditional approach was to design a low level game and then fudge it for use with big battles, an approach that seemed to work well for many despite the inherent contradictions that meant that it probably wasn't  really a good simulation at either end.

I started off last year with an "Old School" approach settling on 24 man "regiments". Each theoretically represented around 1,000 men,  but were used to refight both "bathtubbed" historical battles and scale-less Tabletop Teasers, some approaching battles in feel, others with a skirmish flavour.   In large part this is a reflection of the pleasure that I have had over the years from reading Charles Grant's ancient battle reports. Lately, I have been drawn to the idea of each stand being a unit.   This has confused the issue dreadfully.

Unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, they are a matter of preference.

So perhaps the real question is:
 "Is last year's decision still valid or is there a good reason to change course?".

I decided that a good starting point was to review the games played last year. All these were solo games (except the 40mm Prince Valiant skirmish which at first blush has nothing to do with the Gathering of Hosts). The battles ranged from an ambush of a priestess and her escort to refights of Platea and Marathon. The rules varied once I decided to start writing a set but they were all aimed at the same sort of  game, and I enjoyed them all. One mark for staying the course.

The ambush game was probably as low as the rules can go and really was smaller than what the game was designed to represent just as Platea and Marathon were technically larger than what the rules were designed to represent. The ambush game could have been played as easily, or perhaps better, using the Prince Valiant  Dark Age skirmish rules but oddly, it was a version of the mid-sized battle that was successfully played as a skirmish. Here, perhaps, we find another hidden question at the heart of the matter:

"Do I need 2 different 'ancient' collections?".

If all the skirmish games were played using the individually based 40mm Fall of Rome collection and the 25mm figures were used to recreate large battles, then there would be a clear separation of purpose beyond liking the look of this figure or that or being emotionally attached to various toys. After all, time for painting and playing are limited as is money for acquisition of figures. Wouldn't reduction to a single pre-gunpowder period make sense? Well, yes, but its not always about making sense and anyway, abandoning the Persian Project now after having just invested scarce resources to it doesn't make sense either.

If the Persians are going to stay, does it then make sense to rob them of the capability of fighting many different types of action just so the big battles can be done more realistically? Not to me. If they were redesigned to primarily refight the great battles of history as fought by all the Persian armies from the days of the Mede Kings to the fall of the Sassanians, wouldn't I then be forced to acquire yet more armies for them to fight as well? That doesn't make sense either.

What about altering the 25mm armies so that they can be used to provide a |'Portable Army'? This is the another question that has been lurking. If each stand becomes a 'unit' of a thousand men and a small game can be played with say 12 such units wouldn't that be convenient? At the same time, historical battles could be fought with large armies represented by 50,000 or more men using rules designed to do that. Both these suggestions have merit but only if these are things I really want to do. When and against who would I play these games. I have other portable games that I can play when I feel the need, do I need them in all periods?

I decided to go back to one of my other sources for inspiration, my tatty little Penguin translation of the Xenaphon's Anabasis.  It didn't take long for things to come together. Xenephon describes both small skirmishes and largish battles, but he does so in a way that you feel involved  at various levels. in fact you feel a bit like you do when playing some of those less than accurate simulations that were Old School ancient wargames or reading of of Grant's battle reports. No wonder I enjoyed what I had been doing last year, I was well primed for it.

In other words, it looks like I have allowed my self to be diverted from the path I was on by distractions and false trails. As long as abide by my allocations of shelving space there is not really any advantage to getting rid of existing collections if I take the long term view. For example, I have unpainted figures on hand for both Prince Valiant and my Persian armies and their foes and I may well buy more if I have the resources to spend but I can already stage games with either collection. The addition or refurbishment of  figures is only to add variety/options or to improve the look.  I can't paint or play both at the same time, but there may well be years of gaming ahead yet and even if each collection only gets out a few times a year or only has a few figures painted up or even skips a year, there will be games enough to make each worth having and figures enough to paint.

Given that conclusion, the answers become that my units should remain as they are, 24 figure "regiments" of a 1,000 men  that can be sent to do the work of 100 men or 10,000, without worrying about scale at all. What this also means is  that I need to revisit my rules, especially some of last June's experiments.