Friday, October 18, 2013

Old Warriors Re-incarnated

My first ancient warriors were 25mm hard plastic Mini-Marx Vikings.

 Picture from, somewhere on the web, some years ago.

I loved those Vikings but I also longed for the Elastolin Vikings and Saxons and the occasional Giant 20mm copy only whetted my appetite. My first real ancient wargame figures though, were the nearly universal Airfix Ancient Britons.

Hands up anyone who isn't familiar with this old Airfix standard!  Painting these c1999 convinced me that I was past trying to paint 20mm figures. (oops)
Anyway 4 Warband elements and 2 Psiloi.

Fast forward to the early 21st Century and all the old figures were gone but a friend of mine started talking about building a DBA army using 1/72 figures but using the 15mm figure basing. Well, amongst my guilty pleasures had been the occasional purchase of 1/72nd plastic figures for largely nostalgic reasons mixed with curiosity to see some of the new stuff that I would have loved to have had available in the '70's.

The Skythians from Zvezda's Persians and some Italeri Saracens provided some Light Horse nomad allies. I would not have had to convert horse archers out of Waterloo Hussars with Paratrooper helmets and various bits if these had been available in 1972.

These included the Hat release of the Airfix Ancient Britons, the Revel Saxons which included copies of many Elastolin figures and just recently, the Orion Vikings that included copies of not only the 54mm Marx but my old Mini-Marx Vikings! (also released as 60mm Warriors of the World).

From the Orion Viking set.  The 8 front rank figures  in horned helmets are copies of the old 25mm Minimarx figures as is a bareheaded axeman in rear, the standard bearer is a copy of one of the Marx 54mm vikings which I converted and the rest are either Revel Saxons or Orion Vikings. Based here as one Psiloi and  3 Warband (4) or Blade elements.

In a week I had a "Barbarian" army put together using a DBA Late German list (Alemanic maybe?) . No enemy was forthcoming so I carried on, dug further and found boxes of Persians and Saracens and bought a box of Italeri Gallic cavalry and soon I had another "Barbarian" army using a different list, early Gothic possibly? (Can't lay my hand on the DBA list of the time).  In the 10 years since I slapped them together, I think they have been out to play DBA 3 times and once came with me on a business trip to try out some ideas for a traveling game. Now they've been out again and had more fun than ever before.

A mix of Orion Vikings including more Marx copies, Revel Anglo-Saxons including lots of Elastolin copies  and Airfix Ancient Britons. More warband/blades plus 2 stands of Bow(3).

 Last and least were 2 Cav elements, 1 for each army, from a  box of Italeri Gallic cavalry which happened to be in a local shop. 

The 1/72nd figures are very nice, small but still very visible and the weight and size is darned convenient for portable armies being carted up and down stairs .....But I'm not going to get diverted  into building up a campaign's worth of 1/72nd armies.  Not even if there are some boxes of 1/72nd Cataphracts  in the cupboard wondering what they are doing here, and some Romans. Nor am I going to rebase them onto something more standard like 60mm elements.

Not going to happen! .


Certainly not this year.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Hosts Gather for the Battle of the Crowning Stone

No one knows the origin of the Crowning Stone, it is lost in the mists of time but no King of the Land has been crowned anywhere else. So it was that Airafix was greatly troubled when  word came that a host of warriors from over the sea had landed and were marching on the Crowning Stone, boasting of their plan to haul it away. Great was his relief when the High King sent his champion Italeria with a great host  of horsemen to join the fight. The two armies mustered and marched upon the Stone.

The armies deployed and taking advantage of the nice new grid lines. 6 units of infantry flanked by light infantry archers in the distance, 2 elite cavalry, 3 horse archers, 2 light infantry and a skirmish unit of archers in the foreground. 

Italeria sat upon his horse and gazed past Stone Hill at the immense dust cloud. His experience suggested that upwards of 50 men marched towards the nearly 30 men under his command but they were huddled like sheep and all marched on foot and they did not worry him. What worried him as he ambled forward was how his Steppe mercenaries could tell who one was talking about if they were all named Alan?

Suddenly he realized that the enemy had stolen a march on him and were already climbing the farside  of the hill. Damn! His plan had been to make use of the superior speed of his cavalry and light infantry to get there first and sieze the advantage of ground. Now it would be be his loose scattering of men against their shield wall, meeting at the crest  with no advantage of ground. That didn't seem like a good plan. Showering with missiles might work if they weren't in dead ground. He didn't really have any other plan. Might be a good time to call up a druid to slaughter a chicken while he waited and maybe let the Alans work around the flank while the dead chicken thought up a plan.

Ahh, that was better, the enemy had come forward and manned the edge of the hill and the Alans were circling behind them. He waved Airafix and his light infantry to do the same on the other side. Once the enemy had been worn down a bit, he would lead his bodyguard in a death or glory ride against the shieldwall.

On the hill, King Orion rested on his shield during a break in the series of hit and run attacks. This had all seemed so simple, march up, take the hill, scare off the locals. Well, the locals seemed scared enough but that didn't seemed to help. They kept showering the hill with arrows and javelins and running away when threatened. His men had good shields and some armour and knew how to keep a tight formation but every now and then an arrow slipped by. His own archers had eventually been overwhelmed and only rarely did the enemy come close enough for his men to respond with their own javelins. Come nightfall he prayed or let the enemy grow rash.

As the sun sank and the enemy's shieldwall grew thinner, Italeria grew impatient. At last he had his trumpeter blow charge and he and his companions rode forward. As they smashed into the enemy from two sides the enemy collapsed. Singing a song of triumph, Italeria pushed forward into their ranks only to smash up against a new shield wall, glancing up he could see the enemy's dragon banner overhead. It was the last thing he saw.

The battle was not so easily won however, on one flank Airafix led his light infantry forward while the King of the Alans honoured the alliance (contract). His horse archers had been mauled earlier when they followed up their arrows with a charge so he kept them back now but the arrows kept raining down. With the shieldwall shrinking Orion himself was struck by an arrow and the shieldwall crumbled.

Aerafix, Lord of the Old Ones, guardian of the Crowning Stone. 


I had planned to try out the ungridded version of the Gathering of Hosts using my Turanians but I don't have a handy carrying case for them and didn't feeling like making several trips up and down stairs lugging trays of metal 25mm figures. I opted to spend some time reorganizing and basing some 1/72nd ACW troops  and then, with memories of the invisible grid still in my mind, grabbed a green felt marker and quickly lined out the grid. The improved board just called out to be tested and suddenly I recalled the makeshift 1/72nd DBA armies tucked away in a dark corner for the last decade. That's a story for another day but the test game was on! 

The first game lasted about 5 minutes before I called a halt, reset the table and turned back to the rules. Another 5 minutes of adjustments  and I launched into a game which kept me rivetted for an hour. I still need to do some editing for example, I caught myself applying various unwritten rules, and I need to look a bit closer at some of the troop type definitions and check that they each have a role  but essentially I am ready to roll. The big decision now is whether to stick with 1 stand per unit + markers (the smart move) or break the units down into 1 stand per strength point.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Teaser: Battle for the Crowning Stone

Tomorrow: A test game of  Gathering of Hosts. 

The light infantry and cavalry of the warlord Italeria with his ally Airafix fight the shieldwall of King Orion of the Minamarx and Elastolikes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Hosts consider the Articles of War

I suppose it is Landsknechts in particular that we think of as agreeing to the offered Articles of War before signing on but I like to think that my toy armies and I go through a similar process. To avoid spinning too many tires I have spent a fair amount of time over the last 3 days re-reading old rules related blog posts, game reports and post game discussion, old rules drafts and so on.

Despite various superficial and important things like organization, basing and the grid/no grid debate the real key essence is the choice between figure dependent, element dependent or unit dependent rules.

 Figure Dependent. This is Old School nose counting. A unit is composed of X number of figures. The number of figures affects the unit's combat strength and figures are removed (or marked) to record its deterioration as a result of combat. Usually this is coupled with separate morale tests as strength and morale are considered related but separate things. The main advantage is that it is simple and intuitive but it is also quite flexible. It also encourages large numbers of figures which may be good or bad depending on circumstances and preferences. The main disadvantage is that it is administratively heavy. If bases are used rosters or markers must also be used and tracked rigorously. If singles are used they must not only be deployed and moved about but the casualties must be gathered up and sorted and re-united with their units afterwards. If, as usually the case, the units are large, it is hard to adapt to hexes. Smallish units on large hexes pose no difficulty however.

Element Dependent.  This is what I think of as the Middle School approach, basically a stream lined development of the OSW approach. Now units are composed of standardized elements or bases of troops. Strength is measured in elements rather than figures and losses are taken in terms of elements. If a roster is used then this slides backward to being just a variation of figure dependent. Fire & Fury is the classic example of this approach but it has been used in ancients as well. This approach shares many of the benefits of the OSW figure approach but without the admin burden. If used with hexes, it is often hard to get enough elements to fit in a hex and its starts to edge towards being a less sophisticated version of a unit based game.

Unit Dependent. This is the Morchauser/DBA/Armati/Impetus approach. The unit is treated as a whole. Usually it is on 1 base but Armati, for example, uses 2 bases for compatibility and to allow some units to be formed wide or deep when being deployed. Losses are taken in whole units, generally with no degradation along the way. There way be a roster  but it is against a theoretical morale/combat value and not a mere matter of how many figures are present. The advantages are largely in simplicity of administration and play but also in allowing scales to be played with, allowing large battles to be recreated with fewer troops. The most administratively simple method is the DBA live/die approach which does not track slow attrition. Mostly this works with a loss of flavour and intuitiveness rather than accuracy. The alternate roster approach seems to resolve that which may be one of the reasons why Armati and Impetus have been popular. As long as the stand size fits the grid, this is the easiest system to adapt to a grid.

Looking back, Gathering of Hosts began as figure based and migrated to element based and was exploring unit based when it collided with the square brigadier and everything froze in time. I'm not going back to figure based.  I was however leaning towards element based until I started looking at practicalities crossed with battle reports. Unexpectedly, many of the best games actually came from the unit based angle  and that is where I will take them.

For my own convenience, I will adopt what was once the universal 60mm  frontage for my own units,  largely because that will fit on my grid yet can will still work without a grid but any size and basing will work from card board counters to 24 individual models or anything else. Maneuver will be by groups but combat will be by unit. As much as I hate using little dice to mark hits, I will plan on it for now and limit the number of "hits" to a maximum of 6 per unit.  

I have also decided to once again drop the activation dice, largely because I find that it works best with certain ratios of generals to troops, ratios I don't always find myself using. Instead I will rely on my standard initiative roll with Orders tests for units not in command etc.

Everything else will remain the usual as much as possible.

One of the small "unit" based games from last year that I enjoyed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Host Stirs

It hasn't quite woken yet but there is stirring in the camps and scouts have been dispatched.

While the councils of war are still in progress, there have been some decisions taken.
Campaigns. I have not yet dismissed the idea of 'proper'  Romans in lorica segmenta and bracae but there will be no new armies until I get caught up. That means:

1) Anglo-Scots. The goal is 2 small matched armies. In practice most games will be small brushes but I will set it up to do Bannockburn. technically that should mean 2 rule sets if not two armies but I'll ignore that. Figures are on hand, ready for the winter painting season.

Archived shot of the Scots, patiently waiting for the Sassanach to arrive.

2) Five Kingdoms. This is the one that started as sort of Greco-Bactrian and proto-Sassinids  and is now on track to be fictional bordering on fantasy. I do know one army will be at least vaguely Persian and another have heavy Skythian influence and since I want an army of barbarian infantry, one of them though possibly not one that looks all that appropriate for the time and place.

Archive shot of Rossius the Forgotten,
once again collecting a new army to lead into battle.
Basing. Its a bit of a confused mishmash at moment with singles, 40mm, 60mm and 80mm bases. The move to 80mm bases has been squashed and will eventually be reversed. As long as Ron and I are using hexes, anything that fits in a hex is compatible but if I do hexes, mine will be 3" not 4" so I am going to standardize on a 60mm frontage again.  I might, however, do a number of troops on 1/2 bases or not.
Rules. Ah, hmm. I may end up with 2 sets, one with a roster and morale tests, another with unit removal. I've gone both ways in the past and both methods have merit. The current set seem to have been abandoned 1/2 way through an edit and contains some serious contradiction so priority one is to bring them to order, grid-free. A Gridded variant may follow or a completely different hex/square version. I certainly intend to see the armies marching across the card table and the main table this winter. Anyway work will start this weekend on cleaning them up.