Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Ancient Sharpe?


Fire in the east. Warrior of Rome series, part 1.

Michael Joseph. 2008.

ISBN 978-0-718-15329-8

By chance I came across this title and on impulse decided to read it. The warrior in question is a barbarian called Ballista, who hails from the lands beyond the Rhine. As the book opens he has been chosen to lead an expedition to defend a city on the Euphrates against an attacking Sassanid army. Most of the action revolves around the siege, with forays and general assaults. The author should know what he is writing about as he is a lecturer in Ancient History at Lincoln College, Oxford who has written academic articles on ancient warfare. This is pehaps why the book contains a bbliography and glossary in addition to the normal list of characters.

I don't know enough about the period to comment on the accuracy of the storyline or action portrayed, but it is a 'page turner'. Perhaps one for making a note of and getting a copy for reading on holiday?
No photos of ancient troops, so apropos of nothing a view of the slow-growing 15mm SYW forces
Here we have a brigade of British foot, with some jaeger in the ruins on their flank.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Rules and dice

Something different this week; the role of rule sets and dice on our pastime. It is interesting when visiting shows or talking to fellow wargamers, to see how different gamers approach a project for a new wargaming period. For some, the initial impetus comes from seeing a new range of figures. The figures are purchased, painted and then a set of rules are sought to use with the new armies. In other cases, a display game is seen at a show. Conversations with the club/individuals putting on the display will usually revolve around the selection of figures and rule mechanisms.

One feature not covered tends to be the question of scale, ie are the rules for the equivalent of army, corps, division or brigade. Some rules tend to be used with large numbers of figures and therefore may not be suitable for someone who is starting in that period and therefore has only a few units. 'Shako' for instance works well with scenarios where there are 3 or 4 divisions, say 40 units or upwards, of 500 figures per army. The relative fragility of units means that scenarios for fewer than 10 units would be over fairly quickly. This is due in large part to the resolution of melees by a simple dice off. D6 are used and it is not unusual for a unit to be 'broken' (ie removed from play) in one round of melee.

Rule sets which use count casualties in figures, rather than strength points as in Shako would favour smaller scale actions and thus the gamer starting off in a new period, but I am sure that everyone can see the resulting problems. As your forces grow do you abandon the rules you are familiar with and learn a new set. If you do, can your current basing system translate into the new set? If you carry on with your existing rules are they as satisfactory with more figures and units. Do your games tend to end inconclusively as the end of your wargaming session draws nigh? Who amongst us has not had plans to fight the 'signature' historical battle, Zama, Agincourt, Nordlingen, Blenheim, Leuthen, etc. To do any of them justice large numbers of figures are needed and also a relatively 'fast play' set of rules.

Then of course there are those 'devil's toys' dice. Some rule sets use buckets of the things, others only a few. One of the interesting side issues is, does using more dice to resolve a firefight ot melee produce a 'better' result. I have already mentioned the single die role used in Shako. In a recent Warhammer ECW battle a cavalry melee was taking place where one side had 8 d6 and the other 6 d6. Both sides had a 50% chance of inflicting a hit and a 50% chance of those hits being translated into a potential casualty. The opponent then had a 50% chance of 'saving' the figure. On average (oh, how I wish I could achieve average results !) those 8 men should have been able to remove one enemy per round. In fact, on one occasion their 8 die achieved 8 hits, but inflicted no losses. To achieve a result using the Warhammer rules took 6 rounds of melee, ie 3 full turns. Now the whole battle lasted only 8 turns. Was that realistic? Would using different dice (average, d8 or d10) have made a difference. Using d10s does increase the range of scores but does it materially effect the outcome? Our latest battle was set in the Sudan using Sword and the Flame . This again uses lots of dice and has a relatively small number of units.

Is this something we should look for when assessing rulesets, after all a set of rules can set you back a significant amount of cash.
Fewer units, more dice,

More units, fewer dice,

I would be interested in your comments.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


The visit to Triples has been one of the regular trips of my wargaming year for some time. I must admit to a feeling of relief that the organisers had decided to change the venue; parking near the University was getting increasingly difficult and once in the main hall ,space around the dealers' stalls was very limited. Making the circuit around there you always seemed to be 'swimming against the tide'. Not only that, a group of three friends who stopped to chat could block progress for everyone. As the show grew more rooms were opened up often on different floors and it became quite a challenge to track down a specific game or dealer.

These shortcomings have been addressed by the new venue at the English Institute of Sport. Plenty of parking, all facilities on one level and once in the main halls, plenty of space to move around. There seemed to be plenty of attendees yesterday and most importantly, quite a few youngsters who will hopefully be the ones to take up the torch in the years ahead.

There is still one thing that needs attention - the Bring and Buy. At the old venue this was always cramped and in warm weather quite uncomfortable. The plan issued to those visiting showed that a room had been set aside for the B & B, but this was not the case. Itwas tucked away around a corner and the usual ducking and diving was needed to get in a position to see any of the goods on offer.

That being said I think that the move is one that will prove a success. Look how the York show has come on in leaps and bounds now that it has moved to the Racecourse. The organisers hope to be in the new venue for the 'forseeable future'. On the evidence of yesterday that future should be successful.

As a final note I should own up to further investment in figures, yet more 15mm Napoleonics,mainly Austrians, as I move towards my target of 24 line battalions. One indulgence was a unit of Marines of the Guard. I know it is foolish, their appearances on the battlefield were few and far between. Digby Smith in his "Napoleon's Regiments" lists only Austerlitz (1 casualty), the Madrid Riots and Baylen (11 wounded) and the crossing of the Beresina (4 casualties). My interest lies in the 1809 danube campaign, 1812 Russian campaign and the 1813 campaign in Germany, so to use them I am going to have to be fairly creative.

This week's battle was an ECW encounter using the Warhammer ECW Rules. I hope to report more over the coming days but here is the high point (from my perspective !) as my raw 'gallopers' see off the Parliamentarian trotters and secure my right flank.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Quelle Affaire

Were our miniature warriors able to speak, this may have been the reaction of the French commander at our latest battle. The scenario was based on the battle of Sacile, April 1809. The Austrians had been pushing Eugene's Army of Italy westwards and Eugene had decided on a counter attack.

The fighting was most intense around the village of Porcia and this was the focus of the scenario. Terrain favoured the defence, with steep sided valleys dividing the attacking forces, making co-ordinated attacks difficult. We use the Shako rules for the Napoleonic period and these also aided the defence with their stipulation that built up areas could only be fired upon by artillery. Thus defenders could not be worn down by sustained volleys from multiple attackers.

Frimont's forces occupied Porcia and Palse, the latter being nearer to the French forces. The garrison was a battalion of the Reuss-Greuz regiment, supported by another line battalion and two grenzer battalions. Two regiments of light cavalry,skirmishers and a 3lb battery completed the Austrian units on the table at the beginning of the game. Reserves in the shape of a division of 8 line battalions, one of 4 grenadier battalions and two further light cavalry regiments would arrive later, depending on events.
Frimont's forces supporting the defenders of Palse (Lindenau regiment to the fore)

The attackers had two infantry divisions totalling 18 infantry battalions, but only one was available for the initial attack. A light cavalry divison of two regiments was also available.

Seras' division led the attack with 4 battalions of the 46th Line advancing on Palse. Due to the narrow front his artillery were masked and unable to support the infantry. The first assault was beaten back by volleys from the defending Reuss-Greuz regiment. On the left Frimont's cavalry were detering a flank attack by two battalions of the 10th Line, even though they had the support of the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval. Frimont's skirmishers were also making life difficult on the right flank. A second attack on Palse was more succesful with the 4th battalion of the 46th managing to charge home even though their comrades in the 3rd battalion were again beaten back by the defenders fire. In the ensuing melee the luck ran with the French as they overcame the disadvantage of carrying greater casualties and attacking defended buildings to push back the Austrians with heavy losses. No sooner had the 4th battalion gained a foothold than they were countercharged by the 1st battalion Lindenau regiment. Again they prevailed sending the Austrians back with heavy losses. The French capture of Palse triggered an opportunity for Austrian reinforcements, but unfortunately the Austrian commander's dice decreed that there would be a significant delay in their arrival.

Just when he thought things couldn't get worse the Austrian commander saw Severoli's Italian division arrive, supported by Sahuc's light cavalry. This trigered further Austrian reinforcements and their arrival was not delayed to the same extent.

Back at Palse the Austrians attacked again, but were again repulsed, the casulaties breaking the Reuss-Greuz battalion. Frimont redeployed his artillery to fire on Palse and brought forward Lindenau, supported by one of the Grenz battalions. Seras was in a bind, he couldn't relieve the 4th battalion of the 46th without the risk of the Austrians re-occupying the village. His flanking attacks were held in check and his artillery masked. The only option seemed to be to attack, so the gallant 46th moved out of the village to attack the Lindenau regiment. They survived canister from the 3lb battery and a volley from the Austrian foot and charged home. Amazingly they prevailed again! Not only that, the casulaties suffered by Lindenau were sufficient that they were broken and this necessitated a morale test for the whole of Frimont's command.

In line with his previous bad luck with the dice this morale test was failed and fromont's command had to retreat to the baseline, leaving the way to Porcia open. This was doubly unfortunate because the Austrian cavalry had just defeated the French Chasseurs and thus threatened the French left.

(Seras' Chasseurs fall back after being defeated by the Schwarzenberg Uhlans).

On the far left Severoli and Sahuc were advancing to cut the road to Porcia but were faced by the Austrian reinforcements. To cover the flank of the infantry Sahuc charged Spelyni's light cavalry. It was an even fight, the dice would decide the day; and yet again they favoured the French over the Austrians. The French Chasseurs won both melees and thus threatend the flank of the Austrian grenadiers. With this latest blow the Austrian commander decided that it was perhaps time to 'live to fight another day' and decided to quit the field.
History was reversed, but chance and perhaps the rule mechanisms, played a large part. Perhaps another blog will discuss the influence of the choice of ruleset on the nature (and outcome) of a game.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


A trip down Memory Lane this week, courtesy of Athur Ward. I picked up a copy of his "The Boy's book of Airfix", this week. The subtitle says it all "Who says you ever have to grow up?". Reading through the pages took me back too many years to mention to the days when Saturdays meant a trip to the model shop to buy yet another Airfix kit in its trademark plastic bag, or box of soldiers. I think most of us will have tussled with the glue with a mind of it's own, despaired of ever managing to assemble the kit so the propeller actually spun rather than being fixed in place, or, chased that transfer around the saucer of water trying not to get it folded on itself. What can compare with that first painted model. The first one I remember painting was the Bristol Beaufighter. Grandad supplied the paint, it was the green and brown he had been using around the house, so it took an age to dry and the brush didn't allow for much detailed work. But the pride when the job was finished. To me it looked just like the picture in the book I had borrowed from the library.
Over the next few years dozens of kits followed and I attempted to create dog-fights by putting up networks of string in the bedroom. English Electric Lightenings taking on Me 109s, what's wrong with that? One Christmas I got a "lucky bag" of 10 different kits, heaven!
Ships followed, Tiger, Daring, Campbeltown, but the main drawback to these was the hull, it looked odd moving them around on their stands, but without them they just rolled on their sides. By the time the waterline kits came along other interests had taken over from 'toy soldiers', such a missed opportunity.
The book has loads of illustrations to trigger memories, but perhaps the most fascinating part is reading about the trials and tribulations of the company, the characters who formed and developed it and the way it has come back from the dead, twice!
So, keep an eye out for this book, if desperate, borrow it from your local library and take a trip down Memory Lane.