Monday, December 30, 2013

Border Skirmish

I didn't start this game with a well defined scenario in mind, just a rough idea, 2 partial armies that I wanted to get on the table and a set of rules to test. As I started pulling terrain out, the ideas slowly came together.
The defending Western forces were:
3 units of spearmen
1 unit of infantry
1 unit of archers
2 units of impetuous light infantry
1 unit of impetuous levy light infantry
2 units of skirmishes.
4 units of skirmishes and light infantry along with 4 dummies were hidden in various woods with neither side knowing which marker was which. The rest were in the palisaded village . Break Point 4.

The Midlish punitive expedition was composed of 2 units of cavalry one of which were Elite, heavily armoured knights, 2 units of archers, 1 of billmen (infantry) and 3 of spearmen.
Their rather ambitious mission was to capture the village by nightfall so that they could levy a contribution and be ready to head home before enemy reinforcements could arrive. Break point 3.

The Billmen, top,  far right are guarding the flank while the column presses on. A unit of light infantry has popped up behind the column and has just forced the archers to retreat.

The game started well enough with the Midlish column pushing ahead, archers in the lead, clearing dummy cards from several woods and being ambushed by skirmishers or light infantry from others. It didn't take long to halt the game for a rethink. Decisions still seemed too sudden and all the various charge bonuses and shooting nuances that were being tested weren't being matched by an equivalent control as to when things happened leading to counter charge and reaction rules and......this was where I broke for a think and tweak and came back, re-running the handful of shots and melees that had been done.The game felt better so I pushed on.

The redone melee did see the archers slightly more wounded but moments later a charge by the spearmen drove off the light infantry. (In the first go the light infantry had charged and wiped out the spearmen in one go due to a slightly over average roll.) In the distance, the Midlish army is struggling with poor command dice and an awkwardly placed wood. On top of the wood the West Folk are emerging and forming a battle line on top of the hill.

The game continued to flow well with the defending spearmen somewhat afraid to advance on to the plain and the attackers still struggling to get their force together while light troops harassed their infantry. At last the defenders got cheeky and charged some light troops in on the attacking infantry while moving the Islemen with their axes forward to stop the cavalry from interfering. It worked better than intended when the knights charged them and rolled one of the biggest handfuls of 1's and 2's I can remember seeing in a long time. The Islemen of course responded by rolling up.    
 Victory hangs in the balance. 
The loss markers were made up for Armati games in the late 90's.

Again the Midlish command rolls were low and most of their army was beyond command control was out of command making it hard to bring up reinforcements. They used the time to try and rally but shaken to the core apparently, the knights kept rolling 1 on their rally rolls despite being the General's body guard. Luckily for them the main body of infantry had driven off the light troops after a fierce and prolonged fight but the cavalry unit was suffering a slow trickle of losses to some very veteran skirmishers. 

At this point both armies were 1 loss away from breaking. Possibly the BP should have been a little higher but the game did last longer than I expected with lots of to and fro so maybe not, anyway, it is an optional rule in the event of no other victory conditions. It this case it was to capture the town by nightfall, I had just forgotten to say when that was!

Time to do or die, the cavalry charged the skirmishers carrying on into the spearmen while the knights charged the Islemen again. This time both melee's went as expected. The heavy cavalry did some damage but were eventually driven back while the Islemen were blown apart by the shock of the knight's charge. They retreated with 1 strength point remaining but pursuit was blocked by a fresh unit spearmen. The defenders made a good command roll, pulling back quickly into the palisade and the Earl suddenly noticed that the sun was setting. Letting the infantry straggle up out of command and taking time to rally too many troops too often had used up the day. 

It was time to go home before the woods got any darker.

The end of the day. Neither army quite defeated but the village not even attacked let alone taken and burnt.

So that's its for 2013.

  Happy New Year to all !

Look to see more Gathering of Hosts Medieval/Fantasy battles in the year ahead as well as more discussion on the thoughts behind the rules as they get  tried under fire and as I polish and add the fantasy supplement. 

Friday, December 27, 2013


The holiday is over, back to work! Well, maybe work isn't exactly the right word.
While still happy with the over all feel of Hosts, I had some nagging concerns about some aspects. The more I tried to address them, the worse they seemed to get. They seemed to be growing in complexity with more and more special cases without becoming more authentic or accurate and units seemed to be variously too fragile or too resilient.
After a break, I went back to the original requirements. Briefly:
Simple and abstract
Not showing tactical details
Missile fire to wear troops down not to be quickly decisive.
Melee to normally be a grind but with the chance of being quickly decisive.
The core issues seemed to resolve around the number of dice vs the number of hits that could be taken. The bits making me unhappy all stemmed primarily from this.
After deciding to restore melee as a simultaneous struggle (which feels more natural to me) rather than taking turns hitting, I started wondering about using the difference in scores and then had a sudden flash of inspiration to separate hits from strength point loss. After that, it became easy to bring it all back together and closer to the original vision. Neither of these concepts are particularly original but they seemed to be just what I needed.
There were a few other things such as reverting to 2 orders for remote units rather than the die roll. Its just easier and more integrated as well as keeping with the abstract for effect angle.
The rules are available here:
Current version of Gathering of Hosts
A report on the test game tomorrow .

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Coming up

I've run out of time but I have a game to report and some discussion on the rules to write up tomorrow .  All good.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Yuletide Greetings

A very safe and Merry Christmas to all my readers and their loved ones.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cold Trod

The Witch of the Woods brings word to Lord Alexander.

At last the Midland punitive expedition wades the Pfelt Burn and makes its way towards Caer Marachs. Their mission Is to take and burn the fortified border village .

A play test of Gathering of Hosts is bound to follow ere long. I confess that I have some doubts about the new melee mechanism where the number of dice drop as a unit takes hits but 1 game is not enough to settle the matter and despite misgivings, the system worked ok in the first test game. 

My clromebook had a nervous breakdown this morning so this I
is a trial post from her tablet. Please bear with me. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Midlish Muster

The Earl of Cowcross'n arrives to take command of a West March muster.
(Any resemblance between the Arms of the imaginary earl and those of the historical Earl of Oxford are purely due to copying the latter.)

A short while ago a Westland raiding party slipped through the Midlands and into the Imperial Pale. Imperial forces repulsed the attack  but the Ambassador to the Midlish court complained to the King about the increasingly frequent incursions that Midland seemed unable or unwilling to prevent. The implied threat was that if the Midlish could not defend their borders, the Empire would do so for them. 

The King of course protested that the raiders often traveled by sea over which HE claimed no jurisdiction and that the Midlish borders  WERE secure. None the less, a courier soon left the castle heading towards Cowcross'n, seat of the Earl of Cowcross'n, Warden of the West March and the next day a summons went out calling the border levies to a muster.   

The Midlish West March Muster.
A mix of Garrison knights, Revenge Men-at-Arms and Scottish spearmen, and various odds and ends including one of my favorite figures, an armoured axeman from Minfigs Alexander Nevsky range who has been commanding Valdurian or Scottish spearmen for decades without ever resting his axe.
There are roughly this many figures again including around 3 dozen new Garrison figures  and a variety of older figures waiting for repair and re-basing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Legendary Lands Glimpsed through the Mists of Time

According to the myths and legends told around Midlish hearths, other peoples once lived in these lands. Ruled by great kings and warrior generals they fought epic wars and Kingdoms rose and fell. Word has it that after the fabled Draconian Wars ended, the Emperor gathered his Legio and his Comitatus and ventured Eastward over the sea to the far off land of his birth and that his scribes took with them the last full chronicle of the Time Before and that with his passing, fire and sword took the lands and darkness swallowed the past.
Every Scholar, Wiseman, or Mystic worth his salt has his own copy of a dusty, stained map of the Olde Lands, each sworn to be accurate and original, each different. Upon close inspection, this one appears to be not quite 40 years old and may be the work of the famous cartographer and historian, Simon, but the writing doesn't look authentic so it could be a copy.

To this day though, children, and old folk as well, still love hearing tales of the invasions by the tiny Dalriadans from the North, the 1/2 human hordes of savages from Wolfheim and the small but resilient Legions from far off Aquillia to the south and about how they were all defeated by the Warrior Queen Johanna and of how the shining Kingdom of Valdur arose and how it eventually fell and was lost so that today none can even say just where the great Royal Fortress of Dunklerne once stood.

Artists conception of Ancient Valdurian warriors finishing off a wounded Aquillian of the Legio Aerphix. The original Dalridian and Valdurian peoples were of similar small  stature before the Invasions and the Age of Metal.

In the Midlands, when the winter winds howl, the days grow short and cold and life looks bleak, the folk build up their hearth fires and remind themselves that the heroes of old do but sleep in a cave in the mountains and that one day, they will  come again and bring Peace and Prosperity to all.

If anyone wonders if I made the most of my class time at college, I offer up this evidence that I did!
(Depending on your point of View.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Knights in grey primer

The Midland knights (only 1/2 dressed ) with the Earl of Cowcross at their head .  Nothing like heraldry to remind one just how much one's eyes have deteriorated and how shaky ones hands have become.
These Garrison knights have such deliate detail and such natural draping that it was tempting to change my mind and shade and highlight them but I've never painted 'proper' toy knights so I will persevere and hopefully the reflection from the gloss finish will disguise the odd shaped stars and wobbly stripes.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Over the last 2 days I've been sorting out the miscellany of medieval Scots, organizing them into distinctive "regiments" and sticking them on the bases I bought a couple of years ago when I first started dabbling in a 10cm hex grid.

Interesting how memory and relativity can fool us. I thought there were more Scots spearmen than there are, it seemed like a lot 15 years ago when I organized them into 2 Armati armies to take to my 1st Cold Wars. Turns out there are only a little over 200 spearmen plus archers, cavalry, wee folk and the like, say 300 all told. I guess its because I never got into big armies of big units that it seemed like more.

Overview: Highlanders and skirmishers in front, the War of Liberation spearmen, archers and cavalry in the middle, Flodden era in the rear. 

Still, even leaving out the Flodden types there are enough enough for Bannockburn at 1:40 (depending on whose interpretation you use). All I would have to add is something like 300 English and that has long been the problem, I'm just not up for it. Hence the pondering of fictional, semi-historical and down right fantastical options.

After the other day's fantasy battle I was quite hepped up and started dividing the Scots into two or three fantasy armies and after all the Heritage figures that are taken from the illustrations in the old Almark Flodden book were marketed as fantasy troops and the 80 or so of them plus 60 Garrison spearmen and highlanders made up the core of the improved Valdurian army that won such great victories in 1976/77.  However, once I got to sorting, it started feeling like a shame to lose the ability to do an historical as well as fantasy version of the army and I started having concerns about internal consistency and back stories. I also remembered that the giant bear was really too big - twice the size of an elephant and anyway I had promised him to the 40mm Prince Valiant guys as a giant bear/monster.

Once I finish touch ups, replacing missing spears etc and paint bases, I'll grab the real camera and take some close ups of the units.

I don't really want to fight Stirling Bridge, Falkirk and Bannockburn over and over, let along all those later disasters,  and daring surprise escalades of castles, ambushes and cattle raids really cry out for individual figures and a different troop mix than pitched battles. A pseudo historical campaign seemed like a  good idea but its a lot of work to do it right and there are still many constrictions.

Since I am not ready to convert the armies to outright fantasy, the obvious direction is the old fashioned fictional world using historical armies with fantasy elements over laid on it, even perhaps  some non-human units at some point. At this point it behooves me to acknowledge that I already have an ancient one started, should I start a second, medieval one? Or should I be a bit more Howardian and just add them all together?   Actually I'm not really keen on the Macedonian Successor part except that it is there, it was the vaguely Sassinds and Skythians that I wanted along with all the various Dark Age/Ancient Celtic/Germanic troops. Looking at the mix of clothing, armour, weapons and tactics  that could be found on the fringes of late Medieval Europe,  I think I can make it all fit.

The Five Kingdoms of Cliche.

  • The Empire. Off to the south east, frontier forces with armoured lancers, unarmoured archers, conscripts, elephants and other foul creatures.
  • The Barbarians. A horde of allied tribes in trousers from the Steppes and Forests to the East, probing for lands to settle, the Round Shields, the Long shields and ? Heavy and light cavalry supported by unarmoured spearmen and archers. 
  • The Hillmen from the wild Misty Isles and Highlands to the North West - spearmen and light infantry and.... other things.....
  • The Kingdom of the Middle. Balanced army of knights, archers  and billmen/speamen.
  • The Merchant Princes: A fortified coastal outpost of an overseas Western Power with a smallish garrison of armoured  pikemen supported by knights, handgunners, canon and maybe an airship etc., the latest in technology.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holding the Pass

I have been itching to get my Scots back on the table and to get painting the English  and extras I got from Rob at Garrison (I'd been hoping to finish before his winter break so I could justify buying more but...). The problem has once again been confusion over basing and organization. They started on WRG 3rd edition bases in '76 then, being badly in need of an upgrade, switched to Armati in the 90's with 13th to 16th Century types all intermixed to make the army 'fit' together . 

Last year,  in a fit of enthusiasm after an enjoyable hexed based Impetus variant game, I rebased an army's worth of 13th Century figures onto 8cm wide bases for use on Ron's Hexon terrain. They fought one great game  then we were on to something else.  I tried them on my new grid and the game was fun but of course they didn't quite fit so since it seemed unlikely that they would see action at Ron's in the near future and anyway 6 cm  will work on his hexes, I began once again to rebase them but stalled. (Given the number of my armies whose units have an 8 or 9 cm frontage, the obvious answer was of course to bite the bullet and repaint the grid but it took almost a  year to accept the inevitable.)

So there I was, a Gathering of Hosts upgrade to test, a desire to get my Scots out and no troops ready to go, except the old 15/16th C ones on 6 cm wide bases and no enemy..... except...except....that HOTT army I had prepared and never used! Oh and look, I still have the smaller grid! The  game was soon afoot.

On the left we see the Men of the City. (What city? dunno never got that far.) This was a mix of my Flodden Scots and a few WOTR Minifigs (that's Roses not Ring). I intended the Men of the City to be on the attack but when looking at what was ready to go, the opposition could easily field twice the number of units so I gave them a pass to defend. Their force ended up as follows:
1 x Merchant-Prince General attached to bodyguard of Elite heavily armoured halbardiers,
1 x Heavy Cavalry
2 x heavily armoured phalanx infantry (1 of which I had fielded as heavy handgunners with heavily armoured pavise men in front and then promptly forgot about the handgunners and treated them as phalanx until it was too late to change)
3  phalanx infantry
2 x light infantry handgunners
1 x skirmishers
1 x bombard.

On the right we see the Folk of the Forest. From the available forces they chose:
1 x Lion Queen General (treated as Elite Light Infantry Swordsmen)
2 x Forest Beasts (aka Elephants although 1 was a 54mm bear and the other a Star Wars toy Bantha, each accompanied by various mostly naked Picts and Highlanders)
3 x light cavalry 
1 x unarmoured billwomen. (Minifigs from the collection of John G Robertson sent on by Tim at Megablitz. You have no idea how close they came this week to being joined by a dozen archers and a score of swordswomen from the same range but I stood firm and didn't bid.
3 x light infantry swordsmen (inc a small but patriotic Moose)
1 x light infantry archers
1 x elite skirmisher (originally meant as a HOTT Sneaker or something like that).
 (hmmm that's only 1 extra unit, I meant for a bigger numerical advantage since they were on the offensive..oops...maybe that's why the Irish were on the other table this morning?)

The armies close to missile range, the gunners and artillery miss, the archers and light cavalry don't.

The major change which I wanted to test was the idea of basing a unit's melee dice on its current strength. In theory I like it since it makes it even more important to use fresh units in an attack, hold a reserve and to try to shelter troops from enemy shooting if you can. However, I had also been trying to harmonize as many as rules as possible with the Square Brigadier to make my life easier and I wanted to make sure that I hadn't broken anything along the way. 

The game began with the Forest folk emerging from the wood and swiftly moving to missile range. Because of the narrow pass between river and steep hill, there was little room for their mobility so much faith was put on the beasts of war. There was a fair amount of unease about the enemy's firepower until they whiffed all along the line and even more unease about the melee strength  of the armoured phalanx. 

While working up the nerve to charge, (esp on a Orders roll of 1 which was needed to bring up the light cavalry which had failed every distant order roll so far.) they began to shoot with the archers, both the light infantry and those accompanying the beasts, and the light cavalry with their javelins. The result was rewarding so since the enemy did nothing but burn powder again, they decided to try it again, wiping out the cannon and a unit of handgunners. 

The Merchant Prince did a quick calculation and decided his best bet now was to attack before the enemy could shoot big gaps into his battle line.  This didn't look good.

The battlelines crash.

The Forest Folk got first melee roll aided by a defensive fire bonus and good dice. It rocked the City Phalanx onto its heels and made me ponder the wisdom of reducing their melee dice but after I applied armour and phalanx defensive benefits and cursed the lack of support, I went ahead and rolled the dice with negligible result.  With the armies pretty much locked together and another 1 on the Orders dice, the next turn rolled ahead with the City Folk rolling first in melee, this time doing serious damage. With their basic strength being low to start with and no defensive bonuses apart from support, the forest folk were hurting. At least the giant beasts didn't panic!

An attempt to flank the enemy line and take the hill was driven back by the handgunners and rabble on the hill and the phalanx ground slowly on. On the City's turn the heavy cavalry charged in routing one unit of lights but without support was unable to do anything in the long term but fall back and protect the flank. Things looked desperate so the Queen herself led the reserves forward, and promptly learned why a gold bikini is not considered adequate armour. 

Casualties mount! The great beasts were actually removed as casualties but the artist insisted on showing them running away. 

With the Queen wounded and out of the battle temporarily, the Merchant Prince moved forward and ordered his worst hit spearmen to rally where they could while others wheeled to lap around the enemy line. The whole Forest front line died or fled including the beasts but the day wasn't quite over. 

Gathering her forces, the queen tried again to slide around the flank but the enemy line held and the naked halbardiers were soon taken care of by the Merchant Prince himself, or his bodyguard more likely since the Prince is only armed with a purse and a scroll (probably a contract offer now that I think of it). With losses over 50% the Forest Folk broke and ran for cover. 7/12 units lost vs 3/11 but the City folk had 3 units with only 1 hit left and 2 with 2 left and were within a few die rolls of breaking for 1/2 the game! 

The end of the fray.

So there we are. A small game, a simple situation, I thought maybe 30 minutes and 5 or 6 turns to play. I lost track of both turns and time and was a little surprised to see midnight creeping up on me. I started setting up at nine and it took awhile to sort things but even so I must have played for 90 minutes without noticing. My cup of tea was certainly cold and almost full when I wrapped up, usually a good sign.

Using the current strength in melee worked like a charm. The heavy infantry were able to take a pounding and last, especially when heavily armed. The 'barbarian' swordsmen were dangerous in the initial round but faded quickly. The defensive bonus for the light infantry meant to represent a shower of arrows and javelins might be a bit iffy but it also allows for an unseen counter charge without extra rules. The other minor harmonization changes were pretty much neutral and over all this game had the best feel yet.

The Scots are already marshalling into their new units and picking sides. The better equipped Scots will fight for Douglas and the Regent, the naked knee spearmen will join the wild Highlanders and Islemen to fight for the Lord of the Isles. I'm not sure when or where the Bantha will show up next but the Lord of the Isles might like to hang onto the a few of the scantily clad witches and warrior women.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gathering of Hordes - Fantasy Teaser

Two years ago I fought a couple of HOTT games on the Captain's Table and upon my return home I dug out some old figures and started putting together some fantasy armies. I never quite got to fighting any solo HOTT games but the armies have been waiting and when I looked around for a couple of armies to try out the latest modifications to the Gathering of Hosts, they just demanded to be fielded, Men of the City vs the Free Folk of the Forests.

I haven't written any fantasy rules so I only used troops that could be classified as an existing troop type (ie behemoth = elephant) but I can see that changing!

Battle report tomorrow.